Thursday, March 27, 2008

Point/Counterpoint: Bush on Iraq

George W. Bush, today:

"Prime Minister [Nuri al-] Maliki's bold decision -- and it was a bold decision -- to go after the illegal groups in Basra shows his leadership and his commitment to enforce the law in an even-handed manner," he said.

"This operation is going to take some time to complete. And the enemy will try to fill the TV screens with violence, but the ultimate result will be this: Terrorists and extremists in Iraq will know they have no place in a free and democratic society."

Reality, also today:
Iraq’s Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen.

With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.

Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq's two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

US military manages to out-parody itself

Congratulations. It couldn't have been easy for spokespeople to come up with something like this. Up is Down! Black is White!

The Pentagon on Wednesday said an eruption of violence in southern Iraq, where US-backed government forces were battling Shiite militias, was a "by-product of the success of the surge."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said it showed that the Iraqi government and security forces were now confident enough to take the initiative against Shiite extremists in the southern port of Basra.

Don't you get it? It's violent BECAUSE we are winning! That is, it appears that we are losing precisely because we are not losing. Sheesh, why don't you idiots get it?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Our cruel culture: prison prohibits father from visiting dying daughter

As the parent to a young girl, it's impossible to read a story dealing with parenthood and not feel some sort of twinge at the old heart strings. Thus, I'm more affected by the following story than I might have been two years ago. Nevertheless, it's hard to view it as anything other than the product of a culture that increasingly feels no sense of sympathy for those who deserve nothing but care and tenderness.

The facts are simple: a young girl, 10 years old, lies dying of brain cancer in a Nebraska hospital. Her father, meanwhile, is in South Dakota, serving a 4 1/2 year sentence for a drug offense. Leaving aside for a moment the idiocy of prison sentences in our "war on drugs," we are faced with the sad news that the warden of the prison has decided to reject the prisoner's request to be transferred to a prison closer to his daughter so that he might occasionally see her in the final month of her life. That's right: he's not asking to have his sentence commuted or anything of the sort, just that he might be transferred from one prison to another.

Why? Well, the reasons are almost laughably absurd: because the circumstances are "not extraordinary." One wonders what could possibly be more extraordinary or compelling than a child dying of cancer. It's hard to read this story and feel anything other than sheer revulsion at people who could be so heartless--not to the father, although it's cruel to him, too, but to the 10 year old girl facing the last month of her life, and knowing that her father cannot be with her.

What should happen here? Well, it's clear. First, the prison should come to its senses and give this man a chance to see his daughter. Second, the governor of the state, if he has the power, should arrange for a transfer. Thirdly, our beloved President, the man who commuted Scooter Libby's sentence because HIS family had suffered, should intervene to transfer this poor girl's dad to a new prison, one that would allow him the chance to see his daughter.

The most disturbing thing about this story is what it reveals about our culture, one that has developed almost a fetish for seeing "punishment" carried out against people we dislike. Whether it is an innocent man in Guantanamo Bay, kept shackled and isolated for years without even being charged with a crime, or a man being kept apart from his dying daughter, we demand that our systems of justice inflict the most brutal punishments, mental and physical, on prisoners. Why? What possible rehabilitative uses can such punishments serve? Well, none, of course. Keeping this guy away from his daughter will do nothing other than nurture within him a burning rage against society, yet the prison warden keeps his head down and insists on the policy.

It's a shame, an embarrassment, and an outrage.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Al Gore is a political failure when it comes to leadership in the Democratic Party

I'm going to ask a very simple question that has really been bothering me as I contemplate the long-term consequences of the increasingly bitter battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: where the living hell is Al Gore? He is perhaps the sole figure in the Democratic political hierarchy who, by virtue of a speech, conference, or interview, could change the dynamic and propel one of the two candidates towards the nomination. Normally that role would fall to the last Democratic president, but since Bill Clinton is the spouse of one of the two candidates, that is an impossibility. So Gore, with his impressive credentials and widespread popularity (not to mention his having won nearly every non-political award of late other than the Cy Young), is the one guy who could step up to the microphone and urge some way forward.

So what's the problem? Is it that he, for example, doesn't like either Clinton or Obama? That seems possible, but certainly he understands the importance of electing one of them over McCain. (Unless, of course, he's planning his own run for 2012.) Does he feel a sense of loyalty to the Clintons, and is he therefore staying out of the way for fear of stepping on their toes by endorsing Obama? It's hard to say, as he has remained, frustratingly, on the sidelines for the past few months. The party is in dangerous territory here, with one candidate seemingly hell bent on attacking the states, voters, and racial groups that have so far propelled her opponent to the lead. It seems highly unlikely that the Democrats would stand an easy chance of winning the general election with a fractured base, yet no "distinguished elders" in the party have lifted a finger.

The three people who garner the most respect in Democratic circles, and who are not affiliated with either campaign, are Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and John Edwards. None of them has made the slightest move to break this stalemate. Gore, because of his role in the 2000 elections, is, I think, the most important of this threesome, so it is his absence that is the most frustrating and maddening. Gore, I suspect, is still living in his "the work I do is so much MORE than politics" dreamworld. It would be nice if he bothered to return to reality.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NY Times tracks down Spitzer's "Kristen," provides unintentional hilarity

The NY Times has done the impossible and located "Kristen," the (alleged) call-girl at the center of the Eliot Spitzer idiot-who-pays-$4,300-for-hookers scandal. And, amidst the usual woe-is-me story about difficult upbringing, they bust out with this moment of hilarity

Her MySpace biography says that she started singing professionally after a musician she was living with heard her singing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in the shower and burst into the bathroom with his lead guitarist.
Uh, riiiiight. That's why he burst into the bathroom while you were in the shower. Umm hmmm.


A few questions about this whole Ferraro thing

Ever since the Clinton campaign came up with the dubious strategy of having disgraced loser Geraldine Ferraro leads its racist dogwhistle attack against the Obama campaign, I've been left wondering a few things. Not, "is Geraldine Ferraro actually Camilla Parker Bowles, but with better teeth and hair?" but actual political questions. Namely:

1) Is it a really good idea to court one group of voters IN THE PRIMARY by attacking another group of voters? Granted, this makes a certain degree of sense for a general election, but I'm not exactly sure it's the smartest strategy to pursue in the primary, as presumably you'll have to go after that same group of people you just alienated.

2) Given that, does it make a lot of sense to court a group of people (conservative whites) who are more likely to desert you in the general election by trashing a group of people who are more likely to be loyal to you in the general election? I mean, I suppose you could make the argument that because conservative whites are more likely to vote McCain, Clinton needs to bring them to her side NOW, whereas since blacks are fairly reliably Democratic voters, there's no real need to court them at this point. However, by encouraging attacks that are certain to depress black turnout in a general election, I think the Clinton campaign is really shooting itself in the foot.

3) Finally, is it that smart to have as your spokesperson one of the two people on the Democratic ticket that incurred the most dramatic loss in the past 40 years? Does anyone think of Mondale/Ferraro and say "woah, now THERE was a winning ticket!" Hell no! I was 10 years old in 1984, and I knew they had no chance. I mean, the Mondale/Ferraro campaign made the Dukakis/Bentsen campaign look like a political juggernaut. Is she really the person you want out front and center, making your racist points for you? Because, great, now you've got people thinking you are a racist, and subconsciously associating you with the losingest ticket in Democratic party history.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer takes a page from the Clinton playbook...

I dunno, just doesn't seem quite as catchy...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

At some point we're going to have to face the fact that John McCain is quite old and perhaps not in the greatest health

I know the whole "when the White House phone rings at 3 a.m., who do you want answering it?" thing is kind of a lame bit, but, seriously, do you want someone who's been asleep for TEN HOURS already and who generally looks confused by the crazy technology that is elevators? Is this the face of a president who's going to strike fear into the heart of any dictator who is physically capable of eating a bowl of soup without drooling?

(Source: AP)

George W. Bush is the biggest goddam idiot in world history

Sometimes you need to write a tons of stuff about something in order to communicate just how great/horrible/insane/revolutionary it is. Sometimes, though, all you need to do is post a photo and its Associated Press caption to capture the true horror of the moment. This is one of those times.

Actual AP caption: This three-picture combination of photographs shows President Bush dancing on the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 5, 2008, as he awaits the arrival of Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak).

God help us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Political analogy of the day: Democratic Party = pre-2004 Boston Red Sox

I have this looming pit of despair in my stomach as I sit and look out at the political landscape, wondering who the Democrats will nominate to run against Walnuts McCain. It's no secret that I'm a Barack Obama supporter--I like the guy, and think he has a vastly better shot against McCain in the general election. My concern that Hillary Clinton will find a way to win, however, has made me realize that the Democratic Party is really the political equivalent of the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox. Those Red Sox were always a loveable bunch of losers who managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory time after time, often doing so in a fashion that caused their fans immeasurable heartache and angst.

Red Sox lore, for example, would not be complete without the 1986 World Series, in which a fatal error by Bill Buckner cost the team game 6 of the 7 game series, or the 2003 American League Championship Series, in which manager Grady Little let a clearly tiring Pedro Martinez keep pitching, ultimately costing his team the game. It is this type of loss--not just a loss, but a spirit-crushing loss--that reminds me of the Democratic Party today.

I don't expect the Democratic Party to just do the wrong thing and end up nominating Hillary Clinton--I expect them to nominate Hillary Clinton in the most artless way possible, alienating a huge chunk of their base and destroying the positive experience his campaign has brought to millions of people. Rest assured, it will happen. The same party that found a way to lose the 2000 and 2004 elections against, respectively, a dunce-like governor and a clear failure of a president, will somehow find a way to lose the 2008 presidential election against a certified fossil like McCain.

Oh, believe me, I sense the enthusiasm in the electorate, and notice that Hillary and Obama are outraising McCain something like 8:1. And I see that together they are getting something like 4x as many votes as McCain in recent primaries. And I see that while McCain gives his "victory" speeches from inside elevators with four or five equally old white guys behind him, Obama frequently gives his before overflow audiences in sports arenas that hold 18,000 people. I see all that. Sadly, this makes me even MORE convinced that Hillary will be the nominee.

The Dems will find a way to squander all the positive emotion and grass-roots energy the Obama campaign has created, and will instead nominate a divisive political insider who is hated by roughly half the country before her campaign has even started. Rest assured, they will find a way. Just as Red Sox fans used to tell themselves "no matter how good the season looks now, we'll find a way to lose," the Democrats will certainly waste their best opportunity to take the White House in years. The only question at this point is what ingenious method they'll chose to choke it away. Will it take a lawsuit, filed by Clinton supporters, to overturn the Texas primary results? Will the Clinton campaign push a bitter floor fight at the convention to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates? Stay tuned! It's not a question of whether, but how.

Irony alert: anti-shark device eaten by shark

This is funny in that ha-ha-it's-ironic-even-though-it-revolves-around-something-pretty-horrible way. Apparently a new anti-shark device that "works" by causing involuntary contraction of the muscles in a shark's body does not work in the sense that it actually attracts sharks and then causes them to eat it.

AN electronic device designed to ward sharks away from surfers failed so spectacularly during a trial off South Africa that it was eaten by a great white.

An inquest heard yesterday the Shark Shield surf model was activated on a float carrying bait when the 3.6m female shark approached. Rather than being deterred by the device, the shark, under the gaze of the Natal Sharks Board, bit into it.

South Australian Deputy State Coroner Tony Schapel yesterday heard of the test failure during the inquest into the death of Jarrod Stehbens, who was taken by a great white shark while diving off Glenelg in South Australia in 2005.

The inquest has turned into a trial of Shark Shield devices, hearing concerns that the electronic fields generated to repel sharks may attract them.