Saturday, November 24, 2007

Good News From Down Under

While we were digesting our turkey and stuffing, Australians were heading to the polls to vote in their national election. The big news-- as expected-- is that conservative Prime Minister John Howard (Bush supporter, global warming denialist) has been swept out of power. Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd will be the new Prime Minister.

"Today Australia has looked to the future. Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward ... to embrace the future, together to write a new page in our nation's history," Rudd said in victory. Howard gave a gracious concession, stating "The Australian people are the greatest people on earth and this is the greatest country on earth."

What does this mean for us? Well-
Rudd said he would withdraw Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq, leaving twice that number in mostly security roles. Howard had said all the troops will stay as long as needed.

However, a new government is unlikely to mean a major change in Australia's foreign relations, including with the United States — its most important security partner — or with Asia, which is increasingly important for the economy.

But one of the biggest changes will be in Australia's approach to climate change. Rudd has nominated the issue as his top priority, and promises to immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

When he does so, the United States will stand alone as the only industrialized country not to have signed the pact.

The rest of the world is moving (relatively) forward. We are stuck in the past.

I agree with what Bill Maher said last year... "America must stop bragging that it's the greatest country on Earth, and start acting like it." All over the world, people are looking to the future. And we are stuck having arguments (on climate change, health care, etc) other first-world nations settled long ago. I congratulate my Australian friends (yes, I have one!) and hope our election results next year will be as encouraging.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Holiday Video Theatre: 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving'

Have a great holiday, everyone! I'm off to my brother's house in Pennsylvania for dinner with the family. Before I go, here's the first part of that forgotten Peanuts special that comes between the Great Pumpkin and Linus' speech about the true meaning of Christmas.

Part 2- here. Part 3- here.

Thanksgiving Cornucopia of News

Last batch of posting before sometime on Friday. Here's another news cluster bomb...

The current lull in violence (relatively) in Baghdad is getting much press. It's appreciated. But there's a bigger picture. John Cole, and Daily Kos' 'Devilstower' put it in perspective.

Scott McClellan's new Plame bombshell made headlines, but the denial's already begun.

Bush on Musharraf... He "hasn't crossed the line" and "truly is somebody who believes in democracy." Truly.

Major constitutional news! The Supreme Court decided it will take the case on the DC handgun ban, "a case that could produce the most in-depth examination of the constitutional right to 'keep and bear arms' in nearly 70 years." It will determine "whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns or instead merely sets forth the collective right of states to maintain militias." I say it's the more the latter, but that's an outdated concept.

A stem cell breakthrough that uses no embryos? It's got folks huffin' and puffin'.

If these traffic statistics are right, the readers of Conservapedia have some serious issues.

Finally, some good news: "The United Nations' top AIDS scientists plan to acknowledge this week that they have long overestimated both the size and the course of the epidemic, which they now believe has been slowing for nearly a decade, according to U.N. documents prepared for the announcement."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Basra Example

Since we're discussing withdrawal, let's look at the big unknown... what will happen if we withdraw from Iraq. It's impossible to know, right? Not necessarily. The ongoing British withdrawal from southern Iraq provides an encouraging example.

From the International Herald-Tribune-
Attacks against British and Iraqi forces have plunged by 90 percent in southern Iraq since London withdrew its troops from the main city of Basra, the commander of British forces there said Thursday.

The presence of British forces in downtown Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad's Green Zone.

"We thought, 'If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?'" Binns said.

Britain's 5,000 troops moved out of a former Saddam Hussein palace at Basra's heart in early September, setting up a garrison at an airport on the city's edge. Since that pullback, there's been a "remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks," Binns said...

...British officials expected a spike in such "intra-militia violence" after they pulled back from the city's center, and were surprised to find none, Binns said...

...Last month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Britain will halve its remaining troop contingent in Iraq next spring — bringing the number of troops down to 2,500. The scaling back of forces has already begun, and by the year's end Britain will have 4,500 troops based mainly at Basra's airport.

Now obviously the Basra example won't translate perfectly in Baghdad and other areas, but it's clear that those who said that it's been the occupation itself playing a big role rallying people toward violence-- and that a withdrawal would help ease those tensions-- were right.

It's also important to remember those who insist otherwise are the same ones falsely declaring success now in Iraq. Furthermore, those predicting chaos and worldwide terror if we (ever) leave-- mostly by reminiscing about what happened in Vietnam following our exit, a product more of inevitability and years of bad policy than of American weakness-- are the same ones who predicted the war would a six-week cakewalk, that we'd be greeted as liberators, that democracy would flower across the Middle East, etc.

With war supporters now talking of "best case scenarios" involving "the US keep[ing] 80,000-100,000 troops in Iraq for the next twenty to thirty years," we need to realize the time for withdrawal is now. Johnson administration officials would later admit they knew their war was hopeless by 1967. Yet it went on for another 6-8 years, anyway. There's a lesson in there-- and in Basra-- if anyone cares to learn it.

Catapulting The Propaganda

The right-wing Vietnam narrative-- that after over a decade of escalated conflict, we were this close to victory before anti-war forces pulled the rug out from under the war-- is a beast that won't die.

This same narrative is already being slowly reworked for Iraq. "We were finally starting to win (even though we never admitted were were losing at any point) and then the darn Democrats surrended to terrorists and stabbed our soldiers in the back!" This next year will be fun.

(This recent Fox News segment is a great illustration of this narrative.)

What Democrats need to do immediately is to counter this spin at every turn. They're mostly just ignoring it at this point. The following is a good, succinct way to to begin. Here is 'Joe', a commenter on a Reason magazine blog entry on Iraq, addressing critics of withdrawal-
"Surrender, to whom?

Is a single American troop going to put his hands in the air? Hand over his weapon to somebody? March off into a camp?

Is the withdrawal from Iraq to be accompanied by an acceptance, by the American military, of some hostile force's terms?

Of course not. Ending the Iraq War would no more be a surrender than ending Prohibition. It's just the abandonment of a failed policy, to reduce the damage it's doing and allow us to concentrate our resources where they might do some good.

It's just another misleading euphemism thrown out by people who can't argue their case on the merits, and have to hide behind emotional manipulation."

Democrats should take notes here. If a blog commenter can do it, so can they. This war began with irrational arguments, and its (eventual?) end will be met with the same.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We Get It, It's Serious. So What's The Solution?

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-- the other co-winner of the Nobel Prize-- has finally released a long-awaited 2007 report "on the science of climate change and the effects of human-produced greenhouse gases." What's it say? Well-
The document says recent research has heightened concern that the poor and the elderly will suffer most from climate change; that hunger and disease will be more common; that droughts, floods and heat waves will afflict the world's poorest regions; and that more animal and plant species will vanish...

...The report is important because it is adopted by consensus, meaning countries accept the underlying science and cannot disavow its conclusions. While it does not commit governments to a specific course of action, it provides a common scientific baseline for the political talks...

And talk is all we do. The article speaks of leaders gathering next month in Bali to discuss "an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012," but that Protocol clearly was either not enforced or didn't go far enough, because-- as their own report concludes-- we are "hurtling toward a warmer climate at a quickening pace."

What's the solution? I don't know, but it'd be nice if these people spent more time looking for it, and less time getting together to tell us all how fucked we are.

Quote of the Day

"So far, media behavior in the 2008 campaign has been even worse than in the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. We’re mired in a disastrous war, there’s a crisis in the housing market, the health care system is collapsing — yet the coverage is all about the horserace, rather than the issues."
--Paul Krugman, noting how doomed we are, on his NY Times blog.

I had this same feeling after seeing clips from the recent CNN Democratic debate. The CNN moderators were more interested in discussing the fighting between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards than they were were about serious policy discussions (Joe Biden expressed shock when he was first called on).

(This is a chicken-and-the-egg thing, of course. Does cable news give viewers fluff because that's what people want? Or do people want fluff because the networks made them addicted to it/expect it? Any votes on this?)

When the moderators did discuss issues, they focused on the campaign aspect of it. The crowd actually started booing Wolf Blitzer, hoping to remind him that he's a journalist, not someone asking Angelina Jolie on the red carpet where she got her dress.

In the 2000 campaign, when the media discussed Al Gore, it was all about style (he sighed at a debate, his suits weren't the right color). Maybe they should've discussed his Social Security lockbox idea more... in hindsight, more important than whether he kissed his wife enough. In 2004, it was all about John Kerry the flip-flopper and his botox. I doubt anyone today can tell you what his health-care proposal was; lord knows I never saw a report on it.

The media clearly hasn't learned its lesson from this; their love of fluff and stale narratives runs too deep (this, of course, is the real media bias... that and their fear of Rush Limbaugh calling them 'liberal'). But the candidates can. Gore and Kerry allowed themselves to be defined by their media narratives-- which far too often originate from conservative innuendo-- failing to counter them until it was too late. You can see in the way that Clinton, Edwards, Obama, and the rest operate now that they realized that and are much better at countering it. But this is the warm-up round... they'll need to be pros come general election season.

[PS- Digby has a great post looking back on the media, 1972, and Edmund Muskie.]

Odds and Ends

Thought of the day: 'Heroes' is a fun show, but it's not that brilliant. Here's the news...

Yet another look inside the unassailable health care racket system that the powers-that-be in both parties are fighting so hard to protect... The LA Times reported that "One of the state's largest health insurers set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policyholders were dropped and how much money was saved." This is, of course, standard operating practice for how 'insurance' works.

And how do we end up spending more on health care than any other nation... including the ones with largely socialized systems? Is it just our large population? Or is the system just set up in a grossly ineffective way? The McKinsey Global Institute did a detailed study.

The anti-government-health-care rants of Rudy get fact-checked by Slate and the NY Times.

Sen. Reid's keeping the Senate open over Thanksgiving to prevent recess appointments.

Another passed bill which may/may not become law: "In a response to the subprime lending meltdown, House lawmakers approved a sweeping bill on Thursday that would ... approve new rules for borrowing standards, predatory lending and nationwide broker licensing. The bill would also saddle those who securitize mortgages with some new liabilities but wouldn't preclude the use of state law to seek redress for fraud or deceptive practices."

An incestuous story of cronyism comes to an end for the State Department and Blackwater.

Being a dictator sounds awesome: "A Supreme Court hand-picked by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf swiftly dismissed legal challenges to his continued rule on Monday, opening the way for him to serve another five-year term — this time solely as a civilian president."

A Washington Post reporter fact-checks the anti-tax math of Ron Paul.

On Sunday, the folks over at the NY Times ran op-eds praising Ronald Reagan, declaring war on Pakistan, calling Obama a pussy unlike tough guy Dick Cheney, and another mocking Obama and Clinton. Darn that liberal media!

Finally, Fox News-- as always-- fair and balanced-

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Monday, November 19, 2007

The Cost Of War(s)

Let's take another quick look at the cost of war(s)-
The economic costs to the United States of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far total approximately $1.5 trillion, according to a new study by congressional Democrats that estimates the conflicts' "hidden costs"-- including higher oil prices, the expense of treating wounded veterans and interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the wars."

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, looks at all the domestic efforts that $$ could've gone towards. And one site compares those costs to solar energy research. You know, it's really time that the fiscal conservatives in the GOP started getting upset at something other than health care. But hey, what do I know? I'm just a moonbat.

Meanwhile, In The Rest of the World...

Because there's crazy shit happening in the rest of the world too, here's a Monday roundup of significant news from other countries on this crazy old planet of ours...

First, before I get to the rest, I wanted to highlight the aftermath of the massive 140mph cyclone that devastated Bangladesh last week. Officials estimate the death count at around 15,000, with hundreds of thousands more displaced. To put it in perspective for us, that's over five 9/11s and not centralized in 2 or 3 locations. And the recovery process is just beginning. My mind cannot even comprehend a disaster of that scale.

And on that sad note, here's the rest of what's happening (news-wise, anyway) on Earth-

U.K.: Britain's Brown seeks action on climate / Russia: Putin: I have a moral right to continue wielding influence / Switzerland: Swiss Re reports $878M subprime loss / Africa: Darfur rebel markings used in AU attack: U.N. / Middle East: Israel approves release of 441 prisoners / Turkey: Turkish authorities seek to ban main Kurdish party / Iran: Venezuela's Chavez on new Iran visit / Afghanistan: UN: Gunfire 'onslaught' hit Afghan kids / Asia: Cambodian genocide court charges Khmer Rouge leader: spokesman / Japan: Japan under fire for humpback hunt


At last our creator-- the Flying Spaghetti Monster-- gets the scholary attention he deserves.

Huckabee Tested, Chuck Norris Approved

I'm not sure who Mike Huckabee's trying to reach out to with this new ad-- hipsters are too cool to vote-- because I don't see GOP primary voters being too familiar with the 'Chuck Norris Facts' online phenomenon. Still, much much better than Mitt Romney's 'I will stop the islamofascist caliphate' ad, or Tom Tancredo's immigrant-terrorist ad, or Rudy G's 'I will save America like I saved Times Square' ad.

Meanwhile, in actual substantive news, Mr. Huckabee declares war on abortion. Sigh.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Not The Daily Show, With Some Writer

This is where I would normally post a funny video from a show like 'The Daily Show', 'The Colbert Report', or 'Real Time w/ Bill Maher'. But those shows are on indefinite hiatus due to the ongoing writers strike. So I found a topical, satirical substitute. Enjoy-

More strike videos from folks at 'Reno 911', 'Everybody Hates Chris', and 'The Colbert Report'.

[Related reading: Film, TV writers set negotiations date -- Nov. 26 (AP)]

The War On... Thanksgiving?

Right-wing culture warriors discover yet another holiday is under assault. In their minds.