Saturday, 30 September 2006

Conservatives talk the environmental talk

Conservative Environment Minister Rona Ambrose says she will abandon the voluntary deal with the auto sector that the Liberals made and will especially tackle the oil-and-gas and transportation sectors, the two biggest culprits in the greenhouse gas emissions department.

The David Suzuki Foundation has been cautiously optimistic in its reaction.
Environmentalist Pierre Sadik of the David Suzuki Foundation said Ms. Ambrose's strong language “sounds promising” but requires tough action to be credible.

“It has to lead to meaningful cuts in pollution emissions,” Mr. Sadik said. “Regulations in terms of intensity are a waste of time because emissions continue to rise.”

It remains to be seen whether they will walk the walk also. I certainly hope they do. There is wide-spread support for some meaningful action on the environment, even among Conservatives. If the oil industry can't read the writing on the wall, they need to get their heads out of the oil sands and start cleaning up their act.

The environment has been one of the major weaknesses of the Conservatives, and even while I voted for them, I hoped they would give me some pleasant surprises in this department. It makes great political sense. Follow the Bismarckian strategy of stealing your opponents' best policies and consolidate your hold on power. If they can reverse the Liberal strategy of "Talk loudly and carry a small stick" they'll gain a lot of supporters, and solidify some of their softer support too. The industry may not like it that much, but even they must be resigned to the inevitability of it. We just can't go on fouling our own nest indefinitely. Jobs are important yes, but a balance has to be struck.

I'm not a single-issue voter, so the more areas that the Conservatives can show decisive and positive leadership in, the longer they'll have me voting for them.

Hat tip to The Prairie Wrangler

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Friday, 29 September 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 29

Glenn Greenwald has a post today that I find somewhat overwrought. In the midst of all the florid prose though, he made a valid point.
And to believe that people on a one-day controlled visit get an accurate or complete picture of what goes on there requires a blind faith in the Government so absolute that it is explains most of what one needs to know about the authoritarian Bush movement. (Emphasis mine)

American democracy is based on a healthy mistrust of government and those who run it; hence the system of checks and balances. My concern with the recent detainee bill, among others, is that it puts too much power in the hands of the Executive Branch, with insufficient accountability.

From City of Brass: CAIR is sending money to Palestine to repair the churches damaged in the aftermath of the Pope's speech. There is no more effective way to disavow the actions of Muslim crazies than that.

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The RCMP and the government have to do more

The injustices against Maher Arar did not stop with the faulty intelligence delivered to the Americans. When Arar's media-savvy wife refused to let his case die and kept it in the public's eye, someone in the RCMP or the government undertook to smear his reputation through unnamed leaks.
In his inquiry into the Arar affair, Justice Dennis O'Connor found that one or more government officials had leaked false and damaging statements about Arar to a number media outlets around the time of Arar's return from Syria to Canada in the fall of 2003.

Among other things, the leaks alleged Arar had trained with al-Qaida, and that he was ''not a virgin'' to terrorist activity.

''This case is an example of how some government officials, over an extended period of time, used the media to put a spin on an affair and unfairly damage a person's reputation,'' O'Connor stated in his report.

The only investigation that is currently open is a criminal probe by the RCMP into a November 2003 article by Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill.

The Canwest report contradicts itself a few paragraphs later when it states:
The leaks, which may have come from within the RCMP's A-division in Ottawa, or from within Canadian Security Intelligence Service or the Foreign Affairs Department, are being investigated by RCMP officers from New Brunswick. In response to questions from MPs, Zaccardelli said he never considered calling in another police force to conduct the probe.

Be that as it may, full light has got to be shone on this shameful incident. Somebody has got to be held accountable for spreading malicious rumours about Arar. Talk about kicking a man when he is down!

Journalists too have got to step up and take some responsibility. If unnamed sources must be used, the information should be corroborated if possible. When it can't be, it shouldn't be used without full and explicit disclaimers.

My normal cynicism would cause me to throw up my hands in despair at this point and say, "As if," but events over the last year lead me to some optimism. The blogosphere, though still maligned and ridiculed and still having all too many elements worthy of it, has flexed its muscles over the last year, discovering a vocation for fact-checking mainstream journalists. From doctored photos of the Lebanese conflict to skewed reports on the CBC, bloggers have been playing detective, and smoking out examples of dishonest or sloppy journalism. I hope the trend continues, and that governments and journalists alike will find it harder and harder to spin and mislead.

The government should obviously be offering Arar both an apology and compensation. Negotiations are underway for the latter, so I'll withhold commentary for the time being. An apology should be forthcoming though, and the sooner the better. By and large, I think Harper has been doing a good job, but he has dropped the ball on this one. I have difficulty buying the "legal ramifications" explanation, which he hasn't really given anyway. There hasn't been an explanation of any kind really. While I'm still prepared to believe it isn't malicious, it still looks bad, even to the people who are not trying to interpret everything he does as evil or misguided. Step up to the plate, Stephen, it's time.

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Lying in a democratic society

John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia points us to a very interesting article by prominent journalist Amir Taheri about the function of lies in the political life of a democracy.
In theory at least, political leaders do not need to lie in democratic societies. These are societies supposed to be based on transparency and mutual trust. If voters are considered mature and responsible enough to choose a government, they must also be assumed to have an almost generic preference for truth.

The problem is that things are not always exactly the same in theory and practice. Voters in democratic societies might resent being lied to, especially when the liar is caught in the act. But they have an immense capacity for lying to themselves. The topic once came up when I was interviewing the late British Prime Minister James Callaghan. According to Callaghan, democracy was a system that led societies to the edge of ungovernability, and that was the best place to be for an advanced human society. In such a system, lies could push society over the edge.

And, yet, the advanced Western democracies have lived, and continue to live, with some basic lies - lies that electorate likes to hear. The former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok had a nice formula: the entire welfare state was based on the lie that the same guilder could be spent many times over.


In despotic societies, the people lie to the despot who, when he lies back to them, invites only derision. In democratic societies, voters lie to themselves, forcing their rulers to lie back to them. The difference is that in democratic societies, whenever the need arises, the few can always be blamed for the sins of the many and chased out of power in an election. In despotic systems, however, the vicious circle of lies is seldom broken without violence.

I think he's hit the nail on the head. I have wondered for many years how to overcome this inherent weakness of democracies, that voters virtually insist on being lied to. It is indeed difficult to be an honest politician, because we punish them so brutally if they try it. But if they push the lies too far, we punish them brutally for that too.

My only consolation is that autocracies have not come to grips any better with the dynamics of lying; it just has a different dynamic.

Perfection squared

This is what I have attained today.

Also known as putting a brave face on things.

Yes, I'm being cryptic. Let me know if you figure it out.

Anybody who knew the answer ahead of time is asked not to spill the beans.

Thursday, 28 September 2006

RCMP apologizes to Arar [Updated]

The head of the RCMP has stayed mum on the Arar affair, promising to speak to the matter today before a House of Commons committee. He came through.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli apologized on Thursday to Maher Arar, and said he accepts all the recommendations of a report criticizing the Mounties for their role in the Canadian's deportation to Syria, where he was tortured.

"Mr. Arar, I wish to take this opportunity to express publicly to you and to your wife and to your children how truly sorry I am for whatever part the actions of the RCMP may have contributed to the terrible injustices that you experienced and the pain that you and your family endured," Zaccardelli said.

The RCMP commissioner made the statement at the House of Commons committee on public safety and national security, which is looking at Justice Dennis O'Connor's report on the Arar case.

This is his first public statement about the report, which was released on Sept. 18.

"I accept the recommendations of the report without exception," Zaccardelli told the committee.

But he said he personally wasn't aware of Arar's case until after Arar was already in jail in Syria.

The agency has learned "valuable lessons" since Arar's ordeal and "some of them we learned painfully," the commissioner added.

Good for Zaccardelli. Since the O'Connor report, the RCMP has been consistently pleading inexperience in their handling of the Arar case. Zaccardelli is now pleading personal ignorance as well, which could very well be true.

I get a few things out of this, mostly in the RCMP's favour. Seeing as they were abruptly thrown back into the national security business after 9/11 and had lost all savvy in the field after 20 years' absence, their plea of inexperience is more than plausible. They messed up, big time. At least they are willing to admit it. No weaseling out, no finger-pointing at others, no lame justifications.

This is where the Canadian police force is outshining the authorities on the American side of the border, who have issued no apologies, allowed no investigations or court challenges, and who still have not removed Arar and his wife from their no-fly list.

I also like that they aren't arguing with the report recommendations, following in the footsteps of the government. It's a great start. Following through with actual implementation will be more impressive.

Now if Zaccardelli would do something about the RCMP's consistent and chronic stonewalling of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, the national police force could again become a source of national pride, instead of fueling our cynicism. It is one thing to make an apology before a House committee, quite another to bring about a sea change in the culture of the RCMP, which has been to stall, deny and stonewall whenever there are allegations of wrong-doing. If Zaccardelli could effect this kind of change, he would deserve a place in history as one of the all-time great commissioners. Unfortunately, he's had several years to start work on it and to date has done nothing. Today's apology might be nothing more than political smarts and unfortunately, the bulk of the evidence is in favour of this conclusion.


Other major points from Zaccardelli's testimony:

He has no intention of offering his resignation over the Arar affair.
There is no ongoing investigation into Arar or his wife.
He also flatly denies that the Conservative government has muzzled him in any way.

Maclean's characterizes him as "fighting to keep his job", which I think is yet another example of journalists taking themselves way too seriously. Just because the occasional journalist or back bench politician might have uttered the opinion that Zack should step down, the man isn't fighting to keep his job until the people who can fire him are starting to emit opinions like that. Get over yourselves, people. You don't run the country.

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Good negativity

Ninety percent of all ads in the current American election campaign are negative.

I stumbled across this little tidbit yesterday in a post on an American blog that was complaining about the negativity. Which was itself a negative post, ironically enough. It's impossible to decry something without being negative.

And that is as good a demonstration as any that not all negativity is bad. Nobody can be positive about child rape, for instance, at least not anybody you would want to have sitting in your living room.

Negativity can also be a powerful teaching and communication tool. Any teacher worth her salt knows that contrast is indispensable in teaching new concepts. One of the best ways to help students understand what something IS is by showing them at the same time what it ISN'T.

This can be done very legitimately in a political ad too. "My opponent advocates this. I think it's a bad idea for reasons X, Y, Z, and this is what I propose instead and why." This I would consider good negativity. It provides a positive counterbalance.

The problem arises when there is no positive message at all, when the ad consists uniquely of criticism or mudslinging. This caters to our lower instincts and to them only and contributes in every way to the lowering of the political debate. I heartily oppose it.

And that too, is good negativity.

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Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Excellent commentary on the detainee bill

Finally! I feel like I've seen the light at the end of the tunnel! This is the absolute best commentary on the detainee bill and the issues surrounding it that I have seen yet. Not just commentary either, but a practical roadmap for the future. I wish Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal Group were in power. (My thanks to Pat of Stubborn Facts for drawing this article to my attention.)

In "The Right Approach to Rough Treatment," he grapples with the moral, legislative, and practical aspects of the detainee bill and offers some common sense solutions whereby virtually everybody on every side of this debate could come away reasonably satisfied. And all in a relatively short article in wonderfully clear and lucid language. A sample:
In any case, if a law bans the use of "alternative methods" even in the direst circumstances, it will succeed only in driving those methods underground. "Any president, Democrat or Republican, faced with really frightening, bone-chilling threat reports and credible claims that he can stop bad things from happening, is going to be very hard-pressed not to push his powers to the full extent of the law," says Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former official in the Bush Justice Department. Responsible law-making respects not just human rights but also human realities.

My view is worth no more than yours or anyone else's, but here it is: The law should leave room for exceptional recourse to "alternative" interrogation techniques, while making sure that their use is genuinely exceptional. On that score, both the Bush bill and the Senate alternative improved on the post-9/11 Bush regime, under which the president made up the law as he went along and no one could say boo about it; and both improved on the Supreme Court's Hamdan regime, under which almost any sort of rough interrogation, however necessary, might be judged a war crime.

Both bills, though, made the same mistake: While concerning themselves quite properly with legality, they omitted accountability.
Read the entire article, as this excerpt taken out of context doesn't really do it justice. If I were an American citizen, I would be contacting my Congressman and Senators to promote Rauch's solutions.

As a normal rule, I don't comment much on internal American affairs, for the simple reason that I'm not an American. I've made an exception for the whole question of torture for several reasons. First, the moral issues are so profound and could have such a major impact on the rest of the world in so many ways, that I felt it would be irresponsible to just look the other way. Secondly, foreign nationals, including Canadians, are directly impacted by American legislation and practices. Lacking a vote and a representative to affect the issue directly, I have to hope that my discussion of it will, in some small way, contribute to the best possible outcome.

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Egypt loses patience with Hamas

Maclean's is reporting that Egypt has sent a letter to Hamas - which has been acknowledged - demanding that they form a unity government with President Abbas and release the Franco-Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
The Egyptian demand came in a "strongly worded letter" from Egypt's powerful intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to the Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the letter.

The letter also demanded Hamas co-operate fully with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in forming a national unity government, a step that has been stalled by the militant group's refusal to form an administration that recognizes Israel.

The message reflected increasing impatience with Hamas by Egypt, which has been mediating for months, trying to reach a deal on a prisoner swap for the release of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who is being held by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza.

An adult has arrived on the scene! I'm not sure that even Egypt can grap Hamas by the scruff of its neck and haul it into reality, but they've got as good a shot as anybody else on the planet. It would take some pretty intense pressure over an extended period of time to have any lasting result, it seems to me. Cognitive therapy always works better with a willing participant.

Up until now, I think the majority of the Arab world was perfectly content to let the Palestinians moulder. In the last 60 years, they have only paid lip service to solidarity with the Palestinians, who were never very popular with their Arab brothers anyway. A perpetually needy, "oppressed" Palestine enabled them to turn the eyes of their own discontents toward Israel, instead of looking toward reform at home. A festering Palestine was highly useful.

It is Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad who shook up this cozy arrangement. The Arab states are deeply worried about an aggressive Iran actively seeking to become a major player beyond its borders. Muslim solidarity would not be able to handle that kind of strain. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan in particular can only view with alarm Persian incursions through its unruly proxy Hezbollah.

Egypt finds itself in the position, not for the first time, where its interests coincide with Israel's. A strong Israel, undistracted by Palestinian troublemakers, could put Hezbollah in its place better than anyone else, particularly since UNIFIL is obviously not going to accomplish anything meaningful.
Members of the international force sent to Lebanon under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 have said that they cannot set up checkpoints, search cars or trucks, homes or businesses, or detain suspects.

Commanders of the force, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or Unifil, say the resolution places Lebanese sovereignty paramount - meaning they first must be authorized by the Lebanese Army to take such actions."

So Egypt has obviously decided that new tactics are necessary. Hamas is "studying" the letter. I imagine they're in a state of shock. If this doesn't wake them up, only total collapse of the Palestinian Authority to the point that both Fatah and Hamas are rejected by the Palestinian people in favour of someone willing to deal with Israel could bring about any real change.

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Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Text of the declassified NIE

This is the integral text as released earlier today.

Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” dated April 2006

Key Judgments

United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that al-Qa’ida will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad by a single terrorist organization. We also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al-Qa’ida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.
• Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.
• If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.
• Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on al-Qa’ida, could erode support for the jihadists.
We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.
• We assess that the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance to US counterterrorism efforts, particularly abroad but also in the Homeland.
• The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings.
We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
• The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate.
• Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq “jihad;” (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims—all of which jihadists exploit.
Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement. They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists’ radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation, and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.
• The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution— - an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari’a-based governance spanning the Muslim world - —is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists’ propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.
• Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.
• Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.

If democratic reform efforts in Muslim majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives. Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities
for jihadists to exploit.

Al-Qa’ida, now merged with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.
• The loss of key leaders, particularly Usama Bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups. Although like-minded individuals would endeavor to carry on the mission, the loss of these key leaders would exacerbate strains and disagreements.

We assess that the resulting splinter groups would, at least for a time, pose a less serious threat to US interests than does al-Qa’ida.
• Should al-Zarqawi continue to evade capture and scale back attacks against Muslims, we assess he could broaden his popular appeal and present a global threat.
• The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qa’ida in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations.

Other affiliated Sunni extremist organizations, such as Jemaah Islamiya, Ansar al-Sunnah, and several North African groups, unless countered, are likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation.
• We assess that such groups pose less of a danger to the Homeland than does al-Qa’ida but will pose varying degrees of threat to our allies and to US interests abroad. The focus of their attacks is likely to ebb and flow between local regime targets and regional or global ones.

We judge that most jihadist groups— - both well-known and newly formed— - will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.
• CBRN capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups.

While Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, remain the most active state sponsors of terrorism, many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists.

Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.
• We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support.

Original text available here in PDF format.

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Instant Celebrity in Hollywood

Dispatch from LA (only slightly retouched):

K, so Mondays are gonna be our day off, so today being Monday they decided to bring us to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

We went inside a mall, and we decided to crowd around this guy named Shaun and pretend he was someone super famous. We asked him for autographs and everything. We just wanted to see if anyone else would start crowding around.

Anyways, after about 2 minutes there were 200 people around taking pictures. Flashes were going everywhere, and people who didn't know him were asking to take pictures with him. It was the most hilarious thing ever! These people had no idea who he was, but they figured that he seemed to be famous so they might as well take advantage and get a picture and autograph. Security showed up eventually and that's when we ran out, and the crowd followed... security didn't.

That definitely made my day.

Style over substance in the land where image is everything!

One of my sons just headed to Los Angeles for a 9-month stint at the Dream Center, a non-profit Christian outreach dedicated to helping inner cities. The young people enrolled in the Master's Commission are obviously well-equipped with a sense of humour.

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The National Intelligence Estimate and what it means [Updated]

Leaked reports by unnamed sources of the National Intelligence Estimate that came out a few days ago have been generating an enormous amount of media buzz.
The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

Needless to say, the Democrats are all over it, saying that this justifies withdrawing from Iraq as soon as possible.

The blogosphere is all over it too. Being committed to the idea that examining different viewpoints is essential to coming to any intelligent conclusion, I offer you some of the varying viewpoints.

Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory adamantly opposes the war in Iraq, and sees the report as providing the ultimate justification for that position. He didn't actually call for immediate withdrawal, mind you, at least not in this post.
So, a recap of the Iraq war: there were never any WMDs. The proliferation of government death squads and militias in Iraq means that, compared to the Saddam era, human rights have worsened and torture has increased to record levels. Iranian influence has massively increased, as a result of a Shiite fundamentalist government loyal to Tehran replacing the former anti-Iranian regime. We've squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. And we have -- according to the consensus of our own intelligence community -- directly worsened the terrorist problem with our invasion, and continue to worsen it with our ongoing occupation.

Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters approaches the issue from the other side and dismisses even the basic premise of the report.
It's a fascinating article, and one CQ readers should read in its entirety. It makes the classic logical fallacy of confusing correlation with causation, and the basic premise can easily be dismissed with a reminder of some basic facts.

First and foremost, Islamist radicalism didn't just start expanding in 2003. The most massive expansion of Islamist radicalism came after the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when the Islamists defeated one of the world's superpowers. Shortly afterwards, the staging of American forces in Saudi Arabia to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait created the most significant impulse for the expansion of organized Islamist radicalism and led directly to the formation of al-Qaeda. It put the US in Wahhabi jihadist crosshairs for the first time.

Finally, Bobby at Stubborn Facts approaches the whole issue from a military background and provides a rather sophisticated analysis that is not as overtly partisan. His basic argument is that while the war in Iraq may have started as a war of choice, it has now become a war of necessity, and an immediate withdrawal could have disastrous consequences.
On the other hand, it does not logically follow that our security interests would be any better served by handing over control of the country to those radical Islamists who would likely come to power in a premature American withdrawal. In fact, in the event of a premature withdrawal (and by premature, I mean any withdrawal before the legitimate Iraqi government has developed the functional capability to provide for its own security, repond to the needs of its citizens, and provide for a stable Iraqi society that does not support international terrorism), it's far more likely that the Islamist radicals would be far better able to exploit this defeat-- by celebrating their victory and establishing bases of operation-- that would make the radicals more lethal, in terms of quantity and quality, in their attacks against the West.

I strongly recommend having a look at all three, especially Bobby's. At least read the ones you disagree with...

[Update - Sept. 26] John in the comments links us to Robert Kagan's column in the Washington Post. Anonymous Liberal has seen it too, and he sure didn't like it. He takes it on blow by blow in his post today. Meanwhile, Captain Ed is calling for the release of a redacted version. He's got his own set of quotes from the NIE, courtesy of Spook86, which suggest that there's a lot more nuance to it than the NYTimes' initial report would lead us to believe. He has a point. Selective quotes from unnamed sources are not exactly the bedrock of comprehensive, balanced reporting.

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White and Nerdy

[Update] It's not "White and Needy", it's "White and NERDY". Just so ya know.

Straight Outta LynwoodWell, the big day has arrived! Weird Al Yankovic's new album, Straight Outta Lynwood, is in stores. My kids are delighted, especially because they think he has relinked with his comic muse after a bit of a recent slump. For those of you who are as uncool as me and lack children in the right age bracket to keep you in the loop, Weird Al has made a very successful career of spoofing the rock and roll and rap/hiphop worlds. His parodies are sometimes gut-wrenchingly funny.

YouTube doesn't seem to like BetaBlogger, so I can't put up the videoclip here, but you can click on over if you want to see/hear Weird Al's White and Nerdy. While you're there, check out Brown and Nerdy, an MIT math prof who analyzes the formulae used in the background of the video, and explains the errors, spoofing himself as he does so. It's so bad, it's good. I'm NOT making this up. You just can't make stuff like that up.

White and Nerdy is a track that particularly pleases in this family, seeing as we number a nerd or two. None of us wear pocket protectors or can recite pi, though. You see, we're NERDS, not geeks. There is a difference, they tell me, although some of those Internet nerd tests don't seem to get it.

This is how I rate:

I am nerdier than 38% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

My kids would beg to differ. They tell me I am very definitely a nerd. Big time. But not a geek.

Personally, I prefer Don't Download this Song, a great spoof of aid concert mass choral pieces, telling you that you are starting down the slippery slope of hardcore criminality if you download the song and deprive the artist of another solid gold Humvee.

Now that I've upped my cool quotient, I'll go back to regular programming.

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Monday, 25 September 2006

Torture techniques specifically banned

The Washington Post is reporting that John McCain has specifically named some extreme measures that would no longer be allowed under the compromise detainee bill.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) named three measures that he said would no longer be allowed under a provision barring techniques that cause serious mental or physical suffering by U.S. detainees: extreme sleep deprivation, forced hypothermia and "waterboarding," which simulates drowning. He also said other "extreme measures" would be banned.

McCain's remarks were unusual because public officials involved in the lengthy public debate about U.S. interrogation practices have rarely made specific references to the CIA's actions. Instead, they have made general claims about the need for rough interrogations or a desire to stop abusive behavior.

"It's clear we have to have the high moral ground," said McCain, a former POW tortured by prison guards in Vietnam, on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I am confident that some of the abuses that were reportedly committed in the past will be prohibited in the future."

McCain spoke after officials of Human Rights Watch and others pressed him to spell out ways in which the controversial draft legislation would constrain the CIA's actions. The bill, introduced in the Senate on Friday, does not mention specific interrogation methods, causing some experts to say it would leave room for abuses. President Bush endorsed the bill after CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said it meets his agency's needs.

McCain, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and their staffs were heavily involved in drafting the bill's language, so McCain's reading of it may carry weight in any court battle over its meaning. Aides said he did not clear his remarks with the Bush administration in advance, and spokesmen for the CIA and the White House declined to say yesterday whether they accept McCain's conclusions.

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters takes umbrage at the fact that McCain made this information public.
What kind of damage could this do? Islamists who watch American media will note the exceptions McCain listed and tell their operatives that they will not need to prepare for waterboarding and can prepare for less rigorous techniques. While it isn't quite the same thing as telling them all of the approved techniques, it gives another edge to the Islamists -- an edge we didn't need to give them.

Serious and responsible people would understand this. Apparently, John McCain doesn't qualify as either.
Sorry Ed, I have to disagree. (Boy, I bet that will keep him awake all night...) I don't think it's a mistake at all to let detainees, future detainees, the American public and the rest of the world to know that the US will not stoop that low. Or will no longer stoop that low. Quite apart from the moral ramifications, which are considerable, it will generate respect for the US, as opposed to disgusted fear. In the long run, it will go a lot further.

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Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 25

Paul Kretkowski of Beacon is defending the Coke plant in Afghanistan. He doesn't buy the argument that it's a waste of water resources or harmful to the country in any way.
The point of Coca-Cola being in Kabul is that someone in the country has the capacity to purify water in very large amounts, and this over time leads to more people being able to do the same. The people at Coke aren’t stupid; if they’re in Afghanistan it’s because a) Coke (and its local bottler) thinks there’s a market, and b) Coke can do business there, which means it can assure access to a water supply, electricity, glass bottles, trucks, pallets, gasoline and so on.

Coke’s need for these civilizational essentials creates infrastructure, and so Afghan civilians should eventually benefit from the Coke plant both directly (jobs) and indirectly (steadier supplies of the items needed to make Coke, which are the same items needed for at least 20th-century life).

Disclaimer, disclosure, and echo chambers

Disclaimer: I represent myself and myself alone in any opinions expressed as such on this blog. I am currently in no position of any authority in any institution whatsoever, so my opinions can not safely be considered those of any identifiable group of people. So if you don't like what I say, put the blame on me personally.

Disclosure: I am an evangelical Christian (but not a fundamentalist - look it up), which is probably the single most important cornerstone in my identity. I do try to assess my stand on any issue through filters of truth and justice (I know it sounds corny, but I mean it) to the best of my finite understanding. My politics tend more to the right wing, but I'm highly suspicious of highly partisan people, who far too often have replaced independent thought with a worship of labels. I am still mystified by what is considered left or right wing at times. In Russia, right-wingers are diehard Marxists. So I feel no obligation to see any party platform as Holy Writ, or any political leader as a Messiah. I also have no trouble at all directing criticism at somebody I could cheerfully vote for at the next election. Nobody's perfect, and I figure it's better when leaders are held accountable by their supporters first. I am also the mother of five children, which means I am not easily impressed by tears, whining or temper tantrums...

Echo chamber: n. A room or enclosure with acoustically reflective walls used in broadcasting and recording to produce echoes or similar sound effects. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved September 25, 2006, from website. Or, metaphorically, a group of people who echo their unanimous opinions back at each other and reinforce each other, excluding and often reviling any others. This is what too much of the blogosphere has become. To prevent that from being my experience, I read an eclectic group of blogs (listed in the sidebar) that comprises liberals, conservatives and undefinables, Christians, Jews, atheists and Muslims, obervers of the political scene, observers of daily life, Americans, Canadians... They have in common that they hold their opinions with a certain amount of intelligence and rationality. Linking to any particular post of theirs does not necessarily mean I agree, but that I consider it worthy of attention for one reason or another.

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Sunday, 24 September 2006

Dysfunctional Palestinians

"Palestinians never miss an opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot."

I heard that one decades ago, and it has never ceased to amaze me how doggedly they will prove it over and over again. Is there any more profoundly dysfunctional group of people on the planet?

Hamas and Fatah absolutely have to work together to pull the Palestinian Authority out of its morass, but Hamas absolutely refuses to do anything that implies a recognition of Israel, precisely what it needs to do to recover its funding. To complicate things, gunmen are threatening any political leaders that try to find a way out of their international isolation.
In Gaza City, meanwhile, two dozen Islamic militant gunmen threatened to attack any coalition that recognized Israel.

"We will fight against it by all means, and we will deal with it as an entity linked to the occupation," said one of the gunmen, who would only identify himself by his nom de guerre, Abu Abir.

The gunmen, who gathered outside a mosque, represent only a small splinter group. However, it marked the first time Palestinian militants said publicly they were prepared to attack government officials.

Nobody can accuse Hamas of being inconsistent. They have consistently lived in an alternate reality from day one. Consider their January offer of "hudna," as reported by
Al-Zahar refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, claiming that Hamas would decide that issue once they met his demands as set forth. Those demands include “to release our detainees; to stop their aggression; to make geographic link between Gaza Strip and West Bank”.

The substance of the above demands aside, the true insight into the subject offered by Hamas came with the qualifier that followed the demands, as al-Zahar concluded, “at that time, with assurance from other sides, we are going to accept to establish our independent state at that time, and give us one or two, 10, 15 years time in order to see what is the real intention of Israel after that.”

In short, if Israel releases all of its prisoners (not happening, as many are held on direct charges of acts of terrorism), pulls out of the West Bank entirely (including all settlements), ceases all operations (presumably including future operations in reaction to attacks by any other Palestinian-based terror group not recognizing a Hamas hudna), and gives them an additional swath of land from Israel proper in the Negev Desert that links Gaza and the West Bank, then Hamas will think about reconsidering their recognition of Israel.
Now isn't that a compelling bargaining position?

Hudna, by the way, refers to a temporary truce to be entered into when Muslims are in a position of weakness. So, let's recapitulate: give us everything we want, we will give you nothing in return, and then maybe, just maybe, we might temporarily concede that you have a right to exist. But just for a little while.

I'm willing to believe that even a total collapse of the Palestinian Authority will not bring these guys to their senses. Is there any way of breaking through that level of delusion? Perhaps if things get bad enough, the Palestinian people as a whole will get fed up and massively reject both the corrupt Fatah and the delusional Hamas, but I'm not holding my breath. It does seem to be the only possible way back to the real world though.

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Travesty of justice in Libya

Reader_iam at Done With Mirrors is making an impassioned plea for anyone with a conscience to do something concrete to help the medical workers facing execution in Libya. One Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses are charged with deliberately infecting children in their care with AIDS. The medical evidence which exonerated them was thrown out of court, presumably because it made the Libyan hospital system look bad. Their lawyers, from Lawyers Without Borders, believe that only international pressure can help them now.
Write, blog, call--whatever. Do something. And if you're a scientist in a relevent field, do whatever you can do, or if you know someone who is a scientist in a relevent field, ask him or her to speak out, in whatever fashion, and/or contact appropriate professional organizations or affiliations.

Being neither a lawyer nor a scientist, I certainly can't contribute any expertise, but I do plan on writing Peter Mackay, minister of Foreign Affairs, Stephen Harper, prime minister, and John Baird, my local MP. Not much, but every little bit helps.

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It's so nice to know they care!

I am rather amused, or perhaps bemused, by the fact that I've had several visits to this site from the CBC. Every one of them had done a search for Christina Lawand in some form or another. I guess it's good to know they care what we think.

Christina, if it's you checking in, I for one am willing to let bygones be bygones. A personal apology and a promise to play fair in the future would about do it. And of course, coming through on that promise. Where have they been hiding you these days, anyway?

By the way, I also don't really care if you or the entire CBC is biased. As long as you're scrupulously fair and truthful in your reporting, which admittedly, is more difficult when leaning hard to one side.

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