Foreign Affairs

How Britain Voted

It’s a hung parliament folks. PM Theresa May thought she had more conservative support, called for a snap election, and was unable to find a conservative majority, thanks largely to large amounts of young voters going Labour, and the decline of smaller parties.

What is going to happen? With the blessing of the Queen, it looks like the Conservative Party will try to form a minority government with help from a party in Northern Ireland.  We’ll see.  Either way, Britain is dazed and confused as it enters Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Day 117. Wow.

1/ Trump asked James Comey to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation in a February memo he wrote shortly after meeting with Trump. “I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey. The request is the clearest evidence that he tried to directly influence the Justice Department and FBI investigations. Comey kept detailed notes of his meetings with Trump, documenting what he perceived as improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An FBI agent’s notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations. (New York Times)

2/ Trump defended his decision to share ISIS intelligence with Russia, tweeting that he had an “absolute right” to do so in the interest of fighting terrorism. Trump’s tweets undercut his administration’s effort to contain the report, where Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, and the deputy national security adviser for strategy all called the report that Trump revealed highly classified information to Russia false. The information was considered so sensitive that US officials had not shared it widely within the government or among allies. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal)

UPDATE:

Three administration officials conceded that Trump simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods that would do harm to United States allies. (New York Times)

  • Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian diplomats during their Oval Office meeting last week, which has jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. (WTF Just Happened Today)
  • “This is really the nightmare scenario for the intelligence community,” a former CIA officer said, and as a result Trump could have hampered the US response to ISIS. (Politico)
  • Initial thoughts on the Washington Post’s game-changing story: It matters who we have running the most powerful institution in the world. (Lawfare)

3/ McMaster backs Trump’s sharing of sensitive intelligence with Russians: “It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary.” He added that Trump “wasn’t even aware where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.” McMaster refused to confirm whether the information the president shared with the Russians was highly classified. (ABC News / Washington Post / Politico)

4/ Israel was the source of ISIS-related intelligence that Trump shared with Russia last week. Two Israeli officials said that the intelligence shared by Trump “syncs up” with intelligence that shared with its US counterparts. The revelation is Israel’s “worst fears confirmed” as it raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia’s close ally and Israel’s main threat in the Middle East. (New York Times / BuzzFeed News / NBC News / Wall Street Journal)

5/ CIA Director Mike Pompeo will brief the members of the House intelligence committee today on what Trump discussed with Russian officials last week, following claims that Trump apparently revealed classified information. (CNN)

6/ Republican and Democratic lawmakers to Trump: hand over the transcript of the meeting with the Russians. Members of Congress have spent several days demanding that Trump turn over tapes of White House meetings after he suggested that he records his conversations. Those calls intensified after Trump acknowledged on Twitter that he had shared sensitive information during his meeting with the Russians. White House aides have neither confirmed nor denied the possibility that Trump records his conversations at the White House. (Washington Post)

  • Lawmakers express shock and concern about Trump disclosure of classified information. “They are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said of the Trump administration. “The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment.” (Washington Post)

7/ Mitch McConnell called for “less drama” from Trump. “I think it would be helpful if the president spent more time on things we’re trying to accomplish and less time on other things,” McConnell said. (Bloomberg)

8/ Trump will disclose some of his personal finances this year, which will likely indicate his personal income, assets, and liabilities. They won’t contain details like his tax rate or any charitable donations. (Associated Press)

9/ Paul Manafort took out a $3.5 million mortgage and never paid taxes on it. The former Trump campaign manager took out the mortgage through a shell company just after leaving the campaign and never paid the $36,000 in taxes that would be due on the loan. (NBC News)

10/ Trump to meet with Turkey’s president amid differences over the Trump administration’s plan to directly arm Kurdish rebels in Syria for the fight against ISIS. Turkey considers the group a terrorist organization, because it maintains ties with a Kurdish revolutionary group inside Turkey. (ABC News)

11/ Gingrich urged Trump to shut down White House press room in order to send a message to the country “that the media is a corrupt institution and [Trump] is tired of being harassed by people whose only interest is making him look bad.” (Politico)

poll/ 48% of voters support impeaching Trump compared to 41% that are opposed to the idea. 43% of voters think Trump is actually going to end up serving his full term, while 45% think he won’t. 12% aren’t sure one way or the other. (Public Policy Polling)

The Bannon Downgrade Isn’t Just About Palace Infighting; It Means Globalists Are Beating The Nationalists

“America First” might still be the motto of the Trump White House, but what that means might be something than it originally meant.  Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council could mean that Trump is starting to see America’s interest as inextricably linked to global events, rather than as something separable.  The New Yorker gets it:

For students of White House infighting, dynastic regimes, and Trump’s mental makeup, there is enough material in those two paragraphs to support several interpretations of what’s happening. One is that the Crown Prince, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has had enough of Bannon’s right-wing-revolutionary shtick; while Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs, never had much sympathy for it to begin with. And Papa Don has never have gotten over the February 13th cover of Time magazine, which featured a close-up shot of Bannon and the headline “The Great Manipulator.”

Other readings could be offered, of course, and some of them may be more accurate. But the real import of Bannon’s departure from the N.S.C. goes beyond personalities and palace intrigue. It confirms a trend we’ve seen developing for weeks now: the Trump Administration’s globalists, such as Kushner and Cohn, are growing in influence, while the nationalists—led by Bannon—are on the defensive.

To most members of the Washington foreign-policy establishment, regardless of party affiliation, that will come as an immense relief. It suggests that business as usual—Atlanticism, free trade, American economic and military engagement across the globe—will ultimately prevail. Bannon has embraced an alternative vision, which he calls “economic nationalism.” Many of his critics have identified it as a desire to upend the international order that was established after the Second World War, and to replace it with a protectionist, ethnocentric model—one in which the United States, Russia, and nationalist-led European countries join together to fight Islam and confront a rising China. During the campaign, and even during the transition, Trump sometimes seemed to be leaning in Bannon’s direction. But since he has taken office, the actions of his Administration have indicated otherwise.

The first indication of what was to come occurred in February, when Trump backed off the threatening signals he’d been sending to the Chinese, which had included accepting a phone call from the President of Taiwan, a country that Beijing regards as an integral part of the Middle Kingdom. In a telephone conversation with President Xi on February 9th, Trump said he would honor the “One China” policy that the U.S. government has recognized since Richard Nixon went to Beijing, in 1972.

Kushner, whose daughter Arabella is learning Mandarin, appears to have played an important role here. According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s Ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, courted Kushner assiduously—and, apparently, successfully. “Trump’s son-in-law is key,” Wu Xinbo, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, in Shanghai, told the Journal. “First, he’s our ambassador’s main point of contact with Trump. Second, he’s the main figure for passing ideas and suggestions on China policy.”

Trump has also retreated from his jarring rhetoric about nato. In January, the President-elect told a German newspaper that the military alliance was “obsolete,” raising fears all over Europe that his Administration might revive American isolationism. But in early March, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, wrote to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, and asked Congress to ratify Montenegro’s membership in nato—a clear expression of support for its continued expansion. A couple of weeks later, the White House confirmed that Trump will attend a nato summit in May, alongside Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and other European leaders

Trump’s approach to Syria may also be changing. In the dystopian “Clash of Civilizations” scenario that Bannon and his supporters subscribe to, Syria represents an important staging ground in the U.S.-led crusade against radical Islam, and an example of what future U.S.-Russian coöperation could look like. But the photographs of children being asphyxiated by Assad’s chemical weapons appear to have given Trump pause about being associated with the Assad-Putin axis. At a press conference on Wednesday, he said, “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

The biggest turnaround has come in the area of trade. During the campaign, Trump threatened to slap import duties of forty-five per cent on China and thirty-five per cent on Mexico. He said that on his first day in office, he would designate China as a currency manipulator. These things didn’t happen. Recently, the White House has let it be known that, far from starting a trade war with Mexico, it is seeking only modest changes to nafta—the very nafta that Trump has described as “a disaster” and the worst trade agreement in history.

“According to an administration draft proposal being circulated in Congress by the U.S. trade representative’s office,” the Journalreported last week, “the U.S. would keep some of Nafta’s most controversial provisions, including an arbitration panel that lets investors in the three nations circumvent local courts to resolve civil claims. Critics of these panels said they impinge on national sovereignty.” The story went on: “The U.S. also wouldn’t use the Nafta negotiations to deal with disputes over foreign-currency policies or to hit numerical targets for bilateral trade deficits, as some trade hawks have been urging.”

It would hardly be surprising if the Administration’s evolving trade policy is one of the sources of tension between Bannon and Cohn, who is head of the National Economic Council. Although the nafta proposal was circulated by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, it also appeared to reflect the thinking of Cohn and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, both of whom are former Goldman Sachs executives (and Democratic Party contributors).

***

The one puzzle—and potential hiccup—in all of this is Trump. From the get-go, there has been a glaring contradiction in his approach to the world. While his rhetoric has, at times, embraced nativism, isolationism, and protectionism, he is himself a consummate globalist. As a television celebrity and developer, his business is largely based on selling his name around the world and attracting foreign money, some of it of dubious origin, to his U.S. real-estate ventures.

The question has always been, Which Trump will win out: the nationalist rabble-rouser or the avatar of global capitalism? It is still too early to say for sure. But the evidence is pointing in one direction, and the outcome of the meeting with President Xi may well confirm it.

Possible Terrorist Attack In Berlin

In a day that has already seen a diplomatic assassination, it looks like we might have a terrorist attack on our hands.

A truck ran into a Christmas market an hour or so ago in a major public square in Berlin. There are reports of several dead, 50 injured. The incident happened in Breitscheidplatz in western Berlin.

Because of the similarity between this and the Nice terrorist attack in July, many are making the assumption that this was intentional.  Berlin media said police at the scene had said initial indications pointed to an attack, which is just a soft allegation at best.

According to one witness, the truck veered off Budapester Strasse across the pavement and stopped just before the Christmas tree on the square. The street has been cordoned off and a meeting point for relatives has been set up. The Christmas market has been cleared and a police spokesman said there are concerns the crash may have caused a gas leak.

UPDATE:   Berlin police say nine dead.

And now word of a lockdown in Brussels as terror police swoop in.

UPDATE #2:  Driver of the truck was arrested.  No shootout as in Nice.  So apparently, we will know motive soon.  CNN is reporting that Berlin police are investigating the incident as an act of terrorism.

Trump’s South Of The Border Gambit

All eyes on Trump today.

It’s a day when he is set to give his big immigration speech, which should help to clarify his muddled position.  He used to be for the wall and mass deportation, but in the past few days, he’s hinted at NOT mass deporting 11 million “illegals” (as he calls them) — which is impossible anyway.  He has suggested touchback provisions (they leave and then come right back, except we leave the “bad ones” out) or something else… everything has been suggested except what the majority of Americans are in favor of… a path to citizenship (or amnesty).  His on-TV surrogates insist — with no credibility — that Trump is not changing from his hardline position, even as he indicates that he is indeed softening.  The whole thing is an exercise in ambiguity, just enough to satisfy his base but also appear to appease people with Trumpian doubts.

That speech is tonight.

But the BIG news — one that his advisers are saying is a potential “gamechanger” — is Trump’s visit to Mexico today.  This was prepared within the last 24 hours.  President Peña Nieto of Mexico had invited both campaigns to visit.  Trump took up the offer.

I, along with many others, consider this to be high risk, high reward.  And to be honest, I’m not sure what is going on.  Trump and Nieto will meet privately and talk.  Both will say something about their meeting…. and…. that’s it?

What do is a “win” here for Trump?  Unless he comes back with a check for $200 billion earmarked for “the wall”, I don’t see what he has to gain.  Maybe some in the Trump campaign thinks it raises his stature, particularly on a day when he is giving a speech on immigration.  I don’t see how though.  Trump has been bashing Mexico for over a year. I mean, here’s the statement that literally launched Trump’s campaign — 218 words into his first speech:

“When Mexico sends their people …  They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump later added:

“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

So, it seems, visiting Mexico would lower his stature if you believe in Trump.

Maybe the Trump campaign thinks it is like a “Nixon goes to China” thing.  Except Trump isn’t Nixon and Mexico is (unlike China in the 1970s) an ally and trade partner.  And Trump’s advisers are certainly no Kissingers.  But Trump DOES think Mexico is the enemy.

It’s just hard to see what Trump gets out of this.

More importantly, you have to wonder about Nieto’s motives.  He probably didn’t think it would work out this way.  He invited both candidates; he expected only Clinton would respond (if anybody).  That plan backfired — that’s my guess.

Still, is is happening. Nieto is very unpopular in Mexico.  Polling at 23% favorability, he is in the midst of a plagiarism and corruption scandal.  Meeting with Trump, who is also hated by Mexicans for obvious reasons, seems to be a stupid move, UNLESS Nieto has something up his sleeve.  Peña Nieto has every reason to play the tough guy and earn Trump’s wrath. Everyone in Mexico hates Trump, so standing up to him, or even embarrassing him, would be a political win.

But the same might be true of Trump. His base would certainly go wild at the prospect of Trump having a beef with the president of Mexico. The last thing they want is a cordial get together that suggests some kind of future rapprochement. And if Trump plays it right, a meeting that could be spun as an insult to America might even help him with swing voters.

Then again, maybe Trump desperately wants Peña Nieto’s respect, and wants this meeting to demonstrate that he’s not just a bomb thrower who can’t be trusted with international relations.

Because the whole endeavor is fraught with unpredictability, Josh Marshall has what seems like the most sensible take — “Can Trump Be This Stupid? Not A Trick Question”:

It’s a general rule of politics not to enter into unpredictable situations or cede control of an event or happening to someone who wants to hurt you. President Nieto definitely does not want Donald Trump to become President. He probably assumes he won’t become president, simply by reading the polls. President Nieto is himself quite unpopular at the moment. But no one is more unpopular than Donald Trump. Trump is reviled. Toadying to Trump would be extremely bad politics; standing up to him, good politics…

Remember that the central force of Trump’s political brand is dominance politics. Trump commands, people obey. Trump strikes, victims suffer. It will be extremely difficult for him to manage anything like this in the Mexican capital. He comes with a weak hand, no leverage and the look of a loser. All Peña Nieto needs to say is no.

Again, when you’re in a campaign under constant scrutiny you do your best to control every situation, reduce the risk of unpredictable, embarrassing or damaging events. You try not to cede control to others. You especially try not to cede near total control to someone who has every interest in the world in harming you. The maximal version of that ‘big thing you’re not supposed to do’ is precisely what it looks like Trump is doing.

Trump’s Razor helps here. It’s tempting to assume that there’s some angle Trump has here, some plan or understanding with Peña Nieto to make this not as silly a decision as it appears to be. I’m tempted because how could they think this was a good idea? Trump’s Razor tells us to resist this temptation. “The stupidest scenario possible that can be reconciled with the available facts.” I think that’s what we have here. It’s as stupid as it looks. Who knows? Maybe Trump will handle this deftly and it’ll be a huge success. But Trump’s Razor has yet to fail me. So I’m going to stick with it.

It is hard to know what Trump’s thinking is, or if there is any thinking at all. [UPDATE: He is apparently not bringing along his press corps, which is both unprecedented and unusual for a presidential candidate going abroad. Makes the whole trip even stranger]

If I were Peña Nieto, I would meet Trump at the airport, and with the Mexican press pool there, hand Trump one of his Mexico-made Trump shirts, shake his hand, and walk away.

In the meantime, we need to build that wall to keep Trump down there.

Anyway, you look at it — Trump wins this news cycle… perhaps he will wish otherwise.

UPDATE:  Conservative fan fiction

Tweet from former Mexican ambassador to China:

UPDATE #2:  Viewing the outrage in Mexico about this meeting, Josh Marshall is having additional thoughts.

It would be one thing if Pena Nieto had some grand and tightly organized plan to humiliate Trump. But the evidence of the last 24 hours suggests he’s winging it perhaps every bit as much as Trump himself. Having two clumsy political actors together on the same literal and figurative stage in a highly volatile situation is not one geared to good outcomes. It seems to me like you have a good chance that neither player has much of any idea what he’s doing, and Pena Nieto is already under the gun because of the furious reaction to the news that started last night.

This confrontation of panic, confusion and poor planning is magnified by a less noted factor. Organizing a foreign trip for a President or would-be president is a highly complicated affair, especially when you figure in security needs. It never gets done on a day’s notice. We’re now hearing that the US Embassy in Mexico City strongly counseled against the idea. Those folks tend to be quite apolitical and logistics focused. We can’t rule out the possibility that Trump’s entourage shows up at the wrong palace or isn’t able to make it back to Arizona in time for the speech.

Also, Trump is not bringing the press along.

I think, at the end of the day, the actual visit might just turn out to be a big nothingburger.  We won’t know what happened or what was said, allowing both Peña Nieto and Trump to spin what happened today (and its purpose) to each’s political advantage: messages that will be crushed in the next news cycle.

Trump’s Non-Convention Fire: His Foreign Policy Interview

Well, we know why Trump doesn’t discuss policy much.  Because when he DOES, oooooh my.  The New York Times has yet another interview with Donald Trump, foreign policy genius. Let’s listen in:

He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Vladimir Putin will be delighted to hear this.

And so much for pledges, right?  We have kept this one to our NATO allies for 75 years.  Trump wants to throw it away or squeeze more out of them.

Trump’s ridiculous comments have already had international repercussions:

So… well done there, Candidate Trump.  No wonder Putin loves you.  Even John Bolton thinks Trump has gone off the rails.

“When an American leader says ‘I’ll look at what the situation is after the Russians attack,’ that is an open invitation to Vladimir Putin,” Bolton said.

“When he (Putin) reads this kind of statement, it’s an encouragement to him. We’re not deterring him, we’re in effect giving him a free hand. So I hope that whoever advised Mr. Trump on this rethinks it,” Bolton said.

UPDATE:  Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager says that the Times got it wrong.  But nope.  The transcript is clear.

Also from the New York Times interview:

Reiterating his threat to pull back United States troops deployed around the world, he said, “We are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion,” citing what he called America’s trade losses. “That doesn’t sound very smart to me.”

Mr. Trump repeatedly defined American global interests almost purely in economic terms. Its roles as a peacekeeper, as a provider of a nuclear deterrent against adversaries like North Korea, as an advocate of human rights and as a guarantor of allies’ borders were each quickly reduced to questions of economic benefit to the United States.

Lots of politicians say American can no longer be policeman of the world. Trump actually believes it. Next:

Mr. Trump said he was convinced that he could persuade Mr. Erdogan to put more effort into fighting the Islamic State. But the Obama administration has run up, daily, against the reality that the Kurds — among the most effective forces the United States is supporting against the Islamic State — are being attacked by Turkey, which fears they will create a breakaway nation.

Asked how he would solve that problem, Mr. Trump paused, then said: “Meetings.”

Not everything is a business deal, jerkface.

Hail The New PM

Theresa May just became the 76th prime minister of the United Kingdom.

May was first elected as a Conservative member of parliament in 1997. She earned a reputation as a modernizer, calling in 2002 for a more inclusive party and warning that many voters saw the Conservatives as the “nasty party.” She briefly served as party chair before assuming her current role of home secretary in 2010.
May has a reputation as a serious-minded workaholic and has been dubbed a “safe pair of hands” by supporters. They maintain that she can be trusted to steer the country as the U.K. begins the fraught process of divorcing the European Union as called for under the Brexit referendum held last month.
A male Conservative party grandee who served under Thatcher and supports May was last week caught in a “hot mic” moment describing her as a “bloody difficult woman.” The unguarded comment likely endeared May to grassroots party members who fondly recall Thatcher’s headstrong and stubborn approach to leadership.
Image: Theresa May

Tony Blair Lied Britain Into The Iraq War (P.S. Bush Did, Too)

Across the pond, rather than running bullshit investigations like our Benghazi hearings, the parliamentarian body did something useful and tried to discern how they got involved in a huge quagmire.

Sir John Chilcot delivered a devastating critique of Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, concluding that Britain chose to join the US invasion before “peaceful options for disarmament” had been exhausted. His report, which amounts to arguably the most scathing official verdict given on any modern British prime minister, concludes:

  • Tony Blair exaggerated the case for war in Iraq
  • There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein
  • Britain’s intelligence agencies produced “flawed information”
  • George Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar planning
  • The UK military were ill-equipped for the task
  • UK-US relations would not have been harmed had the UK stayed out of the war

For his part, Blair disavowed the conclusions of the report, but apologized anyway:

He began by describing the choice to join the US in military action as the “hardest, most momentous, most agonising decision” of his life.

Blair said he had wanted to set the Iraqi people free and secure them from the “evil” of Saddam Hussein, but instead they had become victims of sectarian violence.

“For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever know or believe,” he said, in a speech in which his voice cracked with emotion.

Live Chilcot report live: George Bush says ‘world is better off’ without Saddam as Tony Blair mounts Iraq war defence
Live coverage as Sir John Chilcot unveils his report into the Iraq war. Plus all the day’s other political news as Tory leadership runners go down to three
Read more
The Labour politician went on to repeat that he apologised for the failures in planning the war and its aftermath, but was clear that he still believes the decision to remove Saddam was correct. Iraq could be in a worse state than Syria is now if the regime had not been stopped, he suggested.

“I did it because I thought it was right,” Blair said.

Pressed on what he was apologising for, the former prime minister named three areas where he would have done things differently: presenting the cabinet with an “option paper”; pressing the US to have better planning in place for the aftermath; and sharing the advice of the attorney general to senior colleagues.

More Brexit Fallout

The Dow dropped another 250 points today, as it (and other world markets) assessed the fallout from the UK’s decision to leave the EU.  At one point, it dipped to well below 300 points off.

In addition, Standard & Poor’s announced that it had lowered the United Kingdom’s sovereign credit rating from “AAA” to “AA,” citing last week’s referendum. Fitch, meanwhile, moved its rating from “AA+” to “AA.”

But others are beginning to see even more fallout.  For example. London’s position as one of the world’s premiere financial centers is bound to change in the wake of a vote to leave the European Union.  In coming years, it’s highly possible that major companies in London will no longer have unfettered access to the EU — and many firms have voiced a need to move employees elsewhere.

That’s where Dublin comes in.

“A lot of businesses in the U.K., in order to stay part of the EU, will expand operating subsidiaries or even redomicile to Ireland,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management. “Having Dublin become more of a financial center could be part of the longer-term trajectory here.”

Dublin has a number of things going for it: First and foremost, as the capital of the Republic of Ireland, it’s still in the EU and will continue to enjoy freedom of trade and movement with Europe. It also has close proximity to London and Continental Europe, universal English language fluency, an existing banking presence, and a low tax policy.

 

The World Turned Upside Down

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The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU last night, and even though negotiations to leave will take years, the impact is felt now.  The pound sterling has dropped in value about 10 percent.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who proposed the referendum as a way to remain in office (even though he was against leaving), is quitting.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – overwhelmingly in absolute terms and evenly spread across Scotland. The roots of that are a deeper European identity, reflexive contrariness to England, a deeper attachment to social democracy and many other things. Just two years ago Scotland came just short of voting to leave the UK. One of the small ‘no’ arguments was whether the EU would allow the Scots, at least any time soon, to enter as an independent country. I have zero expertise on Scottish nationalism, but looking at the big picture – the span not of months but of years – it’s hard to see how Scotland doesn’t leave the UK now.

You can count on London losing several major international banks and thousands of jobs to Ireland, Scotland, and/or the continent, something that Farage and Johnson can explain to the sheeple who probably didn’t even know what the hell they were really voting for.

And the US stock market, which opened 35 minutes ago (as I write this) is down 384 points, not as bad as the 508 drop at the opening bell. [UPDATE at 4:10pm – Dow closed down 611, losing all gains made this year in one day] Now, to be sure, the initial markets today and Monday are going to be volatile, but they are also going to be meaningless.  The market needs to be watched, but how it looks two weeks, two months, and even two years from now is more important than how it looks today.  This is not the end of Brexit.  This is the beginning of it.  Years of negotiation about the terms of Brexit are to come.

Here, I think is the most important graph of the day:

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Yes indeed.  As it says, those who must live with the result of the EU referendum the longest want to remain.

What is the market reacting to?  Well, uncertainty.  Uncertainty about the terms of the UK exodus.  Uncertainty as to whether Scotland will leave the UK (Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain).  Uncertainty as to whether France and Germany might follow the UK.

The parallels between the Brexit vote and the US elections are not lost on anybody.  On one side, you have a populist, nationalist, anti-elite, anti-immigration movement — the equivalent of Trumpism here in the States.  On the other side, everybody else– from conservative to liberal — the so-called “elite” (which is actually a compliment).

Ignoring the advice of educated businessmen and politicians, the people of the United Kingdom have spoken, acting more on a sense of nationalism (yes, white nationalism) than reason.

Which is why — already — the United Kingdom is plummeting financially and the pound is worth far less than it was 24 hours ago.  It make trade more difficult for the UK.  It will make travel and foreign training and cultural exchange more expensive.

And some of the things that UK “leave” voters thought would be true simply won’t happen.  Check out this video, where Nigel Farage of the “once-fringe United Kingdom Independence Party” basically owns up to creating a sham “Leave” reason:

Writing for the Guardian, Diane Abbott summed up the Brexit results as a false promise:

For many Brexit voters the prime minister just confirmed to them how little the winners of globalisation like him cared about them, the losers.

If only the false promise that Britain’s malaise of disenfranchisement, voicelessness and an economic system that rewards the rich at the expense of the poor could be fixed by leaving the EU. The idea that migrants or politicians in Brussels are the problem with modern, unequal Britain was the canard at the core the referendum debate.

Britain’s problems come from a place much closer to home. They come from successive government policies that have promoted the financialisation of our economies and public services, thereby valuing profit over people. They come from a Tory government slashing public services and widening inequality under the dubious banner of austerity. And they come from a prime minister who was passionate about nothing but his own political survival.

These problems are so systemic today that fixing them will take a radical change to the structure of both our economy and political class. More of the past will not do to resolve the very real and interconnected global issues of our time: vast and rising wealth inequality, climate change and a foreign policy trapped in a cycle of destruction.

That feels about right.  And the pro-Brexit pundits and politicians are a lot like the dog who finally caught the car.  NOW WHAT?

And those sentiments exist here among those who feel like they are globalization’s losers and the political class’ victims. And who do they listen to?  TRUMP.  Got Mexicans? No problemo. TRUMP stops unwanted immigrants in their tracks. Pesky establishment? TRUMP politically incorrects for that. Lost your job? TRUMP again. Whites not white enough? TRUMP will make them bolder if not brighter.

Trump — located ironically in Scotland today to cut ribbons on his golf course (for the elites) — is, of course, praising this.

For the rest of us, this is a cautionary tale.

And how about this for a plot twist: The Brexit may not happen at all. There have already been murmurs that Thursday’s vote will lead the EU to offer new, more generous terms to convince Britain to stay, prompting a second referendum. An online petition calling for a re-do drew so much traffic that it crashed the U.K. government’s website Friday morning. This is, to be clear, a very unlikely scenario — the referendum results were close, but not that close, and none of Britain’s leaders is backing the idea of a new vote so far. But in theory, it is still possible that we could do all of this again.

Sidenote

Vocativ reports:

After residents of the UK voted today to leave the European Union, the movement for an independent Texas may be gaining serious momentum, with thousands online calling for a “Texit.”

The largest group agitating for secession is the Texas Nationalist Movement, which has been promoting its own version of Brexit, called Texit, over the past several weeks. The group has taken inspiration from the pro-exit campaign in Britain, noting that the two movements share many of the same principles.

Brexit

As the polls close in Britain, I thought I would weigh in on the historical vote to see if England will leave the European Union.

And I say, without a whole lot of knowledge, that is seems like a bad idea to me, and sentiments to get out of the EU seem to be based on nothing more than nationalism, rather than any sort of strong evidence that England will do better outside the EU.  Put another way, brexiting seems like Trumpism, England-style.  It appears to be riding on a wave of anti-immigration and even xenophobia.

I hope, for their sake mostly, that it doesn’t pass.

Turnout is a key decider in the referendum. A high turnout should benefit the pro-EU, because that would suggest younger people, who often support continued membership but are less likely to vote, did actually show up at the ballot box.

Reports of bad weather — rain and flooding — are coming in — this is going to have a negative impact on turnout.

When will we know who wins?

  • Voting starts at 7 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. (2 a.m.-5 p.m. ET), but there won’t be any exit polls by the major broadcasters because of concerns over accuracy. Some smaller research companies and financial firms, worried about what the outcome could mean for their customers, markets and currency volatility, have commissioned private exit polls but: They probably won’t share them and only the truly brave would rely on these to call the race given that they may be a little untested in surveys of this kind or even vested in the result.
  • It is illegal in Britain to publish the results of any exit poll before voting finishes at 10 p.m. local time.
  • The Electoral Commission says it expects to have a result around “breakfast time” Friday in the U.K. When it says a result, it means it expects to have counted all 382 wards voting. There are small and large areas, so they each have a different weight in determining the overall result. The first of the announcements are due around 11:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. ET). By 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. (10 p.m.-11 p.m.), half should be counted. By 5 a.m. (midnight ET), 80% should be counted, it says. But it’s important to remember that while the Electoral Commission will release the counts on individual wards through the night, it won’t formally release a verdict until everything’s counted.

Trump’s Foreign Policy: Bad, Incoherent But Not Novel

Trump gave a rambling, incoherent and contradictory speech on Wednesday on foreign policy, that was notable because it was a prepared speech which he read off the teleprompter.  That means he actually thought about what he was going to say, and it still came out horribly.  And almost everyone agrees.  Here’s Lindsey Graham’s tweets:

Lgram1Lgram2

Trump’s theme was “America First”, a slogan which history does not paint well.  It was the slogan of Charles Lindburgh and others who advocated keeping out of World War Two.  Later, it was taken up by anti-semites.

Fred Kaplan summarizes the many other problems with the speech:

He said that, because of President Obama’s policies, our friends and allies feel they can no longer depend on us—then said that a Trump administration would quit NATO and abandon our allies in Asia entirely unless they started spending more on defense.

He said that his No. 1 national-security goal would be to defeat ISIS—then said that he would work with other nations to do so only if they “appreciate what we’ve done for them,” because for us to be good to them, “they also have to be good to us.” (There’s something childish, even narcissistic, about this demand, which he recited in the tone of a desperately firm parent.)

He said, as he has many times, that our trade deficit has severely weakened America and strengthened China—then said that we have enormous economic leverage over China and that we should use it to get China to rein in North Korea.

He said we should not help any country that isn’t our friend—then proposed easing tensions with Russia. (It’s possible to hold one view or the other, but not both.)

He said he would strengthen America’s economy in order to shrink the deficit—then said he would use the extra wealth to boost jobs, then said he would use it to increase the military budget, without the slightest recognition of possible trade-offs or the need to set priorities.

Then there are the statements, many of them reprised from debates and campaign speeches, that are simply untrue. He claimed that Iran has violated the nuclear agreement, when in fact it’s abided by the terms. He added that, because of the deal, Iran has become “a great, great power”—which must come as news to Iran’s leaders, who are frustrated that, despite the lifting of sanctions, they still can’t get much trade going with the West. He said Obama has “snubbed” Israel, when in fact many Israeli military and intelligence officers credit Obama with providing more security assistance than any recent president.

Trump added that Obama has let our nuclear arsenal atrophy, when in fact the Pentagon is spending $20 billion a year to maintain and modernize it. He said Obama’s proposed defense budget for next year (which, by the way, amounts to $608 billion) is 25 percent smaller than his budget for 2011—when, in fact, it’s larger. He said that, since 1991, the active-duty U.S. Army has shrunk from 2 million troops to 1.3 million, that the Air Force is one-third smaller, and that the Navy’s force of ships has declined from 500 to 272—which may sound alarming, until you consider (which Trump hasn’t) that the Cold War ended in 1991: It would be strange if the military hadn’t shrunk since then.

And there were the bombastic pronouncements with no basis whatsoever. “The world is more dangerous than it has ever been.” (Think about that claim for one minute, and you’ll see how absurd it is.) About ISIS, he said, “They’re going to be gone if I’m elected president, and they’ll be gone very, very quickly.” (What does this mean? Is he going to scowl at them? Nuke them?) “No one knows how to reduce debt, but I do.” (One way he reduced debt in the private sector was to buy debt-ridden companies, then abandon the creditors or offer them dimes on the dollar or nothing. International debt doesn’t work this way.) He also said, as he has before, that he opposed the Iraq war because it would destabilize the Middle East—when, in fact, he supported the invasion not long before it took place.

While conservatives hated the speech, they are themselves to blame for much of it.  Many of these “facts” and bromides rolled out by Trump (the lower military budget, Obama apologizing for America on the world stage) — these are staples in the conservative line of bullshit that just ain’t so.

What conservatives used to say with a wink and a nod, Trump lights it up with neon.  His foreign policy speech — disjointed, full of false patriotism, and simply impossible — was more of that.  No wonder the U.S. allies hated it….. and Russia loved it.

At Least We’re Not Argentina

For all the political scandals this country deals with, it pales with what is happening in Argentina.

I’ll give the Cliff Notes version.

Back in 1994, there was a bombing of the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, a Jewish Community Center located in Buenos Aires.  85 people were killed and hundreds were wounded.  Following the 1994 AMIA bombing, a series of federal and international investigations were launched, though the case remains officially unresolved.

Albert Nisman had spent more than ten years investigating the case, and he had long believed that the Iranian government and agents of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, were behind it.

But in recent years, he had also become concerned that Argentinian government had conspired to shield Iran and Hezbollah from justice.  Specifically, he accused Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and Argentina’s foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, of trying to shield Iranian officials from responsibility in the 1994 bombing so that Argentina could secure access to Iranian oil.

Nisman was supposed to provide details before Congress about his accusations against Mrs. Kirchner on January 19.  But on January 18, Nisman was found dead in his apartment.  The cause of death was a shot to the head, fired from a .22-calibre pistol that the prosecutor had borrowed from his assistant the day before. Nisman told his assistant that an Argentine spy had warned him that his life was in danger. The two main doors to the apartment were locked, and several bodyguards had been standing watch outside. Analysis of a third passageway, a small nook used to gain access to the apartment’s air-conditioning unit, revealed a footprint and a smudge, but nothing more. The door to the bathroom, where Nisman was found, was locked from the inside.

The news rocked Argentina.  Hours after news of Nisman’s death broke, protesters took to the streets with signs that read, “Yo soy Nisman,” to express their anger over his death; many accused the government of orchestrating it. The government, meanwhile, did little to dispel the suspicion. The next day, President Kirchner posted a rambling message on Facebook, which read, in part, “Suicide provokes … first: stupefaction, and then questions. What is it that brought a person to the terrible decision to end his life?”

Four days later, she was less philosophical. Nisman’s death “was not a suicide,” President Kirchner wrote on her Web site. “They used [Nisman] while he was alive, then they needed him dead.” The “they” in this case could have included government critics who wanted to frame the President; a rogue faction of the Argentine intelligence apparatus; the Central Intelligence Agency; or the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. The President’s public pronouncements are often soaked in paranoia. But in this case, the government’s line—that Nisman was manipulated, then discarded, by elements of the intelligence community intent on discrediting Kirchner—traded on widely held doubts about Nisman’s independence as an investigator.

Today, a 26-page document was found in the garbage at Mr. Nisman’s apartment.  It included arrest warrants for both President Kirchner and Foreign Minister Timerman.

There has been all kinds of little strange wrinkles here and there.  For example, the government’s erratic response to Nisman’s death was made worse in subsequent days. The journalist who first reported the death, Damian Pachter, left Argentina for Israel last Saturday, claiming that his life was in danger. Inscrutably, the government posted Pachter’s flight information to its Twitter account, and said that it was trying to protect the journalist. At this point, it’s an open question whether this behavior is a sign of guilt or mere haplessness.

In any event, it is outright bizarre.  Like House of Cards.

Morons With Missiles

Yes, indeed.  Putin should be embarrassed.  

When you listen to the audiotapes, you become keenly aware that the pro-Russian separatists in the Ukraine are total boobs… or, as Josh Marshall writes:

The audio tapes posted by The New York Times might as well be from some future Russia-based version of Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show, a comical rendering of rustics and morons stumbling into an event of vast carnage and international consequence mainly because they're hotheads and idiots – the kind of people no one in their right minds would give world class weaponry to. It's like finding some white supremacist/militia types on their little compound in the inter-Mountain west and giving them world class missile launchers and heavy armaments.

This is a f'-up on Putin's part of almost mind-boggling proportions. Yes, a tragedy. Yes, perhaps an atrocity. But almost more threatening, a screw up. Malign intent is one thing. So is aggression. But goofs of this magnitude by someone who controls a massive military arsenal and nuclear weapons are in a way more threatening.

Hashtag Activism and Nigerian Girls

I’m not a huge fan of hashtag activism.  I think it is cool and all, but I don’t think it is the panacea for all the world’s problems, like some others.

I mean, if there’s a shooter on campus, Twitter can be helpful.  Or, as shown in the last week, it can bring the world’s attention to a tragic, but finite, problem, like a couple of hundred Nigerian schoolgirls begin kidnapped by a terrible warlord to be sold as “brides”.

But it can’t, you know, help with bigger issues like, say, global warming.

No matter.  Credit where credit is due.  Good on Twitter and the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag for moving the mainstream media, and ultimately, the various governments of the world to bring pressure on Nigeria to, you know, not stand there idly by why its young girls get abducted and raped and so forth.

That said, Ann Coulter is a terrible human being for this: 

Fortunately, this:

 

Tonight’s Debate

I'm not sure what to say about tonight's debate, except to opine that I don't think it will matter much.  It's foreign policy, and people don't care about that.  I expect viewership will be low.

Romney, if her's smart, should make the debate about his views and policies, rather than trying (as he did last debate) to prosecute Obama about Obama's views and policies.  But Mitt might try to throw some bombs, trying to imply that the Obama administration is at the head of a scandal.  He flamed out last week on Benghazi, but maybe he will try again on that.  It'll be harder this time, especially since intelligence reports now say what the administration said: it wasn't a heavily planned al Qaeda attack.

Or maybe he will go after Obama on Fast and Furious, although the Inspector General's exhaustive report on the matter suggest there isn't a lot of there there.  At least, nothing that can be pinned on Obama.

And in truth, Romney and Obama agree on many foreign policy issues, save for the fact that Romney likes to thump his chest more.  (Sadly, it's pretty hard to get to the right of the Obama administration with its drone bombings, Gitmo still open, etc.)  

But, there's always the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Romney likes to criticize Obama for pulling out, which places him (Romney) on the losing side of the debate.  Most Americans are war-weary and want our troops home.  Obama is seizing on this with an ad out today:

 

I probably won't be watching, but if I were, there is one thing — and only one thing — that I would want to see.

And that's Governor Romney repeating the worn-out line that Obama , at the beginning of his presidency, went around the world  "apologizing for America".  That's a right wing meme that has persisted for years.  Factcheck.orgPolitifact, and the Washington Post‘s “Fact Checker” said President Obama never went on an “apology tour” and has never apologized for American actions (the latter gave the claim "Four Pinocchios".  Yet, Romney brings it up.  And I would like to see a smack-down of that.

The Attacks On U.S. Ambassador

Well, it's ugly no doubt.  As you probably know by now, families are in mourning, and the diplomatic corps is dealing with the tragedy of four Americans — including the U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens — being killed in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  It is the first time a U.S. ambassador has been killed in 33 years.

Obviously, there will be political questions to be asked — about the protection, but also about our policies in Libya and Egypt.  But Romney was quick out of the gate with an obscene criticism of Obama, issuing a statement which said in part:

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

That's pretty harsh, except…. well, it's totally untrue.  When asked to explain what he meant by "Obama's first response", the Romney campaign pointed to a statement from the US Embassy in Cairo issued a statement “condemn(ing) the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” — referring to the anti-Muslim movie allegedly inflaming the demonstrators, rioters, and attackers.

Can we pause for a moment?  How is that an apology from the Obama people?  What exactly is wrong with that statement?

But ignoring content, you should know that that statement was issued before the attacks on the diplomatic missions, and wasn't a response at all. The Washington Post helpfully passes along the actual first response to the attacks from the Obama administration:

“I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.”

….She added that although the United States “deplores” any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, “there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Screwed it up again, Mitt.

Romney was joined by Sarah Palin (not surprising) and RNC chairman Reince Preibus, who couldn't resist tweeting this last night:

Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.

Fortunately, other Republicans were able to be, well, civil and not try to score political points. I'm sure the wingnute will call thise people "RINO wimps":

[N]o Republican leader criticized President Obama on Wednesday morning, and called instead for stronger security at U.S. diplomatic facilities, the swift capture and punishment of the perpetrators and a renewed commitment to pro-democracy efforts in the Arab world.

“We mourn for the families of our countrymen in Benghazi, and condemn this horrific attack,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement….

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) usually reserves his morning Senate floor remarks to sharply criticize Obama administration policy. But Wednesday he struck a more somber tone and expressed support for “employing every available tool at our disposal to ensure the safety of Americans overseas and to hunt down those responsible for these attacks….

Even Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — a troika that regularly critiques the Obama administration’s foreign policy — urged Obama to continue supporting democracy efforts in Libya and Egypt.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are attacking Romney for his gross faux pas:

"It’s deeply unfortunate when the circumstance of the statement becomes the story," said Rick Perry's former foreign policy adviser, Victoria Coates, who is now an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and who suggested that Romney should simply have "gone earlier rather than save it for midnight" to avoid appearing to play politics on September 11. "It’s unfortunate that it’s playing out this way, and hopefully they can get back on message, because their point is sound," she said.

Other conservatives were less sympathetic.

"It's bad," said a former aide to Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "Just on a factual level that the statement was not a response but preceding, or one could make the case precipitating. And just calling it a 'disgrace' doesn't really cut it. Not ready for prime time."

A third Republican, a former Bush State Department official, told BuzzFeed, "It wasn't presidential of Romney to go political immediately — a tragedy of this magnitude should be something the nation collectively grieves before politics enters the conversation."

Gotta hurt.  And then there's Mark Halperin:

Unless the Romney campaign has gamed this crisis out in some manner completely invisible to the Gang of 500, his doubling down on criticism of the President for the statement coming out of Cairo is likely to be seen as one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign.

Ouch.

Yet Another Reason Why John Bolton Should Shut Up

So you may have heard that former President Bill Clinton went to North Korea today to negotiate the release of two American journalists being held by the North Koreans.

Arch-conservative and former U.N. Ambassador under Bush, John Bolton, wrote this morning:

Clinton’s Unwise Trip to North Korea

[…]

The point to be made on the Clinton visit is that the knee-jerk impulse for negotiations above all inevitably brings more costs than its advocates foresee. Negotiating from a position of strength, where the benefits to American interests will exceed the costs, is one thing. Negotiating merely for the sake of it, in the face of palpable recent failures, is something else indeed.

The results, this afternoon:

N. Korea Says Two U.S. Journalists Have Been Pardoned

North Korea announced Tuesday that it had pardoned two detained American journalists, hours after former president Bill Clinton met in Pyongyang with reclusive dictator Kim Jong Il as part of an unannounced and highly unusual diplomatic mission to win their freedom.

Kim issued an order “granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labour in accordance with Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution and releasing them,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Right, John.  Wasted trip.  Bad idea.

Avast Ye

American crewmen of the U.S.-flagged cargo ship have taken back control of the vessel from pirates.

No word as to whether the pirates are being made to walk the plank. [UPDATE: Hmmmm.  Maybe they did have to walk the plank.  One pirate was captured; the rest are reportedly "in the water"]

Diplomacy In Action

For those who ever doubted that effective diplomacy cannot lead to results, and that our new president is a skilled diplomat, read this:

According to sources inside the room, President Obama just played peacemaker in a spat between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China.

In the finaly plenary session among the G-20 leaders, Sarkozy and Hu were having a heated disagreement about tax havens.

***

The exchange between Sarkozy and Hu got so heated, said a source — who is not a member of the Obama administration — it was threatening the unity of the G-20 leaders' meeting.

Obama to the rescue:

But Mr. Obama, according to this account, stepped between the two men, urging them to try to find consensus, and giving them a "pep talk" about the importance of working together.

The senior adminstration official said that Mr. Obama pulled Mr. Sarkozy aside, took him to a corner, "and discussed possible alternatives," the senior official said.

Once they arrived at one, President Obama "sent a message to the Chinese" that a counter-offer was on the table. The Chinese spent some time considering the offer. But they took a few minutes.

So Mr. Obama, with the assistance of translators, suggested that he and Mr. Hu have a conversation as well. They, too went to the corner to talk. After a few minutes, Mr. Obama called upon Mr. Sarkozy to join them.

"Translators and sherpas in tow, they reached an agreement," the official said. "There was a multiple shaking of hands."

And that's how it's done.

Kim Il Jong: The Photoshopped Photo

I never have the patience to examine photos for fakeness.  Thank God others do.

North Korea release a photo of its dear leader, Kim Il Jong, to show the world that rumors of his illness or death are unsubstantiated.  The BBC, among others, saw the photo and cried "Photoshop!"

500jong 

Yeah.  It looks like they're right.  Which only means that the dude really is ill or dead.

Hmmmm….

Ffc0a74e16a68a44ff58d462ea31af20_0

Since When Is Ignorance A Virtue?

So here’s the latest scandal rocking the Obama campaign….

Last week, Obama said this:

Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

You know, it’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], "Merci beaucoup." Right?

Obama was attacked for his statements by right wing radio talk shows and conservative bloggers. But in many cases he was not quoted correctly. For example, the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC took aim by claiming that "Barack Obama has stepped on a political land mine by stating that Americans should be forced to learn Spanish."

That is not what Obama said, of course. But for the conservatives, truth doesn’t matter.

Commentary from the right went something like this:

Note that Obama isn’t merely saying, "learning foreign languages is swell," or, "those who speak a second language deserve a pat on the back." He’s saying that monolingualism or English-only is an insufficient condition for American citizens.

This is a very dramatic change from the position of American leaders for most of our history. It used to be, if you spoke a language besides English, a thriving life outside of immigrant enclaves would require effort to speak the mother tongue. American culture as a whole said to the immigrant, "You have to get with the program." Now, Obama is pointing to Americans who speak only English and saying, "Now you have to get with the program."

And soon came the inevitable "gotcha" game where it was revealed that Obama hmself isn’t fluent in a language other than English!!!  Gee, but I thought Barrack Hussein Obama was a Muslim who was reared in medrassas.

Of course, responding to the (ridiculous) criticism, Obama answered smartly:

While the Obama campaign says that Obama speaks a little bit of Indonesian, Obama himself admits that he isn’t bilingual.

“I know because I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!” he said.

Indeed.  That’s the kind of candidate he is.  He recognizes the flaws in him that come about from an inadequate education system.

What the hell is going on?  Is being uneducated supposed to be a virtue for this culture all of a sudden?  What Digby said:

There was a time when Obama’s comment was considered completely mainstream. It’s true that Americans have never learned new languages easily, but they respected the idea that kids should learn as much as possible so they could better themselves. Clearly Obama didn’t get the memo that we have embraced cretinism and that all knowledge is suspect.

Ironically, this mini-brouhaha happened just as the military was complaining:

Every service member needs some minimum foreign language skills before deploying — but that capability could require an extensive change in language and cultural training that would have to start long before they enter the military, a House subcommittee was told Wednesday.

The House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee, which has been looking at military programs for current and future operations, is now focused on language and cultural awareness training.

The Defense Department has been working for years to expand language capabilities, both by training people already in the service and recruiting people who are proficient in another language.

Bilingualism also helps American businesses compete in a global market.

It makes perfect sense, to anyone with a brain.  But no…… xenophobia rules some segments of society.  If it’s fer-in, it ain’t no good.

I’ll leave you with the sentiments expressed at Sadly No:

Not to get all elitist or nothing, but our culture is fucking stupid. The fact that presidential campaigns gain advantage from attacking their opponents for sounding too smart is one of the most astounding traits of modern American politics. Maybe the Democrats should just nominate Larry the Cable Guy next time to avoid these sorts of controversies in the future.

Indeed.

The Obama Doctrine

Good article in TAP about "The Obama Doctrine".  While both Obama and Clinton appear to be similar on the Iraq War (they both want out), Obama seems to be going the extra mile in arguing that he wants to change the mindset that got us into Iraq in the first place.  The article looks at the Obama mindset on foreign policy and calls it "most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we’ve heard from a serious presidential contender in decades".

Ezra Klein sums it up nicely:

The Bush administration has run a foreign policy utterly comfortable with implying that our allies and enemies alike are small, or powerless, or unworthy of respect. In other words, they’ve run a foreign policy comfortable with challenging our allies and enemies alike to prove to us that they are not small, and can in fact foil our initiatives, and they are not powerless, and can in fact hurt us quite badly, and are not unworthy of respect, and can in fact outmaneuver us diplomatically. A foreign policy based on a presumption of respect and an effort to use our power to confer dignity would be pretty appealing.

Respecting our enemies, and treating them as though have have a say, strikes me as a reasonable approach, if only because it is something we haven’t tried before.  This does not mean we need to cave.  It just means that if we treat them like they have no reason to be heard, they will make themselves heard.  Just like 9/11.

Cuba And The Candidates

For those who think that all politicians are the same — take a gander on the statements of Obama, Clinton, and McCain on Cuba, now that Castro has resigned.

In a nutshell, Obama wants to move toward normalizing relations, starting with allowing Cuban Americans to travel freely to Cuba and send money to their family members back there (Bush disallowed this practice a few years ago).  This would serve as a "test" to open up further inroads to Cuba and move it into the 21st century.

Clinton, on the other hand, would continue Bush’s hard-line stance and does not believe in easing up travel restrictions.  She does, however, favor that Cuban exiles be allowed to send money back to their family in Cuba.

McCain, of course, has the hardest line of all against Cuba.  Basically, to keep sanctions against them until the become a democracy.  The same policy that hasn’t worked in 45 years.

Bye Bye Castro

Well, it was to be expected I suppose.  Fifty years if a pretty good run.

What this means, or should mean, is that we get to visit the lovely island of Cuba (or, if you are JFK, "Cuber").  On this point, I think Steve Clemons is right:

Of all the low cost opportunities to demonstrate a new and different US style of engagement with the world, Cuba is at the top of the list. Opening family travel — and frankly all travel — between Cuba and the US, and ending the economic embargo will provide new encounters, new impressions, and the kind of people-to-people diplomacy that George W. Bush, John Bolton, Richard Cheney, and Jesse Helms run scared of.

This is a huge potential pivot point in US-Cuba relations. Will Hillary Clinton step up to the plate — and will Obama move beyond the somewhat timid proposals he offered previously and go to the gold standard in US-Cuba relations articulated by Senator Chris Dodd?

By the way, many people know that Castro was a minor league ballplayer in the United States before he rose to political fame in his homeland of Cuba.  Did you also know he was a movie extra?  Here’s his credits from IMDB.

The State Department Tries Blog Diplomacy

Something about this strikes me as rather silly.

Especially this quote from Duncan MacInnes of State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs:

"Because blogging tends to be a very informal, chatty way of working," MacInnes said, "it is actually very dangerous to blog."

Shorter Jonah Goldberg

"America, fuck yeah!"

UPDATE:  Sorry, I can’t just leave it at that.  In this thinly-veiled "liberals hate America" article, Goldberg writes this:

The dirty, embarrassing secret is that this sort of multiculturalism has made Europe a wellspring of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, but America’s Muslim community has remained overwhelmingly peaceful. Why? Well, if the answer doesn’t lay in President Bush’s "outreach" — and few think it does — or in Euro-style multicultural condescension, maybe it has something to do with the American "we" that Couric and so many others seem so embarrassed by.

This strikes me as totally, completely, utterly wrong.  The U.S. has been able to assimilate Muslim immigrants because it has a long tradition of accepting and ignoring cultural differences (despite the efforts of Goldberg and others)In other words, America doesn’t have the overpowering sense of ethnicity-based national culture that European countries tend to have. 

Look at multicultural Canada — that’s not exactly become a hotbed Islamic fundamentalism.  Now look at France which seems to takes strides to segregate minorities (particulary Muslims) from its culture, which causes the "wellspring" of Islamic discontent.  Or Germany.  Or even the Swiss.

UPDATE:  Ezra gets it

I already said a bit about this bizarre Jonah Goldberg column at Tapped, but I hadn’t yet seen this doozy of a concluding paragraph:

The dirty, embarrassing secret is that this sort of multiculturalism has made Europe a wellspring of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, but America’s Muslim community has remained overwhelmingly peaceful. Why? Well, if the answer doesn’t lay in President Bush’s "outreach" — and few think it does — or in Euro-style multicultural condescension, maybe it has something to do with the American "we" that Couric and so many others seem so embarrassed by.

So the causal factor behind Islamic radicalism in Europe is…."multiculturalism." Namely, the type of multiculturalism that allows for hookah bars, the wearing of Muslim symbols to school, and honor killings. It is not, mind you, that immigrants have a much harder time economically integrating into European society, the consequence of post-World War II guest worker programs, or that Europe is much closer to Turkey, Algeria, and a host of other Muslim nations, and so receives poor, marginalized immigrants from Muslim nations, while America’s distance prohibits all but highly skilled, relatively educated, Muslim immigrants from financing the trip over. Nope. It’s hookah bars, which America totally doesn’t have any of, at all.

Bloggers Defy Myanmar Blackout

Sometimes the best news can be found from the original sources.  If you have been following the terrible events In Myanmar in the mainstream media, you might want to check out these bloggers who are in the midst of it.

Many of these are not in English, but the pictures tell the story.

The junta government has cracked down on the Internet, but many of these intrepid bloggers are still posting, at risk of life and limb, and getting out the story that the Myanmar government is trying to purge.  In fact, the presence of "the western media" in Myanmar is almost non-existent, so it is bloggers and other "citizen journalists" (e.g., people text messaging with cellphones) who are bringing the story to the rest of the world.

Then Again

The "Castro is dying/dead" rumors that I mentioned (and dismissed) here on July 11 might have a grain of truth to them:

News that Fidel Castro had ceded presidential powers to his brother Raul after undergoing surgery to stop internal bleeding ushered in a period of uncertainty at home and celebrations by his enemies abroad, while fueling speculation on the gravity of his illness.

The announcement on state television Monday night that Castro had been operated on to repair a "sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding" shocked Cubans on the island and in exile, and marked the first time that Castro, two weeks away from 80th birthday, had relinquished power in 47 years of absolute rule.

Citizen Diplomacy

On September 12, 2001, the French newspaper La Monde headlined "We Are All Americans Today", or something like that.  That was certainly the global sentiment.  Everybody was united with us, and we Americans were united.

Incredible how five years of Bush policies have not only divided the country, but turned our longstanding friends and allies into rampant America-haters.  It’s really isn’t much of a surprise, given the whole "fuck you, world" dismissive attitude that’s displayed by the present adminsitration and it’s supporters.

Fortunately, someone is doing something about it:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With anti-American sentiment at unprecedented levels around the world, Americans worried about their country’s low standing are pushing a grassroots campaign to change foreign perceptions of the United States "one handshake at a time."

The idea is to turn millions of Americans into "citizen diplomats" who use personal meetings with foreigners to counter the ugly image of the United States shown in a series of international public opinion polls. They show widespread negative attitudes not only toward U.S. policies but also toward the American people and, increasingly, even American products.

To stem the relentless decline of America’s international standing — a dramatic change from the almost universal sympathy for the country immediately after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington –leaders of more than 30 civic organizations formed a "Coalition for Citizen Diplomacy" two years ago.

The coalition, a loose alliance of national, state and community groups, held its first national summit in July in Washington, where speakers deplored the sorry state of the U.S. image but expressed hope that individual action and international people-to-people exchanges could go a long way toward improving things.

The powers behind this movement include major businesses, like Exxon and McDonalds, who realize that anti-American sentiment hurts business.  And their right.

“Blame Clinton” Days At The White House

SnowclintonFacing increasing criticism from the right and left about Bush’s North Korea policy (or lack thereof) , White House Press Secretary Tony Snow (pictured uncomfortably here) lashed out at Clinton, accusing the Clinton Administration of going to North Korea with “flowers and chocolates.”

He said the Clinton strategy “failed” and President Bush had “learned from that mistake.”  (Watch the video)

Failed?  Mistake?  Hmmmm.  Well, the proof is in the pudding, as the say. 

So let’s check out the stats, shall we?  How much plutonium has North Korea made during each of the last three administrations?

1. George H. W. Bush: one to two bombs’ worth of plutonium

2. Bill Clinton: zero plutonium

3. George W. Bush: 4-6 nuclear weapons’ worth of plutonium

[Source (PDF)]

Looks to me that the Clinton Administration’s approach to North Korea was a lot better than the "strategy"* of Bush II.

* Ignore, except to engage in a lot of macho talk here at home….

UPDATE:  Josh Marshall has more to say:

Let’s review a few salient, uncontested facts.

Back in 1994, the US came close to war over its nuclear activities and particularly the reactor complex at Yongbyon. War was averted with the so-called ‘Agreed Framework’ in which North Korea suspended its production of plutonium (and put the facility under international inspections) in exchange for assistance building light water nuclear reactors (the kind that don’t help you make bombs) and fuel oil for energy generation.

There are all sorts of details to what was going to be in exchange for what, who exactly would be doing the giving, and lots of other details you can see here. But that is the essence of it. And it shut down the North Koreans’ plutonium reprocessing activities for close to a decade.

The agreement began to come apart in 1998 when the North Koreans did an unnannounced test firing of one of their missiles, which went over Japan and crashed into the Pacific. There was also, by the end of the Clinton administration, evidence that the North Koreans were attempting to enrich uranium, something not explicitly covered in the Agreed Framework, but certainly a violation of the spirit of the agreement.

There’s a fairly detailed explanation of the US reaction and the efforts to arrive at a new agreement during the late Clinton administration. It’s a Times , oped written by two of the policy makers at the time, Bill Perry and Ashton Carter.

The Bush administration came to office convinced that this entire process was one of appeasement and set in motion of series of events that led to a complete breakdown of the initial agreement. In response, the North Koreans started reprocessing plutonium again.

Now, most agree, the North Koreans probably have enough for several nuclear warheads.

Now, the premise of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy was that North Korea was a bad acting state that had to be dealt with through force, not negotiation. That didn’t necessarily mean going to war. The goal was to intimidate the North Koreans into better behavior if possible and resort to force if necessary.

Yet, when the North Koreans called the White House’s bluff and starting reprocessing plutonium, the White House’s response was … well, nothing.

That was three years ago.

Rather than talk softly and carry a big stick it was a policy of talk tough and do nothing.

The bomb making plutonium keeps coming of the conveyor belt. And the White House policy is to say they won’t negotiate and also ask the Chinese to get the North Koreans to behave.

The remaining conceit of the Bush administration is that the Clintonites met with the North Koreans in bilateral talks while they insist on multilateral talks.

That’s the policy, which is to say, they have no policy. The salient fact is that under Clinton plutonium reprocessing stopped and under Bush it restarted. The Bushies angle was that you don’t coddle bad actors like the North Koreans. You deal with them in the language they understand: force. But the NKs called their bluff, they weren’t prepared to use force. So they decided to forget about the whole thing.

That’s the record. That’s the policy. A total failure.

Morons Can Use The Bible For Anything These Days

I recently had a discussion with a friend, a born again Christian, the other day.  She tried to convince me that the Bible is THE TRUTH.  You know, with a capital "T".  She couldn’t say why it was THE TRUTH, because to question why is (apparently) some form of heresy.

Anyway, I came across this article which demonstrates (per my argument to her) that the Bible is full of metaphor, and can be interpreted to mean anything you want it to mean:

A Christian business consultant and writer in the Phoenix area has recently published some commentaries that deal with what the Bible says about illegal immigration and a nation’s response to that. He says he has found in his study and research that it isn’t just about compassion.

Steve Marr’s online commentaries are called "Business Proverbs." His syndicated radio program by the same name is heard on 1,000 radio outlets worldwide. According to Marr, the Bible supports the idea that nations have the right and responsibility to secure their borders.

Marr says many Christians, when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration, argue that compassion should rule the day because those immigrants have come simply seeking a better life. But the former president and CEO of a large import-export firm says even illegal aliens who have been in the U.S. for years and have built otherwise productive lives are still illegal aliens.

"To me it’s an issue of justice," Marr shares. "And if you break a law — whether it’s a drug law, whether it’s an immigration law or whether it’s robbing a bank — if you get caught, whether it’s in a day, a year or ten years, I think justice has to run it’s course."

Now, the Bible really says NOTHING about illegal immigration specifically.  But this dude makes it out like it does, even concluding that compassion in the area of immigration is UNChristian.

His argument is simple: laws are laws, and the Bible commands justice, which means Christians should support laws — including immigration laws.

Problem is, of course, that slavery was once the law, too.  Would this guy argue that Christianity supports slavery?

How To Pay For Border Guards

Buried deep in this Washington Post article (in fact, the last paragraph) is this tidbit of news:

The White House said the new budget request by Bush would cover the $750 million-plus Guard deployment, new agents, fences and barriers, five helicopters and two new unmanned surveillance aircraft. The money would be offset by delaying other military purchases, according to the White House.

"Other military purchases" could mean anything, but it’s not hard to assume that some  of that $750 in military purchase would have benefitted our soldiers in Iraq (can you say "armor"?) or the over-all War Against Global Islamofascim (or whatever the White House is calling it these days).

So basically, we’re taking money away from The Iraq War and putting it into the War Non-Militarized Thing Against Illegal Mexican Immigration.

It would be nice if we actually spent time and effort going after — you know — bin Laden.  But that’s just me talkin’.

The More You Know…

Interesting.

A study done last year shows that the people more opposed to immigration are people who are least exposed to immigrants.  Conversely, people who live in areas with lots of immigrants are more positively disposed to them:

The simplest interpretation of this result is that people who rarely see an immigrant can easily scapegoat them for everything wrong in the world. Personal experience doesn’t get in the way of fantasy. But people who actually see immigrants have trouble escaping the fact that immigrants do hard, dirty jobs that few Americans want – at a realistic wage, anyway.

Bush’s Immigration Speech

I didn’t see it (the Bosox were playing on ESPN), but I read the transcript.  As Kevin Drum notes the main elements of the plan are to deploy the military to the border without calling it "militarizing the border," to launch a guest worker program without calling it a "guest worker program," and to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants without calling it "amnesty."  Fine.

Many on the right are not pleased.  Powerline’s John Hindrocket says Bush "blew it"

As soon as he started talking about guest worker programs and the impossibility of deporting 11 million illegals, it was all over. President Bush keeps trying to find the middle ground, on this and many other issues. But sometimes, there isn’t a viable middle ground. This is one of those instances.

Hindrocket also uses the "I met a cabbie which proves my point" rhetorical device, a favorite among right wing pundits.

Michelle Malkin liveblogged the speech, pointing to the exact minute that Bush "lost touch with reality" (it was 8:11).

That’s only the tip of the enraged iceberg.  Glenn has many, many more exmaples.

But Hugh Hewitt thought it was a "good start" and Jonah Golberg thought it "sounded pretty reasonable".

Me, I can’t get fired up about the whole issue.  Immigration is a problem, but unlike most on ther right, I don’t think it is a matter of national security. 

Of course, if it was really about national security (i.e., al Qaeda), the right would want troops on the U.S.-Canada border, too, yes?  After all, that border is much longer, much more porous, and al Qaeda has already used it several times.

Of course, if it was really about national security, the right would have been all up in arms about Bush cutting border control agents (almost 10,000 of them).  But not a peep.

But you would think it’s about national security, the way the right uses bellicose phrases like "foreign invaders" and "appeasement of Vincente Fox", like this is another war.  I think such hyperbolic language to be overdone, and the unhinged reaction to be based more on racism than reason.

UPDATE:  The rightosphere is eating itself.  After years of left-bashing, they are now bashing each other on the immigration issue.  Pass the popcorn.

“Impeach Bush!”

In case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s been the rally cry from the rightwing side of the blogosphere.

Why?

Because the Bush Administration reportedly has been shadowing the Minutemen (the group of private citizens monitoring the U.S.-Mexican border for illegal immigrants), and reporting information about Minutemen groups (including their locations) to the Mexican government.  Michelle Malkin started the fire going, and other right bloggers joined in:

  • Confederate Yankee: "I’ll never support impeachment proceedings brought against President [Bush] for going to war with Iraq based on flawed intelligence. … His resistance to protecting this nation’s borders, however is another matter entirely. Bush refuses to protect the territorial integrity of the United States, leaving us exposed to an importation of poverty that strains our social welfare system and artificially depresses wages."
  • Riehl World View: "Maybe Bob’s right and Bush should be impeached. He can always retire to Mexico."
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction: "It almost seems like the stuff of fiction. A government agency shadowing the actions of American citizens and then reporting their movements and actions to a foreign government. …If a Republican President, Republican House, and Republican Senate is not enough to implement a sensible border policy in a post 9/11 era, then whats the point?"
  • RightWingNews: "Not only should Congress demand that the Border Patrol stop working with the Mexican government to circumvent our laws, they should launch an investigation in order to find out who signed off on this unconscionable outrage."
  • Bryan at Hot Air: "I’ve seen several administrations do a lot of outrageous things, but tipping a foreign government to the legal activities of American citizens just might be the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen any American administration do."
  • Daily Pundit: "As for the treacherous Bush administration notifying a foreign power of the actions of homegrown patriots, that goes beyond despicable, and assures that the administration has no further claim on my support whatsoever. George W. Bush supports a foreign power engaged in fostering a criminal invasion of our country over the very Americans trying to stop that invasion!"
  • Tom N at Hot Air: "It surely could put the lives of the minutemen at risk, especially from drug runners..I’ve been a republican since Reagan and now IM getting worried about where the party is going..
  • The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have denied the story, but many on the right aren’t buying it.

    Pass the popcorn.

    UPDATE:  Wow.  Even the Corner’s John Derbyshire has had enough:

    I kept my mouth pretty well shut when the splendid whack-’em’upside-the-head assault on Iraq turned into a ludicrous and apologetic "nation-building" exercise.  I bellyached in a restrained fashion at the Harriet Miers farce.  I kept my grumbling over Medicaid, the budget bloat, and border security at a decently low volume.  This one, though, I can’t take.
    I can’t think of a single thing to say in favor of the national Republican party, its senators, representatives, governors, and administration.  I can’t think of a single reason why, right now, I should vote for any of them. 

    Laura Bush Takes A Strong Principled Stand

    Her views on the National Anthem in Spanish:

    Asked her opinion on Wednesday in an interview with CNN’s John King, Mrs. Bush said, "I don’t think there’s anything wrong with singing it in Spanish."

    She noted that "we are a nation of many, many languages" and that the country has already heard many versions of the anthem "like at the Super Bowl."

    "What people want is it to be sung in a way that respects the United States and our culture," she said.

    Now, the punchline:

    But when it was pointed out that this position differed from her husband’s, Mrs. Bush had a different answer.

    "Well, I think it should be sung in English, of course," she said.

    So she was for the Spanish National Anthem before she was against it … just seconds earlier.

    UPDATE:  Think Progress says it’s got be a record for flip-flops: only 25 seconds.

    Not So Fast, Senator Alexander

    Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) proposed a Senate Resolution yesterday to the effect that the Star Spangled Banner should only be sung in English.  In his press release, Alexander stated:

    That flag and that song are a part of our history and our national identity. It declares some of our national ideals, in being the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” That’s why in 1931 Congress declared the Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem.

    That’s why we should always sing it in our common language, English.

    SpanishanthemUm, Senator?  On its website, the U.S. State Department has four versions of the Star-Spangled Banner in espanol

    And in 1919, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned a Spanish version of the anthem.

    But don’t let facts get in the way of your xenophobia, Senator.

    [H/T: Think Progress]

    RELATED:  Bush also stated: "I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English. And they ought to learn to sing the anthem in English."

    Sadly, this Bush family biography states:

    When visiting cities like Chicago, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, in pivotal states, he would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parites, sometimes joining in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, sometimes partying with a "Viva Bush" mariachi band flown in from Texas.

    LATE UPDATE:  I would say this pretty much ends the debate — The National Anthem was sung in Spanish …at Bush’s First Inaugural.

    The Cartoon Wars

    Conservative bloggers have had their knickers in a twist the past few days about Danish and European newspapers that have published cartoons which, depending on your point of view, depict the Prophet Mohammad in an offensive and demeaning manner.

    Generally speaking, the cartoons have caused angry (but so far peaceful) demonstrations from Europe’s Muslim community.  Conservative bloggers, on the other hand, are outraged that the European governments have condemned the cartoons.

    Condi’s State Department has now weighed in:

    The United States blasted the publication by European newspapers of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as unacceptable incitement to religious or ethnic hatred.

    "These cartoons are indeed offensive to the beliefs of Muslims," State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said when queried about the furore sparked by the cartoons which first appeared in a Danish newspaper.

    "We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility," Higgins told AFP.

    "Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable. We call for tolerance and respect for all communities and for their religious beliefs and practices."

    Neo-cons are predictably unhappy with the State Department right now.

    Spread Of Democracy

    The Hamas in Palestine is a "terrorist group" according to the European Union, Canada, the United States, and Israel, and its attacks targeting Israeli civilians and other human rights abuses have been condemned by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

    Now, there is an huge gap in my knowledge about Middle East politics, and I admit it.

    But it seems to me that their rise from a terrorist fringe group to the victor in this week’s Palestinian elections cannot be a good thing.  And it also seems to me that their rise might be due in part to an anti-U.S. sentiment because of our other actions in the Middle East.  Am I way off base in thinking this?

    In Defense Of Canada

    I’ve never quite understood why so-called patriotic conservative bloggers and pundits take swipes at Canada all the time:

    Canada has been described lately by a conservative U.S. television host as "a stalker" and a "retarded cousin."

    Another pundit recently asked if Canadians weren’t getting "a little too big for their britches."

    There’s been a spate of Canada-bashing by right-wing media commentators in the United States ever since Prime Minister Paul Martin’s complaints about lumber penalties and U.S. policy on climate change. His remarks prompted an unusual rebuke last week from the American ambassador.

    The attacks on Canada have had web bloggers typing overtime and a non-profit group that’s monitoring the trend, Media Matters for America, says it’s disturbing.

    ***

    Last week, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, a well-known conservative pundit, let loose with a string of anti-Canada rants.

    "Anybody with any ambition at all, or intelligence, has left Canada and is now living in New York," he said.

    "Canada is a sweet country. It is like your retarded cousin you see at Thanksgiving and sort of pat him on the head. You know, he’s nice but you don’t take him seriously. That’s Canada."

    Carlson also said it’s pointless to tell Canada to stop criticizing the United States.

    "It only eggs them on. Canada is essentially a stalker, stalking the United States, right? Canada has little pictures of us in its bedroom, right?"

    What is this?  The "Bad Neighbor" policy?

    Let’s remember what Canada did on September 11, 2001.  Thousands of planes had to be landed immediately.  Our airports were overflowing, and the capacity to land planes was strained.  Flights were diverted to Canada.  Tens of thousands of commuters were stranded, and couldn’t return to the United States since all flights were grounded.

    What did Canadians do?  They opened the doors to their houses.  Their generosity was legion, inspiring — among other things — tribute websites.  And it wasn’t the first time Canada provided assistance in America’s time of crisis.

    Sure, they gave us Celine Dion and Ann Murray, but for the most part, they’ve been a good and friendly neighbor to the North.   When conservative pundits criticize Canadians simply because Canada doesn’t kiss American ass 24/7, it speaks ill of this country, not theirs.  And I wish they would shut up.

    AIDS Relief in Africa: Strings Attached

    AIDS in Africa could reach pandemic perportions:

    The HIV/AIDS scourge on the African continent could worsen in 2006 if developed nations do not deliver on their financial pledges, the U.N.’s top AIDS official in Africa said on Monday.

    Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said treatment, prevention and care programs on the continent will start losing out next year if rich nations do not release the money they have promised.

    Quoting figures from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Lewis said it has only received $3.6 billion, half of what it needs to fund programs in 2006 and 2007.

    "There’s a steadily diminishing lack of commitment on the part of the world to release money for the Global Fund," said Lewis.

    Africa is the worst-hit continent with an estimated 26 million people infected with HIV/AIDS.

    Four million of the infected have been identified as needing urgent treatment, but so far only 10 percent of them have access to treatment, Lewis said.

    Some of you may recall that in his 2003 State of the Union speech, Bush promised an initiative to send aid to help fight this problem.  In fact, the White House website highlights the problem and solution:

  • Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus – including three million children under the age of 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than four million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims are receiving the medicine they need.

  • The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will help the most afflicted countries in Africa and the Caribbean wage and win the war against HIV/AIDS, extending and saving lives. The following countries will be the focus of the initiative: Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
  • But sadly, the Bush Administration is making it harder for relief to get to parts of Africa.  And why?  Because the Bush Administration doesn’t approve of other peoples’ behavior:

    The Bush administration has extended its global gag rule to international AIDS prevention funding, according to the Maryland-based Center for Health and Gender Equity. The gag rule will affect a $193 million, five-year project for AIDS-HIV prevention programs in Kenya and requires organizations that seek funding to adhere to the administration’s policy that the health organization not provide abortions, provide any information about safe abortions to women or lobby for change in their nation’s abortion laws. In Kenya, complications from illegal abortions are a leading killer of married women in their 20s and 30s.

    Family planning, maternal and child health programs are the "first responders" for women and girls who have HIV-AIDS, who make up 60 percent of infected cases in sub-Saharan Africa, said the center’s executive director, Jodi Jacobson. "The administration has broken its own written commitment not to subject global AIDS funds to these onerous restrictions."

    Evil.

    RELATED:  The story of Jonah (from Sisyphus Shrugged)

    U.S. Border Patrol Uniforms Are Made In Mexico

    AP:

    WASHINGTON — The labels inside the U.S. Border Patrol uniforms have been making many federal agents feel uneasy. It’s not the fit or feel of the olive-green shirts and pants, but what their labels read: "Made in Mexico."

    "It’s embarrassing to be protecting the U.S.-Mexico border and be wearing a uniform made in Mexico," says T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a 6,500-member union.

    "Embarrassing"?  Try the word "ironic".

    Science Fiction Double Feature?

    Ufo1957As if this planet doesn’t have enough problems already, we now have to contend with those damn aliens:

    In Washington on Sunday night (registration required – but the "bugmenot" method works):

    For a few seconds Sunday night, the dark, cloudless north state sky lit up. Not like a lightning strike. And not like a shooting star.

    Like three seconds of daylight, said Dennis Weissenfluh, 41, of Washougal, Wash. He was southbound on Interstate 5 a few miles north of Weed when the mysterious light appeared.

    It lit everything up from horizon to horizon as far as I could see," Weissenfluh said Monday.

    Traffic on the citizens band radio picked up with drivers all wondering what they saw, he said.

    "(It was) one of those unexplainable kind of things," Weissenfluh said.

    Karin Hastings, 74, of Mountain Gate was walking her dog when a bright glow lit up everything around her.

    "It was very unusual, and it was so amazing to have this light surround me," Hastings said.

    She turned toward the northwest. A huge, oval-shaped object, gold in color, dropped out of the sky with what appeared to be smoke trailing behind, she said.

    "It disappeared very quickly," Hastings said.

    Sandy Lynch, 67, who lives off Placer Road near Centerville, said she was talking on the phone when she saw a sparkling object through her window.

    It was brighter and whiter than the moon with a distinct trail that glowed orange.

    "It was beautiful," Lynch said. "It kind of scared me, though."

    All of these witnesses reported seeing the intense, glowing light between 7:10 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

    In Virginia on Monday:

    Dana Coleman was anxious to know what was behind the "extraordinary bright light" seen last night in Richmond and as far away as Goochland and Dinwiddie counties.

    "It was really, really strange," Coleman said, minutes after the sighting.

    Coleman lives near Libbie and Grove avenues. She and three friends were chatting outside about 9:25 p.m. when "the whole backyard suddenly illuminated."

    She said the bright blue light moved south with an orange and white streak. It then exploded and disappeared, she said.

    "We weren’t afraid," Coleman said. "We were more in awe."