Monday, March 31, 2008

A Huge Court Victory For Little Delaware

Dotted line shows wacky Delaware-New Jersey border
In a huge victory for environmentalists and my fellow First State citizens, Delaware won an historic Supreme Court fight with New Jersey today, probably killing a proposed nearly half-mile-long liquefied natural gas terminal on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.

The justices, in a surprising 6-2 decision, said Delaware can block the project even though it was proposed by energy giant BP for the other side of the river.

Associates of mine who had attended oral arguments on the case said that a majority of justices, as has been the high court's wont in recent decisions, seemed to be leaning toward the pro-business arguments proffered by New Jersey.

Delaware, which owns the river bottom most of the way across the waterway, including the land on which a 2,200-foot-long pier would be built, sought to block the massive project because of safety concerns.

The terminal also was a violation of Delaware's pioneering Coastal Zone Act, which bans new heavy industry along the river.

Both states agreed that Delaware owns the land, but New Jersey argued that a century-old agreement allows each state to control piers on its side of the river.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said Delaware cannot block ordinary projects from going forward. The proposal at issue, however, "goes well beyond the ordinary or usual," she said.

Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, who had harshly questioned Delaware's lawyers during oral arguments, dissented. Under a 1905 agreement, Scalia asserted, New Jersey has exclusive authority over construction of piers on its side of the river.

New Jersey officials had approved the project, which could create more than 1,300 construction jobs. Delaware officials, however, refused to authorize construction and without the pier the project could not go forward.

Delaware's lawyers told the court that the state has only twice in 160 years denied permission to build a pier on the Jersey side of the river, and both instances involved LNG facilities.

Up to 150 ships a year would dock at the proposed pier, which would be directly across the river from Claymont, Delaware.

Delaware said the proposal raises safety fears because an estimated 22,000 residents living near the river's main shipping channel would be at risk in case of a major accident. BP said the facility could deliver up to 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day to the Mid-Atlantic region.

A court-appointed special master concluded last year that Delaware has the authority to block the pier.

Justice Stephen Breyer did not participate in the case because he owns $15,000 to $50,000 in BP stock, according to his most recent financial disclosure.

More here on the decision and here on the background of the case.

Dear Billary: Let's Make a Deal

I introduced both Al Gore and John Kerry at their rallies. They knew all the policies, but people didn’t connect with them. You don’t get elected president if people don’t like you.
Hillary Clinton says she will not allow the "big boys" to "bully" her out of the race, and I think she is absolutely right.

Although it twigs me to no end that Clinton continues to play the gender card (when she or her surrogates are not playing race card), she has the right to soldier on despite the formidable obstacles standing between her and a presidential nomination that she long assumed would be hers for the taking.

So I will say this:
Let's let things play out through that all-important Pennsylvania primary on April 22. But anything less than a resounding Clinton victory should be the opportunity for a gracious if not overdue concession.

This is because Obama has a commanding lead in North Carolina and a growing lead in Indiana, the two states of consequence with post-Pennsylvania primaries. (Oh, and by the way, Obama actually won Texas.)

No more moving the goalposts, Hillary.

No more demanding ad hoc primary and delegate rules changes.

And no more whining about the meanies in the media, a few of whom have indeed been a bit over the top.

It will be time for Obama, Clinton and other top Dems to turn their guns on John McCain and the centerpiece of his campaign, The Forever War, like these good folks have.

Very likely not because the Hero of Bosnia is nothing if not a tenacious fighter who vows to string things out all the way to the convention where she will try to get the Michigan and Florida delegations seated even though that still won't give her the math she needs.
The upshot will be to allow McCain what is essentially an eight-month free ride, while Obama will have barely eight weeks to go after him.

And meanwhile, the Mister -- who is more responsible than even the Missus is for her dire straits -- will further cement his calls for party unity by stepping up his praise for McCain.
In any event, absent a spectacular showing in the Keystone State -- and I happen to believe that Obama may actually eke out a win -- there is only one reason beyond sheer ego to not quit -- because voters in North Carolina, Indiana and the eight other remaining primaries would be "disenfranchised" if Clinton bails.

Allow me to play my teenie-weenie violin because this argument is easily undercut:
The voters of these states also won't get to show their support for John Edwards and all of the other failed presidential race wannabes as did voters in many other primary states because the Democratic field was pared to two candidates relatively quickly.

As it is, the last several primaries have been rendered moot in previous election cycles, and Bill Clinton himself clinched the nomination in late March of 1992 despite his claim that the primary fight went on until June, so get over it.
Then there are those superdelegates, a goodly number of whom happen to believe that Clinton doesn't have a chance of prevailing but lack the cojones to tell her because of The Billary's well deserved reputation for revenge.

And how about those negatives? Clinton can't even pay her bills, while one recent poll shows that two out of three voters wouldn't open the door for her if she came knocking on a stormy night and another poll gives Obama a 10 percent lead nationally. As Senator Jay Rockefeller puts it, "You don’t get elected president if people don’t like you."

this guy notes, all the dirt that her campaign is flinging is sticking to her.

Take the unending efforts of Clinton and her surrogates to continue to try to smear Obama over his association with a preacher who has said some unsavory things about America, most recently her remarks while she was pole dancing for Richard Mellon Scaife.

Obama has come clean about that relationship, got a nice bounce in the polls because of his candor and managed the feat of turning a nuanced 45-minute speech on race and religion into a wildly popular YouTube moment. Clinton, meanwhile, lied through her teeth for months about what really happened in Bosnia and only sort of fessed up when my buddy Will Bunch had her backed against the wall the other day. It turns out that Clinton and not Sinbad was the real comedian.

At least there is one guy who is showing some class. His thoughts:
"My attitude is that Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said at a news conference in a high school gymnasium here. “Her name is on the ballot. She is a fierce and formidable opponent, and she obviously believes she would make the best nominee and the best president."
Photograph by Damon Winter/The New York Times

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Swallows perch on canes on Dojran lake in Macedonia
Photograph by Georgi Licovski/EPA

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Most politicians lie. Most people over 50, as I know all too well, misremember things. So here is the one compelling mystery still unresolved about Hillary Clinton’s Bosnia fairy tale: Why did she keep repeating this whopper for nearly three months, well after it had been publicly debunked by journalists and eyewitnesses?

The party ought to lay off the calls for Clinton to drop out, at least for now, because her presence at worst is making Obama a better candidate. The Wright flare-up was the first true political crisis of Obama’s national political career, which is remarkable given how close he is to being the Democratic nominee. Who knows when the Wright controversy would have circulated had the nomination been locked up.

Obama needed to prove he could handle a real media firestorm, something Clinton has done numerous times throughout her career. In fact, her political survival skills have been marketed as an asset by the campaign, something I think would have sold better in ‘04 when the party was looking for a tough survivor to put up against Bush.


As much opprobrium as is being heaped on Obama's pastor Rev. Wright these days, what about the black folks who aren't speaking up? If anyone with an African forebear is black, and blacks are assumed to feel some sort of kinship with each other, how can any blacks take part in the Beijing Olympics this summer?


Rush Limbaugh won't be going to jail for encouraging Republican voters in Ohio to cross over and vote for Hillary Clinton in their primary.

His listeners were concerned that he might be charged with voter fraud, and Limbaugh apparently hoped that he would. "I wouldn't worry about it," Limbaugh told them. "Look at this as a badge of honor, ladies and gentlemen. If anybody gets indicted, if anybody has to go jail, it will be me-- and I'll do my program from jail . . . "

But the Democratic Attorney General of Ohio has calmed their fears and dashed his hopes. "We have no intention of prosecuting Rush Limbaugh because lying through your teeth and being stupid isn't a crime," a spokesman announced.

Politicians everywhere must be breathing a sigh of relief.


For people to be seizing on Obama's calling himself a "professor" as evidence of dissembling is somewhere east of insane...I guess they want him to insert a variation of the above explanation into every speech, every autobio, every book jacket, to hold him to a standard NO ONE on ANY CAMPUS adheres to. THIS . . . IS . . . riDICulous . . . Make it stop! Make it stop!


Now two months have passed since Edwards dropped out—tempus fugit!—and still no endorsement. Why? According to a Democratic strategist unaligned with any campaign but with knowledge of the situation gleaned from all three camps, the answer is simple: Obama blew it. Speaking to Edwards on the day he exited the race, Obama came across as glib and aloof. His response to Edwards’s imprecations that he make poverty a central part of his agenda was shallow, perfunctory, pat. Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion. Her affect was solicitous and respectful. When Clinton met Edwards face-to-face in North Carolina ten days later, her approach continued to impress; she even made headway with Elizabeth. Whereas in his Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight with Elizabeth about health care, insisting that his plan is universal (a position she considers a crock), high-handedly criticizing Clinton’s plan (and by extension Edwards’s) for its insurance mandate.

The implications of this story are several and not insignificant. Most obviously, it suggests that the front-runner’s diplomatic skills could use some refinement.


1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 all saw the candidate without military service elected over the candidate who had served, in several cases heroically.


Heather Arnet, a Clinton supporter who runs a Pittsburgh organization that lobbies for more women on public commissions and corporate boards, recently surveyed the Internet and found more than 50 anti-Hillary Clinton sites on Facebook. One of them, entitled "Hillary Clinton Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich," had more than 38,000 members.

"What if one of these 38,000 guys is someone you, as a woman, have to go to and negotiate a raise?" she asks.


I believe that loyalty is a cardinal virtue. Nowhere in the world is loyalty so little revered and tittle-tattle so greatly venerated as in Washington.


Does all this mean I'm ready to come out and recommend that our Democrat readers choose Sen. Clinton in Pennsylvania's April 22 primary?

No -- not yet, anyway. In fairness, we at the Trib want to hear Sen. Barack Obama's answers to some of the same questions and to others before we make that decision.

But it does mean that I have a very different impression of Hillary Clinton today than before last Tuesday's meeting -- and it's a very favorable one indeed.

Call it a "counterintuitive" impression.


Cartoon by Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dith Pran (1942-2008)


Sunday Kitty Blogging

Once upon a time I lived on a farm with lots of kitties. One afternoon I put an old cupboard that I planned to refinish outside. In no time, it had attracted one curious kitty, then two kitties, then three and four.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

(Updated) Al-Maliki Casts His Vote & The Real 'Byproduct of the Success of the Surge'

Although it at first may seem like a strange way to look at the latest round of bloodshed in Iraq, it's all about Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki casting the first vote in that country's much anticipated provincial elections.

The result is a troubling new chapter in the Forever War: Basra city and parts of Baghdad are under siege, the seven-month ceasefire called by Moqtada al-Sadr is history and Iraq has entered a perilous new phase that no amount of bribing by General Petraeus's paymasters or speechifying by George Bush can change as U.S. troops get sucked into a maw that the White House and Pentagon were instrumental in creating in giving the prime minister no-strings-attached support.

Al-Maliki's stalled offensive, which would have collapsed without U.S. air and ground intervention and eventually will, is all about politics, not national reconciliation. For Bush to call it "a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq" on top of the Pentagon's contention that it is a "byproduct of the success of the Surge" is laughable in an Orwellian sort of way.

Here's the real deal:
Provincial elections, one of the few Bush administration benchmarks for measuring Iraqi progress that have not been discarded as utterly unrealistic, are to be held on October 1.

The Madhi Army of Al-Sadr, the anti-America Shiite cleric, holds the keys to Basra and has since the British Army ceded its role as American helpmate because the number of casualties it was taking had become a public-relations nightmare for the Labor government back in London.

Al-Maliki desperately needs Basra, the oil-rich province on the porous border with Iraq, but the British are cowering in their barracks and there is no American military presence, hence the botched offensive on Basra city, the second largest in Iraq, where the 30,000-man Iraqi army and security forces find themselves surrounded by the Madhi Army, which has set up checkpoints and is now controlling access to the city.

Al-Sadr's gunmen are thugs, but so are the gunmen belonging to the Badr Organization, the militia affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which is joined at the hip with the prime minister.

Iran not only has a dog in this race, it has all the dogs in the form of close ties with Al-Maliki, Al-Sadr and ISCI, which makes Washington's breast beating over the meddlesome Tehran regime so tiresome.
Herewith a roundup of reactions to the latest developments.

Juan Cole opines at Informed Comment:
"My reading is that the US faced a dilemma in Iraq. It needed to have new provincial elections in an attempt to mollify the Sunni Arabs, especially in Sunni-majority provinces like Diyala, which has nevertheless been ruled by the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [ISCI]. But if they have provincial elections, their chief ally, the Islamic Supreme Council, might well lose southern provinces to the Sadr Movement. In turn, the Sadrists are demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, whereas ISCI wants US troops to remain. So the setting of October, 2008, as the date for provincial elections provoked this crisis."
Fred Kaplan, like me a card-carry member of the There Are No Good Guys school, writes at Slate that:
"Maliki's official reason for the offensive, simply to bring order, has some plausibility . . . The current fighting in Basra is a struggle for power and resources between warlords. It's hard to say which faction is more alluring or less likely to fall under Iranian sway. Neither seems the sort of ally in freedom and democracy that our president conjures in his daydreams.

"It's not a case of good vs. evil. It's just another crevice in the widening earthquake called Iraq."
Ed Morrissey gives Al-Maliki a big wet kiss at Hot Air and blames it all on the Brits:
"The fighting in Basra now was inevitable at some point. Baghdad couldn’t allow a major city like Basra to operate outside its control forever. Instead of an orderly transition from Coalition to Iraqi security control, as is happening in the West, the Maliki government now has to take Basra by force — while the rump of British power sits in its bases, unable to contribute at all to security any longer. Whether Maliki decided to do this next week or next year, the fight in Basra had to happen at some point in order to apply the rule of law throughout Iraq.

"That's why this isn’t a collapse of the American surge, but a demonstration of the folly of premature withdrawal. The lack of fortitude on Iraq left a vacuum that created bigger problems and more serious fighting than tenacity did. Had we listened to the war’s critics in 2005 and 2006, gangsters would have swallowed the entirety of Iraq, and we would have a second Somalia in southwest Asia."

While Fester has Al-Maliki's measure in a Newshoggers analysis:

"One of his big problems is that the Sadrists will beat him politically and can go even with him on the corruption and distribution of spoils. So he has to take down Sadr or at least massively rejigger the political equation. And this offensive is his attempt to do so, and it has two interesting option trees. The first is that it actually works in defeating and seizing (intact) the Basra oil export profit center. . . . The other option tree is far more interesting.

"Let us assume that this is a deliberate provocation exercise.

"In this scenario the Iraqi Army attack into Basra's Mahdi neighborhoods does not go well, but it provokes a national Sadrist response which starts a strategic countdown clock. This count down clock includes increased Sadrist/JAM actions against Iraqi government and US Forces such as rocket/mortar attacks on the Green Zone, and attacks against the oil export infrastructure."

Photograph by Shehab Ahmed/EPA

'The Man Said He Was Gonna Give It Up'

By Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (1975)

People in the world, out there,
I know none-a y’all satisfied, satisfied,
The way prices have been goin up on things,
I'm about to say, I can barely buy a morning paper, yeah,
I have to cut down on smokin',
Cut down on smokin',
Have to cut down on drinkin',
Cut down on drinkin’
‘Cause early one morning I got me a paper, huh, I sat down on my living room floor
Opened it up [Opened it up], opened it up [Opened it up]
Guess, what I saw, huh?
I saw the President of the United States,
The man said he was gonna give it up,
He did resign y'all,
But he still turned around and left all us poor folks behind,
They say they got another man to take his place,
But I don’t think that he can satisfy the human race
Bad luck, huh
Bad luck, bad luck, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Wink

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Sound historian David Giovannoni holds phonautogram
For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words "Mary had a little lamb" on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison's invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song "Au Clair de la Lune" was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.


This shouldn’t be polarizing, but it is. Energy conservation has been suffused with a moral quality these days; instead of being a sensible reaction to higher prices and foreign dependence, it is a sign of virtue. It was thus in the 70s, and now it’s back. That’s why your choice of light bulb says what kind of a person you are. Fluorescent? Or evil?


People who have big bellies in their 40s are much more likely to get Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in their 70s, according to new research that links the middle-aged spread to a fading mind for the first time.

The study of more than 6,000 people found that the more fat they had in their guts in their early to mid-40s, the greater their chances of becoming forgetful and confused and showing other signs of senility as they aged.


The worn parachute that children found while playing on their family's property in rural southwestern Washington this month may be the one that D. B. Cooper used on that mysterious night in 1971 when he carried out what the authorities call the only unsolved hijacking in United States history.

Then again, maybe not.


Many American women, until they get pregnant, have no idea that they are entitled to no paid leave under current law. Indeed, a study from Harvard University last year found that of 168 nations worldwide, the United States is one of only four whose government doesn't require employers to provide paid maternity leave. The others are Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.


[A] JPMorgan Chase employee distributed a memo called "Zippy Cheats & Tricks," which reads like a tipsheet for beating a video game. It advises employees at the banking company how they can help mortgage brokers jigger the in-house system, called "Zippy," that evaluates loan applications. Overstate the borrower's income, it suggests. Don't mention that some borrowers are relying on gifts to repay their loans. Inflate assets. "Never fear," the memo reads. "Zippy can be adjusted . . . "


What, really, is Mrs. Clinton doing? She is having the worst case of cognitive dissonance in the history of modern politics. She cannot come up with a credible, realistic path to the nomination. She can't trace the line from "this moment's difficulties" to "my triumphant end." But she cannot admit to herself that she can lose. Because Clintons don't lose. She can't figure out how to win, and she can't accept the idea of not winning. She cannot accept that this nobody from nowhere could have beaten her, quietly and silently, every day. (She cannot accept that she still doesn't know how he did it!)


Photograph by Isabelle Trocheris

Friday, March 28, 2008

Iraq I: Is All Hell About To Break Loose?

The seven-month ceasefire brokered by anti-American radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is, for all intents and purposes, off. Times Online reports that neighborhood after neighborhood in Baghdad is being taken by milita gunmen, some with heavy fighting and others without a shot being fired.

The Washington Post reports that U.S. troops have taken the lead in fighting in the capital.

* * * * *
One, two or three years (pick one) after the Iraqi army was ready to stand up so that U.S. troops could stand down, Shiite militamen with comparatively meager weaponry and far fewer logistical resources still have the upper hand after three days of ferocious fighting in the key southeastern city of Basra.

Napoleon, as Daniel reminds us, famously remarked that "If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna!"

Methinks there are three reasons why Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's gamble is backfiring:

* White House and Pentagon claims that the Iraqi army has finally gotten its act together as usual have no basis in reality.

* As Fester notes here, even with tactical air support from the U.S. and U.K., the Iraqi force seems to be a little on the thin side.

* And most importantly, the militamen are fighting for their very existence while Iraqi boots are fighting their own countrymen, in many cases members of their own religious sect, for the political gain of the unpopular Al-Maliki.

Then there is Iran's machinations in all of this, which range from big and evil to paltry and passive depending upon your view of the Tehran regime.

Mine is that the ayatollahs find themselves in the difficult position of having to both support and rein in radical anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is the key player in this drama, not the prime minister and certainly not George Bush, who for all his bloviating has essentially tied his own hands because of years of wrongheaded policy making that determinedly put politics ahead of more practical concerns.

As it was, the president packed an extraordinary number of misstatements into his speech yesterday before yet another "safe" audience, chief among them that it "makes no sense" to divert troops from Iraq for the real War on Terror.

The question of the hour is what happens next. The answer is nobody knows, but here are a few scenarios:

* All hell breaks loose as U.S. ground troops are further drawn into the fighting, which has already taken out one of Iraq's two major oil pipelines as it has spread from Basra and Baghdad to several other cities. As it is, they are now battling militants in and around the Sadr City slum in Baghdad.

* All hell breaks loose as Al-Sadr, who enjoys far more popularity than the prime minister among Shiites, calls for an end to the seven-month ceasefire against U.S. troops.

* All hell breaks loose as Al-Maliki's already tenuous political situation is further undermined by the escalating violence and his ineffectual army and security forces.

My guess is that none of the above will happen in the short term because it may be in the best interests of Al-Sadr and Al-Maliki, who has extended by 10 days the deadline for militias to take bribes in return for turning in their weapons, to negotiate some sort of truce.

That, however, would only delay the day of reckoning that was bound to come after the prime minister failed to even make an effort to fulfill his end of the Surge bargain.

Photo by Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud/The Associated Press

Iraq II: The Other End of the Telescope

Below is an excerpt of a translation of an article in the Saudi newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat by editor Tareq Al-Homayed that offers a fascinating insight into how the U.S.'s closest ally in the Middle East sees the outburst of violence in Iraq as the presidential race goes into overdrive.

Marc Lynch, who says he checked the accuracy of the excerpt compared to the original Arabic before posting it at Abu Aardvark, notes that Al-Homayed is hard wired to the Saudi royal family and his views probably reflect theirs:

"Muqtada al Sadr is a mighty but reckless force; he is not as intelligent as Hassan Nasrallah and does not speak the language of politics, however he was an important factor in enforcing the Iranian influence at the moment in which Saddam Hussein's regime fell. Today, it appears that Tehran no longer needs al Sadr – so long as it has control over Iraq within the political framework.

"Nouri al Maliki's regime, with its political prowess as opposed to the Sunni political crudeness, has managed to win over Washington – or neutralize it – as well as bring about American-Iranian rapprochement over the Iraqi issue. This was achieved whilst taking advantage of the political situation in Washington in light of US President George W. Bush's weakness following the Democratic victory in Congress and at time when the US has entered into a state of political paralysis as a result of the upcoming elections.

"Iran no longer needs Muqtada al Sadr but rather wants a sophisticated model that is even more progressive than Hezbollah's in order to take over Iraq. A government in control is much better than an opposition whose only possession and demands are the right to disrupt – such as the case in Lebanon.

"The importance of the 'Knights' Assault' operation does not lie in American participation but rather in the outcome of Ahmadinejad's most recent visit to Baghdad since it is impossible to target the Mehdi army – the same army that Muqtada al Sadr declares cannot be dismantled except at the orders of the Imam himself, and without Iran's blessing.

" . . . Today at a time when Muqtada al Sadr receives a blow Iran remains tight-lipped, same as the Shiaa clerics and all this is because there is only one control button and it belongs to Tehran. Clearly the opportunity is convenient for Iran to tighten its grip on Iraq and to exploit the US desire for Iraq's stability at any price before the US elections take place. After the elections a new US president will arrive at the White House to find himself/herself obligated to deal with a reality that enforces itself upon Baghdad. Even if people change in the next Iraqi government, it will still continue to orbit around Iran."

To those of us who are up to our necks in the Clinton-Obama-McCain slugfest, the observations on American politics and how the outcome of the election may impact on U.S. policy on Iraq seems somewhat naïve. But recall that the American media makes sweeping pronouncements on the Middle East's ever shifting tectonic plates all the time that probably strike Saudis, Iraqis and Iranis much the same way.

Photograph by Karim Kadim/The Associated Press

Who Says Americans Don't Have Taste?

Paris Hilton did some jail time for driving drunk, but there is no law against movies like The Hottie and the Nottie. But the box office has spoken and her new vehicle did an extraordinarily atrocious $250 per screen on its opening weekend.

As Joe Queenan, The Guardian's movie critic notes, this will revive the debate on the worst movies of all time.

These include Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Plan 9 From Outer Space, Showgirls, Ishtar, Heaven's Gate, Battlefield Earth, The Postman, Gigli and Swept Away.

But Queenan says comparing The Hottie to some of those movies is not fair:
"It is not fair to Kevin Costner, it is not fair to Jennifer Lopez, and it is certainly not fair to Madonna. Though it is a natural impulse to believe that the excruciating film one is watching today is on a par with the excruciating films of yesterday, this is a slight to those who have worked long and hard to make movies so moronic that the public will still be talking about them decades later. Anyone can make a bad movie; Kate Hudson and Adam Sandler make them by the fistful. Anyone can make a sickening movie; we are already up to Saw IV. Anyone can make an unwatchable movie; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. And anyone can make a comedy that is not funny; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. But to make a movie that destroys a studio, wrecks careers, bankrupts investors, and turns everyone connected with it into a laughing stock requires a level of moxie, self-involvement, lack of taste, obliviousness to reality and general contempt for mankind that the average director, producer and movie star can only dream of attaining."

Beautiful Photographs du Jour

You may have seen this and the other marvelous photos taken
by elephants carrying logs imbeded with with cameras.
If not, click here.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

As someone new to the party, I have to say the awesomeness of the Democratic circular firing squad really can not be explained to outsiders. You can try to explain it, but it just doesn’t sink in until you are actually a part of it. The Bush administration and Republican rule has been an unmitigated disaster for this country, and the Clinton camp seems dead set on making sure we get four more years of it. Bush’s poll numbers are worse than syphillis, and yet the Clinton campaign and their supporters keep making me yearn for the decency and the integrity of the say-anything Romney crowd.

This primary has truly been . . . a real eye-opener. While the GOP is turning lemons into lemonade with McCain, the Democrats are showing the world they know how to turn filet mignon into a shit sandwich. Impressive work.

I think I am going to start drinking again.


If a politician doesn't wanna get beat up, he shouldn't run for office. If a football player doesn't want to get tackled or want the risk of an a occasional clip he shouldn't put the pads on.


Did Hillary "misspeak," or did she lie, about coming under sniper fire at the airport in Tuzla, Bosnia, in 1996? Was Bill’s remark about wanting a race between two patriotic, national-interest-minded, policy-loving candidates a form of McCarthyism? Was the Obama adviser and retired general Merrill (Tony) McPeak’s charge of McCarthyism against Bill a form of McCarthyism? Was Obama’s Iowa adviser Gordon Fischer’s rejoinder—that Bill’s remark was worse than the stain on Monica’s dress— more or less offensive than Bill’s original remark? Than General McPeak’s charge? Than Hillary misspeaking about Bosnia? Than Hillary lying about Bosnia? Should Fischer be obliged to quit the campaign? Should McPeak? Should Bill? If Bill has to quit the campaign, should Michelle be required to say something that will force her removal from the campaign as well? Has Michelle already said something that could retroactively force her removal? Was the Clinton adviser James Carville’s comparison of Bill Richardson to Judas Iscariot an insult to Richardson, to Christianity, or to Judas? Should Carville be required to leave the campaign? To hang himself? Should Judas have been required to issue a public apology before hanging himself? Should Hillary and Barack simultaneously abandon the race for the Presidency in order to save the Democratic Party from self-destruction?


There is a strong case to be made that people choose their religious communities based on spiritual factors, not political ones. Most individuals have plenty of outlets for their political interests. They don't need their church or temple or small group to be yet another place where they discuss policy and politics.


Note two things: First, Clinton has obviously written off the Black vote and feels free to pile on with regard to Wright. Second, also note how the left feels perfectly at ease defending Wright now that the controversy has faded into the background. The revulsion to his racist, anti-American comments is now consigned to being nothing more than "white backlash" – code words for white racism. In other words, criticizing racist talk from a Black preacher is in and of itself racist.

This is the kind of "conversation on race" the left wishes to have. They define the parameters. They define what is suitable to discuss. They define who transgresses and steps over the line. They are the final arbiters in this so-called "conversation" and woe betide the luckless conservative who strays from their rigid, illiberal, orthodoxy on race.

In other words, if you don’t accept their construct of anything and everything having to do with race, you are de facto, a racist.

Obama would be proud of you.

We're still a month away from the Pennsylvania primary and Hillary Clinton is beginning to throw everything at Obama within reach. Whether anything sticks is not the point. By tossing so much dirt up in the air, she obscures the fact of her own minuscule chances to win the nomination based on most delegates pledged and the popular vote while making it appear Obama is unelectable.


In the month of February, McCain raised just under $11 million, compared to $34 million for Clinton and $55 million for Obama.The numbers get worse when you look at the whole election cycle: in total, McCain has raised just $64 million, less than half of Clinton's $170 million, and a third of Obama's $193 million.

But what's most striking is the debt. The Clinton campaign has amassed a staggering $8.7 million worth, double McCain's $4.3 million. Obama, on the other hand, owes only $625,000. By campaign standards, he's debt free.


At this point in the election cycle — before any fear of the unknown has set in — challengers are often running much better against their incumbent-party opponents. In 1988, Michael Dukakis had about a 10-point lead over George Bush (the senior and then-vice-president), only to lose by around eight — an 18-point swing.


Cartoon by Tony Auth/The Philadelphia Inquirer

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Still Guilty As Hell

Mumia Abu-Jamal is the worst reason imaginable to oppose the death penalty, which I nevertheless do until the unlikely event that it can be meted out fairly and impartially.
Abu-Jamal, who was caught pumping round after round from a handgun into Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner way back in 1981, was convicted at a less-than-fair trial and has been appealing his death sentence for years, all the while refusing to testify on his own behalf and failing to produce his only alleged alibi witness to testify.
As perverse as it seems, Abu-Jamal may understand that the fame he has attained in prison would have eluded him on the street.
In any event, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit today refused to reinstate his death sentence but left intact his murder conviction. The panel also ruled that Abu-Jamal must be sentenced to life in prison or get a chance with a new Philadelphia jury, which would decide only whether he should be sentenced to death or get life in prison. Again.
More here on my thoughts on this scumbag.

Photograph by April Saul/The Philadelphia Inquirer

Iraq Violence: It's All Perfectly Clear Now

Now that the fog around the battle for Basra and uptick in violence elsewhere in Iraq is lifting a bit, we can conclude that:

* The Pentagon's spin that the bloodshed is a consequence of the "success" of the Surge would seem to be silly on its face, but it isn’t.

* This is because the violence is the result of a carefully planned Al-Maliki government offensive to destroy the prime minister's Shiite opponents in the advance of provincial elections in October.

This is especially important in Basra, the major city in oil-rich southeastern Iraq where government-militia clashes (photo) are in their third day, because it has been controlled by loyalists of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr since the British cut and run.

Since Tuesday, clashes in Basra and throughout Iraq's Shiite heartland have left more than 100 dead and many wounded in Basra, Baghdad, Hilla, Kut, Karbala and Diwaniya.

This state of affairs yet again puts the Bush administration in the position of backing the wrong horse, as Eric Martin puts it, but I don't think there are any "right" horses because political fault lines, even within sectarian interest groups, run so deep.

And while the militiamen are lightly armed, they are highly motivated. There would be no amount of Pentagon spin to explain away an end to Al-Sadr's seven-month-old ceasefire against U.S. troops since the Surge was supposed to give Al-Maliki the breathing room to bring warring parties together, not an opportunity to crush his opponents with U.S. troops and air support.

Then there is a biggest reason why there will be a major American presence in Iraq indefinitely: Oil.

Saboteurs blew up one of Iraq's two main oil pipelines near Basra today, severely reducing exports and pushing the price of crude up by more than a dollar a barrel.


In another by-product of the success of the Surge, the Iraqi government spokesman for the Baghdad security plan has been kidnapped and his three bodyguards killed.

Hillary Clinton: And So It's Come To This

My journalist's instincts and four decades in the political trenches are prompting me to tread with care when it comes to the Hillary Clinton doomsday scenarios increasingly appearing in the mainstream media and blogosphere as the once presumptive nominee becomes ever more desperate in what is now a long shot bid to wrest the big prize from Barack Obama.

The root of my caution is because as much as I have written about how the Clinton campaign has determinedly taken the low road and as ruthless as the candidate has shown herself to be capable of being, I still find it hard to believe that she would try to destroy Obama in order to save her candidacy. And in the process alienate so many voters that John McCain's chances of continuing the Republican hegemony on the White House would be enhanced.

But after the last several days of Mrs. Clinton not only running true to form but turning up the sleaze, I'm beginning to put some stock in what a Democratic National Committee official calls the "Tonya Harding" option in an interview with Jack Tapper of ABC News:
"The question is -- what will Clinton have to do in order to achieve it?

"What will she have to do to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, in order to eke out her improbable victory?

"She will have to 'break his back,' the official said. 'She will have to destroy Obama, make Obama completely unacceptable.

" 'Her securing the nomination is certainly possible - but it will require exercising the Tonya Harding option,' the official said. 'Is that really what we Democrats want?' "

Tonya Harding, for you younguns out there, is the figure skater who was so desperate to win a national championship that she arranged to have competitor Nancy Kerrigan kneecapped.

* * * * *
Libby Spencer has led the charge of left-of-center bloggers who fear that the flame war over the Clinton-Obama smackdown has created "a murderous din that is going to kill us in November," and she asked here that the rhetoric be toned down.

While I agree that the discourse is sometimes loud and impolite, I will not self censor for some perceived greater good and have told several of Libby's colleagues as much in private conversations.
But Libby has now broken her plea for unity. The reason is Mrs. Clinton's gutter sniping at Obama from the inner sanctum of the underwriter of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" of which she has boo-hooed so bitterly over the years -- Republican gadzillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

Scaife, who is publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a money-losing plaything, has said among other things that the death of Vincent Foster was the "Rosetta stone" of the Clinton administration and Hillary herself was responsible for Foster's murder."
Hell Has Officially Frozen Over" is how the National Review headlined its story on the improbable meeting. I myself would use less charitable language noting Mrs. Clinton's willingness to insert herself into any available anatomical cavity to advance her campaign.

* * * * *
It was something of a shocker when Bill Richardson, who was Bill Clinton's energy secretary and a U.N. ambassador, endorsed Obama, but in subsequent comments he made it clear that he couldn't abide Mrs. Clinton's sleaze.
Now comes Robert Reich, who served with such distinction as Bill Clinton's treasury secretary, who says he's had about enough.
* * * * *
Libby's colleague Fester at Newshoggers has a refreshing way of looking at the campaigns:
"If each campaign was a home construction firm, most campaigns would have built houses suitable for Dennis Kucinich on Jupiter, very low floors of initial bedrock support and fairly low ceilings. The home would be good for gnomes. John Edwards built a home good for the Arctic circle with strong walls and a steep slope roof to allow the snow and support to rapidly fall off. Barrack Obama's campaign has built a home suitable for Manute Bol or Yao Ming --- low floors and very high ceilings.

"The Clinton campaign has built a very different house as her structural advantages and disadvantages going into the campaign were very different. She had very high floors, but fairly low ceilings, she it was built for dwarfs in a low gravity environment. She knew that she had a solid 30% to 40% of the Democratic primary electorate attached to her hip, but gaining the remaining ten to twenty points to assemble either a majority or a sufficient plurality would be very difficult. She has had little room to grow . . . "

* * * * *
I have had the privilege of working this week with the researcher for a Pulitzer Prize-winner presidential historian who shares my journalistic instincts and has an additional decade in the trenches on me.

We were talking about the presidential campaign, which she agrees is the most closely fought, exciting and improbable of our lives.

But this 70-something woman, a resident of New York City who said she found much to admire in Hillary Clinton, twice voted for her and thought her husband was a pretty terrific president, is infuriated at Mrs. Clinton for betraying what have turned out to be her phony ideals.
* * * * *
PBS this week is showing "Bush's War," a fine two-part "Frontline" documentary on the Iraq war.

I have to admit that I was so saddened and then became so depressed as one talking head after another addressed this ongoing catastrophe that I couldn't make it to the end of the second part and fled into the embrace of "Antiques Roadshow" on another channel.

The overriding message of "Bush's War" is that virtually every one of the plans and assumptions of the war's architects has been revealed to be deeply flawed and this benighted lot of arrogant pols let nothing get in their way, certainly not any pesky snipers, obfuscated when they were caught out and then lied about their lies.
Does this sound like the Clinton campaign or what?
Photograph by Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press

Jeff Guidry & Freedom: Read It & Weep

I tend to be chary about feel-good interactions between humans and wild animals because I feel like they too often do more harm than good. But this tale of a caring man and a fledgling bald eagle with two broken wings made me all wobbly.
Hat tip to Creek Running North

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Roman Loranc

Hat tip to Woods' Lot

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Maybe she was hoping that the toy companies would agree to market a Hillary Clinton Action Figure. More likely, she was probably hoping that she could inflate her meager foreign policy experience by goading the electorate into swallowing a lie.

Now that Clinton has been exposed as a serial peddler of falsehoods, in her retelling of the 1996 visit she made to Bosnia as First Lady, it's worth noting why this campaign episode is important. She has based her increasingly desperate candidacy on the proposition that she is best qualified to be commander-in-chief at 3 a.m. on Day One, and that in turn hinges on the argument that she has passed some of the character tests that are requirements for command. Physical courage, for example.

Hence, her desire to make people believe - in direct contradiction to the facts, as captured on video - that she braved sniper fire in Bosnia. And it's not actually the lie that was most telling. It's her attempt to lie about the lie.


Hillary Clinton has many admirable qualities, but candor and openness and transparency and a commitment to well-established fact have not been notable among them.”


Ron Paul won't quit the race, insisting that actual conservatives have a candidate to vote for at the Convention. He has been smeared as a racist by association, as now seems to be the main way to destroy or attempt to destroy any genuinely reformist politics in America. But his legacy will endure . . .

For all his quirks, and for all his unseemly past associations, Ron Paul had some serious view about the gravity of the situation and a philosophy that was once called conservative and is now smeared as nuts. History will be far kinder to him that today's chattering classes.


Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.


After her first primary victory, Hillary Clinton exulted, "Thank you so much, New Hampshire. I listened to you, and in the process I found my voice."

Make that plural. Since then, the candidate has given us more vocal gymnastics than the legendary Mel Blanc, who did Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, among others. Her repertoire has been dazzling--and confusing.


This could make for one odd family reunion: Barack Obama is a distant cousin of Brad Pitt, and Hillary Rodham Clinton is related to Pitt's girlfriend, Angelina Jolie.

Researchers at the New England Historic Genealogical Society found some remarkable family connections for the three presidential candidates — Democratic rivals Obama and Clinton, and Republican John McCain.

Clinton, who is of French-Canadian descent on her mother's side, is also a distant cousin of singers Madonna, Celine Dion and Alanis Morissette. Obama, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, can call six U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, his cousins. McCain is a sixth cousin of first lady Laura Bush.


It is 3 a.m., and the stillness of the White House night is shattered by the ringing of the red phone. President John McCain, rousing himself from a deep sleep, turns on the light and picks up the receiver. A U.S. embassy in a Middle Eastern country, he is told, has been blown up, and al-Qaeda is taking credit.

McCain takes a deep breath. "Character counts, my friend," he says. "Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb Iran."

There is a rustling of blankets, and, brushing aside Cindy McCain, a concerned Joe Lieberman rises from the bed. "Not Iran, Mr. President," he says. "They hate al-Qaeda."

"That's right," the president says. "I remember now." He sighs with relief. "Good thing you're here every night, Joe."

Cartoon by Adam Zyglis/The Buffalo News

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iraq I: Abeer Qassim Hamza Is Still Dead

Steven Green is the poster boy-man for much of what is wrong about the Iraq war.

This petulant loner was allowed to enlist in the Army and was fast-tracked to the war zone despite a history of drug, alcohol and emotional problems and a petty criminal record back in Midland, the titular home of the Bush family in Texas oil patch country.

Green had been in Iraq for only a few weeks when he was found to have "homicidal ideations" by Army psychiatrists. Nevertheless, he was sent back into combat before finally snapping on March 12, 2006, when he corralled some buddies and talked up the idea of raping Abeer Qassim Hamza, a pretty 15-year-old who lived with her family near the checkpoint in the so-called Triangle of Death south of Baghdad that Green's unit had been manning without relief for days.

In fact, shadowy Sunni insurgents had driven the men of Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, to near the breaking point. They seldom engaged in face-to-face combat, but there was gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks almost daily and Green's comrades were dying at the rate of at least one a week during this pre-Surge strategy period.

Bravo Company had lost eight men alone and would lose several more in the coming months as a direct result of Green's heinous actions.

After getting liquored up on black market Iraqi whiskey, a violation of war-zone policy, Green and one of his three confederates changed into into Iraqi civilian clothing and made arrangements for a buddy to monitor the radio at the checkpoint so they could go "kill and hurt a lot of Iraqis," as one confederate later told an investigator.

Once at Abeer's house, Green herded her father, mother and Hadil, her 7-year-old sister, into a bedroom. Abeer's brothers, Ahmad and Muhammad, were at school.

Green shot the father several times in the head, the mother several times in the abdomen and the sister several times in the head and shoulder with an AK-47 that the family was legally allowed to keep in the house, proudly announcing to his buddies, "I just killed them, all are dead."

Green then turned on Abeer, whom U.S. officials initially claimed was 20 or 25. As if that justified what happened next.

Abeer's dressing gown and bra were torn from her body and her legs tied. Green and two other soldiers then took turns raping her. By the time they had finished, blood was flowing from her vagina. Green then shot Abeer in the head two or three times, threw a blanket over her torso and set the family's bodies afire in a crude effort to cover up the atrocity.

Back at the checkpoint, Green burned his blood-drenched clothing and swore everyone to secrecy.

* * * * *
Today 22-year-old Steven Green whiles away the days in a federal lockup in Kentucky while lawyers fight over the question of whether he should be tried as a civilian.

Although the cover-up of the rape-murders would not be revealed until June 2006, the behavior of the private first class had become so problematic by May that the Army sent him home on the grounds that he had an "anti-social personality disorder," but nevertheless gave him an honorable discharge.

Green was technically separated, but not retired, from the Army when rape and murder charges were filed against him in July 2006. This would put him beyond the reach of a military court unless higher ups intervened, which they did not.

Iraqi authorities demanded to no effect that Green be returned to Iraq and tried, but the U.S. has been historically protective of servicemen stationed overseas and with few exceptions (none in Iraq), they have been protected against prosecution in local courts.

Green's lawyers, in a motion filed last Friday night, argue that he should have been tried under the military criminal-justice system because the acts occurred while he was enlisted, he told his commanding officer twice about them, and therefore his discharge was thus not valid.

In other words, the Army wanted to wash its hands of the whole sordid mess and should not be allowed to do so.

The defense motion is predicated on the probability that Green would get the death penalty if convicted after a civilian trial now scheduled for April 2009.

Green's confederates and a fourth soldier are serving sentenced after their cases were heard in a military court.

Three men received prison sentences of 110, 100 and 90 years after being found guilty or pleading guilty to participating in the attack. The soldier who covered for them at the checkpoint was sentenced to 27 months after pleading guilty.

Further complicating the case is that Green tried to re-enlist in an effort to be shielded from the civilian court system.

The federal prosecutors assigned to the case counter that the federal death penalty process and methods are constitutional and procedurally sound and assert that the evidence warrants seeking a death sentence.

What that Abeer Qassim Hamza had choices like Steven Green. But alas, she is still dead.