Thursday, January 04, 2007

Morning News Roundup (04 January)

Hangover from the Hanging
  • Why was the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki so keen to kill Saddam Hussein? First, there is the entirely understandable desire for revenge. Members of the old opposition to Saddam Hussein are often blamed for their past ineffectiveness but most lost family members to his torture chambers and execution squads. Every family in Iraq lost a member to his disastrous wars or his savage repressions.

    There is also a fear among Shia leaders that the US might suddenly change sides. This is not as outlandish as it might at first appear. The US has been cultivating the Sunni in Iraq for the past 18 months. It has sought talks with the insurgents. It has tried to reverse the de-Baathification campaign. US commentators and politicians blithely talk about eliminating the anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and fighting his militia, the Mehdi Army. No wonder Shias feel that it is better to get Saddam under the ground just as quickly as possible. Americans may have forgotten that they were once allied to him but Iraqis have not. [Patrick Cockburn in The Independent]

  • I initially suspected that the execution would have little effect on the overall situation in Iraq, certainly not improving things but also not doing much to inflame people who hardly need, at this point, more motivation to hate each other. But I committed a blunder that is, for me, exceptionally rare: I assumed that somehow this, a historic and potentially inflammatory event, would be handled with even a minimal amount of decorum and professionalism by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government. Instead, the Bush administration turned over Saddam to the Iraqi government prematurely . . . to a band of thugs-as-executioners . . . who wore not uniforms but leather jackets and ski masks . . . who shouted Shia chants, including invocations of Moqtada al-Sadr . . . all of which was illicitly videotaped and then emailed around Iraq and throughout the world . . . on, no less, one of the holiest days of the Sunni religious calendar. [Americablog]

Iraq's (Decidedly Uncivil) Civil War
  • Two bombs have exploded at a petrol station in Baghdad's western Mansour district, killing 13 people and wounding 22. The first blast was a roadside bomb that hit people lining up for fuel at the petrol station, police said. When rescue services arrived on the scene, a car bomb exploded. [Al Jazeera]

BushCo's Wars
  • The American voters in November made it clear that it's time to start withdrawing from Iraq. Political leaders from both parties and any number of experts are increasingly coming to the realization that American soldiers are dying, day in and day out, in pursuit of an unattainable goal.

    So what is President Bush about to do? By all indications: escalate. His "new way forward" in Iraq appears to call for more troops -- along with a series of other measures that might have helped if he'd taken them three years ago.

    News reports suggest that Bush's plan is not likely to win enthusiastic support, even from within his own party. But my question is: Where's the outrage?

    And is there any more plausible explanation for Bush's behavior than that he is willing to sacrifice more troops so he won't have to admit -- at least not yet -- that he made a mistake? Is that a good enough reason to ask even one more soldier to die? [Dan Froomkin at the WaPo]

Climate Crisis
  • The seriousness of Australia’s environmental problems was underlined Wednesday with the release of data showing that the country appears to be experiencing the effects of global warming more deeply than other parts of the world.

    In its annual climate report, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said 2006 had seen the warmest spring on record, with average temperatures up 1.42 degrees centigrade. The mean temperature for the year was 0.47 degrees above the 1961 to 1990 average. Average global temperatures in 2006 were 0.42 degrees above their 1961-1990 average.
    The trend to more marked droughts, meanwhile, is afflicting the country’s most important agriculture regions. Australia is usually one of the world’s top three grain exporters and the sharp reduction in its expected wheat crop this year has already pushed up global prices. [Financial Times]

Domestic Potpourri
  • House Democrats are crafting an energy package that would roll back billions of dollars worth of oil drilling incentives, raise billions more by boosting federal royalties paid by oil and gas companies for offshore production, and plow the money into new tax breaks for renewable energy sources, congressional sources said yesterday.
    The repeal of the 2004 tax cuts for the oil and gas industry would generate nearly $5 billion, Democratic lawmakers said, quoting estimates by the Joint Committee on Taxation. The royalty payments would yield between $9 billion and $11 billion, Hoyer said.
    "The Democrats are appropriately shifting money from the 20th-century technologies to the 21st-century industries," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "If we want to see solar, wind and biofuels, we have to make that investment today." [WaPo]

  • Thirty-one-year-old Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) is not a large man, standing perhaps 5 feet 3 inches tall in thick soles. But he packed a whole lot of chutzpah when he walked into the House TV gallery yesterday to demand that the new Democratic majority give the new Republican minority all the rights that Republicans had denied Democrats for years.

    "The bill we offer today, the minority bill of rights, is crafted based on the exact text that then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi submitted in 2004 to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert," declared McHenry, with 10 Republican colleagues arrayed around him. "We're submitting this minority bill of rights, which will ensure that all sides are protected, that fairness and openness is in fact granted by the new majority."

    Omitted from McHenry's plea for fairness was the fact that the GOP had ignored Pelosi's 2004 request -- while routinely engaging in the procedural maneuvers that her plan would have corrected. Was the gentleman from North Carolina asking Democrats to do as he says, not as he did? [WaPo]

Obama Watch
  • Long before the national media spotlight began to shine on every twist and turn of his life's journey, Barack Obama had this to say about himself: "Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. . . . I got high [to] push questions of who I was out of my mind."

    The Democratic senator from Illinois and likely presidential candidate offered the confession in a memoir written 11 years ago, not long after he graduated from law school and well before he contemplated life on the national stage.
    Obama's revelations were not an issue during his Senate campaign two years ago. But now his open narrative of early, bad choices, including drug use starting in high school and ending in college, as well as his tortured search for racial identity, are sure to receive new scrutiny.
    It was not so long ago that such blunt admissions would have led to a candidate's undoing, and there is uneasiness in Democratic circles that "Dreams From My Father" will provide a blueprint for negative attacks.
    Through his book, Obama has become the first potential presidential contender to admit trying cocaine. [WaPo]

  • Why, exactly, are they “sure to receive new scrutiny”? Because bored political reporters say so?

    I can appreciate the fact that George W. Bush’s “youthful indiscretions” were the subject of considerable interest in the 2000 campaign, so it’s not unreasonable to apply the same standard to Obama. But there’s a major difference — Bush acknowledged an alcohol addiction, but refused to answer questions about more illicit drug use. Obama, meanwhile, not only acknowledged drug use, he wrote about it extensively in an autobiography. Unanswered questions pique reporters’ interest; already-answered questions are a lot less interesting.

    For that matter, looking ahead, how exactly would Obama’s rivals make this relevant to voters? It’s not exactly a compelling pitch: “Don’t vote for Obama, he did drugs 35 years ago.” Chances are, any voter who might find this compelling probably wouldn’t vote for Obama anyway. [The Carpetbagger Report]

  • As political media buzzed about whether or not Senator Barack Obama's admission eleven years ago that he used cocaine as a teenager would hurt his political prospects, Fox News ran a segment on "Obama's Cocaine Confession." Their conversation took an unusual turn, however, when Fox reporter Kirian Chetry said President Bush had also admitted to using cocaine. [Raw Story]

Big Blue Marble
  • The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, today vowed to reform his country's pacifist constitution, a controversial move that is expected to influence the outcome of upper house elections later this year. Mr Abe, who took office in September, also said he would strengthen ties with the US and Europe as anxiety grows about North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. Six-party talks held in China last month ended without agreement and no date has been set for the next meeting. [The Guardian]

  • President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Wednesday that Iran would not back down from its nuclear ambitions and said his country would soon start producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale. “Iran has the fuel cycle, and very soon we will push the button on nuclear fuel production for industrial uses,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a speech in the southern city of Ghotvand in Khuzestan Province, according to the ISNA news agency. [NYTimes]

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At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Republican candidates in the mold of Bush, Santorum, Frist, et al, continue, I feel cocaine/pot/some kind of fish paralyzer use should probably become mandatory for all of us innocent constituents.


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