Friday, April 28, 2006

So Much for NAFTA

Jeffrey Simpson says "Free trade in lumber was never an option" in defending the controversial deal made between the Canadian and American governments over Canadian exports of softwood lumber:

Of course, the United States acted badly in the softwood lumber file. Of course, it ignored NAFTA rulings it did not like, thereby bringing the legitimacy of the entire agreement into question. Of course, the U.S. collected illegal and outrageous duties under the so-called Byrd Amendment. Of course, a group of U.S. legislators and one powerful lobby group obstructed progress. Of course, the U.S. acted like a bully in this file.


...[A]ll the posturing Canada could muster -- and it could muster a lot -- would not change the essence of the U.S. position that no free trade in lumber could or would exist. And full free trade still won't be in the deal announced yesterday.

It didn't matter how many favourable North American free-trade agreement rulings. It didn't matter how much Canadian speechifying. It didn't matter how much Canadian lobbying. There wasn't going to be free trade in lumber. There wasn't free trade in the original Canada-U.S. deal, and there wouldn't ever be...

...This deal, it is true, rewards bad U.S. behaviour. It does signal that U.S. interests can twist and ignore NAFTA. It does repay a certain extortion by allowing the U.S. to keep some of the tariff money it collected. And it is managed, not free, trade.

But the deal brings peace at a reasonable price, provides stability, meets the test of what was possible under the circumstances, and should therefore be supported.
Free trade for thee, but not for me, huh? Good to know that Beijing was apparently right after all in spurning the "Washington Consensus". Certainly Washington itself has proven that it isn't exactly enamored of free trade, so much as free access to markets for its exporters, and protected markets for everybody else.

Really, this isn't about softwood lumber... it isn't even about Canada and the United States. It's about whether or not treaties and international law are worth the paper they're written on. It would appear that the answer is "hell no", at least for the United States. The Canadians will doubtlessly remember that when their oil and water resources become valuable enough... but the key question is whether anybody will be willing to bother with "free trade" deals now. If the US won't honor them, why the hell should anybody else?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Could it be... Fitzmas again?

Digby ties together the appointment of Fox New's John Snow as press secretary ("fair and balanced" is out the window, it seems) and the distinct possibility of Karl Rove being in real bad trouble.

We can 0nly hope, huh?

Oh, and he also mentions this column by Max Boot (and Kevin Drum's response) imploring the press to treat the WoT "as a battle of Good vs. Evil" and, therefore, give the president "the benefit of the doubt".

No doubt that there are a lot of "evildoers" among the Terrists. The "Evil" part is not really in doubt. Unfortunately, in the post-Abu Gharib/Iraq deception/"screw FISA and the rule of law" world, the "Good" part is kind of up for grabs.

You don't give anybody the benefit of the doubt if the battle is between two Evils. Ideally, you get rid of both of them. Laying out the reason why is precisely why Bush critics won all those Pulitzers, and why Max Boot is stuck pathetically whining about how mean they are to Dubya.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Tension between Japan and...South Korea

Needless to say, This isn't the way it's supposed to work. Japan and China, sure, but Japan and South Korea nearly getting into a "clash"?

Japanese and South Korean negotiators raced Thursday to avert a clash over disputed islets as Seoul accused Tokyo of imperialistic ambitions and warned of a possible confrontation at sea.

Behind-the-scenes talks on a diplomatic solution came as tensions mounted over a Japanese plan to survey resource-rich waters near the islands, which are occupied by South Korea but claimed by Japan.
Some 20 South Korean gunboats have been dispatched to the area in anticipation of the arrival of Japanese survey ships. The gunboats were scheduled to conduct high seas seizure drills Thursday, but delayed the exercises due to bad weather.

In Seoul, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Japanese embassy for talks, while warning of the possibility of a clash. Japan held the "key" to preventing conflict, ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho said.

President Roh Moo-hyun accused Tokyo of harboring imperialistic ambitions. Many South Koreans say the basis of Japan's claim is its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

"There are some people claiming territorial rights to former colonies that were once acquired through a war of aggression," Roh said in a speech at a breakfast prayer meeting of Christian leaders in Seoul.
"We are now in a difficult situation," he said. "Problems cannot be solved just by goodwill."
One of my principal concerns right now is that Japan and the United States, while growing closer and closer to one another, are becoming more and more isolated in Asia. Japan's having enough trouble with China... the enmity of South Korea, or even significant tensions, would be absolutely disastrous.

(The major regional player that Japan seems to be getting along with is, uh, Taiwan. Yeah, that doesn't help things much, either.)

Holy Cow...'s Hammer Time.

I can't believe I never noticed that Hammer had a blog before. And, oddly enough, there are some surprisingly engaging entries there. He needs to write more clearly, but his anger at the Barry Bonds situation and joy over his (prematurely born) son's survival is definitely worth reading.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Useful Tool...

...not, necessarily, The Euston Manifesto itself; more the type of "liberal" that would sign this paen to Republican talking points.

I do have to admit, it's very nice to be able to look at a convenient list of those who are so afraid of their fellow liberals that they spend all their time defining themselves in opposition to them and not, say, to the neo-conservatives whose approval they so desperately crave. It'll come in handy during the weeks and months ahead to be able to simply call up a list and be able to say "yep, he/she's a tool".

I just sort of wish it weren't necessary.

Not that there aren't laudable things in there. The right to organize, radical reform of the WTO, gender equality... I'm not going to attack those, and why should I? Liberals of all stripes worthy of the name agree on those issues.

That's not why this "manifesto" exists, though. It exists to exclude those who dare to criticize American political culture, the value of violent interventionism, or the remarkable idea that criticizing Israel and not, say, Uzbekistan makes you a racist. It "draws a firm line against...left-liberal voices"...without mentioning where it draws its line against neoconservatism.

Why? Because there's no line to draw.

Edit: The unreconstructed left strikes back.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Who Am I? (Canadian readers' edition) Plus: Dems vs. Libs!

I was asked about myself in a comments thread. I'll answer it here.

Hey Demosthenes,

I've been reading your posts on the Calgary Grit and I can't help but to notice that you have a pretty good grasp on American Democratic Politics. I too have an interest in said politics, as I have studied American History and Political Science for some years.

First, are you now, or have you ever been a citizen of the United States?

Second, by your estimation, what is the current strength of the DLC? Do the back-to-back losses of Gore and Kerry mean that the party's constituents are ready to try something new?

And, I guess while I'm here: what does Al From do these days?

In response: I don't answer questions about nationality or background. Sorry. There's a reason for that: I firmly believe in the importance, power, and necessity of pseudonymous rhetoric and debate, and am loathe to give that up. There is some small information in the archives about where I live, but I'm not going to dwell on that. If you're interested in where my name comes from, or why I started this site, my first post should cover that well enough.

(For those who think that this is some kind of stealth blog by a Liberal party staffer... that post was from 2002. The famous Digby used to be a commentator on my site. I've been around for a while.)

In any case, I have started spending more time on Canadian politics, however, as what I've written will definitely "out" me as a small 'l' liberal. I believe that Canada is, or could be, the heart of North American liberalism, because the term doesn't contain the pejorative connontations that it does in the U.S. The Liberal party has a lot to do with that, so its leadership battle matters a lot to me. I'm hoping that Mexico's shift leftward will help it play that same kind of role, but it's tricky for me to keep up with the Mexican scene... among other things, I don't speak or read Spanish.

On the second question... I'm honestly not sure. A lot depends on 2006, a race that is the Dems' to lose. Hillary is the frontrunner and the DLC's dream candidate, but she's carrying a ton of baggage and, in my opinion, can't win the election. She's like Ignatieff and Kerry in that she was either too afraid or too blinded to oppose the Iraq war when it mattered, and does so now because it's politically expedient. If the Dems do really well in 2006, it's very likely that the DLC will claim victory and try to carry it over to the 2008 primaries. If the Dems don't do as well as hoped, then they might be in trouble, as the powers-that-be in the Democratic party will have lost what little respect remains in the eyes of the party base. That will likely create openings for different candidates.

(Of course, if the DLC's chosen don't do as well as the more liberal candidates, that will affect things as well.)

The biggest difference between the Dems and the Liberals (other than the NDP), by the way, is fundraising. The Dems have figured out that small donations matter, and the great victory of the Democratic "netroots" (like Atrios, DailyKos, and MyDD) is that they have created a solid online vehicle for taking those small donations, bundling them, and aiming them at progressive candidates. While the contributions haven't been decisive, they represent enormous possibilities for the future, and everybody knows it. That's why people were trying to get the FEC to shut them down. Canada's different. While Jason has moved in that direction, it's still embryonic. The Liberals were and are still too dependent on big donors, but Harper is shutting that door for good.

Make no mistake: this is a path that the Liberal party MUST follow. The only question is when and how they get on it.

The thing is, you can't get donations by walking the middle path. People aren't going to donate to opportunistic, gutless "centrists" with no vision and no beliefs. They certainly aren't going to donate to candidates who don't have the courage of their own convictions and the willingness to take a stand for progressive and, yes, liberal positions on issues. That includes Iraq, and that includes torture, and that includes Iran.

The Liberal party has two main problems: a lack of focus, and a lack of funding. Fortunately for them, they can solve both problems at the same time. The problem is that that will take more than health care and gay marriage. It will take liberal positions on issues that Bay St. will not like, Wall St. even less, and Washington least of all.

The Dems haven't shown that kind of courage. The bizarre rule of Al From and the DLC proves it.

The jury is still out on the Liberals, and that's why the leadership race matters.

Mouthpieces and Nukes

Digby breaks down the lunacy that is Joe Klein's position on the use of tactical nuclear weapons(as seen on Crooks & Liars here).

John at Crooks and Liars caught Joe Klein in a perfect example of shallow, knee jerk, beltway conventional wisdom that has made him the object of ridicule among everybody who observes the punditocrisy.

He goes on about how the young people of Iran love us, blah, blah, blah, but then makes an emphatic point that we must not take nuclear weapons "off the table." Apparently he doesn't understand the difference between nuclear weapons being "on the table" in the event of an attack and nuclear weapons being "on the table" as part of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptively attacking anyone who looks at us sideways.

Pre-emptive nuclear war has never been on the table. We don't want it on the table. It's, as Stephanopolous exclaimed, "insane." (The look on Klein's face when Steph did that was priceless. It was obvious that he thought he was saying something that everybody but the fever swamps believes is the sober centrist position.)

Klein sounds like he's repeating snippets of cocktail conversation he heard over the decades and just plugs in the one that sounds like it will make him appear to be the most serious. It's ridiculous that he's invited on all these shows when it's clear that he is not following the current debate.
Digby sums up the angle on Klein, so I'll just get into the merits of the argument itself.

Look: a nuke's a nuke. Period. There is hairsplitting over whether or not tactical nuclear weapons really qualify, because they don't do the same kind of damage, but the hairsplitting is essentially meaningless. This is not because of any empirical Truth about the power of nuclear weapons, but because there is a widespread and ironclad consensus on the dividing line that has been made between chemical explosives and nuclear weapons. One is acceptable, the other isn't.

The rule is clear: Thou Shalt Use Nuclear Weapons Only For Defense.

Guess what? It makes perfect sense. there is an upper limit to the amount of damage a regular weapon can do, but there is absolutely none to the upper limit nukes can do. Having the dividing line between the two means that there is no need for anybody to have to make the decision about what level of destructiveness is "acceptable" and what level isn't- the limits on the power of chemical explosives settles that question by themselves.

While the most powerful of regular weapons may do more damage than the weakest of nuclear weapons, using nukes would erase that line, and it would be acceptable for individual countries to decide when and where and how to set their limits. Sure, DoD might make the right choice, but will China do the same? Will North Korea? Will Pakistan? Will every other state or warlord that gets its hands on a nuke down the road be able to legitimately make that decision?

The Republican leadership purport to be conservative. Fine.
That's supposed to involve a respect for tradition. The traditional consensus that rules the use of nuclear weapons beyond the pale exists for damned good reasons, and they need to respect it. They want to find a way to take on Iran, that much is clear. It's a bad idea and I wish them nothing but ill luck in that misbegotten adventure, but whatever happens, we must agree: nuclear weapons are clearly and utterly Out Of The Question.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Meanwhile, in the United States...

Immigrants ain't happy.

Hundreds of thousands of pro-immigration demonstrators mobilized on the Mall and in scores of cities across the country yesterday in a powerful display of grass-roots muscle-flexing that organizers said could mark a coming-of-age for Latino political power in the United States.

Calling for legal protection for illegal immigrants, the demonstrators -- the overwhelming majority of them Hispanic -- streamed past the White House in Washington, jammed streets near City Hall in Lower Manhattan, marched in Atlanta, held a small candlelight vigil in Los Angeles and, in Mississippi, sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" in Spanish.

Demonstrators massed in cities large and small. In tiny Lake Worth, Fla., several thousand legal and illegal immigrants, marching to the beat of drums, demanded fair treatment, with one sign reading "Let Me Love Your Country." In Phoenix, an estimated 100,000 rallied at the Arizona Capitol, with families pushing strollers wedged among construction workers, high school students and old men wearing cowboy hats.

The largely peaceful demonstrations drew only a smattering of anti-immigration protesters.

How does the public feel? Well, it seems divided:

The rallies came against the backdrop of fierce political struggle in Washington. The House has passed legislation to tighten border security and criminalize illegal immigrants and those who assist them. The Senate is stalemated over a compromise that would provide a path to legal status for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. President Bush has backed the Senate approach but has declined to pressure Republicans to act on it.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that three-quarters of Americans think the government is not doing enough to prevent illegal immigration. But three in five said they favor providing illegal immigrants who have lived here for years a way to gain legal status and eventual citizenship. The idea received majority support from Democrats, independents and Republicans. One in five Americans embraced the House bill, which includes no guest-worker program and would make felons out of those in this country illegally.

So they want to stop it, but they don't want to toss immigrants into prison. Seems to make sense. It probably isn't going to have as much impact as the scary nativism that House Republicans seem to be embracing, but that's Republicans for you.

Left wins in Italy

If only by the narrowest of margins.

Italy, Israel, half of South America with the rest coming along shortly... remember when the left was supposed to be dead and conservatism triumphant?

Thanks, George.

Iggy and the Star

More goings on in Canada.

Good piece in the Toronto Star by Caspar Melville about Ignatieff's "I support it but don't want to admit it" attitude towards torture:
Ignatieff mainly repeats arguments from his book The Lesser Evil (2004) and subsequent articles. The putative contention is that torture is morally wrong in all circumstances, but this is so multiply qualified as to tip over into the opposite.

He returns to one of his favourite tropes, the "ticking bomb" scenario: If a major terrorist atrocity might be prevented by extracting information from someone using torture, would it be wrong to do so? His answer, as before, is "Yes... but."

They are big buts. But torture works (otherwise why would it be so common?). But liberals (like himself) who are against torture in all circumstances may just be exercising a moral scrupulousness that "fellow citizens" (read ordinary folks) would not agree with, and that none of us can in the end afford. But perhaps torturers with their "experience" know best. This is the same argument named by human rights expert Mariano Aguirre, writing for the website openDemocracy in July 2005, as the "torture is wrong... and yet and yet" argument....

...Though he is happy to name and engage with writers who argue for the legitimacy of "coercive interrogations" under certain conditions — people like federal U.S. Judge Richard Posner, Jean Bethke Elshtain and Alan Dershowitz, in whose company Ignatieff is the liberal — he neglects to name any of those on the other side, collapsing them into the anonymous category of "human-rights activist," as if they were of no more account than bit parts in a radio play, performed by "members of the cast."

What the phrase "human-rights activist," used four times, occludes is that these people, the group who do not agree with Ignatieff, include some of his most prominent former colleagues, such as Aguirre, Ronald Steel, professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California, and Conor Gearty, Rausing director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics, each of whom have published stinging critiques of Ignatieff in the past 16 months.

Ignatieff's "and yet and yet" argument is still controversial, still arguably preparing the way for the legitimized use of torture. Despite the apparently firm position against torture, his conclusions are so consciously limp ("we cannot torture... because of who we are. This is the best I can do") as to argue their opposite. They suggest, at best, a lack of conviction and, at worst, an underhand, quasi-patrician duplicity.
That last sentence rflects is what truly got my ire up when reading the Ignatieff article in question. (It was reproduced in The Star to go with the critique.) Ignatieff plays the subtle but morally bankrupt game of defining "legitimate" liberalism based on those that don't share its assumptions and actively oppose its aims. He's no different than, say, Tom Friedman; so afraid of appearing "unrealistic" and out of touch with the Republican consensus that he'll make transparently duplicitous arguments rather than come out as a supporter of Republican tropes or as an opponent.

I've criticized Warren Kinsella in the past, I'm not happy about his activities in the last election, and I still think that he gave short shrift to Paul Martin and a free pass to Stephen Harper when neither was deserved, but he called it when he said:

All over this country, in church basements and living rooms, NDP organizers are holding prayer meetings, and fervently imploring Allah, G-d, Yahweh and the Buddah to elect Michael Ignatieff leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

As one NDP pal recently remarked to me: "Warren, if you are Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff is your man! Go, Iggy, go!"

Golly, I wonder why?
I know Canadians, personally, who have said that they'd switch to the NDP rather than support Ignatieff.

So, Michael? A bit of advice. I'm not a bigshot (former?) human rights expert like yourself. I'm just a lowly blogger.

(Really lowly, nowadays.)

As a lowly blogger, however, I do know this: Playing these sorts of "I'm a liberal but not" games might work in the U.S., but up in Canada you have opposition on the left, too, and they really, really want you to look like you're in favor of torture and Iraq. You want to be leader of Canada's Liberal party? You want to be welcome on the Washingtonian Republican cocktail circuit? Either's fine.

But you can't pick both.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Belinda's Out

Belinda Stronach is no longer running for the Liberal party leadership, according to the Globe and Mail.

Needless to say, this is huge news- she was amassing a large organization behind her, and had a huge media presence.

What does this mean? Two things: first, the right side of the party is going to be looking for a standard-bearer. (Volpe, perhaps?) Second, Ignatieff has received an absolutely enormous boost, and it may well be that he and Stronach came to an arrangement.

(Or it may well be that she's having trouble learning French. C'est vrai possible.)

In any case, the race just got a lot weirder, and it was no coronation even before.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


That sound you're hearing now is that of Rick Mercer tearing Iggy's foreign policy positions apart in something like 60 seconds.

(Go to the April 4, 2006 entry, and fire up the rant.)

My favorite line?

"Iggy is pretty much the only "Liberal" in Canada who thinks Chretien was wrong in keeping Canada out of the war in Iraq. But that's Iggy for you- he's not handicapped by that whole Canadian point of view thing".

What more is there to say, really? (Except that isn't exactly a solely Canadian position nowadays.)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Pogge, Froomkin, and a Silent Media

Over at the Canadian blog Peace, order and good government, eh? (Pogge for short), we find out that with the exception of Dan Froomkin, nobody in the American media is paying attention to Murray Waas's National Journal piece on Valerie Plame. Waas showed that the "outing" of Valerie Plane was motivated by what many had long believed- that Bush knew that his evidence for Saddam Husseins was disputed-at-best, but presented it as incontrovertable fact, in order to get public support for the war he had already decided on waging.

Froomkin (and Pogge) note that the American mainstream media is completely avoiding the story and its implications, however. Froomkin:

The blogosphere is abuzz with Waas's latest revelation. The Booman Tribune blog explains how it is in fact Waas's "magnum opus on the Plame Affair."

But in the traditional media, the reaction has been utter and complete silence -- both after Waas's well-documented March 2 story, and again today. There's not one word about it in a single major outlet this morning.

And that's just not acceptable. Waas's fellow reporters at major news operations should either acknowledge and try to follow up his stories -- or debunk them. It's not okay to just leave them hanging out there. They're too important.
And Pogge:

So what have we learned here, girls and boys?

a) Bush and his staff are exactly what millions of us always suspected: lying lowdown weasels who invaded and destroyed Iraq based on a series of lies, and used other lies to cover those lies. He and his staff are criminals and unworthy to hold public office.

b) If you still believe Bush is not a liar, you are beyond help.

c) If you still believe in "the liberal media" in the United States, you are an absolute fool.

The fact that the media has shut down this story is particularly revealing. Even with the press in his pocket, Bush's approval ratings can't climb out of the low thirties. Can you imagine what a free and inquisitive press could do to him? In a just world, impeachment would be the least of his problems.
So, what to add to that? The only true question remaining is the motivation; whether the media is dodging this story because it might cost them access (as was usually the case when media avoided asking tough questions), whether they're afraid of not seeming "balanced", or whether they think that it's old news, that everybody knows what happened, and it's not worth putting on the air.

It's a difficult one to answer. You know what, though? I think the latter is the most likely. It's the elephant in the room, especially in the newsroom. Yes, they lied, and yes, they inflated the importance of evidence when he wasn't lying, and yes, they was cherrypicking said evidence in the first place. We know why they did: because the neo-conservatives wanted a proof-of-concept war for their doctrine of forced Americanization, Rumsfeld wanted something similar for his doctrine of light-and-fast warfare, Bush wanted to accomplish what his father didn't, Rove wanted a war to rally the public around, the Saudis and Israelis wanted a problem out of their hair, the oil barons wanted a pliant oil producer in case Saudi Arabia or Venezuela started to turn the screws, and everybody wanted a friendly regime that China couldn't buy out from under the United States.

(Honestly, it's not hard. The conservatives are right in that there was more than one motivation. What they don't say is that all the motivations are absolute dangerous twaddle.)

Either you know it at this point or you don't. If you don't, it's because you don't want to, and are desperately trying to find reasons to justify what's happening. Hence the BS about "good news" and weapons getting flown to Syria and whatever-the-hell the RNC noise machine is coming up with this week- there's a whole industry dedicated to ensuring that war supporters get their delusions fed, and it's powerful enough now that people can successfully avoid the truth. Those who are consuming this crap won't be convinced, and those who have figured out the truth don't need convincing.

In short, it just isn't news.

And for that, may God have mercy on us all.