June 2008 Archives

June 29, 2008

Sunday morning

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For those of you who are taking the Canada Day holiday tomorrow this is the middle of a long weekend. So in keeping with internet tradition — I did this once before — here's Bela Fleck and the Flecktones to keep you company while you linger over that second cup of coffee. This is called Big Country. See if it doesn't remind you of every western you've ever seen where the hero rides off alone into the sunset. Except for the steel drums, maybe. And the part where the 5 string bass and the clarinet actually have a conversation. And... oh, never mind.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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June 27, 2008

The online biography I found said that Hank Shizzoe was born "smack dab in the middle of Europe" but he's made his reputation playing and singing American "roots music." Which sounds close enough to blues for me. Here he is with a band called The Alpinistos performing Bob Dylan's Dirt Road Blues. Has that been around long enough to qualify as roots by now?

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June 25, 2008

Memes of the market

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The underlying force of claims about how great markets are doesn’t really come from the math or its relationship to reality. The math doesn’t relate to reality worth beans, and even if it did nobody would grok that.
No, what makes “free markets” so compelling is more a group of philosophical ideas, a story about people and the world. As I see it, it goes something like this:

Markets are natural; they are expressions of inherent (competitive) human nature. As such, they are inevitable. But also, that makes them perfect or at least unimprovable, because nature cannot be improved on. Things might seem imperfect in nature, but nature is so complex that you can’t tinker without doing more harm than good. Markets are like this—even when they seem to fail, they are the natural course, and interfering with their infinitely complex operations will inevitably make things worse. We cannot understand enough to intervene successfully.

Oddly, at the same time as this there is a technocratic story that goes

We understand precisely how the economy works, so you proles should just shut up and trust us.

Neither of these stories is true. For one thing, markets do not represent a state of nature.

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June 22, 2008

I remember someone asking Alison at Creekside some months ago why she was now also blogging at the Beavers.

"For the sex," replied our Alison.

How long did it take Madison Ave to delude themselves into thinking that they could ever catch up to our Alison? This long:

As it happens, the woman in that commersh bears a striking likeness to both Alison and me, not to mention every blogging woman we know. We're all twenty-something babes who spend our lives in basic black at cocktail parties, hormonally defenceless against knuckle-draggers who chew bad chocolate bars in front of us and talk with their mouths full as they recite lame lines written by some crass button-down jerk who doesn't know or care what blogging is except he's sure he's better and he can co-opt anything, even if he has to put his foot in his grandmother's face to do it, because he is a master of the universe and you're not, and that's what counts.

Bet you didn't know that. God knows, my colleagues at the POGGE Institute don't know it. Not a one of them has ever drooled cheap chocolate in my presence, and I'm feeling, oh, I dunno, that this is all a bit ... anti-climactic.

Via Chet at The Vanity Press, who heard it from Digby

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June 21, 2008

who are done for the season.

This seemed particularly appropriate for Baird, Van Loan and Poilièvre, Blowhards at Large.

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June 20, 2008

If this version of MT supported tags, the one on this episode would be "masters of slide guitar." This is Sonny Landreth with Hell At Home.

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A new great game

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Would help protect pipeline, Canada says

Canadian Forces would support the Afghan National Army in providing security for a proposed natural gas pipeline through war-torn Kandahar if the Afghanistan government asks for help, federal officials said yesterday.

But the Canadian government has not been involved in any planning for the project, including the potential need to protect the pipeline from insurgent attacks, officials added.

The pipeline has suddenly become an issue because of this:

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Without fanfare

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Tories release $490B military plan without fanfare

The Conservative government has quietly released the details of its extensive plan to beef up the military, including spending $490 billion over the next 20 years to ensure Canadian soldiers are well-equipped, well-trained and highly active.

Details of the plan, known as Canada's First Defence Strategy, were posted Thursday night without fanfare on the Department of National Defence's website.

This is very much out of character for the Conservatives. They usually pull crap like this on Friday nights, not on Thursdays. But perhaps they anticipated that everyone would still be paying attention to the Liberal carbon tax plan announcement.
Military analyst Rob Huebert told CBC News that he can't understand why Harper would release the document so quietly, and why he would do so the day before the House of Commons is expected to adjourn for the summer.

Perhaps it's because all the jeering they intend to aim in Dion's direction about being careless with the taxpayer's dollar would be undermined by the revelation that the Conservatives want to commit half a trillion dollars on a policy that hasn't been the subject of any public debate. Because if Harper has his way, it's not up for debate. Because Harper doesn't want his policies scrutinized. Because our prime minister has nothing but contempt for democracy. I thought we'd already established that.

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June 19, 2008


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On March 16th of last year, the Liberal Party released a white paper called Balancing Our Carbon Budget (pdf) which proposed a cap and trade system to reduce GHG emissions. That's partly why some people were so critical of Dion when some of his supporters recently began talking about a carbon tax as if this was suddenly The Only Possible Solution To The Problem. It looked like an awfully belated change of heart for the party that signed us up for the Kyoto Protocol in the first place.

I confess I'd forgotten about that particular Liberal announcement myself. And I find it rather surprising that in both the media and blog coverage I've read of today's official Liberal Party announcement of their new carbon tax plan, no one has mentioned this from about half-way through the Green Shift (pdf) book which is the white paper on the new policy:

A year ago, the Liberal Party introduced the Carbon Budget, a strong cap-and-trade plan to put a price on carbon, boost green investment, and create a carbon market. A Liberal government will work with other jurisdictions, including the United States, to establish a solid cap-and-trade system as stronger carbon markets develop. We will continue to be guided by the principles of the Carbon Budget: absolute emission reductions, increased investment in green technology, and harnessing the power of the market to fight climate change.
Since a cap-and-trade system will take several years to build, we will start with a broad-based, revenue neutral carbon tax that can be implemented quickly and simply, that will cover approximately 75 per cent of domestic emissions.

That makes it sound very much as though the policy announced today is in addition to, not in replacement of, the previously proposed cap and trade plan. That would make a certain amount of the discussion I've read today at other venues moot. In fact it makes some of it nonsensical. And it means I'm not even going to try to seriously discuss Liberal policy as a whole until I've finished the second white paper and then gone back and read the first one as well.

Doesn't that sound like a plan?

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June 16, 2008

McClatchy news service, who outran most of the media in the U.S. by taking the high ground of critical intelligence and independent reporting on the invasion of Iraq, have begun what promises to be a valuable series on the detention system created by the Bush administration after 9/11. The series is focused on Guantánamo, but tracks back to the routes that detainees took to get there from other hellholes in Afghanistan and elsewhere. McClatchy are also opening their archive of documents assembled over the last eight months, which you can browse from their Guantánamo home page.

I'm just heading into the series myself, so I won't quote yet from the two articles published so far. I think it should matter to Canadians for obvious reasons. Three of our governments in succession and a number of individual representatives and agents of our government have collaborated in and publicly defended and rationalized an individual case (Khadr) at Guantánamo as an ongoing legal process, which it clearly is not and cannot be. The entire detention system set up by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and their closest collaborators is being exposed as a vast violation of international law, many of those violations rising to the level of war crimes. How long can Canadians stomach any of our representatives' support for such a system in our names?

I did notice, on my morning stroll, that Attaturk at firedoglake was putting the McClatchy series into the context of last week's Boumediene decision on habeas corpus rights, raising in particular the appalling reaction of John McCain and other leading Republicans to that decision. A commenter at FDL provided this supplementary horror from (steady yourselves) Newt Gingrich:

Gingrich criticized Obama for his support of certain policies and most pointedly for his backing of this week’s Supreme Court decision backing the habeus corpus rights of detainees held by the United States in a prison at Guantanamo Bay - a decision he called “worse than Dred Scott.

“He applauded this court decision. This court decision is a disaster, which could cost us a city. And the debate ought to be over whether or not you’re prepared to risk losing an American city on behalf of five lawyers - it was a 5-4 decision. Five lawyers had decided that the Supreme Court counts more than the Congress and the president combined in national security.

“That ought to be a principled argument between McCain and Obama, about whether or not you’re prepared to allow any random nut-case district judge, who has no knowledge of national security, to set the rules for terrorists.”

The war on terra ... mushroom cloud ("cost a city") ... activist lawyers/judges ... How many dog-whistles do you count in that statement?

The Republican Party has ceased to be a political party. It is a cult.

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June 13, 2008

I'm just going to turn the place over to Eric Clapton for this installment. All of these are credited as coming from an unreleased documentary by Martin Scorsese called Nothing But The Blues. At this point I think you can find pretty much all of it on YouTube. This is Reconsider Baby.

More on the flip.

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June 12, 2008

On boiling frogs in Africa

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There’s a lot of talk just lately about food shortages. Food prices are going up, food riots are spreading, people are starving. It all seems so sudden, and so we look around to see what’s happening now that wasn’t happening a couple of years ago. The answer springing to plenty of lips is ethanol. Some others point to a factor also driving up oil prices: All those speculators bailing out of the ricketiest parts of the financial system finding they can do their gambling on commodities.

While those things are real problems, it’s not as if nobody was starving five years ago. In reality, as Walden Bello points out here, a large part of the problem is the stuff that’s been getting steadily worse for decades now—the IMF/World Bank-driven neoliberal agenda that’s been putting the screws ever harder to the third world, and has kept on trying to this day despite being utterly discredited in terms of its stated aims. It reminds me of the old parable about frogs not noticing being boiled if the water temperature rises slowly enough. The difference is, I’d say the Africans have been noticing all along (but most can’t escape ‘cos the kettle sides are greased), but those of us comfortably out of the hot water didn’t notice anything until a lot of frogs started dropping dead, and most particularly when the steam started making *our* air uncomfortable to breathe. Until we saw an impact in high prices, we didn’t particularly notice the boiling frogs in Africa.

Funny how we quietly assume things have always been what they are. I was shocked when I read in Bello’s article that

At the time of decolonization in the 1960s, Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter, its exports averaging 1.3 million tons a year between 1966-70. Today, the continent imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer.

So, wait—Africa wasn’t always a basket case? They aren’t eternally dependent? Apparently not. Not so long ago, African countries mostly had government programs helping agriculture, which worked. Here’s what happened to them:

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This is exceptionally good news. I'm just going to provide the first links fast, and come back for discussion later.


In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights. If Congress wishes to suspend habeas, it must do so only as the Constitution allows — when the country faces rebellion or invasion.

And from the SCOTUSblog liveblog:

The Court has released the opinion in Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) and Al-Odah v. United States (06-1196), on whether the Military Commissions Act of 2006 violates the habeas corpus rights of foreign detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The ruling below, which found for the government, is reversed.

Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion. The Chief Justice, Justice Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissented.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

In its third rebuke of the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners, the court ruled 5-4 that the government is violating the rights of prisoners being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The court's liberal justices were in the majority.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

Justice Kennedy's opinion (pdf):

The Nation’s basic charter cannot be contracted away like this [the Military Commissions Act]. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply. To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this Court, say “what the law is.”

Well. The constitution returns.

Via many sharp-eyed commenters at emptywheel

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June 11, 2008

This is an honest question. I have come to it through the slowest process of induction over the last several years, and I can't answer it myself because I am not a lawyer, not an American, wasn't there, sit to be corrected, and all that stuff. But. I have observed a phenom, and if anyone can help me to interpret it, I would appreciate that.

By now we've all read scores of fascinating and sophisticated analyses of the older generation of hawks, neo-con ideologues, and neo-libs who have been running the Cheney-Bush administration -- and thus the global empire -- since 2001. We know the stories of the repeated miraculous resurrections of guys like Cheney and Rumsfeld ever since the Nixon administration, or of convicted felons like Elliot Abrams from the days of Iran-Contra. The longer you look, the more of these aging crooks and liars you find. Sometimes it seems as though the whole of the government of the most powerful nation on earth has been run for the past seven years by the undead.

We know a bit as well about the much younger pod-person functionaries who have apparently been seeded throughout the government by Karl's shop at the White House. Think Kyle Sampson or Monica Goodling or Sara Taylor -- ok, don't think about them for too long, but it was a shock to watch and listen to them, wasn't it?

I'm wondering about a different cohort who keep showing up in very odd roles, all those nice young men (and there must be some women too, although I haven't noticed them so much) now in their mid-forties to early fifties, born on either side of 1960, I'm guessing, who went through law school in the 1980s. What on earth were they taught about the relationship between law and democracy? Because I am not detecting much.

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June 10, 2008

Deep Thought of the Day

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In political terms (though certainly not cultural) the Deep South is to the U.S. as Quebec is to Canada. Discuss.

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June 8, 2008


Daniel Pipes: "Bush will attack Iran if a Democrat wins the White House":

During an interview posted at the National Review Online, Pipes said that the U.S. and its allies should tell Tehran to “watch out” for “an American attack”:
What I suspect will be the case is, should the Democratic nominee win in November, President Bush will do something. And should it be Mr. McCain that wins, he’ll punt, and let McCain decide what to do.

If you haven't been subjected to Pipes before, do follow the links at Think Progress. In a world of grown-ups, Pipes, like all the other neurotic neocons with an inflated sense of the narrow and deficient educations they somehow managed to acquire (yes, I'll return to Barry Cooper one day soon), could be dismissed with a wry grin and a glass of brandy.

But the U.S. of A. is not, at the moment, discernibly a world run by grown-ups. And this kind of noise level is rising.

Via Digby

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Guantánamo gets ghoulish

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At one point, after earning the right to defend himself, Bin Attash interjected with a question: ``If we are executed, will we be buried in Guantánamo or sent back to our home countries?''

Kohlmann didn't answer.

The Bush administration continues to press forward with its kangaroo courts at Guantánamo Bay, in spite of the fact that wheels keep coming off these processes in both American and Canadian courts, and in spite of some excellent reporting (yes! it's possible!) in the msm. [Pardon the mixed metaphor -- wheels coming off kangaroo courts -- oh, how could I have written that?]

The grand showpiece show trial is supposed to be the prosecution of five detainees charged with direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks -- most centrally, the by-now almost mythical KSM, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, supposedly the brains of the operation. Many people will already have seen the early spin given to Carol Rosenberg's fine report from the specially rigged-up courtroom on Thursday. All the defendants rejected their American lawyers; two expressed a wish to be martyred; and KSM made a dramatically homophobic statement that must have warmed the hearts of the North American bigots he so resembles.

Sex, death, Islamofascism -- gosh, what's not to be distracted by? Except there was a disquieting wrinkle in Rosenberg's report, filled in yesterday by Andrew Selsky of the AP:

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June 6, 2008

Bo Diddley passed away on Monday. I saw an interview with him once in which he said he really wanted to be a drummer but it didn't work out. After reviewing some of the clips on YouTube I'm thinkin' what he really wanted to be was a dancer and the playing and singing were just an excuse to get up on stage and get to feeling good enough to cut loose. This first clip is a black and white from the sixties. The sound isn't the greatest but it certainly gives an idea of the excitement the man generated.

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The Economy it is, wise ones.

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Have a helping of gloom, with a doom garnish. This article talks about what’s going on in the US:

In Santa Barbara parking lots are being converted into hostels so that families that lost their homes in the subprime fiasco can sleep in their cars and not be hassled by the cops. The same is true in LA where tent cities have sprung up around the railroad yards to accommodate the growing number of people who've lost their jobs or can't afford to rent a room on service-industry wages. This is the great triumph of Reagan's free trade "trickle down" Voodoo economics; whole families living out of their cars waiting for the pawn shop to open.

The pundits on the business channel are telling us that the "worst is over"; that the Force 5 hurricane in the financial markets has weakened to a squall. Don't believe it. The corporate bond market is still frozen, housing is in free fall, and the banking system is buckling from the overload of bad investments.

This article has some interesting things to say about why:

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June 3, 2008

Let them stay

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Update: Ayes: 137 Nays: 110

Goddamn. We won. I don't know what follows now, but it will be very difficult for Harper to defy this vote. And it will be very difficult to deport anyone as soon as Thursday next week, which was the plot.

As far as I could see, Harper was not in the Commons. The entire Conservative front bench who were present rose in opposition. I don't know why, but every time I see Peter MacKay rise to vote, I lose my temper.

Many Liberals were missing.


At 3 p.m. EDT today, the Commons will vote on this motion concerning Iraq war resisters who have taken refuge in Canada:

The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

This is an NDP motion, and both the NDP and the BQ will vote for it en bloc. The Liberals have belatedly signalled support for the motion, but as Alison says, "there has been that unpleasant business lately of sitting on hands when it's time to vote."

The best background on the current campaign to stop the imminent deportation of the first of the resisters is here, at Laura's place. You still have time to call an MP or the minister or even the prime minister, if only to leave a simple message. You should be able to watch the vote this afternoon here.

Many of us remember a similar earlier campaign that we won -- Canada won -- in 1969, with Pierre Trudeau's remarkably low-key statement about the irrelevance of an American's draft status to Canadian immigration policy. In theory, deserters were in a slightly different situation, but in practice we opened our doors to them too. We are in a very similar situation now. Iraq is not Canada's war; it is not the UN's war; and we should not be enforcing the discipline of a foreign military engaged in hostilities that we do not support.

The military status in another country of young immigrants to Canada should be as irrelevant now as it was in 1969. Let them stay.

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June 2, 2008

The way we were

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My roomies are probably not going to grok this post, but as the resident girl and artsie, I figure that every once in a while I get to put my foot down.

Yves Saint Laurent died yesterday in Paris at the age of seventy-one. Younger people, girls and boys both (but especially boys), are going to think that Saint Laurent was all about fashion, but that is not true, not good enough. It became true, maybe, after the 1970s, when YSL was overwhelmed by success and became a business above all.

But before that, he was glorious. Yves Saint Laurent was an artist, a man who genuinely loved women, understood women, and most of all grasped what was happening to them in historical time as he saw it and lived it and knew they were living it.

Artists are first of all craft-workers, and in another age, a better age, Saint Laurent would have been understood that way. He was a fine craftsman who made the leap to interpreting the greatest sudden shift of his own times. He put women into pants -- safari suits, trouser suits, and most wonderfully "le smoking." He sculpted women's clothes as though he cared about their dignity. He gave women all black for elegance and then wonderful floaty multi-colours for fun. In historical importance, Chanel and Dior may come close, but Saint Laurent was a singularity.

No, I could never have afforded him or his creations, given the economy he had to survive in, but as an amateur craftworker I learned a lot from him and I owe him a lot, as any woman who is now wearing the pants in public does, whether she knows it or not.

Photos of Catherine Deneuve and Yves Saint Laurent as they worked together on Luis Buñuel's film Belle de Jour (1967) from Cinebeats, who don't seem to give me a better way to cite them.

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And I am all verklempt. Is it possible that he is actually starting to think creatively of the best interests of ordinary Canadian citizens?

“I look at the east-west linkages that tie our country together,” he said recently, “and I do wonder whether they are strong enough to offset the north-south flows that dominate our economy. The oil, the natural gas, the hydro – it all flows south. Where is the national grid to share our power, the east-west pipeline to share our oil and to guarantee our energy security as a nation?”

A west-east pipeline is feasible, he says. There may be good arguments about economic viability to counter the notion. “But let's get back to the fundamentals here. An east-west continental railway was recurrently feared to be economically non-viable. But without it we wouldn't have a country.”

Mr. Ignatieff stressed that he was not speaking in the context of official Liberal policy. But when he gets focused on a big idea, it often finds a way of translating. He was out early with the “Quebec as nation” idea for the Liberals, as well as a carbon tax to address global warming.

Good heavens. Can we take it that Mr Ignatieff is not a sucker for the SPP? Is that possible among Liberal bigwigs?

Further, he seems to know where the bodies are buried:

The Liberal deputy leader is aware of the sensitivities. He is no Walter Gordon nationalist, he says, and he is not trying to bring in a new national energy program through the back door. There are, as he recognizes, highly complex matters of provincial jurisdiction, huge capital costs, refining capacities, environmental impacts, and lingering Western rage from the national energy program of almost three decades ago.

“Energy policy in Canada is always a national unity issue. The bottom line is that we must find a way to strengthen our union without setting ablaze the old anger and resentment of Alberta and Saskatchewan in relation to the centralizing designs of the federal government.”

Now, there is an understatement that most easterners seem never to have grasped. I write as a once and future Calgarian who remembers her dad on his feet shouting at Marc Lalonde on the TV screen in 1980 -- and so does every other Albertan. Well, we all have some version of that memory, and don't you forget it.

I haven't the faintest idea how this could work (I usually do foreign policy and comedy), but the idea that Michael Ignatieff might be capable of thinking not only outside the box of North American imperialism/continentalism but actually in opposition to it caught my attention. Frankly, it has left me feeling a little disoriented.

Does anyone else think this is truly possible?

H/t to Toedancer at Bread and Roses.

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Where's the cluebat?

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Former (I repeat: former) Australian prime minister John Howard, "baffled" and puzzling over brand spanking-new PM Kevin Rudd's decision to end participation in Bush's coalition in Iraq as of yesterday and to bring the troops home within weeks:

"If I had been returned at the last election, we would not have been bringing (troops) home ..."

That makes my day.

H/t to Croghan at Bread and Roses

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