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Marriage is love.
(And thanks to The Mad Prophet for pointing me to this bit of code.)

30.6.04

Can I get a Guinness IV, please?
 

This may well be one of those days which the pages of history teach us are best spent lying in bed--preferably with the television and the radio shut off, and nowhere near a computer that has internet access. Just when you think the Bushoviks can't possibly sink any lower or prove themselves any more inept, intellectually bankrupt, backwards, clueless, and totally out of touch with reality, they hit a new all-time low.

Today's highlight comes to us via spokes-hamster Scott McClellan. Seems the people in the White House are a bit worried about the fact that many Americans feel the war on Iraq has made us less safe than we were before. So of course the thing to do is not to confront those fears in the voting public, or to do something to make the world actually safer. Instead, the Band of Boobs decided to dismiss the polls showing that we're worried.

According to Reuters, a number of surveys have come out this month that show a growing concern on the part of the U.S. electorate that our occupation of Iraq has only fanned the flames of anger and rage that drive people into the arms of terrorists. In response, McClellan today announced to the White House Press Corpse that "...Americans [understand] administration policy [is] 'making the world a safer and better place.'"

Oh, yeah. Big time. We're doing so much to spread peace and prosperity and lovingkindness around the world. Everywhere we go, we're universally loved. The Irish Republic didn't just have to call up every available policeman and security detail it could reach, and set up walls of barbed wire to protect our preznit for a flying visit to the island, during the course of which huge protests against both his presence and our foreign policy were mounted. We haven't lost 800-odd American soldiers in Iraq in the last year, and terrorists haven't beheaded half a dozen people in retaliation for our presence in that country in the last month or so.

A New York Times/CBS poll published on Wednesday showed 28 percent of Americans feel less safe from terrorism, up from 15 percent in January. Over the same period, the number who said they feel more safe fell from 68 percent to 53 percent.

A Gallup/CNN/USAToday poll released on Friday said 55 percent of respondents believed the war in Iraq had made the United States less safe from terrorism.

And a June 17 Pew Research Center poll said 44 percent of Americans believe the Iraq war has hurt the broader war on terrorism. That was double the 22 percent who had similar feelings in May 2003, when Bush declared major combat operations over.

The Pew poll also said 25 percent of Americans were "very worried" about an imminent terror attack in the United States, the highest level recorded by Pew since before the Iraq war began in March 2003.

In response to all of that, McClellan had this to say:

"First of all, I don't know that all polls show the same thing on that very subject," he said.

"Because of the action that this president is taking, we are making the world a safer and better place and making America more secure."

Can I get that IV stat, please? Pretty please?


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Now that's a scary thought!
 

The banks of slot machines that will confront me everywhere I turn the moment I step off the plane at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas in roughly two weeks' time are probably safer and more secure than the electronic voting machines that will be used in many places to determine the outcome of the crucial presidential election this fall. The key parts of the New York Times op-ed I link to above are these:

On a trip last week to the Nevada Gaming Control Board laboratory, in a state office building off the Las Vegas Strip, we found testing and enforcement mechanisms that go far beyond what is required for electronic voting. Among the ways gamblers are more protected than voters:
  1. The state has access to all gambling software. The Gaming Control Board has copies on file of every piece of gambling device software currently being used, and an archive going back years. It is illegal for casinos to use software not on file. Electronic voting machine makers, by contrast, say their software is a trade secret, and have resisted sharing it with the states that buy their machines.
  2. The software on gambling machines is constantly being spot-checked. Board inspectors show up unannounced at casinos with devices that let them compare the computer chip in a slot machine to the one on file. If there is a discrepancy, the machine is shut down, and investigated. This sort of spot-checking is not required for electronic voting. A surreptitious software change on a voting machine would be far less likely to be detected.
  3. There are meticulous, constantly updated standards for gambling machines. When we arrived at the Gaming Control Board lab, a man was firing a stun gun at a slot machine. The machine must work when subjected to a 20,000-volt shock, one of an array of rules intended to cover anything that can possibly go wrong. Nevada adopted new standards in May 2003, but to keep pace with fast-changing technology, it is adding new ones this month.

    Voting machine standards are out of date and inadequate. Machines are still tested with standards from 2002 that have gaping security holes. Nevertheless, election officials have rushed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy them.

  4. Manufacturers are intensively scrutinized before they are licensed to sell gambling software or hardware. A company that wants to make slot machines must submit to a background check of six months or more, similar to the kind done on casino operators. It must register its employees with the Gaming Control Board, which investigates their backgrounds and criminal records.

    When it comes to voting machine manufacturers, all a company needs to do to enter the field is persuade an election official to buy its equipment. There is no way for voters to know that the software on their machines was not written by programmers with fraud convictions, or close ties to political parties or candidates.

  5. The lab that certifies gambling equipment has an arms-length relationship with the manufacturers it polices, and is open to inquiries from the public. The Nevada Gaming Control Board lab is a state agency, whose employees are paid by the taxpayers. The fees the lab takes in go to the state's general fund. It invites members of the public who have questions about its work to call or e-mail.

    The federal labs that certify voting equipment are profit-making companies. They are chosen and paid by voting machine companies, a glaring conflict of interest. The voters and their elected representatives have no way of knowing how the testing is done, or that the manufacturers are not applying undue pressure to have flawed equipment approved. Wyle Laboratories, one of the largest testers of voting machines, does not answer questions about its voting machine work.

  6. When there is a dispute about a machine, a gambler has a right to an immediate investigation. When a gambler believes a slot machine has cheated him, the casino is required to contact the Gaming Control Board, which has investigators on call around the clock. Investigators can open up machines to inspect their internal workings, and their records of recent gambling outcomes. If voters believe a voting machine has manipulated their votes, in most cases their only recourse is to call a board of elections number, which may well be busy, to lodge a complaint that may or may not be investigated.

Granted, the Gaming Control Board probably has a budget that would rival many federal agencies' appropriations, thanks to the simply ginormous revenues that gambling produces in Nevada. Nevertheless, I should think that the safety and the security and the accuracy of the elections that are fundamental to the democratic process would represent a higher priority for the federal government than, say, providing unwarranted tax relief for wealthy campaign contributors.

Congress did pass a law in the wake of the 2000 elections fiasco, the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Yet the National Institute of Standards, which was tasked to develop and certify standards for electronic voting, never got any money appropriated with which to carry out that mandate. The Board of Advisers and Standards to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission will have its first-ever meeting this week. The EAC itself, following the trend, has been grievously, egregiously underfunded by the Bushoviks.

It's sad to think that the quarter I might drop into an airport slot machine on a whim would provide me with a greater level of protection that the outcome of the transaction was honest and accurate than the vote I will cast on the first Tuesday after the first Monday this November. That just isn't right.


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Reality blows chunks in Iraq
 

A year after reconstruction efforts in Iraq began, "occupation authorities acknowledge that fewer than 140 of 2,300 promised construction plans are under way." As a result, "supplies of electricity and water are no better for most Iraqis, and in some cases are worse, than they were before the invasion in the spring of 2003." More than $18 billion has been slated for the reconstruction by the Pentagon, but "only $5.2 billion has actually been nailed down for defined tasks [and] most of those projects are still in the planning stages." On March 29, former Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer promised that by the end of June "50,000 Iraqis will be working on jobs funded by the partnership for prosperity." The end of June has arrived, and "fewer than 20,000 local workers are employed." One reason: after losses to corruption and U.S. contractors, less than fifty percent of the US reconstruction allotment ends up in Iraqi hands. And according to a scathing new GAO report, "[m]any important reconstruction efforts had to be delayed or cease" due to security concerns.

Sure sounds like we're doing a bang-up job over there. Not exactly sure what it is we're banging up, and it certainly doesn't look like we're going to be making good on our promises (to say nothing of our obligations, moral and otherwise) to leave Iraq no worse off, at least, than it was when we found it. So much for winning hearts and minds, eh? (Statistics and links courtesy of the Center for American Progress.)


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Like holy water to a vampire
 

I think it's time to kill this "the Catholic Church wants to force members to vote Republican" meme. Yes, there have been two prelates in the news who have suggested that Catholic politicians (in the one case) and Catholic voters as well (in the other) who do not toe the official line on abortion in their public lives or in the voting booths should be denied the Eucharist.

I want to emphasize that fact. There have been TWO prelates making such calls. There are more than 100 Catholic bishops in the United States and its possessions alone, and in excess of 1,000 around the world. To state the obvious, the two prelates that have been mentioned in the press (one of whom is not even an American) represent a minuscule fraction even of the Church hierarchy, much less the whole body of the faithful (which chimes in at around a billion souls, worldwide.

Funny how what the U.S. Catholic bishops actually said on the matter hasn't gotten nearly as much play in the media. Could it be, do you suppose, that the so-called "liberal" media were actually cherry-picking their stories in an attempt to influence the way pro-choice Catholics might vote? That couldn't happen, right?

Anyway, here's the important bit of the bishops' statement from their meeting earlier this month:

Cardinal Ratzinger [prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--formerly known as the Holy Inquisition--and thus chief theological arbiter of the Church] outlines HOW a bishop might deal with these matters, including a series of precautionary measures involving a process of meeting, instruction and warning. This process involves meeting with the person and providing instruction on Catholic moral teaching. Cardinal Ratzinger suggests informing such persons that if they reject Catholic moral teaching in their public actions, they should not present themselves for Holy Communion until their situation has ended. Using the precedent of our teaching and practice in the case of a person in an invalid marriage, the Cardinal recognizes that there are circumstances in which Holy Communion may be denied. He also indicates that in these cases a warning must be provided before the Eucharist can be denied.

I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER to pursue this path. The Holy See has repeatedly expressed its confidence in our roles as bishops and pastors. The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent. It is not surprising that difficult and differing circumstances on these matters can lead to different practices. Every bishop is acting in accord with his own understanding of his duties and the law.

It is important to note that Cardinal Ratzinger makes a clear distinction between public officials and voters, explaining that a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil only if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion. However, when a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted if there are proportionate reasons.

Therefore, based on the traditional practice of the Church and our consultation with members of our conference, other episcopal conferences, distinguished canonists and theologians, our Task Force does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters in these circumstances.

No one should mistake our task force’s reservations about refusing Communion or public calls to refrain from Communion as ignoring or excusing those who clearly contradict Catholic teaching in their public roles. Those who take positions or act in ways that are contrary to fundamental moral principles should not underestimate the seriousness of this situation. We insist that they must study Catholic teaching, recognize their grave responsibility to protect human life from conception to natural death, and adopt positions consistent with these principles. However, in our view the battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square, in hearts and minds, in our pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and communities.

Based on our consultation process, there is significant concern about the perception that the sacred nature of the Eucharist could be trivialized and might be turned into a partisan political battleground. Expecting a minister of Holy Communion to make these judgments would create great pastoral difficulties. We do not want to encourage confrontations at the altar rail with the Sacred Body of the Lord Jesus in our hands. This could create unmanageable burdens for our priests and those who assist them and could turn the Eucharist into a perceived source of political combat. [Emphasis in original]

To sum up, the U.S. Conference has left it up to the individual bishop and his own understanding of his pastoral duties and obligations whether or not to consider denying the Eucharist to Catholic politicians or voters whose positions may be at variance with key teachings of the Church. If a particular bishop does decide to withhold Communion, it cannot be done arbitrarily, it cannot be done in a grandstanding manner ("confrontations at the altar rail [although most churches don't have these any more]"), and anyone who was to be denied Communion would have to be warned beforehand. A Catholic voter cannot be denied Communion simply because they vote for a politician who happens to be pro-choice, as long as that is not the only reason the voter in question supported that particular politician. (It is certainly not the only factor I consider when deciding whom to support, although it is one of them.)

I think the Church has done the best it can, walking the fine line that it has drawn in the sand. I do think the bishops are correct to point out that human life has intrinsic worth, and to encourage us as a society to protect and to privilege that life from the moment it begins until the moment it ends. We just can't force the rest of the world to go along with us. Neither should the Church be in the business of playing politics--and especially not with the Eucharist. We all come to the table unworthily, and it is invidious and unjust to single out some among us as more unworthy than others of that precious gift.


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29.6.04

Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?
 


A recommendation for Bush 43's official White House portrait. Posted by Hello

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28.6.04

Breaking: SCOTUS reaches decision in the Hamdi case
 

The Supreme Court has announced a verdict in the Hamdi case. The opinion has not yet been posted to the Court's web site, and news reports appear to be in conflict. The Associated Press called the verdict a "partial victory" for the Bushoviks, while Reuters seemed to think it was more of a partial victory for Hamdi.

I'm withholding comment until I can see the opinion.

Update, 10 a.m. Opinions are now posted for both Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld v. Padilla. I'm reading as fast as I can.

Update, 11:15 a.m. I think Justice O'Connor handed the Bushoviks their collective ass on a platter. The key bits from the majority opinion in Hamdi as I see them are the following:

We reaffirm today the fundamental nature of a citizen’s right to be free from involuntary confinement by his own government without due process of law, and we weigh the opposing governmental interests against the curtailment of liberty that such confinement entails. (p. 26)

We therefore hold that a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker. (p. 28)

Thus, while we do not question that our due process assessment must pay keen attention to the particular burdens faced by the Executive in the context of military action, it would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ [of habeas corpus] by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process. (p. 32)

The Court did hold that the government was entitled, as part of its war powers, to detain enemy combatants until the cessation of hostilities. In my opinion, the majority opinion gave a very broad definition of "hostilities" when it concluded that, as long as "the record establishes that United States troops are still involved in active combat ...detentions are part of the exercise of 'necessary and appropriate force,' and therefore are authorized..." (p. 16). But that concession to the Bush régime was countered, in my view, by the Court's insistence that the government will have to back up its assertions with facts, and that the usual and customary civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution are not overturned or suspended simply because the Executive decides that there's a war on.

On the whole, I'm happy with the outcome in this case. I've still got 60-odd pages of concurrences and dissents to wade through, and I hear that Scalia and Stevens have a humdinger of a dissent, while the Lap Dog, in a separate dissent, basically argued that the government gets to do whatever the hell it wants, simply because it's the government in being. That one ought to get laughed out of the record books, if the characterization is accurate.

Update, 11:55 a.m.Justice Souter's concurrence in the result is a humdinger! He voted with the majority, he says, because he felt that its terms were the "closest to those I would impose" (p. 50), but as far as he's concerned, the government isn't even authorized to hold Hamdi, who should be released forthwith.


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I just hate it when that happens!
 

For the second time in my lifetime, northern Illinois was struck by what the United States Geological Survey is calling a "light" earthquake (free registration required; the USGS' preliminary report is here), magnitude 4.5 on the Richter scale. The quake lasted only a few seconds, and as it occurred just after 1 a.m. today, I slept right through it.

At least one observer where I live felt the quake, and said that the lights flickered at the time. No damage was reported in my area, and even above the epicenter the only significant reports were of shaking, windows rattling, and some pictures falling off the walls.

The last earthquake in the northern Illinois region also struck in the early morning hours (0522 on 15 September, 1972), south and west of here. That quake measured 4.0 on the Richter scale. I remember reports at the time of mailbox doors rattling, but slept right through it myself, dammit. Not that I have any particular desire to get caught in a huge temblor, but if we're going to have these things, I'd at least like to have the experience while I'm conscious.


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Typical. Just typical.
 

Like a thief in the night, ShrubCoTM decided to hand over "sovereignty" to the transition government in Iraq two days earlier than announced, and did so in a ceremony on the QT held somewhere deep inside the fortified Green Zone. They couldn't even bother televising the ceremony to the people of the nation to which they were in theory restoring sovereign status.

As with so many other occurrences in Iraq under the Bush régime, this one demonstrates all too well the flaws and failings of U.S. Iraq policy, the utter lack of common sense (and common decency) among the Bushoviks, and their complete inability to do anything honestly or above the board. I have little doubt that the "request" from the transition government to accelerate the transfer of power, allegedly initiated by the transition government itself, was "suggested" to them in some manner by the Bushoviks, who were primarily interested in getting the hell out of Dodge before they died in a hail of shrapnel, or found themselves in a starring role in the next beheading video. That Ambassador Bremer all but fled Iraq after handing over "sovereignty" suggests the same thing. Yes, it is customary for an outgoing viceroy (which Bremer was in all but name) to leave the dominion he had governed, but Bremer's hasty exit stage right looked and felt more like a helicopter lifting off from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon in 1973 than a decorous viceregal procession to the nearest port for embarkation home.

That this ceremony couldn't be held openly, in the full view of the people it most directly and intimately concerns, is suggestive of the abject failure of the Bushoviks' Iraq policy. Amid all the host of competing post facto explanations for our waging war on Iraq, the one that the Sock Puppet and his minions have tended to parrot most frequently was that we were there to bring freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq, after releasing them from their subjugation to a brutal dictator. We did get rid of the dictator, but we haven't done much about either freedom or democracy, apart from a few square blocks in Iraq that we more or less control by excluding anybody with brown skin apart from a few functionaries--who take their lives in their hands just coming to work and going home each day--and the Kurdish areas in the north, which were never terribly troubled in the first place, but where attacks are now being reported.

That the ceremony had to be held hurriedly (so hurriedly that even many of the reporters in Baghdad were caught off-guard) and without noticeable Iraqi participation is a sad commentary on the travesty of the "sovereignty" that we are in fact providing to this transition government. Like the ceremony that transferred it, this "sovereignty" is a quickly patched-up affair. There are any number of things that would normally be considered part and parcel of the prerogatives of any sovereign nation that this transition government cannot do--and their number and variety have been growing in the last few days, as we made preparations for our hasty and undignified exit from status as the occupying power.

I can only hope and pray that the exit the Bushoviks will make from Washington, D.C., next January will be as hasty and as undignified. If it could come in the form of a military transport to jails in the Hague, that would be just perfect.


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27.6.04

Why am I not surprised, Part DCLXVI
 

A few more additions to the "No, really?!" file:

1See Nixon, Richard.

2"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

3I particularly liked this bit of "we hold these truths to be self-evident": "My job is to do my job. I'm going to do it the way I think is necessary. I'm going to set a vision, I will lead, and we'll just let the chips fall where they may." I wouldn't be nearly so inclined to tell the Sock Puppet to go Cheney himself if the only thing at stake from his rampant stupidity were poker chips. Unfortunately, real flesh-and-blood people have been doing all the suffering since the Supreme Court beshat the Bushoviks upon us three and a half years ago.


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26.6.04

There he goes again
 

I just love the headline to this Reuters report: Bush Declares End to Iraq Rift at EU Summit. Does the man really think that as long as he says something is so, it's so?

He says there are weapons of mass distraction in Iraq. The rest of the world begs to differ, and no actual evidence of WMDs is found, but he continues to say they're there. He declares the war on Iraq is over, yet people in Iraq continue to die in armed conflict. He says that the United States doesn't do torture, and then his minions release a slew of documents that say otherwise. And now he goes to an EU summit where, as Reuters notes, he "won little in his search for European military help and took heat over prisoner abuse." Yet he insists that "The bitter differences of the war are over," so everything must be just peachy-keen with those folks over there in "old Europe" that we used to think were little better than smelly-cheese-eating, wine-swilling, opera-loving, effete snobs. Never mind that, again as Reuters notes, the press conference at which the Sock Puppet unilaterally declared that there was no more rift between the U.S. and Europe over Iraq was "delayed by anti-American protests staged around the ...summit in Ireland" or that those protests were, according to NPR this morning, largely motivated by Irish (and European) discomfort with U.S. Iraq policy.

Incredible. Life in Bush World must be truly wonderful, but it bears increasingly less resemblance to the conditions obtaining here in the actual world. All the more reason to boot this boob to the curb in November, where he can dream peacefully all he wants without putting anyone else in danger.


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25.6.04

Peractum est
 

Jack Ryan has officially dropped out of the Senate race in Illinois (free registration required; also available here without registration). "It's clear to me that a vigorous debate on the issues most likely could not take place if I remain in the race," Ryan, 44, said in a statement. "What would take place, rather, is a brutal, scorched-earth campaign -- the kind of campaign that has turned off so many voters, the kind of politics I refuse to play."

I don't think Ryan's last sentence is all that credible, frankly. He and his party have run nothing but "brutal, scorched-earth" campaigns in recent years. It's hard not to feel a glimmer or two of Schadenfreude at seeing Mr. Ryan reap as he and his fellows have sown, getting back some of what they have enthusiastically, gleefully dished out to others.

On the other hand, it's unfortunate that Illinois' next senator, Democrat Barack Obama, is going to be elected under a cloud. It will be like having an asterisk next to his name in the record books. He'll forever be the guy who won when his opponent dropped out over kinky sex rumors. The fact that Obama was winning this race hands-down long before Ryan's divorce files were unsealed (which, to its credit, the Chicago Tribune story linked above did mention) will not be remembered, nor the fact that Obama and his campaign had nothing to do with getting those records released.

The Illinois Republican Party is now faced with the unenviable task of trying to find a patsy to fill in for Ryan. This late in the election cycle there won't be time for much in the way of fund-raising, and the Republican Party doesn't seem to feel like it's got much of a chance in Illinois anyway, so money is going to be a problem for anyone who isn't independently wealthy. The new candidate is also going to have to be comfortable with the idea of running a solid campaign and still losing, probably hugely, given the fact that Illinois has been trending Democratic recently, coupled with the cloud over the Republican Party here even before Ryan had to drop out of this race. The obvious answer would be for the Republicans to find a young-ish, rich, up-and-coming person who's looking for a little exposure now against the possibility of a future political success--but there don't seem to be many of those on the ground hereabouts these days. The lights are likely to be burning late at the state GOP headquarters tonight and for many nights to come.


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Quoth the Goopers, "Nevermore!"
 

The wheels appear to be coming off:

It would have been an uphill climb in any case for Ryan to win the Senate race, since Illinois has been trending leftward in recent years and is one of the few states in which Democrats did well in 2002. But by knowingly concealing the embarrassing allegations until after he had won the Republican primary, Ryan, should he remain the nominee, has irreparably damaged the GOP's chances of holding onto Fitzgerald's Senate seat. Ryan's dishonesty alone could cost Republicans their majority in the U.S. Senate.

[I have to say, I find it amusing that they blame Ryan's embarrassment for irreparably damaging their chances for holding onto Illinois' other Senate seat. The race was essentially over when Obama won the Democratic primary; the Goopers themselves mostly knew it was a lost cause, which is why they haven't been spending too much time or money in Illinois.]

The Democrats have fielded an attractive, young, and extremely left-wing candidate. Barring the replacement of Ryan with another Republican candidate (and even then the odds of GOP victory would be very long), the public might as well get used to reading about: "U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.)."

Let me say savor that last line again: "the public might as well get used to reading about: 'U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.)." Yeah, baby!


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Up is down, part DCLXVI
 

In what is becoming a regular feature of the waning Empire of the Wilfully Self-Deluded, the Bush régime was forced to admit today that its economic growth figures for the first quarter of 2004 were considerably rosier than the data actually would support. Oh, and inflation was higher than they told us it was.

The new figure (3.9 percent annual growth) for gross domestic product is half a point lower than the 4.4 percent the Bushoviks were crowing about last month, and is lower than the 4.1 percent pace found during the last quarter of 2003. The core price index for consumer spending (which ignores volatile food and energy prices) was revised upward to 2 percent for the first quarter of 2004, from the 1.7 percent reported last month.

Up is down, black is white, left is right (excuse me...right is left, at least for these folks). Nihil sub sole novum, as the Bible says, nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:10). The Bushoviks just keep lying, padding their statistics in a lame and ultimately fruitless attempt to stave off the impending disaster that will be the 2004 elections.

Could it be that these boobs are really caught in a time warp and still think it's the 1950s? Their foreign policy would certainly support such a hypothesis, and their naive confidence in their ability to deceive the American people seems cut from the same cloth. They just don't seem to understand that we don't have to rely on them and their press releases for information anymore. We can go find it ourselves, and we're perfectly capable of doing our own math and reaching our own conclusions. We don't have to wait for them to spoon-feed us all and only those bits of information they want us to have, which of course are those bits that make them look good.

Normally, this is where I'd say something like "Wake up and smell the coffee, you idiots!" But when it comes to the Bushoviks, I'd just as soon they stayed quietly asleep with their paranoid fantasies until we kick them out to the curb this November.


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24.6.04

"Oh, intercourse the penguin!"
 

No, that wasn't quite what Pretend-a-Dick said to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy this afternoon on the floor of the Senate during the annual photo session. As caught by live microphones on C-SPAN and reported by CNN, Cheney actually either told Leahy to "Fuck off" or "Go fuck yourself."

Leahy, according to CNN, would not comment on the specific words Cheney used, but did confirm that they were profane. "I think he was just having a bad day," said Leahy, "and I was kind of shocked to hear that kind of language on the floor."

Senator Leahy is more charitable than I am. I will freely admit that the vice-preznit was probably not having a very good day. In fact, he probably hasn't had a very good week, a very good month, a very good year, or, when you get right down to it, a very good three and a half years as vice-preznit. But that's not even remotely an acceptable excuse for saying what he did to a fellow member of the government of the United States--and not only in a public place, but on the floor of the Senate chamber. What Cheney says about Leahy (or Kerry, or Clinton, or any other member of the loyal opposition) in private is his own business. But to say so in public is not only rude, it's symbolic of the brash carelessness, the arrogance, indeed the hubris that characterizes the entire Bushovik régime from the top downward.

Moreover, since the man said it on television, and since he and his political party have been ratcheting up the volume on the dire need to curb indecency over the public airwaves, I think he should cough up a half million dollars (the new fine for indecency proposed by the FCC). To make the revenge all the sweeter, he should have to pay it over to PBS or NPR. The sad thing is, it would only represent a drop in the bucket from his obscenely bloated "deferred compensation" golden parachute package.

Take your own advice, Mr. Cheney, and go fuck yourself. Better still, get the fuck out of Washington and don't ever come back. And then be thankful nobody's asking me what I'd like to do with your sorry carcass, because I'd boot you the fuck out of the United States and dump you off in the mountains of Afghanistan with "I'm Dick Cheney" tattooed across your forehead in big, bold, Arabic letters.


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It doesn't look good for Bertuzzi
 

You may remember me talking about Todd Bertuzzi's grievous assault on Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore a few months ago in March. Everyone in the hockey world is thrilled at the successful recovery of Steve Moore. There is still some question of whether or not he'll ever be able to play hockey again, but at least he's able to walk and move and live an otherwise normal life. Mr. Bertuzzi's fate--on and off the ice--also remains in doubt.

As part of the penalty imposed on the Vancouver Canucks' enforcer by the National Hockey League, Bertuzzi must plead his case for reinstatement personally this fall before the start of training camp. We already know that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's decision on reinstatement will be based at least in part on Steve Moore's recovery and status at the time of the mandatory meeting with Bertuzzi.

Now there's another wrinkle to consider. After a four-month investigation, the Canadian Ministry of the Attorney General today charged Bertuzzi with assault causing bodily harm. He has been ordered to appear in a provincial court on July 9 to answer for the charges.

As one might expect, these criminal charges have set tongues wagging through the NHL, despite the fact that there is ample precedent for them. At least four previous incidents involving NHL players have gone to court, with differing results. Personally, I am of two minds on this subject.

On the one hand, I think the courts should step in when incidents like this take place. There was simply no excusing Bertuzzi's actions. His tear-stained, insincere apology two days afterward notwithstanding, this assault was entirely premeditated, entirely inappropriate, and entirely in character with the way Bertuzzi plays hockey. Indeed, one of the reasons the Canucks franchise pays Bertuzzi almost seven million dollars a year is quite likely because this is the way that Bertuzzi has always played hockey, and that was exactly what the Canucks wanted him to do. Bertuzzi's assault on Moore was a vendetta, pure and simple--and that's not how the game of hockey is or should be played.

On the other hand, the league has already taken drastic disciplinary action, and may take more later this year. Bertuzzi was immediately suspended for the remainder of the season, at the cost of more than half a million dollars in salary, which he forfeited to the NHL Players Association's Emergency Assistance Fund under the terms of the NHLPA's bargaining agreement with the league. The Canucks organization was fined an additional $250,000 for contributory negligence. Bertuzzi's absence from the playoffs undoubtedly contributed at least something to Vancouver's seven-game loss to Calgary in the first round of this year's playoffs. Considering how hockey-mad Canada is, and considering how rough a ride the Canucks have had getting into the post-season, that had to hurt quite a lot: sitting on the sidelines, wanting nothing more than to be out there with your teammates, and then having to watch them lose in a heartbreaking Game 7 to a hated divisional rival. And all the while, Bertuzzi has no idea whether he'll ever be able to play in the NHL again.

If it were my call, the answer to that last question would be an unqualified "No fuckin' way!" In fact, I'd have told him as much as soon as the incident was brought before me, had I been in Gary Bettman's shoes as NHL commissioner. Hockey has a bad enough reputation for fighting as it is, without pointless shit like this. Given the fact that the Canadian government has preferred charges against him, I have to think that Bertuzzi's chances of getting reinstated just got a little smaller. And I still think it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.


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Piddling and twiddling, but no resolving
 

You see we piddle, twiddle, and resolve
Not one damn thing do we solve...
(John Adams, in Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards' musical, 1776)

The same can be said, I'm sorry to have to admit it, about the Supreme Court's decision today in the Cheney energy task force case (PDF link). As with their ruling earlier this month in the Newdow case, the justices basically punted this one. By a 7-2 vote, they sent the lawsuit back to the lower court for further consideration. My cynical guess is that they're hoping that consideration will last at least another four months, ten days, and circa 12 hours, so as to avoid the possibility of embarrassing the vice-preznit with any damaging revelations that might come out of opening the minutes of that task force to the public gaze.

Of course, it's my contention that there isn't anything in those files that could possibly embarrass Pretend-a-Dick any more than he is already, not even if he admitted in one of their meetings that he likes to be gang-banged while serially fellating donkeys. The list of Cheney's "big time" fuck-ups is already longer than he is, and growing by leaps and bounds every minute. Nevertheless, I do happen to think that the public has a right to know who it is that writes our laws, and Cheney shouldn't get to hide behind executive privilege in an attempt to hide it.

Still, it did my heart good to see the following words on page 4 of the slip opinion's syllabus, set down in black and white and in the Court's distinctive typeface:

...the President is not above the law...

Nice to know that's still not a negotiable issue even for Fat Tony, who voted with the majority to remand the proceedings for further consideration. The rest of the opinion is, in my opinion, not so nice. Reading between the lines of Justice Kennedy's majority opinion, he seems to be of opinion that the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch were only conducting a fishing expedition, and therefore, unless they can establish by some other means what is in those records and what, specifically, they want Cheney and the other members of the task force still named in the lawsuit to produce, they're more or less shit out of luck.


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23.6.04

Plus ça change, plus ce n'est pas la même chose
 

I find it mildly amusing, and rather more vexing, to see the letters and e-mails (such as those that Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn has been showcasing on his blog) come pouring in to support beleaguered Illinois Republican senate candidate Jack Ryan. If you haven't heard already, Jack used to be married to actress Jeri Lynn Ryan (of Star Trek:Voyager and Boston Public fame). The couple divorced a few years ago, and the files contained some politically embarrassing allegations about Jack Ryan's sexual interests (free registration required). Those records had been sealed by order of a California court until recently, when, after a lawsuit by the Chicago Tribune and WLS-TV, they were again unsealed.

Without going into all the sweaty, steamy details (you can easily find them if you want them badly enough, and I don't happen to think they're all that relevant), Ryan's ex-wife accused him of trying to coerce her into having sex in public, in what the reports are describing, euphemistically I presume, as "avant-garde" clubs. Mr. Ryan went on a Chicago-area radio station this morning and said that he hadn't broken any of the 10 Commandments or the applicable marriage laws, so he thought people could honestly say of him that he'd "lived a pretty clean life."

On the whole, I'd have to agree with him on that. (And no, I do not mean by that statement that I think it's OK for a man to pressure his wife--or, for that matter, for a wife to pressure her husband, or one partner in any kind of a committed relationship to pressure another partner--into doing things, especially when it comes to sex, that s/he is not comfortable with. My rule of thumb when it comes to sexual matters is that the only things that are acceptable are both mutually agreeable and agreeably mutual.) Jack Ryan seems to have an exhibitionistic streak in his psyche. Nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as he doesn't indulge that streak where just anybody might see. Inside of a sex club, I think one may safely conclude that anyone present is either interested in, or at the very least not offended by the possibility of, watching other people engaging in sexual behavior. And as long as everyone involved in such an enterprise is of legal age and freely consents to participate (i.e., no issues of mental capacity, drug or alcohol impairment, threats of retaliation, etc., are involved), I simply don't find Mr. Ryan's interest in going to such a club worthy of censure, or even the fact that he might have liked to have had sex with his wife there--had she been willing to do so (which she wasn't). The fact that Mr. Ryan allegedly pressured his wife on several occasions to gratify this fantasy of his may make him a cad, but it doesn't make him into a moral degenerate.

The thing that gets my goat is that we're now hearing a similar line of rhetoric from a lot of angry Republican voters and talking-heads. "This was all just normal sexual behavior," they say, "maybe a little on the kinky side, but nothing to get all worked up about. Certainly nothing illegal. But Clinton, on the other hand...."

Ay, there's the rub. Even in the midst of the possible implosion of Jack Ryan's Senate candidacy, they have to get in a couple of good licks at the ClenisTM. If getting a little kinky isn't such a big deal, pray, then why were the Goopers foaming at the mouth over the fact that Clinton had dared to profane the Oval Office with his sordid lusts? And sure, Clinton was cheating on his wife--which, while certainly not moral or ethical, is nevertheless not illegal.

I guess it all boils down to this. It's OK if you're a Republican.

And that's a sad lapse in moral calculus.


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Can it be?
 

Are the so-called "liberal" media finally growing a backbone? Or can we at least hope that they've figured out that "balanced coverage" doesn't necessarily mean telling the same number and quality of lies about each candidate? Maybe, maybe not.

Via Sid's Fishbowl I learned that the Associated Press has sued for access to Bush's Air National Guard records. You know, those records that Emperor Chimpy went on Meet the Press Press the Meat and promised to release, oh, somewhere back in April maybe. It seems, and this will come as no surprise to any of my regular readers, that the Sock Puppet has been less than forthcoming.

As a general rule, I'm not big on the idea of the media digging up dirt on people in public life. If we want to have people in high office and positions of great responsibility who aren't completely whacked nutjobs (like the Bushovik régime, for example), we're going to have to make it possible to have something of a private life while living in the public eye.

On the other hand, when someone in public life makes a statement, and the media have information suggesting that s/he has lied, or when the public figure promises to release relevant information voluntarily and fails to do so, I can see cases where the media are justified in going after the information themselves. The Bush military records constitute one such instance. (The divorce records of Jeri and Jack Ryan, on the other hand, don't seem to, at least in my book.)

Bush has made a big deal of his "service" in the Texas Air National Guard. He has repeatedly promised to release all relevant information about his service during the Vietnam War, but has just as repeatedly failed to do so. At the same time, the Bush campaign has tried to make an issue of Senator Kerry's service record. What is sauce for the goose must assuredly be sauce for the gander, so Bush should have to cough up the missing information on his own military background. As they say on all the lawyer shows, he opened the door himself--he can't very well refuse to let someone else walk through it and take a look around.


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This is huge
 

A couple of hours ago, Reuters reported that the U.S. government had withdrawn its draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to extend for another year the immunity granted to U.S. troops from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. Seven of the 15 members of the Security Council had indicated they would abstain if the motion were brought to a vote; passage would have required a minimum of nine nations in favor.

As the story noted, the U.S. has "rarely faced such opposition in the council, with the notable exception of its attempt to get U.N. endorsement for the invasion of Iraq last year." But this level of opposition, particularly to this measure, cannot have come as a surprise to anyone sufficiently in command of her faculties to serve in government. After the photographs of abused prisoners by the hundred at Abu Ghraib, and official government documents discussing the ways and means of getting around the Geneva Conventions, anyone that would have voted to grant immunity from war-crimes prosecutions to U.S. soldiers would have to be certifiably insane.

It grieves me tremendously to have to say it, but our actions of the past year alone--whether you believe the preznit that they were the dastardly deeds of a few "bad apples" or whether you believe, as I do, that the fish rots from the head downward--have demonstrated that we are capable of committing war crimes. The best prophylactic measure to take against seeing more pictures like those from Abu Ghraib? Ensuring that those who took them and those who appear in them might have to stand in the dock in the Hague and answer to an impartial court for their deeds.

And another likely reason for the Security Council's recalcitrance is the attitude toward the U.N. (and world opinion) taken by the Bush régime. These people have not only not paid attention to the United Nations, they've dismissed it out of hand as a namby-pamby hand-waving and debating society, unworthy of playing a role in world affairs. (At least until the Bushoviks need the U.N. for something, at which point, apparently, the U.N. is expected to bend over quietly and think of England. Speaking of which, I note with interest that while the Reuters report says the current resolution has been withdrawn for the time being, it most emphatically does not say that the U.S. has entirely given up on the idea.)

Consider the attitude displayed by the Bushoviks' U.N. ambassador, James Cunningham. Reuters says that "He did not specifically threaten to veto U.N. peacekeeping operations but said the United States needed to take 'into account' the council's position on the International Criminal Court 'when determining contributions to UN-authorized or established operations.'" In other words, play by our rules or we're picking up all our toys and going home.

That kind of attitude is childish and churlish on the part of a bunch of five-year-olds on the playground. It is no less so, and infinitely less excusable, in the mouths of high government officials from a nation that proudly describes itself as the last superpower on earth.


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21.6.04

Papers, please
 

Those words may soon be directed toward you from your not-quite-so-friendly neighborhood policeman, thanks to a 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court today. The Court now believes that "people do not have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names."

Reason #432,498,953 to trim the Shrub and his minion-handlers right out of Washington on November 2.


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Monday poetry blogging
 

Running through my morning read of blogs, I noticed that It's In There had posted a quote from one of my favorite poems, W. H. Auden's For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio (1944). I haven't had the chance to digest the whole thing, but I've loved the snippets I've stumbled across here and there across the years.

But my favorite part has to be the six lines I remember being quoted in remarks by the Dean (I think it was) of King's College Chapel at Cambridge University on a long-ago PBS broadcast called "Christmas at King's." I still have a scratchy videotape of it tucked away at home. I live in hope that PBS will rebroadcast it someday so I can get a better recording, but thus far that hope has gone unfulfilled.

Here are the lines I remember:

Though written by Thy children
With a smudged and crooked line,
Thy Word is ever legible
Thy meaning unequivocal
And for Thy goodness even sin
Is valid as a sign.

As they say, that there's some good shit!


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Got GMail? Share it with the troops!
 

As you may have heard, Google is beta-testing a new e-mail service called GMail. It's free, and users get a gigabyte of storage. Which would be great for storing (and saving) lots of pictures from home, and maybe some short video messages too, so a mom or dad who's on overseas deployment could watch their new baby taking her first step, or see their son score the winning touchdown...or whatever.

Here's the catch. Since it's in beta at the moment, GMail is only available by invitation from someone who has it. If you're a Blogger user, you can get it, and eventually you'll get some invites to pass out to friends and family. It may be that you know tons of geek-savvy people who'd just love to have a GMail address, and that's cool. But if you're like me and most of your friends aren't into the Web quite so much as you are, you may have a few invites going begging.

Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) has gotten a site together, GMail4troops.com, where people who have invites can share them, and where people who want them can ask for them. I've posted my four there, and if you have any invites that aren't spoken for, I'll encourage you to do likewise. And if there aren't any military folk asking at Wil's site, there's also gmailforthetroops.com.

And there's more. As the GMail system seems to work, if you use your invites....you get more of them. A perfect illustration of the Sermon on the Mount--the more you give away, the more you have to give. And you get to do something to boost the morale of the troops stuck out in the deserts with people shooting at them, thanks to our idiot preznit and his lust for war. Yes, they shouldn't have to be there, and in a just world they wouldn't. But the fact is, they are there, and this is an easy little thing that people can do to make it a little easier for them and their families to cope with that fact until they can come home. God grant that day dawns quickly...and in the meantime, that there will be plenty of generous people with GMail invitations who are willing to share.


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20.6.04

By George, I think she's got it!
 

Ladies and gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, meine Damen und Herren, I present to you a true prophet, in the form of the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin:

I got to have (just a little bit)
A little respect (just a little bit)

Those seven letters, R-E-S-P-E-C-T (sing it, girlfriend!), sum up every single one of the failures of the BushCoTM régime. The Sock Puppet and his handler-minions do not respect the American people--they lie to us constantly. They do not respect our political traditions: hence, they felt no compunction about stealing the 2000 election through what amounts to a combination of mob violence and an invalid and improper violation of the separation of powers doctrine on the part of the Supreme Court.

The Bushoviks do not respect world opinion, which is why we are having ever increasing difficulties in finding (and keeping) partners in our "coalition of the willing bribed." Nor do they respect international law, the United Nations, or the United States' treaty obligations such as the Geneva Conventions and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Bushoviks do not respect the Constitution they swore, individually and collectively, to "preserve, protect, and defend from all enemies, foreign and domestic." That is why they seized the opportunity presented by the heinous attacks of 11 September 2001 to ram through the ill-advised and ill-conceived and ill-named "Patriot" Act. That is also why they instructed their lawyers to find ways around it, so as to make the president a king in all but name, through the convenient fiction of a never-ending "war on terror" that can never be won.

Nor do they respect the human and civil rights inherent in all people, whether they are citizens of this formerly great nation or not. Hence we see them attempt to brush away inconveniences such as the right of habeas corpus, the right to an attorney, the right of persons to be secure in their persons from illegal or unwarranted searches and seizures. Hence the hideous abuses of prisoners under our "care" at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. And hence, ultimately, the utter and abject failure of our supposedly invincible campaigns to win the hearts and minds of the people we allegedly liberated in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This latter point is poignantly and tellingly made in an Associated Press story that came to my attention through the incomparable andante of Collective Sigh:

At another meeting, [Lt. Col. Tim] Ryan [commander of the U.S. forces in the Abu Ghraib district of Baghdad, just down the road from the infamous prison of the same name] was offering cash for a construction project when "one guy said to me, 'We don't want your money, we want your respect.' That stuck with me."

On May 1, Ryan called a meeting of all the tribal and religious sheiks at a milk-bottling plant, which had an auditorium that could seat several hundred. There was no electricity and the heat was stifling.

The first two hours saw a relentless tongue-lashing from the sheiks, a litany of perceived injustices by American troops. Ryan said it was hard to take at times.

"They are frustrated and if the idea is to diffuse their frustrations, that means letting them put those frustrations on the table," he said. "As the leader of the tribe - the tribal sheik of the men in desert camouflage - my job is to listen to them."

Then for six hours, Ryan did some things U.S. officers say is "outside the box."

First, he told the sheiks both sides had made mistakes.

"Just saying we've made mistakes - we've been afraid to say it because people will blow it out of proportion - makes a huge difference," Ryan said. "... Their faces light up and they are ready to talk."

Then he offered a clean slate, or as they say in Arabic, a white page. If the sheiks took responsibility for security, Ryan told them, he promised that his soldiers would not raid their homes. Further, he said, if the sheiks promised that members of their tribes sought by U.S. forces would stop carrying out attacks, the troops would stop hunting them.

All the sheiks agreed, and the deal has become known as "The White Page Truce."

"This is the best move the Americans have made yet," said Sheik Sadi al-Khinani, a senior tribal leader. "The people will see that the Americans have come here to help them, not what others have said, which is that the Americans have come here to abuse them."

Ryan said that in the six weeks from March 1 to April 12, 28 U.S. soldiers were wounded and two killed. In the six weeks since the truce, there hasn't been a single U.S. casualty.

"Part of the challenge here is that we've targeted the other side as criminals instead of combatants," Ryan said, explaining that he wanted a cease-fire, not trials. "In two months, we threw 107 people in jail and it didn't change the number of attacks. I haven't thrown anyone in jail for six weeks and attacks are down 50 percent."

In a word, "Duh." Or in the old adage, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

In a just world, Lt. Col. Ryan would not be on the ground in Iraq. In any administration other than the present Bush régime, Lt. Col. Ryan would have been booted up a couple of ranks and be wearing at least one general's star. But for that the Bushoviks are little more than a batch of chickenshit chickenhawks who have never served a day in uniform and neither understand nor--surprise!--respect the armed forces or the men and women that serve in them, except to see them as a vehicle for advancing American power and their own evil ends, Lt. Col. Ryan has a thankless job to do and is not getting the support he needs to do it properly. Instead, he is criticized for going "outside the box," even though he got the very results he was supposed to achieve by doing so--a pacified district with the basics of a civil society in place and beginning, please God, to flourish and to spread beyond the confines of his area of responsibility.

And any other occupant of the White House except its current squatter would have understood the vital importance of respecting the needs, wants, hopes, and dreams of other people at least as much as his own. To say nothing of the laws and institutions of this land that I hope and pray can once again stand tall and proud as a beacon of that "liberty and justice for all" we claim to believe in so deeply.

I am angered beyond belief and even beyond words at the depths of depravity plumbed by the apparatchiks of the Bush régime, God rot the miserable bastards in the lowest pits of hell! They represent an ignoble blotch upon the escutcheon of a nation that I love and revere to the very core of my being, and the ideals for which it has historically stood. A very human part of me wants nothing so much as to rip their faces off with a dull spoon and stomp on their dead skulls until their eyeballs pop out and their brains spatter all over the floor. The more rational and spiritual parts of me would settle for being able to pop the cork on a bottle of very fine French champagne as I watch the whole miserable lot of them hauled off in manacles to stand trial for their crimes before the International Criminal Court at the Hague. And the political part of me is committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that they never, ever get another chance to give the world the false impression that they speak for or represent me or any other citizen of these United States.


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A compromised compromise
 

On Friday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on Catholics in political life. The statement was intended as an answer to the questions and the controversies that have been swirling around the issue of whether to deny the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who are at variance with certain Catholic teachings in their public lives.

My sense, as an educated and informed Catholic layman, is that this statement is a compromise that will (a) satisfy no one completely and (b) have little impact on either the politics of the Church on several vexed questions, or the political realities of the 2004 U.S. presidential election. What makes me say that? A number of things, really.

First off, when this brouhaha got started in earnest last month, in response to the unwise and unjustified pastoral letter issued by Colorado Springs bishop Michael Sheridan, there were multiple issues on the table. In his pastoral letter, Bishop Sheridan spoke explicitly about not just abortion, but stem cell research, euthanasia, and same-gender marriage. The USCCB's statement issued yesterday addresses only the first of these issues. Moreover, the statement speaks primarily about those in public office and those who are campaigning for such offices. Unlike Sheridan's letter, it does not single out those who may vote for such politicians, except in that it urges Catholic voters to "make choices based on Catholic moral and social teaching."

And that sentence quoted above is another bit of evidence. I would have liked to see it more strongly stated, but I can only conclude from the wording the bishops used that they meant to include all of the Church's social teachings, as well as its moral ones, in the set of criteria by which a Catholic voter is urged to decide which candidates are worthy of support. That would mean, at a minimum, questions such as support for or opposition to the death penalty; views on war, national defense, and national security; questions of social and economic justice, concern for the plight of the poor and the hungry, etc. Though there are clearly some bishops who want to yank one or more hot-button issues bodily out of their context in Catholic doctrine (abortion being the most prominent), I am heartened to note that a majority of them are still insisting that the whole spectrum of social and moral teaching is the appropriate yardstick by which to measure candidates for public office, and the policies they put in place.

The bishops' statement speaks of a need to teach, to persuade, and to maintain communication between the Catholic community and those responsible for the body politic which includes all Americans, not just those who are also Catholic. This is a key distinction, and, ultimately, the one on which the bishops' initiative is likely to founder. The bishops may speak authoritatively only to those within the fold. They may attempt to persuade non-Catholics of the correctness of their views, but they may not arbitrarily impose them. And Catholic politicians are elected to serve, and to make policy for, all of their constituents, not just that subset of them with whom they share a faith tradition. By our national law, no religious body is permitted to make legislation for the nation as a whole, and neither may our legislators tailor our laws so that they are in accordance with any such religious tradition's views, to the exclusion of all others. As there is a multiplicity of religious viewpoints in America, at least some of which view abortion as a permissible necessity in certain circumstances (this talk of "abortion on demand" is just hyperbolic rhetoric designed to scare people, in my estimation), we are unlikely ever to ban the practice altogether, as the Catholic bishops probably all wish we would.

The bishops also agreed to disagree on the central question of whether it might be appropriate to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion. (But they said nothing about politicians, or voters who support them, who support euthanasia, gay marriage, or stem cell research.) This, I suspect, means that bishops such as Colorado Springs's Michael Sheridan, who were leaning that way anyway, may well deny Communion to John Kerry if he were to present himself for the sacrament in their dioceses. (It remains to be seen whether they would do the same for pro-choice Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger or George Pataki.) The majority of bishops who are inclined to think that the Eucharist should not, in the words of this statement, "be misused for political ends," are likely to allow Senator Kerry the Eucharist if he presents himself for the sacrament, although they may privately deplore the fact that he did so and perhaps even publicly disagree with the senator's political views on the matter.

Lastly, I am heartened to see the bishops acknowledge, formally and publicly, the primacy of the individual's conscience in making moral decisions of this nature: "This means that all must examine their consciences as to their worthiness to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord." As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council made abundantly clear:

On their part, human beings perceive and acknowledge the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all their activity people are bound to follow their conscience in order that they may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that they are not to be forced to act in manner contrary to their conscience. Nor, on the other hand, are they to be restrained from acting in accordance with their conscience, especially in religious matters. (Dignitatis humanae, no. 3)

Elsewhere, the Fathers defined conscience in these terms:

In the depths of their conscience, human persons detect a law which they do not impose upon themselves, but which holds them to obedience. Always summoning them to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to their hearts: do this, shun that. For human beings have in their hearts a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of humankind; according to it they will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There she is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in her depths. (Gaudium et spes, no. 16)

It is therefore, consciously and conscientiously, possible to dissent from Church teachings if one truly believes them to be wrong. There is a specific method by which Catholics are to inform their consciences, which includes striving "to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1788). Having done so, it is a grave sin to depart from the dictates of one's conscience. As no less a doctrinal authority than St. Thomas Aquinas once remarked, it is better to die excommunicated from the Church than to violate the precepts of conscience. This was a point that the U.S. Catholic bishops voted to eliminate, a few years back, from their pastoral letter to the parents of lesbian and gay children, although it had been included in the final draft submitted to the bishops for their vote. I am pleased to see that they have rediscovered the importance and the utility of this often-overlooked teaching, and included it here.


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19.6.04

Kenny Boy going down?
 

Via NTodd at Dohiyi Mir, I learn that Reuters is reporting that within the next couple of weeks prosecutors are expected to be asking a federal grand jury to indict Ken Lay on charges "related to the company's 2001 collapse," according to a story in the Houston Chronicle. I can't do better than NTodd's headline for his post: "About Bloody Time."

Go read!


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I don't think so!
 

You have to wonder what shape the nation is in when the Washington Post, the paper of record in an industry town where the industry is our nation's government, gets government so spectacularly wrong. The ignorance that might be excusable in an average citizen or in a smaller newspaper located farther away from the centers of power attains epic proportions in a publication that has as its primary matter the daily workings of American government.

So what am I on about? In today's edition, the WaPo plucks a moment from Michael Moore's forthcoming film, Fahrenheit 9/11, and riffs on its presentation of those critical seven minutes on that terrible day, during which the preznit sat in a Florida classroom, frozen like the proverbial deer in the headlights, while chaos ensued.

The Post compares Moore's account of those seven excruciatingly long minutes with the (doubtless sanitized) account of that same time period given by the Sock Puppet/Pretend-a-Dick tandem in their joint, behind-closed-doors testimony to the commission investigating the 11 September attacks. Quoth the WaPo:

And now from a second angle: The staff of the 9/11 Commission this week released a report that summarizes Bush's closed-door testimony about his thoughts as he sat there.

"The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis . . . The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening."

This moment will surely be used by the president's political opponents, and with equal fervor defended by his supporters. However it is interpreted, it points out a basic truth about any president: He's both an executive and a symbolic figure. He's the spiritual leader of the nation as well as the head of state. He's monarch and prime minister.

I am troubled by the (false) dichotomy presented by Emperor Chimpy in the summary of his testimony before the Commission presented here. As he saw matters, he had two, and only two, choices: sit there quietly and look calm, or run around like the proverbial headless chicken. It apparently never occurred to him that there might be other options, such as quickly excusing himself from the room (and the cameras watching his every move) so he could go fall to pieces in private. Nor, it would seem, did he consider the fact that the best way to calm the understandable anxiety of the public on that terrible day would be to be seen doing something about it. Instead, he sat there like a bump on a log, and then vanished down the high-tech rabbit hole of Air Force One, to fly about the nation to various undisclosed locations for the rest of the day.

That's one disquieting thing about this piece. Even worse is the way Joel Achenbach ended that last paragraph quoted above. I can't quibble with his statement that the office of the president combines both executive and symbolic functions. But I draw the line when he asserts that the president is the "spiritual leader of the nation" or either "monarch or prime minister."

Ours is indeed a complicated system of government, and one might perhaps forgive a lack of clarity about some of the finickier deails for the average person. But when a staff writer for what is essentially the government's hometown newspaper gets something as basic as the functions of the presidency as spectacularly wrong as Achenbach does here, that's a different kettle of fish.

There is nothing in the job description of the president of the United States as spelled out in either the Constitution or the U.S. Code that includes the terms "spiritual leader." In fact, there are several clauses in the Constitution that clearly preclude any such role (see Establishment Clause, or religious test). And while it is certainly true that an offer was made to George Washington that was tantamount to making him king, I should absolutely expect that someone who lives and works in the city named after the man in question would know that he unequivocally rejected the offer out of hand. It might profit Mr. Achenbach to pop over to the newly renovated National Archives building (it's on Pennsylvania Avenue, nine blocks down from the White House) and have a look at what Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress had to say about the idea of monarchy as a form of government, in a little document we like to call the Declaration of Independence.


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18.6.04

Oh, puh-leeze!
 

The Associated Press has gotten hold of a copy of Bill Clinton's autobiography My Life, which isn't due out in bookstores until next Tuesday. As you might expect, they start the story with l'affaire Lewinsky, breathlessly informing us in the first paragraph of the review that Clinton "slept on the couch for at least two months" after telling Hillary about the affair.

But buried in the sixth paragraph is this interesting bit of news:

On other topics in the book, Clinton said he met with President-elect George W. Bush and told him that the biggest threat to the nation's security was Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. According to Clinton, Bush said little in response, and then switched subjects.

Now, let me see. What could possibly be more important or more relevant at this particular moment in American history than the fact that the Sock Puppet was warned, well in advance of 11 September 2001, that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were considered major threats to U.S. national security, and that said preznit basically brushed off the warning? Oh, yeah. How stupid of me. Of course, it must be the sordid details of how Bill Clinton got a hummer in the Oval Office and how his wife reacted to the news.

Every one of the Founding Fathers must be whirling in their respective sarcophagi and weeping bitter tears to see the Republic for which they gave so much descend to this level of utter banality. "Liberal media," my arse!


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"Where does he get it from?"
 

(And a big sloppy kiss--Mwah!--to anyone who can correctly identify the Lubitsch film I quoted in the title of this post.)

In a comment on a previous post, Charles of The Fulcrum had some very nice things to say about what I wrote about Daniel Henninger's asinine WSJ editorial today. Underlying his comment I detected what seemed to be a "How did you do it?" motif.

I can't answer that question fully. I don't know enough about the workings of the human mind (or the human psyche or soul) to have much of an opinion on the genesis of ideas, or the process by which a writer or a thinker selects her material, or a rhetorician picks one turn of phrase over another. In the case of the Henninger piece, Charles provided a link that I followed, and brought to my attention one of the stupider bits of drivel I've seen published in quite some time. I picked up the ball and ran with it.

For my money, the praise (or the blame, if you're inclined to go that route) has to go primarily to my parents and my teachers. I've never been much good at sports (that's my sister's thing), but I do seem to be good at books and learning and asking--often at great length--pointed questions. My parents always encouraged us to do well in school, and generally didn't fuss when I preferred sitting inside reading, or riding my bicycle to the library on a nearly daily basis during summer vacations, to tossing a football, catching pop-up flies, or any of the more "traditional" athletic pursuits of guys my age.

When I got to high school, I was encouraged to join the forensics team ("forensics" in its original meaning of public speaking, not the CSI variety, though I'm interested in that, too). My event was extempore speaking--starting off cold with a topic drawn from events in the news, writing, then delivering a six-minute speech on it--and I earned a varsity letter and two bars during my four years on the team. If I may brag a little, I took third place for my maiden speech my freshman year, which, as I recall, had something to do with Social Security.

I then had the very great fortune to head off to Knox College for my undergraduate education. Knox is a small, private liberal-arts school with a fine curriculum, a wonderful history, and a deserved reputation as an outstanding institution of higher learning. My instructors expected a high standard of discourse, and made sure we got plenty of practice at it. As I believe the college's recruitment materials still note, students begin writing in their first course at Knox, and they will keep doing it until they complete their last. (In my case, that meant spending the first half of Senior Week sitting in the computer center in the basement of the Science and Mathematics Center, frantically typing in my longhand translation of Plato's Apology so I could get it to my instructor in time for him to grade it and get the grades turned in on time so I could graduate at the end of the week.) Unlike the large public institutions I have attended as a graduate student, at Knox there's really no place to hide if you haven't prepared your work, and no way to fudge it if you aren't performing to a creditable standard. When classes are as small as 10 students, it does one no good at all to sit in the back of the room--and many of the courses in my classics major were of the independent study variety: just me and my instructor, meeting once or twice a week to go over my translations. It's even harder to hide when you're the only student in the class.

I've been blessed with a facility for languages, and an affection for the printed word that truly borders on the addictive. I've been taught how to think and how to reason, and given the tools with which to do it, including dozens of hours of instruction in philosophy and logic. I've been exposed to many of the greatest thinkers in the Western tradition, and not a few of those in others besides, and expected to be able to compare and contrast them appropriately. I was writing 20-page papers before I graduated high school, so college and graduate-level writing assignments have never been all that daunting to me. I had my own editorial column (admittedly only in the local fish-wrapper, but I still have people telling me--ten years after it stopped publication--how much they miss it) for a couple of years, so opinion writing isn't a new thing to me, either.

I have discovered the truth of something my spiritual director noted in a homily well over a decade ago: the purpose of higher education isn't to give one all the answers, but to enable one to ask better questions. And the terrible, wonderful, awful thing about asking questions is that when you get one answered, it usually brings up five or six more for you to investigate. I've been given ample opportunities, because of who I am, where I live, and what I do for a living, to feed the elephant's child. It's a "disease" which will consume the rest of my life. I'll probably be asking "Why?" or "What about X?" on my deathbed.

And that's how I got involved in blogging. What's your story?


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The SCLM are at it again
 

The lead paragraph in this Reuters story trumpets: "Russian President Vladimir Putin, in comments sure to help President [sic] Bush, declared Friday that Russia knew Iraq's Saddam Hussein had planned terror attacks on U.S. soil and had warned Washington."

Sure to help the Sock Puppet do what? With whom?

The answer to that last question is, apparently, "people who can't read." Because three paragraphs down in the story comes the disclaimer from Putin that "Russian intelligence had no proof that Saddam's agents had been involved in any particular attack."

That would be the requisite smoking gun that could make BushCo's adventure in Iraq into something other than the quagmire of botched intelligence, half-assed wishful thinking planning, and unfocused personal revenge that it is. If there were any evidence that Saddam Hussein or his government had any actual connection to an actual terrorist or other attack upon the United States or its people, that would constitute a legitimate casus belli. But of course Putin can't provide that.

So the idea that these comments will somehow bolster the Sock Puppet's faltering approval ratings appears to be little more than yet another instance of the so-called "liberal" media blowing yet more smoke up George W. Bush's ass, which they are busily engaged in kissing, passionately. I guess they feel like they somehow have to make amends for looking like they had grown a backbone and a pair in the last couple of days, by criticizing Bush and his régime's predilection for lying to the American people.

Moreover, I find both the timing and the content of these contents, well, interesting. If, as the story alleges, the Russian special services have had this information for more than a year, why release it now? Why did they not come forward during the storm of criticism that ShrubCoTM faced in the immediate run-up to the war? I'm sure Colin Powell would have appreciated a little factual evidence he might have been able to include along with the fantasies about chemical and biological weapons and yellowcake uranium from Niger that was all his buddies in the Bush régime could give him to take to the United Nations.

And then there was this little tidbit:

"Our position has not changed. We indeed passed this information on to our American partners but we consider that there are rules, defined by international law, for using force in international affairs and these procedures were not observed," [Putin] said.

So let's recap here. The Russians allegedly had information that indicated that Saddam Hussein's government had planned terrorist attacks against the United States, which was duly passed on to the responsible officials in the U.S. government. Yet that information contained no actual evidence of any actual involvement in any actual attack, and Putin still believes that the Iraq war was unjustified--which tends to suggest he doesn't put much stock in the information as a casus belli himself. And this is supposed to help the Sock Puppet how?

Update: Now the State Department has said "Huh?" More formally,"State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters he did not know anything about the information that Putin said Russia passed on. No such information was communicated from Russia through the State Department, he said." Another State Department official, who asked for anonymity, said "Everybody's scratching their heads."


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Oh, the stupidity!
 

I'd say that the clue phones were ringing off the hook at the editorial offices of the Wall Street Journal, except that I think we have sufficient evidence to conclude that they have been either disconnected or permanently removed from the premises. The proof comes in the form of an editorial in today's edition, "'Under God' is the firm link to U.S. security," by Daniel Henninger. Courtesy of The Fulcrum's Carlo Secondo, you can read the whole thing in PDF format even if you're not a subscriber. (And while I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV, I do know a little something about copyright law, and it's my considered opinion that his posting this piece, and the discussion thereof I'm about to have here, are both covered under the "fair use" exemption.)

My first "You've got to be f**king kidding me!" moment came when I hit this sentence, in mid-rapture about "The Battle Hymn of the Republic":

But still -- even the most devout atheist can't tamp down the tearful wellings of national pride that erupt in most of us when a strong chorus sings "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . . His truth is marching on."

I'm not an atheist, but I've never yet gotten teary-eyed at hearing this particular bit of overplayed, hackneyed tripe. And I have absolutely, positively never felt any "wellings of national pride" when I hear it sung or played. I am aware, being an historian, that it was written as a Union anthem during the Civil War, but as far as its content is concerned, it is far more in the line of "hymn" than "patriotic song" in my book. That, as Henninger himself notes, it was sung (though God alone knows why) at the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill does tend to mitigate against the notion that it is primarily an "American" or a nationalistic ode.

The next howler came at the start of the following paragraph:

The long historical truth is that God, whether He exists or not, is good for summoning national pride, communal bonds and the martial spirit...

I am astounded to learn that Henninger received a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University. The Jesuits who run that fine institution of higher education must surely be disappointed at how little Mr. Henninger apparently learned while under their tutelage--whether about history, politics, or, especially, religion. I will grant Henninger the premise that, in far too many instances to count, political leaders (often with the most impure of motives) have tried to wrap themselves in God's cloak to stir up their people to sacrifice, to destruction, to war, and to genocide. But I feel I am on reasonably secure ground when I say that God is probably not very pleased at that fact, and that those leaders (up to and including the Sock Puppet) who try to cast themselves in the role of God's own anointed one are probably in for a very big, not so pleasant surprise.

What is truly galling about this statement is that Henninger apparently finds nothing crass or improper in turning the Supreme Being into a cheap whore for propaganda purposes. Has the man never read Mark Twain's War Prayer, much less the Bible?

Arguably, the role of God or religion in the nation's life wouldn't matter very much if the relations among all nations resembled the Garden of Eden. Since that famous, unfortunate Fall, however, men and women have been called upon to die defending their country. That is asking a lot. The willingness to fight for one's nation has been a function of the patriotic impulse, and we summon that impulse, in part, with appeals to a higher purpose.

Through the ages this at times has led to quite awful undertakings in the name of national pride, God or religion. But that's not us and likely never will be. (Emphasis in original)

Again, I am forced to wonder if Mr. Henninger is even familiar with the history of the country he seems to love blindly and in ignorance. The "peculiar institution" of slavery? Manifest Destiny? The Red Scare of the 1950s (which Henninger may well remember personally)? Miscegenation statutes based in the backward idea that God had created separate races and never intended them to mix? (An idea that the Supreme Court didn't strike from the statute book until 1967, and which is still current among some of the nuttier wingnuts of the present day.) None of those undertakings--and these are just the ones that occurred to me off the top of my head, mind you--redounds to the credit of the Land of the Putatively Free and the Home of the Too-Infrequently Brave.

But Henninger saves, in the appropriate formulation, the crème de la crème of his "argument" (and I use the scare quotes advisedly) for his closing paragraph:

This innocuous little Pledge and its two words, "under God," has become for school children the last link joining national purpose to God -- a union that is this country's best, proven hope for ensuring national strength. When that link is finally broken, the U.S. will start to become, well, France -- smart, sophisticated, agnostic and save for nuclear bombs, inexorably weak. That is one test case I'd as soon not try.

I'm not going to touch the religious jingoism of Henninger's first sentence: it buckles under the weight of its own stupidity. But I'd like to know exactly what it is about France that Henninger finds so disgusting. As he notes, the French are smart and sophisticated--a reputation they've had for at least as long as the United States of America has existed as a sovereign nation. France is officially Catholic, but smart enough to be tolerant about it (although I am troubled at this new law banning Muslim headgear in the French schools). Their health care system puts ours to shame, as does their infant mortality rate, their crime rate, their voter turnout each and every election, their social safety net, their environmental regulations, and their culture. Five weeks of paid vacation a year is the standard, and you'd better believe they take it. We could do a lot worse than to emulate the French, in many respects.

But there is one thing I hope Henninger is right about: "If George Bush loses [the November election], no matter what his personal beliefs, he will vacate the office." I wish I could be as certain as Mr. Henninger appears to be on that score, and that I could take him at his word when he says so. As he's been wrong about so much else about America, however, I'm not sure Henninger is a credible prophet. In this particular instance, I'd love to be proven wrong--and I pray that I will be.


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17.6.04

Watch carefully
 

We may just get to see the Sock Puppet's head explode on live television. Or else we'll be treated to little Scotty's evasive attempts to describe the phenomenon without actually, you know, admitting that Bush no longer has a head on his shoulders.

Why? Seems that Kofi Annan has said "Neener, neener, neener" (or words to that effect) to BushCo's request for an extension of the immunity from war-crimes prosecution extended by the United Nations to U.S. troops. The reason, of course, is the Abu Ghraib mess:

"As you know, for the past two years, I have spoken quite strongly against the exemption, and I think it would be unfortunate for one to press for such an exemption, given the prisoner abuse in Iraq," Annan told reporters as he arrived at UN headquarters.

"I think in this circumstance it would be unwise to press for an exemption, and it would be even more unwise on the part of the Security Council to grant it," he stressed.

"It would discredit the Council and the United Nations that stands for rule of law and the primacy of rule of law," Annan added. "I don't think it should be encouraged by the Council."

The Security Council is currently considering a draft resolution to renew the exemption for another year, after it expires at the end of June. As of today, it doesn't look like the United States commands the votes necessary to get it passed. Gee, Georgie, I wonder whose fault that is?

I'm not thrilled at the prospect of the United States publicly taking a swift kick in the pants in this fashion. But on the other hand, I've always thought this whole exemption thing was (a) infantile and (b) untenable in the long run. If we're worried about our troops getting hauled into court on war-crimes violations, we should damn well be making sure our troops aren't committing any. That's what being one of the "Good Guys" is supposed to mean, dammit! Everybody else plays by these rules, and we shouldn't be any different. And if that means Henry Kissinger or George W. Bush can never again leave the United States without finding themselves in manacles and an orange jumpsuit, that's just fine and dandy with me.


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