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Bill Kristol Says We Should Bomb Burma. Seriously

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 4:18 PM EDT

Bill Kristol is the editor of a major magazine, a regular guest on weekend talk shows, a columnist for a major newsweekly, and generally considered to be one of the most influential conservatives in Washington. Because of all that, he's invited to write op-eds for major newspapers where he writes crazy things like this:

What about limited military actions [in Burma], overt or covert, against the regime's infrastructure -- its military headquarters, its intelligence apparatus, its rulers' lavish palaces? Couldn't such actions have a deterrent effect, or might not they help open up fissures in the regime?

I'd like to make sure no one misses the hilarious neocon habit of suggesting regime change not based on local factors in the countries they would like to strike, but instead based on whenever they happen to start paying attention. The ruling junta in Burma has been in power for 19 years — they didn't get nasty three weeks ago. If Kristol is going to advocate military action against Burma, doesn't he have a responsibility to keep track of the situation in that country before and after it hits American newsstands?

But more than that, I'd like to echo something Kevin Drum points out: "Why is it that a guy who thinks U.S. military action is always the answer is any more credible than the peacenik who thinks it never is?" He's completely right. Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul* will never be regular panelists on major weekend talk shows. They aren't getting a column in Time. But they are Bill Kristol's functional equivalents.

While we're on the topic, here's why Kristol bugs me more than almost any other conservative or neocon. Most of that crowd doesn't take seriously enough the repercussions of military action. They see a simple moral calculus: the few lives lost in the course of our military actions are worth the freedom and liberation we bring to hundreds of thousands of people. But there are innumerable repercussions in the region and around the globe that are never taken into account: the fact that a neighboring country that is even nastier may suddenly become empowered; the fact that the tumultuous period between the fall of one stable government and the erection of the next is a gift to terrorists and other evil-doers; the fact that WMD capability and intelligence is suddenly on the loose and possibly on the black market; the fact that we can get bogged down and then be less responsive to more dire threats; the fact that we can't control who takes over after we leave.

Because of the Iraq War, many hawks in Washington have to come to appreciate these factors. But not Bill Kristol. He wants war in every international hot spot. Eventually, there would be nothing to distinguish our freedom-spreading efforts from World War III, the one where it's everybody versus us.

* Someone put out the Ron Paul bat signal and I'm getting hit in the comments for misconstruing his stance on the use of the military. I probably should have just stuck with Kucinich; his philosophical opposition to the use of force is the best mirror to Kristol's philosophical preference for it.

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Live Review: Detour Festival, Los Angeles

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 3:52 PM EDT

Say you're the LA Weekly, and you like the Coachella music festival a lot, and you want to throw a slightly smaller, edgier version of the multi-stage concert. Where could you have it that's even more deserted than a polo field in the middle of nowhere? Why, downtown Los Angeles on a weekend, of course. And so, Saturday saw the streets around LA's City Hall fill with hipsters and music, and me with a camera.

Scissors for LeftyFirst, I stumbled across the Bay Area's Scissors for Lefty, who seem to have painted themselves gold for the occasion. It's still pretty early in the afternoon and with the crowds still a bit thin, that seems like a lot of effort. But the band are putting just as much energy into their performance, and like a quirkier, buzzier Strokes, they're livening up the early arrivals.

Cool KidsOver at the main stage, Chicago's Cool Kids are testing the limits of the sound system with some bass-heavy '80s-inflected beats. With their cardigans and Beastie Boys references, they're not only a throwback to a kinder, gentler era of hip-hop, but perhaps approach a new level of MIA-style cultural (re-) appropriation. Who knows. Either way, the duo are themselves evidencing a new fashion trend: the return of day-glo. Everywhere I turn, kids are wearing fluorescent-colored sunglasses, pink and yellow baseball caps, a traffic-cone-orange dress. If only I'd kept my pink Culture Club T-shirt…

Shout out LoudsSweden's Shout Out Louds are doing anything but over at the side stage; when the bassist grabs castanets, you have no problem hearing them. Their bright, upbeat tunes are tempered by lead singer Adan Olenius, whose Robert Smith-style laments over lost love start to seem a little too self-indulgent, and I begin to sympathize with whoever dumped him. But "The Comeback," off their 2005 album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, is a great tune, even if it's lamenting lost love.

AutoluxI hear Mexican disco-punkers Kinky make a noisy entrance down the street, but I'm sticking around for Autolux (right). With the stage standing right next to the Morphosis-designed CalTrans building, it's an unlikely opportunity to see two of LA's great modernist projects at the same time, and the band acknowledge this by dedicating a song to the structure. But most of the time they stick to the music, and while the guitar fuzz brings easy comparison's to My Bloody Valentine, the 'Lux seem more interested in bending and twisting the notes than flooding them in distortion. It's an experimental set, even for them, and they seem off their game a little.

RaveonettesPerry Farrell is helping his new band, Satellite Party, cover Jane's Addiction songs over on the main stage, but I'm on my way to see The Raveonettes (left), who end up being my heroes of the festival. Stuck on the smallest stage, and in front of a minuscule but enthusiastic crowd, the Danish duo (accompanied by a tom-and-snare drummer) knock every song out of the park. Their reverb-y rock is definitely retro, but like the White Stripes, they use the restrictive palette and genre conventions to great effect, and songs like "That Great Love Sound" reach a kind of epic grandeur. The crowd, such as it is, goes nuts.

mojo-photo-dt-teddybears.jpgSwedish big-beat combo Teddybears are super late arriving on the main stage, but this is where everybody is, and when the band emerge in their bear heads, the cheers are deafening. "Different Sound" and "Cobrastyle," with their reggae-style toasting, are crowd-pleasers, but the drummer seems to be having trouble keeping time with the drum machine, and besides, Justice are about to start on the side stage.

mojo-photo-dt-justice.jpgIt's the biggest crowd of the day for the French techno duo, but that's still not saying much; there's probably only a couple thousand people here at best. But with glowsticks at the ready, there's a kind of techno fever sweeping the crowd, and as the lights go down, people are rushing madly towards the stage, screaming how much they love Justice. Weird. The duo open their DJ set with the fanfare from "Also Sprach Zarathustra," blending it into their bass-heavy hit "Let There Be Light," and people are dancing with such abandon I'm being knocked off my feet. But when the set swerves into cheeky references to early rave music, the crowd seems underwhelmed. Los Angeles experienced the excesses of rave culture a little more intensely than Paris, I think, and a track like "Short D*** Man" (that in France might be considered a "lost classic") is just played out in LA. But people stick around, and cheer the set's every transition.

Sadly, prior DJ commitments pulled me away from Detour before Bloc Party's headlining set, but as I walked back to my hotel, brief echoes of their music would bounce off the buildings and find me. People were lined up for some fancy club, a taco stand was doing brisk business, and the air, a comfy 70-ish degrees as always, was sweet with the promise of another Saturday night in LA.

Jenna Bush: Her Mother's Daughter?

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 2:29 PM EDT

Jenna Bush has finally grown up — so claims the American Prospect in its recent review of Jenna's new book, Ana's Story, the biography of an HIV-positive teen mother the president's daughter met while working for UNICEF in Panama. It would be easy to rustle up familiar stories from Jenna's sordid youth or quote from the book's supply of less-than-elegant prose, as others have, but the Prospect instead chose to focus on the incongruity between W.'s policies and those of his more enlightened daughter:

As her father threatens to veto the entire $34 billion 2008 foreign aid budget just because congressional Democrats have finally snuck in loopholes providing condoms and abortion services to women in the developing world, Jenna is on a nationwide book tour and media blitz, spreading the message that safe sex and education are some of the most important tools in fighting disease.

Good for Jenna! I wonder if she inherited a progressive streak from her mother. Laura was a Democrat before marrying a Bush and even veteran leftist Alexander Cockburn once called her "the frail hawser linking G.W. Bush to reality." In Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, Laura is seen obliquely voicing misgivings about the Iraq war. And just this summer, the First Lady publicly broke with her husband when she told CNN that condoms are "absolutely essential." Like mother, like daughter.

—Justin Elliott

2.2 Million People in Prison: Who's Going To Do Something About It?

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 12:50 PM EDT

I don't have much to add to this article on prison reform by Bradford Plumer at The New Republic. It's excellent — check it out.

If you're wondering, the only senators with the guts to do something about America's prison problem are Jim Webb (D-Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and maybe Barack Obama (D-Il.). For more on how we became an incarceration nation — we lock up 750 out of every 100,000 people, murdering the world average of 166 per 100,000 — check out Mother Jones' special package "Debt to Society."

Give the Nuclear Power Industry Credit for Creativity

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 12:15 PM EDT

Nuclear energy companies, salivating over the prospect of millions of dollars in new federal subsidies, are eager to launch a construction boom of new power plants. In the past, nuclear power plant construction has been hampered by such nettlesome things as construction permits and public hearings on the construction's environmental impact. To fix that problem, Bloomberg reports, the Nuclear Energy Institute successfully lobbied federal regulators to redefine what they meant by "construction."

Now, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says such bulldozer-heavy activities as excavation, road building, and the erection of new cooling towers no longer count as construction under permitting rules. The change comes over protests from the agency's own environmental oversight official, who believes that the change will allow 90 percent of the environmental impact of new power plants to escape federal oversight.

It took the NRC 11 years to come up with new rules for drug-testing plant workers, but the new industry-friendly construction reg sailed through in a mere six months. Of course, the industry had a ringer in the regulatory agency. One of the NRC commissioners who voted for the new regs, Jeffrey Merrifield, cast his vote while looking for a new job. He now works for a company that builds nuclear power plants.

(H/T Center for Media and Democracy)

The Best Bad Option for Iraq?

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 12:00 PM EDT

If the U.S. can't achieve reconciliation of Iraq's national political parties, is our best option government by warlord?

I think it's very possible that in five years Iraq will be ruled by a Saddam Hussein clone. At least we know what Gulf War III will look like under President Giuliani.

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National Reconciliation is Impossible, Say Iraqi Leaders

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 11:28 AM EDT

National reconciliation? What national reconciliation?

After months of hearing from everyone from General Petraeus to President Bush that the ultimate goal in Iraq is reconciliation of the country's three religious sects, we hear from high-level Iraqi politicians that national reconciliation is impossible and most decidedly not one of their objectives.

"I don't think there is something called reconciliation, and there will be no reconciliation as such," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd. "To me, it is a very inaccurate term. This is a struggle about power."
Humam Hamoudi, a prominent Shiite cleric and parliament member, said any future reconciliation would emerge naturally from an efficient, fair government, not through short-term political engineering among Sunnis and Shiites.
"Reconciliation should be a result and not a goal by itself," he said. "You should create the atmosphere for correct relationships, and not wave slogans that 'I want to reconcile with you.'"

You can read more at the Washington Post.

If you're wondering, yes, national reconciliation was the point of the surge. President Bush has said, "[The surge] is aimed at helping the Iraqis strengthen their government so that it can function even amid violence. It seeks to open space for Iraq's political leaders to advance the difficult process of national reconciliation, which is essential to lasting security and stability."

Update: Joe Klein at Swampland points out that even the administration admits there is no military victory to be had in Iraq; it is a war that must be won by Iraq's politicians. Considering their unwillingness to come together, Klein wonders what the point of our continued commitment is.

So remind me again, what's the mission at this point? I mean, seriously: What specifically are the metrics of success? What is the military goal--if not providing the space for reconciliation? What is the political side of the plan? This seems like basic stuff, but we haven't heard it from the Administration. This sort of strategic focus has to come from higher than Petraeus- and Crocker-level operatives. The incompetence, the lack of rigor is mind-boggling.

Fred Thompson Gets Skewered, SNL-Style

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 11:20 AM EDT

This Saturday Night Live spoof nails all the negative stereotypes that are quickly solidifying about Law and Order star and presidential candidate Fred Thompson. "How do you campaign when you don't like hard work and people make you sick?"

As for Thompson repeatedly begging for applause, the origin of that is this New York Times article.

(H/T The Caucus)

Get Em While They Last: 99-Cent Flourescent Lightbulbs

| Sat Oct. 6, 2007 6:29 PM EDT

Grab this offer if you live anywhere in the Pacific Gas & Electric forcefield. PG&E is giving away 1 million energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs this month. They bought them for $1.25 a pop, less than retail, and are working with Safeway to sell them for 99 cents each in their service area (northern and central California). CFLs cost more than standard incandescent lightbulbs but use about 75 percent less energy and last as much as 10 times longer. Each CFL could save $30 in energy costs over the bulb's lifetime. The giveaway might save 400,000 megawatt hours of power use and prevent 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions—the equivalent of powering 60,000 homes or taking 31,000 cars off the road for a year.

Okay, the gauntlet's been thrown. How about the other utilities? Maybe their customers should lean on them.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Greenpeace Kid Declares War

| Sat Oct. 6, 2007 5:10 PM EDT

Angry kid will grow up. Have we calculated that into the global warming equation?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.