And look at my watch!
It's pink.
It's running backwards.

Thursday, June 16

World

Really Good News From Iraq

Australian hostage Douglas Wood has been rescued by American and Iraqi troops. A number of terrorists have been detained following the rescue operation.

My thanks to the soldiers who accomplished the rescue, and my best wishes to Mr Wood and his family.

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Sunday, June 12

World

An Immodest Proposal

I've noticed lately that separatist sentiment has been on the rise in western Canada, what with the government being hopelessly corrupt and the eastern provinces being happy that way. I was reflecting that such a situation is hard to relate to as an Australian, when I was struck by a thought.

The general idea is for Alberta and maybe Manitoba and Saskatchewan and who knows, British Columbia, to break away from Ontario and the Maritimes and then, um. Form their own nation? Apply to join the US?

Heck with that. Join Australia. You know it makes sense. You have the snow, we have the beaches. Both rich in mineral resources. Both sparsely populated. Both have funny accents. Both love beer. Both have mooses... No? Okay, scratch the mooses.

And in part two, what we do is - get this - sell South Australia to the Japanese. It's not like anyone's using it. It's two-and-a-half times the size of Japan, and has roughly one hundredth the population. They'll love it! Okay, they're kind of broke right now, but we'll take payment in Playstation 3s and anime. Or they could join the Commonwealth of Australia, the Good Bits of Canada, and Japan. (CoAtGBoCaJ.)

Where's the downside?

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Tuesday, June 07

World

Never A-fucking-gain

We had the famines in Ukraine. (7 million dead.) We had the Great Leap Forward in China. (30 million dead.) We had Cambodia. (2 million dead.) And Uganda and Angola and Ethiopia and Somalia. And now it's happening again.
President Robert Mugabe's onslaught against Zimbabwe's cities has escalated to claim new targets, with white-owned factories and family homes being demolished in a campaign that has left 200,000 people homeless.

Across the country, Mr Mugabe is destroying large areas of heaving townships and prosperous industrial areas alike.

The aim of this brutal campaign is, says the official media, to depopulate urban areas and force people back to the "rural home".

If that last paragraph doesn't send a chill up your spine, then you weren't paying attention during the 20th century.

Across Zimbabwe, the United Nations estimates that 200,000 people have lost their homes, with the poorest townships bearing the brunt of Mr Mugabe's onslaught. "The vast majority are homeless in the streets," said Miloon Kothari, the UN's housing representative. He added that "mass evictions" were creating a "new kind of apartheid where the rich and the poor are being segregated".

Yes, Mr Kothari. And what do you plan to do about it?
Earlier, bulldozers had begun wrecking the adjacent industrial area. Ian Lawson, the owner, was assured by a senior police officer that the site would be spared.

But at 6am last Tuesday, 10 lorries filled with police arrived and the destruction began.

"The police officer said to me 'Why are you running for help? No one can help you now. Not even God can help you. We are going to destroy this place'," said Mr Lawson, 60.

God may not be able to help. But a few hundred UN troops could.

If they weren't too busy raping goats.

Virtually all the areas singled out for demolition voted for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the last elections. The MDC says that Mr Mugabe ordered the destruction as a deliberate reprisal. But the regime is also seeking to depopulate the cities, driving people into the countryside where the MDC is virtually non-existent and the ruling Zanu-PF Party dominates.

The Herald, the official daily newspaper, urged "urbanites" to go "back to the rural home, to reconnect with one's roots and earn an honest living from the soil our government repossessed under the land reform programme".

Subsistence agriculture - if they are lucky. Mass starvation, more likely.

Again.

Again.

AGAIN.

And this time, no-one can say they didn't know.

(via Tim Blair)

Update: Bob of canadiancomment reminds us that Zimbabwe is on the UN Human Rights Commission.

Burning the homes and businesses of the citizens of your country, forcing many others to leave their homes at gunpoint, and arresting journalists that are trying to cover the event, and that's just in the last week. So what would a country have to do to not be considered for a position on the Human Rights Commission, or is it even possible to be a big enough abuser of human rights that you may not even qualify? I was just wondering.
I'm wondering too. Hell, even the Guardian is wondering:
In April, Zimbabwe was re-elected to the UN Human Rights Commission for the third year running by satirically minded African states...
Gah.

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Friday, June 03

World

What It Isn't

Mark Steyn echoes one of my points on the European constitution:
One of the most unattractive features of European politics is the way it insists certain subjects are out of bounds, and beyond politics. That's the most obvious flaw in Giscard's flaccid treaty: it's not a constitution, it's a perfectly fine party platform for a rather stodgy semi-obsolescent social democratic party. Its constitutional "rights" - the right to housing assistance, the right to preventive action on the environment - are not constitutional at all, but the sort of things parties ought to be arguing about at election time.
Exactly.

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World

The True Gulag

Amnesty International recently completed its spiral into irrelevance when it called Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our times". Rusty Shackleford has a powerful and disturbing article on the true nature of the gulags:
Ten percent of the entire population of the Soviet Union lived in the camps.
The Gulag administration was the largest single employer in all of Europe.
The average life expectancy of a camp prisoner was one winter.
At least twenty million people perished in the labor camps during Stalin’s rule.
The Red Cross at least had the decency to deny that one of its representatives accused U.S. authorities of being "no better than and no different than the Nazi concentration camp guards" - which suggests that they realise there is a difference.

Will Amnesty International show similar decency? It seems unlikely.

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Thursday, June 02

World

Attack on Indonesian Embassy

The Indonesian embassy in Canberra has received a letter containing a white powder, which has been confirmed to be a biological agent but not fully identified as yet. The government and police are taking it extremely seriously, as you would expect.

The Sydney Morning Herald, though, has turned it into an opportunity for whiplash-inducing front page hypocritical spin:

The terrorist who launched the suspected biological attack on the Indonesian embassy has turned Schapelle Corby's problem into Australia's problem.
The government has confirmed that the letter does appear to be linked to the Corby case, so this is substantially correct.
The populist hysteria over Corby's sentencing, which looked like a simple case of the media indulging wilful ignorance in pursuit of ratings, has turned into a serious national incident.
And guess who was right there with the leaders of that populist hysteria?
Australia's relationship with Indonesia is not like, say, Australia's relationship with Brunei or France. It is not just another bilateral set-up with another country, but a vital part of Australia's strategic landscape.
Australia has a relationship with Brunei or France?
By immediately condemning the apparent attack and apologising to the people and Government of Indonesia, John Howard has tried to contain the damage to Australia's relations with its only strategically important near neighbour.
No. By immediately condemning the apparent attack and apologising to the people and Government of Indonesia, John Howard immediately condemned the apparent attack and apologised to the people and Government of Indonesia.

By the way, on the subject of strategically important near neighbours, how many near neighbours does Australia have? Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, East Timor (which is tiny) and New Zealand (which has largely withdrawn from world events).

This is the right thing to do, but it seems unlikely it will be enough. "This is shocking," said the head of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Alan Gyngell. "It is a serious terrorist attack on the mission of a friendly country. There will be outrage in Indonesia, an outrage the Australian political leadership will share."
Uh, yeah.

It is appalling. The Australian political leadership is outraged.

While the official Australian reaction to the sentencing of Corby has been sane and reasonable, it is the extremist reaction that will make the biggest impression in Jakarta.

Australia transformed its relationship with Indonesia with its swift, humane and generous response to the suffering of the country's tsunami victims. But the enormous goodwill Howard achieved will be thoroughly undermined by the hatred shown in the last few days.

Australia has always treated honestly with Indonesia, something more...

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Wednesday, June 01

World

A Thing of Beauty

From France:
We French hate the perfidious English. We French have always hated the perfidious English. We French hate the perfidious English for being ... perfidious. And English. And for positively refusing to be invaded by Germans when we French managed it so effortlessly. Twice.
There's more, and it just gets better.

(Via Roger L. Simon)

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World

History Stood on its Head

This one sentence from that Newsweek article, out of all the nonsense and blather, has been niggling at me:
World War II was fought not just to defeat the Axis powers, but to make the world safe for the United Nations, the precursor to the World Trade Organization, the European Union and other international institutions that would strengthen weaker countries.
It's just so wrong, so irredeemably and inexcusably wrong.

Who were the Axis powers? Primarily, Germany, Italy and Japan. Spain was aligned with them; Hitler and Mussolini lent support to Franco in the Spanish Civil War. There were a number of other minor partners; Finland, for example, aligned itself with Germany because it saw Russia as a graver threat.

What was the war about? Germany, Italy and Japan wanted to secure more land and resources. Germany in Europe; Italy (as a lesser partner) would take the uninteresting bits of Europe (like Albania) and Africa; Japan would take eastern Asia and the Pacific. Look at this handy little map to see what they were up to.

Who opposed them? Well, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, early targets during the war in Europe, simply didn't have the military strength to stop the Axis. Japan had already invaded Manchuria in 1931* and was expanding its presence there. There were three powers in the world that posed a significant threat: Britain, particularly the Royal Navy; Russia; and the United States.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (a non-aggression pact between Russia and Germany) dealt with Russia. Russia was ill-prepared for war at the time, having systematically destroyed the effectiveness of its own army through purges. Britain was more of a problem; the hope there was that it could be isolated until Germany and Italy had consolidated their position in Europe.

As for the United States, the chief plan was not to get them involved in the war. That may sound like a dreadful miscalculation, but in 1935 Congress had passed the Neutrality Act, which prohibited American support for any nation at war. The Act was renewed as late as 1939. American isolationism was in full flower in the 1930's, and the Axis powers were banking on it.

Then, of course, they screwed everything up. With a characteristic combination of paranoia and overconfidence, in 1941 Germany declared war on Russia and Japan declared war on the United States. The two sleeping giants were called into play in the war against the Axis, and after four more years of terrible bloodshed, the Axis was finally crushed.

World War II was entirely about the ambitions of the Axis powers. America wanted only to keep to itself; Britain had its Commonwealth; Russia was in no shape to do anything. Germany, Italy and Japan decided to take over the world. It sounds crazy. It was crazy. Something like 50 million people died for their ambitions.†

I wonder why Newsweek wants us to believe otherwise.

* The League of Nations, the UN of the day, did nothing.
† Estimates vary significantly in many cases.

Footnote: Britannica Online has this appalling bit of doublethink:

Axis Powers

Coalition headed by Germany, Italy, and Japan that opposed the Allied Powers in World War II.

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World

Just Say Non

Out of curiosity, I downloaded a copy of the proposed European Constitution (available here in English; check here for other languages or to read it online).

I skipped the table of contents (five pages) and the preamble and signatories (eight pages). The first two articles, Establishment of the Union and The Union's values are reasonable enough. The fun starts with article I-3.

1. The Union's aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples.
Well, okay. Peace is nice. But is that all you want to do? Promote peace? Hmm.
2. The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, and an internal market where competition is free and undistorted.
Fine and laudable, this one. That's what I like to see. Not what some of the French political parties want to see (that part about the internal market), but I have no trouble with it. But then:
3. The Union shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.
Price stability? A social market economy? Full employment? Social progress?

They're communists. And communism don't work.

Look, you just one paragraph ago said that you wanted an internal market where competition is free and undistorted. If you have that, you can't also have price stability, and you can't guarantee full employment. Those things just don't work together; they're antithetical.

[Update: Commenter Jojo points out that price stability is a term used to refer to zero or very low inflation (a good thing) rather than price controls (a bad thing) as I had assumed. This does somewhat deflate my anti-communist paranoia, but the document is still devotedly socialist and statist. Its prescription for every ill is more government.]

And who gets to define what social progress means?

It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child.
What an awful jumble of weaselry. Are you trying to say "All men are created equal"? Because I think copyright has expired on the Declaration of Independence. A quick cut-and-paste and you're away.
It shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among Member States.
Well, okay. I mean, if you're going to have a Union, you have to have some sort of cohesion and solidarity going on.
It shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.
Respect is fine. Safeguarding one's heritage is fine, I guess. Enhanced? What? How?

I'll skip some waffle. Article I-4 is a surprise: Short, sweet, right to the point:

Fundamental freedoms and non-discrimination

1. The free movement of persons, services, goods and capital, and freedom of establishment shall be guaranteed within and by the Union, in accordance with the Constitution.

2. Within the scope of the Constitution, and without prejudice to any of its specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

Good stuff.† If it was mostly like that, I wouldn't mind the occasional outbreak of fluffy-bunnies, like:
The anthem of the Union shall be based on the ‘Ode to Joy’ from the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The motto of the Union shall be: ‘United in diversity’.

United in adversity, eh? Oh, sorry.

But we're now on page 20... Of 485. Let's skip ahead a bit:

Article II-70

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. The right to conscientious objection is recognised, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

Article II-71

Freedom of expression and information

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

2. The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.

Article II-72

Freedom of assembly and of association

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels, in particular in political, trade union and civic matters, which implies the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interests.

2. Political parties at Union level contribute to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.

Article II-73

Freedom of the arts and sciences

The arts and scientific research shall be free of constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected.

What a lot of blather. Yes, we have those rights. We don't need you to tell us that, because they are rights. Y'know, inalienable and stuff. What you mean to say is this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Those five little words, Congress shall make no law, they go to the heart of the problem. Governments make laws, it's what they do. They don't confer rights, because you can't confer a right. You don't need to list universal rights in the constitution, but what you can do is restrict the lawmaking powers of the government.

Skip skip

Article II-91

2. Every worker has the right to limitation of maximum working hours, to daily and weekly rest periods and to an annual period of paid leave.

Every worker? What if you're on an hourly contract? What if you're a freelancer paid on delivery?

Skip skip

Article III-312

3. Any Member State which, at a later stage, wishes to participate in the permanent structured cooperation shall notify its intention to the Council and to the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Council shall adopt a European decision confirming the participation of the Member State concerned which fulfils the criteria and makes the commitments referred to in Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol on permanent structured cooperation. The Council shall act by a qualified majority after consulting the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs. Only members of the Council representing the participating Member States shall take part in the vote.

A qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55 % of the members of the Council representing the participating Member States, comprising at least 65 % of the population of these States.

A blocking minority must include at least the minimum number of Council members representing more than 35 % of the population of the participating Member States, plus one member, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained.

4. If a participating Member State no longer fulfils the criteria or is no longer able to meet the commitments referred to in Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol on permanent structured cooperation, the Council may adopt a European decision suspending the participation of the Member State concerned.

The Council shall act by a qualified majority. Only members of the Council representing the participating Member States, with the exception of the Member State in question, shall take part in the vote.

A qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55 % of the members of the Council representing the participating Member States, comprising at least 65 % of the population of these States.

A blocking minority must include at least the minimum number of Council members representing more than 35 % of the population of the participating Member States, plus one member, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained.

And you thought that stuff about cloture and filibusters was bad.
Article IV-437

2. The Treaties on the Accession:

(a) of the Kingdom of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;

(b) of the Hellenic Republic;

(c) of the Kingdom of Spain and the Portuguese Republic;

(d) of the Republic of Austria, the Republic of Finland and the Kingdom of Sweden, and

(e) of the Czech Republic, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Cyprus, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Hungary, the Republic of Malta, the Republic of Poland, the Republic of Slovenia and the Slovak Republic,
shall be repealed.

Nevertheless:

— the provisions of the Treaties referred to in points (a) to (d) and set out or referred to in the Protocol on the Treaties and Acts of Accession of the Kingdom of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of the Hellenic Republic, of the Kingdom of Spain and the Portuguese Republic, and of the Republic of Austria, the Republic of Finland and the Kingdom of Sweden shall remain in force and their legal effects shall be preserved in accordance with that Protocol,

— the provisions of the Treaty referred to in point (e) and which are set out or referred to in the Protocol on the Treaty and Act of Accession of the Czech Republic, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Cyprus, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Hungary, the Republic of Malta, the Republic of Poland, the Republic of Slovenia and the Slovak Republic shall remain in force and their legal effects shall be preserved in accordance with that Protocol.

You what?

It's not in fact utterly dire, as a plan for a European Union. That surprised me. It's a really lousy constitution, though. Its scope is too broad; it spends far too much time on what can, should, will or may be done instead of what the government cannot do.

Better than I expected, but the French got it right.*

But they're still communists. [Update: Still communists.]

*There, are you happy? I praised the output of a bunch of Eurocrats and the common sense of the French people in one sentence. Now my brain hurts.

† Actually, on second thoughts that's another case of rights inversion. Change it around to a "Congress shall make no law" clause, and you've got it. As it stands, it has the government guaranteeing a right, which is wrong.

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World

Newsweek, The Other Bit

This is some of what I didn't beat into a pulp the previous time around. The subject today: Foreign Policy.
U.S. leaders have long believed military power and the American Dream went hand in hand.
They have?

I'm not saying you're wrong; after all, America was born out of a war against the British colonial administration. But I would like to see something more than a bald statement.

World War II was fought not just to defeat the Axis powers, but to make the world safe for the United Nations, the precursor to the World Trade Organization, the European Union and other international institutions that would strengthen weaker countries.
No it wasn't. Newsflash: The United Nations was formed after the war. The United Nations had nothing whatsoever to do with the war, and the war had nothing to do with the United Nations.

The war was fought to defeat the Axis powers.

NATO and the Marshall Plan were the twin pillars upon which today's Europe were built.
Um, yes. True.
Today, Americans make the same presumption, confusing military might with right.
What?

If they're making the same presumption, are you saying that they were wrong to remove the Taliban and the Ba'athists? And the Nazis, and the Fascists in Italy, and the military rulers of Japan?

Following European criticisms of the Iraq war, the French became "surrender monkeys."
Say what? The line referring to the French as "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" comes from a Simpsons episode of 1995. This opinion of the French dates to at least the Second World War, if not earlier.
The Germans were opportunistic ingrates.
They were?
The British (and the Poles) were America's lone allies.
And the Australians. And the Spanish, and the Dutch, and the Danes, and the Japanese, and the Koreans, and the Italians. But hardly more than a dozen other countries apart from those.
Unsurprisingly, many of those listening to Bush's Inaugural pledge last week to stand with those defying tyranny saw the glimmerings of an argument for invading Iran:
Well that makes sense, because the current rulers of Iran are certainly tyrants.
Washington has thus far shown more of an appetite for spreading ideals with the barrel of a gun than for namby-pamby hearts-and-minds campaigns.
Washington was all about namby-pamby hearts-and-minds campaigns, from the end of the Vietnam War right up until some time in 2001.
A former French minister muses that the United States is the last "Bismarckian power"—the last country to believe that the pinpoint application of military power is the critical instrument of foreign policy.
Which is sheer nonsense.

America has been for the most part isolationist. It would, by and large, prefer to ignore the world. When the world insists on gaining its attention, however, the results are fairly predictable.

Contrast that to the European Union—pioneering an approach based on civilian instruments like trade, foreign aid, peacekeeping, international monitoring and international law
Notable for its achievements in... Achievements in... Uh, wait, I'll get it...
or even China, whose economic clout has become its most effective diplomatic weapon.
Yes, because China is such a positive influence in the world.
The strongest tool for both is access to huge markets.
Because heaven forbid they should ever allow free trade.
No single policy has contributed as much to Western peace and security as the admission of 10 new countries—to be followed by a half-dozen more—to the European Union.
Well, except for the whole opposing the Communists so they wouldn't take over the rest of Europe bit. I mean, without that there wouldn't be 16 "new" countries to admit to the European Union, but let's conveniently ignore that and imagine that Poland and Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics and all those places just suddenly showed up on the map one day.
In country after country, authoritarian nationalists were beaten back by democratic coalitions held together by the promise of joining Europe.
Um, what? You don't think the democratic coalitions might have been motivated by not wanting another five decades of oppression and economic ruin? No?
in the past month European leaders have taken a courageous decision to contemplate the membership of Turkey
A courageous decision to contemplate the membership of Turkey. That's one heck of a dictionary you have there.
where the prospect of EU membership is helping to create the most stable democratic system in the Islamic world.
Out of what? Three? No, hang on, there are two new ones now, aren't there. I wonder how that happened.
When historians look back, they may see this policy as being the truly epochal event of our time, dwarfing in effectiveness the crude power of America.
Or, y'know, not.
The United States can take some satisfaction in this. After all, it is in large part the success of the mid-century American Dream—spreading democracy, free markets, social mobility and multilateral cooperation—that has made possible the diversity of models we see today.
Translation: Thank the Americans that you're not all speaking German, Japanese or Russian.
This was enlightened statecraft of unparalleled generosity.
No it wasn't. It was a horrific war followed by a decades-long standoff.
But where does it leave us? Americans still invoke democratic idealism. We heard it in Bush's address, with his apocalyptic proclamation that "the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands."
Apocalyptic proclamation? Are you completely insane? What he said was that no country stands alone, and that our freedom is under threat while others suffer oppression. You have a problem with that?
But fewer and fewer people have the patience to listen.
And are impoverished thereby.
Headlines in the British press were almost contemptuous: DEFIANT BUSH DOES NOT MENTION THE WAR, HAVE I GOT NUKES FOR YOU and HIS SECOND-TERM MISSION: TO END TYRANNY ON EARTH.
"Almost" contemptuous? How about openly contemptuous. I mean, ending tyranny on Earth, what a moron.
Has this administration learned nothing from Iraq, they asked?
What would you have us learn? That the French and the Russians cannot be trusted? Hey, we knew that.
The failure of the American Dream has only been highlighted by the country's foreign-policy failures, not caused by them.
Failure of the American Dream?

Last time I checked, America was still there.

Foreign-policy failures? What? Where?

The true danger is that Americans do not realize this, lost in the reveries of greatness, speechifying about liberty and freedom.
You are completely insane.

Reveries of greatness? Reveries? America, who provided aid to tsunami victims by parking a spare carrier group off their shore, providing fresh water and medical care and flight facilities. That America?

You accuse America of "speechifying about liberty and freedom". America, that is right now this minute fighting to preserve freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. America that still has troops defending Germany and Japan and South Korea.

Speechifying? No. That I'll leave to France and to the United Nations. President Bush doesn't speechify. He says what he is going to, and then he does it.

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