Friday, January 9, 2009

Welcome Back, here's The Black Hand.

I've been vacationing obviously, at several undisclosed locations. I wish I could say it had been wonderful and relaxing . . maybe my next holiday will be better.

Apparently, SoapBlox got hacked, and it took down primarily Pam's House Blend, My Left Wing and several other progressive blogs, but didnt affect all of the Blox customers.

We've known that Soapy was carrying a lot of eggs in the basket, and so far it hasn't mattered - the service and blogs had been so important for the liberal blogs in terms of accessibility and affordability that we were able to look the other way in terms of the vulnerabilities.

I think the more important story is why the unknown person(s) were trying to cast blame at astalavista. You look at the web records and hack tagging (graffitti), and it smacks of someone framing what has been a fairly gray-to-white hat IT security forum. The forums themselves also don't contain any discussion of Soapblox or the affected server host.

Progressive Historians moved off of SoapBlox about 18 months ago . .

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hell in Gaza by Shirin

The following is a diary written on the first day of the bombing by my dear friend, Dr Majdi Ashour. He is a physician and a Fullbright scholar who received a Masters in Public Health here in the U.S. He is someone whose intrinsic kindness is obvious the moment you put eyes on him. His wife is a darling, beautiful, and very kind and intelligent person as well.

This diary is from the first day of the bombing. He was going to try to write something every day, but was not able to write more after this one. So, this is before it got really bad, and before anyone knew how bad it was going to be.

Dr Majdi Ashour is a Palestinian native of Gaza, a physician and a Fulbright scholar who achieved his Masters in Public health in the United States. He lives in Gaza City with his wife and two year old daughter. He is a long-time personal friend of mine, and one of the kindest people I know. This is his experience on the first day of the Israeli assault on Gaza before anyone knew how bad it would become or how long it would last. Unfortunately, he has not been able to write more since then. There has been no communication from him for more than a week now, and I do not know whether he and his family are alive, but I do have an idea what he and his family are suffering. I hope at least they have some food and water, because I cannot imagine the pain of seeing your beloved two year old baby girl going hungry and thirsty, let alone the pain of knowing that there is nothing you can do to ease her hunger and her thirst. So, this is how the hell began.

The doctor's story is below the fold...

Being lucky in Gaza!

Personal Note by Dr. Majdi Ashour

I left the clinic where I work at 11:20 am in order to attend the defense of a Masters dissertation of a friend of mine which was scheduled to be held at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society building in Gaza. I got into a usual 7 passenger Mercedes' Taxi .

While in the taxi on our way to Gaza, we heard a huge explosion, then we saw 2 huge Mushroom-like dust clouds going up into the sky. The taxi driver decided to change his direction from Salah Eldin Street to the Sea shore Street to reach our final distention in Gaza City. We were not sure what was up. The taxi driver turned the radio on alaqsa radio station - Hamas radio station. The radio declared that there was an air strike by Israeli air forces. One passenger began shouting that all traitors should be killed or transferred to Ramallah. The taxi reached a junction near the Palestinian Red Crescent Building which was blocked due to an air strike to a buiding neighboring it.

I crossed on my feet the ruins of a destroyed building as the taxi could not cross it. The building which was hit by Israeli Air Force's F16 fighters was the ex-headquarters of the Preventive Security Forces which was seized by Hamas militants in June 2007.

When I reached the Palestinian Red Crescent building where the defense of the masters thesis was to take place, I noticed the damage incurred to the building; the windows and the doors were broken as a result of the destruction of the neighboring buildings; the grounds of the building and the hospital were covered by shrapnel from the broken windows.

Before entering the building , my eyes captured the frightened face of a woman looking for her daughter who had left her school during the air strikes. The air strikes took place around the time the children were leaving schools at 11: 30 am. At the entrance of the building I met the brother of my friend and his masters thesis supervisor. I shook hands with them; they told me that air fighters had bombed dozens of localities and more than forty people were reported dead at Gaza hospitals. I asked immaturely but naturally whether the dissertation's defense would take place today as scheduled; they were reluctant, but the supervisor responded with confidence that it should. They left to inspect the office of the supervisor and to make sure that windows were not damaged.

I stepped up to the hall where the defense should take place; I shook hands with my friend, his wife and two daughters. My friend expressed his readiness to complete the task and defend his dissertation even in this atmosphere and without the new fashioned PowerPoint presentation, electricity, and the luxury of a full hall of audience and the expected celebration. The masters thesis of my friend is about the role of NGOs in providing health care services in Gaza Strip. I commented trying to show a sense of humor that his topic is highly political and so is the atmosphere.

An external examiner came to the hall carrying an envelop him, we shook hands with him. After a while, the university supervisor came with the brother of my friend. He told us that the internal examiner tried to contact him by the mobile unsuccessfully; he received a missed call from his home phone. I suggested that we could try to reach him using the land line of the hospital. The supervisor agreed to my suggestion. We went to the hospital. The hospital entry was crowded and the emergency room was oversaturated by dead and injured. We were told that the hospital had received 8 dead. We asked to use the phone of the hospital receptionist. The supervisor called the internal examiner, who was unable to reach the building where the defense is scheduled. Therefore, the defense was postponed.

I was told that 40 synchronized air strikes had taken place all over the Gaza Strip, of which 2 targeted a police station and a fire station in the suburb where my apartment is located. I realized that the 2 huge bombings that I saw while in the taxi on my way to Gaza were in the small suburb where my apartment is located. I became anxious; tried unsuccessfully to call the mobile of my wife; phone the land line of my home but no answer from home. I became more anxious.

I called my brother who lives in the neighborhood where the Red Crescent building is located, he told me that he is okay and that he called my home several times but no one answered. I walked to his home. He, the lucky, has an electricity generator at home. We watched the TV painfully and clicked on the internet explorer to know what was going on. He told me that the windows of the apartment of our other brother who live in the same suburb where I live, were broken after the air strikes. I tried to call home several times unsuccessfully. By the end, I succeeded in reaching my; she told me that she went to the neighboring apartment which has the windows damaged. She and our daughter were fine but horrified. The windows of our apartment are okay.

I phoned my parents, brothers, and uncle. Every body is alive and physically safe. I excused myself from my brother and left his apartment. I bought some candies for my daughter and took the taxi home.

I entered home; my two years old daughter smiled, then smartly showed me that she has learned a new phrase: "Ana Khayfa Baba" - " I am afraid Baba". I hugged her. My wife told me that we have only 4 pieces of small pita bread. I responded angrily that bakeries are run of cooking gas and wheat. She told the 4 pieces are enough for me, the hungry, and the daughter. I asked about her; she told that she will make stuffed eggplants. I went to the grocery store.

On my way to the grocery store, some of my neighbors were standing on the terrace of the building. I shook hands with them and congratulated them on their personal safety. They told me that almost all the windows of the buildings of the suburb where we live were damaged and only those of the few luckies were not. We exchanged ideas and thoughts about the unpredictable life and future of Gaza. One said this is the beginning. The second expressed his belief that they are interested in weakening the governing regime in Gaza but not liquidating it. I responded that we are expected to live in this way for decades. Another one, who is known to be a Fatah employee, said that it is better to live under Hamas rule than under a direct Israeli occupation and added that some Iraqis were interested in getting ride of Sadam regime but when USA troops came to Iraq, it killed over a million and a civil war was exploded. I excused myself and went to the grocery store; bought pretzels and eggs.

As unusual, I fried potatoes, onion, and eggs. I took a modest but delicious lunch with my daughter and wife. As the electricity was cut, I have nothing to do with my computer or the TV. I took the Arabic translation of Milan Kundera's L'Ignorance, which I started reading yesterday by the kerosene light yesterday evening, to the bed to have my usual afternoon nap.

I got up before 5 pm, I lit the kerosene light and got back to Kundera. I took my dose of coffee and cigarettes. I played with my smart daughter and spoke with my wife. I completed reading the novel before 8 pm.

My wife went with our daughter to the bed. I had nothing to do except waiting for the electricity.
The electricity current came back at 9: 20 pm. I switched on the TV. I turned the TV to BBC arabic, Al-arabia, Al-Hurra, and Palestine TV Channel and also to Aljazeera, which I have ignored since the seizure of power in June 2007. The TV channels tell that more than 230 were killed and more than 700 were injured, among them serious cases. One TV channel showed a Palestinian leader donating blood to the injured in Gaza. I smiled; it is better to keep my O negative blood for an unexpected more dangerous emergency.

I got away from the switched on TV to the computer to type my personal notes about this bloodiest day in Gaza.

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Right Now

President Elect Obama is giving his major speech on the economy.

You can stream it from the SPAN.

Also on the SPAN is the confirmation hearing of Tom Daschle, for HHS Secretary.

Too much to pay attention to.

There will be more to come when the transcript is out.

UPDATE: Here is the stream from MSNBC.

UPDATE II: Cool ceremonial crap goings on! Joint Session of Congress Currently Counting the Electoral Votes. I have never watched this ceremony. It is really cool.

For those who want to play, I made the mistake of arguing with the wingnuts here and I do not have the time to continue. It is a great discussion on the stimulus. Of course, I am right and they are wrong...I just do not have any more time to invest in it.

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Britain Drops "War on Terror" Label

I have long believed that phrases like "the War on terror" and "War on terrorists" should be dropped. If Bush can stop using the infamous color code alerts, surely we can drop these phrases.

In 2007 some thought was being given to be more specific in our Government's references to these Wars by calling them what they are. "War in Afghanistan" or the "War in Iraq" or to "ongoing military operations" seemed more appropriate, less inflammatory and more descriptive, yet the "War on terror" terminology continues to be used by those in our Government.

The British government decided over a year ago to no longer use 'War on terror' or 'War on terrorists' to describe attacks on the public. This type of language has officially been dropped. Terrorist are fanatics, not soldiers fighting a war but simply members of an aimless 'death cult,' as described by the British Govenment.

People who have been murdered are not victims of war. The men who killed them are not soldiers, they are fantasists, narcissists, murderers and criminals, and should be treated as such.

The British Government has been concerned that such terminology has acted as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, which is determined to manufacture a battle between Islam and the West. The terms also plays into the hands of those who would murder others by giving them legitimacy as a group.

The term “Islamic terrorist” will also no longer be used either. Officials in Britian believe it is unhelpful because it appears to directly link the religion to terrorist atrocities.

Why is the Bush Administration still using these phrases? Will President-Elect Obama drop such terminology?

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"The law ought to be King and there ought to be no other" Thomas Paine

If you will remember, Gonzales would not answer the question at his confirmation on whether or not he thought 'Waterboarding' was torture, nor was he made to answer that question. There was a good reason why he wouldn't respond to that simple question. Will the new AG be asked the same question and what will his answer be?

With Dick Cheney's admission on National TV to being a war criminal, can we afford to turn the other way and pretent his admission was not heard? That is the decision that the Obama Administration will have to make.

When asked by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl whether he approved of interrogation tactics used against a so-called "high value prisoner" at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison, Mr. Cheney, in a break from his history of being press-shy, admitted to giving official sanctioning of torture.

"I supported it," he said regarding the practice known as "water-boarding," a form of simulated drowning. After World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted of war crimes in US courts for water-boarding, a practice which the outgoing Bush administration attempted to enshrine in policy.

"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do," Cheney said. "And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it." He added: "It's been a remarkably successful effort, and I think the results speak for themselves."

ABC asked him if in hindsight he thought the tactics went too far. "I don't," he said.

The exercise of a presidential pardon to protect war criminals would violate international law and would not be respected outside the territory of the United States. Under the Constitution, however, Bush’s pardon power is nonetheless nearly absolute. Those advocating a pardon hope that it would put an end to questions about criminal conduct, but historical experience suggests that a pardon might have just the opposite effect. It would implicitly concede that serious crimes were in fact committed, (leaving the US no choice but to prosecute.)

If the United States wishes to demonstrate to the world, and to itself,
that its abdication of human-rights principles was an anomaly, it will have to do so under its own auspices. Until such time, we have lost our right to single out and condemn any country for the practice of torture and human rights violations.

There's more below!

No prior administration has been so systematically or so brazenly
lawless. Yet it is no simple matter to prosecute a former president or his senior officers. There is no precedent for such a prosecution, and even if there was, the very breadth and audacity of the administration’s activities would make the process so complex as to defy systems of justice far less fragmented than our own. But that only means choices must be made. Indeed, in weighing the enormity of the administration’s transgressions against the realistic prospect of justice, it is possible to determine not only the crime that calls most clearly for prosecution, but also the crime that is most likely to be successfully prosecuted. That crime is torture.

There can be no doubt that torture is illegal. There is no wartime exception for torture, nor is there an exception for prisoners or “enemy combatants,” nor is there an exception for “enhanced” methods. The authors of the Constitution forbade “cruel and unusual punishment,” the details of that prohibition were made explicit in the Geneva Conventions (“No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever”), and that definition has in turn become subject to U.S. enforcement through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the U.S. Criminal Code, and several acts of Congress.

In addition to being illegal, torture is profoundly un-American. The central premise of the American experiment is the belief, informed by Enlightenment principles, that the dignity and worth of the individual is at least as important as that of the state. Nor can there be any doubt that this administration conspired to commit torture: Waterboarding. Hypothermia. Psychotropic drugs. Sexual humiliation. Secretly transporting prisoners to other countries that use even more brutal techniques. The administration has carefully documented these actions and, in many cases, proudly proclaimed them.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Milo's War Desk: A Brief Interruption

First, it was blockades of a poverty-stricken region, a denial of access to food and medical supplies. Then, following a ceasefire, it became airstrikes in response to rocket attacks--Schools, hospitals, mosques, all destroyed. Then, it became a full-scale ground invasion of an already walled-off area. Then, even, more disturbing: whispers of the Israelis using phosphorus shells.

Now, by way of Firedoglake, we receive yet more grim news: obstruction of, and even attacks upon medical personnel.

By Israelis.

For those who would blather on about Israel's right to defend itself, I say this: nobody is arguing that right. Such is the right of EVERY sovereign nation. But phosphorus shells? Destruction of civilian facilities? Indiscriminate attacks against civilians and support personnel? May I remind you all that the current death toll, according to CNN, is 550+ to 8, Palestinians to Israelis? I'll even say it again: Five hundred and fifty plus, to EIGHT. Think about that. Think about it long and hard.

Look. We've all heard it a dozen times. "They're hiding among civilians." I get that, okay? We saw the same things in Iraq, and in Vietnam before that. It's the natural reaction of a people to what they perceive as a boot on their throats. Go back and read up on your American Revolution. Point is, the people being painted as the bad guys aren't just hiding amongst civilians. They ARE civilians. We don't have to approve of their methods or tactics, but they are human, and they DO have a reason to be angry. And right now, the only crime of which they stand accused is having the gall to fight back.

Remember what I've said: They're not hiding amongst civilians. They ARE civilians. I ask you all: If this isn't genocide, if this isn't pogrom, then what is it?

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Since I was a kid I've had a fascination with Tugboats....worked on one for several summers as a teenager and managed to have the best time of my life.

So, you ask, where could Mainy possibly be going with this that has anything to do with real life? Well, Foss Tug has just bit the bullet and built the first hybrid tug. A hybrid tug? What is the world coming to and is there no end to green power?

I'm linking to a favorite blog rather than the original article, just cause he's got nifty stuff for a boat person.

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Is NBC Going to Help Coulter Sell Her Book?

Evidently NOT!

Something important happened today. Ann Coulter, the darling of NBC, was scheduled to appear on the Today Show to promote her latest piece of trash entitled, Guilty: Liberal Victims and Their Assault on America, a book with the usual falsehoods and inflammatory statements. However, NBC informed Coulter yesterday that her appearance today was cancelled. Seems NBC will no longer be part of perpetuating her brand of hate and lies.

Last week, Media Matters asked this question: "Is NBC going to help Coulter sell this book?" Then they launched a petition to NBC to shelve the idea of promoting someone who has no accountability for her words. As Media Matters noted, NBC and some affiliates have expressed disapproval of Coulter's statements, or criticized the media for promoting her.

CNBC's Big Idea host Donny Deutsch said on the October 12, 2007, edition of Today:

"And I think that's what -- we're playing dangerous with words in our society that there's no accountability. There's a glibness that we in the media kind of elevate, and I'm here to kind of say I'm personally tired of it, and I think America is tired of it also." Deutsch later told Vieira that someone might ask, "Aren't we part of the problem?" Vieira responded: "Of course we are. We're perpetuating it."
(Note that CBS' The Early Show had no problem today with promoting Coulter's book.)

Link to Media Matters.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Congrats Senator Al Franken

Minnesota Election Board Certifies Franken Win

Coleman may fight it in court, but they have certified the Franken win. It is essentially a done deal. Especially after Franken is sworn in. Congratulations Al! Make us proud.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Why We All Bear The Blame, Part 1: The History of Ghettoization

When I was in the Army, there was a phrase bandied about by my commanders and leaders. That phrase was "proportional force." It was a phrase meant to guide our actions as American soldiers, working in a hostile environment where the local population did not always welcome our presence. Distilled to its essence, the phrase's interpretation is clean, elegant, simple. It says: "Defend yourself and those around you, but be measured in your responses." An edict to live by--to use no more force than is necessary. As a soldier, I internalized this lesson.

Sadly, my leaders and countrymen have not.

For as long as I have been alive, the news reports from Israel have always been somewhat stark: blockades and checkpoints in the West Bank, gruesome attacks against civilians in Jerusalem. For every week of my twenty-five years, a tale of violence, a checkmark on the tallies of blood-debt. When one grows up with it, it can be easy to allow that custom free reign. I am not alone in this. "They've been killing each other for thousands of years," my countrymen say. "So what difference does it make?"

We say these things, all of us. We even believe them. But we do not understand WHY.

Just for a laugh, go look up Gaza on Wikipedia. There, you can find a history whose players have shaped the society we know today: the Greeks, the Ottomans, the Israelis. It is a diverse place, with a culture and life of its own, and yet most of us will never learn of that place's history, nor will we care to. Just a few days ago, I had a co-worker ask me: "Who are Israel even fighting? Afghanistan?"

It is this ignorance that I use to excuse my peers. "We don't know," I tell myself, "and if we did, we might feel differently." But we don't know, and most of the time, we don't care. Which leaves me to wonder: where is the line between ignorance and blindness?

We all have something of a working knowledge of modern Israeli history. We know that it is a place raised from the horrors of the Holocaust, a place created so that that tragedy's survivors might have a place to call home. For decades, we have nurtured and defended this fledgling state, like a mother with her young. We have spoken of her virtues to our peers, and bared our teeth to those who might bear her harm. We tell ourselves that we are noble in this, and once we might well have been. But like any loving mother, sometimes we can be too quick to defend our brood, too eager to blind ourselves to their missteps. But still we love them anyway, and try to encourage them as best we can.

But at what point do we stop simply forgiving their mistakes, and start enabling them?

The Jewish people are a people unique among all those of the earth, not so much scripturally as historically. The sons and daughters of Abraham serve for us as a link to the past, a living people whose histories and traditions are recorded in some of the oldest, most well-known documents written by man. The Torah, the Talmud, the Old Testament of Christianity: these are works that tell of how an ancient people once lived, once saw themselves. Even the dullest among us must marvel at this thought. I once had a friend in college, a non-practicing Reform Jew who, despite his lack of observance, still insisted on maintaining a kosher diet. When I asked him why, he replied only: "It's part of who I am, where I come from." In hearing this statement, I felt a flash of envy. If only I had something like that to belong to, I thought. Maybe I might feel more at home in myself.

At the same time, the Jewish people are a misunderstood people, having been forced to endure the worst excesses of history's cruelty. The Diasporas, the Inquisition, the Holocaust: these names serve us as reminders of our own brutality, stark illustrations of how we can marginalize the smallest groups among us. It is a legacy for which many of us still bear shame: every European, every Christian, every child of the Reich, every Baby-Boom baby ever born. The taint of that dark sin stains us all. It makes us who we are, and for that we should be grateful, but we should never let that gratitude blind us to the truth. In that sense, we are all sinners, not against God, but against our fellow man.

Read your histories, the tales left behind by those who survived. It started slowly, of course: Public acceptance of demeaning speech in the public forum, the creation of a narrative within a society that says: We are special. All others must pay tribute. Later, that narrative was given academic credibility, with the publishing of books and letters of dubious scientific merit. Through the halls of learning, dark whispers began to spread, tales of conspiracy and of the dilution of an ancient heritage. Searching for a focal point for their indignation, the majority began to single people out: the sick, the lame, those of alternative sexuality or ethnic minority. And of course, when society begins to seek out those that are different, those with the highest profile begin to stand out. In Germany, as the largest minority, that group, of course was the Jewish community.

Once the seeds were sown, it could not be long before such dark plantings bore fruit. Soon, people of a certain background were subject to loss of employment, loss of social status. Jewish businesses and homes became targets, most infamously on Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass. Soon after, it was declared that the majority were no longer willing to live alongside a culture that they blamed for all of their own social ills. Seeking to purify themselves, the German people rooted out the Jewish among them, saying: You are not like us. Soon, the Jewish people had nowhere to go, having been ousted from their homes and communities. They began to be herded into smaller and smaller quarters, isolated areas where resources and infrastructure were crumbling, even nonexistent. Here, it was felt, the Jewish people could be controlled, could be managed. None ever thought about WHY the Jewish people should have to be managed, but when the question was raised, it often proved more harmful to the interrogator than to the interrogated.

In sociology, there is a term for this kind of forcible isolation, this excise from our midst of The Other. It is called "ghettoization." It is a practice meant to render groups invisible, meant to remove them from the minds of the public; for the memory of the public is short, and Authority knows that what we do not see, we soon forget.

And any sociologist can tell you: once we forget, once ghettoization becomes commonplace, it is only a matter of time before the killing begins.

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Guess What? God Causes Teenage Pregnancy!

Jesus causes teen pregnancy
This I know
Because Sarah and Bristol
Tell me so

Not in so many words, but that is what I got from their beautiful statement, that they had to release because the horrible awful press inquired and there was "erroneous" information flowing around.

Bill McAllister, the governor's office communications director, adds: "The governor's office previously declined to comment to honor the family's wishes that the event remain as private as possible. However, the high volume of press inquiries, along with some erroneous information that was published, prompted the governor to make a statement."

The great news is that Bristol and Levi, because they are so blessed with God's Will and are such hard workers, get to set aside any plans that they ever had for their futures, because God saw fit to bless them with a baby. It really has nothing to do with the fact that Bristol's mother is anti-birth control and anti-sex education. Because, if Bristol had been armed with proper information about her body and had the opportunity to approach her mother and father with honest information about her sexuality, she still would not have been able to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. The baby was God's Will; it had nothing to do with lack of communication or shame inducing guilt trips in the Palin household.

"We are over the moon with the arrival of this healthy, beautiful baby," Governor Palin said. "The road ahead for this young couple will not be easy, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Bristol and Levi are committed to accomplish what millions of other young parents have accomplished, to provide a loving and secure environment for their child. They are both hard workers, they're very strong, and have faith they've made the right decision in setting aside their own interests to make this child their highest priority."

For that baby's sake, I am happy that they are both hard workers. Extremely pleased. I hope that they will teach their child the things that were denied them.

Regardless of my snark, at least Sarah Palin has made it clear that God turns "circumstances" (circumstances are unfortunately defined as "an unessential or secondary accompaniment of any fact or event; minor detail") into blessings. I have a really difficult time referring to a "baby" as a circumstance; but, hey, I am just not as close to God as the Palins.

Palin added, "When Bristol and Levi first told us the shocking news that she was pregnant, to be honest, we all at first looked at the situation with some fear and a bit of despair. Isn't it just like God to turn those circumstances into such an amazing, joyful blessing when you ask Him to help you through?"

God's Will - the greatest excuse for shitty parenting, evah!


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