Thursday, September 30, 2004


Who are Boyz II Men?

On the $1 Bill for $400

The seal of this government cabinet department is featured on the front.

Go before it's too far gone

The Daily Star (Lebanon) for last Friday quotes Palestinian Premier Ahmed Qorei as saying contacts with Israel had not been completely broken despite the lack of formal talks and that he was willing to meet with Ariel Sharon.
"From the early beginning, I've said I have no problem to meet with Sharon," Qorei told Israel's public radio.

"I'm ready for that, if it will be well-prepared and if there will be results from the meeting," he said.
Back on January 13 I reacted to news that Syria had refused an invitation from Israeli President Moshe Katsav for Assad to visit on the grounds that the offer was "not serious" by saying that perhaps it wasn't, but Assad still should have gone. Perhaps, I said, as some have suggested, it's a diversion or a tactical move. No matter.
[B]earing in mind the opening provided by the Sadat-Begin visit, and even though Katsav is the president, not the prime minister, Assad still should have gone. ...

If Assad went, would he accomplish anything? Perhaps not. He still should have gone.

Dammit, he should have gone.
Now the situation is in some way reversed but my essential sentiment is the same. Sharon should declare his willingness to meet Qorei. Would it accomplish anything practical in the short run? I have no idea. But the symbolism of such a meeting, just like Sadat's visit was, just like Assad's visit would have been, would be powerful.

Dammit, he should go.

I feel so much safer in my person and possessions

According to the New York Daily News for September 27, as reported by the Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, GA),
[p]rosecutors and Port Authority police are probing whether a federal supervisor at LaGuardia's Continental Airlines terminal may have allowed a conspiracy by Homeland Security screeners to routinely harvest Rolex watches, Gucci bags and Dell laptops from checked luggage.

And the case may be the tip of a nationwide iceberg. ...

Last month, three bag screeners at LaGuardia and one at John F. Kennedy International Airport were arrested after Continental and American Airlines sought law enforcement help when each airline detected spikes in customer complaints. ...

In April, the airlines bought video surveillance cameras to let cops snoop on federal workers hired to examine checked luggage for explosives.

Detectives watched as several uniformed Transportation Security Administration screeners used their private work area "like a candy store," as one source put it.

To cover their tracks, screeners switched tags on bags from which they stole with tags on untouched bags, sending suitcases jetting to wrong airports in pairs. They even swapped one tag from a baby's travel crib, sending it to O'Hare in Chicago for a day while mother and child spent a restless night in Mexico. ...

And when search warrants were executed at the homes of the four screeners, police were stunned at a department store of goodies amassed in an operation that had clearly spanned many months. Among other items they found were laptops galore, computer projectors, cuff links, designer clothes and gold chains. ...

The recovered loot covered 12 large folding tables.
And what is the TSA's response to this? Why, it
vigorously defended the vast bulk of its labor force. Spokeswoman Ann Davis labeled the defendants as "a handful of individuals who have made a bad choice."
Handful...bad choice.... Where have I heard those lame excuses before? Oh yeah: Abu Ghraib. Ain't it amazing how the "few bad apples," the "handful" of poorly-choosing individuals, always seem to wind up in one place?

But it doesn't matter, I suppose, because when they hear this news, I bet every terrorist in the world will avoid the US for fear of losing their Gucci bags, which seem to be the sort of thing most at risk of detection.

Sniffing the air

The New York Times "Week in Review" section on Sunday had an interesting article about Iraq entitled "What if America Just Pulled Out?"
Even by its own disturbing standards, this was a hallucinatory week in Iraq. Beheadings, kidnappings, bombings, outbreaks of deadly disease and everyday mayhem were accompanied by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's upbeat statement to Congress: "We are succeeding in Iraq."

Are we? The discordant images and messages captured a central difficulty of defining an Iraq policy. In the absence of any semblance of agreement on what the situation is, or even who is behind the insurgency, setting a course is problematic. But with more than 1,000 Americans already dead, and more dying each week, one question has begun to be posed with growing insistence: Should American forces leave?
On the whole, while acknowledging real problems, the article came down rather heavily on the "stay the course" side of the argument - or, as it's more usually expressed by Dummycrats these days, the "we're committed and we have to stay because it'll be worse if we don't" side. The author even rang in the "a terrible blow to America's world leadership if we go" argument.

Hey, if our "world leadership" produced the chaos of Iraq, wouldn't a blow to that be a good thing?

Be that as it may, the fact remains that even while reasserting conventional wisdom, the article treated the idea of withdrawal as a serious option that had to at least be addressed. That this appeared in the Times, the very wellspring of conventional wisdom, is a clear indication that the idea of withdrawal is no longer off the table in the counsels in the halls of power. With a majority of Americans now saying they don't think the war was worth the price, a change may well be in the air. It won't have any immediate effect (with the possible exception of affecting the election, but since Kerry has been, as the article notes, "cautious on the question of withdrawal," that doesn't promise a quick change in policy), but the shift is happening.

What lurks in the shadows

LeanLeft has an item linked from Obsidian Wings which it thinks is important enough to be spread around - and so do I, so I'm doing my little bit of a spread here.

The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is trying to sneak through an amendment to current law that would in effect legalize the practice of deporting - "rendering" is the term used - an alien who is a terrorism suspect to a country that we know will torture them, generally on our behalf. That way we gain the "benefits" of torture while our own lily-white hands remain (supposedly) unstained.

The best known case, and one that helped bring the evil practice of rendition into the light, is that of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was detained at JFK Airport in New York City, questioned, and deported to Syria, where he was tortured and held in solitary confinement until the complaints of the Canadian government finally won his release. It's that sort of treatment that the GOPpers and their Dummycrat allies want to legitimize in the eyes of the law.

At issue are Sections 3032 and 3033 of HR10, the bill that is intended, or so we're told, to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Those sections amend Section 241 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, you can find the text of Sections 3032-3033 by going to Thomas, entering HR10 in the search box, then scrolling way down to the link for Section 3032. (Section 3033 will come up along with it.) The text of Section 241 of the Immigration and Nationality Act can be found here.

But if you don't want to delve that deeply, this is what the bill does, in a nutshell:

Sec. 241(b)(3)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act says an alien can't be deported to a country where their "life or freedom" would be at risk due to their "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." However, Sec. 241(b)(3)(B) lists several exceptions to that rule.

But - the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, to which the US is a signatory, would still bar sending them to a country where they'd be tortured. In fact, in ratifying the Convention, the Senate declared
That the United States understands the phrase, "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture," as used in article 3 of the Convention, to mean "if it is more likely than not that he would be tortured."
HR10 would strip away the Convention's protection from any deportee excepted under Sec. 241(b)(3)(B) and change the rules for the rest, ignoring the US's own declared position, by demanding that they show "by clear and convincing evidence" that they would be tortured in the country where the US proposes to send them. Otherwise, the protections of the Convention don't apply. It also limits judicial oversight, pretty much guaranteeing that the same people who are trying to deport the person are the ones determining if they have presented "clear and compelling" evidence.

(Ironically, the US signed the Convention on April 18, 1988 - during the Reagan administration. Senate approval, however, did not come until October 1994.)

Approving rendition was not, it should hardly be necessary to say, one of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. Burying this foul attempt at legitimizing being accessories to torture in a massive bill is the most cowardly form of legislating, one, as now, often reserved for actions whose stench would sicken were they not carefully hidden away.

But this time someone did notice: Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) intends to offer an amendment to strip the offending language out of the bill in addition to pressing his own legislation to specifically outlaw rendition. He deserves to win on both counts.

Please take a moment to spread the word and to contact your Congressional representatives and give them an earful. This can be stopped if they know we're watching.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


What is "Jagged Little Pill?"

1990s Music for $1000

In the '90s, this R&B vocal group had hits with "Motownphilly" and "On Bended Knee."

Virtue is as virtue does

The other day, noting the disaster that hurricane Jeanne had inflicted on Haiti, I said
we can find seemingly unlimited funds for war ... but when it comes to undoing pain rather than causing it, we suddenly find virtue in frugality....
Apparently, I underestimated our devotion to virtue.
On September 21, 2004, US Ambassador James Foley issued a disaster declaration due to the damage caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne. In response, USAID [US Agency for International Development] is providing $50,000 to CARE to distribute hygiene kits, cooking sets, blankets, water containers and other relief supplies to those most affected by the floods. USAID has dispatched a two-person team from the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance to help coordinate the United States relief efforts with local disaster officials. USAID has also secured an aircraft through Air Serv International to provide aerial assessments and transport of personnel and relief supplies.

The most effective way to help is to make cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations.
That official statement, posted on USAID's website (and quoted at the World Socialist Web Site), offered a total aid package of $60,000. Yes, that's the right figure.

At the same time, the European Union pledged $1.8 million and Venezuela came up with $1 million. The WSWS notes tartly that in comparison to these others, the US package
would barely count as a mid-sized corporate contribution to the Bush-Cheney campaign fund.
Two days later, USAID announced it would provide $2 million in aid beyond the $60,000 "that some criticized for its paucity," as AP put it.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004


What is "Blue?"

1990s Music for $600

With this 1995 album, Alanis Morissette became the first Canadian woman to top "Billboard"'s album chart.

The thing that wouldn't die

Media pundit types are apt to cluck-cluck and tut-tut over why rumors about a renewal of the draft just won't seem to go away despite official denials.

Leaving aside the question of just why anyone should believe a single blessed little thing this administration says (as Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, "Every word she says is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'"), one reason could be that the Seattle Post Intelligencer learned earlier this year that the Selective Service System had been "designing procedures" for instituting a "skills draft" and had met with upper-echelon Defense Department officials about it.

And it certainly doesn't increase confidence when,
[p]ressed on why he continued to oppose increasing the size of the army in light of the strains on the force, Rumsfeld admitted [last Thursday] it was uncertain that efficiencies in the army would be enough to offset the need for more troops.

"Believe me, if we need more end strength, we'll request more end strength," he said.
Worrying about a draft may be a little paranoid - but sometimes a little touch of paranoia is a good thing.

Giving the high sign

From the Associated Press for Monday:
Food products made with hemp will remain legal after the Justice Department declined to challenge a ruling that overturned a Bush administration ban, lawyers for the hemp industry said.

Monday night was the deadline for the government to challenge a federal appeals court's February decision that the United States cannot ban the domestic sale of hemp foods.
I think it can be fairly said that the true measure of fanaticism is not found in the big things, which can be driven by any combination of hope, fear, ignorance, wisdom, greed, and emotion - and any of those perhaps only in passing or the heat of the moment - but in the little things, the things that don't matter in any rational sense but which the fanatic must nonetheless control.

By that standard, the DEA's declaration three years ago that any food products intended for human consumption that contains hemp would be banned under the Controlled Substances Act is fanaticism at its purest. Hemp, you see, can contain trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana) - so gasp! horror! people are gulp! choke! ingesting mind-altering drugs!

Of course, this had to be stopped immediately. And of course, the fact that it's not possible to get high on the tiny amounts of THC found in these foods - AP notes that more than 200 companies make such products, which include "energy bars, waffles, milk-free cheese and veggie burgers" - made no difference. Fanaticism does not recognize nuance - or even billboard-sized facts, for that matter.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the law on hold just before the products were pulled from the shelves, allowing the industry to continue selling its hemp-food products with hemp produced in Canada and overseas while the legal battle continued.
And now the feds have thrown in the towel. Did some lonely strand of light pierce through the darkness and illuminate some logic? Or did they walk away bitterly, swearing revenge against the "fools who don't understand?" I don't know. But fortunately, walk away they did.

And once more into the breach

And then there is, of course, the release of Yaser Esam Hamdi, the US citizen "enemy combatant" who, the Shrub team insisted, was an unspeakable danger to the country and all the people in it. The deal is, in essence, he renounces his US citizenship and it's "get out and don't come back!" Not surprisingly, why, if he's such an unregenerate terrorist, he would be expected to abide by the travel restrictions goes unexplained.

But the real point here is that in covering the case, the Boston Globe (still as quoted by CSM) called it one of a number of "high-profile legal setbacks in the Bush administration's war on terrorism." Similarly, as I noted below, Reuters referred to dropping spy charges against Ahmad Al-Halabi as "the latest setback to the Bush administration's war on terror."

Just why in flaming hell are these "setbacks?" Why is being forced to admit that you kept a man locked up, virtually incommunicado, for over two years because, as it turns out, you didn't have any evidence to actually charge him with anything (or at least anything serious) a "setback to the war on terror?" Why is being forced to drop charges you had to admit you couldn't sustain in court a "setback?" Why is freeing a man after being forced to acknowledge you had no reason to think he'd done anything wrong a "setback?"

Setbacks to a war on freedom, yes. Setbacks to a war on Constitutional protections, yes. Setbacks to a war on justice, yes. But setbacks to a war on terror? No f'ing way. Unless you simply assume without proof (so much, again, for innocent until proven guilty) that Hamdi, Halabi, Yee, and all the rest of the targets of the dropped, failed, dismissed, or never-undertaken prosecutions were guilty just because Attorney General Burntfarm says so, the truth is that as far as we know no terrorist, no terror group, has gained a shred, a single tatter, of advantage from this.

Unless you believe that the government should be empowered to accuse, abuse, and abandon to prison indefinitely anyone it wants without the need for evidence simply by breathing the magic incantation "terrorist"; unless you say that justice must surrender to jingoism and freedom must submit to fear; unless you avow that what the Constitution describes are privileges, not rights; then you should declare that cases such as these are not signs of setbacks but reasons for rejoycing.

Footnote to the preceding

In the same item, CSM also notes that
the military also announced the "release of 11 Guantanamo prisoners to their home country of Afghanistan, bringing to less than 550 the number of terror suspects still held" at Gitmo. This means that more than 202 men have left the base since their arrest as enemy combatants.
How long ago was it that we were assured that all those at Gitmo were, what was the phrase, "the worst of the worst?" It now seems that close to 30% of them have been released without charge - so far.

(Just in case anyone want to start the "they never actually said" nonsense, Ari Fleischer said "These are not mere innocents ... these are among the worst of the worst." So much, by the way, for innocent until proven guilty.)

I spy with my little eye...

This is a bit old in the blogger world, but still worth it. It's from the Christian Science Monitor's Daily Update on Terrorism & Security for last Thursday, September 23:
Exactly one year ago this Sunday, Sept. 26, newspapers, TV and the Internet were filled with stories about how a "spy ring" had infiltrated the US military prison camp for Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects in Guantanamo, Cuba. The Pentagon announced at the time that it was launching an investigation into an "alleged Syrian-linked spy ring among Muslim Americans working at the detention camp."
Senior Airman Ahmad Al-Halabi, a Syrian-born American citizen, had been arrested on charges of espionage involving sending classified information about the base and its prisoners to Syria. Army Islamic Chaplain James Yee had already been arrested on spying charges and Army Reserve Col. Jackie Duane Farr would also be charged with trying to remove classified material from the base. American officials were quoted as saying this "could be part of one of the most damaging spy rings uncovered in the US military since the cold war," involving not only Syria but "radical Islamic groups."
Wednesday, however, the US military dropped spy charges against Mr. Halabi, in what Reuters described as "the latest setback to the Bush administration's war on terror." Instead, Halabi pleaded guilty to four less serious charges....

In April, all charges were dropped against Capt. Yee (who will be honorably discharged this coming January), and last week the US military dropped charges against Col. Farr of attempting to take classified materials from the base.
Halabi's plea bargain was reached after prosecutors had to admit that not only that just one of the 200 documents in his possession when we was arrested was classified but that they couldn't prove he'd passed any documents to anyone.

Your government protecting you.

Okay, it's time...

Updated ...someone said it. I suppose I've been sort of waiting around for some bigger voice in the left blogsphere to say it but it doesn't seem to be happening, at least as far as I'm aware (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, I would love to be), so even though this small outcry will simply get lost in the cacophony of louder, more far-reaching voices, I'll say it anyway.
Ten people were killed and another 26 wounded in an attack on tankers in Latifiya area. The manager of Hilla hospital said they received four corpses and another 23 injured people. A police officer in Alexandria police station, Mohammed Masoodi, said armed assailants shot the tankers which were accompanied by some National Guardsman and set them on fire. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, one man was killed and another four wounded in a mortar attack on Karrada area.
(From Al-Mashriq, published daily by the Al-Mashriq Institution for Media and Cultural Investments, as quoted by the Iraqi Press Monitor for September 27.)

I am fed up, I am sick to tears, I no longer have the slightest tinge of patience with those who will (rightly) treat every incident of US forces killing civilians as just short - if at all short - of a war crime yet will (wrongly) treat every case of insurgents killing civilians as an expression of legitimate resistance to occupation.

Are those ten any less dead for being killed by insurgent fire than by US bombs? Did their blood soak the ground any less red? Do their families wail in grief any less? Are the 26 wounded any less in pain? Do their lives matter less?

Oh, when the event is big enough - as when 47 Iraqis were killed and 114 wounded earlier this month by a bomb blast on a shopping street that evidently targeted those applying for jobs with the police - we get all huffy with outrage, yes, indeed; outrage, that is, against the "failed policies" of the Bushites, not against the brutal, calculated murder of innocents.

We legitimately decry the massive unemployment in Iraq, which may run as high as 60%. But when people try to take the work available, like police jobs or drivers, whether out of commitment or (more likely) just out of the desire to take care of their families and then get killed for it, their deaths just don't seem to register with us on a human scale. We see them as "incidents," not as people.

Even when the nature of the atrocity couldn't be denied - as, for example, with the beheading of Nick Berg - we tried to avert both our eyes and our rhetoric, concocting various conspiracy theories, trying to explain it away as a CIA plot.

But it wasn't. It was murder, cold-blooded murder, pure and simple. Where was the outrage? Where is the outrage now for the kidnap victims, for those killed by their captors?

Blood is blood. Dead is dead. Murder is murder. Car bombing streets is no more an act of "liberation" than aerial bombing of houses is an act of "bringing freedom." Beyond the single fact of opposition to occupation, Moqtada al-Sadr does not represent the desires of the Iraqi people and the theocratic reign he would have if he could is not what most would choose. Beyond their status as symbols of resistance, the theocratic troglodytes in charge in Fallujah are not the voice of the people. And we are either foolish or accomplices if we pretend otherwise.

No one who has spent more than 10 minutes here can imagine I plead any briefs for the sociopaths infesting the White House or the death and ruin that they have brought to Iraq. I was against it from the start; I was against it from long before the start. I have called for us to Set The Damn Date & Get The Hell Out so many times I've taken to abbreviating it: STDD>HO.

But the fact remains: Blood is blood. Dead is dead. Murder is murder. And we are at risk of becoming a movement that closes its eyes to an entire spectrum of violence in the name of "liberation." But, my brothers and sisters, I must ask you: Who can "liberate" the dead?

Updated to add the descriptive "aerial" to the bombing of houses to make sure it was clear what comparison I was making.

Cons, neocons, and neo-neocons

Bob Dreyfuss at says on September 20 that he's
not sure what to make of the latest insider leak from the Bush administration to Robert Novak of Plame fame. In a column titled "Bush's Escape Route," Novak says that "well-placed sources in the administration" say that in 2005 Bush will pull out of Iraq and leave that country to its own (Shiite) devices. Even Paul Wolfowitz, angling to be the next secretary of defense, wants to get out of Iraq fast, says Novak.
Dreyfuss says that he thinks Novak is just blowing smoke, but I can think of another possibility: Novak is being used as a (willing?) foil for one side in an internal debate among the Shrubberies.

There are "straws in the wind," Dreyfuss notes, "that the neocons are losing debates in the administration." In the face of the unmitigated disaster of Iraq, some are having second or third thoughts and there are even some open hints, even if vague ones, that an end may be in sight. On Friday, one day after telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that more US troops may have to be sent to Iraq before the January elections there, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said
[t]he United States does not have to wait until Iraq "is peaceful and perfect" before it begins to withdraw military troops from that troubled country....

Responding to questions from reporters, Rumsfeld said Washington was determined to provide security for scheduled January elections in Iraq, where nearly 140,000 American troops are now fighting a growing insurgency.

But "any implication that that place has to be peaceful and perfect before we can reduce coalition and U.S. forces, I think, would obviously be unwise," he told a press conference after meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Not much substance there, obviously, but also a significant step back from the "beacon of stability and democracy" Iraq was supposed to be by about this time. Now we're just trying to get it to somewhere - it's not clear where, but somewhere - this side of "peaceful and perfect." I was initially tempted to think of this as an election gambit, a way of hinting to voters "don't worry too much about this, there will be an end." But the lack of followup now leads me to wonder if it's a different sort of gambit, one for after the US election, having actually to do with the question of what happens after January.

In that light, Novak's column becomes the preemptive strike against moves for withdrawal, as fed to him by the neocons who still dream of a Pax Americana across the entire region. After noting the sentiment for withdrawal, he says (as quoted by Dreyfuss)
[w]ithout U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality.
That is, their policy would lead to the unthinkable, so "everybody" - meaning the Republican Congressional leadership and reactionary media mouthpieces - should rally around our policy and yes, save the dream! Or at least our favored positions and our contracts with think tanks for when we retire.

The only good thing about this is that if I'm right, it means there actually is a debate inside the White House - which means it is not literally impossible for at least some members of that cabal to be affected by events in the real world.

A small favor, admittedly, but at this point I'll take what I can get.

The groundwork is laid, the foundation is under construction

The Christian Science Monitor's Daily Update on Terrorism & Security for September 24 discussed, as I did a day earlier, a possible connection between the US providing Israel with 5,000 smart bombs (including 500 "bunker-busters") and the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program.
Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom told the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday, that "Tehran has replaced Saddam Hussein as the world's No. 1 exporter of terror, ... threatening the Jewish state and the entire world," reports the Associated Press.

Earlier in the week the Israeli foreign minister told members of the UN that Iran must be taken before the Security Council over its nuclear program, and that it posed a threat not only to Israel, but to the world because "Tehran's missiles can reach London, Paris and southern Russia," reports AP.
Watch this space. Very carefully.

Mission to Geek Redux

Like the Energizer Bunny.
Pasadena, California (AP. September 22) - NASA thinks its Mars rovers just might keep going and going and going.

The space agency has funded another extension of their mission, for an additional six months, if they last.

The latest funding came as NASA regained reliable contact with the rovers Spirit and Opportunity after a 12-day period in which Mars passed nearly behind the sun, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

The rovers, which have found evidence of past water activity on the Red Planet, landed on opposite sides of Mars in January and completed their primary, three-month missions on the surface in April.
What's great about something like this is that it means being able to go for the littler things, the subtler things, even the riskier things, all the things you didn't dare do on the primary mission for lack of time and for caution about the equipment. The longer they go, the more, if you will, daring their missions can become. And that could generate some really interesting science.


What is "Fahrenheit 451?"

1990s Music for $200

In 1997, songwriter Bill Mack and singer LeAnn Rimes won Grammys for this "colorful" song.

Monday, Monday...

...can't trust that day.

For reasons far too complex and infuriating to go into, Monday was a lost day. I promise to make up for it today and the rest of the week.

Sunday, September 26, 2004


What is Tennessee?


Beatty is the captain of the firemen in this futuristic novel that's been inflaming readers since 1953.


Well, it's Sunday again, which some time ago I said was going to be my day off from blogging. So far, it hasn't worked out that way. But after several hours in an increasingly-frustrating job search, I think that this is one Sunday I really am going to take off.

Except for Jeopardy!, of course.

By the way, I'd be happy to hear of any job openings you know of. Moving is not an issue, in fact I expect to have to do it. So if you want to know what it is I do so you can be of some naturally enormous help, drop me a line (he said with an ingratiating grin.)

Back atcha on the flip side.

Saturday, September 25, 2004


What are Odd Fellows?

Clubs and Organizations for $2000

Gideons International makes its home in this state, also home to Thomas Nelson, the Bible publisher.


Conspiracy buffs, unite!

As I hope I've already made clear, I don't buy the line that the Bushites either let 9/11 happen or, worse, helped it along.

But if you want be a little conspiratorial, try this: According to the Daily Mislead for September 21,
President Bush has lately been speaking a lot about how he is doing everything possible to track down terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.... But according to NBC News, it was Bush who in 2002 and 2003 rejected three plans to strike and neutralize Zarqawi because he believed a successful strike would undermine the public case for targeting Saddam Hussein.
In June and October of 2002 and in January of 2003, the Pentagon drafted plans to attack a base where Zarqawi was, but in each case the White House killed it.
According to NBC, "Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi's operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."
A month after that third rejection, Colin Powerless was at the UN, pointing to Zarqawi as supposed evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

On March 23, 2003, writing to a friend in rebuttal to that idiotic prowar thing supposedly written by Dennis Miller that was making the rounds (perhaps you saw it), I mentioned the camp. In light of the Shrub doctrines of "preemption" and "zero tolerance," I wondered why, if we knew exactly where this base was, hadn't we bombed it? Now, I know.

The complete Daily Mislead item, with sources, can be found here.

A deafening silence

Information Clearinghouse came up with an oldie but a goodie. It's a series of web pages, 12 in all, put up by the US State Department on November 10, 2001 and titled "Network of Terrorism." It is, of course, about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. It goes into detail establishing links between al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Iraq is not mentioned. Not once.

Not even in the list of 45 "Countries Where al Qaeda Has Operated."

Nope, nowhere to be found. Interesting.

Two quick updates

1) Last Saturday, I told you that
[t]he House Judiciary Committee has reported out HR 2028, a bill which would bar federal courts from hearing any challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance on First Amendment grounds.
I also suggested the argument would be that since "inferior" courts are by the Constitution created by Congress, they can be regulated by Congress. But, I added, that argument is dangerous because
accepting it would enable Congress to put any of its acts beyond judicial review simply by declaring them to be so. One of the checks against overreaching government power we have come to rely on would disappear in a puff of rhetoric.
Well, guess what. The Miami Herald tells us that on Thursday, the House passed the bill, using exactly that logic:
Supporters insisted Congress has always had authority to limit federal court jurisdiction, and the legislation is needed to protect an affirmation of religion that is part of the national heritage.
In fact, the bill, which passed 247-173, is worse than I thought because it also proposed to prohibit the Supreme Court - which is created by the Constitution, not Congress - from hearing such cases. On the other hand, the Herald also says the bill has "little chance" of getting through the Senate this year. With January starting a new Congress, the advocates would have to start over. The fact that they undoubtedly knew that marks this as political posturing rather than real commitment, simply a cheap attempt to force some Dummycrats into taking an unpopular, even if Constitutionally correct, position.

Be that as it may, the fact the bill passed so quickly and easily shows it worked, meaning the warped reactionaries are still in charge and the wimpy remainder are still running scared. And if you think a John Kerry win will change that, you haven't been paying attention.

2) On Thursday, I posted about a report citing a Haaretz article saying that Israel was going to buy 5,000 smart bombs from the US.

The original Haaretz article, dated September 21, can be found here. It adds the detail that the 5,000 bombs are to include
500 one-ton bunker busters that can penetrate two-meter-thick cement walls; 2,500 regular one-ton bombs; 1,000 half-ton bombs; and 500 quarter-ton bombs.
The question I asked about what they're for got a partial answer.
An unidentified senior Israeli security official said, "This is not the sort of ordnance needed for the Palestinian front. Bunker busters could serve Israel against Iran, or possibly Syria," according to Reuters.
An Iranian official responded by wondering if the sale was a type of "psychological warfare."

Let's hope that's all it is.

Short night

Short night in both senses, actually. Short in that I'm going to cut this short, short in that there doesn't seem to be enough sleep going on around here. I'm tired, frustrated, and a little discouraged with the world at large. I expect you've noticed that I describe myself as an "ordinary individual struggling to keep hope alive." Sometimes it's more of a struggle than other times.

I guess the immediate cause was reading that the death toll in Haiti as a result of Jeanne has passed 1,000 - and 1,200 more people are still missing.
Relief workers fear that many more bodies will be found, as waters recede near the stricken city of Gonaives. ...

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke, who visited Gonaives on Wednesday, says the main street is like a river, flowing with filthy, brown water.

Survivors wade through the mud - sometimes waist-deep - trying to salvage furniture or find food. ...

Many residents have been forced to take shelter on rooftops, as bloated bodies float along the streets. ...

Later on Wednesday trucks dumped dozens of unidentified bodies into a mass grave in Gonaives.
Kofi Annan has called on the international community for help. And oh, yes, we will help. After some discussions and consultations - after all, we certainly don't want to do more than our share, you know - we will put in some amount, patting ourselves on the back for our generosity the whole time, while begrudging the victims a single extra dollar. Meanwhile, we have spent something approaching 140 billion in Iraq, almost all of it for war, very little of it for reconstruction - and even a good portion of that would be to undo the damage we did.

I still, after all this time, after all the years, after all the arguments and psychological studies and philosophies, I still have trouble getting my mind around the fact that we can find seemingly unlimited funds for war, an open spigot spewing out cash for death and destruction, for blood and bombing, for murder and mayhem and madness - but when it comes to undoing pain rather than causing it, we suddenly find virtue in frugality while still sounding a trumpet before us when we give anything so that everyone will notice (what we imagine to be) our selfless devotion to the needs of the poor.

I suppose it just hasn't been a good night.

It's odd: In one way I should be a little encouraged: I still have a very low traffic site here but this month already has been my biggest yet both in total hits and in return hits. Thank you. And I know that there are some of you who read this on a regular basis - and who, I assume, find something of value here. Thank especially you. So I'll keep on keeping on for the foreseeable future - and I know that if I ever took a break that, like Hesiod, "they" would suck me back in with their evil inanities. So I guess that means we're stuck with each other.

For now, just a couple of short things and then pack it in until tomorrow.

Friday, September 24, 2004

...against the middle

One of the frequent predictions of the results of global climate change is an increase in climate-related disasters, such as hurricanes and typhoons, tornados, drought, and flood. Again, it was a prediction pooh-poohed as Chicken Little fantasies by the apologists for the polluters - and once again, the predictions are giving indications of coming true. From the BBC for September 17:
More and more people are being caught up in a growing number of natural disasters, a UN agency said on Friday.

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction said the increase in numbers vulnerable to natural shocks was due partly to global warming.

It said 254 million people were affected by natural hazards last year - nearly three times as many as in 1990. ...

Events including earthquakes and volcanoes, floods and droughts, storms, fires and landslides killed about 83,000 people in 2003, up from about 53,000 deaths 13 years earlier, the ISDR said.

Releasing its statistics jointly with the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (Cred) at the University of Louvain in Belgium, it said there was a consistent trend over the last decade of an increasing number of people affected by disasters.

There were 337 natural disasters reported in 2003, up from 261 in 1990.
ISDR director Salvano Briceno noted other causes beyond climate change: more people living in concentrated urban areas and in slums with poor building standards and a lack of facilities, and environmental degradation. But global climate change remains one of the big three.

Playing both ends...

Global climate change is causing dramatic shifts in polar regions. Indeed, the Arctic is seeming the most dramatic climate-induced changes on the planet. An article in the September 10 Salon said that, compared to the worldwide average of 1 degree warming, global warming
has heated the Arctic by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the mid-1950s, Alaska's glaciers have lost about 3,300 cubic kilometers of melted ice and snow - enough to submerge the entire state of Texas in 15 feet of water. Due in part to this influx of fresh water combined with warmer temperature, computer models predict that the Arctic Ocean's sea ice could completely disappear within 70 years. ...

Already, native communities that dot Alaskan shorelines are seeing villages crumble. Waves, unhindered by large ice chunks, now swell and break against the shore with a ferocity never seen before. Banks are eroding and high water has consumed so many homes and buildings that two villages have been forced to move inland.
It's not only the villagers that are affected, as Reuters pointed out on September 6.
Ideal for an Ice Age, white fur used as camouflage by animals from polar bears to Arctic foxes may be going out of fashion because of global warming.

Adding to the disruption of habitats, rising temperatures may simply make white animals too obvious if melting ice and snow exposes tracts of dark, bare ground.

If whiteness no longer means an evolutionary edge, polar bears will find it harder to sneak up on prey in Alaska, for instance, while white hares in Russia may be snatched more often by eagles and other predators.

Many species are under pressure in the Arctic....
And that, in turn, is affecting the people.
"Indigenous people who've relied on polar bears, seals, walrus and bowhead whales are being confronted by a whole new ecology," said Bob Corell, U.S. chairman of an eight-nation report into Arctic climate change to be published in November.
One of the reasons for the dramatic change is that as the snow and ice recede, exposing the ground underneath, the change accelerates because that ground absorbs heat rather than reflecting more of it.

On the other end of the world, things aren't as bad - at least not yet - because the layer of ice over the ground of Antarctica is so thick. However, Reuters says on Saturday,
Measurements of glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea, on the Pacific Ocean side of Antarctica, show they are melting much faster than in recent years and could break up.

And they contain more ice than was previously estimated, meaning they could raise sea level by more than predicted, the international team of researchers writes in the journal Science.

"The ... Amundsen Sea glaciers contain enough ice to raise sea level by 1.3 meters (4 feet)," the researchers wrote in their report. ...

And as the surrounding ice shelves melt - which they are doing - this process will speed up, the researchers said.

"The ice shelves act like a cork and slow down the flow of the glacier," said Bob Thomas of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Theirs is the second report this week to warn of rapidly melting glaciers in Antarctica.

On Tuesday a team at NASA and the University of Colorado reported that the 2002 breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf on the other side of the continent had accelerated the breakup of glaciers into the Weddell Sea.
Scientists say the rate of change of the flow of the glaciers is small at present. The thing is, it's accelerating. How much it can accelerate is something unknown at present. But the potential is sobering, since a 4 foot increase in ocean depth could devastate coastal areas around the world. True, at the rate that things are happening I won't live to see the results. But the grandchildren of my generation easily could.


What is the Lions Club? (Acceptable: Lions International)

Clubs and Organizations for $1200

If you're a little eccentric, you probably know that I.O.O.F. is the Independent Order of these.

A victory for dignity

I remember some years ago seeing William Shatner on some TV show or another. Another guest was a doctor and Shatner raised the question of when did the issue of quality of life enter into questions of life and death. He was, in a clumsy way, raising the issue of death with dignity. The doctor dismissed the entire question in a sentence by saying the physician's duty is to preserve life, period. But it wasn't long after that when doctors began to face the fact that our ability to artificially maintain basic life functions had expanded to the point where quality of life issues could no longer be ignored.

We're still trying to face them fully and the question of life and what does it mean to be alive still haunts personal considerations and political calculations. But sometimes a touch of common sense pierces through. The St. Petersburg (FL) Times reported on Friday that
[t]he Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the law enabling Gov. Jeb Bush to order Terri Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted is unconstitutional and that legislators exceeded their authority when they hastily passed it.

The unanimous opinion in a right-to-die case that has generated international attention may finally end the long-running battle between Schiavo's husband and her parents over the removal of the feeding tube that has kept the brain-damaged woman alive for 14 years.
I sincerely hope that the family releases their stopped-up grief, lets go of her, lets her go. But I'm not sure they will if they can find a way to continue refusing to face the reality.
Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and her brother and sister released a statement Thursday thanking Bush for his efforts.

"The family knows that Terri never expressed a desire to be starved to death," the statement said. "And the Legislature and governor thought the case troubling enough to get involved directly. We profoundly regret that the Florida Supreme Court ... opted ... to issue a technical legal decision that doesn't protect Terri from the cadre of crusaders who are so desperate for our daughter (to) starve to death."

Schiavo's parents do not believe she is in a permanent vegetative state as some doctors contend, and believe her condition might improve with proper treatment.
They have held on to a myth for so long, so desperately, that it will be difficult for them to give it up. But give it up they must at some point. Because, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler, your daughter is not going to improve, no matter what treatment you want to pursue. And no one is proposing to starve her to death. No, she won't and they're not - because by any rational standard of human life, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler, your daughter is already dead. And she has been for years.

If she had been, perhaps, an insect or a fish or a snake, some creature where autonomous functioning is pretty much all there is, you would have a claim to the term "life." But she wasn't, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler, she was a human being full of fears and dreams and despairs and desires, of pains and pleasures, of recalled yesterdays and anticipated tomorrows. And all of that is gone. Gone forever. Gone from her, gone from your experience of her. There is functioning of the autonomous nervous system, but there is no longer anything of her: Terri is not there. When you look now at your daughter, when you think now of your daughter, you are looking and thinking with your memories, not your eyes, not your hearing, not your touch. For your own sakes if not for her husband's, let go of her so you can grieve her loss and move on.

On a personal level I have made it clear to my family that I do not want my life artificially extended by extraordinary means. As long as I can think, as long as I can be consciously aware of and interact with my surroundings, keep me going even if my body is failing. But if and when that is no longer true, if and when whatever it is that makes me, me rather than someone else no longer functions, if and when I exist as a physical entity but no longer a mental (or, if you like, a spiritual) one - pull the plug.

I have a living will (and an organ donor card). You should, too. (Note that I'm not endorsing the linked site; it was just the first I found that does not charge a fee for creating the document.)

Footnote: The Court ruled on jurisdictional and separation of powers grounds.
The court did not address other arguments that the law was an unconstitutional invasion of a patient's right to privacy and right to make their own medical decisions.
Would that it had. But courts prefer narrow rulings to broad ones and once there was a reason to jettison the law, other arguments would not have been considered.

Oh, by the way: Thanks to Sinfonian for the link to the article.


I have to admit I always thought he was underrated as a president. I suspect history will be kinder to Jimmy Carter than voters were.
Atlanta (AP, September 22) - Former President Carter said Wednesday that the apparent open-ended presence of U.S. troops in Iraq has contributed to the wave of hostage-takings and other bloodshed.

"A lot of political analysts have said that one of the main reasons the Bush-Cheney administration went into Iraq was to establish a permanent military base there," Carter said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think this arouses a great deal of unnecessary opposition."
As someone else - ahem - said on July 10:
But the fact is, even if it's true that pulling out will not stop the bloodshed, it remains true that the bloodshed will not stop until we pull out.
Getting the hell out means all the way out: no troops, no bases, no "residual presence."

: Sniff : Aahhh!

This just in, as the cliche goes:
Los Angeles (AP, September 24) - California air regulators Friday unanimously approved the world's most stringent rules to reduce auto emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming.

The regulations are expected to cut exhaust from cars and light trucks by 25 percent and in larger trucks and sport utility vehicles by 18 percent.

The move by the California Air Resources Board came despite vigorous opposition from auto industry officials, who argued that the board did not have the authority to adopt such sweeping regulations and that they could not be met by current technology.

The auto industry has threatened to challenge the regulations in court.
Well, of course they will. Ain't no maybe about it. And you can bet your fanny that the White House will be right there behind them, either with friend of the court briefs or by filing its own challenge or both. One of the bases will be "federal preemption," another concept that has been twisted over the years - and no, dammit, not just by Republicans, much less not just by the current crew of corporate butt-kissing fruitcakes - into the service of the powerful.

It used to mean something simple: States could not enact laws that conflicted with appropriate federal legislation. ("Appropriate" here meaning a proper exercise of federal authority that didn't trample on areas traditionally or Constitutionally reserved to individual states.) For a long time, in practice that was taken to mean that federal laws would set minimum standards that had to be met everywhere.

Over the past few decades, however, and particularly on environmental, corporate regulation, and trade issues, it's been changed to also mean the federal law sets a maximum standard. The important difference is that before states could enact stricter standards than the federal law set - under the new regime, they can't.

Based on a quick Google search, that argument has been used to argue successfully, among other things

- that Massachusetts could not put greater restrictions on tobacco advertising than set in federal law, nor can it impose regulations greater than federal ones on hearing aids sold in the state.

- that Washington state can't set higher safety standards for oil tankers visiting its ports than federal law does, not can any state regulate nuclear power plants within their borders more strictly than the feds.

- that California can't assist holocaust survivors living there obtain settlements from German insurance companies and Massachusetts can't refuse to do business with certain companies because they do business with the dictatorial regime in Burma, in both cases because they "stand in the way of [the President's] diplomatic objectives," as the Court ruled in the California case.

- that federal regulations prevent states from enforcing regulations against branches of national banks within their borders if they are stricter than federal ones.

- that federally-approved warning labels preempt tort claims under state law and federally-approved drugs can't be questioned under state common-law design defect claims.

(One area where, interestingly enough, it apparently hasn't had a lot of success is in regulating guns.)

Years ago, the rightists fought their battles on the state level, knowing that state governments were less able to overcome the heavy-duty PR campaigns that corporations could mount. Federal regulation was anathema because it "violated states' rights." But as the federal government and the associated bureaucracy has become more conservative, those same forces shifted gears because fighting one easily-won battle was better and cheaper than fighting 50. The rubric smoothly shifted to "federal preemption."

Or course such an utter reversal is extremely hypocritical, but since moral and political consistency requires a minimal level of decency, that's no problem for this lot.

Thursday, September 23, 2004


What is olive oil?

Clubs and Organizations for $400

The "big cats" who founded this organization in Chicago in 1917 allow no business discussions at meetings.

Getting better all the time (it can't get no worse)

Actually, yes, it can. Al-Jazeera for September 20 reports that
Two senior members of an influential Islamic authority in Iraq, the Association of Muslim Scholars, have been assassinated.

In the first incident, the body of Shaikh Hazim al-Zaidi was found in front of al-Sajjad mosque in Sadr City, a mainly Shia area in eastern Baghdad on Monday, an AMS spokesman told Aljazeera. ...

In the second incident, later on Monday, Shaikh Muhammad Jadwa was killed by armed men when he left al-Kauthar mosque in the Baya area, west of Baghdad. ...

The AMS is a conservative group that has worked for the release of foreign hostages. It strongly opposes the US presence in Iraq - a position that has made it possible to act as an intermediary in hostage negotiations.
A representative of AMS said they were investigating whether this was one incident or two incidents that just happened to come on the same day. But in either event, it's a little hard to understand who would gain by attacking the group. Two possibilities spring to mind, both just speculation, neither happy.

Because AMS is a Sunni group, we have to allow for the possibility that the killers are Shiites who targeted the Shaikhs because they are Sunni. Or, more darkly, someone wants people to think the attackers are Shiites.

Another is that the attackers are extremist Sunnis who regard the group's attempts to mediate release of hostages as collaboration. Related to this is the fact that earlier this month, one group asked AMS for a fatwa on whether or not kidnapping of foreigners working for occupation forces is allowed by Islam. Could be that someone doesn't want to risk getting the "wrong" answer.

The speculations are dark but it's hard to make any other kind about Iraq these days. From the daily newspaper of the Al-Mashriq Institution for Media and Cultural Investments, via the Iraqi Press Monitor for September 23:
Unknown assailants yesterday killed the head of the human rights office in Tikrit, Adnan Talib Faisal. ... Meanwhile, other assailants assassinated Baghdad regional council member Ilham Jamil Issa after kidnapping her from the school in the Abu Ghraib area where she works as a teacher.
Darker and darker.

Footnote: On the other hand, this is interesting. Al-Adala, the daily of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, reported (via IPM for September 22) that
[e]yewitnesses said residents of al-Karkh area have beaten and arrested six Arab terrorists who planted a bomb on Bab al-Muaddam Bridge. The bomb exploded without any casualties. The residents delivered the terrorists to government authorities. The residents were upset by the infiltration of the Arab fighters into their neighbourhood, which adversely affected their security.
The report was echoed by the newspaper of the Islamic Dawa Party, IPM said the next day. If the reports are accurate, it would be an interesting turn of events. I said back on June 30 that
a lot - I would venture most - Iraqis want this new undertaking to work as advertised. They want the promises of security, jobs, elections, and a departure of foreign troops to be true. And they are prepared, at least for the short term, to suspend their disbelief and give it a chance.
They want us to get our troops the hell out of their country, thank you very much, but that doesn't mean they desire a future of uncontained ethic warfare, even though that remains a serious possibility. Most of them, I suspect, like most people everywhere, just want to get on with their lives - and will, so long as events don't push them in another direction. (Which, again, they still well might.) I believe the use of the word "Arab" in the reports is meant to indicate they were not Iraqis and therefore might be viewed with as much suspicion (and growing resentment) as we are. I can't help but wonder if this incident says that at least some ordinary people are getting fed up with the violence around them.

Down through history, politicians and pundits alike have underestimated the ability of such ordinary fed up citizens to change their world, to change the calculations of the powerful. Maybe this will prove to be the beginning of another example. While I admit I'm not sure if in effect siding with the government will gain the ends they seek - security, jobs, elections, freedom from occupation - I do think it's better than passive acquiescence in murder.

So maybe I still have a little hope. Or maybe it's just gas.

Laying groundwork of a different sort

In a scandalously bigoted column, the scandalously bigoted John Leo echoes the scandalously bigoted claims of the scandalously bigoted Michelle Malkin that the scandalously bigoted internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was actually, in the scandalously bigoted Leo's words, "a reasonable and mild decision" in the face of very real danger.

This is nonsense, classic revisionism, i.e., a cynical rewrite of history for narrow and selfish political purposes. History has made its judgment and its not the one the scandalously bigoted Malkin and the scandalously bigoted Leo claim.
Over 120,000 people, including children and the elderly, were required to leave their homes in California and parts of Washington, Oregon and Arizona. Most people did not have time to store or sell their household goods at a fair price. Some people moved to other states, but the majority went to internment camps. They were only allowed to take few belongings with them, and many families lost virtually everything they owned except what they could carry. Internees spent many years in camp, behind barbed wire fences and with armed guards patrolling the camps. Entire families lived in cramped, one room quarters that were poorly constructed.

In 1980, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established by Congress. This commission reviewed the impact of Executive Order 9066 on Japanese-Americans and determined that they were the victims of discrimination by the Federal government.

On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The Act was passed by Congress to provide a Presidential apology and symbolic payment of $20,000.00 to the internees, evacuees, and persons of Japanese ancestry who lost liberty or property because of discriminatory action by the Federal government during World War II. The Act also created the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund to help teach children and the public about the internment period.
The scandalously bigoted reactionaries peddling their scandalously bigoted line of crap are not to be deterred by either fact or history's judgment. I've already told you what I think of the scandalously bigoted Malkin, so this time let's focus on her scandalously bigoted marionette.

As one example of how he deals with facts, the scandalously bigoted Leo claims that "most of the U.S. fleet [was] destroyed at Pearl Harbor [and] the Pacific became a Japanese pond." But according to the Navy's own description of the battle (thanks to Chris Bray at for the link), there were 90 ships anchored at Pearl Harbor, of which 21 were damaged or destroyed - which means 69 were not. Admittedly, those numbers alone understate the degree of damage since the Japanese concentrated their attack on the battleships, eight of which were damaged or sunk. But that still doesn't justify a description of the attack as destroying "most" of the Pacific fleet.

That's especially true since not a single aircraft carrier was damaged: They were all at sea at the time. What's more, 18 of the 21 damaged or sunk ships were repaired and put back in action - and of the other three, two were deemed too old or obsolete to be worth the effort. Six months after Pearl Harbor, at the Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942) the US assembled a force of 3 aircraft carriers, 8 heavy cruisers, 15 destroyers, and 12 submarines and their associated support vessels (and 234 aircraft afloat). Another dozen submarines and 10 PT boats cruised the waters around Midway Island. Meanwhile, a Japanese attack on the Aleutians on June 3 was met by a task force of 5 cruisers, 14 destroyers, and 6 submarines.

A lot of this might be dismissed as irrelevant since FDR's internment order was issued on February 19, 1942, nearly four months before these battles. However, the purpose was to point out the fact that the scandalously bigoted Leo's assertion that in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor the Pacific "became a Japanese pond" is bogus. And for that it still works.

What's more, as the scandalously bigoted Leo himself admits, the "core" of the scandalously bigoted Malkin's scandalously bigoted book concerns the so-called MAGIC decrypts, decoded Japanese messages sent to and from Japan in the time leading up to the war. In the eyes of the scandalously bigoted reactionaries, these documents demonstrated that by mid-1941 there was an extensive, organized, spy and subversion network among Japanese-Americans on the west coast.

The only problem is, they don't say any such thing. Instead, as noted by both David Neiwert and Greg Robinson (scroll down to "In Defense of Internment, Part 5"), the documents speak far more of what Japanese agents hoped to achieve rather than what they had achieved. There is no evidence they actually succeeded to any significant extent.

To bogus history and slippery analysis, the scandalously bigoted Leo adds some creative accounting (referring to 100,000 interned, understating the actual number by nearly 20%) and a list of what are apparently supposed to be gasp-inducing incidents which actually add up to very little. One example, "shell[ing] California's Goleta Oil Fields," is darkly amusing. The attack was by the deck gun of a single submarine, it lasted a few minutes, and did minimal damage - and actually happened because the captain of the sub wanted revenge for an incident years earlier when his American hosts has a laugh at his expense when he fell backwards into a cactus. Now, of course this last part wasn't known at the time, but the rest was. While it not surprisingly generated some hysteria in the region about an imminent Japanese attack, are we really to think the country's military and political leaders, with their knowledge of Japanese intelligence, thought this was a significant encounter?

Well, yes, actually, we are - or, rather, the scandalously bigoted Leo would prefer we don't think too much about it at all. Because that's where the strength of the scandalously bigoted right lies: in people not thinking.

So why are the scandalously bigoted wingnuts trying to refight an old, lost battle? Why the drive "toward our first national discussion on the wisdom and fairness" of a discredited policy of 60 years ago? The scandalously bigoted Leo tells us:
Malkin's point is that if the threat to the survival of America is severe enough, some civil liberties must yield. She is right that the internment issue is currently being wielded as a club to prevent reasonable extra scrutiny of suspect Arabs and Muslims. But the twin towers were not brought down by militant Swedish nuns. It is always reasonable to look in the direction from which the gravest danger is coming. It's also reasonable and important to open an honest discussion of internment, past and present.
Internment past and present.

Past and present.

Past and present.

Just keep that last word in mind and you will understand all.

Blue light special!

"Then what's it for?" - Doctor Who, "The Pirate Planet"
Israeli military officials say the United States will sell Israel nearly five-thousand smart bombs.

Israel's announcement came after the U-S Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible military sale to Israel worth as much as 319 million dollars.

An Israeli newspaper (Haaretz) says Israel would buy the weapons with military aid from the U-S.
I mean this as a serious question: What use, what need, does Israel have for 5,000 smart bombs, or as they're more properly called, precision-guided munitions?

Israel has used smart bombs in assassination attempts against Palestinian militants - but they're very clumsy weapons for targeting individuals and likely to produce a lot of "collateral damage," something like using a baseball bat to swat a bug. And even if that was the intent, 5,000 of them?

There is another possibility, which I find more ominous:
Israeli military officials won't say whether the bombs might be intended for use against Iran, which is developing a nuclear program.
Now, I'm not saying this is the purpose. It could have been simply a matter of "we've got the money, let's spend it" - especially in light of the old wisdom that failing to spend all your money this year can make it harder to ask for more next year, as true for aid as it is for bureaucratic budgets.

What's more, there is a real impediment to an Israeli attack on Iran beyond matters of distance: It would require permission to overfly Iraq, something the US might be unhappy about because it would certainly result in the US being regarded as a cosponsor of the attack, technicalities about who actually in a legal sense would give permission (the interim government) be damned.

On the other hand, the US may want Iran "dealt with" and Israel has long since shown its determination to maintain its nuclear monopoly in the region. So if Israel wants to and is willing to undertake the attack, the US may be willing to accept the resulting flak, knowing that most (although not all) of it will be directed against Israel.

So am I saying that Israel is actively planning to attack Iran? No. But I am saying, again, that groundwork is being laid and options are being considered. We knew all along that Iraq was not the end.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Who is Paul Newman?

Salad Dressing for $1000

Type of oil used to make traditional Italian dressing.

Your papers, please - continued

Remember all the flak about how airlines secretly passed customer data to the Department of the Security of the Fatherland? About how people didn't like the idea of their personal information being secretly funneled to the feds?

Well, stop worrying about that; it's not a problem anymore. Now they're doing it openly.
Washington (AP, September 21) - The Transportation Security Administration announced on Tuesday that it will order domestic airlines to turn over personal information about passengers to test a system that will compare their names to those on terrorist watch lists.

The system, called Secure Flight, replaces a previous plan that would have checked passenger names against commercial databases and assigned a risk level to each. That plan, which cost $103 million, was abandoned because of privacy concerns and technological issues.

The airlines will have 30 days to comment on the proposed order, which Congress gave the TSA authority to issue. Air carriers will then have 10 days to turn over data that it gathered in June, called passenger name records.

The amount of data in passenger name records varies by airline, but it typically includes name, flight origin, flight destination, flight time, duration of flight and form of payment. It can also include credit card numbers, address, telephone number and meal requests, which can indicate a person's ethnicity. [My emphasis.]
So let's see. You can charge your flight and have the feds get your credit card number with all the access to personal info that allows. Or you can pay cash - which is one of the warning signs that can get you pegged as a potential terrorist.

But then again, maybe we shouldn't worry about that, either. After all, certainly one of the probing efforts to find a means to a national ID card which people will accept will succeed and then it'll all be in one neat package available to any government law type who wants to get you know you better.

I mentioned one such possible means on Sunday, that of the constantly-expanding use of Social Security numbers for ID. Now the ACLU has a warning about another path.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is urging the federal government to fund and authorize a proposal to standardize state drivers' licenses and link state databases. This plan would establish a national ID and an unparalleled system of personal information sharing.

Once government databases are integrated through a uniform ID, access to and uses of sensitive personal information would inevitably expand. Law enforcement, tax collectors, and other government agencies would want use of the data. Employers, landlords, insurers, credit agencies, mortgage brokers, direct mailers, private investigators, civil litigants and a long list of other private parties would also begin using the ID and even the database, further eroding the privacy that Americans rightly expect in their personal lives.
Now, I suppose they should actually say a virtual national ID card, since not everyone has a driver's license, but it certainly would be close enough. Bicycles and public transit are looking good right now.

Meanwhile, the assault on other areas of privacy continues apace. Last month, Newsweek reported that the FCC had voted 5-0
to prohibit businesses from offering broadband or Internet phone service unless they provide Uncle Sam with backdoors for wiretapping access. ...

The proposal would bring Internet-based phone providers in line with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which requires "telecommunications" carriers to make their networks wiretap-friendly.
Now, the FCC's mandate is to regulate communications services in the public interest. And, of course, that's exactly what this decision is, according to them:
"To the extent that there may be tension in the law," argues the FCC's [spokesman Julius] Knapp, "it's suggested that with that tension in place, the appropriate public interest lies in ensuring that public safety has access to the tools it needed."
That is, the public interest is best served by making easier for the snoopers to snoop.

However, it's probably wise to bear in mind that while privacy threats arising from the feds are potentially the most ominous, federal snoops are in an important sense not the worst offenders, as corporations find new ways to poke and probe into our lives every day. But it's worse when the government makes excuses for them.

Consider the case of online bookseller Interloc, which offered e-mail accounts to its dealer clients. Interloc then secretly copied messages its customers received from in order to gain a market advantage.
Totally illegal, right? Not according to the federal court of appeals decision. Bradford C. Councilman, then an Interloc supervisor, claimed he was innocent of wiretapping because the law did not apply: since the messages had been stored on Interloc's servers while they were being processed, they were not intercepted in transit. The court agreed with this literal reading of the wiretap laws. "We believe that the language of the statute makes clear that Congress meant to give lesser protection to electronic communications than wire and oral communication," the court wrote in its decision. Under a 1986 amendment to the 1968 Wiretap Act, companies are banned from monitoring customer communications - but not from reading stored customer communications.
The fact that the messages may have been "stored" for milliseconds didn't matter to the ignorant buffoons of the court. Neither did the fact that the concept of "in transit" makes no sense in the way the court used it. And neither did the fact that applying a literal reading of a 1986 law to 2004 communications technology makes as much sense as saying that a 1920 law relating to "radio communications" was meant to exempt television because it didn't mention it.

Finally, just in case you have any doubt about who is on what side of the fence:

On July 1, a law went into effect in California requiring that financial institutions - such as banks, credit card companies, brokerage houses, and insurance companies - obtain a consumer's permission before sharing information about them with other businesses. An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle picks up the story.
But this privacy law disturbs the financial industry, which wants to mine such data and peddle the information to others. Trade groups have continued to resist the consumer safeguards by suing to block the law that took effect on July 1.

Now the Bush administration has joined the fight - not on the side of consumers and privacy, but on behalf of the financial institutions, who are hungering to recover a lucrative asset. A string of regulatory agencies that oversee banks, savings and loans and credit unions have jumped in to overturn California's law. ...

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is defending the California privacy law, acidly noted that the Bush decision showed "fealty to business interests over their duty to consumers."
Indeed. And no, I'm not convinced the Dummycrats on the national level have any credibility on challenging corporate interests, either.

What are you looking at?

After a yearlong investigation, Amnesty International has released a report estimating that 32 million people in the US have been targets of racial profiling and 55 million more are at "high risk" of the same treatment. Amnesty defined the term as meaning detaining or questioning someone based on their race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion.
The international human-rights group backed its claim with a variety of sources - census data, polling information and interviews compiled over a year - and extrapolated some conclusions.

America's war on terrorism, the report says, has added a new level to profiling.

In the years since the Sept. 11 attacks, Muslims and people of Arab descent have joined blacks, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans most likely to be profiled by law enforcement and other authorities.
As Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director at Amnesty International USA, put it at the press conference announcing release of the report:
Racial profiling is to the 21st Century what Jim Crow laws were to the last, turning entire groups of people into second-class citizens and denying them the rights to which we all are due.

Today, "driving while black or brown" ... has been joined by "worshipping while Muslim," "walking while South Asian," "driving while Native American," and "flying while Middle Eastern."
Despite some huffy, self-interested claims to the contrary by law enforcement groups, the existence of such profiling is beyond question. Section 2 of the End Racial Profiling Act, introduced in Congress in February, noted that a 2001 DOJ report acknowledged that black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white drivers. Even more pointedly, a 2000 General Accounting Office (now called the Government Accountability Office) report on the activities of the US Customs Service
found that black women who were United States citizens were 9 times more likely than white women who were United States citizens to be X-rayed after being frisked or patted down....
Tellingly, both reports revealed that the practice was counterproductive:
On average, searches and seizures of African-American drivers yielded evidence only eight percent of the time, searches and seizures of Hispanic drivers yielded evidence only 10 percent of the time, and searches and seizures of white drivers yielded evidence 17 percent of the time. ...

[O]n the basis of X-ray results, black women who were United States citizens were less than half as likely as white women who were United States citizens to be found carrying contraband. In general, the report found that the patterns used to select passengers for more intrusive searches resulted in women and minorities being selected at rates that were not consistent with the rates of finding contraband.
The fact that such practices persisted despite their obvious failures is proof enough that the reason behind it was straightforward bigotry. (In fairness, I need to mention that in 2000 the Customs Service switched from racial profiling to behavioral profiling - where the decision to search is based on how the particular person is acting rather than on what they look like. "Successful" searches tripled.)

Certainly, the racist basis on which the "war on terror" has been pursued has done no better. Goering, citing the 9/11 Commission, said
[i]nvestigations under the federal Absconder Apprehension Initiative of 6,000 people who were subject to final deportation orders led to 14 cases being referred to the FBI for further investigation relating to possible terrorist links - and not a single case was prosecuted. No individual scrutinized under the Visas Condor Program, which mandated additional security screening for certain visa applicants from 26 predominantly Muslim countries, has ever had his or her application rejected on the grounds of being a terrorist.
As Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) said,
Racial profiling gives an illusion of safety, that somehow if you question all those people that look like that, you will somehow find all the ones who are a threat to this country.
So racial profiling is an inefficient, racist, failure. A perfect policy for a post-9/11 world.

The End Racial Profiling Act now has 16 sponsors in the Senate and 96 in the House. I'd say that anyone who hinders this coming to a vote or votes against it if and when that happens is marking themselves as racist swine.

Links to the full text of the report, testimony, and related documents can be found here.

The geek likes pumpkin pie

Happy fall!

(Spring to a couple of you.)

You might enjoy checking out a little about the history of calendars, including how much our own Western calendars were developed because of the Catholic Church's need to be able to able to predict when Easter would be. Since Easter is defined as falling on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or next after the vernal equinox, determining it's exact date in future years requires an accurate calendar.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


What is mayonnaise?

Salad Dressing for $600

This celebrity's "own" dressings include Caesar and Two Thousand Island.

Some September economic notes

This is going to be somewhat disjointed and rambling. Bear with me.

1) Garnered from an AFP article on September 4 (N.B. All the information and quotes are from the article but because I moved a few things around for convenience, this is not an excerpt):
- Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The average real wage - that is, adjusted for inflation - has actually fallen over the past year. This is in spite of the fact that the economy has grown by 4.7 percent. In other words, even when the economy is growing, most of the people who make it grow aren't getting anything out of it."

- Lehman Brothers chief economist Ethan Harris: "What's disappointing is not the pace of growth, which is adequate, but the fact that this growth is without significant gain on the job market, and that the recovery has been slow by historical standards."

Harris said the US economy emerging from recession typically shows six percent growth for about a year and a half, and sustained job gains of 200,000 to 300,000. US gross domestic product expanded at a pace of just 2.8 percent in the second quarter, and most economists see growth of four percent or less for the rest of the year.

Harris noted is a big difference in the economic outlook between "property owners" who have significant investment in real estate and stocks, and others. The first group "has done quite well over the last decade, they have seen their value go up, portfolio value on net has had great return. They also tended to benefit disproportionately from the tax cuts."

- Sung Won Sohn, chief economist at Wells Fargo Bank: "The jobless rate edged down primarily because 152,000 people dropped out of the labor force, not an encouraging sign."
2) The Sacramento Bee for September 6 had this to say:
Labor Day finds American workers more productive than ever - perhaps too productive for their own good. ... While hiring has clearly been curtailed by rising oil prices and general softness in the recovery, economists said improvements in productivity also have been a key reason. ...

Just a few years ago, productivity growth - measured in output per hour of labor - was hailed as America's economic miracle. Emerging from a 20-year productivity slumber in the mid-1990s, U.S. workers, armed with the best technology money could buy, churned out goods and services with stunning efficiency. That gave employers the financial flexibility to ramp up production or to expand into new fields, hiring more workers. ...

Then came the recession in 2001 and a recovery marked by often sluggish job creation. Sales and profits are increasing, but companies are discovering they can keep a lid on hiring.
3) From the Christian Science Monitor for September 8:
Census data confirm that the median household income - a level where half of US households earn more and half less - has fallen by $1,500 between 2000 and 2003. ...

Economists don't have a standard definition for the "middle class." But the percentage of households having a pretax income of between $25,000 and $75,000 - a group occupying roughly the middle half of Census income tables - has declined by 1.2 percentage points since President Bush took office, after adjusting for inflation.

In the same 2000-2003 period, those making less than $25,000 grew by 1.5 percentage points to 29 percent of households. Those making more than $75,000 declined by 0.4 percent to 26 percent of all households. ...

Since May, nominal wages have risen at an annualized rate of more than 3.5 percent, higher than the inflation rate, notes Heather Boushey, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington think tank.

Still, for the past 12 months, nominal hourly wages are up by 2.3 percent. And that's less than the 3 percent rate of inflation. So real wages are down in that period. ...

In the 2-1/2 years of the current recovery, wages and salaries have received just 15 percent of the overall increase in national income. That compares to an average of 49 percent in other recoveries since World War II. Meanwhile, corporate profits have received 47 percent of the income increase, compared with an average 21 percent in other recoveries.
4) From a commentary by Morgan-Stanley economist Stephen Roach at for September 10 (via
Based on data over the first 32 months of this upturn, real wage and salary disbursements have recorded a cumulative increase of just 2.2%. By contrast, by this same juncture in the previous six business cycles, real wage income had recorded a 10.6% average increase. ...

[P]rivate nonfarm payrolls are now up only 0.3% over the first 33 months of this expansion. By contrast, at similar junctures of the past six cycles, the increase averaged 7.8%.

A similar pattern shows up in real wages - comparisons in the current cycle are running an astonishing 0.3% below year-earlier levels (as measured by CPI-deflated average hourly earnings). ...

But the most fascinating insight of all into business attitudes may be the $38.7 billion spike in corporate stock buyback announcements that occurred in July - the strongest such surge in 20 years and fully four times the average monthly pace of the past year. ... Awash in newfound earnings and cash flow, companies would rather buy their own shares than embark on growth oriented strategies of hiring, boosting compensation, and adding to productive capacity.
5) From AP for September 16:
A Senate committee voted Wednesday to scuttle new rules that critics say would deny overtime pay to millions of workers, as Democrats won the latest round in their election-year bout with President Bush over the issue.

The 16-13 vote by the Republican-run Senate Appropriations Committee came less than a week after the GOP-led House embarrassed Bush by approving a similar measure.

Despite the twin rebukes by Congress, the provision could well disappear when House-Senate bargainers write a final version of the spending bill to which it was attached. GOP leaders and the White House will dominate that part of the legislative process. ...

The White House has threatened a veto of the entire spending bill if the overtime language survives. House leaders have said they believe the provision will be removed from the final House-Senate compromise. ...

In another victory for labor, the House approved a Democratic provision barring the White House from counting jobs at fast-food restaurants as part of the manufacturing sector. A White House economic report this year posed whether fast-food work should be considered manufacturing jobs, more than 2.6 million of which have disappeared since Bush took office.
There are a couple of comments by way of footnotes here.

- Two people quoted in the Christian Science Monitor article say the economy is actually doing just great.
Martin Regalia ...says it's not unusual for the median income to decline in a recession. And in 2003, the tiny drop in median income was statistically insignificant. Further, 2004 data is not yet available for household income.

The economy is "doing very, very well," he holds. And that should boost incomes.

"American workers are much better off now than they were a year ago," states Jerry Jasinowski....
Regalia is chief economist for the US Chamber of Commerce; Jasinowski is president of the National Association of Manufacturers. 'Nuff said.

- In the Sacramento Bee article, several economists defended productivity growth even as it makes it harder for people to find work.
It's been that way for ages. Some workers get hurt, others prosper. But the long-term overall direction of the economy is up, experts say.

"The automobile eliminated all of the jobs in the horse-and-buggy industry" but ultimately created many more jobs of its own, [economic historian Michael] Bernstein said.
But that's classic apples and oranges. The issue here is not some new industry springing up and replacing an old one, it's one of existing industries expanding production and profit but not jobs. It's not a case of jobs lost here but gained there, it's just jobs lost here. Stephen Roach, in a part not quoted above, notes that consumer spending is ultimately the fuel that drives the economy. At what point does companies' search for short-term gain collide with the fact that people without jobs can't drive demand?

- That same Bee article called productivity growth
a blessing and a curse. The economy needs productivity growth like a person needs oxygen, but sometimes it can choke off hiring.
Okay, here's a heretical thought: Does the economy really need productivity growth? Does the economy really need to be more productive, year after year? Why? I'm not talking about producing more, that is, economic growth, but about producing more per unit of labor, that is, productivity growth. Or is the supposed need for productivity growth just an assumption, an unquestioned belief, an article of faith, a prejudice crammed into our heads from the time we were old enough to understand what money is?

Indeed, we can go beyond that to challenging the very idea of growth - or, more accurately, the idea that growth can be sustained indefinitely - and say there must be an alternative.

One such alternative is the idea of a steady-state economy, developed by former World Bank economist Herman Daly in 1977. It's been popular among environmentalists because it of necessity involves limits to growth (including population growth) and a heavy emphasis on renewable energy, conservation, and recycling.

I actually shouldn't say "one" alternative because there are - surprise! - a number of flavors of the basic recipe. (Some of which, unfortunately, look at the US in isolation from the rest of the world and use the principle of limiting population as a cover for a xenophobic agenda of opposing immigration.)

The usual objection to a steady-state economy - one, frankly, that a number of its advocates have not adequately addressed - is that without economic growth there is neither help nor hope for the world's poor. And in fact, on September 8 the Christian Science Monitor reported that
[a]s Asia continues to grow, developing countries are making remarkable progress in cutting poverty and boosting livelihoods of vulnerable citizens.

In a new report, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) says the number of people in Asia living on less than $1 a day fell by 223 million between 1990 and 2002. China accounted for 3 out of 4 of those whose incomes rose above a level classified as "extreme poverty" by economists.
But the fact that the objection hasn't been adequately addressed doesn't mean it can't be. Indeed, the very same article quoted Ifzal Ali, chief economist of the ADB, as warning that
future progress could be jeopardized by a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots within Asia.

"Even in a country as successful as China there are warning signals that if you don't address [inequality], it's very difficult for governments to continue to reduce poverty," says Ali. "Growth is important. But addressing inequalities is also important."

The growing gap is particularly evident in India. A booming software industry has sprouted office towers and gated communities, while the number of people living on under $2 a day actually rose 17 percent to 840 million through 2002.
Even the economists realize that growth can only do so much. We can't grow our way out of poverty because poverty is not simply a matter of economic circumstances, it's structural: It's built into the society and the economy.

I know I've been quoting myself a lot lately, but even though this was actually written on a different topic, I think it has some relevance. It's taken from a personal letter; the date was August 25, 1988.
My philosophy is simple and is the same for individuals and nations: "Always seek to act with justice in the world." As national policy, it'd entail some basic changes in the way we as a society view the world and our place in it. It'd mean regarding all peoples as having equal rights to their own natural resources and viewing people as ends and not as means. It'd mean embracing morality as both process and goal, even when so doing went against our narrow selfish interests. ...

Didn't say it's easy; often it's not. Didn't say it'd always work to our selfish benefit; often it won't. In fact, pursuing a policy of acting with justice in the world may well require some moderation in our national standard of living because one inevitable (and intended) result would be a far more equitable world-wide distribution of wealth. (On the other hand, applying a similar policy domestically, where 1% of the population now controls 35% of the wealth, would likely mean that even if the national figures dipped, the figures for the vast majority of individuals could rise.) But that's not a result to be feared but to be welcomed. Reduced poverty, lessened oppression, and raised hopes in the world aren't sources of threats but of greater security. If doing without a few high-tech goodies and accepting, perhaps, a '60s standard of living instead of an '80s standard of living can promote both justice and peace, I say it's a damn small price to pay.
Calling economic growth the cure for our ills and declaring productivity growth the oxygen of the economy may have been fine at a time when the world's abundance seemed endless. But in a world where we have become aware of limits (and face some of them) it's dangerous and no longer acceptable.

That does, however, mean adding another R to the familiar trio of "Renew, Re-use, Recycle" - Redistribute. A steady-state economy coupled with a just redistribution of the Earth's wealth would provide a sustainable future for the people of the world, it would mean a world where we could honestly talk of human society surviving for millennia rather than dissolving in decades among resource wars and crumbling, energy-starved economies. It would even promote the population stability and gradual decline many argue is necessary: Short of repressive enforcement of draconian laws, the surest means to putting the brakes on the birthrate is economic security.

But doing that would mean giving up on the idea of ever more, ever bigger, ever expanding. It would mean sacrifice, it would mean we who by comparison have so much having less so that others who have so little could have more.

Which is why I expect it will never happen.
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