Thursday, June 30, 2005


What is alligator?

African Mammals for $400

The name of this African mammal comes from words meaning "nose" and "horned."

Just a thought before I go

For the night, that is.

As I'm sure you know, on Monday the Supreme Court rejected the appeals by Matthew Cooper (Time magazine) and Judith Miller (New York Times) against demands they reveal their sources for stories which they wrote (Cooper) or for which they gathered information but didn't write (Miller) relating to the Valerie Plame investigation. They now face up to 18 months in prison.

Or, rather, faced in Cooper's case, since Time said on Thursday it would turn over Cooper's notes, which, it said, should eliminate the need for his testimony and so remove the justification for jailing him.

The subpoenas issued to the two and the appeals that followed produced a fair amount of discussion and argument over the role of reporters and the idea that there should be a sort of journalistic "Get Out of Jail Free" card - that is, the suggestion that the duty incumbent on the press under the freedom of the First Amendment requires that reporters be allowed to shield their sources for the sake of keeping open a flow of information that government or other powerful agencies would rather keep secret. Remove the promise of anonymity, the argument goes, and the threat of retaliation will silence many who would otherwise leak things that the public should know. Therefore, a promise to protect a source's identity should trump the desire of prosecutors for testimony in a legal proceeding.

Despite my flip remark about a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, I endorse that argument. I am, in fact, very near an absolutist on it: I would say that the only conditions under which I could accept a reporter's testimony being forced is if prosecutors could prove - not just "assert" or "declare" or "certify" but prove - that there is literally no other way certain information about a serious crime can be secured and no way the case can proceed without it. (Yes, obviously we quickly get into murky waters regarding who would be considered a journalist under such a doctrine - not to mention the always-present question of the patent failure of the mainstream media to live up to its obligations to inform - but we're talking base principles here, not devil-housing details.)

Not everyone agreed, of course. Some contrary commentaries were sober, but some were some silly. One of the silliest, in my opinion, was found at LiberalOasis, which called the "twisted logic" of the reporters' supporters "appalling." The nub of their argument is that a crime has been committed and because the prosecutor says their testimony is needed, they should feel obligated to cooperate.

Now, the idea that their testimony is actually necessary is based on nothing but the prosecutor's say-so, which is certainly not something I would want to rely on, but that doesn't matter, LO seems to say: There was a crime and they should cooperate because, well, because they should.

And the risks of cooperation to future reporting and the public's right to know? None whatsoever! First off, LO insists, the public's right to know lies here not in revealing what the government would keep secret but in revealing what the government wants to know. Furthermore,
[m]edia types are arguing that to give up the leaker will mean that future whistleblowers won't trust the press to keep quiet and therefore, won't talk.

More likely, future whistleblowers are frightened at the how the media is so easily used as a tool against them, and would feel reassured to see the media join them in standing up to a corrupt government official. [emphasis in original]
Now, that is just arrant nonsense. The idea that someone - anyone - is going to say "you promised to keep their name secret and you didn't but they were a bad person so therefore I'm sure you'll protect me" is beyond ridiculous.

What's also ridiculous is that LO, which presented its case in the form of picking apart a column by William Safire, not by addressing the arguments of any actual participants in the case, ignored an important fact: Appeals to the Supreme Court to hear the appeal came not only from numerous news organizations but from 34 states,
all arguing that confidentiality is important in news gathering. ...

Every state but Wyoming recognizes reporters' rights to protect their confidential sources of information, justices were told in a brief filed on behalf of 34 states, and without those privileges "reporters in those states would find their newsgathering abilities compromised, and citizens would find themselves far less able to make informed political, social and economic choices."
But not only didn't that matter, it wasn't even worth mentioning in an argument designed to make the situation appear as simply a self-absorbed mass media ignoring the public interest.

In fact, the whole post reeks of partisan game-playing, of the folks at LiberalOasis being eager to see Cooper and Miller cooperate not so much because a crime has been committed, but because they figure the result will be politically harmful to Bush and the Bushleaguers and they're prepared to damage the principle of journalistic confidentiality to get it. While that result would certainly be something to be welcomed, I say the price they would exact for it is too damned high.

That's especially true because there is still another point here, lost in the hoopla:
[U.S. Attorney Patrick] Fitzgerald [of Chicago] said in his own filing that the federal government is different. "Local jurisdictions do not have responsibility for investigating crimes implicating national security, and reason and experience strongly counsel against adoption of an absolute reporter's privilege in the federal courts," he said.
That is, another aspect of the case is the declaration that, yet again, "national security" trumps everything. By insisting the reporters cooperate with prosecutors, LO, doubtless inadvertently, helps to advance that idea.

Footnote: All that said, there is a way that, I believe, the reporters could have justified breaking their silence. Not to cooperate with prosecutors, not to get Bush. But I say that if you pledge to keep a source secret and later discover that your source has burned you, that they were actually using you not to get out relevant or necessary information but to advance their personal or ideological interests, that they have surrendered any claim on your continued commitment. If you pledged to keep their name quiet, then in most every case you should do exactly that. But if you find they've burned you, feel free to burn them right back. That was an option open more to Cooper in this case (who published) than Miller (who didn't), but having gone as far as they did and having made the decision to keep silent despite having been burned, it would be hard to either of them to take that course now without it looking like capitulation rather than choice, which would undo the point of doing it.


Here's a poser, or at least it is for me. On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted by a margin of 231-189 to bar federal transportation funds from being used to make improvements on lands seized through eminent domain for private development.

Voting to bar the use of funds were 39 Democrats and 192 Republicans; voting against the ban were 157 Democrats, 31 Republicans and 1 Independent. Fifteen members did not vote.

This would have been a tough call for me assuming that the resolution is exactly as stated above, that is, there were no extra details not mentioned in news accounts. As I expect was clear from my post on the matter, I opposed the Supreme Court's decision to allow a very wide interpretation of the Fifth Amendment's "takings" clause, an interpretation under which a municipality's hope for increased tax revenue in the future becomes proper justification for imposing eminent domain and passing on the property to a private, profit-seeking enterprise. That, I maintain, goes beyond any reasonable interpretation of the "public use" allowance for seizures of property permitted by the Constitution.

The measure the House passed, it would appear, intends to say "well, you can do it, but we don't have to help you." For that reason, I could be expected to support it - as, indeed, did some good Democrat liberals such as Maxine Waters (CA), John Conyers (MI), Frank Pallone (NJ), and Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX).

At the same time, I have real reservations about it for a reason that overlaps my concern about the Supreme Court decision: It's a sweeping declaration that could threaten projects of which I would approve. Suppose, just for example, a city wanted to seize some run-down buildings, even a blighted neighborhood - and here I mean truly blighted, blighted the way we think of a neighborhood when we say it's blighted, not the semantically-"blighted" areas that have figured in some cases - and turn the land over to a private developer who planned to erect low-income housing. Would I oppose that? Depending on the particulars, I might - but I might not. Yet because the amendment passed speaks only of "private development," its ban would apply. If the bill could have been drawn a little tighter so as not to strike out private development per se but only that in which the public gain comes not from the project itself (e.g., low-income housing) but from a hoped-for effect of the project (e.g., increased revenue), I'd certainly have supported it were I in Congress.

Admittedly, making that kind of legal distinction might well have been pretty tricky. Still, I suppose it doesn't really matter: I wonder just how significant federal transportation funds are in the financing of affected projects. Since I suspect the answer is "not very," which would make the vote far more symbolic, an expression of protest, than anything that would risk screwing up something I might support in the future, I expect I would have been with the majority on this.

Damn. Agreeing with conservatives again. This is getting creepy.


So Shrub makes his pitch for continuing the madness and bloodshed in Iraq, declaring it's "worth it" to wage war in Iraq, to fight "them abroad before they attack us at home," which, even were it to be true, could mean nothing if it doesn't mean that Iraqi lives are worth less than American ones.

It comes at a time when half of Americans "want a timetable set and followed for removing troops from Iraq regardless of the situation there," pluralities say Iraq is separate from the War on Terror(c)(reg.)(pat.pend) and has actually made us less safe, and a clear majority says it was a mistake to send troops in the first place. (All according to the most recent USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll.)

A time when a plurality of Americans, and a majority of political independents, say Bush is more to blame for the war than Saddam Hussein. (The Rasmussen Report, via AmericaBlog.)

A time when nearly 40% of Americans want the number of US troops in Iraq reduced and nearly 13% are saying "Out Now!" (So says a Washington Post survey; in its print coverage, the Post did its best to play up areas of good news for the Shrub team.)

And what do we hear from some Dummycrat Party "leaders?"
Sen. John Kerry, Bush's Democratic opponent in last year's presidential election, told NBC's "Today" show that the borders of Iraq "are porous" and said "we don't have enough troops" there.

Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," disputed Bush's notion that sufficient troops are in place. ...

"There's not enough force on the ground now to mount a real counterinsurgency." ...

Beyond their criticism, Some Democrats said they thought Bush strengthened his credibility. "I think he told the American people why it's important," said Biden.

Said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.: "The president needs to do more of what he did last evening. This is a beginning."

Okay, can you maybe finally get it through your thick heads, all you "Anybody But Bush" types, all you MoveOn sorts, all you LiberalOasis readers, has it penetrated yet that we are effing on our own!

There are individual Democrats that can be looked to, a greater number we can work with on common goals - but the Democrat Party is not the answer to what ails us and getting them back in control of Congress or the White House will not create a utopia of either peace or justice. (Or have you forgotten Kosovo, the bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan, the half-million dead Iraqi children is "worth it" business, the Defense of Marriage Act, "ending welfare as we know it," the list does continue.)

We - are - on - our - own. And the sooner we start picking our allies based on their ideologies rather than their party affiliation, the better off we'll be.

Footnote: Note well: I have worked and will work with MoveOn. LiberalOasis is on my list of links and I do read it. I do not reject them nor do I reject others with similar concerns and attitudes. But I do reject their conviction that the necessary position for anyone on the left, indeed the only valid position, is to support Democrats. And yes, that is their position.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


What is a quesadilla?

Four-syllable Words for $1000

This reptilian word can precede clip, pear, and snapping turtle.

Just FYI

Via a commenter at Media Matters for America, we have a list of statements, with links, made by government, intelligence, and law enforcement officials here and in the UK denying a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda or 9/11. A very useful list now that Shrub and Can'tbe Right are falling back on that to justify "staying the course" in Iraq.

Making lemons out of lemonade

According to the Guardian (UK), Canada intends to ban most export of prescriptions to the US and other countries.
Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said he must ensure Canadians continue to have access to an adequate supply of safe and affordable prescription drugs and would launch initiatives, including legislative and regulatory changes, to protect the supply and safety of Canada's drugs.
The targets are internet pharmacies, which an increasing number of people in the US are using to get medicines from Canada, where they are often dramatically cheaper. But the feds, egged on by Big Pharma, have kept trying to shoot the whole practice down. The FDA said they "can't assure the safety" of meds imported from Canada. They claimed, via carefully-chosen examples, that drugs in the US are actually cheaper than those in Canada. They hinted that controlling drug prices in the US would lead to various forms of technological disaster, wrecking R&D beyond repair. None of it worked.

Which brings us to the latest announcement. It's declared intention is to assure an adequate supply of drugs for Canadians - but I can't help but suspect that what actually happened is that Ottawa capitulated to the corporate butt-licking demands from Washington once some agreement was reached on a face-saving way for the Canadians to give up.


This is not a story of Earth-shattering importance, but sometimes an item just really irks me.

AP for June 29 has the story of 17-year-old Mikhael Rawls, a high school student in Bedford, Texas, who sings countertenor. He wanted to audition for the All-State Choir, but they hold no auditions for countertenors, so he asked to audition for soprano, a range in which he took first place in the University Interscholastic League's competition two years running.

But the Texas Music Educators Association told him no. Only girls can audition for soprano or alto and only boys can audition for tenor or bass.
[Association president Kerry] Taylor said the policy doesn't amount to discrimination because Rawls can try out for any of the more traditional male parts.
Now, that argument is ridiculous on its face; it's much the same as saying segregated schools aren't discrimination because blacks could still go to the "more traditional colored schools." But that's run-of-the-mill self-justifying inanity. What irritated me arose from the fact that Rawls says he can't do those lower parts well enough to make the Choir. What's more, singing them
makes his throat hurt. He's worried it also could hinder his ability to hit higher notes later. ...

Taylor said he's seen no medical evidence that singing tenor or bass can hurt a countertenor's voice.
And how did this policy of gender discrimi - oh, wait, we can't call it that, can we, so how about, uh, "distinction" - get started? According to TMEA spokeswoman Amy Lear, it was begun two years ago because of concerns that girls auditioning for tenor parts were hurting their voices by, uh - *ahem* - singing too low.

That kind of absurdity is truly annoying.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


What is a Canadian?

Four-syllable Words for $600

From the Spanish for "cheese," it's a flour tortilla folded in half with a filling of cheese or beans and fried.

Footnote to the preceding

This past Friday, Reuters reported, Secretary of State Can'tbe Right said in an interview with three Arabic-language newspapers that the US wanted to "send the Syrians a clear message from everybody" to keep hands off Lebanon. But
[a]sked whether the U.S. administration would go as far as toppling President Bashar al-Assad's government, she said:

"Every situation is different from the other. Syria is not Iraq and Iraq is not Syria. Iraq was a special case where there was a problem of weapons of mass destruction, backing terrorism and U.N. (Security Council) resolutions. We were also in a state of war with Iraq.

"The Syrian regime is capable of changing itself, its policies and its behaviour with its neighbours. This is the path we hope they will take," she said.
This was taken as "signaling" that "regime change" is not an option in the case of Syria.

Well, ain't that just big of her. She actually allows as how the US does not plan to overthrow another sovereign government. I guess we're all supposed to be grateful for the US's forbearance. I just wonder if the reason is because they figure that Syria would be a tougher challenge than Iraq - no predictions of a "cakewalk" were made in Syria's case - or that they've decided to focus on Iran.

Footnote to the footnote, one: Uh, wait a minute. Iraq was a "special case" that involved WMDs and support of terrorism? You mean the WMDs that didn't exist and the support of terrorism that didn't happen? Those WMDs and support of terrorism? Is that what it was about? Gee, I thought it was supposed to be about "freedom for the Iraqi people!" You know things aren't going well when people are recycling old excuses.

Footnote to the footnote, two: Rice also "repeated a call" for "international election monitors for the presidential elections expected in September" in Egypt. "Do as we say, not as we do."

So, do tell, what's been going on while I was away, part four

Oh, right! Another election! This one, in Lebanon, produced results less surprising but still significant for the country's future.

I had mentioned on June 17 that the surprise move by Michael Aoun to join a pro-Syrian alliance had cut into the seats predicted to go to those grouped around the coalition headed by Saad al-Hariri. To secure a majority in parliament, Hariri needed to get 21 of 28 seats up for grabs in the last round of voting, which took place on June 19.

Well, not only did they get the necessary 21, they took all 28, giving Hariri's bloc a safe majority of 72 seats in the 128-seat parliament, although less than the 85 or so seats - a 2/3 majority - originally predicted. It is, in any event, the first parliament with a majority opposed to Syrian power in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war.

That majority, however, may not be enough, as the coalition that makes up Hariri's so-called Future Movement could still crash and burn on what Reuters called "Lebanon's treacherous sectarian politics." Indeed, CNN reports that
Adib Farha, a Middle East analyst at American University in Washington and a former adviser to Rafik Hariri, called Sunday's results "great news for Lebanon, great news for its economic recovery and great news for national reconciliation."

But he said the results also could reignite sectarian tensions in a country that fought a grinding civil war from 1975-90 - the conflict that brought Syrian troops into Lebanon in the first place.

"There is concern that the Christians, the majority of whom voted for a hawk [i.e., Aoun,] in last Sunday's round against the moderates, might misconstrue the election results of today as a victory for the Muslims," Farha said.

"Unfortunately, in politics, oftentimes perception becomes more important than the truth."
A real stumbling block is dealing with UN Security Council demands that the pro-Syrian Hizbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon be disarmed. Everyone agrees it needs to be discussed, but getting beyond discussion may prove several orders of magnitude more difficult. For one thing, Hizbollah itself and its political ally Amal together hold 35 seats in parliament. (Aoun's bloc occupies the remaining 21 seats.) And while Reuters likely overstated the case when it referred to Hizbollah's "Islamic resistance" as "near-sacred" among Lebanon's Shiites, it is most certainly true that, as I said last time, that the group is
still honored by many in southern Lebanon as being responsible for driving Israeli forces out of the area
and thus a political force to be reckoned with quite apart from its status as a militia. Indeed, Hariri's main ally, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, has pledged to "protect" Hizbollah, leaving Aoun's bloc the only one clearly supporting disarmament.
Since any Lebanese army attempt to wrest the arms is seen at home and in the West as a recipe for civil war, small, fragile Lebanon's hands are tied over Hizbollah, whoever is in power
and in spite of the demands of the West and threats to withhold aid if no progress is made on that front.

There is also likely to be continuing conflict between Hariri's majority grouping in parliament and Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud, who is strongly pro-Syria and has two years to go in his term. That conflict took on a sharper dimension with the car-bomb murder of former Communist Party leader and anti-Syrian activist George Hawi last Tuesday, the second such assassination of an anti-Syrian figure this month; the previous victim was newspaper columnist Samir Kassir. Fears of additional attacks have blended with outrage among the anti-Syrian forces, who blame Lahoud for the murders as well as for that of Rafik Hariri on February 14. It was that death that sparked the massive street demonstrations that brought down the government and lead to the elections and the new parliamentary alignment.
The coalition leaders demanded the dismantling of the close links between the Lebanese and Syrian security agencies, which they say are behind the assassinations....

Lahoud is "ensuring protection to the existing security and political system and ... is responsible for all its practices," the coalition said in a statement Thursday after a two-hour meeting of its newly-elected legislators and other figures.

"The terrorist cycle ... can be brought to an end only ... by the president stepping down and by dismantling the intelligence structure," it said. ...

The coalition ... also called for a U.N. team that is already investigating Hariri's slaying to expand its probe to uncover the killers of Kassir and Hawi.

It said those killings - as well as a failed attempt in October to kill legislator Marwan Hamadeh - appeared to be "one crime by one decision by one perpetrator."
But with Aoun, who has become the main Christian political leader, supporting him, it becomes difficult to force Lahoud, a Maronite Christian, out and he may well be able to serve out his term, promising two years of political conflict and turmoil.

All this lead the Daily Star (Lebanon) to sadly conclude in an editorial today,
[t]hus it seems that despite all the recent optimism and calls for change, the old sectarian system is firmly entrenched in Lebanon.
The elections did indeed mark a change for Lebanon, a, if I can be allowed the cliche, new direction. But while it's been said that the journey is not the destination, it's equally true that the destination is not the journey - or, to express that with more clarity, while it's true that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, having taken that step, the destination is still a thousand miles (minus one step) away. Lebanon has taken a big step, but there's a long way to go.

Footnote: Another problem for Lebanon is that it faces $36 billion in foreign debt, one of the world's biggest figures, and the nation in under a lot of pressure from the usual suspects to "stabilize" its economy by privatizing and open-marketing everything in sight, that is, to turn itself into another vassal of what John Perkins calls the corporatocracy, in return for easier terms on debt repayments.

If the US wants to help Lebanon on its way (as opposed to just hamming up statements about a "Cedar Revolution" - a phrase invented by White House PR flacks - in a clumsy attempt to make Shrub look good) one thing it could do right now is forgive Lebanon's debt and press the other G8 countries to do the same - now, unconditionally.

So, do tell, what's been going on while I was away, part three

Oh, yeah, there was an election in Iran, wasn't there?

Yes, there was, and with a surprise result that no one would have predicted going into the first round of balloting: The dramatic victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the run-off for the presidency. According to official totals, Ahmadinejad (whose name is pronounced "Aah-MA-dee-ni-JAHD" according to AP and "ah-mah-DEE-nay-jahd" according to Knight-Ridder) gathered over 60% of the vote, routing former president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

What this means for the future of change in Iran remains to be seen. Knight-Ridder notes, quite accurately, that
[m]any Iranians fear that by electing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their next president, voters may have slammed the door on political freedom and placed their future in the hands of hard-line clerics and the elite military establishment that backs them.
However, as AP reported with equal correctness,
for many Iranians, the biggest issue was an economy that has languished despite Iran's oil and gas riches. Iran's official unemployment rate is 16 percent, but unofficially it is closer to 30 percent - and the country has to create 800,000 jobs a year just to stand still. In the fall, another million young people are expected to enter the work force.

Ahmadinejad, the son of a blacksmith, presented himself as the humble alternative to Rafsanjani, whose family runs a large business empire. He has promised Iran's underclass higher wages, more development funds for rural areas, expanded health insurance and more social benefits for women.
With oil prices hitting record highs, improving Iranians' lot, at least to some degree, should be well within his grasp. At the same time, however, just as with our own Georgie-boy, people who voted for a candidate based on one concern, even if it's a big one, may have failed to realize they're actually getting a package deal.

In a taped message that served as his victory statement, broadcast on state-run radio, Ahmadinejad said his "mission [is] to create a role model of a modern, advanced, powerful and Islamic society," but what that means in practice is unclear: He has also pledged to return Iran to the principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, frightening reformers with the prospect of undoing all the limited social reforms grudgingly achieved over the last dozen or so years. Indeed, those reformers, many of who regard their new president as a "yes man" to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
worry that Ahmadinejad's populist nationalism and archconservative brand of Shiite Islam will return their country to international pariah status and revive the purges and oppression that prevailed two decades ago.
It's always an open question if such repression - assuming it comes - can prevent change as opposed to merely delaying it. In some ways, the demographics favor change in Iran over the longer term: More than half of the population is under 25, meaning they have grown up in an atmosphere of slowly-increasing openness. They may well not be willing to give that up. In many such cases, change comes not by insurrection or open rebellion, but by people going as far as they can without getting into trouble, creating a constant subtle pressure, the press of culture gradually stretching the fabric of society. It's a slow process, but yeah, it happens.

Footnote: Knight-Ridder says
Rafsanjani now appears to be facing his political grave. ... He may retain his seat on the Expediency Council, which mediates between parliament and the ruling clerics, but he now casts the shadow of a two-time loser.
I wouldn't be so quick. A little over a month ago, I called him Iran's Ahmed Chalabi, "a wily politician ... whose political obituary has several times proved to have been premature." And he retains the power base of his business interests. I wouldn't count him out just yet.

Monday, June 27, 2005


Who is Nelson Mandela?

Four-syllable Words for $200

One who lives in Calgary, Montreal, or Vancouver.

So, do tell, what's been going on while I was away, part two

I've just had a very frightening experience.

First came the Supreme Court decision regarding eminent domain and the intent of the city of New London, Connecticut to seize a neighborhood of family homes to provide land for a private developer.

When I first posted about this back in October, after the Court agreed to take the case, I noted that
[t]he power of eminent domain, the power of government to take private land, is an ancient one, one of such long standing that even the most conservative, the most libertarian, do not challenge it in principle. But under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, it's limited in two ways by the closing phrase, "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

"Just compensation" is usually understood to mean fair market value. Although there are frequent arguments as to what is fair value in a given case, the meaning of the phrase is well established. Traditionally, "public use" was understood equally clearly: The land must be designated for use by the public. It must be for a road, a school, a post office, some sort of public facility.

Over the past few decades, however, that definition has slipped considerably and now cash-strapped localities are increasingly using eminent domain to force landholders - often homeowners - to sell in order to turn the land over to private developers for profit-making projects. The cities claim that because the development will bring in more tax revenue than the homes, that constitutes a "public use."

So what's at issue in the New London case is the constitutional limits, if any, on the definition of "public use" a government body can use to benefit private corporations.
And the Court ruled, 5-4, that for practical purposes there are none. As long as cities can argue that some other use of your land, your home, will bring in more tax revenue, you have no recourse against its being seized for the gain of some big-bucks corporate developer waving extravagant promises and hefty campaign contributions.

In a blistering dissent, Sandra Day O'Conner, joined by William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, declared that the majority were handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the rich and powerful and that "the specter of condemnation [now] hangs over all property." Indeed, as I said in October, I think these vastly-expanded powers of eminent domain are
a perversion of the Constitution. The "takings" clause of the Fifth Amendment, as it is known, was designed to protect people from arbitrary government authority, not to enable that government to take land away from one private party only to give it to another.
And we're seeing it more and more. That is, more and more, we are seeing, again as I said in October,
cities ripping up established, stable neighborhoods in order to mortgage their economic futures to greed-driven corporations, selling their birthright, as it were, for a mess of pottage ... in pursuit of what too often turns out to be a mirage rather than a miracle.
And now it's all right and proper and decent and upstanding and legal and fair. Consider it a lesson re-learned: When it comes to corporate power, Democrats are just as ready to kowtow as the Republicans, so-called "liberals" as quick to genuflect as conservatives.

But then, on top of that, there was today's decision in the case of NCTA v. Brand X. It would seem at a quick glance to be one of those arcane cases about regulatory interpretations but it actually could have a dramatic effect on the future of the internet.

What was at issue was if cable companies (such as Comcast, TimeWarner, and so on) were to be regarded as "common carriers" under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. (Bored yet?) If they were, they would be required to allow other service providers to obtain access to their networks for the purpose of transmitting information - data, voice, video, and audio. Thus, for example, if you used Comcast cable for your internet access but still wanted to use Earthlink as your ISP, you could, because Comcast would have to allow Earthlink access to its lines on an equal basis with everyone else.

In 2002, the FCC ruled that cable systems, unlike telephone systems, are not common carriers. A federal circuit court overruled the Commission - but on Monday, the Supremes reversed and upheld that FCC ruling. In what can only be considered utterly bizarre "reasoning," the majority in the 6-3 decision found that because cable companies provide packages that include other services as well as internet access instead of selling "stand alone" internet access, they are not "offering" high-speed access! And, therefore, they are not providing "telecommunications service" under the meaning of the act and thus not subject to the regulations derived from it. That, as Scalia pointed out in an inelegant but effective dissent, is like saying that because a pet store has a policy of providing a leash with every puppy sold that it's actually not selling puppies.
After all is said and done, after all the regulatory cant has been translated, and the smoke of agency expertise blown away, it remains perfectly clear that someone who sells cable-modem service is "offering" telecommunications.
So what's the big deal? Well, under this ruling, if you, say, sign up with Comcast, it could, if it choose, legally block you from using any other ISP. More significantly, it also could control what information goes through its system since it is under no obligation to provide access. As an obvious example, as a fine, upstanding, moral member of the community, it could block access to the new .xxx domain intended for adult sites. Not, you understand, that it'd enable you to do it, it'd do it and you'd have no say. Or it could execute a contract with Fox News to be its "exclusive" news provider and suddenly all other news sources are blocked. It could decide that antiwar sites are taboo and poof, they're gone. The Supreme Court decision authorizes cable systems to exercise total control over what content can be accessed through their networks.

Some of that may seem far-fetched - although I don't think it is - but there are two other very real and very immediate dangers: One is that local networks established by libraries and schools in rural areas which now depend on cable systems for access beyond their own networks could be forced to pay usurious fees or be shut out entirely. Since cable companies tend to hate those networks because they inhibit "market penetration," that is a very real concern.

The other is that phone companies are now likely to petition the FCC for a similar exemption from common carrier requirements for their DSL systems. The majority of the Court made a point of declaring it expressed no opinion on that, but as Scalia pointed out, based on Monday's decision there really is no way to lodge a rational objection. Especially because Thomas, writing for the majority, ended with this:
The questions the Commission resolved in the order under review involve a "subject matter [that] is technical, complex, and dynamic." The Commission is in a far better position to address these questions than we are. Nothing in the Communications Act or the Administrative Procedure Act makes unlawful the Commission's use of its expert policy judgment to resolve these difficult questions.
Or, more simply, after all is said and done, we'll rubber stamp whatever the FCC comes up with.

The only silver lining in this is that this is a regulatory, statutory, matter - not a constitutional one. Which means it can be corrected with legislation. Perhaps the outcry over media deregulation last year that caught the FCC and Congress so much by surprise can be repeated. There are those in Congress - Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA,7), who blasted the decision as "both anti-consumer and anti-competition" is one - who will raise this. It's still possible to head off the worst effects.

Okay, apart from the actual decisions themselves, what was the frightening experience here? Just this, and it still makes me quake: I agreed with Antonin Scalia twice in a row! Oh, my word, I believe I may swoon.

Footnote, Just in Time Div.: In the head-scratching split decisions over public displays of the Ten Commandments, which together concluded that such displays are okay - sometimes - Scalia said that
a "dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority" was denying the Ten Commandments' religious meaning. ...

"Nothing stands behind the court's assertion that governmental affirmation of the society's belief in God is unconstitutional except the court's own say-so," Scalia wrote.
That is, separation of church and state is not a constitutional principle, it's the result of a judicial "dictatorship."

Whew. Balance is restored.

So, do tell, what's been going on while I was away, part one

As you know, back on June 14, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
read from an FBI agent's account of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay being shackled to the floor without food or water in extreme temperatures for up to 24 hours at a stretch.

Prisoners in those conditions sometimes urinated or defecated on themselves, the agent reported.

"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings," Durbin said.
The Shrub gang called that "reprehensible" (and who better to know) and various troglodytes blasted him as having "libeled the troops." (Of course, it would actually be slander rather than libel, which shows how much they understand their own arguments, but what do little things like accuracy matter when you're on a roll of feigned righteous indignation?)

After a week of attacks with no support (and some criticism) from fellow Dummycrats, Durbin caved.
"In the end, I don't want anything in my public career to detract from my love for this country, my respect for those who serve it, and this great Senate," Durbin said in an emotional statement on the Senate floor.

"I offer my apologies to those that were offended by my words." ...

"I'm also sorry if anything I said, in any way, cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military."
In fact, that was his second apology; he'd already done so in a statement but apparently that wasn't enough for the vultures and vampires.

The thing that got me most about the whole business is that the screaming GOPpers didn't claim that what Durbin said was untrue - they denounced him for saying it: "How dare you say our blessed troops, the flower of our youth, the summation of all our nobility, are doing such things!"

But, of course, our soldiers, with approval from on high, are doing such things, as even the White House has reluctantly admitted.
AFP, June 24 - Washington has for the first time acknowledged to the United Nations that prisoners have been tortured at US detention centres in Guantanamo Bay, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, a UN source said.

The acknowledgement was made in a report submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, said a member of the ten-person panel, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In fact, it now emerges in a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, drawing on a previously unreported policy statement of the US Southern Command dated August 6, 2002, that the medical records of prisoners at Guantanamo are open to examination by interrogators and that
[m]edical personnel belonging to the U.S. military's Southern Command have also been told to volunteer to interrogators information they believe may be valuable,
the Toronto Star (Canada) reported on Thursday. Making that even more explicit,
"[a]n internal, May 24, 2005, memo from the Army Medical Command, offering guidance to caregivers responsible for detainees, refers to the 'interpretation of relevant excerpts from medical records' for the purpose of 'assistance with the interrogation process.'"
The NEJM report, the Star points out, is the second such: Last August, The Lancet reported that doctors at Abu Ghraib had likewise offered medical assistance to interrogations.

But the point here is that as far as the attacks on Durbin were concerned, all that was irrelevant. What soldiers did or didn't do wasn't the focus or even the subject for the condemnation chorus. The accusation, when you come down to it, was not "libel" or even disloyalty, it was heresy, the crime of saying things that are simply not allowed to be said, the truth be damned.

In fact, Richard Daley, the Democrat mayor of Chicago whose voice gets muffled whenever he sits down, came closer to actually accusing Durbin of being untruthful than any right-winger I came across. They avoided issues of accuracy to focus on accusations of apostasy.

And as Durbin performed the heretic's traditional ritual of repentance, the tearful admission of error amid assertions that "Yes, I really do believe," I thought again, as I have so many times recently: We are on our own.

Link to the NEJM report via Crooks and Liars.

Footnote: The Star also reported that
[o]n Tuesday, the Bush administration rejected a proposal to create an independent commission to investigate abuses of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said the Pentagon has already launched 10 major investigations into allegations of abuse and the system was working well.
Yes, but working well at what?

Where the heck you been, boy?

First off, I want to thank everyone who has kept faith with me through my silence, who has checked back to see if there's been anything new here. Particularly those - you know who you are - who took the time to drop a line to ask, in one form or another, WTF is going on.

Well, TF has to do with filters. Mental filters. It's something we all do: We all filter, we all filter constantly. We can't function if we don't. Did you ever have the experience of jumping at a sudden sound but then not being able to hear it - until you realize that what had happened was that the air conditioner or the refrigerator or the furnace or whatever had turned off? And that what you reacted to was not a sudden sound but the sudden absence of a sound? The sound itself had, of course, been reaching you all along - the sound waves entered your ear and vibrated your eardrum, which in turn jiggled the bones of the inner ear, and so on through the process of hearing until the nerve impulses reached your brain. Upon which your clever, amazing brain filtered them out of your conscious awareness because there was no need for you to pay any attention to them. When the sound stopped, however, it was a change that might call for some response - so that was passed on.

I actually came up with a tool for meditation based on that: I try to break down that filter by first listening for the faintest sounds I can hear, ones that had been filtered out of my awareness, while ignoring those louder. Then, focusing on those previously-ignored sounds, I can sort of backtrack through the more and more obvious ones until - rather quickly - it all becomes a buzzing, even a calming, even a centering, mix of white noise. The point here is the fact that we do not spend all our time wandering in a haze of white noise shows how adept our brains are at picking out sounds that may be relevant and banishing others from conscious awareness - that is, at filtering. Try it sometime: You may be surprised at what you had been hearing without "hearing."

It's not just sound, it's all our senses. What's your left little toe feeling like just now? If you think about it, you can tell, you can be aware of that sensory input. But were you aware before I asked? I feel safe in saying that, barring unusual circumstances, you weren't. That information was reaching your brain, you just were filtering it from your consciousness because it was irrelevant.

Not having that natural filter can be devastating: One of the ideas about autism is that autistic children lack the ability to filter, or at least their ability to do so is inhibited. The result is, for the most severely affected, they are unable to regard anything they hear or see or otherwise sense as more important, more relevant, than anything else they hear or see or otherwise sense. Their consciousness is overwhelmed, flooded, with sensory data and it's a constant struggle to make sense of it. They, if you will, go through their lives in a kind of a "haze of white noise" which they can penetrate and organize only with the greatest effort.

And even for those of us who are "normal," there's a limit to how much our conscious mind can handle at any one time. We constantly shift things in and out of our awareness, so easily, so quickly, we rarely even notice we're doing it. Kind of like a biological version of a computer's page-flipping. Just what the limit is, is a matter of some dispute but it's interesting to note that there is a method of inducing hypnosis that's based on it: Supposedly, the limit to the number of things of which we can be aware simultaneously is around seven or eight. The method involves repeatedly directing the subject's attention to different things while encouraging them to be aware of all of them - knowing that after several, some will drop out of awareness. So when the hypnotist refers back to them the subject can become confused by all the mental juggling needed to keep up, with the result that the suggestions for relaxation and trance that are mixed in slip by without critical consideration.

Filters. Filters on filters. We all do it. We even filter political events and issues, we focus on "the story" (or, at least a story or three) and even remark on attempts to distract us from what's important with a new "story" - as several have done about Snarl Rove's latest attempt to smear anyone to the left of John McCain as some kind of terrorist-loving traitor: Various bloggers have suggested Rove deliberately made an outrageous remark to change the subject from the Downing Street Memos. None of us can keep up with everything, none of us can manage everything. We even joke about "outrage overload."

So what does all this have to do with my latest disappearing act? My own sometimes shaky ability to filter events.

Some years ago I coined the phrase "the world is too much with me." (Well, in a way I did: I discovered later that others had used it before me to refer to a similar feeling, but at least I coined it in my own little piece of the universe.) It's meant to describe those times when, for whatever reason, my sense of the level of pain, suffering, injustice, and simple indecency (and I do not mean that in its sexual connotation) in the world becomes almost literally overwhelming. I am simply aware of it in a way, to a degree, with an intensity, which I'm normally not; it clings to every bit of news I read, every commentary anyone writes, it can haunt me even as I'm sitting by the water looking at the stars.

It's a debilitating, demoralizing, experience that makes every effort seem hopeless, every action pointless, every opinion irrelevant, even as it drives a feeling that something has to be done about it. I have to do something - but nothing I can do will make any difference. There is simply too much to be done. What's more, taking up anything means ignoring other things equally if not more important, paying heed to any cry for help means ignoring other, perhaps more desperate cries. It's paralyzing.

Sometimes it passes quickly, sometimes it doesn't; sometimes it just fades away, sometimes I have to fight my way through it. And the world has been too much with me for a week now. So consider this part of the battle.

I have seriously thought about abandoning the blog. Not for the first time, either. I just wonder what it is that I'm actually contributing here - indeed, if I'm contributing anything, period. If there is a point. Yes, yes, I know I've gone on about this before, in fact as recently as three months ago. It doesn't change the fact that the feeling and the concern both continue to exist.

Part of it, I admit, is traffic - or rather, my lack of it. Or, rather, to be even more exact, my lack of repeat traffic. My hits per day have picked up some, hardly to any impressive numbers, but still up some - but my return hits haven't. People drop by, take a look, and for whatever reason aren't impressed enough to come back. Which leaves me, again, wondering if I'm doing any good.

What can I say that others with much louder voices are not already saying? What can I address, what can I reveal, what analysis can I present, that others with much greater reach are neither addressing nor revealing nor presenting?

Yes, there is some ego in this: Some degree of recognition in the form of traffic would be most pleasing. I've said before that I don't dream of becoming an Atrios or any of the other sites whose daily hits total in the five digits. I don't even want to be that big. But I do dream of having maybe, I dunno, what the hell say 200 regular (defined as maybe two or three times a week) readers who find something of value here. If I can't achieve that - and after more than a year and a-half I'm far from it - I have to wonder if I'm really serving any purpose here.

There's a saying I came across a long time ago for which I've been trying to find the source - without success. It said, in the form in which I originally heard it, "No man can live with the terrible knowledge that he is not needed." The principle would seem to apply with even greater force to political blogs. Or, at least, via my own convictions, to mine.

Over this week, I've made some decisions about the future of Lotus, which will play out over the next few months. In the meantime, well, the battle goes on, yes?

Sunday, June 26, 2005


What is the Metropolitan Museum of Art Carney?

World Leaders

Born into a royal family of the Thembu people and expected to become a chief, he became a president in 1994.

Catching up

Jeopardy! for Sunday, June 19

What is E?

This arachnid is also called a harvestman.


Jeopardy! for Monday, June 20

What is a daddy longlegs?

The 1880s for $200
On June 20, 1887, Queen Victoria got her shot at meeting this markswoman.


Jeopardy! for Tuesday, June 21

Who is Annie Oakley?

The 1880s for $600
In 1889, with Duman and de Maupassant protesting loudly, this 984-foot structure opened near the Seine.


Jeopardy! for Wednesday, June 22

What is the Eiffel Tower?

The 1880s for $1000
The 1885 Congress of Berlin passed out slices of this continent like cake.


Jeopardy! for Thursday, June 23

What is Africa?

Before and After for $400
It contains candy-coated popcorn, peanuts, and a prize-winning actor from Something's Gotta Give.


Jeopardy! for Friday, June 24

What is Cracker Jack Nicholson?

Before and After for $1200
Lumberjack competition in which Mick "Light Feet" Jagger takes on Keith "Balance Man" Richards.


Jeopardy! for Saturday, June 25
What is log Rolling Stones?

Before and After for $2000
New York cultural attraction at 5th and 82nd honoring the man who played Ed Norton.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Just making sure

Updated You've doubtless already come across the praise being offered to AP for its clear if belated article on the memos coming out of the UK proving that the Shrub team lied for a full year about its plans for Iraq.
London, June 18 - When Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief foreign policy adviser dined with Condoleezza Rice six months after Sept. 11, the then-U.S. national security adviser didn't want to discuss Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida. She wanted to talk about "regime change" in Iraq, setting the stage for the U.S.-led invasion more than a year later.
What I want to do here is to make sure, since I expect a fair number of you will have read a summary rather than having followed the link to the full article, that you have this: AP has posted the texts of six of the memos. They are in .pdf format and they are available at these links:

I've posted the text of the other two memos; the first one, the original Downing Street Memo, on May 7; the next one on June 15.

Footnote: The AP article does contain one real howler:
Details of the memos appeared in papers early last month but the news in Britain quickly turned to the election that returned Blair to power. In the United States, however, details of the memos' contents reignited a firestorm, especially among Democratic critics of Bush.
What? The memos were ignored in the UK but they caused a "firestorm" here, here where the major media wouldn't touch them, barely mentioned them, and where likely most people still haven't heard of them? The ass-covering self-deception of which our media is capable is truly astounding.

Updated to say that for some days after this was posted, trying any of the links to the memos as stored on AP got a "page not found" error. But they are all working now.

Uh, wait a minute....

Google, the world's biggest media firm and established enough to have given birth to the word "googling" as slang for doing a web search, has decided that it's not satisfied just providing information: It wants to be able to make some claims about the reliability of that information.

As reported by the Guardian (UK) on Saturday, Google has filed several patents
planning to rank news stories according to their accuracy and reliability as well as their topicality.
Google News now links to 4,500 news sources from around the world while making no claim to their accuracy.

Now, the power of the web lies both in its ability to crosslink information and to a significant degree in its anarchic sensibilities - the "information yearns to be free" idea. Most anything and most everything can be found somewhere in some dusty corner of the web (to nicely mix my metaphor). But there is a downside to that: You can find yourself 1)overwhelmed with more information than you can collate, 2)drowning in references that are kind of like what you're looking for but not quite, and/or 3)with no way of telling if the information you've gotten is accurate or not short of plowing through every piece to make critical comparisons, which of course dumps you back in either state #1 or #2.

Considering some of the utterly wacko "scientific" claims I've found on the web, not only such as creationists but people who claim to have "positively refuted!" relativity or one that insisted the center of Earth's gravity was not at the center of the Earth but spread out over the surface of a spherical space surrounding the planet at a height of, if I recall, about 50 miles, a concern for accuracy is not an idle one. So at first blush, Google's plan seems like a good idea or at least a good tool to have available.

But - you knew that was coming - consider this:
Google is looking to develop technologies that factor in the amount of important coverage produced by a source, the amount of traffic it attracts, circulation statistics, staff size, breadth of coverage and number of global operations
in determining a story's ranking.

What's wrong with that? It means, in effect, that size equals reliability and accuracy. By these standards, the bigger a corporation is, the larger a media conglomerate it represents, the more dominant it is, the higher it's stories will rank in a listing that is supposed to reflect accuracy. Media giants, the very ones most likely to buy into a corporate-comfortable status quo, become, by virtue of their size, defined as bearers of truth.

So, for example, the Washington Post's disgraceful, deceitful, and dismissive smear of John Conyers' hearing about the Downing Street Memo - Dana Milbank's coverage included the phrases "a trip to the land of make-believe," Conyers "spouted ... chairmanly phrases," "dress-up game," "mock ... inquiry," "Conyers and his hearty band of playmates," and "fantasy" - would be considered reliable while Conyers' blistering response, which I only saw on Raw Story, would pretty much vanish because of the, by comparison, "unreliability" of the source.

This is not a good thing.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


What is the T-bone?

Alphabet Soup for $2000

This vowel is the only letter that stands alone on the back of the US $1 bill.

Catching up, three

Not quite a month ago, on May 22, I noted that, just like last year, the Guardian Council in Iran had blocked the candidacy of most reformers running for national office. Last year it was parliament, this year it is the presidency.

Well, the election took place on Friday and in one way it came out exactly as expected and in another, the results were a surprise.

As predicted, none of the seven candidates got the required majority for a victory. A run-off is scheduled for June 24. In addition, the top vote-getter proved to be, as expected, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. He was followed by hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who will go up against Rafsanjani in the run-off), and reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi.

The surprise lay in that while a hard-liner and a reformer were expected to finish second and third, Ahmadinejad and Karroubi were not them. The candidates expected to finish second and third, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Mostafa Moin, instead finished fourth and fifth.

Ahmadinejad's "stunning political rise," as AP accurately described it, may have drawn some benefit from the fact that on Monday, just days before the election,
Iran was struck by a wave of deadly bomb attacks in the restive southwestern city of Ahfaz and in the capital Tehran, with the Islamic regime accusing Iraq-based terrorists of seeking to destabilize the country ahead of presidential elections. At least eight people were killed and 75 wounded by a series of four blasts outside several public buildings in Ahvaz....

Another blast hit a busy square in Tehran, killing one person and seriously wounding four, official media said.
A natural tendency to unite around official leaders in response to an attack, which officials blamed on - surprise! - foreign terrorists, could have produced a real boost for Ahmadinejad, who is the mayor of Tehran. (I still remember with some astonishment how Rudy Giuliani became a "great leader" - and Time's "Man of the Year" - in the wake of 9/11, pretty much solely by virtue of failing to panic.) This is of course speculation and without knowing how the vote broke down regionally I can't be confident, but it would help to explain his sudden emergence from the pack.

Another thing hard to measure is the meaning of the turnout, which was described as better than expected but still below that of previous presidential elections. A fair amount of thinking maintains that White House criticism of the vote as "illegitimate" on election eve actually increased turnout among people who regarded the statements as insults and interference. But the turnout, about 62.7%, makes that hard to judge; for the same reason, it's hard to estimate the impact of
anti-regime activists who are disillusioned about the prospect of change in a system run by clerics[, who] urged "none of the above." Boycott appeals had been carried on Web sites, pamphlets and satellite TV programs from the large Iranian community around Los Angeles - given the local nickname "Tehrangeles."

"We want to show the world empty streets," said Homa Sarshar, a journalist who works for one of the Los Angeles-based stations backing a boycott.
That may have resulted in an own goal, as Moin, the leading light of the reformists in the election, would likely have drawn his strongest support from among the very people most likely to have responded to such a call. But again, without detailed results, that is more speculation. What is clear, though, is that it's not only the Shrub team that questions the validity of an process where a group of reactionary clerics decides who gets to run for office in a government whose every action must be approved by those same clerics.
In France, several thousand people protested Iran's presidential election Saturday at a suburban Paris rally led by an exiled Iranian opposition group that denounced the vote as a sham. The demonstrators chanted: "Mullahs, No!"
And while the election is unlikely to upset that system, attempts at reform in Iran will likely continue. Before the election,
in Tehran, police broke up a gathering by women protesting over the Islamic Republic's gender discrimination, making at least two arrests as the demonstration threatened to spiral into a larger anti-regime protest.

The rally began with about 30 women assembled outside Tehran University, but they were quickly joined by about 200 passers-by. The crowd began shouting slogans including "Freedom for Iran" and "No to totalitarianism."
In the wake of the election, Elaheh Koolaee, a top aide for Moin, said "our failure ... doesn't mean reforms have come to an end or Iran doesn't need change." And as AP noted,
the real worry for the establishment is the vast pool of young Iranians. More than half of Iran's 70 million people are under 25 years old. The expectations for greater openness and opportunities - begun by [departing President Mohammad] Khatami - are only expected to grow.

"They cannot make us go backward," said 19-year-old Mohammad Reza Baradaran. "We've tasted a bit of freedom now."
On a more immediate note, Karroubi
accused Islamic vigilantes and soldiers of "intimidating" voters to back Ahmadinejad - who slipped past Karroubi 19.48 percent to 19.3 percent. Karroubi's aides demanded an official probe and warned they could unleash street demonstrations.

Karroubi's campaign chief, Ali Akbar Montashamipour, said any signs of military interference in politics would make "people rise up against the establishment."
That's an establishment that seems to have the upper hand now and even be regaining some previously-lost ground as addressing economic difficulties take precedence in many people's minds over greater political and cultural freedom. But all such regimes face a Catch-22: If they fail to improve economic conditions, they risk increasing resistance from a dissatisfied populace. But if they do, they equally risk increasing demands for other sorts of freedoms. Gandhi is supposed to have mused amazedly on the fact that every totalitarian system - without exception - has eventually fallen.

I'm reminded of People's Park in Berkeley. It has a long and tangled history, but the Reader's Digest version is that the University of California at Berkeley purchased and demolished the houses on a roughly 2-acre plot in the city with the declared intention of building student housing. It never did and in 1969, a diverse group of Berkeley residents took over the space, cleared it of debris, and created a community park.

Three weeks later, the University, with the help of 100 California state cops, bulldozed the park and fenced it in. Riots and demonstrations followed in which one person was killed, another blinded, and a good number more injured. At the end of it, People's Park was a muddy, vacant lot surrounded by a chain-link fence bedecked with flowers, peace symbols, and declarations of resistance.

That's the end of that chapter, but not the end of the story. The park has had its ups and downs over the years since, as the University has come up with various plans for its use for everything from a parking lot to volleyball courts. None of them overcame community resistance and People's Park is now - a park owned and managed by the University. It's not the community park originally envisioned and created, but it's a public park. In April, it was the site of a 36th anniversary festival.

The point of all this is that in the midst of the initial demonstrations, as the park sat sad and destroyed behind the University's barricade, a provost - I wish I could remember his name, but I can't - said "In the long run of history, flowers are always going to win against fences and students are always going to win against old men."

Keep hope alive.

Footnote: Last year's posts about the elections and the protests of reformers came on these dates:
January 17, 2004
January 22, 2004
January 29, 2004
February 3, 2004
February 6, 2004
February 8, 2004
February 14, 2004
February 19, 2004
February 23, 2004
March 9, 2004

Just to have a bit of good news

Of course it remains to be seen whether or not these fine, upstanding gentlemen actually pay any kind of appropriate price, but for the moment, enjoy the glow. From AP for Friday:
Former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski and a second executive were convicted Friday of looting their company of more than $600 million to fund extravagant lifestyles featuring expensive jewelry, an opulent Manhattan apartment and a gaudy Mediterranean birthday party.

A state court jury deliberated over 11 days before returning the verdict in the second prosecution of Kozlowski, 58, and Mark H. Swartz, 44, the conglomerate's former finance chief. Both were convicted of grand larceny, falsifying business records and other charges.

The verdict came after a four-month trial in Manhattan state Supreme Court. They now face up to 30 years in prison on their convictions - the maximum sentence for both under the law, prosecutors said. ...

Kozlowski and Swartz join a string of executives convicted in recent months in high-profile corporate wrongdoing cases, among them former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers and Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas and his son, Timothy.

Richard Scrushy, founder and former chief executive at HealthSouth Corp., is on trial on fraud charges and awaiting a jury verdict in federal court in Birmingham, Ala. And former Enron Corp. executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling are scheduled to go on trial early next year.
Back in the 60s, some nonviolent civil disobedience actions included a call for "jail, no bail." That is, resisters were pledging to refuse to bail themselves out pending trial. It also took on a more generalized, if inaccurate, meaning, of an intention to refuse to pay a fine in lieu of jail time. I'd be glad to see it applied here in either sense. Preferably both. Jail, no bail.

Ugh ugh ugh

I mean, just how low, how disgustingly low, can someone willingly crawl? At a time when even Bill Frist is saying that with the autopsy of Terri Schiavo confirming that she had massive brain damage, "the chapter is closed,"
Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday that a prosecutor has agreed to investigate why Terri Schiavo collapsed 15 years ago, citing an alleged time gap between when her husband found her and when he called 911[, AP said on Friday]. ...

In a letter faxed to Pinellas-Pasco County State Attorney Bernie McCabe, the governor said Michael Schiavo testified in a 1992 medical malpractice trial that he found his wife collapsed at 5 a.m. on Feb. 25, 1990, and he said in a 2003 television interview that he found her about 4:30 a.m. He called 911 at 5:40 a.m.

"Between 40 and 70 minutes elapsed before the call was made, and I am aware of no explanation for the delay," Bush wrote. "In light of this new information, I urge you to take a fresh look at this case without any preconceptions as to the outcome."
In addition to finding that last part rather odd - Do Florida officials normally begin investigations by making assumptions about what they'll find? - the whole thing is just, well slimy might begin to describe it. This whole thing hangs on the single thread that years after the fact Michael Schiavo would know with precision just what time events occurred. It is absurd on its face. It's not even a fishing expedition, it's a fishing expedition with no bait and a barbless hook. It's sick.

If I was Michael Schiavo, I know what my reaction would be:

"I'd just found my wife on the floor, unconscious, unresponsive, and I was supposed to, what, say to myself 'Gee I wonder what time it is? I should know just in case, y'know, in fifteen years some scumball politician wanting to re-establish his bona fides with a gaggle of reactionary crackpots wants to take some cheap shots at my expense.'"

Coming soon to an election near you: Shrub II!

Footnote: Frist is now trying to run away from his statements about Terri Schiavo.

What he said on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday:
"I raised the question, 'Is she in a persistent vegetative state or not?' I never made the diagnosis, never said that she was not. I did say that certain tests should be performed to determine that before starving her to death."
What he said in March during Senate debate on the bill to allow federal court intervention:
"Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she does respond."

Discussing the diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state, Frist added: "I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office here in the Capitol. And that footage, to me, depicted something very different than persistent vegetative state.

Frist also said that "when the neurologist said, 'Look up,' there is no question in the video that she actually looks up."
But now, let's be fair. He said she was in "something very different" from PVS. He never actually said she was "not" in PVS. He never actually used that word.

And he never said "imminent," either.

Friday, June 17, 2005


What is a U-turn? (Acceptable: K-turn)

Alphabet Soup for $1200

This steak is cut from the short loin.

Catching up, two

Corrected The parliamentary elections in Lebanon, the first since the Syrian withdrawal, are set for their final phase on Sunday. I considered some of the issues and factors back on March 30 so now's as good a time as any to see how things appear to be shaking out.

The elections for the 128-seat parliament are carried out in four stages, with elections on separate dates in the south, around Beirut, the east, and finally, on Sunday, in the north. Different parties, often representing different ethnic or religious groups, have strength in different regions depending on the local demographics. The first two rounds were so anti-climactic, the Daily Star (Lebanon) said, that Lebanese looked forward to the third, tightly contested, round as having some meaning. In the first round, in the south, Hizbollah, still honored by many in southern Lebanon as being responsible for driving Israeli forces out of the area, and its pro-Syrian allies swept the elections. In the next stage, around Beirut, the anti-Syrian alliance headed by Saad al-Hariri won overwhelmingly. Hariri is the son of Rafik al-Hariri, the former prime minister whose assassination on February 14 touched off the massive demonstrations that lead to the Syrian withdrawal.

Until recently, it looked like the anti-Syrian side was set for a clear victory overall and a large majority in parliament. That was thrown into question by the former warlord Michel Aoun, who returned to Lebanon just five weeks ago. He had been in exile for 15 years after he was driven out of the country by Syrian troops in a battle that ended Lebanon's 15-year civil war. Regarded as staunchly anti-Syrian, he stunned his erstwhile alliance partners by jumping over to support a pro-Syrian alliance after the opposition promised his grouping what he regarded as an insufficient number of seats, Reuters reported on Friday.

Despite being called a "small tool" of Syria by opposition leader Walid Jumblatt, Aoun lead his slate to a solid showing in the third round of balloting, leaving the anti-Syrian bloc needing to take 21 of the 28 seats up for grabs on Sunday to obtain a majority in parliament. That's certainly not impossible for Hariri's alliance of Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druze, since over half of the voters in the north are Sunnis and about 45% are Christians. Still, the pro-Syrian list endorsed by Aoun includes interior minister Suleiman Franjieh, a Maronite Christian with strong clan links in the north.
If Hariri falls short of a national majority, parliament will be split into three main groups - his anti-Syrian movement, the pro-Syrian group dominated by Shi'ite Muslim groups Hizbollah and Amal, and Aoun and his followers.
Aoun has thus set himself up as a potential king-maker with something to offer both sides: the anti-Syrian supporting a pro-Syrian slate.
In his first comments [after the third stage of the elections], Aoun said he was willing to talk with other factions in the new parliament and if there were no agreement he and his allies would be in opposition "carrying out our duties."
I'm sure he's willing. Once before he tried to set himself up as the head of a separate government in Lebanon. Dreams of power have a habit of dying hard. Lebanon's crisis is not over and I suspect will not be over even if Hariri's bloc does get that absolute majority it's after.

Footnote: One other detail tossed into the mix. On Friday, just two days before that final round of balloting, UN investigators declared there is "a probability of 99.9 percent" that the explosion that killed Rafik Hariri was above ground - likely a truck bomb.

This matters because
[s]ome anti-Syrian Lebanese have speculated the explosives used in the bombing were buried under the street - an act that would suggest the complicity of pro-Damascus officials, since digging up the street would draw attention and require permits. ...

In the campaign, opposition leaders, including Hariri's son, Saad, have touted the assassination as an example of the need to vote against pro-Syrian candidates. The opposition has accused Syria and its allies in the Lebanese security services of killing Hariri, a charge they denied.
A UN fact-finding mission had previously faulted both Lebanese and Syrian security for "the lack of security, protection, law and order in Lebanon," but placed no blame for the actual killing. To whatever extent the new finding undermines people's confidence in the charges of the opposition, to that same extent it favors others - likely Aoun. I think it unlikely it will actually make any difference, but if it does, whatever difference it makes will not be good news for Hariri's hopes for a clearly anti-Syrian parliament.

Corrected by changing the day for the final round of voting in the first paragraph to the correct "Sunday." There were also a few grammatical corrections and a few changes for clarity.

Catching up, one

I put up several posts during the renewed negotiations over Cyprus last year. It's interesting re-reading them now: I can see how my initial hope gradually turned to cynicism.

As you may recall, the outcome was a proposal by Kofi Annan to be voted on in separate referendums by both parts of Cyprus: the mostly Greek south and the mostly Turkish north, illegally occupied by Turkish troops since 1974. Both had to agree to the proposal for it to be passed.

The plan would have created a federation united by a weak central government, an outcome Greek Cypriots saw with justification as establishing de facto independence for the north. When it became clear that the Greek Cypriots were going to reject the deal, Annan, backed by the US and the EU (both of which wanted the whole thing to just go away), tried to turn the screws. It didn't work and the Greek Cypriot south overwhelmingly rejected the plan, for all practical purposes killing it.

In the wake of that, Annan refused to consider why his proposal might have failed, preferring to charge that Nicosia never wanted an agreement and to urge new openings to Turkish Cypriots as a reward for their endorsement of the plan. (An endorsement which was hardly surprising since it gave them just about everything they could have wanted.)

Apparently, time does not always allow for cooler heads, as a report in Kathimerini (Greece) earlier this week indicates:
Nicosia protested strongly yesterday to the United Nations after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he wanted the Security Council to endorse his report of last year, which recommended relaxing the isolation of the island's Turkish-occupied part.

After meeting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in New York, Annan said that he would ask the Council to re-examine the document that he put together some two months after the Greek Cypriots rejected his blueprint for reunification in a referendum in April 2004. Annan said he hoped the Security Council would "take action" on it. In the report, Annan laid much of the blame for the unpopularity of his plan at the feet of President Tassos Papdopoulos.
Considering that there is a move in the UN to try to arrange a new round of talks about the future of Cyprus, Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou's description of Annan's statement as "badly timed" seems apt: It hardly seems wise to begin such an effort by placing all the blame on one (especially the wrong) side.

Ego is a bad quality in a peace negotiator.

Footnote: The previous posts on Cyprus:
January 26, 2004
February 5, 2004
February 14, 2004
February 20, 2004
March 17, 2004
March 23, 2004
April 5, 2004
April 18, 2004
April 24, 2004
June 1, 2004.
June 28, 2004
July 21, 2004
November 13, 2004

Jeopardy! for Thursday

Who is John Steinbeck?

Alphabet Soup for $400

For a car driver, it's a complete 180-degree reversal of direction.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


What is Iwo Jima?

Nonfiction for $1000

Working Days is a compilation of journals he kept while writing The Grapes of Wrath.

Noted for the record, supplemental

This is the text of the new memo as presented in The Sunday Times (UK):
The paper, produced by the Cabinet Office on July 21, 2002, is incomplete because the last page is missing. The following is a transcript rather than the original document in order to protect the source.



Ministers are invited to:

(1) Note the latest position on US military planning and timescales for possible action.

(2) Agree that the objective of any military action should be a stable and law-abiding Iraq, within present borders, co-operating with the international community, no longer posing a threat to its neighbours or international security, and abiding by its international obligations on WMD.

(3) Agree to engage the US on the need to set military plans within a realistic political strategy, which includes identifying the succession to Saddam Hussein and creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action, which might include an ultimatum for the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq. This should include a call from the Prime Minister to President Bush ahead of the briefing of US military plans to the President on 4 August.

(4) Note the potentially long lead times involved in equipping UK Armed Forces to undertake operations in the Iraqi theatre and agree that the MOD should bring forward proposals for the procurement of Urgent Operational Requirements under cover of the lessons learned from Afghanistan and the outcome of SR2002.

(5) Agree to the establishment of an ad hoc group of officials under Cabinet Office Chairmanship to consider the development of an information campaign to be agreed with the US.


1. The US Government's military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace. But, as yet, it lacks a political framework. In particular, little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it.

2. When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through the UN weapons inspectors had been exhausted.

3. We need now to reinforce this message and to encourage the US Government to place its military planning within a political framework, partly to forestall the risk that military action is precipitated in an unplanned way by, for example, an incident in the No Fly Zones. This is particularly important for the UK because it is necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action. Otherwise we face the real danger that the US will commit themselves to a course of action which we would find very difficult to support.

4. In order to fulfil the conditions set out by the Prime Minister for UK support for military action against Iraq, certain preparations need to be made, and other considerations taken into account. This note sets them out in a form which can be adapted for use with the US Government. Depending on US intentions, a decision in principle may be needed soon on whether and in what form the UK takes part in military action.

The Goal

5. Our objective should be a stable and law-abiding Iraq, within present borders, co-operating with the international community, no longer posing a threat to its neighbours or to international security, and abiding by its international obligations on WMD. It seems unlikely that this could be achieved while the current Iraqi regime remains in power. US military planning unambiguously takes as its objective the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime, followed by elimination if Iraqi WMD. It is however, by no means certain, in the view of UK officials, that one would necessarily follow from the other. Even if regime change is a necessary condition for controlling Iraqi WMD, it is certainly not a sufficient one.

US Military Planning

6. Although no political decisions have been taken, US military planners have drafted options for the US Government to undertake an invasion of Iraq. In a 'Running Start', military action could begin as early as November of this year, with no overt military build-up. Air strikes and support for opposition groups in Iraq would lead initially to small-scale land operations, with further land forces deploying sequentially, ultimately overwhelming Iraqi forces and leading to the collapse of the Iraqi regime. A 'Generated Start' would involve a longer build-up before any military action were taken, as early as January 2003. US military plans include no specifics on the strategic context either before or after the campaign. Currently the preference appears to be for the 'Running Start'. CDS will be ready to brief Ministers in more detail.

7. US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia. This means that legal base issues would arise virtually whatever option Ministers choose with regard to UK participation.

The Viability of the Plans

8. The Chiefs of Staff have discussed the viability of US military plans. Their initial view is that there are a number of questions which would have to be answered before they could assess whether the plans are sound. Notably these include the realism of the 'Running Start', the extent to which the plans are proof against Iraqi counter-attack using chemical or biological weapons and the robustness of US assumptions about the bases and about Iraqi (un)willingness to fight.

UK Military Contribution

9. The UK's ability to contribute forces depends on the details of the US military planning and the time available to prepare and deploy them. The MOD is examining how the UK might contribute to US-led action. The options range from deployment of a Division (ie Gulf War sized contribution plus naval and air forces) to making available bases. It is already clear that the UK could not generate a Division in time for an operation in January 2003, unless publicly visible decisions were taken very soon. Maritime and air forces could be deployed in time, provided adequate basing arrangements could be made. The lead times involved in preparing for UK military involvement include the procurement of Urgent Operational Requirements, for which there is no financial provision.

The Conditions Necessary for Military Action

10. Aside from the existence of a viable military plan we consider the following conditions necessary for military action and UK participation: justification/legal base; an international coalition; a quiescent Israel/Palestine; a positive risk/benefit assessment; and the preparation of domestic opinion.


11. US views of international law vary from that of the UK and the international community. Regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law. But regime change could result from action that is otherwise lawful. We would regard the use of force against Iraq, or any other state, as lawful if exercised in the right of individual or collective self-defence, if carried out to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, or authorised by the UN Security Council. A detailed consideration of the legal issues, prepared earlier this year, is at Annex A. The legal position would depend on the precise circumstances at the time. Legal bases for an invasion of Iraq are in principle conceivable in both the first two instances but would be difficult to establish because of, for example, the tests of immediacy and proportionality. Further legal advice would be needed on this point.

12. This leaves the route under the UNSC resolutions on weapons inspectors. Kofi Annan has held three rounds of meetings with Iraq in an attempt to persuade them to admit the UN weapons inspectors. These have made no substantive progress; the Iraqis are deliberately obfuscating. Annan has downgraded the dialogue but more pointless talks are possible. We need to persuade the UN and the international community that this situation cannot be allowed to continue ad infinitum. We need to set a deadline, leading to an ultimatum. It would be preferable to obtain backing of a UNSCR for any ultimatum and early work would be necessary to explore with Kofi Annan and the Russians, in particular, the scope for achieving this.

13. In practice, facing pressure of military action, Saddam is likely to admit weapons inspectors as a means of forestalling it. But once admitted, he would not allow them to operate freely. UNMOVIC (the successor to UNSCOM) will take at least six months after entering Iraq to establish the monitoring and verification system under Resolution 1284 necessary to assess whether Iraq is meeting its obligations. Hence, even if UN inspectors gained access today, by January 2003 they would at best only just be completing setting up. It is possible that they will encounter Iraqi obstruction during this period, but this more likely when they are fully operational.

14. It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community. However, failing that (or an Iraqi attack) we would be most unlikely to achieve a legal base for military action by January 2003.

An International Coalition

15. An international coalition is necessary to provide a military platform and desirable for political purposes.

16. US military planning assumes that the US would be allowed to use bases in Kuwait (air and ground forces), Jordan, in the Gulf (air and naval forces) and UK territory (Diego Garcia and our bases in Cyprus). The plans assume that Saudi Arabia would withhold co-operation except granting military over-flights. On the assumption that military action would involve operations in the Kurdish area in the North of Iraq, the use of bases in Turkey would also be necessary.

17. In the absence of UN authorisation, there will be problems in securing the support of NATO and EU partners. Australia would be likely to participate on the same basis as the UK. France might be prepared to take part if she saw military action as inevitable. Russia and China, seeking to improve their US relations, might set aside their misgivings if sufficient attention were paid to their legal and economic concerns. Probably the best we could expect from the region would be neutrality. The US is likely to restrain Israel from taking part in military action. In practice, much of the international community would find it difficult to stand in the way of the determined course of the US hegemon. However, the greater the international support, the greater the prospects of success.

A Quiescent Israel-Palestine

18. The Israeli re-occupation of the West Bank has dampened Palestinian violence for the time being but is unsustainable in the long-term and stoking more trouble for the future. The Bush speech was at best a half step forward. We are using the Palestinian reform agenda to make progress, including a resumption of political negotiations. The Americans are talking of a ministerial conference in November or later. Real progress towards a viable Palestinian state is the best way to undercut Palestinian extremists and reduce Arab antipathy to military action against Saddam Hussein. However, another upsurge of Palestinian/Israeli violence is highly likely. The co-incidence of such an upsurge with the preparations for military action against Iraq cannot be ruled out. Indeed Saddam would use continuing violence in the Occupied Territories to bolster popular Arab support for his regime.


19. Even with a legal base and a viable military plan, we would still need to ensure that the benefits of action outweigh the risks. In particular, we need to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match our objective as set out in paragraph 5 above. A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the US military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired endstate would be created, in particular what form of Government might replace Saddam Hussein's regime and the timescale within which it would be possible to identify a successor. We must also consider in greater detail the impact of military action on other UK interests in the region.

Domestic Opinion

20. Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein. There would also need to be a substantial effort to secure the support of Parliament. An information campaign will be needed which has to be closely related to an overseas information campaign designed to influence Saddam Hussein, the Islamic World and the wider international community. This will need to give full coverage to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, including his WMD, and the legal justification for action.


21. Although the US military could act against Iraq as soon as November, we judge that a military campaign is unlikely to start until January 2003, if only because of the time it will take to reach consensus in Washington. That said, we judge that for climactic reasons, military action would need to start by January 2003, unless action were deferred until the following autumn.

22. As this paper makes clear, even this timescale would present problems. This means that:

(a) We need to influence US consideration of the military plans before President Bush is briefed on 4 August, through contacts betweens the Prime Minister and the President and at other levels;
The text cuts off there because of the missing last page. Apparently aware of the importance of the information, The Times went to some lengths to protect their source against government snoops: The originals were photocopied, then returned to the source. Transcriptions were made from the photocopies and verified for accuracy. The photocopies were then destroyed because the paper feared that markings on them could have given clues to the identity of the source.

Which wound up incidentally showing that the Blair government, whatever its failings, is not as good at lying as the Shrub gang. Here, they would have refused to comment while Faux News and its wingerblog cheerleaders whipped up a frenzy about "forgery" and "fake" and "plant" until the ground had been laid for Scotty McMouthpiece to say with a straight face that "the president feels no need to respond to documents of unknown origin whose authenticity is under serious question."

Instead, Downing Street tried to dismiss the original memo by saying it was "nothing new" - which might work for the Washington Post and Andrea Mitchell, but coming from the British government, all it really did was confirm the documents were genuine.
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