Saturday, March 31, 2007

Little noted but much appreciated

A bill to reverse an idiotic decision of the increasingly management friendly National Labor Relations Board has been introduced in both houses of Congress.

The bill, called the Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers (RESPECT) Act, would undo a board decision rendered in September that redefined "supervisor" in a way that could deny labor protection to millions of workers.

In a case involving a nurses' union, the majority of the Board, dominated by Shrub appointees, held that charge nurses are "supervisors" because they "assign" tasks and have a "responsibility to direct others." This was said to be so even though they do no hiring or firing, do not formally evaluate employees, and have no power to discipline. Since supervisors cannot join unions, that decision affected hundreds of thousands of nurses. The Economic Policy Institute estimated that more than a third of all RNs would be affected.

Indeed, labor advocates said that the decision could mean that anyone who delegates tasks to others would likewise be a "supervisor" outside the protection of labor laws and barred from joining a union.

To repair that, the RESPECT Act would remove the terms "assign" and "responsibility to direct" from the definition of supervisor and add a requirement that supervisory duties are undertaken "for a majority of the individual’s work time" for them to fit the term.

The bill was introduced by Senators Chris Dodd, Richard Durbin, and Edward Kennedy and Representatives Rob Andrews and Rosa DeLauro.

Curse of the Geek's Tomb

After eight years of study, a French architect named Jean-Pierre Houdin claims to have solved a mystery that has puzzled archaeologists for a long time: how the 2.5 ton blocks that make up the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops) were put into place.

It had long been suggested that an outside ramp had been used, but that presents real problems: Beyond a certain height of the pyramid, the ramp either has too steep a rise or becomes more massive than the pyramid itself.

Getting around that, Houdin claims that the lower parts of the pyramid were built that way but that the upper two-thirds of it were built using a spiral ramp running inside the structure. The advantage? As the structure gets taller, the ramp gets longer and so can avoid getting too steep for the workers to move the blocks along it. And since the ramp is part of the structure itself, the problem of the ramp getting more massive than the pyramid is avoided. (Not to mention the plus of having your workers working inside, in the shade, away from the heat of the desert.)

Houdin has posted a 3-D computer simulation of his notion and plans to confirm it through non-invasive tests at the site of the actual pyramid.

It takes two to tango

I'm really OD'ing on the cliches today, aren't I? Anyway, commenting on the Arab League's reaffirmation of the 2002 peace proposal,
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa urged Israel to accept the initiative without demanding amendments as a condition for talks.

"Israel only wants normalization. It does not want withdrawal or talks over Jerusalem or other issues." He said, "It is clear that the Arab stand on this matter is that nothing is free of charge. If they want normalization, we need to see what they will provide in return," he said.
Now, that could be read either of two ways: Either as "Israel, tell us what you're going to offer," that is, a call for a counter-proposal, or as "Take it or leave it." According to the New York Times,
Israeli officials say some Arab leaders acknowledge that their peace proposal can only be the basis for negotiation, and that a final peace will involve some flexibility on boundaries and refugees.
Which means, if it means anything, that Israeli officials know this is not a take it or leave it deal. We'll see if they treat it like one, which would only confirm my assertion about their desire for peace.

Footnote to the preceding

Preudice in Israel is not only against Palestinians. Haaretz for March 30 has the story.
Batya Oved of Kfar Sava, an Israel Defense Forces widow since 1978 and currently unemployed, was considered a known critic of Pnina Cohen, former chairwoman of the IDF Widows and Orphans organization.

After not receiving a voting slip for the internal elections for the organization's chair, she found out several of her friends had not received it either. Haaretz has learned they had been blacklisted along with some other 600 widows, most of whom hail from the Bedouin and Druze minorities. The blacklisted widows were not invited to events held by the organization, and excluded from receiving some benefits, according to a document obtained by Haaretz. [emphasis added]

The document, in which the names of blacklisted widows are distinctly marked, was exposed by Nava Shoham, an activist for the right of IDF widows. It was prepared by former Chairwoman Pnina Cohen, who had recently been replaced. Cohen denies that such a document exists.
Well, she would, wouldn't she? Pnina Cohen, meet Alberto Gonzales.

There comes a time

Updated There are let's call them conflicting signals coming out of the Israeli government in the wake of the conclusion of this week's summit meeting of the Arab League. At that meeting, the participants reaffirmed a 2002 peace proposal that offered formal recognition of Israel
as long as it withdraws to pre-1967 territorial boundaries, accepts an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, and agrees to a solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees....
The European Union called the initiative encouraging. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said
"I see this as an encouragement for regional peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians...."
More signifcantly, while the official Israeli response was described as "lukewarm," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted with cautious optimism, saying in an interview with the Isreali daily Haaretz that
he would be happy to take part in a regional conference that would support direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. ...

"The Riyadh summit is certainly a serious matter. We do not delude ourselves - they want us to go back to the 1967 borders and they also want the right of return. We were not surprised; we understood it would be this way. The content is important, but it is also important to relate to the atmosphere, positioning and direction."
Then again, maybe it's not significant at all, maybe it's just trying to put the right spin on it. Because just one day earlier, Time magazine released an interview in which
Olmert called Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas a "terrorist" and accused him of transferring more than $1 million to militants to carry out attacks against Israel....

Olmert told Time the funds came from outside the Palestinian territories and were transferred to one of Hamas's armed wings for the "explicit purpose of carrying out terrorist actions."

He offered no other details about the transfer.
That doesn't sound like something calculated to advance the possibility of "direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians." Much more importantly, Olmert said
that Israel would not allow a single Palestinian refugee to return to what is now Israel, and that the country bore no responsibility for the refugees because their plight resulted from an attack by Arab nations on Israel when it was a fledgling state. ...

[It was] the first time his government has made such an unequivocal statement on the issue. ... Mr. Olmert said that he could not accept the return of even a single Palestinian refugee to Israel.
This is a deal-breaker! As I said in November 2004 and again just two weeks ago, the so-called "right of return" is "an intensely emotional issue among Palestinians" and one that no Palestinian leader can or will surrender. And the Israeli government knows it. It knows and it has known since before the 2000 Barak-Arafat-Clinton summit. It knows because it's own intelligence agencies told it so, told it that at that meeting Arafat would be willing to accept a "very limited implementation" of the right of return but the principle was non-negotiable for Palestinians.

Olmert knows, has to know, the effect of his words. He knows, has to know, what the response will be. As he himself said, content needs to be related to "atmosphere, positioning and direction." And regardless of the content of his offers of talks, this unequivocal rejection can be read only one way, as reflecting a conscious, deliberate decision to undermine prospects for a negotiated peace.

Enough is enough is enough. Israel is engaged in an illegal occupation. It has repeatedly violated human rights (including the use of human shields). It has stolen land. It has persisted in military incursions. And it has repeatedly found ways to shut down hopes for real negotiations. And the result has neither been victory nor the hollow victory of "security" nor, most certainly, peace - it has been corruption. Importantly for us, it has done this with over two billion dollars in direct US military aid annually - plus hundreds of millions more in "economic support funds," aid specifically intended to enable recipient nations to free up funds to pay for buying arms and other military programs.

It's time to stop. It's time to say no more. It's time to stop pretending to be the "honest broker." Hell, it's time to stop even trying to be the honest broker and instead just trying to be honest. It's time to end any and all military aid and arms sales to Israel until Israel ends the occupation.

Updated to include the link re: military incursions.

Uninentionally Revealing Headlines Div.

"Gonzales carries on as attorney general" - headline on AP article, March 30

As in Carry On, Gonzales?

Sauce for the goose and all that

Updated Or, if you prefer, there's the one about whose ox is gored. From The Guardian (UK) for Saturday:
[A]n exhibition by an international artist to be held in mid-town Manhattan was cancelled after a campaign was launched against it on the ground that it was disrespectful towards Christianity.

My Sweet Lord, a 6ft representation of Jesus, was to have been unveiled over holy week in a gallery on Lexington Avenue but was withdrawn under fire from the Catholic League, an organisation of religious conservatives with 300,000 members. The group objected to the fact that the sculpture is made of more than 200lbs of chocolate and that the figure's genitalia are on display. ...

Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, said the work was a direct assault on Christians. "All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don't react the way extremist Muslims do when they're offended."
Riiight. And just maybe part of the difference is that when such so-called "Christians" demand religious orthodoxy they're neither immediately labeled "extremists" by people screaming "Freedom of speech! Freedom of speech!" at them, nor are they derided as religious bigots. And that in turn is most likely because of "the overwhelming force of the religious right," as The Guardian called it. Which is fair because, after all, "might makes right" is a central tenet of Christianity.

Isn't it?

Updated with a postscript: Donahue, who had said the Roger Smith hotel where the gallery is located would "rue the day" it agreed to host the exhibit, said after the exhibition was canceled that because
we did not like the way the Roger Smith Hotel handled the decision to drop the display, we have no intention of contacting the 500 organizations that we alerted to this assault on Christian sensibilities to inform them that the exhibition has been canceled.
Even victory is not enough, in other words. Only crawling submission will do. Cross us and we will not only defeat you, we will destroy you. Because we're Christians.

Historical footnote of major cultural importance

Friday was the 40th anniversary of the shooting of the cover photo for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
Inspired by Victorian-era composite photographs, Dada collage artists, and Pop artist Richard Hamilton's surreal cut-and-paste suburban scenes, the "Sgt. Pepper" cover has become a visual touchstone.
And besides that, it had some "Paul is dead" clues.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Quick footnote

Just yesterday, I noted that some people have suggested that Bush's threat to veto an Iraqi supplemental bill that includes any restrictions is just a pose.
Perhaps[, I said]. But I'm of the mind that he'll veto it because, well because that's the way he is. (How's that for hard-nosed analysis?) He wants anything and everything all his own way and I think that at this point he and the fanatics who surround him still believe it'll work out their way if they just tough it out.
It seems my analysis was more hard-nosed that I gave myself credit for. As Greg Sargent noted earlier today at TPMCafe,
[i]n his remarks this morning, President Bush actually seemed to suggest that when it comes to the current standoff between the White House and Congress over Dem efforts to mandate a pullout from Iraq in the war spending bill, public opinion is on his side - in defiance of all polls showing the contrary.
Sargent concluded that Bush is "delusional." Which also lends credence to the idea that I'm not. On this, anyway.

Hot under the collar

In one of the grander displays of childish petulance seen of late, Sen. James Inhofe (R-I'm OK You're Not OK), fresh from his failed attempt to sandbag Al Gore during the recent Congressional hearing about global warming, is vowing to use parliamentary procedure to shut down a planned free concert at the Capitol designed to promote awareness of the issue. As a result, organizers are looking for another city to host the event.

I first mentioned the proposed concert, called "Live Earth," just over a month ago. Inhuffin'n'puffin bases his opposition on the laughable claim that it's a "partisan political event" even though the motion to allow for the use of the west lawn of Capitol was co-sponsored by Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Olympia Snowe. The real reason, it's easy to suspect, is to get back at Al Gore, who is promoting the concert in cooperation with Kevin Wall, the man who oversaw the promotion of Live Aid.

Senator In-a-huff is not alone in his inanity; it was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who objected to the request for unanimous consent for the Reid-Snowe request, putting the brakes on it.

Meanwhile, a few recent bits:

- According to a draft obtained by AP, the next installment of the IPCC's four-part report, due out next week, will say that
[t]he harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people won't have enough water....

[T]ens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the Earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels....

Tropical diseases like malaria will spread. By 2050, polar bears will mostly be found in zoos, their habitats gone. Pests like fire ants will thrive.

For a time, food will be plentiful because of the longer growing season in northern regions. But by 2080, hundreds of millions of people could face starvation....
- Polar ice experts reported on Wednesday that a "Texas-sized piece" of the Antarctic ice sheet is thinning at a "surprisingly rapid" rate. They attributed it to a combination of several factors, including global warming, and said it could cause the world's oceans to rise significantly.

- Related to that, a new study in the peer-reviewed journal Environment and Urbanization, released Wednesday, says that
[m]ore than two-thirds of the world's large cities are in areas vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, and millions of people are at risk of being swamped by flooding and intense storms....
- Evidence says that climate change is already disrupting the habitats of many species.
Some of the world's most distinctive and biologically diverse climate regions – from South America's Andes Mountains to southern and eastern Africa and the US Southwest – may be drastically altered by century's end, endangering plant and animal life there, according to a new climate-modeling report....
- A reflection of that may be visible in the fact that
[i]ncreasing numbers of birds [of North America] are spending their winters further north in what experts say is a clear response to global warming. In one example, the sandhill crane, which normally spends its winters in the south of the US, has been spotted in Nova Scotia.

Experts say an examination of 30 years of data gathered by birders supports other evidence of climate change. Greg Butcher, of the National Audubon Society, said: "The American crow, the Carolina wren, the American robin, the eastern bluebird. They are all spending the winter farther north than they were 30 years ago."
- Finally, during that hearing, Senator Inhofe-his-rocker held up a picture of icicles in Buffalo and asked "Where's global warming when you need it har har har?"
Winter in the Northern Hemisphere this year has been the warmest since records began more than 125 years ago, a US government agency says.
NOAA declined to say it was "evidence of the influence of greenhouse gases," and, standing alone, it's not. But with 10 of the warmest years on record having occurred since 1995 and only two years of the last 27 being below the average temperature over the entire 125-year period, it is just one more nail in the coffin of James Inhofe's fantasies.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

One step forward is two steps back...

...but it might lead to three steps forward. Maybe.

In a minor surprise, the Senate rejected an attempt to strip its Iraq war supplemental spending bill of any reference to a troop withdrawal deadline.

The bill contained a provision calling for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq beginning 120 days after enactment with a goal of completing it by the end of next March. The largely-party line vote was 50-48 against the move to delete the provision. Since the GOPpers had already promised to avoid any parliamentary maneuvers to delay the measure, final passage with the withdrawal provision intact now seems assured.

The House version also contains a sort of timetable, that being the benchmark-linked withdrawal of combat forces by October 2008. So it also seems to be a certainty that whatever emerges from a House-Senate conference and goes to Bush will have some expression of limitations.

The New York Times called the Senate action a "forceful rebuke" to Bush, a sentiment some Senators echoed.
“When it comes to the war in Iraq, the American people have spoken, the House and Senate have spoken,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “Now, we hope the president is listening.”
But as the line goes, if wishes were horses, beggers would ride. Despite the tough talk, the Senate bill suffers from the same basic flaw as the House bill: It calls for a start to withdrawal with a goal of completion a year from now. There are no mandates, no requirements, and no means of enforcement. And both House and Senate versions would allow the continuing presence of an unspecified number of US troops in Iraq for "training" and "counterterrorism operations." Bush says he will veto the bill, but some have cynically suggested that he might just be striking a pose because he could sign any conceiveable bill that could come out of conference and still run the war any damn way he wanted.

Perhaps. But I'm of the mind that he'll veto it because, well because that's the way he is. (How's that for hard-nosed analysis?) He wants anything and everything all his own way and I think that at this point he and the fanatics who surround him still believe it'll work out their way if they just tough it out. After all, it's pretty much worked for the last six years and betting on the Dems to fold when it comes down to direct confrontation, in this case a post-veto demand for a so-called "clean" bill, one with no restrictions, is not a long shot.

So the big question now is, what happens when the veto comes? Bush will talk about not "micromanaging" and not "cutting and running" - Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino has already described the Senate bill as "mandating failure.” There is no chance that a veto would be overridden and in its wake little chance that the slim majorities in both houses for symbolic deadlines can be held together. So does that mean we've just lost?

Nope. There are alternatives that Pelosi, Reid, and the rest of their merry gang could pursue in their respective chambers that would do more to advance the cause of ending the war than anything that's happened there so far. Here are two:

- Propose a "clean" bill, but with an appropriation that covers only three months. Allow votes on amendments calling for reductions in the amount or binding conditions on its release, such as saying no funds will be made available or may be spent after December 31. Or that funds made available or spent after September 30 can only be for the purpose of protecting forces as they withdraw over the ensuing 90 days. It's likely such amendments would fail on the first attempt - but you have insured you will have the chance to try again with a new supplemental request three months of increasing public frustration with the war later.

- Propose a "clean" bill that funds the amount requested - but those monies are dispersed only, perhaps, quarterly, with each new dispensing of funds requiring Congressional approval. Such measures of approval are open to the same sorts of amendments as the previous example.

The point in either case is to make sure this vote is not the last, that Congress leaves itself options to add further restrictions, up to and including a forced withdrawal, as antiwar sentiment increases, as it will.

Or hey, here's a thought: Don't pass a bill! Don't appropriate any money at all, knowing full well that available Pentagon funds are more than sufficient to cover the costs of a safe withdrawal. It is of course extremely unlikely there are more than a handful of people in Congress with the guts to do that; too many are still too intimidated by the phrase "abandoning the troops." But the bottom line is that it is the right thing to do - and I believe more than a handful know it, a more than handful that will grow over time.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Out and about

(Cross-posted to The Core 4.)

Note that in all that follows I am referring to self-declared antiwar activists of the left, particularly those hosting or commenting on political blogs. I’m not referring to members of Congress - rather, to the debate that surrounded what Congress was doing and has done.

As I expect all four of you (counting me) reading this know, there has been a lot of discussion (including this and this) about the Iraq supplemental bill just passed by the House. There was a sharp difference of opinion among antiwar folks as to the best course: Some - I was among them - urged a “no” vote on the grounds that it gives Bush too much and the “restrictions” and “timetables” are too porous. Others urged a “yes” vote on the grounds that it's a clear challenge to Bush, that the restrictions, even if they could be evaded, at least exist, and, ultimately, it was the best thing that could be passed.

Expressions of that difference frequently turned bitter. Opponents were called “idiots” who don’t understand legislative process and were only interested in “grandstanding.” And worse. Supporters were called “sellouts” and hypocrites; it was even said by some that they secretly support the war. (I can’t say “and worse” because I’m not sure what would be a worse accusation in this context.) Traces of that divide linger on in the aftermath and people on both sides continue to “explain” and defend their choices.

Some conciliatory voices are suggesting that it really was just a difference in tactics. Both camps, it’s argued, want to stop the war. They differ only in their convictions as to the best means to that end.

I expect to some extent that’s true and as much as I’m tempted to explain why my tactics were of course the superior ones, I’m going to resist except as necessary to point out a deeper, subtler disagreement that I believe really drove the difference - that is, the opposing tactical choices were the result of that deeper disagreement rather than being the disagreement themselves.

Consider that the arguments for passage specifically included that “it puts Democrats on record as opposing the war.” That’s why the compromises with the Blue Dogs that pulled the teeth from the bill were necessary, because getting something passed that declared an intent, even just a clear desire, to end the war was what was important. After all, it’s going to be vetoed anyway, the argument went, so (it was implied) the compromises were irrelevant.

That was an attitude I condemned as being
about saying you oppose the war while at the same time running away from any actual responsibility for doing anything about it. It's about, bottom line, positioning for the 2008 campaign and who gives a damn about the lives, American (and allied) and even more Iraqi, ruined in the meantime.
And indeed, in some after-passage commentary, some of the bill’s antiwar supporters pretty much came out and said exactly that. Not the not doing anything or not giving a damn parts, but the positioning for 2008 part.

And that seemed like such cold-blooded, callous, political opportunism that when switched from accusation to acknowledgment it felt - well, just too odd to be accepted at face value. Because a number of the people expressing such sentiments are folks whose desire to end the war I do not doubt, whose opposition to the war dates back to before it started, and whose reasons for their opposition are rooted in the conviction that the war is simply wrong. Not merely inconvenient or poorly executed, but wrong.

So how, then, can they justify supporting a bill that gives Bush an additional $100 billion to spend on bloodshed and carnage in an illegal war that has killed thousands of Americans (and wounded tens of thousands more), killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, worsened non-state terrorism, could easily (by accident or design) spread to Iran, and is opposed by the people it’s supposed to be helping?

I’ve come to believe that the root difference between those who opposed the supplemental and those who endorsed it was not one of tactics - it’s rather that those who supported it have given up on the idea of stopping the war so long as George Bush remains in office. Not only do they not believe that Congress can pass effective legislation against it, they also believe that Congress will not refuse to pass appropriations for it, for fear of the political fallout (that fear being an argument specifically raised against defeating the supplemental) - and most importantly, they believe that even if Congress did either or both it would make no difference. Bush would ignore what he could not evade.

Therefore, the best way to end the war the soonest is to get a Democrat pledged to stop it elected in 2008. Thus the willingness to embrace legislation they know is doomed to ultimate failure but would “make a statement” by passing the House. I imagine that in their hearts they know it’s cold - but they honestly believe it’s the best they can do.

On the other hand, I believe that those of us opposed to the supplemental, opposed to one more penny for the heinous crime of our war, are not willing to wait that long and have not given up hope that more can be done, sooner. One of my big frustrations with the bill, as I’ve said before and elsewhere, is that its very existence will be used to head off attempts to shorten the timetable or place genuine restrictions on the war - and so its defeat either in the Senate or by veto could be the best thing for it because it would open up new opportunities to limit the war by strangling the funding.

So I believe those who supported the supplemental are wrong in their despair. And I believe that we who have not despaired will continue to kick and scream and rally in the streets and demand more than symbolic action from Congress. Unhappily, it may yet prove true that our more cynical colleagues are right and all efforts will come to naught before another two years and the spring of 2009. But if that’s true it shouldn’t be for lack of trying - and if it happens even then it will be because and only because all of us on either side of this antiwar divide refused to be satisfied with anything less than “OUT!”

Footnote: I want to make clear that nothing I said here is intended to diminish or retract any of my contempt for the Democratic leadership in the House, whose cynical manipulations on this whole mess - perhaps best illustrated by persuading Barbara Lee to not even introduce her war-ending amendment by making it clear it would never come to a vote - were, I maintain, more about partisan advantage than ending the war. They dealt the cards; our argument was over the best way to play the hand we got.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Post mortem

The phrase in this case being particularly apt. (Cross-posted to The Core 4.)

The Iraq war supplemental appropriation, the so-called Iraq Accountability Act - actually the Give Bush His Blood Money Act, what I call the Pelosi bill - passed on a largely party-line vote of 218-212. In anticipation of that momentous occasion, David Sirota, who had consistently argued for passage, wrote a commentary that I assume was meant to be magnanimous in victory - but which instead came off as so smarmy as to be positively creepy.

The progressive members who gave up opposing the bill and went along with it were "principled and shrewd," he said. They should be "applauded." They were "courageous." It was their "hardball" that made possible this "strong, binding legislation," the latter phrase so pleasing to him that it appeared in some form no less than seven times. They were "heroes" who had become "one of the most powerful blocs in the U.S. Congress." They "should hold their heads high" because they will "go down in history." Most importantly, oh yes indeed most importantly, they were "serious." Not like those "discredited" people "just blowing off contrairian [sic] steam." Serious, principled, shrewd, courageous heroes.

Please. It's all bullshit. All meaningless platitudes. Meaningless platitudes laid on so think you could secure bricks in it.

Contrary to Sirota, progressives made no "deal" with Nancy Pelosi to get the votes she needed: Saying there was a "deal" implies that both sides got something out of it and I'm at a complete loss to think of a single thing the progressives got. Unless, of course, we are to say not being "treated as pariahs," as a commenter suggested elsewhere, or being freed from the rumored threats against funding for projects in their districts is to be regarded as "getting something." In other circumstances, I think we would call that "submitting to blackmail" rather than "making a deal," but I expect I'm one of those discredited contrarians, so who can trust what I think?

(Sidebar: Sirota condemns the "unacceptable behavior" of those who would accuse supporters of the bill of "selling out."
The truth is, those antiwar leaders trying to cobble together a legislative coalition could easily make the charge that the contrairians [sic] are selling out - selling out a viable way to end the war in order to grandstand for the cameras."
But," he grandly informs us, "these antiwar leaders aren't making that argument." Well, why should they? They have David Sirota to make it for them.)

On the other hand, Sirota, despite his fawning praise of this "strong, binding legislation," fesses up:
I agree that it's very likely Bush will try to ignore the law like he has so many other laws ... but now, if this bill passes, a law will be on the books that we will be able to try to enforce through the courts and through other means.
Which is, of course, an admission that the bill itself contains no enforcement provisions. If Bush continues to maintain combat troops in Iraq after September 2008, which Sirota apparently agrees he will, the only way to enforce a limit would be to go to court, which will take - how long? And that's even assuming the courts will shed their usual reluctance to get in the middle of a foreign policy dispute between the Legislative and Executive branches and take the case at all.

Now, Sirota is right when he says you can't legislate on the assumption that the law will be ignored, because if you do, "why legislate anything?" But he doesn't address the obvious "on the other hand" question: Given the same conditions, why legislate something with no means of enforcing it? What is the point of passing legislation that can be ignored without consequences? More exactly, why pass a bill that by your own admission puts no effective constraints on Bush but does give him nearly one hundred billion dollars to continue the carnage in Iraq?

And this doesn't even consider that should the bill by some combination of members being exposed to nitrous oxide and divine intervention pass the Senate, it will be vetoed. No one expects it to become law. And no one, at least no one of who I'm aware, has hinted that in that case the "next step" (because, after all, this bill is just "the first step," Sirota and many others insist) would be a follow-up bill stronger than this loophole-ridden travesty. In fact, the most common prediction is the exact same one that had been brandished as a horror weapon to bully people into supporting the supplemental in the first place: a "clean" bill that gives Bush his cash fix without any even symbolic restrictions. So what's the difference between passing and not passing? Only that this way, the Democrats got to "grandstand for the cameras," to pretend they're doing something about the war even as they know they're not.

I have sympathy, truly I do, for those progressive legislators who felt trapped in a web of conscience, party loyalty, political pressure, and the hope - a vain hope is still a hope - that this bill might actually accomplish something and wound up voting for it. Unlike some, I won't condemn them or declare they have "endorsed the war." Rather, I am, as I wrote to my own member of the House, "deeply disappointed" in the vote for this "toothless bit of posturing." I am upset, I am depressed. I firmly believe that defeating this bill was not only the right thing to do, but by being responsible for its going down, progressives would have demonstrated to the leadership that there is an aggressive antiwar caucus that could not be intimidated and would not back down and that therefore must be taken into consideration and that that, rather than the acquiescence applauded by David Sirota, is the way to become a "powerful bloc." Just ask the Blue Dogs.

So I think the progressives who voted yea were wrong on the vote and wrong on the strategy. But again, I don't condemn them, because I can sympathize with the conflicts they felt and I accept that they did what they felt was the best thing at that moment. Those I condemn are a political leadership more concerned with saving face than saving lives and which valued posturing over principle to the extent of refusing even to allow a vote on the proposed Lee amendment (which would have required the removal of all US troops from Iraq by the end of the year) - along with their water-carriers like David Sirota, who, for all their supposed political savvy, fail to grasp the simple concept that the way to get what you want does not begin with asking for less.

Footnote: Shorter David Sirota: Progressives, we graciously accept your shrewd, courageous, unconditional surrender.

Days of future pressed

In an on-going discussion at Talk Left about the Iraq supplemental bill, the issue of Iran came up. It was argued by some that trying to pass legislation barring an attack on Iran was bad tactically (because if it lost it would imply approval of an attack) and wrong legally (because it was clear Bush lacked such authority absent Congressional action). I agreed the former argument had merit, while cautioning "I expect that those who favor a resolution stating authorization is required are of the mind that it is a bad idea to wait until the fighting has started to try to do anything about it." But I disagreed with the latter.
It's well established both in law and constitutional principle that in certain circumstances the President in the role of Commander-in-Chief has the authority to initiate military action without first getting the approval of Congress. ...

How broad that authority is, is disputed.... But the fact that the authority exists is not in question.
More specifically, I had earlier noted that
[t]he War Powers Resolution says [the president] can initiate military action in the event of "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. (Emphasis of course added.) One bit of "proof" that some Iranian forces inside Iraq fired on US soldiers, one Gulf of Tonkin-type "incident" in the Persian Gulf, and bam! there's the authority.

And 60 days later we'd be hearing how oh, we just can't cut off funds for our brave troops in the field!
Why do I bring this up now? Because of this, from the BBC for today:
Fifteen British Navy personnel have been captured at gunpoint by Iranian forces, the Ministry of Defence says. ...

The Royal Navy said the men, who were on a routine patrol in Iraqi waters, were understood to be unharmed. ...

The Ministry of Defence said: "The group boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.

"We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level.

"The British government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment."
The commander of the frigate where the men were stationed said he hoped it was "a simple misunderstanding at the tactical level," that is, a minor league dispute over whether the boats were in Iraqi or Iranian waters. This is not the first time something like this has happened: In 2004, the BBC says, eight British servicemen were held for three days after allegedly straying across the Iran-Iraq border in the Gulf.
The BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said the difference this time, and a cause of concern, is that the present Iranian government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was much more hardline.

"The political climate is worse with Britain among those confronting Iran over its controversial nuclear programme," he added.
And also a climate (featuring a convenient "hardline" enemy) in which any minor incident can be escalated into a casus belli - and in the absence of a real incident, one can easily be provoked or even created.

Things that make you go "hmmm"

In a new report, Amnesty International has blasted the Bush administration's program of military tribunals for prisoners at Guantánamo, declaring they do not meet recognized international standards of fairness.
Amnesty said likely defendants include people captured in Pakistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mauritania, Gambia, Egypt and other places where the United States was not engaged in armed conflict. Some were victims of secret detention, secret transfers from country to country, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, it said.

"The military commissions will be convened following a trail of illegality, with those to be tried arbitrarily detained and ill-treated for years," Amnesty said in a report titled "Justice Delayed and Justice Denied."
Amesnty also noted that the judges and jurors at the tribunal are not independent, as they are military people subject to Bush's authority and appeals would be heard by judges appointed by the Secretary of Defense. The group urged other nations "not to provide any information to assist the prosecution in military commission trials."

There's an interesting twist to this: Amnesty wants the cases moved to the regular US court system - and, according to a report from Reuters, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at least partly agrees with them.
Soon after becoming defense secretary, Robert Gates argued the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed because the international community would view any trials there as tainted....

Instead, Gates, who became Pentagon chief in December, argued that terrorism suspects should be tried in the United States to make the proceedings more credible....
And if that don't make ya go "hmmm," consider who sided with him: Condoleezza Rice.

"The Big" Dick Cheney and Alberto Gone-zales argued against it (no surprise) and Bush sided with them (ditto), putting an end to the idea - for now, anyway.
One official said the issue may come up again if Gonzales is forced to step down because of the battle over fired U.S. attorneys.

"Let's see what happens to Gonzales," the senior administration official told the Times. "I suspect this one isn't over yet."
We can hope. Actually we should do more than hope, because hope alone didn't get us to the point where the discussion even arose. Noisy complaints did.

Footnote: Just to be clear, the article doesn't say that Gates wanted the trials moved to civilian courts, only to the US. But since the objection was that doing so would give prisoners undeniable access to certain legal and constitutional rights which the White House insists don't exist in the supposed legal limbo of Gitmo, the facts that Gates wanted to do it and was concerned about "tainted" trials still seem to put him (and Rice) reasonably close to AI's position - and at minimum one hell of a lot closer than I thought anybody on the Shrub team would be.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The way of the world

Straight from going head-to-head with Jon Stewart, where he proved unquestionably that as a result of his long experience as a diplomat, his grasp of world affairs and democratic process was no better than that of the host of a comedy news show (and his grasp of history was inferior), former US Ambassador to the UN and all-around creep John Bolton told the BBC that
the US deliberately resisted calls for a immediate ceasefire during the conflict in Lebanon in the summer of 2006
because it wanted Israel to completely destroy Hezbollah. The US only signed on to ceasefire efforts when it became obvious Israel was not going to succeed.
At the time US officials argued a ceasefire was insufficient and agreement was needed to address the underlying tensions and balance of power in the region.
In other words, they were lying through their teeth. Bolton not only effectively admitted that, he proclaimed he was "damned proud of what we did" to block an early ceasefire. And what was the result?
More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and an unknown number of Hezbollah fighters were killed in the conflict[, which was sparked by the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers].

Israel lost 116 soldiers in the fighting, while 43 of its civilians were killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks.
So we could, I think, safely guess a minimum total of over 1400 deaths, including nearly 1100 civilians. As a consequence of the kidnapping of two soldiers. That's a hell of a thing - and a very revealing thing - to be proud of.

Such as John Bolton would undoubtedly tell me that I'm not living in "the real world." To the extent that's true, it's only because amoral thugs like John Bolton have had so much power in it.

Footnote to Tuesday

A group of lawyers in Darfur say there is strong evidence that there have been "many cases" of people being abducted and forced into slavery by the notorious Janjaweed, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

The lawyers, who are
too afraid of possible reprisals from either militias or state security agents to give their names,
say that slavery is happening on a smaller scale than it did during the north-south civil war in Sudan that saw a settlement a few years ago, but it is happening.

This represents an escalation of the abuses, since
[u]ntil now, a key difference between the two conflicts is that despite all the other atrocities committed, there have been no reports of people in Darfur being abducted and held for more than a few weeks.
One suggested reason for the difference is that while the people of south Sudan are largely Christian and animist, both those of north Sudan and the people of Darfur are Muslim. Muslims are barred from enslaving other Muslims - although not, it would seem, from slaughtering them.

Footnote: The BBC had a helpful graphic in December, showing how the conflict is spreading. The link is here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Out of Iraq Blogroll

A new addition to the right-hand column is the Out of Iraq Blogroll. It grew out of discussions at Talk Left and consists of left blogs that have concluded that the Iraq funding bill being promoted by the Democratic leadership in the House (my shorter version: the Pelosi bill) is not just "not good enough," it's not worth passing.

In fact, it contains so many concessions and loopholes that I believe it would actually forestall any attempts to add restrictions or funding cuts later: "Hey, we already dealt with that. It's covered - done deal!"

This is what I said in the discussion:
There was a moment when, thinking back to Vietnam and how funding was never cut off but was slowly strangled, I could have supported the Pelosi bill as the least bad available alternative. I would have been unhappy about it and intending to press for stronger restrictions at the first opportunity, but I could have done it.

That was before a vote on the Lee amendment was blocked; the provisions requiring troops to be trained, equipped, and rested could be waived; the provision about Iran got scrapped; and the only enforcement mechanism, the funding cutoff, was dumped, turning the "benchmarks" into nothing but polite suggestions.
I then pulled this quote from a March 10 post:
Let's be real here. This plan isn't about opposing Bush. It's not about stopping the war. It's about saying you oppose the war while at the same time running away from any actual responsibility for doing anything about it. It's about, bottom line, positioning for the 2008 campaign and who gives a damn about the lives, American (and allied) and even more Iraqi, ruined in the meantime.
We keep hearing that if the Pelosi bill is defeated, the next one will be worse. But no one seems to be able to explain why, given that this bill places only rhetorical restrictions on Bush.

So what happens if the Pelosi bill fails? Certainly, a new funding bill will be introduced, very likely a so-called "clean" one, that is, one that hands Bush his blood money with no restrictions. This is where a weakness in the defunding argument, which insists that all the Dems have to do is pass nothing, arises: Given that such a bill will be introduced, there are only two options for immediate defunding. One, the leadership has to actively prevent it from coming to a vote - and even if that's legislatively possible, it's not politically possible, as I can't see anyone imagining they have the guts to face the reaction such "obstructionism" and "abandonment of our troops in the field" would generate. Two, when the bill does come to a vote, a majority are prepared to vote against it, to again take an active step to block funding - and that is exactly the majority we don't have now in the House.

So, again, what happens? What some have suggested and which makes political sense to me, given the realities, is to give Bush his "clean bill" - but it only covers three or four months of funding. One real advantage of this is that it will force another debate on funding in a few months and then if necessary a few months after that. It can't be ignored or dodged or put off with meaningless "benchmarks." And there will be repeated opportunities as support for the war continues to dwindle, as it will, to put on additional restrictions up to and including a funding cutoff and/or forced withdrawal.

And if Bush vetoes such a bill in some fit of imperial pique, well, so what? In that case Congress didn't cut the funds, he did.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Darf - Darfu - where, you say?

Darfur is back in the news.

What's prompted the attention this time is a dispute over a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council accusing the government of Sudan of orchestrating human rights abuses and war crimes in Darfur.

In its Summary, the report declares that (from the .pdf version of the whole report, available here)
[t]oday, millions are displaced, at least 200,000 are dead, and conflict and abuse are spilling over the border into Chad. Making matters worse, humanitarian space continues to shrink, and humanitarian and human rights actors are increasingly targeted. Killing of civilians remains widespread, including in large-scale attacks. Rape and sexual violence are widespread and systematic. Torture continues. Arbitrary arrest and detention are common, as is repression of political dissent, and arbitrary restrictions on political freedoms. Mechanisms of justice and accountability where they exist are under-resourced, politically compromised, and ineffective. The region is heavily armed, further undercutting the rule of law, and meaningful disarmament and demobilization of the Janjaweed, other militia and rebel movements is yet to occur. Darfur suffers from longstanding economic marginalization and underdevelopment, and the conflict has resulted in further impoverishment. As violations and abuses continue unabated, a climate of impunity prevails.
It urges the UN to act to protect civilians in a conflict which has seen 2.5 million displaced by four years of fighting.

The dispute over the report came as a result of a complaint raised late last week by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which said it rejected the report and wanted to keep the Council from considering it. It was, the OIC claimed, a "non-report" that had not "fulfilled its mandate." The basis for the complaint was that the team had not actually visited Sudan, instead relying on observations and interviews outside the country.

And why did the team not go to Sudan? Because the Sudanese government refused to let it in, that's why.

It is an astonishingly, transparently, bogus complaint, one that, if accepted, would allow every government on Earth to exempt itself from international examination of its abuses: Just don't let the investigators in and poof! there is no report, no valid source of complaint. Which also, of course, makes it obvious why some other nations - such as Russia and China - would support the OIC's effort.

The head of the team, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, fired back on Friday, warning the Council would damage its own reputation if it refused to consider the report.
"About credibility - it's not about ours, it's about yours," Williams told the 47-nation council. "If the council chooses not to consider our report ... it will have impact on the credibility of the council but not on this mission." ...

"Responsibility to protect is meant to protect civilians, not abusive governments," Williams said.
Fortunately, the attempt to kill consideration of the report was for the moment "thwarted by tough bargaining, a senior EU official said." However, that doesn't spell the end of the effort, because while the Council didn't discard the report, neither did it approve it.
Instead, the 47-member assembly was set to continue its debate on Darfur next week. ...

The eight EU countries in the Human Rights Council are now aiming to convince a majority of the 47 nations to at least "take note" of the report, and then act to follow-up on its findings, the EU official said.
Meanwhile, the US has said that it's planning on trying to get the Security Council to adopt a resolution aiming to force Sudan to admit a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur, an effort whose chances have improved as some African nations, such as Ghana and Senegal, have begun to question a "hands-off" approach. In addition, Zambia said that
[d]enial of access was not grounds for dismissing [the report] ... noting South Africa under apartheid and the then Rhodesia, also under white rule, routinely refused entry to such missions.

"The people of Darfur deserve better," said Zambia's ambassador Love Mtesa.
However, Sudan still has its supporters. Egypt says it's opposed to any additional sanctions being placed on Sudan. Instead, it wants the UN
"to treat in a positive way the last letter of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon."

A UN spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, said earlier that Beshir's letter "contained positive elements, including the strong expression of support to joint efforts by the African Union and United Nations... as well as assurances over humanitarian aide for the people of Darfur."

But she had also said the message "seems to cast doubt on" a November 2006 accord in which Sudan agreed to the deployment in Darfur of a joint UN-AU force.
This would not be the first time Beshir has played the compromise-and-stall game: Hold out until the pressure is too much, then "compromise" to take the heat off - and promptly forget about it once people look the other way. Nearly three years ago, for example, he claimed he was ordering a "complete mobilization" of all Sudanese army and security forces to disarm all Darfur's warring parties, including the janjaweed, the nomadic Arab militia that have acted as Beshir's surrogates in carrying out atrocities in Darfur. We know how well that turned out.

So it will be interesting to see how aggressively this gets pursued. I mean, after all, it's only mass murder, rape, torture, and displacement to a degree labeled by the US State Department itself in its annual report as the world's worst human rights abuse of 2006. It's not like the people there are Palestinians or something.

And, of course, any Security Council resolution still faces the possibility of a Russian or Chinese veto. Which is at least part of the reason why some organizations are pressing for tough US actions against Sudan, including a so-called "Plan B" with actions ranging from targeted and unilateral economic and trade sanctions against Sudan, through pushing for worldwide sanctions and a strong peacekeeping force in Chad, the Central African Republic, and Darfur, to enforcing in conjunction with NATO a no-fly zone over Darfur for Sudanese military aircraft.

The latter, the plan says, "could be accomplished by immobilizing Sudanese planes known to have taken part in illegal bombing missions" - which, if it means anything, means direct military action against Sudan: attacking those planes while they are on the ground. (I assume that's why the plan calls for NATO rather than Security Council action, the latter being very unlikely to approve such an idea.) Although that does appear intended to minimize any "collateral damage," i.e., dead Sudanese, I still can't in good conscience support the parts of the plan that rely on military action. The economic and political sanctions, the blocking of trade and freezing of assets, the push for international sanctions, yes - but the direct use or threat of military force, no.

I know that I will be condemned in some quarters for that - or, more properly, would be condemned if any significant number of people cared what I have to say - on the grounds that sanctions alone will not work and only force or at the very least the threat of force wielded by a peacekeeping force will save the people of Darfur. Or, again at the very least, even if sanctions work they will take so much time to do so that an unknowable number of people will die first, all of whose deaths will be on my conscience and whose blood will be on my hands. I would be accused of inaction or insensitivity or both.

I admit to being somewhat uncomfortable with my position and the truth is, this is a hard case for me because the objections regarding the peacekeepers may well have some merit (but not, I emphasize, the direct air attack on Sudanese territory, i.e., the one to "immobilize" military aircraft). Yet at the same time I wonder how many would die if peacekeepers were inserted in the absence of a genuine agreement and then actually acted on their threat of force to "keep the peace." Or if, as often happens, after being inserted they didn't act at all because the real hope was that their sheer presence would act as a buffer between warring parties. Which was, in fact, the hope of the current 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping force - and it has been a futile one.

Beyond "Plan B," there is yet another way to bring pressure on Sudan, a way which carries enough moral weight potentially (and likely) to make some nations re-think their policies and want to start keeping their distance from Sudan. (It also carries legal weight but that has to do with international law and who gives a tinker's dam about that?) This is from a Human Rights Watch press release, February 27:
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor’s case against two Sudanese leaders for atrocities in Darfur is a first step in ending the impunity associated with horrific crimes there.... Earlier today, the ICC prosecutor asked Pre-Trial Chamber I to issue summonses for two suspects to appear before the court. ...

The prosecutor is seeking summonses for State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun and “Janjaweed” militia leader “Ali Kosheib,” (a pseudonym for Ali Mohammed Ali).
The Pre-Trial Chamber now reviews the prosecutor's submission; if it decides there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the charges and summonses are “sufficient to ensure” the accused will appear before the court, it will issue the summonses. The ICC is acting under a March 2005 Security Council referral.
“The ICC prosecutor’s request sends a signal to Khartoum and ‘Janjaweed’ militia leaders that ultimately they are not going to get away with the unspeakable atrocities,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program.
(Links to documents and a video of the prosecutor's press conference can be found at this site.)

Be that - all of that - as it may, even with the reports, the prosecutions, the pressure for increased sanctions, all of it, the hard reality is that the people of Darfur are still there. Still living and dying, still struggling to survive, struggling to keep their lives and communities together and to make sense of what has happened and is happening all around them - and neither government forces nor, in truth, rebel forces are making that any easier:

The government, for its part, is "paralyzing" the aid operation in Darfur, according to US special envoy Andrew Natsios, who said earlier this month that there has been a big increase in bureaucratic roadblocks to, and harassment of, international aid workers.

And right around the same time, a rebel faction that signed last year's now-evaporated peace agreement kidnapped and killed two African Union peacekeepers and seriously wounded a third. Humanitarian workers had pulled out of that area in December after they were targeted by rebels.

Natsios also charged that both government and rebel forces have sexually assaulted and beaten humanitarian workers.

And so the killing fields just keep on killing - while the "civilized world" dithers, some nations governed by poor excuses for human beings, seeking to cover their own sorry asses from human rights investigations, disgrace themselves before history, and "the world's only superpower," which not that long ago was dismissing the UN as irrelevant, now seems incapable of pulling the unilateral action levers available it.

No wonder we want to let it drop from the headlines, from our awareness - no wonder we want to forget.

And the good times just keep on rolling

An addendum to my assertion a few days ago that Iraqis are aware of the fact that our presence in their country is making things worse.
Jobs gone and schools closed. Marriages delayed and children mourned. Markets bombed and clean water in short supply. Speaking freely now a dangerous act.

And hope lost.

Four years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Iraqis describe daily lives that have been torn apart by spiraling violence and a faltering economy. The bursts of optimism reported in a 2004 public-opinion survey taken a year after the invasion and another in 2005 before landmark legislative elections have nearly vanished.
So says USA Today in opening its report on the results of an international media poll of Iraqis taken in late February and early March. Four outlets - USA TODAY, ABC News, the BBC, and German TV network ARD - cooperated on the survey, which found "a nation that in large measure has fragmented into fear."

The results are almost staggeringly stark. For example, on every one of ten measures of personal life, ranging from the security situation to a family's economic condition to the electricity supply, a majority of respondents said it was "bad." What's more, on each measure the proportion saying it was bad outstripped those in an ABC poll from November 2005 by anywhere from 15 to 34 percentage points. (Sidebar: There were actually 13 areas, as shown in the complete survey results, available here in .pdf format, but only 10 are displayed in the accompanying graphics, apparently because three areas were not covered in the earlier survey and so no trend could be stated. However, in every one of the 13 areas, "a majority rated conditions as bad. In not a single case did a majority predict things would get better in the next year.")

[s]ix in 10 Iraqis say their lives are going badly. Only one-third expect things to improve in the next year.

That represents a dramatic deterioration in just 16 months, a reflection of how the security situation and quality of life in Iraq have unraveled.
What's really striking about the results and carries import for Iraq's future is the dramatic difference in views along ethnic and religious lines. For example, on the question of the future structure of Iraq, given three choices - a unified Iraq, regional states (i.e. a federation of some type), and independent states - a whopping 97% of Sunni Arabs went for a unified state but only 20% of Kurds. (Shia Arabs were more diverse, dividing up 41%-40%-19% among the three options.)

For another example, when asked how they feel about whether the national government is doing a good job or a bad job in carrying out its responsibilities, 68% of Shias and 71% of Kurds picked "good" - but only 6% of Sunnis. Meanwhile, a majority of Shias and two-thirds of Kurds say their life is, overall, "good" but only 7% of Sunnis do - a difference that persists into predictions of how things will be in a year.

On a different divide, only 17% of Shias and a mere 3% of Sunnis say they approve of US forces in Iraq - but 75% of Kurds do.

Even where things initially look good, they're not:
In the USA TODAY/ABC News Poll, Iraqis by 43%-36% said life was better than before the invasion. That's a decline from the optimism in the November 2005 survey, however, when by 51%-29% Iraqis said life was better.
The article and its related links have more on the often unspoken costs of war.
Four years of upheaval have taken a toll on Iraqis' mental health. Most report symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Three in four say they have feelings of anger and depression, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating on work.
It's become a nation of people afraid to go to market, to travel, to go to work, even to leave their homes or to speak truthfully about themselves.

People who regret having had children.
Many Iraqis have curtailed their ambitions for their children, and some yearn to leave their native land. Three in 10 say they would move to a different country if they could. Not quite half of those say they are making plans to go.
And it's become a land where even trying to find out what people think carries risks. That, too, is the legacy of our war.

Footnote: According to the latest CNN/Opinion research poll, Americans, too, are expressing "starkly" different opinions about the war from those they held when it began.

- The proportion "confident" about the war has dropped from 83% when the war started to 35% now.
- Those who say they are "proud" of the war has dropped from 65% to 30% over that same time.
- Some 68% of Americans said Iraq was worth fighting over when it started; that percentage has almost flipped: Now, 61% say it was not worth it.
- At the time of the invasion, 72% supported the war. That was down to 48% by March 2004 and has sunk to just 32% now - less than half the original figure.
- "Twice as many Americans believe the United States is losing ground compared to the number of people who think progress is being made."

And protests continue, some including civil disobedience.

One other interesting note is that support for the war in Afghanistan - the one of which all good liberals and progressives approve - also has seen a considerable decline. In 2001, 88% of those polled said they supported the attack. Now it's around 53%, and 55% say that war is "going badly."

Another Footnote: Another question in the poll of Iraqis related to the effect of "outside influences" - specifically, the roles of Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the UK, and the US. For each, people were asked,was their influence positive, negative, or neutral?

The US, not surprisingly, got only 12% of respondents saying its influence is positive - but, perhaps surprisingly, that was not the lowest ranking; Syria, at 7% positive, got that. Saudi Arabia had the highest percentage of positive ratings, and that was only 20%.

The US and UK, again not surprisingly, got the highest negative ratings, with 77% and 75% responding that way, respectively - but, again perhaps surprisingly, majorities also said that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria are having a negative influence. Opinion on Turkey was essentially evenly divided and Russia's influence was regarded by nearly three-fourths as neutral.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Swift justice

David Neiwert at Orcinus has another unhappy entry for his Appendix to his 10-part "Eliminationism in America" series. (Visit David's homepage for links to the parts of the series.)

This one comes from a post at The Victory Caucus. (No direct link; I refuse to link to right wing nutsites unless absolutely necessary to make the point.) A few excerpts follow to give you the taste - but be sure to go Orcinus and read the whole thing - including the Update for the kicker.
1. The liberals are our destruction. They want to destroy the United States and our people. This plan must be blocked.

2. There are no distinctions between liberals. Each liberal is a sworn enemy of the American people. If he does not make his hostility plain, it is only from cowardice and slyness, not because he loves us. ...

6. The liberals are the enemy's agents among us. He who stands by them aids the enemy.

7. The liberals have no right to claim that their arguments and opinions equal ours. They should be ignored, not only because their are simply wrong, but because they are liberals who have no right to a voice in the community. ...

10. The treatment liberals receive from us is hardly unjust. They have deserved it all.
In response, one commenter cried out "WELL STATED!!!" and later that "EVERY liberal needs to be treated as the enemy" while another insisted "liberals are akin to a virus" for who he felt "no pity ... and neither can I in good conscience extend mercy to them" because "they are the enemy."

Which makes it even more important that you check out the Update. This man would be proud.

The Geek Chronicles, Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 1
Enough water is locked up at Mars' south pole to cover the planet in a liquid layer 11m (36ft) deep.

The Mars Express probe used its radar instrument to map the thickness of Mars' south polar layered deposits.

Analysis of the Marsis radar data shows that the polar deposits consist of almost pure water-ice. ...

Based upon data from the Mariner and Viking projects, the polar layered deposits were considered to be accumulations of dust and ice.
The new information says that the mixture is actually 90% ice and 10% dust. It's now known that areas of Mars were once wet, raising the possiblity that there once was life there and, in the more speculative scenarios, may still exist there - although no one expects such life to be of a more complex level than microbes. But, even assuming there is still some source of water beyond the poles, even existing as frost mixed in the soil, where could such life exist in the harsh climate that is Mars? A perfect lead-in to

Chapter 2
Scientists studying pictures from Nasa's Odyssey spacecraft have spotted what they think may be seven caves on the surface of Mars.

The candidate caves are on the flanks of the Arsia Mons volcano and are of sufficient depth their floors mostly cannot be seen through the opening. ...

The authors say that the possible discovery of caves on the Red Planet is significant.

The caves may be the only natural structures capable of protecting primitive life forms from micrometeoroids, UV radiation, solar flares and high energy particles that bombard the planet's surface.
The cave entrances are wide - between 100 and 252 meters (330-828 feet) - and the caves themselves, which appear to have roughly vertical sides, are a minimum of 73 to 96 meters (240-315 feet) deep; observers can't tell for sure because in most cases they can't see the bottom. In the one case they can, the cave is at least 130 meters (436 feet) deep.

And by the way: Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are now on Day 1141 and Day 1120, respectively, of their 90-day missions.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Footnote to the preceding, on another topic

If you try to find the UFPJ site by, reasonably enough, typing in, in what I think is a scummy little trick you get redirected to the home page of the Democratic Party under the site title "Ain't No Power Like the Power Of the Party - United for Peas and Justice."

Are they really that desperate for traffic?

Footnote to the footnote: Whether they are or not, maybe they deserve to be.

Under the heading "The Rudy You Don't Know," Rudy Giuliani is quoted as saying the goal is to "eliminate our reliance on oil from sources that are enemies of the United States" and then gets slammed for the fact that his law firm had Citgo, which is owned by Venezuela, as a client.

The net meaning is that it's the position of the Democratic National Committee that Hugo Chavez is an "enemy of the United States." Not a critic (or even an "enemy") of George Bush, but of the United States.

Happy anniversary again

Sub-titled "And now back to your regularly-scheduled bleakness."

A public opinion poll for the Iraqi government and a Pentagon study, taken together, provide a good picture of where things are at in Iraq. (Both items via Juan Cole.)

The poll was a confidential, door-to-door survey of more than 4,000 residents of Baghdad Province done in mid-February.

- Just 3% of respondents said local security had improved over the past three months.
- Just 10% expected it to improve over the next three months.
- Only 32% considered their neighborhoods secure, down from 43% in September.
- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's approval rating is in George Bush territory: only 34% percent, down from 45% in September - but up from the low of 25% approval he got in December.
- On a more positive note for Maliki and the US military, support for neighborhood militias has declined, with 32% saying in September that they make the city safer but only 23% now.

The Pentagon study (available here in .pdf format), released this week, concluded that the war
has clearly morphed from a Sunni-led insurgency fighting foreign occupation "to a struggle for the division of political and economic influence among sectarian groups and organized criminal activity."

In other words, "some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a civil war."
While nosing out some hopeful signs, such as a decline in violent incidents in Baghdad since the start of the escalation, the report can't hide the state of affairs in, for example, the judiciary.
According to the report, judges who don't succumb to the myriad threats against them often fear handing down guilty verdicts against defendants with ties to insurgent groups or militias. In the local courts, the report adds, "judges often decline to investigate or try cases related to the insurgency and terrorism." What's more, the Iraqi prison system remains overcrowded, and correctional services are "increasingly infiltrated by criminal organizations and militias."
And then there's the economy:

- Inflation in 2006 averaged 50%.
- Estimates of unemployment range from 13.4% to 60%.
- In a January survey by the US military, a mere 16% of city residents said that their income supplies basic needs - that's an 84% poverty rate.
- Electricity is available in Baghdad only about 61/2 hours a day and peak generation is only about half of peak demand. (Nationally, it was somewhat better; electricity was available, on average, nearly 11 hours a day.)

No wonder
two thirds of Iraqis say that conditions for peace and stability are worsening,
over two million are living outside the country, and as many as 9,000 more leave the country every month - while those that remain are split on whether the government is doing the right things or the wrong things to make it better. (Unhappily, many of the million-plus expatriates and refugees now in Syria have found that while they did flee the war, their troubles are not over.)

Iraq is a political and economic disaster, one that we have caused, we have unleashed, and one that - and this is the important, the only important point now - our military presence is not helping. In fact, it's making it worse.

And the Iraqis know it. A poll of Iraqis in September (full results in .pdf format here) done by laid out some cold figures:

- 71% of Iraqis said they wanted US forces out within one year. More than half of those (37% of the total sample) would have it done in six months. Even 69% of Kurds supported a two-year limit.
- 78% said the presence of US troops provokes more conflict that it prevents.
- Majorities agreed that a US withdrawal in six months would strengthen the Iraqi government and result in a decline in "inter-ethnic violence" and an increase in "day to day security for ordinary Iraqis."

The meaning of all that can be boiled down to a simple expression: Out Now! Out Now! Out Now!

And encouragingly, people are saying just that. (You can consider this part an extension of the good news post.)

It began with
[t]housands of Christians pray[ing] for peace at an anti-war service Friday night at the Washington National Cathedral....

Afterward, participants marched with battery-operated faux candles through snow and wind toward the White House, where police began arresting protesters shortly before midnight.
Over 200 were arrested for their nonviolent civil disobedience in demonstrating on the White House sidewalk.

It continued with
[t]ens of thousands of protesters march[ing] to the Pentagon's doorstep Saturday demanding "US out of Iraq Now," ahead of the fourth anniversary of the US invasion.

Demonstrators from across the United States gathered in a cold winter day to descend on the US Defense Department offices and decry the conflict that has killed more than 3,200 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Here, there, and everywhere.
In Los Angeles, several thousand demonstrators took to the streets. ...

In European cities, protest turnout ranged from 6,000 in Istanbul to several hundred in Copenhagen, Prague, Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece,
topped off by "tens of thousands" in Spanish cities. Other protests were seen in Australia, Britain, and Canada.

And it's not over. United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) has a list of over 1,000 events, big and small, to mark the fourth anniversary of the Iraqi insanity, many of them still to come over the course of the week, including Portland, Oregon, New York City, and San Francisco on Sunday (with a follow-up at Nancy Pelosi's office on Monday), Chicago on Tuesday, and Boston on Saturday.

Out Now!

How about some good news for a change

First some moderate good news. Following up on the possible peace deal in Ivory Coast I mentioned about two weeks ago, it seems that
Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo has signed a decree creating a military structure that includes rebel forces.

The new integrated command centre will include equal numbers of government troops and rebels, and will work to demobilise militias from both sides.

The initiative is one of the steps agreed in a recent peace deal aimed at ending years of civil war. ...

The joint army command structure is the first and relatively painless sign that the two leaders intend to keep their word this time round.

But the Ivorian peace process has floundered so often that Ivorians are not overly optimistic....
Still, some cause for optimism is better than none.

Next up, some pretty good news. It was announced on Saturday that
[f]ive of the poorest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are to have their national debts cancelled by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Bolivia, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua owe a total of more than $4bn (£2bn).

The debt relief initiative is part of the IDB's goal to cut poverty in half in Latin America by 2015. ...

Speaking in Guatemala City ahead of the bank's annual meeting, its president, Luis Alberto Moreno, described the move as an historic opportunity that will give these countries what he called a fresh start.
The question now is will the world financial institutions and the rich nations that back them go beyond giving those (and other) countries an opportunity to sink back into debt-driven poverty all over again or will they offer positive support that involves re-thinking their policies of pushing privatization even of basic commodities like water, encouraging big-ticket investments that overwhelm local ecosystems, and demanding export cropping that undermines local, sustainable food production.

Finally, some just plain old good news.
The first civil partnerships among same-sex couples in Mexico City have been celebrated under new legislation.

The law, which came into effect in the capital on Friday, gives gay couples similar social and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples.

Civil unions were approved by the city council in November despite opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. ...

Among the first Mexico City same-sex couples to tie the knot were journalist Antonio Medina, 38, and economist Jorge Cerpa, 31.

Mr Medina said: "With this law, a history of exclusion comes to an end. Today, the love that before did not dare speak its name has now entered the public spotlight."
The northern border state of Coahuila has similar legislation. While the laws do not give same-sex couples all of the legal rights available to straight couples, they are undeniably a real step forward. I'm beginning to think that the last places on Earth that will accept gay marriages will be the Vatican and the US.

RFID-ed off

In this post I mentioned the plans in the UK, leaked a couple of weeks ago, to establish a mass, secret database of children's fingerprints as part of the scheme for new biometric passports and ID cards. Somewhat belatedly, I offer this follow-up, to which I was alerted by Jonathan at Past Peak.

The day after the plans for the database were leaked, the Daily Mail (UK) arranged with a willing participant to check out one of the new passports, called the "safest ever" by the Blair government. Using "a simple gadget built from parts bought on the Internet,"
[i]n just four hours, the Mail hacked into a new biometric passport and stole the details a people trafficker or illegal migrant would need to set up a life in Britain.
And they did it without even opening the envelope in which it was delivered, meaning if such a document is diverted, scanned, and then delivered, the recipient is none the wiser because the envelope has not been tampered with.
By the end of the afternoon, we had stolen enough information from the passport’s electronic chip - including the woman’s photograph - to be able to clone an identical document if we had wished.

More significantly, we had the details which would allow a fraudster, people trafficker or illegal immigrant to set up a new life in Britain.

The criminal could open a bank account, claim state benefits and undertake a myriad financial and legal transactions in someone else’s name.
The wonders of technology. And the stupidity of over-reliance on it and in particular the stupidity of relying on technology in the hands of corporations and the government to protect our privacy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

It's the day

Almost missed this, tip o'the hat to James at Left End of the Dial:

Friday, March 16 is the anniversary of both the My Lai massacre and the murder of Rachael Corrie.

It's also my brother's birthday, so it's not all bad. Happy B-day, bro'.

Well, that didn't take long

Posted at CNN's website at 8:28 pm Eastern Time, March 14 (the earliest time stamp I found on Yahoo! News):
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States, has admitted responsibility for those and other major al Qaeda operations, according to the transcript of a hearing at Guantanamo Bay released on Wednesday.

"I was responsible for the 9/11 Operation, from A to Z," Mohammed, speaking through a personal representative, said, according to the transcript of the hearing on Saturday at the U.S. military prison camp in Cuba released by the Pentagon.
Later details said he claimed responsibility for 29 operations plus having had partial responsibility in a couple of others.

Posted at The Guardian's (UK) website at 1:46 am Eastern Time, March 16 (less than 30 hours later):
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's claims that he was responsible for dozens of successful, foiled and imagined attacks in the past 15 years relies on a loose definition of the word "responsible." Officials say the 9/11 mastermind was key to some plots but a bit player in others.

The 31 on his list range from the stunningly vicious suicide hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, to others that current and former government officials say were more talk than concrete plans, such as a plot to kill Jimmy Carter and other former U.S. presidents. ...

"I have never known a criminal - either terrorist or otherwise - that didn't exaggerate," said Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, a former FBI agent and the top Republican on the terrorism panel of the House Intelligence Committee. ...

One official cautioned that many of Mohammed's claims during interrogation were "white noise" - designed to send the U.S. on wild goose chases or to get him through the day's interrogation session.
Interrogation sessions which may well have involved torture. But here's even a third thought beyond puffery and white noise: They've got him, he's nailed, he knows it. But they can only execute him once, only imprison him for one lifetime. So as long as he's toast, why not confess to anything, everything, hoping thereby to take some heat of someone else who is still out there? Besides, if they catch him in a lie, what are they going to do to him that they could not and will not do already?

Footnote, Unintentional Humor Div.: In a follow-up AP article on the effect of Mohammed's capture four years ago on al-Qaeda operations, the reporters tell us that
[i]n his testimony to a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, released in redacted form by the Pentagon on Wednesday, Mohammed claimed involvement in 31 attacks and plots.
"Some are almost surely true," they say.
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