Saturday, January 31, 2004

By the way, no...

...I'm not going to make a prediction on the Superbowl. I suppose being from New England I have a certain vague home-town preference for a Patriots' win, but bluntly, I just really don't care that much.

However, I would encourage everyone to tune to CNN during halftime, at 8:10 and 8:35 pm, ET, when the winning "Bush in 30 seconds" ad from the competition - the one that CBS refused to show because it won't run "advocacy" ads even while it runs government-produced anti-drug ads (with the excuse that those are "public service announcements") - will be shown.

Doctor Geek and the Daleks

I've got several science-related things that have been sitting on my "post this" list for a while, so I thought I'd just toss them all together here.

Episode One: November 25, 2003
A study that compared humans with other species concluded there are 1,000 times too many humans to be sustainable. It used a statistical device known as "confidence limits" to measure what the sustainable norm should be for species populations. "Our study found that when we compare ourselves to otherwise similar species, usually other mammals of our same body size, for example, we are abnormal and the situation is unsustainable," said Charles Fowler, co-author of the paper and a lead researcher at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. William Rees, professor of community and regional planning at the University of British Columbia, disagrees that humans are abnormal and said, "I would use the term 'unusual' instead." Humanity has been inordinately successful: We can eat almost anything, adapt to any environment, and develop technologies based on shared knowledge. Rees, however, said that we may be "fatally successful" because industrial society as presently configured is unsustainable.

Episode Two: December 10, 2003
Scientists at Armagh Observatory and Cardiff University say bacteria could get into space on rocks blasted off the planet by an asteroid or comet impact. Their calculations then indicate the microbes would eventually leak out of our Solar System to seed other regions. The research advances the case for modern-day panspermia - the controversial idea that life started elsewhere in space and came to Earth when it was young. The researchers say the implications of their work are obvious and profound. Wherever it started, life could have spread across the Milky Way on timescales that are short compared with the 10-billion-year estimated age of our galaxy. This means, they claim, that life must be widespread throughout our star system and that it is unlikely to have originated on Earth.

Episode Three: December 11, 2003
Qafzeh Cave in Israel is a remarkable site that contains many skeletons of humans who lived there about 100,000 years ago. Archaeologists have recently discovered fragments of red ochre - a form of iron oxide that yields a pigment when heated - alongside bones in the cave. The ochre is only found alongside the bones. The association of red ochre with the skeletons suggests that symbolic burial rituals were being performed there almost 100,000 years ago. That is 50,000 years earlier than when symbolic reasoning, the ability to let one thing represent another which is the basis of sophisticated language and math, is generally thought to have emerged.

Episode Four: December 16, 2003
Human trials of a new type of malaria vaccine are planned for next year after encouraging results in mice. Research published on Tuesday revealed that their formula, carried into the body on a virus, produced a strong immune response in mice. No fully effective malaria vaccine has yet been produced by scientists. It remains an important cause of early death - and a significant risk to travellers, who currently face lengthy courses of antimalaria tablets prior to travel.

Episode Five: December 17, 2003
Scientists claim to have found the oldest evidence of photosynthesis - the most important chemical reaction on Earth - in 3.7-billion-year-old rocks. Danish researchers say rocks from Greenland show life-forms were using the process about one billion years earlier than has previously been shown. While the dating and the interpretation are open to question, still, "Life may be older and more robust than we thought," said Dr. Roger Buick, University of Washington, Seattle.

Episode Six: December 24, 2003
Two British men say they have seen a seabird thought to have become extinct more than a century and a half ago. The bird, the New Zealand storm petrel, was spotted a short distance off the country's North Island in November. The two Britons say they are in no doubt the bird they sighted really is the one last seen in 1850.

Episode Seven: January 12, 2004
The orang-utan, Asia's "wild man of the forests", could disappear in just 20 years, a campaign group believes. WWF, the global environment network, says in the last century the number of apes fell by 91% in Borneo and Sumatra. Globally, it says, there were thought to be somewhere between 45,000 and 60,000 orang-utans as recently as 1987. But by 2001 that number had fallen by virtually half, to an estimated 25,000-30,000 of the animals, more than half of them living outside protected areas.

Episode Eight: January 15, 2004
New research may help scientists dissect just what it is about the human brain that endows us with language. Researchers have found that tamarin monkeys have some distinctly languagelike abilities but that they can’t master the more complex rules of human grammar. Tamarins have been evolving separately from humans for approximately 40 million years - suggesting that any shared machinery in human and tamarin brains is old enough to be relatively common among primates.

Episode Nine: January 22, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO - Some high-tech insect experiments soon may be flitting out of the laboratory: Mosquitoes genetically modified to eliminate malaria. Silkworms engineered to produce bulletproof vests. Bollworm moths designed to self-destruct before they can wipe out cotton crops. Genetically engineered insects hold the promise of benefiting millions, eradicating diseases and plagues that cause famine in the developing world. But despite such good intentions, many scientists are alarmed that few safeguards exist to keep unintended consequences from harming humans or the environment. Fast-producing insects anchor food chains around the globe. Yet the impact that genetically engineered bugs could have on ecosystems is only now being explored, even as researchers push to release biotech insect experiments into the wild.

Episode Ten: January 25, 2004
Scientists have decided that a fossil found near Stonehaven is the remains of the oldest creature known to have lived on land. It is thought that the one-centimetre millipede which was prised out of a siltstone bed is 428 million years old. The millipede had spiracles, or primitive breathing structures on the outside of its body, making it the oldest air-breathing creature to have been discovered.

Unintentional Humor Dept.

"I think some in the media have chosen to use the word 'imminent,'" White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "Those were not words we used. We used 'grave and gathering threat.'"

Oh, well, in that case....

Footnote: Here are some other things they did say.

- "No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq." (Donald Rumsfeld, testimony to Congress, September 2002.

- The standoff with Iraq is like the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. (George Bush, televised address, October 7, 2002; note that this is a characterization, not an exact quote)

- Saddam Hussein "could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists." (George Bush, televised address, October 7, 2002)

- "Another way to look at this is if Saddam Hussein holds a gun to your head even while he denies that he actually owns a gun, how safe should you feel?" (Ari Fleischer, press briefing, October 9, 2002)

- Q.: "Is he (Saddam) an imminent threat to US interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home?" A.:"Well, of course he is." (White House communications director Dan Bartlett, CNN interview, January 26, 2003)

- Q.: "We went to war, didn't we, to find these - because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?" A.: "Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And nothing has changed on that front at all." (Then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, press briefing, May 7, 2003)

- "There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a grave and gathering threat to America and the world." (George Bush, January 28, 2004)

- Bush also called the threat of Saddam's Iraq "urgent," while Vice President Dick Cheney called it "mortal."

Friday, January 30, 2004

Just a hmmm....

According to an article in Islam Online,
[f]resh statistics by an international organization suggested that Iraq's Sunnis are in a clear majority, as Shiite scholars conceded that Shiites could make up as much as 40 percent of the whole population.

The statistics, released by a reliable international humanitarian relief agency in 2003, suggested that Sunnis make up 58 percent of the Iraqi population and Shiites 40 percent.

"The Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq" put the whole population at about 27 million, including 16 million Sunnis and 11 million Shiites, Quds Press International news agency reported on Wednesday, January 28.

The remainder, 2 percent, include Christians and Jews.
If those figures become accepted, I wonder how that's going to change the political calculations about elections.

I did notice that in the article there was no way to determine how the Kurds fit into this. I don't know if they were somehow divided up between Shiites and Sunnis or left out entirely. And there are of course real political ramifications here: The Sunnis, not in charge of Iraq for the first time since modern Iraq was founded in 1921, are feeling excluded and disrespected in their minority status on the Iraqi Governing Council. Finding themselves in the majority would justify considerable shifts in representation in the period when the constitution is being written (and power distributed). So the figures could be completely bogus.

But - if it does become accepted that Shiites are not a majority of the population (previous estimates have put their numbers at as much as 60% of the total), will the sources of the voices demanding immediate direct elections shift?


What is Ellis Island?

Travel and Tourism for $1200

St. Mark's Cathedral in this city was once the private palace chapel of the Doges.

Meet Lord Hutton

Apparently, Tony Blair knew exactly who to pick to head up his little inquiry, according to a January 28 contribution to Indymedia UK.
Upon his resignation as BBC chairman Gavyn Davies commented on the irreconcilable contradictions between Hutton's "bald conclusions" and the balance of evidence presented to the actual Inquiry.

Even BBC political editor Andrew Marr comments on Hutton's underlying assumptions and background, making him more likely to believe and trust certain social groups: "again and again, he comes down on the side of politicians and officials."

So who is Hutton, and what is in his background to come to these extraordinary conclusions?
Lord Hutton, formerly Brian Hutton QC, apparently has a long history of being on what many of us would regard as the wrong side of justice. For example, he served on the notorious "Diplock Courts" in Northern Ireland, condemned by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for allowing
a lower standard of admissibility for confession evidence than in the criminal courts; the admissibility of statements by a senior police officer coupled with a suspect's remaining silent as evidence that a suspect belonged to an illegal organization (for example, a paramilitary group); and police and army powers of arrest, entry, search, and seizure without a warrant.
In addition, he helped to exonerate British soldiers who killed 14 unarmed protesters in the notorious "Bloody Sunday" incident in Northern Ireland in 1972. In that case, he again swallowed whole a government claim, this one that the protesters shot first, despite more than ample evidence to the contrary. That incident became so very notorious that a couple of years ago, a new inquiry into it began (that one is still sitting).

He's probably best known in the UK, however, for his role in resisting the extradition of Augusto Pinochet from the UK to Chile in 1999. Another senior judge, Lord Hoffman, issued the order and Hutton argued that "public confidence in the integrity of the administration of justice would be shaken" if the ruling was not overturned. Why? Because Hoffman had "failed to reveal" having connections to - wait for it - Amnesty International.

Apparently being involved in a group pursuing human rights makes you ineligible to make any judgments involving human rights. Such, it would seem, is Hutton's logic.

Yeah, Blair knew what he was doing.

Footnote: Thanks to the IndyLaborChurch (email: for the link to the article.

Footnote Dept., You Can't Fool All the People All the Time Div.

Reuters reported on Thursday that in a national opinion poll in the UK:

- Half of the people believe the Hutton inquiry was a whitewash (49%-40%).
- Seven out of 10 said there should be an independent inquiry into the reasons the government gave for the war.
- A third said they were now less likely to vote for Blair, compared to three percent who said it was more likely.
- 56% said it was unfair the BBC received most of the blame (56%-35%).
- Half said they were unconvinced by Hutton's verdict that the government had not acted in a "dishonourable or duplicitous" manner (50%-36%)

Tom Sawyer's picket fence was no whiter

On Wednesday, I said "The Hutton inquiry was a shameful, disgraceful, disgusting whitewash." Well, I've now had time to think it over, digest more of the coverage, reconsider my words. And I do feel obliged to amend them. So, ahem,

The Hutton inquiry was a shameful, disgraceful, disgusting, and transparently false whitewash.

There, I feel better now.

I know some of you who read my blog aren't regular followers of lots of news, so let me give you a quick backgrounder.

In September 2002, as part of its efforts to bang the drums of war against Iraq, the British government under Prime Minister Tony Blair issued what was claimed to be a sober, solidly-founded indictment of Saddam Hussein as possessing massive stocks of banned weapons.

Prominently played in this report was the dramatic statement that Saddam's chemical weapons were so advanced and so well-distributed to front-line units that they could be deployed within 45 minutes of an order to do so. (Actually, the report failed to make clear a distinction between battlefield and strategic weapons, leading to headlines screeching that the UK was "45 minutes from doom." But battlefield weapons are what it was referring to.) This, by the way, was in the second version of this report; the first contained no such claim.

Last May, in the wake of the failure to find the expected cache of deadly biochem weapons, Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts of the BBC reported on the matter. Citing one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up the dossier as a source, they said that the 45-minute claim was inserted at the insistence of Blair's director of communications, Alistair Campbell, as part of a plan to "sex up" the document to make Saddam seem more threatening. Gilligan later stated that the government "probably knew" the claim was untrue.

This caused a major row, with the Blair team stomping about Whitehall, looking for the leaker. After a while, Dr. David Kelly admitted to superiors that he had met with the reporters twice and was the source of the information, while maintaining he didn't say anything about "sexing up" the charges against Iraq. Now, Dr. Kelly was no ordinary source: He was Britain's top weapons inspector. I'm going to let journalist Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, take it for a few paragraphs. (This is from an email column, so no direct link.)
To save itself after the reports by Gilligan and Watts, the government, including the Prime Minister himself, went on an internal crusade to out the name of its own intelligence operative so it could then discredit the news items.

Publishing the name of an intelligence advisor is serious stuff. In the USA, a special criminal prosecutor is now scouring the White House to find the person who publicly named a CIA agent. If found, the Bushite leaker faces jail time.

Blair's government was not so crude as to give out Dr. Kelly's name. Rather, they hit on a subterfuge of dropping clues then allowing reporters to play "20 questions" - if Kelly's name were guessed, they'd confirm it. Only the thickest reporters (I name none here) failed after more than a couple tries.

Dr. Kelly, who had been proposed for knighthood was named, harangued and his career destroyed by the outing.
He was publicly assailed, his stability was questioned (the usual tactic against a whistleblower), and he was raked over the coals by a Parliamentary committee.

Unable to deal with the publicity, the pressure, the destruction of his career, and the humiliation, David Kelly committed suicide.

Which caused an even bigger row.

Blair was forced by the pressure to name someone to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dr. Kelly's death. For this, he chose Lord Hutton, a former law lord (equivalent to a member of the Supreme Court). Hutton read documents, took testimony, and did all the other things all good inquiries do. On Wednesday, he released his report.

His conclusion? The whole thing was all the BBC's fault. Nope, the government had nothing to do with it. They are all honorable men with only the best of intentions. As various BBC reports for January 28 have it, Hutton said the allegation that the government had "sexed up" the dossier with a claim it probably knew to be untrue, was "unfounded" because the 45-minute claim was based on an intelligence report the Intelligence Service believed to be reliable. What's more, he wrote, bristling with upper-class establishment indignation, it was a grave allegation that attacked the integrity of the government and the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

He also criticized "defective" BBC editorial processes over Gilligan's report on BBC Radio 4's "Today" program, which is where he made the "probably knew" comment.

Meanwhile, as the Independent reported on Thursday, Gilligan had also suggested that the reason the claim was in the second version of the dossier and not the first was because intelligence analysts doubted it and were reluctant to include it because it came from a single source. Hutton concluded that was also "unfounded" and actually only appeared in the second version because the raw intelligence on it had only recently arrived.

It sounds like a major smackdown. However, it's a fraud. A sometimes slippery fraud, one approached like a prosecutor trying to convict Gilligan and the BBC rather than like an investigator trying to ferret out the truth, a fraud that has now succeeded in forcing out both the director of the BBC and Andrew Gilligan, but still a fraud whose conclusions are contradicted by the testimony on which they're supposedly based.

While Gilligan's assertion that the government "probably knew" that the 45-minute claim was false does reach beyond hard evidence, a charge that they should have known, should have regarded it as at best questionable, doesn't. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for January 29, deputy editorial page editor Jay Bookman reminds us that much of the "intelligence" about Iraqi capabilities came from
Iraqi defectors, a group with a long history of telling us whoppers about highly advanced nuclear programs, smallpox research - anything that might goad us into invading. The CIA knew all too well that such sources were often tainted.
So, most certainly, did the UK's intelligence services.

And the charge was in fact completely false; Palast notes that even "the exile group which supplied this raw claim now calls the 45 minute story, 'a crock of shit.'" But what's important here is that doubts about it were expressed at the time. Boris Johnson, a conservative MP, says in the January 29 Daily Telegraph that
this claim was included despite the misgivings of Brian Jones, the most senior and experienced MoD [Ministry of Defense] official working on WMD. One of his team had protested that the 45-minute business was "rather strong, since it was based on a single source,"
the very assertion Gilligan made. But, he goes on to say,
[b]y this stage, alas, it no longer mattered what the experts thought. The intelligence chiefs - principally John Scarlett - were in constant textual negotiation with Downing Street, and the protests of their juniors were ignored. On September 20, an unnamed MoD official felt obliged to write a further letter of complaint. "The draft still includes a number of statements which are not supported by the evidence available to me ... what I wish to record is that it has NOT been established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons."
Gilligan actually made two charges. That the Blair government 1)deliberately made the dossier as inflammatory as possible by, among other things, 2)including a claim it "probably knew" was false. What Hutton has done here is to attack the questionable second charge as a means of denying the solid first charge. He ignored the doubts expressed, ignored the known unreliability of the single source, ignored the admission by the head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, that the 45-minute claim was given "undue prominence" in the dossier, ignored all of it in order to focus on the most literal meaning of "probably knew" and swallow whole the government claim that it believed the report was reliable in order to exonerate the Blair crowd.

But that the dossier was indeed "sexed up" can't be denied. Writing in the Guardian, Seumas Milne notes that
[f]ortunately, we have the inquiry transcripts to test against Lord Hutton's almost comically tendentious conclusions. We know, for example, that Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell asked the joint intelligence committee's John Scarlett to redraft that part of the September dossier which suggested Saddam Hussein might use chemical and biological weapons "if he believes his regime is under threat" - and Scarlett did so, by taking out the qualifications. We know that Campbell asked Scarlett to change a claim that the Iraqi military "may be able" to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes to "are able".
In the Asia Times on January 28, David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the Washington-based British American Security Information Council, adds two more examples. The first draft of the dossier says: "Intelligence confirms that Iraq has covert chemical and biological weapons programs, in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 687." The final version adds the phrase "and has continued to produce chemical and biological agents" at the end. On the same page, the allegation "Iraq has chemical and biological agents and weapons available, either from pre-Gulf War stocks or more recent production" sees "either" changed to "both" between the first and second drafts.

Hutton's cover for this patently politically-driven interference in an intelligence report is beyond ludicrous. "The Prime Minister's desire to have as compelling a dossier as possible," he tells us, "may have subconsciously influenced the JIC to make the language of the dossier stronger than they would otherwise have done." Subconsciously? Apparently, we're supposed to accept that when Scarlett ignored his own experts, removed caveats, added claims, changed "may be" to "are," and all the rest of it, he was unaware he was doing it.

The whole thing stinks from top to bottom. I'll give MP Johnson the last word.
Blair, [Defense Secretary Geoff] Hoon, Scarlett, the whole lot of them, have been sprayed with more whitewash than a Costa Brava timeshare.

Footnote: Thanks to Information Clearinghouse for the Bookman and Isenberg links.

Thursday, January 29, 2004


What is Wednesday?

Travel and Tourism for $400

Statue of Liberty National Monument includes Liberty Island and the former immigration station on this island.

Nonhuman intervention

Human Rights Watch, a highly-respected human rights organization, includes among its beliefs support for the principle of "humanitarian intervention," that is, using military forces to intervene in a crisis for humanitarian reasons. In the last few years, it has twice advocated such intervention, in Rwanda and Bosnia. It has also expressed approval of the international peacekeeping forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Cote d'Ivoire.

It's against that background that HRW examined the US invasion of Iraq to see if recent White House claims that it was "humanitarian" stand up to scrutiny.

In a report issued last week, the group concluded, not surprisingly - at least it shouldn't be surprising - that they do not.

HRW set one main and five underlying factors involved in justifying humanitarian intervention. First,
humanitarian intervention that occurs without the consent of the relevant government can be justified only in the face of ongoing or imminent genocide, or comparable mass slaughter or loss of life. ...

[B]cause of the substantial risks inherent in the use of military force, humanitarian intervention should be exceptional - reserved for the most dire circumstances.
If that high threshold is met, HRW says,
we then look to five other factors to determine whether the use of military force can be characterized as humanitarian. First, military action must be the last reasonable option to halt or prevent slaughter.... Second, the intervention must be guided primarily by a humanitarian purpose.... Third, every effort should be made to ensure that the means used to intervene themselves respect international human rights and humanitarian law.... Fourth, it must be reasonably likely that military action will do more good than harm.... Finally, we prefer endorsement of humanitarian intervention by the U.N. Security Council or other bodies with significant multilateral authority.
Their conclusion is that with the possible exception that it might have been reasonable to believe before the war the Iraqis would be better off afterwards, not one of those criteria was met, most importantly the main one.

The "humanitarian war" claim is just another lie. In fact, the report deals with that (albeit it very indirectly) in its introduction in one of the more cogent remarks of late.
Indeed, if Saddam Hussein had been overthrown and the issue of weapons of mass destruction reliably dealt with, there clearly would have been no war, even if the successor government were just as repressive.
Just another lie.

One more lie worthy of note here. In response to the report, the right wing trotted out it's usual blathering distortions, as noted by the Christian Science Monitor's Daily Update for January 27.
Radio Free Europe also cites Nile Gardner, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, as saying that HRW should be heralding Hussein's ouster. "The Iraqi people are immensely better off now that Saddam Hussein is gone, and it is quite extraordinary that a leading human-rights watchdog is claiming that this was the wrong thing for the West to do."
But who was it, the left or the right, human rights groups or neocon power-mongers, that was opposing, condemning, denouncing Saddam Hussein across the years of US and European support for his regime? Human Rights Watch, on its own behalf, notes that it's had
no illusions about Saddam Hussein's vicious inhumanity. Having devoted extensive time and effort to documenting his atrocities, we estimate that in the last twenty-five years of Ba'th Party rule the Iraqi government murdered or "disappeared" some quarter of a million Iraqis, if not more. ...

We have interviewed witnesses and survivors, exhumed mass graves, taken soil samples to demonstrate the use of chemical weapons, and combed through literally tons of Iraqi secret police documents. We have circled the globe trying to convince some government - any government - to institute legal proceedings against Iraq for genocide. No one would. In the mid-1990s, when our efforts were most intense, governments feared that charging Iraq with genocide would be too provocative - that it would undermine future commercial deals with Iraq, squander influence in the Middle East, invite terrorist retaliation, or simply cost too much money.
Who was it that rejected the realpolitik arguments for providing aid and comfort to the dictator? Who was it that was outraged when George Bush I said during the Kurdish uprising in the wake of the first Iraq war that the "no-fly" zone would not be applied to Iraq's US-supplied helicopters, clearing the way for their use in crushing that uprising - an uprising that the US encouraged? Who, the left or the right, has been the consistent opponent of Saddam's brutality?

I'll tell you this much, it sure as hell wasn't the Heritage Foundation.

Adventures in headline writing

This is the headline on the results of a poll done for Newsweak (that's not a typo) as reported by MSNBC:

"Bush's Secret Weapon: Young Voters
"Though it's not clear who they'll vote for, most 18- to 29-year-olds say for now, they're behind both the president and the war in Iraq"

And here is the first paragraph of the story.
January 26 - Young voters are sharply divided on the economy, the Iraq war and overall approval of President George W. Bush's job performance, according to an exclusive new Newsweek poll conducted among young voters, the Newsweek Genext Poll. While the near-equal partisan divide among young voters mirrors the split between U.S. voters overall, the poll also suggests that on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, 18-29 year-olds are eager to move beyond the partisan battles of the past.
Just how in hell does that headline match that text?

That's especially true because the figures offered say young voters roughly mirror the rest of the populace on foreign and economic policies (and are evenly split on whether they would definitely vote for or against Bush) but are actually, overall, a little more liberal than their elders on same-sex marriages and overturning Roe v. Wade.

The "Bush inevitability" meme seems well-established already.

Footnote: An interesting sidelight of the poll, noted in the article, is that compared to Protestants and white fundamentalists, young Catholics are consistently more liberal on both same-sex marriages and abortion.

The times, they are a-changin'.

Iran update

A quick rundown of developments over the last few days in the crisis over elections in Iran.

Saturday, January 24, from Agence France-Presse.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and the speaker of parliament, Mehdi Karubi, demanded a "full review" of a decision by powerful conservatives to blacklist thousands of pro-reform candidates from next month's parliamentary elections.

The two reformists called in a rare joint statement for a "full review of the Guardians Council decision to have elections that are fair, free and open to competition," according to the state news agency IRNA on Saturday. ...

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the council last week to be less stringent in its vetting procedure in an apparent bid to resolve the crisis, but only some 300 of the rejected candidates have now been approved.

Khatami and Karubi argued that "a religious democracy does not deserve an election where there will be no competition for 190 seats (in the 290 seat Majlis) and where ... the process favours only one camp." ...

According to press reports Saturday, more than 70 deputy ministers and senior bureaucrats - including 16 from the vital oil ministry - have also submitted their resignations in response to the standoff.
Sunday, January 25, from the BBC.
The Iranian parliament has approved a bill seeking to change election law and overturn a ban on reformist candidates.

An emergency session of MPs decided to intervene in a crisis sparked by the Guardians Council ban on thousands of candidates from next month's elections.

Under the changes, those approved for past elections would be able to run again unless there is strong evidence to prove they are unfit. ...

Sunday's session of parliament, broadcast live on radio, classified the election bill as "triple-urgent".

This category is reserved for when parliament feels the basic rights of the nation are in serious jeopardy or the country is in great political or military danger, correspondents say.

It has not been used since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Sunday, January 25, from AP.
Iran's hard-line Guardian Council vetoed a bill on Sunday that would have curbed its power, throwing elections into doubt in a historic confrontation between reformers and conservatives.

The Guardian Council rejected a bill reinstating thousands of candidates that it disqualified earlier. The veto is likely to provoke a boycott of the Feb. 20 legislative elections by reformers. ...

Members of President Mohammad Khatami's government have said they will not hold what would be "sham elections" if the disqualifications are upheld. ...

Reformers believe the conservatives are trying to tilt the elections so they will regain control of the 290-seat parliament. In the 2000 polls, the hard-liners lost the majority in the assembly for the first time since the 1979 revolution.
Monday, January 26, from CBS News
Iranian reformists accused conservatives Monday of employing totalitarian tactics and said they were considering boycotting next month's legislative elections in frustration with a deepening political crisis. ...

"The government will continue its activities to help form conditions for fair, free and competitive elections ... existence of competition is the main condition for holding the elections," the Iranian Cabinet said in a statement.

Students said they planned mass protests against the hard-liners in what has become Iran's worst political crisis in years.

"Students will join professors of all universities in Tehran today to support disqualified prospective hopefuls and denounce hard-liners who are restricting people's choice," reformist student leader Hossein Baqeri said Monday.
Tuesday, January 27, from AP.
Iran's president has refused to accept the mass resignation of top government officials, state-run media reported Tuesday. Reformists spoke of a compromise to resolve the country's worst political crisis in years. ...

Last week, the government announced that most of Iran's six vice presidents and 24 ministers had tendered their resignations to protest the disqualifications. They were not identified, and the resignations needed President Mohammad Khatami's approval.

Khatami, refusing to accept the resignations, called on the ministers and vice presidents to "proceed with their services to the people," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

More than 70 top civil servants also had threatened to resign if free and fair elections were not guaranteed. Khatami himself also had done so, but later said he would continue in his post. ...

Top reformist and hard-line leaders met into early Tuesday to try to resolve the crisis. Parliament Speaker Mahdi Karroubi said four Cabinet ministers had been assigned to investigate the disqualifications and reach a compromise with the Guardian Council, IRNA reported.

The announcement was the first signal that the crisis, which has threatened to lead the country toward political chaos, might be resolved soon. ...

State-run Tehran radio quoted Karroubi as saying that a compromise was in the making.

"We will witness a good understanding between the government and the Guardian Council in the next two days," Karroubi was quoted as saying. He said that by late afternoon Thursday, "some good news will be announced."
Wednesday, January 28, from Reuters.
Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami said on Wednesday he was hopeful a bitter row would be resolved over the mass disqualification of reformist candidates from standing in parliamentary elections next month.

But Khatami, whose government has strongly protested a move by the hardline Guardian Council watchdog to bar almost half the 8,200 hopefuls from the February 20 vote, warned he would not accept even a single "unfair" candidate disqualification. ...

Guardian Council spokesman Vahid Jalalzadeh said 700 banned candidates had now been reinstated but insisted the council would not yield to "propaganda, pressures and bullying." ...

Iran's main reformist student body - a powerful political force in a country where two-thirds of people are under 30 years old and the minimum voting age is 15 - called on deputies not to "give in to baseless promises."

"The biggest mistake and failure of the reform movement ... would be to give in to holding the elections," the Office to Consolidate Unity said in a statement....
Well, it's now Thursday afternoon, and instead of an announcement of "good news," we have this:

Thurday, January 29, from Reuters.
Iranian state governors called for a postponement of next month's parliamentary election, state media said Thursday, as Iran's worst political crisis in years neared a tense climax.

State governors are appointed by the interior minister and help organize elections at a provincial level. Their unprecedented opposition to staging an election could make it difficult for Iran to execute the vote smoothly. ...

"Bearing in mind the current conditions, it will not be possible to hold the ... elections on Feb. 20 as previously scheduled," the governors said in a letter to Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Even though about a quarter of barred candidates were reinstated after appeals, "organizing a free and fair election is still impossible since a large number ... have been deprived of their right to run quite illegally," the letter said. ...

A second round of appeals can take place before the vote but scores of reformist members of parliament have said they will resign or boycott the vote unless most of the bans are overturned by this weekend.
Stay tuned.

Update January 31: Edited to correct misnaming of Agence France-Presse.

A reminder

Two recent Associated Press reports, one from January 27, the other from the 28th, show the tragic continuing violence in Iraq.

For the 27th: Three U.S. soldiers were wounded in a clash with insurgents in the eastern part of the country, and three Marines were hurt by a bomb, a military spokesman said. The attacks took place in an area of intense guerrilla activity. More than 60 people have died in the last month alone, about half of them civilians.

For the 28th: A pair of nearly simultaneous attacks, one suicide, near the capital left one British soldier dead and at least five other foreigners wounded, police and peacekeepers said. The attacks came during a memorial ceremony for a Canadian soldier killed in a suicide attack just the day before. An civilian was also killed in that attack. Another report said one British soldier died after a car bomb hit a British patrol; however, the British Defense Ministry said there had been no deaths in the attack, but some troops were injured.

And the beat goes on.

Now, everything there is accurate except for one detail: The location in fact was not Iraq. It was Afghanistan.

And the beat goes on. But for the most part we've stopped listening.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Just to say it now

I'll say this now while I'm still in the moment. More later.

The Hutton inquiry was a shameful, disgraceful, disgusting whitewash.


What is Tuesday?

That'll be the Day for $1000

It takes the greatest number of Scrabble tiles to spell out this day of the week.

Whew - what a relief!

According to an AP report for January 28, the Justice Department has investigated charges that the Justice Department has abused civil rights or civil liberties under the Patriot Act and has found the Justice Department not guilty.

Well, that certainly turned me around. George, I'm all yours now!

But sadly, there is a nagging doubt. I wish I could rid myself of this vestige of anti-Bush - er, I mean anti-American, well, it's all the same thing anyway, isn't it - anyway, this remaining taint of "objectively pro-terrorist" feeling. You see, the incidents specified in the article were all about government agents accused of things like verbal abuse or unnecessary force or a case where a guy waved his badge around because a gas station attendant told him they were out of paper towels. None of them had to do with actions taken under the rubric of our glorious Traitor - damn, I guess I need to increase my medication - I mean Patriot Act of course.

Which appears to mean, for example, that the people who have been arrested for refusing to confine their free speech to out-of-sight, out-of-mind "free speech zones" created by local police under orders of the Secret Service were not, according to DOJ, having their civil liberties affected - because agents acted under the color of law.

But wait, I mean.... Wasn't that the point? I mean, things like threatening people and trying to bully them with your badge and physically abusing them - they were wrong before, yes? Nothing to do with the Act, yes? Isn't the complaint actually that the provisions of the Tra- dammit it, Patriot - Act, the new powers to secretly search, snoop, and spy, are themselves violations of civil liberties? The secret arrests, the hidden detentions, the "enemy combatant" stances, aren't they the issue?

Isn't this smug, self-satisfying "investigation" just a bureaucratic dodge intended to justify continued pressure on unapproved political expression? Isn't -

I'm backsliding! Help me, George, help me!

Good for him!

While he says he regrets some of the "vivid language" he used, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told the Associated Press in a Tuesday interview that he stands behind his criticisms of the inner workings of the Bush administration.

Bowed but unbroken, if you will.

By the way,
O'Neill spoke to the AP after a daylong conference in Washington examining ways to control the exploding costs of health care and deal with the crisis of 44 million Americans who do not have health coverage....

O'Neill said he is spending "10 days a week" working on health care issues because he believes there is an opportunity to adopt policies that could reduce national expenditures by 50 percent while at the same time improving the quality of care.

During his time in the administration, O'Neill also focused a lot of attention of dealing with poverty and diseases such as AIDS in Africa, touring the continent with Irish rock star Bono.

O'Neill said he was currently working on a project to bring drinking water to the thousands of villages in Africa that do not have access to clean water and that he believes Bono will join him in the effort.
I know I'm probably making way too much out of way too little, but does this mean that there actually is such a creature as a "compassionate conservative?"

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Just before the item gets too old

A snapshot of how the world views the US is found in the January 24 New York Times description of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (which - grumble - I keep wanting to call Davros).
[C]ompared with one year ago, when the forum became a bitter joust between America and opponents of war in Iraq, some of those skeptics and foes have begun to acquiesce in Washington's exercise of power, or at least to acknowledge that this new world order would not simply be wished away....

But even now, many critics of the United States say that while some of the rawest emotions may have dissipated, many basic perceptions of the Bush administration as brusquely disregarding the rest of the world remain, albeit in a muted way.

"We may be getting used to the idea" of America's exclusive hold on global power, said Nabil Shaath, the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority. "But that doesn't mean we change our views." ...

But in the corridors and lounges of the Congress Center, there was a sense among some that opposition to the perceived American juggernaut had given way to other calculations, suggesting that beyond the forum, people had begun to adjust to the realities of American power.
So reluctant acquiescence in at atmosphere of, the Times also says, "profound mistrust" and a "sense of impotence." Perhaps the best summary came near the end of the article:
Of course, during last year's conference, the United States and Britain had not yet invaded Iraq and both countries had embarked on a campaign to broaden their coalition against Saddam Hussein.

"Last year they were bidding for moral authority," said Andrew Williams, a British investor. This year, he said, "I don't think the United States comes across with any sense of moral authority."
We have instead offered the arrogance of the selfish employment of naked power.

All of which would seem to place the burden even more on us here at home to change our nation's ways and not be intimidated into silence.

I may be the only lefty blogger who hasn't devoted a lot of energy to sizing up and chasing down the Democratic primaries. I don't have a horse in that race. (Well, actually, I do, or at least I have a horse I like better than the rest, but Dennis Kucinich is not going to be the nominee, is he?) I'm among the 47% that a Newsweek poll reported "strongly" want Bush out, and that will figure in my thinking through election day. (Full disclosure: I will probably wind up voting for some independent candidate, depending which of them is on the ballot; I live in Massachusetts, which I really really doubt will be a contested state. And I expect to be voting for Greens for local offices.) But what we can't forget is that getting Bush out of office (and I think any one of the major Dem contenders has a real shot at doing that; with nearly half the electorate strongly committed against your opponent, how can you not have at least that?) is not the end of our work but the start of it.

Twice in recent decades, first with Jimmy Carter and then with Bill Clinton, we lulled ourselves to sleep with the lullaby that there was a reasonably liberal - or at least a reasonable facsimile of a liberal - Democrat in the White House. Both times we wound up getting horsewhipped and backstabbed as protecting their right flank proved more of a concern than responding to a dozing left. We can't let that happen a third time. Each time we have, we've slipped a little further into the hole of powerlessness and marginalization. Three strikes may well be out.


What is Sunday?

That'll be the Day for $600

If you're eating king cake on Mardi Gras, you're chowing down on this day of the week.

A simple lesson in definitions

In a weekend interview with the New York Times, now-former chief weapons inspector David Kay said that the real failure in the months leading up to the attack on Iraq was the inability of US intelligence
to detect that Iraq's unconventional weapons programs were in a state of disarray in recent years under the increasingly erratic leadership of Saddam Hussein....

[I]n general, Dr. Kay said, the C.I.A. and other agencies failed to recognize that Iraq had all but abandoned its efforts to produce large quantities of chemical or biological weapons after the first Persian Gulf war, in 1991. ...

Dr. Kay said the fundamental errors in prewar intelligence assessments were so grave that he would recommend that the Central Intelligence Agency and other organizations overhaul their intelligence collection and analytical efforts.
Kay is placing the blame for the administration's wildly wrong claims about Iraqi WMDs on an astonishingly massive intelligence failure. This line of argument has already started circulating energetically to head off charges of White House deceptions regarding the "threat" from Iraq.

It's an odd sort of defense, since it boils down to "We weren't lying, we were just exceedingly stupid." Be that as it may, there is another point to be made here.

Those intelligence reports, even when they on balance concluded that Saddam did have supplies of banned weapons, contained caveats and questions and often noted that a lack of hard information made confident assessments difficult if not impossible. But when the White House "rolled out its product," as Andrew Card put it, the product being a campaign to convince the public to support a war on Iraq, those reports were both cherry-picked to isolate and emphasize the most fearsome conclusions and washed clean of those caveats and questions. "Possibly" became "certainly." "Probably" became "definitely." "Might be" became "is." "Could do" became "has done."

Well, this is from my American Heritage Dictionary.
lie, n. 1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood. 2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.
lie, v., intr. 1. To present false information with the intention of deceiving. 2. To convey a false image or impression.
What's the common thread running though all these definitions? Intent. Say something false believing it to be true, you haven't lied. You're wrong, but you haven't lied. Say something true intending to mislead or deceive, you have lied, the technical truth be damned. As a noun, a lie can be simply defined as "a communication intended to deceive."

So even assuming Kay is both precise and correct in what he's saying, it still means that when Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, all the rest, when they came out and told us in breathless, urgent tones about intelligence reports and threats of "mushroom clouds," when they presented possibilities and opinions as demonstrated fact, they lied. They lied repeatedly and consistently and intensely. And we can't ever forget that.

Appealing to "intelligence failures" doesn't change that fact. In some ways, it makes it worse, because it means not only did they lie, but their lies were based on the results of incompetence. They didn't even have the right information to lie about. And that is really pathetic.

Footnote: Another fascinating little tidbit from Kay.
Dr. Kay said the basic problem with the way the C.I.A. tried to gauge Iraq's weapons programs is now painfully clear: for five years, the agency lacked its own spies in Iraq who could provide credible information.

During the 1990's, Dr. Kay said, the agency became spoiled by on-the-ground intelligence that it obtained from United Nations weapons inspectors. But the quality of the information plunged after the teams were withdrawn in 1998.
At that time, Iraq kept saying that part of its resistance to inspections was drawn from the fact that the US was using the UNSCOM team as a cover to spy on Iraq. The Clinton administration vociferously denied the charge, calling it false, outrageous, and all the other usual loud reactions, noting that doing so would seriously undermine the UN inspectors' mission and we of course would never dream of doing such a thing.

Now Kay just casually tosses it out as if there was nothing at all to it. Amazing what a few years and an invasion will accomplish for the truth.

Intelligent design math

I was tipped to this by a comment to a post at Pandagon (link at right) about attempts to get creationism (in the form of so-called "intelligent design") into classrooms. Just kind of a cool thing to keep around for reference when dealing with Bible-thumping literalists.
And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: [it was] round all about, and his height [was] five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about. - 1 Kings 7:23
So the circumference was 30 cubits and the diameter was 10 cubits. Since c= pi x d, if the Bible is to be understood literally, it's telling us that the value of pi is 3. Not 22/7, not 3.14159..., but 3. Just 3.

So when is the Bible going to get equal billing ("it's only fair") in geometry classes?

Hope amid the flames

Some potentially very interesting developments in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The one that seemed to catch people by surprise and has generated a fair amount of heat is an agreement between the Sharon government and what it (and the US) officially regard as a terrorist organization.
Beirut, Lebanon (AP, January 25) - Israel and Hezbollah will exchange prisoners in a two-stage deal in which the militant Lebanese group promises to obtain information about Israel's most famous missing serviceman and Israel releases Lebanon's longest-held prisoner within three months, the Hezbollah leader said Sunday.

The deal begins with an exchange of prisoners and human remains Thursday and Friday, and will proceed to the case of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad and negotiations for the release of more prisoners, Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, told a news conference.
This involved some hard choices, especially for Israel, which didn't achieve its main objective of getting the return - or at minimum positive information about - Arad. What it got instead was a promise by Hezbollah that it will make every effort to provide a definitive answer within three months - which, if it does, will lead to a further prisoner release by Israel. On the other hand, while Hezbollah can point to a large number of Palestinians released in the deal - 400 - others have pointed out that there are no "big names" among them and that Israel specifically refused to release anyone "with blood on their hands," that is, who had killed any Israelis.

The January 26 edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz had a version of dueling commentaries on the exchange. An analysis by the paper's Palestinian affairs correspondent argues that the real loser in the deal is the Palestinian Authority.
The fact that Hezbollah of Lebanon managed to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners is proof of the ineffectualness of the Palestinian Authority, whose efforts on the matter have yielded rather pathetic results. The deal, therefore, is expected to boost the prestige of Hezbollah in the eyes of the Palestinians, and to further undermine the status of the PA.
On the other hand, in an editorial titled "A prize for Hezbollah," Haaretz said while it's glad the freed Israelis will be able to rejoin their families, "the principles underlying the deal between Israel and Hezbollah for the exchange of prisoners and bodies merit harsh criticism."
When you peel away the trivia and the details, it has only one meaning: Following [Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan] Nasrallah's success in kidnapping four Israelis...Israel has agreed to do what it refused to do before the kidnappings.... The that it pays to strike at Israel, whether through kidnappings, terror attacks or war, in order to reverse its refusals.

This will contribute directly to strengthening the militant wing of Palestinian society - that same wing that defeated the moderates in internal disputes in the summer of 2000.
While they do argue about who is the real loser in the deal - Israel or the PA - they both agree that Hezbollah is the winner, echoing the statement of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud that the prisoner swap, "constitutes a frank recognition by Israel that the resistance (Hezbollah) is legitimate and not a foreign terrorist movement as it claims."

(Lebanese, AP notes, view Hezbollah "as the group that led a guerrilla war against Israel's 18-year occupation of an enclave in southern Lebanon.")

(Sidebar update: Taking a contrarian view to most of the Israeli and Arab press, which took the agreement as a victory for Hezbollah, Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a senior writer at The Daily Star of Lebanon, argues in the January 28 issue that the group is actually the loser. Noting a report that Israel intends to withdraw from a remote area of Lebanon it continued to occupy after the general withdrawal of its troops in 2000, Hussain writes that between that and the prisoner exchange, Sharon is "bring[ing] to an end all unfinished business with Hizbullah." [Spelling as per original; the word of course is a phonetic translation from Arabic and there is no one accepted spelling. My tendency is to use Hezbollah for the Lebanese group and Hizbullah for the unrelated Kurdish Islamic group.] As a result, there would be "no single rationale left for the resistance." Instead of having been forced into an undesired situation, Sharon has actually succeeded in taking one opponent out of the game. Of course, if Hezbollah is in fact a resistance movement against Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, it would seem that losing its raison d'etre is a victory. Saying otherwise would appear to be an admission that Hezbollah is or at least should be other than what is claimed.

Update to the update: An article in the International Herald Tribune for January 29 raises exactly the question Hussain did: What is the relevance of Hezbollah now?)

But if it's true that the "militant wing of Palestinian society" is strengthened by the agreement, what are we to make of this, which came the very next day, also as reported by Haaretz?
A top Hamas official has said his organization could declare a 10-year truce with Israel if Israel withdraws from territory captured since 1967.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi told Reuters late on Sunday that Hamas had come to the conclusion that it was "difficult to liberate all our land at this stage, so we accept a phased liberation."

"We accept a state in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. We propose a 10-year truce in return for [Israeli] withdrawal and the establishment of a state," he said in a telephone interview from hiding in the Gaza Strip.

His comments appeared to strengthen signs of a big political shift by a faction sworn to destroy Israel and now seeming to move closer to the aims of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
Now, obviously this is a long way from peace or acceptance. Indeed, Rantisi specifically said this does not mean Hamas is recognizing Israel.

But Hamas has been a prime mover behind suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis and until now has demanded the establishment of a Palestinian state that would encompass all the land under the British mandate in the area before the creation of Israel in 1948. For a driving force behind the so-called "rejectionist front" to propose a 10-year truce is a significant stand down.

Rantisi said he did not expect Israel to respond favorably to the new suggestion, "when it has rejected the Palestinian Authority's offer for less land than what we are proposing."
He's undoubtedly right about that, if for no other reason than the phrase "including Jerusalem." The status of the city is perhaps the touchiest, thorniest issue of all, and Jews all over the world remember too clearly how their access to their holiest sites was blocked when the city was under Jordanian control to ever say "Sure, you take it."

But it's not necessary to accept the proposal, it would only be necessary for Israel to say it is, perhaps, "encouraged" by the "willingness of Hamas to consider compromises that are to the good of all the peoples of the region." If you're interested in peace and in the security that peace brings, you should want to encourage every sign of moderation in your opponents' positions, not seek to undermine them with out-of-hand rejections. And, though it clearly falls short of being a solution, Hamas's shift is such a sign - as is, perhaps, the willingness and ability of Hezbollah to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Israel.

Keep hope alive.

Footnote: As any even semi-regular reader knows, I have been consistently critical of Israel in regard to its face-off with the Palestinians. I do that for several reasons. One is that the underlying principle is that I genuinely believe - and have believed for over 30 years - that the Palestinians have every bit as much right to a land of their own as the Israelis do and that mutual recognition between Israel and an independent Palestinian state is, barring a miraculous reconciliation, the best available, the most just, solution for long-term peace and stability.

I also believe that Israel has become less interested in a solution that does not involve maintaining its dominance over the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Indeed, there is a significant part of Israeli opinion that says Israel should not just by necessity but by right control all of Biblical Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank). One outfit even refers to Israel's seizure of the West Bank during the 1967 war as "driving the occupiers [Jordan] back across the river." Some on the radical right go even further, saying Israel has the right to control all the territory of the ancient United Monarchy, which by Biblical descriptions would include not only all of present-day Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, but good hunks of Jordan and Syria as well. (That's assuming the United Monarchy or at least the Biblical vision of it ever existed; modern archaeology says that's extremely unlikely. The right-wingers are, as you would expect, unimpressed.) One of the things that began to change my mind is learning that the slogan of the Likud coalition - at least the one they used at the time, it may have been changed in the interim - translated to "Both Sides of the Jordan."

I also maintain that Israel, as the predominant power in the region, has by that very fact the obligation to go the extra mile in search of a peaceful settlement. And right now it's not willing to go the first mile, much less the extra one.

And on a more, I suppose, emotional level, I feel most responsible for that with which I'm most closely connected. In world affairs, I feel most responsible for that which is done, at least indirectly even if unwillingly, in my name - that is, US policy. That's why I focus on US behavior over that of regimes and movements it opposes. It's not that those movements necessarily have (or deserve) my support, it's rather that I'm not responsible for them. I am, by virtue of being a citizen, in some way and to some degree responsible for what the US does, even if only, if you will, symbolically. On a secondary level, I feel more responsible for the actions of US allies than, again, those allies' opponents. So when Israel ignores or undermines chances for peace, when it commits some grievous wrong, I feel more of an obligation to raise my small voice against it than I do when Hamas or some other Palestinian group commits some atrocity. The bias, if there be one, is a matter of where I feel my responsibility lies. I have, I do, and I will reject absolutely any claim, charge, or inference that doing so is in any way anti-Semitic.

But - to those who may be inclined to feel that anti-Semitism is irrelevant or unimportant or even not real, I offer this:
Nearly one in five Britons says a Jew would not make an acceptable prime minister, and almost one in seven believes the scale of the Holocaust is exaggerated, according to a poll published Friday in Britain's Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

The poll, which interviewed 1,007 people in England, Scotland and Wales, found that 18 percent disagreed with the statement, "A British Jew would make an equally acceptable prime minister as a member of any other faith." ...

The findings of the poll, which was conducted by the ICM research company, showed that 15 percent of those surveyed agreed the scale of the Holocaust has been exaggerated.
Now, in fairness, the lead paragraph goes further than the body of the text justifies. The respondents cited didn't say a Jew was unacceptable as Prime Minister, but rather less acceptable.

But it still means that nearly one-fifth of Britons believes that being a Jew makes you less acceptable as Prime Minister. And that is anti-Semitism, that is bigotry, and that is disgraceful.

Monday, January 26, 2004

A glimmer

Cyprus, an island nation strategically located in the eastern Mediterranean, has seen a number of rulers over the past centuries. In 1960, it obtained its independence from Great Britain and became a member of the United Nations.

Unfortunately, the initial constitution "contained functional shortcomings, which led to deadlocks and to the intercommunal clashes of 1963/64." (Intercommunal here meaning between the Greek and Turkish communities that make up almost all of the island's population.) On July 15, 1974, Cyprus suffered a coup fomented by the military junta then ruling Greece. Five days later, using the pretext of "protecting" Turkish communities, Turkey invaded and occupied the northern third of the island.

Attempting to legitimize the invasion, in 1983 the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" was declared - but it was recognized only by Turkey and was almost immediately condemned by the UN Security Council.

(The above summary is drawn from the website of the permanent mission of Cyprus to the UN.)

The generals have long since been kicked out the government of Greece, the effects of the coup on the island long since undone - but 30,000 Turkish troops remain, occupying 37% of the territory of Cyprus. Numerous peace plans have come and gone, long negotiations have started and stopped, the last time based on a 2002 UN plan with talks grinding to a halt last March - and still the troops remain.

But still there is a glimmer of hope. The BBC for January 25 reports that
Turkey has asked for the United Nations to complete a peace plan for the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has called on the UN to appoint a new high-level mediator from a neutral country to help revive the talks.

It follows his earlier meeting with the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. ...

The first signs of a breakthrough in the deadlocked talks came before this weekend's meeting when the Turkish military said it was prepared to accept the last UN plan as a basis for negotiations.
That's a breakthrough because it immediately establishes a structure to hang an agreement on. While there are still a lot of things to be worked out, some of them - like the return of 180,000 Greek Cypriots to northern Cyprus - still contentious, at least now the talks can be about the arrangements of rooms and walls instead of whether you're trying to build a house, a steel mill, or a barn.

Now, if I was going to be cynical - which I often am - I'd wonder if this has less to do with some sudden humanitarian impulse on the part of the Turkish government that it does with Ankara's concern about a federated Iraq with an autonomous Kurdistan (which it has declared it will prevent) and doesn't want to be in the position of advocating a separate state in Cyprus while demanding unification in Iraq.

But nah, governments don't actually think that way, do they?

Update January 27: Not surprisingly, the Greeks have a different take on this. In its Sunday edition, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini noted the Turkish proposal called for
a resumption of reunification talks "to rapidly reach a solution that takes the Annan plan as a reference and is based on the realities of the island." This indicated persistence with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s stand that the breakaway state he leads in northern Cyprus must be recognized.

Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou said the Turkish call was "a small step forward but at the same time it is a tactical maneuver so Turkey is not solely blamed for the current deadlock." Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said talk of a solution based on the "realities" of the island was outside the UN framework.
On the other hand, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pronounced himself "very encouraged by the message" from Turkey" but apparently was considering whether it met his demand for the "necessary political will" to resume talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus.

Second update, January 29: I shoulda stayed cynical. According to Kathimerini for January 28, Turkey has taken a big step backwards from its expressed willingness to reopen negotiations. For one,
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ... yesterday referred to the UN blueprint for Cyprus's reunification as a "reference point" and not the basis for negotiations.
Further, Turkey now proposes that Cypriots hold a referendum on the UN plan, reversing its previous position, shared with Greece, that such a referendum should follow, not precede, negotiations.

One step forward, one step back.

No war is civil

The conflicts and difficulties surrounding the supposed "handover of power" in Iraq to take place before July 1 continue to grow. On Saturday,
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, called a halt to mass protest against US plans for handing over power, saying the United Nations should be given time to assess whether the elections he demands are possible.

But radical Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr branded the UN a "dishonest" body which served America's agenda and had no role to play in future Iraqi elections.
This came a day after Ahmed Chalabi, a central figure in the US-picked Iraqi Governing Council, endorsed the call for immediate direct elections in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. "The view that we hold in Iraq now is this - that democracy is associated with elections," he said, adding "Do not seek to find a reason why elections are not possible. Seek to make them possible, and they will be possible." This is a real turnaround for Chalabi, and some suspect its real purpose is to give him the kind of political legitimacy that lining up with Sistani can convey.

Meanwhile, others want the US to hand sovereignty over to an expanded council, combining caucuses in some areas with elections in others, and other variations.

All this is taking place again a backdrop of continuing violence and an increasingly gloomy outlook for longer-term stability. Four days ago I raised the possibility that the face-off between the Shiites and the Kurds could lead to civil war. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Washington (Knight-Ridder) - CIA officers in Iraq are warning that the country may be on a path to civil war, current and former U.S. officials said Wednesday, starkly contradicting the upbeat assessment that President Bush gave in his State of the Union address.

The CIA officers' bleak assessment was delivered verbally to Washington this week, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified information involved.

The warning echoed growing fears that Iraq's Shiite majority, which has until now grudgingly accepted the U.S. occupation, could turn to violence if its demands for direct elections are spurned.

Meanwhile, Iraq's Kurdish minority is pressing its demand for autonomy and shares of oil revenue.

"Both the Shiites and the Kurds think that now's their time," said one intelligence officer. "They think that if they don't get what they want now, they'll probably never get it. Both of them feel they've been betrayed by the United States before." ...

Another senior official said the concerns over a possible civil war weren't confined to the CIA but are "broadly held within the government," including by regional experts at the State Department and National Security Council. ...

In an interview with Knight Ridder on Wednesday, a top cleric in the Shiite holy city of Najaf appeared to confirm the fears of potential civil war.

"Everything has its own time, but we are saying that we don't accept the occupiers getting involved with the Iraqis' affairs," said Sheikh Ali Najafi, whose father, Grand Ayatollah Bashir al Najafi, is, along with Sistani, one of the four most senior clerics. "I don't trust the Americans - not even for one blink."

If the United States went ahead with the caucus plan and ended the military occupation, the interim government wouldn't last long, he said.

"The Iraqi people would know how to deal with those people," he said, smiling. "They would kick them out."
On top of that, there's another player in this, one not often mentioned. The January 23 Daily Star of Lebanon reported on a commentary in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat.
All of Iraq's neighbors are concerned about its partitioning, but the Turks have more than one reason to be worried, columnist Huda Husseini said Thursday.

Ankara has good reasons to be worried over an Iraq whose future is still a mystery, Husseini said. ... It considers a possible independent Kurdish state on its southern border as a direct threat to its domestic stability....

"Iraq's neighbors will interfere in order to prevent its division along ethnic lines. And if the Kurds try to achieve their lifelong ambition and control the oil-rich northern Iraqi provinces, they will be stopped," [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan reportedly told his Shiite guest [Abdel-Aziz Hakim, a member of the IGC].
The columnist quoted "informed sources" as saying the situation in Kurdish-majority northern Iraq would remain status quo until the planned 2005 referendum on a new national constitution.
After that date, northern Iraq is expected to become part of a federal state. As for the oil-rich provinces, they are expected to be directly managed by an Iraqi central government.
That is, Turkey, which fears the nationalist aspirations of the Kurds within its own borders, is being assured by Iraqi sources not to worry, the Kurds will be out of the loop again - and the Turks declare they will "prevent" the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region.

The Kurds, however, seem in no mood to compromise and feel they are owed big by the US. I see this as a dangerous, dangerous, situation.

Bushwhacking the environment

The Bush administration continues to play Calvinball with the environment. First, some background.
Charleston, W.Va. (New York Times, January 26) - The Bush administration is moving to revamp a rule protecting streams that Appalachian environmentalists view as their best weapon for fighting the strip-mining technique of mountaintop removal.
The rule, first set down in 1977, says "no land within 100 feet of an intermittent or perennial stream shall be disturbed by surface coal mining and reclamation operations" without specific authorization. In effect, it established a 100 foot buffer zone along streams to protect them from the ravages of strip mining.
Strip mining involves dynamiting away mountaintops to expose seams of low-sulfur coal, then dumping the leftover rubble into nearby valleys and streams. Some of those valley fills, as they are known, are hundreds of feet deep and several miles long, making them among the largest man-made earthen structures in the East.
Coal companies have been able to get away with creating these valley fills because the regulation was at best loosely enforced. But in 1998, a suit filed in federal court that resulted in a strongly worded decision upholding it.
"Valley fills are waste disposal projects so enormous that, rather than the stream assimilating the waste, the waste assimilates the stream," [Chief district Judge Charles H.] Haden wrote.
That decision was overturned at the Appellate level on jurisdictional grounds, but a new suit has been filed at the state level.

Belching their usual doom and gloom, industry representatives and legal hacks claim that actually enforcing the rule would be a "death sentence" for the mining industry across the entire region. Environmental groups agree that there would be an impact but call industry claims hyperbole and say there are alternatives to dumping mine waste into streams - if the industry was willing to pay for them.

Which brings us to the Bushites' response. In place of a rule that protects streams, a new rule
by the Office of Surface Mining would make clear that filling valleys and covering streams is permitted under federal law if companies show they are minimizing mining waste and the environmental damage caused by it.
And to who would that have to make such a showing? Why, to the very people who are going out of their way to make things easier on the mining industry.

"New rule! Safety zone! Can't touch me here!"

"But you just touched me!"

"That's part of the rule!"

"NO FAIR! New rule...!"

"You can't make a new rule now."

"Huh? Why not?

"You can't make a new rule within one minute of an old rule."

"When did that become a rule?"

"Just before you tried to make a new rule."


Footnote: If it's causing legal headaches and there are alternatives, why does the mining industry rely more and more on mountaintop removal?
[M]ountaintop mining has emerged as the most common form of surface mining in central Appalachia. The process produces more coal, requires fewer employees and is less costly than other forms of mining.
Follow the money.


What is Georgetown University?

That'll be the Day for $200

All dolled up? You're "in" this day's "best."


Okay, it's only a small step, but still, dammit, Yes!
Los Angeles (AP, January 26) - For the first time, a federal judge has declared unconstitutional a section of the USA Patriot Act that bars giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated foreign terrorist organizations.

In a ruling handed down late Friday and made available Monday, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins said the ban is impermissibly vague in its wording. ...

David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who argued the case on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project, declared the ruling "a victory for everyone who believes the war on terrorism ought to be fought consistent with constitutional principles." ...

The case before the court involved five groups and two U.S. citizens seeking to provide support for lawful, nonviolent activities on behalf of Kurdish refugees in Turkey.

The Humanitarian Law Project said the plaintiffs were threatened with 15 years in prison if they advised groups on seeking a peaceful resolution of the Kurds' campaign for self-determination in Turkey.

The judge's ruling said the law, as written, does not differentiate between impermissible advice on violence and encouraging the use of peaceful, nonviolent means to achieve goals.

"The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature," the judge said.
The DOJ says its studying the ruling, which I find revealing, since it appears to me the case should have been a slam dunk. People being threatened with 15 years in prison for advising accused terrorist groups on how to stop being terrorist? What is it the DOJ wants to appeal here? And why?

Sunday, January 25, 2004


What is Le Car?


This private, coeducational Washington, DC, school is the oldest Catholic University in America.

We weren't wrong, we were just, uh, premature

While admitting when specifically asked that there was no evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, members of the Bush team consistently tried to link the two in the public mind, usually by the ruse of referring to Saddam, bin Laden, and 9/11 in the same breath. Something along the lines of "We saw on September 11 how we are threatened by the terrorism of Osama bin Laden and his associates. Now, as Saddam Hussein continues to defy the UN...."

However, such verbal trickery may be unnecessary in present-day Iraq.
Baghdad (Reuters, January 25) - The top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Sunday there was evidence ties might be growing between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein loyalists waging a bloody insurgency in the country.

"What you see is a lot of fingerprints in terms of the tactics and techniques and procedures that are being employed. We are working very hard to establish whether there are today positive links," Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said in an interview. ...

Such an alliance would be a new one. The secular nature of Saddam's Iraq ran counter to the radical Muslim views of groups like Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.
In other words, it's the position of the US military in Iraq that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is now causing the very alliance between Baathists and al-Qaeda that it was supposedly intended to disrupt.

Since George claims to be an avid Bible-reader, he should know this one:

"Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same." - Job 4:8

This is important, update

Yesterday, I wrote that Jane's Intelligence Digest was reporting that the US may try to provoke a military confrontation with Syria and I suggested that "again the groundwork of 'threat' is being laid to justify further escalations." It's in that light that I read this from a CNN article for January 25:
Kay also raised the possibility - one he first discussed in a weekend interview with "The Sunday Telegraph" of London - that clues about banned weapons programs might reside across Iraq's western border.

"There is ample evidence of movement to Syria before the war - satellite photographs, reports on the ground of a constant stream of trucks, cars, rail traffic across the border. We simply don't know what was moved," Kay said.

But, he said, "the Syrian government there has shown absolutely no interest in helping us resolve this issue."
That is, we're being told, there are intelligence reports of suspicious activities possibly related to WMDs involving an uncooperative, unfriendly government.

Sound at all familiar?

Unintentional Humor Dept., Headline Div.

Cheney Calls for More Unity in Fight Against Terrorism - New York Times, January 25

The geek is unbummed

Opportunity, the twin of Spirit, has landed safely on Mars. And Spirit's condition has been upgraded by NASA from "critical" to "serious" with hopes for an almost complete, if slow, recovery.

More cracks in the facade

The Washington Post for January 25 tells us that Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters on Saturday that his famous presentation to the UN last February 5
was based on "what our intelligence community believed was credible."

"What is the open question is how many stocks they had, if any, and if they had any, where did they go? And if they didn't have any, then why wasn't that known beforehand?" Powell told reporters aboard his plane en route to Sunday's presidential inauguration of Mikheil Saakashvili.
Waaaait a minute here. If any? Mr. Conclusive-evidence-laid-out-for-all-the-world-to-see himself is now pleading the Fifth? What gives?

Maybe there is something to "the truth will out" after all. Bit by bit, the White House has been forced by reality to back off its original claims about Iraq and banned weapons, spinning so madly the whole while that a gyroscope would be envious. The latest had been Bush's reference in his State of the Union address to "weapons of mass destruction-related programs." Now Powell, the faithful acolyte, has declared himself an agnostic, claiming that his speech to the UN only involved "questions that needed to be answered" and a "hypothesis" about nerve gas and anthrax. Nothing in the article indicated how many of the assembled reporters needed to retrieve their mandibles from the tops of their shoes.

Certainly, it would have been very hard for any rational person to maintain the true faith in the face of the resignation of David Kay, who in quitting said in an interview with Reuters that
he had concluded there were no weapons stocks to be found.

"I don't think they existed," Kay said. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War, and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s."
He also said that
he now thought that Iraq had illicit weapons at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, but that the subsequent combination of United Nations inspections and Iraq's own decisions "got rid of them."

Asked directly if he was saying that Iraq did not have any large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the country, Dr. Kay replied, according to a transcript of the taped interview made public by Reuters, "That is correct."
Even former U.N. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, who has been chosen to take Kay's place, told PBS's "Newshour" on January 9 that the prospect "of finding chemical weapons, biological weapons is close to nil at this point."

But then again, I did say any rational person. The Post notes that
[o]n Wednesday, Vice President Cheney told National Public Radio that the administration has not given up looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "It's going to take some additional considerable period of time in order to look in all the cubbyholes and ammo dumps and all the places in Iraq where you'd expect to find something like that," he said.
I wonder if Cheney is telling his staff that all the news is a test of their faith, a attempt by the Great Satan Demoncrats to undermine their resolve?

Footnote one: British Prime Minister Tony Blair is "facing growing pressure to say the basis for going to war in Iraq was flawed" in the wake of Kay's departure, reports the BBC.
[Former UK foreign secretary Robin] Cook, who resigned in protest at the prospect of war with Iraq, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "rather undignified" of Mr Blair to continue to insist he was right when "everybody could now see he was wrong". ...

"The reality is that Number 10 was keen to get into the war, not frankly because they were particularly concerned about WMD - I suspect by March they also knew that the September document had over-egged the case - they were keen to get in to impress President Bush that they were a reliable ally."
Blair, who is thought to be more vulnerable on the issue than Bush, brushed off Kay's statement and insists WMDs will yet be found in Iraq.

Update: Tony's now doing the Downing Street Shuffle. According to Agence France-Presse, January 25,
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in an interview, said he has no doubt that pre-war intelligence about an active Iraqi quest for weapons of mass destruction was "genuine".
"Quest for." Not actual weapons, but a "quest for" them. Still trailing in George's footsteps.

Footnote two: You still occasionally read the post or hear the story that sometime this summer, just at the most opportune time for Bush, a cache of weapons will be "discovered." Don't bet on it. First, I think that if there was some sort of plot along those lines, the Bushites would have stood firmer in their predictions that yes, they will be found. Second, while it certainly would be taken as great news among the 37% of voters in a recent Newsweek poll who "strongly" want to see Bush re-elected, it certainly won't move the 47% who strongly do not want him back. As for the rest, even at this point it would look like an election-year stunt and the closer we get to the election, the more it would look that way.

Note that this doesn't mean I think they wouldn't do such a thing, only that they haven't.

(Link to Newsweek poll via The Hamster.)

As if we didn't know

A little over ten years ago I wrote to a friend about the boom-bust cycle of globalization:
Consider Texas, whose "boom towns" of the '70s became the empty husks of the '80s; consider Korea, whose "economic miracle" of the '80s, built on the infusion of transnational capital in search of low-wage labor, is turning sour as corporations move on to the Philippines in search of even lower-wage labor.
(A longer excerpt from the original is here.)

Amid all the self-congratulatory prose of the corporate press about the glories of the free market (which, to hear them tell it, brings peace, prosperity, and a cure for the common cold) the realization has slowly emerged that
[g]lobalisation has turned into a "race to the bottom", where jobs go to places with the cheapest workers and least onerous workers' rights,
says the BBC for January 21. And as trade unionists at the World Economic Forum now going on in Davos, Switzerland pointed out, it's not just the industrialized nations whose workers are being hurt. Mexico has seen 200,000 jobs move to China and even Bangladesh is facing major job losses - up to one million - in its textile industry.
"Globalisation without rules does not work", said Sharan Burrow of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. ...

And it is not just trade unionists that are getting worried.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Morgan Stanley chief economist Stephen Roach drew attention to the phenomenon of "global labour arbitrage", where what were high-wage jobs in developed world were transformed into low-wage jobs in the developing world.

This, he said, was hitting not just manufacturing, but service industries like banking as well.
Better learn how to split wood, weave, and skin a squirrel. They may be the skills most in demand soon enough.
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