Friday, April 30, 2004

Just a passing thought

Admittedly, this is one of the "excerpt-plus-one-line-comment" items I try to avoid, but a thought did strike me as I read this:
Fallujah, Iraq (AP, April 30) - Led by a former Saddam Hussein general, Iraqi troops replaced U.S. Marines on Friday and raised the Iraqi flag at the entrance to Fallujah under a plan to end the monthlong siege of the city. ...

At the checkpoint at main eastern entrance to the city, the commander of the Iraqi force, Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh, shook hands with Col. John Tullin, commander of the 1st Marine Regiment, as Iraqi forces raised their own flag over the checkpoint. ...

"Initially it appears that the transition to the Fallujah Protective Army is working," said Marine. Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne. "It's a delicate situation. The Fallujah Protective Army is the Iraqi solution we've all been looking for in this area."

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, coalition deputy operations chief, insisted the Marines were not "withdrawing" from Fallujah, one of the most hostile cities in the tense Sunni Triangle, but were simply "repositioning."
Doesn't that seem an awful lot like "declare victory and get out?"

Now if they would just do that for the whole country....

Footnote: Actually, I guess this isn't going to be an excerpt-plus-one-line item, since in the course of typing that I realized that I don't want that. I don't want the US to "declare victory and get out." I just want us to get out. I don't want any declarations of victory, I don't want self-congratulations about all the wonderful things we supposedly accomplished, I don't want us patting ourselves on the back, I don't want any purple prose about "freedom" and "rebuilding," I don't want an exit that's used as an ex post facto justification for the entry.

I want us out. Not as victors and frankly not even as losers - but simply as withdrawers, as people who have come to their senses.

If pulling out as supposedly having "accomplished the mission" is the only way an exit will happen, then let it be so for the sake of the lives it will save. But it's not what I want. Because it's not true. Because the war was wrong from the beginning. And because spinning fantasies about what we've "achieved" in Iraq only feeds our own mythos of our sense of national purity, national innocence, the delusion that we only do right.

And maintaining that false notion of perpetual American innocence will be the root of yet another Afghanistan, another Iraq, another - Syria, perhaps?


What is R.E.M.?

A Sleepy Category for $1200

He wrote "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

It's for your own good. Really.

USA Today for April 27 reports that Manalapan, Florida, one of the nation's wealthiest towns,
will soon have cameras and computers running background checks on every car and driver that passes through.

Police Chief Clay Walker said cameras will take infrared photos recording a car's tag number, then software will automatically run the numbers through law enforcement databases. ...

Next to the tag number, police will have a picture of the driver, taken with another set of cameras - upgraded versions of the standard surveillance cameras already in place. ...

"Courts have ruled that in a public area, you have no expectation of privacy," said Walker, one of 11 sworn officers who protects Manalapan's 321 residents.
First thought: Just because it might be legal doesn't mean it's a good idea or a decent thing to do.

Second thought: Just because you can be observed in a public place should not mean that a computerized record of where you were when is proper.

Third thought: I wonder what Chief Walker would say if someone started following him around all day long, videotaping every moment he was in public, justifying it On the same "no expectation of privacy" basis?

Final thought: Slippery slope, slippery slope.

Drafting a lazy post

So the idea of resuming the draft is making the rounds again. And again the strange political bedfellows are climbing in the sack together as rightists eager to "beef up the military" link with various lefties who on most other issues manage to think straight yet regard the draft as a jim-dandy idea because it would be "fairer" than a volunteer army and "would make it harder (some say impossible) to get involved in a war like Iraq" because people would "think twice if they were on the line."

When confronted with the historical unfairness of the draft, the answer from that latter group is invariably along the lines of "well, but what if we made it really fair?" Generally, that "fairness" consists of a "strong non-military component," as one put it, of "national service," the draft's universal elder sibling.

Now, I'll just note quickly that such an argument undermines it's own premise. (This is leaving aside the insane complications of such an operation, which would involve locating, managing, and keeping track of the people in at least several million appropriate "national service" jobs yearly.) First, compulsion is not "fair" and doesn't become "fair" just because everyone is compelled. Second, there are only two ways to arrange such universal service at the military-civilian interface: Either some government agency decides who goes into the military and who doesn't - in which case you have a military draft - or people get to choose on their own whether they do military or "civilian" service - in which case you have all the downsides of compulsion and still have an all-volunteer military, the very thing this system was supposedly intended to correct.

(There is also a certain degree of elitism in some of the arguments as their propounders seem to think that whatever it is they already had planned for their lives would constitute the required "service," so the system they propose wouldn't really affect them at all.)

Ultimately, there is no "alternative" to the volunteer army (leaving aside yet another issue, that of whether any such alternative is necessary) that does not involve military conscription.

Okay, here's where the lazy part comes in. Rather than make my argument on the issue anew, I'm going to post here several things I have written in the past about the draft. Some of the language, the product of Vietnam-era youth, may seem a trifle over the top - but unlike John Kerry's attempt to distance himself from some of what he said in his testimony to Congress, I stand by every word.

A brief chronology of my involvement with the draft:

- In the mid-1960s I had a draft deferment as a college student.
- When I dropped out of college I was reclassified 1-A (draftable) and called for a pre-induction physical. I failed that physical because of a minor problem and was classified 1-Y (sort of a reserve pool if there proved to not be enough 1-As).
- In 1969, the Selective Service System instituted a new, "fair" means of how people were selected for the draft: a lottery based on birthdates. That is, the dates of the year were chosen in a (supposedly) random order and people were drafted in order of those birthdates. The lower the number, the more likely you were to be drafted. (You want to know if some guy is of that era? Ask him his lottery number. Chances are he knows; I even knew several people in the military at the time who knew theirs.) My lottery number was 281, meaning I had very little chance of being drafted. (In fact, in no year did the SSS get higher than 195.)
- However, my ethical opposition to the draft prompted me to turn in my draft card as part of a Moratorium Day demonstration, October 13, 1971.
- In 1972, the classification 1-Y was eliminated and those in it were reclassified 4-F (physically unfit to be drafted). In January, 1973, my draft board sent me a new classification card. I returned it the same day.
- In the summer of 1975, Gerald Ford announced an "earned re-entry" program for Vietnam draft resisters. In August I became the first person in my home state to publicly refuse to cooperate with the program.

I was never prosecuted; I can't say why except to mention that by 1971 there were an awful lot of us.

Okay. The first piece is a sort of prose poem I wrote for a friend in the wake of the first draft lottery. He got #56. This was written as a present to him. The quotes are from the 1965 Selective Service System's "Memorandum on Channeling." Some poetic license was taken with the order of the wording but the meaning and intent were unchanged. (Those who talk about "national service" might take note of the attitudes expressed.) The statements in parentheses are my friend's; they came from a phone conversation right after the lottery drawing. The omission of the final parenthesis was deliberate.

The date was December 6, 1969.
"It is in dealing with the non-inductee registrants that the system is heavily occupied, developing more effective human beings in the national interest."

(I found out I'm number 56.)

"Channeling is the device of pressurized guidance, used to control effectively the services of individuals who are not in the armed forces, via the club of induction."

(It just makes things more definite.)

"The young man registers at age eighteen and pressure begins to force his choice.... He is prodded to make a decision."

(I'll just have to decide now.)

"The door is open for him as a student to qualify if capable in a skill needed by this nation. He obtains a sense of well-being and satisfaction that he is doing what will help his country most."

(I figure about May - as soon as school gets out.)

"In the less patriotic and more selfish individual it engenders a sense of fear, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction which motivates him, nevertheless, in the same direction."

(I've always thought evasion was immoral, but now....)

"He complains of the uncertainty; he would like to be able to do as he pleases; but he complies with the needs of the national health, safety, or interest - or he is denied deferment."

(I don't want to go to Canada.)

"Throughout his career as a student, the pressure continues. It continues with equal intensity after graduation. His local board requires periodic reports to find out what he is up to."

(I won't have time to split for California.)

"He is impelled to apply his skill in an essential activity in the national interest. The loss of deferred status is the consequence for the individual who uses his skill in a non-essential activity."

(Maybe some South Sea Island.)

"From the individual's viewpoint, he is standing in an uncomfortably warm room. Several doors are open, but they all lead to various forms of recognized, patriotic service to the nation. Some accept the alternatives gladly, some with reluctance. The consequence is approximately the same."

(I won't even have time to get married....
The second is the letter I wrote to my local draft board (Red Bank, NJ) on January 27, 1973, to accompany my returned classification card. The ellipsis at the end of the first paragraph was in the original. (January 27, 1973, by the way, was also the day the Vietnam ceasefire was to go into effect.)
The end of a given war does not mean the end of war. The end of the war against Indochina does not mean the end of militarism in America. Even as a "generation of peace" is trumpeted, the already-obese military budget swells still more in Fiscal 1974, draining like a blood-sucking leech the life from the long-since anemic ideas of cures for or even opposition to hunger, disease, ignorance, sexism, racism, rats, foul air and dangerous water,....

Perhaps the clearest expression of America's still-convoluted sense of values is the continued increase in money spent on preparation for war ("There will be wars and rumors of wars" as long as there are Pentagons.) while money for pollution control is impounded and the OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity] is closed down to "economize." As long as the President continues to treat us as the "children" he has called us - with the Pentagon playing the part of the pampered favorite getting any new toy he wants by threatening to hold his breath until he turns blue while the rest of us are cast as the scorned daughter sent to bed without dinner for daring to question Father's decisions - there can be no letup in our resistance to the present destructive realities. As long as bombs are more important than bread, there can be no lessening of our work for future dreams. And as long as the state continues to claim that it owns our very lives, there can be no pause in our saying "no" to death and "yes" to life.

For that is what a military draft - what any draft - means: The state owns our lives and can use them as it sees fit, even to our deaths or our use as the instrument of others' deaths. And an end to inductions is not an end to that idea. An end to inductions does not mean the end of the draft, does not mean the end of American militarism, does not mean the state has rejected the pattern of violent solutions to problems, does not mean America has turned from death toward life. It means only that the state feels it doesn't need our bodies/lives - just now. As long as the idea that our lives belong to the state exists, the draft exists; as long as the draft exists, militarism exists; as long as militarism exists, the spur to war exists; as long as the spur to war exists, war exists.

The draft is linked to war. Ending the draft will not end war, but war will not end until the draft does. If we are to build a just, decent society, we must reject war, reject militarism, reject the idea that the state owns our lives - reject, therefore, the draft.

Life is the highest good, and anything that advances life is an expression of that special, crystal-glitter quality called "human," that self-awareness, that capacity for love, that reach for hope that separates us from other animals. Anything that opposes life or advances death is a rejection of that quality, a rejection of our humanity. To be human is to reach for life, for love, for hope - to reach for our potential for positive values. To be human is to reject death and all that advances death. The draft - the very concept of the draft - advances, indeed inspires, death. I reject the draft. And I reject all the symbols of the draft, such as the classification card I received today. Do with it as you will, but I will not have it.
Next is the letter I sent refusing to cooperate with "earned re-entry." It was sent to the US Attorney for Newark, NJ, on September 19, 1974.
On October 13, 1971 I returned my draft and classification cards to my local draft board (#46, Red Bank); I have refused to carry such cards since then. Upon receiving a new classification card in January of 1973, I returned that as well. At those times I stated in detail my moral and philosophical reasons for opposition to war and the draft, reasons which I will not repeat here beyond stating my conviction that war is morally intolerable and logically untenable, and that anything that aids in prosecuting war, such as the draft, is likewise unacceptable.

As I'm sure you're aware, I'm still liable for prosecution for these acts. It's my understanding that under the recently announced "earned re-entry" program, in order to avoid such prosecution I would be expected to present myself to you and indicate my willingness to do 24 months of "public service" work.

I'm writing to you to inform you that I will have no part of this punitive plan, this so-called "leniency." "Leniency" it is not, "reconciliation" it is not: It is punishment, pure and simple. Punishment for the crime of following your conscience, punishment for the crime of resisting government criminality, punishment for the crime of refusing to kill at the order of the state.

Calling a requirement for two years of work at a low-paying job acceptable to the government "public service work" is merely a euphemism for doing time, and a flimsy one at that. Requiring an oath of allegiance from those who tried to right our national wrong in Indochina is an absurd distortion of reality: It is those who pursued the war, not those who resisted it, who should be required to take such an oath, for it was our leaders who lead us into the war, and who now continue to use American tax dollars to fund its continuation by others, who betrayed the ideals of justice on which this nation was supposedly founded.

The work and oath of allegiance requirements are in effect requirements for expressions of contrition by those who resisted the war. I can't in good conscience express contrition for acts that I feel to have been, not merely not wrong, but actually quite right. And as long as the US continues to insist on being "#1," with all the attendant ill consequences for millions of people all around the world, I could not possibly swear an oath of allegiance which could in effect pledge me to support values and actions in which I could not believe.

I turned in my draft card as a public expression of my refusal to kill other human beings. Now I'm being told to say "I'm sorry." I'm not sorry. Even though I presume that my chances of being prosecuted are somewhat increased by this, I feel I have no other moral choice than to treat this "earned re-entry" plan the same way I treated the draft: I reject it, openly, freely, publicly - and entirely.
In 1980, I was running for Congress as an independent. Jimmy Carter had announced his desire to renew draft registration and legislation was introduced to that end. On June 12, 1980, I issued the following statement. (I have edited out a section responding to arguments being made for registration that were specific to the time, as they didn't seem relevant to the present discussion.)
The Senate has now joined the House in passing legislation to require 19- and 20-year old men to register for the draft, perhaps as soon as mid-July. Due to a technical change in the Senate version, the bill must be re-approved by the House, which is expected to act in a few days. The bill could be law by the end of next week.

This is a wholly reprehensible action. The move for draft registration is based on a combination of ignorance, foolishness, paranoia, and cold political calculation, riding a mindless tide of resurgent militarism. And no one, not even registration's most ardent supporters, believes this will be the end: It's merely the first step, the groundbreaking, toward resumption of the draft with all the problems that entails.

Those problems are many: The draft is notoriously unfair to minorities and the poor, automatically favoring the better educated, the more articulate, and those more used to dealing with bureaucracies. It's coercion, wholly out of place in a democratic society. It involves disruption of people's lives, invasion of their privacy, and lack of choice. It is by any rational standard involuntary servitude. It makes felons of those who want to live their lives free of militarist domination. It is, in short, unfair, discriminatory, anti-democratic, and probably unconstitutional.

And, equally importantly, it is, even in the nascent form of "just" registration, another escalation of an already dangerously out of control arms race.

Indeed, resumption of registration and the draft declares the US is more willing to go to war, more willing to seek military solutions to political and diplomatic problems, more prepared to try to forcibly impose our will around the world. It says, bluntly, that we still pursue, now more vigorously, the myth of making the world ever-safer by standing ever-more-ready to blow it up, a renewal of the macho fantasy of "standing tough" as the way to peace - peace, that is, through domination.

The draft is a tool, a military tool. If we learned anything from the Indochina war, it should've been how easy and tempting it is to grasp at such a tool when faced with political problems, and how easy it is through that to escalate military involvement in other nations. The draft actually increases the danger of future Indochina-type wars. Those who point to the need for further legislation to invoke the draft itself ignore a hard reality: Do they really believe that a Congress that passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 24 hours could not be stampeded into further adventuring by another such "emergency?" ...

What we're left with is a program that will not accomplish its supposed goals but will escalate the arms race, promote further militarist schemes, open the door to the draft, invade the lives of millions of Americans, and make felons of unknown thousands - the Carter administration itself estimates as many as 400,000, 10% of those affected, will not register, risking prison in the process.

We can't stand by silently. There have been antidraft demonstrations before, and there must be more. I state here that I'm ready to help organize, publicize, and take part in nonviolent action against draft registration.

And I pledge more: If elected, my first action as a member of Congress would be to introduce legislation to revoke registration and destroy any records gathered to that date. And my second act would be to introduce legislation to dismantle Selective Service entirely.

And I make one more pledge: to support in any way I'm able those who refuse to register. Indeed, I urge that all young men refuse to in any way participate in registration. I fully realize what I'm asking and the risks involved. When I turned in my draft card in 1971 and later publicly refused to cooperate with President Ford's so-called "Clemency Program," I took similar risks. I'm not speaking in a vacuum. I know what I'm asking.

I urge it because it's necessary: The door to the draft must not be opened. The crazy notions that denying freedom to some will preserve freedom for all, that violating the constitution will protect the constitution, and that increasing the chances of war will show the way to peace are part and parcel of the 1984 mentality gripping our leaders that must not go unchallenged.
Finally, a short letter-to-the-editor to the Boston "Globe" from February 7, 1991, the last time the draft was being plugged by liberal voices. Notice how the same arguments are being recycled today.
Your editorial promoting the draft argued a)it's "dubious...whether Congress would've approved" war in the Gulf had there been a draft, b)reinstating it "would make it much harder for the government to go to war" later, c)Gulf war "manpower requirements" may require it, and d)we must worry about "somebody else...tak[ing] aggressive steps" due to inadequate "military power."

That is, we need a draft to continue being cops of the world and better fight the war - and what's more, having a draft would make such things impossible.


Your argument is internally contradictory, inconsistent, and lacking principle. If this is an example, no wonder "liberal thinking" is increasingly thought an oxymoron.

Final note: A "truly equitable" draft that'd magically end military adventurism is fantasy. Having a draft didn't keep us out of Korea, generate wide debate during the Cuban missile crisis, prevent Vietnam, keep troops out of the Dominican Republic, or preclude the secret wars against Laos and Cambodia. About all it did was provide an easy source of cannon fodder for the Pentagon. On the other hand, it took years to generate the level of debate about Vietnam we're already seeing about the Gulf even though no one's been drafted since 1972.

The answer to militarism isn't militarization; the answer to one injustice isn't adding another atop it. Conscription militarizes. Conscription is unjust. We're better off without it.
I have said it before and I say it again: I am opposed to military conscription at any time, in any form, by anyone, for any purpose.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


What is the esophagus?

A Sleepy Category for $400

A band from Athens, Georgia, or the dream state of sleep.

What's really at stake in Iraq

From the Iraqi Press Monitor, April 27, quoting al-Bayan, a newspaper issued three times a week by the Islamic Dawa Party.
A Ministry of Planning source said there are many sectors that should be cancelled or privatised. He added agreements had been signed with a number of ministries in this regard. Privatisation will include some firms with large economic activities in order to be in line with the policy followed in the market economies, he said. Moreover, the State Company for Trading Cars might be the first to be privatised since it has large trade deals and funds a large number of businessmen. Its privatisation could also create competition in the market. As to its employees, who will be dismissed if it is privatized or cancelled, they will be waiting for job opportunities in other ministries, he concluded.
And we all know what a boon globalization has been to the people of developing nations.

Footnote to the preceding, noted without comment

From CNN, April 29.
Guerrilla attacks broke out in at least three neighborhoods of Fallujah that had been relatively quiet during the past three days. And the U.S. response intensified: when a Marine was wounded, warplanes dropped 10 laser-guided bombs - most of them 500-pound bombs but at least one 1,000 pound - on buildings that were the source of guerrilla fire, Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said.

At least twice, AC-130 gunships opened up on guerrilla positions with their heavy cannons.

Throughout the day, the sound of each battle was heard - the rattle of gunfire and the thud of mortars - then came the noise that often marked Marine strikes to put an end to the fight: heavy explosions, raising flames and palls of smoke.
In the same article, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld was quoted as saying the violence in Fallujah is caused by "terrorists and regime elements."

Of accidental judgments

Six US MPs now face court-martial for abusing Iraqi prisoners captured during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, CNN reported on Wednesday.
The charges included dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another person.

In addition to those criminal charges, the military has recommended disciplinary action against seven U.S. officers who helped run the prison, including Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinski, the commander of the 800th [Military Police] Brigade,
which was in charge of Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, where the cruelty took place. Incidents included stacking prisoners in a human pyramid, writing slurs on their skin, and in one case forcing a man wearing a hood and with wires attached to his hands to stand on a box and telling him that he would be electrocuted if he fell off.
Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said in March that many former detainees in Iraq claimed to have been tortured and ill-treated by coalition troops during interrogation.

Methods often reported, it said, included prolonged sleep deprivation, beatings, exposure to loud music and prolonged periods of being covered by a hood.
Meanwhile, US Army command is shocked, just shocked at the revelations.
"We're appalled," [Brig. Gen. Mark] Kimmitt said. "These are our fellow soldiers, these are the people we work with every day, they represent us, they wear the same uniform as us, and they let their fellow soldiers down."
Well, frankly, just what did they expect? You train people to kill, you train them to think of the "enemy" as somehow not quite human, you throw them in kill-or-be-killed, dominate-or-be-destroyed situations, and then feign bewilderment when the results of your own practices produce bad PR?

And what of the other "casual slaughters," the deaths not worthy of controlled outrage, the disgraces not felt to require political ablution?
During the first two weeks of this month, the American army committed war crimes in Falluja on a scale unprecedented for this war. According to the relatively few media reports of what took place there, some 600 Iraqis were killed during these two weeks, among them some 450 elderly people, women and children.

The sight of decapitated children, the rows of dead women and the shocking pictures of the soccer stadium that was turned into a temporary grave for hundreds of the slain - all were broadcast to the world only by the Al Jazeera network. During the operation in Falluja, according to the organization Doctors Without Borders, U.S. Marines even occupied the hospitals and prevented hundreds of the wounded from receiving medical treatment. Snipers fired from the rooftops at anyone who tried to approach,
says columnist Orit Shohat in the April 28th edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Recall first that the assault on Fallujah was a retaliatory strike for the desecration of the bodies of four dead Americans, a price that has been repaid at least 150 fold. And then ask where are the denunciations? Where is the outrage? Where are the trials, the judgments? Why is General Kimmitt not "appalled" by decapitated children, by people shot down in the streets for approaching a hospital?

Why not? Because those atrocities were expected, they were justified, they were "within the rules of engagement," they were soldiers doing what their higher-ups expected of them. So long as the brutalization does not extend beyond the limits desired by the institutionally brutalized, it is not to be condemned.

Even the military recognizes the effect of what it does, enough to consciously take steps to prevent it from being aimed at the "wrong" targets.
Ft. Hood, Texas (Fox News, April 22) - Going from a world of war to one of peace creates a psychological challenge for every soldier.

But adjust they must, often in a matter of days, from war to peace and from one country and culture to another.

Such extreme life transitions are the basis for Ft. Hood's Iron Horse University, which offers reintegration classes that every returning veteran must attend.

Courses at the Army base include "Stress: On and Off the Battlefield," "Anger Management," and "Conflict Resolution."
The brutalization of war, of occupation, is very real, as even the military recognizes.

The fact is, My Lai was not an aberration, no more than it was the isolated incident we tried (and still try) so hard to believe it was. Rather, it was the natural outgrowth of what those soldiers were taught, of the situation they were put in, of the training they received. So, too, was/is Fallujah. So, too, will be the "carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts" that will follow in their time. And again, momentarily stirred from our reverie of innocence, we will be shocked, shocked, as if it had never happened before - that is, until, our flare of outrage spent, soothed by reassurances that our very outrage is proof of our goodness, we can drift back to sleep.

While the casual slaughters continue.

Set the date and get out.

To read and to ponder

As a general rule, I'm not fond of blogs that have a large percentage of posts either that consist of "Wow! Check this out!" with a link or of a long excerpt from some article (or a post from another blog) with a one-sentence comment at the end. I try to avoid both of those and I think for the most part I succeed. But occasionally I make an exception when I don't think I can do some article justice except by suggesting you read the entire thing. This is such a case.

A column by regular Christian Science Monitor contributor Dante Chinni for April 27 starts this way:
The United States of America, circa 2004, offers a fairly straightforward economic proposition. The nation's change from being a maker of things to a seller of things rests on the simple assumption that the consumer is king. And because everyone's a consumer, everyone wins. Cheap imports and competition force producers and retailers to keep prices low, inflation stays down, and everyone can buy a little more - maybe even a lot more. ...

Viewed from the Ohio Valley, though, America's economic restructuring seems less like an "everybody wins" proposition than a zero-sum game. Here in the rolling hills that straddle Appalachia and steel country, the picturesque landscape is dotted with towns like East Liverpool, places where vacant storefronts dominate what's left of the downtown and many of the remaining businesses are bars or drive-through liquor stores. They're towns full of boarded-up buildings, empty streets, and people short on options.
Now go read the rest of it and ponder what it means for our future and the idea of economic justice.

Plausible deniability, 2004

As part of their week-kneed deal with the White House, the members of the 9/11 Commission not only agreed to have Shrub and The Big Dick Cheney put on a Frick and Frack routine and not be under oath (and thus are "being interviewed" rather than "testifying"), they also agreed that there would be no transcript and no recording of the session, Wednesday's New York Times reports.

Instead, the Commission is limited to a single "note-taker," while the White House brings along one of its own.
Legal scholars said the lack of an official transcript would give the White House some deniability and make it more difficult to use the president's words as evidence in a future suit against the government.

"It gives them more maneuverability in case someone slips up or says something he regrets," Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said.
And do you imaging for one little tiny flaming second that they will shy away from lying through their filthy teeth if one of them slips and admits to something they shouldn't? And that they hadn't already thought of that possibility when they nixed a transcript?

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Say "die," dammit

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney continues his petulant attempts to minimize the meaning of Massachusetts' upcoming historic date of May 21, the day on which the state will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in accordance with a November ruling by the state's Supreme Judicial Court that barring such marriages violates the equal protection provisions of the state constitution.
Boston, April 24 (New York Times) - Same-sex couples who live outside Massachusetts will not be able to marry in Massachusetts when gay marriage becomes legal here next month, Gov. Mitt Romney said.

"Massachusetts should not become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage," Mr. Romney said in an interview on Friday. "We do not intend to export our marriage confusion to the entire nation."
Governor Ramney (ROM is permanent; RAM, happily, is temporary) based this decision on a 1913 law so obscure and so long unenforced that few people would have ever heard of it. The law says that the state can't marry out-of-state couples of their marriage would be "void" in their home state. Governor Rockbrain said he intends to rewrite the form for marriage license applications to require proof of where a couple plans to live. He also openly acknowledged he was using the broadest possible interpretation of the law, under which even states that lack laws specifically banning same-sex marriages would be covered - so unless a couple could show they live in Massachusetts or intend to move there after the marriage, they would be denied a license.

It's instructive that the 1913 law was created in large part to ban interracial marriage - and is now being used to enforce, as far as it can be pushed to do so, a different type of discrimination. Some human rights lawyers claim that the law only applies to states - about 20 - that say same-sex marriage would be "void," rather than "invalid" or "prohibited," but I find that a thin reed on which to build an argument. I expect a legal challenge is inevitable, but what I would like to see is Witless Romney challenged directly through it to justify using the law as he proposes to do. Demand to know when this law was last enforced, demand to know when was the last time Massachusetts surveyed other states (as he proposes to do) to see what their marriage laws are in order to avoid marrying people here who couldn't get married at home, demand to know how this is not intended to single out an indentifiable group - same-sex couples - for discriminatory treatment. (No, the fact everyone would be asked the same questions isn't an answer if the intent is to discriminate, which is clearly is, as it's avowedly designed to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.)

For now, three state legislators have introduced a bill this week to repeal the law and
[a]t least one town clerk, David Rushford of Worcester, said earlier this month that he would defy rules that asked him to demand evidence of intent to move to Massachusetts. "I wouldn't even ask them," Mr. Rushford said. "I don't feel we should be challenging people on whether they intend to become Massachusetts residents or not."
You go, guy.

Footnote, Beyond Absurd Dept.: The good guv, who is outright opposed to same-sex marriage, strongly supported a constitutional amendment banning it, and recently sought the authority to appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court for a stay of its order, says he's not being discriminatory, oh no. In fact, he actually said - if you can believe this - that
his main motivation was to protect a same-sex couple's children if the couple separated and "one or the other of them would stand up and say, 'Hey, I don't owe you any alimony, I don't owe this child any child support because the marriage was null and void to begin with.'"
Oh my, yes, his real concern is protecting some poor innocent partner from being screwed out of alimony or child support. It's really for their own good! Really!

Footnote to the footnote: Rockbrain added that
in training sessions next month, the clerks would be told that "if they don't make a good-faith effort to follow the law, the people who are punished by that are not the governor, not the opponents of same-sex marriage, but rather the children born to those unions or adopted to those unions."
Uh, "born to those unions?" I think it's about time his parents had that talk with him....


What are the kidneys?

The Body Human for $1000

Heartburn has nothing to do with the heart; it's caused by acid from the stomach rising back into this tube.

Speaking of things that won't help

This comes from the Army News Service for April 21, via

Apparently, while on patrol in the Washash district of Baghdad, some US troops found something that concerned them: posters of Moqtada al-Sadr.
After the initial dismounted patrol discovered the propaganda, [platoon leader Brian] Schonfeld received orders to re-enter Washash and remove the posters. These posters are considered illegal because of al-Sadr's extremist anti-coalition stance.
Things went well at first as the troops tore down posters but things got sticky when they got to a shop selling framed prints of Sadr. The shop owner initially refused to remove them even as Schonfeld "tried to explain ... that anti-coalition propaganda is illegal."

Ultimately, with the help of a few English-speaking locals, they persuaded the shopkeeper to remove the pictures from display - but after the troops tore down one more poster, a crowd formed and started throwing rocks. The troops pulled back "to avoid an escalation of force."
"I think it was important [to remove the posters] because al-Sadr currently stands for all things that are anti-coalition," [Capt. Ronald Hayward, who gave the order to remove the posters] said. "It's important to show [the people of Washash] that we can deal with the propaganda in a non-threatening way, rather than coming in hard and forcefully."
Okay, leaving aside the fact that this confirms that "anti-coalition propaganda is illegal," and thereby affirms that, as is becoming true here, dissent can only be voiced if and when it doesn't change anything - just how in hell is a group of armed US soldiers tromping through your neighborhood tearing down posters, telling you your pictures are illegal, supposed to be seen as "non-threatening?"

Necessary footnote

Back on April 19, I mentioned reports from Iraqi newspapers hinting that opposition to al-Sadr was growing. Then, on Sunday I noted indications that Sadr was beginning to wear out his welcome in Najaf. Now this from Tuesday's New York Times:
[R]eports from inside Najaf said the growing anger of residents there against Mr. Sadr and his men, who have sown a pattern of lawlessness since their uprising in the city began this month, had taken a startling new turn, with a shadowy group killing at least five militiamen on Sunday and Monday.

Those reports, from residents who reached relatives in Baghdad by telephone, said the killers called themselves the Thulfiqar Army, after a two-bladed sword that Shiite tradition says was used by the patron saint of Shia, Imam Ali, the martyred son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. The group distributed leaflets in Najaf threatening to kill members of Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army unless they fled Najaf immediately, according to accounts.
If the reports are accurate, this seems confirmation of what I've been saying about Sadr becoming politically isolated and "making it up as he goes along" even as he continues to be a potent symbol of resistance to occupation. It might be said that Sadr had no exit strategy.

Still, I can't call this a positive development; murder never is. In addition, it carries the risk of pushing Sadr into a confrontation: To the extent that there is an instinct in people, "fight" and "flight" are likely equally strong. But all too often, instinct plus pride gives "fight" the clear upper hand. The force that feels its position is deteriorating and sees no alternative to further decline is the force most likely to lash out.

That doesn't mean Najaf will turn into a bloodbath. It only means that the chances have increased.

Speaking to "telling details"

Two brief items relating to the standoff at Najaf indicate the possibility of a dangerous dynamic at work.

On the one side, L. Paul Bremer has claimed
weapons were being stockpiled in mosques, shrines and schools in Najaf and, in a message directed to residents, warned, "The coalition certainly will not tolerate this situation."
In what could only be considered a thinly-veiled (very thinly) threat.
Bremer's spokesman, Dan Senor ... noted that in the case of military action, "those places of worship are not protected under the Geneva Convention" if they are used to store weapons.
It's hard to imagine what effect such a remark is intended to have. Certainly it will have none on Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahti Army.

I suppose it could be for US domestic consumption, intended to prepare us for an attack that would damage Shiite holy places while allowing the White House the out of claiming that "only military targets" were struck. Pre-emptive guiltlessness, as it were.

What I'm really worried about is that the statements were meant for Iraqi domestic audiences, setting them up in exactly the way I just suggested so that when the assault comes and the mosques get bombed, the Shiites will just sit silently, saying to themselves "well, they were legitimate targets." It's truly frightening to think the American hierarchy could be so overwhelmingly stupid, but since it seems that the further you get from the forces on the ground around Najaf (whose immediate commanders seem to have at least some grasp of the delicacy of the situation into which they've been thrust and display no hurry to charge in) the less realistic the views seem to be, I don't find it unlikely.

On the other side of the equation, a disturbing statement from Sadr, via the Iraqi Press Monitor for April 27, quoting the paper of al-Mada institution for Media, Culture, and Arts.
Muqtada al-Sadr warned that "hell fire" will be opened on US forces if they implement their threat to kill or arrest him. "The Americans must know that the people will open the hell fire against them if something happened to me," Sadr said. ... Sadr reiterated his previous threat to use suicide attackers if US forces enter Najaf or Karbala.
What's dangerous about this? Previously, Sadr has said there would be terrible sorts of revenge - specifically, suicide attacks - if US forces attacked the holy cities or if they damaged any of the holy sites. Now, however, he's saying that "hell fire" will result if anything happens to him. It appears he has started to identify "the cause" with his own welfare - that is, if this comment is accurate, he is seeing himself less as an advocate of his cause or even a leader of it than the physical embodiment of it. And that is an inherently dangerous situation because, fully developed, it would mean that any level of death and destruction is tolerable so long as he himself is protected, because the cause lives and dies with him.

I freely admit I'm reaching pretty far here and may be making too much out of too little. (Indeed, a more prosaic explanation suggests itself: Sadr may be feeling the pressure, hemmed in and a little scared, and is trying to threaten the US off. "Touch me and my big brother will whomp you!" That actually fits better with my previous thoughts that he's realized he overplayed his hand.) But it does concern me, because it's hardly an unknown progression from believing in a cause to being a leader of a cause to being a symbol of a cause (the point at which Sadr is now) to believing you are the cause.

Fallujah continues to be bloodier, but I still believe Najaf is much more dangerous to the future of Iraq and the lives of both Iraqis and Americans (and other foreigners).

Footnote: That progression is even something we've seen here, albeit not in an overtly bloody way: There is reason to believe that the why of Watergate was rooted in the conviction of the clique surrounding (and including) Richard Nixon that the "great things" they were doing would be undermined if he didn't get a second term. That lead to a deliberate attempt to undermine the democratic process. The means are more subtle - massive PR secured through a docile media rather than outright criminality - but the same sort of notion in a more extreme form seems to drive the Bushites.

Rule of thumb in dealing with governments: When in doubt, doubt

You'll have to excuse me if I don't put too much faith in the televised "confession" of two accused al-Qaeda plotters in Jordan. As AP had it,
Azmi al-Jayousi, identified as the head of the Jordanian cell of al-Qaida, appeared Monday in a 20-minute taped program and described meeting Jordanian militant Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi in neighboring Iraq to plan the foiled plot.

A commentator said the plotters wanted to kill "80,000" Jordanians and had targeted the prime minister's office, intelligence headquarters and the U.S. Embassy. ...

Images of what the commentator said were vans filled with blue jugs of chemical explosives were included in the broadcast. ...

Government officials have said the suspects plotted to detonate a powerful bomb targeting Jordan's secret service and use poison gas against the prime minister's office, the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions. Had the bomb exploded, it could have killed at least 20,000 people and wrecked buildings within a half-mile radius, the officials have said.
Now, I suppose there could have been some kind of plot, but it seems to me there are a number of reasons to suspect something is not right here.

First is the amount of devastation supposedly to be caused. A bomb that would have "wrecked buildings within a half-mile radius" is one hell of a big bomb. Maybe someone here with more expertise in explosives could explain, but from what I know I can't see how they intended to deliver such a device undetected. Perhaps to forestall any analysis of the claim, the report mentioned "blue jugs of chemical explosives" but, as the BBC noted on April 26, didn't say what those chemicals were. (And why specifically "blue" jugs? Is that one of those "telling details" that are used to add verisimilitude to a description?)

It's also worth remembering that the Oklahoma City bombing, which involved 2-1/2 tons of ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel oil packed into a van, killed 168 people - and the Madrid bombings, which were caused by a total of 10 "backpack" bombs on four rush-hour trains, killed about 200. Not only did they cause nowhere near the physical damage Jordanian authorities claimed would arise out of the foiled plot, the potential death toll those officials offered is literally two orders of magnitude (that is, 100 times) greater.

The projected death toll from the poison gas attacks to follow - apparently 60,000 - should also raise a few eyebrows. Recall that when the Japanese apocalyptic cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas into the Tokyo subway system at the height of a Monday morning rush hour on March 20, 1995, it sickened thousands - but only 12 died. "Only," of course, here being a relative term, a contrast to the tens of thousands projected by the Jordanians.

(Sidebar: Robert Jay Lifton's book Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism is a valuable read.)

Even the worst chemical and poison gas atrocity of modern times, Saddam Hussein's coordinated, large-scale assault on the Kurdish town of Halabja on March 16, 1988, killed 5,000 - 1/12 of what Jordan says was in store there. Admittedly, if the attacks were to be in Amman, as seems to be the implication, proportionately the death toll would be half that of Halabja, which some might claim makes the Jordanians' figure at least reasonable. However, the fact that Halabja was not a surreptitious, uncontrolled release but a day-long military attack would seem to outweigh that kind of reasoning.

Then there's this:
Airing suspects' confessions before their trial is unusual in Jordan. In 1998, six men accused of affiliation with a militant group confessed on television to planting a bomb that exploded outside an Amman hotel. Five years later, a court found them innocent.
So what is the point of what seem to me outlandish claims? Well, it
may be an attempt to answer critics who claim the government has exaggerated the terror danger to justify tightening security.
That is, they've been taking their cues from the White House.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Now we know for sure that genuine progress is being made in integrating Iraq into the world economy. From "al-Nahdhah," a daily newspaper issued by Adnan al-Pachachi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and head of the Independent Democrats Movement, via the Iraqi Press Monitor for April 27:
A medical source revealed that symptoms of mad cow disease exist in Iraq, declaring that field visits to some Iraqi neighbourhoods affirmed the existence of the disease. About procedures taken to avoid mad cow, the source advised stopping imports of meat from countries known for having that disease. He added that Iraq has lately became an open market, and is increasingly liable to seeing its animals infected. He urged breeders to slaughter their animals in licensed slaughter houses after having them medically tested.
Welcome back to the community of (free-market) nations, Iraq!


What is 206?

The Body Human for $600

One of the main functions of this organ pair is to filter out waste from the blood.

Footnote to the preceding

Even as Shrub stomps around the country, calling the TRAITOR - I mean PATRIOT - Act a vital part of defending ourselves against terrorist attacks,
a new consensus appears to be emerging ... that would scale back some of the act's more controversial provisions - or at least require more judicial oversight as authorities apply the act's broad surveillance powers,
says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Provisions that are the most controversial include vastly expanded powers to access personal information such as library and medical records (and barring those who turn over the information from telling the target about it), allowing for searches of property without telling the owner (the so-called "sneak and peek" searches), and permitting "roving wiretaps" and nationwide search warrants.

At least four states and 270 communities have passed resolutions calling for parts of the TRAITOR Act to be repealed, and that sentiment appears to be growing.
A recent poll by the nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government found that most Americans, 56 percent, considered the Patriot Act a net plus for the country. But half also expressed concern about how the act is being applied and wanted Congress to examine it carefully before deciding whether to renew its key provisions.
There is legislation to undo some of the more egregious parts of the TRAITOR Act but it's unlikely to be acted on before Congress takes up renewal of the law, which House Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) says won't happen before next spring. (Sidebar: Interestingly, Shrub undoubtedly knows this, which allows him to go around in his superpatriot garb, calling for action to "keep us safe," while knowing he doesn't face the risk of an actual Congressional debate on the matter.)

Footnote to the footnote: The political coalition formed to support changes in the Act includes the ACLU, the American Conservative Union, the American Library Association, and Gun Owners of America. What did I just say about strange mixtures?

The following post is brought to you courtesy of the PATRIOT Act

In Boise, Idaho, a Saudi Arabian graduate student named Sami Omar al-Hussayen is being tried in a heavily-guarded courtroom, charged with conspiracy to support terrorism by having provided "expert guidance or assistance" to terrorist groups.

The basis of the charge?
As a Web master to several Islamic organizations, Mr. Hussayen helped to maintain Internet sites with links to groups that praised suicide bombings in Chechnya and in Israel,
says Saturday's New York Times.

Yes, you read it right. He's charged with being a webmaster. Not with being involved in suicide bombings, not with assisting in suicide bombings, not even with endorsing suicide bombings, not even with being webmaster of sites that endorsed suicide bombings - but with being webmaster of sites that had links to other sites that endorsed suicide bombings.

In short, guilt by association - once removed.

The provision under which Hussayen is charged was found unconstitutionally vague and broad in a case in Los Angeles earlier this year, but the decision did not cover Idaho.

The Times notes that
Idaho, one of the most Republican states, has become an unlikely home of opposition to the act.

The state's senior senator, the Republican Larry E. Craig, and Representative C. L. Otter, also a Republican, have sponsored bills to amend the act, which they have called a threat to civil liberties.
But perhaps not so unlikely: It's long seemed to me that civil liberties is an area where left and right mix and match (and divide) in sometimes-odd ways. True conservatives - as opposed to the wacko wingnuts that populate the right these days - are generally wary of government power and thus hesitant to endorse any expansion of it. That leads them to some genuinely paranoid racist and xenophobic notions as well as a passive endorsement of corporate exploitation and personal bigotry - but it also leads them to oppose such proposals as national ID cards, huge government databases of personal information, and interventionist foreign policies.

It was 20 years ago that I was running for Congress as a member of the Socialist Party USA and found myself being endorsed by the local chapter of the Libertarian Party. The decision was explained to the membership on the grounds that there are two kinds of socialists: one that believes in unlimited government power and the other that believes in human liberty but is naive about economics. I, they said, was one of the latter. I accepted the endorsement, noting as I did that I would say the same about them.

The following post is brought to you courtesy of NAFTA

As reported by CNN on Sunday:
Santa Ana, California - More than 100 brands of candy sold in California, most of them from Mexico, have tested positive for dangerous levels of lead in the past decade and little has been done about it, a newspaper reported.

In nearly every case, the candy - mostly marketed to Latino kids - stayed on store shelves and no action was taken against the Mexican manufacturers, the Orange County Register reported in Sunday's editions, citing state and federal records.

The public was rarely informed of test results, the newspaper found. ...

State officials said they lack the resources to tackle the problem and have little jurisdiction over Mexican candy manufacturers.
Mexican government officials said they were unaware of the presence of the lead until the newspaper brought it to their attention. Note that under NAFTA it is difficult to enforce US standards on imported products so long as those products meet the standards of the country of origin. Trying to do so runs the risk of having the attempt be labeled a "non-tariff trade barrier."

Speaking of George Orwell... I was a few posts back, does the word "thoughtcrime" ring any bells?
Prosser, WA (AP, April 26) - Secret Service agents questioned a high school student about anti-war drawings he did for an art class, one of which depicted President Bush's head on a stick.

Another pencil-and-ink drawing portrayed Bush as a devil launching a missile, with a caption reading "End the war - on terrorism."

The 15-year-old boy's art teacher at Prosser High School turned the drawings over to school administrators, who notified police, who called the Secret Service. ...

The school district disciplined him, but district officials refused to say what the punishment was. ...

The drawing that drew the most notice showed a man in what appeared to be Middle Eastern-style clothing, holding a rifle. He was also holding a stick with an oversize head of the president on it.

The student said the head was enlarged because it was intended to be an effigy, Cravens said. The caption called for an end to the war in Iraq. ...

[Prosser Superintendent Ray] Tolcacher insisted it was not a freedom of speech issue, but a concern over the depiction of violence.
Liars and hypocrites. They "disciplined" him? What the flaming hell for? This didn't have a damn thing to do with violence or threats or "legitimate concern" or any of the rest of that lying crap. This is about thought control, about America uber alles.

You don't agree? Well, just ask yourself this: If the one drawing portrayed an Arab-looking man as the devil firing a rocket with a caption "Fight Terrorism," if the other showed George Bush with an effigy of Saddam Hussein's head on a stick with a caption something like "Got Him!" do you think any of this would have happened?

There's an old Chinese proverb that says "some questions need only be asked."

Monday, April 26, 2004


What is the "Gates of Hell?"

The Body Human for $200

Of 106, 206, or 306, the number of bones the average adult has.

Hold harmless or homeless

From the Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) comes a sign of the times.

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) is a subdivision of the state of Colorado which runs public transportation in and around Denver. It apparently had been having trouble with one of its employees, one Renita Bell, to the point where she was suspended for five days and asked to sign a work performance promise in order to return.

She refused, did not return to work, and applied for unemployment. She was turned down because the officials of the unemployment agency decided that her refusal to sign and subsequent leaving amounted to insubordination. She sued.

Sounds like one of those cases the right-wing, torch-carrying, mob likes to point to about "stupid lawsuits," right?

Except for one thing: The performance promise she was told to sign
also required Bell to waive her legal rights to appeal RTD's decisions about her or to sue the transportation agency over job issues.
That was too much for the Colorado Court of Appeals, which ruled Thursday that employees can't be required to sign away their legal rights in order to keep their jobs. It sent the case back to the unemployment bureau for reconsideration.

Well, good for the court - but what does it say about the state of things when neither her employer nor the unemployment bureau saw anything improper about that provision?

Footnote: Thanks to Alternative Press Review for the tip.

Slowly I turned, step by step....

Again, what can't be done openly is being done by stealth. This example is provided by Declan McCullagh, Washington correspondent for CNET, in an April 19 column on ZDNet.

In 1994, Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) because of concerns that then-emerging technologies such as cellular phones and three-way calling weren't covered by legislation allowing for wiretapping of conversations.

At the time, it was made abundantly clear that the law applied to telephones and telephones only.
"So what we are looking for is strictly telephone - what is said over a telephone?" Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., asked.

[Then-FBI Director Louis] Freeh replied: "That is the way I understand it. Yes, sir."

A House of Representatives committee report prepared in October 1994 is emphatic, saying CALEA's requirements "do not apply to information services such as electronic-mail services; or online services such as CompuServe, Prodigy, America Online or Mead Data (Central); or to Internet service providers."
In fact Freeh had earlier attempted to include internet services in the new law, but Congress rejected it.

Now the FBI is back, trying to get the feds to require providers of broadband, Internet telephony, and instant-messaging services to build in backdoors to make it easy for government eavesdroppers to listen in. Are they asking Congress for legislative authority? Of course not - that could spark public debate, especially since there are a lot of politically-adept bitheads who really value their internet privacy.

So despite the legislative history, despite the clear Congressional intent, the FBI and the DEA are claiming that CALEA gives the FCC the authority to in effect require a rewrite of the internet for the benefit of the federal snoops - and they're pressing the agency to move on their dema - er, "request" - for vastly broadened powers of surveillance with little public input, or, more exactly, before the public catches on.

Okay, so Orwell was British. But he had an American spirit.

Twenty years down the line

The United Kingdom has launched a trial of what is ultimately intended to be a national ID card, using 10,000 volunteers. So reports the BBC today.

The argument, to what I expect is no one's surprise, is that it will deter terrorism. Home Secretary David Blunkett warned darkly that without them, Britain would become a "soft touch" for terrorists.

But of course such cards do little if anything to prevent domestic attacks.
Terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson, of St Andrew's University, said he was not convinced ID cards would aid the battle against terrorism.

He said: "The majority of the 11 September hijackers were travelling under their own names, so they wouldn't have been picked up by an ID system and, of course, the al-Qaeda network is particularly good at finding ways of getting people across borders."
Even Blunkett knows this, admitting that only 35% of accused terrorists used false identities.

So what's the real point? The same as always: control. The biometric data to be included on the cards, to the extent that it actually works as intended, enables you to be tracked pretty much through anything you do:
By 2013 - when ministers are due to decide whether to make the ID cards compulsory for everyone - 80% of the population is expected to hold either a biometric passport or driving licence.

If they are made compulsory, cards will have to be produced to access a range of public services including the NHS and benefits.
Ministers have also talked about the card helping to crack down on ID fraud (which would mean attaching it to all license applications and bank and credit card accounts, at minimum) and illegal working (job applications) - with areas such as schooling an obvious and logical extension.

The opposition has largely focused on the cost, whether it will work, and whether the government could effectively manage a database containing identifying information about 60 million people

How about that this is something that supposedly free nations simply don't do?

George Orwell was British, you know.

The Fallujah ceasefire

Now you see it...
US military commanders have postponed a major offensive against Iraqi fighters in the besieged city of Falluja.

Instead, US marines will begin joint patrols with Iraqi security forces under a new plan agreed between US forces and Iraqi negotiators.

- BBC News, Monday, April 26, 12:26 GMT you don't.
US marines and Iraqi insurgents have been engaged in a prolonged fire fight in the city of Falluja despite a new ceasefire agreement at the weekend.

More than 100 Iraqi fighters are said to have attacked a US patrol, killing one marine and injuring eight.

- BBC News, Monday, April 26, 19:21 GMT
Footnote: Another one of those footnotes that are longer than the post they are a footnote to. The second article also notes that
the local council has appealed to the United Nations to investigate allegations of war crimes by American forces.

At a meeting with UN officials in Jordan, members of Falluja's council said American forces had used cluster bombs against civilians there, and their snipers had shot dead non-combatants during the recent truce.

They also called for UN mediation in talks with the Americans aimed at ending the fighting.
Two things here, one being the obvious one of the charge of war crimes, which I will deal with more fully in a future post. I'll just say here that it's about time it was said out loud on the ground in Iraq, by people who can't be immediately dismissed as wild-eyed, US-hating terrorists. The very fact that the charge is made by the people the US forces have been negotiating with in search of a ceasefire in Fallujah should gives their voices some level of credibility in the Western, most importantly the US, media. It probably won't, but it should.

However, what I really wanted to note here is the more subtle point that this is another indication of the willingness of much of Iraq's local civic government to deal through the UN. The UN has a legitimacy in Iraq which the US simply does not and cannot.

Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine the UN being involved in a truly constructive - which would require impartial - way. So far it has served more as cover for US interests than as an independent body. The Security Council won't (because it can't) pass anything the US finds contrary to it's interests and while Kofi Annan could try an end run around the Council by offering the good offices of the Secretariat as a mediator in Iraq, I frankly don't see him doing that. If nothing else, I expect he's going to be rather preoccupied with the emerging claims about scandal and kickbacks in the Iraq oil-for-food program.

Still, better a small chance than none.

It Came From Beneath the Geek

New evidence that life emerged early on Earth has come from an international group of geologists studying rocks in South Africa, the Beeb for April 22 tells us.

The evidence consists of microscopic tubes - averaging just 4 micrometers across and 50 micrometers long (i.e., 4x50 millionths of a meter) - found in volcanic glass dating from 3.5 billion years ago. They were caused, the researchers say, by microbes eating their way into rocks that formed as lava oozed out and cooled.

Recently-made microtubules have been discovered previously and the idea that they were caused by rock-eating microorganisms is shown by the fact that the tubules contain nucleic acids and elevated levels of carbon and nitrogen. The tubules in this case also contain carbon, which the researchers say is organic, noting that the surrounding volcanic rock contains very little carbon.

Key to the discovery is the fact that the fine structure of the tubules show that they were overgrown by a metamorphic mineral called chlorite, the result of volcanic glass being subjected to pressure and thus heat. What that showed is that the tubules are much older than the chlorite and thus could not have been made "recently" in geologic terms.

The discovery adds weight to the belief that life on Earth emerged as long as 3.7 billion years ago.

Sunday, April 25, 2004 this

This is from CBS News for April 22.
All Ryan Allen wanted was a Chevrolet Cavalier.

Instead, a computer lent him a brand new identity as one of the alleged masterminds of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

On April 10, when Van Chevrolet in Kansas City checked his credit, Allen's Social Security number came up as belonging to Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, described by federal authorities as a senior al Qaeda operative suspected of helping to coordinate the Sept. 11 attacks.
The FBI was called but it expressed little interest, since al-Shibh was arrested two years ago in Pakistan and is now in prison.

Allen says
he has received no clear explanation of how his number could be connected to al-Shibh. And he said Treasury officials could not assure him the number wasn't used in other ways or that the problem would not recur.

"At one point (the Treasury Department) told me my name might have come up because the consonants are the same as this other guy," Allen said Wednesday. "Come on, Little Bo Peep is closer to his name than mine."

John Garlinger, a spokesman for the Kansas City region of Social Security, ... said Allen may continue to have troubles, particularly if he wants to travel overseas.

"It's unfortunate that he may spend hours and hours and hours trying to recover from this," Garlinger said.
Too bad he isn't a rich foreign traveler; he'd have Colin Powell lobbying for him.

Want to know how you rate? Compare this...

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 22 European nations plus Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore to enter the US for up to 90 days without a visa. In 2002, in the flood of security concerns, Congress passed legislation requiring those visitors to use new passports with (supposedly) more secure means of identification and tracking such as digitized facial recognition and fingerprints. They were supposed to be in use by October 26 of this year.
Washington, April 21 (New York Times) - The Bush administration sent two of its top officials to Congress on Wednesday to argue for giving 27 allies more time to develop high-technology passports for security screening, rather than forcing their citizens to apply for United States visas until the new passports are available.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told the House Judiciary Committee that most of the countries needed two more years to develop the passports....

[Mr. Ridge] and Mr. Powell outlined other reasons for seeking the extension, including the impact the current deadline would have on the American tourism industry and on consular staff offices suddenly facing a surge in visa requests. Mr. Powell said failure to move the deadline would lead to five million additional applications, a 70 percent increase in demand for nonimmigrant visas and certain delays in processing that would discourage people from visiting the United States.
In other words, faced with the choice between protecting "national security" and protecting the tourism industry, the bucks have to keep flowing. We can invade Iraq, we can imprison Muslims without trial, we can deport them for the tiniest offenses, but dammit, we are not going to hinder some European business executive on holiday!


What is Jupiter?


This unfinished Rodin work depicts scenes from Dante's "Inferno" on two bronze doors.

The devil's in the details

On Thursday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the heart of the government's case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the self-confessed Osama bin Laden loyalist accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Previously, the District Court had ruled the government could neither seek the death penalty nor present evidence related to 9/11 as a penalty for its refusal to produce three witnesses in its custody which Moussaoui said could demonstrate his innocence.

The Circuit Court has tossed out that penalty but in a partial victory for the defense did say that the three could provide written statements in a form to be determined.

Does all that seem oh so wonderfully reasonable, fair, equitable, cleverly balancing "national security" and "fair trial?" Well, I suppose that's what we're supposed to think and is probably what the members of the Circuit Court do think.

But -
Robert Precht, assistant dean for public service at the University of Michigan law school, called the ruling "a very pragmatic decision. The court of appeals affirms that the Constitution applies in terrorism cases.

"But having said that, the court said that ... we don't have to impose these severe penalties for the government's failure to abide by the Constitution."
Precht, that is, also praises the decision - but inadvertently reveals the core of the danger we face: There should be no penalty on the government, he says, for violating the Constitution. Oh, it still applies, and oh, yes, indeed, courts can order the White House to obey it, but if they refuse? :shrug: No penalty.

No penalty. No penalty for ignoring court orders. No penalty for violating the Constitution. No penalty.

Sleep well.

Please let this be posturing

The words were measured, the intent, it would seem, to be reassuring, when Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling announced on Sunday that
troops will move into a base on the edge of the holy city of Najaf that Spanish troops will abandon when they withdraw from Iraq in the coming weeks. But the Americans will remain away from holy sites - an effort to avoid outraging Iraq's Shiite majority, which opposes any U.S. foray near their most sacred shrine.
Don't worry, the message seemed to be, we're not doing anything provocative, we're only filling a space where troops had already been, a former Spanish base between Kufa and Najaf.

But they just couldn't contain themselves, could they? They just couldn't do it.
Hertling said the move aimed to increase pressure on al-Sadr and his militia.

"It's not going to be large-scale fighting, the likes of other places," he said. But "we're going to drive this guy into the dirt."
Please let this just be posturing for domestic US consumption. Please.

Now, frankly, I suspect it was exactly that, posturing for our benefit. Or at the very least I hope it is, because the alternative is rather too awful. But since the word "patience" does, amazingly, seem to have entered the military vocabulary both in Najaf and Fallujah, and as the generals have learned a rather bloody lesson that they can't just "send in the Marines" and have all opposition fold up and run away, I have some confidence that as long as other events don't intrude and as long as the US political scene is not demanding "action! action!" the blood will stay were it belongs for now, which is inside people's bodies.

In fact, as I noted on Monday,
nothing has defused the immediate crisis more than the US simply declining to attack Najaf,
and that seems even truer now, when the situation is tense but stable and there are signs emerging that Sadr is wearing out his welcome. The Christian Science Monitor says resentment of the militias is "simmering under the surface" in Najaf and quotes the owner of a small textile business this way:
"These militias have become the major obstacle to our prosperity," says Mr. [Nabil] Mahdi. "If Saddam taught us one thing, it's to love peace. And now these people, not the Americans, won't let us have it."
That doesn't mean, CSM notes, "that Najaf's people will soon deal with Sadr on their own." But it does connect to the fact that on
Thursday, a group of 25 tribal leaders issued a statement in Najaf calling on all armed groups in the city to disband. "We call upon you to leave matters to Iraqi officials and legitimate authorities so that the blood of innocent people is not shed," the statement said.

[However, i]t's unclear how much influence the statement will have. Iraq's tribes are crucial political factors inside Iraq, but they are not homogenous.
Still, it does indicate that al-Sadr is gradually becoming more isolated. And not just physically in Najaf, but generally politically:
[T]he Advisory Council in Karbala asked for an end of any militarisation in the city, and of efforts to change mosques and other places of worship into military, party, or sectarian headquarters. Observers understood this as a message to followers of Muqtada al-Sadr who gather in mosques.
That from al-Mashriq, published daily by Al-Mashriq Institution for Media and Cultural Investments, as relayed by the Iraqi Press Monitor for Thursday.

So what does all this mean? Is Sadr "finished?" Has the US "won?" No, of course not, in fact the words are meaningless in this context. What is clear is that Sadr overplayed his hand and the choice now is between giving him a way out and marking ourselves in the eyes of Iraqis as being even more of brutes and Crusaders than we already appear.

This is what I said about Sadr oh so long ago, on April 8:
I expect that the fighting will die down, perhaps with some face-saving agreement about releasing people seized "now that the situation is stabilized" and a vaguely-worded guarantee to Sadr about there being "no plans to take him into custody at the present time." For his part, I think that Sadr is going to realize that in the absence of that non-occurring general uprising, his people are going to be ground down - slowly, perhaps, but still ground down - by the sheer mass of the overwhelming numbers and firepower they face. I see him announcing an end to the fighting in a way that doesn't constitute any sort of surrender, perhaps something along the lines of "we have bloodied the enemy's nose, let us give him a chance to consider his error," at which point his militia melts back into the general population.
I still expect something along those lines except that it's possible that Sadr has waited too long to call backing off any kind of ceasefire; he'd have to find some other face-saving formulation, perhaps "out of respect for the expressions of concern of religious leaders and my fellow clerics" or something.

But as I noted then, what's important about Sadr is that he exposed for all to see the deep divisions, the deep distrust, even the deep hatred, among Iraqis for US forces and the US occupation. By attacking Najaf, US forces would only worsen that.

Not attacking will not, however, make it better. Only getting out will do that.

In case you missed it

On Thursday, I mentioned that a press release from the Republican National Committee and a statement on the stationery of the IRS used exactly the same pro-Bush language. One R. Davis, commenting on that post, noted that he/she had posted an article showing how some press releases from the IRS had equally if not more outrageously propagandistic language.

The article, definitely worth checking out, can be found here.

Update: Common Cause has taken notice and is promoting an email campaign to complain to the Treasury Department about this. You can check it out and add your voice here.


Oh, how I wish I could have been there.
Washington (AP, April 25) - Abortion-rights supporters marched in the hundreds of thousands Sunday, galvanized by what they see as an erosion of reproductive freedoms under President Bush and policies that hurt women worldwide.

Amid the clamor of an election year, the throng of demonstrators flooded the National Mall. ...

Women joined the protest from across the nation and from nearly 60 countries, asserting that damage from Bush's policies is spreading far beyond U.S. shores through measures such as the ban on federal money for family-planning groups that promote or perform abortions abroad.

The rally on the National Mall stretched from the base of the U.S. Capitol about a mile back to the Washington Monument. Authorities no longer give formal crowd estimates, but various police sources informally estimated the throng at between 500,000 and 800,000 strong.
A half-million or more. My oh my that must have been something to see and would mark it as one of the biggest single marches this country has ever seen.

Personally, I'm not that concerned about Roe v. Wade being overturned. That is, I don't think an outright reversal is likely. First because, despite mythology to the contrary, the Supreme Court is not unaffected by the tenor of the times and such a decision would be very controversial and very unpopular: Even though a majority of Americans express personal discomfort with the idea of abortion, they still oppose outlawing it.

Second and perhaps more important, the Court is generally loath to outright reverse previous decisions and has pretty much done it under rather extraordinary circumstances, such as striking down "separate but equal" as a Constitutionally-acceptable principle. The fact that this Court has had more than one opportunity to strike down Roe but has declined to do so seems to back that up.

What I'm more concerned about is what's been happening: The gradual erosion not of the theoretical legal right to abortion but of real-world access to it. Notification requirements, waiting periods, additional record-keeping regulations, gag rules, mandated "counseling" which was nothing other than an attempt to force doctors to talk women out of abortions, all kinds of bureaucratic hindrances to obtaining the procedure that have to one degree or another found favor in the courts and that together threaten to reduce the right to abortion to an empty shell.

Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, made the point well:
"The march is about the totality of women's lives and the right to make decision about our lives," she said.
And that extends far beyond the bounds of Roe v. Wade and is a struggle that will not be resolved in November.

Footnote: The DC police stopped giving estimates of crowd sizes when it finally became too notorious for downplaying the size of antiwar gatherings. If previous experience holds in the case of "informal" estimates, it's safe to say that over a million took part. Far f'ing out.

Update to the footnote: The march organizers, "using standard crowd estimate methods," came up with a figure of 1,150,000. They described the event as the "largest ever for women's rights rally in the nation's capitol." I think there are a couple of unnecessary qualifiers there.

I'll say it again: Oh, how I wish I could have been there.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

And so it goes....

The attempt to reunify Cyprus in advance of its entry in the European Union has failed, reports Saturday's International Herald Tribune.

Acceptance of the plan, devised by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, required that it be approved in separate referendums in the Greek and Turkish areas of the island. The Turkish community, based on early returns, voted in favor of the plan by a margin of better than 2-1. But the Greek islanders rejected it by an even greater margin of more than 3-1. Turnout in both areas approached 90%.

How this developed and how it turned out show the importance of power politics over justice. The island has been divided for just under 30 years, since Turkey used a short-lived, Greek-backed coup to invade and occupy the northern third of the nation. It declared the area an independent republic, a position to date accepted by no other nation on the planet.

In January, it looked for a time like Turkey was tired of the issue and was prepared to withdraw. From that, the latest round of negotiations for unification were born.

But what came out of Annan's hands was a plan that essentially legitimized the Turkish invasion and occupation:
The plan envisages a federation of two politically equal states, one for the 643,000 Greek Cypriots and one for the 180,000 Turks and Turkish Cypriots in the north, under a weak central government.
Not surprisingly, Turkey and Turkish Cypriots were all for the plan while Greek Cypriots were outraged and Greece was ambivalent.

By the time of the voting, the EU, the UN, and the US were all pressuring Greek Cypriots to vote "yes," telling them this would be their last chance and even hinting at diplomatic isolation for the island if the Greek community didn't vote the way the big powers wanted. Clearly, the concern with getting this albatross from around Turkey's neck and being done with this pesky annoyance outweighed the idea of justice.
The rejection of the plan, which had to be approved by both communities, means that only Greek Cypriots will enjoy the benefits when Cyprus joins the European Union on May 1.

The European Commission said it "deeply regrets that the Greek Cypriot community" rejected the plan.

"A unique opportunity to bring about a solution to the long-lasting Cyprus issue has been missed," the commission said in a statement in Brussels.

The commission, the EU's administration, said it wanted to "warmly congratulate Turkish Cypriots for their "yes" vote." It added it would look at ways to promote their development
and talked of finding means to "ease the isolation of Turkish Cypriots."

Might does not make right, but it can make justice for the weak in the face of an indifferent world irrelevant.

Wilkommen is no welcome

An editorial in Saturday's New York Times makes note of the stiffening requirements for obtaining US citizenship.
Background checks are needed, backlogs have increased, and the price of applying for citizenship is set to rise to more than $300 by the end of the month. ... But soon, in what seems to be piling on discouragement and stress for would-be citizens, there will be a revised test of whether applicants possess the knowledge deemed necessary to become an American.
Presently, the Times notes, the test consists of "10 or so questions on presidents, the powers of Congress and the colors of the flag, among other areas." The new test will include multiple choice questions
and will be part oral and part written; applicants will be asked to describe scenes shown in photographs. The stated goal of the Bureau [of Citizenship and Immigration Services], which has taken up the duties of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service as part of the Department of Homeland Security, is to make the test more meaningful.
Bull. What it will make it is more a test of proficiency in English and open the door wide to the same kind of arbitrary, subjective, outright discriminatory judgments that became notorious in the days of "literacy tests" required of those wanting to register to vote in the South. It's a backdoor way to make English the de facto "official language" of the US.

We have never had an official language and seem to have gotten along quite well without one. Despite that, various attempts to make English the official language of the US have been and are being made. They have made some gains in the individual states (one advocacy group says 27 states have some form of "official language" statute) but they have gone nowhere on the national level. So, as so often happens of late, what can't be done openly is done covertly, smiling all the while.

Personally, what I find "meaningful" is that the pressure to create an official language seems to rise and fall in tandem with sweaty-palm concerns about the US becoming more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. More bluntly, it seems that the more Hispanic and Asiatic cultures become part of our nation, the more the cry to "preserve our heritage" and "keep us united" rise. Draw your own conclusion.

Footnote: The Times says a typical question on the current test might ask which amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to vote. (It's the seventh. I didn't know, either.) About 90% of applicants pass the exam. I wonder how many of those who most loudly screech about "preserving our heritage" would?

The laughs keep on coming

On Thursday, the New York Times reports, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission voted to allow employers to reduce or even eliminate health benefits for retirees when they become eligible for Medicare at age 65, claiming it was exercising its statutory authority to carve out a "reasonable exemption" to federal laws barring discrimination on the basis of age.

No law requires employers to pay health benefits to retirees - or anyone, for that matter - but courts have held that if employers offer health benefits to retirees they can't discriminate on the basis of age. The EEOC has now claimed the authority, questioned by some, to allow for exactly that practice.

Some labor unions actually supported the rule, foolishly believing it will improve the chances of maintaining employer-supported health care coverage for current workers. AARP, the sail-trimmer of last fall's Medicare deform, strongly objected to no avail.

So what's the humor in another favor to corporate America? No, I don't mean the rib-tickling implication that Medicare coverage (which generally covers only about half of health-related expenses) is sufficient protection. It's this:
A preamble to the final rule says it "is not intended to encourage employers to eliminate any retiree health benefits they may currently provide."
Oh, those cards. They crack me up. Or break me down. Something.


What is Salzburg?

Rock Me, Amadeus for $2000

"Planetary" nickname of Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C major.

Another bumper sticker I'd like to see

Fight Errorism!
Occupation is Not Liberation!

The Giant Behegeek

And I must say it means so much to me
To be the one who's telling you,
I keep telling you,
That you're beautiful.
- Gordon Lightfoot.
The oldest pieces of jewellery made by modern humans have emerged in Africa.

Shell beads found in Blombos Cave on the southern tip of the continent are 75,000 years old, scientists say.
That the pea-sized shells were used as jewelry seems clear: They were taken from a river 20km away, apparently chosen for size, they all have similar holes in the same place, and show distinctive wear patters indicating they were strung and so rubbed against each other.

The find places the use of jewelry at least 30,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The real significance of the find is that is also pushes back the emergence of symbolic thought at least that far.

Friday, April 23, 2004

34 is young to die

Well, Thursday was Earth Day and you may be wondering why I didn't say anything about it.

What is there to say? Earth Day doesn't exist anymore. It hasn't existed for a number of years. What we have now is Greenwash Day, the annual event where corporate America parades its devotion to the environment by supporting Clean Up The Park events and It's All Your Fault seminars while continuing to dump swill in the water and spread crud in the air.

I remember the very first Earth Day in 1970. I spent a good portion of it with a few college buddies on 14th Street in southern Manhattan - the street was closed for the day - enjoying the displays, the booths, the balloons, the energy, and most of all the joyous intensity of people who knew what they were about, who knew who the villains were, and who were determined to do something about it.

Those were the days when environmental activists were called "communists" who were "out to destroy the American way of life" by some of the same corporations that now kick in a few thousand dollars to get called "official sponsors" of some Earth Day event or another and to place their logo on "official" posters and brochures. (Which is a lot cheaper - i.e., more profitable - than cleaning up their act.)

But early on we would not be silenced or seduced, and environmentalism became a force too strong to be ignored.

So instead it was co-opted with the passive agreement of the environmental hierarchy - the Big Green groups - who eagerly accepted first corporate money and then corporate influence, fantasizing it was a sign of their own importance, stupidly being bought off by PR firms and their greenwashing clients.

As Geoffrey Johnson, program coordinator of the Green Life, a nonprofit environmental group, put it in the New York Times on Thursday,
[t]hrough concerted marketing and public relations campaigns, these "greenwashers" attract eco-conscious consumers and push the notion that they don't need environmental regulations because they are already environmentally responsible. Greenwashing appears in misleading product labels like "all natural" and "eco-friendly"; in television commercials showing S.U.V.'s rolling peacefully through the wilderness; and in the co-opting of environmental buzzwords like "sound science" and "sustainability" - which corporate executives render meaningless through relentless repetition.
The result has been, not at all surprisingly, "Earth" Days that equate environmentalism with reducing litter in parks and put all the blame for environmental problems - and all the burden for their resolution - on individuals, while corporations are ignored, their crimes and pollution forgotten.

Yes, the air and water are on the whole cleaner - in some noted cases, such as Lake Erie and Boston Harbor, much cleaner - than they were those 34 years ago. But such progress has come in spite of corporations, not because of them.

And yes, there is still good, solid, clear-eyed environmental activism, activism that is not afraid to point fingers: locally, around such issues as (for example) power plants and greenfielding versus brownfielding; nationally, looking at, among other things, water quality, mercury pollution, and wetlands; internationally, pressing on climate change, resource depletion, and more.

And yes, again, there are those who have not forgotten that environmental justice is connected to economic justice, that for some the most important environmental issues are rats and municipal trash pickup, that environmental rights must embrace human rights, that the deaths of villagers in Nigeria is one end of a string that reaches to your local Chevron station, and that NIMBY is too often a cover for racism.

But those people, those organizations, those efforts, will not be found in the "official" Earth Day celebrations.

Earth Day is dead. All that's left is a rotting, twitching corpse. We should let it decompose in silence.
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