Saturday, July 31, 2004


Who is Mrs. Howell? (Acceptable: Mrs. Thurston Howell III)

Here on Gilligan's Isle for $2000

Roy Hinkley, the ingenious professor on "Gilligan's Isle," was played on the series by this man.

Misery shared is not better

Both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon have been having their problems of late.

Sharon, having faced down a rebellion in his own party, seems to be winning the public opinion war about his "unilateral disengagement" from Gaza. The center-left parties seem to have thrown in with him despite the ethical shortcomings of the plan, which, as I've argued before, essentially dumps a million-plus people living with a shattered economy into what amounts to a huge gulag. The hope appears to be that against all odds, this actually is a step toward a settlement.

There is still opposition, of course. Somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 protestors
formed a human chain Sunday evening that stretched 90 kilometers [about 56 miles] from the Gaza Strip settlement of Nisanit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to protest the government's disengagement plan,
which must have been a very impressive, very moving demonstration. But there is also pressure from the other direction. In May, an even larger rally took place in Tel Aviv under the slogan "Leave Gaza, Start Talking." For the moment, Sharon, who seems determined to leave Gaza and equally determined to not start talking, is getting at least the beginning of his withdrawal plan through.

Yassir Arafat's problems were more serious, with his own prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, repeatedly offering his resignation amid charges against Arafat of corruption and broken promises of reform, even as militant groups threaten to turn Gaza into a civil war zone. For the moment, he seems to have dodged one of those bullets.
With a kiss on the cheek and smiles all around, [the Toronto Star reported on Wednesday,] Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat yesterday ended his latest political crisis, winning back the fealty of Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia with a renewed promise of long-awaited reforms. ...

The agreement calls for Qureia to assume command of the Palestinian Authority's internal security apparatus, while Arafat will retain control of the intelligence services and armed forces, Palestinian sources said.

The power-sharing formula also calls for Arafat to act on allegations of internal corruption, with a promise that the Palestinian attorney-general will launch investigations. ...

But coming in the wake of multiple earlier promises for reform, it was unclear if the latest plan will amount to anything more than symbolic damage control against 10 days of fractious infighting. ...

Jawad Abu Saleh, a parliamentary dissident and longstanding critic of Arafat, condemned the negotiations as a sideshow wholly divorced from the real needs of Palestinians.

"Unfortunately Arafat will not drink from the glass of change. He will say what he must when he feels the pressure, but as soon as the pressure is off he will return to dictatorship," he said.
Personally, I rather doubt that. One reason is that I think "dictatorship" is hyperbole. Another is that charges of corruption may upon investigation prove to be true but not so damning as some expect (and, it must be said, hope): In the course of describing the horrendous state of the Palestinian economy at a conference earlier this month, Markus Kostner, country coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza department at the World Bank,
credited the PA [Palestinian Authority] with having "a clearer bill of health vis-a-vis financial management" than most countries in the region,
said the Daily Star (Lebanon). But the real point is that Arafat has kept himself in office by an uncanny sense of knowing just how far he can push before he has to back off. This time he backed off faster and further than I think he would have in the past. He knows his position is actually rather tenuous, the more so because an earlier policy shift toward offering concessions to Israel in hopes of a settlement have gained the Palestinians precisely nothing. And they are angry and hurting.
A Western diplomatic source in Ramallah described a mood of utter despair among everyday Palestinians.

"This Palestinian leadership generally has no strategy to deal with the Israelis. It is a huge weakness, and it leaves the Palestinians like abused children. They just keep on taking it, even after they've been beaten to pieces," the diplomat said.

"The only real change we can see is that a red line has been crossed in the past 10 days, with gunmen in Gaza attacking other Palestinian factions," he said.

"Internal violence really has not been a part of Palestinian society until now."
Arafat's remaining influence lies in his position as a symbol, not in the personal power he can bring to bear. Yes, he has a militia but he is outgunned by Israel and very likely by splinter groups among his own people. And besides, just pointing to the size of his militia just makes him one militant leader among many, which undermines his political authority rather than enhances it. So while I'm sure there will be reluctance and resistance, I'm also pretty confident that this time there will some real change if only because Arafat knows he can't afford not to.

Meanwhile, the eruption of "internal violence" on Gaza also points up something else, albeit indirectly: distorted western media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this case, the generally-accepted view put forth by the Israeli government that the violence is all the fault of the Palestinians in general and Arafat in particular, the implication - and sometimes the outright assertion - being that if he just raised his hand and said "stop," all attacks on Israelis would cease. The fact that he has not stopped all attacks, goes the logic, thus proves that they are his responsibility. Logically, the "internal violence" should put a end to that argument. Even if it were to be claimed that the violence is that of Arafat's forces struggling to quell an uprising, it still shows that Arafat can't simply order an end to attacks.

The notion that he can is a perhaps more sophisticated example of the basically unbalanced coverage of the conflict, which repeated media studies have demonstrated.

For example, a number of examinations by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) have noted biases in the way the issue is framed. For example, a press release from last August 22 said that
[w]hen the two Palestinian suicide bombers each killed an Israeli civilian along with themselves on August 12, U.S. news outlets immediately depicted the attacks as an apparent resurgence in Mideast violence. "Summer truce shattered in Israel," announced CBS (8/12/03), while NBC (8/12/03) reported that "the attacks broke more than a month of relative silence." The Los Angeles Times (8/13/03) wrote that the bombings "broke a six-week stretch during which the people of this war-weary land had enjoyed relative quiet."

During this six-week period of "relative quiet," however, some 17 Palestinians were killed and at least 59 injured by Israeli occupation soldiers and settlers, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The dead included Mahmoud Kabaha, a four-year-old boy, who was sitting in the back seat of a jeep with his family at a checkpoint when an Israeli soldier shot him dead - in a spray of bullets that the army simply called an "accidental burst of gunfire" (Associated Press, 7/25/03). Virtually none of the major U.S. news reports on the August 12 bombings alluded to the Palestinian death toll in this period....

[T]he Washington Post and New York Times both put the bombings on their August 13 front pages, each declaring the violence a break from weeks of "relative calm," and each including a front-page photo of the victims' relatives in mourning. USA Today also put grieving relatives on the front page, along with the headline, "Two Suicide Attacks End a Six-Week Lull in Conflict." ...

On CNN, the August 12 bombings were a major story, with eight separate segments mentioning the attacks in a three-hour period. Anchor Wolf Blitzer declared a "grim return to the battle days in Israel and the Palestinian territories."
On the other hand, FAIR noted, when, just four days earlier, five people, four of them Palestinian, were killed in an Israeli raid, it was described by CNN anchor Carol Costello as a "smudge, a bump if you will, on that road map to peace."

That kind of unbalanced description has genuine consequences in public understanding, not only in the US but in the UK as well.
Television news is the main source of information on the Israel-Palestine conflict for about 80% of the population. Yet the quality of what they see and hear is so confused and partial that it is impossible to have a sensible public debate about the reasons for the conflict or how it might be resolved.
So said Greg Philo, one of the authors of a large-scale research study by the Glasgow University Media Group, writing in the Guardian (UK) on July 14. The researchers interviewed 800 people and analyzed coverage of the conflict on around 200 news programs over about 20 months (September 2000 - April 2002). The results show that "there is almost nothing on the news about the history or origins of the conflict and viewers are extraordinarily confused."

In fact, Tom Fenton, senior European correspondent for CBS News, writing about the study on July 19, says that the people, who included US college students studying journalism and media, were asked
"Who is occupying the occupied territories, and what nationality are the settlers?" Fairly simple questions, but only 29 percent knew the correct answers.
Philo went on to say:
[N]ews reports tend to focus on day to day events and, in reporting these, there is a strong emphasis on Israeli perspectives. The research found that Israelis were interviewed or reported more than twice as much as Palestinians. There were also a large number of statements from US politicians who tend to support Israel. They were interviewed twice as much as politicians from Britain.

The language of the "war on terror" is frequently featured and journalists sometimes endorse it in their own speech, as in this example: "That attack [by a Palestinian] only reinforced Israeli determination to drive further into the towns and camps where Palestinians live - ripping up roads around Bethlehem as part of the ongoing fight against terror". (ITV, early evening news in March 2002). This report also illustrates a familiar theme in news coverage whereby the Palestinians are seen to initiate trouble and the Israelis are then presented as "responding".

There are very distinct and different perspectives on this conflict which should be represented on the news. The Israeli authorities and much of the Israeli population see the issue in terms of their security and the survival of the state in the face of threats from terrorists and hostile neighbours. They present their own actions as a retaliation to attacks. The Palestinians see themselves as resisting a brutal military occupation by people who have taken their land, water and homes and who are denying them the possibility of their own state.

The analysis of news content suggests that the first of these perspectives tends to dominate news reporting. Between October and December 2001, for example, on BBC1 and ITV news, Israelis were said to be responding to what had been done to them about six times as often as the Palestinians. ...

There were also differences in the language used for the casualties of both sides. Words such as "mass murder", "atrocity", and "brutal murder", were used to describe the deaths of Israelis, but not Palestinians. The emphasis on the deaths of Israelis was very marked in the coverage. In March 2002, when the BBC noted that the Palestinians had suffered the highest number of casualties in any single week since the beginning of the intifada, there was actually more coverage on the news of Israeli deaths. This again apparently had a strong influence on the understanding of viewers and only a minority questioned knew that Palestinians had substantially higher casualties.
Fenton lists a few specifics. The researchers
point to the way Israeli and Palestinian combatants are labelled in television reports. Palestinians are "activists," "militants," "extremists," "assailants," "gunmen," "bombers," "terrorists," "killers," "assassins," "fundamentalist groups," "attackers," "self-styled Palestinian martyrs" and "fanatics."

Israelis are "soldiers" or "troops," and even when an Israeli group tried to bomb a Palestinian school, they were not "terrorists" but "vigilantes."
And it's not as though there are no Israelis deserving of harsher descriptions. This from the Israeli daily Maariv for July 25:
"Blowing up the Dome of the Rock is a worthy act", Yehuda Etzion, one of the leaders of the Movement of the Temple Mount Loyalists and a former convicted member of the "Jewish underground", has told Army Radio this (Sunday) morning.
(The paper then described Etzion as an "activist." What do you think would have been the term used if a Palestinian had called destroying, say, the Wailing Wall "a worthy act?")

His words "stirred uproar among members of the Knesset," with a member of the dovish Yahad party calling for all Jews to be barred from the Temple Mount to prevent violence and a Likud member urging that "if there are such people who try to undermine the government and wish to carry out such actions, I suggest they be placed under administrative detention."

The article quotes a police official as saying
there have been "quite a few statements made by Jewish extremists as of late regarding a possibility of an attack on the Temple Mount in an attempt to derail the disengagement".
The idea being, as I expect is clear, that such an attack would cause such a violent reaction among Palestinians - not to mention Muslims worldwide - as to break down all possibilities of a negotiated peace, an end the fanatics desire because such a peace would of necessity involve ceding land that they claim rightly belongs to Israel. Some of them are content with demanding all of Judea and Samaria, which they equate with the West Bank - while there are those who insist that God has given to them the right to possess all of what constituted the United Monarchy of David and Solomon, an area that traditionally would include not only all of present-day Israel and the West Bank, but part of the Sinai and serious hunks of present-day Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. (The slogan of the Likud coalition was at least at one time "Both Sides of the Jordan.") I say "traditionally" because the extent of that kingdom has been challenged by modern archaeology, not that it would matter to the nutcases claiming such a right.

The threats of such as Etzion are taken seriously by Israeli authorities. Haaretz said last Sunday that
[t]he Shin Bet security service and the police are preparing for a number of possible terror attack scenarios at the sacred Old City site, Israeli security sources said last night.

Speaking on the Channel Two "Meet the Press" program yesterday, Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi confirmed that the security establishment had identified rising intent among right-wing extremists to carry out a Temple Mount attack.

"There is no information about specific individuals.... But there are troubling indications of purposeful thinking, and not detached philosophy."

Security sources last night said possible actions included an attempt to crash a drone packed with explosives on the Temple Mount, or a manned suicide attack with a light aircraft during mass Muslim worship on the Mount. Other possibilities include an attempt by right-wing extremists to assassinate a prominent Temple Mount Muslim leader, perhaps from the Waqf Islamic trust.
Equally if not more troubling to the security services the belief that, as the Toronto Star reported last week,
Jewish assassins are out there on the religious fringe, preparing a bullet for Ariel Sharon.

It was his second such warning in as many weeks, but this time Shin Bet Director Avi Dichter got specific, telling the government's foreign affairs and defence committee the radical threat includes an almost impenetrable core of as many as 200 militant settlers who will stop at nothing to scuttle Sharon's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Even if it means killing the prime minister.

"Incitement is bubbling. It is already here," Dichter told the committee, citing the extremist pockets of so-called "hilltop youth" who have aggressively resisted Israeli army efforts to dismantle illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank during periodic clashes over the past two years. ...

That a serious threat exists is not in question, according to interviews this week with a wide range of Israelis from across the political spectrum. The acrimonious climate of incitement that preceded the [Yitzhak] Rabin assassination [in 1995] is eerily familiar today in the increasingly fiery pronouncements for and against Sharon's disengagement plan.
Israeli analyst and writer Yossi Klein Halevi, an associate fellow at the Shalem Centre, a Jerusalem think tank, argues that
the single most important difference between the eras of Rabin and Sharon is that a new Israeli consensus is emerging against the settlement movement as a whole.

Halevi's position is borne out by most public opinion polls, including one released yesterday in the Hebrew daily Maariv indicating 61 per cent of Israelis describing themselves as centre-right Likud supporters now agree with Sharon's disengagement plan. Among the general public, 65 per cent favour the plan, versus 29 per cent opposing it.

"There's an old rabbinical expression, 'Don't judge your friend at the moment of his hardship.' And I think that's what most Israelis feel about the settlers right now," said Halevi.

"They are facing the breakdown of everything they based their lives on. Their vision is being repudiated by the majority of Israelis because the price of that dream is too high. In fact, it is unpayable. There is a deep and necessary cruelty in that. We are going to uproot Jews because the alternatives are even worse."
And that makes for a very dangerous and volatile situation under exactly the kinds of emotional conditions that can and do drive people to irrational violence.

These are dangerous times. I hope in the near future I can flesh out some of my own thoughts on the course to take - recognizing up front that no course is without danger, without risk, and no just settlement will be achieved without pain. That is simply the reality in which we find ourselves. But recognizing also that courage can limit the pain and that the pain of continuing injustice will be longer, harsher, and deadlier.

Friday, July 30, 2004


What is the (S.S.) "Minnow?"

Here on Gilligan's Isle for $1200

This character's maiden name was Lovey Wentworth.

Yeah, what he said

Greg Palast pretty much sums it up for me, too.

He first notes how in his acceptance speech, John Kerry waxed poetic about the difficulties of the unemployed and the poor despite having voted for NAFTA, the "No Child's Behind Left" act, a requirement for a balanced budget, and Clinton's welfare "reform." Kerry also criticized the war despite having voted for it. Palast then writes:
I know what you're going to say. "Isn't Bush worse?"

By a long shot. But asking if Kerry is as bad as Bush is like asking if a slap in the face is as painful as a brick to the skull.

But don't you get tired of being slapped around by privileged politicos on hypocrisy hyper-drive - then having to applaud? It can't be pleasant, no matter how many pretty balloons they drop on your head.
Eyes wide open, folks. A Kerry win does not mean happy days are here again.

Just a quick heads up

Here's some more straight talk from the man through who God speaks.

Welcome to side six

Last Saturday, in talking about the baleful gaze of the warhawks now being aimed at Iran, I noted that one of things that was being pointed to was the finding of the 9/11 Commission that as many as 10 of the attackers had passed through Iran without having their passports stamped.

Now comes columnist/cartoonist Ted Rall (link via Information Clearinghouse), who noted on Tuesday that for a country to not stamp certain passports is not an uncommon practice, one usually done to enable travelers to avoid undue hassles at a later stop or on returning home. (If the column is not on the home page, click on July 27 on the calendar.)
When U.S. citizens arrive at Havana, the Cubans don't stamp their passports. When tens of thousands of Americans come back home to the U.S., they tell immigration that they were in Mexico or Canada instead. Which they were - to change planes.

Israel offers a similar courtesy. "Do you plan to visit any Muslim countries?" customs clerks ask travelers at Tel Aviv. If the answer is positive, they affix the visa stamp to a separate piece of paper. ...

For reasons ranging from economic dependence upon migrant labor (hello Rio Grande!) to religion and politics, numerous nations fail to document the movement of foreign nationals through their territory. Sometimes, for reasons no one asks and nobody tells, border guards don't bother to stamp a passport upon entry from abroad. It's happened several times to me at JFK in New York. ...

Iran doesn't stamp Saudi passports for good reason: the Saudi government, dominated by Wahhabi Sunni extremists, despises Shia Iran. Viewing Shiites as pseudo-Islamic heretics more contemptible than infidels, the Saudi regime takes a dim view of those who travel to Iran - a fact that Iranian customs takes into account when welcoming Saudi visitors so they don't get into trouble back home.
It also bears repeating, as I noted on Saturday, that the finding was based on a single memo and the CIA says it has no evidence that Iran was involved in 9/11. (Pointing to findings of CIA incompetence doesn't change anything; there is still no evidence. And if "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," even less is it evidence of presence.) One additional thing to point out is that the dates involved in the alleged incidents were 1990 and 1991, 10 years before the attacks.

Thursday, July 29, 2004


What is Pittsburgh?

Here on Gilligan's Isle for $400

It's the ship that shipwrecks.

Making a different point

Updated Buzzflash's headlines over on the right margin here directed me to this story, but I think they missed the important point.
Washington (Reuters) - A campaign worker for President Bush said on Thursday American workers unhappy with low-quality jobs should find new ones - or pop a Prozac to make themselves feel better.

"Why don't they get new jobs if they're unhappy - or go on Prozac?" said Susan Sheybani, an assistant to Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt. ...

When told the Prozac comment had been overheard, Sheybani said: "Oh, I was just kidding."
Buzzflash pointed to the Prozac remark, which certainly was insensitive. But I suppose I can believe Sheybani was kidding.

What struck me harder was the "just get new jobs" business. What a remarkable disconnect between Susan Sheybani's world and the world most of us have to live in. Just get a new job! Sure, why not? You can flip burgers for Wendy's as well as for McDonald's. You can get ripped off of your breaks and overtime at almost any big box store, you don't need to be stuck with Wal-Mart. You can not have health insurance most anywhere these days.

Don't like your dead-end, low-wage, no-benefit job? Just get a different dead-end, low-wage, no-benefit job. What's the matter with you?

These people have no f'ing clue.

Footnote, just a reminder: Nearly 1.1 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office in January 2001.

Updated to note that Sheybani apparently got her start through an internship with the American Enterprise Institute. I guess that's actually not that much of a surprise. Check out the comments for another bit of her background.

This sent me straight to the tub of ice cream with a spoon in my hand

Today's Boston Globe gives the sad and fearful news that
[a] federal judge ruled yesterday that MBTA security forces are justified in searching the bags of all passengers on the Orange Line as the subway approaches the site of this week's Democratic National Convention, rejecting a request by two groups trying to halt the practice.

Teams of armed police officers have been boarding Orange Line trains all week at the Haymarket and Bunker Hill Community College stations, asking riders to open their bags.

The National Lawyers Guild and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed a request for an injunction in federal court Tuesday, alleging the onboard inspections violated the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches.

But US District Court Judge George A. O'Toole ruled that the searches are limited in scope and duration, that riders were notified about the policy, and that security measures are legitimately extended from airports to mass transit systems, given the general terrorist threat.
What a crock of shit. What a flaming, disgraceful, disgusting, twisted, contemptible crock of shit. I don't recall anywhere in the Constitution where it says "no unreasonable searches - except if we decide otherwise." I don't recall reading any footnotes saying that "this provision does not apply anytime some power-hungry jackasses want to manipulate your fears with reports of 'threats' so vague and generalized as to be useless." I don't recall any later amendment empowering local police to override the 4th amendment because they find it inconvenient to follow it.

The decision related to a specific subway line during a specific time, but if you think that's all there is to it, you're a fool. Last week, the MBTA started random searches of bags along all the other lines, something I noted in a pre-convention post on June 8.
MBTA officials said they have not decided whether those searches will continue.

O'Toole "affirmed that we had a compelling reason" to search passenger bags as a deterrent against terrorism, said Michael Mulhern, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. "Post-DNC, we need to evaluate."

Mulhern said that it's "doubtful" the T will conduct random searches. But if law enforcement officials raise the threat levels or provide information about possible planned attacks, he said, searches could be initiated.
"Evaluate?" "Doubtful?" Let's translate: The Boston police department, having gotten approval of a wholesale dumping of the 4th Amendment during the Democratic convention, is seriously considering making "random" searches of passengers using public transit a routine practice and intends to use O'Toole's lamebrain decision and the constant flow of vaporous "threats" to justify it.

Exceptions to the 4th Amendment were supposed to be based on "individuated suspicion," that is, a reasonable belief that the particular person or place was suspicious in a manner and to a degree that justified the invasion of privacy involved. General searches, whether random or of everyone in a place, clearly violate that principle and undermine - indeed eviscerate - the Constitutional protections.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Footnote: I don't even get to post it before I get confirmation. The Boston Herald, the city's equivalent of the New York Post, had this, this morning:
Buoyed by a federal judge's ruling allowing MBTA searches of Orange Line riders' bags near the FleetCenter, the T is likely to continue some searches long after the Dems leave town.

"There's no question in my mind baggage inspections need to be given serious consideration in the future for certain types of events or threat levels," MBTA General Manager Michael H. Mulhern said yesterday.

Mulhern said a rider Monday morning could face an inspection, but added, "I would say the likelihood will be a lot less."
Scum-sucking jerk. Lacking that individuated suspicion, the likelihood should be zero.

A for effort

Back on May 11 and again about three weeks ago, I mentioned reports that Pakistan was being actively pressured by the US to produce the killing or capture of a "high value" terrorist target before the election, with the "optimal time" for the announcement being July 26, 27, or 28.

Well, the BBC reports today that
Pakistan says it has arrested a top Tanzanian al-Qaeda suspect, who has a $25m bounty on his head.

The suspect was someone "most-wanted internationally," said Pakistan Interior Minister Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, quoted by Reuters news agency. ...

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani appears to match the description, as given on the FBI's most wanted list.
True, it's not someone to produce headlines in the US, but cut them some slack: It was probably the best they could do on short notice.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


What is Brooklyn?

City Lit for $1000

In his first novel, Michael Chabon revealed "The Mysteries of" this Steel City.

Used car salesmen - checked sport jacket, smarmy smile, federal ID

Updated Again, a little gem found via Information Clearinghouse. As reported in the British Medical Journal for July 24,
The United States has come under fire for pressuring developing countries to give up their right to produce cheap, generic anti-AIDS medicines in return for bilateral trade agreements that strengthen protection of costlier, brand name drugs.

Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz joined advocacy groups Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières this month in criticising Washington for bowing to industry pressure by pursuing a policy the groups say could prevent millions of AIDS patients in poor countries from getting the lifesaving antiretroviral drugs and treatment they need. ...

Writing in the New York Times on 10 July, Professor Stiglitz said President George W Bush's policy was "puzzling and hypocritical" because only last year he had pledged $15bn (£8bn; 12bn euros) to help countries in Africa and the Caribbean affected by AIDS. "While he talks about a global campaign against AIDS and has offered substantial sums to back it up, what he is giving with one hand is being taken away with the other," Professor Stiglitz wrote.

Access to lifesaving medicines has been a sticking point in trade agreements between the United States and countries such as Brazil, which also has a generic drugs industry and is the only developing country with free universal AIDS treatment.
Joseph Stiglitz, you may recall, is the former chief economist of the World Bank who was ousted in 1999, apparently at the insistence of then-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, because Stiglitz had been giving voice to his increasing disillusionment over the effects of the policies and practices of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He founded and now heads the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, which "helps developing and transition countries explore policy alternatives, and enables wide civic participation in economic policymaking."

Footnote: The BMJ article notes the claims of pharmaceutical companies that
patent protection (which keeps prices of medicines high for a number of years) is vital to finance research and develop new medicines.
That claim is actually pure bunk. This past December, I had a debate on a political mailing list about just this topic, with my unlearned opponent claiming that
I know you like to throw around words like “Big Drug Companies” to scare people into thinking they are evil, but if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have things like, oh, Penicillin, and we wouldn’t have hope for any other pharmaceutical advances.
Penicillin, of course, as is well known, was accidentally discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1929. It was researched at Oxford University until World War II forced moving the work to the US, where, with a significant assist from the US Army, ways were developed for large-scale production. It was only then, in 1941, that private industry became a significant player and even then only because the government gave them grants to cover the cost of the equipment required.

The real issue, however, is the "no hope" business. But as even he was forced to admit - by his own figures, in fact - corporate financing of drug research amounts to a little over one-half of such funding, with most of the rest coming from government. (Universities and foundations account for the rest.) More importantly, most public monies are devoted to basic research while a large portion of corporate research is on "copycat" drugs, minor variations (but sufficient to be patentable) of existing treatments undertaken with an eye on market share rather than health care. So I pointed out a few things, these among them:
- Out of the 77 drugs approved by the FDA for cancer treatment as of 1/1/96, 50, or nearly 2/3, were the product of the Investigational New Drug program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

- "The Globe looked at 50 top-selling drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration over the past five years: 35 new drugs, which are bestsellers among those the FDA deemed most important or most unique, and 15 'orphan' drugs targeting rare diseases. Thirty-three of the 35 new drugs and 12 of the 15 orphans received money from the National Institutes of Health or the FDA to help in discovery, development, or testing." - "Private Profits from Public Funds," Boston Globe, April 5, 1998.
The headline of that Globe story tells it all about the real state of corporate medical "research" and the "necessity" of patent protection.

Footnote to the footnote: Speaking of that, the New York Times for July 24 described how
[t]he Bush administration has been going to court to block lawsuits by consumers who say they have been injured by prescription drugs and medical devices.

The administration contends that consumers cannot recover damages for such injuries if the products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. ...

Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, Democrat of New York, said the administration had "taken the F.D.A. in a radical new direction, seeking to protect drug companies instead of the public." Mr. Hinchey recently persuaded the House to cut $500,000 from the budget of the agency's chief counsel as a penalty for its aggressive opposition to consumer lawsuits.
Well, props to Rep. Hinchey. The "radical new direction" lies in the fact that in 1997, the government held that
F.D.A. approval of a medical device set the minimum standard, and that states could provide "additional protection to consumers." Now the Bush administration argues that the agency's approval of a device "sets a ceiling as well as a floor."
Isn't is just amazing how the very same people who so strenuously argue for "states' rights" and "decentralization" and "local control" can in the next breath brazenly wheel around and argue just as vigorously for federal pre-emption? And isn't it just the most astonishing coincidence that whichever way they turn it just happens to be in the direction more beneficial to corporate America?

It's worthy of Ripley's I tell you.

Footnote to the footnote to the footnote: The Times also reported that
[t]he administration said its position, holding that individual consumers have no right to sue, actually benefited consumers.

The threat of lawsuits, it said, "can harm the public health" by encouraging manufacturers to withdraw products from the market or to issue new warnings that overemphasize the risks and lead to "underutilization of beneficial treatments."
Next week, the White House will be introducing legislation banning criticism of the government, arguing that it would actually benefit citizens.

Criticism, it said, "can harm the public debate" by discouraging politicians from making statements people might object to and from lobbying on behalf of the haves, leading to "underutilization of beneficial campaign contributions."

Updated to note that Fiat Lux has an example of how the government's logic about the FDA could be extended that makes the point well.

More Iran rumblings

Updated The pathetically wacko Charles Krauthammer has turned his Project for a New American Century eyes on Iran. He said in his column for July 26:
Did we invade the wrong country? One of the lessons now being drawn from the 9-11 report is that Iran was the real threat. It had links to al-Qaida, allowed some of the 9-11 hijackers to transit through, and is today harboring al-Qaida leaders. The Iraq war critics have a new line of attack: We should have done Iran instead of Iraq.
Now, I don't recall hearing a single opponent of Gulf War II say that, that is, say that we should have invaded Iran, but little things like facts have never stopped the kooky Mr. K.

He argues that negotiating with Iran about its "illegal" nuclear program has been a colossal failure. But, he says,
[i]f nothing is done, a fanatical terrorist regime openly dedicated to the destruction of the "Great Satan" will have both nuclear weapons and the terrorists and missiles to deliver them. All that stands between us and that is either revolution or pre-emptive strike.
And a "revolution," he says, is not happening.
Which makes the question of pre-emptive attack all the more urgent. Iran will go nuclear during the next presidential term.
So the choice is stark, clear, undeniable: Either we launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran or we'll see the terrorists offer "proof in a mushroom cloud," as Glorious Leader put it in pitching for war on Iraq. And who do you think will have the cojones to do that, huh? That pantywaist Kerry or Mr. "Bring-'em-on" Flightsuit? Who, hah? Who, you lefty wimps?

Weapons of mass destruction! Implacable enemies of the US! TER-ROR-ISTS!! Same arguments, new war.

And certainly we can't doubt Charlie-boy's analysis or predictions on such matters. After all, on October 30,2001, he isnsisted in print that the war on Afghanistan "is not going well." In February, 2003 he argued for the necessity of "the Americans to come ashore" in Iraq to "revolutionize the region," promising that in just 18 months Iraq could be completely "reconstituted" into a beacon for projecting American power and principles across a welcoming regional populace.

Now, at the time, I called that "more than a fantasy, it is hubris on a phenomenal scale." But I guess I have to eat my words, because just look at how well it's worked out! I'm sure an attack on another Muslim country will work out every bit as well.

Footnote: The BBC for July 27 says that
[t]he US has granted "protected status" under the Geneva Conventions to 3,800 members of an Iranian opposition group interned in Iraq. ...

The new status gives the militants access to the Red Cross and the United Nations refugee agency.
The group, called the People's Mujahideen, or Mujahideen-e Khalq, has been opposing the regime in Iran for more than two decades. After being pushed out of Iran, it set up shop in Iraq, from where it launched cross-border raids. After Gulf War II, they were disarmed and interred by US forces. Iraq wants them out and Iran wants them sent back, but human rights organizations oppose that because the returnees would face persecution - in fact they would likely be killed.

So the US, despite having labeled the People's Mujahideen a terrorist group, is "working with the Iraqi government and international organizations to find a solution." One that I'm prepared to bet will not involve either their return to Iran or some means of guaranteeing their continued disarmament.

Updated to include Krauthammer's description of the progress of the war on Afghanistan.


Two, in fact.

1) The first via Information Clearinghouse, citing a July 25 report on the rightwing outlet Newsmax, which is where the excerpt comes from.

While being interview by WABC talkshow host Steve Malzberg, George McGovern called The Big Dick Cheney "the worst vice president in American history and a great menace to the security and well-being of this country," also accusing him of "trying to use his inside influence as the longtime head of Halliburton to get war contracts in Iraq."
When Malzberg tried to point out that even the Clinton administration used Halliburton to rebuild war-torn Kosovo, McGovern interrupted:

"Let me tell you something, young man. You're going to defend this administration no matter what they do. You're a right-wing reactionary - and that's perfectly clear from your remarks with me today."
"We're supposed to be talking about my book," McGovern added, "not about your mistaken ideological views."

2) For this one I have to thank Atrios. It seems Howard Dean was on Sean Hannity's show Monday night and at one point Dean had this to say:
[Y]ou should watch "Outfoxed." It's a great movie that says why people like you say things like that on this television station.
It is so much fun to see how the wingnuts react when they get back even a fraction of what they dish out. Newsmax called McGovern "spitting mad" and "seething." A commenter at Atrios' site who saw the Dean exchange said Hannity looked like he was going to cry.

(There is supposed to be a video of Dean here but on four separate attempts, the download stalled a little short of halfway through three times and then wouldn't play on the fourth. Maybe you'll have better luck.)

What strikes me about those reactions is that the reactionaries come on all tough and macho, with loins girded for battle - but in fact they're typical bullies, just looking for someone weaker to pick on, but who will squeal like stuck pigs when someone hits back, instantly turning into whining crybabies, mewling in their beer (and microphones) how "unfair" those mean old "liberals" are. Cowards without even the guts to stand by the meaning of their own words, they'll make all kinds of outrageous statements - but when challenged on them, will parse, slip, spin, and argue about tenses and semicolons in order to deny having said them even as they repeat them in ever-so-slightly different language.

On the whole, contemptible human beings.


New York Times columnist Paul Krugman weighs in on computerized voting and manipulation of elections.
It's election night, and early returns suggest trouble for the incumbent. Then, mysteriously, the vote count stops and observers from the challenger's campaign see employees of a voting-machine company, one wearing a badge that identifies him as a county official, typing instructions at computers with access to the vote-tabulating software.

When the count resumes, the incumbent pulls ahead. The challenger demands an investigation. But there are no ballots to recount, and election officials allied with the incumbent refuse to release data that could shed light on whether there was tampering with the electronic records.

This isn't a paranoid fantasy. It's a true account of a recent election in Riverside County, Calif., reported by Andrew Gumbel of the British newspaper The Independent.
Gumbel's complete - and frankly chilling - account was in the LA City Beat and can be found here with a shorter version from the Independent for June 27 here.

By the way, this was not Gumbel's first venture into the issue; an earlier article of his about the issue of electronic voting, from last October, can be found here.

What goes around....

Remember Cynthia McKinney, the former black Congresswoman from Georgia who was labeled a nutcase, "loony," because she said George Bush knew about 9/11 in advance? The one whose defeat in the 2002 primary by the hand-picked candidate of the Georgia Democratic establishment was cheered by all right-thinking (in both senses) commentators?

The one who actually didn't say what she was accused of saying but something else entirely? Remember her?
The big story is the return of Cynthia McKinney to the U.S. Congress. Voters of the 4th District gave her the nod with 51 per cent of the vote. McKinney bested a field of five other candidates in a bid for the seat she lost two years ago to Denise Majette.

McKinney will face Republican Candidate Catherine Davis in the fall, but is favored to win the heavily Democratic District,
said the Atlanta Daily World on July 21.

That was enough to move headcase Daniel Pipes to proclaim that "radical Arab and Muslim causes ... have achieved their first significant electoral victory in the United States." Pipes accused McKinney of "drawing on Arab and Muslim supporters ... [to] an extraordinary extent...." The "extraordinary extent" consisted of a list of exactly 17 donors associated with Arab or Islamic groups, which become "radical organizations," apparently by definition.

Well, I can safely say that as a general rule, anything that upsets Daniel Pipes is okay by me.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Quick hit #7

Back on December 18 I wrote about the laughable-if-you're-not-the-one case of Joanne Webb, arrested in Texas in October for the heinous crime of selling a vibrator to two undercover narcotics cops.

Last week, local authorities announced they were dropping charges. According to the Dallas Morning News (registration required),
[BeAnn] Sisemore[, Webb's attorney,] said she suspects that Johnson County dropped the charges to avoid being part of a federal lawsuit filed in Dallas challenging the state's obscenity law. ...

Ms. Sisemore said her client is not entirely in the clear. She said there's no guarantee that the county attorney won't file the case again, and she was also told that the Burleson City Council passed its own obscenity ordinance that would be used to prosecute future cases.
That's the Heartland Of America, folks. The ones whose simple, decent values are supposed to be so much better than those of us city slickers. (By the way, the US Census Bureau says in the 1999 Statistical Abstract of the US that 75% of us live in urban areas and only 25% in rural areas. So where the hell do politicians get off telling us the hinterlands are the "real" America?)

Thanks to TalkLeft for the link.

Quick hi - er, Jeopardy!

What is Paris?

City Lit for $600

Betty Smith wrote about her hometown in the classic "A Tree Grows in" this borough.

Quick hit #6

A footnote to the preceding. They say misery loves company, but I never bought that bull. From the International Herald Tribune, July 24:
The movement toward longer workweeks for European employees gained further traction on Friday as DaimlerChrysler workers at Mercedes factories in Germany agreed to smaller pay raises and increased hours after the carmaker threatened to move 6,000 jobs out of Southern Germany.

Emboldened by the reduced power of labor unions amid rising unemployment, some of the biggest European companies are asking employees to work longer to save their jobs.

The DaimlerChrysler agreement ... follows an acceptance by 4,000 Siemens employees last month to extend their workweek. Thomas Cook, Europe's second-biggest tourism company, said Thursday that 2,000 employees had agreed to work longer hours. And in France ... workers at a Robert Bosch car parts factory voted on Monday to work an additional hour a week in an effort to save jobs, making them the first employees to vote to abandon the 35-hour week.

"These company-specific agreements are helping to improve cost competitiveness, making companies more productive - that helps investment and, eventually, employment," said Elga Bartsch, an economist at Morgan Stanley in Frankfurt. "We're going to see more of this."
My gosh, they even tell the same lies.

Footnote to the footnote: Just in case you wondered which side of the divide you're on.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder greeted the carmaker's deal with the IG Metall union as "a victory for common sense" that would strengthen Germany's economic recovery and set a precedent for coming talks at Volkswagen....

"I am certain that after DaimlerChrysler the negotiations at Volkswagen over cost cuts and job security will lead to a successful agreement," Schröder, who is on vacation in Italy, said in a statement.
Schröder's definition of "success" is curious but quite clear.

Quick hit #5

A few days ago, Stephen S. Roach, chief economist for Morgan Stanley, used an op-ed opportunity in the New York Times to provide an unhappy but necessary reality check on the jobs front.

First, the actual increase in jobs over the course of the "hiring cycle" - that is, the period since the last recession bottomed out, has been "paltry" - a 0.2% increase in private sector pay rolls. (The six preceding recoveries averaged a gain of 7.5% over the same time.)

Next, while the number of jobs gained over the last four months has been reasonably impressive and has been the subject of much media attention, the type of jobs created has been neither.
In general, they have been at the lower end of the economic spectrum.

By industry, the leading sources of hiring turn out to be restaurants, temporary hiring agencies and building services. These three categories, which make up only 9.7 percent of total nonfarm payrolls, accounted for 25 percent of the cumulative growth in overall hiring from March to June. ...

[J]obs are growing at both ends of the spectrum, but the low-paying jobs are growing much more quickly. The contribution of low-end industries to the recent pick-up in hiring has been almost double the share attributable to high-end industries.
But the figure that most got me was that
[a]ccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total count of persons at work part time - both for economic and non-economic reasons - increased by 495,000 from March to June. That amounts to an astonishing 97 percent of the cumulative increase of the total growth in employment measured by the household survey over this period.
Put all this together and it means that somewhere close to half of the entire increase in employment over the last four supposedly gangbuster months has been part-time work in low-wage industries.
It was only a matter of time before the globalization of work affected the United States labor market. The character and quality of American job creation is changing before our very eyes. Which poses the most important question of all: what are we going to do about it?
Here's a better question: Will John "I'm a non-redistributionist Democrat" Kerry do more about it than George "Kenny Who?" Bush? No, I haven't changed my mind about what I would do if I were in a tossup state. But we had damn well better to into this with our eyes wide open.

Footnote, Lying, Thieving Bastards Dept.: Roach also says that
we hear repeatedly that the employment disconnect is all about productivity - that America needs to hire fewer workers because the ones already working are more efficient.
He goes on to deny it or at least to argue it's only partly true, that globalization is at least partly to blame. But I want a show of hands: How many of you remember - it wasn't all that long ago - when we were being told that workers couldn't get raises unless they increased productivity, that expansion wasn't possible because we didn't have enough productivity, that layoffs were necessary to increase productivity, and that if workers wanted more jobs and more pay they'd have to increase productivity?

(Actually, productivity was always high; what was being complained of was a low rate of productivity growth, that is, productivity was going up, just not as fast as the bosses wanted. But I'm concerned with what we were being told.)

That is, we were being told that no jobs and poor pay was because of low productivity.

Now, we're being told that no jobs and poor pay are because of high productivity.

They will say anything, spin any fact, tell any lie, commit any deception, they will cheat, steal, do whatever it takes for their own selfish, twisted benefit. And don't you forget it.

Quick hit #4

Again from the Iraqi Press Monitor, this time for July 27:
Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshiar Zeebari said Iraq would not be used as a base for any attack on Syria or any other neighbouring state. He emphasised the security cooperation between Iraq and those states aimed at stopping terrorism in Iraq. Al-Jazeera television said Zeebari has hinted at the possibility of closing it Baghdad bureau. He has criticised the biased behaviour of al-Jazeera and other channels.
The report was from al-Mada, the daily paper of the Al-Mada institution for Media, Culture, and Arts. Apparently the minister (or someone else) realized how it sounded when interim Defense Minster Hazem Shalam al-Khuzaei suggested a week earlier that Iraq was "capable of transferring terrorism" to countries - specifically Iran - that it felt was interfering in Iraq.

Quick hit #3

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall seeing anything in the US media about this, in fact I didn't see much of anything about it in blogs, either. Am I that out of touch, or was this largely ignored?

The Daily Times of Pakistan reported almost two weeks ago that
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said plans for elections in Iraq could be delayed because of continuing unrest after the US-led handover of power, according to a Thai government spokesman on Tuesday. Annan met Tuesday with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and said he wanted Thai troops to stay on after the end of their year-long deployment as continuing violence threatened elections slated to be held before the end of January, the spokesman said. "Annan said Iraq could not return to normal soon because of the problem with its internal security and he said that this could affect or even delay organising the elections," Jakrapob [Penkair] said.
If it didn't get noticed here, it damn well got noticed in Iraq. For example, Al-Mutamar, issued daily by the Iraqi National Congress, responded sharply, as noted in the Iraqi Press Monitor for July 20.
The spokesman of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taki al-Muderresi commented on Kofi Annan's statement regarding the possibility of a one-year delay of elections in Iraq due to the security situation. He said the UN surprised us with a new shock after the one of Lakdhar al-Ibrahimi. He added that the UN statement contradicted the articles and decisions of the international organization which was supposed to hasten provision of the mechanism and requirements to have the elections in the due time. Delaying the election would encourage violence and terrorism. There was no alternate to having the elections in order to establish a legal and elected government to end terrorism.
There is a difference there in that al-Muderresi refers to a one-year delay when Annan referred to delays in elections a year from now. Perhaps that was a misunderstanding on Muderresi's part. Still, even suggesting the idea of delaying the election produced a hostile response.

Quick hit #2

And it's a whale of a good story. Perhaps not as good as it could be, but still good. The International Herald Tribune for July 24 reports that
[t]he International Whaling Commission has agreed to slow down progress toward its plan for the management of the whale population....
Contrary to what many people think, the IWC never imposed a "ban" on whaling, just a "moratorium." Recently, pro-whaling countries, particularly Japan and Iceland, have been pushing for adoption of a "management" plan to replace the moratorium, one that would regard whales as a "resource" to be "managed." Environmentalists as well as anti-whaling countries counter that such a plan is merely an excuse to resume large-scale commercial whaling.

Thus, when
[t]he final resolution [of the commission meeting] dropped any reference to a vote on the management plan at the commission's 2005 annual meeting, thereby delaying progress towards its implementation,
and set no deadlines for developing rules for whale management, it was greeted with relief and satisfaction by whaling opponents.

In more good news,
[a]nti-whalers scored another victory when Japan failed in a bid to abolish a sanctuary in the Antarctic. The move would have allowed Tokyo to kill almost 3,000 minke whales a year.
But the battle goes on.

Quick hit #1

No long dissertations tonight, just a series of relatively quick hits. Here's the first.

This is from the Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine, for July 21. The link comes via Information Clearinghouse.
Ramadi, Iraq - After more than a year of fighting, U.S. troops have stopped patrolling large swaths of Iraq's restive Anbar province, according to the top American military intelligence officer in the area. ...

While American officials in Ramadi wouldn't provide exact figures for the change in numbers of patrols, there's obviously been a significant drop.

After losing dozens of men to a "voiceless, faceless mass of people" with no clear leadership or political aim other than killing American soldiers, the U.S. military has had to re-evaluate the situation, said Army Maj. Thomas Neemeyer, the head American intelligence officer for the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, the main military force in the Ramadi area and from there to Fallujah.
While I expect most will refer to this in terms of the US losing to the insurgents and certainly there is some of that here, I suspect that there will be more examples of pulling back or limiting patrols, even in areas where the resistance isn't so strong. Why?
Since the hand-over of sovereignty June 28, 25 U.S. soldiers have been killed. Fifteen of them were in Anbar.
Unless there is a reduction in US military activities, hitting the psychologically-important figure of 1,000 Americans killed in Iraq in the heat of the election campaign is a real possibility. There is no way in hell Shrub & Co. want that.

Monday, July 26, 2004


Who is Betty Boop?

City Lit for $200

In French, the title of an 1831 work is "Notre-Dame de" this city.

Shocking developments

Updated Tasers. You've heard of them. They shoot out darts connected to wires. When they strike someone, they deliver a five-second, 50,000 volt blast of low-current electricity, disabling the victim for up to 30 seconds. They are vital in police work as they provide an alternative to firearms - and because the risk of harm from an electric shock comes from the current, not the voltage, they are safe, indeed harmless. They save countless lives every year.

Or so the manufacturer tells us.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, the assurances of harmlessness is still under question. Back on April 29, the Florida Sentinel (quoted here) reported that
[e]arlier this month, Alfredo Diaz of Orange County became the 44th person nationwide to die after he was shot with a Taser stun gun by law officers. ...

Mark Silverstein, the Colorado ACLU's legal director, asked police to limit their use of the stun guns because of safety questions.

Silverstein said there's plenty of proof that Tasers are associated with a growing number of in-custody deaths, may be lethal to people with certain medical conditions, and may contribute to a death, even if the death is not immediate. ...

Silverstein said agencies have been purchasing these weapons based on the word of the manufacturer that they are safe.

"They have relied on the assurances of the manufacturer, who obviously has a vested interest in selling as many devices as possible," he said Tuesday.
More damaging was this, from the Toronto Sun for July 19:
Medical examiners have found Taser electric stun guns may have played a role in at least five deaths, contradicting manufacturer's claim that the weapons never killed or injured anyone, a Phoenix newspaper reported yesterday. Examiners in three cases involving suspects who died in police custody cited Tasers as a cause or a contributing factor in the deaths, The Arizona Republic reported. In two other cases, Tasers could not be ruled out as a cause of death.

Taser International ... created a report detailing 42 cases of people who died after being shot by a Taser. The company claims the guns were cleared every time.

The company, however, didn't have the autopsy reports at the time and relied on media accounts and anecdotal information from police for most of its analysis, the Republic found. The newspaper reported that Taser's report omitted details that contradict claims.
And just yesterday, the London Free Press (Vancouver, Canada) reported that
Amnesty International said proof has mounted at an alarming rate over the past year the weapon should be banned until more tests are done.

"Most of the testing that's been done by Taser International has been on police officers or people in the military, people in good health," said Hilary Homes, a campaigner for Amnesty International in Ottawa.

"When using it on someone in a weakened state, especially someone with heart problems, this is where we start to be concerned."

In intense police situations, she said, it's often hard to assess people who might be threatening to the public or themselves. Drug use and medical conditions may or may not be obvious. ...

About 50 people have died after being shot with Tasers in North America, most in the U.S. It is not approved for use in Britain and only recently have some Canadian police forces started issuing them to officers.
But what actually got me thinking about this again (my original post was on March 7) was not so much the safety issue per se as this, which I came across by chance on a website called Prison Planet. It's from the Arizona Daily Star for May 25:
A veteran South Tucson police sergeant is under investigation for firing his stun gun to subdue a handcuffed 9-year-old girl.

At the request of Chief Sixto Molina, the Pima County Sheriff's Department is trying to determine if the sergeant committed a crime when he sent a jolt through the child's body. ...

The sergeant was one of at least two officers who responded to a call from the Arizona Children's Home, a school for special needs children, on South Eighth Avenue, he said. ...

Molina said one officer initially responded to the call from the school. That officer requested assistance from another officer and specifically asked that the second officer bring a Taser.

He said the girl was handcuffed at the time the weapon was used.
Now, I don't care how disturbed she may have been, are you telling me that two grown men could not subdue a handcuffed 9-year-old girl without use of a weapon? The Taser wasn't necessary, it wasn't for the officers' safety, it wasn't in lieu of a gun - it was a convenience.

Episodes like that are starting to come up with distressing regularity.

May 13, the Indiana Daily Student, an "auxiliary enterprise" of IU Bloomington:
A Monroe County jailer has been charged with two counts of felony battery in the case of a Bedford man who died while being booked into jail.

At a hearing Wednesday at the Monroe County Justice Building, Judge Marc Kellams said he found probable cause for the arrest of jailer David Shaw, who used a Taser gun to repeatedly shock James Borden last November. ...

[Borden], who was under house arrest for operating while intoxicated, had been seen wandering near a local convenience store Nov. 5, where employees called police to report his unusual behavior. ...

The next day, Borden was evaluated by EMS personnel, who determined he needed medical treatment, but instead, police arrested Borden and escorted him to the Monroe County Jail.

Upon his arrival at the jail, Borden was shocked at least half a dozen times by Shaw, who said Borden was being "uncooperative."
CBS News has a followup here.

June 16, KMBC-TV, Kansas City, MO:
A police officer used his Taser gun on a 68-year-old grandmother in her home Tuesday night, KMBC's Donna Pitman reported.

Louise Jones said it happened after she pulled up to her house near 50th and Euclid and saw a police car. She honked, and an officer got out of the vehicle.

"He said he could give me a citation ticket for honking my horn. I said it was an accident. It's not like I laid on the horn; I honked, right in front of my house," Jones said.

Jones said the officer went to a call at another home, then returned to her house to give her a ticket for honking.

"He grabbed me and I jerked away from him, and he said, 'You assaulted me,'" Jones recalled.

Police said Jones wouldn't cooperate and hit the officer. That's when the officer pulled his Taser gun and shocked her, Pitman reported.

Jones said the officer shocked her twice in the chest with the weapon.
July 13, WEAR-TV, Pensacola, FL:
The SCLC is probing the July third death of a Pensacola man who was hit with a taser four times while in police custody in Destin.
The common threads through these and other reports are Tasers being used multiple times, frequently on people already in custody. Tasers were promoted, as I said at the top, as an alternative to guns, as a weapon to be used in extreme situations of actual danger either to a member of the police or the public.

But from the very beginning, my concern has been that precisely because they are being promoted as "safe" and "harmless," in fact aggressively promoted as such by the manufacturer, use of them will become routine, that they will not be seen as weapons of protection and necessity but of control and convenience. And clearly, that is happening. An article about the devices in USA Today for July 13 had this:
"From anecdotal stories, we believe police are using it in situations where they're just trying to get compliance from people," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, a watchdog group in Portland.
But it's not even necessary to rely on anecdotes. Note that in the case of Louise Jones, police said it was because she "wouldn't cooperate." What's more,
Police Capt. Rich Lockhart said it is the policy of the Kansas City Police Department "to use the Taser (gun) when someone is being passively resistant, refusing to obey verbal commands."
The Indiana Daily Student article said that in his probable cause finding,
Judge Kellams pointed out while Borden was uncooperative, he never expressed or acted out a threat to himself, an officer, or another person - one of the Correctional Center's own directives for using Tasers.
And in covering the Diaz case, the Florida Sentinel added that
other Central Florida agencies are quick to praise the controversial weapons.

"We used them a couple of times when we first got them, and then the word got out," said Groveland police Chief T.R. Merrill, who says Tasers are a deterrent. "We've got less people running from us now."
That is, the devices are being used exactly in the way opponents feared: as a means of "obtaining compliance" - meaning meek, cooperative, submission.

And the potential for abuse grows with every new wave of fear from the War on Terror(c)(tm)(pat.pend.), every new acceptance of every new limitation on our liberties, every new acceptance of the "post-9/11" argument, and every new police force that obtains the "safe" weapon.

And it grows with technology: A little over a year ago, in its May, 21, 2003, issue, New Scientist magazine reported on a prototype of the "Plasma-Taser."
In the first image, a spray of dark gas is seen approaching a human-sized target. In the next, taken a fraction of a second later, there is a lightning-like flash of electrical discharge intended to incapacitate the targeted person. ...

The Plasma-Taser will not need any wires because it fires an aerosol spray towards the target, which creates a conductive channel for a shock current, claims [corporate developer] Rheinmetall. The company refused to comment on exactly how the weapon works, but it says the aerosol material is non-toxic. ...

The advantage? A Taser is a single-shot weapon of limited range: the Plasma-Taser can fire repeated shots over greater range. ...

Steve Wright of the Manchester-based Omega Foundation, which monitors non-lethal weapon technology, is concerned about the potential misuse of electric shock weapons. "Such new technologies enable systematic human rights abuses to be more automated, so that one operator can induce pain and paralysis on a mass scale," he says.
I said it in March, I say it again. The movement for nonlethal alternatives in police work is a good one. Tasers should not be regarded as part of that effort.

But then again, maybe we shouldn't worry all that much, as the magic of the marketplace will balance everything out in the end. Sharper Image announced earlier this month that it plans to offer personal Tasers in its catalog.
The guns are legal for use in California by individuals and are already for retail sale at uniform shops where cops, mail carriers, bus drivers and others buy their uniforms and other accessories, [Sgt. Steve] Dixon [of the San Jose Police Department] says.
Be the first one on your block to "harmlessly" drop a neighbor at 50 feet.

Updated to include the link to my March 7 post.

Sunday, July 25, 2004


What is the mullet?

Cartoon Characters

This cartoon character was based in part on the woman who introduced the song "I Wanna Be Loved by You."

Boston as a "no free speech zone"

Updated So it's time for anointing the noble standard bearers who will carry us to victory! truth! justice! peace! prosperity! free beer! And, to the surprise of no one with the possible exception of some supposedly lefty lapdogs (If you want some genuine, i.e., not sarcastic, drooling and fawning, try this.), the minions of the anointees are no more interested in contrary sounds than those they slam. As the Dems turn out in Boston, CNN notes that
[t]housands of local, state and federal officers are helping turn the city into a veritable fortress.
Last week, the Boston Globe reported that
[a]n unprecedented number of video cameras will be trained on Boston during the Democratic National Convention, with Boston police installing some 30 cameras near the FleetCenter, the Coast Guard using infrared devices and night-vision cameras in the harbor, and dozens of pieces of surveillance equipment mounted on downtown buildings to monitor crowds for terrorists, unruly demonstrators, and ordinary street crime.

For the first time, 75 high-tech video cameras operated by the federal government will be linked into a surveillance network.... Their feeds from cameras mounted on various downtown buildings will be piped to monitoring stations in the Boston area and in Washington, D.C., and officials will be able to zoom in from their work stations to gather details of facial descriptions or read license plates. ...

An unspecified number of State Police cameras are also being installed, and more than 100 previously existing MBTA cameras will be used to monitor area subway and bus stations. Law enforcement officials will have as-needed access to as many as 900 cameras that have been operated for months or years by the Massachusetts Port Authority, the state Highway Department, and the Big Dig. ...

The Boston Police Department has a new policy permitting police to videotape political demonstrations during the convention, and federal officials also are planning to use hand-held cameras to videotape clashes between protesters and police.
Big Brother is here and you are being watched.

(Sidebar: The Globe also notes that such video surveillance is "here to stay: Boston police say the 30 or so cameras installed for the convention will be used throughout the city once the event is over.

'We own them now,' said police Superintendent Robert Dunford. 'We're certainly not going to put them in a closet.'")

Happily, some media attention is being drawn by protest organizers in the city to the absurd conditions under which speech - I can't bring myself to refer to it as "free" speech - will be "allowed." (Funny, I was brought up thinking it was a right, not something to be "allowed." How silly people were before "9/11 changed everything!") For example, CNN reported on Sunday that
[p]rotesters at the Democratic National Convention say their designated area outside the FleetCenter infringes on their safety and free speech rights.

At a news conference Saturday, protesters also complained that the fenced-in area is out of sight to most delegates and passers-by en route to the arena. ...

"We are very alarmed that our First Amendment rights have been undermined to the degree that the city of Boston now thinks the rights of free expression, the right to rally and protest means you get out into an area like this," said Leslie Cagan, co-founder of United for Peace and Justice, who likened the protest area to an internment camp.

The area, with a small stage, is surrounded on three sides by a wire fence with razor wire on top.
AP went further, with a more complete description.
As thousands of delegates, journalists and dignitaries stream into the FleetCenter, protesters for the next few days will be enclosed in a shadowy, closed-off piece of urban streetscape just over a block away.

The maze of overhead netting, chain link fencing and razor wire....

Abandoned, elevated rail lines and green girders loom over most of the official demonstration zone that slopes down to a subway station closed for the duration. To avoid hitting girders, tall protesters will have to duck at one end of the 28,000-square-foot zone. Train tracks obscure the line of sight to much of the FleetCenter. Concrete blocks were set around streets in the area....
The question is, whether this attention will do any good or not. I happen to know the area being described. It is indeed dark and out of the way, inconvenient even if not fenced in. Any protest there will be essentially invisible as well as - and I do not believe this is by coincidence - uninviting to the media, particularly TV because of difficult lighting conditions. (By the way, the purpose of the overhead netting is to protect pedestrians from pieces of concrete that may fall from the roadway above - but the main thing it fills up with is bird shit.)

And if the poor conditions aren't enough, there's always the fear factor.
Authorities fear that some protesters are preparing to target the media.

The FBI said Friday that it had "unconfirmed information" that a domestic group plans to attack media vehicles, possibly with "explosives or incendiary devices," according to a statement issued by the FBI's Boston field office.
It's all part of a plan to limit speech, to curtail protest. This isn't about maintaining security, it's about disappearing dissent. Think I'm joking or being paranoid? Consider that it was the city that insisted on the dark, out-of-the-way protest site behind razor wire-topped fences and under girders, a place a US District court judge called "an affront to free expression" and a "festering boil" before - get this - refusing to order changes. And now,
[a]uthorities said they were lowering the maximum number of protesters to 1,000, from a previous 4,000, because of concerns of overcrowding.
That is, having enforced a lousy location and having done their best to limit media coverage, they want to limit the size of protests as well.

Still not convinced? This is also from AP for Sunday:
About 2,000 protesters gathered at noon on the historic Boston Common, site of many of the city's most memorable demonstrations. After about two hours there, they marched about half a mile to the Fleet Center, where Democrats plan to nominate hometown candidate John Kerry for president on Wednesday.

Several blocks away, about 1,000 anti-abortion advocates gathered at Faneuil Hall, the historic meeting house where patriots gathered before the American Revolution, and set off on their own march to the FleetCenter.

The two groups crossed paths at an intersection, where demonstrators exchanged angry words with one another. Some of the anti-abortion marchers laid down in the street. They soon stood up at the request of the police and the two marches continued their separate ways following a few minutes of confusion.

About 30 state police officers wearing riot gear lined Beacon Street for the larger march, in which the throng paraded behind a banner reading "Bring the troops home now."

A half dozen cruisers and 18 police vans followed slowly along the parade route.
First note that the antiwar march was one for which city officials originally refused to give a permit, claiming they were concerned about public safety. It took a federal judge to force them to change their decision.

So despite all the "concern," despite all the surveillance, despite all the negotiations, despite 30 cops in riot gear, a half-dozen cruisers, and 18 vans, they still allowed two marches with sharply differing agendas to "cross paths at an intersection?"

What the hell kind of nonsense is that? What, are we supposed to believe this was an accident, a surprise, a coincidence? That no planning by police took this into account? That despite the show of force, no effort either was or could have been undertaken to divert one march to a slightly different route or hold it back for a few minutes until the other had gone by? Are we supposed to think police did not deliberately let this happen?

Well, I for one do not buy that for one single instant. I say - and it will take a great deal to convince me otherwise - that the police did allow this to happen, did it knowingly, in anticipation of a confrontation that could be used to revoke other permits and lock the city down against protest altogether. To the credit (and benefit) of both marches, it appears nothing beyond angry words were exchanged.

Much, I suspect, to the frustration of the Boston PD.

Updated to note that playing up the supposed threat of an attack on the media is already having an effect, as the Miami Herald (registration required) described on Monday.
Television stations have enhanced security around broadcast vans and distributed bulletproof vests to some employees. Members of Knight Ridder's coverage team, which serves The Herald and dozens of other newspapers, were urged by managers to attend "hostile environment" training similar to that given to staffers bound for Baghdad.
That is, the media are already playing it cautious - which will likely have an effect on their willingness to cover demonstrations.

Saturday, July 24, 2004


What are cats?

Animal Words and Phrases for $2000

A type of fish, or a short-on-top, long-in-back hairstyle that was big in the '80s.

Footnote to the preceding, another corner heard from

According to a commentary by Nicholas Blanford in the July 23 Daily Star (Lebanon), Israel's
annual intelligence report declar[ed] that the Islamic Republic represents the gravest existential threat facing the Jewish state. The report focuses on Iran's potential for developing nuclear weapons, with Israel estimating that Tehran will be able to build its first nuclear bomb by 2007 at the earliest.

But the head of Israel's Shin Bet domestic security service, Avi Dichter, has also highlighted Iran's efforts to penetrate the occupied Palestinian territories as well as the Israeli Arab community to establish a "fifth column." Hizbullah was cited as the principle engine for Iranian intervention in the Palestinian intifada.
The possibility of what has in the past been called "the Islamic bomb" apparently has Israeli security concerned enough that
[t]he Israeli Air Force has completed military preparations for a pre-emptive strike at Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility and will attack if Russia supplies Iran with rods for enriching uranium, Israeli officials said, according to a report in the London Sunday Times. Military sources said the raid would be carried out by long-range F-15I jets, overflying Turkey, with simultaneous operations by commandos on the ground.

Israel may also choose to launch submarine-based cruise missiles from the Persian Gulf at key Iranian targets, reported.

The rods, currently stored at a Russian port, are expected to be delivered late next year....
That from the Israeli Insider, July 19, which added that the source said "we are very confident we'll be able to demolish the ayatollahs' nuclear aspirations in one go," even as
Israeli sources acknowledged, according to the Sunday Times, that a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities could provoke "a ferocious response," which could involve Lebanese-based rocket attacks on northern Israel or terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets abroad.
A possible case of the cure being worse than the disease?

Iran amok

Okay, so I zigged when I should have zagged. For a while I've had it in the back of my head that Syria was next on the neocon hit list; I even suspected that the Shrubberies were working on cooking up a rationale they could sell to Congress (easy) and the public (not so easy, but, based on the experience of Iraq, certainly doable).

But at least for the moment, Syria is not the focus of the baleful gaze. Iran is.

In fact, as I expect is common knowledge, the same neocon cabal that demanded and ultimately got their way on "regime change" in Iraq had never limited their intentions to that "unique" situation. Now the pressure is being increased on Shrub & Co. to, as the Washington Post - as quoted by The Age (Australia) for July 20 - put it, "do something about Iran, and end the drift that has characterised US policy."

"Drift," it needs to be noted, is the ultimate insult in foreign policy critiques; it's better to have a disastrously wrong policy, it's held, than to appear to have none. No President can politically withstand the image of a "drifting" foreign policy. In 1986, in the wake of a bombing of a disco in Germany which killed several American soldiers, the Reagan administration bombed Tripoli. Among the killed was Muammar Qaddafi's daughter. On May 22, 1986, in a letter to a friend, I wrote
A, perhaps the, quintessential Americanism, submitted for your approval (with apologies to Rod Serling, but it makes me feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone): After Jimmy Carter remarked in the wake of the killing of Qaddafi's daughter that if someone killed Amy he'd be more likely to swear vengeance than back off, a newspaper columnist called him "an embittered loser who still doesn't get it," adding (here it comes) "history will judge" if Reagan was right or wrong, but "at least he did something."

That’s it: Do something. Never mind if it's right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral, sane or insane, effective or ruinous, do something. Americans can't stand feeling helpless - and there's one of the dangers to the future that the attack on Libya symbolizes, because uncontrollable events will surely continue, even increase in number.
As they surely have. And always is the pressure to "do something."

As the Christian Science Monitor expressed it on Thursday,
[w]ith US interests in a reformed Middle East as strong as ever - even with Saddam Hussein out of the picture - Iran is emerging as the new Satan for some forces in Washington. That is particularly true on Capitol Hill, where pro-Israel and anti-Iran hard-liners are calling for an Iran policy advocating regime change - much like what happened with Iraq in the late 1990s.
Three developments, two of them recent, are being used to drive this pressure. The long-standing development is Iran's clear intention to develop nuclear weapons and its refusal to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with full details of its nuclear program.
Since May, Congress has been moving towards a joint resolution calling for punitive action against Iran if it does not fully reveal details of its nuclear arms program.

In language similar to the prewar resolution on Iraq, a recent House of Representatives resolution authorised the use of "all appropriate means" to deter, dissuade and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weaponry - words often used to approve pre-emptive military force. Reflecting the growing anxiety on Capitol Hill about Iran, it passed 376 to three. ...

[A] Senate resolution, similar to the House resolution passed on May 6, calling for punitive action, mainly through broad, new UN sanctions, is expected to win overwhelming support in Congress.
(I suppose I could mention that the US has a policy of refusing to allow such inspections, which apparently is different because, well, because it's us, not them - but that would be snarky, so I won't.)

One of the recent developments is the finding by the 9/11 Commission that, as the New York Times reports,
Iran had allowed as many as 10 of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks to pass through border stations in late 1990 and early 1991 without having their passports stamped, making it easier for them to enter the United States without raising suspicions.
The other new and perhaps more significant development is an increasing suspicion in some circles, particularly in Iraq, that Iran is actively aiding the insurgency. For example, the Christian Science Monitor had this:
"We know criminals and terrorists are coming through Iran into Iraq, but the question of Iranian government involvement with this is still unanswered," says Sabah Kadhim, spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry.

"I have no doubt that some of the people in the south who are working against us, perhaps some factions in the Mahdi Army, have ties to the Iranians."

Though he provided no details, Iraq's interim Defense Minster Hazem Shalam al-Khuzaei complained in an interview with the London-based, Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on Tuesday that Iran was "interfering" in Iraq's affairs.
The Iraqi Press Monitor for July 20, citing the same interview, also noted a threat from the minister:
He said Iraq was capable of transferring terrorism to those states.
And according to IPM for July 21, Asharq al-Awsat reported that Minister of Interior Falah al-Naqeeb went beyond what his representative said and
accused Iran of being behind the terrorist operations in Iraq. He added "it is inevitable to admit that Iran has a major role in terrorist and sabotage operations in Iraq".
A week earlier, the CSM was reporting the belief of US and Iraqi officials in Najaf that Moqtada al-Sadr's militia was reorganizing - with outside help.
As many as 80 Iranian agents are working with an estimated 500 Sadr militiamen, known as the Mahdi Army, providing training and nine 57-mm Russian antiaircraft guns to add to stocks of mortars, antitank weapons, and other armaments, according to Iraqi and US intelligence reports.

"They are preparing for something, gathering weapons; people are coming in buses from other parts of Iraq," says Michael al-Zurufi, the Iraqi security adviser of Najaf Province. "The most important are the Iranians. The Iranian people are trying to reorganize Sadr's militia so they can fight again."
It seems an impressive list. But still, there are some questions about both of the latter developments. In the case of the hijackers passing through Iran, without having their passports stamped, Agencie France Presse, citing Newsweek, said earlier this week that the
finding in the commission's report is based largely on a December 2001 memo discovered buried in the files of the US National Security Agency.
And as the BBC noted, acting CIA Director John McLaughlin
says eight of the 9/11 hijackers passed through Iran, but there is no evidence Tehran was connected with the attacks in 2001. ...

"We have ample evidence of people being able to move back and forth across that terrain."

But he added: "However, I would stop there and say we have no evidence that there is some sort of official sanction by the government of Iran for this activity.

"We have no evidence that there is some sort of official connection between Iran and 9/11."
The same item notes that
Iran acknowledges some of the hijackers may have crossed its borders, but says they would have done so illegally.
There also is doubt about just how much Iran is involved in Iraq. In fact,
[s]o far, there is almost no evidence of Iranian government involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, dominated as it is by nationalist groups and Sunni jihadists, both foreign and local....

On Monday, [Rend Rahim Francke,] the top Iraqi diplomat in Washington said Iran is playing a supporting role. ...

Analysts say it's hard to imagine Iran working closely with the jihadists, who, at least in their rhetoric and stated aims, seem to have much in common with Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda's exclusivist religious ideology sees the Shiites as apostates, and US officials say a key element of the group's strategy in Iraq has been to stir up a Sunni-Shiite civil war - something that could head off eventual Shiite dominance in Iraq and hurt Iran's interests.

Analysts say that while Iran has vital interests in Iraq, they doubt that the country's efforts will veer in a destabilizing direction here.
Nevertheless, continued, long-standing mutual suspicion between Iraq and Iran makes rumors of involvement of the one in the internal struggles of the other common and easy-to-believe fare, and such beliefs can have repercussions in Washington.
In an even more dramatic move, Republican Senator Sam Brownback plans to introduce an Iran liberation act in the northern autumn, modelled on the Iraq Liberation Act that mandated regime change in Baghdad and provided more than $90 million to the Iraqi opposition.
(Sidebar: "northern autumn" because The Age is in Australia, remember.)

The Bush administration is showing signs of being moved by the pressure. In responding to the 9/11 Commission report,
[Bush] also said: "I have long expressed my concerns about Iran. After all, it's a totalitarian society where free people are not allowed to, you know, exercise their rights as human beings." He said, "This has been an issue that I have been concerned about ever since I've been the president."
He also insisted that
the United States will continue to investigate if Iran was involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"As to direct connections with September the 11th, we are digging into the facts to determine if there was one," Bush said at the photo opportunity with visiting Chilean President Ricardo Lagos in the Oval Office of the White House.
That from Xinhuanet.

The most significant statement, not surprisingly, was an anonymous one. From the Sunday Herald (Scotland):
President George Bush has promised that if re-elected in November he will make regime change in Iran his new target.

Bush named Iran as part of the Axis of Evil along with North Korea and Iraq almost three years ago. A US government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that military action would not be overt in changing Iran, but rather that the US would work to stir revolts in the country and hope to topple the current conservative religious leadership.

The official said: "If George Bush is re-elected there will be much more intervention in the internal affairs of Iran."
That this promise is for post-election matters for related practical and political reasons. The practical one is simple: There's an election coming, and the chances for any dramatic new initiatives at such a time are small.
Even with the 9/11 reports and the prospect of various Iran-focused initiatives in Congress this fall, [the CSM observed,] most experts foresee little actual movement until after the November elections. The angry rhetoric may ratchet up, they say, but even after the elections, a conflict-weary America is likely to probe the chances of dialogue.
Which raises the interesting question: Is the reference to regime change after the election a serious one, or is it a political one, designed to send the war hawk base a wink and a "just-you-watch-me-go" message without raising the hackles of that "conflict-weary" American electorate? Or is it just a stall to keep the neocons on board through November? The administration is already divided between the State Department, which has been willing to explore contacts with Iran, arguing that to do otherwise is to deny reality, and the Pentagon and The Big Dick Cheney, who've been unwilling to consider the idea. As we've seen, so far the extreme hawks (as opposed to the ordinary hawks of the State Department) have tended to have the upper hand in this White House. But as a certain degree of reality has penetrated the haze of whatever it is they'd been smoking, the rhetoric has been less grandiose, the claims for the future less expansive. So it may be that they're at least, if reluctantly, accepting that further schemes will have to wait for more propitious circumstances.

On the other hand, Bob Nichols, writing in Online Journal on July 13, said
President [sic] Bush promised to invade and attack many countries in the 2003 State of the Union speech. I believe the man. For some reason, some misguided Americans do not believe him, or think he was "exaggerating." The rest of the world has every reason to believe him and fear him, though.
(The [sic] was in the original.)

And the pressure will doubtless continue.
"There are too many carrots here, but where are the sticks?" says Raymond Tanter, a national security official under Reagan. The US should threaten support for Iranian resistance groups including the Iraq-based Mujahideen-e-Kalq, he says.
Former CIA Director Robert Gates responded that it would be "a tad awkward" for the US to support a group the State Department labels a terrorist outfit - but when has that ever stopped us from doing what we wanted to do?
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