Wednesday, June 30, 2004


What are cigars?

Leaf Me Alone, Please for $1000

The American leaf-nosed species of this mammal mainly eats insects, but may chow down on an occasional frog.

Wising up

But too little and too late.
Washington, June 22 (New York Times) - Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, a prime architect of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, said Tuesday that the Pentagon had underestimated the violent tenacity of an insurgency that formed after Baghdad fell, and he acknowledged that the United States may be forced to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq for years to come. ...

Mr. Wolfowitz said Pentagon planners had not counted on the ability of a guerrilla-style resistance to form, operate and grow after the capture of Saddam Hussein and the arrest or killing of his top advisers.

"If you want to say what might have been underestimated, I think there was probably too great a willingness to believe that once we got the 55 people on the blacklist, the rest of those killers would stop fighting," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
I've noted this before in a different context, but it bears repeating: To the extent that Wolfowitz can be believed here, to that very same extent it indicates that the bozos behind the invasion of Iraq actually believed the hogwash they were slinging by the bucketful. The very crew that spends half its waking hours congratulating each other on their hard-headed, realistic view of the world actually bought into the rose-petal fantasies. I really don't know if seeing them as manipulative, cold-blooded liars or as incompetent boobs living in a haze of Walter Mitty daydreams is worse.

Apparently, however, that kind of willful blindness is not limited to White House planners. Writing in the Daily Star (Lebanon) for June 29, Kathleen Ridolfo, the Iraq analyst for Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, says
Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi told the German weekly "Focus" in an interview published on June 21 that he expected militant attacks to end with the transfer of power. What was most worrying about his statement - and he is not the only Iraqi official to have made such predictions - was that it failed to acknowledge the agendas of militant groups operating in Iraq. There are more than 30 armed groups at the moment, and while their affiliations (secular and Islamist) and agendas (anti-coalition and anti-establishment) converge and diverge at times, one thing is clear: A majority of these groups will simply not cease their attacks now that power has been transferred to an Iraqi authority.
Ridolfo's analysis is muddled at times, as when she says that "one element of militancy in Iraq" is Saddam loyalists who are actually mostly "mere thugs," many of them former prisoners released in a general amnesty in October 2002, who have joined with Islamist groups such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. (So are thugs Saddam loyalists or are Saddam loyalists thugs and is the Mahdi Army actually full of Saddam loyalists who either are or aren't thugs?) Still, her pointed awareness that there are a variety of such "elements" with different agendas is welcome.

Both that awareness and the lack of it can be seen in the Christian Science Monitor's invaluable Daily Update on Terrorism and Security for June 28. It mentions recent coverage in the Asia Times and Time magazine on the nature of the insurgency - but each report looks at one facet of it as it that was the centerpiece of the resistance. (Links are taken from the CSM article.)
The Asia Times reports on the group that has until recently been the main force behind the insurgency, the Baathists - remnants of Saddam Hussein's former administration. In an interview last week with some of the members of that group (two former generals and a former colonel), the Times reports that these men believe the "big battle in Iraq" is yet to take place.

The objective was 'to liberate Iraq and expel the coalition. To recover our sovereignty and install a secular democracy, but not the one imposed by the Americans. Iraq has always been a progressive country, we don't want to go back to the past, we want to move forward. We have very competent people,' say the three tacticians. There will be of course no names as well as no precise numbers concerning the clandestine network. 'We have sufficient numbers, one thing we don't lack is volunteers.'

The Times also reports that these men claim the insurgency was planned before the US-led coalition attacked in March of 2003 ("The war was lost in advance, so we prepared the post-war"). They say they do not have any weapons of mass destruction, but they do have access to almost "50 million conventional weapons." While they do take credit for the killing of several foreigners, the group's leaders said it was not responsible for either last October's attack against the Red Cross in Baghdad, or the bombing of the UN compound last year that killed more than 20 people.
Sidebar: That bit about planning the insurgency in advance sounds familiar. Who do I recall suggesting it? Oh, yeah! Me! Back on November 16:
Even Donald Rumsfeld has been forced by reality to admit that the insurgents "are going to school on us. ... They watch what takes place, and then they make adjustments," which can't be other than a sign of some kind of active coordination.

Admittedly, such coordination may have developed on the fly. It wouldn't be the first time that isolated groups of rebels have come together under a single umbrella to combine their strengths. But in this case it seems to have come about rather quickly and I still wonder: Is it possible that the sudden disappearance of direct military resistance to the invasion was actually a fallback plan for the leadership in the event the attack could not be successfully repulsed? A plan that involved maintaining a surreptitious command structure, waging a low-level guerrilla campaign, and gathering support as the occupation proved more and more unpopular and less and less manageable?

Yes, that's just speculation and yes, I have no actual proof and yes, whether a sophisticated resistance was spontaneous or preplanned doesn't really matter a whole lot. But I still wonder....
Getting back to the CSM's coverage,
Time magazine reports that a driving force behind the insurgency is the religious militants who want to turn Iraq into an Islamist state, and ultimately a "haven" for terrorists. These groups are often closely aligned with the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, and Time reports that most follow the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam. ...

Time reports that the goal of the Islamist insurgents is broader than just forcing the US to leave. They want Iraq to be the new Afghanistan: a place where the next generation of "jihadists" can be trained for Al Qaeda and similar groups.
Those two forces obviously have very conflicting, in fact antagonistic, goals. While they and most other forces share a common goal of ousting US (or, to be precise, coalition) forces, what lies beyond that is a recipe for continued, even increased, chaos, a chaos our presence helped to spawn and the explosion of which our continued presence can at best hope to delay but not prevent.

For example, Kirkuk, an oil-rich city contested by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, remains a flashpoint for reasons unconsidered by either the Asia Times' or Time's articles. The Toronto Star for June 21:
Thousands of ethnic Kurds are pushing into lands formerly held by Iraqi Arabs, forcing tens of thousands of them to flee to ramshackle refugee camps and transforming the demographic and political map of northern Iraq.

The Kurds are returning to lands from which they were expelled by the armies of Saddam Hussein and his predecessors in the Baath Party, who ordered thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed and sent waves of Iraqi Arabs north to fill the area with supporters. ...

The Kurdish migration appears to be causing widespread human misery, with Arab settlers complaining of forceful expulsions and even murders at the hands of Kurdish returnees. Many of the Kurdish refugees themselves are gathered in crowed and filthy refugee camps.

U.S. officials say as many as 100,000 Arabs have fled their homes in north-central Iraq and are now scattered in squalid camps across the centre of the country. With the anti-American insurgency raging across much of the same area, the Arab refugees appear to be receiving neither food nor shelter from the Iraqi government, relief organizations or U.S. forces.

"The Kurds, they laughed at us, they threw tomatoes at us," said Karim Qadam, a 45-year-old father of three, now living amid the rubble of a blown-up building in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad. "They told us to get out of our homes. They told us they would kill us. They told us, 'You don't own anything here anymore.'" ...

Despite an explicit prohibition in the Iraqi interim constitution, Kurdish officials are setting up offices and exercising governmental authority in the newly settled areas. ...

U.S. military officers who control Kirkuk say they are blocking attempts to expel more Arabs from the town, for fear of igniting ethnic unrest.
As Ridolfo notes,
Iraq is rife with political turmoil on other levels. Inter-Shiite rivalries continue to ebb and flow, and sectarian violence is on the rise in Kirkuk. In the south, Karim Mahmoud, known as the "Lord of the Marshes" for his leading role in the Iraqi Shiite resistance to the Saddam regime in the marsh areas, allegedly ordered the killing of a local police chief for not doing enough to prevent attacks against British forces. Similarly, in a potentially dangerous development, an imam in Fallujah stands accused of ordering the killings in mid-June of six Shiites in the city. In addition, opposition armed militias, though ordered to disband nearly one year ago, have been reluctant to do so. As one analyst put it, there is no incentive to turn in weapons when a group expects it will need them in the future.
Ridolfo suggests that what Iraq needs is a strong leader but that there is no one who can command respect from all the various factions. For what it's worth, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi at least seems aware of that, as he tries to present himself as just that strong leader. He has already suggested the possibility of martial law, as the New York Times has noted:
Among the emergency rule provisions being considered are a curfew, a ban on public demonstrations, checkpoints to control public movement and changes to search and seizure laws, two cabinet members said in separate interviews on Sunday evening.

It remains unclear whether such measures would bring significant changes in the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Under the United States-led occupation, occupation and Iraqi soldiers and security forces have been allowed to conduct raids without warrants, make arrests without charges, and hold suspects in detention indefinitely.
The political difference, however, is what matters here. There has been considerable fear that after June 30, things would get even worse. Allawi, by raising the possibility of martial law, is hinting that he will not allow that to happen - more precisely, that his government is strong enough to stop it. Further, in his address after the so-called transfer of sovereignty on Monday,
Allawi spoke forcefully for unity and reconciliation, calling on former Baathists, disbanded army troops, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians to merge in the name of a secure, just and multi-ethnic Iraq. He thanked all the right people, offering a hand of peace and prosperous future relations to the U.S.-led coalition, his Middle Eastern neighbours and the leading Shiite religious scholars of Najaf and Karbala, without whose sponsorship he is unlikely to survive, politically.
That from the Toronto Star for June 29, which went on to note that
[l]ong before the transition to nominal independence came to pass, many Iraqis had already signalled their skepticism toward the emerging government. A constituency for the new council, populated heavily by returning Iraqi exiles, Allawi included, does not yet exist. Trust must still be earned.

But on the streets of the upscale Mansour district yesterday, many Iraqis responded to the call to nationhood with a guarded enthusiasm that surprised even them.
Simply put, a lot - I would venture most - Iraqis want this new undertaking to work as advertised. They want the promises of security, jobs, elections, and a departure of foreign troops to be true. And they are prepared, at least for the short term, to suspend their disbelief and give it a chance.

A real question, though, is how much of a chance they're willing to give when so little progress has been made in reconstruction. In fact,
in a few key areas - electricity, the judicial system and overall security - the Iraq that America handed back to its residents Monday is worse off than before the war began last year, according to calculations in a new General Accounting Office report released Tuesday.

The 105-page report by Congress' investigative arm offers a bleak assessment of Iraq after 14 months of U.S. military occupation. Among its findings:

- In 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces, electricity was available fewer hours per day on average last month than before the war. Nearly 20 million of Iraq's 26 million people live in those provinces.

- Only $13.7 billion of the $58 billion pledged and allocated worldwide to rebuild Iraq has been spent, with another $10 billion about to be spent. The biggest chunk of that money has been used to run Iraq's ministry operations.

- The country's court system is more clogged than before the war, and judges are frequent targets of assassination attempts.

- The new Iraqi civil defense, police and overall security units are suffering from mass desertions, are poorly trained and ill-equipped.

- The number of what the now-disbanded Coalition Provisional Authority called significant insurgent attacks skyrocketed from 411 in February to 1,169 in May.
(The full report, in .pdf format, can be found here.)

The GAO blames many of the problems on the insurgency, but there's only so far that can be run as an excuse, since, as the GAO noted, less than 1/4 of the money pledged for reconstruction has actually been spent and little enough of that on actual, you know, reconstruction. Even the money "about to be spent" will bring it to less than half the pledged total.

Iraq today is a fractured nation that is only pretending to be whole. It's people suffer from unemployment, lack of basic services, from violence; they live in fear of
roadside bomb ambushes; drive-by hijackings and ambushes; kidnappings; mortar and rocket bombardments; suicide car bombings; storming and dynamiting of Iraqi police stations; bombings of political party offices; simultaneous multiple bomb attacks nationwide; sabotage of infrastructure, notably oil pipelines; assassinations of government officials and political and religious figures;
the list goes on. There are "sometimes up to 60 or more attacks a day" against coalition troops, a rate actually greater than that back in November when the insurgency took hold. Women and especially teenage girls are particularly affected, their lives drawn in, their futures cut off by
creeping religious conservatism, lawlessness and economic uncertainty, [by] parents ... so rattled by reports of rapes and kidnappings that they keep their girls under closer watch than ever,
by an atmosphere that can make a girl dressed in pink an object for violence because of her clothes.

This is the Iraq we have created, the Iraq we have now "officially" bequeathed to those we claimed to be "liberating." An Iraq of economic crisis, of fear, of increasingly-murderous violence, of sectarian conflict, of barely-suppressed chaos. But still, amazingly enough and may the human spirit be praised for all our days, not an Iraq entirely without hope among its people. That hope is fragile and weak and it can easily turn - and in some has easily turned - to violent anger and despair. But it does exist.

Ask me what to do and I will say I don't know. (And as a parenthetical aside, I'll add that as an advocate of peace I'm fed up with hawks demanding that in order to object I have to specify our way out of a situation into which I would not have had us get.) I see no painless path, no safe route, certainly no rose-petal strewn roadway. There is one thing I believe: Most Iraqis do not want a radical Islamic state. And there is one thing of which I'm sure: By providing a common target and a convenient excuse, our military presence in Iraq is at best not helping and more likely is demonstrably harmful to the establishment of security and the emergence of a secular or moderate Islamic government - for it will only be after our departure that it will become clear how small the ranks of the radical Islamists really are, but as long as we stay those ranks will grow.

We have not helped. We are not helping.

Set the date and get out.

Important addendum to the preceding

From the Christian Science Monitor for July 1:
A landmark ruling by Israel's Supreme Court ordering the rerouting of parts of the West Bank separation barrier is evoking anger on the Israeli right but has prompted congratulations between Palestinians and Israeli community activists who joined to score the legal victory. ...

The ruling negates the army's route for 18 miles of the fence northwest of Jerusalem and is expected to serve as a precedent for moving other parts of the 425-mile barrier route - one-fourth of which has been completed - closer to the old Green Line border that separated Israel from the West Bank until 1967. It would thereby reduce, but not halt, the barrier's penetration into the occupied territory. ...

The court upheld Israel's right to build the barrier and said it is doing so for security, not political, reasons. But it said that military planners of the barrier, which snakes as much as 15 miles beyond the Green Line at its deepest penetration, had failed to meet a legal requirement to "balance between security needs and the rights and interests of the local population."

"Alongside the important security considerations, it must be considered that the fence harms the lives of 35,000 local residents," an official summary of the decision says. The court struck down six army land-confiscation orders in Beit Surik and other villages, and upheld one.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague is expected to issue an advisory opinion on the legality of the barrier in about 10 days. It's hard - at least for me - to say what effect, if any, this will have on the ICJ's decision, since the Israeli Supreme Court's ruling affects the positioning of the barrier, but not the fact of it, even as it penetrates into occupied territory. So it provides some ammo for both sides.

The issue of the territories is of course the central one: As I've noted before, if Israel chose to build this wall inside the Green Line, it's doubtful anyone would have challenged its right to do so and even less likely anyone would have succeeded at such a challenge. But by encompassing major Israeli West Bank settlements and in some cases actually separating Palestinian growers from their fields, it comes across - despite the Supreme Court's finding - less as a security boundary than as a naked land grab, an attempt to create "facts on the ground" that can't be undone. While those "facts" are still being created, it's now clear that their extent is still open to question.

The roots of terrorism

It's rare that I quote anything like the following at such length, but I think it's important enough to be seen in full. To understand why, consider the source: the World Bank. The World Bank is hardly a radical organization. For example, the Public Citizen project called World Bank Watch, which monitors the Bank's loan programs on Water and sanitation, says the institution
continues to promote privatization and cost recovery policies despite evidence that increased cost recovery and privatization reduce access, raise the price of water for the poor, exacerbate inequities, and reduce local control.
In fact, just today This Day of Lagos, Nigeria, reports that the World Bank is giving the government "low marks" because it's not privatizing its water resources, telecommunication industry, and electric power generation fast enough. The Bank stated its goals as
support[ing] transparent and effective implementation of the Federal Government of Nigeria privatisation programme, as a basis for fostering accelerated economic growth, through expanded private investment and improved efficiency in the productive sectors and in infrastructure; and create an enabling environment for private sector participation and competition in infrastructure services....
In other words, privatization is the answer. Never mind what the question is. The Bank's devotion to the economic dominance of banks and transnational corporations is so institutionalized that some groups, such as the Mobilization for Global Justice, argue that the poor of the world would often be better off if the World Bank (along with the International Monetary Fund, the IMF) was simply dismantled. (Global Exchange, which calls the Bank and the IMF "the world's biggest loan sharks" is another good source on this.)

The point, obviously, is that the Bank is not a source expected to be overly sympathetic to the plight of the poor or the political implications of their condition. That's what makes this worth reading. It's the summary of a World Bank report on the Palestinian economy and the issue of settlements in Gaza and the West Bank as published in the Daily Star of Lebanon on Tuesday.
The deep economic crisis in the West Bank and Gaza threatens to impoverish and alienate a generation of young Palestinians. It is undermining the credibility of the Palestinian Authority (PA), increasing the popular appeal of militant factions, and threatening Israel's security.

Unless today's impasse is broken soon, the PA could melt away, leaving Israel with a poor, embittered neighbor with whom dialogue could be much more difficult.

The Palestinian recession is among the worst in modern history. Average personal incomes have declined by more than a third since September 2000, and nearly a half of Palestinians now live below the poverty line.

Today's economic crisis has been caused by restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods, or "closures," which the government of Israel regards as essential to protecting Israeli citizens from attacks by militants. Without a major reform of the closure regime, however, the Palestinian economy will not revive and Israel's security gains may not be sustainable.

Of itself, Israel's Disengagement Plan of June 6 will have very little impact on the Palestinian economy and Palestinian livelihoods, since it only proposes a limited easing of closure. A focus on this over-arching issue is essential if disengagement is to deliver long-term benefits.

Indeed, were it accompanied by the sealing of Gaza's borders to labor and trade or by terminating supplies of water and electricity to Gaza, disengagement would create worse hardship than is seen today.

This could forfeit the international goodwill that Israel's initiative has created. Under such circumstances, the Plan's assertion that Israel is no longer responsible for the population of Gaza will not resonate. Nor would donors appreciate the implication that they must bear the humanitarian consequences of this style of disengagement.

Disengagement will remove internal movement restrictions in Gaza and in part of the northern West Bank, but Palestinian economic recovery depends on a radical easing of internal closures throughout the West Bank, the opening of Palestinian external borders to commodity trade, and sustaining a reasonable flow of Palestinian labor into Israel.

Easing internal closures throughout the West Bank must be accompanied by a credible Palestinian security effort; as long as Palestinian violence persists, the case for dismantling closures will always be contestable. Over the coming year, though, the turmoil likely to attend the completion of the separation barrier will complicate efforts to free up movement within the West Bank.

Removing restrictions on the movement of cargo across borders is relatively simpler - technologies and administrative methods exist that permit the orderly flow of cargo and the maintenance of security.

Introducing a new, efficient border cargo regime would make a major difference to Palestinian welfare and commercial prospects. The international community should focus on this key economic issue in its diplomatic dialogue with the government of Israel.

An easing of closures alone, though, will not attract investors back to the Palestinian economy. A reinvigorated program of Palestinian reform, designed around measures that will create an investor-friendly business environment, is essential. There is no reason for the PA to delay implementation of such a program.

It is important to understand that additional donor money alone can not solve today's economic problems. Donor disbursements of $1 billion per annum (or $310 per person) are already very high.

Additional aid in today's economy would help alleviate day-to-day hardship, but would have little lasting impact. As long as the web of Palestinian economic transactions remains shredded by closures, investors will stay away, and short-term gains will not be sustainable.

With a freeing-up of the constraints on economic activity and committed Palestinian reform, an additional major donor effort would make a difference - it would enable the Palestinian economy to turn the corner. An additional $500 million per annum, on top of existing disbursements, could by 2006 spur a growth in real personal incomes of about 12 percent (and percent in nominal terms), and could reduce unemployment to levels only slightly higher than prior to the intifada.

The alternative to this is stark. At the wrong end of the spectrum of possible outcomes is a Palestinian economy with unemployment levels of over 35 percent by 2006, and with poverty afflicting upward of 55 percent and percent in Gaza. With the PA weakened as it is, the time to get things right is running out.

As for the settlement assets that Israel will leave behind, those in Gaza have considerable economic value, and in time can make a significant contribution - provided that Gaza's borders are opened for trade. Prospects for economic recovery will be enhanced if the US and the EU give adequate preference to Palestinian products to help boost exports.

The manner in which the settlement assets will be transferred to the Palestinians remains a core issue. The PA should seize this opportunity to demonstrate transparency, equity and efficiency in receiving and disposing of the assets. The PA is advised to create a special agency for this purpose. The donors, through the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, should provide the advice and assistance needed to ensure that the asset transfer process goes well and is acceptable to all parties.
The report echoes and draws on earlier findings by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The ILO reported that unemployment stood at an overall rate of 35% in the West Bank and Gaza and that it would be even higher if women confined to their homes by necessity, not choice, were included. It also said that
"severe restrictions" on the movement of persons, goods and services was causing "severe losses in production, employment and income." ...

"A valid work permit is no guarantee of actual employment, particularly for those workers who have to enter Israel to work," the report said, adding that restrictions on mobility continue to intensify because of the new West Bank separation wall.
(The full 50-page report is available in .pdf format here.

For its part, UNRWA held at a two-day conference earlier this month. In his message to the conference, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that
since September 2000, the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who rely on UNRWA for food aid has increased almost ten-fold to 1.1 million from 130,000. In that same time period, the percentage of Palestinians living below the poverty line has tripled to 60 per cent from 20 per cent.
It needs to be re-emphasized, as the World Bank summary notes, that Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan, which involves a type of "withdrawal" from Gaza, will not ameliorate the economic suffering of the Palestinians; in fact, there's every reason to think it will make it worse. I put "withdrawal" in quotes because while under the plan, Israel (theoretically, if carried out in full) would eventually dismantle some 21 settlements in the area, it in no way intends to give up control.

In fact,
the current Israeli plan would allow continued Israeli control of ports and borders, which [Palestinian leaders in Gaza] said would strangle economic activity and prevent passage of people across the border with Egypt,
noted the Washington Post in May. And that control is not intended to be merely symbolic or even political, but military. In fact, hi-tech military. The Toronto Star for June 19 says that
[t]he Israeli army envisions a "remote control" border with the Gaza Strip after a troop withdrawal, including unmanned patrol cars and computerized observation posts that would automatically spot and kill attackers, a military official said yesterday.

The technology already exists....

Under the new plan, proposed by a military think-tank and reported in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, the army would beef up the security fence that currently surrounds Gaza with special sensors that could see clearly in all types of weather and light conditions, military officials said.

The new observation system, which would be able to identify potential assailants, would let a soldier in a remote operations room aim and shoot at the attacker, with the system deciding which weapon is the most appropriate, Yedioth reported.

The military is also testing unmanned beach buggy-type patrol vehicles that can identify and defuse explosives by remote control. Soldiers would also use tiny drone planes, some weighing less than two kilograms, to monitor the border area, military officials said.

Other, more low-tech options for defending the border include a 25-metre-deep trench to block Palestinian arms smuggling between Egypt and Gaza.
In short, what's being contemplated here is not a "withdrawal," not a ceding of anything, but the creation of a huge prison, the world's largest gulag, one holding 1.3 million people who can neither leave nor return without the permission of their jailers, who can be killed by remote control if they approach the bars of their cell, and, as noted by the World Bank, whose supplies of water and electricity are dependent on how pleasing they are to, how cooperative they are with, Israel.

(Sidebar: All this is without even addressing the fact that the same "separation" plan also calls for Israel to hold on to large portions of the West Bank, with any Palestinian areas sliced into powerless Bantustans by the "separation fence" and "security corridors.")

If this is withdrawal, I'd hate to see occupation. Oh wait, we already have. And they look pretty much the same.

Footnote: Just so we don't forget, John Kerry was as droolingly enthusiastic about the "disengagement" plan as Bush; indeed, once Bush announced his support, Kerry couldn't wait to jump on the bandwagon.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

A little too close for my comfort

Of course, you can say that my opinion doesn't matter since it's not my country, but then again I suppose you could make that argument about any events outside the borders of the US where we're not directly involved. Like in, I dunno, DR Congo, Cyprus, Sudan, Haiti....

From the Toronto Star for June 28:
A pro-Western reformer defeated a hardline nationalist ally of former autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in a run-off election for Serbia's president yesterday.

Boris Tadic received 53.7 per cent of the vote, while Tomislav Nikolic got 45 per cent, the state electoral commission said. Turnout was 48.5 per cent, about the same as in the first round of voting two weeks ago.
It's not that I'm glad a "pro-Western reformer" won, it's that I'm not glad that an extreme right-winger who before the election said he would dedicate a victory to the ousted strongman and war criminal Milosevic and who after the election
blamed his loss on "almost all Serbian politicians and the West for spreading fear" among voters
did so well.
"This election has shown that Serbia knows how to recognize a historic moment," Tadic said, celebrating his victory.
It also shows how much is still to be done after an election featuring a turnout that would be embarrassing even for a US presidential election. In fact, the election succeeded only because earlier this year the parliament scrapped a requirement of a 50% turnout for an election to be valid. Three previous presidential elections since 2002 failed to meet that requirement.

Nikolic had finished first in the initial voting on June 13, with 30.4% to Tadic's 27.6%. But with no one having gotten a majority of the vote, the runoff was required. Minor parties joined together to support Tadic to head off a possible Nikolic victory.


What are the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Leaf Me Alone, Please for $600

A myth has it that the best ones are made from leaves rolled on the legs of Cuban women.

Stripped powers

Updated A fair number of the accounts of the Supreme Court's rulings on Monday about captives in the War on Terror(tm)(c)(pat. pend.) have used phrases like "mixed message," "partial victory," "mixed verdict," and the like.

Yeah, well, bull. The fact is that no matter how it's spun, the Bushites lost. Period. Their "victories" were on technicalities and on points not really in dispute. On the basic legal, constitutional questions, the actual issues at hand, they lost flat out.

The three cases, of course, were those of Jose Padilla, Yaser Esam Hamdi, and the prisoners at Guantanamo. Taking the last first, by its decision the Court simply rejected outright the White House claim that those "detainees" have no access to US courts because they are non-citizens being held outside the country. CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin remarked that
the American government was in a very difficult legal position there. I've been to Guantanamo Bay. I've been to that base.
And having been there, he said, it was absolutely clear who was in charge of both the place and the prisoners. There was simply no way to separate US authority from the legal facts of Guantanamo and once the Court had to admit to that, the idea that US law, US constitutional practices, applied to those held there was a straightforward conclusion.

But if that's true, then Hamdi's case is even more straightforward, since he is a US citizen being held within the continental US. Supposedly, the question in his case was if a citizen could be held as an "enemy combatant." But the real underlying issue was if a citizen could be denied access to the courts to challenge their confinement. If the non-citizen "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo can't be denied such access, Hamdi's case becomes a no-brainer. Indeed, to have ruled otherwise presented a real risk of a slippery slope, as even the Court recognized.
Writing for the 6-3 majority in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said, "As critical as the government's interest may be in detaining those who actually pose an immediate threat to the national security of the United States during ongoing international conflict, history and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others who do not present that sort of threat."
Simply put, there were no other decisions they could rationally reach. Now, note I did say "rationally" reach; this Court has been perhaps singularly adept at reaching irrational decisions when they favor the interests of the powerful. And, as George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday,
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and three colleagues seemed eager to find any implied authority from Congress to allow the president to declare citizens enemy combatants.
Toobin echoed the sentiment.
[O]bviously this is a court that feels very strongly about national security, about the president's ability to conduct foreign affairs, to conduct military affairs.
But in this case there was a powerful incentive pointing the other way, which is why I'm not surprised by the outcomed: To have ruled in the Bushites' favor, to have ruled that "enemy combatants" can be denied access to the courts on the president's say-so, would have been to rule themselves out of the issue. That is, they would have been circumscribing their own authority in ways that would have gone far beyond the traditional "no trespassing" zones. (One such, the biggest actually, being "battlefield" decisions of the president as commander-in-chief, which is why the Bushites tried to frame it that way.) I expected the chances of that to be near zero.

There was one technical victory for the Shrub gang: The Court did a little bobbing and weaving and ultimately, by a bare 5-4 majority, used the post-9/11 Congressional authorization for force against the perpetrators of the attack as a justification for allowing Hamdi to be seized as an "enemy combatant," thereby legitimizing this chimera where you are neither POW nor accused criminal but something in between. But even there, the victory likely rings hollow to the Bushites not only because the Court still asserted the right of such a person to raise a legal challenge, but also because it relied on Congressional authorization rather than inherent powers of the president, as the White House wanted.

Jose Padilla's case is somewhat different. Like Hamdi, he is a US citizen. Unlike Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan, Padilla was nabbed in the US. And unlike Hamdi, who the US accuses of carrying a gun for the Taliban (Hamdi says he's innocent and was just caught up in a sweep), Padilla is accused of planning to do something (set off a "dirty bomb") but not of actually having done anything. In a lot of ways, it actually would have seemed to have been the easiest case of the three. In the Guantanamo case, you had non-citizens held outside the US. In the Hamdi case, you had an American citizen caught in a combat zone. In the Padilla case, you had an American citizen taken on US soil who was not even an immediate threat; that is, even if he's guilty of what he's accused of, it was planning, not immediate action. So if the courts are available to the first two, why not the third? It seems a simple question.

Instead, the Court punted.

Relying on the absurd technicality that his suit named Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld instead of the commander of the Navy brig where he's being held, by 5-4 the Court dismissed his petition and said he'd have to refile in a lower court - that is, he has to start over again. Still, as
his attorney, Donna Newman said, "Today the Supreme Court did not rule that the president has the authority to detain an American citizen on American soil. What they did was delay the inevitable - that Padilla must be charged with a crime."
That is, while this can be considered a defeat for Padilla, it can't be considered on any legal principle a victory for the Bushites.

In short, as Turley put it,
[a]s established by the court Monday, the president cannot deny to either the Guantanamo detainees or citizens such as Hamdi and Padilla some semblance of habeas corpus, the right to answer the charges against them.
However, he adds "that this right was even at question is an example of a system at risk." So don't break out the bubbly. But do breathe a sigh of relief.

Footnote: From the June 19 New York Times:
For nearly two and a half years, American officials have maintained that locked within the steel-mesh cells of the military prison here are some of the world's most dangerous terrorists - "the worst of a very bad lot," Vice President Dick Cheney has called them. ...

But ... an examination by The New York Times has found that government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.
And just why are we not surprised?

Updated to include the Footnote.

Speaking of being stripped

The July 5 issue of "Newsweek" informs us that
[a] captured Qaeda commander who was a principal source for Bush administration claims that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime has changed his story, setting back White House efforts to shore up the credibility of its original case for the invasion of Iraq.
The man in question is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Pakistan in November 2001. Under "aggressive interrogation techniques," he told US agents that Iraq had provided training in "poisons and deadly gases" for al-Qaeda. Secretary of State Colin Powerless played up those claims in his prewar presentation to the UN Security Council, asserting that
a bin Laden operative seeking help in acquiring poisons and gases had forged a "successful" relationship with Iraqi officials in the late 1990s and that, as recently as December 2000, Iraq had offered "chemical or biological weapons training for two Al Qaeda associates."
Only one small problem: The story is very likely untrue and al-Libi just made it up to please his captors.
[M]ore recently, sources said, U.S. interrogators went back to al-Libi with new evidence from other detainees that cast doubt on his claims. Al-Libi "subsequently recounted a different story," said one U.S. official.
More bluntly, he recanted. Which may be why the "poisons and deadly gases" business has disappeared from White House arguments, right along with WMDs in every garage and bin Laden having a PO box in Saddam Hussein's palace. Interestingly - and I think significantly - while the original story was emphasized, its retraction by its source has never been officially acknowledged.

And after all, why should it be? After his fantasies about WMDs and missiles were exposed as just that after Saddam was booted, Ahmed Chalabi shrugged and said that it really didn't matter if his information was wrong because it "was in a good cause." The White House, it seems, feels that same way: So what if we lied, so what if we deceived, so what if we were wrong, so what if yet another of our claims has turned out to be bogus? It worked. That's all that matters and we will never, ever admit to having gotten any of it wrong.

Footnote: There are predictions that the White House will do a "document dump" before the election to try to establish that there was a "relationship" between al-Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq. However, the White House has so far defined "contacts" and "relationship" as synonymous - which of course they are not, so any claims made in the run-up to November should be doubted even before they're made.

Moreover, the 9/11 Commission said there was no "collaborative relationship" between al-Qaeda and Saddam. "Collaborative" is of course the operative and, I expect, deliberately chosen word. (Col-lab-o-rate, intr.v. To work together.) That is yet another step removed from the Bushites line. In the wake of that assertion, the WHS* ran two lines of defense: One that the Commission was wrong, there was a "relationship" (although, interestingly, I don't recall any of them specifying a collaborative one), and the other that there really was no conflict between what they said and what the Commission said. Those two arguments are of course mutually contradictory, but again, that doesn't matter to them as long as it works.

So do look for a document dump and do look for the same sorts of word games and sneaky parsing of phrases. Just bear in mind that being in contact with someone has nothing to do with working with them - or even approving of them, for that matter.

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

Worth mentioning

Writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz on June 20, columnist Zvi Bar'el said:
Like a belly dancer who allows members of the audience to peel off layers of clothing, U.S. President George W. Bush is being stripped of each justification for the war against Iraq.
From that wonderful opening line, the column goes on to assess the miserable security situation in Iraq. But what struck me most and what I wanted to pass on was the closing paragraph.
And one more small thing: Up to now, the war is estimated to have cost the U.S. a mere $120 billion. A tenth of this sum would provide a springboard for the solution of the Israel-Palestinian dispute; another tenth would have vast impact on the Jordanian and Egyptian economies; and another tenth would solve the main part of the refugee issue.... All these price figures seem particularly conspicuous when considering the not-impressive results of the war against Iraq.
'Nuff said.

Monday, June 28, 2004


What is a Ferris Wheel?

Leaf Me Alone, Please for $200

This team won its first Stanley Cup in 1932.

Destroy all Geeks

Stories, tales, legends, mythology, dreams, all this and more, and now, perhaps science. From the BBC for June 6:
A scientist says he may have found remains of the lost city of Atlantis.

Satellite photos of southern Spain reveal features on the ground appearing to match descriptions made by Greek scholar Plato of the fabled utopia.

Dr Rainer Kuehne thinks the "island" of Atlantis simply referred to a region of the southern Spanish coast destroyed by a flood between 800 BC and 500 BC. ...

The identification of the site with Atlantis was first proposed by Werner Wickboldt, a lecturer and Atlantis enthusiast....

Mr Wickboldt explained: "This is the only place that seems to fit [Plato's] description."

He added that the Greeks might have confused an Egyptian word referring to a coastline with one meaning "island" during transmission of the Atlantis story.

Commenting on the satellite image showing the two "temples", Tony Wilkinson, an expert in the use of remote sensing in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, UK, told BBC News Online: "A lot of the problems come with interpretations. I can see something there and I could imagine that one could interpret it in various ways. But you've got several leaps of faith here. ...

"What we need here is a date range. Otherwise, you're just dealing with morphology. But the [features] are interesting."
"Way down, below the ocean...."

Quick update: Democratic Republic of Congo

The military crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo appears to have been stilled for the moment after a face-to-face meeting on Friday between the leaders of DR Congo and Rwanda. Fighting around the town of Bukavu after its seizure by renegade commanders earlier this month generated a flood of more than 1,000 refugees a day into neighboring Burundi and raised fears of a total breakdown of the fragile peace established less than a year ago after five years of war that left millions dead from killing, disease, and starvation.

Forces lead by Colonel Jules Mutebusi and General Laurent Nkunda had seized Bukavu. Nkunda had claimed to be preventing genocide against his fellow Banyamulenges, but the UN rejected that charge, saying it could confirm the death of only four Banyamulenge civilians in recent fighting.

After the rebels were driven out, tensions increased even further when Congolese leader Joseph Kabila accused Rwanda of backing Mutebusi Nkunda. The fact that Rwanda allowed Mutebusi and 300 of his men to flee across Rwanda's supposedly closed border did little to disabuse the Congolese government of that notion, even though Rwanda called it a "humanitarian gesture."

For its part, Rwanda has denied any support for the rebels and denounced DR Congo's move of 10,000 troops to their common border as a hostile act.

In the face of this, Kabila met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame for four hours on Friday, during which time they pledged to stand by a 2002 agreement under which Rwanda withdrew 20,000 troops from DR Congo, which cleared the way for a peace settlement. The also agreed to send monitors to the border region as well as a joint mission to investigate the charges of aggression made by each side against the other.
The verification mission was originally called for under a 2002 peace accord that helped end the 1998-2002 multination war fought in Congo, but was later scrapped at Kabila's insistence. Friday's development showed a concrete, if small, move to advance the peace process.
There is still cause for great concern. For example,
Rwanda says Congo hasn't fulfilled it promise to disarm the Rwandan Hutus and send them home. Kabila pledged to do that under the peace deal that led to the withdrawal of Rwandan troops from Congo.
But for the moment at least, two sides that I'm quite sure have no desire to return to the chaos from which they have so recently emerged have found a way to head it off.

Oddly enough, I flashed on an old "Star Trek" episode. I actually don't remember the story but I remember the epilogue. Spock had made some comment about humanity's violent tendencies. Kirk, as part of his response, said something like the key to humanity's survival had been learning to say "I'm not going to kill - today. I won't say forever, I won't say that I never will, but I'm not going to - today." And then continuing to say that each day.

Well, DR Congo and Rwanda have decided they are not going to go to war - today. There's no promise, no guarantee on forever, but they're not going to war - today. And that's something to be glad of.

Previous posts on the situation in DR Congo were on May 15, June 7, June 11, and June 20.

Quick update: Cyprus

Updated A politically-tense status quo seems to have settled on the situation over Cyprus in the wake of the island's rejection of a referendum on a UN-sponsored reunification plan which islanders had been under heavy pressure to approve.

The plan would have created a "federation" of a Greek-Cypriot area and a Turkish-Cypriot area joined by a weak central government. It was soundly defeated by the Greek-Cypriot side, which felt (with justification) that the plan legitimized the 30 year-old seizure of the northern third of the island by Turkish forces, which established a breakaway state there. That government has never been recognized by a single nation other than Turkey.

On June 11, the UN Security Council agreed after a rancorous meeting to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force on the island for another six months, but also required
Secretary-General Kofi Annan to review the purpose of the force....

James Cunningham, the U.S. deputy ambassador, harshly criticized the Greek Cypriots, saying Annan had to examine "the need" for the operation, in light of scarce resources and the results of the April 24 referendum. ...

Cunningham said Greek Cypriots "missed an historical opportunity for peace." If they want to negotiate in the future, they need first to "articulate with clarity and finality" their concerns," he said.
But of course, Greek Cypriots have made clear their "concerns." They want reunification as a single nation, not as two stitched-together rump states, and they want the 33,000 Turkish troops still on the island, off (and the peacekeeping force to remain until they are). They want, that is, the UN to live up to its own standards, including "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."

At the same time, Turkish Cypriots - who strongly supported the UN plan in the referendum - fear that reunification under those terms would turn them into an oppressed minority and perhaps even drive them from their homes. Indeed, resettlement arrangements between the areas of the island was one of the sticking points in the negotiations leading to the referendum. While some of the Turks living on Cyprus were brought there by Ankara in order to strengthen its claim to the territory, their children were often born there: To them, Cyprus is home and always has been. And there are other Turkish families who were there long before the 1974 invasion. Any just settlement would have to take account of those facts and provide protection against post-reunification discrimination. But in the view of Greek Cypriots, the rejected settlement went far beyond that.

As a result, reported the Greek newspaper Kathimerini on June 12,
Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos widened his country's rift with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Washington and London yesterday by bluntly rejecting any new vote on a UN blueprint to unite Cyprus. ...

"The Annan plan as is, without undergoing changes, cannot be accepted or be put before a referendum again," Papadopoulos told reporters here after returning from a trip to the United States where he met with Annan. "There is disagreement with Britain and the United States... Their position is that it's the only plan that can lead to a settlement. I told the secretary-general it was not the only solution," he added.
Annan had previously
blamed Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos for misrepresenting the U.N. reunification plan because he did not really want a settlement.

Papadopoulos called Annan's remarks "offensive" and "erroneous" in a 31-page written response.
Something was made of the subsequent elections for the European Parliament on the island when the Democratic Rally party (DISY), which had supported the UN blueprint, came in first with 28.2% of the vote, enough for two of the six seats allotted to Cyprus in the 723-member EP, Kathimerini reported on June 14. While clearly a victory for DISY, it actually did not reflect a shift of opinion on the island: The next four parties, all of which opposed the plan, together got over 66% of the vote and the other four seats.

More recently, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has
expressed his dissatisfaction at the European Union's call that Ankara recognize the Republic of Cyprus and he accused the EU of dragging its feet in ending the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots.

"They have not taken a single step," Erdogan said, referring to the EU's promise to lift restrictions against the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state in northern Cyprus after Turkish Cypriots voted to accept a UN reunification plan in April.
The issue here is that Cyprus is now a member of the EU - but because reunification failed, the Turkish-controlled area is still technically a breakaway state. The net effect is that the Greek-Cypriots get the benefits of EU membership but the Turkish-Cypriots are still isolated. But because Ankara has customs agreements with the EU, it's being pressured to recognize Cyprus by extending those agreements to include it and the other new members.

That isolation may be ending, however. Kathimerini also reports that
the US State Department coordinator for the Cyprus issue, Thomas Weston, paid the first visit by a US official to the offices of the Turkish-Cypriot representation in Washington on Thursday[, June 17]. He and Turkish-Cypriot representative Osman Ertug discussed US measures aimed at easing the breakaway state's isolation. Weston said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's plan was not open to the renegotiation that Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos has called for. Papadopoulos, he said, "has already received his reply from the Turkish Cypriots with regard to the Annan plan and therefore will not find someone to hold the new negotiations with," the Athens News Agency quoted Weston as saying.
If the US's intention to tilt toward Turkey in this was not clear enough, in a June 27 press background briefing on Shrub's talks with Turkish leaders, a "senior administration official" said that he
expressed his thanks to Turkey for its extraordinarily constructive and creative attitude.... [He] also expressed his real gratitude to Turkey for what it had done and made clear that ... Turkish Cypriots no longer be subject to isolation
because they had "done what the world asked."

Apparently, free elections only count when we get the result we want. By the way, has anyone else noticed that our new readiness, even eagerness, to reward Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots for agreeing to, in effect, legitimize Turkey's 1974 invasion - which must have been a real wrenching decision for them, I bet - came just about the time Turkey was publicly coning around to our way of thinking about Iraq and the "war on terror"(tm)(c)(pat. pending)?

Footnote: Turkey hopes to open negotiations on becoming part of the EU by this fall. It had previously been denied membership over human rights questions. Any one member of the EU can veto that process. Cyprus says it will not, but Austria's incoming president Heinz Fischer has raised concerns about the timing. I wonder long it will be before he'll be hearing from a "senior administration official?"

Previous posts on Cyprus were on January 26, February 5, February 14, February 20, March 17, March 23, April 5, April 18, April 24, and June 1.

Updated to include the link for "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and to correct the wording of the quote.

Sunday, June 27, 2004


What is the coccyx?


The first one, built in 1893, consisted of 2,200 tons of steel, rose 268 feet, and had thirty-six cars each carrying sixty people.

And so it goes

I went to a peace picnic today, starting to get actively involved with the local movement. I figure now that we've been here a couple of months and it looks like we'll be here a while longer, well, damn well time to make some connections.

Unfortunately (from my perspective), most of the activity either ongoing or proposed had to do with getting John Kerry elected.

Fortunately (from my perspective), a lot of that was against the background of looking for ways to pressure Kerry to be more outspoken and forceful on issues of concern to those of us in the progressive and radical communities - that is, to pull him closer to us. This wasn't an "Anybody But Bush" crowd, it was more like a "When life gives you lemons" crowd. I gathered that a number of them had been working for Kucinich. In fact, some still are: It seems the Kucinich campaign is trying to put together some activities, workshops, whatever, on issues he raised that Kerry either is not addressing or addressing only weakly.

(Not that Kucinich was a leftist radical's dream but he was my favorite among the Democrats and certainly is clearly to the left of John "I'm not a redistributionist Democrat and what's more, we need more troops in Iraq" Kerry.)

I've mentioned before that I live in a safe state; if everyone who is inclined to vote for Nader or the Greens or whoever else is a progressive alternative to the right wing v. centrist campaign of the major parties actually did so, Kerry would still carry this state comfortably. That's relevant here because the big effort to support Kerry involved doing outreach to swing states rather then "get out the vote for John!" That indicated a certain degree of political acumen that is rare enough in the peace movement and I was glad to see.

I have a whole bunch of things to take care of tonight so this may be it. But I expect I'll be back later because there are a few things worth noting that I don't have time to address right now. See you soon.


What is the septum?

Dem Bones for $2000

Three to five vertebrae fuse to form the tailbone, also called this for its resemblance to a cuckoo's beak.


Saturday, June 26, 2004

Just FYI

Don't expect much more from me today. I intend to be at an anti-Iraq War rally in the afternoon and my sister-in-law is getting married in the evening. So I'll be away most of the day.

Go for four: some news just to feel good

In the face of famine, war, torture, and the possibility of environmental catastrophe in the next several decades, it may not seem important. Still, it made me smile. From the BBC for June 24:
Numbers of African black rhinos are rising in the wild, conservationists say, suggesting the endangered animals could be on the road to recovery.

New figures put the current number of black rhinoceroses at 3,600, a rise of 500 animals over the last two years. ...

The black rhino suffered a near-catastrophic decline from about 65,000 animals in the 1970s to only 2,400 in the mid-1990s.

But the continuing rise in black rhinos since the mid-1990s is encouraging, say the conservation groups behind the new estimates. ...

The number of white rhinos, which had fallen to just 50 individuals one hundred years ago, now stand at 11,000 and appear stable.
The article also notes that two rhino sub-species still stand on the brink of extinction, with a single population of 20 northern white rhinos and only a few western black rhinos thought to remain. Still,
"[d]espite threats like poaching and habitat destruction rhino numbers are moving away from the brink of extinction," said Callum Rankine, WWF's [World Wildlife Fund] international species officer for the UK.
So go ahead and smile.

On the other hand, this is good news, no bit about it

It wasn't a shutout, but it was damn close.
New York (AP, June 24) - A federal appeals court on Thursday largely reversed a landmark set of rule changes from the Federal Communications Commission that would have allowed companies to own more radio and television stations in the same market.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia marked a major setback to the FCC's efforts to deregulate media ownership rules and a victory for public interest groups that had opposed the measures. ...

The court also kept in place an order it made last September blocking the rules from taking effect. ...

"This is a big, big win for diversity," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, CEO of the Media Access Project, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm that led the lawsuit against the FCC.
FCC Chair Michael "I Love Monopolies" Powell of course groused that the court was interfering with the agency's ability to advance the interests of corpora - er, the public, of course, the public - but
Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director for Consumers Union, one of the plaintiffs, called the Third Circuit court's ruling "a complete repudiation of rules that would allow one or two media giants to dominate the most important sources of local news and information in almost every community in America."
Footnote: Just to be clear, this had to do with ownership in a single market. The national limit on broadcast ownership, which now stands at 39% (after the FCC tried to push it from 35% to 45%) - that is, no one owner can own so many radio or TV stations that their total potential audience exceeds 39% of the population - are a separate issue.

So find good news where you can

Amid the sorrow and loss, there is a ray of light. Small, yes, but there.

As reported by the Toronto Globe & Mail last week,
[t]he number of refugees worldwide has fallen to 9.7 million, the lowest level in at least a decade because of increased international efforts to help uprooted people, the UN refugee agency said Thursday. ...

A key reason for the drop was the continued return of refugees to Afghanistan. More than half of the 1.1 million refugees repatriated last year returned to Afghanistan; large numbers of refugees also returned home to Angola, Burundi and Iraq.

"The phenomenal return of Afghans to their homeland over the past few years underscores the benefits of sustained international attention and support for the work of UNHCR and its partners," [Ruud] Lubbers[, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] said. "The impact is felt as far away as Europe, where the numbers of Afghan asylum seekers have plunged."
The total number of refugees, defined as those who have fled across a national border, was down by nearly one million from the year before, a drop of almost 9%. (UNHCR also tries to help others who have been forced from their homes but are not "officially" refugees; the two groups together make up "the population of concern.")
Not all the news is good, however. Six countries - Sudan, Liberia, Central African Republic, Congo, Ivory Coast and Somalia - each produced more than 15,000 refugees in 2003. Some 807,000 claims for asylum or refugee status were submitted in 141 different countries.

Around 112,000 refugees fled from Sudan alone.
And that will likely get worse as the situation in Darfur worsens. Yet even there, with talk of disarming the militias, it's not completely wrapped in gloom. Yes, for now it's still just talk - but slowly the world is coming to pay attention. And until now there wasn't even talk.

A little bit of good news

Just a preliminary step and in that sense a small thing, to be sure, but it's still a good one. The Trib-Star (Terre Haute, IN) reported last week that
[t]he Army's countdown for destruction of the deadly nerve agent VX has begun.

The Newport Chemical Agent Destruction Facility has nearly completed the first of two final phases of preparation for nerve agent VX destruction. The destruction is scheduled to begin in September.

"Currently we are in the process of the 'demonstration of safe operations,'" Jeff Brubaker, Army site project manager, said Thursday. He said this program involves the identification of tasks and systems that must be validated before starting the destruction of chemical agent. ...

Before VX neutralization is initiated, the Army must formally notify Congress it is ready to begin on a specific date. The Army also must notify the oversight organization under the International Chemical Weapons Convention that more than 150 nations signed agreeing to destroy all chemical weapon stockpiles.
The Newport Chemical Depot is in Newport, Indiana, about 70 miles west of Indianapolis.

The destruction is taking place as part of the US's obligations under the UN Chemical Weapons Convention, which it ratified in April, 1997. Our entire chemical weapons arsenal - which consists of about 31,000 tons of VX, sarin and mustard nerve agent stored since Richard Nixon ordered their production stopped in 1969 - must be destroyed by 2007. The process is overseen internationally by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has the full text of the Convention here.

The real reason this is happening, of course, the real reason the Convention was approved in the first place, is that the big guns, i.e., the US, the then-USSR, France, the UK, and so on had come to the conclusion that chemical weapons depend a great deal on uncontrollable environmental factors (such as wind direction, most obviously) and what's more, countermeasures are available to even a moderately industrialized foe. Therefore, it was held, they are not particularly efficient and not particularly useful against any but the most defenseless targets. So it wasn't that hard in principle to give them up.

Even so, credit Nixon for taking a bold step to break the "you first" logjam. Because getting rid of these monuments to madness, even though many others remain, is, yes, to quote a long-time friend, "a good thing." In fact, a very good thing.

Footnote: According to Agencie Presse France for June 25,
[a] team of Chinese and Japanese chemical experts found 540 mustard and phosgene bombs in the latest clean-up of Japanese chemical weapons left in China in World War II, local media has reported. ...

Japan has estimated that its forces abandoned more than 700,000 chemical weapons in China after the war, although Chinese experts say as many as two million such weapons exist.

This would give China the world's largest stockpile of abandoned chemical weapons.

Some 600,000 bombs have already been collected and stored in Jilin province, awaiting the construction of a bomb incinerator to destroy them.
So much history, so much fear, so much murder, to undo. In his 1967 book The Politics of Experience, R. D. Laing wrote "Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow men in the last fifty years." It's sometimes frightening, overwhelming, to consider what we face. So we take it a bit at a time, a bite at a time, and when a bite, even a nibble, is pleasing - such as the preparations to carry out obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention - we can and should take hope without embarrassment.

Friday, June 25, 2004


What is the wrist?

Dem Bones for $1200

A bone called the vomer makes up much of this dividing wall in your nose.

School's in

As of June 24, 501 academics representing 110 institutions in 40 states have signed a letter that says
As members of university faculties in law, international relations, diplomacy, and public policy, we write to register our objection to the systematic violation of human rights practiced or permitted by authorities of the United States within occupied Iraq during recent months: we request Congressional action to ensure accountability for such violations and to safeguard against such egregious abuses in the future. ...

[W]e ask that Congress take action to:

assess responsibility for the abuses that have taken place, identifying the officials at all levels who must be held accountable for enabling these abuses to occur and for the failure to investigate them, and determining what sanctions, including impeachment and removal from office of any civil officer of the United States responsible, may be appropriate.
Put more bluntly, although they don't say it directly they actually are calling on Congress to investigate the possibility of impeaching top White House officials, including Rumsfeld, Powerless, Rice, and Shrub himself.

(Thanks to for the link.)

What, another petition?

The Center for American Progress has a petition calling for the "resignation or removal" of John Ashcroft as Attorney General. Modeled on the Declaration of Independence, it begins this way:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for the people to call to account and seek the removal of those who govern them, a decent respect to the opinions of humanity requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to such action.

The history of law enforcement by the present Attorney General is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States, to the detriment of both our liberty and our security. He has forfeited, through his disdain for the Constitution and the Rule of Law which he has sworn to uphold, any legitimate claim to exercise power over his fellow citizens. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
It follows with a lengthy bill of particulars.

Now, whether or not trying to get Cigarettebuttfarm out of office is doable, worth the time and energy, or would make any difference are all debatable. But adding your name to the petition won't take up more than a few moments and I figure it can't hurt - if only because it helps to keep the continuing erosion of our civil liberties up as an issue. So go "sign" it.

Patriotism in action

The Smothers Brothers used to do a bit - actually, maybe they still do - in which Tommy mocks the song "I Talk to the Trees" from the Broadway musical "Paint Your Wagon" as "a stupid song from a stupid show" while Dick demands with increasing insistence "Have you seen it?" Finally, a frustrated Tommy bursts out with "I'm an American! I don't have to see something to know it's stupid!"
"I can speak for myself and I can speak for the President, and I can assure you that neither of us have seen [Fahrenheit 9/11]," said White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett. ...

"This is a film that doesn't require us to actually view it to know it's filled with factual inaccuracies."
Clearly, a fine American.

Do as we say....

Point: During a photo-op at the White House with Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy of Hungary on Tuesday, Shrub said
Hungary is a place that is a stable country, based upon rule of law and transparency.
Counterpoint: As a result of a Supreme Court ruling on Thursday,
[t]he Bush administration won't have to reveal secret details of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force before the election....

In a 7-2 decision, justices said the lower court should consider whether a federal open government law could be used to get task force documents. Even if that court rules against the administration, appeals would tie up the case well past November.
The White House has fought to keep the members of the task force a secret to keep from having to officially reveal that the panel, created to develop proposals for US energy policy, consisted largely of energy corporation officials.

(Bush quote link via The Daily Misleader.)

Footnote: The assertion about the members of the task force, by the way, is not speculation; enough names have been leaked to substantiate it. So the actual purpose here is not to keep these names secret but to enable them to keep the members of any and all similar "task forces" likewise out of sight of the public (plus to avoid the greater political impact that seeing the names all at once rather than dribbled out one at a time could have).

That's s-o-v-e-r....

sov·er·eign·ty n. 1. Supremacy of authority or rule as exercised by a sovereign or sovereign state. 2. Royal rank, authority, or power. 3. Complete independence and self-government. 4. A territory existing as an independent state.

According to the BBC for Friday,
[t]he US Government has said it plans to maintain legal jurisdiction over US forces in Iraq after the handover of sovereignty at the end of June.

It is taking the action so its forces are not subject to Iraqi courts. ...

A senior US military official also said that the plan would be that all foreign coalition forces would continue to be immune from Iraqi prosecutions.

There are about 140,000 US troops currently in Iraq and 25,000 from other countries.

The most likely option at the moment appears to be that the current US administrator Paul Bremer would extend what is known as Order 17, which gives all foreign personnel in Iraq protection from prosecution in Iraqi courts.
Comic relief was provided by the assertion from US officials said this would be done with the agreement of the Iraqi people.

This comes on the same day that CNN reported that
[i]n his confirmation hearing before the Senate on Thursday, Gen. George Casey - who will soon take over as the commander of coalition forces - said U.S. Central Command is working on contingency planning in case increased violence persists in Iraq after the handover. ...

As many as 15,000 troops could be deployed to Iraq if the insurgency continues to intensify, CNN has learned.
"In case?" The BBC quotes Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as saying
we have been expecting this escalation and we are expecting more escalation in the days ahead
and had this from Secretary of State Colin Powerless:
"I think we underestimated the nature of the insurgency that we might face during this period," he said.

"The insurgency that we're looking at now has become a serious problem for us, but it's a problem that we will deal with."
So ultimately I don't think there's any "in case" about it. Another 15,000 troops, a 10% increase in the US forces in Iraq, forces that will continue to not be subject to Iraqi law - and apparently will be there for the foreseeable future, as the Washington Post reminds us.
"I think it's entirely possible" that U.S. troops could be stationed in Iraq for years, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told the House Armed Services Committee [on Tuesday]. But, he added, as the Iraqi army and new national guard develop, "we will be able to let them be in the front lines and us be in a supporting position."

Wolfowitz said it is possible that U.S. troops could be used to enforce Iraqi martial law after the partial transfer of power a week from now.
So 155,000 troops, answerable only to their own hierarchy, not to the supposedly free nation they are occupying, will be helping to enforce martial law against a populace increasingly outraged by their presence, thereby clearly identifying themselves with that government and thus that government with them - which will do a hell of a lot for that government's legitimacy among that same populace.

(Thanks to This Modern World for the link to the Post article.)

Footnote: Speaking of which, one other thing about it. "Partial transfer." A description I frankly would not have expected to see in such a mainstream paper, which usually is content to let reality be manufactured in DC's halls of power. Has Bush's position really crumbled to the point where rejecting the White House line (in this case, that of "full sovereignty" for Iraq as of July 1) is so casual? One can hope.

Updated to add the link to the Iraq poll. Those results, which were not released publicly but were obtained by Newsweek, are available in slide format here.

Blog matters

Just to update you, I've been fiddling with the template for this blog - and learning a little more about .html in the process.

As you may have noticed, I've updated and somewhat rearranged the link list and have added the boxes with links to Media Matters for America and Buzzflash. (The latter of which, unhappily, is evidently designed for use with IE. Those of you using Netscape - which includes me, in fact - will note that there are no breaks between items. But the five items are all there.)

I've also changed the appearance of the links. Personally, I never much cared for links that shout out their presence by boldly contrasting colors and underlining; I think they make it harder to read the post in a natural fashion. So I changed both.

From now on, links will look like this. (Don't bother following the link, it just leads back here.) I think the color difference is obvious enough without being intrusive.

If this makes it hard for any readers to spot links, please let me know and I will experiment with different colors until I find a satisfactory one.

Thursday, June 24, 2004


What is slime? (Acceptable: grime)

Dem Bones for $400

You can toss a ball with a flick of this because the carpal bones articulate with the radius and ulna.

Oooh - what you said!

No particular reason for this, I just found it amusing.

According to Reuters, during a "heated exchange" on the Senate floor today, The Big Dick Cheney told Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) either to "fuck off" or "go fuck yourself."

Asked about it, Cheney's spokesman Kevin Kellems said "there was a frank exchange of views."

And that is what that usually means, isn't it?

An oldie but a, uh, er....

A little over a month ago, Common Cause released a study called "Democracy on Drugs - The Medicare/Prescription Drug Bill: A study in How Government Shouldn't Work."

It lays out how the bill's supporters used bribery, delayed votes, improper lobbying, withholding of information about costs, blocking of members of the conference committee from attending sessions, and a multimillion dollar ad campaign designed by the White House (including the creation of phony "news" items) to gain passage. And then there's also the fact that a main sponsor of the bill was simultaneously negotiating a $2 million job offer from the drug industry.

You may well have head all this before at some time, but seeing it all laid out in one place is kind of chilling.

The report, in .pdf format, is here.

Read this

Just do. It'll only take a few minutes out of your life. Then be glad you can spend it that way.

IQ Tests

Mother Jones' Daily Mojo sent me to an article in the Los Angeles Times running down a list of intelligence failures, some gross, some stupid, that preceded the invasion of Iraq. My favorite was this one:
U.S. analysts also erred in their analysis of high-altitude satellite photos, repeatedly confusing Scud missile storage places with the short, half-cylindrical sheds typically used to house poultry in Iraq. As a result, as the war neared, two teams of U.N. weapons experts acting on U.S. intelligence scrambled to search chicken coops for missiles that were not there.

"We inspected a lot of chicken farms," said a former inspector who asked not to be identified because he now works with U.S. intelligence. His U.N. team printed "Ballistic Chicken Farm Inspection Team" on 20 gray T-shirts to mark the futile hunt.
But there's much more going on here, I think, than (depending on your perspective) a frustrating or sardonically amusing list of screwups and shortcomings.

First is the implication that if only the intelligence was accurate, the Iraq War would never have happened. And that's absurd. The intelligence was not the cause of the war, it was the excuse. Intelligence was both used and abused, revealed and concealed; it was offered straight up or openly shot down; it was cherry-picked or gutted, emphasized or eviscerated; it was treated in whatever way would best advance the argument for attacking Iraq.

To cite just one example, which can be drawn from the LA Times article:
U.S. experts, for example, still have not been able to determine the meaning of three secretly taped conversations that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell played to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003 in making the case for war. Investigators have been unable to identify who was speaking on the tapes or precisely what they were talking about.
In playing the tapes, Powell identified them as recent electronic intercepts of officers or commanders of the Republican Guard and claimed they proved Iraq was hiding banned weapons.

Now, you can claim that the inability to gather more information about those calls is an intelligence shortcoming - but the clearly fraudulent use of that information was not: It was a political decision made by the White House. The WHS* had convinced themselves against all logic and evidence that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the key to imposing their vision of a Pax Americana on the Middle East and by God! they were going to have their war. Intelligence, good or bad, was merely a means to that end.

What we're seeing now is a replay of the old trick of dodging questions about policy by focusing attention on the mechanics. Forests and trees and all that.

Second, I think the article is further evidence of a serious, behind-the-scenes battle going on between the CIA on one hand and the White House and military intelligence on the other. The article says it's based on interviews with "current and former U.S. intelligence officials." Those officials, in turn, apparently have access to the forthcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report on US intelligence, from which a lot of the failures described appear to come.

While the article does briefly mention the "National Security Agency, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies" and says the report will criticize the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, still most of the text is taken up with charges of failures by the CIA. Indeed, it seems that's what most of the debate of late has been about: how the CIA fouled up. The LA Times even says this:
At that point [December 1998], the CIA and other groups increasingly turned to defectors presented by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, another London-based exile group that was working to overthrow the Baghdad regime.
But by that time, the CIA had long soured on Chalabi, regarding him as unreliable. In fact, it was the ears of the White House hawks and their OSP that were being filled with Chalabi's sweet nothings about cheering throngs and rose petals in pathways. So why are Chalabi and the CIA being linked here? Mere sloppy reporting? Or is that the way the story was fed to them by "officials?"

This is part of a PR campaign, folks! A carefully-constructed White House plot to blame the entire mess on the CIA so they can walk! Pay attention!

But the agency is not without the means to fight back. So at home we have the choir directors trying to get everyone to sing the Battle Hymn of the White House, also known as It Was All the CIA's Fault. (I also guarantee that if they get enough people at least humming the same tune they'll introduce the updated version, with the refrain It Was All George Tenet's CIA's Fault with a counterpoint of "You know, Bill Clinton's George Tenet's CIA.") Meanwhile, in Iraq, the White House's boy (Chalabi) is out while the CIA's boy (Allawi) is in.

This could be interesting.

Footnote: The LA Times article also says that
[a]fter the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the CIA and other Western spy services infiltrated U.N. teams sent to disarm Iraq, and used the cover to spy on the regime.
At the time, when Saddam complained the inspections were being used as a cover for spying, there were shocked denials and it was used as further evidence that he was not only an evil dictator, he was a paranoid liar and quite possibly mentally unstable.

Plus ça change....

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


What is chime?

Rhymes with Rhyme for $1000

Slug and snail residue.

Just noted in passing

Updated Some attention has been paid to the story in the June 28 issue of Newsweek asserting that some staffers of the 9/11 Commission "flat out didn't believe" that Dick Cheney got the clearance he claimed from Bush to shoot down an airliner headed for Washington after the first two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center towers.

The White House "vigorously lobbied" the commission to change the initial language and as a result "[t]he report was 'watered down,' groused one staffer."

What I found more interesting, however, were two other things. One was that
"We didn't think it was written in a way that clearly reflected the accounting the president and vice president had given to the commission," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett tells Newsweek.
I wasn't aware the commission was obligated to simply act as stenographers for The Big Dick and Shrub.

The other was one of I. F. Stone's "shirttails," the bit at the end of the story that may be the most interesting. This is the last paragraph of Newsweek's press release announcing the story.
The vice president also reasserted his belief that a long-alleged meeting between 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta and an Iraqi intel agent on April 9, 2001, in Prague might have occurred. Some 9-11 staffers said they were astonished by this: their report, citing cell-phone records, concludes unambiguously that Atta could not have been in Prague on that date; he was in Florida. Newsweek has also learned that Czech investigators and U.S. intelligence have now obtained corroborated evidence which they believe shows that the Iraqi spy who allegedly met Atta was away from Prague on that day.
So not only was Atta not in Prague, the Iraqi he supposedly met wasn't, either! So will Cheney now change his story?

(I know, silly question....)

Updated to add the link for I. F. Stone.
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