Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Why New Orleans is below sea level

Article by Ari Kelman in Slate (via Talking Points Memo).

Chavez the Humorous

Won't someone please create a Hugo Chavez blog? I'd read it.

"That government had no evacuation plan, it is incredible, the first power in the world that is so involved in Iraq... and left its own population adrift," Chavez said in a cabinet meeting broadcast live on television....

"That man, the king of vacations... the king of vacations in his ranch said nothing but, you have to flee, and didn't say how... that cowboy, the cowboy mentality," said Chavez, chuckling in a reference to Bush without naming him directly.

Chavez, an outspoken populist who calls Cuba's Fidel Castro an ally, often lambastes what he calls Washington's failed imperialist policies. He says the Bush administration is trying to assassinate him and calls the U.S. president "Mr. Danger."

Mauritius lychees

Photo: Ian Maguire

Creation myths

In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was "guided by a supreme being," and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.

New reason for Iraq War

President Bush answered growing antiwar protests yesterday with a fresh reason for US troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.


It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.

-- Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004.

Afghanistan - half-empty, half-full

Cali Ruchala reports on Afghanistan. She finds a similar dynamic to Iraq's.

Thus far, attempts have been made on the life of no less than a dozen candidates. In addition, five religious clerics outspoken in their support of President Hamid Karzai have been gunned down - the latest, Abdullah Malang, just a week ago.

More worrying has been the US and Kabul government's response to the rise in the insurgency. Almost weekly, the US military spokesman, Cindy Moore, announces another broad sweep in some far-flung corner of Afghanistan. The raids aren't meant to capture Osama bin Laden - his name is hardly ever mentioned in Afghan reports anymore - but "rooting out" and killing insurgents. High death toll numbers are announced, though the frequency of the attacks increases after each operation.

The raids - like the insurgency - has thus far been concentrated in overwhelmingly Pashtun areas. The result is that Afghanistan's ethnic majority, particularly in rural areas effected by the sweeps, has become a fertile recruiting ground for insurgents.

US Embassy documents from Tehran, 1979

American documents on Iran at The Memory Hole -- via Sobaka, so I'll let them explain:
This just in - Russ Kick at The Memory Hole just posted 400 pages of documents once thought shredded by the US Embassy staff in Tehran when the students took over back in 1979. The students, however, took the shreds and reassembled the top secret documents.

The reconstituted documents aren't presented in any particular order, so they present a sort of dadaist view of the last days in Tehran. Makes for interesting reading.

Richard Clarke also notes a problem

Richard A. Clarke, the former head of counterterrorism in the White House under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said yesterday that there were twice as many attacks outside Iraq in the three years after the 2001 attacks as in the three preceding years.

Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group "are no longer the traditional leaders as they were in the 1990s," Clarke said, adding that the terrorist leader had been building ideological groups from Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001, and that they had grown in the past few years into 14 to 16 separate networks.

Clarke said that bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, exercise "symbolic control and provide broad-brush themes" and that most of the networks operate independently, but "there are some signs of cooperation among some."

More on the poverty rate increase

From Max Sawicky.

The press and political power (and Norway)

Peter Levine has an excellent post on the press and political power that discusses allegations of media bias and coverage of presidents. Good reading.

He also has some photos and recollections of his recent trip to Scandinavia, including Norway, best place in the world.

Democracy and Islamism

Jonathan Power has an interesting article in IHT on the West's attitudes towards Islamism. The concern is the same one that led Algeria to call off elections in the early 1990's: once you hold democratic elections in an oppressed state where Islamism provides a real alternative, you risk an Islamic, even fundamentalist state. One thing I've been saying for a while is that this isn't about democracy -- even the neocon "idealism" about the spread of democracy is a smokescreen. It's not about democracy; it's about a particular brand of clientist liberalism. Put together the pieces: 1. what type of democracy do they have in mind?; 2. what kind of practical possibility is there for whatever brand it is they have in mind? 3. is clientism democratic? 4. does this help to spread democracy?
The platform of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calls for parliamentary rule, separation of powers and the protection of minorities. In Lebanon the militant Hezbollah has adopted progressive stands on social and religious issues, and - like Hamas in Palestine - is participating vigorously in electoral politics. In Morocco, Islamists are firmly behind the government's efforts to expand women's rights.
As Reza Aslan wrote in a recent issue of Prospect magazine, "It is pluralism that defines democracy, not secularism. And Islam has had a long and historic commitment to religious pluralism." No other monotheistic religion can match the reverence with which the Koran speaks of other religious traditions.
Of course, there is no doubting that all over the Islamic world some born-again Muslims have been seduced by the call of violence. But the predominant trends in Islamic societies remain nonviolent, even more so following the havoc wrecked by Al Qaeda and despite rising anti-Americanism brought on principally by the invasion of Iraq.

Hurricane news

Much of Gulf Coast Crippled....

LA National Guard Wants Equipment back from Iraq

Destroying FEMA

Walmart Closes 123 Stores

Satellites spot hot towers in Katrina

Defying Mother Nature

Notes of a Hurricane Wonk

Mayor Blasts Failure to Patch Levee Breaches

TPM readers on Katrina

Captions on white and black looting in DKos

Calvin Trillin in search of fanesca

Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker.

Fukuyama in the NY Times

Good article by Francis Fukuyama (of "end of history" fame) in the NY Times.

On and on

Another disaster:
More than 600 people were killed and hundreds injured this morning when rumors of a suicide bomber led to a stampede in a vast procession of Shiite pilgrims as they crossed a bridge on their way to a shrine in northern Baghdad.

Most of the dead were crushed or suffocated, witnesses said, but many also fell or jumped into the Tigris River after the panicking crowd broke through the bridge's railings.

Fucking, Austria

Late night sillies:

British tourists have left the residents of one charming Austrian village effing and blinding by constantly stealing the signs for their oddly-named village.

While British visitors are finding it hilarious, the residents of F---ing are failing to see the funny side, The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.

Only one kind of criminal ever stalks the sleepy 32-house village near Salzburg on the German border -- cheeky British tourists armed with a sense of humour and a screwdriver.

But the local authorities are hitting back and with the signs now set in concrete, police chief Kommandant Schmidtberger is on the lookout.

"We will not stand for the F---ing signs being removed," the officer told the broadsheet.

"It may be very amusing for you British, but F---ing is simply F---ing to us. What is this big F---ing joke? It is puerile."

Local guide Andreas Behmueller said it was only the British that had a fixation with F---ing.

"The Germans all want to see the Mozart house in Salzburg," he explained.

"Every American seems to care only about 'The Sound of Music' (the 1965 film shot around Salzburg). The occasional Japanese wants to see Hitler's birthplace in Braunau.

"But for the British, it's all about F---ing."

Guesthouse boss Augustina Lindlbauer described the village's breathtaking lakes, forests and vistas.

"Yet still there is this obsession with F---ing," she said.

"Just this morning I had to tell an English lady who stopped by that there were no F---ing postcards."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Global weapons market

The US sells more weapons to developing countries than anyone else. You may think, "so what, it's a free market and if someone wants to buy them, we should be glad to sell them." If you think a little bit further, you might have reservations about stinger missiles shooting down American helicopters in the future or M16s killing American troops. If you think even further, you might wonder if flooding the world with more arms makes sense in a time of rising terrorism. One step more and you might say to yourself, this isn't the kind of world I want to live in. But there are even greater global ramifications to this.

In a different context, Thomas Pogge argued recently that the global order -- including markets, such as the weapons market -- hinders the growth of democracy in developing countries (see his essay in Archibugi, ed. Debating Cosmopolitics).

The world suffers a huge inequality of income, wealth, and standards of living, and this disparity has boomed over the past thirty or so years. On one hand, some economists say the gap is best explained by pointing to countries that do not place a premium on economic growth (through minimal taxes, free enterprise, fewer services, etc.) over other considerations, often citing corrupt elites in developing nations as a central problem. Others -- like Amartya Sen -- say that investing in social services such as health and education yields steady, if slower, economic growth and a better, more equal quality of life. Pogge suggests that both common explanations misleadingly place the causality of global inequality on developing countries. The case has been made in other contexts, but it's worth at least roughly summing up Pogge's version:

1. The rules of the global order are shaped by more powerful nations thinking in terms of their national interests. These rules enable these countries to gain further from the global arrangement. This increases inequality as well as the lopsidedness of international bargaining power.

2. The political and economic elite of poor countries deal with a domestic polity that is poorly educated and income poor. They also deal with an international sphere that is often wealthy and may promise great benefits. Self-interested politicians will find the latter to be more beneficial to their interests, including their ability to stay in power. This might also mean doing things that are not beneficial, indeed harmful, to their own people -- including allowing toxic dumping, lax labor and environmental regulations, etc.

3. The international borrowing privilege allows legal obligations and penalties to be imposed on an entire country, regardless of a corrupt leader's unpopular debts. This then means that a democratic government that comes into existence after a corrupt government still inherits those debts and the legal obligation to repay them. This takes away from possible structural reforms and domestic investment and creates further instability for that government. Instability and a weak democratic government can be a dangerous mix.

4. Furthermore, the international borrowing privilege enables corrupt governments to stay in power. A corrupt leader can maintain his rule by borrowing further or by buying arms and funding a military needed to suppress a discontented population. The purchasing power is often gained through selling off natural resources (as pretty much all over Africa, for example). One can argue that such resources ought to be the heritage of the people of that country.

5. Rinse and repeat.

Where does the arms trade fit into this scenario? Weapons sales often serve to fund corrupt governments in the name of further control over that nation's natural resources and economic capacities. They also often serve to sustain corrupt, anti-democratic political and economic rule. Countries that live under such rule have far greater difficulties developing economically and politically in more equitable and democratic ways. In fact, the opposite has been the case for at least decades.

In the age of widespread ostensive acceptance of democracy, the growth of global inequality generates serious doubts about the sincerity or even efficacy of democratic government and rhetoric. Indeed, the global powers have largely set the terms of what counts as legitimate, democratic government. Guns, not butter.

In Salon:
The United States is the largest supplier of weapons to developing nations, delivering more than $9.6 billion in arms to Near East and Asian countries last year.

The U.S. sales to the developing countries helped boost worldwide weapons sales to the highest level since 2000, a congressional study says.

The total worldwide value of all agreements to sell arms last year was close to $37 billion, and nearly 59 percent of the agreements were to sell weapons to developing nations, according to the Congressional Research Service report....

Developing countries are the weapons' primary buyers. And the U.S. has been the most active seller for the past eight years, resulting mainly from agreements made in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. The U.S. was responsible for more than 42 percent of the deliveries to developing nations in 2004.
See also this article in the Boston Globe on an IPS study:
The chief executives of the defense industry's largest companies are taking home paychecks that have more than doubled in the past four years -- far greater than the average 7 percent growth for all corporate CEOs, according to an independent study based on documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Among the top three dozen publicly traded companies that do business with the Pentagon, pay for top corporate executives has skyrocketed since 2001, rising by an average of 200 percent compared with all top-tier chief executives at large, according to the annual study to be released today.

In one example, compensation for William H. Swanson, chief executive of Raytheon Company in Waltham, more than doubled to $5.3 million over his predecessor Dan Burnham's salary in 2001, according to the study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal Washington think tank. After helping rescue the struggling company a few years ago, Ronald N. Tutor, CEO of Perini, a construction management firm in Framingham with reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, took home $14.3 million, the study found.

World Cup of sex huts

I didn't know you could learn this stuff from the Christian Right (and the home of Dr. Kelly Hollowell....). Sex huts! "The depravity of it all is quite startling."

Natural law rules!

After a startingly brief and ridiculously generic rundown of the "major ethical theories" or "personal moral beliefs," we get this nugget from "Kelly Hollowell, J.D., Ph.D.,... a scientist, patent attorney and adjunct law professor of bioethics. She is a senior strategist for the Center for Reclaiming America, a conference speaker and founder of Science Ministries Inc."
Finally, there is Natural Law ethic, which is, by far, superior to the other ethical theories. This is the only objective, unchanging and time-tested ethical theory. It is a rules-based approach to life's problems. In this philosophy, rules guide action in an attempt to curb the inherent sinful tendencies of man. The laws or rules themselves are rooted in divine and natural law existing in and established by God.

So that's it - the four most prevalent and influential ethical theories currently in play in American culture. Now, lest you think these ethical theories are of interest only to we college professor types, consider that even Hollywood integrates them into their moviemaking.
By the way, that is it. Natural law because she says so -- objective and unchanging. And natural law is "rooted in divine law and natural law...." End of lesson. I would fire myself for teaching like that.

End of the world....

Ronald Wright, in the Sunday Herald (via Political Theory Daily Review). The comparison with Easter Island is especially fascinating. Please give a read.

Reformed currency speculator George Soros calls the economic dinosaurs "market fundamentalists". I'm uneasy with this term because so few of them are true believers in free markets - preferring monopolies, cartels, and government contracts. But his point is well taken. The idea that the world must be run by the stock market is as mad as any other fundamentalist delusion, Islamic, Christian or Marxist.

In the case of Easter Island, the statue cult became a self-destructive mania. In the United States, market extremism (which one might expect to be purely materialist, and so open to rational self-interest) has cross-bred with evangelical messianism to fight intelligent policy on metaphysical grounds. Mainstream Christianity is an altruistic faith, yet this offshoot is actively hostile to the public good: a kind of social Darwinism by people who hate Darwin.

President Ronald Reagan's secretary of the interior told Congress not to bother with the environment because, in his words: "I don't know how many future generations we can count on until the Lord returns." George W Bush surrounded himself with similar minds and pulled out of the Kyoto Accord on climate change. Adolf Hitler once gleefully exclaimed: "What luck for the rulers that the people do not think!" What can we do when the rulers will not think?

Faked Lockerbie evidence

Norwegianity steers us towards this disturbing development:

A FORMER Scottish police chief has given lawyers a signed statement claiming that key evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated.

The retired officer - of assistant chief constable rank or higher - has testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people.

Poverty rate rises to 12.7%

Overall, there were 37 million people living in poverty, up 1.1 million people from 2003.

Gauging the Sunni insurgency

Michael Eisenstadt, writing in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Studies website, suggests the tip of the iceberg for the Sunni insurgency (via The War in Context).

It is likely that armed Sunni insurgents number in the thousands, unarmed members of the insurgent underground number in the low tens of thousands, and that insurgent groups can draw on a much larger pool of supporters from among sympathizers in the general Sunni Arab population, as well as acquaintances, friends, family members, and fellow tribesmen. The total number of Sunni Arabs "involved" with the insurgency, in one way or another (including sympathetic or supportive family members), may therefore approach 100,000, with the number fluctuating in response to political, military, economic, and social conditions.

In light of recent warnings by Sunni Arab politicians that dissatisfaction with the draft constitution could spur additional violence, the more important conclusion, however, may be that only a small fraction of the Sunni Arab population that supports attacks on coalition forces or that has some kind of military or paramilitary training has been mobilized by the insurgency thus far. Should insurgent groups expand their recruitment efforts, succeed in broadening their appeal, or opt to fight a "popular war" against the Iraqi government (and coalition forces) by exploiting this untapped demographic potential, the worst may be yet to come -- with all that implies for ongoing efforts to stand up Iraq's new security forces and future plans to reduce the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Helen Thomas: time to withdraw

Helen Thomas on Democrats calling (or not) for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Next time you're in DC, check out the Lebanese restaurant, Mama Ayesha's, between Adams Morgan and Woodley Park just off of the Duke Ellington Bridge. You may have a nice surprise.

Blog vs. blog

Chinese internet censorship, or lack thereof.


(Outside its natural habitat).

Photo: Dave

The problem of biodiversity conservation, part 1

This is in the NY Times:
Until the perfume Chanel No. 5 went on the market in 1921, pau rosa, or Brazilian rosewood, was just another tree that grew in abundance in the Amazon. But the enduring popularity of that fragrance, which includes rosewood oil as a main ingredient, began a process that has led to a black-market trade in the oil, and the tree itself being designated an endangered species.

Worldwide, the demand for perfumes, soaps, balms and scented candles has skyrocketed in recent years, helped by rising incomes among women and New Age trends like aromatherapy. Because of rosewood's cachet, demand for the oil far outstrips the legal supply, and some fragrance manufacturers will pay just about anything to get their hands on it.

"That bouquet is unmatchable, and it makes people act strangely," said Paulo Tarso de Sampaio, co-author of the book "Bio-Diversity in the Amazon" and a scientist at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus. "Intense exploitation means that all the areas where there was easy access to rosewood have just about been leveled, but still the demand continues to grow."

An opium year in Afghanistan

L. Dean Webb, writing in the great Sobaka:
The UN recently announced proudly that opium production in Afghanistan "dropped". When pressed about why the word "dropped" was in quotations, the UN spokesman wet his pants and ran away from the reporters. Or something like that.

In truth, the only thing that really dropped in Afghanistan was that the acreage under poppy cultivation in 2004 dropped by 21%. The opium harvest itself was pretty much the same as last year's record haul. That means the wily Pathans (and other minorities, to be fair) are getting much more efficient at their harvesting. With one-fifth less land, they can still coax enough opium base to provide 90% of the world's supply. That would mean in one year - one year - the wily Pathans have managed to improve their productivity by 25% to compensate for the lost ground.

Or it just means this year was wetter than 2004. That's the actual story: although 2004 was a year in which all 32 of Afghanistan's provinces were cultivating poppies, a really bad drought cut production by 30%. No drought, less land, and things come out about even with last year....

Democracy and other false analogies

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian. See also my earlier post on the kind of export-democracy, which seems to me to be closer to the Athenian model than the Constitutional Congress.
Last week George Bush, echoed on these pages by Bill Clinton's former intelligence adviser Philip Bobbitt, compared the drafting process in Baghdad to the construction of the American constitution. If they believe that the comparison commends itself to the people of Iraq, they are plainly even more out of touch than I thought. But it should also be obvious that we now live in more sceptical times. When the US constitution was drafted, representative democracy was a radical and thrilling idea. Now it is an object of suspicion and even contempt, as people all over the world recognise that it allows us to change the management but not the firm. And one of the factors that have done most to engender public scepticism is the meaninglessness of the only questions we are ever asked. I read Labour's manifesto before the last election and found good and bad in it. But whether I voted for or against, I had no means to explain what I liked and what I didn't.

Does it require much imagination to see the link between our choice of meaningless absolutes and the Manichean worldview our leaders have evolved? We must decide at elections whether they are right or wrong - about everything. Should we then be surprised when they start talking about good and evil, friend and foe, being with them or against them?

Almost two years ago Troy Davis, a democracy-engineering consultant, pointed out that if a constitutional process in Iraq was to engender trust and national commitment, it had to "promote a culture of democratic debate". Like Professor Vivian Hart, of the University of Sussex, he argued that it should draw on the experiences of Nicaragua in 1986, where 100,000 people took part in townhall meetings reviewing the draft constitution, and of South Africa, where the public made 2 million submissions to the drafting process. In both cases, the sense of public ownership this fostered accelerated the process of reconciliation. Not only is your own voice heard in these public discussions, but you must also hear others. Hearing them, you are confronted with the need for compromise.

But when negotiations are confined to the green zone's black box, the Iraqis have no sense that the process belongs to them. Because they are not asked to participate, they are not asked to understand where other people's interests lie and how they might be accommodated. And when the whole thing goes belly up, it will be someone else's responsibility. If Iraq falls apart over the next couple of years, it would not be unfair, among other factors, to blame the fact that Davis and Hart were ignored. For the people who designed Iraq's democratic processes, history stopped in 1787.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Durian cartoons

France aids US

Any righties out there? Hello? Bonjour? In the Baltimore Sun:
As the going gets tougher for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region, one ally has stepped up despite a recent straining of ties: France.

Paris has significantly boosted its military presence in Central Asia and Afghanistan, as it and Washington nurture their budding rapprochement after a bitter falling-out over the Iraq war.

French fighters have been flying sorties under U.S. command in Afghanistan since Aug. 16, and France also took command this month of an international naval task force on terrorism-related patrols in the seas between the Horn of Africa and Pakistan.

France has kept about 900 troops in Afghanistan since 2003, including 200 Special Forces soldiers fighting alongside the Americans. Its air force has periodically joined the U.S.-led coalition since taking its biggest role in the war's opening weeks in 2001, when France had 5,500 troops in the region....

"We had a very clear position when it comes to Iraq," the Paris-based official said. "That has nothing to do with our fight against terrorism, with France working with our American colleagues" on the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The City of New Orleans

Before a certain somebody goes talking about hell-bound sinners and god-sent hurricanes, read this:
Gail Henke could think of no better way to celebrate the French Quarter's survival of Hurricane Katrina than to belly up to a bar on Bourbon Street with a vodka and cranberry juice. Call it a libation to the storm gods.

"You know what? There's a reason why we're called the Saints," the 53-year-old tour booker said Monday as she communed with 20 or so other survivors. "Because no matter what religion you are, whether you're a Catholic, whether you're voodoo, whether you're Baptist or so on, so on, and so on -- we all pray. We all pray.

"I'm not a religious fanatic. But God has saved us."

Up yours, Sweden

NORWAY will top a 2005 UN ranking as the best country to live in for the fifth year in a row, the head of the UN Development Program (UNDP) said today.

Rich from North Sea oil and with a generous welfare state, Norway has led the world ranking since ousting Canada in 2001. The annual list ranks countries by an index combining wealth, education and life expectancy.
And don't forget the famous Norwegians.

Daniel Dennett weighs in on ID

"Show Me the Science," in the NY Times. It's neither nice nor safe to make Dennett cranky. See also my earlier post, which is in complete and genuflecting agreement with Dr. Dennett.

A different war

The mystery continues: what is it? What do we do about whatever it is that we should do something about?

Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in The New Yorker:
Yes, it's a different type of war. But a lot depends on what the meaning of "it" is. In the nineteen-forties and, Korea notwithstanding, the nineteen-fifties, "it" -- "the war" -- was the Second World War. By the end of the nineteen-sixties, "the war" meant Vietnam. But what does "the war" mean now? Sometimes it means what the Administration styles the Global War on Terror, a metaphor that has occasionally discomfited some of its own officials. (This summer, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld floated "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism" -- a more accurate term, and less flattering to terrorists, which was immediately shot down by the President.) Sometimes it means the war in Iraq, which is or is not part of the larger struggle, depending on how (and when) one looks at it....

Last week, even as Bush was taking a break from his vacation to denounce "immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq or the broader Middle East" as a step that "would only embolden the terrorists," the Financial Times was reporting details of the Pentagon's plans "to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next twelve months." The chilling truth is that no one really knows what to do. No one knows whether the consequences of withdrawal, quick or slow, would be worse or better -- for Iraq and for the "war on terror" of which, willy-nilly, it has become a part -- than the consequences of "staying the course." It is a matter of judgment, and the judgment that will count, more chilling still, is that of George W. Bush.

Chavez wants Robertson extradited

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. But, come to think of it, it's a good idea. Note to Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld: we should probably consult with Chavez to see if he has any ideas on how to get out of Iraq.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday his government would take legal action against Pat Robertson and potentially seek his extradition after the U.S. evangelist called for Washington to assassinate the South American leader.

Robertson, who later apologized for the remark, said he was expressing his frustration with Chavez's constant accusations against the administration of President George W. Bush.

"I announce that my government is going to take legal action in the United States ... to call for the assassination of a head of state is an act of terrorism." Chavez said in a televised speech.

The fiery left-wing critic of Bush's foreign policy who frequently charges the U.S. government is plotting to kill him, called Robertson "crazy" and a "public menace."

He said Venezuela could seek Robertson's extradition under international treaties and take its claim to the United Nations if the Bush administration did not act.

Iraqi constitution update

"It was a nice show for the president of the United States as he wakes up now, but for us it was very bad," said Mishan Jabouri, one of four Sunni Arab assembly members among the dozens of lawmakers at the event. None of the Sunnis expressed support for the constitution.

Jabouri said he attended the celebration after being pressured "from parts of the government. They tried to show even the Sunnis are here. But we come here to cry, not to be happy. This is their constitution, not ours."

And so the battle lines were drawn for the fall referendum: The Shiites and Kurds, who dominated the drafting process, implored the public to vote in favor of it. Minority Sunnis condemned the document for, among other things, allowing the creation of federal regions that they fear could split Iraq and warned that it could inflame the insurgency. The Sunnis vowed to muster enough support to vote it down.

McCain and Likins on global warming and politics

Via Crooked Timber, see this op-ed by John McCain and Peter Likins in the Chronicle of Higher Education on "Politics vs. the Integrity of Research." Nice job.
The message sent by the Congressional committee to the three scientists was not subtle: Publish politically unpalatable scientific results and brace yourself for political retribution, which might include denial of the opportunity to compete for federal funds. Statements that such requests are routine ring hollow: Asking for scientific information may be routine, but asking for all of the data produced in a scientist's career is highly irregular. It represents a kind of intimidation, which threatens the relationship between science and public policy. That behavior must not be tolerated.
And, as always, check out RealClimate for ongoing global warming news from researchers.

And for some rugged satire, see Jack Voorhies' experiments.

Hachiya persimmons

As the end of the summer nears, persimmons arrive.

Photo: Selvin Chance

Iraq is, I repeat, NOT Vietnam

In Vietnam, fewer journalists were killed.
More journalists have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003 than during the 20 years of conflict in Vietnam, media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Sunday.

Since U.S. forces and its allies launched their campaign in Iraq on March 20, 2003, 66 journalists and their assistants have been killed, RSF said.

Democracy and participation

A new Brookings book worth picking up: Democracy at Risk: How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation, and What We Can Do About It. Stephen Macedo, et al.

The cult of W

Greetings to Daou Report and Majikthise readers. Please also visit the main page of Phronesisaical.

I spoke with various Bush supporters in the runup to the 2004 election. Several of them said something that perplexed me. After running through the litany of ways in which Bush has screwed up, lied to the public, lined the pockets of his friends, increased global enmity towards the US and a greater threat of terrorism, broken the fundamental norms of civilized society, etc., I would be told by the Bush-supporter that the support was a matter of "faith." Reason vs. faith.

What to make of this? Lots of catapulted propaganda, for sure. Lots of misunderestimation too. Maybe even a dose of public faith in peeance, freeance. We don't have a philosopher king in politics and, frankly, it wouldn't be a very good idea if we did. Politics is only partially a matter of reason. Faith -- whatever is meant by that -- certainly plays a role. Or let's say emotional tugs and intuitions, even vague inklings. But much of what I think won that election was a conviction that faith was involved in a deeper way with Bush. Since much of religion functions on authority demanding faith, a fuller analysis of this presidency would have to take up the discussion of faith both genuine and "catapulted." There's good reason to think that this presidency is indeed a cult -- the party as religious denomination, the president as Dear Leader.

This reminds me of a trip years ago to China. I stayed with a pro-Mao professor in Beijing who took me north of Beijing to Outer Mongolia to a dam built during the Great Leap Forward. We looked at the massive stone dam, visited the museum there filled with photos of smiling comrades carrying huge boulders, shovels, picks, heard the stories of how many died while building this great project that would bring fresh water to an arid area. Then I climbed the dam and peeked over the other side. Desert as far as the eye could see.

As a political matter, there's a lot the opposition can learn here -- not that some alternative cult ought to be pushed, but that there is a large part of the population that seeks a greater meaning for the country's direction, one that's been lost with the wholesale sale of the US. Something to believe in.

"Catapulting the propaganda," below from Tom Engelhardt:

As his poll figures continue on a downward spiral, he has found it necessary to put extra effort into "catapulting the propaganda." Though he struck a new note or two in each speech, these were exceedingly familiar, crush-the-terrorists, stay-the-course, path-to-victory speeches. That's hardly surprising, since his advisors and speechwriters have been wizards of repetition. No one has been publicly less spontaneous or more -- effectively -- repetitious than our President; but sometimes, as he says, you "keep repeating things over and over and over again" and what sinks in really is the truth rather than the propaganda. Sometimes, just that extra bit of repetition under less than perfect circumstances, and words that once struck fear or offered hope, that once explained well enough for most the nature of the world they faced, suddenly sound hollow. They begin to sound... well, repetitious, and so, false. Your message, which worked like a dream for so long, goes off-message, and then what do you do?

This is, I suspect, exactly what growing numbers of Americans are experiencing in relation to our President. It's a mysterious process really -- like leaving a dream world or perhaps deprogramming from a cult. Once you step outside the bubble, statements that only yesterday seemed heartfelt or powerful or fearful or resolute truths suddenly look like themselves, threadbare and impoverished. In due course, because the repetitious worldview in the President's speeches is clearly a believed one (for him, if not all of his advisors) and because it increasingly reads like a bad movie script for a fictional planet, he himself is likely to look no less threadbare and impoverished, no less -- to use a word not often associated with him -- pathetic and out of touch with reality to some of those who not so long ago supported him or his policies.

First thing,... let's kill all the liberals

This (via Juan Cole) is an article on the growing number of assassinations of academics in Iraq. Well, not just professors, but pretty much anyone else who's liberal.

It is not just Sunnis who are being targeted in this majority Shia city, the professor said, but other Shia as well. All professors - particularly those interested in politics, like himself - are in danger. And not just professors, but judges, and doctors and journalists. And politicians who are seen as secular alternatives to the clergy now in power. And those, especially women, who work for foreigners. And Christians.

U.S. and Iraqi sources say it is often police intelligence officers who commit the killings. British forces, which patrol this region, made a deal to integrate the religious militias here into the police in return for the militias' disbanding. But they never stopped serving their former masters, the Shia clerics who lead the political parties now in power.

Most troubling for U.S. policy in the Middle East is that many Iraqis believe the police who commit these killings are working ultimately for Iran, where most of them lived for many years in exile from Saddam Hussein. Sources with access to U.S. intelligence confirm that Shia Iran has infiltrated large numbers of agents into both police security and Interior Ministry paramilitary forces.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Praying Hands bananas.

Photo: Ian Maguire

Rebuilding Iraq

Reality TV could turn out to be the most durable Western import in Iraq. It has taken root with considerably greater ease than American-style democracy. Since spring 2004, when "Materials and Labor" made its debut, a constellation of reality shows has burst onto TV screens across Iraq.

True to the genre, "Materials and Labor" has a simple conceit at its heart - Al Sharqiya, an Iraqi satellite network, offers Baghdad residents the chance to have homes that were destroyed by the war rebuilt at no cost to them.

Indian Muslims and Arab Muslims in response to colonialization

Abdel-Moneim Said, writing in Al Ahram Weekly:

The Indian response was not that different from the response of China to the historical injustices visited upon it, or from the response of the indigenous inhabitants of North and South America to the successive waves of European encroachment and colonisation, or to South East Asia where colonial armies trampled the peoples underfoot, partitioned their nations and spread colonies and settlements and even -- as was the case with Japan -- dropped atomic bombs on them. In all these cases, the solution was to build a multi-faceted economic, political, technological and academic project for the future that would enable them to compete with the Western project and interact constructively with the world. In none of these nations do we find that morbid sense of isolation and that destructive desire to be rid of the world, which has long inflicted pain on other human groups, both Muslim and Christian.

This is not to suggest that other nations, ethnic groups and religions do not have their fanatics and even terrorists and suicidal martyrs among them. However, their anger is directed against their own countries and no one in those countries celebrates them or even tries to excuse or justify their actions. The difference between this part of the world and elsewhere is not just that we have projects that our trapped in the past whereas others have projects that look to the future, but also that we have organised political groups who dictate that our future resides in a return to the past. Perhaps this is where the problem really lies.

The Iraq-Vietnam analogy

ZenPundit discusses the Iraq-Vietnam analogy. Click also on the link for "Analogy Inanities."

Tantalus and Sullivan

Juan Cole tears apart Andrew Sullivan's penchant for finding "tantalizing" signs of success in Iraq.

Bush uniting-not-dividing his opposition

Frank Rich today spells out some of the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. The interesting point, however, or what struck me, is the extent to which this war has galvanized not only the Sheehan-led anti-war movement, but an array of anti-war figures across party and ideological lines. We have Chuck Hagel and Russ Feingold, Cindy Sheehan, John McCain, etc. Of course, they all have different takes on what ought to be done, whether withdrawing troops, reinforcing them, or whatever. This uniting of sorts has also dropped the pro-war Democrats into the messy pile ("back to the pile!") of false consciousness/conscience. Hillary, Biden, Kerry, etc. took the wrong political track because it seemed politically advantageous when the public perception of the war and the Bush administration was positive. Now that it's not, they squirm. Good.

We all know this war was wrong from the beginning and that there was already strong evidence that belied administration claims and justifications for the war. To buy into the war, you either had to be a neo-con influenced domino-theory "idealist," as they say (though I think they're actually old-fashioned realists in party dresses), or party hack or political manipulator or simply not paying attention. None of these positions sheds any better light on supporters of the war, regardless of party insignia. If Hagel and Feingold are thinking in terms of political strategy -- which we can assume they are at least partially doing -- they're smart. They're on the right train of public opinion. And there's a critical mass for the effectiveness of Swiftboating -- some kind of ratio of public opinion polls, media representation, and nasty political attacks -- and we've approached that critical mass.

So what we have is a ragtag assemblage of various figures from the different parties, from different walks of life, from different social situations all uniting against the war. Brilliant. And W, for once in his life, has told the truth: he's a uniter not a divider.

The policies of this administration have been rejected by the American people, by the international community, and by the better political minds. The key now is to put some of the better strategic minds behind the problem of how to get out of the Iraq mess. Don't count on the best ideas coming from the Democrats. But we also know that the administration is better off locked up than listened to.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Boltonation, the methodology

Stygius is right on here. Read this, then read the rest. But, still, we need to go further and analyze Boltonationality in terms of international relations theory as well as policy and as well as personality. I'll post more on the theoretical side -- because there is one here -- soon.
UN Ambassador John Bolton's standard operating procedure is simple and straightforward, but it is often difficult to perceive unless one is looking for it. Basically, his method is to use procedural tactics to sabotage general process, thereby creating paralysis, hoping for eventual stagnation, which is then held up as "the process is broken" to justify both further inaction and rule-breaking. Basically, systemic subversion.

Selves and Others

Please give Selves and Others a visit. They've republished some of the longer pieces from Phronesisaical. More importantly, they do a daily roundup of some of the more interesting political articles. A nice site.

Haitian massacre

Massacre at soccer match in Haiti. Article from NarcoSphere.


Dean Baker at MaxSpeak has the rundown on "GreenspanFest '05."

Malaysian lime

World's smallest lime.

Photo: Dave

Onward, Pat Robertson...

Tim Noah, in Slate: bumping off Chavez, Robertson was just warming up.

Don't forget David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and John Paul Stevens -- the Supreme Court justices whose deaths Robertson presumably has in mind while he prays that "additional vacancies occur within the Supreme Court." Would killing them be equivalent to killing Hitler, too?

Then there are "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America." If only they'd been killed prior to the 9/11 attacks, we could have avoided that tragedy, since they "helped this happen" by "trying to secularize America." The words are Jerry Falwell's, not Robertson's, but Robertson appeared on The 700 Club when Falwell made these remarks, and he didn't exactly object. Instead, he answered with a diatribe against the forces of secularism that sounded very much like agreement. (Falwell has since apologized; Robertson has not.)

And if homosexuals caused 9/11, we can't very well allow the entire population of Scotland to live, since Scotland is a "dark land" where "you can't believe how strong the homosexuals are."

Finally, don't forget the "tightly knit cabal" of "European bankers" whose origins lie with the "Bavarian illuminati." A decade ago, Michael Lind pointed out in the New York Review of Books that these are all crudely anti-Semitic code phrases for "the Jews." According to Robertson, they serve the devil. They're going to have to go, too.

Exxon goes reality-based

From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (via Political Theory Daily Review).
Without any press conferences, grand announcements, or hyperbolic advertising campaigns, the Exxon Mobil Corporation, one of the world's largest publicly owned petroleum companies, has quietly joined the ranks of those who are predicting an impending plateau in non-OPEC oil production. Their report, The Outlook for Energy: A 2030 View, forecasts a peak in just five years.

In the past, many who expressed such concerns were dismissed as eager catastrophists, peddling the latest Malthusian prophecy of the impending collapse of fossil-fueled civilization. Their reliance on private oil-reserve data that is unverifiable by other analysts, and their use of models that ignore political and economic factors, have led to frequent erroneous pronouncements. They were countered by the extreme optimists, who believed that we would never need to think about such problems and that the markets would take care of everything. Up to now, those who worried about limited petroleum supplies have been at best ignored, and at worst openly ridiculed....

All the more reason that the public should heed the silent alarm sounded by the ExxonMobil report, which is more credible than other predictions for several reasons. First and foremost is that the source is ExxonMobil. No oil company, much less one with so much managerial, scientific, and engineering talent, has ever discussed peak oil production before. Given the profound implications of this forecast, it must have been published only after a thorough review.

Interview with Tzvetan Todorov

And an interview with Todorov originally in Rigas Laiks, published here in Eurozine. Todorov will also be one of the contributors to my forthcoming edited book on torture.

"War on terror"

Dierk Walter on the terminology of the "war on terror" from Suddeutsche Zeitung (in Eurozine).


Tim Oscher on pornography from Rigas Laiks (via Eurozine).

Goals for the Left

Peter Levine suggests three possible broad-based political goals for the Left (upon having visited Norway, I might add) -- reducing alienation, increasing equality, and improving the externalities ratio.

Palestinian politico-archaeology

If you've ever watched National Geographic or Discovery Channel, you'll probably know who this is. Not bad for our fella.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Armstrong EPO update

Here's Armstrong responding to some of the EPO doping allegations.
"A guy in a Parisian laboratory opens up your sample, you know, Jean Francois so-and-so, and he tests it -- nobody's there to observe, no protocol was followed -- and then you get a call from a newspaper that says 'We found you to be positive six times for EPO.' Well, since when did newspapers start governing sports?"...

"For the head of the agency to say he actually doesn't believe in the code... if your career is riding on the line, wouldn't you want a B sample?" Armstrong told the AP. "The French have been after (me) forever, and 'Whoops!' there's no B sample? The stakes are too high."
Armstrong has been trying to get French cycling fans to warm up to him over the past seven years. He has done so by living in France at times, praising the country and its quality of life, and writing off those who don't like him as exceptions to the rule and common to any sport. But now he's going back into "The French are out to get me" mode, which surely appeals to an American audience that loves to ridicule French people and France whether they have any basis to or not.

I think Armstrong is a great cyclist. As I've said before, I don't think he's the greatest ever -- that's largely an American media conceit. If anyone is the greatest, it's Eddy Merckx. But you have to know cycling to understand that. Armstrong, as a media star, can play off a much larger audience, many of whom will have never heard of Merckx. And what he does when he plays off that larger audience is appeal to its simple biases when he needs to make a point. The guy is not an angel. He's a great rider, but he's no angel at all.

So now we're getting this "The French..." conspiracy defense again, uncannily similar to Bush's and Fox's own smoke-and-mirrors show against the French, one that much of the American public stupidly fell for in that ugly kind of patriotic paroxysm that doesn't function unless there's someone to hate by way of contrast. When you can't make your case any other way, count on the public's capacity for hate-based nationalism.

There's a point here, and it's one to watch. From what I know of this case, the identity of the positive EPO tests is in question and the laboratory itself has not made the claim that they are Armstrong's. L'Equipe has made those claims and says it has evidence. It's not clear what this evidence is at this point. But Armstrong and his defenders have gone into character-assassination mode (of an entire people -- "The French") and we now know from long experience that, while many fall for such tactics, this usually speaks to a much weaker case behind it. In this situation, it could be that Armstrong doesn't have a good way to defend himself technically-speaking. But it could also be the case that he can't defend himself, period. If we truly care about the issue of doping in sports, we ought not let generic American anti-Frenchism come into the mix.

Phriday Phun Question

What country should the US invade next? Let me hear your answers.

Here's mine: Sweden, because they're commies.

Armstrong and EPO

Below are various links regarding l'Equipe's accusation that Armstrong used EPO in the 1999 Tour de France. Timewise, the links roughly start from the bottom up if you want to follow them through.

What can we say about this? We basically know five things:

1. The Tour (and other sports) has a history of doping. This can't be denied. Some have called it a "culture" of doping. The Tour is probably the most grueling sports event in the world. It requires such fine-tuning of the human body, 21 days of terrible strain on that body, and the mental stamina even to finish the race in last place. Given this, the Tour has moments of mind-body altering throughout its history that run from heroin use, caffeine and alcohol combinations, various steroids, cigarettes, and so on. As a result, in today's climate of steroid use in nearly all sports and attempts to weed this usage out of sports, and given a few recent cases of doping in the Tour (the Festina Affair, etc.), serious suspicion falls on any rider involved in the Tour. This is a given.

I had the good fortune to ride in the lead car into Paris on the final day of the 2002 Tour. Talking with Tour organizers, journalists, and others of various nationalities, there appeared to be broad consensus that doping was still widespread in the Tour and that the US Postal team was clearly one of the offenders. This suspicion doesn't function as proof. But it does serve to create a particular climate in which allegations of doping are likely to meet with broad acceptance rather than immediate scepticism.

Further, although it changed over the years, many French were not terribly pleased with Armstrong's success on the Tour. There are several reasons for this that we can go into another time. The preferred American version -- that is, French anti-Americanism -- is only part of it, and probably not the biggest part. Or it probably even disappears once one pays attention to the race itself, since part of the displeasure with Armstrong has reasons generated from notions of what cycling and the Tour are, what it means to be a great rider, etc.

2. L'Equipe says it has evidence showing that Armstrong used EPO in at least the 1999 Tour. The laboratory that carried out tests on frozen urine from 1999 Tour riders was running the tests in order to refine methods of EPO testing, and not to test individual riders. The lab says that they don't even have identification for which rider each sample belongs to. L'Equipe, however, says they have been able somehow to match names with the anonymous numbers on the samples the lab has been using. Representatives of the lab say they're not sure how l'Equipe could have this information. Leblanc, the Tour director, says he has seen l'Equipe's evidence and finds it to be quite strong.

Further, during the past several Tours, the French paper Le Monde has investigated and made doping accusations against Armstrong and US Postal / Discovery. From my own view, the evidence usually seemed rather circumstantial.

3. Armstrong, Bruyneel, US Postal/Discovery have vehemently denied the charges, and Armstrong is threatening to sue. A few present and former riders, including Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx, Jan Ullrich, and others have said they do not think Armstrong is guilty. A few others have bought into the accusations.

4. The laboratory work itself may be illegal. And at least one lab worker elsewhere (see link below) wonders whether it is technologically possible to do accurate EPO tests on 6-year-old frozen urine samples.

5. We don't yet have information on what ties the urine sample at the lab to Armstrong. The lab says it doesn't have this information. The lab is perplexed. L'Equipe says they do.

So, what can we say besides the above points? Not much. L'Equipe has to furnish the public with irrefutable evidence of the sample in question being Armstrong's. That appears to be very difficult. So what's their evidence? Good question. Are they trying to sell more papers? Suffering a bizarre version of anti-Americanism? Are they right?

If L'Equipe is wrong, it actually risks quite a lot. It is considered the most important sports journal in France and one of the better ones in Europe. If its accusations are false, it risks losing much of its prestige. Armstrong dismissed them as trying to sell more papers with a sensational story. This may be enough for Armstrong fans, but it doesn't make a lot of sense from a business point of view.

If l'Equipe is right, but cannot provide firm enough evidence to convince everyone, it may all be a wash or it may still bode ill for the paper. A lawsuit would be nasty, and l'Equipe's prestige would still be damaged. The American press would generalize and raise more anti-France hackles.

If l'Equipe is right and can provide evidence, what do we do? Armstrong is the hero, one of the biggest sports stars of the past century, and an important icon for millions of cancer patients. The ignominy would be tremendous, perhaps even more so because of the mythologizing that has grown around Lance. It would be a very long way to fall. The kind of people who buy the picture of the Iraq War going well might still believe the myth of Lance, but he would be done as the huge global sports figure and money-maker he is today.

What about us? I don't know. I'd rather wait to see how this plays out. There is, of course, the larger question of steroids in sports, and some might say that athletes ought to be able to take whatever they want -- their bodies will face the consequences. But that question doesn't matter here in one very important way -- not everyone dopes.

Police Staked Out Discovery Hotel

Armstrong Considers Legal Action

Legality of EPO Tests Questioned

Leblanc: It's a Blow for the Tour

Reaction to L'Equipe's Claims

Opinion Split Over Armstrong Accusations

Armstrong Defends Record on Larry King

Top Lab Official Wonders if Delayed Testing Is Possible

L'Equipe Alleges Armstrong Samples Show EPO Use in 99 Tour

Armstrong dans la Tourmente

These are your new national parks

A series of proposed revisions of National Park policy has created a furor among present and former park officials who believe the changes would weaken protections of natural resources and wildlife while allowing an increase in commercial activity, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles....

"They are changing the whole nature of who we are and what we have been," said J.T. Reynolds, superintendent of Death Valley National Park. "I hope the public understands that this is a threat to their heritage. It threatens the past, the present and the future. It's painful to see this."

The potential changes would allow cellphone towers and low-flying tour planes and would liberalize rules that prohibited mining, according to Bill Wade, former superintendent at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia....

Members of the group said they were particularly concerned about policy changes that would allow snowmobiles to travel over any paved road in any national park in the winter; elevate certain activities already occurring in some parks, such as grazing and mining, to "park purposes" -- which would ensure their continuation; and change the acceptable level of air quality from "natural background" to air that has been altered by human presence.
And here's one of the main culprits. (via Cursor).

Lack of debate

Terry Michael in the Washington Times:
"The worst, the most corrupting of lies, are problems poorly stated," Georges Bernanos wrote decades ago -- an elegant way of saying, those who twist the terms of a debate skew its outcome.

Look at almost any major daily op-ed page, watch the Sunday shows or listen to nightly cable-babble. See how seldom you encounter voices against the war permitted to argue we should just end it, not try to mend it.

Sure, there is coverage of protests, like the mother outside President Bush's ranch. There have been many pieces about unfound weapons of mass destruction. Columns were filled with findings of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, including the discovery of no operational link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. But those reports are the raw material of discourse, not the debate itself. In fact, the Crawford protest is the opposite of reasoned debate; it's a sideshow of verbal combatants yelling past each other. For average citizens to be presented with meaningful alternatives to the current war policy, we must have legitimate, fully engaged discourse, with intelligent voices coming to competing conclusions.

We're not getting that honest debate. Instead, those who control access to mainstream media are telling a quiet, corrupting lie when they allow the Bush administration and "opposition" congressional Democrats to engage in Amish-style shunning of those who advocate immediately ending the war.

When things start going poorly again between Israel and Palestine, remember this...

In Ha'aretz, A Poorly Timed Provocation:
After completing the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, the government rushed to implement the second half of Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan: strengthening Israel's hold on the West Bank settlement blocs. Almost simultaneously with the evacuation of Gush Katif, the army began issuing expropriation orders for Palestinian lands around Ma'aleh Adumim on which the separation fence is slated to be built. At the same time, the government decided to build a police station in the area known as E-1, between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem....

It is hard not to view the decisions about the fence and the new construction near Ma'aleh Adumim as a poorly timed provocation. They damage the efforts to rebuild trust with the Palestinian Authority and to strengthen its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, as a partner for future negotiations. They lend credence to the Palestinian claim that the withdrawal from Gaza was merely an Israeli trick designed to obtain international support and to divert attention from its tightening occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They erode the contribution that the successful disengagement made to reviving the diplomatic process and show that Sharon has returned to his old ways in the settlements.

Happy Birthday, Krishna

Shiites also in the streets

In addition to pro-Saddam Sunnis, Iraqi Sadr Shiites have also taken to the streets. 100,000 of them protesting the constitution.


Here's also a collection of reports and essays on water from the Environmental News Network. See also Helmut's earlier post.

Bush environmental record

A valuable timeline and news dump on Bush's environmental record at the Center for Cooperative Research.

Please also browse the site and consider donating a bit of money to CCR.

Leave it to the Swedes

Borrow a book or a lesbian or Muslim or, gasp, a Dane in Sweden (via Political Theory Daily Review).

Sunnis for Saddam

Some say Saddam was better.
Thousands marched in adoring praise of Iraq's deposed leader Saddam Hussein on Friday, offering a stark display of the loss of power and leadership felt by some of Iraq's Sunni Arabs.

Drawing inspiration from the Baath party strongman, who now languishes in jail awaiting trial, marchers in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, danced and chanted his name and condemned plans by the Shi'ite and Kurdish-led government to push through draft constitution to create a federal Iraq.

Another pro-violence Christian family man

Pat Boone rags on Cindy Sheehan. (via Norwegianity).

Chavez the Intriguing

And an interesting article on Chavez. Here's a rather random clipping:

Across the opposition heartlands, people talk like this - and worse. The wealthy seem to have whipped themselves into a hysteria, convinced that their maids, their police and their president are going to turn on them and lynch them in their homes. The media carefully reinforces this impression, creating a fantasyland for the top 20 per cent to scream in. Yet if you ask them for facts - actual examples of persecution or dictatorial behaviour - they either offer demonstrably false urban myths, or declare: "It will happen soon!" It is true that the medical missions are staffed by Cuban doctors, who Chavez has exchanged with Castro in return for access to Venezuela's oil.

The opposition has seized on this as "evidence" that Chavez wants to make Venezuela into a Castroite dictatorship. But his supporters insist he is taking the good parts of the Cuban model - generous health and education services - while eschewing the pernicious parts, like the liquidation of free speech, elections and the freedom of the poor to make and sell goods.

More on Bolton

Here's even more on Bolton. The Independent has a good series of articles today.

With Bush's man installed, is this the end of diplomacy?

The US vs The UN

Uzbekistan gets pissy

Uzbekistan's parliament confirms that they want the US out. Remember, this is boil-alive land. Here's one of the worries:
"We know that fundamentalist moods arise wherever U.S. bases appear. Enemies of the United States appear wherever there is a U.S. military presence, and we don't want to be caught in-between," Kashkadarya region governor Nuritdin Zainiyev said before the vote.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Photo: Selvin Chance

World social situation

The UN has released a new report on the world social situation entitled "The Inequality Predicament." People are poorer today than ten years ago.
The report entitled "The Inequality Predicament," the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) warned of growing "violence associated with national and international acts of terrorism," which are the result of stark economic and social inequalities, and competition over scarce resources.

Solutions to inequality outlined in the report include addressing economic asymmetries not just within countries but also between them: 80 per cent of the world's domestic product belongs to 1 billion people living in the developed world, while the remaining 20 percent is shared by 5 billion people living in developing countries....

The modest gains made in gender equality, education and other areas proved that social mobilization, particularly civil society engagement, can help raise awareness to social problems and spur action at national and regional levels, he said, noting that the report also stresses the critical importance of boosting access to basic services as one of the most important instruments States had to impact inequities.

The report notes that in a world of increasing development when societies should be reaping the economic benefits of progress, instead many are experiencing alarming increases in the discrepancies between rich and poor.

The United States, Canada and Britain have not escaped this disturbing trend, it said, seeking to nudge both developed and developing countries to take more vigorous steps in the direction of assuring equality while responding to the economic urgency for growth.

In a summary of the report, Mr. Ocampo said that "failure to address this inequality predicament will insure that social injustice and better living conditions for all people remain elusive," and that this trend will continue to lead to social instability in the world.
See also the news release here.

Torture and JAGs

In Tom Dispatch, "Greenberg on Why U.S. Military Lawyers Opposed Torture."

Prior to the release of these JAG memos, what opposition to torture we knew about within the administration almost invariably stood upon a concern for rights and legality. Secretary of State Colin Powell, William Taft IV, the Legal Advisor to the Department of State, and others reasoned, without much success, against policies which could lay the groundwork for abusive treatment. They cited the possible illegality of such acts under domestic law; the importance of maintaining the high moral ground as a mark of American national identity; the protection of human rights worldwide; the potentially dangerous repercussions that might come from alienating our allies; and the endangerment of our citizens and our troops in a world in which reciprocity in the decent treatment of prisoners might no longer be honored.

The JAG memos restate these arguments, but they also plunge into new critical territory. In a February 27, 2003 memo summarizing the problems the JAG lawyers had with the Pentagon's working group proposal, for instance, Kevin M. Sandkuhler, Brigadier General for the Marine Corps, wrote the following: "The authorization of aggressive counter-resistance techniques by service members will adversely impact ... Human Intelligence Exploitation and Surrender of Foreign Enemy Forces, and Cooperation and Support of Friendly Nations." Put simply, Sandkuhler was saying that the systematic practice of torture threatened to impede the collection of useful information and so had the potential to deliver a harmful blow to the U.S. war against jihadi terrorism.

The culture of bullies

In the Washington Post: Efforts to Stop Children's Intimidation of Other Children Appear to Pay Off . . .Outside the U.S.

Misunderestimating the empirical

LA Times, "The Un-empirical Presidency."
...Now the panel's report is finished. Another of its members extended Slavin's research, with the same results: Good bilingual education programs produce faster results than good English-only programs. These findings (and others - for instance, that reading is best taught via basic skills, like phonics) have been peer-reviewed, but Bush's Education Department won't make the report public....

More on Chavez

Curtis White, writing in Asia Times, suggests similarities between the US assesment of Chavez and the 1960s assessment of Ho Chi Minh.
...So the question becomes: why is Robertson (and those who share his views) so frustrated with the president of Venezuela? Is he frustrated with Chavez's attempts at building agricultural cooperatives through the implementation of land reform? Is Robertson frustrated with Venezuela using its oil revenue to promote literacy, health and other social programs? Or is it Chavez's call to review all natural resource extraction contracts to make sure that Venezuela is being properly compensated for such assets?

Whatever Robertson's frustrations with Chavez, they seem to be eerily reminiscent of the unwarranted frustrations the US had with the late Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam. The US was unnecessarily frustrated with the probability of having democratically held elections won by a socialist leader in the mid 1950s.

These were frustrations that did not allow the US to support the land reform efforts of Ho, that were then just as valid and necessary to Vietnam as the land reform efforts are now to Venezuela. These frustrations led to the demonization and conceptualization of Ho and his supporters. They became part of the feared "red menace" and "the domino theory" - just as Chavez and Venezuela have become Latin America's premier "rogue nation" and leader in the eyes of the US...

Such parallels between Ho and Chavez - or even Castro - seem to suggest that the frustrations that Robertson has with the Venezuelan president have little to do with his desire for democracy and social justice and more to do with the promotion of imperialism and empire. Therefore, just as the frustrations that led the US to go to war with Ho and North Vietnam were unwarranted, so, too, are the frustrations that led Robertson to voice such inflammatory rhetoric towards Chavez of Venezuela.

Bolton's red pen

For Bolton's editing of the UN reform draft see the background information below.

Here's the original draft (.pdf file).

Here, allegedly, are Bolton's modification comments on the draft.

See Steve Clemons' guest posts at Talking Points Memo.

Huffington Post has some samples of Bolton editing here:

p.1: CUT: "respect for nature"

p. 2: CHANGE: "We understand the critical important role played by major United Nations conferences and summits..."

p. 3: CUT: "corporate responsibility and accountability"

p. 3: CUT: "and urge all states that have not done so to sign, ratify and implement the United Nations Convention Against Corruption"

p. 8: CUT: "Undertake concerted global action to address climate change through meeting all commitments and obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, the UNFCCC and other relevant international agreements, increase energy efficiency, technological innovations, and to initiate negotiations to develop a more inclusive international framework for climate change beyond 2012, with broader participation by both developing and developed countries, taking into account the principle of common but differentiated responsibility."

p.11: CHANGE: "promoting equal opportunity for participation and representation of men and women to participate in government decision making bodies..."

p.23: CUT: "We emphasize the responsibilities of all states, in conformity with the charter to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinctions of any kind, such as to race, colour, sex, language, or religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

p. 28: CUT: "We support reform of the Security Council to make it more efficient, transparent and effective."

From the Washington Post today:

U.S. and U.N. diplomats say that Bolton has indicated in face-to-face meetings with foreign delegates that he is prepared to pursue other negotiating options if the current process proves cumbersome.

For example, he has suggested that the entire document could be scrapped and replaced with a brief statement. He also has indicated that the document could be split up by themes, and that nations could choose the ones to support, the diplomats said.

In meetings with foreign delegates, Bolton has expressed concern about a provision of the agreement that urges wealthy countries, including the United States, to contribute 0.7 percent of their gross national product in assistance to poor countries. He has also objected to language that urges nations to observe a moratorium on nuclear testing and to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Bush administration opposes.

Vacation misinterpretation

Why can't a guy just "get on with his life"?

Almacy said the reason that Bush is in Crawford, Texas, is due to the renovation of the West Wing of the White House.

"He's operating on a full schedule; he's just doing it from the ranch instead of from the White House,' Almacy said. "The only week he had officially off was this last week.'

Congressional wankery

And here's a discussion of Congress' spinelessness re presidential power:
AFTER THOSE RARE AND DANGEROUS MOMENTS when an enemy has launched an attack on the United States, the president has frequently adopted sweeping defensive measures with little concern for individual rights protected by the Constitution. He has done so rapidly and without congressional approval, yet in most cases, whether it was Abraham Lincoln suspending the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War or Franklin D. Roosevelt ordering Japanese-Americans incarcerated after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress has responded decisively. And through that response, Americans have at least been reassured that the president's unilateral action would stand only with the approval of their congressional representatives, as the founding fathers intended.

In the almost four years since the Bush Administration launched the war on terror, however, Congress has remained essentially silent about the Administration's harsh measures for detaining and interrogating terrorist suspects. Through mid-July, it had not passed legislation approving, disapproving, or even addressing these measures, which were adopted in the name of national security. Its silence not only put civil liberties at risk, but also undermined a central principle of the Constitution and of all representative democracies by allowing the executive branch to exercise extraordinary powers unchecked.

A history of Republican power grabs

Neil Kinkopf in Legal Affairs:
IN 1989, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR issued an extraordinary, and evidently unsolicited, legal opinion to all agencies of the federal government. Barr headed the prestigious Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the president and executive branch on constitutional issues, and his memo read like a Top Ten list of Congress's alleged meddling in the president's business. "Attempts to Restrict the President's Foreign Affairs Powers" was No. 9. "Micromanagement of the Executive Branch" was No. 4. Leading the list was "Interference with President's Appointment Power." "Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions," the memo warned, "can Executive Branch prerogatives be preserved."

Never before had the Office of Legal Counsel, known as the OLC, publicly articulated a policy of resisting Congress. The Barr memo did so with belligerence, staking out an expansive view of presidential power while asserting positions that contradicted recent Supreme Court precedent. Rather than fade away as ill-conceived and legally dubious, however, the memo's ideas persisted and evolved within the Republican Party and conservative legal circles like the Federalist Society. They emerged last year in the form of the Bush Administration's memo that asserted the president's power to authorize torture.

Bridging a 15-year gap, the Barr memo provides the theoretical and strategic foundations for the torture memo. It supports the Bush Administration's position that the American rule of law gives the president expansive power, a view that, in stark terms, means the president may order the use of torture even though a statute specifically outlaws the practice. As President Richard Nixon famously claimed, "If the President does it, that means it is not illegal." ...

Richard Thompson buys some records with the New Yorker


And now for something completely different: pickles from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Leeches, maggots

Since the Democratic Party seems to be capable of very little, I'm glad someone -- even if a board of medical advisers -- has stepped up to bat against the Republicans. Wait, am I reading this right?
Flesh-eating maggots and bloodsucking leeches, long thought of as the tools of bygone medicine, have experienced a quiet renaissance... and for two days beginning Thursday a federal board of medical advisers will discuss how to regulate them.

Constitution delay watch

Another delay. In some ways, this isn't really news. So the US is helping them write the constitution. See Raed's comments in the post just below for how many apparently think about this.
The National Assembly today called off a meeting that was scheduled to decide on the draft constitution, the Speaker's office said, and no new date for the meeting was immediately announced.

A vote on the document was originally deferred Monday by the Speaker, Hajim al-Hassani, who said three days of talks would be held to try to win over Sunni Arab negotiators.

It appears, however, that no agreement has been reached so far with the Sunnis on the question of federalism, which would essentially set up powerful local regions instead of a strong central government.

Iraqi constitution from an Iraqi (Raed) view

Raed says,
Iraq already has a secular constitution that protects Iraq's unity and human rights, and gives very important rights to minorities, but this didn't prevent the Iraqi government before the fall of Baghdad from committing all the mistakes they did. The 1970 Iraqi constitution has many better aspects than the one under construction now, but what would any constitution do in a battle field with no laws like Iraq under occupation?

This constitution is nothing more than another mistake of the bush administration in Iraq. It can't make things better, but it may make them worse. Iraqis should be left to write their constitution and rule their country by themselves.

Religion, morality, sheep

I've been thinking about this some more given Robertson's comments the other day, and then his lies to try to twist out of the PR gaff. Patricia at Whirled View has some comments on this copied below. She wonders whether religion is actually an obstacle to moral inquiry and behavior. Take note also of the earlier post linking to a Foreign Policy study on the disconnect between church-going and generosity. America's public religiosity can often live a downright lie.

But, contrary to Nietzsche's thoughts on the matter, that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. The history of both religion and moral inquiry is bound together. However, many American religious leaders like Robertson or Dobson and demagogues like Bush make it seem as if religion and morality are one and the same thing. These figures function in the realm of casuistry, taking their cues more from Machiavelli than St. Thomas. Much of organized religion in the United States teaches and preaches mind-deadening rule-following. That's good politics too because there's nothing better for a political party's ability to maintain power than sheep who follow the rules the party makes and can't think their way out of them, whether they're right or wrong. So much for the personal God of Augustine and Jonathan Edwards. In many cases, these rules are purely political -- rather than moral or religious -- where the method of politics is not to inculcate and encourage good habits of thought and public deliberation but to follow rules set by figures posing as authorities of not only religion, but also morality and politics. These are then all taken to be one and the same thing made all the more powerful by their inextricable ties to the supernatural.

But, even if historically religion and moral thought and behavior are mutually influential and derive from similar sets of questions (the pre-Socratic "why is there something rather than nothing?", the Socratic "why be moral [just]?"), morality and religion are not coextensive, just as philosophy and theology are not coextensive. It is a capturing of the public dialogue in the US that has made them seem to be one and the same thing. Religious leaders constantly maintain that without religion -- and only their brand of religion -- one is at least amoral and likely immoral. This is flatly false. And we really don't need the Foreign Policy study or Pat Robertson's stupid comments to say this.

But it is also a political victory of sorts for the religious right in the US that needs combatting. Now and then, a moral imbecile like Pat Robertson publicly states something morally execrable. We should take the very fact that we can still see it as such and the present public outcry regarding Robertson's remarks as heartening and perhaps even promising for a better public capacity to separate religion from morality. We so need it.

One can't have ethics or morals without religion, some people say. That's why they want the text of the Ten Commandments to be plastered on the wall or carved on lumps of rock everywhere we look.

I'm not so sure. I know lots of people with no religion at all whose conduct vis-a-vis other people is at all times absolutely impeccable. They live exemplary, helpful and useful lives.

Maybe the people who fret about morals and family values should take a closer look at the pious types.

Islamic terrorism is a major problem today.

And the "reverend" Pat Robertson is all in favor of assassination, too. He wants to eliminate Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Now he's apologized, but he's planted the seed, just as certain Islamic preachers of hate do. Once the seed is planted, some follower is likely to take the hint and do the dirty deed.

Given examples like this, it seems to me that a good case could be made for saying that religion may be a very serious impediment to moral and ethical behavior.