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Sunday, October 31, 2004


Some good election news

Waiting for some good news from the election? There is some. Of course, it's not from the United States:
"Montevideo, Uruguay, Oct. 31 - Tabare Vazquez, a Socialist doctor running as the candidate of an opposition coalition that includes former guerrillas, narrowly triumphed Sunday in the presidential election, bringing the left to power for the first time in this South American country.

"The victory by the coalition, the Progressive-Encounter-Broad-Front-New-Majority, whose largest faction consists of Tupamaro guerrillas turned politicians, strengthens a trend throughout the continent. As in the last presidential votes in Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina, the candidate most opposed to American-supported free-market policies has defeated backers of those policies."
How could you not love the "Progressive-Encounter-Broad-Front-New-Majority" coalition?

Followup: Will there be consequences of this election? At least two:

"Vazquez, 64, vows to restore relations with Cuba, which Uruguay severed in April 2002 after Castro insulted Batlle as Washington's lackey. He also vows to resume relations with Brazil, the U.S. policy rival in South America."

Friday, October 29, 2004


A "Stronger America"

Quite a few of my neighbors have Kerry-Edwards lawn signs in front of their houses. Nothing wrong with that, I have nothing against anyone who supports Kerry. It's Kerry I have a problem with, and his lawn sign sums it up in three words - "A Stronger America." And that is precisely what we Americans, and the world, do not need. A humbler America? A more compassionate America (not to be confused with "compassionate [sic] conservatism")? A more generous America? How about a weaker America? Weaker, that is, in a military sense, a country where we take the trillions that are spent on weapons of death and spend it instead on human needs, not only for ourselves but for people around the world?

For sure, what we do not need is a "stronger America." Because it's a "strong" America which got 3000 people killed on 9/11, and more than a thousand of its own soldiers killed since then, and it's a "strong" America which has caused the deaths of thousands of Afghans and tens of thousands of Iraqis (not to mention the half million to a million Iraqis who were killed by the U.S./U.N. embargo, which was also part of a "strong" America throwing its weight around the world). And not in a million years will I vote for a candidate who campaigns on the slogan of "a stronger America," no matter who he or she is running against, and no matter what dire consequences for the Supreme Court are foretold by his supporters.

And while we're on the subject of signs, here's my other observation for the day. I see a fair number of bumper stickers on cars. Being in Northern California, the (vast) majority are Kerry bumper stickers. Of the Bush-Cheney stickers I see, though, I swear that virtually every single one is on an SUV or a truck. Here's my prediction for the day - I'll bet you can't find a single Prius anywhere in the country with a Bush-Cheney sticker. See for yourself!


Riverbend? Or Arundhati Roy? A test.

I was reading the post below where Baghdad blogger Riverbend wrote about the upcoming U.S. election: "Like in that board game Monopoly, you can choose the game pieces- the little shoe, the car, the top hat… but you can’t choose the way the game is played." And suddenly as I read it to myself, it was being read in the voice of Arundhati Roy, and it struck me that I have heard Roy say almost precisely the same thing. A bit of Googling, however, failed to confirm my memory. Am I imagining this? Or can a clever reader put their finger on a source of Arundhati Roy saying the same thing (more or less)?


Quote of the Day Week Month Year

"It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the country would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone ... because he thought listening to a child discussing her goats was more important."

- Osama bin Laden, on a tape released today


Stretching for a headline, and other questionable newspaper language

Here's the over-the-fold main headline in today's San Jose Mercury News:
Campaigns enlist stars to sway swing voters
Springsteen, Gen. Franks boost candidates
Uh huh. Let's see Tommy Franks try to pack PacBell SBC Monster Park. And in case you're wondering, no, there are no other "stars" speaking out for George Bush who are mentioned in the article, not even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is in fact a star and is in fact going to Ohio to campaign for Bush.

In the same article, the Mercury News says [emphasis added]:

"[Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor...appeared to blame the troops explicitly on NBC's 'Today Show,' saying 'the president did what a commander in chief should do, and no matter how you try to blame it on the president the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough, or didn't they search carefully enough?'"

Then we have this headline from this morning's Los Angeles Times:

News Video Is at Center of Storm Over Iraq Explosives
Reporters taped troops apparently finding munitions. A Pentagon photo implies otherwise.
First of all, the new tape shows troops finding explosives, not "munitions." Munitions are bombs, ammunition, etc. White powder is not "munitions." Secondly, a Pentagon photo of a truck parked some time earlier next to a bunker, almost certainly not the same bunker, implies nothing about what is shown in the newly uncovered tape. The only thing that would "imply otherwise" would be some expert testifying that what was shown in the tapes was a barrel of sugar. And, not only is there no one saying that (not even some administration spokesperson), but, au contraire, one of the ultimate experts, David Kay, says precisely the opposite - that the powder was almost certainly the explosives in question.

In the article itself, we find this: "Bush and Pentagon officials have suggested that the facility had been cleared of the explosives before the U.S.-led invasion on March 20." No. They suggested that the facility might have been cleared of the explosives, not that it had been cleared. Since they have no actual evidence, even they wouldn't have the chutzpah to come out and say that it had been cleared. Their only defense was to imply that there was doubt about when the weapons were removed (not, as I have now written twice, that that makes any difference in the conclusion which can be drawn from the episode). That defense would appear to me (though not to the LA Times, evidently) to be conclusively shattered.

Thursday, October 28, 2004


Mass graves in Iraq

Or should that be "massive number of graves in Iraq"? They're not all buried together in large graves, but here's what the U.S. invasion of Iraq has wrought (link via First Draft):
"Deaths of Iraqis have soared by 100,000 since the start of the Iraq war and many of the victims have been women and children, public health experts from the United States said on Thursday.

"'Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq,' researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland said in a report published online by The Lancet medical journal."
100,000 people who are definitely "safe from harm" now. Unfortunately, they're dead.


U.S. anti-Cuba coalition increases by 33%

The U.N. has just voted 179-4 to denounce the U.S. blockade of Cuba. Joining the "big three" coalition of the United States, Israel, and the Marshall Islands this year was the powerhouse nation of Palau. Voting against the resolution was the "world's newest democracy," Afghanistan. It isn't clear at this writing if Iraq was able to cast a vote.

Last year's vote was 179-3; unfortunately, it looks like Cuba is running out of countries to add to its coalition. The only abstention this year was Micronesia, and I'm afraid if they ever make up their mind, they just might go the way of Palau and the Marshall Islands. I guess it depends on how much the U.S. ambassador offers them. Or threatens them.

Followup: A long press release about the debate issued by the U.N. is here with a lot more detail than published in any newspaper, including the complete vote. Evidently Iraq doesn't have a vote yet. And here I thought they had been "given" "sovereignty."


A Jon Stewart "rub the eyes and go 'whaaaaa?'" moment

Drudge points to an ABC News story about Al Qaqaa this morning, which alleges that "confidential IAEA documents obtained by ABC News show that on Jan. 14, 2003, the agency's inspectors recorded that just over three tons of RDX [rather than 141 tons] were stored at the facility." But when it comes to the other explosive, HMX, the story gets really strange:
"The documents show IAEA inspectors looked at nine bunkers containing more than 194 tons of HMX at the facility. Although these bunkers were still under IAEA seal, the inspectors said the seals may be potentially ineffective because they had ventilation slats on the sides. These slats could be easily removed to remove the materials inside the bunkers without breaking the seals, the inspectors noted."
Whaaaaaaa? Isn't the whole point of "seals" to, you know, seal the place?

Again, as I wrote yesterday, even if this story is true it makes no difference. We don't know for certain when the explosives were taken from Al Qaqaa. But on the day that Baghdad fell, and the U.S. took nominal control of Iraq, there was every reason to believe that a huge stockpile of explosives, important enough to have been sealed (or should that be "sealed"?) by the IAEA, was still present at Al Qaqaa. And no effort was made to secure that stockpile (or to verify that there was nothing left to secure). And that is a known fact.

Followup: Atrios links to a story from a Minneapolis/St. Paul TV station (complete with pictures!) about an "embedded" crew of theirs who visited Al Qaqaa with American troops on April 10 and viewed vast stores of (unknown) explosives, easily accessed with a pair of bolt cutters and apparently unguarded.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Quote of the Day

"Since Sept. 11, 2001, we're reminded some nations don't have the rule of law or (know) that it's the key to liberty."

- Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "extolling...the growing role of international law in U.S. courts" (Source)
I wonder who she had in mind. Somehow, I don't think it's the same one I'm thinking of.


Bringing it home

The Center for American Progress has an excellent interactive map up on their website, showing state-by-state (and even city-by-city) how much has been spent killing people in Iraq. The California share is $19.5 billion dollars; here in San Jose (the nearest big city), the figure is $762 million dollars, a substantial fraction of the city's entire budget. In San Jose, as in all of California and indeed in all of the country, public services of all kinds (hospitals, schools, mass transit) are being cut back because of "lack of money." Not coincidentally, all of those things are also associated with jobs, which are also in short supply.

Killing people and shooting ourselves in the foot at the same time. What a deal. A classic "lose-lose" situation. Except, of course, for Halliburton et al..


The election approaches

George Bush's liklihood of getting elected is diminishing every day, so it's time to adopt the high-risk strategy - escalate the war in Iraq and see if some "success" can be achieved:
"An uptick in airstrikes and other military moves point to an imminent showdown between U.S. forces and Sunni Muslim insurgents west of Baghdad -- a decisive battle that could determine whether the campaign to bring democracy and stability to Iraq an succeed."
The AP writer's slant to the story notwithstanding, while U.S. forces are certainly preparing for a major escalation of their attacks, there is virtually no liklihood that any such attack will be a "showdown" or a "decisive battle," nor for that matter is there any truth to the assertion that even if it were a decisive battle, that it would have anything to do with bringing "democracy" to Iraq. All that aside, however, I still take this (if true, which I suspect it is) as an indication of Bush's desperation more than anything else. He desperately needs something to get people's minds off the missing explosives scandal, and to counter his falling standing in the polls. Sadly, it will be the people of Fallujah who pay the price.


Yesterday's news

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card says the 377 tons of explosives missing from Al Qaqaa is an "old story," "yesterday's news." Here's a bit more of "yesterday's news":



Via TalkLeft, I learn this morning that George Bush is now blaming his shirt (not his jacket, his shirt!) for the mysterious "debate bulge": "'I don't know what that is,' Mr. Bush said. 'I mean, it is-- I'm embarrassed to say it's a poorly tailored shirt.'" But today, Left I on the News can exclusively reveal the real identity of the Bush bulge:


Al Qaqaa - my $0.02

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo is the place to go for all things Al Qaqaa, but here's something neither he nor anyone else I know of has noted yet. As of today, it would seem that there is at least some uncertainty that the 377 tons of high explosive were still present at Al Qaqaa when American troops first arrived there. I'll accept that, at least as of today, that is still an open question. And it is precisely the point that the Bush administration is resting its hat. This post, for example, was prompted by just hearing Dick Cheney in a news soundbite saying precisely that.

But the obvious corollary hasn't been dealt with. It most definitely was known that those explosives were there shortly before the war started, when the IAEA inspected the site. It is also definitely known that the IAEA warned the U.S. about the significance of the explosives stored at that site which was, after all, an "IAEA-sealed" site. So if the U.S. was at all unsure about whether any explosives were still there when they arrived, and let's take that as a given, then it was incumbent upon them to secure the site until it could be inspected, since if they didn't do so (and they didn't), then they were leaving a site where there was at least a very good probability that there was a huge supply of very significant explosives unguarded. And against that charge, as far as I can tell, there is no defense. Whether the site was actually looted before or after American troops arrived is essentially irrelevant.

In reality, this is one more piece of proof of something that I wrote about more than a year ago - this war was clearly not about WMD or any other kind of weapons, because

"if you did go to war because you thought there were WMD which might find their way into the hands of terrorists (the ostensible purpose for the war, since it was 100% clear that Iraq itself had no way of attacking the U.S. with any weapons at all), then you would have spent months preparing for an immediate, massive effort to seize them and prevent them from getting into the hands of terrorists. Instead, we saw a decidedly lackadaisical search, with known nuclear facilities left unguarded, teams not even ready to go for months after the fall of Baghdad, etc."
HMX and RDX, while not officially "WMD," are actually the kind of explosives which are probably even more valuable to terrorists, and hence the exact same line of reasoning applies to them as well.


Man bites dog

Now here's something you definitely don't see every day:
"Mayor Gavin Newsom made good on his promise to join locked-out union members on the picket line Tuesday after a group of San Francisco hotels rejected his proposed 90-day cooling off period, extending a bitter labor dispute that has left 4,000 workers locked out of their jobs.

Newsom shook hands with locked-out workers during a short visit to the Westin St. Francis on Powell Street and vowed that the city would boycott the hotels by not sponsoring city events in any of them, including renowned venues such as the Fairmont and the Palace."
Not only did Newsom announce a city boycott of the 14 hotels which are locking out their employees, but on TV just now I heard him call for everyone to boycott those hotels and to take their business to the many other hotels in San Francisco which are not participating in the lockout.


Massacre in Fallujah

The carnage in Fallujah continues on a daily basis, and the U.S. is threatening to escalate it in the future. But now Iraq Body Count has completed a detailed analysis of the massacre committed by U.S. forces in April:
"Today the Iraq Body Count (IBC) website has published its analysis of the civilian dealth toll in the April 2004 siege of Falluja. This analysis leads to the conclusion that betweeen 572 and 616 of the approximately 800 reported deaths were of civilians, with over 300 of these being women and children."
And, just to remind readers, all of these deaths are war crimes, committed during the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by the U.S. and its allies. Obviously, many people would say that the 200 "non-civilians" who were killed "deserved it." They did not. Every one of them, just like the 600 or so civilians (not to mention 1248 coalition soldiers and tens of thousands of other Iraqis), would be alive today were it not for the invasion.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Riverbend picks the little shoe

Brilliant Baghdad Burning blogger Riverbend endorses John Kerry joins the ABB crowd today, expressing a common sentiment (albeit with her usual excellent style) by saying:
"No one can be worse than Bush. It will hardly be fair to any president after Bush in any case- it's like assigning a new captain to a drowning ship. All I know is that Bush made the hole and let the water in, I want him thrown overboard."
However, my favorite image from her post was this perceptive paragraph:
"War and peace in America are in the average American’s hands about as much as they are in mine. Sure, you can vote for this man or that one, but in the end, there’s something bigger, more intricate and quite sinister behind the decisions. Like in that board game Monopoly, you can choose the game pieces- the little shoe, the car, the top hat… but you can’t choose the way the game is played. The faces change but the intentions and the policy remain the same."
And that, of course, is precisely why it's necessary to change the game, to not accept the rules of the game as offered to us by the two-party monopoly. Because otherwise the game, and the results, will never change.

Monday, October 25, 2004


Interesting choice of words

Reading an article on CNN about newspaper endorsements, I found this rather interesting choice of words:
"'On Sept. 11, 2001, this country accepted a great challenge -- to inflict justice on terrorists who would attack us and to take every reasonable step to protect our homeland,' editors of The Denver Post wrote."
Inflict? Is that what we do with "justice"? Inflict it on people?


Quotes of the Day

"How is it that in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, that one third of the territory is populated by some 1,600 Jewish families, and that two-thirds of it is populated by 1.5 million Palestinians who don't even have room to breathe?"

- Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid

"We cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state while we reign over millions of Palestinians."

- Israeli Labour leader Shimon Peres
Meanwhile, at the very bottom of this article whose main content describes the debate in the Israeli Knesset over the proposed (and alleged) Gaza withdrawal, the harsh reality bares its face:
"Fourteen Palestinians were killed in the latest bout of violence on Monday.

"The dead, among them an eight-year-old boy, were killed in either air strikes or from gunfire and tank shelling in the town of Khan Yunis. Most died when the army fired at least four air-to-ground missiles at the area, one of which hit a national security service position, security officials said.

"Palestinian medics said some 70 people had also been wounded, while Israeli military sources reported that two soldiers were lightly injured."
And, as usual, the world closes its eyes and plugs up its ears. Since they can't hear the cries of the dead and their grieving families, will they hear the words of Tommy Lapid and Shimon Peres? Some of the world will, but not Americans, whose chances of hearing those words in our press or from our politicians are close to nil.


Battling headlines

From articles about the newly reported (that is, newly reported to the world's public, not to the U.S. government) disappearance of 380 tons of high explosive in Iraq, these headlines:
"Chides"? I didn't think writers wrote their own headlines, but can it be mere coincidence that the author of AP story #2 was well-known Kerry-basher Nedra Pickler?

"Chide" - "To scold mildly so as to correct or improve." Chide? I don't think so.


Miscalculations? Or calculations?

John Kerry speaks the thoughts of many when he says:
"[The Bush administration] miscalculated about how to go to war, miscalculated about the numbers of troops that we would need."
But actually, the opposite is true. It was not a "miscalculation" when Bush failed to press ahead for a U.N. vote which would have resulted in other major nations joining the U.S. and Britain in the invasion; it was a calculation, based on the knowledge that that resolution was going to fail. It was not a "miscalculation" about how many troops were needed, it was a calculation based on the knowledge that the American people had to be convinced to support the war by being told that it could be "won on the cheap," without the huge numbers of troops that were really required. Telling the truth -- that taxes would need to be raised to pay for the war, that many hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed for years to come, that thousands would die -- would not, to say the least, have had the intended effect.

Miscalculations? Or careful calculations? You be the judge.



Linda McQuaig has a very worthwhile article this morning in the Toronto Star on the agreement between Bush and Kerry about the right of the United States to intervene anywhere it chooses to, unrestrained by international law (though Kerry allows that some sort of vague "global test," which presumably he'll be grading, should be applied). Here are two excerpts:
"There was plenty of outrage south of the border last week over the news that the British newspaper, the Guardian, had organized a letter-writing campaign to influence undecided American voters. "How dare they?" huffed CNN anchor Lou Dobbs.

"The denunciations of 'outside interference' were so fierce one could have easily been left with the impression that Americans are scrupulous themselves about never interfering in the affairs of other nations.

"Of course, we know this isn't the case. So it was hard not to see a double standard at work. Apparently, invading another country is okay, but writing letters to voters in another country is really crossing the line."
"Michael Mandel, a law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall, notes that the Nuremberg Tribunal following World War II ruled that starting a war of aggression is the supreme international crime, because it's the crime from which all the other war-related crimes flow.

"Mandel argues that the invasion of Iraq amounts to the supreme international crime.

"The Bush administration has tried to claim the high moral ground, stressing that it puts great effort into avoiding civilian casualties in Iraq.

"This is nonsense. If it is engaged in a war of aggression, any casualties it creates -- deliberate or accidental -- are a violation of international law, not to mention a gross injustice. And countless Iraqis have been killed by U.S. forces in Iraq.

Washington presents its ongoing attacks on insurgents as self-defensive, but Mandel insists that an aggressor has no right to self-defence. 'If you break into someone's house and hold them at gunpoint and they try to kill you but you kill them first, they're guilty of nothing and you're guilty of murder.'"
A question to ask yourself: why did John Kerry talk about a "global test," rather than using the words "international law"? Is he afraid to stand up in front of the American people and say that we, like everyone else in the world, should be subject to international law? International law which, by the way, is also national law, that is, the U.S. is bound by our own laws to obey international treaties that we sign.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


The explosions are coming fast and furious

Not in Iraq, in the United States. Just last week, the Guardian revealed that "Equipment which could be used in an illicit nuclear bomb programme has disappeared from previously monitored sites in Iraq, and radioactively contaminated items from there have been found abroad," and that "Installations in Saddam Hussein's former nuclear bomb programme were being systematically dismantled." Today an ever bigger bombshell explodes on the front page of the New York Times:
"The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives - used to demolish buildings, produce missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons - are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.

"The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no-man's land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished after the American invasion last year.

"The International Atomic Energy Agency publicly warned about the danger of these explosives before the war, and after the invasion it specifically told United States officials about the need to keep the explosives secured, European diplomats said in interviews last week. Administration officials say they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded, beyond the fact that the occupation force was overwhelmed by the amount of munitions they found throughout the country."
For an understanding of the signficance of the "380 tons" figure, this will shed some light on the subject:
"The bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 used less than a pound of the material of the type stolen from Al Qaqaa, and somewhat larger amounts were apparently used in the bombing of a housing complex in November 2003 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the blasts in a Moscow apartment complex in September 1999 that killed nearly 300 people."
For the mathematically challenged, 380 tons would produce 760,000 one pound bombs capable of bringing down 760,000 airplanes.

Followup: Talking Points Memo has a whole series of posts expanding on this issue, making clear that the U.S. government has been suppressing this story for more than a year, and that the New York Times is still pulling its punches on the story.


Feynman lives!

[Every post here doesn't have to do with serious topics of world affairs and politics, does it? Although this one sort of does, as you'll see.]

Richard Feynman was one of the great physicists, one of the great physics teachers, and one of the great "characters" of the 20th century. His adventures, chronicled in such books as "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" make for delightful reading. His last adventure, his search to learn more about the "lost land" of Tannu Tuva (now Tuva), is told in the book "Tuva or Bust!" Sadly, Feynman died shortly before he would have become one of the first Americans ever to have visited Tuva.

Last night I watched the delightful 1999 film Genghis Blues, the story of blind San Francisco blueman Paul Pena, his accidental discovery of the unique Tuvan form of music called "throat-singing," and his eventual trip to Tuva (an indirect result of Feynman's earlier efforts) and actually winning a throat-singing contest there. What an amazing story! And what an amazing place this world is, filled with interesting people living life in many different ways. And most of them, like Tuvan throat-singing master Kongar-ol Ondar who hosts Pena on his visit and is featured in the film, wanting only to be happy and live in peace with the rest of the people in the world.

And finally, a word about Netflix which I mentioned the other day in conjunction with Hearts & Minds. Although several friends had strongly recommended it as far back almost as the day it began, I resisted for the same reason I don't subscribe to "premium cable" - I already watch too much TV, and if I had continuous access to good (or even bad) movies, I might never do anything else. But I was finally persuaded by the fact that Netflix (and possibly competing services, about which I know nothing) has an incredible supply of movies, particularly documentaries, which you just can't get at your local Blockbuster or even your local library. Since I signed up just a short while ago, I've been able to see movies like Genghis Blues, Hearts & Minds, Outfoxed, Touching the Void (which I mentioned yesterday), The Fog of War (which I discussed a few weeks ago), as well as a few fiction films. For me, the relatively modest monthly fee has been well worth it (needless to say, I do not write this out of any financial interest in Netflix, of which I have none).

A word about Netflix itself. I've been using it for about a month. Out of around a dozen movies I've checked out, every single one has had two-day turnaround, that is, I put a movie I've viewed in Monday's mail and a new one arrives in Wednesday's mail. Every one. This is a tribute not only to Netflix's efficiency, but also to that of the much-maligned U.S. Postal Service, whose performance far exceeds the common perception. Another thing worth mentioning - the "normal" Netflix service gives you unlimited movies, with three checked out at one time, for $17.99/month (the price just dropped). There is a lower cost service, which I signed up for, which gives you two at once, and a maximum of four/month. However you will not find any evidence of this rate if you go to sign up. You have to sign up at the normal rate, then, after you have done so, go online to "my account" and change your level of service to the lower, less expensive level (which now that they've lowered prices is less worth doing, since it's only $3/month less, and I don't expect they'll lower the low-price rate.).

Footnote: Feel free to use the Comments to recommend your own favorite documentaries (let's confine it to that, shall we; recommending movies in general is to put it mildly too broad a topic).


John Kerry fails the "global test"

George Bush, leaving no lie left unspoken, charges John Kerry with being "soft on Cuba" because he voted against the Helms-Burton act in 1995. Predictably, Kerry responds by saying he hates Fidel Castro as much as the next guy (as long as Left I on the News is not the next guy), and he only voted against Helms-Burton because he opposed "one provision that would have led to frivolous lawsuits." The Helms-Burton act, which extends the U.S. government's attempt to strangle the Cuban Revolution by extending its economic warfare against Cuba to the entire world, has been challenged in the WTO by European nations, and its extraterritorial scope has been one factor which has resulted in recent U.N. votes against the embargo being even more completely lopsided (e.g., 173-2) than they were before, with only Israel and the Marshall Islands lining up with the U.S. Talk about failing a "global test"! It doesn't seem to bother Kerry, though, who proudly proclaims his support for continued warfare against the Cuban people.

This year's U.N. vote condemning the blockade is coming up on October 28.


Douchebag Quote of the Day

"What depresses me about it is all this whining about no flu shots. There's no flu epidemic. The federal health officials say that it looks like, so far, it's even lower than usual. And immediately, the people are whining, say, Isn't the government going to help me out? You know, I've never had a -- I'm 73 years old. I've had about every disease known to man. I've never had a flu shot. All these people so worried about it. There's something wrong with people in this country if they really think that this is a -- this is a matter that is of great concern."

- Robert Novak, on yesterday's Capital Gang, not to be confused with Mad Magazine's "Usual Gang of Idiots," who are way smarter and more perceptive about American politics.
Robert Novak: 3000 people dead on 9/11/2001? "Everything changed." Killing tens of thousands of people in revenge? "Completely justified." 36,000 Americans dead from the flu each year? "No great concern." "Quit whining."

Saturday, October 23, 2004


The Battle of Algiers

In February I wrote about seeing the movie The Battle of Algiers, and its relevance to today's war against "terrorists" in Iraq. Now the movie has been released on DVD, with various extras including commentary by Richard Clarke. You can read some of Clarke's comments here. If you haven't seen it yet, now's your chance.


Quote of the Next Day

Jon Stewart is due to appear on 60 Minutes tomorrow, but a little bit of what he has to say is discussed today by AP, as Stewart explains that Fox News is hardly the only media target worthy of criticism:
"CNN says, 'You can depend on CNN.' Guess what? I watch CNN. No, you can't!"
Coincidentally, in today's mail I received the latest issue of Extra!, the magazine of FAIR, whose cover article is "I'm Not a Leftist, But I Play One on TV." The article describes the almost total lack of left or progressive viewpoints in the "debates" on TV talk shows, and has a lot to say about CNN in this context. Among the factoids I didn't know: the first "left" host of Crossfire was ex-CIA agent Tom Braden, whose CIA career included supervising covert operations against Western Europe's left, and one of its current "left" hosts is James Carville, who worked for the Venezuelan opposition in its failed attempt to oust Hugo Chavez in the recent recall referendum.

Support a great organization - subscribe to Extra!.


Quote of the Day

"With the same energy ... I put into going after the Viet Cong and trying to win for our country, I pledge to you I will hunt down and capture or kill the terrorists before they harm us."

- John Kerry, campaigning today
But...but...I thought the Vietnam War was "a mistake"? What was it we were "trying to win for our country" exactly? The ability to install whatever subservient government we want in countries around the world?

It seems to me John Kerry ought to forget about running for President and just go enlist in the Army. Obviously he's itching to get his hands on a gun and shoot something more challenging than geese.


DNC protesters "dodged a bullet"

Literally. Little noticed in the tragic death murder of a college student during celebrations following Boston's recent pennant victory was this aspect:
"The plastic balls of pepper spray, which are propelled from devices similar to paintball guns, are meant to prevent serious injury as police agencies try to control large groups. [Ed. note: meant to prevent serious injury to whom?]

"Boston police bought the projectile weaponry for crowd control during this summer's Democratic National Convention, but did not use it then because protests remained relatively subdued.

"Meanwhile, Seattle police said yesterday that the department has equipment similar to that used in the Boston incident."
The copy above was taken from a Seattle paper (hence the reference to Seattle in the last paragraph). Think it was just a coincidence that Seattle police have the same weapons as the Boston police? Think again; even campus police are arming themselves against the oh-so-threatening drunken college students:
"Bridgewater State College Police Chief David Tillinghist considered outfitting his 20-member campus department with high pressure guns that fire balls filled with a pepper-like powder to quell any student riots.

"Those plans are now on hold.

"The death of a 21-year-old East Bridgewater college student, struck in the eye with what authorities say was a pepper-loaded projectile fired by Boston police trying to disperse a crowd after the Red Sox beat the Yankees, is forcing law enforcement agencies such as Bridgewater State College's police department to rethink the safety and effectiveness of using products billed as 'less than lethal.'

"One study by the National Institute of Justice of 373 cases where so-called 'impact munitions' weapons that fired projectiles such as bean bags, foam rubber balls and gas found that someone died in one percent of the incidents. The study did not break out pepper spray or pepper powder weapons."
I have made this point previously in conjunction with "smart bombs" and I'll make it here. If you could fire "smart bombs" at known military targets (that, of course, is a BIG if, as civilian deaths in Iraq demonstrate almost every day), then if you knew that there was a 1% error rate, and you drop 100 bombs a day, then you are deliberately dropping one bomb a day on civilian targets. In the case of "impact munitions" (or tasers or other "non-lethal" weapons), if the police fire them 100 times and there is a known one percent death rate, then they are deliberately murdering someone, even if they don't know which one out of the hundred it will be. Is such a weapon justified if someone is approaching the police officer (or anyone else) with a cocked gun, or an ax, and clearly intends to do harm unless stopped? Absolutely. Is the use of such a weapon justified in 99 out of 100 cases they are used? Not as far as I can see from one story after another that appears in the paper. Of course such police murders are hardly confined to "non-lethal" weapons, as the recent gunning down by police of a man who was "causing a disturbance" outside a coffee shop in San Jose demonstrated recently.


More on Castro's fall

Cuba responded today to the U.S. State Department's oh-so-classy remark yesterday about Fidel Castro's recent fall; interestingly enough, as I write this, the only place the Cuban response appears is in the right-wing Washington Times (using an AFP release):
"Cuba's representative in Washington yesterday said a State Department spokesman's comments about Cuban leader Fidel Castro's fall late Wednesday proved the immoral nature of the Bush administration.

"'These statements reflect to a large extent the low humane, ethical and moral standard of a terrorist regime -- pardon me, warring regime -- such as the United States,' Dagoberto Rodriguez told a group of reporters when asked about comments from State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Too bad Rodriguez doesn't speak in HTML, or he could have said "terrorist warring regime." All I can say is, well said.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about some aspects of the event which haven't been commented on anywhere else. In the last day or so I've seen video footage of the fall not just on the news but also on the Jay Leno show, as Leno despicably yucked it up, comparing Castro's accident to the much-hyped (and totally contrived) pulling down of the Hussein statue after the fall of Baghdad. You can see the video yourself here (there's a brief ad at the beginning). A few things stand out in that footage. First, the reason this accident was so serious (resulting in a broken knee and arm) was not because the 78-year-old Castro is old and frail, but precisely because the opposite is true. After finishing his speech, Castro strides forward forcefully, and to my eye trips on the step because his eyes are on the audience in front of him who he is on his way to greet. If he were walking forward slowly and carefully like most 78-year-olds, he would have simply fallen in place; instead, his momentum carries him forward ten feet and makes him hit the ground much harder.

The second thing you notice is even more important - Castro is completely alone and unprotected as he strides forward toward the crowd. Compare this to the recent picture of Hamid Karzai that appeared recently in this blog, looking terrified even when surrounded by machine-gun toting guards, or similar pictures of Ayad Allawi. George Bush's guards don't carry machine guns, but he's even better protected; even three women wearing T-shirts reading "Protect Our Civil Liberties" were judged too much of a danger to him to attend his campaign rally.

Finally, I'll note from the video footage that, "less than a minute after the fall," Castro, with a broken knee and broken arm, calmly addressed the crowd and told them he was in one piece; the next day, he had only local anesthesia during a 3-hour surgery. I don't want to say he compares to Joe Simpson, whose Touching the Void tells the story of his harrowing descent from a treacherous mountain (from inside a crevasse!) with a shattered knee and broken leg (which I happened to see last night, and which I highly recommend as long as you're not looking for a relaxing evening and don't mind being tense for two hours), but nevertheless Fidel's behavior demonstrates a lot more bravery than the President of a certain other country that comes to mind.

Followup: Fidel is not a man of few words:

"When I reached the concrete area, some 15 or 20 meters from the first row of seats, I didn't notice that there was a relatively high sidewalk between the paving and the crowd. I took a step with my left foot into the space created by the difference in height between the area where the participants were located in their respective seats. Impulse and the law of gravity, discovered a long time ago by Newton, meant that the false step I had taken precipitated me forwards, in a fraction of a second, onto the paving. By pure instinct, my arms went out in front of me to cushion the blow; otherwise, my face and head would have hit the ground."
There's lots more. :-)


Jon Stewart

Since I know many of my readers are fans/viewers of the Daily Show, I'll simply recommend this profile of Jon Stewart by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, well worth reading despite the generally (but not in this article) annoying author, whose major sin in this article is his need to quote the overrated Wonkette.

Friday, October 22, 2004


Deus ex machina?

In the last day, more than a dozen hikers who were stranded in various parts of the Sierras by early winter storms were rescued. One of them, winemaker Paul Bargetto, had this to say:
"We prayed in the morning at breakfast, at lunch, before we went to sleep. Never give up on the Lord. He'll be there for you."
In point of fact it was the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team and their Chinook helicopter who saved Mr. Bargetto; others were saved by Park Rangers or members of the National Park Service. You know, that "big government" right wingers (and plenty of liberals and libertarians too) are always decrying. You can think what you want about what, if any role "the Lord" (if any) had in this rescue, but most assuredly if there weren't a government agency with helicopters at their disposal for tasks like this, some or all of those people might well be dead, the Lord's wishes notwithstanding.

A funny thing happened while I was researching this post. One of the four rescues that occured, the one mentioned above, was clearly described in the press as having been made by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team. After checking a number of news articles on the other rescues, I was never able to determine exactly who was involved. Their were just "rescues," with neither individual rescuers nor agency credited for the rescue. Truly "deus ex machina." Little wonder people don't appreciate what government does for them.


Bush lies, people die (and then Bush lies to their families)

Everyone is all over this story about the appalling (and dangerous) ignorance of Bush supporters, a majority of whom still believe that Iraq had WMDs, had ties to al Qaeda, that a majority of the world supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and many more absurdities. Totally a propos, Atrios catches this story from MSNBC, quoting George Bush in an appearance on Telemundo yesterday, talking about how he comforts families of dead soldiers:
"Bush also expressed gratitude to Hispanic families that lost loved ones in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, adding that they died for a noble cause.

"'I would tell them the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war against those who caused the deaths on 9/11 is necessary,' he said."
And no, there's no translation issue; the article informs us that "Bush spoke in English and his answers were translated into Spanish in the broadcasts." So, once again, despite repeated denials that he has done so, here's Bush telling the world, or at least his ignorant supporters, that the war in Iraq was a war against those who "caused the deaths on 9/11" (not to mention the war in Afghanistan, which is for all intents and purposes at this time a war against the Taliban who also did not "cause the deaths on 9/11").

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Iraqi election watch

Continuing on a recent theme here, in today's news, "Two attacks on vehicles carrying Iraqi women to their jobs Thursday morning claimed the lives of six women and one man and severely wounded more than a dozen people." This would be just one more in a long line of sad stories from Iraq, except for the location - the road from Baghdad to Baghdad Airport, which is described in the article as "one of the most dangerous in Iraq."

Folks, when it's mid-October, and the road from the capital city to its airport is "one of the most dangerous" in the country, talking about elections in January is beyond being a joke.


Two Cuban stories

Fidel Castro slipped and fractured or broke his knee and arm today. Here's what the "compassionate conservative" U.S. government had to say
"The United States on Thursday refused to wish arch-foe Fidel Castro a speedy recovery from bone fractures sustained in an accidental stumble, saying the Cuban leader's injuries were of 'little concern' compared to the suffering of the Cuban people.

"'We heard that Castro fell,' state department spokesperson Richard Boucher said, professing ignorance as to which bones he may have damaged. 'You'd have to check with the Cubans to find out what's broken about Mr Castro.'

"'We, obviously, have expressed our views about what's broken in Cuba,' he told reporters, reiterating Washington's litany of complaints about Castro and his communist government which have been the target of a US trade embargo for more than 40 years.

"Asked whether the United States would wish Castro a speedy recovery, Boucher replied: 'No' and said Washington was far more concerned about the welfare of the Cuban people under what he called and undemocratic and repressive regime."
How much is the U.S. government concerned with the "welfare of the Cuban people"? Here's how much (link via TalkLeft):
"They are not suspected terrorists. They are not 'enemy combatants.' They are not even charged with a crime. But on Oct. 13, in Clark vs. Martinez and Benitez vs. Rozos before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Bush administration defended the executive's authority to imprison them on U.S. soil until they are dead.

"Allowed to depart the island in 1980 from the port of Mariel, some 125,000 Cubans came to the United States over a six-month period.

"The U.S. government argues that the 917 Mariels currently in detention have no right to be free from detention here, ever.

"'If Mariel Cuban prisoners are not entitled to any more 'due process' than the administration claims,' wrote the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003, 'we do not see why the United States government could not torture or summarily execute them.'

"Last week, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens raised the same question, wondering whether the government could just 'shoot' the Mariel Cubans. Government attorney Edwin S. Kneedler replied 'Absolutely not'' -- but gave no answer when Stevens asked why."


U.S. terrorism, U.S. lies, U.S. media complicity continue unabated in Iraq

AP reports on yesterday's events in Fallujah:
"U.S. forces fired rockets in central Fallujah early Wednesday, hitting a teacher's college and leveling a house, killing six people, police and witnesses said.

"A family of six was killed when U.S. jets fired two rockets at their home in the central Wahda area, said neighbor Saeed Mohammed Bassem, 40.

"The couple and their four children had just returned to their home overnight after having fled the insurgent-torn city a week earlier, he said.

"Ten minutes later, a U.S. war plane lobbed a rocket that hit the Female Teachers' Preparation Institute in the Jumhuriya area but it did not detonate, said police officer Mohsen Adnan."
Note the precise, and multiple, sourcing of the story. Here's how the New York Times, also using AP as its source, reported the story:
" U.S. aircraft mounted four strikes in Fallujah on what the U.S. military said were safehouses used by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network."
Not a word about the results of that strike.

The Los Angeles Times chooses to report the story using as its source the world's most unreliable source, the U.S. military:

"U.S. military officials denied witness reports that the strikes hit a teachers college for women and a house where a family of six was killed. They said 'a known Zarqawi propagandist' was 'passing false reports to the media.'"
Considering that the U.S. military has no presence in Fallujah, one wonders how they could possibly know this, and one also wonders if the reporter stenographer who dutifully reported the U.S. military's claim bothered to ask them that question.

As has been the case on more than one occasion, the most useful reporting in the U.S. press comes from Knight-Ridder reporter Hannah Allam. Here's how she reports the story:

"One airstrike Wednesday reportedly killed an Iraqi family, as shown in video footage of rescue workers digging a couple and their four children from the rubble of their home. U.S. officials denied the civilian deaths, blaming the report on a 'known Zarqawi propagandist.' [Ed. note: one wonders if they added, "Who ya' gonna' believe? Me or your lyin' eyes?"]

"A senior Iraqi Defense Ministry official said the evidence pointed to a U.S. airstrike.

"'They told me they didn't have an air raid at that time and that it couldn't be them,' said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because he wasn't authorized to speak on the record. 'Who else could be dropping these bombs?'"

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Polls - imprecise and inaccurate

One of my pet peeves is overinterpretation of polls. Someone gains 1 or 2 percent in a poll from one day or week to the next, and suddenly the news reports are that candidate X is "gaining." The problem, as I have discussed before, is that typical "margins of error" are 4% or thereabouts, so trying to interpret results with any small differences is completely, utterly meaningless. This is like having a large bowl with 10000 black balls and 10000 white balls, drawing out 100 of them, finding that you've drawn 48 whites and 52 blacks, and declaring that black is "ahead." And then, the next day, drawing 50 whites and 50 blacks, and declaring that white is "gaining." Nonsense. Indeed, if there had been 9990 black balls, and 10010 white ones, we might still draw 48 whites and 52 blacks and reach the completely inaccuate conclusion that there are more blacks than whites. There aren't. For the mathematically curious, here's a margin of error calculator that shows you the margin of error for different population sizes and sample sizes.

A lot of people put their faith in "tracking polls," which average poll results over three successive days. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this approach. First, because the polls are conducted every day, the sample sizes are smaller, making the margins of error for each day's poll even larger. And second, assume that one day a "statistical glitch" causes one candidate to be at the upper reaches of the margin of error and the other at the lowest reach. In other words, let's say the two are tied 50-50, but one day's poll shows 54-46 (or worse - remember that a "margin of error" is one standard deviation; it is entirely possibly, though less likely, to have results even further askew). Now that erroneously high result will not only show up one day, but then, if the next two days are "normal" (say, 51-49 or 50-50), the moving 3-day average will gradually decline as the outlying day moves out of the window. This will make it look like the first candidate is "losing support," when in fact nothing of the kind has happened. Note that this is no worse, but also no better, than the impression one would obtain from comparing separate polls taken on individual days. The only way to increase the precision of a poll is to sample more people.

But polling is worse, because it is not only imprecise, as is any statistical exercise, but it is also inaccurate, in a multitude of ways. And, via Talking Points Memo, today we find this analysis of just one aspect of Gallup's polling bias, their determination of "likely voters." As you can read there in more detail, Gallup's latest data, which shows Bush with an 8 point lead, has only 14.5 percent minority representation and only 7.5 percent black representation, as well as only 11 percent of young (18-29 year old) voters. But minority voters, who are increasing in numbers, formed 19 percent of the voters in 2000, black voters were 10 percent, and young voters, were 17 percent of the electorate. The idea that all of these numbers are going to decline substantially in this election is simply preposterous. Yet that is the "unseen" data behind the much-publicized Gallup data.

Of course, there are many other systematic biases, and other problems with polling as well (the attempt to push "leaning" voters into committing to a choice, the failure to provide multiple choices like Green, Libertarian, Nader, etc.).

Why do I care about polls and their problems? Because they "suck all the air" out of real discussion. Forgetting about the candidates, here in California there are more than a dozen complex ballot propositions this year, some of them with far-reaching implications. While I've seen countless prejudicial ads for and against some of them which have given me precisely no reliable information, I have yet to hear a single word discussing them, or even explaining them, on any of the many news shows I watch. What is the truth about "frivolous lawsuits"? What is the legal basis for Indians having casinos in California, and what is the legal basis for the state government having any right to regulate them whatsoever? Who will benefit from the large bond measure being proposed to fund stem cell research? A few (a very few) words have been written about these subjects in the print media; none, so far as I've seen, have been broadcast. And that's just one of the reasons why all the talk about polls is not only a waste of time and breath, but worse.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


This is capitalism

"Galesburg, Ill. - People in this big-shouldered town, birthplace of the poet Carl Sandburg, say Maytag broke their hearts. After a decade of tax breaks and union concessions to keep the company in a place that has been making refrigerators for more than 50 years, Maytag closed its factory last month, terminating 1,600 jobs.

"Maytag may be done with Galesburg, but Galesburg is not done with Maytag.

"District Attorney Paul L. Mangieri wants to sue Maytag to recoup what he says were excess tax breaks in a broad package of incentives to keep the company here. Much of the money, he said, came from a purse that would have gone to schools in this economically fragile community.

"'We gave Maytag these incentives, and they accepted them,' said Mr. Mangieri, a Navy veteran who grew up in a small town not far from here in western Illinois. 'We did it based on faith and trust. If we don't do anything now, it sends a message that we lack the resolve to treat the rich and privileged the same as everybody else.' [Ed. note: Trust, but verify]

"Maytag says it honored its agreement and took just the breaks to which it was entitled. [Ed. note: "Entitled"?]

"There are echoes of Mr. Mangieri's argument in Putnam County, Fla., which gave $4.5 million in cash and tax breaks to attract a call center owned by Sykes Enterprises, only to have it pull up stakes this month after less than five years in Palatka.

"'We ought to sue them,' said Timothy Keyser, a Putnam County lawyer who opposed the tax breaks from the start. 'They sold the county a bill of goods.'

"Galesburg and Putnam County are losers in the increasingly cutthroat game of using tax breaks to keep or attract jobs. Across the country, towns are competing with one another to offer the most lucrative incentives to lure good payrolls, from the giant assembly jobs at Boeing to small centers for processing credit cards, despite some studies that question the effectiveness of such tactics." (Source)
Of course, this is not new. Just sadly predictible.


Operation Israeli Irony

It's typical to name military assaults with misleading names; look no further than "Operation Iraqi Freedom" for an example. But rarely have I read about one so sick as I just learned about this morning from blogger Bob Harris. The recent Israeli attack on Gaza, in which nearly a hundred Palestinians were slaughtered, including many children, thousands were left homeless after their homes were bulldozed, and hundreds were injured, was code-named "Operation Days of Penitence." In the Jewish religion, the "Days of Pentitence" is the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which just ended recently. It is the most sacred Jewish holiday, with Yom Kippur in particular the day to atone for your sins.

For an intimate look at how the Israelis "atoned for their sins" by committing hundreds more, read this first-hand account.


Now pull the other leg

Counterspin Central steers us to this remarkable story:
"At least two voters in suburban Cincinnati have received absentee ballots without Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's name.

"The voters received ballots with the words 'CANDIDATE REMOVED' printed in the space where Kerry's and running mate John Edwards' names were supposed to appear.

"Elections officials believe the error only occurred on the two ballots."
Sure, they printed two special unique ballots in error just for these two folks. Who wouldn't believe that? And to compound the absurdity, we have this:
"Hamilton County Board of Elections chairman Tim Burke says he's afraid people will question the accuracy of the voting there because of the error."
Oh, you doubting Thomases out there. How dare you "question the accuracy of the voting" just because there were ballots printed without one of the candidate's names on them?


Koch watch

Last night on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart's guest was ex-New York Mayor Ed Koch. At one point, I can't remember what he said (I'll update this post if someone reminds me - it may have been when he said he was endorsing Bush), he was booed by the audience. To which he responded, quite seriously, "Why is it that only liberals boo?" Stewart didn't contest this absurd contention.

After the show ended, I switched to the news on some other channel, and got to see a snippet of George Bush speaking at a campaign appearance. Within seconds, the audience was booing John Kerry in response to one of Bush's attacks. Indeed, according to the transcript, Kerry was booed no less than 15 (!) times during the course of that speech, each one dutifully recorded for posterity by the White House transcriber.

And speaking of posterity, that brings us back to Ed Koch, a real horse's posterior. A word to Ed. "Militant Muslims" are not "determined to kill us all." They are determined to get U.S. troops out of the Middle East and Israel out of Palestine. Of course that truth, especially the second of those, is one that you (and, unfortunately, Jon Stewart) will never utter.

Monday, October 18, 2004


Australia: "Don't ask us, send the poor black guys"

The coalition of the not-so-willing:
"Australia has turned down a request by the United Nations to send more troops to Iraq to protect U.N. personnel there. Australia has agreed instead to train a contingent of Fijian soldiers for the job." (Source)


"Slam-dunk" WMDs

In today's news, we learn:
"The Central Intelligence Agency's former spymaster, James Pavitt, said in an interview broadcast Sunday that America's pre-war intelligence on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction was no 'slam-dunk'.

"Pavitt ran the CIA's global covert operations until he resigned his job as deputy director for operations in June."
Well, isn't this a given? If it was a "slam-dunk," then a basket would have been scored (i.e., WMD would have existed). Slam-dunks can on rare occasions be missed, but they never turn into "air balls" as the WMD claim did.

But I want to call attention to a different aspect of this story - the original "slam-dunk" reference. It is now "conventional wisdom" that you will see and hear repeated everywhere (e.g., the linked article above) that CIA director George Tenet told George Bush that the case for WMD in Iraq was a "slam-dunk." And how do we know that? Because Bob Woodward says so. And how does Bob Woodward know this? Does he have a tape? A transcript? Of course not. It's because George Bush, that paragon of veracity, says so. There is simply no reason to accept this "history" as good coin. The fact that Tenet hasn't protested against the characterization proves nothing; he's demonstrated adequately that he's a loyal soldier, ready to take the fall, so even if he didn't say it, expecting him to say so publicly is probably more than one should expect.

And even the phrase "slam-dunk" is questionable. I haven't read the book, but here's how CNN (previous link) reported the story when the book was published:

"According to Woodward, Tenet reassured the president that 'it's a slam dunk case' that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

"In his CBS interview, Woodward said he 'asked the president about this, and he said it was very important to have the CIA director, 'slam-dunk' is as I interpreted it, a sure thing, guaranteed.'"
So, as I read that sentence, the very strong phrase "slam-dunk" is actually Woodward's phrase, not Bush's; Bush may have said (or even implied) something far weaker.

Don't believe everything you read. Except on Left I on the News, of course. ;-)

Sunday, October 17, 2004


The real face of terrorism

From Guardian correspondent Chris McGreal comes a truly horrific portrait of the outrage in Gaza that goes on as the world turns a blind eye. The word "despicable" does not begin to describe this situation:
"The Israeli general who commanded the destruction of the only Jewish settlement in the Sinai before it was returned to Egypt recently offered Ariel Sharon advice on how to carry out his pledge to remove settlers from the Gaza strip.

"'Evicting someone from the home they've lived in for 20 years isn't a simple matter,' wrote Brigadier General Obed Tira. 'To remove a family from its home is embarrassing and difficult, and that is why the removal needs to be done with a lot of love and a lot of wisdom.'

The soldiers who arrived outside the home of Ghalia Abu Radwan, her octogenarian parents, blind siblings and assortment of children in Khan Yunis in the middle of the night showed no love, and, if they were embarrassed, there was no way to know it because they were hidden behind the armour of their bulldozers and tanks.

"As the loudspeakers on the tanks ordered the families out, and bursts of gunfire sharpened the terror, Mrs Abu Radwan shepherded her blind brother and sister to safety.

"'I grabbed them by the hand and shouted to my mother to follow us,' said Mrs Abu Radwan. 'Think of it - 25 children, two blind adults and my parents who cannot run. My sister-in-law left her three year-old behind in the chaos and had to go back to get him. When we came back they had destroyed all the houses.'

"While Mr Sharon agonises over how to draw 7,500 Jewish settlers out of Israel's Gaza colonies - offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to each family - the army has already bulldozed close to 9,000 Palestinians from their homes in the Gaza strip this year alone.

"Most got no more than a few minutes notice to get out and lost all but the possessions they could hurriedly bundle together.

"The scale of the destruction - about 20 acres of homes, shops and roads razed or ground into the sand - matched the Israelis' controversial assault on Jenin refugee camp two years ago. But the death toll in Jabaliya was double that with about 130 people killed, one in six of them children 15 or younger."
The word "massacre" comes to mind.

Saturday, October 16, 2004


Rewriting Haitian history

An article in the Los Angeles Times this morning completely rewrites Haitian history, both past and present. Hundreds of supporters of Artistide have been being rounded up and jailed or killed, yet this article makes it seem as if Haiti is in the grip of fear from pro-Aristide gangs. Aristide, according to this article, "fled" from Haiti; there was no coup that occured.

Here's the LA Times view of the world:

"Two weeks of rampage and intimidation by gun-toting street gangs...pro-Aristide demonstrations...menaced the capital...a campaign of terror by gunmen loyal to Aristide...frightened Haitians...exasperated relief workers...a few hundred hired thugs who they said were waging a campaign for Aristide's return from exile in South Africa...a holiday of fear."
The Haiti Information Project has a lot different, and a lot more believable version of events:
"Armed units of the Haitian National Police (PNH) entered the pro-Ariside slum of Bel Air as thousands of residents took to streets to demand the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Marchers defied a shutdown of the capital by the business community and threats issued by the former military. Heavy gunfire erupted as the police reportedly fired shots to disperse the crowd. The police were then forced to withdraw as unidentified gunmen returned fire from surrounding buildings in a thunderous volley.

"Haiti has been rocked by violence since September 30th after police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators demanding the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and condemning political persecution of his Lavalas political party.

"Today's violence comes two days after the arrest of a Catholic priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, the government accused of trafficking in weapons and harboring gunmen in his parish. Human rights organizations and legal experts have condemned the arrest as "arbitrary" and an effort by the authorities to repress political dissent. Earlier this week, UN soldiers and Haitian police conducted numerous joint raids in several poor neighborhoods in the capital known for their support of Aristide. Hundreds have been arrested yet few weapons have been confiscated as the violence continues for a second straight week."
The Times rewriting of history isn't confined to the present; here's their view of the past:
"A man whom Haitian media described as an Aristide ally was arrested Thursday at the capital's Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport carrying $800,000 in cash. Radio Metropole and other independent commentators speculated that it was money Aristide and his associates took when they fled Feb. 29...The State Department, now accused by Aristide of driving him and his populist regime out of power eight months ago"
Some of Aristide's supporters did indeed "flee" from Haiti in fear of their lives, but Aristide himself was, as everyone including the Los Angeles Times knows, shanghaied by the U.S. government and forcibly flown out of the country. And Aristide is not "now" accusing the State Department of driving him from power; he's been doing that since the day he was flown out of the country. Again, as the Los Angeles Times well knows, since Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters was one of the first people to talk to Aristide after the coup and has been outspoken ever since in her opposition to what happened.


Mea mathematica culpa

I made a serious mathematical error the other day; the regret I feel is compounded by the fact that none of my highly perceptive readers caught the error. In writing about the latest study showing a link between cell phone useage and brain tumors, I wrote "brain tumors are not exactly common, so even a doubling of risk doesn't mean a large risk. But it's far from insignificant either." That was a bit misleading, which I then made into a serious error by writing that "42,500 people develop brain tumors in a typical year (from one study); a doubling of that would mean 42,500 more people with brain tumors!"

Hopefully now that I call attention to it, you can spot the logical flaw too. Cell phones double the risk of one particular type of brain tumor, not of all brain tumors; clearly people have been getting brain tumors long before the invention of cell phones. What cell phones double (under the circumstances of the study) is the risk of acoustic neuroma, of which there are far fewer than 42,500 each year - in fact, the number is approximately 2,500 each year (in the United States). So when I said "be careful out there!", that's still true, but the risk is about 20 times less than implied in my post. Still nothing to sneeze at, particularly in conjunction with the fact I noted in the previous post - some (most!) of the kids growing up today will have been using cell phones for 30, 40, 50, or more years before they even reach "middle age"; so the dangers to them cannot be underestimated.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea mathematica culpa.


War - the gift that keeps on giving

From the New York Times:
"A federal panel of medical experts studying illnesses among veterans of the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf has broken with several earlier studies and concluded that many suffer from neurological damage caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, rejecting past findings that the ailments resulted mostly from wartime stress.

"Citing new scientific research on the effects of exposure to low levels of neurotoxins, the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses concludes in its draft report that 'a substantial proportion of Gulf War veterans are ill with multisymptom conditions not explained by wartime stress or psychiatric illness.'

"It says a growing body of research suggests that many veterans' symptoms have a neurological cause and that there is a 'probable link' to exposure to neurotoxins.

"The report says possible sources include sarin, a nerve gas, from an Iraqi weapons depot blown up by American forces in 1991; a drug, pyridostigmine bromide, given to troops to protect against nerve gas; and pesticides used to protect soldiers in the region."
Note that all of the primary suspected causes are self-inflicted ones.

What is "a substantial proportion"? Here's a clue from the studies:

"Among dozens of studies cited by the new report is a 1998 survey that looked at about 2,000 Kansas veterans, 1,548 of whom served in the gulf. It found that more than 30 percent of the gulf veterans report three or more such symptoms.


The coalition of the fleeing

I knew that a number of countries had pulled troops out of Iraq, but the Los Angeles Times this morning brings home the extent of that development:
"The prime minister of Poland told the nation's Parliament on Friday that he would begin drawing down Polish troops in Iraq in January, another blow to a U.S.-led coalition that already has lost nearly one-third of its members this year.

"Eight other countries have withdrawn all of their troops from the coalition since February: the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Norway, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain and Thailand.

"Officials of two other countries, Ukraine and Moldova, have indicated a desire to exit, and the subject has been under discussion in several other countries, such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

"Many members of the coalition have relatively few troops to withdraw. Of the 30 allied nations, only six have 1,000 or more troops in Iraq."
And in very much related news, this was buried in a two-paragraph item in the "World News in Brief" section of the San Jose Mercury News:
"International forces should expect to stay in Afghanistan for '10 to 20 years,' according to a Canadian commander who helped lead foreign troops in Kabul until February."


Irrationally exuberant quote of the day

" If history is any guide, oil will eventually be overtaken by less-costly alternatives well before conventional oil reserves run out."

- Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan speaking yesterday
Evidently he hasn't read Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil yet. Nor does what he has to say have any rational basis either. "History" doesn't predict the future, especially when it comes to science. Everyone knows about "Moore's 'Law'"; unfortunately, it isn't true. And claims that "history is a guide" to future replacements for oil qualifies as a clear example of the worst of oxymorons - faith-based science.

Friday, October 15, 2004


Burying the lede

Yesterday I wrote about a new study about the dangers of using cell phones. Here are the first three paragraphs of the Knight-Ridder coverage of the story, taken from the tech-friendly San Jose Mercury News:
"The wireless phone industry Thursday downplayed a new Swedish study that found people who used cell phones for 10 years run a greater risk of developing a rare form of tumor inside their ears.

"The increased risk applied only after 10 years, and only among users of analog phones. They were among the earliest in use, and Scandinavians were among the first to use them. There was no increased risk for digital phone users -- today's dominant technology -- or for people who used hands-free devices.

"The study, published in the journal Epidemiology, is the latest of many looking into possible links between mobile phone use and tumors. To date, they have produced conflicting findings that leave researchers and public-health officials unable to say definitively whether cellular phones are dangerous to the nation's 170 million wireless phone subscribers."
The actual study isn't covered until the sixth paragraph of the story.

The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times all did better than Knight-Ridder at minimizing the importance of the story -- they didn't cover it at all.


Smoke a Cuban cigar - anywhere - go to jail

Just yesterday I wrote about the U.S. blockade of Cuba. But even the word "blockade" doesn't begin to describe the reality of the situation. When I read the following article this morning at Granma Interacional, I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't believe it. They must have gotten this wrong, I thought:
"Citizens of or permanent residents in the United States cannot now buy a Cuban cigar in another country, even if they are thinking of smoking it outside of their homeland."
So I went to the U.S. Treasury Department web site, where I found this (PDF file, apparently released Oct. 4):
"There is now an across the board ban on the importation into the United States of Cuban-origin cigars and other Cuban-origin tobacco products, as well as most other products of Cuban origin. This prohibition extends to such products acquired in Cuba, irrespective of whether a traveler is licensed by OFAC to engage in Cuba travelrelated transactions, and to such products acquired in third countries by any U.S. traveler, including purchases at duty free shops. Importation of these Cuban goods is prohibited whether the goods are purchased directly by the importer or given to the importer as a gift. Similarly, the import ban extends to Cuban-origin tobacco products offered for sale over the Internet or through the catalog mail purchases.

"The question is often asked whether United States citizens or permanent resident aliens of the United States may legally purchase Cuban origin goods, including tobacco and alcohol products, in a third country for personal use outside the United States. The answer is no. The Regulations prohibit persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States from purchasing, transporting, importing, or otherwise dealing in or engaging in any transactions with respect to any merchandise outside the United States if such merchandise (1) is of Cuban origin; or (2) is or has been located in or transported from or through Cuba; or (3) is made or derived in whole or in part of any article which is the growth, produce or manufacture of Cuba. Thus, in the case of cigars, the prohibition extends to cigars manufactured in Cuba and sold in a third country and to cigars manufactured in a third country from tobacco grown in Cuba.

"Criminal penalties for violation of the Regulations range up to $1,000,000 in fines for corporations, $250,000 for individuals and up to 10 years in prison. Civil penalties of up to $65,000 per violation may be imposed by OFAC."
Yes, you read that right. A $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison for going to Mexico and having a drink of Cuban rum, or smoking a Cuban cigar. Even, by the way, if you're not even a citizen of the United States, but just a resident "alien."


What a revolting situation this is!

From First Draft, I'm steered to this story which lets us know that Iraqi troops aren't the only ones refusing to fight in Iraq:
"A 17-member Army Reserve platoon with troops from Jackson and around the Southeast deployed to Iraq is under arrest for refusing a 'suicide mission' to deliver fuel, the troops' relatives said Thursday.

The soldiers refused an order on Wednesday to go to Taji, Iraq — north of Baghdad — because their vehicles were considered 'deadlined' or extremely unsafe, said Patricia McCook of Jackson, wife of Sgt. Larry O. McCook."
Oh, and by the way - this is a country in which elections are going to be held in three months. Riiiiiight.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


An embargo? Or a blockade?

The U.S. refers to its economic policy on Cuba as an "embargo," implying that it just wants to prevent Cuban goods from being imported into the U.S. But it's much, much more than that, as these examples from today's Granma Internacional indicate:
"The Dutch Intervet Company has halted the delivery of a quadruple vaccine to Cuba after being notified by the U.S. government of the risk of being fined, given that the product contains an antigen manufactured in the United States.

"Along with other dramatic cases of being unable to buy medicines for the treatment of cancer and other diseases, there are other ridiculous ones such as the refusal of the Zurich branch of the XEROX Company to renew a leasing contract for a photocopier in the Cuban embassy in Switzerland.

"XEROX in Paraguay also refused to sell a photocopying machine to the Cuban diplomatic mission, as did RICOH. Even more absurd was what occurred on May 10 this year, when Hitachi Printing Solutions Europe declined to sell a simple ink cartridge to the Cuban embassy in the Netherlands, with the argument that it is the subsidiary of a U.S. company.

"The blockade, which has cost the island $79.325 billion has had other more painful effects, such as the impossibility of acquiring the I-125 isotope for the treatment of children with ocular cancer. For that reason, the public health system has been forced to send children suffering from that illness to be treated abroad, at an extremely high cost.

"Another of the difficulties for cancer related diseases is the impossibility of acquiring bone endo-protheses to replace amputations, an implement that increases in size as a child grows, thus allowing him or her to keep a limb. In Mexico, on acquiring the Mexican Refractarios, the U.S. Harbison Walker Refractones Company refused to offer Cuba any of its products."
These are just some of the results of the U.S. government's "concern" for the well-being of the Cuban people, a concern which stretches back over decades of Republican and Democratic administration.


Quote of the Day

"It is extremely dangerous for humanity that the president of the mightiest power on the planet publicly says that he speaks with and acts on behalf of God. What lies ahead for us? More of what is happening today in Afghanistan or Iraq? Is that the future for our children? We need to pull all our strength together to avoid such a future.

"Today, more than ever before, it is important that thousands of people are coming together to confront this situation and to look for ways to achieve a more just and equal world.

"We all need to live in a better world. Solidarity and unity are indispensable in these times. Let us do our best. It is likely that only humans can dream. I do not know. But what I know is that only we have the capacity to make our dreams come true.

"A better world is possible. The challenge lies in being able to act, rather than just talk."

- Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che Guevara (Source)


Start using that earpiece!

For years, mobile phone manufacturers have denied any link between cell phone usage and brain tumors, just as tobacco companies denied a link between their product and cancer. This article, for example, from 2001, told its readers:
"While lawsuits and some media reports feed the notion that cell phones cause brain cancer, scientific evidence is increasingly suggesting there is no such link. The latest negative findings come from a Danish study of more than 400,000 cell phone users that turned up no heightened risk of brain cancer, or cancer in general."
The "fine print" of that study, however, was found in the last paragraph of the article:
"The Danish researchers concede that since they followed study participants for only 3 years on average, there may yet be long-term effects they could not detect."
If you only smoke for three years and then quit, your chances of developing cancer are probably immeasurably larger; but nevertheless studies like the one above were touted as "definitive" studies. They weren't. In 2002, a new, longer-term study came out:
"In what could bolster an $800 million lawsuit against Motorola and major cell phone carriers, a new study found a possible link between older cell phones and brain tumors.

"Although many studies have found no cancer risk from cell phone use, the research published in the latest European Journal of Cancer Prevention said long-term users of analog phones are at least 30 percent more likely than nonusers to develop brain tumors.

"[Swedish oncologist Dr. Lennart] Hardell studied 1,617 patients with brain tumors and compared them with a similar sized group of people without tumors. He found that patients who used Sweden's Nordic Mobile telephones were 30 percent more likely to have brain tumors, especially on the side of the head that touched the phone most often. Those who used the phones longer than 10 years were 80 percent more likely to develop tumors."
That lawsuit was lost, however, because:
"Newman's attorneys presented scientific evidence showing that analog phones may cause tumors, but Blake ruled it was overwhelmed by evidence showing no relationship between cell phone radiation and cancer."
But now another study has confirmed the Hardell study:
"Ten or more years of mobile phone use increases the risk of developing acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor on the auditory nerve, according to a study released on Wednesday by Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

"'The risk of acoustic neuroma was almost doubled for persons who started to use their mobile at least 10 years prior to diagnosis,' the institute said.

"'When the side of the head on which the phone was usually held was taken into consideration, we found that the risk of acoustic neuroma was almost four times higher on the same side as the phone was held and virtually normal on the other side.'"
One of the cell phone industry's "defenses" has been to claim that people couldn't possibly remember what side of the head they held their phone to ten years ago. Nonsense. I'm right-handed, and have been holding either a regular phone, or a cell phone, in my left hand to my left ear my entire life. I'm not quite sure why, to tell you the truth, I assume I do that so my dominant right hand will be free to jot down notes, or push keys to respond to phone trees, or (dare I say it) to hold the steering wheel, but for sure I haven't changed that habit in ten years.

Unfortunately, the latest study doesn't provide any definitive answers about digital cell phones, which haven't been in use as long, but prudence would suggest a "better safe than sorry" attitude (nor is there any indication in the press that the study measured, or attempted to correlate, extent of usage with tumors - after all, some people use a cell phone maybe five minutes a day, while others use it hours at a time). It is worth noting, although the coverage of the latest study doesn't, that brain tumors are not exactly common, so even a doubling of risk doesn't mean a large risk. But it's far from insignificant either. Data shows the overall incidence rate for primary brain and central nervous system tumors is 12.7 per 100,000 person-years. However since life span is around 80 years, that's really 12.7 per 1250 person-lifetimes, or about 1 in a hundred. A doubling of that to 2 in a hundred would be quite noticeable. 42,500 people develop brain tumors in a typical year (from one study); a doubling of that would mean 42,500 more people with brain tumors!

And why stop at doubling? This study studied people who had been using cell phones for ten years. But these days, children are using cell phones, and using them regularly, from a young age, and extensively starting as teens (if not earlier). By the time they reach middle-age, they will have been using cell phones for 30 or 40 years. It's not unreasonable to think, based on extrapolating the studies that have been done, that such usage could easily produce a tripling, quadrupling, or even more of brain tumor frequency.

As they use to say on a TV show (Hill Street Blues) I never watched, "Let's be careful out there!" Use that earpiece if you're on the phone for long periods of time, and keep working for a society where research into the safety of various products, be they cell phones, tobacco, or the latest drug, is funded primarily by the government, and not by the manufacturer of the product, a society based on human needs and not profit.

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