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K Marx The Spot

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29 September 2004

Metaphor of the Year Award

The time has come to make a preemptive award of the most egregious metaphor of the year to Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, spokesman for the Spanish Bishops Conference. As CNN reported this week, Martinez Camino was miffed at the steps that the Socialist Party has taken towards marriage for gays and lesbians.

[Martinez Camino] said the church had nothing against homosexuals but feels a union of two people of the same sex is simply not a marriage.

Allowing this would create "a counterfeit currency in the body of society," Martinez Camino said in an interview on Spanish National Television.

Such legislation, he said, is like "imposing a virus on society, something false that will have negative consequences for social life."

After Friday's expected approval in a Cabinet meeting, the bill goes to Parliament for debate.

Yes, the Catholic Church has nothing against homosexuals, but allowing them to enjoy a whiff of normal civil rights and privileges would be like a virus on the body politic.

Indeed, if there is a viral infection in Spanish society—sapping its strength and distracting it from worthy goals—perhaps it lies elsewhere:

[C]hurch officials admit that support for it has fallen in the generation that's transpired since the death in 1975 of Gen. Francisco Franco, whose right wing regime was closely linked to the church.

Polls say nearly half of Spain's Catholics almost never go to Mass, and a third say they are simply not religious....

Many Catholic schools are subsidized by the government, for instance, and on income tax returns, Spaniards can check off a box that will send 0.5 percent of their tax debt to the Catholic church.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a news conference last week that the government did not plan to end state financing of the church, but acknowledged that reforms are afoot, although she gave no details.

"It is true that the government is talking about laicism, and we are going to keep working toward laicism because we think it is a mandate that is included in the Constitution and that's how our state is," she told reporters.

Posted by Tim W at 9/29/2004 01:52:00 AM

War of Attrition

When a slew of top-drawer academics decided to come out against the impending Iraq war, they thought big, but not deeply. They placed an ad on the op-ed page of the New York Times to argue against the was in conservative, hard-headed terms. The arguments made sense then, and should resonate even better now. But the academics didn't put the ad on the web; it fell to an amateur on the Internet to ask one of the ringleaders for a copy. Even though opponents of the war should be referring to this manifesto all the time, it's pretty much forgotten now.

But it seems that 11 of the 33 signatories joined a host of other to form a group that would have more of a lasting presence. Accordingly, the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy aims at reversing the march toward empire that characterizes the foreign policy of Bush the Younger. This would be a great idea if it were vibrant and active. The signatories are not just old-school conservatives who oppose foreign entanglements, or just liberals who oppose military actions, or just moderates who worry about everything. These are the talking heads who should be on cable news channels explaining the ills of our current foreign policies. Instead, we have to settle for much, much less.

Alas, the newest piece of news on the site is almost three months old. Academics of the website, arise! You have nothing to lose but another election!

Posted by Tim W at 9/29/2004 01:13:00 AM

In Medias Res

Where should you go to get the scoop on how the media are covering the American elections? I would love to tell you to go to Media Whores Online, but it seems that the Media Horse has left the barn, never to return. You certainly should visit The Daily Howler, for daily essays on the biases, failings, and occasional brilliancies of the mainstream media, written from a conventional but nonetheless passionate viewpoint. And Media Matters has all sorts of useful rejoinders to the conservative tilt of so much of the American media.

But Derelection 2004, from the swell folks at Cursor, is indispensible as well. Like its affiliated site, Derelection 2004 makes up for a dearth of analysis by providing readers with a slew of summaries and links to the most illuminating stories and columns of the day. It won't replace your favorite pundits, but it will keep you informed.

Posted by Tim W at 9/29/2004 01:03:00 AM

28 September 2004

Two Problems, One Solution

One perennial problem for fans of small-d democracy in the United States is the problem not so much of the voters, but the non-voters. They are legion! In 2000, only 111 million voters cast ballots out of a possible universe of 203 million.

A perennial problem for devotees of governmental policy is how most effectively to stimulate the economy. Conservatives often press for tax cuts. Liberals often press for hgiher government spending. There is, of course, a third way—give money directly to the people.

And one way to do this is to combine the two problems. Yes, some have called in the past for an income tax credit for voters, but such a credit has two problems. first, voting occurs in November, and tax credits would help taxpayers some months later. Second, millions of voters don't have enough taxable income to file income tax forms.

For a maximum cost of $5 billion or so, the federal government could give $25 debit cards to each voter in a presidential election. That's not pocket change, but consider that the White House and Congress are hardly up in arms about $1 billion in loopholes so a few student loan companies could charge the government 9.5% interest. Then there's $2 billion per year in energy credits that are generally used to make "synthetic coal"—often just coal sprayed with diesel fuel—that is neither more efficient nor cleaner-burning than the stuff in the ground. Nonetheless, Marriott and other corporations know a great handout when they see one.

Posted by Tim W at 9/28/2004 10:24:00 PM

Politics and Baseball

In Yankee Stadioum in particular, rightist politics and baseball mesh all too well. The middle of the seventh inning, traditionally marked by singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," has given way to maudlin renditions of "God Bless America." In most of American major league parks, the break with tradition occurs only on Sundays. But in the Bronx, it's a quotidian event.

Carlos Delgado, who plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, has come out against the war in Iraq and has quietly refused to pay homage to the new seventh-inning flag fetish. Chris Green writes poignantly about how his brother gave Delgado some well-deserved props not too long ago.

Amazingly enough, being booed by thousands wasn't the most awkward part of the affair. The banner was visible to nearly the entire stadium, save, of course, for the section in which they were standing and those immediately around it. As "God Bless America" played over the near-continuous ocean of derision, those folks on the first-base side understandably were curious about what was causing the stir. So several of them asked what the banner said.

Swallowing hard, gritting his teeth and giving an I-Know-This-Sounds-Crazy shrug, Jon told them that it said "Delgado for President."

"The weirdest thing," he told me later, "was seeing their reaction. It was like there was this mental disconnect, where they couldn't quite figure out the contradiction. They'd say, 'But you're wearing a Yankee cap!' And I'd say, 'Yeah, I'm a Yankee fan.'"

What's weird about the nexus between conservatism and baseball is that it isn't very deep. Go to Open Secrets and see which baseball players have conributed to politicians. There are a few: Al Leiter have $2,000 to Republican Jim Bunning, and Bush received a few donations in the current cycle (for example, $750 from Mike Stanton and $2,000 from Alex Rodriguez, who surely appreciates the drop in the top income tax bracket). But those fellows are by far the exceptions.

Posted by Tim W at 9/28/2004 01:35:00 AM

Insulting the Electorate

On Monday, George Bush lashed out at John Kerry's position on the war in Iraq:

President Bush on Monday mocked his Democratic rival John Kerry for shifting his positions on Iraq so many times he could "debate himself" in this week's face-off between the two candidates.

Bush's ridicule of the Massachusetts senator came as Kerry has been hammering him daily on Iraq, accusing him of mishandling the chaotic aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion and giving overly optimistic assessments of conditions there.

Kerry hasn't changed his position all that much, of course. He authorized the use of force after a certain George W. Bush asked for congressional approval for force as a last resort. But assume, for the sake of argument, that Kerry has changed his stripes alogether.

Take a look at polls measuring Bush's popularity. In late September 2001, his popularity approached 90%. In early 2003, it spiked again near 70%. And public approval of the "war on terror," broadly defined, was commensurate. If anything, a huge chunk of the electorate has changed its position on the war much more than John Kerry ever has. The more George Bush harps on Kerry's newfolund anti-war sentiment, the more he insults millions of voters.

Posted by Tim W at 9/28/2004 01:23:00 AM

While The Cat's Asleep, The Mice Will Creep

The chief financial officers of multinational corporations are eating away at your government, and the cats who are nominally in charge of protecting the treasury are letting it get nibbled away. The federal budget is fairly large these days, thanks to a new and expansive definition of fiscal responsibility by the miserable failure of a chief executive. But the federal corporate taxes lost to tax shelters, many of them well and truly dodgy, totals some $20 billion per year.

The study, to be published today in the trade journal Tax Notes, says that United States multinational corporations shifted $75 billion in domestic profits last year to no-tax and low-tax foreign havens like Bermuda and Ireland.

The study's author, Martin A. Sullivan, said that legal loopholes and tax credits could mean in theory that no taxes are owed to the United States government on the shifted income. But he wrote that the shifting is more likely to result in annual tax losses to federal coffers of $10 billion to $20 billion. He said yesterday that at least some of the transfer probably occurred through questionable tax shelters.

Or, to put it another way, why do companies like Pfizer and Hewlett-Packard hate America?

A much less publicized form of this sort of trickery occurs all too often, when companies set up shells in low-tax states like Delaware and Nevada to transfer their profits from other states. Corporate taxation is becoming more and more an optional activity.

Posted by Tim W at 9/28/2004 01:08:00 AM

26 September 2004

The Worst Possible Outcome

Imagine that you are president of the United States. You know of three countries, each with generally anti-American agendas. Call them, hypothetically, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. You know that North Korea has been working for over a decade to be able to produce nuclear weapons. You know that Iran and Iraq probably do not have nuclear weapons now, and that they each have some sort of nuclear weapons programs. (Of course, the leaders of all three countries would love to ask a fairy godmother for a top-notch nuclear device or two, but such fairy godmothers do not exist outside of the A. O. Khan labs in Pakistan.)

You have reason to suspect, based on information from knowledgeable inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iraq's nuclear weapons program is more hype than fact. Some ten years ago, it was in fairly good shape, but time and sanctions have not been kind to the program. Nonetheless, the leader of Iraq is hardly shy about boasting of his nuclear program's capabilities in vague terms that are nonetheless strongly hinting at some sort of nascent nuclear capability. it might even be possible that Iraq could have nuclear weapons some time in the not too distant future.

Some of your closest advisors are recommending that the United States invade this hypothetical Iraq and overthrow its dictatorial leader. Should you approve of their plans? Or should you send in more inspectors to get more hard data on those nuclear programs? (Ignore the very real problems associated with occupying a large nation filled with repressed ethnic divisions. also ignore the financial and human cost to the American people of the invasion and subsequent occupation.)

If the IAEA inspectors are wrong, and Iraq has nucclear weapons, than an invasion is a gamble that Iraq considers the weapons to be deterrents and not weapons in the usual sense, a gamble that Iraq will not start a nuclear war even in self-defense.

And if the IAEA inspectors are right, then you have sent a message to Iran and North Korea that bluster is not a worthy deterrent, and that a nuclear weapons program is not a worthy deterrent. ironically, you have sent the message that only an intacxt nuclear weapon is a worthy deterrent. And you might find them gearing up to produce that nuclear weapon as soon as possible.

Guess what the real Iran is doing right now? That's right! They're turning uranium into uranium hexaflouride gas, the first step in enriching uranium, possible to bomb-grade levels.

Iran defied the United Nations' nuclear agency on Tuesday, announcing that it had begun converting tons of uranium into gas, a crucial step in making fuel for a nuclear reactor or a nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency called Saturday for Iran to suspend all such activities.

Iran's statement, made in Vienna by the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, put the country on a collision course with the United States, which has lobbied vigorously for the international nuclear agency to refer Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council for past breaches of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

If the real Iran is doing this, imagine what the real North Korea plans to do. What clever thinkers we have in the Whire House and the Pentagon!

Posted by Tim W at 9/26/2004 01:17:00 AM

Two Articles That You Must Read

Salon recently published two must-read columns. The first is an interview with Seymour Hersh about the Iraq War and his latest book. The second is an excellent primer and timeline of the National Guard service (or lack thereof) of a certain George W. Bush.

Each reaches that pinnacle of quality for articles from Salon: easily worth sitting through those annoying day-pass ads.

Posted by Tim W at 9/26/2004 01:09:00 AM

25 September 2004

Political Correctness in Action

Conservatives love to decry as "political correctness" any sort of left-leaning consensus on issues like whether melting ice caps are bad, or whether cleaner air is a real public good, or whether dumping poison in the groundwater is a bad thing for the community. Thank goodness that they stopped long ago decrying such confirmity as the thought that keeping certain people enslaved was a bad thing. (Leftists get annoyed by this sort of talk, not only because it attempts to impose a conservative consensus, but because we were using "political correctness" as an ironic comment on our own politics way back in the day. But I digress.)

But whatever success that liberals and progressives and leftists have in imposing their will on the American public pales in comparison to the successes that conservatives have in keeping prominent business leaders in check. Sure, there are the oddballs like Warren Buffett and George Soros, who became business leaders through skillful investment of money. But try to find, say, a pharmaceutical executive who refuses to drink the Kool-Aid of the current orery of the American health care system.

Amazingly enough, such a man exists. Peter Rost, who still works as a vice president of marketing at Pfizer, is decrying the industry's attempts to stop the importation of prescription drugs from Canada.

In the case of reimportation, Rost says his decision to speak out was pretty simple: The high cost of medicines prevents millions of patients from being treated for conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

"We have a situation that is as bad as terrorism in a way. We have more people dying because they can't afford drugs," said Rost, who speaks with a pronounced Swedish accent. "When you have a situation that affects so many people in a bad way where they could really be helped, I think it is immoral not to do this."

Rost, who is vice president of marketing for endocrine care, said he goes to great lengths to separate his actions from Pfizer, the world's biggest drug maker.

He said he speaks as a private citizen and does not represent the company. He takes vacation days to make public appearances. He takes calls from politicians on his cell phone, not from the office.

In addition, he said, he has been an exemplary employee. Genotropin, the growth hormone and the biggest drug in Pfizer's endocrine care unit, had sales of more than $200 million in the U.S. last year, exceeding forecasts, he said.

His superiors at Pfizer have not talked to him about his decision to speak out, he said. But he worries about his job.

"I would be a fool if I didn't," he said, noting Pfizer has eliminated more than 10,000 Pharmacia jobs since buying the company last year. A former Pharmacia employee, Rost works at Pfizer's offices in Peapack, the old headquarters of Pharmacia.

Paul Fitzhenry, a spokesman for New York-based Pfizer, said Rost is "not qualified" to talk on the importation issue.

Asked about Rost's situation at Pfizer, Fitzhenry added: "We consider this to be an internal employee matter, and we have no comment on it."

The large pharmaceutical companies justify their higher American prices on the need to spend billions of dollars on research. But they also need to spend billions of dollars on marketing and advertising, not just on the ubiquitous ads for Lipitor or Viagra or Celebrex or Levitra or Procrit or Paxil or Cialis or Vioxx or any number of other drugs, but also on advertising and other measures aimed at doctors. To get an oidea of what I mean, check out the informative nofreelunch.org site, which tries to wean doctors off of the worst of pharmaceutical marketing.

Posted by Tim W at 9/25/2004 11:56:00 PM

What's Bad for GM is Bad for the Nation

That's GM as in Genetic Modification.

First, news comes from China that bureaucrats there have no sure idea where a million genetically modified poplar trees are, so there is no sure way to measure the effects of cross-pollination of modified and unmodified trees.

In the past five years, 8000 square kilometres of farmland in China has been converted to plantations. State foresters have focused on the headwaters of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers and Xinjiang province in the arid north-west, where the first field tests for GM trees were carried out in the late 1990s.

These plantations have been plagued by insect pests, so Chinese researchers have experimented by planting varieties of local poplar tree that have been genetically modified to resist the insects. But at a meeting on GM safety in Beijing in July, a number of scientists complained about the absence of proper controls over GM trees within China.

Xue Dayuan of the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science says that the GMO Safety Administration Office of China's Ministry of Agriculture has no control over GM trees because they are not classified as crops. But the State Forestry Bureau, which oversees tree plantations, does not have a licensing system like the one run by the ministry, he told the meeting.

Now we also find that even when scientists know where the genetically modified plants are, the news is no less disturbing. For some time now, Monsanto has plugged away at developing grass seed that is resistant to its popular RoundUp herbicide, which is both effective at killing weeds and effective at killing grass and other plants. Developing grass that is unharmed by RoundUp would mean that homeowners could exchange their spray bottles of RoundUp, currently used against the occasional dandelion plant or crabgrass rhizome, for bucketloads of the stuff to broadcast all over their lawns.

Alas, one of the first varieties, RoundUp-Ready bentgrass for golf courses, seems to have the nasty habit of sending pollen all over the place, as in 20 kilometers away (for our American readers, that's about 12 miles for you and me).

Researchers with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that genetic material from grass genetically modified to resist a popular weed killer had travelled much further than expected in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

The finding will add to the debate surrounding the development of genetically modified plants, their containment and the potential effects of releasing them into the environment....

Lidia S. Watrud, an EPA scientist who led the study, said the findings are significant because they showed that bentgrass pollen—which is alive only three hours—"can move a lot farther than we had anticipated."

Watrud's team tracked the flow of pollen from eight quarantined fields where 400 acres of the Roundup-resistant grass was experimentally grown in the past two years. Monsanto and Scotts have taken all but a few acres of the Roundup Ready bentgrass fields out of production until federal approval is received.

The scientists collected seeds from natural grasses and potted "sentinel" plants downwind from the fields and grew them to the seedling stage. Lab tests found the genes in the potted plants up to 13 miles away and in wild plants nearly nine miles away from the fields.

Most of the gene flow occurred within 1.25 miles in the direction of the prevailing wind.

Anne Fairbrother, an agency researcher involved in the study, said the results were unexpected. Based on previous studies, the researchers thought that the short-lived pollen would travel only about half a mile. "We were surprised at how far the pollen traveled, and how many times pollenizations occurred," she said.

Somehow I won't be surprised to see RoundUp-Ready everything, with concomitant lawn-size containers of RoundUp, in the pervasive orange-themed menace come, say, 2009.

Posted by Tim W at 9/25/2004 11:35:00 PM

24 September 2004

Bush's Phony Poison Pill

The 2004 presidential election is a disgrace. Here we are, six weeks from voting day and President Bush hides from his record over the last four years, tells bald-faced lies about the economy, the war in Iraq, and his opponent, while "playing" the role of president on television daily in events more managed and packaged than the most banal infomercials. While these images of the president are fed to the American public that will soon be allowed to exercise their democratic right to vote, media personalities, including the wife of Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, feed commentary to viewers claiming Bush is popular, strong, and steadfast in the face of terror.

If Bush were the president of a corporation, instead of the country, he would not be able to hide from his record. The performance of CEOs of public companies is subject to review by the capital markets every three months, not every four years. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and GAAP accounting would require truthful disclosures about the damage to the country's finances and the country's goodwill. Bush would be judged on these objective measures, not on marketing and spin. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and dissident shareholders would be demanding his resignation.

Alas, Bush has the ultimate poison pill. Remove Bush, and the management team that has run the country into the ground, and face a wave of Islamic terror, creeping atheism, and social liberalism (elitism). Of course, the poison pill is just another phony bogeyman. Let's hope America wakes up.

Posted by PAUL at 9/24/2004 11:57:00 PM

22 September 2004

High School Reunion

Remember elections for student government in high school? If you were lucky, one of your choices was someone who took the job seriously. If you were unlucky, all of your choices were clowns or jokers. Other elections are like that, too.

I signed up several months ago to the email missives from both the Republican and Democratic camps. And they did not disappoint.

On Monday morning, the Kerry-Edwards campaign sent the text of the speech on Iraq that John Kerry gave that day at New York University.

To win, America must be strong. And America must be smart. The greatest threat we face is the possibility Al Qaeda or other terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear weapon.

To prevent that from happening, we must call on the totality of America’s strength. Strong alliances, to help us stop the world’s most lethal weapons from falling into the most dangerous hands. A powerful military, transformed to meet the new threats of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And all of America’s power—our diplomacy, our intelligence system, our economic power, the appeal of our values—each of which is critical to making America more secure and preventing a new generation of terrorists from emerging.

National security is a central issue in this campaign. We owe it to the American people to have a real debate about the choices President Bush has made...and the choices I would make...to fight and win the war on terror.

That means we must have a great honest national debate on Iraq. The President claims it is the centerpiece of his war on terror. In fact, Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions and, if we do not change course, there is the prospect of a war with no end in sight.

This is hardly radical stuff, but it is a serious speech that explains what George Bush has done wroing in terms of security and what John kerry would do differently. Kerry also takes the smart tactical position of attacking his opponent at his supposedly strongest point.

This is the sort of e-mail that a serious candidate sends to his followers—and the kind of message that one could forward to a thoughtful undediced friend as evidence that Kerry is the better man for the job.

What was the latest missive from Bush-Cheney headquarters? On Saturday night, an important message came from Ken Mehlman, campaign manager for the Bush-Cheney team.

Earlier this week, HBO premiered a new documentary entitled Nine Innings from Ground Zero. The documentary tells the story of the 2001 Yankees and the hope and optimism their run in the World Series brought back to the people of America following September 11th. Through interviews with players, fans, families, and even the President, the film recalls a difficult time that we came through together.

One segment of that documentary shows President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch in Game Three. We would like to share a clip with you:


This is the sort of message that the troglydytes of your typical high school would send out: "Vote for me because remember when I totally threw a strike in that game three years ago! Go Big Blue!"

Posted by Tim W at 9/22/2004 01:29:00 AM

18 September 2004

Just the Fax, Ma'am

I hope that this will be my last post on the documents that CBS released regarding George Bush and his National Guard adventures. Bear with me, though#8212;this one will be fun.

A few days ago, an article by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post declared that several forensic experts found important flaws in the documents in question.

"What I was finding was a lot of red flags," Emily Will told The Washington Post last night. She said she listed five concerns in an e-mail three days before last Wednesday's broadcast and that in a call to a producer the day before the program, "I repeated all my objections as strongly as I could." Will said she told the producer: "If you air the program on Wednesday, on Thursday you're going to have hundreds of document examiners raising the same questions."....

As for Will's account, [CBS Senior Vice President Emily] West said: "I'm not aware of any substantive objection she raised. Emily Will did not urge us to hold the story. She was not adamant in any way. At one point she raised a concern about a superscript 'th,' which we then discussed with the other experts we hired to examine all four of the documents we aired. We were assured the 'th' was consistent with technology at the time, an assessment that has since been backed up by other experts."....

Will said she examined two disputed Killian memos, one of which was not used on the broadcast. She said she saw discrepancies in Killian's signature from an undisputed military document bearing his handwriting. Will said she also questioned whether an early 1970s typewriter could have produced the superscript, such as a raised "th," on the memos, and noted differences in the letterhead, the salutation and the way the date was rendered.

All these discrepancies "looked like trouble to me," Will said, adding that she told CBS this "in a resounding way."

it is clear that Emily Will examined the memos in question in some detail. But remember that what CBS has are documents that were faxed to the network by at least one anonymous source.

Emily Will has a useful and informative web site on document examination that includes both theory and practice of the field of forensic document examination. One page in particular—the one with "frequently asked questions—is very illuminating.

[Question:] Can a client fax documents to you for examination?

[Answer:] A fax of a questioned document is usually of very little use. The fax process digitizes the copy, obscures detail, and adds flaws to the document. Of course, there are document questions about faxed documents, but those are best handled by examination of the original faxes themselves.

The legitimate questions about the Killian documents involve details of typography and other subtle matters. According to Emily Will-on-the-Internet, a fax of a questioned document is well nigh useless because details are obscured and flaws are added. According to Emily Will-in-the-newspaper, however, a fax of a questioned document is of very high utility because she can somehow espy all sorts of discrepancies.

Amazing, is it not, how theory and practice yet again diverge?

Posted by Tim W at 9/18/2004 11:37:00 PM

15 September 2004

Miserable Failure

Nothing exemplifies the miserable failure of the Bush presidency than the utter disaster of the occupation of Iraq. The economic, moral, and human costs have been enormous. The benefits have ranged from elusive to completely illusory. Immanuel Wallerstein, in one of his semi-monthly commentaries, sums it up.

First, let us look at what the present U.S. government most loudly claims as a success. Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and he himself is a prisoner, destined at some point to be put on trial. This is unquestionably true. I have however tried to figure out what else can be put in the success column, and I'm having a hard time coming up with anything. I have compiled a list of eight other possible or asserted U.S. objectives, and find the score on each of them either in doubt or quite negative.

The failed goals are legion: destroying the Baath party and its political influence; controlling the world oil supply; hindering Islamic terrorists; creating a stable, pro-American government in Iraq; eliminating weapons of mass destruction; spreading democracy throughout the Middle East; making friends and influencing people; and even establishing American military power as a deterrent to potential enemies. All these goals are nowhere near fruition.

Go read Wallerstein's piece, and, while you're there, peruse his other contemporary commentaries, or if you dare, his more academic work. You know you've always wanted to know what worlds-systems theory was all about. Now you know where to look!

Posted by Tim W at 9/15/2004 10:42:00 PM

9/11, or 0/10

A recent article by Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Books challenges the notion that the 9/11 Commission found little fault with the Bush administration. Indeed, a close reading of the report—something that the American media, with collective attention spans resembling a nursery school class, seem on the whole incapable of performing. The report is, refreshingly enough, bluntly critical.

[T]he commission gives a devastating picture of the chaos within the Bush administration on the morning of the attacks, when the President famously remained in the Florida classroom for some five to seven minutes (according to the report) after learning of the second attack on the World Trade Center. But this is just one of several examples that morning of questionable judgment on the part of the President, as well as of the officials traveling with him, including his chief of staff, Andrew Card, and his political mentor, Karl Rove...Subtly but damningly, the report makes it clear that after Bush left the classroom, "the focus was on the President's statement to the nation"—his "message"—rather than on taking charge of the nation's response to the attacks.

The President didn't convene a meeting of his National Security Council until after all of the planes had crashed. And though the chain of command for military actions runs from the president to the secretary of defense, Bush didn't call Rumsfeld for nearly an hour after the second tower was hit, though more than a half-hour lapsed between the crash into the second tower in New York and the attack on the Pentagon. Morever, despite the established chain of command, Bush in that call didn't discuss with Rumsfeld the authorization to shoot down planes. Astonishingly, according to information the commission received between the writing of the staff reports and the final report, the secretary of defense, upon learning of the two attacks in New York, simply returned to the work he had already been doing in his Pentagon office....

The most important strategic decision the commission made was to avoid offering an explicit opinion on whether the September 11 attacks could have been prevented. But it was apparent that some commissioners believed this to be the case. Earlier in the year, in several television interviews, Thomas Kean said that the attacks might well have been prevented. And Lee Hamilton said on Meet the Press in April, "If you'd had a little luck, it probably could have been prevented." According to some of Kean's colleagues, the "blowback" from the administration to these statements was ferocious. Kean and Hamilton backed away from their earlier statements. The commissioners who believed that the attacks might have been prevented knew that they couldn't get unanimous agreement on this question. There was no way to prove that the attacks could have been prevented#8212;al-Qaeda had shown it could adapt to setbacks, such as the inability of some of the hijackers to get to the United States. But the commissioners could and did make the case that this was a strong possibility. They believed that the account in their report would speak for itself.

They also knew that if they explicitly blamed Bush and his administration for failing to prevent the attacks, the energies of the White House and its political allies, including those in the press and television, would have been devoted to discrediting their work. Instead, the commission laid out in its narrative considerable evidence that the September 11 attacks might well have been prevented. The final report presents a clear picture of the Bush administration in the months leading up to September 11 as not much engaged with the problem of terrorism and unresponsive to clear warnings that something was afoot....

In straining to achieve bipartisanship, the commissioners cited ten opportunities that the Clinton and Bush administrations failed to seize#8212;to emphasize the point, it included them in a box.

But the opportunities missed by the Clinton and Bush administrations were of a different order, and occurred in different contexts. Clinton and his top aides are depicted as having been alert to the al-Qaeda threat—if erratic in their attention to it—particularly after the simultaneous bombings of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, which were quickly traced to bin Laden. In the weeks leading up to the millennium, the Clinton White House counterterrorism team met daily. But Clinton took only hesitant actions against al-Qaeda—for example, bombing a suspected bin Laden camp in Afghanistan but missing him—and he or his advisers turned down other schemes to bomb, kidnap, or kill bin Laden, for fear of causing "collateral damage," or failing and leaving themselves open to criticism, even ridicule. The Pentagon was hesitant about taking military action. Clinton, as we know, was not much of a risk-taker when it came to government action. He told the commission that he didn't alert the public to the danger posed by bin Laden because he didn't want to build him up—and also that he didn't take more aggressive action against Afghanistan because there was no public support for it.

The commission suggests that the thinking of the incoming Bush officials was frozen in the cold war, and that they viewed the al-Qaeda threat in connection with nations. Thus consideration of the problem of al-Qaeda was submerged—land delayed—in a months-long study of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, the Bush administration was fiercely determined to do everything it possibly could differently from the Clinton administration.

Consider that last sentence very carefully. Whenever possible, the new administration tried to do the opposite of what the previous administration did. That's not even rational thinking if you're running the Yale Political Union, let alone the most powerful country in the world.

Posted by Tim W at 9/15/2004 10:25:00 PM


Kos at Daily Kos puts the latest casualty figures from Iraq into perspective. Fully 219 soldiers were wounded in the last week, and about 4,000 soliders were wounded in the past five months.

Body armor is the only thing keeping Iraq from producing Vietnam-type KIA figures. As Newsweek noted, this is Phase II of the insurgency. Phase I, recruitment, is finished. Now the insurgents are out for blood (to the tune of over 70 attacks every day).

We've lost this war. We've literally lost entire swaths of Iraqi territory to the insurgents. We've empowered Al Qaida and Islamist militants with new recruits and pictures of prison torture and rape to fuel their cause. We've stretched our military thin, hurt recruitment, made it impossible to respond to actual threats.

A good friend of mine is an active-duty nurse in the Army. She was sent to Kuwait shortly before the invasion of Iraq last year, and was relieved to find that the relative ease of the invasion proper made her whole field hospital redundant; before long, she and most of her colleagues were back in the States. Morale in Kuwait was bad enought; imagine how lousy it is for the poor souls trying to keep the peace now in Iraq, where no one wants you and Chaos is effectively the law of the land.

Posted by Tim W at 9/15/2004 09:43:00 PM

St. George's and the Dragon

Hurricane Ivan, which is about to hit with substantial fury the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, first showed its devastating power when it all but leveled the island nation of Grenada. Firsthand press reports describe widespread property damage, ruined cash crops, and low supplies of food and water;

The fierce winds that struck Tuesday pulled apart most roofs and left an acute crisis in Grenada, where more than half the 100,000 residents are homeless and in desperate need of shelter, water and basic supplies. At least 34 people were killed and more than 500 injured in the storm, and hospitals with short supplies were straining to deal with them.

Among the nations helping is the United States. But conspicuous by his silence is George W. Bush. Searching his public pronouncements for "Grenada" turns up not one mention of that nation in over ten months.

On 24 October 2003, of course, the White House press office was pleased to announce that a special delegation would travel to St. George's, Grenada for the "commemoration ceremony of the 20th Anniversary of the restoration of democracy to Grenada." (The five lucky souls included Otto Reich, then the "President's Special Envoy for Western Hemisphere Initiatives," in which capacity he provided a link between the far-sighted policies of the Reagan administration toward democracy in Honduras to the far-sighted policies of the Bush administration in Venezuela.)

Perhaps someone needs to inform President Bush that at least mentioning the suffering of a Caribbean ally would be at least a neighborly thing. Perhaps he would be more attentive if Grenada asked Cuba for some of its Army engineers to help with reconstruction.

Posted by Tim W at 9/15/2004 09:20:00 PM

Threat Assessment

The Washington Post reports that Senate Republicans are eager to schedule a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit "desecration" of the United States flag before the November elections. What brave souls they are! For so many flags are descreated these days, and these desecrations have killed or maimed the astounding total of zero God-fearing American citizens.

For some Republicans it is the perfect political storm: a Senate vote on a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag that would put Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, running mate John Edwards and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle on the spot just a few weeks before the Nov. 2 elections.

The Senate GOP leadership has not scheduled a vote on the proposed amendment, but Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) noted last week that it is a high priority for veterans groups. Other Republicans say a vote is likely before the Senate's Oct. 8 target date for adjournment.

Those selfsame Republican leaders, however, did not see fit even to schedule a vote on renewing the 10-year-old ban on machine guns, those weapons that are desinged for military use but are easily adapted by terrorists and criminals for killing and maiming of innocent victims. Apparently, the Senate leadership simply had better things to do than to worry whether machine guns would more easily fall into the wrong hands.

Posted by Tim W at 9/15/2004 03:04:00 AM

Restatement of Tortures

Readers of The New Yorker might have wondered over the past few months why Seymour Hersh has not appeared in the pages of that august institution. He was hard at work finishing his book Chain of Command: the Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. The lede from the New York Times article on the book is damning enough.

Senior military and national security officials in the Bush administration were repeatedly warned by subordinates in 2002 and 2003 that prisoners in military custody were being abused, according to a new book by a prominent journalist.

But the excerpts from the book, printed in Monday's Guardian, show just how debased the current administration has become.

But the interrogations at Guantánamo were a bust. Very little useful intelligence had been gathered, while prisoners from around the world continued to flow into the base, and the facility constantly expanded. The CIA analyst had been sent there to find out what was going wrong. He was fluent in Arabic and familiar with the Islamic world. He was held in high respect within the agency, and was capable of reporting directly, if he chose, to George Tenet, the CIA director. The analyst did more than just visit and inspect. He interviewed at least 30 prisoners to find out who they were and how they ended up in Guantánamo. Some of his findings, he later confided to a former CIA colleague, were devastating.

"He came back convinced that we were committing war crimes in Guantánamo," the colleague told me. "Based on his sample, more than half the people there didn't belong there. He found people lying in their own faeces," including two captives, perhaps in their 80s, who were clearly suffering from dementia. "He thought what was going on was an outrage," the CIA colleague added. There was no rational system for determining who was important.

Two former administration officials who read the analyst's highly classified report told me that its message was grim. According to a former White House official, the analyst's disturbing conclusion was that "if we captured some people who weren't terrorists when we got them, they are now".

That autumn, the document rattled aimlessly around the upper reaches of the Bush administration until it got into the hands of General John A Gordon, the deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, who reported directly to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser and the president's confidante. Gordon, who had retired from the military as a four-star general in 2000 had served as a deputy director of the CIA for three years. He was deeply troubled and distressed by the report, and by its implications for the treatment, in retaliation, of captured American soldiers. Gordon, according to a former administration official, told colleagues that he thought "it was totally out of character with the American value system", and "that if the actions at Guantánamo ever became public, it'd be damaging to the president".

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, there had been much debate inside the administration about what was permissible in the treatment of prisoners and what was not. The most suggestive document, in terms of what was really going on inside military prisons and detention centres, was written in early August 2002 by Jay S Bybee, head of the justice department's office of legal counsel. "Certain acts may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within [a legal] proscription against torture," Bybee wrote to Alberto R Gonzales, the White House counsel. "We conclude that for an act to constitute torture, it must inflict pain that is difficult to endure. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." (Bush later nominated Bybee to be a federal judge.)....

John Gordon had to know what he was up against in seeking a high-level review of prison policies at Guantánamo, but he persevered. Finally, the former White House official recalled, "We got it up to Condi."

As the CIA analyst's report was making its way to Rice, in late 2002 there were a series of heated complaints about the interrogation tactics at Guantánamo from within the FBI, whose agents had been questioning detainees in Cuba since the prison opened. A few of the agents began telling their superiors what they had witnessed, which, they believed, had little to do with getting good information.

"I was told," a senior intelligence official recalled, "that the military guards were slapping prisoners, stripping them, pouring cold water over them, and making them stand until they got hypothermia. The agents were outraged. It was wrong and also dysfunctional." The agents put their specific complaints in writing, the official told me, and they were relayed, in emails and phone calls, to officials at the department of defence, including William J Haynes II, the general counsel of the Pentagon. As far as day-to-day life for prisoners at Guantánamo was concerned, nothing came of it.

The unifying issue for General Gordon and his supporters inside the administration was not the abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo, the former White House official told me: "It was about how many more people are being held there that shouldn't be. Have we really got the right people?" The briefing for Condoleezza Rice about problems at Guantánamo took place in the autumn of 2002. It did not dwell on the question of torture or mistreatment. The main issue, the former White House official told me, was simply, "Are we getting any intelligence? What is the process for sorting these people?"

Rice agreed to call a high-level meeting in the White House situation room. Most significantly, she asked Secretary Rumsfeld to attend. Rumsfeld, who was by then publicly and privately encouraging his soldiers in the field to get tough with captured prisoners, duly showed up, but he had surprisingly little to say. One participant in the meeting recalled that at one point Rice asked Rumsfeld "what the issues were, and he said he hadn't looked into it". Rice urged Rumsfeld to do so, and added, "Let's get the story right." Rumsfeld seemed to be in agreement, and Gordon and his supporters left the meeting convinced, the former administration official told me, that the Pentagon was going to deal with the issue.

Nothing changed. "The Pentagon went into a full-court stall," the former White House official recalled. "I trusted in the goodness of man and thought we got something to happen. I was naive enough to believe that when a cabinet member"—he was referring to Rumsfeld—"says he's going to take action, he will."

Over the next few months, as the White House began planning for the coming war in Iraq, there were many more discussions about the continuing problems at Guantánamo and the lack of useful intelligence. No one in the Bush administration would get far, however, if he was viewed as soft on suspected al-Qaida terrorism. "Why didn't Condi do more?" the official asked. "She made the same mistake I made. She got the secretary of defence to say he's going to take care of it."

There was, obviously, a difference between the reality of prison life in Guantánamo and how it was depicted to the public in carefully stage-managed news conferences and statements released by the administration. American prison authorities have repeatedly assured the press and the public, for example, that the al-Qaida and Taliban detainees were provided with a minimum of three hours of recreation every week. For the tough cases, however, according to a Pentagon adviser familiar with detainee conditions in mid-2002, at recreation time some prisoners would be strapped into heavy jackets, similar to straitjackets, with their arms locked behind them and their legs straddled by straps. Goggles were placed over their eyes, and their heads were covered with a hood. The prisoner was then led at midday into what looked like a narrow fenced-in dog run—the adviser told me that there were photographs of the procedure—and given his hour of recreation. The restraints forced him to move, if he chose to move, on his knees, bent over at a 45-degree angle. Most prisoners just sat and suffered in the heat.

One of the marines assigned to guard duty at Guantánamo in 2003, who has since left the military, told me, after being promised anonymity, that he and his enlisted colleagues at the base were encouraged by their squad leaders to "give the prisoners a visit" once or twice a month, when there were no television crews, journalists, or other outside visitors at the prison.

"We tried to fuck with them as much as we could—inflict a little bit of pain. We couldn't do much," for fear of exposure, the former marine, who also served in Afghanistan, told me.

and that's just an excerpt of an excerpt. What Hersh has found would, in a rational polity, bring down at least two cabinet members (State and Defense), if not the president himself. There was a time, not too long ago, when cabinet members resigned on principal, either out of shame or out of opposition to administration policy. Americans now have leaders who have no shame, and are either afraid or unwilling to oppose even the most egregiously knackered policies.

There was a time when Americans could actually believe that their leaders held human rights to be of paramount importance, and that torture was the province of dictators and autocrats. No longer. Human rights are now for girlie-men. And torture is now the cost of doing business.

Posted by Tim W at 9/15/2004 02:27:00 AM

Font of Knowledge

What puzzles me about all of the time and energy wasted criticizing those CBS memos is that so little attention has been paid to the real anomaly among the font used in the body of each memo.

By now, it is clear that the typewriter or printer or letterpress—only kidding—that produced the memos used some version of Times Roman, a very common font today and a common font 30 years ago, only not in the world of typewriting. A font that looks identical to the font used in the text of the memos was Press Roman, a variation of Times Roman commissioned by IBM for at least one of their typewriters.

The proprietor of the very complete site concerning the IBM Selectric Composer doubts that the Composer was used to produce the memos, in large part because it was marketed for design work, not for general typing. (A simpler IBM typewriter, the Executive, was a more likely machine to be in an Air National Guard office. It, too could produce proportionately-spaced text.)

In several of the memos in question, the number one appears to be represented by a lower-case ell, and the result on the page looks quite different from either the one or the ell produced by modern-day Times New Roman. Even though the copies of the memos are 96 dot-per-inch copies of 96-dot-per-inch copies, the discrepancy is striking. Compare the ones in the memos to the screen fonts (from Windows) of Times New Roman and you will see what I mean.

Are the memos authentic? I think that they are, although I have no good way to confirm that. Using Press Roman on a typewriter in the early 1970s meant that one used a typeface that was out of the ordinary, and impossible to duplicate without a bit of effort; ironically, the typeface that Bush's defenders point to as evidence of forgery may well have been chosen to make the memos harder to forge in the first place.

Why do I doubt that the memos are forged? First, it would have been simple to create forged documents using Prestige Elite or Courier, several sheets of carbon paper, and an authentic, vintage Selectric I or II typewriter. Second, the memos do nothing to contradict and little to augment the events already in the public record about Bush's National Guard service. Bush indeed failed to appear for a physical in 1972. He lost his flight privileges. Later, he attended a flurry of drills to make up for months of drills that he missed. And when he moved to Massachusetts to attend graduate school, he failed to find a National Guard unit to complete his service. If a Democratic partisan were to forge documents, one would expect something more shocking that confirmation of what we already knew. And one would expect a Republican forgery to have something truly damning that could be rebuffed.

Indeed, the hubbub about these memos is inspiring only if you have a soft spot in your heart for obsolete typesetting technologies. My heart has such a tender area—one of the few truly useful skills (useful, that is, until my college newspaper adopted desktop publishing software) that I learned in high school was how to produce drop capitals on a Compugraphic photo-offset machine.

If you want facts and reasoned, detailed analysis about the actual facts about George Bush and the National Guard, take a peek at the yeoman work of Paul Lukasiak. Forget the memos: it's the Air Force paperwork that explains that George Bush was no better a National Guardsman that he was at anything else.

Posted by Tim W at 9/15/2004 01:51:00 AM

09 September 2004

It's Selectric

The conservative blogosphere is replete with those who claim that damning memos about George Bush's final months in the National Guard have to be fakes. The standard argument, as summarized by Josh Marshall, is that the typeface and superscripting are from a modern word processing program. (Marshall found some contemporaneous documents with superscripting, albeit not in the proportional spacing font—a variant of Times Roman—used in the four memos.)

Pity the poor conservative bloggers! For IBM made the very common Selectric typewriter do some very cool things. An article on the website of the American Institute of Graphic Arts notes that in the late 1960s, IBM hired Stanley Morison, who designed the original Times Roman font for the London Times to adapt that font for the Selectric typewriter. Indeed, the font in the four memos released by CBS is a Times Roman font.

The Selectric typewriter could and did produce text of very high quality, high enough to b used in technical publishing. A variant of the typewriter, with a magnetic tape cartridge, was introduced in 1964 and was often used to produce cheaply text for books with short print runs.

While I have no idea which IBM Selectric that the Texas and Alabama National Guard offices used, the IBM Selectric Composer, introduced in 1968, had functions that would make creating the memos in question very easy. The manual for the machine describes functions as using different font sizes within a line, and all sorts of justification options. The brochure for the device shows the sort of high-quality typesetting that was possible.

Posted by Tim W at 9/09/2004 11:25:00 PM

07 September 2004

Unconventional Politics

Bored with the lack or surprise at the Democratic and Republican conventions? (As well you should, save for the interesting—as in "tastes like chicken"—scene of Zell Miller, barking mad, imploding during and after his keynote address.)

At the Libertarian convention earlier this year, things were a lot more interesting. I only caught the final ballot on television; by that time, the real political battles were over. But some worthy souls were more enterprising. The eventual nominee, Gary Bednarik, is not quite the fellow who will expand the Libertarian political sphere much past the fringes of political discourse.

By now, most libertarians know that the Libertarian Party chose as its presidential nominee Michael Badnarik, the darkest of dark horses, and a figure hardly known within the party and virtually unknown to non-LP libertarians. Badnarik is a self-taught constitutional scholar whose views were scarcely known to most LP members and delegates prior to the nomination.

Coming into the convention, the favorite for the nomination was Gary Nolan, a talk-radio personality who had raised the most money, won all five LP primaries, and put together a professional campaign staff. Nolan proposed the same electoral strategy that the LP candidate had employed in the previous two elections: he'd try to appeal primarily to conservatives, reaching out to them on talk radio.

Badnarik was different. He had embarked on a quixotic quest, traveling from state to state in a 1999 Kia Sephia, visiting state party conventions, speaking wherever he could, staying in the guest rooms of supporters whenever he could arrange it, hitting cheap motels when he couldn't. In late 2003, he interrupted his campaign to take a job in telemarketing to earn some much needed cash.

Badnarik believes that the federal income tax has no legal authority and that people are justified in refusing to file a tax return until such time as the IRS provides them with an explanation of its authority to collect the tax. He hadn't filed income tax returns for several years. He moved from California to Texas because of Texas' more liberal gun laws, but he refused to obtain a Texas driver's license because the state requires drivers to provide their fingerprints and Social Security numbers. He has been ticketed several times for driving without a license; sometimes he has gotten off for various technical legal reasons, but on three occasions he has been convicted and paid a fine. He also refused to use postal ZIP codes, seeing them as "federal territories."

There's lots more where those paragraphs came from—read the whole thing to learn that internecine politics aren't just the bailiwick of the Greens or the Sparts. And even if you knew that, the article is chock full of good writing and pithy analysis.

The Democrats can't catch a break. In 2000, Ralph Nader ran hard and got a healthy slug of votes to deprive Al Gore a majority in a few key states, but Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party ran the most lackluster of campaigns. Now that many Libertarians are upset about the Bush adminstration's foreign policy, they get Badnarik as a candidate. At least Ralph Nader's campaign is having trouble getting on the ballot in many states.

Posted by Tim W at 9/07/2004 01:12:00 AM

Compassionate Conservatism in Acti

I meant to write about this story almost four weeks ago, and I had hoped that its absurdity had caused the powers that be to realize the folly and sciolism of their positions. But in today's world of compassionate conservatism, compassion is so often the lesser motive in that marriage.

The New York Times reported last month that some 292 refugees from Montserrat will be deported in February 2005, not because it is safe to return to that Caribbean island, but because it is unsafe.

"The volcanic activity causing the environmental disaster in Montserrat is not likely to cease in the foreseeable future," Homeland Security officials explained in a June 25 notice ending Montserratians' temporary protected status effective Feb. 27, 2005. "Therefore it no longer constitutes a temporary disruption of living conditions that temporarily prevents Montserrat from adequately handling the return of its nationals."

The decision has stunned islanders who rebuilt their lives in America from scratch. "It's devastating," said Sarah Ryner, 59, a public health nurse supervisor who lost her home and career in the volcanic aftermath and now works night shifts at a New Jersey hospital. "I'm just frozen, and my children are the same. We are saying: What can we do? Where can we go?"

Homeland Security officials have an answer: Move to England.

Montserrat is one of Britain's last overseas territories, many of its people descendants of the African slaves and Irish penal deportees sent to toil there 400 years ago. Citing scientific estimates that dangerous volcanic activity is likely for at least 20 years, and for perhaps as long as a couple of centuries, the Homeland Security notice advises those who choose not to return to the devastated island to consider exercising their claim to British citizenship and relocating to the motherland.

The notice also took the British government by surprise. At the British Consulate in New York and the United Kingdom government office on Montserrat last week, press officers said they were not prepared to answer questions about the prospects of British residency for Montserratians like Mrs. Ryner; her son Craig Ryner, 35, now a New York subway station agent raising three Brooklyn-born children; or her divorced daughter, Pearl Ryner, 39, a teacher turned medical technologist. British officials are asking the United States government for more information, press officers said.

Yes, you read that right. The refugees from Montserrat's volcano must leave the United States because things are so bad in Montserrat that no one will return for at least two decades.

And the solons of the Bush adminsitration are applying the same sort of blinkered thinking to refugees from other countries. some 3,000 refugees from Sierra Leone, a West African country ravaged by civil war, will need to gain American citizenship by May or face deportation.

The West African nation was dubbed "the worst place on Earth" by writers who described its 10-year civil war, in which combatants subjected civilians to variations of torture, including amputating by machete and forcing hands into boiling oil.

The war ended in 2002, and the Homeland Security Department asked Sierra Leoneans who did not have US citizenship to leave by May 3 of this year. "Those who do not comply with this requirement may be subject to removal," a statement said.

The withdrawal of temporary protected status, often called "special status," has sent the Johnstons and thousands of other Sierra Leoneans around the United States into hiding, and has opened a debate about the morality of deporting immigrants to a nation still reeling from war.

Flee communist Cuba and arrive in the United States, and humane treatment is readily at hand. But flee the manmade horrors of civil war or the natural horrors of an active volcano, and inhumanity is all that you can expect. What a country we run these days.

Posted by Tim W at 9/07/2004 01:07:00 AM

06 September 2004

Low-Hanging Fruit

If the Kerry campaign wants a ridiculously easy way to curry facvor with military rank and file, simply have the candidate say that he will put an end to the fleecing of young military men and women by investment firms. The goal of at least one large firm is to get young investors to sock money in investments with massive up-front fees, regardless of the appropriateness of the investment.

A Georgia congressman has drafted legislation aimed at preventing marketing practices that have exposed young recruits to high-pressure or misleading sales pitches for products that may not fit their financial needs, and a prominent lawmaker said yesterday that a House subcommittee would hold a hearing on the issue next Thursday....

The bill, which Mr. Burns said he would file when Congress reconvenes on Tuesday, would amend federal securities laws to ban the sale of contractual plans, an obscure type of mutual fund widely marketed on military bases. The plans, common in the fund industry until the 1970's but virtually obsolete in the civilian market today, impose sales charges that consume 50 percent of an investor's first-year contributions. "It is an outrage that financial products that were found so disreputable that they disappeared from the civilian market 20 years ago have continued to survive on post," said Mr. Burns, an Army veteran and former college professor.

His bill would also strengthen the hand of state regulators in policing insurance sales abuses on military bases and give each state's insurance commissioner a year to establish standards to protect service members on military installations from predatory practices.

The New York Times wrote about First Command, the main proponent of these plans, in July. Also, Kiplinger's offered a a scathing comdemnation of these plans in September 2003. There's enough pain and suffering in the armed forces as it is. No one needs to be avoiding financial land mines as well.

Posted by Tim W at 9/06/2004 02:03:00 AM

Coalition of the Willful

Wasn't it bad enough when pakistan was only helping North Korea with its nuclear weapons program? Now, it seems that Pakistan had its helpful hands reaching out to yet another friend of the atom.

A new assessment of Iran's nuclear program by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency says that, as early as 1995, Pakistan was providing Tehran with the designs for sophisticated centrifuges capable of making bomb-grade nuclear fuel. It also finds evidence that, as of the [sic] mid-August, Iran had assembled and tested the major components for 70 of the machines, which it showed to inspectors from the agency.

Among the most embarrassing American foreign policy blunders—and there were many to choose from—of the 1979-1989 decade was the willfully blind eye that American policymakers cast, in the name of anti-Communism, toward Pakistan's nuclear weapons ambitions. And among the most egregious foreign policy blunders of this presidential administration has been the astonishingly feeble response to the ongoing perfidy of Pakistan. And yet George Bush still considers Pakistan and its military rulers to be allied with the United States.

Posted by Tim W at 9/06/2004 01:54:00 AM

Now and Then

Last month, I twitted high-flying elections lawyer Benjamin L. Ginsburg for being sloppy with the definition of pro bono publico: he had claimed, contrary to the definition of the term in the Rules of Professional Conduct for the District of Columbia Bar, that he might do his work for the well-heeled Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (sic) "pro bono."

Note, however, what Ginsberg wrote in 1999 when he helped the Bush campaign try, unsuccessfully, to shut down the parody site gwbush.com started by the provocative Zach Exley. In his letter, he shows a clear understanding of what pro bono means.

Without providing a tutorial on "fair use", I suggest that you consult with a copyright attorney. If you cannot afford one, then you may wish to contact the pro bono services likely provided by your city government, and by certain law firms and, perhaps, by the law school nearest to you.

Note that Ginsberg notes that the "pro bono services" offered by various parties are for clients who cannot afford attorneys. He did not write that Exley might find the pro bono services of a Democratic attorney, or the pro bono services of a radical legal collective, or the pro bono services of a firm with an axe to grind against the Bush Presidential Exploratory Committee.

Perhaps Ginsberg was just extraordinarily sloppy when a no-account paper like the New York Times asked him about the services that he was offering his 527 clients.

Perhaps he is only precise in his language when he is being paid many hundreds of dollars per hour to do legal work.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is the unnamed associates and paralegals at Patton Boggs LLP who actually do the heavy lifting in that firm, and are the ones who know what they are doing.

Posted by Tim W at 9/06/2004 01:27:00 AM

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