November 2004

2004 11 30
Security in Iraq…

…seems to be a joke. From today’s Independent:

Disintegrating security in Baghdad was underlined in a sombre warning yesterday from the British embassy against using the airport road or taking a plane out of Iraq.

The embassy says a bomb was discovered on a flight inside Iraq on 22 November. It shows that insurgents have been able to penetrate the stringent security at Baghdad airport.

The embassy says that the road between Baghdad and the international airport, perhaps the most important highway in the country, is now too dangerous to use.

The warning is in sharp contrast to more optimistic statements from US military commanders after the capture of Fallujah in which they have spoken of “breaking the back of the insurgency”.

UPDATE: the US follows Britain’s lead. Now US personnel will get to the airport by helicopter. Why not just shut the road down?:

“Militarily, we could solve it tomorrow by shutting down the road to nonofficial travel,” said another general familiar with the deliberations. “But that would be a terrible message. Economically, such a move would hurt efforts to revitalize the airport. Politically, it would hurt the Iraqi government’s effort to show that it is gradually exerting control over the insurgency.”

‘Cause the economy is booming and the Iraqi government’s “control” over the insurgency is growing. Uh huh.

Howls of outrage (2)

2004 11 30
Wait a minute

Posted by in: Political issues, Pundits

William Safire is a useless hack who regularly just makes stuff up and this is what Jack Shafer chooses to jump on him for?

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2004 11 30
It’s that easy.

Posted by in: Political issues

Mark Schmitt responds to the strategy behind the Istook provision…:

But we should all understand that it’s pretty unusual for a devious provision to be as obvious as “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the chairman of the committee and his staff shall be able to read anyone’s tax return.” That’s about as rare as finding a villain who strokes his long waxed mustache while emitting an evil cackle. The question Istook is probably asking his staff is not “who done it?” but why they were so lazy about writing it that it was left out in the open. It’s easy enough to write such a provision that hooks into existing laws in such a way that it would be very difficult for a non-expert reader to understand what it does. In this case, you would find a provision of law that designates a category of people allowed to look at tax returns, and then, without identifying the purpose, amend that subtitle to include some other category, which might also not be identified by name. The provision could just as easily read, “Section 429(b)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code is hereby amended to add the words ‘and such legislative designees as identified in Section 567(a)(4).'” That would certainly add at least a half hour to the effort of anyone who wanted to know what it really meant, and it might even appear innocuous.

…and explains that we can thank the lawyers for helping us discover the absurdity:

For the most part, any legislative language, whether a bill or an amendment, is not written in its final form by staffers to members or committees, but by the legislative counsel for the House and Senate. These are extremely dedicated and unbelievably hard-working lawyers, who, especially in the crunch time at the end of a congressional session do amazing work in turning half-baked ideas into something that sounds legal and resolves any contradictions with existing law. As a staffer, if you take a description to legislative counsel, and what they send back is language that reads, “notwithstanding any other provision of law…” and then repeats whatever you gave them, it means that they regard whatever you’re trying to do as vaguely ridiculous or illegal and not worth wasting their time to look up the appropriate legal references.

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2004 11 30
Bush loses in Court

Good news for the reasonable. WaPo:

A federal appeals court yesterday prohibited the government from withholding funds from colleges and universities that refuse to cooperate with military recruiters because of the Pentagon’s discrimination against gays in the armed forces.

In a 2 to 1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia blocked the government from enforcing a law known as the Solomon Amendment, which punishes universities that refuse to allow military recruiters on campus. The law was originally passed by Congress in 1996 but was not actively enforced before the beginning of President Bush’s administration.

The court ruled that the Solomon Amendment violated the free-speech rights of schools that restricted on-campus recruiting in response to the military’s ban on gays. By threatening to withdraw federal funds from schools that refused to cooperate with military recruiters, the court wrote, the government was compelling them “to express a message that is incompatible with their educational objectives.”

Yesterday’s ruling in a case originally brought by New Jersey law schools overturned a decision by a lower court judge and marked the first time an appeals court had blocked the government from enforcing the law.

Now, tell me again how the Bush admin justified this policy in the face of their defence of the “freedoms” at stake when lefties decry the government funding of faith-based ministries. Oh, right, i forgot: It’s okay to tax the non-religious to pay for religious activities, but it’s not okay to direct tax dollars to secular institutions of learning who refuse to give their imprimatur to hatred and bigotry. Got it.

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2004 11 29
Don’t worry, the tribal elders are on the case

If we add the pressure exerted by Bush on the congress regarding the intelligence bill to the pressure exerted on Pakistan to aid in the hunt for bin Laden, we might have enough force to push a thumb-tack into a corkboard. From WaPo, via AP:

The Pakistani army announced Saturday that it would withdraw hundreds of troops from a tense tribal region near Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden and his top deputy were believed to be hiding.

The army will remove checkpoints in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain said after meeting with tribal elders Friday.

Hussain said the moves were “in return for the support of tribesmen in operations against foreign miscreants.” Some troops will remain in the area, he said.

“We have been assured by tribal elders that they will not allow miscreants to hide in areas under their control,” Hussain said.

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2004 11 29
The Crystal Ball

From today’s USA Today:

A top U.S. commander is warning Iran and others against thinking they can exploit the U.S. military because its ground troops are fighting two major missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We can generate more military power per square inch than anybody else on Earth, and everybody knows it,” [Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command]said. “If you ever even contemplate our nuclear capability, it should give everybody the clear understanding that there is no power that can match the United States militarily.”

But Abizaid said large operations are not the only way to win battles. He pointed to the recent battle in Fallujah, where 10,000 troops backed by precision airstrikes launched from U.S. ships provided overwhelming force. The U.S. military needs to be restructured to fight long wars against terrorists and insurgents over the next 20 years, Abizaid said.

If Falluja is the map for the road ahead, then it would seem that we’re on the road to the Baghdad airport.

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2004 11 29
Abortion Poll

Posted by in: Abortion, Political issues

AP reports:

[An Associated Press poll] found that 59 percent say Bush should choose a nominee who would uphold the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. About three in 10, 31 percent, said they want a nominee who would overturn the decision, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

And on litmus tests:

The survey found that 61 percent of all respondents said Supreme Court nominees should state their position on abortion before being approved for the job.

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2004 11 29
Two Items of Hypocrisy

The first item involves Congressional Republican’s efforts to sacrifice security to political gain. From NY Times:

Members of both parties, and independent analysts, said Sunday that they had no doubt Congress would have passed the measure had President Bush flexed his muscle…The intelligence bill had bipartisan support in the Senate.

In the House, the leadership probably could have cobbled together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans to muster the 218 votes necessary for passage.

“I am convinced that had the speaker brought the bill to the floor, it would have passed,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and chief author of the measure, said in an interview on Sunday. “That’s what’s so frustrating. Here we have a bill that’s been endorsed by the White House, by the 9/11 commission, by the 9/11 family groups, by the speaker of the House, and we can’t get a vote.”

But Mr. Hastert did not want to split his caucus and did not want the bill to pass with less than ”a majority of the majority,” said his spokesman, John Feehery. “What good is it to pass something,” Mr. Feehery said, “where most of our members don’t like it?”

From WaPo:

This month, several senior Republicans balked at adopting compromise legislation aimed at revamping the nation’s intelligence system. President Bush and Hastert both backed the measure, but GOP leaders did not lobby very hard for it. Many members of Congress believed that Hastert and Bush had given it nominal support because it was an election year show and not out of genuine desire to win passage. Indeed, the bill could have easily passed because many House Democrats supported it, but Hastert and other GOP leaders refused to go forward if it meant reaching out to the other party for a winning majority while some of their own had qualms. The desire for party unity trumped leaders’ commitment to legislative change, even on a measure on national security. “We don’t bring bills to the floor that divide our conference,” said Stuart Roy, DeLay’s spokesman.

The second item comes under the heading, “So what’s your position on federalism, exactly?”. Seems Bush and Ashcroft oppose states’ rights when it means that some states assert the right to allow their citizens to use a rather harmless substance to ease unbearable pain or sustain an appetite that keeps one from wasting away.:

Today that federal-state clash continues at the Supreme Court, where the justices will hear oral arguments on whether the Constitution permits the federal government to take action against those who use homegrown marijuana for medicinal reasons within states where it is legal to do so.

Howls of outrage (2)

2004 11 29
Leiter on Will

Posted by in: Pundits

No, it’s not a post on Nietzche’s view of things, but rather a post on the smug George Will’s criticisms of the academy:

So here’s what things look like once you’ve fallen through the looking glass: a representative of the monochrome mass media–where diversity means a political spectrum so narrow that no social democrat, socialist, or genuine libertarian finds a regular home–has the audacity to suggest that the only institution where genuine intellectual diversity in the United States still exists (where it is possible to teach, as I do [and my situation is not atypical], with Burkean conservatives, free market utopians, socialists, social democrats, Clintonite democrats, and regular ‘ole boring liberals) lacks diversity of “thought”! Perhaps never having had one, he doesn’t recognize where it still exists.

But let us translate: what Mr. Will really means is that universities are places where the banalities and misinformation which are the lifeblood of the mass media are not taken seriously; where people who think Iraq attacked the World Trade Center have a tough time holding their own in grown-up conversation; where apologists for state terror have to confront the arguments of those who know an apology for state terror when they see it; where lies about economic and social policy are perceived as lies, and made to answer to facts and evidence; where, in short, the parochial smugness of an effete little simpleton like George Will (and his many clones who constitute the “diversity” of the mass media) is perceived as exactly that.

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2004 11 29
Amnesty International on Bhopal

Posted by in: India, Political issues

After all these years:

India: Bhopal – human rights in toxic shock

Twenty years on the Bhopal plant continues to ruin the lives of the surrounding communities. The effects of the leak and the contaminated environment continue seriously to affect people’s basic human rights. A report by Amnesty International shows how companies and governments are evading their human rights responsibilities, and underlines the need for universal human rights standards for businesses.
. . .
Astonishingly, no-one has been held to account for the toxic leak and its appalling consequences — over 20,000 people have died and 100,000 people are living with chronic illnesses. Dow and UCC both deny legal responsibility, with UCC refusing to appear before Indian courts to face trial.

UCC has tried to shift responsibility onto Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), claiming it had no control over its Indian subsidiary. In fact, UCC owned 50.9% of UCIL and maintained a high degree of corporate, managerial, technical and operational control over it, and was in a position to prevent the disaster.
. . .
The report explains how:

– UCC stored ultra-hazardous chemicals in bulk; failed to set up an emergency plan to warn local residents; ignored warnings about the possibility of a chemical reaction similar to that which caused the leak and withheld information critical to the medical treatment of the victims.

– The Indian authorities failed to adequately protect their citizens both before and after the disaster. Officials were aware that the plant used hazardous materials but Amnesty International has been unable to find any evidence that either the state or central government took adequate steps to assess the risks to the local community. Without consulting the victims, the Indian government agreed a modest financial settlement with UCC and cleared the company from legal liability.

– Human rights have been violated on a massive scale, including people’s rights to life and health. A framework based on the UN Norms for Business could be used to hold companies accountable for their human rights impact.

The effects of the leak and the insufficient compensation — along with other government failings — are felt every day by the survivors. Many are unable to earn a living, have families, or even get hold of medicine to treat their conditions. Parvati Bai, 70, is ill and far too weak to work. Her husband died a few months after the gas leak. Her only source of income is the 150 Rupees (US$3.30) she receives each month as a pension. “That is not enough even to buy myself some food,” she said. “Some day I will die and the Municipal Corporation will just take my body away. That will be the end.”

Amnesty International is urging people around the world to write to Dow demanding it cleans up the site.

More here.

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2004 11 29

John Quiggin writes:

. . . the resources of all kinds (military, diplomatic, financial and in terms of moral standing) expended on the Iraq crusade have weakened the US government to the point where it has nothing with which to impose its will on Iran. The US government can’t credibly threaten an invasion because it doesn’t have the troops, it can’t run a long bombing campaign in case the Iranians foment a Shia insurgency in Iraq, it can’t negotiate because it has already painted itself into a corner with the “Axis of Evil” line, it can’t rally the world to its cause because of its belligerent unilateralism in the past, it can’t buy the Iranians off because it’s broke, and it can’t use its intelligence resource to catch out the Iranians in any lies they are telling because US intelligence has been fatally discredited. Bush can still blow up the world, but then, so can Putin.

The era of hyperpower has been short indeed.

Of course, the U.S. still has an awful lot of leverage in the world. But I agree that the Iraq War has badly damaged its strategic position, and in relation to Iran more than any other country. Whether the U.S. can regain its balance over the next five or ten years is an interesting question. If it does, I think it will still be at least a decade before the country again enjoys the kind of flexibility and power on the international stage that it enjoyed prior to the Iraq War.

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2004 11 28

Posted by in: Political issues, Sudan

Getting worse, it seems:

While the world debates what to do, and attention is focused on various diplomatic discussions, the war in Darfur has sharply intensified in the past few days. Open fighting has broken out between rebels and government troops, with rebels apparently carrying out strategic attacks, and the government retaliating. It is the ordinary people who suffer the most from this new violence–which is not only a direct threat, but that is also stopping the provision of the food aid that is keeping thousands of Darfurians alive. This new warfare is overlaid upon the continuing Janjaweed militia violence that is aimed at undermining the lifelihood of Darurian villagers, and terrorising the “displaced” in camps.

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2004 11 28
Ali G

Posted by in: Pop Culture, Television

Get your Ali G on here.

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2004 11 28
Thomas Friedman, wordsmith

Posted by in: Political issues, Pundits

Oh, the incomparable Thomas Friedman!

Right now we need an “intelligent czar” for Iraq much more than we need an “intelligence czar” for America.

I suppose the inner workings of genius must remain forever shrouded in mystery, but I would love to know how he comes up with such zingers.

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2004 11 27

Posted by in: Odds and ends

You gotta know where to draw the line.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)