Saturday, September 25, 2004


The rich get richer, the poor get poorer

In my Inbox from CBS MarketWatch,
The co-founders of Google and Yahoo are among the very richest Americans, according to Forbes magazine's annual list of the country's 400 wealthiest people.

Meanwhile, owner Mark Cuban is in 215th place, with assets of $1.3 billion. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks was 179th in the Forbes 400 list for 2003, also with $1.3 billion, in an illustration of how the ranks of U.S. billionaires swelled in the last year [emphasis added].

I can hear George now—"So why are people complaining about the economy? I just don't get it."

Hurricane Jeanne is coming

As I write, I'm listening to Gov. Jeb Bush make a special appeal to the residents of the Florida East Coast to evacuate. Hurricane Jeanne is expected to come ashore as early as noon today. Apparently many residents are refusing to evacuate.

I don't know what accounts for this, but I suspect a kind of "hurricane fatigue." The East Coasters have evacuated so many times in a period of little over a month that they may be saying something like "You want me, come and get me!" Not rational, but understandable.

The other factor may be the direction that residents are being asked to take. In most East Coast evacuations the residents get on Interstate 95 and head north (or south). But Jeanne is expected to follow I-95 north, so residents are being told to head west—that is, into the interior of the state.

But aside from I-4, which runs between Orlando and Tampa, there are no comparable routes into the interior. There are two-lane and four-lane roads, certainly with traffic lights in the built-up areas. After seeing the traffic jams on the interstates in previous evacuations, it is hard to imagine what an evacuation to the interior must be like.

This may be disastrous because Hurricane Jeanne is actually much stronger than Hurricane Frances, hovering around a Category 3. If the hurricane areas are not successfully evacuated, this could be the worst storm yet in terms of loss of life.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to blog. But as happened with Hurricane Frances, I may be cut off for a few days. So if I disappear for awhile, keep checking back. I will return.

Friday, September 24, 2004


The world's not all gloom and doom. Sometimes a package arrives...

From Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s NewsOnline—

When British housewife Anne Humphries got a call from a lawyer saying she had inherited an old book from an unknown relative, her expectations were modest.

Little did she realise the dusty tome she eventually collected was one of the few first edition collections of William Shakespeare's plays, described as perhaps the most important book in the English language.

...the story


Something you should know about your dollars

I was reading an article by Gwynne Dyer, but didn't make it past the second paragraph—
"The US dollar is going the way that [the British pound] went as it lost its place as the world's reserve currency," said Jim Rogers, the Wall St wizard who in 1973 co-founded the Quantum Fund, one of the first and most successful hedge funds, in a recent interview. "I suspect there will be exchange controls in the US in the foreseeable future ... Whoever is elected President is going to have serious problems in 2005-06. We Americans are going to suffer."

This wasn't really news to me, since I'd been following the exploits of multibillionaire investor Warren Buffett out of the corner of my eye.

From a money column, Jubak's Journal, written this past March:

Buffett has become even more bearish on the dollar in the last year. In 2002, for the first time in his investing career, Buffett took Berkshire Hathaway into the foreign currency market with a bet that the dollar would weaken further against a basket of five currencies that included the euro, yen and pound.

Berkshire Hathaway increased that foreign currency position in 2003. By the end of the year, the company owned $12 billion in foreign currency contracts, and it owned $1 billion in euro-denominated junk bonds. Total pretax realized and unrealized gains from the inception of these foreign currency contracts in 2002 is about $1.1 billion, Morgan Stanley calculates. The pretax rate of return is about 10%, which, Morgan Stanley points out, helped offset the low yields on the company’s cash position.

The point is that these guys are betting that the dollar is going to fall, and fall hard. And since almost nothing is made in America anymore, life is going to get a great deal more expensive. If you think you're poor now, you ain't seen nothing yet.

A dollar drop also has implications for the purchase of foreign real estate. If you're considering such a purchase, now or in the future, you might enjoy reading an article at—"Buying International Real Estate," which discusses some of the currency issues.

Follow-up posts
Buying a used Mercedes (2/8/05)


Quote of the Day

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
—Samuel Adams, as quoted in "Like dogs in the Night" by Sheila Samples

Refugees will be an inevitable consequence of this war

When the U.S. invaded Iraq, the government and humanitarian organizations anticipated a large outflow of refugees. Camps were set up along the borders of Syria, Jordan and Turkey. A few refugees emerged, but not nearly the numbers that had been expected.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that from the First Gulf War of 1991 until 2003, there had already been a surge of refugees, either from that war or from Saddam Hussein. Many of them went to Iran.

According to the UN's IRIN news organization,

Most Iraqi refugees in Iran are Shi'ite Muslims of Arab descent. Coming from southern Iraq, near Basra, they fled Iraq in the aftermath of the first Gulf war in 1991 when Saddam Hussein issued a crackdown on Shi'ite rebellions in the south. It is estimated that around 1.3 million Iraqis crossed the border into Iran at that time. Around 22 per cent are Kurds.

There were over 202,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran in September 2003 - over half the entire Iraqi refugee population in the world. About 50,000 of them are housed in 22 refugee camps in Iran, which are situated along the country's western border with Iraq - this number is significantly higher than that for Afghan refugees, of whom only about 2 percent live in camps.

Some of these refugees are repatriating, which is a story I will save for another post. But it is about current and future refugees that I want to write.

American and American-supported wars have generated large numbers of refugees who became refugees because of their support for the Americans. Examples that come to mind are the pro-American Vietnamese, Hmong and Salvadorans. U.S. policies toward them have been uneven and ever-changing. But one thing is certain—once a refugee problem is created, it persists for generations!

Consider the Hmong. Here is a background from the California Dept. of Social Services:

At the end of the Vietnam conflicts in 1975, hundreds of thousands Hmong people fled Laos to seek safety in Thailand. These Hmong people who fled Laos supported and assisted the United States (U.S.) during the Vietnam conflicts. Thailand provided many refugee camps to house the Hmong people who had fled Laos, but in the mid 1990s the last of the camps were closed. For fear of repatriation, many Hmong refugees moved to the Buddhist Temple of WTK in Thailand to be with relatives and to find sanctuary. Through the years, there have been so many negative political changes in WTK that the Buddhist Temple can no longer continue to provide a safe haven for the Hmong people who settled in the Buddhist Temple's land.

For many years, the U.S. State Department had not considered these Hmong refugees as candidates for resettlement to the U.S. However, in December 2003, U.S. officials shifted gears and declared that they would start processing Hmong refugee applications from WTK, Thailand beginning February 2004.

The first of these Thai-based Hmong refugees were brought to the U.S. in June—almost 30 years later!

Sooner or later we are going to withdraw from Iraq, and what we are going to leave behind—as in Vietnam—is not going to be an America-friendly environment. When that day comes, there will be the refugee crisis that everyone expected at the start of the war. Instead, it will come at the end.

What brought all this to mind was a strange little inclusion in a NY Times article today. The article, which was about the killing of the "deputy director of the oil products department in Nineveh Province for the North Oil Company," ended with an insert, probably accidental, from the AP:

U.S. Asylum for Iraqi Girl, 15

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (AP) - A 15-year-old Iraqi girl who claimed persecution in Baghdad because her family cooperated with the United States military has been granted political asylum here. The case is believed to be among the first instances of an Iraqi seeking political asylum in such circumstances.

The girl and her mother, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation against other family members still in Iraq, received the letter on Thursday from the Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to Jeff Sullivan, their Washington lawyer. The girl came to the United States last year with her mother for treatment of a cancerous growth in her cervix. The two subsequently applied for political asylum. The mother is pursuing asylum for the father and three other children still in Baghdad, Mr. Sullivan said. [emphasis added]

As in Vietnam, the U.S. will be considered, by many of its citizens and by most other countries, to have a responsibility to these refugees. These people supported the U.S., and our sense of fairness—indeed, the world's sense of fairness—will demand that the U.S. do all that it may to help.

But the Iraqi refugee problem is going to be far more burdensome to the United States—and to the non-Muslim world—than the Vietnamese crisis could ever have been.

Here's why: Compare the situation with that of Vietnam. When the U.S. and other countries allowed entry to the Vietnamese refugees, I'm sure they made an effort to exclude supporters of the North Vietnamese regime. But if they made a mistake, so what? There are probably some former Viet Cong drawing Social Security even as I write.

But the Iraqi refugees, whether by fact or supposition, will be perceived as potential terrorists and suicide bombers. Who among the non-Muslim countries is going to take them?

And have you seen this mentioned anywhere?

Follow-up post
An open secret: The Iraqi refugee crisis is growing (4/18/05)

Thursday, September 23, 2004


What's up in Britain?

I've been so focussed on Australia lately that I'm afraid I've let the rest of the world slide. That's unfortunate because our other principal partner in the CII (Coalition of Iraq Invaders) is having second thoughts about its presence there. And the American media haven't even noticed!

Public opinion

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the British public wants to get out of Iraq. Based on a poll taken in the period Sept. 17-19, it finds,

The overwhelming majority of voters - 71% - including Labour supporters want Tony Blair to set a date for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, according to this month's Guardian/ICM opinion poll.

The finding represents a big swing in public mood since May when 45% of British voters told ICM the troops should remain in Iraq "for as long as necessary".

The ICM data shows that support for withdrawing troops is almost as strong among Labour voters (73%) as Liberal Democrats (75%).

Even among Conservative supporters, two-thirds want to see a date set.

The feeling is equally spread across social classes and age groups.

I believe that's what they mean by the word "consensus."

Force reduction

Well, the British public needn't worry because it's happening anyway. Jason Burke of The Observer advised on the 19th:

The British Army is to start pulling troops out of Iraq next month despite the deteriorating security situation in much of the country, The Observer has learnt.

The main British combat force in Iraq, about 5,000-strong, will be reduced by around a third by the end of October during a routine rotation of units.

A military spokesman in Basra confirmed the scaling back of the British commitment.

Currently there are 8,000 British troops in the 14,000-strong 'multinational division' in southern Iraq, which has responsibility for about 4.5 million people.

The cuts will occur in the combat elements of the deployment - the 5,000-strong infantry and armoured brigade that is committed to the provinces of Basra and Maysan. Four Royal Navy ships will remain in the Gulf. [emphasis added]

The need for more troops in Basra

Donald Rumsfeld, the American Secretary of War, has repeatedly said that he would send more troops to Iraq if his generals would only ask for them, which is like Saddam Hussein saying he would turn Iraq into a democracy if only someone would step forward to ask. American generals only say more troops are needed after they've taken retirement. That's why we call them courageous.

But the British commanders appear more uppity. On August 31, The Scotsman ran this account

REQUESTS from British commanders in Iraq for reinforcements to cope with an upsurge in violence have been rebuffed because it would be too politically embarrassing at a time when the Ministry of Defence is proposing to make sweeping cuts to the armed forces.

British commanders have repeatedly asked for additional forces to back up those already in southern Iraq, only to find their requests falling on deaf ears. Privately, some officers serving there believe the security threat is being downplayed by the MoD [Ministry of Defense] to avoid having to send out extra troops.

.... Earlier this year, Brigadier Nick Carter, the commanding officer of British forces in Basra, told The Scotsman that coalition forces would be needed in Iraq for years and people were living in "cloud-cuckooland" if they thought it was possible to create overnight a police force that was accountable to the population.

Actually, it's not just the British commanders who are asking for more troops. So is the Iraqi "government." According to The Scotsman's correspondent Gethin Chamberlain,

Iraq’s new UN ambassador, Samir Sumaida’ie called on Britain and the United States to increase their number of troops in Iraq to prevent it from degenerating into a "super rogue state".

This is just dandy. Before we invaded, Iraq was a "rogue state." Thanks to the Coalition's efforts, it is now becoming sort of a superpower of terrorism—the "super rogue state."

But the British Ministry of Defense sees no problem:

Captain Donald Francis, spokesman for British forces in Basra, said he was unaware of any requests from senior officers for additional troops, and he said the difficulties were easing.

"The situation in Najaf has calmed down and similarly in Basra," he said. "It is a full vindication of our tactics."

Rumsfeld couldn't have said it better himself.

Oh, by the way, just what are the British troops doing around Basra?

General John McColl, the deputy commanding general of the multinational force in Iraq,

rejected recent reports which suggested that British troops in the south had withdrawn to their barracks and abandoned regular patrolling, although he said that he believed there was no point in confronting hostile crowds when they gathered.

Indeed there isn't. You could get shot that way!

The British Treasury

Wars are, regrettably, expensive. If they weren't, I'm sure we'd engage in them more often. Or maybe just launch ourselves into one very, very long (perhaps even indefinite) war, as George Bush has proposed.

Without the promise of treasure at the end to make it "pay for itself"—as Deputy Secretary of War Paul Wolfowitz suggested of our Iraq invasion, once we got the oil flowing—the cost of the entertainment works out to be exorbitant. Even when you're dutch-treating with friends.

And that is what has happened to the British—they are "overextended," as I often have to explain to my credit card company.

"We are tight. Tour intervals are down and the army is very committed," [Gen. McColl] said. "Northern Ireland is still going along and there are tours in Bosnia, Afghanistan, the Falklands and Cyprus, among others.

"The army is very busy indeed...."

Yes, it is. And who said the Empire was dead!

From the military's point of view, the person behind this perfect cock-up is said to be none other than Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Tony Blair's presumed successor as leader of the Labor Party. It has been reported that Brown had a deal with Blair by which Blair should have retired by now and Brown would be the new Prime Minister. At this point, each seems intent on getting rid of the other.

Ministry of Defence plans to cut four infantry battalions - including one Scottish regiment - have provoked a fierce debate within the army. Opponents claim that the cuts have been forced on the MoD by the Treasury, with Gordon Brown refusing to sanction extra cash for defence spending to cover the cost of expensive equipment projects, such as the Eurofighter, which have overrun their budgets dramatically.

Cutting four infantry battalion means the loss of 2600 troops. And if that weren't bad enough, the soldiers are beginning to go AWOL and the military isn't prosecuting.

A little speculation

I detest gossip, mind you, but I enjoy a little speculation now and then.

Dennis Revell writes via NASPIR:

[A] bunch of Labour MPs, led, I believe by Martin Salter, are running an initiative (at least they talked about it) to help the Democrats to get Bush dumped. It's hard to believe ... that Blair isn't wavering, at least a bit. I posit the possibility that he has done a deal with the crowd aiming to help dump Bush: He announces the withdrawal of British Forces (possibly & hopefully combined with his resignation - then the War Criminal goes off and lives an undeserved quiet life) shortly before the US election: and the Labour Party Conference times well with this.

I might dismiss this as raving Leftist lunacy if it weren't for Rupert Murdoch, purveyor of right-wing media. Michael White of the Guardian reported yesterday:

Gordon Brown's looming premiership will see taxes and public spending grow sharply as Tony Blair's restraining influence disappears and the new prime minister does more to redistribute wealth to the poorest, Rupert Murdoch's economic guru warns today.

Irwin Stelzer, the US economist whom the media tycoon uses as both an adviser and an ambassador, gives a surprisingly ambiguous and waspish verdict on the chancellor's likely conduct once in No 10 - at a time when Mr Murdoch's British newspaper titles are starting to switch horses from Blair to Brown.

The Labor Party Conference gets underway next week.

Don't you hate it when money that might have been spent on a perfectly good war gets redirected to the poorest? Murdoch's not going to take this lying down.


Bush's economy takes a wrong turn

Two Breaking-News bulletins came into my InBox from CBS MarketWatch today:

U.S. leading economic indicators decline 0.3%

"We doubt this signals an imminent further sharp downturn in growth but the data make uncomfortable viewing and are not consistent with the Fed's view that the economy is regaining traction. Where?" said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, in a note to clients.

Where indeed? Even the capitalists are beginning to murmur among themselves.

U.S. initial jobless claims rise to 350,000

The Labor Dept. press release attributes this to the hurricanes. Any port in a storm, as Grandma Fuse used to say.

A Labor Department spokesman said the increase in first-time claims in the week ending Sept. 18 was "mostly" due to the effects of hurricanes, including Ivan, which forced the closure of thousands of businesses from Florida to Texas last week.

First comment from an idiot

I've been waiting for this. Any blogger knows—or should know—the day will come. So today's my day—to receive my first comment from an idiot.

A Mr. Charles C. Knoble (that's pronounced "k-noble") writes on what I thought was a rather mild little post that I called "Bush administration reassures Indian plutocrats worried about outsourcing."

One, I am a Liberal Democrat on the side of the working man. Two, I am a college student at Cal. State University Long Beach and my major is MIS, one of the fastest disappearing job titles in the USA. Yes, it's being "outsourced" to India.

It is a shame that the extreme Left Wingers have taken over my party! I cannot believe that My party offers, morons like Dean, Kerry, and the like, when there are excelent politicans like Liberman.

Because of the Gay treehugging anti-war anti-anything crowed, I am left by default with voting Bush! The irony of this sucks.

This is how the Democratic Party looses elections! The solution? Nuke Hollywood and The Peoples Republic of Berkley!

Yes, I said I'm a Liberal and that is with a Capitol L! I didn't say I was stupid or a anarchist leftist! [edited to add line breaks]

Let's see what this is about.

I am a Liberal Democrat

I have reason to doubt this. There are people who'll say they're Democrats. There are even a few people who'll say they're Liberals. But I'll be damned if I've heard anybody in the last twenty years call himself a "Liberal Democrat."

I am a college student at Cal. State University Long Beach and my major is MIS, one of the fastest disappearing job titles in the USA. Yes, it's being "outsourced" to India.

Okay. Mr. Knoble is a student in computer management at a reputable California university. Taking these facts together, I would normally conclude that Mr. Knoble is an intelligent person.

But here's the give-away: Even though his "job title" is being outsourced, he persists in studying computer science at the university instead of upgrading his skills and retraining himself into something remunerative like nursing. As Grandma Fuse used to say, "He must have more money than sense."

It is a shame that the extreme Left Wingers have taken over my party! I cannot believe that My party offers, morons like Dean, Kerry, and the like, when there are excelent politicans like Liberman.

And I can't believe that morons like you could be in the California university system. If there are, the system is failing faster than I thought. But back to your point about the "extreme Left Wingers": If you think that Dean and Kerry are "extreme Left Wingers," you must have lived a very sheltered life. You should get out more.

Because of the Gay treehugging anti-war anti-anything crowed, I am left by default with voting Bush! The irony of this sucks.

Is there an irony here? You were left by default with a brain, you really should try to use it sometime.

This is how the Democratic Party looses elections! The solution? Nuke Hollywood and The Peoples Republic of Berkley!

Inter-varsity rivalry in California is getting out of hand.

Yes, I said I'm a Liberal and that is with a Capitol L! I didn't say I was stupid or a anarchist leftist!

You didn't need to. Thanks for your comment.


Quote of the Day

On calls for reinforcements for British troops in the Basra area of Iraq—

[General McColl] claimed that while the number of British troops had not been increased, plans to reduce them by one battalion had been dropped, which he argued did amount to a reinforcement.
The Scotsman, "Army chief in Iraq condemns plans to cut the number of regiments"

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


What would America look like if it were Iraq?

I don't like simply to quote extensive chunks of text from other writers on this blog, but today seems to be my day for doing just that. This piece by Juan Cole at Informed Consent deserves the widest distribution possible.
What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, including in the capital of Washington, DC, but mainly above the Mason Dixon line, in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco?

What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the State Department at Foggy Bottom, the White House, or the Pentagon dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Crystal City or Alexandria?

What if all the reporters for all the major television and print media were trapped in five-star hotels in Washington, DC and New York, unable to move more than a few blocks safely, and dependent on stringers to know what was happening in Oklahoma City and St. Louis? What if the only time they ventured into the Midwest was if they could be embedded in Army or National Guard units?

There are estimated to be some 25,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totalling 275,000 men, armed with machine guns, assault rifles (legal again!), rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar launchers, hiding out in dangerous urban areas of cities all over the country? What if they completely controlled Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha, such that local police and Federal troops could not go into those cities?

What if, during the past year, the Secretary of State (Aqilah Hashemi), the President (Izzedine Salim), and the Attorney General (Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim) had all been assassinated?

What if all the cities in the US were wracked by a crime wave, with thousands of murders, kidnappings, burglaries, and carjackings in every major city every year?

What if the Air Force routinely (I mean daily or weekly) bombed Billings, Montana, Flint, Michigan, Watts in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Anacostia in Washington, DC, and other urban areas, attempting to target "safe houses" of "criminal gangs", but inevitably killing a lot of children and little old ladies?

What if, from time to time, the US Army besieged Virginia Beach, killing hundreds of armed members of the Christian Soldiers? What if entire platoons of the Christian Soldiers militia holed up in Arlington National Cemetery, and were bombarded by US Air Force warplanes daily, destroying thousands of graves and even pulverizing the Vietnam Memorial over on the Mall? What if the National Council of Churches had to call for a popular march of thousands of believers to converge on the National Cathedral to stop the US Army from demolishing it to get at a rogue band of the Timothy McVeigh Memorial Brigades?

What if there were virtually no commercial air traffic in the country? What if many roads were highly dangerous, especially Interstate 95 from Richmond to Washington, DC, and I-95 and I-91 up to Boston? If you got on I-95 anywhere along that over 500-mile stretch, you would risk being carjacked, kidnapped, or having your car sprayed with machine gun fire.

What if no one had electricity for much more than 10 hours a day, and often less? What if it went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to grind to a halt and air conditioning to fail in the middle of the summer in Houston and Miami? What if the Alaska pipeline were bombed and disabled at least monthly? What if unemployment hovered around 40%?

What if veterans of militia actions at Ruby Ridge and the Oklahoma City bombing were brought in to run the government on the theory that you need a tough guy in these times of crisis?

What if municipal elections were cancelled and cliques close to the new "president" quietly installed in the statehouses as "governors?" What if several of these governors (especially of Montana and Wyoming) were assassinated soon after taking office or resigned when their children were taken hostage by guerrillas?

What if the leader of the European Union maintained that the citizens of the United States are, under these conditions, refuting pessimism and that freedom and democracy are just around the corner?


Words fail...

On September 7, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 16 Israelis in the town of Beersheba.... Almost every news report marked the end of a five-month period of "relative peace and calm" and "a lull in the violence." During those five months of relative peace and calm, almost 400 Palestinians were killed, 71 of them in assassinations. During the lull in the violence, more than 73 Palestinian children were killed. A 13-year-old was murdered with a bullet through the heart, a 5-year-old was shot in her face as she walked arm in arm with her 2-year-old sister. The body of Mazen Majid, aged 14, was riddled with 18 Israeli bullets as he and his family fled their bulldozed home.

None of this was reported in Britain as terrorism. Most of it was not reported at all. After all, this was a period of peace and calm, a lull in the violence. On May 19, Israeli tanks and helicopters fired on peaceful demonstrators, killing eight of them. This atrocity had a certain significance; the demonstration was part of a growing nonviolent Palestinian movement, which has seen peaceful protest gatherings, often with prayers, along the apartheid wall. The rise of this Gandhian movement is barely noted in the outside world.

The truth about Chechnya is similarly suppressed. On February 4, 2000, Russian aircraft attacked the Chechen village of Katyr Yurt. They used "vacuum bombs," which release petrol vapor and suck people's lungs out, and are banned under the Geneva Convention. The Russians bombed a convoy of survivors under a white flag. They murdered 363 men, women and children. It was one of countless, little-known acts of terrorism in Chechnya perpetrated by the Russian state, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, has the "complete solidarity" of Tony Blair.

"Few of us", wrote the playwright Arthur Miller, "can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied."

It is time we stopped denying it.

Time to Recognize State Terror by John Pilger


Iraqi woman prisoner may be released

This story could turn into a blockbuster! As anyone who's been alive these past few days knows, one British and two American construction contractors were taken hostage from their home in Baghdad by the al-Qaeda-connected Tawhid and Jihad group. The group has demanded that all women held in U.S.-controlled prisons be released.

The group has already murdered the two Americans, Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong, and is threatening to do the same to the British hostage Kenneth Bigley but has set no deadline.

Earlier today the AP ran a story that

Iraqi authorities together with U.S. forces have decided to free one of only two high-profile women prisoners currently in American custody, a ministry spokesman said Wednesday. [emphasis added]

Of course, this has nothing to do with the kidnappings.

"The Iraqi authorities have agreed with coalition forces to conditionally release Rihab Rashid Taha on bail", Ibrahim said. "The decision . . . has nothing to do with the threat made by the kidnappers," he said.

Now comes a Reuters story that equivocates.

With time running out to save a British hostage in Iraq, U.S. officials said on Wednesday they were not about to free Iraqi women prisoners as demanded by an al Qaeda ally whose group has already beheaded two Americans.

There was some confusion, however, as the Iraqi government said it might free -- but not immediately -- one of two weapons scientists who Washington says are the only women in detention. And it was unclear whether Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's demand that all women prisoners be released referred to this pair at all.

Officials in the Iraqi Justice Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that one of the two women the United States says it holds in custody in Iraq, Rihab Taha, would be freed. They said the move was unrelated to the demands of Zarqawi's group.

But the U.S. embassy said later that the two women, Taha and Huda Ammash, dubbed "Dr Germ" and "Mrs Anthrax" by U.S. forces, would not be released soon: "The two women are in legal and physical custody of the multinational forces in Iraq and neither will be released imminently," a spokesman said.

Kassim Daoud, national security adviser in the Iraqi government, said Taha was one of three1 detainees who may be given conditional release, but that the three would not be freed for some days.

"Iraqi judges decided to release them because they didn't have any evidence. The judges decided on a conditional release. It will not happen today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," he told a news conference. [emphasis added]

What we are witnessing here is a confrontation between the Iraqi "government" and the U.S. Both the Iraqis and the Americans are claiming jurisdiction, but regardless of jurisdictional claims, it is the Americans who are actually holding the women.

In honor of Allawi's visit to the U.S. (and probably in an effort to mollify certain members of Congress), the State Department has delivered a package of bullshit to the Washington Post, which they have obligingly printed.

Three months after the handover of power, the interim government of Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is making most key decisions politically and militarily, while the new U.S. Embassy is increasingly deferring and acting in a supporting role, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.

"The changes, they're fundamental. Ambassador Bremer had a veto. . . . Now you have sovereign government," Finance Minister Adel Abdel-Mehdi said. "Of course, it's a weak sovereign government. But even so, the relationship has changed. There's a clear shift. Now the government is taking the initiative." [emphasis added]

If the Iraqi government is sovereign, why can't it command release of these prisoners?

Meanwhile, the family of Briton Kenneth Bigley has been imploring Tony Blair to meet the kidnappers' demands, as the Australian reports

... Mr Bigley's family, who made a plea for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to meet the kidnappers' demands, said last night there was a "glimmer of hope" at news a female Iraqi scientist, one of two women whose freedom had been demanded by the kidnappers, might be released from jail.

"It is a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of hope we did not have yesterday," Mr Bigley's brother Paul said.

The earlier account clearly indicates that the U.S. was involved in the decision to release a prisoner, which then appears to be contradicted by the subsequent account. One possibility is that the U.S. military or diplomats on the ground in Iraq were involved, but their decision has been countermanded by Washington.

Now that the cat is out of the bag that a prisoner may be released, a conflict between Bush and Blair could easily arise over this one.


1 All news accounts that I've seen refer to a claim that there are only two women prisoners. "Detainee" is, of course, a gender-neutral word. Are there two women and a man, two men and a woman, or is the original assertion that there are only two women incorrect? [back]


Betting on Michael Moore

I came upon an interesting little story on from the Daily Telegraph:
THE most accurate way to pick the outcome of the election is to ask a bookie, new research has found.

By October 9, thousands of Australians will have bet up to $2 million on who will win.

Compared to opinion polls and economic models, betting odds are the best guide because people who make the bets are usually political insiders, ANU academic Dr Andrew Leigh said.

"With pollsters, people will often say anything to get them off the phone," Dr Leigh said. "On the betting markets, people are putting their money where their mouth is."

He made the conclusion after comparing the predictions of the 2001 election.

Centrebet accurately predicted the winners in 43 out of 47 marginal seats.

"That was quite an extraordinary result," Dr Leigh said.

Centrebet odds have not once placed Labor as the election favourite since it started taking bets in June last year.

By these lights, things are not looking so good for Australia's Labor party.

Betting on a proposition such as "Labor will/will not win the election" is a famously British/Australian amusement. Since many Americans don't know who's actually running for office (or who's in office), they tend to restrict their flutters to sports propositions, such as "Will the Washington Redskins beat the New York Giants by 3 points or more?"

But offshore gambling may be changing all that.

I thought you might like to know the odds offered by on Michael Moore's living a happy life between now and November 2:

Michael Moore Will Suffer One or More Before 11/2/04
  1. Sudden Death
  2. Contracts Serious And/Or Terminal Illness.
  3. Mysteriously Disappears
  4. Sued By The Bush Family
  5. Assets Seized Or Frozen By The Govt
  6. Indicted By A Grand Jury
  7. Compromising Porn Material Sufaces On The Internet
  8. Captured And Beheaded
  9. Kidnapped By Iraquis While On USO Tour
  10. Body Is Found Along Side Of Jimmy Hoffa's

The odds are "Yes +1000     No -1500," which means the odds are "for" Moore's survival.

If you wanted to wager that none of these events will happen, you would have to bet $1500 to win $1000. On the other hand, if you bet $1000 that one (or more) of these events will occur, you would win $1500 if one of these events does occur.

I would have to think this over carefully.

Meanwhile, here are some odds on a few lesser known personnages:

Will NJ Governor McGreevey Step Down Before Nov 15
 Yes  +290
 No  -320

The bookmakers are predicting that McGreevey will not step down.

Who Wins State Of Florida - 2004 Pres Election
 John Kerry  +160
 George W. Bush  -190

Bush is favored.

Who will be the next President of the United States
 John Kerry  +170
 George W. Bush  -200

Bush is favored.

Keep in mind that the odds change constantly, so don't despair, you Kerry fans. Now is the time to place your bets before the odds go against you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Newspaper finally discovers Colorado amendment

On August 27 I wrote a little post "Why this election may be decided by the Supreme Court again," which was based on Colorado's Amendment 36 that would distribute Colorado's electoral votes proportionately. It was a big hit on the net, but not a peep from the press.

Finally, the LA Times got a law professor to cover the matter for them. Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School, gives details on the situation in "Nov. 2 Debacle in the Making." It's worth a read.

Hasen also has a blog where he has posted some "additional analysis" that was omitted from the Times op-ed piece.

Related post:
Why this election may be decided by the Supreme Court again


Under the weather

I apologize for not writing more today—God knows there's enough material. But the truth is that I'm a bit "under the weather." So instead of raging against the pharmaceutical industry, I thought I'd share with you Grandma Fuse's alternatives to Neo-synephrine and such like.

For the nose: Warm salt water
Healthy dash of salt in a small glass of warm, not hot, water.
Pour some into your hand and snort it up each nostril. If you're squeamish, go buy a dropper.

For the nose and other parts: Hot toddy
Teaspoon of sugar or honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1-1/2 to 3 oz. bourbon
4 oz. boiling water
Preparation: Preheat your serving cup by pouring in some boiling water and let it stand. Toss the water and add the sugar, lemon juice and bourbon. Muddle. Add the boiling water and stir.
Application: Hold your nose over the fumes. You'll experience an immediate clearing of the head. Now sip it. No! I said, SIP it!


What in the name of all the unholy are we up to now?

Via Buzzflash I was reading a transcript of Amy Goodman's interview with Phil Shiner, a British attorney, who is alleging that American troops are now torturing captives in Mosul.

Months after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal shocked the world, allegations have emerged from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul that American troops are routinely torturing Iraqi detainees there.

British attorney Phil Shiner says he has statements from two Iraqis who said they were hooded, stripped naked, beaten unconscious and doused with cold water. One was threatened with sexual assault.

The U.S. government has maintained abuse of prisoners in Iraq was mainly confined to a few rogue soldiers at Abu Ghraib.

Abuse by US soldiers in Baghdad and Basra has been well-documented, but these new claims from the north of the country are renewing fears that torture in US prisons in Iraq has been systematic and widespread.

I hope you will not be shocked when I say that I am not shocked. There is already plenty of evidence that torture is a widespread practice by U.S. troops in Iraq, sanctioned by higher-ups. And whether it will ever be truly investigated and punished is doubtful.

But Shiner says,

I will be instructing U.S. Lawyers shortly to use the alien tort claims act to bring a claim for damages there in the U.S

Filing lawsuits, which is what Phil Shiner is recommending, is probably the best tactic. With a lawsuit there is the hope of at least partially revealing the extent of the torture, since if the courts allow the suits to proceed, the plaintiffs will be able to compel "discovery"—at least until the government makes some "national interest" claim that will allow it to keep its secrets.

But my shock came as I was reading one of the victim's description of what else he saw.

And he goes on to say the next day, I saw a young man of 14 years of age, bleeding from his anus and lying on the floor. He was Kurdish and his name was Hama.
No. I'm not surprised by the rape. But I am shocked by who it was—a Kurd.

A great portion of Northern Iraq is occupied by the Kurds. They've been the only group not to oppose the U.S. military. Theirs has been the only region of the country that is not in active rebellion against the Allawi government.

So what in the hell are we doing torturing a Kurd? I'm getting sick of all the pundits who speak of what a fine job the military is doing despite the politicians who have their heads up their asses. This is, of course, politically correct speech at its worse.

If this story is true—and I have no reason to doubt it—the military can only be setting the stage for a rebellion by the only stable sector of Iraq. What tragic incompetence.


Should Rather resign?

Tim Dunlop at The Road to Surfdom has an excellent comment
... I think anyone who misinterprets documents, misrepresents the facts, however innocently, believes lies and mistakes fed to him by sources covert and overt, official and unoffical, and who goes on national television and passes on those lies and errors to the public as if they were fact should resign.
Now who could that be?

Monday, September 20, 2004


Australian kidnapping update III: The body in the Tigris

Before proceeding, I'd like to remind my American readers why the issue of the two alleged Australian kidnap victims is important, other than general humanitarian concern, from an American perspective: Australia is in the midst of a campaign for an election to be held October 9. Their prime minister, John Howard, deliberately scheduled the election to precede the American election. Howard was afraid of the fallout if things went badly for Bush.

Conversely, if things go badly for the conservative Howard on Oct. 9, the fallout may very well affect Bush—and that is my ultimate interest.

I also would like to quote from the end of a previous post:

... I will tell you what I believe is the sad but likely outcome of all this. The Australian government will state that it is unable to "confirm" that any of its nationals are missing in Iraq. And in a week or two some bodies of "Westerners" will be discovered in the Sunni area. I doubt they will ever be identified.

As it happened, a body turned up much sooner than I expected.

As I noted in my last post on this topic, the Australian government has been successful in convincing the media to drop the subject. The latest and only coverage I can find today is a report from Radio Australia:

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says claims that two Australians have been taken hostage in Iraq appear likely to have been a hoax.

But Mr Howard says no one can say for sure the claims are untrue.

He said: "Each day that goes by it looks more and more like it.

"But it's one of those things where you can never be absolutely certain.

"But one would assume applying the ordinary principles of common sense that if no word of a missing Australian has yet emerged then we have every reason to hope that it was a hoax. I certainly hope that is the case."

Notice that Howard is hedging his bets here. Also, if you have been following these posts, you may notice a very big omission—

The body in the Tigris

Three days after the Horror Brigade of the Islamic Secret Army handed out leaflets announcing the capture of two Australians and two "east Asians," the body turned up. The most complete description of the victim in any one article was given by the Associated Press on 9/16 [Emphasis was added to all quotes below]:

Police found the corpse of a man they believe to be a foreigner north of Baghdad on Friday, authorities said.

The body, which had blonde hair and Western features, was pulled from the Tigris River near the central Iraqi village of Yethrib, said Capt. Hakim al-Azawi, the head of security at Tikrit's Teaching Hospital.

The man, who was described as tall, was shot in the back of the head.

"We believe he is a foreigner because he is blonde and well built," al-Azawi said.

There were no documents found on the body, which was described as wearing blue trousers and a plaid shirt. The man's hands were cuffed in the back.

Other reports give a few other details:

Australia's The Age said the "body was found floating."

As for the timing, MediaCorp News' Channel NewsAsia reported,

A doctor at Samarra's general hospital told AFP the man whose body was found in the river appeared to have been dead for three days, placing his killing at the time the kidnappers' deadline would have expired.

And for place, the Sydney Morning Herald said,

Colonel Nabil Kamal said the bloated body was discovered at 6pm near Samarra - where militants who claimed to have kidnapped two Australians gave out leaflets - at a road junction leading to the rebel bastion of Fallujah.

He said the dead man could be a Western national or a Turk.

"The person was killed three days before and it was hard to distinguish his features," said Doctor Hussein Alaa al-Din at Samarra's general hospital.

If anyone were looking for a body to fit the description of one of the alleged victims, I don't know how you could get much closer.

The government investigation

So when the Australian government received these reports, what did it do?

Here is a typical news item from the Australian Broadcasting Corp on 9/17:

Embassy seeks to identify Iraq body

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has confirmed it is investigating whether a foreigner found dead in central Iraq could be one of two Australians allegedly kidnapped in the country.

DFAT says it has requested the Australian embassy in Baghdad to investigate the reports.

Did that put your mind at ease? It was certainly intended to.

But there was one news article--only one--that said something a bit more detailed.

The Sydney Morning Herald's Tom Allard had this to say on 9/18—

The Australian Government is investigating reports that the body of a Westerner - "a blond, well-built man" - has been hauled from the River Tigris in Samarra, where claims that two Australians had been kidnapped by terrorists first emerged.

Diplomats at Canberra's mission in Baghdad are liaising with United States and Iraqi authorities and are still deciding whether to head to Samarra, deep in the hostile "Sunni Triangle."


It would appear that what the Australian embassy was "investigating" was whether it could get to Samarra at all.

And here's a headline that John Howard hopes never to see spread on the front pages. "Security situation in Iraq too grim to allow embassy investigation into kidnap claim." But is that what happened?

Well, let's check out the situation in Samarra. Here's the American military, quoted on 9/3 by the AP:

"It's true that we can't go into Samarra very often," said U.S. Army Capt. Scott Synowiez, an intelligence officer at a 1st Infantry Division base on the outskirts of the city. "Whenever we go into Samarra we do get attacked, without a doubt."

Samarra, an ancient city of 250,000 known for its 9th century spiral minaret, is controlled by about 500 fighters from three well-known Sunni Muslim rebel groups, according to city residents and the U.S. military.

But you may have read that Allawi convinced the tribal chieftains to enter into a peace deal that let the U.S. back in. Well, here's how that's going as of yesterday

Samarra, Sep 19.(AP): A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb today near a joint US-Iraqi checkpoint in this northern city, killing three people and wounding seven, including four US soldiers, the military said.

One Iraqi soldier, a civilian and the suicide bomber died in the blast, said Maj Neal O'Brien of the Army's 1st Infantry Division.

Four American and three Iraqi soldiers were also wounded in the explosion and evacuated to a nearby military hospital for treatment, O'Brien said.

The attack came less than a week after American forces re-entered the city, 100 kilometers (63 miles) north of Baghdad, for the first time since May 30 as part of a peace deal brokered by tribal leaders.

Under the pact, U.S. forces agreed to provide millions of dollars in reconstruction funds in exchange for an end to attacks on American and Iraqi troops.

On Thursday, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. and Iraqi forces guarding a city council building. There were no casualties.

So now let's return to the hoax story I began with today. What is missing from it is

Not a peep. No result of the investigation, no denial that the body was that of an Australian—just silence.

Would it be asking too much of the Australian media to make some inquiries of their government?

You would think they would want to know.

Previous posts:
Two hostages and an election
Deadline has passed for Australian hostages
Howard blames the Filipinos and Spanish for Australian hostage crisis
Australian kidnapping update
Australian kidnapping update II

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Handy Fuse ignites, defends the underdog

Sometimes I just go off. I can go for days at a time without going off. But then Boom!

And I never know what's going to be the trigger. For instance, never would I have suspected that it would be Ms. Anna Badkhen of the San Francisco Chronicle. Never.

Ms. Badkhen, who is labeled a staff writer, did a campaign piece called "The View from Ohio." If you look at the article as a whole, it has all the appearance of being "balanced." But when you get to the crux of the article—the views of Bush and Kerry on religion—the veil is lifted.

It was at that point that I clicked on her email address and wrote the following:

When you wrote,
Both Kerry and Bush are religious. Bush has said that as president, he turns "to the good Lord for strength, and I turn to the good Lord for guidance. " Kerry favors separation of church and state, but he comes from a Roman Catholic family and has identified himself as a "person of faith."

you couldn't have given a more loaded, biased perspective on their positions. On the one hand, you quote Bush, but instead of giving corresponding quotes from Kerry, you offer your own evaluation of the candidate: that he favors separation of church and state.

Is this in contrast to Bush? What is Bush's position on "separation of church and state"?

Given that the separation of church and state has been the judicial and administrative doctrine of this country throughout my lifetime and yours, wouldn't it be more informative to the reader to note what a radical shift of official policy the Bush administration is making?

You might have written a sentence such as, "According to critics, the Bush administration has taking a number of steps that blur the barrier between church and state. Kerry opposes this departure from a government tradition that extends back for generations."

Instead, apparently to imply that the separation of church and state is somehow an irreligious position, you preface the next clause with a "but." "Kerry favors separation of church and state BUT he comes from a Roman Catholic family..."

Then to round out your evaluation, you polish it off with the cold "and has identified himself as a 'person of faith.'" You write "has identified himself" while you have George Bush up praising the "good Lord"?

This sort of bias in the press is subtle and sickening, but in this case I doubt it was accidental.


How the Left wastes its energy!

I just came from visiting a site that has a post up about the CBS-documents "controversy." (I was there to read a different post.) I was horrified to see that the document-controversy post had over 100 comments attached.

People! This issue isn't worth two hoots in a hurricane! Dan Rather had it right. The matter is about Bush's receiving special treatment, and no one at the White House has denied it.

But even that's not important. Folks who think Bush's Presidency is God-anointed don't mind if George got special treatment.

Here are some topics that people of all political stripes do care about: Iraq—at least as it relates to family members, off-shore outsourcing, poor schools, no healthcare, their children, their elderly parents, their taxes.

There are so many issues about which we need to educate ourselves, but the CBS documents are surely not among them.

Atom feed

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by
Blogarama - The Blog Directory

Blog Search Engine

Blog Top Sites

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?