Saturday, October 02, 2004



Florida's Gainesville Sun runs a daily call-in/online poll. They propose a question and post the responses the following day. It's no more scientific than my Aunt Fanny, but their poll of September 28 bears notice. [Sorry, no link]

Question: If your candidate for president loses, will you be able to support the winner as the president?

Response:  Yes: 95   No: 281


Related post: The silliness of polls: The "enthusiasm gap"


Swinging voters?

Australia's swing-voters are a lot more fun than their American counterparts. According to MediaCorp News,
The Australian election campaign enters its final week with neither side holding a decisive lead and both major parties hoping big-spending promises to swinging voters will get them over the line, according to analysts.


Dan Rather vs. Carl Cameron (updated) (corrected)

Dan Rather has been pilloried for the acceptance and broadcast of forged documents—nevermind that the import of the documents was true. Now comes Carl Cameron of Fox News, inventing Kerry quotes so blatantly false that you would have to be a Right-winger to believe them.

That's right. Josh Marshall, a journalist-blogger, discovered yesterday a news story on Fox News' website that fabricated Kerry quotes. The item was posted without attribution. Later, Fox spokesman Paul Schur attributed it to Carl Cameron, Fox's "chief political correspondent."

After discovery, Fox took down the article and issued an "apology." Josh Marshall provides a link to it, but Fox has also now hidden away its apology. In any case, according to Marshall, it said,

Earlier Friday, posted an item purporting to contain quotations from Kerry. The item was based on a reporter’s partial script that had been written in jest and should not have been posted or broadcast. We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice.

The quotes were—

"Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!"

"It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me! I do manicures."

"I'm metrosexual — he's a cowboy"

Cameron's news item helpfully explains,

A "metrosexual" is defined as an urbane male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.

Now I'm hard-pressed to understand how such quotes could have been produced "because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice," especially as they were not merely written in Cameron's notes but were posted on the website.

But my real interest is in what the mainstream media are going to do with this. So far the NY Times is running an AP story, ABC News runs the same AP story, likewise the Boston Globe. The Washington Post has nothing. The only independent stories that I've found have been from Newsday and the National Business Review. None of the articles go beyond the basic facts of the story and Fox's "apology."

If you google on "dan rather documents bush," you'll know the meaning of "plethora." The Globe and Mail and ESPN have posted articles on the Rather case in the last 24 hours. But by trying various search phrases I've been able to turn up only two articles on the Cameron affair.

Now you and I know what perfect little piglets are running the Fox newsroom, but many in the public don't. This is a wonderful opportunity to educate them. Perhaps it's time to dash off a note to a few ombudsmen for the major news outlets—just to assure "balance."

The Chicago Tribune runs a brief item "OOPS! FOX NEWS LETS SATIRE SLIP" based on the AP article. As you can tell by the headline, they've decided to treat it as a joke.
Cameron wrote a satirical news script as a joke, explained Fox spokesman Paul Schur, and it accidentally found its way to the Web.

Don't you love that word "accidentally"? Reminds me of an old Fugs album—"It Crawled into My Hand, Honest."

"It was a stupid, stupid mistake," Schur said. "And Cameron's been reprimanded."

Reprimanded? We're talking about a political reporter who invented quotes. The item appeared in a column of news items, none of which was satire. Isn't it time to bring up the name "Jayson Blair"?

Question: Has intended satire ever been published in that Fox news column? If so, was it labeled as such or not?

Correction: Fox News has not removed the apology. I followed the link from another site, and voilá! The apology is here.

Friday, October 01, 2004


The Right is in tears

Delilah Boyd of A Scrivener's Lament has reposted a large portion of the Comments section from the Free Republic. If you want a lift, go have a read.

The worm turns

MSNBC's First Read, which has seldom had a kind word for Kerry, dropped this in my InBox today:
Bush's puckered expressions of October 2004, as he alternated between looking annoyed, peeved, and intensely intent, probably were not as damaging as the Gore sighs of 2000. But they exacerbated an air of defensiveness to his responses, and reminded us of the fact that the President, beyond questions from reporters at his infrequent news conferences, has not been challenged on his positions directly and in person in three and a half years. [emphasis added]

The USA Today post-debate poll:
What did it measure and what does it have to do with the Song of Roland?

A quick perusal of the USA Today post-debate poll shows the debate as a significant "win" for Kerry.

Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the better job in the debate: John Kerry or George W. Bush?

Kerry 53%   Bush 37%

This trend continues across several categories: opinion of Kerry improved in the minds of 46% vs. 21% for Bush. And an overwhelming majority of viewers thought Kerry expressed himself more clearly than Bush and that he was fair in his criticism of Bush.

But there are other results that are mind-boggling.

[R]egardless of which presidential candidate you support, please tell me if you think John Kerry or George W. Bush would better handle the situation in Iraq.

Kerry 43%   Bush 54%

This represented only a 3% improvement over the pre-debate poll.

Who do you trust more to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief of the military: John Kerry, or George W. Bush?

Kerry 44%   Bush 54% —only a 2% improvement for Kerry

Was more believable

Kerry 45%   Bush 50%

Was more likeable

Kerry 41%   Bush 48%

Demonstrated he is tough enough for the job

Kerry 37%   Bush 54%

The Republicans will likely spin the results by stating something such as "Bush was viewed as superior to Kerry on a majority of the questions in the poll."

That is true, but terribly misleading. The reason is this: Many of the poll questions were measuring the same underlying perception—i.e., a person who thinks that George W. Bush would better handle the situation in Iraq is also likely to think that Bush would be the better commander-in-chief; that he would be tougher; and therefore more believable and likeable.

To put it another way, the poll had a lot of redundancy built into the questions, which clustered about a single underlying perception.

Some polls do this on purpose, with the intent of better trying to capture this underlying perception. Sometimes it's done by happenstance or ignorance on the part of the pollster. And sometimes it can be a neat little trick to provide fodder for spinmeisters! I don't know which is the case here, but I'd like my readers to be alert to the possibilities.

Tales from the Pink Snapper

That said, I have to wonder what is the underlying perception of Bush that this poll measures. To find out what's really going on, I don't pay attention to polls; I listen to my friends at the Pink Snapper. And during the last hurricane and its aftermath we had ample opportunity to consult.

My friend (I'll call him "Danny") intends to vote for Bush. He has a son who served in the Middle East, though not in Iraq, and is now out of the military. He also has a nephew who was recently in Iraq.

He says he doesn't agree with a lot of things that Bush has done. He doesn't like how Bush has handled the economy. He's not even sure that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. "But," he says, "right or wrong at least he did something!"

I suspect he has said a mouthful. After 9/11 the American public was angry, to say the least, and frustrated. We quickly went into Afghanistan in pursuit of bin-Laden only to end up empty-handed. The need for retribution went unfulfilled, and the frustration was heightened.

But Bush kept up the persona of a man who was hopping mad about what had happened to America. The condition of American society could not have been riper to launch another war. The public, especially the male half, found relief in aggression. As Danny says, "Right or wrong at least he did something."

And this is the mistake that Kerry is making. My friend Danny might agree with every criticism that Kerry makes of Bush's conduct of the Iraq war, yet at the end of the day support Bush "because at least he did something."

Kerry must understand the combination of rage and romanticism that drives the American male, especially the Southern subspecies. The rage often grows out of the circumstances of his own life and is easily projected onto foreign powers, or just "foreigners." The romanticism is just something a Southern boy is "born with."

I would recommend that Kerry or his advisors pick up a decent translation of "The Song of Roland," an 11th-century French epic. Hell, I'll even provide some excerpts.

Roland, nephew of Charlemagne and a young hot-head, counsels his uncle against accepting the offer of Marsile, a Moor (Muslim): that if Charlemagne will get out of Spain and return to France, Marsile will follow, convert to Christianity and become a vassel. Roland is feeling rather invincible.

Sire, have no faith in the words of Marsile. When have we found aught but treachery in the Saracen? For seven years I have been winning victories for you here in Spain. Once before you yielded to such a message as this, from this same Marsile, and lost, in consequence, the heads of your Counts Bazan and Bazile. War on as you have begun. Besiege his city! subdue Saragossa!

But the king decides to send Ganelon, Roland's stepfather, as an emissary to Marsile. When Ganelon arrives, Marsile intends to kill him, but Ganelon betrays Roland and convinces Marsile that he can attack Charlemagne's rearguard, which will be led by Roland. And so the plan proceeds.

When the attack comes, Roland refuses to ask for help.

Then Olivier, when from the hill he saw the one hundred thousand Saracens, their helmets bedecked with gold, their shields shining in the sun, besought his friend to sound his horn, the olifant, and summon the king to their aid.

"Never will I so disgrace myself!" exclaimed Roland. "Never shall sweet France be so dishonored. One hundred thousand blows shall I give with my sword, my Durendal, and the Moors will fall and die!"

Well, contrary to Roland's expectations the Moors make mincemeat of the undermanned Christians, and Roland finally decides to ask for help.

When Roland perceived that in spite of their mighty efforts the passes were still filled with heathen knights, and the French ranks were fast thinning, he said to Olivier, "What think you if we call the king?"

"Never!" exclaimed Olivier. "Better death now than shame!"

"If I blow, Carle will hear it now and return. I shall blow my olifant," cried Roland.

"When I begged you to blow it," said Olivier, "you refused, when you could have saved the lives of all of us. You will show no valor if you blow it now."

Of course, by this time it's too late anyway, but the Archbishop tries to reconcile the friends.

"Carle will come too late to save our lives," said he, "but he will reach the field in time to preserve our mangled bodies and wreak vengeance on our foes."

Roland put his horn to his lips and blew with such force that his temples burst and the crimson blood poured forth from his mouth. Three times he sounded his horn, and each time the sound brought anguish to the heart of Carle, who heard it, riding thirty leagues away. "Our men make battle!" cried he

Charlemagne turns his forces around. Everyone is hopping mad.

All the army wept aloud as they thought of the doom of Roland. High were the mountains, deep the valleys, swift the rushing streams. The French rode on, answering the sound of the olifant; the emperor rode, filled with grief and rage; the barons spurred their horses, but in vain.

Roland is about to die but worries that his sword Durendal "would fall into other than Christian hands."

Ill could he bear to be parted from his beloved sword. Its golden hilt contained rare relics—a tooth of Saint Peter, blood, hair, and bones of other saints, and by the strength of these holy relics it had conquered vast realms. Ten and more mighty blows he struck with Durendal upon the hard rock of the terrace, in the endeavor to break it; but it neither broke nor blunted. Then, counting over his great victories, he placed it and the olifant beneath him, and committed his soul to the Father, who sent down his angels to bear it to Paradise.

So God's angels bear Roland's sword and soul away. Then Charlemagne returns and routs the Moors. But another Emir, an ally of Marsile's, shows up with his army.

The emir's army was countless, and Charlemagne's was weakened by its great loss. But the thought of the slaughtered peers spurred on the French, and with great Carle for their leader, they quickly put the pagans to flight.

The Franks pursued the enemy to Saragossa, where the wounded Marsile expired on hearing of his defeat. The city was taken, its inhabitants either slain, or converted and baptized, and Queen Bramimunde taken to France to be won to the true faith by gentler means.

In the end Charlemagne hopes that his trials are over, but for Christians, there's always another war just around the corner.

Ganelon was punished; Bramimunde was made a Christian, and the emperor thought at last to have peace. But as night fell and he sought rest in his lofty room, Gabriel appeared to him.

"Summon thy hosts and march into Bire to succor King Vivien. The Christians look to thee for help."

The king wept and tore his beard. "So troubled is my life!" said he.

George Bush, who has never been to war, understands this story in his own little addled way. John Kerry, who has been to war, does not.

I suspect that to Kerry this is a great fiction, but he had best understand that it is the great fiction of our time.


If Bush is returned to office...

Paul Krugman, writing in the NY Times, has some predictions:
Mr. Bush and his Congressional allies seem to have learned nothing from their failures. If Mr. Bush is returned to office, there's every reason to think that they will continue along the same disastrous path.

We can already see one example of this when we look at the question of torture.... To much of the world, America looks like a place where top officials condone and possibly order the torture of innocent people, and suffer no consequences.

What we need is an effort to regain our good name. What we're getting instead is a provision, inserted by Congressional Republicans in the intelligence reform bill, to legalize "extraordinary rendition" - a euphemism for sending terrorism suspects to countries that use torture for interrogation.... Just what we need to convince other countries of our commitment to the rule of law.

Most Americans aren't aware of all this. The sheer scale of Mr. Bush's foreign policy failures insulates him from its political consequences: voters aren't ready to believe how badly the war in Iraq is going, let alone how badly America's moral position in the world has deteriorated.

But the rest of the world has already lost faith in us. In fact, let me make a prediction: if Mr. Bush gets a second term, we will soon have no democracies left among our allies - no, not even Tony Blair's Britain. Mr. Bush will be left with the support of regimes that don't worry about the legalities - regimes like Vladimir Putin's Russia. [emphasis added]

Pretty strong stuff for the NY Times.

Poland—not Australia—on his mind

Bush made a strange omission during the debate about our allies in the invasion of Iraq. Aside from the American ground forces, Britain contributed 45,000, Australia 2,000 and Poland 200. Australia also sent naval forces.

From the CNN debate transcript:

Bush: My opponent says we didn't have any allies in this war.

What's he say to Tony Blair? What's he say to Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland?

You can't expect to build an alliance when you denigrate the contributions of those who are serving side by side with American troops in Iraq.

Kerry: .... [W]hen we went in, there were three countries: Great Britain, Australia and the United States. That's not a grand coalition. We can do better.

BUSH: Well, actually, he forgot Poland. And now there's 30 nations involved, standing side by side with our American troops in Iraq.

Well, actually, Bush forgot Australia. Was this just a lapse in Bush's memory? After all, four countries is a lot for him to remember in one sitting. Or had Australia's prime minister John Howard urged that Australia's contribution be minimized lest it give further prominence to the issue during the current electoral campaign in Australia? Nah, Bush is just dumb.

Australia's newspaper The Age noticed

Australia's role in Iraq rated a single passing mention in the US presidential debate, with Democratic challenger John Kerry saying Bush had failed to put together "a grand coalition" to fight the war.

The issue is in any case alive in the Australian campaign. According to the AP,

In a speech Wednesday, Mr. Latham repeated his pledge to withdraw troops and accused Mr. Howard of supporting a U.S. foreign policy "mistake" by sending troops there in the first place.

Mr. Howard hit back on Thursday by saying a pullout now would be a victory for terrorism.

"It will be a terrible defeat for the West [if] everybody cut and ran," he told Sky News.

"It would be a huge victory for the terrorists in Iraq, if we were to cut and run, if the Americans were to cut and run, if the British were to cut and run," he added. "It's difficult, it's nasty, you're dealing with inhuman, brutal people whose lack of moral code is beyond our comprehension."

Mr. Howard has condemned other coalition members – Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic – for deciding to pull their soldiers out of Iraq.

Mr. Howard's decision to join the Iraq invasion triggered huge peace protests in major cities across Australia last year – the largest such demonstrations since Canberra sent troops to support U.S. military action in Vietnam.

But not a single Australian soldier has been killed serving in Iraq,1 and protest has now largely dried up.

All polls show Labor and Mr. Howard's conservative coalition government running virtually even before the elections. Those who said Australia's support for the war was a mistake narrowly outnumbered those who endorsed it, 48 percent to 45 percent, The Associated Press-commissioned poll found. It had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

I doubt that Bush's omission of Australia from his list of coalition partners will raise an eyebrow in the U.S., but it will get some play in the Australian media, certainly to Howard's embarrassment.


1 One of the reasons not a single Australian soldier has been killed is that of the 850 troops currently deployed, all but 250 of them are not actually in Iraq. [back]

Thursday, September 30, 2004


Quote of the Evening

I understand how hard it is. I get the casualty reports every day. I see on the TV screens how hard it is.
—George Bush, during the first Presidential debate

The silliness of polls: The "enthusiasm gap"

The Washington Post carries an article today by Richard Morin and Christopher Muste called "The Enthusiasm Gap." It begins,
Forget the gender gap. The chasm that yawns the widest this election year is the Enthusiasm Gap.

Nearly two in three likely voters who support President Bush -- 65 percent -- said they were "very enthusiastic" about their candidate while 42 percent of Sen. John F. Kerry's supporters express similarly high levels of enthusiasm for their choice, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

That's a 23-point difference in relative excitement. Although the polling record is incomplete for earlier elections, the available data suggest that the enthusiasm gap in the 2000 presidential campaign was negligible, at best.

First, about the 2000 election. Neither Bush nor Gore was the incumbent; neither had a record as President to run for or against. I would have expected enthusiasm from their supporters to be closely matched.

But 2004 should not be compared with 2000 for a number of reasons, but principally because George Bush is the incumbent.

But the authors just can't let it go.

Bush's conservative base is broadly enthusiastic about the president while political liberals are noticeably cooler to Kerry. Among registered voters, nearly seven in 10 self-described conservative supporters of Bush say they're enthusiastic about the president. But four in 10 liberals -- 43 percent -- express similar levels of excitement about Kerry.

This enthusiasm gap extends to political moderates as well. Nearly half of Bush's moderate supporters are energized about their candidate, compared to a third of Kerry's moderate base.

They also find the "enthusiasm gap" among blacks and women.

None of this surprises me, nor should it discourage Kerry voters—which is what the Post is effectively trying to do here.

The pollsters asked the wrong question. Instead of asking how enthusiastic people are for the candidate for whom they intend to vote, the pollsters should have asked people how enthusiastic they are about keeping the other candidate out of office. And let me add that this question makes a lot more sense in an election that pits an incumbent against a newcomer.

Since they didn't ask the proper question, we will never know the result. But I can tell you anecdotally that there are a lot of people who are not "enthusiastic" for Kerry but who would walk through hot coals to vote against George Bush. I myself have been toughening up my feet for months.


China caps price of gasoline

This might be an amazing story. Giving almost no detail, the Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s Rural News reports,

The Chinese Government has capped the price of petrol, to insulate the booming economy from damage.

I cannot find another English-language reference to this anywhere. The world's most populous nation caps the price of gasoline and no one is reporting it?

Perhaps what is really meant here is that Chinese retail gasoline prices are not allowed to float. And ABC has just noticed it. That said, the ABC story makes it appear to be a new policy.

The closest I can come to any information on this is a Motley Fool column of August 26:

... unlike the U.S., the command economy in China means that the higher oil and gas prices at the wholesale level have not necessarily corresponded to higher retail prices. The state announced Tuesday that it would increase retail prices by 6% to respond to higher pricing -- refining margins in China have been deeply negative during the recent spike -- which is costly for the downstream companies such as Sinopec. Contrast this environment to the American one, where the CEO of refining giant Valero recently noted that this was the best refiners have had it in as long as he can remember....

China's industrial and consumer-driven boom is well documented, but as the government has been more concerned about inflation, it has not allowed retail prices to float.... [O]ne of the key factors that experts have blamed on higher petroleum prices worldwide is -- yep, you guessed it -- Chinese insatiability for oil, particularly because of the rise in automobile ownership. [emphasis added]

What the Motley Fool is saying about the Chinese oil economy, once you get past the jargon, is this: Chinese oil-producing companies are making out like bandits, but the refiners are losing out because of price controls.

More significant from an environmental perspective is that Chinese drivers are benefitting from the price controls and can still leave their bicycles in the garage. According to the Voice of America, "Official figures show nearly 14,000 new motor vehicles hit China's roads each day."


Blair escapes Labor Party call for Iraq withdrawal

In "The Unspeakable in pursuit of the Inedible" I wrote last week of the annual Labor Party conference taking place in Brighton. British party conferences are not the fun events that we think of when we recall the Republican and Democratic conventions.

When you last heard from me, the Labor Party was expecting to "debate the debate" on Monday as to whether Iraq would be included in the list of 5 agenda items for the conference. Prime Minister Blair, of course, was hoping to avoid the topic.

Against all government efforts, anti-war members of Labor succeeded in getting a debate on withdrawal of British forces from Iraq onto the agenda. Unimaginable in the United States, Labor government leaders, according to the London Times, "were forced to sit through an impassioned debate on Britain's policy in Iraq."1

Conference member Pat Healy put forth a motion "calling on [Blair] to set a date for the early withdrawal of Britain's 9,000-strong force." The government hustled into backroom negotiations with the four major unions in attendance. According to the Guardian, "Their victory was secured when they succeeded in persuading the big four unions, who control 40% of conference votes, to oppose Ms Healey's rebel motion."

The Guardian notes,

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, in his address to the conference shortly before the debate, quoted an Iraqi trade unionist as saying that "an early date for the unilateral withdrawal of troops would be bad for my country, bad for the emerging progressive forces, a terrible blow for free trade unionism,2 and would play into the hands of extremists and terrorists". [emphasis added]

Party leaders then attempted to get Ms. Healey to withdraw her motion, which she refused. The motion came up for vote yesterday and was defeated by 80% of the delegates. When you consider that the union delegates voted as a block, that's not quite as bad as it looks for the anti-war movement.

The government claimed during the debate that British forces were only there at the behest of the Iraqi "government" and would leave just as soon as asked. After the vote on the motion to withdraw, the National Executive Committee issued a statement that was adopted by the conference. It said,

British troops remain in Iraq at any time only at the request of the Iraqi Government and under the terms of this Resolution the UN mandate for the multinational forces will terminate by December 2005."

Union leaders assuaged their consciences by declaring that the statement effectively set a timetable for withdrawal.

Previous posts:
What's up in Britain?"
The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible


1 If George Bush were British Prime Minister, he would have had the delegates removed to a "free-speech zone" somewhere on an abandoned North Sea oil rig. [back]

2 This was an enlightenment for me, since up to that point I had thought the biggest blow to Iraqi trade unions was Paul Bremer, who undid just about every act associated with Saddam Hussein's government except the suppression of trade unions.

Back in December 2003 the UPI carried this account,

Trade unionists around the world are protesting a U.S. raid on the head offices of the post-Saddam trade union movement in Iraq. On Saturday, Dec. 6 American armored cars and soldiers raided the offices of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Baghdad, according to union sources. They reportedly trashed the offices, threw black paint over the windows and arrested eight officials. Ironically, the soldiers tore up posters opposing terrorism in Iraq by remnants of Saddam Hussein regime and foreign fighters.

There is some confusion over what happened. The Iraqi trade unions say that the officials were released unharmed and are demanding an explanation and compensation.

But the former British foreign office minister Peter Hain told the House of Commons in London that he did not know of this incident at the union offices. However, Hain confirmed that there was a U.S. raid which netted illegal arms and ammunition. He added that eight Fedayeen were arrested and that two of them are now facing murder charges.

Were there two incidents or one? Who is telling the truth?

Who indeed?

But on the matter of trade union suppression there can be little doubt. U.S. Labor Against the War carried this article by Harry Kelber—

Press coverage of Iraq has been devoted almost exclusively to reports of battles between American troops and insurgents.... But very little has been written about Iraqi workers fighting against sweatshop wages and a denial of basic worker rights by the American occupation authority and the "sovereign" interim government.

From the moment the American-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took power in Baghdad sixteen months ago, it began enforcing a 1987 Saddam Hussein law banning unions in public enterprises, where most Iraqis worked.

One of the first acts of Paul Bremer, CPA's chief, was to issue Public Order #1, banning statements and actions that "incite civil disorder, rioting or damage to property," a law that could be used to block union rallies and strikes.

Despite threats of repression, labor activists have been organizing unions not only in Baghdad, but in the oil and electrical enterprises around Basra and the southern port of Um Qasr.

Low wages and heavy unemployment are two major issues that account for the upsurge in labor activity, including three strikes in Basra alone, according to David Bacon, one of the few reporter-photographers covering the Iraqi labor scene.

After U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad, workers were given "emergency" salaries of $60 to $120 a month. Then several months later, Bremer issued CPA's Order 30 that lowered the base pay to $40 and eliminated housing and food subsidies.

Bacon says that longshoremen at the port of Um Qasr were stopped from voting in the election for the officers of their new union, and three workers were fired for trying to organize other workers. They struck briefly because of the low-wage rates, blocking people from entering the main gate. They also staged a job action when managers decided to pay them in old bank notes, worth only 75% of the new ones.

"Iraqi and their unions charge that the U.S. ia keeping wages low to attract foreign investors, as Washington plans the privatization of Iraq's economy," Bacon says. "The Bush administration sees Iraq as a free-market beachhead into the Middle East and South Asia."

The threat of privatization and the influx of U.S. contractors has stirred more labor unrest. Workers fear that new corporate owners will cut costs by laying off workers.

The new unions in the oil and electrical industries have conducted several strikes for increases in pay rates and have actually won them.

The installation of the interim administration of Prime Minister Allawi on June 28 has not improved either salaries or respect for labor rights. Hanoon's warning seems as unheeded by Baghdad's new authorities, as it was by the CPA. [emphasis added]

If you read nothing else on Iraq this month, I would definitely recommend Naomi Klein's "Baghdad Year Zero," which appeared in the September issue of Harper's.

She discusses the U.S. efforts to turn Iraq into a free-marketer's paradise and then visits the General Company for Vegetable Oils, a state-owned maker of cooking oil, hand soap, laundry detergent, shaving cream, and shampoo.

Read it and weep. [back]

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Power restored! (corrected)

I wish this post title referred to something other than electricity, but I suppose I should count my blessings—and the restoration of electricity is definitely a blessing. We got our power back an hour or so ago.

It made me realize up close and personal the hell the Iraqis are enduring just on the one issue of having dependable electricity. What I went through for 5 days is a constant in their lives.

For those of you who may have wondered what happened to me, I was waylaid by Hurricane Jeanne. Happily we came through just fine, but we certainly missed the light, refrigeration, air-conditioning, internet, radio and television.

Anyway, I have a lot of catching up to do, but I'll be posting tomorrow.

I wrote that I had been without power for 5 days. Not! It was only a little more than 3 days. It just seemed like 5 days.

Sunday, September 26, 2004


Hurricane paths and voting patterns: A Message from God?

Televangelist Pat Robertson warned in 1998 of a hurricane striking Orlando. The city was "flying rainbow flags from city light poles in observance of diversity and respect for gay people."

This is not the first or only time that Robertson and his oil-slicked compatriot Jerry Falwell have intuited the Divine Will in natural disasters. So I've been waiting to hear from them on the meaning of the latest storms in Jeb Bush's hurricane-ravaged state. So far not a peep.

But an independent investigator into the Divine Will has detected a pattern in recent hurricane trajectories that is too compelling to ignore. Check out Bob Morris' hurricane-path/voting-preference overlay.

As Hurricane Jeanne approaches, I have no concerns at all. I did not vote for Bush in 2000, and I will not be voting for Bush in 2004. Did you hear that, God?


The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible

Now that after centuries of debate the British government has finally resolved the fox-hunting controversy to the benefit of the fox, the question naturally arises of just what is left for government to do. Tony Blair's Labor Party must face this question as it gathers for its annual party conference in Brighton. I suppose it's similar to the Democrats and Republicans gathering to write their "platforms," only without the balloons.

Some Labor Members of Parliament have been suggesting that a plan for getting out of Iraq is something the government might consider. But The Independent says that Tony Blair's supporters are making every effort to ensure that exiting from Iraq not appear on the party's "to-do" list.

As delegates pour into Brighton for the start of the conference this morning, they will come under pressure from party officials not to allow the Iraq conflict to deflect attention from Mr Blair's plans for the next five years of a Labour government.

This afternoon, delegates from more than 600 local Labour parties will be taking part in a ballot to decide whether they want Iraq placed on the agenda.

It is just this kind of focus on substance that keeps the Labor party relevant and puts America's political parties to shame. But there has been a "blip."

Efforts to prevent the Iraq war from taking centre stage almost backfired yesterday when a cabinet minister, Peter Hain, said that it was no more than a "fringe" issue, like fox-hunting. He told BBC's Today programme: "Delegates, if they choose to, can prioritise Iraq over the health service, over education, over employment matters, over other issues. That is their right. Hunting and Iraq are just fringe issues as far as conference is concerned."

If Iraqi insurgents are hunting British troops like a dog pack, that is clearly a fringe issue that should probably be left to some ministry—perhaps the Colonial Office.

But the British people are beginning to feel that Tony Blair is a bit "out of touch" and "inflexible." The Independent has just conducted a poll—

The most striking findings ... are the dramatic changes in the Prime Minister's image as a result of the invasion of Iraq and its consequences. At the time of the last election, 28 per cent thought he was "out of touch with ordinary people". Now 63 per cent think so - exactly the same number as thought it of Lady Thatcher just before her downfall in 1990....

Three years ago, 11 per cent thought Mr Blair was "too inflexible". Now 57 per cent think so - far more than the 35 per cent who thought the same of Thatcher in September 1990.... [emphasis added]

I'm always surprised at what low expectations reporters have of their politicians. The Independent's Andy McSmith finds one poll result "surprising" and notes that "a large minority of the electorate has kept faith"—

... the numbers saying [Blair] is "more honest than most politicians" have also risen, from 25 per cent to 29 per cent.

I can't speak for the British, but in American terms that would be like saying that 71% of the public still consider Blair to be a crook.

In any case, the fox-hunting simile didn't pan out for Peter Hain—

The Leader of Commons later retracted his remark, saying that Iraq is "most emphatically" not a fringe issue.

Will the Iraqi fox manage to get into the Labor henhouse? Stay tuned.

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