Saturday, December 04, 2004


Canada must decide whether to support U.S. war crimes

Canada's PM Paul Martin may be relieved that Bush has returned safely to the U.S. after suffering nothing worse than a display of "one-finger salutes." But a case coming this Monday before Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) holds more risk for U.S.-Canadian relations. Jeremy Hinzman, a 25-year-old paratrooper, who has sought refuge in Canada rather than be forced to kill in the Iraq war, will be making his case for refugee status before the board.

Hinzman while on duty had applied for conscientious objecter (CO) status. After serving in Afghanistan in a noncombatant role, his CO request was denied and he was subsequently ordered to Iraq. At that point he fled to Canada, and the U.S. military now views him as a deserter. Hinzman insists that he would have been willing to go to Iraq if he could have gone as a noncombatant. He is married to a Laotian refugee and has taken up the study of Buddhism.

Older readers will remember the 30,000 to 90,000 people who fled to Canada as draft-evaders. But the United States has no draft, and now as then there is no official welcome in Canada for deserters. Fortunately, a Canadian underground is forming for the protection of deserters, and Canadians who participate face no legal risks.

According to Naomi Klein, a Canadian journalist who writes a column for the Guardian

Hinzman’s lawyer, Jeffry House, had planned to hinge the case on the argument that the war itself was illegal because it lacked UN approval. They had an army of experts lined up, but last week they got the bad news: the Canadian government had intervened and the board ruled that the legality of the war is “irrelevant” to the case.

Now House will argue that Hinzman is a political refugee because he is refusing to fight in a war in which violations of international law are systemic, from torture in Abu Ghraib to attacks on civilians areas.

They have witnesses lined up to attest to war crimes. Since the hearing has been scheduled over a three-day period, does that mean that the IRB is going to let Hinzman present his defense? Interestingly, Hinzman's attorney was himself a draft-evader who moved to Canada 34 years ago.

Klein makes an important point: With American troop reserves stretched to the point of breaking, any decision by Canada to accept deserters could break the back of the war in Iraq. She concludes—

[I]f Hinzman is granted refugee status, it could well be the last straw, opening the floodgates to other U.S. soldiers who don’t want to fight.... If Canada once again became a haven for war resisters, it would mean that we were not just quietly opting out of the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. We would be helping to end it.

If Canada accepts Hinzman as a refugee, the repercussions for U.S.-Canadian relations may be severe. The most immediate consequence would likely be further trade restrictions on the Canadians with no hope for removing barriers to timber imports.

According to Hinzman's website,

Jeremy Hinzman and Jimmy Massey will be featured in a public meeting on the evening of December 4, the Saturday just prior to the IRB hearing. This meeting is being sponsored by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and the War Resister Support Campaign.

A vigil outside the IRB offices in downtown Toronto will begin at 7:30 am Monday morning, Dec. 6, along with vigils in cities across Canada.

Friday, December 03, 2004


NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to be on "Now" tonight

Bill Moyers' "Now" will have an interview with New York's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer this evening. They'll be discussing his investigations into the mutual fund industry. "Now" has provided excellent background material on the mutual fund scandal on its website.

It is being reported that Spitzer is poised to run for governor of New York in 2006. I hope that doesn't interfere with his campaign for the presidency.

Related post
My nominee for President in 2008


Bev Harris vs. Keith Olbermann

Bev Harris of Blackbox Voting is pissed off by some statements made by Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, which were apparently inaccurate. Olbermann has since tried to tidy his allegations up a bit, but the flap is unfortunate since they're both doing valuable work in investigating this election.

On Wednesday Olbermann wrote

I don’t think Bev Harris of Black Box Voting is doing anybody any favors.

I suggested as much tonight on Countdown and there were a lot of understandably surprised emails.

This is the standard allegation against any campaigner who attempts to confront authority (most of whom come from the Left). The person is pictured as "extreme," "choosing the wrong methods" and so forth. Such characterizations are especially common if the investigator is a woman. Here's how Olbermann does it—

What Ms. Harris has also left herself - and by extension anybody who is advocating investigation, or merely covering the story - open to, is the charge of grandstanding, of tin-foil hatting, of being somebody who bursts in to a room and screams at public officials, videotape running all the time, artificially creating news.

Me - I think that can be justified. Guerrilla politics - even guerrilla news - isn’t pretty, but it’s often necessary, as long as it’s news you’re interested in. It’s necessary, as long as you take advantage of the opportunity to disperse what news you’ve gathered, promptly and professionally, especially if that opportunity can serve the public good, and comes with relatively few strings attached (“can we see it first so we know what the hell we’re broadcasting?” - the same thing we ask anybody with news videotape not shot by an NBC or affiliated camera crew, whether they’ve recorded a hurricane or a cat nursing a puppy).

I've never met Harris but have followed her campaign to open up the voting process for almost a year now. My impression is that she is not "nice" but that she is effective. I'll take effective any day.

To Olbermann's credit he recognizes the value of "guerilla news," though you have to wonder why filing Freedom-of-Information requests is such a "guerilla" activity. Checking the trashcans of the Volusia Co. Supervisor of Elections might qualify, but then throwing away documents required by law might qualify as "criminal."

But he makes another very telling remark—

It has been pointed out that Bev Harris was scheduled to be on Countdown back on November 8 but her appearance was cancelled. I haven’t addressed this before, either. But we didn’t cancel on her - we wanted, on that first night raising this touchy subject nobody else had previously covered, to have more mainstream guests. And we wanted her back another night. And since then we’ve wanted her to come back with her video. And she hasn’t. [emphasis added]

First, he did cancel on her. He just said so. In Olbermann's world, canceling with the intent of rescheduling apparently does not count as canceling. But he also gives an interesting insight into how your news is filtered for you—he wanted to have more "mainstream" guests.

Well, I hope they patch it up somehow and that Harris finally appears on his show.

PBS NewsHour

Meanwhile, the PBS NewsHour has apparently been forced to take notice of the voting irregularities. They sidled into the topic by labeling the segment "Election Science." It was all very "mainstream" and "moderate."

Last night Terence Smith interviewed Doug Chapin of on "how the voting process can be improved." is funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, "moderate" to the point of wimpy, and uninterested in anyone's opinion who doesn't have either "credentials" or "prominence." Unlike the show's other segments, which have printed transcripts, this segment has only an audio link.

It has been known to happen that "moderate" organizations such as are set up to prevent progress rather than to promote it. I'm not saying that's the case here; perhaps I'm being "shrill." But I've had Doug Chapin in my sights ever since I read this in Consumer Reports

Mr. Chapin of said he expects that the next step for e-voting is a "more nuanced discussion" of how the technology should perform and what regulations would build trust. He added that e-voting experts are also starting to look at innovations in the machinery, such as touch screens that make a ballot and software programs that allow people to verify their votes.

"We have a sense across the country that the security of e-voting machines is a valid policy concern," he said. "The question is, are paper trails the best solution?"

This is the kind of talk that gives rationality a bad name. It seems so reasonable on the surface—"... what regulations would build trust," "innovations," "we have a sense that ...," "... valid policy concern." But underneath, amidst the nuances, it makes hardly any sense at all.

Look. We know "how the technology should perform." At a minimum it should perform as well as the fundamental technology it is replacing. And that technology is to hand-mark a ballot and to hand-count the ballots. With an army of poll-watchers to prevent the votes from being hauled off to the dump, anybody should be able to have an honest election the old-fashioned way.

But e-voting is much more convenient. Officials no longer need a truck to haul off the votes. They can just be lost in situ.

Be leary of anyone who uses the word "nuanced." It's a red flag. Second and more important, the question is most certainly not, as Mr. Chapin says, whether paper trails are the best solution. The question is "Why was no solution implemented for the 2004 election?" Third, we have had quite enough of "e-voting experts" and do not require "innovations in the machinery," though the e-voting companies must be drooling at the hope of fresh contracts when they hear Mr. Chapin's thoughts on the future of e-voting. Be suspicious.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Quote of the Day

To detain anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world, indefinitely, under any rules they devise, that just can't be -- must not be -- the law of the land.—George Brent Mickum IV, attorney for detainees seized in Africa and held in Guantánamo

Evidence from torture OK, says the government

[So much for a day off. This is too important.]

Hearings are being held before federal judge Richard J. Leon on lawsuits challenging the detention of the inmates in Guantánamo. Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle is representing the government.

The defense has claimed that some of the detainees are being held on no other evidence than what was obtained by the torture of other detainees. The judge inquired.

According to the AP,

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon asked if a detention would be illegal if it were based solely on evidence gathered by torture, because "torture is illegal. We all know that."

Boyle replied that if the military's combatant status review tribunals (or CSRTs) "determine that evidence of questionable provenance were reliable, nothing in the due process clause (of the Constitution) prohibits them from relying on it."

Here's a little conundrum: If the only evidence is evidence produced by torture, how could a tribunal determine the reliability of the evidence? By definition, the only evidence regarding the detainee has been produced by torture. But any determination of reliability must depend upon other corroborating evidence, which by definition does not exist. Hence, what can be the factual basis of determining reliability? I cannot see any basis for such a determination other than the personal beliefs of the tribunal members regarding the efficacy of torture itself.

Leon asked if there were any restrictions on using evidence produced by torture.

Boyle replied the United States would never adopt a policy that would have barred it from acting on evidence that could have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks even if the data came from questionable practices like torture by a foreign power.

Short form: We accept evidence produced by torture. 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! And besides, somebody else did it. (Notice that torture is not an "illegal" practice, merely "questionable.")

Then the judge asked of Boyle the government's opinion on the appropriateness of judicial review in cases where the detention is based on torture. Boyle evaded the question by denying that any torture had been conducted by Americans—

Boyle said torture was against U.S. policy and any allegations of it would be "forwarded through command channels for military discipline." He added, "I don't think anything remotely like torture has occurred at Guantanamo" but noted that some U.S. soldiers there had been disciplined for misconduct, including a female interrogator who removed her blouse during questioning.

No. I was thinking more of the American soldier who was placed in a cell unbeknownst to the guards for a "training exercise." The soldier was almost killed and now suffers serious and lasting disabilities.

But thanks for reminding the court about the topless interrogator. I expect we'll be hearing this quote repeated on Rush Limbaugh in a day or two. The government's message is that with torturers like ours, why, the men should be clamoring to stay in Guantánamo!

One of the detainees' attorneys summed up the situation faced by the detainees—

Noting that detainees cannot have lawyers at the CSRT proceedings and cannot see any secret evidence against them, attorney Wes Powell argued "there is no meaningful opportunity in the CSRTs to rebut the government's claims."

Didn't legal practices such as these help set off a violent rebellion a couple of centuries ago? Where was it? It's on the tip of my tongue.


A day off

For no better reason than that I need one, I've taken the day off. But there's lots of "stuff" in the works. Back tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Kerry getting involved in Ohio

At long last the Kerry campaign is showing a spark of life. According to the Washington Post, Kerry's campaign has asked an Ohio state judge to be allowed to join a suit against Delaware County, which is being recalcitrant about holding a recount.

Cobb, the Green party candidate who initiated the suit, is trying to have the case moved to federal court.

This could be big news. The media are going to have to start providing some coverage. And then what?

Related posts
Kerry-Edwards campaign opposes Ohio recount
Gathering momentum
How the Republicans handle a disputed election
Will the administration be going on "Orange alert"?
Irregularities in Warren County Ohio (updated)


What if Cheney gives out?

[Blogger is acting up today. It's hard to get anything posted.]

Cheney continues to have heart problems. He's had three heart attacks and has received a quadruple bypass, an arterial stent and a pacemaker—and those are just the physical problems. Is it coincidence that the man who has no heart has no heart?

James Ridgway of the Village Voice wonders what will happen if Cheney gives out. The mechanics are simple—

[T]he president would appoint a new veep, subject to congressional approval.

Ridgway notes that that situation arose twice during the Nixon years.

But what writer can forego the pleasures of speculation? Ridgway offers four candidates for the Office of Vice President—

Bill Frist, current Senate majority leader
Marc Racicot, recently deposed Governor of Montana
Arnold Schwarzenegger (can't be!)
Don Nickles, Senator from Oklahoma (the so-called "sane" one)

My picks? Newt Gingrich or Tom DeLay. Someone as nasty as Dick Cheney would be hard to replace. Gingrich or DeLay should do the trick.


Irregularities in Warren County Ohio (updated)

Warren County, you may recall, is the county that claimed it had been warned of a terrorist threat by the FBI and used this as a justification to keep reporters and other observers away from the vote count. The FBI subsequently denied having issued any such warning.

In an article in the Free Press, Richard Hayes Phillips writes,

An analyst who has all the vote data for 2000 and 2004 by precinct in several Ohio counties did a detailed analysis by precinct of the huge increase in Bush votes and margin in Warren county.

.... The analyst concludes:

"George W. Bush’’s big win in Warren County was due to one of two things –– one of the most successful voter registration drives in American political history, or stuffing the ballot box. If the vote was legitimate, the records will show it. There will be a signature in a different handwriting for every one of the 16,803 newly registered voters, and for every one of the 95,512 ballots cast. If the vote was not legitimate, there will be a shortage of punch cards in the ballot box, or duplicate handwriting on the voter rolls, or fewer registered voters than reported."

The article, frankly, is not very well written, and I suspect that the analyst is Phillips himself. Nothing wrong with that, but he really should say so if that's the case. I've sent an email in hopes of getting an answer to this.

Phillips presents some breakdowns, precinct by precinct, on his own website which may turn out to be quite interesting.

Brad Friedman at Brad Blog has discovered that two reporters from the NY Daily News are actually investigating the vote in Cuyahoga county.

In one black precinct—

... Kerry received 290 votes, Bush 21 and Michael Peroutka, candidate of the ultra-conservative anti-immigrant Constitutional Party, an amazing 215 votes!
Check out Brad's blog and the original article "Ohio tally fit for Ukraine." Friedman urges a note of thanks to the reporters Juan Gonzalez and Larry Cohler-Esses.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Quote of the Day

Simply, any free market culture that would rather create a market in a resource than have abundance for all is creating inequality as it goes. But so long as we can attribute unhappiness to global limits, or to inherited individual differences, then nature is to blame. We can hoist a paradox. We can both have our levels of misery and congratulate ourselves on our modern attitudes and on a humane society.
—Julian Edney in "Greed," linked by al-Jazeera

Napalm being used again in Iraq?

Al-Jazeera is reporting, based on accounts from Fallujan witnesses, that the U.S. has once again used napalm in Iraq. The U.S. was caught using a napalm-like material during the initial invasion.

But there are problems with al-Jazeera's account. First of all, they refer to "napalm gas." Napalm is not a gas; it is a gelatinized liquid. Of course, it becomes gaseous when burning, so that may be what is meant. Hard to know.

Then there is this mystery quote from Alice Mahon, a strong antiwar figure in the Labor Party.

On Saturday, Labor MPs have demanded that British Prime Minister confront the Commons over the use of the deadly gas in Fallujah.

Halifax Labor MP Alice Mahon said: "I am calling on Mr. Blair to make an emergency statement to the Commons to explain why this is happening. It begs the question: 'Did we know about this hideous weapon's use in Iraq?'"

There is no mention of this in the British press—at least that I can find—though Google has a link to an ITV story from Monday, "Hoon avoids 'naplam in Iraq' quiz," that has quite disappeared from their site.

Until we learn more, I have to treat this account with some skepticism.

Related post
Rebels claim gas and chemicals being used in Fallujah


Tavis Smiley leaving NPR

As a further sign of the deterioration of public broadcasting in the U.S., Tavis Smiley has decided not to continue his daily talk show. According to Reuters—
Smiley criticized NPR for what he characterized as its failure to "meaningfully reach out to a broad spectrum of Americans who would benefit from public radio but simply don't know it exists or what it offers ... In the most multicultural, multi-ethnic and multiracial America ever, I believe that NPR can and must do better in the future."

The launch of "The Tavis Smiley Show" was designed in part for NPR and its member stations to reach out to minority listeners. An NPR spokesman said the company will launch a nationwide search for a replacement host.

Who will it be? Alan Keyes? Kenneth Blackwell of Ohio?

Monday, November 29, 2004


A fun site

The BBC has a number of psychological tests online that cover everything from the likelihood of your committing adultery to a personality profile based on your snack-food preferences.

I took the "'What am I like?' personality test" because I've always wondered. They say I'm a "Big Thinker." I might have been a Counsellor, Go-getter, Idealist, Innovator, Leader, Mastermind, Mentor, Nurturer, Peacemaker, Performer, Provider, Realist, Resolver, Strategist and Supervisor. All in all, I would rather have been just plain-ol' Rich (but they have a test to determine the chances of that too).

If you take the personality test, I'd love some comments letting me know "what you're like." Inquiring minds want to know!


Ottawa shutting down for Bush, spinning like a top

Canada is not exempt from the requirements of the Imperium, so for Bush's visit it will have to "close the streets, erect the barricades and weld shut the manhole covers."

But even in Canada don't expect "fair and balanced" from the media. Canadian coverage reflects the kind of openness, relatively speaking, that the U.S. media used to demonstrate. But the U.S. media always exhibited a pro-government, anti-protest spin, and Canada's is no different.

I thought of this when reading Rick Westhead's report in the Toronto Star of preparations for Bush's Canadian visit. Westhead gave a protestor's viewpoint; he gave a Conservative's viewpoint. And then he wrote—

No one can say definitively that the three days of planned demonstrations to mark Bush's visit to Ottawa won't be marred by violence, as have other recent large-scale protests. Of course, it takes only a few violent protesters or a handful of overzealous police officers to make a peaceful situation chaotic.

You see, in the media world protestors are "violent" but police are "overzealous." So let's just rewrite that sentence—

Of course, it takes only a few overzealous protesters or a handful of violent police officers to make a peaceful situation chaotic.

Now that seems fair and balanced, don't you think?

Sunday, November 28, 2004


David Broder's delirium

In today's Washington Post, David Broder takes issue with columnists such as Maureen Dowd of the NY Times who, according to Broder "suggested the other day that 'the forces of darkness' are taking over the country."

Broder's first counterexample—the trading-in of Attorney General John Ashcroft for torture-apologist Alberto Gonzales—is not reassuring. Nor is his faith in some of the Republican Senators—

Among them are many, including such conservatives as Pat Roberts and Thad Cochran, whom I would trust to defend my journalistic freedom -- or Dowd's -- no matter how much they disagreed with what we wrote.

Even more unbelievably Broder writes—

I can count two dozen Senate Republicans who have experienced with their own families and friends the pain of mental or physical illness, or poverty, or racial or sexual discrimination.

Do you think they would stand silent while a vendetta against any of those groups was carried out?

Excuse me, David. David? Were you in a coma during the last campaign? Did you hear any of those two dozen Republicans speak out against anything other than Janet Jackson's tit?

And what does Broder think all the gloom and doom is about?

The exaggerated reaction to the election among many liberals was set off by the belief that Bush owes his victory to a bunch of religious zealots bent on imposing their views on the whole society.

The "exaggerated reaction" of the liberals I know was set off by the events occurring over the last four years of the Bush administration and the anticipation of more to come. If Broder is going to continue to claim to be a moderate, he really should try to meet some liberals.

Broder is reassured that Bush's win was a narrow one—

Once they recover from their disappointment, Democrats will realize that winning 48 percent of the popular vote in a high-turnout election, as Kerry did, provides a sturdy base from which to climb back into power.

Bush won, but he will have to work within the system for whatever he gets. Checks and balances are still there. The nation does not face "another dark age," unless you consider politics, with all its trade-offs and bargaining, a black art.

David Broder has become, by virtue of longevity, the grand old man of "moderate" pundits. You can see him on PBS' "Washington Week," issuing insights in sober, nuanced tones. What he seems not to see is that the days of "trade-offs and bargaining" are a thing of the past. Both the Administration and the Republican Congress are besotted with power and in no mood for shilly-shallying. The destruction of Fallujah perfectly reflects their intent. Domestically they would like to do the same to all things "liberal."

But Broder is right about one thing—members of the Congressional leadership are developing a mind of their own. We may hope that their monster egos will turn to devouring each other. It is certainly not so beyond belief as the rest of Broder's dream.

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