Saturday, April 16, 2005


Quote of the Day

[W]hen possessions are acquired in a province differing in language, customs, and laws, there are difficulties, and it takes great good luck and energy to keep them. One of the best and most effective means would be for the person who acquires them to go and live in them....

Another good plan is to send colonies into one or two key places of the new province....

But if, instead of colonies, soldiers have to be maintained, the cost is much greater as the income from the new state will be eaten up by the expense of policing it, so that the acquisition turns out to be an expense. Besides, such a measure is much more offensive for it is harmful to the whole state, as the discomfort of an occupying army is felt by all and so everyone becomes its enemy, and such enemies can do much harm, even though beaten, on their own ground. Under every aspect then, garrisons are useless, and colonies are useful.
—Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince


Who is disparaging Australian wheat?

The Iraqi Grain Board is in a dispute with the Australian Wheat Board over the completion of a wheat contract to Iraq, which is considered to be "one of Australia's most important wheat markets." According to The Australian, Mr. Khalil Assi, director general of the Iraqi Grain Board, claims that the Australians have found evidence of iron contamination in a pending shipment of wheat and the Australians are denying it.
"The Australian team have discovered the iron dust. For that, the Australians will pay the $US12 ($15.6) per ton for removing the contamination from the wheat," he [Assi] said.

But an AWB spokesman said tests on the wheat, conducted in Australia in recent days, had shown it was completely clear of any problems.

"We reject any allegation of contamination," he said.

The dispute is critically affecting a pending shipment.

Two ships are set to dock at the port of Umm Qasr within 48 hours, completing the million tonne contract.

Now what seems really to lay behind all this is another wheat contract that is under negotiation that's worth more than a half billion Australian dollars (about US$385 million).

Our Australian partners in the Iraqi Coalition are suspicious—

President of the US Wheat Associates organisation, Alan Tracy, today attacked former AWB chairman Trevor Flugge who this week suggested misinformation about Australia's wheat exports might be coming from America.

Mr Tracy said Mr Flugge was making incendiary and over the top comments.

"We are out to win Iraqi wheat business by providing a good product, reliable export performance and an open exchange of information," he said.

"US Wheat Associates has no knowledge of any problems with Australian wheat and we have said nothing to disparage their product."

The controversy follows claims by Pakistan last year that a shipment of wheat was contaminated by karnal bunt.

AWB proved the wheat was free of the disease, and since then has exported 600,000 tonnes to Pakistan.

Pakistan is another U.S. poster child. Well, if this isn't a fine kettle of frumenty!

Friday, April 15, 2005


Department of Defense teaches creationism in DoD highschools

From a letter in Stars and Stripes,
As a Wiesbaden (Germany) High School student, I was shocked to read someone pleading to the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system to let its curriculum leave an important element out of one’s well-rounded science education (letter, “Why teach evolution?,” April 6).

Currently the theories of creationism and evolution are both taught, leaving room for people to fit it into their own beliefs. No teacher is forcing any student to believe evolution if they truly do not want to.

Isn't this taxpayer money being used to teach creationism? Check with your representative.

The letter to which the writer is responding is shocking in its smug embrace of ignorance—

There’s no need to debate the ins and outs of creationism vs. evolution. The knowledge of these two subjects is way beyond the scope of the human mind....

But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: When a person receives the Holy Spirit from God, they are given all the answers they will ever need.

Schools are excellent at teaching our children the skills they need to be successful in a future world, but what on earth is the benefit of teaching evolution? It’s a slap in the face to taxpayers.

Christians know what they know, and if parents teach their children well, they should be happy in the knowledge that they have done their best. Let the school systems teach the rest.

According to the article that provoked these letters, it is not the official policy of the DoD to teach creationism—
So far, the Department of Defense Education Activity is a bystander in the battle to teach an alternative to evolution in the science classroom.

“We have not been approached by people asking that we include creationism or intelligent design into the curriculum,” said Kim Day, who is in charge of the science curriculum for DODEA schools, where instruction in evolution is in line with national standards.

The use of torture, properly defined, is not an official policy of the DoD either.


Bush on Tom Delay, with a trap for the Democrats

Bush spoke to the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention yesterday—
Q Do you think Mr. DeLay has become a liability to your party or your agenda?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I appreciate that. Look, as I've read his comments today, he wants the Ethics Committee to review his case and he's willing to step up and talk to the Ethics Committee about it. And, secondly, I'm looking forward to working with Tom. He's been a very effective leader. We've gotten a lot done in the legislature, and I'm convinced we'll get more done in the legislature. And I'm looking forward to working with him.

Tom Delay probably wouldn't mind appearing before the Ethics Committee under the new rules, because no matter what he has to say, at least one Republican on the committee would have to support further investigation. And that's not going to happen—yet.

But this is really a ploy to force the Democrats to accept those new Ethics Committee rules. The Democratic members of the committee have refused to sit until the rules are changed, so Delay is now claiming that he would love to talk to the Ethics Committee if he could only get them to meet. Oh ... and their refusal to do so is to protect Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington, who has the only active case before the committee.

According to Amy Fagan of the Moonie-owned Washington Times,

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and a recent target of Democrats' ethics charges, said in an interview with The Washington Times on Wednesday that he would be cleared by a committee investigation, but that Democrats are refusing to convene as a way of shielding Mr. McDermott.

"The Democrats have frozen the committee and have frozen the investigation, and it's helping one of their own," the Republican aide said on the condition of anonymity. "If the committee acts, [Mr. McDermott] would likely suffer consequences."

Meanwhile House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sprang a surprise resolution yesterday "directing the House speaker to appoint a task force to come up with recommendations "to restore public confidence in the ethics process." FoxNews has it on record that "Pelosi wanted the bipartisan task force to offer recommendations to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) by June 1." Unfortunately,

In a 218-195 party-line vote, Republicans pushed back the resolution, which featured a preamble criticizing Republicans for taking actions that "have subjected the committee to public ridicule, produced contempt for the ethics process, created the public perception that their purpose was to protect a member of the House, and weakened the ability of the committee to adequately obtain information and properly conduct its investigative duties, all of which has brought discredit to the House."

This was an excellent countermove. Republicans are now on record in support of the ethics cover-up, and the Democrats have demonstrated that they are not concerned with McDermott's case.

Keep watching.

And in related news, the pressure on Delay continues. The Detroit Free Press ran an editorial today that begins

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has asked his colleagues in the Senate to keep quiet about inquiries into his questionable fund-raising tactics and ethically borderline junkets.

Instead, they should pressure the Texas Republican to give a full account about reports of traveling at the expense of lobbyists and objectionable antics by his fund-raising operation, instead of the runaround he has offered to date.


Newt nominates Hillary

According to Katharine Q. Seelye of the NY Times, Newt Gingrich thinks Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2008, or so he told the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He said she would be "very formidable."

Personally I think the Repugs would like nothing better, and where better to promote your opponent of choice than before a group of newspaper editors?

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Quote of the Day

We can't regret trying to make our lives better. I don't know what I'll do, but I know my daughter will be proud of me.
—Sylvie Lavoie, unemployed after Wal-Mart closed its only unionized store in North America

A stealth attack on the courts, with an allusion to Schiavo

As it happened, Edward Lazarus, a columnist for Findlaw, was using the Schiavo case yesterday as a stepping stone to level his own criticisms at the federal courts just as I was writing about Schiavo and the Republican effort to end the filibuster rule. Lazarus is a former federal prosecutor, a clerk under Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun and author of two books, one detailing the inner workings of the Supreme Court. I know nothing of his politics other than what I can glean from his article, which is plenty.

Lazarus seems to take as a given the interpretation I placed on the Republicans' agenda in the Schiavo case. He writes,

.... GOP conservatives set up federal judges to take the political heat for Schiavo's death. Then they turned, spitefully, on the very judges to whom they had passed their political football.

To add insult to injury, DeLay and others are now using the occasion of the Schiavo case to advance a broader and more troubling agenda.

They have attacked, in particular, recent Supreme Court decisions declaring the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional and granting constitutional protection to homosexuals in expressing their sexual preferences. In response to these decisions (neither of which were surprising as a legal matter), the right-wing has started talking darkly of mass impeachments, of cutting the judiciary's budget, and of stripping federal courts of their jurisdiction over certain kinds of cases.

He also reaches my conclusion as to the Republicans' chances in the aftermath of the Schiavo case—

These are empty threats. Several key Republican congressional leaders, leery of being cast as extremists, have already distanced themselves from much of the anti-judge vitriol. According to recent polls, a majority of Americans disdains Congress's intervention into the Schiavo matter and will not support a blatant assault on the judiciary.

But his purpose is quite different from my purpose in yesterday's post. As a former Supreme Court insider, he wants to make the point that there is plenty to criticize in the federal judiciary whether you're a liberal or conservative, and his points are worth discussing.

But before getting to them, I think it's important to consider this statement—

... [L]iberals are making a serious mistake to the extent that they choose to score short-term political points against the conservatives by jumping on every criticism of the judiciary. Not every suggestion for judicial reform is an assault on judicial independence.

Although he says it in service of a mistaken agenda, DeLay is right when he says that "judicial independence does not equal judicial supremacy."

Let me be upfront about my point of view here: The most important activity in which Delay is engaged is his agenda—not his rationality nor lack thereof with regard to the court system. The very essence of the political struggle is about defeating that agenda. However much we might like to discuss the ideal judicial system, that discussion will likely have to wait until such time as it may be held among parties who genuinely and in good faith wish to improve the courts rather than destroy them.

I do not mean, of course, that if Tom Delay were unwittingly to propose a positively spiffy idea, liberals should reject it. But I do mean that any idea he proposes should be weighed first in light of his agenda in order to assure that the idea is "Tom-Delay-agenda-neutral."

The agenda of the judiciary is purportedly to serve justice and uphold the Constitution. No one has ever accused Tom Delay of such a nefarious undertaking.

I should also note that Lazarus' adoption of what he terms "Delay-isms" in his criticism of the courts makes me very uncomfortable—and perhaps even suspicious.

So with those caveats in place, here are some of Lazarus' points—

We are in the process of surrendering many of the more important questions facing this nation to the most imperial judiciary1 in American history - and not one that consistently exercises its unprecedented authority either wisely or well.

Not so long ago (five years is no eternity, except perhaps in politics), Democrats and progressives were assailing a judiciary "run amok" (to borrow a DeLay-ism) as the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George Bush in Bush v. Gore.

But is there really any debate as to whether courts may decide elections? The debate is whether they may decide elections before the votes are counted, or indeed stop the vote-counting. It seems to me that a little legislation might remedy that problem. Have you heard of any?

This was not a mistake. Rather, it was a recognition that the federal judiciary, and the Supreme Court in particular, too often decide the momentous legal and moral issues of our time based on little principle and lots of self-aggrandizement.

Unlike our elected politicians.

Congress and the Executive branch have every right and reason to question this muscular exercise of unreviewable governmental power, and to criticize instances of judicial overreaching. Indeed, not to question or criticize would be to abdicate (as these branches already too often do) their own role in thinking about the meaning of the Constitution and its bearing on proposed federal action. The judiciary is not the only constitutional interpreter in our system; many others also take an oath to support the Constitution, and if their own actions violate it, they betray that oath.

See my comment above about legislation governing federal elections, or the lack thereof. The Congress has an inherent ability to change any decision not based on Constitutional principle simply by changing the law. And if they don't like the Constitutional principle as asserted by the courts, they can change that too, but of course that's very hard to do without a truly national consensus.

If the point is to uphold the Constitution, rather than to reach a result, the argument is more easily made that the Supreme Court has too frequently abdicated its authority in the face of Legislative and Executive power. To what else may we ascribe our undeclared wars and the erosion of our rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?

Nor should the judicial branch be immune from suggested reform.

It isn't, but be careful of who's making the suggestions.

The Senate and the Presidency have both been reshaped through constitutional revision. As I and others have argued, the time has come to think about limiting the constitutional promise of lifetime judicial tenure to a long, but limited fixed term of years.

The truth is that most Supreme Court justices are of an age that they already have a limited term of years. Though not fixed, the Congress may shorten the term; they only need to select older judges. Why do I have the feeling that any Supreme Court nominees that Bush may propose will be young and healthy?

But much more importantly, it is now the members of Congress who are enjoying lifetime terms! This was never contemplated by the Founding Fathers, who apparently did not foresee the gerrymander. Tom Delay has exacerbated this distortion of Constitutional democracy by arranging for the redistricting of the State of Texas and using illegal funds to pay for it. The Supreme Court said it was okay by them.

Congress should also consider additional measures to open courts to public scrutiny. Presidential papers are routinely made available to scholars, and such access is seen as indispensable to evaluating presidential performance. Why are justices given the unfettered right to preclude access to their papers and, thereby, constrict evaluation of judicial performance in perpetuity?

Congress sets its own rules regarding the availability of its papers. As for Presidential papers ... please!2 Lazarus seems to be engaging in a little partisan disinformation here.

In the end, the idea that judges should be above public scrutiny and criticism is profoundly anti-democratic and wrongheaded. On this point, liberals and conservatives really ought to agree. To oppose Tom DeLay is not to oppose judicial reform; too many liberals confuse the two stances.

Nice try, Mr. Lazarus, but I'm not buying your wares today. No liberal that I know of has asserted that justices are above public scrutiny. But the need for curing the ills of a profoundly anti-democratic institution must begin elsewhere—with the institution that under the Constitution was intended to be profoundly democratic but in fact is not—the Congress of the United States.

Related post
Phil E. Buster recuperates after Terri Schiavo's death (4/13/05)


1 First, note that "imperial judiciary" is also a winger term.

Adoption of terminology easily leads the public to assume the truth of the underlying agenda. The saying among linguists that "the map is not the territory" is true enough, but if you don't know the territory, all you know is the map. And that just won't do. This is just another way of speaking of "framing," a topic that has gotten so much attention of late. [back]

2 Back in 2001, according to George Lardner, Jr. in the Washington Post,

The Bush White House has drafted an executive order that would usher in a new era of secrecy for presidential records and allow an incumbent president to withhold a former president's papers even if the former president wanted to make them public.

The five-page draft would also require members of the public seeking particular documents to show "at least a 'demonstrated, specific need'" for them before they would be considered for release.

Historians and others who have seen the proposed order called it unprecedented and said it would turn the 1978 Presidential Records Act on its head by allowing such materials to be kept secret "in perpetuity."


But you chose to be a Baptist!

David Niewert at Orcinus has some comments on an effort in Washington State to add sexual orientation to the list of banned types of discrimination.

The measure passed the State House but in the Senate has been bottled up in a committee by—guess who!

That's right—

The Senate Republican caucus yesterday handed out a five-page "talking points" document opposing the measure. One of the talking points states: "This bill establishes minority status for individuals based on sexual behaviors many believe they choose to engage in."

Niewert makes the point that religion is also a choice, so in the interests of consistency, religion should be removed from the list. He then considers all the fun that could be had with our new-found freedom to discriminate.

Washington State also protects "marital status," which should be totally unnecessary. I've always felt it was better to have singles working under me.

Seriously, maybe it's time to turn these antidiscrimination statutes on their head. Instead of writing laws banning this and that type of discrimination—and don't forget, we're talking about matters such as housing, employment and public services—the legislators should take up the matter of what types of discrimination are permitted.

This would end the argument made by the culture warriors that antidiscrimination laws single out people by class. It would also end headlines such as that in the Seattle Times story under discussion: "2 Democrats help Senate GOP throw gay-rights bill off track."1 This is not a gay-rights bill. We may say that it's an antidiscrimination bill that adds gays as a protected class—or better, that it's a people's rights bill that would recognize gays as people.


1 Also notice that even though this is an entirely Republican enterprise, the headline writer has given the two defecting Democrats top billing. [back]

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Currency exchange controls going into place?

In September I included in a post a reference to a quote by Jim Rogers, cofounder of the Quantum Fund—
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.

A post at the Liberty Forum (via "What Really Happened") suggests that the controls are going into place under the cover of the Patriot Act. The writer refers to—

  1. New bankruptcy law (last week)
  2. Announcement that travel to other parts of North America will require a passport (papers please)
  3. New compliance standards for foreign banks (this past year)
  4. Elimination of foreign accounts for US residents (one by one)

If you have some dollars to put into a more promising currency, I wouldn't wait much longer.

Previous post
Something you should know about your dollars


Phil E. Buster recuperates after Terri Schiavo's death

Since King George began his second term, the Republicans have prepared a number of diversions for the Democrats, the media and the public. Foremost has been their Social Security initiative, the purpose of which I've written about before. Then there was the threat of baseball players bulked up and hopped up on steroids, to be followed by the Terri Schiavo constitutional crisis, which was only put to rest by the awe-inspiring death of the Pope.

I wish I could write "When the smoke and mirrors had cleared ...," but I can't. You see, the smoke and mirrors really never clear. And if there is a role in our political life for bloggers, it is this: to grope about in this blazing funhouse to identify the real actors, the real issues, the real bodies, the real exits. Perhaps that's what we mean by "reality-based."

Of all their diversions I have been able to take only one seriously—the threat to end the Senate filibuster for judicial nominations. While I marveled at the short-sightedness of the proponents of this change in Senate rules, I also realized that such myopic vision has guided our path for some time now so that any thought that the Republicans would not be so foolish is clearly contradicted by the foolishness that they have already evidenced.

Lately, however, I've had the sense that the threat is largely foreclosed. One very big reason for this is—Terri Schiavo. Almost no one seems to have noticed the relationship between Schiavo and the filibuster, but that relationship not only exists, it seems to me to be a very strong one indeed.

Perhaps one reason that the link has been ignored is its absence in the now-famous Mel Martinez Schiavo memo, which so many pundits took so seriously. This very poorly worded document is really quite narrow, and the ABC News copy of it is larded with sics. These were not the thoughts of the Republican leadership but of a toadying cheerleader.

I do not for a moment believe the Republicans did all their grandstanding merely to "excite the pro-life base," as the Schiavo memo suggests. Rather, the Schiavo case looked to them to be the ideal vehicle for their assault on the federal judiciary. This was the real exploitation of Terri Schiavo. And, of course, one of the essential ingredients of that assault is the ending of the filibuster rule.

If they had indeed been able to generate popular support for their interference in the court system, many of the Democrats would have folded, and I would not be writing this post. In fact, if the popular support had emerged as they anticipated, it might not have been necessary to end the filibuster rule, since they would likely have found some Democratic defectors to support even the most odious candidates for federal judgeships. But in any case, if the filibuster rule had to be ended, the Schiavo case was to be the green light.

Happily for the republic the ploy failed, and in failing did not merely leave the evangelical Republicans where they were but put them on the defensive. The Schiavo case finally hit people with the fact that what the Republicans were trying to do to the judiciary might have an impact on their lives. And they didn't like it.

Of course, the assault on the judiciary has continued in the speeches, in the conferences, but that really is for the benefit of the religious-right base. The real threat—a cave-in by frightened Democrats and the few moderate Republicans—has been allayed, and the issue has now become just one more twist and turn in the smoke-filled funhouse into which Tom Delay and his minions hope to escape.

All this coalesced as I was reading an AP story that appeared this morning: "Two Groups Break Ranks on Changing Filibuster Rules Over Blocked Judges."

According to Jesse J. Holland,

Two groups normally allied with Republicans have bolted from the party's effort to ban judicial filibusters -- the first major defections from a conservative push to prevent Senate Democrats from blocking President Bush's judicial nominees.

The National Right to Work Committee, a 2.2 million-member group critical of unions, and the Gun Owners of America, with 300,000 members, say they fear eliminating judicial filibusters could eventually lead to doing away with filibusters altogether.

Both groups have benefited in the past from use of the Senate parliamentary tactic to block gun control and labor bills. A filibuster technically is unlimited debate, and requires 60 votes from the 100-member Senate to stop.

... National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix said in a letter last month to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., that the filibuster "has been and remains a vital safety net" for his group.

"If a bare majority of senators vote now to eliminate judicial filibusters, legislative filibusters will not stand for long," Mix predicted. "We would be extremely foolhardy to stand by while anyone, regardless of how good their intentions, proceeds to tear holes in it."

I think you will agree that the wording here is quite strong. It's also worth noting that the letter has been made available to the public—which means they mean business.

Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, said filibusters like the one performed by Jimmy Stewart in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" are worth protecting. "We think it's kind of nice to have these traditions that have protected good guys and bad guys," he said in an interview.

Here we have the executive director of Gun Owners of America referring to an ad put out by People for the American Way. You have to love it.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., said on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday that Republicans need to consider the repercussions.

"You want to think down the road," Dole warned. "The Senate's going to change. It's not always going to be Republican. It changes back and forth. History shows that."

And one far-sighted Republican.1

The writer identifies the effort to end the filibuster as a "conservative push." This is very loose language. Libertarian-style conservatives do not appear to be making any such effort. It is the religious right, in league with the Neocons, who are behind all this.

The religious right needs to remake the courts in order to establish "dominion" here at home. The Neocons need to remake the courts in order (1) to eliminate one of the few risks2 to their imperialist endeavors, and should those endeavors fail anyway, (2) to stay out of jail.

Holland's article hints at this, if you ignore his use of the word "conservative" and look at the organizations involved—

Most conservative and Republican organizations, however, have rallied around Frist's threat to ban judicial filibusters, especially with a possible Supreme Court vacancy on the horizon. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, is fighting thyroid cancer.

"End the judicial filibusters at the earliest possible moment and well before a Supreme Court vacancy should occur," was the message in a Tuesday letter to GOP senators from the American Conservative Union, American Values, Americans for Tax Reform, Free Congress Foundation, Focus on the Family, Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council.

These are overwhelmingly organizations of the "culture warriors" of the religious right. Aside from lining their own pockets, most of these culture warriors are not interested in the principles of capitalism. Against them we have the National Right to Work Committee, which is very much a part of the capitalist vanguard, and the Gun Owners of America, which shows a strong libertarian streak.

The Republican coalition has held together longer than I had expected and certainly longer than I had hoped, but what we are seeing here is a major fissure brought about by two conjoined wedge issues—the treatment of Terri Schiavo and the ending of the filibuster.

Meanwhile, the problem for the Democrats and progressive organizations is that the Republican diversions easily cause them to spend a great deal of time and money fighting unreal threats (privatization of Social Security, for example) while the real threats to their constituencies go unchallenged. However real the threat to the filibuster may have been, it is certainly now abated. Let the Republicans fight among themselves on this one.

Follow-up post
A stealth attack on the courts, with an allusion to Schiavo (4/14/05)
Will the Republicans "go nuclear"? (updated) (4/22/05)

Related posts
Right-wing takeover of the judiciary in the fall? (9/3/04)
Is the Republican volcano about to erupt? (10/22/04)
Another Bush attacks the courts (3/17/05)
The smell of fear (3/25/05)


1 It may be argued that the Republicans are not being short-sighted, as I suggested earlier, so much as being over-confident. Karl Rove envisions an enduring Republican majority that has overtones of the thousand-year reich. (See "Bad idea of the century.") And the Christian Right imagines an enduring dominion until the Rapture. In either case they would not be needing the filibuster. [back]

2 The risk to the Neocons is in the federal courts' powers to command discovery. This can be circumvented if the Congress restricts the range of cases they are allowed to consider or if like-minded justices can be sprinkled about who will impose these restrictions upon themselves. [back]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Blogs, blogs everywhere!

According to Frank Barnako's "Internet Daily,"
Google's Blogger is hosting an estimated 8 million blogs, more than any of almost three dozen competing services. In second place is, with about 6.6 million accounts, according to research from Perseus Development Corp., a Web-based survey firm.

Jeffrey Henning, chief operating officer of Perseus, said that 31.6 million Web logs have been created on hosting services, and he expects that number to grow to 53.4 million by the end of the year. The survey was based on a review of 10,000 blogs.

Blogger has finally finished upgrading their equipment, by the way, and has been performing quite well lately. It appears they hadn't anticipated the success of the service.

A very unfunny farce

A few weeks ago Dana Priest of the Washington Post reported on the CIA's "special renditions" program, which is the U.S. outsourcing program for torture. It's against the law in the U.S., of course, to send someone to a country where they may be tortured. But when has the law stopped this gang of criminals?

A part of the CIA's ever-so-flimsy cover is that they receive assurances—only verbal, at that—that the host country will not torture the prisoner.

But the effectiveness of the assurances and the legality of the rendition practice are increasingly being questioned by rights groups and others, as freed detainees have alleged that they were mistreated by interrogators after the CIA secretly delivered them to countries with well-documented records of abuse.

President Bush weighed in on the matter for the first time yesterday, defending renditions as vital to the nation's defense.

In "the post-9/11 world, the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack," he said at a news conference. "And one way to do so is to arrest people and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that they won't be tortured. That's the promise we receive. This country does not believe in torture. We do believe in protecting ourselves." One CIA officer involved with renditions, however, called the assurances from other countries "a farce."

One popular destination has been Egypt. But "plausible deniability" of knowledge of the Egyptians' use of torture has just been greatly lessened. According to Heba Saleh of BBC News,

A government-backed human rights council in Egypt has given official credence to widespread allegations of torture by the security forces.

The Egyptian Supreme Council for Human Rights first annual report is unexpectedly strong for a body funded and appointed by the government.

'Standard practices'

The council says it is normal investigative practice for the Egyptian security forces to arrest everyone at the scene of the crime and torture them to obtain information.

Citing reports it received during the year, it says suspects in Egyptian police stations are given electric shocks, hung by their arms or legs from the ceiling, or beaten with sticks, whips and rifle butts.

These allegations have long been made by independent human rights groups, but it is the first time that a government-appointed body has endorsed them.

Related post
Why are we torturing people?


Quote of the Day

I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all possible means—except by getting off his back.
—Leo Tolstoy

Romeo and Juliet among the Hatfields and McCoys

The ancient art of the family feud is alive and well in Florida. According to the AP,
A man was accused of wounding six members of a neighboring family after a long-running feud that victims said peaked when his daughter began dating a boy from their family.

The six people wounded were from one side of the feud, which pitted the Soliz and Ortiz family against the neighboring Riojas family.

Members of the Soliz and Ortiz family say their feud with the Riojas family has simmered for more than a year. The dispute became more heated when Riojas' teenage daughter started dating Miguel Soliz, 15, who was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg at Putnam Community Hospital and released.

"All this started because they were dating," said Melva Ortiz, Miguel's mother. "I tried to tell him to leave the girl, but you know how kids are."

I know how adults are.

Ryan said both families had guns and were firing across the street at each other, but said investigators have been stymied by reluctance of the families to talk to authorities. He said some of the victims were outside, but doesn't know if any were inside the house.

"We get out there and nobody knows anything," Ryan said.

They just haven't had time to collect their impressions.

Florida, of course, is on the verge of implementing what Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, calls the "Right to Commit Murder Bill."

Howard Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel writes,

Wayne LePierre, NRA chief executive, told the Associated Press that law-abiding citizens are waking up to the fact that by the time detectives and CSI investigators arrive on the scene, it's too late.

"The country as a whole is taking another look, across the board, at the idea that maybe it makes good sense to allow people to protect themselves in as many situations as possible."

So does it make sense to continue to pay for a police force that does nothing more than arrive on the scene to take reports? Stenographers would be cheaper, and in Florida they'll be packing a gun.

Related post
I have a feeling we're not in Disney World anymore: Florida goes "Wild West"


Miami-Dade considers tossing its touch-screen voting system

This story reminds me of the early days of office computerization. Every mid- to top-level manager in the corporate world wasted untold quantities of cash in the rush to "computerize the office." These same managers couldn't tell a computer from a slot machine. Instead of looking at their needs to determine if computers might be useful, they simply made the presumption. So everyone got a nice new computer on the desk, where it sat among the photos of the Loved Ones.

Elected officials are no more knowledgeable than corporate managers, and unfortunately they are sometimes a great deal less. If you have a bridge to sell, start here.

According to Naoki Schwartz of the Miami Herald,

Three years after spending $24.5 million to install a controversial touch-screen voting system, Miami-Dade County elections officials have been asked to study scrapping the system in favor of paper-based balloting.

The request from County Manager George Burgess follows the recent resignation of Elections Supervisor Constance Kaplan and the revelation that hundreds of votes in recent elections hadn't been counted.

County officials say the machines have more than tripled Election Day costs.

"Sometimes lessons are expensive," said County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who said she will wait for the manager's report before weighing in on the machines.

That will be the report she uses to cover her backside.

After the 2000 presidential election debacle, officials wanted "the best, most sophisticated technology," Sorenson recalled. At the time that meant buying 7,200 iVotronics, a paperless machine that stores votes on hard drives and discs -- despite concerns that there were no paper receipts.

In Broward County, Mayor Kristin Jacobs said she regrets that the county also chose iVotronics over optical scan machines.

"I understand that we've invested a lot of money in the electronic machines, but I would be more comfortable with optical scan because it gives you the ease of computerization and a paper trail," she said. "Hindsight is 20-20. In retrospect I probably would have gone with optical scan but we're beyond that now, and we've had minimal problems in Broward."

Oh, yes. Broward County has been a paragon.

Amid the problems, the cost of the actual elections -- about one countywide and 30 or so municipal races per year -- has increased. Sola said the Nov. 2 countywide election cost $6.6 million because of increased labor costs to program the machines, set up the equipment and print backup ballots. He said previous punchcard elections ran from $1 million to $2 million.

Those familiar with optical scanners, already used to count absentee ballots, estimate that it would cost about $8 million to equip the county's 749 precincts with them.

In a statement, ES&S officials [maker of the iVotronics machines] said they are very proud of the work they have done "to greatly enhance the county's voting process."


Involuntary lawyering

A New York judge has found Simon Ajose in contempt for not filing the papers necessary for admission to the bar. According to Mark Fass of the New York Law Journal, Ajose owes $40,000 in child support but has decided to pass up law for divinity—school, that is.

The judge ruled that Ajose's decision not to join the bar merited a finding of contempt.

"Domestic Relations Law ... authorizes enforcement by contempt where it appears presumptively to the satisfaction of the Court that payment cannot be enforced by any other remedies available to a payee spouse," the judge noted....

"It has been proved to the satisfaction of the Court herein and defendant has offered no justification for his failure to make the necessary payments herein other than the fact that he is voluntarily unemployed," he added.

The judge stated that his decision to hold Ajose in contempt for not joining the bar did not preclude Ajose from pursuing his desire to become a minister.

"Once admitted and once earning a living there would be nothing to stop him from going to night school to gain an additional degree in divinity while still meeting his obligation to support his two young children," Justice Sunshine suggested.

It's hard to say at which employment Ajose will be worse—lawyering or preaching.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Quote of the Day

The call to abandon our illusions about our condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions.
—Karl Marx, as quoted in Economic Power Failure: The Current American Crisis by Sumner M. Rosen (1975)

When is an election a coup?

As evidenced by the past two U.S. Presidential elections, it is possible to take over a country under cover of an election without firing a shot. Is this a coup? Michael Wines of the NY Times uses an anonymous source to raise this question in the context of recent political developments in Africa.

The old Organization for African Union has been supplanted by the African Union (AU), "modeled, in name and purpose, on Europe's own union."

The new group, bowing to a democratic breeze blowing from Mali to Mauritius, stood for the premise that the rule of law is in, and despotism out.

Take it from Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, a thoroughgoing democrat. "Anybody who comes to power unconstitutionally," he said at the union's first meeting in 2002, "cannot sit with us."

Wines notes as AU accomplishments stifling a coup in Togo, sending peacekeepers to Burundi and Darfur and ending civil war in the Ivory Coast. All fine and good until we get to the case of Mugabe's recent "election"—

Nonpartisan election monitors and Western nations called the election grievously flawed. Not so the African Union: Zimbabwe's election was free and fair, it said. Far from declaring "This will not stand!," the group commended Zimbabwe's government for "making efforts towards creating an even playing field."

Wines suggests that the principal reason for this contradiction is that

African leaders fear that the defeat of a serious ruler like Mr. Mugabe may help spread the notion that any entrenched leadership can be unseated by a committed opposition. In Africa, where most democracies are effectively one-party affairs, such a notion can be dangerous.

This is a frightening thought and if not quickly stanched could spread to the Americas.

But here is the interesting question confronting the AU. According to Wines' anonymous source—

The African Union can put down a coup in Togo, he said, because its charter explicitly permits intervention in a member nation's affairs in the case of a coup. But the charter is silent on whether the bloodless theft of political power by, say, stealing an election, is a coup in all but name.

"What could change that is if Zimbabwean groups themselves make the call to the A.U.," he said. "You could make quite a strong argument that rigging and manipulating elections is a kind of constitutional coup."

If the AU decides in the affirmative, it would certainly be a precedent-setting decision to which the world might look in evaluating the legitimacy of other "democratic" governments. Is a bit of cosmic irony afoot?


Formally announced: Clinton gets U.N. position

Bill Clinton's appointment as U.N. special envoy to head tsunami-relief efforts was announced on February 1 with the promise of a formal announcement in March.

There was an immediate flap about the scope of Clinton's assignment. By February 2 the Voice of America was reporting,

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will lead U.N. efforts to promote reconstruction in South Asian countries hit by December's tsunami, but will not play a role in ending conflicts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

On Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said he misunderstood Mr. Clinton's mandate when he told reporters earlier the former president would also try to make progress in resolving conflicts in those nations.

I don't know why Clinton is so dead set on working with the U.N., but it is clear that that has been one of his goals for some time. Naturally, the Right is hopping mad. Judicial Watch has already demanded to see everything but his underwear—

Judicial Watch is specifically seeking Mr. Clinton’s contract with the UN, memoranda of understanding, commissions, appointments, credentials and expense reports. Once obtained, Judicial Watch will report on the documents and make all of Mr. Clinton’s and the UN’s records available to the public from the Internet site:

But according to their press release, "Mr. Clinton’s appointment was reportedly coordinated and approved by the Bush administration through the State Department."

One thing is clear. Clinton did a lot of politicking for this position, which partly explains all the recent buddy-buddy business between the Bushes and the Clintons.

The AP reports that Clinton

will spend at least two years in his new role as the top U.N. envoy promoting recovery in tsunami-hit countries and demanding accountability for the unprecedented billions of dollars donated by countries and individuals, his deputy said.

Erskine B. Bowles [his deputy and former White House Chief of Staff] said Clinton will also push for the construction of better homes, schools and hospitals in areas devastated by the killer waves and the adoption of new measures to warn against disasters and ensure quick action by governments when they occur.

Why do I have the feeling that there's more to this story?

Related post
This could be fun: Clinton for U.N. Secretary-General

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Quote of the Day

Godiva Plaistow came whizzing along the pavement, a short, stout, breathless body who might, so thought Miss Mapp, have acted up to the full and fell associations of her Christian name without exciting the smallest curiosity on the part of the lewd.
—E.F. Benson in Miss Mapp

Recalling Bush's European visit - III

Bush finds a suitable trade

From the artwork of Het Laatste Nieuws



Mortality — the more graphic, the merrier — is the biggest thing going in America. Between Terri Schiavo and the pope, we've feasted on decomposing bodies for almost a solid month now.
—Frank Rich in "A Culture of Death, Not Life"

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