Friday, October 28, 2005


Humiliation of the Day

Dropping her [Harriet Miers] after repeated personal endorsements, in the face of rancorous opposition from the president's own party, is an unprecedented humiliation
—Julian Borger in the Guardian

Thursday, October 27, 2005


The "troubles" in Iraq

Jill Carroll of the CS Monitor writes that "key" Sunni political parties are forming an alliance to participate in the Iraqi electoral process—

But if the coalition has decided to join in a process it once rejected, it is also beginning to articulate a Sunni political agenda that is Islamist, vehemently anti-American, opposed to foreign troops, and discreetly pro-insurgency.

The political platform of this evolving Sunni coalition, named the Iraqi Accord, still lacks focus beyond ensuring Sunnis aren't persecuted by a Shiite government. Nonetheless, the groups in the coalition so far are drawing up a list of candidates and have begun calling for Sunnis to vote in December elections.

The Iraqi Accord sounds remarkably like Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. Well, at least there will be a political entity with which to negotiate when the Americans get serious about a withdrawal.


Hurricane safety: I guess there's no market for it.

President Bush has become a surveyor. Lately he's been rushing from pillar to post to "survey the damage," and today he's on his way to Florida to survey his brother Jeb's ineptitude. Truth be told, if it's damage he's after, there's plenty at home in the White House. But it's likely too terrible for Bush to contemplate. Better to be seen "doing something."

The latest casualty figures for Wilma are in. According to Eric Schelzig of the AP they are—

Well, at least Florida did better than Haiti. But as one Florida resident asked, "This is like the Third World. We live in a state where we suffer from these storms every year. Where is the planning?"

Maybe we could contract with the Cubans for help. They need the dollars; we need the expertise.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


41 new reasons to kill you—all with less effort

The Republicans of the House of Representatives continue to advance the cause of state terrorism. Note that I do not say state-sponsored terrorism; America has sponsored terrorism for some time now. No. We are talking about state terrorism—terrorism that only a government can inflict on its citizens; the bone-chilling knock-at-the-door kind of terrorism; the arbitrary, capricious soul-numbing Kafkaesqe terrorism where questions of life and death rest in the hands of the Prosecutor.

Dan Eggen writes today,

The House bill that would reauthorize the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law includes several little-noticed provisions that would dramatically transform the federal death penalty system, allowing smaller juries to decide on executions and giving prosecutors the ability to try again if a jury deadlocks on sentencing.

The bill also triples the number of terrorism-related crimes eligible for the death penalty, adding, among others, the material support law that has been the core of the government's legal strategy against terrorism.

The death penalty provisions, which were added to the House bill during a voice vote in July, are emerging as one of the major points of contention between House and Senate negotiators as they begin work on a compromise bill to renew expiring portions of the Patriot Act. If approved, the provisions could have a significant impact on future Justice Department terrorism prosecutions.

"These are radical changes in the way federal death penalty cases are litigated, and they were added virtually without any debate," said Jennifer Daskal, U.S. program advocate for Human Rights Watch.

The death penalty provisions were added as an amendment by Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.), who had originally proposed the changes in a separate bill called the Terrorist Death Penalty Enhancement Act.

Under the proposals, 41 crimes would be added to the 20 terrorism-related offenses now eligible for the federal death penalty. Prosecutors would also find it easier to impose a death sentence in cases in which the defendant did not have the intent to kill.

In one example cited by Human Rights Watch, "an individual could be sentenced to death for providing financial support to an organization whose members caused the death of another, even if this individual did not know or in any way intend that the members engage in acts of violence."

But critics are most concerned about procedural changes related to juries, including a provision that would allow a trial with fewer than 12 jurors if the court finds "good cause," with or without the agreement of the defense.

The bill would also give prosecutors a chance to try again if a jury is deadlocked over a death sentence. Currently, a hung jury at sentencing automatically results in a life sentence, which mirrors the system used by most of the 38 states that currently allow the death penalty. Five states, including California, allow prosecutors to empanel a new jury if the first one deadlocks.

The new death-penalty provisions were passed on a voice vote! These people are not proud of their work.

Related posts
Bush joins the Jacobins (updated) (1/26/05)
Why are we torturing people? (4/4/05)


Socialism 101: Finland

The Christian Science Monitor is running a series on the economies of Europe. Don't miss today's piece by Peter Ford on the Finnish "social model."

Some fast facts:

As is typical of anything you may learn of the successes of socialism through the U.S. media, the author—either by editorial requirement or acculturation—needed to find reasons why socialism may work in Finland but not here. Or why it might not be desirable.

There were slim pickings. Ford managed to come up with homogeneity, high taxes, a high suicide rate and an overcrowded healthcare system.

Let's take a brief look at these—


The largest minority in Finland is Swedish, which accounts for 6% of the population. (They all look the same to me.) While this has the undoubted advantage of reducing intrasocietal tribalism, I have to wonder if one of the advantages of this homogeneity (which you will never see mentioned) is that it makes subversion of the society by capitalists and autocrats more difficult.

The Finns managed to maintain their neutrality and independence during the Cold War despite sitting atop the Soviet Union. But the ways of capitalism are far less benign than most Americans can bring themselves to imagine. Western oligarchies will spare no expense to make any form of socialism appear "unworkable," and in all likelihood, some such effort is being made with the Finns.

Meanwhile, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who's trying to use Venezuela's oil money to bring education and health care to the Venezuelans over the objections of You Know Who, must contend with made-in-America efforts at subversion.1

High taxes

Since the Finns are among the world's best educated, it wouldn't occur to them that they are going to receive social services for free. But since they also live in a democracy, they are free to insist that all citizens have the basic requisites of life. The capitalist myth is that if you must share your wealth with your fellow citizens, you will just take your toys and go home. No innovation. No invention. Stagnation, stagnation, stagnation.

This has certainly not proven to be the case with the Finns. In fact, I can't imagine that what the Finns have discovered would not apply in just about any society—

"When people can fulfill their potential they become innovators," [government advisor] Dr. Himanen argues. "The innovative economy is competitive and makes it possible to finance the welfare state, which is not just a cost, but a sustainable basis for the economy, producing new innovators with social protection."

High suicide rate

I believe it was the Swedes who invented this. I recall that back in the 60s everybody was worried about anomie, which is an affliction of the comfortable. (Did anomie kill Christine Onassis? we wonder.) Nowadays we don't have time to suffer from anomie; we're too busy scrambling for our daily bread.

Socialism is not a finished work. At best it is a system of satisfying only the first two levels—physiological needs and safety needs—of what Abraham Maslow identified as a hierarchy of needs.2 There is no reason to think, however, that success may not be had in satisfying higher level needs if we put our collective minds to the task.

Overcrowded health-care system

I have always thought this was the strangest objection to socialized medicine, but it plays well in a society based on greed. By not treating people, as is our wont in the U.S., we have certainly solved the problem of overcrowding. Meanwhile it may be hoped that the Finns will devote even more resources to caring for themselves.

Related posts
Have you been trickled on yet? (7/28/04)
The best place in the world to do business (11/8/04)
The death of the Left? (11/27/04)
Gasp! Socialists in the press (2/2/05)
Lie of the Day (6/20/05)
Lie of the Day (7/4/05)
Human development rank of the world's countries — 2005 (9/10/05)


1 reports

Hard-line Venezuelan opposition sectors are said to be behind initiating a bizarre new terror campaign to mark next week-end's Halloween.

Sinister pumpkins have appeared in parts of Caracas with warnings and photos of government officials.

The State Political & Security (DISIP) Police and the Police Detective Branch (CICPC) are taking the matter seriously using anti-bomb units to withdraw the pumpkins.

* However, it has been learned that the pumpkins were not bombs but did contain messages and photos of possible assassination targets.

Among the names are: President Chavez Frias of course, Metropolitan Mayor Juan Barreto, Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez and former Media Minister Andres Izarra.

Reuters offers this

Venezuelan security services scrambled on Monday to tackle a new threat on the streets of Caracas: Halloween-style pumpkins carrying messages of rebellion against President Hugo Chavez.

Local media showed heavily armed police and bomb experts surrounding one orange squash with a Halloween face and covered with stickers; others sprouted cables and wires making authorities wary they could be home-made explosives.

The pumpkins were found outside the state petrochemical company Pequiven and the offices of Chavez's political party with references to a constitutional article about civil resistance, local media reported. Chavez opponents often refer to Article 350 when calling for support of street protests.

The pumpkin alert came just weeks after authorities found scores of paper skeletons with anti-Chavez messages hanging from bridges and lampposts in Caracas. Police described them as a "Machiavellian" attempt to cause unrest.

Doesn't that just beat anything you could've imagined? [back]

2Please don't get into a debate as to the correctness of Maslow's model. The indisputable point is that needs emerge as "lower level" needs are satisfied. [back]

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Military Slogan of the Day

Two thousand: It's a number, not a milestone.
—reported on ABC Nightly News

Joke of the Day

One bright spot for Western conventional armies was that they were still unrivalled in their ability to respond quickly to natural disasters, such as the Tsunami.
—International Institute of Strategic Studies as reported by David Clarke of Reuters

Sunday, October 23, 2005


A glimpse of India

The Washington Post is publishing—in its technology section—a blog by staff writer S. Mitra Kalita who will be spending two months in India. Especially because she knew India as a child, I find her comments on India today interesting.

A few clips—

On packing gifts for the relatives

In 1991, its foreign exchange reserves near depleted, India agreed to open up its borders to qualify for World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans. That allowed products from cans of Coke to computers to cars to flood the world's second most-populous country. That allowed me to finally "travel light," allowed my cousins and aunts and uncles to buy their own brand names, and created an information-technology and services sector that Americans might interact with when they call customer service or tech support.

On a visit to a mall opening

A red carpet, dozens of candles and endless strands of white flowers paved our entry to the opening of a new mall in Delhi tonight. Because this week marks Durga Puja, a Hindu holiday celebrating good's conquest of evil, it was easy to mistake the adornments for the religious festival -- but the only things being celebrated inside were entrepreneurship and the wave of consumerism sweeping India's upper middle class.

Make no mistake about the "mall" moniker. In India, that means marble floors and glitzy storefront displays. Like many conveniences taken for granted in the West, the Indian counterpart tends to be equally rooted in providing the customer experience. (McDonald's, for example, might have a worker who pumps your ketchup.) So the opening of M.G. 2 ... served up a heavy dose of pomp and importance alongside glasses of Coke and mineral water, with trays of tofu triangles and asparagus bruschetta circulated by waiters.

Despite rapid proliferation in recent years, malls in India are reportedly not doing well, attracting too many people who are "just looking" or simply enjoying the air conditioning.

On the "price" of globalization

The price of globalization is much higher than I expected.

I don’t mean the disparity between rich and poor, the loss of culture, the erosion of extended family.... I mean the actual cost of things.

... I headed to the mall. Not to keep blabbing and blogging about malls … but that’s really how many Indian twentysomethings (I’m hanging on to that category, albeit barely) pass their time. I spent Saturday afternoon browsing Metro, a mammoth multiplex of glass and neon amid others just like it in Gurgaon, a fast-growing suburb of Delhi.

Prices, in some cases, were equal or higher to those in the United States. Cheap labor may be touted as foreign companies turn to India for computer programmers, legal researchers or medical transcriptionists, but the resulting rise of the middle class has also meant a rise in the cost of living.

I am not alone in my sticker shock. Pretty much every Indian I meet says as much.

“It’s more expensive to live in India than the U.S., by the way,” economist Atanu Dey said to me over dinner in Pune tonight....

He described India’s population as a pyramid with an extremely broad base -- and a very tiny tip. “But that tiny tip translates into a very large number,” he said over a dinner that cost about $31. “Even if one in 1,000 people can afford something, that’s 1 million people.”

On offshoring for the little guy or gal

Our blogger talks with an entrepreneur who's marketing his services to small- to medium-size U.S. companies. The term "traditional" (vs. current) has now slipped into descriptions of offshoring. Interesting how American companies are so quickly eliminating the "middle man"—i.e., Indian entrepreneurs.

Strategic Sourcing India Pvt. Ltd.'s office sits above a crowded and dusty shopping center in a bustling part of Pune, just steps from the brand-name shops and franchises on Mahatma Gandhi Road. It is an example of traditional offshoring, and one that many companies utilized before opening their own offices in India.

On beggars and infrastructure

I saw something this week I rarely see in India, let alone the United States. Someone gave a beggar money.

Atanu Dey, who made a brief appearance in an earlier post, says it's standard practice. I have always been advised to refrain because most beggars in India reportedly give the brunt of handouts directly to a beggar lord. So I pressed Dey, a self-described thinker, on why he chooses to give.

"Would you beg?" he said, turning the questioning on me rather fiercely. Then softening, he said: "They beg because there is not an option. ... They were born in misery and live in misery."

The premise of his model for economic development is simple: India's rural areas need better infrastructure to lure services that will lead villagers to earn higher incomes....

I could not help but relate Dey's solution to my own family, who, like most of India, claims rural roots. And like much of India, many members of my family have left for the cities, admittedly with mixed results.

I returned a few years ago to my father's ancestral village of Baranghati, Assam, to discover those who remained weeping over all they lacked.

"There is nothing here any more," a distant cousin named Manju said to me. "I have a master's degree but there is nothing for me to do." Clearly, a great disparity exists between the prosperous India I am focusing on this time around and the India from where my blood line flows.

The divide seems not just a matter of city versus country. Despite phenomenal growth and evidence of new wealth in Pune -- from malls to Mercedes Benzes -- its bumpy roads are still lined with slums and dotted with beggars, rapping on car windows and pressing their hands together in submission.

I look away, as I was taught to do as a child, back to texting, talking, reading, anything but acknowledging the humanity just inches away. The prevalence of air conditioning in cars with sealed windows has only increased the distance I can keep.

According to economists, the beggars can expect to be trickled on any day now.

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