Friday, November 11, 2005


Joke of the Day

It’s undeniable that something big – really big – is in the electoral air, something that exit pollsters cannot statistically capture on paper. —P.M. Carpenter in "Right on the run"

Hell, exit pollsters couldn't statistically capture the outcome of the last Presidential election. Right?


Word of the Day

apparatchik, plurals apparatchiks, apparatchiki:

  1. A member of a Communist apparat.
  2. An unquestioningly loyal subordinate, especially of a political leader or organization.
  3. A recently hired mid-level manager or supervisor in the U.S. Park Service (Government Service grades 13-15). offers a Wikipedia commentary on the word's origin—

Since members of the "apparat" were frequently transferred between different areas of responsibility, often only loosely related to professional training (if any) of the person, usually the term apparatchik, or "member of the apparatus" was the best possible description of the person's profession and occupation.

The term was usually associated with a specific mindset, attitude and appearance of the person, and when used by "outsiders" it often bore derogatory connotations.

The need to include certain Park Service personnel in the definition is made clear by a story from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)—

The National Park Service has started using a political loyalty test for picking all its top civil service positions, according to an agency directive.... Under the new order, all mid-level managers and above must also be approved by a Bush administration political appointee.

The October 11, 2005 order ... requires that the selection criteria for all civil service management slots ... include the “ability to lead employees in achieving the …Secretary’s 4Cs and the President’s Management Agenda.” In addition, candidates must be screened by Park Service headquarters and “the Assistant Secretary [of Interior] for Fish, and Wildlife, and Parks,” the number three political appointee in the agency.

The order represents a complete centralization of Park Service promotion and hiring in what has traditionally been a decentralized agency. More strikingly, the order is an unprecedented political intrusion into what are supposed to be non-partisan, merit system personnel decisions.

The order applies to all hires for park superintendents, assistant superintendents and program managers, such as chief ranger or the head of interpretive or cultural programs. Overall, the policy applies to more than 1,000 mid-level management and supervisory positions in the Park Service.

“Presidents come and go but the civil service is designed to serve whoever occupies the swivel chair in the Oval Office,” [PEER Executive Director] Ruch added. “It is downright creepy that now every museum curator, supervising scientist and chief ranger must be okayed by a high-level political appointee.”

Downright creepy? The order was released October 11. Maybe it was just for Halloween.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Aux remparts!

They're rioting in Africa
They're starving in Spain
There's hurricanes in Florida
And Texas needs rain
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls

The Merry Minuet

Ah, those French! It's good to see there's an effort to restore traditional values somewhere in the world—that somebody somewhere is forcefully demanding "liberté, égalité, fraternité."

I know, I know. They're mostly teenagers and they're burning their neighbors' cars. But the sad truth is that those acts, or something similar, are required in most of the Western "democracies" to bring any improvement at all to the lives of the underclass. I've long been amazed at how quiescent the American underclass remains.

But maybe I wouldn't be touching on this if I hadn't read Edward Colby's survey of the blogs in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR). Colby mentions that

Mister Snitch! takes on not the MSM, but, rather, lefty bloggers, for their general silence on the story. His "by necessity very incomplete" survey of blogs last night showed that "most sites we examined are ignoring one of the year's most important stories," while "The one that did mention the riots did not delve too far into their origins."

I don't intend here to "delve into their origins." Colby notes that blogger-journalist Doug Ireland has written of the causes, and Professor Juan Cole, who spent some years growing up in France, also wrote on the matter.

Ireland writes of the "inchoate rebellion,"

It is the result of thirty years of government neglect: of the failure of the French political classes -- of both right and left -- to make any serious effort to integrate its Muslim and black populations into the larger French economy and culture; and of the deep-seated, searing, soul-destroying racism that the unemployed and profoundly alienated young of the ghettos face every day of their lives, both from the police, and when trying to find a job or decent housing.

Juan Cole says,

The kind of riots we are seeing in France also have occurred in US cities (they sent Detroit into a tailspin from 1967). They are always produced by racial segregation, racist discrimination, spectacular unemployment, and lack of access to the mainstream economy.

Both Cole's post and a response from Roger Stevenson review some of the historical roots in French capitalism and colonialism, which are quite worth reading.

The law-and-order crowd of the Right, both here and in France, will attempt to make the most of the disorder. And while I began by noting the necessity of such rebellions to bring change, you can never be sure what sort of change will be brought. In the American South, for instance, there were attempts at rebelliion before Martin Luther King. But the results of those efforts were not gratifying.

Yet as in the days of the American Civil Rights movement, there is a sense in France that the "whole world is watching." So perhaps some benefit will be gained—and if not in France perhaps elsewhere.

This view was reinforced by the remarkable reaction of Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson—

"They [the French government] have chosen a confrontational route and it is hard to see how it will become a dialogue," he said.

Persson reserved his strongest criticism for France's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who described the rioters as racaille, or 'rabble'.

"I'm surprised by the choice of words, at the start and as things went on. There is an implacability in the attitude towards the situation and I don't think it will lead to a dialogue," said Persson.

"There is justifiable criticism of French society and you don't confront this with the sort of expression Sarkozy used," he continued to a group of journalists in Stockholm on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister ... criticised the decision to send in a powerful police presence and to introduce a state of emergency:

"It's clear that if you resort to emergency legislation then it's naturally very dramatic, the like of which I haven't seen in Europe in the last 30-40 years. It feels like a very hard and confrontational approach."

Persson said he sees what is happening in France as a warning to the rest of Europe of the tensions that are built up as a consequence of poor integration policies and lingering unemployment since the slump of the 1990s.

"But obviously a simple thing like the fact that young people in France do not have the option of a study loan means that a great many are shut out from what, today, is necessary for moving on in society, namely further education."

Persson also rejected the idea of more local police as a "first step" in Sweden.

"It could be a method that works, but I don't believe that's the way we would choose in Sweden. For us it is about working on the opportunities for education. To start sending out signals about strengthening the police is to break with the political line we have chosen to follow," he said.


Related post
French prisons follow the American model—downhill (7/22/05)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Freedom of the Day

... if the vice president's proposal [to exempt the CIA from the McCain Amendment] is adopted, the CIA will presumably be free to bolster democracy by torturing anyone who does not embrace it with sufficient enthusiasm. —Jeffrey H. Smith, former general counsel to the CIA, writing in the Washington Post


Statistic of the Day

[F]ully 30 percent of our army recruits [are] kids with criminal sentences who were allowed to work their way out in the military. —Cherif Bassiouni, professor of international law at Depaul, as quoted by Georgie Anne Geyer


Weasel Poll results

Dilbert's fourth annual Weasel Poll has been conducted and the results announced. The most important findings of this unscientific poll of 40,000 are summarized below:
The Weasliest
Individual George Bush Karl Rove Cindy Sheehan
Organization White House Republican Party Organized Religion
Company Oil companies Halliburton Fox News
Profession Politicians Lawyers Oil executives

In other categories the "weasliest behavior" was found to be "Advocating the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools."

And the "weasliest country"? The U.S.A. (with Iraq included).


Disappointment of the Day

All four constitutional amendments on the Ohio ballot in yesterday's election failed miserably. The amendments promoted by the "Democratic-leaning" coalition Reform Ohio Now would have affected redistricting, election supervision, campaign contribution limits, and absentee voting.

Regular readers will know that my greatest disappointment lies with the failure of Issue 4, which would have eliminated gerrymandered districts. But Herb Asher, a political science professor and reform leader quoted in the Toledo Blade, has it just right—

The Republican insiders didn't want the system changed because they benefit from it right now.... The Democratic insiders didn't want it changed because they hope they'll benefit from it next time.

The Christian Right fought against all the amendments, since they have a distinct preference for bad government. You may be sure that the churches gave adequate instruction to the voting church-goers on the proper way to vote, and all without fear of IRS retribution.

If there's any joy to be found, it's in California, where all of Governor Arnie's amendments failed. Redistricting was on the California menu as well.

While in principle I support fair redistricting anywhere and everywhere, the state-by-state elimination of gerrymandering could have devastating consequences for the Democrats (or Republicans) depending upon which states opt to go sober. Parameters of fair redistricting need to be established either by a constitutional amendment (highly unlikely) or by a Supreme Court ruling that would make three-quarters of the elected politicians so mad that it would likely lead to the impeachment of the progressive justices.

So what is to be done? Samuel Beckett grasped the issue firmly in The Unnameable,

What am I to do, what shall I do, what should I do, in my situation, how proceed? By aporia pure and simple? Or by affirmations and negations invalidated as uttered, or sooner or later? Generally speaking. There must be other shifts. Otherwise it would be quite hopeless. But it is quite hopeless. I should mention before going any further, any further on, that I say aporia without knowing what it means.

Previous post
Jean Schmidt elected to lifetime appointment as U.S. Congresswoman from Ohio (8/3/05)
Redistricting amendments in California, Ohio on November 8 (10/20/05)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Editorial of the Day

After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.
NY Times editorial

Though it's nothing less than astonishing to read this in the Times, the reader should note how carefully this condemnation is worded. The editorial refers to a "presidency," an "administration" and a "government." No blame is laid at Bush's feet.

In a sense, of course, the editorial is correct. Bush has nothing to do with this greatest of national disasters other than to be the necessary rubber stamp of official Washington policy. But that is not the writer's intent, as can be easily seen in the editorial's conclusion—

Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver - in great part through his own powers of leadership - a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.

The place to begin is with Dick Cheney, the dark force behind many of the administration's most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation. Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney's back is against the wall, and he's declared war on the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.

Now the editorialist writes directly of "Mr. Bush." Comparing Bush with Ronald Reagan, the writer suggests some actions the President might take. While acknowledging that Dick Cheney is "the dark force behind many of the administration's most disastrous policies," he implies that George Bush is (a) not responsible and (b) capable of taking action on his own. If George were capable of taking independent action, then he would most certainly be responsible. But the truth is that we have as close to a mentally challenged individual occupying the Oval Office as I ever hope to see.

The NY Times should know this by now and stop trying to mislead the American public into believing that a legitimate government either exists or can exist under the current regime. Let the impeachment proceedings begin. Even when the king is only a figurehead, he still must go.

Related post
The Duumvirate (9/3/05)


WMD finally found in Iraq

Does anyone remember Giuliana Sgrena? She was the Italian journalist kidnapped then released only to be nearly murdered by American soldiers on her way to the Baghdad airport. Instead her bodyguard was killed. That was in early March. It was speculated by some that the American desire to do her in arose from her investigation of the use of chemical weapons through interviews with the refugees of Fallujah.1

Several whitewashes later the extraordinary journalist Dahr Jamail was interviewed by Amy Goodman in April—

GOODMAN: .... You are talking about Fallujah. What about the use of chemical weapons there? Last November, you reported the U.S. military has used poison gas and other non-conventional weapons against civilians in Fallujah. How do you know this?

DAHR JAMAIL: Many of the refugees I interviewed throughout November, just after the beginning of the siege, and then people who had been coming out of the city even into December, continued to report the use of chemical weapons in Fallujah, but really, one of the most important sources I have for this is an Iraqi doctor that I interviewed on the outskirts of Fallujah, and he said that he had worked as a medic during the Iran-Iraq War, he had treated Iraqi soldiers who had been hit with Iranian chemical weapons, so he knew what these types of injuries look like. And he said that he had treated people from Fallujah with the same types of injuries, as well as another Iraqi man that I had interviewed who went into the city, brought in by U.S. soldiers to help bury bodies, and that he had seen many bodies that he believed to have been hit by chemical weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: On March 3, Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli of the Iraqi Health Ministry held a news conference accusing the U.S. of using internationally banned chemical weapons, including nerve gas, during the assault. Do you have any more information on that?

DAHR JAMAIL: That report, actually, yes, I have read that and am aware of that. And it's just further confirmation of the fact that the — another, related to that what the doctor said that I had interviewed was that he was willing to go in and try to dig up some of these bodies that they were forced to bury by the U.S. military there in Fallujah, because he said that he is 100% certain that these types of weapons had been used, and he, among so many other people inside the city, are pleading for an international investigation of the types of these — of what illegal weapons were used there, because they are absolutely certain they were chemical weapons, cluster bombs, fleshettes, types of napalm and various other weapons, as well.

So the documentary aired today by the Italian government-run news channel is not "news" in the sense that new charges are being made. What is different is that the documentary is being shown through a state-run channel of a NATO ally and that the allegations are now accompanied by photographs2 and the testimony of American soldiers.

Only the British Independent is covering the story, but Peter Popham's account is itself unusual in its candor—

Powerful new evidence emerged yesterday that the United States dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi city of Fallujah during the attack on the city in November 2004, killing insurgents and civilians with the appalling burns that are the signature of this weapon.

Ever since the assault, which went unreported by any Western journalists, rumours have swirled that the Americans used chemical weapons on the city.

In December the US government formally denied the reports, describing them as "widespread myths". "Some news accounts have claimed that US forces have used 'outlawed' phosphorus shells in Fallujah," the USinfo website said. "Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. US forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes.

"They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters."

But now new information has surfaced, including hideous photographs and videos and interviews with American soldiers who took part in the Fallujah attack, which provides graphic proof that phosphorus shells were widely deployed in the city as a weapon.

The story so far has been reported by only one American newspaper. National Public Radio does not mention it among its "top news stories," though it does find "Circulation Decline Continues for Daily Newspapers" worthy of the list. "Morning Edition" today covered the elections in Liberia.

Watch the news for this one. If the media don't respond, this is a story that must not be allowed to go away. And it is an atrocity that must not be allowed to go without an investigation by a war-crimes commission.

If there is any good news of late it is that the effect of bloggers on the news media is becoming more and more palpable. This may prove to be a test case of that assertion.


1Her notes from those interviews were reported to have been seized by her captors, but I have yet to read an explanation of why these captors would want to hold onto her notes.

Though her kidnappers demanded the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq, I will speculate that they were in fact part of the Iraqi "kidnapping industry" interested only in the ransom money (which the Italian government almost certainly paid) and were not an active part of the anti-U.S. insurgency. If they were insurgents, why would they want to retain the notes? Indeed, why would they want to retain Sgrena? [back]

2Color photos of the atrocities are available here. [back]

Do you know?

Which American wire service is carrying the story of America's use of chemical weapons in Fallujah?

Which American newspaper first carried the story?

Monday, November 07, 2005


Pot-on-Kettle Attack of the Day

... U.S. President George W. Bush said on Sunday that some want to roll back democracy in Latin America by playing to fear and blaming others for their failures
—Steve Holland for Reuters in "Bush takes veiled swipe at Venezuela's Chavez"

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