Saturday, March 27, 2004

Game Theory

The nearly immediate retraction of Hamas's threats against the United States is, I think, not at all a sign of the success of this policy of "preemption." Quite the opposite. It shows that America, in this new global game of us-vs.-them, is very easily played.

The North Koreans know how to do it. They saw Iraq accused of weapons it didn't have and then invaded on that pretext. So, they got weapons.

Hamas is much more visible than al Qaeda has ever been, and they cannot afford overt aggression towards the US. And they are gaming the system that the Bushies have put into play. What does the following mean, if not, "We aren't going attack you, but you will be attacked, and that's okay"?:

"I say with absolute certainty that the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin will cause an earthquake to the Zionists," Khaled Mashaal told Dubai-based TV station Al-Arabiya. He said the revenge "will spare no targets."

Mashaal, who heads Hamas' political bureau, also criticized the United States for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution Friday condemning Israel for killing Yassin, but said his group will not attack U.S. targets in the Middle East.

He warned, however, that "America's bias" toward Israel and its occupation of Iraq (news - web sites) were creating enemies for it throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds.

"Hamas' ... battle is inside Palestine and against the Zionist occupation ... but I cannot predict what the reaction of Arab and Islamic masses might be," he said.


When Was It That Things Were Supposed to Start Getting Better?

Because it certainly doesn't appear to be happening yet.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Rebel rockets slammed into a government building in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, killing two civilians and wounding 14 others. An explosion rocked central Baghdad in a roadside bomb attack on a convoy, wounding five Iraqis.

The Mosul attack brought to 21 the number of people killed in two days of explosions and shootings across the country.

Or perhaps it is considered a success as long as it's not American soldiers being killed. But if that were the case, maybe it'd have been better not to send them in the first place...


Thank God We Have Halliburton in Iraq, to Keep an Eye on Things

Does it surprise anyone at all that the Chosen One of this administration to run Iraq is financially, well, less-than-honorable?

Ahmad Chalabi has never paid much attention to rules. As an international financier, he was convicted in absentia in 1992 of embezzling millions from his own bank in Jordan. In the mid-'90s, the CIA tried to make him its point man in a plan to oust Saddam Hussein, but found he was not controllable, leading to a bitter divorce. "His primary focus was to drag us into a war that [Bill] Clinton didn't want to fight," says Whitley Bruner, the CIA agent who first contacted Chalabi in London in 1991. "He couldn't be trusted." Most recently, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress have been accused of passing on hyped or fabricated reports from defectors on WMD that Saddam didn't have—but which provided the casus belli. Like the CIA, the State Department eventually cut off dealings with Chalabi.
Some in Congress disagree. NEWSWEEK has learned that the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative arm, is opening a probe into the INC's use of U.S. government money the group received in 2001 and 2002. The issue under scrutiny is not whether Chalabi prodded America into a war on false pretenses; it is whether he used U.S. taxpayer dollars and broke U.S. laws or regulations to do so. Did Chalabi and the INC violate the terms of their funding by using U.S. money to sell the public on its anti-Saddam campaign and to lobby Congress?


Setting Themselves Up for a Fall

I think that, as a result of the widely publicized 9-11 hearings and of Clarke's revelations, the Republicans' arrogance will end up blowing up in their faces, when it comes time for their cynically-timed convention in NYC.

Mr. Bush and his aides say they believe that his leadership after Sept. 11 created an irrevocable bond with voters that would be nearly impossible to erase and will ultimately overshadow any questions raised about the pre-Sept. 11 period of his presidency.

Still, they have acknowledged that this would be a very different kind of election had it not been for the attacks, and that any advantage the president enjoys going into the election is because of that chapter of his presidency. The White House selected the time and place of the convention where Mr. Bush will be nominated — New York City, less than two weeks before the third anniversary of the attacks — with that in mind.

At this point, it just doesn't look as though this purported bond will overshadow the proliferating questions. And, since "any advantage" is based on his supposed leadership after the attacks, this looks like trouble for them. I could be wrong, but I foresee a chaos of protest in NYC when the Republicans pull into town.


Korea's Learning Curve

Pretty steep. But, then, the lesson from Iraq is pretty clear: If you have nukes, we will negotiate, if not, we will occupy.

BEIJING, March 27 — North Korea on Saturday explicitly rejected the formula the United States has put forward as its bottom-line position in talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs, raising doubts about whether the fitful negotiations are making even limited progress.



First the Pope comes out against sports on Sunday, and now this:

Message to church employees who support John Kerry's presidential bid: public endorsement of the pro-choice Catholic senator could cost you your job.

Just ask Ono Ekeh, founder and moderator of the Catholics for Kerry e-mail discussion list and, until March 9, program coordinator at the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for African-American Catholics. The 33-year-old father of two is now looking for work.

It all started in late February when Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine and a key player in the Bush campaign outreach to Catholic voters, revealed in his widely distributed weekly "e-letter" that Ekeh hosted the pro-Kerry site. Hudson is a leader of efforts to get U.S. bishops to publicly confront pro-choice Catholic elected officials.

"Look," wrote Hudson, "it's one thing for a Catholic to be a pro-life Democrat -- that in itself is a perfectly legitimate position and consistent with our Catholic Faith. However, it's completely unacceptable to follow Ekeh and trade away our pro-life responsibilities."

Ekeh "even goes so far as to defend Kerry against the explicit directives from the Vatican and the USCCB that condemn political support for abortion and gay marriage." Concluded Hudson, "As Kerry advances down the presidential campaign trail, and as other Catholics equivocate on his blatantly pro-abortion record, it will become more and more vital for the bishops to speak out. And for the members of the conference itself, the issue is getting a bit close to home."

Link via Atrios, who is exactly right in bringing up the issue of tax exemption. Why should the Catholic Church keep its status, when it engages in such blatant political activities?


The Pope Hates NASCAR Dads

Somehow, I don't think this is going to play well here in the states:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul on Friday said Sunday should be a day for God, not for secular diversions like entertainment and sports.

"When Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes subordinate to a secular concept of 'weekend' dominated by such things as entertainment and sport, people stay locked within a horizon so narrow that they can no longer see the heavens," the pontiff said in a speech to Australian bishops.


The Right Wingers Are Going to Love This

Let the French-bashing begin. I mean, recommence:

PARIS - A French lawyer, known for defending terrorists and a Nazi leader, said Saturday he will defend Saddam Hussein.

Jacques Verges told France-Inter radio he had received a letter from Saddam's family requesting him to defend the former Iraqi leader in court. U.S. officials have said they will bring Saddam to trial for alleged crimes against Iraqi people. But the location of any trial and its format and date have not yet been decided


Please, Take Him Out!

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's chief prosecutor has drafted an indictment against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a long-running corruption scandal that could drive him from office, Israel's Channel 2 television said on Saturday.

The report said State Attorney Edna Arbel plans to submit the charge sheet within days to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who will make the final decision on whether to put the 76-year-old leader on trial.

Channel 2 said it could take Mazuz months to decide whether to accept Arbel's recommendations, adding to a cloud of political uncertainty that has enveloped Sharon.

The sooner Sharon goes, the better. Violence has only proliferated during his "tough stand" against the Palestinians.


Some Good News in the War on AIDS

Which we have been losing recently, with a resurgence of infection, especially among the lower classes and minorities. Globally, AIDS remains a tremendous problem, and remains unaddressed, despite Bush's proposals, which actually do more harm than good, as they include requirements that some of the money be spent on "abstinence programs" and that the drugs be bought from price-gouging pharmaceutical corporations.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the first HIV test that uses saliva rather than blood and delivers results in 20 minutes.

Public health officials hope the new test will encourage wider and more frequent testing. About 25 percent of all Americans carrying HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, do not know that they are infected, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around the world, that figure may be as high as 95 percent.

Although the test is as easy to use as a home-pregnancy kit and could eventually revolutionize HIV testing, the company, OraSure Technologies of Bethlehem, Pa., is not yet seeking approval for over-the-counter sales.

The OraQuick HIV-1/2 test is more than 99 percent accurate, said Michael Gausling, OraSure's president.

I hope it does lead to more testing, especially given that we have drug regimes that can keep AIDS in check for a long time. And I hope they go ahead and seek over-the-counter approval, as that will get around all the fears of being "outed" as HIV+ that deter some from going to the doctor to be tested.


Friday, March 26, 2004

Bush's Alienation of the Entire World Hits the Western Hemisphere

That's what you get when you have a reputation for overthrowing governments:

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - The 15-nation Caribbean Community has decided against recognizing Haiti's new U.S.-backed government, senior Caribbean officials said Friday.

Regional leaders reached a consensus decision on the issue during the second and final day of a summit, said several senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The move came a day after the leaders demanded that the U.N. General Assembly investigate Aristide's claims he was abducted at gunpoint by U.S. agents when he left as rebels threatened to attack Haiti's capital.


Very Unnerving Developments
And yet another example of why the United States needs to have credibility and prestige in the international arena--which we don't, as a direct result of the Iraq adventure:

March 27 (Bloomberg) -- President Chen Shui-bian's administration and the opposition Nationalist Party, in the first show of unity after a week of political conflict, rebuked a warning from China that it might intervene to resolve the island's election crisis.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council and Nationalist Party spokesman Alex Tsai Cheng-yuan said in separate statements that China should stay out of Taiwan's domestic affairs and any attempt to interfere would turn the island's residents against the mainland.

China's comment came after a clash yesterday between police and Taipei demonstrators protesting Chen's election a week ago by 30,000 of 13 million votes cast. The Nationalists said 300,000 protesters will attend a mass rally in Taipei today.

This is a very serious situation, which could rapidly evolve into a catastrophe after decades of uneasy coexistence.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

Tone-Deaf, Again

My god this man is a soulless moron:

President George Bush sparked a political firestorm yesterday after making what many judged a tasteless and ill-judged joke about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Mr Bush made the joke at a black-tie event for radio and television journalists in Washington on Wednesday night.

He narrated a slide show, described as the White House election year album, making hay of the administration's reputation for secrecy and strained relations with European allies. But it was the joke about the war in Iraq that drew attacks.

A slide showed Mr Bush in the Oval office, leaning to look under a piece of furniture. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere," he told the audience, drawing applause.

And the audience applauded? Repugnant.


Put That Woman Under Oath Now

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Thursday sought a second private meeting with members of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Members had complained about her refusal to testify in this week's public hearings. Rice met with commissioners privately for four hours in February.

The White House released a letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez to the chairman and co-chairman of the commission, asking that Rice be given another chance to speak.

"In light of yesterday's hearing in which there were a number of mischaracterizations of Dr. Rice's statements and positions, Dr. Rice requests to meet again privately with the commission," Gonzalez wrote.


So Much for Another Right-Wing Pile of Crap

Of course, with the repugnant "Unborn Victims" bill rolling along, it may not matter for much longer...

Having an abortion does not increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer later, according to the most comprehensive and definitive analysis conducted on the controversial issue, scientists said yesterday.

The conclusion was based on 53 studies involving 83,000 women in 16 countries. For the first time, researchers compared all the studies according to the quality of their methodology: Better-designed studies found no link between abortion and breast cancer. Studies using weaker designs were inconsistent, but on average, they found a link.

Currently, several states, including Texas, Minnesota and Kansas, tell women considering an abortion that it may increase their risk of breast cancer. Other states are debating whether to require doctors to warn women of a risk. The federal government also had suggested that abortion might raise the risk, but it recently dropped that information from an official cancer information Web site.

The governmental assertions suggest that there is an ongoing scientific debate in which studies that found no link are balanced by others that did. The new analysis concludes that this approach distorts the truth. It is being published today in the Lancet, a British medical journal.

"We have demonstrated that a certain group of studies are unreliable and can't be trusted," said Valerie Beral, a professor of epidemiology at Oxford University, who coordinated the study. Overall, she said, "you could say, if anything, these results suggest the possibility of a slightly reduced risk of breast cancer if you have had an abortion."

The studies deemed unreliable are the ones that antiabortion activists have long championed. Beral, who conducted the analysis with an international group of scientists, said those studies were flawed because they were done by asking women with breast cancer whether they had ever had an abortion. Such women are more likely than healthy women to reveal they had an abortion, leading to the conclusion that there are more abortions among this group and that abortions may have played a role in the disease process, Beral said.


Heads Up, Texas!

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned the Texas oil industry of potential attacks by Al Qaeda on pipelines and refineries near the time of the November presidential election, although it added that the information it had received was uncorroborated.

I work within sight of the Texas capitol building; in fact, I was there on 9-11, and I still occasionally cringe a bit when a low-flying jet roars by. I know it is not likely to be a target, but being that close to Bush's last capitol is unnerving.

I would not be at all surprised if offshore rigs were targetted. Probably not that hard to attack, and mightily symbolic given the global impression that the US is an oil-hungry bully.


I Wish I Could Have Seen the Look on Clinton's Face

Shock? Disgust? What would his expression have betrayed?

WASHINGTON – A Texas Democratic fundraiser, speaking not for attribution, told me about the lunch he recently had at the home of former President Clinton in the New York suburbs. Clinton recounted his last meeting with President Bush over coffee, just before the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2001.

The outgoing president counseled his successor that he would face five challenges in the international arena - the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the Al Qaeda terrorist threat, a nuclear-armed North Korea, the India-Pakistan confrontation, and the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in Iraq.

Clinton was surprised at Bush's response. He said he disagreed with Clinton's order - that he considered Saddam Hussein to be the primary threat that he would have to deal with.

Let's see, of the five things Clinton mentioned, Israel has re-energized the Hamas with its assassinations, al Qaeda is alive and well and advocating civil war in Pakistan, and North Korea is nuclear.

But Saddam is gone, so it is a better world!!!!


It Ain't Just the Christians...

who go around seeing their savior in tortillas and such:

HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Hundreds of Palestinians gathered to see a lamb born with what looked like "Allah" spelled out in Arabic on its coat.

Onlookers in the West Bank town of Hebron said Wednesday the real significance was the fact the animal was born Monday -- the day Israel killed Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin.

"This is clear evidence of God's existence," the lamb's owner Yahya Atrash told Reuters Television. "It was born with the words 'Allah' on one side and 'Mohammed' on the other."


A Slight Misunderstanding

See, we all thought Bush said that invading Iraq was crucial to his plans to bring stability to the Middle East.

What he actually said was that invading Iraq was crucial to his plans to bring instability to southern Asia.

Completely understandable, I mean that's only a few words' difference.

DUBAI (Reuters) - Arabic television Al Jazeera aired on Thursday a purported new tape by senior al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in which he called on Pakistanis to overthrow "traitor" President Pervez Musharraf's government.

"I call on Muslims in Pakistan to get rid of their government which is working for Americans," said the voice on the tape, which sounded like previous recordings for Zawahri, right-hand man of Osama bin Laden (news - web sites).


Chipping Away at Roe v. Wade

The Republicans know that a frontal assault on abortion rights is a losing proposition; most people have the sense to balk at such a blatant intrusion of governmental power, fortunately. So, they try more subtle methods, like this:

WASHINGTON - Congress stood ready Thursday to send President Bush (news - web sites) legislation making it a separate offense to harm a fetus during a violent federal crime, an issue that has become tangled with the battle over abortion.

The Senate cleared the way for passing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act by defeating an amendment, backed by abortion rights lawmakers, that would have increased penalties but maintained that an attack on a pregnant victim was a single-victim crime.

I harming a fetus is a criminal act, as this bill will make it, what is there to distinguish between a mugger and a woman who wants an abortion and the doctor who provides it?


Slow on the Uptake

Bush makes a bold statement today:

NASHUA, N.H. - Buffeted by charges that he failed to fully grasp the terrorist threat before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush (news - web sites) said Thursday he would have employed "every resource, every asset, every power of this government" had he known the attacks were coming.

Well, that certainly sets him apart from Kerry, who would have done nothing, even if he had known the attacks were coming, since he is a traitorous liberal and all.

How stupid is Bush that he can deem this convincing? But, then, he really cannot address the key problem, which is that his administration actively avoided knowing much of anything about al Qaeda, from day one. So, he is left with little but, "Well, I woulda..."


A Bad Week for the Bushies

And perfect timing for Dean to endorse Kerry. The 9-11 hearing pretty much put a halt to all the attacks on Kerry for flipping or flopping or whatever, as the entire administration was sent out to state that Clarke was to blame for 9-11 because he was in charge and that Clarke doesn't know what he is talking about because he was not even close to being in charge.

Clarke himself, of course, showed all the class and forthrightness so clearly lacking among the Bushies as he spelled out his case against them and their little war.

This is the war that was the cornerstone of Dean's brief but energetic--and energizing--campaign. And now he seizes this moment to send the Deaniacs in Kerry's direction, even as the liars in the White House are scrambling for cover.


Former Democratic Party front-runner Howard Dean endorsed the party’s nominee, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Thursday at a rally at Washington, D.C.'s George Washington University. Amid spirited chants of "Kerry, Kerry, Kerry" led by Dean himself, the former Vermont governor pledged his support for Kerry, once his arch-rival on the campaign trail.

"Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America," Dean asked the eager crowd, "a group of people who never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy who served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star from the battlefields of Vietnam?"


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Thank Heavens There Is No Crisis

WASHINGTON, March 24 (Xinhuanet) -- US mental health specialists sent to Iraq to examine the above-normal suicide rate among American soldiers there concluded that measures should be taken but there is no crisis, officials said Wednesday.

A 12-member Army Mental Health Advisory Team was dispatched to Iraq and Kuwait in August, following a jump in reported suicide cases among American soldiers in July. The experts returned in October after interviewing almost 760 soldiers, officials said.

A senior Army official discussed the report with local reporters one day before its formal release.

The Army reported at least 24 suicides among US soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait last year, including five in July alone. That represents a suicide rate of 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers, higher than a rate of 12.8 for the Army as a whole in 2003 and an averagerate of 11.9 for the Army during the 1995-2002 period.


Democrats Working for (White-Collar) Workers

Some good news:

Dems win dispute on overtime pay rules

By James Cox, USA TODAY

Senate Democrats delivered a victory Wednesday to white-collar workers fearful of losing overtime pay, at the same time delaying relief for manufacturers hit with trade sanctions by Europe.
Democratic senators defeated Republican efforts to block legislative consideration of the Bush administration's proposed changes to rules for overtime pay.

However, the disturbing bit follows a couple of paragraphs later:

Congress is under pressure to replace a tax break for U.S. exporters that has been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization. The WTO ruled that the tax break is an illegal export subsidy.

Did you vote for anyone in charge of the WTO? No? I didn't think so. It is not paranoia or conspiracy theory to point out that capitalist institutions are trumping democratic ones.


Appropriate Response

After seeing the runaway success of The Passion of the Christ, film-makers behind the Life of Brian have decided to re-release the satirical Monty Python flick, it emerged today.


Good News

From what I have read in the past, this is too little, too late, as far as the Reef is concerned. But, still, any major environmental protection must be applauded.

Fishing will be banned from a third of the Great Barrier Reef from July, making it the world's best protected reef system.

Federal Environment Minister David Kemp described the adoption of the new zoning plan as the most important conservation decision in the world this year.

He said the plan, which had the support of the $4.5 billion a year local tourism industry, would result in more fish, bigger fish and healthier corals in the Great Barrier Reef.


My Wildest Dream

This is what happens to you when you try to oust Lloyd Doggett! Karma time:

DELAY TO STEP DOWN?....Could it be? From Roll Call (subscription only):

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has begun quiet discussions with a handful of colleagues about the possibility that he will have to step down from his leadership post temporarily if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury investigating alleged campaign finance abuses.

...Republican Conference rules state that a member of the elected leadership who has been indicted on a felony carrying a penalty of at least two years in prison must temporarily step down from the post.


Another Bit of Legislative Absurdity

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) - An unmarried couple who are the parents of a two-year-old child may be forced to separate because cohabitation is illegal in North Carolina and would violate the woman's probation.

Melissa Sheridan said she has about two years of probation left for welfare fraud in New York state. She moved to North Carolina a few months ago with her boyfriend, John Finger.

New York allowed her to leave with the assumption North Carolina would supervise her probation, but North Carolina has refused because she and Finger live together, she said.


Clueless Governance

Once again, the South embarrasses itself with its own ignorance. Note: This bill passed 160-0.

ATLANTA - Genital piercings for women were banned by the Georgia House Wednesday as lawmakers considered a bill outlining punishments for female genital mutilation.

The bill would make such mutilation punishable by two to 20 years in prison. It makes no exception for people who give consent to have the procedure performed on their daughters out of religious or cultural custom.

An amendment adopted without objection added "piercing" to the list of things that may not be done to female genitals. Even adult women would not be allowed to get the procedure. The bill eventually passed 160-0, with no debate.

Amendment sponsor Rep. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, was slack-jawed when told after the vote that some adults seek the piercings.

"What? I've never seen such a thing," Heath said. "I, uh, I wouldn't approve of anyone doing it. I don't think that's an appropriate thing to be doing."

The ban applies only to women, not men.


Bravura Performance

For example, when Dr. Newdow described "under God" as a "divisive" addition to the pledge, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist asked him what the vote in Congress had been 50 years ago when the phrase was inserted.

The vote was unanimous, Dr. Newdow said.

"Well, that doesn't sound divisive," the chief justice observed.

"That's only because no atheist can get elected to public office," Dr. Newdow shot back.

The courtroom audience broke into applause, an exceedingly rare event that left the chief justice temporarily nonplussed. He appeared to collect himself for a moment, and then sternly warned the audience that the courtroom would be cleared "if there's any more clapping."

Earlier, Dr. Newdow responded to Justice Stephen G. Breyer's suggestion that "under God'` had acquired such a broad meaning and "civic context" that "it's meant to include virtually everybody, and the few whom it doesn't include don't have to take the pledge."

Dr. Newdow replied: "I don't think that I can include `under God' to mean `no God.' I deny the existence of God." He added, "Government needs to stay out of this business altogether."


Military Overcapacity?

Tell that to the reservists in Iraq. I just don't know what to make of this behavior:

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Xinhuanet) -- US Defense Secretary Donald H.Rumsfeld told Congress on Tuesday that a new round of military base closures is needed in 2005, saying the military has about 24 percent "over-capacity" than it needs to support the reduced post-Cold War US military.

Rumsfeld's certification was contained in a report submitted to Congress as required by a law enacted in 2003 that authorized a new round of base closings and realignments in 2005.

The report said the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps all have excess capacity based on a Pentagon forecastof the military's force structure in 2009.


Genius in Orange County

This is the silliest news out of California since Arnold won the election:

The city councillors of Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California, are well-meaning, socially responsible people. And when they came across the huge threat posed to their constituents by dihydrogen monoxide they did what any elected official should do: they took steps to protect their community. A motion due to go before the city legislature proposed banning the potentially deadly substance from within the city boundaries.
Researchers found that the presence of dihydrogen monoxide in Aliso Viejo had reached startling levels: it was present in its crude form, often spilling unmonitored on to the city streets; it was found to be a crucial ingredient in many common chemical compounds; its presence was even detected in that most ubiquitous of civilised artifacts, the styrofoam cup.

And it got worse: dihydrogen monoxide is lethal if inhaled, causes severe burns in its gaseous state, and is the major component in acid rain. Prolonged exposure to solid dihydrogen monoxide can cause severe tissue damage. It can, said the city council report, "threaten human safety and health".

Fortunately for the concerned legislators, the rat was smelt before it got as far as the debating chamber. The perils of dihydrogen monoxide have been ignored until now largely because it is better known by its common name: water.

The tragedy is that this whole mishap has distracted people from the real threat: hydrogen hydroxide.



Forcing children across the nation to declare that the United States is "one nation, under God," is not a mere recognition of religious heritage. And to proclaim this to be part of some long-standing tradition is to ignore the fact that the Pledge was written by socialist pacifists and amended by McCarthyists.

Texas Attorney General Pushes To Keep 'God' In Pledge

According to Abbott, justices have consistently acknowledged a key distinction between government-sponsored religious ceremony or display, and simple historical and patriotic recognition of religion by government institutions.

"From the time of her founding, our nation has recognized her religious heritage in historical documents, speeches and even her architecture," Abbott wrote in his brief. "The phrase 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance is one such acknowledgment, and I urge the Supreme Court to protect its continued presence in our public schools."


Sing It, Barney Frank

And on the right side of history, we have Representative Barney Frank:

WASHINGTON -- In a personal plea, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of only two openly gay member of Congress, yesterday urged fellow lawmakers to reject a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, saying homosexual couples "simply want to express their love and feelings in the same way as everyone else."

Frank told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on the amendment: "I have to ask, who are we hurting?"

This is a man who clearly did not witness tonight's heartrending investigative reporting on The Daily Show about the hardships endured by the poor heteros as a result of all this gay marriage nonsense.


Monday, March 22, 2004

Terry Eagleton, Public Intellectual

I don't always agree with his particular, rather Gramscian version of Marxism, but he is far and away the most pleasurable Marxist in terms of style.

And when he is writing for popular publications, his wit can become downright acerbic, even when discussing the history of ideas:

By no means every modern philosopher signed up to this crippling division. Kant's argument was challenged by his mighty contemporary Hegel, who in turn influenced Marx. In any case, if Kant stands at the fountainhead of the modern age, so does the French Revolution which he abhorred - an event in which abstract ideas came alive on the streets of Paris. Even so, the distinction died hard. For later modern thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, we could act effectively only by repressing true knowledge. True knowledge would drive us mad. We could not act, and reflect on our actions, at the same time, any more than some dim American presidents could simultaneously chew gum and walk.

You just have to love it.


The Wrong Side of History

It's a shame.

ATLANTA - From the cradle of the civil rights movement, several dozen black pastors are voicing their opposition to the gay marriage movement and rhetoric that equates it with the struggle for racial equality.

The pastors rallied late Monday at an Atlanta-area church where they signed a declaration outlining their beliefs on marriage and religion. They are pressing for a state constitutional ban on gay marriages, which will be considered again by the Georgia House as soon as this week.

Many black clergy say they are offended by the gay rights movement's claim that their struggle is the same as the effort for equal racial rights.

The declaration, which was signed by 30 pastors, was to be presented to legislative leaders later in the week. It said same-sex marriage is not a civil right, and marriage between a man and a woman is necessary for the upbringing of children.

"This is neither a hate nor a fear issue," the statement said. "People are free in our nation to pursue relationships as they choose. To redefine marriage, however, to suit the preference of those choosing alternative lifestyles is wrong."

Bishop William Shields of Hopewell Baptist Church told the crowd of about 250 that gay marriage is "a threat to who we are and what we stand for."


This Is Just What We Need

To be clear, I have no idea if the US had anything to do with Israel's assassination of Yassin, which was both misguided and criminal. My first instinct is no.

But how much does it really matter, given the generally close alliance of the US and Israel? The widespread perception is what counts in the end, and this seems to sum it up most unnervingly:

Hamas threatened the United States and suggested it might seek outside help in carrying out revenge attacks.

"The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American administration and it (the United States) must take responsibility for this crime," Hamas said in a statement. "All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in on the retaliation for this crime."

In the past, Hamas has refrained from targeting U.S. citizens or interests, instead focusing on fund-raising and recruitment within the United States, according to senior U.S. law enforcement officials.

Just in case al Qaeda needs a rest, now they can handoff to Hamas...or to any of Hamas's rivals, many of which have now proclaimed solidarity with Hamas, in the wake of the murder of Sheik Yassin.

And, given this recent report that attacks on US troops in Iraq are now perpetrated more by Islamic extremist than by Ba'athist loyalists (who are secular, not fundamentalist), Israel's actions directly hurt the safety of US troops:

BAGHDAD, March 18 -- U.S. military commanders across Iraq (news - web sites) say that a combination of foreign and indigenous Islamic extremists have eclipsed loyalists of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s Baath Party as the dominant organizers and financiers of attacks on American and Iraqi security forces and civilians.

The Islamic radicals have been deemed by the commanders to be largely responsible for not just a series of high-profile suicide car bombings that have killed more than 1,000 people, but also a spate of recent attacks on U.S. troops, foreign civilians and Iraqis working with American forces. In many cases, the commanders said, religious extremists have begun to exercise leadership over cells of low-level Baathist fighters whose superiors have been captured or killed, by offering money and weapons to conduct mortar strikes, drive-by shootings and assassinations.


Arafat to Gibson: "Good Work!"

This is simply hilarious:

Yasser Arafat watched Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ on Saturday, and afterward a top aide compared Jesus' pain during crucifixion to the suffering of Palestinians in the conflict with Israel.


The Palestinians are still daily being exposed to the kind of pain Jesus was exposed to during his crucifixion," Abu Rudeneh said in a statement after he viewed the movie.

Arafat, who watched the film on a small TV set in his Ramallah office, said the movie was "historic and impressive."

So, is this movie now anti-Semitic because Arafat likes it AND also not anti-Semitic because American Christians like it?


Badge of Honor

I have never been a huge fan of Kerry, and will vote for him largely for ABB reasons. However, this story makes me like him quite a bit more, all actual policies aside:

KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) -- Reports that the FBI monitored John Kerry's anti-war activities in the early 1970s are both "a badge of honor" and a troubling example of government intrusion into peaceful and legitimate protest, a Kerry spokesman said Monday.

"Revealed in page after page of FBI reports is the portrait of John Kerry at age 27 speaking with courage and conviction, leading veterans to Washington for peaceful protests, advocating nonviolent protests and moderation," spokesman David Wade said.


Worker Dissatisfaction

Maybe it's just me, but I cannot remember a greater number of disgruntled employees since all those postal workers decided to arm themselves a couple of decades ago:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Monday sought to brand its former anti-terrorism czar as a disgruntled employee bent on damaging President Bush's war image with politically motivated assertions about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Former counter-terror official Richard Clarke said Bush ignored the threat of al Qaeda before the attacks and focused on Iraq rather than the Islamic militant group afterward.


It's Just a Jump to the Left

No one can tell the long-term effects of the Bush invasion of Iraq a year ago. However, judging by Spain, now run by the Socialists, and judging by the elections in France, the invasion may well have driven Western democracies a bit to the left:

France's mainstream parties of the left are poised to make significant gains in the run-off of the regional elections on Sunday, in the wake of the centre-right's poor performance in the first round over the weekend.

However, to continue the allusion of my title, every jump to the left seems to come with a step to the right:

Another message from Sunday's first-round vote was the 17 per cent support for the National Front.


How's That for Asymmetrical Warfare?

I don't know anything about Sheikh Yassin, but this description of Israel's latest assassination is appalling and ludicrous:

Two Israeli Apache helicopters flew over Gaza City before dawn and waited for Yassin, the quadriplegic 68-year-old Hamas leader, who was praying in the Al Mujama' Mosque in the Sabra neighborhood, not far from his home.

"He stayed in the mosque for about half an hour, and as soon as his three bodyguards pushed his wheelchair outside the mosque and headed toward his home, the helicopters began to fire missiles at him and his bodyguards," said a nearby resident.
The witness said he had seen blood and part of the wheelchair from Yassin's gray beard flying in the air after three missiles were fired from the helicopters. The three bodyguards and five bystanders were killed in the attack, and 12 people were wounded, including Yassin's two sons.

Why is it that Israel and the United States seem to excel in the business of creating new terrorists?

Hamdan said that the assassination of Yassin would be the beginning of a third Palestinian intifada, adding, "Hamas as well as other militants will react and carry out revenge attacks against Israel.

"Israel, after the (Palestinian) retaliatory attacks for Yassin's assassination, will not keep quiet and it will respond to future attacks, then militants will respond, and this will be endless," said Hamdan.

Angry crowds gathered at Shiffa hospital, waving green Hamas flags and pictures of Yassin while promising revenge and firing guns into the air.

Mourners carried the bodies, wrapped in green Hamas flags, on their shoulders, followed by thousands of militants carrying rifles and rocket launchers and firing them into the air.


A Slight Contradiction

On the one hand, there is William Rivers Pitt:

Donald Kerrick was a deputy National Security Advisor in the late Clinton administration. He stayed on into the Bush administration. He was a three-star General, and absolutely not political. He has reported that when the Bush people came in, he wrote a memo about terrorism, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The memo said, "We will be struck again." As a result of writing that memo, he was not invited to any more meetings. No one responded to his memo. He felt that, from what he could see from inside the National Security Council, terrorism was demoted.

Richard Clarke was Director of Counter-Terrorism in the National Security Council. He has since left. Clarke urgently tried to draw the attention of the Bush administration to the threat of al Qaeda. Richard Clarke was panicked about the alarms he was hearing regarding potential attacks. Clarke is at the center of what has since become a burning controversy: What happened on August 6, 2001? It was on this day that George W. Bush received his last, and one of the few, briefings on terrorism. According to reports, the briefing stated bluntly that Osama bin Laden intended to attack America soon, and contained the word "hijacking." Bush responded to the warning by heading to Texas for a month-long vacation. It is this briefing that the Bush administration has refused to divulge to the committee investigating the attacks.

There was not a single Republican member of Congress who ever raised a single question or put a query to the Clinton National Security Council about its efforts against terrorism before the attacks. When the Clinton team left office, their National Security group conducted three extensive briefings of the incoming Bush people. The attitude of the Bush people was, essentially, dismissive, that it was a "Clinton thing." Condoleezza Rice has admitted that the massive file on al Qaeda and bin Laden left for her by outgoing National Security Advisor Sandy Berger went completely unread until the attacks had taken place.

On the other hand, there is Condoleezza Rice:

During the transition, President-elect Bush's national security team was briefed on the Clinton administration's efforts to deal with al Qaeda. The seriousness of the threat was well understood by the president and his national security principals. In response to my request for a presidential initiative, the counterterrorism team, which we had held over from the Clinton administration, suggested several ideas, some of which had been around since 1998 but had not been adopted. No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration.
The president wanted more than a laundry list of ideas simply to contain al Qaeda or "roll back" the threat. Once in office, we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to "eliminate" the al Qaeda network. The president wanted more than occasional, retaliatory cruise missile strikes. He told me he was "tired of swatting flies."
Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack airplanes to try to free U.S.-held terrorists.

How shall we decide whom to believe?


American Theism

To me, there has always been something disconcerting about the extent to which politicians in this country, a country founded upon (among other things) the freedom to do whatever you like as regards the Big Questions, must go around proclaiming their belief in some sort of Christian God. Sure, there are loads of Christians in this country (more's the pity, in my opinion). But that should not mean that proclaiming yourself an atheist pretty much automatically ends any political ambitions you might have, all the way down to your local school board.

That's why Michael Newdow is so impressive, in addition to being completely right:

Sacramento -- Michael Newdow will stand before the highest court in the land for 30 minutes on Wednesday and defend his view that the words "under God'' should be struck from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Since getting a federal appeals court in 2002 to agree with him, Newdow, an atheist, has been at the center of a pitched debate over where the line between religion and government is drawn. Newdow's quest to strip the pledge of "religious endorsement'' has led to death threats against the 50-year-old resident of Elk Grove (Sacramento County). Politicians from President Bush on down and religious groups have condemned the appellate court ruling in Newdow's favor.

And I have to say, this pleases me greatly:

Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said the lower court's decision was "contrary to our whole tradition,'' a statement that prevents Scalia from hearing Newdow's case.

Oh, Tony, you and your big mouth.


Time to Shut Up

Yes, I am talking to you, Joe Lieberman:

"I am much more concerned about the safety of my granddaughter in school here in Washington because of Al Qaeda than I am with ten Saddam Husseins," Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said on ABC. "And we took our eye off the ball because of a preoccupation with Iraq."

But his Democratic colleague, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, said on Fox that he saw "no basis" for the allegation that the administration was too focused on Iraq in the wake of Sept. 11. "I think we've got to be careful to speak facts and not rhetoric and not to go about what happened in the past so totally that we divide ourselves," he said.


Another Voice in the Chorus

How many people--and I don't mean us crazy leftists, because you know we are always wrong or paranoid or anti-American or something--but real people on the inside have to speak up before the media begin trumpeting the Bushies' mendacity and the public becomes as irate as it ought to have been all along?

The accusations by Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counter terrorism specialist, that the Bush administration failed to take the threat of Al Qaeda seriously prior to Sept. 11 overtook other campaign developments Sunday and promised to reverberate this week as the Sept. 11 commission conducts a public hearing.

Administration officials moved quickly to respond to the harsh criticism by Mr. Clarke and his recounting of how top White House advisers were fixated on Iraq, issuing a detailed rebuttal that said Mr. Bush "specifically recognized the threat posed by Al Qaeda."

But Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who was the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, barely let Mr. Clarke's appearance on "60 Minutes" end before he issued a scathing statement about the administration's record on terror.

"The facts are that within six months of the first bombs falling on Afghanistan, this administration was diverting military and intelligence resources to its planned war in Iraq, which allowed Al Qaeda to regenerate," said Mr. Graham, who was one of the first lawmakers to label the war with Iraq a distraction from the fight against terror. "As the people of Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and most recently Spain have learned painfully well, this president failed to execute the real war on terrorism."


Sunday, March 21, 2004

Utterly Laughable

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush's re-election campaign opened a new line of attack on Democrat John Kerry on Sunday by saying his main spending proposals would cost $1.7 trillion over 10 years and that he would have to raise taxes on all Americans to pay for them.

If the Democrats don't just jump all over this, pointing out that Bush has always been about NOT taxing, and spending ridiculous amounts in ridiculous ways, leaving the bill for later generations, then I will be disappointed, though not necessarily surprised.

And really, this is just a gratuitous reference to "France in a Kerry context," invoking absurd right-wing associations from a few weeks ago:

"Considering just some of Sen. Kerry's proposals in the 16 months that he's been running for president, he's proposed $1.7 trillion in new spending, more than the annual economic output for the country of France, three-fourths of the size of the entire U.S. government, and an average of $15,500 per American household." said Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman.