Saturday, April 24, 2004

Common Sense

And I wish we had more of it here in the states.

Nurses should be allowed to carry out abortions to speed up the process and defuse growing controversy over terminations late in pregnancy, according to family planning chiefs.

Waiting times to end a pregnancy could be cut by letting more junior staff oversee 'medical abortions' - drugs that induce a miscarriage - or simple surgery such as the vacuum procedure, says the Family Planning Association.

Under current law, only doctors can perform a termination. But the FPA chief executive, Anne Weyman, said the law was restricting NHS provision and forcing women to delay until later in pregnancy when terminations are more traumatic.

Weyman said: 'Nurses would have to be trained and properly supported to do it, but it means you would get a larger pool of professionals you could call on.

'Abortions under 10 weeks are so much safer and less intrusive. The longer she goes, the more she suffers.' Some women were waiting up to seven weeks for an NHS appointment, she said.


Norway Is Heading Out

Meanwhile, they are planning to strengthen their forces in Afghanistan. It's almost as though they know where some actual threats originate.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said on Friday his country has rejected US call to stay on in Iraq after a planned pullout in June, Norwegian news agency reported.

Norwegian troops will be pulled out before the June 30 sovereignty transfer and would not continue to stay in Iraq thereafter, said the minister after holding talks in Washington with US Secretary of State Colin Powell who expressed hopes that Norway might reconsider its plan to pull out in June.

"We must follow our original plan, or a commitment, until the summer," Petersen said, adding Norway would strengthen the troops in Afghanistan after withdrawing from Iraq.

"We must contribute so that NATO does not fail in Afghanistan,"Petersen said.


Meanwhile, Sharon's Plan Is Doing Wonders

Unfortunately, it is doing wonders to strengthen those he supposedly wants to destroy.

The leaders of Hamas gathered under a tent at a dusty soccer stadium last Sunday, joined by thousands of mourners offering condolences for the group's slain chief in Gaza, Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi. When the service ended, the Hamas officials vanished, making perhaps their last joint public appearance for a long time.

Israeli missile strikes that have killed two Hamas leaders in the past month have driven the surviving senior officials deep underground and raised questions about the group's ability to elude Israel's defenses and resume attacks inside Israeli cities.

While Hamas now lacks a high-profile leader here, and is perhaps less potent, there is a flip side. Each Israeli killing only seems to enhance the popularity of Hamas on the street, particularly in its Gaza stronghold, where it draws recruits from a society that is extremely poor and deeply religious.

What was that I was just saying about hearts and minds?


Winning Hearts and Minds

is unfortunately not something at which the United States has proved terribly adroit in the past. And this administration is the worst yet, given that it doesn't seem all that interested in even trying:

Once we recognize that the struggle within Islam — not a "clash of civilizations" between East and West — is the phenomenon with which we must grapple, we can begin to develop a strategy and tactics for doing so. It is a battle not only of bombs and bullets, but chiefly of ideas. It is a war that we are losing, as more and more of the Islamic world develops antipathy toward the United States and some even develop a respect for the jihadist movement.


This Will Go Badly

And yet, I have the strong feeling that it is inevitable:

Facing one of the grimmest choices of the Iraq war, President Bush and his senior national security and military advisers are expected to decide this weekend whether to order an invasion of Falluja, even if a battle there runs the risk of uprisings in the city and perhaps elsewhere around Iraq.

After declaring on Friday evening in Florida that "America will never be run out of Iraq by a bunch of thugs and killers," Mr. Bush flew to Camp David for the weekend, where administration officials said he planned consultations in a videoconference with the military commanders who are keeping the city under siege.


New Tactics

This doesn't bode well. The resistance continues to focus on hitting the infrastructure, stopping reconstruction and leading the major contractors to be wary of putting their workers at risk in a volatile situation. And now their means of doing so seem to be growing more diverse.

Suicide attackers detonated explosive-laden boats near oil facilities in the Persian Gulf, killing two U.S. Navy sailors in a new tactic against Iraq's vital oil industry. The explosions caused no damage to the terminals but were the first known maritime attack on Iraqi oil facilities since the invasion.


Friday, April 23, 2004


The recent pronouncements by a Cardinal of the Catholic Church that pro-choice politicians should be denied communion is ridiculous and offensive. Further, there is no reason why this logic should not be extended to those who are in favor of the death penalty. For that matter, politicians who defend Americans' rights to purchase condoms are in the same position; they should be denied communion too.

The whole thing is stupid. First of all, the illogic is obvious. Second of all, why just politicians? Why not just toss all pro-choicers out of the Church. (To tell the truth, such a position is really the only intellectually honest one for the Church to take, given its belief system.)

And this is what such pronouncements are leading to:

"It shows the Vatican doesn't understand the difference between women's rights and advocating for abortion." Minnesota state Sen. John Hottinger, a Democrat and a Catholic who said he was denied Communion by a priest officiating as his mother's funeral.

At his mother's funeral.


Making the World Safer

One day I would like to type those words without bilious irony flowing through my tired veins. But that day is not today.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday he no longer felt bound by a pledge he had given to President Bush not to harm Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.


The Photo Controversy

Just watching BBC News, and they had a story on the brouhaha about the photo of flag-draped coffins. They interviewed the mother of one of the soldiers now filling the coffins in question.

It was quite powerful, really. She was very composed, and simply stated that people should be allowed to see the consequences of this war. She said: "Let people know the reality. We aren't hiding a crime." She paused a moment, then asked, "Are we?" with a rueful smile that was very intense in its effect.

Don't hold your breath waiting for this to show up on US network news shows.


Thursday, April 22, 2004

American Prestige

Well, we really put the fear of God (or whoever) into those Muslims, didn't we?

US President George W. Bush has squandered Washington's credibility as a Middle East peace broker by backing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan to withdraw from Palestinian territory, a senior Palestinian leader said Thursday.

"The credibility of the United States is nonsense," Farouk Kaddoumi told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of Islamic countries in Malaysia.
Thursday's meeting of about 20 members of 57-strong Organization of the Islamic Conference -- the Islamic world's largest political grouping -- was called at short notice to discuss the Sharon plan and spiraling violence in Iraq.


Missile Defense?

The last I heard, the systems they have developed even fail at rigged tests. Deploying now is ridiculous, even if the underlying idea were sound, which it isn't. First, there are very sound reasons behind the ABM treaties that this will break. Second, does anyone today really think that the primary threat to the US is an ICBM?

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Xinhuanet) -- A top Pentagon official in charge of missile defense said Wednesday a limited missile defense system would be in place by the end of the year, meeting a key goal President George W. Bush set in this election year.

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that thePentagon will have deployed eight interceptors by the end of the year, followed by 12 in the next year.

He said the initial system would provide a capability "to defeat near-term threats of greatest concern," although it will not guarantee a 100 percent defense against missiles.

The Bush administration plans to deploy a preliminary missile defense system of six rocket interceptors in Alaska and four in California by the end of September, saying the United States needssuch a system to guard against long-range missile attacks by so-called rogue states.

Note that this isn't getting media play here, but China is paying attention...


Act of Fear

Not sure what to make of this yet:

Fearing that terrorists might target Congress, the House on Thursday approved a bill to set up speedy special elections if 100 or more of its members are killed.

The House, in a 306-97 vote, put aside for now the larger issue of whether the Constitution should be amended to allow for temporary appointments in the event that an attack caused mass fatalities among lawmakers.


Good News

This needs to be taken nationwide:

California should prohibit at least four counties from using 15,000 touch-screen voting machines made by Diebold Election Systems, a key advisory panel recommended Thursday.

By an 8-0 vote, the state's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel recommended that Secretary of State Kevin Shelley ban the machines from the November elections.

The panel said Diebold has performed poorly in California, noting that its machines malfunctioned in the state's March 2 primary election, turning away many voters in San Diego County.


Iraq Has Been Liberated from Its Ba'athist Oppressors

Oh, wait:

The American administration in Iraq said today that it was loosening a policy aimed at purging the Iraqi government of members of the former ruling Baath Party.

The change marks the first major policy rollback by the White House during the occupation of Iraq and signals a sharp split on the issue with the Governing Council, particularly with Ahmad Chalabi, the council member in charge of the de-Baathification process.


Bob Woodward, Primatologist

Maureen Dowd is particularly funny this time:

Not since Jane Goodall lived with chimps in Tanzania has there been such a vivid study of the nonverbal patterns of primates engaged in a dominance display.

Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," reveals that President Bush decided to go to war based mostly, believe it or not, on body language.
When the president at long last informed his top diplomat that he was going to war, Colin Powell could tell from the president's body language that there was no point in arguing: "It was the assured Bush. His tight, forward-leaning, muscular body language verified his words."


Rebuilding Iraq

This is the goal of the many groups who are attacking the US now. And their strategy is working; the US is losing whatever credibility it had as a rebuilder of the nation:

The insurgency in Iraq has driven two major contractors, General Electric and Siemens, to suspend most of their operations there, raising new doubts about the American-led effort to rebuild the country as hostilities continue.

Spokesmen for the contractors declined to discuss their operations in Iraq, citing security concerns, but the shutdowns were confirmed by officials at the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity, the Coalition Provisional Authority and other companies working directly with G.E. and Siemens in Iraq.

"Between the G.E. lockdown and the inability to get materials moved up the major supply routes, about everything is being affected in one way or another," said Jim Hicks, a senior adviser for electricity at the provisional authority.

The suspensions and travel restrictions are delaying work on about two dozen power plants as occupying forces press to meet an expected surge in demand for electricity before the summer. Mr. Hicks said plants that had been expected to produce power by late April or early May might not be operating until June 1.


And Now, Poland?

US losing face as Poles waver

PENTAGON chiefs are drawing up emergency plans for more troops and money in Iraq as the US-led coalition continues to splinter in the face of insurgent violence.

Poland sent mixed signals about its troop commitment yesterday after the Dominican Republic followed Spain and Honduras in announcing that it would withdraw its troops from the country.


They Can't Handle the Truth

Showing the American people the results of the their government's actions is, apparently, an offense that will get you fired:

A military contractor has fired Tami Silicio, a Kuwait-based cargo worker whose photograph of flag-draped coffins of fallen U.S. soldiers was published in Sunday's edition of The Seattle Times.

Silicio was let go yesterday for violating U.S. government and company regulations, said William Silva, president of Maytag Aircraft, the contractor that employed Silicio at Kuwait International Airport.

"I feel like I was hit in the chest with a steel bar and got my wind knocked out. I have to admit I liked my job, and I liked what I did," Silicio said.

The offending photo:


Where's the Hippocratic Oath When You Need It?

From Atrios, we hear of this:

Doctors or other health care providers could not be disciplined or sued if they refuse to treat gay patients under legislation passed Wednesday by the Michigan House.

The bill allows health care workers to refuse service to anyone on moral, ethical or religious grounds.

The Republican dominated House passed the measure as dozens of Catholics looked on from the gallery. The Michigan Catholic Conference, which pushed for the bills, hosted a legislative day for Catholics on Wednesday at the state Capitol.

The bills now go the Senate, which also is controlled by Republicans.

The Conscientious Objector Policy Act would allow health care providers to assert their objection within 24 hours of when they receive notice of a patient or procedure with which they don't agree. However, it would prohibit emergency treatment to be refused.

Disgusting. And the title adds insult to serious injury.



This has got to be one of the most inane things I ever heard. Al Qaeda is a lot of things, but it most definitely is not a corporation.

Still, Bush told the editors, the administration is "making good progress in the defense of America."

"If al Qaeda were a board of directors, the chairman and vice chairman might still be out there, but the middle management is gone," he said.


Massive Explosion in North Korea

Very nasty:

SEOUL (Reuters) - Up to 3,000 people were killed or injured in a huge explosion on Thursday when two goods trains collided in a North Korean station hours after leader Kim Jong-il had passed through, South Korea's YTN television station said.

Yonhap news agency also said there were thousands of casualties. Both Yonhap and YTN did not give a breakdown of deaths and injuries.


Bush to US: Be Afraid

Bush has long maintained popularity by stoking fear and representing himself as the Only Hope, but this is exceptionally blatant:

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush said yesterday that those Americans who expect another terror attack on American soil have reason for such fears. "This is a hard country to defend," he conceded.

It almost sounds as though he's whining that his job is too difficult for him; I suggest we relieve him of the burden.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

On the Press

Just posted this on the comments at Atrios, and figured I may as well put it here too:

The fact is that corporate power is the bottom line now, not governmental power per se. Thus, the 1st Amendment has been severely undermined.

(This was accomplished in two strokes: one declared corporations to be "persons" under the law--yeah right, have you ever tried to put the "person" Halliburton in prison?--and the second declared money to be speech.)

Anyway, this means that having our press in the control of corporations interested first and foremost in capital is not the same as but in many ways is tantamount to having a sort of state press. (the market is more complex than the gov't, but there is common ground: the worship of the dollar.)

So how can something necessary for the public good, free press, survive and thrive in spite of massive corporate desires to muzzle what needs to be said?

That is one central quandary we are now in...

in my humble opinion.


We have gov't funded postal service, police service, library service, military service.

The founding fathers deemed the free exchange of ideas to be essential to democracy (and your example shows the harm that can come from the lack of such exchange). Why is that not a gov't-funded corps? Why is press relegated to the private sectors, to be subjected to direct corporate power?

I submit that this situation is the result of 18th-century historical contingencies that no longer hold.



A Democrat outdoing a Republican (and an incumbent at that) in fundraising?


Kerry collected about $57 million from January through March, topping the previous presidential quarterly record of $50 million set by Bush last summer. Bush raised $52.9 million in the first three months of this year. Kerry has a long way to go to catch up with Bush's record overall fund raising, however.
Kerry raised about $44 million in March alone, thanks in part to a flood of donations over the Internet as well as $1,000 and $2,000 checks from Democrats who delayed giving until after the primaries or previously gave to his Democratic rivals.


Family Resemblances

Many around the left-leaning blogosphere have commented on the unnerving analogies between the Islamic fundamentalists who attacked this country and the Christian fundamentalists who run it.

Now, Kristof points out another resemblance, on a more personal level:

"The administration is just trying to kick this can down the road," said Jonathan Pollack of the Naval War College. "In a funny way, I think both we and the North Koreans are waiting for November."

Resolving this crisis is in the interests of virtually everybody on the planet, with two exceptions: President Bush and Mr. Kim. They may have nothing else in common, except that their fathers also ran their countries, but they do share an interest in delay.

Mr. Bush has his hands full with Iraq and doesn't want attention paid to the North Korean nuclear threat, which is substantially worsening on his watch. Mr. Kim figures that he may as well wait to see whether John Kerry is elected, and he'd also like to finish reprocessing the plutonium and enriching the uranium.



Just in case all the explosions so far today haven't driven the point home clearly enough, let's spell it out:

Arabs in the Middle East hate the United States more than ever following the invasion of Iraq and Israel's assassination of two Hamas leaders, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in comments published Tuesday.

Mubarak, who visited the United States last week, told French newspaper Le Monde that Washington's actions had caused despair, frustration and a sense of injustice in the Arab world.

"Today there is hatred of the Americans like never before in the region," he said in an interview given during a stay in France, where he met President Jacques Chirac Monday.

He blamed the hostility partly on U.S. support for Israel, which assassinated Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi in a missile strike in the Gaza Strip Saturday weeks after killing his predecessor, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

"At the start some considered the Americans were helping them. There was no hatred of the Americans. After what has happened in Iraq, there is unprecedented hatred and the Americans know it," Mubarak said.


More Bad News from the Environment

I have to say that I am certain that the new report from the US Commission on Ocean Policy will inspire decisive action from the Bush team: That commission is not going to be around much longer.

Citing increasing pressures from pollution, overfishing and residential development, a federal commission on Tuesday called for sweeping changes in how the U.S. manages the oceans, including allocating billions of dollars in gas and oil royalties for ocean preservation.

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, created by Congress in 2000 and appointed by President Bush (news - web sites), concluded that human actions have seriously jeopardized the health of the oceans, from huge and toxic algae blooms to depletion of fish stocks. Only a major overhaul of federal policy could reverse the trend, the commission found in its 413-page report.


Let the Hedging Begin

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration today called the June 30th transfer of authority in Iraq just a step toward self-rule and not "a magical date" to hand over control of the country to Iraqis.
Pressed on how Iraq would assume sovereignty amid weeks of spiralling violence, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called June 30th "just one step in a process," and not "a magical date" in which the US-led occupation will shift responsibilities to a new Iraqi government.

Wolfowitz's remarks differed somewhat from President George W Bush's at a news conference on last Friday that emphasised the date's significance.

"No citizen of America or Britain would want the government of their nation in the hands of others and neither do the Iraqis. This is why the June 30th date for the transfer of sovereignty will be kept," Bush said.


Dressed for Success

Sometimes, you just have to love Texas:

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - A candidate for the Texas House rejected calls to withdraw from the race after photos of him in women's clothing began circulating.

Sam Walls, 64, said he will not give in to ``blackmail'' from opponents who are trying to use ``very old, personal information'' to force him out of the race.

``Now my opponent is using the private information in an attempt to intimate that I am a homosexual, which I am not,'' Walls said in a statement.

Walls, a Republican, is competing in an April 13 primary runoff against real estate broker Rob Orr.

Orr political consultant Lee Woods denied involvement. He said Orr's campaign staff learned of the photos and alerted Republican leaders.

As a leading businessman and former party chairman, Walls once seemed the favorite to win. But GOP leaders urged him to withdraw when the pictures surfaced last week in two communities south of Fort Worth.

The photos were apparently obtained by a company that repossessed a mobile home registered to Wells, according to court records.

He said his family had ``dealt with'' the issue, and he apologized to supporters for any embarrassment caused by ``a small part of my personal past.''


So Long Honduras

Iraq's multinational peacekeeping force scrambled to regroup Monday after Spain's announcement that it would pull out its 1,300 troops, with Albania pledging more soldiers but U.S. officials bracing for further withdrawals. Honduras followed suit late Monday night with President Ricardo Maduro announcing the pullout of his troops "in the shortest time possible," confirming U.S. fears.



I am very pleased to see that the Supreme Court is finally addressing the issue of the hundreds of men being held without any hearing in Guantanamo under unknown conditions. The simple-minded assertion that "we are at war" as justification for sticking a bunch of people in cells indefinitely has been allowed to stand far too long.

And it amuses me that Rehnquist actually had the nerve to try to use the supposedly ambiguous status of Guantanamo as an out for the US Government in its effects to deny habeas corpus. He was promptly slapped down on that nonsense:

One major issue in the case, Rasul v. Bush, No. 03-334, is how to characterize the United States role in that Cuban outpost, which it has occupied since 1903 under a perpetual lease that gives it "complete jurisdiction and control" while preserving Cuba's "ultimate sovereignty."
"Guantánamo Navy Base, as I can attest from a year of personal experience, is under complete United States control and has been for a century," Mr. Gibbons said.

Justice Ginsburg said with a smile: "We don't need your personal experience. That's what it says in the treaty. It says `complete jurisdiction, complete jurisdiction and control.' "

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist objected: "It also says Cuba retains sovereignty."

Mr. Gibbons replied: "Cuban law has never had any application inside that base. A stamp with Fidel Castro's picture on it wouldn't get a letter off the base."


A Day of Explosions

Why do I get the feeling that all those people predicting that the Sadr uprising was some sort of last gasp of resistance were absolutely wrong?

I think this sort of thing is just going to continue to escalate:

Four car bombs exploded at Iraqi police facilities in and around the southern city of Basra early Wednesday, killing at least 60 people, according to the Iraqi interior minister.

The dead included a number of school children traveling in a minibus that happened to be passing by one of the three police stations where bombs exploded almost simultaneously at 7:30 a.m., the morning rush hour.

An hour later, at 8:30 (12:30 EDT) another vehicle exploded at the police training academy in Zubair, 8 miles south of the city.

More than 100 Iraqis, including 28 children, were wounded, said Sameer Sumaidie, the interior minister. Early estimates of the number of children dead ranged from 5 to 16.

And the violence, as we all know, is not confined within any nation's borders:

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- The Saudi security headquarters was destroyed by an explosion on Wednesday, killing at least two and wounding dozens, police said.

An unconfirmed report quoting witnesses at the scene says that at least 10 people were killed. There are conflicting reports as well on whether one or two car bombs were detonated in the attack.

Facades were torn off buildings near the blast, revealing rooms still ablaze. Cars were smashed by debris. Clouds of dust and black smoke rose from the building and settled over the neighborhood.

Officials in Riyadh described it as a "terrorist attack" and Arab television said the body of suicide bomber had been found. One Saudi source said five car bomb attempts had been foiled in the past week but this, the sixth, got past tight security.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Why Does This Not Surprise Me?

Possibly because this entire administration has been like a neverending stream of bad flashbacks:

Bush's announcement that he intends to appoint John Negroponte to be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq should appall anyone who respects human rights.

Negroponte, currently U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., was U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s and was intimately involved with Reagan's dirty war against the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. Reagan waged much of that illegal contra war from Honduras, and Negroponte was his point man.

According to a detailed investigation the Baltimore Sun did in 1995, Negroponte covered up some of the most grotesque human rights abuses imaginable.


We Blink

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 20 (UPI) -- U.S. troops began to withdraw from a base near the city of Najaf Monday, signaling an unwillingness to enter the Shiite holy city in pursuit of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose militia the U.S.-led coalition has vowed to crush, and to capture the rebel cleric "dead or alive."

Some 2,500 U.S. Army soldiers encircled the home of the holiest shrine of Shiite Islam last week after Sadr -- who also faces murder charges for the death of a rival cleric last year -- openly defied U.S. occupation authorities and let his Mehdi Army fight coalition troops in Baghdad and several southern Iraqi cities.

Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told the 3rd Brigade Task Force that the withdrawal was intended to ease tensions with Iraq's 60 percent Shiite population.


Sunday, April 18, 2004

Our Problems Are Solved

This just in: Cheney, overcome with remorse at being a chickenhawk, has enlisted in the army and will head to Iraq to put his money where his mouth is:



The new Spanish Socialist prime minister today abruptly ordered his troops home from Iraq.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero argued there was no sign the United States will meet his terms for the troops to remain – United Nations control of the postwar occupation.


Somebody Get These People an Editor

Or perhaps we should take up a collection to send them a dictionary, at least. A headline today:

Rice Refutes New Book on Date That Bush Decided to Go to War

No, she doesn't. She doesn't refute anything. She disputes the assertion, she contests the allegation, she denies the accusation. But absolutely no refutation occurs anywhere near this story.



Israel is doing its part to calm things down in the region. In my wildest dreams.

As tens of thousands of mourners cried out for revenge over the assassination of the second Hamas leader in a month, there was widespread condemnation of the attack but muted criticism from Australia and the US.

Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi died when two missiles hit his car on Saturday evening as he was passing the graveyard where his predecessor, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, is buried. Sheik Yassin died on March 22 when an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at his car.

The hammer blow to Hamas ahead of the planned US-backed pullout of Israeli settlements from Gaza triggered a furious response, with the militant group pledging "100 retaliations".


Getting Uglier

From Juan Cole, the authority on events in Iraq. I think the Ayatollah may be right:

Iran warned the American government that it would "pay a heavy price" if its forces attacked the cities of Najaf and Karbala. Ayatollah Muhammad Taskhiri, the representative of Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei, told al-Hayat, "The American forces will have committed the biggest act of stupidity in their entire lives if they took this vile step."