The Talking Dog

February 27, 2005, Roadblocks as the Information Superhighway approaches the Bamboo Curtain

The 1980's and the 1990's were most optimistic times: people seriously believed that information advances, beginning with the fax machine and culminating in the internet would, of necessity, integrate all aspects of the world at the speed of light, and places that heretofore were stymied under the heavy hand of authoritarian regimes and worse would liberalize. And not merely economically. China, the world's largest nation and the world's most rapidly developing one, seemed to be the primary focus of this thinking.

It was believed that the fax machine hastened the student protest movement that, alas, was crushed by good old tanks and the willingness to use them against one's own populace by Deng Xiao Ping and the CPC hard line leadership
who crushed the student democracy movement at Tiannamen Square in the late 1980's.

But the subtle, yet total control of China's government manifests itself, such as this piece from People's Daily noting that 50,000 "illegal" internet cafes have been, or are being, shut down by the central government. The government can state a variety of reasons for this action, such as "inappropriate" use of the internet, or failure to pay licensing fees, but what it is doing loudly and clearly is demonstrating just who is in charge of the inflow of information into (and around) China, and hence, the ability to disseminate that information in a way that might be unfomfortable (or worse) for the Beijing government.

One has to admire the Beijing government's attention to detail: for example, note this piece observing the government of Vanuatu espousing "the one China policy".

Well, as we fight for freedom and democracy in Iraq, we'll endeavor to give you periodic reports from the Eastasian Metropole, so we can see how our new owners are doing.

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February 26, 2005, Another Korean caused crisis....

For this week's visit to Pravda, we'll look at the sharp drop-off in the value of the U.S. dollar against other currencies caused by an announcement that the South Korean Central Bank was moving to shift some of its reserve holdings into Euros. While some (such as George Soros) have, ahem, speculated that speculation abroad, such as in oil-rich Russia, is designed to bring the dollar down, the reality is, as the Pravda piece notes, the world's reserve currency is running a most irresponsible official budget deficit of over $400 billion (and counting it properly by including "off budget" war costs and netting out social security tax receipts) the actual budget deficit is closer to $700 billion).

Needless to say, other nations are playing a balancing game: how to avoid wrecking the U.S. economy (to which the rest of the world is intertwined), avoid collapsing the value of their own dollar holdings, while still acting responsibly toward their own constituencies.

It's tough, given that our government is hellbent on sacrificing the economic well-being of not merely the lower 99% of this country so that our super-rich can pay an even more preposterously small per cent of their income and wealth for taxation to pay for the system that allows them to acquire and hold their immense wealth, but most of the world's population. But what else is new?

Still... it would be one thing if Beijing decided to send shivers up and down our finances by moving into euros (although, given the size of its holdings and our deficits with them, one might wonder if there are that many euros...) but... South Korea? A country whose holdings represent maybe 4% of international dollar hoards? Just an announcement that it will hold part of its reserves in euros sends the dollar down over a percentage point in a day?

I understand that the official national line is "all is well", and 50.1% of the country voted that way and will simply not be disabused of that notion (regardless of whether reality intervenes or not). I'm just detecting some cracks in our economic fortress of solitude.

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February 25, 2005, Are we in Kansas, Dorothy... or the Republic of Gilead?

In something that Margaret Atwood has long portended, an American prosecutor, Kansas State Attorney General Phill Kline has subpoenaed records pertaining to late term abortions performed in his state. I suspected there wouldn't be all that many abortion providers in Kansas, let alone late term abortions, and the number seems to be something like... two.
This mirrors prior unsuccessful efforts by John Ashcroft to gather evidence to enforce an unconstitutional federal ban on late term abortions; Kline purports to be "investigating child rapes". No point in speculating as to Kline's motives; the Republican prosecutor has been most outspoken in his opposition to all legal abortion (and wants to impose stoning for it, along with stoning for adultery, and stoning for... well, lots of things.)

I have long advocated Democrats calling for the repeal of Roe v. Wade precisely so that states like Kansas COULD ban abortion (and thereby leave people like me who live in New York ALONE and not in fear that Roe would be reversed and then abortion re-federalized in an attempt to ban it; more importantly, maybe Democrats could stop getting bitten on the ass by this issue which should NEVER have been a federal matter at all).

That said, however, I have a fun theory that the Kansas attorney general is not merely violating Roe in seeking to chill women's efforts to seek a constitutionally protected right... I think he has quite possibly violated another federal law, for which he himself may potentially be prosecuted, particularly given what he is trying to do: invade the privacy of female patients.

I'm talking, of course, about the somewhat enigmatic HIPAA law... (the Health Insurance Portabiltiy and Accountability Act of 1996) which provides, in relevant part:


"SEC. 1177. (a) OFFENSE.--A person who knowingly and in violation of this part-

"(1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier;

"(2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or

"(3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person,

shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).

"(b) PENALTIES.--A person described in subsection (a) shall--

"(1) be fined not more than $50,000, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both;

"(2) if the offense is committed under false pretenses, be fined not more than $100,000, imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both; and

"(3) if the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, be fined not more than $250,000, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

It strikes me that, although Kline is mouthing the "intention to prevent child abuse" rationale in a brazen attempt to fall under an exemption set out in section 1178 for "public health" purposes such as "investigating child abuse", that provision only involves the issue of whether state law is superceded. I suspect that Kline does not have an independent state law basis for what he's doing. (In fact, I suspect that Kansas is like most states and physicians are already under an obligation to report incidents of suspected child abuse.) Hence, my theory is that unless he has the young ladies' consent to raid their medical files, Mr. Kline is probably violating their privacy rights, and, if so, he should be facing up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine, under federal law for maliciously violating HIPAA and the privacy of medical patients. Of course, that's just a theory. (Like evolution.) He might be acting in the good faith dscharge of his prosecutorial duties (just as I might be signed as a left-handed middle relief pitcher by the New York Mets this season).

What are the odds that a President who won an election on a theme of gay-bashing and pandering to those who want abortion banned altogether would have his torture-happy Attorney General and crony prosecute? Non-existent. But perhaps there is some potential private right of action for those affected... certainly, there is a federal law basis under HIPAA to stop Mr. Kline's fishing expedition right where it is, without the prickly issues of Roe itself.

From the state that already leads the nation in other areas of enlightenment, we give you this.

A recent book title asked What's the Matter with Kansas? All I have to say is... yeah... what the f*** IS wrong with that place?

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February 24, 2005, Patriot Games

From Pakistan (because, hey, why should we find out what the hell our government is up to from our own freaking media?), we get this report from the Dawn newspaper on the fact that our proposed sale of Patriot Missiles (good old American anti-ballistic missile technology) to India is... being protested by Pakistan's Foreign Office as... likely to start a regional arms race.

In some sense, we can see Pakistan's point: why go through all the trouble of getting your own nuclear weapons if that irritating regional power nearby that you want to use them on plans on defending against them? On the other hand, given that the Patriot Missles have a perfect somewhat spotty record of actually working
(they were last used extensively during Gulf War I, where nonetheless, some Saddam scuds still made it through to targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia), one wonders what Pakistan is so upset about? Pervez, baby: let the Indians waste their money on this s***!

I understand our thinking on this: all those mundane customer service functions that we've shipped over to Bangalore and Chenai have to be paid for somehow, so if the Indians want to buy our anti-missile technology, why should we complain? (It's this sort of logic that will eventually force us to break down and start selling similar technology to China. And Iran. And North Korea. At some point.)

All isn't beer, skittles and samosas in the local South Asian arms race front: the Dawn piece notes, among other things, that new bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, two points on either side of the India/Pakistan "line of control" within [Jammu and] Kashmir province. One of the issues involved in making this bus line a reality is (I kid you not) landmine clearance along the bus route. (We only joke about these things here in Brooklyn.)

Just part of that wide world out there that periodically lets us know it's out there, even if we'd rather pretend it isn't...

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February 24, 2005, Time wounds all heals?

Our buddies in Beijing at The People's Daily are somewhat sanguine about Georgie W. Bush's European "charm offensive" (pass the Freedom French fries, Jacques), concluding that few rifts between U.S. and European positions will be closed by it.

Focusing on Middle Eastern issues (notably American attempts to undermine European negotiations with Iran, which seem quite creative, including offers to bribe Iran into giving up its nucular ambitions with WTO membership, and of course, Iraq) the piece conveniently overlooks China's leading interest in the discussion: Bush's adamance that the EU arms embargo against China remain in place.

At this point, one really does start to get the feeling that Bush is becoming a sort of cartoonish villain in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes of the Chinese, a cartoonish villain who has just been zapped by a shrink gun. The Chinese cost themselves billions of dollars each month by refusing to allow their currency to adjust to market conditions against the dollar (in which case, like the euro, the pound sterling, the Japanese yen, and just about every other currency), the yuan would shoot to the moon, Alice... to the moon (whose own currency, the luna, is also kicking ass against the dollar). Now, in one sense, this enables the Chinese to continue to exploiting its slave labor to spit out exports to drive ever more American businesses under as we all rush to Walmart to buy our $6 television sets... but in another, China would still make lots of money on us even if their goodies were properly priced. On net, even though our trade deficits bring in the money, our budget deficits let the Chinese buy our bonds... on net, though, they'd be better off letting the yuan float... unless they have something else in mind...

My surmise: unlike us, our buddies in Beijing watch the scoreboard: they are infinitely smarter than Bush and Americans who voted for Bush, and know that power does not just mean the ability to blow things up 6,000 miles from here. It includes economic power-- and economic staying power-- and it includes judicious use of power.

Hence, why spend billions of dollars invading Taiwan (a battle, like our Iraq adventure, that will not necessarily result in anything easily defined as "winning") when the pieces can simply be moved around the board rhetorically, and through use of economic power, may eventually achieve their goals (in this case, most of the world is talking China's "one-China" game, and the United States' dependence on $7 Chinese television sets will-- not may but will-- force us to ease up on our support of "the renegade province"-- the fools who thought they could count on us!) Say-- when's the last time you heard an American politician talk about Tibet, or Chinese dissidents? See my point?

So you see, while Old NickDick Cheney can tell an addled cartoon villain President that "deficits don't matter", and the two laugh uproariously about it over chocolate cigars and non-alcoholic brandy, our buddies in Beijing know that deficits matter more than just about anything else. They're counting on them to achieve their goals. And they're patient. And they're working. If anyone gives Mandarin lessons here in the Brooklyn area, please let me know...

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February 22, 2005, Meet the new George Washington

On this, the 273rd natural birthday of our First President in time (though seventh in our hearts), let's put our hands together for Dr. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leading candidate of the leading coalition of parties (winners of 51% of the vote) to become Iraq's next prime minister. Given that our old buddy (from the 2003 State of the Union address... how soon we forget) Ahmed Chalabi, decided to withdraw from the running for the position, this leaves Dr. al-Jaafari, the darling of Islamists (from their coalition partner, the Dala party), in the driver's seat for the Iraqi premiership.

This is, of course, why we got perhaps thousands of our countrymen (and tens of thousands of A-rabs) killed. We did so to introduce "free-dumb" and "d'mock-racy", which means Islamist extremists of the kind we supposedly launched the "War on Terror TM" to thwart are now standing ready to assume power in the Middle Eastern power vacuum (with the world's second largest reserve of... I won't even say it...) said vacuum we have now filled with... democratically elected Shiite Islamists, poised to restore their homey version of Sharia law (ladies, you got to put ink on your thumbs for a day... surely, that makes the loss of all semblance of your civil rights absolutely worth everything, right?) Grand Ayatollah Sistani will be happy... will we?

While it's unclear if Iraq will be an exact replica of its neighbor, blogger-arresting Iran, one might be a tad... disappointed. Certainly, our boy Iyad Allawi, a distant third-place behind the Islamists and the Kurds, ain't gonna get nothin' done. Al-Jaafari was part of the exile group (remember Ahmad?) that lobbied for and helped "organize" the invasion, and he worked with the interim government... but he IS the darling of the Islamists...

Who knows. Just, who knows. At least he's NOT Chalabi or Allawi, who, frankly, are tainted by association with the occupiers, who knows? Maybe this will work out. I give up. Maybe he will rise against the odds, and use his survival skills (which enabled him to get this far) for the benefit of his new nation (in which case, he will likely kick us the hell out, though Jaafari has suggested we not go so soon... pragmatic fellow...). Success by Jaafari will be measured much as most of the Bush consistuency will measure success: if regressive, reactionary religious law is enacted as the law of the land.

Maybe this IS someone with whom the Bush Administration can do business. Query (again) if any of this will... work out... and if so... for whom...

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February 22, 2005, More Evidence of Why Liberalism is Doomed

That would be apparent controversy surrounding remarks by Harvard University President (and former Secretary of the Treasury) Lawrence Summers, to his university's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, controversial in light of Summers' recent attributions of "intrinsic differences" as to why there appear to be fewer successful women faculty members in the maths and sciences at the Kremlin on the Charles.

It should be obvious to anyone that (1) a Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton and (2) a man who could be elected President of Harvard University, is without doubt... a liberal. And not just in the sense of "liberal arts".

Addressing a conference of the National Bureau of Economic Statistics (or some similar dismal sounding group), Summers tried to attribute the relatively low numbers of women at top university science posts to... among other things... "innate differences". Summers, notwithstanding the 'off the record" nature of the discussion, should have sensed disaster. And not from conservatives eager to pounce... but from the liberal Stalinist Estabilishment. And sure enough...

We'll forget, shall we, the actual possibility of "self-selection": top women academics, for a variety of reasons (including, say, the small number of female role models in top science and math positions in American academia), might just prefer other fields, or of course, fewer women start in the sciences and maths (in my highest level high school math class, for example, of 18 present, one was female, with comparable ratios for classes in the sciences).

Or, of course, maybe Summers is actually on to something (although I think "social explanations" are easier for me to accept than some sort of "biological" explanation about boys being "smarter" or "more sciencey" or anything like that). Doesn't matter: the liberal Stalinist Establishment has caught President Summers in a heresy, and will circle around him.

THIS is what we waste time on. Not that our nation is torturing people in our name. Not that it is running larger deficits per year than it ever has before. Not that it is decimating its own environment, or making decisions that may prove irreparable in many areas.

Nope: Larry Summers committed heresy. He said something politically incorrect. Now he must pay. Only Larry will keep his job... As to the rest of us...

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February 21, 2005, Gonzo Gunshot... Goodbye, Hunter S. Thompson

I've restrained myself from commenting on the "Jeff Gannon" story, or even the hilarity (and the fully expected hilarity) of the President's naming Central American Right Wing Death Squad Coordinator and Iraq Governor General John Negroponte to the newly created "National Intelligence Director" (thank YOU 9-11 Families-- will you EVER stop giving to this country? PLEASE will you stop, already, GOD DAMN YOU?) and other popular stories of blogdom these days. (Once in a while, we get into sequences I consider too depressing to even comment on. And we're in such a spate.)

But in the midst of finding myself (and everyone else in my household) a tad under the weather, and the New York area itself under 5 inches of snow this morning... I saw indicia of this story via e-mails from my American Street colleagues, but tried not to think about it. Alas, I must now deal with the suicide of famed self-styled "Gonzo journalist", author of the "Fear and Loathing" books and Rolling Stone writer Hunter S. Thompson, at 67.

Thompson did not chose a lifestyle that I would have (for example, no one would believe me re: my own non-existent illicit drug history... see what I mean?) he chose to inject himself into some of the leading stories of our culture (and injected... other things), and trashed the very concept of bogus journalistic objectivity, to come up with what he called "gonzo journalism". This, of course, is what some would consider a paradigm of blogs: not 678 people commenting on the latest musings of Kos or Atrios, but people telling us about their own experiences, once in a while, experiences that other people might be interested in.

Well, Thompson did this in the big-time. (Plus, he got Johnny Depp to play him in the movie, which, I must say, is an aspiration that few of us will ever achieve).

Thompson was supposedly despondent from physical pain (he broke his leg doing a hairpin turn near a mini-bar in Hawaii) and had an artificial hip, and had those... demons... He went back to his celebrity enclave near Aspen and... offed himself.

Well, this is sad news. Anytime we lose a free spirit with as much life energy as Hunter S. Thompson, the world is just that much less alive... RIP HST.

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February 19, 2005, Pooty Poot Poops on President's Persian Proton Proliferation Policy

This week's visit to Pravda lays out the rather defiant stand taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin of his intention to press on with nucular cooperation vis a vis Axis of Evil TM member and current first bogeyman Iran.

Putin contends that he is certain that Iran intends its nuclear programs for peaceful, energy generation purposes (because, you know, someday that oil will run out), and absolutely not for particularly perfidious purposes.

Hence, Russia will go on with such programs as permitting Iran to ship it spent fuel rods back to it, and make its deliveries of fissionable material to the Busehr nuclear power station (built with Russian assistance), i.e., business as usual.

While Russia was none too pleased with our decision to undermine its political (and investment) interests in Iraq, f***ing with Iran is taking things up a few levels. Tony Blair is pretty much already out. The rest of Europe probably does not want to go there-- particularly as we seem hellbent on undermining the joint Anglo-French-German negotiations with Iran over non-proliferation.

I suppose Micronesia and Palau will be jiggy with this... our mighty coalition will continue the inexorable march of freedom and democracy throughout Southwest Asia... and the world!!!

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February 16, 2005, President suggests something sensible...

You know, much as I pride myself on my Bush-bashing, when (for whatever reason), the President does something I consider sensible (and most unusually, a sensible tax increase to pay for programs that would be grossly irresponsible otherwise), I intend to commend him. Hence, I will do so for his brief mention at an airport in New Hampshire that he would not rule out increasing the $90,000 income cap on social security contributions to pay for his proposed social security program changes ("private accounts").

Now, having simply said he will keep raising the percentage rate off the table, but not the absurdly regressive income cap, he eliminates a lot of objections from people like me who might say "gee, it's all wonderful that we'll all have millions of dollars in private accounts we can leave to our grandkids and all... except you'll offset any advantages to the program by bankrupting the treasury to borrow the money to pay for it..." Raising the cap is one of the most painless and sensible tax moves we can take: remember that no one will be effected until they earn dollar 90,001... hardly the poverty line.

Well, here we go. You see, freed from the shackles of worrying about reelection (and sure in the knowledge that his is bigger than Poppy's), the President can now consider good old tax and spend liberalism, which is precisely what he is doing. He is proposing a massive, massive new social program (costs in the trillions, a/k/a "the ownership society"). Whatever I thought of the ends, by refusing to consider the means of actually paying for the program, the President had to be challenged as irresponsible.

Now, by proposing to actually pay for the costs of this program by current taxation, we can have a reasonable national debate as to whether its worth the cost, instead of the non-debate debate we had over Iraq-- where all the benefits of a world free of dictators like Saddam Hussein while none of the costs (thousands dead and wounded, hundreds of billions of dollars flushed) were discussed. We can now do BOTH on social security: costs and benefits. Maybe the President's proposals make sense, now that he is willing to pay for them. Maybe not. But NOW it's finally appropriate to talk about them. The President has given that opening. Knee-jerk opposition just because he says it will be a mistake.

Do I expect anything less than shrill hissyfitting from the brethren of my party? No, I do not. But this would be an excellent time to stand front and center and say "Good for you, Mr. President. You have proposed something responsible, and we should seriously consider it now."

It didn't even hurt. We can make this a very, very long four years, if we don't recognize opportunities like this one when we see them.

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February 16, 2005, Proactivity cometh before the regime change?

I haven't commented at all on the assassination-by-bombing of former Lebanese PM and billionaire Rafik Hariri, but I will give you this interesting and sensible editorial from the Star of Lebanon.

It suggests, quite simply, that the Lebanese and Syrian governments (which are, of course, Siamese twins, with Syria the elder and far stronger twin, as acknowledged by the hometown newspaper) do something radically different, such as engaging the international community to assist in the investigation to show that this wasn't a Syrian wet job, and maybe bring themselves more into line with the international community. The less isolated they are, the less likely the rest of the world would stand by in the event of an act of American-led aggression toward them (the Star doesn't say this, though it is a subtext.)

Of course, given that it probably WAS a syrian wet job, don't expect the Star's sensible suggestions to be implemented. Another theory is that Israel had a hand on this to destabilize their friends to the north, but I have seen no evidence of this.

The Middle East is a tough neighborhood. As sad as this event is, the big news is Israel's working with Abbas to pull out of Gaza. This assassination, alas, is just another day in the Middle East...

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February 15, 2005, Ignore 5/6 of the World's Population Behind the Curtain...

Well, that's exactly what a certain subcommittee of the House Intelligence Committee is trying not to do, according to this assessment from new news sidebar member Hindustan Times from India. Though the piece is mislabeled in a manner implying that India and Pakistan themselves represent threats to the United States, rather than the potential consequences of a possible nuclear (or other major) military exchange between the two nations, it actually represents an attempt by a Congressional committee to get a sense of actual threats to the United States, particularly as represented by China, the Korean peninsula, India-Pakistan (as noted) and actions of giant Moslem populations throughout Asia, especially Southeast Asia (that would be in Indonesia and Malaysia, and environs, possibly including nearby Bangladesh).

Now, obviously, I try to go to foreign sources, because they recognize the significance of this: we will likely streer spy resources in their direction, and probably try to sell both sides of various conflicts (such as India and Pakistan) nasty conventional weapons they can pummel each other with, rather than those irritatingly destabilizing nukes.

Even if (most) people here are too busy giving each other blow jobs about having successfully overthrown a modern, secular dictator under whom, for example, women had relative freedom, in exchange for a democratically elected pro-Iranian theocracy, where women had best get used to those burqa thingies, stonings for adultery, honor killings, and all that other good stuff we got 1,500 of us and tens of thousands of them killed for.

Well, Salam Pax had it as the frontispiece to his blog, perhaps it should become mine... this from Samuel Huntington: "The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."

Just a friendly reminder.

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February 14, 2005, Pervez, Will you be my valentine?

Spanning the globe, to bring you the constant variety of snark, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat... I'm pleased to give you this story from one of the new entries on our news side bar, Dawn, a major English news outlet from Pakistan.

The story? Pakistan is going to be sold over $1.2 billion in United States military goodies, including some helicopters, missile systems, and the like, though not F-16 fighter planes. How might Pakistan get F-16 fighter planes? By prevailing upon Lockheed-Martin to make good on its threat to close the F-16 factory in Texas if their demands aren't met.

Given that Pakistan's perfidious Dr. Khan has run his underground Wal-mart for nucular weapons, which helped get nucular technology (if not outright weapons) into the hands of North Korea, Iran, and God knows who else, and Pakistan's response was to retire him with full honors... and while Pakistan has rounded up the usual suspects (i.e. seemingly minor Al Qaeda figures) to the point of an art form, it is widely believed that OBL and the nucleus (funny choice of words, TD...) of world wide Islamist fundamentalist extremist violence is present and operating out of somewhere in... Pakistan...

Naturally, Pakistan must be rewarded.

Some weapons systems will do, I guess. I am, somehow, reminded of something that struck me while listening (involuntarily) to the lunatic Michael Savage during a taxi ride home. It seems to be a tad paradoxical. We have evidently rewarded the forces of Shia Islamist fundamentalist extremism, as personified by the SCIRI group which was the big winner in the Iraqi elections, and others who, if not outright in favor of a nasty theocracy for Iraq, are certainly more friendly to the nasty theocracy across the border in Iran than... we might... prefer....

I did kind of think the whole "bring the war to our enemies" bit might involve, you know, defeating the forces of Islamist extremism, instead of, you know, getting them democratically elected to run a country that heretofore had been secular and no particular threat to us... (Might this a good time for a segue into my analysis of the Communist Manifesto, where I liken Karl Marx to a physician using diagnostic techniques featuring CAT scans and micro-biology, while simultaneously recommending treatment techniques featuring leeches and cupping?... Another time, perhaps... )

Well, I daresay there must be things manufactured in Texas that the new Iraqi government will need us to sell to it... and who knows... we might have just opened up a whole new market to sell military goodies to Iran as well... Yee ha...

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February 13, 2005, What a wonderful world...

First, our visit with Beijing's People's Daily gives us this rather optimistic assessment of the progress made by new Palestinian Premier Mahmoud Abbas with respect to securing cease fire agreements with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and other details associated with negotiations at Sharm Al Sheikh (Sinai) in Egypt.

I remain cautiously optimistic that Israel realizes that the opening allowed by the death of Arafat (who singlehandedly blocked the possibility of peace in the region for decades) will not last forever. Israel appears to be working closely with Abbas to nail down Palestinian security, to move forward on the withdrawal from Gaza, and hopefully, to start doing the hard work of discussing the actual dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and moving "the fence" accordingly. Again, cautiously optimistic. It was the late Abba Eban who quipped that the Arabs never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity; it is now the Israelis who have the opportunity.

I took the opportunity to amble through New York's Central Park (where I also ran a leisurely pace in the Al Gordon 15K), where the next forthnight or so, we host Cristo (and le't not forget Jeanne Claude) and his The Gates project, gates more in the sense of slalom gates than garden gates, what amount to orange shower curtains 8 to 10 feet off the ground elevated on orange structural steel supports at various intervals erected on over 20 miles of walkways throughout every corner of the park.

I fail to see why this is controversial: I find it an absolute riot. The fact that New York can expect millions of dollars in tourist dollars (and Cristo will doubtless make millions as well) is just gravy. This is public art at its most amusing: utterly pointless, but aesthetically pleasing in its own right, and on an inconceivably massive scale for a two week installation (costing over $20 million just to install, and involving thousands upon thousands of "gates"). Cristo really does interesting stuff... is it "art"?

Well, it is a triumph of imagination, it is aesthetically pleasant, and it serves no intrinsically useful purpose... I would say that it is, indeed, art... and the best kind of art: art that makes you smile.

Frankly, the world could use more Cristos-- people who want to do massive, silly, harmless things... (well, mostly harmless... I understand someone was electrocuted by lightning during one of his umbrella installations)... and not have wars and witch trials and that sort of thing.

Of course, that's just me.

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February 12, 2005, Space... the final frontier

This week's visit to Pravda gives us this discussion of certain, ahem, physical problems encountered by cosmonauts during and after lengthy space missions. I am reminded somewhat of the brilliant "In space, no one can hear you cream" by Ayn Clouter, IIRC both on her own eponymous blog and on The American Street (where you can check out my own contributions each Saturday, which this week, relate to Arthur Miller and Eason Jordan).

Back to the subject at hand (or not... as it were...), the weightlessness of space impacts... muscles and... potency. The concept of weightless sexual intercourse is also discussed; picture belts and adhesive devices, lest the participants each float off before... well... It also notes that space fetishists/fantasists (Glenn Reynolds comes to mind, just because, well, he does...) should note that a child conceived and born in weightless conditions would probably be dead on arrival: no muscle tone, no bone density... in short, interplanetary or interstellar travel involving years and years where human generations would have to reproduce en route... is not ready for prime time, for this, if for no other reason.

Part of why we visit Pravda each week: to give us the unseemly underbelly of reality... something in all too short supply on this side of the pond these days... until our next visit... das vidania...

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February 12, 2005, Mirror, Mirror

In this most amusing op-ed from Murdoch's Times of London (a new addition to our sidebar, btw), we get this lament about the big problem with Britain's Tories: the Conservative Party wants to be just like the New Labour Party!.

The context of the piece is a critique of a BBC documentary on the opposition party in Britain, noting its tepidness, and jealousy of the means and methods of the party in power. (Key line: "No man is a hero to his valet.")

The author's suggested course for the Tories is that they be an actual opposition party: fire in the belly attacks on the excesses of the governing party are the way to go. Instead, we see a tepid jealousy of "traingulation" and even adopting the language and restaurant choices of the hated majority.

Remind anyone of something happening somewhere else, maybe?

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February 11, 2005, Have we not prisons and work houses?

It's that time again, when Congress insists on dragging out its nearly annual ritual of attempting to bayonet the sick, unemployed, divorced or merely unlucky, by repealing one of nation's most important laws guaranteeing that entrepreneurial risk and spirit will remain strong, and that people don't die in the streets, our bankruptcy protections.

I have commented on the subject before, noting that Bill Clinton's finest hour was in vetoing a prior version of "bankruptcy reform" (meaning, ostensibly, repeal: forcing debtors with no means of paying back outrageously high interest rate consumer debt... to pay it back). As regular readers know, one of my prior incarnations was as a consumer bankruptcy lawyer, at one time, working for a variety of lawyers that had me probably involved in more consumer bankruptcy cases than anyone in the New York area.

And in hundreds upon hundreds of cases, the grim scenarios were always the same: a job loss (sometimes, even just the loss of a part time second job), an illness or death of a breadwinner, divorce and its attendant after effects, or sometimes, just accumulation of debts from rising interest rates and flat incomes and rising living expenses.

Were there abuses? Every now and again, there would certainly be abusers: property owners who kept belaying foreclosures on property by repeat filings. The system closed in on these people after a while, and unwary attorneys who would represent them. Judges had their ways of dealing with abusers, while making sure that honest debtors (the overwhelming majority-- 90%? 95%? 99%? somewhere in that range...) got their fresh starts.

As we are about to go into an era of record high consumer debt levels that are about to be exacerbated by rising interest rates, probably declining asset (especially home) values, and possible unemployment, assuming business cycle dynamics follow their usual course and take us into a downturn, this would not be the time to put further pressure on people who might find themselves in need of bankruptcy relief.

But "people" is a word that seems to offend one Todd Zywicki writing this Dickensian little screed at the Volokh Conspiracy. There are lies, there are damned lies... and Zywicki treats us with a panoply of both in his screed. For one, the "O.J. abuse", to wit, that Florida has an unlimited value homestead exemption (as does Texas and some other states) in bankruptcy (in Florida, based on the size of the lot the house is on, but not on its dollar value), which he contends would be resolved by the 'reform". It would not.

Allegedly, O.J. Simpson moved to Florida to take advantage of this exemption from the judgment obtained against him by the family of the late Ron Goldman.
Zywicki conveniently overlooks that (1) the bankruptcy "reform" would not eliminate the ability of states like Florida and Texas from exempting multi-millionaires from unlimited homestead exemptions, merely forcing certain people to incur waiting periods before moving to such states from taking advantage of their provisions, and (2) O.J.'s income comes from an ERISA qualified National Football League Players Association pension, and is exempt from creditors anyway, and would remain so. The "abuse" is that certain states have outrageous exemptions, and not merely that a few people might move to states to take advantage of the outrageous exemptions from creditors. The "reform" doesn't alter this.

He also throws out ridiculously misleading numbers like "the FBI estimates that 10% of filings involve some fraud." Duh. I wonder what percentage of securities filings involve fraud. Or tax returns. I can tell you that when I worked at what is now called the Government Accountability Office (the "GAO"), and when I worked as an insurance defense attorney, in both cases, the standard assumption was... fraud would be in the 10% range. Accordingly, big deal. Besides: bankruptcy fraud is already a crime: punishing people who are already in penury by forcing them to pay back debts at a time when they are busted (see above re: illness, job loss or divorce) will not solve the "fraud" issue.

Thanks to the prevalence of nationwide banking and many banks locating in states with lax usury laws, if any, such laws effectively no longer exist; hence, major banks can now impose consumer interest rates in the high teens, twenties, sometimes over thirty per cent a year, while borrowing (from depositors, for example) at one or two per cent (figures duly reflected in many banks' profit statements). But, with these record opportunities for profit, banks feel other lending areas are at risk, so that it's time to stick it to the most vulernable borrowers-- consumers-- the folks who can't afford lobbyists. (Note that proposed bankruptcy reform never includes protections from predatory lending practices. NEVER.)

The child and spousal support canard offered by Zywicki is a most peculiar one. Current bankruptcy laws already exempt support payments and arrears from bankruptcy discharge; at worst, there may be very brief interference in collection as a result of the bankruptcy automatic stay, but under current law, this stay can be removed virtually immediately. It's most peculiar that Zywicki offers that a scheme which may as well be designed to punish divorcees and their dependent children (and widows and orphans) for the benefit of large financial institutions will... somehow help these same people. It will, on net, be a huge punishment, as it is intended to be, for the benefit of banks.

Bankruptcy "reform" is simply a classic case of redistributive risk: from those most able to bear it, to those least. It's not merely bad, its downright evil. Congratulations to you, Todd Zywicki, for standing up for big capital, and all its abuses, and against individual Americans at a time of their greatest need, even as many economic forecasts predict that the high consumer debt and likely rocky times ahead will make the protections of our bankruptcy laws more important than ever.

Our bankruptcy laws have actually been one of the most effective tools of American economic vibrancy, as well as providing relief for millions upon millions of individuals. The system ain't broke. This would be a terrible time to fix it. Especially based on spurious "justifications" such as those offered by Zywicki.

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February 10, 2005, The Beginning of the End of the Promise of America

The Cold Heaven by William Butler Yeats

Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting Heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

Radical attorney Lynne F. Stewart was convicted by a jury in lower in Manhattan today on a number of charges made up by the United States government to show its might to those unwary enough to believe that they could be outspoken in the defense of the unpopular. Too outspoken, evidently.

I hold no brief for Ms. Stewart, who I consider to be an unapologetic idiot. However, being an unapologetic idiot (and my understanding of her record as a defense attorney is as a not particularly effective defense attorney... I have heard her described as "a civil rights lawyer", but I think she was more of an attorney for unpopular criminal defendants)... is not a crime. Let alone one that carries a 20-year sentence.

What Ms. Stewart is accused of doing is incredibly stupid. Should she have challenged the intrinsically unconstitutional restrictions on her ability to convey messages from a convicted conspirator in the first World Trade Center bombing, even hateful ones? Yes, she should have been more careful. Should she have challenged the arbitrary prison rules she violated? Yes again.

But prior to the post-9-11 hysteria (in which we still hold citizens without counsel, charge or trial, and the habeas corpus writ has been treated as toilet paper by our own Supreme Court, and we maintain gulags throughout the world), Stewart would have been charged with administrative violations, fined, and quite possibly, suspended from legal practice for some time.

And now? Twenty years in jail. Would I rather take the chance that loudmouth lawyers might convey messages from bad people to the outside world, or that I wouldn't be able to get competent legal counsel if I were accused of a peculiarly heinous crime, I would take the former chance. Every. God. Damned. Day.

And, I suspect unlike anyone who may snarkly comment about being soft on terrorists, or for that matter, the jury, I was one block from the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th; I'm quite familiar with the events of that day. And I still work a block from Ground Zero. And I would rather risk a repeat of that day, again, and again, than risk the protections of the Bill of Rights and the rest of our constitution.


We can live proudly as free men, in the best country that has ever existed, and not allow our precious rights to be compromised. Or we can cower in fear and raw emotion, and watch as our rights are eroded. Let's be clear: the Lynne Stewart prosecution is a stark message to attorneys. Representing the unpopular will not merely result in scorn and disrespect and maybe occasional court sanctions. Now, it can result in jail. And in the case of Stewart, who is in her 60's, a probable life sentence at that.

This. Is. Not. What. We. Are. About. This is a sorry day for those who would defend our most important liberties. Which makes it a sorry day for the rest of us.

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February 9, 2005, Iran is a dagger pointed at the heart of Texas

Tough talk a Bruxelles today from Secretaire d'Etat Incompetentalleezza Rice, at a NATO meeting, where she more or less said Iran remains a bone of contention between the United States and Europe, according to this from Le Monde. Watching "Dr. Rice" even without the sound as I did this morning in a midtown coffee shop is disconcerting enough; had I had the sound on and listened to the same kind of drumbeat now sounding vis a vis our coming war with Iran that we heard with respect to our last war with Iraq would be... depressing.

Hence, I'd much rather read about her ravings in the measured, mellifluous language used by Le Monde (i.e., Freedom). Rice's lambastings of European efforts at negotiating with Iran are just a little too reminiscent of her prior efforts to undermine the work of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. And her invocation of the UN Security Council is just a little too reminiscent of her predecessor's least finest hour...

Well, Iran must be stopped. Yada yada yada mushroom cloud, terrorism, obstacle to peace, yada yada yada...

Iran? Mais ouis...

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February 8, 2005, U.S. Objects to inclusion of Cuba and Zimbabwe on Key UN Human Rights Panel

That would specifically be a so-called "working group on situations" where Cuba and Zimbabwe would join the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Hungary in a committee that will plan and coordinate details of next months' meeting of the entire 53 nation United Nations human rights commission, which is most amusingly chaired by Libyan leader Col. Moamar Qaddaffi IIRC (by whatever spelling!)

The United States noted that becasue Saudi Arabia is conducting (men only) village scale elections, its dictatorial theocratic regime (elements of which sponsored the 9-11 attacks and which on occasion orders school girls back into burning buildings to their deaths because they didn't wear their head scarves) has sufficiently improved its human rights record (and is keeping its oil related kickbacks flowing to the appropriate numbered bank accounts) so as not to draw even a mention from our Incompetentalleezza Rice controlled State Department.

OTOH, Zimbabwe is clearly worthy of our scorn: Mr. Mugabe has run a series of rigged elections, where, through unfair control of the national media and suppression of the opposition parties through intimidation, voter registration fraud, playing games at the polling stations and in counting (using allegedly rigged voting machines, among other methods) and has disenfranchisesd millions of mostly Black voters, to maintain his ongoing illegitimate kleptocratic rule.

Cuba is even worse. There is a prison on Cuba whose occupants are not merely subject to no due process of law whatsoever (in complete derogation of all international law and human decency) but the occupants of that prison are citizens of other countries that have been kidnapped and taken to Cuba. It is widely believed that the prisoners there are abused, if not tortured, and there is a world wide outcry that the prisoners be afforded basic human rights under Geneva Conventions, the UN charter and other bases of international law... The prison, maintained by the Castro regime at Guantanimo Bay...

Oh, wait...

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February 7, 2005, "To the victor go the spoils." -- Dick Armey

In this case, the Republicans are the victor, and the spoils are in the President's "austerity" budget, which will slash and burn over 150 programs while still making the deficit worse. Spoils you say? Remember: the voters said that punishing people for being poor is just standing for good old Christian values. At least, that's what somebody in the White House seems to think the voters said.

Of course-- simply freezing spending for one year and reversing the President's tax cuts-- in their entirety-- as Howard Dean proposed (and was duly attacked and ridiculed by John Kerry, among others)-- would reduce the structural federal budget deficit from around 3-4% of GDP to between 1-2% of GDP in two years, more than meeting the President's purported goal of halving the deficit in four years. The Democrats could get behind this, but they would have to be as honest (and hence craaaaazzzzzyyyy) as Howard Dean, i.e., more honest than John Kerry, and take back the (bogus and illusory) "middle class tax cuts" too.

The other thing to note is that the President is proposing cuts in only 2/5 of the federal budget pie, while affirmatively doing everything in his power to make 2/5 worse; I suppose his plans to destroy the other 1/5 have to be graded neutral, but they will make 1/5 so much worse, as to not be funny. What in God's name am I talking about?

This: Of the $2.5 trillion federal budget (as usual, around 22% or so of GDP, give or take), roughly 20% covers social security transfer payments (pensions and survivor/disability benefits), 20% covers medicare/medicaid, 20% covers interest on our national debt, 20% covers defense (including "homeland security") and 20% covers everything else, from education to courts to roads to Amtrak to farm subsidies to the National Weather Service. EVERYTHING. ELSE. So-called discretionary spending is only 20% of the federal budget. Thanks to the accelerating effect of the back-loaded (and therefore, NOT STIMULATIVE) Bush tax cuts, our current deficit exceeds all discretionary spending: all of it.


Interest on the national debt is, of course, the only part that is unassailable, as defaulting on it ends the "borrow and spend" game immediately. Defense spending could be slashed and burned, with a probable improvement in our actual security (we built dozens of planes during World War II for less than the cost of one these days in real dollars, for example), but I expect no member of Congress to want to give away the single most important source of pork-barrel spending there is (or the Bush family friends ability to steal from the taxpayers by the billion). Social security is complicated (though simply changing the cost of living adjustment ("COLA") to adjust from the inflation in prices rather than in wages will, as a historical matter, make social security solvent more or less forever, pretty much by itself. The problem here, as you might imagine, is Democrats who would scream that this was "killing old people", even though, of course, it would assure them of pensions forever, albeit not quite as generous at the expense of working people.) Medicare/medicaid is actually complicated-- too much so for this little snippet. And everything else is... well, everything else. Again-- "discretionary", but think passports, national parks, air traffic controllers, postmen, courthouses... all other federal services: only so much you can do here-- devastating 20% cuts in this area would be felt significantly, though only lower the total budget around 4% or so.

Which leaves taxation as the only thing we really can control, to deal with the deficit, at least in the near and intermediate (and long) term.

Well, I've made it easy here for any smart Democrat to step up and offer a statesmanlike solution to the financial disaster we are headed for (which, for those wondering, involves a significant increase in the debt service portion of the budget exacerbated by higher interest rates and lower tax revenues). Or any principled Republican is free to step up.

Sometimes, I feel a little like Diogenes...

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February 7, 2005, Tea leaf reading?

A brief stop by to Beijing's People's Daily gives us this cryptic read of the even more cryptic article recently coauthored by former Republican Secretaries of State Henry "10 Most Evil Men of the Twentieth Century TM" Kissinger and George "Yes, I'm on the Board of Bechtel and you don't want to know where else" Schultz.

Their analysis: the United States as opened a big can o' woop'ass in Iraq, and must decide between the wonderful rhetoric of "democracy" and "freedom", or the less wonderful reality that the aforementioned will result in a pro-Iran, Shiite dominated Shiite axis from Tehran to Baghdad which will scare the be-Jesus (or the be-Mohammed, maybe?) out of the neighboring Sunni countries, who happen to be our allies and oil suppliers.

As usual, one can hear the deep, German, Strangelovian voice of Kissinger as he sets forth the various competing interests. We know that if he were still in charge, the ultimate decision would be for "stability", damn the human cost.

At issue will be whether our current President ultimately behaves the same way. Of course, not doing so would be consistent with "spreading democracy and freedom". The joint Oracles Kissinger and Schultz, ladies and gentlemen... I think I know what they mean.... but do I?

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February 6, 2005, "No Exit" says Oracle of Arlington

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave an interview with the ABC News program This Week, and he said there was no timetable in place as to when Iraqi forces would be able to maintain security on their own. As I had predicted earlier, the best gauge of future policy in this area is Rumsfeld himself; Colin Powell is now gone, so we cannot hear what he says and then assume the opposite, and the President/Presidential Baby Sitter Incompetentalleezza Rice speak in virtual lock step, and generally, they speak in trial balloons for the most part.

No, only Secretary Rumsfeld seems to have his finger on the pulse of where things are going vis a vis American war policy toward Southwest Asia, specifically the two "Ira" countries (Axis of Evil TM members Iraq and Iran).

And I must say, Rumsfeld appears to be back in top form:

On the subject at hand, Rumsfeld said he does not know when we will have trained enough Iraqis so they can secure the country and begin replacing American troops, quipping: "It's interesting to me that some people think they know that because it's not knowable."

As to disclosures of his two resignation letters to the President at the time the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Rumsfeld said: "I told him I really thought he ought to carefully consider it. But he made a conscious decision, and life goes on, and here we are."

Rumsfeld was asked if there were U.S. military operations going on in Iran. "Not to my knowledge," he replied. Rumsfeld added that there are "too many unknown factors" to be able to say when Iraqis will be able to handle internal security.

As to Iran and Syria, Rumsfeld said, "We don't know the extent to which they're going to be unhelpful or helpful" to enabling Iraq to overcome the insurgency. Also uncertain, Rumsfeld said, is the extent to which "the political process is going to tip people away from supporting insurgency or being on the fence to supporting the government."

On a strategy of trying to cut off funds to the insurgency, he said "What you need to do is have the economic progress, the political progress which is going forward in such good style. And that will determine the level of the insurgency." . "And the level of the insurgency will determine the speed at which Iraqi security forces will be capable of managing that level of insurgency." He acknowledged there were are lot of "ifs," but added, "That's life."

On the abuse scandal at the prison near Baghdad, Rumsfeld said that as the Defense Department's leader, he took responsibility. "My goodness, it happened on my watch," he said. But, he added, "On the other hand, if secretaries of defense resigned every time someone did something they shouldn't do, out of the millions of people involved in the defense establishment or a mayor or a governor, something happened in their country, you wouldn't have anyone in public office. So it's a tough calculation."

Helpfully, Rumsfeld said he had no idea whether a limited military strike could lead to the overthrow of Iran's religious leadership. He hoped for change from inside the country.

"I was amazed at how rapidly the shah of Iran fell and the ayatollahs took over that country. It happened just seemingly like that, looking at it from outside. ... So we can't predict these things. We don't have intelligence that good. I just don't know," Rumsfeld said.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, ladies and gentlemen. He'll be here all week, and held over for the next four years or so. The man is a national treasure. Now if we could only figure out of what country...

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February 5, 2005, One Flu over the Cuckoo's Nest

This pleasant reminder from our friend Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey writing in Pravda, who gives us this from East Asia about the United Nation's World Health Organization telling us that avian flu jumping over to humans is now at an emergency state. For those wondering, the last time something like that happened on a grand scale (right after World War I), something like 20 to 30 million people died (let's just say that given the then smaller world population at the time, a comparable pandemic would kill over 100,000,000 people these days... and since a lot of them would be White Americans... ) Well, I suppose our media will concern itself with this after it's under way, and some super-model or professional athlete succumbs... Until then...

We, of course, can go back to sleep, and worry about more likely things, like a North Korean ICBM strike that we might be able to thwart with an expensive anti-missile system, or terrorists launching a small-pox plague, or.... LOOK OVER THERE!!!...

The thing with any new strain of flu is... no one is immune to it. The Spanish flu of 1918-19 killed millions of otherwise healthy adults, rather quickly and nastily. Like other flus, we can develop vaccines, but of course, the way we know develop vaccines (one dose per chicken egg, for example) is cumbersome. Worse, as we know, we are down to two, sometimes one, provider of the vaccine (at least here, stateside).

In short, we could probably immunize less than 10% of the world's population right now, and that with an all out effort, based on our current technology and procurement systems. I tend to think almost certain plague is actually something that should be taken with the deadliest of seriousness, because of its... deadliness. As, however, I don't necessarily see the mass profit available in vaccine development, I won't hold my breath that efforts will be made to stave off the eventual pandemic until it's well under way, and millions are already dead.

Bid'ness is bid'ness, after all. We want the government off our backs and not wasting our money (for which we would have to maybe raise taxes) caring about these sorts of low profit things like public health...

Yee ha.

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February 3, 2005, The Boy who cried Wolfowitz

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, widely acknowledged as one of the principle architects of the underlying neo-conservative dogma that supplied the phisosophical underpinnings for "the end justifies the means and the means are lying, lying, lying" entry into the Iraq war, denied that that the insurgency represented some "nationalist" movement. The evidence of this, according to Wolfowitz, is the high turnout in the national elections on Sunday, which "proves" widespread popular support for the new Iraqi government.

This, of course, is a yes-but situation. Yes, the turnout was very high-- higher than American turnouts as percentages of registered voters-- but such high turnout was confined to Kurdish and Shiite voters; Sunni voters-- widely believed to include Baathist elements and others who believe they will be screwed in a likely Shiite-dominated Iraq-- stayed home in droves, and had quite a low turnout. So low, that they will be virtually unrepresented in the new government forming the new Iraqi constitution. A group that constitutes some 20% of the Iraqi population, and controls something like 90% of its explosive material (or whatever percentage around 500,000 pounds... or is it tons... removed from unguarded ammo dumps constitutes).

Various estimates of the foreign fighters have varied wildly, as have every single estimate for everything with this war, from its cost, to its length, to its likely human toll, to the size of the opposition, to its ever changing rationale for even having taken place at all.

Well, thank you Secretary Wolfowitz: I feel much better now knowing that we are, in fact, battling "foreign fighters", meaning, I suppose, "terrorists", who we are doing a fine job of field and battle testing as they perfect their methods against us, and seek out fresh recruits among an Iraqi population we are, of unfortunate necessity, catching in the cross-fire.

Well, no matter... did you hear that Iran is harboring terrorists, trying to develop nucular weapons, and poses an immediate threat to the security of the United States...

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February 2, 2005, Freedom and Weep

DESIGN by Robert Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

With thanks to Mrs. TD on tonight's post title.

The President treated us all to his State of the Union speech, which ran to an annoyingly Clintonian 60 some minutes, including some sort of a miscue with "the Iraqi woman voter", and the usual applause lines ("make tax cuts permanent", "freedom", "our enemies", etc.) Ahmad Chalabi couldn't make it to Laura's box this year.

Well, look: whatever Bush says about social security, it's clear that Democrats are prepared to hang together on this (though as Unqualified Offerings observes, probably not the same universality of opposition to torture, at least as personified by the Alberto Gonzales nomination), but Republican Congressional members simply cannot afford to run for reelection after "voting to destroy social security". Bush knows it. Whatever he says, he knows bloody well it's not going to pass in any way more meaningful than a pilot program or a tweak.

Also unsurprisingly, Democratic Congressional leaders Reid and Pelosi's Democratic response is peculiarly lame (and devoid of principled alternatives short of "what he ways is wrong").

As expected, the President told us that if we set forth an Iraq exit strategy, "the terrorists will have won." In Axis of Evil TM news from the SOTU... Iran... still evil. North Korea... still evil. Iraq... good... freedom... democracy... Syria... now evil... Saudi Arabia and Egypt are, evidently, to move toward democracy... whatever that means... Palestinians to get an astounding $350 million... that's $350 million (calling Dr. Evil; a figure that astounding requires one's pinky inserted in the corner of one's moutn).

Look: nothing new, here. Nothing particularly radical in the SOTU. The name of the game was to hold serve, and remain in power. The Bushmen pulled it off. The stealing can now go on unabated. Sure, sure, the President acknowledged his support for the constitutional Gay Bashing Amendment (the GBA) and the "culture of life" (code for banning abortion without doing anything about it), but no one seriously believes he would really expend any effort on those matters.

In short, the whole thing smacks of a snooker: the President has something up his sleeve, that the rest of this "ambitious agenda" (which is actually designed not to pass and is designed to get Democrats high fiving themselves over "a victory") only to sneak in something else... complete repeal of progressive taxation? Repeal of any and all taxation for anyone earning over $1,000,000 a year? Half a million dollars a year? A draft? WHAT?

Well, contrary to their performance when other people's lives, liberty and money is on the line, when it comes to their own power and agenda, methinks the Bushmen have something in mind... almost as if they planned all this...

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February 1, 2005, CIA Revises PreWar WMD Estimates to "Junk" Status; Bullish Recommendation Re: Iran

I guess the CIA does this sort of thing, but it announced that it is formally revising its pre-war WMD estimate in Iraq ("slam-dunk") to the reality (nuttin'). What's interesting in the attached link are the last three paragraphs: the first 80% is a discussion of just how wildly off the CIA estimates before the Iraq war were regarding the state of Iraq's WMD programs and actual weapons. The last three paragraphs discuss Iran, and that Vice-President Vader has called Iran "our leading threat priority", or some ominous term for the latest potential domino in "The Great Game As Played by the Great Incompetent"...

Assuming that the proposed "Persian Incursion" (Jon Stuart's Daily Show gets the credit for that bon mot) is based on similar intelligence to that we had before the Mess O' Potamia (again... thanks Jon), one wonders why we should accord it any reliability whatsoever re: estimates of the threat posed by Iran.

I mean, we all make mistakes. But for Saddam to have had nothing? That should certainly cause one to take pause, before committing to anything else that is suggested by the same team. Plus, not even Britain, Australia and Poland are likely to sign on for another adventure. We would be doing this alone, and with an already overstretched American military already over-dependent on reservists who didn't think they were signing up for extraordinarily dangerous Neo-Colonial maintenance duty.

Anyway... just one more thing to keep in mind going in to tomorrow's State of the Union Address... (1) Freedom... good; (2) Democracy... good... Iraq election vindicates entire perfect American policy there; (3) Social security... in dire peril... must destroy program to save it... (4) Iran... poses dire threat, must raise massive army (probably via draft)... to protect our.... Freedom... good... and of course, (5) whatever taxes the rich still pay have to be phased out...

Did I miss anything?

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