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Saturday, August 14, 2004

A Bogeyman Next Door

On July 20, 2004 Kamran Shaikh was arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina. He raised the suspicions of the local authorities when he was spotted filming various buildings in the area surrounding the local bus station.

As Chisun Lee describes in his Village Voice article, Mr Shaikh is just a photography and videography fan. He is also a lawbreaker,- he made "false statements", in every-day English,- he lied about having a Green Card which in reality he does not hold. However, the media accounts of who he is would read drastically different to an uninitiated reader.
The man was arrested three weeks ago and ultimately charged with making "false statements"—telling authorities he had a green card when he actually does not. Lying about his immigration status was by no means angelic nor terribly bright. But press accounts this week—fueled by anonymous law enforcement speculation—made Kamran Shaikh’s fairly common violation seem like breaking news of people’s worst fears come true.

"Authorities probing whether Queens man is a . . .TERROR TOURIST," screamed the August 11 front cover of New York’s Daily News, the scariest words conveyed in two-inch tabloid type. Shaikh was arrested July 20, when local police spotted him videotaping his surroundings near a bus depot in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina.

It is interesting how assertions like those are fed to the media.

Authorities stopped just short of uttering blatant untruths, but their ominous initial remarks fanned a media furor. "These were not your normal tourist videos. This could turn out to be something legitimate and innocent, but it’s raised our suspicions, and we think there’s something else going on here. We don’t like the look of it," was the anonymous government quote the August 11 New York Times ran on the case.

In other words: This could be nothing, and there is no evidence that it is actually something. But we’re going to speculate wildly, anyway.

Well, Mr Shaikh could of course be a terror operative. But to this there is no evidence. But there is ample evidence to the incompetence of the investigative authorities. For instance, if it is true that they confused background conversation in Urdu,- which is Mr Shaikh's native language and which it is alleged is the language heard spoken in the video by Mr Shaikh's company on that day,- with a conversation in Arabic, then I suppose I don't even need to comment further on the subject of the investigators' incompetence.

It very much looks that in a politicized atmosphere of today, when both internal and external intelligence officers are under enormous pressure to produce findings of a certain variety, we need to take with a grain of salt everything they come up with. And we need to question them. And pressure them to become professional and act professionally, not politically.

Also, one need not forget that true terrorists are both savvy and resourceful. For instance, if they wanted a certain building filmed,- would you think they could not pay a white, all-American video operator to film it? We should consider possibilities for ourselves,- not just rely on what the officials tell us. They are not any smarter than us; oftentimes, they are not even better informed. Furthermore, if my experience at a government facility is worth anything, years spent in a government quasi-reality oftentimes dulls both the individual's ability to perceive reality outside and their professional skills.

A View from The Inside

There is a very interesting web site out there, the one hosting articles by Dean Carter, a California death row inmate. Mr Carter professes his innocence of the crime. At one point he decided to make his views on capital punishment and other issues known. He writes the articles and his friends maintain the site.

His latest column is dedicated to the prison abuse scandal in Iraq. I think it is very accurate in its analysis, and I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Has Rep. Goss Learned Lots of New Things in The Last Six Months?

I never paid much attention to the Director of Central Intelligence nomination process taking place under way now. Don't know why,- maybe, just out of conviction that the whole system is so defective that replacing one player, however senior, is unlikely to make a difference.

However, a friend of mine emailed me with a link to an excerpt of the interview Rep. Porter Goss gave for Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11. And this, I think, is worth a comment.

In this interview, Mr Goss had clearly stated that he does not view himself as a capable candidate to a CIA position. Apparently,- correctly or incorrectly,- at that time he believed that his skills were not up to snuff to be a field agent or a case officer. So, even if he underestimated his own credentials,- what makes him a suitable candidate now? Has he drastically ramped up on his knowledge of high-tech, Arabic, Middle East? Has he at least gotten a confidence boost? Can one get such a confidence boost in such a short time without completely deluding oneself?

Those I think are questions worth asking. Let me make it clear that I am not attempting to rule on whether or not Porter Goss is a suitable candidate for the position of the DCI. It simply appears that a short while ago he did not consider himself a suitable choice, and the question begs asking, what changed in the interim?

'Speak Hebrew or shut up'

Etgar Keret, an Israeli author, compares the lofty wordings of an official document, the Israel Defence Force's Code of Ethics, with the reality of a checkpoint in the West Bank. I liked his humorous style. I also like the notion that while it is commendable that the IDF issued such definitive guide as its Code of Ethics, the value of this code will remain questionable until its provisions become every day norms, until it is actually followed and those who violate it are sanctioned.

Count John Ashcroft in

David Joseph is a little guy, about 5-foot-5, maybe 115 pounds. He's 20 years old, looks younger, and has the sluggish demeanor and sad expression of one who is deeply depressed. He has nightmares and headaches. He spends his days dressed in the blue fatigues of detainees at the federal Krome Detention Center, washing dishes at mealtimes, staring listlessly at television images broadcast in a language he doesn't understand, and praying.
So writes Bob Herbert in his New York Times op-ed piece. So why is Mr Joseph behind bars. Well, he is an illegal alien, a boat person from Haiti.

Mr. Joseph is a refugee from Haiti who is seeking asylum in the United States. He is not a terrorist, and no one has even suggested that he is a threat to anyone. And yet he's been in federal custody for nearly two years.

An immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals have ruled that he should be freed on bond, pending a final ruling on his asylum request. But the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft, won't let him go.

Playing his ever-present, all-encompassing terrorism card, Mr. Ashcroft personally intervened in Mr. Joseph's case, summarily blocking his release. According to the attorney general, releasing this young Haitian would tend to encourage mass migration from Haiti, and might exacerbate the potential danger to national security of nefarious aliens from Pakistan and elsewhere who might be inclined to use Haiti as a staging area for migration to the U.S.

Let us stop here for a moment and try to take it in. Essentially, what Mr Ashcroft, The Attorney General of the US, is saying is that he is making decisions on David Joseph's case not based upon the merits of the case, or the personal qualities of the detainee, but in order to affect the behaviour of a whole group, in order to penalize a whole group,- namely, current and potential illegal immigrants from Haiti. It appears fair to say that if Mr Joseph were detained in identical circumstances but his country of origin were Greece or China instead of Haiti he would long have been released on bond.

Mr Ashcroft is firm in his belief that this is indeed the way to go. Or at least his dialog with Senator Specter during Mr Ashcroft's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee leaves one with that impression.

Senator Specter urged Mr. Ashcroft to consider a policy in which the Justice Department would address cases like Mr. Joseph's on a less sweeping, "more individual" basis, which would enable officials to determine whether there was any real basis for concern about terrorism.

Mr. Ashcroft was unmoved. He told Senator Specter: "Sometimes individual treatment is important. Sometimes it's important to make a statement about groups of people that come."

Be that as it may, Mr Ashcroft seems to be a proponent of the idea of group responsibility. That idea is contrary to the spirit of the US law. If we as a society want to include that notion in the law, we should do so in an open and honest manner. That principle,- the responsibility of a group for individual's deeds or proclivities,- must be made part of the law through legislative process. Personally, I think that would spell the end of the Constitution and the lawful society in the US as we know it, but back-door attempts to run such practices must most definitely not be allowed.

I have recently expressed my desire to see certain government lawyers disbarred. I think we have one more name to add to the list of those lawyers: John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General. I would even honor him with the top spot on that list.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Is This Why James McGreevey Is Resigning?

No sooner did I write my comment on New Jersey Governor James McGreevey's resignation than more details emerged as to the circumstances surrounding it.
Two sources close to McGreevey, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said the man involved in the affair was Golan Cipel, an Israeli poet who worked briefly for the governor as a homeland security adviser despite having no security experience.
This is interesting. Well, if Mr Cipel's job as a homeland security adviser was indeed handed to him as a gift from his lover, then maybe Mr McGreevey indeed should resign. As I said before, the criteria should be limited to professional factors,- and hiring somebody who seems a bit underqualified is, to say the least, somewhat unprofessional.

Mr Cipel is also alleged to have blackmailed his lover the Governor by attempting to extort exorbitant amounts of money in exchange for silence. If that is truly the case, then I think Mr Cipel must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

This Should Be Just A Private Matter

The news is in,- New Jersey Governor James McGreevey is resigning over a homosexual affair. I think that is wrong. Not his resignation,- I am not in a position to tell whether he should resign or not, this decision is clearly his to make. But the whole situation is wrong.

His sex life is his own business,- and nobody else's. He feels that he has wronged his wife and chooses to apologize to her,- that's fine, in fact, that's admirable. Whether to do so privately or publicly is also his choice. However, that is not a criterion by which his performance as Governor should be judged. Nor is it grounds for resignation.

This sort of precedent diverts attention from the simple fact that there ought to be one and only one measure of our official's performance,- professionalism in their position. Other things, such as looks, sexual deviations (or the lack thereof), religious affiliation,- simply should not matter.

I respect Governor McGreevey for having what it takes to disclose the uncomfortable truth. However, I wish he stayed on the job.

Free Speech Zones

In modern Russian the prison jargon has become a significant part of many people's vocabulary. Those who use it are not necessarily criminals or ex-inmates,- this linguistic infusion penetrates all layers of the society, from the streets of industrial towns to the corridors of power. And that is an inevitable consequence of mass imprisonment which reached its peak during the years of Stalin's purges and has remained part of Russia's reality to this day. In his world renowned book GULAG Archipelago Alexander Solzhenitsyn provides a masterful description of how the world of prisons affects the world on the other side of the fence,- linguistically, culturally, mentally and in many other ways.

In Russian prison jargon "zona" (Russian for "zone") means "prison camp". Thus to a Russian speaker this modern term, "free speech zone", sounds somewhat ironic. I have recently seen the one in Boston next to the Fleet Center, the site of the Democratic National Convention. To a large extent I believe the description of it Dahlia Lithwick provides in her New York Times column to be correct.
The largely ignored "free-speech zone" at the Democratic convention in Boston last month was an affront to the spirit of the Constitution.
You may want to take a look at these pictures and see for yourself. Personally, I think these pictures show it in a bit too grim a light,- but not by much. I think Lithwick is also correct in her comments on some sections of the Patriot Act.
One section invented a broad new crime called "domestic terrorism" - punishing activities that "involve acts dangerous to human life" if a person's intent is to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion." If that sounds as if it's directed more toward effigy-burning, or Greenpeace activity, than international terror, it's because it is. International terror was already illegal.
My only comment to her above statement would be that all terrorism, whether originating overseas or within the US, had been illegal long before Ashcroft came up with an idea to write the Patriot Act. Furthermore, so has been murder, assault and destruction of property, as well as conspiracy to commit the above-mentioned crimes,- the crimes that pretty much inevitably follow every terror attack.

Specifically regarding the "free speech zones", I must admit to a complete mental failure to comprehend what security objective they accomplish. I tend to think wearing a button or a t-shirt with a certain verbiage on it has not yet stopped anybody from engaging in any sort of violence (unless you believe in amulets, that is). So it is beyond me why, given their prior knowledge of the practice of "free speech zones", an individual or a group planning an act of sabotage would not pose as supporters to get as close as they can to the group or person they seek to harm. And unless those who have instituted the practice come forth with a sensible explanation as to what security benefits it yields, I will continue to view that practice exclusively as that of intimidation, oppression and censorship.

Terror, Terror, Terror...

The warnings keep coming in. The enemy is at the gate,- or even way past the gate. Al Quaeda is seeking ways to terrorize Americans, the want to disrupt the US Presidential Election and drive Bush from office. While the former is likely true, the latter is questionable. As I have said before, George W Bush's chances of being re-elected are more likely to improve than to decrease in case of a major pre-Election terror strike since he has successfully build an image of himself as a war President, and that is the only part of his PR portfolio that appears solid.

In his Village Voice article James Ridgeway also presents another interesting possibility of what Al Quaeda may be up to at the moment:
Robert Killebrew, a retired army infantry colonel who often writes and speaks about defense and national security matters, predicted Sunday in The Washington Post that Al Qaeda will plan more attacks on the Madrid model, in which a terrorist act is hooked to a political event in order to accomplish maximum effect. And that while Al Qaeda is bashing Middle East and Western governments it doesn't like, it will also try to gain support of the street Muslims by entering politics and sooner or later putting its own people into high positions within different governments. "If, as I expect," writes Killebrew, "Al Qaeda makes the transition in the coming decade from a deadly, popular but rootless terrorist grouping to the sitting government of a number of countries, this heroic theme will inspire their governing institutions, including regular military and paramilitary forces and will become part of the pan-Arab, anti-crusader tradition."
If true, this may actually be good news of sorts. Any movement that transitions from a stateless outlaw group to being part of a government generally tends to become more restrained and responsible. And those who deal with it,- whether friends or enemies,- finally get an address to go to.

Overall, I think the Amercians should for the most part disregard these latest terror warnings and not let them affect their plans for the Election day, or any other day before or after. Those professionally involved in law enforcement and intelligence should of course try to do their job as best they can and try and thwart the terror threat if it is real. All the rest of us should treat that threat as a background noise, like the rumbling of a thunderstorm which may at any time result in a deadly tornado or a bolt of lightning,- but which we do not generally allow to stop our lives in their tracks.

And, yes, I believe they should vote as this is likely the most crucial election in a long time,- and in a long time to come. And those who think that Bush has a strong anti-terror record may want to check out alternative media websites such as this one and think once again whether that is indeed the case.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Olga Document- The Debate Rages On

I have recently written about the so-called "Olga Document",- a letter signed by 103 Israelis in support of the Palestinian right of return. The following article by Ben-Dror Yemini offers what in my opinion amounts to a very interesting critique of the Olga Document.

Inaction in Sudan

We have been there many times before. Perhaps, most famously, in 1994 when the world stood by as 800,000 died in Rwanda. Or back in the 1970's when Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia eliminated several millions of their citizens.

And now, a similar tragedy is occurring in Sudan. J. Russell Tyldesley describes numerous reasons for inaction there in his Baltimore Chronicle article. As Mr Tyldesley observes,
The UN Security Council resolution is being crafted carefully out of respect for Sudan's sovereignty, according to the US Representative to the United Nations, John Danforth. The US displayed much less concern for the sovereignty of Iraq, despite there being no declared genocide afoot in that unfortunate country. Now we are confronting a situation in Darfur, declared by the US House of Representatives, in a unanimous resolution, to be a genocide which compels us to act under our own laws and a 1948 UN treaty on genocide.
The reasons for inaction are many,- divisions between different forces in the world, economic reasons, etc. To top it all off, Mr Tyldesley makes writes,
Sudan alleges a conspiracy against it, citing the example of Iraq. Could it also be that in the wake of the dishonest invasion of Iraq by a fabricated "coalition of the willing," the world community of nations is now paralyzed to inaction for fear of being accused of nefarious motives? Add this to the mounting costs of the Iraq misadventure.
What the reasons for any and every such inaction are is a complex question, and there is likely no one answer to it. However, I believe such inaction in the face of such enormous tragedy is a crime, and we all stand responsible for it.

Kach Running Training Camps In Israel

Officially Kahane Chai (Kach), the Jewish extremist movement based upon the teachings of Rabbi Meir Kahane are outlawed in Israel. In reality, a lot of people,- a minority, but not a negligible minority,- seem to be attracted to his teachings. While it is difficult,- and, in my view, unnecessary,- to outlaw any ideology per se, I think it is both the right and the responsibility of the state to clamp down on any movement that turns its ideology into violent action, or undertakes physical preparation for such action.

Such preparations are underway in Israel now. Kachane Chai is training the settler youths in Gaza in resisting the potential government's attempts to vacate the settlements there. The organizers of this training make no secrets of the goals:
"We are preparing the youths to circumvent army roadblocks, how they should talk to soldiers, and how to navigate in the field," explained right-wing extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is identified with the outlawed Kahane movement. "Everything is for, heaven forbid, a possible attempt to expel Jews from their homes. These youths, and many others who will come to Gush Katif and the Shomron, will say to Ariel Sharon and his accomplices: 'We're not leaving here alive,'" he said.
Some of them are using an overtly militant language:
Baruch Ben-Yosef, one of the organizers of the "boot camp," said, "Our goal is to lead the battle against withdrawal. We hope that the youths in the camp will recruit dozens and hundreds of additional youths who will come at the proper time to fight," he said.
I think this is a serious challenge to Israel, and to maintain the rule of law Israel must meet it and not run away for it. I think it is also important to realize that the threat of Jewish extremism, in Israel and elsewhere, is quite real, and in its root nature not much different from that of Arab and Muslim extremist groups, or any other violent extremist groups, for that matter. It may also be the case that it is this Jewish extremism, and not its Palestinian counterpart, that represents the biggest threat to the future of Israel.

This Is Every Citizen's Inalienable Right

An Israeli Arab couple is trying to purchase a home in Karmiel, but the purchase is being thwarted by the ILA (Israel Land Authority). The reason: they are Arabs. This is racism in its clearest form, and while I am happy to know that Israel's High Court of Justice ruled such practices illegal, I am completely appalled by the fact that the ILA sees it fit to violate the Court's decisions. Conducting business is every citizen's right, and any authority attempting to subvert this right on racist grounds needs to be stopped!

A Truly Timeless Speech, IMHO

The following is a speech by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). I think with small corrections for the local terms and circumstances, it fully applies to every democracy in which in difficult times citizens face a temptation to give into the government's "just trust us" rhetoric.

Everyone who holds the freedom dear should rejoice over words like the following:
Freedom is not defined by safety. Freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference. Government cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such a fictional place. Only a totalitarian society would even claim absolute safety as a worthy ideal, because it would require total state control over its citizens’ lives. This doesn’t stop governments, including our own, from seeking more control over and intrusion into our lives. As one Member of Congress stated to the press last week, “people who don’t want to be searched don’t need to come on Capitol grounds.” What an insult! The Capitol belongs to the American people who pay for it, not to Congress or the police.
I have read Rep. Paul's Congress homepage and I can't say I support every idea of his. But I think this speech is truly excellent, with it I agree entirely, and it is certainly great news that a man capable of delivering a speech like that is a member of our legislature.

Another Republican The GOP Should Disown

I have recently commented on James L Hart, a man campaigning as a Republican and displaying an outright racist agenda. It looks like he's got company,- a man holding similar views to Hart's when it comes to the Latinos, albeit a man whose breeding Mr Hart is vowing to discourage.

Vernon Robinson presents his sentiment as a concern about the "illegal alien invasion". The only thing he seems to get right is the need to make the borders secure. However, his statements about the illegal immigrants filling our prisons and effectively abusing the welfare system sound like pure hatemongering to me. And, just like in the case of Mr Hart, I think the GOP's failure to rescind his membership may be considered a silent approval of such agenda on the part of the party as a whole.

Subjective Impression or...

For the sake of honesty I must declare that I am not unemotional or unbiased in my assessment of George W Bush. I greatly dislike the man. This is not for partisan reasons. There are Republicans whom I like,- for instance, the former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. There is also at least one well-known Republican whom I greatly respect,- Senator John McCain.

As for Bush, I started questioning his basic knowledge of life back in the days when he as Governor of Texas was not only supporting the death penalty full force, but applying it with little apparent consideration of the cases presented before him. He said he believed in the courts; apparently, he took it to mean that the courts would always get it right and hence he could effectively abrogate his oversight responsibility and just let the system proceed.
"If you’re asking me whether or not as to the innocence or guilt or if people have had adequate access to the courts in Texas, I believe they have." -- Response to an AP Reporter

As a result, he had signed 155 death warrants,- according to some sources, a record for any executive official in the US history, thereby earning himself a nickname "Texecutioner". According to this website, Bush went as far as to mock an inmate requesting clemency:
Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer criticized Gov. George W. Bush for making fun of an executed Texas woman in an interview Bush gave to Talk magazine. "I think it is nothing short of unbelievable that the governor of a major state running for president thought it was acceptable to mock a woman he decided to put to death." Just before her execution date, Tucker appealed for clemency on the grounds that she had become a born-again Christian. Bush's reply: "'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'don't kill me.'"
I think this sort of behaviour signifies a complete lack of understanding of the gravity of death. It is common for children to have a weak understanding of how finite death is, how tragic it is regardless of whose death we are talking about. In an adult, that signifies both the lack of understanding of the finality and gravity of death, and the lack of ability to truly appreciate life.

Even given all his shortcomings, I at times wonder if my negative attitude towards George W Bush is truly justified. After all, he is not unique neither in his shortcomings, nor in his achievements. Actually, I take that back,- not everyone gets to be the leader of the world's most powerful country. All that said, I think he is remarkably unfit for his current job.

When I read what he says in interviews,- like this one, for instance,- I start feeling more for him as a person. He is demonized in some quarters, and I don't think that is the right way to look at him. In this interview, he comes across as a very incurious and naive man.

HUME: How do you get your news?

BUSH: I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi in the morning. They come in and tell me. In all due respect, you've got a beautiful face and everything.

I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.

HUME: Has that been your practice since day one, or is that a practice that you've...

BUSH: Practice since day one.

HUME: Really?

BUSH: Yes. You know, look, I have great respect for the media. I mean, our society is a good, solid democracy because of a good, solid media. But I also understand that a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with news. And I...

HUME: I won't disagree with that, sir.

BUSH: I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world.

So, in his interview with Brit Hume he openly admits that he allows a select group of people to filter everything he hears. Essentially, he admits being manipulated. And the notion of everyone being inevitably subjective,- a notion anyone with the most basic knowledge of human nature is aware of,- seems to completely escape him.

I also at times feel sorry for him. In his family, there does not appear to be much communication going on. In the same interview, Bush paints a picture of a family where his contact with his father is very irregular.
HUME: Tell me one thing. How often do you talk to your dad?

BUSH: You know, probably once every two weeks.

HUME: Really? Because I think a lot of people would imagine that you guys would be in touch constantly.

BUSH: No, I'm in touch constantly -- you mean like in terms of asking him...

HUME: Oh, yeah, calling up, saying, what about the Saudis, you know, you've dealt with them, what about them, and what should I do here, dad? You had a war with Saddam Hussein. What about that? I mean, sort of, you can understand how people would imagine that.

BUSH: No, I can understand. First of all, I talk to him really as son to father. I am worried about the fact that he is worried about me. You know you a very good question, did I take criticism of him or me easier, and the answer is, I take criticism of me easier.

So even though he clearly is not an unconcerned son,- he admits to being worried about his father being subjected to criticism, and it is generally alleged that his father has been a role model for him throughout his whole life,- he does not find much time to communicate with his father.

The Bushes' family relations are clearly none of my business. And,- unlike Bush's staff,- I am subjective. However, the picture I subjectively perceive here is of a very cold family, a family where children do not get to learn how to empathize with others. It also appears that this environment would imbue one with a very stringent and inflexible outlook on the world, such as the one President Bush appears to adhere to.

Every time I read an interview with George W Bush my dislike for the man diminishes. But at the same time I become even firmer in my belief that this is a man completely unfit for any job in which he would be responsible for the well-being of others.

What Up With Them Jobs?

This is the question many people in the US,- some say, way too many,- have been asking over the last several years. And for some the changes have been drastic indeed,- even grotesquely so. Once in awhile, something hardly believable comes across as news,- such as stories of ex-dot-com yuppies going homeless,- and in this insane world, one tends to believe those stories.

While those who lucked out on dot-com may have had some undeserved luck coming their way, it is clear that they are likely relatively young and on average have provided for themselves sufficiently to weather the storm. Not so for many others, who are older, have family responsibilities, have lost their job, found none (or none that pay nearly as much as the one they lost),- those who silently slip into poverty and hopelessness.

In his article Paul Krugman gives a fairly good overview of the picture. He provides a very good assessment, in my opinion, to what the true result of this administration's tax cuts have been:
What we've just seen is as clear a test of trickledown economics as we're ever likely to get. Twice, in 2001 and in 2003, the administration insisted that a tax cut heavily tilted toward the affluent was just what the economy needed. Officials brushed aside pleas to give relief instead to lower- and middle-income families, who would be more likely to spend the money, and to cash-strapped state and local governments. Given the actual results - huge deficits, but minimal job growth - don't you wish the administration had listened to that advice?
Well, as I said time and again, if you want to stimulate the local economy, give the money to anyone who can not hold it for long,- for instance, give it to the homeless and the prostitutes in the street, and that would be far more certain to ensure that the money is spent locally than when you give it to somebody like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, or even many other people who are less affluent but still affluent enough to invest,- potentially, not even in their own economy.

Returning to the subject of the job situation here,- frankly, I don't have a good handle on it. However, I am not alone here,- the US Department of Labor doesn't either. For instance, unemployment is calculated as a percentage of those who are receiving unemployment assistance or reporting to local labor departments as job seekers. However, for many it has proven so fruitless and frustrating that they stopped even bothering after their unemployment insurance ran out. Some do not collect it for other reasons, thus excluding themselves from the official count. For instance, yours truly is currently unemployed but decided not to collect his unemployment benefits as he is sufficiently wealthy to forgo them. Thus, I did not make the count either.

So, the bottom line is that the situation is fairly grave. The greed, egotism and indifference that permeate the society are likely to only make it worse for those who have fallen into poverty. Our President is alleged to believe that it is their own fault, as he is alleged to say that
"People are poor because they are lazy."
(see this article)
Well, aside from the first question I would ask,- namely, why is George W Bush not poor,- I can only say that the unemployed should not expect much help from this President. Nor from any other President, though someone who does not make maximizing corporate profits his political objective is likely to improve the situation of those in poverty.

We should all think of them,- when donating to charity, when considering our own financial situation, when shopping. Mainly, we should stop being selfish and come out of our shelter of ignorance. The poor are out there. We can help them,-or we can make them desperate. If it is the latter we choose,- well, let's not be surprised when they show up at our doorstep, a weapon in hand, and take by force what we should have shared.

The War On Drugs: Whom Are We Really Fighting?

We have heard it time and again. The drugs are destroying our communities. Young lives full of promise are snuffed out by the scourge of drug addiction. Vicious gangs force our children into doing their dirty work,- selling drugs on street corners. Young girls are forced into prostitution to support their addiction. We have all seen pictures of cocaine babies. The pundits, the politicians, the executive officials have spoken and told us that this is a plague that must be destroyed. And if it takes a war to eradicate this plague,- so be it, we will fight the war on drugs and we shall prevail.

However, there are different ways to look at it. One perspective would be that some view some drugs considered illegal in the US perfectly safe and even useful. I once met a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan who credits hashish with saving his life as, according to his description, this was a way to get rid of stress and get oneself together without the drunken stupor caused by alcohol. The medical use of marijuana is another area where the drug's positive effects are well documented. Cocaine makes one extra-alert; I suppose there are situations when that could come in handy,- to help an exhausted soldier or firefighter stay focused, for instance. Of course, for drugs to have a positive effect they must be used in moderation, but the same is true of pretty much everything. One needs to just walk the streets of pretty much any US city to see the results of our failure to know moderation when it comes to food consumption.

Another view of the situation is that the drug addicts are sick. They can no longer control their urges, thus they can not be held responsible in a court of law, nor can they be expected to avoid committing crimes if these crimes hold a promise of their next fix for them. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that demand (the addicts) brings supply (the drug dealers) onto the scene. Hence, according to this model, the solution ought to be registration and treatment for drug addicts, with the distribution for those who have not yet been weaned of their drug of choice.

Yet another view,- the one I favor the most,- is that drug use is a matter of personal choice. It should be completely decriminalized. It is officially considered a crime, while, so long as you merely consume drugs you harm no one but yourself. If you commit a crime, whether while intoxicated or not, it is this crime you ought to be prosecuted for. I favor that view. Yes, there are holes in it. Of course a drug addict does not merely harm himself as it is also his family, friends and the community that suffers. But the same is true of a person who eats unhealthy food, incurs heart trouble as a result and dies of a heart attack at a young age. Or of a person who becomes addicted to alcohol,- which is legal.

These views likely do not even begin to represent the whole spectrum. They should suffice to show, however, that the narrow view accepted by several consecutive US administrations is not the only way to look at the picture,- likely, not even the correct way. But let us stop our lofty flight into theory and come back to the reality on the ground. And the picture there ain't pretty. The war on drugs is going apace. In his recent Denver Post article Walter Cronkite correctly characterizes this war as an utter failure and also correctly notes that,
Much of the nation, in one way or another, is victimized by this failure - including, most notably, the innocents, whose exposure to drugs is greater than ever.
He then goes on to elaborate on the scope of the war, the sheer numbers of those affected,- 500,000 behind bars exclusively for drug offenses. The article is also an excellent summary of how unfair the system is, with, among other things, the lowest-level offenders often getting the toughest sentences as they do not have infromation they could trade for a reduced sentence. As for what is in the works to change this reality, according to Cronkite,
The Alliance [Drug Policy Alliance] and other organizations are working to reform and reframe the war on drugs. And they are finding many judges on their side, who are rebelling against this cruel system. We can expect no federal action during the congressional hiatus in activity ahead of the November elections, but it would be of considerable help if, across the country, campaigning politicians put this high on their promises of legislative action, much sooner than later.
I think this may not be going far enough. We should not reframe the war on drugs,- we should stop it. Those who have committ drug-related violent crime should be prosecuted,- with the war on drugs stopped, murder is still going to be murder, racketeering is still going to racketeering, and both will still remain crimes.

Boris Grebenshikov, one of Russia's leading rock musicians, wrote in one of his songs:
We have been fighting this war for 70 years,
They have taught us that life is combat,
But the new intelligence report just came in
And it turns out all this time we fought ourselves.

(Translated by me, on the fly)
Well, he said it. Let's just not allow the war on drug to decimate our society for 70 years,- the roughly 20 years we've been fighting it is more than enough. Time to stop the madness.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

On Racism in France

In a news report that no longer sounds surprising, we read that another racist attack on graves has taken place in France. However, this time it is not only the Jewish graves that have been attacked, but also some Christian and Muslim ones. From this report, one would be inclined to look for a Nazi-type group as perpetrators.

The attackers clearly had some anti-Semitic motives. However, given all the facts, I believe it is wrong to say that anti-Semitism is the only sort of racism to be found in France, or that it is a unique phenomena. It is also wrong to focus only on the anti-Semitic aspect of these attacks the way many Jewish leaders have.

Clearly, for a variety of reasons, there are racist elements in many communities in France. And the amount of healthy outrage those racists' despicable activities bring forth is a hopeful sign that France as a society takes this problem quite seriously and is quite willing to work towards solving it.

An Israeli Jew Befriends an Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade Leader

This is a very intriguing story illustrating how human perceptions change, how relationships form, how people perceive their identity. Tali Fahima, 28, an Israeli Jewish woman becomes a friend (some sources say, a lover) to Zakaria Zubeidi, also 28, a local leader of a Palestinian terror group. She views his group's activities as a legitimate struggle. She is also not a typical leftist and in the last Prime-ministerial election voted for Ariel Sharon, the right-wing Likud candidate.

Her story certainly takes a lot of credence away from those quick to name Jews trying to find common humanity with Palestinian fighters as Leftist crazies and renegade Jews. She appears traditional, if not religious, and states that
she wants to "marry a Jew and build a traditional Jewish home".
She spent time serving as a human shield for her Palestinian friend. Her relationship with him and his colleagues was by no means covert.
Fahima, a Tel Aviv resident who has made frequent visits to the Jenin refugee camp to show her support for Palestinians, was filmed by Channel Two television recently walking with armed Palestinian fugitives and expressing her support for the "Palestinian struggle." She said she was drawn into a platonic friendship with Zubeidi, who is married, due to a curiosity about the militant's unmitigated hatred for Israel.
She has been arrested twice for her activities. She has not been prosecuted. I think Israel has definitely demonstrated impressive restraint in her case, in comparison with the US at least, as I think anyone whose relationship with an Al Quaeda leader was an equivalent of Fahima's relationship with Zubeidi would have been treated much more harshly.

But more importantly it demonstrated the complexity of the problem. Some Israelis, even those whose politics are not exactly of the Leftist fringe, seem to be seeing the military action as part of the problem, not of the solution. Those same Israelis also seem to recognize the occupation for what it is,- a highly opressive condition that can not be maintained indefinitely.

Is the size of your butt the government’s business?

This, in a nutshell, is the question Jacob Sullum is trying to address in his Reason article. The article opens with the discussion of Kelly Brownell's book, Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America’s Obesity Crisis, and What We Can Do About It (McGraw-Hill). According to Mr Sullum, Mr Brownell is, ironically, quite portly himself, but that is not the main point of the article, just a humourous aside.

According to Mr Sullum, the book comes up with quite a few recommendations as to what the government ought to do to fight the scourge of obesity. Writes Sullum,

The more important question is why any of this is the government’s business. Granted that obesity is a health issue, why is it a public health issue? The answer from Brownell and like-minded activists is that the government must rescue consumers -- especially children -- from the environmental forces that make them fat, thereby rescuing taxpayers from the burden of obesity-related medical expenses. They propose to accomplish this mission through a combination of taxes, subsidies, censorship, and regulation. In his book Food Fight (co-authored by Katherine Battle Horgen), Brownell says "profound change is necessary." Among other things, the government must "change the basic economics of food," redesign cities so that "times, places, and incentives for people to be physically active [are] engineered into daily life," "prohibit marketing of products to children," "prohibit snack foods and soft drinks from schools," and "prohibit the operation of businesses selling food within a certain distance of schools." If legislatures fail to go along with this agenda, "litigation may be necessary."

The war on fat is the latest manifestation of a collectivist philosophy that says the government has a duty to protect "public health" by discouraging behavior that might lead to disease or injury. It also reflects an anti-capitalist perspective that views people as helpless automatons manipulated into consuming whatever big corporations choose to produce. The anti-fat crusaders want to manipulate us too, but for our own good. They seek to reshape us by reshaping the world.

Jacob Sullum makes a number of convincing arguments as to why the maintenance of one's weight ought to be left up to the individual. I would think that is the right attitude. I think it is legal to fight misrepresentation of products on the part of food manufacturers. I think when a juice manufacturer misstates the sugar content, or when McDonalds fails to inform the public that its French fries are fried in animal fat, that can be cause for litigation. Otherwise, manufacturers are in their right to do what they do best,- make their product and try to market it to the public, and the public must be knowledgeable and responsible enough to know what to consume and when.

I also think it is very dangerous to the society to have governmental intervention in the areas that ought to be controlled by the individual himself. That breeds infantilism and irresponsibility,- the two afflictions from which we already suffer to a significant extent.

"Pre-election October Surprise"?

The Bush administration is suddenly discovering Iran's various follies. Iran, however, is generally not making any moves that could be interpreted as a direct threat to the US. It is certainly a threat to Israel, as it has stated many times, but in spite of all the Iranian bellicose rhetoric it most likely realizes what it is up against and Israel's nuclear deterrence policy,- unstated but well known,- is more likely than not going to work.

Than why all these severe pronouncements by our administration which stop just short of threatening military action against Iran if that country is not a direct threat to us,- neither in terms of its policy, nor in terms of its capabilities? The pre-election surprise seems, unfortunately, like something the administration is actively considering. And that can in fact help Bush win the election as Americans are less likely to vote a "War President" out of office.

War on Drugs: The Collateral Damage

A new film just came out about the realities of life with the War on Drugs in the background. The main character acts out what is a compilation of different mules' stories. These people facing few prospects at home in Colombia sometimes have little opportunity to advance in life other than by volunteering to fly to the US carrying pellets of drugs inside their bodies.

While there can be different opinions about these mules, it is clear that so long as the situation remains what it is, with the War on Drugs making drug trade such a lucrative business and with such economic privation in many of the drug-producing countries, there will always be plenty of volunteers willing to take a chance for a quick buck. My question to those who still support the War on Drugs would be,- do you have a plan as to how it can be won?

Some Good Points On The Kerry Campaign

While Sheldon Richman makes some good points about John Kerry and the Democratic National Convention in his FFF commentary, I think he is also wrong on some issues. Fundamentally, I think he is wrong is saying that a divisive campaign would be better right now. A divisive campaign by Democrats is, in my opinion, tantamount to installing Bush in office for the second term. Also I think it is wrong to blame Kerry for making his Vietnam confessions, or for the content thereof. Note that Kerry did not confess to anything that would amount to his going out of his way to commit atrocities in Vietnam. He was saying that the "free fire zone" regulations led to atrocities in which he ended up taking part. That was a fair criticism of the military policy in the field at the time.

I think Mr Richman's point about the tax-eaters being over represented, and tax-payers being underrepresented on the convention floor is a very valid one. As is his point that Kerry should have known better what he was voting for as Senator when he voted to authorize Bush to wage war on Iraq. I think this criticism should have even gone further,- there should be no war started unless Congress formally declares one. Not untill that and many other things happen will we be able to return from the "postconstitutional America", as Mr Richman correctly puts it, to the one that was truly meant to be.

The Terror Warning Bonanza

While this new terror warning appears less vague than some we have heard, I still tend to question its authenticity. I am not even talking the banal details,- such as a recommendation to be suspicious of persons who are vague about their origin and identity, or those who insist on paying large expenses in cash. Those are classical signs of someone potentially having a nefarious intent, and repeating that truism,- while useful as a reminder,- should hardly even be presented as news. And it is also known that Al Quaeda likes to use large explosive devices, and is interested in any and all vehicles capable of carrying them,- cars, trucks, limos, helicopters, airplanes, etc.

Parts of the warning go back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other events that by now are well in the past. While parts of the warning potentially pertain to genuine new intelligence, overall it appears more like a historical summary than a genuine new warning. The way it is presented to us, it seems more like a part of the pre-election PR than anything else. It shows that Tom Ridge and his people do not collect their pay for nothing. It also shows that his boss, President Bush, is serious about fighting the terror threat. As various data indicate thus far, this has remained the only sure-bet popularity booster for his administration.

The Case of Terry Nichols

Terry Nichols, the man alleged to have manufactured the bomb which Timothy McVeigh used to detonate next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, has been sentenced to 161 consecutive life sentences without a possibility of parole by the Oklahoma State Court in McAlester, OK. While McVeigh had been sentenced to die in his federal trial for his role in the crime and was executed in 2001, Nichols has been spared the execution. On top of today's Oklahoma state sentence, he is under a federal life sentence as well.

There appears to be a number of holes in the official version of the events that resulted in 168 deaths. Still, let us assume for now that the version of the events offered by the prosecutors is correct. So we have a situation when a man who is responsible for building a device that was destined to be used in a terror attack and to cause mass casualties,- a man who thus was an integral part of that terror attack is spared the death penalty. Another man who merely pulled the lever on the detonator is executed.

That sentencing pattern somewhat arbitrary. It becomes even more arbitrary when contrasted with the death sentence meted out to Manny Babbitt, a Vietnam veteran suffering from a severe form of PTSD and various other ailments, physical and mental. His crime was borderline accident,- an assault on an elderly woman during what was most likely a flashback to the war. Mr Babbitt never denied his responsibility, though he claimed,- and I tend to believe him,- that he could never recall the attack. Yet he was sentenced to death and executed.

Other cases abound throughout the US where the evidence was shaky, the extenuating circumstances were plentiful, the victims were just one person,- and yet the defendants were sentenced to die and consequently executed. Against that background, the fact that Nichols,- a man who stands convicted of directly participating in an attack that killed well over a hundred people,- is spared is amongst the strongest arguments I can think of in favor of abolishing the death penalty. Even those who support it in principle should acknowledge that the manner in which it is used in this country is so completely arbitrary as to make it an utterly immoral practice.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Taking Stonewalling To A Whole New Level

Having spent almost three years working in a government facility, I can probably claim exposure to all possible varieties of stonewalling. You e-mail about issues,- and even months later you are told your e-mails were not read; you talk to a person, they listen and a mere few days later claim complete ignorance of the conversation, even though the person in question is not known to be senile and displays no discernable symptoms of amnesia; you report a problem and are told that the problem does not exist, that all the elaborate proof of it is not relevant, and that you are to believe there indeed is no problem and behave accordingly on orders of some sort of authority; etc, etc, etc. All this was making my life there very dull and professionally unfullfilling; however, that stonewalling threatened only my performance, its result being little more than the waste of several hundred thousand dollars' worth of taxpayers' money,- which in this day and age really is peanuts. My liberty or life were never at stake.

Not so for the prisoners at Guantanamo and their lawyers, as well as their families. According to this LA Times article, Salim Gherebi was captured in Afghanistan in February 2002 and ended up in detention in Guantanamo. As the paper reports,
Gherebi's brother from San Diego hired Yagman in January 2003 to represent the detainee. But lawyer and client have yet to meet, and Yagman believes Gherebi probably doesn't even know he has a lawyer.

Yagman's efforts to force Justice Department lawyers to justify Gherebi's continued imprisonment have provoked a blizzard of paperwork, court motions and foot-dragging. But there's been little progress toward a face-to-face lawyer-client meeting, let alone a hearing on the merits of his case.

Gherebi's case is hardly unique. Lawyers across the country trying to represent Guantanamo clients report that the government is, as one put it, "trying to neutralize the Supreme Court decision."
The Supreme Court ruled in June that attorney-client meetings must be allowed. So, it seems like when faced with an order that even the most unwitting could not claim not to understand, the administration decided to try some high-class stonewalling. And they are so darn good at it, too.

The article also says,
The Pentagon has let a few detainees meet with a lawyer as a goodwill gesture, providing the lawyer agrees to let officials listen in and promises not to ask about conditions of the client's confinement or if he has been abused. However, the government is contesting almost every motion and writ, tying up the cases as it continues to claim, incredibly, that the Guantanamo detainees have no constitutional right of access. At the same time, detainees are pressured to plead their cases before a military panel without the due process guarantees available in federal court, a move some are resisting.
I wonder if they can say "inalienable right". That concept applies to the right of detainees to communicate with their attorneys. That right has been confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States. This right is just there,- and it is not for the Pentagon to give or take away.

"Wipe That Disgusting Grin Off Your Face!"

This UK Home Office's directive reminds me of the scene out of Full Metal Jacket where a harsh US Marines Gunnery Sergeant bends his newly-received recruits into shape. Both are funny,- but in a perverse way.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Israeli Settlement Export Tax

Switzerland will tax the products suspected of being imported from the Jewish settlements in Israel, AFP reports. This is a fair decision in that it reflects the EU's position that those settlements do not represent Israel proper and that their very legality is questionable,- which I think it is.

However, in the modern world outsourcing is so wide-spread that something labeled "Made in France" could have 60% of the parts manufactured in Malaysia or China, or something made in the US could essentially be assembled there, with all the parts foreign-made. In light of that, this decision by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) appears overly simplistic and probably very difficult to enforce.

Election Uber Alles

According to this article in The Sydney Morning Herald several months before the 1972 Presidential Election President Nixon met with his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to discuss when and how to get out of Vietnam. They basically did not have an intention of winning the war at that point; however, they considered it important that withdrawal not be commenced before the election, so that Saigon would not fall into the North Vietnam's hands all too soon.

This reads like a case study in political cynicism. I think every responsible citizen, those in uniform included, should also try to think of how much weight the upcoming election has in the policy process on Iraq today.

Cheney on Stand?

According to this CNN report the defense for Pfc. Lynndie England would like to put Vice President Cheney on the stand. I believe that request must be honored, as well as those for any other witness, no matter how high a position they happen to occupy. The only reason not to honor it should be the absolute physical impossibility due to an extremely busy schedule. I think campaign speeches and other non-essential activities must be cancelled, if need be, lest that be necessary for the official in question to be able to testify.

Israelis for The Right Of Return

In this document, a number of Jewish Israelis state their platform which includes the recognition of the Palestinian right of return, as well as their opposition to Zionism's denial of the Palestinians' claim to the land. I do not fully agree with their vision. For instance, I favor the defensive wall. Its route is certainly debatable, but it is pretty much a known fact by now that the route prevents Palestinian terrorists from reaching their targets in Israel, and that is sufficient justification for its construction.

As for the right of return, I believe that right ought to be granted to those who became refugees in 1948 and possibly to their children. As for other people who were born outside of Israel and have lived there all their lives, and who happen to have some family connections to the original 1948 refugees,- I think their claim to residence in Israel is questionable as it is for most family members of any other refugee group worldwide. But what is critical is that within whatever future borders Israel find itself in everybody be granted equal citizenship rights and citizenship responsibilities. Israel must become a country of all its citizens,- not just Jews.

Medicating the Environment?

As a recent BBC report indicates, traces of Prozac can now be found in the UK's ground water, rivers and lakes. It also gets into drinking water reservoirs and into the water the population drinks.

According to some authorities, the effects of drinking Prozac-laced water are not expected to be noticeable. However, this is a very alarming symptom indeed. We probably do not have a clear picture on what the effects of this are on the wildlife consuming it. We also likely do not know what other drugs are similarly introduced to the environment.

I don't know about the UK, but here in the US the practice of mass medication has taken on an enormous proportion. You are likely to thoroughly surprise your physician if you are over 30-35 years of age and you tell him or her that you are not on any kind of regular medication. Based on what I hear, the situation in the UK and many other developed countries is not drastically different.

I believe we ought to acknowledge the fact that we have entered an era of an unprecedented medical/chemical interference with our lives. That interference affects our bodies and the environment beyond them. I believe a thorough study of this phenomena is in order,- followed by finding and implementing remedies to the unwanted consequences of this phenomena.

Targeting Civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In his article Anthony Gregory makes a number of important points. I certainly agree with him that if suicide bombings of buses or the events of 9/11 are to be considered acts of political terrorism, so must the intentional mass killings of civilians in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Drezden, Leningrad, Rotterdam and many other places whose civilian populations were likewise intentionally eviscerated by various warring parties during the World War II.

It certainly reflects favorably on the US as a society that eventually Americans showed themselves capable of taking a critical view on those events of which they were part such as nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is also true that in today's wars the US attempts to minimize civilian casualties. However, it is worth noting that that is mostly possible due to advances in technologies which have taken military precision to a whole new level.

But I think we need to acknowledge that terrorism is not something that just came out of the blue and plunged us into the "age of terror" on 9/11/2001. Terrorism is a military tactic, it has been used in many wars,- including by us in some of the wars we have fought.

Unabashed Racist Wins GOP Primary in Tenn.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is official,- James L. Hart, a Tennessee Republican, is running for Congress on a platform of which racism is a major component. Should the GOP's failure to rescind his party membership be viewed as tantamount to the party's acceptance of and acquiescence to the honorable gentleman's racist beliefs?

A Curious Covert Call For Media Censorship In Israel

The author of this article appears in favor of subjecting the media in Israel to constraints of Jewish law, which can and should be considered the same as calling for religious censorship. Most Israelis likely want nothing of the kind. However, there is a small but vocal minority who certainly would favor this sort of approach.

This Murky World of Intelligence, Terrorism, Politics...

The New York Times has published an interesting article on the circumstances surrounding the arrest in Pakistan of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, an alleged senior Al Quaeda operative and one of the group's leading communication experts. According to the article, among other things,
A Pakistani man whose arrest provided information about the reconnaissance of financial institutions in New York, Newark and Washington was also communicating with Qaeda operatives who the authorities say are plotting to carry out an attack intended to disrupt the fall elections, a senior intelligence official said Saturday.
As usual with this sort of disclosures, few details were made public. It is not clear how many people are involved, how far they had proceeded in their operational planning, how involved or knowledgeable Mr Khan was as far as those plans were concerned. I can easily see him only passing data back and forth as an electronic courier of sorts.

But what if we even assume he was indeed in the most direct way involved in planning an attempt to sabotage the Presidential election by staging a massive terror attack? More likely than not the result of such an attack would be an elevation of President Bush's rating as he will likely do his best to emerge as a strong leader following another major terror attack. If the fact that his ratings went to about 90% from about 45% following 9/11 is any indication, some, possibly less dramatic, increase in his popularity following another terror attack should be expected. Another possibility would be a postponement or an outright cancellation of the election. Under all of those scenarios the chances of George W Bush remaining in charge for some time to come stand to significantly improve. I certainly respect Mr Khan's right to support Bush for President,- it is only the means he is alleged to have chosen to express his support that I have somewhat of a problem with.

However, there is a whole other possibility of what the arrest of Mr Khan signifies. As Max Blumenthal notes in his blog, there is a possibility that Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan may be a double-agent arrested at a preset time and later used to create the current spate of terror warnings. If this is indeed the case, that should hardly come as a surprise,- given this administration's record of politicizing and distorting intelligence on a number of occasions.

Soldiers' Rescue Attempt in Iraq Rebuffed

Well, this is one weird report. So, let me try to get this straight. US troops, apparently,- at least according to the official PR,- risking their lives and fighting a war to liberate an oppressed people are valiantly trying to do just that,- in this instance, trying to stop an abusive (putting it mildly) police force from torturing and maybe killing people who were hastily picked up in the streets as criminal suspects,- but in reality could be just about anybody, a large percentage of them likely innocent of any crime. So an American soldier notices the abuses through an optical sight on his rifle, reports it, his comrades rush to intervene,- something all Americans should be proud of. Then the US military command tells them to stand down and let things proceed as they did before.

Well then,- we could've just left Saddam running things. Under him, the same sort of abuse was proceeding apace. Or are the new thugs somehow more enlightened?

What The Cost Of The War In Iraq Could've Bought Us

This nice little chart, courtesy The New York Times, illustrates what improvements in "homeland security" could have been made with the money invested in the Iraq war. From the very start of our overseas operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere I questioned the Bush administration's assertion that security at home can be achieved by crushing the enemy abroad. Let us not get into how well that enemy is chosen. Let us look at the bigger picture.

I think it is not a bad idea to at times actually strike at an enemy who is easily identifiable. One, of course, must have the plan that goes beyond a mere attack,- unlike what we appear to have done in Afghanistan where rebuilding efforts don't seem to amount to much. But, to reiterate, military action is a legitimate tool in addressing the issue of terrorism,- but it is not the only tool, likely, not even the most important one.

And I think the real-world events are proving the skeptics right here. Approximate as they are, the figures in this chart illustrate that we likely could have made a very significant progress in creating real obstacles that future terrorists would be facing here at home while there does not seem any positive security effect from the war in Iraq. Also note that the measures this chart details such as surveillance at ports and improved community policing bring real security improvements to the US without eviscerating the Bill of Rights and annihilating the Americans' civil liberties the way this administration is attempting to.

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