Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Spinning Spin - dj freelixir coming at ya

In the age of the Internet, of everpresent and ready access to information, to support a position, an argument, in real time, there's a new game afoot, an emergent reality brewing. Spinning spin. On the fly, spontaneous spin by the freshest of the fresh. In this case...freelixir. Offering up the free elixir of liberation. Mind and body. Freedom and democracy. Quench your thirst. Millions more DJ's are to come. Thousands are already out here.

The American Dream is alive and kicking. For everyone. For everybody. For people all over the world. Unite. Come together. For freedom. In this century. Now.
Waxing The Right Stuff

Don't miss Henry Waxman, Ranking Minority Member of the U.S. Senate's Committee On Government Reform, point out some compelling pieces of information, and ask some disturbing questions, in a letter to Donald Rumsfeld.

Specifically, he is wondering why Marc Rich, the man Clinton pardoned, and who was so villified by Republicans and the Bush Administration for his dealings with Iran, "whether technically legal or not", should be held to a different and more demanding standard than corporate person Halliburton, who through foreign subsidiaries continued to deal with Iran and Iraq while Vice President Dick Cheney was at the helm. Cheney, in fact, has defended Halliburton's dealings with Iran as, for wont of a better phrase, technically legal. Even more interesting...
Halliburton Co., the oil company that was headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, signed contracts with Iraq worth $73 million through two subsidiaries while he was at its helm, the Washington Post reported.

During last year's presidential campaign, Cheney said Halliburton did business with Libya and Iran through foreign subsidiaries, but maintained he had imposed a "firm policy" against trading with Iraq.

"Iraq's different," the Post quoted him as saying.

Oil industry executives and confidential U.N. records showed, however, that Halliburton held stakes in two companies that signed contracts to sell more than $73 million in oil production equipment and spare parts to Iraq while Cheney was chairman and chief executive officer, the Post reported.

Two former senior executives of the Halliburton subsidiaries said they knew of no policy against dealing with Iraq. One of them said he was certain Cheney knew about the deals, though he had never spoken about them to the vice president directly.

In a July 30, 2000, interview on ABC-TV's "This Week," Cheney denied that Halliburton or its subsidiaries traded with Baghdad. Three weeks later, on the same program, he modified his response after being informed that a Halliburton spokesman had said that Dresser Rand and Ingersoll Dresser Pump traded with Iraq.

Cheney has long criticized...unilateral U.S. sanctions, which he says penalize American companies. He has pushed for a review of policy toward Iraq, Iran and Libya.

Sure makes the French, accused of selling their souls to defend their deals and contracts with Iraq, seem a little less naughty now, doesn't it?

Cheney left Halliburton with a $34 million retirement package last July when he became the GOP's vice-presidential candidate.

Also, don't miss this neat little wrap up of all of this seeming shadiness by Citizen Works.

More On Deals With The Devil

The Scoop reports on Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, the company chosen to fight oil well fires in Iraq without competitive bidding.
Kellogg Brown & Root, the company chosen last month by the Pentagon to extinguish oil well fires in Iraq, has a long history of supporting the same terrorist regimes vilified by the Bush administration and on at least one occasion defrauded the United States government to the tune of $2 million, according to public documents.

Damning charges, if well founded, as they seem to be. Better yet, they've got a lineup of the "axis of evil" that Halliburton has cut deals with over the years.

Halliburton's dealings in six countries - Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Nigeria - show that the company's willingness to do business where human rights are not respected is a pattern that goes beyond its involvement in Burma.

I'm the last person to start making Halliburton out to be a criminal. I understand the corporate imperative, as currently sanctioned, and suscribe 100% to the pursuit of enlightened self-interest. The political side of it though rankles me, to the point where the hackles are raised. America is about freedom, and democracy, and integrity. And to sell this out for economic self-interest is not American.

The last thing we need is these guys floating back and forth from CEO of mega corporations to leadership positions in our republican democracy. We just don't. If you care to argue otherwise, bring it. I'll knock you down. Corporations and democracies by nature run diametrically opposed. It's time for the return of public servants and enlightened politician-diplomats in high American leadership positions, and the end of rule by corporate managers and agents of the military-industrial complex.

Go Ahead and Reread Waxing The Right Stuff

In case you forgot, or are somehow directed to this original permalink.
Polemic On The Web - Bloggers As Transformative Consumers

Mark over at the The American Sentimentalist has an intriguing analysis and investigation of the use of polemics in weblogs. Now, I wouldn't know know exactly what he's talking about, as I am totally innocent of any polemics whatsoever. He clearly is not talking about me.

Huh? What's that? Oh. I see...it's a good thing. Yes, it is. Mark makes a great case for the individualist enterprise of the blogger, and transforming the medium of news and opinion from one of limited producers feeding a largely passive customer base to a more active, engaged, and rewarding experience of affirmation. He gets pretty philosophical, but it's definitely digestible if you give yourself some time. I'm still taking it in myself, and will report back later on my full thoughts and revelations in its regard.

Also, I'm blog rolling Mark right now. Well, immediately after this post. I'm surprised I haven't stumbled upon him earlier. He's really got a great blog, one that holds a multitude of unique and thoughtful insights. Thanks for letting me know you're out there Mark.
Noone Gets Out Alive

Cyndy has a great post over at Mouse Musings about life, death, and the passing of the seasons. Be sure to check it out. I discovered her a little while back, and love her poetry. Here's the poem that hooked me.
Publish What You Pay - In Iraq
Transparency and accountability must be the watchwords for post-war reconstruction in Iraq following the endemic corruption of the government of Saddam Hussein, according to Transparency International (TI), the world's leading non-governmental organisation engaged in the fight against corruption. "It is essential that Iraq be spared the kickbacks habitually paid in post-war situations by some multinational companies," said TI Chairman Peter Eigen today.

And don't miss these previous posts on the investigations of dictators' bank secret bank accounts and also of ExxonMobil for bribery in Kazakhstan. We have to get to the root of these problems and make sure they don't root out democracy. Let's do it.

Bechtel's Friends In High Places

Corpwatch has been doing some checking up on Bechtel. Interesting. The key here is just to get more transparency and accountability, and less conspiracy, corruption and graft. Is that too much to ask? Also look here for more on Bechtel winning the war contracts.
Iraqi Children Face Onslaught Of Water-Borne Diseases

UNICEF reports that with chlorine supplies dwindling in southern Iraq, swift action must be taken to ensure the health and safety of Iraqi children.
Gingrich Versus Powell - No Contest
How ironic that Newt Gingrich thinks the U.S. State Department has "collapsed." After all, as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, he contributed directly to weakening the department as an instrument of U.S. national security. It is thanks to Colin Powell that the department is back on the road to recovery. What is needed is a greater emphasis on diplomacy — not an indictment of it — as Anne Richard argues.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

I Just Got Bloggered!

Well, it seems Blogger managed to break my last post there, towards the bottom, so I'll just readd that part and get out of the house. I'll be back tonight with some follow up developments on the themes of the past several days. In the meantime, keep an eye on the redesigned Dog House.

Also, the permalink doesn't seem to be working at The Watch, so just cruise over and check it all out, and don't miss What Is The Liberal Philosophy?, not to mention Spiritual Warfare from this weekend.
Tuesday Morning Shakedown

Well, it's going to be very busy today. With that in mind, I'm going to throw out some redirects and shout outs, and leave the good work to others. Before I do though, I want to spotlight the Commonweal Institute.
The Commonweal Institute is a communication, education, and research organization committed to advancing centrist-progressive principles - commitment to future generations, a balance between business and society as a whole, environmental protection, inclusiveness and fairness, separation of church and state, personal choice and privacy, and a comprehensive and nuanced approach to national security - through development and dissemination of information and policy proposals.

Remember, it's the conservate cabal, as a Iike to call them, which has aggressively transformed media that has radicalized and marginalized a good portion of society. Supporting enlightened efforts at reversing this trend are in all of our best interests. I highly recommend you go check them out.

Okay, now to the redirects. I've been keeping a close eye on things, and these have my attention the past day or so. First, The Watch has been posting close to my heart, with an emphasis on compassion and out-of-the-box, nonviolent understanding, especially with this piece by Mary on George Lakoff and metaphors. I'll have more to post on this later, as I'm building an appreciation and criticism of Lakoff's metaphors and politics theme, but that's for another time. There's tons more great stuff on that site, you should definitely keep scrolling up after following the link.

Second, Dave Johnson, a fellow over at the Commonweal Institute, has been steadily blogging topics of great interest, especially this fascinating one on electronic voting systems over at Seeing The Forest, and how they are or could evolve given some enlightened support from people and government.

Also of interest: Bohemian Mama has a plethora of information regarding the arrest of Mike Hawash and Patriot Act workings, Meme Cauldron has your trusty WMD Scoreboard, and I hear hopefully the top terrorist RPI ratings coming out soon, TBogg on a despairing Krugman and emergence of a suddenly more compassionate Bush, and don't forget about We Want The Airwaves, as we can't drop the ball on monitoring media and winning the struggle for diversified media ownership.

Okay, that's all. I'll be back tonight with some follow up developments on the themes of the past several days. In the meantime, keep an eye on the redesigned

Monday, April 28, 2003

MoveOn.org -- Online Democracy In Action

Philosophically, in our age of Enlightenment values and the rise of science and technology, it seems sometimes that we lose our humanity, and that we don't notice or even contemplate the reality of death from a Cruise Missile shot from hundreds of miles away. Or the suffering of a city unhinged by war and lack of leadership or authority. Or disastrously inadequate water and medical facilities for a people we have liberated. Or even the suffering and injustice that happens here at home, along with the lack of feeling of vestment by the common American in political affairs. A feeling as if we're not connected, not able to make a difference, not realistically able to work together to affect change and forge a more responsive democracy. In other words, to use a metaphor of the Internet, to overcome a perceived scarcity of political bandwidth, a scarcity which seems to make active participation too expensive to accomplish.

And so as we doggedly pursue freedom and technological and utopian consumerism, and escape into entertainment and television, it seems we become ever more isolated from the world that nurtures us, and the cultures that surround us, even as we force this world and its cultures to become ever more interlinked and intertwined through global flows of information, money, commerce and knowledge. Faced with all of this, what is a grassroots, hands-on movement to do? To still matter?

MoveOn.org has an answer. In their efforts to mobilize people, and to form electronic advocacy groups based upon items of concern to both reasonable defense of freedom and democracy and compassionate action to alleviate unnecessary suffering of the unfortunate, they help raise the level of participation possible in society to near heroic levels.

Whether it's fighting corporate offshore draft dodgers, encouraging letters to the editor in support of an enlightened, collective approach to the realization of a future democratic Iraq, or creating a vigilant Media Corps to urge greater and more responsible reporting and involvement by our media, these are but examples of why this organization deserves much praise for its outstanding work and grassroots innovation using the Internet.

Noone knows exactly where the future is going, but as Americans we treasure freedom, and as human beings we treasure compassion. We share this with all other peoples, and as the world goes global, we need to make sure this is exactly what we are communicating. Moveon.org has the right idea, and global advocacy as a phenomenon is on the bubble and about to explode. Join in, and take charge of your freedom, country and world.

*****

Also, along these lines, Lisa English ruminates on another organization involved in grass roots democratic action - Reclaim Democracy. Corporations are not people, do not have an innate love of freedom, and do not feel compassion for their fellows. Think about this for a moment, and then go over and read about reclaiming democracy.
In Kurdish Iraq, Ethnic Recleansing?
This week, thousands of Kurdish families started to move back to their old lands from around the country. Families from the autonomous Kurdish area further north had begun to return the week before. The Baath party forced most Kurdish families into internal exile to remote and poor areas. Some 200 families from Al-Zendi were driven to Ramadi located in the dry and dusty desert towards Jordan. Kurds are happy to return to their green and fertile fields in the north. But strangers now occupy their land, and some seem ready to fight for it.

PUK officials are now supporting the claims of the returning Kurds. "The occupiers will have to go back to their home districts," says Nur Eddin Daoudi, a political officer who says his task is to escort Kurds to their original homes. "Some of them are not even real Iraqis." The PUK is clearly aiming to reverse the Arabisation introduced by the Baath party. About 750,000 "Arabs and Bedu" in Kirkuk district will have to leave because they were "instruments of the Baath party," Daoudi says.

Though the Kurds promise to respect the human rights of these non-Kurds, this situation should be closely monitored.

Update: More information from the Asia Times. It could get nasty over there.

Nothing But Ideology And Fiction, Speculation And Threats, Forgeries And Plagiarism

It's amazing to me how the mainstream media is only now coming to this conclusion about our war case. The only reason I started bloggin in the first place was my alarm at the absurd coverage of the war and its justification. I wrote a protest on the eve of the war, which I mailed and submitted to every media outlet I could find, and subsequently posted it on this site after its creation.
It's a crucial time in American history. The incompetent, scandalous and crooked are becoming the norm. The latest incident involving the forgery of the Niger nuclear documents is a telling case-in-point. Confronted with this development, a key component of our case for war against Iraq, all we get from our leaders and these documents' former champions is a shrug. Oh well, we passed it along in "good faith". We are not incompetent, or criminal, it just managed to "slip through". Forget about it. And we couldn't have been responsible for it, because our people are competent, talented professionals who surely would have done a better job of forging these documents. And so on...

...[and] anyone who's looking for reasons, to engage their reason, to determine the right thing to do, the moral course of action, will find nothing but ideology and fiction, speculation and threats, forgeries and plagiarism emanating from our most competent war orators. The mere presence of a plagiarized, decade-old student thesis, and the aforementioned Niger document forgery, as key references for our case is more telling than anything else. The plagiarized student claiming to have been able to give more updated information if he had been consulted only adds insult to injury.

This is my story, and my reason for being here. I'm glad I found the blogosphere, and believe our responsibility to be great. What responsibility you may ask? To bring the wide amount of information and news available on the Internet into focus and to make it accessible. Made-to-order global news filtering. Not to mention opinion. And I firmly believe this will impact the mainstream media themselves. This war in Iraq is a test case for a new policy of sharing information and dissent, and not just for demonstrating America's new national security strategy.

To be honest, I challenge you to read my protest and find anything much different than you find in this article in yesterday's Independent entitled How The Road To War Was Paved With Lies...

The case for invading Iraq to remove its weapons of mass destruction was based on selective use of intelligence, exaggeration, use of sources known to be discredited and outright fabrication, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

A high-level UK source said last night that intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic were furious that briefings they gave political leaders were distorted in the rush to war with Iraq. "They ignored intelligence assessments which said Iraq was not a threat," the source said. Quoting an editorial in a Middle East newspaper which said, "Washington has to prove its case. If it does not, the world will for ever believe that it paved the road to war with lies", he added: "You can draw your own conclusions."

Only now we're discovering this? This shameless political manipulation of national security and intelligence, not to mention unapologetic arrogance in deceiving and browbeating the international community, UN, and especially France? Think about this for a minute. If this really was about us flexing our muscles and showing everyone who is boss, especially the Islamic World, why did we so slander and disparage the French? Why were they so obligated to go along with our new security strategy, which clearly positions everyone but us as bit players? We clearly need a more inclusive and enlightened style of leadership and approach to solving problems and forming policy.

Everyone makes mistakes, including me, you, and our great nation. Perfection is not an option, or even a desired value, and we needn't worry about it. Self-awareness and integrity, on the other hand, are well within our control, both as individuals and as a nation, and at bottom require taking ownership and accountability for our actions, knowing why we do them, and being aware of their consequent effects. Unfortunately, as the masters of secrecy and plausible deniability, we never own up to anything.

Thus our dilemma. One cannot act with integrity and at the same time duck information that would seem to prove one otherwise. This is called weakness. Strength is facing the conflicting information with open eyes, ears and minds, evaluating, challenging, responding, discrediting, acknowledging and integrating. Engaging. Perhaps more than anything else, reveling in the newfound wellspring of information and global communication we've constructed, and building new alliances and finding novel solutions to age-old problems. Surely this sounds better than plausibile deniability and shock-and-awe warfare, doesn't it? I hope so. Never forget that this is our life, our time, and our place, and we're free to pursue these great adventures and vast challenges ahead with integrity rather than plausible deniability, if we choose to do so. We should. These are heady times, and we are ready people.

We need to start by being more vigilant, and demanding openness, accountability, integrity and sharing of information. Our government here in America has now forfeited its claim to secrecy in almost any matter. When Clinton was president, much progress was made in declassifying information and implementing the Freedom of Information Act. The Bush Administration has rolled this back, ostensibly for national security reasons. But with this revelation in today's Independent, along with those we already knew before the war, it's clear that this secrecy is being cynically used for political purposes. That in fact intelligence assessments are being strangely and terribly twisted to support policy and conclusions that the facts just don't support. To me, this shames our great nation, and dishonors our name and puts a shadow on our integrity. It's time that all patriots step up and take a stand on this. This is not how we should do business, and it will certainly not win friends and allies in the war against terrorism.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Censorship At The Source: The Worst Kind
Maximum access to government information is a fundamental right and a shared responsibility of both the press and the public. Despite that, freedom of information is in deep trouble today. And because it is in deep trouble, democracy is in deep trouble.

The public and the press alike must recognize that delay and denial of access to government information is in fact censorship. It is censorship of the most insidious sort because it is censorship at the source.

There may be no more compelling case in America today. We need to protect our civil liberties, including against the ominous Patriot Act. The freedom of information, and the sunshine laws to ensure it, are essential to democracy and accountability. To integrity. Even to market fairness, as only the truly naive will tell you that American foreign policy does not have impacts on the economy or market. Perhaps even worst of all, the reality of secrecy, corruption and suspicious links between industry and government leads to suspicion, distrust and conspiracy thinking in the body politic. In the people. And this only works to divide and weaken us...

It matters because in an environment of secrecy and information suppression, citizens grow increasingly distrustful of their leaders, increasingly unsupportive of decisions made behind closed doors, increasingly suspicious of secrets locked away in files, and increasingly angry at bureaucratic resistance to granting access to even the most routine records.

In such an environment, paranoia and conspiracy theories thrive, and opportunities for improving government policies and practices go begging.

In such an environment, it is not just the dream of democracy but the reality of democracy that begins to shrivel and confront the idea of a slow death.

It's time we start taking responsibility for our freedom and democracy.

Instant Runoff Voting: Power to the Voters

It's not just the USA Today and the mainstream media that are beginning to call for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Many in the alternative media, and almost a unanimous number of progressives and political independents, are also raising the IRV banner. Suprisingly, even the two major parties are looking at it...
Spurred by the memory of Ralph Nader spoiling Al Gore's election, by other third party threats to major party incumbents and by expensive runoff contests, instant runoff voting (IRV) has moved to the top of major parties' reform agenda in several states. At the same time, a growing number of social change activists are supporting IRV as a means to bring new ideas and energy into electoral politics resulting in its adoption in cities like San Francisco and on campuses like the Universities of Maryland and Illinois.

Before discounting this out of hand, I challenge you to analyze the arguments for and against this less costly, more efficient, more inclusive form of voting. You'll actually be surprised to find trouble finding reasoned opposition to IRV, due to the fact that there is no enlightened opposition to IRV, only reactionary arguments from entrenched interests opposing change and/or the ideal of greater representation itself.

Why does this movement matter? The very fact of the acrimonious debate in 2000 over Ralph Nader's campaign between Green Party voters and Democrats reveals a serious flaw in our antiquated 18th century electoral rules. Unfortunately, with our current method, voting for your favorite candidate can lead to the election of your least favorite candidate. Providing the means to express one's real views and ensuring majority rule are basic requirements of democracy, but our current system badly fails these tests...

IRV simulates a series of runoff elections, but in a single round of voting that corrects the flaws of runoffs and plurality voting. At the polls, people vote for their favorite candidate, but they also indicate their "runoff" choices. They do this by ranking candidates on their ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of first choices, she or he wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and a runoff round of counting occurs. In this round your ballot counts for your top-ranked candidate still in the runoff. The eliminated candidate is no longer a "spoiler" because the votes of that candidate's supporters go to their runoff choice. Rounds of counting continue until there is a majority winner...

Alternet, in this article, provides a fair and through examination of what IRV is all about. I encourage you to check it out, and then evaluate and make a decision. Do not stand idly by and let others make it for you, or browbeat you into voting "against" candidates rather than "for" candidates.

To achieve truly fair representation, full (or "proportional") representation remains the Holy Grail for electing legislators. But IRV is the quickest way to eliminate the spoiler dynamic that suppresses candidacies – and the debate and participation they could generate. If progressives learn one lesson from Election 2000, let it be that all of our elections should be conducted under fairer rules. Real democracy needs a rainbow of choices, not the dull gray that results in one of the lowest voter turnouts in the democratic world.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Iraq - The Oil Connection

With all of the talk coming out of the administration that we weren't really worried about WMD, we may as well revisit some of the other theories that were postured in the run up to war. Back in December, Michael Renner of the WorldWatch Institute explained an amazing pattern.
From Pakistan to Central Asia to the Caucasus — and from the eastern Mediterranean to the Horn of Africa — a dense network of U.S. military facilities has emerged. Many bases have been established in the name of the “war on terror.” But what they really have in common is their proximity to major oil production facilities or strategically important pipelines...

In Colombia, meanwhile, the stage is set for the United States to get drawn ever more deeply into the country’s civil war. The Bush Administration has decided to provide training and equipment for Colombian troops...

Why? It’s not, as one might think, solely because of the country’s drug exports to the United States. In reality, these U.S.-supported troops are also protecting an oil export pipeline against frequent bombings by rebel forces...

He goes on to make further points about defanging OPEC and ensuring that oil prices stay low in order not to encourage alternative energy sources. It's an excellent article, and well worth reading. Since the war has gone totally postmodern, and noone seems to be able to say exactly what it's about, we may as well start assuming the obvious and consider this the work of oil magnates ensuring their viability.

*****

Update: Also don't miss my post on The New Great Game, an excellent analysis by The Ecologist magazine of American energy policy and how it specifically relates to the War on Iraq. Better yet, unless you're short on time or bookmarks, forget my post and just read it direct.

The new Great Game is being played out not only in the Middle East but also in other energy-rich regions such as West Africa and the Caspian Sea. There too, the scramble for petrol reserves and pipeline routes is producing bloody conflicts, proving beyond doubt why oil has been called ‘the tears of the devil’.

Iraq, however, has become the linchpin in a US strategy to secure cheap oil while breaking the clout of the Arab-dominated oil cartel Opec. Iraq sits on an astronomic 112 billion barrels of crude. At 12 per cent of the world’s reserves, this is the second largest proven source in the world. Only Saudi Arabia (with 262 billion barrels and roughly one fourth of the earth’s total resources) has more oil. At the moment, Iraq legally exports about two million barrels a day as part of the UN ‘food for oil’ programme. Most of its oil production facilities are in dire need of technical modernisation, but the UN sanctions keep foreign investors out. If sanctions were lifted after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, trans-national energy corporations could start exploiting Iraq’s huge oil fields. There would be no shortage of suitors: Iraq’s light, low-sulphur oil is considered to be among the best in the world. Moreover, the fact that the country’s oil reserves often lie right under the earth’s surface makes it extremely cheap to drill. Production costs in Iraq can be as low as $2 a barrel.

The rest of the article is not to be missed. The historical analysis is very telling, and makes a good case for where we stand today.

*****

Update: Don't miss these rants on the virtual realities of war (including bloggers) and postmodern war in the age of W.

Nano Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Disarmament Diplomacy advocates an Inner Space Treaty.
The incentive for an adversary to pursue the military application of atomic engineering - either on a battlefield or on a massively destructive scale - may, ironically, be increased by the evident enthusiasm of the US military for the new possibilities. As with other advanced technologies, the defensive and offensive utility of nanotechnology is hard to distinguish; from an adversary's point of view, it may even be dangerous to try. Here, for instance, is a recent news story on 'nanoarmour' for US troops:

"The Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans to create military uniforms that can block out biological weapons and even heal their wearers as part of a five-year contract to develop nanotechnology applications for soldiers, the US Army announced... MIT won the $50 million contract to create an Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, or ISN. The ISN will be staffed by around 150 people, including 35 MIT professors... The unique lightweight materials that can be composed using nanotechnology will possess revolutionary qualities that MIT says will help it make a molecular 'exoskeleton' for soldiers. The ISN plans to research ideas for a soft - and almost invisible - clothing that can solidify into a medical cast when a soldier is injured or a 'forearm karate glove' for combat, MIT said. Researchers also hope to develop a kind of molecular chain mail that can deflect bullets. In addition to protecting soldiers, these radically different materials will have uses in offensive tactics, at least psychologically. 'Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armour and endowed with superhuman capabilities, such as the ability to leap over 20-foot walls,' ISN director Ned Thomas said in a release."

Amazing. I'm not prepared to comment on this yet. Stay tuned.

Technology - Who's In Control?
The introduction of most new technologies goes something like this. First the technology is developed behind closed doors. Then the public is excited and won over with breathless pronouncements of wondrous advances and life-improving panaceas. After this, and only afterwards, regulatory regimes are set up and adapted to fit an already packaged product. Given the investments made in developing the technology, it is impossible to re-design it...even when potentially deleterious social or ecological effects have been identified. Already, nanotechnology has reached stage two: L’orĂ©al adverts promise consumers more youthful skin thanks to new ‘nanosomes’; they neglect to mention the possibility that nanoparticles could enter our bloodstream or vital organs.

Also visit the Center For Genetics and Society for more on human genetics in the public interest, and The WorldWatch Institute on our Toxic Legacy and efforts to stop the reckless and largely unregulated introduction of new industrial chemicals into the environment.

U.S. Constitution -- Article I, Section 4, Clause 1
Clause 1: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.
USA Today Calls For Instant Runoff Voting!
There is a better way: instant runoffs. Instead of voting for just one candidate, voters rank their preferences for candidates from first to last. If no one receives a majority of first-choice votes, the last-place candidate is eliminated and the second choices from those ballots are added to the totals for the remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate emerges with a majority. Ireland and Australia have used the system in national elections, and it has been adopted in parts of Great Britain.

Now, I realize that the USA Today isn't a paragon of political wisdom, but it is mainstream. So don't even start with the "pie-in-the-sky" arguments. IRV is a great system, less expensive, and supports third parties who are trying to serve the political market. Let's free the market of politics in this country, end the tired defense of the suffocating and dissatisfying two-party system, and try to make democracy more responsive to citizens who want a stake in governing.

We routinely have the lowest voter turnout for elections among modernized democratic nations. We should work to change this, and quit denying that our restrictive two-party system is a factor in explaining this embarassing reality. Americans care...give them real choices.

International Criminal Court To Investigate Dictators' Secret Bank Accounts
TI [Transparency International], together with Global Witness and the Publish What You Pay coalition, is arguing for international regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US to require oil, gas and mining companies to publish taxes, fees, royalties and other payments made to each host government as a condition for being listed on international stock exchanges and financial markets. Relying on voluntary corporate disclosure has failed because companies fear discrimination by host countries if they breach confidentiality clauses. For instance, BP's ambitions to "publish what you pay" in Angola drew threats of concession termination from the Angolan state oil company Sonangol.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

SARS: China's Political About-Face On Openness?

Are China's new leaders really committed to taking responsibility and being accountable to the people, as promised?

But in spite of a generally positive response by Beijing citizens toward the dismissals, there were several questions over whether the government's response to the Sars crisis will prove a mere aberration.

Some commentators noted that the government's new-found transparency - after five months of downplaying the threat and restricting news reporting of it - was more likely precipitated by the loss of international kudos than by any desire to do right by the man in the street.

I'll believe it when I see it. More of it. Remember, China has the Olympics. They better show they deserve it, and that they are prepared to be a good citizen in the world community.

Shhh...SARS Threat To Front-Line Health Workers...Possibly World...Keep It Quiet Though...It'll Kill Tourism

Here is an interesting piece by Peter Cameron, professor of emergency medicine at Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong, in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

I tried to remember the last time influenza had put 250 health care workers into hospital, with 20 per cent of them in an ICU. I tried to remember the last time all the ICU beds in a city had been filled by influenza cases. As far as I was concerned, these "experts" had clearly missed the point...

...in Hong Kong, I believe the authorities were initially very keen to keep the public in the dark. This was followed by an attempt to blame the hospital (and staff) for allowing the disease to spread. Initially, for fear of creating pandemonium, no moves were made to educate the public about preventive measures. We tried, through official channels, to get these messages out; unfortunately, most officials seemed to me to be more concerned with protecting the economy and preventing panic than containing disease. Unfortunately, this response seems to have been the typical one in other jurisdictions as well...

...although the Hong Kong Government has since adopted widespread public health measures, at the time of writing it still maintains that there is no crisis. I do not agree; there is no obvious end in sight. More and more of the public are becoming infected. There is a high likelihood that more health care workers will be struck down. It is distinctly possible that if the numbers of affected patients continue to rise the whole public health system may collapse. The most likely pressure point will be the intensive care setting: with more than 100 cases already requiring intensive care, it is inevitable that untrained staff will have to manage critically ill patients. Also, hospitals will have to triage patients, allocating intensive care beds and technology to those most likely to benefit before those with a lesser or low chance of survival.

This "keenness" to keep the public in the dark does seem disturbing. Though you certainly don't want to spread panic unnecessarily, to restrict vital information regarding health and wellness, if not life and death, for economic reasons borders on the criminal. Every one of these cases should be aggressively investigated by relevant law enforcement authorities. Toronto is angry that they've put on a watch list, and that they'll lose tourist and convention dollars. I hope they're weighing the possible effects and ramnifications of their denials and the spread of this disease too. If they're right, more power to them. But if they're wrong, and ignoring the reality of the situation, and people still come to Toronto and end up spreading this disease far and wide, then Toronto will be share responsibility either civilly or criminally.

Calls For Electoral Reform Increase

All over the country, concerned citizens are calling for electoral reform in America. Even the mainstream media and major outlets are starting to pick up this theme. Every day I will link to a different article or case for reform, and toss in some analysis and rah rah stuff. Today I'm going to skip the analysis, and just give you the link - this one pretty much speaks for itself.

Let's start with the appalling lack of debate in Congress over the Bush administration's dramatic shift to the concept of pre-emptive warfare. That was preceded by the inadequate response to the Enron energy scandals, just the tip of an iceberg of ongoing deregulation and subsidies to corporate interests. Combined with the complete absence of African Americans and Latinos in the U.S. Senate, the stalling of women's representation in Congress, the muted response to the presidential election debacle in Florida, and the history of duplicitous, poll-driven campaigns where winning candidates change their spots right after the election, it's no surprise that government is dangerously adrift from the needs and desires of average Americans. The resulting cynicism and resignation contribute to the United States having the lowest voter participation among well-established democracies...

...when progressives link this reality to elections, it usually is through the lens of campaign finance reform, just as 15 years ago it was focused on voter registration. But at this point the failures of American democracy are so much greater and more fundamental. Reducing the impact of money on politics and increasing voters on the rolls are both critically important, but they are just two pieces of a much larger and desperately needed enterprise...

...an energized democracy demands, at minimum, diverse representation, meaningful choices across the political spectrum, full participation before and after elections, robust public debate, efficient election administration, and accurate voting machines. Voters must hear from a range of candidates, have a reasonable chance of electing their preferred representatives instead of the "lesser of two evils," and feel that they are electing a responsive government that makes a positive difference in their lives.

Rebuilding Iraq -- The Contractors

Courtesy of The Center For Responsive Democracy. Informative. Also see this spreadsheet for these contractors' political contributions since 1999.
Exxon Mobil Being Investigated For Bribery In Kazakhstan

The U.S. is investigating whether Exxon Mobil Corp. participated in a scheme to route $78 million in payments from U.S. and European oil companies to the Swiss bank accounts of Kazakhstan's president and others.

A retired senior executive of the former Mobil Oil Corp. and a New York businessman have been indicted in federal court in Manhattan in the three-year investigation. Experts say it is far from inevitable that Exxon Mobil itself will be indicted under the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials to obtain a deal. But, they say, the company will have to persuade prosecutors that its indicted former executive was a renegade, and that it did everything it could within reason to comply with the antibribery law.

I bet that's pennies on the dollar compared to what our government was throwing around to gain allies and bases in the War on Iraq (not to mention the War on Terror). I guess it would be asking too much for President Bush to declare a War on Corruption? Am I the only one who's getting sick of the rampant and seemingly standard level of corruption in "civilized" society at large?


Young People: Low Tolerance Of Corruption

...cites the case of a young whistle blower in which a supervisor, who had embezzled company funds, attempted to offer monetary rewards to a young subordinate to hush the matter up. The subordinate had not only refused the offer but reported the case to the ICAC.

This does not surprise Les Higgins - Director of Analysis at Risk Values: "Young people adopt stronger ethical and moral philosophical positions that their elders. I'm talking about the big issues, like corruption, war, the environment, etc. That's not to say that youngsters don't get involved in crime - but it tends to be much more opportunistic or adrenalin (or other chemical) based stuff - or they get brought up in a criminal/violent culture and simply mirror the behaviour of their elders."

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

U.S. Sugar Industry Threatens World Health Organization

The sugar industry in the United States is threatening to bring the World Health Organisation to its knees by asking Congress to stop funding the body unless it scraps guidelines on healthy eating due to be published tomorrow.

The threat is described by WHO insiders as tantamount to blackmail and worse than any pressure by the tobacco lobby.

This is outrageous. Do not skip this article. The Bush Administration must take a stand on this, whether it likes it or not. This kind of black eye is a blow to American integrity we can hardly afford.

What Regime Change is Donald Rumseld Not In Favor Of?

Other than here in America of course. Now it's North Korea. He's not alone. Our commander of forces over there, General Leon LaPorte, also weighs in. Can't say I disagree with these guys, but how do we do it? Compared to Saddam, this is the major leagues in terms of ground combat.
Free Mike Hawash?

The Microsoft programmer who is jailed without charges or bail because of the Patriot Act writes a letter. I don't know all the facts, but I sure hope there is good cause for this. This may sound naive, but the man sounds legit. Read the letter. Then get the facts.

On Thursday, March 20, 2003, our friend and colleague Maher (Mike) Hawash was arrested ("detained") as a "material witness" by the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force in the parking lot of Intel Corp's Hawthorne Farms offices. Simultaneously, FBI agents in bulletproof vests and carrying assault rifles awoke Mike's wife Lisa and their three children in the home, which they proceeded to search. Since then, Mike has been held without charge in the Federal Prison at Sheridan, OR. All proceedings in his case are secret.

Sigh...the Patriot Act.

Memefest 2003

As a “festival or radical communication”, Memefest sets out to explore the power that our disseminated ideas memes have to spin the social fabric. By encouraging the creation and dispersion of beneficial memes, we hope that we may bring some balance back into a brand-crazy world.

Go Beyond!

Go See The United Nations Take On Post-War Iraq

Lots of information and links!
The Iraq War And Global Public Health

Go check out this article by Howard Markel.

"But as a physician, I am almost frantic about how the war and its aftermath will affect the health of the people of Iraq. And, by extension, I am gravely concerned about the spread of those problems to other countries in the region — and those seemingly far away."

Saturday, April 19, 2003

It's On

2004 will go down as the biggest election in decades. The excitement and passion will be palpable. With that in mind, as Lisa English suggests, go big. Address all the little cuts of corruption that damage and divide us, and weave them into a vision of reform and change that will make peoples' hearts drop.

"I can't believe it's actually happening..." will be the initial reaction of most, and then once that love and hope builds, and hatred and fear diminish, it will be unstoppable. Hearts and minds will race to the glorious finish.

It's time to take back our country, and our power. Change is in the air, the real kind, and not the empty kind of election promises. By building a true American coalition and championing freedom, democracy and American ideals, our momentum will build, and almost any suggestion become possible if it synchronizes with the theme of taking back democracy and integrity and slaying corruption, secrecy and deceit.

I'll be there the whole time to help rile things up. I hope all of you will be too.

*****

From Lisa English:

Change happens when we're not so petrified of losing, that we actually get into the ring and beat the crap out of the opponent. Let me tell you something: you be loud and brash and Right On, and EVEN the corporate media will cover your ass. You be milquetoast and centrist and a facsimile of the Right, and you'll be ignored.

Let's be Rocky Balboa and take the fight to Republiclubber Lang!

*****

Also, Cowboy Kahlil has some excellent analysis and impressive graphics on the geographic battle for 2004.

the boy with no arms
in my
dream I'm
reaching out
to assure him
it'll be alright
we'll fix it
but I can't
and my
heart
falls and
the tears
come and
this brave
little guy
tries
to hug me
and falls
to tears
of his own
because
he can't

Responsive Democracy Is Not A Pipe Dream

For your perusal...1) Electoral College, 2) Former Bush Advisor On Proportional Representation (Prop Rep), 3) Women and Full Representation, 4) Cynthia Mckinney On Prop Rep, 5) FAQ On Prop Rep, 6) The Case For Prop Rep, 7) Election Post-Mortem, 8) Is Nader Right?, 9) Why Nader Not To Blame (Alternet), 10) Only Gore Costs Gore Election (Analysis Before Election), and finally some fascinating analysis by Paul H. Ray called The New Political Compass.

I am not a Green. Strictly independent. However, I advocate more responsive government, more responsible government, electoral reform, lifetime political registration, same-day registration, making Election Day a national holiday...whatever it takes! Politics in America sucks right now people, and you know it. The cult of personality and corporate platform and media takeover have gone far enough. America is about freedom and democracy first, before any other consideration. Unfortunately, issues get shunted aside to woo the key swing vote and otherwise all you hear is two parties campaigning on their hatred of each other. On how evil each are and a threat and danger to America. Enough already...it's tawdry. You hear the same trash from both sides. We look worse and worse every year, and it's got to stop. Am I the only one who's fed up? Anybody else ready to bust out a raincheck from 2004 and cash in some long overdue "promise of change" IOU's?

Friday, April 18, 2003

Mission Statement Of Freedom Century - To America

Follow the link to the Project Freedom archive, and read why I started this whole blogging business in the first place...scroll down to "To America". It's almost been a month now, and it's been very engaging and a lot of fun.

Also, don't miss my take on the Patriot Act(s). Reason, compassion, responsibility, and integrity in American affairs...we can do this!
Post-War Oil Management Should Bolster Rights, Benefit Iraqis

Human Rights Watch calls for transparency and accountability in the post-war management of the Iraqi oil industry, in order to meet "humanitarian needs and ensure respect for human rights".

Also from Human Rights Watch, U.S. sidesteps charges Of mistreating Afghan detainees, possibly risking "legitimizing practices that are legally prohibited".
Howard Dean Confronts President Bush

In this editorial on Common Dreams, where he takes on the Bush docrine.
The people of this country must understand that this Administration has a far different concept of the role of America in the world. This concept involves imposing our will on sovereign nations. This concept involves dismantling the multilateral institutions that we have spent decades building. And this concept involves distorting the rule of law to suit their narrow purposes. When did we become a nation of fear and anxiety when we were once known the world around as a land of hope and liberty?

And confronts the man himself and his domestic doctrine...


This President shamelessly divides us from one another. He divides us by race – as he did when he claimed that the University of Michigan uses quotas in its law school admissions. He divides us by class by rewarding his campaign donors with enormous tax cuts while the rest of us are deprived of affordable health care, prescription drugs for our seniors, and good schools for our kids. He divides us by gender by seeking to restrict reproductive choice for women. He divides us by sexual orientation by appointing reactionary judges to the bench, and as he did in Texas by refusing to sign the Hate Crimes bill if it included gay or lesbian Americans as potential victims.

Will Howard Dean get the chance to champion his stance as being "a social liberal and a fiscal conservative" in 2004? It remains to be seen.


Despairing Globally, Hoping Locally

Marjorie Kelly muses on corporate purpose legislation...
Beneath the radar of mainstream awareness, something remarkable is arising. It’s a promising new path for systemic corporate reform, not at the federal or international level, but at the state level. This may be the last place we think to look for corporate reform. But it should be the first, since it is states that charter corporations and have the power to redefine the terms of their existence.

This is a highly interesting theory...to implement corporate reform at the state level in direct opposition to the trend towards the WTO, which is definitely a move away from democracy and civil participation.


Fundamental change may be coming within reach. In California – where the state legislature is controlled by Democrats – corporate purpose legislation was introduced Feb. 21 by Senate Majority Whip Richard Alarcon (ACCENT OVER O) (D-San Fernando Valley). While current law says directors must maximize profits for shareholders, Alarcon’s Good Corporate Citizen bill (SB 917) says companies may not do so at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public health, the community, or the dignity of employees. The attorney general could bring civil action against violators. Under certain conditions, directors would be personally liable.

It’s hard to overstate how profoundly this could change corporate behavior. Instead of rubber-stamping whatever actions fatten the bottom line – keeping a dirty power plant open, or laying off 10,000 – directors would be asking about impact on employees and the public good. They’d be trying to avoid social harm, because their own pocketbooks would be at risk.

Alarcon says his bill may not pass in a single session. “Most significant changes in American law take some time,” he said. “But the discussion is as important as the end product.”

The question remains whether this would be the best long-term solution to the problem, and how it would be viewed through the lens of classical free market economic theory. Not that approval would have to be forthcoming, just how would such a change of economic policy be explained in terms of economics and politics.

I just discovered this movement towards corporate purpose legislation, and will be reporting back on it frequently, as well as exploring its philosophical, political, and economic implications.


Thursday, April 17, 2003

American-Style Democracy

Don't miss this Flash cartoon by Mark Fiore over at Mother Jones.
Cluster Bomb Use In Populated Areas Condemned

Disturbing accusations by Human Rights Watch:
“U.S. commanders should never use cluster munitions in populated areas,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “These are wholly inappropriate weapons when civilians are around. The reported use of cluster munitions in Baghdad is a serious charge and the Pentagon must respond publicly to it.”

Newsday’s reporter provided Human Rights Watch with a photograph he had taken inside a building in what he described as a clearly residential neighborhood well inside Baghdad. Human Rights Watch identified an unexploded cluster submunition in the photograph from either a ground-based Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) or an artillery projectile. The damage to the surrounding walls and floor were also consistent with a cluster munition strike. Human Rights Watch has previously reported that, according to The Pentagon’s own data, these particular submunitions have an especially high failure rate.

This is damning stuff. What were we thinking using this stuff? Was it really necessary? It's almost shocking when considering the seeming ease of victory. Did the cluster bombs have such a signifigant bearing on this that they had to be used? Shock and awe warfare indeed.


This is the first confirmed instance of U.S. use of cluster munitions in Baghdad or other highly populated areas. There have been many unconfirmed allegations of use of both air-dropped and surface-delivered cluster munitions in urban areas by the United States and the United Kingdom. Most notably, some press accounts attributed the deaths of scores of civilians near the village of Hilla in central Iraq on April 1 to U.S. cluster bombs, but the facts have not been established.

Dangerous Liaisons In The Oil Industry

In a new Forbes article, Daniel Fisher takes a look at some of the truly indefensible alliances the oil industry strikes up with corrupt elites around the world.
...is unapologetic about making deals with regimes that lean toward the diabolical. It's the price of securing oil supplies for U.S. consumers, he says. All he can do is ensure that ExxonMobil doesn't violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by directly bribing officials of other governments. (Congress passed that law in 1977 after spectacular revelations--including the fact that Exxon's Italian unit had paid out $50 million to labor unions and political parties in the 1960s and early 1970s.) "Resisting corruption at all levels and in every country is the standard of this outfit, and once people understand that, it's amazing how you don't have to deal with it very much," Raymond says. Noting the reporter's raised eyebrows, he adds, "You do get some projects stolen away, but my reaction is: If that's the way it is, that's the way it is."

There is a ton of information in this expose. Be sure to check it out.


Thoughts Of An American Stooge Have Shiites Seething

Check out this embedded report from the New Zealand Herald.
They are not interested in General Jay Garner, the rumbustious former missile contractor, who - 240km further down the Euphrates - was chairing the first meeting of selected Iraqi opposition groups. Objecting to his role, the largest Shiite party, the Iran-based Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq, refused to go to the event.

And they have nothing good to say about Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi businessman, convicted fraudster and favourite of the Pentagon hawks. After decades in exile, he was last week spirited into Nasiriyah by United States forces, where he has since formed his own militia.

This doesn't bode well for democracy so far...


"Iraq has to be run by people from Iraq - people who lived in Iraq and not from the outside," said one of the crowd, Favel Mohammed Roda, a fiery-eyed man in a long white robe. "And then Americans must get out." The others all shouted agreement.

It is a message that has to be taken seriously. Iraq's Shiite community is seething ominously.

It is consumed by fears about its place in the new Iraq. Being the majority, the Shiites talk hopefully of democracy, but are haunted by suspicions that conspiracies are afoot to split their ranks.

This article is a must read. Follow the link, check it out. We are going to have many problems in helping to establish a democracy if we can't get the Shiites involved. Ignoring them is not a realistic option. I sure hope a plan has been drawn up for this contingency. I can't see how it can be considered unexpected.


Iraqi Academic Prefers "Saddam Hussein to the people who proclaim themselves leaders without a real election"
Two close associates of the head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, proclaimed themselves leaders of the interim local government in Baghdad today.

I'm going to be very cynical about this. Why? The headline quote above is from an academic who attended the "election". The information is in the story.


Zubeidi said he had been chosen "by the citizens" for the post of interim government leader of Baghdad and told reporters he had been "advised" by the US 101st Airborne Division after returning to Iraq in the wake of the military action after 30 years' exile.

But he was quickly interrupted by an academic, Kamal Saab, who said he objected to the INC officials' summary appointment, adding he "preferred Saddam Hussein to the people who proclaim themselves leaders without a real election".

Let's hope that this is a temporary condition. In Afghanistan, we installed Karzai, who previously worked as an oil contractor. Now we have Chalabi and his men, and, as I detailed in a post yesterday, Chalabi has been meeting and promising oil deals since before the war started. So we're not doing a great job of dispelling the rumors that this is only about oil. I'm upset we didn't come clean about the true reasons for this war, which increasingly seem to be those embodied in the Project For A New American Century.


Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Deceiving And Distorting The News For War

Do not miss Spinsanity's latest on our tawdry media reporting of the war. Also, we should all campaign to get more copies of Sam Keen's Faces of the Enemy in print and ready to ship!

Beware, first reviewer of Faces of the Enemy has the same problem (selective quoting, overly simplistic rendering) of which Spinsanity regularly speaks against, and a clear chip on his shoulder.
Be sure to add Disinfo's Daily Webscan to your web crawl.
The New Great Game

This article, from The Ecologist, has been tossed around for awhile now, but I figured it still has timely value. Chalabi was already assuring oil deals at press time?

It is not difficult to imagine that a regime installed in Baghdad by US forces would favour US firms in the allotment of drilling concessions. Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the dubious CIA-backed opposition movement the Iraqi National Congress, has already met with managers of ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco. Talking to The Washington Post, Chalabi said: ‘US companies will get a big shot at Iraqi oil.’ This blatant favouritism worries BP, which pioneered the discovery of petrol in Iraq in the early 20th century. BP head Lord Browne speculated that if the Blair government did not actively support regime change in Iraq, British oil companies would lose out to their US competitors.

And in an accompanying passage at the conclusion of the article...

1. James Woolsey, CIA Director from 1993 to 1995, and US Senator Richard G Lugar:

‘ Oil is a magnet for conflict. The problem is simple: everyone needs energy, but the sources of the world’s transportation fuel are concentrated in relatively few countries. Well over two thirds of the world’s remaining oil reserves lie in the Middle East (including the Caspian basin), leaving the rest of the world dependent on the region’s collection of predators and vulnerable autocrats. This unwelcome dependence keeps US military forces tied to the Persian Gulf, forces foreign policy compromises, and sinks many developing nations into staggering debt as they struggle to pay for expensive dollar-denominated oil with lower-priced commodities and agricultural products. In addition, oil causes environmental conflict. The possibility that greenhouse gases will lead to catastrophic climate change is substantially increased by the 40 million barrels of oil burned every day by vehicles. ’
Source: Foreign Affairs Jan/Feb 1999


When are we ever going to start taking these admonitions and warnings to start thinking sustainably seriously? We probably could have engineered an energy R&D revolution with the dollars we'll end up spending in Iraq. Knocking out Saddam by irrelevance would have been so much sweeter.

*****

The bill is now up to $20 billion and counting...
With Random Acts Of Guerrilla Nakedness

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer profiles the Body Freedom Cooperative and their tactics of "guerilla pranksterism".

Recently, co-founder Mark Storey and two unidentified members of this revolutionary group—whose goal is “to bring clothing-free opportunities on public lands closer to the people of the cities”— went skinny-dipping at the King County park system’s H.Q. Since then, the organization has plotted other scenarios in which they will literally be “caught with their pants down” in order to promote greater public access to nudity. Possible future events include: “a ‘mass nude photo shoot’ at Washington Arboretum,” naked citizens “cleaning up graffiti” on the street, and a “trilogy of [Fringe Festival] plays” highlighting not only the nudist experience, but also “nude ushers and ticket takers, too.”

From Utne Online.
Support Robert Scheer, A Patriot

By checking out his latest on the untidiness of American foreign policy. Rush and his fedayeen have been barnstorming the LA Times with editorials villifying Mr. Scheer, so let's all help him out. Email a letter to the editor.
Get To Know Jacques Chirac

Read his lips over at the The Globalist.
Protest Malicious Hacking Of Arab And Foreign News Web Sites

Computer Professional For Social Responsibility issued a statement, which to my knowledge got no play anywhere, to protest the targeting of Arab media by hackers.

"Whether you are a supporter or critic of the Bush Administration's foreign policy," said Hans Klein, CPSR's Chairman, "all Americans should decry any attempt to restrict the ability of our citizens to have free access to news and information from around the globe." Calling such actions reminiscent of "cyber-terrorism," Klein noted that that Americans are visiting foreign sites in huge numbers for news on the war, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project released Tuesday. "Technologists should be especially concerned when some entities try to impose their own political views on the Internet by interfering with the right of both private and public press agencies around the world to speak on the vital issues affecting the world peace."

I agree. War and revolutions should be televised, reported and blogged.
MTV The Latest To Refuse AdBusters' TV Turnoff Week Ad

Scheduled for April 21-27. One can only wonder why, but Ad Busters isn't happy...

MTV is now the latest station to reject our anti-TV message - and dump free speech in the name of keeping those corporate ad dollars coming.

They saw our simple, quarter-minute clip asking viewers to give their TV a rest and said no. Now it's your turn to call MTV and let them know you want to keep the airwaves free for all: call 1-212-258-8000.

Meanwhile, CNN has agreed to take our cash. Yes, we still need at least $5,000 to get two 15-second spots onto the air. Whatever you give will bring TV Turnoff that much closer to a nationwide buzz.


Here's one guy who's guessing that MTV figures their audience might actually be impressionable enough to do it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

American Occupational Hazards

Karin von Hippel of Open Democracy explains the hazards of post-war military occupation of Iraq.

The US administration led by President Bush came to office in January 2001 with an attitude of scorn towards the ‘nation-building’ efforts of its immediate predecessor. It is therefore a supreme irony that President George W. Bush is now embracing plans for a US military governor to run Iraq, in a way that is reminiscent of General Douglas MacArthur in post-1945 Japan.

In defining Bush’s security strategy at the start of his administration, Condoleezza Rice wrote (in Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000):

“The president must remember that the military is a special instrument.
It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee.
And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society.”


Ouch. That doesn't play well anymore. And there's more...

The avoidance of any manifest US occupation of Iraq is crucial to thwart what could otherwise become a successful recruitment campaign by al-Qaida. Such an occupation would serve to enrage Islamic extremists, while humiliating moderate Muslims, and increase anti-Americanism in many parts of the world. A UN-led, Nato-controlled, administration in Iraq – backed by a serious US-commitment, would remove that perception.

The Washington Post of 26 February 2003 retrieved a criticism of Al Gore by his rival candidate on the very eve of the presidential elections of November 2000. George W. Bush then declared: “Let me tell you what else I’m worried about: I’m worried about an opponent who uses nation building and the military in the same sentence”.


Double ouchie!

Be sure to read the whole article.
Looting, Lawlessness and Humanitarian Consequences

I know it's "old news" now, but this is worth reading. From Amnesty International, a damning assessment of our performance, or lack of, in maintaining order in Iraq.

Widespread looting and arson. Lawlessness and reprisal attacks. Water shortages and power cuts. Overwhelmed and ransacked hospitals. Disorder hampering humanitarian relief agencies. This is the grim reality facing millions of Iraqi civilians in areas newly under the control of US/UK forces. As one Iraqi told a BBC reporter on 10 April, "No authority now. No law now. No anything. Thieves anywhere."

US and UK authorities were repeatedly warned before the conflict by Amnesty International and others that there was a grave risk of widespread disorder, humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses, including revenge attacks, once the Iraqi government's authority was removed. Now that US/UK forces are occupying substantial parts of Iraq, they must live up to their specific responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect the rights of Iraqi people.


Also from Amnesty, a call to ensure justice and accountability for human rights abuses in Iraq.

Amnesty International stresses that the UN has recognized expertise and authoritativeness in this field. As such, the UN should play the leading role in developing proposals for reforming the Iraqi criminal justice system and could recommend transitional and complementary approaches in the meantime, regardless of the arrangements made for governing Iraq.

"Proposals for using US or UK tribunals are undesirable, since they risk being perceived as victors' - justice. Certain proposals such as the use of US military commissions, which are not even courts, would be grossly unfair under international law," Amnesty International emphasized.

Possible transitional approaches under consideration include an international ad hoc tribunal and a mixed tribunal. Existing approaches including universal jurisdiction, could make an important contribution, and a regional tribunal should be examined. Amnesty International's report discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches under consideration.


Stay tuned.
The US Media and Global Respect

Stephan Richter over at The Globalist wonders how long, in the age of "embedded" reporters, the American media will retain its global respect?

"U.S. media organizations are simply larger and better financed than those from nearly all other countries. But that material superiority does not translate into more meaningful — or better — journalism.

Too many U.S. media endeavor to achieve little more than to ratify the consensus.

All it really adds up to is more channels and other media outlets that need to be filled with more material.

Witness the near-identical coverage of the war on numerous U.S. cable news channels, as well as on the major networks. The pressures of filling more hours can become oppressive — and result in journalism losing its teeth."


Media reform. Now.

*****

Also in Welcome To A Fractured World, Gary Hufbauer ponders, "Without a security alliance as its rudder, can the world economic order be kept on course?"

Let's hope so. I know our president does.
Homer's Odyssey

I'd like to take this class in Berkeley, where they use 'The Simpsons' to discuss philosophy.

"Lest anyone think this is a course that academically challenged jocks seek for easy credits to stay eligible for football, Shores quizzed the students on (a) their knowledge of philosophic principles; and (b) "The Simpsons." The majority of those accepted were upperclassmen with majors ranging from philosophy to economics to English literature."
Smart Heuristics...Or How Humans Learn To Live With Uncertainty

Gerg Gigerenzer waxes eloquent in this essay...

"There is a nice story that illustrates the whole conflict: A famous decision theorist who once taught at Columbia got an offer from a rival university and was struggling with the question of whether to stay where he was or accept the new post. His friend, a philosopher, took him aside and said, "What's the problem? Just do what you write about and what you teach your students. Maximize your expected utility." The decision theorist, exasperated, responded, "Come on, get serious!"

Decisions can often be modeled by what I call fast and frugal heuristics. Sometimes they're faster, and sometimes they're more frugal. Deciding which of two jobs to take, for instance, may involve consequences that are incommensurate from the point of view of the person making the decision. The new job may give you more money and prestige, but it might leave your children in tears, since they don't want to move for fear that they would lose their friends. Some economists may believe that you can bring everything in the same common denominator, but others can't do this. A person could end up making a decision for one dominant reason.

We make decisions based on a bounded rationality, not the unbounded rationality of the decision maker modeled after an omniscient god. But bounded rationality is also not of one kind. There is a group of economists, for example, who look at the bounds or constraints in the environment that affect how a decision is made. This study is called "optimization under constraints," and many Nobel prizes have been awarded in this area. Using the concept of bounded rationality from this perspective you realize that an organism has neither unlimited resources nor unlimited time. So one asks, given these constraints what's the optimal solution?

There's a second group, which doesn't look at bounds in the environment but at bounds in the mind. These include many psychologists and behavioral economists who find that people often take in only limited information, and sometimes make decisions based on just one or two criteria. But these colleagues don't analyze the environmental influences on the task. They think that for a priori reasons people make bad choices because of a bias, an error, or a fallacy. They look at constraints in the mind."


We must reveal the mind in order to free it.
The Existentialist War

In a book review, Carlin Romano discusses, through the lens of George Cotkin's book Existential America, how we out existential the French in our liberation of Iraq.

"American existentialists, Cotkin wrote, shared some of the traditional anxiety and dread of European existentialism, but they did not "contentedly wallow in such despair." Instead, they often emphasized "the upside of existential freedom: the freeing from the shackles of tradition, the possibility of a more authentic existence, and the headiness that comes with the freedom to create and be creative."

In short, they bypassed what Cotkin describes very nicely in his conclusion as "the dead-end turn of existentialism" - nihilism. Summing up, Cotkin offers a kind of salute to what we might call 21st-century existentialism, American style: "To write, to act, to create, and to rebel after a century of totalitarianism and mass destruction, and in the face of new challenges, is to engage in existential transcendence, to erect a sculpture of human possibility, albeit out of the ashes of despair."


Let's do it.
The Cosmopolitan Illusion

Policy Review writer Lee Harris discusses Martha Nussbaum's essay "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism"...

Is it wrong to teach our children to be patriotic? Or may we teach them to be a little patriotic, provided that we also teach them to value and respect the cultures of others? Should they be encouraged to be loyal to their own nation, or should they be taught that they are citizens of the world before all else?

Should education be preaching either of these?

Monday, April 14, 2003

Umberto Eco On Eternal Fascism

Meme Cauldron links to a thoughtful essay by Umberto Eco on Ur-Fascism and the many ways of looking at a blackshirt.
Added "Comments" Capability This Weekend...Feel Free!
General, is the war going well, or is the war going extremely well?

In the Guardian, Michael Wolff explains his controversial question to General Vincent Brooks: "I mean no disrespect, but what is the value proposition of these briefings. Why are we here? Why should we stay? What's the value of what we're learning at this million dollar press centre?"

The trouble begins. And, even though it was the question everyone wanted to ask, Wolff points out the hazards of actually asking a question like this live on international television...

"We had reached the point where reporters were interviewing other reporters in the most media scrutinised war ever fought. But even among the over-exposed, I was - because of the irritable question I'd asked at a daily briefing and over international television - on the verge of a special status: becoming the wise-ass of the war..."

Apparently, Rush Limbaugh and his crowd don't like a "wise-ass"...

"To his audience of 20 million - pro-war, military minded, Bush-centered, media-hating - lily white-Rush laid me out. I was not only a reporter, but one from New York magazine. "New York" resonated. It combined with "media" and suddenly, in the hands of Rush, I was as elitist and as pampered (fortunately nobody mentioned the Ritz) and as dismissive of the concerns of real Americans as, well, Rush's 20 million assume the media to be. Whereas Rush, that noted foot soldier, represented the military heartland."

We need more people like Michael Wolff in the media. If only to get Rush all riled up. Make sure to read the whole column, it's quite good.
9/11 & Government Secrecy Are Inhibiting The War Against Corruption

Over at Transparency International's online Global Corruption Report, I found this archived Financial Times article very telling...

"It has long been accepted that corruption undermines the legitimacy and stability of
governments
in poor countries. But corruption is also a private sector phenomenon:
public servants and politicians are not alone in mis-using entrusted power for private
gain. With the corporate scandals at Enron and other US companies still playing out, it
is clearer than ever that corruption also puts at risk financial markets and institutions.

The good news, says the report, is that new technology has so improved flows of
information that the media and public are increasingly calling businesses and
politicians to account
. Yet, particularly since September 11 2001, governments have
become less, not more, willing to share information.

Yes, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development agreed an
initiative to combat bribery of foreign public officials in 1997. But few cases are being
investigated. In most OECD member countries, the political will to prosecute major
bribery cases is lacking
," the report concludes."

Is it just me, or is this kind of stuff never reported in our media? It's time to end the national obsession with the war in Iraq, and start noticing what's really going on.

Snap! You are now awaking...be aware and pay attention to the troubling world around you.
Buying The Judiciary?

Read this editorial from the Multinational Monitor.

"In 2000, the Chamber of Commerce and a host of business interests decided that they could buy state supreme court elections. That year, state supreme court candidates raised more than $45 million, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, a 68 percent increase from 1998 and more than double the amount of 1994..."

There is much more damning information in the editorial. Obviously, this doesn't bode well for democracy and justice. MNM concludes by suggesting...

"The most sensible option -- for judicial elections perhaps even more than others -- is the clean money approach. This involves full public financing of candidates meeting minimal criteria to show that they have a breadth of support. While candidates are free to refuse public financing, those accepting public monies receive matching money to offset expenditures above a certain level by candidates opting out of the system. The calculations would take into account independent expenditures for the candidates. For the system to work most effectively, as the Brennan Center, which endorses it, points out, there should as well be vigorous disclosure laws, especially for independent expenditures, and dollar limits on individual, corporate and union contributions."

Eternal vigilance is required. We need to defend our institutions from those who seek to buy them.
Homeland Security Act...An Agenda For Secrecy?

Common Cause takes issue with abuse of the Homeland Security Act to shield corporate wrongdoers.

"Three major business coalitions championed a secrecy provision that essentially denies the public information about a wide range of health, safety and environmental problems that may occur at facilities such as chemical plants, nuclear power plants, utilities and other “critical infrastructure.” Between 1998 and June 30, 2002, those coalitions donated nearly $112 million to federal candidates and political parties, according to a Common Cause report on the subject.

“This is a textbook example of what happens when companies that invest millions of dollars in political donations and lobbying work together to achieve a legislative goal,” said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause. “Unfortunately, it’s the public that loses out.”"


I repeat. It's time for to fight hard for real campaign finance reform.