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Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Friday, May 16, 2003

The imperial perimeter.

In the last couple of years, US military presence overseas has mushroomed, especially in central Asia and the mideast. Asia Times looks at the consequences of this military expansion — for the US, for its geopolitical rivals, and for the rest of the world.

The widening scope of US military deployments configure what one analyst calls an "imperial perimeter" hemming in the aspirations of regional great powers-rivals with the United States for local influence - by projecting US might as preponderant and proximate. [...]

While US military pre-eminence curbs the influence of regional great powers, it can also foster dependence in lesser ones. The US-dominated security net in Southeast Asia, for example, discourages the emergence of alternative balance-of-influence arrangements - among the United States, Russia, China and Japan, for instance - as well as mutes the potential of regional organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF). That is to say, US military power has a way of becoming entrenched by making itself seem necessary.

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:21 PM | Get permalink

Duyba's one-note obsession.

Writing in the American Prospect, Harold Meyerson points out the excruciatingly bad job Dubya has done with the economy, and wonders whether the Democrats will be able to capitalize on his poor performance when they run against him in 2004.

Presidents do not really pay a penalty for holding office when the economy first implodes. Americans did not turn against Hoover because the market crashed; they turned against him because his recovery program, such as it was, failed to produce a recovery, because the economy cascaded downward for three and a half years while he rejected one plausible remedy after another. Likewise, no one holds Bush accountable for the dot-com bust or the shock of September 11. His problems are that he's enacted and proposed nothing that would arrest the current slide, and that his policies have actually worsened it.

More precisely, his policy has actually worsened it. For it is the distinctive feature of the Bush presidency that there is but one economic policy come boom or bust, fire or flood. That, of course, is tax cuts, preponderantly for the rich. As a candidate in 2000, Bush argued for tax cuts because the government was actually running a surplus, and it was a more productive use of funds to return that money to taxpayers. Then the bubble burst, the surplus turned to deficit and those same tax cuts were repackaged as an economic stimulus. The $1.6 trillion tax cut of 2001 was so advertised, though it didn't really kick in for the better part of the decade, and most of it was targeted to the wealthy—the class of Americans least likely to spend it. Since it was enacted, it has stimulated the economy to the tune of 1.7 million jobs lost.

Undeterred, the administration is back at it again with its proposed $726 billion tax cut, more than half of which takes the form of eliminating the taxes on dividends—which, again, will go overwhelmingly to the rich. It's difficult to find anyone not working for the administration who believes this cut will really stimulate the economy. Though virtually no one noticed (there was a war on), in mid-March the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its study of the Bush tax cut. "Taken together," the report concluded, "the proposals would provide a relatively small impetus in an economy the size of the United States." The study had been supervised by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who came to the CBO after serving as chief economist for Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.

The hallmark of the Bush approach to the economy is its absolute rigidity. On matters economic, Bush is a monomaniac with a bad idea, a doctor who prescribes the same all-purpose snake oil no matter what the ailment. And while Bush is not responsible for the post-boom bust in which America finds itself, his refusal to contemplate any remedy save his own for the economy is directly responsible for the increasing longevity and severity of the bust.

Via also not found in nature.

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:00 PM | Get permalink

Making war personal.

The UK Guardian has put up life stories for 100 people who lost their lives in the recent war. Not just Iraqis — but people of every nationality.

Zina Akram Hamoodi, 12

Zina, who died on April 5 alongside her brothers Zain and Moustafa and her sister Ihab, was the beauty of the family. She looked and dressed like a model. "She had the physique, the looks, everything about her suggested that she could be a model," remembers her grandfather, Abid Hassan Hamoodi. "She was the glamorous one."

She also had a talent for making money. She studied at Jumoria primary school, and her uncles gave her 10,000 dinars - around £3 - every time she got top marks in an exam.

All of Akram's children were academically competitive. When Zina scored 98% in a recent exam, she was upset about it. Her father is known throughout Iraq, and his children strived to live up to him.

Two weeks before the missile attack on her grandparents' house, Zina called her uncle Sudad in Manchester to say that she had got another top mark in an exam. But rather than ask him to send her money, she requested that he put a flower on her grave if she died. On May 2, Sudad was in Basra to prepare for the burial of Zina and his nine other relatives who died in the bombing. "I'm struggling to find a flower to buy anywhere in Basra," he said. "If I have to I'll get one from Kuwait or the British embassy. I'll make sure she gets her wishes."

Via Body & Soul.

| | Posted by Magpie at 6:34 PM | Get permalink

Thursday, May 15, 2003

June Carter Cash, 1929–2003.

June Carter Cash, age 5

The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet.
I fell for you like a child.
Oh, but the fire went wild.

I fell into a burning ring of fire.
I went down, down, down, and the flames they went higher.
And it burns, burns, burns, that ring of fire, that ring of fire.

June Cash & Merle Kilgore   1962

Country music singer/songwriter June Carter Cash died from surgical complicatons earlier today. She was born into the Carter Family, one of the most influential country music groups ever. She was also the wife and musical partner of Johnny Cash, and a well-regarded songwriter.

The NY Times obituary is here. A review of her 2000 album, "Press On," is here.

Update: ReachM High has a very nice tribute.

[Free reg. req'd for NY Times.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:21 PM | Get permalink

CAT Eyes may be watching you.

Remember the TIPS program — that lovely plan to have more than a million US citizens spying on the rest of us in the interest of 'homeland security'? And how the outcry from civil liberties groups and others forced Washington to scuttle the program?

Bad ideas never seem to go away, and an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe shows that the concept of a neighborhood-based spy corps has staying power. The most recent incarnation is CAT Eyes, a program that the New Jersey-based Community Anti-terrorism Training Institute has been offering to police departments since 2001.

In a recent telephone interview, Licata said he wants to use CAT Eyes to create what he calls ''a modern civil defense network,'' converting neighborhood watch groups into antiterrorist informant cells. These groups, constantly watching for signs of terrorist activity in their neighborhoods and workplaces, would report suspicious activities directly to the FBI. Said Licata: ''I envision 100 million Americans looking for indicators of terrorism and promptly reporting it to a central database where it would get analyzed.''

According to Licata, city and town police departments in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Ohio have adopted the program, as well as the Washington, D.C., Park Police, and scattered cities in Florida, Nevada, and California. University police departments, including at MIT, are also adopting the program.

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:55 PM | Get permalink

What the Democratic walkout in Texas really means.

As Molly Ivins has a tendency to do, she hits the nail right on the head.

Since all of y'all in the North think Texas is eternally screwed up, I'm not going to try to defend this lunacy (although it has causes), I'm just warning you: This is about to happen everywhere. A good country song says, "Lubbock on Everythang." Make it bigger, expand that. "Texas on Everythang." The whole country is being turned into the state whose proudest boast is that sometimes we're ahead of Mississippi.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:11 PM | Get permalink

Salam Pax 'up to no good'?

That's the notion that at least one right-wing columnist in Canada is floating.

David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen accuses Salam Pax of being part of an anti-Western conspiracy. His rant also slams reporters in Baghdad as 'those "hacks" not yet transferred to the next breaking news story, and so still kicking around this mysterious city of Baghdad, trying to figure out what's happening without exposing themselves overmuch to danger'.

Salam has an easy familiarity not only with the upscale Baghdad in which he has been living, and which he selectively describes through the jaded eyes of a true insider, but also with most Western fashions and things. This is what gives him his plausibility to Western readers. He drops many hints that he is a homosexual, suggesting reckless candour. (I'm inclined to doubt these.) His English is superb and colloquial. He has those Tariq Aziz qualities. There are nightmares in his background, but the foreground is smooth, charming, self-confident, man of the world -- tending involuntarily to smugness. He can tell you anything, and seems to enjoy putting on the show.

He refers casually to pseudonymous friends, who are also children of the deposed Baathist elect. They all know their way around but, unlike their parents, have never carried the weight of responsibility. They were of a class, but not yet fully in it -- products of a very luxurious bubble. Or perhaps Salam himself or any one of them was directly employed by Mr. Saddam's very extensive, and in places quite sophisticated, network of Soviet-modelled spy and disinformation networks -- we cannot know yet.

This crowgirl figures that since the right wing was unable to prove that Salam Pax didn't exist, they've shifted to attempts to discredit his observations about Iraq.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:33 PM | Get permalink

China takes 'draconian' measures against SARS.

Magpie is not an epidemiologist or public health expert, but her guess is that this story is a strong indication that the Chinese government's attempts to control the spread of SARS are failing.

China has threatened to execute or jail for life anyone who breaks Sars quarantine orders and spreads the virus intentionally.

The Supreme Court and China's lead prosecutor set out the punishments in an interpretation of existing laws which regulate the containment of sudden disease outbreaks and the response to disasters, China's official news agency said.

The WHO calls the punishment 'draconian,' and warns that it may deter people with SARS from seeking treatment:

"There is a fine balance with this kind of disease where you need to isolate and quarantine patients, but if you are too heavy handed it may end up only stigmatising people," a WHO spokeswoman said.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:11 AM | Get permalink

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Visiting the undesirables.

Pedram at the eyeranian tells about an unnerving visit to a cemetery during his first trip back to Iran.

I was trying to take as much in as possible before being interrupted. A few modest headstones that were put on certain graves a long ago, had been vandalized, damaged and broken. Some had only a first name scribbled on a small rock. One had left a small flower pot, but the little plant had died many days ago. I could feel both guards getting closer and closer but was trying to zigzag my way around, not making eye-contact and going as deep as I could.

One finally reached me asking rather politely "do you have someone buried here?". I played stupid saying I don't know, I was just coming back to Iran after so many years and am looking all over the cemetery for relative's names. He said "you won't find anyone here". I continued playing dumb and asked why?. He said "these are all e'damies (executed ones)". I kept a straight face asking "e'damie?". The second guy that was older, maybe 20, said in a harsher voice "yes them". I briefly looked at the submachine guns they had swung over their shoulders in a somewhat relaxed fashion and decided to dig deeper. "have they executed anyone?" I asked. The second guy said "of course baba (a friendly slang term, meaning father but used variably), where have you been?"

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:18 PM | Get permalink

State-sponsored homophobia rife in southern Africa.

Lesbians, gay men, and other sexual minorities face a climate of "pervasive harassment and violence" in southern Africa. That's the general conclusion of a joint report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Watch. Issued in Cape Town on Wednesday, the report accuses most of the region's governments of singling out lesbian, gay, and transgender citizens "as scapegoats for their countries' problems."

"Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have been vilified by presidents and political leaders, which has led to a culture of intolerance," said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of IGLHRC. "These attacks are just the first step in creating a climate in which all rights are at risk."

The report documents verbal attacks, police harassment, official crackdowns, and community violence aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Victims have been assaulted, imprisoned, expelled from schools, fired from jobs, denied access to medical care, evicted from their homes, and driven into exile or, in some cases, to suicide.

"When Southern African political leaders like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe make speeches saying that gays and lesbians are 'worse than dogs and pigs,' it should be no surprise that violent attacks follow," said Scott Long of Human Rights Watch, co-author of the report.

The report also examines South Africa, which in 1996, newly freed from apartheid, became the first country in the world to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in its constitution. Based on interviews with numerous individuals and activists, the report concludes that the equality guaranteed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is fragile, and even endangered by the silence and foot-dragging of political leaders in South Africa.

Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC called on the governments of all five countries to refrain from promoting intolerance and from inciting discrimination and abuse. Other recommendations include:

– repealing laws, including "sodomy laws," which violate human rights including rights to privacy and freedom of expression;

– enacting positive protections against discrimination;

– publicizing and promoting awareness of rights protections and how to use them; and

– creating mechanisms to address discrimination and abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The press release for the report is here. The full text is here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:54 PM | Get permalink

Why was security inadequate in Riyadh?

Charges and countercharges are flying in the attempt to pin responsibility for the bombing deaths in Riyadh.

US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan has accused the Saudi government of discounting advance warnings of likely terrorist activity, and being unresponsive to US requests to increase security measures at the foreign compounds.

"We contacted the Saudi government, in fact on several occasions, to request that added security be provided to all Western residential compounds and government installations in the kingdom," Jordan said. "But they did not, as of the time of this tragic event, provide the additional security we requested."

However, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal says that the US made no request for increased security.

"But, in each time the American embassy or any other embassy seeks the intensification of security measures, the government fulfills this request,'' he said.

However, a report in the Saudi newspaper Arab News indicates that the real problem may have been penny-pinching by compound owners:

A security specialist at Jamal Jaroudi Est., a leading security firm here, described as "inadequate" the status of the security apparatus in the 150 compounds, 80 of which were owned by a high profile Saudi dignitary. One of his compounds was also targeted by the suicide bombers.

The specialist said the owners of these compounds only went for "nominal security" to address the concerns of the mostly Western expatriates living there. The owners cut corners to save cost, he said. In some cases, they made security a "shared business" with the multinational companies which accommodate their executives in the compounds.

"They never really went for a full and comprehensive security audit as their prime objective was to economize on security. Accordingly, what they have installed is a basic security system, which is not strong enough to survive a real threat. We have been advising the owners of these compounds not to look at security as a burden. But they did not take us seriously."

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:54 PM | Get permalink

Some good news from Baghdad.

One of the many tragic events occurring during the invasion of Iraq was the looting and burning of the National Library in Baghdad. Nearly all of the estimated 2 million items in the library were feared lost. Now the Boston Globe reports that a 'preemptive' rescue operation' moved as much as 90 percent of the library's contents to mosques and other sites in the city.

Librarians say that as American troops pressed into Baghdad April 9, they pleaded with soldiers to protect the site from looters and Kuwaiti arsonists. They said the Kuwaitis were bent on revenge for the 1990-91 invasion and war. But the troops were involved with the business of the day, toppling Saddam Hussein's regime.

The library staff then turned to mosques, Mahmoud Tamimi said, and came to him. Tamimi and his family began working with Hawza -- Shi'ite leaders who loosely coordinate city and regional religious affairs -- to recruit volunteers to protect the library.

On April 10, teams of men began moving library shelves at random into trucks belonging to neighbors of Tamimi's mosque 8 miles away. ''No one tried to stop us,'' Tamimi said.

The work continued for four days, until the arsonists appeared. Other books and artifacts were hidden elsewhere on site, and library workers believe that at least some of those items survived the fire and looting.

Grim-faced Hawza members are now posted around the clock at the library, where the headless body of a statue of Hussein lies in the front courtyard. (The head is rumored to be in an office inside.) Yesterday, a reporter's press pass was not acceptable for passage by three men at the gate, which had been wrapped in wires and padlocked.

''Come back at 2 o'clock Wednesday when the man with the key arrives,'' said one guard.

Another, Hamid Kharban, said he was proud to watch over the library because ''Iraqis have a very close relationship with books.''

''I know the value of books, that's why I'm protecting them,'' Kharban said. ''They are beyond value. Priceless.''

Via little red cookbook.

| | Posted by Magpie at 6:05 PM | Get permalink

Your Department of Homeland Security at work.

Getting involved in partisan politics by helping Texas Republicans to locate the boycotting Democratic legislators.

One federal agency that became involved early was the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, based in Riverside, Calif. - which now falls under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department.

The agency got a call, it's unclear exactly when or from whom, to locate a certain Piper Turbo-Prop aircraft. As it turns out, the plane belonged to former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center.

The location of Laney's plane turned out to be a key piece of information because [current Texas House Speaker Tom] Craddick said that's how he determined the Democrats were in Ardmore.

This crowgirl finds it very interesting that nobody seems to know who wanted to find Laney's plane. If you believe that's true, she has a bridge she'd like to sell you.

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:43 PM | Get permalink

No fish today.

The number of large fish in the ocean has dropped 90% from population levels in 1950, according to a new study by marine biologists in Canada and Germany. Especially hard-hit have been species such as tuna, swordfish, cod, halibut, and flounder.

The culprit? The industrial fishing that's been increasingly prevalent since then. According to the study, it takes only 15 years for industrial fishing to drive down a fish population to 10% of its original numbers.

"We have to quit thinking about the ocean as a blue frontier," said Dr. [Ransom] Myers, who is Killam Chair of Ocean Studies at Dalhousie [in Halfax, Nova Scotia]. "What we have is a remnant."

Dr. [Boris] Worm, who is the Emmy-Noether Fellow in Marine Ecology at the German Institute [in Kiel], was more blunt. The entire global ocean, which makes up 70 per cent of the Earth's surface, is no longer even close to its natural state.

"It is now a man-made system," he said, adding that it may be less stable and is probably less predictable as a stablizing force of the planet.

"We are tampering with the life-support system of the planet and that's not a good thing to do," Dr. Worm said.

The fish hit hardest are at the top of the ocean's food chain, and their loss has a profound effect on the whole ecosystem of the global ocean. It is akin to cutting off the head of a whole ecosystem, Dr. Myers said.

Some species are perilously close to the point of no return, the study found. The ocean's large sharks will die out unless the fishery catch in the planet's open ocean falls by 50 to 60 per cent, Dr. Myers said. And many other species are also in peril.

The fate of the Atlantic cod, whose population has been cut down to 1 per cent of its pre-1950 numbers, is unknown, one of the scariest signals of how unpredictable biological destruction on this level can be, Dr. Myers said. And the Pacific sardines are showing no signs of recovery either, he said.

This article in New Scientist has more details on the methodology that the researchers used.

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:18 PM | Get permalink

India and the 'axis of evil.'

India's growing ties to Iran are making US policy makers nervous. The Financial Times reports on how, despite the warming relationship between the US and India, the US is nonethless using the Indian government is threats of sanctions to try to influence the nature of the India-Iran relationship.

"There is a point at which India will not tolerate being told who its friends should or should not be," said G. Parthasarathy, a retired Indian diplomat. "Iran is a close strategic partner of India and we do not for a moment believe it should be on the axis of evil."

India's resentment of what it sees as US high-handedness goes beyond the usual points of principle. New Delhi sees Iran, which provides a growing proportion of India's oil imports, as a critical counterweight to Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars. [...]

Iran is predominantly Shia Muslim, in contrast to the Sunni majority in Pakistan. India and Iran see eye-to-eye on the need to minimise Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's former Sunni fundamentalist Taliban regime, which persecuted Shias, came to power with Pakistan's assistance.

"India has overwhelming reasons for its friendship with Iran both in terms of our mutual mistrust of Pakistan and also because Iran can help meet India's growing energy requirements," said J.N. Dixit, a former foreign secretary.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:55 PM | Get permalink


Magpie feels like she was run over by a train. Or something else really big.

Light blogging today.

Update: Now it only feels like a small train.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:01 PM | Get permalink

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Take me out to the ballgame?

In Magpie's continuing effort to keep abreast of corvid news, we have a Mainichi Daily News report on a flock of crows that took over the outfield of a baseball game in progress in the Japanese city of Sendai.

A game deadlocked at 2 runs apiece was then thrown wide open as the home team, JR Tohoku, gave up another two runs before the crows left as a group about 15 minutes after they first arrived.

"They ruined players' concentration," a JR Tohoku team spokesman said. "We were hoping the Goddess of Victory would fly down and support us, but instead we ate crow."

Federation officials said the crows did not appear to frighten any players, but could very well have been behind a few lapses in concentration.

This crowgirl is certain that the crows had bets riding on the visiting team.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:41 PM | Get permalink

Uh-oh. We've heard this before.

Dubya on the bombings in Riyadh, as quoted in the NY Times:

Mr. Bush angrily condemned the attacks. "These despicable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate," he said today during a trip to Pierce City, Mo., to view recent damage from tornadoes. "The United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice."

This crowgirl figures we can expect another war soon. And that the victim of the attack will have had little or nothing to do with the events in Riyadh.

[Free reg. req'd.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:54 PM | Get permalink

Rights? She has rights?

Apparently the powers of the governor of Florida include deciding whether a developmentally disabled victim of rape should have to bear the resulting child. Overruling the decison by a local office of the Florida Department of Children & Families, Governor Jeb Bush ordered the department to appoint a legal guardian for the 6-month fetus of the woman, as well as one for the woman herself.

The 22-year-old woman has no family, is too disabled to speak and cannot help police find who raped her. She has lived at a small southwest Orlando facility for 19 years.

DCF officials filed an emergency petition last week, asking an Orange County circuit judge to assign protective supervision for the woman, continue her around-the-clock care and determine her current health status -- plus appoint guardians for her and the child, although no one has publicly suggested that an abortion be performed.

DCF restated its position after the Orlando Sentinel questioned the legality of appointing a guardian for the fetus. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 1989 abortion-rights case that the appointment of a legal guardian for a fetus was "clearly improper," but justices did not elaborate.

"It's not our intention to undo the Supreme Court's ruling,'' Richard Cato told the newspaper.

But Bush -- who opposes abortion -- stepped in Tuesday, saying his decision was necessary despite expected protests.

"While others may interpret this case in light of their own positions,'' Bush said, "we see it as the singular tragedy it is, and remain focused on serving the best interests of this particular victim and her unborn child.''

The ACLU of Florida has condemned the governor's decision.

"He ought to be ashamed of himself,'' said Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida. "That he would personally step in and take responsibility to coerce a developmentally disabled rape victim to carry a pregnancy to term. That is atrocious on his part.''

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:38 PM | Get permalink

New "independent" Iraqi TV already censored.

Reuters reports that the US-funded Iraqi Media Network is fighting censorship even before it goes on the air for the first time. One of the items at issue is the broadcast of excerpts from the Koran.

"As journalists we will not submit to censorship," said Dan North, a Canadian documentary maker advising Iraqis at the station, which plans two hours of programming a night for viewers in Baghdad.

"This whole idea was about starting the genesis of an open media so we will not accept an outside source scrutinizing what we produce." [...]

But North said the U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance had requested the station's news programs be reviewed by the wife of Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader and a major figure in the postwar politics of Iraq.

"Could you imagine a political leader being able to check the content of any Western media?" North said.

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:26 PM | Get permalink

The plunder of Iraq's antiquities.

Archaeology magazine has a truly excellent series of updates on what is known about the thefts and the missing antiquities, beginning on 15 April and continuing through the present.

Via Rittenhouse Review.

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:10 PM | Get permalink

Those duplicate posts.

They keep appearing whenever the new version of Blogger has a problem. Magpie has been trying to spot them as they appear, but sometimes a whole bunch of them show up. (There have been as many as six versions of the same post!)

If you notice that any duplicate post sticks around for awhile, be so kind as to point it out to Magpie via one of the Email links located at the bottom of every post.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:44 PM | Get permalink

Is this rhetorical overkill or what?

Here's a remark from a Texas legislator, as quoted in an AP story about the Democratic boycott of the Texas House of Representatives:

"They're legislative terrorists and their leaving today is a weapon of mass obstruction, blocking hundreds of pieces of legislation," Republican Rep. Dan Branch said Monday.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:40 PM | Get permalink

The bombing in Riyadh.

Magpie hasn't posted on this story, since she's still trying to figure out what she thinks happened. Over at Bush Wars, Steve Perry has already done his sorting through the press reports. We recommend that you check out his posts from today, starting here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:37 AM | Get permalink

'The level of pure meanness is stunning.'

Magpie has been waiting for Molly Ivins to get her two cents in on the doings at the Texas legislature. The wait is over.

The way things got to such a sorry pass is that the R's have been running on rote, lockstep voting. No Democratic amendment gets considered on its merits, no matter how sensible it is. Shell bills get introduced, and then whole sections are amended on the floor, in a parody of legislative process. Much time has been spent on gay-bashing and trying to take away abortions rights. I'm starting to think right-wing Republicans all have an unhealthy fixation on sexual behavior.

The choices on how to spend money couldn't possibly make Republican "values" any clearer. We can spend money on corporate welfare, but not on people's welfare. We can't cover health insurance for our teachers, but we must have brush control.

The creepy thing about the far-right Republicans, who are definitely in the majority in the House, is not that they are dismantling government because they won't raise taxes, they're dismantling government because they think it shouldn't help people. They really think health and human services should not be provided. It's an old line among liberals that anti-choice people care more about the unborn than they do about the born, but I'm telling you that it's not just some clever line -- these people are writing it into the state budget.

Via Working for Change.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:26 AM | Get permalink

Erasing the line between civilian and military authority.

Writing for AlterNet, Robert Dreyfuss looks at how the recent creation of the US military's Northern Command is a signpost along the road of ending the long-standing barrier against the use of the military for domestic law enforcement.

But where supporters see the establishment of Northcom as an important part of the "war on terror," the American Civil Liberties Union calls it dangerous. "It is a major departure from the tradition of keeping the military out of law enforcement that will reverberate for decades to come," says Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the ACLU's Washington office. And indeed, except for the most unlikely, extreme cases, it's difficult to envision a scenario in which the military could play an effective antiterrorist role within the United States. "LastThanksgiving [2001], outside Miami International Airport, there were National Guardsmen in a tank, as if Al Qaeda was going to roll up in a military-style assault," scoffs Gene Healy of the libertarian Cato Institute, which has monitored the increasing involvement of the military in domestic law enforcement. "It does weird things to our political culture when we start getting used to armed troops on the streets, that we find that comforting," he says. "It makes the United States start looking like we're not a democracy." [...]

The specter of the military patrolling streets, making arrests and conducting house-to-house searches is exactly what civil libertarians fear. Edgar of the ACLU cites the case of José Padilla, an alleged would-be terrorist who is an American citizen, who was seized by the military and held incommunicado. "The notion that the US military could march into your home and cart you off to the brig is a frightening one," Edgar says. "Before the incarceration of Padilla, it was inconceivable." According to the ACLU, the Posse Comitatus law is so weakened now that there is very little to prevent the armed forces from carrying out arrests, setting up roadblocks and performing search-and-seizure sweeps. And the Pentagon agrees. "Whether military personnel will have the authority to detain individuals or be given arrest authority depends upon the specific facts of each case," says Wadsworth.

A peek over at Northcom's website reveals this unintentionally chilling quote in a press release about the command's new emblem.

"We are just like other regional combatant commands, with one important difference," he [Northcom commander Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart] said. "The United States homeland is our area of responsibility."

This crowgirl noticed that the American eagle on the emblem covers most of Canada and Mexico, as well as the US.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:01 AM | Get permalink

The art of the gerrymander.

What was so wrong about the Republican redistricting plan that Democrats decided to head for the hills to keep the legislature from passing it? Before Magpie suggests some reading on the subject, it's a good idea to know a bit about what redistricting is.

Every ten years, after the results of the national census results appear, states are required to re-draw the boundaries of their legislative districts to ensure that the number of people in each one are about equal. What this means in practice is that the party that holds legislative power in each state attempts to draw the boundaries in such a way that their party gets the maximum number of 'safe' seats. Often the districts make no geographic sense whatever — the boundaries are 'gerrymandered' around to include this pocket and that pocket of the party's voters. (The 12th congressional district in North Carolina is a textbook example of the process.)The other party usally cries 'foul' — often justifiably — and the whole matter goes to court. Quite frequently, federal courts end up redrawing the districts, and sometimes the redistricting fight makes it all the way to the US Supreme Court.

The redistricting fights in Texas and Colorado are, by all accounts, part of a White House strategy to amass 'safe' Republican seats for the 2004 elections. This article does a good job of explaining the general stakes in the two states, this one puts a more partisan cast on the same information, and this one focuses on how the fight is shaping up in Colorado.

This crowgirl notes that Karl Rove's fingerprints are all over this controversy.

| | Posted by Magpie at 8:50 AM | Get permalink

Monday, May 12, 2003

The FCC gets ready to give away the farm.

The new broadcast ownership rules are heading for a commission vote, says the NY Times:

The government proposed the most significant overhaul of its media ownership rules in a generation today, including a change that would allow television networks to own enough local stations to reach 90 percent of the nation's viewers.

That change — a result of increasing the cap on ownership and simultaneously preserving a 1980's formula that discounts the reach of UHF stations — is part of the package of proposals that officials said appeared to have the support of the Republican majority of the Federal Communications Commission.

Economist Paul Krugman leaves no doubt as to how dangerous the new rules will be to US democracy:

A recent report by Stephen Labaton of The Times contained a nice illustration of the U.S. government's ability to reward media companies that do what it wants. The issue was a proposal by Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to relax regulations on media ownership. The proposal, formally presented yesterday, may be summarized as a plan to let the bigger fish eat more of the smaller fish. Big media companies will be allowed to have a larger share of the national market and own more TV stations in any given local market, and many restrictions on "cross-ownership" — owning radio stations, TV stations and newspapers in the same local market — will be lifted.

The plan's defects aside — it will further reduce the diversity of news available to most people — what struck me was the horse-trading involved. One media group wrote to Mr. Powell, dropping its opposition to part of his plan "in return for favorable commission action" on another matter. That was indiscreet, but you'd have to be very naïve not to imagine that there are a lot of implicit quid pro quos out there.

And the implicit trading surely extends to news content. Imagine a TV news executive considering whether to run a major story that might damage the Bush administration — say, a follow-up on Senator Bob Graham's charge that a Congressional report on Sept. 11 has been kept classified because it would raise embarrassing questions about the administration's performance. Surely it would occur to that executive that the administration could punish any network running that story.

And is one of the groups leading the fight against the proposed FCC rules. They have more background on the issue here and ways for you to act (including a petition) here.

[Free reg. req'd. for NY Times.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:55 PM | Get permalink

You too can enjoy a life of unemployment!

Magpie thinks that someone at Salon has read a few too many statistics.

"What started as a flirtation has clearly become a lifestyle," said professor Ed Yu, as he and his former colleagues cleaned out their desks at the Center for Economic Development in Washington. "I think you're going to find more and more people of all ages, education levels, and belief systems turning to unemployment as the current administration focuses on the important tasks of rebuilding Iraq, bombing North Korea, rebuilding North Korea, bombing Syria, rebuilding Syria, bombing Cuba, and so on."

[Sub or ad view req'd.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:45 PM | Get permalink

Where are all the terrorists?

At the library of course. Even for right-wing blather, this attack on the American Library Association is pretty bad.

This is only the most recent act in the ALA?s long history of "extracurricular" activity. In 1953, at the height of the Cold War and America?s determination to stand up to totalitarian regimes, the ALA issued their "Freedom to Read" statement, resisting federal calls to loyalty. [...]

The hatred, the mistrust by some Americans for our government has led some of the "progressives," to behave in a manner that undermines America?s Homeland Security. While the ALA ostensibly wants to protect the First Amendment rights of all people to read what they want, they themselves seem to have not read the USA PATRIOT Act and its guarantees to protect First Amendment Rights.

The ALA under the guise of protecting freedom jeopardizes all of our freedoms, even our lives.


| | Posted by Magpie at 10:27 PM | Get permalink

20 Days in Spring.

From the introduction:

A book created over a 20 day period in the spring of 2003 as a response to the US invasion of Iraq. It is simply one US citizen's outlet for feelings of frustration, disbelief and impotence in the face of a war that should not have happened and that has been mounted by an administration drunk on its own power and delusions of grandeur.

The rest of it is here.

Via Follow Me Here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:21 PM | Get permalink

'Fugitive' Texas lawmakers located.

Fifty of the Democratic House members are in Ardmore, Oklahoma, just over the state line. And Texas can't touch them.

A spokesman for Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said he was informed earlier Monday that Democrats would take up residence in the Sooner State. The Democrat offered few prospects that he would aid in the Texans' repatriation.

"Our position is that, without a warrant signed by a judge, we have no authority. Even under those circumstances, we are hesitant to get pulled into a Texas political battle. If we're going to do battle with Texas, we prefer that it be on the football field," Mr. Henry said through his spokesman.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick is talking with the Feds to see if there's a way they can force the 'fugitives' back to Texas.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:03 PM | Get permalink

'What kind of world do you want to live in?'

Even though he's been back from Iraq for a few weeks now, Chris Allbritton continues to make occasional posts at Back To Iraq. The most recent one is on the search for 'weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq. You should go there and read the whole thing.

Look, I'm not denying that good came of this and that the Iraqi people likely will eventually be better off, but I do have to ask some questions to the people now crowing that what the United States did was right:

1. Was the good that came out of this worth the problems and costs now facing the United States?

2. Was it worth it to saddle the United States taxpayer with a multi-billion dollar commitment to Iraq when the nation's deficits are climbing ever higher and the economy is as stagnant a Florida swamp?

3. Was it worth the damage to international order and alliances that has been done?

4. Why did the United States start a war armed with a quiver full of lies?

5. Is this the kind of world you want to live in?

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:30 PM | Get permalink

New Mexico won't take Texas irons out of the fire.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Texas authorities have asked New Mexico's attorney general whether Texas state cops can make arrests across the state line. As Magpie noted earlier today, many of the 'fugtive' Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives are presumed to be in New Mexico.

Attorney General Patricia Madrid says she'll look into it:

"Some are speculating this request from the Texas Governor's office concerns an effort to locate missing Texas House Democrats," Madrid wrote. "If so, Texas should understand that since ski season is over, the Santa Fe Opera has not begun and President Bush was just in town, I don't think they are in Santa Fe now. Nevertheless, I have put out an all-points bulletin for law enforcement to be on the look out for politicians in favor of health care for the needy and against tax cuts for the wealthy."

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:48 PM | Get permalink

Scalia continues to say scary things.

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to the Alaska Bar Association on Friday. The question-and-answer period got interesting.

One audience member asked Scalia about his thoughts on the Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism measure passed after Sept. 11, 2001, that gave government officials broad new surveillance powers and limited the information available to the public about the government.

Scalia said the more irresponsible and violent a society becomes, the more citizens' freedoms will be restricted. He said that U.S. citizens tend to interpret the Constitution as giving them more power than the document provides.

"I will enforce the constitutional minimums,'' Scalia said. "But they are minimums. You've got to realize that.''

Via TalkLeft.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:42 PM | Get permalink

More on Dubya's nuclear weapons plans.

Magpie noted on Saturday that Dubya wants to end the current ban on researching and testing small nuclear weapons for battlefield use. It shouldn't be any surprise that that change is part of a broader (and scarier) nuclear weapons strategy, as this excellent report in the San Francisco Chronicle explains.

An additional $135 million would go to restart production of tritium, which has not been produced by the government for more than a decade, and more funds would be spent in coming years. The tritium, a gas that dramatically increases the force of thermonuclear explosions, will be produced at a commercial reactor in Watts Bar, Tenn. -- an unprecedented breaching of a long-standing policy that kept weapons work at military facilities.

While rebuilding plans were begun under President Bill Clinton, the current budget proposals advance the effort more broadly. Some arms experts say the proposals indicate the White House is planning on a far larger nuclear arsenal than that envisaged in the recently signed Moscow Treaty with Russia. The treaty, ratified by the Senate in March, mandates more than a 60 percent reduction in deployed warheads over the next decade. [...]

Kenneth Bergeron, a former nuclear scientist at the Sandia National Laboratory, warned in a recent book, "Tritium on Ice: The Dangerous New Alliance of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power," that the decision to develop tritium at the Watts Bar reactor blurs the line between commercial and military reactors, something the United States has insisted other countries should not do.

He also disagrees with administration defenders who insist that new production of tritium is needed to maintain the existing arsenal. Bergeron said he believes enough of the material can be recycled from retired warheads for the military's purposes.

"The tritium developments are the first tangible action which show a commitment to expanding the arsenal," said Bergeron. "We're spending money, retraining workers. This is very real. It also represents an erosion of the restraints put in place at the end of the Cold War."

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:34 PM | Get permalink

Why oh why?

Did Dubya decide to shake up the occupation government in Iraq? Magpie thinks that the Christian Science Monitor knows.

Security in Baghdad, the top of everybody's list of priorities, including the Americans', is deteriorating. Gunfire is heard more often than it was two weeks ago, thieves drag drivers from their cars in broad daylight, and looters continue to steal whatever is left from public buildings in full view of passers by. [...]

Even the presence of US soldiers in Baghdad provides civilians with little reassurance. Though schools were meant to open last week, many families are keeping their children at home, for fear of what might happen to them on their way to class.

Nor does an 11 p.m. curfew ensure nighttime peace. Thieves easily exploit its lax enforcement in the absence of police patrols. "At the beginning we were relieved that the looters did not attack residential districts," says Ms. Khadimi. "But now we are afraid to be in our houses."

Her neighbors, she adds, professional people with no experience with firearms, have begun in recent days to buy AK-47s in self defense.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:51 AM | Get permalink

SARS: Where is it?

The WHO has a new map that answers that question.

And SARS Watch Org has an extensive round-up of the week's SARs news.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:41 AM | Get permalink

Taking care of US workers.

Dubya is making a speech today at the Airlite Plastics plant in Omaha, Nebraska today. He'll be talking about the great things that his US $550 billion tax cut will do for working people. One of the things he undoubtedly won't be talking about is the fact that Airlite won't be paying its workers for the worktime lost because of the presidential visit.

An Airlite spokesman said in a telephone interview last night that most workers would be given four options when the plant is partly closed for one and a half shifts during the speech: They can take an official day off whether or not they attend the speech and make up the work on Saturday to receive full pay. They can use a paid vacation day. They can work their regular shift in part of the plant that will remain open. Or they can take an unpaid day off.

This does not apply, however, to the 15 people who work in the area of the plant where the president will speak, the spokesman said last night. They will receive their regular pay. [...]

The company's decision not to pay most of the workers during the Bush visit was first reported on Friday in The Omaha World-Herald. The newspaper said a man who said he was an Airlite employee, but did not give his name, complained to an editor in a voice mail message that some longtime employees would lose more than $130 in pay.

"It's not a great thing for us employees," the man was quoted as saying. "We're losing a lot of money because of his visit. His speech is supposed to be about what the family can get from his tax breaks. It doesn't really make sense."

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:23 AM | Get permalink

Texas legislators walk out.

52 Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives have walked out and gone into hiding to prevent the Republican majority from re-drawing the state's congressional districts. Under Texas law, the House cannot do business unless a quorum of 100 members is present.

The plan by Democratic House members, if successful, would derail and likely kill major pending bills that have been termed a priority by the Republican-controlled Legislature. [...]

"I guess we will be called obstructionists, or maybe worse. But we are making a statement," said a South Texas legislator. "If this is going to be the only way to stop bad legislation from being rammed down our throats, then so be it."

The latest group of quorum-busters planned to leave the state to avoid having state police detain them and forcibly return them to the House floor, if necessary.

"DPS or the Rangers can't exactly come get us if we are outside of Texas," said one legislator.

Several sources said some of the members were to board a plane leaving from a Central Texas airport to rural Oklahoma. A separate group would fly to New Mexico, while a third group left by bus for New Mexico, according to the sources.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:09 AM | Get permalink

Your US tax dollars at work: The continuing story.

If you were spilling oil into the Columbia River, you could expect to have to account for your actions to state environmental agencies. But if you were the US Army Corps of Engineers, you'd just use 'national security' as an excuse to keep investigators away, as this article by Les AuCoin explains.

The Corps of Engineers may not be a private business, but it's still subject to the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Trouble is, no one is forcing it to comply with the law.

Oregon and Washington want to take matters into their own hands. They want to inspect dam operations and use permits to force the use of the safest available technology in its sumps, turbines and generators.

No can do, the corps says. It's telling the states, "If we let you see our equipment and how we operate it, we'd be giving you information terrorists could use."

Incidentally, the author of the article represented Oregon in Congress for 18 years.

Thanks, Kathleen!

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:46 AM | Get permalink

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Getting the facts wrong for fun & profit.

Magpie spent a decade or so in the journalistic trenches, working mainly in community/public radio. She wrote or edited a whole lot of news stories. That's why it really pisses her off when she sees the meaning of a story change because of bad editing, or because particular facts were played up in order to make the story 'catchier.'

The subject of Magpie's ire today is an AP story on the need for Klingon interpreters in Multnomah County, Oregon. (Klingon, for those unfamiliar with it, is a made-up language from Star Trek.) While this story doesn't have the importance of a dispatch from Iraq, for example, its handling by AP editors shows what can go wrong after a reporter files her or his piece.

Here's a salient excerpt from the most recent version of the AP story that's showing up around the world. (Magpie pulled this excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia.)

"We have to provide information in all the languages our clients speak," said Jerry Jelusich, a procurement specialist for the county Department of Human Services, which serves about 60,000 mental health clients.

Although created for works of fiction, Klingon was designed to have a consistent grammar, syntax and vocabulary.

And now Multnomah County research has found that many people - and not just fans - consider it a complete language.

"There are some cases where we've had mental health patients where this was all they would speak," said the county's purchasing administrator, Franna Hathaway.

County officials said that obliges them to respond with a Klingon-English interpreter, putting the language of starship Enterprise officer Worf and other Klingon characters on a par with common languages such as Russian and Vietnamese, and less common tongues including Dari and Tongan.

This would make you think that Multnomah County was getting ready to use public money to hire at least one Klingon interpreter just in case, wouldn't it? Not true, as a look at the original story will show.

But before we look at that story, Magpie needs to point out that the AP wire service is a cooperative, owned by its members. AP has access to all of the content printed or broadcast by members, and a good portion of that content actually appears on the wire. So rather than there being an AP reporter in Portland who filed the Klingon story, we can be almost certain that the AP editors received the original story by Steve Woodward that ran in the Portland Oregonian, and then tweaked the original into the shape in which it's appearing now in the press.

Here's the main portion of that original:

"We have to provide information in all the languages our clients speak," says Jerry Jelusich, a procurement specialist for the county Department of Human Services, which serves some 60,000 mental health clients.

So if a patient speaks only Klingon, the county must respond with a Klingon interpreter. Officials have decided to include it with about 55 languages, some of which, such as Russian and Vietnamese, are widely spoken, and some, such as Dari and Tongan, are seldom spoken.

In recent years, Klingon has gone from being a fictional tongue to a complete language, with its own grammar, syntax and vocabulary. Jelusich and colleagues took note of a recent article in The Oregonian about a Portlander who sings karaoke in Klingon. Their later research satisfied them that Klingon is for real.

[The next two sentences are important!]

The county would pay a Klingon interpreter only in the unlikely case he or she was actually called into service.

"We said, 'What the heck, let's throw it in,' " Jelusich says. "It doesn't cost us any money."

The county's purchasing administrator, Franna Hathaway, greeted the request with initial skepticism. "I questioned it myself when it first came in. "

But, she adds, "There are some cases where we've had mental health patients where this was all they would speak."

Jelusich says that in reality, no patient has yet tried to communicate in Klingon. But the possibility that a patient could believe himself or herself to be a Klingon doesn't seem so far-fetched.

"I've got people who think they're Napoleon," he says.

So what do we learn from comparing the recent AP version of the story with the original?

First of all, there are a lot more details. The original story cited two county workers, and the later AP version only quoted one of them. The original also gives more explanation of the requirement to provide an interpreter in the language that a patient speaks.

Secondly, and counter to what the AP version implies, no one is being hired or put on retainer to serve the needs of people who will only speak Klingon. While Multnomah county considers Klingon a 'real' language in terms of what mental health workers have encountered when dealing with patients, all the county did was add Klingon to the list of languages for which an interpreter might be needed as some point. When the need arises, a qualified Klingon speaker (and take Magpie's word — there are Klingon speakers) will be sought out. Then, and only then, would public money be spent.

And while the quote from Franna Hathaway gives the impression that the county has already dealt with patients who speak Klingon only, Jerry Jelusich directly contradicts her. So why did the AP editor run with the Hathaway quote? Probably because they didn't read the original story very carefully.

Now, this story about Klingon in Multnomah County, Oregon is not very important in the overall scheme of things. But it illustrates really well how news stories change as they pass from writer to editor, and then from editor to editor. The big question that arises here is this: If the AP can — despite information to the contrary that it has in its possession — run a story that falsely implies that public money is being spent on the frivolous hiring of Klingon-language interpreters, what other, more important stories are getting twisted out of shape in the editing process? And what mistaken conclusions are readers being led to?

Disclosure: Magpie lives in Multnomah County.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:16 AM | Get permalink

Liar, liar, pants on fire!


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