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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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Saturday, July 19, 2003

California's power crisis may have started in Canada.

In British Columbia, to be precise.

The Vancouver Sun reports that US energy regulators are looking into the energy-trading activities of the BC corporation Powerex during 2000. Documents obtained by the Sun from California authorities show that actions taken to block Powerex's efforts to run up the price of power may have started the chain of events that caused the state's severe power crisis of 2000–2001.

Powerex is a subsidiary of BC Hydro, the province's publicly owned hydroelectric utility. It is one of a number of companies under investigation by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for violating trading regulations in the California energy market. FERC is looking particularly hard at Powerex's activities during 2000, and the company has been ordered to appear before the commission in a 'trial-type evidentiary' hearing. If Powerex is found to have violated FERC rules, it will have to pay California hundred of millions of dollars — and possibly as much as Cdn $1 billion (US $710 million). That bill will ultimately be paid by BC taxpayers.

Documents show electricity trading activity by Powerex raised the concern of California electricity market regulators on "several" occasions before the 2000-2001 crisis began.

They also show that once the crisis was under way, the B.C. Hydro board of directors was aware that Powerex's trading activities risked the possibility that U.S. regulators would order refunds on electricity sales to the state.

The documents were obtained by The Vancouver Sun from an 11-CD set of the exhibits California gathered during a frantic 100-day investigation aimed at proving energy prices were manipulated.

Documents obtained by the state include emails, telephone transcripts, confidential memos and trading records obtained from Powerex and dozens of other companies trading in the California market.

They raise serious questions about the manner in which Powerex conducted its business in the state, reaping windfall profits on behalf of British Columbia taxpayers.

In one of the most pointed instances, documents provided by California to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) record that California energy authorities feared Powerex was engaging in a market manipulation scheme just days before the crisis began.

| | Posted by Magpie at 8:45 PM | Get permalink

Can Tokyo crows be outsmarted?

In our mission to provide the blogosphere with the most complete crow news imaginable, Magpie has posted about the tens of thousands of crows that have moved into Tokyo, getting into trash bins and strewing garbage all over the city. A Japanese professor believes he's found a way to get the crows to stop their depradations.

Shoei Sugita of Utsonomiya University specializes in animal vision, and he's discovered that, besides having excellent vision, crows are very good at distinguishing colors. Among other things, this helps them figure out what's in semi-transparent garbage bags — like the kind used in Tokyo — from a good distance away. So as long as Tokyo householder and businesses keep using these bags, the crows will keep locating the bags that contain their favorite foods. But there's more:

Prof Sugita also found that crows don’t like acidic, salty or bitter tastes. After several experiments, he managed to produce a rubbish bag with a spicy taste impregnated into the plastic.

At 25p for a 45-litre bag, it is four times more expensive than the ordinary variety, but may be a viable alternative to plastic or metal bins.

Prof Sugita said: "Crows don’t have many taste buds, but spiciness gives them a real sting. Wild animals are really sensitive when it comes to detecting spiciness, so I hope that using these bags will keep the crows away all the time."

Professor Sugita's strategy makes this crowgirl think of the way that some cats don't care whether they get squirted when they're doing something they aren't supposed to be doing; they just figure getting wet into their cat calculus of whether a particular kind of misbehavior is worth it. Likewise, this crowgirl thinks that her Japanese relatives will probably decide that the tastiest garbage is well worth getting a mouthful of nasty-tasting trash bag on the way to a meal.

Via The Scotsman.

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:20 PM | Get permalink

Another victory in the war on terrorism.

Magpie is sure glad they were able to stop another dangerous character from flying.

My sweetheart Annie and I tried to fly to London today (Friday) on British Airways. We started at SFO, showed our passports and got through all the rigamarole, and were seated on the plane while it taxied out toward takeoff. Suddenly a flight steward, Cabin Service Director Khaleel Miyan, loomed in front of me and demanded that I remove a small 1" button pinned to my left lapel. I declined, saying that it was a political statement and that he had no right to censor passengers' political speech. The button, which was created by political activist Emi Koyama, says "Suspected Terrorist". Large images of the button and I appear in the cover story of Reason Magazine this month, and the story is entitled "Suspected Terrorist". [...]

The steward returned with Capt. Peter Hughes. The captain requested, and then demanded, that I remove the button (they called it a "badge"). He said that I would endanger the aircraft and commit a federal crime if I did not take it off. I told him that it was a political statement and declined to remove it.

They turned the plane around and brought it back to the gate, delaying 300 passengers on a full flight.

Via BoingBoing.

| | Posted by Magpie at 6:55 PM | Get permalink

Want a piece of the action?

In Kazahkstan?

Ted Rall's latest cartoon at Eurasianet tells you everything you need to know.

| | Posted by Magpie at 6:02 PM | Get permalink

Reading problems.

The spin on why those 16 words about Iraq's alleged attempts to buy uranium were in Dubya's State of the Union speech has taken a strange turn. According to the Washington Post, neither Dubya nor national security advisor Condoleezza Rice has bothered to read the part of October's National Intelligence Estimate in which the State Department which said that available evidence did not 'add up to a compelling case' that Iraq had a functioning nuclear program that needed uranium.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters yesterday said neither Bush nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rice read the NIE in its entirety. "They did not read footnotes in a 90-page document," said the official, referring to the "Annex" that contained the State Department's dissent. The official conducting the briefing rejected reporters' entreaties to allow his name to be used, arguing that it was his standard procedure for such sessions to be conducted anonymously.

The official said Bush was "briefed" on the NIE's contents, but "I don't think he sat down over a long weekend and read every word of it." Asked whether Bush was aware the State Department called the Africa-uranium claim "highly dubious," the official, who coordinated Bush's State of the Union address, said: "He did not know that."

This is a very curious line of defense. At best, what's being said is that any intelligence estimates that contradict the current political line in the administration is buried back in an 'annex,' where it is unlikely to be seen. At worst, what it says is that the adminstration doesn't read intelligence reports.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:36 PM | Get permalink

The shocking truth.

Magpie really likes the headline that the Toronto Star put on this story about how the White House allegedly outed as gay ABC reporter Jeffrey Kofman:

TV man is (shock) gay, and (horror) Canadian

Kofman filed a report featuring interviews with soldiers of the US Third Division, in which they expressed hostility toward the military and civilian officials responsible for setting Iraq policy. That story reported pissed off Army brass, the Defense Department, and Dubya himself.

For the record, Kofman is indeed gay (he has a male partner of 17 years) and Canadian (he worked for CBC News for 11 years). The Globe & Mail reports that he his taking the smear campaign in stride:

"When you take a job in the United States in the public eye, that goes with the territory," Mr. Kofman said. "I tried to hide the Canadian-ness. I guess the old O-U-T word caught up with me," he joked yesterday from the ABC News bureau in Baghdad, referring to the tell-tale pronunciation of words such as "about" that often give away Canadians in the United States, not the fact that he is out as a gay man.

"My darkest secret has been revealed," he said, chuckling.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:10 PM | Get permalink

When you're three-and-a-half years old.

The world looks a bit different.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:54 AM | Get permalink

Eat crow.

According to Jim Lobe, that's exactly what Dubya is going to have to do if he wants the UN to bail the US out of its Iraqi quagmire.

Short of a miracle - such as the discovery of a cache of weapons of mass destruction in an Iraqi mountainside in circumstances that clearly indicate that it was under Saddam Hussein's control as of March 18, 2003, or the return of robust US economic growth that can quickly bring the unemployment rate down to five percent - there is probably only one way that Bush can save his presidency at this point.

But the cost in personal pride and policy will be extremely high.

To save his administration, Bush must now essentially abandon the aggressive unilateralism that has dominated his foreign policy since even before September 11, 2001; ask forgiveness from US allies who refused to join his "coalition of the willing" in Iraq; and return to the United Nations Security Council for a new resolution that will give the world body control over the occupation.

As India - whose rejection of Bush's request for as many as 20,000 troops to act as mercenaries for US foreign policy struck a devastating blow to the imperial dreams of the Pentagon hawks - made clear this week, it, as well as other nations, would be willing to provide peacekeepers and other kinds of support to the Iraqi occupation only if the UN Security Council authorizes it.

Via Asia Times.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:36 AM | Get permalink

Then and now.

Magpie can't add anything to this sad juxtaposition.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:22 AM | Get permalink

The single-issue disease.

The US has had it for years, and now Canada's catching it, too. In the current round of provincial elections, the big issue seems to be the skyrocketing cost of auto insurance. A government was just elected in New Brunswick, largely on the insurance issue, and insurance is looming big in upcoming contests in Nova Scotia and Ontario. Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Adam Radwanski suggests that there's a reason why voters are easier to buy than they used to be.

That governments may be chosen on the basis of their ability to help save a few bucks on auto insurance seems an indictment of voters' misplaced priorities. In theory, we're supposed to be deciding between alternative visions for our provinces and our country, not who can give us a better deal to get our cars on the road. But if voters are more easy to buy than we used to be, it's not because we've all suddenly become heartless and indifferent to the greater common good. Rather, it's because of a disconnection to the political process that's been brewing for years.

To make a serious, conscientious voting choice, one has to assume that governments actually matter. Unfortunately, most have spent the past decade doing everything in their power to tell us that they don't. The wholesale cutbacks in Alberta and Ontario, echoed more softly in other provinces, have conditioned us to expect less from our governments. And at the federal level, a combination of globalization, decentralization, and a governing philosophy that avoids risks at all costs have left most Canadians uncertain of what it is that federal government does for them.

On the rare occasion a party actually puts forward a comprehensive path for the future, as Jean Charest's Liberals did this past spring in Quebec, it stands an excellent chance of being rewarded with renewed voter interest. But elsewhere, having grown tired of abstract promises to fix abstract problems ("Shorter waiting lists!" "Better education!"), voters are turning to more practical matters. We may not believe governments can reduce waiting lists or improve schools, but we know they can put a few extra dollars in our pockets with new insurance legislation. In lieu of clear philosophical differences, of the sort Mr. Charest offered next to the Parti Québécois, that seems as good a ballot issue as any.

It won't be auto insurance for long. There is an endless number of goodies that can be dangled, and hot buttons that can be pressed, to change voters' minds. But whatever the topic, it's an unhealthy way to choose a government. Sooner or later, a province -- or perhaps even the entire country -- will get caught up in a single issue, and wind up electing a badly underqualified government.

Magpie notes that if you changed the issue and a few other details, the story could have been written about almost any election in the US.

Via waterloo wide web.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:09 AM | Get permalink

Your (US) tax dollars at work.

From Creative Loafing in Atlanta, the story of Marc Schultz/ Schultz was at his job at an independent bookstore when he got a call from his mom: 'The FBI is here.' The two agents with his mom were about to come to the book store to talk to him.

"Were you at the Caribou Coffee on Powers Ferry?" asks Agent Trippi. That's where I get my coffee before work, and so I tell him yes, probably, just before remembering Saturday: Harry Potter day, opening early, in at 8:30.

So I would have been at Caribou Coffee that Saturday, getting my small coffee, room for cream. This information seems to please the agents.

"Did you notice anything unusual, anyone worth commenting on?" OK, I think. It's the unusual guy they want, not me. I think hard, wondering if it was Saturday I saw the guy in the really cool reclining wheelchair, the guy who struck me as a potential James Bondian supervillain, but no: That was Monday.

Then they ask if I carried anything into the shop -- and we're back to me.

My mind races. I think: a bomb? A knife? A balloon filled with narcotics? But no. I don't own any of those things. "Sunglasses," I say. "Maybe my cell phone?"

Not the right answer. I'm nervous now, wondering how I must look: average, mid-20s, unassuming retail employee. What could I have possibly been carrying?

Trippi's partner speaks up: "Any reading material? Papers?" I don't think so. Then Trippi decides to level with me: "I'll tell you what, Marc. Someone in the shop that day saw you reading something, and thought it looked suspicious enough to call us about. So that's why we're here, just checking it out. Like I said, there's no problem. We'd just like to get to the bottom of this. Now if we can't, then you may have a problem. And you don't want that."

The rest of the story is here.

Via skippy.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink

Friday, July 18, 2003

Now this is a creepy story.

And it's strange that we hadn't seen any discussion of this until a post today at Follow Me Here.

Here are the details as the AP gave them in a July 12 story:

The Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, which began as a tiny demonstration project in the 2000 general election that involved just 84 voters, could give 100,000 voters the chance to cast absentee ballots online in next year's presidential primaries and general election.

The Pentagon-run program will be limited to eligible voters whose homes in the United States are in South Carolina and Hawaii or in a handful of counties in Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington.

"Internet voting takes just seconds instead of weeks if you were to put that ballot in the mail and send it off," said Polli Brunelli, director of the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program. "What we're trying to do is make sure that we have an alternative out there for those people who are unable to vote by mail."

If it proves successful, the $22 million program could be expanded to serve more than 6 million voters in the armed forces living here and abroad, their dependents and nonmilitary U.S. citizens residing overseas.

Voters using SERVE can register to vote and cast their ballots from any computer using Microsoft Windows with Internet access. Local election officials will use the system to process voter registration applications, send ballots to voters and accept voted ballots instantly. Long delays in counting absentee ballots, a factor in the disputed 2000 presidential election, would be relegated to the past.

FMH rightly points out that the thought of the military running an election should scare every one of us. Similarly, Magpie would remind readers that questionable absentee ballots from military voters that helped push Dubya over the top in Florida in the 2000 election.

Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich's comments puts this voting proposal into context on his campaign's blog:

This should send a chill across the United States. In a democratic society, it's not appropriate for the military to manage an election. We must not permit this dangerous incursion into the election system itself. Can we trust an administration which stole a presidential election, has attacked the bill of rights, and which deliberately misrepresented intelligence to lead this nation into an unjust war to faithfully protect the security of the 2004 election?

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:07 PM | Get permalink

It's Friday!

And we think that MB must have been putting premium into the tank of the Wampum time machine. She didn't bring back any paltry dozen articles from 1991. This time, there's 29 of them!

E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post
July 19, 1991

In an unusual bipartisan approach to political analysis, Republican and Democratic polltakers teamed up yesterday to offer a portrait of the American electorate that was extremely encouraging about President Bush's reelection chances but suggested that a populist campaign on behalf of the nation's middle class could give Democrats a chance.

While the two polltakers -- Ed Goeas, a Republican, and Celinda Lake, a Democrat -- disagreed on many points in their analysis of their joint...

Hobart Rowen, Washington Post
July 18, 1991

At the very moment that President Bush joins other world leaders in trying to teach the Soviets the virtues of free-market economics, things are falling apart in America. Gorbachev has to be wondering whether he's getting sound advice...

| | Posted by Magpie at 4:44 PM | Get permalink

No comment.

This AP story shows how the Army cleans up after Rumsfeld's mess.

The Army is considering whether to punish soldiers in Iraq who griped about conditions there to a television reporter, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Friday.

Some soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division complained to ABC-TV this week after their units were told they would be leaving Iraq soon, then had their homecoming postponed. One called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Criticism of superior officers is a breach of military rules. The Army will determine whether any soldier will be charged with breaking those rules, said Pentagon spokeswoman Chief Petty Officer Diane Perry.

This crowgirl figures that punishing those soldiers will really help the flagging morale of US troops in Iraq.

Update: The shoe has already dropped on some of those soldiers, reports the San Francisco Chronicle:

On Wednesday morning, when the ABC news show reported from Fallujah, where the division is based, the troops gave the reporters an earful. One soldier said he felt like he'd been "kicked in the guts, slapped in the face." Another demanded that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quit.

The retaliation from Washington was swift.

"It was the end of the world," said one officer Thursday. "It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers."

First lesson for the troops, it seemed: Don't ever talk to the media "on the record" -- that is, with your name attached -- unless you're giving the sort of chin-forward, everything's-great message the Pentagon loves to hear.

| | Posted by Magpie at 4:34 PM | Get permalink

The continuing story of the forged Iraq-Niger documents.

It appears that the White House really should have known better than to insert the claim about Iraq's supposed attempts to buy uranium from Africa into the State of the Union speech. Despite the administration's claim that it didn't possess the documents 'proving' this assertion before Dubya made his speech, the Washington Post reports that the US acquired the documents last October, and that they were in the hands of the CIA by October 19. Those documents have since been proven to be crude forgeries.

The documents, which officials said appeared to be of "dubious authenticity," were distributed to the CIA and other agencies within days. But the U.S. government waited four months to turn them over to United Nations weapons inspectors who had been demanding to see evidence of U.S. and British claims that Iraq's attempted purchase of uranium oxide violated U.N. resolutions and was among the reasons to go to war. State Department officials could not say yesterday why they did not turn over the documents when the inspectors asked for them in December.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:14 PM | Get permalink

Planning to fail.

The LA Times has an excellent article about how bad the US planning for post-war Iraq actually was, and how that bad planning has dogged everything that the US has been doing in Iraq since the invasion. There's so much good stuff there that Magpie can't figure out a representative excerpt, so we encourage you to go read the whole thing.

Magpie was struck by this quote from Paul Wolfowitz.

"The so-called forces of law and order [in Baghdad] just kind of collapsed," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said in an interview. "There's not a single plan that would have dealt with that.... This is a country that was ruled by a gang of terrorist criminals, and they're still around. They're threatening Iraqis and killing Americans."

Exactly what did Wolfowitz and his associates think was going to happen? That everyone in Iraq was going to sit at home and wait for the nice US soldiers to tell them what to do? One would think that the violence and looting that can break out in the US after events as minor as the outcome of a sports event would have given Wolfowitz et al some clue as to the potential effects of a war on civil order in Iraq.

[Free reg. req'd]

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:11 PM | Get permalink

Is on-line activism 'real' activism?

The run-up to the war in Iraq saw the coming of age of the brand of Web-based activism practiced by groups like United for Peace and Justice and With UFPJ in the lead, the two organizations were able to mobilize millions of people to oppose the war last February. But was this just a flash in the pan? Can online organizing replace 'real' organizing? The Nation has a thoughtful article by Andrew Boyd about how the Web is changing the way that politics is done in the US.

In some ways, the debate over whether online organizing is as "real" or as effective as face-to-face organizing misses the point. What's interesting about, the UFPJ website and MoveOn's meeting tool is how they leverage the Internet to get people together face to face in ways (and at speeds and costs) that were simply not possible before. As with the phone, the television or computer-generated direct mail, the Internet won't replace traditional organizing, but it does alter the rules in important ways. Because e-mail is near-instantaneous and costs just fractions of a penny, one can communicate very quickly with a lot of people at the speed of word of mouth. Because it is browsable from home, at any hour, it provides a much easier first point of contact between a campaign and interested participants. Because it is a peer-to-peer tool open to all, it allows geographically dispersed people to find each other easily and coordinate. Because it is still an open-publishing model, free from the constraints of corporate-owned media, it can carry the channels of alternative information essential for sustaining social movements.

Although it replaces some organizing structures (e-mail makes for a far better phone tree than phones ever did) and invents whole new ones, like the campaign web hub or the meeting tool, the Internet is no silver bullet. But what organizing tool ever is? Rather, contemporary social movements will, more and more, straddle both worlds, in a synthetic feedback loop, at once real and virtual, online and off.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:43 AM | Get permalink

Smoke shop fiasco continues to smolder in Rhode Island.

The other day, Wampum had a post about a rather brutal raid by Rhode Island state police on a Narragansett Indian smoke shop. Indian Country Today reports that the Naragansett tribe's disagreement with the state of Rhode Island over that smoke shop is now in federal court:

In a closed hearing July 16, U. S. District Court Judge William Smith urged the state and the tribe to settle the issue and avoid criminal prosecution, the Providence Journal reported. He scheduled a second closed hearing for 2 p.m., July 21. The court is hearing a Narragansett civil rights suit against the state, the town of Charlestown, the state police and assorted public figures over the July 14 raid, which left eight tribal members injured.

Indian Country Today has two excellent articles on the aftermath of the raid. One looks at the response to the police raid from Rhode Island officials and from Indian organizations around the country. The other looks at legal questions of tribal sovereignty raised by the raid.

But the most striking parallel to the raid on the Narragansett smoke shop comes from California, in the case of Inyo County v. Bishop Paiute Tribe. County officers executed a search warrant on the tribal casino, even breaking open a safe in pursuit of employment records. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled resoundingly that the raid was illegal, even though P.L. 280 gave California criminal jurisdiction over reservations.

The jurisdiction, ruled the court, applied only to individuals on the reservation, not to the tribal government. Judge Harry Pregerson wrote, "The Supreme Court has viewed tribal sovereign immunity as a considerable shield against intrusions of state law into Indian country.

"Absent a waiver of sovereign immunity, tribes are immune from processes of the court."

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:10 AM | Get permalink

Young North Carolina fiddler heading to the All-Ireland Championships.

Being a fiddler ourself, Magpie always has an eye out for fiddle stories. But this story from the Asheville Citizen-Times just made us grin real big.

When Andrew Magill was 9 years old, he watched as his little sister took her first fiddle lesson. Four- year-old Hannah didn't like it a bit.

"I'll try it,'' Andrew said quickly.

Six years later, the Reynolds High School junior is heading to Ireland for the "Olympics'' of Irish music, having won three gold medals at the Irish music festival in New York City in June and an invitation to the prestigious All-Ireland Championships. [...]

During a break from classes at this week's Swannanoa Gathering, Andrew said he remembered at an early age "begging my parents to teach me the most standard Irish jig. I was always excited about playing Irish music, and it's what keeps me going during the school year - knowing the Swannanoa Gathering is in the summer and I can fiddle as much as I want.''

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:02 AM | Get permalink

'The lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.'

The Canadian government has submitted a draft law legalizing lesbian/gay marriages to the Supreme Court of Canada for an opinion. The proposed law, called an 'Act Respecting Certain Aspects of Legal Capacity for Marriage', states that marriage is the union of two people. Their genders are not mentioned.

If the court finds that the law meets the requirements of the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it will go to parliament for a 'free vote' in the House of Commons. In other words, the ruling Liberal Party will allow its members to vote their consciences. Most observers believe that, with support from the Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats, there are enough votes to pass the legislation.

The government has asked the court three questions in an attempt to build an iron-clad legal argument for the legislation and make it impervious to dissent.

The questions put to the high court in a document attached to the legislation are:

Does the act fall within the exclusive legal authority of the federal government?
Does the act respect the constitutionally guaranteed rights expressed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Do the religious-freedom guarantees in the Constitution protect religious officials who refuse to sanctify same-sex marriages that violate their beliefs?

The last question would allow religious leaders who do not believe in such unions to bow out.

"This means that churches, religious organizations, can continue to [perform] marriage according to their religious belief," [Justice Minister] Cauchon said.

Via Globe & Mail.

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

About your financial aid check.

If you're a student in the US, it's going to get smaller. Unless, of course, you're one of the 84,000 students who won't get their Pell Grant renewed, or won't get one for the first time.

According to the NY Times, a new report from the Congressional Research Service says that the new federal formula for determining student financial aid will cut $270 million dollars out of the main federal student aid program. And that's just the direct cut. The report doesn't estimate the 'trickle down' effect as the federal cuts affect state and university financial aid packages. Critics of the new formula charge that it's a back-door way to cut federal aid to students.

The Department of Education has cited its obligation under federal law to revise the formula and played down the impact. Sally L. Stroup, its assistant secretary for postsecondary education, told The Washington Post last month that "the changes will have a minimal impact on a handful of students."

The figures cited in the report made clear, however, that the new formula would trim the government's primary award program, the Pell grant, by $270 million once it takes effect in the 2004-5 academic year. That amount, financial aid experts said, probably means that hundreds of thousands of students will end up getting smaller Pell grants, not counting the 84,000 who it is estimated will no longer qualify.

"It's pretty hard to call several hundred thousand students a handful," said Brian K. Fitzgerald, director of the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which was created by Congress to advise it on higher education. He estimated that more than one million students could receive smaller Pell grants because of the new formula.

"It doesn't stop there," Mr. Fitzgerald added. "It will have a ripple effect through all the other financial aid programs — state grants, loans and institutional dollars. The cumulative effect could be much larger."

Via NY Times.

[Free reg. req'd.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink

Thursday, July 17, 2003

In case you hadn't noticed.

The recession ended over a year ago. In November, 2001, to be exact.

Sorry about your job.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:50 PM | Get permalink

Feel like sending an email to Dubya?

It just got harder to send one.

In the past, to tell President Bush ? or at least those assigned to read his mail ? what was on your mind it was necessary only to sit down at a personal computer connected to the Internet and dash off a note to [...]

Under a system deployed on the White House Web site for the first time last week, those who want to send a message to President Bush must now navigate as many as nine Web pages and fill out a detailed form that starts by asking whether the message sender supports White House policy or differs with it. [...]

Completing a message to the president also requires choosing a subject from the provided list, then entering a full name, organization, address and e-mail address. Once the message is sent, the writer must wait for an automated response to the e-mail address listed, asking whether the addressee intended to send the message. The message is delivered to the White House only after the person using that e-mail address confirms it.

And if you don't believe Magpie or the Times, go here and see for yourself how the new system works. Or doesn't.

[Free reg. req'd. For both the NY Times and the White House.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:41 PM | Get permalink

'We kind of gave up for a little while, but we're back now.'

The story is familiar, sadly. The US government makes a treaty with an Indian tribe, then never gets around to creating the promised reservation, which forces most tribal members to move away from their traditional homeland. Then the tribe spends decades getting back just part of what it lost.

That's pretty much the story of the Wenatchi people, whose ancestral lands are now part of Washington state. The Walla Walla treaty of 1855, which was ratified by Congress, guaranteed the Wenatchis a 36-square mile reservation, centered on their traditional fishery. The boundaries for the reservation were marked, but it was never surveyed, although the US kept promising to do so. Through fraud, misrepresentation, and trickery, the federal government was able to dispossess the tribe altogether in the 1890s, sending them all off to another part of Washington to live on the Colville reservation.

The Wenatchis have never given up trying to get at least some of their tribal land returned to them. Beginning in 1899, when Chief John Hamelt visted Washington, DC to protest the loss of tribal lands, the Wenatchis have been persistent in their efforts to get redress for their grievance against the US. Those efforts may be starting to pay off.

The tribe is asking US to transfer up to 20,000 acres of national forest land near their traditional fishery from the Forest Service to the Colville Confederated Tribes, of which the Wenatchi is a member. They're also asking that the federal government recognize Wenatchi hunting, gathering, and fishing rights guaranteed by the 1855 treaty. Both houses of the Washington state legislature have passed resolutions supporting the Wenatchis in their efforts, and US Sen. Patty Murray has indicated that she might support a study to see if the land transfer proposed by the tribe is feasible.

You can read a lot more about the Wenatchis is in this story by Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter.

Now recognized as one of the Colville Confederated Tribes, most of the Wenatchis see their homeland on road trips. But even those ties have been strained.

Sixty-year-old Dick, [Wenatchi Chief John] Harmelt's great-grandson, remembers his mother's tears on a childhood trip to Camas Prairie, near Leavenworth, where they went to dig for wild carrots and camas, an edible root. As their car rounded the last corner of the road, they saw vehicles covering the clearing. "She sat there and cried," Dick said.

The same sadness pierces Mary Marchand, 76, a Wenatchi elder, when she sees rock-climbers on the Peshastin Pinnacles, sandstone boulders shaped like salmon and other animals. The Wenatchis believe the salmon were stuck there, their giant mouths open to the sky, when the Indian spirit Coyote led them to the rivers.

And tribal elder Tillie George, 74, presses her hands to her chest to show the heaviness in her heart as she watches hatchery salmon swim on the other side of a chain-link fence at the site of the tribe's traditional fishery. The salmon at the fishery are off-limits to everyone but the Yakamas.

"It's hard for other races to understand the way we feel about our land," she said.

Except for a city park with some historical markers about the tribe, the Wenatchis' history in Leavenworth has disappeared. The place by the river where a main tribal village once stood is now filled with the tourist destination's Bavarian-themed downtown. Polka music pours from restaurants and beer gardens, and tourists stroll the flower-lined sidewalks eating ice cream cones and sausages.

In 2002, public television stations aired False Promises, a documentary film about the history of the Wenatchi people and their land claim against the US government. An excellent website was produced to go along with the program, and it can be found here.

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

How tenuous can a story be and still get used?

Pretty damn tenuous, if you're Fox News.

One of the current main stories on Fox's website is headlined 'Current Attacks on Coalition Troops Planned Prior to War.' So not only are US forces facing a guerrilla war, says Fox, but that war was planned before the first US soldier set foot in Iraq. Important news, huh? Maybe not.

Here are the first two paragraphs of the Fox report:

U.S. soldiers in Iraq have discovered intelligence from the Iraqi secret police, known as the Mukhabarat, stating that the current rash of postwar attacks, ambushes and organized chaos against coalition forces were planned months before the war in Iraq even began, senior defense officials have told Fox News.

Though these documents have not been officially confirmed, senior officials say the documents map out how to battle coalition troops after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and that these secret police orders were the plan all along.

Unless Magpie missed something, Fox doesn't even know for sure whether the documents exist. The only persons who've seen them — we assume they've seen them, anyway — are the ubiquitous 'senior defense officials' who pop up in so many stories. And even if they have seen them, the 'officials' aren't willing to confirm them.

Even more suspicious is the fact that the two paragraphs included here are the only part of a 28-paragraph story that mentions the supposed Mukhabarat plans. If the Iraqi secret police are indeed the masterminds behind the current attacks on US troops, one would think that US authorities would want to spread details of this perfidy all over the place. Given the almost total lack of details in the Fox story, Magpie wonders whether those documents are anything more than figments of someone's imagination.

Magpie could be wrong, though, and there could be documents to back up Fox's story. In that case, we suspect they'll turn out to be yet another set of 'found' Iraqi documents that turn out to be forgeries, such as those 'proving' that a member of the British parliament was on Saddam Hussein's payroll.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:03 AM | Get permalink

'The last of the very best.'

In the UK Guardian, Ry Cooder talks about master Cuban son musician Compay Segundo, who died earlier this week. To many North Americans, Segundo is known best from his appearance on the Cooder-produced album, The Buena Vista Social Club.

He belonged to a pre-media world. He lived a different kind of life and his presence put us back in touch with another long-gone existence. Imagine if Robert Johnson or any of the other old bluesmen of that era were to come back today and play the Carnegie Hall. That's what you got with Compay, because he was of that time.

I once asked him about politics, which isn't something you do lightly with Cubans. He looked at me and said: "Politics? This new guy is good. The 1930s were rough. That's when we had the really bad times." That's how old he was. He had seen dictators and revolutions come and go in his life and to him Castro was "the new guy".

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Ah, now we see how it works.

Mapgie just knew there had to be an explanation.

Via The Poison Kitchen.

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:09 PM | Get permalink

Iraq takes one step closer to being Vietnam.

The US military is finally saying that is has a guerrilla war on its hands in Iraq, reports the BBC. According to the the US chief of military operations in Iraq, the attacks on US troops in Iraq have the hallmarks of a 'classic guerrilla-type campaign.' Up until now, Pentagon officials have insisted that the attacks on US forces are the uncoordinated dying gasps of the Saddam Hussein regime.

"I think describing it as guerrilla tactics is a proper way to describe it in strictly military terms," Centcom commander General John Abizaid said at a Pentagon briefing.

"It's low intensity but it's war however you describe it." [...]

He described the current resistance as coming from mid-level Baath party members and security forces and former soldiers from Iraq's Republican Guard in addition to "significant terrorist groups".

He said they appeared to be organised in cells of six to eight people and were receiving financial assistance from regional level leaders of the former Baathist regime.

| | Posted by Magpie at 5:32 PM | Get permalink

If you didn't already think CNN sucks ...

The following account by Eli Pariser of his interview on CNN earlier this week should convince you.

(Pariser is one of the big wheels in the grassroots-action group, for those of you who don't recognize the name.)

I don't often get the chance to witness media bias up-close and personal. But I did on Monday night, when CNN Headline News invited me on to talk about our campaign on the weapons of mass destruction and the new Misleader TV ad.

I was scheduled to go on air a little after 9 PM EST, and I arrived at the studio early. After checking in, I was delivered to the studio where I would be speaking from, and I sat and listened to the show.

Rudi Bakhtiar was the anchorwoman, and as the clock ticked toward nine, she gave a preview of what was up ahead. After a short clip from our ad, Ms. Bakhtiar gave a synopsis of the scandal over the President's State of the Union claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger -- a claim now known to be based on fraudulent evidence which even the White House knew was untenable. Ms. Bakhtiar pondered whether there was going to be political fallout from Bush's "slip of the tongue," and then invited viewers to stay tuned.

"Slip of the tongue?" I thought. "They're letting Bush off the hook."

In the commercial break before I went live, I asked the producer of the show about the "slip of the tongue" comment. She explained that it had been written for Rudi beforehand -- Rudi was just reading her script.

As I went on air, Ms. Bakhtiar greeted me and asked me about the ad. I laid out the basic case -- the President isn't being forthcoming about this, and we need to know what happened so that we can avoid it next time. Then things started to get really weird: Bakhtiar responded by spending about 30 seconds on air chiding me about how Saddam Hussein was a murderer, how he defied the UN, and how he attacked other countries.

I explained that everyone agrees that Saddam's a bad guy, the question is whether the President misled us about his capacity to do harm. Bakhtiar wasn't satisfied: "Don't you think you're betraying the troops in service by airing ads like that?" she asked. (Unfortunately, we were unable to get a transcript from CNN to verify the exact question. This is a paraphrase to the best of my recollection.) I responded that the opposite was true: one of the petition signers whose comment I had caught was an active-duty military person who was worried that he was putting his life on the line for a lie. I said we needed to find out what really happened so that these folks know that they're risking their lives for something important.

Then the interview ended. I walked out to greet a friend who had come with me. She was shocked -- for most of the interview, rather than showing me, they had shown footage of Saddam Hussein waving guns.

Now, I'm all for hard questioning -- I think the media needs to do a lot more of it. But I'm not for taking sides, and I believe that's what happened here. Folks who support the President in this just don't get accused of betraying their country or siding with dictators -- although both claims could easily be made. And although I haven't dug through the transcripts, I'm betting that President Clinton's lie about Monica Lewinsky wasn't called a "slip of the tongue" by a major media outlet. I'll also bet that CNN doesn't black out Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay with footage of long food lines when he's on to talk about the economy.

As Noah pointed out in his alert yesterday, the media bear a critical responsibility for ensuring that the truth comes out. When it's discovered that one party isn't telling the truth, it's their job to expose that -- not to be apologists for a war that was based on a lie.

If Pariser's treatment by CNN bothers you — it sure bothers Magpie — he suggests that you let them know. CNN's comment form is here. Select 'Rudi & Mike' from the menu of news anchors, and then give CNN a piece of your mind.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:07 PM | Get permalink

New Zealand government to push civil union bill.

Civil unions that include same-sex couples are coming soon to New Zealand, reports the New Zealand Herald. According to the newspaper, the Labour-led government will be introducing legislation that gives lesbian, gay, and 'de-facto' heterosexual couples all the legal rights currently limited to married heterosexual couples. Couples will be able register their relationships with the government, and will have to go through the same process to dissolve the relationship as do married couples.

The government is taking its action in line with an election pledge to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

It is expected a bill will be introduced by Associate Justice Minister Lianne Dalziel, with MPs allowed to exercise a conscience vote, meaning they are not bound to vote along party lines.

Although Labour MP Russell Fairbrother has put forward a private member's bill recognising civil unions, parliamentary procedures mean it will probably never see the light of day.

Instead, it is understood the Government has decided to put forward the law, guaranteeing it will get an airing in Parliament.

The Government is anxious to meet election pledges but is also worried that policies and legislation which recognise only married couples - said to be more than 100 laws - may be liable for legal challenge under human rights laws.

Complaints about discrimination have already been lodged with the Human Rights Commission.

Thanks, Sarah!

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:50 PM | Get permalink

Going over the top. Gloriously.

Whenever Magpie worries that we might have injected too much bias into one of our posts, we go over to the San Francisco Chronicle and read Mark Morford's latest column. Then we feel quite restrained indeed.

The current Morford effort takes aim at the edifice of lies built up by Dubya & Co, and wonders whether the country is finally reaching the point where it's had enough.

And the lies, the flagrant GOP bitch slappings of the American public, the maniacal jabs straight in eye of truth with the icepick of utter BS, have just reached some sort of critical mass, some sort of saturation point of absurdity and pain and ridiculousness and you just have to stand up and applaud.

Really. It's almost as if you should cheer the invidiousness, it is so spectacular, unprecedented, the tower of lies reaching the point where you, Jaded and Benumbed American Citizen, are forced to either recoil and ignore and deny, succumb and scream and laugh, or, like Bush himself, just sort of stand there, wide eyed, dumfounded, blinking hard, looking more blank and confused than ever, as the unified BushCo front begins to gloriously unravel.

Magpie is particularly fond of this sentence:

The list [of lies] is growing and expanding and now threatens to split and explode and spread like some sort of giant viscous blob and invade small towns and kill plants and induce women to slap their hands to their faces and scream while it slowly steamrolls innocent children as they innocently stand there in the street playing innocent Frisbee, innocently.

Wow. We wish we'd said that.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:47 PM | Get permalink

Fear of sexual violence on the rise in Baghdad.

A report from Human Rights Watch says that sexual violence against women has increased in Baghdad since the end of the war, and that this violence has led to a widespread fear of rape and abduction among Iraqi women. The report warns that the fear of rape and abduction is preventing women from full participation in Iraqi society at a critical point in their country's history.

Human Rights Watch blames the failure of US and Iraqi authorities to provide public security in the capital for women's fear, and it calls for urgent measures to be taken to ensure that women are safe in public places and to ensure that women also believe that they are safe.

From the press release summarizing the report:

"Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are not going to schools or jobs or looking for work," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "If Iraqi women are to participate in postwar society, their physical security needs to be an urgent priority."

Human Rights Watch interviewed rape and abduction victims and witnesses, Iraqi police and health professionals, and U.S. military police and civil affairs officers, and learned of twenty-five credible allegations of rape or abduction. The Human Rights Watch report found that police officers gave low priority to allegations of sexual violence and abduction, that the police were under-resourced, and that victims of sexual violence confronted indifference and sexism from Iraqi law enforcement personnel.

The report also found that U.S. military police were not filling the gap when Iraqi police were unwilling or unable to conduct serious investigations of sexual violence and abduction. Human Rights Watch said this inadequate attention to the needs of women and girls has led to an inability, and in some cases an unwillingness, by police to conduct serious investigations. In some cases, reports of sexual violence and abduction to police were lost.

And from the report itself:

Reports of sexual violence and abduction of women and girls abound in Baghdad. Medical practitioners, victims, witnesses, and law enforcement authorities have documented some of these crimes. Human Rights Watch is concerned that many other cases go unreported and uninvestigated. Some women and girls fear that reporting sexual violence may provoke “honor” killings and social stigmatization. For others, the obstacles to filing and pursuing a police complaint or obtaining a forensic examination that would provide legal proof of sexual violence hamper them from receiving medical attention and pursuing justice. Without a referral from the police, women and girls cannot receive forensic examinations and, in some cases, women and girls who have sought assistance for sexual violence were refused medical attention because some hospital staff do not regard treating victims of sexual violence as their responsibility, or give such care low priority given their limited resources due to the war and in its aftermath. Whatever the reason, both documented and rumored stories of sexual violence and abduction are contributing to a palpable climate of fear.

Many of the problems in addressing sexual violence and abduction against women and girls derive from the U.S.-led coalition forces and civilian administration’s failure to provide public security in Baghdad. The public security vacuum in Baghdad has heightened the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual violence and abduction. The police force is considerably smaller and more poorly managed when compared to prior to the war. There is limited police street presence; fewer resources available to police to investigate; little if any record keeping; and many complaints are lost. Many hospitals and the forensic institute are unable to operate twenty-four hours a day as they did before the war, thus preventing women from obtaining medical treatment and the forensic examinations necessary to document sexual violence in a timely manner.

Magpie thought that this all sounded familiar, so we looked back through our archives and found a post linking to this LA Times story from late May, about how the fear of rape was driving Baghdad women out of public life. It doesn't sound as though much has changed since then, despite the occupation authorities having close to two months to improve public safety in Baghdad.

In one of the most secular capitals in the Arab world, where women were until recently a visible and integrated part of public life, females have all but disappeared. Men are the ones doing the shopping, turning up for what jobs remain and helping plan the future of Iraq with the U.S. reconstruction authority. [...]

In fact, the recorded numbers are small, but in a city with few police on the street and where law and order are at best tenuous, even talk of such crimes is enough to stir worry.

The fear of rape in the city is now so widespread that families are rearranging their daily activities around providing security for their daughters. Dedicated fathers such as Abdel-Hassan take personal steps to ensure their safety at school, but many who are unable or disinclined to take on an additional burden are simply opting to keep their daughters at home.

"We decided to give up on this school year entirely," said Ziad Hussein Ali, who hires out his services as a driver. He said his daughter's schooling is important to him but that his long hours don't allow him to drive her around himself. "Being safe is more important than being a year behind."

The full report from Human Rights Watch is here.

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

So how do you speak Muslim, anyway?

Sen. John Kerry could have been a bit more careful when he criticized Dubya's handling of the Iraq occupation on Sunday:

"The obligation of the United States government is to rapidly internationalize the effort in Iraq, get the target off of American troops, bring other people, particularly Muslim-speaking and Arab-speaking Muslim troops, into the region," Kerry said.

Mother Jones magazine's Daily Mojo had a suggestion:

Some Kerry staffer might want to remind the Senator that the language is Arabic, the religion is Islam and that the ethnic group is Arab. Those are details, but they might be important details to the six million Muslims and three million Arabs in the United States.

But the blog at Muslim Wake Up! is certain that Kerry is on the cutting edge of inclusivity:

Kerry thus became the first among the presidential contenders to call specifically for Muslim-speaking troops, showing a keen sense of discernment. Unlike most people in the world, who view Islam as merely a spiritual path, Kerry understands the linguistic implications of the faith. As MWU! contributor Irfan Yusuf has shown in his Islaam of Double Vowels, there is a distinct method to Muslim-speak.

MWU! supports Senator Kerry's call. The Iraq occupation will certainly go much smoother with more soldiers responding to Iraqi guerilla fighters with "Assalamu alaykum, insh’Allah, masha'Allah, bruzzerrz!"

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:41 AM | Get permalink

Need a tool? Ask a crow.

Magpie had read a journal article about some interesting behavior shown by New Caledonian crows, but we never saw the movie. Here's the plot:

In the experiments, a captive female crow, confronted with a task that required a curved tool (retrieving a food-containing bucket from a vertical pipe), spontaneously bent a piece of straight wire into a hooked shape -- and then repeated the behavior in nine out of ten subsequent trials. Though these crows are known to employ tools in the wild using natural materials, this bird had no prior training with the use of pliant materials such as wire -- a fact that makes its apparently spontaneous, highly specific problem-solving all the more interesting, and raises intriguing questions about the evolutionary preconditions for complex cognition.

If Magpie remembers correctly, it's the first recorded example of a non-primate manipulating an object to make a tool appropriate to a particular situation.

If you go here, there's a link to the QuickTime movie of the crow doing her stuff. Absolutely amazing.

Thanks to Making Light for finding the movie.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:24 AM | Get permalink

Saddam Hussein's secret weapon stash.

Dubya can't find it, but The Poison Kitchen can.

Via ReachM High.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:04 AM | Get permalink

No UN, no help.

France has become the third major nation to reject US requests to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq. On Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac said that sending soldiers to Iraq 'cannot be imagined in the current context.' The Franch refusal follows that of India on Monday, and of Germany last week. The main issue for all three countries was the lack of UN approval of the US occupation of Iraq.

Even with a UN mandate, the decision to send soldiers to Iraq would require considerable political soul-searching for many countries because of widespread opposition to the war.

The failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has reinforced the feeling in Europe and elsewhere that the war should have never been fought. Recent doubts that Iraq had tried to import uranium from Africa, as President Bush said in his State of the Union address in January, have revived debate in Europe over the basis for the war.

That in turn would make it hard for governments to convince their publics of the need to risk the lives of their own soldiers to help the United States.

The AP reports that although a few countries are sending troops to Iraq — the largest contribution being 2300 soldiers from Poland — the increasing attacks on US troops is making such a move an even harder sell for governments that might otherwise be inclined to help. The lack of foreign replacements for US troops is a main reason that US soldiers are being told to expect an indefinite stay in Iraq.

Via Globe & Mail.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:03 AM | Get permalink

Tribal sovereignty.

Over at Wampum, MB has a post that should help anyone understand why it matters, and why the continual erosion by states and the federal government of Indian tribes' ability to govern themselves is not a Good Thing.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:02 AM | Get permalink

Supporting the troops in Iraq.

Occupation government administrator Paul Bremer says that US troops will remain in Iraq until an elected government takes office. The earliest date anyone has predicted for elections is sometime in 2004.

US soldiers who had been expecting to be sent home from Iraq soon have been told they will remain in the Gulf indefinitely.

Soldiers - and their families - reacted with dismay to the news that they would not be home in September as they had hoped.

The new timetable for troop withdrawals tosses out the window the promises that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made last Wednesday:

The Army's 3rd Infantry Division is beginning a phased pullout of its 16,000 troops, with the entire unit expected back in the United States by September, he said. The division, which played a central role in capturing Baghdad in April, is based at Fort Stewart, Ga.

Rumsfeld said the division's 3rd Brigade has already reached Kuwait and will be heading home this month.

The 2nd Brigade, which had been in the region for 10 months, will be home in August and the 1st Brigade will return in September.

Magpie should point out that shortly after Dubya declared victory in Iraq on May 1, the 3rd Infantry was expected to return to the US in June.

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

'The peace from hell.'

Before the invasion of Iraq, Molly Ivins warned that winning another Gulf War would lead to a peace that couldn't be won. In her current column, Ivins says that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's vanity is threating to turn Iraq into Vietnam, and that unless the US approach to Iraq changes quickly, thing will just get worse.

Maj. Gen. Carl Strock said Monday electricity and water in Baghdad are still below prewar levels. The New York Times noted, in its Timesly way, "The assessment appeared to run counter to earlier assurances by the Pentagon ..." Rumsfeld, with his usual cocksure breeziness, said on May 15: "A few areas have challenges, to be sure. But most areas are progressing and a growing number actually have conditions that are today estimated to be better than prior to the recent war." What number, from what to what? Out of how many?

When is the Washington press corps going to figure out that's precisely the kind of statement by Rumsfeld that needs extensive deconstruction? The New Republic's ruthless dissection of the administration's lies, deceptions and flimflam in its June 30 issue (don't miss it) is a stinging rebuke to the disgraceful level of journalism we are now getting in this country.

Via Working for Change.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

What ever happened to all those feminist bookstores?

When Magpie lived in the Twin Cities, we knew a lot of women who worked at Amazon Bookstore, the oldest feminist bookstore still in operation in the US, and we often heard tales of bookstore woes over cups of coffee or pints of beer. Like a lot of such stores, Amazon was sometimes on the edge of insolvency, suffering from lack of capital and, increasingly, encroachment on its feminist turf by chain booksellers such as Borders and Barnes & Noble. Amazon's problems weren't unique: In 1997, there were 175 feminist bookstores in North America. Now there are just 44.

Writing in the current issue of Bitch, Kathryn McGrath looks at why feminist bookstores have been disappearing. She shows how the survivors have avoided the literary graveyard only by making some hard choices to survive — and she suggests that the long-term survival of the feminist bookstore as a type of book retailer is nowhere near certain.

One thing that may happen is that books won't reach readers. Amazon Bookstore Cooperative’s Wieser has recently been recommending a new title to her customers: Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray! Feminist Visions for a Just World, from small feminist press EdgeWork Books. While the book can be ordered online from the major retailers at a discount, you probably won't find it on the shelves of your local big-box bookseller. The bookstore chains reorder stock based strictly on recent sales and quickly return unsold books to publishers for a full refund, a practice that makes it nearly impossible for independent presses with small profit margins and little cash flow to compete.

At the same time, because the big chains are anxious to stay on top of local tastes, they will stock some less mainstream titles as long as the smaller independents are keeping these books on the shelves and promoting them to customers. As feminist bookstores close, feminist presses and books get lost in the flood of new titles released every year by large publishers, removing pressure on chain stores to stock them—or, for that matter, any books that don't sell steadily or have mainstream appeal. A few chains' business practices determine the bookselling market, and the effect on publishers is chilling. "The availability of books at Barnes & Noble isn't assured," explains BookWoman’s Hogan. "If feminist bookstores close, then there’s nothing to hold those larger stores accountable. Chain stores make it look like they are [supportive] of local authors and of feminist books, but people don't see how many presses are bought out [or go] out of business—and what that means to feminist writing."

One of the high points of Magpie's day is when the new issue of Bitch turns up in the mail. Sometimes cranky, usually insightful, and always treading at the edges of its readers' comfort zones, Bitch has made it to its 21st issue and shows no sign of getting stale. If you don't read Bitch, you should. Their website is here.

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

Oooooooh, shiny!

Photos and video clips of Mt. Etna in eruption. Magpie particularly liked these photos from 2002.

Via Dublog.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:03 AM | Get permalink

Going back.

Muslim Wake Up has posted the first of a series of letters from Palestine by Jehad Al-Iweiwi, a founding member of the Muslim Canadian Congress. He's going back to visit family in Hebron, and not all of the trip there has been easy.

Crossing the Jordanian side was relatively easy but long. We take the bus and off we go to the jisir, the hated bridge. The Israeli soldiers were everywhere. We go through the metal detector and only my 20-month-old nephew set the detector off. They needed to hand search him and his mother.

I freaked out. I went with them. The soldier started frisking him, and he went mad. I was holding him and said I am sorry habibi to my nephew--somehow, I said that in English. The soldier asked if I speak English. I said a little, and then he said thank you and motioned to the other soldier that the kid is fine. I wanted to say would you ever allow anyone to do this to your kid, but then I was anxious to get out of there, and this would have delayed us for a while. We went to get our papers sorted out, and after a 3-hour wait, we were off to the bus.

Magpie will try to post pointers to each new letter as it appears.

Muslim Wake Up, by the way, is an excellent online source of news, analysis, and commentary about Islam and the Islamic world. Their statement of purpose describes them better than we can:

Muslim WakeUp! is a collective committed to an understanding of Islam that challenges human beings to act on behalf of the divinely inspired principles of love, justice, and a belief in the unity of all God’s creation.

MuslimWakeUp! seeks to mirror the diversity, dynamism, and creative spirit of Islam. We will celebrate all that is alive with meaning in our lives—spirituality, music, art, literature, politics, laughter, love, compassion—everything that is close to the heart. We will speak our mind for what we feel is right, especially when it conflicts with what we are accustomed to—all the time seeking God’s guidance and forgiveness.

Magpie checks in on Muslim Wake Up! a few times a week. You might want to add it to your rounds of the blogosphere as well.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:02 AM | Get permalink

Texas redistricting plan may be dead.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that a conservative rural Republican has joined with Democrats to block a White House-backed redistricting bill. This is the Senate version of the same bill that led to the walkout of the 'Killer Ds', in which almost all of the Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives high-tailed it over the Oklahoma border. Under that redistricting, the current Democratic majority in the state's delegation to the US House of Representatives would turn into a lop-sided Republican majority.

Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mt. Pleasant, announced he has signed on with 10 Democrats who have said they will vote to keep any redistricting map from the Senate floor.

It takes 21 votes in the 31-member Senate to bring any legislation to the floor for action. Eleven senators can block any action.

Ratliff, who opposes the redistricting effort and does not like the way a House-approved version splits his constituents, said he has told Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst that he is siding with the Democrats in their "unalterable opposition to any motion to bring a congressional redistricting bill to the Senate floor."

For more on how the Republicans are using redistricting in Texas and other states to ensure a GOP majority in the Congress, see this Magpie post.

Via Talking Points Memo.

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

Hail to the editor-in-chief?

Magpie is absolutely certain that nothing escaped his eagle eye.

Thanks to Ruminate This for the spotting.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink

Monday, July 14, 2003

Pissing off the NAACP.

Over at A Rational Animal, Lilith looks at which of the Democratic presidential hopefuls showed up at the NAACP's annual convention, and which didn't. Only four candidates passed her litmus test. Go read the whole post and see who they were.

Democrats should know that they can't afford to take any of their constituent communities for granted, but the African-American community perhaps least of all. After decades of hoof work to register African-Americans and get out the vote, suddenly the Dems risk undoing all that work with a few stupid acts. They also need to keep in mind that being the supposed "only party" that African-Americans will call home means jack: All it takes is for African-Americans to show their displeasure by staying home from the polls on Election Day.

By the way, A Rational Animal has moved house. You might want to update your bookmarks.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:03 PM | Get permalink

Canada's same-sex marriage law to be made public later in the week.

The Toronto Star reports that the draft of the federal government's legislation making same-sex marriages legal in all of Canada will be made public within days. The draft law will be part of the package that the government will send to the Supreme Court of Canada for advice on its constitutionality. Unlike the US high court, Canada's Supremes can give an advisory opinion on a law's constitutionality before that law is enacted.

The Supreme Court reference will include three questions, including whether the proposed legislation conforms to the Charter of Rights.

Ottawa is also expected to ask the high court for a ruling on whether the definition of marriage lies solely under federal jurisdiction.

A federal victory on that jurisdictional question could thwart any provincial attempt to continue denying marriage to same-sex couples.

Alberta says it will continue banning gays and lesbians from marrying because it's allowed to do so under the Constitution.

Dissenting logic dictates that while Ottawa decides who qualifies for marriage, the provinces are constitutionally responsible for handing out the licences.

The Supreme Court reference is intended to ward off such potential federal-provincial disagreements.

The new law comes following court rulings in Ontario and British Columbia that are already allowing lesbian and gay couples to wed in those provinces.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:25 PM | Get permalink

'The broader pattern of dishonesty and delusion.'

In the NY Times, Nicholas Kristof says that the problem with the 16 words about Iraq's supposed uranium deal with Niger isn't whether those words are true or false. The real problem is a 'larger pattern of abuse of intelligence' that is so serious that members of the intelligence community are leaking information to the press.

The Defense Intelligence Agency has had town hall meetings in which everyone was told not to talk to journalists (thanks, guys, for naming me in particular). One insider complains: "In the most recent meeting, we also were told that, as much as possible, we should avoid `caveat-ing' our intelligence assessments. . . . Forget nuance, forget fine distinctions; they only confuse these guys. If that isn't a downright scary dumbing-down of our intelligence product, I don't know what is."

Intelligence isn't just being dumbed down, but is also being manipulated — and it's continuing. Experts say the recent firefight on the Syrian-Iraq border involved not Saddam Hussein or a family member, as we were led to believe, but just some Iraqi petroleum smugglers. Moreover, Patrick Lang, a former senior D.I.A. official, says that many in the government believe that incursion was an effort by ideologues to disrupt cooperation between the U.S. and Syria.

While the scandal has so far focused on Iraq, the manipulations appear to be global. For example, one person from the intelligence community recalls an administration hard-liner's urging the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research to state that Cuba has a biological weapons program. The spooks refused, and Colin Powell backed them.

Then there's North Korea. The C.I.A.'s assessments on North Korea's nuclear weaponry were suddenly juiced up beginning in December 2001. The alarmist assessments (based on no new evidence) continued until January of this year, when the White House wanted to play down the Korean crisis. Then assessments abruptly restored the less ominous language of the 1990's.

[Free reg. req'd.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:14 PM | Get permalink

More red ink in the US future.

Reuters reports that the White House is about to announce budget deficits of over US $400 billion for 2003 and 2004. These numbers come just six months after Dubya's administration said it the deficits for each year would be just over US $300 billion.

White House officials said the bigger deficits were "manageable" in size and reflected the nation's economic and national security needs following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Well, I want to remind you: What was the cost of September 11th? What is cost of a country that is attacked? What is the price that the American people would have to pay if something like that were to ever happen again?" White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

Democrats blamed President Bush's sweeping tax cuts and said budget deficits were approaching crisis levels not seen since the Reagan administration.

"As bad as the budget is going to appear, it's actually worse," said South Carolina Rep. John Spratt, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

The AP carried more details of Spratt's remarks:

In the short term, that is because the White House numbers are not expected to include the future costs of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are approaching $5 billion per month. They are expected to include costs incurred there to date.

In the longer term, the administration figures will not count the hundreds of billions of dollars it would take to make permanent the tax cuts Congress enacted in 2001 and earlier this year. The White House's budget projections are expected to be for the next five years, but many of those tax cuts expire in 2010 -- leaving the costs of extending them outside that five-year window.

"There's no way OMB can make the budget a pretty picture," Spratt told reporters, using the acronym for the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Magpie notes that the federal budget was in the black when Dubya took office. In fact, there were budget surpluses for each year of Bill Clinton's second term as president.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:59 PM | Get permalink

Some are more equal under the law than others.

The US government is refusing to allow Zacarias Moussaoui to interview a key witness in the terrorism trial against him, despite a court ruling allowing him to do so. The government claims such an interview would compromise 'national security.'

The government alleges that Moussaoui would have been the '21st hijacker' had he not been arrested for other reasons in August 2001. Moussaoui, who is leading his own defense, admits he was a member of al-Qaeda, but denies any connection to the 9/11 terrorist events. He has asked to interview Ramzi Bianlshibh, an alleged al-Qaeda member who is believed to have funded the 9/11 hijackers.

From the BBC News report:

Lawyers for the defendant, Zacarias Moussaoui, argue that the interview with Ramzi Binalshibh is crucial to proving their client's innocence.

The Virginia judge handling the case has agreed to the interview in principle - a decision the prosecution is contesting on security grounds.

On Monday federal prosecutors reaffirmed that they will not produce Mr Binalshibh for questioning under any circumstances, acknowledging that this may lead to case being dismissed.

The prosecutors also asked the judge to postpone any action pending a ruling by a higher court on their appeal.

It is thought that if the government is forced to allow Mr Moussaoui access to Mr Binalshibh, it may decide to drop the criminal charges and try him before a military tribunal.

And from the Reuters story:

"The deposition, which would involve an admitted and unrepentant terrorist (the defendant) questioning one of his al Qaeda confederates would necessarily result in the unauthorized disclosure of classified information," the government said in a filing in which it refused access to bin al-Shaibah -- a key al Qaeda member suspected of coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Such a scenario is unacceptable to the government, which not only carries the responsibility of prosecuting the defendant, but also of protecting this nation's security at a time of war with an enemy who has already murdered thousands of our citizens," it said.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema now has the option of dismissing the indictment or imposing some other sanction on the government.

But the case would not necessarily be over even if she dismisses the indictment because the government could still appeal to the Court of Appeals and to the Supreme Court.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:44 PM | Get permalink

History channel.

Cat's account of history in this episode of Cat and Girl sounds about as reasonable as anything Magpie's been hearing from the White House these days.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:33 PM | Get permalink

Can Howard Dean beat Dubya?

A lot of people have been asking that question, since Howard Dean's first-place showing in the most recent quarter of fundraising among the Democratic Party's presidential hopefuls. One of them was John Judis, in this Salon article. Using Judis' article as a springboard, MB at Wampum has a thoughtful analysis of Dean's strengths and weakeness , as well as those of the other Democratic candidates. Make sure to read the comments.

Disclosure: Magpie has given money to the Dean campaign.

| | Posted by Magpie at 6:13 PM | Get permalink

Meanwhile, in the UK.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is undercutting US attempts to blame the UK for bad information about Iraq's alleged attempts to buy uranium from Africa. While Dubya's adminstration is admitting that the claims it made about the uranium are questionable at best, Straw is strongly asserting that they were true and, furthermore, that the US believed them.

"The US Central Intelligence Agency believed in the veracity of the claims which we had made, and also from other sources quite separate from British sources, about the fact that the Iraqis were seeking the purchase of uranium from Niger, not that they bought it, but they were seeking it, quite late on last year and that ran through, I think, into January."

He claimed that technicalities of process prevented the UK from sharing additional spying information with the US, since alternative evidence of a Niger connection came from a third country's intelligence agency and Britain did not have permission to pass it on.

Via UK Guardian.

| | Posted by Magpie at 8:23 AM | Get permalink

Plausible deniability?

Dubya's administration was doing damage control about Dubya's credibility on the Sunday news interview programs. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security advisor Condoleeza Rice tried to put an end to charges that Washington manipulated intelligence reports to support its drive towards war in Iraq. Both continued to defend Dubya with using the administration's current line — that it doesn't matter whether the president lied about Iraq's nuclear capabilities because Saddam Hussein was so dangerous in other ways. And besides, the US never claimed Iraq was developing nukes, it was the British who did it.

"The notion that the president of the United States took the country to war because he was concerned with one sentence about whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium in Africa is clearly ludicrous," Rice told CBS's "Face the Nation." "And this has gotten to that proportion."

"End of story," Rumsfeld declared on ABC's "This Week." [...]

Rice went to lengths to state that the British intelligence was not inaccurate, just unproven by the United States. "We have never said that the British report was wrong," she said.

Rice also continued the administration's current line of placing the blame for Dubya's misstatements of fact on the CIA, and on its directory, George Tenet.

Democratic leaders were not buying these answers, however:

"This is not an issue of George Tenet. This is an issue of George Bush," Florida Sen. Bob Graham, a Democratic presidential hopeful, told NBC's "Meet the Press."

"There was a selective use of intelligence -- that is, that information which was consistent with the administration's policy was given front-row seat," said Graham, the former chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, said in a radio interview the panel may call Tenet to answer questions this week. But he criticized Rice for being "dishonorable" in letting Tenet take the blame and said she must have known about the suspect uranium report long before Bush's State of the Union address.

"The entire intelligence community has been very skeptical about this from the very beginning," Rockefeller told National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" program.

"And she (Rice) has her own director of intelligence, she has her own Iraq and Africa specialists, and it's just beyond me that she didn't know about this, and that she has decided to make George Tenet the fall person... I think it's dishonorable."

Via Reuters.

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:57 AM | Get permalink

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Remembering to forget.

Magpie is testing the new TypePad blogging system. While we really like it so far, we've also learned one important lesson: Never, never forget your username.

| | Posted by Magpie at 6:22 PM | Get permalink

Going indie.

The problems of the music industry are well-known. Sales of music CDs are down. File-sharing and sales up blank CDs are up. And music companies themselves are interested only in creating hits that lead to immediate huge sales, at the expense of mid-roster acts that sell smaller numbers of units over a longer time.

As the Denver Post reports, lesser-known artists (and those big names who don't sell like they used to) are leaving the major labels in droves. Some are starting their own labels, others have moved to independent labels that care about developing the careers of their artists.

Rocker David Lindley probably never expected to have cartons of his recordings stacked up in his living room at his Southern California home at this point in his career. He has pretty neatly sidestepped the whole music business by selling his own CDs, from the production to the distribution, and maintaining control over his music.

"I like the idea of doing my own stuff. That started a long time ago," Lindley said. "I saw how signing on (with a major label) worked with Kaleidoscope (his '60s rock band). The managers got the writing and the publishing for all of those original songs - we got nothing from that."

Then Lindley stared his own band, El Rayo-X, in 1981 and released five albums with some original material for Elektra/Asylum.

"I'll never pay that off. I still owe them. You have studio costs and other expenses and you pay those off out of your percentage, and usually your percentage is really small. And it takes forever.

"So there you go. It's a machine, and there's a flawed design. The wrong parts got too big and it needs to be fed."

| | Posted by Magpie at 5:46 PM | Get permalink

Washington lied about the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, too.

The AP is reporting that a new controversy is beginning to haunt Dubya's administration: the claims it made about the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda in order to justify a war on Iraq. Washington has claimed that the Saddam Hussein government allowed top al-Qaeda members to operate out of Iraq, and that the former Iraqi government provided WMDs to al-Qaeda. These claims now appear to be falling apart in much the same way as those involving Iraq's supposed attempt to purchase African uranium for a nuclear weapons program.

From the Toronto Star's version of the AP report:

George Thielman, a former State Department official, said intelligence agencies told the administration well before this spring's war about the "lack of a meaningful connection" to Al Qaeda.

"There was no significant pattern of co-operation between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist operation," said Thielman, who left the State Department's bureau of intelligence last year.

His assertions were backed up by another former Bush administration intelligence official, who said any contact between Iraq and Al Qaeda was occasional, at best.

Those statements were backed up by a United Nations terrorism committee that said it has no evidence — other than U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's insistence in a U.N. speech Feb. 5 — of any ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

And from the version in USA Today:

Another former Bush administration intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed there was no clear link between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

"The relationships that were plotted were episodic, not continuous," the former official said. [...]

And U.S. officials say American forces searching in Iraq have found no significant evidence tying Saddam's regime with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:51 AM | Get permalink

Liar, liar, pants on fire!


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