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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, October 22, 2005

Losing the battle for Iraqi hearts and minds.

If winning over Iraqi hearts and minds is a necessary requirement for a successful end of the Iraq war, the US and UK should just pack up and leave today.

A secret poll commissioned by the UK Defence Ministry shows that almost half of Iraqis believe that attacks on US and UK troops are justified. It also shows that anti-US and anti-UK sentiments in Iraq are deep and widespread, and that most Iraqis feel that things in the country are getting worse, not better. Both findings are contrary to the continuing assertions from Washington and London that life for the average Iraqi has improved since the 2003 invasion and that support for the insurgency is waning.

The survey [of 2500 Iraqis] was conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces. It reveals:
  • Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified — rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;
  • 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;
  • less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;
  • 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;
  • 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;
  • 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

The finding of the Defence Ministry poll contrast sharply with some of those in a 2004 poll of Iraq conducted for the BBC. While that poll also showed a deep distrust for coalition troops [and for the US-led occupation government], Iraqis were generally optimistic about the future and about the direction in which the country was moving.

As the new poll shows, those days are long past.

Via UK Sunday Telegraph.

| | Posted by Magpie at 4:13 PM | Get permalink

No comment.

From a speech given in Gainesville, Florida by Ann Coulter. She's talking about Democrats.

"They're always accusing us of repressing their speech," she said. "I say let's do it. Let's repress them."

She later added, "Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the First Amendment."

Via Alligator Online.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:27 AM | Get permalink

The timing of this story from Guantánamo couldn't be worse.

Given that it's coming out during the same week as the video of the burning of Taliban bodies by US troops in Afghanistan.

Hunger-striking prisoners at the US prison camp at Guantánamo say that US troops are punishing them by repeatedly inserting and removing dirty feeding tubes until they vomited blood. This feeding tube abuse is described in notes taken by Julia Tarver, an attorney representing three of the prisoners.

Tarver's notes were part of her presentation last week during an emergency court hearing in Washington, DC on counsel's right to information about the health status and medical treatment of hunger strikers. The notes had been classified until the Center for Constitutional Rights requested, and was granted, the right to make Tarver's notes public. Here is some of the information she presented during the hearing:

  • Force-feedings resulted in prisoners "vomiting up substantial amounts of blood. When they vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like 'look what your religion has brought you.'"

  • "Large tubes — the thickness of a finger — were viewed by detainees as objects of torture. They were forcibly shoved up the detainees' noses and down into their stomachs. Again, no anesthesia or sedative was provided."

  • "[D]etainees were verbally abused and insulted and were restrained from head to toe. They had shackles or other restraints on their arms, legs, waist, chest, knees, and head... with these restraints in place, they were given intravenous medication (often quite painfully, as inexperienced medical professionals seemed incapable of locating appropriate veins). Their arms were swollen from multiple attempts to stick them with IV needles... If detainees moved, they were hit in the chest/heart."

  • "In front of Guantánamo physicians — including the head of the detainee hospital — the guards took NG tubes from one detainee, and with no sanitization whatsoever, reinserted it into the nose of a different detainee. When these tubes were reinserted, the detainees could see the blood and stomach bile from other detainees remaining on the tubes. A person detainees only know as Dr. [redacted] stood by and watched these procedures, doing nothing to intervene."

  • Detainee Abdul-Rahman communicated that, "one Navy doctor came and put the tube in his nose and down his throat and then just kept moving the tube up and down, until finally Abdul-Rahman started violently throwing up blood. Abdul-Rahman tried to resist the 'torture' from this physician, but he could not breathe."

  • Detainees complying with the nasal tube feeding were doing so only because they believed it had been ordered by a U.S. court, a belief that is simply untrue.

Prisoners at Guantánamo have been hunger-striking over the conditions of their confinement since early August. At one point, at least 200 prisoners were refusing food. It is not known how many are still on hunger strike.

US authorities are denying these latest allegations made by Guantánamo prisoners. According to an AP report, the chief doctor at Guantánamo says that the treatment of prisoners 'equals or exceeds the standard of care available at accredited hospitals in the United States.'

In a statement filed in federal court in Washington, Dr. John Edmondson said that only doctors or nurses are allowed to remove or insert feeding tubes and they use a lubricant and offer an anesthetic to the hunger striking prisoner to ease any pain.

Given how widespread abuse of prisoners at the hands of the US military is proving to be, we don't put much faith in Edmondson's assurances. Even if medical staff are not involved in the feeding tube abuse, it is certainly possible that the abuse could be conducted by others at the prison. Without thorough and independent investigation of the prisoners' claims, there's really no way for anyone outside Guantánamo to know what's really going on.

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

What do black holes eat?

Star stuff. Lots of it.

Astronomers using the Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured detailed images of matter spiralling into a black hole in another galaxy. The images show a network of filaments reaching into the heart of the galaxy NGC 1097, and are providing new insights into how the gigantic black holes at the centers of galaxies are fed.

Two views of NGC 1097

Left image shows more than 300 star-forming regions [the white spots] in the central portion of NGC 1097. The bright spot in the center is where a super-massive black hole lurks. Infrared image on the right shows the galaxy's central spiral [the dark channels] converging on the black hole. [Images: NACO/VLT]

NGC 1097, a spiral galaxy about 45 million light years from Earth, glows relatively brightly at its centre in visible and X-ray wavelengths. That suggests a black hole is devouring surrounding gas and dust there, but the glare from nearby stars has overwhelmed any detailed images of the process.

Now, astronomers have used one of the VLT's four 8-metre telescopes to take near-infrared images of matter whirling towards the galaxy's heart.

They made the observation using adaptive optics, a software technique that corrects for the blurring effect of the Earth's atmosphere. Then they subtracted the bright light from stars in the region to reveal dim spiral arms of dust and gas streaming to within a few tens of light years of the black hole's mouth. Scroll down for additional images.

Via and New Scientist.

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

What is it about bureaucrats and disasters?

Here's a story about bureaucratic stupidity from the earthquake disaster area in Pakistan that, with only minor changes, could have come out of the US Gulf Coast:

Scarce tents and other relief supplies are being put in storage in the city of Muzaffarabad in earthquake stricken Pakistan-administered Kashmir by civilian authorities working under the supervision of the military, rather than handed out to needy, homeless persons, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 19 at Muzaffarabad's civil secretariat, Human Rights Watch was present at a supply depot where government civil servants were working to help store supplies on the promise of being provided tents at the end of a day's labor. The depot was under the control of officials from the "services group," an administrative unit working for the chief secretary, the highest ranking civil servant in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Several civil servants informed Human Rights Watch that they had been engaged in the activity for three days, only to return to their shelterless families empty-handed every night.

Human Rights Watch was told by officials at the scene in charge of dispersing these tents, which had been designated for government workers in Muzaffarabad, that tents and other emergency supplies were being stored instead. Officials present said that this was being done so that they would be able to avoid problems when senior military and civilian officials demand supplies that otherwise would not be available. One official said that he would be fired if he handed out the tents. Under pressure from the intended recipients, one official did release some tents to some of the people on the list of designated civil servants. Each tent can provide shelter for six people.

"In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, tents are the difference between life and death," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "It is essential for the public to know that aid is being handled in a non-arbitrary, non-discriminatory manner."

Via Human Rights Watch.

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

Friday, October 21, 2005

Rewarding incompetency.

We found something interesting buried down near the bottom of this LA Times story on the latest revelations about ex-FEMA head Michael Brown's incompetent handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster:

Brown is still on FEMA's payroll as a consultant, [FEMA spokesperson Nicol] Andrews confirmed. He works from home, where he is "pulling all the documentation together" for the investigations into Katrina response, she said, and his original 30-day contract was recently extended for another 30 days.

A little searching determined that Brown got US$ 148,000 for his first 30 days as a FEMA consultant. We can only assume he's getting the same amount for his extension.

We wonder what a magpie has to do to get a lucrative gig like that. Exactly how badly would we have to screw something up?

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:52 AM | Get permalink

Kansas supremes toss out law targetting gay sex.

Since 2000, Matthew Limon has been sitting in a Kansas prison. His crime was that, when 18, he had sex with a 14-year-old boy. For that crime, a court gave Limon a 17-year sentence. Had the 14-year-old boy been a 14-year-old girl, the longest sentence the court could have given him was 15 months. If that difference sounds unfair to you, you're not the only one.

Today, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state can't punish underage sex more severely when the sex acts in question are homosexual. The ruling removes language in a 1999 state law that allowed shorter sentences for underage sex when the age difference between the participants is less than four years — unless, of course, the participants were of the same sex. In that case, it was OK for the judge to throw the book at the offender. In tossing out that language, the court also ordered that Limon should be re-sentenced as though the law had treated gay and straight sex identically.

A lower court had said the state could justify the harsher punishment as protecting children's traditional development, fighting disease or strengthening traditional values.

Writing for the high court, Justice Marla Luckert said the Kansas law specifying harsher treatment for illegal gay sex is too broad to meet those goals.

"The statute inflicts immediate, continuing and real injuries that outrun and belie any legitimate justification that may be claimed for it," Luckert wrote. "Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest."

Via AP.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:17 AM | Get permalink

Any day now.

The Pentagon will announce the 2000th 'official' US combat death in Iraq.

What does 2000 look like? This. [Flash req'd.]


| | Posted by Magpie at 9:23 AM | Get permalink

Another sneaky policy change by Dubya's administration.

This one involves Medicaid, the program that provides health care for low income families and individuals. And, interestingly, the change is happening in Florida, the state where Duba's brother Jeb is the governor. [Purely a coincidence, we're sure.]

Dubya's administration has given Florida permission to put a new restrictive Medicaid program into effect. Under that plan, the old rules under which Medicaid recipients received 'defined benefits' — in other words, there was a list of medical services that Medicaid would pay for — have been put aside. Instead, Florida's 2.2 million Medicaid recipients will be covered under a 'defined contribution' plan. What this means is that the state will allot a specific number of dollars that it will pay per year for the medical care of an individual. Once that limit has been reached, the person may be on their own — even if they still require medical care.

Another change under the new 'defined contribution' rules is that Medicaid assistance will be provided via private health plans. These plans will be free to limit the 'amount, duration, and scope' of medical care in ways that would not be allowed under current federal Medicaid rules. And says Joan Alker of the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University, 'Many of those decisions will be made by private health plans, out of public view.'

Florida officials, of course, minimize the effects that the Medicaid changes will have on people who depend on the program for their health care. Florida Agency for Health Care Administration head Alan Levine says few recipients would reach their annual limits — maybe 5 percent. But, as The Gadflyer's David Seldin points out, 'The reason people will reach those caps is because they will be really sick. Florida is going to cut people off when they need help most, and the federal government says that's just fine with them.'

So, basically, the shift in the Florida Medicaid rules is another of the Dubya administration's retreats from the notion that the federal government has definite responsibilities to help the poorest people in the country. And, as usual, the administration is doing this under the guise of giving states more control over joint state-federal programs, and of making the administration of an those programs more financially 'responsible.' Dubya has made no secret tht he'd like to see programs like Florida's in effect for the whole country. Hopefully, he won't get the chance to make that desire a reality.

Via NY Times.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:39 AM | Get permalink

Why aren't more US men going to college? And does it matter?

Given the historical discrimination that US women have suffered in education and employment, it's pretty hard for us to shed many tears over the fact that women now make up more than half of the students in US colleges and universities — and that this percentage continues to grow. Even so, we have to admit that the exclusion of anyone, or whatever gender, from getting a college-level education is a problem that commands our attention. However, a USA Today story about declining male enrollments in the nation's colleges and universities is unlikely to shed any light on why the situation exists and how much of a problem it represents.

The story begins by pointing out a basic truth: Women outnumber men in US colleges by 57 percent to 43 percent — a reversal of the situation 40 years ago — and that there is a continuing drop in male college enrollments that crosses all lines of race, income, and fields of study. Unfortunately, the story then breaks down into a confusing muddle of dueling experts and statistics, none of which gives a clue as to why women are choosing to go to college and men aren't.

We're told that blue-collar jobs traditionally open to male high school graduates disappearing, but not what this has to do with college attendance. We read that more male students are dropping out of high school and college, but we're not given any reasons why they are dropping out. We're told that the needs of boys and girls are different, but we're not told why the needs of both genders aren't being met, or even whether they aren't both being met. We're given a hint that social pressures may be pushing young males away from college, but we're not told what those pressures are or where they originate.

Basically, the bulk of the story boils down to: 'There's a problem. Really. Trust us.'

As to solving the problem of declining male enrollments, the story doesn't offer much, either. Boys-only college-prep classes are suggested at one point, and there are some vague rumblings that something resembling affirmative action for men might be needed. And one expert suggests that men are staying away from higher education because colleges are too geared to women's learning styles and interests; the solution, he says, is to offer more sports [honest!] and more male role models.

But the most interesting part of the USA Today story — and, we'd suggest, the real story here — was buried almost at the bottom:

UCLA higher education professor Linda Sax says such a discussion should address what effect, if any, the gender composition of a college has on men and women. To find out, she examined data from more than 17,000 students at 204 four-year colleges.

Preliminary results show that on campuses that were predominantly female, both men and women got higher grades. Predominantly female campuses also led to a "significant increase" in men's commitment to promoting racial understanding and led males to more liberal views on abortion, homosexuality and other social issues, her research found.

"What we're talking about here is the impact of women's attitudes and values," Sax says.

We'd love to have seen the story about male college enrollments that would have resulted if the reporter had started with this study of male attitude changes, rather than dumped it in at the end, almost as an afterthought.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:23 AM | Get permalink

Pentagon in damage-control mode after Taliban bodies are burned.

The US military is investigating an Australian TV report that US troops near Kandahar, Afghanistan burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters and broadcast taunts to a nearby village as the bodies burned. While the burning of bodies is deeply offensive to Muslims, the troops reportedly added to the insult by facing the bodies toward Mecca. The actions of the US troops also violated the Geneva Conventions, which require 'honourable' burial of people killed in a war.

"This alleged action is repugnant to our common values," Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya said in a statement from the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan. "This command takes all allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior seriously and has directed an investigation into circumstances surrounding this allegation."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the allegations against the U.S. troops are "very serious" and, if true, "very troubling."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that burning bodies "is not anywhere close to our standard operating procedure. It's not something that is consistent with their procedures."

You can read the CENTCOM announcement of the investigation here.

For more information on the burning incident, see earlier Magpie posts here and here.

Via AP.

More: The video of the burning incident has been difficult to find since SBS removed a link to the Dateline program on which the video orignally aired this past Wednesday. However, CNN has since posted its report on the story, which includes portions of the video. You can view that report here. [Requires Windows Media Player]

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

Ooooooh, shiny!

Re-live this year's Atlantic hurricane season!

All of it. Every single storm [except that weird Hurricane Vince]. Animated, even.

And it'll only take you about ninety seconds to view it. [MPEG file]

Hurricane Rita 23 Sept 2005

Still of Hurricane Rita on September 23, 2005 [Image: NASA/SVC]

This visualization shows sea surface temperatures during most of the 2005 hurricane season. Overlaid are infrared cloud data, storm track data, and storm name labels. Ocean temperatures are the fuel that drive hurricanes. Notice the correspondence between the storm tracks and the sea surface temperature response; this is particulary noticable for hurricanes Dennis, Emily, and Katrina. This versions shows a wide view of the Gulf of Mexico and Western Atlantic Ocean.

This visualization includes all of the named storms from Arlene though Wilma; however, Vince is not within the camera's view since it was in the Portugal/Spain region.

You can download versions of the animation in MPEG and PNG formats, or download individual frames, if you go here.


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

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Say cheese!

US House majority leader Tom DeLay smiles pretty for the camera while being booked by the Harris County sheriff's office on charges of money laundering and conspiracy. Sorry, we don't have the fingerprints.

Tom DeLay's mug shot

We normally try to restrain ourself from gloating, but ... it doesn't get much better than this, does it?

Via Smoking Gun.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:16 PM | Get permalink

More images from the burnings in Afghanistan.

We posted a few hours ago about the airing by the Australian news program Dateline of a video showing US soldiers burning the bodies of Taliban dead in Afghanistan. The bodies were burned facing Mecca, and the troops taunted Taliban supporters in a nearby village as the bodies burned.

The Muslim faith holds that a body must be buried within 24 hours of death, so the burnings are not going to win the US any friends in Islamic countries. In addition, the burnings violate the Geneva Conventions, which require that the burial of people killed in a war 'should be honourable, and, if possible, according to the rites of the religion to which the deceased belonged.'

So far, none of the stories we've seen online have included any images of the burnings. Admittedly, the video that Dateline aired is grisly, but so were the ones from Abu Ghraib. Nonetheless, news editors seem to have decided [at least initially] that the public doesn't need to see the pictures of what the US soldiers did. And, interestingly, the video of yesterday's Dateline program, which aired the pictures of the burnings, has been removed from the program's website.

When we posted yesterday, we included a poor-resolution screen grab from the Dateline program — not having the foresight to download the whole program. Luckily, we've located additional screen grabs that are of higher quality than the one in our earlier post. We're including the less graphic one below:

US soldier watch Taliban bodies burn

US soldiers desecrate Taliban dead in Afghanistan. [Image: Stephen Dupont]

You can see a larger version of this image here.

We also have a more graphic image that you can view here and [in a larger version] here. The caption on the image is what one of the soldiers was saying as he watched the bodies burn.

You'll find more details on the story, including links to Dateline, in our earlier post.

More: SBS has removed the link to the video of the Dateline program containing the video of the burnings. However, CNN has posted its report on the story, which includes portions of the video. You can view that report here. [Requires Windows Media Player]

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:41 AM | Get permalink

Working at the [US] minimum wage.

If that's what you do, you can stop waiting for Congress to give you a pay hike.

The US Senate has killed a bill that would have raised the current minimum hourly wage to US$ 6.25 over 18 months. This would have been the first increase since 1997 for workers at the bottom of the US pay ladder. These people can now expect to continue making US$ 5.15 per hour for the foreseeable future. Every single Democratic member of the Senate voted for the bill; almost all of the Republicans voted against it.

For the record, someone who works full time at the mimimum wage earns slightly over US$ 10,700 annually. That's less than half of the amount by which members of Congress have voted to increase their own salaries since the last time the minimum wage was raised.

Via AP.

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:14 AM | Get permalink

Making sense out of the split in the US labor movement.

One of the most important recent news stories in the US is the split in the AFL-CIO, organized labor's half-century-old umbrella organization. Last summer, three of the group's largest unions — the Teamsters, the Service Employees (SEIU), and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) — left the AFL-CIO to form an independent labor federation, Change to Win. Several other unions have since followed the original three. AFL-CIO logo

The main issue dividing the house of labor was how to respond to the decades-long decline in union membership. While one-third of US workers were unionized in the early 1950s, that percentage is now under 10 percent — at least in part the result of concerted anti-union activity on the part of US corporations. Unions such as the SEIU have argued since the early 1970s that the AFL-CIO needed to be more aggressive in its response to this effort and, in particular, devote more of its energies and cash to effective organizing of women and minority workers, and of workers in emerging industries. Without such action, advocates argued, the AFL-CIO unions would continue their downward spiral.Change to Win logo

The story of the internal arguments in the AFL-CIO since then is complex and, to be honest, much of it went over our head. As a result, we've said very little about the recent split here, despite its importance. We didn't figure we had enough knowledge to make an intelligent comment.

But today, we can at least point to an article by labor journalist Jim McNeill in Dissent that explains the history of the AFL-CIO split briefly and even-handedly.

By 1973, the unionized share of the U.S. work force had been declining for two decades and Wurf was appalled that so many unions were "fighting each other for the right to represent workers rather than working together to organize the unorganized." Starting at the Miami Beach convention, [AFSCME president Jerry] Wurf argued, the AFL-CIO had to get serious about wide-ranging reform. The American economy was changing — manufacturing was shrinking, corporations were consolidating — and labor had to change as well. The federation had to merge its small and failing affiliates so that just twenty or thirty large and powerful unions remained. And those mega-unions, instead of "chopping each other up" in a competition for members, should each focus on organizing a particular industry or sector. Only with that strategic focus, Wurf said, could the labor movement reverse its decline.

Not without reason, delegates from many AFL-CIO affiliates read Wurf's article as a scathing attack on their sacred, if no longer sturdy, institutions. Wurf had already earned a reputation as a brash, some said arrogant, leader, one who too often frayed the fraternal bonds of labor. And so, when the delegates arrived in Miami Beach in 1973, they gave short shrift to his reform proposals?and once they got home, they went right on raiding AFSCME's turf. One of the worst offenders in that turf war was an old AF of L affiliate called the Building Service Employees International Union. At least that's what BSEIU was called before its leaders realized they could supplement their sagging janitorial membership by poaching AFSCME's public employees. Thus, in 1968 the BSEIU shed its "B," and the SEIU was born.

There is no small irony in the fact that today perhaps the strongest proponent of Jerry Wurf's vision for labor is Andy Stern, the brash, some say arrogant, president of SEIU, which is now the largest and fastest-growing union in North America. In the run-up to the AFL-CIO's momentous July 2005 convention in Chicago, Stern put forth reform proposals that were eerily similar to Wurf's recommendations from 1973. Of course, given SEIU's history, more than a few unions — especially AFSCME — were peeved to hear Stern preaching Wurf's gospel. How is it, they wondered, that this janitors union, which grew by luring public employees and health care workers, could tell other unions to focus narrowly on their traditional sectors? Where did SEIU get off telling proud unions such as the Autoworkers and Steelworkers that labor could grow but only if they stuck to their disappearing industries?

SEIU officials aren't oblivious to these questions. In "United We Win," a discussion paper the union circulated in February 2003 to spur the AFL-CIO reform debate, SEIU acknowledged that many of the problems it sought to fix in the labor movement "can be found in our own organization." Yes, the paper admitted, SEIU had once been a bottom-feeding union that snapped up everyone from laundry workers to leather workers, from jewelry makers to metal spinners. But in recent years, SEIU had focused its organizing efforts only in those sectors where it had significant membership. Because of that strategic focus, as well as a massive commitment of resources, SEIU has had unparalleled success in organizing workers. Since Stern took charge in 1996, SEIU has organized more than 800,000 new members, far more than any other union.

We strongly suggest that you go here and read the rest of McNeill's piece.

Via Crooked Timber.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

US military continues to win friends in the Muslim world.

[If you've arrived here via Google or other search engine, or via an outside link, you might also want to look at our more recent posts on this story here and here.]

The Australian news program Dateline has aired video of US soldiers burning the bodies of Taliban dead, with the bodies facing Mecca. Such an action is deeply offensive to Muslims, who believe that a body must be buried within 24 hours of death.

US troops watching Taliban bodies burn

US soldiers watch bodies of Taliban fighters burn. [Image: Stephen Dupont/SBS]

The burning of the bodies violates the Geneva Conventions, which require that the burial of people killed in a war 'should be honourable, and, if possible, according to the rites of the religion to which the deceased belonged.'

US soldier said that the burning of the bodies was required for hygienic reasons. However, two reporters accompanying the unit say that explanation is 'unbelievable' given the isolated location of the village.

[And if the burning of the bodies wasn't bad enough, the comments made by some of the soldiers as they watched the pyre were particularly offensive. It's not like this video isn't going to make its way from Australia onto DVDs in Muslim countries.]

The video by photojournalist Stephen Dupont also shows US troops broadcasting a message taunting Taliban supporters in a nearby village:

According to an SBS [network] translation of the message, delivered in the local language, the soldiers accused Taliban fighters near Kandahar of being "cowardly dogs". "You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burnt. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be," the message reportedly said.

"You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Taliban but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion, and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are."

You can view the Dateline program containing the video here. A discussion between the program host and the photojournalist who took the video is here. [RealPlayer req'd for both.]

Via SBS TV and Sydney Morning Herald.

More: A CNN report including sections of the video is here. [Requires Windows Media Player]

| | Posted by Magpie at 5:54 PM | Get permalink

Don't be an energy hog.

Mikhaela helps us avoid this socially irresponsible fate by presenting the Bush/Cheney conservation tips:

Dubya's conservation tips

[© 2005 Mikhaela B. Reid]

Check out the rest of the cartoon here.

If you want to see more of Mikhaela's political cartoons, take a look over here.

More: For an interesting contrast, you might want to go look at the Dubya adminstration's offical 'Energy Hog' website. Yes, it's for real.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:41 PM | Get permalink

Has there been human-to-human transmission of avian flu?

As usual, the answer to that question is unclear, but a new study indicates that health authorities may not be asking correctly. In the November issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, a research team says that there have been at least 15 'clusters' of avian flu since 2003, and that human-to-human transmission may have happened in some of those clusters. However, the information available about these clusters makes it impossible to tell — a problem that would severely hamper any efforts to control an emerging pandemic

The lead author admitted that the rate at which information about human cases has emerged from affected countries raises worries about how clear a picture international authorities have when such events occur.

"Part of the reason to highlight this is to suggest any cluster should be viewed as a worrisome event and should be thoroughly worked up so that we can ascertain if it's person-to-person (spread) or rule it out," said Sonja Olsen, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's International Emerging Infections Program, which is based in Bangkok.

"I'm sure some of these are just clear that there was no person to person and some to me seem less clear from the data that we have. But I think it raises the issue of: Do we have enough data on each of these?"

The question of whether health authorities have enough data on clusters is not an idle one. While the World Health Organization and some epidemiologists suggest that a pandemic will signal its beginning by an increase in the number of clusters, it's also been suggested that this event might be marked by an increase in the size of each cluster. See this post at Effects Measure for more.

Via Canadian Press.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:51 PM | Get permalink

Guess who'll be enforcing Australia's new terror law?

No guess at all? We'll give you some hints.

It's the same guy who led the federal agency responsible for illegally deporting Cornelia Rau, and illegally imprisoning Vivian Alvarez — both immigrants to Australia.

And it's the same guy whose leadership of the Department of Immigration that, after the treatment of Rau and Alvarez became a national scandal, led the Commonwealth Ombudsman to charge that the department's operation was riddled with systemic problems:

According to the Ombudsman, "it is difficult to form any conclusion other than that the culture of [the immigration department] was so motivated by imperatives associated with the removal of unlawful non-citizens that officers failed to take into account the basic human rights obligations that characterise a democratic society".

These aren't new problems. In the Ombudsman's view, the shortcomings of the department were "entrenched" by 2001. Nor are Rau and Alvarez isolated victims. According to Mick Palmer: "An initial analysis of other cases referred to the inquiry for examination" — another 200 cases — "shows that many of the same causal factors seem to be present".

Getting closer? No? Okay, here's one more hint:

It's the same guy whose xenophobia and lack of respect for human rights while heading the Immigration Department garnered him a big reward: Last year, right-wing PM John Howard promoted him to the office of Attorney-General.

Yes, that's right: It's Phillip Ruddock.

In The Australian, Peter Browne gives more details about why Aussies should be very nervous that Ruddock will be calling the shots as to how, when, and against whom the draconian new terror legislation will be applied:

Ruddock is once again asking us to take on trust his interpretation of the threat Australia faces. But this time the stakes are even higher, because anyone who believes they are falsely apprehended under the new laws will be prohibited from talking about their case in public. Ruddock's record gives us no reason to be confident of his ability to critically examine claims made by intelligence agencies (which, after all, are as fallible as any other branch of government) or to oversee the extraordinary new powers the Government is seeking.

For more on the draconian terror legislation about to become law in Australia, see this earlier Magpie post.

Via Road to Surfdom.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:22 AM | Get permalink

No comment.

From Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, speaking to a group of Dubya adminstration political appointees earlier this year:

Time and time again, it seemed, the president was able to zero in on the most difficult aspect of an issue and provide exactly the direction needed. [I]Guess that is why he is president.

Via Bloomberg.

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

Would someone please teach FEMA how to count?

Last week, FEMA said that over 600,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina were still lodged in hotels. It turns out that the agency was just a bit off.

Okay, it was more than a bit.

Try 400,000 people off.

This week, the feds and the Red Cross agree that only 200,000 or so people are still in hotels as a result of Katrina. The huge gap between this week's figures and the much larger one from last week is a pretty good sign that FEMA doesn't exactly have its metaphorical finger on the not-so-metaphorical pulse of the Gulf Coast disaster.

"FEMA still does not know any more about what it was doing last week than it was a month ago," Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said. "It is still, as far as I am concerned, an incompetent agency."

Via NY Times.

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

The Carnival of Feminists.

Sometimes when we're perusing the web we find the coolest things the we didn't know existed. Like the Carnival of Feminists. On the first and third Wednesday of each month, a different blog presents an assortment of the best feminist posts from around the blogosphere, as suggested by blog readers.

The first one is up at Philobiblion, and it's quite a carnival indeed. Given that we're almost an official historian [someday we'll finish that f'n masters thesis], we've excerpted the Carnival section on history, which contains some real gems:

Regular readers of my blog will know that one of my favourite questions is: why do women seem to keep disappearing from history? But many bloggers are doing their part to recover forgotten women and ensure those in the public eye stay there.

On Clews: The True Crime Blog, Laura writes about an essay by Celia Laighton Thaxter (1835-1894), "in her lifetime one of the most famous women poets". Yet a famous factual essay she wrote has come to be labelled "fiction", and is mined by other writers.

Pinko Feminist Hellcat, meanwhile, looks back to the Iceland women's strike of 1974. And it could be about to happen again!

Then, using the host's right of one link, I'll point to my post on Hille Feyken, a 15-year-old who came up with her own plan to save the embattled Anabaptist stronghold of Munster in 1534 and carried it out with considerable elan. She was betrayed, however, and met her death with the same fervent courage.

And since Sharon on Early Modern Notes was my first blogging mentor, I'm going to bend the rules for her to go back to the delightful tale of the upper-class female highwaywoman.

Finally, and a fine note to finish on, Uma on Indian Writing records awards honouring social activists, including a seven-year-old girl campaigning against child marriage.

And that's a mere fraction of the good stuff to be found at the Carnival. Go check out the whole thing, and keep your eye peeled for the next edition, coming up on November 2nd at Personal Political.

For more info on the Carnival of Feminists, as well as links to each Carnival as it appears, go here.

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

9/11 commission rises from dead, blasts Dubya's administration.

While the official mandate of the US government commission investigating 9/11 ended more than a year ago, commission members have continued to work together as the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, examining the degree to which its recommendations have been put into effect by Dubya's administration and the Congress.

The bipartisan project has finished work on a major new report that will be issued Wednesday. In that report, the commissioners reportedly criticize Dubya's administration for failing to defend civil liberties and privacy rights as it expanded the the federal government's surveillance powers after 9/11. Some commissioners reportedly call the White House's civil liberties oversight board 'toothless' and 'underfinance.'

A Democratic member of the commission, Timothy J. Roemer, a former House member from Indiana, said the new "report card" would show that the administration and Congress had taken no action on many of the panel's central recommendations, "and we're not going to get many more chances to get things right before the terrorists come at us again."

Mr. Roemer said in an interview that the F.B.I. would be criticized because it "has talked about well-intentioned reform but has not delivered it."

"We still need to see a big change in that culture," he said.

Congress would be criticized, Mr. Roemer said, for having failed to follow through on the panel's major recommendations for an overhaul of Congressional oversight of intelligence and terrorism issues. In its final report last year, the commission described Congressional oversight as "dysfunctional."

Via NY Times.

| | Posted by Magpie at 8:53 PM | Get permalink

Judith Miller redux.

The muse has struck Mad Kane, who's written four limericks about NYT reporter Judith Miller:

Ms. Miller Has Written Her Tale
By Madeleine Begun Kane

Ms. Miller has written her tale,
And as tales go, it's rather a whale.
Her memory's convenient,
On Libby she's lenient.
What a shame that she got out of jail!

You can read the other three limericks here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:23 PM | Get permalink

It's a corporate takeover!

Check out a whole bunch of images of what the world would look like if corporations had their names on everything, instead of just almost everything.

Lenin & his Ipod

Lenin and his Ipod. [Image: krijnvanleeuwen]

What struck us about some of the images [such as this one] is how close they are to stuff we've actually seen already.

Via Worth 1000.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:46 PM | Get permalink

While Harriet Miers' views on abortion make us nervous.

Her views on the power of the federal government and presidency really make us afraid of what she could do on the Supreme Court.

In her speeches to conservative groups, Miers called for extension of the Patriot Act, which expands law enforcement agencies' power to investigate suspected terrorists.

She defended Vice President Dick Cheney's closed-door energy task force as the best way for the administration to use confidential deliberations to set national policy. And she said her role as White House counsel was generally to "protect against any attempted infringement on the appropriate role of the executive branch."

"In order to effectively serve the American people, the president's powers must be protected," Miers said in June, in a speech given to the conservative Heritage Foundation. "We must recognize that we are a nation at war, and that requires a strong presidency to act as commander-in-chief."

Any one who can justify the continuation of the Patriot Act, and who doesn't think the presidency is powerful enough isn't someone we'd like to see on the nation's highest court, deciding the fate of our civil liberties.

You can read longer version of the Miers remarks cited in the Globe article if you go here. We were particularly disturbed by the latest of Miers' effusive comments on how great Dubya is.

Via Boston Globe.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:18 PM | Get permalink

Your laser printer could be a stool pigeon.

If you use a laser printer, the documents you print out may contain more information than you know.
Security dotsAccording to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, many printers add a series of tiny yellow dots containing encoded data to each document. That data, says EFF, identifies your particular printer and the day and time when you printed the document. [The image shows the dot code from a Xerox DocuColor color laser printout. The small dots have been overlaid with larger yellow dots to make the code easier to see.]

The dots had been noticed by others before now, but no one had figured out what they meant. Cracking the code took only a few days once sufficient samples had been collected.

The US Secret Service has confirmed that the dots added to printouts are used for law enforcement purposes. Xerox has confirmed that its printers do indeed add such dots, but refuses to say what they mean or how long Xerox printers have been adding the information.

EFF says that printers made by other companies, including Dell and Canon, also add dot codes to their printouts. The group is asking people to submit test sheets from their printers so that the public can know which printers are adding the dot codes and which don't. The current list of 'good' and 'bad' printers is here.

You can read a more detailed analysis of what EFF found out about the coding on Xerox DocuColor printers if you go here.


| | Posted by Magpie at 11:29 AM | Get permalink

Sci-fi meme time.

This one's courtesy of John Scalzi, author of the just-released Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies. Rough Guide to Sci-Fi MoviesPart of the book is Scalzi's list of the 50 most influential science fiction films ? in his words, the ones that 'you have to see before you die.' Scalzi's well aware that people will argue about his list. In fact, he hopes that's what people do:

Now, let me be clear: I don't expect everyone to agree with my selections for the Science Fiction Film Canon. Indeed, what fun would it be if everyone did? I hope that people use The Canon list as a springboard for starting a wide-ranging debate about what science fiction films truly matter. So if you think my list is crap, bully for you. Do better. Be aware I'm willing to fight to the death for this list; otherwise, bring it on.

So at the suggestion of Pharyngula, we're going to jump in. First, we're posting Scalzi's 50-film list, marking the ones we've seen in bold. Then we're going to list a few films that we think should have been listed. [Pharyngula's list is here, by the way.]

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Back to the Future
Blade Runner
Bride of Frankenstein
Brother From Another Planet
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

The Damned
Destination Moon
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Escape From New York
ET: The Extraterrestrial
Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)

The Fly (1985 version)
Forbidden Planet
Ghost in the Shell
The Incredibles
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
Jurassic Park
Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
The Matrix
On the Beach
Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
Solaris (1972 version)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Stepford Wives
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Thing From Another World
Things to Come
12 Monkeys

28 Days Later
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
2001: A Space Odyssey

La Voyage Dans la Lune
War of the Worlds (1953 version)

And here are the films that we think are missing:

The Day the Earth Caught Fire
Frankenstein [1931]
Dr Strangelove
Quatermass and the Pit [1967]
Repo Man

And here are a couple of recent ones that we suspect will make the list when the book is updated in a decade or so:

Battlestar Galactica [2003 miniseries]
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow [Yes, it sucked. But it was
so beautiful.]

Scalzi's post on the release of his book is here. The discussions in the comments are especially fun.

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

Monday, October 17, 2005

From our 'Another Amazing Coincidence' Department.

Up until now, talk-show programming on the US Armed Forces Network has been notable for its pronounced rightward tilt. While right-wing talkers such as Rush Limbaugh have been airing for years, no alternative from the left has been presented.

That was supposed to change today, when AFN's radio service was scheduled to begin running The Ed Schultz Show. Schultz is something of a poster boy for commercial progressive radio, having taken his program from two stations at the beginning of 2004 to over 100 stations today. Just over two weeks ago, Schultz was contacted by the head of the AFN Radio Network, who let him know that the decision had been made for AFN to start carrying the first hour of Schultz's program beginning on October 17. [You can read a PDF file of the email here.]

Skip forward to last week, when Schultz's program — like a lot of US media outlets — hightlighted the controversy surrounding Dubya's staged and scripted 'conversation' with a group of US servicmembers in Iraq. [See this earlier Magpie post.] On Friday, Schultz ran tape of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison Barber coaching the troops on their answers just before going live with Dubya. If you've heard the tape, you'll know that it doesn't make Barber or Dubya look particularly good.

Strangely enough, this morning saw Schultz's producer getting a call from that same Allison Barber, telling him that The Ed Schultz Show would not be starting on AFRS today. Or maybe ever.

Some conspiracy-mongers might think there is a connection between the cancellation of Schultz's program on AFN and his having 'embarassed' Barber and the prez on the air last week, but we here at Magpie know that it's really ...
another amazing coincidence!

More: You'll find additional details on this story at UPI, Think Progress, and People for the American Way.

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:15 PM | Get permalink

Proposed anti-terror law: 'A shocking departure.'

Australia's proposed anti-terrorism law threatens civil liberties and violates international law, says Human Rights Watch. The right-wing government of PM John Howard wants the power to detain terror suspects for up to 14 days and issue 'control orders' that include house arrest, attaching tracking devices to suspects, and limiting where a suspect can who and who they could meet. These control orders could remain in effect for a year.

According to HRW Asia director Brad Adams, there's little difference between putting someone under house arrest for a year and jailing them without trial: "Locking people up or seriously restricting their liberty when they have not even been charged are characteristics of dictatorship, not a democracy. Unjust measures are likely to alienate the very communities whose cooperation is vital to an effective counterterrorism strategy through the criminal justice system."

See this earlier post for more on Australia's proposed terror law.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:16 PM | Get permalink

Two pairs are better than one.

The Wright Brothers may not been the first to use the biplane model for flight. M. gui and friend

According to paleontologist Sankar Chatterjee, that honor may go to Microraptor gui, a flying dinosaur that lived 125 million years ago. Unlike most other bird-like creatures of its time, M. gui had two pairs of wings which scientists had believed were used in tandem, much as does a dragonfly. Using computer models to compare the flight characteristic of M. gui and the well-known Archaeopteryx, however, Chatterjee found that the second pair of wings could not pivot in the manner needed for tandem operaration. Instead, he believes that the rear wings were deployed below the front pair, much like in modern biplanes, giving M.gui unusual aerial stability.

Via [Image: © Jeff Martz]

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:30 AM | Get permalink

Bits & pieces.

What's caught our interest this early AM:
  • The death toll from the South Asia earthquake has risen to at least 54,000 people. Officials in Kashmir warn that weather and disease may take additional lives from among the more than 2 million people believed to be homeless. [AP]

  • The Washington Post reports on US servicemembers injured in combat who are being dunned by the military for debts they allegedly owe the military — debts that even the Pentagon acknowledges are being caused by problems with the military's payroll system.

    His hand had been blown off in Iraq, his body pierced by shrapnel. He could not walk. Robert Loria was flown home for a long recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he tried to bear up against intense physical pain and reimagine his life's possibilities.

    The last thing on his mind, he said, was whether the Army had correctly adjusted his pay rate -- downgrading it because he was out of the war zone -- or whether his combat gear had been accounted for properly: his Kevlar helmet, his suspenders, his rucksack.

    But nine months after Loria was wounded, the Army garnished his wages and then, as he prepared to leave the service, hit him with a $6,200 debt.

  • Surprise, surprise! Dubya has failed to follow through on creating two of the three programs he proposed for rebuilding the hurricane-shattered Gulf Coast quickly. The third one is just woefully underfunded. [LA Times]

  • If you're confused and annoyed by those impenetrable licenses that you have to agree to each time you install some new software, help has arrived. The same folks that came up with the indispensible SpywareBlaster — JavaCool — have developed EULAlyzer, a tool that identifies all those sneaky items that software vendors like to sneak into licenses. Just copy in the license text and EULAlyzer finds the evil license clauses. Even better, EULAlyzer is free to noncommercial users — although you might want to toss some cash JavaCool's way to reward them for their efforts. [And no, we're not connected to JavaCool in any way, other than being a very satisfied user of SpywareBlaster.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:01 AM | Get permalink

Rendering unto Caesar Dubya and Blair.

You might remember Maher Arar, a Syrian-born citizen of Canada who made the mistake of taking an international flight that had a layover in the US. Arar was detained by US officials, then shipped off to the Mideast, where he was imprisoned and tortured by Syrian secret police. After a year, Arar was sent home to Canada because, as he'd said from the beginning, he had no connection to terrorists.

The process used on Arar is common enough to have a name: Extradordinary rendition. It was invented by the CIA in the mid-1990s to deal with people suspected of having links to militant Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda. The US would send prisoners off to Egypt where torture was [and is] commonly used by the secret police. After the prisoners were tortured, the Egyptians would tell the CIA what they'd learned, without the need for the US government to get its hands dirty.

While it started under the Clinton administration, extraordinary rendition has become one of the Dubya administration's tools of choice in its 'war on terrorism.' The best guess is that at least 150 people have been picked up — often on the slimmest of suspicions — and shipped off to such bastions of human rights as Uzbekistan and Syria.

Craig Murray is the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, serving in that post until October 2004. As a former rendition 'customer,' he has more than passing knowledge of what's involved when a suspected person is subjected to the gentle ministations of Uzbek [or similar] captors. Here's part of what he told Neil Mackay of Scotland's Sunday Herald:

"In Uzbekistan, it works like this," he says. "Person X is tortured and signs a statement saying he's going to crash planes into buildings, or that he's linked to Osama bin Laden. He's also asked if he knows persons X, Y and Z in the UK who are involved in terrorism. He?ll be tortured until he agrees, though he?s never met them."

The confession is sent to the CIA where, according to Murray, it is "sanitised". Before sanitisation the report "will have the guy?s name on it, the date of the interrogation, where it took place — and might still be bloodstained.

"The CIA then issues a debriefing document, which does not name the individual. It does not say he was tortured. It only says that it is a detainee debriefing from a friendly overseas security service.

"This will set out the brief facts, such as "we now know person X in London is in Islamic Jihad and plans to blow up Canary Wharf". This goes to MI6 — the British and Americans share everything — and then it goes to MI6's customers: the Prime Minister, the defence secretary, the home secretary, the foreign secretary, and other key ministers and officials. I was one of these customers too because I was the ambassador to Tashkent.

"I'd look at these reports and, to be frank, I realised they were bollocks. One talked about terror camps in the hills near Samarkand. I knew the precise location being talked about and it wasn?t true.

"The threats of Islamic extremism in Uzbekistan were exaggerated. I knew the picture on the ground, and claims that there was a large Islamic grouping linked to al-Qaeda were false. The Uzbeks wanted to convince the US they were suffering the same terrorist problem. So if America supported them, they would help in the war on terror.

"What terrifies me is that our government is saying we need to lock up various people on the basis of intelligence that can't be used in court. But we know the material is dodgy. It is not evidence. It is very important that we realise we are contaminating the pool of intelligence. It leads to false threats, public hysteria and the diversion of resources from real threats."

As an insider, Murray quickly came to understand that "just because a fact is false doesn't mean it isn't useful". He adds: "Look at the intelligence on WMD. It was false, but it existed on paper and it was still useful for the government in starting a war. In deciding the importance of intelligence it isn?t really important if it is true or not."

For a slightly less dispassionate look at extradorinary rendition, you might want to read this post by Ken Macleod at Early Days of a Better Nation. [We thank Macleod for pointing us to the Sunday Herald story.]

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:43 AM | Get permalink

Draconian Aussie terror laws may not be a slam dunk.

The headlong rush of Australia's right-wing government toward enacting anti-terror laws even more stringent than the USA Patriot Act may be hitting a roadblock. The heads of the two federal territories [Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory] are raising doubts about their support for a law that erodes civil liberties to the degree shown in recent texts of the anti-terror legislation.
New Aussie terror lawThe state leaders are in a strong position: For the anti-terror legislation to take effect, Australia's states will have to cede some of their powers to the federal government. Opposition from even two states could cripple the law before it gets its first hearing in Parliament.

"I find it simply unacceptable for anybody to suggest that I should put my signature on this draft bill, send it back to the Prime Minister and say 'Yes, Prime Minister, I agree to this bill, I haven't consulted with the people of the ACT ... but I'm prepared to sign off on it,' " [Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Jon] Stanhope told ABC Radio.

"He simply is intent on crashing through this legislation, with its fundamental implications for civil liberties and human rights...."

Northern Territory chief minister Clare Martin is also worried about some of the draft law's contents:

"At COAG [Council of Australian Governments] we agreed to principles about this legislation and there was a robust discussion, and I think the states were very concerned the appropriate safeguards were in what was tough legislation..."

"And that was those principles of judicial review, that anyone picked up under the legislation had a right to legal representation and there was a sunset clause.

"That was the first phase. The second phase was to look at the detail and certainly I think every state leader and all states will be very concerned that those principles and what we want to see incorporated are there and they are reflected in that draft legislation."

Aussie PM John Howard reportedly also faces opposition from back-benchers in his own Liberal Party. Howard, nonetheless, says that key elements of the law will not be changed.

Meanwhile, the proposed terror law is being attacked by the Australian Law Council [the equivalent of the US American Bar Association]. According to council head John North, the proposed law moves Australia further down the road toward becoming a police state:

"The fact that the Government wanted to move these laws through Parliament with indecent haste and without letting us as a Law Council or other interested people have wide community consultation means that we're very concerned about them...."

"We understand that the people are scared, we understand that terrorism is the major, major issue, but we must not take away fundamental rights without asking our Government to assure us that we are going to be safe," he said....

"Internationally it is really only lawyers who are trying to hold their governments to account at this stage," he said.

"We think the people will understand as soon as they start to see these laws misused and abused by our police and intelligence authorities."

The ACT's Stanhope has posted a recent [leaked] draft of the anti-terror law on his website. You can download the text in PDF form using this link.

Via Sydney Morning Herald.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Uh-oh. Looks like trouble's coming.

Here's the latest map for tropical depression 24:

Yet another one takes aim at the Gulf Coast


According to the latest discussion by National Weather Service meterorologists, TD24 is expected to become Tropical Storm Wilma by sometime Monday, and Hurricane Wilma by Wednesday.

And, as they say, you don't need a weatherman to know which way this wind is blowing.

Via National Hurricane Center.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:13 PM | Get permalink

The hidden scandal in Judith Miller's story.

Former CBS News security correspondent Bill Lynch says there's an 'enormous journalistic scandal' buried in NY Times reporter Judith Miller's article on her role in the Plame affair.

That scandal relates to Miller's oft-criticized reporting on Saddam Hussein's supposed WMD programs. In her article, Miller said that, while embedded with the US Defense Department team investigating WMDs during 2003, she was granted a security clearance. According to Lynch, a reporter working under a security clearance is 'as close as one can get to government licensing of journalists.' By accepeted such a clearance, Miller 'violated her duty to report the truth by accepting a binding obligation to withhold key facts the government deems secret.'

If Miller didn't reveal her security clearance to Times management, she should be disciplined or dismissed, says Lynch. And if her higher-ups were left in the dark about the clearance, both Miller and the Times should be 'ashamed.'

One must assume that Ms. Miller was required to sign a standard and legally binding agreement that she would never divulge classified information to which she became privy, without risk of criminal prosecution. And she apparently plans to adhere to the letter of that self-censorship deal; witness her dilemma at being unable to share classified information with her editors.

In an era where the Bush Administration seeks to conceal mountains of government activity under various levels of security classification, why would any self-respecting news organization or individual journalist agree to become part of such a system? Readers would be right to question whether a reporter is operating under a security clearance and, by definition, withholding critical information. Does a newspaper not have the obligation to disclose to its readers when a reporter is not only embedded with a military unit but also officially proscribed in what she may report without running afoul of espionage laws? Was that ever done in Ms. Miller's articles from Iraq? [...]

I am a former White House and national security correspondent and have had plenty of access to classified information. When I divulged it, it was always with a common sense appraisal of the balance between any potential harm done and the public's right to know. If I had doubts, I would run it by officers whose judgement I trusted. In my experience, defense and intelligence officials routinely share secrets with reporters in the full expectation they will be reported. But if any official had ever offered me a security clearance, my instincts would have sent me running. I am gravely disappointed Ms. Miller did not do likewise.

Via Romenesko.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:57 PM | Get permalink

The Plame leak, Judith Miller, and the NY Times.

As you probably already know, the NY Times finally broke its long silence on the investigation into the Plame affair and reporter Judith Miller's role in the leaking to the press of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative. [The main Times article is here and Judith Miller's piece on her role is here.] We're still as snowed under by all the new details as anyone else is, so we recommend checking out this post at PressThink as a good first step to understanding where things are now. Definitely read the associated comments — you'll learn a lot from them, too. We also suggest reading this post by Arianna Huffington at the Huffington Post.

As for us, we're waiting to see how many indictments come out of the federal grand jury investigation into the Plame leak. After the new information we've seen in the Times pieces, any doubt we had that heads will roll is gone.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:59 PM | Get permalink

Liar, liar, pants on fire!


Mail & Guardian [S. Africa]
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Fiddler Magazine
Concertina Library
A Guide to the Irish Flute
Chiff & Fipple
Irtrad-l Archives
Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann
BBC Virtual Session
JC's ABC Tune Finder

Propaganda Remix Project
Ask a Ninja
Boiling Point
Cat and Girl
Dykes to Watch Out For
Library of Congress
American Heritage Dictionary
Dictonary of Newfoundland English
American's Guide to Canada
Digital History of the San Fernando Valley
Blithe House Quarterly
Astronomy Pic of the Day
Earth Science Picture of the Day
Asia Grace
Gaelic Curse Engine
Old Dinosaur Books