Friday, May 09, 2003

Dubya's White House will take second place to no one in its determination to let everyone know the full story of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. As written by Karl Rove. As to alternatives:

NEWSWEEK has learned, President Bush?s chief lawyer has privately signaled that the White House may seek to invoke executive privilege over key documents relating to the attacks in order to keep them out of the hands of investigators for the National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States?the independent panel created by Congress to probe all aspects of 9-11.

Some commission members now fear a showdown over the issue?particularly over extremely sensitive National Security Council minutes and presidential briefing papers?could be coming in the next few weeks. ?We do think it?s important to engage this issue relatively early?i.e., now,? says Philip Zelikow, the executive director for the commission, who is negotiating with administration lawyers to inspect documents and interview senior officials.

In case you were wondering what would come of Cheney's continual stonewalling over Enron, this is it.

Dubya came in promising to clean up Washington. Since then, we've seen massive giveaways to his corporate sponsors, most recently in the award of sweetheart deals, without bids, for the reconstruction of Iraq, before Congress (let alone any Iraqi authority) could have anything to say about it. But they are still cleaning up Washington -- in their fashion:

[S]cientists at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere are devising their own secret code. I won't give it away, but one term stands for "gay" or "homosexual," another for "anal sex" and so on.

"I would recommend avoiding all electronic communication to any N.I.H. office," one scientist warned in one of many e-mail notes buzzing among AIDS researchers. "Phone communication does not appear tapped at this time. Even so, I am advising staff to speak `in code' unless an N.I.H. staff member indicates you can speak freely. In short, assume you are living in Stalinist Russia when communicating with the United States government."

Isn't it nice to see such a firm commitment to American values?

Thursday, May 08, 2003

The Iraqi people haven't seen democracy, and don't really know how it works. So here, via Billmon, are a couple of items which show how the United States military is trying to make it look like what they're used to:

We're giving them some familiar faces in the leadership:

Scores of Baath members have reclaimed jobs as managers, directors and directors-general, the most senior positions under ministers and their deputies, in several large ministries, including those responsible for trade, industry, oil, irrigation, health and education. Numerous Baathists also have been welcomed back to the top ranks of the national police force, which the U.S. administration authorized to resume operations Sunday to curb lawlessness on the streets of Baghdad and other large cities.

In some cases, even those at the top have Baath credentials. Baghdad's new police chief, Gen. Hamid Othman, had previously been the chief -- a post that required party membership. The acting minister of industry, Ahmed Rashid Gailini, said in an interview that he, too, was a party member, although at "a very low rank." Others in the ministry, including at least one director-general, held more significant posts in the party leadership, according to ministry employees.

And we're following the policies they're used to regarding freedom of the press:

The U.S. Army issued orders for troops to seize this city's only television station. ... Officers familiar with the matter said military officials were uncomfortable with the station's programming. They wanted to apply a U.S. military formula for gauging the station's accuracy, balance and trustworthiness, and if the programming fell short, the station would be shut.

But then again, things are slightly different -- for instance, they're having to adjust to the procedures we used for our last presidential election:

In a pattern likely to be repeated across Iraq, the members of the interim council [in Mosul] will be chosen by an electorate of about 200 prominent local leaders, and ordinary citizens will not have a vote.

Of course, some Americans have to adjust to what makes the Iraqis comfortable in this respect -- the US officer who received the order to seize the TV station refused and was relieved of duty. But, with enlightened policies like this, I'm sure that everyone will get used to the new reality very soon.

Also at Billmon's blog, the Francis Ford Coppola version of catfights at Casa Dubya, Heart of Dimness. Mosul election link added late, via The Sideshow

With all the speculation about Isabella v. at a fever pitch, it's past time to winnow the field a bit. So as a public service, I now present the top ten rejected Flight Risk theories:
  • It's what Neal Stephenson was doing when he should have been finishing Quicksilver.
  • The former Iraqi Information Minister doesn't have a whole lot else to do.
  • Chinese government campaign to divert the world's attention from the SARS epidemic.
  • Publicity gimmick for Hushmail.
  • Republican operatives trying to discredit the elites of "Old Europe".
  • Written by a slightly scatterbrained kid named Phoebe to pass the time while grounded, after getting strip searched at LAX because customs couldn't figure out how she got seventeen Mexican entry stamps on her passport in a 24-hour period, without one corresponding return stamp.
  • Promotional stunt for Caribbean island hoppers.
  • The Nielsen Haydens have been oddly quiet the past few weeks.
  • Movie script concept in early production by "John Fucking Malkovich".
  • Hey, has anyone seen Thomas Pynchon lately?

No further consideration need be given any of these theories.

On the other hand, having given it some thought, none of these strikes me as all that much more unreasonable than the Sean-Paul Kelly theory...

For those who haven't been following it, Jim Cappozolla has been posting a series of updates -- here's the latest -- on Ashleigh Moore, a girl from Savannah now missing for well over a week. The poor kid is an honor student with no prior history of trouble, who doesn't seem to be off on her own -- she has real trouble seeing, and does not have either pair of her glasses.

Yet, strangely, this case has not attracted the same level of national attention as, say, Elizabeth Smart or Jonbenet Ramsey.

Who can judge the strange ways of the media? It can't possibly have to do with the color of her skin...

I'm awfully rushed this morning, so here's a quickie on those awkward little practicalities of manned space flight:

In 1976, a Soyuz spacecraft came down in a freezing squall and splashed into a lake; the crew spent the night bobbing in the capsule.

Eleven years before that, two cosmonauts overshot their touchdown site by 2,000 miles and found themselves deep in a forest with hungry wolves. That's when Russian space officials decided to pack a sawed-off shotgun aboard every spacecraft.

And remember, always know where your towel is.

(Via... drattit. Lost the pointer).

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Isabella v. goes silent. Salam Pax reappears.


Well, yes. A connection is not bloody likely, though Isabella's links to The Agonist have been cited by the folks who push the unlikely hypothesis that she's a figment of Sean-Paul Kelly's imagination, and you know, she has linked to Salam...

Seriously, like a lot of other folks, I'm awfully glad he's back.

One aspect of Senator Santorum's recent remarks, little noted outside the blogsphere, was the way he equated homosexuality with "man on dog" sex. A lot of liberals object to equating them. And so, in 1973, did the Texas legislature:

Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code ... criminalizes "deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex." Deviate sexual intercourse is specified as "any contact between any part of the genitals of one person and the mouth or anus of another person; or... the penetration of the genitals or the anus of another person with an object," meaning that in Texas--as well as Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri, which have similar statutes--adult males are legally forbidden to place their mouths on the genitals of other adult males, adult women are legally forbidden to touch other adult women's vaginas, and adults of both sexes are legally forbidden to welcome anything into their anuses if said anything is being maneuvered by a member of the same sex.

However, if the maneuvering (or touching or mouth-placing) is done by a member of the opposite sex, Texas offers its implicit approval, having narrowed its sodomy laws to apply exclusively to same-sex sex in 1973--the same year Texas repealed its laws against bestiality. [NB -- emphasis added]

So the lege apparently made a deliberate, conscious choice to keep homosexual sex illegal, while at the same time removing the obsolete prudery which was keeping men from expressing wholesome romantic affection towards their dogs.

Via Vaara.

Some info on fakery regarding protests from the last time that Cheney and Rumsfeld were powers in the White House:

Chad Barlow, in his impassioned support of war [Some War Is Necessary, February 14], repeats the myth that peace activists "SPAT ON our soldiers returning from Vietnam." It's a great story, but like many right-wing myths (e.g., the story of feminists burning bras), it is simply not true.

Jerry Lembcke, an associate professor of sociology at Holy Cross College, did an exhaustive search in the process of writing his 1998 book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam. He found not a single case of a returning Vietnam veteran spat upon by antiwar activists. ... A Harris Poll in 1971 showed that only 1% of the veterans encountered hostile reactions when they came home, and they did not think the antiwar movement was hostile to them.

There are practically no reports of spitting during the war itself (1965-75). The first reported instance occurs during an International Day of Protest featuring "Veterans for Peace in Vietnam." Here it is the war supporters who are spitting on the pro-peace veterans. In 1965, World War II veterans who were taking part in an antiwar demonstration were reviled as "cowards" and "traitors."

Lembcke says this started with propaganda from the Nixon White House, which was working hard to shift attention from the US stated objectives in Vietnam, to the protestors' supposed failure to "support the troops". But that's not where it ended:

What solidified the image of the reviled, spat-upon, and eventually crazed Vietnam veteran was the movies. It started in Jane Fonda's Coming Home, where a returning vet is verbally accosted as he returns home: "We don't want your rotten war!" Trouble is, peace activists quietly picketed soldiers going to Vietnam, not returning. But it was the 1977 movie Tracks in which we got the good pro-war veteran and the bad antiwar activist, Mark, who repeatedly spits on his opponents. Hollywood's role in creating the myth of the spat-upon veteran had begun.

And the end result was Rambo, the crazed Vietnam veteran: "But somebody wouldn't let us win. I come back and see all these maggots at the airport. Protesting me, spitting, calling me a baby-killer. Who are they to protest me? Huh?"

Damn those Hollywood liberals.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

John Danforth is appalled at how the federal government is bringing down its overbearing weight on people guilty of, at most, a few minor slip-ups. Like the good folks at Arthur Andersen:

About a year ago, Arthur Andersen was on the verge of meltdown because of the work it had done for Enron. Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, tried to put together a group of outsiders to take over Andersen's management and save the company from destruction. The firm's leadership appeared willing to go along, but only if the Department of Justice would forgo seeking an indictment.

The arguments against indictment were obvious: A firm of thousands should not be destroyed for the actions of a few; the country would be better off with the Big Five accounting firms than with four; a firm under the leadership of Mr. Volcker would become a model for the profession. Working with Mr. Volcker, I had the job of making these arguments to the Justice Department, along with the point that prosecutors should exercise their discretion and consider public policy rather than simply prosecute crimes to the fullest extent of the law.

I soon learned that my efforts would go nowhere. Someone very close to a top official at the department told me there was little patience for the argument that a decision to prosecute should be dictated by anything other than the facts of the case.

Danforth would rather have had the government slap Andersen on the wrist, in return for a promise that they would reform themselves internally. He neglects to mention that they'd already tried that. At the time of the indictment in the Enron case, Andersen was already under a consent decree stemming from similar malfeasance involving its work for Waste Mangement. And before that was another scandal involving the fraudulent accounting of "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap at Sunbeam.

But then again, he also considers the human cost:

Consider the "perp walk," where officers parade suspects before television cameras in handcuffs. Last July, John Rigas, the 78-year-old founder of Adelphia Communications, was led from his apartment in handcuffs -- despite his lawyer's offer that he surrender voluntarily -- as news photographers' cameras flashed. The crime with which Mr. Rigas was charged was exceptionally serious, yet to parade him before the cameras served no valid law enforcement purpose. It was not necessary to prevent an escape, nor to protect officers from attack, nor to protect the accused from harming himself. It was a humiliating punishment before conviction.

An argument which applies just as well to accused drug dealers who are subjected to this treatment on a daily basis.

Danforth actually has some reasonable things to say about how Congressional moves to strip judges of sentencing authority have increasingly left punishment decisions in the hands of inexperienced prosecutors, who effectively determine the sentence by the details of the offense they choose to charge -- but again, that argument applies a whole lot better to common crooks than misbehaving magnates.

Annals of the self-defeating, vol. 56: You're trying to keep some of your private affairs private, and keep your name out of the papers. So, threaten to file a lawsuit against someone who's described the story without revealing actual names -- even though the mere act of filing suit couldn't help but reveal, at the very least, the identity of the parties. And then comes discovery.

In slightly more detail: This concerns an anonymous blog offering a story which sounds vaguely like a twist on Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin -- it's purportedly written by an heiress from a wealthy European family, calling herself "Isabella v.", now on the lam to avoid an arranged marriage, an overbearing father who reminds her of Michael Corleone, the detectives he hired to track her down, and presumably other family tsorres. (It helps to remember while reading this that "normal family" is a contradiction in terms).

Complicating the story still further is Sean-Paul Kelly's The Agonist, recipient of the above-mentioned lawyerly love note, which has been publishing occasional updates attributed to anonymous sources inside the family.

There has been all sorts of speculation about this -- that Kelly's faking it all himself (with sotto voce murmurs about his earlier "anonymous tipsters" that turned out to be published Stratfor briefings), or that the blog is written by pranksters who also faked up the letters, simply because the story is so outlandish. To which we might add that the legal threat itself seems a bit out of character, not so much because it's overbearing as being... well, kinda dumb. Why do it at all?

But wheels within wheels, there is one concerned party for whom legal tactics are never self-defeating: the lawyers. No matter what happens, they get to bill for it. So who knows? Some rich European family may in fact be missing an heiress.

Then again, "Isabella" herself, while taking extreme technical measures to conceal her identity, has revealed enough about some of the people and places in her past that a little gumshoe work could conceivably run them to ground -- in some ways more than I'd do, and I have a whole lot less at stake. But then again, she recently said that she still hasn't dyed her bright red hair...

Monday, May 05, 2003

So, let me get this straight. To eliminate the mere threat that Saddam might, at some future point, sell weapons of mass destruction to people we don't like, we needed a preemptive war now.

But, now that North Korea, which has pretty much demonstrated a will to sell anything it has to anyone who will pay, has pretty clearly fired up the weapons-grade plutonium production line, Dubya's answer is to try to restrict their trade. Or at least their trade in plutonium:

"The president said that the central worry is not what they've got, but where it goes," said an official familiar with the talks between Mr. Bush and [Australian PM] Mr. Howard. "He's very pragmatic about it, and the reality is that we probably won't know the extent of what they are producing. So the whole focus is to keep the plutonium from going further."

His policy depends, in other words, on being able to keep a sovereign government from smuggling suitcase-sized containers of fissile material across its own borders. Lotsa luck. He does know they have submarines, right?

(To recap, obtaining fissile material is the hard part of making a nuclear bomb -- the physics needed to figure out the rest may have been state of the art sixty years ago, but even in the 1970s, it was in undergraduate textbooks. The other details are tricky, particularly for plutonium bombs, but anyone with the resources to get fissile fuel in the first place, can almost certainly manage the rest).

By the way, remember how Dubya's crowd was complaining that Clinton's wimpy negotiations had led us to our present sad condition? Well,

... in recent interviews, several American officials have said that it was becoming clear that the policy that Mr. Clinton described in 1994 -- when he warned that producing plutonium could result in an American attack to destroy the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon -- was probably not sustainable anymore.

Wimpy Clinton threatened an attack if they fired up the plutonium production line -- and Dubya's "muscular" crew will just let 'em churn it out.

The WMD case for invading Iraq looks thinner by the day. Those of us who argued all along that the real WMD problem was elsewhere are very, very sorry to have been right.

(If you can't get enough commentary on this article, Matthew Yglesias finds a lot more nonsense in it).

New campaign finance documents show Dubya's appreciation for at least one fundamental tenet of the capitalist system: value for money. Going down the list of "Pioneer" donors, committed to raise at least $100,000 for the campaign:

The top Pioneer was the team of William Dewitt and Mercer Reynolds, Cincinnati businessmen who raised $605,082. After the election, Mr. Reynolds was appointed ambassador to Switzerland, though he recently stepped down. Both men have a long history with Mr. Bush: In 1984 their oil company, Spectrum 7, acquired Mr. Bush's struggling West Texas oil operation.

The second-ranking Pioneer, Ronald Weiser, a Michigan businessman, raised $588,309, according to the documents. Mr. Weiser serves as ambassador to the Slovak Republic.

The third-ranking Pioneer was the team of Howard Leach and Kristen Hueter of California, who raised $429,610, according to the documents. Mr. Leach is now ambassador to France.

Donors wanting something more permanent and rewarding than a mere cushy job in a scenic location also got what they wanted -- Charles Cawley, for instance, the chairman of a major credit card issuer, got much tougher personal bankruptcy legislation for his roughly $370,000.

To preempt Jim Henley, this separates the Republicans from such Democrats as the notorious Sen. Hollings (D-Disney) by... well, just about nothing. I once heard one politician -- it may have been Sen. Kerry -- try to defend this by arguing that as long as both sides of an issue send in cash, they both get a hearing. Which means that poorly funded constituencies get no hearing at all, no matter what the quality of their case.

Meanwhile, the provisions of the McCain-Feingold reform law which restrain third-party advertising are getting eaten away -- but the doubling of the individual donation limit remains in full force.