Friday, December 19, 2003

One last bit of news from Boston. One of the most widely loathed pieces of architecture in town is Boston City Hall, part of a typical 1960s style "urban renewal" project called Government Center which "cleaned up" a few nudie bars by completely obliterating the neighborhood they were in -- with the upshot that they were displaced all of seven blocks, into an area which became known as "the combat zone" -- and replacing it with sterile towers situated in an expanse of phenomenally ugly brick.

It is no surprise to me that this building made it as one of James Howard Kunstler's Eyesores of the Month. But I have to quibble with the view he chose to present, which completely omits the brick-paved lunar wasteland (lately made even more ridiculous with a few oversized park benches in a futile attempt to attract street life). So when you look at Kunstler's shot of this building, just remember, he's showing you the good side.

So, the courts have finally said that habeas corpus is not yet dead. That's nice. It would have been more of a comfort if it hadn't taken so long. The reason that appellate courts are making these rulings is that lower courts were either cowed into inaction, or unable to enforce total no-brainer court orders...
I keep on talking about labor unions. Of course, I'm not the first blogger to observe that it doesn't help labor that the most visible union in at least this part of the country right now is also a poster child for blind, overwhelming greed. I'm referring, of course, to the Major League Baseball Player's Association, which has blocked a trade that the Red Sox had arranged for shortstop Alex Rodriguez which involved restructuring his contract. The union claimed that it reduced the value of the contract too much -- even though the added endorsement opportunities in Boston might well have left ARod making more money overall. And ARod himself was happy with the deal, pending union approval -- it was negotiated with him and his agent, and he had to waive an ironclad no-trade clause in his own contract to permit it.

A lot of media, local and national, were floating the idea that ownership might challenge the union. The idea was that baseball commissioner Bud Selig might approve the deal unilaterally, and if the union challenged, it would go to arbitration. But ARod himself has said he won't buck the players' union's wishes, and unless ARod waives the no-trade clause, Selig has no deal to approve.

Well, so much for the media. The saddest thing for me is that the amateur internet forum from which I cadged this bit of analysis -- Sons of Sam Horn -- is now completely closed to the public, as another unfortunate bit of fallout of Red Sox nation's overwhelming interest in this deal. SOSH had been a closed club for posting for years (though well-heeled as of late, with occasional posts direct from Red Sox principal owner John Henry), but nonmembers had read-only access until this week, when the board operators (a/k/a The Dopes Who Run The Site) closed off public access altogether, apparently to cut back on their bandwidth costs. The irony is that I'd happily pay $5/month for read-only access. A few hundred people taking that deal would certainly pay back the incremental bandwidth costs and give them beer money on the side (hey, Linux Weekly News makes a living at it), but the deal's not on offer. C'est la vie.

Late edit: backed off on the endorsements a bit...

Further update: SOSH is back open, at least temporarily. If any of the Dopes are reading this, the offer stands...

Thursday, December 18, 2003

I've been mentioning for a while that labor unions have it tough in Iraq, where the CPA is continuing to enforce Saddam's anti-union laws. But labor unions have it tough all over -- as in China, where strike leaders are getting harsh jail sentences, while the government tries to push reporters away from the problem.

Well, sucks to be them, right? Except that in a new, globalized world, lousy labor situations can migrate, as companies shopping for factory sites with the lowest labor costs depress wages worldwide.

But things might be looking up -- we have an administration now which, aside from its rhetoric, clearly isn't as firmly attached to the globalization and free trade agenda as some of its predecessors -- just look at the steel and textile tariffs, for instance, or the continued insistence on maintaining agricultural price supports, all unambiguous trade barriers.

Well, they're not attached to the free trade part of the globalization and free trade agenda. But "free trade" can mean something different if you put it in quotes, in the title of a treaty. As Nathan Newman points out in this case study of free-trade-in-quotes, where a "free trade" agreement pushed hard by our government strips treaty signatories of the privilege of having publicly owned utilities, in effect demanding that they sell their utilities off to large Western conglomerates, even though privatization failures in Latin America have already started riots. Which is actually of a piece with their trade (barrier) policy -- both are intended to secure profits for established American corporate interests.

But you can't focus too obsessively on trade deals, even when they do concern things that properly belong in the political arena. For instance, getting back to wages, it's nice to suppose that if we just eliminated favoritism in trade deals, and the race to the bottom they engender, then American labor rights law would start functioning as designed, and we'd restore some kind of a balance. Don't count on it. A few years ago, Human Rights Watch blasted the U.S. government for failing to protect labor rights all on its own -- in 2000, after eight years of a Democratic presidency (though, to be fair, a Republican Congress for most of that time).

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Even former Nixon hand William Safire is creeped out by the secretiveness of Dubya's crew...
It seems that a number of right-wing blogs are upset about the scant -- they claimed "non-existant" -- coverage of last week's demonstrations in Iraq, some at least favoring the CPA, though there were counter demonstrations as well (and it wasn't clear which side the Iraqi communist party has been taking, though they too were out in force).

So, just for kicks, I thought I'd list a few other stories which also haven't been getting a whole lot of attention from the American mainstream press, in no particular order:

  • Several days' worth of pro-Saddam demonstrations in Iraq after his arrest, including a general strike at Mosul University with ethnic overtones -- the faculty claim the CPA is showing favoritism toward the Kurds.
  • The stunning rate of desertion from the new Iraqified security forces -- particularly since some of the people in them openly proclaim their sympathy for the insurgents. (To give Steve Gilliard credit, he was calling this months ago).
  • The dismal labor situation, and indeed the CPA's general sell-off of Iraqi state assets to American bidders, which in addition to all the other obvious problems, may well exceed our authority as an occupying power under international law. (Link via Diana Moon).
  • The recent assassination attempt on Pakistani President Musharraf, which threatens to deliver the country, and its nukes, into the hands of a military establishment shot through with sympathizers for Islamist terrorists.
  • On the domestic front, the sizable demonstrations against the Free Trade Area of the Americas talks in Miami, which were met with brutal and apparently unprovoked attacks from the police.
  • And, just to toss in one last item from the domestic front, the recent arrest of some American right-wing militia nuts with an arsenal which included, among other things, a cyanide bomb that could have easily killed a few thousand people.

Given all that, I don't think you can reasonably say that the media's omissions reflect an anti-administration bias. You can say they're doing a bad job, but I don't think that helps people who'd like to use the few pro-CPA demonstrations in Iraq as an excuse to pretend things are going great and we can ignore all that other stuff...

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

On the New York Times op-ed page today, one Claudia Rosett, identified as a "senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies", explains that the Pentagon's list of countries whose corporations can bid on Iraq reconstructions contracts was never meant to be punitive at all:

First, it is wrong of critics to frame inclusion on the list as a "reward" to our allies, or to say that countries left off it, like Russia, France and Germany, are being "punished." Taxpayer-financed contracts should never be doled out as a reward — that is precisely the kind of mind-set the United States needs to be trying to banish from Iraq, where the previous regime operated entirely ran on patronage.

Rather, the list is predicated on deciding which countries can best be trusted to oversee huge rebuilding contracts in ways that square with the American goal of promoting a stable, free Iraq.

An explanation at last! Companies from Micronesia, Palau, and Togo, all on the Pentagon list, can be trusted to oversee the contracts -- due, no doubt, to their experience in managing large contracting projects, which you just can't find in relative backwaters like Germany and France.

Or something like that. Rosett's actual argument in fact ignores what the countries could actually do to oversee the contracts almost completely -- how could it not? Instead, she goes on in Den Bestian mode about how France, Germany, and Russia don't share the American agenda and aren't serious about the war on terror, ignoring the contributions that they have made toward fight against real terror, al Qaeda, on other fronts, including troops on the ground. She might as well have gone with the might of Micronesian industry; it would make no less sense...

Monday, December 15, 2003

I'm as pleased as everyone else that Saddam Hussein is in custody. I'm even more pleased to hear Donald Rumsfeld say yesterday (on Sixty Minutes) that for once, they'll be according someone "the privileges of a prisoner of war", according to the Geneva conventions, which still mysteriously do not apply to the people we captured in Afghanistan who are still cooped up at Guantanamo.

In the meantime, it's worth checking into what is being chased off the international front pages while the mainstream media reassure us, over and over, that Saddam Hussein is still in custody. Say, for example, yesterday's assassination attempt against Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf. Someone who had lots of explosives to spare, and exact knowledge of Musharraf's movements -- which is closely guarded information -- blew up a bridge.

I've been saying for a while now that Pakistan bears watching -- in part because before Sept. 11th, their intelligence agencies had a large and well-known role in setting up the Taliban, and they still probably contained sympathizers with Islamist radicals both in Afghanistan and Kashmir. It's possible that some of these elements are disappointed with the recent reduction of tensions in Kashmir. Or maybe not -- but whoever did it clearly had some expertise in military combat engineering. After all, their preferred style of assassination was not car bombing, or anything involving small arms, but rather blowing up a bridge...

In any case, there are now clearly terrorist elements -- most likely Islamists of one kind or another, who are bent on destabilizing Pakistan, if not seizing control outright. And by the way, unlike some other Arab states that come to mind, Pakistan does have weapons of mass destruction. Real weapons of mass destruction -- missiles and nukes.

Oh, by the way, now that we've got Saddam Hussein, mayhap we can refocus on trying to capture that other guy, who's had a beard for quite a while now. You know, the guy who actually did attack us?