Monday, October 31, 2005

The Republicans who drafted and proposed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in the early days of the Reagan administration, in a vain attempt to end the career of CIA defector Philip Agee, could not have known that their hasty legislation would one day paralyze the workings of a conservative wartime administration. Nor could the eager internationalist Wilsonians who rammed through the 1917 Espionage Act--the most repressive legislation since the Alien and Sedition laws--have expected it to be used against government officials making the case for an overseas military intervention.

But then, who would have thought that liberals and civil libertarians--the New York Times called for the repeal of the IIPA as soon as it was passed, or else for it to be struck down by the courts--would find these same catch-all statutes coming in handy for the embarrassment of Team Bush? The outrage of the left at any infringement of CIA prerogatives is only the least of the ironies in the indictment of Lewis Libby for discussing matters the disclosure of which, in and of itself, appears to have violated no known law.
Read what follows.

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I'D SAY: find the guy and hang him. I'm generally ambivalent about the death penalty; I used to be 100% against it, now I understand some of its proponents' rationale. I'm still leaning towards "no" as a general rule, but not in cases like this.

The bad news for him is that since he also killed Spaniards, they'll go after him; if it has been only Jooos he'd be probably safe...

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CON COUGHLIN REPORTS at UK's Telegraph that Iran has opened smuggling routes to supply insurgents in Iraq:
Iran's Revolutionary Guards have set up a network of secret smuggling routes to ferry men and equipment into Iraq for attacks on coalition troops, according to an exiled opposition group.

The smuggling is said to be orchestrated by the guards' elite Quds Force, which has its HQ in the southern Iranian city of Ahwaz.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) says commanders are sending a steady stream of agents and bomb-making equipment from a base codenamed "Fajr" into Iraq, where roadside attacks are carried out against coalition troops.

After The Sunday Telegraph revealed in August that Iran was supplying infra-red bombs to Iraqi insurgents, the Government held the Iranians responsible for the deaths of at least eight British soldiers.

Last week, Tony Blair condemned Iran as a "threat to world security" after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guards commander, declared that Israel should be "wiped off the map".

Western intelligence agencies have reported a sharp increase in Iran's involvement in insurgent operations since Mr Ahmadinejad was elected in June.

The agencies believe that the guards use a network of routes along Iran's 620-mile border with Iraq.

Documents seen by The Sunday Telegraph show three principal routes, two near the Iraqi cities of Basra and Amara, and a third via the Iranian town of Mehran.

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HOPE THEY DON'T GET INSPIRATION to end the real estate bubble from Iran thug-in-chief:
Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the latest cabinet meeting in the Iranian capital that “if we were permitted to hang two or three persons, the problems with the stock exchange would be solved for ever”, according to a Tehran-based newspaper.

Ahmadinejad was addressing a cabinet meeting held to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation at the Tehran Stock Exchange, the daily Ruznet reported on Sunday.

Ministers and experts disagreed with all the different views and proposals raised at the meeting, which came to an end without any concrete results. Tempers flew high and participants shouted at each other during the discussion, according to the daily. Frustrated with the inability of his economic advisers and experts to come up with any solution, Ahmadinejad told them that the only way out of the current stock exchange and financial market problems was to “frighten” speculators by hanging two or three of them.

Iran’s ultra-Islamist President first sent jitters through the country’s markets when he said on the eve of the presidential elections in June that “stock exchange activities are a kind of gambling and we are against them”. Gambling is banned in Islam.

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LANNY DAVIS, a special advisor in Clinton's White House, writes a superb article (via Glenn Reynolds) about the Wilson / Plame affair and Scooter Libby's indictment where has has things to say to both sides:
[B]oth sides seem too quick to attack the motives of their adversaries rather than dealing with the facts. Already we hear Republican leaders suggesting that Mr. Fitzgerald has "lost his way" or is "criminalizing" ordinary politics. I often wonder whether those of us in the Clinton White House who attacked the motives of Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater special prosecutor, and tried to demonize him personally would have been better off if we had focused solely on his professional misjudgments and his disproportionate expenditure of time, effort and money.

Similarly, the Democrats are playing up the idea that White House officials may have endangered national security in playing hardball politics. Well, I can remember all the times I picked up the phone and talked "on background" to reporters, "pushing back" against rumors damaging to President Clinton and citing information that I thought was "out there." I don't remember ever worrying about whether the facts that I felt were public knowledge might have been classified. But even if I had, I would probably have rationalized that anything I had heard on the grapevine couldn't possibly be a state secret. If every political aide was prosecuted for those kinds of conversations with the press corps, I'm afraid there wouldn't be enough jails to hold us.
Read it in full.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL correction needs a correction; in a piece on the Wilson/Plame kerfuffle, they append this:
In January, 2003, President Bush claimed that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium -- a key ingredient in nuclear weapons -- from Niger. This article incorrectly stated that Mr. Bush claimed Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger.
But in 2003 State of the Union address, Bush didn't claim this: the famous sixteen words literally were "[t]he British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa". Africa, not Niger. Which is an especially significant detail when you consider that, besides Niger, there are other important exporters of uranium ore in the continent:
Africa produces about 20% of the world's uranium. Four African countries have exported uranium in recent years - Niger, Namibia, South Africa and Gabon.

Other countries - Zambia, Central African Republic and Botswana - are believed to have exploitable deposits.
Even more significant is that the Butler report about British prewar intelligence confirmed not only that Iraq had indeed attempted to buy yellowcake from Niger, but that they had actually closed a deal with Congo, although it hadn't been delivered at the point when the war started. It would have if there had been no war.

UPDATE. The Butler Report website doesn't seem to be worling now; you can also download the .pdf file from here, or from The Guardian's website (thanks to reader Charles for the alert).

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IT'S CLEARLY a work by Buddhists:
Three girls have been beheaded and another badly injured as they walked to a Christian school in Indonesia.

They were walking through a cocoa plantation near the city of Poso in central Sulawesi province when they were attacked.

This is an area that has a long history of religious violence between Muslims and Christians.

A government-brokered truce has only partially succeeded in reducing the number of incidents in recent years.

Police say the heads were found some distance from the bodies.

It is unclear what was behind the attack, but the girls attended a private Christian school and one of the heads was left outside a church leading to speculation that it might have had a religious motive.
Just as I said, it's the Buddhists!

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US SOLDIERS are supposed to be targeting and killing Western journlists in Iraq in order to silence their voices so that the cannot report to the whole world the disaster happening there. But there's always some traitors among their ranks who refuse to follow the orders issued by the Pentagon's darkest corridors where the members of the neocon cabal meet and make decisions:
A U.S. soldier shot and killed one of three suicide bombers who attacked the Palestine Hotel complex before he could reach his intended target and that probably saved lives in the building, the military said Saturday.

The military also said the insurgents used small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in their well-coordinated strike on the hotel complex, where many foreign journalists live and work.

Several people in the complex were wounded but all 17 people killed were Iraqis in the area at the time, the government said.

The attack involved three suicide car bombs. The first blew a hole in a cement wall protecting the complex. The second car exploded nearby as a possible diversion. Then a large cement mixer drove into the complex through the hole in the wall and exploded on a small road between the Palestine Hotel and the Sheraton Hotel, two 17-story buildings.

Video from a surveillance camera at the Palestine Hotel showed the cement truck was fired on by a U.S. soldier from inside the compound. Around the same time, the vehicle also was seen rocking back and forth before it exploded, possibly because it was stuck on barbed wire or had collided with a small concrete barrier in the road.

The military said in a statement that one of its soldiers had killed the driver before he could reach the front entrance of the Palestine Hotel, where the journalists are based.
Court martial him!

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Red alert has been sounded in the Capital after serial blasts rocked at three places in which at least 35 people were killed and over 50 injured.

Delhi Police sealed the borders and beefed up the security in the capital.

The first blast occurred at Paharganj, nearly 300 meters from the New Delhi Railway station at 17:25 hrs.

Panic gripped at the platforms as many trains were scheduled to depart from the station.

The other blasts took place at Sarojini Nagar and Govindpuri in South Delhi.

The police also recovered a bomb from a bank in Chandni Chowk, the walled city. The bomb squad defused the bomb immediately.
So far there's no information on who might be the culprits; I'm sure it'll have something to do with Iraq.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

READER BILL ARONSTEIN saw a previous post where I linked to the comments of one Instapundit reader, Patrick Cunningham, who claimed that the avian flu risks might be somewhat over-hyped. He's a medical researcher as well (PhD MD), and sends this long and interesting comment that I'm publishing with his permission:
In your recent post on the possibility of an avian flu pandemic, you mentioned a reassuring e-mail that Professor Glenn Reynolds published at his Instapundit weblog.

I think that several of the assertions made in that e-mail are overly optimistic, and we should not rely on them when thinking about how to plan for the possibility of a pandemic.

The first optimistic assertion is that: “The main way that flu kills is by predisposing its victims to "superinfection" by bacterial illnesses - in 1918, we had no antibiotics for these superimposed infections, but now we have plenty.”

Although it may be true that during ordinary annual epidemics of influenza, most of the patients who die do not succumb to viral pneumonia, but to superimposed bacterial pneumonia, that was decidedly not true in 1918-1919, and might not in general be true for episodes of pandemic flu. Many accounts of patients who became ill with the flu during the pandemic have been published. If you look at the course of illness in patients who died in the 1918-1919 epidemic you will note that many patients died within days of becoming febrile. Sometimes they died with 24 to 48 hours of first becoming sick. That course just doesn’t fit with the notion that they died of superimposed bacterial pneumonia after having been weakened by viral infection. They undoubtedly died from severe viral pneumonia and “ARDS,” the “acquired (or adult) respiratory distress syndrome” caused by their influenza viral pneumonia. Undoubtedly there were those who died with superimposed bacterial infections, but among the young and healthy, I think that flu itself was the leading cause of death. Why some people become sicker than others is not fully understood.

“Such superinfections, and the transmittal of flu itself, were aided tremendously by the crowded conditions and poor sanitation of the early 20th century - these are currently vastly improved as well.”

Compared with 1918-1919, the world is dramatically more urbanized, and urban areas dramatically more crowded today. In many parts of the world, sanitation is probably no better than in was then. Moreover, I think that this blithe confidence in the admittedly improved sanitary conditions in the United States overlooks the plain fact that the flu is spread in respiratory droplets and by person-to-person contact, not by contaminated water, nor by the absence of hygienic toilets. The improvement in overall sanitation is not relevant to influenza transmission. Indeed, we see flu epidemics every year that are limited only by the prevalence of at least partial immunity in vast sectors of the population. If modern hygiene were sufficient to prevent an avian flu pandemic, then we would not need to worry about annual flu epidemics.

“Flu hits the elderly the hardest, but the "elderly" today are healthier, stronger, and better nourished than ever before.”

It is true that during annual epidemics of influenza, most deaths occur among the very, very young and the very, very old. This creates the well-known “U-shaped” mortality curve when displayed on a graph. However, in 1918-1919, there was another huge spike of mortality among healthy patients in their ‘20s and ‘30s, thus producing what has been called a “W-shaped” mortality curve. Being healthy was no protection against influenza mortality during the pandemic, and might not be protective today. Scores of prominent, even world-famous, affluent individuals in the prime of life were cut down by influenza during the 1918-1919 epidemic, along with tens of thousands of other previously healthy people. Military recruits in large camps were particularly vulnerable.

“Our medical infrastructure is vastly better off, ranging from simple things like oxygen and sterile i.v. fluids, not readily available in 1918, to complex technologies such as respirators and dialysis.”

It is true that the present medical infrastructure is vastly different than the infrastructure that existed in 1918-1919, but the medical infrastructure is already strained. Most hospital ICUs operate at full capacity or very nearly at full capacity, and it is not economically feasible to maintain very much reserve capacity. Even the annual visitations of ordinary epidemic flu severely strain the hospitals and clinics in American cities that are hit with large numbers of infections during an active flu season. A pandemic, with vastly increased numbers of sick, would entirely overwhelm the system, and it is not realistic to rely on the assumption that respirators and dialysis machines would be available for the horrifying number of severely sick and dying otherwise patients in their 20s and 30s, let alone for the elderly or chronically ill.

“Should we be concerned? Sure, better safe than sorry, and concerns about publishing the sequence are worth discussing. Should we panic? No - my apologies to the fearmongers, but we will never see another 1918.”

Whether we see a worldwide pandemic on the scale of 1918-1919 depends on one thing only, the existence of a novel influenza virus which becomes easily transmissible. None of the mitigating factors upon which you so confidently rely will be sufficient to alter the overall picture, neither in the United States nor in the world.

The two factors that are important to estimate are the attack rate and the case fatality rate of avian flu infection. The attack rate means the number of people in a given population (town, city, country, etc.) who become infected. The case fatality rate means the number of infected people who die as a result of their infection. Thus far, it is assumed that all or almost all human cases were contracted from birds, and the attack rate has been low. Conversely, the case fatality rate has been extraordinarily high – something like 50%.

The case fatality rate is undoubtedly exaggerated because only the most severely affected individuals are being counted. There may very well be many more people who have more mild infections, who are not being tested, and not being counted.

At present, no official source is admitting the possibility of human-to-human transmission of H5N1 avian influenza. If that becomes possible, and the virus begins to spread, it is likely that the attack rate will be on the high side, since most people probably have no immunity to this particular combination of influenza virus antigens. I think that most people assume that most flu pandemics have an attack rate of about 25%. The attack rate for annual flu epidemics is estimated by the W.H.O. to be on the order of 5% to 15%.

The case fatality rate is, as I said, very difficult to estimate. The virulence of flu virus strains is highly variable. The case fatality rates in the 1957 and 1968 pandemics were not really any worse than usual for annual epidemic flu. The 1918-1919 virus seems to have been more virulent, and more lethal. Recently, scientists re-created the 1918-1919 virus by obtaining viral DNA from the corpses of patients who had been buried in permafrost during the epidemic. When inoculated in mice, the re-created virus proved much more deadly than usual flu viruses. This finding suggests that the case fatality rate for the 1918-1919 flu was truly extraordinary. I think that most scholars think the worldwide case fatality rate in 1918-1919 was about 2.5%, but it was much higher than that in certain areas. The case fatality rate for the usual annual flu epidemic is between 0.2% and 0.5% -- so the 1918-1919 flu was approximately ten times more lethal than the usual flu.

News is breaking daily, and I do not know if H5N1 is going to develop into a human flu pandemic. I think that it is certainly possible that it will do so. We should think about the possibilities realistically. I don’t think we should panic. But we also should not comfort ourselves with overly optimistic misperceptions.
He also emailed Dr. Cunningham, who he knows [see update -- FA] , in case he wanted to do any further comments. Will publish his reply if he sends one.

Of course, I'm not in a position to judge the merits of both argument, being a layman in this field. So I'll let the experts talk.

UPDATE. Bill Aronstein tells me that he actually doesn't know Dr. Cunningham; I inferred it from the fact that he was emailing him, but I was wrong.

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BUT, WASN'T SUCH a measure which proved that the US was heading towards a fascist state where the population was made to be scared in order to convince for the need of a war to steal the world's oil?

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MICHAEL MALONE has a great article about Pajamas Media.

Wired's take was a little bit more skeptic, and they gave too much prominence to people who allege that there's some kind of dark pro-Zionist ploy behind it all. But then again, Wired is not what it used to be.

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IRAQI 'MINUTEMEN' seem to start having second thoughts about murdering innocent Iraqis to oppose a democratization process that, after all, has the support of the majority of the countrymen; that's what this very interesting report in The Guardian reflects. It had to happen sooner or later, and that's why it's so important to stay the course.

UPDATE. More here (via Glenn Reynolds)

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

YOU KNOW, even a stopped clock...
Spanish foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos "urgently" called in Iran's ambassador to Spain, Alviri Mortesa, for "explanations" of Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadineyad's statement yesterday that "The Zionist occupying state in Jerusalem should be wiped off the map." The ministry also announced that Moratinos expressed "his most complete rejection" of the Iranian president's words. Ahmadineyad, at a conference on Zionism in Iran, repeated Ayatollah Khomeini's statement that Israel should be wiped off the map, and called for a new wave of confrontations in Palestine and agitation in the Arab world toward that end. He also attacked the United States, saying, "God willing, we will see a world without the United States and the Zionist entity." French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy took the same steps as Moratinos. Mortesa recently announced that former Iranian president Khatami will represent Iran at the Alliance of Civilizations forum, to be held in Mallorca between November 26 and 28.

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IT'S GOING TO BE a blockbuster day: the fifth and last part of the Volcker report on the Oil-for-Food fraud (also known as UNSCUM) is to be released today. And, at least from an international perspective, this will be the really juicy part since it details more than 4,500 companies, organizations or individuals who benefited from it one way or the other:
More than 4,500 companies took part in the United Nations oil-for-food program and more than half of them paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, according to the independent committee investigating the program.

The country with the most companies involved in the program was Russia, followed by France, the committee says in a report to be released Thursday. The inquiry was led by Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

The findings are in the committee's fifth and final report, a document of more than 500 pages that will detail how outside companies from more than 60 countries were able to evade United Nations controls and make money for themselves as well as for the Hussein government.

[...] The new report studies the people outside Iraq who profited illicitly and how they did it. It will identify companies and individuals who took part, both deliberately and inadvertently, and will chronicle in detail the experience of 30 to 40 of them, the investigators said.

In an interview, Mr. Volcker said that while he knew the naming of companies and the exposure of international "machinations" would draw attention, he hoped it would not obscure his committee's purpose in keeping the focus of their work on the need for United Nations reform.

"In my mind," he said, "this part of our investigation, looking at the manipulation of the program outside the U.N., strongly reinforces the case that the U.N. itself carries a large part of this responsibility and needs reform.

"Even though we are looking at it from the outside, it kind of screams out at you, 'Why didn't somebody blow a whistle?' The central point is that it all adds up to the same story. You need some pretty thoroughgoing reforms at the U.N."

[...] The investigators said Thursday's report would detail how Mr. Hussein first steered the program to gain political advantage with political allies and countries in a position to ease the United Nations sanctions. Both Russia and France are veto-bearing members of the Security Council.

"Then it got corrupted with a capital C when Saddam figured out how to make money off of it by putting on the surcharges and kickbacks," one investigator said.
The countdown has begun...

UPDATE. The report is up.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

JUDITH MILLER is being crucified, even by her own newspaper, and even though it's the 'official' reason, it's actually not for the Wilson / Plame affair. That's an excuse since, as John Podhoretz reminds us, it's odd to accuse Miller of journalistic malpractice of a subject she didn't write a single line about. Mind you, the fact that even a journalist who hadn't written about the issue was being thrown into jail was for some precisely what proved the fact that Bush/Cheney/Rove were crushing free speech and intimidating the media. Now, that small detail apparently doesn't matter anymore.

Actually, the reason why Miller is being sent to the lions has more to do with her pre-war reporting than anything else. But it seems as if she alone managed to brainwash the whole American public into buying one -not the only one, though critics tend to forget the others- argument for the war.

The problem for those who are attackin Miller is that there's something called "press archives", and people like Robert Kagan who remember that reports about Saddam's danger were routinely published by many journalists, even on the NYTimes itself, and pre-date Bush:
There is a big problem with this simple narrative. It is that the Times, along with The Post and other news organizations, ran many alarming stories about Iraq's weapons programs before the election of George W. Bush. A quick search through the Times archives before 2001 produces such headlines as "Iraq Has Network of Outside Help on Arms, Experts Say"(November 1998), "U.S. Says Iraq Aided Production of Chemical Weapons in Sudan"(August 1998), "Iraq Suspected of Secret Germ War Effort" (February 2000), "Signs of Iraqi Arms Buildup Bedevil U.S. Administration" (February 2000), "Flight Tests Show Iraq Has Resumed a Missile Program" (July 2000). (A somewhat shorter list can be compiled from The Post's archives, including a September 1998 headline: "Iraqi Work Toward A-Bomb Reported.") The Times stories were written by Barbara Crossette, Tim Weiner and Steven Lee Myers; Miller shared a byline on one.

Many such stories appeared before and after the Clinton administration bombed Iraq for four days in late 1998 in what it insisted was an effort to degrade Iraqi weapons programs. Philip Shenon reported official concerns that Iraq would be "capable within months -- and possibly just weeks or days -- of threatening its neighbors with an arsenal of chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons." He reported that Iraq was thought to be "still hiding tons of nerve gas" and was "seeking to obtain uranium from a rogue nation or terrorist groups to complete as many as four nuclear warheads." Tim Weiner and Steven Erlanger reported that Hussein was closer than ever "to what he wants most: keeping a secret cache of biological and chemical weapons." "To maintain his chemical and biological weapons -- and the ability to build more," they reported, Hussein had sacrificed over $120 billion in oil revenue and "devoted his intelligence service to an endless game of cat and mouse to hide his suspected weapons caches from United Nations inspections."
He goes on with many more specific examples. Via The Anchoress, who post also has a very illustrative old cover of Time Magazine that you'll want to see.

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I STILL REMEMBER -it was not long ago after all- when the kurds' was the cause célèbre of the left all over the world. Times change, though, but Kurds know who helped them:
In recent weeks Iraq has passed three important milestones. The constitutional referendum on Oct. 15 was a powerful demonstration of Iraqis' desire to establish democracy and save a country still recovering from its disastrous history. Two days later the remains of 500 of my kinsmen were returned from a mass grave in southern Iraq for reburial in Iraqi Kurdistan. Another 7,500 of my kin are still missing after "disappearing" from a Baathist concentration camp in 1983 in the first phase of the genocidal Anfal campaign, which caused the death of 182,000 Kurdish civilians during the 1980s. Then, on Oct. 19, Saddam Hussein finally went on trial.

None of this would have been possible without the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, an operation in which Kurds were proud partners. After the U.S. armed forces, our pesh merga was the second-largest member of the coalition. Today the security forces of Iraqi Kurdistan remain highly capable and reliable allies of the United States. By consistently working with the United States and reaching out to our fellow Iraqis, we have been at the heart of a political process based on equality and inclusion, on consensus and compromise.

[...] The United States has never wavered in its quest to help Iraqis build a democracy that rewards compromise and consensus. The ever-generous American people have paid a tragic price, the lives of their finest men and women, to advance the banner of freedom and democracy, a sacrifice for which we are profoundly grateful. We all know that democracy is the only solution to political problems, the only method by which grievances can be addressed. In this war and for these principles, the Kurds are true friends of the United States.

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IT'S NOT ONLY piggy-banks or children characters; it's books too:
A West Yorkshire head teacher has banned books containing stories about pigs from the classroom in case they offend Muslim children.

The literature has been removed from classes for under-sevens at Park Road Junior Infant and Nursery School in Batley.

Head Barbara Harris said the books would remain in the school library for children to read.

Sixty per cent of the school's pupils are of Pakistani or Indian origin and 99% of these pupils are Muslims.
(via Glenn Reynolds)

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GEORGE GALLOWAY faces possible criminal charges after a US Senate investigation tracked $150,000 (£85,000) in Iraqi oil money to his wife’s bank account in Jordan.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will refer the Respect Party MP for possible prosecution after concluding that he gave “false and misleading” testimony at his appearance before the panel in May.

The sub-committee claimed that, through intermediaries, Mr Galloway and the Mariam Appeal were granted eight allocations of Iraqi crude oil totalling 23 million barrels from 1999 to 2003.

It will also forward the new information to British authorities, saying it raised questions about Mr Galloway’s financial disclosure and the payment of illegal kickbacks to Iraq. “We have what we would call the smoking gun,” said Senator Norm Coleman, the sub-committee’s Republican chairman.

The sub-committee’s report, released today, was provoked by Mr Galloway’s clash with the senators — which he turned into a book entitled Mr Galloway goes to Washington. In that encounter, the anti-war MP vehemently denied receiving oil allocations from Iraq.

But the report provides bank account details tracking payments from an oil company through a Jordanian middleman to Mr Galloway’s nowestranged wife, Amineh Abu- Zayyad, and his Mariam Appeal fund.
Galloway has publicly answered the Senate committee, challenging Sen. Coleman to formalize the charges in court.

UPDATE. Christopher Hitchens doesn't mince words.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

GEE, YESTERDAY I WROTE about piggy banks being banned by some banks in the UK, and the AdWords on that post are "Piggy Bank Wholesalers", "Personalized Piggy Bank", "Ritzenhoff Piggy Banks", and "Pig Lovers Shop Here".

I'm lucky I don't have plans to travel to the UK in the next days, or I might get expelled, or something.

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Bombs exploded near magistrates courts in four Spanish towns early on Tuesday and police said they suspected the armed Basque separatist group ETA was to blame.

The explosions damaged buildings but no one was injured, officials said.

Basque police said a caller claiming to represent ETA warned the newspaper Gara shortly before one bomb exploded in a rubbish bin in the Basque town of Guernica. Journalists at the scene said the bomb twisted a railing outside a school near the court.

There were also explosions at Ordizia and Amurrio in the Basque country and the fourth blast, caused by a home-made bomb placed by the window of a court, was at Berriozar in Navarre, a region adjoining the Basque country, a government official said.

ETA, classed as a terrorist organisation by Spain, the European Union and the United States, has killed nearly 850 people since 1968 in its campaign for an independent Basque state carved out of northern Spain and southwestern France.

Police in both countries have arrested dozens of ETA suspects in the last year, including many senior leaders.

ETA has carried out about 20 minor attacks this year, but has not killed anyone since May 2003.

The Socialist government recently offered to talk to ETA if the group first laid down its arms, but ETA has continued to carry out sporadic bombings.
Well of course, they're just playing their hand...

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ROSA LOUISE PARKS (February 4, 1913–October 24, 2005). Rest in peace.

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TODAY I'M GOING TO DO something I wanted to do for some time, and now the chance has come. In fact there's probably not a better reason for doing it. Let me tell you first what it's all about and then why I'm doing it.

As you already know, Franco Alemán is a pseudonym I started using three years ago approximately, a little bit tongue in cheek. Remember, that was the time in which the franco-german axis (Franco = French, Alemán = German, in Spanish) was going to save mankind from the warmongering instincts of Bush, Blair and Aznar, and I thought it would be funny to use that nickname to uncover some of its miseries considering that the MSM was so keen to talk only about its virtues, particularly in my country. I started commenting in a few forums and other people's blogs with the idea in mind of starting my own blog sooner or later, and the persona quickly took a life of its own. Then came Golan, who was so kind as to invite me to guestblog at Hispalibertas while I made a decision about it. That moment arrived in May 2004, when I launched my Spanish edition; two months later, the English edition was born too.

Initially, using a nickname had a clear advantage. Of course, people who needed to know who I was knew it, but at the same time a moniker (when not used as a shield to insult with impunity but with a consistency and respect, which I'm sure everyone agrees is what I have done) allows opinions to be valued for what they are, independently from their author. The arguments can be analyzed or criticized, they can be shared or disputed without the mediatization of who is behing the text. In Justice Stevens' words in a memorable Supreme Court sentence,

[Q]uite apart from any threat of persecution, an advocate may believe her ideas will be more persuasive if her readers are unaware of her identity. Anonymity thereby provides a way for a writer who may be personally unpopular to ensure that readers will not prejudge her message simply because they do not like its proponent. [...] Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.

But at the same time using a pseudonym has its own drawbacks. The main one is that it doesn't allow a consistent public life; the real and the online personalities are split, which makes any 'feedback' between them virtually impossible. That's not only a little schyzophrenic; it's very inneficient professionally speaking. Besides, the bad reputation of pseudonyms in political commentary in Spain after some excesses during past decades makes anonymity and confidentiality at least a little suspicious. It's a minus for credibility.

I had seriously thought about coming out, blogospherically speaking, on several occasions during all this time; each time I decided against it because the fact is that Franco Aleman had, should I say, developed a life of his own at that point and -in a phrase specially dedicated to the consultants in the room- didn't want to throw the 'built equity' thought the window. But now the "now or never" moment has arrived.

And that's because I have an announcement to make; when I have finished, you'll agree that simply had to reveal my identity here, in my own blog and before my friends and readers (quite often, both at the same time).

I want you to be the first ones to know officially that I'm joining Pajamas Media as its Western European Editor. Many of you already know that Pajamas Media (interim name; the new and final one will be unveiled at the launch, on November 16 in New York), is the new venture co-founded by Roger Simon and Charles Johnson, were most of the most interesting voices of the blogosphere all over the world will be heard. It also has an Editorial Board that is a real Who's Who of opinion and journalism; more information on the whole thing here.

I could not exaggerate explaining how thrilling it is to be joining such a fabulous group of pundits that I have been following and respected for years; I feel as I had been hired by an NBA team!

So after making the announcement, and wishing not to make a big fuss about my real personality because it's hardly earthshaking, there it goes: my full name is Jose Miguel Guardia, I have a law degree from the University of Barcelona plus several study courses in business management. I have been involved in the technology/new media industry for almost 15 years, as an executive or -for the last years- as an independent consultant. I have been focusing quite a lot lately in content generation, both online and offlline. In plainspeak, I have been writing quite a lot for the last years, also about politics and international affairs; if you don't believe me, just ask Franco Alemán!

I will keep signing as Franco Alemán in my blogging life -though in other types of contributions I might be using my real name in some occasions-, but now you'll know who's behind the pseudonym. Of course, I wouldn't want to end this post without thanking so many people for their support: reading, commenting, linking, emailing tips. Also to those who respectfully criticized me, since they helped me to think deeper and, therefore, to improve. Thanks to you all; and stay tuned, because this is going to be more exciting than ever!

UPDATE (October 29, 2007): I'm honored for having been promoted to Supervising Editor.

UPDATE (November 7, 2008): After three fascinating years, it was time to move on: I have departed Pajamas Media. I wish them nothing but the best, of course.

REMEMBER THE FIREWORKS during George Galloway's testimony before the Senate committee investigating UNSCUM, that it, the Oil-For-Food fraud? Remember how he was lauded by many people because he was speaking truth to power? Well:
George Galloway, the British MP, was last night accused of lying by a US Congressional committee when he testified earlier this year that he had not received any United Nation food-for-oil allocations from the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

In a report issued here, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman and his colleagues on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations claim to have evidence showing that Mr Galloway's political organisation and his wife received vouchers worth almost $600,000 (£338,000) from the then Iraqi government.

"We have what we call the smoking gun," said Mr Coleman, who will send the report to the US Department of Justice and the British authorities. The MP could face charges of perjury, making false statements and obstructing a Congressional investigation. Each charge carries a possible jail term of five years and a fine of $250,000.
Galloway denied everything again yesterday:
"I have not made a penny out of oil deals with Iraq, or indeed any other kind of deal," the MP said last night. "This ought to be dead, yet Norm Coleman parrots it once more from 3,000 miles away and protected by privilege." His spokesman later described the report as "derogatory and defamatory". The report claims that between 1999 and 2003 Mr Galloway personally solicited and was granted vouchers for 23 million barrels of oil, at below the market price. These vouchers could then be resold at a profit. It also alleges that money was channelled to Amineh Abu-Zayyad, the MP's wife, and to the Mariam Appeal, an organisation set up by Mr Galloway to help a young Iraqi girl with leukemia.

Mr Coleman maintains that his evidence is based on bank records, as well as interviews with Tariq Aziz, the former foreign minister and deputy prime minister under Saddam, and with the former vice-president Taha Yasin Ramadan.
UPDATE. Lots at Fausta's.

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The referendum on Iraq's draft constitution has passed, according to final provisional results issued Tuesday by Iraqi election officials.

On Monday, election officials said the vote count from the province of Nineveh, which has a a significant Sunni Arab population, would help determine the outcome. Sunnis were highly vocal in their opposition to the constitution ahead of the October 15 vote.

The figures show that the tally failed to get a two-thirds "no" vote in at least three of the 18 provinces that would have been required to defeat the measure.

The western province of Anbar -- also with a large Sunni population -- overwhelmingly voted against the document, with a "no" vote of 96 percent. In Salaheddin province, 82 percent rejected the charter.

Authorities with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq said 7 million people voted in the referendum and that the count so far showed 76 percent approved the draft constitution.

When questioned about extreme results, including the 99 percent "yes" vote in one Kurdish province, electoral officials said U.N. experts and Iraqi teams verified the results.

Shiites and Kurds have largely backed the constitution.

New parliamentary elections are set for December 15.
Of course, CNN had to show this in an article with a photo of yesterday's explosions at the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, and as usual they're mixing apples and oranges: Shiites and Sunnis are religious categories, and Kurds is an ethnic category. Actually, most Kurds are Sunnis so, as Christopher Hitchens alerts, it sends a confusing message to list the three as if they were on the same level.

Anyway, it's great, great news.

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A HISTORY LESSON by David Gelertner to those critics who constantly claim that the Iraq war is tainted because its proponents have shifted its rationale:
Rice was defending the administration's conduct of the war when Boxer objected. The administration, Boxer noted (correctly), has changed focus on Iraq. We went to war mainly on account of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism, she said. But WMD turned out to be a hoax on the whole world, and nowadays we are told that our Iraq mission is gigantic. We plan for a freed Iraq to inspire and stabilize the entire Middle East and to promote democracy everywhere. What kind of bait-and-switch is the administration playing with the American people?

Rice answered that this is the way the world works. For example, we did not go into World War II to build a democratic Germany…. Here Boxer interrupted. World War II, she told Rice curtly, has nothing to do with Iraq. Boxer had lost relatives in the Holocaust. No one had to tell her about World War II.

But Rice's analogy was exactly right. And by the way, using the Holocaust as a bat to beat political enemies over the head is demeaning to Jews and to human dignity. Having lost relatives in the Holocaust does not, in any case, confer expertise in U.S. history.

Democracies rarely declare war to improve the world, as Rice could have explained had she had the chance. They fight to protect themselves, sometimes to fulfill treaty obligations. But once a war is underway, free peoples tend to think things over deeply. Casualties concentrate the mind. We refuse to let our soldiers die for too little. America at war has lifted its sights again and again from danger, self-interest and self-defense to a larger, nobler goal. Same story, war after war. Iraq fits perfectly.

At first, Colonial America made war on Britain to loosen the British grip on commerce and society, not to create an independent state. Only as the war dragged on and costs and casualties mounted did public opinion swing round toward independence. In 1861, the North reluctantly made war on the Confederacy to hold the Union together. President Lincoln was painfully aware that, at the start of the fighting, freedom for the slaves would not have commanded popular support as a cause for war. Only later, as casualties mounted and blood ran in rivers, did freeing the slaves become the Union's ultimate goal.
Read it in full.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

DEAR FRIENDS: Piglet is saved! (via Tammy Bruce).

UPDATE. It seems that the war of the pigs is not finished yet:
British banks are banning piggy banks because they may offend some Muslims.

Halifax and NatWest banks have led the move to scrap the time-honoured symbol of saving from being given to children or used in their advertising, the Daily Express/Daily Star group reports here.

Muslims do not eat pork, as Islamic culture deems the pig to be an impure animal.
Fortunately, there's some voices of sanity coming also from a Labour MP who is a Muslim:
"We live in a multicultural society and the traditions and symbols of one community should not be obliterated just to accommodate another," Mr Mahmoud said.

"I doubt many Muslims would be seriously offended by piggy banks."
UPDATE OCT 25. Reader Hale emails:
I have never heard any of my Jewish friends criticize piggy banks, and they don't eat pork for presumably the same reason! As a matter of fact, I feel they would think this whole idea is absurd and a little insulting!

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I WAS SUPRISED to read this Reuters dispatch about a far-right demonstration yesterday in Madrid; being a news junkie, I'd suppose I'd have read about it by now, but I hadn't:
Hundreds of far-rightists draped in Spanish flags marched through Madrid on Sunday, demanding the government put a stop to immigration which they said was turning them into foreigners in their own country.

"We are here to protest at the government's immigration policy, which is converting Spaniards into foreigners in their own country," said Fernando Cantalapiedra, 25-year-old leader of the Falange, a far-rightist group which organised the march.

"(The government) is giving social benefits to immigrants when we have a serious unemployment problem," he told Reuters.

The Falange was one of the core supporters of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who died in 1975. With 8,000 members, it describes itself as a promoter of national unity.

Demonstrators also burnt a Catalan flag, in an apparent protest at attempts this year by the Catalan and the Basque regional governments to win greater autonomy from Madrid.
What a bunch of jerks, and I mean all of them. The guys at the demo and the guys at Reuters. They are giving prominence, as if it was an ominous sign for the country, to a group of lowlifes with no impact whatosever.

No, I'm not saying the press should silence jerks -otherwise most newspapers would consist almost entirely of blank pages!- but at least they should focus in relevant jerks. This demo was such a non-event that not even progressive/leftist media in Spain noticed it; I have only learned about it -and that's because I searched for it after reading the Reuters piece- two small town newspapers publishing a very brief agency report. Oh, and Reuters chooses the word "hundreds", which isn't a lie technically speaking because there were more than one hundred, after all. But it gives the impression that there were lots of people, even several thousands; at least that's trick the press used during last September demonstration against the war in Iraq on American cities when they wanted to inflate their success, isn't it? According to the few published reports in local newspapers I mentioned, the number of far-rightist jerks at the demonstration yesterday in Madrid were less than one thousand. I get more people in my weekend parties at home, almost...

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WAS THE AVIAN FLU crisis caused by Chinese incompetence and/or veterinary malpractice? Australia's Sunday Herald Sun says so:
CHINA caused the global bird flu crisis by feeding an antiviral drug meant for humans to its chickens, experts say.
The move rendered most anti-viral defences useless because the virus mutated into a more virulent strain.

As a result, the avian influenza virus, H5N1, is now largely resistant to amantadine - a low cost drug once effective in protecting humans.

The world must now rely more on the two less effective and more expensive anti-virals, Tamiflu and Relenza.

[...] Amantadine was put in the drinking water of millions of China's estimated chicken population of 13 billion in the late 1990s. That broke international livestock guidelines on health.

China's Ministry of Agriculture denied the practice, but in June said it was sending inspectors to make sure the antiviral use on chickens ended.

The mutated avian influenza virus that is now resistant to amantadine has spread to Vietnam, Thailand and even Europe.

The H5N1 virus can cross the species barrier into humans, leading to viral pneumonia and organ failure.

The biggest fear among health experts is the virus will mutate so that it can spread easily between humans, causing a pandemic that could kill millions of people.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

IT ALMOST SOUNDS... like a warning:
The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, has said Thursday in Madrid that he regrets the Spanish public opinion's misunderstanding of Morocco, reported MAP news agency.

At the Spanish-Moroccan conference, opened Thursday in Madrid, Moratinos deemed it “difficult to sensitise some sectors of the Spanish public opinion to the vital importance of having good and pacific relations with Morocco.”

He explained that this misunderstanding is due to the prejudices and stereotypes which affect the Spanish public opinion.

Moratinos said that the Spanish opinion sector must understand that Spain's stability depends on the pacific relations with Morocco.
What side is this guy on?

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The United States has blocked a Spanish aircraft company from selling C-295 aircraft to Venezuela. The U.S. can do this because when foreign aircraft makers use certain, militarily significant, American components, they must get U.S. permission to export those components (as part of something built locally). In this case, the C-295 has an American radar system the State Department has decided Venezuela should not have.
(barretina tip: Golan)

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ISN'T THAT LIKE, well, proving the point?:
One Muslim protestor was killed and dozens more wounded in violent clashes with police in Alexandria amid mounting tensions in the Egyptian Mediterranean city over a Christian video, the interior ministry said.

Following an earlier demonstration that had gathered at least 5,000 people, Muslims angered by release of a DVD by the Saint Girgis Church grouped outside the building again in the evening after breaking their Ramadan fast.


The Muslim protestors had earlier attacked the church and injured a passer-by, as they vented anger over the DVD release of a play produced by Saint Girgis two years ago they consider to be anti-Muslim.

The protests came three days after a man lightly wounded a nun with a knife at the entrance to the same church, and a man who came to her aid was stabbed in the back.

The play, performed by amateur actors, tells the story of a young Christian who converts to Islam and is exhorted by a sheikh to kill priests and destroy churches, according to the independent Al-Dustur paper.

Performances of the play had to be abandoned after it sparked a public outcry.

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The Western media was relatively quiet about the quite amazing news from the recent trifecta in Iraq: very little violence on election day, Sunni participation, and approval of the constitution. Those who forecasted that either the Sunnis would boycott, or that the constitution would be — and should be — rejected, stayed mum.

But how odd that in the face of threats, a higher percentage of Iraqis in this nascent democracy voted in a referendum than did we Americans during our most recent presidential election — we who have grown so weary of Iraq’s experiment.

Something must be going on when the cable-news outlets could not whet their appetite for carnival-like violence and pyrotechnics in Iraq, and so diverted their attention to Toledo, where live streams of American looting and arson seemed to be more like Iraq than Iraq.

There have been three great challenges with the Iraqi reconstruction that would determine its success or failure — once the spectacular three-week invasion both falsely raised public perceptions of perfection in war, and posed the problem of how to rebuild an entire society whose pathological elements were never really defeated, much less humiliated during the actual conventional war.
That's only the beginning of a superb piece, make sure you don't miss the rest; it's today's reading.

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KOFI ANNAN, as usual, protecting tyrants:
The last-minute alterations made to the Detlev Mehlis report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri may have been made under pressure by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Israel Radio reported Friday afternoon.

A diplomatic source reported that Annan had an interest in removing the name of Syrian President Bashar Assad's brother and brother-in-law, along with other important Syrian officials, from the list of suspects in the Hariri killing.

Assad's brother and brother-in-law had previously been implicated in having involvement in the Hariri assassination.

Annan, according to speculations, was concerned that the harsh report could cause political instability in Syria, perhaps even leading to an overthrow of the Assad regime, and thus preferred a watered-down version of the report.
You can read the full report in the UN's website, and still the fuller version (without the redaction that softens the participation of Assad's environment), in the Washington Post (warning: .doc file).

UPDATE. Robert Mayer is all over this subject.

UPDATE II. More in London's The Times:
THE United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday.

The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.

The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.

The mistaken release of the unedited report added further support to the published conclusion that Syria was behind Mr Hariri’s assassination in a bomb blast on Valentine’s Day in Beirut. The murder of Mr Hariri touched off an international outcry and hastened Syria’s departure from Lebanon in April after a 29-year pervasive military presence.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, described the report’s findings as “deeply troubling”. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said: “It is an unpleasant story which the international community will take very seriously indeed.”

But the furore over the doctoring of the report threatened to overshadow its damaging findings. It raised questions about political interference by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary- General, who had promised not to make any changes in the report.
This man is a walking and breathing shame. This is not a last straw; the poor camel has been crushed by a 1-ton bale!

By the way, if you prefer the British daily has the report not in .doc by on .pdf format .

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Friday, October 21, 2005

CALIVALLEYGIRL remembers a passage of NPR reporter Anne Garrels' book, Naked in Baghdad:
[I]t was known that some Baathist's were hanging around the hotel. Garrels' book attests to that...that is why she was always reporting naked, so that should anyone knock on her hotel door while she is broadcasting with her illegal satellite phone, she could open the door semi-dressed or whatever, and the Ministry of Information guys wouldn't think she had just filed a report. (I think that was the logic...I need to re-read that book). So if you are a soldier, passing by a building where you know Baathists are hanging out, when you see the flash of light reflecting off what you think is a sniper's scope on a balcony, you might not consider that there might also be cameramen filming the whole war from the balcony too, and that your sniper's scope is actually a cameraman's lens.
(see previous post here)

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

IF THE MODERN MEDIA had been reporting from Normandy on D-day; a superb piece by Fernando Diaz Villanueva:
Around three hundred French civilians were murdered yesterday and an undetermined number were injured during the first hours of the American invasion of continental Europe. Most of the French victims were due to artillery shots coming from the American fleet that was trying to hit German fortifications on the coast before thousands of soldiers proceeded to land on several of the beaches. According to sources in the improvised hospital in the town of Saint Mere Eglise, the slaughter was worse than French and Germans anticipated. “We are dropping like flies” said an eye witness who preferred to remain anonymous. “The Americans came in killing like mad men, I never thought I would say this, but life was better with Adolf Hitler.”
According to information coming from the front, the American invasion caused serious environmental damage. The army brigade that landed on the beaches is equipped with tanks, trucks and war machinery that destroyed several kilometers of coastline and thousands of hectares of very ecologically interesting wetlands. It is believed that the lazy crab’s habitat, native to this part of France, has been totally devastated; biologists warned the species might disappear. A Bluepeace representative was very dismayed, reporting his organization had warned about this military operation at least a year ago. “This disaster is just another example of how little attention the American military establishment pays to the environment.” “We have no doubt the powerful industrial-military lobby’s interests, protected by the White House, are behind the landing” said the environmentalist spokesperson Petra Cheekyface. Yesterday, during a mid-night press conference in a New York hotel, Jacques Lefrenchie, one of the members of the exiled French Government said that the savage invasion was brought on by American beer multinationals’ greed, thirsting to invade European markets. “Everybody knows President Roosevelt has his own agenda and his own drinking clientele” [I'd probably have translated this as "beverage industry lobby" myself -- FA], “once the German companies established in France are taken, Yankee beer will control the world market”.
Read what follows.

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IT'S ONE THING to say that the avian flu risk may be overhyped, and do it with sensible arguments as one Instapundit reader did, and another to say that an avian flu pandemic is "science fiction", as Spain's agriculture minister did just yesterday. Actually her cabinet colleague, the health minister, doesn't seem to agree: this is why massive amounts of anti-virals (not vaccines, as they have been saying) are being bought by Spanish authorities (by the way, most of them to be delivered on the beginning of 2007, but that's a 'small' detail that gets never reported). The president of Spain's National Veterinary Association, Juan Jose Badiola, an expert in animal to human disease transmission, also thinks the risk is high (link in Spanish).

I'm not in a position to judge whether the risk is bigger or smaller, of course, but what I do know is that it's not science fiction at all.

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THESE AMERICANS are mean, aren't they? I can't imagine how the government of a major democracy could ever refuse to pay... a psychic!
A Brazilian court will consider a psychic's claim that the U.S. government owes him a $25 million reward for information he says he provided on the hiding place of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Brazil's second-highest court, the Superior Court of Justice, decided on Thursday the Brazilian justice system could rule on the matter and told a court in the psychic's home state of Minas Gerais to judge the case.
(via Michael Ledeen)

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I ALSO WANT to be an anti-capitalist, if it's Noam Chomsky's style:
One of the most persistent themes in Chomsky's work has been class warfare. He has frequently lashed out against the "massive use of tax havens to shift the burden to the general population and away from the rich" and criticized the concentration of wealth in "trusts" by the wealthiest one percent. The American tax code is rigged with "complicated devices for ensuring that the poor -- like eighty percent of the population -- pay off the rich."

But trusts can't be all bad. After all, Chomsky, with a net worth north of $2,000,000, decided to create one for himself. A few years back he went to Boston's venerable white-shoe law firm, Palmer and Dodge, and with the help of a tax attorney specializing in "income-tax planning" set up an irrevocable trust to protect his assets from Uncle Sam. He named his tax attorney (every socialist radical needs one!) and a daughter as trustees. To the Diane Chomsky Irrevocable Trust (named for another daughter) he has assigned the copyright of several of his books, including multiple international editions.

Chomsky favors the estate tax and massive income redistribution -- just not the redistribution of his income. No reason to let radical politics get in the way of sound estate planning.

When I challenged Chomsky about his trust, he suddenly started to sound very bourgeois: "I don't apologize for putting aside money for my children and grandchildren," he wrote in one email. Chomsky offered no explanation for why he condemns others who are equally proud of their provision for their children and who try to protect their assets from Uncle Sam. Although he did say that the tax shelter is okay because he and his family are "trying to help suffering people."
Read what follows.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

FAUSTA has more information on Cuckoo-gate (see yesterday's post).

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"The Tunisian, "The Chinese," and Alekema Lamari were named by security forces as the alleged masterminds of the March 11 conspiracy. The three appear on the videotape claiming responsibility for the Madrid bombings. So far we had known that "The Tunisian" was being watched by National Police agents and "El Chino" was under surveillance by the Civil Guard. Yesterday the newspaper El Mundo reported that a Syrian agent of the Spanish secret service, the CNI, known as "El Pollero," had been observing Lamari since he left prison in 2002.

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THE SPANISH JUDGE who is leading the judicial investigation of the death of Jose Couso, the Spanish TV cameraman killed in the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, has finally issued an international arrest warrant against the 3 US tank crewmembers who were in the tank that allegedly shot the shell:
A Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant Wednesday, charging three U.S. soldiers with murder in the death of a Spanish television cameraman in Baghdad.

Jose Couso was killed as U.S. forces advanced to take control of the Iraqi capital in April 2003, a National Court spokeswoman said.

National Court investigating magistrate Santiago Pedraz issued the warrant for the arrests of the three soldiers and their eventual extradition to Spain.

They are wanted on charges of murder and a crime against the international community, according to the warrant.
I write "allegedly" because none other than Andrew Gilligan (no BushBlair puppy, he) gave a different version, though he later somewhat backtracked; in any case, there was some self-criticism both by Sky News and even the BBC, which is saying a lot.

Anyway, I think there are grounds for not only not prosecuting the 3 GIs under war legislation, but for arresting all the journalists that were so keen to play witness to what had happened in the Palestine hotel. It may be them who were committing a war crime by being civilians from thrid countries in a conflict theater (whether they like it or not, journalists don't have a different consideration than regular civilians, as far as the Geneva conventions are concerned).

What I wrote last June when the judge filed a request for interrogation is still valid, I think, so I know self-quotes are not always nice, but I really don't have anything to add to it. So here it is, after correcting only some minor mistakes I just saw:
[I]t's often repeated that it was well known by coalition troops that the hotel was full of journalists. What few people say is that the hotel was also full of the few Baathist regime officials still in Baghdad; the incident took place the day before of the Iraqi capital's liberation and, immediately after the incident at the hotel, they fled the place and the city was fully taken, only a few hours later. How do I know? well, because Couso himself said so, a couple of days before his death, in a live report on the evening news at the network he worked for, Tele 5. Him speaking on the report was unusual, since he was the cameraman and it was his colleague Jon Sistiaga who was regularly on camera. I remember well how the newscast anchor, Angels Barcelo, said, "we're going to do something unusual, since Jose Couso is normally behind the camera", and I remember well how he complained that the hotel was pestered with the last baathists in town, since they were in fact using the journalists as human shelters.

So saying that the hotel was not a legitimate military target because it was full of civilians -journalists- is not saying the whole picture: someone more expert than me in war legislation may confirm whether it stopped being a protected building from the moment when the baathists found safe haven there and the civilians refused to leave it. I believe the Geneva convention IV doesn't protect civilians from third countries who choose to stay in a war theater (it would be a different thing when they cannot leave, just as it happened for example in Bosnia, where civilian foreigners and blue helmets where tied up to bridges in Mostar and other buildings).

One could even argue that, by acting as de facto human shields, the journalists were more than mere witnesses and involuntary victims: they may well have been committing a war crime under the Geneva conventions. The GC punishes civilians from third countries who choose to stay in a war theater if they are able to leave if they wish; this is because they force only one of the parties in combat (coalition troops) to refrain its firepower when going against legitimate targets (baathist officials, in this case). As I said, I studied international law long ago and haven't worked in the specific field, but from what I remember I think that would be the conclusion, a more expert opinion notwidthsanding.

Don't get me wrong, I still think it was a honest mistake by the tank crewmembers but, even if they had fired on purpose, they probably wouldn't be liable of any crime.

I think the legal rationale the CPJ and the Spanish judge are making may not be correct. Not that I'm surprised if their legal target is the US military, but I wonder why no one in the Pentagon, or in the US in general, is using these arguments. Am I missing something?
UPDATE. The Jawa report says the judge has a Don Quixote moment.

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THIS IS NOT a mistake by the journalist who wrote it. It's exactly like this how the Spanish government is misinforming the public about avian flu preparedness:
Spain is to buy between six and ten million more doses of avian flu vaccine, enough to protect up to 25 percent of the population.

As the threat of an avian flu pandemic increased with new cases in Romania, Turkey and Greece in recent days, the government moved to increase the amount of vaccine at its disposal.

Before it only had two million doses or enough to treat five percent of the population - those who were deemed most at risk.

The government also announced it is to set up an inter-ministerial commission to monitor the progress of avian flu as it spreads across Spain.

Manuel Oñorbe, Spanish director general of public health, said: "The efficiency of the vaccine is not a panacea against this type of flu."
You bet it's not a panacea. That's because anti-virals like Tamiflu, which is what the Spanish government is buying, are not vaccines; and it may even be useless against some strains that seem to be resistant to the drug.

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TIME FOR A new section called "Zapaterisms" in Slate:
Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in a wide-ranging radio interview that he has never had an interest in meeting Cuban president Fidel Castro.

It came after Castro failed to arrive at the Ibero-American summit held in Spain at the weekend with leaders of Spain, Portugal and Latin American countries.

"I have never had either the passion, or the interest, or the circumstances of meeting him, it's very curious, I guess these are the necessary paradoxes that lead one to be prime minister of the government," Zapatero said.

Say that again? No, this is not a too bad translation; see Spanish coverage here. If the Spanish article reflects literally what Zapatero said, though, there are two minor points: "curious" should be understood not in the sense of "inquisitive", which is the more usual one in English, but of "odd", which is how "curioso" would be normally understood in than context in Spanish. Second, the last bit of his sentence was "supongo que estas son las paradojas necesarias que lleva ser presidente del Gobierno", which would be much more accurately translated as "I guess these are the necessary paradoxes that come with being prime minister of the government". Slightly less silly. Only slightly.

Oh, and contrary to what the government-owned EFE news agency implies, Zapatero was not dealing a snub to Castro for no showing. He has 100% of his snub-dealing capabilities reserved for Bush and sometimes Blair. No; what he was doing was covering his, well, that, because there are more and more people who are realizing that his leaning towards the Cuban dictator smells funny.

UPDATE. And then there's this.

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YESTERDAY BUSY; today, no DSL since early morning. I've spoken to my provider, and they promised to take a look at it asap, but I bet it'll take some time. Now I'm on dialup, which really sucks (how did we ever manage with this?)

Later today or tomorrow morning I'll be getting a 3G card; it's not amazingly fast (300 kbps), and not unexpensive (59 euros a month with a maximum traffic of 1.5 Gb, which is about a week, for me) but at least it will be a backup when DSL fails.

Blogging will be slow again today, as I'm sure you'll understand.

UPDATE. It was quicker than I thought; my DSL works again. I'll keep my fingers crossed. Now let's see if I can catch up with today's news!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

BACK FROM A MEETING, and I have a couple of things to finish before I start blogging; I guess it will be later today, but don't know how much later.

UPDATE. Well, this seems to take longer than I intended; I'm juggling a couple projects and won't be long until I have to go out again for a dinner meeting (it's 8 pm here). So I'm afraid it's unlikely I'll post anything else than this quite pathetic announcement...

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Monday, October 17, 2005

SADDAM'S TRIAL starts next Wednesday, and one of the best places to follow it will be Grotian Moment, a collective blog by several bright minds in international law. Among them one whose writings I've been following for quite some time with big interest, Ruth Wedgwood of Johns Hopkins.

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WE HAVE a brand new international finances megascandal, as if we hadn't had enough with UNSCUM: Swiss bank UBS is apparently being investigated for a massive laundering scheme for Cuba (3.9 billion dollars), Iran (1 billion) and Libya (lump change compared with the previous amounts: only 30 million). The whole thing was uncovered after the $762 million in cash that was found in Baghdad right after the fall of Saddam; for this affair UBS was fined, and now investigators are following from there.

Stay tuned; this may be big news.

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THE FIRST PRELIMINARY RESULTS from the constitutional referendum in Iraq are coming, and Hammorabi has them. They seem to indicate that the charter will pass.

Congratulations, Iraq!

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

ALMOST A PEACEFUL DAY, The Times reports:
AMID unexpected calm, millions of Iraqis turned out in the sunshine yesterday to vote on a new constitution whose advocates claimed it would unite the country in a progressive democracy but whose critics warned that it would ultimately prove divisive.
You don't say! They have been predicting failure are every step; how people are still buying the forecasts coming from people who have been consistently erring all along still amazes me.

Whatever the result (and I think the high turnout in Sunni areas is a good sign) yesterday was a huge, huge success that even anti-war Spain couldn't deny (though the MSM did its best to hide it, not putting the news in their first page or in the beginning of the newscasts). If there's a yes vote, it's obviously good. If there's a no vote from the Sunni areas and is big enough to derail the constitution, the whole thing will go back to the drawing table, which is not a bad thing in itself. That's politics, baby.

Besides, the fact that a proposed Constitution gets a thumb down by the voters in a certain area doesn't necessarily mean that the whole entity crumbles down deligitimized. Just ask France. Is the European constitution dead because the vote was negative there or the Netherlands? I personally would hope so, but that's not what the European elites are saying. Yes, the same European elites that now are saying that if there's a negative result in certain parts of Iraq it will prove that the whole country goes nowhere.

So if someone tells me that Iraq's democratization process is a failure because some Sunni regions voted against it, I'll answer using Zapatero's words after the French Non: "it's a setback, but not a catastrophe"! (link in Spanish).

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It is precisely because the US "has never abused its position in that way" that the Internet has become so universally accepted. It is on the basis of that "full faith and confidence" in the system that vast information flows, often transacted by companies worth many billions of dollars, can occur on a routine basis. By maintaining this medium of exchange, the United States has become the information central banker to the world. The WGIG's essentially argues that the United States might be tempted to debase the Internet in order to control it. However, a moment's reflection will convince most readers that any American attempt to behave as the WGIG's members (like Saudi Arabia and Iran) would probably be tempted to behave would instantly lead to the end of the US monopoly.
I like the Carl Bildt quote W refers to: "It seems as if the European position has been hijacked by officials that have been driven by interests that should not be ours."

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

SPAIN continues it's slip towards a kind of non-aligned movement, 21st century edition, and behaving more like a banana republic rather than a mature, Western democracy and the 8th biggest world economy. Honestly, this is amazing:
Venezuela used an Ibero-American forum to bash the United States on Friday, increasing the anti-Washington flavor of the summit expected to back stronger criticism of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the United States of harboring terrorists as controversy swirled over a Cuban-backed resolution on terrorism and a second resolution calling for an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in tougher language than used at past summits.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, a veteran foe of the United States, stayed away from the summit but Chavez made up for his absence by lambasting capitalism and U.S. policies.

"(The United States), which says it fights terrorism, which invades countries like Iraq using the excuse of the war on terror ... protects terrorists on its own territory," Chavez said as he was mobbed by reporters and flag-waving supporters at a Salamanca hotel.

Chavez was referring to a former CIA operative Venezuela wants extradited over the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner.

[...] Foreign ministers approved a general resolution on extraditing terrorists, but a Spanish government spokesman said the precise reference, sought by Cuba, to the Cubana de Aviacion bombing was left out.

The ministers also agreed on a resolution criticizing the U.S. trade embargo of Communist Cuba in stronger language than used before, calling it a blockade instead of an embargo.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque has expressed Cuba's satisfaction over both resolutions, which must still be approved by leaders before the summit ends on Saturday.

El Mundo, a newspaper generally critical of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's 19-month-old Socialist government, said the resolutions marked another own goal in the government's relations with Washington.

Spanish-U.S. relations were chilled last year when Zapatero, elected three days after the al Qaeda-linked Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people, immediately pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq when he took office.

Spanish news agency Europa Press quoted a U.S. embassy source in Madrid as saying it would be "worrying" if two resolutions proposed by Cuba were approved.

"It would be unfortunate if a text like this was interpreted as support of the Cuban dictatorship," the source was quoted as saying.
I love the "El Mundo, a newspaper generally critical of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's 19-month-old Socialist government" line; when quoting El País approvingly, Reuters never writes "El Pais, a newspaper generally supportive of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's 19-month-old Socialist government"; apparently you only have to disclose the political inclination when it helps to relativize the media which doesn't agree with you.

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