Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 31, 2005

Entitled To Unfair Use

Dan Okrent, former public editor of the NYT after getting fire for criticizing NYT columnist Paul Krugman only in his very last piece for the paper:

But I laid off for so long because I also believe that columnists are entitled by their mandate to engage in the unfair use of statistics, the misleading representation of opposing positions, and the conscious withholding of contrary data.

From now on, (if you not already do so,) please read any NYT and WaPo, and WSJ, and LAT, ... columnist knowing that their paper's official public editor approved policy is to allow them the 'instruments' of:

  • unfair use of statistics
  • misleading representation of opposing positions
  • conscious withholding of contrary data
  • Yes, maybe you did know that this was their policy all along. But I am still somehow astonished that an official 'right to lie' for MSM columnist is put on record, while the same media corp folks bang bloggers for not being "fair and balanced".

    Posted by b on May 31, 2005 at 05:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

    50 Years Ahead!?

    Chad, [a Southern Baptist missionary stationed in Madrid, Spain,] .. says it is a tough place to share the gospel and when he approaches people, a typical response is, "Oh, we already know about all that. We don't need it."

    The region is marked by "a spiritual deadness that you can't believe," Chad notes. "To me it's the hardest mission field on the planet right now.  .."

    The American missionary believes Europe can be viewed as a sort of bellwether for the future cultural and spiritual scene in the U.S. "Living in Europe," he says, "I see Europe as probably 50 years ahead of where the U.S. is going spiritually. In Madrid, the Spanish equivalent of the House of Representatives just legalized same-sex marriages."

    What has descended on Western Europe, Chad asserts, is "just a spiritual darkness. ...
    Western Europe's Darkness Foreshadows America's Spiritual Decline

    Posted by b on May 31, 2005 at 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (44)

    Open Thread 05-52

    News, views, opinions ..

    Posted by b on May 31, 2005 at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (79)

    May 30, 2005

    What would I do?

    According to this report there is still no local government formed in the Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq. The election for a local parliament and government were held together with the central election at the end of January.

    Four month later, the autocratic leaders of the two main Kurdish parties are still fighting about the choice for and role of a regional president. The elected members of the regional parliament have yet to meet.

    Meanwhile the U.S. occupation forces are arresting important party leaders without warrants and even without informing their puppet governments and breaking the laws they themselves imposed on the Iraqi people. Oops... Riverbend comments.

    The turnout of the January election showed some enthusiasm for 'democracy'. But by now, that enthusiasm must have changed to sarcasm. The government that took month to form can not deliver any basic service. There is no security from car bombs, planted by who-knows, and no security from arbitrary arrest and mishandling through U.S. troops. The electricity situation is worse than at the begin of the occupation. Water, when available, is not clean and a cholera epidemic is developing. There are no jobs other than in the highly dangerous security business.

    Dahr Jamail reports, that "Things are getting worse by the day."

    Zarqawi, the current Goldstein of the Iraq war, is either in Syria, in Iran, in Iraq, in Eurasia or Oceania, wounded or well. It does not matter as long as the last rumor is taking up space in the newspapers and airtime that could otherwise be used to report what is really happening in Iraq.

    I am hopelessly frustrated by just reading the news. If I would be an Iraqi - no matter if I were Shia or Sunni or secular - no matter of being Arab or Kurd, jobless, my children hungry and ill with cholera, my parents suffering from the heat. What would I do? What would You do?

    Posted by b on May 30, 2005 at 04:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)


    Posted by b on May 30, 2005 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

    May 29, 2005

    Social Welfare Models And a Revolution

    There are political turmoils in France, hidden behind the dis-affirmation of the European constitution, and in Germany now open in the campaigns for the federal election.  In the United States the discussion about Social Security and about the election of judges, who are committed to a pre-Roosevelt state, are extensive.

    All these arguments are results of economical problems in these developed countries a decade after three billion "new capitalists" in developing countries entered the global market place.

    Central to the discussions, though sometimes hidden, is the role of the state in social welfare - defined as health care, education and unemployment and retirement safety. There are three models for the role of the state in these fields.

  • In the first model the state keeps mostly out of social welfare programs and lets them organizes privately within some regulations. Social welfare is restricted to emergency care and to prevent starvation and homelessness. It is payed for by taxes.

  • The second model describes societies where social welfare is organized by law, but is not financed by taxes. Employees and employers pay for mandatory health care, unemployment insurance and social security to dedicated system in capped percentages of individual wages.

  • 'All included' welfare states of the third kind finance welfare through taxes. Self employed and people living from capital gains do pay into the system via general taxes as anybody else does and are also entitled to social benefits through these systems like anybody else.
  • The first model can be found in a pure form in the United States before Roosevelt and will exist again if Bush II finishes his program. Such state will have the lowest state share of GDP (< 20%) and the biggest differences between rich and poor. Labor costs (Wal-Mart) and tax levels are already low. The second model is the the current Continental-European one, with a tax share of some 35% of GDP and medium difference between rich and poor. Taxes are modest, but labor costs are high as they include health insurance and social security costs. The third model is practiced in Scandinavia with a 50% state share of GDP and tax financed social welfare for all.

    With many developing states entering the global market place, the competitiveness of the developed states is in question. To erect a new factory global businesses are looking for law and order, low taxes on capital gains, low wage cost and a highly educated and healthy workforce.

    In a "race to the bottom" all developed states have lowered taxes on capital gains and by now diminished these as a factor of competitiveness. This leaves wage costs and work force quality as the main competition factor between developing and developed countries.

    The United States tries to solve the competition problem by privatizing more of education costs, social welfare cost and the associated risk, while at the same time pumping up consumption by lowering taxes. (Where social welfare is still part of labor contracts, companies are trying to cut it back through negotiations or do socialize the costs through chapter 11 procedures as United Airlines does now and GM and Ford will do next year.) This leads to a society with high, and growing, disparities and to huge state deficits.

    It is questionable if a nation with this model can keep its long-term competitiveness as the competition factors education, workforce health and social peace are degrading in such an environment.

    The Continental-European countries (France and Germany) have so far attempted to avoid any change. They still finance social welfare mostly through wage related payments. This leads to low competitiveness and high unemployment rates. As their social welfare systems are financed through wages, the payment to these systems have to be increased when unemployment is high, leading to even less competitive wage costs. This spiral is unsustainable.

    These states are now in huge political struggles about the right way to go. Neoliberal forces (and "the money") on the political right desires an "American model", lowering the level of social welfare and thereby its costs, while the left wants to stick to a general welfare state. Nobody wants to call for higher taxes. The center is paralyzed and everybody is avoiding a decision.

    The Scandinavian countries have, for now, solved the problem without diminishing their welfare state. They did lower their taxes on capital gains too, but they increased income and consumption taxes. The income taxes are highly progressive with the top rates around 56% and value added consumption taxes are up to 25%.

    The distance between the poorest and the richest groups is very low compared to the U.S. and lower than in Continental-Europe. If you want to earn, and keep, millions per year as CEO, it is probably not the place to be. At the same time your children and you, like everyone, are entitled to very good free health care and a free and excellent education systems. As wage costs do not include welfare costs these states are internationally competitive. The Scandinavian countries do have low unemployment rates and balanced budgets. Their model is, for now, sustainable.

    Personally (I live in Germany), I would have to pay higher taxes in a Scandinavian like environment. But for these I would receive more security and a peaceful social environment - my personal preference. So my hope is for the France and Germany elites to see the advantages of the Scandinavian model and to steer their countries and Europe into that direction. My petition is: Please change the wage financed social systems into tax financed and increase income and consumption taxes to balance the budget. If promise to do this, you will get my support and my vote.

    For the United States a Scandinavian like model would be a revolution like the New Deal was around 1935. Revolutions only come, when the failure of the society and its leading elites are highly visible. Like in the early 1930s America is well on the path for the huge failures of recent political choices to become obvious to everyone. Thereafter comes the revolution.

    Posted by b on May 29, 2005 at 04:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (96)

    May 28, 2005

    Editors Without Backbone

    The New York Times editors bow deep to the Pentagon to make it easier for DiRita to screw them. To understand how deep they bowed, I had to read this slowly and twice:

    NYT - Editors' Note

    A front-page article yesterday reported on an American military inquiry's finding that guards or interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba "mishandled" the Koran in five cases. The headline exceeded the Pentagon's characterization, saying that the investigation revealed "harm" to the Koran. The Pentagon did not give specifics of the mishandling, so it was not known whether a Koran was actually damaged.
    NY Times - Corrections, May 28, 2005

    The article the editors' note corrects was headlined:

    Inquiry by U.S. Finds 5 Cases of Koran Mistreatment

    and included this quote from Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita:

    "And so what we're trying to make sure people understand is that the impression they ought to have is that the guards, the interrogators, the command down there have been extraordinarily cautious, and yet there have been instances where inadvertent mishandling has occurred or other types of mishandling,"

    DiRita said this in a the official Pentagon press conference. The transcript of the press conference is titled DoD News Briefing on Koran Mishandling Allegations. In the same  transcript you will also find one inquiring General Hood who says:

    "We found that in only five of those 13 incidents, four by guards and one by an interrogator, there was what could be broadly defined as mishandling of a Koran."

    Let me repeat what the NYT editors' note on the correction page says:

    1. 'Our headline did exceeded the Pentagon's characterization.'
    2. 'The headline said the investigation revealed "harm" to the Koran.'
    3. 'It was not known whether a Koran was actually damaged'.

    No 1 is factual false as the DiRita and the Hood quote on record shows. The NYT headline did in no way exceed the Pentagon's spokesmen. It is a nearly verbal quote of General Hood;

    No 2 is factual false as the neither the headline nor the article mentions anything about "harm" to the Koran being revealed through the Pentagon;

    No 3 is irrelevant as neither the headline nor the article suggest that a Koran was actually damaged.

    Last weekend Newsweek did a double non-retraction retraction. During the following days we learned, that the Newsweek story was correct, but for one small detail. This was a huge embarrassment for the administration, but after the retraction even more for Newsweek. One would expect other media to learn from this and not to cave in to Pentagon bullying as easy as Newsweek has done. But to cave in is exactly what the NYT editors do.

    If the New York Times really worries about loosing readers, they should print the truth and, when the truth is spinned, their interpretation of it marked as such.

    The original article is correct, as is its headline. The overruling editors' note is not the truth. It is factual false on several points or irrelevant.

    If the editors of the New York Times really worry about correct statements (and if they have any backbone left,) they need to print a correction of their false statements. Otherwise, they better look for new jobs. Readers will not pay for being lied to over and over again.

    Posted by b on May 28, 2005 at 02:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

    EU Constitution Vote Thread

    France votes tomorrow on the EU Constitution. As the latest polls show, the "non" seems likely to win:


    The last 3 polls available actually give 51%, 52% and 56% for the "non", so it's hard to know if it will be close or not. Several commenters, including Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French President and the main writer of the new Constitution, have made a reference to Liverpool, who came back from a 3-0 score at half time to win the Champion's League last Wednesday.

    We'll know tomorrow. Below are a few musings on the last days of the campaign:

    - a campaign with international voices
    - two radically different "non"
    - what will happen next on the left and on the right

    I will use this thread for live blogging of the results tomorrow, along with a parallel diary over at dKos.

    A campaign with international voices

    What has been striking in this campaign is the massive involvement of non-French politicians and personalities in the campaign in France. They have joined the political meetings organized by the big parties, they have written many op-eds in the papers, they have spoken on TV and radio. In a previous diary, I wrote that these foreign politicians only supported the "oui" vote, but I was wrong about that: conservative British politicians have supported the sovereigntist "non" campaign on the right, and senior figures of the European left (like Oscar Lafontaine, the maverick leftist politician who is currently musing a run as an independent, left-of-Schoeder's SPD in the coming German elections) have also participated in the "non" from the left, asking France to reject the treaty as too market-oriented.

    Still, the majority of these foreign voices have been favorable to the "oui" and have called the French, sometimes with passion, to support the Constitution.

    Europe's leaders in frantic Yes push on EU poll

    After his country became the ninth EU country to ratify the treaty, Gerhard Schröder, Germany's chancellor, travelled to the French city of Toulouse on Friday night to take part in frantic last-minute campaigning. José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain's prime minister, joined French socialist leaders at a Yes rally in the northern French town of Lille. "Europe cannot advance without France," he said.


    I have not heard or read a single complaint about these foreign interventions in this campaign. The French probably relish the attention - once again, they are at the center of everybody's attentions, which certainly provides a nice feeling of being relevant in the world, a feeling which appears to be rare these days in my country (not everybody has tried a new career as a dKos regular diarist ;-) ).
    But in a way (in my ever-optimistic world view), it also shows that this vote matters to all Europeans and that it is legitimate that they be involved, and it underlines the fact that our destinies are pretty much irreversibly intertwined, whatever institutional form that takes.

    It also underlines, of course, that a lot is at stake in the short term, and that the course of Europe is likely to take pretty different paths depending on tomorrow's result. My take:

    - a French "oui" would in all likelihood be followed by a Dutch one, as they would probably hesitate to be the first ones to go against Europe. The onus would then move on to Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK, the countries where a "no" as the most chances of winning. In the meantime, the business of the EU will start again, with the big discussions on the 2007-2013 budget - likely to be acrimonious - to start. The scare of the narrow French win would certainly influence discussions towards a more social agenda, in my view.

    - a French "non" (and/or a Dutch one) would certainly be followed pretty quickly be calls by European leaders for the ratification process to continue, to give other countries a chance to give their own opinion (if 80% or more of countries, but not all, ratify, they have agreed to discuss how to move forward again). It would in all likelihood also be followed by a Dutch no, and the British government (which takes the rotating presidency of Europe for the second half of this year and thus has the administrative responsibility to organize discussions between countries in the European council) would have a big mess on its hands. France will push for more "social" stuff, but will have limited support; in all likelihood, with the German election campaign under way (it's expected in the autumn), the mood will become pretty acrimonious, with fighting about the budget (the French want to protect their (extravagant) agricultural subsidies, the Brits want to protect their (equally extravagant) rebate, the Spanish want to protect their (increasingly undeserved) structural subsidies, the Poles want more, and the Germans and Dutch want to pay less), and about any European directive that has any whiff of being market friendly. There will not be any sensible stuff happening for at least a year, I'd say.

    two radically different "non"

    What will make France's position especially difficult is that the "non" vote will be equally split between two radically opposed strands:

    - the "non" of the right, which is about sovereignty. People on that side don't like the current big Europe with its many poor new members (this is delayed vote against enlargement), with France's loss of influence, and with Turkey potentially joining in. A good chunk of that vote comes from supporters of Le Pen's National Front, with its anti-immigrant, protectionist and populist ideology; another part comes from the more mainstream right (people like De Villier's MPF), which resent Europe's increasing federalist bent and the "far away Brussels bureaucracy" - these are fairly similar to the British conservatives, although they are probably a lot more protectionist and extra on the economic front (but then a lot of the French right is like that, i.e. basically paternalist and anti-market). Overall, with the government being from the right, a lot of people from the right will vote "oui" out of party loyalty.

    - the "non" of the left is more complex. I have been highly critical of it, as I think it is very misguided, and thus am probably not the best person to describe it but I'll have a try anyway (but I hope that the several French kossacks that have stated in previous diaries that they will vote "non" will join in the comments to provide a better description if they feel that I have unfairly described their position).  The argument is that the current Constitution is too "libérale" (i.e. market-oriented in the French meaning of that word). It focuses too much on economic policies and free trade and not much on social rights and issues, and, as it is a solemn document, it will freeze Europe into that unfavorable framework for the left. Many arguments also go on to say that it is not a proper Constitution, being absurdly long, too detailed on many topics (again, especially on economic policies) and inaccessible to the population. It fails to say what Europe stands for and what Europeans really want to do together, and to really stand for the right values.

    These two strands weigh about the same, i.e. about 25%+ of the population each, but the leftist one has been more volatile, with the socialist voters torn between the two options.

    what will happen next on the left and on the right

    I've written briefly above about the European consequences of the vote, but the biggest impact is likely to be domestic, as the campaign has pitted against each other politicians that are formally part of the same camp (the sovereigntist right against Chirac, and the idealist left against the realist left, with the fracture right in the middle of the Socialist Party). There has been a lot of acrimony and it is hard to see how some groups are going to manage to even pretend to any reconciliation.

    One thing is certain: whatever the vote, the current Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin's days are numbered. He will probably leave even faster in the case of a "oui" (he can at least say that he got that through, and leave honorably; ) than in the case of a "non" (to avoid the acknowledgment by Chirac that the vote was about any domestic issues). In any case, he will be replaced by a guy supposed to represent a more "socially minded" policy. The front runners for the job are Dominique de Villepin, the infamous foreign minister during the Iraq war and currently interior minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, currently the health minister, or Michèle Alliot-Marie, the (female) Defense minister. De Villepin, fully loyal to Chirac, is said to be the front runner, but is hated by Sarkozy, Chirac's main rival on the right and the leader of the UMP, the main party of the right. Sarkozy would be another option for Prime Minister, but Chirac really hates him and does not seem to want to go through a new "cold" cohabitation with him; also, he would not really fit the desire for a more "social" policy. On the other hand, he is extremely popular for his perceived straight talking and could be seen as a change from "politics as usual" which is what people really don't like about Chirac. The Chirac-Sarkozy duel will last until the presidential election in 2007 and will dominate the politics of the right in any case, so the result of the referendum will not change much. Chirac is unpopular, a "non" will be (rightly) blamed on him, but he will not really profit from a "oui" which will be decided on the left. Sarkozy has campaigned for the "oui", as fits the leader of the main governmental party, but neither result will have much an impact for him.

    On the left, things are a lot harder to fathom, because the campaign has shown a deep chasm between two strands of the left, which I will label, for lack of better terms, the hard left and the centrist left. The communists, trotskysts and other assorted leftists have traditionally been anti-EU, and their position in this campaign is coherent with their previous policies. They state they are pro-European, but they have always been against Europe as it is (with its focus on economic and commercial issues). This has not usually prevented them from joining the socialists to win elections together and even to govern together (like in 1997-2002 when there were communist ministers), but this time, they have campaigned hard against the socialists and relations have turned a lot more acrimonious than is usual between them. This is linked, of course, to the fact that the Socialist Party, which is the main party of the left, has been literally split in two over the issue. Despite an internal referendum last December, where the "oui" was supported by 59% of card-carrying members of the party, the partisans of the "non" have decided to campaign actively, ignoring party discipline, and joining the other partisans of the left "non" in political meetings. That "non" camp is itself fragmented (too many egos, which I won't bore you with), but has been made very credible by the presence of Laurent Fabius, the former Prime Minister of Mitterrand in 1984-86 (when he signed the European Single Act which created the single market) and finance minister of Jospin in 2001-2002, formerly identified with the rightist wing of the party. He is widely suspected to have chosen the "non" as a tactical move in the perspective of the 2007 presidential elections, to shed his "centrist" reputation and differentiate himself from the other likely socialist candidates, several of which are also centrists like Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
    The official campaign of the socialist party, lead by François Hollande, in favor of the "oui" has been  much less visible and dynamic than the campaign of the "non", and they have been fighting each other a lot more than anyone else, as it is the vote of the socialists which will essentially decide the final result. As a result of this campaign, it is not clear how the two halves will be able to be reconciled, even though they know that they have to in the perspective of the following elections (presidential and for parliament, in that order in 2007). The camp that wins the referendum will obviously have an advantage in the aggiornamento that will follow, but it is not clear how any side can actually translate that into real political gains.

    In the case of a "oui" victory, the current leadership of the party will be comforted, and it is likely that they will exclude the most aggressive supporters of the "non". The others will be asked to pledge loyalty or to leave, and it can be expected that a number will come back to the fold, although the political differences will remain and can be expected to burst out at any time.
    in the case of a "non" victory, the socialist leadership has announced that there will be a party congress in the autumn, to decide the political line and the leadership of the party; will Fabius succeed in his take over of the party and a possible unification of the left on a hard line, or will the party split hopelessly, with unpredictable consequences, into factions that do not talk to each other and start organizing separately?

    In any case, Chirac will have succeeded in his attempt to weaken the socialists, although he probably did not expect that he would be so weakened himself in the process. France will have to live for 2 years without any new elections to set a policy and will thus have a weak government, a majority right beset by personal rivalries, and a very divided left. In the case of a "non", the country will further have to live with the aftermath of that vote on the European scene, where that self-absorbed vote will certainly not be appreciated and where France's voice is likely to become much less audible.

    My bet: 50.5% for the "oui".

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 28, 2005 at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (51)

    May 27, 2005

    Open Thread

    News, views, opinions ...

    Posted by b on May 27, 2005 at 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (121)


    more pictures

    Malaysians burn U.S. flag to protest Koran issue
    Lebanese Muslims Protest Over Alleged Desecration of Koran
    Islamists rally on Koran issue in Pakistan
    Egyptians protest against Koran abuse, government
    Kashmir shuts down to protest Quran desecration reports
    Muslims in Indonesia protest Quran report
    Waves of Rage Against 'Insult to Quran' Hit Palestine
    5,000 Bangladeshis rally against alleged desecration of Quran in Guantanamo

    Untitled (detail) by anna missed
    pigment/pyro on wood
    Full size (180 KByte)

    Posted by b on May 27, 2005 at 04:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

    Unions Are Good

    It's easier to fire workers in Europe than in UNIONISED US plants. This is the experience of the boss of Valeo, a French car-parts manufacturer that has gone through some tough downsizing in recent years:

    Valeo attacks US union system

    It is easier to close factories in worker-friendly Europe than in the supposedly free-market US because of the "archaic" practices of American unions, according to the head of one of France's largest industrial groups.

    Thierry Morin, chairman and chief executive of Valeo, the largest listed European car parts maker, has shut or sold 60 factories in the past four years and cut the workforce at many others as he fought to turn round deep losses. The comments come as the United Auto Workers union, which dominates worker relations at the US-owned carmakers, is being pressed to provide financial relief to General Motors, the world's biggest carmaker by number of vehicles built.

    "There is a good management at GM and Ford," Mr Morin, who counts both companies as customers, told the Financial Times. "But unfortunately they suffer from such an archaic system."

    He said non-unionised factories, such as the car plants built across the anti-union southern states by Japanese, Korean and European manufacturers, did not suffer from the same problems.

    One of the first acts of Mr Morin when he took over Valeo in 2001 was to put its loss-making US subsidiary into chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to resolve a stand-off with the IUE electrical union over jobs and pay in Rochester, New York. The group has closed or sold 60 factories around the world since then, and shifted half its workforce to low-cost countries in eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.

    "It is more complicated to close down a plant in North America than in Europe," Mr Morin said. "Maybe it comes from the fact that there is less of a safety net afterwards for the workers in the US."

    I have little to add to that except that without unions, all workers get fucked

    Don't let's forget the unions. They can seem to be out of touch and fighting for outdated "privileges", but they are really fighting so that everybody gets decent working wages and working conditions. Don't let them down.

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 27, 2005 at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

    May 26, 2005

    Billmon: On Denial River

    "Noises about rights for women" - On Denial River

    Posted by b on May 26, 2005 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

    I Am Depressed

    France seems increasingly likely to vote "non" in the coming referendum - this Sunday - on whether to approve the EU Constitution or not (that vote is binding).

    That prospect depresses me to no end, especially as I have yet to hear a rational argument to vote "non" other than the anti-European sovereignty one, which is not the argument made on the left.

    The "non" is essentially a big "fuck you" to the arrogant elites that have proved unable to lead France in the past 30 years, or at least unable to fight unemployment and to give a positive idea of where France was going in the increasingly English-speaking and market-friendly globalized world, despite reasonable success in actually reforming good chunks of the country.

    It is also a big "fuck you" to the rest of Europe, which is unlikely to take it very kindly. Who are we to think that we can decide alone where Europe should be going? So the "non" crowd is in fact just as arrogant, and offers no perspective beyond a solitary revolution.

    Tell me. What do you know of the French vote? What do you think of what you've heard of the debates? What do you think will happen? Do you care?

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 26, 2005 at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (48)

    May 25, 2005

    Rubbed Out Of Existence

    With a few keystrokes, an official U.S. brochure eliminated some historic arms-control deals,  ..
    U.S. Brochure Drops Arms-Control Deals


    All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.


    The brochure, slickly produced by the State Department and distributed to hundreds of delegates, lists milestones in arms control since the 1980s, while touting reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. But the timeline omits a pivotal agreement, the 1996 treaty to ban nuclear tests, a pact negotiated by the Clinton administration and ratified by 121 nations but now rejected under President Bush.

    Further along, the brochure skips over the year 2000 entirely, a snub of the treaty review conference that year, when the United States and other nuclear-weapons states committed to "13 practical steps" to achieve nuclear disarmament including activating the test-ban treaty, negotiating a pact to ban production of bomb material, and "unequivocally undertaking" to totally eliminate their arsenals.
    U.S. Brochure Drops Arms-Control Deals


    [The] process of continuous alteration was applied .. to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance.


    Bush administration officials now suggest the 2000 commitments are outdated. Other delegations reject that, however, demanding a reaffirmation of the goals in a final document at the current conference.

    Few expect that, and they cite the blank spots in the brochure as another piece of evidence.

    "Official disdain for these agreements seems to have turned into denial that they existed," said Joseph Cirincione, an arms-control specialist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who accused the State Department of rewriting history.
    U.S. Brochure Drops Arms-Control Deals


    Beyond, above, below, were other swarms of workers engaged in an unimaginable multitude of jobs. There were the huge printing-shops with their sub-editors, their typography experts, and their elaborately equipped studios for the faking of photographs. There was the tele-programmes section with its engineers, its producers, and its teams of actors specially chosen for their skill in imitating voices. There were the armies of reference clerks whose job was simply to draw up lists of books and periodicals which were due for recall. There were the vast repositories where the corrected documents were stored, and the hidden furnaces where the original copies were destroyed. And somewhere or other, quite anonymous, there were the directing brains who co-ordinated the whole effort and laid down the lines of policy which made it necessary that this fragment of the past should be preserved, that one falsified, and the other rubbed out of existence.

    Posted by b on May 25, 2005 at 11:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

    Laura Speaks, Middle East Listens

    CAIRO, May 22 (Reuters) - The man suspected of being a leader of a cell accused of recent attacks on tourists in Egypt died last week after sustaining self-inflicted injuries while in police custody, the prosecutor general's office said Saturday.
    The prosecutor general's office said Mr. Youssef "was afflicted, while in the room he was detained in, by a state of agitation, during which he purposefully hit his head on the wall of the room."
    A Suspect Dies in Egypt, May 22, 2005


    "I would say that President Mubarak has taken a very bold step," the first lady told reporters after touring the pyramids here. "You know that each step is a small step, that you can't be quick."
    Laura Bush Endorses Mubarak's Ballot Plan Tuesday, May 23, 2005


    CAIRO (AFP) - Egyptian police arrested 15 members of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group over attempts to encourage a boycott of a key referendum.
    The outlawed but normally tolerated Islamist group has staged to string of rallies in recent months asking for democratic changes from Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak -- after 24 years in office.
    Egypt police arrests 15 Muslim Brothers, May 24, 2005


    In the interview, Bush reiterated her support for Mubarak's election plan, which would require candidates for office to secure the blessing of the president's ruling party to participate. A vote on a referendum on the plan is expected Wednesday. "I said exactly what I meant, which is he has taken a very, very important first step," she said.
    First Lady Says Mideast Change Will Be Slow, Mai 24, 2005


    CAIRO, May 24 -- The campaign of Ayman Nour, the only opposition candidate challenging President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt's fall election, was reduced to this on Tuesday: A clutch of 20 Nour supporters bought tickets to the movie "Kingdom of Heaven" in order to have an excuse to loiter in front of a downtown cinema and shout anti-Mubarak slogans.

    The ruse to overcome police restrictions on public meetings didn't work for long. Within a half-hour, a phalanx of thick-forearmed plainclothes security agents backed by dozens of club-carrying riot police marched down narrow Abdel-Hamid Said Street, shoved the protesters into the lobby of the Odeon Theater and scattered reporters and passersby down the block.

    Five of the plainclothes men dragged Ihab Khouly, a senior member of Nour's Tomorrow Party, to jail for a brief stay. Nour's wife, Gamila Ismael, was manhandled, though she was soon permitted to return to nearby party headquarters.
    In Egypt, Opposition Stymied by the State, May 24, 2005


    Earlier, the first lady made a pitch for democracy and women's rights to about 70 Egyptian women, including one member of an opposition group, during a morning speech at the U.S. ambassador's residence in downtown Cairo.
    First Lady Says Mideast Change Will Be Slow, Nay 24, 2005

    Posted by b on May 25, 2005 at 06:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

    May 24, 2005

    Schedule Announcement

    ABC's 'Nightline' to Honor 'The Fallen'

    Ted Koppel and ABC News "Nightline" will again pay tribute to the fallen by devoting an extended broadcast to reading the names and showing the photographs of more than 900 service members who have been killed in those countries over the last year.
    In order to include each name and face, "Nightline" will be extended from 30 to about 45 minutes.

    Al-Hurra's 'Free Testimony' to Honor 'The Fallen'

    Al-Hurra, the network for the Middle East devoted primarily to news and information, and its premier show "Free Testimony" will again pay tribute to the fallen by devoting an extended broadcast to reading the names and showing the photographs of more than 100 civilians who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 24 hours
    In order to include each name and face, the daily "Free Testimony" will be extended from 25 to about 35 minutes.

    Posted by b on May 24, 2005 at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

    ExxonMobil on Peak Oil

    Someone has kindly pointed out to me an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that puts some light on an earlier, little commented, presentation by ExxonMobil, where they essentially, if implicitly, acknowledge the reality of peak oil, even if in an underhanded way, as shown by this graph:


    Source: The Outlook for World Energy - a 2030 view (a bigger version of the graph can be found here (pdf, 1 page))

    This graph may look innocuous, as it fits with the usual scenarios of oil demand and supply growing to 120 mb/d by 2030, but it it nevertheless interesting as it really says that peak oil is already a reality for BigOil because all the production growth is expected to come from OPC and BigOil currently have little production in OPEC countries, and prospects to get more are currently not good.

    The bottom part of the graph shows Non-OPEC oil production, and that will peak in just a few years. This is highly relevant because a majority of the production of the Western oil companies still comes from mature provinces like the US (including the Gulf of Mexico) or the North Sea, which are in full decline, as the case of the UK shows:


    (from this 1MB pdf presentation by UKOOA, the industry association. The blue line is the bullish case by the most upbeat party around...take your pick: production divided by 2 or by 4?).

    The rest of the production of BigOil is coming from the rest of the world, i.e. places like Angola, Azerbaijan or Brasil which are not easy to operate in (politically and technically) and where the available reserves are not that big, relatively speaking.

    Most of OPEC is closed to foreign investment, and there is a lot of uncertainty about the true extent of their reserves, with this graph (which I first commented in this diary) showing bizarre massaging of the numbers and no link whatsoever with current production)

    But irrespective of the true extent of their reserves, these are simply too unreliable to be counted upon. These countries have not invested in their upstream industry in the past 20 years, and they have no motivation to do so, as their revenues are likely to increase faster if they don't. And even if they did invest, we'd still suffer from our dependence on that production, with the accompanying geopolitical costs (military or otherwise) in addition to the actual price of that oil.

    And yet, from 2010, these countries are expected to add 1 mb/d of net new production - each year, although they have been unable or unwilling to do this in the past few years?

    So ExxonMobil is essentially acknowledging that political peak oil is upon us, and that it is at most a question of a few years - i.e. it is already a hard fact, as we already know what fields are currently being developed in the non-OPEC world and will come on stream in the next few years.

    ExxonMobil suggests that non-conventional oils could be a major resource, but this is not apparent in their forecasts for oil production (as in the graph above), and that idea is shot down in the BAS article quote above the fold:

    Extracting oil from the 3 trillion barrels of oil shale cited in the Outlook presents its own challenges. The term "oil shale" is also quite misleading, since there is no oil in this mineral, but rather an organic material called kerogen, which is a precursor of petroleum. To extract oil, the shale (typically between 5 and 25 percent kerogen) must first be mined, then transported to a plant where it is crushed, then heated to 500 degrees Celsius, which pyrolyzes, or decomposes, the kerogen to form oil. After processing, most of the shale remains on the surface in the form of coarse sand, so large-scale mining operations will produce immense amounts of waste material. An estimated 1-4 barrels of water are required for each barrel of oil produced, both for cooling the products and stabilizing the sand waste. To satisfy these water requirements, petroleum companies once contemplated diverting the Columbia River--a feat that can be excluded today on political and environmental grounds.

    The more interesting point finally, is to note how much of the ExxonMobil presentation concentrates upon improving fuel efficiency on motor vehicles. ExxonMobil praises the Toyota Prius hybrid (as well as the European diesels) and indicates that it sees these as the future of the automobile. As BAS notes, the simple fact that the biggest oil producers is actively encouraging its consumers to use less of its product should be taken as significant in itself...


    (larger pdf version here)

    In the most optimistic scenarios, i.e. there is enough supply to provide all demand for oil, fuel use by cars (the red zone above) is not expected to be higher in 2030 than now in the developed world. ExxonMobil does not expect Americans to keep on buying gas-guzzling SUVs, even in their dream scenarios.

    And here's their conclusion:

    We have demonstrated the fundamental linkage between economic growth and energy usage, with special focus on personal vehicle trends. We have highlighted the need for focus on accelerated efficiency gains - initiatives which extend the life of the world’s finite resources, reduce the potential for unwanted emissions and, simply put, just make sound business sense.

    Why does ExxonMobil hate the American way of life?

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 24, 2005 at 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (33)

    Postponed Battle

    The 'Nuclear Option' has been postponed.

    Under a compromise reached by an assortment of moderates, mavericks and senior statesmen just as the Senate was headed into a climactic overnight debate on the filibuster, three previously blocked appeals court nominees - Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla R. Owen - will get floor votes. No commitment was made on the fate of two others, William Myers and Henry Saad.

    In addition, the seven Democrats in the deal vowed that they would filibuster future judicial nominees only under "extraordinary" circumstances. Their Republican counterparts promised to support no changes in Senate rules that would alter the filibuster rule, effectively denying the votes it would take to enact such a rules change.

    Coming summer there will be changes on the supreme court. Two new judges will need to be consented on and a new chief justice will have to be named and confirmed. The 'Nuclear Option' that has been banned for now, will come back to town.

    I have promised to write a piece about the constitutional judicial background of this conflict, but I need to read more background on this and there are some time constrains. There are several good sources for those interested and I will leave you with these for now.

    So for why even Scalia, an originalist, is preferable to Owen, a Constitution in Exile activist, you may want to try these links:

  • Hoover's Court Rides Again by Cass R. Sunstein in The Washington Monthly
  • The Unregulated Offensive by Jeffrey Rosen, a NYT Magazine piece via Truthout.
  • The New Deal Constitution In Exile by William E. Forbath
  • Supreme Mistake by Jeffrey Rozen in the The New Republic (free sub. req.)
  • Wikipedia entry on the Commerce Clause as the central constitutional issue at hand.
  • Posted by b on May 24, 2005 at 02:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (60)

    May 23, 2005


    These threads fill up pretty fast ... that's good

    Posted by b on May 23, 2005 at 05:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (86)

    Between a Rock ...

    Afghanistan is going down the toilet. Karzai knows it, NATO knows it, Bush denies it.

    Germany is sending more Special Forces now and Britain is planing for an emergency deployment of an additional 5,500 soldiers to Afghanistan (to be pulled from Iraq).

    So today the mayor of Kabul is visiting the United States.
    His requests:
    - more control over what U.S. forces are doing in Afghanistan and
    - more economic help for eradicating opium production.

    But he is not meeting friends.

    Yesterday's Observer picked the central point:

    .. he will ask America for the return of Afghan prisoners and ultimate control over US military operations.
    That is unlikely. The US sees Afghanistan and the search for Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be in the border areas of Pakistan, as central to its self-proclaimed war on terror. In fact, America is keen to establish permanent military bases on Afghan soil, which could undermine Karzai's authority and be hugely unpopular with many Afghans.

    Two days before Karzai arrived in Washington the State Department leaked to the New York Times:

    United States officials warned this month in an internal memo that an American-financed poppy eradication program aimed at curtailing Afghanistan's huge heroin trade had been ineffective, in part because President Hamid Karzai

    Karzai's answer:

    "The Afghan people have done their job. Now the international community must come and provide alternative livelihood to the Afghan people, which they have not done so far."

    The poppies production is of course undermining the state. But eradicating it by spraying the crops and those who grow them, like the U.S. would like to do, will undermine the state even more. Last November reports about spraying and spraying casualties popped up, but the U.S. and Britain denied, implausible, any responsibility.

    Bush today also denied Karzai any right to restrict U.S. military action. So what is that poor guy to do?

    Karzai denies article prompted riots

    "These demonstrations were in reality not related to the Newsweek story, "he said at a joint press conference held after a meeting with President George W. Bush. ..

    His comments contrast with those of White House officials who have forcefully condemned the Newsweek report that claimed a Koran had been flushed down a toilet by interrogators in Guantanamo Bay, and have suggested it helped trigger the riots.

    Now Karzai and Bush pick on each other, the later denying the former any of the standing he needs to keep the little authority he has, while Afghanistan retards into a narco state and the Taliban are victorious enough to entice emergency moves in London and Berlin.

    Prediction: A year from now, Karzai will neither live in Washington nor in Kabul.

    Posted by b on May 23, 2005 at 04:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

    Yoda the Buddhist

    Just saw Episode III (early afternoon, empty theatre, original language). It's a big cartoon with lots of fireworks and some interesting future Lego models. The best lines are from Yoda the Buddhist (Scene 56 (pdf)):

    Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.

    I won´t let my visions come true, Master Yoda.

    Rejoyce for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of gread, that is.

    What must I do, Master?

    Train yourself to let go of anything you fear to lose.

    Posted by b on May 23, 2005 at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

    May 22, 2005

    What Will Follow Fidel?

    Fidel Castro will celebrate his 79th birthday in August. His brouther Raúl is supposed to replace him as President. But Raúl is not young either. So what is the perspective for Cuba, the country with the best health care system of any developing country? Another Haiti, another Puerto Rico, another Venzuela?

    Posted by b on May 22, 2005 at 04:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (59)

    Import "Surge"

    In the 1995 Uruguay round of the World Trade Organization talks, developed countries agreed to phase out quotas on textiles imports within 10 years. But countries kept most of their quotas in place right up to the end of last year, leaving their industries unprepared for the change. In January quotas vanished and textile imports from China "surged" in the U.S. and in Europe - or so the media say.

    First quarter textile imports to the United States valued US$ 22.6 billion this year. The first quarter 2004 imports were US$ 20.3 billion. The 2004-2005 first quarter "surge" was 11.5% - significant, but not extraordinary.

    In the first quarter 2003 only US$ 13.3 billion worth of textiles were imported. The 2003-2004 first quarter y-o-y rise was 52%. Now that might have been qualified as a "surge". But did anyone call for additional quotas in 2004?

    In 2005 the Chinese textile exports to the U.S. did increase by 54%. But the exports from Hong Kong did sink by 18.7% and the exports from Macao did sink by 17.6%. Both are Chinese Special Administrative Regions. Why differentiate them in the statistics? Other loosers in the move to China were Taiwan, South Korea and Mexico.

    A shift of U.S. imports from those countries to China does make textile goods cheaper for U.S. consumers and it does even lower the overall U.S. trade deficit. Without quotas free market forces are working as they are supposed to do.

    But that is not the point to make for China bashers. So Friday the United States announced to re-impose (temporary) quotas on Chinese-made cotton trousers, cotton knit shirts and underwear. The European Union opposes a return to quotas, but called on China to impose some self restrictions.

    The smart move came, of course one might say, from China. To avoid further pressure it increased the export tax on Chinese textiles by some 480 percent. Impressive it seems, but the tax will be a mere US$ 0.12 per t-shirt.

    Now the U.S. and European consumers will have to pay more for their t-shirts and underwear which would not have been produced in their countries anyhow. The Chinese state will have a new blooming source of income. The Chinese textile industry will move to produce higher value textiles which are not effected by quotas and where the per-item-tax is negligible. That move than indeed might endanger domestic textile industries.

    Meanwhile patriotic consumers will continue to wave flags and wear "USA" sweatshirts bought cheap on special offers thanks to being made in China.

    Now how about a quota on imports of the Stars and Stripes?

    Posted by b on May 22, 2005 at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

    May 21, 2005

    Thank You Mr. Roberts

    A distinguished fellow at the Cato Institute, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Insitution, a stint as Wall Street Journal editor and columnist, a position as assistant secretary of the Treasury under Reagan -  this is the quite impressive conservative bio of Paul Craig Roberts.

    He writes:

    George W. Bush and his gang of neocon warmongers have destroyed America’s reputation. It is likely to stay destroyed, because at this point the only way to restore America’s reputation would be to impeach and convict President Bush for intentionally deceiving Congress and the American people in order to start a war of aggression against a country that posed no threat to the United States.

    America can redeem itself only by holding Bush accountable. ... Abundant evidence now exists in the public domain to convict George W. Bush of the crime of the century. The secret British government memo (dated July 23, 2002, and available here), leaked to the Sunday Times (which printed it on May 1, 2005), reports that Bush wanted “to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. . . . But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. . . . The (United Kingdom) attorney general said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defense, humanitarian intervention or UNSC (U.N. Security Council) authorization. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult.”

    This memo is the mother of all smoking guns. Why isn’t Bush in the dock?

    Has American democracy failed at home?

    Posted by b on May 21, 2005 at 03:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

    Open Thread 05-49

    News, views, etc. ...

    Posted by b on May 21, 2005 at 11:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (197)

    May 20, 2005

    June or July?

    There is an Associated Press message running on the tickers right now about Iran Said to Be Smuggling Nuclear Matter.

    A critical read immediately debunks the story. But don´t expect any editor to do a critical read before publishing this mess.

    The AP's leade is this:

    Iran is circumventing international export bans on sensitive dual-use materials by smuggling graphite and a graphite compound that can be used to make conventional and nuclear weapons, an Iranian dissident and a senior diplomat said Friday.

    What is that black stuff in your pencil? Right, it is graphite. The most important industrial use of graphite is not pencil production, but gray cast iron. Something any industrialized or industrializing economy will need in decent ton volumes to fabricate basic machinery.

    Graphite is easy to make from coal and costs between US$ 250 to US$ 2000 per ton. At this price it can not be really scarce one would think. Is it dangerous "dual-use" stuff? AP says so:

    With most countries adhering to international agreements banning the sale of such "dual-use" materials to Tehran, Iran has been forced to buy it on the black market, Iranian exile Alireza Jafarzadeh told The Associated Press - allegations confirmed by a senior diplomat familiar with Iran's covert nuclear activities.

    But graphite is not even mentioned in the "Guidelines for Transfers of Nuclear-Related Dual-Use Equipment, Materials, Software and Related Technology", the official "dual-use" list of the IAEA's registered "Nuclear Supplier Countries". Graphite does not need to be smuggled. It can be produced or purchased by anyone, anywhere, without any limit, in any grade needed.

    So who are the folks dropping this meme through AP? Alireza Jafarzadeh is the FOX news "independent Iran analyst" and member of the MEK (MKO) and spokes man of the "National Council of Resistance of Iran". Even someone like neocon archangel Michael Leeden thinks these are insane folks. Human Rights Watch calls MEK a cult. Even U.N. foe John

    Bolton said he believed that MEK "qualifies as a terrorist organization according to our criteria." But he added that he did not think the official label had "prohibited us from getting information from them. And I certainly don't have any inhibition about getting information about what's going on in Iran from whatever source we can find that we deem reliable."

    Now please guess, and don´t have any inhibition - who might be the "senior diplomat" cited by AP?

    That diplomat is careful talking:

    The diplomat, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position, said Iran also may be interested in acquiring specially heat-resistant "nuclear-grade graphite" that can be used as moderators to slow down the fission process in reactors generating energy.

    While Iran does not now have reactors using such moderators, it insists it has the future right to all aspects of peaceful nuclear technology.

    Neither Jafarzadeh nor the diplomat could say how much graphite Iran had imported and over what period of time.

    Graphite, in all grades needed (and please, what is "nuclear-grade graphite" - does graphite explode?), is manufactured in hundreds or thousands of tons per year around the world. The AP "sources", a spokes man of a terrorist cult and an anonymous senior diplomat from an unknown country do not know if Iran even imported a pencil, a US$ 200 worth ton of graphite for casting machinery or whatever.

    But AP puts this bullshit, manufactured by one unreliable terrorist cult source and barely supported by an anonymous "senior diplomat" on the ticker and by now Google News links 165 current news items for a search on "graphite Iran".

    So will they start bombing Iran in June or in July? When will the "public" be prepared?

    Posted by b on May 20, 2005 at 07:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

    Reign Man

    Washington Post, May 20, 2005:
    Army Warns Iraqi Forces On Abuse Of Detainees

    Reign Man (detail) by anna missed
    18"x14" - pigment/spraypaint/pyro on wood
    Full size (180 KByte)

    New York Times, May 20, 2005:
    In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths

    A sketch by Thomas V. Curtis, a former Reserve M.P. sergeant, showing how Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell.

    Posted by b on May 20, 2005 at 07:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

    May 19, 2005


    Iraqi soldiers discovered the bodies of seven blindfolded men who were shot in the head and dumped on the roadside in the Sunni Triangle town of Amiriyah, some 25 miles west of Baghdad, said Mohammed al-Ani, a doctor at Ramadi General Hospital.
    Seven More Bodies Found West of Baghdad
    AP, May 16, 2005


    Following [the Salvador model], one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers
    ‘The Salvador Option’
    Newsweek, January 8, 2005


    At a press conference held in Um al-Qura mosque in western Baghdad, Dhari [head of the media office in the Association of Muslim Seculars] said, "Thirteen of 15 people were killed and their bodies were found near a mosque in Ur district in Baghdad after they were detained during a search campaign conducted by the Iraqi National Guards in Shaab district."

    "We have been informed lately that a force of the National Guards surrounded and searched the hospital in central Baghdad for the two survivors. The soldiers managed to arrest one of them but the other escaped," said Dhari.
    Iraqi government denies killing civilians in Baghdad
    XINHUA, May 16, 2005


    Death squads were common in Central America during the 1980s. Many of them were believed to be employed by various governments. The Central American death squads often consisted of members of the national armed forces, and often acted in close cooperation with the highest officials of the military.
    Death squad


    Yesterday Hassan Nuaimi, high ranking member of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) was found dead in Baghdad. One of his arms was broken and a hole was drilled into the side of his head.

    This coming the day after the AMS had accused the Shia led government of state sponsored terrorism by using the Badr Brigades to murder Sunnis.
    "Democracy" in Iraq
    Dahr Jamail, Iraq Dispatches, May 18, 2005


    In El Salvador, the death squads achieved notoriety for the murder of Archbishop Óscar Romero and the murders of four American nuns. This prompted great controversy and outrage in the U.S., because of the death squads' widely-alleged ties to El Salvador's U.S.-supported government (the Salvadoran Armed Forces were known to rely at times on the squads for intelligence and combat purposes in their counterinsurgency campaign).
    Death squad


    The latest corpses were those of some Sunni and Shia clerics- several of them well-known. People are being patient and there is a general consensus that these killings are being done to provoke civil war. Also worrisome is the fact that we are hearing of people being rounded up by security forces (Iraqi) and then being found dead days later- apparently when the new Iraqi government recently decided to reinstate the death penalty, they had something else in mind.
    The Dead and the Undead...
    Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, May 18. 2005


    The CIA has so far refused to hand over control of Iraq's intelligence service to the newly elected Iraqi government in a turf war that exposes serious doubts the Bush administration has over the ability of Iraqi leaders to fight the insurgency and worries about the new government's close ties to Iran.

    The director of Iraq's secret police, a general who took part in a failed coup attempt against ousted President Saddam Hussein, was handpicked and funded by the U.S. government, and he still reports directly to the CIA, Iraqi politicians and intelligence officials in Baghdad said last week.
    CIA still controls Iraq security service
    Detroit Free Press, May 9, 2005


    The reality is that some of these bombs are not suicide bombs- they are car bombs that are either being remotely detonated or maybe time bombs. All we know is that the techniques differ and apparently so do the intentions. Some will tell you they are resistance. Some say Chalabi and his thugs are responsible for a number of them. Others blame Iran and the SCIRI militia Badir.
    The Dead and the Undead...
    Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, May 18. 2005


    AMY GOODMAN: And what about this issue of the Salvadorization, the idea that John Negroponte has been the US Ambassador -- of course, he’s head of National Intelligence now -- formerly in the early ‘80s, Ambassador to Honduras, the staging ground for the Contra War? ...

    SEYMOUR HERSH: ... It seems like it’s holy hell there, but we don't know. And I think that’s the game plan. It’s sort of a desperate game plan. It's not going to work, obviously. Occupiers, terror and these techniques don't work. .. We’re just in there dabbling. We’re dabbling at this Mukhabarat and this kind of stuff. We're just causing chaos. Then we can walk away..
    Seymour Hersh: Iraq "Moving Towards Open Civil War"
    Democracy Now, May 11. 2005

    Posted by b on May 19, 2005 at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

    May 18, 2005

    A Fresh One

    news, views, visions ...

    Posted by b on May 18, 2005 at 01:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (102)

    Filibuster Drama

    What is this Nuclear Option stuff about?

    There are many international readers on this blog and, like me, they may wonder what this is all about. I will explain what I, so far, found out. Please add to it in the comments.

    The narrow issue right now is the consent or non-consent of the U.S. Senate for two of President Bush's court nominees. The wider issue goes back into the history of law interpretation and also far into the future. It is the stacking of the U.S. Supreme Court with judges that interpret the historic constitution as an absolute word, a return of the "Constitution in Exile", a voyage back to the 1880s. This could well change the United States we know today into something very strange. But that will have to be discussed in a later post.

    For now just a bit on the procedures that will most probably follow in the next days and weeks.

    The filibuster permits a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose. This can be and has been used to hold up a piece of legislation or Presidential nominee. A filibuster can be stopped when three-fifths of the Senate (usually 60 senators) vote for the cloture of the debate. The legislation or nominee in question can then be decided on by a simple majority.

    These procedures are regulated in the Rules of the Senate which them self according to these rules can only be changed by a two third majority of the voting senators. The republicans plan to circumvent these rules by calling them unconstitutional. The dark force itself, Vice-president Cheney in his legislative role as President of the Senate, will play an important part in this constitutional tragedy. 

    A Likely Script for The 'Nuclear Option' (WaPo) explains the steps and the timing of what may follow today's discussion in the Senate. The legality of these procedures is questionable but, at least to my understanding, it is open who exactly is to decide on this legality.

    A good explanation of the context of the issue by Yale professor Bruce Ackerman was published in the Financial Times a few days ago and a copy can be found at The Washington Note. He is especially annoyed by the double role Cheney is playing in this.

    Mr Cheney's role in destroying the moderating role of the Senate is particularly problematic. For two centuries, the Senate president has been the pre-eminent guardian of the rules. Thomas Jefferson first put them in writing when he served as vice-president. His aim was to prevent political manipulation by the presiding officer, and Senate presidents have consistently served as impartial arbiters. In breaking with this tradition, Mr Cheney has a clear conflict of interests. As president of the Senate, he owes the institution fidelity to its rules, but as vice-president to Mr Bush, he wants to see his boss's judicial nominations confirmed. By allowing his executive interest to trump his duty to the Senate, Mr Cheney is undercutting the separation of powers.

    Posted by b on May 18, 2005 at 12:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

    May 17, 2005

    "No Credible Witness"

    George Galloway, British Parliament Member, to the American Senate oil-for-food subcommittee of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs; May 17, 2005:

    Now Senator,

    I gave my heard and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted.

    I gave my political-life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq - which killed a million Iraqis, most of them children.

    Most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis. But they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis. With the misfortune to be born at that time.

    I gave my heard and soul to stop you committing the disaster, that you did commit in invading Iraq.

    He has more to say - read on ...

    And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies.

    I told the world that Iraq, contradicting your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction.

    I told the world, contradicting your claims, that Iraq had no connection to Al Queda.

    I told the world, contradicting your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9-11 2001.

    I told the world, contradicting your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country.

    And that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

    Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong.

    And a hundred-thousand people have payed with their lives.

    Sixteen-hundred of them American soldiers sent to their deaths, on a pack of lies.

    Fifteen-thousand of them wounded, many of them disabled forever, on a pack of lies.

    If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, who´s dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac, who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listen to me and the antiwar movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today.

    Senator, this is the mother of all smoke-screens.

    You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraqis wealth.

    Have a look at the real oil-for-food scandal.

    Have a look at the fourteen month you were in charge of Baghdad, the first fourteen month. When eight-point-eight billion dollars of Iraq's wealth went missing, on your watch.

    Have a look at Halliburton and the other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money, but the money of the American tax payer.

    Have a look at the oil that you didn´t even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who-knows-where.

    Have a look at the eight-hundred million dollars you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighting it.

    Have a look at the real scandal, breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony at this committee, that the biggest sanctions busters were not me, or Russian politicians, or French politicians.

    The real sanctions busters were you own companies, with the connivance of your own government.
    Transcribed from a video provided via Crooks and Liars - well worth to watch


    Asked whether Galloway violated his oath to tell the truth before the committee, [subcommittee chairman and Minnesota Republican Norm] Coleman said: "I don't know. We'll have to look over the record. I just don't think he was a credible witness."
    British Lawmaker Denies Oil-For-Food Claim


    America Sedation has a much more extensive transcript. (hat tip to Fran)

    Posted by b on May 17, 2005 at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (67)

    May 16, 2005

    Billmon: McAmerica Uber Alles

    Is Kunstler behind the curve? McAmerica Uber Alles

    Posted by b on May 16, 2005 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (57)

    Khodorkhovski = Enron?

    Khodorkovsky guilty of fraud and tax charges

    A Moscow court on Monday found Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia’s richest man and founder of the Yukos oil company, guilty of fraud and tax evasion. The judge has passed a guilty verdict in four out of a possible seven charges, the hearing was adjourned until Tuesday. The long-awaited judgment in the case of Mr Khodorkovsky, has been the most closely followed legal action in Russia since the trials of Soviet dissidents in the 1970s.
    Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank, said the government and Mr Putin had recently been attempting to portray the case as "Russia's Enron", thus shifting perceptions it was an attack on Russia's oligarchs or big business.

    Please, let's not fall for the "the- Russians- put- their- fraudsters- into- jail- Bushco- doesn't" line, it could not be further form the truth.

    Putting Khodorkhovski in jail has little to do with fraud and everything to do with politics:

    • he was challenging the Kremlin's foreign policy by trying to promote his own, private, export routes for oil, such as a pipeline to China (Angarsk-Daqing) or a new pipeline mooted for exports to the US (going to Murmansk);
    • he was actively financing the only opposition groups, such as Yabloko (the closest thing to social-democrats in the Russian context, and the only party with serious policy proposals) and the Communists (as the only real opposition force to the Kremlin);
    • by engineering the Yukos-Sibneft merger, he was creating a too-big-to-fail behemoth which could have allowed him to further increase his political power from an unassailable position (and virtually limitless funding).

    While his politics were obviously self-interested (limiting taxation on his oil revenues), and his coming to fortune initially pretty murky (like all the Russian fortunes of the 90s, it was built on the appropriation on the cheap of State assets and constant piggybacking on State money or access), he was the only one of the so called "oligarchs" who was arguing for more democracy, respect of rights and the rule of law. Quite cynically, but not incorrectly in my view, he said that the rule of law, while granting him the full ownership of his own ill-acquired empire, would be beneficial to Russians as a whole, and was necessary to economic growth. The alternative would be to have another set of thieves or oligarchs replace the existing ones in an endless round of corruption to the detriment of the Russian population.

    The fact that Bushco is now turning its back at Putin reflects their belated realization that Putin, contrary to what many (naively) thought, was not going to bring any democracy of market economics to Russia. His attack on oligarchs was not a "cleaning up" move to reestablish the authority of the State and the rule of law, but a simple way to transfer Khodorkhovski's wealth to a new group of cronies.

    They should be blamed for taking so long to note something that should have been expected, given Russia's history in that respect (see that article I wrote in 2003 on that topic, initially published in the Wall Street Journal). They were blinded by Khodorkhovski's skillful promotion of Russia as a reliable supplier in the oil& gas business, which was initially backed by Putin's decision to cooperate with the US after 9/11 and to appear as a stable partner in general. When Putin's policies started to deviate from full submission to the White House's goals (viz. Iraq, Iran, in Georgia or elsewhere), the Yukos/Khodorkhovski affair was used as a pretext to bash Putin.

    Which brings us back to Enron:

    • Enron was a case of a businessman who had effectively bought top politicians and expected that this allowed him to keep on going with ever crazier shenanigans and outright fraud without consequences. Enron's bosses were subservient to the politicians, useful for their money, and given favorable laws in return, but they were expandable, and they were duly "expended" when they became liabilities. The Justice system did its work and fraud was uncovered and more or less punished.
    • Khodorkhovski is the case of a businessman who was a force of its own, fighting it out with the politicians for the resources of the country, taking a politically independent view and fighting for that view as much as for his company. He was not expandable to the politicians, he was the enemy. He was "expanded" but it took a lot of effort and pain to take him out of the game. "Fraud" was conveniently extracted from the recent past when not a single business transaction in the country was legal, and nobody in its right mind will say that the Justice system did nay thing but a politically motivated hunt.
    • Enron was a loss making company that used fraud to hide its losses, and destroyed value for everybody: shareholders, workers and costumers;
    • Khodorkovski used fraud and all the other ways then prevalent in Russia in the nineties to grab some assets, but he made them valuable. When people note that he owned a 50 billion dollar company (at its peak value) that he purchased for only 150 million dollars in rigged transactions in 1996, they forget to mention that the company was still worth only a few hundred million dollars in 1999, and that it was his decision to bring in Western financial and engineering know how, to open up the accounts of the company and to pay generous dividends that attracted investors and created value (higher oil prices also helped, obviously). He did have a real positive impact on his company, once it was his, and on the whole industry in Russia.

    Now, the irony is, of course, that Khodorkhovski will spend several years in jail - which is the best thing that can happen to his political career, as the image of his politically motivated jail time is the best way to tune out his previous (rightly deserved) image as robber baron and thief of the wealth of the Russian people. I expect that he took a conscious decision to go to jail (I know that he was offered a nice chunk of money and a golden exile to give up Yukos without fighting - and he refused) and that he will emerge as one of the most serious contenders for the Russian Presidency in 2012 or 2016. Of course, a lot can happen in the meantime.

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 16, 2005 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

    Billmon: Scenes ...

    Scenes We'd Like to See

    The remaining defendants were sentenced to life terms at the Guantanamo War Crimes Penitentiary -- the same facility used to imprison the remaining leaders of the Al Qaeda terrrorist organization, whose own war crimes trial began shortly after this picture was taken.

    Posted by b on May 16, 2005 at 05:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

    May 15, 2005

    Non-retraction Retraction

    Newsweek reported on May 9 about interrogators flushing a Qur'an down a toilet in Guantanamo Bay. This short report lead to deadly unrests in several countries and threats of a renewed jihad in Afghanistan.

    Today Newsweek did issue a follow up to the story.

    Some headlines now claim: Newsweek: Koran Story Untrue, Newsweek backtracks over Koran report and Editor admits Koran story in doubt and you can be sure to see many more like these by tomorrow.

    But does the new Newsweek piece, How a Fire Broke Out, really retract the story? I do not think so and you should not either, so please read on.

    The article starts with a description of the current unrests and continues:

    Late last week Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita told NEWSWEEK that its original story was wrong. The brief PERISCOPE item ("SouthCom Showdown") had reported on the expected results of an upcoming U.S. Southern Command investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Gitmo. According to NEWSWEEK, SouthCom investigators found that Gitmo interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet in an attempt to rattle detainees. While various released detainees have made allegations about Qur'an desecration, the Pentagon has, according to DiRita, found no credible evidence to support them.

    How did NEWSWEEK get its facts wrong? ...

    Up to this point there is no evidence in the article that Newsweek DID get the facts wrong. DiRita might say whatever he likes, the issues is still open - so why the above question I emphasized? Why at this point of the report? This reader listens up and asks:
    Did Newsweek really get its facts wrong?

    [NEWSWEEK, veteran investigative reporter Michael Isikoff] knew that military investigators at Southern Command (which runs the Guantánamo prison) were looking into the allegations. So he called a longtime reliable source, a senior U.S. government official who was knowledgeable about the matter. The source told Isikoff that the report would include new details that were not in the FBI e-mails, including mention of flushing the Qur'an down a toilet. A SouthCom spokesman contacted by Isikoff declined to comment on an ongoing investigation, but NEWSWEEK National Security Correspondent John Barry, realizing the sensitivity of the story, provided a draft of the NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE item to a senior Defense official, asking, "Is this accurate or not?" The official challenged one aspect of the story: the suggestion that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, sent to Gitmo by the Pentagon in 2001 to oversee prisoner interrogation, might be held accountable for the abuses. Not true, said the official (the PERISCOPE draft was corrected to reflect that). But he was silent about the rest of the item. The official had not meant to mislead, but lacked detailed knowledge of the SouthCom report.

    The elder story is double-sourced but one of the sources, a 'senior Defense official',  - sure about one detail - is now doubted to be sure of a second one? Because he did not deny it?

    Did Newsweek really get its facts wrong?

    NEWSWEEK was not the first to report allegations of desecrating the Qur'an. As early as last spring and summer, similar reports from released detainees started surfacing in British and Russian news reports, and in the Arab news agency Al-Jazeera; claims by other released detainees have been covered in other media since then.

    Did Newsweek really get its facts wrong?

    After the rioting began last week, the Pentagon attempted to determine the veracity of the NEWSWEEK story. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers told reporters that so far no allegations had been proven. He did appear to cryptically refer to two mentions found in the logs of prison guards in Gitmo: a report that a detainee had used pages of the Qur'an to stop up a crude toilet as a form of protest, and a complaint from a detainee that a prison guard had knocked down a Qur'an hanging in a bag in his cell.

    Did Newsweek really get its facts wrong?

    On Friday night, Pentagon spokesman DiRita called NEWSWEEK to complain about the original PERISCOPE item. He said, "We pursue all credible allegations" of prisoner abuse, but insisted that the investigators had found none involving Qur'an desecration. DiRita sent NEWSWEEK a copy of rules issued to the guards (after the incidents mentioned by General Myers) to guarantee respect for Islamic worship.

    Did Newsweek really get its facts wrong?

    On Saturday, Isikoff spoke to his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qur'an, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report.

    So 'these concerns' surfaced in a different report? Did Newsweek really get its facts wrong? 

    Told of what the NEWSWEEK source said, DiRita exploded, "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?"

    (Can someone ask DiRita about today's credibility of those WMD-in-Iraq hypers in his department, including himself, - now that 'people are dead because of what these sons of a bitches said'?)

    But lets not get distracted: Did Newsweek really get its facts wrong?

    In the meantime, as part of his ongoing reporting on the detainee-abuse story, Isikoff had contacted a New York defense lawyer, Marc Falkoff, who is representing 13 Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo. According to Falkoff's declassified notes, a mass-suicide attempt—when 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves in August 2003—was triggered by a guard's dropping a Qur'an and stomping on it. One of Falkoff's clients told him, "Another detainee tried to kill himself after the guard took his Qur'an and threw it in the toilet."

    Did Newsweek really get its facts wrong?

    Bader Zaman Bader, a 35-year-old former editor of a fundamentalist English-language magazine in Peshawar, was released from more than two years' lockup in Guantánamo seven months ago. Arrested by Pakistani security as a suspected Qaeda militant in November 2001, he was handed over to the U.S. military and held at a tent at the Kandahar airfield. One day, Bader claims, as the inmates' latrines were being emptied, a U.S. soldier threw in a Qur'an.

    The article ends about there.

    The essence of the original Newsweek claim and a new aspect was: "There is an official U.S. report about mishandling the Qur'an, including a toilet incident". This claim still holds. The version number or draft title of the official U.S. report may have been wrong. But the essence of the story still holds.

    There must have been immense pressure on Newsweek to come up with some kind of retraction and they did it in an artful way. They do retract by non-retraction.

    The question: "How did NEWSWEEK get its facts wrong?" is a rhetoric question. The facts were not wrong, but some details are unknown. Indeed the central abuse claim gets rolled out in more details, with more incidents and more sources.

    In a sidekick towards the Pentagon the detail on General Miller's non-indictment, not reported the last time, is made public and DiRita gets exposed as the son of a bitch he is.

    Some headlines may now say 'Newsweek was wrong'. But when concerned Muslims will  study the article, they will understand that in fact, Newsweek sticks to the original report and the additional reporting will add fuel to the fire.

    The pressure that obviously has been applied to Newsweek here, did not help on the real issue. The non-retraction retraction might calm some internal U.S. concerns. The Muslim world will see this as the confirmation that it is and it will act upon it in a appropriate way.

    Posted by b on May 15, 2005 at 06:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

    Black Is White

    James Bennet has written an excellent column in the NYT's 'Week in Review'. Here is a RBN decoded excerpt:

    The Mystery of the Occupation

    Resistance forces in Iraq have often been accused of being slow to apply hard lessons from Vietnam and elsewhere about how to fight an occupation. Yet, it seems from the outside, no one has shrugged off the lessons of history more decisively than the occupation forces themselves.

    The occupation forces in Iraq are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis, in building international legitimacy, or in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology or cause beyond suppressing the resistance. They have put forward no single charismatic leader, developed no alternative government or political wing, displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern now.

    Rather than employing the classic tactic of provoking the resistance to use clumsy and excessive force and kill civilians, they are cutting out the middleman and killing civilians indiscriminately themselves.
    This surge in the killing of civilians reflects how mysterious the long-term strategy remains - and how the occupation forces' seeming indifference to the past patterns of occupation is not necessarily good news for anyone.

    "Instead of saying, 'What's the logic here, we don't see it,' you could speculate, there is no logic here," said Anthony James Joes, a professor of political science at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and the author of several books on the history of imperial occupation. The occupations actions now look like "wanton violence," he continued. "And there's a name for these guys: Losers."

    What you have read above, is consistent with historic facts and reports. It makes a lot of sense. Even the cited expert is right.

    But the piece is discussed and criticized as 'naive' elsewhere. I do not believe this critic is justified.

    Bennet's piece is excellent. Yes, he had to code the original a bit to keep his pay check, but then, what do you expect from a mainstream journalists.

    Just replace 'black' with 'white', 'insurgency' with 'occupation force' and the 'new caliphate' with the 'promised land' and you will see the real meaning. Apply this to your daily dose of newspaper reading, and you may even start to feel informed.


    Posted by b on May 15, 2005 at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (44)

    May 14, 2005

    Billmon: Democracy in Action

    “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

    - Democracy in Action -

    Posted by b on May 14, 2005 at 04:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

    New Open Thread

    For your week-end enjoyment.

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 14, 2005 at 02:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (80)

    May 13, 2005

    Lies and Statistics

    I am pinching whole a comment by Stirling Newberry which is a great summary of why economic statistics are so easy to manipulate:

    In the world of econometrics - that is, finding ways to measure economic activity - the question of cooking numbers is a delicate one. One man's "adjustment" is another man's "cooking the books". Within the range of what we know, some numbers can be, arguably, to either side. All economic numbers have error bands.

    Where the real cooking is going on is by the focus on a few "headline" numbers. Any headline number can be primped up, at the cost of some other headline number. The tactic is to primp one number at the cost of another, and then dismiss the bad number. For example, run a big federal budget deficit to keep the employment numbers from looking so bad, and then say "well deficits don't matter".

    Another problem is that many numbers are accurate, but they don't measure what people think they measure. Let me take my favorite - the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate represents a variable in various macro-economic equations, and it is measured in such a way so that the macro-equations produce predictive results. In short, it is fiddled with so that other numbers, some of which are also fiddled with, yield the right results. The unemployment rate, specifically, measures the demand for labor. Now in an inflationary enough environment, supply and demand for labor will clear, and all unemployment is frictional, and therefore a lack of demand which can be fixed by lowering interest rates - and so long as the inflation rate is low enough that's what the central bank does, lower rates until inflation shows up.

    However when the labor market doesn't clear there is something that the unemployment rate doesn't cover, and that is the demand for jobs. And that was the case starting in the late 1950's - which is one reason for the New Frontier and Great Society - and it is the case starting in 2001 now. People are told "the unemployment rate is low". Wonderful, bankers rejoice. But what is important to people is whether "job supply is high" and that isn't the case. Low job supply means few jobs created, few increases in real wages, less upward mobility, longer times being unemployed - all of which have happened. Finding a number to represent this, and getting that number out, is important. CAP has its "constructed unemployment rate", I use "labor slack", and the bls puts out other measures of unemployment which include "discouraged and marginally attached workers plus part time for economic reasons".

    The CPI-U is another such number. It measures the ability to stay at a constant level of access to living standard relative to others. That sounds like a mouthful. Let me put it another way: it is the cost of keeping up with the Joneses. It is different from CPI-W, which is constant access to standard of living, and it is different from the GDP deflator, which is a better measure of overall inflation in the economy. There are also inflation measures for producer prices and other "baskets" of goods and services, though consumer, economic and producer inflation are the most important.

    Thus when people are told "the Consumer Price Index is low" that doesn't mean what they think it means. What it means is that the cost of staying in place, relative to others has remained the same. When the way the CPI-U was calculated changed, it changed GDP figures and a host of other economic numbers. It was, importantly, a change in policy. We no longer promised people, particularly retirees, that they would be held at a constant standard of living merely that we would keep them in the same place on the scale. If the scale drops and people have to start buying chicken rather than beef, then you will to. If the scale drops and people watch movies at home because they can't afford a theatre, you will do.

    This is the biggest form of cookery - telling people a number, and then implying a context that doesn't exist. In the present circumstances, unemployment being low isn't really good news. It says that the economy cannot soak up the workers who were pushed out of the workforce in the last recession. It also means that Greenspan has to stay on a tightening course, because there is no overhead in the macro-economy to lower rates, despite what several emminent economists (such as Bob Riech) would like the Fed to do, and that is lower rates. Unfortunately we can't.

    And that is at the root of what I have been saying over and over again. The problem isn't down turns. There are always going to be recessions and downturns, at least as far as the eye can see. The question is where the long term trend of growth is, and whether that long term trend is going up or down, and whether our policy decisions are making that long term trend of growth go up or down. In terms of policy, I can't promise that liberal policies with progressive government will produce endless prosperity. I can promise that they will produce higher growth over the longer term, spread the risks of the temporary down turns over a large group of people, that they will avoid unsustainable situations where demand for oil is going up faster with no substitute for it, that when downturns come those who are unfortunate enough to be caught in them will be cushioned against the full blow, and that those who are marginalized and left out during times of prosperity will get access into the affluence the rest of us enjoy.

    Since I'm not predicting "a crash or even the beginnings of a crash", to quote on recent diary, I'm not going to say why one hasn't happened. I am saying that regardless of how the economic cycles play out, that current policies produce substandard growth, and will do so as far as they eye can see. That in the short term that means that with each recession people will fall farther and farther behind, and that, eventually, this will mean that other nations can dispense with us as the "designated loser" of the world economic system, and, at that point, stop extending us credit. On the contrary, they will come to collect.

    Ask the British what that feels like.

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 13, 2005 at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

    May 12, 2005

    Bolton Nomination

    Why is this important?

    From an international view Bolton should be nominated and get the job as UN ambassador. By now everybody knows he is an asshole and can not be believed a bit. He would thereby be ineffective for the further neocon projects as far as these depend on international support. So please let him be nominated, but make the process as long and devastating as possible.

    From a national U.S. view a loss on the Bolton nomination can be interpreted as a loss of influence for Bush. A recognized lame-duck Bush would have serious problems to push his other projects - from Social Security to nominating judges.

    Update 03:35

    I have watched the nomination hearing in the Senate Foreign Relation Committee on John Bolton and blogged some of things that were said below the fold. Bolton was vote out of the committee to the Senate floor without recommendation.

    Some further thoughts on the issue:

    The Senate should "advice and consent" on the President's nominations. In the hearing many Republicans said things like "it's the presidents choice", "he will have to work with him" etc. Is that "advice and consent"? Are these Senators fulfilling their constitutional duty if they make such an argument? I do not think so. To consent is more than to say 'yes' to someones choice just because its her/his choice. It needs some degree of conviction the choice is the right choice.

    Senator Voinovich explained very early in the hearing that he will not recommend Bolton but would vote him out of the committee to the Senate floor to decide. The frame was set after that (or probably earlier as Lugar seemed to know what Voinovich would say).
    For Voinovich this is some lame "I voted no before I voted yes" wiggle that keeps him out of the fire. If he is really against Bolton he should have voted No on a recommendation.

    The possibilities now are interesting. On the Senate floor the Democrats can now filibuster Bolton. This would make the issue part of the "nuclear option" discussion giving the Republicans another argument for blowing the filibuster away.

    Another option for Bush is to make a recess nomination effectively bypassing the Senate. This of course would give Bolton even less aura at the UN and therefore would be my preferred solution. When Bolton finally arrives at the UN there should be as many Plato’s Retreat stories as possible and the most minuscule political cloud.   

    Today's Bolton nomination hearing in the Senate Foreign Relation Committee will take some 5 hours. I will try to blog the major points.

    C-SPAN stream

    Lugar finds nothing bad on Bolton ...
    Voinovich is on.
    Voinovich may vote against Bolton on ground of "wider view" on the issue of how America is seen in the world. "What message are we sending to the world with Bolton?"

    9:9 hung committee?
    11:05 am - Voinovich:
    "Bolton has serious deficiencies";
    "Would have been fired if he had worked for a private corporation";
    Voinovich wants the committee to send the Bolton nomination to the floor without a recommendation.

    ThinkProgress has a transcript of Voinovich.

    11:15 am - Biden:
    Doesn´t do his prepared speech after Voinovich gave direction.
    "We didn´t seek witnesses against Bolton, those people came to us"
    "Many people against Bolton who came to us are republicans or republican nominations"
    Shames Lugar who requested information from State and the NSA but didn´t receive it and now caves in.
    State says - they "believe" the Senate doesn´t need this information. Biden: "State has no right to withhold anything;"
    Lots of Bolton bashing by Biden.
    "We can do better".
    Will someone offer David Brooks a new job? Editor for the funnies?
    12:00 am - Sarbanes
    Bolton - cherrypicker - international nobody will ever believe his words.
    0:20 pm - Allen
    blah ...
    0:42 pm - Dodd
    On the procedure - we shouldn´t vote someone out of committee without recommendation - "it´s our job"
    0:45 - Chafee
    "will support Senator Lugars and Voinovich's motion"
    Lugar's and Voinovich's ideas were not the same so far - so what does he say here???
    0:55 - Kerry
    Bolton can not be effective - "Will they ask him at the UN if the floor he is standing on is one of those that should be removed?"
    Explains the points on which Bolton lied to committee.
    1:10 - Coleman
    Bolton best person...
    1:25 - Feingold
    I voted for Bolton in his current position, but his simply unsuited ...
    1:35 - Hagel
    "face to the world important" -will he follow Voinovich?
    No way "will support the President" - will vote pro Bolton
    1:45 - Boxer
    "Politicalization of intelligence leads to war"
    1:55 - Alexander
    "intelligence can be challenged"
    02:10 - Obama
    "Where is Mr. Boton on the current NTP negotiations?" "He stopped working on that 6 month ago." "Had not much success in his current job, why should we trust him on a new one?"
    02:25 - Sununu
    "Bolton opposition can not decide what disqualifies him ..." Someone interupted "all of it".
    02:37 - Murkowski
    "Bolton mamagement style concerns me" - But she will not disturb on the "Presidents choice".
    02:47 - Martinez
    Armitage said Bolton is qualified - so it's fine
    03:00 - Nelson
    "We need others to support us in Iraq and elsewhere. We need some to reach out.
    03:02 - Biden to sum up his side
    - This is not a long hearing time for a nomination.
    - We don´t have the information from the NSA we need.
    - We never had nomination of someone who had so many foes in his camp.
    - Rice says she will control Bolton. Why send someone to the UN who needs control?
    Will not oppose to move the nomination to the Senate floor without recommendation
    03:20 - Lugar to sum up and motion
    Motion - report to the floor without recommendation
    10 yes - 8 no - to the floor without recommendation


    Posted by b on May 12, 2005 at 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (35)

    Down The Toilet

    Without a very high level excuse from U.S. officals, this will escalate into a storm on Karzai's residence.

    Three more dead in Afghan anti-US protests

    Three more people were killed in eastern Afghanistan in protests against the alleged US abuse of the Koran, raising the death toll from three days of unrest to seven, officials said.
    The demonstrations have now spread to 10 provinces in Afghanistan, with total casualties of at least seven dead and 76 injured, he added.

    On Thursday there were repeated demonstrations in the capital Kabul as well as the provinces of Nangarhar, Parwan, Kapisa, Takhar and Logar.

    The protests were sparked by allegations in Newsweek magazine last week that interrogators at the US military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, desecrated a Koran by stuffing it down a toilet to rattle Muslim prisoners.

    Newsweek reported:

    interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash

    While more protest rises in Pakistan, the parliament there is asking for legal action. The babble of a State Department spokesman will not be enough to calm this down.

    Posted by b on May 12, 2005 at 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

    May 11, 2005

    News, Views, etc.

    Open Thread ...

    Posted by b on May 11, 2005 at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (109)

    Waste is Patriotic

    US tries to staunch wasteful flow of anti-terror funds (Financial Times)

    The House of Representatives is set to vote on Thursday on legislation that would require homeland security funds to be spent mainly where the risk of terrorist attack is deemed highest. If it succeeds, it would be the first step in rolling back a pattern of waste that has been egregious even by Washington standards.
    Glenville is unlikely to figure high on any list of potential terrorist targets.

    The small town in south-east Georgia is little more than a ramshackle collection of one-storey wooden homes and whitewashed churches, surrounded by miles of farmland. Yet, beside a road junction outside the town stands a large billboard advertising a government website that informs people how to prepare for a terrorist attack.

    The image illustrates one of the most striking features of the US response to the events of September 11: that much of the government money to protect against future attacks is being spent in places foreign terrorists would have trouble even finding.


    The homeland security department's inspector-general reported earlier this year, for instance, that while $560m had been granted to improve the security of US seaports, much of the money had gone to projects that had little effect.


    In all, the report found that almost half the grants went for projects deemed marginal or unimportant by government reviewers.


    Much of the problem has been due to the way in which Congress allocated the funds in the months after September 11. Under the influence of politicians from rural districts eager to get their share of the new windfall in homeland security spending, the 2001 Patriot Act guaranteed that each state would receive minimum shares regardless of its location or population.

    This sounds pretty typical of the Bush motus operandi: take advantage of events to do things that appear to be related to these events, and use it instead to divert government funds towards favored constituencies without any consideration whether this is in any way useful. Make Blue States pay for (unnecessary) subsidies to Red states. And label people "unpatriotic" if they dare complain about the use of funds for "Homeland Security".

    The same happened with the pork-laden "Leave No Lobbyist Behind" Energy Bill, and the same is happening with the Iraqi "reconstruction" funds.

    Money - vast amounts of money, amounting in tens of billions of dollars - are spent in useless and unaccountable ways, they always seem to go pretty directly to the corporates that have funded Bushco's campaigns and their owners, and they are not even funded, as they are paid for by a massive increase in US federal debt (while programmes like Medicaid are cut).

    This is the biggest robbery of all times. Several hundred billion dollars over a few years, directly from future taxpayers' money to private pockets - with no measurable impact for society as a whole.

    Possibly the only silver lining is that the people who are currently trying to tighten the Patriot Act (Christopher Cox, a Republican who represents a Los Angeles area district, has used his post as chairman of the House homeland security committee to highlight much of the waste; Susan Collins, R-Maine, in the Senate) are Republicans. Can they be pulled away from the fiscal madness of Bushco? Or are they just trying to bring pork back home?

    Waste, graft, corruption. Where's the accountability? Where's the fiscal responsibility? Where's the decency?

    Why has 9/11 become a "windfall" for Bushco and Republicans? How did that happen?

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 11, 2005 at 08:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

    May 10, 2005

    Body Count

    "We don't do body counts," Gen. Tommy Franks said.

    That has changed ...

    Juan Cole wrote this morning:

    The remarkable thing about the operation was the claim by the US to have killed 100 guerrillas, a new move in the propaganda wars. ... The problem with giving out such numbers, however, is that sooner or later there will be another scandal.

    We did not have to wait long for the obvious scandal to unfold.

    James Janega, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune embedded with US troops in western Iraq, reports form the combat zone:

    Though military commanders in Baghdad announced that 100 insurgent fighters were killed in the early fighting, along with three Marines, [Col. Stephen] Davis' [, commander of Marine Regimental Combat Team 2, responsible for this rugged corner of Anbar province near the Syrian border], figures were lower. He said "a couple of dozen" insurgents had been killed in Ubaydi, about 10 at another river crossing near Al Qaim, and several who were killed by air strikes north of the river.

    Apparently Colonel Davis did not get the brief from Central Disinformation Command,  Baghdad, that was distributed via the Associated Press. But the Main Stream Media did get it, and swallowed its content - as usual - hook, line and sinker:

    Wapo: Marines Kill 100 Fighters In Sanctuary Near Syria,
    NYT: 100 Rebels Killed in U.S. Offensive in Western Iraq,
    Boston Globe: US kills 100 militants in Iraq offensive,
    Guardian: U.S. Attack in Iraq Kills 100 Insurgents,
    CBS News: U.S.: 100 Militants Killed In Iraq,
    NPR: U.S. Offensive Kills 100 Insurgents in Iraq,
    Indianapolis Star: U.S. assault leaves 100 militants dead,
    ABC News: U.S. Attack in Iraq Kills 100 Insurgents,
    Washington Times: Major U.S. attack kills up to 100,
    SF Chronicle: U.S. Attack in Iraq Kills 100 Insurgents,
    St.Petersburg Times: U.S. raids in Iraq kill 100 militants,
    Pakistan Tribune: US forces kill 100 militants near Syrian border,
    CNN: U.S.: 100 insurgents killed near Iraq-Syria border,
    Muslim American Society: U.S. Kills 100 in Iraq Offensive
    Gulf Daily News: 100 rebels die in US offensive",
    South Coast Today: U.S. corners al-Zarqawi followers 100 militants killed in sweep

    ... plus "a couple of dozen" which I "don´t do body count" here.

    Do those editors really wonder why the blogsphere denounces the MSM?

    Posted by b on May 10, 2005 at 07:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (40)

    It's That Time Again

    (yes, another oil post - it's been a while...)

    I've been writing about the very low spare capacity in oil production, as shown by that graph from the recent survey on oil by the Economist:


    Now OPEC is admitting that there will be no spare capacity later this year.

    At full capacity, Opec `may not meet Q4 need' (Gulf Times, 9 May 2005)

    ALGIERS: Even if Opec pumps at full capacity it may not be able to meet strong fourth quarter demand without sufficient inventories being built up beforehand, Algeria's oil minister has said.
    Chakib Khelil said he was not concerned by the current situation in the oil market, but rather about the fourth quarter, which traditionally sees a sharp rise in demand due to cold weather.
    "Let's assume we go to a maximum (in output) and assuming we don't have any (significant) stocks, we are not going to meet demand in the fourth quarter," Khelil said on the sidelines of an energy ceremony in the capital Algiers.
    "What you need to do is raise stocks in the third quarter to accumulate enough of them in the third quarter that you can deplete stocks and maintain a high level of production for the fourth quarter. That's what I've been saying we need to do," he said.
    "People are still worried that despite that we will be producing at full (capacity) we are not going to meet (demand), that's what people are worried about and they are also worried about what will come next year," Khelil said.
    "They have to be concerned because we are not going to have any surplus capacity available so anything could happen during the first quarter and that's showing in the market," he said.
    Khelil said a strong global economy, with oil demand driven by the US and China, meant prices would remain high.
    "The only way we are going to have a slack in prices is if the economy really slows down," he said.

    And a second oil minister weighs in in a similar vein:

    Oil prices up on speculation about demand (Business Week)

    Prices were given an upward nudge after Qatar's oil minister, Abdullah Hamad al-Attiyah, raised concerns over the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' capacity to deal with demand for the next Northern Hemisphere winter, when global consumption peaks.

    "OPEC is at its highest production in history. I am concerned about that. If we reach the full capacity now, we will tighten in the fourth quarter," Dow Jones Newswires quoted al-Attiyah as saying. "The spare capacity will be smaller and smaller, reaching a plateau when there is no more oil."

    OPEC pumps around 40 percent of world oil and raised production to about 30 million barrels daily this year in an effort to boost stocks and steady prices ahead of summer. The increased production has some analysts concerned that OPEC is pumping at full tilt, with no spare capacity in the event of an unscheduled outage or a sudden rise in global demand.
    This is why the markets did not go down last month when OPEC announced two production increases within a few days - they interpreted that as a capitulation by OPEC, i.e. an acknowledgement that production would be insufficient in the second half of the year (where consumption is traditionally, for seasonal reasons, higher than in the first half), and that it was thus necessary to increase production now, despite the lower current demand, to build up stocks to be drawn upon later in the year.

    So the fact that stocks are growing to record levels today is not good news, it's the last tool available to make supply match demand throughout this year - it gives producers a few more months to increase their production to catch up, but there is no reason to think that they will be able to do it any better next year than this one.

    THIS IS IT. THERE IS NO MORE SPARE OIL PRODUCTION CAPACITY. It will take a massive recession (which is increasingly likely, but that will only punch back the problem by a couple of years) or a violent increase in oil prices for demand to slow down and adjust to available supply.

    In the meantime, volatility is likely to go up tremendously as any temporary disruption in oil flows will have an IMMEDIATE impact on prices (see today's situation when a power cut in a refinery sent the oil price up by more than 2%).

    Do not believe the pundits saying that stocks being high is a good thing. Get ready for serious upheavals.

    And 2 OPEC ministers the same day? Either they like living dangerously by talking the price up, or they are desperately trying to warn us that the supply side cannot cope anymore and it's high time for US to do something on the demand side...

    Posted by Jérôme à Paris on May 10, 2005 at 06:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

    Illegal Non-Combatants

    Roundtable Interview of the President by Foreign Print Media - Mai 5, 2005

    Q: Mr. President, ... For instance, how does the way detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being handled, how does that relate to your promotion of democracy and the rule of law?

    THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. That, and, for example, the pictures people saw about the prison -- prison abuse is different from the detainees in Guantanamo. We're working our way forward, so that they -- and our courts, by the way, are adjudicating this. It is a clear, transparent review of the decision I made by the courts, so everybody can see it. And they're being argued in the courts as we speak. People are being treated humanely. They were illegal non-combatants, however, and I made the decision they did not pertain to the Geneva Convention. They were not -- these were terrorists. Obviously, we've looked at Iraq differently.

    Ignore the usual bullshit, but wtf are illegal non-combatants???

    Posted by b on May 10, 2005 at 12:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

    Elected Dictatorship

    The British "First Past the Pole" election system again produced results that are incompatible with my understanding of democracy. Labour will rule the country against a 64% majority of the popular vote in what some call an "elected dictatorship".

    UK Results 2005 Votes % Seats %
    Labour 9,545,730 36.2% 356 57%
    Conservative 8,753,254 33.2% 197 32%
    Liberal Democrats 5,977,043 22.6% 62 10%

    The Independent today has a series of articles on election reform in the United Kingdom. Electoral reform: Why it's time for change, System Failure .. and While Britain lectures the world ...

    The two extreme sides for election systems are total 'proportional representation', which is essentially voting for a predetermined party list and 'member representation' like the current first past the pole system.

    What system would you prefer?

    Posted by b on May 10, 2005 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)


    Some weeks ago I was experiencing problems with the Washington Post website. Smooth scrolling of pages was impossible. My keyboard and mouse seemed to work only with short interrupts.

    Testing around a bit I found that a specific Xerox advertisement on the WaPo site was the reason for my problems. That ad was programed with Macromedia's Flash tool and it did steal enough computing cycles on my PC to delay other functions, like my mouse movements and the page scrolling.

    For a long time, the download speed of a web-page was the number one concern of web-programmers. The website managers often struggled with the advertising sales people to restrict the size of advertisements. Every additional byte to download will slow a page and will drive away readers they argued.  It took some time, but the argument is now accepted.

    But the problem has changed. It is not the size of the ads that is problematic, but the computing resources an ad uses on the local PC.

    Many advertisements are now small programs, displaying some movement, changing colors or playing some sound. Usually they are developed with Macromedia's Flash tool. The web-browser includes a little virtual engine, the Flash player, that does process such Flash programs and display their results within the web-page. This is stealing computing power on the local machine. Like with over sized web-page, the only way to turn the current trend to more "flashy" ads is to boycott them. If we all do this, the ad folks will return to something reasonable.

    Flash programs are useful for some stuff like interactive election maps or Jib Jab comics. To permanent disable Flash in your browser, is therefore not the preferable solution.

    For users of the Firefox web-browser there is some help available. (If you still use Microsoft's Internet Explorer, please change to Firefox. It´s simply a much better  browsing product and it's free. You can download it here.)

    Flashblock is a little addition to the Firefox browser that blocks the execution and display of Flash content - be it advertisement or something else. Instead of the Flash programs results, a small button is displayed. You can always decide to view the Flash content by clicking that button. Useful Flash content is thereby still accessible, while unreasonable "flashy" ads are not displayed anymore.

    A very useful tool for a better surfing experience. The download page is here.

    Posted by b on May 10, 2005 at 06:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

    May 09, 2005

    Caption Contest

    Link 1, 2

    Posted by b on May 9, 2005 at 01:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (29)

    Signaling Hostile Intention

    Embedded with US forces in Iraq KRT reporter James Janega describes some hopeless  incompetent US Marines action in Iraq.

    U.S. troops launch attacks against villages along Euphrates (thanks Nugget)

    A near brigade sized force is set to attack some assumed resistance hideouts across the Euphrates. A Colonel Stephen Davis explains the enemy:

    "The trademark of these folks is to be where we're not. We haven't got north of the river for a while."

    The Colonel fails to explain where he expects "these folks" to be when he will have  reached the north side of the river. But fair enough - he doesn´t reach the north side. The attack gets stuck and the combat engineers find out that some pre-emptive reconnaissance could have been useful.

    While some American units were able to conduct limited raids north of the Euphrates on Sunday, most of the rest were trapped south of the river while Army engineers struggled to build a pontoon bridge across it.
    one truck rolled off the road and into a ditch, bringing the [bridging unit] column to a dead halt in the darkness

    The soldiers soon discovered another problem: The river banks, sodden after recent rains, might have been too wet to support the oncoming American tanks.

    This happens, as the reporter writes, after this "elaborate mission" was "planned for weeks".

    Readers may wonder why I get agitated about US military action that seems incompetent. Yes, I want the US forces out of Iraq immediately, yes, I want them to loose this horrendous crime of a war.

    But I also want as few people killed as possible - on both sides. Screwing up a military mission always gets more people killed and maimed than swift, competent action.

    Moving the bridging equipment, the fighting force and the supply train to the river without having done reconnaissance of the crossing conditions is plain stupid, it's incompetent, it kills. The result is a stuck force. Lame ducks in the middle of nowhere waiting to be shut at and waiting to shoot back at anything that moves - and this is exactly what happens here.

    The troops in the traffic jam south of the river, waiting for a crossing opportunity, take some light fire from the neighborhood. Then,

    [The Marines] devised a new strategy: They would not cross the river Sunday. They would attack Ubaydi instead.

    It was not a major shift in plans, said Lt. Col. Tim Mundy, whose 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines led the attack. "This was a movement to enemy," he said, going where the fighting led them.

    That, Mr. Mundy is a euphemism for connoisseurs. "Loosing the initiative" is the term Clausewitz would have used.

    To support Marines on the ground, F/A-18 fighters strafed a treeline on the edge of town, silencing sporadic fire coming from the trees. Helicopter gunships fired rockets and machine guns into buildings in the town.
    "There's been a firefight here all morning. Anyone still in that neighborhood has signaled their hostile intention by remaining," Capt. Chris Ieva said.

    Damn those families in Ubaydi who stayed home for Mothers Day while "F/A-18 fighters strafed a treeline on the edge of town" and "Helicopter gunships fired rockets and machine guns into buildings in the town."

    Why didn´t the just move out? See, "there's been a firefight here all morning". Why didn´t they picked up their kids and grandpas and some food and walked away from their homes? 

    Not doing so, staying in the shelter of their houses - while "F/A-18s strafe treelines," "gunships fire rockets into buildings" and "firefight all morning" - is "signaling their hostile intention".

    Bombs away, bombs away ... it is a movement to enemy.

    Posted by b on May 9, 2005 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)