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 21:20 UTC | 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 20:45 UTC | Permalink | Comments (44)

    Open Thread 05-52

    News, views, opinions ..

    Posted by b on May 31, 2005 at 16:48 UTC | 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 20:51 UTC | Permalink | Comments (16)


    Posted by b on May 30, 2005 at 15:50 UTC | 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 20:11 UTC | 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 18:58 UTC | 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 18:28 UTC | Permalink | Comments (51)

    May 27, 2005

    Open Thread

    News, views, opinions ...

    Posted by b on May 27, 2005 at 20:45 UTC | 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 20:11 UTC | 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 16:44 UTC | 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 19:31 UTC | 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 15:09 UTC | 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 15:39 UTC | 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 10:42 UTC | 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 20:43 UTC | 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 12:34 UTC | 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 6:55 UTC | Permalink | Comments (60)

    May 23, 2005


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

    Posted by b on May 23, 2005 at 21:26 UTC | 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 20:25 UTC | Permalink | Comments (13)