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Between the Lines

June 20, 2003

Mr. Springer goes to Washington?

Could be. Jerry Springer, the host of what may be the trashiest show in TV history -- and we're talking a lot of trash -- is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate seat held by John Voinovich of Ohio. Don’t laugh. Cincinnati voters once elected him mayor at the tender age of 33.

Even the Aussies are on top of this one. The Melbourne Age reports that, "Unlike most politicians, Springer is not unduly concerned about skeletons in his closet. 'That's one big closet, buddy. That's a walk-in closet,' he said. In his previous political career he survived the revelation he had paid for 'extras' in a massage parlour, and in 1998 he was secretly filmed having sex with a porn star who appeared on his show. 'Everybody knows it,' he said. 'That's the one advantage. What are you going to say about me that people don't already suspect?' "

Springer has also put up a web site.

What the hey? If Jesse Ventura was good enough to be a governor, maybe Jerry can hack it as a senator. After all the yelling at weirdos he's done on the tube he could fit right in.

Oh, yeah. He’s a Democrat.

Posted by tbrown at 11:28 AM

Does finding Saddam’s WMDs still matter?

Yes. Wars are – or at least should be – fought against imminent threats to national security. The Bush administration proffered two of these: WMDs and the apparently bogus assertion that Iraq and Al Qaida were cooperating on terror activities aimed at the U.S.

Since one of the justifications didn’t exist, it’s critical that other does.

We expect that some evidence of WMD production eventually will be found in Iraq. After all, almost everyone thought Iraq still had WMD capabilities when UN inspectors were thrown out in 1998. Kenneth Pollack, a National Security Council member during the Clinton administration and a supporter of the war, recounts that evidence here (free New York Times registration required).

Unfortunately, however, it is increasingly clear that the Bush administration cooked intelligence estimates about Iraq’s capabilities, then lied to the American people about the severity of the threat in order to build support for the war. This piece from The New Republic sets the evidence out in damning detail.

Posted by tbrown at 09:49 AM

June 19, 2003

Great ideas of millionaire senators – I

Do you ever share files containing copyrighted material with others using your personal computer? Music files, perhaps?

Well, be forewarned: Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, who is one of the at least 40 millionaires in the Senate, wants to destroy your computer. Under his plan, the third time you downloaded a copyrighted work, some remote-control zapper would blow your computer’s brains out. According to Hatch, this "may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights."

This is not the first time Hatch has sounded like he had one wheel in the sand. Unfortunately, since he’s the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he has some sway in this area.

This piece argues that copyright holders already have far too much unchecked power to attack suspected pirates without due process.

Posted by tbrown at 10:50 AM

June 18, 2003

Sure, let’s take on Hamas

Afghanistan is slowly slipping back under the sway of the medievalist Taliban we went to so much trouble to oust after Al Qaida felled the twin towers. In Iraq, U.S. casualties are mounting daily because of resistence from people being described as “hardcore Saddam supporters.” Iran appears to be trying to develop nuclear weapons (and it’s not just U.S. war hawks who think so). And North Korea is issuing more inflamatory rhetoric as the U.S. and its allies gear up to blockade its shipments of arms and drugs abroad.

You’d think this might be enough to have on our plate at one time. But no. Now the normally sensible Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, has broached the truly loony idea of having U.S. troops try to root out the virulently anti-Israeli Hamas terrorists – something the Israelis, who know the neighborhood far better than we do, have been unable to accomplish themselves.

Here’s a taste of what Lugar, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said: “At this point, Kofi Annan of the U.N. has suggested U.N. peacekeepers, maybe even armed peacekeepers. There have been suggestions that NATO may be involved, that the United States may be involved. At that point, the polls turn very sharply south, with regard to United States involvement.

“But I would just say after one week of it, in which much of the press, much of the public says, 'Here we go again' and sort of back to this. Never underestimate President George Bush. Once his teeth are into this situation, there are likely to be unforeseen circumstances, and the security situation may change.” The full transcript is here.

Its interesting to note that the idea of direct U.S. involvement in the most intractable conflict on earth is being considered seriously enough that polling has been done on it. Those polled obviously didn’t like the idea. And that may explain why the White House has been distancing itself from Lugar’s pronouncements. With next year’s elections just around the corner, the only wars the administration is interested in are popular ones.

The Iraq war continues because the Army doesn’t know how to end it

Fred Kaplan at Slate, who has consistently provided solid analysis of the Iraq war has an informative piece on the work of a retired general who has concludes that
U.S. war games and other training focuses on initial success – clearly the important first step in any campaign – but rarely on how to achieve the strategic successes for which the war was fought.

Posted by tbrown at 11:22 AM

June 17, 2003

No dominoes yet

I was wondering what had happened to the "Democracy dominoes" theory. That was the one in which the liberation of Iraq was going to cause dictatorial states all over the Muslim world to throw off their blinders and adopt Western values.

Even before the war, the State Department thought it was unlikely to happen. This notion hasn't died yet, though. Richard Perle, one of the so-called neoconservatives who helped form current U.S. foreign policy, now says not to expect dominoes everywhere, but that there could be changes for the better not only in Iran, where students have been demonstrating against the clerics who have ultimate say in the government, but possibly in Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well.

We've got to wonder, though. We can't even get our friends over there to buy our airplanes. Instead they're buying them from the French, and you know what they thought of the war.

Posted by tbrown at 03:55 PM

Oh, no, Mr. Bill!

The ever clueless but never in doubt Bill O'Reilly, the erstwhile man of the people of the "fair and balanced" Fox network, has really blown it this time. He's attacking bloggers because someone had the gall to criticize him!

His main complaint seems to be that on the Internet people can write whatever they want. Imagine! I thought that's what the First Amendment was all about, but maybe he hasn't read it.

In any case, Glenn Reynolds has the story and is appropriately merciless.

Posted by tbrown at 11:59 AM

Remember the “semis of mass destruction?”

Those were the “mobile weapons labs” that the administration claimed Iraq had rolling around the countryside ready to brew anthrax, VX or something else nasty in a matter of moments.

Their seizure moved President Bush to say on May 30, "For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them." The CIA hastily posted an unclassified report on its web site complete with drawings of the trailers – and the two additional types of trailers, so far undiscovered, that each of the supposed WMD labs would need to function.

Well, there never were any weapons found and now, it appears, you can forget about the two trailers being weapons labs as well.

British experts who examined the trailers said they were for the production of hydrogen for ballons that are used to determine the accuracy of practice artillery fire – just as the Iraqis had insisted.

And that’s not all: the trailers were sold, quite legally, to Iraq by a British company back in the 1980’s when Saddam Hussein was our S.O.B. for fighting the Iranians. Further, similar vehicles are made and sold in the U.S.

Billmon’s Whiskey Bar blog site, has assembled administration pronouncements on the trailers chronologically.

There is said to be a third vehicle, a small truck of some type that may have been associated with the supposed WMD labs. And the Aussie prime minister, John Howard, under questioning in Parliament, said U.S. and British intelligence had concluded that the vehicle had a role in weapons production. But then that’s what they were saying earlier about the trailers, too.

Stay tuned

Posted by tbrown at 11:36 AM

June 16, 2003

Protesting Iranian students post English-language web site

Iran, as we all know by now, is part of President Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” along with Iraq (pre-occupation) and North Korea. So the administration has been doing all it can to encourage student demonstrations against the government, which are now into their sixth consecutive night.

“I think that freedom is a powerful incentive,” Bush said of the demonstrations. And I believe that some day freedom will prevail everywhere, because freedom is a powerful drive for people. And it's the beginnings of people expressing themselves toward a free Iran, which I think is positive."

Though the administration has been harshy critical of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, he lately has dismissed suggestions that the U.S. may be preparing an attack there.

Meanwhile, demonstrating Iranian students have put up an English-language website, which looks as if it may become a good spot to tune in on Iranian developments. Many of its links are still inoperative, however.

Plain old preemption (as in Iraq) apparently isn’t good enough

Or so suggests the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo. It says the U.S. has proposed to its Asian and Pacific allies a new policy of “preemptive preemption.” Confused? So were we.

According to the paper, the policy calls for denying such countries as Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya the ability to ship weapons of mass destruction, or components of such weapons systems, by air, land or sea. For North Korea, the ban also includes narcotics, huge quantities of which it smuggles to Japan.

Meanwhile, another South Korean paper reports that North Korea just shipped Iran six planeloads of missiles or parts for them.

Posted by tbrown at 01:03 PM

Who is Greg Packer?

No one we know, and normally we wouldn’t care. But the other day, the breathless Ann Coulter, she who is righter than thou (and perhaps anyone else on the planet), noted that Mr. Packer had shown up as a fan at a Hillary Clinton book signing.

“It was easy for the Times to spell Packer's name right because he is apparently the entire media's designated ‘man on the street’ for all articles ever written. He has appeared in news stories more than 100 times as a random member of the public. Packer was quoted on his reaction to military strikes against Iraq; he was quoted at the St. Patrick's Day Parade, the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Veterans' Day Parade. He was quoted at not one – but two – New Year's Eve celebrations at Times Square. He was quoted at the opening of a new "Star Wars" movie, at the opening of an H&M clothing store on Fifth Avenue and at the opening of the viewing stand at Ground Zero. He has been quoted at Yankees games, Mets games, Jets games – even getting tickets for the Brooklyn Cyclones. He was quoted at a Clinton fund-raiser at Alec Baldwin's house in the Hamptons and the pope's visit to Giants stadium.

“Are all reporters writing their stories from Jayson Blair's house? … “

Nothing so sinister as that, it turns out. No, Packer is just a relentless self-promoter, sort of like Coulter, as the AP recounts.

Posted by tbrown at 12:05 PM

June 13, 2003

The real meaning of “collateral damage”

Collateral damage is the chilly, some would say Orwellian, bureaucratic term for the unintended consequences of war. Especially civilian injuries and deaths. The ethical problem is that while such injuries and deaths may be unintended, they certainly are not unexpected. In fact, they’re utterly certain, especially in aerial bombardment and urban warfare such as we leveled against Iraq.

Now that the dust is settling, several groups are trying to determine the extent of civilian deaths. It is unlikely that there will ever be an accurate count, but those trying to add up the dead estimate that the total may go as high as 10,000.

A lone peace activist from the Bay Area, Marla Ruzicka, 26, has organized some 150 surveyors to help her non-profit organization, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or CIVIC, complete a tally. The surveyors go door-to-door in areas where there was heavy fighting. So far, they have documented 2,401 deaths, which Ruzicka says is a preliminary total.

"Somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 people died in this conflict," Ruzicka said.

That estimate is seconded by investigators for Iraq Body Count, which has constructed a detailed database of civilian casualties, organized by incident, that can be viewed at their site. The IBC site now estimates that between 5,534 and 7,207 civilians died.

"The totality is now producing an unassailable sense that there were a hell of a lot of civilian deaths in Iraq," says John Sloboda, a professor and one of IBC’s report authors.

Getting a count that is as close to accurate as possible is important, in part, because Congress has appropriated compensation for civilian victims and their families.

Some may suspect the counts of both Ruzicka and Iraq Body Count, since both opposed the war.

That can’t be said of the Associated Press, the U.S. news agency, which concluded after surveying Iraqi hospitals that at least 3,240 civilians died. It called its own survey fragmentary and incomplete and said the final number was bound to be higher.

The various counts may provide information that could help lower civilian casualties in the future, and should help the families of many victims get compensation. But addition of the dead does not address the ethical and moral issues raised by the war.

Robert Higgs, a senior fellow at the conservative/libertarian Independent Institute, argues that, “Nobody can gain moral absolution merely by re-labeling his killing spree a ‘war’: it’s not a morally valid way out for you and me, and it’s not a morally valid way out for George Bush, either.”

More threats from Saddam?

Saddam Hussein has threatened more violence against the U.S. and its allies in a letter purportedly signed by the dictator and faxed to an Arab-language newspaper in London.

Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the newspaper, Al-Quds al-Arabi, said the handwriting and signature appeared to be the same as those on other Saddam faxes sent since the war.

So where is Saddam, anyway?

Atwan said he had no idea where the letter was faxed from. In recent weeks, Saddam has variously been reported to be living in a) the Baghdad suburbs, where he commandeers houses and holds their owners hostage until he feels it’s time to move to a new location, then supposedly gives them a substantial sum for their services, b) in the area northeast of Baghdad where U.S. troops have conducted military sweeps intended to root out pockets of his remaining supporters or 3) in Libya.

Here, Time reports how Saddam apparently used other people’s homes before Baghdad fell.

And, of course, it’s always possible that Saddam is dead, though there’s no evidence of this. Either way, the U.S. would like to know.

''I would obviously much prefer that we had clear evidence that Saddam is dead or that we had him alive in our custody,'' Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator in postwar Iraq, told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

''I think it does make a difference because it allows the Baathists to go around in the bazaars and in the villages, which they're doing, saying, 'Saddam is alive, and he's going to come back, and we're going to come back.' ''

Bush has a rude encounter with a Segway

This incident qualifies as an accident only because it involved George Bush, who tumbled off a Segway scooter. He was unhurt.

Posted by tbrown at 03:31 PM

June 12, 2003

Postings from hell

Just before war erupted this spring, Joe Galloway, one of the best correspondents of the Vietnam War, mused about who the next Ernie Pyle might be. Now we know. The new Ernie turned out to be blogger from Baghdad.

The mainstream press generated some fine reporting during the war. But IMHO the consistently best on-the-ground reporting came from an Iraqi architect who wrote the blog “Where is Raed?” under the pen name Salam Pax. He became a web sensation for his colorful, informative, sarcastic and highly readable postings from a city under seige. Some of his in-depth reports on life outside Baghdad after the war are available here. And he now writes every other Wednesday for the British newspaper, The Guardian.

Some war blogs whined about Pax’s anonymity (his two names mean peace in Arabic and Latin) and suggested he might not even exist – probably because Pax opposed the U.S. invasion (as well as Saddam’s thugdom). But since the war, Pax himself has disclosed considerable information following this story from Slate.

Individual bloggers are also posting illuminating stories from other places news people refer to as “trouble spots."

Zimbabwe for example. Until quite recently, this nation was among the wealthiest in Africa. Today it is in ruins, its economy laid waste by the corruption and incompetence of Robert Mugabe’s regime. Unemployment is 70 percent. Inflation is 300 percent per year. At the official exchange rate, a gallon of milk costs the equivalent of $46, a gallon of gasoline $180. There is no money in the banks. There is no food in the stores and starvation is becoming a real possibility for many. The human rights of dissidents have been trampled by intimidation, arrests, beatings, torture and executions. A general strike intended to bring the government down has failed, so there is no end in sight to the suffering.

There is plenty of news coverage of all this, particularly in the British press (Zimbabwe used to be Northern Rhodesia, a British colony). But as in Iraq, the most interesting writing comes from a local, Cathy Buckle. She writes a blog here and a column for a newspaper in Harare, the nation’s capital, here. The Christian Science Monitor profiled her in 2001.

For a broader view of African issues, check out AfricaPundit.

It is difficult to find a more intractable dispute than the one between Israel and the Palestinians. The last few days of terrorism and retaliation have planted a big "Dead End" sign on the Bush administration's "roadmap for peace."

There are many Israeli bloggers and if you look around you can find numerous perspectives.

Judy Lash Balint, who writes at Jerusalem Diaries, will be familiar to many in the Seattle area. She has written for the Seattle Times and the P-I and is an occasional guest on KIRO’s Dave Ross show.

Tal G. in Jerusalem has a newsy blog and analysis of what’s in the headlines.

I’ve been unable to locate a blog by a resident Palestinian (and if anyone knows of one, I’d appreciate a pointer). Electronic Intifada’s Diaries appear to be written primarily by foreigners who sympathize with the Palestinian cause.

There are, however, many Muslim bloggers and a number of Muslim web sites that are well worth visiting.

A good site is alt.muslim, which runs a lot of news with a Muslim perspective and also covers arts, culture and other topics.

And here's a blog by a muslim woman that I visit regularly.

Posted by tbrown at 11:04 AM

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Mr. Springer goes to Washington?
Does finding Saddam’s WMDs still matter?
Great ideas of millionaire senators – I
Sure, let’s take on Hamas
No dominoes yet
Oh, no, Mr. Bill!
Remember the “semis of mass destruction?”
Protesting Iranian students post English-language web site
Who is Greg Packer?
The real meaning of “collateral damage”


Blogs to watch

Abu Ardvark
Andrew Sullivan
Atrios Eschaton
Best of the Web
Drudge Report
Joe Conason (subscription required)
Josh Marshall
Kaus files
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Real Clear Politics
The Corner
The Volokh Conspiracy
The Whiskey Bar

Mideast blogs

Salam Pax (Iraq)
G. in Baghdad
L.T. Smash (U.S. military in Iraq)
Lady Sun (Iran)

City blogs

L.A. Examiner

Africa blogs

Cathy Buckle

Media blogs

Dan Gillmor's eJournal
Media Whores Online


Newspapers online (guide to papers on the web)
International Herald Tribune
The Guardian U.K.
New York Times (free registration required)

Economy blogs

Brad DeLong

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