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July, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

Diplomatic Mission

I'll be heading to NY today with the Lil' Feller to spend a few weeks with family and friends. Posting will be sporadic, as I'll essentially be conducting a guided tour of the Big Apple's children's playgrounds for a very influential EU investigative committee. Check in for updates.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Easy As One-Two-Three

You can agree with it or not, but frankly, I'm not sure you can say that Bush ended up with nothing from the US-India civilian nuclear deal. With France inking deals to build reactors right and left, with the Russians already taking care of our good friends in Tehran, and with nuclear power effectively frozen stateside, the India deal gives Bush a bone to throw to the domestic nuclear power industry.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Markets & Finance   

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Brush-Off

A new report from the UK's security and intelligence committee indicates that the CIA was so gung ho about its extraordinary rendition program that it disregarded 20 years of precedent by ignoring British "caveats" placed on shared intelligence:

Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna were flown by the CIA first to Afghanistan and then Guantanamo Bay, where el-Banna is still being held.

The committee said the UK services "used caveats specifically prohibiting any action being taken" when they handed over the intelligence on the men.

It says the UK security services did not foresee that the US authorities would disregard the caveats, given that they had honoured the caveat system for the past 20 years.

Then there's this, which is so dryly British that it's hard to keep a straight face when reading it:

"Although the US may take note of UK protests and concerns, it does not appear materially to affect their strategy..." the report warned.

Less amusing are the report's conclusions, which recommend overseeing intelligence cooperation at the ministerial level as long as there is even the suspicion that it might result in rendition. Yet another way in which Bush's conduct of the War on Terror has damaged America's interests.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"I heard that I'd transfused myself with my father's blood. That's absurd, I can tell you that with his blood, I would have tested positive for vodka."

-- Cyclist Alexander Vinokourov, contesting his expulsion from the Tour de France after testing positive for blood-doping. (Translated from the French.)

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Just What Would We Be Preventing?

Quick. Which one of these two sentences makes you more nervous?

1) The West might just have to learn to live with Iran's uranium enrichment program.
2) The West might just have to learn to live with Iran's nuclear program.

I'll bet you picked no. 2. But whichever one you picked, I'll bet this one gets you even more scared: The West might just have to learn to live with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

To explain, I first started thinking about the significance of how we describe the standoff over Iran's efforts to aquire uranium enrichment capacity yesterday while writing up the Le Figaro interview with Shimon Peres. At first I used "uranium enrichment program", but went back and changed it to "nuclear program". Primarily because that was the expression used in the original French, but also because it struck me as odd to discuss sanctions with regard to an uranium enrichment program, since there's absolutely nothing illegal or prohibited about Iran developing the capacity to enrich uranium.

I started thinking about it even more last night while reading Colin Gray's monograph on Preventive War for the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute. It's a fascinating read for anyone who's found themselves wondering about just what kind of role unilateral preventive military force should play in our counter-proliferation doctrine.

The article is so chock full of quotes that I was tempted to just lift the entire thing and clip it into a post last night. But to stick to the most salient arguments, Gray begins by specifying the difference between pre-emptive war (a first strike in anticipation of an already ordered or launched attack) and preventive war (a first strike in anticipation of a potential future threat, whether of attack or a less advantageous balance of power).

Despite a confusion in terms in the policy debates of the last four years, the Bush Doctrine actually emphasizes preventive intervention in the face of proliferation threats. But the lengthened time component inherent in a preventive strike leads to a greater margin for error:

...preventive action has to entail striking on the basis of guesswork about more or less distant threats. And threats, of course, are a matter of guesses about capabilities times political intentions. Capabilities can be predicted with some, one must commit only to some, confidence, but political intentions can alter overnight. (p. 17)

Gray then adds a third category, with an even longer temporal component, which he calls "precautionary war":

...a precautionary war is a preventive war waged not on the basis of any noteworthy evidence of ill intent or dangerous capabilities, but rather because those unwelcome phenomena might appear in the future. A precautionary war is a war waged "just in case," on the basis of the principle, "better safe than sorry." (p. 15)

I think it's clear that a military strike against Iran would not qualify as a pre-emptive war. The question remains whether it would be a preventive or a precautionary one. The answer, of course, depends on what motives one ascribes not only to the Iranian nuclear program (ie. civilian or military use), but also to a nuclear-armed Iranian regime (ie. aggressive or deterrent intent).

Certainly, an Iranian state in possession of a nuclear deterrent becomes much more difficult to manage. But does it necessarily become a threat? Or would we be attacking it "just in case"? Again, Gray:

Most powerful strategic ideas are attended by potential pathologies. In the case of preventive war, a leading malady inseparable from it is a quest for absolute security. After all, a policy of preventive war amounts to an unwillingness to live with certain kinds of risk. (pp. 12-13)

In other words, Iran's "nuclear ambitions", whatever they are as of today and however they may evolve with time, present the risk of a threat. Are we willing to live with that risk? I think it's a valid position to declare that, No, we can't afford even the risk of such a threat. But that means we run other risks:

...the military option cannot offer a guarantee of complete success, and incomplete success might amount to failure. Preventive war, though practicable in some cases, cannot prudently be viewed as a “silver bullet,” as a panacea. It is not certain to be swift, decisively victorious, and definitive in positive consequences. (p. 40)

The fundamental calculation for any American or American-sponsored strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, then, has to weigh the likelihood for success against the likely consequences of a strike, whether successful or not. Frankly, I'm pessimistic about that calculation. Iran's got a pretty solid range of military and/or terrorist parries, and that's not even counting third parties like Russia deciding that now's as good a time as any to challenge American hegemony:

History shows that the anticipation of major shifts in the military dimension of the balance of power can be periods of acute peril. Other states may well reason “now or never.” Certainly they will consider the argument that since war in the future is judged highly probable, the sooner it is launched, the better. (p. 38)

America is clearly at a relative lowpoint in terms of both our international influence and our ability to militarily project our power. Yet our ambitions, at least as expressed by the Bush Doctrine, remain grandiose:

Obviously, the concept, perhaps the principle, of preventive military action, is open to abuse. An aggressive imperial or hegemonic power could wage a series of wars, all for the purpose of preventing the emergence of future challenges to its burgeoning imperium. (p. 28)

Russia and China both realize that, and it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that they, too, might be tempted to check American overreach now, while we're hamstrung, rather than later, once we've recovered.

Which means that the potential risks of even a successful attack (Iranian reprisal, both direct and by proxy, with possible support from Russia and China) seem to far outweigh the risks of an Iranian regime capable only (for the time being) of enriching uranium.

Here's Gray's checklist for assessing a potential preventive strike:

  • Force must be the last resort, not temporally, but with respect to the evidence-based conviction that the nonmilitary instruments of policy cannot succeed.
  • There must be persuasive arguments to the effect that the conditions to be forcibly prevented would be too dangerous to tolerate.
  • The benefits of preventive military action must be expected to be far greater than the costs.
  • There must be a high probability of military success. The U.S. preventor would be risking its invaluable reputation, after all.
  • There should be some multinational support for the preventive action; indeed the more, the better. However, the absence of blessing by the world community cannot be permitted to function politically as a veto. (p. 52)

I don't think a strike against Iran meets any of these pre-requisites, and it certainly doesn't make sense in the timeframe now available to the Bush administration. Unfortunately, my gut feeling is that the Cheney Gang is motivated by another agenda altogether: endorse a doctrine of preemption-meaning-prevention is to challenge the slow and erratic, but nevertheless genuine, growth of a global norm that regards the resort to war as an extraordinary and even desperate measure. A policy that favors military prevention proclaims that it is acceptable to decide coolly and in good time that war is preferable to the conditions predicted for “peace.” (p. 44)

Should they succeed in forcing an American strike on Iran, I'm convinced that it will result in America being placed on a permanent wartime footing for many years to come. And that strikes me as a greater threat to this country than a nuclear-armed Iran.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this video montage of Alberto Gonzales' Senate testimony yesterday. In the event you haven't already watched it over at TPM, click through and do so.

There's a reason so many people are outraged over this administration's behavior. It's not due to an irrational, hysterical disorder. It's based on administration officials running ramshackle over the institutions of government and paying absolutely no price for it.

Why Congress doesn't introduce a motion to impeach Gonzales is beyond me. Even if it goes down in smoke, let the GOP votes be on record for 2008.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

l.a. winter blues (sonnet)

dear dad, i'm in los angeles. it's not
as warm as you would think. the sky is one
big cloud all day, and nights, i haven't got
a chance against the damp. without the sun
to heat things up, my bones get stiff. you'll laugh
at me, i know, and say i'm being too
dramatic (what with me not even half
your age) but still, i feel the years accu-
mulating. tell me, dad. i wonder if
it gets a little easier with time?
by now i know the clouds are bound to lift,
but is there more than just the endless climb?
i wouldn't think to ask, i'm sure, if only
the sky were not so grey and me so lonely.

Posted by judah in:  Verse & Prose   

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Prose And Cons

If you like flawless prose, rich character portraits and seamless development, click through and read Dominick Dunne's Vanity Fair article on the Phil Spector trial. Think Raymond Chandler meets Gore Vidal.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Dozens

Stephon Marbury deserves some credit for his Starbury line of sneakers, which delivers a contemporary sneaker (meaning one that you'd never catch me wearing in a million years but that the kids seem to like) for an affordable $14.95.

There's just one problem. Unless I'm badly mistaken, no matter how good the kicks look, if their principal selling point is how cheap they are, they will ultimately become known as the "poor kid's kicks". As in:

Kid #1: "Oh, dip. You seen Billy's new Starburyz? Them shitz is fly. I guess his daddy still ain't got no job."
Kidz #2, 3, 4 & 5: "Oh, snap. That shitz cold!"

On the other hand, pricing them at $135 in the store, but offering them for $15 through various outreach programs like the PAL, Boys Club and Big Brothers/Big Sisters would have achieved the same goal of getting fashionable sneakers into the hands of needy kids, without the stigmatizing jokes. Another method would be to offer one pair for $135, and a virtually indistinguishable pair for $15.

Still, much as I've never liked the on-court Marbury, the off-court version gets props.

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   Markets & Finance   

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Whack A Mole

This IraqSlogger graphic gives the lie to the claim that the Surge is diminishing sectarian violence in Baghdad. According to their analysis, an average of 20 bound corpses are found daily, many of them in the last few neighborhoods that are not already effectively "ethnically cleansed". Since American forces focus on areas where they've been attacked, rather than where sectarian violence is necessarily occuring, the killings have crept back up to pre-Surge levels in the last few months.

Of course, this directly contradicts the consensus right-wing narrative of a new strategy that needs to be given time to work. So it won't be long before we hear that the insurgents understand that the American public is monitoring sectarian violence as a litmus test of the Surge's success, and they're simply killing each other to take advantage of our lack of resolve.

Now's as good a time as any to wonder: At what point will the Bill Kristol crowd begin to question the distinction between an enemy that prevents us from achieving our objectives and failure?

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"It's all for them, all of Iraq's resources, water, electricity, security. It's as if it's their country, and we are guests staying here."

-- Raid Kadhim Kareem, an Iraqi watching construction of the American embassy in Baghdad.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Bush Legacy

The WaPo offers more evidence that the Bush administration, and in particular boy genius Karl Rove, has politicized everything. This time it's ambassadors (read: wealthy political donors) who were kept up to date on key Democratic electoral targets and battleground media markets.

I think that America is very likely to survive the Bush presidency. But my hunch is that Bush has introduced certain precedents that may very well lead to a slow demise of the American experiment. The problem with the Bush/Rove political approach is that, in the absence of catastrophic policy failures and Congressional corruption scandals, it works. Which means, as the logic of any arms race demonstrates, that it will eventually be adopted by both sides.

Similarly, the GOP tactic of stalling legislation through parliamentary procedures will soon spell the end of the minority party's ability to block legislation. The so-called "nuclear option", averted in 2005, will be adopted as soon as either party regains a sufficient majority to pass it.

Barring a popular groundswell in support of "government of the people, by the people, for the people," history will remember this administration not for actually disabling the institutions of American democracy, but for figuring out how to do so.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Super Cecilia Frees Bulgarian Nurses

Not content to single-handedly save the free world, Nicolas Sarkozy sent his wife, Cecilia, to win the release of the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor who had been sentenced first to death, then to life in prison for purposely infecting 400 Libyan children with the AIDS virus. While Cecilia was technically not empowered to actually engage in the negotiations, her presence in the EU delegation obviously added the needed Sarko touch, that "je ne sais quoi" that ultimately leads to success.

Nicolas himself will follow up with a visit to Qaddafi's Bedouin tent " help Libya rejoin the international community."

Next up for Sarko the Magnificent? Bringing Lyuba, the frozen mammoth cub, back to life. 

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sanctions, The Sun And The Saudis

Le Figaro has an interview with newly-elected Israeli President Shimon Peres. Asked whether he thinks sanctions will dissuade Iran from developing its nuclear program, his analysis was as insightful as any I've yet seen:

It all depends on the severity of the sanctions. The Iranians' force depends entirely on the world's division. If Iran is confronted with a united front, it will change...

This is something that Iran hawks would do well to consider. Iran has done absolutely nothing to actually earn its dramatically improved strategic position. If Iran's influence has risen, it's because the influence of all of its principal adversaries -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and the US -- has fallen. Consensus and unity are the keys to any attempts to re-contain Iran, and diplomacy is the key to building consensus and unity. Contrary to what the Cheney Gang claims, this is not a dovish pipedream. Peres identifies the four major cases where diplomacy was sufficient to turn back nuclear ambitions: Ukraine, S. Africa, Libya and N. Korea.

Another point Peres makes demonstrates the way in which the world has evolved in the past twenty years. It's no scoop, but with the triumph of neo-liberalism, the market has now replaced politics as the ultimate determinant. Here's how Peres proposes to engage with the Palestinians:

For me, economics constitutes the new credo. Politics deals with war, while economics effects relations... I propose to the Palestinians to first try to improve relations and, parallelly, to engage in negotiations... Colonialism belongs to another era.

I've long maintained that an Israeli Marshall Plan for the Palestinian territories, even in the face of terrorist attacks, would be the most effective way to isolate extremists on both sides of the "border". That seems even more the case in the aftermath of the Hamas-Fatah split, which to my mind magnifies the payoff for bold gestures.

Peres also demonstrated his well-known sense of humor. When asked whether he would use his presidency to promote a grand cause, he mentioned the fight against terrorism, but also the development of alternative energies:

We also want to develop solar energy, because we prefer to depend on the sun than on the Saudis. The sun is more permanent, more democratic... 

 (All quotes translated from the French.)

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Our spaceship Earth is a beautiful place."

-- Astronaut Clayton Anderson, just after dumping trash (including a 1,400 lb. tank of ammonia) into orbit from the International Space Station.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Surprise, Surprise

Regardless of what Frances Townsend might have to say about the matter, Pakistan remains resolutely opposed to an American attack against al-Qaeda on Pakistani territority.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   International Relations   

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Robbing Peter To Pay Paul

What happens when Sarkozy the Hardliner faces off against Sarkozy the Protectionist? The answer might go a long way towards revealing just how reliable an ally to America's neocon agenda Sarkozy's France will prove to be.

In this corner, Sarkozy the Hardliner, who via the Foreign Ministry announced that France supports tough new UN sanctions against Iran. In this corner, TotalFinaElf, France's quasi-national oil company that just announced it intends to increase its investment in Iran's energy sector.

Granted, Sarkozy doesn't actually control Total. As this brief corporate history points out, the French government divested 4% of its holdings in 1996, leaving it with only a 1% share in the company. But as recently as 1992, it held a 32% interest, and Total qualifies as one of the crown jewels of French industry.

So will Sarkozy have something to say about Total's courtship of Iran's oil mullahs? Stay tuned...

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   La France Politique   Markets & Finance   

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Well's Run Dry

When you weed out the minutae of Parliamentary procedure and the exacerbating factors of political animosity, there are really only four arguments presented by opponents to a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. First, the surge is either working or a step in the right direction that if maintained will eventually lead to a successful outcome. Second, an American withdrawal will severely damage our reputation and lead our allies and enemies to question our resolve. Third, if we leave Iraq now, it will allow elements of the global jihadi movement that have infiltrated the country to "follow us back home". And fourth, Iraq will become a killing field of sectarian violence if we leave without having stabilized the country.

The trouble with the first argument is that we've been hearing variations of it for four years now. And despite repeated right-wing attempts to undermine the press's credibility and call into question the American public's intestinal fortitude, most Americans just aren't buying it anymore. While it's certainly true that there are areas where progress is being made, taken as a whole, the picture is one of increasing violence and chaos. Even if we could turn the tide through continued military engagement -- and that's a big if -- the question now becomes at what price? This is where opponents of withdrawal have been less than forthcoming. How long is a long, hard slog? How many casualties can we expect during that time? How much of our financial resources will be ciphoned out of the Federal budget? To ask these questions is neither a sign of cowardice nor a lack of patriotism. To refuse to answer them, on the other hand, is.

The second argument is even flimsier. If our international reputation has been tarnished by the Iraq War, it isn't because we're now considering putting an end to the fiasco. It's because of how we conceived and prosecuted it to begin with. In fighting the Cold War, we understood that military preparedness wasn't enough to defeat a competing ideology. Putting a man on the moon and sending Peace Corps volunteers into the heart of global poverty were just as, if not more, important. The Global War On Terror has focused solely on repressive military responses. What's even worse, those responses have been poorly targeted (Iraq had nothing to do with the War on Terror) and incompetently carried out. Across the board, America's enemies are now taking pleasure in the difficulties we're encountering in Iraq and the losses we've suffered. And our allies, far fom questioning our resolve, have taken to questioning our judgment.

The third argument would be laughable if it weren't so tragic. To begin with, because Iraq has become a refuge for global jihadists because of the chaos caused by the War (which allows them to train new recruits in live-fire, battlefield conditions), not in spite of it. But even more significantly, global jihadists are already returning from Iraq to set up recruiting stations and operational cells in Western Europe. From there they will have easier access to not only European targets, but also American ones, through the use of European-born, second-generation recruits.

If there is an argument that causes advocates of withdrawal to pause, it is the prospect of Iraq descending into an even-bloodier hell of internecine and sectarian violence once we've left. No one can take this possibility lightly. And yet, if the questions of cost, likelihood of success, and the impact on American interests are valid reasons not to intiate direct military interventions in civil wars and sectarian violence (Darfur, Somalia, and Congo to name a few), then they're also valid reasons for bringing a failed military intervention to an end. Preventing an Iraqi bloodletting is in the interests of all the major players in the region, which means that there's a possibility of avoiding one even after we've withdrawn from the middle of the battlefield.

What's obvious is that, opponents' baseless arguments to the contrary, we're heading inexorably towards a phased withdrawal of troops. What's at play is how many needless causalties we'll incur before Congressional Republicans gather the courage to reject the President's failed policies, and what we leave in place afterwards. I still advocate a contingency force stationed out of the line of fire for a 3-5 year period, ideally under an international mandate. That will become less likely, however, should the political endgame become a question of rats jumping off a sinking ship.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Friday, July 20, 2007

My Age Is The Same As The Olive Tree

That's what one Iraqi man had tattooed on his shoulder so that his parents would be able to identify him in the event his unrecognizable corpse ends up in a garbage dump, or a morgue, or floating in a river. It's become a commonplace response to the constant threat of sudden death.

And according to the article, it's not just to help families achieve emotional closure. A new racket spreading through the country involves using mobile phones collected at the sites of suicide bombings to convince families that a loved one has been kidnapped. Once the ransom has been paid, the "kidnappers" reveal that the loved one is in fact dead.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Friday, July 20, 2007

9/11 Truthiness

On the same day that Ann Althouse ably derides 9/11 conspiracy theorists, Paul Craig Roberts, a former Reagan appointee, declares that politically-speaking, Republicans need another terror attack so badly that "...if al Qaeda is not going to do it, it is going to be orchestrated." Which offers very little in the way of reasonable subject matter to actually discuss, but does provide a perfect excuse for a post I've been wanting to do for a while about 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Now, I'm not a 9/11 Truther. I find people who are absolutely convinced that 9/11 was orchestrated by the CIA and the Bush administration somewhat hard to bear. But by the same token, I find people who refuse under any circumstances to entertain the possibility that there was a conspiracy a bit naive.

After all, it's widely speculated that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor and allowed it to happen in order to justify a war he wanted with Japan. It's common knowledge that the British knew about various German air attacks on British cities, including Birmingham, but did nothing to stop them so as not to reveal that they'd broken the German communications code.

Beyond individual and institutional aberrations like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Love Canal, the logic of statescraft and geopolitics is inherently amoral, and involves calculations that if widely known would render international relations impossible to manage. We've learned this repeatedly from historical records that decades later revealed how little we really knew of what was going on behind the scenes in modern government. 

Did the CIA kill Kennedy? Beats the heck out of me, and that's after two stints in Big D, where every third person you meet has got a "theory". But, hey, it wouldn't turn my world upside down to find out they did. Same goes for a government conspiracy to conduct or allow a domestic terrorist attack. On the merits, it strikes me as a longshot. But it wouldn't shake the foundations of my understanding of how the world operates to eventually find out that it did in fact occur.

It's also worth noting that in the early-Nineties in NYC, the dominant paranoid conspiracy narrative running like a common thread through the  rap, reggae, New Age, and vegetarian underground scenes involved a domestic terrorist attack resulting in an expanded police state, perpetual war, and ultimately a dictatorship.

Or not. 

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, July 20, 2007

President Cheney

Well at least for two hours tomorrow, anyway, it will be official. After that, they'll go back to the regular puppet show.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Spy vs. Spy, Redux

If you like spy novels, click through and read this fascinating analysis of the state of play between American and Iranian intelligence operations, in light of Iran's recent string of arrests of Iranian-American academics and journalists. The author, Mahan Abedin, cautions against assuming the innocence of the arrested academics. But then he explains exactly how it's also possible that they'd been recruited by the CIA without even knowing it, through innocuous "consultancy" outfits set up in the West. Either way, it looks like I wasn't that far off the mark.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Softcore Clinton

Ummm, maybe I'm missing something, but I don't understand why I keep seeing this referred to as showing cleavage.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Politics   Say What?   

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Black Hole Rules

As required by the Military Commissions Act, President Bush has just signed an Executive Order interpreting the Geneva Conventions prohibition of torture. A quick reading of the Order leaves me guardedly optimistic that the CIA interrogation program has now been officially prohibited from using torture as most sane people understand that term.

To begin with, it clearly locates the definition of torture in the context of the US Constitution, with all the rights and protections it guarantees:

"Cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" means the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

Later, it prohibits torture as defined by the US Code, as well as a long list of other practices, including anything " serious that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency..."

There remain, however, a number of troubling aspects. While use of the detainee program is limited to members of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associates who are likely to have information about terrorist attacks or the whereabouts of terrorist leaders, the Order leaves it up to the Director of the CIA to identify just who that refers to. Also, nowhere does the Order extend habeas corpus rights to detainees.

And since it always pays to be somewhat skeptical of the Bush administration's sincerity, the actual Constitutional amendments it cites could conceivably provide some loophole wiggle room. The 8th Amendment very clearly prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments".

But the 5th Amendment, which guarantees due process, makes an exception for "... cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger..." And the 14th Amendment refers to equal protection under the law across State jurisdictions, which I can't imagine will apply to non-nationals held in a Soviet-era Polish dungeon.

On the whole, good news. But the Devil will be in the details of the codified instructions delivered to actual CIA interrogators in the field.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Tour de France

In a major cycling development, the Lil' Feller pedaled his first twenty or so meters without the training wheels this afternoon. What a quintessential moment of fatherhood: Standing still, calling out, "I've gotcha, I've gotcha," watching him pedal off in the distance. It's that slight turn of his head -- when he realized that I couldn't possibly be holding on while standing fifteen feet behind him -- that I'll always remember. That and the look of gleeful wonder when he realized that he'd done it all by himself.

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

the passion of st. john the baptist (sonnet)

soon after salome had finished dancing
and john the baptist knew this world no more,
a servant of the king who'd been romancing
a queen's maid stared upon the littered floor.
before his feet the head of the baptizer
still fed a slow-expanding crimson pool.
the servant knew at once he'd be no wiser
for witnessing a spectacle so cruel.
the prophet's eyes recalled those of his lover,
though gazing out from an extinguished soul.
'i'd pay as much,' he thought, 'if she'd uncover
the seventh veil. but whose the head t'would roll?'
then kneeling to the floor began to clean
the blood while dreaming of the maid, his queen.

Posted by judah in:  Verse & Prose   

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Iraq Reconstruction, Nigerian Style

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later, but the Nigerian scheme just went Iraqi. Here's an e-mail I just received from a certain Abd al-Rahman:

Dear sir,


My name is ( ABD-AL-RAHMAN) and this is an urgent contract.We have recieved an allocation for a contract to supply your company’s Product, this is a Multi Million Dollars worth of international supplies to Iraq.

My benefactor in this project is a high level Iraqi Government official who has mandated me to seek for your confidential cooperation and participation in this contract.If your company is capable of supplying or help to re-construct iraq, You would be paid cash before you supply. If you can assist us, then kindly contact me immediately via the details below,and make sure to furnish me with your full company profile,full names,direct telephone and fax numbers,and include your direct email address.

As soon as we recieve your response, we shall get back to you with all details to commence.

Thank you.


Anyone who feels like doing business with him, feel free to drop him a line.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Strategic Wish List

The Army War College has just published its annual Key Strategic Issues List, which gives military researchers a head's up on what kind of strategic questions the Army and DoD would like to see answered. So, what's on the Pentagon's mind? Here are a few subjects that caught my eye, for no particular reason:

Reconceptualizing the “war” on terror: Is it a war, and, if so, what is its nature and how should it be prosecuted?...

Challenges and opportunities of employing non-governmental militias in counterinsurgency efforts...

Should the war on drugs be integrated into the war on terror?...

What is the impact of under-equipped active duty and reserve units responding to WMD or natural disasters, or other Civil Support missions?...

Information, misinformation, and disinformation. How can DoD manage these in an information-rich world?...

Strategic implications of outer space as a theater of war...

Responding to the collapse of strategically significant states...

Globalization’s impact on the military-industrial base...

Planning for operations in areas with primitive and austere infrastructures...

Implications for the All-Volunteer Force fighting the “long” war...

How will the fact that fewer members of Congress have served in the armed services affect future Defense policy?...

Strategic implications of democratic, but anti-U.S. governments, in the Middle East...

How should the U.S. respond to acts of genocide (e.g., Rwanda, Sudan)?...

Balancing U.S. security interests between India and Pakistan...

Implications for U.S. security of a post-Castro Cuba...

There are also more detailed subject headings towards the end. Worth a glance if you'd like to know what the Pentagon thinks are the burning strategic questions of the day.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

That's Cold

Keep your eye on this one. Yesterday, President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the Treasury Dept. to freeze the assets of anyone "threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq". My hunch is that it's a way to target Iranian assets. But then again it also targets anyone...

...undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people;

So I suppose they could be going after Halliburton, too.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Cultural Onslaught

In response to Kuma War's Assault On Iran video game, where players carry out an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, an Iranian student group has introduced a new video game called Rescue The Nuke Scientist. (I'm thinking there's a "lost in translation" thing going on with the title here.)

Players must rescue an Iranian husband-and-wife team of nuclear engineers who have been kidnapped while on a religious pilgrimage to Iraq and spirited off to Israel. According to the group (the same outfit responsible for the 2005 "World Without Zionism" conference where Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map"), "This is our defence against the enemy's cultural onslaught."

At the risk of taking this sort of lunacy too seriously, what's interesting about the two games is the stark contrast in their psychological profiles. Here's the description of the American player's mission:

As a Special Forces soldier in this playable mission, you will infiltrate Iran's nuclear facility at Natanz, located 150 miles south of Iran's capital of Teheran. But breaching the security cordon around the hardened target won't be easy. Your team's mission: Infiltrate the base, secure evidence of illegal uranium enrichment, rescue your man on the inside, and destroy the centrifuges that promise to take Iran into the nuclear age. Never before has so much hung in the balance... millions of lives, and the very future of democracy could be at stake.

Here's the Iranian mission:

Game players take on the role of Iranian security forces carrying out a mission code-named "The Special Operation", which involves penetrating fortified locations to free the nuclear scientists, who are moved from Iraq to Israel.

To complete the game successfully, players have to enter Israel to rescue the nuclear scientists, kill US and Israeli troops and seize their laptops containing secret information.

It's hard to miss the sense of victimhood and narrow national pride that drives the Iranian mission, as opposed to the heroic grandiosity of the American one. And just as I was about to type out, Not exactly the profile of an aggressive expansionist state, it occured to me that a sense of victimhood and national pride are in fact exactly the profile of quite a few aggressive expansionist states. 

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Say What?   

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Psychic Demolition

It's widely known that the enhanced interrogation techniques used at Gitmo and in the CIA's black site prisons were reverse-engineered from the military's Cold War-era training programs for resisting torture at the hands of Communist interrogators. Now in a must-read article in Vanity Fair, Katherine Eban reveals that two CIA-contracted psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, have been central to the development of the techniques, which are likened to a "psychic demolition" designed to get a detainee "... to reveal everything by severing his sense of personality and scaring him almost to death":

According to a person familiar with the methods, the basic approach was to "break down [the detainees] through isolation, white noise, completely take away their ability to predict the future, create dependence on interrogators."

But the Communist interrogation tactics on which the new methods are based were designed to generate useful propaganda (ie. false confessions and anti-American declarations), not useful intelligence. Why, then, were the new methods adopted so wholeheartedly? Eban traces the explanation to the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the al-Qaeda lieutenant who under interrogation revealed the identities of Sheikh Khalid Mohammed and José Padilla, among others:

While it was the F.B.I.'s rapport-building that had prompted Zubaydah to talk, the C.I.A. would go on to claim credit for breaking Zubaydah, and celebrate Mitchell as a psychological wizard who held the key to getting hardened terrorists to talk. Word soon spread that Mitchell and Jessen had been awarded a medal by the C.I.A. for their advanced interrogation techniques. While the claim is impossible to confirm, what matters is that others believed it. The reputed success of the tactics was "absolutely in the ether," says one Pentagon civilian who worked on detainee policy.

Since then, Mitchell and Jessen have set up a series of private consultant companies that provide training for interrogators. And according to Eban, business ain't bad:

The principals of Mitchell, Jessen & Associates are raking in money. According to people familiar with their compensation, they get paid more than $1,000 per day plus expenses, tax free, for their overseas work. It beats military pay. Mitchell has built his dream house in Florida. He also purchased a BMW through one of his companies. "Taxpayers are paying at least half a million dollars a year for these two knuckleheads to do voodoo," says one of the people familiar with their pay arrangements.

The fact that psychologists are getting rich off of a method designed to demolish psyches is chilling. The fact that it's the United States government writing the checks is glacial.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Now, How About JFK?

It's good to be the King. When something's not right, you just order someone to fix it:

King Abdullah on Monday said he was dissatisfied with bureaucratic procedures at the Queen Alia International Airport, and ordered measures to facilitate traveller movement and comfort.

"This is not the first time I visited the airport. Every time we take measures to facilitate procedures for travellers, we return and find the same obstacles again," the King told officials at the airport during a visit...

The Monarch gave airport authorities seven days to agree on one body that will be in charge of "solving all the problems as soon as possible".

I'm not so sure I'd want to be the head of the airport, though.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Heads They Win, Tails We Lose

What exactly does this prove? According to the Dept. of Defense, at least 30 former Gitmo detainees have "returned to the fight" after their release:

These former detainees successfully lied to US officials, sometimes for over three years. Many detainees later identified as having returned to fight against the U.S. with terrorists falsely claimed to be farmers, truck drivers, cooks, small-scale merchants, or low-level combatants.

Other common cover stories include going to Afghanistan to buy medicines, to teach the Koran, or to find a wife. Many of these stories appear so often, and are subsequently proven false that we can only conclude they are part of their terrorist training.

Now it could be as the DoD says, and the former detainees did, in fact, lie their way out of Gitmo. Of course, another possible explanation is that the detainees were telling the truth in Gitmo, and their experiences there so embittered them that upon their release they went and joined the folks gunning for American GI's.

Either way, the implication is that the coercive interrogation techniques employed there don't actually work. And that it's a safe bet, given what we know about who's actually joining Al Qaeda in Iraq, that at least some of the sixteen Gitmo detainees transferred to Saudi Arabia today will soon be setting off IED's in Baghdad.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Agua Negra

We've all heard about how the US military subcontracts security assignments in Iraq out to American mercenary outfits like Blackwater. Now maybe this has been covered before and I just missed it, but it turns out that companies like Blackwater subcontract their security assignments in Iraq out to South American mercenary outfits that recruit ex-soldiers from places like Peru, Ecuador, Honduras and Chile.

One Chilean legislator estimated that as many as 1,000 Chilean mercenaries are currently in Iraq, and a United Nations panel headed by José Luis Gomez del Prado is currently in Chile investigating claims of poor training and misleading recruiting practices:

"Presently, we know that there are ex-military and ex-police recruited by a Chilean company with headquarters in Uruguay, a company that has the support of a U.S. company," said Gomez del Prado. "These [private security] companies come to Latin American countries and recruit people for $31 a day, which is what we just saw in Peru. And once they are on a plane or bus, recruits are made to sign an English contract with a sister company from the United States, a contract that leaves them completely unprotected."

Elsewhere the article refers to wages ranging from $3,000 for guarding an embassy to $12,000 for participating in riskier assignments. That explains why so many recruits from these poor countries are willing to go to Iraq. Poor training and lousy equipment explain why so many of them break their contracts and come back early.

Just one more way in which the perverse effects of the Iraq War and its peripheral operations ripple outward in concentric circles.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Las Americas   

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Monday, July 16, 2007


A Belarus state security official has announced the arrest of a Polish spy ring that had been gathering classified information on Belarus and Russian air and missile defense systems. Now maybe I'm underestimating the strike capabilities of the Polish Air Force, but something tells me that Warsaw wasn't necessarily the final destination for the information the Poles were intent on gathering.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Russia   

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Russian Humor

The Russian army chief's advice to Poles in the event they go through with plans to house an American missile defense system? Buy gas masks.

On a more serious note, he explains that Russian concerns about the system have more to do with future upgrades, and the way it fits into a global deployment that the Russians see as effectively encircling them, than with the system as it is currently proposed. 

Posted by Judah in:  Russia   

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Planet Prince

I mentioned yesterday that I spent a good part of this past weekend discussing the current state of the music and recording industry with a friend who's been responsible for signing and producing many of the last decade's most prominent French recording artists. When talking about the changes taking place, he referred to Prince as someone who "got it" very early on.

While many people had written him off because his album sales had suffered badly over the past decade, my friend explained that in fact Prince was busy figuring out exactly how to adapt to the new ways music would be diffused and consumed. As an example, he mentioned that in advance of a two-month stint of London performances, Prince would be including free copies of his new CD, Planet Earth, in the British tabloid, The Mail On Sunday. Here's how Prince responded to the outcry from music retailers:

"It's direct marketing and I don't have to be in the speculation business of the record industry which is going through a lot of tumultuous times right now," he said when asked why he was giving his music away.

A spokesman for the singer told The Mail on Sunday: "Prince's only aim is to get music direct to those who want to hear it."

That's only half true, though. Yes, actual mechanical copies of recorded music will soon serve only as promotional devices. But the publicity they generate will be used to generate income through publishing rights and licensing fees. Companies willing to pay to use a song to create a brand or product identity will eventually subsidize the bulk of the cost of recording and diffusing recorded music.

In other words, selling out will simply become selling. And we will pay for recorded music through the products it inspires us to buy.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   Markets & Finance   

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Marguerite & Charles

I just got back from a friend's country house in Ardeche, about five hours drive from here on the winding back roads that I prefer. The area is wild and road access is difficult, but it had been an industrial center during the 18th and 19th centuries due to the waterways that connected the valley to the Rhone river. Now the industry is long gone, and the old stone factories are being transformed into country homes for Dutch and Parisian families.

My friend just bought the place this winter, so we spent the first few days clearing brush and equipping the house. Then we walked the property, which includes a peaceful chestnut forest up on a high ridge.

He had mentioned his elderly neighbors, Marguerite & Charles, who according to the previous owner managed to hang on in their old age over on the other side of the ridge. While we were up there we passed by their house and, sure enough, Marguerite was out watering her plants, so we stopped in front of the gate and introduced ourselves.

She invited us in and offered us some apple juice. Then she explained that Charles had passed away two months ago, and that she would be leaving for a nursing home on Monday. Her husband's family had lived in the house for four hundred years.

"Everything's the same," she said, gesturing towards the valley below as she showed us out, "except there are no more sheep and goats."

It was a poignant echo of the running conversation my friend and I had been having for the previous three days. He was just offered a severance package by a major French record label, and we'd been discussing what the music and recording industry will eventually look like once it restructures in response to the new technologies that have undermined its revenue model.

The technological advances of the past fifteen years have had an enormous impact on the social, cultural and economic landscape. But they're just the accelerated culmination of a four hundred-year economic cycle, unevenly distributed across the planet, that seems at times exhilarating, at times incoherent. Some of us wonder what happened to vinyl. Others wonder what happened to the factories. Still others wonder what happened to the sheep.

Marguerite seemed pleased when I explained that my first name was a Biblical name from the old testament.

"That's good," she said. "We need to bring the past back to life."

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Help Wanted

When I first launched this site, I'd already imagined it as a group project. (The proof is in the "Contact Us" link on the navbar.) Now that summer's here and I'll be spending more time with the Lil' Feller, it's becoming clear that I'll need some help keeping new content up.

So if you or anyone you know might be interested in contributing, drop me a line through e-mail or the comments. Let me know what your areas of interest are, and how much involvement you'd be willing to commit to.

This might be a good time to ask for some feedback, too. No reader survey, but just what you find most satisfying or annoying about the site. In particular I'm interested in knowing how much use you get out of the headline and blog links in the sidebars.

Oh, yeah. And if you like the site, spread the word. Readership is building nicely but, hey, what the heck? The more the merrier.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Everybody Watches

If you've got a second (more like an hour), check out this documentary about the 1992 Presidential campaign. The director, Brian Singer, spent a year monitoring raw satellite news feeds. The result, titled "Spin", is a surprisingly coherent edit of some of the more fascinating off-camera exchanges, most notably between Larry King and the three candidates.

At the very least, zap through to the last five minutes where, as Tipper Gore prepares for an interview, a campaign aide explains how the Clinton campaign headquarters monitors all the raw feeds also. Which is how they were able to respond to news coverage, and Bush campaign commercials, before they aired. And know that Tipper needed her makeup adjusted.

(Via The New York Nerd)

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Saturday, July 7, 2007

Pre-School's Out

The Lil' Feller just finished his last year of pre-school, so we're down on the coast chilling. Which explains why I'm not so bothered by the internet connectivity issues I'm experiencing.

Yesterday we took a long boatride to the Island of Sainte Marguerite to visit the prison where the Man in the Iron Mask was held. It was actually pretty cush as far as seventeen century prisons go. The most depressing thing was the not one, not two, but three rows of iron bars between the window and the view of the sea below.

Anyway, posting will be as possible until Monday. 

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

We Hold These Truths... be self-evident, that it's on days like Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Super Bowl Sunday that expats get real homesick, that I won't be finding any Fourth of July barbecues in the South of France, and that at least one of you reading this will be tossing back a beer and spreading sauerkraut on a dog at some point during the day's festivities. So think of me when you do.

Happy Fourth, everyone.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"This is not the coalition of the willing. It's the coalition of the billing."

-- Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, on the high number of private contractors in Iraq. 

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Meltdown

You might have heard about the lake in the Chilean Patagonia that suddenly disappeared last month. The initial hypothesis was that an earthquake that recently hit the region might have opened up a fissure on the lake's floor, thereby draining the water. But a recent flyover by Chilean experts revealed a breach in the glacial barrier that served to dam the lake. The likely cause of the breach was a rise in the lake's water level, which in turn was due to increased glacial runoff as a result of higher regional temperatures. So while the phenomenon is a common occurence in the Patagonia's lake systems, in this case it was exacerbated by global warming.

Those of you with small children will already be familiar with the science behind the story, since it's basically the premise behind Ice Age 2.

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Detainee Abuse, Kurdish Edition

According to Human Rights Watch, detainees in Iraqi Kurdistan are held in overcrowded and unhygienic facilities, and are routinely subjected to torture, including electric shock and beatings with cables. Among the prisoners are suspected insurgents taken in US-Iraqi raids, which raises the question of whether these are outsourced interrogations.

To their credit, the Kurds cooperated with HR Watch, and have taken steps to address some of the abuses, although HR Watch qualifies the measures so far as inadequate. But I've long suspected that the myth of the Kurdish "good guys" is really just a cover for a little corner of stability that we desperately need in Iraq, both now and in the longterm. With time, we'll certainly find out more about just how much that stability has cost.

Update: Here's a link to the report

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   Iraq   

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Terrorist Pro-Am Circuit

In the aftermath of the London-Glasgow failed attacks, a lot of counter-terrorism experts have been ridiculing the wannabe terrorists' incompetence, leading Noah Shachtman over at Danger Room to pose the question, "Were these bombers Beavises?  Or was this a legitimate threat?" Intuitively, the answer seems to be clearly, "Yes, and yes." And this article in Le Figaro explains why.

According to the counter-terrorism experts cited in the article, the London attacks demonstrate not that highly-trained al-Qaeda operatives have been replaced by bumbling amateurs, but that they've been supplemented by them. In addition, contrary to previous waves of militants, who were recruited, these next-generation, "homegrown" threats tend to be self-motivated. They find their way to terrorism by themselves, with no need for extended conditioning to prepare them to cross the line into violence, and make contact with established networks only for reasons of legitimacy and technical support.

In other words, established global jihadist networks can throw the amateurs into the front lines at little to no cost or investment. The downside risk if they fail is minimal, and the upside benefits if they succeed enormous. In the meantime, the A-Team bides its time, planning major strikes with its elite operatives.

So maybe the London guys were Beavises, but that doesn't necessarily make their buddies Buttheads.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Libby Walks

Two things strike me about President Bush's decision to commute Scooter Libby's jail sentence. First, in his statement accompanying the order, here's how Bush explains his decision to act now:

I have said throughout this process that it would not be appropriate to comment or intervene in this case until Mr. Libby’s appeals have been exhausted. But with the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.

The problem is that Libby's appeals were not exhausted. It's just that his basis for appealing was so weak that the court saw no reason to release him on bail pending the outcome. Which means this is exclusively about making sure Libby never sees the inside of a jail cell.

Second, and more significant, is Bush's well-known record of denying death sentence reviews based on only cursory briefings while Governor of Texas. The message this sends is startlingly clear: Keeping one of Cheney's protégés out of Club Fed is worth considerably more attention than making sure a potentially innocent person isn't executed.

The President made a point of listing the many lasting humiliations Libby's sentence will impose on him. To which I'd add one: Paris Hilton cried for her mommy. But at least she did the time.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Straight No Chaser

In an effort to keep campaign coverage to a bare minimum, here's my Election 2008 Report for the week: George W. Bush is no longer President of the United States, Hillary Clinton is not yet President of the United States, and John McCain will never be President of the United States.

That's all for now.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Our Man In Turkmenistan

Ken Silverstein provoked quite the little brouhaha over at Harper's with his Abscam-style reporting on Washington, DC lobby shops and their willingness to shill for brutal dictatorships in exchange for hefty fees. Some folks questioned his undercover methods in posing as an associate of the government of Turkmenistan. I'm just wondering if President Bush's decision to waive trade sanctions for Turkmenistan (under the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974) was a freebie the lobbyists organized before they realized Silverstein wasn't on the up and up.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Corporal Cutten Paste

I've mentioned before how the US Army's official news page carries a sidebar with links to often-critical coverage of the US Army. I'm not sure if this is official policy, or if it's just the result of some malcontent HTML programmer buried deep in the bowels of the Pentagon. I prefer to think of it as the latter, even if it is unlikely that he or she would go unnoticed for this long.

At any rate, my favorite Army programmer just outdid himself, by linking to this story about the deteriorating mental health of American GI's over at Press TV. In case you're unfamiliar with Press TV, it's the brand-new, 24-hour news service launched today by... the Iranian government. (Among their other breaking stories is one about the US decision to dust off a plan to deploy NATO forces in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.)

In all seriousness, though, I wonder if the army could find a way to be less heavy-handed in terms of media management, without necessarily broadcasting the enemy's propaganda.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Media Coverage   

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Monday, July 2, 2007

T Meets X

In yet another troubling indication of China's increased military spending and the growing threat it poses to American interests, the Chinese military is investing 6 billion Yuan to upgrade its uniforms. After years of being shown up by their peers in international peacekeeping operations, Chinese soldiers will soon be able to puff out their chests and feel proud:

Working from the "97 Style", designers refined the cut and the sizing of the uniforms to enhance the appearance of the wearers. The new casual uniform for spring and autumn fit more tightly because they have been taken in the chest, waist and bust. Female servicemen will find their shoe heels have grown by a centimeter from the previous four centimeters...

"Letter H uniforms have been ditched once and for all, they're a thing of the past," said Wu Yu, a QEI senior engineer. "Now we have letter T uniforms for men and letter X for women."

When compared with military uniforms from other countries, H-shaped uniforms appear baggy and dull. Men in T-shaped uniforms that highlight shoulder breadth look taller and stronger; women in X-shaped uniforms featuring contracted waists are much sassier, she explained.

And as Maxim's "Girls of the IDF" feature proved, we know how dangerous sassy soldiers are.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Sarkozy The Pragmatic

What do you call an economic program that at the same time: a) reduces taxes for the highest incomes and deregulates labor laws; b) postpones deficit-reduction in order to pump 10-15 million euros in federal subsidies back into the economy; and c) maintains the state's prerogative to defend national industry from foreign competition? Is it liberal? Keynesian? Or protectionist? (Or to put it another way, is it Thatcherism? Blairism? Or Chavezism?)

That's the question Le Monde poses today, and the answer, in case you don't know by now, is that it's Sarkozyism. Because what most American conservatives conveniently overlooked in their rush to celebrate France's "return to sanity" this spring is that Nicolas Sarkozy is first and foremost a politician.

Or pragmatic. Or opportunistic. Call it what you like. But if he has to choose between theoretical coherence and keeping his electorate happy, you can kiss the textbook good-by. As Dominique Plihon, a leftist professor put it:

Nicolas Sarkozy practices right-wing "Gramsci-ism": It's the ideas that are at the service of the conquest of power, and not power that is at the service of an idea. (Translated from the French.)

That doesn't mean that he won't follow up this year's modest reforms with a more ambitious second round next year. But he's willing to take what he can get, and wait for the rest, as long as it keeps the voters happy.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

one-fifty-two (pacheco pass)

these are only words
that brush the face
of the wildgrass

    like rippling waves
    of wind
    and shadow

no different from the road
racing past the picture-
book hillsides

no different from all that
passes for memory

    the radio lets go its grasp
    of the fm broadcast
    just as i let go my grasp
    of this world

    there is a good chance
    none of these words ever

funny the car clings
stubbornly to the road

Posted by judah in:  Verse & Prose   

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