Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 25th, 2007

Thumb on the scale again

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McClatchy Washington Bureau:

U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren’t counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn’t include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

President Bush explained why in a television interview on Tuesday. “If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory,” he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.

Others, however, say that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence of how well the Baghdad security plan is protecting the civilian population – one of the surge’s main goals.

“Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them,” said James Denselow, an Iraq specialist at London-based Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank.

Bush administration officials have pointed to a dramatic decline in one category of deaths – the bodies dumped daily in Baghdad streets, which officials call sectarian murders – as evidence that the security plan is working. Bush said this week that that number had declined by 50 percent, a number confirmed by statistics compiled by McClatchy Newspapers.

But the number of people killed in explosive attacks is rising, the same statistics show – up from 323 in March, the first full month of the security plan, to 365 through April 24.

Overall, statistics indicate that the number of violent deaths has declined significantly since December, when 1,391 people died in Baghdad, either executed and found dead on the street or killed by bomb blasts. That number was 796 in March and 691 through April 24.

Nearly all of that decline, however, can be attributed to a drop in executions, most of which were blamed on Shiite Muslim militias aligned with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Much of the decline occurred before the security plan began on Feb. 15, and since then radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stand down.

According to the statistics, which McClatchy reporters in Baghdad compile daily from Iraqi police reports, 1,030 bodies were found in December. In January, that number declined 32 percent, to 699. It declined to 596 February and again to 473 in March.

Deaths from car bombings and improvised explosive devices, however, increased from 361 in December to a peak of 520 in February before dropping to 323 in March.

In that same period, the number of bombings has increased, as well. In December, there were 65 explosive attacks. That number was unchanged in January, but it rose to 72 in February, 74 in March and 81 through April 24.

More U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren’t counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn’t include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

President Bush explained why in a television interview on Tuesday. “If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory,” he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.

Others, however, say that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence of how well the Baghdad security plan is protecting the civilian population – one of the surge’s main goals.

“Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them,” said James Denselow, an Iraq specialist at London-based Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank.

Bush administration officials have pointed to a dramatic decline in one category of deaths – the bodies dumped daily in Baghdad streets, which officials call sectarian murders – as evidence that the security plan is working. Bush said this week that that number had declined by 50 percent, a number confirmed by statistics compiled by McClatchy Newspapers.

But the number of people killed in explosive attacks is rising, the same statistics show – up from 323 in March, the first full month of the security plan, to 365 through April 24.

Overall, statistics indicate that the number of violent deaths has declined significantly since December, when 1,391 people died in Baghdad, either executed and found dead on the street or killed by bomb blasts. That number was 796 in March and 691 through April 24.

Nearly all of that decline, however, can be attributed to a drop in executions, most of which were blamed on Shiite Muslim militias aligned with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Much of the decline occurred before the security plan began on Feb. 15, and since then radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stand down.

According to the statistics, which McClatchy reporters in Baghdad compile daily from Iraqi police reports, 1,030 bodies were found in December. In January, that number declined 32 percent, to 699. It declined to 596 February and again to 473 in March.

Deaths from car bombings and improvised explosive devices, however, increased from 361 in December to a peak of 520 in February before dropping to 323 in March.

In that same period, the number of bombings has increased, as well. In December, there were 65 explosive attacks. That number was unchanged in January, but it rose to 72 in February, 74 in March and 81 through April 24.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 6:30 pm

Wondering about Alberto

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It’s not good to be too cynical, and I fell to thinking, “What if Alberto is telling the truth, and he simply doesn’t remember any of those things?” In his conversation today with Sen. Pryor, Alberto also didn’t remember his conversations with Pryor, and Pryor had to remind him. In that case, there would be no point in faking forgetfulness: the two of them were both there, and Pryor clearly remembered.

So maybe Gonzales really cannot remember things. Maybe he has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Obviously, in either case (whether he has Alzheimer’s or whether he’s lying about not being able to remember), he should resign. But maybe the poor guy is simply sick.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 6:09 pm

New science portal on Friday

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Check out the video. Awesome.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Health, Science

Martial law coming soon?

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The reader safely in the Netherlands points out this ominous article:

The Defense Authorization Act of 2006, passed on Sept. 30, empowers President George W. Bush to impose martial law in the event of a terrorist “incident,” if he or other federal officials perceive a shortfall of “public order,” or even in response to antiwar protests that get unruly as a result of government provocations.

The media and most of Capitol Hill ignored or cheered on this grant of nearly boundless power. But now that the president’s arsenal of authority is swollen and consecrated, a few voices of complaint are being heard. Even the New York Times recently condemned the new law for “making martial law easier.”

It only took a few paragraphs in a $500 billion, 591-page bill to raze one of the most important limits on federal power. Congress passed the Insurrection Act in 1807 to severely restrict the president’s ability to deploy the military within the United States. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 tightened these restrictions, imposing a two-year prison sentence on anyone who used the military within the U.S. without the express permission of Congress. But there is a loophole: Posse Comitatus is waived if the president invokes the Insurrection Act.

Section 1076 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 changed the name of the key provision in the statute book from “Insurrection Act” to “Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order Act.” The Insurrection Act of 1807 stated that the president could deploy troops within the United States only “to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” The new law expands the list to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition”—and such “condition” is not defined or limited.

These new pretexts are even more expansive than they appear. FEMA proclaims the equivalent of a natural disaster when bad snowstorms occur, and Congress routinely proclaims a natural disaster (and awards more farm subsidies) when there is a shortfall of rain in states with upcoming elections. A terrorist “incident” could be something as stupid as the flashing toys scattered around Boston last fall.

More at the link. Sure you want to read it?

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 3:09 pm

Fascist America in 10 easy steps

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Naomi Wolf has an interesting article in the Guardian on how to transform America to a fascist state. The article explains each of the 10 steps, which are:

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
  2. Create a gulag
  3. Develop a thug caste
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system
  5. Harass citizens’ groups
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
  7. Target key individuals
  8. Control the press
  9. Dissent equals treason
  10. Suspend the rule of law

The article explains exactly what has been done so far to accomplish each of the 10 steps in the US.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 1:36 pm

Looks like a very good program

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One of the few times I would watch TV. The program is tonight.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 9:03 am

We need a Democratic administration

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The Democrats know how to make the government work. The GOP simply sabotages government agencies. The FDA is no longer able to do its job and protect the public:

Health officials are investigating whether humans may have consumed pork from animals that ate feed containing a chemical linked to a recall of pet foods, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

In California, traces of the chemical melamine were detected in hog urine at a farm in Stanislaus County in the Modesto area. The California Department of Food and Agriculture said it traced the hogs to several Northern California meat vendors, and most of the animals were quarantined.

Only the American Hog Farm in Ceres and a vendor in Half Moon Bay had sold the pork to customers. Both operate custom slaughterhouses that sell only to individuals for personal use — not to supermarkets.

The department said it had been trying to contact 50 customers and said that the state health services department recommended not eating the pork. But if people did, California State Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Horton considered the health risk to be minimal, the state said.

Besides California, food safety officials have quarantined hogs at farms in New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and possibly Ohio.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 8:21 am

Office of Special Counsel to provide cover?

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The LA Times:

Even as Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch moved forward with plans for a sweeping probe of the Bush administration, several advocacy groups complained that his ties to the administration and to conservative groups, as well as his record on gay rights and whistle-blowers, made him the wrong man for the job.

“There is a serious question as to whether Bloch will just provide cover for an administration that is covering for him,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Democratic-leaning group. …

The advocacy groups charge, among other things, that Bloch initiated a policy that made it more difficult for gay employees to allege discrimination.

A whistle-blower group said Bloch had a poor record of protecting those reporting wrongdoing. And, these critics pointed out, the Office of Personnel Management is investigating alleged improper employment practices including intimidation of workers at the Special Counsel agency.

“This is a job where you don’t have a lot of friends,” Mitchell said. “You don’t make people happy when you zap them for violations or reject their whistle-blower complaints.” At Bloch’s confirmation hearing, Mitchell said, the incoming director was urged to reduce the large backlog of whistle-blower and other complaints. Bloch disposed of a great many of them — so many that an advocate for environmental whistle-blowers said they had received no satisfaction from the agency.

“He just ignored them,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Read more.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 8:18 am

And here are the photos of the British Feast

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Remember this menu? Now look at the photos of the feast.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 7:57 am

Posted in Food

The lies about Lynch, right out of 1984

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From Glenn Greenwald’s column:

This passage from 1984 really is extraordinary in light of yesterday’s hearing. It describes Winston Smith’s drafting of a government propaganda speech (h/t Alan Lloyd):

He might turn the speech into the usual denunciation of traitors and thought-criminals, but that was a little too obvious, while to invent a victory at the front, or some triumph of over-production in the Ninth Three-Year Plan, might complicate the records too much. What was needed was a piece of pure fantasy. Suddenly there sprang into his mind, ready-made as it were, the image of a certain Comrade Ogilvy, who had recently died in battle, in heroic circumstances. There were occasions when Big Brother devoted his Order for the Day to commemorating some humble, rank-and-file Party member whose life and death he held up as an example worthy to be followed.

Today he should commemorate Comrade Ogilvy. It was true that there was no such person as Comrade Ogilvy, but a few lines of print and a couple of faked photographs would soon bring him into existence.

That is what the press passed along — the same press about which Newsweek‘s Senior White House Correspondent said, chatting with Tony Snow: “the press here does a fantastic job of adhering to journalistic standards and covering politics in general.” Fantastic.

His column begins:

It is difficult to watch these clips from yesterday’s House hearings investigating the absolute, deliberate lies regarding Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch fed to the American public by the U.S. military — with an eager and accommodating assist from our excellent and intrepid media — and feel anything other than disgust (and this is just beyond comment). But as anger-inducing as it all is, there is really nothing remarkable about any of it.

What these episodes actually do is illustrate how virtually every rotted and broken branch of our political and media culture operate:

First, it has been well-known for several years that the U.S. military outright invented lies regarding literally every aspect of the Jessica Lynch story. And the Tillman family for years has been vocally complaining about the lies they were told by the Pentagon regarding the circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman’s death, the pressure on other soldiers to conceal the truth, and the crass and disgusting exploitation of those lies to serve the administration’s political interests. None of this is new. So why is Congress holding hearings to investigate these matters only now?

The answer, of course, is because the Republicans who controlled Congress for the last four years absolutely suppressed any attempt whatsoever to exert oversight on the administration. They not only investigated nothing, they aggressively blocked every real investigation into allegations of wrongdoing and corruption on the part of the administration. Our government literally ceased to function the way it is designed to, because Congressional Republicans deliberately abdicated their duty of checks on the executive and actively helped to conceal every improper and deceitful act.

The only reason any of this is being aired now is because the American people removed the President’s party from control of Congress and they are no longer able to keep concealed the Bush administration’s misconduct.

Second, I defy anyone to go back and read the April and May, 2003 tongue-wagging, mindless American press accounts of Jessica Lynch’s epic firefight against the Enemy; the severe gun shot and stabbing wounds she suffered; the torture to which she was subjected while in the Iraqi hospital; and the daring, gun-blazing rescue of her by our Special Forces, and then try to claim that we have a functioning, healthy political press in this country that serves as a check on government deceit and corruption. It is impossible for any minimally honest person to make that claim in light of those stories.

The column continues, and I urge you to read the whole thing. In particular, he examines the smug dishonesty and unrepentant character of the Washington Post, which still somehow believes it’s doing a good job, and contrasts the Post’s approach to that of the British press.

I mentioned earlier that the US enjoys a more absolute freedom of the press than do the British, which have the Official Secrets Act as a muzzle. But, as Mark Twain observed, the man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read, and the US’s freedom of the press is worthless if the press simply accepts the government line, as the Washington Post did (and does). Sue Schmidt is known as “Steno Sue” for a good reason: she takes government handouts and types them up as stories.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 7:33 am

Old-timey shave

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Gillette NEW

This morning I picked the NEW Gillette (introduced in 1930). Open-comb guard, three-piece, rugged looking razor, which delivered a fine shave with a Swedish Gillette blade.

The shaving soap was QED’s Special 218, which has a wonderful, mysterious fragrance. QED, like the other small soap artisans, has a range of fragrances that commercial makers cannot afford to match: Lavender, Fresh Lime, Peppermint, Bergamot, Frankincense & Myrrh, Tangerine & Spearmint, Bay Rum, Pine & Cedarwood, Grapefruit & Peppermint, Rose Geranium, Wild Orange, Anise & Lavender, Lemon & Cedarwood, Patchouli/Tea Tree/Peppermint, not-for-faint-hearted Vetiver,Sandalwood, Special 218, and B&B (not the liqueur, but the shaving forum Badger & Blade).

QED also makes shaving sticks, a form of soap I like a lot: Peppermint, Lavender, Bergamot, Lime, Frankincense & Myrrh, Tangerine & Spearmint, Bay Rum, Pine & Cedarwood, Grapefruit & Peppermint, Rose Geranium, Wild Orange, Anise & Lavender, Lemon & Cedarwood, Patchouli/Tea Tree/Peppermint, not-for-faint-hearted Vetiver, Aloe & Glycerin [Fragrance-Free], Chocolate, Espresso, Mocha Java, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Special 218, and B & B. The Mocha Java is particularly delectable, and he wisely labels it “Not for consumption.”

I used the Plisson brush, and since it was an old-timey shave, finished with Pinaud’s Clubman, an old-timey fragrance.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 7:08 am

Posted in Shaving

Outspoken opposition to Wolfowitz

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From NY Times:

At a meeting between Paul D. Wolfowitz and his top managers at the World Bank last week, Mr. Wolfowitz made an unusual confession. “I understand that I’ve lost a lot of trust, and I want to build that trust back up,” he said, according to people present.

But the beleaguered bank president was immediately confronted by one of his top deputies, who asserted that Mr. Wolfowitz was wrong to think that the furor over his leadership sprang only from his handling of the pay and promotion for his companion or from unease over his support of the Iraq war while at the Pentagon.

Graeme Wheeler, the bank’s managing director, said at the meeting that the fight over whether Mr. Wolfowitz should stay on at the bank amounted to the “the biggest crisis in its history.”

He said it arose from a range of issues, including fears that Mr. Wolfowitz and his aides were trying to impose Bush administration ideas on family planning and climate change at the bank and worries over a possible conflict of interest in the bank’s hiring of a Washington law firm, Williams & Connolly, to investigate leaks. A partner at the firm had earlier negotiated Mr. Wolfowitz’s employment contract with the bank.

Mr. Wheeler also said Mr. Wolfowitz’s staying on would cause “fantastic damage” to the bank’s reputation and effectiveness.

The exchange, described in detail by people who attended the closed meeting, illustrated how far the turmoil surrounding Mr. Wolfowitz has spread since it erupted in public a few weeks ago. It also revealed his determination to remain on the job and the deep wellspring of antipathy toward him among the bank’s board and senior staff.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2007 at 6:29 am

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