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daily link  Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Climate threat to rice crop: "An average daily temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius results in a 10 percent reduction in the rice crop, says a study that shows global warming could be bad news for one of the world's most important crops. Increased nighttime temperatures were associated with significant declines in crop yield at the International Rice Research Institute Farm in the Philippines, according to a report in Monday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This new study was a direct measurement of yields under field conditions using practices that good farmers would employ, said lead researcher Kenneth G. Cassman of the University of Nebraska...

rice production has stagnated in recent years in some key producing regions of Asia."That's something that hasn't been on the radar screen and needs to get more attention," Cassman said.

  6:19:41 AM  permalink  

Juan Cole on Farenheit 911:  Good review, spotlighting good bits (iraq and patriot act coverage), and bad bits (inaccurate saudi-bashing).  6:13:23 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Cheney claims ties between Saddam, al Qaeda (June 14, 2004): Incredible -- he's still at it. "Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that Saddam Hussein had "long-established ties" with al Qaeda, an assertion that has been repeatedly challenged by some policy experts and lawmakers. The vice president offered no details backing up his claim of a link between Saddam and al Qaida.  "He was a patron of terrorism," Cheney said of Hussein during a speech before The James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Florida. "He had long established ties with al Qaeda.""  9:29:07 AM  permalink  

Jail chief told: treat prisoners like dogs:  "Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, who has been suspended over the revelations of horrifying mistreatment at the prison, gave a lengthy interview to BBC radio yesterday.  In it, she said she was being made into "a convenient scapegoat" for the abuses, about which she insists she knew nothing.

General Karpinski told the BBC that Major-General Geoffrey Miller, the deputy commander for detainee operations in Iraq, who had also been chief jailer at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, visited her last year.  She said he told her that detainees had to be dominated. "They are like dogs, and if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog, then you've lost control of them," she recalled General Miller saying.

General Karpinski continued to maintain that she had no knowledge of the abuses going on within Abu Ghraib, saying that the cell blocks 1A and 1B, where they largely occurred, were under the command of military intelligence and not under her - a suggestion senior military figures have rejected. "The interrogation operation was directed, it was under a separate command and there was no reason for me to go out to look at Abu Ghraib at cell block 1A or 1B or visit the interrogation facilities," she said. "I believe I was a convenient scapegoat." ..

General Karpinski suggested that the soldiers photographed with the detainees were unlikely to have been acting without higher authority.  "The MP units that these soldiers belonged to hadn't been in Abu Ghraib long enough to be so confident that ... they were going to take detainees out of the cells, pile them up and photograph themselves in various positions with these detainees - I'm convinced of that," she said."

  9:15:24 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, June 11, 2004


True value labels: Interesting idea for camera cell phones as bar code readers.  "A label similar to the nutritional facts one on food items in the super market was proposed. It should list all raw material, labor, pollutants, air, miles of transport, ... that went into that product. I think it would be shocking for people to find out how many miles are driven for just a simple strawberry yogurt.  ..

There is a service where you can send your smart phone camera picture of a barcode and it sends you back the product number.   We don't need the label on the product, with these technologies we can bring the information into the hands of the interested consumer? "

  11:21:03 PM  permalink  


Ron and Mikhail's Excellent Adventure - How Reagan won the Cold War. By Fred Kaplan:  A review of the now-declassified historical record, and how Reagan's loopy promotion of SDI reflected a sincere belief in the immorality of nukes.  "Gorbachev returned to Moscow persuaded that Reagan—who had earlier struck him as a "caveman"—honestly had no intention of launching a first strike against the Soviet Union, and he made this point clear to the Politburo. He could continue with perestroika, which involved not just economic reforms but—as a necessary precondition—massive defense cuts and a transformation of international relations. He needed assurances of external security in order to move forward with this domestic upheaval. Reagan gave him those reassurances. Subsequent conversations between his foreign minister, Edvard Shevardnadze, and Secretary of State George Shultz reinforced his confidence."  12:23:46 AM  permalink  

TIA now verifies flight of Saudis:  The story won't die.  The 911 commission had concluded there were no early flights back in March, and now has more data.  "Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with most of the nation's air traffic still grounded, a small jet landed at Tampa International Airport, picked up three young Saudi men and left. The men, one of them thought to be a member of the Saudi royal family, were accompanied by a former FBI agent and a former Tampa police officer on the flight to Lexington, Ky. The Saudis then took another flight out of the country. The two ex-officers returned to TIA a few hours later on the same plane.

For nearly three years, White House, aviation and law enforcement officials have insisted the flight never took place and have denied published reports and widespread Internet speculation about its purpose. But now, at the request of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, TIA officials have confirmed that the flight did take place and have supplied details."

  12:11:03 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, June 10, 2004



Bruce Springsteen gets political: Top item on his website:  "A MESSAGE FROM BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN:   A few weeks ago at N.Y.U. Al Gore gave one of the most important speeches I've heard in a long time. The issues it raises need to be considered by every American concerned with the direction our country is headed in. It's my pleasure to reprint it here for my fans..."  10:59:57 PM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, June 09, 2004


More Agents Track Castro Than Bin Laden: More administration incompetence:  "The Treasury Department agency entrusted with blocking the financial resources of terrorists has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money, documents show. 

In addition, the Office of Foreign Assets Control said that between 1990 and 2003 it opened just 93 enforcement investigations related to terrorism. Since 1994 it has collected just $9,425 in fines for terrorism financing violations.   In contrast, OFAC opened 10,683 enforcement investigations since 1990 for possible violations of the long-standing economic embargo against Fidel Castro's regime, and collected more than $8 million in fines since 1994, mostly from people who sent money to, did business with or traveled to Cuba without permission."

  9:22:44 AM  permalink  

U.S. Will Revise Data on Terror:  Outrageous, but why am I not surprised?  "The State Department is scrambling to revise its annual report on global terrorism to acknowledge that it understated the number of deadly attacks in 2003, amid charges that the document is inaccurate and was politically manipulated by the Bush administration. .. Several U.S. officials and terrorism experts familiar with that revision effort said the new report will show that the number of significant terrorist incidents increased last year, perhaps to its highest level in 20 years. ..

[Rep.] Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, told [Sec.] Powell that the number of significant terrorist attacks since 2001 hasn't declined as the department claimed, but risen by more than 35%. And he cited an analysis by two independent experts who used figures provided by the State Department report in concluding that significant attacks actually had reached a 20-year high in 2003.

For example, the State Department report listed 190 terrorist attacks in 2003, including 169 "significant" ones. But Waxman said a review showed the report stopped counting terrorist incidents on Nov. 11, leaving out several major attacks, including bombings of two synagogues, a bank and the British Consulate in Turkey that killed 62 and injured more than 700.  Waxman said a State Department official blamed the Nov. 11 cutoff on a printing deadline.

Waxman said the steep overall decline in terrorism claimed by the State Department was based mostly on a 90% drop in "nonsignificant" attacks in two years, without providing any detail as to how or why such a decrease occurred. .. Potentially dozens of other terrorist strikes were left out because they were not "international" in scope, including attacks by local Al Qaeda affiliates against targets within their own countries.

Taken together, such problems warrant a wholesale reassessment of the report and its mission, preferably by an independent government agency such as the National Academy of Sciences, according to the congressional study's author, Raphael Perl."

  9:20:45 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, June 08, 2004


Gallup approval ratings of recent presidents: Great chart showing the month-by-month trend in each president's term.  Clinton was more popular than Reagan overall (lower approval in the first year, higher in the last two years).   Bush 1 was more popular than Bush 2 after his Gulf War, but less popular as he approached re-election.  3:27:56 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, June 07, 2004


Grip of Putin's censors tightens: And under-reported story. ""We know where your child is walking right now" is a pager message that has bedeviled news anchors at the station.  Anonymous callers have issued threats to intimidate staff and chief editor Alexei Venediktov.  
Other times the quest for favorable coverage is gentler, discussed at a fine restaurant over a bottle of wine with an official from the Kremlin -..

The Glasnost Defense Foundation reports that 10 journalists were murdered, 96 assaulted, and 24 media offices attacked in 2003. Some 378 court cases were also brought - down slightly from more than 400 for each of the previous two years - and in 24 cases the plug was pulled on programs while on the air.

Television - the only source of news for the majority of Russia's 145 million citizens - has been hardest hit, though many other outlets also feel the heat. .. The Kremlin makes contact twice a week on average .."

  7:23:22 PM  permalink  

Not Even a Hedgehog - The stupidity of Ronald Reagan. By Christopher Hitchens:  I was thinking, Bush 43 is so bad I'm even nostalgic for Reagan.  Well, that's selective memory for you; Hitchens reminds me how bad it was.  7:06:41 PM  permalink  

Historical Budget Data: Useful reference data on federal finances 1962-2002, in both $ and % GDP.  Referenced by a review of Reagan years.  10:23:36 AM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, June 05, 2004


N. Korea bans mobile phones: "North Korea has banned mobile phones only 18 months after allowing them to be introduced there, and the already isolated country is building a barbed-wire fence along its border with China to prevent smuggling, news reports said [3 jun 04]..  There were some 20,000 mobile phone subscribers in November 2003, a year after the service began, Yonhap said citing a report in a pro-Pyongyang newspaper from Japan, the Chosun Sinbo. "  10:58:16 PM  permalink  

Fund For Peace Study Concludes that Iraq Has Descended Into a Failed State Syndrome: "A report released today by The Fund for Peace (FfP) concludes that instead of addressing the fundamental requirements of rebuilding the state, post-war policies undertaken by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) focused primarily on completing the process of regime change. Consequently, Iraq has deteriorated further into a failed state syndrome.

Dr. Pauline H. Baker, author of the report, describes a failed state syndrome as a condition in which a number of trends reinforce each other to produce spiraling conflict that the country has little or no independent capacity to stop. The report concludes that, a year after the invasion, Iraq is as shattered as it was the day that Saddam Hussein was overthrown, the main difference being that organized militias and terrorist groups have gained a foothold they did not have before.

"We have to get the facts straight before we can get the policy straight," said Dr. Baker. "Currently, there are three major fictions that are being used to describe the transition in Iraq. The first is analytical - that Iraq could become a failed state, when, in fact, it already has failed. The second is legal - that the occupation will end on June 30, when, in fact, the occupation will end when foreign troops are withdrawn and capable Iraqi security forces take over. And the third is political - that after June 30, the sovereign government of Iraq and the people will be allied with the United States. In fact, the interim government will not have full sovereignty and the people are increasingly fearful and resentful of the U.S. presence."..

The report maps out five future scenarios. It states that, if current trends continue, Iraq is likely headed toward a Lebanon- like outcome, with civil war and possible intervention by neighboring states. To avoid this or other undesirable outcomes, the U.S. must work more closely with the U.N. to build a wider international coalition prepared to provide two years of peacekeeping forces and five to ten years of economic support in a long-term plan aimed at sustainable security. Currently, no planning is being done beyond the next election and other nations are reluctant to provide troops for U.N. peacekeeping, even over the next six months leading to elections. That will be a critical make-or-break period, when the tipping point will occur, determining whether Iraq will move toward constitutionalism or chaos.

Dr. Baker urged policy-makers to separate truth from fiction. She warned that, "fictional accounts have led to false assumptions, misplaced expectations and misguided policies in the past. They will do so in the future, if we are not careful."

  10:23:32 PM  permalink  

Rumsfeld expresses doubt: "The United States and its allies are winning some battles in the terrorism war but may be losing the broader struggle against Islamic extremism that is terrorism's source, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saturday. The troubling unknown, he said, is whether the extremists - whom he termed "zealots and despots" bent on destroying the global system of nation-states - are turning out newly trained terrorists faster than the United States can capture or kill them. "It's quite clear to me that we do not have a coherent approach to this," Rumsfeld said at an international security conference. ..

On Saturday he went further, saying that while terrorists must be confronted, the bigger problem is the extremist Islamic ideology that produces them. "What you have is a civil war in that religion where a small minority are trying to hijack it," he said..
In his remarks in Singapore, Rumsfeld said, "We're focusing on terrorist networks, we're focusing on trying to defend against terrorist attacks, but terrorism is simply a technique being used by extremists. It is not the problem in and of itself - it's a weapon that's being used."

Rumsfeld said it is impossible to know if the United States and its allies are winning or losing the fight against extremists. "How many more of those folks are being trained and developed and organized and deployed and sent out to work the seams and the shadows and the caves?" he asked. No one knows for sure, the secretary said.

In his keynote address at the conference, Rumsfeld put it this way:  "We need to do even more than simply attempt to capture, kill or thwart terrorists. We have to find ways to persuade young Muslims that the way of the future is through education and opportunity, not through suicide and terrorism."

  9:17:43 AM  permalink  

Beating Specialist Baker:  Appalling case of Army Specialist Sean Baker, serving January 2003 at Gitmo prison.  He was assigned to role play a prisoner in an exercise where other guards thought he was a prisoner.  He was brutally beaten before he could tell them he was a US soldier; the result was permanent brain damage.  One more instance, more than a "few bad apples".  (Baker has been medically discharged, the Army tried to deny and downplay the event, and he still awaits disability payments. )  9:14:45 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, June 04, 2004


Why Gas Prices Are Too Low:  Nice plan.  "Verleger favors what he calls a "prospective gasoline tax," which would allow the country four years to get ready to do the right thing. Congress would enact a stiff tax of $2 per gallon, to take effect in January 2009, with further increases of another dollar in each of the following three years. To cushion the blow, the Treasury would borrow against the expected tax revenue to buy back the public's gas guzzlers (defined as vehicles getting fewer than 25 miles a gallon) at their 2004 value.

Verleger estimates that this program could reduce U.S. oil consumption by almost 2 million barrels per day in the program's first year and as much as 10 million barrels per day by 2020. At a stroke, that would reduce the power of the OPEC cartel and America's vulnerability to turmoil in the Middle East. As a bonus, it would also reduce emissions that contribute to global warming and increase employment in the auto industry as all those gas guzzlers are replaced.

There's one big problem with Verleger's idea. It's too sane. America likes roaring down Thunder Road, playing chicken with the oil cartel. "

  12:38:13 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, June 03, 2004


A Scapegoat Is Not a Solution:  Notes on how much the CIA had advised about Al Queda, and how policy was slow to change.  "[The CIA] 1995 national intelligence estimate on foreign terrorist threats in the United States judged that the odds were increasing that terrorists would try to use chemical or biological agents, but that they "were more likely to use the conventional weapons with which they are familiar and which can be extremely destructive."  The estimate postulated that the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 — in which the bombers' objective was to topple the twin towers and kill thousands — had probably crossed a threshold in terms of "large-scale terrorist attacks" and that more of the same would be coming. The kinds of targets the estimate identified as being especially at risk were "national symbols such as the White House and the Capitol and symbols of U.S. capitalism such as Wall Street."

Even more striking, that estimate also made clear that the most likely foreign terrorist threat stemmed from the network of Islamist groups that had formed during the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It noted the network's continued reliance on training in Afghanistan, and the animus of its members toward the United States. It warned that members were seeking cover by blending in with the growing Muslim immigrant community in the United States, and that they could move freely because "they know how to take advantage of U.S. laws."  Among its key judgments, the intelligence estimate assessed that members of this Islamist network posed the most likely threat of terrorist attack in the United States, and that growth of the network was "enhancing the ability of Islamic extremists to operate in the United States." It also highlighted civil aviation as a vulnerable and attractive target. "

  11:11:10 PM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Chalabi Reportedly Told Iran That U.S. Had Code: "American officials said that about six weeks ago, Mr. Chalabi told the Baghdad station chief of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security that the United States was reading the communications traffic of the Iranian spy service, one of the most sophisticated in the Middle East.

According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said.  American officials reported that in the cable to Tehran, the Iranian official recounted how Mr. Chalabi had said that one of "them" — a reference to an American — had revealed the code-breaking operation, the officials said. The Iranian reported that Mr. Chalabi said the American was drunk. The Iranians sent what American intelligence regarded as a test message, which mentioned a cache of weapons inside Iraq, believing that if the code had been broken, United States military forces would be quickly dispatched to the specified site. But there was no such action. 

The account of Mr. Chalabi's actions has been confirmed by several senior American officials, who said the leak contributed to the White House decision to break with him. .. [A new] F.B.I. investigation into the intelligence leak to Iran did not extend to any charges that Mr. Chalabi provided the United States with incorrect information, or any allegations of corruption. ..

The Bush administration, citing national security concerns, asked The New York Times and other news organizations not to publish details of the case. The Times agreed to hold off publication of some specific information ... The administration withdrew its request on Tuesday, saying information about the code-breaking was starting to appear in news accounts. .."

  10:22:21 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Washingtonpost.com Q&A with Juan Cole.  Scenarios for the near future in Iraq, a list of "real" reasons for the war, and other observations.  "[Removing Chalabi and] having a prime minister, especially a hard-headed one like Allawi, seems enough of a change to justify the word "new." But, it is like "new and improved soap detergent." It is not as if the basic ingredients are that different.  .. The US in Iraq is far weaker than the Israelis in the Occupied Territories. The US will not find it easy to simply ignore Mr. Allawi or the caretaker government .. The danger is that they will not move to early elections, and may inadvertently provoke a revolution against themselves and their American backers. If 300,000 Iraqis start coming out into the street regularly, the US would just have to leave. "  3:10:19 PM  permalink  

Terror threat source called into question:  Seems like the gang still can't shoot straight:  "In warning Americans to brace for a possible attack, Ashcroft cited what he called “credible intelligence from multiple sources,” saying that “just after New Year's, al-Qaida announced openly that preparations for an attack on the United States were 70 percent complete.… After the March 11 attack in Madrid, Spain, an al-Qaida spokesman announced that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack in the United States were complete.”

But terrorism experts tell NBC News there's no evidence a credible al-Qaida spokesman ever said that, and the claims actually were made by a largely discredited group, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, known for putting propaganda on the Internet.

“This particular group is not really taken seriously by Western intelligence,” said terrorism expert M.J. Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, an international policy assessment group. “It does not appear to have any real field operational capability. But it is certainly part of the global jihad movement — part of its propaganda wing, if you like. It likes to weave a web of lies; it likes to put out disinformation so that the truth is deeply buried. So it is a dangerous group in that sense, but it is not taken seriously in terms of its operational capability.”

The group has claimed responsibility for the power blackout in the Northeast last year, a power outage in London and the Madrid bombing. None of the claims was found to be credible.  “The only thing they haven't claimed credit for recently is the cicada invasion of Washington,” said expert Roger Cressey, former chief of staff of the critical infrastructure protection board at the White House and now an analyst for NBC News. Cressey also served as deputy to former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke.  A senior U.S. intelligence official previously told NBC News that this group has no known operational capability and may be no more than one man with a fax machine.

Friday, Ashcroft's spokesman blamed the FBI, and the FBI admitted claims that terrorists were 90 percent ready to attack came not from al-Qaida, but from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades’ statements.    That the FBI apparently took the group seriously also troubles experts.

“To give this group any type of credibility is reckless,” said terrorism expert and NBC analyst Steve Emerson, “because it simply doesn't represent anything but one person claiming credit for attacks that has no control or not connected to, but simply trying to jump on the publicity bandwagon.”  He believes it reflects a larger failing on the part of the FBI.   “Portraying this group seriously is simply a reflection of the FBI's continued failures since 9/11 to basically develop an analytic capability at headquarters in assessing terrorist intelligence,” Emerson said."

  2:16:25 PM  permalink  

Electablog: Good source of election info, like this hopeful chart based on the Zogby poll in May 24.  (Then again, almost all the states have a * indicating "within the margin of error".)  1:39:38 PM  permalink  

Copyright 2006 © Ken Novak.
Last update: 5/16/2006; 2:33:52 PM.
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