Current events
Post-9-11 events and analyses

Ken Novak's Weblog

daily link  Monday, January 31, 2005

Michael Crichton and Global Warming: "How do people learn about global warming? That, more than the merits of any scientific argument, is the most interesting question posed by Michael Crichton's State of Fear." Excellent review of the popular argument on warming, from Brookings' David Sandalow.  9:55:44 AM  permalink  

Scott Ritter speculates on the al-Zarqawi myth: "Reflecting back, one cannot help but wonder if al-Zarqawi was used as a lure to trap the Americans into taking this action. On the surface, the al-Zarqawi organisation seems too good to be true. A single Jordanian male is suddenly running an organisation that operates in sophisticated cells throughout Iraq. No one man could logically accomplish this. But there is an organisation that can - the Mukhabarat (intelligence) of Saddam Hussein.

A critical element of this resistance was to generate chaos and anarchy that would destabilise any US-appointed Iraqi government..
According to former Iraqi intelligence personnel I have communicated with recently, the Mukhabarat, under instructions from Saddam Hussein, had been preparing for some time before the invasion of Iraq on how to survive, resist and defeat any US-led occupation of Iraq. A critical element of this resistance was to generate chaos and anarchy that would destabilise any US-appointed Iraqi government.

Another factor was to shift the attention of the US military away from the true heart of the resistance - Saddam's Baathist loyalists - and on to a fictional target that could be manipulated in an effort to control the pace, timing and nature of the US military response.

According to these sources, the selection of al-Zarqawi as a front for these actions was almost too easy.  ..  According to my contacts, the goal in creating a foreign Islamist face for the violence taking place in Iraq is to get the Iraqi populace to turn away from Iyad Allawi and the US military as a source of stability, and endorse the return of the Baathists (under a new guise, to be sure), who would then deal with the Islamists by shutting down an operation the Mukhabarat thinks they control.

But engaging these activists may not be without cost. Having created a fiction, there is a potential danger of it becoming a reality. Al-Zarqawi may not be the real force behind the anti-US resistance in Iraq, but many now, in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world, believe him to be.

Having created this giant the Mukhabarat may not be able to control it. The real danger in Iraq is not the inevitable defeat of the United States and the interim government of Iyad Allawi, but the fact that the longer it takes for the United States to realise that victory cannot be achieved, the more emboldened the Islamists become. "  An AP correspondent carries on the thread, quoting Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic International Studies among others.

  12:29:44 AM  permalink  

Reflections By An Arab Jew - Ella Shohat.  Compelling, personal history lesson.  12:17:58 AM  permalink  

A haunting end to hunt for WMD: Great editorial [14 Jan 2005].  "This week’s news that the Pentagon has officially ended its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was the quiet denouement to one of the most contentious issues in our nation’s recent history. While the beginning of the hunt for Saddam Hussein’s rumored chemical, biological and nuclear weapons came in like a lion, it went out like a lamb.

The final chapter of a story that has dominated American newspapers’ front pages for more than two years was published deep inside them. The Virginian-Pilot ran the news on Page A6, along with several routine stories and a gutter cleaning ad. Most other papers did the same. A few, such as The Washington Post, posted the story on its front page, but tucked it into an unobtrusive, below-the-fold corner. ..

And America is left with a seemingly endless war in Iraq, but without a rationale for it.

A senior intelligence official told The Washington Post that chief weapons hunter Charles Duelfer’s interim report to Congress, which contradicted nearly every prewar claim of the Bush administration, will stand as the group’s final conclusion.  While the official end to our hunt for weapons is a sad, significant milestone, almost more noteworthy is our — Americans’ and the media’s — muted reaction to that news.  The story’s placement in the folds of the paper reflects its place in our thoughts. We’ve made note of it, but parked it in an out-of-the-way corner where it won’t demand or command our attention.

It’s a national humiliation akin to a personal one: It’s too painful to dwell on. Dead U.S. soldiers, dead Iraqi civilians, a war with no end in sight — it makes us cringe. So, we expel it from our minds, if not our lives, bury it and move on.

We’re in Iraq now, we tell ourselves. We have to make it work.  But while we can hide this story in our newspapers and in the backs of our minds, the consequences of our failure to find WMD will haunt us, one way or another, for decades to come. "

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daily link  Sunday, January 30, 2005

Juan Cole reviews the events leading up to this election:  Worth remembering how far US policy has had to move, and how slowly.  "The Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did.

So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables. It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections. ..

The Iraqis did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were supposedly voting. What kind of an election is anonymous! There were even some angry politicians late last week who found out they had been included on lists without their permission. Al-Zaman compared the election process to buying fruit wholesale and sight unseen. .. This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament. ..  this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan. ..

Many of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear.

Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another "Mission Accomplished" moment."  11:45:36 PM  permalink  

Civil war scenario: Juan Cole outlines one way that civil war could emerge in Iraq. "Things could get worse if the US withdrew precipitously. .. The Baathists would begin by killing Grand Ayatollah Sistani, then Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, then Ibrahim Jaafari, and so on down the list of the new political class. Then they would make a coup. Once they had control of Iraq's revenues, they could buy tanks and helicopter gunships in the world weapons bazaar and deploy them again against the Shiites. They might not be able to hang on very long, but it is doubtful if the country would survive all this intact. The Badr Corps could not stop this scenario, or it would have stopped all the assassinations lately of Shiite notables in the South, including two of Sistani's aides... Mind you, if the elected Iraqi parliament asks for a withdrawal timetable, I think the US has an absolute duty to comply. It is a different issue as to whether such a move is wise or could succeed without the Iraqis paying an even higher price than they have already paid."

Earlier, Cole reviewed the pros and cons of withdrawal and offered, "One solution to this latter problem might be to set a timetable for withdrawal of Coalition land forces, but for the US and its allies to continue to offer the new Iraqi government's army close air support in any battles with the neo-Baathists and jihadis that might try to take advantage of the withdrawal to make a coup and institute a bloodbath."

  11:27:34 PM  permalink  

daily link  Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Soaring global warming 'can't be ruled out':  Results from the world's largest climate modeling experiment, reported in Nature.  "The Earth may be much more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, according to the first results from a massive distributed-computing project. The project tested thousands of climate models and found that some produced a world that warmed by a huge 11.5°C when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached the levels expected to be seen later this century. This extreme result is surprising because it lies far outside the 1.4°C to 4.5°C range predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the same CO2-level increase..

"We have anecdotal evidence that people tend to tune their models to be similar to other people's," says David Stainforth, from the University of Oxford, UK. "Nobody wants to have a model that's terribly different, particularly when there are only 8 or 10 in the world," he explains.  Stainforth and his colleagues set up to see what happened when models were not tuned in this way. "

About the calculations: "From Uruguay to Uzbekistan and Sierra Leone to Singapore, 95,000 people from 150 countries are taking part in the experiment to explore the possible impact of global warming. By downloading free software from on their personal computers, participants run their own unique version of Britain's Met Office climate model.  While their computer is idle, the program runs a climate simulation over days or weeks and automatically reports the results to Oxford University and other collaborating institutions around the world.  Together, the volunteers have simulated more than 4 million model years, donated 8,000 years of computer time and exceeded the processing power of the world's largest supercomputers. The first results of the continuing experiment are reported in the latest edition of the science journal Nature." My computers have been running these models since the project started. Amazing how well-behaved the software has been, running imperceptibly in the background.

  6:00:33 PM  permalink  

daily link  Tuesday, January 25, 2005

In Age of Security, Firm Mines Wealth Of Personal Data: Introduction to Choicepoint and the privatization of domestic national security surveillance.  Combined with the growth of private surveillance cameras and data collection, it's not a pretty future.  Can anyone watch the watchers?   Links on "sousveillance" start here.  8:35:54 AM  permalink  

daily link  Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Cell Phone to Detect Radiation: Interesting packaging of a radiation detector with a GPS unit in a cell phone, all for under $1000.  The plan is to give them to DHS and police staff -- and to postal workers, and other delivery people who cover distances and routes, to sniff out radioactive materials if (as) they move around.  10:25:08 PM  permalink  

daily link  Friday, January 21, 2005

The New York Review of Books: Europe vs. America.  There were many facts and a fresh perspective worth saving in this long aritcle.  So I condensed it here.  11:57:26 PM  permalink  

'Inch of snow' shuts down air marshals: "Hundreds of federal air marshals were grounded and unable to access critical information to pinpoint potential terrorist activity for eight hours on the eve of President Bush's inauguration after snow paralyzed the Mission Operations Center in Washington, said several air marshals and a supervisor. .. hundreds of flights were rerouted because of the snow, and marshals seeking information on reports of a dirty bomb in Boston were unsuccessful. ..

"The guys in the field were stuck and didn't know what was going on, other than they were not to call MOC because they did not have enough people staffing it," the supervisor said.    "The president's inauguration was the whole purpose of increased coverage. If they can't handle one inch of snow, what if it is truly an emergency? It was just a total meltdown," the supervisor said. .. When told the "meltdown" was caused by weather delays in Washington, the air marshal said: "It's called the Weather Channel. They should watch it and be prepared to staff for it." "   Michael Helfrich sees an IT opportunity: "the tactical edge of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) relies heavily on the phone and PDA as a form-factor. Given the complete availability of HTTP services through WIFI, CDMA, and GSM-enabled devices, there is a huge opportunity for the distribution of information and other services for organizations like FAMS."

  11:07:21 PM  permalink  

daily link  Thursday, January 20, 2005

Secret Intelligence and the 'War on Terror':  Thomas Powers on the decline of CIA trustworthiness, and the failures of and prospects for the Bush administration.  "Following Bush's reelection we must expect the question of American intentions to enter the discussion in the foreign chanceries of the entire world. These intentions are not transparent. The administration first argued that it sought only to disarm Saddam. When that turned out to be unnecessary it was ready with a new argument - replacing Saddam with a free, democratic government would create a beacon of hope and a light unto the nations, persuading terrorists to give up the struggle and changing the political landscape of the Middle East.

Maybe that was the real reason all along, and maybe not. Foreign governments may feel that a better guide would be the President's national security strategy issued in late 2001. There the administration argued for a policy of preemption, and a forward policy projecting American military power into the heart of the Middle East. A forward policy requires client states on the ground. What sort of client states? How big a military presence? To remain how long? Those are the kind of questions foreign chanceries will want to answer. "

  12:19:16 AM  permalink  

daily link  Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Foreign Policy: War on Evil: A brief note from Robert Wright on how absolutist notions of evil (like, apparently, Bush's) are dangerously misleadling. "Some conservatives dismiss liberal qualms about Bush’s talk of evil as knee-jerk moral relativism. But rejecting his conception of evil doesn’t mean rejecting the idea of moral absolutes, of right and wrong, good and bad. Evil in the Manichaean sense isn’t just absolute badness. It’s a grand unified explanation of such badness, the linkage of diverse badness to a single source. ..

For the forces of good [a] unity of badness greatly simplifies the question of strategy. If all of your enemies are Satan’s puppets, there’s no point in drawing fine distinctions among them. No need to figure out which ones are irredeemable and which can be bought off. They’re all bad to the bone, so just fight them at every pass, bear any burden, and so on.

But what if the world isn’t that simple? What if some terrorists will settle for nothing less than the United States’ destruction, whereas others just want a nationalist enclave in Chechnya or Mindanao? And what if treating all terrorists the same—as all having equally illegitimate goals—makes them more the same, more uniformly anti-American, more zealous? (Note that President Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” formulation didn’t court this danger; the Soviet threat was already monolithic.)

Or what if Iran, Iraq, and North Korea are actually different kinds of problems? And what if their rulers, however many bad things they’ve done, are still human beings who respond rationally to clear incentives? If you’re truly open to this possibility, you might be cheered when a hideous dictator, under threat of invasion, allows U.N. weapons inspectors to search his country. But if you believe this dictator is not just bad but evil, you’ll probably conclude that you should invade his country anyway. You don’t make deals with the devil.

And, of course, if you believe that all terrorists are truly evil, then you’ll be less inclined to fret about the civil liberties of suspected terrorists, or about treating accused or convicted terrorists decently in prison. .. Abandoning such counterproductive metaphysics doesn’t mean slipping into relativism..  You could believe that somewhere in human nature is a bad seed that underlies many of the terrible things people do. If you’re a Christian, you might think of this seed as original sin. If you’re not religious, you might see it in secular terms—for example, as a core selfishness that can skew our moral perspective, inclining us to tolerate, even welcome, the suffering of people who threaten our interests.

This idea of evil as something at work in all of us makes for a perspective very different than the one that seems to guide the president. It could lead you to ask, If we’re all born with this seed of badness, why does it bear more fruit in some people than others? And this question could lead you to analyze evildoers in their native environments, and thus distinguish between the causes of terrorism in one place and in another. "

  10:28:32 PM  permalink  

daily link  Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Thomas P.M. Barnett :: The Pentagon's New Map (Esquire): A provocative, if somewhat simplistic and miltaristic, grand strategy.  "Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and - most important - the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap. ..

Show me a part of the world that is secure in its peace and I will show you strong or growing ties between local militaries and the U.S. military. Show me regions where major war is inconceivable and I will show you permanent U.S. military bases and long-term security alliances. Show me the strongest investment relationships in the global economy and I will show you two postwar military occupations that remade Europe and Japan following World War II.

This country has successfully exported security to globalization’s Old Core (Western Europe, Northeast Asia) for half a century and to its emerging New Core (Developing Asia) for a solid quarter century following our mishandling of Vietnam. But our efforts in the Middle Ease have been inconsistent—in Africa, almost nonexistent. Until we begin the systematic, long-term export of security to the Gap, it will increasingly export its pain to the Core in the form of terrorism and other instabilities."  The author recognizes the role of human rights, the rule of law, and economic development in globalization, but considers security and stability to be their predecessor more than their consequence.

  11:12:39 PM  permalink  

daily link  Saturday, January 15, 2005

Adam Werbach on the death of environmentalism:  Provocative speech advocating the conversion of environmentalists into progressives.  "For 30 years American liberals have defined themselves according to a set of problem categories that divide us, whether they be racial, gender, economic or environmental. We have spent far less time defining ourselves according to the values that unite us, such as shared prosperity, progress, interdependence, fairness, ecological restoration and equality. We can no longer afford the laundry list of “-isms” to define and divide our world and ourselves. ..

My thesis tonight is this: the ability of environmentalism, as a language, an ideology, a set of practices, and network of institutions, can not deal with the most pressing ecological challenges facing the planet because it is so tightly bound to a rationality that reduces our worlds into these dyads [like humans/nature, men/women, healthy/sick, reason/emotion]. The moment we free ourselves from this modern way of thinking by creating a new language, a new set of strategic initiatives, a new set of institutions, and a new metric for evaluating our success, we cease to be “environmentalists” in any meaningful sense of the term and open ourselves up to the possibility of becoming progressive Americans. ..

We are moving toward becoming progressives. We are bringing along our love of nature. We are bringing along our knowledge of interdependence." The 'New Apollo' project idea is presented as a narrative that integrates progressive and environmental ideas, including jobs, less reliance on mideast oil, the government as instrument of public values.

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daily link  Friday, January 14, 2005

Learn from Britain's pension reform:  Thatcher's Britain tried partial privatisation of old-age benefits, and the result is a massive failure.  As usual, Americans neglect to study other nations for lessons and warnings on its own policies.  "
For all the fanfare that surrounds the Bush administration’s efforts to present a bold new idea on pension reform, the truth is that it is not new at all. In fact, the proposal looks suspiciously like the plan set in train during Thatcher’s first term in 1979 and which has since led Britain to the brink of a crisis. .. Britain’s [reform] has been a failure. A shorthand explanation for what has gone wrong is that the costs and risks of running private investment accounts outweigh the value of the returns they are likely to earn. ..

there is little disagreement within the United Kingdom that the path chosen by successive governments over the past 25 years is not the right one ..

  • According to the Department for Work and Pensions, in 2004 alone, 500,000 people abandoned private pensions and moved back into the state system. Government actuaries expect another 250,000 to [do so] this year.
  • In 2004, the Association of British Insurers, the trade association representing the companies that sell the private accounts, made a collective decision not to risk any more allegations of mis-selling. It urged all of its member firms to warn those who had taken tax rebates to open private accounts that they might have made a bad choice. The advice was particularly aimed at older workers with fewer years until retirement.
  • Many insurance companies -- the sellers of the private accounts -- have been writing their customers urging them to contract back in to the state system.
  • And, of course, even the U.K. version of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the idea of raising taxes to increase benefit levels.

.. at the exact moment that America contemplates replicating this disaster, many in Britain -- some conservatives included -- are looking more and more kindly on American Social Security as a model for reform."


  9:36:24 PM  permalink  

`Bumpy' new world foreseen:  Jan 14, 2005: The US govt National Intelligence Council released a report, Project 2020, looking 15 years ahead.  "Newly arriving powers "have the potential to render obsolete the old categories of East and West, North and South.''  .. The council predicts an emergence of new global players — almost certainly China and India — but whether these new players fit into the world co-operatively or competitively remains an important uncertainty for the U.S.  .. the integration of 1 billion low-paid workers will cause global shifts in rich and poor nations alike. .. "Of course, the United States is in good shape to participate in this world, but it will be a world that will be much more competitive for us," .. 

this new order will raise the stakes for Arab countries, which may join in globalization trends or experience further alienation and humiliation. Terror threats, too, will change.  While radical extremism will continue to grow, the report says Al Qaeda is expected to be superseded by similarly inspired, decentralized groups.  [Chairman] Hutchings said he expects the innovation in terror attacks to come from new elements of surprise, rather than unconventional weapons. The groups' members will be tapping technology that provides instant connections for communications and training, posing a significant intelligence challenge to organizations including the CIA."  Reminds me of the scenarios in Ten Years Later by Richard A. Clarke in the January Atlantic, in which new terrorist attacks are low tech but launched in coordinated ways in surprising places.

  2:17:55 PM  permalink  

'Our government in Burma is lying when it says just a few people were killed':  Aid workers "say the death toll is certain to be higher than Burmese officials have admitted. "It is in the thousands," estimated one foreign diplomat. ..

Since the tsunami the military's grip has become even tighter. Conscript soldiers have been deployed on main roads leading out of the southern town of Kawthaung. They have orders to prevent foreign nationals from travelling more than two miles from the centre. The naval vessels are looking for boats that they do not recognise in order to prevent unauthorised missions landing along the ravaged coastline. ..

A government official intercepted our vehicle as we left Kawthaung with the aim of catching a glimpse of the damage wreaked on one of the world's last dictatorships. "Go back now," he told us. "I cannot give you permission to leave town and the army checkpoints will stop you. There is nothing to see. We are handling the situation in our own way." ..

Rangoon brushed aside most offers of help, accepting a token £104,000 worth of aid from communist China. .. [Aid organizations are prevented from visiting nearby islands and coastal areas]  Further clues to the extent of the damage come, however, in reports of foreigners who are missing in the area. Two South African backpackers and a group of Christian charity workers have not been in contact with friends and relatives for a week. A Florida-based missionary group has launched an appeal to rebuild a Burmese village destroyed in the tsunami. From the government, however, there is no word."

  8:48:38 AM  permalink  

The politics of disaster: What happened in Burma from the Tsunami is still unknown.  "for the first three days, the official version was that Burma had survived without a scratch. The uniformed gangsters who run the kleptocracy, ravish its forests and murder its citizens, expressed their heart-felt sorrow and decent regret at the news from the rest of the region, but made no mention of the waves taking Burmese lives. A meteorological officer from Rangoon explained the miracle. The border with Thailand may only be 150 miles north of the devastated hotels of Phuket, but Burma was fortunate to have a coastline which rose from shallow seas. ..

On Wednesday the hacks on the New Light of Myanmar, the junta's mouthpiece, admitted that 43 people had died and 25 were missing. Few believed them. Ever since Boxing Day, opponents of the regime who produce the Democratic Voice of Burma website have been receiving leads from scattered sources. An anonymous naval officer told them that a military installation on Coco Island in the Indian Ocean had been washed away. Magye Island in the Gulf of Bengalmay also had been swamped, other sources said. There were reports of the Maubin University building being torn apart, possibly by an earthquake which hit after the waves, of fishermen never returning from the sea and of villages losing dozens of inhabitants. One rumour doing the rounds says that 500 died in one district alone, and it sounds plausible... the inhabitants of the coastal districts are desperately poor. Their flimsy shacks never looked as if they could withstand a raging sea.  ..

It will take weeks to find out if the real death toll is anywhere near as bad as in Thailand - if, that is, we ever find out. The junta has an interest in maintaining the illusion of total control.. Last week reporters who tried to get information from the Unicef office in Rangoon were given a short course on the facts of life. The aid workers stonewalled because they would be thrown out of the country if they said a word out of place. ..

In Burma, many charities have decided that giving aid to Rangoon is like giving EU grants to Sicily or oil-for-food programmes to Saddam's Iraq: whatever your good intentions, the money always ends up strengthening one mafia or another. Thus, while Unicef, Save the Children and a handful of other organisations cling on, most won't go near the place. They know that what Burma needs isn't hand-outs but a revolution. "

  8:44:46 AM  permalink  

Nuclear test monitoring network useful:  Here's a tidbit from Cringeley: "Here is word from a reader in the UK: "The infrastructure for a global tsunami warning system already exists. The system set up to monitor nuclear testing is capable of, detected, and pinpointed the South Asian tsunami as it happened. The monitoring headquarters is in Berkshire, England, and the head of the station had made suggestions in the past that its role be expanded to include earthquake and tsunami monitoring. Better still, the necessary treaties are in place to allow immediate two-way communication between the centre and affected countries. Indeed, they carry an up to date list of contact numbers for key people. What's missing is political will. With that in place organisations, public information, and training can be put in place to make sure any warning is responded to on the ground."'  I recall seeing a map of the placement of their monitoring devicesand the satcoms that relay their information (uniformly spread around the planet).  Interesting to think of the other uses of that sensor network.  8:26:28 AM  permalink  

daily link  Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Pen, Too, Is a Tool for Rebuilding: A view of tsunami reconstruction in India, where the local government and NGO sector are leading.  "It occurs to me that the tsunami has done something not even Mahatma Gandhi could: It has brought fundamentalists together to work for a common cause. Since Dec. 26, three sworn enemies have been working with each other on the relief effort: The RSS, the Hindu extremists who are part of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party; their fierce rivals, the Marxists in the Communist Party of India; and the Jamaat, the authorities who run the mosques and serve the Muslim community. ..

The politician told me that the government will endeavor to rehabilitate the islanders on shore. One of my traveling companions, an engineer from Madras, whispers to me that politicians aren't afraid of breaking promises, they're only afraid of the press.

And he's right. India has a dozen 24-hour news channels -- the most in the world. They're all offering nonstop coverage of the disaster and the relief efforts. So much scrutiny is focues on the government, relief organizations, and politicians about their responses to the devastation that any slipups become national news and prompt heated debates. Although I had wanted to volunteer to help with relief efforts, I now don't mind being a reporter again."

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daily link  Tuesday, January 11, 2005

War Crimes: A strongly worded editorial from the Washington Post in December calls this not "scandal" but "war crimes".  "Thousands of pages of government documents released this month have confirmed some of the painful truths about the abuse of foreign detainees by the U.S. military and the CIA -- truths the Bush administration implacably has refused to acknowledge. Since the publication of photographs of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in the spring the administration's whitewashers -- led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- have contended that the crimes were carried out by a few low-ranking reservists, that they were limited to the night shift during a few chaotic months at Abu Ghraib in 2003, that they were unrelated to the interrogation of prisoners and that no torture occurred at the Guantanamo Bay prison where hundreds of terrorism suspects are held. The new documents establish beyond any doubt that every part of this cover story is false. Though they represent only part of the record that lies in government files, the documents show that the abuse of prisoners was already occurring at Guantanamo in 2002 and continued in Iraq even after the outcry over the Abu Ghraib photographs."  11:00:59 PM  permalink  

American Gothic: A long provocative piece from Tom Engelhardt, with collected links to the successive torture revelations and the broader themes of this administration.    "as the year of Abu Ghraib ended, ever more of America's secret world of torture (generally called "abuse" in our press) has been tumbling out of the darkness and into the news -- thanks largely to leaks from anonymous but obviously angry sources inside the military and the intelligence "community." .. Extraction of information was always secondary at the highest levels to the freeing of the President from all constraints ..

Fighting for [you fill in the blank]. That sums up our present Bush moment. In fact, little that this country does from diplomacy to torture to foreign aid is any longer imaginable absent the military. We are a nation whose public face -- however we may still think of ourselves -- is no longer a civilian one, not just in Iraq but in the world at large.."

  10:57:21 PM  permalink  

"Digby" on values:: A particularly trenchant blogger says it well.  On values:  "If either party could give them the real thing instead of an ersatz, superficial rendering of smarmy religiosity, they would gain the support of a large majority of this country. You have to give Rove credit. He has done a lot with what he has to work with. Sexual priggishness, vengeance and racism are very difficult concepts upon which to build a positice values argument, but they've managed to create the illusion that they have "moral clarity" by garbing their narrow vision in religious and patriotic terms --- and because we have failed to stand up for our universal values of liberty, justice and equality. They win by default. "

And on the scandal at Guantanamo: "Now we find that in addition to a bunch of false intelligence gained through torture and other means, we are going to lock up a lot of these guys at Gitmo forever. Sadly, we can't give them any kind of due process because we don't have enough evidence. And that's because many of them were innocent of any affiliation with the Taliban or al Qaeda and many others were very low level grunts. But they've known this for years [in a mid-2002 CIA analysis].. It gets worse, though. Since we kidnapped these innocent men and threw them into a hellish gulag they have, unsurprisingly, become radicalized... And it's you and me and your kids who they hate now, not just the leadership or the troops. They hate us personally. And they hate us because we don't seem too worked up about this disgusting breach of human rights. In fact, a majority apparently think it's just dandy, including the most powerful leaders in the land who continue to support the war criminals who concieved this disasterous blunder, even this week elevating one of them to the highest law enforcement office in the land.

So let's have another lecture on morality and values. I really need to hear one. Let's hear some more talk about how liberals are leading this country down the path to perdition with our lack of restraint and our inability to draw lines between right and wrong and good and evil. I need to bask in the glow of republican righteousness and beg for forgiveness for sinfully indulging gays in their quest to form families and cleanse myself of the shame of forgiving a man for committing adultery. God help me, I need some moral clarity and I need it damned quickly because I'm really wondering just who in the hell is evil in this war on terror and who isn't. It's getting hard to tell the difference here."

  10:39:49 PM  permalink  

daily link  Friday, January 07, 2005

Shades of Gray: Another example of how the war on terror is misnamed; sometimes they are "our" terrorists.  And as it turns out, sometimes the same people were Saddam's terrorists too. (I've seen other articles detail US cooperation with Saddam in supporting anti-Iran groups like these prior to 1991).  "The Duelfer report alleges that Saddam gave funds to a listed terror group. But the claim does little to advance the White House case for war..

Duelfer’s evidence linking the MEK to the burgeoning Oil-for-Food scandal comes from 13 secret lists that were maintained by Iraqi oil officials of favored recipients for vouchers for the sale of oil overseas. Duelfer’s report says the Iraqi government maintained a rigorous high-level process for nominating foreign companies or individuals who were to be awarded the Oil-for-Food vouchers and that Saddam himself personally signed off on every name that was put (or struck off) the list. ..

Saddam is known to have supported the group for years as a potential subversive force against the theocratic mullahs in Tehran. Just last year, the U.S. Treasury Department shut down the operations of an affiliated group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, on the grounds that it was serving as the political front—with an office at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C.—for the MEK.

But at the same time, the MEK has been championed for years by leading members of Congress who, like its spokesman, have described it as a legitimate resistance movement opposing a tyrannical government run by religious fanatics. As recently as four years ago, more than 200 members of Congress signed statements endorsing the National Council’s cause (including prominent Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Missouri GOP  Sen. Kit Bond.) ..

The question of how to view the MEK has intensified in the wake of the war in Iraq. After the invasion, U.S. troops rounded up thousands of MEK militants, viewing them at first as terrorists who had been aligned with Saddam. But the Bush administration was divided over what to do with them. Some Pentagon hard-liners and neoconservative political activists pushed last year to provide the group with secret U.S. backing as part of a broader covert campaign to destabilize the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.

But Bush ultimately rejected that move on the grounds that it would send mixed messages in the war on terror, one administration official said. In the meantime, administration moderates, including officials at the State Department, argued, by contrast, that not only should MEK militants in Iraq be rounded up and disarmed, but that the US should consider some sort of deal with Tehran whereby MEK fighters in Iraq would be turned over to Iranian authorities. In exchange, State Department officials contended, Iranian authorities might be persuaded to deport or extradite Al Qaeda leaders .. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has been methodically reviewing the status of about 3,800 MEK militants at Camp Ashraf, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. "

  10:28:32 AM  permalink  

daily link  Wednesday, January 05, 2005

MSNBC - Report: Mess-hall suicide bomber was Saudi: "The suicide bomber who killed 22 people when he blew himself up in a U.S. mess hall in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul was a Saudi medical student, an Arab newspaper reported Monday.. [His] father said he learned Dec. 16 that his son had withdrawn all the money left in a Sudanese bank account for him and later received a phone call from his son telling him that he was in Iraq to fight the Americans.  The al-Ghamdis are a large Saudi clan, three members of which were among the Sept. 11 hijackers."  9:09:09 PM  permalink  

daily link  Monday, January 03, 2005

Fritz Institute: Develops software and shares best practices in disaster relief logistics.  Good resource for background information, case studies, and links to practitioners.  12:37:31 PM  permalink  

Groove-based efforts in Sri Lanka:  S.B.Chatterjee reports on Virtual Volunteering with information moving through Groove spaces, building on networks of NGOs there (including Info-Share).   12:31:43 PM  permalink  

Sumatran Surfariis - Surfing Indonesia: A number of local Indonesian tourism and shipping companies are organizing bottom-up delivery of relief packages by sea.  Susi Johnston in Bali is blogging details on the ground, with photos.   Assistance from the US is coming via the IDEP Foundation .  [Via Julia Lerman]  12:27:19 PM  permalink  

daily link  Sunday, January 02, 2005

Iraq's civilian dead get no hearing in the United States: Columbia's Jeffrey Sachs is concerned about civilian deaths in Iraq, and gets an article pulished -- in Lebanon's Daily Star, apparently not picked up elsewhere except by peace groups.  "Evidence is mounting that America's war in Iraq has killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and perhaps well over 100,000. Yet this carnage is systematically ignored in the United States, where the media and government portray a war in which there are no civilian deaths ..

In late October, the British medical journal Lancet published a study of civilian deaths in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion began. The sample survey documented an extra 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths compared to the death rate in the preceding year, when Saddam Hussein was still in power .. America's public reaction has been as remarkable as the Lancet study, for the reaction has been no reaction. On Oct. 29 the vaunted New York Times ran a single story of 770 words on page 8 of the paper. The Times reporter apparently did not interview a single Bush administration or U.S. military official. No follow-up stories or editorials appeared, and no Times reporters assessed the story on the ground. Coverage in other U.S. papers was similarly meager. The Washington Post, also on Oct. 29, carried a single 758-word story on page 16.  Recent reporting on the bombing of Fallujah has also been an exercise in self-denial. ..

Violence is only one reason for the increase in civilian deaths in Iraq. Children in urban war zones die in vast numbers from diarrhea, respiratory infections and other causes, owing to unsafe drinking water, lack of refrigerated foods, and acute shortages of blood and basic medicines in clinics and hospitals ..

The U.S. is killing massive numbers of Iraqi civilians, embittering the population and many in the Islamic world, and laying the ground for escalating violence and death. .. The American fantasy of a final battle, in Fallujah or elsewhere, or the capture of some terrorist mastermind, perpetuates a cycle of bloodletting that puts the world in peril.  Worse still, American public opinion, media, and the recent election victory of the Bush administration have left the world's most powerful military without practical restraint."

  6:17:06 PM  permalink  

Israelis hasten land grab in shadow of wall: Even today, settlements are expanding, with US blessing:  "The bulldozers were preparing the ground for hundreds of new homes, despite the Israeli government's claim that it is not expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Like other building work along the route of the barrier, it seems to be an attempt to ensure that the land between the fence and the 1967 border remains in Israeli hands in any final agreement with the Palestinians. .. [Zufim and] at least five other sites along the barrier have settlement work in progress. Israeli human rights groups say the government appears to be racing to fill in the gap between the barrier and the Israeli border before a US team arrives next year to mark out the final limits of settlement expansion. ..

Yehezkel Lein, a researcher for another Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, said the military government in the occupied territories had issued permits for the work.  He added: "In the plan for Zufim there is an extension to the north of the settlement that was already approved. There is also another expansion to the east. But there is no territorial contiguity between Zufim and the new construction, so it is really a new settlement." ..

Last week the US national security council adviser on the Middle East, Elliott Abrams, told a closed meeting of Jewish leaders that Washington saw settlements to the east of the barrier as ultimately intended for removal. But he said Israel would be allowed to hold on those to the west, which include Zufim. "

  5:22:41 PM  permalink  

Tsunami cisaster may be Sweden's Sept. 11: "The confirmed Swedish death toll is 59, but more than 3,500 Swedes who were vacationing in Thailand and Sri Lanka are missing. Authorities here believe a majority of them are dead. .. Police said that 10,000 out of an estimated 25,000 Swedes who were vacationing in Asia had arrived home in the last three days. As many as 50 or 60 of them were young children whose parents were dead or missing, police officials said. .. ''You'd have to say we haven't seen this level of loss of life since our last war in 1814," he added, referring to a conflict between Sweden and Denmark."

  2:18:11 PM  permalink  

Saddam planned the current insurgency in Iraq: "A trove of secret intelligence reports shows how Saddam Hussein planned the current insurgency in Iraq Long before the invasion that toppled his regime was even launched .. In the fall of 2002, several months before the United States and its allies invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein dispatched more than 1,000 security and intelligence officers to two military facilities near Baghdad where they underwent two months of guerrilla training, according to a secret U.S. military intelligence report. Anticipating his defeat, intelligence reports show, the Iraqi dictator began laying the foundation for an insurgency as Washington worked to convince the United Nations and allies around the world that Saddam had to go."  2:13:59 PM  permalink  

daily link  Saturday, January 01, 2005

CIA fired me for not toeing Iraq line, says agent: An interesting case from Dec 10, will be interested to see if anything comes of it: "A senior CIA analyst who was once decorated for his work on weapons proliferation in the Middle East has accused the spy agency of ruining his career as punishment for his refusal to adhere to official pre-war "dogma" on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.  In a lawsuit filed in a US district court, the unnamed agent, described as a 22-year veteran of the agency's counter-proliferation department, accuses his former supervisors of demanding that he alter his intelligence reporting to conform to the views of CIA management in the run-up to the war on Iraq."  11:43:32 PM  permalink  

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