Monday, December 3, 2007

Was Chicken Little right after all?

When you think you've seen the worst

I thought the NIS report (see the next item) would surely be the lead today till I ran into this: "US says it has right to kidnap British citizens", a headline from the Sunday Times (U.K.) via the Times Online site.

Lest you think that a sensationalist head (sensationalist? The Times?), the opening paragraphs dispel all doubt:

AMERICA has told Britain that it can “kidnap” British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States.

A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it.
Farther down in the article is an actual quotation from Alun Jones QC, representing the US government during a hearing last month before the Court of Appeal in London: The United States does have a view about procuring people to its own shores which is not shared.

Yes, indeed: not shared by any other nation on Earth, and--I certainly hope--not shared by particularly many Americans.

Let me be clear: we are not talking here about terrorism suspects, nor about nations hostile to the U.S. or international law. Even if we were, there is a heck of an argument that can be made against the idea, but the policies now disclosed apply--according to President Cheney and his sock puppet--to any person of any citizenship in any nation accused in the U.S. of any crime.

Consider the individuals involved here: Stanley and Beatrice Tollman, who together who control the Red Carnation hotel group; the Tollmans are wanted in the U.S. on charges of bank fraud and tax evasion, but--being resident in London--have been fighting extradition in the British courts. These people may (or may well not be) dubious characters, but can the national interests of the United States justify literally kidnapping people off the streets of a major ally because they are accused of financial misdeeds?

The Times adds that "Legal experts confirmed this weekend that America viewed extradition as just one way of getting foreign suspects back to face trial. Rendition, or kidnapping, dates back to 19th-century bounty hunting and Washington believes it is still legitimate."

If you are not shocked to the core by this astounding admission, you and I are living on different planets--no, make that in different galaxies.

The room is getting crowded

Now for the other elephant in the room today: the 16 agencies making up the official U.S. intelligence community today issued a National Intelligence Estimate--a periodic major document--that concludes "with high confidence" that Iran "halted its nuclear weapons" four years ago--in autumn 2003.

Got it? No a-bomb program in Iran. No a-bomb program in Iran for four years now. And this is the combined best assessment of the entire official U.S. government intelligence community, not some off-the-wall blogger's guess.

There's more: the NIE also concluded "with moderate confidence" that Iran would not be "technically capable" of producing enough materials for an atom bomb--much less the bomb itself--until 2010-15 or possibly later even if it re-started its program now.

The NIE further admits that Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear-weapons program "suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005" (the year the intelligence agencies released their first--and at that time alarming--Iran NIE, which had concluded that Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons despite international pressure).

But the cream of the jest is this: the NIE asserts that the weapons program was halted in response to international pressure--meaning Tehran seems more susceptible to influence than the Bushies have been claiming. Moreover, the report continues,Tehran's decisions on nuclear weapons are guided by a consideration of the costs and benefits of its actions, rather than "a rush to a weapon" regardless of political and other consequences.

In other words (steady yourself for a shock), almost everything we have been told, again and again, about Iran and the bomb is seriously wrong.

Now that does not mean that the Iranis are swell fellows and great drinking buddies. Iran is a major trouble spot, almost surely feeding arms, propaganda, and moral support to the killer factions in Iraq and ready to mix it up with all comers. What it does signify is that the real leadership in Iran (Khameni and his lot, not Ahmadinejad, whom they are coming to regard as a loose cannon) are not so wild-eyed as to not be amenable to a calculus of gains and losses. To quote:
Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressure, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might--if perceived by Iran's leaders as credible--prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.
For more on this critically important news bombshell, see the Slate article by Fred Kaplan and this Reuters report.

And now for something completely different . . .

The Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee has voted in a few folk. What renders the whole thing a really, really sick joke is that they still haven't added Marvin Miller or Billy Martin, while meanwhile a zombie like Bowie Kuhn makes it.

The situation has gone beyond grimly humorous: it now sucks toxic waste through a straw. So who is this Committee? As to Miller, it's "a Board-appointed committee, comprised of Hall of Fame members, executives and veteran writers will review of ballot of executives"; so let's list the names:
  • Monte Irvin
  • Harmon Killebrew
  • Bobby Brown
  • John Harrington
  • Jerry Bell
  • Bill DeWitt
  • Bill Giles
  • David Glass
  • Andy MacPhail
  • Paul Hagen
  • Rick Hummel
  • Hal McCoy
OK, we can only blame 8 of them--Miller did get 4 votes; but, God in Heaven, so did Bob Howsam. Now nothing against Mr. Howsam, but in 2050 how often will people still mention Marvin Miller--who utterly transformed the game--versus how often will they mention, uh, wossname.

So, in the spirit of the thing, I hereby announce that 8 of those 12 men--boy, I wish I knew which--have today been voted into the Baseball Hall of Shame by the overwhelming margin of 1-0. If any of those 8 esteemed gentlemen would care to go public with the reasons for his non-vote, I am sure all America would love to hear them.

As to Martin--working on the assumption that his Hall credentials come from his managerial career as opposed to his playing career--it's "a Board-appointed committee of 16 electors comprised of Hall of Fame members, executives, veteran writers, and historians will review a ballot of managers and umpires"; they were:
  • Hank Aaron
  • Jim Bunning
  • Bob Gibson
  • Fergie Jenkins
  • Al Kaline
  • Tom Lasorda
  • Phil Niekro
  • Tony Perez
  • Earl Weaver
  • Billy Williams
  • Jim Frey
  • Roland Hemond
  • Bob Watson
  • Jack O'Connell
  • Tim Kurkjian
  • Tom Verducci
It's harder to be rough with that lot; some of them are indeed idiots, but some surely know their apples about the game.

To my mind, and especially for men being considered on something other than their playing careers (for which we have stats to evaluate them), the old standby still works: if you cannot seriously discuss baseball of their era for long without their name coming up, they're "famous" and belong in the Hall of Fame (barring comically obvious flukes famed for some one silly action). How one can say that as a manager Billy Martin is not a Hall of Famer is, um, unclear to me. I mean, for pity's sake Danny Murtagh got six votes while Martin got two or fewer (it's not recorded save as "less than three"). What in blazes did someone put in the water cooler here?

(Miller's reaction was, like his entire career, decent and credible.)


As always, there's more

The more it changes, the more it's the same old stuff. But when we get tired of paying attention to it is when we get tired of being responsible adults.

The value of headlines

CNN: US: Iran not building nukes

AP: US: Iran Still Able to Develop Nukes

Deathwish, or I'd rather be left than be president

Not even one in four [Democrats in Iowa, NH, and SC] says he would prefer an electable candidate to one with whom he agrees on the issues. And you wonder if Ralph Nader is still laughing.

Um, yes, what did you expect?

The Washington Post: "Far from vindicating the current U.S. policy of withholding federal funds from many of those working to develop potentially lifesaving embryonic stem cells, recent papers in the journals Science and Cell described a breakthrough achieved despite political restrictions. In fact, work by both the U.S. and Japanese teams that reprogrammed skin cells depended entirely on previous embryonic stem cell research. At a time when nearly 60 percent of Americans support human embryonic stem cell research, U.S. stem cell policy runs counter to both scientific and public opinion."

Good analogy

I like Jay Cost's analogy that political campaigns are like movies: "Movies are complete put-ons. They are not real. But movies that are well executed can communicate true themes that resonate with viewers. When they are poorly executed--when the acting is bad, the script is formulaic, or the technical production is lacking--the whole effect is ruined."

Um, yes, what did you expect? Part II

From the Washington Post:The American delegation [to the U.N. climate conference] presented a statement detailing measures the U.S. is taking, such as promoting energy efficiency and cleaner technologies. Yet, it remains opposed to mandatory emission cuts on an international level and scoffed at the notion of taking any action to immediately phase out use of fossil fuels.

You know it's really bad when...

Time comments slashingly on a Republican administration:
It was at the 1997 conference, held in Japan, that the Kyoto Protocol was passed, but since then, there's been little progress, thanks in no small part to President George W. Bush's determined foot dragging on climate change. . . . The good news is that the White House is seemingly the only place green hasn't gone mainstream. . . . The best contribution President Bush can make for the [current] Bali process is to continue doing what he has done best on climate change: nothing.

This is important and you can help

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J. Martin is trying very hard to pitch a slider past the American public. Right now, no company is allowed, by FCC rule, to own both a daily newspaper and a broadcast station--radio or TV--in the same market (albeit they can with a special waiver). Martin, who probably couldn't spell "competition" or "diversity", wants to scrap that rule for media companies in the 20 largest markets, media companies which perforce are the biggest going.

"If we don't act to improve the health of the ... industry, we will see newspapers wither and die ... and have fewer outlets for the expression of independent thinking and diversity of viewpoints." OK, I was wrong: he can spell diversity--he just doesn't know what it means. Hint, Kevin: it does not mean fewer and fewer independent voices.

Assume for argument that he is correct (which is dubious) and that in every major market all the newspapers go under; the number of independent voices left is just the number of broadcast outlets there. If instead we follow his route and allow, say, two or three newspapers to be bought by broadcast stations (or vice-versa), those two or three papers will stay in existence. But have we increased the "voices" count? We have not, because each remaining newspaper is functionally equivalent--no matter what pseudo-independence they would claim--to one of the broadcast outlets. Big whoop, except that now the few big conglomerates each have two voices per market to spread their editorial views.

What makes his pitch a slider is that he made it on November 13th, exactly four days following the Commission's last hearing of the year on the topic of media ownership--leaving, under the extant rules, only till December 11th for the public to register comments his bright idea, with the FCC vote coming the week after that deadline. That is, deliberately, a very narrow time window, and one carefully placed at a time of year when the public is least likely to be paying attention to bureaucratic rulings, however important, what with the holidays and the primaries.

Michael Copps, the only Democratic appointee on the three-person Commission, told Salon's Louise Witt--in an interview that you really, really should read--that "it's not the modest proposal that he would have us believe, because I find it is riven with loopholes. For example, he says that it is only going to affect the top 20 markets. That, by the way, is 42 or 43 percent of all of our households. But point in fact, there is a major loophole that would allow companies in smaller markets, just about any market, to apply for a similar exception on the basis of meeting a few loose criteria. So what you could wind up with is newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in many, many more markets."

Moreover, he added, "I think that if they get away with this one proposal with newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, they'll come back for changes in more of the rules, like allowing more duopolies or triopolies like the ones [then-FCC-] chairman [Michael] Powell proposed back in 2003."

You know it's important when there's bipartisan opposition to it: Martin's "do it now" rush resulted in Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan and hardcore Republican Senator Trent Lott to co-sponsor legislation to stop the Commission's "fast march" to the rules change.

You can file a comment, but remember that time is short now. Strangely (ho ho), the electronic filing procedure is a needlessly complicated mess. If you go to the FCC web site Comments page, you will find that the Commission "will accept filings in the following formats: MS Word 6.0 and higher, MS Excel 4.0 and higher, Word Perfect 5.1 and higher, ASCII Text, and Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF)." But be sure to read everything on the page before starting.

Um, yes, what did you expect? Part III

The right wing of the blogosphere is going postal over the likelihood that the gay retired military officer who submitted a crucial question to the most recent Republican debate is a Democrat. The Tarzanic chest-thumping bypasses the most obvious comeback of all: So what? It was a relevant question: answer it or no. As one non-right-wing blogger summed it up:
"But... If any of the GOP candidates were able to produce any goddamn coherent answer to the question, you know, it wouldn't be embarrassing. The reason it's embarrassing is that on this policy issue the GOP candidates can't answer it in a way that will please both their base and, well, people who aren't crazy."

The same, Part IV

The Seattle Post Intelligencer has a guest column by Johann Hari, "Republicans form a new plot to rig the 2008 election". It's about the right-funded campaign in California to change state law so as to apportion the state's electoral votes, as opposed to the winner-takes-all system now used in 48 of the 50 states. Doing that would give the Republicans about 20 extra electoral votes, making it nearly impossible to defeat them for the presidency.

As Hari points out, and as I have said before, the Electoral College is a half-witted monstrosity. It would be fine if every state simultaneously agreed to allocate its electoral votes by Congressional district, or even by popular vote: that would approach a real election for the presidency, avoiding the national shame of a president being "elected" with neither a majority nor even a plurality (as George Bush was). But to target one particular large state for such a change is extremely dirty and wildly unfair politics. But, of course, (see subheading above).

Rotten politics

No, this time it's literal: vegetables and fruits are agin this year rotting away in the fields and orchards, because there aren't enough seasonal agricultural workers to pick them. The loss to the economy is in megabucks. Why this bizarre situation? (You can see it coming, yes?)

Because at least half, and possibly as many as 70 percent, of the 1.6 million farmworkers in America are undocumented immigrants. And the pool has largely dried up, owing to the economic illiterates we let run this nation.

The Washington Post has taken note.

And last and least...

When one might think one had seen it all, one finds the staid and stately Times of London reporting and commenting on a rumor that Condoleeza Rice is gay. A recent scandal-sheet article including that rumor "revived long-standing Washington gossip about Rice’s sexuality and sparked off the usual flurry of internet chatter about her high-profile role in a Republican administration widely regarded as hostile to gays."

The article mentions that "a Google search of the words 'Condoleezza' and 'lesbian' last week yielded 146,000 hits"; as of this writing, it's 152,000, testimony to the power of the press, or something.

The Times article goes on to focus on the American media's emphasis on the titillating as opposed to the substantive, but returns to the subject of Rice:
It was far from the first time that she had been linked to lesbian rumours. In a recent biography of Rice, Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s diplomatic correspondent, noted that [another unmarried woman, a film-maker named Randy] Bean, described as a “liberal progressive”, was her “closest female friend”. It was Kessler who discovered from a search of property records that Rice and Bean owned a house together.

Rice does not comment on her private life, and she is not an elected official, so her sexuality has never been a campaign issue. But the gay community has long been troubled by her association with conservative Republicans opposed to gay marriage, and with evangelical Christians who regard homosexuality as a sin.
As ye sow . . . .

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