Friday, December 24, 2004


Happy Non-Denominational Gift Day

To the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the Northern hemisphere's year (and the longest day of the Southern Hemisphere's year) Most cultures stemming from agricultural roots have celebrations around the equinoxes and the solstices - so in this season of sharing let's share the holiday rather than claim a property interest.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Wonderful Winter Solstice, Joyous Kwanzaa - and for worshippers of free markets everywhere, Profitable Non-Denominational Gift Day!

And for anyone annoyed by Christmas Commercialization, like myself and many others, I recommend Tom Lehrer's 1960's Christmas song criticizing the shift from what Christmas should be about to what the marketing departments have made "the true spirit of Christmas - that is the commercial spirit."
God Rest ye merry merchants - may ye let the Yuletide pay
Angels we have heard on high - tell us to go out and buy
So, let the raucous sleigh bells jingle
Hail our dear old friend Chris Kringle
Riding his reindeer across the sky...
Don't stand underneath when they fly by!

Thursday, December 23, 2004


Bush Economic Policies Versus Reality (Pt. 4)

Mr. Bush may believe in a strong dollar - but the currency markets apparently favor reality. Battered dollar hits another low reports the BBC:
The dollar has fallen to a new record low against the euro after data fuelled fresh concerns about the US economy.

The greenback hit $1.3516 in thin New York trade, before rallying to $1.3509.

The dollar has weakened sharply since September when it traded about $1.20, amid continuing worries over the levels of the US trade and budget deficits.

Meanwhile, France's finance minister has said the world faced "economic catastrophe" unless the US worked with Europe and Asia on currency controls.
To date, the only actions Mr. Bush and Treasury Secretary Snow have taken to shore up the declining dollar is to repeatedly state that "a strong dollar is in America's interest."

It is of course true that in the short term the US benefits from this trend. However, the world economy currently relies upon the US importing lots of goods from places like Europe, China, and Japan. The US Government's economic policies rely upon massive deficits far into the future, especially Social Security rip-off (oops, I mean "reform.") These massive deficits can only be funded by borrowing from foreign countries like Europe, China, and Japan - who can't keep lending us money if their economies go flat.

Were Mr. Bush a "reality-based" kind of guy, we'd see a slow, controlled drop in the dollar's value over time coupled with deficit cutting measures so that the world economy could adapt to reality. We certainly wouldn't see the US add another trillion dollars in deficits to boost Wall Streets' bottom line under the marketing phrase "Social Security Reform." (Question: do you think putting your worst-case scenario retirement savings into the care of the folks that brought us the savings and loan scandal, dot-com bubbles, Enron, Global Crossing and all the other recent financial disasters is a good idea? That is the Bush "reform" "plan."

Instead, we're likely to see a "market-based" solution, like we did in 1929. It's spelled C-R-A-S-H.

The self-proclaimed "Greatest Generation" came out of the Great Depression. Maybe Mr. Bush figures we'll get an even greater generation from an even greater depression?


Fallujans Return Home

From the BBC:

I've been on several tours of the city and I'd estimate that 70% of it is destroyed and beyond repair.

Despite the conditions, I think that most people who are given the choice to return will return - maybe the men at first, then later their families.

This is because the conditions in the camps they are staying in outside Falluja are not fit for human habitation.

The "good news" from Iraq is that Fallujans prefer returning to a bombed out city with scattered land mines and a slight chance of pitched battles to uninhabitable camps. I wonder whether Fallujah will vote for a US-friendly candidate?


Tragedy in Iraq

It appears that a suicide bomber carried out the terrible attack on our troops. Surely suicide bombers are the most horrifying tactic terrorists have employed to date.

It bears noting that George Bush's "war on terror" has created more terrorists than there were when he started. Suicide bombers, car bombs, booby traps and the like are loathsome tactics. So, of course, is torturing folks suspected of being "terrorists" and dropping anti-personnel bombs in civilian areas. The combatants fight on, while the civilians suffer.

If belief in human rights and tolerance of others become casualties of this war, George Bush will have helped Osama bin Ladin take us all back to the Middle Ages. Is George Bush's "return to morality" a code phrase for bringing back the good old days, when Protestants and Catholics invented new ways to torture each other to death in God's name?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Bush Raises Human Rights Awareness in Cuba

Just not the way he intended:
More than 5,000 Cuban students have rallied outside the US mission in the capital, Havana, amid a row over US Christmas decorations.

Speakers at the protest organised by the government described US foreign policy as "fascist" and US diplomats in the capital as "subversive".

Cuba has objected to the US display, which refers to jailed dissidents, and hit back with images of abuse in Iraq.

After complaining to Mr Cason, Cuban officials set up a billboard including images of abused Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and a swastika.

The US diplomat said last week that any action taken by Cuba against US personnel or the US mission in Havana would not affect {the US} government's determination to draw attention to human rights.
(Source: BBC)

If the Bush Administration wants to "draw attention to human rights" in Cuba, shouldn't Bush start in Guantanamo Bay - say with the prison he established to deny suspects human rights? At least Castro doesn't (to our knowlege) treat his prisoners as badly as the US treats those held in "Gitmo."
12/23/04 UPDATE:
The BBC reports that Cuban artists have upped the ante:
Cuban cartoonists and art students have painted giant caricatures outside the US mission in Havana in the latest blow in a bizarre tit-for-tat spat.

A two-storey high cartoon depicted the top US diplomat in Cuba, James Cason, as a huge Father Christmas - whose sack contains bombs, not presents.

Maybe the Bush Administration should finish investigating its alleged Geneva Convention violations before criticizing another country's human rights abuses.
As it is, Bush just makes the phrase "human rights" sound like a joke rather than a reflection of grim reality.


"Man of the Year" Promises Investigation

US pledges new jail abuse inquiry in reaction to the latest bad publicity.

Interestingly, the FBI reports themselves did not trigger an investigation. Only after the reports became public did the Bush Administration begin investigating.

This is becoming the Monty Python Administration, First, we have the "Mr. Creosote" exploding economy - and now we have the "we will not mistreat the prisoners in any way whatsoever (if there's anybody watching)" of their famous "Bruces" sketch. (See Rule 2)

Big difference - they were joking - Bush apparently really believes that it isn't a war crime unless the press actually decides to report it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Now, Zero Days Without War Crimes (cont'd)

Well, now we see why the Bush Administration fought so long and hard to deny the Guantanamo prisoners their day in court. The ACLU caught them (quite literally) red handed. The BBC has this:
Memos between FBI officials detailing abuses, some dated after the Abu Ghraib jail scandal, were released as part of a lawsuit against the government.

Others allege serious abuse of inmates held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, mostly captives from the Afghan war.
Another document said an executive order signed by President George W Bush had authorised techniques such as "sleep management", stress positions, use of military dogs and sensory deprivation.

The White House was quick to respond to this allegation, saying: "What the FBI agent wrote in the e-mail is wrong. There is no executive order on interrogation techniques."
Other allegations contained in the e-mails include:

* That military interrogators impersonated FBI agents, apparently to avoid possible blame in subsequent inquiries

* That this method was approved by Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz

* The rape of a juvenile male detainee at Abu Ghraib prison, currently under investigation

* That one Guantanamo detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and bombarded with loud music in an apparent attempt to soften his resistance to interrogation.

The Pentagon has not commented on the latest allegations of abuse, but spokesman Bryan Whitman denied that Mr Wolfowitz had approved impersonation techniques.
It will be interesting to see how this affects the federal courts deciding upon the constitutionality of the infamous "military commissions" for trying "enemy combatants."

Monday, December 20, 2004


Incitement or Free Speech?

When news censorship come back to these United States, here is how it will dress:
"It's not a question of freedom of speech," {US State Dept spokesman Richard Boucher} said.

"It's a question of incitement to violence. And we don't see why here or anywhere else a terrorist organisation should be allowed to spread its hatred and incitement through the television airwaves."
-From the BBC.
The problem is: where does "incitement" stop and free speech begin? During World War I, a man spent 10 years in prison after making a speech noting the US Government should do more for the widows and children of servicemen. The crime? Incitement to evade draft laws. (Someone listening to the speech might decide not comply with the draft.) Only some rulings from the 1960's Warren Court protect those protesting today's Iraq War from similar punishment.

Today, people are criticizing Mr. Rumsfeld's answers to questions posed by members of our armed forces. Should these critics be arrested for incitement to mutiny?

If the Palestinian TV station in question is running recruitment ads for suicide bombers, or other obviously illegal acts, their actions should be banned. On the other hand, if their "incitement" consists of praising those fighting the Israelis - isn't that more freedom of speech?

Sunday, December 19, 2004


Another Medal of Freedom Candidate

The most fervent spy-hunting investigator at Gitmo ruined a fellow serviceman's careers, mishandled evidence, and was a failure at his job. For this, he was given a cash bonus.
Perhaps the most aggressive was the lead Air Force investigator in the case of Airman Al Halabi, Lance R. Wega, a probationary agent who took over the inquiry after barely a month on the job. While he was later commended by superiors and rewarded with a $1,986 bonus, testimony showed that Agent Wega had mishandled important evidence.
The New York Times does not explain why Mr. Wega did not win a Freedom Medal like Franks, Tenet and Bremer. Maybe he just didn't screw up enough.

The witch (oops, I mean spy) hunt at Gitmo apparently resulted from guards' and interrogators' anger and suspicion for anyone feeling sorry for the detainees.

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