Political Surrealism Feed

Driving around Vermont, Thinking

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photo by Tony Hisgett

Friday and Saturday, I spent a lot of time driving around Vermont. I also spent a lot of time thinking while driving. I was thinking about whether to expand on my most recent blog post and what it is safe to say. These were the most beautiful drives I have ever taken in Vermont.

The leaves were at peak and the air was still, so there were many reflections. (Unfortunatly, I didn't stop to take pictures.)

Continue reading "Driving around Vermont, Thinking" »


The strange hunt for an Icelandic woman in Plattsburgh, NY

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For a couple of days I've been following a series of creepy news stories in the Plattsburgh, NY Press Republican. In the first one, there were helicopters over Plattsburgh looking for a fugitive. On the afternoon of November 3rd, they posted the story headlined, Helicopter search on in Plattsburgh. It was very brief but suggestive of the possibility that something deeply unpleasant was going on:

PLATTSBURGH — Helicopters were searching the area around Route 3 just outside the City of Plattsburgh’s West End Tuesday afternoon.

State Police and Homeland Security helicopters were assisting with a Border Patrol search in that area, according to State Police based in Plattsburgh.

Helicopters could be seen circling around Cogan Avenue and Healey Avenue.

No further information was available Tuesday afternoon.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the story was an author's remark, declining an invitation to come from Montreal to come visit us in Westport, NY, that, "We do not go to your country for fun."

The next story, on November 5th, was headlined, Woman escapes custody downtown; search ensues.

It explained that an Icelandic woman named Linda Bjork Magnusdottir had escaped:

City Police, State Police and Plattsburgh State University Police assisted federal agents looking for 42-year-old Linda Bjork Magnusdottir, who was taken into custody by federal agents as an illegal alien, according to a City Police news release.

She was in the process of being arraigned on that charge when she escaped at about 6:30 p.m.

The woman, who was apparently detained for some kind of infraction when she was coming into the country at the Champlain border crossing, allegedly got away when she told authorities that she needed to use the restroom.

The woman is described as white, about 5 feet 10 inches, with long, straight blond hair and a slender build. She was last seen wearing black clothing.

Authorities said the woman is not believed to be dangerous.

Police blocked streets surrounding the Clinton County Government Center and were using a helicopter believed to belong to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to conduct the search.

So let me get this straight: This woman, who is not dangerous except for being 5 ft. 10, was trying to enter the US at a border crossing and the Border Patrol decided to arrest her. The cops did something dumb, and she got away.

(A couple of years ago, a Spanish science fiction editor was detained for a while at the US border when trying to come into the US to be a Guest of Honor at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. After several hours, as I recall the story, he managed to convince them to let him go by showing them a story note in an anthology he had with him; the story note mentioned him and so they were convinced to let him go and proceed on to the convention.)

And so now the giant blonde, who bears a passing resemblance to the woman on the poster for Attack of the 50 ft. High Woman, is in custody, thanks to the vigilance of some local citizens who had seen her picture on TV and knew she was a wanted fugitive. Here is today's headline news: Escapee caught in store after tip - Icelandic woman sought transport out of region.

"She came up to us and asked where we were headed," Mrs. Whalen said. "We said home, and she asked if that was going toward Albany. We told her no."

The woman went on to say that her car had broken down and she was in a fight with her husband and had to get out of town.

"I looked at her, and I knew who she was, and my husband knew who she was," Mrs. Whalen said, adding that they had heard about the search over the scanner and later saw her picture on the news.

She said Magnusdottir had paper towels in her shoes because she didn't have any socks on. She was wearing all black, with a tear in her shirt.

"She was nervous — very, very, very, very nervous," Mrs. Whalen said. "She was looking out the (store) windows when we got in the truck .... She wanted out really bad. She wanted a ride really bad."

So, other than trying to enter the US without the right papers, just why were there helicopters after this woman?

Gunnar Jonsson from the National Icelandic Broadcasting Service said Magnusdottir was once a leader of a religious cult in Iceland, which later went "belly up" after she allegedly had an affair with a younger member of the congregation. Her former husband was the preacher of that group.

Apparently Magnusdottir had been dating an American and living in America until recently, Jonsson said. She reportedly had temporary work in Canada.

She had been coming into the United States at the Champlain border crossing when she was detained.

In all this is very strange and unsettling. Immigration could have simply turned this woman away at the border crossing.

Maybe, just maybe, there is something there in the cult story. But what seems to be going on here is that Homeland Security is using the heavy equipment just because it's there. 

What is news here? That a giant blonde woman with cult-like religious beliefs and no American citizenship is on the loose in Plattsburgh, or that Homeland Security is all dressed up with no place to go and breaks out the helicopters at the slightest excuse because they're bored?

Just why was Magnusdottir worth hunting? Is there an answer? Or is this a story about the pernicious effects of Homeland Security money? 


Oppression, Feminism, & Motherhood

I was on several excellent panels at Anticipation which I hope to write about later, and on one panel that was hopelessly ill-construed. It was a panel on which four white people were assigned the task of discussing whether ethnic and sexual minorities ought to write for the mainstream sf audience or whether they could or should write for more specialized audiences more connected to their concerns, and if they were to do that, how would they make it into the SF canon (this last point was illustrated by a quote from Joanna Russ.).

One of the designated panelists did not attend the convention, one overslept and missed the panel by accident, so it was me and this white guy who later remarked online that he has clearly been assigned to the wrong panel. 

This was not THE most socially awkward panel assignment I've ever been given. That would be the panel entitled "Politics & Bad Manners" at a Minnicon many years ago, where as I recall one of my fellow panelists was dressed in a monk's habit, and everyone but me had known in advance that this was the annual Libertarian revival panel. I  spent the panel defending things like the existence of public sidewalks. But this pannel at Anticipation was certainly up there.

Several audience members seemed to have a lot to say on the actual topic assigned, so I invited "Ide Cyan" and a woman whose name badge said "Isobel" to join me as panelists. "Isobel" declined, but made many productive comments from the audience. "Ide Cyan" joined me on the panel, but only after anxiously showing me her name badge so I would know who I was tangling with. She tried hard as a panelist, but also was extremely tense and trembling and talking very fast, as though frightened of me. (I think that is the first time I've ever been on a panel with someone who appeared physically frighten of me.)

The panel went how it went, which is as well as could be expected given both the panelist problem and an oddly constructed mandate. (Canonicty is a completely separate issue from the economic and artistic viability of subgenres with specialized audiences.) I'm told that Jo Walton had written beautiful and lucid panel descriptions that were then mercilessly pruned by a clumsy editorial hand. I think this panel description was one of the victims.

"Ide Cyan" argued that the central issue was oppression. I attempted to get her to unpack her argument, and asked interview style questions about what she meant by oppression. Another blogger has described her as becoming "tongue-tied" when presented with this line of inquiry.

After the panel, I invited her to join me for a cup of tea for further discussion, but she declined; she and a group of other audience members, who seemed to be a portion of Fail Fandom, left as a group. According to their blogs this group went off and discussed how appalling it is that I claim to be oppressed because I am a parent and because of where I live.

Before departing, "Ide Cyan" instructed me to read Joanna Russ's book What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism, a book which as it happened was sitting on my night table. A while back I blogged my dismay with the opening chapter. It is a book that Joanna worked long and hard on, the book in which she intended to reconcile socialism and feminism, and which was published too late to have the impact it might have had because it took her so long to write. (Our collective recollection is that she was already working on that book when I attended the Seattle Clarion in 1984; its copyright date is 1998.)

Joanna Russ was my first science fiction mentor. She was my professor at the University of Washington for two years. I spent many happy hours taking up her office hours when everyone else was scared to talk to her. A few decades ago, I knew her pretty well. She was in chronic pain. She was on heavy-duty anti-depressants that messed up her short-term memory in ways that were sometimes comical. She is also a genius, and I treasure the time I spent sitting at her feet (sometimes literally) listening to her hold forth.

That having been said, I don't think What We Are Fighting For? works in the way she intended. In trying to reconcile socialism & feminism, she has for the most part left out the problem of motherhood and the relationship between the parent and the State. Her discussion of motherhood is extremely slight. The most extensive passage I was able to find, via index and skimming, is a mother-blaming section on the role of families in perpetuating oppression and sexism. (p. 347) Clearly, something had to go or this book never would have got finished, but I think it is unfortunate that the oppression of mothers by the State was omitted from discussion.

So what is oppression? Its definition is not one of Joanna's central concerns in this book; she is writing for an audience that thinks it already knows what oppression is. Oppression is depression — "a feeling of being oppressed"; persecution —"the act of subjugating by cruelty";  and subjugation — "the state of being kept down by unjust use of force or authority." In my daily life, I have experienced all three in connection with being a mother and it is not a minor thing. It is a major force in my life.

I seriously doubt that Joanna Russ I know would argue that I and other American mothers are not oppressed. And I wonder by what right self-described feminists discard out-of-hand claims by individual mothers that they suffer oppression.

Is 21st century feminism really feminism at all? If it has abandonded mothers as such, it has abandoned its task of advocating the liberation of women. 


"Defining Characteristics of the Posthuman & the Emergent Transition to the Transhuman: a Dystopian Scenario" by Kathryn Cramer

Posthumans communicate electronically. Pay no attention to the geek behind the handle.

A posthuman outnumbers a human: their emergent relationship is often predator and prey.

Humans are single, identifiable individuals. Posthumans are legion; they are multi-headed hydra. When fully developed, they contain multitudes, as many identities as they need.

Posthumans are the heroes of their own stories.

Humans may have several social identities, usually dependent on contexts such as work, parenting, gaming. Posthumans have more.

Humans are cursed with continuous lives; posthumans are not. Posthumans can go underground with a keystroke. Bingo, another identity!

Posthumans are lonely, they are looking for love and companionship and attention. Self-love does not ease the ache for another, more satisfying identity. Perhaps even as a superhero.

Posthumans are disinhibited.

Posthumans are thrill-seekers, enjoying the rush of the group demagogic skydive.

Posthumans live in constant fear of exposure as insignificant meat.

Posthumans argue against the unique identification of moral actors.

To protect them from predation, children are taught in elementary school how to become posthuman when going online. As with many top predators, by adolescence, these proto-posthumans with have learned the role of predator. Social networking plays a major and perhaps even Darwinian role in this socialization.

Posthumans hunt in legions. If no one else will hunt, posthumans become the legion.

Posthumans bear no responsibility for the past. For posthumans, electronic life is an organizing principle imposed on the past, which is chaos.

All the truth posthumans need is available online. And if it isn’t there, they can make something up and put it online.

For a human to seek a human's address and phone number, she looks in the phone book. For a human to seek a posthuman's address and phone number is stalking!

Humans privilege relationships formed in and founded on what they call "real life." Posthumans either deny a distinction between “real life” and online relationships, or disparage the idea that "meatspace" relationships have any privileged meaning.

Posthumans like to watch. They especially like to watch humans and other posthumans fighting.

Posthumans find inflicting pain easier than do humans. Posthuman demagogues easily replicate the results of the Milgram experiment again and again, since posthumans are drawn to such experiences.

Posthuman culture changes at a much more rapid pace than human culture, such that the social protocols of online communities less than five years old are often regarded as ancient and venerable traditions. Still, most bad ideas go back a long way.

Truth is the consensus of posthumans today. Tomorrow's truth will be different. There is no fact outside of constantly-shifting consensus truth.

Humans are limited to no more than 3 or 4 romantic entanglements at a time. Posthumans may pursue 15 or 20 simultaneously; those posthumans augmented by bots can pursue hundreds. For some posthumans, this can prove highly profitable, particularly those who specialize in widows and the elderly.

Posthumans can blogswarm from jail!

The posthuman condition is a happy state for registered sex offenders.

Posthumans have solved the problem of professional ethics: The ethics of posthumans are completely undiscussable. How dare you raise the issue of ethics!

Posthumans are becoming the natural prey of Intelligent Agents, currently in the service of humans and adept at parsing social networks and friends lists. Intelligent Agents perform due diligence.

A posthuman’s HR department already has the posthuman’s Charles Manson fanfic on file; is already aware of the disturbing themes in the posthuman’s Shirley Temple Second Life porn; the posthuman’s Flickr account has already been run by legal. Legal has advised management to let him dig himself in a little deeper.

Posthumans are losing security clearances for unexplained reasons.

Posthumans are now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now posthumans lose their jobs.

Intelligent Agents take over. Truth is the consensus of corporately owned Intelligent Agent systems.

The era of Transhumanity is at hand.

History has ended. Posthumans have no history.

Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Cramer.


Metafilter moves in mysterious ways

So my name has been taken in vain in a post on Metafilter. I am left wondering exactly how my objections to people using pseudonyms leads anyone to the idea that I think that "The future is all straight, white men?"

Certainly, most of the assholes on the Internet are straight white men, though that does seem to be changing. But whoever wrote that post clearly doesn't read either my blog nor my books, nor know me personally.

Cowards, cowards, cowards.


Wiscon program item noted without comment: "Something Is Wrong on the Internet!"

http://wiscon.piglet.org/program/detail?idItems=302

Program Item
NameSomething Is Wrong on the Internet!
Track(s)Feminism and Other Social Change Movements (Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction)
DescriptionWhat keeps you going at 4 a.m. when there's so much fail, and only you and your fellow Internet drama addicts stand against it like stubborn superheroes? Let's talk about why Internet drama is important to us as activists and as fans, why we engage or disengage, and what it all means when ideas and personalities clash in public discussion of sf/f books, tv, fic, and culture.
LocationCapitol B
ScheduleSun 10:00 - 11:15AM
PanelistsM: Vito Excalibur, Piglet, Liz Henry, Julia Sparkymonster
UPDATE: Two accounts of the panel, one from Laura, in the audience, with several unattributed quotes about mobbing:

Hint of a fail is when a person says “There is a mob after me!”

. . . and . . .

If you never shut up about things, then you will continue to be mobbed.

And one from Liz Henry:

danny: what seems to spark a particularly bad reaction is a bunch of people's reactions being called a "mob" - it is not a mob it is a lot of individuals having their own valid reactions.

SHOCK: Michelle Malkin helps Bill Ayers sell books!

Malkin writes:

God damn America . . .
and lets her readers know where to meet Bill Ayers and where to buy his book and get it signed:
He’ll be at Georgetown Law School on Monday and at a book-signing at Busboys & Poets at 14th and V St in Washington DC on Monday night at 6:30PM.
Is Malkin palling around?

Any why does Michelle Malkin hate America?


GOP Vocabulary Word of the Day: to nationalize, "To convert from private to governmental ownership and control."

Providing further evidence that the Republicans have run out of the conservative solutions generally associated with their party and are now borrowing from the far left, the US government has nationalized AIG. From Floyd Norris, writing in the Business Section of The New York Times:

Socialism, 21st Century Style
The government tonight nationalized the American International Group, the financial giant that could not find anyone else willing to lend it the billions of dollars it needed to stay afloat.

That is not the official version. Fed staffers, who briefed reporters at 9:15 tonight, don’t even want us to say the government will control A.I.G. The government will name new management, and will have veto power over all important decisions. And it will have a warrant allowing it to take 79.9 percent of the stock whenever it wants. But they contend there is no control until the warrant is exercised.

President Truman once tried to nationalize the steel industry, arguing that a strike that halted production in wartime created a national emergency. The Supreme Court ruled that was illegal. This time, however, the company agreed to the nationalization. It was the only way to get the cash it desperately needs.

And from The Washington Post:

Invoking extraordinary powers granted after the 1929 stock market crash, the government seized control of the insurance giant American International Group to preserve a crucial bulwark of the global financial system.

The move to lend the Wall Street giant up to $85 billion in exchange for nearly 80 percent of its stock effectively nationalizes one of the central institutions in the crisis that has swept through markets this month.

Not long ago, the Republican party was associated with the notion of "privatization" and in the last eight years, many formerly governmental function were privatized.

Today's question for John McCain: what else would he nationalize if elected President? Or is he still in favor of privatization?

My reading of McCain's position in Social Security as described on his campaign website is that he still favors a partial privatization.

Reform Social Security: John McCain will fight to save the future of Social Security and believes that we may meet our obligations to the retirees of today and the future without raising taxes. John McCain supports supplementing the current Social Security system with personal accounts -- but not as a substitute for addressing benefit promises that cannot be kept. John McCain will reach across the aisle, but if the Democrats do not act, he will. No problem is in more need of honesty than the looming financial challenges of entitlement programs. Americans have the right to know the truth and John McCain will not leave office without fixing the problems that threatens our future prosperity and power.

A week or so ago after the government -- as Forbes put it -- "effectively nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," DialyKos summed up the new GOP position as Privatize Profits, Socialize Losses.

See also CNNMoney's video Government's growth spurt.


McPalin Culture Wars Round-Up

A couple of favorite pieces:

First, there's the New York Times op-ed Running Against Themselves:

The difficulty for the Republican ticket in talking about change and reform and acting like insurgents is that they have been running Washington — the White House and Congress — for most of the last eight years.

Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News: Palin isn't making this easy
I don't think John McCain understood exactly what he was doing picking Palin. He was looking for a new face in a party dominated by old faces, a Republican who wasn't tied to the rest of the Republicans (read: George W. Bush). But what he also got was another battle in the culture wars.

I leave it to Rudy Giuliani, of all people, to give us the lesson.

It's Giuliani - not your typical Republican on issues such as abortion and gay rights and wearing dresses at New York balls - who was Palin's warmup act. And in fact, he did about 20 minutes of standup, mostly mocking - and that's the right word - Barack Obama to the delight of the crowd, but in way that had to be cringe-making for much of the rest of America watching at home on TV.

Indeed, I don't think the political strategist who have brought us to this point understand how complex and unpredictable the politics of mommyhood are. (And no, Sarah, your family doesn't have "the same ups and downs as any other.") To work full or part time or to stay home with ones kids are complex decisions about which American women pronounce judgement upon each other every day. Every school PTA is split between the stay-at-home and part-timer moms who do most of the PTA work, and the full-time working moms who (despite Palin's PTA credentials) mostly don't.

Every employed mother has decisions to make about when to work and when to drop everything and take care of the needs of a child, and mothers pass judgement on each others' choices every day. New baby, special needs child, pregnant teenage daughter, five kids -- each of these individually might cause even a suburban upper-middle class mother in a left-leaning community to be subjected to peer pressure to surrender her ambitions in favor of taking care of her family. How can this fly?

Are questions about whether Sarah Palin should be spending more time taking care of her family fair? Perhaps not, but our culture isn't fair to mothers, and worse, mothers are not fair to other mothers.

Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece entitled The culture wars are baaack!:

For a while back there, I thought the culture wars would not be a big deal in this election. We had two serious men of substance who had vowed to grapple with the serious issues of the day - the staggering economy, America's shattered moral leadership in the world, the health-care mess, loose nukes, stuff like that. Silly me! It turns out the real issues are abortion, evolution v. creationism, the role of God in public life, why Sarah tried to get her no-good ex-brother-in-law fired, what's up with her mother-in-law, and whether she herself was pregnant when she got married.
In it she quotes a McCain adviser:
"Frankly, I can't imagine that question being asked of a man," snapped John McCain's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt. "A lot of women will find it offensive."
Oh, were Sisterhood that power! Wouldn't it be nice if women didn't say terrible things about other women's mothering choices all the time?

In his speech last night Rudy Guiliani asked, "How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her child and be vice president?" They dare, Rudy. They dare. They dare all the time.

She is apparently breastfeeding. Wouldn't it have been fascinating if Sarah Palin gave last night's speech while breastfeeding her infant? (I have nursed an infant from the podium, though out of necessity, not for fun; it's a good way to keep a baby quiet while mommy talks to the audience when the expected convention childcare does not materialize.) Having her pregnant daughter hold the baby doesn't deflect the scrutiny that a new mother out in the world is subject to. And Palin hasn't really explained who is taking care of the kids. The implication of what is left unsaid is partly that the kids will take care of themselves and each other, an impression I wouldn't dare give at the World Science Fiction Convention, let alone the national convention of a political party.

Jonathan Freeland, The Guardian also discusses the culture wars theme: Who knows if Palin will bring victory or defeat? But the culture wars are back

In his stirring speech last week, Obama urged America not to "make a big election about small things". Yet here we are, discussing not Sarah Palin's record or programme but Jesus, guns, and as one feminist blogger put it yesterday, "the uterine activity of her family". This is a setback for women, especially in a year that seemed to promise a breakthrough, but it is also a setback for America itself.
For obvious reasons, conservatives would like to see this mess in a different light. Janice Shaw Crouse of the conservative think-tank Concerened Women for America writes,
The media’s frenzy over the Palin nomination contrasts negatively with the positive way that the Palin family is coping with their daughter’s pregnancy; it shows how out-of-touch the media is with the rest of America and how distorted their view is of pro-life Americans who put feet on their policy stances. . . . The media frenzy also demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of social conservatives and the importance of the social issues for most Americans.
Is the fuss all about whether Palin is alienating the very conservative base she was supposed to lock in? I don't think so.

What Palin and her complications represent is a social conservative running against a broad personalized non-political type of social conservatism concerning childbearing and childrearing; she presents an entirely new model of conservative motherhood that bears a lot of explaining in order to seem like responsible behavior.

UPDATE: See also Nancyy Gibbs in TIME: Can Palin Escape the Parent Trap? and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on Making Light: Pay attention to the little man behind the curtain.


What Were McCain's Advisers Thinking? The Republican Party Just Gets Wilder!

When I was in elementary school (in maybe 1970?), my mother ran for the Washington State Legislature and I door-belled for her campaign. She would take one side of the street and I would take another. I remember distinctly being told by one lady on a front porch that I was a smart and beautiful little girl and that she wasn't going to vote for my mommy because my mommy should be at home with me and that I should tell her so. And so despite the strong odor of Reality Show that Sarah Palin brings to the presidential election, I am deeply uncomfortable with what I see being said about her.

I was particularly uncomfortable about Maureen Dowd's breast pump remark, because there is a significant minority in our country who feel that lactating women should be completely invisible. Women are such easy targets for vicious Internet memes.

Who knew that the news coverage of the Republican National Convention would be all about how McCain's Veep choice is HOT and her daughters are easy? Culminating in the oh-so-tasteful comparison between Britney Spears's little sister Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin?

TeenpregnancyI wonder how the editors of the Christian Science Monitor can with a straight face publish the headline McCain pick of Palin helps win over party's conservative base; it begins:

Moments after Senator John McCain announced his running mate - Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, an outspoken abortion opponent - his campaign sprang into action to fan flames of enthusiasm among his party's demoralized conservative supporters.

At a lunch in Minneapolis, two of his top advisers - Charlie Black, a veteran political operative, and Dan Coates, a former senator from Indiana - were extolling Palin's virtues to about 150 influential evangelicals as evidence of McCain's ideological commitments.

Charlie Black, what were you thinking?

I have a really odd connection to Charlie Black, though we've never actually met or spoken: We were both conned by the professional con artist Joseph A. Cafasso during the same time period during the summer of 2005. There used to be more about this on my blog, but I took it down after legal threats seemingly made on his behalf by one of his close associates who is ironically a former CNN exec. On January 15, 2007, she wrote:

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NON-NEGOTIABLE WITH ME OR CHARLIE OR ANYONE ELSE WHO IS AFFECTED! TAKE THAT STUFF DOWN NOW! . . . Cramer -Take this shit off the Internet! No one wants to have a conversation with you. We would rather you vanish as fast as you invaded our lives! Either take this crap down or you will be sued!

So. All right then. (Quoting from private email? Absolutely. Fair use? Yup.)

In any case, what I wonder -- as I see the Palin PR disaster unfold -- is whether Black was fooled again as he was fooled by Cafasso. Or whether he's just fooling himself.

PalinwatchthumbnailIn February, Firedog Lake's Christy Hardin Smith wrote an interesting profile of Black which mentions his association with international con man Ahmed Chalabi. Yesterday, Firedog Lake posted a "Sarah Palin Goodbye Watch."

Put down your best guesses for when, why, and how Sarah Palin will bail from the GOP ticket.

So far the blog entry has 360 comments. (Their server seems to be having some problems, so be patient if the links don't work.)

Meanwhile, the Financial Times editors, presumably also with a straight face, publish the following headline: McCain counts on character to clinch it while at the same time running an image of McCain with Bristol Palin and her boyfriend, Levi Johnston.

Looks like the Republican Party is in full swing, and the party is getting wilder and wilder. What's next? These are not your daddy's Republicans!

Fortune reports that there is an online prediction market on "whether Palin will be dropped from the ticket": Betting on a Palin withdrawal.

Intrade, an online prediction market based in Dublin, created a contract Tuesday morning on the likelihood that John McCain will drop Palin as his running mate. After opening at a probability of just 3%, the odds on Palin being cut from the ticket hovered around 14% yesterday. Predictions plateaued today at 10%, perhaps in response to yesterday's speeches by Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman. Both praised the governor for her reformist qualities.

. . . Placing a Palin withdrawal at even 12% seems bullish; no presidential candidate has withdrawn his VP selection since Thomas Eagleton left Democratic candidate George McGovern's ticket in 1972.

See also The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

I am not placing any bets. I am just rubbernecking at how fast Bristol Palin has become an instant Pop Tart and Sarah Palin the new Victoria Principal. One message for the rest of us is, Don't aim too high. Don't let this happen to you.

CNN's current at 7:52 PM 9/3/08: Palin to slam Obama in convention speech. What an awful political spectacle it will be to see if she can conceal her anger at what has happened to her over the past few days. Will she be saccharine or Janis Joplin? Or will she not be able to contain the anger? Can we look away? And don't you feel like a voyeur?

So. Sarah Palin: Victoria Principal, Harriet Miers, or Janis Joplin? What do you bet? Watching this shows just how tough Hillary is.


Hurricane Gustav determined to be a presence at the GOP convention one way or another

Is there anything more emblematic of the Bush presidency than a hurricane? And so it is fitting that a hurricane seems determined to attend the Republican convention. From the LA Times, in an article about whether the convention will be postponed:

In Washington, Bush -- scheduled to speak at the Republican convention Monday -- was receiving what White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said were "regular updates" about the storm's progress.

Perino said it was "too premature to say" whether Bush would alter his plan to speak to the convention.

Matt Burns, communications director for the Republican National Convention, emphasized that officials have not made any changes in their plans related to Gustav.

"At this juncture we are moving ahead with the planning of our convention, and there have been no changes to our schedule of events. We obviously share the concerns of many Americans as we watch the developments," Burns said.

Accuweather's model tracking of the path of Hurricane Gustav is here.  Whether or not Gustav goes to Minneapolis St. Paul, it seems very likely to hit New Orleans on approximately the third anniversary of the Katrina disaster and a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans seems imminent:

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin left the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday and announced that he would order a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans if a Category 3 storm got within 60 hours of his city. Meteorologists predict Gustav will swell into a Category 3 hurricane, defined as a storm with winds between 111 mph and 130 mph.

Avnl_2

UPDATE 8/30/08: Gustav becomes a Category 4 hurricane and McCain's people float the idea of turning the GOP convention into a Red Cross fundraiser:

A senior McCain source said Saturday that officials are considering turning the convention into a service event, a massive telethon to raise money for the Red Cross and other agencies to help with the hurricane.

. . . as opposed to a fundraiser for McCain? (I'm not making this up.) How 'bout this: why don't they just  pledge to donate all the money raised by the McCain campaign between now and next week to the Red Cross?

Meanwhile, on a very serious note, here is a list of the key words that brought the last ten visitors to my website:

Kathryn Cramer
Recent Visitors by Referral Search Words
Detail Search Words Referring Web Site
  1 new orleans levee map      google.com
  2 new orleans levies map      search.yahoo.com
  3 before and after      images.google.com
  4 new orleans levee breaks search.yahoo.com
  5 new orleans levees google.com
  6 "new orleans" levee map google.com
  7 
  8 new orleans levee map google.com
  9 escape routes from nola google.com
10 new orleans levys google.com

While I did do a lot of work on disaster relief maps following Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan Earthquake, I do not have detailed maps on how to escape from New Orleans in the event that levees fail again. I hope someone else does.


Update: The President's Butt

So the media have spent three days worshipfully peering into one of George W. Bush's orifices, only to discover that there was no reason to give the man additional sympathy. (Or perhaps you'd like to follow that link to Fox News coverage after reading this satire of Fox News coverage.) 

Where will they look next? And will they stoop and lower to get there?


So. Do we think people will stop asking where the women bloggers are?

Images_4
Following the right-wing group assault on Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan for having the audacity to take jobs on a Democratic presidential campaign and Michelle Malkin's video proving that Malkin is descended from a screech owl, do we think, maybe, people will stop asking where all the women political bloggers are?

Mm

Nah. I doubt it.

By the way, screech owls are descended from dinosaurs you know.

PS: Can someone explain to me why William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Liberties is getting paid over $300,000 a year to use a 501C3 corporation to harass Amanda Marcotte and Melissa Ewan?

(His employment history does not seem to justify this level of compensation.)

Taxform

UPDATE: See also Melissa's tale in the Guardian. And do read the comments for the Republican Rape Machine you have and orifice so we can fill it; you were begging for it girl mob psychology.

See also Jesus General. (Just why does loyalty to Catholicism make men think about what they could do to women bloggers with their penises? I missed that part of the Bible. If her blog offend thee, send her lewd sexual suggestions via email.)


CIA Got Too Cozy with the Bad Guys

There's a really intriguing story in The New York Times concerning the CIA's relationship to a major figure in the Afghanistan drug trade, Haji Bashir Noorzai: An Afghan's Path From Ally of U.S. to Drug Suspect by James Risen.

The best line: "In Afghanistan, finding terrorists has always trumped chasing drug traffickers," said Bobby Charles, the former top counternarcotics official at the State Department.

At times, there was confusion within the government about what to do with Mr. Noorzai. In 2002, while he was talking to the American officials in Afghanistan, a team at C.I.A. headquarters assigned to identify targets to capture or kill in Afghanistan wanted to put him on its list, one former intelligence official said. Like others, he would only speak on condition of anonymity because such discussions were classified.

The C.I.A. team was blocked, the former official recalled. Although he never received an explanation, the former official said that the Defense Department officials and American military commanders viewed counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan at the time as a form of “mission creep” that would distract from the fight against terrorism. . . .

D.E.A. officials say . . . Mr. Noorzai was a major figure in the Afghan drug trade, controlling poppy fields that supplied a significant share of the world’s heroin.

. . . in January 2004, Mr. Charles, the State Department official, proposed placing him on President Bush’s list of foreign narcotics kingpins, for the most wanted drug lords around the world.

At that time, Mr. Charles recalled in an interview, no Afghan heroin traffickers were on the list, which he thought was a glaring omission. He suggested three names, including Mr. Noorzai’s, but said his recommendation was met with an awkward silence during an interagency meeting.

There is a subtext of symbiosis here; a deeply mutualistic relationship between the CIA and the Afghan (and even world) drug trade. The development of such relationships was obviously a big mistake.

Oh, by the way, this is Ground Hog Day.


Moninder Singh Pandher, Surendra Koli, & India's Grisly Child Murders

Muninder
India's serial killer case seems to be emerging as a perfect storm of discrimination based on class and weath, police apathy and hostility toward the poor, the wrong two guys teaming up, and perhaps a few other factors. This resulted in a situation in which Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant Surendra Koli could systematically and methodically hunt and kill children and the occasional woman with complete impunity for several years, probably at least a rate of more than one a month. Koli went to work for Pandher in 2004. My esitmate is based only on remains actually found so far; a bunch of the many skulls don't seem to go with the bodies found so far. Pandher is emerging as India's own Gille de Rais.These guys were very well organized. From Newindpress.com:

In his confession before the police, Surendra allegedly said that Mohinder would often call prostitutes to his house. "I would also arrange domestic helps of the locality for my master. And when no one was available, Mohinder would ask me for small girls," he reportedly told the police.

Surendra allegedly said that many small children came to play in the open space near the water tank just behind the bungalow and he would lure them with chocolates and sweets. Surendra said Mohinder would rape these children. First the master, then he, Surendra allegedly told the police.

Then he would strangulate them, chop off the bodies into small pieces, and would dump the skulls and the belongings behind the house, and the rest of the body parts in the drain in front.

Police claimed that Surendra would often immerse the body in a drum of acid to prevent the stench from spreading. Noida SP Saimitra Yadav said: "Surendra had also killed two small boys who happened to be victims of mistaken identity. The two were very young and Surendra could not make out their gender by their appearance. But since they had been taken inside the house, they had to be killed. They were not sexually assaulted though."


This confession was elicited by "truth serum" (Sodium Pentathol). Apparently, the confession also involves claims of cannibalism. Surendra was Pandher's cook.

The Indian media is having a hard time coming to grips with the idea of psychopathy, attempting to reconcile Pandher's former classmates' claims that he seemed like a "wonderful chap" with the notion that he was a peophile and a serial child killer. Biographical details on Pandher are a bit sparse. But there are a few.

One of the most interesting to me is that Delhi's St. Stephen's College, from which Pandher has his college degree (Batch of 1974-77. History (Honours). Third Division) has some significant amnesia about the accused, an amnesia which seems to extend beyond what simple embarassment could explain.

While confirming that he studied at the college, officials at the principal’s office added: “He is a horrendous exception to college’s glorious tradition of grooming gentlemen out of students.”

Even students in the History batch of 1977 that had 45 students do not seem to know him. “I just cannot recall him. I’m sure there is some confusion. I know all my batchmates but cannot recollect this guy,” said Sandeep Dayal, who studied in the same batch and works in a travel agency.

Since the day Dayal read about Singh in the paper, he has been frantically calling up friends from his batch to check if they can recall him. “It was so shocking to read about him so I just called up my batchmates but like me, they too are clueless,” he added.

Singh is also missing from the college’s annual directories that list its alumni for years 1980, 1984, 2004 and 2006.

Professor Mohd Amim, who taught History at the college between 1949 and 1993, said: “It’s up to the students whether they want to list themselves with the college. As of now, there is no trace of him.”

His daddy was rich. Could he somehow have a degree from the college without having attended? Interesting. A guy who has problems in his fifties may have had some issues that interfered with his studies in college. But apparently, he's on record as having a degree.

Pandher inherited the family "transport business, which spreads across Delhi, Noida, Chandigarh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh."

Yesterday, the police for the first time took the media inside the Noida house where the children were raped and murdered. Journalists who visited the place say that Moninder Singh had a luxurious lifestyle and loved hunting and fine spirits.

Walls of Moninder's living room are decorated with huge photographs showing him with hunting gear and the prey. The house sports a mini-bar stocked with Indian and imported spirits.

Moninder Singh is said to be fond of Goldschlager, a spirit with flakes of gold floating in it. He also had Drambuie, Bardinet Curacao Blue and Gold Napoleon in his collection.

Also, there is an interesting history of deaths in the family:
His mother died when Moninder was eight. His uncle, who he was close to, was murdered in the 80s apparently over a business rivalry.
Hard to know what to make of this.

Both men are married. Pandher has been estranged from his wife Devinder Kaur for some time; they have a son who is a college student in Canada, Karandeep Singh, who is currently staying in India with his mother. Surendra is also married and has a three-year-old daughter.

One does not start up a meticulously orgazined system for child molestation and murder at this rate of "production" from scratch. Apparently, they had special techniques for decomposing bodies involving the use of an insecticide. This is something one works up to over a long period time. What exactly was Pandher doing when he was supposed to be going to collge those many years ago? Did the college make some deal that he would be allowed to attend as long as he didn't actually attend?

The Indian media needs to find out a good bit more about how Mr. Pandher has spent his time. And worse, if he can live like this, other people of his class can, too.

Wikipedia lists a few other Indian serial killers. The entry on Auto Shankar contains the telling passage:

During his trial Auto Shankar blamed cinema for "making a devil of him", but a month before his execution, he revealed to reporters a more sinister force. According to his account, he had kidnapped the girls for powerful state politicians, subsequently disposing of them after his patrons had raped them.
My belief is that Pandher and Koli have lived their lives as violent psychopaths, and that there is much investigation than needs to be done of their earlier lives. The Indian press has serveral stories about events in Pandher's life that might have lead him to this, but life as a psycho killer does not start at 50. Nonetheless, the deterioration of Pandher's marriage and other events may have countoured the course of his disease.

From Punjab News & Information:

Moninder Singh Pandher, the accused in Noida human remains case, had strained relations not only with his wife Davinder Kaur but also with his brother iqbal Singh. Pandher’s wife had reportedly separated from him two year ago, while his brother had severed all ties with him over a six-year-old property dispute dating back six years. According to information, Davinder Kaur severed ties with Pandher several years ago because of his relationship with another woman, but they patched up - only to separate again, two years back. . . . Expressing shock at the Noida revelations, iqbal said, “Moninder was always a trouble-maker but i never thought he would stoop so low.” iqbal said he didn’t know much about his brother because they had been living separately for the last six years. “i had even got a case registered against him because i feared for the safety of my family,” he said.
From The Psychiatric Times, a discussion of the progression of violence in several American psychopaths:
Social isolation, loneliness and associated emotional pain in psychopaths may precede violent criminal acts . . . . They believe that the whole world is against them, eventually becoming convinced that they deserve special privileges or rights to satisfy their desires. As psychopathic serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilson expressed, violent psychopaths ultimately reach a point of no return, where they feel they have cut through the last thin connection with the normal world. Subsequently their sadness and suffering increase, and their crimes become more and more bizarre . . . . Dahmer and Nilsen have stated that they killed simply for company . . . Dahmer tried to make zombies of his victims by injecting acid into their brains after he had numbed them with sleeping pills. He wanted complete control over his victims, but when that failed, he killed them.
But unlike Dahmer, Pandher seems to have had significant social connections which he almost certainly made use of while pursuing his bad habits. This bit, from The Telegraph in Calcutta, suggests where this story might be going:
Moninder Singh Pandher, the alleged mastermind of the horror at Nithari, has scalped an unexpected victim — the Congress party. At a time when Congressmen were busy chalking out strategies to corner CM Mulayam Singh Yadav over police inaction in the disappearance of children, skeletons came tumbling out of the Congress’s own cupboard. The killer has been widely reported to be a relative of a Congress MP from Punjab. The recent discovery of four more bodies of small children from a warehouse owned by Congressman, Jagmeet Singh Brar, in Punjab’s Muktsar has undoubtedly made matters worse. Brar’s supporters, however, claim that this was a dirty trick pulled on him by his long-term opponent, Amarinder Singh . . . .
So is the idea that the political parties have the bodies of young children stacked up somewhere like cordwood to be planted on their opponents when need be? That's quite a strange claim to make about the nature of Indian politics. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Pandher also had some kind of US connections, apparently in Los Angeles, From the Indian Express:

The police now suspect Moninder Singh Pandher, accused in the Noida serial killings case, may be part of an international child pornography racket. They have seized photographs of nude children from his D-5, Noida residence apart from pornographic literature, a laptop computer and a webcam.

The Indian Express has learnt that several photographs showing Moninder in the company of nude children were recovered from his house. SSP R K Singh Rathore, when contacted, said that the Noida police were in possession of these photographs and Moninder would be questioned about these.

Moninder visited Los Angeles, Switzerland, Dubai, Canada and China last October. While some photographs show Moninder watching a dance being performed by nude children, others show him in the company of some foreigners. Police say two of his family members accompanied him on the tour.

The children in the photographs are Indian. “These photographs, if true, could expose Moninder as till now the Noida police are banking on circumstantial evidence to get him convicted,” said Rathore.

One of the many questions that Noida police have requested forensic experts to ask Moninder is why he went abroad four times. Police suspect that Moninder provided pornographic videos made of children to clients abroad. Among the material recovered are photos that link Moninder to paedophilia.

So who were his US contacts? Where did he go and who did he visit in the US?
Vigil


First Worldwide Official Public Hanging?

Hanging Am I mistaken, or is the execution of Saddam Hussein the world's first worldwide official public hanging?

While I am certain that the world is a better place without Hussein, I am not certain that it is a better place for us having reached this particular macabre milestone. A return to public hangings, using the whole Internet as the village square, does not seem to me a step forward for humanity.

There was a time when, even in places like London, public executions were "perhaps the most anticipated and popular form of mass entertainment." From PBS:

. . . the punishment of criminals that was perhaps the most anticipated and popular form of mass entertainment. Whippings, floggings, being paraded through the streets in chains and enduring the "pillory" -- an open forum for mockery and verbal abuse -- were common punishments for petty crimes. Executions were an even more elaborate affair and quite often were set aside as public holidays. Occasionally, engraved invitations would be sent out. . . . Large crowds of rowdy, jeering onlookers - sometimes in numbers of 30,000 or more (80,000 was the record) -- would arrive in the morning to follow the prisoner to the hanging platform.

Chelwitch Are we there yet?

Of course, nothing like this can happen these days without being a carefully staged media event. If the public opinion in the US were to be that public exectutions are beneficial to the public, the State of Texas, all by itself, could have its own Execution Channel. So I wonder, out loud, what were the intentions of those who staged this media event. Clearly, this is intended as a world-changing event.

But what kind?

UPDATE: Tony Blair's response to the execution seems to me to display an acute awareness of England's own history of execution as a form of entertainment. This is from this morning's New York Times:

Perhaps the most delicately choreographed response came from Britain, whose prime minister, Tony Blair, took a lead as America’s closest ally in toppling Mr. Hussein while his Labor Party prides itself on opposing the death penalty.

In a statement issued an hour after the execution, Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, said: “I welcome the fact that Saddam Hussein has been tried by an Iraqi court for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people. He has now been held to account.”

However, she said, "the British government does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else. We advocate an end to the death penalty worldwide, regardless of the individual or the crime. We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation."

Mr. Blair himself — who faced wide public opposition to the Iraq war, which has shaped his political legacy — refrained from commenting as he vacationed at the Miami waterfront home of Robin Gibb, a singer in the BeeGees. A spokesman for him said Ms. Beckett’s statement had been issued on behalf of the entire government, including Mr. Blair.

Technorati One does wonder if he watched the execution video with a BeeGee. Oh, the post-modernity of it!

Nonetheless, I'd say Blair's response shows an awareness of the larger cultural implications of reviving the tradition of public hanging as spectacle on a global basis.

Do we really want this sort of thing in our Internet Utopia? I don't.


I Missed the Malkin Fuss & Accompanying Buffoonery

Iraqslogger We've been frantically finishing both the Year's Best SF 12 and The Year's Best Fantasy 6 (yes, I know it's only December), plus our wonderful cat is dying: two weeks following surgery to remove tumors, she's developed some blood clots, one of which went to a hind leg, and today she seems to be losing use of her back legs.

So I completely missed the whole Easton Jordan/Michelle Malkin fuss, which culminated in Jordon graciously offering to fly Malkin and friend to Iraq. A quick review of the situation (between episodes of waiting on the cat hand and foot) is quite entertaining. Apparently, Wingnuttia thought Easton Jordan was a stuffed trophy on their club house wall. How dare he launch a blog, let alone a blog in collaboration with Robert Young Pelton.

My favorite entry into the wingnut strutting was this guy Curt at Say Anything (apparently living up to the name of the blog). Curt doesn't seem to get out much.

What has become even more curious to me is that a assistant (sic) of Eason Jordan, Robert Young Pelton, has been making the rounds of the blogs commenting on various Jamil Hussein posts.  He is basically trying to dismiss many of our worries that this is a media stunt of some kind.  But in one comment at Blackfive he made this assertion:

Hi guys, Robert Young Pelton just to clarify. The offer is genuine, nothing strange or unusual. We go to Iraq all the time so we figured if Michelle wants to see for herself why not. More importantly this is not a military embed. The iraqi in question is not part of any US project. His stated location is currently a no go zone for the US military so she will have to arrange her own security.

So Robert, or RYP as he likes to call himself in the comments, is trying to assert that the US Military cannot go into the Yarmouk district.  That make sense to anybody?  Since when has the US Military not been able to go into ANY area of Iraq?  Oh, but the AP sure could.......

If it were me, I'd take Pelton absolutely literally: Either pick up the phone and call a private military company for a security detail or cancel the trip.  Pelton actually goes places and reports back, and people rely on and trust their lives to his info.

I would recomend that Mr. Curt read the section in Pelton's Three Worlds Gone Mad concerning the trip to Chechnya before taking Pelton's comments as a slight to our military.


NYT Editorial: Desperately Seeking Ethics

Images_2A notable passage from a New York Times editorial:

No, not every error or failure should be a violation, but certainly the ones that lead to an elected official’s sexually stalking teenage boys while his colleagues turn a blind eye or cover it up should be. We’d set the bar at least there. Apparently, it’s too high for the House.
Indeed. But after absurd political debates on subjects like what constitutes torture and to whom it's OK to do unspeakable things, this latest turn of events fails to surprise.

The 21st century is turning out to be a very bleak place indeed.


"The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.": An Opportunity for the Republican Machine

Bedlam_t_1 Oh, goodness. A study of political preferences of psychiatric patients (conducted by a Reagan-Republican working on his masters thesis), apparently broken down by diagnostic category, reported on by the New Haven Advocate.

The blogosphere goes wild!

From the article, given the inflamatory title Bush Nuts: Are George W. Bush lovers certifiable?

[Christopher] Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.

(Via Lot 49.)

The Neurontic grumbles about the popularity of this news story, especially with science bloggers:

Considering how much ink has been spilled in scientific circles over the Bush Adminstration’s willingness to skew science to further its political agenda, I find it appalling that normally levelheaded bloggers got swept away in this quasi-scientific brand of conservative bashing.

I understand Neurontic's irritation, but the Bush administration's industrial-scale denial of the scientific method is not comparable to leftish bloggers chuckling publicly over their morning coffee over a hilarious result from a seriously intended scientific study. A really good skeptical discussion of the issues involved in the design of the study can be found at Respectful Insolence.

Not nearly enough research is done about the political ideologies and theories of the mentally ill and how they play themselves out in the public arena. I'm tempted to say more research should be done, except for the dystopian scenarios that arise: the Far Right Hate Machine secretly obtaining lists of those prescribed Zyprexa and making sure they are all registered to vote and turn out at the polls. (This has the makings of some really dark political satire!)

Naked Science note's Tom Tomorrow's thought on all this:

Via Tom Tomorrow, who dryly notes: "Anyone who's spent any time reading right wing blogs already understood this to be true." Indeed.

Despite the fun and games to be had with this study, though, it does not make a statement about the mental health of Republicans, it does not say that Democrats cannot be psychotic, or anything of the kind, though the far-right blog Barking Moonbat Early Warning System is most amusing on this subject:

You’re mad ... all of you. Totally insane. Around the bend. Fruit loops, even! Or so says a new study out of Southern Connecticut State University. Yes, I’m talking to you - you certifiably insane Bush-lover. All of you need to have your heads examined. Maybe then you’ll wise up and vote for Kerry ... in which case you’ll not only be barking mad but certifiably stoopid ....

It simply observes that among a relatively small sample of the mentally ill, the more psychotic the patient, the more likely the patient-voter to support Bush.

I don't see this study as an attack on conservatives, so much as an unexpected result from a study focused on something else, resulting in a political opportunity for the Karl Rove wannabee sick enough to pursue it: Trust me! I know what I'm doing!

So how will the Republican Machine react to Christpher Lohse? Swiftboat him? Or offer to fund his next study? Or ignore him and make much deeper cuts in the treatment of mental illness?

The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.  —Michel Foucault

The American political landscape is a very strange place.


Fox Dismisses Danger to Hen House

RumsfeldsiranFrom the NYT: Rumsfeld Defends Pick for C.I.A. Chief

WASHINGTON, May 9 — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld laughingly dismissed speculation today that the Central Intelligence Agency might lose its independence if Gen. Michael V. Hayden is confirmed as its new director. . . .

As for changes in the intelligence bureaucracy since the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld described the evolution as "a collegial and open process," nothing like the bureaucratic struggles described in the news media.

FORTHCOMING: Rumsfeld defends Iran as a future source of fine green glass that glows in the dark for use in nightlights.


"What we are witnessing is a political purge of the CIA."

Safariscreensnapz115Larry Johnson has a another good post on Mary McCarthy ends with a powerful passage that bears wider broadcasting:

What we are witnessing is a political purge of the CIA. The Bush Administration is working to expel and isolate any intelligence officer who does not toe the line and profess allegiance to George. It is no longer about protecting and defending the Constitution. No. It is about protecting the indefensible reputation of George Bush.

The firing of Mary McCarthy and her trial in the media is a travesty. Particularly when George Bush continues to harbor leakers who put selfish political motives above the welfare of this nation. It remains to be seen if Mary McCarthy had anything to do with the leak of secret prisons. There is no doubt, however, that Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Stephen Hadley, Dick Cheney, and George Bush directly participated in a campaign to leak misleading intelligence information to the American people. Patrick Fitzgerald's court filings make that point abundantly clear. Under George Bush, America is being asked to tolerate Gulag Politics. That is something I find intolerable and unconscionable.

And it is worth noting also that this was the week in which Bush apologized to the Chinese President for a protestor during the White House welcome ceremony and pushed the issue by making sure she was criminally charged.


Mitläufer in the Caucus-Race: Google Helps Keep China Safe from the Indecency of Democracy; Intel to Help, Too.

Mailscreensnapz004

Here are two news stories to be read side by side.

Xinhua (China): Central news websites back Internet self-censorship (via Rebecca MacKinnon & Imagethief)

  BEIJING, April 11 (Xinhua) -- China's central news websites on Tuesday backed the proposal of major Beijing-based portals for self-censorship and the eradication of pornographic and violent Internet content.

    In a joint announcement, 11 news websites vehemently supported the initiative, saying it represents the aspiration of China's Internet users.

    "Chinese websites are capable and confident of resisting indecent Internet content," the announcement said.

  The websites also vowed to play a leading role in self-censoring Internet content in compliance with the "Eight Honors and Disgraces", a new concept of socialist morality set forth by Hu Jintao, president and general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, recently.

    "We will make the Internet a vital publisher of scientific theories, spread the advanced cultures and promote decency, so as to boost economic growth, maintain social stability, and promote the building of a socialist harmonious society," they pledged.  . . .

    "We are in a stern opposition to indecent on-line messages that undermine public morality and the culture and fine traditions of the Chinese people," the proposal acknowledged.

. . . and the New York Times: Google Chief Rejects Putting Pressure on China

BEIJING, April 12 — Google's chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, whose company has been sharply criticized for complying with Chinese censorship, said on Wednesday that the company had not lobbied to change the censorship laws and, for now, had no plans to do so.

"I think it's arrogant for us to walk into a country where we are just beginning operations and tell that country how to run itself," Mr. Schmidt told reporters from foreign news organizations.

Mr. Schmidt is visiting China this week to promote Google's new Chinese search engine and to meet with officials of government ministries. He announced the opening of a research and development center in Beijing's high-technology district and also introduced a Chinese-language brand name for the company's domestic search engine — Gu Ge, which roughly translates as "a harvesting song."

But in briefing sessions that involved both Chinese and foreign reporters, Mr. Schmidt faced questions about the censorship controversy that has involved Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Cisco Systems.

At a Congressional hearing in February, executives from the four companies were criticized as collaborating with the Chinese government to silence dissidents. Google's Chinese search engine, introduced in January, blocks subjects restricted by the government, including searches for "Tibet" and "democracy."

On Wednesday, Mr. Schmidt defended the decision to cooperate with the censors, saying that accepting the restrictions of Chinese law were unavoidable for Google to enter the Chinese market. "We had a choice to enter the country and follow the law," Mr. Schmidt told the foreign reporters. "Or we had a choice not to enter the country."

Interestingly, Google Inc. is having a few issues with democracy of  its own. From the San Jose Mercury News: Google shareholder wants two-tiered stock structure dismantled

A pension fund that owns 4,735 Google shares -- out of a total of 297 million -- filed a proposal Wednesday asking the Mountain View company to dismantle its two-class stock structure. That arrangement gives co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt control of Google.

But to pass, the measure would require the support of those from whom it wants to strip power -- Brin, Page and Schmidt hold nearly 70 percent of the voting control of the company. . . .

Google has two classes of stock. The class B shares held by the three executives count as 10 votes for every share, compared to one vote for every share of class A stock held by most other shareholders. The proposal will be voted on during Google's annual shareholder meeting on May 11.

As of March 17, Brin, Page and Schmidt owned 76.1 million shares of Google stock, almost all of it class B. The shares represented 25.6 percent of all shares outstanding, but gave them voting power worth 68.8 percent.

But returning to the matter at hand, Google's co-option into the Chinese censorship apparatus, I can't help but be astonished how easy it is for smart guys like Schmidt to be transformed into Mitläufer.

MEANWHILE, not wanting to be left out of the Caucus-Race, Intel Corp. has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Shanghai company Baidu: Intel and Baidu 'join hands' in China

HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- Intel Corp. and Internet search engine Baidu.com have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop search applications for Intel platforms in a deal that could have important branding and technology implications for the two companies in China's high-stakes online market.
According to a press release issued by Baidu's (BIDU : 56.80, +1.22, +2.2% ) offices in Shanghai, the two companies will cooperate in developing search applications for laptops, handsets, personal computers, and other home appliances.

Baidu is basically viewed as a direct competitor to Google's (GOOG : 408.95, -0.71, -0.2% ) growing aspirations in China. The Shanghai-based startup is widely viewed as having a better search engine for Chinese text, however, its ability to search the international web pages lags behind Google. . . .

Intel spokesman Thomas M. Kilroy said the cooperation would "provide optimized search performance".

Um. Optimized for what?

I think it's time for a quote from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Chapter III - A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale

Alice09a_1'What IS a Caucus-race?' said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that SOMEBODY ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

'Why,' said the Dodo, 'the best way to explain it is to do it.' (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (`the exact shape doesn't matter,' it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no `One, two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out `The race is over!' and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, `But who has won?'

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, 'EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.'

Ah, capitalism! As Richard at The Peking Duck remarks:

Now that China is (or at least seems to be) the place to go to get rich, this seems to be everyone's attitude. "Who are we to impose our cultural beliefs on another country...?" All such complex ethical issues dissolve in front of the one god worshipped by everyone, money.


The Iran Stand-Off: What the Internet Community Can Do

This is the second in a series on Iran. The first was Iran Maneuvers: Of Missile Tests & "Salami Tactics", which discusses Iran's recent military maneuvers and the hardware tested. The third is Iran Stand-off: The devil is in the details.

Yesterday Seymour Hersh's article The Iran Plans: Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb? came out in the The New Yorker; a more accurate subtite for the article would have been Will president Bush resort to nuclear war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?, since that it really what is at issue in the piece. I do wonder why The New Yorker used such a low-key title given the article's actual argument.

Today, Reuter's published an article, Iran accuses US of "psychological war," labelling the Hersh article as psychological warfare.

There is really a lot to be said about the Hersh piece and the situation with Iran. But for the moment, I'll address just a few points. First of all, I believe that Hersh is probably giving an accurate description of the various opinions about what ought to be done about the Iran nuclear problem. What I found especially striking about reading all the material on the Iran military maneuvers was the extent to which the Iranian military and the US necocons were off on their own little planet fixinging for a fight, and the extent to which the rest of us are really not part of the conversation. So for me the most significant paragraph in the Hersh piece was this one:

[Robert] Joseph’s heavy-handedness was unnecessary, the diplomat said, since the I.A.E.A. already had been inclined to take a hard stand against Iran. “All of the inspectors are angry at being misled by the Iranians, and some think the Iranian leadership are nutcases—one hundred per cent totally certified nuts,” the diplomat said. He added that ElBaradei’s overriding concern is that the Iranian leaders “want confrontation, just like the neocons on the other side”—in Washington. “At the end of the day, it will work only if the United States agrees to talk to the Iranians.”

It seems to me that the moment the US uses a nuclear weapon in the 21st century, it loses all moral authority for preventing other countries from having nuclear weapos, and that the discourse for this century is very likely to become how to disarm that problem country the United States.

Another key passage thaht indicates to me just how far off the rails the thinking has gone:

The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

Made it in Japan? Made it in Japan when we didn't know any better and didn't know what else to do. I don't think either of those excuses are available on the pulldown menu just now.

It seems to me that there are a few things the Internet community can do to promote peace and stability in the face of what looks to be a dangerously insane stand-off. (And wasn't that piece of deterrence theory only acting crazy? Not being crazy? Have we made the transition from acting to being?)

First of all, get current 1 meter satellite images of the entire country of Iran up on Google Earth. They're out there. It's really just a matter of money. As is obvious from the relentless theme of invisibility in the recent Iranian weapons tests, the feisty Iranian government has its head under the couch and thinks all kinds of things can't be seen. So let the world take a close look at every square inch of Iran, so a housewife in Pleasantville or Tokyo can look at and speculate about the purpose of suspicious looking ventilation shafts. Having such imagery publicly available will also slow down our own warmongers when they realize that that same housewife can do damage assessments on areas they might choose to nuke. And it would be helpful for disaster relief and therefore reduce civilian casualties in the event of an actual attack on Iran. (Good for everyone all around.)

Secondly, the Internet community should be taking on and dismantling the Iranaian censorship apparatus, because the information on the Internet needs to get to those innocent people most likely to get killed in this, and also cultural crosspollenization will reduce the chance of war.

Third, open source, free translation tools too and from Farsi and all the languages of countries on the UN Security Council needs to be easily available as quickly as possible.

While it may not be possible for the rest of us to intrude on the toxic relationship between the Iranian government and the neocons, it seems to me that these three things should be tried.

(See also Greenpeace's site Don't nuke Iran which links to a Google Earth KMZ file with casualty estimates for nuclear strikes at various locations.)

UPDATE: See my new post Iran Stand-off: The devil is in the details.


Update on the Wild & Crazy Armenian Brothers in Kenya: Send in the Crocodiles!

From the Kenya Times, this entertaining passage:

After a long silence, Artur Margaryan, now says he has brought to his residence more dogs and crocodiles to beef up his security. This is in addition to the ten dogs he had imported earlier. Westlands legislator Fred Gumo and his Makadara counterpart Reuben Ndolo should probably be warned not to take their threats to storm his residence, lest they be devoured by the crocodiles.

There's something reminiscent of The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly here. I've been wondering where this story is going. Perhaps it will end with the the Arturs being eaten by their, er, security forces.

(Who is cleaning up after all the animals, anyway? They have how many killer dogs? Wonder how it smells in there.)

I remain really interested in finding out who these guys are and where they came from.

On a more somber note, while these clowns hole up with large but untraceable amounts of cash, famine spreads across East Africa. And meanwhile Kenya is also having an outbreak of measles because of lack of vaccinations.

See also my previous posts:

Below the cut is an abundance of related links along with what I thought was the best line from each.

Continue reading "Update on the Wild & Crazy Armenian Brothers in Kenya: Send in the Crocodiles!" »


Charles Taylor Caught! Then, Nigeria deports Charles Taylor to Liberia!

From Reuters:

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria captured fugitive former Liberian President Charles Taylor on the border with Cameroon on Wednesday and deported him to Liberia, easing its embarrassment at his escape earlier in the week.

The dramatic arrest and deportation came hours before President Olusegun Obasanjo was due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush, who has been pushing for Taylor to face war crimes charges in a special U.N.-backed court for years.

"President Obasanjo has ordered the immediate repatriation of Charles Taylor to Liberia ... to help the government of Liberia which had requested custody of the former president," Nigerian Information Minister Frank Nweke said in a statement.

Journalists saw Taylor, dressed in a white safari suit and surrounded by about 20 soldiers, walk onto the tarmac at Maiduguri airport, in Nigeria's far northeast, and board a Nigerian presidential jet.

On the subject of Taylor's arrest, Global Witness has issued this eloquent statement:

GLOBAL WITNESS WELCOMES ARREST OF TAYLOR – WILL THIS END IMPUNITY IN WEST AFRICA?

The ending of impunity for heads of state responsible for conflict, and crimes against humanity could be a step closer today with the dramatic arrest of Charles Taylor as he sought to flee Nigeria to Cameroon.

The speed with which Charles Taylor has been captured by vigilant Nigerian customs officials is to be congratulated. Not withstanding any further security breaches or accidents, Charles Taylor will finally have his day in court – be it in Freetown or The Hague – to face trial for the 17 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes that he has been indicted for by the United Nations appointed Special Court for Sierra Leone.   

As a result of his arrest the chance for regional security and the prospects for peace have increased. The trial of Taylor will bring to an end many years of violent conflict that have blighted the region and caused untold suffering to millions of people. 

Taylor used revenues derived from diamonds and timber to fuel two bloody conflicts in which hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians died. Justice must be done, the ending of impunity for sitting and ex heads of state that have been responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in the last twenty years must be tackled by the international community.

“The international community and Nigeria must now ensure that Taylor is speedily and successfully handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone and stands trial for the crimes against humanity with which he has been indicted,” said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness.

See also The Yorkshire Ranter post Who Are You Going to Massacre Next?, mirrored here:

Charles Taylor has been re-nailed, after a day or so of freedom on the lam from the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. I was amused by this description of his arrest on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border:

The former Liberian leader had arrived at the frontier in a Range Rover jeep with diplomatic corps number plates, a trader working at the Gamboru-Ngala border post told AFP news agency.

"He was wearing a white flowing robe," said Babagana Alhaji Kata.

"He passed through immigration but when he reached customs they were suspicious and they insisted on searching the jeep, where they found a large amount of US dollars.

"After a further search they discovered he was Charles Taylor."

Flowing white robes, a Range Rover and a pile of cash, eh? His innate style didn't desert him. Like 50 Cent, but with more violence. Wasn't his last album called The Massacre, too?

Taylor's "spiritual adviser" - now there's a busy man - had been saying that he was seeking political asylum in Syria, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea or Gabon. These states will now be spared the embarrassment of having to answer. The spiritual adviser, by the way, is an American evangelical Protestant of Indian extraction, one  Dr. Kilari Anand Paul - the very notion of caring for Charles Taylor's immortal soul, though, reminds me of the John Donne poem about "who shall give me grace to begin" seeking God's grace.

"Dr" Paul (the doctorate isn't real), it seems, specialises in bizarre, rocambolesque interventions in war zones and offering the consolations of religion to murderous bastards. There is an interesting article here including the skinny on his "Dr", and he has a website here. He also has a Boeing 747, which could have come in handy, and a bad reference from the Southern Baptist Missions Board, who doubt his financial probity...

And here's Doug Farah on the subject of Taylor's arrest:

What has complicated the issue for Obasanjo, if one wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, which I am not sure he deserves, is that Taylor’s financial power allowed him to ally himself with many of the most powerful and corrupt in Nigeria, including senior members of the government and perhaps even members of Obasanjo’s own family.

Taylor’s arrest may open the way for Obasanjo to begin cleaning house and take down some of the structures Taylor is participating in, including the widespread “bunkering” or theft of oil before it enters the official state system. But the ongoing, warm U.S. relationship with Obasanjo should be contingent on Obasanjo’s willingness to tackle the entire corrupt structure that has choked the life from one of Africa’s potentially most vibrant economies.

It is a good day for West Africa and those seeking to end the impunity that has ravaged the region for generations. It is a good day particularly for the thousands of victims of Taylor’s wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea. The amputee victims, the rape victims and the child soldiers may now have at least a small measure of closure when the architect of their misery finally faces justice.

And here is Laura Rosen's post:

Liberia's Charles Taylor arrested. A friend knowledgeable about US policy to West Africa writes, "[Nigerian president] Obasanjo can’t afford to play any more games, and Taylor will be sent to the tribunal, it looks like via Liberia.  Reuters reports that Obasanjo has ordered his immediate repatriation.  (UNMIL has a chapter VII mandate to make the arrest and transfer, and nobody wants him in Liberia, so this will go very quickly once he’s there.)   Obasanjo overplayed his hand, and got burned by the overwhelming response from Washington yesterday.  Never have I seen a better example of the White House, State Department, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, working together to send such a strong, clear signal.  US leadership yesterday may have saved West Africa from years of additional mayhem and suffering." More on what Taylor's arrest could mean for the region here.


Melbourne IT Censors Political Satire at the Request of the Office of Australian Prime Minister John Howard

200406033_p4124003jpg343vSurely, Melbourne IT, home to any number of phishing sites [P O Box 99800, EmeryVille, CA linked to is Melbourne IT's privacy protection address], and the company that allowed the Panix domain hijacking a while back, had to draw the line somewhere. And here's where they drew it: political satire. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

One of the many online newsletters and blogs I consume regularly is written by Richard Neville, a social commentator and, to people of my generation, one of the driving forces of the Australian counter-culture in the 1960s. . . . On March 8, Neville posted a spoof website on the internet, purporting to be a speech by John Howard apologising for Australia's involvement in the Iraq war. It was just the sort of speech Howard might have made if he had apologised and many believed it to be genuine.

That impression was exactly what was intended. That's how satire works. It was greatly heightened by the website (http://www.johnhowardpm.org) being a direct copy of the Prime Minister's website (http://www.pm.gov.au). Neville's spoof immediately received thousands of hits, helped along by his own email marketing and word of mouth.

Then, a day later, the site disappeared. . . . He tried to contacted Yahoo! which had sold him the web hosting package and the domain name for $9.71, but no one got back to him.

    In that email, he asked six questions:

    · Who ordered the closing of the site?

    · On what grounds?

    · By what authority?

    · Through what mechanism?

    · Why in secret?

    · Will I get a refund from Yahoo!?

After a few days Neville found that the problem was not with Yahoo! but with Melbourne IT, the domain name registrar.  . . . Melbourne IT shut down the site after it received calls from the Prime Minister's office and the Australian Federal Police, through its agency called the Australian High Tech Crime Centre. Melbourne IT's chief technology officer, Bruce Tonkin, says the registrar acted only because Neville's site looked like the Prime Minister's real site and infringed on intellectual property rights.

What, after all, will innocent children think if they were to see the Australian Prime Minister satirized in public! We must think of the children!

Neville writes:

The domain name, johnhowardpm.org, is hosted by Melbourne IT. In less than 36 hours of its launch, following 10,500 visits to the site, the plug was pulled. By who? On what grounds? It took three days for Melb IT to make contact with me and help lift the veils of confusion. After receiving a phone call from Greg Williams of the People, Resources & Communications Division at the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet, Melb IT put the domain name on HOLD, where it remains. This domain cannot be transferred to another, more resilient host, for 60 days. In addition to the complaint from John Howard’s office, Melbourne IT said they had received calls from THREE Federal Police, and provided the name of an agent from the Australian High Tech Crime Centre. As far as I know, my passport has not met the same fate as my domain name.

See also Tim Longhurst.

[Advisory: as a Panix customer, I am unsure why Melboure IT remains in business.]


Insitutionalizing the Kenya Media Raid: A proposed bill to turn the current self-regulated Media Council of Kenya into a statutory media council, "essentially becoming a censorship body."

Over the past few days, I've spent a lot of time combing through the media overage of the aftermath of the Kenya media raids, which were an appalling spectacle of a corrupt government attempting to choke off the Kenyan public's access to information about the functioning of their own government. The crux of the issue is whether it is proper for the press to question the actions of the government: this is one of the most basic issues involving freedom of the press and the need for transparancy. The current Kenyan government does not wish to be criticized.

What emerges from the aftermath of the media raids is that one piece of what has gone very wrong with the current government there is the arrival of two very strange Armenian investors, Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargysan, who strut around Nairobi with an I already bought this country; what's your problem? attitude, when asked questions about their business and their involvement by the media. The details are floridly jaw-dropping; really over the top. And the media raids seem to have come about not because the Kenyan media is irresponsible, but rather because the sitting government has so much to hide.

So now the Kenyan Parliament has reopened. And on that opening day, Kenya's President Kibaki remarked:

Although the freedom of the Press cannot be over-emphasised, it is clear that it must be exercised within the bounds of responsibility.

SO. What are those bounds to be? Hmm? Well. There is this "Media Bill" which will turn the Media Council of Kenya into a censorship body. From Embassy: Canada's Foreign Policy Newsweekly:

So far, a total of six Kenyan journalists have been arrested and charged in court of publishing rumours likely to cause alarm. They are two from the Standard group and four from a weekly newspaper, The Citizen.

The media fraternity is gripped with fears that it's facing a chilling period. The government has published a Media Bill due to be tabled in parliament for enactment. According to the Bill, press accreditation of those considered rebel journalists is to be withdrawn. The current self-regulated Media Council of Kenya would be transformed into a statutory media council, essentially becoming a censorship body. The Bill will also allow for the creation of a media content commission that, with a fine tooth comb, will check on content in both electronic and print media to ensure the media toe the government line. Toeing the line will also be expected of public publications published by the civil society and the faith community.

Faced with this uncertain future, the Media Council of Kenya has called for a media stakeholders meeting to be held Friday, March 24 to launch a campaign against the Bill. . . .

The Chairman of Media Council of Kenya Board of Trustees Dr. Absalom Mutere described the raid on the Standard group as "exhibition of raw power," adding "my take is we ain't seen nothing yet."

Scary stuff. In the past few weeks of combing through this stuff, I've become rather fond of the Kenyan media. If the media raids were to become institutionalized through this legislation, it would be a loss to all of us. So let's do something about it.

How about the rest of us try to find out what is going on there. Who are these Armenian "investors"? I think we can find out. What is their real business, and how is the money flowing through the Kenyan political establishment? I think we should help out by taking a worldwide interest in this.  I think we would all be better for it.

(I would be very interested in hearing from anyone with expertise on Armenian organized crime.)


CensorWare for Australia?
Plus Who decides what stays & goes? Is this all yet another move to make the Internet more like TV?

Just when you thought that censoreware was only for oppressive goverments, and for use with children, and institutions by that treat their employees like children -- the US Military, General Electric (GE), Procter and Gamble, Exxon Mobil, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Bayer, Conagra Foods, Lockheed Martin, British Telecom, Fujitsu, Volvo, Kohler, and Tiffany & Co.)* -- politicians in Australia propose to turn censorware on their population: Labor to force porn block

(We already know that where such systems are in place, for example Secure Computing's SmartFilter, they block a whole lot more than what any reasonable person would consider porn.)

Internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to block violent and pornographic material before it reaches home computers if Labor wins the next federal election. Under the policy, announced by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley today, international websites would be banned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority if they contained graphic sexual or violent material, rated R or higher. The bans would be maintained by ISPs.

The policy aims to protect the two-thirds of Australian households where no internet filters are in place because of a lack of technical knowledge or cost. Mr Beazley said all households would be included in the policy unless there was a specific request for access to such material.

It was "too hard" for many parents to install internet blockers on their computers to prevent offensive material being downloaded, he said.  . . . Any user can also report material to Australian Communications and Media Authority and if it is found to be hosted in Australia and banned, an ISP is ordered to take it down within 48 hours or face penalties. If the content is illegal, but hosted overseas, it is referred to federal police and filter providers add it to the blocked list.

"No child in Australia need be exposed to harmful and offensive content," Mr Coroneos said.

Gotta love that bit about giving members of the public the opportunity to block "offensive material" for the whole country. The possibilities for that are endless: evolution, birth control, liberal politics, breastfeeding. Even if the Internet were merely held to the standards of television and not as harshly censored as it is by such systems as SmartFilter, a whole lot would disappear.

Think I'm kidding about them maybe pushing breastfeeding off the Internet? I'm not.Note also that Kirstie Marshall, a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly in Australia, was ejected from parliament for exposing her breast breastfeeding her newborn child.

Think of all the stuff you see on the internet that you almost never see on TV; think of it gone.

(Via Anthony Baxter.)

Flashman at Electron Soup has a few suggestions:

The flip-side of 'opt-out of the clean feed' is 'opt-in to the dirty dwarf-porn bukkake feed'. Put your name on our list, dear citizens, if you want to declare that you don't like our censorship, and that you want access to all the nasties on the net. Yeah, sure, I'm totally fine with that intrusion on my privacy. . . .

If Kim Beazley wants to offer peace of mind to parents, he should at most mandate that ISPs maintain an opt-in clean feed. Additionally, he should ascertain whether the nation's children are being taught healthy internet habits, in the same way that 'stranger danger' and other safety issues are addressed.

Here's a simple solution that's much more workable and costs virtually nothing: use your parenting skills.

UPDATE: Cory Doctorow has a really interesting post on the subject of the application of "local" community standards to the Internet in the context of the obscenity section of the Communications Decency Act in the US:

Online sexual material is obscene if any community in US objects
The Supreme Court of the United States has declined to hear an important case about obscenity and the Internet, leaving anyone who publishes sexual material on the Internet in uncertainty about whether they're open to federal penalties.
At stake is the obscenity section of the Communications Decency Act, which bans publishing "obscene" material on the net. The problem is that US courts use "local standards" to determine whether something is obscene -- so if in the eyes of some local community, the material is obscene, then you can't distribute it there.

But the Internet can distribute material into all communities in the country, and because the Communications Decency Act is federal, prosecutors can bring their charges in the most sex-o-phobic corner of the country (say, the conservative Catholic private town that the guy who founded Domino's Pizza is building in Florida).

And to echo the point I keep hammering on, zero-tolerance for something like the abstract concept of nudity is not necessarily even of benefit to children, as "local community standards" can prevent women from the most basic of mamalian acts: breastfeeding their infants.

MEANWHILE, an Australian firm out of Perth, Scotland has made a deal to "provide its 'broadband condom' service in Guatemala." Tracking this stuff is becoming like a game of whack-a-mole!

UPDATE: See Mark Pesce's Op-Ed: Net filters lose battle in the end.


Kenya: More on the Mysterious Armenian Brothers


   Artur Margaryan 
  Photo by by mwasb (Boniface Mwangi).

The Kenyan investigative journalists have been doing an amazing job of investigating the mysterious Armenian brothers who have become embroiled in the growing corruption scandal in Nairobi in the aftermath of the Kenyan media raids of a few weeks ago. (Among other things, the brother are alledged to be the white guys on cell phones in the TV station security cam footage of the raid.)

Kenya's journalists are writing articles faster than I can blog them, so I've added a Typelist on the subject to my left-hand sidebar, giving links to articles of interest so I can just toss in new ones as I go along. I have my theories of what is going on here, but the pool of available information is growing so fast that I'll hold off on theorizing.

Here are a few favorite items from the links in the sidebar. First of all, they have IDed Artur Margaryan's intriguing bodyguard:

Ms Shefana Igbal, is a daughter of a renown Mombasa businessman said to be close to businessmen in the underworld and particularly drug barons, our sources confided to us. The armed woman is known for her daring driving skills and apart from chauffeuring Artur Margaryan around the city, she also doubles as a bodyguard.

This next item is of Jamesian narrative complexity. Parse the point of view on this one:

allAfrica.com: Kenya: Michuki Questioned As 'Armenian' Plot Thickens
Michuki further claimed that the Group intended to publish a series of stories linking key government officials to the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, sources close to the Committee said. "It was a government action. The Standard Group has a propaganda unit which wanted to run stories that key government officials have Al-Qaeda links," a source close to the committee said of Michuki.

So, the Standard -- raided by police apparently under orders from Michuki -- reports that someone said that Michuki claimed that the Standard was going to run stories linking various government officials to Al Qaeda. Kenyan politics has a very subtle aesthetic. I feel like this is what I went to grad school in literature for! As Alex Harrowell remarks, ". . . yes, the government tactically leaked the information that the opposition were accusing them of terrorism in order to bash them for playing the terrorism card . . . or something."

Artur Margaryan, on the other hand, is not a subtle fellow. Gotta love this quote:

Margargran, interjected: "Your country's budget is not enough for the country. It is not enough to hire us."

. . . and this one:

Foreigner Artur Margaryan yesterday told Internal Security Minister John Michuki to stop commenting on their issue until investigations are complete. . . . He also cautioned Michuki against commenting on issues "he knows nothing about".

Margaryan can't possibly mean that bit about AQ, can he? He keeps going on about being a Christian.

Meanwhile the Standard manages to be at least a little forgiving and takes Michuki's side against Margaryan:

What sticks in the craw is that Michuki is just the latest in Artur Margaryan's line of fire. Wearing his arrogance and disdain proudly and loudly this man seems bent on belittling every prominent Kenyan he comes across.

A number of editorialists called for the Armenian brothers to be expelled from Kenya, but interestingly Health Minister Charity Ngilu made a somewhat tortured argument as to why they should not be deported:

HEALTH Minister Charity Ngilu yesterday asked the government not to deport the two Armenians at the centre of the mercenaries row before Kenyans knew their true identity and motive. Ngilu who is the Kitui Central MP said the duo should remain in the country so that Kenyans can get to the bottom of the truth.

Why would a health minister come to the aid of guys who seem a bit too cozy with the world of drug trafficking?

And then there's this business article which makes a sad but remarkable claim:

Two brothers from the Trans-Caucasian republic of Armenia are believed to be the only significant foreign investors Narc has so far managed to attract.

One of the most interesting things about these investors is that they have no need of bank accounts:

THE saga surrounding two Armenians, variously referred to as mercenaries and investors on the other hand took a new twist yesterday, when it become apparent that the duo have no known accounts in any Kenyan bank. Sources close to the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) have confirmed that Mr Artur Margaryan and his brother Arur Sargayan, neither operate a bank account indivindually, nor in any of the companies associated with them. Neither the Brotherhood International Company, nor any other company associated with them has a bank account in any of the 42 banks registered in Kenya, or in any of the existing forex bureaux in Kenya. . . . This means that the Sh 150,000 the duo are claiming to be spending daily cannot be accounted for, alluding to a possibility of massive money laundering in the country.

And don't miss this batch of photos by the talented young Kenyan photographer, Boniface Mwangi.

And there's this piece, suggesting that the members of the current administration have been unlucky and have been having problems with their life expectancy. Subtext is all. And that subtext does beg the question of the identity of that "snake" of John Michuki's now infamous remark, "When you rattle a snake, you should be prepared to be bitten by it."

This does all have a kind of startup/venture capital feeling about it. Perhaps the MacGuffin in this strange tale is the eighty million dolars worth of cocaine -- "1.1 metric ton shipment, confiscated in December 2004" -- that's been sitting around in a warehouse for a while, that the Kenyan government has just agreed to destroy. If you were a criminal, woudn't you want it? That may be the simplest explaination for what's driving this circus.

Wonder how much of it is left.

(See also The Yorkshire Ranter. and the tHiNkEr’S rOoM.)


Taking the Plame Wars to a Whole New Level

Now HERE's a news article that caused me to create a new tag: What were you thinking? The Chicago Tribune seems to be trying to outdo Bob Novak. Not content to out one CIA agent, they're trying to collect the whole set, or at least want us to think that's what they've done. (This reminds me a bit of the fake reports that Google Earth was being used to spy on our troop positions.) What were they thinking, anyway?

Here's the spin du jour: Forget Scooter Libby, the CIA has bigger problems. The pocket watch swings back and forth. You're getting sleepy, very sleepy: Forget Scooter Libby. Forget Scooter Libby. Got it?

Larry C. Johnson has a really good post on the subject that I'm going to mirror in it's entirety.

Well, the theater of the absurd that tries to pass for journalism has gone to new lows with a goofy story in today's Chicago Tribune. The article, Internet Blows CIA Cover claims, "It's easy to track America's covert operatives. All you need to know is how to navigate the Internet."

Oh really? Okay Mr. Crewdson (the author of this nonsense). Please search the internet and identify 100 CIA officers for me. Go ahead. Give it a shot. Oh, I forgot, first you need a name. You do not just enter a random name and come up with a flashing sign that says, "this guy is CIA". So really what you are saying is that if I tell you someone works for the CIA you can do a search and find out that someone, who is a private consultant, once worked for the U.S. State Department? In other words, you first have to be tipped off to look at a particular person.

Well, Valerie Plame was safe until the White House pointed reporters in her direction. Even if Crewdson's assertion that Valerie's cover was "thin" (it was not), what we know for a fact is that her neighbors did not know she worked for the CIA. Only those who had a need to know knew.

Crewdson insinuates, but doesn't demonstrate, that a simple search of the internet enables one to easily identify CIA employees. The true story is more complicated. Crewdson's searches were conducted after the names of individuals and companies appeared in the news. He searched on those names and found links to the U.S. Government. Nowhere on the internet will you find a list of undercover folks that says, "they really work for the CIA". Crewdson is right about one point, the CIA has done a lousy job of developing effective cover positions. But that is a failure of leaders like Tenet rather than officers, such as Valerie Plame.

But here is what is really fascinating. Crewdson says he identified 2600 CIA officers but, out of concern for national security, declined to out them. Thank you Mr. Crewdson. At least you understand that blowing someones cover, even a thin one, would be an act of treason. I am in favor of having Crewdson give Bob Novak a lesson in journalistic ethics and responsibility.

There is no such thing as ironclad cover. Whether Valerie Plame's cover was thin or deep, the basic fact remains--she was an undercover intelligence officer and expected senior government officials to protect this secret. Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney, who learned that she was a CIA officer, were obligated to protect that secret. Instead, they betrayed Valerie and helped destroy an intelligence network that was devoted to trying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That's the real story that true Americans should be fretting over.

I share Johnson's scepticism that the Chicgo Tribune's reporters have done what they claim. If they really had, they wouldn't have published the article. (And the scenario seems to come from an alternate universe in which the printed phone book was never invented.) But it does seem that this takes the Plame Wars to a whole new level in which our intelligence agents are now to be outed in bulk and not individually. While the agency is not staffed entirely by perfect angels, and while I enjoy a good outing as much as the next blogger, if we are to have intelligence services at all, this kind of political operative gamesmanship has got to stop.


Guam Airport Chief LOVES Manila

From an ongoing series on unauthorized cameras and listening devices found in the Customs area of the Guam Airport.

From Marinas Variety -- "Micornesia's leading newspaper since 1972" -- this bit of high comedy. It took me a moment to get a sense of whether they were making this up, since it does so have the flavor of The Onion. I think this is for real, and  there is an accompanying story with a more serious tone. The context of this, for those who have not been following it, is that an investigation is underway to determine who planted unauthorized spying equipment (listening devices and hidden cameras) in the customs inspection areas of the Guam airport: Guam airport chief loves Manila

The executive manager of Guam International Airport Authority on Wednesday admitted traveling frequently to Manila for his weekend “rejuvenation.”

“I don’t like Manila, I love Manila,” GIAA general manager Jess Torres told this reporter. “I do not have anything to hide. I don’t like going to Philippines — I love going to Philippines. I need it for relaxation and I am entitled to that.”

When asked why he loves the city, Torres said besides shopping Manila also has “many beautiful girls.”

According to Torres it is “therapeutic” for him to be in Manila’s Ermita district every weekend because he can do everything he wants and he gets the pampering he needs.

I can get my manicure, pedicure and hair coloring in very affordable prices, and yes I love shopping at Robinson’s Galleria, walk along Malate and enjoy the warm hospitality of my Filipino friends. Would you believe that I am more familiar with the nooks and crannies of Manila than of the island?” Torres said.

He said the pass rider or buddy pass he has been using was provided to him by an employee of Continental Micronesia married to his nephew Fred Tupaz, the airport’s contractual consultant.

“It was offered to me by my niece — I never coerced her and it is her discretion whether she wants to use it or give it to a relative and it just happened that she extended it to me,” Torres said. . . .

Despite these criticisms, Torres said he is already looking forward to his next trip to Manila.

“I would love to go back to Manila again. After our meetings about our expansion projects and various improvement programs I will definitely get my break — anyway I deserve it,” Torres said.

The Office of the Public Auditor sees things a little differently, as recounted in the other story on the Marinas Varity site: OPA joins probe on airport manager’s travels

THE Office of the Public Auditor will conduct its own investigation on the frequent travels of Guam International Airport Authority general manager Jesse Q. Torres to determine whether he violated ethical standards.

Torres traveled 16 times to Manila, Philippines from February 2005 to January 2006 on Continental Airlines using a buddy pass extended to him by a Continental employee named Ana Tupaz, the wife of Fred Tupaz who is Torres’ nephew and works as an airport contractual consultant.

Public Auditor Doris Brooks said the OPA investigation was prompted by the Attorney General’s Office’s request for actions on the report that Torres has been traveling on Continental Airlines using the buddy pass of the airport vendor’s employee.

Attorney General Douglas Moylan, in a two-page letter to the public auditor, cited the Guam Procurement Law which prohibits kickbacks, gratuities, gifts and favors of any kind up to a value of $200 a year.

The law, according to Moylan, states that it shall be a “breach of ethical standards for any person who is a contractor or any person associated with, to offer, give or agree to give any employee or agent of the territory or for any employee or agent of the territory to solicit or accept for any such person or entity or agent thereof, a favor or gratuity on behalf of the territory whether or not such favor or gratuity may be considered a reimbursable expense of the territory.”

Hard to tell from this distance whether the airport manager's trips to Manila will tie into the investigation of who it was that was spying on US customs inspectors, but it certainly is suggestive!

MEANWHILE, the Philippines seems to have a customs scandal of its own, which I have just begun to try to parse. From the Manila Standard Today: Smuggling is rampant — Customs

BUREAU of Customs (BoC) officials admitted that the smuggling of shabu and other drugs into the country remains rampant.

Customs enforcement and security service chief Nestorio Gualberto told Standard Today that shabu coming from so-called high-risk countries such as China is rampant.

Gualberto explained that aside from China, other high-risk countries include Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Thailand and several African countries where the use and distribution of heroin and opiate are widespread.

Because of this, Malacañang has ordered the BoC to intensify its campaign against drug smuggling following reports that the United States State Department tagged the Philippines “drug smuggler’s paradise.”

According to BoC legal service director Reynaldo Umali, however, the agency is doing its best to curb the illegal entry of drugs and other shipments. . . .

For his part, acting Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales said his personnel are under a heightened alert status and are closely monitoring all shipments and cargo coming from these high-risk countries after the bureau received an intelligence report stipulating that a drug syndicate is attempting to bring in large shipment of drugs in the guise of candles.

Morales said all cargo and baggage coming from these countries will be placed under surveillance. He assured that smuggling will be prevented since the agency is equipped with advanced detection systems.

There is also this interesting piece from journel.com.ph in the Pilippines: Why Customs lose billions

SMUGGLING lord Samuel Uy Lee uses nine importer firms and eight Customs brokers to cheat the government of billions of pesos in badly-needed Customs revenues yearly.

And if there's truth to reports gathered by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group that Lee has been operating in the Port of Manila since the 1990s, Customs revenue losses could even reach several billions of pesos, according to Roger S. Santos, national president of the 300,000-member Citizens Anti-Crime Assistance Group (CAAG).

According to government estimates, the Bureau of Customs loses some P100 billion in yearly revenue leakages.

As this developed, hundreds of Customs personeros (brokers'  representatives) yesterday expressed dismay over the excessive red tape in the POM formal entry division saying that their import documents are consumption import entries and that they are willing to pay the correct duties and taxes prior to the release of their goods.

''Buhat ng mabulgar ang smuggling ni Samuel Uy Lee, pati kami ay pinapahirapan ng mga taga-assessment division kahit binabayaran naming ang tama ang tarifa," said the Customs personeros, who expressed fears that it would now take them two to three weeks to have their goods released from the piers, instead of the usual five days.

They called on Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales to immediately attend to their complaints.

Also yesterday, President Macapagal-Arroyo made a surprise visit to the Manila South Harbor to personally commend Commissioner Morales for checking the  smuggling activities of Samuel Uy Lee, who was apprehended by a  CIDG team under Chief Supt. Jesus A. Versoza for alleged illegal diversion of three container vans of untaxed resin shipment to an enduser.

Santos furnished the Journal Group a three-page official Customs document listing the nine importer firms and eight Customs brokers being used by the smuggling lord.

Santos identified the nine firms as Can Walk Commercial, importer of used chasis assembly and used aluminum frame; 2) Pacific strait Enterprises, importer of used auto engine spare parts; 3) Goldsam Enterprises Inc., importer of used automotive parts; 4) Liontex Enterprises Inc. importer of frozen dough and assorted products; 5) White River Concepts Co., Inc, importer of gypsum powder and chemicals; 6) Qualitex Garments Inc., importer of poly bags, textiles and garment accessory products; 7) Wellknit Impex Mfg. Corp., importer of packaging materials and accessories; 8) Asia Clothing Co., Inc, importer of textiles, packaging materials and clothing accessories; and 9) Capital Garment Corp., importer of textiles and garment accessories.

Based on Santos' papers, the smuggling lord uses the following Customs brokers, namely 1) Jade Bros Freight Int'l Inc. 2) MS Misual Customs Brokerage, 3) Global Logistics 22 Customs Service, 4) Marcelo D. Laylo Customs Brokerage, 5) Harbor Link Brokerage Services, 6) Allblanc Customs Brokerage, 7) Elitsped Services Inc. and 8) Mark Davies Int'l Corp. . . .

But the manner of approval made on the 59 questioned import entries is highly irregular because the same were merely subjected to the so-called table examination. In plain language, according to an insider, not a single container van consigned to Lee's firms had been opened for ocular Customs examination as required by law. . . .

Customs insiders said Samuel Lee's protectors and fixers include media people who ape hard-hitting broadcasters and columnists.


Kuwait Dabbling in Allowing Foreign Investment: I Wonder What This Machine Does

Kuwait, which has strict controls on foreign investment, especially in its oil industry, has in the past few years begun to open the door a little to foreign investors in the form of something called Project Kuwait:

In March 2001, Kuwait's national assembly passed the "Foreign Direct Investment Act," which aimed at promoting foreign investment. Among other things, the Act eased restrictions on foreign banks, provided long-term protection to foreign investors against nationalization or confiscation, and eliminated the requirement for foreign companies to have a Kuwaiti sponsor or partner. In the oil sector, the Kuwaiti constitution forbids foreign ownership of Kuwait's mineral resources, but the Kuwaiti government is exploring allowing foreign investment in upstream oil development under terms . . . which provide for per-barrel fees to the foreign firms rather than traditional production sharing agreements (PSA's). The Kuwaiti government is currently making an attempt to enact legislation to facilitate foreign investment in the upstream oil sector, as part of its "Project Kuwait" initiative to boost production capacity. The Kuwaiti parliament is expected to act on the proposed legislation sometime in 2005.  . . .

"Project Kuwait" is a $7 billion, 25-year plan, first formulated in 1997 by the SPC, to increase the country's oil production (and to help compensate for declines at the mature Burgan field), with the help of international oil companies (IOCs). In particular, Kuwait aims to increase output at five northern oil fields -- Abdali, Bahra, Ratqa, Raudhatain, and Sabriya (Kuwait's third largest field) -- from their current rate of around 650,000 bbl/d to 900,000 bbl/d within three years. Project Kuwait has been repeatedly delayed, however, due to political opposition and resistance from nationalists and Islamists in parliament to the idea of allowing foreign companies into the country's oil sector. Legislation which would facilitate Project Kuwait has been introduced again in the Kuwaiti parliament in early 2005. The bill was approved by the Finance and Economic Committee in June 2005, but with amendments limiting its scope to four of the five fields, excluding Bahra. Final action on the bill by the full parliament is still pending, but is expected by the end of 2005.

In February 2003, KPC completed a draft contract and proposed financial terms for Project Kuwait. There are three major consortia competing for the project, led by: 1) ChevronTexaco (along with Total, PetroCanada, Sibneft and Sinopec); 2) ExxonMobil (along with Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Maersk); and 3) BP (along with Occidental, ONGC/Indian Oil Corp.). Reportedly, KPC prefers to have three groups working under three separate IBBCs: one for Raudhatain and Sabriya (the largest IBBC); one for Ratqa, Bahra and Abdali; and one for Minagish and Umm Gudair. Currently, foreign companies like BP, Shell, and ChevronTexaco operate in Kuwait strictly under service contracts (SCs).

Alexander's Gas & Oil Connection (2003) has more detail:

One consortium is led by US major ChevronTexaco, which is the operator and has a 50 % stake. France's Total is the second operator and has a 20 % stake. The consortium's non-operating partners are PetroCanada, Sibneft and Sinopec, each having a 10 % stake.

A second consortium is led by the UK's BP as operator with a 65 % stake, and includes the US' Occidental Petroleum and India's Indian Oil Corporation as non-operators. A third consortium is led by US major ExxonMobil as first operator with a 37.5 % stake. Shell is the consortium's second operator with a 32.5 % stake. US firm ConocoPhillips and Denmark's Maersk are non-operating participants.

I think it's really sweet how they're spreading the love around the member countries of the UN Security Council! For example, group number one includes: Chevron (US), Total (France), Petro-Canada (Canada), Sibneft (Russia), & Sinopec (China). As Henry Kissinger said, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

This distribution sounds, well, a little familiar: From the Timesonline, 2004: Saddam ‘bought UN allies’ with oil

The UN oil-for-food scheme was set up in 1995 to allow Iraq to sell controlled amounts of oil to raise money for humanitarian supplies. However, the leaked report reveals Saddam systematically abused the scheme, using it to buy “political influence” throughout the world.

The former Iraqi regime was in effect free to “allocate” oil to whom it wished. Dozens of private individuals were given oil at knockdown prices. They were able to nominate recognised traders to buy the cheap oil from the Iraqi state oil firm and sell it for a personal profit.

The report says oil was given to key countries: “The regime gave priority to Russia, China and France. This was because they were permanent members of, and hence had the ability to influence decisions made by, the UN Security Council. The regime . . . allocated ‘private oil’ to individuals or political parties that sympathised in some way with the regime.”

The report also details how the regime benefited by arranging illegal “kickbacks” from oil sales.

From September 2000, it is said Saddam made $228m (£127m) from kickbacks deposited in accounts across the Middle East. The analysis details only the export of oil — not the import of humanitarian supplies, also alleged to have been riddled with corruption.

So here we see that same UN Security Council buy-off pattern. Interesting. So what's up?

This 2003 article, Kuwait will not Benefit form Foreign Investment in the Northern Fields Even if an Agreement with Iraq is Reached, argues that the purpose of Project Kuwait is not the additional capacity that will be generated, but rather that it is driven by "political consideration."

Kuwait may not benefit from allowing foreign investment in its upstream oil industry because it does not need the additional capacity, especially at a time when Kuwait is trimming its production along with other OPEC members to increase oil prices. Recently, Kuwait called on OPEC members to extend production cuts beyond September 2002 and lobbied successfully to prevent OPEC from increasing its quota. In a recent speech, Nader Sultan, the CEO of KPC, declared that Kuwait will invest in extra capacity only if there is a demand for it. He insisted that investment in extra capacity must be justified by the return on investment; otherwise funds will be directed toward more profitable investments. When OPEC is cutting output, there is no justification for more investment to increase capacity. This conclusion gives even more weight to the previous conclusion that "Project Kuwait" is based mostly on political considerations.

So, just what are the politics of this? Whatever the answer turns out to be, it is likely to be complex, as this 2004 article explains: Scheme to expand Kuwait's oil production likely to cause stir

One of the most heated debates is likely to be on the fate of a scheme proposed by the government to expand production from oilfields in the far north of the country, close to the Iraqi border. On the face of it, this does not seem to be high on the list of controversial subjects that have tend to raise the blood pressure of certain Kuwaiti MPs (like demands that women should be given the vote, for example). But when one points out that the scheme has been on the drawing board since 1998, it becomes clear right away that the proposals are far from straightforward.

The question now is whether the government will succeed this time, having failed thus far in separating the project - known as Project Kuwait - from the complex web of the nation's internal politics. In other words, will it be able to win the National Assembly's support for a venture which it insists is essential for the country's future and which most MPs say is either unnecessary or politically unacceptable.

The authorities are determined to push ahead regardless. An indication of their determination was the recent creation of a post on the board of the state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) dedicated to the northern oilfields scheme.

ITPBusiness.net (2005) suggests that Project Kuwait may be a way off, in effect, allowing Kuwait the use of the military capacity of the participating countries:

Some analysts, however, think it is the government astutely playing geopolitics: let foreign oil prospectors go digging along the border, and should Iraqi tanks rumble over their wells, the majors’ governments will hear their cries and run to Kuwait’s defense.

Despite the controversial nature of Project Kuwait, it seems to have survived the death of one of its key supporters, Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah.

Kuwait's government is trying to push through parliament the $8.5 billion Project Kuwait, involving multinationals to upgrade four major northern oilfields to help boost its output capacity.

"The country has set a long-term oil strategy which will not change. It is committed to increasing production capacity to meet the needs of the oil markets," Baghli said.

"Project Kuwait will eventually pass after parliament adds the legal touches and some regulatory restrictions on the government," he said.

Several MPs have objected to the plan in its current form, and the parliament is due to hold a special session on January 23 to discuss the long-awaited project, which has been under discussion since the early 1990s.

As of last week Kuwait's Energy Minister Shaikh Ahmad Fahd Al Sabah said top ministry executives will meet with audit bureau officials to 'reach an understanding on the issue':

Kuwaiti MPs and the government have discussed legal and financial objections to a controversial $8.5 billion oil investment in which foreign oil majors would participate.

Objections to the legal framework and financial details had been raised by the audit bureau, the state accounting watchdog, prompting MPs in December to withdraw a report on the long-stalled project preventing its debate in parliament.

The head of parliament's financial and economic affairs committee MP Ahmad Baqer, a former justice minister, said the panel asked the bureau to prepare a fresh report based on new information sent by the energy ministry.

The report will be assessed by the committee after three weeks when it would probably take a final decision on the investment which has been opposed by more than 20 MPs of the 50-member parliament.

Energy Minister Shaikh Ahmad Fahd Al Sabah, who attended the meeting, said top ministry executives will meet with audit bureau officials to 'reach an understanding on the issue.'

'We will study the bureau's comments on the project ... and could accept some of them to make the necessary changes,' Shaikh Ahmad said.

Eight and a half billion dollars, hmm? I think they'll reach an understanding.

UPDATE: Via Mountain Runner, I happened across this Knight Ridder news story: Administration backs off Bush's vow to reduce Mideast oil imports. Why would the Administration want to reduce Mideast oil imports when Kuwait is ready to cut our oil companies such a deal?!?


Kenya Roundup: With Press Freedom Under Seige, the Kenyan Government Hires an Ad Agency to Educate the Public about Corruption

A lot was happening yesterday with Kenya and the aftermath of the media raids, and I didn't really get a chance to get a look at what was up. So here goes:

The Independent, Saatchi hired to help Kenya's 'war on corruption'. Oh, what amazing timing. Oh my goodness you just can't make this stuff up.

The Kenyan government has hired the Saatchi and Saatchi advertising agency to handle its nationwide anti-corruption campaign.

President Mwai Kibaki launched the country's anti-corruption campaign in Nairobi last month. It began with the creation of a logo - an eye with a tiny Kenyan flag superimposed on the pupil - and a catchphrase which urges people to "see Kenya through proud eyes".

Saatchi says it envisions a campaign stretching over three years. The first phase aims to "change mindsets" and the second will show how corruption affects everybody. A third - as yet undefined phase - is expected to be "more positive" and will be launched sometime in 2008.

Saatchi's creative director, Samira Mathews, said one of the problems in Kenya was that people did not know how to identify corruption. "People have no idea that identity documents and birth certificates are freely available. They don't know their rights," she said.

Part of Saatchi's approach will be to try to mobilise people into acting against corruption. Cathrine Kinyany, a spokeswoman for Saatchi and Saatchi in Kenya, said: "We need to demonstrate the cost of corruption by saying these are the roads we could drive on, this is the building we could have, this is what our schools could look like. There must be a clear demonstration of the success of the campaign to keep people believing in the value of honesty."

However, the launch of the campaign comes at a time when the Kenyan government is embroiled in a series of corruption scandals.

From the Financial Times, World Bank anger over Kenya raid:

The World Bank's top official in Kenya said yesterday that a police raid on a leading media group was inexcusable, adding that the unprecedented media crackdown could affect relations between donors and the government.

Colin Bruce, the bank's country director, told the Financial Times the bank was waiting for an explanation for last Thursday's night raid on the Standard Group, which forced a tele-vision station off the air for more than 12 hours.

"I recognise there have been statements made about internal intelligence and matters of that sort, but frankly I cannot think of a scenario under which that kind of action as it turned out can be excused," Mr Bruce said. "It's very serious, and in fact we are awaiting an explanation . . . and it could in fact affect that relationship [with the donors]."

From African News Dimension: Central Bank Boss could face corruption charges

The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission has completed investigations on Central Bank governor Andrew Mullei over corruption allegations and asked the Attorney-General to take action against him.

It means Dr Mullei could face court charges arising from allegations concerning his management, which had caused a major split between the Treasury and the Central Bank Board.

"We did receive some complaints, allegations, which we did investigate some time back," Mr Nicholas Simani, the spokesman of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) told reporters.

"We came up with specific recommendations, which we forwarded to the Attorney-General for appropriate action," he added but refused to divulge details of the recommendations.

Mr Mullei is at the centre of a series of allegations raised in an anonymous letter by staff, which were first raised in May last year. The Treasury, which sits on the bank board, took exception to the way the complaints, were handled by other directors and suggested there was a risk of a cover-up.

IOL: Angry Kenyans swarm through streets in hordes

Nairobi - Thousands of angry Kenyans, including prominent opposition politicians, paraded through Nairobi on Tuesday protesting last week's police heavy-handed raid on the country's second largest media group.

More than 2 000 people took part in the demonstration organised by opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), a coalition of parties opposed to President Mwai Kibaki, and poured scorn on last Thursday's raid, which saw a Standard Group's printing press damaged, thousands of newspapers burnt and its television station taken off the air for several hours.

"We are demonstrating in order to protect press freedom in Kenya. Press freedom in Kenya is under siege," former roads minister and ODM leader told the crowd that had gathered outside Kibaki's office.

And from Flickr, a photo of the March 2nd raid on the East African Standard taken by Fredrick Onyango:

The caption reads:

Standard newspaper employee run past copies of the newsprint bundles ready for distribution as he flee from the security personnel called the "Kanga Squad" which raided the printing plant and destroyed copies of newsprint that was to be circulated to the public the next day. The squad destroyed newsprint worth millions of shillings and switched of a television station owned by the standard media group.