Political MoJo

Saddam's Execution: You Call that Justice?

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 12:33 PM EST

With all the tough talk from Congressional Democrats about the myriad investigations they are set to launch, their first order of business should be to look into just how and why the U.S. turned over its most important P.O.W., Saddam Hussein, to a death squad for barbaric execution.

Here is how Juan Cole, the respected Middle East scholar, described the situation this morning:

A Ministry of Interior official admitted to Reuters on Wednesday that Saddam's execution was carried out by militiamen rather than by IM security guards, as planned. It is alleged that militiamen infiltrated the guards. That is, the earlier Sunni charges that Saddam was handed over to the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr for execution were more or less correct….

Even the noose that hanged Saddam has ended up in the possession of Muqtada al-Sadr. A Kuwaiti businessman is trying to buy it as a memento. Saddam killed Muqtada's father and also invaded Kuwait.

People will say, of course, that this was just another internal Iraqi matter over which the U.S. had no say. Nobody believes that. Saddam was a U.S. prisoner, sentenced to death, who was turned over by U.S. authorities to a paramilitary death squad. The White House, for its part, calls this justice.

There is a theory, needless to say, that the execution was all part of some Byzantine deal whereby al-Sadr, after getting off abusing Saddam at the execution, will now act as an intermediary with the Sunnis to end the civil war. Meanwhile, al-Sadr's militiamen may get another chance to mock two more Iraqi prisoners. Next in line for the gallows are Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and former chief judge Awad al-Bandar.

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Honeymoon Poll Shows Support for New Congress

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 12:02 PM EST

As Nancy Pelosi is sworn in and a new Congress takes the reigns it's worth noting that on three major issues Dems are set to tackle early on -- minimum wage, stem cell research and prescription drugs -- the majority of Americans, including lots of Republicans, are behind them, for now.

An Associated Press-AOL poll released yesterday finds that Congress' early goals have widespread appeal:

Nearly six in 10 U.S. adults support easing restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. Democratic congressional leaders this month plan to approve a bill similar to the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Dems are also poised to boost the federal minimum wage, which has wallowed at $5.15/hr for a full decade, and 80% of survey respondents, including 65% of Republicans, support the increase.

On the prescription drug front, where Congress will look to facilitate the purchase of more affordable drugs from other countries, seven in 10 Americans favor the government taking such steps.

Poll takers took the most pause when asked about their view of Pelosi as a leader. While equal parts, 22% each, view her favorably and non-favorably, more than half of Americans, 55%, say they just don't know enough about her yet. Surely, as her leadership begins this hour, her actions to come will vault this majority into one camp or the other.

Nancy, show us what you've got.

Whistleblowers Get Their Own Wikipedia

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 11:46 AM EST


This could be cool. A new site, Wikileaks, is setting up an open-source, online repository for leaked information. Using a wiki interface, it will allow anonymous whistleblowers to upload confidential info—but unlike Wikipedia, unhappy bosses and government agencies won't be able to edit or delete the entries. The site already claims to have received 1.1 million documents and plans "to numerically eclipse the content the English Wikipedia with leaked documents." Sounds like a potentially great source for activists and journalists. Not everyone is excited, though. Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, who often passes on leaked or declassified documents from the U.S. government, writes: "In the absence of accountable editorial oversight, publication can more easily become an act of aggression or an incitement to violence, not to mention an invasion of privacy or an offense against good taste." Which gets to the heart of the wiki issue—unfettered authorship versus the demands of accuracy. Let's see what happens here.

El Nino + Emissions = Our Toastiest Year Yet

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 9:04 AM EST

Today the U.K's weather forecasting division (why can't we have one of those?) released its projection that the one-two punch of El Niño and global warming could net the world's warmest ever year on record.

Each January the Met Office issues a global forecast, which takes into account solar effects, El Niño, greenhouse gases concentrations and other multi-decadal influences. Over the previous seven years the annual global temperature forecasts have been right on, with a tiny error mean of just 0.06 °C.

This year the data says there's a 60 percent chance that 2007 will be hotter than 1998, the current warmest year. The main factor behind the prediction is the onset last year of El Niño, a warming of the eastern Pacific's equatorial waters that occurs every two to seven years.

Worldwide, the 10 warmest years since 1850 have all occurred in the past 12 years. And with every year of rising temperatures we are seeing species and ecosystems altered beyond their tipping points, with everything from jellyfish to African storks feeling the burn.

In 1998, global temperatures were 0.52 degrees above the long-term average, and this year, the Met Office's central forecast is for them to be 0.54 degrees above the mean. The forecast explains that while the current El Niño effect -- warming parts of the Pacific by between 1 and 3 degrees -- isn't as strong as the 1997-1998 pattern when the ocean warmed in parts by as much as 4 degrees, the signifincantly greater volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is likely to make 2007 warmer still than 1998.

Later this year the U.N.-created Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its fourth assessment on changing weather patterns (and the first since 2001). The report will synthesize data and predictions from thousands of climate scientists from around the world, and offer critical information on climate change. We'll see if President Bush finds it's important enough to actually read.

Where free speech ends and threats begin

| Wed Jan. 3, 2007 9:40 PM EST

Even the most enthusiastic supporter of free speech understands why you cannot--to use a worn-out, but still good example--shout "fire!" in a crowded theater. Our courts and our law enforcement agencies have long disagreed on when a threat is dangerous and when it is "just a threat." Until we had stalker laws, many citizens were told that nothing could be done about the people who threatened them, and in some communities, stalker laws are still ignored by law enforcement.

People who have used the Internet to make threats against others have also found that their threats are often protected by First Amendment principles. Reasonable people can disagree over the First Amendment, but surely there are some circumstances in which threats can be seen as nothing but dangerous.

It seems to me (and actually, I am one of those people who believes we should take all threats seriously) that most people would take seriously a threat that is both significant in meaning and specific in content. If it were repeated over time, that would, I believe, make it even more potent. Which brings me to radio host Hal Turner, who is already well known for his verbal attacks and threats on African Americans, Jews and illegal immigrants.

Prior to the November elections, Turner stated that he might have to assassinate some members of Congress if the "wrong" people were elected. He recently posted on his website the following:


Turner is also running this disclaimer on his website: "Due to recent Denial of Service Attacks and Bandwidth Leeching Fraud, most of the content on this site was intentionally removed by Hal Turner."

The radio host says that by stating that we (whoever "we" are) "may" have to kill the Congresspeople, he is just commenting, as opposed to advocating (saying we "will" have to kill them). The first, he says, is an opinion, and the second is a threat. But this is what Turner said on the air recently:

This seems to be "it," folks. I'm going to do what I have to do to protect my nation from its government. I know where all of my New Jersey Congressmen and Senators live. Do you know where yours live? If not, you better find out before January so you can scope out their neighborhoods and prepare yourselves.
Those of you who, for years, have said you're "gonna do this" or "gonna do that" when the time comes; are about to face ugly reality. In January, "the time" will come. In January the entire world will find out if you're real or just a bigmouth coward.
If Turner can construe that as "commentary" rather than "threat," I would certainly like to hear how. The FBI, for its part, will not (as opposed to "may not") confirm whether Turner's remarks are the subject of an investigation.

Maliki, Too, Thinks He's Not Right For The Job

| Wed Jan. 3, 2007 3:10 PM EST

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported on its extensive interview with the much criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Upon his return to Baghdad in 2003, after spending more than 20 years in Syria, Maliki enthusiastically supported the total elimination of the Baath Party's institutions, one of the Bush administration's many early decisions that have henceforth evoked disapproval. (Maliki is a member of the Dawa Party, whose members faced execution under Saddam's regime.) Maliki has since been denounced by his own government, many wondering if he really has what it takes to lead this dividing country to any semblance of peace.

Most recently, the Prime Minister has been called to task by the media for his large role in pushing up Saddam's execution to last Friday, at dawn on Eid al-Adha, a holy muslim holiday. The decision to speed up Saddam's execution, which may have been a calculated political move to regain popularity among his fellow Shi'ites (whose faith in him has been waning), appears to have done just that. So maybe it is too early for the Prime Minister to back down, but he himself has doubts about his ability, and his desire, to rule. He didn't even want the position in the first place. In the Journal's December 24th interview with the Prime Minister, in response to whether he will accept this position again, he responded, "I didn't want to take this position. I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again...I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term."

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Waiting for Cures

| Tue Jan. 2, 2007 8:37 PM EST

Good news for the new year. New Scientist reports that a deal struck in a London pub a few years is leading to new hope for 200 million people worldwide suffering from the fatal liver disease, hepatitis C. The researchers' aim was to bypass big pharma's patents on interferon treatments, since their $13,000-a-year drugs were affordable to only 1 in 6 sufferers. Best of all, the new interferon drug , which will be available to the poor, actually cures hep-C.

The British Medical Journal publishes a paper out of the Mayo Clinic on mining historical documents for clues to potential new drugs. The authors cite a 400-year old report by Georg Everhard Rumphius, an employee of the Dutch East Indies Company, who described the anti-diarrheal properties of extracts from the fruit kernels of atun trees. Turns out to be an antibiotic new to science, old news to the Ambon islanders of Indonesia.

Delayed gratification was nothing new to Rumphius, say the authors:

It is amazing that Rumphius's work was ever published. In 1670 he went blind, and four years later his wife and daughter were killed in an earthquake. Thirteen years later, in 1687, a fire levelled the capital of Ambon's European quarter, and his manuscripts and the botanical illustrations that he had drawn himself were burnt. Yet Rumphius took this opportunity to begin the herbal again; he dictated a new and revised text in Dutch to scribes, and he commissioned draftsmen to do the illustrations.

Finally, in 1692, the first half of the Ambonese Herbal was finished, and the governor general at the time ordered the manuscript and the illustrations to be copied. This order was fortunate, as the original herbal text was destroyed on the way to Holland when the transport ship was sunk by a hostile French naval squadron. Again, upon notification of the disaster Rumphius did not surrender to despair. Rather, he took the opportunity to augment and correct the first half of his text while he completed the six volumes of the second half. Rumphius added new material (to make volume seven) only a few months before his death at the age of 74.

Florida Candidate Denied Right To Inspect Voting Machine Software

| Sat Dec. 30, 2006 8:22 PM EST

Remember Christine Jennings, the Florida Congressional candidate against whom the Republican Party spent $58 million on robo calls? The people who received such calls about Jennings were misled by the calls' content and thought that they were being warned about her by her own political party. They learned differently only if they listened to the entire call, which most of them did not. But when they hung up, they would be called again. And again. Most people, of course, did not want to listen to the entire call.

In Florida's 13th District, Jennings lost by under 380 votes. In Sarasota County, 18,000 votes did not register on the voting machines, making matters even worse.

Today, it was announced that a Leon County judge has turned down Jennings' request to access the secret software that operates the voting machines in the 13th District of Florida. Just as bad, House Democrats announced they would do nothing to obstruct the seating of the district's new Congressman, Vern Buchanan. The judge said that Jennings' experts relied on conjecture and speculation, and did not provide "credible evidence" that warranted the candidate's inspecting the source code used for the voting machine software.

Soldiers Too Are "Down On the War"

| Sat Dec. 30, 2006 2:05 PM EST

Yesterday, the Military Times released their annual opinion poll, which serves as a barometer for the military's morale. This year, the report's name says it all. "Down on the war" sends a strong message from American troops in Iraq -- their spirit is down and waning further still. Think Progress has most of the report's highlights, but the most prescient of them are that less than half of the respondents think troop escalation is the answer and even if it is the answer, nearly 75% think the military is "stretched too thin to be effective." The Wall Street Journal reported extensively on the military's economic shortfalls earlier this month. Although the 945 respondents, out of the 4000 active-duty officers polled because they are Military Times subscribers, are not representative of the entire force, they seem to be among the most knowledgeable and experienced. They are on average older and more likely to be officers. 66% have been deployed at least once.

Urge Overkill: CNN's Saddam Deathwatch

| Sat Dec. 30, 2006 12:25 AM EST

Some worthy points from Phil Nugent at No More Mister Nice Blog:

Man, CNN has spent the evening sitting on the prospect of Saddam Hussein's execution like a vulture. Word was that the execution was to take place 10:00 PM EST. A less hardy network might have slipped a reminder of it into their regular news wrap-ups and then cut to Iraq, say, around ten o'clock. I don't know when they actually started the deathwatch, but for at least three hours, they were focusing on the execution single-mindedly, with a different anchor every hour, Larry King included, checking in with the same poor reporter framed shivering against the night sky to ask her yet again--anything new? Did they get antsy and waste him ahead of schedule and then go to dinner? Did he shoot his way out yet? When the anchors weren't torturing this poor woman, they were asking, over and over again, what will it mean for Iraq when Saddam has been executed? Then they'd interview someone, preferably a scholar or human rights worker who "suffered under Saddam's regime." They'd ask them what it would mean, and this person would invariably say that, although there would probably be a quick spike in violence, in the end it wouldn't mean a goddamn thing. Then the anchor would turn to the camera and say once again that he sure wished there was some way of knowing what it would mean. You kind of came away with the impression that none of the on-air talent at CNN can hear for shit.
You can understand their dilemna. Once upon a time, many basic cable ratings cycles ago, the Saddam-is-boogeyman story was the making of CNN. When Bush launched Gulf War II, it must have felt like old school week in their offices. It must be a bittersweet thing for them to deal with his absolute irrelevance to the current situation. It must sting and confuse them as much as it did Saddam himself. There were a few moments in tonight's coverage that may be as close as I ever hope to see to suggesting what the media reaction would be like if they ever caught Professor Moriarty, such as an interview with some doctor about the mechanics of hanging--the interviewer wanted to know just how much it hurts, and seemed very disappointed with the answer that we don't know for sure, because the only people who know for sure remain unavailable for comment--and people whining that "nobody blames" Saddam for all the Arabs that he killed. Yep, that's how the guy got two cans of whupass opened on him and wound up swinging from a rope--nobody ever held him accountable for anything. Okay, granted, these people aren't so stupid that they mean the things that come out of their mouths. What they're really trying to say is that nobody blames Saddam enough, because as long as there's one person who'd rather finish breakfast than dance on his grave, then he's not being blamed enough. Word of warning: this is how people like Pat Buchanan wound up as Holocaust deniers. They just start off hating Stalin so much that it bugs them whenever they hear Hitler described as the worst person in the world, and then after awhile they go haywire and start believing that because so many people hate Hitler, then people must not really hate Stalin at all, because if they hated him as much as they should then they wouldn't have any room in their hearts to hate Hitler too. The next thing they know, they find themselves hinting that they don't think Hitler was really all that bad.
The cutest moment in the coverage I saw was probably when Anderson Cooper said that there was some speculation that Saddam would be taken out of the protected Green Zone for the execution, but this must have been rejected because how could American soldiers go outside the Green Zone, with the hated Saddam Hussein in tow, and not risk violence. The likelihood that American soldiers who went outside the Green Zone might be asking for trouble if all they were carrying was Rice Krispies in milk was not considered. Saddam will not be missed, and anyone who tries to turn him into a martyr is making a sad comment on the validity of his own cause, but still, a hollow feeling remains. If it's possible for a guilty man to be railroaded, that's what's happened here, and it's possible to feel squeamish about the official mechanics of politicized "justice" without mourning the man. In a world where a Pinochet can die in his sleep, Saddam was executed with an unseemly sort of haste for the same reason we went to war in Iraq, evidence and arguments to the contrary be damned--because the Bush administration decided it wanted it to happen and was not inclined to consider that there might be reasons not to give itself what it wanted, or even postpone it. If it leaves a bad aftertaste, that may be because people who hold human life so cheaply, who can take anyone's life, even a monster's, as casually as correcting a bookkeeping error, should be a little more bashful when it comes to lecturing the world about who gets to live and who needs to die.
(Is Pat Buchanan a holocaust denier? Google it and judge for yourself. Or go to this forum on the subject.)