Saturday, December 13, 2003

Iranian reformers fear being shut out of elections 

From the BBC:

The main reformist party in Iran has said it may boycott the country's general election if too many of its members are barred from standing.

The registration of candidates began on Saturday, but leaders of the Participation Front fear their candidates could be vetoed.

The unelected Guardian Council has previously disqualified candidates without explanation.

Widespread public disillusionment could result in a low turnout on 20 February.

Widespread public disillusionment is not something you want, fellas. There's a reason people overwhelmingly vote for reformers. It's because of crap like this. You might be able to keep their candidates out of the election, but all you will accomplish is to strengthen their popular support. In case you haven't figured it out, people aren't exactly happy with how you're handling things. You'll just stir up the hornet's nest.

The conservative clerics are not going to hold onto power in Iran forever. They can go in two ways. Peacefully and democractically, or they can keep doing crap like this, and one of these days some act of repression will be their last. Probably their last act, period. I know how I would want to go, and it doesn't involve hanging from a lamppost. Maybe the Guardian Council doesn't think it'll happen that way. If they keep suppressing the will of their people, it becomes increasingly likely.

On a side note, I joined BLOG-IRAN today, and this is my first post in support of their efforts. Click on the logo over in my links and check out their site.
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But it was about oil!!! Bush lied!!! Gaah!!! 

Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers trained in Baghdad according to the Telegraph.

Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist.
Details of Atta's visit to the Iraqi capital in the summer of 2001, just weeks before he launched the most devastating terrorist attack in US history, are contained in a top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

Full articles here and here.

How long until the loonies start crowing that the memo is a fake, was planted, etc.? It's evidence that the administration isn't a bunch of evil liars. It can't be true, right?

The clock starts... now.
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Mugabe's "all-systems assault" 

Samantha Power wrote an article entitled "How to Kill a Country" for the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly, detailing the extraordinary way in which Robert Mugabe has screwed up Zimbabwe in a stunningly short time. I highly recommend that article to anyone with an interest in Africa, or with an interest in the cause of human rights and democracy.

Power sat for an interview with The Atlantic's Steve Grove to talk about the month she spent in Zimbabwe, about the "all-systems assault" on the country by President Robert Mugabe, and about how things don't need to be so dire for Zimbabweans.

I'd never been to Zimbabwe before, and I'd been hearing so much about how awful and screwed up the place was. So I was actually shocked at how much possibility was there. The fertility of the land, the industriousness of the people, the education and the literacy, the role of religion and sense of community that was still maintained... all of this really blew me away.

Of course the corollary to that is the enormous lengths that someone had to go to screw a place like Zimbabwe up.

Power's article and this interview are both enlightening reading for those who don't know much about the situation in Zimbabwe, or those who want to learn more.
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The Red Sox have signed Keith Foulke. Heh. This is awesome.
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What is wrong with Mbeki? 

First AIDS, now this?

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has sprung to the defence of Robert Mugabe and blamed Britain for the crisis in Zimbabwe.

In his weekly letter to the ruling African National Congress, Mr Mbeki said President Mugabe's seizures of white farms had become inevitable because Britain had not honoured its commitment to fund land reform. Mr Mbeki also criticised the Commonwealth, saying it did not have the interests of Zimbabwe's people at heart when it decided to renew the country's suspension from the organisation. Mr Mugabe pulled his country out of the Commonwealth on Sunday night in protest at the decision.

President Mbeki dismissed Commonwealth concerns about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, saying it had lost sight of the land issue, which he described as the core of the problems in Zimbabwe.

Full article here.

I don't know who this says more about, Thabo Mbeki or the people who elected him. First the guy says there is no evidence of a causal link between HIV and AIDS, and now he becomes an apologist for Robert Mugabe. I'll be the first to say that land reform was needed in Zimbabwe, but Mugabe has gone about it in the absolute worst way possible. He has unleashed bands of thugs and police to confiscate land from white farmers. Scores of those farmers have lost everything they own and some have been threatened and even physically assaulted. Meanwhile, the Mugabe cronies who inherited the land are letting it go to ruin, with disastrous results for the Zimbabwean economy. A nation that very recently served as Africa's breadbasket is now a net importer of food, while hunger and poverty are growing.

Blaming this on Britain is, shall we say, a bit of a stretch. And by the way, Mr. Mbeki, your friend Mugabe's policies have shades of apartheid in them. Whether it's against blacks or whites, and regardless of the historical inequalities, you can't see THAT as a good thing, can you?
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Wouldn't it be a shame? 

OPEC wants aid if world shifts to renewable energies

As a UN conference on global warming wound down...

Delegates said that Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, wanted promises of aid if Kyoto spurs a shift to renewable energies like tidal, solar or wind energy at the expense of fossil fuels.

Well, Kyoto is on life support anyway. But is it a bad thing that the Saudis and their OPEC partners are starting to squirm a bit? I don't think it is. Their time will pass, and it's going to be sooner than they think. The Saudis have two choices as I see it. They can modernize their society, find another way to power their economy, and join the 21st century world. (In some respects, joining the 17th century world would be a big deal for them. Baby steps.) Or, they can keep on going the way they are now, until the oil runs out or the demand plummets, leaving them alone with their extremists and their sand.

Maybe they're starting to catch on. Some recent developments in Saudi Arabia have held promise. Militant members of the ulema have renounced violence. The government is cracking down on terrorism, to an extent. They have promised to hold elections for municipal councils--potentially a very big thing in that country. They have a long way to go, and only time will tell how the story ends. But these sorts of steps must be fostered, and support for reforms must be built at all levels of society, or history will leave the Saudis in the dust.
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Friday, December 12, 2003

If you aren't visiting Scrappleface 

...you're missing things like this.
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Halliburton overcharges 

Kevin Drum has an interesting question. One with many answers, depending on where you stand. Or depending on how jaded you are, I suppose.
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U.S., Europeans reach deal on Iran nukes 

Story here.

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- A proposed resolution condemning Iran's past nuclear program warns that the U.N. atomic agency would use "all options at its disposal" if the country violates its nuclear obligations again, but makes no specific mention of Security Council sanctions.

"Mais non, we meant 'more committee discussions and very stern words' when we said 'all options.'" Any bets that the Europeans aren't really interested in pursuing ALL options?
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Stupid campaign tricks 

"George W. Bush is a president for Big Oil, of Big Oil, and 'buy' Big Oil. He is more concerned about the success of Halliburton than having a success strategy in Iraq," said Chris Lehane a communications strategist for Clark.

This, from an official Wesley Clark campaign staffer? On the record and attributed? I guess it's a winner-take-all race between Dean and Clark to see which campaign can make the looniest statements. Wow.
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Greg Easterbrook on "Polluted Coverage" 

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Promising steps 

Marines Plan to Use Velvet Glove More Than Iron Fist in Iraq from the New York Times (registration required).

Marine commanders say they do not plan to surround villages with barbed wire, demolish buildings used by insurgents or detain relatives of suspected guerrillas. The Marines do not plan to fire artillery at suspected guerrilla mortar positions, an Army tactic that risks harming civilians. Nor do the Marines want to risk civilian casualties by calling in bombing strikes on the insurgents, as has happened most recently in Afghanistan.

CIA Sends More Agents to Iraq to Help Crack the Insurgency from the LA Times (registration required).

In recent weeks, the agency has begun a buildup that one source said could add as many as 100 people to an agency presence that is already several hundred strong in the war-torn country. Among those being sent, sources said, are case officers, counter-terrorism analysts and a small contingent of senior officials from the agency's clandestine service.

The Marines, in this case the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), are onto something here. They plan to make their raids "laser precise" in the words of LGEN Conway, their commander. At the same time, they are going to eschew some of the tactics that have alienated the population when used by the US Army. This is sound strategy. Fight like the devil against terrorists and Ba'athist remnants, but be helpful and friendly to everyone else. That is how you build trust in Iraqis that we're on their side. Bravo.

The CIA's increase in personnel is only a positive development if they're used correctly. They can't do their job of infiltrating militant groups and stopping attacks by staying in the Green Zone. They must get out and talk to people. They must recruit agents among the population and run them. They must keep their ears to the ground, and that ground is out in Indian country, not in the Green Zone. If the CIA tries to fight the intelligence war from behind a desk in one of Saddam's palaces, depending mostly on walk-in sources, theirs will continue to be an uphill battle. If they get out and build trust among knowledgeable people in the community, the quality (and quantity) of information they receive is likely to increase.

Hmm. Notice a common theme? Building trust. The only way to succeed.
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Ralph Nader reprise 

Ralph Nader is likely to run for President.

PRINCETON, New Jersey (CNN) --Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said Thursday he is leaning toward another independent run for the presidency and will make his decision public in January.

"We're testing the waters," Nader said in an interview with CNN. "It's a high probability but that is yet to be determined."

And if he does run, he's likely to play the role of Ross Perot in the '92 election, or, the, er... Ralph Nader role from '00. He and his staff MUST know this. How could they not? Everyone else knows that he absolutely cost Al Gore the election in 2000 by siphoning votes away from the Democratic ticket. (He garnered 97,000 votes in Florida.)

Ralph Nader knows that he can't win the election. He also knows that any votes he gets will be gained at the expense of the Democratic candidate. Potential Bush voters aren't likely to jump on the Nader bandwagon because he's such a swell guy. So how to explain his saying there's a "high probabilty" he'll run?

One possibility is that he just wants to get his positions some airtime. But his positions are much more antithetical to Republican positions than Democratic ones. Why would he intentionally hurt the major party that is closest to his?

The Democratic party is intensely focused on defeating George W. Bush, but now they might have to worry about defeating Ralph Nader as well. If it's a close election in '04 (and I don't think it will be), then Nader has the potential to once again play the spoiler. Fortunately for him, he's likely to go down in electoral history as a footnote and not as the Democrats' bogeyman once again.
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Why Middle East peace will be a long time coming 

Because Palestinians don't want peace:

JABALYA, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - The Islamic militant group Hamas vowed Friday to resume suicide bombings against Israel as tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated against diplomatic efforts to achieve Middle East peace.

Tens of thousans of people demonstrated AGAINST peace! Not that I'm surprised. Some people have known all along that peace is not what most Palestinians or Arabs want. Here you see it for yourself--a huge crowd protesting peace talks!

It's time to face the truth. I'm talking to you, France. It's time to realize that these people do not want peace. They aren't just fighting against settlements and Israeli aggression (read "self defense"). They are really fighting against the Jews, and against peace.
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Why you must read Scrappleface 

Because of things like this.
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Thursday, December 11, 2003

Wall Street Journal blames Maine Senators for flu vaccine shortage 

This link from As Maine Goes contains the full article, and a few comments about it.

A few weeks from now, when the country has run out of flu vaccine and people want to know why, we suggest they knock on the doors of Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee. Perhaps the three Republicans can explain when they intend to honor their promise to hold an open debate about the tort liabilities facing vaccine makers.


But just as worrying to manufacturers is an explosion of class action lawsuits. Vaccine makers are supposed to be protected from suits by 1986 legislation, but tort lawyers have found loopholes and filed more than 200 cases. The Republican leadership fixed this by including a liability provision in the Homeland Security legislation of a year ago. That is, until Ms. Snowe, Ms. Collins and Mr. Chafee objected to its "dark of the night" insertion and forced Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist into repealing it.

Hmm. Okay. So Maine's Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, along with Lincoln Chafee, blocked a liability provision in the Homeland Security bill. Never mind how three Senators, all by themselves, prevented a single provision from making it to the Senate floor. The real question here is whether liability issues had any bearing on the amount of flu vaccine manufactured this year.

In 2002, Aventus Pasteur and Powderject Vaccines, the two flu vaccine makers, produced 95 million does. Only 80 million of those doses were used. This year, the manufacturers adjusted their production to bring it in line with historical demand. Suddenly there's a run on the vaccine which they could not have expected. (And one has to wonder how much of the demand has been generated by overblown media coverage. Time will tell.) These two companies make money on this vaccine. Surely if they expected greater demand they would have made more. This shortage has nothing at all to do with three Senators blocking a liability provision of a bill, and everything to do with projected demand.

"We must increase demand to increase the supply," said Dennis J. O'Mara, CDC associate director for adult immunization. "Companies are not going to produce vaccine they can't sell."

More from the CDC. They estimate that 85.5 million does were made in '02, and 79 million were administered. Very close to the AMA numbers.
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Eating my words, and soon 

About an hour and a half ago, I said "does anyone really think the Dodgers will take Jeff Weaver for Kevin Brown? Get real!"

I spoke too soon. ESPN is reporting that the Yankees have acquired Kevin Brown from the Dodgers for Jeff Weaver, two minor league prospects, and $3 million. I didn't think the Dodgers would go for this kind of move. Why would anyone in their right mind want a pitcher as shaky as Weaver over a strong veteran like Brown? Even taking Brown's spotty health into consideration, this just doesn't strike me as a good deal for LA. The Dodgers must have been ready to dump payroll or something. Or maybe it's just inevitable that Steinbrenner gets the trades he wants.

UPDATE in the wee hours of Saturday morning: Okay, so maybe I ate my words too soon. It's not a done deal yet, although it's looking pretty likely. I stand by my earlier remark that this is a bad move for the Dodgers. It's a good move for the Yankees, which is why I am 100% dead-set against it. Activate the brain switch, Dodgers...
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Sparkling economic forecast 

2004 Will Be the U.S.'S Best Year Economically in Last 20 Years, The Conference Board Reports in a Revised Forecast

While it's only a forecast, this kind of economic optimism is great news! Unless you've made the economy a presidential campaign issue...
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Funny, I thought we called it democracy 

Governor plans gambling commission

AUGUSTA - Flanked by legislative leaders, Gov. John E. Baldacci promised Wednesday to deliver a new racino bill to lawmakers next month in an effort to craft some of the toughest gambling regulations in the country. The Bangor Democrat's remarks followed last month's voter approval of slot machines at the state's two major harness racing tracks: Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs . Baldacci, who opposed the slots plan, promised to scrutinize the racino legislation the day after the vote and to submit revisions to correct any perceived deficiencies.

Now, I really don't care whether Maine's harness racing tracks are allowed to have slot machines. I'm not likely to ever use them, and I don't think they'll be the economic windfall that proponents suggest. But the voters have spoken on this issue, approving the "Racino" bill just over a month ago. And now the Governor promises to deliver "a new racino bill?" What was wrong with the original one, Governor? Is the will of your constituents not enough for you? What's the point of having a referendum if the leaders of the state are just going to ignore the results anyway? You're essentially saying to the people of this state, "Your votes don't count and we're just going to do what we want." Such actions don't instill a lot of faith in the democratic process... something this "Democrat" Governor should think about.
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The Yankee pitching exodus continues 

Pettitte signs with Astros!

This is fantastic news for the Red Sox. Pettitte has been a thorn in our side for a while, especially during this year's ALCS. Having him safely tucked away in the NL where he can't hurt us is a good thing. I wouldn't have minded seeing him in a Boston uniform, but after the Schilling deal, the starting pitching situation is already in very good shape. Sox ascending, Yankees on a decline. I'll take that. (And does anyone really think the Dodgers will take Jeff Weaver for Kevin Brown? Get real!)
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Welcome to Move Along... I am starting this blog mainly because, after months of browsing around some of the more well-known blogs out there, I had a revelation. "I can do THAT!" Time will tell if I was right. I hope to provide my thoughts on issues of national and international importance, as well as matters concerning the great state of Maine. And I will probably, from time to time, express my take on the Patriots and Red Sox, and unleash my frustration at the inevitable Red Sox collapse... If you are reading this, thank you for coming by! I hope to make your visit an enjoyable one.
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