Friday, August 05, 2005

Day-Old Links -- Half Off 

Stuff we would have posted yesterday if we'd been able to stop replaying the Robert Novak meltdown:

1.) Via Eric Alterman of Altercation: Steven Hart of Opinion Mill explains the MBA President's business plan for America. You will instantly recognize the template if you happen to be a regular viewer of The Sopranos:
What we’ve just seen is a variation on an old con called a bust-out. Usually it involves con men offering to buy a business, making a partial payment to gain access to the firm’s credit and name, and then hollowing out the company’s finances by running up the existing credit lines and opening new ones, all of which are maxed out to buy electronic gear and anything else that can be resold quickly at a fraction of its value. For the con men involved in the bust-out, it’s all gravy. The phony buyer –- usually a shell company with no discernible assets -– defaults and the business reverts to its original owner, by which time the once-thriving firm has been turned into a rotting hulk ready to have its bones picked clean by creditors.

The Bush family has often been referred to as the WASP version of the Corleones, but the Soprano clan makes for a much better comparison. At its best, "The Sopranos" is an acid mockery of the phony gravitas of the three "Godfather" movies. Where Michael Corleone is heroically evil, an international player who consorts with statesmen and the Vatican before succumbing to his tragic flaw, Tony Soprano is a sewer rat engaged in the grubby business of preying on human weakness and fear -– when his fall comes, it will be tragic only to himself. Until then, however, he’s going to make as much money as he can for himself and his buddies, and leave the rest of the world holding the bill.

I'm not just using hyperbole here. I do think that when honest historians assess the Bush administration, they will find it more useful to treat George II and his Republican cronies as a criminal organization rather than a political party. The best tool for analyzing Bush's policies is not historiography, but the procedures used by federal agents as they pursue a RICO investigation into a mobbed-up business . . . .

Insane tax cuts for the wealthy. Delusion military ventures abroad. From the minute the Bushies took power, their biggest concern has been to break open the cash registers, empty the shelves and open the bank vaults. Stewardship is a joke to them. What we are witnessing may very well be the biggest bust-out in human history.
2.) Via our esteemed colleague Gary Farber at Amygdala, the good news that we have the means to prevent a billion-plus deaths, and the bad news that we seem to lack the will:
If Asian bird flu mutates into a form that spreads easily between humans, an outbreak of just 40 infected people would be enough to cause a global pandemic. And within a year half of the world’s population would be infected with a mortality rate of 50%, according to two studies released on Wednesday.

And yet, the models show, if targeted action is taken within a critical three-week window, an outbreak could be limited to fewer than 100 individuals within two months.

It represents the first opportunity in history to make use of new knowledge and logistics to prevent a pandemic whose potential loss of life could dwarf the horrific 1918 influenza pandemic. But, the researchers caution, we are currently far from ready to take the necessary action.

“If an outbreak occurred tomorrow, it would be devastating,” warns Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London, UK, who led one of the studies. Nature and Science have released the two studies in tandem. The authors stress that an outbreak is no longer an “if” scenario - they are now talking about “when”.
On the subject of "when," a disquieting item from this morning's L.A. Times:
Russian authorities, struggling to contain an outbreak of avian flu that has killed thousands of birds in Siberia, admitted Thursday that a spread of the virus into Europe seemed almost inevitable . . . .

Equally worrying, health officials confirmed the outbreak included a strain that has been known to affect humans, known as H5N1. Scientists fear expansion of the virus' geography increases the chances of a major outbreak within the human population.
3.) Via our distinguished colleagues Chuck Dupree of Bad Attitudes and Mark of Recidivist Journals, the mayor of London, "Red Ken" Livingstone, suggests three ways to make us all safer -- to wit, support the police, treat Muslims with respect, and get out of Iraq:
The reason the US is not able to stabilise Iraq is related to the same critical issue that affects policing in Britain: information. Which is simply another way of saying the attitude of the population.

US forces are ineffective because the great bulk of the population will not give them intelligence voluntarily. Therefore elements within the US military are led to resort to ritual humiliation and torture. This does not yield remotely sufficient information. Therefore US forces are led to relatively blind strikes against those opposing them - inevitably killing innocent civilians. This, of course, has the effect of alienating the population further . . . .

After the 2003 invasion, when US troops were deployed to protect the oil ministry while looting gripped Iraq, when key reconstruction contracts were awarded to US companies, Iraqis understood what was in store for them. US forces cannot win over Iraq's population because the formally stated democratic goals of the forces have nothing to do with the actual policy pursued.

That is also why al-Qaida, previously without a presence in Iraq, now has a strong base there - damaging the fight against international terrorism.

Nevertheless, I want to make the point to some opponents of the war. It is not a policy simply to explain to people: "You are dying because Britain is in Iraq." The bombers came to kill indiscriminately. As one Londoner put it to me: "I am a Muslim and scared - and my first fear is being blown up." I supported action against the Iraq war and I support measures to stop Londoners being bombed.

Right now, only the police can stop bombers. Anyone who tries to avoid this is not dealing with what are literally life and death matters. But the police can only be effective if they get community cooperation. Opponents of the war should continue to oppose it. But they also have to say to London's communities: "Cooperate with the police to catch terrorists" - and explain that the quality of information the police get will be decisively affected by the degree to which communities are treated with respect.
No disrespect to Mayor Livingstone, but we are tempted to add a fourth suggestion which may have some relevance to recent events in California -- leave police work to the police:

A new army special forces regiment was involved in the operation that led to the killing of an innocent man at Stockwell tube station in south London last week, the Guardian can reveal.

The Special Reconnaissance Regiment, set up in April to help combat international terrorism, was deployed in the surveillance operation which led to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian electrician, on July 22, according to Whitehall sources . . . .

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is conducting an inquiry into the shooting. It is certain to include the role of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, and also issues relating to the false identification of the victim, and whether CCTV pictures of the failed bombers were available at the time.

Another question is why the Brazilian - a suspected suicide bomber - was allowed to get on to a London bus when two buses had already been targeted.

UPDATE (via our indefatigable colleague Avedon Carol): Forgot one! And it was a good 'un, too -- Mark A.R. Kleiman plucking a potentially incriminating nugget from the NYT's page-eighteen blockbuster on the grand jury testimony of Karl Rove's aides:
At one point, the aides were asked why Mr. Cooper's call to Mr. Rove was not entered in Mr. Rove's office telephone logs. There was no record of the call, the person who has been briefed said, because Mr. Cooper did not call Mr. Rove directly, but was transferred to his office from a White House switchboard.
If you believe that explanation, I'll tell you another. Obviously, call logs aren't of any value unless all calls are logged: the whole point is to allow someone to say, months later, "No, I know I didn't talk to X on that date; I've checked my call logs." This reads to me like strong evidence that Rove and his crew knew at the time they were doing something they didn't want to get caught doing.

In prosecutorese, that's called "evidence of consciousness of guilt," and it's extremely helpful in proving intent. We already know that Rove disclosed classified information to Cooper. The only remaining legally relevant question is whether he did so with the requisite criminal intent. The omission of the call from the log -- if the "transferred call" explanation can be shown to be false -- would be a powerful help to a prosecutor.

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