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Thursday, February 26, 2004  
Oh, you stupid fuckers. (scroll down to the second story, titled "President planning NYC extravaganza.")
It's not a venue. It's not a backdrop. It's not a stage. It's not a set. Okay? Can you get that through your fucking skulls? IT'S NOT A VENUE. IT'S A GRAVE.


Tuesday, February 24, 2004  
Atrios is right: this letter from Rep. John Dingell to White House rent-an-economist Gregory Mankiw is fucking great. And he's right about this, too.


The new Russian Empire. It is no longer just a hunch, or an alarmist phantasm; Vladimir Putin is seriously flirting with dictatorship and one-party rule, and superpower ambitions are rekindling in the Rodina's disappointed heart.

For some time, Putin has been consolidating his hold over power via selective prosecution and jailing of political rivals and passage of laws which extend his tenure in office, but there were no overt acts of tyranny, and Putin was always careful to avoid direct similarities with the old Soviet regime. Then, in October of 2003, came the somewhat overlooked news that Putin had put the Russian nuclear arsenal back on a war footing:
President Vladimir Putin told top military commanders Thursday that Russia will put dozens of the SS-19 multi-warhead, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) on combat duty.

In a separate development, a Defense Ministry paper released ahead of Putin's comments warned that Russia might have to revise its plans for military reform and nuclear defense strategy if NATO did not drop what it termed its "anti-Russian orientation."

The came last month's bizarre disappearance/reappearance of Putin's chief political rival Ivan Rybkin. Rybkin disappeared for five days in January, and when he returned, claimed that he had gone on an unscheduled, unannounced (even to his wife and children) trip to Kiev to "see friends," but his story rang quite hollow:
[Rybkin] told Interfax news agency yesterday he was entitled to go on a short break. "I have the right to two or three days of personal life. I went to Kiev to my friends, walked around, switched off my mobile phones, and didn't watch TV. Over the last week I decided to have a rest from the fuss which has surrounded me. I left my wife - who is now taking care of our grandchildren - fruit and money, but didn't tell her anything. I changed my jacket, got onto the train and left for Kiev."

But after arriving back in Russia, he made no mention of that version of events and instead dropped vague hints indicating that his absence was not an action of his own will.

"Such despotism is not like anything I have seen or experienced in 15 years of political life," he said at Moscow's Sheremetyevo-1 airport.

Mr. Rybkin, in a fur hat and tinted glasses, said he was returning "as if I had been in a difficult round of Chechen negotiations. I'm very satisfied that I returned."

Asked whether there were "other outcomes" that had been possible, he said, "I don't know, there probably were". hinting at the possibility that he might not have returned.

"I am upset that all this made my daughter cry. But thank God I am here," Mr. Rybkin said. Asked if he would consider withdrawing his candidacy, he said, "Yes, I am considering it."

Shortly after that bit of oddness came the far more public declaration that Russia would develop sophisticated new nuclear weapons that could overcome any U.S. missile defense system:
Russia has developed ballistic missile technology that can outwit any defensive system, a top Russian general has said in a clear challenge to the United States' planned US$50-billion (S$80-billion) anti-missile shield.

The declaration came a day after President Vladimir Putin, eyeing nationalist votes for elections next month, promised to equip his armed forces with a new generation of long-range weapons matching those of the US.

Putin also promised that Russia would develop and deploy a missile defense system of its own. Of course the power of that message was blunted somewhat by the two successive failed tests of Russia's existing missiles.

Then, today comes news that Putin has purged his government, firing the Prime Minister and his entire cabinet. It is reported that he will likely install an old-line ex-KGB man like himself in the second slot in government:
Putin installed Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Kristenko as acting prime minister until he made a formal announcement of Kasyanov's replacement. His choice of a new prime minister must be submitted for confirmation to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, where his allies attained unrivaled control in December elections.

Uncertain what the move represented, the Russian stock market tumbled by 3 percent within minutes of the announcement. Democratic reformers and some investors worry that Putin will name a fellow KGB veteran to the post, possibly Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

In Russia's form of government, the prime minister is the second-ranking official and designated successor to the president in case of vacancy. While officially responsible for the government's domestic policies, Kasyanov and other prime ministers have been used to build relations with foreign countries as well. If Kasyanov were replaced by Ivanov or another KGB veteran, it could elevate a powerful voice of skepticism about closer relations with the West.

Even more alarming are the reports coming from Putin's opposition that the upcoming presidential election is quite simply a sham:
Putin's move came on the same day that all four legitimate candidates challenging him in the March 14 vote said they may drop out en masse because the campaign is a Kremlin-manipulated farce that creates only the illusion of democracy in Russia.

In separate statements, the candidates outlined a complaints that add up to an indictment of an election system so heavily tilted in Putin's favor that no one else can get across an alternative message, much less offer a credible challenge. None had been given any chance of winning but they expressed frustration over what they called Putin's broad abuses of state power.

Add all this up, and throw in Putin's unrelenting war on both Chechnya and any independent or dissenting voices in the Russian media, and it adds up to a clear picture of a man driven to arrogate power to himself, crack down on dissent, and use conflict with rivals both internal and external to forge a new militarist consensus behind himself as the undisputed authority. Scary, scary shit.

This is all in some sharp contrast to the market-reformer and nuclear dove that Putin seemed to be in 2000. The Bush administration has been in an uncomfortable pas-de-deux with Russia in recent years; Bush struck a broad and significant arms reduction deal with Putin in early 2001, and consulted closely with Putin when American troops were landing in Afghanistan, Russia's backyard. There was sharp division over the Iraq war, however, and relations have been cool ever since. Secretary of State Powell has recently criticized the antidemocratic tendencies of the Russian government in an article printed on the front page of Iszvestia, stating that Russian politics were not sufficiently subject to the rule of law and that there were "limits to the U.S.-Russian relationship without shared values." This is certainly a good and necessary step; but it is unclear how much the discredited Powell even speaks for the Administration anymore.

What does it all add up to? Well, we know a couple of things with certainty. First, Russians like Putin. They credit him with leading Russia back from near-failed state status in the late nineties, and they have a point. Russia is in far better economic shape now than it has been at any time since the fall of the Soviet government. Much of this new prosperity has come as a result of higher oil prices, but this money has filtered into the economy largely because Putin has broken or beggared many of the oligarchs that at one time owned the entire Russian gas industry outright. Russians like Putin's tough stances both pro-war (Chechnya) and anti- (Iraq), and Putin's willingness to stand up to the Americans on the world stage:
Many Russians now see th[e] disastrous [Yeltsin] era as the consequence of pursuing western-style democracy and following western-proffered advice. By contrast, they associate the current era of growing prosperity with Putin's coming to power.

To Russians, Putin's record of successes is impressive. Back wages and pensions are being paid. Growth is vigorous. Consumer goods are again being manufactured at home. Russia has paid off most of its foreign debt. And if high oil prices have been the single most significant factor in reversing Russia's fortunes, so what? Russians still credit Putin with the reversal, pointing to an impressive growth in domestic production and sound taxation policies that have also contributed to both growth and the restoration of health in public finances. Russians are pleased that their country is again a major player in foreign relations and that foreign leaders take Putin seriously in a way they never did his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

(The whole piece is great, go read it.) So if Putin is to be a despot, he will be a popular one, and one whose popularity is based on an economic prosperity that Putin would be a fool to reverse by reinstitution of a statist economic model. So any one-party state under Putin will likely retain its capitalist orientation, perhaps bearing some eventual similarities to the Chinese model.

Second, while it is more prosperous than it was five years ago, Russia simply cannot afford another arms race with the U.S., especially not in the mind-bendingly expensive boondoggle of missile defense. What's more, Putin knows this perfectly well. So much of the nuclear posturing is for internal consumption. But the fact that anti-Western nuclear saber-rattling plays well with the majority of the Russian population is not, to me, terribly comforting.

Third, Russia needs Western investment like a non-swimmer needs a life preserver. So we have a fair amount of leverage.

So, what should we do? Well, staking out positions like Powell has done is a good start, as is increasing aid to nascent democracies in the region such as Georgia. We must also demand that Russia keep a tighter leash on its nuclear arsenal. But one-dimensional lecturing simply won't work to effect any change in the increasingly anti-Western tendencies emerging in Russia, and won't serve to back Putin down from his ambitions. For one thing, Russians can point out that democracy and free media are not necessary prerequisites for partnership with, and aid from, the U.S. For example, the government of Coalition of the Willing partner Uzbekistan routinely tortures and murders those that dare criticize the regime; Putin stands accused of nothing so savage. For another, it is in part this Western habit of issuing patronizing lectures and pats on the head that pissed the Russians off so much that they have largely lined up behind their new hard man.

If the opposition candidates drop out, and the election moves forward to a Saddam-like landslide for Putin, the U.S. has to take a public position on the decline of democracy in Russia, and it should be even more forcefully critical than Powell's recent statements. We should directly tie any future purely economic development aid to a rollback of the media and political crackdown. But there should be some olive leaves and carrots in there as well. While NATO membership should be off the table until there is some evidence of a new commitment to democracy and free media, some form of credible strategic partnership should be offered, without sniffs and backlash for Russia's refusal to back the Iraq invasion. We should also give Russian gas companies some access to contracts in Iraq, to further improve that aspect of our economic relationship; the more alternatives to OPEC we can develop, the better. As mentioned above, we should offer significantly increased aid to help Russia keep control of its military and energy sector nuclear assets.

Okay, long story short, the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world may well be in the hands of a dictator within a year or two. And that is bad news to which we need to pay attention.


Friday, February 20, 2004  
The end of reform in Iranian politics is being formalized today. The ruling religious leaders issued a ban on any reformist candidates participating in the elections, so the legislature resulting from today's vote will be little more than an amen corner and echo chamber for the edicts of the religious authority. This is in sharp contrast to the history of the past seven years.

While the religious leaders have always been in the driver's seat, the legislative elections were not interfered with, for the most part, and consistent majorities of pro-reform, anti-sharia candidates served terms in a weak Parliament. It was a strange hybrid of repression and openness; the actual power was never transferred down to the level of the popularly elected government, but those in power did not seem to mind these repeated public repudiations. There were none of the standard "99.9% of the people voted democratically to re-elect the Dear Leader" sham votes in Iran. It was from these elections, and the outspoken reformist leaders they placed in the public eye, that sprang most of the hopeful rhetoric about "a changing Iran."

Well, that's all over now, and the change is provoking a profound sense of hopelessness among the reform movement in Iran, as detailed in this excellent article from the Post this morning.

An interesting fact touched upon by the Post account is that some of the leaders of the reformist movement are the same radicals who first took to the streets to denounce the Shah and, indeed, some of the architects of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979. While we generally have a picture of all of the revolutionaries as fanatical, hard-right followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, this is really not the case; a significant portion of the activist base throughout the late seventies were explicitly Marxist, and wanted revolution against the Shah not to install a religious oligarchy, but a worker's state. These leaders suffered heavy depredations from the Shah's dreaded SAVAK secret police, and, in the end, many threw their lots in with the fundamentalist students, making a Faustian bargain with the enemies of their enemy. After the dust settled and the fundamentalists were firmly in charge, many of these secular revolutionaries were brutally purged, and the rest either disappeared or, after a time, pursued more mainstream avenues of dissent in municipal politics or journalism.

A deeply affecting account of the revolutionary period that deals with many of these issues is Persepolis, a graphic novel by Iranian expat Marjane Satrapi. It is a roman-a-clef describing the author's experiences as a young girl during and after the revolutionary period. I highly, highly recommend it. A sample chapter is here.


Thursday, February 19, 2004  
Fox News scoops 'em again! Hard-hitting stuff from the last bastion of objective journalism:

Wealthy Candidates Tout Populist Message

WASHINGTON — John Edwards and John Kerry are trying to appeal to the common man with their populist notions and messages on the campaign trail, but the two multi-millionaires don't live like most Americans.

The top Democratic presidential hopefuls both own mansions in tony Georgetown, the Washington, D.C., neighborhood known for its prime real estate and high-end fashion boutiques.

On one historic cobblestone street lives Edwards, whose 184-year-old, 13-room home is valued at $3.8 million. About a block away is the residence where Kerry lives, a 104-year-old, four-story home with 23 rooms that is conservatively estimated to be worth $4.3 million.

Kerry's home isn't really his own, however. Technically, it belongs to his wife, ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz. Kerry does own half a home he shares with Heinz in Boston's Beacon Hill. He mortgaged his half of it a couple months ago for $6.4 million — money he used to keep him in the race when the prospect of his presidential bid was looking much bleaker.

Click here to watch a fair and balanced report by Fox News' Brian Wilson.

Way out in front of the liberal media, Fox News has once again outpaced the competition to bring you a hard-hitting report on the real stories from the campaign trail, the ones those pate-and-champagne sucking toffs from the "mainstream" press won't touch. Is it because they're biased, out of touch, or just stupid? We report, you decide!


Wednesday, February 18, 2004  
The two best lines of the week, both delivered by Josh Marshall. First, this one, regarding President Bush's statement that the Democrats can't be trusted with the nations finances:
This is the arsonist in your house telling you that stranger outside with the hose can't be trusted.

Next, and even better, I think is this line from today, pointing out the hypocrisy of Richard Perle in criticizing the CIA's findings on Iraq as too alarmist when he himself was the loudest critic of the Agency for not being alarmist enough:

In any case, if Perle wants to call for others to walk the plank, it's a call he should be making from the waves, not the deck.

In other news, Dean's out. In his transcript of his farewell speech, the good doctor makes it pretty clear that he wants a seat at the convention, and outlines a plan to set up a grassroots activist organization within the party, to keep pushing for a focus on progressive, traditionally Democratic issues (kind of an anti-DLC):
I have some things that I specifically want to ask of our supporters.

First, keep active in the primary. Sending delegates to the convention only continues to energize our party. Fight on in the caucuses. We are on the ballots. Use your network to send progressive delegates to the convention in Boston. We are not going away. We are staying together, unified -- all of us.

Secondly, Dean for America will be converted into a new grassroots organization. We need everybody to stay involved. We are -- as we always have -- going to look at what you had to say about which directions we ought to be going in, and what we ought to continue to do together.

We are determined to keep this entire organization as vibrant as it has been through this campaign. There are a lot of ways to make change. We are leaving one track, but we are going on another track that will take back America for ordinary people again.

Well, good for the doctor. Judging by the thousands of comments being left on his blog right now, he's got plenty of people ready to sign up for an effort like that. We'll see where it stands in a couple of months.

If Dean was a little bit vague in his speech about his drop-out ("I am no longer actively pursuing the presidency." err, okay, man), one thing he did make crystal clear in his speech is that he is going to endorse the nominee, whoever it is, and fight hard for him. Not that I was worried about this, but "Dean as Green Party Candidate" was one of the cackling/paranoid scenarios I have seen floated around the conservative sites (second in popularity only to "It's all a Clinton plot to get a brokered convention and nominate Hillary!")

Now, in the interests of making the professional pundit class look like total fucking morons again, something I am always in favor of, I hope Dean will endorse Edwards soon, like tomorrow, and make the Unbeatable Kerry seem as passe as the Unbeatable Dean. AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!

Edwards is certainly doing his part. As William Saletan points out today, Edwards is doing better with moderates and swing republicans than Kerry is. What's more, if Dean had dropped out and endorsed Edwards before the primary, and Edwards had gotten only 75% of Dean's people (not impossible, given the fierce loyalty of the doctor's troops, and the large amount of blame they place on Kerry for their man's undoing), everybody would be tossing laurels at Edwards today. Even still, if Edwards can weld a significant number of Dean's supporters onto his own very motivated crew, he can make a stretch run to be reckoned with. Nothing's over yet, folks. Super Tuesday's still weeks away.

For his part, Edwards seems to know which side of the bread his comeback chances are buttered on [insert sound of shrieking metal as clichéd metaphor is profoundly misused], as he posted the following to his website today:
Howard Dean has brought so much to this race-not just his ideas and passion for change, but hundreds of thousands of Americans who had never participated in a campaign before. Howard has been a powerful voice for change, and I share his belief that special interests and Washington lobbyists have taken over our government. This is the year for Democrats to take it back-not for our Party, but for our country.

Howard Dean has energized and revolutionized this race, and excited a whole new generation of young Americans. He deserves our thanks and so much credit for what he has accomplished. I hope he continues to offer his ideas, and encourages millions more to participate in this democracy so we win back the White House in November.

Who knows? Maybe that will turn out to be the best line of the week.


Monday, February 16, 2004  
Oh, you stupid, evil, selfish son of a bitch. Why? Why, why, why, why, why, why, WHY?


A bit more linkfarming, and we'll try to get back to normal business this week. First of all, via Pandagon, this comparative timeline from Mother Jones sets out how Bush and Kerry each spent the late 60's and early 1970's. It shows pretty clearly why Bush suffers on his own ground when the records are compared, even if all of his defenses to the AWOL charge are true. For my part, I don't and can't really blame Bush for doing everything he could to stay the hell out of Southeast Asia in the early 70s. I would have done the same thing. I'm not a coward, at least I don't think I am, but by that point it was pretty clear that the war in Vietnam was a pointless and insane destroyer of young men. I don't think Bush's choices make him a coward. Nor do I think that killing a bunch of people in Vietnam makes John Kerry a hero. But I do think that as Bush has made such a public embrace of a military persona, his many maneuvers within the guard (including requesting posting to a postal unit because it was more convenient to his political gig, after going through a million dollars worth of training to be a fighter pilot), and his current tergiversations on this issue really don't make him look that great. This is especially true when compared to Kerry's record. Go look at the timeline again, and compare the picture of Kerry on the Swift boat with the picture of Bush, every inch the tin soldier, standing with his dad, who points proudly to Bush, Jr. newly awarded wings. I dunno. Maybe it's a cheap shot, but Bush just kind of seems like a wannabe.

Former Dean staffer Mathew Gross has another possible explanation of the Guard story here. Essentially, Gross speculates that Bush may have skipped the phyisical to intentionally disqualify himself from flight status, so that his posting to the non-flight duty in Alabama (where he was working on his dad's buddy's campaign) could become appropriate (the request was at first denied because it was not proper to post a qualified pilot to a non-flight position). It's just that, speculation, but it's a bit less sinister than the various nasty drug smears that have been floating around.

Best defense is a good offense. Matt Yglesias proves this point, and presents a nuanced defense of Kerry's position on the 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars by ripping the guts out of this Post editorial accusing Kerry of opportunistic flip-flops. Matt is of the opinion that this is going to be front and center during the campaign, and he's almost certainly right. Kerry's got to come up with a simple way to express his views on this issue, or he'll get hammered. In other news, The Kerry-intern story seems to be dying a quick death. Pandagon's comprehensive rundown of the gaping holes that have appeared in the original Drudge story is here.


Friday, February 13, 2004  
Conservative website NewsMax is currently running an "Urgent Poll" pitting Bush against Kerry. They are clearly of the opinion that this is a major effort, with significant national consequences, once the results are made public:, one of America's leading online news services, is conducting an urgent national online poll.

NewsMax will provide the results of this poll to major media, Congress, the president, and key members of the administration. Additionally, NewsMax's results will be shared with every major radio talk show host in America. NewsMax reports have been cited by national major media, including Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

Don't miss this opportunity to let your voice be heard! Many media outlets and national leaders are interested in your opinion. Hundreds of media outlets have reported on NewsMax's online polls. Your vote does count!

Wow! Sounds serious! Not to clip a move from Atrios, but I certainly recommend that each of the six readers of this site head over there and vote right away! Good lord, folks! It's your public duty, apparently! The results are going to be given to the president himself!

By the way, an email address is required to vote - if you don't already have one, I strongly suggest the acquisition of a hotmail or yahoo address to take in the inevitable spam.


Thursday, February 12, 2004  
Chef Yamabushi is big in Japan. A new blog from a friend of mine living in Aichi (near the east coast, South of Tokyo, East-Northeast of Osaka). The Chef is a great, funny writer and sharp observer, whom I will be checking often.

Posting has been slow, I know, but should pick up in the coming days. It is as the Chef observed just yesterday:
I should be brushing up on my reading and writing skills, not sitting here in this manga-kissa, but all work and no play makes Jack Nicholson ruin a perfectly good hotel.


Monday, February 09, 2004  
Let a smile be your umbrella. Or maybe not. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, happiness is bad for you (at least, it is when you have inoperable lung cancer):
A positive attitude does not improve the chances of surviving cancer and doctors who encourage patients to keep up hope may be burdening them, according to the results of research released Monday.

Now, the story goes on to say that the collateral benefits of maintaining a positive outlook during such a tragic illness are manifold, including, of course, actually enjoying what remains of your life. Nevertheless, this has to be an early front-runner for this year's prestigious "Story Most Likely To Confirm An Already Grim, Fatalistic Viewpoint" Award.


Friday, February 06, 2004  
The third shoe drops. From the Washington Post today, the Bush administration demonstrates its committment to ferreting out the roots of nuclear proliferation by fully endorsing the three day joke of an investigation that was carried out in Pakistan:

[U.S.] State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We think that the process of investigation that's been undertaken by the Pakistani government does indeed demonstrate that President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan take seriously their commitments, their assurances that they were not going to allow their technology to be used to help other nations that might be trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. . . . The way this has been proceeding is evidence that Pakistan, too, is determined to meet those commitments."

Pathetic. Just pathetic. As Calpundit points out, this has got to be some kind of land speed record for bullshit show trials. However, General Musharraf is experiencing some cognitive dissonance as he seeks to straddle the gulf between his hyperpatriotic, Islamist people and his Western supporters:

Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, has ruled out any outside inspections of the country's nuclear technology, while leaving open the possibility that Abdul Qadeer Khan - the scientist behind the illegal sale of weapons expertise - could be questioned by international investigators.

In an apparently contradictory speech, General Musharraf tried to calm domestic fears that the West would infringe Pakistan's sovereignty in its search for culprits while promising an international audience there would be a full investigation.

"This is a sovereign country. No document will be given," he said. "There is a written mercy appeal from his [Dr Khan's] side and there is a written pardon from my side. A rollback of Pakistan's nuclear program will never happen." However, the President added that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was welcome to come and discuss the issue. "We are open and we will tell them everything."

You will get nothing on paper, but I promise if you come and sit down with us, we will tell you everything. Okay.

The Minister looked across the broad conference table at the IAEA delegation. A Frenchman, who looked about fifty and was wearing a sober grey suit, was seated directly across from him. Two conservatively dressed Belgian women, both wearing glasses, were standing by the window talking into satellite phones, and a Japanese man in a stiff brown suit stood talking with an assistant near the door.

"Gentlemen, ladies, please, I beg you to sit. Director Taniguchi, please sit. The General will be in shortly, and we will begin." The Minister and his adjutant sat alone on one side of the huge polished conference table, which was laid with a light breakfast. The French inspector sat idly sipping coffee and smoothing his tie, glancing down at the stack of papers that was placed before him, and before each setting, perfectly foursquare to the edge of the table.

"So, this, this top one, this is the itinerary? For the day?" He said, looking up at the Minister. "Ahhh..." the Minister glanced at his adjutant, who nodded slightly. "Yes," said the Minister to the Frenchman. "That is the day's program." The adjutant rose and excused himself, leaving the room by a door behind the Minister.

"I don't see any mention here of either the General or Dr. Khan." replied the Frenchman. "I do see a private tour of the Lok Virsa Museum at 3:30, however , and an evening of traditional music at the Shah Faisal Mosque." The Minister smiled broadly, and stood. "Yes, of course; as I understand it, only Mr. Tamaguchi has visited Pakistan before, and only he has any experience with our unique culture."

The Japanese man took two steps towards the table. "That is irrelevant, Minister." His voice was quiet, but quite powerful. "Nothing in Pakistan's history or culture justifies the sale of nuclear technology to other nations. This is not a referendum on Pakistan's own nuclear program."
"Though perhaps it should be." said one of the Belgian women, breaking from her conversation and also stepping towards the table.

"Ah, well, there you see our concern." replied the Minister, holding a hand towards the Belgian. "It is as the General said last month on this matter. Pakistan is a sovereign nation, and it is essential to understand the roots of Pakistan's struggle to exist in order to understand why the nuclear program is so critical to us. Your delegation is here for over a week. Surely you have ample time to gain the proper context, and surely you see the need to do so."

"And the Mosque is so beautiful." chimed in the adjutant, who returned while the Minister was speaking. He approached the Minister and whispered in his ear. The Minister tut-tutted, then turned back to the delegation with a rueful smile. "I regret that the General will be unavailable all day due to pressing matters of state. However, we have arranged a meeting with the Director of the Military Press Office. He will be in shortly. In the meantime, please enjoy your breakfast." The Minister placed the slim file into his case, and both he and the adjutant exited the room.


Thursday, February 05, 2004  
And there you have it:
"I give him pardon. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan is my hero. He is a national hero," General Musharraf told a press conference in Rawalpindi, the twin city of Islamabad.


Wednesday, February 04, 2004  
And, oh, yeah, there were some primaries and such yesterday, right? Kerry rolls along, Edwards is making his case for the VP slot, and Clark is still in it, getting a squeaker in Oklahoma (even though most people seem to be most impressed with how well Edwards did against him). Who knows, Clark may end up snagging enough delegates to have a seat at the table at the convention. The vaunted Joementum never materializes, and Lieberman bows out; Sharpton doesn't pull the black vote in S.C. (even though he picked up the critical Moby endorsement). Kucinich is still out there somewhere, I think. And Dean is...

[ . . . crickets . . . ]

What a blow to Al Gore - his drive to be a kingmaker, stubbed out in its infancy. Hey, I'll admit to saying over a couple of kitchen tables that I thought Dean was unstoppable, but hell - I'm just some putz who gets his news from the internet. You would think that Gore's antennae would be a little more finely tuned.

Of course, Tacitus thinks we (Democrats) are all idiots because we "will eschew the charismatic Southerner(s) with mainstream appeal for a stodgy patrician Massachusetts man whose main appeal is to....well, people such as" ourselves. Yeah, yeah. Ten minutes ago we were idiots because we didn't realize that only Joe Lieberman would appeal to "real Americans." Honestly, if I had my choice, I'd probably go with Clark/Edwards over any ticket with the Wooden Man from Massachusetts, but I don't get to vote on that, so what the hell. If people think he can win, they'll get involved. Hell, I'll get involved. I've made my first political donation ever this year and it went to the DNC. I don't care who wins, I really don't. Any of the top three will be fine.


Shocking, truly:
Pardon for scientist who sold atom bomb secrets

Pakistan is likely to pardon without trial the father of the country's atomic bomb even though he has confessed to selling nuclear technology to rogue states, a senior government official told the Telegraph yesterday.

President Pervaiz Musharraf, now facing mounting anger over the detention of Abdul Qadeer Khan, is expected to indicate the government's plans in a television address in the next few days.

The scientist, a national icon, is under house arrest. He is said to have confessed to selling nuclear weapons technology to some of the world's most radical anti-western states, including Libya, Iran and North Korea, over at least 11 years.

There were growing indications last night that the mix of popular feeling and the risk that a trial would expose the army's involvement in the scandal will effectively end any chance of a trial.

Since Mr Khan had confessed to selling technology "there was no further need to humiliate the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, who has kept the nation safe from Indian attack", the official said.

The official, intimately involved in Mr Khan's investigation, said a trial would be too sensitive when "political opposition to the president is building up".

According to yesterday's Washington Post, the Pakistanis have other reasons for burying the issue.

It quoted a friend of Mr Khan and a senior Pakistani investigator as saying the scientist helped North Korea design and equip facilities for making weapons-grade uranium with the full knowledge of senior military commanders, including Gen Musharraf, who is also army chief of staff.

Mr Khan apparently urged investigators to question army commanders and Gen Musharraf, saying "no debriefing is complete unless you bring every one of them here and debrief us together".

From the UK Telegraph.


Monday, February 02, 2004  
Pakistani nuclear mastermind confesses to profiting from sales of nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The Pakistani government investigation, which was brought on by U.S. pressure, has apparently borne some fruit; and good Doctor Khan is under house arrest for a moment while the government decides what to do.

And it won't be easy for the government to decide. They are in a bit of a bind. This investigation has come along because Pakistan swore up and down that they had no involvement with illegal proliferation. However, as has become increasingly obvious over the past few years, Pakistan's government was itself up to its neck in the proliferation business. But in the meantime, the U.S. is clearing its throat increasingly loudly, not wanting to be made a fool of for backing Musharraf so strongly.

So it is in Musharraf's interest to portray Khan and his team as rogue opportunists, profiteering from state nuclear secrets. However, the government can't hit the scientists too hard without tempting the good doctor to open up his little black book to the press and embarrass them all. I don't know enough about Pakistani politics to know what the public thinks about Pakistan's involvement in proliferation activities, but I do know that Gen. Musharraf has relied heavily in the recent past upon his friends in the U.S. If Musharraf is credibly linked in the public eye to an effort to market nuclear technologies to Iran and North Korea, that relationship might be hard to sustain from the U.S. end.

Imagine the scene.

The Minister leaned back in his chair and looked over the tops of his small spectacles. He spoke slowly, and enunciated every word with precision. "Oh, no, Mrs. Ambassador. Pakistan would never involve itself in such trade. We have declined to sign the NPT, but we only did so to maintain our independence regarding our own security, not so we can engage in illicit trade in nuclear technology. The very suggestion is absurd." The U.S. ambassador leaned forward and said, "Okay, but after that business with the South African, we know perfectly well that someone is sending Pakistani nuclear secrets out into the world. The U.S. expects that you will do everything you can to find out who it is." "Oh, yes, naturally, Mrs. Ambassador, we will conduct a thorough inquiry." said the affable Minister, as two cups of strong tea cooled unregarded on the desk between them. There was a moment of silence, and then the Ambassador rose, and politely excused herself.

Once the American was shown out, the Minister sat quietly for a moment, regarding the letter the Ambassador had come to deliver. He gnawed briefly on his cuticle, then punched a button on his speaker phone. There was a brief buzz, followed by the alert voice of his adjutant: "Yes, Minister?" The Minister coughed and spoke. "Please arrange a call with Doctor Khan. Tell him I have some . . . difficult news for him. But be polite." "At once, Minister." The call cut off with a click. The Minister sat for a moment in thought, frowning, then shook his head. "Very polite." he grumbled to himself, as he turned back to his work. A few minutes later, he called in his secretary to clear away the tea.

P.S. An interesting side note to all of this, for me, anyway, is how old-school our alliance with Pakistan is. It is a Kissinger-type marriage of convenience, from the top down. The neocons, who are supposed to have such gimlet eyes and limited patience for accomodations of convenience of this type, have been strangely silent on this one, reserving their ire for our Saudi blind spot. Not really a criticism, but interesting nonetheless.


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