November 2006

If you look at the Green Zone by satellite as Steve Gilliard has done, you will see the only exit is the road to the airport, which is already the most dangerous road in the world, despite the US presence and years of effort. If Bush holds us there until we have to fight our way out, the cost in American lives will be beyond imagining. Take a look at the pictures, and read Gilliard’s description in the post.

Meanwhile Bush continues to live in a bubble, impervious to facts. What is the biggest danger to our troops? As Wolcott says there is a growing fear that:

. . . not only is Bush unable to avoid catastrophe, he’s unwilling to, because that would mean he was wrong, and Bush can’t admit he was wrong–the cracks of doubt would bring his entire psychic superstructure crashing. And at that point we’d have a presidential crisis that would make Nixon’s lunar unraveling look like a teddy bear’s picnic.

Our media loves to turn the cameras on McCain, but rarely asks tough questions, and does no analysis. However, as Matt Welch writes in the LA Times, McCain has a long and clear legislative and paper trail. Analysis is not that difficult.

Sifting through McCain’s four bestselling books and nearly three decades of work on Capitol Hill, a distinct approach toward governance begins to emerge. And it’s one that the electorate ought to be particularly worried about right now. McCain, it turns out, wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions. He’ll kick down the doors of boardroom and bedroom, mixing Democrats’ nanny-state regulations with the GOP’s red-meat paternalism in a dangerous brew of government activism. And he’s trying to accomplish this, in part, for reasons of self-realization.
. . .
McCain’s books and speeches are shot through with the language and sentiment of 12-step recovery.
. . .
If his issues line up with yours, and if you’re not overly concerned by an activist federal government, McCain can be a great and sympathetic ally. But chances are he will eventually see a grave national threat in what you consider harmless, or he’ll prescribe a remedy that you consider unconscionable. Nowhere is that more evident than in his ideas about the Iraq war.

McCain has been banging the drum from nearly Day One to put more boots on the ground in Iraq. “There are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this,” he said on “Meet the Press” on Nov. 12, “but they all require the presence of additional troops.” McCain is more inclined to start wars and increase troop levels than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. He has supported every U.S. military intervention of the last two decades, urged both presidents to rattle their sabers louder over North Korea and Iran, lamented the Pentagon’s failure to intervene in Darfur and Rwanda and supported a general policy of “rogue state rollback.” He’s a fan of Roosevelt’s Monroe-Doctrine-on-steroids stick-wielding in Latin America. And — like Bush — he thinks too much multilateralism can screw up a perfectly good war.

The price of all this war-making, in money and manpower, would be staggering; it’s hard to imagine without a draft (McCain has long been a fan of mandatory national service, at the least). But the costs to his political ambitions may even be greater. The nation is in no mood for the war we’ve got now, let alone a doubling-down on Iraq and ramped-up unilateralist tough talk in the Middle East. The trend lines of public opinion on these counts are not pointing in McCain’s direction.
(Do we need another T.R? Matt Welch,, 11/26/06)

Australian filmmaker John Safran became fed up with Mormons ringing his door before noon and trying to convert him to Mormonism. So he flew to Salt Lake City Utah and made a film of going door to door trying to convert Mormons to atheism. It was hardly a successful effort, but there are a few laughs here.

Today features a great selection of cartoons from Bob Geiger.

As someone who has often moved between cultures, I would say that it is almost impossible not to get things wrong some of the time. One hopes to apologize and correct oneself as needed, and one hopes that the other parties will be gracious and forgiving if one has accidentally crossed a line. It is important to be equally gracious and forgiving when others blunder. In most cases this works, people are inclined to be generous, unfortunately not always.

Misunderstandings can also be funny.

I have recenly been reading A Great Improvisation by Stacy Schiff, about Benjamin Franklin, France, and the beginnings of the American republic. As Schiff writes in her introduction about Franklin, he was:

. . . the one man in the colonies possessed of that brand of sleek charlatanism known as social grace. . . Franklin was charged with appealing to a monarchy for assistance in establishing a republic. . . Franklin was a natural diplomat, genial and ruthless.

The French and the Americans had very little knowledge of what each other were like, and so there were incidents like this delightful little story:

The degree of misconception on both sides was staggering . . .

The citizens of Boston labored very hard to be sociable . . . Still, an American knew what he did about Frenchmen, and when Cambridge’s most successful businessman hosted a formal dinner for the foreigners he welcomed them with brimming tureens of their national dish. With his first spoonful, one of the guests fished up a full-grown, brilliantly green Massachusetts frog. “Mon Dieu! Une grenouille!” he exclaimed, holding up his catch and passing it, by a hind leg, to the gentleman at his side, who did the same, until the well-inspected creature reached d’Estaing. An examination of the bowls before them revealed that each officer had been similarly favored; the Frenchmen could not contain their mirth. “Why don’t they eat them?” wondered their crestfallen host. He had dispatched emissaries to every swamp in Cambridge. (p.170)

A cartoon from Anne Telnaes courtesy of Dependable Renegade, and a bit of fashion fun at the expense of the dim son.

The Republican leaders who took power in the House in 1994 spent most of their adult careers collecting money from big government they claimed to despise. They were generally insignificant or only marginally successful otherwise, and they did not serve in the armed forces. They served in the House of Representatives as a cluster of truly poor and misguiding leadership for the full 12 years they held power. This assessment comes a bit late, since all this was easily visible from the beginning, but Dick Mayer at CBS News tells the tale.

Politicians in this country get a bad rap. For the most part, they are like any high-achieving group in America, with roughly the same distribution of pathologies and virtues. But the leaders of the GOP House didn’t fit the personality profile of American politicians, and they didn’t deviate in a good way. . . .

The iconic figures of this era were Newt Gingrich, Richard Armey and Tom Delay. They were zealous advocates of free markets, low taxes and the pursuit of wealth; they were hawks and often bellicose; they were brutal critics of big government.

Yet none of these guys had success in capitalism. None made any real money before coming to Congress. None of them spent a day in uniform. And they all spent the bulk of their adult careers getting paychecks from the big government they claimed to despise. Two resigned in disgrace.

Having these guys in charge of a radical conservative agenda was like, well, putting Mark Foley in charge of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus. Indeed, Foley was elected in the Class of ’94 and is not an inappropriate symbol of their regime.

A court case, brought by hispanic parents may have ended this, but after half a century of school desegregation, we still have this as reported in the Dallas Morning News:

For years, it was an open secret at North Dallas’ Preston Hollow Elementary School: Even though the school was overwhelmingly Hispanic and black, white parents could get their children into all-white classes. And once placed, the students would have little interaction with the rest of the students.
. . .

Preston Hollow’s unwritten policy of clustering whites together was known for years among parents and teachers, according to testimony. In fact, Mrs. Parker’s subordinates – including teachers and her assistant principal – raised concerns about it multiple times. One even wrote a letter to Superintendent Michael Hinojosa about it. Those complaints fell on deaf ears, the judge wrote.

“I began to see something very strange,” Ms. Santamaría said in Spanish. “The difference was that the Anglo students would go to lunch together while the Latinos went with the Asians and the African-Americans.” That, she said, raised a question in her mind “because the children don’t know what segregation is.”
. . .

. . . In reserving certain classrooms for Anglo students, Principal Parker was, in effect, operating, at taxpayer’s expense, a private school for Anglo children within a public school that was predominantly minority.”

Enjoy insight and giggles with the cartoons.

Chris Dodd is planning to revive the US Constitution, our right to habeas corpus, and protect our troops, after all the assaults from the Bush administration. He will introduce The Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act which contains the following provisions:

* Restores Habeas Corpus protections to detainees
* Narrows the definition of unlawful enemy combatant to individuals who directly participate in hostilities against the United States who are not lawful combatants
* Bars information gained through coercion from being introduced as evidence in trials
* Empowers military judges to exclude hearsay evidence they deem to be unreliable
* Authorizes the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to review decisions by the Military commissions
* Limits the authority of the President to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and makes that authority subject to congressional and judicial oversight
* Provides for expedited judicial review of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to determine the constitutionally of its provisions

As By Neddie Jingo says:

There was a flap about typos being an endangered species a few years ago — what with spell-checkers and all — so it’s good to be able to catch one in natuar before they all dye out.
Give it a look.

And after that, give this a look for a couple of additional giggles:
Skywriter Trailed By Skyeditor

Dora Akunyili is the Director General of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). She is known around the world, and particularly admired as a hero in Africa for her toughness and courage in her successful fight to rid Nigeria of counterfeit drugs. Her sister died due to fake drugs. Her office has been burned down, her laboratories vandalised, and her house broken into. She has even been shot at. When she started her job, about 80% of the drugs on the Nigerian market were fake. She has reduced that to 10%, which she still calls unacceptable.

NAFDAC has more information on her including the lengthy list of her awards.

She continues her courageous fight. More details about her biography and efforts are here:

Dora Akunyili’s battle against counterfeit food and medicines in Nigeria is removing dangerous fakes and saving lives. Although the struggle has nearly cost her own life, she is determined to fight on.

Dora Akunyili, director general of the Nigerian National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), has been shot at, attacked, seen her office burned down, her laboratories vandalised and had her house broken into. She has been intimidated, harassed and blackmailed and her staff have been beaten up. Just last month, in an investigation at a market, her investigators and police were attacked and six cars were destroyed. But none of this has stopped her fight against counterfeit drugs.

Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)

Her worst day came on December 26 2003. Driving near her village, she was shot at from another car. A nearby bus driver was killed, and she narrowly survived: “The bullet scraped my back and burned my scalp like a hot water bottle.” The gunmen were later brought to trial and proven to have links with drug counterfeiters.

Since her appointment to NAFDAC in 2001, Akunyili – who has a PhD in pharmacology and still supervises graduate students at the College of Medicine – has tackled the threat of counterfeit drugs head on. When she started, about 80% of drugs in the market were fake, companies such as Boehringer, Merck and Sandoz had all withdrawn from the country, and local manufacturers were closing down because they could no longer compete. Worse, she says, the counterfeits were causing illness and disease: “People were dying like rats. My own sister died thanks to counterfeit insulin and that hit me. All families in Nigeria have experienced the effects of counterfeits.”

Akunyili was appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo after developing a name for her honesty: in 1999, she was given £12,000 by her then employer for surgery in London, but when the surgery proved unnecessary she returned the money to the chief executive. He told her: “I did not know there were Nigerians with integrity.” Her reputation spread and one Sunday, out of the blue, she had a phone call from the president who said he wanted someone to clean up NAFDAC, the agency which regulates and controls the import, sale and advertising of all drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, processed food and drinks for Nigeria’s 131 million people. After initial confusion (“I thought it was a con-man”) she went to a meeting the following Tuesday and was given the job, even though “some ministers and politicians were very much against me because they wanted their own people”. Like many of the counterfeiters she fights, she comes from the Igbo tribe.

Today, the piracy rate for pharmaceuticals has come down to 10%, a figure that Akunyili says is “still unacceptable”. Although she says the campaign has “succeeded much more than we ever expected,” she thinks it is “realistic” to reduce the rate to single figures. The death rate in hospitals has fallen, multinationals are returning and 24 new drugs manufacturing outfits have been established. In the four-and-a-half years to September 2005, N10 billion ($80.5 million) worth of fake drugs and substandard products were destroyed and some 50 people convicted of fake drugs-related crimes in court. And, says Akunyili, the counterfeiters are on the run: “The hunter has become the hunted.”

NAFDAC’s extraordinary success in challenging the counterfeiting problem has come about more through determination and patience than through spectacular ideas. “Knowledge of the problem is half the solution,” says Akunyili, who introduced a NAFDAC number for all drugs and food products so that consumers know they are buying an authentic product. Advertising encourages them to check the number and expiry date. This simple measure saw the number of products without a NAFDAC number drop by 80% between 2002 and 2004.

The Agency has also focused on stopping counterfeits coming into the country. Since many come from India and China, the Agency now analyzes goods in those countries before they are exported. It works with importers and banks, and staff go to markets to buy samples and test them. NAFDAC also undertakes systematic surveillance at all entry points to the country. Factories producing drugs must be certified; market stalls are subject to inspection; hawkers on buses will be thrown off. Bakeries have been closed down for using potassium bromate as a bread improver while makers of fake vegetable oil and packaged water have been raided. Above all, Akunyili has made it clear that she will not tolerate any corruption within NAFDAC.

NAFDAC’s achievements have also brought personal recognition for Akunyili: last year she was the sole recipient of the Grassroot Human Rights Campaigner Award from the Human Rights Defence organization in London and was also presented with the 2005 industrial award by the International Pharmaceutical Federation in Cairo, Egypt. Her CV lists a further 260 awards and recognitions given to her in Nigeria and overseas.

NAFDAC’s work demonstrates how developing countries can tackle counterfeiters. But, says Akunyili, further work needs to be done. In particular, the law needs to be strengthened as drugs counterfeiting remains more attractive to criminals than gun running or cocaine dealing. Recent efforts have also focused on addressing the problem throughout the west Africa region: many counterfeiters who were driven out of Nigeria initially fled to Congo. A forum of west African drugs authorities was held in Abuja three months ago to ensure that “counterfeiters will not find a safe haven anywhere”.

Here are the Saturday cartoons via Bob Geiger. This week they feature the superb work of Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Nick Anderson.

For three years there has been no wild polio virus in Ghana. The World Health Organization certifies Ghana as polio free. This is due to an aggressive and comprehensive immunization program. Ghana will have to remain vigilant, as there is still polio that can come across her borders. Three years polio free is mark of pride and achievement, but immunization and vigilance must continue. It is nice to see that the immunization program is accompanied by distribution of insecticide treated nets that help prevent malaria.

Accra, Nov. 9, GNA – Ghana has succeeded in recording no wild polio virus for three-continuous years, a sign of successful eradiation of polio, Dr Kwadwo Antwi-Agyei, Programme Manager of the Expanded Immunisation Programme of the Ghana Health Service, said on Thursday. Speaking to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in an interview in Accra Dr Antwi-Agyei explained that Ghana, since September 2003 recorded no virus and the only way to maintain a polio-free state was to ensure high immunity levels for children under-five years.
. . .
“Though we will be certified as polio-free, we will still stand at risk once our neighbour Nigeria had more than 500 cases in 2005 and about 847 cases as at October 3, 2006; we have to intensify our high immunity levels and be alert on our borders.”

Dr Antwi-Agyei said though measles was still the leading cause of illness among the vaccine preventive diseases for children under-five years, no death had been recorded for the past two years.
. . .
The (immunization) exercise, which started on November 1 and ended on November 5, combined measles and polio immunisation, administering of vitamin A and distribution of 2.1 million free Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs) to children less than two years.

In addition to Iran Contra, Robert M. Gates has other baggage. According to Congressional Quarterly, he pressured analysts to alter intelligence reports to fit administration positions.

“During his tenure at CIA, Mr. Gates developed a reputation for pressuring analysts and managers to shape analytical conclusions to fit administration positions, a fact that led dozens of current and former CIA analysts to oppose his confirmation as CIA Director in 1991,” said Holt, who will likely chair an intelligence subcommittee starting in January.

This approach to “intelligence” is part of what got us into the Iraq quagmire. Someone who applies this technique hardly seems qualified to help us get out.

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