Monday, February 18, 2008

Independence! Wave the Kosovo Albanian flag...






Kosovo just declared independence and was recognized by the U.S., Germany, France, Britain, and a number of other countries. Jubilant Kosovars filled the streets waving the Kosovo Albanian flag... Well, I guess they couldn't get their hands on the new flag of Kosovo, given that it was chosen at the same time as their declaration of independence. However that makes one think - what would the reaction of the U.S. and these E.U. stalwarts be were the Kosovars to decide that they want to merge with Albania??

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Spielberg...

Steven Spielberg recently stepped down as artistic adviser to Beijing for the upcoming Olympics, citing opposition to China's support for the Sudanese government. Apparently the Chinese are buying oil from, and selling arms to, despots...

Quick, someone tell Spielberg that the U.S. buys oil from despots, is the largest supplier of armaments in the world, and that our tax dollars support this. Then perhaps he'll punish us by refraining from making any further Star Wars prequels or sequels!!


China feels heat as activists take their cue from Spielberg
Spielberg Drops Out as Adviser to Beijing Olympics in Dispute Over Darfur Conflict
Spielberg Withdraws As Artistic Advisor To Olympics

2/20 UPDATE: Oops, the Star Wars movies are by George Lucas and not Spielberg....

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

... for President

Looks like the next 30-45 days will be the home stretch for the two Democratic contenders for their party's Presidential nomination. Reading newspapers, online sources, blogs, etc. the reasons that many voters give (at least publicly) for preferring one candidate over the other are sometimes weak. An example is those that feel that a big differentiator has been the candidates' relative stances on Iraq, and/or that either candidate has shown any real leadership on this subject...

One freely criticized the war when 'on the outside' as an Illinois state senator. Then (now an 'insider'), when in a position to do more about it as a U.S. Senator, he was much more restrained, somewhat more equivocal, ramping up criticism as things went from bad to worse. The other, an 'insider' in a position to have an impact, cravenly went along then came out against the war only when it was clearly safe to do so! The difference is thus a matter of degree, neither has shown much real leadership in this area. If being more correct on Iraq is a predictor of suitability for the Presidency, then may I humbly suggest that this blogger, although in favor of removing Saddam all along, has shown himself as much (if not more) on the mark as either of the two candidates, viz:

  • In September 2002, while in favor of removing Saddam, agreed that significant skepticism was legitimate re how the administration was "making its case." See OPED29 - Making "the case" against Iraq
  • Also in September 2002 OPED30 Beyond Making the Case called for tactics that would have reduced the subsequent unrest e.g. avoiding any damage to civilian infrastructure; not targeting "regular" army but freezing troop concentrations in place until they could be moved to "surrender zones" (as opposed to bypassing them to race to Baghdad, allowing them to melt away, often with stocks of weapons that could then be used against the U.S.); articulation of a clear end game; guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Iraq; etc.
  • In March 2003, before the onset of the war, decried the foolishness of the administration as it had frittered away the world-wide reservoir of good will, used bogus arguments and shoddy intelligence, etc. See OPED34 Mistakes Along the Way
  • On March 25th, 2003, five days after the start of the war, and a good two weeks before the fall of Baghdad OPED37 Victory? attempted to define 'victory.' It stated that this would be hard to define and even harder to attain, and that "the U.S. administration can not content itself with military success, it will have to also achieve positive results in the political arena". It stated that some of the factors that needed to be included to ensure 'victory' were a) the need for solid evidence of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons to be found, b) a post-Saddam government carefully crafted and balancing the influence of Iraqi emigres with acceptable internal parties, c) that there be follow up to address other conflicts in the region, in particular the Israel-Palestinian conflict, d) that the U.S. not remain in bed with the monarchies, dictatorships, military regimes, and semi-democracies in the area, but begin the delicate task of encouraging movement towards democracy in these countries, etc.
  • In July 2003 OPED38 Aces are Low lamented the wishful thinking that Iraq had arrived at yet another "turning point."
  • As far back as March 2002 OPED21 Straight Talk on Hazar Qadam pointed out the flaws in the (then) quasi-cult status of Donald Rumsfeld.
  • In November 2006 OPED44 What to do in Iraq pointed out the mental adjustments that needed to be made by the administration if it wanted to show progress in Iraq.

So, bottom line, on the issue of Iraq this blogger's record is as substantive as that of Senator Obama (see pages 5 and 6 of Obama Opposed the War from the Beginning). The difference of course is that this unknown blogger's opinion is a web page with perhaps 10 hits/month, while Senator Obama is a sitting U.S. Senator. However, each had the exact same impact on the course of actual events i.e. nil!

P.S. Just kidding re the vote, as an immigrant am not eligible :)


Sunday, February 10, 2008

And the "F" in Mathematics goes to....

... the unnamed Obama aides quoted below in a NY Times article (link below):


"The $32 million in January, aides said, came from 275,000 people who gave $100 or less. Ninety percent of the money came from online donations."

Obama Outshines Clinton at Raising Funds


... now admittedly they are a lot better at politics... and fundraising!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Benazir Bhutto follow-up...

The family of slain Benazir Bhutto has called for a United Nations inquiry, similar to the inquiry into the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon. They might want to think this through a little. Let's look at the timeline...
  • Hariri was killed by an explosion on February 14th, 2005.
  • The Security Council established an international, independent investigation commission on April 17th, 2005 "to assist the Lebanese Authorities in their investigation.... to help identify its perpetrators, sponsors, organizers, and accomplices."
  • In 2005 German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis was appointed the Commissioner of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission.
  • January 11th, 2006 he left to become the Senior Public Prosecutor in the Office of the Attorney General in Berlin, and was replaced by the Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz.
  • On January 1st, 2008 Brammertz stepped down to become Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and was replaced by Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare.
  • Just from June to October 2005 thirty investigators from 17 different countries were involved in the investigation, getting 244 witness statements, 293 investigator's notes, 22 suspect statements, 453 crime scene exhibits, and producing 16,711 pages of documents.
  • The UNIIIC released its ninth report in November 2007, and reported that "progress has been encouraging...", and that it ".. is working to identify..." the two men who purchased the Mitsubishi van that held the explosives, "... continues to gather additional information on all the individuals and vehicles present at or close to the crime scene...", "... has also deepened and broadened its understanding of the possible involvement of a number of persons... who may have been involved..."    Blah, blah, blah...
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...

Detlev Mehlis has now commented unfavorably on the progress of the UNIIIC, see Talking To: Detlev Mehlis Quote: "...I think people should not expect a trial within the next two to three years, unless the investigation regains momentum...."


02/16 UPDATE: Link to the 9th UNIIIC report:


A Series of Firsts...

Well, Bill Clinton was hailed as "..the first black president." Now,if Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination and is subsequently elected we apparently will then have "the first woman president..." at least according to Megan Beyer, wife of the former lieutenant governor of Virginia. 

Washington Post: First Lady to Lead "Women for Obama

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Grotesque....


Another example of "the worst of the worst," Abdul Razzaq Hekmati. For two starkly differing versions of the detainees at Guantanamo, read these different analyses of the CSRT (Combatant Status Review Tribunal) profiles released by the U.S. government, done by:

Professors at the Seton Hall School of Law
The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point

Exit without grace..

Mitt Romney suspends his campaign, and simultaneously proves that he is not fit for the position of head dog-catcher...

"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

$515 billion.. or is it?

$3 Trillion Budget mentioned the $515 billion DOD budget. Well, an article in Slate looks at that a little closer and makes some observations, including:

  • It may be closer to $713 billion for defense...
  • "... The "Overview" section of the Pentagon's budget document contains a section called "Program Terminations." It reads, in its entirety: "The FY 2009 budget does not propose any major program terminations."..."
  • And, somehow, the three branches get approximately the same amount of money ("... Army gets 33 percent, the Air Force gets 33 percent, and the Navy gets 34 percent.")


Monday, February 4, 2008

Color-coding - is this a good idea??






Back in Novemeber 2007 the two children of Dennis Quaid and his wife Kimberly, along with a third patient, were mistakenly given an overdose of heparin while at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The mixup resulted when the wrong strength of heparin vials was used, a 10,000 unit per ml vial instead of a 10 unit per ml vial. The Quaids subsequently are suing the manufacturer of the drugs, Baxter Healthcare, alleging that Baxter was negligent for making different doses in similar vials with similar blue labels. An attorney representing two families affected by previous overdoses as a result of labeling mix-ups says that these are not new problems and will likely continue, as human error is inevitable given the similar labeling on the two sizes of heparin vials.


Looking at their filing it appears that they feel that the label colors should have been different ("... Since a medical error in administration could lead to a dangerous or fatal result, the background colors should have been different."), as should also be the size and shape of the vials ("... Since a medical error... the vials should have been in completely distinguishable size and shape.")


OK, a couple of thoughts. Given the huge number of different drugs on the market, their varying dosage forms, their multiple strengths (e.g. heparin comes 1 unit per ml, 10 units per ml, 100 units per ml, 1,000 units per ml, 5,000 units per ml, 10,000 units per ml, 20,000 units per ml, etc.), the fact that their generic equivalents are often also manufactured by dozens of other manufacturers, it is fairly obvious that it is well nigh impossible for all possible variations to have different color labels and different shaped/sized vials... And, were such a system possible it would contribute to the natural tendency of folks to use color and/or shape and size as a proxy or 'shortcut'. It could well be argued that making every label color uniform would improve patient safety, as providers would then be obliged to actually read the label and confirm the drug/dose rather than rely on color or some other visual cue...


Bottom line, the Quaids are well-intentioned but misguided in this. They are not doing this for the money but "so that this doesn't happen to another child". However, they would be better to push for barcodes on unit of use and for the providers to have reader systems in place to use them!

Pablum re a Nuclear Free World

On January 4th George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn wrote an oped in the Wall Street Journal endorsing the eventual goal of a nuclear free world, and proposing "...a series of agreed and urgent steps that would lay the groundwork for a world free of the nuclear threat." See:


Unsurprisingly enough, this did not include the one thing that might really jumpstart the process and move this from the realm of "chatter" to the realm of possibility - the elimination of the British and French nuclear weapons.

The British make much of the fact that they have reduced their nuclear warheads to 160, and have cut back from three to only one delivery system (submarines). However apparently they can not actually eliminate this residual capability since it is "needed" given that they can not "... be sure that a major nuclear threat to our vital interests will not emerge over the longer term..." per


It is exceedingly difficult to imagine any scenario in which the British would employ these weapons without the acquiescence of the U.S. Britain could as easily reside under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, with no need for its own weapons. Clearly they maintain these for reasons of national prestige, an illustration (were it needed) to all the "non" nations that possession of these weapons confers significant benefits in this regard. While the British may have no incentive to denuclearize, the United States should force their hand. Ditto with regard to the French. This would be evidence of real commitment and have an outsize psychological effect. Unfortunately I don't see this happening while platitudes from 'notables' are apparently deemed sufficient.


On a lighter note: The British white paper has some canned responses to arguments against the British deterrent. In response to #5 in Box 3-1 Responses to Counter Arguments "The UK retains nuclear weapons because of the international status that this might bring, in particular the UK’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council", the reasoned and weighty response of Her Majesty's government is:

"We maintain our nuclear forces as a means of deterring acts of aggression against our vital interests and not for reasons of status."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Question for Senators Obama and Clinton

There's a death match going on between the two Democratic presidential hopeful finalists, Senators Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, re who is more apt to be an agent of change - to change the tone in Washington, to get things done, to move beyond rancor, to reach across the aisle, blah, blah, blah.

Perhaps someone could ask each of them, "Senator, since the Democrats took over the Senate the Republicans have used the "silent" filibuster over one hundred times, thereby stymieing Democratic effors to pass legislation on topics that you feel strongly about e.g. FISA, SCHIP, and a host of other issues. Given your position in the Senate, can you provide even one solitary example of when there has been a serious philosophical difference between the two parties and you have been able to bridge the difference, or create a coalition, or "reach across the aisle" to defeat the silent filibuster and get the legislation passed?"

$3 Trillion Budget

President Bush proposes the nation's first 3-trillion dollar budget, with $515 billion for the DOD... And this only has Iraq/Afghanistan "war on terror" funding for the first four months of FY 2009 (October - January) i.e. only until he leaves office...

Bush Proposes First $3 Trillion Budget

The $70 Billion Hand-Off

 
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