Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Assume the Position

Much more amazing than the LA Times report today that the US military is "secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops," is the fact that the Pentagon has now come out and said that it is "looking into" the story, as though yet another rogue band of military bad apples are off doing things the Pentagon knows nothing about. Let me clarify what I mean here by "amazing" by first indicating what is not amazing about this.

It is surely not amazing, nor even surprising, that the military is doing this. Hell, various branches of this White House's executive have already been caught red-handed paying commentators and other talking heads in the US media to "burnish the image" of whatever nakedly bad policy it was they were payed to promote. It should come as absolutely no surprise that the military would employ very similar tactics in Iraq. After all, its Iraq, a troubled land far from the any scrutinizing eyes over here. How hard can it be to bribe a few Iraqis? And it probably seemed like a very good idea to these people, especially because US military propaganda is soooo much better and more truthful than that damnable stuff Al-Jazeera spews.

It is also not amazing that the Pentagon would deny any knowledge of the practice. These days, denial is an almost every day activity for the Pentagon. Abu Graib? Don't know anything about it! Bad apples acting on their own sick initiative. Willy pete in Falluja? That's outrageous! Why, we would never ....
articles written by U.S. military "information operations" troops ... translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor.
What?! This is crazy talk! Where do you people hear this stuff? We'll look into it. But we can almost guarantee that, if this did happen, it was a rogue operation conducted without the Pentagon's knowledge or permission by more military bad apples. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, who seems like just the kind of creature I've commented on before, has this to say about the story:
It was news to me.
I suspect there is very little that is not news to Mr. Whitman.

Anyway, none of this is amazing. What is amazing is that the Pentagon will actually try to still act like this is an utter surprise to them. It is a terribly cynical position they assume when they act innocent, hunker down in the usual position, knowing fully well how absurd their claims of ignorance really are. They surely cannot expect that anyone would buy it, but they claim ignorance anyway.

I am beginning to wonder if the Pentagon has some kind of a "spokesman" dungeon in that massive complex; a dark place where a phalanx of semi-articulate patsies are tethered to a stone wall, fed the occasional Triscit and allowed to drink from a bowl of fetid water in the corner. Then, when alarming stories break, one or more are dragged up out of the depths, wrapped in a suit, pushed in front of the spot lights where they can sincerely announce that they "know nothing."

This is getting so freaking tiring.

Shillin' for Trillin

Calvin Trillin's latest offering over at the Nation:

When shells fall close and smoke is thick,
Real tough guys never run. They stick.
Or so says Five Deferments Dick.

No wavering---no he's a brick.
To cut and run would make him sick.
Or so says Five Deferments Dick.

Appeasers cannot take a lick,
But tough guys bite and gouge and kick.
Or so says Five Deferments Dick.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

North Carolina & Diebold: less here than meets the eye

Upon first seeing the decision by a N.C. judge that he would deny liabilty protection to Diebold if they refused to provide voter machine source code, one might be inclined to think this was a bold move toward refactoring the broken electoral system. And North Carolina's new law, which requires disclosure of software in voting machines, certainly appeared designed to do that. Lawmakers, perhaps necessarily, overreached or were not specific enough in the legislation and this has given Diebold an out.

Because of the wording of voting maching law, which states that vendors must make available
all software that is relevant to functionality, setup, configuration, and operation of the voting system.
Diebold is now able to claim that compliance with that law would put them in violation of IP rights; they have no legal right to make available the Windows source code on which the Diebold system operates. And this is true. But it is an easy out for Diebold and a very convenient excuse they can use to keep from having to give up their own proprietary code, much of which may prove to be rather embarrassing, if not downright criminal, in its content and function. One of the reasons no one can prove the Diebold machines don't hack the vote is because no one has seen the guts of the software, only it's well-documented, flaky and statistically improbable behaviour.

So, instead of a great boon to the restoration of a transparent electoral system, it winds up giving Diebold a way to weasle out of the requirement and look like upstanding, responsible corporate citizens while doing it. Ugh.

But this loophole is not entirely N.C. lawmakers fault. By requiring exposure of all software systems on the voting machines, lawmakers seem to understand that Diebold could easily have installed rootkits on the Windows machines. And if the OS were not required to be exposed, rootkits could and would provide back doors into the Windows OS and still leave the voting machines vulnerable and insecure. Do I distrust Diebold enough to believe they would do this? Uh, yeah.

What this situation really demonstrates is that, if the US continues on the path toward full electronic voting, open source software is what should and must be used in the future.* It still boggles my mind that the voting machines in the country are provided by a strongly partisan third party vendor. It is an utterly absurd situation, a situation of which too few Americans are likely even aware.

See my blurb on the latest Ohio election nonsense.

*Massechusetts is currently embroiled in a fight with Microsoft over requiring state documents to conform to XML Open Document standards. This meant that Microsoft Office was out the door. Microsoft initially seethed about this, then came up with some half-assed "Open XML," which is not really open at all. But MS is still fighting it. With a raft of lobbyists in Boston, MS fully intends to try and veto the move. Wankers. We have a ugly show here of corporate America telling the government what to do and it is a disgraceful display indeed.

The Rich get Richer

Hah! This is rich.

Bush came out today and labasted Randy Cunningham after he pleaded guilty to bribery charges:
Any member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, must take their office seriously and the ethics seriously.
Good one. I wonder if he'll have the same thing to say if or when Delay gets popped. Or Doolittle? Or Ney? Or Burns? Or ...?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Democracy: The High Cost of a Low Brow

In the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, reports were coming in fast and furious about a variety of electoral shenanigans, mostly in Florida and Ohio. Voter disenfranchisement campaigns had started early in Jeb Bush's state and more or less matched those that saw some 170,000 voters capriciously excluded from the 2000 election. Many or most of them were minorities, traditionally Democratic.

But the warnings about the election machines, happily provided by Deibold and Election Systems & Software (ESS), Chuck Hagel's (R-Nb) former employer, were perhaps the more alarming of the potential developments forseen in 2004. Computer security studies (Kono et al, 2004) had revealed serious problems ... and were summarily ignored. In the post-mortum of the election, many excuses were made for the amazingly "bad" exit polls that were inexplicably wrong by an unprecedented margin. At least, every excuse was raised except one, the most obvious one to a computer hacker: the machines had been hacked and easily so. The political parties, the mainstream press, and even mainstream blogs like dKos, howled at any such notion. Conspiracy theories! they all wailed. This attitude seemed rooted in only one thing: a belief in the putative integrity of the American democratic process.

The Conyers House Judiciary Commitee investigation, What Went Wrong in Ohio, revealed a vast array of problems in the vote count in that state and received more the 57,000 sworn complaints from Ohio voters. But recently, the GAO issued its report of the electronic voting machines and delivered a damning appraisal of the Repubilcan-supplied hacker honey pots: concerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes. Among the GAO's findings were some startling observations:
-It was possible to alter cast ballots and system logs without being detected.

-It was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that the votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate.

-Vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software.

-A voting machine in Mahoning County recorded a negative 25 million votes for Kerry.
Oops! Guess that glitch was a little too glitchy. But I really love this one:
-Election officials in Mahoning County now concede that at least 18 machines visibly transferred votes for Kerry to Bush. Voters who pushed Kerry's name saw Bush's name light up, again and again, all day long.
If the issue at hand was not about the civic infrastructure of the United States, it would be almost comical in its reading. Of course, there is nothing at all comical about it. And the evidence that has been gathered and presented is beyond overwhelming.

At this point, it probably wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that the recent local elections in Ohio saw yet more inexplicable vote count/poll discrepencies. And this time, the results were, quite simply, beyond belief.

There were five ballot initiatives on the ticket this past election day in Ohio, four of which regarded election reform and all of these were polling -- the day before -- with high numbers: 60% and above for, 30+% against. The vote count on election day saw the numbers flip with 60+% of the vote against and 30-odd% for the initiatives. As one might imagine, this was not within the margin of error of the the Columbus Dispatch polls, which have been historically very accurate, usually to within +/-2.5%. But now, suddenly, they were wrong, wrong, wrong. So wrong, in fact, it would make polling appear to be an utterly useless exercise.

But the fact is, polling is not usually very wrong. Polling is an amazingly precise statistical exercise and has been so for sometime. And this is confirmed, oddly enough, by the very same ballot that saw the four election reform initiatives go down in unexpected yet roaring flames. One of the ballot initiatives had nothing to do with election reform. It was ostensibly a job creation plan, was polling at 54% in favour the day before the election and passed with 53% of the vote.

Now, you might be inclined to think that the Columbus Dispatch would be defending their polls and crying foul. But you'd be wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. So credulous is Darrel Rowland, the Dispatch's public affairs editor, that it leads him to say things like this:
There's always a chance [of electronic fraud] in this crazy day and age, but I don't see how it's realistically possible. There would have to be some super nano-technology.
Well, at least it's good to see he thinks there's "always a chance."

Now, let's examine credulous Darrel's belief that some super, double-plus ungood nano-technology must be the culprit, which to his mind, clearly means that such election machine machinations can't happen. To do this we will revisit one of the GAO's findings:
The electronic network on which 800,000 Ohio votes were cast was vulnerable enough to allow a a tiny handful of operatives -- or less -- to turn the whole vote count using personal computers operating on relatively simple software.
Does this sound like "super nano-technology" to you? I'm guessing this whole computer ... thing must be one super big mystery to Darrel.

The credulous denial by Rowland and the faith-based manner in which he contends that nothing like election fraud could happen on these voting machines is what is really hard to understand here. The press used to pounce on stories of election fraud and American politicians have traditionally embraced a spectrum of practices designed to get them more votes than reality would allow. Why is hacking a computer beyond the realm of consideration for these people? Do they not read their own news?

But this isn't just Darrel's problem. This attitude has been seen across the broad spectrum of the mainstream media. Is it that, because of the technology involved, the mainstream feels unqualified to question the results of the new voting technologies? Are they so cowed by a fear of technology that they will rather doubt, vehemently so, traditionally accurate polling practices? That might be part of it.

There is more, however, and naturally enough, it has everything to do with the post-9/11 world. Since that time, the media has been on its back, cooing at every little stroke of Karl Rove's gnarled fingers. It has been improving lately, I think. Not hugely so, but a bit. But they still don't seem up to questioning the electoral process of the "world's greatest democracry," which means that America's democracy is very grave danger.


And what do we see is the main story, up front and center at WaPo? One question: is this your idea of news?
First Lady Welcomes Christmas Tree
Sweet Jesus! The White House and WaPo are on a mission to save Christmas from those vile liberal Christmas-haters. That'll show 'em.

White House Solutions

There is an interesting blurb at NY Daily News about the mood inside the White House discussing Bush and his aides' ever-increasing separation from reality. I have no sympathy for this man nor his dislocation, but I am concerned about the fact that his inability to deal with real issues is now manifest by a near continuous campaign drive to "polish his image." This is not governing. Not that anything Bush has ever done approached good governance, but the employment of a large part of the executive staff in message management and imagineering may begin to have some deliterious effects upon the executive's ability to do anything even half-way approaching meaningful action.

A telling passage is related that describes how the GOP itself is now rather disturbed by Bush's White House behaviour and clearly indicates that the White House is not now, nor is it expected to be cogent in dealing with the host of serious issues currently on the White House plate:
"There is just no introspection there at all. It is everybody else's fault - the press, gutless Republicans on the Hill. They're still in denial."
This has been true for sometime, and they seem unable to deal with the fact that Bush's approval is not the 90% it was after 9/11. The response to sagging poll numbers is expected to be one that has previously seved them well: distraction:
This week Bush will begin to press the border security issue, while Alito's Senate confirmation hearings start early next year. Aides hope those issues will draw attention away from the war and leak probe.
As was pointed out over on the UnCap Journal, the military situation in Iraq now appears to be a lost cause as soldiers on the ground are reporting that the Pentagon does not appear to be making any kind of serious effort toward a winning strategy. This sort of thing would indicate that the administration has pretty much given up and is ready to pack it in.

But they won't do this in the open and they certainly won't admit it. It is interesting, of course, that a week after Murtha's proposal and the subsequent smear campaign, Bush is now saying that he has had withdrawal plans all along. Well, how about that?

The distraction provided by the Alito confirmation hearings, and anything else the White House can drum up, won't be enough to temper any attention paid to a troop withdrawal while Iraq is still roiling -- something they said they would never do. But given a general and obvious lack of awareness, Bush aides will probably still think that they can wave their hands over Alito's head and everyone will pay no attention to anything else. They really don't seem to understand that that game -- the only one they have ever known how to play -- is over.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

ET Phones ... Canada

It is generally true that most of the world pays little attention to Canada. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be directly attributable to the fact that they are a harmless lot, inclined as they are toward getting along with everyone and trying to be the world's friend. More countries could do well to emulate this sort of non-confrontational posture.

As a result of all this international comity, no one pays much attention to the things Canada, or rather, the things Canadian politicians say. At least, that is, until they say things like this:
UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head.

I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something.

The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied minister of defence, were never in-the-loop.

The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide.
These were the expressed concerns of former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister Paul Hellyer. Granted, he was the MoD way back in the early sixties and may be a tad off kilter these days. Apparently, so spooked was he by the Roswell incident, it never left his mind and, by his own account, has been festering in there ever since. Having never been "in-the-loop" about Roswell, as he claims, naturally implies a near-future intergalactic war. Why, how much more obvious could it be?

In fact, Mr. Hellyer is so afraid that the US is about to engage in intergalactic war, he has demanded that the Parliament of Canada convene public hearings on "Exopolitics," in an effort to stave off invasion and the inevitable and likely futile war.

Futile? you ask. Well, yes. It should be fairly obvious that any alien swarm capable of reaching us from "intergalactic" distances would probably kick our asses with nary a blink. Unless they are the friendly "ET" kind that Mr. Hellyer is probably hoping they are.

Within the panoply of amazing features of the story, like the fact that it actually is a story, perhaps the most amazing aspect of it is that some non-governmental organisations are seriously considering Hellyer's words and intend to approach the Canadian Senate with the proposal for public hearings.

The brunt of all this, as usual, comes from Canada's constant need to be the meeters and greeters of the world. Hellyer is adopting the usual Canadian position of wanting Canada to be, not just the world's friend, but every world's friend. You see, Hellyer wants the world to ban space-based weapons, not in effort to prevent world domination by whoever controls that high ground with death rays and laser cannons and the like, but because he does not want earthlings offending the "ethical Extraterrestrial civilizations visiting" this planet. It's an intergalactic, "can't we all just get along" stance, really.

And now the world can go back to ignoring everything Canada says. Probably forever this time.

Intelligence Design

Quite apart from the jarring effect created by the juxtaposition of the words, "George Bush" and "Center for Intelligence," one has to wonder if the CIA is trying to send a veiled message as to how all that Iraq WMD intelligence got so "wrong'? An interesting prospect to be sure. But, as with so many things in the administration, it is very difficult to tell if those responsible are being clever or just plain clueless.

Indymedia Pajamas

Pajamas Media, aka Open Sores Media, aka, an almagamation of "news-bloggers," mostly from the right (Glenn Reynolds, various powertools, LGF islamophobic muslim hunter Charles Johnson, etc), has been getting off to a fitful start and taking some hits for, well, just being them. But I have been rather surprised that I haven't seen anyone report on the similarity of PJ media's logo with the logo of the world-wide grassroots media network, the Independent Media Center:

Considering that Instapundit, Powerline and especially the ranters at LGF regard the newtwork of IMCs a band of anti-American, pinko subversives, I cannot begin to imagine why on earth this band of Bushites would brand their new brainchild with an image so closely resembling that of an organisation they propound utter contempt for.

Now, mind you, the IMC image is much better realised -- actually has a nicely stylised aesthetic to it -- while the PJ media logo looks like a middle-schooler with MacDraw slapped it together during recess. Then again, consider how the rest of their "launch" has gone, this is hardly surprising.

It also raises the question of legal action by the IMC. It certainly looks like a contender for copyright infringment. Although knowing IMC lefties, - and I do -- everything is all creative commons; copyright just being another way the Man is keeping us down. This is something I don't necessarily disagree with but when participants of an outfit like Pajamas Media derisively call you communist savages and whackos and then steals your logo, its time to throw down.

Friday, November 25, 2005

FSM Sighting

The true religion is spreading. See here a sighting of believers adding their own little taste of Baltimore:

That's Entertainment

U.S. soldiers discovered two endangered cheetah cubs being held captive and abused in a restaurant in this dusty, remote Ethiopian village.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this story but I am still appalled. Appalled by humanity's graceless and callous treatment of nature's creatures. Of course, such despicable behaviour is merely symptomatic of our general disdain for the natural world writ large.

But still, I can no more understand how anyone would enjoy watching cheetah cubs fighting than I can understand any of the other dreadful amusements human kind have manufactured at the expense of the animal world; cock fighting, dog fighting, and lord knows what other awful kinds of gaming that have been dreamt up for no other reason than diversion and entertainment.

One might contort thoughts to find some justification that this sort of behaviour is the product of poverty and desperation. But I would rather not hear such tortured arguments. I want to reach into this picture and slap the bastard with the very hand he is using to beat the innocent and already brutalized cub.

But perhaps more alarming is that this deplorable sight is actually being done for the entertainment of the small children of this poor village. And, judging from the picture below, they appear to be enjoying the show. We can't possibly expect this to have a positive effect upon their outlook on nature's creatures or the environment which these children will grow to inherit. The message seems clear enough: our abuse of the natural world is not a concern but, rather, something we do for our own enjoyment. Pain and suffering are simply vehicles by which we can enthrall ourselves at the expense of other, less capable beings.
Of course, we know well that humans have an astounding capacity to abuse each other and everything else around us. The events of the world today speak volumes about that. We'll dump phosphorous on children, burn them alive and pretend that it isn't all that bad. We'll watch a city flood, bloated bodies will bob in the fetid water and the president will strum a guitar, showing little awareness and no real concern. We'll go to war, kill untold tens of thousands and say that it is all for the greater good. We'll gut the sea and everything in it, tear tops off mountains, slash and burn vital forests, foul the very waters we need and say that our consummption must be maintained; that it is our right no matter how wrong.

Perhaps with all the larger ills of the world, the abuse of two cheetah cubs seems small and petty. And it may be. But it speaks as a metaphor to our larger failings as stewards of this earth and each other. Will we ever stop acting like those children who seem so amused and unbothered by the sight of small, starved creatures tearing each other up?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Duped into War

Joe Wilson thinks that Tony Blair was "double-crossed by the regime change crowd in Washington." Either Wilson isn't as smart as I thought he was -- and I doubt that -- or he is being overly kind to Tony. Because there can simply be no way that Blair was duped by the Bush administration. Wilson wants to believe, or wants us to believe, though I am not at all sure why, that Blair was genuinely interested in the "threat" aspect of the Hussein regime and was merely concerned with disarmament. It has been clear for sometime that that simply cannot be the case.

Blair knew perfectly well what he was doing. And we know Blair knew what he was doing, as evidenced by the Downing Street memos. Blair's cabinet was "fixing the facts" to make the case for war. UN weapons inspector David Kelly's early statements that the intelligence was being "sexed up" had ultimtely been backed up by the emergence of these documents.

We must ask, why would Tony Blair and his cabinet be engaged in "fixing the facts" around WMD claims when it had been known at the time that Iraq had none of the purported weapons capabilities that Bush and Blair were claiming. The deadliest threat being trumpeted by the both of them -- or their proxies -- was the "mushroom cloud" scenario; nuclear capabililty. But the Amorim panel report of March 1999 had clearly indicated that Iraq's nuclear capabality had long since been eradicated. Wilson's own findings in Niger and UN weapons inspections prior to the invasion confirmed what was well known in 1999:
Most of the IAEA activities involving the destruction, removal and rendering harmless of the components of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme which to date have been revealed and destroyed were completed by the end of 1992. In February 1994, the IAEA completed the removal from Iraq of all weapon-usable nuclear material essentially research reactor fuel. On the basis of its findings, the Agency is able to state that there is no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material or that Iraq has retained any practical capability (facilities or hardware) for the production of such material.
Of course, everything here was confirmed by the post-invasion Duelfer report of the Iraq Survey Group. And no one should have believed that Iraq could have reconstituted a nuclear weapons capability in two or three years.

But back to the question of Blair fixing the facts if he was concerned about disarmament. It should have been obvious to anyone with access to all the UNSCOM intelligence and reports that Iraq really could not have posed much of a threat. And given this, why would Blair be concerned about disarming a country that had no major stocks of arms, especially the kind that Blair would later crow about?

These rhetorical questions should make obvious the point that Blair had committed his government to drumming up intelligence opposing the known facts. And he did this, most likely, not because he necessarily had ambitions in Iraq as the Bush administration did, but simply because he couldn't say no to Bush. This seems like a desperately petty reason to back an illegal war, but I can't really figure out what else it could be. Despite the fact that the majority of Britons were opposed to an Iraq invasion, Blair chose to back Bush for reasons known only to himself. I suspect it might be out of some concern for not being roasted by the White House administration as "soft on terror," or being slapped with any of the wide variety of animadversions that were being cast upon the rest of the wastrels on the UN Security Council. You know, the ones who were advocating more inspections because they knew the evidence being claimed by the White House was shakey and, to put it mildly, suspect.

Tony Blair was not duped by the White House and I can't understand why Wilson would even say this. Blair had a full hand in making the case for invasion based on WMD when he knew, as much as anyone else, that case was not well supported.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Says Me!

As a quick follow up to the previous item, it looks like the British attorney general has issued a gag order to the Daily Mirror and other papers to not publish anything further about the alleged statements by Bush that he wanted to use "military action" against Al-Jazeera.

Interesting. Why would anyone issue a gag order to news papers regarding a memo that can't contain anything incriminating about Bush saying anything untoward because, as we saw earlier, the mere notion that Bush said such things is "outrageous!" ?

An imagined press conference describing this action:
We firmly deny that President Bush made any statements regarding Al-Jareeza and the taking-out thereof. Any accusation that he did say such a thing, we maintain, is completely outrageous. That having been said, we also require that newspapers do not report the contents of the memo which contains absolutely no evidence that President Bush called for military action against the Arab news agency. That is all.
Gag orders for things that weren't said. I still haven't figured out if Bush handlers actually think people are this stupid or if this is just part of the ghastly job some sap has to do of covering up the inevitable mess that Bush will leave when he opens his mouth. I can almost hear these guys:
He said what?! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, can't he talk to anyone for five freaking minutes without adult supervision? Who's turn is it this time? Me? Shit! Get me the bottle.
I am also interested to see the vastly different responses to news of the leaked documents that purport to contain this information about Bush's threat.

First, the White House: "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response."
And Downing Street: "We don't comment on leaked documents."

Put it off to a stiff-upper-lip if you want but I see this as indicating, at least from the British perspective, that the allegations are, perhaps, not at all outlandish.

Says Who?

Mixed in with the remarkable reports that Iraqi officials want a timetable for US withdrawal along with the chilling statement that "resistance is a legitimate right for all peoples," there were some reports flying around that Bush had discussed blowing up Al-Jareeza headquarters. Of course, the White House had to come out and state that any suggestion that Bush had ever, ever said such a thing is just simply "outlandish."

Besides the White House, just who, exactly, thinks this is outlandish? Most of this country is now so used to Bush saying the stupidest shit, I mean, what's the big deal? In fact, some of the ever diminshing ranks of Bush's supporters think it a fine idea.

But these are the same people who would have said it "outlandish" that critics would claim the White House would launch an illegal war against the argument of the international community based on, and I am being generous here, shakey evidence; torture and abuse prisoners in the same prison that Hussein used for that purpose; set up secret prisons around the world -- some in former Soviet gulag camps -- and, in a war whose justification was jacked from WMD to freedom and democracy, dump untold amounts of white phosphorous and Mark 77 napalm-lite on civilian populations. Now that would have been "outlandish," at least before any of it actually happened.

And if none of that had happened, I might be less inclined to believe that Bush would say he'd like to bomb Al-Jazeera, but bombing the Arab news agency seems like small pickin's these days. The White House has long since stepped past the outlandish line.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What Are We Making?

Look at this man being held by his relative and friend, at the Baqouba hospital.

US Forces mistakenly fired upon a civilian vehicle outside an American military base north of Baghdad. Five people were killed, including three children.

Does this man look like the US mission has won his heart and mind? Does he seem presdisposed to "staying the course"? Imagine yourself in this scene. Would freedom and democracy, American style, be foremost on your mind? If not, what would be?

Do we really think Iraq is "winnable," especially in light of our conduct of this war? More importantly, do they?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Willy Pete Actually was a Chemical Weapon

... before it wasn't.

I always love it when declassified government documents pop up and demonstrate government agents, in this case Pentagon "spokespeople," to be the lying buggers we all know they are.

We can all recall recently that the Pentagon, to say nothing of the dolts at Captain's Quarter and other right wing, "burn the ragheads" Bush supporters, protested mightly that white phosphorous is not a "chemical weapon," which appeared to be nothing more than semantic quibbling. The Army's own accounts had clearly indicated that WP had been used as a weapon in Falluja and it is a chemical but the quibbling rested on what various international aggreements had explicitly designated "chemical weapons." White phosphorous was not among them. So, nya, nya. Of course, the irony slapped me sideways. All of a sudden international treaties and multilateral agreements are of the upmost importance to the Pentagon and Bush fans. The times, they are a changin'.

Not really. The times are exactly the same for these people. International treaties are only useful when they can be employed by whatever administration agent needs them to justify or excuse a course of action and utterly ignored otherwise. We should all recollect John Bolton's now famous words when he explicitly stated that the only reason for the existance of the UN is to serve the will of the United States:
The United States makes the UN work when it wants it to work, and that is exactly the way it should be, because the only question, the only question for the United States is what is in our national interest.
Treaties be damn, unless we find them useful.

Well, it just so happens that the Pentagon has made generous use of the term "chemical weapon" when describing how white phosphorous was used by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in 1991:

Of course, we have the usual "we're good, so everything we do, no matter how bad, is still good" mentality oblivious to the sanctimony here. And, of course, Saddam using WP is a chemical weapon attack. Our use of it as a weapon is ok because, under international treaty definitions, it is not a chemical weapon. Can the military possibly get more supercilious in this? To find out, we'll have to stay tuned to see how they respond this latest exposure.

Machetes and Middle East Democratic Reform

Shortly after the Iraq elections last January, a rapid series of "democratic" movements appeared to occur. After Hariri's assassination, Lebanon demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from the decades-long occupation and Egypt's Mubarak declared that his government would henceforth conduct free and open elections.

No one familiar with Mubarak's heavy handedness thought that this was likely, but various White House officials, including Bush, proclaimed that their "strategy" of democratizing the Middle East was now showing some dividends. Indeed, Bush supporters trumpeted the brilliance of Bush to all the nay-sayers; the democracy dominoes were all about to tumble and Egypt was just the first. Soon, the roiling cauldron of Middle East tension would be a calm and placid pond of freedom and self-determination.

I wonder if this is what they had in mind when Mubarak proclaimed his new found devotion to democratic rule:
Attackers wielding machetes, knives and axes created mayhem at scattered polling places around Egypt on Sunday, killing one man and wounding dozens of others. The violence was seen as a government effort to create chaos to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from making further gains in the second round of three-stage parliamentary elections.
It would seem that die-hard military dictators still have a hard time owning up to the will of the people. And, of course, the White House generally turns a blind eye to this sort of behaviour, especially when it is being exhibited by one of Bush's democracy dominoes.

But why should we have expected anything else? The White House and Congress have turned a near-blind and rheumy eye toward electoral abuse in this country. Indeed, the GOP majority and the White House directly benefitted from the now well-established election chicanery, why should we expect them care about the electoral mayhem in Egypt?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Common Ground

It is good to see that, on occasion, Congress can put aside partisan differences, bitter personal attacks and lunges at cuts for food stamps when they really want to get down to serious business. Indeed, all the rancor washed away for a time when Congress decided to give itself ... a raise.

The vote to give $3100 to each member of Congress was passed with a loving embrace. Then it was back to the business of taxcuts for the wealthy, many of whom are in Congress, and reductions in health care for the elderly and poor.

A Break from the All the Bad News

Tired of the machinations of the White House? Sick of GOP-brand "patriotism"? Delay? Frist? The War on Terra? Wanting to just clock Bob Woodward? Yeah, I know the feeling.

As a break from these bleak, bleak bastards, I found something that evoked ... a smile:

Waluh, a one-day-old male baby pygmy hippopotamus (Cheropsis libereensis), swims with his mother at Gembiraloka Zoo in Yogyakarta, in Central Java

Roman Holiday

As creepy as Pope Ratzinger might be and as backwards as the Roman Catholic church remains on certain public health issues, when the Vatican's chief astronomer (really?) comes out and says
Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science.
you know the IDers are going to cry foul. Of course, some of more radical of America's heartland zealots believe that the Pope is actually Satan incarnate, so they may actually see this as a vindication of their convictions.

Nonetheless, what I most enjoy is just watching two groups of crazies go at it. I quite enjoy seeing the Vatican smack down religious fanaticism, because they sure know all about it. Having had their own dust ups with science before, which may explain why the Vatican actually has a chief astronomer, they know well that they can't beat reality.

In any event, I sure enjoyed reading this. I hope you did, too.

Please, IDiots, move away from the science classes. His Holiness commands you.

Unassailable Logic

From a letter to the editor of the San Lius Obispo Tribune. Although establishing causality between poverty and an unwillingness to accept evolution appears specious at best because poverty is more likely a result of poor education, a relationship that is a very destructive positive feedback loop. That said, check it out:

Some don't need vaccine

Recent news about the avian flu virus has raised concerns from main street to the White House. There is the possibility, even likelihood, that the virus will mutate into a form that can more easily infect humans.

As the president pointed out, a vaccine cannot be made until this evolution occurs.

This raises the concern that it may be impossible to create enough vaccine fast enough to protect all our citizens. But there is hope.

Gallup polls tell us that up to 45 percent of Americans don't believe in evolution. Since random mutation is the engine of evolution, these same people must believe that the virus cannot mutate.

Therefore, there is no need to waste vaccine on folks who believe there is no possible threat to themselves -- thus leaving a sufficient supply for the rest of us. Perhaps the president, given his doubts about evolution, may wish to demonstrate his leadership by foregoing vaccination.

This approach has added benefits. Polls also tell us that disbelief in evolution is more pronounced among the less educated, the poor and conservatives. If the anti-evolutionists among these groups were to opt out of vaccination then, through immediate deaths and natural selection, we would reduce poverty, raise educational attainment and become a more progressive society.

Seems like a pretty solid argument to me. That, and the fact that it's great rip on creationist/ID dumb-dumbs who want to insist evolution is a fantasy until, of course, they start lining up for their flu shots because H5N1 mutated and ... evolved.

Caption Away!

"Hey, I'm really getting tired of being called a douchebag."

Seven Up

In criticising reports about the 173 detainees found in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad, Interior Minister, Bayn Jabr complained that the reports were exaggerating the conditions and that
no one was beheaded, no one was killed,
and we should actually really be quite comfortable with the notion that
only seven detainees showed signs of abuse.
No headless torsos and only seven were tortured! See, that's not so bad.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Woodward Ho!

Almost everyone thinks this WaPo article is bizarre in claiming, as it does in the headline, that the Woodward revelaton will somehow be a "boon" to Scooter Libby's defense. Without ever really explaining why Bob Woodword being told of Plame's CIA status before any other reporter would prop up Libby's defense in perjury and obstruction charges, the headline attempts to preclude any other judgement. In reading the story, you realise that nothing about Woodward's involvment has anything to do with Libby's indictments.

Some so-called "legal expert," a one John Moustakas, claims, or attempts to claim, that discussions involving White House officials and reporters regarding Plame and her CIA affiliation were so damned casual that, hell, who knew it was bad ... or maybe even illegal ... to talk about?

Now, here's the good part. The reasoning goes like this. Because Bob Woodward has "unprecedented access" to the White House, when he says discussions about Plame were "nonchalant and casual," well, we should believe him. And just why is that? Why, Moustakas seems to think that having all that "unprecedented access" to the White House confers upon Woodward "considerable credibility" regarding the questions surrounding the Plame affair.

So when Bob Woodward says there's nuthin' to any of this, by god, you better believe him. Because he has tea with Karl Rove every afternoon, which is served to them in a lovely service that is fashioned from the phophorous-scorched skulls of small Iraqi children.

Shopping for Law at Wal-Mart

Back in April of 2005, The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that would require any company in the state that employed more than 10,000 workers to spend, at minimum, 8% of payroll on health care benefits. If you have seen the Robert Greenwald movie, Wal-Mart, The High Cost of Low Price, you know that such a measure would not have been greeted well by Wal-Mart management.

And, indeed, it was not. Corporate clotpoll and governor of the state, Robert Erhlich (do I need to put the "R" behind his name?), vetoed the bill, claiming that it was directed specifically at Wal-Mart and therefore "unfair," a position espoused by Wal-Mart as well. No one denied that the bill would affect only Wal-Mart because they are the only employer in the state with more than 10,000 workers and which does not spend at least 8% of payroll on health care. Yes, the bill targeted Wal-Mart. Is this bad? Only if you're a Wal-Mart flack. I sense that the 15,000 employees who would stand to get some better health care didn't mind the bill.

Speaker of the House, Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel) -- acting as unlike Bush as any Busch could -- is calling for a vote to override Ehrlich's veto. And now some very high-priced Wal-Mart lobbyists are descending on Annapolis. Wal-Mart also thought it might grease the skids a little and "donated" $10 grand to the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland to help pay for a conference. Wal-Mart spokeman, Nate Hurst, explained the reasons for the company's sudden and keen interest in Maryland's black legislators:
the donation to the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland was part of the company's continuing community outreach ....
Community outreach. Does bribery by any other name, smell as sweet? Now, I don't really believe that Wal-Mart has any biased interest in whether the state legislators they're trying to bribe are black or not. The Black Caucus just happened to have had a recent event that Wal-Mart could pay for as part of their "outreach" program.

Hurst claims that, apparently, other Maryland legislators seem to feel like they have been left off the "community outreach" gravy train. As Hurst explains,
There are several legislators out there who have requested that we continue to educate them.
Wal-Mart has chosen an interesting cast of "educators" to instruct what must surely be a few key legislators. One of the company's teachers is Pamela Metz Kasemeyer, the wife of a Senator Kasemeyer, a man who orginally voted for the bill. This is convenient and cost effective. Wal-Mart's education program has become a home schooling effort, at least as far as the Kasemeyers are concerned.

Wal-Mart's largesse may be for naught, though, as it appears that the Legislative Black Caucus will likely not switch their votes from those made in April. However, the vote count back then, while a strong majority, is not certain to guarantee a veto override and that is exactly what Wal-Mart is counting on. They only really need to sway a small number of legislators, who, as Hurst says, just want a little more "education."

Why is it so hard for Wal-Mart to recognise that their public image is in the shitter and to just adopt some better labour practices. The amount of money the company spends defending themselves against and paying fines for unfair labour practice lawsuits, illegal worker lawsuits, sexual discrimination lawsuits and racial dsicrimination lawsuits across the country would probably buy some decent health care insurance for a lot of their employees.

A Diplomatic Position

This was interesting, funny on its own perverse level and painfully banal. After 173 prisoners were found, malnourished and apparently tortured, in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad, US officials had to strike the hypocritical, "this is an outrage!" pose.

A joint statement released by the US Embassy in Baghdad and the US military declared that the discovered situation was "totally unacceptable," and, even better, "that mistreatment of detainees will not be tolerated." Exactly who was not going to tolerate mistreatment of detainees is left unsaid.

You have got to wonder how the various embassy officials and diplomats manage to cough up this stuff. Do they sleep well at night after making such overtly ridiculous and hypocritical claims? Who knows? They might just be drunk all the time. If I had to do that job, I know I would be.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fog of War, Thick with Lies

Whenever you see the attribution, "Pentagon spokesman," you can be fairly certain of one thing: the words that said spokesman will utter are likely to be almost the exact opposite of the truth surrounding the issue in question.

And so it was with the latest mouthings of Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable when he claimed, while admitting that US forces did use "willy pete" in the Falluja assault, that US forces did not use white phosphorous "against civilians." In general terms, this is clearly false, as evidenced by pictures of roasted babies that had been made public on RAI television. I can't imagine what Venable is thinking when saying something like this. Can he be unaware of these pictures?

Perhaps Mr. Venable should have qualified his statement by saying that the US military didn't use WP against civilians on purpose. However unsatisfying that statement might be, we could. at least, believe it. Of course, this does not excuse the fact that many civilians died horrible deaths as a direct result of the Army's indiscriminate use of WP on an urban environment. Did the Pentagon think it had "smart" willy pete, capable of melting the skin off insurgents while leaving the innocent untouched? A sort of a phosphorous passover as it were.
As evidence of his claim, Veneable cites the Army's Field Artillery magazine story, The Fight for Falluja, and the description contained therein. Venable seem to believe his claim is vindicated by this one line,
We fired `shake and bake' missions at the insurgents.
Apart from his lack of awareness of the pictures of melted babies, Venable also seems unaware of a report from April 10, 2004, in the North County Times by embedded reporter Darrin Mortenson, who describes the firefight in Falluja thusly,
Bogert is a mortar team leader who directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused.
Anyone mortaring a city like this would have to believe that civilians were going to die. And, of course, this motaring is not the rogue action of a few "bad apples." It may be hard to tell
from how high up the chain of command the order to "light it up" came, but bad apples were not responsible for this.

The larger reason why the words of Lt. Col. Venable are cast in doubt is the fact that the Defense Department has been recursively denying each new revelation. First they denied the use of chemical weapons in Falluja. Then they said they had used WP "sparingly" and for "illumination," but not, rest assured, as a weapon. Now, they admit they did use it as a weapon but not "against civilians." and that WP is not technically outlawed, a technicality the skinless victims of willy pete probably do not well appreciate. One wonders what the next iteration will be:
Uh, ok ... yes, we did cause the death of untold numbers of civilians by horribly melting the skin off their bodies, and it should have been obvious to anyone that blanketing a city with white phophorous would result in a lot of dead civilians, but we didn't mean to kill them. It just kind of ... happened. Okay?
This doesn't even begin to delve into the miserable history the military has in claiming they were "targeting insurgents," when they had actually blown up weddings. This they have done on more than one occasion. Who can forget their continued insistence that a wedding, captured on video, was still a pocket of deadly terrorists who needed to be taken out?

Sometimes I imagine being tele-transported into the head of an ordinary Iraqi citizen, preferably one living in Falluja, and experience what it is like for these people to hear the pathetic words of these mendacious assholes. It must be bloody infuriating.

Evolution Schmevolution

Exxon. Working For You!

How is it that Dana Milbank can still be counted among the living? I can't believe he hasn't been whacked yet. Twice in the last while, he has delivered body blows to an already reeling White House and his latest story, based on yet more leaked documents, about Cheney's Energy Task Force exposes various oil company executives as liars. I can't believe the guy is still around, not having been packed up and, at the very least, shipped to Gitmo as an "enemy combatant." Why not? He doesn't wear a uniform as far as I know. Let's just hope the White House doesn't wise up to that approach.

In any event, the latest Milbank offering demonstrates rather convincingly, based on leaked White House documents, that several oil company executives apparently lied before Congress in testimony last week regarding them and their companies' roles in Cheney's 2001 Energy Task Force. Environmental groups had complained then and have been complaining ever since that they had been shut out of the process and sued to get records of those meetings. The White House, of course, resisted any and all attempts to get documents related to those meetings. This always made people wonder, what is so damn secret about an energy policy? Well, we still don't know but what we do now know is that all those execs who said their respective companies did not participate in any meetings with task force staff actually did.

According to Secret Sevice records of White House visits, those pesky things that nailed Judith Miller, here is what happened and here is what each exec said in answer to the question, "Did your company or any representatives of your companies participate in Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001?"

Exxon vice president James Rouse met with task force staff members on Feb. 14, 2001. In front of Congress and in response to the above question, Exxon CEO Lee Raymond answered, "No."

Chairman of Conoco, Archie Dunham met with task force staff members on March 21, 2001. In front of Congress and in response to the above question,, Conoco CEO James Mulva answered "We did not, no."

Royal Dutch/Shell chairman, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Shell Oil chairman Steven Miller and others met with task force staff members on April 17, 2001. In front of Congress and in response to the above question,, Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, answered "Not to my knowledge."

Well, you get the idea. Hofmeister appears to be the only smart one in the crowd, making his bid for plausible deniability. BP and Chevron were also involved in various consultations and meetings at the White House, but execs for those compnaies also claimed ignorance of such activity.

It really is amazing how all this company ...stuff goes on, secret meetings at the White House, wide spread accounting scams, whatever, and is supposedly unbeknownst to these befuddled CEOs. Why is it these overpaid executives, the people supposedly "in charge," never seem to know anything? If I were on the board or even a stockholder of a company being run by such a clown, I'd demand a resignation. Of course, we know they know. And they know we know that they know. But all the mutualised, recursive knowing collapses ingraciously when these CEOs stand in front of a judge and plead, "not guilty."

And, as a point of information, Milbank happily points out that
a person can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making "any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation" to Congress.
Oil company participation in the task force is absolutely no surprise. What is surprising is that oil company executives would risk fines and/or imprisonment denying something that everyone knows happened. That Cheney must be one scary fuck.

The Spread, Pt II

Though various reports detailing Iraqi abuse and torture of ... other Iraqis have been coming out here and there, the media have generally kept things spotty, either willingly or not. In a comment on the previous post, The Spread, elendil over at Rummy Diaries points to an ongoing compilation of reports documenting Iraqi-led abuse, illegal arrests and other charming tactics they have clearly picked up from US forces. Also pointed out there is the fact that US forces appear to be, not just the inspiration for this behaviour, but lending a hand on occasion. Nice of them.

What does this say, I wonder, about the putative efficacy of the McCain amendment? Will the CIA and/or US military place their own detainess under Iraqi custody, with a watchful eye on them, of course. This really isn't much of a stretch. Hell, it's not a stretch at all. The CIA has and does do this. The McCain amedment will just make them stuff those buggers into some other jail run by someone else.

elendil appears devoted to tracking the dreaful behaviour of Iraqi officials and the larger issue of the abuses being conducted in the name of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and ... what's that other thing Bush likes to say? oh yeah ... human rights. It should give anyone pause who might want to believe that the officials now in charge are leaving the days of Saddam behind them. Rather, they seem to be just picking up the ball ... and chain.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In the Face of It All

One might think that lawmakers would be a little more deferential towards certain Americans these days, especially given that they managed to employ them in their rhetoric at almost every opportunity. But, apparently I was wrong. I can't even imagine the thought processes that are behind this:
Congressional budget negotiators have decided to take back $125 million in Sept. 11 aid from New York, which had fought to keep the money to treat sick and injured ground zero workers.

New York officials had sought for months to hold onto the funding, originally meant to cover increased worker compensation costs stemming from the 2001 terror attacks.

But a massive labor and health spending bill moving fitfully through House-Senate negotiations would take back that funding....
Meanwhile, we get some new bridges. In Alaska. The shame these fucks are bringing to this country must end soon or something going to snap.

Job Hunter

Sam Alito claims that his 1985 argument against abortion rights was merely made because he was "an advocate seeking a job." Some, including Alito, are claiming that Alito is now older and "wiser" and will have a better understanding of the Constitution. Really? Is that that what this means? If I were a prospective employer of Samuel Alito, I would tend to view his claim as evidence that he will say just about anything when humping for employment. Does it make the Christian right happy to hear that Alito only argues against abortion when trying to get a job?

Beware, Senators. Someone who tells you that they said something just to get a job is likely to do the same thing again. This ought to be setting off alarms bells. What is amazing to me is that Alito -- and some senators -- think this is a pefectly fine thing to admit on his hopefully blocked way to the Supreme Court.

Deal Maker?

As someone who has routinely criticised Condolezza Rice for what I regarded as a terrible performance as National Security Advisor and not withstanding her silly shoe shopping moment at a less-than-appropriate time, Rice seems to be settling into the job of Secretary of State pretty well, at least lately. This is a surprise to me. After a faulty start and her apparent cluelessness regarding the India reaction to the Pakistan F-16 deal, she has been behind some interesting middle east diplomacy lately and her criticism of Mubarek at his intransigence in the Middle East democracy forum was bold and to the point. Rice stood firm, looked tough and sincere in backing the demands that Mubarek refused to abide. She didn't back down and coddle Mubarek and Mubarek clearly looked like the chump in this case. Well, he looked like more of a chump than he normally does.

Her latest effort has brokered a deal between the Israelis and Palestineans that, to say the least, is rarity for anyone. Palestinians and Israelis reached an agreement that would now give Palestinians relatively free passage to and from Gaza. Without getting into the larger Palestinian issue, I have to veiw this as at least a small positive step. At least, I want to view it that way, which is hard to do considering how the Gaza withdraw turned out to be exactly what everyone expected: a unilateral mandate to expand Israeli settlement on the West Bank.

Nonetheless, after initially thinking Rice was just another Bush hack, which she certainly was as the NSA, her removal from the turmoil in Washington appears to have suited her well and she actually seems to getting some positive results, however minor they may be. And that is certainly a refreshing change from what we have been seeing with the rest of this administration. And because of that, I really want to believe that what we are seeing with Rice is what is really going on. I also expect that she is just damn happy to be far, far from Washington and this elation may be carrying over into her actually wanting to do a good job. I know, it all sounds like a fantasy for someone who was front and center in snowing the 9/11 commission and disembling about Saddam's WMD.

It remains to be seen whether this Gaza deal will last or even mean much of anything. These Middle East deals have a tendency toward evaporation in the face of the broader conflict. I am just hoping Rice has found her niche and will continue to do what I see as the only positive job performance coming out of the White House. I may be confessing some naivete here. She hardly deserves much trust yet, but there are some hopeful signs. I just hope she doesn't make me regret this opinion.

The Spread

It looks like those darned Iraqis have really picked up on the Bush administration's "freedom and democracy" model. The Iraqi Prime Minister, today, announced that 173 detainees were "found" in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad, malnourished and apparently subjected to "some kind of torture." The lost souls all appear to be Sunnis, on the receiving end of torture this time after years of being on the other side of an all too unpleasant arrangement. It's like a torture see-saw in Iraq, yet another prediction that was ignored by the White House. I guess the administration assumed everyone would follow the grand example that US forces would set with their treatment of prisoners. Well, they were right about that.

But who knows. After years of being under the Hussein/Sunni thumb, it was easily expected that such activity might have been the result once a Shiite majority gained the inevitable control granted them by elections. It should have been obvious to US officials that this would have been an unholy tendency amongst the Shi'a after Hussein's brutal repression. But rounding up and torturing Sunnis is obviously doing no good for the nascent, struggling Iraqi democracy -- for lack of a better word -- and after years of brutalism, the last thing that should be happening is sectarian retribution. Steps should have been taken to strongly discourage this behaviour and one of those steps should have been for US forces to never, ever set such an example. Of course, we are supposed to be doing this for all the world so that everyone will know how we stand by the rule of law and human rights.

Oh, right. Never mind.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Furiouser and Furiouser

Santorum is backpedaling furiously right now and his latest effort now has him recanting previous pronouncements that intelligent design should be regarded as a "legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in the classroom."

After every single lunk head on the Dover school board pushing the ID nonsense was given the boot by disenchanted voters who were none to keen on seeing the louts mess up their children's education, suddenly Santorum has come over all scientific and now says that ID doesn't belong in science class. He now says that he has some concerns about certain parts of the "theory." Perhaps Santorum now recognises the fact that ID isn't actually a theory. Yeah, right. Santorum wouldn't know a scientific theory if it bit him on the ass.

What Santorum clearly does know is that him sidling up to ID proponents certainly would have bit him on the ass. With his poll numbers already tanking and the Dover school board vote acting as a political wind sock even Ricky could read, the proper stance became clear, even if he has no idea what the hell is wrong with teaching ID in science class.

Santorum seems nearly spun out as he tries to move away from the metastasizing investigatory and policy ulcer aggravating Washington right now, something that does not appear to be anywhere near remission despite the efforts of spin doctors. I only hope PA voters don't buy into it a year from now.

The Hunt

We'll find out the truth. We'll hunt it down. -- George W. Bush

... and kill it.

Evidence of a Known Quality

"We do not torture"
- George Bush, Nov 7, 2005

CIA interrogators apparently tried to cover up the death of an Iraqi 'ghost detainee' who died while being interrogated at Abu Ghraib prison....

The death of secret detainee Manadel al-Jamadi was ruled a homicide in a Defense Department autopsy ...adding that documents ... included photographs of his battered body, which had been kept on ice to keep it from decomposing, apparently to conceal the circumstances of his death.

After some 90 minutes of interrogation by CIA officials, he died of 'blunt force injuries' and 'asphyxiation.'
- CIA allegedly hid evidence of detainee torture, Nov 13, 2005.

I'm guessing that, even in Alberto Gonzales' world where torture can only be considered torture in the event of torturee organ failure and or death, this incident would qualify as evidence that George Bush is an unmitigated liar.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Not Our Fault

Both Bush and Santorum chose to use Veteran's Day to complain about criticism, which they clearly can't handle because, well, it's dropping their poll numbers. Santorum is in the toilet right now and it looks very much like that asswipe will be gone next year. That isn't soon enough. Bush's approval rating is also twirling down into a political nether world not seen since Nixon's grumpy last days and, instead of actually doing the job that is expected of one occupying the Oval Office, he whines and bitches that everyone is being mean and "partisan," even those Republicans who have been criticizing him. In the annals of the American presidency, a more puerile White House embarassment is hard to recollect.

Santorum also tossed out yet another howler that the unpopularity of the war is the media's fault as much as it is the White House's. He dredges up the tired line that WWII would have been lost if all America had worried about was the body count. This pathetic rhetorical tactic of equating WWII with Bush's phoney war of choice does nothing but display an umseemly disrespect for -- or ignorance of, it's always to hard to tell with Santorum -- history.

I still can't believe anybody bothers reporting anything that Santorum spits out after his man-on-dog media moment, although he may also believe that the media are just out to discredit him with his own stupidity. But you can't blame the media for that; it's fun and easy to do. I still haven't figured out how the man ties his shoes in the morning. Santorum's political expiration date can't come soon enough.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Veteran's Day Letter to Bush

Bob Geiger at Yellow Dog Blog with an open letter to Bush on Veteran's Day. Of course, Bush has neither the courage nor the will to read such words.

[via All Spin Zone]

Sony's Silly Act of Desperation

Sony has been seeing it's revenues fall lately and this now appears to have prompted the once revered electronics maker toward some rather unseemly and quite possibly illegal behaviour. Sony electronics have met hard times recently mostly from competition with Apple's iPod but also in the intensely competitive television market.

Sony's music business, headed by Sony BMG Music Entertainment, was seen as a revenue saving division but worries about music piracy across the industry have led companies to try to come up with schemes to prevent it. Sony decided upon what can only be described as an inadvisable strategy: Sony music CDs now contain secret software that installs itself on a user's PC.

A blogstorm started up regarding the illicit installation of rootkit software on music CDs to prevent or limit copying when a CD is mounted on a PC. The mainstream has since picked up the story and Sony is finding itself on the defensive, as it should be for this blatantly anti-consumer behaviour.

Why, anti-consumer? Because Sony doesn't actually bother much to tell anyone who buys their music what the program is or what it will do. In fact, their "agreement" barely acknowledges the existance of the software at all or that such "protection" will install itself, without recourse by the user to uninstall it. The rootkit buries itself in the host computer, does not come with an uninstall feature and, should a user decide to remove the unwanted code from their computer, may very well damage the entire system if the rootkit files are deleted.

Apart from the annoying and surrepticious nature of this assinine practice is that the univited code could present security flaws to viruses. Sony denied this but within days, a trojan exploit popped up specifically designed for the Sony rootkit code. Sony's software strategy is now the subject of, not one, but six class action lawsuits to halt this egregious practice.

The Sony rootkit only affects Windows boxes. And it is interesting to note with yet another nod to Apple that the company "has been unwilling to cooperate in making Sony's program work with its equipment." I'd like to believe this has been for the right reasons and is not just a result of Jobs' usual megalomania.

Tim Jarret has started up the Boycott Sony Blog, where continuous updates of the ongoing story can be found. If you have a Windows machine and have recently plugged a Sony music CD into it, you may -- will -- want to follow this.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Miller Time

There is telling moment in the WaPo story that attempts to get all warm and fuzzy about Judy Miller; showing the real her, as it were. That moment speaks volumes about Miller though it apparently doesn't strike her much at all, nor does it seem to be noted by the reporter, although significant column inches are spent delving into what a hard-ass reporter she ... was.

An anecdote is related about how Miller tried to steal an interview from Youssef M. Ibrahim, a newbie NYT Middle East correspondent who had scheduled an interview with Egyptian foreign ministry official and not yet UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Ibrahim claims that she was asserting seniority over him and that she would do the interview. Yelling ensued. Whether there was any higher Times' authority called in to sort out the conflict is not reported but Ibrahim did the interview without Miller. Ibrahim recollects this conflict easily while Miller says,
I'm glad he has such an exquisite memory. I don't even remember it.
This is the classic response of a bully to such a story. It is not likely that Ibrahim's memory is any better than anyone else's. Bullies often dismiss conflicts noted by others as unimportant, things barely, or not at all, remembered. Each individual will always recall their encounter with a bully doing their bullying thing but the bully can't possibly keep track of all the various people she's had a fight with. It was, no doubt, unimportant to her. It certainly left an impression on Ibrahim.

It is obvious from this small tale that Miller had probably engaged herself in hundreds of similar squabbles, stamping her authority on situations under which many others may very well have buckled. I expect she did it all the time. And she probably has no recollection of any particular one.

There is another classic bully behaviour that is not reported in the WaPo story. Bullies often play suck up to bigger bullies.

Pat Robertson and his Strange God

It didn't take Pat Robertson long to crawl out of his unholy lair and make known that his God is less than pleased with Dover, PA residents and their unequivocal repudiation of that town's school board and its intelligent design agenda:
I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover. If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there.
Got that? According to daffy Pat, the act of voting is now a religious exercise, which, in Dover's case, cast those voting constituents into the realm of blasphemers. I'm also guessing Pat's "god" is the same one that appears to be routinely delivering disaster unto poor and downtrodden populations around the globe and has been doing so at a seemingly accelerated rate this past year.

Spare us your quasi-religious jabbering, you dottering old twit.

Ministry of Information

Phillybits catches the White House trying to change history to suit themselves. Yes is the new no. What was said was not said. What actually happened did not happen at all.

It's rather funny, really, that with all the fires the White House is running around trying to put out -- and doing a piss poor job at that -- they still have time to mess around with inconsequestial crap like altering what Scott McClellan said in press conference.

I expect the thinking here is something along the lines of history's winners write the history. However, it looks less and less like this White House is going to come off Bush's final term anywhere near being a winner. And it really won't matter what silly press conference transcripts they alter. Talk about fingering the bursting dyke.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Shake and Bake

Back in November of 2004, Islam Online reported that US forces had used chemical weapons during the assault on Falluja and further claimed that some Fallujah residents had been burnt beyond treatment by poisonous gases. The US government immediately repudiated those charges in a release that, amusingly enough, can be found on a page entitled Identifying Misinformation:
The fighting in Fallujah, Iraq has led to a number of widespread myths including false charges that the United States is using chemical weapons such napalm and poison gas. None of these allegations are true.On November 12, 2004, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a denial of the chemical weapons charge, stating:

"The United States categorically denies the use of chemical weapons at anytime in Iraq, which includes the ongoing Fallujah operation."
And so this story went into hybernation, the western press never bothering to look into it. At least until now. A few days ago, Italian newpaper, La Repubblica, reported that RAI satellite television was going to broadcast evidence that the US Army had used white phosphorous mortars on its attack of Falluja. It also claimed that evidence existed that showed Mark 77 shells dispensing so-called "napalm lite" had been launched against the city.

The US government danced around this and announced that phosphorus shells are not outlawed. Not that they had not used them, mind you, only that WP is not outlawed. Well, this is technically true but its use is governed by international treaty and white phosphorous and napalm are strictly prohibited from being used on human targets. As the Army claims:
U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.
This, too, now appears to be a lie. According the Army's own Field Artillery Magazine , The Fight For Falluja relates that white phosophorous was indeed an effective weapon and was used much more than to simply "illuminate enemy positions":
WP [white phosphorus] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosive]. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.
A psychological weapon, indeed. Watching the skin melt off your body must really fuck with your head.

Not only this, but a report from April, 2004, describes the use of white phosphorous during the battle and its purpose is clearly unrelated to illumination:
Bogert is a mortar team leader who directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused.
The reports describe the use of white phosphorous, willy pete as its known, as a weapon. The described indiscriminate use of this compound is at serious odds with what the Army initially claimed. And if you want to see the kind of result willy pete has on it victims, well, be warned, it doesn't look like it was a pleasant way to go.

I also have to report that I was rather stunned by some of the quibbling commentary by a mob over at dKos. Mounds of verbiage were dispensed in some half-assed defense of this insanity, much of it arguing, as the Army does, that white phosphorous isn't technically outlawed. Others cautioned light treading on the subject and how it must be just as bad to get shot or shredded by shrapnel. But the topper had to be the nincompoop who was arguing that, well, steel is a chemical so aren't all munitions, therefore, "chemical weapons." What a brain trust over there.

My head hangs heavy at this news. I am torn between disbelief, shock and utter fucking rage, not only at the increasingly exposed behaviour of the White House in deliberately getting into this mess and not just at the behaviour of the US military once they were there, but at the larger inability of this country to recognise what a monumental travesty has been conducted in the name of "freedom and democracy." How much more madness is going to be revealed in the ensuing months? It seems boundless at this point.

A Plan for War

Strictly forbidden, of course. But no matter...

Billmon is on it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tales of the Reconstruction

The post-Katrina screw ups continue and non-payment of labourers working to clean up after the hurricane disaster could morph into a very serious problem. If these idiot contractors continue to screw people over, many, maybe everyone, may just walk away. And then what?

The problem appears to be stemming from unwieldy private contractor bureaucracies and, quite possibly, reluctance to make payment to immigrant workers once millions of federal dollars have been dumped in company laps. The immigrants are fairly powerless to insist the US Labor Department do anything, so the companies hang on to a boatload of cash for as long as possible, collecting interest, making short buy investments, who knows. Why so suspicious? Well, guess who is on the top rung of one of these subcontracting ladders? None other than Halliburton's own Kellog, Brown and Root.

Ultimately, if they screw with the labourers long enough, the possibility looms these workers will just take a hike. Paying people for the work they've done is not complicated. Is there anything we're actually willing to do right in this country anymore?

What 2000 Looks Like

Have a look.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Lose-Lose Proposition

Republicans are in a froth over the Cheney-induced torture scandal. And the salient aspect of it is that it seems to be mostly Republicans, finally, arguing against prisoner abuse in Bush's War on Terah. Feckless Democrats, as usual, are nowhere to be seen or heard. Just what the hell are they doing while this imbroglio roils Washington?

Since WaPo broke the story of secret CIA prison camps scattered hither and yon, the argument surrounding the McCain amendment to defense spending bill that seeks to ban cruel treatment of any prisoner held by US forces has been raging. And it has been notably doing so amongst Republican senators. But before the story broke, the Senate originally passed the bill with the amendment by 90-9 even as the White House threatened Bush's only veto. Cheney then stepped up to argue for an exemption to the amendment that would allow the CIA to, apparently, abuse prisoners anyway. Of course, neither the White House nor its policy supporters would say anything such thing but would, rather, choose to say that such an amendment would tie the president's hands in the prosecution of his war.

Now that the existence of secret CIA prisons is public knowledge, Cheney is running around Capitol Hill making "unusual personal appeals" to various members of Congress. Just what a personal appeal from Dick Cheney sounds like would be, I'm guessing, rather chilling. Perhaps a hint of a trip to the The Salt Pit might be the order of the day should senators continue to find themselves reticent about signing onto officially sanctioned prisoner abuse. But the story made clear his reason for the argument: the CIA has been and is right now abusing prisoners and there is a well established and rather elaborate network of extra-judicial treatment facilities around the globe. All Cheney is asking for, really, is an exemption for a pre-existing condition.

But McCain is standing firm and is saying that he will press this issue "as far as necessary." Good for McCain. He's obviously not buying the load that a simpleton like Orrin Hatch will. Hatch doesn't seem to care what happens as long as "our citizens in the United States of America are protected." Hatch fails to recall that just one such US citizen is penned up in Gitmo right now; no charges, no trial, no end in sight. At least, as far as annyone knows. McCain is clearly concerned about US image abroad, though it remains unlikely that passing a few notes among senators is going to convince the world that the US will suddenly start taking the human rights of prisoners seriously, especially with Bush -- oops -- Cheney at the helm.

Pat Roberts (R-Ks), the man in charge of the Senate Whitewash investigation of Iraqi WMD intelligence, voted against the amendment but says it doesn't mean he favours torture. Roberts seems unable to recognise that his vote doesn't mean that he disfavours it, either. But this crank really steps in it when he says,
As long as you're following the Constitution and there's no torture and no inhumane treatment, I see nothing wrong with saying here is the worst of the worst.
What can you say to such an oblivious man? Well, I can think of one thing: Why the fuck do you need an exemption to an anti-torture amendment then, you asspiece? Does Roberts really believe that a network of secret CIA prisons has been set up around the world in order not to torture and abuse prisoners? Is this man aware of nothing that has gone on to date? I have a violent urge to just shake the shit out of this idiot.

Really, this isn't even about whether or not such abuse occurs. Torture has been a hallmark of military history, even when it was officially banned. But arguing that the US government should have an official policy that allows it is simply absurd and sends a message to the world that basically says, fuck you. We're going to do what we want, when and where we want and, on top of it, we will broadcast that fact to you. Chumps.

Of course, the Bush administration has been more or less doing that since 9/11, so maybe this isn't all that shocking or surprising to the rest of the world, which has been on the shit end of Bush's very shitty stick for sometime now. Have we ever seen a US president so roundly reviled? The man can't go anywhere without starting riots. How is arguing for prisoner abuse going to help anything?

Even hard-ass Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is stumped by White House intransigence on this issue:
I think the administration is making a terrible mistake in opposing John McCain's amendment on detainees and torture. Why in the world they're doing that, I don't know.
Chuck and I are both baffled because I said pretty much the same thing awhile back:
So why is the White House assuming the publicly assinine position of "wanting" to retain an ability to officially condone the abuse and torture of detainees? I can't imagine. Apart from displaying abject moral turpitude, it is a political dead-ender. Why even bother?
Again and for the life of me, I simply cannot believe this is even a discussion in the United States in the 21st century.