Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Murtha Moment

We can all recall the shellacking respected congressman John Murtha took when he called for the "redeployment" of US troops as quickly as safety would allow. Oh, how the White House howled, the wingers were incensed, the hawks bemused that a hawk could demand such a thing. Murtha was a branded a "coward" by the charming freshman Republican Jean Schmidt, a "gutless traitor" who longed to "see US troops shot" by Ann Coulter and worse by the insensate yowlers at LGF.

So, I have to wonder what these screechers will think about these guys:
An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and nearly one in four say the troops should leave immediately.
Perhaps Ann will now long to see US troops shot.

The Rod, the child

the Defense of Marriage requires a constitutional amendment.
-- George Bush, Feb 24, 2004

Yes, folks, it's about that time again. With mid-terms elections on the horizon, the fearless GOP leader of the Senate has now promised to raise the most pertinent and pressing issue facing this nation. Is it

a) The budget deficit
b) New Orleans reconstruction
c) Congressional ethics
d) Election reform
e) Getting the fuck out of Iraq
f) Constitutional ban on gay marriage

If you said (f), congratulations! You must know the schedule. Of course, who doesn't know this tiring drill by now?

With all the major ills that currently plague the country and the world and exactly two years after George Bush declared the need, the odious and servile Bill Frist, a man currently under investigation by the SEC for alleged insider trading, has decided that the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage must be brought to the public square again and floggged in obeisance to the Republican's loyal, moral followers.

Just how stupid can these people be? Apparently, quite.

In January of 2005, the Arlington Group, a pernicious gaggle of supercilious "conservative Christian groups," wrote to George Bush to express concern that, post election, the marriage amendment appeared not to be the "first priority" on the White House agenda.

Buck up, folks. Maybe this time, it will be. And if not this time, then surely the next.

A Failure of Cynicism

It has long been obvious that the only effective perspective by which to view the actions of the Bush administration is one borne of pure and unadulterated cynicism. This has generally been employed by critics of the administration and deservedly so. Strangely, cynicism seems to be failing a few of those normally critical of this White House.

Which is odd, because there has not been one policy or agenda item pursued by Bush that has not demonstrated an unremitting fealty to special corporate interests and subjegated the welfare of the larger nation to those interests. Excepting, of course, cases when implemented policies would further enhance the White House's overreaching grab for yet more executive authority.

This is why previous arguments of some administration critics advocating reason and "fact" regarding the DPW ports deal are so puzzling. I lamented this odd turn because it was clear that all the facts of the deal were certainly not known, especially by those claiming to know them. It was more than curious that such folks thought all the facts were on the table and in plain sight when this deal was announced.

Surely, they couldn't believe that everything had been thoroughly reviewed to everyone's satisfaction, despite the known fact that the administration had failed to conduct the 45 day investigation. The deal had clearly been rushed and was the product of closed door sessions of a small number of administration officials. As days went by, more irregularities came to light, which simply demonstrated that a healthy dose of cynicism was more than justified.

It didn't take long before it began to appear that the DPW ports deal might actually involve 22 American ports, from Maine to the Gulf coast, not 6 as had been originally reported. Or maybe not. What is now clear is that the situation is not at all clear. Facts surrounding this aspect of the deal are apprently hard to come by as the affected ports listed on the Department of Homland Security's website keep changing.

But of far greater interest is the recent revelation that Coast Guard intelligence officials had raised serious questions about security issues surrounding the deal. Actually, what they said was that they couldn't even ask questions because intelligence gaps were so broad, there was no way to even assess possible risks. The document in question was "unearthed," not as the result of any White House "transparency," but because the House Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had to do the unearthing.

This post hoc expository process is typical of other Congressional dealings with the White House, which always and simply says, "trust us." And given this, why on earth would anyone, least of all people who usually are critical of the Bush administration, think they have or know all the facts in this matter. At the time they claimed to know the "facts" of the matter, it is was more than likely that they didn't. Now it is certain that many facts were not known earlier. Nor do we know all of them now. And what is quite certain is that the White House will continue to prevent any more facts from being known in the future. That much, cynicism tells us, is guaranteed.

It had to have been one of those rare moments in the Senate; one of the true reasons for stuffing the deal through was stated, and quite bluntly, by chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner. Warner indicated that the deal was crucial in securing port access for US military in the UAE. Yes, on the floor of the Senate, Warner explained that the US was being blackmailed:
It is the only port in the region that we can dock our major supercarriers. In addition, their airfields are supporting the ongoing operations that we have in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I am not sure if Warner was cognizant of just what he really was saying here. Is Warner aware that he indirectly said that the UAE is blackmailing the US government into approving the deal and threatening to deny US military access to seaports should the DPW contract be scuttled? Because it sure looks like that is what Warner is saying.

What Warner is further saying is that the UAE is placing their commerical interests over US security, which is par for the course in the world in which Bush circulates. This hardly strikes as a sound basis upon which to claim the UAE is a great and good ally in the War on Terror.

So, it appears that the UAE will leverage their seaports against the contract and threaten to withdraw access should that deal fail. Nice. Now, maybe they won't do that. Maybe this is just Warner's fear. We can't quite be sure just what is going on here because we don't know the facts.

It should also be obvious that very little is known of this deal and its supposed "review," the details of which seem to be changing on a daily basis. And of what is known of the White House's lack of diligence in review, it can be certain that that is only the tip of everything this administration did not do in vetting the contract approval.

Whether or not there are legitimate security concerns is not the concern. It is that the White House failed to even find out whether there were such issues and that they did so with defference to commercial interests. Can we really believe that "broad gaps in intelligence" were quickly washed away, without investigation, and are now of no concern? The concern is that security concerns are unknown, though it is broadcast loudly that there are none.

Given that the White House has failed on every 9/11 commission recommendation to boost cited strategic target security since 9/11, none of this should surprise us. But is this then reason to give a pass to the DPW contract? Hardly. Administration approval was rushed, expedient and driven, not by a concern for the security of this country, but by the commercial interests of foreign governments who have long and cosy relationships with a number of administration officials, especially the Bushes.

Come on people. Get cynical.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Falling Object

Police and their reports are well known for a laconic, no-nonsense style; no mincing or flourishes allowed.

This past summer, as world leaders met for the G8 summit in Scotland, George Bush, as he often does, found time to head out on a little mountain bike ride. And, being Scotland, things were a tad ... damp. As might be expected, the combination of damp ground conditions, George Bush and a bicycle were no match for the physical laws of the universe. This unfortunate combination of conditions resulted in the injury of a Scotish police constable. As with all of Bush's ungainly dalliances, the injury was not entirely to himself but someone else.

I'll let the police report pick up the action from those halcyon days of yore:
[The unit] was requested to cover the road junction on the Auchterarder to Braco Road as the President of the USA, George Bush, was cycling through.

[At] about 1800 hours the President approached the junction at speed on the bicycle. The road was damp at the time. As the President passed the junction at speed he raised his left arm from the handlebars to wave to the police officers present while shouting 'thanks, you guys, for coming'.

As he did this he lost control of the cycle, falling to the ground, causing both himself and his bicycle to strike [the officer] on the lower legs. [The officer] fell to the ground, striking his head. The President continued along the ground for approximately five metres, causing himself a number of abrasions. The officers... then assisted both injured parties.
The police report listed the cause of the constable's injuries the result of a "moving/falling object."

Nothing about this is surprising, other than the refreshingly appropriate language of the police report. Bush has a history of falling off his bike.

The incident is poetic, both for its typical nature and, more importantly, its metaphorical aspect; Bush has spent his entire lifetime swerving around, half out of control, thwacking innocent bystanders, knocking the legs out from underneath the law as he had made his merry and indolent way toward the destruction of civilisation.

Halliburton: The Haste and Peril of War

The government contract depredations of Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, are as legendary as they are legion. But that doesn't stop them from making bunches of money on DoD contracts where Pentagon inspectors have found obvious examples of contract abuse.

Why? Because the Army will pay KBR anyway.
The Army has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq even though the Pentagon's own auditors had identified more than $250 million in charges as potentially excessive or unjustified.
The Army's position appears to be, hey, it's a war zone and war is hell. What's a few hundred million bucks here or there?

The KBR fuel deal has been under scrutiny since late 2003, when it was learned that KBR was charging triple or more what other companies were and 20 times the price of fuel at an average Iraqi gas station then. KBR maintained that the cost was due to their supplier, Kuwaiti company Altanmia, whom they claimed they had to do business with because of
the hard-line negotiating stance of the state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation.
The Army now also cites this as one of the legitimate reasons for KBR's bloated pricing. Apparently, neither the Army nor the NY Times bothered to check out that claim, which is, as might be suspected, just more KBR nonsense. And it is entirely mendacious that the Army claims this, since the Pentagon was well aware of the fact that this was not likely the case:
This spat centers on a letter the Kuwait Petroleum Corp. says it sent to KBR in late January. In the letter, the state-owned oil company said it was prepared as of February to supply gasoline and other fuels directly to KBR, thus bypassing Altanmia and significantly reducing the U.S. government's cost.

KBR employees in Kuwait have told Army officials that they never received the letter, though officials in Kuwait said there is proof that the Kuwaitis faxed the letter to KBR offices.

Since it surfaced last week, the KPC letter has caused consternation within the Pentagon, in large part because the Army ruled in December that Kuwait's petroleum supplier had given KBR no choice but to deal directly with Altanmia.

The confusion over the letter has mystified Kuwait Petroleum officials. One petroleum industry executive in Kuwait said the letter was sent by DHL to Army Corps officials in Camp Doha. The KBR version went the same day by fax, he said, citing a time-stamped receipt that shows the transmission went through.

Moreover, the letter prompted a quick response from Altanmia executive Waleed Al Humaidhi, who in a letter to Kuwait Petroleum on the same day complained bitterly that his firm had been circumvented.

The decision to go around Altanmia was approved by the Kuwaiti oil minister several days before the letter was sent, one executive said, and was the culmination of a discussion begun last November, when Kuwait Petroleum initially sought Army permission to deal directly with the U.S. instead of through Altanmia. At that time, the Army allegedly insisted on keeping Altanmia as an intermediary.
KBR simply claims that they never received the letter. Or the fax. Which might be true, since nothing else at KBR seems to work the way it is supposed to. It is amazing how all these things that work for everyone else never seem to work properly for DoD contractors under investigation.

So, what's the upshot of a two year audit that revealed $200+ million in likely contract fraud? Well, the DoD's own Defense Contract Audit Agency is not at all happy with the Army's decision and Henry Waxman (D-Ca) sums it up succinctly:
Halliburton gouged the taxpayer, government auditors caught the company red-handed, yet the Pentagon ignored the auditors and paid Halliburton hundreds of millions of dollars and a huge bonus.
It is what one might call a "pro-business environment."

Public Persona, Private Action

If there is one aspect to the story in the NY Times about German intelligence assisting the US invasion of Iraq, despite pubic statements by Chancellor Schroder that Germany would not participate, it is that there was a low level agreement between the two governments regarding the invasion. It can easily be suspected that, while Germany refused to back the invasion publicly, it appears that there was some back room assistance provided by German intelligence:
Two German intelligence agents in Baghdad obtained a copy of plan to defend the Iraqi capital, which a German official passed on to American commanders a month before the invasion,

In providing the Iraqi document, German intelligence officials offered more significant assistance to the United States than their government has publicly acknowledged. The plan gave the American military an extraordinary window into Iraq's top-level deliberations, including where and how Mr. Hussein planned to deploy his most loyal troops.
The reason is obvious: the German public was adamantly against the US invasion, much as the rest of the world was and it would have done German politcians no good for their intelligence agencies to be seen backing the move in any way, unsanctioned as it was by the UN Security Council. Though it had previously been reported that German intelligence officers helped "assess targets" in the air invasion, the German government had strenuously tried to prevent this information from being released, knowing that it would not likely sit well with the German public. Schroder was sweating his chancellorship and exposure of this material might prove to be a nail he could ill afford hammered.

But this information reveals that the BND was rather more involved than that. That such assistance was provided was done so because, clearly, Shroder was in no position to kowtow to the Bush administration publicly, and so provided assistance as best he could -- under the radar.

Schroder is gone, so any wrath German citizens might exact upon his government is moot. Schroder was successful in keeping this information under wraps until the election, which, it turned out, didn't help him anyway. And now further revelations comes out.

Funny how that happens.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Mighty Wind

While it is most certainly true that Democrats have disingenuously jumped on the DPW ports contract spat, this is true for any number of administration critics and supporters who have also leapt to the conclusion that any port operations contract must necessarily be bad if it goes to a state-controlled Arab company.

I claim no belief about the actual security issues that may or may not be extant as regards this deal. Earlier, I may have given the impression that I thought there were inherent risks, but my larger concern was in the story as distraction. There is both less and more here than meets the eye. Less because security is likely not the issue here anymore so than it was before the deal was announced. More because, as with any deal George Bush is behind and sworn his ill-gotten veto to support, it most assurdly will have some deeper and unwholesome meanings. Bush's heartfelt plea for fair treatment in the marketplace is just so much bullshit.

It is, however, entirely amusing to watch as the blowback hits the White House, gale force. It is experiencing the very fear-mongering tactic so effectively employed over the last few years against any and all perceived enemies/opponents (there is real no difference between these in the Rovian paradigm of politics). Security risk or no, the deal is nothing if not just plain stupid. Not because of the deal itself, but because of the self-serving and secretive manner which this White House, once again, chose to behave toward the legislative and oversight branch of government. This is not new behaviour for the White House, but the GOPers in the House and Senate seem finally to have snapped, what with elections coming up.

But what I find even more amusing is how many Bush critics are now calling for calm and reasoned negotiations and discussion over the port deal. Arthur Silber is utterly irked by the knee-jerk reaction to the ports deal announcement and goes so far as to urge for fact-based argumentation regarding the issue:
I will attempt to provide the required lesson, relying on facts and focusing on the overall context in which this dispute has arisen -- elements that are sorely lacking in almost all of the discussion thus far.
Well, Mr. Silber is certainly correct in the latter statement. Facts have been sorely lacking this argument. But this is true in the justifications surrounding most, if not all, of this administration's policies.

After five years of the Bush administration, which has implemented any number of policies based, not upon known facts, but upon fringe legal theories of executive power, falsified, coerced or gerrymandered intelligence, suppression of information, secret meetings, and the politicisation of the federal bureaucracy intended to further repress, it cannot be surprising that this tactic would be used in this argument. The difference now is that the White House is on the receiving end of their own politics of fear.

So it is with the case of the DPW ports deal. Yes, the knee-jerk reaction against the deal was , for the most part, race-based. And? Does Silber think this doesn't carry weight in the political climate extant in the United States? He might like to believe that it shouldn't. While Silber and others are arguing for reason and fact, I have to wonder where on earth they have been the last five years. Maybe their noble impulse to engage reason has not waned over these last years because they full-well know just what kind of political environment the Bush administration has been sowing all this time.

As best as I can tell, the concern appears to be that denying the port deal to DPW would cripple our image in the Arab world as not being fair and open in the market place. I don't quite know how much more absurd such an argument could get. At this point, the Arab world is entirely aware of our racist biased against them and it has little to do with our business dealings with the UAE.

The word "xenophobia" has been tossed around a lot in the ports deal discussion by those very people who argue that the deal cannot be viewed by this prism; the entire Arab world is a rampant terrorist hotbed, teaming with extremists who would do us harm. I would agree that this is true, the deal should not be viewed that way. But that won't mean it won't be. It already has.

Given that the Bush administration has promoted just this very environment since 9/11, it can hardly be surprising that a furor has broken over this deal. It should have been obvious, especially to the White House, that this is exactly the reaction that would have occurred. Those who would now argue that it should not be the reaction of the country have apparently chosen to ignore just how effective the White House has been in their anti-Arab fear-mongering. And, it would seem, so has the White House.

But maybe not. It is easily imagined that this is exactly why the ports contract was done as a closed door deal with no oversight or consultation with Congress. It was politically charged and it was so precisely because the political climate sown by the White House made it that way. They knew it and tried to slide the deal under the door. To argue now that reason and fact should prevail in this discussion is at least clueless as to conditions "on the ground" in this country.

But the more bizarre aspect of fact-based argumentation in the DPW deal is that denying the contract would engender the perception of racism and "Islamophobia" in the Middle East. Please, we are well-past that point and for things far more serious than denial of a multi-billion dollar contract to a company and a country with close ties to the Bush administration.

The real Islamophobia is far better demonstrated by the deaths of several tens of thousands of innocent Muslim civilians, the post 9/11 round up and detention of Arab muslims on US soil, rendering and torturing innocent Arab Muslims around the world, illegal wars against Muslim nations, screwing with Arab nations, first under the pretext that they would blow us up and, when that didn't work out so well, under the condescending pretext that we know what's best for them. The US continues to support and befriend brutal and/or authoritarian regimes while Iraq slides into civil war, just as the Bush administration tries, so far successfully, to ratchet up more anti-Arab paranoia over Iran. There is no, nor will there be an end to the anti-Arab bigotry drummed up by this White House as long as it appears to work. It doesn't seem that this White House will recognise when that assault is not working.

This reality is something that most American refuse to admit or even recognise; that our brutal footsteps have not seared into Muslim minds an overriding racist message. It has and this is something that bin Laden and other terrorist recruiters have been relying for sometime.

Arguing that allowing the deal will show the Arab world that we're not bigoted, but fair and balanced is risible. We are well past salvaging US image in the Arab world, which has already received the message about who we are, loudly and clearly.

The greatest threat that denial of the port deal will be is, as has actually been argued by the White House, an uncertain business climate for foreign investment. I would agree with that, but again, arguing for the deal, like it will somehow magically mitigate our many and varied egregious global behaviours, is pissing into a racist blowback wind of our own creation. Good luck with arguments based on reason. Or fact. This administration has been disposing of those tools since the World Trade Center was turned into a crucible of anti-Arab hatred, a crucible this administration has used to fuel their magic carpet ride into the Middle East.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Heat is on

Time to crank up the security button.

It looks like the good Republicans in the Alaska Division of Elections have taken note of the publication of voting machine log files from counties in Florida and acted rather swiftly to prevent any such nonsense there.

Readers may recall the previous posting about the Alaska State Division of Elections denying access to public voting data, citing that the Diebold database was proprietary and could not be made public. The state's Democratic Party pushed on that absurdity enough that election officials backed down and agreed to supply the database, but only after it would "manipulate the data" into an acceptable form, in consultation with Diebold.

But three days ago, Alaskan officials have flopped over once more and are again denying access to the data, this time on the grounds that the publication of public election data "presents numerous security risks to the State of Alaska." In fact, State Chief of Security Officer, Darrell Davis, as though channeling Diebold officials, claims that the public release of public data is problematic because:
release of any security related information creates a serious threat to our ability to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our systems and services....
The state's Division of Elections has now moved from claiming public voting data is commerically proprietary to now claiming that exposure of the data would be a state security threat. Ignoring the utterly specious nature of the claim, the claim itself is interesting for one salient feature: state election officials don't see any difference between Diebold corporate security and security of the state of Alaska. The two are now one and the same.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Official Dispute

Florida election officials have disputed the claims that the bizarre date discrepencies found in poll tapes and voting machine log files represent a gross number of problems or perhaps even pre-election vote tampering. Some 100,000 errors are reported in DRE logs, in only 40 machines. This is an average of 25o0 errors per machine. This is an astounding number of errors considering that some machines recorded a little more than a thousand votes (see link above).

On one poll tape, an "election zero report," the election date field is fixed and we can plainly see:
DATE: 11/02/04     TYPE: G
POLL CTR: 305A00

TIME: 06:46:41
Two weeks later, the same memory card in a different machine produced this output tape:
DATE: 11/02/04     TYPE: G
POLL CTR: 305A00
TIME: 14:33:29 11/15/04
In an hilarious denial of problem, Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Deanie Lowe, a woman who wouldn't know a bad date if she was on one, claimed that the first number 01/24/104 was not a date at all. She says she has no idea what it might be, but she assures us that she knows what it isn't. Better yet and despite an inability to know what the tape shows, she further assures America that, odd as the tape may look, nothing odd actually happened. It is a faith-based election result.

Naturally, the "IT" guy is brought to wash over the problem by simply claiming expertise that others do not possess. Jeff Darter says,
Harris' charge of votes cast before Election Day didn't happen.
Though the logs themselves certainly make it appear as though it did, Darter does not address the contents of the logfiles and simply says it didn't happen.

Then please, Jeff, impart your technical expertise upon us and tell us what these log entries really mean:

1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 590 10/16/2004 1:36:30 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 591 10/16/2004 1:40:12 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 592 10/16/2004 1:45:07 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 593 10/16/2004 1:49:05 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 594 10/16/2004 1:53:02 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 595 10/16/2004 1:58:31 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 596 10/16/2004 2:02:15 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 597 10/16/2004 2:05:59 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 598 10/16/2004 2:08:53 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 599 10/16/2004 2:11:59 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 600 10/16/2004 2:17:22 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 601 10/16/2004 2:25:05 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 602 10/16/2004 2:28:48 PM
1060 WEST JUPITER COMM CTR 6401 ... 6039 Election - Cast Vote 603 10/16/2004 2:32:46 PM

No matter whether you believe in actual election fraud or not -- though the evidence really places the issue beyond question -- the behaviour of these machines ought to give anyone pause. These are not robust system and the sheer number of errors, whatever those might represent, is absurd. Of course, as long as these machine venders are able to get machines certified or, baring that, installed anyway, as is happening in Californian right now, and maintains the secrecy of their code, election outcomes will always be in doubt.

And if you don't believe that, then you haven't been paying attention.

Florida Vote Hack

Something known and suspected for a long time finally has DRE machine log documention to back it up. Via slashdot, months after filing a FOIA request for voting machine records, BlackBoxVoting has the goods:
The internal logs of at least 40 Sequoia touch-screen voting machines reveal that votes were time and date-stamped as cast two weeks before the election, sometimes in the middle of the night.

Black Box Voting successfully sued former Palm Beach County (FL) Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore to get the audit records for the 2004 presidential election.

After investing over $7,000 and waiting nine months for the records, Black Box Voting discovered that the voting machine logs contained approximately 100,000 errors. According to voting machine assignment logs, Palm Beach County used 4,313 machines in the Nov. 2004 election. During election day, 1,475 voting system calibrations were performed while the polls were open, providing documentation to substantiate reports from citizens indicating the wrong candidate was selected when they tried to vote.

Another disturbing find was several dozen voting machines with votes for the Nov. 2, 2004 election cast on dates like Oct. 16, 15, 19, 13, 25, 28 2004 and one tape dated in 2010. These machines did not contain any votes date-stamped on Nov. 2, 2004.

The logs rule out the possibility that these were Logic & Accuracy (L&A) test results, and verified that these results did appear in the final totals. In addition to the date discrepancies, most had incorrect polling times, with votes appearing throughout the wee hours of the night. These machines were L&A tested, and the L&A test activities appeared in the logs with the correct date and time.
Many of these machines showed unexplained log activity after the L&A test but before Election Day. In addition, many more machines without date anomalies showed this log activity, which revealed someone powering up the machine, opening the program, then powering it down again. In one instance, the date discrepancy appeared when someone accessed the machine two minutes after the L&A test was completed.
Read it all. This ought to be screamed from the mountain tops.

The People's Work

It is good to see George Bush has his presidential priorities straight. With Washingtion roiling over the DPW port deal he knew nothing about, Iraq swirling into civil war and Russian and China doing the work of diplomatic compromise with Iran, Bush headed off to the mid-west to take care of the real business, at taxpayer expense using Air Force One, of course:
the president flew here [Indiana] to raise over $600,000 for Rep. Chris Chocola, R-Ind. While not in serious jeopardy for re-election in this fall's congressional elections, Chocola is considered by analysts to be more vulnerable than two years ago. Later, Bush went to Cincinnati to help scoop up more Republican campaign cash, an expected $1 million or more on behalf of Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who is in a toss-up re-election race with Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown.
It's all about priorities.

Due Diligence

Syriana was muddled, no doubt. But there was one great line in it that hit me. It was uttered by the young lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) who was looking for another fall guy to settle the DoJ investigation of the oil company merger. When asked what he wanted and he indicated another, higher level patsy, (paraphrasing a bit) he said,
We're not interested in due diligence. We are interested in the appearance of due diligence.
It was a crystallising statement, a prism by which to view the machinations of this real world. And, in all likelihood, it is entirely accurate. At least it seems like it could be when you're as cynical as I am.

With that in mind, what can one say when hearing of the news that DPW, in concert with the White House, has agreed to delay the port deal until further notice?

Well, well, well ....

This may not be the complete appeasement I had imagined, but it is an initial first step:
A United Arab Emirates company offered Thursday to delay part of its $6.8 billion takeover of most operations at six U.S. ports to give the Bush administration more time to convince skeptical lawmakers the deal poses no security risks.

Under the offer coordinated with the White House, Dubai Ports World said it will agree not to exercise control or influence the management over U.S. ports pending further talks with the Bush administration and Congress. It did not indicate how long it will wait for these discussions to take place.
No, I don't imagine anyone knows how long the deal will wait, though I expect they have a rough idea. Something to do with news cycles.

This compromise, which I had not considered before, might actually play out as a win-win for both Congress and the White House. Each will engage in negotiations, tender suggestions and appear to seriously consider the issue, fully congnizant of the concerns over national security. This will be trumpeted loudly.

I'm not quite sure what will come of this. If I had to guess -- and I do -- I'd say, at this point, the deal will now go through. But only after some time, as the White House engages the good senators and representatives and the various howling organs in the media have calmed down. Perhaps another distractive "scandal" will get tossed out, something for the gnashing teeth to chew on. Meanwhile, Congress looks like it got the White House to back down, the White House looks engaging and ... the deal is closed after an appearance of due diligence by all sides.

Nice move.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blow Up

Using an arty, surreal palette, Antonioni's 1966 film, Blow Up, tells the story of a photographer who catches something on film while he is taking pictures in a park, though he is entirely unaware of it at the time. In developing and printing the film, Hemmings' character notices this something and begins to enlarge the shot to ever smaller scales until what is captured by the silver grains is finally revealed.

And so it seems with the increasingly surreal Bush administration, that with every daily move they make, there is something lurking within, at scales not quite visible except by magnified examination. And when that examination proceeds, as it most assuredly will, something more sinister is revealed than what the everyday White House rhetoric would have us believe.

The DPW ports deal has probably been blown up way beyond the proportion that the White House expected, as all sorts of details and backdoor agreements are prying their way into the public realm, onto the print of the page.

No one was really surprised to learn of administration connections to DPW, some very direct connections to say the least.
DPW also appears wired into the Bush administration. Last month, George Bush nominated one of DPW's senior executives, David C. Sanborn, to serve as maritime administrator.
This appointment would have occurred on or about the same time the DPW deal had been approved by Treasury Secretary Snow's department.

Then it came out that neither Bush, Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Pace nor even Secretary Snow,whose own committee approved the deal, knew anthing about it until just a few days ago.

Most recently, the revelation that the White House -- or at least someone in the White House -- contrived a "secret agreement" with DPW, which clearly shows a Bush rhetoric that has maintained DPW will have nothing to do with security, to be utterly empty. Which is nothing new, of course:
[DPW] promised to take ``all reasonable steps'' to assist the Homeland Security Department, and it pledged to continue participating in security programs to stop smuggling and detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials.
So, why does a company that Bush insists has no input on security issues need to agree to participate in security programs? Of course, most reasonable notions of port operations would obviously expect that some security elements would be involved in handling of cargo. How, praytell, can it not?

Within the agreement, more interesting blurbs pop out:
The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders.
Odd. Operations on US soil normally require records to be kept on that soil just for this purpose. Of course, we all know what the Bush administration thinks about court orders and judicial review.

There may yet be more to be discovered within the depths and subtler dimensions of this business. But it seems clear that the story is blowing up in White House faces to a far greater degree than they had probably expected. Which sounds rather familiar, really.

Looks like it will soon be time for, oh, I don't know ... Rumsfeld? Condi? someone ... to go on a hunting trip this weekend.

Another Dyslexicon Moment

And so people don't need to worry about security. This deal wouldn't go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America.
-- George Bush, Cabinet Meeting, Feb. 23, 2006
When I first saw this I thought, that's it, game over. The jig is up. Bush has finally admitted what has been suspected for so long. Of course, all I saw was the quote and not the context, which quickly made it clear that this was just another muddled oral emission from a man who seems barely in control of his verbal faculties.

But the meaning is entirely unclear, even when you do understand the context, and could easily be interpreted in two exactly opposite ways. One, Bush really doesn't give a rat's ass about security and, by God, the deal will go through or, two, if there was a security concern the deal would sink. Given that this was said in a more or less public venue, I doubt Bush would actually intend to say the former. But, of course, that doesn't necessarily imply that he didn't mean it anyway. Bush does have a habit of doing that.

This maladriot slip is something that Mark Miller addressed extensively in The Bush Dyslexicon; that Bush, at times, has a tendency to say things that might actually be his inner most thoughts, such as they are. And this latest example is far more ambiguous than many of his previous and uncontrolled utterances. Who can ever forget this ol' beauty:
They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
That one still remains top of the dyslexicon charts as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Yo Yo Aristide

After Rene Preval was declared president of Haiti, and the threatened second round run-off was avoided, A.C. at so.to.say posed a number of questions, one of which was,
will he bring Aristide back to Haiti out of exile, despite opposition of global powers?
Well, it looks like we have an answer. Despite continued Washington meddling and an insistence that Aristide not be allowed to return to Haiti, Preval has said that Aristide is welcome to come back should he choose to do so.

The US State Department says that Aristide's return "does not serve a useful purpose." And? The man is Haitian. It's his home. Of course, by "useful purpose," State department spokesman Adam Ereli really means that is serves no useful purpose to the Bush administration.

It also must be somewhat embarassing to have backed a coup against Aristide, for a second time, only to see the same guy back in the fold again. They must be wondering how many times they can get away with this. What they should be wondering is whether their support of an anti-democratic Haitian coup-mill is worthwhile because it doesn't seem to be working too well. Two years and many dead civilians later, Aristide is back on home soil.

All of which is about par for this White House.

Rice Rebufffed

Huh. I guess blood is thicker than anti-democracy.

Egypt and now the Saudis have both refused to cut-off funding for the Palestinian Authority but claim that they will encourage Hamas to accept a two-state solution in the region. Rice now heads to the UAE, but considering how their US ports contract is faring state-side, I doubt that they will be terribly responsive to any of Rice's requests. Likely, they will adopt the same stance as other Arab nations so far.

Rice Sings to the Mubarak Choir

Condolezza Rice is on a "Middle East tour," stopping by various anti-democratic governments in that region to convince them to stand against the Hamas government in Palestine.

First up on the program was Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, a man whom I expect will not be difficult to convince that certain uncomfortable outcomes, which can result from democracy, ought to be resisted, punished, ousted. Perhaps, shot on sight.

We would all recall that Mubarak orchestrated his own coup in Epgytian elections last year when he had Egyptian police blockade polling stations and fire upon would-be voters in regions that were supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Police firing tear gas and rubber bullets blocked voters from reaching polling stations in several electoral districts around the country Wednesday and at least eight people were reported killed on the violent and chaotic last day of Egypt's fiercely contested parliamentary elections.

In Badaway, the Nile Delta home town of one Brotherhood candidate, dozens of police officers blocked the streets and alleys leading to the lone polling station, preventing anyone from voting throughout the day. Youths occasionally rushed the cordon of black-clad and helmeted officers, who fired tear gas and rubber pellets in response.
Something tells me that Rice doesn't have all that much trouble with Mubarak's version of democracy. It produce a "comfortable result" for Washington and now Rice can continue to yuk it up with Rubber Bullet Mubarak about how to stamp out the untoward results in West Bank.

Explain Yourself

Terrorist groups like al-Qaida depend upon the aid or indifference of governments. They need the support of a financial infrastructure and safe havens to train and plan and hide.
We have a responsibility to deny any sanctuary, safe haven or transit to terrorists.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Osama bin Laden's operatives still use this freewheeling city as a logistical hub three years after more than half the Sept. 11 hijackers flew directly from Dubai to the United States in the final preparatory stages for the attack.

Dubai still "plays a key role for al-Qaeda as a through-point and a money transfer location,"

al-Qaeda isn't the only organization that has found Dubai useful. The father of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has acknowledged heading a clandestine group that, with the help of a Dubai company, supplied Pakistani nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
One of the reasons that the raid [Operation Entebbe] was well planned was that the building in which the hostages were being held was built by an Israeli construction firm. The firm which built the airport terminal still had the blueprints, and supplied them to the government of Israel.
I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company.
-- George Bush, Feb. 22, 2006
Please, someone explain it to him.

Useful Idiot

We all know that George Bush is not aware of a lot of things. But the approval of the American ports contract by his own administration might not have been expected to be one of them. Wrongo.

George Bush was apparently unaware that his own administration had approved the ports operations contract to Dubai Ports World, the UAE state-own company that has ties to two administration officials. Despite a profound ignorance of the deal and of why critics might have a problem with the deal, Bush is now threatening to veto any congressional legislation that would aim to block the contract. White House intransigence has got a lot of Republicans steamed and Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Peter King (R-NY), has pledged to override the threatened veto.

Many are starting to speculate about whether there is something more to this, like UAW has something on Bush, whatever that might be. I think I'll stick by my original theory.

Bring it On!

With the Olympic hockey tournament moving into the quarter finals and the much anticipated release of Snakes on a Plane approaching us this summer, I thought it might be time for a little review of some of Samuel L. Jackson's body of excellent albeit profane work. And being a fan of the great game we know as hockey, I enjoy how Jackson has blended his unique talent for screaming the work "motherfucker" and his obvious gift as a hockey coach into this one sparkling bit of video.

This still has to be one of the funniest freaking things I've seen in a while.
Do I look like a bitch?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

No Big Whup

Sometimes, when I get bored reading the wretched news and noting the facile, Fox-lips coverage of world events, I am tempted by some latent urge to wander over and check out what the right-wing blogren are hissing and fretting about. While I may be disturbed that the White House is co-opting the media, the IAEA and the UN Security Council in an effort to justify another war in the Middle East, what, I wonder, do Bush supporters find themselves discussing?

Well, would you know it? They, too, are discussing the DPW port contract. But not in the way you might expect.

While LGF is the generally regarded as the vanguard of the Arab witch hunt, they are oftentimes more than a tad unhinged to wade through:

This is in the No shit, Sherlock realm. Maybe we should just nuke New York and save the Islamonazis the trouble.

Then nuke Mecca.

At least some good would come out of it.

You get the idea. Tiring, to say the least. But LGFers like "Iron Fist" aren't necessarily pro-Bush; they just like kickin' Arab and, apparently, New Yorker ass.

But another venue that will often serve up a delicious blend of brazen racism, macho jingoistic bullshit and facile, self-contradictory yowling can be found at Blogs for Bush. Usually, it doesn't take long to stumble upon something amusing and Mark Noonan's opinion about the port contract is typical among Bush supporters, who, by some counter-intuitive, logical legerdemain, have managed to screw themselves to the sticking post and declare that the port deal is fine. No problem:
People are complaining - and politicians eagerly grandstanding - about the turning over of our ports to a foreign based company. What strikes me here is that London, England, hasn't traditionally been considered part of the United States, and the venerable P&O has not been noted as an American company. Seems to be that one set of foreigners is being bought out by another set. I really don't get what the bruhaha is all about...save that I guess there's some anti-Arab bigotry being played up on the sly.
Note the sly anti-discriminatory stance. And according to Noonan's logic, the US might have just as readily invaded England as Iraq. Really, what's the diff?

But what is really fascinating about this putative concern about bigotry is, well, most of the rest of the site. In a post just two days earlier, Noonan is outraged by "news" that's three weeks old, of a Turkish movie coming out called Valley of the Wolves Iraq. Apparently, the film, which depicts US forces shooting up a wedding party, something that is well-known to have happened, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, is simply slander, slander! In fact, Noonan has all sorts of global policy suggestions regarding Turkey and the movie:
we should terminate our alliance, demand Turkey's explusion from NATO or walk out of it ourselves, and we should break off diplomatic relations and cease all trade with Turkey.
Wow. That's one potent movie.

Diplomatic overreaction? Clearly. And thankfully, Noonan isn't installed at the UN, although he might be taking pointers from Bolton in an effort to get in on that sweet gig.

But things soon take the expected turn as we plunge into the comments. Now, remember those previous words and the implication that the opposition, i.e. Democrats, are playing up some anti-Arab bigotry, which Noonan clearly thinks is bad. Ready?

I'll start out slowly...
- The Muslim world simply hates the west
- Arabs can quit their damn whining
- This movie in Turkey is BS propoganda to churn an already seething people! Oh by the way, they were seething long before Bush or republicans took office!
- it isn't unfair to portray some Moslems who are acting as terrorists - it is a fairly common thing.
- Turkey's population is mostly Muslim. Islam is extremely anti-Jewish Islam is also extremely anti-Christian and anti-infidel (which covers the USA). So, this movie-and its popularity-was not a surprise, just a natural extension and demonstration of the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-infidel sentiments which are pervasive in Islam and in Islamic societies. Someday, the West will realize this simple fact.

Yesterday, in an Islamic rally in Pakistan, these Muslim women held up a sign that read, "God Bless Hitler."
Yesterday. In Pakistan. Hitler. Hey, chump, we've got that here!

Naturally enough, at one point a poster delves into the history of the slave trade and Muslim participation in that historical travesty. Just how this related to the movie is not entirely clear, but that's the point: it doesn't need to be. It is simply a screed against Arabs, muslims, whoever. To Bush bloggers, they're all the freaking same.

Now, say what you will, but it is those damnable Democrats who would use their bigotry to stop Bush's clear-headed vision for America and halt the award of a port operations contract to an Arab state-owned company. And we are not bigots here. Not at Blogs for Bush. We luvs us some A-rabs.

Port Authority

In an earlier post, I posited that the White House probably couldn't care less about defending the port operations contract, awarded to Dubai Ports World; that it served more as a media distraction from other, far more serious problems. They will appear to defend the ludicrous action, to a point. This still may be entirely true. What can be expected, and as was seen with the threatened veto on the McCain torture amendment, is that the White House will "reason" with key congress members who may or may not be persuaded. Ultimately, it won't matter because the contract itself is not the real issue. The contract is merely one of the many White House tools of distraction.

But it now looks like there is an actual reason -- connection -- that explains why DPW was the choosen one. And, wouldn't you know it, two administration officials have connections to the company:
[Treasury Secretary John] Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.
While these connections may or may not compel the White House to defend the deal -- and I still would wait to see how far that goes -- it at least speaks about the provenance of the deal. And, as always with the administration, it comes down to connections and cronies.

Propagandized Iranian Noncompliance

Mike Whitney has a good blurb at OpEd News regarding the supposed noncompliance of Iran under the NPT.

Referring to Gordon Prather's article, March Madness, Whitney points out that Iran was not cited for non-compliance at all and media claims that it was are utter falsehoods. They were falsehoods, once again, being stated by administration officials like Condolezza Rice, who claimed that Iran was in violation of its "international obligations." There was and is no such violation. The IAEA did not report Iran to the UN Security Council for violations because none are known to exist. Prather points out what the IAEA board did do:
Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei report to the Security Council the absolutely outrageous and discriminatory demands that the Board had made on several occasions, calling on Iran to – among other things – implement "transparency measures."
These so-called transparency measures are requirements that basically allow the US to openly spy on anything Iran might be doing.

The worst part of this is that, once again, the US media appear all too eager to echo the false claims of administration officials and will do the White House's bidding of ginning up the American public to support another unfounded attack on a Middle Eastern country.

Masters of Message

The recent news cycles, impelled as they are by the GOP, have been masterful. The Cheney shooting and subsequent media frenzy surrounding that episode occupied an entire week, the very week that followed three news stories on the previous Friday that would otherwise have been quite difficult to deal with directly.

After a week of hearings into the FEMA response to Katrina that saw Michael Brown laying blame on the DHS and claiming the White House knew from the first moment that New Orleans was flooding, Friday came along and we learned that Scotty Libby was fingering Cheney as the White House leaker-in-chief. That same day, news that former CIA official Robert Pillar, the man in charge of Middle East intelligence, was making claims that
intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made,
which simply reinforced the already known content of the Downing Street Memos.

And as though that weren't enough ugly news, air force veteran and former National Security Council aide, Heather A. Wilson (R-NM), chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, called for a full Congressional inquiry into the NSA wiretapping program.

And then Dick Cheney shot a guy.

The media, ignoring all the major incriminatory news from hours earlier, leapt upon the discrepencies of the shooting story, discrepencies created by Cheney and his band of merry media handlers. It was a phenomenal performance, both for the snide ability of the White House to direct the media chimps and for those media to sop it all up with the indignity of civic righteousness. Cheney, you see, kept something from the press. Who does he think he is? The outrage!

Once the Cheney outrage-fest began to fizzle, Friday was rolling around again and what did we see pop onto the headlines? Why, as though out of the blue, the Bush administration had just awarded a port operations contract to a company based in the United Arab Emirates, a country with known connections to the attacks of 9/11. Even Republicans were jumping on this one, with Senator Graham noting the political tone deafness of the action. Now Senate leader Frist is expressing concern and has called for a halt to the ill-considered deal.

But this contract award announcement is hardly ill-considered. In fact, it has probably been very well-considered and for at least two reasons. One, for the very excellent distraction factor it presents for the White House. After a week of Cheney, which appears to be about all anyone can handle at a given stretch, now the media has moved onto to coverage of this little UAE charade, NSA wiretapping and White House leaks nothing more than media dust-bunnies, twirling around in some dark corner. And two, it presents for various GOP congressional members an excellent issue upon which to appear independent, clear-headed and strong. And just in time for the beginnings of the campaign season.

With an incredibly low public approval rating -- lower than the White House -- and congressional GOP members being labelled a "rubberstamp" for the White House agenda, along comes a contract award that everyone can feel comfortable opposing and look good in doing so. Senators and congressman now have an "issue" upon which to hang strong statements about national security and look like the independent public servants they would like the American public to believe they are.

Of course, this is a phoney issue. The White House probably couldn't care less about backing the contract award. We will see an initial defense, as was half-heartedly offered up by Chertoff, more back and forth will ensue and, after a predetermined number of news cycles, I expect to see the White House appease the concerns of the sincere senators. If the fact that a White House lapdog like Frist feels comfortable about opposing this, there cannot possibly be anything serious in this issue.

Just watch and wait for it.

Oh, and NSA wiretapping? Cheney's authorising leaks? The White House ginning up intelligence to invade Iraq? Move along, folks....

Monday, February 20, 2006

Void Where Prohibited

Europeans find themselves in a odd position these days. It is an odd and inconsistent position of their own making.

After weeks of insisting that freedom of speech is so "sacred" in their homelands that their arguments for publishing the gratuitiously insulting Mohammad cartoons stemmed largely from this beloved freedom.
European newspapers published the cartoons on Friday, arguing freedom of speech was sacred.

Or not. David Irving must be wondering where in Europe this sacred freedom of speech actually is practiced across the board.

Irving was just convicted on charges of denying the Holocaust, which stemmed from two speeches he gave in 1989 whereing he denied that the Nazi's had exterminated 6 million Jews. He also had claimed, in speech apparently not quite as free as that of newspaper publishers ridiculing Islam, that gas chambers were a fiction.

Now, don't get me wrong. Holocaust denial is one of the more twisted and bizarre revisionist efforts of 20th century history, something that is almost always promulgated by Aryan Nation racists. But that is hardly the point. Irving was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for saying something, something that is forbidden by law in Austria to say.

But rest assured, freedom of speech* in Europe is sacred.

*Void where prohibited by law.

Another Pot/Kettle Moment

After nearly three years of armed occupation by some 130,000 US troops and after recalibrating the original justification for invasion from WMD to "regime change," the US ambassador to the Green Zone is now accusing the Iranian government of ... meddling in Iraq. Iranian meddling is apparently mucking up US meddling, something seen by the White House as entirely unacceptable.

Port Bow

Secretary of Homeland Security and Tuner-in-chief, Michael Chertoff, the man who so magnificently handled the Hurricane Katrina emergency, is now assuring America that his department's review of the United Arab Emirates company, Dubai Ports World, is sound and that no one, no one, ought to be worried that a company from a country with known ties to terrorism will now be charged with the operations of six major ports in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security is well-oiled machine and nothing bad will happen with them overseeing things.

One cannot help but wonder what is wrong with these people. There have been many things written lately that the Bush administration and it supporters are actually a bunch of unhinged sociopaths. And the outsourcing of ports operations -- including security -- to DPW is certainly another indication that these people just don't have any common sense at all. At least, it appears that way and it may appear that way quite purposefully.

Driving into New York on Friday, I was scanning the am dial in search of ever-present and highly amusing right wing talk radio and found Savage Nation. Sweet! Savage is always good for a howl or two and often times many, many more. However, that night, he was bemoaning the callous Republicans for outsourcing port security to an Arab company, a move that certainly struck him as ridiculous as it appears to less crazed individuals. Many of his callers, fans, whatever they call themselves, were perplexed as to how Savage could be against this; the attitude apparently being that if the Bush administration was doing it, it must be good. This despite the fact that there is little evidence that anything the Bush administration has done has ever been good.

Nonetheless, to Savage callers, Democrats were "crumb-bums," which was, as far as was discernable, the entire argument for awarding the port operations contract to a company from a country that is known to have actively supported terrorism. This is the unassailable logic of many Bush supporters.

Anyway, Chertoff sought to alleviate concerns surrounding the deal by telling America that
certain conditions or requirements that the company has to agree to make sure we address the national security concerns.
Chertoff further said that such conditions and/or requirements were classified and so the details must remain secret but presumably at least one of those conditions is that the company not hire terrorists intent on blowing up US ports. Given the way Chertoff runs things at the DHS, however, that may have been something that was overlooked when finalising the deal.

Despite the fact that the move is "unbelievably tone deaf politically," as Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has said, Chertoff defends the contract by claiming that just because DPW is sponsored by a country that played a role in the 9/11 attacks, they should not be excluded "automatically." This from the man who ordered the automatic round-up and detention of hundreds of Muslims during the immediate aftermath of 9/11 precisely because they were from Arab countries.

Of course, there is a difference. DPW is a multi-billion dollar corporation and, therefore, should not have to suffer the indignity of American discrimination.

Friday, February 17, 2006

From Russia with No Love

It is becoming obvious that Russia is seeing an opening in the circle of global diplomacy. It also seems obvious that Russia will play -- is playing -- this to their advantage.

After having been insular for sometime, mostly due to years of unseemly infighting or worse, the savy Russians have moved into the void left by the Bush administration on the world stage. While the White House continues to pursue the path of armed military conflict or threat of such to resolve issues, manufactured and not, Russia has moved to the fore in recent months as the leaders in exercising diplomacy and negotiation. This is not to say that Putin is incapable of using a heavy hand. It is obvious that he is. But Russia is choosing the road that was previously America's forte. I suspect that this is being done largely by design.

The negotiations Russia has been conducting (along with China) with Iran in an effort to prevent a Bush administration-led assault has been notable for one reason: it is now Russia that looks to be the reasoned and level-headed power. This is not to say that Russia does not have ulterior motives for this; it certainly does. But so had the United States through all its diplomatic efforts back when diplomacy was its first, second and third choices to solve problems. Despite myriad misuses of covert meddling operations around the world, the US has used diplomacy to publically position itself advantageously. But that is the point of diplomacy. At least this was true before the Bush administration moved onto the scene.

Its quite certain that Putin knows how badly Bush administration's policies have weakened the US, both domestically and globally. Buried in debt and trade deficits and sporting a seriously compromised federal bureaucracy, straining its military to a near breaking point, stomping the ground like a bully, the United States has lost a great deal of authority and the Russians know this. It may be one of the reasons why Bush has co-opted France and Germany in the Iranian situation.

And now, while the Bush administration considers plans for the ouster of Hamas from the Palestinian Authority, Russia is actually asking Hamas to join the peace process, rather than choosing to simply dismiss their existence outright. Whatever you may think about Hamas, and much of it may not be good, this outreach is not really about Hamas. It is about Russia and that country's choice to engage rather than shun. While the US openly threatens attack on Iran and considers a coup in the West Bank, Russia has quietly become the reasoned player. There maybe some very black motives behind this and it has to be viewed guardedly; Putin is a ruthless leader who knows what he is doing.

Which is exactly why it makes this situation dangerous. Because Putin is up against another ruthless leader who has no idea what he is doing.

The diference is that Putin knows this. And Bush does not.

Warrantless Spying, Unwarranted Inquiry

Well, it looks like Rove's threat proved a little too substantial for Senate Republicans:
The Senate Intelligence Committee decided today not to investigate President Bush's domestic surveillance program, at least for the time being.

"I believe that such an investigation is currently unwarranted and would be detrimental to this highly classified program," Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas and chairman of the panel.
Did Roberts just use the word, unwarranted?

And let's not forget that it was the same said Roberts who whitewashed the senate panel investigation into the Iraq "intelligence failures" by placing all the blame on the CIA, while he also scuttled any further investigation into what the White House's role was in the sordid affair.

Nice work, Pat. Looks like you'll be getting a little chocolate on your pillow tonight. Oh, and bunches of money from the Rove campaign machine.

At this point I think there is really only one question left to ask Roberts: how much more mewling and servile can you possibly get? Are there any craven depths yet unplumbed?

Illegal Elections in Maryland

It looks like there is a little more to the Maryland Diebold story than just Ehrlich's putative bellyaching. Via Raw Story, it appears that election integrity group, TrueVoteMD.org, has learned, from a documents request, that Maryland's 2002 gubanatorial election and the 2004 presidential primary race were conducted illegally on uncertified Diebold voting machines.
The Maryland State Board of Elections allowed Diebold Election Systems to operate its touch-screen voting machines during the state's 2002 gubernatorial election and the 2004 presidential primaries before the state agency actually certified the controversial machines, according to recently disclosed documents.

That is a violation of state law....
And just to further demonstrate the clueless state of the Democrats when it comes to these easily hackable machines, it was none other than Linda Lamone, administrator of the State Board of Elections and a Democrat, who was the one responsible for this illegal conduct.

Did anything odd happen during these elections? Despite the fact that Maryland had not had a Republican governor in 36 years, Ehrlich's election was not too hard to believe. Townsend was a miserable candidate and was pilloried as a cog of the "Spendening" administration. But one result was bizarre

In 2002, Democratic House Speaker, Casper Taylor, lost his seat to a near unknown, a result that was labelled as "one of the most remarkable election upsets in recent Maryland political history." Allegany county was only one of four counties that used Diebold machines. Whether this is the result of some nefarious hacking is, of course, entirely unknown, both from a technical perspective and a political one. Rural counties in Maryland have been drifting toward the GOP of late, but Taylor was a long-respected state legislator, though there has been a certain discomfiture with the Democrats, who have grown a little too comfortable in the belief that Maryland is "theirs."

And who is front and center, helping this sentiment along nicely? Why, the Democrats, of course.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I have been loathe to address the assinine behaviour of the White House and what it claims passes for an "administration" in the ridiculous debacle that continues to be Dick Cheney's life. Though the shooting was accidental, the fallout likely was not and it had exactly the effect that Cernig was lamenting: the entire week has been consumed by the stupidity and arrogance of Cheney, Bush and the rest of the White House munchkins, as the media fritters away its energies on the minutiae of hunting etiquette while France is declaring that Iran has nukes! Now, normally when we're talking about the stupidity and arrogance of the Bush administration, it is usually about significantly more serious stuff.

But forget that, Cheney shot some guy. In the face.

Hey, that was fun. Let's keep saying that over and over and over.

It is starting to look like the French were really stung by the obviously effective "freedom fries" taunting, because while Washington is consummed with the minute-by-minute details of Cheney's weekend, the French are now taking up the US casus belli of proclaiming to the world what a terrible, terrible threat Iran is.

Anyway, while I will choose to avoid delving into the charade by which Dick Cheney comports himself publicly, Anthony Wade has the goods on the new, new 'gate.

Definite Indefinite Detention

Notwithstanding the current nonsense surrounding the Cheney shooting incident, the White House has a credibility problem. Despite this, the White House still likes to overreact when anyone criticises the policy of indefinite detention of detainees who, in all liklihood, are entirely innocent of being terrorists. Who among us can forget the White House excoriation of Amnesty International when that organisation released a report that described US detention facilities like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graib as "America's gulag"? Oh, the howling was fierce, with various administration officials declaring that AI had suddenly become an insane band of ranters.

Of course, not long afterwards, the CIA's network of secret prisons came to light -- some of which actually were former Soviet gulag camps. Suddenly Rumsfeld stopped bad-mouthing AI and ... changed the subject.

Well, now the White House has "savaged" a UN report that criticises the very existence of Gitmo and which calls for all detainees to be tried as the criminals the White House claims they are or be released. UN rapporteur Manfred Nowak says that
the detention of inmates for years without charge amounted to arbitrary detention.
Among other charges, the White House dismisses this as an "allegation." I think Scotty McClellan needs to be informed as to just what is the meaning of the word allegation:
A statement asserting something without proof.
These detainees are known to have been held without charges, in some cases for years. This is something the White House admits. This is not an allegation. It is a fact.


The story of the Haitian woman who was arrested in Florida for "smuggling a human head" into the country was one bizarre blurb. But the details and reason for the arrest are what I find rather, well, arresting:
Myrlene Severe, 30, a Haitian-born permanent U.S. resident, was charged Friday with smuggling a human head into the U.S. without proper documentation.
What are we to think of this charge? The act itself is grisly enough. Not so grisly, though, that the US bureaucracy does not have documentation for transporting human heads into the United States. I wonder what bureaucrat foresaw that need?

[via Dependable Renegade]

Preval Declared President of Haiti

UN officials apparently gave up on their half-baked argument that the ballot fraud in Haiti was just a faux fraud perpetrated by Preval supporters.

Rene Preval has just been declared president after election officials finally agreed that blank ballots would not be included in the vote tabulation. This raised Preval's percentage of the vote to 51.15% and obviated the need for a run-off vote. This is good news on the surface of it, though I can't help but wonder what sort of negotiations led to this result.

I hope Preval didn't compromise too much, though he may not have had to. It should have been obvious to election officials and Preval's opposition that a run-off vote would have produced no different an outcome than what first round voting should have produced. Preval likely was persuasive in this argument and Haitian election officials backed down from forcing a second round vote.

But the recent experiments in democracy in Haiti have been nothing if not troubled, yet I would hope that the Bush administration will let democracy run its course and choose to realise that meddling in Haiti's affairs and subverting election results when those results turn out to be less than desired is a no-win situation. Of course, no-win situations have never been anything the Bush administration tries to avoid, so such hope is likely entirely misguided.

Given what is at stake in Haiti, I have never understood just why various administrations have seen it necessary to "direct" Haitian affairs. As weak as Haiti is, perhaps the meddling occurs simply because it can, a sort of foreign policy entropy. Meddling increases, boundless, over time.

But unlike here in the United States, the Haitian people appear completely unwilling to vote against their economic interests and as long as that is true, US tampering in Haitian affairs will never result in a government the Bush administration would like to see there.

To which all I can say is, Cheers, Haiti! Though luck will have little affect on Haiti's future, I wish them good luck, anyway.

Role Reversal on Voting Machines?

Governor of Maryland, Robert Erhlich, may be unique among Republican politicians. He is, in fact, the only high level Republican expressing concern about the electronic voting machines that have been shown, over and over again, to be woefully lacking in security and easily hackable.
In a sharply worded letter to the chairman of the State Board of Elections, Ehrlich said he is concerned about the controversy over Diebold Elections Systems' electronic voting machines in other states, which use technology similar to that of Maryland's touch-screen voting equipment.

He said he wants the state to adopt a voter verification system, such as a paper trail, to ensure accurate and secure voting.
Now, this is news. The number of Republican politicos across the nation complaining about the security of Diebold machines is miniscule, if not smaller.

But let's make no mistake, Erhlich is not concerned about this because he loves democracy and the right to vote, fearing that the so-called DREs might be used to thwart the people's will. Ehrlich is in a rather delicate position, being a Republican governor of a notably blue state with a Democratic state legislature, a legislature that is constantly at odds with the governor and often overrrides his vetos. Erhlich saw to it that Maryland was one of the first states to mandate the use of electronic voting machines in 2003, spending $55 million on paperless Diebold DREs.

Erhlich had to have viewed his election to the governorship as somewhat of a fluke in the blue state of Maryland, the Democrats able only to put up an utterly worthless candidate in the form of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. At the time of DRE adoption, Republicans across the land were determined to installed electronic voting machines via the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and Ehrlich was simply one of many GOP politicians who had no qualms about elections being in the hands of private, partisan corporations. Diebold is, after all, a GOP partisan corporation and they make no effort to hide that fact.

In September of 2003, Ehrlich had signed off on the installation of the Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machines after an "independent study" by SAIC purported that
the Diebold machine and source code, if operated properly, can contribute to one the safest, most secure election systems available. Because of this report, Maryland voters will have one of the safest election environments in the nation.
As has since been demonstrated by a number of security experts who have personally and easily hacked Diebold machines, this statement and the report by SAIC was a complete white wash. In fact, the hack was so easy, security expert Harri Hursti rated the security breach a level one hack, a so-called "script kiddy" attack and something that could be performed "by an 8th grader." At the time, State Board of Elections chairman, Gilles Burger, called the SAIC study "robust."

But now, after favouring the installation of DREs and resisiting paper verification, Erhlich suddenly has a new found love of a verifiable vote. This is, to say the least, an highly unusual position by a Republican who initially had nothing but confidence in Diebold machines. Erhlich has been nothing if not a flip-flopper on the issue of paper vote certification. In fact, a few short weeks ago, Ehrlich had vetoed four election reform bills that would have provided for early voting, absentee ballots, tough new laws against voter intimidation and ... a voter verification system for electronic voting machines. Diebold electronic voting machines. Yes, Ehrlich was against paper verification before he was for it.

Does Ehrlich believe that the Dems have got their shit together enough to actually hack the vote themselves and foil Ehrlich's re-election? I suspect not.

In fact, Ehrlich's position is not backed up by action and state senator Paula Hollinger sees this as a purely political move: Erhlich has not provided funding for paper verification but he can claim that he supported voter verification, thereby providing a simulacrum of respectability on this issue. But at this point, that is all Ehrlich's position on the voting machines represents.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Future Generations and George Bush

It is said that children have an innate sense of the truth of things, that they are not swayed by posture and bluster. Veneer and polish affects not their ability to see the kernel of an otherwise obscured matter.

With this in mind, I'd like to present the following example from a collection of letters that are being sent to President Bush by a class of fifth grade students (I am being purposefully sparse on the details, but this is genuine).

Guess what, George? Your specious reasoning and dissembling about the NSA suveillance program is not persuading those who might be least affected by your obfuscation and the media spin machine that you have so effectively employed on a large population of adults.

Yes, even the fifth graders are pissed:
I am XXXXXX XXXX. I am writing this letter because you are listening to people’s private phone calls and invading their privacy. I think everyone has a right to not want to be spied on. Basically all the system is doing is invading privacy. I can see how it can be used to catch terrorists, but you could just listen to the people who have a record for that.

I think it is a major problem that you are reading e-mails and invading privacy. I understand this is to keep an eye on terrorists, but it is still listening in on private things. I don’t like that they are watching everybody and they don’t even have a warrant to do that. My point is that you should definitely reconsider doing this.

There are a few ways you could do this. You could listen in only on people who seem likely do this, or you could just stop doing it. You could also get a warrant for doing this, which would at least make it a little acceptable. I just don’t think it’s right to just tap in on people’s lives like that.

To help improve the lives of children you could do a lot of things. You could help by donating money or books to libraries. You could also help out schools and do things like that. Really all you need to do is make sure that schools aren’t the worst places and that kids actually like going to school (I know I do).

Again, I wrote this letter so you would see why what your doing isn’t very good. I think that everyone has a right to his or her privacy. And if they don’t want to be spied on, then they shouldn’t be. Thank you for taking that time to read this letter.


Now we all know that George Bush is extremely concerned about his historical legacy, a legacy that will likely not be what Bush thinks it will be. This disconnect between his actual behaviour and the spin that he himself so obviously believes is perhaps the biggest reason his policies never change, mistakes never admitted, except when they are disingenuously blamed on someone else.

But Bush should know that it will this generation of children, like the letter writer, who will be the ones writing George Bush's history. And they will not be kind.