Friday, March 31, 2006

Alien Transmissions

Never having been someone predisposed to believing that SETI is a very useful venture, I have generally been dismissive of such efforts to divine alien transmissions from space. This is not to say that they aren't out there but just that our scientific efforts here on Earth would be better directed to genuinely useful enterprises. At least, that's what I thought until I finally saw what could only be described as an actual extra-terrestrial transmission and, amazingly enough, it appeared on a common terrestrial device, a television. Though some would believe that such transmissions are actually a comedy act and certain frames of mind could easily construe this scenario, a recent viewing of the Jack Van Impe Ministries broadcast has truly shaken my conviction that alien transmissions have not yet been received by humanity. Indeed, it is most certain that they have.

How else to describe the weekly broadcasts of Rapture advocate and Revelations interpreter, Jack Van Impe? To listen to the incredible pronouncements of Van Impe would be to acknowledge that, indeed, some alien transmission of an other-world philosophy was being received, and received rather well, by many earthlings. Accompanied by his faithfully freakish side kick and putative "wife," Rexella, Van Impe implores his audience, human or otherwise, to prepare for the second coming, whereupon the ultimate battle between good and evil will commence, the armies of heaven and hell unleashed upon unbelievers, followers of the prophesy having already been saved by The Rapture.

But Van Impe has been televising and propounding upon this horrific scenario for some time, as have any number of biblical literalists. Though his previous prognostications of this fitful end have been met by nothing but failure, why is Van Impe's proselytizing of interest now? Well, being knee-deep in Mark Crispin Miller's latest book, Fooled Again, the book brought to the fore Miller's thesis that the Bush administration, and the GOP more generally, has a fundamental connection to the zealots of Christian reconstructionism, a group that advocates biblical law should and must be the law of the land and that democracy stands in opposition to God's will. Armageddon, as enthusiastically diagnosed by Van Impe, also figures prominantly in this movement. Of course, what makes Miller's thesis so seemingly untenable is that rational folks simply cannot comprehend such madness of belief, as alien as it appears to nominal reason. And, as Miller argues, therein lies the danger.

Nonetheless, it is still hard to grasp that a White House, any White House, would embrace the late-night yowlings of Van Impe. That is, it is hard to grasp until one learns that the White House has been courting the foreign policy opinions of such evangelicals for some time, with Jack Van Impe himself claiming to having been contacted by the White House:
On July 7th or 8th we received a call from Justin Bush of the Office of Public Liaison for the White House asking Dr. Van Impe to attend a meeting with Dr. Condoleezza Rice and a few other faith-based leaders to discuss President Bush's "Roadmap to Peace in the Middle East."
Van Impe has nothing but disdain for such a peace process, it being a sure sign of satanic meddling. And, yes, the Bush administration is consulting the Book of Revelations for advice on Middle East foreign policy with the expected view that they don't want to do anything lest it muck up God's centuries' long plans for The Rapture.

On the particular transmission I watched, Van Impe was humping his latest video production, called Global ID: 666, and, naturally enough, subtitled, The prophesied Mark of the Beast, could it be administered today? A heady subject to be sure. Van Impe went on to briefly outline the content of the video (tales of the impeding, inevitable doom can be yours today for a mere 24.95 of your earthly American dollars), wherein he imagines the rise of a single global government and, indicative of this, how a cabal of dozens of "sinister organisations" have satanically spawned from a hellmouth located in Brussels, Belgium. Van Impe's impetus for this production is ostensibly the need to get the word out and get your family saved by Jesus before horror of Armageddon is unleashed upon the world.

Now, if this wasn't an extra-terrestrial transmission describing a conspiracy of intergalactic proportions as told to us by a brother from another planet, what would be?

But what is the real frighter here is that the White House is populated by a group of people who think that Van Impe is someone worth listening to, that his biblical prophesizing is germane to US foreign policy. Of course, to anyone objectively looking at the situation in the Middle East, it would be difficult to argue that the Bush admininistration has not done everything in its power to catalyze the very prophesy so stronly believed by people like Van Impe.

A Thousand Little Errors or One Big One

Seemingly unaware of the general consensus, Condoleezza Rice has finally admitted that the US has made, or has "probably made," thousands of what she described as "tactical errors" in its prosecution of the war in Iraq. She didn't do this on US soil, though, and saved this non-revelation for her British audience. The admission at this time indicates a condition that might best be described as being behind the curve.

Unconcerned that the entire, ill-fated misadventure has generally been called the biggest strategic blunder of modern times, something that former CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer even admitted , Rice assured us all that going into Iraq was still a good thing because Hussein "wasn't going anywhere without military intervention," which apparently is now the only reason needed to justify the invasion. This has been a standard White House talking point since things started going to hell shortly after the invasion. Unfortunately for Rice and anyone else who would echo this callow crap, military experts like Delta Force founder Sergeant Major Eric Haney put things into the proper perspective:
Q: What's your assessment of the war in Iraq?

A: Utter debacle. But it had to be from the very first. The reasons were wrong. The reasons of this administration for taking this nation to war were not what they stated. (Army Gen.) Tommy Franks was brow-beaten and ... pursued warfare that he knew strategically was wrong in the long term. That's why he retired immediately afterward. His own staff could tell him what was going to happen afterward.

We have fomented civil war in Iraq. We have probably fomented internecine war in the Muslim world between the Shias and the Sunnis....
Meanwhile, as thousands protested Rice's presence in the UK, the Secretary uttered some similiarly disingenuous and empty-headed rhetoric that the demonstrations bespoke democracy:
People have the right to protest, that's what democracy is all about. I would say to those who wish to protest, by all means.
Of course, she doesn't really mean "by all means," as the administration she works for chooses very directly when and where protests will be tolerated in her own country, at least when George Bush is within earshot. She also is apparently unaware that the renewed Patriot Act has now criminalized demonstration in the United States.

For the Secretary of State to claim that the right to protest is "what democracy is all about," is, if nothing else, a tad off the mark. No, Condi, what democracy is all about is the right of the citizenry to vote your miserable, self-serving asses out of office. And there has been very little evidence that that can or will happen anymore in this country.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fortunate Sons and Uncles

Just a quick couple links via News from Underground. First up, Barbara Bush came out all generous for those po' folks who were shuffled off to Houston after Katrina. She donated an "undisclosed amount of money" for educational programs for hurricane victims. Not unexpectedly, she specified that part of that donation was earmarked for a company called Ignite, an educational software company. Ignite is owned by one of her fortunate sons, Neil Bush.

And George Bush's uncle, William Bush, perhaps sensing an tailing off of war profiteering, has just cashed out on war profits and is making off with some $2.7 million in cash and stocks from the sale of Engineered Support Systems. One of the no-bid contracts Uncle Bush's company had: retrofitting vehicles with upgraded armour, a project that has been bungled from the start. But not the profits. The profits have been doing quite well.

No matter what the disaster, Bushes just keep on making money.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Posting light

I am tripping about this next week or so and internet connections and hence posting will be light the next few days. But a few pointers for some infuriating news comes from Greg Palast with his latest jeremiad about the Bush administration's real casus belli, Tillman's parents are mightly fed up with Army's mendacity, the last throes of the insurgency are now so desperate, they are attacking police stations and freeing prisoners. Surely they'll be finished any day now.


Monday, March 20, 2006

IED claims lack common sense

The claims that have been made by the Bush administration that the Iranian government has been supplying bomb making technology, if not outright building IEDs, has been shown to be at best an unsubstantiated accusation. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Pace stated quite clearly that there was "no proof" of this, which did nothing but give credence to the belief that Rumsfeld and Bush are simply talking out of their asses. So, nothing new there.

Cernig has been sedulously following developments in this story and now points out that Congress is about to look into these claims and investigate the actual provenance of these devices since it was recently revealed that the FBI, in conjunction with MI5, worked to hand over bomb technology to the IRA, which then spread it to many like-minded militant organisations.

But one feature of the White House claim that Iran was behind the dispersion of IEDs in Iraq that never seemed to be examined was the fact that such behaviour on the part of the Iranians made absolutely no sense. Iran had no motive whatsoever to foment Iraq to the point of civil war. This is something that the US Commander in Iraq, General Casey, has also pointed out:
They're playing, I think, a very delicate balancing act. On the one hand, they want a stable neighbor. On the other hand I don't believe they want to see us succeed here.
Casey, unfortunately, has a rather myopic view of just what would constitute success for the US in the eyes of Iran. Frankly, I doubt that Iran cares much at all whether the US views its own efforts as successful or not. What Iran would like is success for Iran and that means getting the US out of Iraq as soon as possible. This desire for stability in Iraq is also confirmed by Mahmoudreza Golshanpazhooh of the Tehran International Studies & Research Institute:
Iran wants and needs a stable Iraq, a stable Afghanistan and a stable region. Most of the damage to Iran's territory and interests have been the result of instability inside neighbouring states.
Iran's connections to the Iraqi government would be a boon to Tehran. And they had those in spades with Dawa party member Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, who spent ten years in Iran in exile during Hussein's reign.

As Juan Cole notes:
Jaafari is an old-time Muslim fundamentalist. He will want as much Islamic law to be implemented in Iraq as possible. The Dawa tends to view civil law in Iraq as a British colonial heritage so they want to get rid of it. And he was part of a group that attempted to implement Islamic law, even when there was an American administration. So, they would like, you know, personal status, marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance, all those things to be governed by Islamic law.
This is exactly what Iran wants and Jafari was the instrument by which this would happen -- was happening. Sharia law was one of the things the Sunnis and secularists like Allawi were resisting in the constitutional process, which was only partly successful. From Iran's perspective, Iraq was developing just the way they would like it: another fundamentalist Islamic state and right next door. And it would benefit them not at all to foment violence across Iraq, which would no doubt cause US forces to remain in the country.

The question now becomes, why on earth would Iran back the destabilization of Iraq by suppling weapons to an insurgency that was undermining Jaafari's government? As has been seen lately, Iraqi's are now very unhappy with Jaafari and his inability to stabilize the country and are calling for him to step down. Ironically, Jarafari was probably partly responsible for this situation himself when his government started to employ death squads in an attempt to shut down the insurgency, which has clearly backfired, as such draconian measures usually do. The insurgency is creating a situation that Iran assuredly does not want in Iraq.

The claims by the Bush administration that Iran is supplying arms to fuel the insurgency is not just technically unsupported but is also clearly at odds with common sense. Which, as usual, is nothing new for this White House.

Christian Death Sentence Monitor

One can't help but wonder how George Bush's base of fundamentalist Christians would view this unwholesome development, though they would likely have no qualms were the situation reversed:
An Afghan man is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death on a charge of converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under this country's Islamic laws.

The defendant, 41-yer-old Abdul Rahman, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian ... Rahman was charged with rejecting Islam and his trial started Thursday.
In a statement meant to assauge concerns that erstwhile Muslims were being targeted specifically because they had converted to Christianianity, the judge assures us that just isn't the case:
It is the preservation of Islam that is the issue:We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law. It is an attack on Islam.
Well, that is good news; generalised religious persecution but with a pre-existing condition clause. You might not be prosecuted if you have always been Christian, or Hindu or Jewish, but no conversions from Islam are allowed.

Abdul Rahman converted to Christianity 16 years ago while living outside Afghanistan. Under the Bush-installed democratic Karzai regime, Sharia law was adopted, or rather re-adopted, and now those unintended democracy dominoes consequences are making themselves known in quite an unpleasant way. The penalty for forsaking Islam? Death, of course.

[via Wash Park Prophet]

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Three Year Itch

My fellow Americans, I am speaking to you tonight on the eve of the third anniversary of the liberation of Iraq. Though evil-doer Saddam Hussein is now out of power and on trial, three years into the Iraq war, a war my own administration insisted would last no more than a few days, weeks or months, it has become clear to a majority of this country that I and those around me have no idea what the hell we are doing. This admission is further evinced by my own obvious blankness of mind.

Nonetheless and as always, I will be steadfast in my vision, however blurred and myopic it may be, and my administration intends to stay the course, despite there being no actual understanding of just what that will entail. That we are able to do this is due in no small part to an utterly feckless and cowardly Democratic party. They have proved to be just the kind of party we have been telling Americans they are all along. Of course, a servile Republican-controlled Congress has blessed my vision of lawlessness and for that, I thank them. The media, too, has been no small help in this effort and I wish to say to them, great job.

I am here to assure this great nation that my administration will continue to dump untold amounts of your tax dollars into the sinkhole of Iraq. We will continue to spy on you to preserve your freedom. We will continue to abuse prisoners in the name of human rights. We will continue to rig and befoul the American electoral process in order that we may further spread democracy. We will ignore the poor and the destitute. We will continue to reward our special friends with tax breaks, regulatory rollbacks and lobby-influenced legislation. We will continue to stifle science, fact and reason and will further promulgate the desires of our fanatical religious base. We will proliferate arms to restive regions of the world in order to support the American defense industry, the only real industry we have left. And we will continue to do all this with the support of Congress. Not your Congress, but ours.

As your president, I pledge to continue all of this and much more.

Good evening and may God bless America.

Earl Drops

Tony Blair is not only emulating George Bush's poll numbers these days, recording a 36% approval rating from his fellow Brits, but he also appears to be mirroring Bush's practiced abuse of governmental office to reward his rich political patrons.

Blair is currently embroiled in his own self-made Abramoff-like scandal right now, though he has failed to recognise the importance of separation that Karl Rove knows is key to staying above, or below, the frey.

Blair's remarkably similar poll numbers to those of his American counterpart are following directly on the heels of the current peerage scandal that appears to be implicating Blair's Labour Party, and Blair himself, in a scam whereby Blair's cabinet has been awarding peerage to those who had "loaned" large sums of cash to the Labour Party. Oddly, Deputy PM, John Prescott claims he knew nothing of the scheme until he read about it in the papers, an embarrassing position in which I suspect Dick Cheney would never find himself. And another note Cheney would likely never sound, Prescott called for public financing of political parties.

I wonder if this scheme came with its own peerage title pricing list, ala Duke Cunningham. Which reminds me; just how did Cunnigham get to be called "Duke," anyhow?

Click and Clack

We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq. And a victory in Iraq will make this country more secure and will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.

I'm encouraged by the progress.

-- Idiot Son of an Asshole,
Mar 19, 2006

What we've seen is a serious effort by them to foment civil war, but I don't think they've been successful.
-- Vice President to the
Idiot Son of an Asshole,
Mar 19, 2006

We are losing each day an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.
-- Iyad Allawi,
former interim Prime Minister of Iraq,
Mar 19, 2006

Saturday, March 18, 2006

White House Emissions Party Partly Downed by Brown

Well, it doesn't look like Janice Rogers Brown will be quite the White House tool that some were suspecting:
A federal appeals court blocked the Bush administration's four-year effort to loosen emission rules for aging coal-fired power plants, unanimously ruling yesterday that the changes violated the Clean Air Act and that only Congress could authorize such revisions.
The bench comprises Judith W. Rogers, David S. Tatel and Janice Rogers Brown. Of course, Brown made her name as one hostile to women's rights and civil rights in general and was one of the agreed appointments of the Gang of Fourteen deal. It was expected that she would be a disaster. But this is a pleasant, if potentially rope-a-dope, surprise.

Rogers opinion carried some blustery words for the White House, which is always fun to see:
EPA's approach would ostensibly require that the definition of 'modification' include a phrase such as 'regardless of size, cost, frequency, effect,' or other distinguishing characteristic. Only in a Humpty Dumpty world would Congress be required to use superfluous words while an agency could ignore an expansive word that Congress did use. We decline to adopt such a world-view.
Do you think George has any idea who Humpty Dumpty actually is?

The Sublime

Beauty can be had amidst the extant mayhem, cantakerous political animosity and maudlin pundrity that is the focus of many attentions these days. And some small sample of that beauty can be found at the The Hirshhorn Museum, which is showing a retrospective of Hiroshi Sugimoto's black and white photography. It offers a variegated sampling of Sugimoto's work, from his famous seascapes to his blurred architectural documents to the mathematical forms series.

Though the mathematical forms are the most striking for their sheer strength of lighting and form (the forms come labelled with the equations that describe the surfaces), I found myself mesmerized by the seascapes. The Hirshhorn's installation of these works adds tremendously to the pictures' effect. The series flows along the interior curve of the building in a large dark room where the only lighting are rectangular spots set perfectly to illuminate only the photographs themselves. It creates the effect of being in a dark room (which you are) and looking through windows out onto the sea.

Sugimoto's seascapes are are as varied and sublte as weather and light themselves, the prints silken. The scenes where sea and sky are blend together, in different degrees, by an ocean mist -- a fog of somekind -- draw the viewer into a far off realm. Context is important here, at least it was for me, for without it the images would not have had the impact they did. The night scenes are striking and the whole series evokes serenity and calm.

If you have the chance to see this exhibit, do yourself an huge favour and look out through the windows, onto a calm and eternal sea, a sea unconcerned with humanity's bitter pettiness.

And now, back to the ridiculous....

Samarra Road Show

Want to know what "Operation Swarmer" was really all about? As a few suspected:
Four Black Hawk helicopters landed in a wheat field and dropped off a television crew, three photographers, three print reporters and three Iraqi government officials right into the middle of Operation Swarmer.

...there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance.
48 "insurgents" were detained, 17 of whom have already been released for not actually being insurgents. The locals appear to have been quite accomodating:
Before loading up into the helicopters for a return trip to Baghdad, Iraqi and American soldiers and some reporters helped themselves to the woman’s freshly baked bread, tearing bits off and chewing it as they wandered among the cows. For most of them, it was the only thing worthwhile they’d found all day.
Another day, another photo op. With freshly baked bread.

Friday, March 17, 2006

WaPo: Eyes Wide Shut

Yesterday, WaPo published a blurb called How to Steal an Election, with a graphic that shows how much better protected Las Vegas slot machines are guarded than voting machines. Much better. In fact, it ought to be a national shame that voting machines are practically unregulated. Of course, WaPo couldn't admit to themselves or their readers that this is and has been a serious problem:
It's easier to rig an electronic voting machine than a Las Vegas slot machine, says University of Pennsylvania visiting professor Steve Freeman. That's because Vegas slots are better monitored and regulated than America's voting machines, Freeman writes in a book out in July that argues, among other things, that President Bush may owe his 2004 win to an unfair vote count. We'll wait to read his book before making a judgment about that. But Freeman has assembled comparisons that suggest Americans protect their vices more than they guard their rights, according to data he presented at an October meeting of the American Statistical Association in Philadelphia.
The curious statement that they, i.e. WaPo wankers, will wait to read Freeman's book before "making a judgment" about the likelihood that Bush benefitted from an unfair vote count, among other unfair voting irregularities, is truly remarkable.

Apparently, WaPo is unaware of the Conyers report or any of the hundreds of other reported "problems" that all occurred with DREs, always adding to Bush's tally and never to Kerry's. Or the nonsense going on in Alaska where officials claim that vote data from Diebold machines is a state secret. Or the audit tapes recently released from Florida DREs that show pre-loaded votes. Or that the third highest ranked election worker on Cuyahoga County Board of Elections was recently indicted in Ohio for "mishandling" ballots and is the third such indictment in that state. Or that a voting machine vendor employee blew the whistle on "glitches" with machines in 2004 or that these glitches resulted in some 100,000 uncast votes magically appearing in vote totals during the recent Texas primary. No, WaPo editors seem unaware of all of this.

Apparently, they are also unaware of their own published stories.
In northeastern Ohio, in the fading industrial city of Youngstown, Jeanne White, a veteran voter and manager at the Buckeye Review, an African American newspaper, stepped into the booth, pushed the button for Kerry -- and watched her vote jump to the Bush column.

In Youngstown, 25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of votes for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to the Bush column.

In Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo, and on college campuses, election officials allocated far too few voting machines to busy precincts, with the result that voters stood on line as long as 10 hours -- many leaving without voting. Some longtime voters discovered their registrations had been purged.

...irregularities associated with machines in three traditionally Democratic counties in southern Florida may have delivered at least 130,000 excess votes for Bush

Some regular voters filed affidavits stating that their registrations had been expunged.

Voters in most Democratic wards experienced five-hour waits, and turnout was lower than expected. "I don't know if it's by accident or design, but I counted a dozen people walking away from the line in my precinct in Columbus,"

In Knox County, some Kenyon College students waited 10 hours to vote.
The cases where too few voting machines were allocated were all heavily Democratic precincts. But all of this, it would seem to WaPo editors, was just the result of random mistakes, random mistakes that weren't random at all; they always went to Bush's benefit.

But at least WaPo published the piece. It may not be enough to wake up the nodding heads in the editors' room. Will it be enough to wake up the rest of us?

Port Security: 0 War: 67 Billion

Back when the DPW ports deal was still on the table, congressional GOP members were howling as loudly as anyone about the safety and security of American ports. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said,
News that a Middle-East based firm is seeking to purchase the operating rights to several U.S. ports raise serious questions regarding the safety and security of our homeland.

I'm not against foreign ownership, but my main concern is national security.
Really, Bill?

Well, if anyone had doubts that Frist and the rest of the howlers were perhaps a little less than genuine, that perhaps this putative concern was meant mostly to grandstand and demonstrate serious resolved in the face of what they described as a cavalier attitude toward homeland security, those doubts would likely be dismissed by news that the Republican controlled Congress has just defeated a Democratic amendment that would increase funding for port security.

There appears now to be no doubt that GOP intransigence on the DPW ports deal was nothing but a puppet show:
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday easily approved $91.9 billion that President George W. Bush President George W. Bush sought for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for Gulf Coast hurricane relief, even as lawmakers voiced doubts about the efforts. The emergency spending bill also contained language barring a state-owned Arab company, Dubai Ports World, from managing American ports.

Republicans barely defeated a push by Democrats to add $1.23 billion to tighten security at U.S. ports and for other homeland security initiatives....
Actual port security initiatives that might do something: $1.23 billion
Making a lot of noise about an Arab company running American ports: priceless

There were a few other tidbits tucked away in this bill and the efforts surrounding its passage, such as the GOP effort to strip Gulf Coast hurricane relief, which some claimed would "hamper the recovery effort." Yes, hamper the recovery effort. Specious reasoning was not provided. Perhaps Republican lawmakers were worried that, with another billion in contracts up for grabs, Halliburton would misemploy itself to further abuse of that money.

But no, that can't be it because House Republicans also defeated another Democratic amendment to the bill that would have barred Halliburton from seeking any new government contracts while under investigation for alleged contract abuse (Halliburton is generally known by the generic term, defense contractors under investigation for contract abuse). Republicans claimed that interrupting Halliburton's ability to fuck over American taxpayers would "interrupt the flow of food, transportation and other services the company supplies to U.S. forces."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Idaho Gold

Now that the dreadfully spotty Gale Norton bailed out of the Interior Department as the Abramoff investigation, uh, sorry...the needs of her family, swirled nearby, what with the various close connections many of her staffers had with the Indian tribes gambling fiasco, it is interesting that Bush finds himself searching the far corners of the country trying to locate some -- any -- Republican not connected with Jack Abramoff.

Bush had to harch all the way up to Idaho, where he just tapped Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to lead the Department. And like most good Republicans that Bush would find attractive, he has the much admired quality of coddling industry and fouling the environment at the expense of creating a frictionless business environment:
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, President Bush's top candidate to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has cut his state's environmental budget three times and sharply reduced enforcement of environmental regulations.

During Kempthorne's four-and-a-half-year tenure as governor, Idaho's pristine air has gotten dirtier, more rivers have been polluted, fewer polluters have been inspected and more toxins have contaminated the air, water and land.
And that was back in 2003 when Bush was considering Kempthorne as EPA administrator.

Kempthorne does indeed seem to be a match for the Bush administration. Now, if they can just keep that damned Abramoff investigation out of the picture....

[via ThinkProgress]

Slippery Slope

Two days after I was wondering about how well the stock of Gilead Sciences was doing (quite well), Rummy perhaps realised that his market value might be peaking since media hype started to wear off. He sold a bunch of his stock in Gilead and made off with more than $5 million in capital gains. And what is Gilead doing today? Looks like Rummy's timing is what some in the market might call impeccable.

The Definition of Insanity

President Bush issued a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons....
Of course, we don't yet know if this is an effective strategy because we have yet to preemptively attack a country that actually posed a threat and had chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. To date, this is all just theoretical, much as the rest of the neo-con wet dream of flowery liberators and democracy dominoes. And that hasn't worked out too well now, has it?

The rest of the world is probably of the belief that time is running on the Bush doctrine, that he won't actually get a chance to try it out again and see whether, this time, things will go the way Wolfowitz, Rummy, Perle-drops and Biggus Dickus had dreamed of in those PNAC fantasy plans that even Fukuyama has now realized is an unmitigated disaster.

Of course, they are rattling sabres at Iran, but I can't believe the world will sit back and tolerate any military nonsense the Bush administration might be imagining there. But if Bush really wants to solidify his place in world history as the visionary he believes himself to be, I expect he might also believe that lobbing a couple of tactical nukes into Iran will really cement his reputation as a foreign policy shaman.

[Update:Progressive Prof has an excellent review of the so-called National Security Strategy (NSS), comparing statements, which appear woven out of whole cloth, with facts that have been known and stated by the administration itself.]

It's a Target for Transition, you see...

it's definitely not a timetable or anything ....

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.
-- Murtha Resolution, Nov. 17, 2005
In a biting response, Republicans criticized Murtha's position as one of abandonment and surrender and accused Democrats of playing politics with the war and recklessly pushing a "cut and run" strategy.

"They want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

"It would be an absolute mistake and a real insult to the lives that have been lost," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.
He asked me to send Congress a message: stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.
-- Jean Schmidt, House of Representatives, Nov. 18, 2005
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Sunday made no promises for a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq next year.

"The enemy hears a big debate in the United States, and they have to wonder maybe all we have to do is wait and we'll win."
Mr. Bush refused again to set a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, saying conditions in Iraq will dictate when American forces can come home. He said setting a deadline to pull out is "not a plan for victory."

But Mr. Bush was emphatic in stating that the decision on troop levels will be made by American commanders and "not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington,"
-- Bush: No Timetable For Iraq, Nov. 30, 2005.
After a deadly spasm of sectarian conflict last month sparked by the bombing of a Shiite shrine, the president presented a dour forecast of continuing mayhem.
President Bush vowed for the first time yesterday to turn over most of Iraq to newly trained Iraqi troops by the end of this year...

Homeland Security Flunks Security

Department of Homeland Security bungling and mismanagement continues unabated with the release of a report by the House Government Reform Committee, which gave the DHS an "F" for computer security of the department's own computers. This would the same department that is charged with creating and implementing government computer security agenda.

Of course, the DHS is not the only department failing in this regard and it is rather alarming to learn that, among many other administration departments, the Department of Defense, for chrissakes, also got a failing grade on computer security.

Remember, these are the same people who are conducting broad-swath computer data mining surveillance on American citizens and claiming that they know what they're doing with all these fancy computer ... thingys.

Apart from the sheer embarrassment of having the Departments of Defense and Security appearing to be incapable of actually securing their own computer systems against attack, one has to wonder just what on earth is going on in these bureaucracies. Or not. Here is the key passage that tells us exactly what is going on:
It turns out that the vast bulk of the federal information security money is spent on documenting these systems, not on securing or testing them against attacks. Most [agencies] are spending so much on the paperwork exercises that they don't have a lot of money left over to fix the problems they've identified.
This is perfectly in tune with the ethos of the Bush administration, which sees Bush himself dashing about the country talking about how he loves security but actually doing very little about it in the real world. Which is the biggest reason why Katrina was such a monumental disaster.

Apart from vast amounts of sensitive data, these departments have budgets of tens, hundreds of billions of dollars, all of which is most likely accessible through their computer systems. As though there hasn't been enough evidence of arrant incompetence bounding around this administration, we have yet another tale of incredible mismanagement presented to us by an administration that has trumpeted its concern for national security when they can't even secure their own computer systems.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Touching Concern for Human Rights

The UN has just voted to appprove the new Human Rights Council despite the objections of US ambassador John Bolton. Bolton's opposition stemmed from US claims that the approval did not reform the council sufficiently and bar countries like Sudan and Zimbabwe from membership. In other words, the council resolution was not tough enough toward known human rights abusers. Human rights abusers, that is, who are decidedly not employed by the Bush administration.

It is impossible to ridicule the US position more than the Bush administration's own callous actions have done already. The unbridled gall displayed in decrying the UN for being lax on human rights abuse while this administration has engaged in systematic human rights abuses with indefinite detention, torture, death and abuse of prisoners, extraordinary rendition, and stripping prisoners of habeas corpus is beyond ironic. It is, in fact, beyond belief.

R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, claims that
The U.N. needs a stronger body to fight human rights abuses in places like Darfur and Burma.
Though not, apparently, in places like Gitmo, Abu Graib or the Salt Pit.

Deep in the IED Weeds

After days of hearing White House officials claim that the Iranian government was behind the smuggling of IEDs into Iraq, despite an admitted lack of proof, news comes that an American "security contractor" was arrested in northern Iraq with a car-full of explosives.

Though the story says nothing of the activity likely going on, it is easily imagined that the contractor was illegally selling arms and making a hefty profit doing it. No word on how long this contractor may have been doing this or how many others may be similarly engaged, but you've got to believe that cockroach statistics are probably applicable.

The irony could not be more palpable. While American officials accuse the Iranian government of arming insurgents in Iraq because arms were being smuggled from that country, we are now presented with the grim fact that Americans under contract to the American government have been engaged in black market distribution of explosives within Iraq. Do we now hold Rumsfeld responsible for arming the insurgency?

Though Bush supporters will pay no attention to the entrepreneurial endeavours of red-blooded American contractors, it should be pointed out to them that the black market sale of bomb-making ingredients in a country where those bombs could well be turned on US troops is what could and should be called treason.

[via Newshog]

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Now that's a Grand Canyon!

JPL has created a montage of hundreds of images to create this incredible picture of Valles Marineris, described usually as the largest canyon in the solar system; 3000 miles long and seven miles deep. Now this is the kind of thing for which the word awesome was really meant:
Check out the "fly through" simulation. Yeeha! baby, what a ride!!!

There's Proof and then there's No Proof

One day after George Bush followed up on the bogus ABC story that Cernig first caught and claimed that the Iranian government was behind the production of IEDs coming into Iraq, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace, admitted that the US government had "no proof" to support the allegation:
The top U.S. military officer said on Tuesday the United States does not have proof that Iran's government is responsible for Iranians smuggling weapons and military personnel into Iraq.
Pace doesn't appear to have been fed enough Karl Rove talking point kool-aid and seems to have failed to grasp the nuance of implication without proof. His political skills are also wanting as he appears to have actually answered a question. Tsk, tsk.

Let's just see what George Bush said about the issue. It demonstrates the fine art of implication by a) stating nothing meaningful or definitive and b) laying responsiblity for any claims on someone else should the attempt to drum up concern prove less than genuine:
Some of the most powerful IED's we're seeing in Iraq today include components that came from Iran. Our Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, told the congress Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shia' militia with the capability to build improvised explosive devices in Iraq. Coalition forces have seized IED's and components that were clearly produced in Iran.
Note that "coming from Iran," while practically meaningless (Al Qaeda is in Iran as well as the Iranian government and who knows who else), serves to conflate the origin of the devices with those who would be implicated, i.e. the Iranian government. This is an entirely specious argument, though it apparently flies well with the press, who would likely blame the Russians for arming the insurgents if the Bush administration revealed the startling fact that the Iraqis were using Kalashnikovs.

We can also see Negroponte acting as the point-man on the scam here, an unelected wonk, answerable to no one but Bush. This would be the same tactic as was employed by the "sixteens words" of the now infamous SOTU speech, wherein responsibility for Bush's claim of Iraq yellow cake purchases was foisted upon "British intelligence."

In light of what General Pace admitted, let's just review what administration critic, Richard Clarke had said about this claim in the previous ABC pentagon press release:
I think the evidence is strong that the Iranian government is making these IEDs, and the Iranian government is sending them across the border.
I had previously noted the odd inclusion of Clarke as nothing but a legitimizer of the claim, despite the fact that he likely would know nothing of the so-called evidence:
Of note is the inclusion of the opinion of Richard Clarke, a severe critic of the Bush adminstration, but who can hardly be considered "in the loop" these days. His presence in the story appears to be there for no reason other than to add an air of credibility to Pentagon claims. This is always a nifty media spin trick: reveal the opinion of a critic, whether he would or could know anything about the evidence or not.
Indeed, this proved entirely correct and Pace's statement today has demonstrated quite well that Clarke knew nothing of the evidence. There was none.

Right wingers far and wide had not only uncritically accepted Clarke's opinion but had been pointing out that its inclusion must have meant that the story was legitimate. Saps, as usual. That was exactly what it was designed to do. And General Peter Pace has just gone and screwed it all up.

India, Pakistan and The Real Deal

[x-posted at The Bonehead Compendium]

Some deal making came out of Bush's visit to India and Pakistan. What was it really all about?

Follow the money.

That phrase is now part of the American political lexicon and, despite its brevity, proves time and again to be advice that should well be taken, especially when looking at political maneuvering of the kind we saw George Bush engage during his recent trip in to India and Pakistan. While Bush's rhetoric was filled, as it often is, with his pat feel-good words and phrases like "democracy," "hopeful future," and "strategic partnership," there is a money-soaked meaning behind those duplicitous locutions. Could we expect anything less?

A year ago, George Bush announced that, as reward for Pakistan's co-operation in the War on Terror, the US government was awarding that country a passel of F-16s. Though initially the deal would be for two dozen advanced fighters capable of delivering nuclear payloads, the White House indicated that "there would be no limits" on how many fighters Pakistan could acquire. To facilitate the deal, the Bush administration further offered funding -- US taxpayer funding -- to help Pakistan purchase the planes. In 1990, George HW Bush had previously banned the sale of such aircraft to Pakistan after revelations broke that the country had secretly developed nuclear weapons technology. And despite the fact that Pakistan proved to be the source of black market nuclear technology that is found in countries the Bush administration is now fretting about (Iran, North Korea), Bush sees no inherent problem with selling advance, nuclear-capable fighters to the source of illicitly distributed nuclear technology. Even if Bush could recognize the issue here, it is clear that it would take a backseat to the special corporate interests of Lockheed Martin, which will build those freedom and democracy fighters at its factory in Texas.

It was easily expected that India would not react well to this offer. And, indeed, they did not. Despite incredibly dense statements by Condolezza Rice that India and Pakistan are not in a "hyphenated relationship," apparently ignoring the fact that the two countries have been historically engaged in mortal combat for decades, (nearly going to war again in 2002 over the long disputed Kashmir region), India did indeed react quite negatively:
We're greatly disappointed to hear the news. This is probably going to have negative consequences for Indian security and the security environment.
This clearly worded statement demonstrated for all that either Rice was clueless or was simply more invested in the arms sale advocated by Bush than she was in regional security. This is not an endearing quality for a Secretary of State.

It was believed by the White House that the sale of the F-16s to Pakistan would prompt India to engaged in its own arms buying spree and that the likely beneficiaries of such a reaction would be American arms manufacturers. India's reaction was swift -- not in the way the White House had imagined, of course -- and India immediately embarked on a program of defense orders from Russia, Germany, Italy and Israel. Indeed, many countries' armaments were being sought, none of them American. Almost everyone expected such a reaction. Everyone, that is, but the White House.

The White House found itself in an awkward situation, what with India then set on acquiring non-US weapons systems and doing so out of acrimony. As usual, much of that situation was of its own construction and was squarely up against an Iran that was determined to make friends in central Asia just as White House missteps had and were creating ever greater enmity.

During this past year and as the situation in Iraq devolved grimly into sectarian violence, unease was growing throughout central Asia and Iran was promoting itself as the petroleum benefactor to a number of countries in the region. Indeed, Iran had signed pipeline and refinery service deals with both Pakistan and India, much to the chagrin of the White House. Iran's effort was clearly meant to positively engage regional neighbours while US mismanagement in Iraq created an increasing restive climate. As Iran was doing this, Washington embarked on a program to vilify Iran in the eyes of the international community by claiming that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program, something for which there was and is no evidence. This effort has only been intensified in recent months despite the fact that the IAEA recently reported that, after a three year investigation, no evidence of such a program has been found. Naturally, news of this report appeared nowhere in the mainstream American press.

While such arms deals would be boon for home-grown defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, the deal was also seen within the context of this Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline agreement. The Bush administration was not at all happy with the arrangement and, back then, made their opposition to it well-known. The offer of arms was part of a bid to quash the deal, which it did not do and, instead, the bungled handling of the Musharraf F-16 deal further entrenched the position of India. As quickly as India's economy was growing, new sources of energy were crucial and Washington had no real response to the Iranian pipeline arrangement. New weapons were hardly going to suffice as a crucial energy supply. Publicly, Condolezza Rice had nothing to offer India in this regard but merely said the Bush administration would engage in "a broad energy dialogue". The nuclear agreement with India is what came out of this broad dialogue and it was specified a year ago that any nuclear arrangement would be reached only if India backed out of Iranian pipeline deal. It is, of course, interesting to note that then External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh said that India had "no problems of any kind with Iran."

India and Pakistan were both loathe to openly disparage Iran on the nuclear issue. They were much in need and want of the Iranian petroleum services. It was India's position that Iran had the right to develop civilian nuclear technology under the NPT, which is true. India was hardly in a position to criticize a country that had fully abided the NPT, while they themselves had never been a party to it and had developed nuclear weapons outside the jurisdiction of the international treaty.

Given that neither India nor Pakistan -- especially Pakistan -- were likely to be persuaded to engage with the US on a diplomatic assault over Iranian nuclear development, the White House has now swung completely around on the pipeline agreement and dropped any opposition to it.The Indians appear to be tough negotiators, getting everything they wanted from the US and keeping their agreement with Iran for the natural gas pipeline. And the White House comes away having merely brokered a deal for American defense companies. Of course, this is not an unusual position for this White House, which probably regards the use of taxpayer dollars to fund the purchase of American weaponry for Pakistan as a "pro-business" environment and sees itself as an agent of globalisation.

With arms deals in hand, Bush went to India and Pakistan to not only assuage India's concern about Musarraf's F-16 deal, but also to appeal to those governments to back the US position against Iran. Though opposition to the Iranian pipeline had been dropped, it might still be possible to get India to back the White House on Iran's nuclear ambitions. Ironically, he would do this by selling a veritable nuclear farm to India as well as a cornucopia of conventional weapons systems. That this would be done by using US taxpayer money to assist with the purchase of a vast array of weapons systems and platforms is merely par for White House course. India is now slated to acquire quite an arsenal. This was seen for what it really meant by Wall Street, which promptly began to send defense contractor shares ramping upward.
Armaments major Lockheed Martin, in the race to supply 126 combat jets to India, is eyeing several other opportunities to sell aircraft and hardware worth bns of dollars to the country's armed forces.

The US firm will bid for an Indian Navy proposal to acquire some 30 submarine hunter helicopters, the Indian Air Force (IAF)'s plan to buy 80 medium-lift helicopters and an Indian Army programme to acquire tactical missiles.
While no nuclear deal would be forthcoming for Pakistan -- that would be just too insane, even for Bush -- the Pentagon and various American defence contractors had lined up under the auspices of Bush's promotional tour to offer Musharraf a smorgasbord of armaments as well, with much of the cost being initially footed by the US taxpayer.
The United States is committed to a long-term partnership with Pakistan. Pakistan currently is one of the largest recipients of U.S. security assistance. The United States has pledged $1.5 billion of Foreign Military Financing to Pakistan from 2005-2009.

The United States supports Pakistan’s defense needs through sales of advanced systems (recent sales include TOW 2A missiles, P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, AH-1 Cobra Helicopters, and Harpoon missiles). Last year, the President also announced the U.S. intention to move forward with the possible sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan.
It is always fascinating to examine public White House documents pertinent to such agreements. Their "fact sheet" regarding the India agreement, a paper released during Bush's visit there, describes this bountiful arms deal under a rubric of international comity and commitment to security and democracy:
Defense Trade: The United States reaffirmed its goal to help meet India's defense needs and to provide the important technologies and capabilities that India seeks.
Also rubbed in the warming balm of such feel-good verbiage, the US -Pakistan deal is similarly presented, not as a blockbuster arms sales boom for American defense contractors, but as simply a way to be secure in a dangerous part of the world, especially now that India is going to be boasting a whole new generation of American arms technology.
- Continue robust U.S. security assistance to meet Pakistan's legitimate defense needs and bolster its capabilities in the war on terror.

- Deepen bilateral collaboration in the fields of defense training, joint exercises, defense procurement, technology transfers, and international peacekeeping.
The White House appears to have failed in any of its diplomatic goals to engender support in its bid to demonized Iran, to prevent the Iranian pipeline deal, or to even cause some friction in what is generally seen to be good relations between Iran and Central Asia. Iran has pursued their position with India and Pakistan quite purposefully and did so before the Bush administration apparently even knew what to do about it. There may have been nothing they could have done, given the incredible growth of the Indian economy and tightening supplies of petroleum resources, something that has only been aggravated by Iraq's diminished production capacity; yet another ironic result of the US invasion.

Just what has the White House accomplished with Bush's trip? Despite George Bush telling us that these agreements are about supporting and nurturing democracy, the real "success" would appear to be that it calmed India's ire with nuclear technology, steered that country to a "buy American" arms policy and assuaged their concerns over the F-16 sale to Pakistan, which will now likely go forward. These are two profitable arms deals in a region of the world that will only grow more at odds as a result.

Which is perfectly consistent with a foreign policy that claims to bestow democracy upon others and does so with the barrel of a gun.

Update: Siddharth Varadarajan at Reality, One Bite At a Time, has an interesting piece up regarding the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and argues well that, in fact, the White House is still very much against it.
Though virtually everyone in the Indian media wilfully or foolishly misinterpreted this clever remark to mean the U.S. no longer had a problem with the pipeline, senior U.S. officials responsible for the day-to-day conduct of policy are clear that the Iran-Pakistan-India project is still verboten.
Though this would not change the direction of this piece much, other than to restate that the White House had not necessarily back down on the pipeline deal, it just wasn't a deal-breaker in the sales of billions in US armaments. The White House may simply be reserving a later date for a fight. And this is also not to say that India won't stand up for their participation in the project. All this really boils down to is that rumours of White House flip-flopping on its opposition to the Iranian pipeline have been greatly exaggerated.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Liars and Statistics

Yep. It's that time again to search out the bag-headed opinionating of Bush-lovers offering their increasingly shrill yowlings as they ignore the reports and refuse to recognize what the Bush administration and military officials are feveroushly trying to put out: a nascent communal civil war in Iraq.

Up now is a one Glenn Gross at, I'm not making this up, Let Freedom Ring Throughout the World. Glenn took some time a fews days ago to call John Murtha a liar for claiming that Iraq had fallen into civil war. And while it still may not be a full-blown civil war, the affirming evidence clearly indicates that it is at least a slow-burn, low level one. Gross certainly doesn't bother to offer up any evidence as to why Murtha is liar. Assuredly that is hard to come by. Perhaps its just one of those feel-good gut things, the kind of which O'Reilly has come to rely upon. There is precious little else by which one could be dissuaded from this notion.

Because today,we have this news,
A series of powerful explosions ripped through a Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad Sunday evening, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 200.

t was the deadliest series of attacks since the Feb. 22 bombing of the revered Askariya Shiite mosque in Samarra unleashed days of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis that left at least 1,000 people dead.
Of course, this news is not much different than news from a couple of days ago,
explosions killed 11 people and wounded 19 - all civilians, police said. The U.S. military, meanwhile, confirmed that a mass abduction from a security firm was the work of kidnappers masquerading as Interior Ministry commandos.
Which is not much different from that of a few more days before that,
A car bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol exploded near a market in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing at least six people and injuring 23.

In eastern Baghdad, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol near al-Mustansiriyah University, killing two policemen and wounding three.

Another bomb exploded as a police patrol drove through the northern Azamiyah neighborhood, killing a policeman and a civilian

A car bomb targeting another police patrol exploded in Baghdad's downtown Nidhal Street, wounding at least seven people

A roadside bomb exploded outside the blast walls surrounding the Buratha Shiite mosque in the northern Oteifiyah neighborhood

Two roadside bombs went off in Baghdad's dangerous Dora neighborhood. One targeted an Interior Ministry patrol, wounding one commando
Or a few days before that,
A series of suicide attacks, car bombs and mortar barrages rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 68 people and wounding scores as Iraq teetered on the brink of civil war. President Bush decried the violence between rival Muslim Sunni and Shiite sects.

Iraqis have suffered through days of reprisal killings and attacks on Sunni mosques since bombers blew apart the gold dome of the revered Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra on Wednesday. The Iraqi Cabinet said at least 379 people had been killed and 458 wounded in reprisal attacks.
Oh, and we should not forget this,
The top commander of the Iraqi army division in Baghdad was killed Monday when his car came under small-arms fire while traveling through the capital.
When even Bush is recognizing the secular nature of the continuous attacks of Sunni on Shiite and vice versa, one has to know that concerns are probably very serious. But the thrust of Glenn's pronouncements appears to be that if people will just stop lying about Iraq being in a civil war, then maybe it would stop looking like it is.

But things really take a twist later in the post when Glenn offers up evidence to counter the results of the Zogby poll of US troops stationed in Iraq who overshelmingly declared that it is time to get out:
72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year.
What does Glenn offer as counter evidence to this result, which he calls simply a "notion"? One Army reservist Adam Navarro who, it is said, is a "firm believer in the mission."

I just don't know how these guys cling to that unfurling thread that this administration has handled anything in Iraq well at all. Ignoring the tales of sectarian strife, which is obviously on the rise, and ignoring that the US military itself recognises the grave threat that this escalation represents, fellows like Glenn will instead choose to channel villians like Ann Coulter and call men like ex-Marine John Murtha a liar for stating what is obvious to anyone capable of simple arithmetic.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

This American Life in Gitmo

If you didn't happen to catch WBEZ's This American Life broadcast this week, you would do well to get a hold of it and have a listen. An excellent program and will infuriated you even further about this administration's ministrations regarding prisoners and its utter disregard for the standards of international law and the historical force of habeas corpus.

Highly recommended: Habeas Schmabeas:
The right of habeas corpus has been a part of this country's legal tradition longer than we've actually been a country. It means the government has to explain why it's holding a person in custody. But now, the war on terror has nixed many of the rules we used to think of as fundamental. At Guantanamo Bay, our government initially claimed that the prisoners should not be covered by habeas – or even by the Geneva Conventions – because they're the most fearsome terrorist enemies we have. But is that true? Is it a camp full of terrorists, or a camp full of our mistakes? Reporter Jack Hitt unveils everything we know about who these prisoners are. In interviews with two former detainees, he finds out the consequences of taking away habeas, for them and for us.
Please check it out.

It will be interesting to watch the reaction of Bush supporters to this program, if they can actually stoop to listen to NPR instead of warming themselves in a pool of Rush Limbaugh's sweaty excretions, that is. Also, expect another GOP assault on public broadcasting.

Friday, March 10, 2006

How High Can It Go?

When news of the worrying bird flu was panicking the media, a salient feature of the story was burbling up from the netherworld; unspeakable, ghoulish truths of various Bush administration officials' ties to corporate America were wriggling under the surface, as the avian influenza storm raged across the surface of an over-warmed media. The Bonehead Compendium related sometime ago:
Tamiflu was developed and produced by a company called Gilead Sciences, a company that once called Donald Rumsfeld its president and Rumsfeld still owns a large amount of that company's stock. With the government purchase of 20 million doses of the drug -- at a $100 a dose -- the stock and profit of Gilead will certainly climb significantly. Now that the panic has been established, a concerned public can see no argument in the US government spending $2 billion for a drug that appears to have "questionable" efficacy and may, in fact, cause some patients serious problems.
I followed up things a bit here as a property rights battle was flaring up between Roche and Gilead, sparked, no doubt, by the climbing stock price. Gilead prevailed in negotations and some agreement was reached back in October of 2005.

Despite recent reports of avian flu popping up all over the place, though still not having made the jump to humans, which is something that may take quite a long while to occur, if it ever does (remember, the newly-minted name Avian flu is just a relabelling of the tired, old chicken flu story from the late '90's), the media frenzy here in the States seems to have abated somewhat.

Well, not having heard much about this lately, I wondered how that "superstock" of Gilead's was fairing lately, just out of curiosity. A short google away and ... wow! 60 bucks a pop! It was hovering down in the mid-30s back before the media blizzard began.

Rummy is golden. Of course, my cynical mind imagines tactical teams of Rumsfeldian foot soldiers, deployed in various chicken-dense, yet rural and remote reaches of the globe, sticking the odd bird with a shot of the ol' H5N1, just to keep the dream alive.

I know. You're thinking, that's just crazy talk. And I know that. But let me ask you this: if I can think up a scheme like that, do you think Rumsfeld couldn't? That it might be a little too crazy for him?

Silvio, We Always Knew Thee

How can you not like this:
Italian prosecutors ask a judge to indict PM Silvio Berlusconi and a UK lawyer on corruption charges.
You've got hand it to those Italian prosecutors, they are ballsy. Berlusconi is the kind of guy who could have them offed fairly easily but he also has some significant resources behind him that could just make the whole thing go away.

Stay tuned....

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ain't It a Shame?

Look at that big grin.

Tell me, why is this man smiling? Because while Congress chose to slide the odious Patriot Act through with nary a wimper and backed down on stopping the NSA surveillance program, backed down on conducting any kind of meanginful oversight of the NSA spying program, or to even investigate what has actually gone on, even going so far as to twist things around and declare the program now legal, the brave men and women of Congress were steadfast in their refusal to allow DPW the ports deal.

Hence, a big ol' grin from Bush, as he signs away several liberties that this country had come to take for granted. Those in favour of the draconian measures contained within this bill likely have no idea what many, or any of them actually are. But that is of no concern to them. They like it because Bush wanted it. To such people, no reason is reason enough to resist it. It is what Bush wants, ergo it must be good for us; good for America.

He wanted his own national secret service police force. He got it. He wanted to able to arrest anyone who might choose to harass him at public events and lock them away for five years. He got it. He wanted the FBI to be able to conduct secret searches of houses, library records, medical records. He got it. He wanted to continue his NSA spy program. He got it.

Just what didn't Bush get? The DPW ports deal. Those toughs in Congress really know what counts and what doesn't. What a shame. Now the deal could very well go to Halliburton. And won't that be just too bad?

Why is Bush smiling? Because for a president with a 34% approval rating, he still gets whatever the hell he wants. If that big grin doesn't convince you that the Dubai ports deal was smoke and mirrors, tell me, just what would?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Media Fueled Insurgency

As Donald Rumsfeld continues to insist things are going swimmingly and, by god, if it weren't for the damnable media reporting the occassional bad happening and "exaggerating" it all the time, no one would be the slightest bit worried about Iraq. Well, those damnable media are at it again, stirring up shit that otherwise wouldn't even be there:
In one of the most audacious kidnappings since the American invasion, a group of about 50 people was abducted in a Baghdad raid on Wednesday by gunmen wearing the uniforms of a police paramilitary unit....
Can you believe the overt bias? Audacious. Why, how dare they use so laden a word?

Please, media, stop the senseless violence!

Arming the Good Side

After ABC's recent broadcast of Pentagon news that IEDs were coming in from Iran and arming the insurgency, tightie righties were propounding a call to arms and invasion. This, they declared, was an act of War. Time to invade, they admonished, apparently ignorant of an obvious inability by US forces to actually do any such thing.

I wonder how they must view this:
The United States faces the possibility that it has been arming one side in a prospective civil war.
A civil war in which more American troops, caught in the middle, will surely die. Could this be viewed as an act of war against our own troops? Now that Iraqi forces are dominated by sectarian interests, fueling one sect at the expense of the others has led to inflamed violence, with various untoward outcomes resultant from a misguided notion toward the "Salvadoran option."
Now, the police forces are overseen at the highest levels by religious Shiite parties with militias, and reports of uniformed death squads have risen sharply in the past year.
Ahh, death squads. They were a favourite in the Reagan glory days. So much so, the Pentagon considered them a solution yet again to the growing resistance in Iraq:
one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers....
So aware of the intensifying problems introduced by their own "plan," now the US military is trying to undo what they had so inadvisably considered -- and apparently started -- those many months ago:
The American military is trying an array of possible solutions, including quotas to increase the number of Sunni Arab recruits in police academies, firing Shiite police commanders who appear to tolerate militias, and sending 200 training teams composed of military police officers or former civilian police officers to Iraqi stations, even in remote and risky locations.
Originally, the Iraqi death squads were expected to be Peshmerga or Shiites armed to take down what was then strongly believed to be a Sunni insurgency. Now, the military finds itself in the position of trying to undo what it initialised a year ago. Unfortunately, Iraq does not come equiped with a rewind button.

As with all ill-conceived solutions based upon escalating violence in order to quell violence, the unintended consequences have spun out of control and with those, the country itself. Of course, at the time, administration leaders truly believed, just as they had in El Salvador, that they were arming the "good guys." Surely, the rest would take care of itself. Indeed, it has.

Lights, Camera, Sleeves!

After Michael Brown appeared to be actually somewhat competent and concerned in the pre-Katrina video conference, many were backpedalling a bit on the harsher judgments that had been cast his way. Of course, it was those damned emails that had been flying around the web that painted him as some cavalier goofball. And one of those emails in particular educed winces from all who read it. You know, the one about rolling up his sleeves in order to "look more hard working," just like the president did.

Well, Michael is gone. But down in Louisana, our Sleeve-Roller-Upper in Chief bravely rolls on...

The Law is an Ass

Now that the renewal of the Patriot Act has slipped the surly bonds of Congress and the doggerel wends its mirthless way to the White House, conflicted real world implications of the ill-considered law are leaving thousands of refugees stranded and in legal limbo -- a direct result of thoughtless provisions within this ghastly bill.

NY Times is reporting how some 9500 Burmese refugees' relocation to the US is being held up because stipulations within the Patriot Act disallow dissidents or even those who may have supported such activity in other, usually repressive, countries should not be allowed entrance into the US. And, in incredibly conflicted turn, while the US continues to ostracize and sanction the Castro government, Cuban refugees who supported armed resistance to the Castro regime are now regarded as terrorists by the Patriot Act:
The Burmese are the largest of several groups, including refugees from Cuba, Vietnam, Liberia and Somalia, whose admission to the United States has been jeopardized by a provision in the USA Patriot Act that denies entry to anyone who has provided material support to a terrorist or armed rebel group. The provision applies even if that support was coerced or the aims of the group in question match those of American foreign policy.
In the world envisioned by the Patriot Act, unencumbered as it is by thought or experience, support of terrorists is rather broadly defined. Take, for example, the tale of one Colombian woman whose husband was killed by rebels, was then raped by said same and, in a final act of abuse, had her livestock stolen:
Those affected by the law include a Colombian woman forced by rebels to hand over livestock. The rebels killed her husband and raped her before she escaped the country. Because her forced support for the rebels would bar her from admission to the United States.
Fortuntately for her, the UN resettled the woman elsewhere. But in America, the woman was barred entry because, under provisions of the Patriot Act, her "behaviour" was technically considered "support" for a terrorist organisation.

It gets worse.

Afghani refugees who supported the Northern Alliance and were allied with US forces in routing the Taliban are also being denied asylum because resistance to government, even one with which the US is in armed conflict, is also viewed dimly by the blind eyes of the Patriot Act.

This begs the somewhat facetious question, if the Patriot Act had existed in the eighties, when the CIA was helping fund and arm the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, would CIA agents have been barred re-entry to the United States?

Mr. Bumble once said that, "if the law supposes that, the law is an ass." This is certainly not more appropriate than when the law under consideration is the loathesome Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act is surely an ass. It is, of course, a representative product of the administration that wrote it and the Congress that voted it into law.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Perhaps politics was the only way Tom DeLay avoided becoming a crackhead. Though, considering the damage DeLay has done, not only to the political environment of the country, but the legislative one as well, as a crackhead, DeLay would probably have inflicted far less damage to the country than he has as a lobbymoneyhead.

Of course, it can easily be argued that there really is no difference between the political and legislative realms anymore and that this condition is due, in large part, to the corrosive existence of the now indicted Mr. DeLay. DeLay and his equally notorious lobby partner, the also the admittedly guilty Jack Abramoff, have together been like caustic lime to the pipes of American government for the last ten years.

And so it is not without chagrin that we see DeLay demonstrating his fealty, once again, to what he considers his true source of political power: his lobbyist friends. On the evening of his Texas primary, rather than spend that time in his constituency, DeLay will instead remain in Washington, hobb-knobbing with his lobby chums:
Rep. Tom DeLay, whose association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff has left him politically vulnerable, is spending Texas' primary night Tuesday at a fundraiser hosted by two Washington lobbyists.
His lobbyist friends offering an excuse for this as only well-connected 'tonians can:
[lobbyist Bill] Paxon said if DeLay were to go to Texas for the primary, he would be criticized for leaving Washington while Congress was in session.
Ahh, Bill, that does sound good.

But, really, do you know when DeLay was criticised for leaving Washington while Congress was in session? When he was freaking indicted for corporate money laundering and was flown to Texas for his arraignment by the good graces of RJ Reynolds, who provided DeLay with their private jet just for the special occasion. You know, the indictment of a Congressional House Majority leader doesn't happen every day.

So, rather than spend the primary with volunteers, campaign workers and, god forbid, voters, DeLay is choosing to hang out with his made guys. And maybe they'll smoke a little lobby while their at it.

The Pentagon Broadcasting Corporation

Remember when it was reported that the Pentagon was seeking to engage bloggers to give voice to Pentagon "news"? This was an outreach effort designed to "correct" information that was circulating the web:
U.S. Central Command officials here took notice and created a team to engage these writers and their electronic information forums.

...the team contacts bloggers to inform the writers about any given topic that may have been posted on their site. This outreach effort enables the team to offer complete information to bloggers by inviting them to visit CENTCOM's Web site for news releases, data or imagery.

The team engages bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information. They extend a friendly invitation to all bloggers to visit the command's Web site.

It has, for sometime, appeared that much of the mainstream media had already been similarly engaged and the latest report by ABC News on IEDs coming out of Iran seems to follow from this effort.

A bit of a ruckus is being stirred up by ABC news and it's latest Pentagon feed regarding IEDs being shipped into Iraq from Iran. Cernig is on the case. ABC, which is adding a new dimension to their name American Broadcasting Corporation, is claiming their latest report is "exclusive."

Hardly. Reuters actually had mentioned this a month ago:
US intelligence officials say the most potent of these new weapons have been designed in Iran and shipped to Iraq.

The report came as a senior Iraqi security officer said the Iraqi Government had been receiving information that insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may have moved to neighbouring Iran after being pursued by US and Iraqi forces in western Iraq.
The implication here is clear: terrorists like Zarqawi fled to Iran and began producing these weapons, something that is not at all surprising. But ABC's Brian Ross will tell you, via the Pentagon, that it is now the Iranian government that is responsible, which is, I'm guessing what the "new" aspect of the story really is. In the span of a month, the production of the deadly IEDs is now in the hands of the Iranian government:
U.S. intelligence officials say Iran is using the bombs as a way to drive up U.S. casualties in Iraq but without provoking a direct confrontation.
Perhaps more remarkable than the so-called evidence presented here is the overwhelming lack of it. The claims are that simliar production markers necessarily imply direct Iranian government manufacture. ABC seems to want news consumers to believe that this is all new but the story is hardly new or exclusive. We have had reports of the increasing deadliness of IEDs for months now. Global Security in October:
In recent months, insurgents have increasingly been using shaped charges, which penetrate armor by focusing explosive power in a single direction and firing a metal projectile into the target at high speed.

Shaped charges are "effective against all types of armored vehicles. Nearly all of the IEDs we'll see from now on will be of this pattern."
However, the fact that shaped charges are hardly new is not the big story. The big story is that we have heard this all before. Except, that it first came from the Brits and the Pentagon now appears to be recycling a previous allegation that had originally been made by Tony Blair after an IED attack had killed eight British soldiers in October of 2005. Blair instantly laid the blame on the Iranian government:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has issued a warning to Iran, saying "information" linked it to recent bomb attacks on British troops in Iraq.
Even the Iraqis doubted this was the case. Of course, no one knew what this "information" was, exactly, nor would the British government say. But Blair pushed the accusation further, claiming that the "new" IED design had to be Iranian:
there have been new explosive devices used - not just against British troops but elsewhere in Iraq.

The particular nature of those devices lead us either to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah...
Well, before too long it was revealed that, in fact, the IED design had come from ... the British government. Talk about shooting oneself in the foot, a metaphor that seems applicable on several levels.

Indeed, the IED designs that were then appearing in Iraq had first been handed over to the IRA by British intelligence:

The soldiers, who were targeted by insurgents as they travelled through the country, died after being attacked with bombs triggered by infra-red beams.

The bombs were developed by the IRA using technology passed on by the security services in a botched "sting" operation more than a decade ago.
It was known that the IRA had distributed the bomb technology to a number of terrorist groups. In other words, British bomb technology was now likely in the hands of many or most terrorist organisations. Oops. The Brits were hardly in a position to be accusing any other government of handing out explosives technology to terrorists.

When that little blurb came out, the Brits suddenly dropped the accusations and the story disappeared. Until now, that is. Until the White House and the Pentagon developed a need to drum up more Iranian paranoia. And ABC "News" was more than happy to comply, with little in the way of verification. In fact, the article appears to be little more than a Pentagon press release. Of note is the inclusion of the opinion of Richard Clarke, a severe critic of the Bush adminstration, but who can hardly be considered "in the loop" these days. His presence in the story appears to be there for no reason other than to add an air of credibility to Pentagon claims. This is always a nifty media spin trick: reveal the opinion of a critic, whether he would or could know anything about the evidence or not.

Now, when stories like this come out, it is always amusing to observe how uncritically the right wingers jump on it. Of course, these are the same people who are constantly yowling about the "liberal media," yet will jump all over an article that appears to reaffirm their overwhelming need to blow up more Muslims. The usual and moribund palette of warmongers are up in arms (when aren't they?) and just as a sample we see that the ironically named Astute Blogger, who seems to be anything but, gobbles up the "news" and calls for, what else? more war:
The story has served its purpose, at least as far as these guys are concerned. Since other White House trope about Iran's nuclear program has been met with resistive evidence, this story has all the appearances of yet more Pentagon disinformation, spun out and dried on the rack of the US mainstream media.