Friday, June 30, 2006

Muster Gas

That didn't take long. It looks like the White House is already figuring out how to use the Supreme Court decision in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case to cast Democrats as terrorist-loving surrender monkeys:
White House counselor Dan Bartlett says the administration's task now is to determine how to design military tribunals that will pass constitutional muster. Bartlett says Bush could portray any lawmaker who objects to legislation as supporting the release of dangerous terrorists.
So, we have an admission of the ploy by Bartlett that anyone who opposes any new legislation that Bush asks for -- and he will ask for it -- is to be portrayed as supporting terrorists. Which means, of course, that Democrats and whatever few Republicans there are left with a congressional bone in their otherwise rubber-stamp bodies will grant Bush whatever he demands, just as predicted. And let us further ask: just what these days wouldn't pass "constitutional muster"? If Bush said he needed to eat babies in order fight terror, well, by god, that would good enough for this Congress. Have at 'em George! Salt?

Anyone who experienced a brief fit of the vapours over the Supreme Court ruling that Bush had to obey the law will be in for some disappointment when the law is changed to accomodate Bush. After years of false dichomoty nonsense, this tack was easily forseen. It was even encouraged by the Supreme Court itself
Nothing prevents the President from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary.

Tour de Dope

There is an interesting development in the run-up to this year's Tour de France. The two odds-on favourites, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, both have been suspended after being implicated in a Spanish doping scheme. This was probably the best year for both of these men to lay claim to the Tour title now that Armstrong is retired. But now that is gone and the field is wide open.

As a former bike racer, I know a fair amount of inside dirt about the prevalence of doping in the sport at the highest and not-so-high levels. In fact, I've seen guys jabbing needles in their ass just before the start of a race. Let's just say, it is one of those well-known dirty secrets within the sport but which the official organ of the profession, the UCI, and the media refuse to publicly recognise or acknowledge. The legend of Tom Simpson dying on the slopes of Mt. Ventoux in 1968, jacked up on dope, is looked upon as some lost, dark and sullied age. Hardly. The dope is just so much better today and the doctoring of the pros now has achieved levels of professionalism that continues to confound most dope testing. I am always amused when the top guys get nailed and everyone professes shock; oh no, they wail, those bad apples are giving the sport a bad name.

For example, Basso's team director, Bjarne Riis, '96 Tour winner and a man known as Mr. Sixty Percent within the pro ranks (referring to his hematocrit level, likely jacked up as it was by EPO), said this about the current situation,
It is difficult for us to believe what is happening. I never had any kind of indication [Basso was involved].
What Riis probably finds difficult to believe is the fact that Basso actually got caught. I expect the doctor will be looking for a new job.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

$500 Billion and Rising

John Murtha has a short blurb at Huff Post about the cost -- so far -- of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: half a trillion dollars by the end of FY 07. Now let's not forget that that is just direct appropriations for the war efforts. But former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz has put the overall costs at upwards of $1-2 trillion, which includes ancilliary expenses, like long term care for wounded vets, etc..

This was the war that would pay for itself, according to many White House officials who, interestingly enough, have since buggered off.

We got your fix, right here.

Expressing sympathy for Windows users often falls upon deaf ears. Mostly this is because many Windows users don't have much experience with anything other than Windows. The blue screen of death, rebooting every few hours and keeping constantly apprised of the latest security threats are just part of every day life for these afflicted souls. Microsoft is constantly battling security problems, largely of their own making, although it is the beleaguered user that pays the price, both in time and in the cost of constantly updated virus detection software.

But Microsoft's latest move is truly cheeky and, since I don't have to deal with it, rather amusing. Microsoft has recently announced that they are moving into the lucrative market of antivirus/anti-spyware, a field that has been mostly the creation of Microsoft's oft-maligned operating system. For $50/year, Windows users can subscribe to OneCare, a service that offers Microsoft's security protection against all the vulnerabilities that Microsoft's other product, Windows, provides to its users free of charge.

How's that for a deal: buy MS Windows and then buy MS security that didn't come with Windows in the first place. Sounds like a cash cow to me. If people start buying this service, Microsoft will certainly have no motivation to ever improve the security of their OS, not that they've ever appeared overly concerned with doing so anyway. In fact, if sales of OneCare are brisk enough, MS might just decide to make the situation within Windows even worse. But then, I'm always imputing nefarious motives to MS.

Will it occur to Windows users that the fix is in by not having the fix in?

Split Court Press

The Washington Post seems to overstate the strength of the Supreme Court decision in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case regarding the military trials at Guantanamo Bay in calling it a "stunning rebuke" (likewise the NY Times called it a "sweeping rebuke"). No doubt the language of the majority opinion was strong and this was a much-welcomed decision, after a string of generally conservative 5-4 rulings, that finally applied some brakes to the White House unitary executive steam-roller. But it should not be overlooked that, had Roberts not been recused from the case (he had already ruled in favour of the government in his lower court seat), the decision would have been once again 5-4. The division was along the expected lines. It also has become quite clear that Kennedy has now assumed the role of the swing vote on the bench.

Naturally, the crusty band of police state curmudgeons that comprises Scalia, Alito and Thomas argued that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in requiring the White House to obey the law -- any law -- in time of war and, further, that such required adherence would be "dangerous." In other words, the same old refrain that we've heard about law in general emanating from the White House lately.

This decision was expected by the White House, which has so far failed to fully populate the Court with the required number of acolytes ... yet. They knew they would likely face a 5-4 decision in the case and, after Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act in December, hoped that Hamdan's habeas corpus petition would be tossed, arguing for that. It wasn't. The White House has been systematically avoiding such cases in the High Court and is the likely reason why the Padilla case was abandoned in favour of a criminal trial on charges completely unrelated to those on which he was being held for years. But Breyer's decision practically encourages Bush to seek proper and unbridled authority from Congress.
Nothing prevents the President from returning to Congress to seek the authority he belives [sic] necessary.
Bush will do this and the wheedling Congress will grant all that is asked. And, as we well know, there are no limits to the authority Bush thinks he needs.

Don't expect this decision to change much of anything on the ground in Gitmo.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dear Salon

[Update below]

My subscription cancellation letter to Salon

To whom it concerns:

After being a Salon Premium subscriber for a number of years and having enjoyed numerous of your magazine's investigations in the past, I now find myself in the unenviable position of requesting cancellation of my Salon subscription. I find your magazine to be no longer terribly relevant in my daily reading. Consider, for example, today's top offering:

Four Square for Grown Ups: Childhood games like tag, dodgeball and rock paper scissors are being reclaimed by adults. Is there some deep societal reason why people are returning to kiddie fun?

Considering only a few of the many things going on in this country and the larger world, that such a story is the top story must be nearly embarrassing. With wars, rumours of wars, monumental government bungling and intrusion into the lives and activities of American citizens, unfettered waste of this country's resources, both financial and otherwise, and corruption abounding, I can little understand how Salon deems adult kiddie-fun the top feature of the day. Perhaps it is because an otherwise feckless US Congress is now considering condemning the New York Times for that paper's untoward behaviour? I'm only guessing, really, but I am no longer content to shovel money out for this nonsense.

But that is not the real reason why I am cancelling my subscription. The real reason for my decision is Salon's apparent editorial position regarding the ongoing debate surrounding the 2004 election and the magazine's incredible lack of interest in the many current fights now taking place across country as citizens voting rights groups resist the installation of insecure, hackable, uncertified private vendor voting machines. Just today, the California Election Protection Network has demanded that the results of the San Diego county election of June 6 be verified by hand recount after it was revealed that DRE voting machines were illegally used in that election. This is only one of many actions being taken by citizens voting groups around the country. Also, the Brennan Center Task Force has just released an exhaustive study of electronic voting machines, claiming that software attacks pose a "real danger" to these instruments. In other words, proprietary voting machines, as they are now, cannot be trusted. At some time in the not so distant past, I could imagine Salon at the forefront of coverage regarding these issues. No longer.

In 2001, Greg Palast's investigative report regarding the appalling behavior of Florida State's GOP and the program of targeted disenfranchisement that the party engaged during the run-up to the 2000 election was named "Story of the Year" by Salon. Today, artlessly expressed as it is by Farhad Manjoo, Salon's current position regarding the well documented abuse of the electoral system by Republicans again in 2004, is not only obtuse but practically a reversal of its own position in 2001. Considering the evidence as it has been documented by the Conyers report, along with the exhaustive reporting by Fitrakis and Wasserman, I can neither understand Salon's position now, nor find any reason to justify it. Manjoo's recent dismissal of Robert Kennedy's article in Rolling Stone was simply opinion backed only by meager and inaccurate nitpicking. He offered no convincing argument that the situation in Ohio did not warrant further investigation, which is really what Kennedy has called for.

So, please cancel my subscription to Salon. I find your magazine no longer relevant to the larger experiment of American democracy. If anything, you are now merely getting in the way.



Update: Thom Hartmann has also asked that his Salon subscription be cancelled, albeit in a distinctly more concise manner than my own rambling effort:
"Some readers take issue with his tone, but none have identified an error in his reporting."


I'm amazed you'd even put such a breathtakingly inaccurate statement into an on-the-record email. I'm assuming you're a sales flack who hasn't been reading the discussions, and am now even more certain that Salon is so lacking in credibility that it's a waste of my time to read it. Please process my cancellation.

Thom Hartmann

Penny less

The sky rocketing prices of many metals, thought to be driven largely by China's insatiable demand as it rapidly expands myriad infrastructures, has finally made the cost of producing pennies and nickels in the US more expensive than the face value of the coins themselves. I'm hoping this will make the US Treasury finally dump the near useless coins and Jim Kolbe (R-AR) has reintroduced a bill to eliminate the penny altogether. Explains Kolbe:
If my legislation doesn't become law this year, I guarantee something similar will become law when people start melting down their pennies and selling the metal back to the U.S. Mint.
Considering all the pnney-filled jars that must currently infest homes across the US, and now that the value of a penny's metal is about 1.23 cents, that could be sometime very soon. In fact, if the price of copper, zinc and nickel keeps going up, the ever-increasing yield on the metal value/face value exchange could make home-based copper smelting a rather lucrative pastime.

Putting the Pro in Pro-Life

It has been obvious for quite sometime that the term "pro-life" has a very restricted meaning within the circles of those who declare themselves as such. That is, pro-life is simply the euphemistic corollary of anti-abortion. It can mean nothing else, can have no larger general prescription, because it has been warmly adopted by some of the same people who also enthusiastically support the death penalty. Clearly, labelling oneself "pro-life" while embracing execution is, at the very least, morally conflicted. One of the advantages of being of a "pro-life" mindset, however, is that those who so adopt it are not wont to self-doubt or such fuzzy-headed notions as moral conflict. Theirs is an absolute belief, founded upon a deep and untroubled religiosity that scarcely permits such quibbling.

When Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court was being trumpeted by the Bush administration and pleasantly welcomed by a host of "family values" crusaders such Dobson, Gary Bauer and the Christian Coalition, the overarching policy concern was the then potential jurist's views of Roe v. Wade. It was all a distraction, of course, as many of Alito's recent rulings have amply demonstrated. Alito was chosen by, well, who knows who actually chose him, but he was given the nod more for his pro-business, pro-police state positions than for any concerns of the abortion lobby. It was mere happy convenience that Alito also appeared to be "pro-life" and his advocacy for over-turning Roe v. Wade incrementally was certainly seen by the Christian Right as reason enough to endorse Alito's nomination.

Actually, though, it is not a happy convenience that contemporary Republicans are pro-big business, pro-police state (at least when they are the police) and "pro-life." It is, in fact, entirely their strategy to be this way. Rarely today can one find a Republican who does not feel that the state has business in meddling with people private lives. God forbid, though, that the state should meddle in the affairs of big business, no matter how egregious their behaviour within the public realm. Republicans only see as necessary a response to corporate scandals because it is demanded politically. They would much rather prefer the "market" mete out justice and, as many had claimed at the time, actually viewed the Enron melt-down as a grand example of the glorious market righting itself. Nonetheless, prying into citizens' private lives is concurrently seen by conservatives as a absolute requirement within the realm of their Christian nation.

Which brings us back to Supreme Court Justice Alito and the "pro-life" veneer. Alito cast the decisive vote of yet another 5-4 decision in affirming a bizarre Kansas law that requires juries to weigh evidence in death penalty cases and favour the death penalty despite the existence of possible circumstantial mitigation. Justice Souter called the Kansas law "morally absurd" and further derided the majority decision:
The court's holding that the Constitution tolerates this moral irrationality defies decades of precedent aimed at eliminating freakish capital sentencing in the United States.
It is certainly not surprising that Alito would rule this way; his previous record as a jurist contained enough evidence that he would rule completely in compliance with the anti-abortion, pro-death penalty strictures of the contemporary social conservative agenda, which often not only embraces "freakish capital sentencing," but roundly applauds it. This would be the same conservative agenda that also celebrates itself as "pro-life."

But let's not mistake such decisions as the raison d'etre of Alito et al. being on the Supreme Court. Decisions such as this are merely grist for the rabid crowd of yowlers who demand fealty to the cause of moral values. For it is really the professional class that the group of conservatives on the bench are there to serve. It is in this vein that the majority of their decisions is expected to prevail, while occassionally tossing out the odd crumb of moral righteousness just to keep the dogs at bay. It is a professional operation of the highest order.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Good News for Modern Man*

And I'm not kidding. This is good news for modern man and woman. Fox News ratings are on the slide:
So far during the second quarter, the No. 1 cable news channel’s primetime schedule has dropped 22% in its core 25-54 demo and 8% in total viewers. The first quarter was even worse.
Roger Ailes is apparently incensed by the lackadaisical performance and is demanding "launch-type intensity" of everyone. I'm not sure just what that might mean other than perhaps expecting a notable increase in the number of Fox Newsers getting launched out the door.

As yet there has been no word on when the network will start labelling former viewers of Fox News, America-haters, but this campaign is expected to begin at anytime. With launch-type intensity!

*Don't take the title the wrong way and get all upset by the genderism. If you are unfamiliar with the play on words, just google it


I can't say much about this sickening development, but the Israelis have mobilized and begun a full scale assault on Gaza:
Israeli troops crossed the border into southern Gaza early Wednesday in a campaign meant to secure the return of a soldier...

Jets hit a power plant in Gaza City and knocked out a bridge connecting the northern and southern parts of town in predawn airstrikes.
Prime Minister Olmert said that, while he did not want to hurt innocents, he'll do it anyway:
There is no doubt we will have to carry out an operation which could cost many lives....
Palestinians maintain that the orders came out of Syria, which Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres appears to understand this and that the kidnapped soldier is still alive:
A small group of terrible people sitting in Damascus [was mobilizing] the whole world against the Palestinians," who he said were the real victims of the kidnapping.

Poll Cat

[Update below]

I confess bafflement upon seeing this headline at USA Today:
Poll results show support for Iraq pullout, flag-burning amendment.
Because while the poll clearly shows that a large majority of Americans believe neither Congress nor Bush has a plan for getting out of Iraq, and that a majority favour withdrawing from Iraq within a year, a majority surveyed actually oppose the flag-burning amendment, 54-45%. I guess in the minds of USA Today headline writers, any non-zero value in the "support" column deserves a blaring announcment. Considering that there is some small, non-zero population of people in this country who are KKKers and think lynching blacks is probably fine justice, I wonder if USA Today would trumpet that in a headline like
Poll results show support for white hoods, burning crosses and lynching.
You may think that is extreme, which is the point, but you cannot disagree that if there is even 1% support, the headline would be accurate. Again, I really have no idea what USA Today is trying to do here unless they favour the pointlessly idiotic flag-burning amendment.

Digging a bit deeper into this poll, one comes across a rather odd manner of creature within the American political landscape. Pollsters asked this question of people who oppose the amendment:
If this amendment is passed, would you be very upset, somewhat upset, not too upset, or not at all upset?
Oddly enough, there is sizeable population of confused individuals who, while opposing the passage of the amendment would also be upset if the amendment failed to pass:
Oppose,                     Oppose,
upset if not passed upset if passed
21 20
Does this make any sense? 21% of those opposing the flag-burning amendment would be upset if the amendment was defeated. Do the pollsters ever stop to wonder about something like this? I can't even get my head around asking such a question. Perhaps this says something about an apparent confusion in the questioning because it sure as hell makes no sense at all.

It seems about time that other sorts of questions ought to asked by pollsters. Perhaps something along the lines of,
With the recent, worthless and completely artifical political manueuver seen in the flag burning amendment, do you think Congress is populated by a bunch of insane jackasses?
Now there's a question whose answer I would enjoy seeing.

Update: The ridiculous charade embraced by far too many in Congress, otherwise known as the flag-burning amendment, failed on the Senate floor by a single vote. Perhaps now Congress can return to "the people's work" and stop humping the backsides of the GOP base. What an embarrassment that this was even raised.

Rush more

The ever-portly and famously pill-popping gas-bag, Rush Limbaugh, made the news again, and again it featured a potential run-in with the law over his prescription habit. This time, however, it was for possession of Viagra that was labelled with someone else's name: his doctor's. Limbaugh's lawyer claims that this was done for "privacy purposes." Evidently, Limbaugh was a tad too embarrassed to be seen with a his own name on a bottle of Viagra, which happily accompanied him on a vacation to the Dominican Republic. Limbaugh, private plane, Dominican Republic, Viagra. I haven't seen an equation that easy to balance since grade 3.

Frankly, most people couldn't care less how Rush gets his rocks off. I'm just happy to see law enforcement agencies keeping an eye on him and hassling him at every opportunity. Such lawful attentions couldn't be delivered upon a more deserving fellow, and, unlike Limbaugh, I expect the federalis don't need Viagra to keep up the good work.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Dumb and Dumber

Desperate politicians will often do or say incredibly stupid things. At the time they commit such acts, they usually think they are doing very smart things. And so it must have been in the minds of Rick Santorum (R-Pa) and Peter Hoekstra (R-Mi) when they chose, apropos of nothing other than their own political livelihoods, to utter those now infamous words,
We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons.
They might have easily added the qualifying phrase, "and they are us." Because what Hoekstra and Santorum actually "found" were documents that described chemical weapons that had, in fact, been found and recorded by US forces in 2003. The chemical weapons were then assertained to be left-overs and of a pre-1991 vintage. The DoD immediately disavowed the claims by Santorum and Hoekstra, who, at that point, appeared desperate to flail anything that might save themselves and the flagging perceptions of the Iraq debacle now assumed by most of the American public. They should have reconsidered this grandstanding about nothing. Because further exposure of the provenance of these weapons would prove to be unsettling for the Bush administration.

And so it is. U.S. Army counterintelligence special agent Dave DeBatto has recently published his account of finding some of these chemical weapons, weapons immediately identified then as dating from the late 1980's, specifically 1987-1988. How was this so quickly learned. As the joke goes, they had the receipts:
I walked over to one of the crates and saw a plastic sheath containing what appeared to be a bill of laden. I cut it open with my Leatherman and pulled the documents out.


I opened the folded off-white paper form and noticed several interesting things right away. The bombs had been purchased in the United States in 1988 from what appeared to be a government contractor called The Carlyle Group.
At this point I can expect most readers are familiar with the Carlyle Group; who the prominent members are and have been. And while I don't find the revelation all that surprising (more surprising is that they would actually have their name on a shipping bill for chemical weapons going to Iraq!), it is obvious that the White House would not want much fuss made over the discovery of these weapons, seeing as how Daddy Bush is on the board of the Carlyle Group these days.

In fact, the Carlyle Group is one of those apolitical organisations whose raisons d'etre are money, power and influence. People from across the spectrum have worked or now work for the consortium: Colin Powell, George Soros, James Baker, Caspar Weinberger, and few European magnates including, but not limited to, Karl Otto Poehl, former Bundesbank president and Henri Martre, former president of Aerospatiale. The French presence here is interesting considering that DeBatto also found evidence that those Iraqi chemical weapons routed their way through France at some point. Ahh, mon dieux, c'est la vie....

Santorum and Hoekstra are clearly a couple of dundering idiots and now, after having reintroduced to the American public the US governments' own sale of WMD to Saddam Hussein, we know just how much that is true. Unfortunately for tweedle-dum (R-PA) and tweedle-dee (R-MI), so does the Carlyle Group.

[Debatto story via Covert History]

Pressuring the Press

Sean-Paul Kelly at the Agonist makes an interesting point about the "scandalous" leak of the bank records story: the criticisms, you'll note, are about the publication of the story, even though the story is not that significant nor does it jeopardize national security. Terrorists are well aware of SWIFT and this is something that NY Times editor Bill Kellor notes, as well. The story hardly revealed a big secret but this still gives Cheney a vehicle by which to critcise the press for their "treasonous" behaviour. In other words, it is an exercise, which the White House been constantly pursuing since the early days, in suppression of the press, hoping that more self-cernsorship will result. This familiar refrain has been echoed by both Bush and Cheney over this story. Shut the hell up!

The news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people.
-- Cheney,
June 23, 2006

the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America.
-- Bush,
June 26, 2006

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Pot shot

It was inevitable that the New York Times would run a feature on Robert Kennedy Jr. shorty after Kennedy created a stir with his Rolling Stone article about the 2004 election. Kennedy's article was, by and large, ignored by the mainstream press, included the New York Times itself, though it generated the usual partisan online heat. And while the Times chose to ignore both Kennedy's evidence and the issue of election fraud itself, the peculiar attraction the Grey Lady has for the Kennedy clan would demand some look at the man who chose to attack an issue on which he is admittedly not expert.

It was also inevitable that, while presenting a small and not entirely unflattering biography of Kennedy, the New York Times would veer into a veiled criticism of RFK Jr. for what must obviously be delusional fantasy: the Ohio election stolen by the Republicans. In fact, an air of smug conceit permeates the Times article regarding Kennedy's plunge into the 2004 election data and testimony of Ohio state voters. The Times appears at once blithely unconcerned about how the "paper of record" itself failed to record any of the vast array of reported problems seen in Ohio in that presidential election and further eludes any admission of such poor form while simultaneously admonishing Kennedy as delusional for thinking that anything untoward took place during the 2004 election. Of course, the Times itself does not do this -- they're far too proper -- so they leave the accustational deed up to Farhad Manjoo's whitewash job from Salon. What the Times scrupulously ignores with this small effort is any mention of the harsh and severe criticisms levied against Manjoo for his apparent cluelessness regarding the facts on the Ohio ground. The Times never mentions the fact that Kennedy spent several weeks in Ohio interviewing various local election official and numerous voters throughout the state. Manjoo? Well, he did exactly ... nothing.

It is a remarkable effort on the part of the New York Times, at once indulging their love for the Kennedy clan while also inveighing against Kennedy's less than propitious accusations regarding America's electoral system and the Republican party's large efforts of voter disenfranchisement. With the effort, the Times continues the party line that everything is as it should be and that Robert Kennedy Jr. should stick to environmental law because when he ventures outside his realm of expertise, he appears to become delusional.

While fully able to admit that the Bush administration might have pushed the country into an illegal war, with globe-trotting rendition programs and innocent civilians snatched off streets, with a network of secret prisons around the globe, with vast programs of spying and surveilling American communications and international banking transactions, the New York Times, and much of the rest of the mainstream media, is still convinced -- at least publicly -- that the Bush administration couldn't possibly rig an election.

Ethanolic Delirium

First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy is always conserved, it cannot be created or destroyed.

A couple of interesting stories about the ethanol industry in the mid-west led me to a rather bizarre statement issued by the Department of Agriculture regarding the energy "benefits" of ethanol. What apparently issued forth from the DoA was a statement so profoundly impossible, it was hard to believe and, I fear, may be further indicative of the listless state of the federal bureaucracy, removed as it now appears to be from any consideration of even the simplist of scientific understanding.

According the DoA, "analysts" there have concluded that ethanol use will exhibit a positive energy equation, claiming that energy output of ethanol will be 67% greater than the energy inputs. Yes, according the the Department of Agriculture, we have tapped into an amazing new energy source in the universe and it manifests itself to us in the form of corn-based ethanol, which appears to the DoA as a secret font of energy riches. I'm guessing the First Law of Thermodynamics will have to be reconsidered now that the geniuses at Archer Daniels Midland have stumbled upon the next big thing.

Actually, I am being a bit facetious in those remarks. Use of organic material as an energy source is dependent upon our exploiting the plant's ability to photosynthesize sunlight, nutrients and water. Our use of organic matter can be energy positive from our perspective if for one reason: we don't work too much in order to use it. In fact, this is only one way for an agricultural product to exhibit energy positive content. But we don't do that. Indeed, one of the reasons that modern agri-business realises such enormous crop yields is because of the huge amounts of energy that are dumped into production, from petroleum fertilizers, to modern tractors, to freighting and shipping. Unless agri-business is ready to move into an organic production mode, using nothing but sun, poop and water and horse to haul it to market, energy positive crop yields are, at best, a fanciful notion.

The only reason our prevailing energy source, petroleum, is energy positive (and hugely so) is because we didn't make it, the pressures and temperatures of the earth did. But that is not true for agri-business corn. Plants as a source of energy can be energy positive as long as human activity in growing the plant, whatever it is, is kept to a minimum and the plant itself is allowed to do the work of energy conversion. However, this is hardly true of modern agri-business farming, which dumps vast amounts of energy into production, ultimately rendering the final energy equation negative. The DoA even laughingly claimed that "efficiency improvements in the fertilizer and ethonol industries" would yield even greater energy benefits, as though dumping energy-expensive, petroleum-based fertilizers onto crops was somehow going to create more energy. What the DoA seems to want to ignore is that our efficiencies in using any source of energy are extremely poor (automobiles engines, for example, are on the order of 10% efficient in burning fuel).

Dr. Pimentel has rightly called the entire ethanol effort a boondoggle, which it is. Under the current paradigm of big business farming in the United States, it cannot possibly be the source "free" energy ethanol proponents would like everyone to believe.

Lather, rinse, repeat

Now that yet another secret Bush administration surveillance program, this one scouring transactional banking databases, has been revealed, it was easily expected that various White House officials would, once again, denounce such exposure and claim that it would hurt efforts against terrorism. While usually preferring that underlings assail the press with reprimands, this time Dick Cheney stood forth, apparently fed up with the leaking and publishing of so much of his dirty war, to admonish the media, which, once again, was the New York Times.

Having read his complaint, I was rather stuck by how much it sounded like every other complaint about previously revealed "secret" -- now not so -- programs instantiated by the White House shortly after 9/11. I dug up a few choice tidbits for what might be called an ad nauseum review of the yowling. Familiar themes pervade administration ire: the adminstration is protecting Americans -- how dare anyone question them -- secret programs are necessarily good and legal, exposure of them is necessarily bad and possibly illegal, and those who expose them, if not outright traitors, have at least jeopardised national security.

1) Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention and legal counsel:

Disruption of the interrogation environment, such as through access to a detainee by counsel, undermines this interrogation dynamic. Should this occur, a critical resource may be lost, resulting in a direct threat to national security.

2) Secret CIA prisons

Brushing aside international criticism of the CIA-run prisons set up in eight countries, Bush said that the nation is at war with an enemy "that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet, we'll aggressively pursue them..."
-- Washington Post,
Bush Defends CIA's Clandestine Prisons

November 8, 2005

Republican leaders yesterday demanded an immediate joint House and Senate investigation into the disclosure of classified information to The Washington Post that detailed a web of secret prisons being used to house and interrogate terrorism suspects.

"If accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks,

3) NSA warrantless wiretappping

The President confirmed the existence of a highly classified [NSA warrantless wiretapping] program on Saturday. The program remains highly classified; there are many operational aspects of the program that have still not been disclosed and we want to protect that because those aspects of the program are very, very important to protect the national security of this country.
-- Alberto Gonzales,
December 19, 2005

The safety and security of the American people depend on our ability to find out who the terrorists are talking to, and what they're planning. The American people expect me to protect their lives and their civil liberties, and that's exactly what we're doing with this program.
-- George Bush,
Jan. 25 2006

4) NSA phone records collection

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday that the government can obtain domestic telephone records without court approval under a 1979 Supreme Court ruling that authorized the collection of business records.

"[T]hose kinds of records do not enjoy Fourth Amendment protection. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in those kinds of records."

"Let me try to reassure journalists that my primary focus, quite frankly, is on the leak -- on leakers who share the information with journalists," Gonzales said yesterday. He added that he would prefer to "try to persuade" journalists "that it would be better not to publish those kind of stories."
-- Washington Post,
Gonzales Defends Phone-Data Collection
May 24, 2006.

5) And the banking transaction surveillance

The news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people,

the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America.
-- George Bush,
Bush Condemns Bank Record Search Leak,
June 26, 2006

While the most common refrain bespeaks dire threat and a cowed populace shivering in fear, wanting protection at any cost, there is one standout phrasing in this group, given legalistic voice by one of the masterminds behind the legal justifications for torture, Alberto Gonzales.

While employing the mantra of "national security" when needs be, Gonzales is probably uncomfortable asserting such grandiose aims unless forced. His pronouncement about the NSA's collection of phone records is more in keeping with his mindset, wherein he claims the administration's legal authority for the data collection, not out of some need to protect Americans but simply because they can. His claim that there can be no "reasonable expectation of privacy" seems to fly in the face of all the lawsuits currently being levied against telecommunications companies but no matter. Gonzales' legal opinion that the White House can collect such data appears, as it usually does, to be entirely at odds with an empathy for American civil liberties. With that little legalistic hiccup -- far removed from the usual script -- Gonzales revealed the true stance of the White House as regards their covert curricula: whatever they do, they do because they can. And so far, no one has proved them wrong.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Enemy of the State

I was wondering when mainstream media flaks would start their attacks on those who call them on their pathetic performances. Well, the effort has begun in earnest. While the mainstream media have somewhat engaged themselves on occasion in denigrating the blogosphere for its dogged criticisms of media darlings, there was another critic with whom news outlets had failed to come to terms.

WaPo's Richard Morin informs us today that someone -- something -- is "poisoning democracy." It is not, however, House Republicans who have blocked renewal of the Voting Rights Act; it is not secret voting data and unverifiable elections brought to you by Diebold; it is not Republicans and their efforts over the last several years to selectively disenfranchise oppositional voters. No, it is Jon Stewart, and Jon Stewart alone, who is the one poisoning American democracy.

As evidence, Richard Morin points to a study that indicates viewers of The Daily Show become disenchanted with the very things TDS ridicules, which include the media:
participants rated both candidates more negatively after watching Stewart's program. Participants also expressed less trust in the electoral system and more cynical views of the news media....
These are, of course, things of which Americans should be distrustful. Has there been evidence lately that the electoral system and the media deserve something other than cynicism? And how can any of us disagree with Stewart's assessment that the House of Representatives is "filled with insane jacksasses"? There is nothing trustworthy about the current state of the electoral system and the media are well known to have failed the American public in the last few years. However, the study and Morin jump to a completely unsupported conclusion that such mistrust could lead to voter apathy. There is nothing there to suggest anything such thing. Let's not forget that the United States has had a long, long stretch of voter apathy and this had been occurring in a period well before The Daily Show arrived on the scene. In fact, given that the 2004 election saw the largest turnout in history -- and the largest young voter turnout, despite efforts of the GOP to block them -- when The Daily Show was riding high on the vicious partisan campaigning then, the study's halting conclusion simply has no basis in fact and even appears contrary to recent experience.

But all such consideration is beyond the purview of media flaks and Morin further indicates to readers that the media rightly deserve the pummeling that Jon Stewart and everyone else has been giving them in the last few years. There are many threats to American democracy right now, but Jon Stewart is hardly one of them.

Warrant this

With news of the latest secret data collection program, whereby the US government has been warrantlessly plowing through bank reocrds, it's a rather telling sign of current times that, after the arrest of seven terrorist suspects in Miami who were allegedly plotting an attack on the Sears Tower, FBI Director Robert Mueller felt compelled to let us all know that
whenever we undertake an operation like this, we would not do it without the approval of a judge. We've got search warrants and arrest warrants and the like.
The qualifying phrase, "an operation like this" is a marvelous locution. Because we know of so many other operations that are being conducted without the approval of judge, I'm guessing this is meant to assuage concerns that the administration is not operating completely outside the law; that there are still a few things for which the FBI will actually seek warrants. That's nice.

The Republican Business Model

What is there to say about this other than what the story itself says?
A new report claims that a "shadow government" of federal contractors has exploded in size over the last five years.

[P]rocurement spending increased by over $175 billion between 2000 and 2005, making federal contracts the fastest growing component of federal discretionary spending.

That spending increase -- an astonishing 86 percent -- puts total US federal procurement at $377.5 billion annually. The increase means spending on federal contracts has grown more than two times as fast as other forms of discretionary government spending.

The report identifies 118 federal contracts worth $745.5 billion that have been found by government officials to include significant waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.

Spending is categorized in the report as highly concentrated on a few large contractors, with the five largest contractors receiving over 20 percent of contract dollars awarded in 2005. Last year, the largest federal contractor, Lockheed Martin, received contracts worth more than the total combined budgets of the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Congress.

But the fastest growing contractor under the Bush Administration has been Halliburton. Federal spending on Halliburton contracts shot up an astonishing 600% between 2000 and 2005.
Well, you can't argue with Bush. He has been good for business.

By the Busload

This is getting insane:
More than 100 Iraqis employed by the ministry of industry north of Baghdad were kidnapped by gunmen as they left work.

The workers at the Hateen and Nasr factories in the restive town of Taji were ambushed by at least 50 gunmen who had arrived in five minibuses, the source said.

They were loaded onto the same buses that were waiting to take them back to their homes, he said.

Hateen and Nasr were part of the military-industrial complex under the rule of ousted leader Saddam Hussein before their conversion into civilian manufacturing facilities belonging to the ministry of industry.
The Iraqi government is now being kidnapped. But, please, let's just stay the course because it is clearly working out very well.

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Poor Joe Leiberman. It looks like he just got the kiss of death. Ann Coulter has just sort-of endorsed him:
She argued that the only type of politician she “admires” is someone like Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT)....
That ought to appeal to the Democrat's base. I think Ned Lamont has got an highly exploitable slogan right here:
Hey, Connecticut voters! Ann Coulter likes Leiberman!
In fact, Lamont wouldn't have to say another damn thing.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Global Warming Revisited

[Update below]

Despite near continuous media attempts to muddle the story and portray the global warming phenomenon as "controversial," within the scientific community, it is a well-observed physical condition that is anything but. Of course, the media are filled with all kinds of people, from dreary know-nothings to high-paid conservative and industry shills. The science community does not generally comprise such a dismal spectrum of creature and for that it usually finds itself under attack by those same said media whores. The current state of the media is something that has caused the science community no end of distress lately and, frankly, it is not likely to end anytime soon. When media clowns like Ann Coulter spout profitable dumb-shows and noise about biology and evolution and do nothing but make money with such unadulterated bullshit, there can simply be no end in sight.

Of note, of course, is the redolent fact that the only science that usually comes under attack are those fields of research that cause either the Christian Right or the oil industry conniptions. By an odd and heretofore unknown selection effect, atmospheric science and evolutionary biology have become somehow infested with dogmatic thick-heads who have no idea how to actually do science. At least, that might be the impression one could get if one were to lend credence to the likes of oil industry harpies and creationists.

Nonetheless and despite middling efforts by the Bush administration, the National Academy of Sciences has just conducted a review of global climate research and has issued a report indicating that the Earth is now hotter than at any time in the last 400 years and possibly for as long as the last 2000 years. It further concludes that the data lead to the not unreasonable statement that
human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming.
After the debates about hurricanes that followed Katrina, another statement leapt off the page:
global warming produced about half of the extra hurricane-fueled warmth in the North Atlantic in 2005, and natural cycles were a minor factor....
This led me to recall one side of a "debate," if one could call the uninformed opinionating that was at the time emanating from the classic right, in the form of a one Charles Krauthammer column. Back then, the Hammer claimed with absolute certitude, as the uninformed often do, that the notable increase in strong hurricane frequency had nothing, nothing, to do with global warming.
This kind of stupidity merits no attention whatsoever, but I'll give it a paragraph. There is no relationship between global warming and the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes. Period.
This was a bold statement to be sure, considering that hurricanes are actually atmospheric heat engines. Just how Krauthammer arrived at such a certain conclusion was not said; no data were presented, no scientific opinion referenced. But such is usually the case when "pundits" like Krauthammer veer into unfamiliar territory, territory that should require most people to know at least one goddamn thing about the subject before expressing an opinion. At least, in most circles such might be the case. However, in the thoughtless yet lucrative realm of right wing opinionating, knowledge and understanding of a subject hardly appear to be prerequsites to spewing nonsensical bilge across the pages of a national newspaper.

A mere one week after Krauthammer revealed his astoundingly firm and observation-free conclusion, a study was published indicating that warming ocean temperatures and strong hurricane frequency appeared to be correlated.
HURRICANES of the intensity of Katrina have become almost twice as common over the past 35 years, according to research suggesting that global warming could be worsening severe storms.

The overall frequency of tropical storms worldwide has remained broadly static since 1970, but the number of extreme Category 4 and 5 events has risen sharply, satellite measurements have shown.
It is interesting to note the language the scientists further employed regarding this phenonmenon:
it was too early to be certain that climate change is fuelling stronger hurricanes, but such a link would be consistent with the best predictions of the likely effects of warmer seas.

What we found was rather astonishing. In the 1970s, there was an average of about 10 Category 4 and 5 hurricanes per year. Since 1990, the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled, averaging 18 per year.

Category 4 and 5 storms are also making up a larger share of the total number of hurricanes. Category 4 and 5 hurricanes made up about 20 per cent of all hurricanes in the 1970s, but over the past decade they have accounted for about 35 per cent of these storms.

Our work is consistent with the concept that there is a relationship between increasing sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity.
Though the data are rather suggestive of such a relationship, what is notable is the uncertainty expressed by the people who have the data and know what they're talking about.

It was said then and it should be stated again:
A pundit used to be thought of as "an expert in a particular subject or field who is frequently called on to give opinions about it to the public." This fanciful notion has long since faded and the positions of those who may once have been such creatures have been usurped by an entirely new species; creatures so utterly devoid of actual knowledge about the world that little of what they say can be believed. And one can usually see them in the native environment: current event talking head shows. Of course, knowledge is not the good in trade in such habitats. As Besteman & Gusterson state*,
Their skill often lies not in authoritative knowledge of their subject but in their ability to hide their lack of authoritative knowledge.
Hiding a lack of knowledge is crucial to survival in today's pundit climes. And the more loudly it is hidden, the better.
Perhaps the best perk of being a pundit -- how I hate using that word for these tools -- is that it appears one can issue forth almost any kind of wrong-headed statement, make irrational, nonsensical claims even and yet never suffer for it. There is zero accountability for these people and as frequently wrong as the likes of Krauthammer have been in the last few years, one has to wonder, just what would you have to say or write to get your worthless ass fired?
As a further note to this new report, I was fascinated to see the differences in the headlines at various outlets. First, we have a non-committal NY Times:
Science Panel Backs Study on Warming Climate
Ho-hum. Then there is this CNN header, imploring a certain distress:
Study: Earth 'likely' hottest in 2,000 years
Finally, we see the Washington Post, with almost frivolous disregard:
Research: Earth Running a Slight Fever
A fever. How quaint. Surely, with a wet towel, we can bring that down in no time.

I have to give the nod here to the NY Times' Andrew Rivkin. His story is easily the best of the bunch and delivers a nice overview of not only the new report but the studies that led to it and what the controversies have been. It is a good example of quality science reporting, something completely unfamiliar to the likes of Charles Krauthammer.

Update: Interestingly, WaPo has completely changed the headline of their story; all titular frivolity gone. In fact, it appears to be an entirely different story with a different author.

*Why America's Top Pundits Are Wrong, ed. Besteman, C., Gusterson, H., University of California Press, 2005, p. 3.

War Tapes

I just watched the trailer for the documentary The War Tapes; National Guardsmen with their own video cameras. It looks like a brutal must see.

A Dish Served Cold

Via Pharyngula and UTI comes news that the now-laudable Dover School Board has opened the jobs of Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent for the district school system. Richard Nilsen and Michael Baksa were instrumental in the implementation of the district's Intelligent Design program, which the Dover School district suffered until Judge Jones smacked them and board members senseless last fall. Jones' decision, while enjoyable, actually post-dated November elections, whereby ID advocates on the board were immediately dispatched by aggrevated voters. Now those new board members have chosen to further dispatch Nilsen and Baksa.

As evidence of his enforced yet happy cluelessness, Nilsen actually claimed to have "no idea" why his contract was not being renewed. It is strongly suspected that Mr. Nilsen has no idea about a lot of things, not the least of which would be deductive reasoning. Which is probably why science didn't much appeal to the man.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Discrimination in the Voting Rights Act

Bemusement might best describe a typical reaction to the sight of southern state Republicans delaying the renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because the law discriminates against them. Despite the renewal not coming due until 2007, GOP lawmakers naturally see this as an opportunity to grab a few political points before the November elections.
Several Republicans, led by Westmoreland, had worked to allow an amendment that would ease a requirement that nine states win permission from the Justice Department or a federal judge to change their voting rules.

The amendment's backers say the requirement unfairly singles out and holds accountable nine states that practiced racist voting policies decades ago, based on 1964 voter turnout data: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Unfairly? Unfairly would rather imply that there was no basis for such scrutiny or that it was arbitrarily ordained. Nothing could be further from the truth as many southern states and the GOP in general, continue to target blacks for disenfranchisement during elections. Considering recent electoral debacles in Ohio, Florida and elsewhere, the list of states could actually do with some expansion to include them and now Missouri, which recently passed a voter ID law, something the Voting Rights Act was meant to prohibit. I would agree that this law is discriminatory. And rightly so. It discriminates based on the grim history of discrimination as practiced by these southern states. Considering how the South furiously resisted both the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, it hardly is plausible that they're all better now.

Part of the dispute surrounds the VRA provision that these particular states must submit any changes in election law to the Justice Department. This is hardly an onerous condition; one would think that states are not rewriting election laws all the time. And given the current trend in the deep South, it would be wise to not give them free reign over their election laws just yet.

In March 1965, deputies and troopers attacked voting rights activists with clubs and tear gas, on a march from the Alabama town of Selma to Montgomery.

Tehran Hold 'em

Coming out a of summit with European Union leaders in Vienna, George Bush admonished Iran for their expected reply to the incentive package. Bush was irked by perceived Iranian foot-dragging after Iranian officials said they would respond by mid-August to the comprehensive offer meant to offset Tehran's insistence on its nuclear enrichment program.
It shouldn't take the Iranians that long to analyze what's a reasonable deal.
In other, words, you damnable Iranians, get with the program!

What must surely be the interesting aspect of Bush's visible impatience is how quickly it was made manifest after months intransigence on the part of the White House to even sit down at the table with Tehran. Washington refused direct talks with Iran and even ignored offers of negotiation in May of 2003. But now, now Bush can't wait to get the yapping underway.

Actually, I suspect that the Iranians are playing their hand here for great effect. They know they've got the upper hand right now; the offer has been made and Tehran can sit back while "carefully considering" the options. No doubt they are doing that -- they may have even decided already -- but they are also enjoying watching the Bush White House twist in the wind for awhile. And I expect Bush knows this, which is probably why he snapped at them today.

If I had to guess, I'd say Bush is a terrible poker player.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

You say Dubai and I say Hello

IN February of this year, the Dubai Ports deal was creating a lot of smoke and ash on the Hill after Congress only learned of the lucrative port operations contract when the White House announced that the deal had been approved. Not on our watch! fumed congressional Republicans and Democrats. More fuming ensued when a much larger scope of the deal was exposed; it would not be 6 ports but 22 major ports around the country that comprised contract operations.

Not a company used to being exposed to the sound and fury of Washington politicos, Dubai Ports World indicated that they would first delay the deal until further review but finally said they were divesting their interest of the contract completely. In fact, ABC News ran with the bold headline,
Bush loses Dubai ports deal after Republican pressure.
Bush lost the deal! Well, you didn't read that here. Here, readers would have been treated to a far more sobering version of expected events that would likely surround this issue, based at the time on the announcement of a "delay" upon review:
This compromise ... 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.
This doesn't appear to have played out exactly like this because, as CNN is reporting, DPW has never divested itself of its interest in the contract and is still in control of 22 ports around the country.
Since March 6th, Dubai Ports World has owned and controlled operations in 22 U.S. ports and that Congress now has dropped the provision that would prohibit their approvals.

[Tucker]: The reference to Congress has to do with the House and Senate stripping out language, put in by the House, that specifically forbid DP World from owning or controlling operations in our ports. With the removal of that language, it's not clear if DPW even legally is bound to sell the properties. The announced agreement by Dubai Ports World to sell was voluntary.

While Congress is expressing confidence in the intention of Dubai Ports World, it's worth noting that Congress is also willing to employ language when it suits them publicly, then quietly remove it. It happened in this case and in congressional opposition to the surrendering of control of domestic airlines to foreign investors. Big storm, big language, quietly stripped out in committee ....

[Dobbs]:So at this point, now it's just about four months since this agreement was reached, Congress has backed away from its language. Dubai Ports World has not acted. CFIUS, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, has said that it reserves the right to make Dubai Ports World do what it said it would do publicly. So you're not suggesting, are you, Mr. Tucker, in your reporting here, well, let me rephrase that. Is it a reasonable inference that the American public, the American citizens are being gamed again by this administration and this Congress?
Oh Lou! You're so cynical!

Congress' and the White House's appearance of due diligence now may have to go in for a make over; maybe some more noise with a bit of genuflecting to national security but the major furor has died down. This was primarily aided by the discretion of then outraged Republicans like Peter King (R-NY), who now seems fine, both with Congress having stripped out language that forbade DPW from ownership and with the continued ownership of the operations contract by the company.

Don't look for this story to generate the same kind of heat it did earlier. In fact, I think we can all expect it to go away, despite Dobbs attempts to rekindle the rage. Whatever political pick-up sticks various congressional members think they may have grabbed are already in hand. Service to themselves over the issue is complete. And that is what it was really all about.

Seer sucker

Perhaps sensing potential defeat in his senate race this fall, Rick Santorum is seen here focus testing outfits for an imagined run on the Sunday morning television evangelism circuit. Note the contrasting microphone/cross that seems to say, Jesus died here, right on my lapel.
[photo via sparklepony]

Send in the Clown

Wasting time keeping track of the latest idiocies emanating from Bill O'Reilly is a job best left to Keith Olbermann, who certainly seems to relish the task. But occasionally, Fox News' biggest blowhard utters something that almost no one could resist noting. But before that happens, let's review a few of Bill's pronoucements and opinions about Saddam Hussein, evil despot:
We know that for 25 years Saddam Hussein tortured, murdered and brutalized his people.
Why, yes, Bill, yes we do. And for almost half of that time, US administrations supported him.
After suffering so long through the horrors of Saddam ...
Truly a bad man. But now, after first deriding the press for misleading coverage that he believed wrongly portrayed Iraq as more chaotic and violent than he believed it was -- his truthy gut far more atuned to "what's on the ground" than reporters actually there -- it seems Bill has finally succumbed to all that media fiction. Even O'Reilly now sees that Iraq is in a state of mayhem. And who is the man O'Reilly now holds in high regard? Why Saddam Hussein, of course. The man clearly knew what he was doing:
See, if I’m president, I got probably another 50-60 thousand with orders to shoot on sight anybody violating curfews. Shoot them on sight. That’s me… President O’Reilly… Curfew in Ramadi, seven o’clock at night. You’re on the street? You’re dead. I shoot you right between the eyes. Ok? That’s how I run that country. Just like Saddam ran it. Saddam didn’t have explosions - he didn’t have bombers. Did he? because if you got out of line, you’re dead.
Seems fairly simple; send in O'Reilly and he'll have things in Iraq back to normal in no time. Just like under Saddam, which is really what the Bush adminstration would actually prefer. As is fairly obvious at this point, a US-friendly, strong-arm dictator would be hugely preferrable for the White House compared to this messy democracy nonsense. As for most supporters of the war, the Iraq effort is about solutions through shooting, really the only path of policy people like Bill O'Reilly find at all appealing.

[via Phillybits]

Monday, June 19, 2006


It looks like the Bush environmental agenda -- run amok -- is busy at work in Iraq:
An environmental disaster is brewing in the heartland of Iraq's northern Sunni-led insurgency, where Iraqi officials say that in a desperate move to dispose of millions of barrels of an oil refinery byproduct called "black oil," the government pumped it into open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs next to the Tigris River and set it on fire.

The resulting huge black bogs are threatening the river and the precious groundwater in the region, which is dotted with villages and crisscrossed by itinerant sheep herders, but also contains Iraq's great northern refinery complex at Baiji.

An Iraqi environmental engineer who has visited the dumping area described it as a kind of black swampland of oil-saturated terrain and large standing pools of oil stretching across several mountain valleys.
A black swampland of oil-saturated terrain. My god, that must sound like nirvana to the Bush White House. I can almost hear the hoots and howls:
Ha ha ha! We've created a black swampland of oil-saturated terrain! Yeehaw!

But wait, we've got to get rid of that 'black swampland' bit. That won't poll well. 'Glossy meadow,' maybe?

Staring at their Decisis

Wow, the big bench are on a tear. Today comes the lastest in the series of 5-4 police state, big-business friendly decisions by the Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court set the stage for a re-examination of the 1972 Clean Water Act, as it narrowly ruled today in favor of two Michigan property owners who have sought to develop tracts designated as wetlands.

By 5 to 4, the justices overturned lower court judgments against the Michigan land owners, who had run afoul of the Clean Water Act over their plans to build a shopping mall and condominiums.
The Supremes decision was not
the resounding, unambiguous triumph that the land owners, John A. Rapanos and June Carabell, may have hoped for.
No, indeed it was not. "Resounding triumphs" will not be the path by which this Supreme Court will decide things and that should be resoundingly obvious at this point. Rather, they are using the approach Alito has already indicated he prefers, an incremental whittling away at long-standing legislation and precedent. All of a sudden, under the Roberts/Scalia/Alito bench, doubt is cast upon regulators of the 34 year old Clean Water Act as the Supremes question that these bureacrats might not quite know what their doing enforcing a law that has been on the books for decades.

But Scalia, writing the patrician opinion for his new boy, Roberts, scolded federal regulators and claimed that the Army Corps of Engineers "exercises the discretion of an enlightened despot." This, despite the fact that some 97% of all wetland permits are granted (1).

Stare decisis, my ass.

(1) All Things Considered, High Court Hears Challenge to Clean Water Act, NPR, Feb. 21, 2006.

Libby unlikely to beg for pardon

Hmm, I wonder if there is anyone out there who thinks this won't happen?
Pardon talk for Libby begins

Speculation about a pardon began in late October, soon after Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald unsealed the perjury indictment of Libby, and it continued last week after Fitzgerald chose not to charge Rove.

"I think ultimately, of course, there are going to be pardons," said Joseph diGenova, a former prosecutor and an old Washington hand who shares that view with many pundits.

"These are the kinds of cases in which historically presidents have given pardons," said the veteran Republican attorney.
Here's the kicker, of course; it's all about Cheney:
One attorney familiar with the Plame case said Bush might find that it is in his interest to pardon Libby sooner rather than later.

A pardon before the trial could could cut off the disclosures and spare Vice President Dick Cheney from testifying as Fitzgerald's witness about Libby.
Some who think a pardon ought not be considered seem unfamiliar with the obvious workings of the Bush administration:
The counterargument to a pardon this year or next, however, is that it would be a political bombshell and distract from Bush's agenda.
Since when is pardoning loyalist chums a distraction from Bush's agenda?

MCM on the Media Cartel

Mark Crispin Miller has an intense little piece at the Nation, more generally summarizing what I had alluded to previously. The crux of the matter,
The press that went hoarse over Monica Lewinsky's dress is largely silent on the Bush regime's subversion of the Constitution; its open violation of the laws here and abroad; its global use of torture; its vast surveillance program(s); its covert propaganda foreign and domestic; its flagrant cronyism; its suicidal military, economic and environmental policies; and its careful placement of the federal establishment into the hands of Christianist extremists. Whether it's such tawdry fare as Jeffrey Gannon's many overnights at Bush's house, or graver matters like the Patriot Act, or the persistent questions about 9/11, or the President's imperial "signing statements" or--most staggering of all--the ever-growing evidence of coast-to-coast election fraud by Bush & Co., the press has failed in its constitutional obligation to keep us well informed about the doings of our government.

In short, our very lives and liberty are at unprecedented risk because our press has long since disappeared into "the media"--a mammoth antidemocratic oligopoly that is far more responsive to its owners, big shareholders and good buddies in the government than it is to the rest of us, the people of this country.
Like I said, a big hurdle.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

NASA Administrator ignores advice

I thought the new NASA administrator, Michael Griffith, was going to be smarter than this, but he looks like he is following the path of folly already visited previously by NASA leading up to the other two shuttle disasters. Griffith is going to ignore the objections of engineers and safety officers and launch the shuttle anyway:
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, overruling objections from the agency's chief engineer and safety office, cleared the shuttle Discovery for launch July 1 on a mission to service and resupply the international space station.
The story contains a lot of rationalization about "acceptable risk" but the fact is, the general understanding of the engineering concerns is practically nil. Which, for NASA, spells go-for-launch. This is exactly the mindset that led to the previous two shuttle disasters: PR trumps engineering advice. If one more shuttle goes up in smoke, I think you can pretty much kiss NASA and every other scientific mission that depends on the shuttle, like the Hubble telescope, good bye.

Hannah and her tree sitters

Have you ever found yourself wondering, how did things get this bad? How have we, as Americans, allowed society to devolve to such a deplorable condition? How have we promoted the incompetence, duplicity and corruption now found at even the highest levels of government? We have sat back and watched the US government illegally march the country to war while, at the same time, further allowed them to conduct their domestic assaults on the poor and the elderly and to conduct various big business enrichment programs on the nickle of the US taxpayer. It was all done in plain sight and dutifully reported by the mainstream media, which chose to view such things from an "objective" point of view, as though lying to Congress was equallly weighted by simple White House statements that known lies were not. One of the many and more compelling reasons for this dreadful state affairs is that the mainstream media has concurrently morphed into becoming just another facet of a massive infotainment industry designed to quell public concern for real issues under a cloak of celebrity.

It would be difficult to find a better example of pitiable state of what is generally referred to as the mainstream media than the story at CNN regarding the plight of the South Central LA community farming lot. The South Central farm project is a community co-op that manages a 14 acre lot donated to local communities by the city of Los Angeles after the 1992 riots. It is now under commercial assault by a developer who has purchased the land from the city and plans to build a wharehouse on the site. A new wharehouse in Los Angeles hardly seems crucial. Los Angeles boasts some 13 million square feet of empty wharehouse space. The case is now in court as the sale is being challenged for its legality.

But to CNN, this story is most assuredly not what is seen as the pertinent one, a story that would have been all but ignored by CNN were it not for one feature that it thinks viewers must know. How does CNN chose to introduce the story to its readers? The headline is all you need to see and reveals the true concern CNN thinks will appeal to its audience:
Daryl Hannah removed from tree
An LA community farm is threatened with commercial development by a potentially illegal sale of the co-op's land by the city but, oh my god! Daryl Hannah is in a tree! That crazy-ass celebrity! But just in case readers might not understand the import of Hannah's presence, or might not even know who Darryl Hannah is, the celebrity appreciation knob must be dialed up. Let us not forget the provenance of her fame; not the crazed, one-eyed blonde assassin from Kill Bill, no, but that adorable mermaid hotty:
Authorities cut away branches and used a fire truck lift to bring down the "Splash" actress and another tree-sitter, who raised their fists as they were removed...
Now, I am not taking anything away from Hannah for her efforts, which, unlike Senn Penn's grandstanding in New Orleans, appear to be genuine and which have generated some interest in a story that CNN would have otherwise completely ignored. But for CNN viewers, the salient issue revolves around Hannah and her protests, not of the underlying issue that gave rise to those protests.

But CNN's focus and tone here speak volumes about the bizzare, self-flagellating state of the media these days, engaged as it is in the contradictory yet simultaneous efforts to relish celebrity while reinforcing the meme of Hollywod liberal loonies. While only a small example of the dire state of the media today, this story should serve as an example of the enormous hurdle that faces American society if it ever tries to counter our current, downward tailspin, aided and abetted as that is by the corporate entertainment machine.

[via Musclemouth]

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Please, you're not listening!

The other day, Bill Frist was on CNN and human Q-tip Wolf Blitzer presented Frist with a graph of poll data (r), which shows, apart from the occassional blip, a continual slide in congressional approval ratings from Oct. 2001 through May of 2006, where it now hovers around 25%. Twenty-five percent!

Blitzer then asks Frist this question:
Why do you believe the American public thinks the Congress, led by Republicans, has done a such a poor job?
To which Frist responds:
Well, I don't think we've done such a very job messaging what we have accomplished, even over the last year and half, when you look that we passed bankruptcy reform, class action reform, then we addressed the issues of decreasing regulations, some of the largest tax cuts in the history of this country, which take the burden off of small business. People don't know that a year and half ago we passed the first comprehensive energy plan, energy plan proposal, now law of the land, in fifteen years .... Securing America's values by having two Supreme Court justices go through that approval process just over the last year, secure America's health by, right now, people are beginning to realise it, now there's two and half years ago make sure that 39 million seniors today have affordable access to prescription drugs. I mention all that, 'cause that's what we're doin'; governing with meaningful solutions. You're exactly right, thought, that people are not listening and our messaging may not be quite what it should be.
For every "meaningful solution" Frist spouted out, I could almost see the approval rating dip five points. I doubt that Frist doesn't know that much of his listed "solutions" are things most Americans neither cared about nor had much interest in. And why should they? Those so-called accomplishments were designed or even written by the industries to which they were meant to cater. And Americans are apparently not so clueless about the meaning of those SCOTUS appointments, which are now visiting themselves upon the public. While Frist touts bankruptcy reform as a meaningful solution to a non-problem, can he really be unaware that most Americans just don't give a shit (though they should, because they could well become a victim of it one day)?

And yet bankruptcy "reform" was first on his list. It is further telling that his pride comes from limiting class action lawsuits, something that was also a gift to big business, and deregulation ... for big business. This is Frist's source of pride in "his" Congress. But to the tone deaf Senate leader, all those grand things that Congress -- or was it the busines elite? there is so little that seperates them these days -- did were visited by ever-decreasing approval ratings and that the only real problem was that the dumb-asses out in America-land just didn't listen to all the great things Congress had done; the messaging must be improved.

What might be Frist's next piece of legislation? I hear that the GOP Senate leader will soon introduce a bill that will require all Americans to listen to what Bill Frist tells them and that they will further be required, by law, to believe it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Amnesty International

Ok, follow me now. Over here, in Guantanamo, you see, those insurgents are really, really bad and we can't let them go. But in Iraq, they're ok guys who have been fighting an occupation, capeesh? This is part of the known-knowns slash unknown-knowns dichotomy. I'm gettin' through? And no, there is nothing behind the curtain....
After the Iraqi government proposal that their insurgent amnesty plan would cover those who had attacked US forces, the predictable partisan outburst erupted, registering at 6.9 on the Richter scale and could be felt in the far reaches of media globe. But the outrage was not from those who have been endlessly shreiking "support the troops!" No, Republicans expressed admiration for the idea and its reasoned approach to reconciling the country's sectarian strife. It was the Democrats who went ballistic. There is a very good reason for such a reaction, of course, based as it was on the administration's relentless abuse of insurgents, both rhetorically and physically. After first denying the existence of a home-grown insurgency and claiming that Iraq's mayhem was all Al Qaeda's doing, Republican's eventually conceded that, indeed, most of the insurgency was nativist. They did not, however, discontinue calling insurgents "evil doers" and "terrorists" who are filled with "blind hatred" and "capable of any atrocity." Yeesh. Doesn't sound like a group of people for whom one would consider amnesty. And Senate Minority leader Harry Reid channeled his inner Bush when he said,
The mere idea that this proposal may go forward is an insult to the brave men and women who have died in the name of Iraqi freedom.
Nonetheless, Republicans appear to think such a proposal reasonable for the sake of national reconciliation. Frankly, I don't think they're wrong on this. It is just jarring to see Republicans seemingly happy in walking away from "prosecuting insurgents," especially after their "support the troops" sloganeering (which has been all bullshit anyway). It is highly unlikely the Iraqi government could ever hope to prosecute these people, numbering in the thousands, and besides, without such a proposal, the insurgency would likely continue its fight to destabilize the country, something it may do anyway. And how, pray tell, does one even go about prosecuting an insurgency and picking out who blew up whom? While AJ at Americablog claims that the proposal is "incomprehensible," it clearly is not. It is, however, completely ill-advised to announce such a proposal in advance. It is something that, while secretly considered, should only have come forth post hoc. Publicly announcing amnesty for insurgents killing US troops could likely result in an escalation of attacks on those troops in effort to drive them out more quickly. Any such "plan" should never have been publicly stated before US troop withdrawal, though with the prospect of permament US bases in Iraq, that day may never actually arrive.

This is an issue that can support neither full embrace nor complete repudiation. It is frought with difficulty. But that doesn't mean Congress won't react in an yes/no fashion, which, of course, they have. This has been standard operating procedure on the Hill. Democrats have lost their heads about this, and upon first impressions, it is easy to see why. But that does not mean something like an amnesty cannot or should not happen. Indeed, it most assuredly will. It seems though that the Iraqis should have kept quiet about it. Despite a preponderance of evidence that suggests otherwise, if we are to believe that the Iraqi government is in anyway sovereign, it should be up to them to decide on a reconciliation plan and not the US Congress.

But everyone seems to be forgetting that the propect of some kind of amnesty has been tossed around for two years now, first by Ayad Allawi and then, over a year ago, by the Kurdish president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani. But seriously considering amnesty has been made a problem by the Republicans. The discontinuity regarding their embrace of the amnesty proposal is revealed by their completely contradictory position regarding the prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. There, the Bush administration detains and refuses to relenquish "terrorists" who have been imprisoned and refused legal recourse because it is claimed they represent a grave threat to Americans; that releasing them to their country (mostly Afghanistan) will endanger American troops. But Republicans now don't have much of a problem with American-killing insurgents in Iraq getting off scot-free. In fact, they seem rather pleased with the idea.

Figure that one out.