Saturday, September 30, 2006

Mumbai madness

Indian police have come out a stated, quite flatly, that the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, planned the Mumbai bombings of July 11. Pakistani officials have denied, quite flatly, the charge and say that the assertion is "baseless."

Now, that word would indicate a whole cloth fabrication on the part of Indian investigators but one of the accused groups, Lashkar-e-Tioba, the militant wing of a Pakistani religious seminary in the province of Punjab, has close ties to the ISI and has conducted attacks on Indian forces in Kashmir. The other, The Students Islamic Movement of India or SIMI, has the stated desire to turn Indian into an Islamic theocracy.

Nonetheless, the incident and this subsequent official statement by Indian authorities is going to add yet more tinder to the mounting pile of nuclear fuel-fired aggressions between these two countries, countries the Bush administration insists needs more weapons to protect those countries ... from each other.

Campaign advice

At first I though, hmmm, how bad do things have to be when al Qaeda feels a need to come out and tell the world that Bush is a failure?
In a video published on the Internet, Ayman al-Zawahiri called Mr Bush a "lying failure" and said al-Qaeda was stronger than ever.

"Bush, oh failure and liar, why don't you be courageous for once and confront your people and tell them the truth about your losses in Iraq and Afghanistan."
But then I realised that this would be a great campaign tool for the GOP:
You see? Democrats call President Bush a failure and so does al Qaeda. Clearly, they're in cahoots.
Given our current political environment, this seems like a winner to me.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Page fault

Uh oh....

When they're not on the floor of the House or Senate destroying 800 years of jurisprudence, congressional Republicans have been resigning over any number of issues. Today, champion against child pornography, Mark Foley, tendered his resignation after the leak of emails he sent to a sixteen year old former congressional aide. Though it was buried at the time, J. Jennings Moss reiterates that Foley had been outed as far back as 1996, the first time the Republicans were pushing the Defense of Marriage Act.

Earlier in the day, Foley's spokesman claimed that the emails being questioned were "harmless" responses to thank you notes. Well, anyone could smell that one a mile away and people start to poke around. And while the nature of those specific emails may be exactly as Foley says, the inevitable seemed only a matter of time.

That time would come mere hours later when ABC published one of the IM sessions between the moralizing champion of "traditional marriage" and a sixteen year old former congessional House page. And this, dear readers, is part of an exchange that your tax dollars paid for (Maf54 is foley):

Maf54 (8:08:31 PM): get a ruler and measure it for me

Xxxxxxxxx (8:08:38 PM): ive already told you that

Maf54 (8:08:47 PM): tell me again

Xxxxxxxxx (8:08:49 PM): 7 and 1/2

Maf54 (8:09:04 PM): ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Maf54 (8:09:08 PM): beautiful

Xxxxxxxxx (8:09:38 PM): lol

Maf54 (8:09:44 PM): thats a great size

Xxxxxxxxx (8:10:00 PM): thank you

Maf54 (8:10:22 PM): still stiff

Xxxxxxxxx (8:10:28 PM): ya

Maf54 (8:10:40 PM): take it out

Like most people -- liberals usually -- who find that Republican gay bashing often appears a little too energetic, my biggest problem is how these sorry sacks inevitably turnout to be exactly the kind of character they're usually railing against.

But this behaviour, though perhaps the most glaring, is just one small piece of a much larger aspect that is seen in the GOP these days. They now exhibit classic signs of projection is so many arenas it is truly boggling. They accuse illegal immigrants, the elderly and Democrats of election fraud while they practice the most egregious and widespread program voter fraud ever seen (or not seen on the MSM). They project weakness on the Democrats while they themselves cringe at the thought of terrorists and abrogate every standard of law and the Constitution. They yowl about gays while they are gay. They vilify pornographers when they are pornographers and even, in rare fits of karma, exposed as gay child pornographers. Truly, there is no end to it.

The lesson here: the next time you hear a Republican wailing about the ills of something, you can be reasonably certain they're up to their armpits in it.


Suddenly, Bob Woodward is back in the good graces of liberals with his now higly anticipated new book, State of Denial, a book that, in no small way, ravages the Bush administration for various egregious acts of mendacity regarding the Iraq war. Other tasty bits apparently reported are that former White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, urged Bush to punt Rumsfeld -- twice. And even Laura Bush moved into the fray with Card, fearing the arrogant yet clueless Rumsfeld was damaging hubby.

Considering Woodward's recent Bush hagiograpahies, this book appears to be a rather amazing turnaround for a man who himself had been ravaged by lefties and liberals during the Plame investigation when it was learned -- very late -- that he had been one of the insiders privy to the White House leaks. That he had kept this a secret incensed many. More than a few chimed in with a variety of epithets and harsh remarks about his coziness with the White House. Now, the whole thing is looking like a giant rope-a-dope move, which is coming out on the heels of the brutal NIA report that the White House has also not been terribly successful at dismissing. I doubt this was intended but Woodward has really round-housed the White House with this one. I suspect the West Wing tea-time chats with Karl Rove are effectively over.

Now, after looking like an idiot in disparaging the consensus agreement of sixteen intelligence agencies that Iraq is going to hell and breeding terrorists around the globe, Tony Snow finds himself in yet another elbow tuck, buffeting himself against bruising questions and trying to trivialize Woodward's burnt offering as just so much stuff we already know.
We've read this book before. This tends to repeat what we've seen in a number of other books that have been out this year.
Well, if accounts so far are any indication, no it doesn't.

It seems Woodward was privy to an internal intelligence estimate by the intelligence division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which said,
Insurgents and terrorists retain the resources and capabilities to sustain and even increase current level of violence through the next year.
Pretty sure I haven't heard that before. And I especially like the part about Kissinger being the one advising Bush to "stick it out." No doubt this comes from some ghastly need by Kissinger, before he dies, to see his previous failed experiment carried out to the bitter, bleak end -- if there ever is an end -- just to see how it all plays out. It seems there never was a sionara Saigon for Henry.

And just how many criminals has Bush surrounded himself with in this administration? I swear, I've lost track.

Nonetheless, Snow is certainly living up to his name. A more apropos moniker for a White House press secretary is hard to even imagine. Unless, of course, one ventures from the sublime to the ridiculous with something like Tony Bullshitfirehose.

In any event, it looks like the ol dog still has some bite. I had my doubts Bob, but if this book is everything it seems, hey man, nice shot.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ask and ye shall receive

Back in June, The Supreme Court delivered a decision in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case that many legal scholars were raving about. Military tribunals for detainees had been "struck down" it was claimed and seriously minded folks, especially Glenn Greenwald (for whom I have the utmost respect) prognosticated a number of serious problems for the Bush administration subsequent to this opinion. But lurking in the background was one helpful piece of advice offered by Justice Stephen Breyer. Helpful to the White House, that is, if it decided to pursue a continuation of the travesty of justice.
Nothing prevents the President from returning to Congress to seek the authority he belives necessary.
It should have been obvious, of course, that this is exactly what would happen. Indeed, I said so back then and proferred that the decision would likely not be as detrimental to the administration as many, including Greenwald, had imagined.
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.
No one seemed to want to believe me. I continued to state it this position in the simplest of terms:
I have expressed doubts that the decision would do much of anything, since Congress, at the behest of the White House, appear ready to leap into the now extant legal void and concoct some legislative legerdemain that would retroactively legalize everything Bush has already done. And Congress will do this upon advice received from the Supreme Court itself on how best to legalise the conduct the Supremes were calling illegal on that day.
Indeed, the so-called compromise (how laugable that sounds) went a few steps further than merely granting a continuance of the tribunals.
Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation. Under the compromise agreed to yesterday, Congress would recognize his authority to take these steps and prevent prisoners from appealing them to U.S. courts. The bill would also immunize CIA personnel from prosecution for all but the most serious abuses and protect those who in the past violated U.S. law against war crimes.

In effect, the agreement means that U.S. violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress's tacit assent.
My prediction was almost a little too good.

Now, I notice that Greenwald is still on the attack over the pathetic postion adopted by Congress -- especially the distressing lack of participation by Democrats on this issue. And he is right to do so. But Greenwald's arguments immediately after the Hamdan opinion seemed to me to completely overlook what all of us have been witness to for years now: that this Congress is utterly craven when it comes to opposing Bush on issues of war and national security when the White House has clearly breached the law. How could anyone not expect this Republican-led Congress to do exactly what it now has done as regards detainee treatment? I know I did.

And now we have our very own state-sanctioned Lubyanka. Despite this expected, disgraceful repudiation of hundreds of years of legal standard, at this point I have only one question: why. Why are the supposed upright Americans who occupy the Congress of the United States so willing -- eager -- to sign away the tradition of forthright jurisprudence so clearly mandated by the Constitution and the laws of this land?

Bush will tell us it is because the people in Gitmo -- if they would even call them people -- are the "worst of the worst." Some, no doubt, are very bad. But there are also people like this:
It's hard to picture Haji Nasrat Khan as an international terrorist. For a start, the grey-bearded Afghan can barely walk, shuffling along on a three-wheeled walking frame. His sight is terrible - he squints through milky eyes that sometimes roll towards the heavens - while his helpers have to shout to make themselves heard. And as for his age - nobody knows for sure, not even Nasrat himself. "I think I am 78, or maybe 79," he ventures uncertainly, pausing over a cup of green tea.

Yet for three and a half years the US government deemed this elderly, infirm man an "enemy combatant", so dangerous to America's security that he was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.
And this is why we have a system of jurisprudence. Or at least, we used to.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Every war ...

(click to enlarge)

Lies, damned lies

Geesuz, this is getting tiring.

Condoleezza Rice resumed her previous incarnation as the lying sack of shit she was as National Security Advisor during the first Bush term. Back then, you'll recall, and before the 9/11 commission, she claimed that the August 6 PDB entitled "bin Laden determined to strike US," was a mere "historical" note, nothing to be alarmed about. It was an odd bit of revisionist history to look back from the seat of the 9/11 commission and say that a Presidential Daily Brief warning of an imminent attack, which came one month later, was not an urgent warning. But that was the hand she played and stuck to it.

Now after a couple of years of galavanting about the globe and playing piano when mood strikes, which appears to occur during full scale war, Rice has been called into service to respond to statements made by Clinton during his Fox News interview. Clinton made the claim that his administration delivered a comprehensive strategy for dealing with al Qaeda and responding to the USS Cole attack. On the way out the White House door, Clinton told the new Bush administration that bin Laden would be their most serious problem. But Rice now disputes this. Well, she doesn't dispute it so much as lie through her big white teeth about it.
We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaida.
She told this to another of Murdoch's trash tabloid cage liners, The New York Post, which never bothered to investigate her claim any further. Which is odd because I am sure that most everyone remembers Richard Clarke saying that he, in fact, had done this.

What am I saying? The New York Post not bothering to fact check a Bush administration hack is hardly odd at all.

Fortunately, the good folks at Martini Republic have already done the work here, so I let them present the facts, fact that are sorely lacking from both the mouth of Rice and the paper in question:
Within days after taking office, National Counterterrrorism Director Richard Clarke left a memorandum for then National Security Advisor Rice summarizing the responses to al Qaeda which had been formulated to respond the threat of al Qaeda and the Cole attack, which had been linked to the terrorist group in late 2000.

More importantly, attached to Clarke’s Memorandum was the very thing Rice now denies she was given: a 13 page document entitled, Strategy for Eliminating Jihadist Networks of al Qida.
I recommend reading Alex's whole post as it further buries Condi's lies with Bush administration actions. But there is one statement Rice made to which I can add something further:
What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years.
No one has any idea what this putative aggression resulted in other than a load of brush getting cleared in Crawford. But besides Clarke's testimony to the 9/11 commission that the Bush White House simply ignored the threat entirely, demoted him and eliminated the office of counterterrorism, we know one other thing about the Bush administration's focus in the days before 9/11.

After Bush had been delivered the now infamous PDB of Aug. 6, 2001, which described a determined attack by bin Laden on the US, then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was due to give a talk on security threats to the United States. The date of the scheduled talk was September 11, 2001. In this talk, she was to argue for ... a national missile defense system. Had the speech been delivered, she would have warned America of
the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday.
The speech would also have criticized the Clinton administration for not paying enough attention to the real threat -- the threat of tomorrow as she planned to call it -- of long range missiles. After being handed a strategy document by the chief of counterterrorism detailing the elimination of jihadist networks of al Qaeda, no mention of al Qaeda or bin Laden would be found in the address.

Naturally, she buried the speech, preferring to hide in a bunker after al Qaeda operatives had slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center.

I can't help but wonder how long these people can keep lying and lying and lying about everything. It must take something out of them, even a band of mendacious cowards as this administration. Perhaps it will last just as long as places like Fox News and The New York Post keep letting them spout their lies without every bothering to follow it up. I'm no lawyer, but this bald-face lie by Rice seems actionable, at least to the point of enforcing a printed retraction and, oh how sweet this would be, an apology in The New York freaking Post.

[thanks to allhatnocattle for the pic]

Oversight unseen

The Democratic Policy Committee held an oversight review wherein Democrats interviewed three recently retired military officers. Army Major General Paul D. Eaton, Major General John R.S. Batiste and Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes reiterated what so many other retired officers have already publically announced: Rumsfeld is a bungler, an irritant, and should be removed as Secretary of Defense. Hardly news these days but the strength of their statements redounded upon Rummy's already well documented ineptitude.

Batiste: Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of U.S. Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build 'his plan,' which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace and set Iraq up for self-reliance.

[Rumsfeld] refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency. At one point, he threatened to fire the next person who talked about the need for a post-war plan.

Eaton: We went in with a bad plan. Stay the course is not a strategy.

Venturing into White House budget policy commentary,

Hammes:While asking major sacrifices, to include the ultimate sacrifice, from those Americans who are serving in Iraq, we are not even asking our fellow citizens to pay for the war. Instead we are charging it to our children and grandchildren.

In response to such blistering criticism, Republicans, led by a re-emerging yet still unholy Trent Lott, responded in the only way they know how: threaten the Democrats for holding such hearings, hearings the GOP have continuously refused to hold.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is threatening to punish Democrats for using an Appropriations Committee room for an unofficial hearing on Iraq oversight if it happens again.

"They better stop this," the Mississippi Republican said. "This will be the last one or there will be retribution."
More hilarious than this whingeing, though, is Lott's further claim that Democrats are "abusing the system." Democrats, you see, are running roughshod over the poor, put-upon Republicans by pointing how what a lousy job they have done.

We have a White House running secret prisons, conducting extraordinary rendition and prisoner abuse as a matter of policy, while having lied their way into a war that has done nothing but foment more terrorism world wide. All of this has been rammed through by a Republican-led lapdog Congress. We've seen the GOP Congress laddle out budget-breaking tax cuts, give a pass on White House breaches of law, continue to ignore the devastation of New Orleans and keep residents from returning to perfectly good homes, locked away in a dismal sea of FEMA trailers.

But it is the Democrats who are abusing the system.

The Gitmo Archipelego

Eric Margolis delivers an excellent repost to the latest moves by Congress to sanction indefinite detention and prisoner torture and abuse.
Prisoners taken in the dead of night to Lubyanka were systematically beaten for days with rubber hoses and clubs. There were special cold rooms where prisoners could be frozen to near death. Sleep deprivation was a favourite and most effective Cheka technique. So was near-drowning in water fouled with urine and feces.

I recall these past horrors because of what this column has long called the gradual “Sovietization” of the United States. This shameful week, it became clear Canada is also afflicted.

We have seen America’s president and vice president, sworn to uphold the Constitution, advocating some of the same interrogation techniques the KGB used at the Lubyanka. They apparently believe beating, freezing, sleep deprivation and near-drowning are necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. So did Stalin.
Read it all.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Afghanistan Redux

This is post from a few months ago, back in the spring, but it is still relevent or even more so considering that, indeed, things have gotten worse not better since this post. Consider this my rebellion against the feckless and facile media (see below).

All, but lost

Emilio Morenatti's striking photograph of these young Afghan girls is arresting, both for the spectrum of personality that can be apprehended and for the beauty, innocence and dismal weariness conveyed on the faces of girls who should have no such look at this age. But it is there, haunting. These girls have probably not known anything other than strife and affliction in their young lives and already the conditions of their homeland, the warring, the oppression, the poverty, appear to have taken their toll. That such young lives have known only the harshest of realities should move us all to question the state of the world, the state of the world's governments. There is far too much that is wrong. Though they do not tell us so, we can see this truth in them.

These girls might have wondered what was happening when this photograph was taken, as it was during the Afghan elections in October of 2004. Though they did not likely understand what was being promised them and their poor country -- a hopeful future -- it is probably just as well. Elsewise, it would simply have been more hope further crushed by the world's mad, indifferent boot as it routinely stomps upon the poorest of this earth's people.

And though the routing of the Taliban and the putative elections had never really changed much in the country, that seems more true now than ever. News has been extensive that the Taliban are on the rise and their recently conducted public execution would indicate that, indeed, they are the law of that land once again. And though these girls will never know the promises we are failing to keep, nor what they might have meant, that does not mitigate the sorrow and shame we all should feel as we watch our government fail in its meager attempt, so disingenuous as it now looks, to bring that promise of hope to these young girls or, indeed, to all of Afghanistan.

You may weep for these children for what they have never had. You may weep for them and for our failure to bring them that which we promised. We should ask ourselves why our efforts there have been so sparse, so temperate and so utterly ineffectual. But mostly, we should fight for them and do so seriously, instead of conducting a routinely meaningless posturing toward their destitute country, overrun and warred upon as it has been for decades. Children as these deserve better, as do they all. We have the means to bring it to them, at least we would if we so chose. And be assured; if you bring a better life to these children, they will reward you a thousand fold, as your future and better neighbours.

And that is how you win the war on terror. We know this is true. When we will start acting like we know it?

Baby's Breath

Just watching the craven machinations of the American mainstream media is a full time job. And a mighty annoying one at that. Hotpotatomash signalled me on this one, but it is up at Hoffmania and Rising Hegemon and, I'm sure, many, many other places. But the mainstream media, as evidenced by Newsweek here, isn't necessarily bad all the time. In fact, their international distribution appears to contain a rather interesting albeit grim article about the losing proposition in Afghanistan.

But not in America. In American -- just before critical mid-term elections -- Americans will not get to see a cover of a jihadist, an RPG and the word "Losing" confronting them at the newsstands, but rather one displaying Annie Leibovitz with ... babies. How adorable. Afghanistan? Why, don't muddled your head with all those images that might evoke negative emotional twinges about George Bush's deadly presidency. Certainly not before the election.

Mash thinks that Americans might actually want to know about the situation in Afghanistan, since its newsworthy and all. And I suspect he is right. It wouldn't do much good for the American psyche, however, and that is where the problem arises. The MSM is not about to damage -- further anyway -- the psyche of the American public by putting a picture of a big, fat RPG pointing at them on the cover of major news weekly mere weeks before the election. I can already hear the excuse and it will be something along those very lines; Newsweek will claim that it is trying to avoid introducing information that might negatively impact campaigns. Because, god forbid, the American public should be informed before an election. Oh, I can hear it all now, that familiar refrain. As a responsible media outlet, Newsweek, you see, is avoiding partisanship.

So, as Afghanistan swirls down the drain of failed military excursions launched by the same idiots who gave us the Iraq debacle, the rest of the world will see the front picture of Newsweek, grab the magazine expecting to learn something of what is going on in the war-torn land. But in America, we get Annie Leibovitz. Holding babies.

America hating FUCKTARD

That's me. Or so I was told by a couple of charmers -- one identifying him/herself as "neocon" and the other preferring anonymity -- who stopped in at the Chavez post, wherein I claimed amusement at Chavez's stunting in front of the UN. These generous folks apparently had googled the phrase "who applauded Chavez," and were drawn here by the citation that UN delegates had done just that. Let's ignore the obvious grim of existence of people who would feel compelled to sit in a moist and darkened room, searching out George Bush naysayers in blogistan in order to deliver their compelling arguments in support of America. I suspect these two may have been further irked by my ridicule of Bush's comments in the UN the day before, comments regarding Iranian rulers that were, as usual, exceedingly hypocritical:
The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons.
Of course, American has done and continues to do all these things that Bush accuses Iran of doing. I suspect that "neocon" and anonymous, operating, as they surely must, from a platform of diabolically profound ignorance, are probably unaware of this simple fact. I'll address this ignorance and examine each of the three uses of a "nation's resources," which Bush has found so troubling in the Iranian regime.

Resources on nuclear weapons: There is no dispute here that US governments have squandered untold riches on nuclear weapons. Since incinerating several hundred thousand Japanese civilians in WWII, the US has maintained a nuclear arsenal unrivaled in the world. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the extant nuclear arms race of the cold war, the nuclear arsenal has hardly been reduced and in 2004, the Bush administration requested $30 billion over the subsequent four years for maintainance, research and development and production of nuclear bombs. The Bush administration is now spending more on these weapons than the country spent throughout most of the Cold War and is equaling in real dollars what Reagan spent during the weapons frenzy of the Eighties. The Nuclear Posture Review of the Bush administration determined that it needed to "revitalize the nuclear weapons manufacturing infrastructure." This document was issued in December 2001, a mere three months after 9/11. The Pentagon under-equipped troops in the field while Rumsfeld had decided, even at this point, that the invasion of Iraq would be done his way: faster, better cheaper. None of that has quite worked out, but the US continues to dump untold billions into a nuclear arsenal no one knows what to do with, while the Bush administration cuts Medicare, education loans and New Orleans remains a near disaster area for most would be residents.

Of course, Bush's actual criticism of Iran was that it is was "pursuing nuclear weapons," which is apparently much worse than squandering a nation's resources for decades by actually having them. But having them is great.

Resources fueling extremism: Nothing better demonstrates that the US is fueling extremism than the recently compiled National Intelligence Estimate that concluded the war in Iraq has "helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks." This was not a tremendous revelation but merely gave offcial confirmation to what was already obvious: the $300 billion so far spent has done nothing but foment extremism and fuel sectarian violence both within and without Iraq. It has hardened the positions of countries across the Middle East.

But apart from the war, the US has become murkily involved with a group the State Department labels as a terrorist organisation. This is not surprising, really, because the White House seems more than happy to employ such groups as long as it is seen to be in the interests of the United States. Apparently, the lessons of Afghanistan have not registered on the Bush administration, which appears to have an historical memory of about three weeks.

The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) was initially involved with the Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah. However, these folks were even too extreme for the Supreme Council and were expelled from Iran in 1979. This created some bad blood and the MEK sought refuge and gained the support of Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war; the MEK was committed to bringing down the Islamic regime that had expelled it. Hussein was more than happy to have such a terrorist ally. It was a classic enemy-of-my-enemy-friend loop, with Hussein an anti-Shia Ba'athist and the Maoist MEK to whom those in Tehran weren't Islamic enough and whose leader believes himself to be the 12th Imam. The Hussein-MEK relationship was maintained throughout the nineties even as US embargos were then excercised against both countries (well, except for Halliburton). Once Hussein was deposed, US forces struck a cease-fire deal with the MEK. Unlike the decision to disband the Iraqi army, the MEK was allowed to remain intact and was housed in Camp Ashraf. In fact, Iran had offered al Qaeda leaders in exchange for leaders of the MEK. The Pentagon demonstrated no interest in the deal at the time it was made in the summer of 2003. It would soon become apparent why, when the Iraq Governing Council ordered the MEK out of Iraq, the Pentagon refused; it was considering using the MEK against Iran. In July of 2004, the US designated members of the MEK as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

By 2005, the MEK -- still a State Department-labelled terrorist organisation -- was supplying the IAEA with information about Iran's nuclear program. Much of it was bogus. But what we see here is a symbiotic relationship. The Bush administration is happy to fuel and support the extremist MEK as long as the MEK is willing to fuel the extremism within the White House, an extremism that right now would like nothing better than to launch an attack on Iran.

Funding terrorism: US governments have been using our nation's resources to fund terrorism for decades. But we don't need to go back beyond the Eighties to recall the rapture another Republican administration experienced when it was funding Central American death squads, the most notorious operation being the Iran-Contra scandal. At the same time the White House was conducting this shady enterprise, the CIA was involved in Afghanistan where operatives happily funded the mujahedeen and Osama bin Laden's efforts there in routing the Soviets. Ahh, those were good days, back when we fueled insurgencies when it was said to be "in our interests." Back then we loved to point out how mujahedeen meant "freedom fighter." We don't hear that much now.

With Iran-Contra death squads in Central America and the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, we also funded state terrorism by our full support of Saddam Hussein and his fight with the then new Iranian Islamic regime that had previously booted out the Shah, a man who supplanted Iran's democratically elected leader and was installed as ruler by the CIA in 1953. Hussein also engaged in brutal repression of his own people -- Saddam's rape rooms! -- and this culminated in the 1988 gassing of Kurds in the notorious Anfal campaign, the trial for which is going on right now.

As an Islamic regime, the Reagan adminstration was none too happy with the Iranians -- even though they had cooperated in the arrangement brokered by James Baker, which allowed the hostages to be freed five minutes after Reagan was inaugurated -- and Hussein would prove to be the next useful tyrannt who would enjoy US backing. Hussein today is standing trial for crimes against humanity using chemical and biological weapons supplied to him by the United States.

These are merely a few reasons why Bush's words ring hollow in the UN and in most of the world. UN delegates and those who have suffered the brunt of US foreign policy hypocrisy are fully aware of all this and much more. None of this matters to trolls like "neocon" and "anonymous" though, so immersed are they in their google hunt for people calling out Bush on his rote drivel.

Well, now they have a new attack front as people around the country criticize an administration and its accompanying Congress who have seen fit to legislate for prisoner abuse, secret military tribunals and against 800 years of legal tradition in habaes corpus. "Maverick" Republicans' recent belly dance in front of the cameras while they approved egregious breeches of the Constitution is all the proof we need that these people are not only not conservatives, they barely appear to be American. Who, really, are the America haters?

Dick tater

No comment. None needed.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Steele and the Scarlet Letter

It looks like Maryland's Republican candidate for Senate, Michael Steele, really does believe that having an R next to your name is a scarlet letter, likely to be shunned by voters in this state. So to that end, Steele is muddying things up well with his latest move. A campaign by putative "Democratic supporters" of Steele carry signs made to look like they're calling Steele a Democrat. Would anyone look at such a sign and understand that Steele is not a Democrat?

Oh no, say Steele supporters. This is the same sloganeering as "Reagan Democrat," they say. And, indeed, the sloganeering is identical, but not the intent. That much is obvious.

During campaign season, we've been witness to the amusing sight of Republicans distancing themselves from their party affiliation. Rick Santorum's campaign website is a typical example, whereon not one mention of the word "Republican" appears, comes complete with a non-GOP colour scheme of blue and gold. Tom Reynolds, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, displays a similar inability to mention the "R" word on his website.

Michael Steele, on the other hand, has expanded "political distance" to quite an extreme: he is going to pretend to be a Democrat and hope that more than a few don't notice.

[via Phillybits]

This is a joke

Thanks to hotpotatomash for posting Tim Ryan's recent address. Must see TV. C-SPAN has never been this good.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hot links

I didn't have much time to post today (I'm still devastated by recent comments calling me an America hating fucktard), but this one comes with a couple of quick recommendations. First is Robert Dreyfuss' article, The Phony War, which is an excellent account of how the Bush administration has made things worse and speaks to the now obvious fact that the White House clique couldn't care less about terrorism. It was and is now simply a campaign tool.

Bearing that in mind, Robert Kennedy follows up his previous article on the Ohio elections with an even more withering account of the potential elections crimes we're likely to see come November: Will The Next Election Be Hacked? Anyone, which should be everyone, concerned about the prospect of taking the Bush administration to task and a the possibility of a Democratic majority in the House or Senate should read this article. But be warned: this won't instill confidence that the GOP will loose either of their majorities, something I've been saying for awhile now.

By the way, Rolling Stone is making the mainstream media in this country look pathetic; admittedly not a difficult thing to do in the age of infotainment. They have been consistently turning out some excellent and devastating stories in the last few years. Bravo RS!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Die Diebold Die!

Today witnessed a strange sight indeed. After a plethora of problems popped up in Maryland's primary last week, Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich has now issued a call to "scrap" the Diebold machines and move back to paper ballots.
We literally cannot afford to see take place the events that took place on primary day. We were lucky during the primary that there was low turnout.
That's an odd take on elections in any sense, but Ehrlich clearly sees the danger, even if his benighted Democratic state officials do not. Both the state senate president, Mike Miller, and the administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, Linda Lamone, derided Ehrlich's call, claiming that a move back to paper at this late date "cannot happen." Miller went so far as to say, "it will not happen." The motive seems clear enough: both these Democrats endorsed the move to e-voting and sunk $106 million into these dreadful and unruly machines. The thinking appears to be of the inertial kind, something along the lines of "but ...but ...we approved and endorsed these machines, we can't change now," that refuses to admit, not only the previous debacle but the now expected one.

Erhlich has good reason to fear these machines, as do we all. As a Republican governor in a fairly blue state (though that is changing) and facing a tight race against Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley, he rightly sees that screw ups on election night will help neither him nor O'Malley and has the potential to throw the outcome, once again, into severe doubt. He's already battling the Democratic state senate and a doubtful win will not strengthen his mandate. He might even fear the easily hacked Diebold machines, since it is Democrats who are in charge of the election board in Maryland, which is usually the opposite situation to ones we're used to hearing about. I have my doubts about this being an issue, though. Dems don't strike me as anywhere near wily or driven enough to actively hack the vote in a large scale manner.

Maryland legislators and election officials, however, say that the system is "too stressed" and cannot accomodate more change at this point. I've got news for these people: the system didn't accomodate change in the first place. And that was a direct result of Diebold's actions.

Less than weeks before the primary and unbeknownst to most election officials, Diebold arbitrarily decided to throw e-poll books at polling stations rather than use the traditional voter registration books. Poll workers were almost uniformly untrained on these machines; they had never seen them before. But there were functional hangups when e-poll books routinely crashed after about 40 voters had checked in. Hilariously, Tom Feehan, Diebold's project manager for Maryland, claimed that the e-poll books had been tested ... maybe:
I believe they were tested, but they may not have been tested through 40 votes.
Which, in Diebold's world, means that on the 41st vote, the things robustly crashed. Of further note is that a Diebold project manager apparently doesn't know whether testing was done but only seems believe that this happened. Nor does he appear to have any sense of what kind of testing occurred and that it may not have been sufficient. Clearly, it was not sufficient.

There is nothing obviously difficult about reverting back to a system that has been used for decades and only more hassles are expected by "moving forward," as bureaucrats and politicians are wont to say. But state election officials appear to be more concerned with saving face over their adoption of Diebold hardware than doing the right and sensible thing. That they did this against the advice and recommendation of Ehrlich, who has been wary of the machines for sometime, is probably more of a reason to them for staying the course toward what most now expect will be an election night disaster.

Maybe our electoral system will get "lucky" again in November and voter turnout will be low. And if it doesn't, Diebold will make sure that not too many citizens will get to vote anyway.

Indy Red

I've become a big fan of The Independent's Red Edition and it's focus on Africa, a place oft usually ignored by day to day coverage except in the most outrageous situations. This one looks chock full of good stuff. Or, I guess, bad stuff, depending on how you look at it. Of particular interest here is the alarming story about Western waste dumping.

But it is not all grim recount. There is some hope to be drawn from the efforts of committed people.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


It was only a matter of time, really. It was only a matter of time before right wingers would get caught by their unwavering support of indefinite detention, secret prisons and torture of terror suspects. You had to know it would come back to haunt them. All it would take is for some suspects charged with acts of terror to be dubiously convicted of those acts, with one crucial element thrown into the mix. In such a case, the terrorists could not be Muslims. They would have to be something else. Christians, perhaps.

Well, that scenario has indeed come to pass. Three Catholics have been charged and convicted of "masterminding" the massacre of 200 Mulsims in Indonesia; a terrorist act by any definition. The events in question occurred in 2000 and now the lawyers have taken the case to the International Criminal Court. In a move that should surely embarass the Bush administration, the Indonesian government is abiding the human rights convention and will grant the defendents a hearing before the ICC. The lawyers for the convicted men claim that the trial was "riddled with illegalities," witnesses were ignored by the court and evidence rejected.

Into the fray steps bug-eyed monster Michelle Malkin, not to mention other of her irony-free ilk, who has the hypocritical temerity to now express horror that terror suspects were given an unfair trial. In Indonesia. It strikes her not how odd she is, she who thinks indefinite detention and lack of due process is perfectly fine when being conducted the Bush administration and against Muslims. She appears unaware of the odd sight that, at the same time she is bitching about improprieties in a terrorist trial in Indonesia, she is also supports the Bush administration's position that refuses to even conduct a trial for terror suspects. And the ICC? Oh, please. That's a court for other governments' abuses, not ours.

While the American government wrangles over whether to let the Bush administration conduct "coercive interrogations," indefinitely detain suspects without due process and withhold what little evidence they might have during secret military tribunals, which will likely be nothing but a sham, people like Malkin complain that terrorist suspects have been treated unfairly in court in Indonesia. And while Indonesia is willing to abide international law and human rights conventions, sending the disputation to the ICC, Malkin will stand firm in her conviction that the US must never be subjected to the fairy whims of internationalists and supports the White House's every violation of international law, including the subjegation of the sixty years old Geneva Conventions.

These are indeed strange times. How have such obscenely dissociated and confused people like Malkin parlayed their incendiary idiocy into such a cash cow? Do Americans just love unhinged, illogical screeching? Partly. Is it just that she is a hottie with a bad mouth, the kind cable news loves to love? Surely that is part of it, too. But she does not stand in that fevered swamp alone. She is surrounded by far more measured fools scattered about the air waves and printed pages; people who have fueled a discussion that no one could have imagined having only a few short years ago. It is discussion about whether the US government should adopt a White House policy of torture and indefinite detention and make it law. That this is a discussion is explained very much by the presence of people like Malkin on the public airwaves, airwaves that once were meant to convey fact when now and instead they transmit enormous volumes of unadultered bullshit. And you know what they say about bullshit; if you're around it long enough, pretty soon you don't even notice the smell.

Surely, witch burning is somewhere just over the horizon.

[check out Glenn Greenwald's take on this, who was about the first one to notice. I fear the good Glenn spends far too much time hunting down these people.]

Hyde and Seek Reelection

The Republican assault on the electoral system continues apace. H.R. 4844, the so-called Hyde bill, introduces what is essentially a poll tax, a $100 government issued ID card said to thwart voting fraud that does not exist. I'l let President of People for the American Way, Ralph G. Neas, explain what this infuriating effort is really designed to do.
The House has passed a bill which is aimed at petty partisan advantage in the coming elections. It's an effort to keep senior citizens, the poor, the disabled, students and minority voters away from the polls, disguised as a measure to counter massive voter fraud which simply does not exist. We already have harsh criminal penalties on the books to deal with this issue. H.R. 4844 is redundant and unnecessary and a poor attempt to deal with the REAL problems in our election system. Undocumented immigrants are not lining up at the polls to vote illegally, and there is no credible evidence to support this claim. This is a disingenuous attempt to fix the election process that instead primarily targets those groups likely to vote against the ruling majority party in the House and the Senate. That's no accident. Weeks before mid-term elections that could change the balance of power in Congress, the House is continuing to pursue partisan advantage by trying to capitalize on unreasonable anti-immigrant fears. Shame on them.
Facing voter wrath in upcoming elections, the GOP is determined to quash the vote of those who have been most severely affected by Republican domestic policy.

Welcome to the new American century.

Marbleless head

P Diddy, who now refers to Bush in the posse possessive, comes up with some big time street wise:
It's just embarassing the kind of ignorance in my man,

"It's like my man has no marbles up there ... My man is just running up there crazy and the things he's doing are crazy ... Ain't nobody feelin' that war.
Ain't nobody feelin' that war. Well, Puffy ain't quite right. Dick Cheney's feelin' it.

The Lucy Show

The ID'ers take another hit:
Palaeontologists say they have uncovered a nearly complete skeleton of a hominid child who lived at a key stage in primate evolution more than three million years ago.

The fossilised remains of the child, estimated to have died at the age of three and who was probably a female, shed light on a hotly disputed branch of the human tree known as Australopithecus afarensis.

The best-known A afarensis is the famous fossil Lucy, recovered in Ethiopia in 1974 and who, for more than 20 years, was the earliest known member of the hominid family.
This discovery, like all scientific discoveries, displays the inherent weakness of the Intelligent Design argument, as though it were not objectively weak already: science seeks new discovery and with new discoveries adjusts, modifies and incorporates these into the larger theory. If the theory cannot be adjusted so, new ideas necessarily arise.

By contrast, ID simply and stupidly says that everything that can be known about something is already known, so if we don't have evidence of a particular step in a process, ID insists there is no evidence. Period. This is so hopelessly misguided and demonstrates the fatal flaw of ID. It is a dead end; the product of people with little or no imagination.

The Devil and Mr. Chavez

El Diablo Aqui!

The only thing new about Hugo Chave calling George Bush the devil was that, this time, he got to do it in front of the UN General Assembly. US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, a man likely to be dispatched from that job none too soon, refused to sully either himself or his moustache and chose not to attend Chavez's blistering criticism of Bush.
I'm just not going to comment on this because his remarks just don't warrant a response. Serious people can listen to what he had to say and if they do they will reject it.
Apparently, there were more than a few unserious people in the UN who applauded Chavez's remarks about Bush being "el diablo."

Watching these puffy clowns perform at the UN is like watch kindergarten kids during a playground spat. Yesterday, Bush wouldn't listen to Amadinejad and Bolton sat out the Chavez speech. I can almost picture Bolton with his hands over his hears, jumping up and down while Chavez spoke. What a bunch of embarrassing pricks. Of course, Chavez does a cause no good by name-calling, although admittedly, it is amusing to hear, if for no other reason than the fact that there is not another leader on the planet who will stand up and say what so many already believe.

Furthermore, almost everything Bush says now sounds like he is talking about the United States. And he doesn't seem to even know it:
The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons.
Sound familiar? It is difficult to think of any aggressive nation on the planet that doesn't do exactly this.

And what does it say about western diplomacy when the most reasoned articulation at the UN General Assembly comes from a Holocaust denier?

Royal v. Oil

There are a couple of interesting stories up today regarding the funding of groups that are in the business of denying climate change. Bet you didn't even know that was a business. Well, it is.

First up, the UK's leading scientific academy, The Royal Society, has written a letter to ExxonMobil asking the most profitable company on the planet to please stop funding groups that deny climate change. I can't imagine that this will be terribly successful and for two reasons. One, ExxonMobile has been behind the creation of these groups and they fund them specifically to deny climate change. The real goal is create the appearance that there is some "doubt" about the scientific consensus regarding the science of climate and climate change. It is much like the efforts we've seen regarding the teaching of evolution. In fact, at least one tactic echoes the Intelligent Design claims about evolution by claiming that there are "gaps in the scientific basis."

Two, ExxonMobile has gone to some considerable lengths to distance themselves from these groups, creating a rather elaborate network in the process. It hasn't worked too well, though, because everyone knows ExxonMobile funds these clowns. The groups claim to have some "independent" stature when, in fact, just the opposite is true. But ExxonMobile is not about to admit these groups are frauds and usually stand by these groups claims that they are the ones doing the "sound science." Oddly, Bob Ward indicates that ExxonMobile pledged that it would cease such funding activities, though no one knows whether this has happened or not. My guess is ... not.

Which brings us to the other article that really is a must read. George Monbiot has piece up about this very thing; the funding of climate change deniers. But the intriguing aspect of Monbiot's piece is that he traces the origins of science denial to Big Tobacco, the industry that started the ball rolling for climate change denial. The documented web of deceit and perfidy is utterly fascinating.

This should disabuse those remaining few who might still hold big business in some esteem and that the oil industry would never pursue profits without the utmost of responsibility. I don't know how many people there are left on the planet who would have believed that at this point, but now there should be none. Believe nothing they say.


Quote of the Day:
We're kind of being trained to be warriors, only in a much funner way.
-- Jesus Camp.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Shootists of a peace loving nation

On August 11, 2006, nearly 1000 Lebanese civilians had been killed in the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict; collateral damage as militaries are wont to say these days. On this day, Israeli citizens in the town of Bil'in marched in protest of the construction of the seperation wall the Israeli government has been constructing. They have been conducting these protests for over a year and on a routine, weekly basis. With the Lebanese war still raging, though the end was in sight, Israelis soldiers ordered the peaceful demonstrators to halt their march through the town and began to shoot. The IDF opened fire and shot at least one Israeli citizen, who was struck in the head. A rubber bullet had entered his brain. Yes, a head shot. Hardly a warning to disperse. As the soldiers moved down the road, they walked past Limor Goldstein and left him on the side of the road for two hours.

There couldn't be a more apt metaphor for the larger behaviour of the Israeli government and this action should be noted for what it says about that government. We are told, over and over again by these same Israeli officials that Israel is a "peace loving nation." But it is a nation whose government opens fire on its own citizens when they are marching for peace. Words. Deeds.

[thanks to Kel for that clip. Unbelievable. More here, a story from Ha'aretz]

From Budapest to Paris

Now, there's something you don't see everyday:
right wing protesters being blasted
by water canon and bludgeoned by police.

It is certainly difficult not to notice the stark contrast between western media coverage of the rioting in Budapest and the coverage and commentary that surrounded and assailed the rioting in France last fall. In the US, the contrast is most notable for an astounding lack of coverage of what has been described as Hungary's "worst violence since the fall of communism." If the rioting by right wing opponents of Gyurcsany's government is mentioned at all, such mentions find themselves buried somewhere in the back pages.

Contrast this with the coverage of the French riots of November 2005. Media coverage was impossible to ignore. In part, this was due to the extended nature, temporally and spatially, of the French rioting. But one salient feature of news coverage was the unfailing ability to label the rioters as Muslim. Right wing commentators, of course, trumpeted the ethnicity of the rioting hordes as proof that Muslims were simply incapable of assimilation into western, and by implication, "civilized" society. Naturally, anyone bothering to point out other factors such as the obvious second class status of Muslim immigrants in France, police abuse and brutality, high unemployment and de facto segregation experienced by these mostly African immigrants was labelled an appeaser of Islamist violence.

Curiously, no one is bothering to tarnish the white, right wing rioters in Budapest with the same broad brush that was enthusiastically used to paste French Muslims. Nothing like "those crazy right wingers are going nuts! surely their ideology must be violent" is emanating from anyone. Because it is obvious what is causing the unrest and the media are sure to make that known; easy to do in this case, which is why the media can report it. The cause of the rioting is easily conveyed in a sentence. Government lies would -- should -- drive anyone nuts. Everyone can see that. (Except here, of course. Anyone in the US who demonstrates against this country's lying government is simply a "moonbat.")

But the actual rioting seen in Hungary is remarkable for the similarity of its physical manifestions to the rioting seen in France. Burning cars, water canon, shielded riot cops, etc. And it is probably more remarkable to those who had been swamped by tales that French Muslim youths exhibited a penchant for car burning, as though this was particular to the extremes of Muslim rioting. As you can see, it is not. In fact, rioting Hungarians appear to share a similar zest for automotive conflagration as any of their disaffected European brethren.

There was one difference seen in the Hungarian rioting, though, and it was that the rioters tried to seize a state-owned television station to broadcast demands for Gyurcsany's resignation. Now, that's something that apparently did not occur to rioting Muslims in France. And it should have. Because while the western media are more than happy to broadcast every idiotic video pronouncement produced by al Qaeda, the one thing most French citizens were comfortably unaware of is how their government treated those Muslims it had once invited to live and work in France.

I mentioned earlier that the media portrayal of the two riot populations in France and Hungary was "curious." Actually, it is not curious at all. More and more these days, we see a western media, especially the American version of it, fully invested in furthering the large narrative of our time: Muslims are violent by nature and ideology, western, i.e. white, people are not. At least, not without a very good reason. This narrative, which blithely ignores the warring conducted by western society in recent years and especially needs to ignore the illegal invasion of Iraq and the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, is essential to our own myth that we are civilised and "they" are not. We seem more than content to be fed this fudge, with every deliberately provacative cartoon and ill-advised papal speech that incites anger used to further the storyline. And when violent nature surfaces in traditional European populations, as it did in Hungary, the media -- at least those that even bother with it -- are sure to stipulate the reason or reasons, which might help explain the outburst, while they blithely ignore real grievances of disaffected minorites and pawn off the inevitable violent reactions as though they are the result of some ideological madness.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Unrest protest Budapest

Citizens in Hungary apparently hold their prime minister to a much higher standard than that which our own government is used to meeting:
A leaked recording that caught Hungary's prime minister admitting the government had lied about the economy — keeping it afloat through "tricks" and relying on "divine providence" — has prompted protests outside parliament and calls for his resignation.
In fact, by nightfall, thousands of Hungarians were gathered, demanding Prime Minister Gyurcsany step down.

Now, this makes me laugh. Not at the Hungarians, mind you, but at what I imagine would be the reaction here in the US had George Bush been heard saying that the economy was a giant ponzi scheme and that he relies on "divine providence." Oh, wait. He has already said that.

Of course, Bush hasn't exactly used the word, "ponzi," but he is prone to state that the economy is "good," which is a trick in itself. He lies about the economy all the time.

But looking at some of Gyurcsany's remarks, it almost reads like the kind of confessional one imagines the few rational souls left in the White House might be saying on a daily basis:
We screwed up. Not a little, a lot. No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have.

I almost died when for a year and a half we had to pretend we were governing. Instead, we lied morning, evening and night.
But in America, we know this cannot be happening in the White House. And even if it did, and such a recording did make the public airwaves, the spin cycle would wind up instantly. Kristol and Krauthammer would promptly praise the wily Bush for his resourcefulness. Tricks! Tricks of the trade! they would say. That's what he meant. He was speaking in the vernacular, or rather, like he always does. Any fool can see that. Bravo Bush! Bravo for using every trick there is, resourceful and wily! That's presidential character.

Well, you get the idea.

Naturally, any stated reliance by Bush on "divine providence" would be applauded handsomely, as it already has been by his mewling media wonks and the muddle-headed Christian right. A Republican president relying on God -- even saying that God speaks to him -- is not a recipe for riots in the streets of Washington. In this country, it is a source of praise and a sign of good moral character.

You've got to hand it to Gyurcsany, though. The man is at least rational and appears to be fully aware his lies and screw ups (I suspect his reliance on divine providence amounted to something along the lines of "god help us"). He knows he lied about the country's budget deficit in order to help his reelection. He has actually admitted this and something else we don't have a hope in hell of ever hearing from the Bush administration:
[Gyurcsany] admitted that to have a better chance to win last April's elections, the government covered up the true size of the state budget deficit and said a law introducing tax cuts was a mistake.
From a politician, such breathtaking honesty about being dishonest and wrong is entirely refreshing. But the Hungarians are still pissed. The miserable part of this tale is how indolent it makes the citizenry of the United States look. Because you know we wouldn't do what the Hungarians are doing right now: visibly and vocally demanding accountability from their government.

[by the way, the Prime Minister of Hungary has a blog....]

So what was that war about?

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Israel may release more Palestinian prisoners than expected as part of a possible deal for the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted by Palestinian militants in June.

Meanwhile, Israel reacted with caution Monday to reports of marked progress in efforts to win Shalit's freedom.

"The outlines of the agreement, which is not yet complete, affirm the release of the Israeli prisoner in exchange for an initial large batch of women and children and then the release of Palestinian prisoners in three batches," the state news agency MENA said, quoting comments made by Mubarak on Sunday night.

"The president did not specify the number to be released but he indicated that the Israeli side had shown its willingness to release a number greater than expected," MENA said Monday..

The day after

A suicide bomber on a bicycle attacked Canadian troops handing out candy to children in southern Afghanistan on Monday, an Afghan official said. A NATO spokesman said the blast killed four soldiers.

The blast in Kandahar province's Panjwayi district
happened a day after NATO declared an end to a two-week offensive aimed at driving Taliban militants out of safe havens in the same area.
It seems we have not yet learned that making declarations like an offensive is "over" or "mission accomplished" really doesn't mean much to the insurgents. In fact, it appears to be an opportunity to ignite more hostilities.

That's so French

It looks like France is about to take another hit from the warbloggers and neo-con agitators. Chirac is suggesting concession over the nuclear enrichment requirement:
As world leaders head to the United Nations for a week of meetings that are likely to be dominated by the debate over Iran’s nuclear program, President Jacques Chirac of France said today that those seeking negotiations with Tehran should drop their insistence that it halt uranium enrichment before talks begin.

“During that negotiation, I propose that, on the one hand, the six refrain from referring the issue to the Security Council, and that Iran renounce during the negotiation the enrichment of uranium. We can find solutions via dialogue."
Dialogue. It's such a French word. I mean, just look at it.

Of course, what Chirac is calling for is what Tehran has always insisted upon, which means that it will probably go nowhere, at least within the White House. I can see Michelle Malkin's already distended eyeballs popping completely out of their sockets. Expect calls from Kristol and Krauthammer to nuke Paris.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Re: Those Darn Gas Prices

An interesting discussion regarding speculation of pre-election gas price manipulation has developed in the comments at Toner Mishap (I'm sure it is going on elsewhere) where Dr. Steven Taylor of Poliblog, posted his latest argument that the price of domestic gasoline is purely a function of falling futures oil prices on the world market. This, of course, is exactly what the oil industry, including OPEC and major oil producers such as ExxonMobile, BP, etc., expect that we should believe. They all further claim that they cannot possibly manipulate oil futures trading of this commodity. I'll first offer some evidence that this later claim is, at best, naive, before discussing gasoline prices.

While I initially argued only that oil companies have very tight control of the price of gas as it is charged in the US, it is commonly claimed that oil companies simply cannot influence the world market. This seems reasonable on its surface but further reading suggests that, indeed, oil companies have engaged in market manipulation on the world stage. In fact, Wharton School alum and former commodities trader, Raymond Learsy, informs us that BP has already been caught in the act and agreed to a financial settlement with the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMERC) in order to quash allegations of improper trading activity:
The settlement cited so-called wash trades-- the simultaneous swaps of the same amount of a commodity for the same price. The technique is used to improperly boost trading volumes or revenue and, most significantly, to influence market pricing.
Learsy further elucidates with other of BP market manipulation tales. A lawsuit was filed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in Chicago, alleging price manipulation of the propane market. In short, oil companies have engaged in market manipulation. This really should not surprise us. If the Enron debacle taught us anything, it should be the lesson that corporations can and will manipulate markets and specifically energy markets, and construct some rather elaborate mechanisms to do this. Learsy points out that the reason this can happen is that futures trading is entirely opaque; no one knows who is buying and selling in the futures oil market and that this is only a recent phenomenon.
Transparency is key to a realistic assessment of the oil market.
And transparency is simply not a feature of futures oil trading in the world market.

Previously, oil was traded on a "wet barrel' basis, that is, on the actual current supply of the commodity and its extant demand. Now and for the last few years, oil, among other commodities, has been traded on future expectations rather than "real" conditions. Imagined future expectations are simply another term for speculation and it is well known the distortions that speculation can introduce to a market because within a paradigm of speculation trading, rumour and innuedo can have a far more effective role than actual forces of supply and demand. We have not seen an actual shortage of oil on the world market -- OPEC's president Edmund Daukoru claimed plenty of spare capacity as recently as July -- yet the price went up and up. Until it didn't. So what changed?

Various specious arguments have been offered, namely that there has been a "stabilization of the political situation in the Middle East," as though the mere cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah imparted some magical calm on the region. Various pundits still agitate for attacks on Syria and Iran and Iraq continued its swirl down the political drain, with close ties between Tehran and Baghdad further manifesting themselves while it has recently been seen that Baghdad needs to be walled off from the rest of the country. I don't know which "Middle East" is being referred above, but surely it is not the one on planet earth.

This recent price decline is also odd considering that many market observers such as Goldman Sachs, had been imagining a $100+ barrel of oil in the near future. Iran's deputy oil minister, Hadi Nejad Hosseinian, also echoed this sentiment, citing "geopolitical factors" and that "global demand for oil was much higher than supply", which directly contradicted the statements of the OPEC president. Or perhaps not, since the "supply" is strictly controlled by OPEC. What is clear from all this is that there is nothing clear about why oil prices are now falling when almost everyone expected them to increase further.


On the issue of gasoline prices, Dr. Taylor offers up the standard DoE chart of the price composition of a gallon of gasoline and further cites a comparative chart showing the price of oil and the price of gasoline to refute claims that gas pricing might be manipulated. While the macro trend is clear and indisputable, at smaller scales, the graph itself illustrates exactly what I had pointed out: short term gasoline prices can spike and drop significantly and asynchronously relative to the price of oil. Also, the price of oil in futures trading has seen a decline of about 18% in the last few weeks. During this same time, the price of gasoline has dropped precipitously by 33%. Oil and gas prices, while obviously correlated, are not as tightly coupled as suggested by Dr. Taylor, which is what had been argued earlier.

The gas pump chart, cited by Dr. Taylor, has also been addressed by Robert Learsy and, in doing so, disabuses us of the notion that the majority of the gasoline price is due to the profitless price of oil, as though oil companies make no money off the price of oil itself.
The oil companies profess that they make only 8.5 cents on a dollar of gasoline. What is brushed over is that the major players in the industry aren't simply refiners or distributors, but they are major producers of crude oil as well, so that the "global price of oil" that constitutes 54% of a gallon of gasoline offers these companies their core profit base and not the sales price of gasoline....
What is utterly glossed over in this chart is that companies such as ExxonMobile, Total, BP and other major producers plan oil production, i.e. so-called "installed capacity," on the basis of very low world prices. How low?
In June 2000 Thierry Desmarest Chairman of France's oil giant Total, declared that his corporation would not invest in finding any oil that would be unprofitable at $13/bbl. Desmarest was certainly reflecting accepted wisdom in the oil patch at the time.
But new capacity is more expensive and since 2000, oil producers plan on capacity now based on $25/bbl oil. But the older, cheaper installed capacity still exists, pumping out $70/bbl oil when acceptable profit is realized at $13/bbl. Averaging the two profit thresholds is $19/bbl. Assuming a nominal profit margin of 8.5% at $19/bbl, this means that, of the claimed 52% "cost" of oil in gas prices -- the real cost of the installed capacity to produce that oil amounts to 13% of the price of a gallon of gasoline. As Learsy notes, this amounts to "earnings of 368% on every dollar in crude oil equivalent sales."

What this is meant to demonstrate is that the actual costs of production for oil companies is fixed, and fixed at a very low level, while most of the crude price is realised as profit, not cost. With such a large, slushy profit margin, clearly, there is room for oil companies to set gas prices. And we know they do this. As a putative "independent dealer," just ask any franchised gasoline station whether they are able to set their own price.

But the larger question that spurred all of this discussion is, can or would oil companies dictate domestic gas prices on the eve of an election that is clearly threatening the Republican majorities in Congress, majorities that have been unbashedly generous in their treatment of the oil industry. Recently, we've seen the GOP-led House block any legislative attempts to increase oil company tax bill. And the House "energy" bill contained a number of tax breaks, give aways and liability protections. In the aftermath of Katrina, one of the first things Bush advocated was a environmental regulation free zone for oil companies, ostensibly to loose them of bureaucratic encumberances so that they might better and more quickly recover lost production capacity.

In return for all this treatment, oil companies have indeed been generous, lavishing Republicans with campaign contributions, this year giving five times the money to the GOP than what Democrats have received so far in 2006. As this graph of political campaign contributions shows, the oil industry is hughly biased toward the GOP and has been for sometime, especially since Republicans won the House majority in 1994.

We also know that oil company executives are not above lying to Congress about their involvement with Dick Cheney and his Energy Task Force, an episode demonstrating that oil futures trading is not the only aspect of the energy business that is "opaque." In short, it is simply not possible to believe that oil companies do not have a vested interest in seeing Republicans maintain that party's congressional majorities.

Given that we know energy companies have manipulated energy markets and given the enormous profits and fine treatment said companies have enjoyed under the governance of the Bush administration and a Republican Congress, it strikes as mere naivete to think that gas prices are somehow out of the control of oil companies. It seems even more so to think them incapable of this sort of behaviour. Oil companies have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for malicious corporate malfeasance throughout the history of the age of oil. Nothing about this history is the slightest bit suggestive that oil companies are above adjusting circumstances in the short term to their advantage. And one of their advantages is a Republican-led majority in Congress. Besides, tweaking gas prices before an election would one of their lesser egregious behaviours.

Yes, this is speculation. "Wild accusation"? Hardly.

Further reading about the price gouging, profiteering and suspected market manipulation by OPEC and others, Raymond Learsy's series of articles:

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gas Pump, 1.15.2006

OPEC Agonistes, 1.29.2006

As Oil Prices Rise the Media Slumbered Away, 4.25.2006

Gasoline Over $3.00 Gallon, Why? BP Knows. 7.12.2006

The Enron Loophole ...., 7.20.2006

The Price of Oil is Falling and the Oil Patch Drums Are Beating, 8.18.2006

Deception From America's Oil & Natural Gas Industry, 8.27.2006

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A new DHS employee

misanthrope has some news about the Department of Homeland Security:
Disgraced Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairwoman Patricia C. Dunn, who resigned her leadership position on the HP board for spying on her peers on the board regarding a media leak, is going to be appointed to a Homeland Security position.

“Patricia Dunn is a patriot and a honorable America who will make a great addition to our efforts to protect the American people from the proliferating terrorists eager to attack freedom loving citizens,” said an unidentified White House official. “Without Patty’s brave forceful steps we could have had any number of computers or printers producing mushroom clouds.”

An uncorroborated report has it that Vice President Dick Cheney praised her efforts and said California attorney general Bill Lockyer would rather give traitors free reign to provide comfort to the enemy.

HP’s outside attorney appears to have had prior knowledge of the wiretapping and did not stop it. President Bush was so impressed by the attorney that he may introduce him as a Supreme Court judge nominee when one of those liberal jurists who’d rather make laws than interpret the laws retires or dies.
I agree. The DHS would be foolish to let this woman out of their grasp. She's perfect for them.