Tuesday, October 31, 2006

As Ohio goes, so goes the nation...

Do you want to read a chilling tale on this All Hallow's Eve? Here's one. Wasserman and Fitrakis deliver a frighter about the state of the voting system in Ohio. The bottom line: disaster looms under a cloud of contradictory court orders, confused voter ID requirements and voter roll purges. Six years after 2000, the electoral system has only gotten worse and more contentious under Republican guidance. Do we, any of us, still wonder why this should be so?
Through a complex series of legal maneuvers, and now a shocking new decision from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the GOP has thrown Ohio's entire process of voting and vote counting into serious disarray. The mess is perfectly designed to suppress voter turnout, make election monitoring and a recount impossible, and allow the Republican Party to emerge with a victory despite overwhelming evidence the electorate wants exactly the opposite.


Thousands of Ohio citizens may also not know if they are actually registered to vote. All 88 of Ohio's county boards of election are effectively controlled by Secretary of State Blackwell. Since 2000, without official notification, some 170,000 voters have been stripped from the registration rolls in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), 170,000 in Franklin County (Columbus), 105,000 in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and 28,000 in Lucas County (Toledo).

Overall nearly 500,000 registered voters are known to have been eliminated from the rolls in overwhelmingly Democratic districts in a state where 5.6 million people voted in 2004, and where George W. Bush won with an alleged margin of less than 119,000 ballots. There is no evidence similar eliminations have occurred in Republican areas.
Yes, it is all very terrifying. What happened to land of the free, home of the brave? The effect this seems to be having is, rather than enraging the electorate, it is cowing them into submission. Not believing their votes are even going to be counted let alone matter, they simply seem to be shrugging shoulders and slumping home. Karl Rove must be proud.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Stop your glitching

In a follow-up to a previous post about reports coming in from Missouri, Texas and Arkansas that voters were seeing their Democratic ballot choices mysteriously converted to the Republican candidates, reports are likewise coming in from Florida, where several instances of voters watching their onscreen Democratic selections turned into votes for the Republican nominee have been observed.
Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist....

Joan Marek, 60, a Democrat from Hollywood, was also stunned to see Charlie Crist on her ballot review page after voting on Thursday....

Mauricio Raponi wanted to vote for Democrats across the board at the Lemon City Library in Miami on Thursday. But each time he hit the button next to the candidate, the Republican choice showed up.
It's always amusing to watch MSM try to quickly convey that none of this is an indication of any underlying and systematic behaviour but, rather, is simply manifesting a few spurious "glitches," glitches that always seem to be switching votes from Democrats or Independent candidates to Republicans. The actual "glitch" we're probably seeing is that the machine is displaying the vote switch.

In fact, I have never seen one report of a Republican vote being converted to another candidate. That's quite a biased glitch and it is certainly not random by any stretch of one's statistical imagination. The authors of the Miami Herald piece even extend to themselves the chore of immediately labelling anyone suspicious of such one-side behaviour as wild-eyed "conspiracy theorists." But we have now seen reports of exactly this same biased vote switching in 2004, as detailed in the Conyers Report, and now, two years later, voters in four states have reported exactly the same biased behaviour in early voting for these crucial mid-term elections. If you're not suspicious of this, chances are you're an idiot. Or a writer for the Miami Herald.

Election workers seem harried enough and no doubt are apoplectic about what voters in Miami are seeing. Some are even shutting down machines, which bodes poorly for election day operations. However, voter concerns are supposed to be assuage by the following bizarre and entirely senseless explanation, offered up by Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney,
it's not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly. Poll workers are trained to recalibrate them on the spot -- essentially, to realign the video screen with the electronics inside.
The frank admission that such behaviour is "not uncommon" is unsettling enough, but the very odd idea that one has to realign the screen with the electronics inside is about as specious an explanation as we've probably ever seen. Which probably means that it came straight from the PR office at ES&S.

I am not going to delve into what a raft of nonsensical bullshit comprises that meaningless, toss-off line, but if that makes sense to you, you might be able to find employment with the Broward Board of Elections or, even better, the company that make Broward's voting machines, ES&S. As I've said before, have you ever seen an ATM machine get so confused and "out of sync" that is started withdrawing money from someone else's account? Or displaying another account while the "electronics inside" conducted business properly on your account? Neither have I. But apparently this problem is so common with touch screen voting machines, election officers have a 15 step procedure for "re-calibrating" such out-of-sync voting machines, machines that seem to get tired and forgetful about who is doing what.

November 7, here we come. Be sure to bring your chicken bones and have your netherworld incantations memorized and ready to recite.

Medicare made sleazy

Though there had never been any direct discussion of who was involved in pushing it through Congress, surprise won't likely present itself in most people's minds when they learn that Jack Abramoff and his network of influence peddlars were glommed all over the Medicare Perscription bill. Barbara Dreyfuss delivers a detailed account of how the biggest expansion of Medicare in 40 years was humped by Abramoff and his various "non-profit" organisations at the behest of Big Pharma; an astounding reticulum of lobbyists, players, cronies, congressional Republican hacks, drug industry pushers, and astro-turfing front organisations.
It’s well known that in his crusade to pass the bill, DeLay drew on more than 800 pharmaceutical-industry lobbyists, millions of dollars in campaign contributions, and the efforts of numerous business and healthcare groups. But this grossly flawed legislation could never have passed without the help of the same players who were central to Abramoff’s lobbying operation: Tony Rudy and Ed Buckham. Using a nest of nonprofits flush with corporate cash, the discredited lobbyists played a vital, albeit hidden, role in whittling down congressional opposition to the bill for more than a year before the final vote. In particular, Alexander Strategy made use of three senior nonprofit groups—the United Seniors Association, the Seniors Coalition and 60 Plus—and a Christian evangelical group, America 21, which were all funded heavily by the pharmaceutical industry. This is the story of how this shadowy network helped saddle the American public with the Medicare drug bill—the biggest, most important piece of policy in which the dubious talents of Abramoff’s acolytes were brought to bear.
If you can stomach the tale, check it out.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Let's waste lots of money

After a first viewing of the RNC-sponsored attack ad that sported some lovely sexual innuedo on Harold Ford's Playboy party habits, I thought that it was insipid and pointlessly low on the scale of attack ads. In others words, it was fairly typical of Republican campaigning. And then I started reading about how the advert was being described as "racist." This baffled me. I watched it again and still didn't see it. Soon, everyone was calling it racist. I remained stumped by this controversy until I read that the racism inherent in the advertisement was of a White Supremacist nature; that white racists and similar earthern-ware would be incensed by the implication of inter-racial sex contained within the RNC spot. Ahhh. Finally, I got it. A little slow on the uptake, I'll admit, but I'm guessing that stems from my not being the slightest bit bothered by inter-racial relationships. The implication, literally, did not register.

But, we are talking Tennessee here. And then it started to occur to me what an utter waste of RNC money this ad really was. One wonders why the RNC would blow a wad of cash on an advert clearly meant to appeal to the white supremacist/racist crowd in Tenneesee. Such an advertisement hardly requires an appearance in the Corker/Ford race. I mean, what southern white racist is going to be voting for ... the black guy?

Keep up the fine work, Mehlman. Not only did you stir up a stink, make the RNC look like the bunch of racist fucks we already know you are, but you wasted gobs of money targeting voters who would have voted for Corker anyway. On the other hand, between this ridiculous appeal to the KKK and the endless, mindless jabbering about the trumped-up Fox/Limbaugh tussle, that money has managed to refract the limited attentions of the squawking heads away from Iraq, Afghanistan and every other disaster wrought by this administration and its Republican Congress. So, maybe the money has done just what was intended after all.

But one has to further wonder about the corporate backers of the RNC; are they the slightest bit bothered by the use to which their monies are being put? Considering the cash that keeps spilling into RNC coffers, it doesn't look like it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Made in America

US is only country to oppose UN arms trade treaty

America is the only country to have voted against a proposed United Nations treaty aimed at controlling international arms sales.

The proposed treaty, which human rights groups have promoted as a significant move towards keeping small arms out of conflict zones, was endorsed on Tuesday by 15 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, the South African archbishop.

The measure, aimed at closing loopholes in existing arms trade treaties, would investigate ways to impose standards on the import, export and transfer of weapons.

The resolution was adopted with 139 countries voting in favour of the motion, 24 abstentions and only one "no" vote.
The free-flow of arms in the world is one of the reasons US troops are getting blown up and shot every fucking day. Why does the Bush administration hate American troops? Well, we know why. The US is the leading arms dealer in world. Such a treaty would tend to affect the bottom line for a lot of American defense contractors. So, US troops -- and everyone else for that matter -- be damned. It's all about the money.

Holy Smoke

Republicans are loving the recent New Jersey court ruling in favour of civil rights for gay couples. Naturally, the GOP, led by a beseiged George Bush, quickly co-opted the decision for equal protection under law and made it all about the "institution of marriage." Activist judges also made their requisite appearance in Bush admonishment:
Yesterday in New Jersey, we had another activist court issue a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage.
Despite the fact that the ruling made no pronoucement about marriage at all and strictly demanded that civil law allow gay couples equal rights, Bush trotted out the usual canard to thunderous, idiot applause.
I believe it’s a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families, and it must be defended.
The health and well being of families. This will be guarded by the institute of marriage. But this institution is apparently unable to help the 1 to 3 million women a year who are abused by spouses and former spouses. Nor does the institution guard itself against a 50% divorce rate or joke Las Vegas drive-through weddings. Nor does marriage help reduce Bible-thumping marriage defenders from killing their wives, where the highest rates of domestic murder are seen in the reddest parts of Bush's Jesusland.

But such material considerations are, of course, not part of the political equation for Republicans and those supercilous boors who will insist that gay couples are a threat to American values. This comes at a time when deflection was needed. Dead and dying in Iraq? increasing violence and mayhem there? budget deficits ad infinitum? Wait! we've got gay people getting equal rights in New Jersey!

Oh, how they will use this in yet another repetition of the painfully maudlin act of righteous indignation that Republicans have so come to repeat as oft as possible and the one which we have so grown to loathe and expect in every election cycle.

Besides beating up on a shaking Michael J. Fox, what else have they got? Nothing.

Glitches Brew

It can only be expected that, as election day approaches, more and more "glitches" are going to be found with all the flakey Diebold machines, the behaviour of which no one seems to understand. Indeed, reports from actual voters are surfacing, starkly reminiscent of details in the Conyers' Report, that their votes are being switched from Democratic or Libertarian candidates to the Republicans on the ballot. Here is a snippet of one such voter report in Missouri:
He voted for Claire McCaskill, but each time he, the election worker, and the election supervisor pressed the screen for Claire, the screen said he had voted for Jim Talent.
In the Arkansas governor's race between Democratic candidate Mike Beebe and Republican nominee Asa Hutichinson:
the machine on which Serge tried to vote hadn't been calibrated correctly so that when he touched the screen to vote for Mike Beebe the vote was cast for Asa!
That's quite a novel conceit: hadn't been calibrated correctly. As in, the machine is not supposed to show that it switched the vote.

In Texas, an independent voter makes use of a lot of exclamation points:
I DID NOT VOTE FOR ANY REPUBLICANS. I was very careful about my choices and watched as each X was placed in the correct box.

There were three names that offered me the choice of Rep and Lib. Three times in succession I choose Lib, but the machine gave my vote to the Rep !!!!!!!.

As the summary appeared for me to check it, Perry, Dewhurst and Combs all had an X WHICH I AM SURE I DID NOT GIVE TO THEM.
Anecdotal, of course. That similar behaviour is seen in three different states becomes problematic for any excuses by way of "error" or "mistake." And let's all just be clear about one thing here: computers do not make "mistakes." They do exactly as they are instructed. I simply cannot believe we allow this nonsense to be passed off as "mistakes."

How is it that Diebold is able to make perfectly functional ATM machines and yet cannot build a touch screen voting machine that behaves properly (and by "properly" I mean, of course, that votes are actually registered correctly)? Why is the act of pushing a touch screen on a bank machine perfectly predictable and yet the act of pushing a touch screen voting machine akin to some act of voodoo? Will we next be advised to come armed with some netherworld incantation, prepared to roll our eyes to back of our heads and wave a clutch of chicken bones over the screen?

The reason that voting machines behave this way is because they are allowed to. If that sounds like a tautology, it is. No one, at least no one in a position to do so, holds Diebold accountable for the appalling performance of their machines in the voting booth. This is one of the reasons why so many citizens voting rights movements have sprung up around the country in the last few years. Public officials are not only not doing their jobs to ensure fair elections, they are on the forefront of further installing these electronic abominations and resisting the obvious requirements of any nominal voting process; voting data are not proprietary.

If ATM machines performed in a manner even remotely resembling their voting box cousins, Diebold would be out of business within a week, if not sooner, saddled with any number of lawsuits and SEC investigations. But in the foggy world of the American electoral system, not only are badly behaved, insecure voting machines tolerated by the system, Diebold and others continue to enjoy ever increasing contractual awards for even more of these malign black boxes.

These reports are coming out during early voting. One can already get a sense of the sheer disaster awaiting the voting public on election day.

[stories via Bradblog]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Risky Business

Michael Collins at Scoop has a fascinating post, PROTECTING THE DEMOCRATIC VOTE, which everyone should check out. Detailing the results of Monte Carlo simulations of polling data to make election predictions, Collins and Truthisall have produced a number of interesting results that indicate strong majorities for Democrats should be the result of the November elections. Of course, we know that won't be the case but it has little to do with the accuracy of the polls or these simulations.

In the following chart, they highlight those Senate seats that are likely prime suspects for vote fraud. Depsite many of the seats looking to go to Democrats -- by a 100% certainly according the simulation -- the highlighted races are the ones expected to suffer severe "problems" on election day.

Webb is not going to turf out racist idiot Allen, which says far too much -- none of it good -- about Allen's voting soul-mates in Virginia. And, sadly, Connecticut looks to be sporting about as clueless and servile a population of incumbency whores as any in the nation. I also serioulsy doubt that Ford is going to beat Corker at this point, not that Democrats would or should care about that clown getting into the Senate, what with his fevered pitches against pressing issues like gay marriage.

Nonetheless, there are 6 senate seats that the simulation predicts are in the bag for Democrats, which would give them the majority in that house. What more is there to say about this other than ... we'll see.

And in case you might think that this election will be all about Diebold and ES&S machines, Greg Palast has already documented the traditional methods of voter fraud and suppression that have been used quite effectively in the last few elections. In 2004, more than 3 million ballots went uncounted:
Like a forensic crime scene investigation unit, we can perform a post mortem starting with the exhumation of more than three million uncounted votes:
  • Provisional Ballots Rejected. An entirely new species of ballot debuted nationwide in 2004: the "provisional ballot." These were crucial to the Bush victory. Not because Republicans won this "provisional" vote. They won by rejecting provisional ballots that were cast overwhelmingly in Democratic precincts. The sum of "the uncounted" is astonishing: 675,676 ballots lost in the counties reporting to the federal government. Add in the missing jurisdictions and the un-vote climbs to over a million: 1,090,729 provisional ballots tossed out.
  • Spoiled Ballots. You vote, you assume it’s counted. Think again. Your "x" was too light for a machine to read. You didn’t punch the card hard enough and so you "hung your chad." Therefore, your vote didn’t count and, crucially, you’ll never know it. The federal Election Assistance Commission toted up nearly a million ballots cast but not counted. Add in states too shy to report to Washington, the total “spoilage” jumps to a rotten 1,389,231.
  • Absentee Ballots Uncounted. The number of absentee ballots has quintupled in many states, with the number rejected on picayune technical grounds rising to over half a million (526,420) in 2004. In swing states, absentee ballot shredding was pandemic.
  • Voters Barred from Voting. In this category we find a combination of incompetence and trickery that stops voters from pulling the lever in the first place. There’s the purge of "felon" voters that continues to eliminate thousands whose only crime is VWB — Voting While Black. It includes subtle games like eliminating polling stations in selected districts, creating impossible lines. No one can pretend to calculate a hard number for all votes lost this way any more than you can find every bullet fragment in a mutilated body. But it’s a safe bet that the numbers reach into the hundreds of thousands of voters locked out of the voting booth.
After looking at these numbers, is it any wonder why the powers that be were encouraging voters to vote early with absentee ballots? Next to provisional ballots, they're about the easiest ones to toss out.

I'm hopeful that many Americans are on to this game and take whatever measures they can to beat the house. Now that a large piece of the population believes that the 2004 election was stolen, perhaps this awareness will make it more difficult this year. We all need to stand up to the gaming of the system and get those votes counted. Good luck.

Wishing Well

In the aftermath of the North Korean nuclear test, there was much discussion -- continuing today -- as to what it all meant, whose fault it was, blah, blah, blah. It was pretty clear whose fault it was and it was also clear that those same people probably imagined that Kim Jong-il's uppity defiance of Rice and the US diplomatic corps, such as it is, would be a boon to Bush and the Republicans in the run-up to the elections. I had claimed that the nuclear test was something the Bushies were probably dreaming about:
The "Rogue State" the Bushies have been harping about for so long has finally made itself manifest. Terrorism and rogue states are life blood to this White House and while rogue states were hard to come by, through a few years of posturing and threats, why, now we have one.

As they say, sometimes you do get what you wish for.
A few folks chimed in, doubting that the adminstration could be so callous. As for myself, I never doubt that. But I can understand the reticence to believe that the White House could willfully wish for the North Korean development.

So it was with a particular interest that I read this little blurb at ThinkProgress, which found a small statement buried within a recent WaPo story:
Before North Korea announced it had detonated a nuclear device, some senior officials even said they were quietly rooting for a test, believing that would finally clarify the debate within the administration.
Ergo, the previous statement stands, fully vindicated.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Now, less than ever

Reporters without Borders has just released their survey of international journalistic freedom. The beacon of democracy didn't finish up well. At all. The United States ranked 53rd, right along side other shining lights of transparent democracy, Botswana, Croatia and Tonga:
The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.

Bring on the coup

Via Cosmic Iguana comes word that UPI is reporting a possible military coup-in-the-making against the Maliki "government" in Iraq:
CAIRO, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Iraqi army officers are reportedly planning to stage a military coup with U.S. help to oust the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Cairo-based Iraqi and Arab sources said Monday several officers visited Washington recently for talks with U.S. officials on plans for replacing Maliki's administration by a "national salvation" government with the mission to re-establish security and stability in Iraq.

One Iraqi source told United Press International that the Iraqi army officers' visit to the United States was aimed at coordinating the military coup in case the efforts of Maliki's government to restore order reached a dead end.

The proposed plan, according to the source, stipulates that the new Iraqi army, with the assistance of U.S. forces, will take control of power, suspend the constitution, dissolve parliament and form a new government. The military will also take direct control of the various provinces and the administration after imposing a state of emergency.
At this point, all one can wonder is, well, why not? It might make Bush's reassuring phone call to Maliki look a little disingenuous but it's not like that has ever bothered the White House before. And that whole "freedom and democracy" thing gets tossed out a Green Zone window in favour of "security and stability" but, really, only idiots ever believed that invading Iraq was about helping Iraqis experience the joys of democracy. If what they have there now could be called democracy, clearly joy is not part of that particular foreign policy package.

So, I say bring it on! It would be a truly grand moment in the annals of failed foreign policy watching the United States orchestrate and carry out a military coup against its own installed government in Baghdad. Such a move comes with a certain amount of built-in self-incrimination on many levels. A coup d'etat would be clearly and obviously a bad move -- really bad -- which is exactly why it is entirely conceivable that the batch of clowns in the White House could be considering something like this.

Hungry like the troops

This past spring brought us the unpleasant tale that US troops in Iraq were systematically underfed, receiving only two meals a day, and that Marines were knocking on the doors of Iraqi households asking for food.
Nick Andoscia went to Iraq. And hunger soon followed.

"I got a letter," says Karen. "And he had called me before that. He said, 'Send lots of tuna.' "

Nick told his mother that he and the men in his unit were all about 10 pounds lighter in their first few weeks in Iraq. They were pulling 22-hour patrol shifts. They were getting two meals a day and they were not meals to remember.

"He told me the two meals just weren't cutting it. He said the Iraqi food was usually better. They were going to the Iraqis and basically saying, 'feed me.' "
As if this wasn't enough to blow another hole in the White House's "support the troops" meme, we now have yet another grim tale stateside: military families, strapped by long delpoyments of their soldiering family members and unable to make ends meet, are collecting donated food.
As the Iraq war marches toward its fourth anniversary, food lines operated by churches and other nonprofit groups are an increasingly valuable presence on military bases countywide. Leaders of the charitable groups say they're scrambling to fill a need not seen since World War II.

Too often, the supplies run out before the lines do, said Regina Hunter, who coordinates food distribution at one Camp Pendleton site.

“Here they are defending the country. . . . It is heartbreaking to see,” said Hunter, manager of the on-base Abby Reinke Community Center. “If we could find more sources of food, we would open the program up to more people. We believe anyone who stands in a line for food needs it and deserves it.”

The base's list of recipients swells by 100 to 150 people a month as the food programs streamline their eligibility process, word spreads among residents and ever-proud Marines adjust to the idea of accepting donated goods.
This story is a couple of weeks old and apart from the travesty presented here, why aren't the Democrats pointing out the craven hypocrisy of the Republicans regarding the troops? It certainly isn't hard to do. Or, for that matter, why isn't the media? ... uh, never mind that last question.

This behaviour is well-known. From short-changing troops on body armour and armoured vehicles to chronic underfeeding and abusive treatment of the wounded -- all while Halliburton's profits continue their ceaseless upswing since 2001 -- the Bush adminstration has been allowed to spill their drivel about "the troops" for far too long. But now, while military families stand in food lines, what is the White House engaged in? Why, refactoring the rhetoric of "stay the course" into a new, new strategy of renaming the same policy of do-nothingism in Iraq and calling it "adapting to win." This is governance as joke, a joke that is a long, long way from funny.

Iraq: hell on earth

This country has been turned by two of the most powerful and civilised nations on Earth into the most hellish place on Earth. Armies claiming to bring democracy and prosperity have brought bloodshed and a misery worse than under the most ruthless modern dictator. This must be the stupidest paradox in modern history. Neither America nor Britain has the guts to rule Iraq properly, yet they lack the guts to leave.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chop Shop

If it were not true at this point, the electoral system of the United States has moved from being a frustrating sham and has now entered the realm of joke, a tale told by an idiot.
U.S. Senate candidate James Webb's last name has been cut off on part of the electronic ballot used by voters in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville because of a computer glitch that also affects other candidates with long names....
Long Names. James Webb.

We're told that this problem simply cannot be fixed before election day.

After this amazing introduction, the WaPo article proceeds to inform us that the "problem" will not affect the vote totals for those candidates who are lucky enough to actually have voters know whom they are voting for. James H., James T., James P. are running in various races. This is some kind of bad luck for Jim Webb, he is up against sentorial incumbent and equally long-named George F. Allen, whose super-long name is appears to be unaffected in the same way as James Webb's long name. George F. Allen's full name appears on the ballot summary page. Voters will get to see "James H." in Webb's listing.

This problem seems to be limited to only the so-called summary pages. It is claimed -- though why anyone should believe such a claim at this point is beyond reckoning -- that the full names will appears on the ballot pages themselves. But still, claiming that this is a problem encountered by "long names" and then showing that Webb's name is cutoff and Allen's is not makes no sense. At all. Something else is clearly going here but we will likely never know what that something is. Fortunately, this problem appears to be limited to only the three jurisdictions that had purchased Hart InterCivic voting machines.

And just who or what is Hart InterCivic? They are an Austin, Tx., based firm that have been peddling their piss-poor wares around the country for sometime and have been involved in federal elections for the last few years. Despite the claim that "Hart InterCivic's integrity, quality, effectiveness, and commitment are simply unmatched in the election vendor community," they have not garnered much in the way of confidence, especially from their own employees, one of whom blew the whistle on Hart InterCivic in 2004 by writing letters to the Sectretaries of State in Ohio and Texas detailing a "long history of concealing problems" for "the sake of profit." More pointedly, the whistleblower claimed and supported that Hart InterCivic engaged in
criminal fraud, extreme negligence, and a distinct and troubling pattern of failure to uphold the public trust both in violations of the spirit of its contracts [and] also in concealing problems in an industry which so crucially represents the public interest.
Not only did neither of the Secretaries of State bother to respond to these letters, they both actively denied ever receiving such certified mail. They also never got a series of emails. Naturally enough, The Washington Post didn't bother to tell readers any of this.

It was also a Hart InterCivic machine, sporting a "glitch," that added 100,000 votes in one county to the vote total in the Texas primary this past spring. Problems, of course, were seen throughout the state during that primary and most occurred on Hart machines.

The problems being seen now and those that will continue to be seen through election day -- though I can barely bring myself to use that phrase anymore -- will continue to be downplayed the media. The people running these voting machines companies are venal, employ felons convicted of computer fraud, and have generally demonstrated behaviour that, to say the least, should be regarded with extreme caution. But the political establishment of this country, and that includes the media, not only doesn't do that, it openly embraces these companies and shuffles billions of dollars their way. And why not? They're only delivering the product desired by those sending these companies all that money. Or, as Chris Floyd describes it:
It's a shell game, with money, companies and corporate brands switching in a blur fo buy-outs and bogus fronts. It's a sink-hole, where mobbed-up operators, paid-off public servants, crazed Christian fascists, CIA shadow-jobbers, war-pimping arms dealers -- and presidential family members -- lie down together in the slime. It's a hacker's dream, with pork-funded, half-finished, secretly-programmed computer systems installed without basic security standards by potically-partsan private firms, and protected by law from public scrutiny.
Surely, you won't mind voting on first name basis. It'll make that whole torturous voting process seem familiar and friendly. And please, be sure not to step on the GOP operatives as you leave the polling station. They are, after all, only there to help.

The War of Terror

Olbermann rips another one out of the park...

Whistling in the Dark

Something tells me this isn't quite the "October surprise" Rove had in mind:
Sixty five active duty service members are officially asking Congress to end the war in Iraq -- the first time active troops have done so since U.S. invasion began in 2003.

Three of the service members will hold a press conference Wednesday explaining their decision to send "Appeals for Redress" under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act to their members of Congress. Under the act, National Guard and Reservists can send communications about any subject to their member of Congress without punishment.
How long will it be before that whistleblower protection act gets repealed? Since they already did such a thing for civilian government whistleblowers, it's rather amazing the White House didn't cover this base.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Two mints in one: illegal and useless

There has been an enormous amount of yakking about the NSA wiretapping program, regarding both its illegality and its efficacy. The Bush administration and their various sychophants have always claimed that they are listening in on "the terrorists." Who doesn't want the NSA listening in on the terrorists? Why, you'd have to be an America-hater not to want that to be happening. Right?

Well, this guy dispenses a little lesson about just how useless the NSA wiretapping program probably is. A few simple VoIP phones, a small computer set up as a telephone server and voila, a secret, private, encrypted telephone network that operates independently of the corporate whores at AT&T. All of which appear to be yet another reason for the telecom companies' and congressional Republicans' desire to control the tubes of the internets.

If there is a dominant theme of the Bush administration's many programs, such as war and occupation, NSA wiretapping, torture, extraordinary rendition, secret prisons, etc. it is this: they are all illegal and useless. Oh, and they waste enormous amounts of US taxpayer dollars, too.

[thanks to Cosmic Iguana.]

What not to do

If you want an excellent example of what is wrong with the Democratic party and the pathetic state they're in, you need look no further than watching Nancy Pelosi, the potential House Speaker should the Dems win the majority there, talking about what she won't do if the Democrats win the House [thanks to Kel for tipping me off to this].

Can you ever imagine a Republican engaging an interviewer's pointed question with words about what they won't do? I know I can't. Pelosi appears to be completely untrained in the art of the political interview.

After years of violations of international law, an illegal invasion, secret prisons, a regime of torture and indefinite detention, illegal NSA wiretapping programs and other surveillance, lying to Congress, stolen elections and who knows what else, Nancy Pelosi thinks that consolation is the way to go; that turning Bush and Cheney into "lame ducks" is all that is necessary to end their reign of terror. Frankly, considering this statement and the past performance of these feckless wonders, I doubt that the Democrats will do even that. Bush and Cheney will run roughshod over the Democrats, just as they have done since day one.

Pelosi should have simply refused to say anything about impeachment if she is too weak and spineless to say that impeachment, by any legal standard, is exactly what should happen. But as far as political campaigning goes, her statement is a gutless response to the ready-made claims by the GOP that all the Democrats will do is impeach Bush and she fails to understand the simplist of campaign narratives: stop talking about what you won't do and talk about what you will do. Investigation and oversight is all that needed to be said by her, but once again the Democrats display one of the reasons why they have no message. They don't. Going on national television and telling people what you won't do is not what should have ever come out of her insipid yap. After this performace, I have to agree with Gingrich. I don't want to see a simp like Pelosi as Speaker of the House either.

The astounding lack of logic contained within Pelosi's contemptible performance here is breathtaking. What is the criminal justice system if not a post hoc system designed to punish wrongdoing? Listening to Pelosi, one gets the impression that criminal behaviour ought not be punished, what with it having happened in that past. Maybe the United States should just abandon the criminal justice system completely and release all prisoners. After all, they're all locked up because of something they did in the past. Can't we all just move along and look to the future?

Kevin Tillman, Pat Tillman's brother, has a message for us all on the near-eve of Pat's birthday. In it he indicates that we are now a country that "somehow" tolerates a lot of wrongs, many of them entirely illegal.
Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.
Nancy Pelosi and a pantywaist Democratic party is one of the reasons all of that is tolerated.

So I ask, just what will the Democrats do if elected? We have no idea. But we now know what they won't do. I guess this is the Democrats' idea of staying "on message."

Illegal weapons for peace in the Middle East

After the use of "a million cluster bombs in Lebanon," which an IDF commander described as "insane and monstrous," it now it comes to light that Israeli forces used phosophorous shells in Lebanon as well.
The Israeli government confirmed on Sunday it had used controversial phosphorus shells during its monthlong war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon this summer.
This also follows in light of reports of "unseen injuries from Israeli weapons" in the Gaza strip.
Doctors in Gaza have reported previously unseen injuries from Israeli weapons that cause severe burning and leave deep internal wounds, often resulting in amputations or death.

The injuries were first seen in July, when Israel launched operations in Gaza following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants.

Doctors said that, unlike traditional combat injuries, there was no large shrapnel found in the bodies and there appeared to be a "dusting" on damaged internal organs.

"Bodies arrived severely fragmented, melted and disfigured," said Jumaa Saqa'a, a doctor at the Shifa hospital, in Gaza City. "We found internal burning of organs, while externally there were minute pieces of shrapnel. When we opened many of the injured people we found dusting on their internal organs."
It is speculated that these wounds could be the result of so-called DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) weapons, something the IDF has refused to comfirm or deny. Of course, we already know that the Pentagon had plans to deploy and possibly use a "microwave gun" in Iraq, a weapon that would cause severe pain and burning of the skin. While trying to convince everyone two years ago that the weapon had no long term effects, this would be the same the genre of "non-lethal" weapon Air Force Sectretary Michael Wynn said should be tested first on America's unruly crowds. No doubt Israel would be happy to volunteer a few Palestinians, though they probably wouldn't be thrilled with the "non-lethal" feature.

But don't forget, while Israel dumps munitions that are banned or restricted by international law onto surrounding Arab populations, they just want to live in peace.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Blitzkrieg for freedom

Not that anyone should know who Melanie Morgan is, and as a reading of her foreign policy statement will shortly reveal, it might be best to keep a goodly distance from her if you do. One thing is certain though: she's ass-whacking crazy. Pining for the days of Anzio and Normandy, Morgan insists that our real problem in Iraq is that we haven't fought a "serious war" in quite sometime. We are not able to do what we used to do then, like fire bombing Dresden, stuff like that.
I think that…yeah, we should have a lot more troops in the beginning. Look, I’m not a cheerleader for the President of the United States. Um, I…I believe that he made the right decision and he did it for the right reasons. I don’t agree with all of the way the war has been prosecuted. I think we should have gone in and just blitzed Iraq. We haven’t had a, a serious war, really, since WWII....
What happened to relieving the Iraqis from the oppression of Hussein? Hey, war is hell....

What went wrong in Mexico

This is just a quick pointer to my article in the Humanist magazine this month, What went wrong in Mexico (.pdf only, I'm afraid).

The Maybe Plan

News comes to us that the Bush administration is handing the Iraqi government a timetable for securing the country and stemming sectarian violence. Three and half years after the invasion and after years of simply saying things were turning one of many, many corners, now the White House is thinking about security in Iraq. More than anything, this demonstrates that such planning is something that has only just occurred to the White House, which is not surprising. Planning has never been high on the agenda. But this now admitted lacking is being addressed, or so we are told, by a new "blueprint" for freedom.

We all might be suspicious of the efficacy of such a plan given how badly the security situation has become. After watching Sean Smith's report, Iraq The Real Story, it should seem obvious that any plan at this late date is going to be met with almost certain failure. US forces now spend inordinate amounts of time arresting and questioning the Iraqi army and police forces compared to quelling the insurgency. Indeed, Smith's report, which everyone should see, shows us that US ground troops now view -- and with good reason -- Iraqi forces as part of the insurgency.

As usual, Donald Rumsfeld offered his cogent analysis of the possible success of the plan and its milestones:
There’s no doubt in my mind but that some of those projections we won’t make; it will be later, or even earlier in some instances. And in some cases, once we meet the projection, we may have to go back and do it again.
What can be gleaned from this Rumsfeldian gibberish is that the plan might work, but probably not; too many unknown unknowns, it seems.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Logic need not apply

One wonders whether the media or the Democrats will ever really come to grips with the GOP election machine. While the media merely act as a conduit for every dump of GOP propaganda that dreadful collection of posturing politicos manages to blow out of both ends, the Democrats are, once again, caught unawares by yet more Republican attack ads purportedly demonstrating that the failure of the Bush administration to capture bin Laden is really a problem for weak-kneed Democrats. Logic is not a strong feature of Republican campaigning and it is more than clear that the White House and the Republicans actually enjoy having bin Laden on the loose. Why on earth would they ever want to capture the guy? They get to play Osama during every election cycle. No one ever holds them accountable for it, least of all the Republican base, and bin Laden has been a feature of the GOP campaign strategy since 9/11.

This weekend, the GOP are planning on running an advertisement featuring the spectre of bin Laden and indicates that there are people in world who want to kill Americans. Which means that you, voter, must vote for the Republicans who have let this maniac remain uncaptured to this day and appear, for the most part, to be unconcerned with his capture at all. But the GOP will again employ the ghostly image of bin Laden to imply that it is the Democrats who would leave the al Qaeda leader free to do his dirty deeds.

Of course, this political effect this has is the same one it always has: it keeps the Democrats on the defensive, constantly in a position of rebutting GOP nonsense during the run-up to the election, while the Dems continue to flounder about a coherent message. It is remarkable the Dems are up in the polls as much as they are and that is clearly the result, not of anything the Democrats have actually done, but of the distaste the American public has developed for the corruptions and disasters the Republican party have wrought themselves. A claque of chimpanzees would be polling in the fifties against this GOP.

People I talk to don't buy this crap from the Republicans but I have to wonder, are these ads effective or does the GOP merely think they are because it really is their only play on the election. They sure as hell can't be running around yawping about "moral values" right now. No doubt such ads do have an effect on some small minds. But such minds were probably already Bush supporters. We know that the GOP is fond of believing that they create their own reality but it is beginning to appear that the actual reality of how the voters view these pathetic fear-monering tactics is diverging from Rove's belief in such tactics' effectiveness.

So, I know dis guy ...

Curt Weldon (R-Pa), under investigation for influence peddling by the FBI, mires himself further in his world of conspiracy. Now Weldon is claiming -- this is primo stuff -- that the DoJ is out to get him, that this whole investigation is "absolutely a partisan political activity on the part of the Justice Department if it occurred." Not sure what the "if it occurred" is supposed to mean. If Weldon does really believe they're out to get him, why qualify it? unless he's somewhat aware that his claim actually makes him sound like a kook.

The "evidence" Weldon claims to be a party to regarding this vast left wing conspiracy within the Justice Department is really choice. It goes something like this, with a little touch of good fellas ouvre thrown in, just to give it s0me edgy, authentic "street":
Hey, I know 'dis guy, an evbeei guy, who tol' me he knows 'dis udda guy who saw some guy at da gym in a Sestak t-shirt who said some shit. A fuckin' Sestak t-shirt! C'mon, what mohdoyaneed? Whadooigaddadoo? Spell it out for ya?
Has the entire GOP become so deusional that they think Democratic candidates have sway over the Bush administration's Department of Justice? These guys run everything and they still think the liberals are ruling the world, persecuting respectable Republicans everywhere. Actually, I don't believe they think that. But they want everyone else

No news is good news

The civilian death toll in Iraq has been a constant source of political discomfort for the Bush administration and their toadies in Baghad. Earlier this year the UN human rights office reported that 100 people a day were being killed in Iraq. Then The Lancet published a "controversial" study that estimated some 650,000 Iraqis have been killed by violence since the war began. It was controversial only in the sense that war supporters simply didn't want to believe a scientific survey that most experts agreed had used a perfectly acceptable methodology. While the margins were large, the order of magnitude of the humanitarian disaster that is the Iraq war was undeniable.

The Lancet report was greeted with derision by the White House, though they did not seem to dispute to the UN figure. Nonetheless, such reports have had an uncomfortable habit of underscoring the Bush-led calamity to the American public at the same time the administration is tyring to keep Iraq from being newsworthy. A solution to such distressing news has now been arrived at by the Iraqi government. It is not, however, the plan to halt the killing; there is no such plan. The solution, always seen as the most direct route by Orwellian forces, is too stop disseminating the information:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office has instructed the country's health ministry to stop providing mortality figures to the United Nations, jeopardizing a key source of information on the number of civilian war dead in Iraq, according to a U.N. document.

A confidential cable from the United Nations' top official in Baghdad, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi of Pakistan, said the Iraqi prime minister is seeking to exercise greater control over the release of the country's politically sensitive death toll. U.N. officials expressed concern that the move threatens to politicize the process of counting Iraq's dead and muddy international efforts to gain a clear snapshot of the scale of killing in Iraq.
It may not stop the killing, but it will stanch reports of the killing. Which is all that is really important to the Bush administration.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Playing to the base

America, say hello to the Republican Party's candidate for Washington's 43rd district, Hugh Foskett. Hugh was actively recruited by local Republican Party operatives and seems to be prime GOP congressional material for this up coming term.

Foskett's strategy appears to hinge on appealing to the "rude-boy" demographic, which obviously requires a certain amount of direct marketing. I'm sure it is all just a ruse, of course. A Republican would never actually be like this.

Heavyweight politics

In his bid for Maryland's open senate seat, I am beginning to wonder what what on earth Michael Steele thinks he's doing by seeking the endorsement of sheister-promoter Don King and now the backing of Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson! The man is an cannibalistic, punch-drunk, ex-felon rapist and a universally acknowledged idiot. Everyone knows this. These are the kinds of endorsers Steele is gathering for his appeal to the African American population of Maryland? I guess he's realising that his puppy love policy wasn't exactly winning the hearts and minds of Marylanders. So Don King and Mike Tyson are Steele's idea of bringing out the big guns.

Tyson came out and said that he "would do anything" for Steele, which, in Tyson's world view, seems limited to things involving fighting.
I would do anything to help Michael. I would box an exhibition for him. I would even fight again to help Mike. I would do anything.
Ok, so maybe not "anything." Maybe Steele can bring Tyson to the polls and punch out voters as part of a get out the Steele vote program.

Bossed in Space

President Bush has signed a new National Space Policy that rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit U.S. flexibility in space and asserts a right to deny access to space to anyone "hostile to U.S. interests."
-- Washington Post, October 18, 2006
Once again, the US is asserting ultimate unilateral authority over realms in which it really has no authority to do so, other than its superpower status and the fact that no one can pragmatically challenge the position. Actions like this never fail to rile the international community. No wonder everyone is scrambling to get their own nukes.

While the White House says this policy is about protecting US interests such as commercial and military satellites, a "senior admininstration official" says that this policy is "not about deploying weapons in space," which we can easily assume means that is exactly what it will be about. Because how does one "deny access to space" unless space-based weapons are up there? The only other alternative is to stop the launch vehicle on the ground or blow it out of the sky as it is launching. And the oft-heard hegemonical phrase "US interests," of course, has such a broad meaning that competitive commercial non-US satellites could be viewed as "hostile" to American interests.

I guess space is just part of the larger move in the PNAC plans for benevolent global hegemony. But, good lord, these clowns can't even get control of Baghdad. Maybe the rest of the world is just ignoring these fatuous policies; maybe they're even amused by them.

I'll take Manhattan

The House of Representatives is full of insane jackasses.
--Jon Stewart
As we go through the city of Baghdad, it was like being in Manhattan. I mean, I’m talking about bumper to bumper traffic, talking about shopping centers, talking about restaurants, talking about video stores, talking about guys selling (inaudible) on the street corner, talking about major hotels.
-- Peter King (R-NY)

Ten U.S. troops were killed in on Tuesday, one of the bloodiest days of the war for American forces outside of major combat operations. With nearly two full weeks to go until the end of October, the month is proving to be devastatingly lethal for both U.S. forces and Iraq's military and civilian populations.

At least 68 U.S. troops were killed in the first 2 1/2 weeks of October, according to independent databases and wire service counts; last month, 75 American military personnel were killed.

At the same time, least 767 Iraqis were killed in war-related violence and sectarian fighting during the first 17 days of this month, according to the Associated Press -- an average of 45 deaths per day, compared to an average daily death toll of about 27 over the last 18 months.
-- Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2006

Lay off

Is this a great country, or what?
A federal judge in Houston yesterday wiped away the fraud and conspiracy conviction of Kenneth L. Lay, the Enron Corp. founder who died of heart disease in July, bowing to decades of legal precedent but frustrating government attempts to seize nearly $44 million from his family.

The ruling worried employees and investors who lost billions of dollars when the Houston energy-trading company filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2001. It also came more than a week after Congress recessed for the November elections without acting on a last-ditch Justice Department proposal that would have changed the law to allow prosecutors to seize millions of dollars in investments and other assets that Lay controlled.

With the judge's order, Lay's conviction on 10 criminal charges will be erased from the record.
National character, stand up and take a bow.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Character of a Nation

Hotpotatomash reminds me that it is, once again, George Bush's declared National Character Counts week. With all the current scandals embroiling his Republican Party, one wonders whether Bush finds his own declaration of this week a bit embarrassing:
I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, parents, students, and all Americans to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.
After the inauspicious debut of national character week last year, he might have exempted "public officials" from this laundry list.

Indeed, it seems like only yesterday that, during last year's "national character counts" week, Tom DeLay was busy getting himself indicted for election fraud, conspiracy and money laundering in connection with his TRMPAC activities. And now here we are again, with a number of Republicans facing investigation for influence peddling or otherwise pleading guilty to or being convicted of a variety of charges. And all the while, the Repulican leadership continues to deny their cover-up of the Foley scandal and claim that it was everyone else's fault but theirs.

After DeLay was flown to his court hearing by R.J. Reynolds on their private jet, that erstwhile "public official" was not imparting the national character with any noble characteristics. One year later, that party's highest ranking officials only continue to besmirch the character of this country's government.

National character, hang your head in shame.

Interview with a Janjaweed

Via the Coalition for Dafur, a quick heads up about a BBC interview tonight with a former Janjaweed mercenary who was "involved in raids that massacred thousands of civilians." This person, whose identity is being protected, claims that he was carrying out the orders of the Sudanese government. I doubt that this will surprise too many people but it is certainly the first direct testimony that contradicts the denials of the Sudanese government. I don't know if this will spur any action on the part of the feckless UN but at least it give them some ammunition to claim crimes against humanity by Sudanese officials.

Check out the podcast or download the show. Transcripts will probably be out soon.

US President: final arbiter on torture

The significance of this little exchange seems to flown right out the window during the White House presser yesterday, the day before the "detainee" bill would be signed into law. Indeed, it happened so quickly and lightly, almost no one seems to have notice just what Tony Snow admitted to Helen Thomas:
Helen, you've had your hand up, sorry.

Q I wanted to talk about the bill the President will sign tomorrow.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q It makes him a final arbiter on torture.

MR. SNOW: Right.

My Favourite Congressional Martian

I tell you, Vasily, we kan't loose.
These Amerikans will by this piece of krap
We've got an inside track to the so-called government
of these kapitalist pigs.

Now that Weldon is getting all kinds of heat from the pinko-infested Justice Department, Gary at Covert History points to an interesting blurb (from Wonkette) at the LA Times about Weldon's daughter, whose home was raided by the FBI during the ongoing investigation of influence peddling. Karen Weldon worked for the lobbying firm Solutions North America and was hired by a Russian aerospace company in effort to gain favour with Congress and the US Navy in selling them their "saucer-shaped drone." Yes, the Russians wanted to sell the US Navy a flying saucer, a "drone" that was at least 20 years old.

More recently, Weldon's daughter also drove the business of Russia's Itera International Energy Corp. into the arms of Congress via daddy Curt, who also encouraged US firms to do business with Itera, a company long suspected of corruption. Weldon, no doubt, is mystified as to how a Russian company that would buy the influence peddling services of a US congressman's daughter could possibly be suspected of corruption.

Much like Hastert and the Foley scandal, Weldon is now blaming his current woes and the potential impact they undoubtedly will have on his re-election prospects on, who else? Liberals and Democrats. I'm sure that Clinton must in on this, too. Somehow. Someway.

I am not a crook...

New details are popping up about the Feds' interest in Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) for his ties to Jack Abramoff. But Doolittle is doing his best to put as bright a face on that as possible.

In a statement yesterday, Doolittle said that he "has no reason to believe that he is the target of an investigation."
You know, when the best part of your campaign for re-election consists of issuing statements that claim you are "not a target of a federal probe," it might be time to start considering alternative career paths.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's not about the oil?

Only fools and idiots believed, and still believe, that the Bush administration marched into Iraq for "humanitarian" reasons. Villians and critics knew better.

Of course, it started out as a hue and cry about WMD, but when that fell flat, the rosy rhetoric of "freedom" came spilling out. Indeed, for all his eloquence, Christopher Hitchens firmly camped himself with the former group, too blinded by his own deep resentment of "Islamofascism," via the threats against his friend Salman Rushdie, to see what was so obvious. Hitchens even found himself wondering, with no sense of irony, why the Bush administration had ignored the horrifying humanitarian crisis in Darfur while still insisting that the invasion of Iraq was the proper course and that it was being pursued for altruistic reasons and not the fact that Iraq sits at the center of the oil pot of the world.

The villians were headed up by Dick Cheney when he famously held conference with Big Oil during his Energy Task Force meetings of 2001, a meeting wherein senior executives of the major oil companies and the White House poured over a map of Iraq. Critics knew what the villians were up to, which is primarily why they shoveled out the criticism. Of course, since Cheney successfully prevented this country from discovering what his Energy Task Force had been up to, no one really knew.

All that is changing, but not because there has been any evidence coming out of Task Force documents. No, the evidence that is now appearing is what is developing in Iraq and Big Oil's expected neocolonial seizure of Iraq's current and potentially huge future oil reserves. Josh Holland delivers a fine piece on the coming Oil Law the Iraqi government is currently working on.
Iraq is sitting on a mother lode of some of the lightest, sweetest, most profitable crude oil on earth, and the rules that will determine who will control it and on what terms are about to be set.

The Iraqi government faces a December deadline, imposed by the world's wealthiest countries, to complete its final Oil Law. Industry analysts expect that the result will be a radical departure from the laws governing the country's oil-rich neighbors, giving foreign multinationals a much higher rate of return than with other major oil producers, and locking in their control over what George Bush called Iraq's "patrimony" for decades, regardless of what kind of policies future elected governments might want to pursue.

Iraq's energy reserves are an incredibly rich prize; according to the US Department of Energy, "Iraq contains 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the second largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia) along with roughly 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources. Iraq's true potential may be far greater than this, however, as the country is relatively unexplored due to years of war and sanctions." For perspective, the Saudis have 260 billion barrels of proven reserves.

Iraqi oil is close to the surface and easy to extract, making it all the more profitable. James Paul, Executive Director of the Global Policy Forum, points out that oil companies "can produce a barrel of Iraqi oil for less than $1.50 and possibly as little as $1, including all exploration, oilfield development and production costs." Contrast that with other areas where oil is considered cheap to produce at $5 per barrel, or the North Sea where production costs are $12-16 per barrel.
In fact, the Oil Law will probably introduce what are known as Production Service Agreements (PSAs) that lock in access to cheap oil for decades. These agreements are constitutionally prohibited by many of Iraq's neighbours. But in Iraq's Constitution, a document more or less written in Washington, the Iraqi government is required to "develop oil and gas wealth" and further mandates that a major stake of Iraqi oil goes to multinational corporations, which include the big four, Exxon-Mobile, Chevron-Texaco, British BP-Amoco and Royal Dutch-Shell.

But all this movement by the oil oligarchy is predicated on a failing assumption and that is that Iraq will actually exist and will be stable enough for the mulitnationals to operate in the region. Today, that assumption is looking wobbly, at best. With Kurdistan now a de facto autonomous state and Shiites and Sunnis conducting ever more deadly sectarian attacks -- government-backed militias are actually conducting some of the brutal raids on Sunni populations -- the Sunnis are now declaiming that the "sectarian government" must be stopped. In fact, Sunni Arabs have declared a new Islamic republic in the western part of the country, right where the oil companies believe is that vast amount of as yet untapped sweet crude. How the oil companies plan to operate in this theatre of war is a guess best left to them. Given this government's previous record on predicting the future in Iraq, it would appear that their best guesses will be fairly well off the mark.

My suspicion is that they don't know how to operate in such conditions, if they can at all. This probably wasn't a scenario imagined by the Energy Task Force, which was then imagining rose pedal showers while they drilled into the easy money oil fields of western Iraq. Given the extant conditions in Iraq now, I would dispute Holland's declarative headline that the oil company cartel "almost has Iraq's oil." Actually, they're not even close. But that has nothing to do with the PSAs and the phoney Iraq Constitution. It has everything to do with the reality on the ground. No one knows, at this point, whether there will be any place still left that will continue to be called Iraq.

Chris Floyd posed an excellent argument awhile back that the entire PNAC neocon philosophy was nothing but an idealogical window dressing for more of the same rapacious economic brinkmanship that American corporations, aided and abetted as always by their government toadies, have been practicing for decades. Too many people, Floyd claimed, were blaming the neocons for what was essentially age-old economic imperialism, with US military backing provided by the Bush administration's oily whores. Admittedly, the Iraq adventure is an order of magnitude or more grander than anything that has been attempted to date, but the basic mechanisms and familiar justifications were all there. Given what we are now seeing transpire, vis a vis the multinational oil companies and the succulent new oil wealth, oh, so tantalizingly close, it is hard to argue against Floyd's view.

Nonetheless, the harsh and volatile reality in Iraq is likely to damp the wet dreams of the oil executives. Despite the White House's firm belief that they create their own reality, the oil companies are a little more pragmatic when it comes to actual reality. And they must know at this point that their dreams and plans for Iraq's untapped oil riches may remain just that for a very long time.

Which is what happens when you make plans with people who have no understanding of the world of people and ignore and dismiss those who would tell you that things would be much more difficult than having rose pedals tossed from the hands a welcoming population of Muslims in the Middle East, a Middle East that you have been screwing with for decades.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reflection conviction

Congressional Republicans and White House spokeman Tony Snow are offering up a heapin' helpin' load of the usual remonstrations about Bob Ney, his conviction (or guilty plea, however you see it) and the fact that the not-so-soon to be ex-felon congressman has so far refused to resign from Congress. With so many things going south for the GOP right now, just weeks before the election, it hardly helps their already desperate case to have a convicted felon filling up the ranks of the Republican benches in the House. The only fortunate aspect of this situation for the GOP is that Congress is in recess now, otherwise I'm sure we'd all be savouring the sight of Bob Ney, Republican felon, seated in the House of "Representatives." If ever there were to be a consummation of Americans' dim view of Congress, that would be it.

The huffing and puffing began when Republican leaders issued a statement declaring that Bob Ney had
betrayed his oath of office and violated the trust of those he represented in the House.
And furthered decried the scofflaw, saying, "there is no place for him in this Congress." Which is funny, really. I expect most Americans probably view the derelict Congress as the perfect place for a delinquent, self-serving shitbag like Ney.

And then the White House spokeman, Tony Snow, had to issue forth with another of his protean wisdoms in defense of the Republican Party:
What Congressman Ney did is not a reflection of the Republican Party.
No, indeed, it is not.

Nor is Tom DeLay's indictment. Nor Tony Rudy's conviction. Nor Randy Cunningham's prison term. Nor Mitchell Wade's guilty plea in bribing Cunningham. Nor Katherine Harris' and Virgil Goode's receipt of illegal campaign contributions from Wade. Nor the federal investigation of the CIA's Kyle Foggo and his "poker parties." Nor White House contracting officer David Safavian's conviction. Nor Jack Abramoff's and Michael Scanlon's jail time. Nor Bill Frist's SEC investigation. Nor Bob Corker's land deal nor his hiring illegal immigrants. Nor federal scrutiny of Conrad Burns and his association with Abramoff. Nor the DoJ investigation of Curt Weldon. Nor Republican Governor Bob Taft's guilty plea in association with the illegal money funelling activities of convicted Republican Tom Noe. Nor Mark Foley's pedophilia and hypocrisy. Nor Dennis Hastert's lying and cover-up of Foley's activity. Nor Dennis Hastert's own shady land deal. Nor Grover Norquist's defrauding taxpayers. Nor four other Republican "non-profit" organisations accused of violating their tax-exempt status and laundering money as Abramoff directed. Nor are the Republicans convicted in the Iran-Contra affair who now hold sway in the current White House.

No. None of these are "reflections" of the Republican party. They are the Republican Party.

Are we not men?

Remember when Trent Lott was expounding upon the Iraq war and appeared to be gunuinely puzzled as to , "why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference?" He was baffled, he claimed, because "they all look the same to me."

I know what he means, sort of. Except in this case, they're all a band of racist homophobes and they still wind up fighting each other:

And quite apart from being homophobic racists, the amusing common element, with minor variations by Frist and Boehner, makes it's appearance (maybe being a majority leader is indicated by a part on the left, which for these crazies seems entirely inappropriate):

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday night lights

Via Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy comes an utterly awesome picture of Saturn as aggragated from 165 iimages from the Cassini probe. The sun is behind Saturn and the rings are backlit. Wow!

This one is also fantastic but go see the large format images. Stunning.

[click here to get a large format image at Ciclops, the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations]

Shake and Baker

Those damnable realists are at it again. I thought this White House manufactured its own reality.

Though they were expected to depart from Bush's lofty, dreamy, ultimately doomed yet entirely empty rhetoric about a democracy in Iraq, former Secretary of State James Baker and his bipartisan commission on Iraq have now completely ruled out any kind of victory there or even the notion that democracy will develop under the tutelage of US occupying forces. The only realistic options they cite are "stability first," meaning stabilisation of Baghdad and accomodation of the insurgency, and "redeploy and contain," which sounds suspicioulsy like a combination of cut-n-run and what we were doing to Hussein before the invasion.

Only yesterday, Bush said that he looked forward to what Baker and the panel would have to say about "getting the job done." He probably will be displeased to hear that there won't be any happy talk about getting any job done other than getting the hell out. And Bush's reaction to this commission's recommendations is expected to be petualant, replete as it will be with a series of "I disagree" statements. This petulance will derive from the Bush narcissism, which often has appeared in his own speeches wherein "staying the course" was more about what not doing so would make him look like rather than what was best for Iraq or the United States.

I doubt that this finding by Baker's commission is the least bit surprising to anyone. In fact, various of the unhinged in right blogostan apparently don't think it is the slightest bit interesting. They're all busy fretting about Muslim outrage, laughing about Air America, and painfully analysing Harry Reid's land deal, something that appears to be no worse than the kind of shady dealing Hastert was involved with in his home state. They all pooh-poohed that, of course.

But what, really, are they going to say about a guy like Baker? the man they all credit with helping fix the election in Florida that got Bush installed in the first place. Nothing. Not even Rove is going to touch this guy. Baker doesn't just have friends in high places, he is one of those people in high places whom people like Rove say they are friends with.

[via hotpotatomash]

One year after

We look forward to [the] opportunity to respond in court to the government’s charges. We believe that after all the evidence is aired, Mr. Safavian will be acquitted of all charges.
-- Barbara VanGelder,
Safavian's attorney,
October 12, 2005
Prosecutors are seeking a 30 to 37 month prison sentence for David Safavian, ... who was convicted on obstruction of justice and other charges for lying to government officials and Senate investigators about his relationship with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
-- Roll Call,
October 12, 2006

Ney sayer

Any allegation that Rep. Ney did anything illegal or improper is false
-- Brian Walsh,
Bob Ney spokeman,
January 3, 2006.

Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges in the congressional investigation into corruption and bribery involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff
-- CNN,
October 13, 2006