Thursday, November 30, 2006

Without the flowers

I'm not sure what the report is going to say. I look forward to seeing it
-- George Bush,
November 13, 2006

The Iraq Study Group, which wrapped up eight months of deliberations yesterday, has reached a consensus and will call for a major withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, shifting the U.S. role from combat to support and advising....
-- Washington Post,
Study Group to Call for Pullback,
November 30, 2006

President Bush delivered a staunch endorsement of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Thursday morning and dismissed calls for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq as unrealistic....
-- Washington Post,
Bush: Calls for Troop Drawdowns Unrealistic,
Novermber 30, 2006

I'd would love to have been in the audience in Amman just to hear the snickers that must surely have been emitted by the crowd after hearing George Bush calling the ISG plan -- indeed, any plan -- "unrealistic."

Maybe Baker should have told Bush that rose petals would be fluttering in the streets of Baghdad.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Grim, grim reaper

US forces in Iraq appear not to have much effect upon the trajectory of increasing violence of what is finally being called a civil war in Iraq. If anything, they seem to serve merely as targets these days. This may be understating the US presence there but it hardly seems that US forces are preventing violence at all. To get a deeper flavour of the extant conditions throughout Iraq, Patrick Cockburn delivers a report on his travels around the country that is beyond sobering. And it will disabuse anyone of fanciful notions that there is some -- any -- solution to the problem of sectarian strife that is now rampant.

Early on in the war, Juan Cole had conveyed that Iraqi society was well integrated; Sunni and Shia inter-married and interacted socially and seemed to get along rather well. If anything, this would be the force that might save Iraq from all out civil war. That pluralism now seems to be the latest victim, among the many, as the civil war escalates:
Iraqi friends used to reassure me that there would be no civil war because so many Shia and Sunni were married to each other. These mixed couples are now being compelled to divorce by their families. "I love my husband but my family has forced me to divorce him because we are Shia and he is Sunni," said Hiba Sami, a mother, to a UN official. "My family say they [the husband's family] are insurgents ... and that living with him is an offence to God." Members of mixed marriages had set up an association to protect each other called the Union for Peace in Iraq but they were soon compelled to dissolve it when several founding members were murdered.
This is disheartening beyond belief. Just how or what the Baker group is going to suggest to "save" the situation will likely be insufficient to reign in a wide spread violence that appears to have infected every part single piece of the country. We have in Iraq, the sum of all Middle East fears and whether Syria or Iran or any collaboration can put a stopper on it remains to be seen. Maliki is being pressured by Bush to do "something." Just what the something will be is unknown, if indeed, it is anything at all. Ministries are overrun by sectarian militias and are simply beyond the control of the Maliki cabinet.
A new and ominous stage in the disintegration of the Iraqi state came earlier this month when police commandos from the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry kidnapped 150 people from the Sunni-run Higher Education Ministry in the heart of Baghdad.

Iraq may be getting close to what Americans call "the Saigon moment", the time when it becomes evident to all that the government is expiring. "They say that the killings and kidnappings are being carried out by men in police uniforms and with police vehicles," the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said to me with a despairing laugh this summer. "But everybody in Baghdad knows that the killers and kidnappers are real policemen."
What have we done?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bittersweet release

When Olmert and the Palestinians agreed to a cease fire in the Gaza strip, they meant the Gaza strip and only the Gaza strip.
A Palestinian fighter and a woman have been killed in an Israeli military operation near Jenin in the northern West Bank.

Abdel Razek Nasser, a local leader in the Popular Resistance Committees, died during an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers in Kabatiyeh.

The woman, a neighbour, was killed as she tried to help, sources said.

Palestinian fighters fired two rockets towards the Gaza Strip following the Israeli operation on Monday.
The cease fire effort is on shaky ground, and yet Olmert is now offering to exchange prisoners and withdraw from significant portions of the West Bank.
With Gilad Shalit's release and his return safe and sound to his family, the Israeli government will be willing to release many Palestinian prisoners, even those who have been sentenced to lengthy terms.
The prisoner exchange, of course, is what Olmert strictly refused to engage when Gilad Shalit was taken prisoner in Gaza. Now, after hundreds dead, the initial deal is finally palatable. This, as they say, is "progress."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Yes, Virginia, there was election fraud

Before the election, many observers were predicting Democratic gains in the House of 35-40 seats, possibly more. The media, channeling the Republican line, sought to downplay the actual poll numbers that were coming out in the weeks before the election, claiming that, oh, that can't be right! There's no way America hates the GOP that much. There was never any evidence offered to back up these claims other than simply pronouncing the polls as "biased." Well, in one sense they were biased, but the bias was not in the polls, which appeared to be entirely accurate. They were biased in the sense that they all heavily favoured Democrats and portrayed a deep, deep dissatisfaction with George Bush and the Republican party in general.

We all expected shenanigans at the polling booths. Fudging of the exit polls was going to be par for the course, just as it has been since 2000, the first year wherein previously extremely accurate exit polling was suddenly wrong, wrong, wrong. With electronic black box vote counting in charge, exit polling is now the only tool by which to check the validity of the vote count. And since 2000, especially in 2004, exit polls have routinely exposed incorrect vote totals and, therefore, have necessarily been disparaged by partisan hacks and guileless media dullards (Salon's Scott Rosenberg was a particularly annoying example of this after the 2004 election). Exit polls were proving to be a problem for an establishment that wished to uphold that myth that elections in America were still relatively unblemished by vote rigging and so, exit polls would need to be kept under wraps.

This year, they were. Wasn't it curious, for example, that discussion of exit polls was non-existent during election night. I remember seeing the Senate race in Maryland on the MSNBC screen, showing 0% for Cardin, 0% for Steele with 0% votes counted when all of a sudden, Cardin was being declared the winner. Huh? When did that happen? ...what the...? The answer to that unfinished question was that exit polls were being reviewed in backrooms and not being discussed on screen. Yes, the American media was now taking its cue from actions seen during the Mexican elections, when elections officials there requested that the television networks keep their exit poll data from the public.

The good folks at Election Defense Alliance did manage to capture raw exit poll data, which CNN curiously made available on its website, though never discussed in front of the camera. These data show that, once again, exit polls disagreed with the vote totals across the board and votes appear to have been trimmed. Pre-election polls were indicating a rout of the GOP by 11.5% in a generic race, which is exactly what these exit poll data show. The final tally, however, was 7.6% in favour of Democrats, which indicates that some 3 million votes for Democrats disappeared. Curiously, this number is roughly equal in magnitude to the 3.6 million ballots that were never counted in 2004.

But the exit polls were quickly "adjusted" to bring them inline with the vote total. Just like we saw happen in 2004.
As you can see, the unadjusted exit polls matched exactly with opinion polls prior to the election. The vote total did not match these and the exit polls were then maladjusted to match the vote total. Without the suspicious performance of nebulous voters, EDA estimates that the Democrats would have indeed taken the predicted 35-45 seats and maybe more.

The failings of these efforts merely indicate that the rigging effort was insufficient to overcome the general distaste the public had for the party in power. Without casting too much attention on the matter, an election must be fairly close for the rigging to be both effective and plausibly deniable, that the adjustments usually must occur within the "margin of error." This hasn't always been the case, as Max Cleland's defeat demonstrated, but it is generally true. This is why pre-election efforts are made to downplay or cast doubt upon polls that showed the Democrats had a gap that was truly insurmountable. This time, though, disaffection was so broad and deep, no amount of poll pooh-poohing would be sufficient to dissuade most people that the GOP was going to be trounced. But there was enough obvious vote trimming still in place that it prevented an even more devastating trouncing than was actually wrought.

This doesn't bode well for any future elections. The only reason there was not wide-spread doubt and confusion about results in most places was because the Democratic wins were so pronounced. But as long as we continue to have a media machine that happily entertains this electioneering behaviour by adjusting polls to suit suspicious outcomes, it won't go away any time soon.

[via OpEd News]

Gaza cease fire

The good news is that Israel and a pact of Palestinian militant groups, including the Hamas military wing and Islamic Jihad, have agreed to a cease-fire. The bad news is that this is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and every other such effort has met failure. The cease-fire does seem to be holding, though at this point, most simply wonder how long before it, too, fails to cease the fire. Concomitant to the agreement is Israel's pledge to withdraw its troops from Gaza. This all sounds hopeful, but the problem the Palestinians have in upholding their side of the bargain is that they lack control of at least some of the militant groups, which have been at each others throats as much as acting in opposition to Israeli forces in the beleaguered strip. The inability of the Palestinian Authority to exercise control over these groups was immediately visible when nine rockets were launched after the designated 6:00 am start of the cease-fire. No one was injured and tempers seem to have cooled. It seems like hoping against the inevitable, but let's do hope this continues and the Palestinian civilians can get some much needed relief, both in aid and comfort.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Destroy all monsters

More documents are coming to light regarding the dingy past of Secretary of Defense nominee, Robert Gates, who appears to be as much the reactionary war monger as any of the current crop currently occupying the White House. Not that we didn't know that already:
Robert M. Gates, President Bush's nominee to lead the Pentagon, advocated a bombing campaign against Nicaragua in 1984 in order to "bring down" the leftist government, according to a declassified memo released by a nonprofit research group.

"It seems to me," Gates wrote, "that the only way that we can prevent disaster in Central America is to acknowledge openly what some have argued privately: that the existence of a Marxist-Leninist regime in Nicaragua closely allied with the Soviet Union and Cuba is unacceptable to the United States and that the United States will do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out."

Gates predicted that without U.S. funding, the Nicaraguan anti-communist forces known as Contras would collapse within one or two years. But he said that providing "new funding" for the Contras was not good enough. Instead, he advocated that the United States withdraw diplomatic recognition of the Sandinista government, provide overt assistance to a government in exile, impose economic sanctions or a quarantine, and use airstrikes to destroy Nicaragua's "military buildup."

Friday, November 24, 2006

White man's $250 burden

Hotpotatomash has good find about Boston University College Republicans, who, in an effort to protest racial and ethnic scholarships, started up their own race-based scholarship; a whopping $250 bucks to the lucky whitey who is deemed sufficiently white and worthy to receive the award to attend a school whose tuition is $33,000/year.

Speaking about the purpose of the Caucasian Achievement and Recognition Scholarship, which is clearly not about financial aid per se, president of the BU College Republicans Joe Mroszczyk says,
We think giving out a scholarship based on any race is crazy.
Naturally, the BU white boys proceeded to then create a "scholarship based on race." I'm guessing this a a College Republican's idea of irony.

Heads down

Sadly, it looks like the flip of the coin wound up heads down for Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who was investigating the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. He was in "serious condition" with a 50-50 chance. He is now dead. It was initially reported that Litvinenko had suffered thallium poisoning, but that now appears not to be the case. It now appears that he received a "major dose" polonium-210. Traces of the substance were found at three locations Litvinenko frequented. British health authorities are calling this event "unprecedented in the UK."

The last words from Litvinenko:
I want to survive, just to show them. The bastards got me but they won't get everybody.
I expect this is true, but they will certainly try.

Before the discovery of polonium-210 in Litvinenko's body, Vladamir Putin said he saw no definitive proof that Litvinenko was the victim of a "violent death" and dismissed the victim's accusations that Putin himself was involved as "sheer nonsense."
[A]s far as I know, in the medical report of British doctors, there is no indication that this was an unnatural death. There is none. That means, there is no reason for discussion of that kind.
Which would tend to indicate that now there is reason for discussion of that kind.

Two days before his death, Litvinenko dictated a statement, which finished,
...You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.

You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.

You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.

You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.

May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving thanks

While Americans regale themselves with food, football and the "giving of thanks," the misery and destruction in Iraq continues.
A wave of car bomb and mortar blasts in the Shia Sadr City area of the Iraqi capital has caused heavy loss of life.

Officials said at least 115 people had been killed, while some reports put the number of dead at more than 140. A curfew is now being imposed on Baghdad.

The attacks, among the bloodiest since the US-led invasion in 2003, hit crowded markets in Sadr City which are regular targets for Sunni insurgents.
Dick Cheney told us that the stepped up violence was just the insurgents and evil doers trying to influence the election. With the elections over, one wonders what on earth these bombings mean now. Perhaps Dick thinks that the insurgents are celebrating the Democratic majority. Yes, I'm sure that's it.

Or maybe they're trying to make America's celebration of Thanksgiving appear a tad out of touch with what is going on in the world. This, too, is a tenable idea in Dick Cheney's world view.

Because, you see, it's all about us.

So, be thankful for your blessings, America. Thank George Bush and the god he talks to that your accident of birthplace happened to land you here and not some place to which America decided to deliver "democracy." Gorge yourselves sick. Ignore the blight and death and destitution that has been wrought in your name. Like always.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Withdrawal syndrome

The Brits don't seem to have an issue with getting the fuck out of Iraq:
The British Government has announced a plan for withdrawing most of its troops from southern Iraq.

The Government is confident it can hand back control of security to Iraqi forces by the end of May.

Britain has just over 7,000 troops in southern Iraq. Most are stationed in and around Basra - Iraq's second biggest city.

Now the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, has outlined a timetable for the withdrawal of the British soldiers.

"We expect Najaf to be the next province to be transferred to Iraqi control in December, in our own area of responsibility we expect Maysan to follow in January," she said.

"The progress if our current operation in Basra gives us confidence that we may be able to achieve transition in that province too, at some point next spring."

The UK's announcement could affect the deployment of Australian troops under British command in southern Iraq.
All the things the Bush administration has refused to consider is now being planned by the UK. Of course, this is likely predicated on placing control in the hands of the Iraqis and we've all see how well that has gone so far.

Posturing Pol

John McCain has been nearly alone in his calls for more troops in Iraq, despite the fact that the Pentagon is also theoretically considering a short term increase in troop levels. Just where those troops will come from is a bit of a mystery but likely the Pentagon would start drawing on more soldiers from the National Guard. But McCain knows that this is untenable. And, as Mike Thoma at Economist's View tells us, McCain was already well aware of this in June of this year.
FT: You are saying there should be more troops, not a discussion about drawing down troops because the US is stretched too thin?

JMC: But that is like saying I would also like to see a mission to Mars. I just don’t think it is going to happen. In a way, we are getting close to the point where the Iraqis really have to be capable, hopefully with our help, to assume more and more of these responsibilities. We can succeed in having that happen, but we have made the path incredibly more difficult and frustrating because of our failures.
So, according to McCain, more troops in Iraq was about as likely as a "mission to Mars" in June. Nothing has changed since then, other than McCain's posturing about it. Why is McCain loudly trumpeting his "mission to Mars" now? It's all about the pose, people. It's all about the pose.

Fox fight at the FCC

We're all familiar with the two faces Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. presents to the world. One is that of the blotchy visage of Bill O'Reilly, fulminating with the fury of the profoundly righteous against the evils wrought upon American society by the "SPs," the "secular progressives" for those unacquainted with the hip new term in this media maven's lexicon of deep moral outrage. Indeed, O'Reilly has already launched his jihad in the perennial War on Christmas. The other face of News Corp., of course, is that presented by Fox Broadcasting, replete as it is with all the vile scourges O'Reilly constantly rails against.

Which is why it is interesting that News Corp.'s Fox channel is now positioning itself against the FCC's indecency regulations:
Fox took aim at the FCC's entire indecency enforcement regime Wednesday in a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York.

In its challenge to two profanity findings against its Billboard Music Awards program, Fox argued that the FCC's ban on broadcast indecency [between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.] "is unconstitutionally vague," calling it identical to the indecency restrictions in the Communications Decency Act--which applied to online content--that the Supreme Court struck down.
Now, if one were to apply Laura Ingraham's standard to this issue, the popularity of the Billboard Music Awards, along with all the other showers of gratitude the entertainment industry constantly sprays on itself, should, in fact, indicate that America has spoken and what it has said is that the American public loves indecency. Smoke that, O'Reilly.

Referendum television

Kel has a short clip of Laura Ingraham informing America that television is the tool by which White House policy ought to be judged. This actually came out a few weeks ago and perhaps Fox News buried it quickly, given how truly asinine both Ingraham and Fox appeared.

Ingraham, the vile soul who told her radio listeners to jam vote help phone lines during the election, tells us that because American people love Jack Bauer and his tough action -- including torture -- against terrorists in the show "24," this must be seen as a "national referendum" to remain on the clearly delineated path of abusive prisoner treatment. Clearly, the popularity of 24 is a sign that the Bush administration's policies of indefinite detention and coercive interrogation have the overwhelming approval of the American public. Yes, watching a teevee show is now a policy position.

Which makes me wonder what the currently top rated show, Dancing with the Stars, can tell us about how to conduct foreign policy. Perhaps the message that we should dance, dance, dance our way toward conflict resolution is not such a bad one.

What we actually have here in the loathsome Dr. Ingraham and her idiot pronouncements is something that is truly a symptom of an increasingly isolated and self-abosorbed media culture at large. Fox News revels in Ingraham's reveling in Fox's television product. People within the media are so bloated with their own sense of self-importance that they now believe that popular fictional television shows really ought to have some or much influence on American governmental policy. This I wouldn't mind if FEMA started acting like some sort of Extreme Makeover and suddenly began fixing people's homes in New Orleans. But I don't think that Ingraham's policy vision goes quite that far.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bought and paid for

If there's a bout of censorship everyone seems able to get behind it's Rupert Murdoch's cancellation of his own Fox Broadcasting O.J. interview and the publication of Simpson's book wherein Simpson "imagines" how he would have done the crimes that not one person on earth doesn't believe he committed. This episode also belies the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Or maybe not....

Hitchen's points out that Simpson is very nearly illiterate. Which means the entire event is one of conscious manufacture, from the approach made to Simpson by person or persons unknown to write such a book, something he surely did not do himself, to the arrangement for publication by ReganBooks, an imprint owned by Murdoch, which was to be presaged by a two-part Simpson interview on Murdoch-owned Fox Broadcasting to be conducted by Murdoch-owned Judith Regan, publisher of Murdoch-owned ReganBooks. Murdoch-owned Bill O'Reilly fulminated, as did many others, and Murdoch-owned Fox News led the moral charge against the Murdoch-owned event. And now, after his cancellation of both the book and the interview, followed by a heartfelt apology to the victim's families, Rupert Murdoch looks to be a man of upstanding moral character, one who runs a media empire that has shown us all the true and clear path of good corporate citizenship. And the entire circus was bought and paid for by Rupert Murdoch and/or agents thereof.

At News Corp., the medium is the message.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The liberal media

That bleeding-heart liberal media is at it again:

How long this myth of the liberal media will persist is anyone's guess. Of course, the myth is perpetuated by the vast sea of right wing howling heads who insist that this must be the truth. And if you think they will ever stop saying it, well, let's just say, you may not live that long.

I'm not going to get into jokey little jibes about Joshua Maravchik. The man is an ill-informed, unmitigated ass. From the first sentence onward, everything -- everything -- he writes is wrong. And I don't mean just wrong-headed in opinion. I mean wrong in fact and unversed in history.

Why, Judy, if I didn't know better, I'd say this guy sounds sounds like ... a blogger. Of the right wing persuasion, obviously, but nonetheless, a mouth-foaming, rumour-mongering blogger. But here he is, doing his right wing, full monty rant in the LA Times. But ... but ... that can't be. Judy, oh, Judy, please explain this.

[hat tip hotpotatomash]

Sushi is as sushi does

Not long ago and after many previous death threats, Russian journalist and outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin's government, Anna Politkovskaya, was found shot dead at her apartment building on Putin's birthday. At the time, she was working on a story about the Russia's use of torture in Chechnya. Politkovskaya had previously been poisoned in 2004, an attempt that failed to produce the desired result. Russian authorities promised a "thorough investigation" of her execution.

To put it lightly, more than a few believed that promises of such an investigation would go unfulfilled. One of those is Alexander Litvinenko, a former lieutenant colonel in Russia's FSB or Federal Security Service who gained asylum in Britain six years ago and who was also a critic of Putin's reign of terror in Chechnya. He was investigating the death of Politkovskaya and has now taken ill from thallium poisoning after meeting an informant at a sushi restaurant in London. He is reportedly in serious condition with a 50-50 chance of survival.

That damned sushi. Sushi, you see, was claimed to be responsible for Viktor Yushchenko's dioxin poisoning in 2004, back when he was running against the Russian-backed candidate Viktor Yanukovich.

Unguarded moment

For sometime now, there have been exactly three options the Bush administration faced in Iraq: pull out, taper troop levels over a long time scale or send more US meat into the grinder. In one way or another, none will likely be good. This has been known for a long time.

Which is why I had to laugh when I read that the Pentagon has a "closely guarded review" of options in Iraq:
The Pentagon's closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials.
I guess this is what might be called thinking inside the box.

Blurry lines

I just got back from the Nieman Foundation Conference on Narrative Journalism in Boston this weekend (more on that later), so I haven't posted on the internets for a few days. I stumbled on this little gem at hotpotatomash that is simply too marvelous not to take note. Judy Miller has opened her ghastly yap again and, within a few short syllables, managed to voice her fear of blogs because, why, they'll take rumours and quickly assert them as fact:
The blurring of entertainment and news and the relaxing of journalistic standards can be seen in online bloggers who are critical of people without giving them an opportunity to respond or who don't post corrections when they learn that what they have posted is wrong, she said. "I'm worried about bloggers," she said. "(A post) starts as a rumor and within 24 hours it's repeated as fact."
Let's just ignore Judy and her fine sense of irony regarding rumour and fact, already copiously noted elsewhere, and consider these other irony-rich words:
The blurring of entertainment and news and the relaxing of journalistic standards can be seen in online bloggers...
This weekend, we were treated to near continuous coverage of two major stories on television news networks: the "Tomkat" wedding in Italy, were hapless news network reporters gathered to stare at the wall of a castle and expound upon what they only imagined might be taking place inside. The place was lousy with celebrities. A coke-clouded bacchanal surely will be had. Hours of this.

The other story the newsies and "pundints" [a term for which I must give the only thanks I will ever give to George Bush] attended this weekend was the OJ Simpson interview and book. Oh, the outrage they projected. What an ignoble cad! was the general message. And let's all keep talking about how OJ is doing this for the money and attention, which we will happily deliver upon him and bitch about doing so the entire time. I actually heard a CNN anchor ask some blond talking head what she thought of this sordid situation to which she replied that, yes, it was all to horrible to believe that here we were talking about OJ ten years later. And so they kept talking about OJ, ten years later.

I haven't read a blog for three days, but I do know about the Tomkat wedding in a celebrity-filled Italian castle; how exciting and glamorous that must have been. And I know about how OJ is once again rankling society. And I know this because I watched CNN.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

In-fight entertainment

I'm a member of no organized political party. I'm a Democrat.
--Will Rogers
The Democrats now have two people from Maryland running the House of Representatives, Pelosi, and now Steny Hoyer, after some contentious in-fighting. As usual, the Democrats looked unprepared for actually gaining the majority; this leadership fight should have been settled and known before the election. The Republicans and the media have seized on the Democratic disunity and both have portrayed the Dems as confused and divided. Par for the Democratic course, really, but can't these people get their shit together for once? Republicans claim they are "giddy" watching the Democrats struggle amongst themselves.
“I can’t believe they are self-destructing before they even get started,” said Representative Ray LaHood, Republican of Illinois. “Everyone on our side is giddy.”
I expect that almost everyone can believe the Democratic performance in the leadership fight. It's just the way they are.

Fox News Delivers

the agenda:

Of course they're looking for "any statements from Iraqi insurgents" that they will be "thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled congress." Does this surprise anyone?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Winter wonderland

Having got into an argument about pre-election gas prices with Dr. Steven Taylor, a reasonable fellow, but one who would prefer to believe in the vagaries of the "free market" when it comes to gas prices, despite the fact that the oil industry is anything but a free market, controlled as it is by an oligarchy of OPEC nations and cozy oil companies. While not claiming that they actually did lower prices, I presented a good deal of evidence that oil companies can and have manipulated futures markets in the energy sector. And, of course, price manipulation via supply control is exactly what OPEC is designed to do. This fell off my radar and I wish I had remember to notice gas prices around here, but I was prompted to noted it by Pam, who presented a couple of interesting photos from her neck of the woods, one from the day of the election:

And one from the day after the elections:

Elevens cents/gallon increase over night. While admittedly anecdotal, such behaviour, reported in a several places, though by no means everywhere, is nonetheless fascinating. The free market appears to have been working under the cover of darkness.

More generally, this performance has been delivered nation-wide. Gasbuddy delivers more extensive data on the US average price per gallon, which displays exactly the same behaviour as the single gas station prices above (click for larger view).

Leveling has been seen the last few days, but it should be interesting to keep an eye on this. We were told, even as prices were plummeting, that they would shoot up once again because winter was on the way.

(thanks to Pam for the pix)

Monday, November 13, 2006

With every season

American foreign policy has never come to grips with Afghanistan in any substantive way. Despite its apparent strategic placement in Central Asia, the country itself lacked resources and had never really been on modern western radar until the Soviets invaded in 1979. When this caused a cold war rift, the CIA and Pakistani ISI training of the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets was short term aid that was largely seen as beneficent to the interests of the United States, Afghanistan and the surrounding region. Hardly imagined were the rise of al Qaeda under the leadership of bin Laden or that of the brutal fundamentalist Taliban. They were born together and co-existed; while the Taliban created an Islamic state under Shar'ia law, al Qaeda conducted their radical Islamist foreign policy against the infidels outside Afghanistan.

When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, shortly after 9/11, a quick victory over the Taliban was envisioned and this, of course, is exactly what happened. Many warnings were issued not to abandon Afghanistan quickly, as had been done when the Soviets withdrew. The ensuing warlordism then that gave rise to the Taliban would surely engulf the country again without a concerted effort to hold the war lords at bay, establish a strong government and conduct a serious reconstruction effort, all designed to stabilize and rebuild a country that had been decimated by conflict for decades. This would allow Afghans security and faith in their government, two key elements necessary in marginalizing al Qaeda/Taliban radicalism. As we all watched with horror, the Bush administration ignored recent history and all the warnings and began to direct their focus on Iraq. Recent tales have told us that the Taliban is dominant once again.

But one piece of this that has thwarted the meager efforts the US, and now NATO, have made in Afghanistan is Pakistan's involvement with the Taliban. While President Musharraf does not openly embrace al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, there is a great deal of toleration of them and, in fact, these groups are now well established, not only in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but also in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in northern Pakistan, where a "Taliban law" has just been passed. Though Musharraf denies any government involvement, it is now widely believed that Pakistan's own intelligence service, the ISI, is once again funding and training the Taliban.

So here the Bush administration finds itself: publicly embracing and warmly praising President Musharraf as an ally in the War on Terror, willing to send billions in weaponry and armaments to the military dictator while Musharaff's own governmental agency arms and trains Taliban and al Qaeda fighters who, at this moment, are killing NATO -- American -- soldiers, retaking Afghanistan and re-establishing Shar'ia law under Taliban rule.

Apart from getting a bunch of soldiers killed, using up a lot of ammunition and testing out a few Predator drones, the Bush administration's efforts in Afghanistan appear even more mysterious than the first time we let Afghanistan slip into warlordism and, ultimately, into the control of the Taliban. Only this time, Bush has added his own special touch: getting his soldiers killed for no apparent reason. It is the one thing at which he does seem to excel.


Here's something more than a few people have been wondering for awhile: how long before China recognises how inherently unsustainable the current US economic paradigm actually is? It seems that the recent US economy, built on the hallucinated wealth of an inflating housing market, has finally jarred the Chinese now that that housing market is suffering. The Chinese central bank won't say this, of course, but rather indicate that they simply want to "diversify." Naturally, valuation of the dollar is at risk.
The concerns over dollar assets mounted this week after Zhou Xiaochuan, the Chinese central bank governor, said that China planned to diversify its assets across different currencies and investment instruments, including emerging markets. The dollar, which analysts reckon make up around 70 percent of China's reserves, fell to 2-1/2 month lows against the euro as his comment hit trading.

Analysts noted that China has pointed to such plans before without making any huge shifts, but the news rekindled persistent worries about China diversifying away from the dollar.

In the United States, Zhou's remarks contributed to a growing sentiment that a sound portfolio contains a bigger portion of international assets.
That the Chinese are finally signaling that they will adjust their holdings of $1 trillion US dollars to something more "sound" is telling and Wall Street is taking the hint. A drooping dollar will almost certainly force the Fed to raise interest rates, something that will further hit the housing market. The cooling real estate market has already produced two slow growth quarters in a row this year, with the third quarter of 2006 displaying economic growth with the "weakest pace in more than three years."

If the Chinese central bank moves aggressively to divest itself of US dollars, this will really cause some problems. I doubt this will happen, though, and for the same reason the Japanese can't dump their US dollars: doing so would collapse the rest of the dollar market and loose them billions. The Chinese also know that they can't do this too aggressively either because any US holdings they possess will too suffer enormous losses and they won't likely want to afford that.

Does this sound like the basis of a sound economic position in the world? We are now so indebted to the Chinese that, even if they wanted to get rid of US dollars, they can't because doing so would loose them too much money. We're like the guy who owes the mob so much money, they can't afford to whack him. But they will break a kneecap or two, just to get the message across.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bitch set me up

Less than a week after the resounding repudiation American voters delivered the Bush administration and their lackey Congress, a new administration program has been revealed that is causing a row in Britain, which it should also do here: DHS undercover agents are conducting secret sting operations in Britain.
Undercover American agents are staging secret 'sting' operations in Britain against criminal and terrorist suspects they want to extradite to the US.

In a recent operation, agents from America's Department of Homeland Security set up a suspect by posing as dealers wanting to illegally sell night-vision goggles for export to Iran.

The spies arranged a series of clandestine meetings in London hotels, which they secretly filmed as evidence. It is thought to be the first time American agents have been caught using such sting tactics in Britain.
As yet it is uncertain whether the British government was aware of this activity. Who thinks up this shit, anyway?

Check out the comments from some of these Brits, though. Truly amazing. The concept of sovereignty seems entirely lost; a quirky pre-9/11 notion:
I'm with Pesident Bush on this! Bliar and his cronies are of little use in the real world. All strength to your elbow Mr President!

Take a number

George Bush's disingenuous maundering about "bipartisanship" and looking forward to working "together" was immediately belied by his agenda for the outgoing Republican-led Congress: confirm Bolton, pass the warrantless wiretap law. Well, Democrats and ousted Republican Lincoln Chafee have now said that both of these items will go nowhere. Democratic majority whip Richard Durbin indicated that the NSA warrantless wiretap bill will not be viewed as a pressing issue.
[T]here's no guarantee that we're going spend a lot of time on controversial measures.
In other words: For. Get. It.

Of course, Bush and the NSA have been conducting this operation for years and there is certainly no guarantee that it will stop just because Congress won't okay the program. But the Dems are taking the right stand and things are starting out well. Stay tuned.

Robert Gates-gates

As more people chime in and remind us of just what Robert Gates has been up to over the last few decades, it is becoming entirely clear that Robert Gates life is one long series of 'gates. From Iran-Contra and Iran-Iraq arms dealing to politicizing Soviet intelligence while funding and training Al Qaeda and giving Pakistan a pass on nuclear weapons development, to overseeing the creation of the network of madrassas that now train Islamic fundamentalists, Robert Gates has indeed been a busy man.

Considering the subsequent behaviour of Republican administrations, Watergate now strikes as a remarkably quaint episode in a much larger and far more ghastly panorama, one that has very much led to the United States' current predicament in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Swear word wars

I finally watched Paul Henry's brilliant The War of the Words, The Story of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders. So loud, so proud, so very, very wrong.

Must see.

[hat tip Firestarter5]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sexy beast

Completely out of the realm of politics, blessedly so, a friend of mine sent along a pic of the new Ducati 1098 Superbike. Official release announcement apparently was moved up because the damnable internets had pictures of this thing all over the place anyway. Until April, I had a Ducati Monster 900S. Had it pimped with Two Brothers Racing Ti pipes, which usually set off car alarms in any neighbourhood I rode through, and it often scared the bejeesuz out of me. As V-twins, Ducs are torque-filled beasts and mine had half the horse power of this new 1098. This new Duc tips in with a 160 hp and, more astonishingly, weighs in at only 380 lbs. That has got to be a frighter.

Remembrance Day

In Remembrance of senseless slaughter. Will we ever learn?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
-- John McCrae
I have always taken issue with the last stanza of this poem, beckoning as it does to "take up our quarrel" and perpetuate, ad infinitum, endless fighting. Unfortunately, we have not broken faith and human beings have continued our murderous ways ever since. When this poem was written, World War I was described as "the war to end all wars." Conversely, and more accurately, the poem itself demands continued struggle. We all know which sentiment won out.

Business week

A lot of talk is circulating these days about the nature Bush's (which one?) nominee for Defense Secretary, Robert Gates. Much of it examines the ominous shadow of Iran-Contra and Gates' reputation for fixing intelligence around the policy, while the mainstream, as usual, tends to blow this off in favour of portraying Gates as the right man for the job, a sentiment that seems to be summed up by a wave of the hand and a "well, at least he ain't Rumsfeld." What sets Gates apart from the neocon wing of the Pentagon is his arguing that the administration should be negotiating with Iran and to abandon its Cheneyite intransigence. Of course, this is the reason Gates has been brought to the fore: Bush I, Baker and the rest of the Carlyle Group have finally stepped in to put an end to the reckless neocon agenda. And that won't just stop with Rumsfeld. Neocon chum Stephen Cambone may also be on the way out.

An article in The Houston Chronicle points out that, indeed, Gates' past and ghostly ties with the Iran-Contra affair and previous assessments about him could and should come under scrutiny again. But one passage jumped out that indicated Gates is not there to embarrass the administration. Despite the fact that "defense conservatives" are not happy that an agent of the Carlyle coterie is going to be SecDef -- too much in the "realist" foreign policy camp -- as a former CIA director, Gates' stands firmly behind the White House nonsense that they were "misled" by intelligence about Iraqi WMD:
Robert Gates, President Bush's choice to lead the Pentagon, has argued that the United States should be talking with Iran instead of shunning it.

He has said that U.S. spy agencies misled the president on whether Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction — but he also thinks the nation should never launch another pre-emptive military strike without "unambiguous" intelligence.
This position is now the default for any and every public official -- certainly those within government. This has just become boilerplate crap these guy have to say publicly. In fact, we know it is. And Gates is certainly not going to come out and say the White House jacked up the intelligence to suit its own black purpose. Gates' purpose is not to hash over old news but to insert some modicum of reason into the administration (reason may have been hiding in nooks and crannies somewhere in the White House, but it would never jump out when Bush was in the room). With Gates being a loyalist, not to W, but to the old school Bush crowd, we might actually see some well-deserved friction in the White House, and especially between the Veep's office and the Pentagon. This is assuming that Cheney has not already been neutralized by the powers that be. Since Rumsfeld got the boot, much to Cheney's chagrin, Dick himself may not be long for his job should he continue to be seen as a problem child.

Yes, Rumsfeld was a fractious figure in and out of the Pentagon. Proposals, ala McCain, to send in 20,000 more troops are hardly going to suffice in stopping the chaos in Iraq and right now there seems little that can be done to recover from that country's current state. And one thing is certain: Robert Gates won't be the one fixing it. But what has really happened with the Gates nomination and likely confirmation is that Cheney's press for an attack on Iran has been effectively halted. Say what you will about the Baker's dozen, but at least they have the sense to recognize that more war and further destabilization in the Middle East is simply bad for business.

Generations of swine

A sign of the crimes

If there is any one country familiar with war crimes, it is Germany. Which is why it is interesting that the Center for Constitutional Rights will apparently be filing a lawsuit accusing Donald Rumsfeld of such crimes.
Donald Rumsfeld is expected to be accused of war crimes in a lawsuit to be filed next week in Germany.

The Center for Constitutional Rights will file the suit on behalf of a group of Iraqi detainees as well as the so-called 20th hijacker, who is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay.

"The former secretary actually authorized a series of interrogation techniques," said Michael Ratner, President of CCR. "They included the use of dogs, stripping, hooding, stressed positions, chaining to the floor, sexual humiliation and those types of activities."

Those techniques, he says, amount to torture and violate the Geneva Conventions. Ratner will be traveling to Berlin next week and plans to file the suit on Tuesday.

The suit is being brought in Germany because a "universal jurisdiction" law there allows German courts to claim jurisdiction over war crimes even if they were committed outside that country's borders.
Keep it comin'!

Another Bolton veto

Yes, John Bolton must go:
The United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution Saturday that sought to condemn an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip and demand Israeli troops pull out the territory.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the Arab-backed draft resolution was "biased against Israel and politically motivated."
Of course the resolution was "biased against Israel." It was Israel that killed 18 civilians with errant artillery fire. Would an unbiased resolution, the kind Bolton would apparently like to see, also condemn the Palestinian civilians for being in the way? What a vastly vapid man.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I will taunt you a second time...

Bring 'em on.
--George Bush, July 2, 2003
Supposed leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza Muhajir, has issued a video statement to George Bush, in effect, telling to Bush to bring it on:
I tell the lame duck [administration]: do not rush to escape as did your defense minister. Stay on the battleground.
Admittedly, this lacks the swaggering cowboy vernacular but it's pretty much the same sentiment. Funny how bullies and thugs all wind up sounding the same.

This message was, of course, entirely unnecessary since Bush has no intention of bugging out during his last two years. He has said not only this but has often indicated that he will be leaving the bloody mess to his successor. But what it does do is toss aside the sneering derision that the terrorists will be celebrating a Democratic victory in the elections.

Party not so hearty

Wow. When it rains, it pours:
GOP furious about timing of Rumsfeld resignation

Donald Rumsfeld's abrupt resignation from the Pentagon the day after Republicans lost both chambers of Congress has infuriated some GOP officials on and off Capitol Hill.

Members and staff still reeling from Tuesday's rout are furious about the administration's decision to dump the controversial defense secretary one day after their historic loss, they said in a series of interviews about the election results.

President Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation on Wednesday and named Bob Gates, a former CIA chief and president of Texas A&M University, as his replacement.

"The White House said keeping the majority was a priority, but they failed to do the one thing that could have made a difference," one House GOP leadership aide said Thursday. "For them to toss Rumsfeld one day after the election was a slap in the face to everyone who worked hard to protect the majority."
"They did this to protect themselves, but they couldn't protect us?" another Republican aide said yesterday.
Hey, it's your party, not mine. You're the guys who have to deal with James Baker's and Daddy Bush's Carlyle Group.

Well, actually, we all do.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fixing Intelligence, breaking Iraq

While everyone ponders the future of the Pentagon and a broken Iraq now that Bush -- or rather those behind the firing of Rumsfeld -- has tapped yet another Iran-Contra goombah for the final days of the administration, The Osterley Times is pointing to further confirmation of the Downing Street Memos, as though that were needed.

The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy:
A former diplomat has revealed that the British mission to the United Nations opposed the policy of regime change in Iraq but was ordered by London to change its position in the lead-up to war.

The disclosure was made to MPs yesterday by Carne Ross, a member of the mission who resigned in protest at the Iraq war. He told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the US government was repeatedly warned by British diplomats that Iraq would fall apart if Saddam Hussein was toppled. But from mid-2002 instructions were received to change that view to fall in with the Bush administration.
"I took part in the bilateral discussion between the State Department and the Foreign Office for four years. One of the items repeatedly on the agenda was regime change. Whenever that item came up, the leader of our delegation would say, with emphasis: 'We do not believe regime change is a good idea in Iraq. The reason we do not believe that is because we believe Iraq will break up and there will be chaos if you do that'. That view will have been recorded in the telegrams that have remained secret, and will do for years. That was emphatically the unified view of the Foreign Office.

"That view changed in mid-2002. There was no basis for changing the view from what was going on inside Iraq. What changed was our view of what the future policy would be."
The policy was set for invasion and regime change. We know this. The evidence is ample. This is direct violation of the Nuremberg Principles and Geneva Convention. And yet Pelosi has already said that impeachment is "off the table." Why? The current occupants of the White House are war criminals and should be turfed for high crimes and misdemeanors. There is a very good reason why people keep asking Pelosi if she'll call for impeachment. Because she should.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Taking the hit

With no nascent terrorist plots gurgling away in Army surplus stores in seedy corners of the country, Rumsfeld was called on to fall on the grenade of publicity about the Democrats big win in the elections yesterday. Indeed, mere minutes before word that Rumsfeld was stepping down, I had warned of some expected announcement of great import,
I wonder how long before some unbaked terrorist plot is unveiled or some other alarm is sounded. Wait for it. You know it's coming.
And then, bam! I didn't quite see the Rumsfeld thing coming but the announced resignation has, nonetheless, done considerable work in distracting headlines from the Democrats. So, what will be on the major news tonight on the networks? Bet it doesn't lead off with the elections.

Damn these guys are good.

One step beyond

Already bored with the tired, dull post-election analysis in the mainstream? There will, of course, be much more of it but it is growing wearisome already. Blah, blah, Pelosi, blah. Now that the Democrats have control of the House (though the words control and Democrat hardly come together naturally) there is a source of amusement to be had. That source, as you might imagine, is to be found in right wing blogostan, where perceptions abound that the world as we know it is about to come to an end and the new dawn of the bin Laden-dreamed Islamic Caliphate is about to swaddle the earth in turbans and burkhas. Because Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker of the House.

Indeed, the bats were up early this morning howling in anger with the news that Democrats took full control of the House and might even wind up with a string hold on the Senate, which seems unlikely even as Tester now looks to be taking the Montana seat from that odious codger Conrad Burns. Virginia is still going to be a fight. And one can hardly consider Lieberman to be part of the Democratic fold. This will be a recipe for congressional grid-lock more than anything and Bush will be able to veto almost anything he wants without fear of override. But this is not the perception of the extreme. Of course, if right wing extremists didn't have non-linear perceptions of things, they probably wouldn't be extreme now, would they?

Nonetheless, the observation that not much will change -- certainly not as far as foreign policy is concerned -- is not apparent to those on the extreme right and one can find no better example of the unhinged yowling than what is seen over at The Strata-Sphere, where we can learn that Keith Olbermann and Osama bin Laden are celebrating, probably sharing a cave and popping corks on the bubbly: the Shiite caliphate can begin the next phase of world domination thanks to Countdown. It's all quite laughable, really. So much so that one must wonder if this guy gets paid for this crap. It's like science fiction, only without the reasoned consideration. The irrational sophistry is best exampled by a view that "goose-stepping Islamo fascists are probably besides themselves with glee," something no doubt absorbed from Dick Cheney's fallacious maunderings, and that "the terrorists know they have us on the run now," while it is Keith Olbermann who embraces "conspiracy theories."
Bin Laden and Zawahiri and all the rest of the goose-stepping Islamo fascists are probably besides themselves with glee right now. And every brave Iraqi who stood up to take control of their country, who braved suicide bombs to vote, are probably cowering in fear. The Democrats are coming, with people like Keith OIberman at their head spewing insults and conspiracy theories. The terrorists know they have us on the run now. They want us out of the ME and they want to take on the EU to form their caliphate. The attacks on us will escalate. Once the herd turned, all the terrorists need to do now is scare us into a stampede.
Get all that? Now that Democrats have won the House majority, al Qaeda will make its bold move toward a world Islamic caliphate, take on the EU while attacks on America will escalate. And Iraqis, who have been getting blown up, shot and tortured with alarming regularity will now cower in fear because Pelosi is speaker of the House. But it is Keith Olbermann who spews conspiracy theories. The operative belief being that terrorists have been emboldened by America's clearly shakable resolve. Bush is resolved, but American voters are not. And I thought liberals were the blame-America-first crowd.

See, I told you it wasn't boring.

And by the way, did you know that George Bush is "the only thing standing between our sanctity for life and fetus harvesting for spare parts"? Neither did I.

Bug out

Well, shithouse mouse. That didn't take long. The morning after the night before, suddenly Rumsfeld is bugging out:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, architect of an unpopular war in Iraq, intends to resign after six stormy years at the Pentagon, Republican officials said Wednesday.Officials said Robert Gates, former head of the CIA, would replace Rumsfeld.
Perhaps even the prospect of real investigations into and some actual "accountability" for Abu Graib and other of his dreadful ways was a little too daunting for the old man. Seems like the perfect time to join up with the Carlyle Group or, hell, maybe head back to Gilead Sciences and spook up some avian flu terror. Which is a likely career move for these corporate war horses. But I have to ask, at his age, why can't Rumsfeld just head down to Mt. Misery, and hang out, do some fishing? Because you know he won't.

But please. Stop fucking with the world.

[pic from This Modern World]

Post game

It is indeed gratifying to see that the results of the election have far exceeded my rather grim predictions. Voters came out in record numbers for a mid-term election and swamped GOP efforts of voter suppression across the country. Amazing, really. Of particular and happy note were the Senate wins of Casey, sending Santorum packing off to Jesus Camp, and McCaskill, who punted Talent out of the park. Brown booted DeWine and, oh I loved this one, though it was roundly expected, Kenneth Blackwell is now gone and Ohio is sporting a Democratic governor and Sectretary of State. Way to go Ohio! Without a cretin like Blackwell running elections in that swing state, the GOP will have a hard time carrying out the kind of nonsense they have in the past.

In the House, and with +28 seats gained so far, there were some Dem wins of particular note that demonstrated good sense by voters. McNerney turfed the loathsome Richard Pombo, a one-man environmental wrecking crew. Chocola was booted in Indiana. In fact, in the three key races in Indiana, voters dumped each Republican incumbent. In North Carolina, Shuler took out Charles Taylor and, Pennsylvania decided that they had had enough of the grasping Curt Weldon, giving Sestak that seat. Oh, and PA also figured that Don "choke-hold" Sherwood was, apart from the questionable criminal status of the man, someone who was simply too embarrassing to have to deal with anymore.

I was sad to see that Tammy Duckworth failed in her bid. I was hoping Illinois would be a little smarter than that.

The worst part of all this, of course, will be endless yakking we're going hear about what the election "really means," as though that is not immediately apprehended. The election didn't mean anything more than what the polls have been showing for months. It was the inevitable result of a deep dissatisfaction across the country with the war in Iraq, the failed policies of the White House, a rubber-stamp Republican Congress and the rank corruption schemes on which various Republican lampreys had been feeding for years. I guess Americans weren't too concerned about the prospect of a Speaker of the House named Nancy Pelosi. I think she's dreadful and a very bad face for the Democrats. With the majority the Democrats have now, some serious thought and forcefulness is required and I just don't see that in her. But, maybe she'll surprise. I have my own fantasy about what the Democrats should do (more on that later), but I'm afraid it will remain entirely that, a dream.

Democrats are now all over the news, promising change and a hopeful future; the usual bullshit. But still, this must be grating Rove tremendously. I wonder how long before some unbaked terrorist plot is unveiled or some other alarm is sounded. Wait for it. You know it's coming.

And now we get to return to the regularly scheduled disasters around the world. ...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To Catch a Fraud

Just to prove that I'm not the only one maniacally focused on voter fraud and suppression by the GOP, it has been such a problem nation-wide that is now offering a $250,000 reward for material evidence leading to a felony conviction involving "partisan voter suppression or electronic voting fraud." That's some sweet coin. Surely, there will more than a few who can cash those cheques. Threatening to arrest Latino voters at the polls because they're ... Latino seems like a prime candidate.

Immortal Technique

BIll O'Reilly Culture Warrior

hotpotatomash has outdone himself with this latest mashup. Great stuff.

Suppression and Deception 2006

Focus of this election day has shifted from the tradition of watching cumulative results to reading the vast number of reports of voting problems and voter intimidation efforts across the country. It is, in a word, staggering. Long lines and machine problems abound in Denver, Cleveland, various counties in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Illinois and Florida. Report after report is coming in describing broken voting machines and a turn to paper ballots as last resort in California, Utah, Pennsylvania. More incidents of touch screen machine vote flipping in Missouri. In Kentucky, a poll worker was arrested after choking a voter. The governor of South Carolina was turned away from voting. In Virginia, the FBI is now investigating voter intimidation tactics; voters have been called and told they will be arrested upon showing up to the polls, or misdirected to an incorrect address. GOP disinformation fliers have been popping up around the country, citing incorrect voting information and other misdirections. Georgia voters are being told that ID is required when it is not. Elsewhere, GOP disinformation robo-calls have hit voters in Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kansas, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New York. Right wing radio head Laura Ingraham is telling her version of dittoheads to flood the phone banks of the voter assistance hotline, 1 888 DEM VOTE, which they are happily doing. In Colorado, Latinos are being threatened with arrest if they show up to the polls.

But of these myriad disasters, melt-downs and suppression tactics, perhaps the one that crystallizes the desperation of Republicans has to be what is being seen in Maryland on election day. Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich and his cohort Michael Steele, running for the US Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes, both in tight races and certainly facing a losing position, have bused in homeless black people from Pennsylvania and Delaware to hand out "sample ballots" indicating that Ehrlich and Steele are Democrats. After years of vilifying Democrats as terrorist appeasers or outright traitors, now it seems that being, or at least appearing to be, a Democrat is a good thing:
Inaccurate sample ballots describing Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Senate candidate Michael S. Steele as Democrats were handed out to voters in at least four polling sites in Prince George's County this morning.The ballots were handed out by people who said they arrived by buses this morning from Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Erik Markle, one of the people handing out literature for Ehrlich, who is seeking reelection, and Steele, the current lieutenant governor who is campaigning to replace retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D), said he was recruited at a homeless shelter in Philadelphia.

After a two-hour bus ride to Maryland, Markle said the workers were greeted early this morning by first lady Kendel Ehrlich, who thanked them as they were outfitted in T-shirts and hats with the logo for Ehrlich's reelection campaign. Nearly all of those recruited, Markle said, are poor and black. Workers traveled to Maryland in at least seven large buses.
But Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver says that these "ballots" were not intended to deceive. Besides, seeming to indicate that misleading voters into thinking Steele and Ehrlich are Democrats would be a perfectly fine tactic, DeLeaver admits that such efforts have probably begun a little too late in the game.
I think it's far too late in the game to mislead voters into thinking that Gov. Ehrlich is a Democrat.
If the GOP manages to hang onto majorities, this is how they will do it. Lies, deception, fraud, and pretense. It is all they have and this is what they know. We need to overwhelm these pricks and their disgraceful tactics. Vote these fuckers out!

The constant struggle for purity

Ok, this is great. I don't normally make fun of blogs that link to me, but this is awesome.

Some guy who posts at TheTallSkinnyKiwi linked to my piece about Mike Driscoll blaming women for the ills of Ted Haggard. But his post was truly bizarre. In it, TSK discusses how he is "aware of the constant struggle for purity and the increased pressure that travel adds to it." His warning, at length, to would-be traveling missionaries is that hotels are dens of spiritual inequity. Avoid them at all costs, unless their pricey:
Heres the deal. Hotels can be treacherous places for people of God to stay at because of the spiritual residue from weird and dark things that have happened in that room. OK - some of you will think me loony here. And some of you don't believe in demons. But let me play it out.

Hotels, like a particular house in New Orleans, have been the ruin of many a poor boy. Some hotels are famous for the part they had to play in the destruction of careers and downfall of movie stars. Fatty Arbuckle at St Francis Hotel, San Francsico (pictured above) comes to mind every time i walk by that hotel. And there are others.

Hotels are often places where anonymously weird, perverted, dangerous, evil things of a dark nature happen [Ted Haggard's room?]- all attracting the attention and the attachment of evil spirits. Permission is granted to those spirits in those places and I don't think that permission is withdrawn once the people are gone. That means if you end up in a hotel room where weird things have just happened [Ted Haggard's room?] you really need to do some kung fu in that room and cleanse it out before you put your bags down and settle in for the night. Really. And someone close to you should know where you are. And, I argue, why do church ministers all have to stay in nice hotels anyway? [Well, those are only the places they stay when they're not having drug-fueled gay sex.]
Huh. Good question. Maybe because the expensive places have a less religiously uncool vibe? That they need to be sheltered from the gross affair that is the human condition? That they know where Ted Haggard has been hanging out in a meth haze doing "perverted, dangerous, evil things"? Because they sure as hell don't want to be there. The temptation would apparently be too great.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A night to remember

The state of Ohio is a representative microcosm of the larger biosphere of these national elections: a GOP-ruled political establishment rife with corruption and a population entirely ill at ease with the direction and behaviour of their government. As goes Ohio, so goes the nation. One needn't look too far beyond the races for the senate (Brown/DeWine) and governor (Blackwell/Strickland) to see that Ohioans are not pleased with what the Republican establishment has wrought in their name. The latest poll from the Columbus Dispatch now has Strickland 36 points ahead of a laughably delirious Kenneth Blackwell, who insists that the polls "pushed the edge of credibility." Then again, the man who perfected the black art of voter suppression in Ohio in 2004 probably has a few unpleasant surprises in store for his state's voters. We already know that Blackwell has overseen the purge of some 500,000 voters from the registration rolls, many of whom may not even know they have been removed and will be in for a disagreeable shock at the polling stations come election day. And Blackwell is right in some sense: it doesn't matter what those stinking polls say before the election, especially when those voters who would toss Blackwell to the curb can't actually cast a ballot.

Meanwhile, Sherrod Brown, a man of no particular or notable distinction and one of the few Democrats who voted for the torture bill, is leading the incumbent DeWine for the US Senate seat by a whopping 24 points. And in every other state election -- Auditor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Treasurer -- the Democratic candidate is well ahead. The Treasurer position is of particular interest here. Cordray has an even larger lead in his race than Brown in his, 28 points, and it must be seen that people of Ohio have been none too happy with the Tom Noe Coingate scandal, siphoning millions as it did from the state's worker's compensation fund to the benefit of the Bush/Cheney campaign and various other Republican enterprises both political and personal. Ohio Republicans clearly demonstrated that they cannot be trusted with other people's money and Ohio voters appear likely to send the state GOP a strong message with this regard.

But the GOP doesn't want to listen to any voter-based messages. Because they know who their real base is and it ain't field hands in Ohio. This is as true for Ohioans as it is for the rest of the nation. Republicans at the federal level have ignored for years displeasure within their constituencies in favour of party-line voting and when that didn't involve shoveling buckets of money at defense contractors, it was indulging various other corporate interests. They have placed themselves in this position by their ill-advised catering to the Bush/Rove agenda and while the individual candidates may be aware that they are paying the price for that party loyalty, Rove and his machine still don't care why that is. Nor will they listen. Right now and for the last few days, an Ohio-based firm, Conquest Communications, run by former Proctor and Gamble executives, is blanketing various districts across the country with "false flag robo calls." In fact, the organisation says it has "reached hundreds of thousands of homes in five states over the last several weeks," but the fury and focus of them has been strongly felt in at leasts 20 congressional districts over the last few days. But these aren't all regular push polls telling voters that Ben Cardin approves of experimentation on unborn babies. No, in many of the reports coming in, the automated calls pretend to be calling on behalf of the Democratic candidate. People have reported receiving repeated calls at dinner time and they appear to be designed to annoy voters and push them away from voting for the candidate in question. The Republican agenda is atrocious, their records in both foreign and domestic policy are disasters and this is how Karl Rove and his get-out-the-vote machine operates; if you vote for Democrats, "our values will be destroyed." Bwahahaha!

It is unclear just how effective such a massive robo-call campaign will actually be. Effectiveness of such efforts is measured at the few percent level. But that is all that is expected, or needed, in races that are toss-ups. Add that to the efforts of voter roll purges, voter disenfranchisement, voter challenges, confusion on election day, ill-behaved machines with their requisite long lines and it soon becomes clear that these various GOP efforts will have some effect. It clearly won't be enough to swing the outcomes in Ohio, where Brown and Strickland seem assured of winning. But these races could be a bellwhether indicator of serious electoral malfeasance: if these guys loose in Ohio, you can pretty much assume the fix was in. But I do that anyway.

It must be stated, in no uncertain terms, that these electioneering efforts sport one salient feature. They are all being conducted by the GOP. Every single one of the above mentioned tactics are being carried out by the Republican party with no reciprocation by Democrats. Democrats are left, as usual, on their heels, reeling at the tactics. Some might say that this is smart politics by the GOP and that the Democrats just don't know how to do it. That the Democrats don't know how to do it is certainly true and I expect that the reason is they rather have people vote than not. Democrats traditionally do well when voter turnout is good and given the poll numbers, the Democrats are sure to gain with a large turnout. That the Democrats can't or won't play as dirty as the GOP can is a plus not a minus. The stream of vituperative campaign ads, launched by the RNC against various Democratic candidates, have been embarrassing for American politics; every election they only seem to get worse. And partisan purges of voter rolls are not "smart politics." The robo-calls smack of illegality -- New Hampshire has already demanded that calls to people on the federal "do not call" list be stopped. And, given the lack of transparency with them, Republican-connected companies and their voting machine are always suspicious. Always. And when was the last time you heard a Democratic candidate call a Republican a traitor?

While the pre-election poll numbers look extremely promising for the Democrats, and not just in Ohio, but in a lot of places, just how the elections will shake out is still terribly uncertain. Polls predict one thing, election results say something else entirely. Isn't it funny how this has now become the norm of American elections since 2000? So, pay attention to the Brown and Strickland races in Ohio. This could very well be the last night you believe in American democracy ever again.

Undercover FBI brother

The FBI is currently considering going undercover in Congress in order to root out public corruption within those less-than-august halls. The FBI has been so "swamped" by investigations that it has added a fourth "public corruption squad" to the Washington field office.
The new chief of the FBI's Criminal Division, which is swamped with public corruption cases, says the bureau is ramping up its ability to catch crooked politicians and might run an undercover sting on Congress.

Assistant FBI Director James Burrus called the bureau's public corruption program "a sleeping giant that we've awoken," and predicted the nation will see continued emphasis in that area "for many, many, many years to come."

So much evidence of wrongdoing is surfacing in the nation's capital that Burrus recently committed to adding a fourth 15- to 20-member public corruption squad to the FBI's Washington field office.

In the past year, former Republican Reps. Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney have pleaded guilty to corruption charges. FBI agents are investigating about a dozen other members of Congress, including as many as three senators. The Justice Department also is expected to begin seeking indictments soon after a massive FBI investigation of the Alaska Legislature.
I'm not a big fan of sting operations, but when it comes to Congress, I'll make an exception. Because this is staggering:
Nationally over the last year, 600 agents worked 2,200 public corruption cases, resulting in 650 arrests, 1,000 indictments and 800 convictions.
Congress: doing the people's work.

Virgina wide Webb

It looks like Virginia might yet use the final down to punt Allen. The very latest poll has Webb surging ahead of the ham-sandwich, 52% to 44%. That gap is growing and now larger than the margin of error.

How to campaign the GOP way

If you vote for Democrats, white women will be grabbed and raped by black men and you will all be destroyed! Arrghhh!!

[hat tip The Daily Politics]

Fat wives and falling down

Ministers are circling Father Ted, launching a series of justfying diatribes for Haggard's wayward stroll down that path of wickedness. You see, it's all the fault of women, both the temptress and the fat, lazy wife. The wife (or wives in general) take the blame because, in being married to a pastor, they have taken for granted that fidelity was locked-in:
Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.
Ha! I guess Haggard showed her! That lazy bitch. The "take one for the team" line is also enjoyable. What team is that, exactly? The "pastors with fat wives" team? And, yes sir, you are now more widely despised but I'm guessing this isn't anything new.

Then there is a more general, biblical blame: women are inherently evil and these poor souls must be vigilent against those wicked vessels of temptation. In essence, it all goes back to Eve for these people:
I have, however, seen some very overt opportunities for sin. On one occasion I actually had a young woman put a note into my shirt pocket while I was serving communion with my wife, asking me to have dinner, a massage, and sex with her. On another occasion a young woman emailed me a photo of herself topless and wanted to know if I liked her body. Thankfully, that email was intercepted by an assistant and never got to me.
Whew! Thank The Lord that email never got to this fellow, otherwise it surely would have been beyond his spiritual powers to resist. Who knows what wickedness the harlot would have him unleash?

I wonder when women in these churches -- which this pastor makes sound like pick-up joints for these loosy goosies -- will figure out what objects of scorn and ridicule they really are to such people as this pastor.

[thanks to Shakespeare's Sister for dredging the intellectually depraved bowls of modern Christiandom and finding some of the pathetic mewlings of these sanctimonious fuckwads.]