Monday, January 29, 2007

If a story in the UK press falls in the woods, does anyone in the US media hear it?

This is one of those stories you just know you will never seen in the US media. Checking .... Nope.
Iran's efforts to produce highly enriched uranium, the material used to make nuclear bombs, are in chaos and the country is still years from mastering the required technology.

Iran's uranium enrichment programme has been plagued by constant technical problems, lack of access to outside technology and knowhow, and a failure to master the complex production-engineering processes involved.

Despite Iran being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world peace - in particular by an increasingly bellicose Israel and its closest ally, the US - a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian programme have told The Observer it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the materials for industrial-scale production.
Now, one might view this as possible disinformation propaganda put out by Iran -- we know countries do this all the time now, don't we? -- but the difference that is striking between White House/Israeli nonsense and this, is that the cited officials are actually believable experts. And they are named.

Whereas the already large and increasing body of propaganda being dumped out by the White House, their "sources" are usually anonymous even though we know who they are: Likudnik Israelis and agents of the terrorist Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK), an band of Islamist loons who were booted out of Iran after the 1979 revolution because they were too crazy for the Khomeini's new Islamic regime. The MEK took refuge in Iraq and were coddled by Hussein, who encouraged continued aggression by them against Iranian targets throughout the 80's and 90's. So far as I know, IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei has never engaged in terrorist activity against any government.

If this story is to be believed, which seems reasonable considering that it has been oft stated by officials who actually know what they're talking about that, then we find ourselves in the curious situation of watching dueling propaganda lines: one which tells us Iran is becoming a grave and growing danger because it is surely seeking nuclear weapons and another -- the Iranian one -- which tells us that the Iranians are enriching uranium and moving into the nuclear age but pose no threat whatsoever. The common strain between the two, being used to ramp up American aggression against Tehran, is that Iran can actually produce, or will soon produce, large quantities of nuclear material. It is a boast by both sides, apparantly utterly fatuous, but which is leading to confrontation. Ahmedinejad won't back down (from what appears to be practically nothing) and the White House will press forth because of Ahmedinejad insistence. And reason has left the building.

The only bright spot in this, is that it is the Iranians who are growing just as tired of Ahmedinejad as Americans have of Bush. Yes, this is the world we're in folks. The American public cannot seem curb the messianic vision of Bush while it is now left to Iran to become the reasonable party and maybe the one to turn back the tide of confrontation. Because it seems that no one is willing to really make the effort to stop Bush.

What is also interesting in the latest tack of White House rhetoric against Iran is Bush's insistence that Iran is meddling in our meddling in Iraq, appearing to try to create a two pronged justification for imagined aggression. And it certainly is not unnoticed that the latest "hunt and kill Iranians" order from Bush seems specifically designed to provoke a response. I can hardly wait to hear that Exxon is moving into the border regions to start slant drilling into Iranian oil fields.

Meanwhile, the US press ignores such tales of a weak and ineffectual Iranian nuclear program and continues to spout the White House and Israeli trope about being "wiped off the map," angling for war, just as they had served up White House gruel about Iraqi WMD.

Afghan surprise

Oh, boy. George Bush's War on Terror® is taking another hit as Hamid Karzai offers peace talks and negotiation with the Taliban.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday offered peace talks with a resurgent Taliban after the bloodiest year since the hardline Islamists were ousted in 2001 and amid warnings of a violent spring offensive. ...

"While we are fighting for our honour, we still open the door for talks and negotiations with our enemy who is after our annihilation and is shedding our blood."
This will not be viewed well by a White House insistent upon war as the first and only solution for a world troubled by war. This is especially notable after news that NATO allies were balking at requests by the White House to send more troops to Afghanistan and that NATO had admitted that it had killed "too many civilians" last year. Perhaps Karzai was not convinced by the Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, that NATO allies would send the kind of message the Taliban were likely to pay attention to
The fact that you saw so many people from the international community sitting around the table is a strong message itself.
I'm certain that had the Taliban quaking.

Karzai is finally forced to recognize that the invasion of Afghanistan was a mere diversion to the larger goal of invading Iraq. The US and now NATO have never had sufficient troop levels there nor do they seem inclined to deliver them. So the choice for Karzai is to let the war simmer, killing untold numbers of Afghans, while the Taliban grows in strength, or, as he has done here, face reality and try to end the bloodshed. Because all the White House appears willing to do is keep things on a slow and bloody boil.

Shell game

Just when I think I'm on the verge of burnout with the news, something quite astounding happens. No, nothing to do with the political gutter of Washington, or the fatuous White House, but something far more telling about how the world has decided that they have had quite enough of Bush, Cheney, and their faction of war mongrels like Bill Kristol.
Shell has signed an important deal to help Iran develop a major gas field, ignoring growing pressure from George Bush to isolate the country for being part of what he alleges is an "axis of evil".
Though Shell says they are still a year away from a "final decision," that decision looks as though it will be based entirely on business considerations and not on anything the White House might want. Of course, it all will depend on whether the lunatics actually launch an attack on Iran, in which case it is easy to imagine that all bets will be off.

Interestingly, it was the recently forced acquisition by Russia's Gazprom of Shell's business at the Sakhalin island that may have had a hand in the company looking for business ventures in Iran, something noted here back in December.
The Anglo-Dutch group, which is struggling to bring more momentum to its business after being forced to hand over vital Russian reserves at Sakhalin island to the Kremlin, confirmed it had finally reached agreement on various aspects of its "Persian LNG" - liquefied natural gas - project centred on the South Pars gas field.
But it doesn't end there. Shell is also selling off assets in the United States, as it just agreed to dump its refinery in Los Angeles, no doubt expecting ensuing repercussions from a White House gone mad.

Like I said, fascinating.

Straightjacket talker

Robert Greenwald is doling out a little "anything they say" to John McCain, a man who is clearly loosing it. Once looking like the GOP front runner, with his "tough" stances against the White House (entirely bogus), McCain is starting to look like a deer in the headlights.

Hubble blows a fuse

Some rough news out of NASA today. This is a memo straight out of Space Telescope Science Institute, so pardon the jargon. The ACS is the Advanced Camera for Surveys, which has been the main camera used on the telescope since it was installed in spring of 2002. There are a battery of instruments on the telescope which can pick up the slack, but the other imaging camera, WFPC2, is considerably older technology, with lower throughput and sensitivity.
Unfortunately, it is clear that there has been a serious failure in side 2 of the ACS. Indications are that there was an electrical short circuit of sufficient duration and intensity to blow the fuse on side 2. An Anomaly Review Board will attempt to identify the precise cause of the problem, but it is very unlikely that we will be able to use ACS side 2 again. The ARB will have to establish whether it is safe to return ACS to side 1 operation. If so, we will be able to use the SBC, but not the HRC or WFC. The ARB will also help establish whether there is any prospect for servicing the ACS. While the blown fuse can easily be replaced by an astronaut, repairing or working around the short circuit could be considerably more difficult. ...

The apparent loss of the ACS is obviously a serious blow to the HST science program. ACS observations have dominated our observing schedules since its installation during SM3B. We now have the problem of replacing the ACS portion of the observing program and continuing with the best possible science program with the telescope, at least until SM4. Several steps are being taken in this regard. First, the schedulers will be doing the best they can to move up available Cycle 15 NICMOS, WFPC2, and FGS observations. Second, we will activate the ACS Contingency programs that have been proposed and selected for just this situation. ...
Hopefully, the planned servicing mission will still go forward. Though currently planned for mid-2008, there was some talk about whether this could be bumped up. It is still too early to tell at this point, but my initial guess is maybe, but not by much. That mission has plans for an even newer camera and the usual service pack of gyros and batteries.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Man on Fire

I've never seen Kennedy, or anyone else in the Senate for that matter, so pissed.

[hat tip Kel]

Trying to go to Tehran

Kel's citation of Israel's Likudnik crazy Benjamin Netanyahu's stepped up actions against Iran, which call for economic isolation of that country, prompted me to link to the Raw Story article by Alexandrovna and Kane. They recount the long history of the neo-con's desire to attack Iran -- complete with timeline -- and especially of Cheney's crucial role in the unfolding portrait of the march to war with Tehran.
While Iran was named a part of President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” in 2002, efforts to ignite a confrontation with Iran date back long before the post-9/11 war on terror. Presently, the Administration is trumpeting claims that Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than the CIA’s own analysis shows and positing Iranian influence in Iraq’s insurgency, but efforts to destabilize Iran have been conducted covertly for years, often using members of Congress or non-government actors in a way reminiscent of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

The motivations for an Iran strike were laid out as far back as 1992. In classified defense planning guidance – written for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney by then-Pentagon staffers I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz, and ambassador-nominee to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad – Cheney’s aides called for the United States to assume the position of lone superpower and act preemptively to prevent the emergence of even regional competitors. The draft document was leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post and caused an uproar among Democrats and many in George H. W. Bush’s Administration.
All of this recalls the statement from 2003 by a senior White House official that "anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men go to Tehran." Yes, Iran has been on the board for a long time. Netanyahu's push is merely the latest effort in agitating the region, probably hoping to spark reaction from Tehran. Israelis and the White House may be hesitant to launch another preemptive strike -- Russian and China would not be pleased at all -- and are just aching for Tehran to take the first shot.

A shorter history of violence

Mark Seibel at McClatchy delivers a good article revolving around Bush and various administration officials' statements that the civil strife all started with the bombing of the Samarra mosque. It's a resounding rebuke of White House officials, replete with a great deal of discussion about the expanding program of sectarian violence extant well before the Samarra bombing. Rebuking White House officials, however, is not a difficult thing to do these days.
President Bush and his aides, explaining their reasons for sending more American troops to Iraq, are offering an incomplete, oversimplified and possibly untrue version of events there that raises new questions about the accuracy of the administration's statements about Iraq.
My only quibble with Seibel is his use of the adjective "possibly." The extent of sectarian vengeance was widely reported for well over a year before the Samarra mosque. The much publicized November, 2005 raid by US forces of an Interior Ministry building, which pulled 169 starved, tortured Sunnis out of the basement, demonstrated just how much the Iraqi government itself was one of the major players in the strife.

Unfortunately, Seibel manages not to mention how much this behaviour on the part of the Interior Ministry is likely the direct result of Donald Rumsfeld's belief that one way to quell the troubling insurgency was by training Iraqis to operate as death squads, which the Pentagon then labeled "The Salvador Option." It was not known at the time whether this "plan" was ever implemented, though the subsequent, exposed behaviour of the Interior Ministry seemed to more than adequately demonstrate that, indeed, the Salvador Option had been exercised. Word of the Salvador Option first broke over a year before the Samarra mosque was blown up.

While Bush and his band of misinformers are blaming and will continue to blame, Tehran for backing Shiite militias, which they almost certainly are doing, the Pentagon, too, has clearly had a hand in backing SCIRI's Badr Brigade, long thought to have infiltrated various security forces in Iraq.

Once again, Bush has chosen to define history in very limited terms. He cites job growth from August 2003, as though he wasn't even around for the two and half years before that date when the country was haemorrhaging jobs. And here, Bush speaks of the history of violence in Iraq from the fixed and certain date of the Samarra bombing, as though things were going swimmingly -- a landscape of "enormous successes" as Cheney would say -- until that moment. It is the same truncated historicity of world events that sees them comparing Bush to Harry Truman, or even more hilariously, Lincoln.

Sad answer

With Iraq the single most pressing issue in the country's conscience, Hillary is playing her usual game:
In her first face-to-face meeting with voters since announcing for president, Hillary Clinton was asked about Iraq and ducked the question.

A man, who identified himself as a Gulf War vet, asked the New York senator at a town meeting in a high school gym here Saturday if the surge of new troops to Iraq “was going to be enough?”

Instead of answering, Hillary (as she is officially called by her campaign) said, “Thanks so much for your service” and then talked about how she visits military hospitals and believes America needs to provide good medical care for its veterans.

In the one-hour town meeting, Hillary did not mention Iraq a single time. She mentioned ethanol twice.
So, the so-called leading Democratic presidential candidate cannot bring herself to even answer a direct question about Iraq or the troop escalation. Pathetic. Ridiculous. As I've said before, Just Say No to Hillary! She exemplifies the DLC and towers above the competition in pussy-foot politicking. She should be stricken from anyone's serious consideration of her as a viable candidate.

Idiocracy: the movie

DeanDemocrat has a post up about a movie that came out a few months ago, which I honestly had never heard of: Idiocracy. It is a film by Mike Judge, creator of Office Space, Bevis and Butthead, and King of the Hill and was supposedly "distributed" by Fox. Set 500 years in the future, it is a portrait of a dystopia arisen from a process of natural selection gone horribly awry.

DeanDemocrat points to another dairy by DTF that explains why most people have never heard of this fiilm, let alone seen it:
Distributor FOX unceremoniously dumped this into 130 theaters with a weeks notice during the worst movie month of the year. It received no publicity whatsoever - No Trailers, no ads, no commercials and not even a lobby poster. The movie was not shown to critics and at the moment of this writing has only 5 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Even aol-time-government-warner moviefone screwed this film over, as moviefone does not list it in 'new film releases' and had re-titled it "Untitled Mike Judge Project.... not rated."

Make no mistake. This film is a direct assault on the CorpoRovianBushFoxRepublican dumbing down of America and the American idiots who enable this. Mike Judge takes off the mask to reveal an angry liberal avenger as he savages the consumerism that degrades our culture and the degraded consumers themselves.
As you might expect, the film takes a very direct shot at Fox News. And Fox buried it alive. Watch a few excerpts (on YouTube, of course) and then decide if you would like to see this flick. I know I do. Encourage your local theatre to get this movie and show it.
The introduction.

Joe goes to the hospital in 2505

Joe's Trial.

Brawndo's got what plants crave!

Fox News in the future.
Watch these clips and then decide whether this is a movie you'd like to see. If I know anything about the folks who visit here occasionally, I expect that you will want to see the whole thing. Get the word out and get this into your local independent theatres or even host a house party, ala Greenwald. I say independent because the corporate theatres are sure as hell not going to show it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hollywood heights

Bet you didn't know that the White House was filled with googly-eyed Hollywood fanboys.

The Libby trial is stirring up a lot of weirdness. Nikki Finke is on the latest testimony that the names, Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz, came up during questioning and the broader context of how and why this happened. Once again, the attention and minding the administration was paying attention to the Iraq war is more than obvious here, because, you know, they're "serious" people.
A CIA official who appeared as a witness recalled a June 14th, 2003, intelligence briefing with Libby where the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney bragged about just having had a sitdown with Tom and Penelope. Libby told the briefer how excited he was that he had just met the actors, according to the briefing notations. The subject of the tête-à-tête was Cruise's concern about Germany's treatment of Scientology. Here's what I find so utterly nauseating about this news: that the meeting coincided with a first wave of media stories about how morale was plummeting among U.S. soldiers three months after crossing into Iraq because there seemed to be no American postwar plan to control the chaos. I'm also infuriated by the obvious hypocrisy: after all, no White House has publicly hated Hollywood more than the Bush administration, yet here was one of its highest ranking officials privately star-struck by movie celebs. Nor can I forget that this meeting followed by just a few months the GOP's mid-term election strategy of taunting the Democrats for being "too Hollywood." (See my LA Weekly column, The Bully Pulpit, from that time.) Finally, let's all remember that one of Libby's defenses is that he was too busy dealing with national security issues to pay attention to Valerie Plame Wilson. Yet he made time for Cruise and Cruz.
I'm guessing that Libby came away from the meeting with the distinct understanding that impossible missions could actually be done and done well, with manly bravura and little concern for collateral damage. Hell, why didn't Libby advise sending Cruise into Iraq all by himself? I'm sure he could have handled it all quite comfortably and Iraq would be a model democracy right now.

The essentials of Libby's defense are that he was a busy, busy man, helping win the war on terror, dontcha know. He didn't have time to remember all the details of who was outing whom. Who can keep tracking of it all? Oh, can I show you my autographed picture of Tom? Yeah, he's awesome ....

It seems clear from this that Libby should just plead guilty and serve his time. Because if more stupid shit like this comes out, he's doomed.

Election rigging convictions in Ohio

Just a quick note about this. I'll let Mark Crispin Miller and Bradblog elaborate, but two election officials in Ohio have been convicted of election rigging during the 2004 elections.
Two election workers in the state's most populous county were convicted Wednesday of illegally rigging the 2004 presidential election recount so they could avoid a more thorough review of the votes.

Jacqueline Maiden, the elections' coordinator who was the board's third-highest ranking employee when she was indicted last March, and ballot manager Kathleen Dreamer each were convicted of a felony count of negligent misconduct of an elections employee.

Maiden and Dreamer also were convicted of one misdemeanor count each of failure of elections employees to perform their duty.
These charges stem from the recount -- a recount requested not by Democrats, who thought everything was just peachy -- but by the Green and Libertarian Party.
Prosecutors accused Maiden and Dreamer of secretly reviewing preselected ballots before a public recount on Dec. 16, 2004. They worked behind closed doors for three days to pick ballots they knew would not cause discrepancies when checked by hand, prosecutors said.
This is an obvious case of forcing the "recount" to match the orginal vote tally, which ostensibly proved that the vote count was just fine. I guess we'll be told by the mainstream pundits and those closeted louts at DailyKos that this still doesn't mean anything; a couple of "bad apples." If they pay attention to it all, that will be the refrain.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A common refrain

Finally, the full 90 minute broadcast of Bill Moyer's seminal work, The Secret Government, has been posted. It was made during and shortly after the Iran/Contra hearings and, after many years now, what is striking is just how much those involved in The Enterprise sound exactly like the band of lunatics shuffling around in the halls of the White House today. For good reason, of course. More than a few of those Iran/Contra anti-democratic criminals have been hand-picked, probably by Cheney himself, to continue their underworld programs.

But Moyer's piece isn't just about Iran/Contra. Looking all the way back to the CIA coup in Iran in 1953, it examines the coups in Guatemala, Chile, the ramp up of the Vietnam war, the CIA war in Laos, assassination attempts, with the help of the Mafia, on Castro, The Bay of Pigs, Watergate, Moyer's peels away the veil shrouding the ever-increasing secret organisations that find their provenance in the White House. It is not without note that since Watergate, the refrain of every Republican president has been constant when it comes to their authority: When the president does it, it is not illegal.

One reels at seeing it all in 90 minutes. If you can find the time, and I hope you do, watch this.

[thanks to Simbaud at King of Zembla]

Empty Armor Promises

Considering Bush's usual invocation of "support the troops" -- to thunderous applause of course -- this story from a couple of weeks ago should b reinterated.

Two years after Rumsfeld blithley informed his troops of this, it looks like we're still going to war with the army we have (or had) rather than the one we would wish for:
The thousands of troops that President Bush is expected to order to Iraq will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than the Humvees in wide use.
Naturally, the Republican Congress did nothing to improve the situation.

But this botch really assumes a galling quality when listening to Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, who tells us that, well, those armoured vehicles are really "expensive." I was unware that this was a concern for the Pentagon. There seems to be plenty of money -- $25 billion in fact -- to dole out to Lockheed for the F-35, which won't come online for probably ten years.

This is just one more item in the litany that makes us wonder: on what exactly are we're spending $8 billion/month that the Pentagon is strapped by the costs of armoured vehicles? And why is Congress continuing to put up with this nonsense? Loren Thompson has one explanation and sounds a familiar refrain:
The key reason it is taking so long is pretty simple: At each step along the way for the past four years, the key policymakers have assumed we were just months away from beginning to withdraw. As a result, they never made long-term plans for occupying the country effectively.
They assumed we were months away from withdrawal, four years ago. Troops are continuing to die because "key policy makers," whoever they are, simply won't pay attention to what this administration is doing. Either that or the policy makers are Pentagon and White House wonks, one of them being this president, who simply don't care.

Do you believe?

After listening to Bush tonight, I thought: wouldn't it be nice to inhabit that far-off, make believe place of the right wing and actually believe those words in the State of the Union speech? I mean, the words sure sounded great, didn't they? Bush actually delivered the speech with a certain conviction -- perhaps not quite the conviction I have in mind -- but, nonetheless, he offered up a trove of yummy stuff about American goodness and the mission and transforming the Middle East. Just give it a chance!

I'm joking, of course. No, it would not be nice to inhabit such a place. At all.

What would be nice is to have a president who could say such words and be believed by everyone. What would be nice is Bush having a record of honesty and forthrightness, enacting a domestic agenda that would accommodate the unfortunate, help the sick, comfort the afflicted, and care for the elderly. What would be nice is Bush actually purging the halls of government of vile corruption and foul-moneyed interests. What would be nice is having a president who did not lie to the American public, who would refuse to go to war without just cause, who would engage the larger world as partners, co-equals all in the larger journey of humanity on this small globe and, eventually, beyond. Oh, yes, all of that would be nice.

It was no small embarrassment when, toward the end of his speech, Bush introduced some invited guests whose presence was meant to highlight the great character of the nation. Clearly, he couldn't point to himself. It was Bush who begat embarrassment in this speech as we watched truly fine human beings, great and good characters doing marvelous things, turned into props; center pieces used to further justify his abominable war.

What would be nice is having a president who didn't need and would refuse to do such a thing.

Yes, that would be nice.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gone riding

As a former bike racer, I could do nothing but laugh at this. Funny on several levels.
Saturday morning I got up early, put on my winter cycling kit, dressed quietly, filled my water bottles, grabbed my bike and gear bag, slipped quietly into the garage to load the car, and proceeded to back out into a torrential downpour.

There was snow mixed with the rain, and the wind was blowing 40 mile gusts. I pulled back into the garage, tuned in the car radio's weatherband, and discovered that the weather would be bad throughout the day.

I went back into the house, quietly undressed, and slipped back into bed. There I cuddled up to my wife's back, now with a different anticipation, and whispered,

"The weather out there is terrible."

She sleepily replied "Can you believe my stupid husband is out training in this shit?!"
Thanks, Arch!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Get your freak on with Father Ted

ABC is really on a right wing role today. Now, we're being told, by none other than Ted Haggard, that "evangelicals have the best sex life of any group."

I'm guessing this is meant to be funny. Oh wait, it is funny:
Most people think of evangelicals as being these holy roller, Jesus freaks, and Ted wasn't like that.
No. He wasn't.

Can I tell you how awesome evangelical doped-up gay sex can be?
Lets' just say, Whew!

ABC: Al Qaeda Bullshit Company

It looks like ABC television network is reaffirming their now solid roll as broadcast organ for Pentagon/White House propaganda with a report coming straight out of the Pentagon that al Qaeda was planning an attack within the United States:
Mimicking the hijackers who executed the Sept. 11 attacks, insurgents reportedly tied to al Qaeda in Iraq considered using student visas to slip terrorists into the United States to orchestrate a new attack on American soil.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, recently testified that documents captured by coalition forces during a raid of a safe house believed to house Iraqi members of al Qaeda six months ago "revealed [AQI] was planning terrorist operations in the U.S."
Colour me skeptical. This is the same bunch who claimed that the nomadic tribesmen they blew up were "Somalis with close ties to al Qaeda."

More importantly, though, is ABC's previous role as Pentagon mouthpiece when, back in March, they published an "exclusive" story in which the US military claimed they had intercepted a shipment of arms coming into Iraq, which were manufactured by the Iranian government. The very next day, the claims were revealed for what they were when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace, was forced to admit that there was "no proof" that these arms were being produced under Iranian government auspices. Amusingly, just as he did in the earlier non-story in which he claimed that "the evidence was strong" that Tehran was involved, Richard Clarke makes an appearance in this tale, this time saying that the evidence is "hard."

What you don't learn in the ABC story until the very end is that the plot, if it can be believed at all, was discovered six months ago and that it is not believed there is any kind of threat at all. Despite the White House having previously blown investigations of actual potential terrorist plots by announcing them when politically convenient, they also don't mind holding onto to the story of a plot for six months and releasing the tale of a threaty-sounding non-threat the night before a beleaguered Bush -- lately hammered from all sides -- delivers his State of the Union speech, one in which he will doubtless use this as evidence to further argue for his wastrel approach to foreign policy.

Naturally and with all due haste, right wingers have slurped up this latest and most blatantly timed disinformation salvo before Bush's SotU speech in which he will tell America how vital the fight in Iraq is. It will all seem so obvious to them just how right Bush is.

ABC has more than proved itself a valuable tool for both the White House and the right wing in general, not only with these "exclusive" stories, but the egregious anti-Democrat propaganda film The Path to 9/11 mere weeks before the mid-term elections. That told us all we needed to know about the agenda of Disney/ABC. They have so cemented themselves with these actions, I can't and won't believe a word without further confirmation. Neither should you.

Kristol meth

You really have to wonder whether Bill Kristol has any idea how idiotic he sounds. Actually, I'm quite certain he has absolutely no idea of this.

Bill Kristol, the man (one of them, anyway) who begrudgingly shuffled into the "freedom and democracy for Iraqis" camp once WMD failed to emerge after the invasion is so annoyed with Bush critics in Congress, he wishes they would all just shut up for 6 to 9 months and let the maestro work his Middle East, sandcastle magic. Let's leave the irony of Kristol's stance alone and rather note the idiocy of even imagining that politicians could be kept from talking for six minutes let alone six months.

Good grief, Bill, you're benevolent global hegemony fantasy was idiotic enough, but this? This is really a sign that you have lost it. You need to check yourself in somewhere.

"War is a racket"

Read this:

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Caveat venditor

The housing market slump, rather than abating soon as many "experts" believed would happen, has now reached record proportions. Within this grim figure lurks another problem: half of all houses on the market are now vacant while owners carry two or more mortgages, one on the new house they bought and the other on the old house that remains unsold. This is a looming mortgage default disaster.
The number of vacant homes for sale nationally jumped more than 30 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, to 1.9 million homes, the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau show. That's about half of all single-family homes on the market, said Michael Carliner, vice president of economics for the National Association of Home Builders.

"The share of vacant for-sale is unusually high, compared to anytime in history, really," Carliner said. "Over the past few years, total housing production has been beyond what the underlying fundamentals would indicate."
In fact, the housing slump is now so severe, with so many vacant houses for sale, a new industry has sprouted: contractors who specialize in maintaining empty homes while on the market. Such is testimony to entrepreneurial spirit.

Hacking the World Bank

Just in case you've been wondering about what that ol' neocon genius Paul Wolfowitz -- the Iraq war would pay for itself -- has been up to at the World Bank, Sic Semper Tyrannis points to an interesting blurb from a few weeks back. And yes, he is up to those usual neocon ways of driving out knowledgeable, experienced experts a replacing them with ideologically like-minded Republican hacks who are "short on expertise and long on political connections."
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz faces mounting criticism from directors of the international lending organization who say he relies on a coterie of political advisers with little expertise in development while driving away seasoned managers.

Half of the bank's 29 highest-level executives have departed since Wolfowitz, the former U.S. deputy Defense secretary and an architect of President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, took office in June 2005. Among them is Christiaan Poortman, vice president for the Middle East and a 30-year World Bank veteran, who left in September after resisting pressure to speed up the pace of lending and adding staff in Iraq. ...

Three directors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they are concerned governments might be less willing to contribute because of unhappiness with Wolfowitz.
Furthermore, and perfectly in keeping with the standard operating procedure of the White House, Wolfowitz has "placed considerably more trust in a small group of outsiders from the Republican Party than in the seasoned experts in the bank." In fact, Wolfowitz appears to be trying to model the World Bank on the shining example given us by L. Paul Bremmer at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq:
inexperienced or ideological replacements are being placed in senior positions.
Naturally, Wolfowitz has been pushing World Bank loans on Iraq and strapping that country with a debt that will make them beholden to international interests. This is not unusual behaviour for the World Bank. In fact, this is very usual behaviour for the World Bank. The difference now is that Wolfowitz's hackery will probably backfire and wind up screwing everyone, not just the Iraqis.

Let your fingers do the computing

This is something techies are probably all well aware of, but I just happened to stumble upon it after seeing it in Fast Company. Jeff Han, a researcher at NYU, gave a demo of his new multi-touch screen computer interface at the most recent TED conference in Monterey. Check out the video of part of his presentation, complete with audience oohs and ahhhs.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

The restoration project

The Hillary gab orgy is going on almost everywhere. Yes, she went to Afghanistan. Oh, my, she said, things are not good there. But before I worry too much about that, I have to announce my candidacy for a presidential election several years away because the race is on for donor cash. That's the real battle in Washington.

Ugh. I really cannot believe the fretting over presidential party candidacies a year before the primaries even begin, which themselves signal another eight grueling months of vapid clap-trap, dirty campaigning, empty attack ads, redneck howling, howling about rednecks, and enough nugatory sound bite bullshit, it'll induce auditory canal fungal infections. American politicians now easily spend vastly more time humping themselves in the never-ending cycle of political promotion than ever actually engaging in the business of good governance.

Which is why we're in the horrific mess as we are now. If George Bush is anything, he is the pinnacle achievement of a political system that rewards a sound-bite campaign at the expense of anything remotely approaching experience, knowledge or understanding of just what government is for. Since he is also the product of the Republican party, itself an organism that not only has no idea what government is for, but actively despises the construct of government except as a taxpayer money-funnel for corporate America, George Bush as president represents the convergence of privileged idiot with the generalize derision Republicans have for the institution of government. In sum, Bush is the GOP's ebullient self-actualization that "government is the problem."

There is an old saying about war:
those who have the nicest uniforms loose.

But I digress. Because what I really wanted to point out is that the US media seems to have finally caught a whiff of what is going on in Afghanistan:
Western diplomats in both countries and Pakistani opposition figures say that Pakistani intelligence agencies — in particular the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence — have been supporting a Taliban restoration, motivated not only by Islamic fervor but also by a longstanding view that the jihadist movement allows them to assert greater influence on Pakistan’s vulnerable western flank.

More than two weeks of reporting along this frontier, including dozens of interviews with residents on each side of the porous border, leaves little doubt that Quetta is an important base for the Taliban, and found many signs that Pakistani authorities are encouraging the insurgents, if not sponsoring them.
Despite the little too late nature of the story -- this has been reported for months if not years already -- this New York Times article is good summation of the untoward behaviour of the Pakistanis, unlike the ridiculous piece on the Iraqi Oil Law (already previously ravaged).

Which brings us back to George Bush and his terrible performance as president. Here we have a situation in which the US is selling billions in arms and providing funding to Pakistan as an vaunted ally in the War on Terror®, while that same government not only harbours terrorist organisations but actively supplies, trains and encourages them to go out and blow up the Commander-in-chief's very own soldiers. And let's not forget that other charming little item recently in which we learned that the Pentagon has been auctioning off military equipment like F-14 parts and missile components, which are finding their way into Iran and China.

Love it or hate it, no matter what you think of Bush's foreign policy, selling arms to those you have declared to be your enemy or to those you think are your friend but are really helping another enemy, strikes one in only one possible way: sheer and unmitigated lunacy. Or maybe not. Because we can't ever forget that some of the only real friends of the Bush administration are Big Oil and Big Defense. And so far, his policies have been working out quite nicely for them.

Feel free to now return to eyewash about Hillary Clinton.

In to win

Big surprise:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped into the 2008 presidential race yesterday, immediately squaring off against Senator Barack Obama and the rest of the Democratic field in what is effectively the party’s first primary, the competition for campaign donations.

“I’m in,” Mrs. Clinton said in an e-mail message to supporters early yesterday. “And I’m in to win.”
Naturally, it's all about money.
Her entrance into the race followed Mr. Obama’s by less than a week, and highlighted the urgency for her of not falling behind in the competition for money, ...
And more money.
At this early stage in the nomination fight, securing donations and signing up fund-raisers are among the best ways of showing political strength in a crowded field (seven Democrats and counting). And Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are looking to raise at least $75 million this year alone.
Ideas? Substance? Nowhere in sight. Now that's politics.

The New York Times: In service of empire

Having already noted the coming of the new Iraqi Oil Law and the equally notable lack of US media coverage of what is roundly expected to be a boon for Western multinational oil companies, The New York Times appeared to lay waste to the claim that the Oil Law was being refused coverage in the American press by offering up its version of the tale in a front page story. What becomes immediately apparent upon reading the NYT story, however, is not so much what the story tells us -- practically nothing -- as what it does not.

Knowing nothing else, The NY Times story might press one into the belief that new Oil Law is the product of plucky Iraqis determined to work out the best possible solution for an equitable division of Iraq's vast oil wealth. The law will prescribe management of the resource by the central government as opposed to regional sectarian interests. Iraq's planning minister assures us that this central management and the law generally will be "the basis of the unity" in Iraq.

Curiously, there is not one mention of White House involvement or the US consultant, BearingPoint Inc., hired by the White House over a year ago to "help" draft the oil legislation, or that western oil companies received a copy of the law back in July, presumably to ensure that it met with their approval. There are only the briefest of hints in the story that most members of the Iraqi parliament have not even seen the law. And, most glaring in omission, that this oil law will establish unprecedented Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) for those very same oil companies for up to 30 years and reward them up to 75% of the profits from both developed and undeveloped oil fields. With production costs estimates around $1.50/bbl and with oil prices hovering over $50/bbl, the potential profits are enormous. At a prospected 3 million bbls per day, this amounts to a profit potential over $100 million per day for the participating oil companies. As you can imagine, a lot of oil companies will want to be participating.

No, you will not read about any of that in James Glanz's New York Times article. Nothing.

The oil law is not expected to be greeted well by the majority of Iraqis, who are already convinced that the invasion was more about oil than anything. Indeed, this is precisely why the law has been kept under cover. Director of the Global Policy Forum, James Paul:
It is not an exaggeration to say that the overwhelming majority of the population would be opposed to this. To do it anyway, with minimal discussion within the [Iraqi] parliament is really just pouring more oil on the fire.
All of this is ignored by the Glanz. Many might ask, why? The New York Times has been on the backs the Bush administration for sometime now that the president and his gaggle of minions have so bungled the imperial mission. Despite the untold riches that the new oil law might provide, the violence and chaos in Iraq have made getting that oil all but impossible. That has been the arena of Bush's and Rumsfeld's true incompetence. While the Times clearly have issues with the White House -- and who doesn't? -- they certainly don't have any qualms about covering up one of the biggest reasons why we are there and foisting upon us the continuing fable that "freedom and democracy" are the prime objectives.

So content free is it, if this ridiculous article demonstrates one thing, it is that the New York Times is as much behind the imperial mission of American profit mongers as anyone and they will happily spout any amount of nonsense in service of that mission.

I guess they don't call it the Empire State for nothing.

The loathsome 50

The Buffalo Beast delivers a jaunty romp across the dim-pated spectrum of American culture and politics. Highly recommended:
The BEAST 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2006

Friday, January 19, 2007

Stop the scary presses!

Who doesn't love a good dose of irony, especially when it is delivered with so little appreciation of the irony itself? That's usually the best part of it.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (or as he's known in his own galaxy, the Skullbeast of Warlock 9) is now warning the media about hyping threats:
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told newspaper editors Thursday they should use caution and context in reporting about threats or emergencies.

"We owe you information that's accurate," he said, "and you need to resist the temptation to just get something fast."
Got that media? Stop scaring people!

But wait, there's more:
Even a threat of limited credibility still has to be run down and investigated, Chertoff said, but it shouldn't become public during that stage. If threat information is made public too soon, he warned, there is a danger the public will become either desensitized in a "cry wolf syndrome," or over-sensitized, in a "constant state of hyper-anxiety."
Chertoff worries that the public will blame the government for a development of a "cry wolf syndrome," when, really, it's been the fault of the media.

Backing up his cautionary remarks, Chertoff cited two recent examples, one was an actual advisory issued by his own Department about "cyber attacks on banking and financial institution Web sites." The other was a blog rumour about dirty bomb threats to NFL stadiums. And who was humping what was later pronounced a hoax? Why, those ever lovin' terror freaks at Fox News, of course.

When bad news is good news

No one should be happy when members of Congress go to prison, because that tells us that bad things are happening within that government, an organisation supposedly devoted to doing the "people's work." So, in one sense, the conviction of elected officials ought not be taken with anything but dismay.

That being said, however, news that Bob Ney is being sent up the river for 2.5 years must also be viewed with a cetain amount of glee. Because that tells us there is still some semblance of oversight being exercised by other governmental agencies despite the near total lack of it within the halls of the Capitol itself.
Former Rep. Bob Ney was sentenced today to 21/2 years in federal prison for trading political favors for gifts and campaign donations from lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Ney, the first congressman ensnared in the lobbying scandal, pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy and making false statements. He admitted being corrupted by golf trips, tickets, meals and campaign donations from Abramoff.

"You violated a host of laws that you as a congressman are sworn to enforce and uphold," said U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, who recommended that Ney serve his time at a federal prison in Morgantown, W.Va.
The larger concern, as it always is with these large scale corruption scandals, is that Ney will act the role of stooge, a patsy whose conviction delivers an appearance of due diligence while the rest of the players in the vast Abramoff scheme slink away, seeking lucrative jobs in the "private sector," just as I suspect Ney will do when he is released. And, of course, Ney will not likely complete the entire sentence since he claimed a "drinking problem," for which the completion of a rehab program could lead to one year of the sentence being knocked off his jail time. Of course, it's always amusing to note that a claimed addiction to certain drugs can be viewed by our penal system as a mitigating circumstance and lead to the reduction of one's prison sentence.

Nonetheless, I think we can agree that Ney's conviction is a bright spot in our otherwise grim political spectrum.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Party of War

Watch this BBC documentary about the neocons. This is like nothing you've seen on US network television. What is amazing, though we have seen enough of it by now to know this, is just how open and brazen they all are about humping for war. It is, in their mangled vision of the world, the only way. Theirs is a view of true imperialists and they make no excuses nor do they hide it. The American imperial adventure is a big happy fun-pack of love, freedom and love. With bombs.

[thanks to Kel]

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

No way out

The Justice Department has just announced the ouster of several US attorneys, one of whom is Carol Lam, the prosecutor who buried Republican shyster Randy Duke Cunningham and socked him away in the big house for 8+ years. Another is Kevin Ryan, who has been diligently investigating "the backdating of stock options granted to corporate executives." Clearly, these are two attorneys who cannot be viewed by the Bush administration as "business friendly."

But according to the Department, Lam and spent too much time investigating Republicans and big business and failed to bring in sufficient illegal immigration work.

The best part of this, as it often is, was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales answering critics of the layoff of Lam and Ryan.
We in no way politicize these decisions.
I think I just pissed myself.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

College dive

This is an interesting campaign about college debt put out by the Campus Progress folks, Debt Hits Hard.

As the vid says, the number of people delaying marriage because of student debt has doubled since 1991. So much for those Republicans being pro-family.

The larger view here is something that I have long suspected would march its ungainly way into American life. As education continues to be marginalized across the board, in quality but more so through expense, more and more students will either be denied a college education, which renders them fodder for the Wal*Mart economy, or will be forced toward the "Army of One" option in one of two directions: enlisting directly since working for the Wal*Marts of the world is a pretty grim consignment or enlisting with the Army through a college program, with its munificent promises to pay for college. That used to be considered a decent deal before the program of endless war was introduced on 9/11. Now, not so much.

Nonetheless, the skyrocketing cost of college and the ever decreasing pot of viable loan instruments could soon render college back unto the elites. Either that or you will be forced into such indebtedness that you spend the rest of your dog day afternoons in a state of near indentured servitude, working to pay off the debt from an education you were told would open up a world of possibility. It is a system that will ensure you either serve the masters of the global economy or, just maybe, you'll boost those lousy recruiting numbers.

Changing Q to N

Clearly steamed as many of us are by the astounding hubris of this unbridled White House, hotpotatomash delivers a passionate diatribe about what now looks to be certain military action by the Bush administration against Iran. I found an interesting blurb in this post that I had not heard before. The White House has already set up the Iranian version of the Office of Special Plans,
it should surprise no one that the Bushies are basically following the Iraq play book with Iran. This includes the setting up of the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group (ISOG) about a year ago which sounds much like the now infamous Office of Special Plans that cherry picked evidence and provided much of the propaganda leading up to the war with Iraq.
I guess calling it the Office of Special Iranian Plans would have been a bit too obvious.

Read it all.

Evening the score

There's a new island off the coast of Greenland. Well, it's not really new, it's just that no one knew it was an island. Until now, glacial ice covered the Arctic Ocean and it had always been assumed that the island was a peninsula. Twenty years ago, the region looked frigid, frozen solid, just as we have long expected the Arctic to look:

Today, things are balmy, with a slight breeze, highs in the mid-40s:

Why, this is good news. This more than makes up for the loss of that other island in India, the one that sunk a little while ago. So, we're even. Nothing to worry about.

A sense of history

Joe Lieberman has a "sense of history" he tells us and that sense informs him that there are two, count 'em, two kinds of exit strategies from war: one that leads to victory and one that lead to defeat. Simple, eh? What Joementum fails to understand with this White House is that "victory" in Iraq does not carry with it an "exit strategy" and for a very good reason. There won't be an exit.

Furthermore, as straight-up dumb as Lieberman appears to be, it's his jowls that are really driving me nuts. He looks a basset hound. Which might be some sort of strategy, perhaps thinking he's in line for Barney's slot.

Countering this moron, Chuck Hagel hilariously said that "the Iraqi people will determine the fate Iraq." Ha. Good one, Chuck.

Why do we need kindergarten when we have the American Congress, a place where they believe in very simple things? Unlike kindergarten, though, the cretins in Congress seem never to have learned the golden rule and they certainly don't seem to have been taught all those lessons about the importance of being nice. I know my own kindergarten teacher would have been very dismayed if I had gone stomping off, illegally invaded another country, killed thousands of people and then set out to reap huge profits from that country's oil fields. No, teacher would not have been pleased with that at all.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

If he says it, I believe it

Why do we wonder that George Bush is the president of this country? He is, after all, a "regular guy," just like everyone here:

Snobby? you ask. Oh, fucking, yeah.

Falling dollars

US dollar/Euro ratio

Many Arab Gulf States peg -- in one way or another -- their currencies to the US dollar. But with the value of the dollar sliding seriously of late and making imports more expensive, the current peg policy is now under review, especially in light of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) expressed desire in working toward "monetary union."
ABU DHABI -- Gulf Arab oil producers are reviewing currency pegs to the falling U.S. dollar and could decide as early as March whether to keep or change their exchange rate regime, the United Arab Emirates central bank said yesterday.

Governors of the six Gulf central banks will meet in March in Saudi Arabia and may agree to switch to another currency or currency basket, said UAE central bank governor Sultan Nasser al-Suweidi. They may decide to leave the pegs as they are and any changes would have to be approved by Gulf Arab rulers, he said.

It was the first acknowledgment the Gulf might not stand by a currency regime designed to prepare for monetary union in 2010, although markets began speculating about a revaluation last year as the U.S. dollar fell about 10 per cent against the euro.
While Oman remained intransigent about its peg policy, more recently and contravening the GCC consideration, Bahrain has said that it, too, will not change it peg policy, which will leave the dinar tied to the US dollar.

One always needs to wrap the consideration of such announcements, which appear to be more about controlling speculative runs on the dollar than about what the actual policy might turn out to be, with the need to maintain valuation of dollar denominated assets. We saw this just a couple of months ago when China announced that it would diversify its "international investment" policy, an announcement widely viewed as an indication that China would move away from the US dollar. The US dollar took an immediate plunge, after which the Chinese had to then calm the currency waters by saying that only "future" investment would be affected by diversification and not all those hundreds of billions of USD already owned by the Chinese central bank.

Despite the appearance of doubt about the currency peg policy withing the GCC, one thing that will ensure its reconsideration and possible adoption of the euro or other currencies will be a continued slide of the US dollar on currency markets. And with many important players moving away from the dollar (China, Russia, various OPEC countires), there is nothing on the horizon that will halt this trend other than owners of US debt exerting themselves to keep it propped up. Today, those efforts appear to be on the decline as well. This is a future scenario in which nothing said today by Bahrain or Oman will have the slightest weight at all.

Blogging the box

Sometimes, a story rises through my ethernet that I have completely missed until now. Such is the case with viral video, My Box in a Box. When this happens, the missing that is, it makes me realize that I spend my time, some would say too much time, reading Foreign Policy, Xinhua, Ha'aretz, and I need to break out of the rut of only reading about F-117s in Korea and nomads being blown up by AC130 gunships in Somalia. You can see how that would affect a person.

So, thanks to the ever reliable Firestarter5, I have been finally directed to My Box in a Box. If you are not already familiar with it, it is charming story.

Some while back, SNL produced this video, itself an amusing riff wherein Justin Timberlake satrizes ... Justin Timberlake:

Well, in a beautiful, satirical response to Dick in a Box, this video, My Box in a Box, came out and went viral. The song is rendered beautifully, production is first rate, the voice smokey and light. It is satire in the best of forms: referential, slightly raunchy and sweet. And the song takes a dig at Bush, too, which is great because that will prevent mirthless villains like Malkin, Limbaugh and Coulter from ever enjoying it.

The My Box in a Box blog has the vid of "Bunny" or "Bunnies" on Keith Olbermann, just so you're up on the latest in the saga. The "box" was sold on eBay for $1500, which will go to a local Philadelphia charity.

Nice work, ladies. A breath of fresh air in this fetid world.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More threats for peace

Not content with merely escalating the war in Iraq, threatening Iran and bombing nomads in Somalia, now the Bush administration is rattling sabres -- F-117 Stealth fighters actually -- at North Korea:
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Saturday denounced the recent deployment of one squadron of U.S. F-117 stealth fighter bombers and 300 military personnel in South Korea. ...

"It (the introduction of F-117 fighter) is a dangerous military move blatantly challenging...a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue and the peace on the Korean Peninsula as it is aimed at putting its scenario for a war against the DPRK into practice."
Threats of war in the name of peace, of course.

Wooing the backyard crowd

It is indeed a sign of our troubling times and this troubling administration that, while the Pentagon busies itself with blowing up goatherds in Somalia and promising more of the same, while Bush amps up the war in Iraq and further threatens Iran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is off on a whirlwind diplomatic tour of Latin America, where he will visit Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.* All of these countries are represented by either recently elected or re-elected social democratic, i.e. leftist, governments and none of them are inclined toward a friendly disposition regarding the Bush administration.

Yes, the government of Iran is running diplomatic circles around this White House and the utterly incompetent Condoleezza Rice, while Bush mires this country further in its Middle East morass, threatening everything and everyone around.

* For an excellent review of Reagan administration transgressions against Nicaragua, I highly recommend Sandinista Redux, by Michael Niman, in this month's The Humanist, Vol. 67, No. 1. Sorry, you'll have to find it on paper.

Winning the Global War on Goatherds

A recent item appeared in the Kuwait Times, wherein Meshary Alruwaih is plagued both by her allegiance to the US and the abominable record of US foreign policy, especially as it has been conducted by the Bush administration:
The US and everything it stands for have become a very tough sell to make, nobody's buying the idea that the US is working for the good of the world. Furthermore, maintaining the association between the US and all those liberal principles I've just mentioned has become increasingly difficult. If I want to sell the idea of human rights, I have to disassociate them from any connection with the American way of life, if I want to sell the concept of democracy I have to take out the American flavour, and if I want to sell the notion of private property rights I have to declare that it has nothing to do with American capitalism.
And this effort to dissociate the "idea of human rights" and the US became more imperative still.

Unhappily, it looks like earlier skepticism about the Somalia air strikes and claims made by unnamed US officials was entirely justified.

You won't see too many reports of this in the US media, but a number of international sources are citing an Oxfam report indicating that, rather than taking out al Qaeda operatives, the US air strikes in Somalia killed 70 "nomadic herdsmen." These would be the people previously described by US officials as "Somalis with close ties to al Qaeda."

What you will find in the US media, however, are reports discussing how the Somalia operation is now seen by the Pentagon as a "blueprint" for future operations:
Military operations in Somalia by American commandos, and the use of the Ethiopian Army as a surrogate force to root out operatives for Al Qaeda in the country, are a blueprint that Pentagon strategists say they hope to use more frequently in counterterrorism missions around the globe.

Military officials said the strike by an American gunship on terrorism suspects in southern Somalia on Sunday showed that even with the departure of Donald H. Rumsfeld from the Pentagon, Special Operations troops intended to take advantage of the directive given to them by Mr. Rumsfeld in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.
If killing random groups of goatherds and various other likewise employed people minding their own business is a blueprint for future operations, things certainly look as if the Bush administration is actually trying to create more terrorists. And human rights are nowhere to be seen.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Snow and mirrors

The president understands you've got to have public support for whatever you do. The reason we're talking to the American public about the high stakes in Iraq and why it is absolutely vital to succeed is you've got to have public support. ...
-- Tony Snow,
White House Press Secretary,
January 11, 2006


Americans overwhelmingly oppose sending more U.S. forces to Iraq, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll that serves as a strong repudiation of President Bush's plan to send another 21,500 troops.

Fully 70 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops, ...
--AP-Ipsos poll,
January 11, 2006


Neither the president nor any of his acolytes thinks he needs public support at all. That first statement by Snow is simply ludicrous. But just to keep up a appearances, I guess we can all look forward to the PR blitz from the White House. This won't change American opinion at all, of course. The public seems fairly aware that Bush will do whatever he wants, or what is dictated to him by Prince Abdullah, regardless of public opinion.

Presidential Address: return to sender

Confidence game

Newly installed Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared before the House Armed Services Committee and faced a pounding about Bush's plans to escalate the war in Iraq. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, having long since left the farm of war, said,
I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out.
Bill Nelson (D-Fl) seems to have finally figured something out.
I have not been told the truth over and over again by administration witnesses, and the American people have not been told the truth.
A lot of this. But at one point, Secretary Gates admitted something, something that does not assuage concerns that were never raised during his kissy confirmation hearing.
"I would confess I'm no expert on Iraq.” Later, asked about reaching the right balance between American and Iraqi forces, he told the panel he was “no expert on military matters.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement of Gates' appointment or of the ridiculously lax manner by which the Senate confirmed him. And, once again, the White House expects the American public to have confidence in their "plan," while exhibiting absolutely no reason as why such confidence should be given. Next we'll learn that Gates actually spent a great deal of time driving an ice cream truck before he was appointed to run the US military.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The question

In his piece, Sacrificing Private Ryan, Yossi Sarid at Ha'aretz asks,
Is Bush the stupidest president his country has ever had?
More than a few on this side of the pond have been wondering that for quite sometime. This question asks for an answer that is far too simple, of course. With the collection of neo-cons, cronies, back room oil dealing, an increasingly displeased Saudi Arabia, a finger wagging Iranian government, and who knows what else (none of these, you'll note, include the wishes of the American citizenry) that Bush has to do deal with, he is clearly not up to the task. Yes, he is none too bright, but he is made more so by his steadfast adherence to a policy that is only increasing the backlash against America across the Muslim world.

Quite apart from the enormous recruiting tool that the Iraq invasion has become, two recent events are of particular note. First were the ill-considered air strikes in Somalia, which have only hardened those they were meant to dispatch. The loss of innocent life has probably recruited a few -- many? -- new al Qaeda members as well and certainly will have engendered further antipathy toward the US in the region. How can Bush think this a winning strategy? If he thought about it at all, I doubt he would, but he is most likely blasé about any and all untoward consequences of the extremely blunt instrument approach to his already adle-pated foreign policy. Conflict regions are simply mortars into which he grinds the pestle of US weaponry. So dismissive is the White House and its various "US officials" of the casualties and death they bring to already disaffected regions, one can't help but wonder if increasing the terrorist population of the world is actually a goal. We have been told this will be a "long war." Every stupid step like Somalia seems designed to guarantee it.

The second, small scale event was the also ill-advised "arrest" of five Iranian diplomats at the Iranian consulate in the Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil. The Kurds themselves called the event a kidnapping and was presaged by a stand-off between Pershmerga and US troops, who, in the dead of night, descended on the consulate from helipcopters mere hours after George Bush's speech in which he said Iran and Syria needed to stop their meddling in Iraq. It seems their meddling is interfering with US meddling, a situation that is simply unacceptable. But Iraqis and especially the Kurds are not at all pleased with this latest move by the White House:
The arrests in Irbil drew condemnation from the regional Kurdish government and concern from Iraqi officials in Baghdad.
The Kurds have said that two of the Iranians arrested were present by the invitation of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.

The invasion and occupation are evidence enough that White House claims of Iraqi "sovereignty" were nonsense, though they continue to this day. Bush's threats to al Maliki to reign in the violence and now this move really ought to dispel the Iraqis of any notion that the latest push to calm the civil war is being done so for the sake of Iraq. But the White House should have thought about installing an Iraqi government with close ties to Iran before now. How could they not see the inevitable?

This question and the ones raised by the Somalia attacks are just the latest of many that lead Sarid and many others to wonder whether George Bush is the stupidest president ever. It is a question that will haunt Bush because he has had no help from those around him in keeping that question at bay.

Murderous swing and a miss

Wipe it all out, things related and not.

Continuing the policy of "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out," employing indiscriminate fire power in the hunt for "top" al Qaeda suspects, the recent airstrikes in Somalia have proven, once again, to have netted the deaths of no such creatures while managing, once again, to kill at least two dozen people who may or may not be terrorists. Given the record to date, I'm guessing not.

The operation was meant to obliterate three al Qaeda operatives believed to have been involved in the African embassy bombings, Taha al-Sudani, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. Naturally, it did not do this. As consolation, we are assured by US officials that "Somalis with close ties to al Qaeda were killed."

While these sorts of statements are designed to merely put an official gloss on an otherwise ill-considered and ultimately murderous action, who can help but wonder whether these anonymous US officials believe that we believe anything they say.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fight Club

It's a sign of the times, I suppose, when news, entertainment and government appear to converge upon a single mindset: America is a warrior nation at war with the world of "extremism." Warrior nation has always part of this country's make up but now the warrior/thug is celebrated and encouraged openly, lovingly, not only in the showbiz arena of WWF wrestle-mania but by mainstream news outlets that now have fully embraced the ideal of noble American warrior savage. Government, for its part, continues the onslaught of legislation ostensibly designed to make us safer from the brutal and hateful world. The salient message in all of that, of course, is that it is a brutal and hateful world. Though most Americans appear uninterested in how the world got to be so, it is, nonetheless, one that requires Americans to be diligent in their readiness for the fight.

This message convergence in news, entertainment and government peaked last night on MSNBC. During the course of what seemed an interminable hagiography on the inherent nobility, mean honesty and tough-knuckle savagery of cage fighters, we learned of these fighters' family values, respect for theirs parents and peers. They suffered this brutal sport -- and did so gladly and humbly -- to put food on their family (the flash and small time celebrity were pure luck). They represented the archetypal American who had voted for George Bush, if they had wits enough left to actually know who George Bush was. Indeed, the show was entitled Warrior Nation, though whether the producers understood the larger meaning there is uncertain. Missing entirely from this and completely downplayed is that, as Elite Cage Fighting asks right up front in bold bright letters: "Are you a fighter with an interest in gaining national exposure and recognition?" Perhaps humility isn't really a requirement of the noble warrior after all.

Cage fights are simply the human version of cock fights, with the one adorable feature that either human can choose to quit at any time. Usually they don't, of course, because they're noble and proud and such decisions are often left to an impartial referee, one who is experienced in deciding just how much wounding can be permitted before the match is called. This is also probably due to a certain inability on the part of at least one of the contestants to recognize how many fingers are being held in front of their swollen, bleeding eyes. While the word "sport" is tossed around with abandon -- there is no doubt the participants are fit -- cage fighting actually looks more like some back alley scrap you might stumble upon behind a pub in the wee hours of a Saturday morning. Except these have a cage, a cheering audience (which also might be present at the alley fight), television cameras, miked and jacketed "analysts," and the requisite tarted-up ring girls haughtily informing the crowd of the number of the next round.

All of this was about as dreadful as it could be. Caligula and the final, decadent days of Rome kept flashing though my mind. But then a news bulletin flashed across the screen; the final piece fell into place:
House Approves Anti-terror Bill
Yes, there is terror everywhere. Our government tells us, not only this, but also that the government is here to save America from that terror with anti-terror. Unfortunately for many sad, misery-ridden parts of the world, our anti-terror looks very much like plain terror to the inhabitants of those pocked lands. This is a major reason why American governments feel they have to pass "anti-terror" bills.

Tonight, President Bush will tell America that more American fighters will go to Iraq to continue to fight a fight we ought not have fought in the first place. It matters not to Bush that Americans have tired of the fighting in Iraq. The message of "fight" will continue apace, until we become fully imbued by it, finally unable to recognize fighting as undesirable. Indeed, we are told and will continue to be told that fighting is to be honoured, glorified and respected, just as all warring nations are told. While individual Americans may not be, America is fully invested in fighting. We celebrate it or, at least, are told to celebrate it. The message is everywhere, broadcast by every media outlet that can spew forth its own special brand of fight club. And so the war will continue. The message to Americans is, get used to it. It doesn't matter how you vote. Fighting is where it's at.

So please, enjoy the show. You're probably not one of the extra 20,000 grunts about to be dropped into the meat grinder of Baghdad.

Monday, January 08, 2007

It's the law

But the oil of the Iraqi people belongs to the Iraqi people; it is their wealth, it will be used for their benefit. So we did not do it for oil.
--Colin Powell,
Press briefing,
10 July 2003

While Bush's sociopathy will likely be further revealed this week when, as most now expect, he announces his "new plan" for Iraq, sociopathy is certainly not evident in the revelation that Iraq's quirky new oil law, adamantly insisted upon by White House operatives and the ISG, is soon to come into effect. The oil law, in fact, is grounded in rational motive: profit and control thereof.

Having already discussed this development before, there's not much about this law that hasn't been said, though a few new treats have come to light, such as the fact the new oil law will grant Big Oil three quarters of the profits reaped from Iraq's oil fields.
The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.
Oil executives have cleverly seized on the chaos in Iraq and the massive destruction wrought by the invasion and subsequent insurgent attacks on the oil infrastructure as the very reason why they need to grab such massive profits off Iraq's oil:
Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise. But it will operate through "production-sharing agreements" (or PSAs) which are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's two largest producers, is state controlled.
Yes, Iraq, you have suffered and your oil industry has suffered from "years of sanctions" and war, things heaped upon you by Western powers, so now it is time for them to come in, reap whirlwind profits, so they can get things back in shape. Twenty years of "realist" foreign policy, along with the current mayhem, has finally culminated in Western oil interests citing those very policies as the rationale for taking control of Iraqi oil fields for the first time since 1972. This is what is known as "the long game."

As I pointed out before, the current problem is that, despite this new law, which is sure to rile Iraqis of every stripe, the oil industry can't really start operating until things calm down. One of the reasons that a fractured Iraq is unacceptable is that such an oil law will become moot should Iraq fragment and it is from this perspective that we see Bush's drive to escalate the war with more troops. Withdrawing and leaving Iraq in chaos and civil war is not an option, certainly not one Big Oil will be happy with.
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.
And look,
Several major oil companies are said to have sent teams into the country in recent months to lobby for deals ahead of the law, though the big names are considered unlikely to invest until the violence in Iraq abates.
You can easily imagine that these guys are hopeful the "surge" is successful, though most of the talk of this "surge" has focused on discussing it as simply a short term strategy to quell the violence and get Iraqis sufficiently trained so US troops can then withdraw. With permanent US bases littering Iraq -- some in close proximity to oil fields -- the White House, this White House anyway, has no intention of completely withdrawing troops. They will be there to ensure that if and when the situation has stabilized, Iraqis don't get too uppity about how they're getting screwed by a law drawn up by their US overlords. It was not by coincidence that the Iraq Study Group, composed of a number of corporate oligarchs, recommended this oil law. Baker and his boys were as much a part of this deal as anyone.