Saturday, June 30, 2007

America: what's my age again?

There is no racism in America.
-- Larry Elder, 20/20
In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a "whites only" shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn't sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn't care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree.

The boys who hung the nooses were suspended from school for a few days. The school administration chalked it up as a harmless prank, but Jena's black population didn't take it so lightly. Fights and unrest started breaking out at school. The District Attorney, Reed Walters, was called in to directly address black students at the school and told them all he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen."

Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school, and on December 4th, a fight broke out that led to six black students being charged with attempted murder. To his word, the D.A. pushed for maximum charges, which carry sentences of eighty years. Four of the six are being tried as adults (ages 17 & 18) and two are juveniles.
Now, an all-white jury has convicted Mychal Bell of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit and faces a potential 22 years in prison.

[Via While Seated and Rick Perlstein at The Big Con]

Crime and punishment

Whenever one hears US military officials claiming that "militants" were killed in some raid, this should always be kept in mind:
Two American soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder and planting weapons on dead Iraqis.

American military officials say Sergeant Hensley, 27, from Candler, N.C., faces three charges of premeditated murder, obstruction of justice and wrongfully placing weapons with the remains of deceased Iraqis. Specialist Sandoval, 20, received one charge of premeditated murder and one of wrongfully placing a weapon on one of the three Iraqis killed.
Ultimately, I'm rather ambivalent about this. Charging some grunts with crimes taking place within the much larger criminal enterprise that is the Iraq war, for which none of those responsible will ever be charged, smacks of an enormous hypocrisy. This is the battlefield version of Abu Graib.

Derivative market

As expected, the hamsters lined up to spin the wheel, thousands of them, as consumers (the term "people" doesn't really enter the equation) sat for days waiting to buy the iPhone, a product they have been told to buy for months now. Indeed, Apple really has developed their own special kind of hamster, one who will do almost anything to get their scratchy little claws on the latest sparkling iToy. I'm kind of surprised Apple doesn't try putting actual giant hamster wheels outside their stores for these new product events, just to see if the iDiots will take a turn. If Apples tells them too, though, you know they would.

Jobs' revitalization of the Apple brand has been remarkable and the lines outside Apple stores are, if anything, a testament to that. Of course, this wouldn't be possible -- certainly not after this long -- if the products weren't actually good.

But what is interesting is the derivative market that has developed from these events and others like them, such as Play Station and Xbox releases. For we now see a certain population of line dwellers who are their selling their services as ... line dwellers. Others stand in line early in order to be able to sell their spot in that line, a line which merely provides potential to buy the product. For there is no guarantee one will actually get to buy the toy.
Then there are the people who were being paid to wait in line for others. Dan Zabar, a 23-year-old production assistant for a company that produces television commercials in New York, was making about $150 to wait all day in line for his boss. Others got in line early to try to sell their spots. Along 58th Street, where the line for the Fifth Avenue store had spilled over, one young man was offering his place for $160 in the early afternoon. By late afternoon, he had raised the price to $180.
Of all the nonsensical hyper-lunacy displayed in these events, I actually like this. People making money off of other people making money off of people who have been told to buy something. A derivative market right on the street corner.

How'd that Dick Get on the Ticket?

Mark Crispin Miller discusses the unconstitutional origins of the Bush/Cheney ticket in 2000, a sign that more unconstitutional activity would surely follow. Cheney's place on the GOP presidential ticket was illegal, he conceived an end-run around the 12th amendment, the media and the courts ignored it, and now this country and others have suffered the consequences of this willful ignorance ever since. He should be impeached because he never should have been vice president in the first place.

Oh, and while we're at it, impeach that Clarence Thomas clown too!

Friday, June 29, 2007

All in the al Qaeda family

It is amazing, isn't it? All those baddies popping up around the globe are all al Qaeda, if not directly, then related somehow. And every blundering, blunderbuss move the US military launches initially has exterminated al Qaeda agents or those so inclined. Or so we are told. From Somali goatherds, to Afghan wedding parties, to buffoons in London with cars full of gasoline, literally everyone is al Qaeda when they're caught doing something that only evil-doers do or when they're blown up by US forces. Especially when they're blown up by US forces. But what is often the common thread, a thread in direct conflict with initial, official and incessantly repeated claims of al Qaeda connections, is that days or even hours later, not only will we learn that there was no evidence of an al Qaeda connection or, even more disastrously, those eliminated weren't even baddies. Which, in their eyes, makes US forces the baddies. And objectively, it is impossible to argue against that. Saying the we "mean well" is hardly persuasive to those whose families have been shredded by American bombs.

And so it is with the latest exposure that an attack originally claimed by the US military to have targeted al Qaeda suspects in the town of Khalis is now appearing to be something less than advertised. Seventeen "al Qaeda gunmen" were killed by a US helicopter attack, was the official word. Indeed, seventeen people were killed, but that is where the accuracy of US official claims ends.
The U.S. military is investigating the killings of 17 people in a U.S. helicopter attack north of Baghdad a week ago, after residents of the area complained that the victims were not fighters from the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, as the military originally claimed, but members of a village guard force and ordinary citizens.

A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, said the June 22 incident in Khalis, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, was under investigation "because of discussions with locals who say it didn't happen as we reported it." The attack occurred in the opening days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, an offensive against al-Qaeda in Iraq that is centered on Baqubah, about 10 miles southeast of Khalis.

The investigation came to light after the BBC reported on its Web site that residents of Khalis were "incensed" that the dead men were accused of being members of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Villagers "say that those who died had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They say they were local village guards trying to protect the township from exactly the kind of attack by insurgents the U.S. military says it foiled."
Dick Cheney was right. This will be a long war. And with this kind of activity, it gets longer everyday. But you can be sure that it will be al Qaeda that is to blame.

Paris is shredding

This is great. Mika Brzezinski resists corporate infotainment. Cherish and share her exasperation and her resistance.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Surf's up!

Kelly Slater delivers a righteous message with his water board. The good kind.

A shot in the dark

This story came out a month ago or so, but was not widely disseminated. Nonetheless, it is important and is further illustrative of the military's penchant for using soldiers as experimental laboratories for all the wonderful drugs we know the US government is always producing. It falls right in line with previous stories that experimental blood-clotting drugs were administered to both American and British troops, the effects of which are potentially deadly. But at least with those stories, it was known what the drug was supposed to do. But in the case of Lance Corporal David Fey, not only will the US military not say what the drug is, they wouldn't even admit that he had received the shot.
A shot from a syringe is leaving some U.S. servicemen and women on the brink of death.
Typically, the US military at first claimed no such shot was given and then changed medicals records to show that a "flu vaccine" had been given.
Target 5 has discovered that an alarming number of U.S. troops are having severe reactions to some of the vaccines they receive in preparation for going overseas.

"This is the worst cover-up in the history of the military," said an unidentified military health officer who fears for his job.

A shot from a syringe is leaving some U.S. servicemen and women on the brink of death.

"When the issue, I believe, of the use of the vaccine comes out, I believe it will make the Walter Reed scandal pale in comparison," said the health officer.

Lance Corporal David Fey, 20, has dialysis three days a week. His kidneys are failing, his military career is over, and he feels like his country abandoned him.
Fey was one of a group of Marines who lined up for an undisclosed shot.

"They asked us our name. We stood on these yellow footprints, and they gave us this shot, and we got the rest of the day off," he recalled. "After that shot, I started swelling up. I gained 30 pounds of water. My eyes swelled up where I couldn't see. I started snoring. I developed a rash on my hand."

Three weeks later, Fey was back in Clermont County on his death bed at Clinton Memorial Hospital. His kidneys were failing, and his body was so swollen that it left stretch marks.
Cindy Fey began pouring over medical records in search of answers. She said the shot was never listed in he son's medical records. The military claimed he never received a shot.

But as Target 5 discovered, the military's story would change.

The Department of Defense stated that "all service members' vaccinations are documented in the individual's permanent medical record." But Fey's military medical records revealed no shot on that day. Another Marine in Fey's unit told Target 5 that there is no shot listed in his medical records either and also said that the people who administered the shot never told his unit what it was.

When Cindy Fey called the U.S. Marine Hospital in 29 Palms to find out what kind of vaccine her son was given, she was told that the information was confidential.

Eleven months later, her son's medical records were mysteriously changed with a handwritten notation indicating that the mystery shot was a flu vaccine.
I'm sure we'll continue to be sold the line that it's all good. Nothing to see here, just a whiner looking for a free ... kidney transplant.

I am constantly baffled as to how the US military keeps its recruiting numbers where they are.

The Supremes: Cruel and Unusual

No, this post is not about Diana Ross and her erstwhile singing group.

It is about a far more mirthless band of addle-pated, police state corporatists. It is about our roughly (and I do mean roughly) consistent band of Supreme Court brothers who routinely toss out stare decisis, elicit opinions utterly incoherent with the Court's own precedents, supply "free speech" to corporations while simultaneously denying it to harmless individuals or groups thereof and rule against protections for endangered species at the behest of industry. They are a gaggle of Christianist, racist, sexist Federalist Society dragoons masquerading as constitutional experts, dressed-up in the now ratty and threadbare gowns of liberty, jumping through legalistic hoops in service of their underwriters, employing a grim and barren ideology to justify it all. These five jackanapes are now this country's final arbiters of justice in America: Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy.

This sullen collection of shabby toads are turning back the clock on strides made against tyrannies of a shameful past. In the final session of the Court today, their latest back-to-the future move was made and the five smirking fiends have just struck down a public school desegregation law. Apparently unaware of what Justice Alito himself called the "incremental approach" to changing law and precedent, apologists, or those too afraid to recognize what is really going on, immediately set out to mitigate concern about the decision, claiming that it is "not the crushing blow to affirmative action in public schools that it initially appears to be."

Further hidden in the news was yet another bow to corporate America, wherein the Court turned back a 96 year old ban on agreements between manufacturers and retailers in setting "price floors." This was again a 5-4 decision, the usual suspects in the majority. Normally viewed as collusion, pricing agreements are now deemed reasonable if they can "promote competition." Because price collusion often does that.

Stare decisis be damned and damned and damned again.

Union leftists at the Wall Street Journal

In what is surely a remarkable statement, today, Wall Street Journal reporters, including Pulitzer Prize winners, have walked off the job in protest of the potential sale of Dow Jones Company to Rupert Murdoch. The Poynter Institute's online publication has their statement, which begins
Wall Street Journal reporters across the country chose not to show up to work this morning. We did so for two reasons. First, The Wall Street Journal's long tradition of independence, which has been the hallmark of our news coverage for decades, is threatened today. We, along with hundreds of other Dow Jones employees represented by the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, want to demonstrate our conviction that the Journal’s editorial integrity depends on an owner committed to journalistic independence.
But within the statement is something remarkably ironic. The reporting staff at the nation's premier business newspaper, one that constantly marginalizes and attacks unions or, at best, ignores them, is concerned about their union (the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees) negotiated contract. It seems WSJ reporters don't think too kindly of the "free market" cutting back on their benefits:
Dow Jones currently is in contract negotiations with its primary union, seeking severe cutbacks in our health benefits and limits on our pay. It is beyond debate that the professionals who create The Wall Street Journal and other Dow Jones publications every day deserve a fair contract that rewards their achievements. At a time when Dow Jones is finding the resources to award golden parachutes to 135 top executives, it should not be seeking to eviscerate employees’ health benefits and impose salary adjustments that amount to a pay cut.
Wow, what a bunch of lefty agitators. Who knew?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Beat the Clock

After months of probing the politicization of the Justice Department via the US Attorney firings, the Senate Judiciary Committee have voted 13-3 to issue subpoenas to the White House, the Vice President's office, The Justice Department and the National Security Council regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's startling testimony that revealed how then White House flacks, Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card tried to end-run around D0J objections to the wiretapping program has prompted the committee to explore the issue further. The subpoenas come from a larger question regarding White House influence in the DoJ and over now Attorney General and still White House flack, Alberto Gonzales.

The agencies and offices have until July 18 to comply with the request for documents surrounding the program. DoJ spokesman, Dean Boyd, said that the Gonzales subpoena is "under review." I doubt anyone, including Gonzales, knows what that even means given what the performances of Justice Department officials have demonstrated lately.
AG: We have reviewed the subpoena and, after careful consideration, have decided that the Justice Department cannot comply with the order.

Q: Who reviewed the subpoena and when?

AG: I don't know. I wasn't in the loop.
Chairman of the committee, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) said in letters to the White House that,
Our attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration witnesses have been met with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection. There is no legitimate argument for withholding the requested materials from this committee,
while White House lip-moving person, Tony Fratto, said that the White House "will respond appropriately." Which means that Congress can expect a completely inappropriate response and that that response will be no response at all.

Except that the expected showdown will wind up in federal court. Given that the Bush administration has only eighteen months left to wait out the congressional subpoenas and the fact that the US legal system took 2 years to settle lawsuit over a lost pair of pants, chances are that the Bushies will be able to wrangle this in court for as long as they need to.

Night of the Science

Popular Science has published their Top 10 worst jobs in science. Among variously inauspicious endevours comprising whale-feces researcher ("Brown stain ahoy!"), gravity research subject ("Your body cavity is upside down, and after the first day you can feel your internal organs start to shift toward your head"), hazmat driver ("the worst was at a factory pig farm."), science class carcass preparer, and elephant vasectomist, falls the ignominious job -- at number 6 -- of being grunt at the Microsoft Security Response Center ("Like wearing a big sign that reads 'Hack Me'").

As amusing as this is, claiming that responding to complaints about bugs in notoriously buggy software hardly strikes me as a "job in science."

Editor of Popular Science weighed in with his thoughts on the appearance of Microsoft on the list:
Whale feces or working at Microsoft? I would probably be the whale feces researcher.
Given this, I find it awfully interesting that all Democratic presidential candidates are using Linux or FreeBSD as their servers' OS, while almost 70% of Republican candidates are running Windows. Which can be expected to be running about as well as their campaigns.

Death will surely follow

Part four of the Cheney Chronicles details the Veep's undercutting environmental laws and regulations in favour of business interests. While hardly surprising at a general level, once again, ugly details of Cheney's magnetic influences are exposed.
In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.
This from a man whom the Secret Service calls "Angler," supposedly because he likes fishing. Given Cheney's record and performance in other realms of policy, one can imagine that Cheney's version of fishing might likely involve explosions. No matter. Because his deadly defense of business interests over environmental concerns, in at least this case, has had the same effect or worse.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Gates Inheritance

If you can take the time, please read Roger Morris' concise history of Robert Gates and the coincident history of American Intelligence during the Cold War and since. Tom Englehardt at TomDispatch describes it so:
The Gates Inheritance will be posted in three parts this week and, long as it is, it's actually a marvel of compression, packing into a relatively modest space an epic history of mayhem none of us should avoid -- a grim history that led to September 11th, 2001 and now leads us into an unknown, increasingly perilous future. Think of it as a necessary reckoning with disaster -- and consider this but a second major installment in the rogue's gallery of Washington portraits Morris will continue to produce periodically for this site.
Part 1, and Part 2. Grimly fascinating.

[via Swedish Meatballs Confidential]

New Adventures of the liberal media

US media outlets have recently been demonstrating an increasingly unwholesome affinity for delivering a GOP-centric message to the American public. And, in some cases, rabidly so. Back in September, coyly timed just before the November elections, Disney/ABC squirted out the excreable partisan hack-job, The Path to 9/11, which blamed 9/11 on Clinton and ignored the mendacious stylings of the Bush administration in steering clear of the vast spectrum of warnings of impending attack.

The mainstream corporate media have a twisted love affair with Ann Coulter, a woman who never lessens her derision of the "liberal media," which never appear to tire of embracing her virulent and partisan hackery. Now that he has deemed her in possession of a "brilliant brain," evidenced apparently by her discursive analysis of the American political class ("Al Gore -- total fag"), Chris Mathews will host Coulter on MSNBC's Lowba ... uh, Hardball, even after her most recent and heartfelt wish that John Edwards were assassinated. MSNBC and NBC are the sister networks Bill O'Reilly insists are leftist extremists, hate US troops and get "jazzed" about the deaths of Afghan children. If you watch closely, you might even catch a glimpse of Mathews sporting a woody for Ann, so titillated does he seem to be in her presence.

More disturbing than even these overtures to frothy Republican zeal is recent news that PBS will use the highly partisan and hugely discredited GOP operative, Frank Luntz, to conduct "analysis" of the Democratic presidential forum. Well, if you can't get the Democrats to appear on the Fox News wing of the GOP, bring an agent of the GOP to the Democrats on PBS.

But marginalizing Democrats is not the only newly acquired role for PBS. Recently, we learned that PBS has been engaging in a taxpayer-funded whitewash of history in order to make a documentary more palatable to the fine sensibilities of the American public, a public widely believed by media mavens that would wish to remain untroubled by some inconvenient facts surrounding the 1967 Israeli-Arab Six Day War.

Antonia Zerbisias details how the $1.2 million Canada-Israel-France co-production, Six Days in June, actually exists in two versions: one for PBS broadcast in the United States and one for, well, everyone else.
Two not-so-subtly different versions have already aired this week. Both about two hours in length, one ran in French, on CBC's sister networks Radio-Canada and the all-news RDI, the other in English on PBS. (A three-hour edition also aired to rave reviews in Israel.)

The PBS version repeats Sunday at 3 a.m.on WNED.

The French edition is what Montreal-based producer Ina Fichman calls the "international version," which was sold to Italy's RAI, Australia's SBS and elsewhere.

It depicts, among other historical facts, the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians by the Israeli army, a move the narrator delicately describes as "the first change to the demographics of the West Bank." It shows, through the eyes of a former Arab resident and an Israeli who photographed the event, that, where large villages stood, now are forests (many planted with Canadian charitable donations).

There is also a sequence, as related by the American-born Abdullah Schleifer, editor of Palestine News, as well as an Arab whose home was destroyed, about the overnight razing of a 700-year-old Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem by the triumphant Israeli defence minister, General Moshe Dayan.

"When I saw this destruction, there was a part of me that felt tremendous dread, that a whole new problem was going to be created,'' says Schleifer. He says this in the PBS version as well, but the horrifying context is stripped away for American sensibilities....

Fichman said that PBS demanded entire scenes and sequences come out, and others be softened.
Your taxes at work, protecting Americans from an inconvenient truth. Of course, this particular episode transcends Republican sentiment, insisting, as it does, upon the standard western narrative surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a narrative that Democrats, at the behest of AIPAC, are as much beholden to as the GOP.

His name is Dick Cheney

Too many people are whingeing about the excellent Washington Post series on Dick Cheney. It is hitting depths about Cheney's intricate web of influence in ways that have not been seen. People are whining that this is too late, you useless press. Six and half years and now you tell us this.

People, have you not read the story? This man operates in a realm of executive secrecy that plums the depths of hell. Cheney has been behind literally every repellent, destructive and, yes, stupid policy to date (unless, of course, his Secret/SCI desire is to actually sink this country). And he does all this without many people even knowing it.

And he was doing other things too:
Cheney led a group that winnowed the president's list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Cheney resolved a crisis in the space program after the Columbia shuttle disaster. Cheney fashioned a controversial truce between the legislative and executive branches -- and averted resignations at the top of the Justice Department and the FBI -- over the right of law enforcement authorities to investigate political corruption in Congress.
Busy guy.

I love this description of Cheney's machinations by David Frum:
A lot of it was a black box, and I think designedly so. It was like -- you know that experiment where you pass a magnet under the table and you see the iron filings on the top of the table move? You know there's a magnet there because of what you see happening, but you never see the magnet.
Part Three is out and it's a barn burner: Cheney designed the $674 billion tax cut in 2003 and cast the deciding vote in the Senate on his own policy, including a capital gains cut that Bush had refused. I now have to reexamine Cheney's claim that he is part of the executive and the legislature.

Cheney's affinity for supply-side (yes, there it is) economics, of course, has driven the country onto a path of fiscal ruin. He did think about it a lot, though, using a "panel of outside experts" and "meticulous preparation" to raise the deficit to the point where the debt ceiling would have to rise several times during the Bush years. Democrats grimace now as they are faced with having to also raise the debt ceiling to above $9 trillion, something they swore they would not do. And Dick Cheney did that.

There is a reason it would take this long for such a story to come out. His name is Dick Cheney.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Broad brush

A Republican House member was slammed by a Democratic colleague as a "chickenshit thief"...
Harsh words, but that doesn't really narrow down the field much.

Abu Graib for orphans

Via C&L, the latest horrifying atrocity discovered in Iraq:

Young Iraqi boys, some tied to their cribs, lie on the floor at a Baghdad orphanage on June 10, 2007, after they were discovered by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. A total of 24 naked and abused boys, ages 3 to 15 years old, were found in a darkened room without any windows. Many of the children were too weak to stand once released. A locked room full of food and clothing was found nearby.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday sing along

I want to thank Thought Theater for introducing me to Elvis Perkins.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Blowing up hearts and minds

So-called "NATO" forces of good have been on a civilian killing spree lately. After having blown up 7 children the other day, the latest air strike has blown up at least 25 Afghan civilians, many of whom were women and children. NATO blames the Taliban for using civilians as "human shields," which appears to be a misnomer as far as the behaviour of NATO is concerned. A shield is generally imagined to provide protection from attack, but given NATO's alacrity for blowing up "targets" that invariably turn out to be civilian occupied villages, the term "shield" seems wholly inappropriate. Civilians be damned, there is no shield and bombs away!
The NATO forces' air strike on the area mistakenly targeted two to three civilian houses, killing 25 civilians," Hassan said.

The dead included nine women and three children aged from six months to two years old....

The rest were men, including the mullah of the mosque of the village which is in the Gereshk district about 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of the town of Lashkar Gah.

Hassan said the bodies of the dead were lying where they had been hit.
NATO further claimed that "20 Taliban were killed," though how they know this is entirely unclear. Because no one can find the bodies. Spirited away by "other militants," is the official line.

In light of this clear and present danger, President Hamid Karzai is at wit's end, and rightly so.
Attacks causing civilian casualties, as I have said before, are not acceptable for us. It is no longer tolerated.

As you are aware over the past several days, as result of indiscriminate and unprecise operations of NATO and coalition forces, our people suffered casualties.

In Chora, NATO, coalition forces fired artillery on Chora from Tirin Kot in which according to our latest information ... 52 of our countrymen were martyred.
In all, NATO forces have killed 250 civilians this year and Karzai stepped up the rhetoric with a delusional demand that NATO will
have to work the way we ask them to work here. That's the line.
Good luck with that.

Mutt ugly

Folks, the world's ugliest dog:

Flower power

Until they were shuffled out the door, most military leaders were of the opinion that the latest "surge" of US troops into Iraq would be, at best, ineffective. The roughly imagined 30,000 troops would be simply insufficient for the job. These opinions were ignored, of course, in favour of neocon yowlers who demanded the surge and blitzed the media with flopping jowls about how great it would all work out. American Enterprise Institute installations like Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan were all part of this assault, on air and in print claiming, with no known expertise to do so, that the surge was necessary if America were to win in Iraq. Winning is what these guys are all about. These were some of the same folks who had told us what a cakewalk the entire Iraq adventure would be and that flowers would shower American GIs.

And just like the flower shower, the surge is not quite working out as advertised, as violence continues to escalate and the Green Zone is being systematically targeted with daily mortar attacks by the insurgency. As before the operation began, actual military people are again saying that the surge is not and cannot work. The force size is simply not big enough.
Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who in 2003 was among the first to call public attention to the relatively small size of the U.S. invasion force, said that the new operation shows how outnumbered U.S. troops remain. "Why would we think that a temporary presence of 30,000 additional combat troops in a giant city would change the dynamics of a bitter civil war?" he said in an interview yesterday. "It's a fool's errand."
Other military there now are of the same opinion:
An officer working in Arrowhead Ripper, the subsidiary offensive in Diyala province, said wearily, "We just do not have the forces in country right now to have the appropriate level of presence across the country."
Experts in counterinsurgency are also weighing in:
Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., the director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a national security think tank, said flatly that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, does not have enough troops.
But somewhat buried in the WaPo story is a brief but telling passage about who is really running the show and why, once again, the situation in Iraq is as intractable as ever. Fred Kagan of the AEI,
was involved in developing the plans for the recent troop increase....
That ought to tell us all we need to know about the viability of the surge. If Kagan was involved, it must be wrong. And no doubt, after reading about this prick, you have to know that Dick Cheney's cockeyed, evil smirk is in there somewhere.

Saying and doing

Despite the fact that The Washington Post editorial page is now simply a palette of Bush apologia and neoconservative tripe, the news pages can still deliver the goods on occasion, and they do so at times in subtle ways. While not something that jumps out from the online edition, the print edition of page 2 of WaPo today brilliantly juxtaposed two seemingly unrelated stories. But they are related, and reassert the Bush administration's continuing refrain of do as we say, not as we do:
Bush Prods Vietnamese President On Human Rights and Openness

White House Defends Cheney's Refusal of Oversight
This juxtaposition is then face-on followed by the page 3 story about Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Abraham, a former member of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal, who called the Pentagon secret military tribunals "fundamentally flawed," and which heavily relied on "unsubstantiated statements" and secret "evidence" to determine whether Gitmo detainees were enemy combatants.

The visual effect created by opening the first page of WaPo and being confronted with nothing but a broad buffet of White House secrecy, asinine constitutional assertions, and the hypocrisy we've all grown to know and loathe still has a jarring effect. There is yet some hope to be found at The Washington Post yet.

Of course, the story that Cheney and his handlers have hit upon the novel argument that, as president of the Senate, the veep is not actually a part of the executive branch and therefore not subject to executive orders is being met with rolling eyes and shaking heads. White House lip-moving person, Dana Perino, informs us that executive oversight and Cheney's role within the executive is a "little bit of nonissue" because, and this is where things really go of track,
the president gets to decide whether or not he should be treated separately, and he's decided that he should.
Most people would have expected that it is Article II of the Constitution that "gets to decide" the role of vice president, but when one has the attitude that the Constitution is just a "goddamn piece of paper," it seems anything goes. In this White House, the decider gets to decide, and he decides when the vice president is in the executive and when he is not. I'm guessing, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are executive days, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are when Cheney, with a wave of Bush's presidential wand, magically becomes part of the legislature. Except when the moon is waxing gibbous, in which case the order is vice versa unless Bush decides otherwise based on what God tells him, messages that may come from on high with little notice but have an amazing coincidence with the state of current scandals. Sunday, of course, is a day of rest from the stressful effort of preventing anyone from finding out what the fuck Cheney is doing on the taxpayer nickel.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sharks, with freakin' laser beams

Rarely does the Pentagon pass up any new ideas about how to kill people and, as is appropriate to our current epoch, about half of all US government research and development monies are spent by the Pentagon. Some $78 billion per annum of taxpayer money goes for funding the newest and, in some bizarre cases, the craziest weapons systems the American "culture of life" can dream up.

Case in point: "Gay bombs."
Just this month, the government confirmed that an Ohio Air Force laboratory had asked for $7.5 million to build a nonlethal "gay bomb," a weapon that would encourage enemies to make love, not war. The weapon would use strong aphrodisiacs to make enemy troops so sexually attracted to each other that they'd lose interest in fighting.
On the surface, this has the appearance of being one of the least offensive "weapons" one might imagine, until one realizes that enemy soldiers, once incapacitated by lusty notions, would be mowed down with little resistance. If it would work as advertised, anyway.

My favourite, though, has to be the idea, which appears to be borrowed from the The Day of the Dolphin, that the military would harness the cool cache and cold-hearted stealth of the shark by "arming sharks with chemical implants and cameras to work as spies." Of course the Pentagon had to turn to the shark instead of the dolphin, which really is a creature no one wants to see turned into a weapons system. Besides, a shark is practically a weapon system already. And there's no happy, grinning face to make you doubt that.

But I want to know is where are the freakin' laser beams? How can you have a shark weapon without a laser beam?!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Priming the pump

Various propaganda efforts discernible in the media today, including those that surround Iran, Pakistan, Darfur and the Israeli-Palestine conflict, all share a common pattern of execution. This pattern is remarkable for the systematic way in which it is recurs. It involves initial forays of disinformation, notable omissions and, crucially, something that might be called "priming the pump." Recently, this priming pattern has appeared regarding the extended deployment of troops in Iraq, wherein various Bush administration officials have come forth with halting statements regarding a long term occupation of Iraq and the increasingly obvious imperative that US forces could find themselves there to stay for a very long time, indeed. The "South Korea model," as it has been described, is finding greater and greater voice as the situation in Iraq continues to worsen, or at least not improve. General Petreaus has lately been "hinting" at the fact that, despite earlier assurances a "progress" report due in September would determine the fate of the US occupation, the results of any report in September, expected to be undoubtedly grim, will be ignored and that the surge will continue in an ad hoc, as-needed basis. Media talking heads, in particular the trusty Fox News Piltdown man Chris Wallace, have taken up their charge and, rather than question this direction, appear to encourage this path of greatest resistance by asking, "You surely don't think the job would be done by the surge by September?" Parish the thought, the general agreed, and informed the public that there is still a lot of "heavy lifting to do."

This particular pump priming is needed for two reasons. One, which the construction of multi-billion dollar, permanent bases from the early days of the post-invasion period clearly demonstrated, is that there has always been a plan to occupy Iraq for a very long time. This was never admitted, of course, and now that the American public has grown utterly weary of the debacle, the propaganda effort is being directed toward preparing the national psyche for what has always been the ultimate reality of the invasion. It is important that the notion of long term occupation appear to be an ad hoc result of ongoing mayhem rather than the initial plan it has been all along, which is why the subject is only being broached now.

The second reason for the nascent propaganda effort is to slowly inculcate the public with this reality and to imbue them with the very false sense that the occupation is to continue for the benefit of the Iraqi people and their obvious security needs. It is not the Iraqi public to whom this pablum is being spooned, but rather, we are witnessing the slow but deliberate force feeding of the American public in order that they come around to the position that long term occupation is not only desirable but necessary. Iraqis themselves are overwhelming convinced that US forces, if not directly stirring sectarian violence, at least have no incentive to see it diminished. As long as such violence continues, the conspicuous raison d'etre for the occupation is guaranteed. This Iraqi view is extremely cynical but it is a cynicism borne of the local knowledge that American forces have always planned to stay. It is a knowledge that, thanks to our vested media organs, most Americans simply never have had. To them, the idea of long term occupation has been entirely organic, a result of the situation "on the ground."

But it is not only the public that needs to be primed for the reality of long term occupation in a hostile land. US troops themselves, increasingly weary and near breaking, are now being confronted with the possibility that they will have their tours extended once again, after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, only two months ago, announced newly extended tours of fifteen months. This latest message simply following the pattern by slowly preparing minds for what will surely be an eventuality, despite it being called the "last option on the list."

While the White House propaganda effort with respect to Iran smacks of a distinctly more pressing imperative -- it is highly unlikely that an attack on Iran will occur once the Bush/Cheney administration leaves office -- the effort to prepare both the American public and US troops with the grim reality of semi-permanent occupation of Iraq is being executed with measured pace. It can be measured because this agenda not only occupies the imperial minds of the Bush administration, but is also fully embraced by the leading contenders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. This affords a longer time table by which public sentiment can be slowly and methodically coerced into accepting the position of imperial occupier that both major political parties of the United States have already embraced.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A plan comes together

It looks like those IDF plans for Gaza, immediately discounted by right wingers who apparently are unable to imagine that Israel could ever contemplate the obvious, are not just "on the table," but are being fully and heartily ingested.
Israel fired missiles and sent tanks on a foray into Gaza on Wednesday, killing four Palestinians in the deadliest military action since Hamas militants took control of the coastal strip....

Israeli aircraft fired missiles at two rocket launchers in northern Gaza, in the first aerial attack on the strip since Hamas vanquished Abbas' rival Fatah. No injuries were reported in the strike, which came in retaliation for militant rocket fire on Israel.

Israeli tanks, meanwhile, rolled about 600 yards inside southern Gaza before dawn, and four militants were killed in a gunbattle, Palestinian hospital officials said.

Hamas and the allied Popular Resistance Committees said gunmen fired on undercover troops, prompting the army to send six tanks, two armored personnel carriers and a bulldozer to the area.

Who can it be now?

Digby revealed, speaking at the Take Back America conference.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First things first: lie, cheat, then steal

Fred Thompson has painted himself as craven and ridiculous as the rest of the Republican zealots who have already declared that Scooter Libby has been oh, so wronged by a charade masquerading as justice. In a recent speech, Thompson spouted all the usual nonsense that has long since been discredited and, in a brazen act of howling ignorance about the Plame outing, added a few of his own maledictions to the already zesty mix of idiocy. For instance, Thompson has no idea why Joe Wilson was sent to Nigeria. None. That's a new one. Usually, we hear that Wilson was sent to Niger because "his wife sent him on a boondoggle." To Niger. That's not usually high on the list of crony destination resorts. The golfing, I hear, is not very good.

All of this is tempered, as it always is by the GOP caterers of "the base," with lofty talk of "the rule of law." With no sense of irony, Thompson compounds the irony, with interest, by stating that
It is a sad irony that a nation that is so dedicated to the rule of law is doing so much to undermine the respect for it,
and then proceeds to pine for the release of Scooter Libby from the unbridled viciousness of ... the law. Oh, yeah, it is indeed election season.

In response to the egregious misinformation being doled out by various GOP presidential candidates -- declared or otherwise -- a group of former CIA officers crafted a letter to the Republican National Committee, asking that these candidates, even those not officially declared, to stop misrepresenting the CIA leak case and, for god's sake, to please stop lying about the covert status of Valerie Plame.
As former intelligence officers -- most of us have served the United States in undercover positions -- we are saddened and appalled by the recent public comments of former Senator Fred Thompson, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Governor Mitt Romney -- one a potential candidate and the other two declared candidates for the Republican nomination for president -- with respect to the perjury and obstruction of justice conviction of Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

These men misrepresent the case against Mr. Libby and call into question the integrity of a respected Federal Judge and U.S. attorney. Their positions with respect to the just and fair punishment meted out to Mr. Libby raise serious questions about their commitment to the rule of law free of partisan bias.
This group of CIA officials hold Thompson, in particular, to the burning fires of truth:
We are particularly concerned by the recent speech by Fred Thompson ...
They reveal the rickety raft of Thompson's misapprehensions about the Plame case and excoriate the nascent good ol' boy for his blasé disregard of the facts of the matter.
The factual errors in Mr. Thompson's statement are almost as egregious as his partisan view that perjury and obstruction of justice are not serious crimes. For example, Thompson states that there is something implausible about sending Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq was trying to buy yellow cake uranium.

In fact, Ambassador Wilson was uniquely qualified for the mission. Having served as the acting Ambassador in Iraq and faced down Saddam Hussein, Ambassador Wilson also was the Director of Africa in the National Security Council and had served as an Ambassador in west Africa and monitored the uranium mining activity of the country where he was stationed.
I think Fred ought to address the criticism ladled out by no less than eight former CIA operatives in his private journal, no? I for one would love to see what ol' Fred can come up with. Maybe he'll just tie 'em to the bumper of his pick-up and haul 'em round the mean streets for a spell.

And don't worry Fred. You've still got a Justice Department at your Republican disposal and, of course, Diebold if it comes down to a crunch.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mark Crispin Miller in Baltimore

Mark Crispin Miller is going to be in Baltimore on Friday, June 22 (7:30 pm), hosted by The Creative Alliance at the Patterson Theatre. Mark has been there a couple of times that I've seen and he always delivers a great show and a hearty serving of food for the democratic soul. If you are in the area, please try to make it. Your effort will be highly rewarded. Mark will have copies of his newly revised paper back edition of the Fooled Again available for signing.

Here is the blurb from the web pages of the Creative Alliance, one of Baltimore's great community arts organisations.
Muckraking media critic Mark Crispin Miller played to a packed house the last time he visited The Patterson. This month, the former JHU professor releases the paperback version of his bestselling Fooled Again, with an immense new afterword that promises to make a splash—on how the Establishment has tried to bury the all-important issue of election fraud and about the 2006 elections, which were even more fraudulent than 2004’s. $12, $10 mbrs.

The Patterson
3134 Eastern Ave.
Baltimore, Md.
Be there!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hamas in Gaza, jumping for joy in Israel

Swedish Meatballs Confidential (which tracks a lot of fascinating articles, by the way, albeit accompanied by an "adult theme") points to an excellent article at the Israel Policy Forum summarizing the decades long push by the hard right in Israel to marginalize peace negotiations and Palestinian moderates while issuing beckoning calls to Islamist extremists. If you read one thing about the Gaza situation as it stands today, read this:
There is, no doubt, a whole lot of celebrating going on today. For those more afraid of negotiations than of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or any of that violent crew, a collapsing Palestinian Authority with Gaza in absolute chaos and with Mahmoud Abbas weakened almost to irrelevancy is a dream come true.

Gaza has fallen to Hamas. Abbas’ Fatah is on the run. Unless a United Nations force (like UNIFIL) steps in, a sliver of territory with a population of 1.4 million, a short drive from Tel Aviv, will become a dagger aimed at Israel's heart and perhaps even an Al Qaeda staging ground. A humanitarian crisis of horrific proportions is a near-certainty.

Whose fault is it? The Palestinians’, of course. But hardly theirs alone. As Nahum Barnea, Israel's finest journalist, puts it in today’s Yediot Ahronoth, “The US and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure. The Americans, in their lack of understanding of the processes of Islamization in the territories, pressured [the Palestinians] to hold democratic elections and brought Hamas to power with their own hands…. Since the elections, Israel, like the US, declared over and over that ‘Abu Mazen must be strengthened,’ but in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert's kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street.”

Read it all. An excellent overview of an long sought result. And now that plan to attack and re-invade Gaza is simmering on the IDF stove top.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs

There isn't a better metaphor for the state of Washington DC these days than the fact that the Thomas Jefferson memorial is now sinking into the swamp upon which Washington was founded and which has transformed into a swamp of an entirely different nature. Physical and political reality are both inundating Jefferson.
Up on the surface, the signs of the trouble at the Jefferson Memorial are small:

A few blacktop patches over uneven seams in some concrete. A cordoned-off section where the sea wall has slipped below the front plaza. The "tilt meter" boxes that visitors can't see unless they know where to look.

Underground, though, the problems may be huge: Slowly, almost imperceptibly, parts of the complex seem to be sinking into the mud.
Quite poetic, really.

Road map to peace

[Update below]

In funding and supplying arms to the Fatah in Gaza, knowing full well the likely result, the inevitable question arises: why would Israel, the US and Egypt want to foment violent unrest in the Strip? It is actually fairly obvious. An Hamas takeover of Gaza would provide the Israelis a pretext to attack and invade. And, just like the Lebanon war last summer, the attack has already been planned.
ISRAEL’s new defence minister Ehud Barak is planning an attack on Gaza within weeks to crush the Hamas militants who have seized power there.

According to senior Israeli military sources, the plan calls for 20,000 troops to destroy much of Hamas’s military capability in days.

The raid would be triggered by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel or a resumption of suicide bombings.

Barak, who is expected to become defence minister tomorrow, has already demanded detailed plans to deploy two armoured divisions and an infantry division, accompanied by assault drones and F-16 jets, against Hamas.

The Israeli forces would expect to be confronted by about 12,000 Hamas fighters with arms confiscated from the Fatah faction that they defeated in last week’s three-day civil war in Gaza.

Details of the plan emerged as Fatah forces in the West Bank stormed Hamas-run buildings, including the parliament in Ramallah, where they tried to seize the deputy speaker.

Israeli officials believe their forces would face even tougher resistance in Gaza than they encountered during last summer’s war against Hezbollah in south Lebanon.

A source close to Barak said that Israel could not tolerate an aggressive “Hamastan” on its border and an attack seemed unavoidable.

“The question is not if but how and when,” he said.

Update:Carl at Israel Matzav has an interesting critique of the Times article, which are usually suspect anyway, and points out that Uzi Mahnaimi is the same person who reported that Israel would attack Iran with tactical nuclear weapons. While many on the right simply won't believe that Israel would consider such action, the fact is they have and will continue to do so. Though it's time line maybe suspect, this latest Times article is hardly revelatory and no one should be surprised that such plans are, to borrow that fun phrase of our current epoch, "on the table." After all, the IDF had plans for the attack on Lebanon drawn up over a year before the war last summer, using the pretext of a kidnapping to launch the assault.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The inevitable eruption of Gaza

Loathe to write anything about the debacle in Gaza, but knowing full well that the US and Israel had funded and supplied arms to Fatah, I realise that the outcome we've just witnessed there was inevitable. But I will highly recommend Uri Avnery's article on the Hamas takeover as an excellent overview to the situation that US and Israeli policy (there really is no difference) has purposefully fomented.
Crocodile Tears for Gaza

WHAT HAPPENS when one and a half million human beings are imprisoned in a tiny, arid territory, cut off from their compatriots and from any contact with the outside world, starved by an economic blockade and unable to feed their families?

Some months ago, I described this situation as a sociological experiment set up by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The population of the Gaza Strip as guinea pigs.

his week, the experiment showed results. They proved that human beings react exactly like other animals: when too many of them are crowded into a small area in miserable conditions, they become aggressive, and even murderous. The organizers of the experiment in Jerusalem, Washington, Berlin, Oslo, Ottawa and other capitals could rub their hands in satisfaction. The subjects of the experiment reacted as foreseen. Many of them even died in the interests of science.

But the experiment is not yet over. The scientists want to know what happens if the blockade is tightened still further.

WHAT HAS caused the present explosion in the Gaza Strip?

Read it all ...

A Party of None

After a jowl-shaking, full metal jacket demand for a military strike on Iran, because they won't "play by the rules," Connecticut for Lieberman party chairman John Orman has called for Joe Lieberman's resignation.
Connecticut for Lieberman Party Chairman John Orman called Tuesday for Sen. Joe Lieberman to resign, saying his advocacy of a military strike against Iran could explode into a global conflict.

"He has crossed the line," said Orman, a professor of politics at Fairfield University. "His unilateral warmongering could lead to a new World War III."

Orman issued a news release Tuesday asking Lieberman to immediately resign and urging Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell to appoint Susan Henshaw, secretary of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, as his replacement.
All I can say is, you jackasses in Connecticut got what Big Business and AIPAC paid for. If you couldn't see Lieberman for the Likudnik that he is, that Lieberman had anything other than his and the interests of his more-war funders at heart, you weren't paying attention.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The dinsinformation pipeline and the Iraq Oil Law

Still reeling from my neurological episode below, I am trying to shake it off and move on to those subjects that are both inherently more interesting and more important than anything whirling around in the circles of hell representing Dobsonian Christianity. I need to just stay away from it altogether because anytime one attempts to venture into the realm of satire regarding Christianists, one has to be aware of the fact that the satire itself must necessarily pale in comparison to the actuality of these people's views. A viewing of Jesus Camp should be sufficient to convince anyone of this. Fiction could never be so sordid.

Which bring us to the subject of this post: more vague disinformation about the Iraq Oil Law appearing in New York Times and put there by that venerable apparatchik Michael Gordon, a once amiable co-conspirator of the detestable Judith Miller on the shit stream of NY Times WMD disinformation. Retired Naval officer Commander Jeff Huber at Pen and Sword offers up a good critique of Gordon's service to empire that appeared in the pages of the NY Times earlier in the week. Huber demonstrates well just how the disinformation pipeline works, a pipeline that routinely pumps White House bile onto the pages of major news outlets.

But there is a curious aspect contained within the story that is skipped over by Huber, who focused on the production of the story, and despite the talk of dire warnings the Bush administration is passing to the Maliki government over the issue of "progress," the oil law remains the first and foremost concern even for our "top military commander." But first, failure to pass the oil law comes with a threat:
The top American military commander for the Middle East has warned Iraq’s prime minister in a closed-door conversation that the Iraqi government needs to make tangible political progress by next month to counter the growing tide of opposition to the war in Congress.
Or what, exactly? We'll pull out? We'll stay put? Since we already know the answer to these questions, what is the threat to Maliki? It should be obvious that the only thing the Bush administration can threaten Maliki with is his own removal, which would make further mockery of the "sovereignty" of Iraq, something that is already clearly a joke.
In a Sunday afternoon discussion that mixed gentle coaxing with a sober appraisal of politics in Baghdad and Washington, the commander, Adm. William J. Fallon, told Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that the Iraqi government should aim to complete a law on the division of oil proceeds by next month.
Immediately, one must ask, why is the commander of the US forces pushing the Iraqi government on the oil law? Certainly, the western media veneer of "political reconciliation" shrouds the oil law, which has been pushed in the media as an engine of equal distribution of oil wealth, but which most Iraqis understand will be a gift to Big Oil. Indeed, equal distribution of oil wealth is hardly a necessary feature of the oil law itself as that requirement is already part of the Iraq Constitution. The oil law, however, introduces a mechanism that would "open the Iraqi oil industry’s doors wide open to foreign investment." It is this "foreign investment" that have Iraqis concerned because, as with any investment, return is expected and the oil law, while not explicitly saying so, provides a mechanism whereby "oil executives" will sit on the Federal Oil and Gas Council and have a great deal of influence on who receives oil contracts and what the profit taking on those contracts will be. Many expect that the return on "foreign investment" will be on the order of 75% of all profits, and contracts, so-called Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), will have effective terms of many decades.

As been shown already, this law is hugely contentious within Iraq, though you would hardly get any sense of that from most western media outlets, especially at the NY Times. And Gordon continues the tradition by neither mentioning the strike by Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions over the oil law nor that Maliki sent troops to surround striking workers in Basra, nor that he ordered the arrest of union leaders. No, none of what might explain why the oil law is having problems being passed in the Iraqi parliament appear in Gordon's sop to the White House propaganda efforts. What is clear in Gordon's piece is that, whatever problems the Iraqis are having in dealing with the oil law, rest assured it is all the Iraqis' fault for being unwilling to pass an oil law that was primarily written in consultation with various White House agents.

What Fallon's remark demonstrates is that, rather than concern for the security situation in Iraq -- something that will hardly improve with the passage of a highly suspicious oil law -- current US military leaders are as much a part of the overall imperial scam as the White House. This is probably why Bush had to dump the inconvenient generals who appeared unwilling to enjoin the military in a decades-long, violent occupation that would surely diminish US military capacity. Iraq is no South Korea.

In fact, passage of the law in its current form might actually make things worse. But Fallon is not concerned with that but, rather, with demonstrating that the military knows its place in the imperial mission and just what are the goals of that mission, regardless of it deleterious effects on ground troops and the future of the US military. As far as the Oil Law is concerned, it is the one aspect of the mission upon which the White House and the Pentagon are in full agreement.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

But you got to have faith

[Update below]

Despite persistent evidence that a large number of Democrats take issue with science, battling over who is the bigger religious nut remains the province of the GOP. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson is troubled by nascent presidential GOP candidate Fred Thompson's seeming lack of faith.
First, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson was reported to have said the Republican presidential hopeful is not a real Christian. Thompson shot back that he's not only a Christian, but a member of the fundamentalist Churches of Christ.
And now the hunt is on to discover Thompson's ecclesial bone fides.
Professor Mark Elrod of Harding University said he doubts Thompson is "filling out an attendance card at a Church of Christ on Sundays."

[T]he professor challenged the Church of Christ faithful to produce evidence they've seen Thompson "at an assembly of a Church of Christ (Stone-Campbell) in the last 20 years." So far nobody has met the challenge.

Specifically, Elrod is soliciting any information about Thompson having:

Taught a Bible class,

Presided at the Lord's table,

Served as a greeter,

Or led singing ("If it was 728b and you can prove it, I'll give you $100," he wagered, referring to the hymn, "Our God, He Is Alive," which is considered an anthem in the Churches of Christ).
These are the qualifications, it is to be noted, which concern the Christian right. And who among cannot be charmed by a little wagering when it come to questions of faith?

But the real question for Christians about a future president? Well, you probably already knew:
Is the Hollywood star-turned-politician a true believer?

Thompson's chances at capturing the GOP primary may rest on the answer, thanks to the growing electoral clout of Christian conservatives.
These are indeed dark times.

Update: Damn! I got burned by those idiots at Whirled Nut Daily, which I guess makes me just as dumb or dumber. I should have known. That's what happens when posts get punched up quickly and without much ado. Mark Elrod stopped in to let me know that his original post was satirical and that WND reported it is a real challenge -- bet and all -- since it rather conformed to their particular view of things anyway. In fact, WND'ers probably thought Elrod's challenge was a fine idea. Apologies to Dr. Elrod, but he must take some amusement in the fact that his riposte was treated as a feasible and reasonable part of the GOP Christian political vetting machine. In fact, Elrod's challenge is not at all distinguishable from anything that James Dobson might do himself. Therein lies the subtle beauty of it, really.

Nonetheless, I feel dumber for it all.

A "good ol' boy's" private journal

Hah! This is a great new site, Fred Thompson's Private Journal. I found it after noticing a link to the previous ranting about the evolution question. Calling it a spoof site, though, doesn't do it justice, and besides, the diligent folks behind it probably would resent the label. Nonetheless, great work!

Bombs away

When I first read about "stepped up" air strikes in Iraq by US forces, reports that had been coming out for well over a year now, it seemed clear that such activity was indicative of desperation. That was a year before the "surge." Such news also surprised people, who had no idea that an unmentioned, some might say, secret air war was already ongoing and probably responsible for a large number of civilian casualties. Reports of this barely mentioned aspect of the Iraq occupation started surfacing a year before stepped up air strikes began and two years before the "surge" gained momentum (for a very complete and excellent report on this see, Turse and Englehardt, The Pentagon's Secret Air War in Iraq.)

But then we received yet more news of yet more stepping up of air strikes just last week, when US air strikes blew up a railroad station, collateral damage as part of a flurry of activity that has seen the number of air strikes doubled over previous levels. This move reeked of even greater desperation and more senseless civilian death. Shock and awe was so awesome, it seemed it was time to try it all over again.

Well, William Lind smells the desperation as well and, in concert with fester's excellent posts at The Newshoggers about 4th generation warfare and how the US military fails in the arena because it fails to adhere to known counterinsurgency tactics, Lind offers up his own howling mad description of just how desperate the US military is looking and how badly they are botching things in Iraq with the latest escalation of an airwar:
Nothing could testify more powerfully to the failure of U.S. efforts on the ground in Iraq than a ramp-up in airstrikes. Calling in air is the last, desperate, and usually futile action of an army that is losing. If anyone still wonders whether the "surge" is working, the increase in air strikes offers a definitive answer: it isn't.

Worse, the growing number of air strikes shows that, despite what the Marines have accomplished in Anbar province and Gen. Petraeus' best efforts, our high command remains as incapable as ever of grasping Fourth Generation war. To put it bluntly, there is no surer or faster way to lose in 4GW than by calling in airstrikes. It is a disaster on every level. Physically, it inevitably kills far more civilians than enemies, enraging the population against us and driving them into the arms of our opponents. Mentally, it tells the insurgents we are cowards who only dare fight them from 20,000 feet in the air. Morally, it turns us into Goliath, a monster every real man has to fight. So negative are the results of air strikes in this kind of war that there is only one possible good number of them: zero (unless we are employing the "Hama model," which we are not).
However, Lind thinks there is more that just desperation playing out here. Air forces do what air forces like to do; damn the ... er, bombs away!
What explains this military lunacy, beyond simple desperation? Part of the answer, I suspect, is Air Force generals. Jointness demands they get their share of command billets in Iraq, and with very few exceptions they are mere military technicians. They know how to put bombs on targets, but they know nothing else. So, they do what they know how to do, with no comprehension of the consequences.

In fact, the U.S. Air Force recently announced it is developing its own counter-insurgency doctrine, precisely because "some people" are suggesting air strikes are counterproductive in such conflicts. Well, yes, that is what anyone with any understanding of counter-insurgency would suggest. The Air Force, of course, cares not a whit about the realities of counter-insurgency. It cares only about protecting its bureaucratic turf, its myth of "winning through air power" and its high-performance fighter-bombers, which truly are its knights in shining armor, useful only for tournaments.
It really is hard to believe that, after years of performance in the Iraq theatre and after the debacles of the Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia carpet bombing campaigns, ramping up air strikes is still seen the military as the winning tactic in guerrilla insurgency. One might almost get the feeling the US wants to keep stirring the pot to further justify the now stated preference of the Defense Department and the White House to remain in Iraq for decades to come. How can this not be the suspicion after a further repetition of this news:
Iraq will remain incapable of taking full responsibility for its security for many years -- five years in the case of protecting its airspace -- and will require a long-term military relationship with the United States, said Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who until recently led the U.S. military's training effort in Iraq.
After all, most Iraqi already believe that covert hands are responsible for agitating the sectarian violence, something that Sadr himself claimed after the Samarra mosque was attacked for the second time.

99.999% fast

Matter shooting out of exploding stars, which result in what are called Gamma-ray Bursts (GRBs), has been clocked moving at 99.999% the speed of light. Fascinating.
The fastest flows of matter in the universe shoot out of dying stars at more than 99.999% the speed of light, new observations reveal.

When a massive star runs out of fuel, it collapses to form a black hole or a neutron star. In the process, some of the matter from the star also explodes outwards at blistering speeds, producing an intense burst of gamma rays and other radiation.

Scientists had predicted that the matter expanding in these explosions would be propelled to very nearly the speed of light, but it has previously not been possible to clock them precisely.

Now, rapid follow-up measurements of two gamma-ray bursts have allowed a team of scientists to precisely measure the expansion speed of matter in these explosion to more than 99.999% the speed of light. The team was led by Emilio Molinari of the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera in Merate, Italy.

[via Slashdot]

Ravages of war

I'm guessing Michele Malkin is going to have to back to Iraq to prove that this also didn't happen, that it is the damnable liberal media just out to make things look bad and photoshopped the images:
A powerful bomb shattered the golden dome at one of Iraq's most revered Shiite shrines on Wednesday morning, setting off a day of sectarian fury in which mobs formed across Iraq to chant for revenge and attacked dozens of Sunni mosques.

The bombing, at the Askariya Shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, wounded no one but left the famous golden dome at the site in ruins. The shrine is central to one of the most dearly held beliefs of Shiite Islam, and the bombing, coming after two days of bloody attacks that have left dozens of Shiite civilians dead, ignited a nationwide outpouring of rage and panic that seemed to bring Iraq closer than ever to outright civil war.

Shiite militia members flooded the streets of Baghdad, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at Sunni mosques while Iraqi Army soldiers who had been called out to stop the violence stood helpless nearby. By the day's end, mobs had struck or destroyed 27 Sunni mosques in the capital, killing three imams and kidnapping a fourth, Interior Ministry officials said. In all, at least 15 people were killed in related violence across the country.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Know Nothing Nation

Marx once said that religion was the "opium of the people." He saw that religion provided a necessary illusion to the misery and distress of people's lives and that religion provided that which the real world -- their world -- could not: hope and happiness. To some degree, this was very generous of Marx because religion, especially western religion, has indeed been used as both an opiate and a tool of repression and subjugation for much of its history. If the irrational state of the American body politic demonstrates one thing, it is this. Today, even as the vast majority of people in this country enjoy the tremendous fruits of the scientific endeavor, they publicly brook no scientific notion that fails to comport with the happy myths of their Christianity. For these people, one particular science distresses their comforting views of themselves and their place in the universe.

Evolution, of course, is that one scientific idea. Earthly, biological evolution, anyway. It is indeed a "theory," as the religious right is fond of pointing out, as though that has become some sort of opprobrium, while "faith" for them remains forever beyond reproach. It remains a bit of a mystery as to why cosmology or geology has not been called, at least directly, to the carpet of the castigation. Perhaps because it does not directly insult the sensitivities of Christians who like to think of themselves as "god's image." Nonetheless, America remains unique within the panoply of modern industrialized states wherein highly advanced science has been and remains the subject of pubic rebuke, coming as it does at the behest of fundamentalist religiosity and those politicians who will pander to adherents of religious dogma, a dogma that, since its inception, has comforted fools with self-satisfying tales of their very exceptional nature. But what is never mentioned in our current, sound-bite public discussions of this particular scientific field is that evolution and evolutionary biology is just one aspect of the larger domain of scientific endevour that seeks to understand the empirical nature of the universe and our own place within it.

It is that salient fact more than any other that demonstrates the true nature of the religious right's criticism of science. Though they will have no issue with science that brings them cable, cell phones, the internet, computers, flat screen televisions, antibiotics, microwave ovens and automobile GPS systems, evolution alone gets branded as "dogma" because it is fundamentally at odds with the Biblical literalism that informs benighted souls that the earth is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs either a) never existed because the Devil planted fossils to test the faithful, or b) never existed because God planted fossils to test the faithful, or c) all died in the great flood or d) romped happily in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, were saved by Noah and then died. While fundamentalist ideas of how to explain dinosaurs and fossils twist in an idealogical wind like a gassy, fly-blown carcass, one thing remains constant: it is science that is wrong.

Evolution draws on inference from observed phenomena, just as all other science does, but it has now become a talking point in our time that evolution is simply a dogma unto itself, as though it has no better grounding in reality than the early myths manufactured by ignorant mortals determined to believe that some great intelligence -- far greater than themselves -- must have been responsible for the creation of all things and, moreover, that mankind's very existence is critically tied to this grand being and that our form is the form of this God. Such a view is ultimately a narcissism, one that wishes to impart on the faithful that their existence is not only divinely ordained but distinct from and exceptional to all other things. Though science does not aspire to such narcissism and never attempts, in and of itself, to answer metaphysical questions about what was responsible for creation or why it happened, it has become de rigueur amongst the religious right in the United States to claim that science and religion are at odds. For them, science and religion are non-intersecting domains, an either/or proposition. This attitude has not generally changed in this country since the Scopes trial of 1925.

While the American public has grown more accommodating of scientific idea of evolution since the Scopes trial, when the vast majorities of this country and others did not believe in evolution, the number of Americans accepting evolution has never much exceeded 50%. But until recent decades, neither science nor religion had ever really been a partisan political issue. That is to say, public piety had never been the sole domain and strength of one party and it certainly never revolved around questions of science. Times, as they say, have changed.

The graph above and the recent Gallup poll clearly demonstrate the effects of the thirty-years Republican march to co-opt the religious right. Invariably these days, discussions within the punditocracy include wonderment as to how Democrats are going to woo the religious voter. But it is the nature of that wooing that has been framed, not by the general public, not by overriding concerns of personal character, but by the Republican party, which has embraced religious nutters and focused unbroken attention on small plate issues such as abortion, gay marriage, evolution and, more recently, stem cell research. These are things that affect almost none of those who claim moralistic concern about them. For the GOP, therein lay the beauty of them; they can rile up the base with little cost and much benefit to themselves.

If the graph above demonstrates anything, however, it is that the Democrats haven't lost all that much ground to the GOP as far as the evolution question is concerned. Fully 40% of Democratic voters "do not believe in evolution." Whether these numbers reflect swings of the faithful to the GOP or that more voters are now willing to admit this, like some badge of righteous legitimacy, is immaterial to the larger issue that the subject of religion and faith is now "on the table" and seen as a vital part of the political dialogue of everyone, not just in presidential races, but probably in most political races and at every level of government. It is important to note that these so-called discussions remain extremely limited in scope; to those issues that the GOP and its co-opted religious right have already determined to be the pressing issues. Of course, actual behaviour within this limited scope is rarely called into question in such forums, which is vital for the extremely hypocritical actions of the Republican party and their pious acolytes.

To anyone who has been watching the mainstream coverage of the presidential debates, candidates are now routinely asked about their faith and even explicitly about their belief in evolution. This is a frightening development for the future of this country. Until recently, the United States once prided itself on its technological preeminence and scientific advances. In some small circles, that still may ring true, but not in our political realm and therein lies the danger. Because politics pandering to ignorance will be, among other deaths, the death of science here. This won't be swift, of course, but it is already happening, as scientists flocked elsewhere after the asinine stem cell research bill, one of George Bush's first carbuncle policies pandering to the religious right. Today, South Korea is now at the fore and America's "culture of life" is directly responsible for the one of the largest humanitarian disaster on the globe while our pious leaders espouse a fondness for policies of torture, pointless and indefinite incarceration, secret prisons and more war. Torquemada would be proud.

A political orthodoxy has been developed, and purposefully so, within which these ridiculously irrelevant, personal positions have become crucial to candidates. That we had three GOP candidates, on a nationally televised debate, affirm that they did not believe in evolution indicates a deep and troubling rift with a rational world view, the one which founded this country. Sadly, as this recent poll indicates, these three candidates were actually in tune with the majority of their party's voters and that such a position would probably positively sway these voters, rather than positions on the war in Iraq, health care or the growing number of poor in the country. It is all deeply cynical. And, once again, the "people" will be placated, not by the hope of building a better world here, but by the opiate of religion, a religion that views existence on this earth as a mere way station to some imagined heaven. Is this the future of politics in this country? catering to the throngs who would rather be somewhere else?