Thursday, December 13, 2007

Religion + Government = Taliban

Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are both trying to give each other a run for their money on the subject of religion. In the vein of, "I'm more religious than you are," or "My religion works better than yours." Both of them are blowing spectacular holes in the ideal that there should be no religious litmus test in order to be elected in this country. It would appear that a religious litmus test may be the only thing that allows someone to be elected on the Republican ticket.

Mitt, in his recent speech at the George HW Bush Presidential Library, said, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."

Yeah... Like in Saudi Arabia, where religion pretty much runs things. Neat-O!

Of course, the Dem candidates are going, "I'm religious, too!!!" all over the place and embarrassing the rest of us. Progressives would rather that you mention that you have religion, or faith, or whatever you call it, and then shut the hell up. As long as you don't pray to God for scientific information, or directives on reproductive rights, we don't care if you pray to God or Dog or Bob or whoever.

UFOs bother us a little, but nevermind.

The Huckster, on the other hand, may believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Adam and Eve were an actual, ya know, item. Ask him straight out, and his current response is "well, I can't be sure, because I wasn't there when it happened." Hmm... That would pretty much invalidate most scientific arguments, wouldn't it? Maybe the dinosaurs were here the same time as humans. Can't be sure, because none of us were here at the time. Testable, provable scientific facts can be discounted, because we don't have any actual direct experience of such things. Like air. Can't see air. Maybe it's something else.

So, Mitt is running away from his record in Massachusetts as a too-liberal Republican governor.

And Huckabee is running away from his speeches as a Baptist preacher.

In the race for president, the Republican direction appears to be "away."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Subprime And Proud Of It!

As with many interesting situations that HAVE for certain been created by both Bush and the previous Congress, the Subprime mortgage thingie can be traced way back to the fifties, when credit cards became available. As our banking and consumer systems have progressed, weird things keep happening.
  • You can no longer take interest payments on anything other than mortgages as a deduction from income off your taxes. This changed in the mid seventies.
  • Savings interest rates have gone from 5.5% (back when I was dropping a buck a week into a savings account) down to 2-3%.
  • Institutions like Money Tree (and other check-cashing places) have grown by leaps and bounds, and most are owned by large financial institutions, such as CitiBank and Wells Fargo. Generally patronized by poor and retired folks.
  • The Bankruptcy bill, passed in 2005, essentially says that if you're a corporation, you can declare bankruptcy, but if you're an individual, you pretty much can't, or if you do, you still have to pay back what you owe. So, if you can't pay, you can declare bankruptcy, and you still have to pay what you can't afford to pay. Makes sense, huh?
  • If you fall behind on credit card payments, most credit card companies will raise your interest rate, which will usually put the borrower further behind.
  • Banking deregulation started in the 1980s, under Reagan (remember the Savings and Loan Crisis?). It continued through Clinton. It has been enhanced during Bush II.
  • Alan Greenspan (former head of the Fed) was responsible (under Bush II) for influencing regulations by saying whether or not certain banking practices should (or should not) be regulated. He claims - now - that he saw the subprime crisis coming, but if you look at what he said about subprime lending while he was still at the Fed, he didn't seem to have a problem with it at the time.
Most house-flippers are set up as LLCs. If they can't sell a home and then go bankrupt, they will be forgiven some or all of their debt. Poor folks who were suckered into buying homes at low interest rates, when in the past they would never have qualified, will still have to pay off their houses even if they file for bankruptcy. Or else they will lose their homes and all the money they've put into them.

I have been offered a credit card (for example) that was sold to me at an APR of 12%. When I received the first statement, it turned out to be 12% over PRIME (which put it around 22% at the time). Many people have been lied to, snookered, hoodwinked, cheated. Because they believed that it is their right to imagine they could own a home in their lifetime. Places like Countrywide fed that dream with promises of homeownership, and because everything on TV says "you deserve" this or that, people believe they deserve it, and sign on the dotted line.

When people talk about economics, it sounds like they're trying to run with the Invisible Hand theory of Adam Smith (the orginal capitalist), and under normal circumstances, they're not wrong - the market can generally be pretty fair. However, when banking concerns and financiers have more of the lawmakers' ears than the general public, the game is rigged in their favor.

As Voltaire said long ago, "when bankers are jumping out the windows, follow them - there's probably money in it."

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Wolfman's Back! (and we're gonna be in trouble)


Can't we just lose this guy in the woods somewhere and be done with him? Considering his ability in predicting things, I say we put him in charge of the weather somewhere, and he'll do a lot less harm.


Paul Wolfowitz, one of the former members of the Bush administration, is being rehired by Condoleeza Rice as the chairman of the International Security Advisory Board (he'll be filling the Fred Thompson spot).

A little history of Mr. Wolfowitz: besides his appearance in Fahrenheit 9/11 (licking his comb to control his unruly hair - eeew), Paul Wolfowitz has been in government in one form or another since the 70s. And yet, amazingly, has learned very little about how to fight wars, or run government agencies, or work in a way that won't get him fired. An "expert" on the Middle East, he nonetheless pushed for war in Iraq, thinking that the warring factions that had been held away from each other's throats by a military dictator for decades would suddenly behave like old college chums the moment the dictator was gone.

But you know, Iraq is "floating on a sea of oil." That makes all the trouble worthwhile.

So, after prediction after prediction has gone spectacularly wrong (see what I mean about being a weatherman? he'd be perfect), he finally resigned from the Bush Administration, only to be appointed to head the World Bank.

His brief tenure at the World Bank was marked with a single scandal that rapidly morphed into a huge hideosity that eventually got him to resign. He promoted, then relocated, then promoted, and gave huge raises to, his girlfriend. Surprisingly, most people in the World bank (not the most philanthropic of institutions, no matter what their press releases may say) felt that this particular giveaway was perhaps a little too much. So he resigned in some disgrace.

At least I hope it was in disgrace.

But no matter - if you f**k up spectacularly in a major position in the Bush administration, then f**k up equally spectacularly in another job involving foreign policy and finance, you can always find a job.

In the Bush Administration!

In this case, he will be chairing a committee that looks at International Security for the State Department and will be instrumental in formulating policy and predicting the moves that the government should take based on how they read the signs.

You know, like dowsing rods, or phrenology.

Yup - we're doomed. Again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You Are Charged With... Stuff

In the latest offering of Good News From Gitmo, we now hear more and more details of how the current group of indefinite detainees ("Enemy Combatants" - don't get me started) were actually given the distinction.

The folks charged with, well, charging them, were not allowed to see the classified information that was used against the detainees in order for them to be picked up and brought to our lovely hunk of Cuba. The years of experience required to fulfill this particular task is apparently one year of work outside of law school (or possibly a Batchelor's in carpentry, it didn't seem clear). So they can't ask the CIA, the NSA or the DIA. Even within their own systems, if they're not part of a particular "community of interest," they would be blocked from retrieving data that normally wouldn't be considered classified. So they rely on interrogations of other detainees to find out whether you need to be a detainee yourself. Like, the guy cuffed to the seat next to you on the plane.

Sounds reliable to me...

Oh, and there's one more little bit of data they use to convict you of being permanently detained: your association with "Groups with Terrorist Associations." Like the various Muslim charitable groups that may or may not have been used to funnel money to terrorists, by feeding the poor. Feeding people - that's the same thing as promoting terrorism, right? You're feeding them, therefore you're promoting their ideals. And if you've given money to a "Group with Terrorist Associations," you're a terrorist.

Which reminds me, never give money to the Catholic church. They are, after all, associated with pedophile associations. Or they kind of are a pedophile association. Because if you give money to the Catholics, that would make you a pedophile, right? Right???

In other news, Dennis Kucinich was at Fort Benning, GA to protest the School of the Americas, now known as WHINSEC (can't remember what that stands for - click the link for the Wiki). He was joined (as he is every year) by a large group of protesters, who think that, as a country that espouses democracy and other quaint ideas, maybe we shouldn't have a school for torture, guerrilla warfare (usually used against the democratically elected leaders) and general mayhem. Many Latin American countries have been the beneficiary of SOA graduates, who usually end up with names like Death Squads, rapists, war criminals, etc.

Remember, you're either with the terrorists or against them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Beware the Falafel Bomb

I couldn't make this one up if I tried.

The FBI in the San Francisco Bay Area was looking for a spike in falafel sales to track Iranian spies/infiltrators.


I need more than a drink at this point. If they had done this while the Dead was still touring, or even Phish... Now we're looking more at Indigo Girls, maybe Ani diFranco.

Boy, if we ever get need to worry about Irish infiltrators, are we going to track the sales of Bushmills or Guinness? How about the Italians - a spike in ravioli sales, maybe?

The article mentions that the FBI supervisor that eventually squashed this investigation was concerned with the idea that it might be illegal to track people by food consumption. If that's the case, why do we let grocery stores do it anyway, with all of those "frequent customer cards" they pass out to everyone.

Oh, yeah, he also mentioned it was "ridiculous."


How stupid do we have to be? Let's keep stooping to the lowest possible common denominator, until we start tracking illegal immigrants by spikes in sales of avocado.

In more interesting news, there is a way to protest the treatment of the Buddhist monks in Burma: send the ruling junta your unwashed panties, ladies - apparently it freaks them right out.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Dogs of War, Indeed

Blackwater Worldwide is a criminal organization that murders indiscriminately and bilks the American taxpayer out of our hard-earned cash.

Sue me.

On February 7th of this year, three guards, Nabras Mohammed Hadi, Azhar Abdullah al-Maliki, and Sabah Salman. working at the Iraqi Media Network, were shot by sniper fire from a Blackwater specialist on the rooftop of the Justice Ministry, across the square from the Network. Someone was insisting they be allowed to park in the traffic circle in the square below (which isn't allowed as everyone is worried about car bombs), and Hadi (on the balcony above) engaged the folks below him, raising his AK-47 to a ready position in case things got ugly. The Blackwater sniper shot him dead. The Iraqi guard's buddies saw him drop, ran up, trying to stay behind the low wall of the balcony. Al-Maliki stuck his head up a little, and took a bullet in the neck from the Blackwater sniper. He didn't die right away. His friends managed to get both of them off the balcony. Salman (unarmed) went up later to collect the AK-47, and was apparently shot in the side and died. He never made it to the rifle.

Capt. Ahmed Thamir Abood, the head of the security detail of the IMN, approached the Blackwater guards in the square below the balcony where the guards were shot, he asked to speak to someone in charge. At which point, the Blackwater personnel decided it would be the right moment to act like the Marx brothers: "He's in charge." "No, he's in charge." etc. The fellow they were guarding (a thirty-something white guy in a blue suit), came out of the Justice Ministry flanked by more Blackwater personnel, jumped into an SUV, and sped off, all the while ignoring the entreaties from Abood. The remaining Blackwater fellas dropped smoke grenades, jumped into their vehicle, and sped off towards the Green Zone.

Thanks to CPA Order 17, security contractors in Iraq are immune from prosecution in Iraq for any crime they commit against Iraqi military or civilians. That's the Coalition Provisional Authority, by the way.

The Iraqi guards were paid the equivalent of $231 US per month. Each of the Blackwater guys are making (on average) $850 per day. The TV station was able to help pay for the burials of these three men, and hired one member of each of their families in order to help out with the lost income.

The State Department, after talking to no one at the TV Station (by their own admission), and pretty much getting all their information from the Blackwater personnel, determined that the shooting was justified, and no money would be forthcoming to the families of the slain guards. Blackwater claimed they were defending themselves against precision small-arms fire, but no evidence has been shown to prove that. Even if it was an unprovoked killing, as far as anyone can determine, at worst these Blackwater personnel face being fired and shipped home.

But that's all.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Narf! (with apologies to Pinky)

Really, really sick of it all. Michael Mukasey (an otherwise reputable legal mind) has simply refused to comment on whether or not waterboarding is torture. And while that sort of mealy-mouthed behavior is nothing less than normal from anyone living in the white part of Washington, DC, doing it in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee should have been career suicide.

Then again...

Waterboarding (for those of you unfamiliar with the game) is a nasty way to get information, and in some cases a nasty way to die. The victim is strapped to a board, feet elevated above the head, and either water is poured directly over the victim's face, or the victim has a cloth wrapped over his/her face and water is poured over that. Either way, tastes like drowning. Elevated blood pressure, elevated heart rate, water up the nose, into the lungs. Folks who have been waterboarded report PTSD when it rains. Some people die (either of actual drowning or heart attack due to the sheer terror of drowning). And, strangely enough, when this sort of thing was done during WW II (by the Japanese), we made sure that the folks who did it went to jail for a long time.

We signed on to the Geneva accords a long time ago, which makes the Geneva laws both quaint and as much a part of the Constitution as that whole "We the People" thing. So, this is considered torture, and the Geneva Conventions say we can't torture anyone for any reason.

Now Senators Feinstein and Schumer have voted to allow Mukasey's nomination to go up for approval. Many of their constituents have protested. (I'd be upset about Arlen Spector's pre-vote stance saying that this whole business was "troubling," just not "troubling" enough for him to not confirm the guy - except that he's a Republican, so it's no big surprise) The reason these two Dems caved in are pure political pragmatism - if Bush can't have Mukasey, then he will appoint someone during a recess, or appoint an acting AG. And we might get someone scaaaaarier than Alberto Gonzales.

They claim they are worried about a vacuum of leadership in the Justice Department. I believe we already had that with Gonzo, but whatever.

Then we have the erstwhile work of the previous AG, still holding sway, even though he's not really there anymore. The Shrub can say with certainty that "we don't torture" because Gonzo privately redefined torture in various secret memos.

Proud to be on the side of the angels, like Pol Pot and other friendly folk.

Friday, October 12, 2007

mAnn Coulter = Perfect Jew

And so it goes.

mAnn Coulter has now claimed that Jews just need to be "perfected" in order to achieve Christianity. Or that Christians are Jews who have been perfected from being Jewish.

I wish I was kidding, but it's true. And I think s/he's bats**t crazy.

I recognize where s/he's coming from. Being an atheist, I have done a little study into the world's religions (know thine enemy - the reason I also own a Barney CD), and what I get from reading the Old Testament vs. the New Testament is that the Talmud is essentially the Old Testament with some translation issues. The New was added when Jesus Christ came along, said he was the Messiah, son of God, etc., and enough people believed him enough to write about it.

Thus was born the modern, Blue Jeans Bible.

However, Msr. Coulter can't sell books unless s/he annoys a huge number of people, so s/he says something truly heinous, lots of right-wing wackos come to herm defense, and book sales go up because people want to see what other awful things s/he has to say.

Only this time, the right-wing wackos have decided s/he's finally gone one step too far.

Scarborough has said he thinks s/he needs to re-read the New Testament. Donny Deutsch (the person s/he was being interviewed by when these awful words came out of herm mouth) has said enough, never gonna talk to herm again. And the Today Show (in the person of Meredith Viera) said maybe we shouldn't invite herm to our show anymore either.

Children, the tides have turned, and they're gonna bury that wo/man into obscurity.

Oh, shoot. The FOX network still probably loves herm.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Who to be Angry with the Most

After my earlier post, even more stuff comes out, and the mind boggles. Continuously.

Blackwater continues to be in the news (though ever so slightly in the big news). Via an industry contractor from Australia. This is not Blackwater's fault, by the way, just want to make that clear. But it is a byproduct of the brains behind such companies.

Two Christian Iraqi women were killed in their car by contractors from an Australian security firm. They didn't move out of the way of the convoy fast enough. That's good enough cause, I'm sure. As Blackwater contractors have said, "we have to view every Iraqi as a potential threat, and treat them as such. If they don't move fast enough, we have to get them to move, no matter what happens." People have had their cars wrecked, been shot at, or shot dead. And guess how many of these contractors, Blackwater or otherwise, have been prosecuted for any crimes at all?


Here's the part I find the most interesting. When Darth Cheney was Secretary of Defense under Bush 1, he had this neat idea of privatizing the functions of various chunks of the military. "Why should soldiers cook? Isn't their job to fight, to defend? They should only need to learn those functions that a professional soldier should have to do."

Kill. And stay alive at any cost. Or keep their men alive.

All of which I find laudable. Sort of. However, do we really want people working in combat areas who aren't trained soldiers? Forward bases in Vietnam had cooks, drivers, vehicle repair guys, etc., who were also trained in the use of firearms and self-defense. Just in case.

So Cheney began the outsourcing of the military to contractors such as Kellogg, Brown and Root (then a subsidiary of Halliburton). They would build the bases and staff them with trained cooks, drivers, mechanics, janitors, etc.

Then, Bush lost the presidency to Bill Clinton. And Cheney became the CEO of (guess who) Halliburton. Clinton and his Sec. of Defense continued the practice. And when Cheney was asked to find a good VP for Bush 2, he searched long and hard and found - himself! Resigned from Halliburton, eventually got rid of his stocks (putting them into a blind trust - meaning he doesn't know that they're doing well, I guess, unless perhaps he reads the financial pages of any f**king newspaper). And he's still drawing a deferred salary as part of his exit compensation package.

Before Iraq, Blackwater's finances were circling the drain. They had developed a business model that needed a war to succeed. Not the war, the business model. If the war succeeded, the business would then be back to waiting and training for the next war. Another interesting facet of all of this: Blackwater claims that none of the people they have in Iraq (except a few supervisors) are "employees." They're actually "contractors."

Wow. Birth of the war "temp."

Who make something like ten times what the soldiers they're "augmenting" make. Some of whom come from a military background of dubious moral origins, such as Pinochet's bodyguard, or ex-death squad guys from El Salvador. The eighties just keep on payin'. And strangely enough, lots of American officers and soldiers decide not to re-up their contracts with the military, and go to work as contractors for Blackwater.

The difference is, the military is a non-profit organization, while Blackwater isn't. Blackwater (as required by its corporate papers) is required to make a profit off of its business. Nothing wrong with that. But how does that square with fiscal conservatives? Doesn't spending more money on warfighting mean we've gone against conservative economic principle?

Not that I've suddenly become a right-wing nutball, by any means. However, I do see the use of making a soldier do some menial chore (like peeling potatoes, a favored image of punishment in the military), rather than paying a contractor ten times as much to do the same job with a big fat smile on his wallet.

President Johnson promised he would be able to deliver "guns and butter" during the Vietnam war. That we no longer had to sacrifice to have a war, because we'd built such a wonderfully powerful war infrastructure. Also known as the "military-industrial complex" that President Eisenhower warned us against. We're still paying for Vietnam, literally. A large part of the yearly government budget is paying for wars of the past.

President Shrub and Darth Cheney and Rummy and Wolfowitz and Feith have given us a situation where we can have "guns and HDTV." We're mortgaging our future to fight a war of choice against a population (it's not about Saddam anymore, folks) that doesn't want us there. And one of the reasons they hate us more than ever are private contractors such as Blackwater and Halliburton.

And of course, we're bankrupting the country, selling debt to China and the Saudis. Who may one day call in the loan and kill us off, once and for all.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Too... many... jokes.......

Not sure how much more of this I can do. There comes a point at which the brain starts just doing the whole "boojie-boojie-boojie" thing, and coherent thought loses.

Larry "wide stance" Craig has decided to finish his term. Fair enough. He wants to be in the Senate to fight the ethics probe of him, regarding his unlawful sexual conduct at a men's room at Minneapolis airport, fine. Be in the senate. Get kicked out anyway.

Cause you're a yucky homo!!!

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The security contract firm, Blackwater, is being investigated by the FBI for the shooting of a number of Iraqi civilians, who were either terrorists (if you listen to Blackwater), or innocent bystanders (if you believe the Iraqis). The FBI is going to Baghdad. Their security detail? Blackwater. Shades of that new movie, The Kingdom, but without all the kicking ass and whupping the bad terrorist people. Only this time, it's an American firm that's going around indiscriminately killing the dark brown people, rather than the dark brown people indiscriminately killing the good white folks.

In other good news, mAnn Coulter is using the phrase "Camel Jockeys" in polite conversation, and in her new book, "Why Liberals Still Suck Ass." Or something like that. And then complains (when called on it), that it's sure changed since we called them Nips and Krauts. Apparently, she's forgotten that we are not at war with every Arab/Persian/Kurd/Turk in the world.

Yes, mAnn, the world has changed. People have tried to become more tolerant of their fellow men,women, and transsexuals. Just like using the "N" word in Harlem will likely get you a beat down if you're white, calling a Chinese person a Chink will also get you a similar beat down in Chinatown. And calling an Arab (or other dark-hued Muslims from the middle east - or Brooklyn) a camel jockey would and should get you the beating you deserve.

Because apparently words aren't working anymore. People still buy your heinous books, pay for your heinous personality to appear on talk shows, and allow your heinous Op-Ed pieces to continue to appear in too many newspapers. While I accept free speech, even the right of persons to lie to my face, I want to help your career to take a downturn. I want you to die a poor person.

Maybe a little humility would make you a better person, mAnn. Wealth sure hasn't helped.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Iraq=Vietnam=WWII=Lemon Meringue Pie

Let's face it - George W Bush has never cracked a book about modern warfare, nor modern history, in his entire life. Or if he has, he's put them right back down again, because there weren't enough "pitchers."

This morning, he brought up the quagmire that is Iraq, and compared it to the quagmire that was Vietnam, saying something to the effect that though reasonable people might disagree why we got into either conflict, we shouldn't make the same mistakes we made in Vietnam again in Iraq, i.e., pulling out before we've "won."

Actually reasonable people do agree why we got into both conflicts - lies. And reasonable people (i.e., historians and other "liberals") know why neither conflict was/is winnable, in the way that WWII was. If you don't know anything about the country you're "helping" you might end up hurting instead. And in the case of Hitler, we could sorta really see a threat, there.

We were lied into Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, where a destroyer was supposedly fired upon by the North Vienamese (commies!). There was no such incident, but the American people were told there was, and a compliant media kept repeating the lie over and over again. Once we were in, our Generals kept talking about "winning" and "victory," against a population that pretty much didn't want us there, North or South, except for the rulers we installed against the people's will. The population of that country was willing to die to the last person to get us out.

Our president at the time (and now we're talking Nixon) bombed other countries without authorization from Congress (i.e., Cambodia), paid locals and mercenaries to do our dirty work, while CIA agents were dropped into places like Laos to harvest the opium crop, for sale in America, and to our GIs fighting in Vietnam.
So where was the mistake - in leaving the country prematurely? Or by going in in the first place?
(this is not a trick question)

The thing we (should have) learned from Vietnam is: don't assume technological superiority can win the war. You have to have moral superiority over whatever you're replacing. The fact that we went in on a pack of lies wasn't lost on the Iraqis, nor the rest of the world (Great Britain notwithstanding). The fact that we took up where Saddam left off in places like Abu Ghraib really didn't help our cause. Then again, we went into Iraq with our commander-in-chief not knowing beforehand that there were three distinct groups who might all want power on their own terms after the fall of Saddam.
Charles Colson (Chief Counsel for Richard Nixon) had a quote on his wall during the Vietnam war (and pardon my french): "When you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." Problem is, in both Iraq and Vietnam, we never had them by the you-know-whats.

Iraq was a secular dictatorship, not affiliated with any terrorist organization, and not holding any Weapons of Mass Destruction they could use effectively against their neighbors. So we went in to find those WMDs. And to rout the terrorists. And then to impose democracy. In that order. No matter what the facts actually were.

Oh, yeah, and there's all that oil.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Spending more time with his WHAT?!?

Rove Resigns. And there was much rejoicing (all apologies to Monty Python).

Karl Rove, "turd blossom" to George W Bush (and who wouldn't want to be called that by the president?), has finally decide it's time to spend more time with his wife and son (who no longer lives at home). I guess he's going to be spending a lot of time driving between home and his son's college.

Do I care about this? no...

Rove will then be free to be indicted, subpoenaed, annoyed - maybe (if we're lucky) rendered.

All Repugnican stories to the contrary, Rove has been one of the most divisive figures in public office since Richard Nixon. Only difference was, Nixon resigned and was pardoned. If we're lucky, after Rove is back in Texas, he won't be able to provide political cover for his boss anymore. Bush's Brain leaves town? Unthunkable! What will the nukular president do? Rove was the politician's politician. For him, the purpose of political office was to stay in office. Governance was an annoyance, something you did to make it look like you were doing something with the public's money.

Meanwhile, privatize Social Security, Medicare, Veteran's Health, Edumacation, road-building and repair, and half the military.

Karl Rove, and by extension, the Shrub, were not concerned with the government doing anything beyond fighting wars. To Rove the purpose of being in politics had nothing to do with leadership, and everything to do with winning. Winning was all, even to the point of gaming the system. Smearing your opponent was a small fraction of the total effort. It was also important to make sure the fewest number of your opponent's likely voting block made it to the polls. Thus, the US Attorney's scandal was born.

Voter Fraud, the greatest lie of this, the Leastest Generation, is something cooked up by Repugnican operatives to ensure that people of color do not vote. Also helps to keep out those pesky liberal college students. People who read a lot tend to vote democratic. People who watch TV and listen to Rush Limbaugh tend to vote for anything vaguely resembling a patriot, even if the patriot wears a Hitler moustache. "Patriots" by the way, are people who believe that Amurika is the bestest country ever, we do nothing wrong, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a liberal pinko commie surrender-monkey illegal-immigrant-loving terrorist-coddling SOB that should be rendered and then dropped into a country where such awful behaviors would be tolerated.

Like Chechnya, Massachusetts, or maybe Portland, Oregon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Bridge To New Orleans

I haven't spoken much about Katrina, since I have very little experience with New Orleans specifically, and the South in general. I haven't been there to see the devastation, though I have seen Spike Lee's often completely infuriating documentary on the subject. Leaves you with the feeling that everyone in power was to blame, and that they're idiots to boot.

However, let's not let a complete lack of knowledge stop my mouth from chattering on...

It is my understanding that we're still holding fundraising events for the victims of Katrina. The government (in the shape of FEMA, and all it stands on) gave out trailers that are outgassing formaldehyde (more than usual - love that new car/corpse smell!) and making the occupants sick. Good old government contracts - they pay well, and sometimes you get sued. The levees are currently behind in their refitting, and won't really be ready for the next big storm that hits that region.

Oh, good. More dead people. (but, you know - black and poor, so no one will notice so much)

Oh, whoops, I'm sorry, I forgot, all the folks who lived there pretty much moved away, so that the developers can move in a bunch of "market rate" housing, and New Orleans will gradually become whiter and whiter. Greg Palast, I tell ya, the guy just makes me angry every time I read him. So, this time, when these folks' housing gets washed away in the next flood, the insurance companies won't necessarily be able to not pay them, as they did with so many folks who had lived in their homes for decades, paid them off, paid their premiums, etc. The folks that are going to live there will have more money, access to lawyers, and be the right color in the first place.

And a Democrat will be president, so it'll be her fault, anyway.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


We just don't know anymore. The French can build a bridge across an enormous valley, and it's a thing of beauty. We can't even keep our bridges in place.

And people die.

A friend of mine asked me recently, "how long did it take to span the country with a new railroad? And how long is it taking to build a rail line from Tacoma to Seattle?" A distance of about thirty miles. We spent seven years arguing over the cost of putting in a monorail that everyone but the political leaders in Seattle and King County wanted, had five votes on it (the first four all came out a resounding "yes!"), and the last vote was a no because they were going bankrupt. Probably due to all the political infighting to keep the project from coming to fruition. And now we find out that the Light Rail alternative (which we didn't want, but is what we're getting), will be more expensive than originally planned. Duh.

And now, a bridge over the Mississippi has collapsed, taking something like fifty cars and their occupants with it. A bridge that in 2005 was judged to be substandard (but not a danger, yet). The Democratic legislature in the state of Minnesota had brought an infrastructure spending bill to the governor (a Repugnican), who vetoed the whole thing because of a 5-cent/gallon tax increase. He could have line-itemed that out, but he chose to veto the entire bill.

Shrub was doing his press-confrence thing after the collapse, and immediately went into blaming the newly-elected Democratic Congress for not passing the spending bills that were due (and none of which would have affected whether this particular bridge would have stayed up). He also pointed out that the legislature is going into summer recess without having passed the bill onto him yet. This from a President that has spent more time on vacation than any other President in history.

It seems to me that we, as Americans, have abdicated all responsibility for everything. We don't fix things, we don't build things (unless it's private enterprise, of course). We sit back, hiding behind our hands, and hope that the problems that we think might be coming down the pipeline won't affect us, but maybe the next guy. And we wait. We need a president who is willing to tell us not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear. It's pessimistic and unpleasant, but until someone in a leadership position gives us and the Congress the scolding we so richly deserve, this country will fall apart, one piece at a time, and we'll sit back, and watch it all on CNN.

Until, of course, our own roof caves in. "Gee, how did that happen?"

I'm no better. I work my ass off to make enough money to be pretty comfortable. My job sends me all over hell and gone, so I can't reliably volunteer for anything, unless the folks involved are really understanding. Most people are worse off than I am. But we keep electing people who tell us happy nonsense. I saw a bumper sticker on a guy's car this morning that said, "Proud to be American."

I'm not anymore.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Uncertainly Not!

Scooter gets a semi-free pass.

Still gonna cost him a few bucks, but maybe all those folks who were clamoring for his release will pony up the quarter million he owes in fines. The New York Times is all sad, but still thinks this was fair.

Poor wittle baby.

Shrub commutes Scooter's sentence to time served (none) and a fine, plus his felony conviction still stands. Which is good, maybe he won't be able to vote wherever he lives. Or something. Disbarred, one hopes. He'll have to make some sort of honest living.

Or else become a political consultant or lobbyist. (which one do YOU think is more likely?)


Elsewhere the spin machines are in overdrive, the US Attorneys' scandal is now moving into the sixth or so month of controversy, and the phrase Executive Privilege is being tested for all it's worth in the newspapers of record. Hillary Clinton has said we're safer since 9/11. Barack Obama has stated with a straight face that the Bush administration has not yet done anything worthy of impeachment.

Do these people read the paper?


Michael Moore's film has started to make a fairly large splash. He reports on his website that the distribution company is letting it into at least 200 more screens. Moore may be strident, and a bit of a blowhard some times, but what he's talking about in SiCKO is where this country should have gone years ago. We're very low-ranked in terms of the health of our citizenry, and I suspect that part of the reason for this is how low-ranked we are in the intelligence of our citizenry. An uninformed, uneducated citizenry believes everything they tell us, no matter how transparently false it may be. And we've been sold, year after year, about the inefficiency of government-run anything. Except, of course, in places where these sorts of things actually work (France, England, Canada), or when perhaps the country doesn't spend every available bit of capital on new and better guns, planes, tanks and bombs.

We spend 43% ($420 billion) of our Gross Domestic Product on the military. The next highest spender is China, at 6% ($62.5 billion). They have about triple our population. For those leftos who want to protest the war, or protest the warrantless wiretapping, or anything else for that matter, protest this first. No country should spend this much of their capital on the machines of death, least of all when constantly talking about spreading peace.

Monday, July 2, 2007


A dear friend of mine is currently getting her Master's in International Relations. I think that's what it is. She is sending me articles by Tom Friedman, all about the wonders of globalization, and how the United States is so far behind everyone, mostly in terms of education.

Which is unfortunately true. We crank out the dumbest bunch of louts the world has seen in many a decade, who don't read the newspaper and don't think for themselves very much, and who don't speak out much, except for the phrase "I want..."

Yes, I'm a curmudgeon.

Friedman goes on and on about how great it is in India, to where many things (such as software development) are outsourced, and how it's the US' fault, because we don't educate our children well enough to compete against these people. What he doesn't mention is wages, which are quite a bit lower in India.

It would be great (in that old world, the ideal one) were we to have a fully educated populace, where everyone gets a shot a college (because we're all so darn smart), or else physically gifted and can play sports for money. The proponents of globalization all talk about outsourcing this and outsourcing that, while American workers are supposed to somehow benefit from all this outsourcing by having everything made elsewhere for cheaper. Meanwhile, with better eucational programs, more Americans can become Systems Engineers, Software Engineers, Architects, Lawyers, Doctors, Tailors, Road-pavers, toilet attendants... experimental subjects...

How does America's economy perform when we manufacture nothing anyone else wants, except consumers? How do the rank and file benefit? Is everyone going to be playing the stock market, while people in other countries do the actual work? As Phil Knight once so famously said, "Maybe Americans don't want to make shoes..." If we lay off all our workers, and they can get work at factories built by foreign companies in the United States, who send all their profits back to Japan or Germany (or wherever). Meanwhile, General Motors makes all of their cars in Mexico or Brazil, where labor & safety standards are lower, and these are sold in the US, to people who don't have to work?

How will it all, well, work?

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Dear King George the W:

Stop talking.

Just stop f**king talking.

No one wants to listen to you mangle the English language any more. Adding "er"s to words does not make new words, it just makes you sound really really stupid, and it embarrasses the rest of us, your loyal (comatose) subjects.



Decider (actually, this is a word - it just sounds kinda dumb)

I mean --- come ON...

And the whole bringing peace to Afghanistan and Iraq thing? When would that be happening? Why would you even think of saying that with a straight face to a Mosque fulla Muslims?!?


In other news, Patrick Leahy's committee has issued subpoenas to pretty much everyone in the Executive Branch, the Justice Department, and the NSA concerning documents relating to the warrantless wiretapping of, well, everyone else.


This is the miracle stain-remover that VeeP Cheney has been trying to get the morality bleached outta his underpants for the last five years, only now the mean old Senate ain't buying. Cheney didn't think the Senate had any right to Nixon's tapes, either. Unfortunately, the Supes back then aren't the same Supes now, and Scalia is likely to say, well, Executive Privilege does apply in this case, as we're at war. Secrets are important to be kept from the American public. Like whether the White House was wiretapping protest groups or commies or subversives like that there. That's a secret.

More interesting news - thanks to the Stephanie Miller Show (AM1090 in the Seattle area), we now know the names of some of the new Army operations occurring in Iraq at the moment. And they're funny without meaning to be. Like Operation Commando Eagle.

As the SM show says, so this is an eagle without underpants?

My other favorite - Operation Arrowhead Ripper.

(cue loud heavy metal music)

Silly little boys, making up names for their green army men games.

Actually, the last one makes a certain amount of sense. There is a character in Stanley Kubrick's "Doctor Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb" (yes, that's really the full title of that movie): General Jack D. Ripper, who sends his entire Air Force bomber wing to attack their Soviet targets in order to "preserve our precious bodily fluids."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cheney vs Cheney

I want to use the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of reference for the things Dick Cheney is saying these days, but as he's both Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyde, there isn't an individual that even comes close.


Back in the early days of the Cheney Vice-presidency, he told us that he couldn't give us all the names of the folks he had on his Energy Task Force. "Executive Privilege." oooookay.

So we don't know if anyone from Greenpeace was there (unlikely), but we're pretty sure "Kenny-Boy" Lay was probably invited.

And now that the National Archive has come calling to determine what and how Cheney's office classifies, he's saying he doesn't have to give up anything, as (by virtue of the fact that he's also President of the Senate), his office is in the Legislative Branch of government, not the Executive.

Rahm Emmanuel has said, Well fine, if he's only part of the leigslative branch, then we're not funding his office under the Executive Branch anymore, and he's going to have to start laying off all those people whose names he won't give us.

Oh, yeah, that's another little anomaly: Cheney won't tell anyone who works for him at all. I guess we only find out about them if they get indicted for lying to the FBI. Or maybe if he shoots them in the face, and they're forced to apologise for putting Cheney and his family through the awful ordeal.

Tony Snow refers to the de-funding as "Playing Politics." I have news for Mr. Snow - politics is money. And Cheney started this little game when he claimed Executive Privilege with one breath and the opposite with the next. It's fine if you want to claim insanity, Sybill, but don't act all surprised if we take you at your word - and have you committed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Top Ten - Starting with 10 (and no particular order)

We could do so much better...

10. School of the Americas

To quote SOA Watch:
The School of the Americas (SOA), in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” or WHINSEC, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.

Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, disappeared, massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.

Alumni of this little School include: Former Salvadoran army officer Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, convicted for the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her 14-year-old daughter, arrested by federal agents on October 18 in Los Angeles, California; Army Commander in Chief Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda, who helped lead a failed coup in Venezuela in 2002; Roberto D'Aubuisson, who, in 1980, planned and ordered the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, beloved champion of the poor in El Salvador. D'Aubuisson was the first person I'd ever heard associated with the term "Death Squad."

This is just a very, very tiny sampling of the SOA's alumni. And it still exists.

The simple fix: Shut it down.

Now and forever. It does us no good to be training people in how to oppress their own citizens. Several Latin American countries have withdrawn all of their soldiers or cops or both from the school, as they feel it is anti-democratic. Interestingly enough, these folks include Oscar Arias (Costa Rica), Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), and Argentina and Uruguay. All fairly left-wing. Your average right-wing dictator loves the SOA!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Things that make you want to go hfruhhuhhh

What am I - STOOPID?



So the Shrub gets his war funding bill and in an inspired moment of Presidential Comedy, VETOS it.

2nd veto of his presidency. First one was for stem-cell research.

Right. Parkinson's Disease is good for you, so is more war.

My wife and I are discussing children, but every time we talk about the education system, and how it pretty much sucks, but we can't afford private education, and then how the political situation is affecting the economic situation, and do we want to bring our children into a world where the middle class has vanished, and we just start spiraling and I want to drive my car into a bridge abutment.

I just saw An Inconvenient Truth. If anyone is interested in a used Ford Ranger, I'm desperate to sell this gas-guzzling behemoth (and it's a SMALL truck), and replace it with a tiny hybrid or electric car. I'm also reading The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, by Greg Palast, and he doesn't make me feel too good about Mr. Gore either. That or Al Gore is a little gullible in his dealings with big smokestack industries. Carbon Trading indeed...

There is no market-based solution to improve the environment! Can we just agree on that? Markets work to increase capital, not for the betterment of people. Government has to step in and step on many corporate toes to get them to behave. Regulation does actually work. It may be onerous, but other countries manage to have many regulations and still have corporations that work just fine.

Meanwhile, back in the land of "let's kill us some commies" - oops, sorry - "aaa-rabs," Mr. Shrub feels it is important not to tell the enemy exactly when we will be bugging out of Iraq. He wants it to be a surprise. Better still, he wants the next president to arrange the surprise party for the troops that are still there (assuming any are left).

You're dead.
Seriously. The troops need to come home, now. We need to stop building the world's largest American Embassy. We need to re-think how we approach foreign policy altogether. Every single administration since Teddy Roosevelt has dabbled in foreign fun for the sake of American Interests, and pretty much none of it has turned out well for the indigenous population or (ultimately) the American Interests in question. It's called blowback, and we do it better than most. See my previous posts for Interventions.
Next week: the top ten reasons why America is not a moral beacon for anyone, but how it could be.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shooting off one's...

So the Right has spoken: "Gun control is not only not the answer, it's the anti-answer - more guns at school!" Gun Owners of America spokesman on NPR yesterday: "If students or teachers were allowed to carry weapons on school campuses, the tragedy at Virginia Tech could have ended much sooner."

So, I'm a cop, trying to make my way into the school, and the only report I've had so far is that there is a person with a handgun, walking around campus, shooting people. I see someone with a handgun. I shout, "POLICE! FREEZE!" That person turns to look at me, and I fire. They had a gun. They just weren't the shooter. The killings continue, and I've just shot an innocent bystander.

My other favorite scenario: I'm the only student in a particular classroom with a gun, I walk out into the hallway to see if I can at least clip the shooter, slow him/her down. There are four other students in the hallway, all packing guns. Which one do I shoot? Why wouldn't one of them shoot me? And of course, I won't hesitate, as I'm a fully trained firearms expert, not just a kid with a pistol...

Another brilliant concept: "Where were the heroes? Couldn't someone have tackled this guy early on and stopped him?" Of course, I'm sure the writers of these little screeds would be right up there, launching themselves on a guy carrying two semi-auto pistols with different reloading periods. Or would they. like the other prudent folks in that college, be barricading themselves behind a door, cowering under desks, playing dead, anything not to get shot.

One topic covered by many but misunderstood by most, was that the shooter was using one fairly lethal gun and one less lethal, i.e. the 9mm Glock was somehow more deadly than the .22 caliber Walther. As any forensic pathologist will tell you, yes, the big bullet makes a larger hole, but the little bullet will often take the scenic route, coming in at, say, your hip, and possibly exiting somewhere near your shoulder, bouncing off every bone in between. In most cases, the cops are at least as afraid of a 22, because while a vest will definitely stop a straight shot from a 9mm pistol, a 22 can sneak in under the waistband and still manage to hit your heart.

What to do? Well, after all the blamethrowers have been fired and everyone has gotten the lawsuits off their chests, we can look forward to more waffling by politicians about any kind of background checks or any sort of gun-sale records-keeping. Our former Attorney General, John Ashcroft, made it a policy to erase gun-purchase records after 24 hours, rather than the usual 90 days. This of course, would have prevented anyone from knowing how and where John Allen Muhammed (the DC sniper - remember him?) purchased his illegal firearms. Cho Seung-Hui had been sent to a psychiatric facility and was on suicide watch, yet still managed to get past a background check to purchase two firearms.

As Bowling For Columbine showed, gun ownership does not necessarily equal murder. Canada has more guns per capita than the United States, and yet Toronto, one of their largest cities, only had 61 homicides in 2004, 32 by handgun. Baltimore, Maryland had 269 homicides that year, more than two-thirds by handgun. The Virginia Tech shootings equaled one year's worth of handgun murders in a Canadian city with a population of approximately 3 million.

I agree with Michael Moore's assessment of American culture, and the news in general: we are living in fear of each other. We are specifically afraid of the others in our midst: whites if you're black, blacks if you're white, etc., etc. We resent those who've done better than we have, and we resent those who are "parasites" on society, the indigent. We blame the victim for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Interestingly, a University in Sweden recently concluded a study that proved that suicides go up in England when the Conservatives are in charge of the government. They reasoned that if Labor had been in power, more than 35,000 people would not have killed themselves. I wonder if anyone has looked at the statistics in America about the economy versus crime, a truly deep study of all the numbers and all the available jobs, and the crime that results from market downturns, layoffs, etc. Or better still, how does the populace deal with an economy that appears to be doing well, when most people believe they're barely making it?

In the case of Virginia Tech, it appears that the shooter had some deep-seated psychological issues. His writings, which are as disturbing as any movie written by Andrew Kevin Walker, appear to be written by someone with a very limited command of the English language. One wonders how he managed to get into college with such poor skills. There are hints of child molestation, murder by hammer and chainsaw, molestation by teachers at school, by step-parents, etc. Many people seemed to think that he was a potential school shooter before he became one. Much more yet to be discovered, I'm sure...

Meanwhile, we can thank our lucky stars that it didn't happen here.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Self-destruction via e-mail/Bad fake soldier, no armor

The longer they operate, the further they get from the truth or reality.

The attorney firings and misplaced e-mail

Background: Clinton was lambasted because his staff were using White House computers for campaign purposes. This was considered a violation of the Hatch Act (passed in the 30s), which prohibits using Federal funds and equipment for anything other than Federal business. So the Republican National Committee fixed the problem by issuing laptops to political operatives working as staffers in the White House. This way they could use the RNCs laptops to do political work from the same office they're doing their actual work.

How not to violate the Hatch Act, as thought up by Republicans. "Clinton did it!" Not like this he didn't.

Now the fun begins. These political operatives include people like Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Alberto Gonzales' staff, etc. So, while they're supposed to be governing, what they're really worried about is whether or not they're going to get elected. Again.

How many Federal work hours were spent writing e-mails about campaign strategies?

And were these laptops used to communicate outside of the standard channels, so no one would know what was being talked about?

I mean, why not use an anonymous system when what you're doing would otherwise be possibly put on public display, and perhaps give someone grounds for legal action against you? Like, oh, impeachment?

Giving the word mercenary a bad name

Al Franken (a massive ego, but funny when he gets it right) has a theory about all of this: the current Republican party believes that government is bad in pretty much all of its forms. So they get elected, and do a really terrible job of it, thus proving that government is bad.

But the way they've done this is to privately contract out many things that the government should be doing. Private enterprise only thinks about making money, and government is only concerned about not spending too much money, and currently they're even ignoring that particular pose. If the Dems can lower spending, and raise taxes at the same time, we might find ourselves living in the land of fiscal responsibility, but it's gonna take a while. Meanwhile, we've privately contracted out Veteran's health care, construction projects the Army Corps of Engineers should be doing, the rebuilding of Iraq, tracking the expenses of rebuilding Iraq (to a one-person firm with no previous experience of this sort of work - neat-o), and even military work. No, not cooking and s**t-burning and all that - soldiering!

Yes, we have approximately the same number of mercenary fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan as we do actual American soldiers. The company's name is Blackwater. They make maybe $350 a day, and we are billed for $950/day. Meanwhile, our soldiers pull down about half what the contractors are paid, and are usually in much more hazardous duty. Except, of course, that Blackwater is trying to fight this on the cheap (more profit that way), and so their soldiers go out sometimes even less well-protected than ours. And ours are chronically short on body armor, on vehicle armor, even on bullets.

Can anyone tell me when a private enterprise has done a better job of a huuuuuuuuge project? Imagine if the internet had been begun by Comcast.

No more interventions, until the next one...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Running in the direction of away

I have to wonder what these guys are going to do after "public" service.

Bush will go back to running oil companies that drill dry wells and make negative money (but he's the ex-Pres, so there's a certain cachet in having him make bad decisions while waiting for the Saudis to bail out the company). Cheney will probably go back into the "government contracting" industry, since I doubt Halliburton will re-hire him. Or will they?

Almost everyone in the Bush administration has gone on to something a little more lucrative.

Tommy Thompson, ex-Secretary of Health and Human Services, has gone onto a profitable career in the medical industry. Fancy that - he regulated it, then he gets to work for it! Perhaps he did a few deals for his friends before he left? He's of course lobbying for firms that he formerly regulated, and I'm sure, doing it out of the goodness of his heart.
John Ashcroft, ex-Attorney General, is now one of the most powerful Repugnican lobbyists on K Street. Most famous for his singing voice, covering up naked statues, leading a prayer group every day, and being anointed with some form of oil on his assumption of the AG post.
Donald Evans, ex-Secretary of Commerce, is currently scouting out a location for the George W Bush Presidential Library, and not finding any takers. Possibly because much of what will be included in the library may be fiction (no, really - they're looking for writers who will "flesh out" the soon-to-be-ex-president's term with buffed-out versions of what actually happened - just what you want as a permanent record of a presidency - fiction).
Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor, made a name for herself in the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think-tank that doesn't approve of organized labor, which is what the Secretary of Labor is supposed to regulate.
Mel Martinez was the Secretary of HUD. He is now the junior Senator from Florida, and won by smearing his primary opponent as being a "friend of homosexuals" for supporting hate-crimes legislation. There was also some question as to who actually won the final election. Florida is still having issues with voter-rolls scrubbing and denying the franchise to some citizens.
Gale Norton, ex-Secretary of the Interior, was a lobbyist for National Lead Industries. Also known to have unfortunately close ties to Jack Abramoff, a now-convicted felon, formerly a lobbyist on behalf of various Indian Tribes and their casinos, something else the Secretary of the Interior has say over.
Robert Zoellick, ex-Undersecretary of State and a US Trade Representative, is now working for Goldman Sachs, fairly soon after Goldman's ex-CEO Hank Paulson was hired by the Bush administration to be Treasury Secretary. While he did some laudable things (like trying to make the world more aware of Darfur, though not doing much about the situation), mostly he was very much a corporate free-trader, knocking down regulations between countries and weakening labor rules in other countries to forward US interests.
Tom Ridge, ex-Homeland Security chief, is on the board of Home Depot and Savi Technologies, neither of which had anything to do with government anything, as far as I know. He is also (inexplicably) an adviser to the government of Albania. Most famous for the color-coded alert system, which moved up and down the scale depending on who was having trouble getting elected.
Then there's those recess appointments, where the Shrub can appoint people who weren't approved by Congress, as long as the Congress is not in session. This last Easter, he appointed three - Sam Fox, a Swift boat supporter, as Ambassador to Belgium; Susan Dudley, a woman who believes that markets can dictate all the regulation anyone needs (over things like arsenic in drinking water, for example), to head the department that oversees regulations on business and things like, oh, arsenic in drinking water; last but not least, Andrew Biggs, former Cato Institute think-tanker, to Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration - which he wants to privatize.
Most famously, the appointment of John Bolton to the post of UN Ambassador. Bolton was so infamous for his hatred of the UN, there was no way in hell he was going to get past even a friendly Repugnican congress. So Bush waited for summer recess, and appointed him anyway. Once his confirmation hearings came up, he voluntarily resigned.

Somalia, 1993 - Boutros Boutros-Ghali (head of the UN at the time) was seen by the majority of the Somali population as a friend to the formerly popular dictator Siad Barre. After a nationalization program to bring Somalia into the 20th century, Barre began trying to bring more and more Somali territory in by invading other countries that had large Somali populations. This included Kenya and Ethiopia. Various clans began fighting Barre's government, as he was seen as responsible for alienating the only international support Somalia had had, the Soviet Union. Barre was ultimately deposed by the Habr Gidr clan, led by Mohammad Farah Aidid. The clans began fighting amongst each other.
To put it nicely, things were not going well in Somalia. Drought, famine, warfare. Hundreds of thousands dead. A meeting was called amongst the warlords, and many sent representatives. During the meeting, in which the discussion turned on "How do we move our country forward?", American helicopters flew by and shot a bunch of missiles into the second floor of the building where the meeting was taking place. Many of the possible reformers of Somalia were killed, and their relatives vowed vengeance.

The UN came in and did their humanitarian thing, bringing in tons and tons of food. Aidid controlled the food supply, and with it, tried to control the country. The UN sent in various peacekeepers in an attempt to get the food to as many people as possible, but it didn't work very well. The UN was still seen as a negative influence in the country. 24 Pakistani soldiers in UN uniforms were killed by Aidid's militia. The US said "enough" and dropped in a few hundred Army Rangers and a few dozen Delta guys. We kept trying to capture Aidid or his lieutenants, and every now and then we got someone important.

The Somalis had learned how to shoot down Black Hawk helicopters from Osama Bin Laden - set up your rocket-propelled grenades with proximity fuses. As soon as it gets close to the tail rotor, BOOM, and the helicopter can't stay airborne. They shot down two of ours on one of these raids, and the Battle of Mogadishu began.

In Mark Bowden's excellent book, "Black Hawk Down", the military engagement is portrayed as an incredibly one-sided battle. The US is seen as concerned about their wounded and dead ("leave no one behind" is a commendable, but often dangerous, US Armed Forces dictum), and the Somalis seem completely unconcerned by their own potential deaths. Many in the politically correct world lambasted the movie as portraying the Somalis as crazed, bug-eyed fighters, the unstoppable primitive. If you read Bowden's book, that is how they looked to the Americans fighting there. Aidid's fighters were generally hopped-up on a drug called khat, a pretty powerful stimulant. They would throw themselves in screaming waves at moderately fortified positions, or (smarter) already had themselves nice fortified positions up in the buildings. In many ways, the fighting in Somalia was a prelude to fighting in Iraq - urban desert warfare in concrete buildings.

While any loss in warfare is tragic, our losses were nothing compared to the Somali's. I believe we ended the battle with about a hundred guys dead. The Somalis lost about 4,000. Congress withdrew funding for military action in Somalia when they heard about the Battle of Mogadishu, which was seen as a disaster. What others saw was that if we were engaged and started losing men, we'd turn tail and run.

Not that I'm suggesting we should have stayed to get shot at. We might have had better success had we had armor and better air cover, but I'm no military strategist.

The other problem was cultural. Which is where we usually miss the point. If you ask the average Somali, "do you want peace?" the response is fairly predictable: "Why, of course I do!" Then you ask, "but what if Aidid is running things?"

"That BASTARD?!?" NEVER..."

So there's this little disconnect - peace is a good thing, so long as it's my guys running the show. Anyone else, and it's war war war.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Iraq and 9/11 Connection PROVED!

In a stunning announcement today, Saddam Hussein (via a medium) admitted that he had been financing Osama bin Laden for years under the mistaken impression that bin Laden was somehow connected to Wheel of Fortune's Pat Sajak, and therefor, to Vanna White, for whom Saddam has had the most powerful crush, ever since he saw her in Playboy.

Wait, what?

In the real news, Halliburton is moving the offices of their CEO and their headquarters to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Also known as the Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf. In this case, Las Vegas designed for really f**king rich people. This is the kind of place where multimillionaires go to blow their bank accounts on hotels and food, where Jim Carrey could easily spend his salary in weekend.

So, it's nice to know that one of the major corporations involved in overcharging our military for basic services is moving to a tax haven. Oh, but they'll remain registered in Texas. Yes... That's reassuring.

Of course, the democrats are a little bit POed. Halliburton's known overcharges to the military during the war in iraq have been reported over and over again, Halliburton's subsidiary, Kellog-Brown-Root (KBR) has been fined a couple of times for gross overcharging (KBR is being spun off, if that's any comfort). Then again, as long as no one is looking, why not overcharge? Halliburton and KBR's contracts are known as "cost-plus" contracts, i.e., they are given a job to do, they bill the government for the job, and the government gives them a little taste (2 to 3 %) on top of the bill for "profit's" sake. Which is all well and good, except that these are "no-bid" contracts. "Just do the work, and bill what you must, we'll give you a little extra for your trouble." So, the more they bill, the more profit they get. Someone overbills, eventually, maybe, someone finds out in the government, they spank KBR or Haliburton, a fine is leveed, and the excess has to be paid back. "oops!"
If no one notices, then no one is fined, and no one has to pay anything back. And oversight has only just become a sport in Washington again. So they may have a bit of a backlog looking up all this nonsense. By which time, perhaps Halliburton will have registered in Dubai after all, and KBR will be left holding the bag for the whole problem.


Panama - 1991 Where to start, where to start. Teddy Roosevelt, that's where! "I took it!", said Pres. Roosevelt, when asked by what right the United States had taken control of the Panama Canal Zone. I didn't know that theft was acceptable under international law.

Well, we'll grandfather this one in.

In 1968 Panama had become a military dictatorship under Omar Torrijos. Not fond of opponents, Torrijos was known for having his political rivals flown over the ocean via helicopter and thrown into the sea, far from any kind of swimming distance to shore. One was even beaten to death in Coiba prison, the whereabouts of his remains unknown. Torrijos was nevertheless a fairly popular ruler, due to his educational and land reforms, guaranteeing every Panamanian citizen a shot at an education through college level for free. The folks who had been brought in to build the canal (primarily from Africa) had always been second-class citizens, and their descendants, as well, were the largest component of the most impoverished sections of Panama. Specifically an area called El Chorillo, in Panama City. Under Torrijos, they got chances for education and employment they'd never had before.

In 1977, Torrijos signed an agreement with President Jimmy Carter, turning over the Canal to the Panamanians at the end of 1999. This was seen in conservative circles in the United States as essentially giving up sovereignty of a US strategic point to a bunch of ungrateful yokels. Ronald Reagan spoke vehemently about the Panama Canal as being as much a part of America as any of the fifty states.
In 1981, just after Reagan had taken office as President, Torrijos was blown up in his plane. After a certain amount of scuffling amongst the various military folks who wanted to run Panama, General Manuel Noriega managed to get the top spot. Central America at the time became very much the hot spot for Reagan to play anti-communist, and so Panama was an important strategic strong-point. Noriega proved a useful ally in the Nicaraguan situation. He had been recruited in the seventies by the CIA (then run by later-to-become President Bush 41). What also occurred was that Noriega was starting to make more and more money as a conduit for various drugs and drug money passing through Panama.
He was also becoming more and more independent from the US, and actually rebuffed their attempts to involve him more directly with the Contras in Nicaragua.
In the late eighties, American forces began clashing openly with Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF), running operations outside the canal zone (in violation of the Treaty). Eventually, tensions got to the point where the PDF stopped and forcibly interrogated a US Army Lieutenant, nearly raping his wife, before releasing them both. This was the flashpoint that brought on the Panama invasion. Thousands of civilians were killed in the invasion, primarily in the neighborhood of El Chorillo. Noriega was cornered in the Vatican's embassy, and he eventually surrendered to the Americans.
In the elections that followed, the United States spent $10 million promoting the candidates of their choice, Guillermo Endara, Ricardo Arias Calderon, and Guillermo "Billy" Ford. Normally, a foreign power financing one side or another in US elections would be a violation of US election laws.
Since Noriega's capture and trial (he'll be up for parole in September of this year), drug trafficking through Panama has increased, doubling in the first year alone after he was arrested. To quote the excellent book by John leCarre, The Tailor of Panama, "They got Ali Baba, but they missed the forty thieves."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

You didn't...

Faux News reporting on the Scooter Libby verdict lists one thing on the screen crawl, which said, "Scooter Libby Found Not Guilty of Lying to FBI Investigators."

ummmmmm..... Talk about selective journalism. I'm sure the fella doing the actual story reported that indeed, yes, Libby was convicted on the other four counts of the indictment (see post below), but really, if you're like me, and only get your news filtered through the "liberal" lens, this particular infographic just shoots another hole in the "Fair and Balanced" crap they keep saying about themselves. Sandy Berger (the Clinton National Security Advisor who plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of walking off with classified documents) was once shown on this network with the name "Sandy Burglar" under his face, and I do believe someone in the Infographic Department at Faux is just sittin there gigglin like a schoolgirl about how funnnnny that is.

Actually, it could really BE a schoolgirl doing the infographics with art direction by Roger Ailes. Who knows!

What is it, exactly, that tells these people at Faux that it's good for business to constantly put out BS and call it news? Isn't there a special room in Hell for these people? Some people say "the Fox News Network produces nothing but crap, and everything they say is lies."

Just using the Faux News ploy of "some people say" - kind of a catchall for, this is what our people say, which must mean that other people would say it, too, if we tell them it's what they could be saying, which means we can report it as something that some people are saying. Hannity, O'Reilly, even Bush uses it all the time, as a way of spouting some particularly heinous opinion or ridiculous position as being from "some people say." Known in the Wiki world as "weasel words."

At this point, I need sound effects. Or a barf bag.

Anyway, I'm having the time of my life listening to the deafening silence from the right-wingers that usually choke up the airwaves where I work. All of the normal standards of debate and decency go flying out the window. If there's a controversy, it's because some liberal media source has said it's so, therefor it's biased - but Bill-O is an unimpeachable source of data. I'm still hearing about aluminum tubes, and mobile bio-weapons labs, the five hundred rounds of useless shells, and the report from Rummy's special ops group at the Pentagon (which of course is more reliable than those bastards at the IAEA, and their terrorist-coddling masters, the UN).

Now, something has been proven in a court of law, prosecuted by a Bush appointee, no less, and a jury that managed to deadlock on one count of the indictment, but still managed to come up with a unanimous guilty verdict on the other four counts. Stick that in your loofah and smoke it!


Nicaragua - 1980s When Jimmy Carter withdrew support for the Somoza dictatorship on "moral grounds", the Sandinistas finally had their chance to take over the country. Somoza was out on his ear. Our government (under Ronald Reagan) illegally supported the Contras, a paramilitary organization composed primarily of former Sandinista revolutionaries and Somoza's personal bodyguards. Congress and the Senate eventually passed the Boland Amendments, cutting off funding for the Contras (as they were doing death squad-style killings and generally behaving very badly), so Iran-Contra was born.

Oliver North, Adm. John Poindexter, Eliot Abrams, et al, set up a secret method of funding the Contras that allowed President Reagan to plausibly deny that his administration was breaking the law. This included arms sales to Iran, who was at that time an avowed enemy of the United States and at war with Iraq (an ally of the US at the time - insert picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam Hussein's hand). All of this eventually unraveled very publicly, with the major players convicted of a variety of things, but then having their convictions thrown out on technicalities. In other words, they broke the law, but couldn't have their own testimony used against them, as they were under an umbrella of immunity.

There were plenty of stories about the Contras funding their little insurgency by selling crack in California, North being very cozy with Manuel Noriega, and a couple of planeloads of guns and cocaine going down, people working for the State Department getting caught, etc.

Since then, some of them have reappeared in the political arena, most notably John Poindexter, who was for a time heading up a little department called Total Information Awareness. The TIA was to data mine everyone's records for anything. By which i mean everyone. About everything. Medical, dental, phone, internet usage, e-mail, travel, work. Surprisingly, as soon as people heard about it, there was a bit of an outcry, Rumsfeld said something like, "don't get all bent out of shape, we wouldn't do anything baaaad..." Uh, huh... riiiiiight.... And the TIA (supposedly) died on the vine. Poindexter still works for the Bush administration doing... something....