Friday, December 17, 2004

"You Militarize Space with the Unworkable Weapons You Have, not the Ones You Want"

That's the winning response at one of Bob Harris's recent polls, beating out "The laws of physics are just a few bad apples, and they'll be brought to justice," "But before it blew up, the interceptor was greeted as a liberator," and "Don't screw with us -- we've got unknown anomalies, and we're not afraid to use them."

The question, of course, was, "How will the Bush team spin the latest failed Missile Defense test?"

Speaking of unworkable--or, maybe, unworking weapons, check out this article Mr. Harris linked to--fair warning: the page took some time to load and my pop up blocker sounded like a pack of cheap firecrackers at one point.

Hmmm...ok, how about if I just cite a choice passage:

New spy satellite enjoys evenings off

By Douglas Jehl, New York Times

WASHINGTON -- A highly classified intelligence program that the Senate intelligence committee has tried unsuccessfully to kill is a new $9.5 billion spy satellite system that could take photographs only in daylight hours and in clear weather, current and former government officials say.

Works only in clear weather and daylight hours...exactly what you'd expect coming from the Bush administration...
Log Cabin Republican

Tom Burka imagines the fallout if what the late C.A. Tripp alleges in his new book is true:

The Republican-controlled Congress has drafted legislation that it intends to pass in an emergency session that will make it a Federal crime to refer to the Republican Party as the "party of Lincoln."...

Dennis Hastert, Republican representative from Illinois, was worried. "That's not what they mean by 'the Land of Lincoln.'"

Conservatives called for the Lincoln Memorial to be immediately removed to Greenwich Village in New York City.

Senator Frist agreed with the President's decision to withdraw the penny. "This news about Lincoln really brings new meaning to the phrase 'heads or tails.'"

No word on whether or not Ford plans to change the name of their Lincoln Mercury division, although the odds must be less than absolute zero that Lincoln will come out (no pun intended) with a vehicle named either "Hummer" or "Cruiser."
White House Praises Rumsfeld
Rummy is "Doubleplusgood," McClellan says.


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House gave a new vote of confidence on Friday to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld amid growing criticism of him from members of President Bush's own Republican Party.

"Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job leading our efforts at the Department of Defense to win the war on terrorism and to help bring about a free and peaceful Iraq, and the president is focused on working closely with him on those matters," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan...

Rumsfeld got himself into trouble last week by appearing to brush off a soldier headed to Iraq who complained that military vehicles did not have sufficient armor and troops were having to piece together scraps of metal for extra protection.

"As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time," Rumsfeld had told the soldier in Kuwait.

Little more than two weeks ago, Bush told Rumsfeld that he could stay on as defense secretary in the president's second term.

The thinking behind the decision was not to change leaders while the United States is at war, even though many in Washington blame Rumsfeld for failing to recognize and prepare for a determined Iraqi insurgency. More than 1,000 Americans have died in combat in Iraq.

McClellan said Rumsfeld was responding to troop concerns.

"Secretary Rumsfeld cares deeply about our men and women in uniform, and I think that is reflected by the way he goes and visits directly with those who serve, particularly those in combat zones, and he listens to those concerns, and that's what the president expects," McClellan said.

Scottie went on to say that "Eurasia was our friend, Eastasia was our enemy, that we'd ALWAYS been at war with Eurasia, and that Eastasia was assisting in a significant way as a valued member of the "Coalition of the Willing," although McClellan didn't specify was contributing. In addition, he revealed that "possibly credible evidence existed, proving that" Saddam Hussein transported a large number of unknown commodities, possibly "weapons of mass destruction," to the Social Security Administration in the months and days leading up to the invasion.

McClellan ended his statement by noting that the sugar ration had been increased by a half kilo a month--then he concluded with an odd non-sequitur: "Now watch this drive."

We're still trying to determine the significance that...
I Was Hoping for the Second Circle

But I was banished to the eighth instead--typical of my luck:

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Eigth Level of Hell - the Malebolge!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)High
Level 7 (Violent)High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Very High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Divine Comedy Inferno Test

Link via The Platonic Cave of Phizz.
Worth Quoting in its Entirety

Roger Ailes writes the following about Bernard Kerik, George W. Bush, and Homeland Security in general:

Feeling Safer?
The reason every crime, failure, sleazy connection and indiscretion of Bernie Kerik is so important is that it illustrates just how little Bush cares about homeland security. Bush sees Director of Homeland Security as a patronage job to give to a patently incompetent political crony for campaign services rendered rather than a position which requires a competent and ethical professional. Even if Bush could justify his ignorance of all Kerik's other corruption (which he can't), he can't claim ignorance of Kerik's utter failure in Baghdad. And, with all the resources at his disposal, Bush's background check of Kerik was less thorough than would be any sane person's background check when hiring a (non-fictitious) nanny. By nominating Kerik, Bush proved that his rhetoric about being the better choice to protect America from those nasty wolves was nothing but hot, malodorous air.

Hear, hear.
Open Mouth, Insert Falafel

Apologies for the late start today--work stuff. Anyway, Atrios has it, so I'm sure most of you've seen it...

Text here. Quicktime here.

Stop Me Before I Go to War Again

The Guardian reports on a soldier who had a relative shoot him in the leg in order to avoid another tour of duty:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A soldier who allegedly had a relative shoot him so he wouldn't have to return to Iraq could face military discipline.

Army Spc. Marquise J. Roberts, of Hinesville, Ga., suffered a minor wound Tuesday to his left leg from a .22-caliber pistol, police said. He was treated at a hospital, then arrested after he and a relative allegedly admitted making up a story about the shooting...

Roberts, 23, was on a two-week leave from the 3rd Infantry Division, which led the assault on Baghdad in 2003. He had been scheduled to return this week to Fort Stewart, Ga., and to return to Iraq within the next few months. The division has been home since the summer of 2003.

Police said Roberts, a supply specialist who had spent seven months in Iraq, was distraught about having to return to combat duty and wanted to stay with his family.

I'm sure the army would love an infusion of fresh, new soldiers--any takers among the point-and-click war supporters? I'll admit the pay isn't all that good, the benefits can be lousy, the stress is high, and occupational hazards are extreme. On the other hand, it's a great chance to put words into action...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Fool Me...Um...Won't Get Fooled Again

Side note: Here's how Team Bush spelled "Challenges" on a backdrop for the dauphin's latest attempt at public elocution:

Financial Challanges for Today and Tomorrow.

Great...of course, those who like their Kool Aid with a red state flavor will wail about how hard it is to spell "big wurds and stuff." After all, it's pretty easy to humiliate yourself in all sorts of ways--besides not bothering to proofread.

So, the man who brought us 25,000 liters of anthrax now says there's a crisis in Social Security. Henchmen like Grover Norquist want to do some strangling, well, for the fun of it, I guess. Cooler heads might argue that you don't burn the house down when all that needs fixing is a broken window, but c'mon, it's not like Bush et al ever REALLY had to do some "hard work." Besides, I'm sure they think "fire is cool." Look what they did to Iraq...

Which makes me think--how long before we see Bush accusing the Social Security Administration of "seeking to purchase uranium...from Africa." Maybe Colin Powell can reprise his UN disgrace speech and show us some neato satellite pics of SSA "chemical weapons factories." Dick Cheney can show up on Rush Limpball's show to make gutteral references to "500 tons of nerve agent"...and the lapdog press can embed themselves with cellphone cameras, then, in hushed tones with low-res video, tell us how they're "just outside of a Social Security office...but I can't tell you exactly where..."

OK, so it won't be quite that ridiculous...I hope. But if the debate becomes "do we kill it now or do we kill it later," well, let's just say that that'll be as sure a sign as any that this country is doing it's best to become king of the third world nations. I mean, jeez--old age pensions are a basic component of modern society, and Social Security is about as good as you can get--there's remarkably little overhead in administration, it's investment strategy is completely sound, if a little boring, and it's not such a bad idea to, in a sense, socialize part of the federal deficit via SSA's purchase of US debt. It sure beats the hell out of China holding it. The "crisis" Bush talks about is nonsense. The adjustments needed to ensure stability to Social Security are the financial equivalent of a tune up or mid-course correction.

Bush's "plan," on the other hand, is more grounded in fantasy than his Kumbaya vision for democracy in the Middle East (and is it just me, or have others noticed that quite often Bush, when doing "the vision thing," sounds like nothing else so much as an aging hippie who combined a little too much Old Crow with his acid?).

This country might be just crazy enough to purchase the rusting hulk of a jalopy that Bush calls his plan, but if I have any say, I'd demand some real answers. Like: can Bush's plan GUARANTEE the same level of benefits that Social Security can EVEN IF THE WORST SSA scenario plays out? Can Bush guarantee that he won't pull money from the existing program to pay for the plan (well, actually he can, sort of: right now Bush is proposing to BORROW the money--just like how he's paying for the Iraq war, although China might not be able to loan us a trillion and a half dollars)?

Bush's plan requires a level of market growth far above and beyond that required by the existing system, and the investment instruments are a hell of a lot riskier. And, as for how the plan might work out, well, there's already a pretty good example of what Bush considers successful and/or acceptable:


Say no more.
Fun With Numbers

Found this at Bad Attitudes: NationMaster--you can generate all sorts of charts & graphs based on data they've complied from public sources.

Between this and Wikipedia, I'll be able to kill lots of time...
Hidden Casualties

Daily Kos links to this article about children who've lost parents in the wars:

Sad to the depths of his 4-year-old soul, Jack Shanaberger knew what he didn't want to be when he grows up: a father.

"I don't want to be a daddy because daddies die," the child solemnly told his mother after his father, Staff Sgt. Wentz "Baron" Shanaberger, a military policeman from Fort Pierce, Fla., was killed March 23 in an ambush in Iraq...

from Defense Department casualty reports, obituaries and accounts in hometown newspapers, and family interviews, Scripps Howard News Service has identified nearly 900 U.S. children who have lost a parent in the war, from the start of the conflict in March 2003 through November, when a total of 1,256 troops had died.

This one I can relate to from personal experience: my own father was a career military officer. Several times when I was young, he was assigned to lengthy tours overseas. He always came back, but I assure you it wasn't fun when he was gone. I can only imagine what it's like for children whose parents will NEVER come back.

I doubt seriously that Bush, Cheney, the rest of the chickenhawks, and even those in the administration who served (e.g., Rumsfeld), give this so much as a thought.
Like a Bad Cold

Cases of abuse by US personnel in Iraq continue to surface:

The documents the ACLU released today...describe substantiated incidents of torture and abuse by U.S. Marines, including:

Holding a pistol to the back of a detainee’s head while another Marine took a picture (Karbala, May 2003)
Ordering four Iraqi juveniles to kneel while a pistol was "discharged to conduct a mock execution" (Adiwaniyah, June 2003)
Severely burning a detainee’s hands by covering them in alcohol and igniting them (Al Mumudiyah, August 2003), and
Shocking a detainee with an electric transformer, causing the detainee to "dance" as he was shocked (Al Mumudiyah, April 2004).

Something tells me that these aren't the only instances where, to put it in the most diplomatic of terms, questionable things were done. This could explain another Times article focusing on mental health issues either already affecting some combat veterans or expected to affect them, according to a number of experts in the field:

What was planned as a short and decisive intervention in Iraq has become a grueling counterinsurgency that has put American troops into sustained close-quarters combat on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War. Psychiatrists say the kind of fighting seen in the recent retaking of Falluja - spooky urban settings with unlimited hiding places; the impossibility of telling Iraqi friend from Iraqi foe; the knowledge that every stretch of road may conceal an explosive device - is tailored to produce the adrenaline-gone-haywire reactions that leave lasting emotional scars.

And in no recent conflict have so many soldiers faced such uncertainty about how long they will be deployed. Veterans say the repeated extensions of duty in Iraq are emotionally battering, even for the most stoical of warriors...

"In the urban terrain, the enemy is everywhere, across the street, in that window, up that alley," said Paul Rieckhoff, who served as a platoon leader with the Florida Army National Guard for 10 months, going on hundreds of combat patrols around Baghdad. "It's a fishbowl. You never feel safe. You never relax."

In his platoon of 38 people, 8 were divorced while in Iraq or since they returned in February, Mr. Rieckhoff said. One man in his 120-person company killed himself after coming home.

"Too many guys are drinking," said Mr. Rieckhoff, who started the group Operation Truth to support the troops. "A lot have a hard time finding a job. I think the system is vastly under-prepared for the flood of mental health problems."

War, contrary to what many people think, is ALWAYS an ugly exercise. I seriously doubt anyone pushing for war in Iraq EVER considered the degree of suffering they were endorsing as a consequence of combat. Heads and limbs blasted from bodies, internal organs ripped to shreds and/or exposed to open air, bones and teeth splintered, skin burned completely off--and mixed in with all this is the pervasive stench of death, day after bloody day.

Without condoning WHAT they did for a second, I can certainly understand WHY soldiers engaged in what Limbaugh and other chickenhawk punks like himself call "fraternity pranks" (and I happen to think that Rush should be subjected to the same if he thinks it's so goddamned innocent). It's because, as I've posted before, they're both witnessing and precipitating the complete breakdown of the civil society and social order. That's what war IS. And civil society and social order are a LOT more fragile and prone to breakdown than most people expect. When it breaks down, it's not very easy to restore (e.g., Lebanon in the 1970's).

People exposed to a complete breakdown in the social order often show a remarkable resiliancy in returning to "normal" life--either that or they manage to deal with their issues without becoming a danger to the community...however, some folks react differently. Many of THESE people become only a danger to themselves, which is tragic enough--but some truly step over the line.

Even scarier is the prospect that many of the troubles affecting the minds of our soldiers will likewise affect Iraqis. And who knows what that portends.
A Modest Proposal

World O'Crap suggests warning stickers on BIBLES in light of this tragedy (Link via Tbogg). This is the suggested warning:

"This book contains religious material. Religious teachings are matters of faith, not facts, and some of this material is metaphorical and otherwise not to be taken literally. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered. If you are mentally ill, please do not do anything to your children after reading this material without first consulting a doctor or mental health professional."

Count me as a yes vote.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Interested in Seeing Timshel's Opinion

The dean of Louisiana's blog contingent noted a lack of state news earlier today....

This could reverse that assessment:

U.S. drug lobby group taps Tauzin for top job.

Big Billy goes for the dough after all...
One if by Land...

The New York Times reports on supplies being moved into Iraq by air. Steve Gilliard, where I found the link, notes this doesn't bode all that well, as it means the road network isn't safe, i.e., the insurgents have it either under their control or can make overland resupply a VERY costly affair.

The article goes on to note that costs are running about "$4.4 billion monthly" for the war, although subsequent paragraphs make it evident that they don't really know the cost, given that they cite figures of first $70 billion, then "somewhat lower than $100 billion."

If air resupply becomes the norm, look for the monetary costs to rise, although a beneficial effect would be reduced US casualties. However, I can't imagine airlift to become the main method of providing parts, equipment, sustenance, etc., to soldiers stationed in barracks throughout the country. The Berlin airlift succeeded only with a great deal of luck--and the planes back then weren't dodging SAM's.

I wonder if KBR is still hauling sailboat fuel back and forth across the desert?

Oh--and as an aside, once again the name of notorious merchant of death Victor Bout is being linked to the Pentagon and to Iraq. Geez...the whole sorry situation there would make the Fulton Street Fish Market smell like a pine forest in comparison...
Missile Defense: Riding the Short Bus

Another failure for the bacon, lard, and sop known as the Bush missile defense. Let's see--apparently IF the weather is perfect AND any country attacking us provides a missile itinerary more accurate than that of Air Force One AND if everything works perfectly AND the attacking country doesn't adopt counter measures that cost almost nothing in relative terms...then we stand an almost even chance of taking one missile out.

And it only costs us $10 billion dollars a year. What a bargain.
Accessorize by Terror Code

First Draft has a nice collection of Freedom Rainbows, although this one from the Onion has been my recent favorite.

More "Fog of War"

Robert Fisk writes about the death of an Iraqi citizen in British custody:

Baha Mousa, 26, was working as a hotel receptionist in Basra 14 months ago when British troops surrounded the building and arrested seven men. They were taken to a British base and were reportedly hooded and beaten. Two days later, Mousa was dead. His family was given $3,000 in compensation and rejected a further $5,000. What they wanted was justice. Yesterday, after more than a year of official stonewalling, his relatives won a 'historic' ruling to force the MoD to hold an independent inquiry. Will the truth now be known?

Yesterday's ruling offers Mr Mousa's family the prospect of a proper investigation into the shameful, outrageous death of their 26-year-old son, who was arrested in front of his Iraqi police colonel father. Documents obtained by The Independent show beyond any doubt that Mr Mousa was killed in British Army custody. He was one among many whose deaths the British Ministry of Defence has tried to forget.

British soldiers of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment surrounded a Basra hotel in September last year following information that weapons were being kept in the building. One of the owners was later arrested. When Daoud Mousa, an Iraqi police colonel, turned up at the hotel, he discovered his son lying on the ground with his hands tied behind his back. He told The Independent his son had seen British soldiers looting the hotel safe and that a British officer had later ordered the soldiers to hand the cash back and that they should be disarmed. Baha Mousa's father later claimed the British troops involved decided to revenge themselves upon his son because he had revealed the theft...

Other Iraqi detainees were also reported to have been cruelly beaten. When Baha's father, Daoud, and brother, Alaa, went to see another of those arrested, Kifah Taha, they did not know Baha had been killed.

"Kifah looked like half a human, he was so badly beaten,'' Alaa said. "When we asked him about Baha, he said he didn't know. Then he said: 'I hope God will not show any human what I witnessed.'''

Colonel Daoud Mousa told The Independent after his son's death that a British officer, a 2nd Lieutenant, promised that his son would be protected after his arrest. "Three days later, I was looking at my son's body,'' the colonel said. "The British came to say he had 'died in custody'. His nose was broken. There was blood above his mouth and I could see the bruising of his ribs and thighs. The skin was ripped off his wrists where the handcuffs had been.''

Baha Mousa left two small boys, five-year-old Hassan and three-year-old Hussein. Both are now orphans, because Baha's 22-year-old wife had died of cancer just six months before his own death...

Not one of the prisoners taken at the hotel said he had been questioned about the alleged discovery of weapons in the building. The arrested men were taken to the former Iraqi secret service headquarters of Ali Hassann al-Majid, Saddam Hussain's brutal cousin, known as "Chemical Ali'' for his gassing of the Kurds of Halabja, which was now part of a British military compound.

One of the detainees was to recount to The Independent an appalling story of cruelty: "We were put in a big room with our hands tied and with bags over our heads.

"But I could see through some holes in my hood. Soldiers would come in, ordinary soldiers, not officers--mostly with their heads shaved, but in uniform--and they would kick us, picking on one after the other.

"They were kick-boxing us in the chest and between the legs and in the back. We were crying and screaming. They set on Baha especially and he kept crying that he couldn't breath in the hood. He kept asking them to take the bag off and said he was suffocating.

"But they laughed at him and kicked him more. One of them said: 'Stop screaming and you will be able to breathe more easily'

"Baha was so scared. Then they increased the kicking on him and he collapsed on the floor. None of us could stand or sit because it was too painful.''

Not that it would be worth it, but hopefully a lesson will be learned from the Iraq war, one that I and I'm sure a lot of more important people have said--that because war is a complete breakdown of civil society, you can EXPECT this sort of tragedy to occur. Therefore, you DON'T GO TO WAR IF YOU DON'T HAVE TO. And, before going to war, it is not a bad idea to ask a question along the lines of "would the war be worth it if it meant that a close friend or relative would be murdered?" If you DON'T ask that question, you're on a river in Egypt.

I continue to be amazed by people who somehow think that Iraqis will understand if a family member is blown away, either by accident or by deliberate action. They think Iraqis will understand when they lack electricity to light or aircondition their homes, gasoline for their automobiles, kerosene for their heaters, and so on. They think Iraqis will understand when we come in completely ignorant of the social structure that's been in place FAR longer than the punk dictator Saddam Hussein, and wreck havoc with it like a bull in the china shop. They think Iraqis will understand when we promise reconstruction, then fail to deliver.

Right now, the United States presence in Iraq isn't merely on thin ice. We're treading water the way the last folks on the Titanic were before it plunged into the depths.
Just a Theory, But...

This line from James Wolcott is a nice summary of what I've considered to be one reason for Tony Blair's bizarre decision to place all his eggs in one Bush--el.

Gardiner deploys an English accent to coach the US to do what the Brits are no longer capable of: ruling the unruly across the dusky globe. The tenor of Gardiner's erudite work can be gleaned from the titles of some of his most recent articles, such as 'Kofi Must Go' and 'British, US, Partners in Fighting Terror.'

Maybe there are those in Britannia who still can't get over the fact that--to paraphrase Gore Vidal--after traveling the globe to conquer what they considered to be all sorts of "hideous peoples," the Brits discovered that the worst of all were barely across the Channel, and perhaps one of the few peoples who could possibly claim to be even more white than they were (as if that makes any difference at all). Defeat of the Nazis might not have been the final nail in the British Empire's coffin, but it certainly sealed its fate.

And, what's one to do when your "administrative" skills are no longer needed? Hmmm. Well, the markets have provided one possiblity: consulting.
Fox News: "Now, Let's Go to Zell"

Link via Roger Ailes. The Washington Post reports that Zell Miller will be able to challenge all sorts of people to duels:

Sen. Zell Miller, the fire-and-brimstone-preaching Dixiecrat who tried to challenge MSNBC's Chris Matthews to a duel after delivering the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention, has been welcomed with open arms by Fox News Channel.

Honest, when I saw the paragraph above, I thought at first it said "Pixiecrat," which, on further reflection, seems as good a descriptor as anything. Zell and his magic fairy-dust riding high in the saddle, battling terrorists as only he can: by hollering at Chris Matthews.

Kevin Magee, FNC's vice president of programming, told The TV Column, "We will plug him in wherever we can use him."

Ailes thinks that could mean use as Bill O'Falafel's vibrator. I'm a little more tame: How about simply calling Miller's on-air time the "Tenth Circle of Zell?"

In my mind, the Tenth Circle is reserved for GOP hacks who must spend eternity dealing with "clean campaign" laws like public financing, genuine debate, no recourse to ridiculous non-issues like flag burning or constitutional amendments that discriminate against gays, no Willie Horton ads--and, since there's no military, so there's no way you can accuse anyone of being "weak on defense."

I'll bet Lee Atwater is screaming.
Cartoon Wednesday

From Tbogg. He calls it his personal favorite of Larsen's...It's certainly in my top five.
I Think I'd Be Calling in Sick

Iyad Allawi continues to follow in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's interim government, preparing for an election next month while fighting a bloody insurgency, asked some of Saddam's Hussein's disbanded army to come back to work on Wednesday.

The Defense Ministry proclamation invited former soldiers in the old Transport Corps to serve in the new U.S.-backed army, 18 months after the U.S. occupation authority formally demobilized Saddam's 375,000-strong military.

"Those interested must apply at the Muthanna base in Baghdad," read the proclamation, referring to a main recruitment center, which has been coming under attack from insurgents regularly.

Hmmm. You have to apply at a base under regular attack. You'll be third or fourth tier, meaning your equipment will be bottom of the barrel (if you're assigned any equipment at all). The only thing you can count on is that you MIGHT not get killed by US forces.

Doesn't sound like much incentive.

Oh, and here's the latest in the global conflict. Seems we're not getting any safer at all. I've been wondering when we'd start to see a followup to the Bali bombing. Indonesia is the largest predominently Muslim country in the world, and I can't imagine they're terribly thrilled by the Bush administration's posturing.

Even scarier would be if India or Pakistan explodes in religious violence.

"Praying for World Peace" is now a bit more significant than something a beauty pageant contestant says when asked about her goals...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Deadly Iraqi Lottery

Patrick Cockburn, writing in Counterpunch, provides some details about the latest bombing near the Green Zone:

A suicide bomber blew himself up and killed seven people in Baghdad yesterday on the first anniversary of the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Far from that being the turning point the US had hoped for, the conflict remains bitter a year later. American planes have resumed bombing Fallujah, which the Marines claimed to have captured last month. Seven US Marines were killed in combat in western Iraq at the weekend. And the suicide bombings are creating a growing mood of insecurity in the capital.

Kifah Khudair Abbas, 41, who has seven children, was in the back of a car being driven by her brother-in-law when the bomb went off. She was knocked unconscious but it was the Iraqi police who inflicted her worst injury by shooting indiscriminately after the attack. "I got wounded by a bullet in my leg when the police opened fire," said Mrs Abbas as she lay in a hospital.

Her son Abbas Hussein, standing beside her bed, said: "I am very angry about what happened to my mother. The Americans caused all this mess. All these explosions and all this security vacuum is because of the Americans."...

US commanders have been trying to build up and train Iraqi security forces but there is little sign of this working. In Mosul, supposedly a model for US-Iraqi co-operation a year ago, the 8,000-strong police force dissolved last month when guerrillas attacked. President Yawar, a Sunni tribal chief, said that Iraqis yearned for strong leadership in the current turmoil. He warned: "This could create an environment in which an Iraqi Hitler could emerge like the one created by the defeat of Germany and the humiliation of Germans in World War One."

Members of the Iraqi interim government are much more visible and vocal abroad than they are in Iraq - and enthusiasm for foreign travel among government ministers is a standing joke in the press. Their absence is understandable because they are in danger of assassination in Baghdad and are often confined to the Green Zone and a few heavily defended government buildings.

Elections? Not any that could be considered legitimate, at least for the country as a whole. As Riverbend noted, the Sh'ia majority seems poised to turn the country into an Iranian-style theocracy, although it's sadly reasonable and logical to expect a Sunni-led insurgency to continue--and that doesn't account for the Kurdish areas of the country.

Meanwhile, for a look at the consequences of the Fallujah assault, click here--but be warned that these photographs are quite graphic. As for the efficacy of the Fallujah assault, well...

One thing is certain: violence will continue, people will be killed, and any money we spend there is basically wasted.
Animal Heroes, Second Class

Tommy Franks, Paul Bremer, and George Tenet learn that "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
Who Cares About the Heisman Trophy?

Baton Rouge celebrates the induction of Percy Sledge and Buddy Guy into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Also being honored are the O'Jays, the Pretenders, and U2.

Personal Note: the year I moved back to Louisiana, Baton Rouge held a free downtown music festival that was a moderate success. If I remember, crowds averaged between 50 and 75 thousand a day--and, to digress, seeing all the Budweiser advertising made me wonder about the potential for just going ahead and adding a corporate sponsor to the state name, you know, sort of along the lines of the Fed Ex Sugar Bowl...I thought to myself, hey, how about the Budweiser state of Louisiana--or the Pabst Blue Ribbon city of Baton Rouge...anyway, in classic Red Stick style, the next year they tried to make it a paid show, charging something like $15 dollars a day. Sure enough, crowds dwindled to about 5 thousand, making for a dismal weekend...

The silver lining was that I didn't even have to fight to stand at the foot of the stage for Mr. Guy's show, and even caught one of the many guitar picks he threw to the audience. Percy was the last act of the day, and wasn't bad, but Buddy stole the show.

Congrats to both.
Little Things

I saw that Riverbend posted something new on Sunday--well, and earlier this morning I took some time to make nominations for the Koufax awards--Oyster had his, which inspired me, particularly his nomination of Timshel for Blog Most Deserving of More Recognition--hear, hear. Not that I've checked around all that much, but The Gret Stet seems to have its share of prog blogs, doing our best to provide a smidgen of enlightenment--and CrawlingWestward has much to offer. It inspired me to start my own page, and the focus on state issues makes it the first source I look to in the morning (that is, when I wake up in the morning).

But I digress. My focus should be on Riverbend's latest, a chronology of what we, in the comfort of our offices and/or easychairs would likely dismiss as trifles--unless we actually found ourselves caught up in similar 'inconveniences.'

The situation seems to be deteriorating daily. To brief you on a few things: Electricity is lousy. Many areas are on the damned 2 hours by 4 hours schedule and there are other areas that are completely in the dark- like A'adhamiya. The problem is that we're not getting much generator electricity because fuel has become such a big problem. People have to wait in line overnight now to fill up the car. It's a mystery. It really is. There was never such a gasoline crisis as the one we're facing now. We're an oil country and yet there isn't enough gasoline to go around...

Now, I expect many of the point-and-click warriors wouldn't express a hell of a lot of sympathy...because a lack of electricity is a small price to pay for "freedom," particularly when those paying the price are OVER THERE. And hey, New Yorkers spend a whole night without electricity last spring, so they know how to rough it...

Cooking gas has also become a problem. The guy who sells us the gas cylinders isn't coming around because apparently he can't get the used cylinders exchanged for full ones. People are saying that it costs around 10,000 Iraqi dinars to buy one on the street and then, as usual, you risk getting one that might explode in the kitchen or be full of water. We're trying to do more and more of our 'cooking' on the kerosene heater. The faucet water is cold, cold, cold. We can't turn on the water heater because there just isn't enough electricity. We installed a kerosene water heater some time last year but that has also been off because there's a kerosene shortage and we need that for the heaters.

No sympathy there, either--something tells me that point-and-click warriors don't do a lot of guess is that cold pizza is a dietary staple.

I took my turn at 'gasoline duty' a couple of weeks ago. E. and my cousin were going to go wait for gasoline so I decided I'd join them and keep them company. We left the house at around 5 a.m. and it was dark and extremely cold. I thought for sure we'd be the first at the station but I discovered the line was about a kilometer long with dozens and dozens of cars lined up around the block. My heart sank at the discouraging sight but E. and the cousin looked optimistic, "We just might be able to fill up before evening this time!" E. smiled.

I spent the first hour jabbering away and trying to determine whether or not gasoline was actually being sold at the station. E. and the cousin were silent- they had set up a routine. One of them would doze while the other watched in case a miracle occurred and the line actually started moving. The second hour I spent trying to sleep with my kneck at an uncomfortable angle on the back head rest. The third hour I enthusiastically tried to get up a game of "memorize the license plate". The fourth hour I fiddled with the radio and tried to sing along to every song being played on air. (It should be mentioned that at this point E. and the cousin threatened to throw Riverbend out of the car).

All in all, it took E. and the cousin 13 hours to fill the car. I say E. and the cousin because I demanded to be taken home in a taxi after the first six hours and E. agreed to escort me with the condition that I would make sandwiches for him to take back to the cousin. In the end, half of the tank of gasoline was kept inside of the car (for emergencies) and the other half was sucked out for the neighborhood generator.

The next time you scowl about having to wait at the local Circle K while someone spends the equivalent of a third world nation's GDP filling the SUV, think about that...

Finally, here's her take on the New, Improved Iraq:

We're also watching the election lists closely. Most people I've talked to aren't going to go to elections. It's simply too dangerous and there's a sense that nothing is going to be achieved anyway. The lists are more or less composed of people affiliated with the very same political parties whose leaders rode in on American tanks. Then you have a handful of tribal sheikhs. Yes- tribal sheikhs. Our country is going to be led by members of religious parties and tribal sheikhs- can anyone say Afghanistan? What's even more irritating is that election lists have to be checked and confirmed by none other than Sistani!! Sistani- the Iranian religious cleric. So basically, this war helped us make a transition from a secular country being run by a dictator to a chaotic country being run by a group of religious clerics. Now, can anyone say 'theocracy in sheeps clothing'?

Ahmad Chalabi is at the head of one of those lists- who would join a list with Ahmad Chalabi at its head?

Goddamn--no pun intended.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Hillbilly Armor

Link courtesy of The Rude Pundit. This is one reason why I never liked the argument (proffered by Al Franken, among others), that "Bill Clinton's military" did so marvelous in the Iraq war. Now, to be fair, I seriously doubt Bob Dole or Bush, Sr. would have ramped up production of heavily armored vehicles either. In fact, there's evidence to the contrary: Bush, Jr. certainly didn't, even though he and his defense experts had two years to yank their heads out of their collective asses and consider the possibilities of an Iraqi insurgency using, oh, I don't know, EXPLOSIVES maybe, against unarmored Humvees and HET's.

Yes, the armor would have really gotten in the way of all those Iraqis attempting to kiss, not in a homosexual way, our boys. But something tells me that our boys aren't expecting any evenings out with the locals--which is why they've taken matters into their own hands (for those who haven't lost hands), and have been using everything from sandbags to sheetmetal as a stop-gap alternative--literally.

No, the real problem here isn't a matter of Rumsfeldian physics, or anything of the sort--instead, it's absolute hubris, combined with a belief in one's own propaganda (that's NEVER a good thing), and an appalling ignorance of the target of liberation that's really the case here. IF the Iraqis had wanted liberation, American-style, the standard Humvees and HET's would likely be plenty good enough. The fact of the insurgency is a pretty strong indication that we're getting the thumbs down.

Not liking Saddam shouldn't have been confused with loving the USA. Thinking otherwise is like quitting your job after buying the lottery ticket, instead of waiting to see if you actually won the jackpot.
Supporting the Troops--With Payday Loans

Alexander Cockburn provides the details:

Fortunes for the arms-makers, foodstamps for the grunts. Money sluices into the treasuries of defense contractors making those poorly armored tanks. Meanwhile an E-2 level Marine gets $1,337.70 a month. Married, this Marine gets a monthly housing allowance of $460.50 a month; unmarried, $289.20.

I was down in Oceanside, the town just south of Camp Pendleton, earlier this year, and as I pointed out then, you don't have to drive more than a couple of blocks through Oceanside's main drag before the economic realities of the American Empire become apparent. On the south side of the 4000 block on Pacific Coast Highway is a colorful store front with two big signs shouting "We Support Our Troops" and "Welcome Home Heroes". But the biggest sign of all says "PAYDAY ADVANCE". The other side of the road there's a pawnshop, one of several in Oceanside, and there are several other store fronts offering advance loans for Marines who can't make it to the end of the month...

...payday lending is almost never for that one emergency stop gap loan. The payday lending business model is based on developing these lethal borrowing patterns. 90 per cent of all payday loans go to borrowers with five or more loans in a single year.

The Armed Forces recruiters target poor neighborhoods. The payday lenders target the Armed Forces. At Fort Bliss in Texas, Paul Fain wrote earlier this year in Military Money, "the Army Emergency Relief office estimated nearly one-tenth of the 10,000 active duty troops stationed there have had to undergo credit counseling because of payday loans and other debt problems." Young soldiers and sailors, Fain went on, "are the perfect marks for payday lenders for reasons beyond financial naïveté. Though they often live paycheck to paycheck, military personnel are paid regularly, never get laid off and face penalties for failing to repay debts." Back to Oceanside. The enlisted servicemen and women hock stuff in the pawn shops and borrow against payday. The generals and the contractors buy up beach property and own stock in the institutions that bankroll the pawnshops. The military coming home from the war face rotten prospects in the service economy. The president was smart to make it a quick visit to Camp Pendleton. If, like Henry V in Shakespeare's play, he'd moved among the Marines in disguise and listened to their worries, he'd have got a rude surprise. But in the fake world of TV News pr, "heroes" aren't racked with worries like an 805 per cent annual interest rate.

I continue to be amazed by those who claim to "support the troops," yet when stuff like this is reported, inevitably their story changes to something like, "well, they volunteered." Volunteered in the same sense that young Iraqis "volunteered" for refuse haul-away, that is to say, when jobs are scarce in the economy, you tend to take what's available. In the US, that means going to the army and possibly getting shipped to Iraq. In Iraq, that means hauling garbage and hoping you aren't mercy-killed after being shot by mistake. Neither case is particularly appealing.

Oh, and for putting your life on the line, you get paid every two weeks just enough money to last maybe ten days--wow, talk about economic efficiency.
Maybe We Should Have Dealt With Saddam This Way...

Augusto Pinochet (sort of rhymes with SHIT) has been declared medically fit to go on trial in Chile on charges of kidnapping and murder.

His lawyers will appeal, but at this point it's pretty clear that General Pinochet's legacy will be that of a thug's--and nobody is more aware of this than the General himself. While it may be only a small measure of justice for the families of his victims, it's still more than what Kissinger will ever get, provided Henry is careful about where he travels to.

Augusto, by the way, is also being questioned about the rather substantial pile of money he managed to accumulate--money WAY above and beyond what a Chilean army general could expect...Well, one source of funds was apparently the United States Government, which paid Pinochet millions of dollars, including more than $3 million dollars in one year--1976--which happens to be the same year that Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Moffit were murdered in Washington DC, when a bomb hidden in the vehicle they were in exploded. Hmmm.

However, eventually Augusto, like all scum, became useless to the hand that helped lift him up by his jackboots--sort of like a Middle Eastern thug who we've all come to know and hate. Funny though, there was never an all out campaign to paint Pinochet as Hitler south of the equator--maybe because he mostly killed leftist democrats who worked within the system (and the odd US national). Instead, the United States gradually distanced itself from the regime, and allowed THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE THERE to take matters into their own hands--which they did. That said, it'd be nice if the US would one day apologize for precipitating and participating in the violent overthrow of democracy in Chile, which prior to September 11, 1973, had been one of the most stable democracies in South America. After all, we do PREFER democracy--right?

Enjoy your millions, General--just don't spend all that money in one place...oh, wait--you're under house arrest and likely to remain under house arrest until you pass away. I guess you'll HAVE to spend all that money in one place.
The Ladies' Man

I'm still trying to catch up after what was a difficult weekend--which is probably why it took me so long to head over to James Wolcott's site after having looked at the cold dish of revenge Atrios served to Judith Regan this morning.

Interestingly, Wolcott refers to other sites for all the gossipy details--he cites Steve Gilliard and Josh Marshall specifically--but he delivers nonetheless:

Then, in one of the most heartwarming holiday tales in many a year, it all unravelled and keeps unravelling even Kerik after withdrew his name from consideration. The juicy stories keep popping out of the NY tabloids and the blogs like clowns from a clown car...

I'm glad the press is having a dance party with this, because God knows the Democrats are frozen at the steering wheel. I just saw a segment on MSNBC (which has been all over the Kerik story today, bless Rick Kaplan's cyborg heart) pitting a Republican strategist against a Democratic one, and the Democratic spokesman--who goes by the name of Michael Brown--seemed to have washed down his weeny pills with warm Ovaltine. Instead of kicking Kerik and Giuliani between the uprights for three points, Brown fretted that vetting process for cabinet candidates was "going to far," and that we were in danger of discouraging people from public service. Oh no, we wouldn't want to discourage philandering, pocket-lining, deadbeat no-show bully-boys like Bernard Kerik from having the opportunity to muck around with our civil liberties in the name of "national security" and hold bigshot press conferences. I mean, if that sort of thing were to continue happening, people might start mistaking the Democrats for an opposition party and thinking that the press has an adversarial role to play, and we don't want that to happen, it might actually lead to signs of life in that mausoleum we call the nation's capital.

This Michael Brown wouldn't even criticize Alberto Gonzalez for botching the background check and vetting of Kerik. I don't understand the self-emasculation of so many Democratic strategists, what they're afraid of, why they concede so much in advance. Give them an opening, and they close it like a silk kimono, ever so demure. What are they in politics for, the professional grooming tips?

Indeed. One of the things that irks me to no end at times is the refusal by Democrats to hit back hard. Politics is a rough game--and the Rethuglicans have played it as such for years. Should we rejoice in this? No, of course not. But you don't start talking about the rules when you're in the midst of a knife fight--by then it's too late.

Kerik is no babe in the woods--and that goes for more than just his personal life, although as a public figure, his personal life is fair enough game, given that the personal lives of public, political figures have been fair game for some time (see Hart, Gary, Clinton, Bill, Kerry, John, Livingston, Bob, Gingrich, Newt, et al). Besides, there's evidence that Mr. Kerik had less than honorable intentions when he took his Green Zone vacation a year and a half ago. In fact, I'd love it if the media would focus even more on that.

Still, you've gotta get a kick out of the Regan quotes--talk about stepping right into a steaming pile of cow shit. Hell, she was schtupping Kerik while dissing Monica. Anyone ever tell her about glass houses and tossing stones?
Celebrate Democracy--by Shutting the Hell Up

For Bush's second inauguration--and first election--pomp and circumstance will be superceded by guns and ammo:

...organizers worried that security would be so intense and access so difficult that their groups' messages would be muffled.

The Bush administration, [Jim] McDonald said, "is using national security as a pretext to stifle dissent and to marginalize dissenters."

"They're not dissuading Osama bin Laden," he added. "They're dissuading protesters from coming out by creating a climate of fear."

Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District of Columbia's delegate to Congress, is working closely with the agencies planning the inauguration and said she was satisfied that security would be strong enough to discourage a terrorist attack. "And terrorists know it," Ms. Norton said. "Besides, they like the element of surprise."

She said she worried more about the permanent changes on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, giving the city a militaristic feel that is amplified by the expanded presence of security personnel at important events like an inauguration.

"People with guns are on rooftops right now," Ms. Norton said. "Surveillance cameras are everywhere. You have to do everything you can, and I am willing to abide a lot of extra security for the inauguration. But I just don't think President Bush wants the city to look more like a military show than a celebration.

The good news is that I think we DO have permission to genuflect, avert our eyes from the dauphin's visage, and grovel in his presence. But don't quote me on that.
One Year Anniversary

Remember how capturing Saddam was going to make everyone safer?

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A suicide car bomber linked to al-Qaida killed 13 people in Baghdad on Monday, the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein's capture, and clashes resumed in Fallujah, a one-time insurgent stronghold that American forces believed they had conquered. Seven Marines died in combat in western Iraq.

I guess you could say they're having a real bash in Mesopotamia.

Of course, Howard Dean was totally out of line when he said Saddam's capture wouldn't make our soldiers safer. In fact, I'll bet the librul media conspired to not run any stories about Iraqis greeting us with flowers and kisses, particularly after the capture of Saddam (now, mind you, none of the kisses proffered by Iraqis on American troops had any homosexual intent). Of course, the world is so much safer too. And it sure is nice to know that Osama's been captured.

(The last paragraph was written to combat an irony deficiency I've been feeling for the last couple of days).