Friday, March 18, 2005

Credit Where Credit is Due

Since I've hollered about Blogger quite a bit this past week, I'd like to note for the record that they didn't seem to have any problems today. So, good for them. Hopefully this will remain the case for at least the near term.
Afghanistan--with Rice

The Secretary of State jumped the gun--no pun intended--in announcing the postponment of parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, inadvertently letting the world know just how much sovereignty Mayor Karzai holds. Insurgents had their own message for Rice and Karzai--a bomb went off in Kandahar, killing five and wounding thirty.

Rice is nothing if not consistent--it seems as if she STILL doesn't read material prepared by her own department:

She did not mention Afghanistan's drug problem until asked. Earlier this month, her own department issued a report that said burgeoning opium poppy cultivation placed Afghanistan "on the verge of becoming a narcotics state."

Ms. Rice called the opium poppy cultivation "a very serious problem," but also noted "a serious commitment to fight it."

No details were forthcoming on the "commitment." But on the other side of the poppy field, as it were, Afghanistan now accounts for some 87 percent of the world's heroin production, with approximately 300,000 acres in production. And security in the country is so bad that some folks actually admit they're nostaligic for the days of the Taliban:

Zahir Jan, 35, a stadium painter, said he longed to find a better job but would be satisfied with the government if it weren't for the kidnappings.

"Imagine how things are, that we are wishing for the Taliban again," he muttered.

No shit.
I Post, You Decide

Take your pick: Skateboarding for Jesus, or a review of the National Gallery's Toulouse-Latrec exhibition...

Vengence is Mine, Sayeth the Volokh
Update: Oyster, in a comment below, provides a link to a VERY well written post by Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, who further links to Matt Yglesias. Both are worth a look.
Hullabaloo, Steve Gilliard, and Majikthise all note a VERY troubling post by Eugene Volokh:

Something the Iranian Government and I Agree on: I particularly like the involvement of the victims' relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he'd killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging. The one thing that troubles me (besides the fact that the murderer could only be killed once) is that the accomplice was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, but perhaps there's a good explanation.

He's talking about this:

An Iranian serial killer convicted of kidnapping and murdering 21 children was publicly flogged and hanged on Wednesday before thousands of spectators in this small Iranian town, 40km (25 miles) south-east of the capital, Tehran.

By the way: Volokh is a professor of consitutional law at UCLA. And he updated his first observations with this:

UPDATE: I should mention that such a punishment would probably violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. I'm not an expert on the history of the clause, but my point is that the punishment is proper because it's cruel (i.e., because it involves the deliberate infliction of pain as part of the punishment), so it may well be unconstitutional. I would therefore endorse amending the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to expressly exclude punishment for some sorts of mass murders.

Naturally, I don't expect this to happen any time soon; my point is about what should be the rule, not about what is the rule, or even what is the constitutionally permissible rule. I think the Bill of Rights is generally a great idea, but I don't think it's holy writ handed down from on high. Certain amendments to it may well be proper, though again I freely acknowledge that they'd be highly unlikely.

You know, I'll bet that deep down Volokh and the Iranians agree on more than just one thing.

It's easy to condemn monsters--and it's evident that it's just as easy to torture and kill monsters. It's a LOT more difficult to show a degree of, oh, I don't know, enlightenment and even adherence to civilized rules of law when dealing with them. But over time, some societies have, well, evolved to the extent that mature judgement--more or less--has superceded the notion of blood fued, straight revenge, the lynch mob, etc., despite Volokh's wishes. And that's a good thing. Because while I'm sure the professor would, if pressed, further amend his post to note that he believes that ONLY the guilty should be treated this way, the reality is that sometimes guilt "beyond reasonable doubt" isn't so clear. And what happens then? Would Volokh be willing to accept the blame--and the punishment--if "mistakes were made"? I doubt it.

Pain over the loss of someone you love eats away at you--and I can't imagine the suffering that results from the murder of a child. But this society made a very conscious decision, enshrined in the Constitution, and reflected in the judicial system, the statutes, and so on, that vengence is beyond the purview of the citizenry, and even of the state. That might not sit well with those hungering for payback, but it's a concept designed to benefit the larger social good.

If Volokh REALLY likes this aspect of Iranian justice, he should move to Iran. He definitely should stop teaching law school if he can't understand why the system in place here--rule of law, public trials with juries, and a prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment--even for monsters--is, well, enlightened self-interest in action on a societal level.
Operation Eternal Freedom

From the BBC:

At least 108 people have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press news agency.
Most deaths were violent and some 25% are being investigated as possible abuse by US personnel, the agency said.

The death toll - far higher than previously thought - was based on information the agency obtained from the US army, navy and other officials.

The Pentagon said it was important to bear in mind the context of each death.
Coalition of the "Let's Just Get the Hell Outta Here"

Bulgaria is the latest to say enough is enough. And you've gotta shake your head at this from Gen. Richard Myers:

Myers said the number of attacks against U.S. forces across Iraq has fallen to between 40 and 50 a day, and about half of those cause no injuries or property damage. The number of daily attacks is about at the level of one year ago, he said -- far fewer than in the weeks prior to the Jan. 30 elections.

Only 40-50 a day--and only 20 to 30 cause injuries or property damage--wow, that's GREAT news!

Speaking of lunatic pronouncements, the dingbat in chief had his own Wednesday:

Two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the coalition of countries that provided troops has fallen from 38 nations to 24, and the United States continues to shoulder the bulk of the outside responsibility and suffer most of the non-Iraqi casualties. Bush said allies want to get out as soon as Iraq can defend itself.

Asked whether the coalition was crumbling, Bush said, "No, quite to the contrary..."

Both links from Today in Iraq.
No Sense of Decency--At Long Last, No Sense of Decency

Unbelievable--that's all I can say about this:

Employing an "extraordinary congressional" maneuver, House Republican leadership early Friday made a last-ditch effort to keep doctors from removing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.

Schiavo is scheduled to have her feeding tube removed at 1 p.m. today, under court order.

"Later this morning, we will issue a subpoena, which will require hospice administrators and attending physicians to preserve nutrition and hydration for Terri Schiavo to allow Congress to fully understand the procedures and practices that are currently keeping her alive," a statement from the House Republican leadership said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis released that statement. Subpoena details were not immediately clear and no one has revealed whom it targets.

There's more in today's New York Times:

Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee and the Senate majority leader, issued a statement saying that the woman, Terry Schiavo, and her husband, Michael, were being invited to testify in a Congressional inquiry into the matter later this month.

The statement pointed out that Federal law protects witnesses called before Congress "from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness's attendance or testimony."

Terry Schiavo is not in a position to testify about anything. This is a farce.

Here's my proposal: Let Michael Schiavo determine what's in his wife's best interests since he is her legal guardian. Take Bill Frist and call him before a judge on charges of cruelty to animals. Tom DeLay should continue to prepare his legal defense--because with all the smoke surrounding him, there's bound to be fire somewhere. And Dennis Hastert is simply a fat hog imbecile of a human being.

This has gone on quite long enough.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Amtrak Derailed

I wonder how Amtrak will be affected by the new bankruptcy legislation?

President Bush's budget, submitted in February, provides no funding for Amtrak, a move that the administration and its critics say will probably drive the corporation into bankruptcy by the next fiscal year. The Senate voted 52 to 46 against an amendment offered by Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, and backed by much of the New England delegation, to restore $1 billion in Amtrak subsidies to next year's budget.

Four Northeastern Republican senators -- Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine -- joined Democrats in supporting the failed amendment. Collins said that trains are a ''critical part" of the East Coast transportation system and that the railroad ''benefits our environment by reducing harmful emissions."

I think my own attitude towards Amtrak is not unlike my opinion of the new arts center here in Baton Rouge: if you're lost in the desert, ANY water is wet enough.

It's not like I could ever really use Amtrak as a transportation alternative--the one ride within range of me would be a Hammond/New Orleans run that would almost triple the travel time AND REQUIRE an overnight stay (to be fair, these days, most of my trips to New Orleans involve overnights--I can finally afford hotels, and I DON'T want to enjoy the city THEN get into a car).

But I'd still happily pay my tax dollars to fund a national railroad if only because it's a symbol for what one day MUST be done in the US--look to broaden transportation options beyond single, simple-minded reliance on the passenger car.

Rail, both commuter and intercity, could relieve traffic congestion, reduce pollution, reduce highway fatalities, and contribute to an overall improvement of urban life. Oh, and a decent public transit system actually allows genuine enforcement of things like drunk driving laws...

Come to think of it...maybe that's why Bush hates public transportation so much.
The Poster Child for Privatized Social Security

Is this what the future holds for Kenny Boy?

Frank Rich reminds us of Enron:

JUST when Americans are being told it's safe to hand over their savings to Wall Street again, he's baaaack! Looking not unlike Chucky, the demented doll of perennial B-horror-movie renown, Ken Lay has crawled out of Houston's shadows for a media curtain call.

His trial is still months away, but there he was last Sunday on "60 Minutes," saying he knew nothin' 'bout nothin' that went down at Enron. This week he is heading toward the best-seller list, as an involuntary star of "Conspiracy of Fools," the New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald's epic account of the multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme anointed America's "most innovative company" (six years in a row by Fortune magazine). Coming soon, the feature film: Alex Gibney's "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," a documentary seen at Sundance, goes into national release next month. As long as you're not among those whose 401(k)'s and pensions were wiped out, it's morbidly entertaining. In one surreal high point, Mr. Lay likens investigations of Enron to terrorist attacks on America. For farce, there's the sight of a beaming Alan Greenspan as he accepts the "Enron Award for Distinguished Public Service" only days after Enron has confessed to filing five years of bogus financial reports.

That's a damn good start, and Rich's column only gets better.

Revisiting the Enron story as it re-emerges in 2005 is to be reminded of just how much the Enron culture has continued to shape the Bush administration long after the company itself imploded and the Lays were eighty-sixed from the White House Christmas card list.

Rich reminds us that, like the Bush administration, Enron made extensive use of PR faux news--in at least one instance Lay himself escorted a group of Wall Street big shots through a "trading room" that was really just a bunch of employees playing make believe. Enron treated the press was treated like lepers (maybe because there was always the possibility of the curtain being pulled back to reveal--well, the empty shell that Enron was), etc. etc. and so on. Rich nicely compares Enron's efforts with the latest George W. traveling Hadecol/Social Security privitization tour--I guess I haven't been paying too much attention, since I'm well aware of the farce, but I had no idea that the "town hall meetings" were rehearsed to the extent they are (a stand-in for the dauphin irons out the details with the "citizens" the night before the real airhead shows up).

And Rich tells me something else that doesn't surprise me, but which I also didn't know:

At last weekend's Gridiron dinner, Mr. Bush made a joke about how "most" of his good press on Social Security came from Armstrong Williams, and the Washington press corps yukked it up.

Gee, that reminds me of another "joke" I heard coming from his piehole.

But while the media whores and their pimps in government "yuk it up," the fact is that Ken Lay--and HIS comrades in corporate greed--just might take the air out of the balloon. Because I don't think the public is all that interested in devoting large amounts of otherwise free time to "investing." Free time is already scarce enough in this economy, if you DO have a job. And if you've got extra income (yeah, right), there are plenty of financial instruments in the market already that you can gamble on. Finally, Lay, Ebbers, Kozlowski, Scrushy, Winnick, et al, make it clear that even a reasonably well-educated, prudent investor can get duped and lose a bundle.

I don't know if the chickens are coming home to roost yet--but it's getting later in the day than the Bush administration realizes...
Whom the Crime Profits

Will Pitt delivers a deserving smack down to Senator Mary Landrieu, who bolted the Democratic Party to vote on drilling ANWR:

This isn’t the first time Ms. Landrieu has gone sideways on an important vote. She voted in favor of cloture on the ruinous bankruptcy bill, and then voted for the bill itself. In a statement about her ANWR vote, Landrieu said, "My colleagues and I have been encouraged in recent days that a revenue-sharing measure is forthcoming that will benefit our coastal oil- and gas-producing states. Hopefully, we'll be able to get this done this year, just as we have helped Alaska today."

Yeah. Thanks for the help.

Here’s the thing, Mary: Democrats from all across the country contributed to your campaign in 2002. A lot of people worked very hard for you. Your victory was one small bright spot in the debacle that was the 2002 midterm elections, a debacle that included the death of Paul Wellstone, a man whose eyes you could not now meet were he alive today to see how you’ve been voting. A lot of people helped you, and ANWR belonged to all of us. Your betrayal here is epic in its proportions, yet sadly all too common these days.

ANWR is estimated to hold enough oil to supply the US for six months.

Pitt notes that the two Hawaii senators voted in favor of drilling in ANWR too--and he wonders if they'd be just as enthusiastic if provable reserves were found at "Pearl Harbor, or under Pu’uhonuo O Honaunau Historical Park, or under Honokohau Harbor, or right where the water hits the ground at Moanawaiopuna Waterfall." Likewise, I wonder if Landrieu would go along with a proposal to drill the French Quarter for a six month supply if it came to that.
Vanunu Indicted

Oh, and for the record, Blogger is once again a synonym for "acts like shit." IF this manages to show up, it will have taken an hour and a half to post. Apparently, I'm not the only one with the problem. But sorry for the slow updates nonetheless.

Mordechai Vanunu was indicted today for "violating the terms of his parole." In plain language, this means he spoke freely:

Under the terms of his release, the former technician at the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev desert town of Dimona was barred from leaving Israeli territory and contacting foreigners. The restrictions were in force for a year and their extension was expected to come up for consideration in coming weeks.

Mr. Vanunu has tested the limits of his release on numerous occasions by granting interviews to foreign news media. He also was stopped by Israeli police on Christmas Eve while attempting to attend Midnight Mass in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, outside his permitted area of travel.

Well, if the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and occupied Gaza don't demonstrate beyond all doubt that their views of "democracy," "free speech," and "human rights" aren't exactly universal, then this should. Vanunu opened the door on the dirty laundry that is the Israeli nuclear program--by far and away the worst WMD's in the region. This open secret, and their powerful military make a mockery of the Israeli government's lame attempts to plead the victim's case. And the muzzling of Vanunu--who really just wants to get the hell out of the country (also denied under the terms of his parole)--is more than just a black eye. It's an example of how ugly the Israeli government really is.
Busy Morning

Back after lunch...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

More Foxes Report: "Henhouse Raids? You Must be Mistaken..."

If nothing else, I guess you can call it a matter of consistency. A week after the Pentagon brass cleared themselves of wrongdoing in the Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib/Rendition/torture scandals, Think Progress reports that the practice of internal investigation--followed by internal exoneration--is thriving on the private side too:

Blacked out of the redacted report was the fact that Halliburton may have bilked the U.S. military out of about $100 million. Also blacked out were statements critical of KBR like “KBR was unable to reconcile the proposed costs to its accounting records” and “KBR did not always provide accurate information.”

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Wondering why the extensive redactions blocked all of the negative findings, the crack researchers in Rep. Henry Waxman’s office looked into the matter. It turns out the White House gave Halliburton a copy of the negative audit and let the company scrub out all of the negative stuff itself before it was sent to the UN group. A letter from KBR dated 9/28/04 to the Army Corps of Engineers states “we have redacted the statements of DCAA that we believe are factually incorrect or misleading and could be used by a competitor to damage KBR’s ability to win and negotiate new work.”

"Iraq is goodplusdouble...I mean, gooddoubleplus...double...doubleplusgood."
If Scott McClellan Spoke in the Forest, but No One Was Around to Hear Him...

I saw this at Unfair Witness--Tex cites Matt Barganier and Wonkette as his sources:

Q How is the President going to mark the second anniversary of our war against Iraq and the start of the third year?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's still a few days off until the date that we began the liberation of Iraq, and --

Q The invasion of Iraq.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Iraqi people showed that they appreciate the sacrifices of the coalition forces, of Iraqi forces, and our men and women in uniform of the U.S. military, who helped --

Q Well, we're still there and we're still fighting, aren't we?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to provide them with the opportunity to determine their own future, and to move away from their past of oppression and terrorism. And, obviously, we will --

Q How is the President going to mark the anniversary?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we will have more to say as we move closer to that, to express our eternal gratitude to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have served and sacrificed in the defense of freedom, and who have helped to liberate some 25 million people in Iraq. We are --

Q That isn't why you went in.

MR. McCLELLAN: We are forever grateful to our men and women in uniform. And the Iraqi people have expressed their gratitude, as well, and showed that they are committed to defying the terrorists who want to return to the past by going to the polls and voting for a future based on freedom and democracy. And the National Assembly that was elected by the Iraqi people, the transitional National Assembly, will be meeting for the first time tomorrow. It's an important step on the path to democracy. And we stand with the international community in doing everything we can to support the transition to democracy in Iraq. We stand with the Iraqi people, and we are greatly appreciative of our men and women in uniform who continue to serve and sacrifice for this important cause. We are also grateful to their families who have made sacrifices, as well.

Q How many people are dead?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, April.

David Horowitz: Chump

Democratic Underground and Media Matters have the details. Short version: after wasting a lot of oxygen bloviating about something that didn't happen at Northern Colorado University, Horowit-less now admits he took to the keyboard before his brain was in gear (as if it ever actually gets into gear). But, Horowit-less forgives himself--the title of his admission is "Correction: Some of Our Facts Were Wrong, But Our Point Was Right."

Gee, with that kind of spin, I wouldn't be surprised to see him appointed to a high level position in the Bush administration.
Rising Above Principles

James Wolcott has a very good post up devoted to a solid tweaking of Joshua Green's asinine dismissal of Air America Radio. The conclusion is especially relevant, as it applies to not only Green's idiocy, but to "moderate" criticism of liberal-left political views in general:

See, when rightwingers talk garbage and go over the top, they're called "entertainers," "showmen," "deliberately outrageous." Only liberal broadcasters are expected to bear the lamp of truth and foreswear the "anger-laced polemic" that offends Green's tender buds. It's similar to the crap handwringing by Nick Kristof that environmentalists need to be less alarmist and more nuanced, which is effectively a disarmament policy in the teeth of conservative Blitzkrieg tactics. The other side doesn't want compromise or negotiation, it wants surrender and annihilation. The right wing considers the emasculated NPR too liberal, indeed even borderline traitorous. (When an NPR report accurately stated that Hezbollah was an important Shiite political entity in Lebanon, Roger L. Simon sloppily slapped the label "objectively pro-fascist" on the broadcast.)

Oh--as an aside, here's what the dauphin NOW thinks regarding Hezbollah.

It isn't that Air America can't be improved. Some of its shows get too dorm-room bull session-y, veering off into trivial tangents; a few of its hosts still don't carry authority behind the mike (as if they can't find their comfort level); it could use more comedy, less obvious sarcasm. Changes are already being implemented, some of them maladroitly (such as the abrupt, unexplained departure of Lizz Winstead from Unfiltered, which made her look as if she fell through a trapdoor). But Air America won't succeed by heeding Green's prophecies of doom anymore than environmentalist will by listening to Kristof's snivellings, or Democrats will by following Al From and Joe Lieberman into the marshes.

Whenever a Voice of Moderation addresses liberals, its sole purpose is to stomp out any real sign of life.
On Dignity

Hats off to Michael Schiavo, who appeared on Nightline to talk sensibly about his wife Terry (this link will take you to the transcript). Here's an excerpt:

Just because it's happened to Terri doesn't mean I don't still love her. She was a part of my life. She'll always be a part of my life.

And to sit here and be called a murderer and an adulterer by people that don't know me, and a governor stepping into my personal, private life, who doesn't know me either? And using his personal gain to win votes, just like the legislators are doing right now, pandering to the religious right, to the people up there, the anti-abortion people, standing outside of Tallahassee.

What kind of government is this? This is a human being. This is not right, and I'm telling everybody you better call your congressman, because they're going to run your life.

And I just want to say one more thing: Out of all these lawmakers, be it the Florida Senate, Florida House, the U.S. Congress, Governor Bush, President Bush -- I want to know who will come down and take Terri's place. Who wants to do that?

I can't imagine how Jeb Bush, et al, can live with the nauseating public spectacle they've made. Schiavo correctly pointed out that decisions like his are ROUTINELY made by grieving family members throughout the country EVERY DAY. It is ONLY political meddling by religious nuts and the politicians that toady to their wishes in exchange for cheap political support that have allowed this to go on as long as it has. As for Ms. Schiavo's parents, well, I feel for them even as I recognize that they bear some responsibility for turning her into a cause celebre for the religioius zealots. However, Ms. Schiavo is a grown woman, not a child. Her husband is her closest surviving heir. And from what I've seen, I believe he's doing what's best.

Unfortunately, I speak with some experience in this matter: three months ago, my father passed away (I don't really like getting personal here, but after watching last night I feel grateful that my family was able to make private medical decisions IN PRIVATE). Not to go into too many details, but following what he--and we--knew was a risky surgery (but one that HAD to be tried), he didn't have enough strength left to recover (he'd been in a hard fight for some time). A ventilator kept his vital signs functional, but there was no chance that he'd ever regain consciousness. Our family made the decision to gradually slow down, then stop, the machines. Under the circumstances, my father's passing was dignified, with his family--and priest--there at the end.

There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that this was the right decision.
Sir Lancelot

Count at least one less 'fully trained' Iraqi soldier:

The deputy commander of the Iraqi army in western Al-Anbar province was shot dead by US troops at a checkpoint Tuesday night, a police officer said.

"The US forces opened fire at 8:00 pm on Brigadier General Ismail Swayed al-Obeid, who had left his base in Baghdadi to head home," police Captain Amin al-Hitti said.

"They spotted him on the road after the curfew, which goes into effect at 6pm," the officer said in Baghdadi, 185 kilometres west of the capital.

No immediate reaction was available from the US military.

And no word on whether this 'incident' was turned into a video.
AIPAC Nation

Via Suburban Guerrilla. Foreign interest lobbying for the foreign country your organization is ostensibly representing is soooooo passe. It's not even retro cool:

On Tuesday night, the House Appropriations Committee, under the watchful eyes of AIPAC, took President Bush's $200 million aid package for the Palestinians and tore it to shreds. Following AIPAC's lead, the committee endorsed the aid in principle and then attached so many conditions to it (mosques and the Internet must be monitored to prevent criticism of Israel, was one of them) that the aid package becomes one big slap in the face to Abu Mazen. (Arafat did not have so many conditions on aid). But no matter. All legislation like this has a "national security waiver" that the President can invoke to provide the aid for national security reasons even if every demand by Congress is not met. So, under intense pressure from AIPAC, the waiver was removed. Bush's hands are tied. It is worth noting that the government of Israel supports the aid, without onerous conditions, as being in Israel's best interests. The Administration says it needs the aid to promote peace and an end to terrorism. And the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) which represents virtually every major Jewish organization in the country -- including all the local federations -- endorsed the aid without killer amendments. But AIPAC is apparently its own sovereign state so it does what it likes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Speaking Of...

Asshole, um, I mean Alan Greenspan, continues to behave as if Bush was the boy emperor, and he a court eunuch:

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress that the mounting financial pressure of a wave of retiring baby boomers is so great that cuts in future government retirement benefits are all but inevitable.

The Fed chairman told the Senate Special Committee on Aging that the nation has about three years to work out a fix. "In 2008, the leading edge of what must surely be the largest shift from retirement in our nation's history will become evident as some baby boomers become eligible for Social Security," he said in his prepared remarks.

Wow, they said the chairman of the Federal Reserve was powerful--apparently powerful enough to make the sky fall down even earlier than the dauphin.

So--considering that Mr. Greenspan is implying that Government securities apparently aren't the secure investment instrument they claim to be (Social Security finances with these instruments), how will OTHER instutions, governments, and private investors react? Because the SSA's bonds aren't ANY different from the bonds floated to the private market. Way to go Alan--you've devalued US Government property in your zeal to prove loyalty to THE MOST FISCALLY IRRESPONSIBLE pResident in this country's history. Nice job.

Oh, and here's one more quote for good measure:

"We were confronted at the time with an almost universal expectation amongst experts that we were dealing with a very large surplus for which there seemed to be no end," Mr. Greenspan told members of the Senate Select Committee on Aging.

"I look back and I would say to you, if confronted with the same evidence we had back then, I would recommend exactly what I recommended them," he continued. "It turns out we were all wrong."

"We were all wrong." Where've I heard that before?
Measure of Justice

Yeah, Bernard Ebbers probably will manage to stay out of jail for some time while pursuing his various avenues of appeal--cases involving capital haven't yet been limited like capital cases--yet. And yeah, Abu "Torquemada" Gonzales managed to weasel his way into the limelight for a bit--and no, the small investors who lost big in the debacle won't get a penny back--but not only will Ebbers be forever remembered as a crook, I'll bet both Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling (link to of ad view required) swallowed hard and had a bit of trouble digesting today's sumptuous luncheon. Because they're on the same firing line.

Oh, and here's something to consider as well--if a privatized version of Social Security had existed in 2001 or 2002, how many retirement accounts would've been wiped out? Have we forgotten how quickly the house of cards tumbled down?
"You Want the 32 oz. or the Large?"*


Naomi Klein writes in The Guardian:

Last Tuesday, George Bush delivered a major address on his plan to fight terrorism with democracy in the Arab world. On the same day, McDonald's launched a massive advertising campaign urging Americans to fight obesity by eating healthily and exercising. Any similarities between McDonald's "Go Active! American Challenge" and Bush's "Go Democratic! Arabian Challenge" are purely coincidental.

Sure, there is a certain irony in being urged to get off the couch by the company that popularised the "drive-thru", helpfully allowing customers to consume a bagged heart attack without having to get out of the car and walk to the counter. And there is a similar irony to Bush urging the people of the Middle East to remove "the mask of fear" because "fear is the foundation of every dictatorial regime", when that fear is the direct result of US decisions to install and arm the regimes that have systematically terrorised for decades. But since both campaigns are exercises in rebranding, that means facts are besides the point.

Klien, like Juan Cole, also notes some odd procedural elements to Ameraqi democracy, namely, that the Iraqi government seems to be the only 'democracy' saddled with the burden of requiring a super-majority for something as simple as establishing a majority party...interesting. Klein also notes that Bush's "committment" to democracy ignores things like Israel's border wall, or the fact that torture is "systematic" in Iraqi jails (according to Human Rights Watch), or even that, in a stunning show of thickheadedness

Bush's freedom triumphalism glossed over the fact that, in the two years since the invasion, the power of political Islam has increased exponentially, while Iraq's deep secular traditions have been greatly eroded. In part, this has to do with the deadly decision to "embed" secularism and women's rights in the military invasion. Whenever Bremer needed a good-news hit, he had his picture taken at a newly opened women's centre, handily equating feminism with the hated occupation. (The women's centres are now mostly closed, and hundreds of Iraqis who worked with the coalition in local councils have been executed.) But the problem for secularism is not just guilt by association. It's also that the Bush definition of liberation robs democratic forces of their most potent tools.

Jeez--talk about a bunch of lardheads. Well, what would you expect from the country that brought you the Big Mac?
Neo-Con Strategery: Throw Money at the Problem

King of Zembla is where I first saw this--he notes it's been linked to a lot. I almost wanted to call this the "Carl Sagan Memorial Post," because we're literally talking about billions--billions of dollars wasted. Billions of dollars thrown by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush at Halliburton like feces thrown by an angry monkey in a zoo cage...

Here's the article, which nicely follows up from this morning's post below. It's long, but please take a look if you have the time. To attempt to summarize is hardly justice, 100 words or less:

The old boy network is plenty alive and well when it comes to wasting federal dollars. Halliburton/KBR got no-bid, cost plus contracts in Iraq totalling about $12 billion dollars, which mostly has gone to line the pockets of higher ups within the company--or to shore up the company's stock, which would be in the tank thanks to Cheney's idiotic takeover of Dresser Industries, and its $4 billion dollar asbestos liability. Trucks break down over $7 dollar parts, endangering the lives of the drivers, while poolside resorts and diamond jewelry are the perks handed out to those with the right connections.

Simbaud has an excellent summary, with a number of paragraphs.

Damn, some of the KBR folks truly are sociopaths--I'd say they should be required to write personal notes of condolences to the familes of those killed in Operation Line Their Pockets and Simultaneously Fleece the Government for Money to Indemnify Asbestos Claims--but that probably wouldn't do any good.

I swear--they must have liquid nitrogen flowing through their veins.
The Unbearable Lightness of Coalitions of the Willing

Italy is the latest nation to announce a reversal to "Old Europe" status, following in the footsteps of Ukraine and the Netherlands:

Italy is to begin withdrawing its troops from Iraq in September 2005, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said.
He told Rai state television the pullout would take place "in agreement with our allies".

Italy has 3,000 troops in Iraq - the fourth largest foreign contingent.

Domestic opposition to Italy's involvement in Iraq intensified after the killing of an Italian agent by US troops in Baghdad earlier this month.

The surprise announcement came as Italy's lower house of parliament backed a recent Senate vote to extend the country's military presence in Iraq beyond June.

Oh well--at least we'll always have, wait a second.


This is really infuriating. For a week or so now, Blogger has been acting as if they had a single 386 Compaq to house their entire share of the blogosphere. Worse still is the absolute lack of any information on their part. Even something like "we're aware of problems, and we're working on it," i.e., a bullshit throwaway line, would be better than nothing at all.

Fucking fuckity fuck.
Jeff Gannon J.D. Guckert's Research

Steve Gilliard points out how JamesJeff learned how to lob softballs to Scott McClellan:

An Washington, D.C. writer who sparked recent controversy involving the White House and the journalists who cover it, once played for a local gay softball team...

In the mid-1980s, Gannon was known as James Dale Guckert, a Wilmington, Del., resident and member of the gay City of Brotherly Love Softball League. He played for Woody's Bar and Restaurant's team.

Yeah, I suppose I'm beating a dead horse by making fun of Gannon--he really is a pathetic shell--or shill, if you prefer. But the hypocrisy for which he stands is something that the media has chosen to ignore, for reasons that can ONLY be due to their constant bootlicking of anything Bush/GOP.

Once again, consider: if this had happened during the administration of Bill Clinton, do you think they'd stand by so idly?
Making a Killing
(oh, and in the "this isn't really news department", Blogger is acting like shit-- again).
Rising Hegemon points out this Houston Chronicle article--war can pay quite handsomely, as long as you've got connections:

WASHINGTON - Iraq needed fuel. Halliburton Co. was ordered to get it there — quick. So the Houston-based contractor charged the Pentagon $27.5 million to ship $82,100 worth of cooking and heating fuel.

In the latest revelation about the company's oft-criticized performance in Iraq, a Pentagon audit report disclosed Monday showed Halliburton subsidiary KBR spent $82,100 to buy liquefied petroleum gas, better-known as LPG, in Kuwait and then 335 times that number to transport the fuel into violence-ridden Iraq.

Pentagon auditors combing through the company's books were mystified by this charge.

"It is illogical that it would cost $27,514,833 to deliver $82,100 in LPG fuel," officials from the Defense Contract Audit Agency noted in the report.

The portions of the audit report released Monday did not specify exactly how much fuel was involved in this billing.

Halliburton's response? "Hey, we're shocked, shocked by the violence--there's a war going on:"

"The implication is definitely misleading," [spokesperson Wendy] Hall said. "Transporting fuel into Iraq was a mission fraught with danger, which increased the prices that firms were willing to offer for transportation."

Gee, Ms. Hall--no shit there's a war going on. Sometimes you hear about it or read about it in the news. But the idea behind contracting out missions like resupply, mess services, and the like, was that YOU folks could do faster, cheaper, better, etc.

Mark ups on the order of 335 times the cost don't exactly meet the definition of "cheaper." Faster? Not really:

But efforts to truck in fuel were hampered by repeated attacks on fuel convoys, delays organizing military escorts, supply route closures and changing delivery points, company officials said. Security was so dicey, in fact, that tanker trucks were lucky to make two round trips per month.

Better? Two words: Sailboat fuel:

Empty flatbed trucks crisscrossed Iraq more than 100 times as their drivers and the soldiers who guarded them dodged bullets, bricks and homemade bombs.

Twelve current and former truckers who regularly made the 300-mile re-supply run from Camp Cedar in southern Iraq to Camp Anaconda near Baghdad told Knight Ridder that they risked their lives driving empty trucks while their employer, a subsidiary of Halliburton Inc., billed the government for hauling what they derisively called "sailboat fuel."

Ms. Hall implies that the logistics of battle make things difficult--duh. Perhaps she should get a first hand look in-country, instead of hiding behind a desk. War IS an ugly business, not a fantasy world.

If it were up to me, I'd take ALL the top brass at this piece-of-shit company (and it subsidiaries), and drop em into Baghdad. Let's see if all that money they stole means anything when they're caught up in the chaos that their sugar daddies Bush and Cheney created.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Fraternity Pranks
(Note: it will be a minor miracle if this posts. Blogger is acting like shit once again...)
From Billmon, I came across this Los Angeles Times story called Extreme Cinema Verite--for those who don't feel like dealing with the "free" registration, here are some extended excerpts:

When Pfc. Chase McCollough went home on leave in November, he brought a movie made by fellow soldiers in Iraq. On his first night back at his parents' house in Texas, he showed the video to his fiancee, family and friends...

"Don't need your forgiveness," the song by the band Dope begins as images unfurl: armed soldiers posing in front of Bradley fighting vehicles, two women covered in black abayas walking along a dusty road, a blue-domed mosque, a poster of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr. Then, to the fast, hard beat of the music — "Die, don't need your resistance. Die, don't need your prayers" — charred, decapitated and bloody corpses fill the screen.

"It's like a trophy, something to keep," McCullough, 20, said back at his cramped living quarters at Camp Warhorse near Baqubah. "I was there. I did this."...

Today, video cameras are lightweight and digital technology has cut out the need for processing. Having captured a firefight on video, a soldier can create a movie and distribute it via e-mail, uncensored by the military. With editing software such as Avid and access to Internet connections on military bases here, U.S. soldiers are creating fast-paced, MTV-style music videos using images from actual firefights and killings...

The result: an abundance of photographs and video footage depicting mutilation, death and destruction that soldiers collect and trade like baseball cards.

"I have a lot of pictures of dead Iraqis — everybody does," said Spc. Jack Benson, 22, also stationed near Baqubah. He has collected five videos by other soldiers and is working on his own.

By adding music, soldiers create their own cinema verite of the conflict. Although many are humorous or patriotic, others are gory, like McCollough's favorite.

"It gets the point across," he said. "This isn't some jolly freakin' peacekeeping mission."...

On the bases where Benson and McCullough live, the Army regularly searches soldiers' quarters for drugs, alcohol and pornography as part of what it calls health and safety inspections. But searching personal laptops would infringe on soldiers' privacy, said Capt. Douglas Moore, a judge advocate general officer with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team at Warhorse. Besides, if this brand of filmmaking breaks rules, they're of a different kind.

"It's in poor taste," Moore said, "kind of sick."...

McCullough was surprised that his favorite video was disturbing to his loved ones back in Texas.

"You find out just how weird it is when you take it home," said McCullough, whose screensaver is far more benign, showing him on his wedding day.

Brandi McCullough, then his fiancee and now his wife, said she had walked in as he was showing the videos to friends who were "whooping and hollering."

The 18-year-old was shocked by images of "body parts missing, bombs going off and people getting shot."

"They're terrifying," she said by phone from Texas. "Chase never talked about anything over there, and I watch the news, but not all the time. I didn't realize there was that much" violence.

She also wondered why anyone would record it.

"I thought it was odd — a home video," she said. "People getting shot and someone sitting there with a camera."

McCullough said his father, a naval reserve captain, had told him, " 'You know, this isn't normal.'

"They were pretty shocked," he said. "They didn't realize this is what we see."...

In another video, made by members of the Florida National Guard, soldiers are shown kicking a wounded prisoner in the face and making the arm of a corpse appear to wave. The DVD, which is called "Ramadi Madness," includes sections with titles such as "Those Crafty Little Bastards" and "Another Day, Another Mission, Another Scumbag," came to light in early March after the American Civil Liberties Union obtained Army documents using the Freedom of Information Act.

James Ross, senior legal advisor for Human Rights Watch, called it "disturbing that soldiers are making videos like that." But he added, "It doesn't mean that it's necessarily a violation of the Geneva Convention."

The Geneva Convention instructs that remains of deceased shall be respected and not "exposed to public curiosity," Ross said. "It's not putting heads on spikes and things like that. To argue you can't photograph [a body] would be a bit of a stretch."

Several websites sell footage from the war.

"Militants fight in the streets of Baghdad, looting, lawlessness," is how clips are advertised on A Las Vegas-based company,, offers $50 and $100 clips that include older footage of Saddam Hussein, Jessica Lynch, aerial bombardment and "sooooo many bombs." The site also advertises video showing an Iraqi fuel truck being destroyed by U.S. bombs during the invasion in March 2003.

Another website advertises, " is the place to find those pump-you-up-to-kill-the-bad-guys videos everyone has been talking about."

To be fair, some soldiers aren't quite as gung ho:

Spc. Scott Schroder, a gunner with Task Force 2-63, wouldn't show what he described as the "evil, nasty kill-videos," to his family.

"That's cool with the guys," he said. "I don't think my mom would care to see any of these videos."

Another specialist, who wouldn't give his name, said the bloody videos disgusted him.

"I wouldn't watch them, and the people I work with wouldn't watch them," said the specialist, stationed at a base near Mosul in northern Iraq. "I don't think it's proper."

He compared the violent videos to those made by insurgents showing beheadings.

"You bring yourself down to their level," he said. "Why would you do that?"

No shit--that's an excellent comparison, which serves to underscore the oh-so-blurry line between civilized and savage--the line that supposedly (emphasis on SUPPOSEDLY) justifies any sort of military presence on the part of the US in Iraq. Supposedly we're the good guys, yet the savage horror of beheadings is, well, offset by some of the more savage images of carnage courtesy of military firepower. I won't link to any particular sites--not because I'm all that squeamish, but I have to head out in just a minute and don't really have the time--but it's fairly easy to prowl around the internets and come across military photo web sites that offer an up close and personal look at human bodies mangled almost beyond recognition. And, unlike the faux video game violence that supposedly turns young kids into jaded automatons willing to kill, the photographs (and videos noted above) are quite real enough. Whether the photos have any effect, by the way, is not nearly as significant as whether or not the daily level of carnage will. I've fortunately not been in a situation where human beings are treated, on a daily basis, as little more than objects to be slaughtered. But I certainly DON'T think being in such a situation engenders increased respect for the law.

In fact, I'm beginning to worry about one potentially horrific side-effect of this disastrous conflict--in addition to the vast increase in the number of Middle Easterners who hate us, how will we deal with the returning veterans, who are so much fodder to the Bush administration? What will happen if a few of them decide to go postal?
You Forgot Poland Ukraine

Whatever the "Coalition of the Willing" is being called these days, it's getting lighter:

On March 1 President Viktor Yushchenko announced that Ukraine would withdraw its coalition 1 650 troops in Iraq in three stages between mid-March and mid-October.

Ukraine has the sixth-largest contingent in the US-led coalition in Iraq after the United States, Britain, South Korea, Italy and Poland.

Yushchenko won a rerun presidential election in late December after mass protests and a Supreme Court decision annulling the previous round, which opponents called fraudulent.

Oh, and the reason why the first round of elections was considered fraudulent? Discrepencies between exit polling data and the actual result...over there, the exit polls were considered a more reliable indicator....hmmm.
Thank You

TBogg, for your one line dismissal of David Brooks, who managed to generate measurable pollution in New Orleans a few Saturdays ago (not all that easy, if you're familiar with the area). Hope he doesn't mind me citing the quote in it's entirety:

Shorter David Brooks
I am an emasculated risk-adverse shell of a man. I blame society.

Still, go to the link and check out his shorter versions of Gale Norton and Nicholas Kristof.
Bloody Weekend, More Evidence of Bush & Rummy's Bungling

Three more Americans were killed this weekend in Iraq, and the New York Times reports on the deaths of three Iraqis--two the result of a tanker (i.e., semi) crash, and the chief engineer of Baghdad International Airport.

Two of the dead Americans were contractors with Blackwater Security employees, that is, they were part of the shadowy world of quasi-soldiers, which still are the second largest contingent of "military" personnel on the ground in the country. The four contractors killed in Fallujah not quite a year ago helped set of the chain of events resulting in the destruction of that city.

On the subject of destruction, here's a report by the Times that underscores the unbelievable level of stupidity Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al displayed when it came to planning the invasion itself:

In the weeks after Baghdad fell in April 2003, looters systematically dismantled and removed tons of machinery from Saddam Hussein's most important weapons installations, including some with high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms, a senior Iraqi official said this week in the government's first extensive comments on the looting...

The threat posed by these types of facilities was cited by the Bush administration as a reason for invading Iraq, but the installations were left largely unguarded by allied forces in the chaotic months after the invasion.

[Iraqi deputy minister of industry] Sami al-Araji statements came just a week after a United Nations agency disclosed that approximately 90 important sites in Iraq had been looted or razed in that period.

Satellite imagery analyzed by two United Nations groups - the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or Unmovic - confirms that some of the sites identified by Dr. Araji appear to be totally or partly stripped, senior officials at those agencies said. Those officials said they could not comment on all of Dr. Araji's assertions, because the groups had been barred from Iraq since the invasion.

A handy graphic, which I'll link to below, numbers the sites--interestingly, they were/are all known to United Nations monitors and inspectors, and in all cases the plants were under control (i.e., sensitive material was under UN seal) until pResident Stumblebum and Defense Secretary Psychobabble (and his evil assistant Igor) decided that since flowers and kisses were to be the Iraqi reaction to invasion, a reality based assessment of forces needed to occupy the country was "wildly off the mark."

"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
--Donald Rumsfeld

Well, yes you did--the UN also knew about these sites--they closed and sealed them:

Starting in 1991, the United Nations began destroying Iraq's unconventional arms and setting up a vast effort to monitor the country's industrial infrastructure to make sure that Baghdad lived up to its disarmament promises. The International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, was put in charge of nuclear sites, and Unmovic, based in New York, was given responsibility for chemical and biological plants as well as factories that made rockets and missiles.

Now, thanks to idocy on a Rumsfeldian scale, lord knows what happened to the material--it could be ANYWHERE, although I'm guessing that the explosives are likely in the hands of the insurgents where it will be used to build IED's for YEARS to come--we're talking about literally hundreds of tons of stuff that can make life miserable for US soldiers (or take it away). The bricks, mortar, and metal might well be outside the country, seeing as how scrap metal was supposed to be the new Iraqi growth industry. But the fact that KNOWN weapons sites were left unguarded is simply criminal, and it amazes me that the sheep known collectively as the media (ok, maybe I'm not all that surprised after all) haven't called Bush, Rumsfeld, or Wolfowitz to task on this--hey, for that matter, maybe someone in Congress could--Rummy and Wolfie show up there on a regular basis.

This gang couldn't shoot straight if you gave them a weaponized laser...