Saturday, April 17, 2004
I won $2.65 at poker tonight. We played Texas Hold 'Em, the greatest of games, for most of the night. It was a $10 buy-in, and I went down early, but wound up with the biggest take. (I also bought in for another $8 at one point, so I wasn't the big winner.) The quote of the night came from my friend Pat who, almost at random, came out with the phrase:
I was petting my doggie with a knife and his tail fell off.
It was awesome. The thing about poker is that you can take on the role of a serious card shark with one or two small alterations. I chose to wear a camouflage bucket hat and some sunglasses. Subtle, I know. (And hardly a card shark did they make.) Others become masterful liars, and yet others set steel with their deadly stare. I make it a bit dramatic, but it is interesting to see how people's poker playing somehow reflects their style of living: their strengths and weaknesses, their temperment, their faith in themselves and their fear of others. Not for all, of course; some people are just dopes and degenerates all the time. I guess there's a reason the game's been around so long.
Is it just me, or does the language of this AFP story sound a bit, shall we say, loose? For starters the headline is Bush's UN move partly down to 'poodle' Blair, says British press.
Britain's press gave Prime Minister Tony Blair some credit for Washington's belated backing for a greater UN role in Iraq, but maintained he was still acting as US President George W. Bush's "poodle".
Despite flattering headlines, a deeper look into the reams of editorials on the Blair-Bush summit suggested the British press was looking rather suspiciously at the relationship between the two, supposed best allies.
All apart from The Sun that is, Britain's most pro-war of tabloids, which jingoistically defended the pair's Iraq policy: "Their tough talk during Mr Blair's White House visit smashed criticism of strained transatlantic relations," it said.
The Financial Times was not so convinced by the bonhomie. For London's respected business paper the couple exhibited only a "facade of unity" based on a shared faith in the need for greater UN input in Iraq.
I don't disagree, and yes, this is an analysis, but it still seems a bit colloquial for a lead story. Probably not an issue. Whatever. Get off my back!
Friday, April 16, 2004
Remember when Bob Woodward disappointed us all with his lackluster Bush At War, painting the bumbling W. as some kind of, well, not-idiot-hero? (Although, to be honest, I never read more than a few excerpts.) Well, the legendary newsman may have gotten such extraordinary access to Bush just so he could get he could write his newest book. It claims -- gasp -- that the President made plans to invade Iraq all the way back in 2001, which is actually about five years too late, but it's still yet another damning book that makes Bush look bad.
President Bush secretly ordered a war plan drawn up against Iraq less than two months after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan and was so worried the decision would cause a furor he did not tell everyone on his national security team, says a new book on his Iraq policy.
Bush feared that if news got out about the Iraq plan as U.S. forces were fighting another conflict, people would think he was too eager for war, journalist Bob Woodward writes in "Plan of Attack," a behind-the-scenes account of the 16 months leading to the Iraq invasion.
"I knew what would happen if people thought we were developing a potential war plan for Iraq," Bush is quoted as telling Woodward. "It was such a high-stakes moment and ... it would look like that I was anxious to go to war. And I'm not anxious to go to war."
Not anxious to go to war? That's not what Paul O'Neil and Richard Clarke say. Come on, we all know BushCo has had it in for Saddam since the very beginning. He was bombing Iraq his first month in office, for Pete's sake, including a major strike on February 16, 2001.
IFILL: So, Tom, is this routine enforcement or are these sending--is the White House sending tough new signals?
Mr. TOM GJELTEN (National Public Radio): Gwen, it's a little bit of both. It's routine in the sense that, believe it or not, this is the fourth time that US planes have bombed Iraq since President Bush--Bush took office. He just--we just haven't heard about the first three times.
IFILL: Just in the last month?
Mr. GJELTEN: Just since January 20th. It's also routine in the sense, as Condoleezza Rice said, that all of these strikes are basically about the same mission, and that is suppressing the Iraqi air defense system that threatens US aircraft. But when the Pentagon briefed about this mission today, they did not say it was a routine mission. In fact, it--it's significantly an es--an escalation in several senses.
It really ought not have been a surprise when they started beating the war drums. They had a great opportunity after 9-11, and for those of us in the blogosphere and on the left, Woodward's shocking claims are rather ho-hum. It's the rest of America that may begin to sit up and listen, and frankly, they're the ones I care about. Woodward lends more credibility to the growing criticisms of BushCo and their hasty, sloppy plans for world domination -- even if Bush can't remember so good.
Woodward says Bush pulled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld aside Nov. 21, 2001 -- when U.S. forces and allies were in control of about half of Afghanistan -- and asked him what kind of war plan he had on Iraq. When Rumsfeld said it was outdated, Bush told him to get started on a fresh one.
Bush said today the subject of Iraq came up four days after the terrorist attacks when he met his national security team at Camp David to discuss a response to the assault.
"I said let us focus on Afghanistan," he said, taking questions after a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Asked about the Nov. 21 meeting with Rumsfeld in a cubbyhole office adjacent to the Situation Room, Bush said only, "I can't remember exact dates that far back."
This guy really models himself after Reagan, doesn't he? Not much else to say here, except that this book will get significant air time, Woodward will do the circuit, and the White House will spend more precious time on damage control. Ahh, can you hear it, can you hear those beautiful cracking sounds?
More slouching numbers on the job front.
New claims for unemployment benefits increased last week by 30,000, the biggest jump in 16 months. Still, analysts said Thursday they believe the labor market has turned a corner, pointing the way to a sustainable economic recovery.
The Labor Department reported that there were 360,000 newly unemployed workers filing for jobless benefits last week. Only a week earlier, the number was 330,000, the lowest in more than three years.
The increase was far above the 7,000 rise in new claims that analysts had expected. It was the largest one-week gain since December 2002, when the country was struggling to rebound from the 2001 recession.
Perhaps those 30,000 could sign on as permanent extras as fans in a new some pro baseball sitcom. That would about fill a stadium.
It seems there are too many bad guys out there these days, and not enough ways to arrest them.
The number of secret surveillance warrants sought by the FBI has increased 85 percent in the past three years, a pace that has outstripped the Justice Department's ability to quickly process them.
Even after warrants are approved, the FBI often doesn't have enough agents or other personnel with the expertise to conduct the surveillance. And the FBI still is trying to build a cadre of translators who can understand conversations that are intercepted in such languages as Arabic, Pashto and Farsi.
It's no surprise to me that law enforcement is, well, enforcing a lot more; nor is it a surprise that the legal system is backed up. What does surprise me? Um, well...
Ever wondered about Abe Lincoln's fabulous top hat? Apparently, there is speculation that the Great Emancipator (ahem) may have been gay. The Log Cabin Republicans claim he was, but what do you think?
The chief evidence, if such it be, of Lincoln's homosexual inclination is his relationship with Joshua Speed, a handsome 22-year-old shopkeeper when the two men met in 1837. Abe, then a 28-year-old lawyer with bright prospects but poor cash flow, arrived in Springfield, Illinois, and asked about the price of bedding at Speed's general store. Learning that Lincoln was nearly broke, Speed invited him to share his bed upstairs. "The traveler inspected the bed and, looking into the merchant's sparkling blue eyes, agreed on the spot," Carol Lloyd wrote in Salon in 1999. "For the next four years the two men shared that bed along with their most private fears and desires."
Nonetheless the intimacy of the two men's friendship suggests to some that there was more going on than frontier privation or fear of frostbite--and rabble-rousing gay activist Larry Kramer says he has proof, namely hitherto unknown letters and a diary kept by Speed. At a gay and lesbian conference in 1999 Kramer read from his unfinished book "The American People," quoting that diary: "He often kisses me when I tease him, often to shut me up . . . he would grab me up by his long arms and hug and hug," Speed purportedly wrote. "Yes, our Abe is like a schoolgirl." But Kramer won't submit his source material to scrutiny until the book's publication, so who knows if it'll wash. C.A. Tripp, a former Kinsey researcher and author of the milestone 1975 text The Homosexual Matrix, reportedly finished a book making similar claims shortly before his death in 2003, but there's no news on when we'll see it.
Kramer's book still has not come out, leading some to speculate that it was all bogus. Nor do there appear to be many contemporary rumors from Honest Abe's time of any predilection toward the same sex. All the same, the chances that at least one of our great leaders was so inclined seem fairly high. It ain't a sin, after all. I only wonder what the general reaction would be, should some sort of evidence emerge. I doubt that many would believe it, and if they did, I imagine the South would rejoice -- or go batty.
John Kerry's rolling up his sleeves (of course it was pretty warm today) and cracking the whip, calling the White House out on their shameless smear tactics at a politcal rally in Pittsburgh.
"I'm tired of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and a bunch of people who went out of their way to avoid their chance to serve when they had the chance," Kerry said. "I'm not going to listen to them talk to me about patriotism."
"I've seen how these people in the White House today, in their twisted sense of ethics and morality, don't think twice about challenging John McCain and what happened to him as a prisoner of war," he said in reference to attacks by President Bush in 2000 on his Republican primary rival McCain, an Arizona senator.
Twisted sense of ethics? Whatever could he mean? He isn't implying that BushCo is dangerously hypocritical for painting themselves as holy christians while systematically dismantling all social programs for their brothers and sisters, killing thousands of innocent Iraqis, and crucifying one-tenth of the American population for its lifestyle choices, is he?
The Bush campaign said on Thursday that it is cutting back its advertising by two-thirds, which Kerry said was designed to "distort" his record. Kerry told reporters he believed he had withstood the early Republican charge.
"They're out 50 million bucks and they got nothing for it," Kerry told reporters on his campaign plane on Thursday night.
Of course the big news out of Pittsburgh is that Jon Bon Jovi rocked out at the rally.
At the same time, we read that Kerry is trying to paint himself as a centrist.
Tacitly acknowledging his vulnerability to harsh portrayals in a barrage of Mr. Bush's advertisements over the past month, Mr. Kerry urged Democrats at a $25,000-a-plate breakfast at the "21" Club in Manhattan to help him paint his own portrait. He promised to begin "a positive affirmative advertising campaign" in "the next days," although his aides said there were no specific plans or timetables.
"A lot of people still don't really know who I am," Mr. Kerry, a four-term Massachusetts Democrat who has everything but the official title of presidential nominee, told the audience of 100 people. "The level of communication that we still need to undertake here is enormous."
Okay, I can deal with a liberal who pretends not to be in order to defeat the worst leader in America's history. Lets just hope he sticks to his liberal record.
Like so much having to do with our government, this is either really evil, or no big deal.
Top Food and Drug Administration officials admitted yesterday that they barred the agency's top expert from testifying at a public hearing about his conclusion that antidepressants cause children to become suicidal because they viewed his findings as alarmist and premature.
"It would have been entirely inappropriate to present as an F.D.A. conclusion an analysis of data that were not ripe," Dr. Robert Temple, the Food and Drug Administration's associate director of medical policy, said in an interview. "This is a very serious matter. If you get it wrong and over-discourage the use of these medicines, people could die."
Yeah, and if this doctor has it right then people could die. Apparently, one Dr. Andrew Mosholder looked at 22 different studies on more than 4,000 children and seven drugs and found that kids on antidepressants were twice as likely to have suicidal tendencies as those given placebos. A British study turned up similar results. (The one drug that was effective, according to Mosholder, was Prozac.) The "controversy" over the study comes from the varying definitions of suicidal behavior. I'd say any time a young kid is talking about suicide, that's suicidal behavior.
FDA officials say Dr. Mosholder, who urged health officials not to prescribe antidepressants to children, did not analyze the data closely enough, just as the public doesn't seem to be analyzing the FDA's lips on the pharmaceutical industry's ass closely enough. How ridicuous is this, that the agency entrusted with our health and safety bans someone from testifying because he says a certain product may not be safe and healthy. Isn't that some kind of contradiction? A dereliction of duty? Negligence? Something? The drug companies, of course, are refusing to publish the results. They'll wait till they come up with some more favorable numbers.
The controversy had its start when GlaxoSmithKline sought a six-month extension to its patents on Paxil. To help guide pediatricians' prescribing habits, federal law grants such extensions when companies test their medicines in children.
The company's studies in depressed children failed to show any positive effect. It was a disappointing finding, but patent extensions are granted even when studies fail. Reviewing the data, Dr. Mosholder noticed in October 2002 that they showed a disturbing number of problems listed under the category, "emotional liability." Suicidal thoughts and self-injurious behavior were among the things lumped into this category. Dr. Mosholder asked GlaxoSmithKline to provide more detail about these cases, according to one of the documents.
In May 2003, the company submitted a new report. It showed that children given Paxil were more likely to become suicidal than those given placebos. In June, the agency announced that doctors should avoid using Paxil in depressed children.
Since when did children need antidepressants? Since when were children depressed? I recall feeling blue and out of place from time to time, but that's because I was trying to figure out the screwed -up world we all live in. I think that's society's problem, not the enzymes in a kid's brain. If there is a slew of depression among a population that should be flying kites and kissing girls and stomping in puddles, then I think we ought to look for a systemic cause and not a pharmacological solution. When in the history of the world has there been such an epidemic of childhood malaise? Is it a new phenomenon or is it a problem massaged and exascerbated by the pharmaceutical industry, a la penile dysfunction?
That thought is depressing.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Here's a good post from Digby, based on a Daily Howler piece, which I found on Atrios. Ahem.
The incomparable Sommerby discusses the piece of RNC propaganda posing as news on the front page of the NY Times this morning. Jim Rutenberg dutifully parrots the painfully obvious Gillespin that the Democratic 9/11 commissioners (particularly Ben-Veniste) are blind partisans who are all over the television promoting themselves at the expense of truth, God and the American Way. This talking point was ALL over GOPTV yersterday, bursting forth from the mouths of every Bush shill from Tuckie Carlson to Brit Hume. In fact, I haven't seen a case of such perfect conformity since the Taiwanese synchronized swim team got a perfect 10.
Sommerby points out the obvious fact that Ruttenberg doesn't name any actual Democrats complaining about this openness (although they certainly could --- John Lehman is all over the place, too.) He says they are, but can't seem to quote one on or off the record. Maybe Zell's trying to keep a lower profile these days. But, the fact is that this is step two in the coordinated GOP effort to discredit the 9/11 committee and anyone with half a brain can spot it a mile away. (Gingerly trashing the widows was step one.)
It's going to be difficult, but the White House will try to smear everyone in America to cover their asses, and that is their only choice if they hope to escape the coming collapse. Timber!, et al.
Someone from the Department of Justice is a Photon Theory fan. He or she spent about a half hour on this blog today.
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I'm by no means paranoid. Yet. I just think it's interesting. Ho hum.
Those crazy, kooky kooks over at the 9-11 Comission are unhappy with the "intelligence community, " the group of agencies largely being blamed for failing before September 11 to suss out a growing terrorist threat. It is clear that something must be done. Their answer: create another spy agency.
The idea of a domestic intelligence agency modeled after Britain's MI-5 is highly controversial because it raises fears of threats to civil liberties. The idea is opposed by former Attorney General Janet Reno, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, his successor Robert Mueller, who spoke against it again at Wednesday's hearing, and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others.
Mueller attacked the idea of an MI-5-type agency. "I do believe that creating a separate agency to collect intelligence in the United States would be a grave mistake. Splitting the law enforcement and the intelligence functions would leave both agencies fighting the war on terrorism with one hand tied behind their backs,'' he said.
Mueller, Freeh and Reno also have said they worry that a domestic spy agency could endanger civil liberties.
Under questioning, Tenet also said that even though a recently released Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing mentioned that al Qaeda might be trying to hijack planes in the United States, he never met personally with Bush in August, 2001 while the president was on vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch -- and he didn't mention the possible threat at a Sept. 4 meeting with other top Bush administration national security figures.
I find it absolutely fascinating that Bush has actually used his vacation as some sort of defense. I was just too busy lassoing ponies and barbecuing to listen to stories abou O-somma-Bin-Lodden, ya see. Yee-haw! As if that were an actual excuse for ignoring the single biggest threat facing the country. For thees clowns, though, it may actually be their best defense. Negligence here looks good compared to what some other people are accusing them of having done. BushCo should hope that the public buys his Happy Texan story. But why didn't Ashcroft pay terrorism any mind? Or Rice? No, friends, I'm afraid the true story is a bit more sordid than Bush in boots.
More spies, please!
Our Great Leader's "vision" for peace in the Middle East apparently doesn't include any input from the Palestinians, which, all told, is nothing new: no one bothered to ask the people living in what is now Israel if they'd mind moving out or getting killed so some other folks could move in. But now, generations later, with an eye on an agreeable framework for both parties, W has reversed US policy and backed Israel's desire to keep some portions of the West Bank and deny Palestinians the right of return. These are perhaos the two biggest issues for Palestinians and Bush has completely circumvented them. Not that they're likely to listen.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat declared Thursday that the Palestinian people will not retreat from their goal of achieving liberty, national sovereignty and a state with "Holy Jerusalem" as its capital.
Arafat's comments came at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, following an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership called to discuss Wednesday's Washington meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
He stressed that the Palestinians have the right to return to "their homeland" inside Israel, despite Bush's declaration Wednesday that refugees would only be able to return to a newly-created Palestinian state.
"Israeli crimes will be faced with more resistance to force Israeli occupiers and herds of settlers to leave Palestinian land," Arafat said. He cautioned that "Israel will not achieve security through occupation, arrogance and assassinating our leaders."
The Palestinians will soon engage on a PR campaign with other countries, including the "Quartet" members behind the, ahem, road map, Russia, the EU, the UN and the US. Prime Minister Queria (remember him?) is also considering stepping down. I wonder if people realize how significant this is. While the US has consistently shat upon the Palestinians, this is the first time any president has said so clearly that Israel has no obligation to withdraw back to its pre-1967 borders. And they did it without asking the Palestinians!
This is easily explained: Bush is working out a deal with his friend Sharon because we need Israel -- er, Bush needs Israel, and both countries are right now involved in similar aggressions against an outside threat. It is also easy for the US to black out the Palestinians since they have no "legitimate" leadership. This is partially true, in my mind. Though I sympathize with theior political plight, I do not agree with their tactics. Blowing up babies just doesn't do it for me. Some argue that they are at war and are engaging in tried and true battle tactics. This may well be true, but wasr doesn't do it for me, either. Ghandi freed a much bigger country from a much more powerful occupier without any suicide bombings. (What has happened since is a different story.)
Nonetheless, Bush has proved his bufoonery yet again, and in so doing has continued to put more Americans and Israelis in danger. Who does he think he is? What does he even know about the situation over there? What he reads in the Bible? America's policy with that region is so inherantly racist that I think people fail to see it: Palestinians are monsters and terrorists, and the Israelis are peaceful, oppressed people being driven from their homeland. Period. Now they'll live inside a giant fence while Israel pushes further and further into their borders. With America's blessing.
Here's an editorial from Lebanon.
By supporting Sharon's proposal as is, Bush has effectively rewarded him and the state of Israel for decades of occupation of the Palestinian people. Bush even went farther than was needed or expected in supporting the plan, saying in clearer terms that the US does not expect Israel to withdraw to the Green Line of 1949 nor to take in any Palestinian refugees.
According to Sharon's plan, Israel will be annexing at least 25% of Palestinian land in Gaza and the West Bank. And it will continue to maintain its stranglehold of all Palestinian controlled areas. Bush has become the first president to legitimise the settlements in the Palestinian territories in contradiction to UN resolutions and against the will of the international community.
And my favorite quote of the day.
"Imagine if Palestinians said, `O.K., we give California to Canada,' " said Michael Tarazi, a legal adviser for the Palestine Liberation Organization. "Americans should stop wondering why they have so little credibility in the Middle East."
So where are we now? With bin Laden threatening more attacks, his -- and much of the Arab world's -- number one issue remains a resolution to the Israel-Palestine confilct. And now Bush puts his balls squarely in Sharon's pocket, only further feeding conspiracy and anti-semitism among those whom we least want to be anti-semitic and full of conspiracy. How many months till November?
Big Dog bin Laden is apparently going all-square with our homeboys across the pond. In a tape broadcast on Al-Jazeera, the terrorist bigwig promised to halt any activity in any European countries that get their armies out of muslim nations; any country, that is, except America and Israel. We're screwed.
Irish citizenship, entitling one to all the privileges of the European Union, only costs $160.00.
The voice on the tape, which a CIA official said is "likely" bin Laden, also said the March 11 train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people were retaliation for Spain's role in Iraq, Afghanistan and with the Palestinians.
"The announcement of the truce starts with the withdrawal of the last soldier from our land and the door is open for three months from the date of the announcement of this statement.
"Whoever rejects this truce and wants war, we are its (war's) sons and whoever wants this truce, here we bring it." Security analysts said bin Laden was maneuvering to split the U.S.-led coalition and scare wavering members out of Iraq.
It's not like countries haven't listened to his demands before. Even the US. Remember the news last summer that the we'd be relocating bases from Saudi Arabia to Qatar. For logistical purposes, of course, and not because it was one of al-Qaeda's demands. They'd bnever admit to any acquienssence, but that was a simple move in which no one gets hurt and some mollification takes place. Some. Not much. America is still the most hated country in the world, which is a pretty decent position to be in I think. Why be adored like Sweden or Fiji? When's the last time Fiji came out with a good movie? And Sweden has, like, no tanks. Nah, we profess tough love over here in Freedomia. And to all the other nations of the world, I have this timeless message: It hurts us more than it hurts you.
And yet, to impress their American step-parent, some European countries have rejected bin-Laden's offer. France and Italy said they won't bargain with terrorists, and the EU's official statement is that there is no negotitating under a terrorist threat. England and germany likewise refused. This is probably for the best. You can't really trust people who are willing to blow themselves up, I suppose. But where will it end? More bombings and more bombings and more threats and more laws to stop terrorism and more terrorism.
I apologize for missing a few days' posts during this experiment. My intention is to have something devastatingly insightful on the Interweb each day, but sometimes things (sleep, poker, robot assassins) get in the way.
This weekend I went to Boston (to see my girlfriend) and New Hampshire (to see my left-wing family) for Easter. It was nice. Besides the ham, everyone around me is getting political. Most, thankfully, want George Bush the hell out of 1600 Pennsylvania. There is a growing consciousness, I think, borne out of the dire, near-apocalyptic state BushCo. has put us in. It didn't used to be that you could talk with a guy in a camouflage vest at a bar in Concord, NH about Condi's testimony, and not get knifed or thrown out. While many remain trapped in Camp W., even those who consider themselves Bush fans are beginning to doubt the divinity of it all. Other friends of mine, who have never cared much for Beltway goings-on, are as well-versed in the latest news as Chris Matthews or any of the other talking heads. The Information Age is finally living up to its name.
Coming home to NYC from Boston Monday afternoon, I rode the famous Chinatown bus, a generic term for four private companies that run between the two Chinatowns. (In fact, they apparently connect between all the major Chinatowns across the country.) The $10 phenomenon is becoming far too popular, as entire families are now making the trek. This trip was completely full, and many were turned away. I sat behind a French mother and her two adorable French sons. The boys were playing some kind of counting game, and, after passing the point of ultimate fatigue, were becoming extremely giddy. Mere took the liberty of pulling their ears and giving their heads a little wack. The corporal punishment was actually charming in that Continental way, though it's not something that our average American parent could probably get away with in public. Maybe a Chinese woman or a big black mother.
Eventually, la mere switched seats so she was sitting between the two. They immediately calmed down. The one to her right began some extremely involved story; he was speaking so seriously and with such confidence that I was drawn in. I can understand French passibly, but it takes me a long time to warm up. I was fascinated, but couldn't quite tell what he was talking about -- that is until I heard the word Boba Phet. The boy was giving a scene-by-scene rundown of Return of the Jedi, and he was doing a pretty good job. It sounded so elegant, slipped out in the French tongue, this tale of space warriors, betrayal and honor. And I felt a sort of camaraderie with boys everywhere, knowing that children still share a passion for these movies, even in countries where they drink wine at age 11, and show women's breasts on network television, dear God. I relived some of those magnificent scenes with the mother and son, and she, I must say, did a great job of listening intently to the tale. Some things really never change.
(In case you're all wondering, the French word for carbonite is pronounced carboneet)
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Aw/ful/esome. Look at this photo-montage of W. and the American casualties in Iraq. Surely this image can get passed around pretty quickly and make its point. You know, a thousand words and all. Courtesy of ghastlymess.
This just seems perfect to me. Perfect.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
I don't blame them, quite frankly. Many of the private contractors in Iraq are packing up and heading out as of late. It could be because their employees are getting shot at, blown up, and kidnapped.
The risks to civilian contractors and military convoys moving supplies from Kuwait and around Baghdad have become menacingly clear. After the attack on the Kellogg, Brown Root convoy, military officials said on Monday that they feared the nine people had been taken hostage by militants. On Monday, a convoy of flatbed trucks carrying M-113 armored personnel carriers was attacked and burned on a road in Latifiya, about 30 kilometers, or 20 miles, south of Baghdad, according to The Associated Press. Witnesses said three people had been killed.
Kellogg, Brown and Root, a division of Halliburton and one of the biggest contractors, vowed on Monday "to stay the course and move forward with the logistical support to troops," but with unspecified changes in delivery and security procedures.
But John McCarthy, director of projects for TTS Group, a British company whose Kuwaiti affiliate ships cargo into Iraq, said his company would not operate north of Basra, in the relatively secure south.
"I wouldn't do that any more than put my hand on a hot stove," McCarthy said in a telephone interview.
"We'll give it another week. If it doesn't improve, we'll have to leave," says Trevor Holborn of the Amman-based Shaheen Group, one of hundreds of foreign workers who have suspended their operations and headed for shelter inside the walls of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified enclave where the occupation has its headquarters.
British diplomats and some contractors are bunkered down in an underground car-park inside the Green zone, dubbed the "Batcave". But many American contractors are housed in trailer accommodation. Their sides have been bolstered with sandbags but the soft-top roofs are singularly vulnerable to mortar attack.
That's the thing, you see. These guys, though I'm sure most of them are proud Americans, are here for a paycheck, not to die for their country. That is their sole purpose, and no matter how lucrative their contracts with the US goverment, they cannot be bound to stick around through heavy fighting. The only problem is that the military is relying more and more on these private firms, and they're running everything from mess halls to missiles. Privitization rules!
(Thanks to Atrios.)
Thanks to Dad for this one.
Rep. Henry Waxman is bugging Ashcroft again. This time, he wants Jesus's best buddy to make public an FBI report on the prominent Saudis who were flown out of the US in the days after 9-11, while the rest of us wallowed in dank hotels and airport lobbies. This is the link to the letter Waxman wrote Ashcroft last month. It's in PDF form, so I'll copy some of it for you below.
On March 15, 2004, the federal Bureau of Investigation provided a classified briefing to the staff of the Government Reform Committee regarding the departure of members of Osama bin Laden's family and the Saudi royal family following the September 11, 2001 attacks. This briefing addressed allegations... that the US government allowed [them] to leave the country... without meaningful interviews.
I am writing to urge that you disclose publicly the information provided to the Committee staff... Some of the information provided in the briefing could help dispel aspects of the Administration's conduct. [Kill 'em with kindness!]
In particular, I am concerned about apparent disparities between the considerations provided to members of the bin Laden family and the Saudi royal family and the treatment that so many other Arabs and Arab-Americans received from our government. ...Federal law enforcement officials launched a virtual dragnet targeting foreign nationals from Arab nations.
Against this backdrop, the treatment that members of the bin Laden family received from federal authorities is difficult to understand.
Good old Henry Waxman. Always keeping it real. And could he have mentioned the name bin Laden any more?
The country's number one crime-fighting fundamentalist is again blaming the Clinton Administration for his mistakes. Oh, what a feeling!
In a veiled swipe at the Clinton administration, Attorney General John Ashcroft testified Tuesday the nation was stunned by the Sept. 11 attacks because "for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to our enemies."
This despite the fact that Ashcroft himself denied an appeal from the FBI for additional counterterrorism money, just 4 months before the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history. But Clinton did get that sinful blowjob. (Okay, I don't like Clinton very much, either. In fact, I believe he is a complete sack of slime. He set the stage for the USA Patriot Act with his Anti-Terror Act, and let us not forget Waco and Ruby Ridge. It seems, too, that controversial figures around him always wound up dead. He was also a bit cowardly in his response to terrorism: lobbing a few missiles at a Sudanese aspirin factory, lobbing a few missiles at Baghdad. But his people knew about Osama and actually were concerned. Sandy Berger sat Condi down and told her what was what, and she still yawned. He was a Democrat and was tougher on national security than this Administration has been in actuality -- forget bluster. Their policies have not made us safer at all. Plus, I could look at Clinton without feeling sick.) Back to the Jesus freak:
Appearing before a commission investigating the worst attacks in the nation's history, Ashcroft also said he moved quickly once in office to overturn a "failed policy" that he said allowed American agents to capture terrorist leader Osama bin Laden but not assassinate him.
In a nationally televised appearance, Ashcroft said the government had become bound up in legal restrictions that grew steadily more restrictive. "Even if they could have penetrated bin Laden's training camps, they would have needed a battery of lawyers" to take action, he said dismissively.
These guys have passed the buck so many times, they're lapping the darn thing. No one is willing to take responsibility for anything. And I don't blame them: the nation's worst tragedy is not something you want to stand up and take credit for. But I have to wonder, who will take the fall. Condi was tossed around a bit. Tenet could be one. I don't know how Ashcroft could be let loose. Dick Cheney will definitely not go. Yet if it's anyone else in the cabinet -- Rummy, Wolfowitz -- then it gets too close to George, and too close to their master plan, and that's no good. This cannot be a total exposure or America wold truly see once and for all how 9-11, Iraq, bin Laden and world domination are all connected, wink-wink. To crucify one of the policy makers would be to crucify the policy. this is obviously why they're trying to put the intelligence community on the cross. But will it be enough? It's beginning to become clear that Bush and his minions at least misunderestimated the al-Qaeda threat. At worst-- well, at worst they'd be dragged throught the streets naked.
In a rational world, with decent newspapers and a curious citizenry -- well, that's too loaded a preface. I'd have to work back in time a good number of years to justify almost anything, so I'll start instead with: I'm shocked, but not surprised at the latest diplomatic news concerning Iraq. The American ambassador to the UN, probable war-criminal John Negroponte, is apparently the most likely choice to head the new embassy in Baghdad. Just as soon as that country becomes totally free and democratic, in exactly 78 days.
Several Bush administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Negroponte's nomination would be announced soon, although others cautioned a final decision on an envoy to Iraq had not been made.The largest embassy in the world. Odd. This seems to indicate a pretty substantial US presence there. Negroponte. Odd. Because I could have sworn this bastard was involved in some pretty gruesome death-squad stuff. Negroponte used to be Ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s. He has a lot of blood on his hands.
Negroponte, 64, is a career foreign service officer whom President Bush recruited from the corporate world to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
There, he helped win approval of a resolution to expand the mandate of an international security force in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban government.
The administration plans to restore Iraqi self-rule by July 1, but intends to keep at least 100,000 troops there for at least a year. The U.S. Embassy will be housed temporarily in a palace that belonged to deposed President Saddam Hussein and when fully manned will be the largest in the world.
He oversaw the growth of military aid to Honduras from $4 million to $77.4 million a year. In early 1984, two U.S. mercenaries, Thomas Posey and Dana Parker, contacted Negroponte, stating they wanted to supply arms to the Contra army after the U.S. Congress had banned governmental add. Documents show that Negroponte connected the two with a contact in the Honduran military. The operation was exposed nine months later, at which point the Reagan administration denied any U.S. government involvement, despite Negroponte’s contact earlier that year. Other documents uncovered a scheme of Negroponte and then-Vice President George Bush to funnel Contra aid money through the Honduran government.
In addition to his work with the Nicaraguan Contra army, Negroponte helped conceal from Congress the murder, kidnapping and torture abuses of a CIA-equipped and -trained Honduran military unit, Battalion 3-16. No mention of these human rights violations ever appeared in State Department Human Rights reports for Honduras. The Baltimore Sun reports that Efrain Diaz Arrivillaga, then a delegate in the Honduran Congress and a voice of dissent, told the Sun that he complained to Negroponte on numerous occasions about the Honduran military’s human rights abuses. Rick Chidester, a junior embassy official under Negroponte, reported to the Sun that he was forced to omit an exhaustive gathering of human rights violations from his 1982 State Department report.
And that's just a little survey of his activities. He's even linked to the murder of several Honduran nuns. Nuns! He's not the only one involved in the Iran-Contra Affair to get a renewed post in Washington. Eliot Abrams, who pled guilty to involvement in the scandal, was appointed to the National Security Council, and Admiral John Poindexter briefly headed up the former Total Information Awareness. Do people get upset about this? Some do. Most don't know, and even if they heard about it would not believe it. It's too much to believe. This whole Administration is too much to believe. I continue to assert that their biggest strength is the size of their lies, and the sheer volume of their illegal and amoral activity. It's too much to process.
But the good thing about the Administration is that they tell you exactly what they're going to do. Either by saying the opposite, or by appointing someone like Negroponte to perhaps the most important diplomatic post of the last ten years. He is a murderous, thieving sycophant to American greed and hegemony, and his very presence in that palatial Embassy spits on the democratic ideals we're supposedly opening Iraq up with. He is the perfect representation of everything that is wrong with this whole affair, and if he's appointed it will prove, quite literally, that the US wants nothing but oil and obediance from this little project. How can this man represent democracy? Freedom?
Sunday, April 11, 2004
Like terrorism? Of course not. SUpport terrorism? Absolutely not. Hang out with guys in turbans? Could wind up in a British prison.
Sympathisers with extremist Islamic groups will risk jail under controversial plans to make merely associating with a suspected terrorist a crime.
The move is aimed at stopping those now floating on the fringes of terrorist cells from being sucked further in. It reflects serious concern - both within government and among the moderate Muslim community - about how to tackle disaffected young men attracted by the teachings of fundamentalists, or by British mosques identified as recruiting grounds for al-Qaeda activists.
But it will be highly controversial among civil liberties campaigners, since it would allow people who have committed no crime to be dragged before the courts in a 'guilt-by-association' culture.
A spokesman for Home Secretary David Blunkett says the new law is aimed at deterring otherwise fine young muslims from hanging out with undesirables. Like some kind of Tennessee WIlliams race play. With bombs.
It's not all bad. Even though (Mideastern) people can go to jail without having committed a crime, this method has apparently had some success in foiling plots: it's based upon a French law which was used to curb terrorism in Algeria.
The French investigative judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, nicknamed 'The Sheriff', not only uncovered an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the United States embassy in Paris shortly before the World Trade Centre attack, but also provided a detailed picture of a European terror network, linked to al-Qaeda, stretching throughout France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Britain. Paradoxically, many of the North Africans he targeted moved on to the UK as a result.
Under Blunkett's plans, 'associates' of terrorists would initially face a civil court order - like the anti-social behaviour orders slapped on unruly teenagers - banning individuals from contact with named terror suspects. This would be intended as a deterrent: disobedience would become an offence punishable by jail.
'Association' could cover not only meeting in person, but communicating via email or telephone, or even fundraising: sources close to the Home Secretary said, however, there would have to be evidence of some suspicious intent, rather than merely socialising.
So I guess it is pretty bad. Email. Internet. I don't like when law enforcement starts getting involved in the Information Superhighway. Not at all. We're definitely tottering on some sort of safety-freedom axis precipice (safety-freedom axis precipice? What the hell is that?) in which the interplay between fear and liberty is at its most violent. How much are we willing to give up in order to feel safe? Will we ever feel safe so long as we're taking all these extreme measures to feel secure?
We're chipping away at the very freedom we're trying to protect. I believe it's happening in a very natural way; we must be psychologicallly prepared for this kind of suppression, or we wouldn't allow this incremental wall to go up around us.
There's an interesting field of study called Psychohistory which claims that societies go through stages of liberation and repression, essentially acting out their birth and childhood over and over. I'm not sure how this is related to the story from Britain, but it's worth checking out.
Those crazy Hollywood liberals may soon commit the worst kind of treason, as one studio is planning to produce a film version of Richard Clarke's explosive expose, Against All Enemies. John Travolta will probably be in it. And Samuel Jackson. And Hillary Duff, maybe.
Sony Pictures has optioned the film rights to former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke's book, which questions the country's readiness to address potential terrorist threats before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The project will be produced by John Calley, a veteran Hollywood executive who stepped down as the studio's chief executive and chairman last year.
My father thinks this will cheapen Clarke's testimony, and it probably will. I wonder, though, if it speaks to a political awakening; usually we have to wait 25 years before Hollywood touches any sensitive issues. This is coming a couple of weeks after it hit the fan. Or is it just testament to the groveling, drooling greed of our society, in which anything and everything is for sale, and amoral, shallow opportunists will stop at nothing to make a dollar off the worst kind of tragedy?
Food for thought.