Friday, May 30, 2008

Mea culpa

U.S. reassigns Marine for passing out Bible verses to Muslims
By Leila Fadel and Jamal Naji | McClatchy Newspapers
Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2008
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The U.S. military confirmed Thursday that a Marine in Fallujah passed out coins with a Gospel verse on them to Sunni Muslims, a military spokesman in the Iraqi city said. The man was immediately removed from the checkpoint and reassigned.

Seems it really was only one overzealous young Marine.

My apologies to all LTC Marine chaplains!

Stop the madness.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

a call for democracy in Iraq

Al Sadr: Let Iraqis decide on U.S. troops
May 27, 2008
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An agreement between the United States and Iraq to allow U.S. troops to remain operating in Iraq past 2008 should be put to a popular referendum, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged in an online message to his followers.

Has anyone else noticed that al Sadr seems to be the loudest voice for participative democracy in Iraq? Why can't W embrace him? [... well, other than the fact that al Sadr really hates the U.S. occupation?]

Okay. If not "embrace" how 'bout "tolerate"? The Sadrist movement is popular. They've made honest efforts to work thru the "system". Their efforts have been rewarded by U.S. & Iraq govt with belligerence. Why not urge Maliki to reconcile with Sadr?

Too simplistic? Probably... but what we're doing ISN'T WORKING!

Stop the madness.

Winning hearts & minds

Marines pass out Gospel verse to Iraqi Muslims
By Jamal Naji and Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers
Wed May 28, 2008
FALLUJAH, Iraq — At the western entrance to the Iraqi city of Fallujah Tuesday, Muamar Anad handed his residence badge to the U.S. Marines guarding the city. They checked to be sure that he was a city resident, and when they were done, Anad said, a Marine slipped a coin out of his pocket and put it in his hand.

Out of fear, he accepted it, Anad said. When he was inside the city, the college student said, he looked at one side of the coin. "Where will you spend eternity?" it asked.

He flipped it over, and on the other side it read, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16."

"They are trying to convert us to Christianity," said Anad, a Sunni Muslim like most residents of this city in Anbar province. At home, he told his story, and his relatives echoed their disapproval: They'd been given the coins, too, he said.

Whose bright idea was this? Will "a few bad apples" be blamed... probably not using that phrase; perhaps, "overzealous young Marines" honestly acting out of love for their Arab brethren.

Given publicity over the past few years regarding conservative Christian evangelism at our military academies, I'm betting that this idiotic gesture was the brainchild of some fairly highly placed Marine chaplain - LTC or above.

I'm pretty sure this is a really lousy way to secure the loyalty and support of our would-be allies - all of them Muslim!

Stop the madness!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

just sayin', "hi"

Day-trip to Clearwater Marine Aquarium today. CMA is a marine-wildlife rescue operation that funds itself by offering tour of the facility. 30 paid staff; 500 volunteers. Home of Winter - the tail-less dolphin being fitted with prostetic tail.

I you're in the area, CMA is well-worth the visit. (We visited last August. Based on that experience is was high on our list of "Do agains!" this time out.)

I've been doing a poor job keeping with current events, politics, etc.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, I've not missed the daily downer at all!


Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Last throes", anyone?

US ambassador: al-Qaida close to defeat in Iraq
By LEE KEATH, Associated Press Writer
Sun May 25, 2008
BAGHDAD - The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Saturday that al-Qaida's network in the country has never been closer to defeat, and he praised Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his moves to rein in Shiite and Sunni militant groups.

Personally, I think I'll hold off on celebrating till the headline reads,
al-Qaida DEFEATED in Iraq
The "light at the end of the tunnel" narratives long ago lost their credence.

Regarding al-Maliki's moves to rein in Shiite & Sunni militant groups, I note that the U.S. co-opted the Sunni militant groups in Anbar - paying them and renaming them "Citizens Councils"; and that the only Shiite group al-Maliki seems to care about is al Sadr's Mahdi Army. Recall, al Sadr is Maliki's political opponent. Weakening Sadr is high on Maliki's list of priorities... I'm not sure why it's also high on our list. If W were serious about promoting democracy he'd welcome al Sadr's grassroots political activism.

Call me when the good news in fact represents a fait accompli, not the end of a rainbow.

Stop the madness.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

An anniversary

To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person who observes this anniversary: Today is the fourth anniversary of W's War College speech, in which he outlined the path to victory in Iraq.

In years past, I have sent email to folks I thought might care: Olberman, Matthews, Maddow, DLC, DCCC, etc. No one paid any attention.

This year, I'll celebrate on al Qaeda in Albuquerque!
President Outlines Steps to Help Iraq Achieve Democracy and Freedom
Remarks by the President on Iraq and the War on Terror
United States Army War College
Carlisle, Pennsylvania
May 24, 2004
There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom.
The first of these steps will occur next month, when our coalition will transfer full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens who will prepare the way for national elections.
The second step in the plan for Iraqi democracy is to help establish the stability and security that democracy requires.
The third step in the plan for Iraqi democracy is to continue rebuilding that nation's infrastructure, so that a free Iraq can quickly gain economic independence and a better quality of life.
The fourth step in our plan is to enlist additional international support for Iraq's transition.
The fifth and most important step is free, national elections, to be held no later than next January.
Five steps. Two completed (sort of):
- Transfer sovereignty. Yes, Bremer left.
- Hold free, national elections. Yes, bringing Iran-allied Shi'ites to power.

The other three? We're still waiting.
- "Establish the stability and security that democracy requires". That would be the surge, right? Two-and-a-half years after the speech... and I'm not convinced "stability and security" have been established. Anyone wanna convince me?

- "Rebuilding that nation's infrastructure". Does anyone know how many hours/day Baghdad has electricity? What proportion of Iraqis have safe drinking water? What percent have functional sewage systems?... no, no one does: these basic data are not provided by the government or the news media. Last I heard - not that long ago - raw sewage ran through the streets of Sadr City... in the heart of Iraq's capital!

- "Enlist additional international support". Has W even made an effort? If so, it's been well-concealed! The only folks - other than the U.S. - who seem to be taking an active interest in Iraq are Iran and Syria. Is this what W had in mind?

Cool! Of 5 steps to "to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom" exactly 2 have been completed... or even started! This sounds a lot like 40% to me, which - even in an era of grade inflation - pretty much counts as an "F".

Four years later we're still planning to establish security, restore infrastructure, and engage the international community. None of these will occur tomorrow... tho' McCain promises all will be realized by 2013!

As I've said before, W believes that reciting the magic words is sufficient. He took NO action to in fact achieve the three unrealized "steps". All that mattered was delivering the speech.

Happy 4th anniversary!

Stop the madness.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I'm back... sorta...

Biz trip was exhausting. Training my replacement...

On the bright side: the time flew! My replacement is amazingly capable, and demanded of me very detailed training. The three days were VERY long, but very well spent - I actually got excited about work!

On the less-than-bright side: I've not had time to post!... or even to read the news! [I've somehow found time to work at least one crossword puzzle each day... hotel provided USA Today & Sacramento Bee.]

Flying to Florida tomorrow - VACATION!... Better-half expects house to be in non-embarassing state for house-sitter (nephew). We're now in heavy-duty cleaning mode. I'm taking a break.

Back to the bright side: vacation with friends in Florida ought afford opportunity to at least read the news... and respond appropriately on Al Qaeda in Albuquerque! [note: I chose to spell it out to attract NSA/CIA/FBI.] In the best of all possible worlds: if you read this blog, you are being watched!

... sigh - I think I ought return to kitchen-cleaning duties.


Monday, May 19, 2008

... my continuing apology

... on biz travel Tues - Thurs. Little/no posting.

... vacation, 24 May - 1 June. Little/no posting.

There WILL be an ANNIVERSARY celebrated on 24 May! Stay tuned!


For what it's worth...

It's been quite a while since I've demonstrated my psychic abilities.

I'm not sure these two items quite count, but I'll report 'em anyway.

1. An editorial in today's USA Today, Talking to an adversary isn't necessarily appeasement, pretty much repeats points I made a couple of days ago.

2. As reported by C&L, Sen Obama has presented a realistic assessment of the Iranian threat: The Iranian threat is tiny compared to the USSR. Back on 20 March I noted that, In a rational world, these guys are flies - maybe tsetse flies, but flies, nonetheless, referring to both bin Laden & Ahmadinejad.

Yeah, I know - not quite the same as reading next week's news today... but I'll still take these as more evidence of my psychic abilities!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

bin who?

Bin Laden lashes out at Arab leaders
18 May 2008
CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden released a new message on Sunday denouncing Arab leaders for sacrificing the Palestinians and saying the head of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah did not really have the strength to take on Israel.

Bin Laden is still around?

Whatever happened to
THE PRESIDENT: "They will try to hide, they will try to avoid the United States and our allies - but we're not going to let them. They run to the hills; they find holes to get in. And we will do whatever it takes to smoke them out and get them running, and we'll get them."
Oh, yeah... this was W speaking - say the magic words and all is well.

More than six-and-a-half years after 9/11, Osama is still free to threaten the world.

Heckuva job, W!

Stop the madness!

Who's in charge (this would be fun, if only...)

Sanchez may have been commander in Iraq, but he says he was just following orders
By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers
Fri May 16, 2008
WASHINGTON — To hear retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez explain it, the mistakes of the Iraq war that happened while he was in command there weren't his fault. Not Abu Ghraib, not the birth of the insurgency, not the decision to let rebel cleric Muqtada al Sadr survive.
Sanchez argues that crafting a strategy wasn't his responsibility, even as the top commander in Iraq . That fell to the civilian leaders, such as the secretary of defense and the president.

Being flippant: Ok... so, who's in charge?
Former top general in Iraq says he was just following orders of civilian leadership.
W claims he takes advice of generals on the ground regarding strategy.

My notion of an American value: accountability.

End of flippancy.

To some extent, I agree with Sanchez: Defining strategic objectives is the job of civilian leadership. Once strategic objectives have been defined, it falls upon the military leadership - say, for example, the commanding general in the field - to develop a strategy to achieve those strategic objectives. With no clearly articulated strategic objectives, the military is pretty much at a loss - and under such circumstance, yes - possibly the best the commanding general can do is offer advice & follow orders. Pathetic!

As the commanding general in Iraq, Sanchez had the obligation to demand of his civilian leaders, "What are our strategic objectives?" How else could he hope to develop a winning strategy?

A flippant aside: "Following orders" is not a particularly compelling defense! The Nuremberg trials established more-or-less firm legal precedent that "following orders" is not a sufficient defense against charges of war crimes. As I've mentioned before, as a basic trainee in the 1975 all-volunteer Army, I was lectured on the obligation of the soldier to disobey an illegal order.

Our current general, Petraeus, seems happy to follow in Sanchez's footsteps. In his two highly publicized Congressional appearances, he has not once mentioned the strategic objectives he is pursuing.

Back to the main point: accountability.

Rumsfeld has been cited as saying that he gave his generals what they said they needed for the invasion... tho' I seem to recall a good deal of commentary suggesting that Rummy had an ideologically-based idee fixe that 100,000 troops would be sufficient, and pretty much made that number the boundary condition within which pre-war planning took place. [Sorry - I've not the energy or inclination to seek references for this not-so-vague memory. I'm sufficiently certain of its truth to trust that my readers can find the the appropriate citations with a little bit of time on "the Google".]

W's Iraq disaster is just that - W's! Not America's. Not the military's. Not the generals'. Only W is to blame.

On the bright side: McCain seems more than willing to assume responsibility for W's mess! To McCain's credit, in a recent speech in Columbus, OH, he does in fact, present a desired end-state in Iraq:
Remarks By John McCain in Columbus, Ohio
May 15, 2008
By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced. Civil war has been prevented; militias disbanded; the Iraqi Security Force is professional and competent; al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated; and the Government of Iraq is capable of imposing its authority in every province of Iraq and defending the integrity of its borders. The United States maintains a military presence there, but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role.
"It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
[SecDef Rumsfeld, 7 Feb 2003]
McCain's vision takes us to TEN YEARS. This is not the war we were sold. It is not the war we bought.

Again: if you like where YOUR country is today, if you like the direction it's headed... by all means, vote Republican!

Stop the madness!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The horserace

Big Brown wins Preakness; poised for Triple Crown
By BETH HARRIS, AP Racing Writer
17 May 2008
BALTIMORE - Not once but twice, jockey Kent Desormeaux sneaked a peek to see if anyone was gaining on Big Brown. "I looked between my legs, under my arms, and they were eight (lengths) behind me," Desormeaux said. "I stopped pushing. I said, `That's enough.'"

You weren't expecting a comment on the campaign, were you?

I watched the Kentucky Derby, missed today's Preakness.

Once upon a time I routinely dropped $$$ on horse races - not much $$$... I was in the Army, after all - not a lot of expendable cash! I'm not much of a handicapper. No, that's not quite right. I'm a TERRIBLE handicapper!

... that said, I was impressed by Big Brown's Derby victory - the jockey ran the race very well, keeping Big Brown 4 or 5 back till final turn.

Accounts of the Preakness suggest a similar winning strategy - holding Big Brown back till the final turn, then turning it on.

We'll see if this wisdom prevails in the Belmont Stakes. I recall that Smarty Jones, after winning both Derby & Preakness in 2004, was pushed to an early lead in the Belmont... and faded.

The first time I paid any attention to horse racing was 1973 - spring semester, junior year in college. Secretariat took the Triple Crown. Jackie Stewart was named Sports Illustrated "Sportsman of the Year" for 1973. I was unhappy with the choice, believing it ought have gone to Secretariat... tho' then I suppose it'd have been awarded as "Sportshorse of the Year".

It's been 30 years since I've bet on a horse race. This is a good thing.


A public service

(This post is intended as a general public service, but may benefit W apologists more than others. If you're going to scream, "APPEASER!" at the top of your lungs, you ought at least know the history!)
from Modern History Sourcebook:
The following is the wording of the statement that Neville Chamberlain waved when he stepped off the plane after the conference in Berlin had ended on 30 September, 1938.
"We, the German Führer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for two countries and for Europe.

"We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.

"We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe."
Chamberlain read this statement to a cheering crowd in front of 10 Downing St. and said:
"My good friends this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time."
[Excerpted from "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." ]
And the contents of the agreement?
Munich Agreement
The Munich Agreement (Czech: Mnichovská dohoda; Slovak: Mníchovská dohoda; German: Münchner Abkommen) was an agreement regarding the Sudetenland Crisis among the major powers of Europe after a conference held in Munich, Germany, in 1938 and signed in the early hours of September 30. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the future of Czechoslovakia in the face of territorial demands made by German dictator Adolf Hitler. The agreement, signed by Nazi Germany, France, Britain, and Italy permitted German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland was of immense strategic importance to Czechoslovakia, as most of its border defenses were situated there.

Because the state of Czechoslovakia was not invited to the conference, the Munich Agreement is commonly called the Munich Dictate by Czechs and Slovaks (Czech: Mnichovský diktát; Slovak: Mníchovský diktát). The phrase Munich betrayal (Czech: Mnichovská zrada; Slovak: Mníchovská zrada) is also frequently used because military alliances between Czechoslovakia and France were not honored.
The settlement gave Germany the Sudetenland starting October 10, and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further. On September 30th after some rest, Chamberlain went to Hitler and asked him to sign a peace treaty between the United Kingdom and Germany. After Hitler's interpreter translated it for him, he happily agreed.
[Wikipedia entry, Munich Agreement; emphasis added]
Note: if Hitler had in fact gone no further, Chamberlain might well be remembered as one of the great statesmen of the 20th century.

Instead, Hitler took Chamberlain's eagerness for peace-at-any-cost as a sign of weakness. The following September, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII.

By mid-wiving the Munich Agreement, Chamberlain sacrificed an autonomous nation to Germany without even consulting the sacrificial victims; and ran rough-shod over existing binding international treaties, denying to Czechoslovakia the international support it thought it had previously secured.

This is quite a bit more than simply "talking" with the bad guys. This is bending over backwards to give the bad guys whatever they ask for in return for vague and unenforceable promises of future good behavior.

"Talk" and "diplomacy" were successfully employed by Nixon in China, and by Saint Reagan with the Soviet Union. I somehow don't believe that any in W's Administration, or any in Senator McCain's campaign, will soon be labeling Nixon & Saint Reagan "appeasers".

Stop the madness.

Friday, May 16, 2008

This, that, and t'other

When Saint Reagan pulled the U.S. military out of Lebanon after the attack on the Marine Barracks in 1983, no one accused him of "cutting and running", or of dishonoring the dead by prudently getting the living out of harm's way.

Saint Reagan talked with Gorbachev, the leader of the Evil Empire. No one accused him of appeasing the godless Commies.

Nixon has a solid foreign-policy achievement to his legacy: establishing diplomatic relations with the godless Chinese Commie bastards!

Anyone can talk with friends. It's not that hard... it's even enjoyable. Even arguing with friends is a pleasant way to spend an evening. It takes courage and character to talk with your enemies.

After deliberately walking away from negotiations with North Korea at the beginning his first term, W has spent the past year trying desperately to achieve some claim to diplomatic fame by belatedly engaging the godless Korean Commies. (Recall, W even publicly dissed SecDef Powell when Powell had the audacity to suggest that W's Administration would take up talks with N. Korea where Clinton had left off.)

W similarly walked away from the Mid-East negotiations Clinton had nurtured. Now, in his final year, he hopes to get something - anything - on paper - a lasting legacy in the region. Pitiful.

Whate'er became of Cheney's energy policy, formulated - as best we can tell - by his OilPatch buds? Facing $130/bbl oil, Dick has been remarkably silent.

And just a reminder:
THE PRESIDENT: "They will try to hide, they will try to avoid the United States and our allies - but we're not going to let them. They run to the hills; they find holes to get in. And we will do whatever it takes to smoke them out and get them running, and we'll get them."
[President Urges Readiness and Patience, Remarks by the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft
Camp David
Thurmont, Maryland, 15 Sep 2001]
Followed shortly thereafter by
[Mullah] Omar: "I am considering two promises. One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God's path, you can reside anywhere on this earth and will be protected... The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled."
[Mullah Omar - in his own words,
Wednesday September 26, 2001
The Guardian]
W hasn't even pretended to go after bin Laden or Mullah Omar. Never bet against a mullah!

W's legacy? An impoverished America stuck in an unwinnable war that is costing $100,000,000,000 per year, oil at $130/bbl, gas at $3.75/gal. An America whose Dept of Justice and close Presidential advisors authorized torture. An America whose government spies on its own citizens with no legal or judicial authority. An America whose military - though spending $500,000,000,000 per year on high-tech gadgets - is losing two wars to third-world guerilla forces.

If you like where the country is today, if you like the direction it's headed... by all means, vote Republican!

Stop the madness!

What a surprise!

Bush fails to win Saudi help on gas prices
By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent
Fri May 16, 2008
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - President Bush failed to win the help he sought from Saudi Arabia to relieve skyrocketing American gas prices Friday, a setback for the former Texas oilman who took office predicting he would jawbone oil-producing nations to help the U.S.

I note that this is my 3rd post this year on the same topic (4 Mar: W's energy policy; 20 Jan: "Please, sir, I want some more.").

Simply pathetic: begging his best buds, the Saudis, for cheaper oil!

I thought Cheney was in charge of our energy policy. Why doesn't W ask him for help?

For what it's worth: Two things started happening pretty much immediately after W went after Saddam.
1) Oil prices started going up - they've never stopped.
2) the dollar started going down relative to the Euro - this trend, too, has never stopped.
Can anyone name even ONE achievement of this Administration?

Funny-sad: The REPUBLICANS want us to believe that they can get us out of this mess... THEIR mess!

Stop the madness!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Others got there first... but I'll add my two cents worth anyway

President Bush Addresses Members of the Knesset
The Knesset
15 May 2008
"... Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
note: the ubiquitous "Some" (one of W's favorite rhetorical tricks - the strawman "some")... in this case none-too-subtly addressing the willingness of some Democrats (and SecDef Gates, and SecState Rice) to actually establish a dialog with Iran.

When the U.S. President addresses the parliament of another country, the assumption is that he is speaking as the leader of America, not as a partisan politician. To use the occasion to attempt to score domestic political points is extremely bad form... but somehow, W couldn't help himself.
2. The policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace.

[American Heritage Dictionary, from]
Note: "Appeasement" in the sense used by W requires the "granting of concessions" in return for at least the promise of peace (e.g., Neville Chamberlain granting Hitler the right to incorporate a large portion of Czechoslovakia, in exchange for Hitler's promise, "This is my last territorial demand.").

"Appeasement" is NOT implied by a willingness to simply TALK with the perceived enemy.

W - his schoolyard bully persona intact - fails to discern the difference. Talk, negotiation, diplomacy... these are foreign concepts (probably French!).

The Conventional Wisdom suggests that we've only about 8 months more to tolerate W.

I'm not convinced he's leaving!

... For what it's worth: the fellow W quoted was a REPUBLICAN:
William Edgar Borah
William Edgar Borah (June 29, 1865 near Fairfield, Illinois – January 19, 1940 Washington, D.C.) was a prominent Republican attorney and longtime United States Senator from Idaho noted for his oratorical skills and isolationist views. One of his nicknames later in life was "The Lion of Idaho."
"'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." —1939, regarding Germany's invasion of Poland (attributed) McKenna, Marian (1961). "Borah". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 338: 156-157.
[Wikipedia, William Edgar Borah]
Stop the madness!

p.s. A debating tip: In the event your opponent cites "Some" or "Some people" holding a particular view or advocating a particular course of action, challenge him or her to name just one specific person holding the view or advocating the course of action. "SOME" is a none-too-clever suggestive dodge - demand specifics!

p.p.s. ... another debating tip: if YOU can identify a specific individual from your opponent's own camp advocating the derided position, so much the better. For example, W lambasts those who would
"... negotiate with the terrorists and radicals"
It would be nice to have ready to hand an example of just such a person... say, for example, SecDef Gates
Gates urges more nongovernment contacts with Iran
Thu May 15, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Wednesday for more unofficial contacts with Iran, saying this might eventually open a pathway to more substantive dialogue between the governments.
For what it's worth: to every and all Dem candidates - even for County DogCatcher - RUN ON W's RECORD!

real job interfering...

My apologies to my 7 dedicated readers: my day job is interfering with posting.

I'm retiring at the end of June. In the meantime, I'm training my replacement and finishing up final projects. These two activities are taking a LOT more time than I'd anticipated.

Here are folks who'll be saying pretty much what I would:
Think Progress
Crooks & Liars
...and for a quick review of what's going on, with fun commentary:
Meanwhile: I'll likely be working much of the weekend, and am on travel (last biz trip!) most of next week.

Thereafter, one week vacation, visiting friends in Florida.

Bottom line: I'll try to post more-or-less daily, but don't count on much brilliance!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Let's see...
We're spending $100Bn/yr in Iraq, for no apparent ROI.
The U.S. economy is tanking.
The FBI continues to abuse "National Security Letters".
Oil is at $124/bbl. Gas at $3.75/gal
So what does REPUBLICAN Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) want Congress to investigate?
Specter asks Mitchell-type probe into Spygate
By Skip Wood, USA TODAY
14 May 2008
WASHINGTON — A day after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell all but closed the door on "Spygate," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said Wednesday he wants it kept open with an independent investigation.
If the league declines to do so, Specter indicated he will consider taking steps to urge a congressional hearing on the matter.

After spending nearly three hours Tuesday meeting with former New England Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh, who also met with Goodell Tuesday, Specter said the Patriots' methods of taping opponents' defensive signals damages the credibility of the game. "It's really an insult to the people who follow it," said Specter. "… They owe the public a lot more candor and a lot more accountability."
Yes! Of course! Let's investigate the New England Patriots for spying on the competition! It makes perfect sense. This is clearly a TOP NATIONAL PRIORITY!!!

Thank goodness for Senator Specter!

Stop the madness.

Finding a voice

Conyers Tells Bush Iran Attack = Impeachment; Ask Your Representative to Co-Sign
May 8, 2008

Join Me in Calling on President Bush to Respect Congress’ Exclusive Power to Declare War

Dear Democratic Colleague:

As we mark five years of war in Iraq, I have become increasingly concerned that the President may possibly take unilateral, preemptive military action against Iran. During the last seven years, the Bush Administration has exercised unprecedented assertions of Executive Branch power and shown an unparalleled aversion to the checks and balances put in place by the Constitution’s framers. The letter that follows asks President Bush to seek congressional authorization before launching any possible military strike against Iran and affirms Senator Biden’s statement last year that impeachment proceedings should be considered if the President fails to do so.

I hope that you will join me in calling on the President to respect Congress’ exclusive power to declare war. To sign the letter below, please contact the Judiciary Committee staff at 225-3951.


John Conyers, Jr.
Thank you, Congressman Conyers!

If you're so inclined:
John Conyers Jr. for Congress
We need to encourage this behavior!

Now, will W listen?

Regular readers will recall that I'm betting on an attack on Iran, as a response to a "terrorist attack" on the U.S., nominally blamed on Hezbollah... and that, in addition to the attack on Iran, W will find it necessary to impose martial law, cancel the election, and adjourn Congress indefintely (using a very weird but W-plausible reading of the Constitution).

I place "terrorist attack" in quotes to emphasize that in this conspiracy-theory scenario, the true masterminds are Cheney & his allies - using CIA or other instruments to orchestrate the attack. Yes, Hezbollah will be the direct actors, but they'll have been managed by W's cabal.

Yeah, I know: this is the stuff of deeply paranoid delusions.

... but don't say you weren't warned when Halloween brings a spectacular attack on U.S. soil!


Interesting conversation over lunch

On travel to scenic AZ today, I lunched with long-time colleague & USMC reservist. He & I have close to nothing in common politically - but we still manage to discuss politics with more than a little civility. (We DO agree that "gas-tax holiday" is a really stupid idea!)

He mentioned that he'd recently received "Push-Poll" call from some group or other... "What is your opinion of McCain?"
- His response, "Very negative."... but he's also VERY NEGATIVE on any and all Dems in sight!

He then mentioned another political call that based "anti-McCain" spiel on premise that McCain would just be a third W term. His response (paraphrased/remembered):
"If I thought McCain would be a Bush third term, I'd vote for him. But I think he'll be a hundred times worse than Bush. Listening to no dissenting voices, with limited understanding of domestic or foreign policy issues."
Again - my colleague is quite conservative. Even he thinks McCain is a loser!

On the plus side: my colleague sees no possibility of imminent deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. He DID participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom... after more than a year on a truly pointless "Homeland Security" assignment. His letters from Iraq provided an entertaining blow by blow account of the campaign, including his account of a firefight in Baghdad during which he "had never been prouder to be a Marine."

Digression: recalling from my very-long-ago U.S. Army service that mailcall was delightful when you got mail, when colleague was first called up post 9/11 I resolved to write him at least 1 letter/week... and came pretty close to living up to this commitment. That correspondence continued through his deployment to Iraq, and even for a year or so after his return. (Tho' after his return, corresponding via email would have much quicker!)

Writing letters is fun, and allows one to participate in a grand old tradition. Though our correpondence almost certainly will never be collected as was the correspondence between John Adams & Thomas Jefferson, nevertheless it was enjoyable for both parties.


Monday, May 12, 2008

A potentially money-making proposition...

... for any chemists out there:

Put together a proposal for TSA:
To determine if, using off-the-shelf components, it is in fact possible to formulate a two-component liquid explosive in a garage lab.
My upcoming travel brings this to mind.

My government currently believes that my mouthwash, toothpaste, and deodorant are potential weapons, and requires that I carry on only small (3 oz) containers of each, clearly displayed in a ziploc bag.

After the hoopla surrounding an alleged terror plot in Britain involving 2-component liquid explosives, TSA decided to be prudent: "Better safe than sorry."

I'm simply curious: is this scenario plausible?

Can a two-component liquid explosive be assembled from off-the-shelf components in a garage lab?

[full disclosure: McGyver notwithstanding, my a priori belief is, "No".]

Stop the madness!

Light/no posting next few days...

... on travel, with real work to do!

Fight the good fight!

If you're so inclined...

China quake death toll rises to nearly 10,000

Here are links to a couple of relief organizations.
(note: I'm sure there are others - these I happen to know)
Mercy Corps
International Red Cross/Red Crescent
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
[John Donne, memorized in high school]

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The gloom-and-doom folks are back

2008 growth outlook deteriorated: Blue Chip
Sat May 10, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even with some signs of improvement in the U.S. financial markets and a temporary boost from the economic stimulus package, the growth outlook for the second half of this year has deteriorated, according to a panel of economic forecasters.

The weakest annual consumer spending since 1991 will lead to a darker outlook, the Blue Chip Economic Indicators found.

The consensus of economists polled between May 5 and 6 in the survey said the economy will grow at a 1.7 percent annual rate in the third quarter, down from the 2.0 percent forecast a month ago.

For the fourth quarter, GDP is expected to grow by 1.5 percent, down from 1.9 percent seen earlier.

The outlook for 2009 has also darkened, with economists expecting growth of just 2.0 percent, down from 2.2 percent forecast earlier.

A couple of observations:
1) Though the forecast apparently represents a revision downward from previous, it still sees a growing economy - not recession.
2) "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future." This quotation is attributed to both Neils Bohr (Nobel Prize-winning physicist) and Yogi Berra (1950s NY Yankees catcher). The joy of the internets: you can learn all sorts of stuff... but it's sometimes just a wee bit difficult to figure out which of the stuff is true!

Economic forecasts are more akin to subjective psychological tests than to science. As often as not, they reflect the underlying hopes of the folks making them, which may or may not be related to reality. [I speak with some expertise on this subject: my job for the past 4 years has involved economic forecasting.]

Yes, the economists probably have some really cool models based on high-powered math... but the assumptions that go into the models have more to do with the outcome than anything, and the assumptions are necessarily subjective.

Have a nice day.

Meanwhile, back at the pump...

Gas jumps above $3.67, oil passes $126 on Venezuela concerns
By JOHN WILEN, AP Business Writer
Sat May 10, 2008
NEW YORK - Oil rose above $126 a barrel for the first time Friday, bringing its advance this week to nearly $10, as investors questioned whether a possible confrontation between the U.S. and Venezuela could cut exports from the OPEC member. Gas prices, meanwhile, rose above an average $3.67 a gallon at the pump, following oil's recent path higher.

"... possible confrontation between the U.S. and Venezuela..."???

Is there any where in the world W isn't screwing things up?
Ok, to be fair - W is probably not entirely to blame in Venezuela: Chavez is none-too-well behaved... but still! How 'bout a foreign policy that mitigates risks!... you know, "risk mitigation" - a topic that was almost certainly covered at Harvard Business School!

In the meantime, we've got $126/bbl oil and $3.67/gal gasoline!

Stop the madness.

Iraq: the new Energizer Bunny

Cease-fire reported with Iraqi militants in Sadr City
By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Writer
Sat May 10, 2008
BAGHDAD - Shiite groups brokered a reported cease-fire Saturday with militants fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad's Sadr City...

Okay - this sounds like a positive step.

... but then the sentence continues:
... as the country's army launched an offensive in Mosul against al-Qaida's main bastion in Iraq.

I believe McCain was the first to use the term "Whack-a-Mole" to define our "strategy" in Iraq. Nothing much seems to have changed.

On the bright side:
1) it probably makes more sense to go after the so-called AQI in Mosul than to turn Sadr City into rubble.
2) I assume the U.S. is a party to the cease-fire. Maybe we'll reassess our attitude towards al Sadr.
3) That "Shiite groups" brokered the cease-fire also sounds promising: perhaps Iraqis - maybe even Maliki's government - will be willing to deal with the Sadrists politically. (The military response doesn't seem to working all that well.)

Now, on to the so-called AQI in Mosul.
Remember, a couple of days ago we had the headline:
Al-Qaida in Iraq leader reported arrested
Turns out they got the wrong guy. Latest news:
Al-Qaida in Iraq leader reported arrested

I'm still waiting for someone to say exactly what the strategic objectives in Iraq might be. What is the envisioned end-state?

Stop the madness!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Really good news!

FBI withdraws digital library's national security letter
Associated Press Writer
7 May 2008
SAN FRANCISCO --A nonprofit digital library has successfully fought an FBI attempt to seize information about one of its users, and is calling on other groups to challenge government agencies attempting to obtain online customer information without a judge's order.

I believe that in all cases documented to date, the FBI has retreated when challenged regarding National Security Letters. Despite Mueller's promise to the contrary, these unconstitutional instruments are still being abused by the FBI. With its retreat, the FBI admits the abusive nature of the request.

Maybe the next Congress will re-visit the so-called "Patriot Act", and take the courageous step of repealing it. Too much uncontrolled Executive power is not good.

Stop the madness.

Good news! (honest)

Jobless claims post sharp decline
Thu May 8, 2008
WASHINGTON - The number of newly laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits dropped far more than expected last week.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits fell to 365,000, a decline of 18,000 from the previous week. Economists had been looking for a much smaller decrease of around 5,000.

Note: these numbers reflect a real decline, not simply a slowing rate.

Might we weather the housing-induced financial meltdown? Stay tuned!

[Full disclosure: I'm still betting on recession!]

Is there a ceiling?

Gas jumps nearly 3 cents to record; oil crosses $124
By JOHN WILEN, AP Business Writer
Thu May 8, 2008
NEW YORK - Gasoline and crude oil jumped to new records Thursday, with gas rising 3 cents to an average national price of nearly $3.65 a gallon and oil crossing $124 a barrel for the first time.

Gentle reminder: price of refined fuels impacts the entire economy. Gas, diesel, jet fuel - all contribute to cost of just about everything.

On the bright side: Europe has figured out how to live with what we in America think is extremely expensive gasoline. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from our European friends. Smaller cars. Windfarms. Nuclear energy. All these are common in Europe. How 'bout it? A rational national energy policy, anyone?


A story I can't bring myself to read

'Best Santa ever' arrested in N.J. on child sex charges

Sorry, folks: I just can't bring myself to read the story... I'm happier dealing with abstract ugliness, not this very personal ugliness.


Will this make a difference?

Al-Qaida in Iraq leader reported arrested
By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer
8 May 2008
BAGHDAD - Iraqi police commandos captured the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq in a raid in the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi officials said Thursday, in what could mark a significant blow to the Sunni insurgency in its last urban stronghold.

I'm happy to see AP hedge its bets: "... in what could mark a significant blow to the Sunni insurgency..."

Recall: we killed founder of AQI - Zarqawi. His death changed nothing.

To date the decaptitation tactic has borne little fruit - new leaders arise to fill the void, the bad guys regroup.

Maybe this time it'll be different. Any bets?

Stop the madness!


This'll be a personal post.

I'm retiring in June. My replacement is on board. I've spent past 2 full days 1:1, face-to-face with him, training him on basics of the job. We'd previously spent ~12 hours in teleconference 1:1s, training. We've about another 20 hrs of training to complete.

Upshot: I'm dead tired!

Yeah, it's fun imparting my hard-won wisdom to the new guy, but it's also exhausting.

Okay - off to read today's news & blogs... see what might provide grist for the mill!


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Coming soon!

I've requested "HTML for Dummies" as Father's-Day present.

The intent is to learn enough about HTML to
1. Create a webpage
2. Figure out how to include basic graphs on this blog
A lot of the basic economic analysis I perform is graph-based. "One pictue is worth a thousand words": a statistician's mantra.

For the time being, I'm HTML-impaired. You - my loyal readers - are going to have to endure verbal descriptions.

My current political mantra:
"If you really like the way the country is headed, vote for McCain!"
Stop the madness!

Meanwhile, back on the economic ranch

Oil jumps over $123 on drop in diesel, heating oil supplies

Not that long ago - January? - I wasn't all that convinced oil would break $100/bbl.

Now we're at $120/bbl.

For a country that runs on fossil fuel this is NOT good news.

Support your local Farmers' Market! (... you might starve otherwise.)

A gentle reminder: VP Cheney somehow managed to convince the Courts that his "energy policy" advisers could not be named publicly.

Ain't it time we confronted the situation head-on?

I drive ~15 miles to work every day. Maybe I oughta seek job closer to home & bike. My home - Albuquerque - does not have wonderful mass transit. I shop at WalMart and local Smith's foodchain. If it costs more to transport item to the store than the item is worth I'll likely have very limited choices.

Ah - the wonders of the "free market"!

If you really like the way the country is headed, vote for McCain!

Stop the madness!

"What's good for GM is good for America"

Productivity Solid As Companies Trim Hours Worked
Scott Stoddard, Investor's Business Daily
Wed May 7, 2008
American companies boosted productivity more than expected in the first quarter by cutting jobs and hours worked as the economy stalled, according to Labor Department data out Wednesday.

A gentle reminder:
"Personal consumption expenditures" (consumer spending) accounts for 70% of GDP.
[from BEA]
It eludes me how "boosted productivity" in the form of "cutting jobs and hours worked" is a good thing.

Anyone want to clue me in?

The economy (70% of domestic spending!) is driven by consumers. If we're increasing productivity by REDUCING consumer buying power, just how is this a good thing?

Recall, a national strategic objective:
... promote the general welfare
NOT the welfare of Exxon, GM, WalMart, Intel... but the GENERAL welfare!

Stop the madness!

Meanwhile, on the ground...

Iraq, U.S. move to avert Baghdad water shortage
By Tim Cocks
7 May 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Baghdad's crumbling roads, burst sewage pipes and chronic water shortages are casualties of war that get little attention amid the daily litany of gunfights, bombs and bloodletting in Iraq.

5+ years into this misadventure and we still can't provide Baghdad with basic utilities! "No one could have imagined..."

Repeat: I've nothing against the Iraqi people. I wish them all the best. I truly hope that their country becomes a major tourist attraction - the home of Hammurabi, Babylon, Nineveh, the Assyrians, the Sumerians. They've a rich cultural heritage to exploit. They ought be raking in tourist $$$, as well as oil $$$. They deserve to live in peace and properity.

... BUT: we're not helping.


Stop the madness!

I think this is good news

Iraq urges Iran and U.S. to talk
By Waleed Ibrahim and Tim Cocks
Wed May 7, 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's foreign minister urged Iran and the United States on Wednesday to stop trading accusations and sit down for a fourth round of talks to seek solutions to Iraq's security woes.

Will W listen?

A no-pre-conditions sit-down with Iran seems eminently reasonable... hmmm, which Prez candidate is adopting this position?

Bolton on whether Bush might bomb Iran before he leaves office: ‘I think so, definitely.’
Me? I'm betting on the "bomb Iran" scenario... with precursor "Hezbollah" attack on U.S., and follow-up Executive Order to cancel Nov elections.

Yeah, I'm hopelessly paranoid.

My reasoning (such as it is)?:
Let's assume they're not idiots...
There are many follow-up posts developing this Grand Conspiracy Theory. Yes, I know - I'm insane.

Don't forget me when "Hezbollah" attacks us on Halloween.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Uh-oh: I think I'm in trouble...

... I just caught 10 seconds of MSNBC primary panel-discussion... Pat Buchanan seemed to be making sense!

I need to rest.

This might help...

Last week the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter-ID law.
"The universally applicable requirements of Indiana's voter-identification law are eminently reasonable. The burden of acquiring, possessing and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not 'even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting,'" Scalia said.
I'm not sure that the Court would consider another case, but the challenge in this particular instance was abstract, challenging the law's intent, with no plaintiff who had in fact been harmed by the law.

Well - now we've got some honestly injured plaintiffs:
Indiana Nuns Lacking ID Denied At Poll By Fellow Sister
(AP) About 12 Indiana nuns were turned away Tuesday from a polling place by a fellow bride of Christ because they didn't have state or federal identification bearing a photograph.

Sister Julie McGuire said she was forced to turn away her fellow sisters at Saint Mary's Convent in South Bend, across the street from the University of Notre Dame, because they had been told earlier that they would need such an ID to vote.

The nuns, all in their 80s or 90s, didn't get one but came to the precinct anyway.
"One came down this morning, and she was 98, and she said, 'I don't want to go do that,'" Sister McGuire said. Some showed up with outdated passports. None of them drives.

They weren't given provisional ballots because it would be impossible to get them to a motor vehicle branch and back in the 10-day time frame allotted by the law, Sister McGuire said. "You have to remember that some of these ladies don't walk well. They're in wheelchairs or on walkers or electric carts."
Now we have real live people injured by the law. Would the Court be willing to reconsider?

Personal opinion: Challengers ought have waited till real plaintiffs, truly injured, were at hand. Now the Court can cite its own precedent in refusing to re-hear the case!


My sincere thanks...

... to the voters of Indiana and North Carolina.

Thanks for voting!

Maybe time to buy wind and/or solar stocks!

Oil nears $123 on $200 oil prediction, supply concerns
By JOHN WILEN, AP Business Writer
Tue May 6, 2008
NEW YORK - Oil futures blasted to a new record near $123 a barrel Tuesday, gaining momentum as investors bought on a forecast of much higher prices and on any news hinting at supply shortages.
A new Goldman Sachs prediction that oil prices could rise to $150 to $200 within two years seemed to motivate much of Tuesday's buying, although a falling dollar and increasing concerns about declining crude production in Mexico and Russia contributed, analysts say.
$200/bbl oil might just make wind and solar economically viable - with or without tax breaks!

I'm thinking about a bicycle.

Public Service: Myanmar relief

If you're so inclined:
Mercy Corps: Myanmar Relief
Latest numbers: 22,000 dead, twice that missing.

These are our fellows.
"... if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
[John Donne; remembered from high school]

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for "5th of May") is a regional holiday in Mexico, primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla. It is not an obligatory federal holiday. The holiday commemorates an initial victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The date is observed in the United States and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride.

A common misconception in the United States is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico's Independence Day; Mexico's Independence Day is actually September 16 (dieciséis de septiembre in Spanish), which is the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico.

It's a decent excuse to go out with co-workers for an after-work beer!

Others now noticing...

I've previously noted that, regardless what evidence is presented, the conclusion is always the same: Iraq is just peachy!
(see, e.g., here, and also here.)

Now others are noticing. From Think Progress:
Boot: Both Decrease And Increase In Troop Deaths Prove The Surge Is Success
Today, in an online debate on the surge, Boot points to the overall decrease in troop deaths as evidence of its success:
I could cite statistics to show how the “surge”—not only an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq but also a change in their strategy to emphasis [sic] classic counterinsurgency—has been paying off: Civilian deaths were down more than 80 percent and U.S. deaths down more than 60 percent between December 2006 and March 2008.
Just two days ago, however, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Boot argued that the recent increase in U.S. troop casualties showed the surge was working. Acknowledging that April was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since August (Boot says 52 soldiers died; in fact 54 did), Boot says the U.S. is approaching “the enemy’s defeat“:
More important, casualties cannot be looked at in a vacuum. A spike in casualties could be a sign that the enemy is gaining strength. Or it could be a sign that tough combat is under way that will lead to the enemy’s defeat and the creation of a more peaceful environment in the future. The latter was certainly the case with the casualty spike during the summer of 2007. … Unfortunate as the latest deaths are, they are in all likelihood a sign of things getting worse before they get better.
... In other words: Heads I win, tails you lose.
Increased attacks? The insurgency is in its "last throes." Decreased attacks? The insurgency is in its "last throes."

No matter the evidence, the conclusion is always the same: Iraq is just peachy.

This meme ought be picked up by MSM - it's rather damning. If any and all evidence can be used to support the "Iraq is just peachy" narrative, it's pretty clear the "Iraq is just peachy" narrative is assumed as an axiom, with an a priori truth-value of "true". It is not a conclusion based on logic or analysis - rather, it precedes logical argument. "Evidence" is interpreted so as to be consistent with the a priori truth of the axiom, "Iraq is just peachy." The question, "what evidence would indicate that Iraq is not just peachy?" has no meaning: as an axiom, it cannot be falsified within the logical system that accepts it as an axiom.

Mapping this particular logical system to the real world, on the other hand, presents difficulties. "Iraq is just peachy" - while unimpeachable as an axiom of the neocons' logical system - is NOT consistent with what most of us regard as "reality." (In the same way, Euclid's famous Parallel Postulate is not consistent with spherical geometry.)

Said much more simply: if any and all evidence supports the conclusion, "Iraq is just peachy", then "Iraq is just peachy" no longer describes the world, but is simply a fairy tale.

Stop the madness!

The drumbeat continues

US: Hezbollah training Iraqi Shiite extremists in Iran
By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer
5 May 2008
BAGHDAD - Iraqi Shiite extremists are being trained by members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in camps near Tehran, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday.

The significance of this latest citation of Hezbollah as an actor?

See, raw conspiracy theory... many previous posts.

Bottom line for newbies: Don't count on elections in November!

[note: I first suggested Hezbollah as a natural choice for "bad guy" back in Nov 2007, before they started figuring in Administration rhetoric. Yes, I am psychic!]

Sunday, May 4, 2008

"Four dead in O-hi-o": an anniversary

Kent State shootings
The Kent State shootings... occurred at Kent State University in the city of Kent, Ohio, and involved the shooting of students by members of the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. Four students were killed and nine others wounded, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

Some of the students who were shot were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Richard Nixon announced in a television address on April 30. However, other students who were shot were merely walking nearby or observing the protest at a distance.

There was a significant national response to the shootings: hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools closed throughout the United States due to a student strike of eight million students, and the event further divided the country along political lines.
Killed (and approximate distance from the National Guard):
Allison Krause 343 ft. (105 m); fatal left chest wound
Jeffrey Glen Miller 265 ft. (81 m); shot through the mouth - killed instantly
Sandra Lee Scheuer 390 ft. (119 m); fatal neck wound
William Knox Schroeder 382 ft. (116 m); fatal chest wound
I would graduate from high school within a month. Sad days.
By Neil Young

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are gunning us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are cutting us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Stop the madness.

... meanwhile, W's buds are raking it in!

Chevron's 1Q profit of $5.17B marks Big Oil's latest gusher
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
Sat May 3, 2008
SAN RAMON, Calif. - Astounding profits in the oil industry are becoming as routine as the anguished looks of motorists filling up their gas tanks.

Chevron Corp. put yet another exclamation point on the oil patch's long run of prosperity Friday with a first-quarter profit of $5.17 billion, or $2.48 per share. That was up 10 percent from net income of $4.72 billion, or $2.18 per share, last year.

The performance exceeded the lofty expectations of analysts, helping lift Chevron shares 38 cents to $95.32.

It was the second-highest quarterly profit in the company's 129-year history and marked the most money that it has ever made during the January-March period. That puts the No. 2 U.S. oil company on track for its fifth straight year of record earnings.

About the only downside to the quarter was that Chevron earned relatively little from gasoline sales because it couldn't raise its prices fast enough to recover its own rising costs for oil. Like its peers, Chevron doesn't produce enough oil on its own to feed its refineries, forcing it to buy some on the open market.
Soaring oil prices provided a similar first-quarter lift to four of Chevron's biggest rivals — Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Collectively, Chevron and those four companies earned $36.9 billion in the first quarter, a 25 percent increase from last year.

[emphasis added]

Note: I've nothing against Big Oil, per se. I was raised on Big Oil. My dad worked his entire career as a geologist with one of the Standard Oil companies. Big Oil gave me a nice upper-middle-class life-style, sent me to a prestigious university, and was overall a very positive influence on my life.

I'm just wondering how our illustrious leaders in Congress can continue to justify tax breaks for Big Oil, while denying the same to emerging technologies.

The "free market" argument runs something like, "When wind/solar/hydrogren technologies can compete economically with oil, they'll be viable alternatives. In the meantime, to subsidize 'em with tax breaks is nothing more than rank socialism."

Have we gotten cheaper energy as a result?

No, we've just erected very high barriers for any alternative energy sources to overcome in order to be economically competitive. We've created a very artificial energy "market" that favors fossil fuels above any and all competitors, then turn around and claim that non-fossil fuel competitors need to compete on this unequal playing field without government assistance.


Good economic news: honest!

Economy shows resilience; jobless rate falls as dollar rises
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
Sat May 3,
WASHINGTON - The economy showed off unexpected signs of resilience Friday as job losses slowed, the dollar gained a bit of muscle for a change and there were even indications that food prices may be easing. The unemployment rate dipped, though that may not last.

"... though that may not last." Hey: let's try for optimism!

Who knows - maybe the latest numbers are the beginning a trend. I note that Q1 GDP grew - not by much (0.6%), but all the commentary suggested 0 to negative growth in Q1.

Could it be the gloom-and-doomers (me among them) have been wrong?

No - one point does not a trend make. BUT: the news and forecasts have been so unequivocally dour for the past few months, just about any positive numbers are welcome!

Me? I continue to bet on deepening economic problems... but I'm willing to be convinced by data.


Hey! Whose side are they on?

Iraq says no hard evidence of Iran support for militia
Sun May 4, 2008
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq said on Sunday it has no evidence that Iran was supplying militias engaged in fierce street fighting with security forces in Baghdad.

Haven't they heard: Iran is bad!

And what's this all about:
Iraq delegation says Iran backs militant crackdown
Sat May 3, 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iran supports the Iraqi government in its fight against militants, the head of a delegation from Iraq's ruling Shi'ite alliance said on Saturday after returning from a visit to Tehran.
Members of Iraq's ruling Shi'ite alliance visited Tehran?

Don't these guys know Iran is bad?

Maliki's government is playing nice with Iran. Iran is making nice noises in return.

Has anyone told W?

Stop the madness!

Cool! Who's paying for it?

US-backed plan sees shiny future for embattled Green Zone
By BRADLEY BROOKS and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writers
4 May 2008
BAGHDAD - Forget the rocket attacks, concrete blast walls and lack of a sewer system. Now try to imagine luxury hotels, a shopping center and even condos in the heart of Baghdad.

That's all part of a five-year development "dream list" — or what some dub an improbable fantasy — to transform the U.S.-protected Green Zone from a walled fortress into a centerpiece for Baghdad's future.

But the $5 billion plan has the backing of the Pentagon and apparently the interest of some deep pockets in the world of international hotels and development, the lead military liaison for the project told The Associated Press.
If the Green Zone were transformed into this cool high-end commercial hub within 5 years, that'd be really cool!

I'm all for it!... BUT: please - no U.S. tax-dollars to pursue this fantasy, ok? If Marriott wants to fund it, let 'em!

Stop the madness.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A more-or-less accurate transcript

On 22 April I noted that Rob Riggle's Daily Show segment on the GAO report
The United States
Lacks Comprehensive
Plan to Destroy the
Terrorist Threat and
Close the Safe Haven
in Pakistan’s Federally
Administered Tribal
was the best analysis I'd seen, heard, or read, and provided a "remembered quotation" summary.

The video is now posted on The Daily Show website (link given above). Here's a more-or-less accurate partial transcript:
Riggle: My take is that in the United States' War on Terror we've been walking around in a f-ing circle!
Let me just give you the Cliff Notes, okay?
In 2001 there was a memo, "Bin Laden determined to attack United States from a safe haven in Afghanistan."

Now, seven years and 700 billion dollars later, we get a new memo saying, "Bin Laden determined to attack United States from a safe haven somewhere around Afghanistan."

We're right back where we started!
We could've gotten here by doing NOTHING!
Stewart: So, do you think the President's gonna make any changes based on these reports?

Riggle: Yeah... yeah, this'll be a wake-up call. If there's anything this President responds to, it's written criticism!

[emphasis and FONT intended to capture Riggle's vocal emphases]
Provided as a public service.

... and someone thinks this will make a difference

U.S. Kills Bin Laden's Man in Somalia
Thu May 1, 2008
The U.S. missile strike that killed Somalia's most notorious Islamist insurgent, Aden Hashi Ayro, has dealt a major blow to al-Qaeda's allies operating in East Africa. The deaths of Ayro and up to 10 others were announced early Thursday by spokesman for his al-Shabab militia, while the U.S. military confirmed it had struck what it called an al-Qaeda target in Somalia, but offered no details.
[emphasis added]

"... has dealt a major blow to al-Qaeda's allies..."???
Says who?
How often have we seen that decapitation really isn't very effective in combatting non-state actors? Hydras don't usually die when you cut off a head!

If there's some follow-up news that the organization has splintered or melted away as a result of the decapitation, then let's declare the attack a success. 'Til then, who knows?

Stop the madness.

Political justice

Former prosecutor testifies on political pressure at Guantánamo
By William Glaberson, Published: April 29, 2008
International Herald Tribune
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba: The former chief prosecutor here has taken the witness stand on behalf of a prisoner and testified that top Pentagon officials put pressure on him about what cases to prosecute and what evidence to use.

The officer, Colonel Morris Davis of the air force, testified Monday that Pentagon officials had interfered with his work for political reasons. He said the officials had told him that charges against well-known prisoners "could have real strategic political value" and that there could be no acquittals.
Testifying about his assertions for the first time, Davis said a senior Pentagon official who oversaw the military commissions, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann of the air force reserve, had reversed a decision made by Davis and insisted that prosecutors proceed with evidence derived through waterboarding of prisoners and other aggressive interrogation methods.

Called to the stand by a navy defense lawyer and testifying before a military judge, Davis, in uniform, said Hartmann directed him last year to push war crimes cases at Guantánamo quickly. He said the general had been trying to give the system legitimacy before a new president took office. He testified that Hartmann had referred to the long difficulties for the Pentagon in operating the military commissions and said, "If we don't get some cases going before the election, this thing's going to implode."

When the Soviets did this, we called 'em show trials. It was widely recognized that they represented political theater, not the administration of justice. We rightly condemned the dirty Commies for these travesties.

At this point, I cannot see the point of continuing to hold any of the detainees at Guantanamo. Try them? No matter how scrupulously fair the trials might be from this point forward, W has so tainted the process that no guilty verdict can possibly be recognized by the international community.

There is simply no basis in law for holding these men any longer. Release 'em. Even the "baddest of the bad". We have no other honorable choice. Apologize to our allies for losing our moral bearings.

No, I do not expect this while W remains in office. But our next president has a choice.

Stop the madness.