Friday, February 29, 2008

No, this isn't really funny - but it's easier to laugh than cry!

These two headlines/stories are juxtaposed on's "Iraq news" page. The juxtaposition is almost certainly accidental, but it provides some rather bleak humor.

From AP:
Baghdad embassy project in trouble
... and also from AP:
US reducing investigators from Iraq
The first story relates that
"Federal officials last year certified as complete the new $736 million U.S. embassy in Iraq, even though the mammoth complex was still plagued by construction defects, a senior House Democrat charged Friday.
"Difficulties included major malfunctions in the complex's physical plant, including electrical and water distribution systems, some of which are blamed on shoddy work by the company hired to build the project, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., for $592 million."
The second notes that
"The U.S. plans to reduce the number of auditors and investigators at its development agency in Baghdad."
Let me see if I understand this:

Inadequate oversight of a local contractor is at least partly to blame for U.S. Embassy construction fiasco, so we've decided now's a good time to reduce the number of folks overseeing local contractors in Baghdad!

This seems to exemplify W's skills as Chief Executive quite nicely!

Stop the madness!

AQI: someone else has noticed

A recent post noted that the so-called al Qaeda in Iraq and the real al Qaeda responsible for 9/11 are not the same - or even closely aligned - organizations.

Someone else has noticed.
McCain's Iraq Barack Attack Shows A Crack
Rachel Sklar | February 28, 2008
"There are two al Qaedas, really (at least for our purposes here). One flew planes into buildings on September 11th, the other wasn't in Iraq until after the 2003 invasion and is less a wing of the larger group than what back in September General David Petraeus called "not a unified force," really more like insurgents who had formed "a loose confederation with al Qaeda at various times." That group comprises approximately anywhere 2 - 15% of the insurgency. Once again, for emphasis: Not the same al Qaeda that attacked America on September 11th, nor the same al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden whom George Bush vowed to hunt down and bring to justice but instead got sidetracked in a country that hadn't had anything to do with 9/11."
Folks, the linguistic sleight-of-tongue that allows W and his minions, McCain, and the Republicans in general, to continue to equate AQI with al Qaeda must be exposed, frequently, forcefully.

Thanks to Rachel Sklar for her insightful post!

Channeling Bernanke

Me, Feb 6:
'twixt Scylla and Charybdis
W's wars and tax cuts have made a realistic fiscal response to the impending recession problematic. The threat of inflation constrains a monetary response.
Bernanke, Feb 29:
Bernanke Doesn't See Stagflation
Picture, However, Isn't Pretty
By Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008
In his second straight day of congressional testimony, Bernanke repeatedly made it clear that he believes the greatest risk facing the economy is slow growth, not high inflation. He said policymakers have fewer options for responding to the situation than they did in 2001 during the dot-com crash.

Then, the government was running large surpluses, which left more room to cut taxes or increase spending. And inflation was very low, giving the Fed leeway to cut interest rates.
Recall, what I know about economics can be written in big block letters on a postage stamp. [I took exactly one (1!) economics class in college, in the early 70s,... and I took it pass-fail, not for a grade!]

The only explanation for my prescience? Well, just that: prescience!
My psychic powers continue to manifest themselves.

"al Qaeda in Iraq"

In several posts I've made a point of referring to the so-called al Qaeda in Iraq.

The issue was raised at yesterday's Presidential news conference:
"THE PRESIDENT: That's an interesting comment. If al Qaeda is securing a al Qaeda base -- yes, well, that's exactly what they've been trying to do for the past four years."
[Press Conference of the President, 28 Feb 2008]
W continues to assert al Qaeda's presence in Iraq.

A little history (drawn from Wikipedia):
Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is a term to describe [a] group which is playing an active role in the Iraqi insurgency. The group was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi until his death in 2006; it is now believed to be led by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri).

The group is a direct successor of al-Zarqawi's previous organization, Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. Beginning with its official statement declaring allegiance to the Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network in October 2004, the group identifies itself as Tanzim Qaidat Al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (QJBR) ("Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers").

[Wikipedia entry, Al-Qaeda in Iraq]
Now, a plausible reading of this brief history is that al-Zarqawi wanted to enhance both his reputation and the reputation of his jihadist organization, Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad.

What better way to enhance one's reputation in jihadist circles than to claim affiliation with al Qaeda? Note: bin Laden didn't establish this group, but has - to his organizational & PR credit - used it to his advantage.

We see similar "reputation by association" ploys all the time - frequently by politicians. McCain gave the 2006 commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University for much the same reason: to establish a link with Falwell and, by extension, establish his credentials with the Christian Right. Whenever a candidate accepts the endorsement of some group - labor union, think tank, etc. - he or she is playing this same game: seeking to identify, at least in part, with the endorsing organization.

Al-Zarqawi was in Iraq before he asserted his allegiance to al Qaeda. His activities didn't change after he pledged allegiance to al Qaeda and changed his organization's name. The only thing that changed was now he could claim to be an al Qaeda affiliate. He surrendered no operational control to any established al Qaeda operatives. HE JUST CHANGED THE NAME OF A PRE-EXISTING TERRORIST GROUP, largely for the perceived publicity benefits... and it worked!

To claim that this pre-existing but renamed entity represents the al Qaeda responsible for 9/11 is simply dishonest - though VERY CONVENIENT for W and his minions.

I will continue to identify AQI as the so-called al Qaeda in Iraq.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Let's assume they're not idiots (continued)

[This is just the latest in a series of many similarly-titled & similarly-themed posts. The shared theme involves what I'm happy to admit is a semi-delusional raw conspiracy theory. You have been forewarned!]

Why does W insist on including the "poison pill" telecom immunity provision in the expanded-FISA Protect America Act?

House Dems - to their great credit! - have made it clear that they'll not agree to this egregiously horrible retroactive immunity, but W continues to insist on it.

Why? He could probably have the rest of the not-quite-so-egregiously horrible PAA if he dropped the demand for telecom immunity.

One semi-plausible explanation being bandied about on the blogs is that W fears what might be revealed about his Administration's unlawful conduct were suits against telecoms ever to come to trial.

Why do I qualify this as only semi-plausible? A couple of reasons. First, Fed courts have already erected a very high hurdle that must be leapt for such suits to move forward, based on a Catch-22 "standing" ruling: if defendants cannot establish that they were, in fact, victims of illegal wiretapping, they haven't legal standing to sue.

Second, assuming this hurdle is somehow surmounted, the legal process is likely to drag out years, with motions and counter-motions filed ad nauseam. W will be dead & buried, happily waiting in heaven to see his Administration vindicated by history, before any evidence of wrong-doing is presented at trial.

So, why is W so insistent on this one point - a point not directly related to the intent of PAA?
W doesn't want PAA to pass!
[Warning: raw conspiracy theory ahead!]

Let's look at how W is selling this.
"Without the cooperation of the private sector, we cannot protect our country from terrorist attack."
[Press Conference of the President, 28 Feb 2008]
That theme has been repeated, over and over, both by W and by his minions: failure to grant telecoms immunity puts the country at risk of a terrorist attack (which will be the Dems fault!).

Bear with me.
Previous episodes in this series of raw-conspiracy-theory posts have suggested that W has no intention of relinquishing the Presidency next year - he has gone to great lengths to create an unlimited "unitary" Executive which he cannot afford to turn over to a Democratic successor.

How to avoid departure?

Orchestrate a terrorist attack on the U.S.!... mid-October would be good timing.

The nominal bad guys: Hezbollah.

The response:
1) Cancel elections, citing need for continuity. "The country cannot now survive the turmoil of a change in Administration."

2) Dismiss Congress. (Here's where telecom immunity enters the picture): "The Democrats in Congress are responsible for this attack! Acting under the Constitution's Article II authority, I am adjourning the Congress."
he [the President] may, on extraordinary occasions, ... adjourn them [both Houses of Congress] to such time as he shall think proper
[Article II, section 3, U.S. Constitution.
note: the ellpisis ("...") is important!
(Again, bear with me. Yes, this is delusional, but I have supporting arguments!)

The stage is being set today.
From NYT Op-Ed page:
Bracing for Revenge
Published: February 18, 2008
Tel Aviv
THE assassination of Imad Mugniyah, the Hezbollah terrorist, in Damascus last week was a warning that even the most elusive prey can be hunted down — given skill, determination and patience on the part of the hunter.
At Mr. Mugniyah’s funeral on Thursday, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, threatened to retaliate against Israel, saying, “Let it be an open war anywhere.”
There are precedents. It was on Feb. 16, 1992, that Ehud Barak, then chief of staff of the Israeli military and now minister of defense, gave the order for two combat helicopters hovering over south Lebanon to rocket a convoy in which the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Abbas Musawi, was traveling. Sheik Musawi, his wife and his 6-year-old son were killed. The response was not long in coming: for five days, Katyusha rockets rained down on northern Israel. A 5-year-old girl was killed.

This was only the beginning.
On March 7, he
[Ehud Sadan, chief of security at the Israeli embassy in Ankara] was blown up by a bomb planted under his car. The authorities arrested several members of Turkish Hezbollah...
Ten days after that, Mr. Mugniyah’s men blew up the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people and wounding more than 220. Two years later, in July of 1994, a suicide bomber struck at the offices of a Jewish community organization in Buenos Aires, killing 85.
Only the severest of countermeasures by the intelligence services of Israel and the United States will prevent last week’s assassination, justified as it was, from costing a vastly disproportionate price in blood.
A prominent Hezbollah terrorist was killed in Syria. We should expect retaliatory strikes against us!

Wait! There's more!
Analysis: Hezbollah and Iran: New threats?
UPI Contributing Editor
25 Feb 2008
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Should the close and ongoing alliance between the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran be a cause for concern to the West?

Particularly in the aftermath of the assassination in Damascus earlier this month of a top Hezbollah operative, indeed, say a number of observers, all threats should be considered seriously.
Ah, yes! Hezbollah is allied with Iran! (It's all the Democrats' fault!)

A very compelling nexus: Dems refuse to expand FISA, Iran is bad, Hezbollah is Iran's friend, Hezbollah will avenge leader's death...

Democrats obstruct PAA, causing us to lose intelligence that could have prevented the attack.

W asserts Article II dictatorial power!

Yes, I admit - it's delusional. But does anyone deny Cheney could orchestrate this simple plan?

I'm not alone

Previous posts have noted that the Republicans seem to have exactly one (1) economic idea: tax cuts. (See, e.g., here, and also here.)

One of my high school friends posted a DailyKos diary recently, noting that:
The problems confronting working moms are addressed with tax cuts. Global warming is addressed with tax cuts. The deficit is addressed with tax cuts. The problem of peeling paint is addressed with tax cuts.
This wasn't the main point of the diary, but it was good to see someone else make this point!

Unfortunately, past tax cuts, together with large cost of Iraq war, make the option less feasible as defense against economic downturn - we've gone to the well a few times too often. The well is dry. (Unless we get everyone to agree that we can simply suspend the Federal Govt for a couple of years!)

Stop the madness!

We're doomed!

Bush says US not headed into a recession

Given W's brilliance, I'd say the odds in favor of a recession just improved considerably.

This is an admittedly snarky post, themed, "If W says it, bet agin' it!"

Even his prognostications regarding his own political condition have been remarkably wrong - and I'd sort of expect him to get this part of the job right! Recall his assessment following the 2004 election:
"I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That's what happened in the -- after the 2000 election, I earned some capital. I've earned capital in this election -- and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on, which is -- you've heard the agenda: Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror."
[President Holds Press Conference, 4 Nov 2004, emphasis added]
Notice a trend here?

"Moving this economy forward"? Yeah - that's gone well. I guess it's all a matter of perspective - from where he stands maybe movement has been forward. [Aside: I used to have a poster in my office, showing a lone mountain goat standing atop a rock, with the caption, "I'm so far behind, I think I'm first"... I'm not sure why, but that seems appropriate.]

My favorite is "fighting and winning the war on terror"... but he's not too proud to keep selling us fear to protect telecoms!... bin Laden is still at large, and TSA honestly believes my mouthwash is a potential explosive device!

Yep - if W says we're not headed for a recession, it's time to invest in portable, convertible, tangible assets - gold, diamonds... (real estate may not be such a good bet!)

Stop the madness!

"Land of the Free"

Record-high ratio of Americans in prison
By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer
28 Feb 2008
NEW YORK - For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America's rank as the world's No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars.
The report said the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which round out the Top 10.

The U.S. has more people in prison than China?

Somehow, sometime, we got off the tracks.

This is NOT a category I'm happy about U.S. leading the world!

Stop the madness!

I know I shouldn't laugh...

... but this is hysterical!

From Think Progress:
McCain ‘Very Honored’ By Support Of Pastor Preaching ‘End-Time Confrontation With Iran’
No, that's not the Laugh Out Loud part...

This is the Laugh Out Loud part:
McCain’s acceptance of Hagee’s endorsement was condemned today by conservative William Donohue, president of the Catholic League. Calling Hagee a “bigot,” Donahue said the right-wing pastor has waged “an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church” by “calling it ‘The Great Whore,’ an ‘apostate church,’ the ‘anti-Christ,’ and a ‘false cult system.’”
Ah, yes - different sides of the Religious Conservative movement - Catholic vs Protestant - call each other "bigots".

I think we started this particular Christian-on-Christian religious war in 1517, and lots & lots of people were burned for having not-quite-right beliefs for a century or two thereafter!

Recall, McCain also made a point of cozying up to Jerry Falwell a couple of years ago:
McCain Reconnects With Liberty University
Senator May Have an Eye Toward 2008 as He Reaches Out to Religious Conservatives
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 14, 2006
LYNCHBURG, Va., May 13 -- Six years after labeling the Rev. Jerry Falwell one of the political "agents of intolerance," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered the commencement address Saturday at Falwell's Liberty University, and vigorously defended his support for the war in Iraq while saying that opponents have a moral duty to challenge the wisdom of a conflict that has exacted a huge toll on the nation.
Mr. "Straight-Talk Express" at work!

Just for fun: read Luther! His invective against the Roman Church makes much of today's political vituperation look anemic! Here's a sample - and a not particularly biting one at that - addressed to Pope Leo X:
Your see, however, which is called the Court of Rome, and which neither you nor any man can deny to be more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom, and quite, as I believe, of a lost, desperate, and hopeless impiety, this I have verily abominated, and have felt indignant that the people of Christ should be cheated under your name and the pretext of the Church of Rome; and so I have resisted, and will resist, as long as the spirit of faith shall live in me.
[from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Concerning Christian Liberty, by Martin Luther]
(Aside: Project Gutenberg is a wonderful source for original texts... for free!)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Military comes to the rescue (again!)

Previous posts have noted that CentComm commander Adm Fallon has stated that Iran will not be attacked "on his watch"; that a classified Pentagon study confirms that the military is broken; that Joint Chief of Staff Chair Adm Mullen thinks Gitmo ought be closed; and more recently that Army Chief of Staff Gen Casey pretty much stated that no matter what W decides, combat tours will be reduced from 15 to 12 months.

When the Professional Soldiers are consulted, they seem to be remarkably sane. (As opposed to civilian DoD folks, like DoD general counsel William Haynes who insists that Gitmo trials will result in convictions.)

Today's heroic general: DIA director Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples.
From TPM.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked, "General, do you believe that waterboarding is consistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions?"

After pausing a moment to think, Maples replied, "No, sir, I don’t."

"Do you think it’s humane?" Levin asked.

"No, sir, I think it would go beyond that bound."
The uniformed services may save us from ourselves!

Misplaced priorities

Committee asks investigation of Clemens
27 Feb 2008
WASHINGTON - Congress asked the Justice Department on Wednesday to investigate whether Roger Clemens made false statements to a House committee.

To: Congress
From: incredulous constituent
What are you guys thinking?
The country has real problems.
Steroid use in major league baseball ain't one of 'em.

Yes, steroids are bad for the athletes, bad for the fans, bad for the game...

BUT: why are you, the U.S. Congress, wasting time on this??? You need to augment your autograph collection?

You wonder why your approval rating is lower than W's?

Stop the madness!

Exiting Iraq

Sen Majority Leader Harry Reid properly frames the argument:
“But Senate Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid said it was time to end the Iraq war, which he denounced as the "worst foreign policy blunder" in US history.
"What has five years of war brought to America, the Middle East and the world?" he asked.
"Thousands of deaths, a trillion in debt, a catastrophic failure of diplomacy. My Republican colleagues: think what this war has done to our nation's fiscal soundness. It has destroyed it."

[Republicans tout 'surge' in Iraq war debate, AFP, 26 Feb 2008]
What will we hear from the obstructionist Republicans?

“Listen to the commanders on the ground.”
War, peace, foreign-policy, and national security: these are political questions.
When the decision is made to fight, then, yes, the military owns the fighting.
The military does not own the decision, “to fight or not to fight?”.

The Republicans are right to insist that the Iraq war is a national security issue.
Is our nation made safer by continuing this futile fiasco?
As Reid notes, we’ve had neglible ROI for our investment of $500Bn.
Our military has been weakened. Our national debt is soaring. Brave soldiers and Marines continue to die.

It is in the best interest of the United States to disengage from Iraq.
“We cannot surrender to al Qaeda.”
Our continuing engagement in Iraq is what al Qaeda wants.
They see that Iraq is crippling us – at very little cost to them!
Iraq distracts us from the real al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan & Pakistan.
The so-called al Qaeda in Iraq continues to target Americans, enabling the real al Qaeda to claim victory by proxy.
(The real al Qaeda is not now and has never been in Iraq.)

Six-and-a-half years after 9/11 bin Laden is still at large.

How, exactly, is our continuing engagement in Iraq helping us fight al Qaeda?

[Aside: which Presidential candidate would bin Laden like to win the election? John McCain, who promises to provide permanent U.S. targets in the Middle East.]
“Iraq will devolve into a failed state.”
Iraq is already a failed state.
No, it will not become paradise on earth when we leave – but it will no longer be OUR problem.

There is some chance that U.S. disengagement would encourage true international intervention. So long as Iraq is a U.S. operation, the international community has no vested interest in helping (and we’ve had no success securing meaningful international assistance to date – despite W’s repeated pledges).
“We cannot abandon our Iraqi friends. We owe it to them to stay.”
We have in good faith, if with massive incompetence, done everything in our power to create a viable Iraqi state. We’ve failed.
Does anyone really believe our continuing presence will result in anything different in a year? Two years? Ten years? What’s going to change? Why will next year be different than this year?

Even our Iraqi allies see continuing U.S. engagement as an obstacle to political reconciliation:
“But I understand that the political objectives of Iraq's three main communities are unrealizable within the framework of a unitary, centralized state.

It has been impossible to maintain a political consensus on many important issues. For one thing, the U.S.-dominated coalition, which has its own objectives, must be accommodated. ...

[Federalism, Not Partition, A System Devolving Power to the Regions Is the Route to a Viable Iraq, By Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser.]
Finally, every parent should understand that when a child gets into trouble it is not particularly helpful to come to the child’s aid over and over. Eventually the child needs to learn to handle problems on his own. In the extreme, this is called “tough love”:
Tough love is an expression used when someone must treat another person harshly or sternly in order to help them in the long run.

In most uses, there must be some actual love or feeling of affection behind the harsh or stern treatment to be defined as tough love. For example, genuinely concerned parents refusing to support their drug-addicted child financially until he or she enters drug rehabilitation would be said to be practicing tough love.
[Wikipedia entry, Tough Love]
As long as we are there as ultimate referees, the Iraqis have no reason to achieve a working state.
Perhaps our original intentions were pure, honest, and faultless. It doesn't now matter.

We've lost Iraq. Continuing to pour good money after bad is foolish, and degrades our real national security.

Stop the madness!

Generals counting on W to listen... NOT!

Army: Service must cut combat tours
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
Tue Feb 26, 2008
WASHINGTON - The Army's top general said Tuesday he wants to reduce combat tours for soldiers in Iraq from 15 months to 12 months this summer — and hopes that sticks

Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, told a Senate panel he would not embrace going back to the longer tours even if President Bush decided to suspend troop reductions for the second half of the year.
He said he anticipates the service can cut combat tours from 15 months to 12 months this summer, as long as the president reduces the number of active-duty Army brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan to 15 units by July, as planned.

Interesting phrasing in this reporting. Gen Casey apparently doesn't much trust W, but he doesn't really care:
Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, told a Senate panel he would not embrace going back to the longer tours even if President Bush decided to suspend troop reductions for the second half of the year.
Though he suggests that getting tours back to 12 months would be easier if planned active-duty redeployments go forward.

Now, the words cited from the article are not Gen Casey's - they are the reporter's summary of what Gen Casey said. BUT - if Gen Casey did in fact say something like this, it seems a none-too-subtle telegraph to W:
"Sir, it doesn't matter what you decide - we're going to cut combat tours to 12 months."
Will W take the hint?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More joyful economic news

Disclaimer: in re-reading some of my posts on the economy I worry that I sound like I'm cheering for a recession. I'm not. I have very real personal financial reasons to want to see the stock market and the overall economy strong.

That said, here's the latest round of good news:
Worries grow for worse 'stagflation'
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
Tue Feb 26, 2008
WASHINGTON - It's a toxic economic mix the nation hasn't seen in three decades: Prices are speeding upward at the fastest pace in a quarter century, even as the economy loses steam.
[Note: this is that previously-thought-impossible combo of inflation & slow growth that was embarrassing when I took my one & only college economics class in the early '70s]
Reports reflect bleak housing picture
By J.W. ELPHINSTONE, AP Business Writer
Tue Feb 26, 2008
NEW YORK - House prices may still have a long way to fall.
U.S. home prices dropped 8.9 percent in the final quarter of 2007 compared with a year ago, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday. That marked the steepest decline in the index's 20-year history.
Seems like it'll be awhile till we really know just how bad this segment is going to get...
Confidence plunges, inflation rate soars
Tue Feb 26, 2008
WASHINGTON - In more bad economic news, consumer confidence and home prices posted sharp declines while higher costs for such basics as food, energy and medicine left wholesale inflation rising at a pace unseen since late 1981.
Over the past 12 months, wholesale prices rose by 7.4 percent, the largest yearly gain since late 1981. Analysts warned consumers to brace for more bad inflation news with crude oil prices rising to records above $100 per barrel and with more evidence that the prolonged jump in energy prices is starting to break out into more widespread price problems.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Conference Board reported that its confidence index fell to 75.0 in February, down from a revised January reading of 87.3. The drop was far below what analysts had forecast and put the index at its lowest level since February 2003, a period that reflected anxiety in the leadup to the Iraq war.
One of my colleagues argues that bad economic news is self-sustaining & self-fulfilling: if you tell folks often enough that things are bad, they start to believe it... and to ACT as if they believe it - cutting personal spending... which generates more bad news, which folks act on... etc.

There's probably something to this.
But it doesn't mean the economy is healthy!
[Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean folks aren't out to get you!]

As stated in introductory 'disclaimer' I have every reason to hope recession does not materialize... but I am not sanguine.

Missed the debate (no surprise)...

... tonight I had an excuse: choral rehearsal. I'm in an opera chorus: Opera SouthWest's production of Tosca. Rehearsals are Tues evenings. The show goes up in April, so I really can't afford to miss one.

From commentary on the blogs, sounds like this one was somewhat harder hitting than the last.

I'll grab the transcript later.

Commentary also suggests neither candidate died, both had good moments, both had not-so-good moments. I've seen it called a draw, a victory for Sen Obama, and a victory for Sen Clinton.

I'll repeat what I've said before: it feels great to have two (2!) solid candidates, and to know that one of 'em will be the Dem nominee (and most likely the next Prez!).

To all my readers (?) in Ohio and Texas, a gentle reminder: the only poll that counts is the one held on election day, in the voting booth. Vote!

Vampires in W's Administration

Gitmo figure resigns from Defense Dept.
Published: Feb. 25, 2008
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- William Haynes, who is overseeing military commission trials for Guantanamo detainees, is resigning as Defense Department general counsel, the Pentagon said.

Haynes is "returning to private life" in March, the Defense Department said in a news release Monday.

This is the William Haynes who declared of Gitmo trials,
'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals. We've got to have convictions.'
as reported last week by The Nation.

Ah, yes: just as vampires cannot survive the light of day, neither can W's enablers. When their words and deeds are exposed, they seek the dark refuge of "private life".

W and his minions understand this, hence their zealous secrecy. If this Administration's words and deeds were shown the light of day We, the people would stock up on wooden stakes.

Stop the madness!

Yesterday's question answered today

Yesterday I asked the question, "How long can this continue?", regarding Turkey's incursions into Iraq.
At what point will the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan, or in the putative Iraqi National Government, decide that enough is enough? What will they do?
Today we have the answer:
Iraq condemns Turkish incursion
26 Feb 2008
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's government on Tuesday condemned the Turkish military incursion into the north of the country, saying it was a violation of the its sovereignty.

"The cabinet in a meeting today expressed its rejection and condemnation of the Turkish military incursion which is considered a violation of Iraq's sovereignty," said a government statement issued by spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

Now what?

[Blatant, mildly delusional self-promotion: as I've suggested previously, if you want to know next week's news, read this blog today! My psychic powers are well-attested.]

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bait-and-Switch: Stealth escalation

U.S. expects 140,000 troops in Iraq after drawdown
By Andrew Gray, Ruters
25 Feb 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expects to have about 140,000 troops in Iraq even after completing a planned drawdown of combat forces in July, the Pentagon said on Monday.
Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, director of operations for the U.S. military's Joint Staff, also said it was too soon to predict if troop numbers could go below the pre-surge level of 132,000 any time this year.

I thought "bait-and-switch" was illegal?

Is this what we were sold when W announced the "surge"?
"... I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. The vast majority of them -- five brigades -- will be deployed to Baghdad.
I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops."

[President's Address to the Nation, 10 Jan 2008]
Note: it's not clear if the 4000 troops committed to Anbar Province are part of the overall 20,000 or an additional 4000. Let's be generous & suppose the "surge" was to deploy an additional total of 24,000 troops.

As it turned out, closer to 30,000 additional troops were sent to Iraq for the "surge." This represents a 25% increase over the number proposed by W in January '07 (with the generous assumption that W in fact proposed 24,000, not 20,000!).

I note that a retailer advertising $24 and charging $30 would be indicted for fraud.

What else did W promise?
To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.
I missed this announcement - did the Iraq govt take control of all provinces in November?

W proposes no end date, but gave every indication that the troop increase was to be temporary. After all, the Iraq govt was "to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November."

If we'll have 8,000 more troops at the end of the surge than when it started, this seems to be simply a stealth escalation of permanent troop deployments. - a "bait and switch" ploy. Retailers get prosecuted for this kind of misrepresentation - promising a rebate, then invoking various "fees" to reduce the size of the rebate.

For what it's worth, W also promised that
...Secretary Rice will soon appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq.
And, sure enough, the next day:
Rice announces new Iraq reconstruction coordinator
By Jenny Mandel;; January 11, 2007
State Department Secretary Condoleezza Rice on Thursday announced that Timothy Carney, a retired Foreign Service officer with extensive conflict experience, has been named to serve as the coordinator for Iraq reconstruction that President Bush called for in a speech Wednesday night.
Only thing is... I challenge anyone to find any news article referencing this guy since Feb 2007! (Nice job if you can get it!!)

From the inception of the the war, We, the people have never been told the truth regarding the cost of the war. Not once. Ever. In $$, in lives, in troops, in duration. Never.

Stop the madness!

An amusing observation

Long ago I suggested a fun game:
Take any MSM article on Iraq. Replace all references to "insurgents" or "militias" with the terms "nationalists", or "patriots", or "freedom-fighters." The substance of the article will not change, but the tone will, dramatically.
The same post suggested that this re-labeling would entail real-world consequences:
Note: calling the various opposition elements "nationalist groups" changes the dialog.
Well, guess what? The U.S. Command in Iraq has adopted this suggestion, and followed-up by operationalizing the re-labeling.

At least, that is one interpretation of the military's sponsorship of local Sunni fighters under the various rubrics, "Awakening Councils", "Concerned Local Citizens", or the "Sons of Iraq". These same folks used to be called "Sunni insurgents", and they were among the bad guys.

Not only are we no longer calling 'em "insurgents", but we're also treating 'em differently in recognition of the new labels - they're now our allies against the so-called "al Quaeda in Iraq"!

I have no brilliant comment to further elucidate this observation, I just found it amusing.

[... and, no: I will not claim psychic abilities here... but it does support the alternative explanation that policy-makers are reading this blog for brilliant advice.]

No, thanks. What else do you have?

From dday at Hullabaloo:
"The Curtain Is Pulled Back
"Once the culture of fear yielded no results, no frightened and cowed Democrats scurrying for cover, the White House literally had no idea what to do.
"... it has to be clearly stated: the Bush Administration overtly and admittedly lied about lost intelligence to bully the House into expanding executive power. This is a memorable episode."
The folks at Hullabaloo always say it best!

And what did it take for this remarkable thing to occur?
House Dems defied W!

That was it. That's what we've been waiting for since the 110th Congress was seated on 3 January 2007. Why has it taken so long?
[Note: Senate Dems still seem to really like being the subject of the predicate, "cave to W"]

The fiscally responsible Republicans

(From Roll-Call via DailyKos)
The National Republican Congressional Committee apparently stopped conducting independent audits of its finances five years ago, according to Republican sources and Federal Election Commission records.

The NRCC will not confirm its audit history, citing an ongoing investigation into financial irregularities apparently centering on former Treasurer Christopher Ward. But the indication is that the committee did not conduct an independent audit at all during the 2003-2006 tenure of former Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and his audit committee chairman, Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.).
Uh, guys: audits are pretty basic financial control mechanisms. If you want to position yourselves as the Party of Fiscal Responsibility, implementing basic financial controls in your own organization wouldn't be a bad start.

'Course, if W's management of just about everything is any indication of what the rest of you learned in Biz School, this isn't too surprising! (And, for what it's worth: learning the basics of financial accounting & auditing would also help you conceal any ill-gotten, lobbyist-derived $$ you may "earn"... you know, if you were to be tempted to... ah, no - that's not really a plausible suggestion, is it? What Republican would so abuse the public trust?)

Note to Dems: this is a nice little tidbit to use when debating your esteemed Republican opponent, for any office:
"My respected Republican opponent's Party can't even control its own $$.
Dare you trust him with your tax dollars?"
See how easy it is!


The DSCC called me last week. They wanted $$.

Apparently my last donation of $2.71 was too subtle an insult to convince 'em that maybe I am no longer a likely donor.

Anyway - the poor fellow manning the DSCC phone got an earful regarding why I will NOT send any more $$ to DSCC. Maybe they'll cross me off their list now!

FYI: a similar tactic against unwanted solicitation of political $$ worked wonders in 2006. I got a call from some John Kerry PAC. I launched into an extended rant about Kerry's amazingly incompetent 2004 campaign, finishing up with statement that I had no intention of giving $$ to anything-Kerry ever again.

They never called again.

Note: there are Dem Senators worth supporting. If you are so inclined, send 'em money directly. (or visit ActBlue - link on lefthand navbar.)

Maybe W was telling the truth...

Gas jumps 2 cents at pump, oil also up
By J.W. ELPHINSTONE, AP Business Writer
25 Feb 2008
NEW YORK - Gas prices at the pump added more than 2 cents over the weekend, topping a more than seven-month high reached Friday. Meanwhile, oil prices edged higher after climbing close to $100 a barrel earlier in the session.

In the lead-up to the invasion, W and his minions pooh-poohed the notion that attacking Iraq was a "War for Oil". Seems they might have been telling the truth after all!

I mean - if it WAS a war-for-oil, it sure didn't work out very well... and who could honestly accuse W's Administration of incompetence?

On the other hand, the war has a been a boon for W's oilpatch buds: record profits, quarter after quarter, year after year!

Stop the madness!

"Happy Days Are Here Again"

Happy days are here again,
The skies above are clear again,
So let's sing a song of cheer again,
Happy days are here again.

[Happy Days Are Here Again,
Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics),
Wikipedia entry.]
Meanwhile, back in liberal-biased reality:
Existing home sales hit 9-year low
25 Feb 2008
WASHINGTON - Sales of existing homes fell to the lowest level in nearly a decade in January while the median price for a home dropped for the fifth straight month.
I'm sure there's a legitimate debate regarding who's to blame for this, but unprecedented deficit spending coupled with tax cuts during wartime coupled with ideologically-induced lax govt regulation - that is to say, W's economic policies - all play some part!

Stop the madness!

How long can this continue?

Turkish military kills 41 Kurdish rebels
Associated Press
25 Feb 2008
CUKURCA, Turkey - Turkey's military said Monday it had killed 41 more separatist Kurdish rebels in clashes in northern Iraq, raising the reported guerrilla death toll in a cross-border operation to 153.

If this violation of Iraq's territorial integrity were undertaken not by our NATO ally, Turkey, but by Axis-of-Evil member Iran, would the U.S. simply stand by as an interested observer?

At what point will the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan, or in the putative Iraqi National Government, decide that enough is enough? What will they do?

Far from being the bright beacon of democracy envisioned by W and his neocon enablers, Iraq continues to produce ever-more regional instability.

Contemplating this mess, I am almost inclined to support McCain - let HIM be stuck with this disaster! (In my saner moments I retreat from this position. Another Republican in the White House - and a W clone at that! - is probably not what the country really needs.)

Stop the madness!

Saluting the pros

How do the folks at C&L, Hullabaloo, Americablog, DailyKos, TPM, Think Progress, Eschaton, and others... do it? Seriously!

Reporting the madness day after day - I'm learning quickly that this is a very draining hobby.

The occasional absurdity is fun, but the daily repetition gets to be overwhelming. It's very difficult to maintain a state of outrage, even when the news continues to demand outrage.

What prompts this wonder & thanks for the pros?
I just couldn't bring myself to post anything. I was exhausted. I retreated into the far more joyful production of an opening-night memento for an upcoming HRG&SP production of Patience.

There was sufficient absurdity to warrant comment, I just couldn't bring myself to deal with it.

So: My heartfelt thanks to the folks who do this day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

John Warner: supporting the troops

The Trail
Saturday, February 23, 2008, Washington Post
Seeking Obama's Mystery Soldier

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, sent a stern letter to colleague Barack Obama yesterday, challenging him to provide information about an Army officer he cited in Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate.

Now, Obama seems like a fairly rational guy. It's difficult to imagine that he'd use the "Army officer in Afghanistan" story during a much-hyped, nationally-televised debate if it weren't true. (Note: politicians are not generally known for their rational ways, and are on occasion caught in blatant, easily refuted lies, so just because it's "difficult to imagine" doesn't mean that it's not true...)

However, I'm less concerned with this particular challenge - from Senator Warner - when I consider the source. This guy has been an Administration stooge on matters of Defense for some time. For example, on NBC's Meet the Press back in July 2004, responding to a question about whether maybe the Pentagon ought have given more credence to Gen Shinseki's estimate of size of force needed to control post-war Iraq, Warner went on the attack:
"SEN. WARNER: Let's start with General Shinseki, because I was in the hearing room conducting a hearing when he answered that question, Joe. I think you were in the hearing. He was asked three times, and finally, he just sorted of seized on this figure. You know, I'd like right here and now to invite General Shinseki to tell where the staffing existed to come up with that figure. I cannot find it anywhere in the Joint Chiefs. I cannot find it in the Department of Army. How did he make that estimate.
Anytime anyone suggests that just maybe there's been inadequate planning, Warner isn't interested in fixing the problem, but only in attacking the messenger.

Support the troops? Yeah, right!

Stop the madness.

5th year anniversary approaching...

... and we don't even control the Green Zone!
Iraq: rockets or mortars hit Green Zone
Fri Feb 22, 2008
BAGHDAD - A series of rockets or mortars were fired toward the U.S.-protected Green Zone early Saturday, a day after radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia fighters to cease attacks for another six months.
This is simply absurd!

How's the road to the Baghdad airport?
Can civilians drive it without fear?

Five years, 5000 combat deaths, $500,000,000,000.
For what?

Please, I really want to hear someone, anyone articulate a comprehensible "strategic objective" regarding Iraq.

What will Iraq look like when we've achieved "victory"?

Will it look like Liechtenstein? Like Angola? Like Zambia? Like Mexico?
Honestly, I'm curious - I want to know!

If no one can articulate a comprehensible end state, why are we there?

Stop the madness!

Simple math

B-2 stealth bomber crashes on Guam
Associated Press
22 Feb 2008
HAGATNA, Guam - A B-2 stealth bomber crashed Saturday at an air base on Guam, but both pilots ejected safely and were in good condition, the Air Force said.
Each B-2 bomber costs about $1.2 billion to build.

Wikipedia gives the unit cost as "$737 million to $2.2 billion".

Let's be conservative and take a number at the lower end of the range cited by Wikipedia (and considerably less than the number cited in the AP article!): $750,000,000/plane.

Recall, we are short about 1000 meat inspectors. Supposing these guys make $100,000/yr (a decent wage!), the single B-2 Stealth Bomber we lost in Guam today would pay for all of these 1000 extra meat inspectors for seven-and-a-half (7.5) years!

If the unit cost of a B-2 is really $1.2Bn, that one B-2 would pay for 1000 extra meat inspectors for 12 years!

What do you think "national security" means? I'd vote for a safe food supply!

Stop the madness!

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Git yer FEAR here!"

Tonight's Countdown featured a segment on GOP.GOV website's new video, "be afraid, be VERY afraid", suggesting that not granting telecoms immunity would result in really bad things happening really soon.

To All Democrats: DNC, DLC, DCCC, DSCC
Confront this NOW, TODAY, forcefully!

Two distinct responses suggest themselves (both most effective if presented as well-produced, high-quality vids - like the GOP's "be very afraid" spot):

1) "Why do they keep selling fear?

2) (this one is a bit more difficult to execute effectively)... I'll try to present as a screenplay:
Scene: an ordinary street in an ordinary American suburban neighborhood - kids on bikes, dogs, trimmed lawns.
A black SUV pulls into a driveway. Two well-dressed men - black suits, ties - could be insurance salesmen - get out.
They walk to the front door & ring the bell.
The door opens. Fred Johnson, his three-year-old daughter clinging to his pants leg, greets the visitors, "May I help you."
Man #1: "Are you Fred J. Johnson?"
Fred: "Yes. Did I win the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes?"
Man #2: "Come with us please."
Fred: "What? Who are you?"
Man #1: "Please, sir, just come with us."
Fred: "Who are you?"
[Men wrestle with Fred, handcuff him, drag him to SUV, shove him into back seat. Fred's three-year-old daughter runs after him, crying, "Daddy!"]

Scene 2: a small cell, barely lit by bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. A speaker blares "Flight of the Valkyrie". Fred is curled up in the corner, stripped to his briefs.
The cell door opens.
A uniformed guard appears - the more 'military' the uniform, the better!
He grabs Fred roughly, shoving him out the door.

Scene 3: Fred seated in front of 3rd-degree light, at table. Across the table an unseen man in shadow.
Unseen Man: "Mr. Johnson, I'll ask you again, who do you know in Germany?"
Fred: "My cousins... only my cousins. My Mom's from Germany. I've told you this all before. Why am I here?"
Unseen Man: "Mr. Johnson, as we've told you, we have records of your phone calls to Germany. We have witnesses. If you tell us who your contacts are it will be much better for you..."

Scene 4: fade to black.
Narrator: "This is the country the Republicans want America to become, where innuendo, anonymous witnesses, and blanket wiretaps prevail. Where innocent citizens can be held as 'illegal combatants' at the whim of the President. Where you have no rights, and where you are presumed GUILTY until proven innocent. Where the United States Constitution is declared a 'quaint, historical document'.
If this is the country you want, support telecom immunity."

Scene 5:[Words on screen. No narration.]
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
The Bill of Rights, Amendment 4, United States Constitution
The more melodramatically, malevolently evil, the better - turn America into America's Cold War vision of the Soviet Union.

Yeah, it's overdone - but look at the vid on GOP.GOV... overdone is required!

Stop the madness!

Very sad parallels... (what's become of my country?)

A previous post noted that waterboarding is a torture ascribed to the Spanish Inquisition by all authorities.

Sad to say, this is not the only parallel with the Inquisition to be found in our Global War on Terror as exemplified by Gitmo.
Says ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner, "The trial doesn't make a difference. They can hold you there forever until they decide to let you out." The one person to be released from Guantánamo through the judicial process, Australian David Hicks, pleaded guilty. As Wizner wrote in the Los Angeles Times in April 2007, "In an ordinary justice system, the accused must be acquitted to be released. In Guantánamo, the accused must plead guilty to be released."
[Rigged Trials at Gitmo, The Nation, 21 Feb 2008]
Consider this parallel:
"The whole procedure was directed to induce the accused to confess his errors, to profess repentance and to beg for mercy. He was adjured by the love of God and his Blessed Mother to discharge his conscience and save his soul by a full confession, as to himself and others, without uttering false testimony as to himself or to them. The so-called advocate who was furnished to defend him was instructed to urge him to this, and to explain that the Holy Office was not like the other tribunals whose business it was to punish the body, for here the only object was to cure the soul and to reunite to the Church those who, by their sins, had left the holy congregation of Christians, in violation of their baptismal promises; he should therefore cast aside all thought of that which concerns the body and think only of his soul, confessing his crimes so that the Holy Office could cure his infirmity, which was beyond the power of any other judge or confessor."
[A History of the Inquisition of Spain, Volume 2
Henry Charles Lea
Book 6: Practice, Chapter 6: Confession]
... and those who confessed?
penalties inflicted on the repentant were not punishment but penance and he was not a convict but a penitent
... and those who did NOT confess, even after torture?
When torture was administered, without eliciting a confession, the logical conclusion, if torture proved anything, was that the accused was innocent. In legal phrase, he had purged the evidence and was entitled to acquittal. Such, indeed, was the law, but there was a natural repugnance to being baffled, or to admit that innocence had been so cruelly persecuted, and excuses were readily found to evade the law.
[History of the Inquisition of Spain, Volume 3
Henry Charles Lea
Book 6: Practice, Chapter 7: Torture]
Compare this with,
"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals. We've got to have convictions.'"
[Rigged Trials at Gitmo]
The parallels don't end here: Read on!
U.S. confident about trials of Sept. 11 suspects
The officials confirmed Tuesday that the Justice Department and the Pentagon, aware of probable legal challenges involving possible mistreatment of prisoners, began an extensive effort in late 2006 to rebuild the cases against the six men using what officials called "clean teams" of agents and military investigators.

By interviewing the prisoners again, and reassembling other evidence against them, the prosecutors could present evidence in court that would be harder for defense lawyers to challenge. But some legal experts said that approach might not defuse defense arguments that the initial investigations were tainted.
Ah, yes: "clean teams"!... and the Spanish Inquisition?
Yet, as though still more effectually to deprive the system of all excuse, the confession obtained at such cost was practically admitted to be in itself worthless. To legalize it, a ratification was required, after an interval of at least twenty-four hours, to be freely made, without threats and apart from the torture-chamber. This was essential in all jurisdictions, and the formula in the Inquisition was to bring the prisoner into the audience-chamber, where his confession was read to him as it had been written down. He was asked whether it was true or whether he had anything to add or to omit and, under his oath, he was expected to declare that it was properly recorded, that he had no change to make and that he ratified it, not through fear of torture, or from any other cause, but solely because it was the truth.
[ibid., Vol 3, Book 6: Practice, Chapter 7: Torture]
Confessions, including evidence against others, obtained under torture were legally worthless, and had to be ratified by the accused when he was not under threat of torture.
"The assertion that 'confessionem esse veram, non factam vi tormentorum' (the confession was true and free) sometimes follows a description of how, presently after torture ended, the subject freely confessed to his offenses.
[Wikipedia entry, Spanish Inquisition]
Yes, the Spanish Inquisition also required "clean teams"!

For what it's worth, the Spanish Inquisition also operated under regulations akin to DoJ opinions... BUT:
When we come to inquire as to the character of evidence requiring torture for its elucidation, we find how illusory were all the attempts of the legists to lay down absolute rules, and how it all ended in leaving the matter to the discretion of the tribunal.
[Lea, Vol 3, Book 6, Chapter 7]
And again, for what it's worth: there are more parallels... here's a brief synopsis:
The denunciations were anonymous, and the defendant had no way of knowing the identity of his accusers.
After a denunciation, the case was examined by the calificadores (qualifiers), who had to determine if there was heresy involved, followed by detention of the accused. In practice, however, many were detained in preventive custody, and many cases of lengthy incarcerations occurred, lasting up to two years, before the calificadores examined the case.
Note: detention for two years before examination is considered excessive!
...The entire process was undertaken with the utmost secrecy, as much for the public as for the accused, who were not informed about the accusations that were levied against them. Months, or even years could pass without the accused being informed about why they were locked up. The prisoners remained isolated...
[Wikipedia entry, Spanish Inquisition]
I note that simply substituting "plead guilty" for "confess", and "terrorism" for "heresy" in the Lea excerpts, reads as today's news. The quality of evidence from anonymous witnesses presented in secrecy differs not at all from the Inquisition to Gitmo.

What has my country become?

Stop the madness!

A role for government... what W doesn't understand

W has performed a miracle: hugely increasing government spending while simultaneously destroying govt effectiveness & competence.

The latest:
Inspectors say meat safety is threatened
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press Writer
Thu Feb 21, 2008
LOS ANGELES - Sometimes, government inspectors responsible for examining slaughterhouse cattle for mad cow disease and other ills are so short-staffed that they find themselves peering down from catwalks at hundreds of animals at once, looking for such telltale signs as droopy ears, stumbling gait and facial paralysis.
The inspectors told The Associated Press that they fear chronic staff shortages in their ranks are allowing sick cows to get into the nation's food supply, endangering the public. According to USDA's own figures, the inspector ranks nationwide had vacancy rates of 10 percent or more in 2006-07.
W and the rest of the Republican Party are committed to the notion that govt regulation & oversight is always bad, and that industry can and will self-regulate. They are committed to this belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but seem not to suffer any cognitive dissonance.

What is govt's role?
to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defense,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity
Has anyone in W's administration ever read the Constitution, the document W took an oath to "preserve, protect and defend"?

Stop the madness.

This can't be good news...

Turkey army launches land offensive into Iraq
By Paul de Bendern, Reuters
22 Feb 2008
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish ground troops crossed into northern Iraq in their hunt for Kurdish PKK rebels, the military said on Friday, describing the start of a campaign one report said could last 15 days.

Turkey, recall, is one of our NATO allies.

What happens if the Iraqi government - or even just the leaders in Iraq Kurdistan - decide they can't tolerate this violation of Iraq's sovereignty and start shooting at the Turkish army? Until now, Turkey seemed content to simply send their air force to bomb PKK positions in Iraq Kurdistan. What would we do if the Iraqi Kurds responded to these air assaults with anti-aircraft fire?

How would we respond if Iran sent planes or troops to attack positions in Iraq on the pretext of pursuing some internal opposition group seeking refuge in Iraq?

How long with Iraq's Kurds sit back while Turkey attacks their territory?

This is a mess... and, sadly, it's our mess.

Have we thanked this guy?

Iraqi cleric Sadr extends militia ceasefire
By Mariam Karouny and Tim Cocks, Reuters
22 Feb 2008
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr extended his Mehdi Army militia ceasefire by six months on Friday, a decision U.S. officials said would help foster reconciliation among Iraq's divided communities.

I sure hope we've thanked al-Sadr.

At the very least, I hope that we've voided the outstanding arrest warrant against him (issued by Bremer).

To the extent that the surge is "working", we can thank Moqtada and the Mahdi Army. It may be reasonable to restrict raids into Sadr City - don't make these guys mad!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The gloves come off... NOT!

Two very brief excerpts from transcript of Dem debate:
OBAMA: Now, I think that Senator Clinton has a fine record and I don't want to denigrate that record.
Okay - one sentence does not a debate make... but perusing the rest of the transcript reveals no ugliness.

Then we have,
CLINTON: ... And, you know, no matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.

Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about.
... and again, no rancor or ugliness is revealed in anything that preceded this.

Whichever of these two wins the Democratic nomination, we all ought be happy & proud: two outstanding, honorable candidates, both willing to provocatively challenge the Republican's inanity.

This'll be a really fun campaign!

One story, two different thoughts, one blog post

Bush: Surveillance compromise unlikely
By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer
Thu Feb 21, 2008
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE - President Bush on Thursday stood by his demand for legal protection for phone companies that help the government eavesdrop on suspected terrorists, saying he sees no prospect of a compromise with congressional Democrats.

Okay - that's the "one story."

Here's the first of the "two thoughts":
If, as W and his minions argue, the telecoms were acting in good faith to help the government protect America, what do they have to fear? If legitimate (etymologically-related to "legal"), this seems like an iron-clad defense in any prospective civil or criminal action. Why is legislative immunity required?

More on the "one story":
Roundtable Interview of the President and the First Lady by the Travel Pool
Conference Room
Aboard Air Force One
En route Andrews Air Force Base
21 Feb 2008
THE PRESIDENT: How do you compromise on something like granting liability for a telecommunications company? You can't. If we do not give liability protection to those who are helping us, they won't help us. And if they don't help us, there will be no program. And if there's no program, America is more vulnerable.

What I'm going to do is continue to remind people that unless they get this program done, we're going to be vulnerable to attack.
Here's the second of the "two thoughts":
Whenever I hear W invoke "terrorists" to promote his agenda, I can't help but think of Hermann Goering's statement:
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
Yes, I know it's bad form to make explicit comparisons with Nazis, but this is just too apt!

Why does W continue to sell fear? It's all he's got to sell!!

Stop the madness!

Why can't I contact "Countdown"?

Time was I could send MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" email. I know this 'cuz I did, on more than one occasion.

Now I'd like to suggest something to the show, but find no contact info on the Countdown website. Sigh.

Denied that avenue - which may have had some effect - I'll use this blog as my not-so-effective outlet.

Tonight's show featured the segment, "Nexus of Politics and Terror", suggesting that W uses fear-mongering in response to inconvenient political news. Olbermann acknowledged that simply being able to juxtapose instances of "bad-political-news"-followed-by-"fear-mongering" really wasn't proof, but was only suggestive.

Putting my statistician hat on, I can suggest an analysis that would help establish that W's fear mongering is consistently used only as response to bad political news.

Keith picked several (a dozen?) instances in which bad political news was followed by W's fear mongering.

To make the case complete, show that fear mongering has almost never been used unless preceded by bad political news. It's called a "2x2 contingency table" - consult any intro stat text.

Ok - that's it.

Democratic Debate live-blogging

[this space intentionally left blank]

Shaking the piggy-bank

A week ago I noted W's latest "if we don't tell them they'll never know" ploy, shutting down an award-winning Commerce Dept web portal for "budgetary reasons."

Today, Think Progress reports that Commerce has yielded to public outcry, including a letter from Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), and will keep the site up.

The site,, provides handy links to a variety of economic data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. It also provides subscription options for getting email updates when new data become available.

I can't say I've ever used the portal, but shutting it down for budgetary reasons when we're spending $600Bn on Defense seems like a questionable rationale.

Who knows, maybe I'll start visiting the site regularly!

Moral of the story: you can make a difference. The original decision to shut down the portal was reversed based on popular outrage.

Satellite killing: the "cost" part of "cost-benefit"

The preceding post suggested that cost-benefit analysis revealed a significant positive "benefit" to shooting down the satellite.

This conclusion was based on the observation that some of the obvious costs were large.

Some of these costs are now making the news (yes, I'm psychic):
Space Arms Race Heats Up Overnight
Jeremy Hsu
Jeanna Bryner
21 Feb 2008
The U.S. Navy's successful missile hit and apparent destruction of a defunct spy satellite represents a major step forward in the space arms race in the eyes of some analysts. Others are not so sure.
Again, I'd really like to see the real reason we opted to shoot the thing down!

Direct hit!

U.S. missile hits spy satellite
By Andrew Gray, Reuters
Thu Feb 21, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A missile from a U.S. Navy warship hit a defunct U.S. spy satellite 133 nautical miles above the Earth in an attempt to blow apart its tank of toxic fuel, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

On some level this is sorta cool: we shot a satellite outta the sky! Brings back fond childhood memories of watching very old Flash Gordon serials on afterschool kids' TV shows.

But, that's not the point of this post. The point is to express curiosity about the real reason for shooting the thing.

The public cover story - that the nearly full fuel tank posed a public health risk - is just silly.

Thinking about the cost-benefit analysis underlying the decision to shoot the thing down suggests that the perceived benefit was huge.

We angered our two big military & space rivals - Russia & China. We reignited international debate on "weapons in space" and the "militarization of space". This seems a fairly substantial cost to incur to protect public health (especially for W's administration, which has not shown a lot of concern for environmental of public health issues to date).

So... what's the real reason that provided a substantial benefit to offset the very real costs?

My bet is we didn't want to risk the technology falling (literally!) into the wrong hands, subject to reverse-engineering. A friend speculates that maybe it wasn't really a spy satellite, but instead in fact carried a warhead.

It's unlikely we, the people, will ever know the truth.

On the bright side: we got it! Cool!!
[Here's a link to ABC News video of the missile launch & satellite destruction.]

Lessons learned from LBJ

McCain Denies Romantic Relationship With Lobbyist

During a hotly-contested Congressional race in Texas, LBJ is said to have instructed his campaign manager to circulate the rumor that his opponent had carnal knowledge of his swine. In response the campaign manager exclaimed, "You want me to accuse him of being a pig f-cker?!"

To which LBJ replied, "Make him deny it."

[Note: this is a remembered story, so the details may not be quite right, and the quotations are almost certainly not exact... but the outline & moral are correct... I'm guessing I saw this in Robert Caro's book, The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1).]

The McCain story may or may not be true, but the intent of releasing it now - it is, after all, old news even if true - seems purely political: "Make him deny it!"

... and it worked!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Just for fun!

The following report is unsourced... in fact, I just made it up!... BUT, ya know, it might be true... who knows?
Marvin C, a former Congressional Page from Arizona, has a tape-recording of John McCain stating that he would take the Oath of Office as President with his hand on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
... if any of my readers were to distribute this unsourced, admittedly fabricated story to the MSM, what could I do to stop them?

Lunar eclipse tonight!

Total lunar eclipse tonight
Staff/news services — 2/20/2008 11:09 am
The Capital Times (Madison, WI)
The last total lunar eclipse until 2010 occurs tonight, with cameo appearances by Saturn and the bright star Regulus on either side of the veiled full moon.

Total occlusion (times given are approximate; check out NASA's eclipse website for more accurate times):
West coast: 7 p.m.
Mountain: 8 p.m.
Central: 9 p.m.
Eastern: 10 p.m.

If you've got clear skies, go watch!
Knock on your neighbors' door and invite 'em to join you.

No politics, no ugliness, just a cool display of nature.

Ah, the good life!

Fed forecasts inflation, unemployment
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
20 Feb 2008
WASHINGTON - The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lowered its projection for economic growth this year, citing damage from the double blows of a housing slump and credit crunch. It said it also expects higher unemployment and inflation.

Note: a more complete headline would read, "Fed forecasts inflation, unemployment, and slower growth."

Time was - back when I took my one and only college economics class, economic theory held that inflation & unemployment were disjoint, mutually exclusive problems. About the time I was taking the class - early 1970s - reality intervened, and the country experienced both joys simultaneously. I suspect economic theory has since been revised to account for this nasty possibility.

Fun legal news

Court rejects domestic spying appeal
By The Associated Press
Tue Feb 19, 2008
SETBACK FOR PRIVACY ADVOCATES: The Supreme Court, without comment, turned down an appeal from the American Civil Liberties Union to let it pursue a lawsuit against the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

The Court ruled that defendants could not establish that they had, in fact, been victims of illegal wiretapping, hence did not have standing to bring suit.

The fairly obvious ties to Kafka & Catch-22 have been noted by others.

Justice At Guantanamo
By Kevin Drum, CBS News
Feb 20, 2008
A couple of months ago Col. Morris Davis, chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, wrote an op-ed in the LA Times explaining that he had resigned his post after he was placed in the chain of command under Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes. Today he sheds some further light on his decision in an interview with Ross Tuttle of The Nation:
When asked if he thought the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes — the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department. "[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time," recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, something that had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions.'"

Davis submitted his resignation on October 4, 2007, just hours after he was informed that Haynes had been put above him in the commissions' chain of command. "Everyone has opinions," Davis says. "But when he was put above me, his opinions became orders."
Ah, yes... when the Soviet Union conducted similar proceedings in the 1930s, we were pleased to call them "show trials" - pure theater, no justice.

The common term is "kangaroo court".

... and let's not forget:
U.S. military will seek death penalty for 6 Guantánamo prisoners
That's right: we're seeking the death penalty in proceedings that seem to be plausibly described as "show trials"!!!

This'll do wonders for our standing in the international community... and those of you planning trips abroad may want to adjust your plans. If other countries start acting like the U.S., you could find yourself whisked away to a covert "black site", held incommunicado for years, subject to "enhanced interrogation" until you confess your "crimes", and then tried for undisclosed capital offenses!

Stop the madness!

Magical thinking infects U.S. command in Iraq

I've previously noted W Administration's propensity for magical thinking, which has frequently implied a failure to plan for contingencies.

Rummy, asked what U.S. would do if Iraq formed an Iran-like Shi'ite theocracy, responded by saying something to effect, "We won't let that happen."

On Meet the Press, when asked what contingency planning was in place if things didn't go swimmingly, Cheney completely ignored the question, insisting instead that, "we'll be greeted as liberators."

Early in the campaign we heard over and over, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy."... with the clear implication that it was therefore pointless to plan!

The latest?
Shi'ite cleric ceasefire verdict due by Saturday
By Khaled Farhan, Reuters
20 Feb 2008
NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will announce by midnight on Saturday whether his feared Mehdi Army is to extend a six-month ceasefire, an aide said on Wednesday.
... and if al-Sadr does NOT extend the ceasefire? Brace yourself:
"We'll deal with the contingencies of the 'what if' when it occurs," U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith told reporters on Wednesday. "As of today the ceasefire remains in place and we would hope and expect it to continue."
... we would hope???

Yes, I'm sure we would hope al Sadr extends it... but shouldn't we plan for the possibility that he doesn't, as opposed to, "We'll deal with the contingencies of the 'what if' when it occurs".

We've been dealing with contingencies when they occur since before we invaded. This approach hasn't worked all that well so far. Quoting Burt Bacharach:
Wishing and hoping and thinking and praying
... won't get you into his arms
Stop the madness!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The wonders of industry self-regulation

We've been seeing how well self-regulation works in the financial markets. Here's a nice non-finance example:
Huge beef recall stems from Calif. plant
By GREG RISLING, Associated Press Writer
Mon Feb 18, 2008
LOS ANGELES - The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sunday ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of frozen beef from a California slaughterhouse, the subject of an animal-abuse investigation, that provided meat to school lunch programs.
Ah, what the heck - it's not for ordinary consumers, just for school lunch programs!... they should be grateful to get anything to eat!!
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said his department has evidence that Westland did not routinely contact its veterinarian when cattle became non-ambulatory after passing inspection, violating health regulations.

"Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection, Food Safety and Inspection Service has determined them to be unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall," Schafer said in a statement.
The conservative economic icon, Milton Friedman, has something to answer for:
Private Sector; An Economic Reality Check From Someone Who's Seen It All
Published: September 29, 2002
At 90, Milton Friedman has witnessed nearly a century's worth of business scandals, booms and busts. How does the current crisis of confidence compare with past bouts of doubt?
[Discussing the 2001-2 economic hiccup:]
The biggest risk now, he said, is that overzealous regulators could frighten honest chief executives into ducking legitimate risks. ''The system doesn't work unless business is willing to take risks,'' he said, adding that the public tends to forget that in allocating capital, ''losses are just as important as profits.''
Ah, yes - those nefarious, overzealous government regulators!

As Paul Krugman has noted:
Fear of Eating
Published: May 21, 2007 [NYT]
Yesterday I did something risky: I ate a salad.
Who’s responsible for the new fear of eating? Some blame globalization; some blame food-producing corporations; some blame the Bush administration. But I blame Milton Friedman.
The economic case for having the government enforce rules on food safety seems overwhelming. Consumers have no way of knowing whether the food they eat is contaminated, and in this case what you don’t know can hurt or even kill you. But there are some people who refuse to accept that case, because it’s ideologically inconvenient.

That’s why I blame the food safety crisis on Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous or ineffective drugs? “It’s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical companies not to have these bad things,” he insisted in a 1999 interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you can always trust the private sector to police itself.
There ya have it! It's in industry's best interest to police itself - off with their heads!

Once upon a time this argument might have made sense.

In a market populated by numerous small producers, all known to the consumers, then, yes, it is in Mabel's Milk's interest to produce a safe product. Otherwise, folk'll start noticing that Mabel's Milk makes 'em sick, and start patronizing Dirk's Dairy instead. Mabel will go out of business.

But today? We are NOT living in a world of numerous small producers, all well-known to us. We take what we get at the local market, usually provided by a large corporation - one of a handful that provide goods.

... AND - large corporations incentivize short-term results: did the stock go up THIS QUARTER? As I've argued before, the private sector is NOT inherently efficient. A corporation's only LEGAL obligation is to make money for share-holders. If it can do that by cutting corners, so be it.

[Note: the phrase, "once upon a time" used to introduce a sentence above was deliberately chosen. The ideal free-market is a fairy tale. It doesn't today exist. Maybe it did once, but that "once upon a time" is now long past!]

Stop the madness!

Light posting for a few days...

... my only excuse is that I'm working on another "creative" project: assembling a souvenir booklet for HRG&SP Spring 2008 production of "Patience".

In the course of research for this project, I stumbled across a delightful website, maintained by one Joe M. Knapp.

This site,
"... illustrates Oscar Wilde's 1882 lecture tour of America, specifically from the point of view of Columbus, Ohio--one of the many stops along the way in Wilde's effort to imbue the American continent with the principles of aestheticism, along with promoting Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera Patience."
In addition to contemporary press clippings related to Wilde & the Aesthetic Movement - among which is the following gem
"Mr. Oscar Wilde, the professional English 'æsthete,' has come to this country 'to diffuse beauty.' We hope he will lose no time in coming to these parts..." -- Ohio State Journal, Feb. 5, 1882
- the site includes historical photos, cartoons, and commentary on social history.

[Note: navigation on this site isn't tricky, but you need to pay attention to the instructions: "... On each page, one of the graphics (generally the last one) provides a link to the next page in the sequence (the cursor will change when positioned over such graphics).]

Again, I found this a thoroughly delightful website!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Congressman Reyes's Letter to W: link to Reyes's website

If you want to send Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) a congratulatory note, here's his contact info:
El Paso Office (Office Hours: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. MT)
310 N. Mesa, Suite 400
El Paso, Texas 79901
Phone: (915) 534-4400
Fax: (915) 534-7426

Washington, D.C. Office (Office Hours: 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. ET)
2433 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4831
Fax: (202) 225-2016
... here's link to contact webform:
Voice Your Opinion
... and, finally, here's link to his letter:
Reyes writes President Bush regarding FISA
I believe this behavior should be encouraged. If you agree, let Rep. Reyes know!

Our "winning" strategy in Iraq... when will this end?

Iraq: US Sunni allies protest killings
By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer
16 Feb 2008
BAGHDAD - An anti-al-Qaida Sunni group announced Saturday it was temporarily withdrawing from its alliance with the American military in protest of an airstrike that it said killed three of its members.

As I've written before, air-power is a very blunt instrument. It is very effective at blowing stuff up. If this is what is required, great. It seems we are relying too much on this blunt instrument in an urban guerilla battlefield - we frequently blow up "friendlies", sowing the seeds of rancor among our notional allies.

Controlling the population is critical to our political success. How does air power achieve this?

Our democracy-loving allies: the Saudis

Pleas for condemned Saudi 'witch'
By Heba Saleh
BBC News
Thursday, 14 February 2008
Human Rights Watch has appealed to Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a woman convicted of witchcraft.
In a letter to King Abdullah, the rights group described the trial and conviction of Fawza Falih as a miscarriage of justice.

The illiterate woman was detained by religious police in 2005 and allegedly beaten and forced to fingerprint a confession that she could not read.

Among her accusers was a man who alleged she made him impotent.

Recall, the much-ridiculed & much-maligned Taliban institution, the "Committees for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice", was modeled on the Saudi institution of the same name.

These are the "religious police" that arrested & convicted the "witch".

But... the Saudis are W's best buds.
W - he who proclaimed in his Second Inaugural,
"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
I suppose he's a bit weak on geography, and he's not aware that Saudi Arabia is a nation in our world.

At any rate, he seems in none-too-great a hurry to confront the Saudi monarchy regarding democracy, tyranny, and human rights.

Stop the madness!

Lost before it began...

Study: MRAP refusal led to Marine deaths

Delay should be investigated, author says
By Richard Lardner - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Feb 15, 2008
Hundreds of Marines have been killed or injured by roadside bombs in Iraq because Marine Corps bureaucrats refused an urgent request in 2005 from battlefield commanders for blast-resistant vehicles, an internal military study concludes.
... and back then:
Rumsfeld Gets Earful From Troops
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking in Kuwait yesterday to troops deploying into Iraq, got an earful of complaints about poor combat equipment...
In one of the exchanges during the town-hall-style meeting, Spec. Thomas Wilson complained that he and his comrades were rooting through junkyards to find improvised armor for their military vehicles to protect against bomb blasts and small-arms attacks.
Rumsfeld replied: "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
Folks, I don't know how to break this to you gently, so I'll just be blunt:
We lost this war before it began.
We chose the timing.
We were not responding to an attack.
We were not pre-empting an imminent attack.

W and Rummy decided the year, the month, the day, the hour to start the war.

Our brave men in uniform have been paying for this folly ever since.

W is still in office.

Rummy, not quite disgraced, is gone to a peaceful private life.

Our soldiers and Marines are still dying.

Stop the madness!