Thursday, July 31, 2008

the elephant in the room

Gas prices hovering around $4/gal.
Oil prices hovering around $130/bbl.

The analyses I've seen all cite what seem like plausible macro-economic explanations: China & India are up-and-coming economic powerhouses, demanding more & more energy; U.S. drivers are addicted to gas-guzzlers.

What I've not seen is a simple graph. (I hope to learn a bit more HTML soon, and be able to display the graph!): the increase in oil prices began on 20 Mar 2003 - when we invaded Iraq.

The graph I have in mind is yet more telling: the divergence between price of oil in USD and Euros also began on 20 Mar 2003 - the day we invaded Iraq.

Europeans have been paying relatively less than us since then - USD/Euro exchange rate started going downhill on 20 Mar 2003.

The elephant in the room? Our occupation of Iraq.

Thanks again, W.

Stop the madness!

on the campaign trail...

Today I finished updating donor records for calls made in early June. I started this task last Friday.

When I turned in the last 6 pages of call sheets, I was informed that I'd be getting a spreadsheet with more records to update.

I'm not complaining. In a weird sort of way, this work is peaceful. I'm comfortable with the database, & updating records is pretty mindless. Finding missing zip codes is a piece of cake: USPS maintains a handy-dandy "zip code directory."

The minutiae associated with running a campaign - and i'm just seeing a very limited slice of it - is amazing! i'm not naturally an "attention to detail" kind o' guy... but it's not particularly difficult to get into the mode.

tomorrow? i signed up to help with a mailing.
the downside? whenver i see envelopes going out from the campaign, the only thing i really see is returned mail that needs to be fixed - addresses updated, or, if that's not possible, records marked, "omit mail."

on the bright side: i'm not aimlessly wandering the streets...

have a nice day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Good $$$ news!

Oil dips below $122 in Asia on waning demand in US

Recall, if we'd offered Saddam $90/bbl in 2003 [Mar 2003 market price ~$30/bbl], we'd have spent LESS than cost of war to date... and we'd have the oil!

We can't provide U.S. citizens with health insurance, but...

Iraq's rebuilding planned at nearly $120 billion
By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
29 July 2008
WASHINGTON - Iraq's coffers are bulging with oil money, yet some Baghdad residents go without electricity for much of the day and others get drinking water tainted with sewage.

... our share of this is all off-budget.

Our MBA President at work!

[note: $120Bn is $400 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. - I don't know about you, but I'd rather spend MY $400 elsewhere! Me & the wife? - we wouldn't have to sell our old gold jewelry to afford a vacation!]

Stop the madness!

my Iraq geography ain't all that great: have we been here before?

US-Iraq forces begin new offensive in Diyala

Back in the day (long ago... maybe in Nov 2007), I used to count the number of times we'd cleared Samarra of bad guys.

Where's Diyala province? How many times have we cleared it of bad guys? Why are they still there?

Has W thought of hiring "Baghdad Bob"?
Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf (Arabic: محمد سعيد الصحاف‎ also Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, born 1940) is a former Iraqi diplomat and politician. He came to wide prominence around the world during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, during which he was the Information Minister of Iraq.

Al-Sahhaf is known for his daily press briefings in Baghdad during the 2003 Iraq War. His colorful appearances caused him to be nicknamed Baghdad Bob (in the style of previous propagandists with alliterative aliases such as "Hanoi Hannah" and "Seoul City Sue") by commentators in the United States and Comical Ali (an allusion to Chemical Ali, the nickname of former Iraqi Defence Minister Ali Hassan al-Majid) by commentators in the United Kingdom; commentators in Italy similarly nicknamed him Alì il Comico.

On April 7, 2003, al-Sahhaf claimed that there were no American troops in Baghdad, and that the Americans were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city's gates. At that time, American tanks were patrolling the streets only a few hundred yards from the location where the press conference was held. His last public appearance as Information Minister was on April 8, 2003, when he said that the Americans "are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender".
"We're winning! We're winning!"

At what cost?

What else could America do with the $$$ we've thrown away on Iraq?

Stop the madness!

"On the surface"...

By William Glaberson
International Herald Tribune
Published: July 29, 2008
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba: On the surface, the proceedings unfolding inside a makeshift courthouse on a hill here resemble a U.S. trial. A judge wearing a black robe presides. There is a public gallery and a witness stand. Prosecutors present witnesses, and defense lawyers cross-examine them. Objections are made and ruled upon.

But behind the judicial routine at the first trial for a Guantánamo detainee lies a parallel universe of law and lawyers.

Secret evidence held in red folders is not revealed in open court. The gallery is mostly empty because there are no members of the public. In what would be the jury box, every occupant wears a military uniform.

In the first week of the trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver, law enforcement officials recounted what he had said during interrogations in the years since he was detained in 2001. But it was also disclosed that some of the interrogations had been conducted in the middle of the night and by men wearing masks, and that Hamdan did not have a lawyer during those sessions, nor was he warned that he might be prosecuted.

Hamdan's trial is, in a sense, two trials. Hamdan is being tried on accusations of conspiracy and material support of terrorism. And the Bush administration's military commission system itself is on trial.
Okay, I'm supposed to provide witty comment at the point... but what's there to say?

Secret evidence???
... some of the interrogations had been conducted in the middle of the night and by men wearing masks, and that Hamdan did not have a lawyer during those sessions, nor was he warned that he might be prosecuted.
What has become of my country?

Stop the madness!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Loyal readers will recognize that I've been a less-than-active poster in recent weeks. A couple of days ago I resolved to at least make an attempt to post daily once again...

... the depressing part? It's still amazingly easy to find news stories on which to comment - Republican corruption, the folly in Iraq, economic collapse, "trials" at Gitmo. W & his minions provide a seemingly never-ending source of outrage.

I guess I'd hoped that by simply not paying attention, the world - and MY COUNTRY - would improve. Didn't quite work out. Sigh.

Stop the madness!

Free advice for the next U.S. President

Politics and Policy are NOT coextensive!

The Party of "Family Values"

Ted Stevens indicted, longest-serving GOP senator
By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer
29 July 2008
WASHINGTON - Sen. Ted Stevens, the nation's longest-serving Republican senator and a major figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted Tuesday on seven felony counts of concealing more than a quarter of a million dollars in house renovations and gifts from a powerful oil contractor that lobbied him for government aid.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but to me "family values" means stuff like honesty, not taking bribes, doing an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, telling the truth, etc.

Coupled with
U.S. Justice Department report concludes politics illegally affected hiring
By Eric Lichtblau
Published: July 29, 2008
International Herald Tribune
Senior aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales broke the law by using politics to guide their hiring decisions for a wide range of important department positions, slowing the hiring process at critical times and damaging the department's credibility and independence, an internal report concluded Monday.
I'm just not sure the Republicans understand "values" the same way I do.

Stop the madness.

Mother Nature hits New Mexico

1 confirmed dead in flood; 200 still stranded in Ruidoso

If you're so inclined:
American Red Cross Disaster Services
Each year, the American Red Cross responds immediately to more than 70,000 disasters, including house or apartment fires (the majority of disaster responses), hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous materials spills, transportation accidents, explosions, and other natural and man-made disasters.

Although the American Red Cross is not a government agency, its authority to provide disaster relief was formalized when, in 1905, the Red Cross was chartered by Congress to "carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace and apply the same in mitigating the sufferings caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities, and to devise and carry on measures for preventing the same." The Charter is not only a grant of power, but also an imposition of duties and obligations to the nation, to disaster victims, and to the people who generously support its work with their donations.
... and the single quotation regarding Red Cross Disaster Services that I find most compelling:
All Red Cross disaster relief is free of charge—a gift of the American people.
As I said, if you're so inclined...

[note: there are many other worthy charities providing disaster relief services. I just happen to be partial to the Red Cross.]

The MBA President

US deficit zooming to half-trillion as Bush leaves
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer
28 July 2008
WASHINGTON - The government's budget deficit will surge past a half-trillion dollars next year, according to gloomy new estimates, a record flood of red ink that promises to force the winner of the presidential race to dramatically alter his economic agenda.

Remember the 2000 Presidential Campaign? The big question was what to do with the budget surplus!
President Clinton announces another record budget surplus
From CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace
September 27, 2000
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton announced Wednesday that the federal budget surplus for fiscal year 2000 amounted to at least $230 billion, making it the largest in U.S. history and topping last year's record surplus of $122.7 billion.
Eight years of W, and six years of "fiscally-responsible" Republican Congressional leadership have left us with a $500Bn deficit. (... and I'm pretty sure this doesn't count the "off budget" wars!)


McCain promises to continue - and extend - W's failed economic policies. (hint, hint!)

Stop the madness!

"Our national security system is broken and needs fixing"

Study proposes revamping US security system
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
28 July 2008
WASHINGTON - In a report aimed at the next president, security specialists are proposing a vast overhaul of the U.S. security system, declaring it problem-plagued.
The study, mandated by Congress, was undertaken by the Project on National Security Reform. The research was conducted by more than 300 national security experts from think tanks, universities, federal agencies, law firms and corporations.
Thomas J. Pickering, a former career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that the findings would be valuable to the next president and to Congress.

"Our national security system is broken and needs fixing," he said.

Well... the findings may be valuable to a "next president"... but I have my doubts that the other potential #44 will pay much attention. [There's no money at stake here: I'm pretty sure folks can guess which candidate I think might learn something from this report.]

How much are we spending on "Homeland Security"? What's it buying?

Stop the madness!

GWOT: seems W got it wrong (who'd-a-thunk?)

Study questions US strategy against al-Qaida
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
28 July 2008
WASHINGTON - The United States can defeat al-Qaida if it relies less on force and more on policing and intelligence to root out the terror group's leaders, a new study contends.
[The Rand research center's] report said that the use of military force by the United States or other countries should be reserved for quelling large, well-armed and well-organized insurgencies, and that American officials should stop using the term "war on terror" and replace it with "counterterrorism."

"Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors, and our analysis suggests there is no battlefield solution to terrorism," said Seth Jones, the lead author of the study and a Rand political scientist.


Recall, W and his minions pooh-poohed Clinton's approach to terrorists as "criminals". They preferred a WAR, dammit!

After close to seven (7) years, this failed policy is finally being recognized as such: a failed policy.
"The United States has the necessary instruments to defeat al-Qaida, it just needs to shift its strategy," Jones said.
Anyone believe McCain will shift our strategy?

Stop the madness!

Monday, July 28, 2008

On the bright side (honest!)

Lest I become consumed by my virulently anti-W attitude...

Home-made ice cream!
I try to find an excuse to make French-vanilla ice cream (a Betty Crocker recipe) at least twice a year. So far my first and only excuse this year was July 4 - a family get-together at my sister's place. (Most of my extended family lives in town; none of us is a native.) Now, French-vanilla ice cream requires egg yolks, implying that I'm always stuck with a lot of egg whites. A few years ago I discovered a raspberry sherbet recipe requiring egg whites: now when I make French-vanilla ice cream, I also make raspberry sherbet! [... please, before inundating me with comments, note that I've tried meringue, & found it a less-than-satisfactory solution!]

Our neighbors to the West are, well, neighborly, and take it upon themselves to entertain the neighbors every once in a while. Last weekend they hosted "Dessert Sunday"... and they provided the desserts! The featured dessert was Henry's justly-famous key-lime pie... but there were at least a half-dozen choices. This is a very pleasant excuse to chat with folks who are, in fact, neighbors! Thanks, Henry & Moira!

I've been married to Teresa for 27 blissful years. I describe her as "my charming wife" whenever a written description is called for. Once someone asked me, "Why 'charming'?" I had an immediate response: "Well, it's been 27 years, and I'm still enchanted!"

Friends & family. When it comes to the important stuff, I've really nothing to complain about. Loyal friends. Loving family.

Sing a song!

More fun economic news - headlines only

Foreclosures double from last year

Dollar lower before key economic data
{aside}This is one of the reasons Europe hasn't been hit as hard by oil price increase: in Euros, the increase has been substantially less than in $.
The slump persists: Home sales tumble across US

Jobless claims jump as housing market gets weaker

Strain on household budgets will cut into apparel, dorm spending this year

Middle class: 'On the edge'

U.S. regulators seize two more banks

Sunday, July 27, 2008

And here at home...

Inflation's next front is retailers as costs rise
By ELLEN SIMON, AP Business Writer
27 July 2008
NEW YORK - Coming to a store near you: Even higher prices.

And our weapon against inflation? The Fed.

The Fed's between a rock & a hard place, and has been for some time now.

To provide economic stimulus, they need to cut the prime rate, which they've done more than a few times since January. Economic stimulus? Low rates!

On the other hand, to combat inflation, they need to raise the rate!
Control inflation? High rates!

More than one Fed Governor has commented on this dilemma this year, and the inflation hawks have won the day the past few months - no new rate cuts to provide economic stimulus.

Me? I have to live in this economy with everyone else.

BUT: when you go the polls in November, remember which Major Party got us into this mess. (Hint: it wasn't the Democrats!)

Have a nice day.

My favorite W speech: the gift that keeps on giving

I've noted before that I am possibly the only person who routinely celebrates the anniversary of W's May 2004 War College speech.

One of the less-noted passages in this speech pretty much epitomizes W's view of a perfect world - by what he promises the Iraqis:
America will fund the construction of a modern, maximum security prison. When that prison is completed, detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then, with the approval of the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison, as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning.
Ah, yes: a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning is a new prison to replace Abu Ghraib!

What ever happened to that "modern, maximum security prison"?, you ask.
Report: Empty prison in Iraq a $40M 'failure'
By BRIAN MURPHY and PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writers
27 July 2008
BAGHDAD - In the flatlands north of Baghdad sits a prison with no prisoners. It holds something else: a chronicle of U.S. government waste, misguided planning and construction shortcuts costing $40 million and stretching back to the American overseers who replaced Saddam Hussein.
The contractor? Parsons. It was awarded the contract in March 2004, 2 months before W's speech.
"This is $40 million invested in a project with very little return," [special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart] Bowen told The Associated Press in Washington. "A couple of buildings are useful. Other than that, it's a failure."
The article notes that, in the waste that has been Iraq "reconstruction", $40M isn't much to speak of... but still!

... and, to be fair: there is a bright side!
The U.S. government pulled the plug in June 2006, citing "continued schedule slips and ... massive cost overruns."
It could have been even more of a financial fiasco!... then again,
... But they hadn't abandoned the hope of finishing the project — awarding three more contracts to other companies in a doomed effort.
Giving it the old college try. But, again: in the larger scheme of things, this is actually one of the better failures. It only cost $40M. Recall, we spent $50M on Laura Bush's children's hospital in Basra before abandoning that effort!

Stop the madness!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Death, mobility, celebrities, and soap operas

New Mexico Congressional District 1, Martin Heinrich for Congress: Update.

Over the past several weeks I've alphabetized & filed perhaps 1000 paper copies of donor records. I've updated perhaps 2000 donor records in a donor database.

What have I learned from this experience?
1) it's amazingly easy to develop attachments to faceless names and addresses; you see a name on an envelope or on a computer record more than a couple of times, and you start to imagine you've established a personal relationship with that person!

2) folks die. yeah - i probably knew that already... but when i realize that one of my sources for updating records is the Albuquerque Journal's obituary archive, it starts to sink in!

3) folks are mobile. me? i'm pretty sedentary - i've lived in the same house now for about 16 years, and expect to die here. not everyone is this sedentary: tracking folks from new mexico to florida has been a lot of fun! more than a few folks lead seasonal lives, with homes from coast to coast - all the addresses are "good", just not all relevant today!

4) if you give $$$ to political campaigns, the FEC has your number!... Want to send Don Henley (drummer, the Eagles) a note? his address is available via FEC. Barbra Streisand? ditto.

5) the donor database has a feature called 'householding': if two folks share a residence, their records can be combined. sad thing is, there are more than a few folks who once were householded but who now live separately - often on different sides of the country.

Recall from above: a) i've developed a meta-personal relationship with many of these folks, and b) it really is possible to track an individual's movement via the internet.

i suspect a more imaginative fellow (and a better writer!) could compose more than a few short-stories - with soap-opera themes - based on these observed break-ups.

it's to the point that i'm surprised and disappointed when i can't pin a person down to his/her current location. this ought to scare me!

caveat: all of the comments above refer to a specific subset of the overall population, namely - folks who give $$$ to political campaigns! this likely represents upper percentiles of income distribution. "Doctors" - MDs, PhDs, EdDs, JDs, etc. - are fairly common. Professional investors are common. (Oh, yeah... i forgot to mention: when you give $$$ to political campaign, you have to indicate your employer & your profession!... this info is also helpful in tracking you down!)

progress to date: i've processed ~1500 pieces of returned mail, and have updated in the neighborhood of 2500 donor records for one reason or another.

is this fun?

no. it's tedious & time-consuming... and mind-numbing.

... BUT: i am doing something tangible to promote the election of a major-party-candidate-who-is-not-Rebpublican to the U.S. House of Representatives... in a district that has been Republican since its creation in 1968.

as it turns out, i actually LIKE Martin Heinrich,... BUT: the Dem candidate could have been a hairless, one-eyed, gap-toothed, baby-eating ogre with halitosis, and i'd still be putting in my time!

Take back our country!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wow! Obama's in Iraq!

Just checked Yahoo News section on Iraq. The only visible headlines are about Obama's visit.

1. I don't care.
2. This may be good news: U.S. presidential candidate visits Iraq. This news eclipses all else. No bombings!

So... if the situation in Iraq is now relatively stable, just why do we have to stay?

Oh, yeah: if Iraq is bad, we have to stay. If Iraq is good, we have to stay.

I keep forgetting!

Stop the madness!

been away for a while...

... but am now catching up on latest Iraq discussion. Seems Maliki gave an interview to German Der Spiegel in which he promoted Obama's troop-withdrawal notions... then W's minions leaned on him & he more-or-less retracted the comments (some bit about mistranslation)... then, well, maybe, no - the comments were accurate. W's minions are interpreting this in terms of "Iraqi politics", which they apparently disdain.

Let's see. W and his minions have pretty much given up on getting a SOFA in place before W departs - the Iraqi's were intransigent. To the extent that public opinion polling in Iraq is even slightly trustworthy (not a very great extent, admittedly), the Iraqis really don't care for a continued U.S. occupation of their country. When Iraq's leader (and our nominal puppet) dares assert this position, W and his minions pooh-pooh him - how dare he reflect the wishes of his Iraqi constituents!

All things considered, this seems to be a plus for Obama.

... on the other hand, I'm doing my level best to avoid paying any attention to the presidential campaign. I'm immersing myself in New Mexico's First Congressional District!

Have a nice day!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

tickled pink

When I made my brief, obligatory appearance at the Heinrich campaign Tuesday, the Finance folks were simply giddy.
Heinrich's Fundraising Skyrockets – Raises over $500,000 in Six Weeks
Press Release | July 15, 2008
New Mexico's 1st District Democrat has best fundraising period of campaign – trounces Bush-backed opponent

Albuquerque, New Mexico – Democrat Martin Heinrich's congressional campaign continues to rapidly gain momentum as his fundraising skyrocketed in the most recent financial reporting period. Heinrich raised $510,571 from over 1,200 contributors in just six short weeks, besting former Bush-Cheney Campaign Chair Darren White's fundraising efforts for the past three months.
If money be the food of love, raise on!

The press release is a fun read from a rhetorical perspective: lots of insinuating value-laden words and phrases.

On the bright side, it includes the single strongest argument to vote Dem:
"What we've got here is a choice between the George Bush-Darren White team and their disastrous legacy or the fresh pragmatic thinking that Martin Heinrich brings to the table," said Heinrich Campaign Manager Jon Blair.
What makes this really fun is that White is running on the slogan, "Bring real change to Washington."... Note: he solicited W's help!

Have a nice day.

[Note re: "brief, obligatory appearance". Yes, I am volunteering many hours on the Heinrich campaign... but almost all my hours are spent at home, on my personal computer system. I'm physically not much present at campaign headquarters. If ya wanna find me, gimme a call at home!]


U.S. to establish presence in Tehran: report
17 July 2008
LONDON (Reuters) - The United States will announce in the next month that it plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years, a British newspaper said on Thursday.

Two responses:
1) Yea! This could be W's foreign-policy coup.
2) Whoa! Ain't this sort of like, well, appeasement?

Sing a song!

a fun juxtaposition

Paulson Lobbies Congress to Get Fannie-Freddie Rescue Approved
Bernanke: Fannie, Freddie Not Failing

Again: these folks ain't any smarter than you & me... they've just got more money!

So... Secretary of the Treasury Paulson is worried Freddie & Fannie might fail, but FedMeister Bernanke opines there's no problem!

Not new, just weird: politics & reality don't quite coincide!

Stop the madness!

[FYI: my wife discovered today that her portfolio had lost ~10% since 1 July! She was shocked.]

It could happen to YOU!

Appeals Court Divided In Enemy Combatant Ruling
by Ari Shapiro, NPR
Morning Edition, July 16, 2008 · A federal appeals court says the only man being held as an enemy combatant on U.S. soil has the right to challenge his detention. But the court couldn't be more divided.
Ali al-Marri has been in military custody for five years, accused of having ties to al-Qaida.

Accused of having ties to al Qaeda. W said so. It must be true.

Under W's theory of law, YOU could be accused of having ties to al Qaeda, on his say-so, and locked up. Forever. Without appeal. Without access to courts. Ever.

A fantasy:
George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, vanished today. As far as anyone can tell, W was designated an "enemy combatant" by President XLIV, and whisked away to an unknown military detention facility. Under Executive Orders issued by W, this action is perfectly legal. In the event that W is listening: I told ya so!
Well... it could happen...

Stop the madness!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On the campaign trail

Hunter Thompson's Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail provided witty commentary on the 1972 Presidential campaign.

My commentary on the NM1 Congressional race will not be as entertaining.

What have I been doing for Heinrich's NM1 campaign that's kept me from posting? Participating in late-night strategy meetings? Formulating brilliant talking points for the candidate? Digging up dirt on the respected Republican opponent?


I've been making my way very slowly through boxes of returned mail. The goal: to update mailing addresses in a database, so that next time there are fewer "undeliverable/return to sender" items. Each of these returns represents wasted postage - $$$, the campaign's lifeblood.

It is not glamorous, exciting, or stimulating.
Check Yahoo People Search. Check another database of registered voters. Check a national database on campaign giving culled from the FEC. Check the ABQ Journal's obituary archive. For less common names, run wide-open Google search.

Finally, concede that this particular address cannot be accurately updated.

I've made my way through about 500 envelopes so far. I'd guess slighly more than 75% have resulted in successful updates. The remaining records are tagged, "Omit Mail". At least the campaign won't waste more $$$ on these bad addresses.

This is what keeps me away from al Qaeda in Albuquerque.

The more envelopes I process today, the fewer remain. Those 500 I've processed to date represent perhaps 20% of the total.


Sing a song.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Good news from Iraq (honest!)

Fewer gunmen and bribes as Iraqi students take finals
By Sam Dagher
Wed Jul 9, 2008
Christian Science Monitor
BAGHDAD - A group of anxious-looking Iraqi mothers huddled behind concrete barriers and concertina wire in the shadow of two Iraqi police pickup trucks. In the distance, US military vehicles could be seen patrolling the neighborhood.
This was the scene Monday outside a school in Baghdad's Baiyaa neighborhood, where hundreds of Iraqi teenage girls took a chemistry exam as part of the standardized national exams for high school diplomas held this time each year. The exams, which started on June 26, will end on Wednesday.

Last year's tests were marred by unprecedented incidents of mass cheating, bribe-taking, and sheer lawlessness. In many places, militiamen and insurgents strolled casually into exam centers and forced officials, often at gunpoint, to allow cheating. But this year, aided by the fact that most Baghdad neighborhoods have been turned into walled compounds protected by US and Iraqi troops, authorities took often draconian measures to avoid a repetition of such scenes.

[emphasis added]

This does in fact seem to be a sign of progress.
High school students can take graduation exams without fear.

Could this happen next year without American troops present? I don't know.

This and similar stories present me with a dilemma.
Can the Iraqis achieve a stable, civil society without our presence?

On the other hand... what can we afford? Is this too crude, too primitive, a yardstick?

As stated previously, I wish all the best for ordinary Iraqi citizens.
I'm just not convinced I'm willing to pay for their reintegration at the expense of the U.S.
We're spending more than $100Bn/year on Iraq, and borrowing to pay for it.

Still... I believe disengaging from Iraq is the best of many none-too-wonderful alternatives, and that our continued presence both exacerbates the problem, and maintains the Iraqis in a dependent, subservient position.

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem."

... and the latest poll says...

Advice to all - voters, candidates, interested observers, innocent by-standers:
The only poll that counts will be held Tuesday, 4 Nov 2008.
Yeah, it can be fun to follow the "horse race" - but it's very early yet.

Neither major party has yet held its convention.

4 Nov is just under 4 months away.

A lot can happen in 4 months. (My bet: watch for significant Halloween event!)

It ain't too hard to figure out my political preferences... BUT: I encourage all to
1. Register to vote.
2. VOTE!

One of the very cool things about the Presidential Primaries was the turn-out - on both sides. The lackadaisical American electorate seems to be engaging with politics this year.

Note: I do NOT believe that politics is the end-all/be-all of existence. Most of us are doing what we can to live the best lives possible, raise our kids, provide for our families... have fun with our friends. I just think it's cool that so many of my fellow citizens have decided that part of living the best life possible means getting to the voting booth this year!

Sing a song.

guilty as charged

In comment below "anonymous" notes that I know nothing about IRS arrears collection.

When my depth of "knowledge" is represented by having seen tax-farming ads on TV, it's really hard to dispute the charge!

Defending my ignorance, I'll say that my interest is less in IRS arrears collection than in the proliferation of prime-time tax-farming ads (at least, prime-time on cable stations). When the commercials state explicitly, "If you owe the IRS $10,000 or more...", it's hard for me to accept that the target audience is not, in fact, folks who owe more than $10k.

The next bunch of ads I'd expect to see would be for "foreclosure relief": save your credit rating by avoiding foreclosure! Call today.

Yes - my expectation is based on my loathing of W. I seize upon anything that can be presented as an indictment of his "governance"... and, yes, this leads to uninformed ranting.

But! Thanks, "anonymous", for a well-presented comment!
(Please, don't hesitate to slam me again! I suspect most of my posts are similarly uninformed rants. Honestly having to defend a position might chasten me!)

Maybe next time I'll do my homework before ranting... but don't bet on it.

Sing a song!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Our last line of defense: the Courts

Senate commits to shielding telecoms from suits
By PAMELA HESS, Associated Press Writer
9 July 2008
WASHINGTON - The Senate on Wednesday affirmed its intention to protect from civil lawsuits telecom companies that helped the government wiretap Americans without court authorization after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Again, which word(-s) don't they understand:
Amendment IV

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.
I know I'm naive, but I really don't understand how a simple Act of Congress or an Executive Order can legitimately supersede the plain language of the Bill of Rights.

As expressed previously, my hope is that when a Federal Court finally gets to review one of these cases it finds that,
The United States Constitution being the Supreme Law of the Land, neither the Congress nor the Executive has the competence to arbitrarily abrogate any of its provisions, among which are the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and the requirement for a warrant based on probable cause.
Yes, I know: wishful thinking.

Recommendation: if your Democratic Senator votes for this bill, make a note of it. Next time s/he is up for re-election, remember this vote!

Stop the madness!

just a coupla' observations on W's govt & economy

Anyone remember the French Revolution? (Well, no - actually, no one now living can honestly claim to "remember" the Revolution, but I'd guess quite a few of us have read about it!... sort of like "rain" in Albuquerque.)

One of many precipating conditions was taxation... and in particular, the practice of farming out tax collection. "Tax farming" was extremely lucrative - the "farmer" got to keep some percentage of whatever he collected.

It's been quite a while since tax collection has been farmed out to non-governmental agents. Under W's philosophy of government ("that government is best which governs least" + "private enterprise is divine"), the tax farmers are back. I see their commercials on TV every night. I've two somewhat contradictory responses to these commercials:
1. Why are private businesses doing the IRS's job?
2. How do folks end up owing "more than $10,000" the IRS? (Folks who owe the IRS "more than $10,000" are the target audience for these commercials.)... and a third reaction: why do I feel like a sap for paying what I owe?

Second observation on W's economy, also based on TV commercial: "The Gold Kit". Yes, you too can now liquidate family heirlooms for a few bucks... which, sad to say, you probably desperately need! "I took a vaction on the money I got from The Gold Kit!" Wow! Your wedding ring, your grandmother's locket, your dad's watch fob - no problem! Send 'em in! We'll give you $$$ today!.

I suspect a pawn broker would give a better rate... and you'd have the chance to redeem the articles.

Liquidating portable, tangible assets to take a vacation seems the perfect metaphor for W's economy. Squander the future for today's fling!

Stop the madness.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

From "suggesting" to "insisting"

Iraq insists on withdrawal timetable for US troops"
By SALLY BUZBEE, Associated Press Writer
8 July 2008
BAGHDAD - Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday his country will not accept any security deal with the United States unless it contains specific dates for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.

I don't know if Iraq's national security adviser has any say-so in this decision, but it's still rather refreshing to see the Iraqi's state an anti-occupation position.

If only our Congressional Dems could display this backbone: "No funding without... ", well, without just about ANYTHING would do. A timetable. Clearly stated objectives. Clearly articulated milestones towards those objectives. ANYTHING besides the no-strings-attached continual funding (now in its 6th year!).

Meanwhile, a car bomb at the Indian Embassy in Kabul killed 41.

So... we want to keep troops in Iraq so we can fail in Afghanistan, too?

Stop the madness!

Monday, July 7, 2008

For newcomers: why "Al Qaeda in Albuquerque"?

The name, 'al Qaeda in Albuquerque', is deliberately chosen to excite the NSA. (It has, in addition, nice alliteration and a fun convergence of A's and Q's)

In truth, the name was chosen long before the blog was started.
It intends to mock W's conflating the so-called "al Qaeda in Iraq" with bin Laden's al Qaeda - the folks who in fact attacked us on 9/11.
A little-known Jordanian, Zarqawi, led a small radical militant group that he called, "Group of Monotheism and Jihad"... until the U.S. invaded Iraq. He then renamed his group, "Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers", and "pledged allegiance" to bin Laden. Henceforth, this group has been known in the U.S. as "al Qaeda in Iraq". It has NO connection with bin Laden, other than Zarqawi's "pledge".

Just because a group is known as "al Qaeda" doesn't mean they're the folks who attacked us, or that it is allied with bin Laden. ... BUT: W has been quick to seize on Zarqawi's "pledge" to justify our continuing occupation of Mesopotamia.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

[Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene ii.]
If no one but the NSA finds this blog, that'd be okay... but I DO hope to reach a larger audience. A point: simply naming oneself 'al Qaeda' does NOT imply an allegiance to Osama bin Laden. As stated on this page, my sole purpose is to restore the U.S. Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land. I am a U.S. Army vet, a registered voter, and all in all a proud citizen of the USA who now feels powerless to rescue my Country from W and his minions. This blog is my little contribution to recovering my country.

Our shame (continued)

U.S. soldier may be able to seek asylum
OTTAWA, July 5 (UPI) -- A Canadian federal judge has decided Canada's refugee board made a mistake when it rejected a U.S. soldier's request for asylum.

Justice Robert Barnes said the Immigration and Refugee Board was incorrect when it decided Joshua Key was unable to seek asylum in Canada because the military actions he was dodging weren't extreme enough to be considered war crimes.

The Friday ruling may pave the way for other American deserters who try to claim refugee status in Canada, The Globe and Mail in Toronto reported.

The judge said evading military orders that are "contrary to the basic rules or norms of human conduct" is a substantial reason to seek asylum.

[emphasis added]

Cool! A Canadian court has effectively ruled that the U.S. has committed war crimes... or at least, that the claim has merit!

How long will it take us - you, me, and our country - to recover from W?

I've been watching a History Channel International series on American Presidents. The worst that could be said of Grant - close to the bottom of the list - is that his appointed cronies enriched themselves. I believe the same is true of Harding - another low-ranking President. Nixon? Well, he did what he could to subvert domestic politics.

Where to start?
Raping the Bill of Rights.
Promoting torture.
Flat out rejecting international law & the Geneva Conventions.

Stop the madness!

Iraq (what else?): why are we there?

Recent commentary - from cable news to the New Yorker's Talk of the Town suggest that the "success" of the surge has left Obama adrift. All cite the apparent "success" of the surge in reducing the daily violence, and the apparent emergence of more-or-less democratic Iraqi institutions as evidence that Obama's anti-war stance could prove a liability in November.

Well... maybe. But only if Obama accepts W's framing of the issue.

Me? I'm still waiting to hear just exactly what are our strategic objectives in Iraq. What is it we want to achieve? What is the end-state we envision?

If low-level domestic violence (only a couple of car-bombings/week) is what we want - great! We've achieved it!

If oil production is what we want... well, are we getting there? How 'bout simply say, "We want Iraq's oil." That at least guides policy. Forget Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra! Concentrate our forces in the oil-fields and along the major pipelines to ensure a steady supply!

I've said this frequently: with no strategic objectives it's impossible to either figure out our next steps or know when we've succeeded. Maintaining a military presence simply as policemen, to keep a lid on sectarian, civil violence, dooms us to an eternal presence. Is this what we want?

Stop the madness!

Hmmm... this is interesting: Iraq suggests timetable

Iraq raises idea of timetable for US withdrawal
7 July 2008
BAGHDAD - Iraq's prime minister said Monday his country wants some type of timetable for a withdrawal of American troops included in the deal the two countries are negotiating.

So... what'll W and his minions do if our "puppet" Iraqi Government starts asserting itself... against us?

The news reports on negotiations regarding Status-of-Forces-Agreement have been none too encouraging of late. The Iraqis seem to want to actually exercise the sovreignty W has promised them.

Sing a song!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tongue-in-cheek advice for Dana Perino

The recent Fed court ruling ridiculing W's Administration for presenting an "Alice in Wonderland" argument suggests other ways in which the Administration could consciously adopt Lewis Carroll as a mentor.

For example, during press briefings, Dana Perino could quote from Alice:
‘I have answered three questions, and that is enough,’
 Said his father; ‘don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
 Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!’
Just a suggestion...

Have fun!

In my lifetime!

Black students helped end 'Massive Resistance'
By STEVE SZKOTAK, Associated Press Writer
Sun Jul 6, 2008
NORFOLK, Va. - The "Norfolk 17" were honored Sunday at the church that educated them 50 years ago when six of the city's all-white public schools closed under Virginia's defiant response to court-ordered desegregation.
Virginia's Massive Resistance cut funds to any school that dared to integrate.

Schools were closed and private academies were created to educate white students who could afford the tuition.

In my lifetime, America was racially segregated.
Today, a black man is a major-party candidate for the Presidency.
[note: I consciously opted for 'black' rather than African-American - Obama's heritage is too mixed... this, too, is progress!]

Now, can we move beyond "identity" politics?

Sing a song!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Why no posts?", you ask.

I've gone from 3-4 posts/day to 3-4 posts/week.

The reason?
I've been contributing to the political process in a more direct way, volunteering for Martin Heinrich's campaign for NM1.

What this means in practice is that I've been spending many hours on the computer updating a donor database.

Initially I worked in the campaign office - on a very old machine with none-too-reliable wireless connection to internet. After one particularly frustrating afternoon on this primitive system I asked if I could take the work home. Since then I've been working on home system - which is a brand new Dell desktop with broadband connection.
Even with this best-of-all-possible worlds, database updating is still extremely tedious and time-consuming. [Latest task: updating area-codes to reflect recent bifurcation of New Mexico into two area codes - most of the state ("most" by area) is now area code 575. The database interface allows no simple "find/replace" option: it's a matter of search by zipcode & updating records based on phone prefix. There's also basic housekeeping involved: checking that mail address includes title ("Mr.", "Mrs.", "Ms.", "Dr.", etc.), and that, e.g., "Ln" is spelled out "Lane".

On the bright side:
1. I believe my efforts contribute more directly to success in November than Al Qaeda in ABQ could ever hope for.
2. (personal): the campaign work provides a welcome transition to retirement... I am, in fact, working more hours and more diligently for the campaign than I ever managed at work!

On the down side:
My enthusiasm for Al Qaeda in ABQ is less intense than it was.
It'd help if more folks posted comments!
(many thanks to p.m. prescott for his thought-provoking responses!)

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

more Hezbollah in the news

Hezbollah said to train Shiite militiamen in Iraq
By HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writers
Tue Jul 1, 2008
BAGHDAD - Hezbollah instructors trained Shiite militiamen at remote camps in southern Iraq until three months ago when they slipped across the border to Iran — presumably to continue instruction on Iranian soil, according to two Shiite lawmakers and a top army officer.

Why do I care?

My long-standing deluded conspiracy theory has Cheney orchestrating a "terrorist" attack on Halloween. The nominal culprits? Hezbollah. This provides W with the excuse to bomb Iran, adjourn Congress, and cancel the elections.

Note: the lead paragraph above makes a point of citing Hezbollah's links with Iran!

Whenever Hezbollah features prominently in news - particularly when it is tied to continuing violence in Iraq with clear suggestion that Iran is to blame - I simply see puppet-masters pulling the strings, preparing us - the U.S. public - for the upcoming attack & W's consequent dictatorship.

Yes, I am delusional.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Whatever happened to grammar?

Police: Ex-convict suspected of killing 8 captured
By JIM SUHR, Associated Press Writer
1 July 2008
GRANITE CITY, Ill. - Police and FBI agents captured an ex-convict suspected of killing eight people in two states as he smoked a cigarette outside of a southwestern Illinois bar Tuesday night.
[emphasis added]
Has no one heard of a dangling modifier? Did this guy really kill eight people in two states while smoking a cigarette outside an Illinois bar? Hmmm... maybe the bar was in East St. Louis, on the river, and he killed folks in Illinois & Missouri - shooting across the Mississippi.

No - I don't mean to make light of the crime, only of the reporter's language!

Have fun!

If the govt says it, it must be true

Evidence Faulted in Detainee Case
Published: July 1, 2008
In the first case to review the government’s secret evidence for holding a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a federal appeals court found that accusations against a Muslim from western China held for more than six years were based on bare and unverifiable claims. The unclassified parts of the decision were released on Monday.

With some derision for the Bush administration’s arguments, a three-judge panel said the government contended that its accusations against the detainee should be accepted as true because they had been repeated in at least three secret documents.

The court compared that to the absurd declaration of a character in the Lewis Carroll poem “The Hunting of the Snark”: “I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.”
“This comes perilously close to suggesting that whatever the government says must be treated as true,” said the panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Okay - the Federal Court did a better job at lampooning W's "argument" than I could hope to match. No further comment required.

Stop the madness!

It wasn't for oil! Honest!

From Juan Cole's Informed Comment
Oil Minister Husain Shahristani announced on Monday that negotiations had broken down for the moment between his ministry and 4 oil majors over their provision of technical assistance to Iraqi oil fields. He had offered them fees, they wanted a share of the petroleum instead. He refused. The oil majors appear to think the petroleum will increase in value, and so is much better than set cash fees. The negotiations will continue.
Hmmm. These would be the same contracts the U.S. State Dept has been helping Iraq's Oil Ministry negotiate. BUT: this was and is NOT a War for Oil!

Have a nice day.

Why am I not surprised? Our shame, continued.

Bush's top general quashed torture dissent
New evidence shows that despite warnings from across the military, former Gen. Richard Myers shut down legal scrutiny of brutal interrogation tactics.
By Mark Benjamin
June 30, 2008 | WASHINGTON -- The former Air Force general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, helped quash dissent from across the U.S. military as the Bush administration first set up a brutal interrogation regime for terrorism suspects, according to newly public documents and testimony from an ongoing Senate probe.

In late 2002, documents show, officials from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all complained that harsh interrogation tactics under consideration for use at the prison in Guantánamo Bay might be against the law. Those military officials called for further legal scrutiny of the tactics.
Myers, however, agreed to scuttle a plan for further legal review of the tactics, in response to pressure from a top Pentagon attorney helping to set up the interrogation program for then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Scuttling an inquiry into the legality of proposed interrogation techniques strikes me as a policy of willful ignorance. Willful ignorance does not provide a defense.

Why would a Joint Chiefs Chair pursue such a policy? The willingness to submit to "pressure" seems to me gross negligence. How'd this guy get 4 stars?

How have we found ourselves in this situation? Willing to torture. Unwilling to challenge torture.

Stop the madness.