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Friday, October 31, 2003
 
The Post Rides To Wackenhut's Rescue

The Washington Post takes time from its busy schedule to cast a snarky eye upon those cute little Venezuelans down south and their obsession with our milk-and-cookie boys over at the CIA:


“Lawmakers from Venezuela's ruling party this week unveiled further "evidence" that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is covertly training Venezuelans in terrorist tactics that could lead to the assassination of President Hugo Chavez. Never mind that the alleged conspirator is, in fact, Wackenhut Corp., a firm that trains security guards for the likes of department stores and fast-food restaurants.”

Yes, Wackenhut does provide a full range of services, including department store dicks and food court rent-a-cops. The mafia ran spaghetti parlors in its day, too.


In addition to their mall-cop day jobs, Wackenhut agents also protect nuclear facilities and sensitive government installations, run high-security prisons, and manage immigration detention facilities. In Colombia, Venezuela's neighbor to the west, firefights between Wackenhut agents and that country's roaming bandit squads are practically routine. This is not the kind of work suitable for polyester-clad donut eaters.


Wackenhut has long been rumored to perform a lot of “below the radar” dirty work in service to US interests. There is little, if any, reliable documentation of this because ... well ... it's below the radar.


While it's true that the Venezuelan government's allegations should not be taken entirely at their face value, neither should they merely be dismissed out of hand. Wackenhut has a presence in the country; it enjoys a longstanding, clear, and obvious relationship with the US government; and it possesses the skills and personnel to do exactly what Maduro says they did. To try to claim otherwise, as the Post has done, is just plain ludicrous.


 
Sunglasses and Submachine Guns

About a week or so ago, this weblog issued a post decrying the US government's increased reliance on mercenaries to provide manpower for its global war. At the time, the point was considered subjective enough that a couple of paragraphs were expended just to back it up.


Well, that was then; such simple days of banal conjecture are all behind us now. According to an extremely informative (and chilling) Associated Press article, the extensive use of mercs by Uncle Sam is no longer a matter of semantics, but rather established fact.


“By paying civilians to handle military tasks, the Bush administration is freeing up U.S. troops to fight. But the use of contractors also hides the true costs of war.


Their dead aren't added to official body counts. Their duties — and profits — are hidden by close-mouthed executives who won't give details to Congress. And as their coffers and roles swell, companies are funneling earnings into political campaigns and gaining influence over military policy — even getting paid to recommend themselves for lucrative contracts.”


If that doesn't drive the point home, then this will:


“Under U.S. employ in Iraq, American companies turn profits while operating missile defense batteries, piloting unmanned aerial vehicles and snapping satellite pictures of bombing targets.


The machine-gun toting guards who shadow Afghan President Hamid Karzai and L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, are private-sector workers, as are those who built and operate the cavernous white mess tent on the base of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Baghdad. ”


Apparently, there are anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 individuals under hire to private military contractors operating in Iraq alone (making it a larger “military” presence than our British allies). The article also mentions the CIA's use of private contractor operatives in South America and Afghanistan — which, of course, hearkens back to another recent post.


It is an extremely dangerous and unhealthy development for those who run our Republic to get away with syphoning off obligations which were historically granted only to the public authorities. Government agencies, for all their faults, are staffed and headed by people who are sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States of America, and the underlying principles of individual freedom and democracy that it represents.


Private corporations have no such responsibilities, no matter how much their empty mission statements bloviate on about such subjects as “public service” and “public accountability.” These organizations are often privately funded, operate with little (if any) transparency, and exist on the far side (if not outside) of our country's intended Constitutional framework.


They are, at best, uneasy allies of democracy and accountability, wedded to them only as is convenient to their bottom line. This is a truce that never holds, and is always the cause of more trouble than it is worth.


Thursday, October 30, 2003
 
Kansas Improv Troupe Starts Nationwide Tour

Wait. These guys are serious? They actually have no idea of how much of a self-parody of stultifying, Midwestern Babbittism they are making of themselves with this little display?


Folks, you just can't make up stuff like this:



It's frustrating really. A body can sweat his brains out over a hot computer terminal for hours at a time in the desperate, pathetic hope of producing anything even modestly clever, and clowns like these guys can crap out comedy gold just by having their picture taken.


There's no sense in trying to sit down with these people and allow them to string out out their logic train for you on why God hates America, either. It's certainly too dull-witted and pedantic to keep your attention for very long — except for their Scriptural acrobatics, which no doubt are migraine-inducing in their internal contradictions.


It would, however, be interesting to find out exactly why God destroyed the Space Shuttle. Was it a Tower of Babel thing? Did someone smuggle a graven image on board? Were the female astronauts not wearing their proper dresses and headscarves? Does He just plain hate Texas? What?


Inquiring minds want to know.


 
Wackenhut's Caribbean Escapade
It is known throughout the
industry that if you want a dirty job done, call Wackenhut.”



After a rough couple of years, the Venezuelan economy may be on
the mend. One economic forecast indicates that the country could
experience a
growth rate of 3-4%
— not much for a developing economy,
but significantly better than the abject
economic collapse of recent history
.


If true (and that's a big if, considering that the growth rate is
predicated on exports to a recovering American economy), this does
not bode well for US-supported
opposition groups
and their recall movement against the
oil-soaked
country's
populist “Bolivarian” President Hugo
Chavez. Nevertheless, the recall is likely to go on, most likely this
coming March. Barring a wave of instability, collapse
in world oil prices
, or some other unlikely, unlucky collection
of events, Chavez could very well pull out of the episode with little
damage to show for it but a few wisps of smoke curling lazily around his
ears.


A little bit of “bad luck” did indeed strike
Venezuela's capital city of Caracas earlier this month, in the form
of a nasty
anti-Chavez bombing campaign
. At the time, pro-Chavez politician
Nicolas Maduro claimed that the attacks were part of a larger
destabilization plan, and stopped just short of outwardly declaring
the CIA to be the culprit.


A few days ago he officially called the CIA to the carpet, and
offered up evidence to back up his claim in the form of a pilfered
videotape
. On the tape (which also appears to have been edited),
three men are reportedly shown advising Venezuelans on how to
destabilize the country. They also discuss the need to make contact
with an unspecified embassy. According to Maduro, the men on the tape
are CIA agents.


Not surprisingly, the US has categorically denied this.
Surprisingly, their denial is believable.


The US government is not trying to destabilize Venezuela, the
American embassy argued, because the men in the videotape are not
agents of the US government. Rather, they were simply employees of
the Wackenhut Corporation taking part in an “ordinary
client/company meeting.


Lordy. Where to begin with this.


It's hard to write anything about the Wackenhut Corporation
without plowing head first into the icy, deep waters of Conspiracy
Lake. Still, it's worth the dip. Since shortly after its creation in
1954, Wackenhut has earned its millions by using a loophole in
federal law to hire
its “protection” services out to the US government
.
As such, it provides security for a huge number of government and
quasi-government facilities. This
is especially so for the most sensitive ones
.


Wackenhut agents patrol the Alaska
Oil Pipeline
, the
Nevada (Nuclear)
Test
Site
, the Savannah
River plutonium plant
, and the varied sites of the Strategic
Petroleum Reserve
. It is also widely believed that the perimeter
of the federal government's legendary Groom Lake facility (that's
“Area 51” to all you UFO basement-dwellers
) is
protected by Wackenhut goons – a fact which is denied by both
sides. The company is also a
major private operator of prisons
, both in the US and abroad.


In short, the Wackenhut Corporation is about as close to being a
federal agency as any private organization can get. The only
difference is that its agents are not bound by any of those pesky,
hippie-era, federal watchdog statutes.


The company's founder, George Wackenhut, is a retired FBI agent,
as well as a hide-bound reactionary of the old-school stripe. He is
also a man of powerful connections, and the will to use them. Under
his leadership, the company kept ex-federal agents in its hire, and
was equally meticulous in maintaining a properly
stocked larder of retired
(i.e. “between administration”)
agency bigwigs for its board of directors. While Old Man Wackenhut
has been officially off
the company books
since spring of 2002, one can be certain that
his legacy still lingers on inside the company that bears his name.


In short, the Wackenhut Corporation does possess the skills,
connections, knowledge base, and ideological motivation to allow it
to conduct the private “black bag” operations of the sort
that Maduro claims is going on.


Admittedly, Maduro's allegations cannot be regarded as an
ironclad, perfectly trustworthy source. He is a partisan of Chavez —
and Chavez is, frankly, about as
trustworthy as any long-lived South American political figure
. It would be
nice, for instance, if someone down there would provide the outside
world with an uncut transcript/translation of the meeting in
question, in both Spanish and English.


What is legitimately troubling, however, is that the US
government's defense in the matter rests on an orchestrated handoff
of the accusations against it into the seedy mitts of a cadre of
rogue Wackenhut goons. Venezuelans will not see this as a sign of US
innocence in the matter, but rather as proof that a Yankee conspiracy
is in the works against their president.


And you know what? They're probably right.


Wednesday, October 29, 2003
 
Maybe We Should Sacrifice A Virgin Or Something?

Another monster solar flare is due to hit the Earth today, the second one in less than a week. This one is bigger than the first one; in fact, it's one of the biggest of its kind ever recorded. The odd thing is that this is not at all in line with the Sun's ordinary sunspot cycle, which had its most recent peak in 2000. One scientist likened it to getting hit by a hurricane outside of the hurricane season.


The first one was powerful, too, but only struck the Earth with a “glancing blow.” This new one was fired off from a perfect position, and intends to hit us square on.


“It's headed straight for us like a freight train,&rdquo said John Kohl, a solar astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This is the real thing.&rdquo

 
Bush Disavows Giant Sign Hanging Over His Head

Last spring, that “Mission Accomplished” banner looked pretty damned good draped behind our Commander-In-Chief while he delivered his famous speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Imagine our shock, then, to discover that the sign in question had nothing to do with Bush's speech at all!


It must have been mortifying for poor Dubya to see himself on all those later soundbites, obliviously prattling on while that illicit banner waved and flapped above his head like some prankster's fingers in a junior high school group photograph.


So embarassed was Bush by this revelation that he obviously couldn't even bring himself to talk about it for a good six months after the trauma. Yet, when he did, the first thing that passed his lips was a statement setting the record straight:


“The 'Mission Accomplished' sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished.”

Yeah. Thanks for clearing that up, George. Say, as long as we've got you all cranked up on the sodium pentathol, would you mind giving us an honest assessment of the kind of people who run your administration?


“I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff — they weren't that ingenious, by the way.”

Oh, we know, George ... we know.


 
Our Kosher Trumps Your Halal

Israeli settlements on the West Bank are considering an extremely drastic solution to their security dilemma: the creation of swine-powered force-fields. Their plan consists of ringing their settlements with cadres of trained pigs, the theory being that the pigs' superior sense of smell (and intelligence) might be more useful to the settlers than your standard dog in identifying and thwarting any potential suicide bombers. Plus, there is this added bonus:


“Moreover, this animal is considered to be dangerous by Islam and, according to the Muslim faith, a terrorist who touches a pig is not eligible for the 70 virgins in heaven.”

The Jewish settlers of the West Bank are generally some of the most conservative adherents of Judaism out there. This is, frankly, just as much of an ideological stretch for them to make as it would be for any potential Moslem attacker.


In other words, if they found their way around this restriction, I'm sure some Imam will figure out a way for a few desperate Palestinians to do so, too.


 
An American Neocon In King Nebuchadnezzar's Court

The following is a delicate topic, especially in light of the
Easterbrook
Affair
” currently chewing up bandwidth across the
blogosphere. As such, it must be approached with delicacy, logic, and
(ahem) verbosity, so that there are no misunderstandings as to any
underlying sentiments behind this opinion.


But someone should point out to the Administration that Deputy
Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's trips to Iraq are really,
really unhelpful. And, yes, a very big part of it is his religious
affiliation.


Upon hearing about Wolfowitz's recent near-death experience, Walid
Jumblatt
, an influential
and astute
Lebanese politician, no doubt expressed a common Arab
opinion when he very publicly compared Wolfowitz to a “virus”
that needed to be eradicated. Just to make certain that we hadn't
missed his point, Jumblatt specifically laid out Wolfowitz's position
as an “architect” of the Iraqi occupation and a promoter
of Israeli foreign policy, then
added
:


We hope that next time the
rockets will be more accurate and effective in getting rid of this
virus, and his like, who wreak corruption in the Arab land of Iraq
and in Palestine.”


Throughout the Islamic world, the American invasion and occupation
of Iraq is regarded
as simply one arm
of an established “Zionist” (i.e.
Jewish) anti-Arab subjugation policy. The idea is without merit;
while the Likud government may have unpleasant
nationalistic ambitions
for their immediate region of the Middle East, this hardly translates
as a singular Jewish design for world domination. Furthermore, many
Jews in and outside of Israel have deep reservations about Ariel
Sharon's grand designs for the country – not the least of which
is due to the implications
these designs may have for the long-term survivability of Israel
itself.


All of this is less important, however, than the fact that large
swathes of the Arab world
(including Iraq) generally believe The
Conspiracy
to be true. Then, in the face of it, we have Paul
Wolfowitz
making not one,
but two trips to Iraq in the last few months ... spouting off
generallissimo-style
platitudes
about “progress” that nobody believes,
dictating to his Iraqi Satraps about how
to run their affairs
, and generally just strutting
around like he owns the place
.


As far as any Iraqi is concerned, he doesn't have to prove the
existence of a Zionist conspiracy against his country at all. It's
all laid out for him right there on his television set, with
clockwork regularity, in the visage of Paul Wolfwowitz's hunching,
gnomelike presence.


The neurotic Arab obsession with Judaism is a topic for another
time. It certainly doesn't help things, on the other hand, for
Wolfowitz to be over there, in the belly of the beast, acting like
everything they believe is true.


Quite simply, we need to keep him the Hell out of there.


Monday, October 27, 2003
 
Doctor Strangefeld

Donald Rumsfeld may be currently in the middle of a job flameout of Biblical proportions, but that doesn't stop him from taking the time to think up new and innovative ways to bring apocolyptic fury down upon the masses. His current toil, when he can turn himself away from the brainless destruction currently enveloping his beloved Iraq, is a new form of brainless destruction: mini-nukes.


Yes, that's right. Mini-nukes. You see, ordinary nuclear weapons are just not portable enough for today's modern, low-grade armed conflict. Plus, they're so darned big that you just can't use them without ... ohhhh ... acquiring the eternal hatred of the entire civilized world. Dropping a mini-nuke, on the other hand, would only instill global condemnation for about a decade or two.


Almost makes nuclear war worth it, doesn't it?


 
Saudi Princes Have Such Interesting Hobbies

Great Britain has sent out a “terror
warning
” in regards to Saudi Arabia. The Canadian and
Australian governments, too, have decided to issue similar
warnings
. The British claim to have received information leading
them to believe that terrorist actions against foreign nationals are
in their final stage of planning within the sun-scorched and
despotic Kingdom of Saud.


US embassies in Syria and Saudi Arabia have also declared
their own warnings
, citing the coming Muslim festival month of
Ramadan as a concern for any of us foreign devil-dog infidels who might choose to pay them a visit any time soon. There is certainly also the unspoken concern in Western
circles that the recent and unprecedented Saudi protest activity (and the
resultant crackdown) might indicate that the country is about to
undergo a wave of dangerous destabilization.


The Saudis, predictably, immediately jumped to their own defense.
The Saudi Ambassador to Great Britain — Prince Turki al-Faisal
— objected to Great Britain's implication that the Saudis had
not done enough to crack down on terrorism in their country.


Wait a minute ... Turki al-Faisal? The Prince Turki
al-Faisal? Former head of Saudi Intelligence, master of inner-circle
dynastic politics, clandestine
funder of al Qaeda
, and personal friend of arch-villain Osama bin Laden? ...
that Prince Turki al-Faisal? When did he become the
Saudi Ambassador to Great Britain?


Around March of
2002
, actually. Prior to that, his last major position was head
of Saudi intelligence, a post he had held since 1977. Prince Turki
was a great friend and supporter of Osama bin Laden all during that
time, so much so that he could (and would) be referred to as bin
Laden's “mentor.”


These contacts were maintained down through the years, long after
bin Laden ceased to be considered an asset to American intelligence.
Prince Turki's last acknowledged meeting with bin Laden was in June
of 1998
(shortly before al Qaeda's inaugural twin
embassy bombings
), although the conservative French newspaper Le
Figaro
did report a face-to-face
meeting
between the two occuring in Dubai as late as July of
2001.


He
lost his job soon after
, during a late August spasm
of Saudi dynastic bloodletting
that, quite coincidentally,
occurred just a few days before the horrific events of September
11. The official reason given by the Saudis was their
dissatisfaction with Prince Turki's handling of a terrorist bombing
campaign of the previous year; unofficially, it was rumored that his
jockeying for position in the succession battle had taken him over to
the more fundamentalist side of Saudi factional politics (Saudi
ideological battles can be divided up into two camps: the
fundamentalist faction, and the more fundamentalist faction).


Prior to this, Prince Turki al-Faisal had been considered one of
the prime candidates to succeed the long-ailing King Fahd. Now he
spends his days in dreary old Great Britain — a prestigious
position, no doubt, and a good place to keep an eye on some of the Kingdom's most dangerous enemies, but a long, long way from the old school dynastic
infighting of home.


Sunday, October 26, 2003
 
Wolfowitz Dodges A Bullet



No, not from these guys — though don't think for a minute that
the thought didn't cross their minds.


As near as anyone can tell, the Bush Administration's Iraq media
blitz appears to consist of sending high level (but expendible)
members of its staff off on field trips to Baghdad for a few days. If
they return alive, it's taken as proof that the “post”
war period is going well.


If they don't ... well, that's never happened yet, so of course
there's no contingency plans for it. Like everything else in this
astonishingly jury-rigged Administration, they'll cross that bridge
when they come to it.


One method used to improve the survivability of these official
tourists is to make sure they don't stay overnight in Iraq proper.
Baghdad by day is bad enough; Baghdad by moonlight is positively
suicidal. Better to take in the sights of the city by the light of
the bright Mesopotamian sun, then scurry off to relax in the comfy,
five-star luxury of Kuwait City before the darkness rolls in (or Jordan, if you prefer the cheap seats).


This time it was Pentagon uber-neocon Paul Wolfowitz's turn to make the pilgrimage — his second time,
to be exact. To his credit, he refused the hypocritical
Baghdad/Kuwait City dodge, opting instead to stay at downtown
Baghdad's once-glorious (but still heavily fortified) al Rashid
hotel.


Today, insurgents fired
six rockets
at it, striking several floors square on. One
American soldier was
killed in the attack
, and up to 15 other people were wounded.
Wolfowitz, of course, was unharmed. Had the Iraqis thought to fire
wooden stakes or silver bullets at his room, then perhaps we would be
discussing a different outcome. Still, he did seem pretty shaken up
at the follow-up press conference.


The use of rockets in this attack is interesting. While not
unheard of in Iraq, it's not a terribly common modus operandi
for the typical Sunni Triangle insurgent (mortars and
rocket-propelled grenades being preferred). It is, however, a very
typical
method of attack for your average Afghan-trained jihadi.


It could
be a clue that the attackers aren't native Iraqis — or at least weren't trained around there. This would imply a different kind of insurgent than the “criminal” Baathist revanchists that Wolfowitz wants them to be.


Saturday, October 25, 2003
 
Back To Gitmo

According to sources cited in this Washington Post
story,
Army Chaplain James (Yousef) Lee came
into conflict with several members
of the Army staff at
Guantanamo over treatment of the prisoners prior to his arrest. Unlike the claims of torture
coming out of the Australian
media
, the Post only makes vague references to Yee's
“misgivings” over things like boredom, desperation, and a
lack of any set release period for the detainees.


Well, there is this one paragraph, which could be taken ominously,
if you're in the right state of mind:


Yee was particularly upset that
officials turned down his attempts to help shape how the
interrogations were carried out, informed sources said. Interrogators
jealously guard control over all aspects of the prisoners' lives,
including rewards and punishments ...


Some staff members also had problems with the fact that Yee was
allowed one-on-one contact with the prisoners. Heavens! A chaplain
allowed to have private conversations with members of his flock! What
is this country coming to?


One has to wonder: would the Army be as annoyed with such activity
if it involved, say, a priest
taking confessions
from devoutly Catholic prisoners?


Yee is currently locked up in solitary confinement, a fact which
his lawyer finds “ludicrous” in light of the two minor
infractions with which he's currently being charged. To it's credit,
the Army is trying to come
up with something more
. As such, they've filed a request to keep
Yee in stir for an additional 45 days beyond what they're allowed.


Meanwhile, the Army's investigation of all the alleged espionage
activities at the camp has
come up dry
;
there is no evidence so far pointing to any concerted al
Qaeda
connection. Instead, what the evidence does point to
is slipshod security on the Army's part — or rather, on the
part of Titan Corporation, the
Homeland Security subcontractor assigned to provide them with Arabic
translators.


Is anybody actually surprised by this revelation? Any country as
reliant as we are becoming on our mercenary elements will always get
burned by them.


Admittedly, “mercenary” is a loaded term; but that's
ultimately what these contractors
are, aren't they? They may not march in formations or be assigned to
take and hold territory (yet), but they're given high-level security
clearances, uniforms, and mandates to perform critical support
missions for our troops. Any military man will admit that these are
just as important factors in winning a conflict as the guts &
glory action up at the front.


Mercenary armies are notoriously unreliable. The problem is that
they serve two masters — government and profit.


Which one do you think is going to get shafted in such an
arrangement?


Friday, October 24, 2003
 
God's Gettin' Old School

Listen up, Mel. Let's hope this
story
is some kind of gag or publicity stunt. Because if it
isn't, then you've got some serious smiting coming down on you.


When God starts raining
thunderbolts
down on your film crew, that could be taken as a
possible sign that something is theologically amiss with your little vanity film
project.


When God does it a second
time
— this time hitting your Jesus — that should be
taken as a sure sign. It's time to just fold up the film equipment,
grab a fistful of rosary, and head off towards the nearest
confessional as fast as your apostate little legs can carry you.


This is some of His tamer leadoff material, after all. We've all
read ahead, and we all know what comes on after this part. None of us
want to see you on Late Night trying to explain to Conan
O'Brien why human-headed insects keep pecking at your boil-infested
face.


Perhaps it's time to throttle back on that “authentic
Gospel” hooey you've been spouting off all over Tinseltown and
beyond. Such puffery may work around those airheaded Hollywood
philistines who lick your boots, and maybe even with those Mock
Turtle Catholics you hang out with, but this here is The Almighty
we're talking about. He knows the Four Gospels aren't that easily
reconciled — and He also knows you're not doing a Christian
version of Sliding
Doors
or Run
Lola Run
.


And speaking of Mel Gibson, can someone please explain why he gets
to be called a Catholic? Or at least why everyone calls him one?
This is not an isolated phenomenon, you know:


...
Gibson belongs to an ultraconservative Catholic movement that rejects
the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the legitimacy of the
current Vatican leadership.”


Gibson
is a member of an ultra-conservative Catholic movement that rejects
the Vatican’s authority over the Catholic Church.”


Gibson,
a devout and conservative Catholic, has explained that he set out to
convey “the full horror of what Jesus suffered for our
redemption.”


Huh?!


Look, Mel Gibson can worship however he wants, speak out however
he wants, and do whatever goofball good works he feels he ought to
do. We all have a right to our reasoned idiocies. But is Gibson by
any stretch a Catholic?


Call me a simpleton, but where I come from people who go around
rejecting the teachings and leadership of the Catholic Church have a
name. That's right — you guessed it. We call them Protestants.


Wednesday, October 22, 2003
 
What If John Hughes Wrote Geopolitical Tracts?

This could be just like in one of those old '80s movies, when a motley collection of poor-but-plucky kids find themselves running a summer camp just across the lake from those amoral bluebloods of Camp SnootyPrep. The Russians (remember those guys? blocky, alcoholic, used to rule half the world?) have opened up their first new foreign military base since the fall of the Soviet Union — and it's less than 30 kilometers from an American one!


It's in the former Soviet territory of Kyrgyzstan, a twitchy little country pressed up into that tight little cartographical orgy going on between China, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. We Americans managed to stash an airbase there in order to better facilitate our war against the Taliban remnants of nearby Afghanistan (remember those guys? hairy, fanatical, their friends blew up half of New York?). The Russians decided to put their base there because ... well ... frankly that whole region just gives them the shakes.


Their stated fear is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region — and it's a legitimate one — but their unstated nervousness at the rapidity and thoroughness of US penetration into the geopolitical fabric of post-Soviet Central Asia is understandible. Did you know that the Kleptocracy of Uzbekistan is one of our tightest allies in the world now? The Russians sure as Hell do.


Even so, this is no sign that the Ruskies are “back,” not even in the long term. They simply don't have the money — and won't for a generation or more. But just because everyone tells a kid he can't do something doesn't mean he's not gonna give it the old '80s try.



 
Would You Like To Supersize That Insurrection, Sir?

Maybe if Don Evans had mentioned the fact that Baghdad Airport just got itself a brand-spankin'-new Burger King, I would have believed him about the power of the Bush Administration to “transform” the lives of the poor (but plucky!) Iraqi people.


Of course, the Baghdad Airport is still closed to civilian traffic because of all the ... ummmm ... anti-aircraft fire being lobbed at it. But I'm sure that once those Baathist obstructionists discover the joy of supersizing their meals, they'll throw down their Stingers and turn themselves in likkety-split. And just watch the mist gather in Ayatollah al-Hassani's eyes as he sees his kids eagerly reach in and pull their “Hamtaro Hallowe'en” tie-in toys out from the depths of their Big Kid Meals.


Oh yeah ... those ungrateful little heathen dune-hobbits better come around. They won't want to see what'll happen if we have to bring in The Clown. Nothing stops The Clown.


 
If They're Gonna Be This Way About It, Maybe They Don't Really Need The Money After All

Hell got very cold today; the House of Representatives actually
listened to something the Senate had to say. In a surprising
(if merely symbolic) move, it
voted overwhelmingly
to instruct its leadership to add language
to the $87 billion Iraqi supplemental appropriation bill requiring a
small amount of it to be considered a “loan.”


The Bush Administration has threatened
to veto
the $87 billion Iraqi supplemental bill if it contains
such foul language. Considering the size of the appropriation, the
amount in question ($10 billion) is hardly excessive. It also
contains a provision that allows the “loan” to be
converted into a grant, if 90% of Iraq's debt to other countries is
forgiven.


In theory, the whole loan could be paid off with oil revenues —
given a stable polity in the region, reasonable production levels,
and a whole lotta time. Loans between the US and its third-world
lapdogs tend to be forgiven in the long run anyway. Even if the
country somehow slips from our fingers and falls under the control of
a regime hostile to the US, it's very likely that they could simply
thumb their noses at the debt and suffer little consequences.


After all, what would we do about it — embargo them?!
Considering our current status with the rest of the world, it's
unlikely that we could get the UN to sanction such a thing again; and
if history is any guide, unilateral US embargoes are Immortality
Elixirs
for otherwise mediocre regimes. Indeed, their only real
effect appears to be forcing the US into the hypocritical position of
being
in violation
of an embarassingly large number of UN Resolutions.


The point is, the “loan” language in the Senate bill
is obviously just placed in there as window
dressing
for the increasingly skeptical and war-weary hoi-polloi
out there in Peoria. It'll never be repaid, let alone called in. The
Democrats may be all for it (as a flaccid way of sticking it to
Dubya), but the Republicans need this provision for the
political cover it provides. This goes especially for those
Republican “moderates,” who are finding the shady spot under the Great
Heroic
Bush
Victory Statue
increasingly cramped as the sun arcs closer to High
Noon
in the Senate chambers.


Playing to your base is one thing, but if Dubya's crew keeps this
up, all those moderate
elephants
out there are going to start feeling more like
mastodons.


... and very sad, unloved little mastodons at that.


Tuesday, October 21, 2003
 
Flights Of Fancy

It's possible that a few of you out there may not have seen CNN's
hour-long
infomercial
covering George (Poppy) Bush's memory lane excursion
to the island where he was shot down during World War II. Some of you
may have been in a cave this past weekend, or in a coma, or maybe
just kidnapped by aliens.


Considering the amount of wall-to-wall
marketing oomph heaved at us by the media mavens of Time/Warner to
get us to watch it, it would have taken just such extremes to avoid
running across it. Those of you who missed it will get future
opportunities to do so; popular demand will no doubt insure its
repeated airings for, oh, at least the next year or so.


The release of the documentary
(starring a misty-eyed Poppy Bush and a breathlessly reverent Paula
Zahn) is, at first glance, a simple act of media symmetry. It's
designed to coincide with the release of a new book about Bush's
experience. Both CNN and the company publishing the book —
Little, Brown and Co. — are subsidiaries of the Time/Warner
empire. The idea for the documentary was
suggested
by the former President himself; the footage for it was
taken about a year ago.


The book, Flyboys:
A True Story of Courage
, contains an extensive account of
Poppy Bush's heroic final flight. Bush's bailout over the pacific was
already the topic of an earlier book, making it unclear exactly why
this one is suddenly deserving of a media blitz. Entitled Flight
of the Avenger
, the previous book already painted the story
of Poppy Bush's Airboy Adventures in the most heroic light possible;
how much more accolades could the man need?


Here's one possible explanation:


The Bush clan works
very hard to insure that it is portrayed as iconically as possible in
the media, perhaps moreso than any other American political dynasty
that preceded it. In short, they recognize the value of the
personality-cult, and are willing to use it to their fullest
advantage. If the creation of this book was put into motion about a
year ago, it's publication could have been assumed at the time to be
wrapping up right when Dubya's Administration would be enjoying the
first full fruits of a successful Iraqi liberation.


The singular
heroism, selfless sacrifice, and strategic prowess of the Bushes
could once again be welded to that of the American nation as a whole
(“L'etat, c'est moi!”), thus firing yet another
personality brick from the kilns of kitsch to be used to foster Bush
Family victories for 2004 and beyond. This does not seem so far
fetched a notion when one realizes that the first book was released
in 1991, shortly after the dramatic victories of the First Gulf War
(and a year before the 1992 elections).


It's also interesting that the media
hype surrounding this new book erupts at exactly the same time as
some old and very ugly Bush
clan skeletons
received a fresh airing out of the family closet.
Recently declassified US Government documents from 1942 have
confirmed what has been bouncing around the mouth-breathing side of
the internet for years: The Bushes and their kin helped fund Nazi
Germany.


This is nothing new. Nor is it an
exclusive province of the Bush family. Henry
Ford alone
deserves a special place in Hell for the deeply
personal role he played in the creation of that mid-20th
century abomination. The only difference is that the physical
evidence of Prescott Bush's (and relations') collaboration is so obvious and
incontrovertible in this case that even some mainstream media outlets
finally carried news of it. What is even more remarkable, moreover, is the
near-synchronous timing of this story with the release of CNN's
“Flyboys” infomercial.


Monday, October 20, 2003
 
Zimbabwe, The World's Most Ironic Country

Even in the crowded field in which it plays, Zimbabwe has got to be considered one of the hottest contenders for the title of World's Worst Run Country. And their running hard, too. Even with all the clamor of war and incompetence crowding the news cycle around it, at least once a year Zimbabwe manages to insert a story into the global memepool reinforcing exactly how incompetent her elites are at maintaining even the facade of a functioning society.


This year they've outdone themselves. The state-run oil company has just announced that they've ... uhhh ... run out of oil. As a result, all state vehicles have ceased operations, including emergency vehicles. Anybody requiring ambulance services in Zimbabwe, for instance, will have to provide their own fuel, or else it's no-go.


Guess they won't be joining the Axis of Evil anytime soon.


 
The Brother Evans Traveling Testimonial Show

Don Evans may officially carry the title of US Commerce Secretary,
but it's pretty clear that his real job is Bush Administration Faith
Healer. Whatever it is the Bushies need propped up, no matter how
ludicrously divorced from reality it may be, Evans can be counted to
give it the old laying of the hands. This was already a transparently
obvious fact by last summer, when he and fellow snake-handler Elaine
Chao (who never saw a labor statistic she didn't like) were sent on a
several-hundred-mile “Up With The Economy” tent
revival tour
through an incredulous Midwest.


This time it's the Middle East that Evans has just been sent to —
Iraq, to
be exact
. He's recently made his return from the deserts of
Babylon, a prospect which had CNN's Wolf Blitzer so enthralled he
practically picked him up at the airport himself. Dutifully, Evans
trudged onto Wolf's show to let him know that the Iraqi Miracle was
unfolding on schedule.


Those bombs? Nuthin'. The human death toll? Tragic, but hey ...
it's a wicked world, y'know? The important thing was that none of
this was hindering the Iraqi people's march towards a free market
society. Listen up, everybody; Brother Evans ain't come here to
Brother Blitzer's tent to spread no doom and gloom. Brother
Evans is here to testify
:


... I went over there
expecting to find a feeling of desperation, a frightening kind of
environment, and I felt anything but that. I saw what the power of
freedom was doing to transform lives, to transform a country. I saw —
as I had a chance to sit down and talk to women entrepreneurs and
young boys that were starting their own — I stopped on the side
of a road and bought some Coca-Colas from some young, budding
entrepreneurs. It was not the kind of feeling that I expected to have
when I went over there.”


I hate to bust into your talking points there,
Secretary Evans, but you would have seen people selling all kinds of
things on street corners in this country too, circa
1932
. It wasn't dreams of flannel-suit greatness that lured them
there, either. Rather, it was abject poverty, hunger, desperation,
and — most importantly — a lack of jobs that
impelled them to do it.


Evans expects us to believe Iraq is a
more prosperous place because we're there, and he presents us with
extras from Les
Misérables

as proof. Sorry, Don. No deal. Do your homework, and you might have
better luck next time.


Sunday, October 19, 2003
 
Siege

Those Polish and Bulgarian troops I complained about in yesterday's post are at this very moment sticking their necks out very far for us in the increasingly restive Shi'ite city of Karbala. They have joined up with the American forces, who are now completely surrounding the house of Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Hassani.


Bulgarian media is also reporting that their troops took and returned fire alongside the Americans during yesterday's firefight (a fact which was ignored by American sources). I should also point out that the Poles may have been in no position to help yesterday, since they've largely been preoccupied with the labor-intensive task of sealing off all roads to and from the city this week.


(In other words, Poland and Bulgaria: I apologize. You've been holding up more than your share of the sky of late. I should have known better than to make such a simplistic crack in the first place.)


The continuing pressure being put on al-Hassani reinforces the theory that the US is trying to hamper the ambitions of Baghdad-based Shi'ite strongman-wannabe Muqtada al-Sadr by harassing the vulnerable fringes of his power structure (al Jezeera reports that al-Hassani is, in fact, a "sympathizer" of al-Sadr's).


No word yet on what the exact intentions of either side are from here. Al-Hassani's arrest is definitely on the table — if only they knew where he was. He apparently skipped out of the building for parts unknown before the Slavic cavalry rode up to seal the gaps.


The situation is regarded as so delicate that Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez (the General in charge of all Coalition ground forces in Iraq) went to the city to consult in person with the commanders of the operation. Here's hoping for a sane and negotiated end to this mess.



 
Osama The Deficit Hawk

Osama bin Laden may have been living
(quite literally) under a rock for the past few years, but that doesn't mean
he's not keeping abreast of all the current events. Seems even
cave-dwelling, messianic, fanatics can't resist talkin' trash about our deficit.


Buried down a ways in Osama's most
recent statement to the Iraqi people was this quick assessment of
current US budgetary woes, brought to us by those interpretative
whiz-kids at Al
Jezeera
:


Moreover,
they
[by which he means us ...
the Satanic, venal, Zionist-occupied American infidels — Ed.]
have
had a budget deficit for the third consecutive year. This year, the
deficit reached a record peak of more than US $4.5 billion.
Praise be to Allah.”


Nice try, Osama, but
not quite
; thanks for playing, anyway.


Saturday, October 18, 2003
 
Power Politics, Shi'ite Style

With all the mandatory happy, shiny reports coming out of Iraq this past week, has anybody
else noticed that we've sort of ... ummmm ... fallen backwards into a
war with the Shi'ites?


Well, not all the Shi'ites, mind you. But at the rate we're going,
we should have that point rectified soon.


Thursday's
12-hour firefight in Karbala
(in which 3 American soldiers died,
7 were wounded, and oodles of Iraqis kicked the bucket) is only the
latest in a series of increasingly belligerent actions sparking up
between the US military and local Shi'ite militias throughout the
country. In this case, US forces attempted to move against forces
loyal to Mahmoud al-Hassani, a local Shi'ite Ayatollah.


As a side note: Karbala is supposedly under the jurisdiction of
Polish and Bulgarian troops; however, their main role in the
firefight was apparently to kick back and observe the carnage from a
safe distance. Is this the kind of support we can expect from our
allies, even if we can get them into the country?


Earlier in the day, US tanks and personnel were quite active in
another part of Iraq, having
quite visibly seized control
of a Sadr City building that had
formerly been commandeered and turned into an administrative center
by forces loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq's most ambitious and
powerful Shi'ite clerics. About a dozen of al-Sadr's supporters were
scooped up, too.


Clearly, the US regards al-Sadr as a looming menace. He was the
one who last week announced the creation of an Islamic “shadow
government
” — a threat he subsequently seemed to back
down on when the massive demonstrations he called for didn't arrive.
It was al-Sadr, also, that the Coalition Provisional Authority (i.e.
our colonial regime) had recently accused of being somehow behind
the recent hotel and embassy bombings
.


Yet, al-Sadr is still walking free. In fact, he isn't even in
hiding. Apparently, neither the CPA nor the US military feels it has
the overwhelming strength to withstand the maelstrom that would erupt
if they actually took the guy in, so instead they decided to nibble
at the fringes of his power: raiding his offices, seizing a few of
his pettier officials, perhaps even shooting up a few of his allies
(if, indeed, that's
what al-Hassani was
).


Predictably, this is not going well. Juan
Cole's website
reports that there were anti-coalition Shi'ite
demonstrations on Friday in both Sadr City and Basra. Basra got
particularly ugly, with the crowd throwing rocks at the British
soldiers. All this may have been enough to encourage
al-Sadr
to pick up the banner of his “shadow government”
once again.


And now, of all things, the US is starting to make vaguely
articulate grunting noises about going out and hauling
al-Sadr in
. It might be a bluff — but if it is, it isn't a
very good one. While arresting al-Sadr may not seem like a terribly
bright thing to do at this time, the US may actually have no choice
in the matter. Al-Sadr is growing increasingly bold; if he starts
getting any ideas about numbers being on his side, who knows what
he'll decide to do? The CPA might decide to take him out now, while
there's still a chance he can be squished.


Oh, and by the way. While all this was going on, the Sunnis phoned
in to let us know that they are still
blowing us up, too
.


 
A Useful Fiction
Factoid: A piece of
unreliable information believed to be true because of the way it is
presented or repeated in print.



We, the unwashed public, have just gotten word of a memo sent out
by the ever-vigilant lads at Homeland Security about a week ago, in
which they warned other government agencies that there was a
heightened chance of multiple
high-profile terrorist attacks
being launched inside the US in
the near future.


There was nothing unusually alarming in it really ... just the
standard laundry list outlining the vulnerability of “soft
target” threats such as hotels, apartment complexes, and
commercial aircraft. Presumably, the “chatter” has gone
up again — although not enough to let us know any of the
wheres, whens, or hows of these shadowy operatives.


And, of course, there was no threat level color change. I mean ... dude, that would be soooooo 2002.


This folds in neatly with yesterday's story about the sinister
objects
found squirreled away on a number of Southwest Airlines
planes. The items in question were found under the seats, and
consisted of the standard traveling gear for the thoroughly modern
Islamo-fascist terrorist: bleach, matches, a plastic-explosives-like
substance, and box cutters.


Wait a minute. Box cutters? Who ever hijacked an airline with box
cutters
?


Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm not dim — and I haven't been living
under a rock for the past three years. I've heard the stories, too.
But for the most part, that's all they are. Stories.


While the box cutter canard is not quite poorly supported enough to be judged a total myth, it is weak enough in the reality department to be
declared a factoid. And factoids are the scabs of truth; they're usually protecting something uglier deep underneath.


Many people reported in from those four flights hijacked on that
infamous day, and many weapons were mentioned by them as being on
hand: bombs, knives, chemical sprays ... even guns. Only one person,
however, reported anything like a box cutter being involved; that was
Barbara Olson of Flight 77, who said that the men in control of her
plane had used “knives
and cardboard cutters
” to do it. Later
reports
morphed Olson's quote into the well-known “box
cutters” line.


Of the other three, box cutters are never mentioned. Here's a
rundown of the weapons reported on the flights in question:



  • Flight 11 (World Trade Center 1): The crew reported
    knives, an apparent bomb (maybe a fake), and the use of an
    eye-burning chemical spray. There was also one
    early FAA report
    of a passenger shot to death, but that was
    quickly redacted. Interestingly, the passenger in question (Daniel
    Lewin
    ) was a retired (but still very fit) Israeli
    anti-terrorist commando
    , and would thus be arguably the most
    difficult passenger to subdue by hand-to-hand means — as well
    as the most dangerous
    opponent
    to their cause.


  • Flight 175 (World Trade Center 2): Only three people
    were able to call from this flight. At least one
    of them
    mentioned knives, and two
    (a passenger and flight hostess) reported stabbings. According to
    one story
    , the knives in question were “understood”
    to be an improvised collection of craft blades jammed into plastic
    handles, though the source for this allegation is never specified.


  • Flight 77 (The Pentagon): Olson's report seems to be
    the only one known from this flight. Again, knives and cardboard
    cutters (or maybe box cutters).


  • Flight 93 (Shanksville): Many
    passengers call from this flight
    . There is a consensus from them
    that the hijackers used knives
    and the visible threat of a bomb
    to subdue the aircraft.
    Passenger Tom Burnett also tells his wife that they
    have a gun
    . Even so, the cockpit recorder
    reports a rather horrific struggle
    in the cabin between the
    hijackers and the crew. The passengers shortly come to the
    conclusion that the
    bomb is a fake
    , a fact which appears to play in their decision
    to attempt to retake the craft, and another struggle ensues. There
    is some evidence, however, that an explosion
    of some kind
    did in fact occur while the plane was still
    airborne.



The box cutter factoid survives for the same reason all factoids
do: because a pliable fiction is of more use to those in power than
an inconvenient truth. The image of box cutter-wielding fanatics
serves as a continual reminder to us of the diabolical cleverness and
indefatigability of the 9/11 hijackers (and those who may follow
them), while simultaneously absolving the commercial airlines and
Federal Authorities of a huge portion of the blame they so richly
deserve for letting it all happen in the first place. Casually
ignoring the references to guns, knives, chemicals, and bombs allows
the authorities to avoid explaining exactly how they allowed those
objects to get on the planes in the first place. Were they inept?
Criminally negligent? Were some complicit? Were all the passengers
mistaken?


Will we ever know? Will it ever matter?


Well, anyway, they
caught the guy who laid the box cutters down this time
, so it
doesn't really matter anymore. Turns out he was just some silly crank
trying to let us know about airline
security holes
that only he gave a damn about in the first place.
Problem solved. We can all go back to our regularly scheduled
programming now.


I hear there are some really bitchin' new reality shows on FOX
this season.


Thursday, October 16, 2003
 
Remarkable. Sick, But Remarkable.

Boy, howdy! What a couple of days it's been for the pie-eyed optimists of Foggy Bottom! Republicans have been running like a mad bomber through the streets of Barcelona with this whole “happy Iraq” meme the President activated a few days ago.


Some (ahem) a bit more than others. Check out this quote from Congressman George Nethercutt (R-Washington), brought to our attention by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo:


“The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.”

The Seattle PI article he references quickly points out that Nethercutt is not in favor of losing any more troops. Just the same, it's nice to know that he's willing to make the sacrifice.


Nethercutt spoke shortly after returning from a trip to Iraq. A lot of Republicans have been making this trip lately, each coming back with glowing reviews of the Paradise on the Euphrates that we are building over there. Democrats would like to get a chance to see this miracle for themselves, too. Unfortunately, they just can't seem to secure the transportation to get themselves over there. Maybe the Bush Administration is afraid that once those thieving Democrats see how much money we're spending on social programs in Iraq, they might get some unhealthy social policy ideas for this side of the Atlantic.


 
Regarding Hal
When the government is the
problem and the market is the solution, it no longer is corruption.
It becomes efficiency.”



Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the previously-mentioned
Bush crony Halliburton Corporation, has been caught overcharging
the US government for gasoline
. According to the ever-vigilant
Henry Waxman (D-California), KBR was fleecing the American taxpayer
to
the tune of $1.59/gallon
.


$1.59 a gallon? What's the big deal there?


Well, y'see, it's the “there” part that is the
big deal; because in this case, “there” refers to our own
little satrapy of Iraq, that sullen neo-colonial possession of the Empire of Texas over there on the swampy
upper banks of the Persian Gulf. While the American taxpayer may
regard $1.59/gallon as a fairly good price under current market
conditions, in the oil-besotted Middle East such yankee trading would be viewed as
highway robbery, pure and simple.


The gasoline in question is purchased in Kuwait by KBR, then
shipped across the border under US military escort and re-sold in
Iraq. According to experts, the current wholesale price for gasoline
in the Persian Gulf region is about $0.71/gallon, give or take a cent
or two — meaning that the cigar-chomping fatboys at Halliburton
are pocketing roughly 90 cents for each gallon of gas they
schlep over the Kuwait/Iraq border. Even adjusting for the
differences between wholesale and retail, I'd say that a markup of
125% is pretty damn good for a product pretty much anybody with a
decent set of tanker trucks could haul. Those irksomely
square-dealing experts mentioned above agree, pointing out that a
reasonable markup of 10-25 cents should be expected for this service,
especially in light of the military escort.


This particular patch of overbilling amounts to about $300
million. So far, Halliburton and its subsidiaries have enriched
themselves to the tune of about $3 billion in charges on
infrastructure repair and logistical support for the Iraq operation
since March of 2003.


Halliburton, it turns out, is
no stranger to gross overbilling
. The company was fined so many
times from 1994 to 2000 for overpricing its contracts with the
military that a disinterested observer might be forgiven for coming
to the conclusion that the company's entire business portfolio was based
on this scam. That also happens to be pretty much the same period
that current Vice-Cyborg
Dick Cheney was at the helm
. And with all that, he still managed
to mismanage the company into near-bankruptcy. In fact, if all these
wars hadn't come along, it probably would be.


And then what would poor Dick do with all those worthless stock
options
of his?


Wednesday, October 15, 2003
 
Great News, Everybody!

The northern Iraqi city of Tikrit
was not struck by a meteorite
today! Plus, no earthquakes
or volcanic
eruptions
were noted anywhere near the southern port city of
Basra!
In addition, the hard working people of Baghdad
were spared the other day when a 90-foot-tall atomic
monster
did not rise from the Euphrates
River
and obliterate their downtown in a maelstrom of rubbery Japanese
fury!


(EDITOR'S NOTE: The atomic monster portrayed here is not destroying downtown Baghdad!)




(In fact, we're pretty sure it's just Damascus!)



Yup. Yes Sirree. Not one of these very bad things happened today. And I reported it.


Hear that, Dubya? Where's my shiny quarter?


Our President recently went off on a media blitz/whining spree where
he complained that the major news outlets were “filtering
out all the good things that are going on in Iraq right now. It's
hard to believe Bush has actually witnessed this phenomenon firsthand, since he
himself admits to never
reading or watching the news on his own
(preferring instead to
have it spoon-fed to him by his aides). Even so, it's frankly
offensive to have him placing this spin on the table in the face of
clear evidence that the situation on the ground has been getting
measurably worse. What's more, anyone who makes an attempt to gather
news from outside these major US news outlets will quickly come to
the realization that, if anything, the “filtering” is
actually a bit on the optimistic
side.


Clearly, some parts of Iraq (such as the north) are relatively
stable; yet, those places have always been so. Other places (such as
Basra and Najaf), while once fairly safe, are clearly destabilizing.
Then there is, of course, the infamous “Sunni
Triangle
” of Baghdad, Tikrit, and Fallujah, which have
never been pacified, and don't look to be any time in the near
future. Baghdad, in fact, may be getting worse, as the Shi'ites there
become increasingly emboldened
and ruthless.
Furthermore, those “stable” northern regions mentioned above are a lot
shakier than they look, and could easily
explode
if the entry of Turkish
troops
into the country is not handled properly.


And need we mention the little fact that the current
casualty rate for US forces in the region is hovering at around two a
day? Or that reliable sources outside the military state that the
number of US troops evacuated from Iraq for medical
reasons
are somewhere
around 6,000
and climbing (while the number of
“official” wounded is one-sixth that number)? I'm sure
the families of the affected soldiery understand the President's pique at
their loved ones for saturating
valuable media
time with humdrum
stories detailing the gruesome ends of their petty little tin-soldier lives.


All this stuff is just so much less important than the “hearts
and minds” crap that the President wants us to know about —
which is mostly just to fatten the pockets of his Haliburton cronies anyway, and
which the Iraqis probably won't give two bits of a damn about in the
long run, and which they will gleefully knock down in a fit
of Islamic piety moments after we close the books on this whole forsaken
operation.


Look. We know we're stuck here, Mr. President. You set us up but good,
and there's no way we can just turn our backs and walk away from this meat grinder. But we also know
a good FUBAR when we see it.


Don't tell us that we have to like it.


 
It's Away!

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported
a successful launch
today; the Shenzhou-5 orbiter was hurled into orbit
at 8:00 Tuesday evening (Lost City Central Time), carrying inside it a crew of one lonely taikonaut. If all goes well,
the module will complete 14 orbits, then land somewhere in central
Asia right around 5:00 Wednesday afternoon.


“Shenzhou,” by the way, is commonly translated as
divine
vessel
” — though I think “Chariot of the Gods”
works too, and has a quirkily appropriate ring to it.


I honestly wish them the best of luck. While I don't expect this mission
to resonate with the American public too much (dull-witted surprise,
maybe, but little resonance), at some point we Westerners are going
to look up and realize that the Chinese have taken to space like BO
on a lumberjack's shirt. This will hopefully give us the kick in the
pants that our moribund space efforts so desperately need.


... and if we don't feel the kick, then maybe India will. They
have a nascent
space program
too, complete with plans for an
unmanned lunar probe by 2008
and they hate to be
one-upped by the Chinese. But, of course, this is all common
knowledge already, right? I mean, we Americans always like to keep so
well informed and all.


At any rate, even if we ultimately discover that we're too fat,
lazy, and insular to care about a real-live space program, at least
the Chinese will be putting in the sweat equity to push the exploration bar forward. Consider:
if the Chinese are capable of doing this with the smallish economy
they have right now, can you imagine what they'll be up to in a few
decades, when their GDP will be approaching First World levels?


Monday, October 13, 2003
 
World Be Warned: Don't Mess With Iowa

Turns out that the entire Iraqi air campaign is being coordinated and controlled from an airbase in rural Iowa. Go figure.



Let's see, Iowa commands the air, the Dakotas have the nukes ... what in the world must Wisconsin have?



Oh, yeah. They control the submarines.



Checkmate.


 
Boy, They Sure Showed Him

As expected, Army Chaplain James (Yousef) Yee has been charged on
two minor
counts
– taking classified material to his home and wrongly
transporting classified information. While it may sound a little
scary, he's really just being slapped with two counts of disobeying
orders. This is hardly a fitting punishment for an al Qaeda-sympathizing,
high-treason Quisling — frankly, it smells more like the kind of sentence reserved for a Silkwood than an Alger Hiss.


Of
course, each conviction is still worth two years in prison, loss of
pay, and dishonorable discharge ... but it sure ain't the death
penalty.


This may be all the Army is ultimately willing to press on Yee.
While earlier stories indicated that he would inevitably face harsher
charges, the Army's current position is that Yee might face
more charges ... “if warranted.” Other sources are less circumspect on the matter, projecting the conventional wisdom that the Army's unstated intention is to “lowball” the case entirely.


In fact, if the Administration could lowball the entire Gitmo facility into another dimension, they would in a heartbeat. Anything related to Guantanamo is starting to become an
extremely touchy subject these days, with pressure building on the
Bush Administration from several angles at once. Perhaps most
surprising is the coalition of retired Army
personnel, former diplomats, and ex-POW's
who have voiced their
distaste for the existence of the camp. The ex-POW's, in particular,
voiced their fears that the clear disregard for the Geneva
Conventions represented by Gitmo placed the welfare of future
American POW's in jeopardy. Others had less material, but still
highly valid, concerns:


They [the detainees] don't
have access to lawyers; they have had no hearings; they are just in
limbo. That's as clear an example of justice denied as you can find.”



– John Gibbons, Appeals Court Judge (Retired)


It's intriguing that much of the
resistance to Bush Administration policies is coming from the policy
enactors themselves. The dislike for White House policy makers within the ranks of the Pentagon Brass is pretty much an open
secret these days, and the CIA has been
in slow burn mode
since shortly after 9/11, when moves were made
to have them take the fall for the whole thing. The systematic
attempt by the Bushie/Neocon alliance to disregard the CIA's
assessments of the Iraqi WMD situation certainly didn't help, either.
Seen in this light, the flap over the Valerie Plame affair is
especially enlightening.


You don't think the CIA just let
that slip out, do you?


 
Rise Of The Genetically-Enhanced, Monkey-Powered Rocket Lords

After a couple of false starts, the 21st Century
appears to be finally lurching forward from concept to reality.


First on the docket are reports that the World Anti-Doping Agency
(is there such a thing? Yep.
Sure is.
) has become concerned that the purity of international
sports will soon be sullied by the
presence of genetically enhanced übermenschen
.
I have deep, personal concerns about this: if gene therapy is indeed capable of causing
the “25 percent leap in muscle mass inside two weeks”
that the article claims, then why the Hell do I still have a Bowflex?


WADA's concerns, on the other hand, are far less petty: if everyone moves away
from performance-enhancing drugs in favor of performance-enhancing gene
therapy, how are they gonna keep their sweet, sweet gig as
piss-testers to the world? For that matter, is it even possible to
test for genetic enhancement?


Apparently, it is — and they know how. Well ... at least
they think they know how. The rest of the world will find out for
sure in the very near future, when their testing techniques are
revealed to a breathless, futuristic world.


And not a moment too soon, my pre-extropian
brethren, for hot on the heels of this story are reports that a
gaggle of Duke University technicians have successfully completed the other
Holy Grail of Mad Science — the mind/machine interface. Or
rather, the
monkey/machine interface
. Compared to the halting steps
accomplished before, the guys at Duke have devised something truly elegant. Previous
interfaces were only designed along simplistic, two-dimensional
principles (such as screen cursors and the like). In this case, however, the
monkeys were given complete thought-control over sophisticated and
highly-sensitive robotic arms, thus granting them feces-hurling
capabilities beyond all simian comprehension


Oh. And death to all hu-mans, of course. But that practically goes
without saying.



(CAPTION: The foolish human scientists try to bargain with the
robo-monkeys for their worthless lives, mere moments before their
inevitable and painful evisceration.)



Someone must have told the Chinese about these Frankensteinian developments,
because they are at this moment in a feverish race to get
off the planet as soon as possible
. Deep in the unearthly
wasteland of the Gobi Desert, the Chinese space program is about to
take a great leap forward this week, when China launches its
first “taikonaut” into orbit. If all goes well, the
launch will occur sometime
between Wednesday and Friday
, making it only the third nation to
independently place a human into orbit. Considering that the last
time such a first was achieved was over 40 years ago, the
significance of this development cannot be overplayed. Neither can
China's ambitions, which include a Chinese version of the Hubble
telescope in orbit by 2005
, as well as an unmanned
lunar orbiter
in the same year, followed by a manned
lunar misson by 2010
— and unlike us half-assed Westerners,
they're making plans to stay there soon after.


That's not to say that we're totally sitting on our fat,
barbarian asses. While our national space program may be inexorably
drifting into an underfunded, jury-rigged, and increasingly
antiquated future, American industry is marching on. Several private
groups within this country are on the verge of winning the coveted
X-prize — a $10 million
(US) bounty offered to the first private individual or organization
that succeeds in safely launching – and recovering, of course –
a three-man crew into suborbit before the end of the year 2004 ...
and then do it again, two weeks later (y'know, to prove that the
first time wasn't just a fluke). “Suborbit,” in this
case, is defined as roughly 60 miles above the Earth's surface.


Contenders include perceived frontrunner Scaled
Composites
(which, I believe, is going for an
aircraft-launched approach
), Armadillo
Aerospace
(fronted by John Carmack, author of “Doom”),
Canadian Arrow
(mullets in
orbit
, anyone?), and the Da
Vinci Project
(which plans a balloon-aided launch). Oh, and one
can never leave out the obviously loony (but in contention)
cult hero known simply as “Rocket
Guy
.”


So, my friends, despite all the obscurantism swirling like fouled toilet water all around us, the future does indeed march apace. Whether it be
a Roddenberry-esque, bubbly-blue Trektopia or a stark, dystopian,
Ridley Scott eek!-fest ... well, that will all become apparent right
soon, don't you think?


Friday, October 10, 2003
 
Getting Medieval On Their Asses
Asking questions or perspectives about ongoing and/or future operations or investigations can result in restricted access on Gitmo, removal from the installation, and/or revocation of DoD press credentials.”

Our interest is in not trying them and letting them out. Our interest is in — during this global war on terror — keeping them off the streets, and so that's what's taking place.”

I think it's just got to the stage now where if they do release them that a lot of these people are going to start telling stories on different forms of torture.”

It's not exactly an uplifting environment down here. It's not surprising that some people that spend time with them feel somewhat sympathetic. They are not faceless people to us.”

Richard Bourke, an Australian lawyer working on the cases of several dozen Gitmo detainees, has leveled accusations that the military authorities are engaging in torture of a "medieval" degree at the facility, partaking in such wacky brownshirt fun as tying them to posts and then shooting them with rubber bullets, or just forcing them to kneel in a “cruciform” position in the Caribbean sun until they collapse. Bourke's claimed sources for these allegations are leaks from unspecified US military personnel, as well as reports from the few detainees who have been released. The father of David Hicks (one of the two Australian detainees) confirms these allegations, and throws in descriptions of slightly milder sleep deprivation techniques and good-old-fashioned sole-beating going on there for good measure.



Meanwhile, in what I am sure is totally unrelated news, the military has decided to officially charge former Gitmo Chaplain Yousef (James) Yee on unspecified (but minor) offenses within the next few days, with more serious (but still unspecified) espionage charges to come later. Yee, you may remember, is the (not terribly proficient) Islamic convert and imam who has been in a Navy brig since September 10 with accusations of treason hanging over his head. Under military rules, the government could have actually held him without charge until January; the fact that they're dropping something on him now may indicate their discomfort with the faint Constitutional scrutiny he has begun to receive in some circles. Word on the street is that the initial minor charges in question are twofold: “Conduct Unbecoming An Officer” and “Violating General Orders.”




There are signs of life in the Ahmed al-Halabi case, too — even if we're not allowed to know exactly what they are. The Army prosecutor assigned to the case has made her recommendations to the court-martial authorities; however, in what has been described as an “unusual” move, the government has declared them classified information. In fact, pretty much everything associated with the case is getting the Big Blackout all of a sudden, including the name of the transcribing clerk, as well as the identities and telephone numbers of al-Halabi's legal team. The reason given is (of course) “national security” considerations. Perhaps due to the tardiness of the clampdown, however, we do know a few of the charges leveled against him: they range from the serious (serving as an enemy courier), to the silly (sneaking falafel to the detainees), to the ominous (lying to his interrogators about his knowledge of Wahhabism).



Significantly, soldiers and officials who served with Yee and al-Halabi at Gitmo are standing up for them and expressing their belief that neither men are in fact spies at all, but committed their acts out of — you guessed it — humanitarian concerns. Not that we're likely to find out for ourselves; it's unlikely that these men will be giving out press releases any time soon.



What is increasingly obvious is that the military and media are continuing to back away from their original description of al-Halabi as being a spy for the Syrian government, reverting instead to some “unspecified enemy” he was reporting to in Syria. This should undoubtedly be of as much concern to the Syrians as it is to us, if true; there are reliable reports of a significant upsurge in Fundamentalism within that aggressively secular country, with bin-Laden style Wahhabism shooting up tender new roots in the north. The average Syrian, increasingly alarmed at what is happening to his neighbor in Iraq, is apparently turning to radical Islam for solace — raising the uncomfortable possibility of that country becoming the halal Cambodia to the kaffir Vietnam we are throwing up to their east.


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