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Wednesday, December 31, 2003
 
Benjamin Franklin, International Terrorist

The fine line that exists between the gimlet-eyed exposer of true conspiracies and the google-eyed paranoia of the conspiracy theorist is in the filtering process. Some “coincidences” actually are coincidences; if a bridging context cannot be found (or is overly broad), then the connection is likely to be irrelevant. The gimlet is capable of making these judgements, while the paranoid sees fear and oppression beaming out to him from the top of every lamppost.


Considering that it's the FBI's job to uncover and thwart criminal conspiracies of every stripe and order of complexity, one would think that they would have gotten a handle on this distinction. Thus, when they announce to us that we all should be on the lookout for something like this, we'd better take their advice seriously, right?


The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning.


In a bulletin sent Christmas Eve to about 18,000 police organizations, the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs “to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning.”


It urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs, especially if the books are annotated in suspicious ways.


So ... ummm ... it's organic farmers we need to be on the lookout for now? Perhaps the Irish, too? Don't forget: there's also a junior Terrorist Handbook to worry about.


But enough of this foolishness: Mr. Ashcroft, have I got a tip for you. Not only do I know of a guy who carries around almanacs, but he even makes them himself! And he's been known to cavort with Frenchmen! Gimme a moment here, and I think I can round up a picture for ya, too.


Yup, here it is:






The International Terrorist: He's all about the Benjamins, my Friends.





The FBI better get its ass on the ball here, and soon. This Benjamin Franklin character is not only a known and unapologetic publisher of dangerously informative sidereal tracts, but also a principal member of a subversive group of religious fundamentalists, as well.


Like al Qaeda, the “Friends” (as they discreetly style themselves) are a radically decentralized organization of internationalist zealots. They also claim to be pacifists, a rigid ideology which eschews violence and domination by force of arms at all costs — even against America-hating muslims!


Why, that means they're against the war! And you know what the President says: if they're against the war ... they're against us!


Which means, naturally, that they're really in league with ...


... we're through the looking glass here, people.


Tuesday, December 30, 2003
 
Manichean M&M's

These days, nearly everyone seems to be pulling their weight in carrying forward the meme of a sharply polarized American national psyche. It doesn't matter whether or not there are relative merits to be discussed with any differing position; what really concerns our punditry is that the positions in question are partisan ones. Multiple choice is for effete intellectuals and Europeans; we want our politics in mutually antagonistic, binary format.


Now, even confectioners are getting in to the act.


M&M's, which once came in a great melting pot of hues, will soon be only available in two — the starkly distinct, bipolar colors of black and white:


Snack food, candy and petcare company Masterfoods USA's M&M's chocolate candies, which have chocolate in the inside and a colored sugar coating on the outside, will be available in only black and white for the next few months instead of the standard six colors as part of a promotional campaign.


...


The candy, which comes in five flavors, is sold in more than 100 countries but the black and white M&M's will be available only in the U.S.


Yeah, well, that's what them furriners get for their lack of faith in the darwinian purity of our take on the dialectical process. When certain countries stop being against us, and decide to be with us, then we'll share our candy with them.


You guys know who you are.


Sunday, December 28, 2003
 
Happy Christmas, By The Way ...

... if you're in to that sort of thing.


I'll be back in a little bit — probably Monday. Between last minute shopping, decorating, working, and a niece's Big Three birthday coming up today, it's been a very busy week.


The world has had a fairly hectic week too, I see; but I've been too preoccupied enjoying the holidays to sit down and crank off about any of it (yeah, I'm one of those jerks who actually has fun at Christmas — I blame it all on excellent parents and a happy, stable childhood).


Anyway, once the birthday is over, and I can figure out how to connect a brand-new DVD player to a quarter-century old television set, I'll get around to freaking out about something. See you then.


I got a little Christmas present from those idiots at Comcast, by the way. Sometime last week, their servers began accepting my e-mail again. I don't know exactly when it was ... all I know is that when I sent a “testing, 1 ... 2 ... 3 ...”-style e-mail to my sister, she got it! It's a Festus Miracle!


Now let's see if it holds this time ...


Monday, December 22, 2003
 
Editor & Publisher Hates America

Don't be shy: tell us how you really feel, E&P.


As I mentioned in an earlier post, Editor & Publisher has been around a long time, so when they start getting all foamy-at-the-mouth about something, it's not as if the've turned into some self-righteous teenager going through an anti-leather, veganism-or-bust phase. These guys have circled the block a few times, and know exactly what a spade looks like when they see one:


When will the press stop circulating dubious or fabricated claims — whether from Bush administration officials or intelligence abroad? The latest chapter unfolded this week with wide publicity — capped by a favorable mention in a William Safire column in The New York Times on Monday and the usual hosannas on Fox News — concerning a supposed document that linked 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta to Saddam Hussein.


... heh, “usual hosannas” ... good one, E&P.


But U.S. officials and a leading Iraqi document expert told Newsweek that the document is most likely a forgery — “part of a thriving new trade in dubious Iraqi documents that has cropped up in the wake of the collapse of Saddam's regime.”


Speaking as perhaps the only liberal in America who does not reflexively hold his hands over his ears and hum real loud whenever the possibility of an Iraqi/911 connection comes up, I have to agree with E&P on this one. The document is not only a forgery, but a pretty damn stupid one at that.


In one single, handwritten page, it manages to expose Saddam as the Evil Genius behind 9/11, name Mohammed Atta as his personal henchman (just so there's no confusion in the matter), and throw in the clearly bogus Niger/Yellowcake connection as well. It's so paint-by-numbers and pedantic in its frame-job, you'd have to be the most brain-damaged, glue-sniffingest neocon in the world to buy it. Even Maxwell Smart could finger this one as a fake (but not William Safire, apparently).


Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall offers an excellent abstract of the document in question:


“Atta showed up for his terrorist training here in Baghdad last week. I think he'll help with the catastrophic attack we're planning. Also, the al Qaida dudes came through with the shipment from Niger we were waiting for. And, by the way, remember that Joe Wilson guy? What a moron!”

Yeah, that's about how it reads to me, too.


 
Fortune Magazine Hates America

Break out the red flags and wave 'em high, comrades — Fortune magazine has clearly been taken over by those America-hating, liberal elitists we've all been hearing about.


Yes, Fortune, the venerable periodical who's very name is the mucilage that holds our capitalist system together ... Fortune has clearly gone in with the Commies. How else can anyone explain their choice for “Worst Technology of 2003?”


They could have chosen something dark and sinister, like peer-to-peer file trading, with its proudly decentralized, anti-family, anti-corporate biases. Or maybe Lavasoft's Adaware program — a piece of software whose sole purpose is to separate computer users from all the spyware and trojans that have secretly been installed inside their hard drives. Think about it — how anti-free speech is that?!


Heck, they could have just chosen Thinking; now there's a dangerous piece of technology for ya.


Instead of all these sensible options, the clearly delusional editorial staff at Fortune have gone out on a limb, slapped on their Napoleon hats, and tossed themselves in league with those democracy-hating alarmists at Black Box Voting. That's right, Fortune's choice for “Worst Technology of 2003” is none other than ... Paperless Voting Machines!


Check out their choice for runner up, while you're at it: Verichip, a personal implantible microchip ID system, with RF monitoring capability.


Lissen up, Fortune, it's simple: if the government doesn't know where you are at all times, then how can they be sure that you haven't fallen in with those al Qaeda no-goodniks?


I mean, do you want the terrorists to win?


Friday, December 19, 2003
 
Bad For Your Health

9/11 was scary. Damned scary.


People do a lot of strange things when they're scared — strange, illogical things. Fear, after all, is most often a reaction to uncontrollable irrationality intruding on our lives. Under those circumstances, why would anyone fall back onto rationality, when rationality has clearly failed them?


In the wake of tragedy, we survivors huddle together in our chosen groups, seeking comfort in surrounding ourselves with people who resemble us the most. We reach out to our leaders, desperately yearning to discover something — anything — epically heroic in their all-too-human visages.


Another thing we yearn to do is punish. Someone has to be punished, after all; for in punishment is the illusion of the balance of justice — and thus, of the restoration of rationality and order.


The thing of it is, the punishment falls upon those deserving of it less often than we think. More likely, it is simply meted out to those unfortunates who have the bad luck to look like the guilty ones:


The Justice Department's inspector general announced today that investigators had found hundreds of prison videotapes that were not turned over by federal prison officials during an earlier investigation and that the tapes confirm reports of serious physical and verbal abuse of immigrants detained after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that “some officers slammed and bounced detainees against the wall, twisted their arms and hands in painful ways, stepped on their leg restraint chains and punished them by keeping them restrained for long periods of time,” according to a report released today.


As nice as it is that we're finally admitting to having gone over the edge here, it offers little comfort to the hundreds of people who were rounded up in the post 9/11 chaos and held for months at a time under these dystopian conditions. Not one of them has ever been connected with terrorism; most have only been charged with mundane visa violations.


At least one person, a Pakistani national by the name of Mohammed Rafiq Butt, died while rotting in his cell. His death is the end for him, and a tragedy for his family ... but it is also a symptom of another kind of death. Attorney General John Ashcroft laid it out for us best when he declared:


“To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.”


Ashcroft's quote is both an explanation and a symptom of the death that threatens to overtake us all. For Ashcroft is unwittingly describing for us how democracies die.


Quite simply, they scare themselves to death.


 
The Hijinks Never Stop!

Note to the Minions
of Diebold:
if your going to bounce electronic memos back and forth to each other
plotting the subversion of our democracy, it's best not to leave
those memos lying around for any schmoe with web access to stumble
across.


In Diebold's case, they left an honest-to-God treasure-trove of
evidence out in the wide open spaces of the internet —
everything from incriminating
memos
, to source
code for operational software
, to actual
pre-election voter tallies
. The good people at “Black
Box Voting
” have been going to town on this stuff since it
was discovered, but the hoard is so massive that even they miss
something juicy from time to time.


According to The
Register
, a website devoted to IT issues, a reporter at the
Maryland Gazette uncovered a January 3, 2003 memo outlining a bold
plan by Diebold to short-circuit any attempt by its customers to
successfully force them to implement a paper-based voter verification
system: simply gouge
them out of it
!


There is an important point that seems to be
missed by all these articles: they already bought the system.
At this point they are just closing the barn door. Let's just hope
that as a company we are smart enough to charge out the yin if they
try to change the rules now and legislate voter receipts.”

Diebold's response to the exposed memo is that this is just the
musings of one employee, and not representative of the company. Yet,
Diebold's official response to these increasingly audible grumblings
from its customer base is to do exactly what the memo recommends!


The state of Maryland asked Diebold how much it would cost to
retrofit their voting machines with printers. Diebold's answer was
that it would cost something in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $1,200
per machine to effect such an action. This is not just for
Maryland, mind you — nor is it limited to Diebold alone; when
other states (such
as California
) brought up identical concerns, the same “hoo
boy, feller, that'll cost ya!
” argument was voiced by
Diebold rival Sequoia Voting Systems.


Golly, can this be true?


Well, here's my rule of thumb when discussing the costs of
anything tech-related: go to the nerds. And what better nerds to go
to on this than those lovable geeks over at The
Register
:


Given that printers can be found at Best Buy for as
little as $50, voters are justified in questioning what makes a
Diebold-approved printer quite so expensive.

Jeepers, they're
right
! Is there no conundrum these high-tech wizards cannot
solve?


Then again, Diebold-approved machinery may have highly specialized
requirements; can Best Buy printers pop out ballots in disappearing
ink?


Thursday, December 18, 2003
 
Score One For The Constitution

Now let's see if it holds. The civilian courts have ruled that Jose Padilla — the so-called “dirty bomber” — has to be released from military custody:


In a setback to the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the president does not have the power to detain an American citizen seized on U.S. soil as an enemy combatant.


Padilla's going to be transferred to civilian control, while the Feds will try to decide how much of an actual case they have against him. It doesn't change the fact that he's an American civilian who's been locked up in Presidentially mandated, military-brig limbo for the past 18 months.


But at least now we know that there are still a few judges left in the country who stayed awake during their first-year ConLaw 101 lectures.


Then again, the eggheads at FOX are trying to tell us that Padilla still has “valuable intelligence” locked up in his pointy little head, and should be locked away until we've squeezed every last drop of al Qaeda ju-ju out of him. I suppose this means that the Administration is going to put up quite a fight over the guy.


 
Diebold Takes Another Hit
“The core of our American democracy is the right to vote. Implicit in that right is the notion that that vote be private, that vote be secure, and that vote be counted as it was intended when it was cast by the voter. And I think what we're encountering is a pivotal moment in our democracy where all of that is being called into question.”


• Kevin Shelley, California Secretary of State


You might infer from the above statement that Mr. Shelley is unhappy with the results of the recently completed audit of Diebold voting machines operating in his state — and you would be right. The state of California is deeply repulsed by the can of worms it has just opened up:


An audit of Diebold Election Systems voting machines in California has revealed that the company installed uncertified software in all 17 counties that use its electronic voting equipment.


While 14 counties used software that had been qualified by federal authorities but not certified by state authorities, three counties, including Los Angeles, used software that had never been certified by the state or qualified by federal authorities for use in any election.


The report was delivered to the state's Voting Systems Panel, as well as Kevin Shelley, who had made the “unprecedented” move of attending the meeting personally.


To its credit, Diebold now admits that it did a bad, bad thing. Still, the information revealed by the report was so ugly, Shelley actually brought up the possibility of decertifying all of the affected Diebold machines. See for yourself why:


The audit uncovered discrepancies between what Diebold said was installed in counties and what auditors actually found.


At least five counties were using versions of software or firmware that were different from what Diebold indicated they were using.


All counties were using uncertified software, but the most serious issues related to the tabulation software known as GEMS, or global election management system. GEMS sits on a server in each county election office, counting the votes and producing summary reports of totals.


It always comes back to the GEMS. Truly, that's the software everybody loathes and fears. Well, that makes sense; why worry about rooking things one vote at a time, when you can mess with the entire tabulation?


And, after all, what can you expect for a piece of software that was written by someone who has a record of producing crooked code?


The programmer, Jeffrey Dean, wrote and maintained proprietary code used to count hundreds of thousands of votes as senior vice president of Global Election Systems, or GES. Diebold purchased GES in January 2002.


According to a public court document released before GES hired him, Dean served time in a Washington state correctional facility for stealing money and tampering with computer files in a scheme that "involved a high degree of sophistication and planning.”


Oh, and for the record: according to people who've gained access to the code, the software in question always keeps three separate sets of booksand not for fact-checking purposes, either. We just thought it might interest you to know that.


 
Paying Paul

Is there some kind of Panic Button on Schwarzenegger's desk?
Y'know, one that he can just give a good whack, and automagically fix
the state of California's budget travails? Because it sure looks like
that's
what he's trying to do right now
.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to declare a
financial emergency and bypass the Legislature to provide millions of
dollars due cities and counties, administration sources said.


To make up for $4 billion lost when he cut the
unpopular car tax, the governor will make a $40 million payment to
local governments to keep them from closing facilities and laying off
police officers and fire fighters, aides said Wednesday, speaking on
condition of anonymity.

Well, then: problem solved! Thanks to Governator Granitehead and
his Big Red Button, Californians no longer have to worry their pretty
little heads over whether or not their entitlements are in sync with
any kind of budgetary reality. Just keep whompin' on that thing every
couple of weeks or so, Arnold, and that $14+ billion or so in red ink
will disappear in no time!


Oh, wait. It turns out that the Big Red Button doesn't make any money
— it just authorizes Schwarzenegger to yank
money out of other programs
in order to make the grade. In this
case, it's state-level public health and welfare programs he's
denuding in favor of the cities.


Much has been said about that car tax, and how
it was “tripled”
under the sinister regime of
arch-villain Grey Davis. What is rarely mentioned, however, was that
prior to the hike, California's vehicle registration fee was
one-third
what it was in 1998
. In other words, Davis merely restored the
tax to its earlier levels.


Without that tax, the state has no way to pay out the aid it owes
to local governments, and those governments will be faced with some
draconian choices to fill the gap.


Schwarzenegger told them that he had some unspecified plans in the
works to make sure these municipalities got their funding. When
pressed, Arnie
would hem and haw
, and then spout out some right-wing political
sop about “cutting
government waste
” ... or “auditing
... or something.


Does anybody still actually believe 80's-vintage crapola like
that? If so, why?!


Well, the City Slickers don't. The governments of Los Angeles, San
Diego, and Orange Counties are among a slew of municipalities that
have decided to sue
their own state
over their projected revenue losses. It's not
as if they have any choice in the matter; collectively, they're out
something in the neighborhood of $350 million a month under
current economic realities as they stand. That's
a whole lotta cops and firetrucks, citizens
.


More conservative regions of the state — like
Fresno, for instance
— took the Governor at his word.
They're spitting mad now, and demanding that Schwarzenegger wave that
magic wand that he promised them he had:


He said, 'Don't worry about it. I'll take care
of that.' I trusted what he said.”

• Bob Waterston, Fresno County Supervisor

So far, California's response to its budgetary
Armageddon
is to pretend
that it had the money all along
. On top of Schwarzenegger's
“emergency” $40 million infusion, the state's most
serious plan is to float
a multi-billion dollar bond
to cover the whole thing.


In other words, since Californians can't run a deficit, they're
going to take out a mortgage on the money they need to come up with
this year, and make their descendants pay it off over the next
generation or so.


No word yet on what the battle plan is for the years to follow;
Californians would just rather not talk about boring stuff like that.


Wednesday, December 17, 2003
 
Is This Some Kind Of *%@#$ Joke?!

The official White House website has a page titled “Facts About the New Iraqi Healthcare System,” outlining a visit between President Bush and Dr. Khudair Abbas, the Iraqi Interim Minister of Health. In it, Dr. Abbas describes his country's postwar progress in the restoration of its national healthcare system to a level fit for all Iraqis.


Please don't tell me we liberated that country just so those poor people wouldn't be able to have any choice in their health care providers! What happened ... did the HMO's not give enough money to Bush's re-election fund?


At any rate, visiters to the website should be happy to note that the 2004 Iraqi health care budget has been slated for $950 million. That's a dramatic increase over the ridiculously pitiful $16 million Hussein made available to the ministry in 2002 — but $950 million more than the US government sets aside for its national healthcare system.


 
No Academy Awards For You, George

Yeah ... it did feel a little extra
cold
around here the other day. Sure enough, here's why: Dear
Leader held a press conference
, for once.


And such questions! Can you believe the cheek of this guy?


REPORTER: “I know you said there'd be a time for
politics, but you also said you wanted to 'change the tone' of
Washington. Howard Dean recently seemed to muse aloud whether you had
advance knowledge of 9/11. Do you agree or disagree with the RNC that
this kind of rhetoric borders on political 'hate speech?'”

DUBYA: “Yeah. Uh, there's a time for politics, and
uh ... y'know ... there's a time for politics, and, uh ... I, uh ...
It's an absurd insinuation.”

Let's see now. Some reporter deftly lobs Bush a softball question
regarding his opinion of that hate-filled
nutball
Howard
Dean
, and he still manages to bobble it into incoherence? What
happened, George — did the 9/11 reference throw you off your
game?


The above version, by the way, is as it is transcribed directly
from the video (hence all the “uhhs”). The White House
Transcript (see above) has a significantly cleaned-up version of this
exchange. Even so, the direct-to-video version still doesn't give
justice to the long pauses and shifting body language evident in
Dubya's response to the question.


See
for yourself
: the man is just plain dissembling.


What's remarkable is that the same people who are trying to
convince us that only sweaty conspiracy theorists believe the Bush
Administration had foreknowledge of 9/11 are desperately trying
to string out any link
between Saddam
Hussein
and the same event.


This is not to dismiss the allegations of Iraqi complicity out of
hand; there actually is
more evidence
of Iraqi
involvement
and/or foreknowledge
at some level than most opponents of the Bush Administration
would care to admit. However, this does not eliminate the fact that
anyone wishing
to construct
a circumstantial
case proving
that “Bush
Knew
” has much, much more to go on than anyone in the
Saddam Did
It
” crowd.


 
VIP: “Very Important Prisoner”

Folks down there on the Australian side of the planet are taking
note that Saddam
Hussein
will likely be afforded
stronger human rights protections
by the US government than that which is
being granted to David
Hicks
, Down
Under's
best-known Guantanamo inmate:


A senior law lecturer at the University of Western Sydney,
Steven Freeland, said the US may decide it is hamstrung by the Geneva
conventions. Under those rules, interrogators may not use “physical
or mental torture nor any other form of coercion.” If Saddam
refuses to answer, he may not be “threatened, insulted, or
exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment.” This
does not apply to the category given Mr Hicks — enemy combatant
— which the US says stands outside international law.


The Australians might get a little cheesed off by all this. If you
remember, they were the among the first (but
not only
) ones to make vivid
accusations
of human
rights abuses
going on at the Gitmo facility.


 
Just You Wait, Osama ...

In the wake of the capture of Saddam, some yahoo in the White
House Press Room had the audacity to ask Scott McClellan about
whether or not Mr. bin Laden was going meet a similar fate any time
soon. McClellan's answer was a
deeply qualified “probably:”


... we are continuing to pursue other leaders
within that al Qaeda terrorist network, including Osama bin Laden.
I think he can fully expect that he will be brought to justice by
this administration.”

No worries, Scott. This Administration will surely do all it can
to cast our Evil Nemesis into the scalding irons he so richly
deserves. And they'll get him, too ... in due time.


According to our best astrological charts on the subject, it looks
as if he'll reappear on our radars in one way or another ... ohhh ...
by late summer next year or so. Any later than that, after all, and
King Dubya won't be able to include Osama's public defenestration for
his family's quadrannual
nomination pageant
.


There
are schedules to maintain, after all
.


 
Bull Vows To Pay Back China Shop

The US military is making it's first real admission that its troops may be getting a little overzealous in their pursuit of insurgents up and down the busy streets of Samarra:


The US military says it's willing to repay Iraqis for some of the damage its raids may have caused in a historic town.


Homes, cars and other property in Samarra bear the marks of the large anti-insurgent mission. Some residents say innocent bystanders were killed.While looking for attackers, US soldiers sometimes blew open doors and shattered windows with explosives.The town is considered a hotbed of activity for anti-American attackers and that's why the US swept in with armored vehicles. One colonel with the Fourth Infantry Division says the US raids clearly inconvenienced a number of people and that the division will try to repair the damage. He says military officials will investigate — and in some cases, pay for damage.


Samarra, of course, was the site of that extremely controversial confrontation between the US military and insurgents a couple of weeks ago.


As recently as this past Monday, Samarra was the scene of another running firefight between elements of the US 2nd Infantry Division and more insurgents. According to the reports, the Iraqis cobbled together an impressively MacGyver-esque operation involving the use of "http://canada.com/national/story.asp?id=8CE4D877-2BE3-49CD-93CE-7B6EACD48E70">motorcycle-riding gunmen, signal pidgeons, and the usual assortment of roadside explosives, AK-47's rocket grenades, and mortars. Our military claims to have offed 11 of 'em in this latest affair, while suffering no casualties of its own — but we know how reliable these Samarra reports have been of late, don't we?


In the meantime, its back to the tried-and-true policy of kicking in doors and knocking up heads today in Samarra. But at least the locals can rest easy knowing that it's all bought and paid for.


Monday, December 15, 2003
 
Precious Bodily Fluids

“If I drink water I will have to go to the bathroom and how can I use the bathroom when my people are in bondage?”


Saddam Hussein, as quoted by his captors


Thank you, Saddam. That was very ... informative. Now go sit back down over there with the orderly and eat your cookie; we doctors need to have an important discussion.



“He's got away from us, Jack.”


Well, it looks as if the Butcher of Baghdad has already booked his reservations into the magical sideshow world of nubby bathrobes, Napoleon hats, and four o'clock pill times. Indeed, his American captors are actually surprised by how “inexplicably disoriented” the man is acting.


That — and the fact that he didn't have any communications equipment with him when he was pulled out of his dank little hidey-hole — should further dampen any theories that he had much of a dictatorial role in the ongoing resistance effort.


The initial debriefings aren't going all that well, either — that is, if you're still part of that dwindling crowd of people who holds on to the belief that those apocryphal Saddamite WMD's are still lying about somewhere in the Iraqi desert:


Saddam was also asked whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “No, of course not,” he replied, according to the official, “the U.S. dreamed them up itself to have a reason to go to war with us.” The interrogator continued along this line, said the official, asking: “if you had no weapons of mass destruction then why not let the U.N. inspectors into your facilities?” Saddam's reply: “We didn't want them to go into the presidential areas and intrude on our privacy.”

But don't give up hope just yet! The US government isn't; they have a contingency plan for just this occasion:


U.S. intelligence officials have learned through the interrogations of top al Qaeda terrorists, in particular, to expect months to pass before they can begin breaking down Hussein through psychological and physical stress, U.S. intelligence officials and experts said.


Yes, but how is this interrogation scheme supposed to work against someone who is already bonkers? How do you get a cogent — let alone coherent — answer out of a mind like that? Are we going to have to send Saddam to a therapist first, and then submit him to our vaunted psychological and physical stress techniques?


For that matter, what if all these guys we've got in custody aren't cracking on the WMD issue because they've got nothing to crack over? How well can these things be hidden, that nine months of unfettered access to every square inch of the countryside hasn't yielded a single clue as to their whereabouts?


Sunday, December 14, 2003
 
Boyfriending 101

Hey, all you men out there! Here's an amusing little Sunday puzzler!


Read along with the following instructive story. Can you figure out where this guy went wrong? Bet you can!


On Thursday, Gregory Allen Knoll told Bayport officer Jay Jackson that he and [his girlfriend, Angel Starr] Kaster had been at a bar Tuesday night. They returned to his home on Sixth Street around 9 p.m.


He told police that Kaster “snapped” after Kaster allegedly said she wanted to lose 10 pounds. Knoll replied that she should lose 20 pounds.


Can you guess what happened then?


She came at him with four kitchen knives ...


Well, after the slashfest, she did feel a little poorly about what she had done. As a dutiful citizen, she eventually called for help:


Kaster dialed 911 about 12:20 a.m. Wednesday to report that her boyfriend was bleeding, the complaint said. When the dispatcher asked if anyone was injured, Kaster said, “I'll kill you!” and called the dispatcher names.


Insensitive clod! Bet he made a crack about her weight, too.


But worry not, guys. This is not a story of savage, misandristic butchery, but rather one of soft, fuzzy redemption. Just look at how it all resolves itself so beautifully in the end ... kinda romantical, even:


When officers arrived, they found the couple naked. There was a pool of blood on the floor.


Kaster and Knoll were telling one another they loved each other while officers looked around for the weapons. Jackson saw a bloody knife on a coffee table and two others on the kitchen counter — one was bloody and one bent. Police found a fourth knife on the kitchen floor.


Boy, when he gets out of the hospital ... and she gets out of detox ... these two crazy kids are gonna have a lot of catching up to do! Let's all just keep a safe distance until they're done.


 
Guess I'll Go Eat Worms

In recent years, the medical establishment has been trying to warn us overmedicated Westerners against the dangers of antibiotic abuse. The corrolary to that being, of course, that their are actually some germs that are good for you — or at least better for you to have around than not.


Well, now it turns out that other so-called “parasites” may not be so bad for us, as well. Consider, of all things, intestinal worms.


No, really ... stop looking away, dammit! This is important. Consider the worms, coward!






“I only want to help!”







Are these (blech!!) creatures really such repellant freeloaders after all, or actually helpful symbiotes? Legitimate researchers want to know:


Before gut worms were eradicated in the West 50 or so years ago allergies — caused by the overreaction of the immune system — were virtually unheard of, now in the UK one third of us suffers from some sort of allergy.


So scientists are looking to see if there's a connection between gut worms and allergies, they are wondering if gut worms can somehow damp down the immune system to make it easier for them to live in the intestine without coming under attack.


He [Dr. Joel Weinstock, gastroenterologist and ace worm researcher] said: “Worms require humans to survive. In essence the worms are part of us and it's possible that we've become interdependent and removing worms has resulted in an imbalance to our immune systems.”


The basis of this is what is known as the “hygiene hypothesis” — the notion that it is the hyper-sterility of our modern lifestyles that are the cause of our allergies. In effect, the human body is wired for coexistence with parasitical organisms, and eliminating them from our personal ecosystems is much more damaging than it's worth.


Having grown up in a considerably non-sterile demesne out in farm country, and being largely allergy-free myself, I can see the logic of this hypothesis. Ironically, my one known allergy is to a class of antibiotics.


Predictably, it's those Iowans that are all over this. And they do seem to be on to something:


Recently, researchers at the University of Iowa gave a drink containing the eggs of helminths, a parasitic worm, to six people suffering from acute, chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Five went into remission, and the sixth improved substantially.


None got sick from the worms; all relapsed after the worms left their system. (For safety, the researchers used worms that normally live in pigs' intestines and were unable to reproduce and persist in their human hosts.) “Every one of those patients is begging to be re-treated,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Joel Weinstock.


Of course, since pig worms are considerably harder to patent than chemicals, don't expect the HMO/PharmCo power axis to point these therapies out to us any time soon.


 
Trumped: The Ace Of Spades

Well, we got him — and unlike other stories that have come out of Iraq since the invasion, this one has a sort of undefinable sense of legitimacy about it. It's either Saddam Hussein we nabbed in that cubby hole, or a close enough match that, as far as we're concerned, it might as well be.


The press conference was interesting. After a few minutes of dry commentary from the Americans (Bremer and company), the military presented a slide show of Hussein, taken immediately after his capture.


The first slide was a close-up of the man himself, looking like some scraggly-bearded, nap-headed street loony (apparently, we had rousted him out of bed), and being administered with a post-capture head lice examination. When that picture appeared, the Iraqis in the room exploded with emotion. They howled, shrieked, and shouted at the screen in Arabic. Some stood up and gestured their hands in manic anger at the image, as if Hussein himself were actually in the room.





From the streets of Tikrit to your TV screens, America: the Madman of Mesopotamia!





While this is clearly an important symbolic victory for US forces in the region, his capture may have little, if any, overt strategic value. Despite what the Bush Administration would like us to believe, Hussein's role in the postwar resistance movement is, at best, unclear.


The symbolic boost is likely to be tremendous, however — and in a guerrilla war, acquiring the psychological high ground is at least as important as the boots-and-rifles campaign. The question is: does the Administration possess the skills to exploit this properly?


Sure, it looks like a no-brainer; but you never can tell with these guys.



Saturday, December 13, 2003
 
Boot Licking Time Again
“He had a moral obligation to put that plane in the water in an emergency landing. He violated the primary rule for a captain of a multi-crew aircraft: The pilot never leaves the airplane with anybody in it.”


Robert Flood, former B-17 bombardier


In case you missed it the first time, CNN is rerunning the Bush family Infomercial it produced earlier this fall. You remember: it's the one that portrays Poppy as the heroic WWII flyboy bailing out in flames over the Pacific Ocean. It'll be on at least three different times tonight: 7pm, 10pm, and 5am (all times Central).


If you do watch it, play close attention to this brief exchange:


ZAHN: While many on his mission believe he did the right thing, a veteran from Bush's squadron named Chester Mierzejewski challenged him in 1988 when Bush was running for president.


CHESTER MIERZEJEWSKI, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: He was the only one that bailed out of the plane, number one. That's one of the versions. And the other version is that — the plane being on fire. I seen no fire at all on the plane. After he bailed out, the plane just went over, hit the water and sank, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


ZAHN: Bush today says Mierzejewski's charges were politically motivated.


BUSH: It was political, but it was painful. As I remember it, the guy was flying gunner for the man that gave me the Distinguished Flying Cross for what — the way I conducted myself.


Y'see, Mierzejewski's allegations are politically motivated because George Bush says they are. It's funny how these Bush-haters work; a Bush family member (or crony) finds himself caught up in the middle of a repulsive act of social or economic depravity, and some lowbrow, “politically motivated” Bush-hater just happens to be lurking around a dusky corner nearby, ready to raise a stink about it.


Look deep into my eyes, George; there's a small, salty tear trickling down my cheek for ya.


Regarding Bush's Avenger escapade, he and Mierzejewsky appear to be the only living witnesses to the event. Thus, it's Mierzejewsky's word against Bush's. Arguably, though, Mierzejewsky should be considered the primary witness; no one else could have had a better view of the future President's aircraft than he did:


According to the U.S. Veterans Dispatch web site, a man named Chester Mierzejewski, who was approximately 100 feet in front of Bush's plane when Bush parachuted out of it — “so close he could see in the cockpit” of Bush's bomber — claimed that the future president could have avoided losing his crew members crash-landing the plane in the water, rather than parachuting out of it as it began to burn over the Pacific Ocean.

Mierzejewski (who, like Bush, is also a winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross) was the turret gunner on the Avenger immediately in front of Bush's plane. As such, he was not merely in front of it, but facing it at all times (riding backwards, as it were). In other words, he was forced to be a witness to the entire event. That his eyewitness account is dismissed so out of hand smacks more of political motivations than the allegations themselves.


In the heat of combat, a lot of things can happen. Furthermore, eyewitness testimony can be a tricky thing to nail down — especially when the reminiscences are a half-century old. Chester Mierzejewsky may have blinked and missed something crucial going on in Bush's plane, or Bush may have panicked and bailed out without cause.


The point is, Bush's story is hardly the cut-and-dried case of personal heroism that CNN is spinning it to be. Is it too much to ask them — as a news outlet, mind you — to look a little bit more objectively at this?


 
The Horror, Maaaan. The Horror!

The Kingdom of Denmark got a little less groovy the other day when the Danish government announced that Copenhagen's hippie ghetto of “Christiania” is to be ethnically cleansed:


For more than three decades the self-styled “city state” has served as a Mecca for left-wing radicals from across Europe. But according to the government its strange blend of hippie values and anarchic rule, permitting the use and sale of soft drugs, is providing cover for Copenhagen's criminal underworld.


...


“Christiania is illegal, and after years of tolerance we are finally taking action to eradicate crime in the area and to enforce the laws of our land,” said Ulrik Kragh, a Liberal party MP responsible for the government's policy.


The government is less concerned about the open air hash-dealing than it is about the fact that the land the hippies are “borrowing” from them happens to be some mega-primo downtown development space. After clearing out the enclave (and setting them up in some temporary gigs), the government plans on enacting a blowtorch/fumigation regime to the place, after which they will redevelop it as luxury housing for affluent ex-hippies.


The current crop of hippies are, predictably, pretty bummed about all of this, and have displayed their will to power through the use of ineffectual public protest marches and a web petition. That'll show them fascist bastards!


No word on whether giant puppets or body painting was involved, but that would be a pretty safe bet, don't you think?


And yet, the Danish government remains unmoved. Ah, well ... it's not as if refugee camp life is going to be any kind of letdown for these people, anyway.


Friday, December 12, 2003
 
Comcast Is Sloooooow Tonight

Seriously, it's really clunking — and getting clunkier by the hour. It just took me over a minute and a half to load up the Boston Herald web site.


It's hard to do any web surfing at all when your broadband slows you down to below dial-up speeds. Looks like I'll have to settle for just the Paul Simon post for now.


By the way, it looks like I have that flu that everybody's been freaking out about. I got it from my nieces, one of whom picked it up in her kindergarten. They were miserable (but getting much better now); but so far it's been a real piker in me.


Just take care of yourself, get lots of rest, and most of you will do just fine.


 
“... And With My Dying Breath ...”

This is interesting. Former Illinois Senator Paul Simon's last public act before dying was to endorse Howard Dean for President.


He [Simon] was scheduled Thursday to announce his support for Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean but suffered shortness of breath and ended up in Springfield's St. John's Hospital, he said.


He continued with the announcement anyway, he said, speaking to reporters from Iowa, site of next month's presidential caucuses, from his hospital bed.


Ah! Fine fodder for all you sweaty basement dwellers of the internet! No doubt we can expect the late Senator to be shortly added to that well-worn web chestnut, the Clinton Body Count.


'Cause, y'know, the Clintonistas hate all things Dean. And since the Hill & Bill gang are all a bunch of bloodthirsty, scum-sucking hillbillies, and their Clark gambit is starting to fall flat, they're ... they wanna ... oh, Hell. You can figure it out from here. It's all pretty cut-and-dried; and besides, all this jaw-clenching is giving me a headache.


Honestly, I don't know how you people can live like this. The pain must be excruciating.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003
 
Red, White, And Blue Dawn

It's a staple in practically every insurgent-as-hero war movie (“Red Dawn,” “The North Star,” etc.). There is always that moment in the film when one particularly cruel officer from the occupying power turns to some random peon (or captive) and declares:


“You have to understand the [insert occupied nationality here] mind. The only thing they understand is force — force, pride, and saving face.”

Well, insert the word “Arab” into that sentence, and you have the exact words of Captain Todd Brown, speaking to us (naturally) from our sullen little satrapy of Iraq. So it's come to this: our officers have been reduced to character actors from B-grade World War II films.


Captain Brown was commenting on the recent crackdown going on against some exceptionally troublesome cities in the Sunni Triangle (by the way, when isn't there a crackdown in progress?). Taking its cues directly from tactics used by the hard-line Israeli government, the American military has launched a dubious policy of wrapping entire towns in razer wire, and requiring anyone within to pass through humiliating checkpoints in order to get in and out of them.


This isn't the only tactic we're borrowing from the Israelis. For months now, we've been bulldozing orchards in the region in retaliation for the grenade attacks which are apparently being launched from them. When that hasn't worked, we've responded by demolishing entire houses of people accused of aiding the resistance.


How is this going over with the locals? Well, here's a little vignette which is disturbingly enlightening in that regard. It's from a story describing a recent visit to Iraq by a dissident American mother, who was attempting to see her soldier-daughter. The Army, of course, wouldn't let her in; while they were engaged in a rigorous debate over this issue, the following happened:


When a group of U.S.-trained Iraqi policemen showed up, American soldiers loaded their weapons.


“The Americans asked us to come here to stop the demonstration,” said Iraqi policeman Mohanan Taha.


Asked if protests were illegal in the new Iraq, he told reporters: “There are no human rights under the Americans. Nothing. It is all empty talk.”


“We miss the days of Saddam,” said Iraqi policeman Mohammed Shawki.


Criminy. If this is the way the people who are supposed to be on our side are talking, I'd hate to hear what the folks on the bubble are saying right about now.


 
Wacky Joe, The Borscht Belt Senator

Lieberman managed to make a funny out of his recent snub at the hands of Al Gore. Well, funny in a Lieberman way:


Lieberman was asked to respond to a recent statement in which he showered Gore with compliments and suggested offering the former vice president a “high office” in his administration.


“I’d say that’s less likely this morning,” Lieberman said, laughing.


Like I said, funny for Lieberman.


But, really, Joe: it's not like Al was banking on that cushy job you were promising. I can't believe I have to be the one to tell you this, but here goes:


There is in fact something far more unlikely than you appointing Al Gore to a position in a Lieberman Administration cabinet.


... And that would be a Lieberman Administration.


[rimshot]

 
Gore And Dean, Sittin' In A Tree ...

According to the Los Angeles Times, Gore's decision to endorse Dean wasn't just a political one. The two have apparently become good buddies in the past year or so:


For more than a year, the former Vermont governor had been calling Gore frequently to seek his advice on policy. They became friends. But neither Dean nor his campaign expected an endorsement so soon.


They knew each other through Democratic circles — and Dean once considered challenging him for president. But their relationship began in earnest in September 2002, when the little-known upstart candidate contacted Gore to compliment him on a speech in which he lambasted the Bush administration's push for war in Iraq, Dean aides said.


Gore's speech was a powerful one, if only for the fact that few other Democrats had the cojones to make the points he was hammering on at the time — points we now know should have been hammered home. Hard. Here's a particularly accusatory paragraph in Gore's speech:


Far more damaging is the administration's attack on fundamental constitutional rights that we ought to have and do have as American citizens. The very idea that an American citizen can be imprisoned without recourse to judicial process or remedies, and that this can be done on the sole say-so of the president of the United States or those acting in his name, is beyond the pale and un-American and it ought to be stopped.

Gore was panned across the country as a ranting, black helicopter dissembler for that speech. A few of us knew that what he said was true then; even more of us know it today. Give Dubya a couple of more years on the throne, and Gore's fringe paranoia of 2002 will become the conventional wisdom of 2006.


To his credit, Dean was one of those Democrats who knew Gore was right. For the record, Senator Wellstone [sob] was one of them, too. Remember, also, that Gore was still considered a possible candidate for President at the time — meaning that he still had a lot to lose by taking the positions that he did.


Now let's shift gears a little, and consider the interesting timing of Dean and Gore's year-long relationship for a second. Dean contacts Gore in September 2002. The two hit it off right away, with Gore regularly offering Dean wonky advice, particularly on foreign affairs (where Dean is considered to be weakest).


Just a few months later, in December 2002, Gore decides not to run. Did his burgeoning relationship with Dean weigh in on this decision?


 
Stupid Army Tricks

Remember Captain James (Yousef) Yee, the Army Chaplain who
underwent the media transmogrification this fall from Alger
Hiss
to Larry
Flynt
? Well, the Army had to abruptly put
its case against him on hold
yesterday.


The jury's out until January 19. That's Martin
Luther King Day
to us civilians, by the way; the Army is nothing
if not a collective Maestro of Irony.


It turns out that the supersecret spy stuff that Captain Yee was
carrying with him on the day that he was rounded up wasn't all that
secret, after all. According to testimony at his trial, of the items
found — a
list of detainees and their translators, some pocket notebooks, and a
“document” mentioning Syria
— none were marked
“secret” or “classified.”


As a matter of fact, the spurious “document” turns out to be a graduate paper Yee
was writing on international relations. Looks like he's got a few
more pages he can add to his thesis, eh?


In light of these new developments, Yee's lawyers have decided to
embark on the ambitious but little-used “what
the ... are you people actually this stupid?
” defense:


Yee's attorneys said they were baffled as to why the
military had launched a hearing without first determining whether
the most important evidence could be admitted
. And they wondered
how Yee could have been held for 76 days in the South Carolina brig
for mishandling classified documents when military officials had not
reviewed the papers to find out if they contained information that
could compromise security if released.


We need Joseph Heller,” said Fidell,
referring to the author of Catch-22, the 1961 novel whose
protagonist becomes entangled in a web of military absurdities.

Meanwhile, there's no word on how the porn charges are panning
out, but the Army is barreling full steam ahead with its adultery
case. They've even brought the woman forward to testify: she's Naval
Lieutenant Karyn Wallace, and she has some
hothothot immunized testimony
to declare before the court. Cue
the porn groove, Mr. Flynt:


Was it sexual?” asked Col. Dan Trimble,
the presiding officer.


Yes, sir,” she replied.

What does it mean to have a sexual
relationship?” Colonel Trimble asked.


We had sex together,” she said,
estimating having done so about 20 times at his quarters and hers.
She said she knew he was married because he told her.

Oh, Captain Yee, a sailor? Didn't you watch the boot camp
hygiene films? You know these people never respect you in the
morning.


But the Army doesn't just have the testimony of our Madame X on
which to base their case. They got a mash note — and pictures,
too! All of the photos submitted show Yee and Wallace together, and
... get this ... he
has his arms around her
!


Jeez, who are these guys, the
Taliban
?


Tuesday, December 09, 2003
 
Ángeles En América

No, this is not a post about the popular 90's-era play cum HBO movie event. These angels are for Hispanic America, and they're of a decidedly more paranoid sort than your standard-issue trooper of the Heavenly Host.


The Department of Homeland Security is concerned that our Hispanic population is not as ready for the next bioterror attack as the rest of us. To this end, they have commissioned a series of ads warning them of the Impending Doom to come.


Since this is an Hispanic audience, our government has of course decided on a Catholic theme with which to deliver its message:


The campaign's spokesman is a guardian angel who recites popular Hispanic sayings to caution against apathy.


The grandfather-like angel has white wings. In print ads, he also wears a lilac guayabera, a shirt popular among Cubans.


...


One public-service television commercial shows an elderly guardian angel and a younger female angel at night standing on a hill top overlooking city lights.


“They're not prepared; they can't see the danger,” the older guardian angel says to the young one, who responds with a popular Hispanic saying: Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente or “Eyes that don't see; heart that can't feel anything.”


The older guardian angel responds with a caution about being too complacent: “Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente” or “The shrimp that falls asleep, the current drags away.”


Well, I'm unconvinced — but then again, maybe my stone-cold, Anglo-Saxon heart is just too unsentimental to be swayed by dreamy visuals and Spanish platitudes.


Or maybe it's just that this is yet another example of the kind of lead zeppelins that Homeland Security periodically spends our money on, in lieu of actually ... y'know ... securing the homeland.


Monday, December 08, 2003
 
Speaking Of FUBAR ...

My e-mail is messed up in some way. I have been receiving messages, but anything I send out just ... disappears. No error message ... no nothin'. I think it's been like this for at least a week.


I've been trying to fix it on my end, but with no luck so far. Some recent advice I've received has led me to believe that the problem is over on the server side.


So, yeah. Once again, that's gonna mean dealing with Comcast.


 
President Bluenose

John Kerry said a bad word. The President heard about it, and now the Senator from Massachusetts is in deep Dutch with the White House. Quoth Kerry:


“When I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, 'I'm against everything?' Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did.”

Of course, Senator Kerry is right. The situation in Iraq is demonstrably FUBAR; if Kerry wished to, he could cite a new example of it every day — and throw in a weekly Afghanistan reference for good measure.


Despite all the monicle-popping and protestations, it clearly cannot be the salty language that is so objectionable to the White House. Dubya used the exact same word in a discussion about Iraq, way back in March of 2002. In fact, the good-ol' “F-word” is just one small corner of the vast universe of sailor-speak our President is inclined to regress into whenever the unscripted muse passes over him.


So, really, it's the dissent the White House can't stand. Is anybody really surprised? For that matter, does Andy Card honestly expect Kerry to issue an apology over it — or for anybody to really care if he doesn't?


Personally, I do believe that Kerry is being just a bit disingenuous in claiming that no-one saw this war coming. Maybe he didn't see it coming, but a good chunk of the country sure did. Hell, Bush & Co. telegraphed the whole adventure for us like a drunk biker's right hook. If you didn't see it coming, it was only because you were at least as drunk as he was.


People have got to stop treating this guy like a normal President with normal Presidential aspirations. If this Administration has proven one thing so far, it's that anybody — friend or foe — who operates under those assumptions ends up ... well ...


Fucked.


Friday, December 05, 2003
 
... And The 2003 “Libbie” Goes To ...

It's still a little premature yet, but if early returns are any
indication, Robert Novak looks to be a shoo-in as this year's winner
of the Liberal Media's coveted “Most Valuable Player”
award.





Agents of venality & corruption everywhere, beware! Crusading reporter Robert Novak is on the case!



Earlier this summer, Novak ripped the Bush Administration a new
one with his crusading expose of the
outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame
by unnamed White House
officials. While he ultimately proved himself too retiring
to follow the story further
, Novak had the good sense to unload
enough ammunition in his initial article to provide other reporters
with weeks of material, allowing the so-called “Plame
Affair
” to heat up into an actual mini-scandal as late
summer drifted languidly into early fall.


The Bushies were, at least momentarily, greatly
put out
by all the media bruhaha and hullabaloo — who knew
evidence of a highly-placed public official putting national security
at risk
while commiting a felony could be such big news? While Novak
himself would be loath to admit it (out of modesty, obviously), the
whole thing can be traced to him.


At this point in the narrative, your average crusading reporter
would be back at the tavern, throwing back highballs with his fifth
column fellow travelers and retelling the same increasingly
embellished gin-soaked yarn of how he went mano-a-mano against the
agents of high corruption and won. Hell, I would.


But I'm no Novak! Other reporters may have laurels to rest on, but
Bob's got bigger fish to fry. Why, only last week, he busted out a
new one for his column; in a startling development, Novak regaled us
with his jaw-droppingly
blunt
account of an
actual bribe attempt right on the floor of the US House of
Representatives
:


Media reports have alleged that an undisclosed
Republican told Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., that if he voted for the
bill, business interests would contribute $100,000
to help his
son, Brad, succeed him. Smith is not seeking re-election in 2004. His
son is one of several Republican candidates running for the seat.

Oh, sure ... at $100,000, it's not like we're talkin' real
money here. And, true ... since the principals involved were all
Republicans, I guess we're not supposed to care about it. But,
it's ... it's ... the principle of the thing, dammit. Novak gets it,
and even if he's too shy to run with the story, he knows someone will
take it up for him. And no matter what, those of us who keep score
will know it was really Bob
Novak, Ace Reporter
, who put the whole story in motion.


Imagine what he could achieve if he weren't such a creepy,
frothing, die-hard reactionary.


Thursday, December 04, 2003
 
Yikes!

Via fellow weblogger Orcinus, we learn of an advanced and extremely deadly terrorist plot, which may — or may not — have been foiled:


Three people linked to white supremacist and anti-government groups are in custody. At least one weapon of mass destruction - a sodium cyanide bomb capable of delivering a deadly gas cloud - has been seized in the Tyler area.


Investigators have seized at least 100 other bombs, bomb components, machine guns, 500,000 rounds of ammunition and chemical agents. But the government also found some chilling personal documents indicating that unknown co-conspirators may still be free to carry out what appeared to be an advanced plot. And, authorities familiar with the case say more potentially deadly cyanide bombs may be in circulation.


Y'know, if the “Loony Left” is such a threat to social stability, why is it that it's always the “Loony Right” that seems to be plotting all the nihilistically destructive mayhem in this country?


 
An Old Point, Yet Worth Repeating

The editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle is upset with the situation at Guantanamo, and the implications it has for the future of our civil liberties. No big surprise, of course; after all, we're talking about San Franciscans here — and the Chronicle is just preaching to the choir. But it does allow me to hit on this point:


... Brooklyn-born Jose Padilla, nabbed in Chicago as a suspect in a dirty-bomb plot and isolated without legal rights in a military lockup.

Now, Padilla's been on ice for well over a year now, so this is indeed becoming a rather hoary old point. But ... how the Hell is this even remotely legal?!


Let's recap here. Padilla is a natural-born American citizen. He was rounded up by US agents in Chicago, on American soil. Since then, he has been held in a brig somewhere, without charges, under vague accusations of being part of some unspecified “dirty bomb” plot.


In short, we're told to accept the fact that Padilla is an Enemy of the State simply because our President has signed a directive declaring him to be so. Astonishingly, the government believes that this should be good enough; that we should just accept this, and move on as a nation.


Padilla may indeed be a bad, bad man — but he is still an American. Under any realistic and honest interpretation of our rights as Americans under the US Constitution, he is entitled to some form of due process. The fact that our government is fighting against this concept tooth-and-nail should be very chilling to any American who cares about the future of this country.


 
The Crisp, Clean Smell Of Green

AFP reports that Saddam Hussein managed to pull $1 billion out of Iraqi banks mere “hours” before the start of the war. That itself is not recent news. But this part is:


US Treasury and Homeland Security agents are also investigating how large numbers of brand new 100 dollar bills from the Federal Reserve Banks in Washington and New York ended up in Baghdad, despite US sanctions.

So, is it a money train, or a really sophisticated counterfeiting operation? The government is implying the former, but one would hardly think they would admit it if it were the latter.


I wonder if the Fed's rather hurried decision to recently upgrade the big currencies had anything to do with this.


 
Nail-Biting Time At OPEC

After quite a bit of hemming,
hawing, and hand-wringing
going on in Vienna, it looks as if OPEC
will come down on the side of maintaining
its current oil output levels
. Pundits are warning us, however,
to expect a considerable production cut in March, when a variety of
market forces (cyclical demand, coupled with increased Iraqi
production) will conspire to cause a glut.


That's assuming, of course, that the Iraqi oil fields can resume
reliable delivery of crude by then. The
jury is still out on that
. But, you see, that doesn't really
matter anyway; not only are global oil production levels increasingly
out of OPEC's control, they aren't even the biggest problem the
cartel has to face.


Quick: Who's the world's leading producer of oil? If you guessed
Saudi Arabia, you'd be wrong. The
current champion is Russia
. Currently, our former Cold War
adversaries are pumping 8.6 million barrels of crude a day from their
fields. As these fields become modernized, and new reserves are
exploited, Russian production can only be expected to increase; by
next year, they could be up to 9.2 million barrels a day —
outpacing the Saudis (at their current production levels) by over a
million barrels.


Here's the kicker: Russia is not an OPEC member. Even worse (from
OPEC's perspective), Russia is a free market economy. This is
crucial, because without government control over the oil spigot, how
are you gonna mandate national production levels?


This puts the battle currently raging on between
Russia and Yukos
(it's largest oil company) into an interesting
light; could Putin be considering a re-nationalization of Russia's
oil fields? It's debatable as to whether he could pull it off, but
from our perspective — as net oil consumers — it's
largely irrelevent, since Russia isn't in OPEC, and is unlikely to
ever want to join.


Stand in Russia's shoes for a moment, and consider the benefits of
being the world's largest supplier of oil, unfettered by production
mandates. Your OPEC competitors grow concerned for world oil prices,
and respond by reducing their production. World prices stabilize, or
even rise. In response, you do ... nothing; you continue your
production levels, make more money than ever, and get to play the
role of Good Cop to the world's oil consumers. Win, win, and win.


Yet, amazingly, this Russian Bogeyman may not even be the biggest
difficulty OPEC has to face. Their real problem is one that we here
in the States will increasingly have to contend with: the declining
dollar.


All
OPEC's sales are in dollars
. This means that, as the dollar goes,
so goes the value of their product; and the dollar is in some deep,
deep trouble. Whereas just a few short years ago it was the dollar
that stood over all other currencies like a
big, green collossus
, today the situation is rather different.
Last December, the euro broke through the 1:1 dollar barrier.
Currently, the dollar stands at around 1.20 euros, and falling.


That's a 17% decline in the dollar's value in the last year alone.
No one knows where it will stand by next March, but a fair bet is
that it will be at a much lower level. OPEC, then, may have no choice
but to cut production levels — to protect their prices,
rather than their product.


For an overwhelming
number
of fundamental
reasons
, the dollar is all but certain to continue its decline.
At least one prediction has
it falling another 20% by 2005
. God only knows what OPEC would do
to defend itself at that point.


At least one major OPEC player (Iran)
has declared its preference for euros over dollars. Saddam Hussein
actually made the switch. Vladimir Putin brought
up the idea
himself just a few months ago. Here in the United
States, we
scoff at the idea
, but is that the gimlet-eyed, Yankee trader,
economic realist in us speaking — or merely status-quo
rockheadedness on our part?


One thing is for sure: if the dollar ever lost its luster and
became just another currency, the consequences to the US economy (and
that means you and me) could be quite dire. We're talking Argentina
dire
, and you do not want to know what that is like.


Wednesday, December 03, 2003
 
E&P Shakes Its Hoary Old Head

Editor & Publisher, the venerable trade magazine of the newspaper industry, declares the B.S. levels to be off the scale in regards to initial US newspaper coverage of the Samarra Incident:


Neither The New York Times, New York Post, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Washington Post, or Knight Ridder included any civilian witnesses or Iraqi hospital accounts in their initial reports Monday. Many flatly reported the death tally and account of the battle without noting this was “according to military officials.” The Times topped its front page with the declarative headline: “46 Iraqis Die in Fierce Fight Between Rebels and GIs,” and this was common treatment. The Los Angeles Times account, however, noted that the 54 deaths had yet to be confirmed and included hospital officials' contentions that only nine people had died.

The term “turning point” was also being bandied about the morning that the story broke, as well.


Yup. And all the troops will be home by Christmas, too ...


 
The Westmoreland Effect

Going back to what happened in Samarra, it's clear now that the narrative has moved so far away from the US military's version of events that there is no longer any propaganda value behind it at all. Like so many other cheap trusses used to buttress this poorly-structured whopper of a war, this beautiful duckling has become an ugly swan. Predictably, the major US media is backing away from the horrid little thing, and we've returned to the same old slow, familiar grind of small-scale ambushes and homemade landmines.


There are a few points of interest that should be made about the story, however, before it's completely consigned to the Memory Hole.


Some foreign news outlets have noticed that a close examination of the American version of events reveals a Westmoreland-esque screwiness in the military's body-count calculations. All US accounts of the attacks indicate that a total of 60-90 insurgents took part in them. Out of this, the most consistent US body count claim stands at 54(!) insurgents killed, 22 wounded, and 1 captured. That means that, even assuming the highest number of enemy participants (90), only thirteen are left standing after the fighting is over!


That, my fellow Americans, equals a casualty rate of 86%. Truly historic levels — considering that most professional units break ranks somewhere in the area of losing one-third of their number. And here we all thought that Saddam's boys were just a bunch of unmotivated rabble.


Apart from marvelling at the Iraqis' superhuman ability to maintain discipline in the face of such insane odds, the other question one must ask is: where are all the bodies? The local townsfolk say they don't have them, and the US military obviously doesn't have them, either. Were they just left to rot in the streets?


Of course not. Whatever else one might say about the condition of the Samarra in the aftermath of battle, her streets were relatively clean of the detritus of death's handiwork. This, naturally, led our army to one inevitable conclusion: the terrorists took them away!


Yes, that's right. Those considerate Iraqi insurgents, after taking over two hours of withering, high-calibre fire, and being mercilessly whittled down to a blood-soaked baker's dozen of die-hard rambos ... those thirteen men still had the presence of mind to clean up after themselves when the battle was through. Their mothers must be so proud.


The US media may be proud, too, of our military's ability to lay down heavy fire in the middle of a densely-populated city, but the rest of the world is considerably less impressed. This exposes another weakness of the US military effort — that in order to achieve victory, it is apparently necessary to level the engagement area. The Iraqi's cannot be expected to be enthusiastic about this plan, and indeed they are not.


So much of guerrilla warfare is psychological in nature (y'know ... “hearts & minds”). If Samarra shows us anything, it's that our current strategy — cathartic as it may be — is harmful to our overall cause. The more damage we do in our pursuit of insurgents, the more the Iraqis hate us; the more they hate us, the more insurgents rise to the cause, and the more senseless devastation we have to effect in order to kill them off. It's a perpetual bloodletting machine.


The military realizes this, and has already put plans into motion which will transform our occupying force from its current incarnation as heavy-duty angels of death into a swifter, lighter, and less destructive collection of anti-terrorist cadres. In effect, they are taking away exactly the equipment which made the Battle of Samarra such a one-sided affair. This new force will also be much more reliant (40%) on National Guardsmen and Reservists than the current force.


While this may alleviate some of our PR problems with the Iraqis, it still remains to be seen whether we are capable of holding our own against them at this level of engagement. In addition, subtracting our heavy firepower from the equation necessarily adds that much more risk to our individual soldiers — which, in the cold calculus of war, will almost certainly mean higher casualty counts for our side.


In effect, the Bush Administration will be attempting to transfer some of its potential PR damage from the trust-depleted Iraqi side to the reliably compliant US population. The Administration's assessment is correct in that they still have expendible credibility points to spend in the US (especially with their base). Then again, considering the military and social realities they are just starting to run up against, they may have no choice in the matter.



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