Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Poetry Blogging

When I visited shrimplate today, he had up such a beautiful poetry post, I would love you all to visit it. I will print the poem here, but want you to go to his site for the wonderful pictures and his explanation, at this site.

Among the Narcissi

Spry, wry, and gray as these March sticks,
Percy bows, in his blue peajacket, among the narcissi.
He is recuperating from something on the lung.

The narcissi, too, are bowing to some big thing :
It rattles their stars on the green hill where Percy
Nurses the hardship of his stitches, and walks and

There is a dignity to this; there is a formality-
The flowers vivid as bandages, and the man mending.
They bow and stand : they suffer such attacks!

And the octogenarian loves the little flocks.
He is quite blue; the terrible wind tries his breathing.

The narcissi look up like children, quickly and whitely.

Sylvia Plath


Fighting the Constitution is Pitting Cretin-1 Against Own Regulars

Schadenfreude is easy to savor. In his denial of the constitution's power over him, the cretin in chief is succeeding in forcing some of his own former loyalists to defend the country against usurpation of powers.

The State of Texas, I repeat, the State of Texas, is challenging him in rejection of the rule of law. Yes, I am celebrating.

It is the official, considered position of the state of Texas that President Bush is a constitutionally ignorant power-grabber.

An unusual case that the Supreme Court will hear as it begins its new term features Texas accusing its former chief executive of overstepping his office, by ordering Texas judges to comply with an International Court of Justice ruling involving a condemned killer from Mexico.

"It is, in my judgment, a breathtaking order," the state's chief appeals lawyer, Solicitor General Ted Cruz, said a few days ago as he previewed his arguments for the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. "This president's exercise of this power is egregiously beyond the bounds of presidential authority."

It's an extraordinary confrontation, not just because Mr. Bush used to live in the Governor's Mansion but because his chief accuser helped put him into the White House. Mr. Cruz served as domestic policy adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign, was a key player during the Florida recount in 2000, coordinated hiring for the Justice Department and served as an associate deputy attorney general.
Mexico went to the International Court of Justice, which in March 2004 ruled that U.S. courts should review the Medellín case and 50 other tainted convictions. But the U.S. appeals court in New Orleans rejected Mr. Medellín's appeal because he hadn't raised the issue in his trial. The Supreme Court also refused to overturn his conviction.

In February 2005, Mr. Bush announced he would order state courts to comply with the International Court ruling.

The problem is that the Constitution gives U.S. presidents no direct authority over courts, state or federal.

At the time, of course, that he committed this illegal action, he was accepting the advice of later Attorney General Abu Gonzales. This would indicate that we had early warning about the damage that would be done if that entity had power over the laws, which head of Department of Justice enjoys.

If future hearings on acceptance of nominees don't heed the early warnings of criminal leanings by nominees for high office, they should be rejected by the voters. We have come to a dangerous state, and learned that taking an oath of office doesn't mean that a proven lawless person is any assurance that he will keep the oath.

No more criminals, ever.

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Sometimes the strangest things make me laugh. Yesterday fellow Atriot Moonbootica linked to an article at the Al Jazeera website in one of her comments. I followed the link and found myself chuckling. Well, for a little while.

Iran's parliament has approved a nonbinding resolution to label the CIA and the US army as "terrorist organisations".

The move is seen as a diplomatic tit-for-tat after the US senate also voted in favour of a motion urging the state department to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "terrorist organisation." ...

The parliament said the two organisations were terrorists for a number of reasons.

It said they were involved in dropping nuclear bombs in Japan in World War II and used depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

It also said they supported the killings of Palestinians by Israel, bombed and killed Iraqi civilians and tortured terror suspects in prisons.

The resolution urges Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's, the Iranian president, government to treat the two as terrorist organisations.

It also paves the way for the resolution to become legislation which, if ratified by the country's constitutional watchdog, would become law.
[Emphasis added]

Now, this "tit for tat" resolution is just as silly as the one passed last week by Senate. Both are non-binding and essentially meaningless, or are they? While I much prefer a war of words to shooting wars, too often the first is a prelude to the second, as we learned in March, 2003. Our administration has become quite adept at catapulting the propaganda, and the Iranians may just have given the White House another rock to toss around.

Furthermore, the Iranian resolution is a little different than the usual insults hurled our way. Rather than simply calling us "running dogs" or "the great Satan," the Iranians put some bite into their resolution by listing some of the actions which justified the use of the term "terrorist organization." I find myself hard-pressed to deny any of the actions taken by the US. All have happened, and the rest of the world has been complaining (albeit gently so as not to annoy the World's Bully) about each and every one of them for over four years now.

Suddenly the article wasn't funny anymore.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Giant Eland

(Photograph by Leonard Lee Rue III and published at Concise Britannica.)

That's Our Boy

"All hat, no cattle."

That's a traditional Texas put-down for the wannabes, the prime example for which is the Connecticut-born George Walker Bush. Mr. Bush showed plenty of hat this week at an international conference on climate change, and he was just as effective as usual, according to an article published today in the UK's Guardian.

George Bush was castigated by European diplomats and found himself isolated yesterday after a special conference on climate change ended without any progress.

European ministers, diplomats and officials attending the Washington conference were scathing, particularly in private, over Mr Bush's failure once again to commit to binding action on climate change. ...

Britain and almost all other European countries, including Germany and France, want mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse emissions. Mr Bush, while talking yesterday about a "new approach" and "a historic undertaking", remains totally opposed.

The conference, attended by more than 20 countries, including China, India, Britain, France and Germany, broke up with the US isolated, according to non-Americans attending. One of those present said even China and India, two of the biggest polluters, accepted that the voluntary approach proposed by the US was untenable and favoured binding measures, even though they disagreed with the Europeans over how this would be achieved.

A senior European diplomat attending the conference, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting confirmed European suspicions that it had been intended by Mr Bush as a spoiler for a major UN conference on climate change in Bali in December.

"It was a total charade and has been exposed as a charade," the diplomat said. "I have never heard a more humiliating speech by a major leader. He [Mr Bush] was trying to present himself as a leader while showing no sign of leadership. It was a total failure."
[Emphasis added]

Of course the President's intention was to derail the UN's December meeting, making it clear that the US under his "leadership" would never put up with mandatory targets: his buddies/paymasters in the energy industry will have none of it. It would actually require a real search for an alternative to carbon-based energy sources and the expenditures of some real money to reduce the pollution until that alternative is found.

The effect is that Mr. Bush has found yet another way to isolate this country from the rest of the world. It wasn't enough to lie us into an illegal war, or to kidnap and "detain" other nation's citizens in super-secret prisons, or to hold "terrists" on an offshore island in conditions that contravene the Geneva Conventions (to which we are signatories). No, he had to find a new way, one that involves perhaps the most important issue facing the entire world.

Heckuva job, George.

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Not Your Father's Auto Industry Job

It was over before most of us even noticed, the GM workers didn't get the kind of wage increase and benefits that used to be associated with the skilled jobs of the GM of the past. They got a bit of a shell game. Their trust for health care in the future, to the tune of $50 million, was set up at the cost of existing commitments. You probably are saying 'Whoa, that can't be right.'

Sadly, the insistence on making cars Americans didn't trust and wouldn't buy has been passed on to the workers.

Two decades ago, a national auto industry strike likely would have continued for weeks or months. This time, the General Motors walkout was over almost before it got rolling, thus little more than the union's symbolic last gasp at influence. In the end, contract talks came down to deciding to live together or to perish together, and both union and management picked life.

Health care promises that once seemed manageable are these days unbearable financial anchors on old-line U.S. manufacturers such as GM. Skyrocketing health costs equal higher prices and, over time, fewer jobs.

Had the union demanded – and the automaker agreed to – benefits that any actuary would deem nearly impossible to fulfill, the downward spiral would only continue.
Yesterday's agreement, if ratified, would create a health care trust to remove more than $50 billion owed to union retirees for health care from the books.

Workers and retirees would receive their current coverage until the trust is put in place. GM would use stock, cash and other assets to fund the trust.

Equally significant, the union also dropped its push for job security, which would have greatly complicated the automaker's plan to eliminate 30,000 jobs and close many plants.

The story extends to a lot of families whose long years of work have been suddenly ended with a 'wham, bam, thankyou ma'am'.

If auto industry leaders show any of that wisdom supposedly earned by their boards by the monster salaries, they will start putting together dependable autos that use a different kind of fuel than the old Middle Eastern variety. Will they do it? The suspense is killing a lot of their employees.

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The Wrong Kind Of Auditors

In 2002, the administration, with help from the then-GOP led Congress found a rather creative way to rip off the poor and the elderly. A bill was passed ostensibly to curtail unnecessary Medicare spending. Unfortunately, the bill (which set up a test program) resulted in a windfall to the private contractor hired to do the job. Fortunately, California officials are working hard to stop this "test" program. From the September 27, 2007 Sacramento Bee:

Medicare officials have declared a temporary "pause" in a controversial auditing program that has put a strain on dozens of California rehabilitation hospitals forced to surrender tens of millions of dollars on allegations that the care they provided elderly patients was medically unnecessary. ...

The pause, announced in a conference call to California hospitals Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is expected to last at least through October, said Patricia Blaisdell, vice president of medical rehabilitation services for the California Hospital Association, who participated in the call.

The association has been the leading critic of the program and the California contractor, Atlanta-based PRG-Schultz International, because of its rejection of almost all Medicare claims involving elderly patients treated at rehabilitation hospitals after knee or hip replacement.

The decision comes as the first wave of appeals of those cases is hitting administrative law judges for the Department of Health and Human Services. The judges are reversing many, if not all, of those decisions on grounds that it is impermissible under departmental rules for the auditors to call up cases more than a year old without good cause. ...

The audit program was established as a test by Congress in 2002 in an effort to reduce unnecessary Medicare spending. It took effect in 2005 in three states -- California, New York and Florida, all high-cost Medicare states. But rather than being paid a fee for their work, auditors are paid commissions of between 25 percent and 30 percent of the money they collect from rejecting claims as far back as five years.

In the case of PRG-Schultz, its contract permits it to keep the bounty so long as its decisions are not overturned at the first and second stages of administrative review. The reversals, however, are coming in the third stage.
[Emphasis added]

Two things shocked me about this story. The most obvious one is the plan to routinely deny post-surgical rehabilitation hospital care for elders who have had knee or hip replacement. For those patients who are still living independently, going home directly from the surgical procedure is simply not feasible, especially if they live alone or with an equally elder partner. And these routine denials are done without any kind of medical peer review, i.e., no outside doctor reviews each individual claim to determine medical necessity.

Almost as shocking is the fact that the auditors are given a bounty for each such denial. That certainly explains the routine denial in a critical phase in the recovery from such surgical procedures. All the contractor had to do was identify one expensive medical program and routinely deny its necessity to collect 30% of the cost.

Clearly this "test program" wasn't ever about keeping Medicare costs in line, it was simply another instance of outsourcing a government function so that some private contractor could raid the public treasury to shore up its bottom line:

PRG-Schultz is struggling financially in its core business operations and is looking at the California Medicare contract and the expanded program as a promising source of continuing business. ...

Well, thankfully, the test program is currently on hold and California state legislators are pushing to have the federal program killed. Hopefully New York and Florida will weigh in as well.

Note: To complete the picture, the article ended with the following paragraph:

Among the investors in PRG-Schultz is Blum Capital Partners, headed by Richard Blum of San Francisco. Blum is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.


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Friday, September 28, 2007

Silence Is Not Golden

Today, the internet has been shut down to keep freedom from breaking out throughout Myanmar. This is a sad event, and hopefully there will be enough determination by those who can see what's going on and who are able to keep their freedom that it can be overcome. Brave people are still sending out news and pictures, and always will when a repressive government tries to keep them silent.

The Internet connection in Myanmar was cut Friday, limiting the free flow of information the nation's citizens were sharing with the world depicting the violent crackdown on monks and other peaceful demonstrators.

Myanmar-based blogs went dark suddenly. But London-based blogger Ko Htike -- who has been one of the most prominent bloggers posting information about the violence -- has vowed to keep up the fight, saying where "there is a will, there is a way."

"I sadly announce that the Burmese military junta has cut off the Internet connection throughout the country," he said on his blog Friday. "I, therefore, would not be able to feed in pictures of the brutality by the brutal Burmese military junta."

Ko Htike is a 28-year-old who left Myanmar, once known as Burma, seven years ago to study in England. Watch a blogger's fight for Myanmar »

He told a day earlier that he has as many as 40 people in Myanmar sending him photos or calling him with information. They often take the photos from windows from their homes, he said.

When actions are so wrong that they become a discredit to a government, the solution is to repair that behavior. The Myanmar government is acting so badly that it has become more than unspeakable, acting as an enemy to its people. Hopefully this will be its final desperate act.


Our Ms. Brooks

It's been a long week for most of us, but it's Friday, and that means Rosa Brooks has a new column up in the Los Angeles Times. This week her subject is President Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia University and the "brave" introductory remarks of this prestigious institution's president.

Imagine the scene: As angry protesters march outside, a nation's unpopular president prepares to address students and faculty at a prestigious university. Introducing the president, the head of the university is bluntly critical of his guest speaker: "You, quite simply, [are] ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated. . . . I doubt you will have the intellectual courage to answer [our] questions . . . I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mind-set that characterizes so much of what you say and do. . . . Your preposterous and belligerent statements . . . led to your party's defeat in the [last] elections."

Unfazed, the president rises to begin his speech. His sometimes bizarre remarks generate hoots of derision. But he plows on civilly, though he ducks and weaves when faced with critical questions from the audience.

When the clock runs out, many are dissatisfied with his answers. But everyone applauds the courageous head of the university, who wasn't afraid to speak truth to power, and everyone praises the student protesters, who exemplified the democratic values of dissent and free expression.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if something like that could happen in our country?

Her point is that it didn't take all that much courage to greet the president of a country against which the current US administration is building a case for war.

Sorry, no. "Free speech at its best" is when someone really does speak truth to power, and power stops blathering long enough to engage with inconvenient ideas. If an Iranian professor, inside Iran, had said what Bollinger said to Ahmadinejad, that would have been brave.

Or -- stay with me here -- if Bollinger had invited President Bush to Columbia and made those same unvarnished remarks to him, and Bush had toughed it out and struggled to answer half a dozen unfiltered, critical questions from an audience not made up of his handpicked supporters . . . . Well, that too would have been free speech at its best.

Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing you're likely to see in America.
[Emphasis added]

Of course, Mr. Bush would never find himself in front of anything but a handpicked audience, one that would never challenge him with difficult, even hostile questions. It wouldn't be prudent.

Sadly, Ms. Brooks is right: this was not a case of "free speech at its best," merely just one more dog-and-pony show calculated to catapult the propaganda. What is sad is that it occurred at one of the leading educational institutions in the US.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday birdblogging

You've seen this one before, but because my pair of wrens is being so cheerful and because they're singing for me today, I'm giving you this picture. Everyone should have a wren.


Who Could Have Imagined?

The outsourcing of government functions to companies who have frequently been awarded no-bid contracts is beginning to show some rather interesting returns. Inspector Generals for several agencies have suggested that some of these companies are over-charging the US and underperforming. Some, such as Blackwater, are causing a different kind of problem: they are accused of murderous and uncontrolled behavior. The Secretary of Defense (unlike the Secretary of State) has decided to look into the problem, according to an article in today's Los Angeles Times.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered U.S. military commanders in Iraq to crack down on any abuses they uncover by private security contractors in the aftermath of a deadly shooting involving American guards that infuriated Iraqis.

Gates took the step after concluding that the thousands of heavily armed private guards in Iraq who work for the Pentagon may not be adequately supervised by military officers. ...

Gates' order contrasts with the reaction of State Department officials, who have been slow to acknowledge any potential failings in their oversight of Blackwater USA, the private security firm that protects U.S. diplomats in Iraq and was involved in a Sept. 16 shooting that left at least 11 Iraqis dead.
[Emphasis added]

Why the sudden interest by the Defense Department in how a key private contractor is performing? Well, unlike the State Department, Defense is seeking another off-budget appropriation for next year in Iraq.

Facing questions about private security contractors during a Senate hearing Wednesday, Gates said his primary concern centered on whether Defense Department officials had been keeping a close enough eye on operations. "I think that we have the proper procedures, the proper rules and the proper legal authorities in order to prosecute contractors who violate the law," Gates said. "My concern is whether there has been sufficient accountability and oversight in the region over the activities of these security companies." ...

Gates' testimony came during a sometimes-chaotic hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which must consider a $189.3-billion request to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008.
[Emphasis added]

Accountability and oversight: what interesting concepts, especially when budgetary matters are being held at bay following what looks like an open massacre.

How surprising.

I mean, who could have imagined?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Meanwhile, Back At The Interior Department

It's been several months since the Department of the Interior has been in the news. No, the silence is not reflective of the department's cleaning up its act, it's more a case of folks there waiting for another shoe to drop. According to an article in today's NY Times, that shoe came in the form of a report from the department's own Inspector General.

The Interior Department’s program to collect billions of dollars annually from oil and gas companies that drill on federal lands is troubled by mismanagement, ethical lapses and fears of retaliation against whistle-blowers, the department’s chief independent investigator has concluded.

The report, a result of a yearlong investigation, grew out of complaints by four auditors at the agency, who said that senior administration officials had blocked them from recovering money from oil companies that underpaid the government. offered a sharp description of failures at the Minerals Management Service, the agency within the Interior Department responsible for collecting about $10 billion a year in royalties on oil and gas....

Prepared by the Interior Department’s inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, the report said that investigators found a “profound failure” in the agency’s technology for monitoring oil and gas payments.

It suggested that the agency was too cozy with oil companies and that internal critics had good reason to fear punishment.

“It demonstrates a Band-Aid approach to holding together one of the federal government’s largest revenue-producing operations,” Mr. Devaney concluded.
[Emphasis added]

Interior is responsible for, among other things, managing the energy companies' drilling on public lands and for collecting royalties from the companies for the oil and gas they extract from that property. Several department employees have been complaining for several years that the energy companies were underpaying those royalties. Those same employees have been demoted or fired for their temerity, although this report falls short of accusing the Interior Department of retaliation.

And the excuse offered for not collecting the royalties and not collecting the interest due on the prior underpayments?

In one case, senior officials decided that it would impose a “hardship” on oil companies to demand that they calculate the back interest they owed after having been caught underpaying. The agency itself was years behind in billing the companies, because its computers could not perform the calculations.

That's it, that's the ticket. Blame the software, but don't hold the company that sold the package to the department accountable for the screw-up and demand that it be fixed. And above all, don't ask the poor power companies to figure out what they owe including interest.

I need a desk to pound my head on.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Center

Pundits have a vocabulary all their own, but their jargon doesn't quite fit the reality the rest of us reside in. Take, for example, "the center." When used by pundits it doesn't refer to the actual middle of the whole range of the political spectrum, it usually means that section between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, which I would place somewhere about ten giant steps to the right of center.

Sometimes, however, pundits use it to mean the American public which is supposed to be a monolithic and common-sensical aggregate all clustered around the precise mean on any given issue. I think that's partially the sense James Klurfeld, vice president and editor of the editorial pages at Newsday, had in mind in an op-ed piece I read in today's Sacramento Bee.

Sadly, there is no center in American politics today.

That was clearly demonstrated Wednesday, when the Senate failed to find the 60 votes necessary to pass a bipartisan measure sponsored by Sen. James Webb, D-Va., and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., that would have mandated that troops be granted home leaves as long as their most recent combat deployments before being sent back to war.

That measure represented the best chance for forcing the Bush administration to come to terms with its failed policy in Iraq. ...

The result is that there will be no change of policy in Iraq until there is a new occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That means 15 more months of the same policy, barring dramatic, unforeseen developments. That means that we will go through a decisive, at times demagogic, debate during our presidential election, with candidates locking themselves into positions to appeal to their base voters in primaries.

And that, of course, makes it even more difficult to eventually find a center.

This, despite the fact that most voters say they want a change in policy in Iraq, despite the fact that most Republicans realize that staying in lockstep with the president might jeopardize their seats in next year's election. The extreme voices in both parties, even if they don't represent a majority view, will determine policy. ...

I do blame President George W. Bush, who, from the day he was first elected (with fewer votes than his opponent), has never shown any interest in compromise -- especially when it came to Iraq.

But in pursuing his unilateral war, Bush has ignored a basic lesson in any democracy: You cannot fight a war without the support of the people. He chose not to even try to build a center for his policies.

The next 15 months of drift will be the result.

While I agree with much of what Mr. Klurfeld has to say, I'm not so certain I agree with the route he takes to get there. The problem isn't so much that there are only far right and far left (far left? what is that man smoking?) members of Congress. The problem is that no one has yet displayed the spine to do what the people of the United States (allegedly the real center of power in our democracy) elected those congress critters to do in November, 2006: end this misbegotten and illegal war and bring the troops home.

And that is why the polls rate Congress pretty much the same as the President.

Oh, and Senator Warner? Thanks for nothing.

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No Surprise Here

The war crimes trials of detainees at Guantanamo Bay are back on track, thanks to a decision by a newly designed military appeals court. From today's NY Times:

A special military appeals court, overturning a lower court ruling, on Monday removed a legal hurdle that has derailed war crime trials for detainees at Guantanámo Bay, Cuba.

The ruling allows military prosecutors to address a legal flaw that had ground the prosecutions to a halt. The decision, by a three-judge panel of a newly formed military appeals court, was an important victory for the government in its protracted efforts to begin prosecuting some of the 340 detainees at Guantánamo.

The legal flaw involved a requirement by Congress that before the detainees could be tried in military tribunals, they had to be formally declared “alien unlawful enemy combatants.” The problem for prosecutors was that while the detainees had been found by a military panel to be enemy combatants, they had not been specifically found to be unlawful.

Lawyers said there was legal uncertainly about whether the defense could appeal Monday’s ruling, which came in the case of Omar Ahmed Khadr, a Canadian detainee who was charged with killing an American soldier in a firefight and other crimes.

Dennis Edney, Mr. Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, said the defense was considering whether to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If there is an appeal, it could delay the resumption of Guantánamo cases yet again.

Essentially the "appellate" ruling held that the trial judge had the power to hear evidence on the issue of whether the detainees were "unlawful" enemy combatants, i.e. were not in uniform or were carrying hidden weapons, necessary for the court's jurisdiction under the Military Commissions Act.

The question of further appeal is an interesting one. The military doesn't want the detainees to have the right of appealing to civilian courts, and the Act seems to imply that the detainees do not have that right. Otherwise, the existence of the new appeals division in the military system doesn't make much sense. The effect of such an interpretation is, of course, that for the detainees they have a kangaroo trial court and a kangaroo appellate court for redress. Period.

Mr. Edney pretty much summed up the box his client is in:

Mr. Edney said he was disappointed by the military panel’s ruling but not surprised. “Omar Khadr still faces a process that is tainted, and designed to make a finding of guilt,” he said.


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Monday, September 24, 2007

Flip Flop

It wasn't too long ago that the White House indicated a desire to shut the prison at Guantanamo Bay down because it was such a lightning rod for international and national condemnation. The inmate population at the prison was gradually being reduced as some of the "less dangerous" detainees were being released to their home countries. Now, however, the closure of that prison seems far less likely as the 2008 elections approach. The President doesn't want the Democratic-led 110th Congress to "micromanage" detainee policy and the GOP presidential candidates are trying to out-macho each other on the campaign trail using the issue. From today's Los Angeles Times:

A lightning rod for international criticism, the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, not long ago appeared headed for closure. President Bush and his top advisors said they wanted to shutter the controversial lockup.

But the latest attempt to shut it down is facing collapse: The detention facility has been embraced by many Republicans as a potent political symbol in their quest to seize the terrorism issue ahead of next year's elections.

GOP presidential candidates have jockeyed to demonstrate their support for the prison. One candidate has called for doubling its use. Another praised the menu and health plan offered to detainees.

The Senate Republican leader has accused Democrats of wanting to move terrorists "into American communities."

And the president, who last year told German television that he "would like to end Guantanamo," is now threatening to veto any move to "micromanage the detention of enemy combatants."

"It's a Republican litmus test this year," complained Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, one of the few GOP lawmakers calling for the swift closure of Guantanamo.

"The Republican Party has won two elections on the issue of fear and terrorism," Hagel said. "[It's] going to try again."
[Emphasis added]

Indeed, Sen. Hagel, that does seem to be the plan. Just how much terra! terra! terra! figures into the election seems clear from the candidates' speeches.

At the GOP presidential debate in South Carolina in May, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called for doubling the size of Guantanamo and continuing the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on detainees.

"I want them in Guantanamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil," Romney said.

In September, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani won applause at a GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire when he derided calls to close Guantanamo. He compared those urging such a move to judges who "would release criminals into the street."

At the same debate, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, mocked the suggestion that detainees were being mistreated at Guantanamo.

"Those guys get taxpayer-paid-for prayer rugs," Hunter said. "They have prayer five times a day. They've all gained weight. The last time I looked at the menu, they had honey-glazed chicken and rice pilaf on Friday."

Yep, those are some real good reasons for keeping that facility open and functioning. God forbid the detainees actually have access to lawyers in their defense, and, hey, they probably also get a fruit cup to top off their Friday's dinners.

Frankly, I think the American people are now beginning to see there's more to be afraid of than another terrorist attack, at least I certainly hope so.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Rupert Brooke


Now, God be thanked Who has watched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there's no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart's long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.

Rupert Brooke

Heart Hurt

One of the legitimate complaints about the misbegotten and illegal invasion of Iraq has been the dearth of actual news being reported. True, western reporters are pretty much locked into the Bagdhad Green Zone because it simply isn't safe to venture outside of those protective walls. Still, there has to be some way to report what's actually going on in Iraq, some way besides stenographically reproducing the government handouts.

I finally found a solid bit of reporting in this morning's Sacramento Bee. Written by Leila Fadel of the McClatchy Baghdad Bureau, the article tries to answer one question we probably will never get a full answer to: how many Iraqis have died as a result of this war. Here is Ms. Fadel's partial answer and her valuable reflections on it.

The official numbers differ if you can get them, and numbers leaked to us from Iraqi ministries are incomplete pictures.

This week a poll by the British market research company, Opinion Research Business, put the number at 1,220,580 deaths that were not natural causes, since the 2003 invasion. According to the poll, one in two households in Baghdad has lost someone.

One in two households. Can you imagine? If you haven't lost someone, then your neighbor has. The next most deadly provinces were Diyala and Nineva in the north, notable because Baghdad and Diyala are inhabited by both Sunnis and Shiites. ...

Among those polled, 22 percent of people had lost at least one person in their household due to a non-natural cause. Five percent of them lost two people, 1 percent lost three and less than 1 percent lost four or more.

One thing piqued my interest: Nearly half of the people polled who had lost someone in their household said it was due to a gunshot wound.

While the military has touted the drop in car bombs as a major victory, that only accounts for 20 percent of the deaths. Forty-eight percent of people were shot to death. The murder rate implies sectarian violence.
[Emphasis added]

And yet we are being told that the surge is working, that things are getting better. The disconnect is mind-numbing, which apparently is exactly what is intended. Ms. Fadel recounts a meeting with a general which implies as much:

I thought back to a media luncheon with a U.S. general earlier this month. The general asked the media to please change the perception that Sunnis and Shiites were killing one another in Iraq. He asked that when we go back to the United States, we try to change that perception.

I couldn't believe it. Doesn't he know? Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq don't necessarily hate one another, but right now they have no choice but to fear one another.
[Emphasis added]

And this is what the US has wrought.

Iraqis are not barbaric, and all Sunnis and Shiites don't hate one another, but right now the fear trumps all. No one wants to end up a corpse on the side of the street. This is the reality that we report every day. This is the reality.

Well said.

To our everlasting shame, well said.


The New Attorney General

All of the major newspapers have included articles and editorials about Judge Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush's nominee for Attorney General. The tenor of nearly all of the articles suggests that Judge Mukasey is an independent sort, just the corrective needed in the Justice Department. The obvious implication is that he should be confirmed. Apparently the White House fax machine has been very busy.

Something in the article in the Los Angeles Times, however, set off some alarms for me. Oh, the article contains the same blathering about the nominee's independent streak and his honest conservatism, such as the following:

...if confirmed as attorney general, his independent streak could pose problems for President Bush.

With his reputation already well established and a gig at the Justice Department likely to last no more than a year or so, Mukasey, at 66, has little to lose. As a result, observers expect him to view his role much differently than did his predecessor, former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, who developed a reputation as a loyal advocate for administration legal positions and policies.

Although he would be in the Bush cabinet and expected to be part of the team, those who know him say he would not hesitate to bring his considerable legal heft to bear if he believed Bush was not following the law. This could cause Bush some uncomfortable moments, especially in dealing with Congress in the ongoing probes of the Justice Department and White House.
[Emphasis added]

All well and good, I suppose, but I really want more than the president feeling a little uncomfortable, and therein lies the rub. Judge Mukasey has already shown how he feels on issues other than the current Justice Department investigation.

To be sure, Mukasey seems to be like-minded on many issues that Bush cares about. He is a relative hawk on national security matters, and has supported aggressive measures in the war on terror. He approved the rounding up of scores of illegal immigrants after the Sept. 11 attacks with a controversial form of warrant that allowed their incarceration because they may have been witnesses to crimes. He has defended the USA Patriot Act, and derided some of its major critics, including librarians who have said the law threatened 1st Amendment rights of citizens. [Emphasis added]

While Sen. Leahy has indicated that the confirmation hearings won't start until his committee has certain necessary White House documents relating to the current Justice Department investigation so that Judge Mukasey can be questioned on the whole issue, the committee needs to delve into more than the nominee's feelings on the politicization of that department. We need to know if he is going to be another point man when it comes to the Bush administration's trashing of the Constitution.

If he is going to be just another lackey, then his nomination should go nowhere.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Fruit Bat

(Photo by Harvey Garcia and published by National Geographic.)

Another Country Gets It

Although we haven't directly attacked Pakistan (our "allies"), that nation and its leader certainly have been affected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've made incursions into their territory to fight the Taliban, and we've insisted that the Pakistanis step up their own attacks on the Taliban at the border and elsewhere. That the Pakistanis are less than enchanted with the US is certainly understandable, so this editorial in Pakistan's The Nation comes as no surprise.

Sadly, for the past six years, American's response to the September 11 tragedy has been guided by a vengeful spirit of blind untrammeled ruthlessness. No doubt, the terrorist attacks at the heart of New York and Washington grievously damaged the superpower's ego. A commonsense response to the disaster would have been a dispassionate reading of the forces behind the outrage, to better understand the grievances of the attackers and address them in a serious manner, thus avoiding a recurrence of further bloodshed. But instead, the United States adopted a ham-handed, aggressive approach that, as the Bush Administration must now realize in hindsight, has provided fertile ground for swelling the ranks of extremists, besides causing human suffering of gigantic proportions.

America's own losses in Iraq alone have passed the 3,750 mark, much more than the tally of dead at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 9-11. While this death toll is in one respect remarkably low thanks largely to the poorly equipped resistance and highly protective gear the GIs are laced with, the military onslaught in Iraq is the first war in recent history in which the number of wounded has been so disproportionately high - on the order of 20,000. A fairly large number have been crippled for life. On top of that, an unjust war against an elusive target tends to provoke the firing off of weapons in desperation, hitting anyone in sight. Large-scale civilian casualties are the obvious outcome. NGOs that compile the figures of Iraqi losses record several hundred thousand dead. The destruction of land and property and the consequent homelessness of the population are well known, and the story is much the same in the Afghan arena.
[Emphasis added]

Sadly, the Bush Administration doesn't realize the effects of its "ham-handed aggressive approach," or, if it does, really doesn't care. The White House, with the apparently endlessly enduring complicity of Congress, intends to keep on keeping on, adding troops, withdrawing a few as the election nears as a sop to voters, but maintaining a presence in the oil rich area until both countries are sucked dry.

And the White House continues to spin this policy as a key element in national security, even though the general in charge of Iraq admits he's not sure that's the case:

... in surprising, unscripted remarks before a Senate committee yesterday, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said he couldn't answer the one question many people were asking: Has the current Iraq war strategy made the U.S. safer?

"I don't know, actually," Gen. Petraeus said in response to persistent questioning by Republican Senator John Warner.

He doesn't know.

Here's a quarter, General. Go buy yourself a clue.


You Sank the Ship, and the Lifeboat Leaks

These dwindling days of the worst administration ever to take over this country are producing a spectacle that is in some ways enjoyable. Stanford's Hoover chair is being proposed for Donald Rumsfeld, and the outcry of respectable Stanford profs, students and alums is loud and clear. Like the DFHs at SMU who do not wish to be associated with war criminals, 2600 at Stanford have signed a petition to refuse the chair to Rumsfeld. His post would put him with George Schultz on an advisory taskforce on ideology and terrorism. His history certainly does include both.

Yesterday a panel of media met to discuss the treatment of the war by their profession, and generally agreed that Rumsfeld was constantly on the attack against media, and of course, the truth.

ABC News National Security correspondent Jonathan Karl and NBC News Chief Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski noted that civilians at the very top echelon of the Defense Department set an adverserial tone from the beginning.

Karl noted former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's signature style in press conferences of not only refusing to answer questions but attacking their premise and often "demeaning" the questioner.

Under Rumsfeld, the influential Early Bird--a long-standing daily compendium of defense coverage assembled by the Pentagon's public affairs office and distributed to civilian employees and military officers around the world--was altered to reflect that adversarial relationship, Karl said.

Instead of leading the lengthy daily news digest with the most important defense-related news stories of the day--as was traditional--the document was re-formatted to lead with printed correction notices from newspapers on defense-related news coverage--even as picayune "as a misspelled name," Karl noted. The corrections were followed by letters to the editor written by defense officials, even if unpublished.

Finally, after that, came the news stories of the day. What kind of message does that send?

Since Defense Secretary Robert Gates has taken over at the Pentagon, the digest has returned to its traditional format, Karl said.

The defense of the indefensible is a talent the members of the present executive branch are trying to develop. Thus far, they have succeeded in convincing some of the media but a very small proportion of the public. Trying to buy themselves a ticket to secure perches in academia is not going over very well.

When the rats leave the ship of state they sunk, the water below that they bloodied seems to be full of hungry carnivores.

If my alma mater invited one of the war criminals to take shelter in its halls, I would be as furious as the 2600 Standord associates are, and as the SMU student, faculty and alums are (yes, tena, I know you are) and I would be writing the letters and signing the petitions too. In fact, I did sign a petition put up by representatives of the Methodist Church who want SMU to be clear of war criminals.

Nuremberg is a better place for the group that has brought the U.S. to its present low state, and supports torture, killing, 'shock and awe' over diplomacy.

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The Compassionate Conservative

Suddenly George Bush is all about fiscal conservativism. He wants Congress to spend less on domestic programs such as the irresponsible State Children's Health Insurance Program (because, don't you know, it would lead to universal health coverage). Another target is Medicaid expenditures for transporting disabled children, as noted in an article in today's Sacramento Bee.

The Bush administration plans to stop reimbursing states for school-based Medicaid activities, including transporting disabled students, a move that would cost California schools more than $100 million a year.

Districts are scrambling to figure out how to pay the bill because federal law requires schools to provide special services for disabled students. ...

Sacramento City Unified School District and other school districts rely on the Medicaid insurance program for the poor, known as Medi-Cal in California, to pay a portion of the costs of transporting children with disabilities.

The district transports 1,100 special-needs children each day -- including some who use wheelchairs -- and is still calculating the potential costs.

"This (regulation) is not limited to just the physically disabled, it also includes physical and speech therapy and other services," said Terry Brown, the district's transportation chief. ...

Maria Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento City school district, said the proposed regulations are incompatible with "an administration that keeps pushing for leaving No Child Left Behind." A hallmark of the Bush presidency, the sweeping federal law is intended to close the achievement gap and improve the academic achievements of poor children.

"This not only leaves them behind, but it locks them up," Lopez said. "School districts will do all they can to continue to provide services for (these) children, but this is so devastating."

How ... compassionate. Apparently leaving disabled children who also happen to be poor behind is ok. There must be an invisible asterisk after "No Child..." that covers things nicely.

But, hey, it's all about the fiscal responsibility: the deficit keeps growing. Cutting war spending is off the table because our security (terra! terra! terra!) is just too important. And rolling back tax cuts for the rich is off the table because, well, the rich will use that extra money to buy stocks, and that helps everybody.


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Friday, September 21, 2007

Stabs in the Back Aren't Just From War Critics

Friends like Presidente Fox and Ray Hunt show just what a great fella to have a beer with the cretin in chief is. Quickly rendered unconscious, mainly. Hunt has entered into a private agreement to develop Iraq's oil resources outside the central government's control.

So maybe we're going to hear more along the 'stabbed in the back' line that presently is so useful about anything approaching criticism? No?

Hunt is a member of the Energy Advisory Group, so it would definitely seem that Hunt would know just how detrimental separate dealings would be to the 'success' of the WH's war. You might say Ray Hunt is a real proponent of Free Trade, as long as he's the one who benefits.

President Bush expressed concern Thursday about whether Hunt Oil Co.'s search for oil in the Kurdish region of Iraq could undermine the national government in Baghdad.

"I knew nothing about the deal. I need to know exactly how it happened," Mr. Bush said at a White House news conference. "To the extent that it does undermine the ability for the government to come up with an oil revenue-sharing plan that unifies the country, obviously I'm – if it undermines that, I'm concerned."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's oil minister has called the deal with the Dallas-based oil company illegal. Negotiations over a national oil law that would divide Iraq's oil revenue among regional and ethnic factions collapsed after the Kurds announced the Hunt exploration deal. Congress and the Bush administration see the law as a crucial benchmark for healing sectarian divisions in Iraqi politics.

Qubad Talabani, Washington representative of the Kurdish Regional Government, said the deal would benefit all Iraqis through a revenue-sharing agreement approved by the Kurdish parliament in August.

"What's undermining the government is the lack of progress on the [national] oil law," said Mr. Talabani, the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. "This deal didn't undermine the oil law per se. It will give it a good kick up the backside to get the process moving forward."

Hunt chief executive Ray Hunt is a friend of the president, a major backer of the Bush presidential library at Southern Methodist University and a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Despite those ties, a company spokeswoman said no one in the U.S. government was told of the negotiations leading to Hunt's exploration contract in the Kurdish province of Dahuk, near Iraq's northwestern border with Turkey.

"We're a privately held company. We do not make it a practice to discuss our business dealings with anyone except the involved parties, and in this case the U.S. government is not an involved party," Hunt Oil spokeswoman Jeanne Phillips said.

At his news conference, Mr. Bush said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, headed by Ambassador Ryan Crocker, had "expressed concern" about the Hunt deal.

Iraq has immense oil reserves but has seen little exploration since Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Ever since, U.N. sanctions, war, corruption and sabotage have crippled oil production.
Hunt and its Canadian partner in Iraq, Impulse Energy Corp., expect to begin preliminary exploration work this fall and start drilling next year.

Mr. Talabani said there was still "plenty of time" to pass a national oil law before any Hunt discoveries are brought into production.(Emphasis added.)

This would be pretty funny if it weren't so outright destructive to any fantasy that presumed responsible members of the government might have that Iraq might stand a chance of becoming a functional nation. The Kurds have their section of the country well in hand, unlike the central government in Baghdad. They're acting like a nation, and are expressing the desire to be one. Hunt has accepted the realities of the situation. Maybe his 'friend' occupying the White House can explain to him that the U.S. is supposed to be promoting another sort of reality.

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Friday Catblogging

Bobcat! One of these I have never seen outside a zoo, but a lot of the local athletic teams are named after them, so at one time they must have been pretty common in N. TX.

An adaptable North American cat found in a variety of habitats and able to tolerate living near to humans. It is closely related to the Lynx, but only half the size and is considered more aggressive and harder to tame. It has been hybridised with domestic cats. Its black ear tufts and its ruff are less prominent than those of the Lynx and its short tail lacks a black tip. The colour ranges from light grey to reddish brown, though melanistic, albino (blue-eyed white) and leucistic (dark-eyed white) Bobcats have been found. It has black spots on the legs and black markings on the face (black-nosed Bobcats have been reported). Bobcats are opportunistic feeders taking small mammals (especially hare), birds, carrion and any almost other creature they can catch, including domestic poultry. Bobcat are killed and eaten by larger North American wild cats: Jaguar, Lynx and Puma. (Photo: Mindy Stinner, Conservators Center, Inc)


And for the Quote of the Day I propose the cretin in chief, addressing the situation in Jena, LA;
All of us in America want there to be, you know, fairness when it comes to justice.

President GEORGE W. BUSH
on anti-racism protests in Jena, La., following the arrest of six black teens in the beating of a white classmate - from Reuters,


Our Ms. Brooks

Yesterday I posted on the enormous profits of defense contractors working the Iraq War. In her column in today's Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks explores the increasing role of those contractors in what have traditionally been government functions.

This week's fatal Baghdad shooting involving Blackwater employees drew fresh attention to U.S. reliance on private security contractors. (The incident, which sparked angry protests from the Iraqi government, left 11 Iraqis dead.) But despite the renewed controversy, most media coverage of the role of private contractors has focused on relatively mundane issues -- the legal vacuum in which contractors operate in Iraq, for instance -- and missed the true blockbuster story: the wholesale privatization of war and U.S. foreign policy.

When I say that the legal vacuum in which contractors operate is a relatively mundane issue, I don't mean that it's unimportant. It's not. In the absence of clear rules and accountability mechanisms for contractors, abuses -- from waste and fraud to assault, torture and murder -- are inevitable. As an editorial in this paper noted on Wednesday: "The massive, poorly regulated, poorly controlled and even downright secretive outsourcing of key military and security jobs to private contractors has gone too far. Congress is overdue for some oversight." That's right -- but it's a major understatement.

What's been happening in Iraq -- and in Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia and the Pentagon and the State Department -- goes far beyond the "outsourcing of key military and security jobs." For years, the administration has been quietly auctioning off U.S. foreign policy to the highest corporate bidder -- and it may be too late for us to buy it back.
[Emphasis added]

We are outsourcing our government, which is horrendous enough, but we are doing so with no pretense of accountability or oversight. Apparently this administration believes that none is necessary when it comes to Blackwater.

Blackwater increasingly promises to do everything the U.S. government can do, but better. Blackwater's facility in North Carolina is the world's largest private military facility -- it's so good that the U.S. military uses it for training. Since its founding, it has trained 50,000 "consultants" who can be deployed anywhere in the world. With no geographical limits, the company is eager to prove its value. Blackwater has trained police in Afghanistan and naval commandos in Azerbaijan, and it sent heavily armed employees to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They started off offering their services as volunteers -- or vigilantes, some critics said. FEMA, playing catch-up, followed with contracts, as did a number of other agencies.

Increasingly, Blackwater looks like a miniature government. It has people, infrastructure and hardware. For instance, it is buying Brazilian-made fighter bombers -- great in combat but not really necessary if you're merely providing civilian bodyguards.

Ms. Brooks is right: that's the real story, and it's shameful that the US media and Congress hasn't been looking into it.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Public Property Stolen by White House

Just because it belongs to you, don't think that you are going to be allowed to see what went on in this administration. All that talk about letting history judge him has the cretin in chief really, really worried. So he's making sure it stays in his slimey hands.

There are probably many more lies yet to be spoken by the occupant of the White House, but that history will be the judge of his actions is another biggie. He's not about to let history know the extent of his criminality.

A fight over White House secrecy has taken a new twist, with Senate officials confirming Wednesday that a Republican senator is secretly blocking a bill that would reverse President Bush's 2001 executive order allowing ex-presidents to seal their records indefinitely.

"We need to smoke out whoever it is. Maybe somebody at the White House called a Republican senator and said put a hold on it," said Lee White, executive director of the National Coalition for History, a leading advocate of the legislation.

The anonymous hold adds an ironic chapter to a fight that has pitted an administration with a penchant for secrecy against historians, archivists and librarians.

The White House has threatened a veto to protect Mr. Bush's executive order, arguing that the bill to overturn it encroaches on legitimate executive authority.

Open government advocates say the order will let Mr. Bush and other former presidents hide embarrassing or revealing documents that belong to the public without explanation. They say it undermines the potential value of the Bush library planned at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

They're especially outraged that the order lets heirs of a deceased ex-president retain control over White House papers – a step legal scholars view as unprecedented and as an unlawful delegation of executive power.

Since the public already knows he's a war criminal, and the torture memo is already out, there must be really horrible stuff secreted away in the papers the c-i-c is so determined to keep from public knowledge.

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Thursday Birdblogging

Today is flashy Western Tanager, this is the male - I first saw one unexpectedly, at Jenny Lake in the Grand Teton National Park, and was really excited. They are occasionally also seen near here, at Lake Texoma, but I've only thought I saw one once.

Here, from your friendly neighborhood birders at Cornell, are the Cool Facts:
The Western Tanager breeds farther north than any other member of its mostly tropical family, breeding to nearly 60° N in the Northwest Territories.

The red pigment in the face of the Western Tanager is rhodoxanthin, a pigment rare in birds. It is not manufactured by the bird, as are the pigments used by the other red tanagers. Instead, it must be acquired from the diet, presumably from insects that themselves acquire the pigment from plants.

All those holly berries go to a good cause.


Cui Bono

While most of the time we think of the Iraq War as being all about the oil, it's clear that this misbegotten and illegal war has been downright lucrative for other companies and their leaders as well. Just how lucrative was posted on MSN Money yesterday.

While policymakers in Washington wrangle over how much progress we've made in Iraq, one thing is clear: The war on terror is making some people rich.

President Bush's military buildup has caused defense-contractor revenue to double, triple and even more during the past five years, and their executives have reaped huge bonuses and stock windfalls as the companies' share prices have jumped.

Take a look:

CEOs at top defense contractors have reaped annual pay gains of 200% to 688% in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The chief executives at the seven defense contractors whose bosses made the most pocketed nearly a half-billion dollars from 2002 through last year.

The CEOs made an average of $12.4 million a year, easily more than the average corporate chief. Since the start of the war, CEOs at defense contractors such General Dynamics (GD, news, msgs), Halliburton (HAL, news, msgs) and Oshkosh Truck (OSK, news, msgs) have made, on average, more in four days than what a top general makes in a whole year, or $187,390.

Defense contractor CEOs are enjoying these big rewards partly because much of the war effort is being outsourced by an administration that believes private companies do things better than the public sector, say researchers at the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.

"In the most privatized war in history, lucrative opportunities abound for chief executives of defense contractors," says Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies.
[Emphasis added]

The charts included with the article show just how lucrative the opportunities in war have been for the top seven defense contractors and their CEOs. And, like that other contractor, Blackwater, these defense contractors have essentially been freed from any kind of accountability or liability for their work (gained mostly in no-bid contracts). Even Inspector Generals have had their hands tied in trying to keep some kind of rein on the companies.

Some people have made sacrifices in this war. Others, eh, not so much.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tossing 'Bodies' Overboard Loses American Hearts and Minds

Not so long ago, our local Rep. Ralph Hall was on the House floor attacking Marianas sex slaves for willingly participating in human trafficking. So nothing surprises us locals when we see our industrial overlords behaving like Orcs.

Today a nice little article about joint electrical production and use between the Texas and Mexico power generation industries was the frame for some remarks that reflect that continuing battle against the public waged by our business community. Of course, looser environmental standards and lower paid workers are very attractive to the Orcs.

Mexico remains a regulated utility monopoly, and building a plant involves heavy dealings with unions, said George Baker, research director for Houston consultancy

"They've got a very aggressive and powerful union that really costs them a lot," he said. "So if you import electricity, one of the things you get from that is that you don't have to hire a new body.(Emphasis added.)"

Isn't that attractive? it's a selling point to generate in Texas (deregulated, and a right-to-work state) because you can pitch those bodies out there to starve. Unions are an enemy, giving wages and decent working conditions to faceless bodies.

To me this characterizes the entire rationale of the GoPerv Party, that the employee is just a body; a disposable unit. We're not a consumer, such as are supposed now to go shopping to bring out economy back out of the pit created by corporate indifference. We're not an occupant of the society the Orcs participate in. We're a body that can be thrown to whatever lions of the moment are entertaining the hoarders of wealth.

Most encouragingly, though, the bodies that our business community are blithely tossing aside have votes. The great unwashed are showing they aren't such disposable nonentities in poll after poll. Today they are not accepting the 'Go Shopping' theme, they are not taken in.

One in three Americans expects a U.S. recession in the next year, and less than a quarter think home prices will rise, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

Hispanics and African-Americans were more likely than whites to predict a recession, reflecting a deeper sense of job and economic anxiety among minorities, who represent a disproportionately large share of lower-income groups.

"There has been much, much, much more talk about a recession in the last 30 days than there had been before," pollster John Zogby said, noting that the key factors behind the latest downturn worries were issues that literally hit home for the general public -- housing and jobs.

Starving people are revolutionaries. It looks like time for the GoPervs to start following the jobs abroad, or get to work fixing the mess they've made here. I don't expect the kind of mentality that blithely tosses 'bodies' aside has the mental acuity to make that change.

Discontent has been thoroughly ignored by the businesses behind our present worker-unfriendly environment. Workers are not content to be 'bodies' that are tossed out with the Kyoto protocols. Look! we've stopped buying swill.

I believe the polls are some early rumblings of return to respect for human beings, and return to human rights.

Below (as promised): Woody hugs a tree in the Bandelier National Monument.

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A Second Chance

Just before the Summer Recess, Congress reneged on the promises made during the November elections and gave the President everything he wanted when it came to spying on Americans without a warrant. They justified the hurried passage of the bill so that they could get out of town by limiting the life of the new law to just six months. Now, as promised, they are revisiting FISA, and the White House has begun with another full-court press. From today's Los Angeles Times:

The fight over the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program began anew Tuesday as the nation's top spy urged Congress to make permanent the law that gives intelligence agencies more latitude to monitor overseas phone calls and e-mails.

Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell testified that the administration needed the expanded powers because old versions of the law required intelligence agents to obtain time-consuming warrants for any communication that passed through U.S. networks -- even if the call was between two foreign suspects.
[Emphasis added]

Time consuming? The FISA court is just down the hall, is for the most part a rubber-stamp operation, and will grant the warrant even after the wire tap has been initiated.

Mr. McConnell let out all the stops in his testimony, urging Congress to make the law permanent because the world is just filled with evil-doers:

As part of his push to get the law renewed, McConnell said that in addition to a persistent threat from Al Qaeda-linked terrorists, the nation was facing increasingly assertive spying by Russia and China.

Ack! The Russkis and the folks from Red China! They're back!

Someone should point out to Mr. McConnell that such rhetoric is just too pre-9/10 for thinking Americans.

Someone should also point that out to the Democrats in the 110th Congress.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stiff Upper Lip Quivers

Your GoPerverts are hard at work and aren't they cute? running around madly trying to plug up the holes they dug in the topsoil of financial stability while making Just Do It the loan industry mantra.

Not understanding this concept "value" has so many problems attached.

The BBC muses about it, as over there an actual run on a bank is taking place reminiscent of the asset freezes in the '80s.

The US central bank, the Federal Reserve, is about to decide the future direction of US interest rates.

Amid growing turmoil in financial markets, the decision will be closely watched around the world.

Why does the Fed decision matter?

Many experts believe that only a substantial cut in interest rates by the Fed will calm the turbulence in the world's financial markets.

The decision would send a strong signal that the US authorities are prepared to intervene to stabilise the markets and to prevent the US economy sliding into recession.

And it would reassure banks and governments around the world that the US was prepared to take a lead in tackling the current crisis.
If the US does slid (sic) into a recession, it will have a big effect on the rest of the world, as US consumers will buy less goods from abroad.

And that makes it more likely that other central banks, like the Bank of England, may have to cut rates sooner rather than later in order to stem the growing panic among individuals and institutions. (Emphasis added.)

Stiff upper lips are aquiver. If the Fed doesn't stop the collapse, that role passes on to the rest of the world. Of course, if the Fed does step in, it will be for the purpose of restoring calm only if the buying public is convinced that it will work, and stops selling off stocks, etc.

Your confidence is at stake, which is why economic news in your local fishwrap is so determinedly upbeat even when it's obvious that the actual economic climate is icy cold.

When headlines read "Boom Times for Pawn Business" - the fan blades are hacking their way through the fecal matter. At the present time, that the Fed is poised to give up crying 'Inflation Imminent, Head for the Heils', is pretty strong stuff.

The Fed only quails in its pursuit of convincing you DFHs that good pay for workers is the real threat to the economy when it's up against actual threats like collapse of a market.

It's that bad.

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Pictures From Albuquerque

These pictures courtesy of L'il Red. Thanks so much, sweetie!

Sunset at Red River Gulch, on the way to Taos. Woody drove like a demon to get us there in time for the sight you're looking at. Thanks, Dr. J.

Cluster of DFH's in Woody's front yard. From left; Uncle Smokes, Tena, Mena, Ray (a friend of Woody's, not a blogger yet), Flory, me, Diane, Olav.

Cliffs along the way to Bandelier, showing the erosion of layers laid down by our Jurassic era sea.

These are in the walls at Bandelier and almost all of us did climb up to take a peek inside. Hey, when all these mortgages are foreclosed, we may just know where to look for our friends.

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Because He Can

How anyone can be against allowing citizens to vote is one of those unfathomable mysteries that I can never quite get my head around. Oh, I know about our history when it came to women and to blacks, but I thought we had finally moved beyond that. I obviously was wrong. Now, apparently, the defining characteristic is party. From an editorial in yesterday's Washington Post:

SUPPORTERS OF D.C. voting rights have to get 60 votes to advance the bill to the Senate floor for debate and a vote. This cloture motion is technical, but how the senators vote is entirely about principle. It is simply not right that U.S. citizens who live in the nation's capital are denied basic representation in their government. That a procedural gambit would be used to prevent a redressing of this wrong is inexcusable.

The vote is likely to be close, and support is needed from Republican senators. Almost all the Senate's 51 Democrats and independents are said to back the bill, as do at least five Republicans. It helps that the measure is politically neutral, offsetting the mostly Democratic District with Republican-leaning Utah. ...

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made no secret of his strong opposition or of his willingness to use any tactic to stop the measure. Those who would follow Mr. McConnell's lead and vote no on cloture should think long and hard about blocking a historic civil rights moment. They should think about what message they are sending to a city with an African American majority or to the nation. Senators who oppose this bill should be willing to stand up and have a debate on its merits on the Senate floor. Moreover, they should make sure that any vote about bringing justice to half a million people is not a matter of political party but of conscience.
[Emphasis added]

That Mr. McConnell is opposed to this bill is bad enough, but he even wants to cut off open debate on the Senate floor. Suddenly the "up or down vote" concept has no meaning.

How shameful is that?

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Monday, September 17, 2007


YUP, I kept on keeping up and this a.m. in a hilarious cheap motel in Amarillo listening to Greenspan doing a hatchett job on his former gods was too too much fun. I cannot tell you how I enjoy seeing the debacle. If they had guillotinnes, the floors at the RNC would be slippery by now. I really think that Greenspan would not have spoken negatively as he did if he did not see how really badly we are about to learn that the born again crowd has done more damage than anyone can fix without deep dedicated reversal of all their messes.

Economics is not just an inexact science of course, it is a kind of supposition, making it the suppository science, I do think. Greenspan lasted so long as a guru by his abilities of speaking in gibberish. Anyone can make anything out of gibberish, and anyone now about to chime in that that's why the Bible has been so long with us may do so. (Consider yourself chimed.)

The DFH's were highly appreciated here, too, and finding out Diane is as intelligent and acute in person as in blogdom is nice. That she actually knows a godawful lot about Indian pottery and culture is downright intimidating, when you go shopping for kitch for the grandkids and learn how the real stuff is created and why.

Soon, when I get to the office and have real computer stuff I will post pics that lovely people like L'il Red and Uncle Smokes took and are glad to share. Bandolier is full of cavedweller cultural artifacts, and more compelling than I had even suspected. Again, petroglyphs that tell us exciting minds were here before, and we can learn from them still. (Hopefully maybe I will create something like that too, one day, Diane already has.)

My pics will be back next week some time. I still don't have any of antelopes, by the time you realize they're there you would seriously endanger a trucker or six if you tried to stop in time to take a picture.

There is nothing like spending some time living an exciting life to clear up the mind.

Sorry, the news from the hospital is that my ex is very likely only being maintained by machines, practically no expectations of any recovery there and decisions that have to be made are not what you wish onto anyone.

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Letting The CHIPs Fall

Well, I'm back from that brief but wonderful vacation, and Ruth should be back later today or tomorrow. We had a marvelous time at the New Mexico State Fair with all of the other DFHs who were able to attend this convocation. I not only didn't blog while gone, I also didn't follow much of the news (unlike Ruth, who as most of you know is an unreformed News Junkie of the First Order), so I didn't get the full scoop on the march in Washington, D.C. and other cities in the US, nor did I check on the latest debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. I didn't even know that O.J. Simpson was arrested until just a few minutes ago. I'll probably spend the rest of the day catching up (except on the Simpson story).

I did do a brief scan of today's NY Times and found out that the Children's Health Insurance Program bill is just about through the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions and will soon be submitted to the President (who apparently still intends to veto it).

Senate and House negotiators said Sunday that they had agreed on a framework for a compromise bill that would provide health insurance to four million uninsured children while relaxing some of the limits on eligibility imposed by the Bush administration.

The compromise, which resembles a bill passed by the Senate with bipartisan support, sets the stage for a battle with President Bush, who has denounced similar legislation as a step “down the path to government-run health care for every American.”

Republicans will come under political pressure to support the compromise. But if the president vetoes it, he will probably have enough votes in the House to sustain his veto, Republicans say. ...

At issue is the future of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Supporters of the Senate bill, passed last month by a vote of 68 to 31, had enough votes to overcome a presidential veto. Only five Republicans voted for the House bill when it was approved, 225 to 204.

The compromise is likely to pick up some Republican votes in the House but probably not enough to override a presidential veto, Republicans said. A two-thirds majority is needed to override a veto — 290 votes if all 435 representatives are voting.

At this point, we're 65 votes short of the necessary veto-proof majority in the House, all Republicans. Will there be enough Republicans with the heart and spine to defy this president? It's hard to tell at this point, even though Republican governors are strongly urging the passage of the bill.

The compromise would allow states to cover nearly half of the children who are uninsured. About 6.6 million youngsters are now covered under the program.

The Congressional action comes in response to urgent appeals from governors of both parties. In a letter to Congress last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association, said, “For health and moral reasons, Congress must pass and the president must sign a reauthorization of the program by Sept. 30.”

Without prompt action by Congress, they said, “it will be virtually impossible for states to continue coverage for children already enrolled.” The Congressional Research Service said that 12 states would have no federal money available on Oct. 1, while an additional 23 states would exhaust their allocations in the coming year without a fresh infusion of money.

Somebody needs to make it clear to 65 Republican members of the House who haven't gotten on board with this bill that they need to do so, and today. If you're burdened with such a recalcitrant rep, give the local office a call or a fax. Make it clear that you intend to hold the vote against them come election time, and not just the next election time. Explain that voters have long memories, especially when it comes to their children and their neighbors' children. Be relentless because this is that important.

And then follow-up with another phone call or fax after your rep's vote is recorded.

Oh, and it's nice to be home.


Thursday, September 13, 2007


Well, I'm packed and ready to go. I suspect Ruth is also pretty close to departure, so vacation time is upon us.

She and I are meeting up in Albuquerque, along with a number of other DFHs for some serious State Fair. That means, as Ruth pointed out here, blogging at this address will be light to nil until Monday, unless a computer with intertubes access magically appears beneath our fingers.

In the meantime, there are plenty of wonderful lefty blogs out there to visit. Atrios and Avedon not only have nifty blogs, they both also have excellent blogrolls. Check it out.

Have a great weekend, rational people.

I know I plan to.


Oh, My! What's This?

I confess to rarely reading the Washington Post these days. I have enough problems without adding elevated blood pressure and agida to the mix. Still, I did find time to make a brief foray onto their on-line publication today, and I'm glad I did. The first article to catch my attention was this one, which seemed to imply that at least one Democratic senator enjoyed his summer recess.

The Senate majority leader said yesterday that Democrats would block former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson from becoming attorney general, kicking off a spirited nomination debate even before the White House has named a candidate.

"Ted Olson will not be confirmed," Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. "I intend to do everything I can to prevent him from being confirmed as the next attorney general."

Well, imagine that. Mr. Reid has finally decided to dig his heels on a nomination, even though the nomination has not yet been made. It's a nice message to the White House, though. After all, Mr. Olson is not exactly the ideal candidate, but beyond pointing out that he gave some assistance to a group determined to topple the last president by innuendo, the article didn't give us much information on Mr. Olson's qualifications.

But wait, there's more. Apparently some other Democrats are feeling their oats when it comes to presidential nominations, according to another WaPo article.

Members of the Senate intelligence committee have requested the withdrawal of the Bush administration's choice for CIA general counsel, acknowledging that John Rizzo's nomination has stalled because of concerns about his views on the treatment of terrorism suspects.

The decision followed a private meeting this week in which committee leaders concluded that the troubled nomination could not overcome opposition among Democratic members. It comes less than a month after a key member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), announced his intention to block the nomination indefinitely.

Rizzo, a career CIA lawyer, has drawn fire from Democrats and human rights groups because of his support for Bush administration legal doctrines permitting "enhanced interrogation" of terrorism detainees in CIA custody. ...

During his confirmation hearing in June, Rizzo testified that he did not object to an administration memo in 2002 that deemed legal some extremely harsh interrogation techniques for CIA detainees. According to the memo, a technique was not considered to be torture unless it inflicted pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of body function, or even death." Rizzo testified that the legal opinion "on the whole was a reasonable one."

At least this article sets forth some pretty solid reasoning as to why Mr. Rizzo is just not the right man for this job. One wonders if there is any job he should be trusted with, but that's another issue. It's nice to see that Sen. Wyden not only spotted the problem but also made it clear that this confirmation just wasn't going to happen.

Or will it? Unfortunately, we've been treated to nearly seven long years of Democratic posturing when it comes to promising to block nominations, but then the hearings come and the votes are taken and we are stuck with yet more scoundrels in important positions.

We'll see soon enough.


The Other War

We don't hear too much about that step-child of American wars, you know, the one in Afghanistan that was supposed to be all about capturing and bringing to justice those who instigated 9/11, the one that we turned over to NATO once the White House decided it was time to attack and invade Iraq. What little we do hear tends to be upbeat, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's most current assessment. Today's Los Angeles Times has an op-ed piece written by John Kiriakou (a former CIA counter-terrorism official) and Richard Klein (a former State Department official) which presents an entirely different picture.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld says in the current edition of GQ magazine that the war in Afghanistan has been "a big success," with people living in freedom and life "improved on the streets."

To anyone working in the country, there is only one possible, informed response: What Afghanistan is the man talking about?

In reality, Afghanistan -- former Taliban stronghold, Al Qaeda haven and warlord-cum-heroin-smuggler finishing school -- feels more and more like Sept. 10, 2001, than a victory in the U.S. war on terrorism.

The country is, plain and simple, a mess. Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies have quietly regained territory, rendering wide swaths of the country off-limits to U.S. and Afghan forces, international aid workers and even journalists. Violent attacks against Western interests are routine. Even Kabul, which the White House has held up as a postcard for what is possible in Afghanistan, has become so dangerous that foreign embassies are in states of lockdown, diplomats do not leave their offices, and venturing beyond security perimeters requires daylight-only travel, armored vehicles, Kevlar and armed escorts.

Fear reigns among average Afghans in Kabul. Street crime, virtually unheard of in Afghan culture, has increased dramatically over the last three years as angry, unemployed and often radicalized young men settle scores with members of other tribes and clans, steal and rob to feed their families and vent their frustration with a government that appears powerless to help them. Taking a chance by eating in one of Kabul's handful of restaurants or going shopping in one of the few markets left is a new version of Russian roulette.

For U.S. officials and diplomats, Kabul is simply a prison. Embassies are completely closed to vehicular and even foot traffic. Indeed, at the American Embassy, the consular section issues visas only to Afghan government officials. If an average Afghan wants a visa to the U.S., he or she must travel to Islamabad, Pakistan, to apply. To allow Afghans to stand in line for visas at the embassy in Kabul would invite terrorist attacks or attract suicide bombers.

Most Americans, still in shock over the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, approved going over to this tiny country to kick some backside in revenge. Everyone figured it would be a quick and easy war: take down the repressive Taliban rulers, demolish the Al Qaeda training camps, capture Osama bin Laden and his cohorts: a week, maybe two. The Russians figured Afghanistan would be a walk in the park not too long ago as well. They got bogged down and finally limped back home. But, we were told, we're Americans: we're exceptional, plus we have God and justice on our side. A week, maybe two.

Well, it's been close to six years and we still have some troops there, as do our allies in NATO, and things are not going so well. In fact, Afghanistan is broken and longing for the very stability that is being promised by the Taliban we drove out.

By any measure, this remains a "hot" war with a well-armed, motivated and organized enemy. Village by village, tribe by tribe and province by province, Al Qaeda is coming back, enforcing a form of Islamic life and faith rooted in the 12th century, intimidating reformers, exacting revenge and funding itself with dollars from massive poppy cultivation and heroin smuggling. As Al Qaeda reestablishes itself, Osama bin Laden remains free to send video messages and serve as an ideological beacon to jihadis worldwide. The country's president, Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, is in effect little more than the mayor of Kabul.

Heckuva war, George.