Monday, April 30, 2007


Apple's latest product above!

Here's a pretty good band from the UK: The Last Dinosaur. Instrumental music with ambient leanings.

OK, time for politics: Prime Minister Maliki's office is purging top Iraqi army officials who have been seen as being over zealous in their pursuit of quashing the Shiite militias. By doing so, Maliki is undermining U.S. SURGE policy.

Meanwhile, the Saudi's top leader is not meeting with Maliki prior to a summit in Egypt today. Snippet:
The Bush administration has invested significantly in the Egypt meeting, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said in a television interview last Thursday that the United States holds a "lot of hope" that the conference will serve as a catalyst for garnering regional and international support for solving Iraq's problems.

Doesn't look good, now, does it?

Practices ranging from bondage to group sex, transvestism and the use of sex toys were widespread in primitive societies as a way of building up cultural ties.

So-Called Drug War

The photo above is an image of your (if you're American) drug war. Tennessee Guerilla Women has the whole tale and links.

If that wasn't idiotic and criminal enough, John Tierny reports on the trial of Dr. William Hurwitz who was convicted this weekend of prescribing pain killers to patients that actually needed them. The patients were all sufferers of chronic pain. The law that Hurwitz was convicted under is vague and vacuous.

Finally, Federal officials have released a time line of the killing of a 92 year old woman in Atlanta during what was originally described as a botched drug raid. Actually, the evidence for the warrant was fabricated. After shooting the woman, the officers handcuffed her as she lay bleeding on the floor in order to plant evidence around her home.


I guess this is an art day. Check out Cynthia Consentino's work. The Women's Room is a must see.

More pretty pictures

From Nicoletta Ceccoli

Pretty pictures

More here.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


The DoJ was not only firing/hiring people as U.S. attorneys, but it was also doing the same for it's Honors Program and it's Summer Interns Program. Snippet:
The decision, outlined in an internal memo distributed Thursday, returns control of the Attorney General's Honors Program and the Summer Law Intern Program to career lawyers in the department after four years during which political appointees directed the process.

...Complaints about the program emerged again this month after Senate and House investigators received a letter from the unidentified Justice employees, who alleged that hiring at the department was "consistently and methodically being eroded by partisan politics." The letter singled out the honors and intern programs, alleging that senior political appointees appeared to reject applicants who "had interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a 'liberal' cause, or otherwise appeared to have 'liberal' leanings."

...Since 2002, when Ashcroft adopted the hiring method the department is now abandoning, a large share of honors hires have had strong conservative or Republican ties, according to Justice lawyers and law school career-placement officers.

...According to a former deputy chief in the civil rights division, one honors hire was a University of Mississippi law school graduate who had been a clerk for U.S. District Judge Charles W. PickeringSr. about the time the judge's nomination by President Bush to a federal appeals court provoked opposition by congressional Democrats, who contended that Pickering was hostile to civil rights.

A few months after he arrived, that lawyer was given a cash award by the department, after he was the only member of a four-person team in the civil rights division who sided with a Georgia voter-identification law that was later struck down by the courts as discriminatory to minorities, according to two former Justice lawyers.

Note: See, he was given a cash award for taking a position that was discriminatory and struck down by the courts. He was given money for taking a losing position. And, finally, this quote from the article:

"When I started," the former honors program lawyer said, "it was rare you met people whose civil rights credentials were that they were part of the Federalist Society, but it became a commonplace thing."

The Saudis aren't towing the line like they used to for the Bush Administration and the Bushies are confused.

Rebuilt projects in Iraq are crumbling.

A view of going to college and student loans from a Brit living in America. Warning: it's not friendly to Bush.

Wolfowitz tried to cover his tracks regarding his mistress' job. He's so toast.

One Bush appointee resigns over the DC Madam scandal and there are thousands of more names on the list, including Pentagon and White House officials. The official who resigned was U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias. Tobias was the former head of Eli Lilly and was in charge of helping men in poor countries "develop healthy relationships with women". He was also a point man in pursuing the administration's abstinence only programs to other nations. Snippet from Think Progress' transcript of a Brian Ross report (emphasis is my own):
Well, David, I talked to him one day before he resigned and told him that we had found his name and personal phone number on a list of clients of the so-called DC Madam’s escort service in Washington. And what he told me was that he in fact had been a customer of the service, but that he had not had sex. He had had what he called gals come over to his condo to give him a massage. He claimed there was no sex but that he was stunned by the fact that we were aware he was a client and that was his conversation. I asked him if he knew any of the young women, their names. He said he didn’t remember them at all. He said it was like ordering pizza.
Pam at Pandagon has more.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Japanese comfort women

A commenter to the previous post sends us interesting links regarding Japanese comfort women (a euphemism for "prostitutes") in WWII. I responded by using the last link that he provided which was to the original NY Times article I was referencing in that post. My original intent was not to discuss the issue of Japanese prostitutes during and following WWII, but rather to address the number of troops stationed in Japan following the war as compared to the number of troops stationed in Iraq following that war. A comparison of the land mass between the two countries shows that Japan is significantly smaller in area than Iraq, hence it would seem that an occupation of the latter would require at least a similar number of troops in order to maintain security. A failure to recognize this assertion is, I imagine, part arrogance that our troops are trained better (something that sunk us in Vietnam and sunk the British in our own revolution) coupled with a fetish for high tech weaponry as a savior in a real war.

I was a bit lazy in my reply to the commenter. The point s/he is attempting to make is that in current Japanese discourse the issue of the comfort women is debated. Indeed, it is probably true that it is more nuanced than our media present it to be. Still, that doesn't mean that coercion did not exist, that it did not have government financial backing, and that the current Prime Minister's denial of that isn't specious. For time purposes, I only quoted from the first page of the NY Times article in my reply. Now, I will quote from the second page of that article, emphasis my own:

By the end of 1945, about 350,000 U.S. troops were occupying Japan. At its peak, Kaburagi wrote, the RAA employed 70,000 prostitutes to serve them. Although there are suspicions, there is not clear evidence non-Japanese comfort women were imported to Japan as part of the program.

Toshiyuki Tanaka, a history professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute, cautioned that Kaburagi's number is hard to document. But he added the RAA was also only part of the picture -- the number of private brothels outside the official system was likely even higher.

The U.S. occupation leadership provided the Japanese government with penicillin for comfort women servicing occupation troops, established prophylactic stations near the RAA brothels and, initially, condoned the troops' use of them, according to documents discovered by Tanaka.

Occupation leaders were not blind to the similarities between the comfort women procured by Japan for its own troops and those it recruited for the GIs.

A Dec. 6, 1945, memorandum from Lt. Col. Hugh McDonald, a senior officer with the Public Health and Welfare Division of the occupation's General Headquarters, shows U.S. occupation forces were aware the Japanese comfort women were often coerced.

''The girl is impressed into contracting by the desperate financial straits of her parents and their urging, occasionally supplemented by her willingness to make such a sacrifice to help her family,'' he wrote. ''It is the belief of our informants, however, that in urban districts the practice of enslaving girls, while much less prevalent than in the past, still exists.''

Amid complaints from military chaplains and concerns that disclosure of the brothels would embarrass the occupation forces back in the U.S., on March 25, 1946, MacArthur placed all brothels, comfort stations and other places of prostitution off limits. The RAA soon collapsed.

MacArthur's primary concern was not only a moral one.

By that time, Tanaka says, more than a quarter of all American GIs in the occupation forces had a sexually transmitted disease.

''The nationwide off-limits policy suddenly put more than 150,000 Japanese women out of a job,'' Tanaka wrote in a 2002 book on sexual slavery. Most continued to serve the troops illegally. Many had VD and were destitute, he wrote.

So, it is indeed nuanced. Some people were coerced by financial pressures by family and some were enslaved by one means or another. The parsing on the part of Prime Minister Abe and in the other links provided by the commenter stems from whether or not the government coerced women or agents of the government coerced women. The commenter's links indicate that the current government denies that the past Japanese government ever coerced women; merely their paid agents - the runners of the brothels - were the ones who coerced, and sometimes enslaved women. The idea being that this wasn't official policy and not systemic. That seems to me to be bending over backwards to wash their hands clean.

As I stated in my original reply, I do not think Japan should continue to suffer from these atrocious mistakes from it's past. Yes, I think that the people need to acknowledge their history. I do not think that the U.S. Congress needs to be involved in that process, even if Prime Minister Abe seems to be taking a step backwards in that regards. The U.S., after all, has not really come to terms with it's own participation in slavery, racism, and segregation. Though we've made great strides in the past 40 years, we still have a ways to go before we can lecture anyone on their denial of their financial and sexual slavery.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Criticisms of Iraq

First, in the Armed Forces Journel, a criticism about the generals who have run the Iraq war by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling. Snippet:

Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America's generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq. The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq's population. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) estimated in its 1998 war plan that 380,000 troops would be necessary for an invasion of Iraq. Using operations in Bosnia and Kosovo as a model for predicting troop requirements, one Army study estimated a need for 470,000 troops. Alone among America's generals, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki publicly stated that "several hundred thousand soldiers" would be necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. Prior to the war, President Bush promised to give field commanders everything necessary for victory. Privately, many senior general officers both active and retired expressed serious misgivings about the insufficiency of forces for Iraq. These leaders would later express their concerns in tell-all books such as "Fiasco" and "Cobra II." However, when the U.S. went to war in Iraq with less than half the strength required to win, these leaders did not make their objections public.

Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle. In 1997, the U.S. Central Command exercise "Desert Crossing" demonstrated that many postwar stabilization tasks would fall to the military. The other branches of the U.S. government lacked sufficient capability to do such work on the scale required in Iraq. Despite these results, CENTCOM accepted the assumption that the State Department would administer postwar Iraq. The military never explained to the president the magnitude of the challenges inherent in stabilizing postwar Iraq.

After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America's generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency theory prescribes providing continuous security to the population. However, for most of the war American forces in Iraq have been concentrated on large forward-operating bases, isolated from the Iraqi people and focused on capturing or killing insurgents. Counterinsurgency theory requires strengthening the capability of host-nation institutions to provide security and other essential services to the population. America's generals treated efforts to create transition teams to develop local security forces and provincial reconstruction teams to improve essential services as afterthoughts, never providing the quantity or quality of personnel necessary for success.

A word about troop forces. Yesterday I was reading a completely unrelated article about how Japan maintained their "comfort women" (prostitutes, often women coerced or forced to engage in prostitution) long after U.S. forces arrived. Until General Macarthur put a stop to it, Japan not only utilized the prostitution rings it originally set up for it's own troops, but expanded it to accommodate the 350,000 American troops after the country surrendered. That's something I was unaware of and it is atrocious. But what I also wondered was how come we had 350,000 troops in Japan when we wouldn't commit that many to invading and occupying Iraq? Yea, I know that the weaponry is better now and all, but given the results we've seen it's clear to me that Shinseki was right all along.

Second criticism comes from Richard Clarke and it regards Bush's statements and policies regarding Iraq. Snippet:

How is this odd terrorist puppy dog behavior supposed to work? The President must believe that terrorists are playing by some odd rules of chivalry. Would this be the "only one slaughter ground at a time" rule of terrorism?

Of course, nothing about our being "over there" in any way prevents terrorists from coming here. Quite the opposite, the evidence is overwhelming that our presence provides motivation for people throughout the Arab world to become anti-American terrorists.

Some 100,000 Iraqis, probably more, have been killed since our invasion. They have parents, children, cousins and fellow tribal clan members who have pledged revenge no matter how long it takes. For many, that revenge is focused on America.

At the same time, investing time, energy and resources in Iraq takes our eye off two far more urgent tasks at hand: one, guarding the homeland against terrorism much better than the pork-dispensing Department of Homeland Security currently does the job; and two, systematically dismantling Al Qaeda all over the world, from Canada to Asia to Africa. On both these fronts, the Bush administration's focus is sorely lacking.

Yet in the fantasyland of illogic in which the President dwells, shaped by slogans devised by spin doctors, America can "win" in Iraq. Then, we are to believe, the terrorists will be so demoralized that they will recant their beliefs and cease their terrorist ways.

In the real world, by choosing unnecessarily to go into Iraq, Bush not only diverted efforts from delivering a death blow to Al Qaeda, he gave that movement both a second chance and the best recruiting tool possible.


Paul Wolfowitz hires his mistress (he's married), provides her with salary raises and promotions, and now says he's being treated "unfairly" by the World Bank Board of Directors. Wow, could the U.S. have picked a better person to clean at corruption at the World Bank?!!? Crocodile tears and all of that.

Speaking of corruption, here's one that's flying under the radar in a lot of U.S. press: an American in charge of an Iraqi prison camp has been arrested. And here's an essay on how American media often shuns investigative reporting.

British diplomats are being criticized for an army campaign that tells Afghan farmers that it's OK to grow poppies. I think that not only is it OK, but England, which is short on morphine supplies, should legalize it and import the product. Doing so would increase prices on the world market and perhaps decrease heroin use, if only temporarily.

Meanwhile, in America's so-called War on Drugs (aspirin: you're next!), two Atlanta police officers admit guilt in a case where they raided a 92 year old woman's home and killed her. Radley Balko at Hit & Run has the whole, gruesome story.

Putin is upset about the U.S. proposal to put a "missile defense system" closer to his state. I can certainly understand why. The implication is that these eastern European states are preparing for a defense against a Russian attack. It also means that Russia will see these "defenses" as a possible attack vector against it. Of course, no one in the Bush administration could have predicted Putin's response. Putin heightened his language today.

In U.S. Presidential politics, McCain attempts to distance himself from Bush (moderating his recent stances, slightly) while Guiliani attempts to embrace Bush closer.

Environmentalists call for a ban on bottled water. Bottled water is generally a hoax of purity and freshness. Most city water in the U.S. and Canada is of equally high quality. In fact, some studies have shown that some bottled water is just tap water with no extra treatments. It costs a great deal of resources to package and ship bottled water. Petroleum products in the plastic bottle and in the tanks of trucks used to ship it. Many high end San Francisco restaurants no longer serve bottled water due to the harm it causes the environment. Fact is, bottled water is wasteful. Yea, it's convenient to carry a bottle of water around when hiking or at work, but you can buy one bottle to do that with or, better yet, use a ceramic mug. Note: I don't support a government ban on the stuff, but a personal boycott is fine by me.

Meanwhile, Americans overwhelmingly agree that something needs to be done about global warming. Some think that reducing dependence on oil is necessary while others think we should hire illegal immigrants to take care of the problem for us. (that's a joke, son) Seriously, here's your conspiracy theory of the day: think that the current rise in gasoline prices might be a way to stave off potential gasoline taxes that would go to preventing global warming - Americans would not take kindly, understandably, to the double whammy?

Ever need a Jesus action figure? Like Jesus surfing or riding a bull or playing football? Get them here.

Speaking of religion: Dinosaurs were created on days 5 and 6, according to the Bible, and lasted several hundred years after Noah's flood. So says a former evolutionist now turned creationist. Put that in your Afghan poppy pie and smoke it.

Finally, fun music links: You Say Party! I Say Die! is a self-described punk/dance outfit from Vancouver, B.C. Naturally, they have a MySpace page. Their first and second albums are available via online orders. They were featured in a video podcast by This City Rocks. Good stuff. Highly recommended. Reminds me a bit of music being made in the late 70s and early 80s.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gonzales, meet potential smoking gun

Well, I've been pretty easy on Attorney General Gonzales. While I've decried his cronyism, his manage-by-consensus style, his lying under oath to Congress, and his whithering excuses for the firing of the U.S. Attorneys, I've been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as to why those attorneys were actually fired. U.S. Attorneys, if you'll recall, do serve at the request of the President. If the President or his administration wants to fire them, then he can do so - even for political reasons or on a whim. The President has control over the matter.

However, I may have been too lenient. I've said that until evidence that runs to the contrary that these were just political maneuvers, then we have to give these dolts the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are innocent until proven guilty. The Wall Street Journal reports today:
As midterm elections approached last November, federal investigators in Arizona faced unexpected obstacles in getting needed Justice Department approvals to advance a corruption investigation of Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, people close to the case said.

The delays, which postponed key approvals in the case until after the election, raise new questions about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or other officials may have weighed political issues in some investigations. The Arizona U.S. attorney then overseeing the case, Paul Charlton, was told he was being fired in December, one of eight federal prosecutors dismissed in the past year. The dismissals have triggered a wave of criticism and calls from Congress for Mr. Gonzales to resign.

...Complex investigations commonly take a year or more, and it isn't known what issues figured in the Renzi case. Many details remain shrouded in the secrecy of a Tucson grand jury that has been at work since last year. Court filings remain under seal. The precise sequence of events likely won't become public unless formal charges are filed.

But the investigation clearly moved slowly: Federal agents opened the case no later than June 2005, yet key witnesses didn't get subpoenas until early this year, those close to the case said. The first publicly known search -- a raid of a Renzi family business by the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- was carried out just last week.

...Normally, local U.S. attorneys may seek court approval for warrants and wiretaps without Washington's approval. But the Renzi case -- like many that involve members of Congress -- is being handled jointly by the local U.S. attorney and the department's public-integrity section. In such cases, a senior department official must approve requests for wiretaps and warrants and other formal legal steps.

People briefed on the case said investigators in Arizona asked Washington for clearance -- among other tools -- for a wiretap of Mr. Renzi's telephones, a highly unusual step against a sitting member of Congress, months before Election Day. The wiretap eventually was approved, and was in place by late October, these people said.

On Oct. 26, just days before the election, two political Web sites carried the first public word of the probe. In subsequent news accounts, an unidentified Washington law-enforcement official described the matter as "preliminary." Few details emerged, but the leak disrupted prosecutors' wiretap.

Meanwhile, Mr. Renzi, first elected to Congress in 2002, was fighting to hold on to his seat. In September, President Bush hosted a fund-raiser in Scottsdale on his behalf. About the same time Mr. Charlton was added to a list of prosecutors "we should now consider pushing out," wrote Mr. Gonzales's then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, in a Sept. 13, 2006, email to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers. The email is among thousands that the Justice Department has released in response to congressional inquiries into the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys.

In November, Mr. Renzi won re-election to a third term, beating his challenger by 51% to 44%. A month later, on Dec. 7, Mr. Charlton was told he was being dismissed. Two weeks later, he emailed William Mercer, a senior Justice Department official: "Media now asking if I was asked to resign over leak in Congressman Renzi investigation." He asked for advice, but never got a response, according to the emails released by the Justice Department.

That may or may not be a smoking gun, but it sure smells like it. Either some Republican operatives have decided to release this information and/or some people at the Justice department have done it. Either way, it looks bad for Gonzales at a minimum and VERY bad for the White House. Bush is being told: don't stand too close to this one. We'll see if A) he hears the message and heeds it and B) if the fire doesn't spread to somewhere near the Oval Office.


Yesterday's post about Naomi Wolf should have mentioned that Naomi was riffing on an earlier idea, posited by Dr Lawrence Britt, on the unifying concepts behind various fascist states. Unlike Ms. Wolf's commentary, Dr. Britt's work is not focused on the current status of the U.S., but rather on the historical nature of fascism. His work also offers a few more traits of classic fascism than does Wolf's.

While the U.S. Supreme Court is curtailing choice, Mexico City is expanding choice. Why? In part because so many women were dying or maimed by illegal abortions.

An estimated 200,000 women have illegal abortions each year in Mexico, based on the number who show up at hospitals later seeking treatment for complications, said Martha Micher, director of the Mexico City government's Women's Institute.

Botched abortions using herbal remedies, black-market medications and quasi-medical procedures kill about 1,500 women each year and are the third-leading cause of death for pregnant women in the capital, Micher said.

What abortion foes fail to acknowledge, let alone concede, is that abortions occur whether they are legal or not. They always have and they always will. Women have, whether you believe it to be moral or not, always exercised choice. The question is really whether or not women should have access to a safe location/conditions in which to enact that choice or if we, as a society, are willing to continue to let them take their chances and die or be scarred for life. If anti-safe abortion proponents think that some women are scarred by safe abortions, how scarred do they think those same women will be when they seek an unsafe abortion? And don't let that bullshit about providing better services for prenatal and post birth care fool you. The majority of these folks don't want to fund those services either. For example, take Mississippi which has some of the most severe restrictions on safe abortions in the U.S., but also has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. And what other states have high infant mortality rates? Well, goodness me, it's the whole fucking bible belt.

Republicans are trying to send the White House a message in today's Washington Post. Bush doesn't read. Is Cheney listening? Do they care? Money quote:
This White House is isolated and ineffective; the country has stopped listening to President Bush, just as it once tuned out the hapless Jimmy Carter; the president's misplaced sense of personal loyalty is hurting his party and the nation.

"This is the most incompetent White House I've seen since I came to Washington," said one GOP senator. "The White House legislative liaison team is incompetent, pitiful, embarrassing. My colleagues can't even tell you who the White House Senate liaison is. There is rank incompetence throughout the government. It's the weakest Cabinet I've seen." And remember, this is a Republican talking.

The NY Times is facing a new threat. Usually it wards off attacks from both the left and the right. This new challenger comes from within - it's stockholders.

Spinal Tap is having a reunion for the Live Earth concerts. Life is good.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


While Naomi Wolf has penned an article on the steps America has taken towards fascism (a word that I think gets tossed around too readily by those who don't understand it and, therefore, it tends to lose real meaning...however, Wolf has used strict criteria for the properties of fascism and makes a cogent case for her point in the essay)....

...some people have decided that the best way to honor the President's bravery in these times of crisis is to present him with a Purple Heart medal. Money quote:
We feel like emotional wounds and scars are as hard to carry as physical wounds.
How much of a fucking Kool-Aid drinking tool do you have to be to do this?!!? It's a rhetorical question. Make no mistake, the Bushies - cowards, all - provided a perfect platform for this propaganda by letting reporters know and letting all parties to this deceit into the White House. Second money quote:
He said he didn't feel like he had earned it.
No, he didn't "feel" like he had earned it, but he sure let you fuckers into the White House and made certain that the press was aware. And, he took the fucking medal. Total crap.

In another contrast of articles today: In one locale, a transgender student is allowed to run for Prom King. In another locale, many thousands of miles away, they had their first (!?!) desegregated prom. America, land of diversity.

We're number 15! As in ranked 15th nation in the world as far as broadband penetration per 100 internet users. That's a drop from number 12. Luxemborg, France, and Japan just passed us.

If you haven't downloaded them yet, then go buy these albums. Straight up funk with feminist underpinnings. Re-releases from the 70s. Powerful stuff. Plus, you'll be supporting an independent record label.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


A great history of electronic music aka "space music" from the 1970s.

Quick, who said this?
Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but than cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code
The Supreme Court in 1992. Check out this excellent post on the SCOTUS inserting religious beliefs into the latest abortion ruling.

Harper's has an excellent piece up about the Bush Administration's efforts to quash the first amendment and reel in freedom of the press. Gonzales is their point man.

I do a lot of criticism of Bush, but he's right about reforming our Food Aid program that helps feed the world. It does need reform, badly. I'm just not completely certain his reform is right because I don't trust the man. I'd like to see more detailed analysis by an outside observer.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Wall of Baghdad

The Guardian reports that U.S. forces are building a wall in Baghdad to keep Sunnis and Shias separated from each other and lower the violence. Because, you know, it worked so well for Berlin and works so well for the Israelis and the U.S. borders. Good fences make good neighbors, ya know. Quote:

Although Baghdad is rife with barriers around marketplaces and areas such as the heavily fortified Green Zone, this is the first in the city to be set up on sectarian lines.

The concrete wall, which will be up to 12ft high, "is one of the centrepieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces to break the cycle of sectarian violence," US officials said.

The officials said the barrier would allow authorities to screen people entering and leaving Adamiya "while keeping death squads and militia groups out".

Oh, and it's worked so well around the Green Zone. No attacks there - ever.

Some Sunnis living in Adamiya have welcomed the attempt to improve security but warned that it was another sign of the deep hostility between Sunnis and Shias.

Others were sceptical about the latest initiative to staunch the bloodshed in Baghdad, which reached new heights when a series of suicide bombings killed more than 200 people in a single day this week.

"I don't think this wall will solve the city's serious security problems," Ahmed Abdul-Sattar, a 35-year-old government worker, told the Associated Press. "It will only increase the separation between our people, which has been made so much worse by the war."

Gonzales = toast

The NY Times has a good editorial today on the Alberto Gonzales testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. It was a shambles. The White House is attempting to spin it their way ("Hey, only 1 Republican Senator called for his resignation! That's a win!"). The Times does a better job at summing up my feelings after listening to 45 minutes of the hearing in the car:

Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.

He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party’s efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 United States attorneys working for him — let alone the ones he fired — were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes...

And when it came time to explain his inept decision making to the public, he gave a false account that was instantly and repeatedly contradicted by sworn testimony...

Some of his answers were merely laughable.

For videos of the testimony, check out TPMmuckraker. They have an extensive, albeit not complete, archive.

What amazed me when I listened to this hearing was the fact that Gonzales had a month and a half to prepare for them and it sounded like he hadn't done his homework. When I hear members of an administration give Congressional testimony, I expect to hear lies and half truths. Usually said members are in a cover your ass mode that almost demands this approach. Still, over the years I've come to expect such testimony to be shrouded in polished language and tones.

Yesterday, Gonzales offered up what I like to call the "Reagan Defense". When the Iran Contra scandal broke in the late 1980s, Reagan's main defense was saying that he couldn't remember much of the proceedings leading up to the scandal. To back him up, members of his cabinet even stated that the President occasionally fell asleep during meetings. This did little to tarnish the image of "The Great Communicator". In fact, his reputation has only grown since he left office. Perhaps this is best explained by the fact that Ronald Reagan was an elderly man and in subsequent years we found out that he also had Alzheimer's.

Gonzales, however, had neither old age nor Alzheimer's to come to his defense. Yet, he repeatedly invoked the Reagan Defense throughout his testimony yesterday. If one could capture as sound bites his use of the words "I don't recall" and it's variations and mash them together, one could easily make an extended mix dance record of them. I wouldn't be surprised if someone could make a 20 minute mix without repeating one sound bite.

For instance, Gonzales stated emphatically that he made the decision to fire the US Attorneys. When asked when that decision was made, he stated that he couldn't recall. When confronted with testimony from his former chief of staff that a meeting took place on November 27th that finalized the plans for the firings and that Gonzales attended, the AG said that he couldn't recall the meeting. When further evidence was introduced, including notes from the Justice Department that the meeting took place and that Gonzales was there along with a number of other officials, the AG said that he had seen those notes, but couldn't recall the meeting. Yet he could recall attending the swearing in of the President of Mexico earlier that week along with a number of other things that happened prior to the meeting in question. Charles Schumer, senator from New York, asked Gonzales if he could really recall making the decision and Gonzales stumbled over words in his answer.

Even Republican Senators were having difficulty with Gonzales. They attempted to toss him softball questions, expecting direct replies. The idea, as we've seen before from both parties, is to toss the easy questions, get direct responses, offer up how this is a witch hunt, and protect the witness and the White House. Again, look at how Orin Hatch handled Oliver North during the Iran Contra scandal to see how this is expertly done. Several Republican senators attempted to do just this with Gonzales. They'd ask about specific attorneys, for instance. The replies that they'd get would be less than adequate. In fact, the replies were downright shameful for a man whose had over a month to prepare for such hearings. Gonzales inevitably fell back on either the Reagan Defense or the one mentioned in this post that I made over the weekend: that decisions in Gonzales' Justice Department are made by consensus in order that no one has to take the blame.

Gonzales stated several times that the list of US Attorneys to be fired was compiled by a consensus of senior department officials. When pressed what the criteria of such decisions was, Gonzales stated that he wasn't sure, but that the senior department officials were the closest to the US Attorneys and therefore best qualified to make such decisions. When it was pointed out then, that perhaps these senior officials really made the decision, Gonzales objected saying that he made the decision. When asked whether he inquired as to what the criteria were for basing those decisions, Gonzales said that he didn't know or couldn't recall. The senior department officials that came to the consensus would know.

It was painful to hear Gonzales yesterday. He clearly wasn't prepared for the hearing. He appeared incompetent and disingenuous. None of the Democrats was friendly towards him and 4 of the 9 Republicans turned on him. It's easy to understand why his fellow Republicans did that: they didn't want to be associated with such a display. Those senators know that Gonzales is toast. Burnt toast...made from moldy bread with rancid butter. I was incredulous at what I heard. The sooner Gonzales and his minions are gone, the better this country will be...unless, of course, Bush can find someone worse for the job. He has a talent for that.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thunderbird 2.0

Mozilla's free, open source email program, Thunderbird, just got released as version 2.0. They will update the program via the automatic update feature, but if you're itching to get the new model ASAP, then go to here and download it. I've been using it and it looks pretty spiffy.

Note: Some extensions and themes will likely break when the new version is installed. They will work again once they've been updated.

FBI searches Doolittle's home

The FBI raided the home of Republican congressman, James Doolittle. He's been under investigation for his role in the Abramoff/Wilkes/Cunningham bribery/fundraising scandals. It's a tangled web, but basically Cunningham and Doolittle were friends. Doolittle hired his wife's firm to do some fundraising for him and she, in turn, got a rather high 15% commission for her efforts. Abramoff and his firm were the chief contributers to Doolittle's wife's firm.

OK, having laid that out, reports that they also tried to get a copy of the subpoena from the District court in which it was filed. They didn't get their copy and they printed this line:
Attempts to obtain a copy of the search warrant at the U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria were unsuccessful. Of the 126 search warrants logged there since the beginning of February, 90 (or 71 percent) are “under seal.”
Emphasis is all mine. So much for "open government" eh? In Washington state, our newspapers, particularly the Seattle Times, have been fighting legal battles to open court records. Government performs best when it is open. What's up with the secrecy?

Update: Doolittle resigned his House Appropriations Committee seat.

Judicial Activism

Social conservatives like to go on (endlessly) about how they loathe "judicial activism". Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a ban on a particular method of abortion. This ban imposed a federal law that trumped Washington State law (and New Hampshire law, for that matter where a public vote won a 56% majority on keeping the procedure legal). I very much doubt that social conservatives are reeling from the "judicial activism" practiced yesterday. Hypocrisy trumps all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vagina Power

This video is simply amazing. It's from public access television in Atlanta. It stars Alexyss K Tylor on her show, Vagina Power. The audio of this is NSFW in some instances. No naughty words are used; just scientifically correct names for genitals and sexual acts.

Remember, if you want to earn your man, you got to learn your man!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Zimmers

This amused me to no end. The fact that it's sung by elderly folks is only part of the fun. There is a poignant moment or two in the video as well. What's really lovely, though, is seeing the joy in these folk's faces as they get into the project. It's by a group dubbed The Zimmers. Their album (and this video) was recorded in Abbey Roads studios. Proceeds from sales of their album (due May 21) will go to Age Concern.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Why I declined to serve

One of the Generals who turned down the offer to become the "War Czar", John J. Sheehan, former Marine Corps General, writes an essay for the Washington Post. The essay explains why he turned down the post, basically decrying the fact that the administration has no focused plan on how to deal with Iraq or the region in general.

I've got more reasons for you, General. A) The post is superfluous as we already have people who are supposed to be doing this job. B) If you decided upon a strategy that countered anything in the VP's mind, then he would undermine you. C) Concentrating so much power into one person's hand, especially a person who only reports to the President is dangerous, undemocratic, and it may be unconstitutional. This last reason was the one that was most salient for me. The following is part of Sheehan's reasons:
What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region...

The United States has and will continue to have strategic interests in the greater Middle East well after the Iraq crisis is resolved and, as a matter of national interest, will maintain forces in the region in some form. The Iraq invasion has created a real and existential crisis for nearly all Middle Eastern countries and created divisions among our traditional European allies, making cooperation on other issues more difficult. In the case of Iran, we have allowed Tehran to develop more policy options and tools than it had a few years ago...

We cannot "shorthand" this issue with concepts such as the "democratization of the region" or the constant refrain by a small but powerful group that we are going to "win," even as "victory" is not defined or is frequently redefined...

But after thoughtful discussions with people both in and outside of this administration, I concluded that the current Washington decision-making process lacks a linkage to a broader view of the region and how the parts fit together strategically. We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan -- and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq. For these reasons, I asked not to be considered for this important White House position. These huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff. They need to be addressed before an implementation manager is brought on board.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Inside the Gonzales Justice Dept. has a terrific interview with Daniel J. Metcalfe, former director of the Office of Information and Privacy at the U.S. Department of Justice. It is a must read for those interested in the current problems at the Justice department. Here are some snippets.

Under Gonzales, though, almost immediately from the time of his arrival in February 2005, this changed quite noticeably. First, there was extraordinary turnover in the political ranks, including the majority of even Justice's highest-level appointees. It was reminiscent of the turnover from the second Reagan administration to the first Bush administration in 1989, only more so. Second, the atmosphere was palpably different, in ways both large and small. One need not have had to be terribly sophisticated to notice that when Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey left the department in August 2005 his departure was quite abrupt, and that his large farewell party was attended by neither Gonzales nor (as best as could be seen) anyone else on the AG's personal staff.

Third, and most significantly for present purposes, there was an almost immediate influx of young political aides beginning in the first half of 2005 (e.g., counsels to the AG, associate deputy attorneys general, deputy associate attorneys general, and deputy assistant attorneys general) whose inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it...

But the process of agency functioning, however, became dramatically different almost immediately after Gonzales arrived. No longer was emphasis placed on accomplishing something with the highest-quality product in a timely fashion; rather, it became a matter of making sure that a "consensus" was achieved, regardless of how long that might take and with little or no concern that quality would suffer in such a "lowest common denominator" environment. And heaven help anyone, career or noncareer employee, if that "consensus" did not include whatever someone in the White House might think about something, be it large, small or medium-sized.

In short, the culture markedly shifted to one in which avoiding any possibility of disagreement anywhere was the overriding concern, as if "consensus" were an end unto itself. Undergirding this, what's more, was the sad fact that so many political appointees in 2005 and 2006 were so obviously thinking not much further than their next (i.e., higher-level) position, in some place where they could "max out" by the end of Bush's second term...

Yes, it became quite clear that under Gonzales, the department placed no more than secondary value on the standards that I and my office had valued so heavily for the preceding 25 years -- accuracy, integrity, responsibility and quality of decision-making being chief among them. Had I stayed as director of OIP, I might have been working for a Monica Goodling protege by now.

Q: Are there any possible benefits to this "decision-making by consensus" approach?

A: Yes, but they accrue only to the participants in the process. Indeed, by operating in this way, they manage to avoid any singular responsibility for the result, or any part of it, which is another way of saying that they see themselves as running no risk of blame if anyone beyond the group has any problem with what they've done at any point.

After all, it was "the group" that did it (whatever that might be), and they achieved presumptively benign "consensus" (at all costs) before moving forward. You can imagine how important this is to someone whose primary interest in most any government action is to make sure that it doesn't somehow get in the way of securing that next (but not necessarily last) position before the end of a presidential administration. And remember that there's little downside to operating in this way if your basic view of government (in line with your inexperience) holds little respect for it in the first place. In other words, if it doesn't really matter so much to you how well or efficiently a government activity is handled, just so long as it eventually is handled, then the thinking is: Why not handle it in the way that most effectively minimizes personal risk? What this breeds, of course, is an utter lack of individual responsibility -- the very antithesis of good government...

In my experience over 11 presidential administrations, from Nixon I to what can be called Bush III, there is an unmistakable drop-off in overall appointment quality during a second presidential term -- and this definitely is more so during a Republican administration. Perhaps this is due to there being a lower quality of political appointees in Republican administrations to begin with, given that, by and large, they give up more than Democrats do to enter government service, especially with the post-Watergate ethics restrictions that all government officials face.

This observation is nothing new, by the way; one need only look at the relative ages and experience levels of comparable appointees in successive administrations to see it. So when you enter the second term of a Republican administration, you get the worst of all possible worlds: You actually see some influential political appointees who are, to put it bluntly, too subject-matter ignorant to even realize how ignorant they are. (This is assuming that, if they knew, they'd actually care.)

And compounding this, as mentioned earlier, is the strong drive of political appointees at all levels (perhaps more so if they are attorneys, whose background is amenable to legal positions throughout the executive branch) to obtain that maximum capstone position before the second term ends. What happens to bureaucracy at such a time is that it becomes sluggish to the point of constipation, driven only by expediency as gauged from a political or personal agenda, and it sometimes yields some truly mind-boggling results, such as the current U.S. Attorney nightmare.

Speaking of which, this second-term drop-off, so to speak, has much to do with the U.S. Attorney situation, both as to the replacement decisions themselves and also how they were implemented. It is clear by now that the department -- and, perhaps more than anyone, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty -- was grossly disserved and betrayed by the relatively young aides who participated in that "consensus process" from its very beginning. To those who know the players involved, it's not hard to see how frictions could develop between such high-level Main Justice staffers and the U.S. Attorneys whom they attempted to "oversee."

On one side, you had hard-nosed prosecutors who, for the most part, already had several years' experience under their belts (with little micromanagement from Ashcroft's people) and knew what they were doing already. On the other side, you had political aides who, among other things, had precious little management experience for their positions and were not necessarily adept at playing well with others, even when those others were political appointees like themselves. One need look no further than the extensively disclosed e-mails from Kyle Sampson, Mike Elston [chief of staff to McNulty], Monica Goodling and [Deputy Associate Attorney General] Will Moschella to get a clear picture of this.

Does this mean that at least some of the eight replaced U.S. Attorneys made the list because they failed to get along in a sufficiently deferential fashion with such Main Justice appointees? I'd certainly bet the oldest of my two cars on it, perhaps even the newer one, based upon what I've seen over the years and what I've read in e-mail form more recently. And it surely follows from everything else I've observed that in such a situation, even with the presumed cover of "consensus" decision-making, such appointed aides would scramble mightily, in the most derisive of terms (captured only partially on the disclosed e-mails), to castigate the U.S. Attorney victims of their management inexperience, lest they themselves be held to blame.

And that then, with little sense (of irony or otherwise), they would proceed to publicly tarnish the reputations of several U.S. Attorneys while in the next breath redacting records based on an asserted need to "protect their (i.e., the U.S. Attorneys') privacy." Even putting such callousness and privacy violations aside, and moving swiftly past the image that they "eat their young," it is painfully clear that these political aides got carried away again and again.

This is the type of thing that a second term at its very worst can bring -- though I remember well that even the second Reagan administration, for all its flaws, was never quite as bad. And it cannot help but reflect disastrously on the person sitting at the top of that heap -- who either knew of this and at a minimum tacitly condoned it or else turned a fatally blind eye to it through overdelegation to underlings because he just didn't care (and take care) nearly as much as an attorney general should. Either way, it's hard to see how anyone could ever place trust in such a situation again...

But that strong tradition of independence over the previous 30 years was shattered in 2005 with the arrival of the White House counsel as a second-term AG. All sworn assurances to the contrary notwithstanding, it was as if the White House and Justice Department now were artificially tied at the hip -- through their public affairs, legislative affairs and legal policy offices, for example, as well as where you ordinarily would expect such a connection (i.e., Justice's Office of Legal Counsel). I attended many meetings in which this total lack of distance became quite clear, as if the current crop of political appointees in those offices weren't even aware of the important administration-of-justice principles that they were trampling.

This matters greatly to Justice Department employees of my generation. They are now the senior career cadre there, with the high-grade institutional knowledge that carries the department from one administration to the next, and when they see a new attorney general come from the White House Counsel's Office with a wave of young "Bushies" in tow and find their worst expectations quickly met, they just as quickly lose respect for nearly all of the department's political leadership, not to mention that leadership's "policy concerns." That respect is a vital thing, as fragile as it is essential, and now it's gone...

Second, candor compels me to acknowledge that there in fact was a situation in which, rather than being asked to do something for purposes of a political agenda, I surely was asked to refrain from doing something quite ordinary for a reason that I later learned (and earlier had surmised) was indeed very much a "political" type of agenda. That situation does stand apart in my government experience, but I will refrain from saying anything more about it here, other than that it did occur during the early months of 2005.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Still not ready for prime time under this administration.
As many as 6 million prepared meals stockpiled near potential victims of the 2006 hurricane season spoiled in the Gulf Coast heat last summer when the Federal Emergency Management Agency ran short of warehouse and refrigeration space, according to agency officials.In all, hundreds of truckloads of food worth more than $40 million are being thrown away or scavenged for unspoiled contents to be offered to domestic hunger-relief groups, FEMA officials said...

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson, who joined FEMA last April, said the agency is cleaning house. "FEMA is making significant changes in the culture, management and organization of our logistics structure, and part of that is to instill . . . visibility and accountability," he said.
Isn't that double speak? Under Clinton/Gore FEMA not only was competent, but it worked reasonably well and had accountability. Under Bush/Cheney the agency has been gutted and filled with political hacks who weren't experienced in disaster handling which led to a figurehead being fired (a fine and rare example of a Bush appointee being fired, by the way).

Friday, April 13, 2007

No need to panic

From the Independent:

But Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), played down the extent of Iran's progress at Natanz.

"Iran is still just at the beginning stages in setting up its Natanz enrichment facility," Mr ElBaradei told reporters in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. "The talk of building a facility with 50,000 centrifuges is just at the beginning.

"It has not been demonstrated until now that there are underground nuclear facilities in Iran working covertly, and Iran doesn't have the material to make a nuclear weapon."

So, think before you buy both the hype from Iran and the bullshit from Bush.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Three quotes:
Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they'll have good voice boxes in case there's ever anything really meaningful to say.

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.


A couple of weeks ago I came down with a mild cold. The symptoms were pretty typical: sore throat, sinus issues, upper lung congestion. The one symptom that was unusual was a sour stomach. There was some acid reflux. Also, when I drank a cup of coffee it seemed to further the acid reflux and build a nasty warming sensation that was unpleasant. I did the logical thing and gave up the coffee. At the same time I decided not to take in tea either as the caffeine would keep me awake and I definitely needed to sleep more in order to recover.

I didn't go back to the coffee or the tea. In fact, I was generally feeling quite fine without either. For a couple of days I felt as if I was dragging a little, but that was to be expected from a cold. After which I recovered nicely and my energy picked up and became more constant.

Yesterday, for some silly spur of the moment reason, I decided to buy a cup of coffee while I was shopping in Safeway. The new Starbucks stand called my name. Even worse, I placed my old, typical order out of habit: a Venti (large - 20 ounce) drip coffee with no room for cream. Maximum caffeine. As I walked away from the stand I thought about how silly that was. By the time I got to work I had drank half the cup. An hour after arriving, and without having drank anymore, I was wired. Completely and totally wired. I had one more sip about 3 hours later and tossed the rest of the cup.

The downside: Despite a double shot of brandy when I got home, my sleep pattern was light last night. My muscles were tense and I'm still feeling the effects this morning.

The upside: With the tensing of my muscles, my sinuses cleared up completely. Nice as it's been a week and a half (part cold and part, I'm sure, due to allergies). Also, I recall dreaming of a parade - a cross between winter solstice and Independence day. Marching bands, cheerleaders, floats - all in shades of white and cream. Some people who marched wore Halloween-type masks (at least, I thought they were masks) which were also pale white, though with ghoulish faces. The last float and highlight of the parade was pulled by a truck. On the flat bed was what appeared to be an armored structure. Doors were open on the sides and in the armored structure were 2 enormous cylinders spinning around at high speeds. The doors to the vehicle closed, the crowd began to get further excited and cheered, and out of the top of the structure, where the centers of the cylinders would be shot giant sparks into the air. The sparks went up 40 or 50 feet. As they fell to the ground, the sparks became large, illuminated snow flakes. When they landed on our hands, heads, clothes, ground, the sparkle flakes were slightly warm to cool to touch. Children played and tried to toss them at each other, but they quickly dissipated. People fell in and danced behind the float for the remainder of the parade route.

War Czar

Yep, you read that right. And it's not satire on my part. The Bush administration has been feeling out several top military commanders for filling a new position that reports directly to the President called a War Czar. Oh, to be sure, that might have been only a working title, but no matter what they call this position the effect would be the same as of a Czar. Acting Up has a good post on this topic. What I had to add I posted in a reply to him which I republish below with minor edits.

As you know, I regularly call it the department of "Fatherland Security". It does have that same Nazi/Soviet feel to it.

I agree that this Czar position is a way to undercut Gates, but it is also a way to undercut Rice. The so-called Czar (a term we should banish from all government positions) would oversee the Pentagon, the State Dept. , Fatherland Security, and the Justice Department as they pertain to the so-called War on Terror. That undercuts Gates, Rice, Gonzales, and Chertoff. It, in essence, is a revival of the Gustapo or KGB. It shows not only a willingness to concentrate control, but also a suspicious nature towards elements within Bush's own government.

Cheney must be behind this. He sees other cabinet members attempting to dismantle the structures that he has worked hard to set in place. These folks are even collaborating with a Democratic Congress (and listening to the will of the public in doing so) to curb Cheney's "reforms". In his fit of Nixonian paranoia, his next Machiavellian maneuver is to undercut these people with a new appointment.

Tellingly, this person is not a new cabinet position. Congress would never allow it. Instead, this new position will report directly to the puppet and thief, Bush. As you note, even if they find no takers (someone will take it, though - some sycophant greedy for power and prestige), Cheney has already let these cabinet members know that he's not happy with their positions on Gitmo, Middle East peace, terrorist prosecutions, or security data bolstering his lies.

You're right: we have a secretary of defense, formerly known as a secretary of war. We also have a Commander in Chief (in theory, Bush). Why would we need a Czar to trump them? Cheney no longer has a need for Bush. Bush is a lame duck. This is Cheney's last big chance to grab power and enforce his agenda until the end of his term.

Congress should vigorously oppose any such position. A variety of voices is good for government. It doesn't matter if Cheney doesn't like to positions or the leaks coming forward. In fact, I'll wager that if such a position is created more leaks will occur and we'll see a Justice Department turn inwards to investigate and prosecute those who would not drink the Kool-Aid and make such leaks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The U.S. plan for Baghdad

According to the Independent and it's columnist Robert Fisk, the US plans on using an old tactic to bring down the violence in Iraq's capital. It failed in Vietnam, so what makes leaders think it will work in Baghdad?

The initial emphasis of the new American plan will be placed on securing Baghdad market places and predominantly Shia Muslim areas. Arrests of men of military age will be substantial. The ID card project is based upon a system adopted in the city of Tal Afar by General Petraeus's men - and specifically by Colonel H R McMaster, of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment - in early 2005, when an eight-foot "berm" was built around the town to prevent the movement of gunmen and weapons. General Petraeus regarded the campaign as a success although Tal Afar, close to the Syrian border, has since fallen back into insurgent control.

So far, the Baghdad campaign has involved only the creation of a few US positions within several civilian areas of the city but the new project will involve joint American and Iraqi "support bases" in nine of the 30 districts to be "gated" off. From these bases - in fortified buildings - US-Iraqi forces will supposedly clear militias from civilian streets which will then be walled off and the occupants issued with ID cards. Only the occupants will be allowed into these "gated communities" and there will be continuous patrolling by US-Iraqi forces. There are likely to be pass systems, "visitor" registration and restrictions on movement outside the "gated communities". Civilians may find themselves inside a "controlled population" prison.

In theory, US forces can then concentrate on providing physical reconstruction in what the military like to call a "secure environment". But insurgents are not foreigners, despite the presence of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. They come from the same population centres that will be "gated" and will, if undiscovered, hold ID cards themselves; they will be "enclosed" with everyone else.

...FM 3-24 is harsh in its analysis of what counter-insurgency forces must do to eliminate violence in Iraq. "With good intelligence," it says, "counter-insurgents are like surgeons cutting out cancerous tissue while keeping other vital organs intact." But another former senior US officer has produced his own pessimistic conclusions about the "gated" neighbourhood project.

"Once the additional troops are in place the insurrectionists will cut the lines of communication from Kuwait to the greatest extent they are able," he told The Independent. "They will do the same inside Baghdad, forcing more use of helicopters. The helicopters will be vulnerable coming into the patrol bases, and the enemy will destroy as many as they can. The second part of their plan will be to attempt to destroy one of the patrol bases. They will begin that process by utilising their people inside the 'gated communities' to help them enter. They will choose bases where the Iraqi troops either will not fight or will actually support them.

"The American reaction will be to use massive firepower, which will destroy the neighbourhood that is being 'protected'."

The ex-officer's fears for American helicopter crews were re-emphasised yesterday when a military Apache was shot down over central Baghdad.

The American's son is an officer currently serving in Baghdad. "The only chance the American military has to withdraw with any kind of tactical authority in the future is to take substantial casualties as a token of their respect for the situation created by the invasion," he said.

"The effort to create some order out of the chaos and the willingness to take casualties to do so will leave some residual respect for the Americans as they leave."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The U.S. is filing a complaint with the WTO regarding China's inability to crack down on wide spread piracy. The MPAA is the main driver behind this initiative. They are not only set on destroying their consumers in the U.S., but now wish to alienate consumers in the world's largest country as well! Good show, MPAA! Love this quote:
Announcing the case in Washington on Monday, Schwab said the US recognised Beijing's efforts to crackdown on copyright piracy and asked that the complaints "not be viewed as hostile action against China".
We're only threatening you with legal action and forced arbitration, but it's not a "hostile action". Talk about double speak. If this goes very far, don't be surprised if China starts placing calls on the U.S. deficit/debt that they've been financing for years.

Read the headline this morning: Australia to double Afghan forces. Read further and you learn that this doubling is to 1000 troops. Granted, that's 1000 lives at risk, but it's not exactly an overwhelming number.

Speaking of numbers, Al Jazeera reported yesterday that the rally calling for U.S. troops to go home from Iraq was attended by "hundreds of thousands" of people. The NY Times reported that it was "tens of thousands". By the time it was reported on NPR news while I was driving home last night from work, it was reduced to "thousands" of people. What's the deal with the shrinking number?

Finally, some words from Billy Bragg:
While I am not one of those who claim that multiculturalism has "failed", I do recognise it has created a vacuum at its centre. For while we celebrate our differences, we have given too little attention to those things that we have in common. As a result, trust and solidarity between communities are beginning to falter, and racist parties are exploiting this breakdown for their own evil ends.
He's speaking specifically of Britain, but I think we can agree that this issue is not British-centric.

Gaim becomes Pidgin

AOL sued the folks behind the Gaim instant messaging program claiming that Gaim was too close to their trademarked AIM. As a result of the settlement Gaim has changed it's name to Pidgen. They hope to release version 2.0.0 very shortly (it's been on hold while the settlement negotiations were taking place).

For those of you not in the know, Pidgen is an instant messaging platform that allows users to sign into multiple networks via a single interface. It works with AOL, GoogleTalk, Yahoo, and Windows Live. It is open source, available for multiple OSs, and can have extensions written for it by third parties.

Thanks, AOL, for giving me another reason to discuss this fine product!

Anti War art

More fabulous anti war art here.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pelosi in Syria

To read the reports in the U.S. media and to hear the squawking heads, one would understandably be surprised to find out that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled with a delegation to Syria. Indeed, she traveled with a bipartisan delegation. From the JTA Forum:
The clarification baffled the delegation, which included Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the Jewish chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), its Government Reform Committee chairman and also Jewish; Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), an Arab American who is chairman of the House Resources Committee; Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a freshman who is the first Muslim-American member of Congress; Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), a senior Republican; and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Rules Committee.
The "clarification" referenced above was a statement released by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. After Pelosi met with Syrian President Bashar Assad she released a statement saying that Olmert made a peace offering to Syria. Of course, the peace offering conveyed by Pelosi contained the usual caveats from Israel about Syria ceasing it's support for terrorism in the region. That's basically a given in any of the messages. Shortly after Pelosi's statement, however, Olmert saw fit to appear on television and in print with a "clarification" of Pelosi's statement. The "clarification" merely restated the caveats about Syria ceasing it's sponsorship of terrorism. The Pelosi delegation wondered why Olmert did this. More the the JTA Forum that reveals the answer:
Olmert's message seemed calibrated to cast Pelosi as a naive novice.

..."It's obvious the White House is desperate to find some phony criticism of the speaker's trip, even though it was a bipartisan trip," said Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who is considered the Democrat closest to the pro-Israel lobby. "I have nothing but contempt and disdain for the attempt to undermine this trip."

The White House had no comment on the allegations by Lantos that it pressured Olmert to offer a clarification.

Such backdoor statecraft between the White House and Olmert would not be unprecedented.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked Olmert into a 48-hour cease-fire during the war with Hezbollah to allow humanitarian relief, but within hours Israeli planes were bombing again, to Rice's surprise and anger. Olmert had received a call, apparently from Cheney's office, telling him to ignore Rice.
Ah, so the White House wouldn't comment on the allegations by Lantos, but Dick Cheney sure did. Speaking on Rush Limbaugh's radio show Cheney proved he can shoot from the mouth almost as well as he shoots from a gun. Again, from JTA Forum:
In his interview with Limbaugh, Cheney gloated over Olmert's role.

"Prime Minister Olmert immediately made it clear that she was not authorized to make any such offer to Bashar Assad," he said. "Fortunately, I think the various parties involved recognize she doesn't speak for the United States in those circumstances, she doesn't represent the administration. The president is the one who conducts foreign policy, not the speaker of the House."
Why is the White House so concerned about Pelosi's trip? After all, she's really not doing anything that previous government officials, in and out of the White House, has done. The JTA Forum offers this insight:
In fact, White House frustration might have to do with a foreign policy spinning out of its control.

After the White House berated Pelosi for even daring to visit Assad, it was revealed that congressional Republican delegations were in Damascus at about the same time just as eager to relay the same message as the Pelosi team: Talking is better than not talking.

"Dialogue is not a sign of weakness," Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) told his hometown newspaper, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, after he returned home. "It's a sign of strength."
Foreign policy is "spinning out of control" if members of the President's own party has decided that his policy isn't working. But rather than bash his own, the President chose to take on the Speaker. He's not exactly laying the ground work for running the government as a partnership, is he? After all, the President doesn't write laws or pass spending bills, he only signs them. If he ticks off members of his own party or if they decide his policies are failing so badly that they won't back them, then this President could face a few overturns of his veto powers. Lame duck indeed. Unfortunately, we have to live with this one for a few more months.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

I know that people are all about Amy Winehouse these days. Rehab is a great tune and Winehouse is a fine vocalist. It's her backing band, the Dap-Kings, that really make that number though. They are today's soul powerhouse. I prefer to hear the Dap-Kings with Sharon Jones fronting them. She's got the chops and the moves and she's one righteous babe. She's just better than Winehouse in about any way. So, hit pause on the music player on the left column and watch the video below. If it doesn't get your toe tapping then you better call 911 to have them resuscitate you.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Verizon DSL

Let's say that you own a building that has many apartments. You open the building offering everyone the same basic rate. However, tenants that choose to rent a parking space in the garage get a slight discount on their apartment rate. Fair deal and everyone's happy. Rent stays at around the same price for everyone.

After a few years the competition has heated up a bit and you're finding it more difficult to attract new renters. You decide on a new marketing campaign for your vacant units: if new renters decide to sign a year long lease, then they get a slight discount over current month to month renters. If new renters decide on a 2 year lease, then they get a significant discount over current month to month renters. New renters could still opt for the month to month option at the same prices as the original renters.

You decide not to tell the original renters of the new leasing option. Oh, you may mention it vaguely, but you don't go out of your way to market it. Why? Because you enjoy collecting their premiums over the discounts you're offering the other renters. After a time, though, you find that you enjoy the security offered by the longer term lease programs. You decide that you want to get more people to opt for those programs. How do you go about that?

Oh, you could opt to do more aggressive advertising to the current renters, pointing out the major discounts that they could receive by moving to the long term lease. You could even sweeten the pot a tiny bit more for the people who've shown loyalty by staying with you and have been good tenants. After all, you want to keep those good folks, right? Maybe even offer to switch those who've been there the longest to the lower monthly rate without the lease? Yea, you might do that, but not if you're Verizon Broadband.

Over a year ago Verizon offered a year long subscription program for their DSL service. I saw a notice at the time, looked at the offer and for whatever reason decided that it wasn't for me. There was no major discount that they were offering and I didn't want to deal with it right away. At least, that's my recall of the events. Maybe the literature on it wasn't clear. Also, as I recall, I didn't get a mail (snail or otherwise) or a phone call about the subscription. I heard about it through another website and took a quick look at Verizon's page. Again, nothing that would cause me to switch jumped out to me.

Yesterday, however, I got a notice from Verizon that they were raising my monthly rate by a little over 10%. They pointed out that all monthly customers were to get this pay hike. For the record, I've been a monthly customer for 4 years. If, however, I wanted to save some money, the email informed me, I should go to their website and sign up for a subscription program. The subscription was for 1 year of service. At this point I was annoyed because I was being railroaded into their plan, but I wasn't terribly miffed. It was when I got through their site and saw my options that I was ticked off.

Once on the Verizon site I found out that my current broadband service, a low end one, was offered to subscription folks at a nearly 30% discount over what I had been paying! If I had been offered this before, when they began the program, I'd have switched. Translated to year long usage that discount would have resulted in a savings of over $100. Certainly that was incentive enough to make the jump. But rather than be aggressive in marketing to me and telling me that I was overpaying, or switching me over to the new rate as I was a long term customer, they decided that raising the rate on my current service would be the best way to get me to subscribe. Who was the idiot in marketing that thought that I'd be happy finding out that I've been ripped off for a year or two? What sort of definition does Verizon have for "customer service" particularly when applied to long term, loyal customers?

The really sad part of this is that I was offered not 1, but 2 year long subscription options. The first one would have kept my service, as is, for the considerable discount. The second option would cost me less than 10% more than my current price (and, note, still less than the "new rate" that they were going to bump me to in a couple of months) but would also considerably improve my service by increasing my upload and download speeds by more than 3 times my current rate! Surely someone in marketing could have figured out that I'd be happy to increase my speed for a mere $2 more per month. Surely, someone could have sent me such a pitch in email or snail mail, let alone, you know, call me. I'd wager that a number of people in my position would jump at that chance.

I have spent the past year or so cruising Verizon's site off and on looking for opportunities to improve my connection speed. Each time I was curious about first, getting into FIOS (fiber optics which is being rolled out gradually across the country), and secondly, barring FIOS, getting a faster speed with a reasonable cost increase. I've looked at their site maybe 10 times in the last year for such a program and was never offered the deal I was offered yesterday. That tells me that their website marketing leaves a LOT to be desired, let along the mail and phone marketing. And that's what's so sad about yesterday's offer: I wanted the service and would have been happy to pay the extra costs and Verizon could have made that money had they been better at selling their product.

Instead, they ended up getting me ticked at them for feeling ripped off by paying more for their product than it was worth. That's how they treat existing customers? New customers were pitched the better deals because Verizon wanted to attract them so badly. Those of us who have been their customers were screwed. That's not a good method for maintaining long term loyalty. This is an example of how complacent telecommunication companies become about their existing customer base. Unless the customer complains to switch, they are ignored. And for many customers the ordeal it takes to switch is more than we want to deal with, so there's no competitive function that requires the company we're dealing with to make corrections and pay attention to us. Heck, in many areas of the country and depending upon the service you're talking about (cell phone, internet, long distance, local phone, etc.) there may only be one provider that a customer has access to and therefore that customer is caught hung over a barrel.
And that's how I feel today about Verizon. There are other broadband providers, but those providers still must use Verizon's lines to get to my house. Though I may be better service from those providers, I'd still be paying rent through a third party to Verizon and often times at a greater cost to me.

After a few hours of considering it, I decided to opt into the subscription plan for the faster service. To Verizon's credit, they got the faster connection up and running within an hour of my signing up. I'm sure it was just a combination of switches in their programming both at their offices/hubs and in my modem. I was without Internet connectivity for no more than an hour while the upgrade was put into place (I don't know how long it really was...I lost connection, went away for an hour or so, then came back and noticed the increase in speed). Verizon's technical crew, then, seems to have it together when it comes to customer service. It's just a damn shame that their marketing group doesn't perform at the same level. Put together - marketing and technical support - I come away with a mediocre feeling for the company.