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Walldon in New Jersey ---- Marketingace in Pennsylvania ---- Simoneyezd in Ontario
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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bush 08 Budget Big on War, Small on Soldiers

If we look at the big ticket items (over $100 bil.) in the '08 Bush $2.915 Tril. budget, defense and police are being increased (Table A) while support of soldiers who do the fighting are being decreased (Table B). Maybe the cuts in education are based on the belief that soldiers don't need educating anymore than the rest of us.



Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I'm off to the slopes for a couple of days, so there will be no blogging from this quarter till I return. Perhaps my capable co-contributors will fill in the gap.

Bye, bye! See ya Friday.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Weighing in

I have to weigh in on the Nevada Democratic party's decision, now endorsed by Howard Dean and implicitly by Harry Reid, to air the Democratic presidential primary debates exclusively on Fox News.


What they should be doing is boycotting the network.

Big oil to get a huge gift - Iraq

The Iraqi cabinet has approved a draft of the new oil law. From what I've heard about it (and, I haven't read it in full), the proposed law would be huge give away to big oil, just as the Bushies designed it to be.

When Fascism comes to America

You may recall the story of the school kid in Kearny, NJ who secretly tape recorded his teacher who told the class that they deserved to go to hell if they didn't accept Jesus Christ as their saviour. He also told them that the world was flat, evolution was wrong and that a "being" created the world. Here's a statement (via Blue Jersey) from the kid's father, Paul LaClair:

"If Fascism ever comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag, carrying the cross." This prophetic statement from Sinclair Lewis is being played out in Kearny right now.

My seventeen-year-old son is at the center of a "controversy" about a history teacher who was misusing his position to proselytize biblical fundamentalism (he is a Baptist) in a public school. Among the many galling aspects of this saga is that the matter is considered a controversy at all.

This teacher did not merely say "Jesus loves you," or lead a prayer. He told high school juniors who do not share his beliefs that they "belong in hell" --- not merely that they will go to hell, but that they belong there.

In the face of my son's obvious skepticism, he dogmatically asserted that the universe must have been created by a being. On this and many other points, he was not expressing a mere opinion, but stating his beliefs as fact.

He dismissed evolution and the big bang in favor of biblical creationism, in direct violation of settled Constitutional law. Quite apart from the illegality of this behavior, his "knowledge" of science is questionable to say the least. After all, how many high school teachers are publicly called "ignorant and scientifically illiterate" by a world-renowned astrophysicist? He also implied that all non-conservatives (we can only imagine what he means by that) are like Nazi appeasers.

He even had the audacity to tell my son that if he is sincerely seeking, he will "put his hand into Jesus' side," implying that the young man's mother and I are not sincere in our religious beliefs. Where I was raised, that sort of thing would be considered --- let's put it charitably --- rude.

Since my son reported this misbehavior, Mr. Paszkiewicz and his apologists have persisted in a series of denials, obfuscations and shell-gaming that would make Karl Rove proud. True to form, Paszkiewicz and his radical-right apologists have circled the wagons around him with a pitiful collection of arguments, including the notion that my son somehow forced him to say these outrageous things. Next they'll be telling us that Matthew can walk on water.

Do not underestimate for one moment what is at stake here. This sort of thing goes on in the Bible belt all the time. Looking at the abuse my son has endured ten miles west of Manhattan, can you imagine what would happen to a student who had the courage to report something like this in those parts of this country?

Paszkiewicz's behavior is part of a movement called dominionism: right wing Christians literally and fervently believe that because most Americans are Christian, they have the right to have dominion over everyone else. History tells us where that leads, as group after group is dropped from the list of the acceptable. We are confident the vast majority of Americans reject this dark vision.

The waiting continues

With one juror dismissed for reading news coverage of the Libby trial and the deliberations continuing with only eleven jurors, I'm disinclined to read any tea leaves.

Al Gore's teaser

I see from MyDD that Al Gore engaged in a teaser last night (I don't watch the Oscars myself). He began to read "I'm now going to formally announce ..." just as the band struck up to tell him his time had expired.

Yes, it was a laugh line, but as several people have commented, it sure doesn't sound like he's trying to discourage speculation.

By the way, if you have any desire to sign the draft Al Gore petition, you can do so here.

Wrong, wrong, wrong

The real importance of Seymour Hersh's latest piece in the New Yorker is beginning to sink in. Hersh tells us that the Bush administration has essentially decided to take sides with the Sunnis in the Sunni-Shi'a conflict, and, since al-Qaeda is among the Sunni radicals, that means secretly siding with al-Qaeda to defeat the radical Shi'ites (particularly in Iran).

This, then, gives some perspective to VP Cheney's comments yesterday to Musharaff where he told the Pakistani leader that the Democrats might shut off aid to Pakistan if Musharaff doesn't crack down harder on the al-Qaeda camps on the Afghan border. It isn't the Bush administration that's forcing his hand, its the Democrats. In fact, the Bush administration endorsed Pakistan's truce with the tribal leaders who are allegedly sheltering bin Laden.

But, can anybody imagine anything more wrong-headed than siding with al-Qaeda? These guys have their heads stuffed up their wazoos.

Al Gore wins an Oscar

I guess I should say something about the Oscars, so here goes.

Good for Al Gore! Now, go for the big prize.

You're our only hope, Obiwan!

Take a short break

Do yourself a favor and take six minutes or so to watch this video clip sometime when you have a chance to sit back and relax and be uplifted.

A worthy Republican

Via Andrew Tobias, here is Republican state representative Dan Zwonitzer of Wyoming on a bill to deny recognition of other states' marriages:

Thank you Mr. Speaker and Members of the Committee.

I am not going to speak of specifics regarding this bill, but rather talk about history and philosophy in regards to this issue.

It is an exciting time to be in the legislature while this issue is being debated. I believe this is the Civil Rights struggle of my generation.

Being a student of history, as many of you are, and going back through history, most of history has been driven by the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights, privileges and liberties to be bestowed upon him.

In all of my high school courses, we only made it through history to World War 2. It wasn’t until college that I really learned of the civil rights movement in the 60’s. My American History professor was black, and we spent a week discussing civil rights. I watched video after video where people stood on the sidelines and yelled and threw things at black students walking into schools, I’ve read editorials and reports by both sides of the issue, and I would think, how could society feel this way, only 40 years ago.

Under a democracy the civil rights struggle continues today, where we have one segment of our society trying to restrict rights and privileges from another segment of our society. My parents raised me to know that this is wrong.

It is wrong for one segment of society to restrict rights and freedoms from another segment of society. I believe many of you have had this conversation with your children.

And children have listened, my generation, the twenty-somethings, and those younger than I understand this message of tolerance. And in 20 years, when they take the reigns of this government and all governments, society will see this issue overturned, and people will wonder why it took so long.

My kids and grandkids will ask me, why did it take so long? And I can say, hey, I was there, I discussed these issues, and I stood up for basic rights for all people.

I echo Representative Childers concerns, that testifying against this bill may cost me my seat. I have two of my precinct committee persons behind me today who are in favor of this bill, as I stand here opposed, and I understand that I may very well lose my election. It cost 4 moderate Republican Senators in Kansas their election last year for standing up on this same issue. But I tell myself that there are some issues that are greater than me, and I believe this is one of them. And if standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it. I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.

I can debate the specifics of this bill back and forth as everyone in this room can, but I won’t because the overall theme is fairness, and you know it. I hope you will all let history be your judge with this vote. You all know in your hearts where this issue is going, that it will come to pass in the next 30 years. For that, I ask you to vote no today on the bill. Thank you.

It's nice to see that there are at least a few honorable Republicans.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

al-Sadr says security crackdown is doomed

This doesn't sound particularly good for the "surge." First, even though it's stating the obvious, it seems to be fueling the sectarian strife.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The leader of Iraq's biggest Shiite militia complained Sunday that bombs "continue to explode" in Baghdad and that U.S.-led security crackdown is doomed to fail, issuing a statement the same day a suicide attacker struck outside a college campus, killing at least 41 people.

Many Shiites believe that bombings have continued because the Shiite-led government bowed to American pressure and persuaded the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to take his Mahdi Army fighters off the streets.

Al-Sadr's statement, read to his followers in Sadr City, is likely to add pressure on U.S. and Iraqi forces to show results in the nearly two-week-old crackdown.

"I'm certain, just like all oppressed Iraqis are certain, that no security plan will work and no good will come of any occupier," al-Sadr said in the statement. "Here we are, watching booby trapped cars exploding to harvest thousands of innocent lives from our beloved people in the middle of a security plan that is controlled by an occupier who does as he pleases."

Modern English

I just learned a new word. IOKIYAR. I guess I should have known that all along. It does seem to explain the culture of corruption, doesn't it?

Black history month

According to this report, Al Sharpton learned this week that his family was once owned by the family of Strom Thurmond.

In a revelation that will stun the nation, the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of America's most powerful black leaders, has unearthed a shattering family secret - his ancestors were slaves owned by relatives of the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond.

I don't know that that changes anything. After all, it's all history. The facts are the facts, whatever they are. But, it does put a modern face on the more disgusting part of our history and acts to remind us of what once was true of this country. May we never forget.

It makes me wonder how many folks I know who have some ancestors that might once have been owned by some of my ancestors. Creepy thought.

Report: Generals and Admirals to resign if U.S. attacks Iran

Times On-Line says a number of U.S. Generals and Admirals plan to resign if the U.S. decides to attack Iran.

SOME of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

“There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations.”

A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

I hope this is true. But, would even that be enough to prevent Bush/Cheney from driving us over the cliff? I'm not at all sure.

Supporting the troops

I haven't blogged much about the atrocities revealed by the Washington Post's investigation into Walter Reed Army Hospital partly because I didn't have much of anything to add to what everyone else was saying (which hasn't stopped me before) and partly because I was so sickened by thinking about it. But, the further people look into this, the worse it gets. The treatment of disabled veterans is particularly revolting. Take this instance noted by BarbinMD at Daily Kos:

In Part II of the Washington Post series, was the story of Cpl. Dell McLeod:

Dell McLeod's injury was utterly banal. He was in his 10th month of deployment with the 178th Field Artillery Regiment of the South Carolina National Guard near the Iraqi border when he was smashed in the head by a steel cargo door of an 18-wheeler...Dell was knocked out cold and cracked several vertebrae. [...]

Doctors have concluded that Dell was slow as a child and that his head injury on the Iraqi border did not cause brain damage. "It is possible that pre-morbid emotional difficulties and/or pre-morbid intellectual functioning may be contributing factors to his reported symptoms," a doctor wrote, withholding a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury. [...]

"They said, 'Well, he was in Title I math,' like he was retarded," Annette says. "Well, y'all took him, didn't you?"

No brain injury? For a man who graduated from high school, had some college, worked in a steel mill and spent 19 years in the National Guard, here is a conversation with his wife:

"My name is Wendell," he says. "Wendell Woodward McLeod Jr."

Annette tells him to sit up. "Spell 'dog,' " she says, softly.

Spell 'dog,' " he repeats.

"Listen to me," she says.

"Listen to me." He slumps on the pillow. His eyes drift toward the wrestlers on TV.

"You are not working hard enough, Dell," Annette says, pleading. "Wake up."

"Wake up," he says.


Deja vu all over again, and again, and again ...

Apparently, as we did in Iraq, we have been providing secret evidence to the IAEA on the location of nuclear facilities in Iran. As with Iraq:

"Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us has proved to be wrong," a senior diplomat at the IAEA said. Another official here described the agency's intelligence stream as "very cold now" because "so little panned out."

As Rumsfeld said, "We know where they [the WMD] are."

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The system is "blinking red"

Last week, I commented on the report in the NY Times that al-Qaeda was regrouping in Pakistan and said I wondered whether this was a) a sign of one more Bush failure or b) one more Bush attempt to change the subject from his failed war in Iraq.

Today Frank Rich tells us that not only was option (a) correct, but the reason this is being leaked now is that once again the system is "blinking red" and nobody at the White House is paying attention:

The intelligence and counterterrorism officials back then [summer 2001] were privately sounding urgent warnings like those in last week’s Times, culminating in the President’s Daily Brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The system “was blinking red,” as the C.I.A. chief George Tenet would later tell the 9/11 commission. But no one, from the White House on down, wanted to hear it.

The White House doesn’t want to hear it now, either. That’s why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States” (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on “24”). Al Qaeda is “on the march” rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces — it’s “not ready for transition,” according to the Pentagon’s last report — but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

I hope that comment about a "nuclear device" doesn't mean a nuclear bomb. I think we could deal with a "dirty bomb" type of incident relatively well. A nuclear bomb in the heart of a big city, on the other hand, is another thing altogether. I don't even want to contemplate what that would do to what little is left of our democracy when idiots like Bush and Cheney are in charge.

Another war crime

Juan Cole alerts us to our latest war crimes:

Late Saturday, the US Air Force launched a series of bombing raids on southeast Baghdad. This is absolutely shameful, that the US is bombing from the air a civilian city that it militarily occupies. You can't possibly do that without killing innocent civilians, as at Ramadi the other day. It is a war crime. US citizens should protest and write their congressional representatives. It is also the worst possible counter-insurgency tactic anyone could ever have imagined. You bomb people, they hate you. The bombing appears to have knocked out what little electricity some parts of Baghdad were still getting.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Voting machine audit rigged

You will undoubtedly recall the Sarasota, Florida election fiasco last fall in which the voting machines failed to count roughtly 18,000 votes in an election that was ultimately decided by fewer than 400 votes. Today, the New York Times reports as follows:

Florida election officials announced yesterday that an examination of voting software did not find any malfunctions that could have caused up to 18,000 votes to be lost in a disputed Congressional race in Sarasota County, and they suggested that voter confusion over a poor ballot design was mainly to blame.

The finding, reached unanimously by a team of computer experts from several universities, could finally settle last fall’s closest federal election. The Republican candidate, Vern Buchanan, was declared the winner by 369 votes, but the Democrat, Christine Jennings, formally contested the results, claiming that the touch-screen voting machines must have malfunctioned.

Once more the Times simply buys in to the official line. In fact, there were many flaws in this "audit," and the plaintiffs in the case are crying fowl. Here are some of their objections:

The state official in charge of the audit was prejudiced against finding problems. David Drury, the state official in charge of the audit, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that “they’re not going to find anything” before the source code review part of the audit began (12-05). Drury, who is chief of the Florida Bureau of Voting Systems Certification, had a clear conflict of interest: he is the official who certified the machines in the first place and his reputation depends on how they are seen as functioning.

That same official’s competence has been called into question. In addition to questions about his partiality, questions about Drury’s competence have been raised by his pre-election decision to authorize the distribution of uncertified voting machines. (See a complaint filed by the Florida Fair Elections Coalition here.)

The audit tested just ten voting machines—only five of which were used on Election Day. Approximately 1,500 iVotronic machines were deployed in Sarasota County on Election Day, but the parallel testing portion of the audit—the only part where machines were evaluated—involved only ten machines (AP 11-22). With such a small sample size, malfunctioning machines could easily have been missed.

The audit’s lack of independence was scrutinized and criticized by the press. The Palm Beach Post weighed in with an editorial calling for a more “credible” and “impartial” audit (11-22). A St. Petersburg Times news headline asked if this was “An audit to nowhere?” (11-27). And Miami Herald writer Fred Grimm wrote, “No one really thinks [the] paperless, virtual audit that begins today will find 18,300 votes that disappeared” (11-28).

The expert appointed to lead the source code review was a partisan paper trail opponent. Alec Yasinsac, who led the part of the audit reviewing the software that runs the voting machines, wore a button reading “Bush Won” while working against a recount in the 2000 presidential race. Yasinsac is an avowed opponent of voting machine paper trails and cannot be considered independent.

A critic of the audit was incorrectly listed by the Secretary of State’s office as one of the auditors, further undermining the audit’s credibility. Princeton University computer science professor Ed Felten, who has criticized the audit process and declined an invitation to take part, was incorrectly listed as a “principal investigator” for the audit in a document on the Secretary of State’s website (for more information, click here). If we can’t even rely on the auditors to tell us who’s on their team, how can we possibly rely on their conclusions about the voting machines?

Frankly, I don't understand why so many election officials favor these machines.

Canadian court rejects indefinite detention w/o trial

Canada is way ahead of us. Perhaps it's time to move:

OTTAWA, Feb. 23 — Canada’s highest court on Friday unanimously struck down a law that allows the Canadian government to detain foreign-born terrorism suspects indefinitely using secret evidence and without charges while their deportations are being reviewed.

The problem is, the winters are too long!

Rasmussen: Giuliani 52%, Hillary 43%

Rasmussen says Giuliani would beat Hillary by nine points if the election were held now:

In a match-up between the early 2008 frontrunners, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) leads New York Senator Hillary Clinton (D) 52% to 43%. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds Giuliani’s lead growing in recent months. His current nine-point advantage is up from a six point lead in January and a four-point lead in December.

It's a bit early to take any of this too seriously, but I hope they're wrong.

The patent fraud

I occasionally rant on this blog about the state of patent law (and intellectual property law in gereral) in this country (and beyond). Via Kevin Drum, I came across this excellent summary of some of the problems. Here's a snippet:

The Oxycontin patent was just one of thousands of instances of lax scrutiny at the patent office in recent years. Paxil and Prozac are two other multibillion dollar drugs that earned monopoly profits for their makers before their patents were struck down. And the office's errors range far beyond the pharmaceutical industry to include everything from software to biotechnology to e-commerce. Greg Aharonian, a Bay-Area patent consultant who sends out an almost-daily email newsletter on every patent-related development under the sun (an item from February was headed, "Kazakhstan Patent Office Runs Out of Paper") highlighted one recently granted patent, which included a "graphical traceroute"--a technology used to map online traffic events to physical locations. As he points out, had examiners simply Googled "graphical traceroute," they would have found, under the first entry, an excellent example of the technology, along with a link to an explanatory paper, published by a different team of technologists in November 1999--more than two years before the patent application was filed.

No one knows how many mistaken patents the office issues each year. But the results of one patent office experiment suggest that, in some areas, the error rate may be as many as half of those issued may be faulty. Faulty patents may be doing immense damage to the economy. They not only allow patent-holding firms to gouge consumers with exorbitant prices, but they also inhibit innovation and research, put a drag on economic growth, and may even create an investment bubble. (See sidebar.)

The cause of the problem is easy to pinpoint. Over the last decade and a half, the patent office has been set up in such a way that it's an easy mark. The system overwhelms many patent examiners, operates under laws and bureaucratic incentives that favor applicants, and can potentially be hoodwinked by the unscrupulous. A recent Federal Trade Commission report, which laid out these criticisms, concluded that in key industries such as pharmaceuticals, software, biotechnology, and the Internet, the office now "hamper[s] competition that would otherwise stimulate innovation." For some companies, armed only with dubious claims, the patent office has become not something to fear but a patsy, as easy to fool as those elderly couples who send cash to the Nigerian prime minister's wife.

Friday, February 23, 2007


The Carpetbagger bagged a good one with this post:

At first, I thought the “Conservapedia” was some kind of joke. Billed as a conservative rival to Wikipedia, Conservapedia would be an ideologically pure, right-wing online collaborative encyclopedia. Except the site was so laughably right-wing, and so intentionally devoid of diversity of thought, it seemed obvious that this was some Onion-like parody.

No such luck. Conservapedia is a project of Andy Schlafly, Phyllis’ son, which is serious about its goals.

Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian “C.E.” instead of “A.D.”, which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance. […]

Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America. Conservapedia has easy-to-use indexes to facilitate review of topics. You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise answers free of “political correctness”.

Again, this isn’t a joke. A Bush White House aide famously said a few years ago, “We create our own reality.” I suppose it stands to reason, then, that Bush’s supporters would want to do the same thing.

And Conservapedia seems to fit the bill nicely. Far-right visitors to the site won’t be confronted with anything that might bother them, ever. Pages are scrubbed of inconvenient truths, and replaced with right-wing talking points. In some instances, whole subjects (such as biological evolution) are denied pages, lest anyone get confused.

Sometimes I think they're living in some sort of parallel universe, but upside down universe.

Once again, I'll pick a quote or two from the on-line book The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer that I recommended the other day. Here, he's talking about Christian fundamentalists (who happen unsurprisingly to rate high on the authoritarian follower scale):

If you ask fundamentalists about evolution, it becomes clear that they seldom understand what they are opposing. Instead they seem to be repeating things they have heard from the leaders of their in-groups, such as "Darwin's theory of evolution says that humans descended from monkeys," and "These is a crucial 'missing link' in the fossil evidence that shows humans could not have descended from the apes," and "It's just a theory." They will sometimes tell you evolution violates the laws of thermodynamics, but when you ask them what those laws are, the conditions under which the featured Second Law applies, and what it has to do with evolution, they stumble all over themselves.

He even found that despite the fact that they believe the Bible to be the revealed word of God that is word for word true, nineteen percent of fundamentalist Christians had never read any book of the Bible from beginning to end and only twenty percent had read them all.

Slap on the wrist for rapist murdered

The American soldier who pleaded guilty to raping a mudering an Iraqi woman is eligible for parole in 10 short years.

The soldier, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, also was given a dishonorable discharge. Sergeant Cortez will be eligible for parole in 10 years under the terms of his plea agreement.

Sergeant Cortez, of Barstow, Calif., pleaded guilty this week to four counts of felony murder, rape and conspiracy to rape in a case considered to be among the worst atrocities by American forces in Iraq.

In his plea agreement, he said he had conspired with three other soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to rape a 14-year-old girl, who was then killed with her parents and a younger sister.

I suppose it's okay since Iraqis are sub-human. Sort of like raping and killing a pig, I guess. No big deal.

Five to ten years in Iraq

Michael Hirsh in Newsweek tells us the "surge" strategy will take us five to ten years to pull off:

Feb. 22, 2007 - The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying—and we’re going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus’s new “surge” plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five.

The idea, apparently, is that we've concluded the Iraqis can't do this, so the U.S. will have to. That means becoming deeply entrenched in Iraq for the long-term.

Yes, with enough people (more than we've got), enough time, and enough brutality we could suppress the population. After all, the Romans did it regularly.

I don't see it happening. No one (except maybe Cheney and Bush) has the stomach for a commitment of that nature. Look how it's sapping our strength even now.

Vilsack out

So Tom Vilsack is out of the presidential race. Do you suppose it was the reaction to the social security proposal he made the other day that forced him out?

Headlines, part IV

I just came across the headline, "First Americans not as old as thought," in the Independent. It struck me as odd, since most recent archeological research has been pointing to the "first Americans" as being far older than originally thought. The original theory that the "Clovis people" were the first Americans has been more or less thoroughly debunked by findings in South America and elsewhere that predate the Clovis site by many years.

So, I looked into the article to find out what it said. And, lo and behold, it offered further proof that the "Clovis first" theory was wrong. The Clovis people, it turns out, are younger than first thought, which means they couldn't have been the first Americans.

So, the headline has it backwards. It should read, "First Americans older than thought."

Jesus' tomb

Apparently, there is a new film out that claims to have found Jesus' tomb in a cave in Jerusalem.

The 2000-year-old cave had already been discovered in 1980 in Jerusalem's Talpiyot neighbourhood. In it were 10 coffins, six of which bore inscriptions, which - translated into English - included the names "Jesus son of Joseph," twice "Maria," and "Judah son of Jesus."

The second Maria is hypothesized to be Maria Magdalene, while the tomb bearing the name Judah could indicate Jesus had a son.

There's a good deal of healthy skepticism among archeologists, since these were pretty common names at the time. However, my question:

If this really is Jesus' coffin, and if there is still a skeleton in it, what does that say about the ressurection?

Trying to stop the war

I'm not sure I understand the thinking behind the Democrats' new move to try to repeal the war authorization.

Senate Democratic leaders intend to unveil a plan next week to repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing the war in Iraq in favor of narrower authority that restricts the military's role and begins withdrawals of combat troops.

The problem is that a bill like this has to be passed affirmatively. In the very unlikely event that it got through the Senate at all (with Lieberman et al opposing it), it would almost certainly be vetoed by the prez. Or, if he really wanted to give Congress the finger, he might just write a "signing statement" saying he would ignore it.

Limiting funding, on the other hand, is something the Prez couldn't get around. He needs the funding. If the Congress limits his funding, he has only two choices -- sign the bill and get the limited funds or veto the bill and get nothing. Perhaps he would do the latter, but then who would get the blame for shutting off the funds to the troops?

What the Dems need to do in my judgment is stop grovelling in fear about being accused of failing to fund our troops and start stating affirmatively that limiting the funds is not hurtiing the troops. The one's already there will have plenty of money to get home with, and the one's not going won't have to worry about whether or not they'll come home. It's not hurting the troops, it's helping them.

Fly Thuglican Air, More than half our flights don't crash

The Army's surgeon general, Lt. General Kevin Kiley, says in an interview with Judy Woodruff that things aren't so bad at Walter Reed because, my heavens, more than half the rooms are okay!

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY: Well, I think it's not that we weren't aware that that building needs and requires continued maintenance and upkeep. And since 2001, we've had two overhauls and one major renovation.

In the last year, we've done over 200 what we call "work orders" to fix things that were, again, reported in the paper. It's an old building. You can walk into it today, and if you walk into it six months from now, you're going to find issues.

Senior leaders, platoon sergeants, company commanders, brigade commanders should be walking through those facilities at least on some kind of a periodic basis. But, remember, more than half the rooms were actually perfectly OK.

I suppose he would be happy flying on an airline that boasted that more than half it's flights didn't crash.

Shsssh, no talking please

I seem to be aspiring to be a mirror site for TPM today, but Josh Marshall also points us to this article in Haaretz:

The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria, of the sort that would test whether Damascus is serious in its declared intentions to hold peace talks with Israel.

In meetings with Israeli officials recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forceful in expressing Washington's view on the matter.

The American argument is that even "exploratory talks" would be considered a prize in Damascus, whose policy and actions continue to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and the functioning of its government, while it also continues to stir unrest in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. presence there.

While I have little doubt that this is the idiotic position our government is taking (the very act of allowing them to talk to us or our friends is considered a reward), I very much doubt that this position was resisted strongly by the Israeli government. It's been their position for years that even talking to the Palestinians is rewarding them. In fact, I think we learned that policy from the Israelis.


Like snake oil on water, Chalabi rises to the surface once again

Josh Marshall highlights this article in todays Wall Street Journal:

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In his latest remarkable political reincarnation, onetime U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi has secured a position inside the Iraqi government that could help determine whether the Bush administration's new push to secure Baghdad succeeds.

In a new post created earlier this year, Mr. Chalabi will serve as an intermediary between Baghdad residents and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces mounting an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign across the city. The position is meant to help Iraqis arrange reimbursement for damage to their cars and homes caused by the security sweeps in the hope of maintaining public support for the strategy.

The article goes on to say that some fear that Chalabi may use this position to undermine local governments and may also direct the "surge" against Sunni neighborhoods while protecting Shi'a neighborhoods.

However, given Chalabi's past history (e.g., he was convicted of bank fraud in Jordan), putting him in charge of "reimbursements" sounds to me like presenting him a perfect opportunity to skim some vigorish off the top.


Surging for the Shi'a

Things are going really well for the "surge." Our troops join up with (a very few of) the Iraqi police to sweep the neighborhood searching for illegal weapons. The Iraqi police go first warning the Shi'as in the neighborhood that they should hide their weapons because the Americans are coming. The Americans follow dutifully along behind and find nothing .. at least they find nothing in the Shi'a homes.

BAGHDAD, Feb. 19 — It looked like a scene out of a counterinsurgency training video. Dressed in crisp uniforms with a computer-generated camouflage of blue, gray and brown, Iraqi national police officers joined United States troops on searches late last week through relatively calm districts of Shaab and Ur in northeast Baghdad in the first large operation of the Baghdad security plan.

But appearances in Iraq can often be deceiving. At least two of the national police officers who turned out for the operation were moving ahead of the American troops not to lead the security drive but to warn the residents to hide their weapons and other incriminating evidence.

Some policemen on the sweep advertised their Shiite sympathies. Infiltration by militias has always been a major problem for the Iraqi security forces, and particularly the police, viewed by many Sunnis in the capital as de facto Shiite militia fighters.

One can only speculate what this article would have looked like if Judy Miller had written it, but I suspect it might have begun and ended with the first paragraph.

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The rich and powerful win another round

In true Bush style, the government has decided that the hedge funds can take care of themselves and let the rest of us be damned:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 — The Bush administration said Thursday that there was no need for greater government oversight of the rapidly growing hedge fund industry and other private investment groups to protect the nation’s financial system.

Instead, the administration, in an agreement it reached with the independent regulatory agencies, announced that investors, hedge fund companies and their lenders could adequately take care of themselves by adhering to a set of nonbinding principles.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Double-Talk Express

Be sure to check out this video: John McCain vs. John McCain

Divide her up three ways

So, the Judge wasted all this time deciding what to do with Anna Nicole's putrifying body and in the end failed to decide anything at all.

My wife suggest cremation with the ashes being distributed threefold, part to the Bahamas to be with the son, part to Texas to be with the mother, and part to LA to be with Marilyn Monroe.

What a load of crap.

Up to their old tricks

From The Guardian:

Much of the intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities provided to UN inspectors by US spy agencies has turned out to be unfounded, diplomatic sources in Vienna said today.

The claims, reminiscent of the intelligence fiasco surrounding the Iraq war, coincided with a sharp increase in international tension as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran was defying a UN security council ultimatum to freeze its nuclear programme.

That report, delivered to the security council by the IAEA director general, Mohammed ElBaradei, sets the stage for a fierce international debate on the imposition of stricter sanctions on Iran and raises the possibility that the US could resort to military action against Iranian nuclear sites.

No great surprises here. It's par for the course with this administration.

Civil what?

Civil unions are now lawful in New Jersey, and New York's Mayor Bloomberg has said he will make New York City recognize them even though New York State has no similar law. However, it may not be as easy as all that. The Bergen Record inquired at several town governments in New Jersey and got these responses:

At times, even municipal employees were unprepared.

"Civil what?" asked the operator at the Hackensack City Hall on Tuesday. "You mean marriages?"

"A civil union?" asked the operator at Paterson City Hall. "What's that?"

More thoughts on Hillary

Matthew Yglesias has some further thoughts on Hillary:

From where I sit, the issue here isn't that Clinton ... isn't willing to "admit" that supporting the war resolution was a mistake. The issue is that she doesn't think it was a mistake and she doesn't want to pretend otherwise. Clinton's executive power theory of why she votes the right way ("She believes in executive authority and Congressional deference, her advisers say, and is careful about suggesting that Congress can overrule a commander in chief") seems very plausible to me. When liberals are trying to get conservatives to worry about executive power one line a lot of us use is you realize Hillary Clinton may be president some day, right? But from Clinton's point of view, she may be president some day. What's more, as someone who was First Lady for much longer than she'd been a Senator at the time of the vote, it's natural that she would have a great deal of appreciation for the president's-eye-view take on the matter.

I suspect this hits the nail on the head. When have you heard her complain about the "Patriot" Act or, for that matter, most of the other power grabs this president has tried. The answer for me is rarely to never. She's stood on the sidelines on these issues.


I suspect it's because she really wants to wield these powers herself.

This is one of the things I've feared all along. Bush has established a precedent that his successors, Republican or Democratic, will want to pursue. People who seek the job of President want power, and, if there is precedent to support their having power, they're not going to give it up willingly.

It's one more reason I'm skeptical of a Hillary candidacy. Yes, if she becomes our candidate, I'll support her -- just as I supported John Kerry despite my distaste for him. But, if I've got a better choice, I think I'll take it.

"Their stories will worm their way into our heads"

A great quote from The Daily Howler, also wringing his hands in near despair over the sheer brainlessness of David Geffen (and sometimes born-again progressive Arianna Huffington, for that matter) -- repeating the RNC-planted, mainstream press-adopted "narratives" about the Clintons that took hold in the 90s:
We know, we know! We say that we hate the corporate media—but God almighty, how we love their Big Narratives! Inevitably, their stories will worm their way into our heads, and we often don’t even know how they got there; even as we denounce these media, we end up repeating their tales!

. . . . Can we tell you a dirty secret? We progressives don’t play this game very well. We thunder about that corporate media. But we’ve heard their tales again and
again, and we’re often too weak and too dumb to resist them. Inside their board
rooms, fixers laugh hard as they watch their tales pop from our heads.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Just how stupid is David Geffen? Or maybe not, maybe he’s a right-wing plant among prominent Obama supporters -- with the remarkable ability to bring down both Clinton and Obama in a single swoop by reinforcing bootstrapped, fortune-backed Republican Party talking points about Hillary ("polarizing," "too ambitious"). He, after all, with his Hollywood background in communications, would know that his words to the most salivating member of a salivating press corps (Maureen Dowd, master of the trivial) are worth far more to McCain and company than a couple thousand bucks is to Obama.

As a Senate colleague, before even considering the claim staked to a new kind of politics, Obama needs to disavow Geffen’s comments completely, and actively deny their truth. He is correct that he does not need to apologize for them, because neither he nor an official member of his campaign said them, nor should he dignify the absurd demand by the Clinton spokesperson that he return Geffen’s contribution by even mentioning it. But he needs to get back on a high plane by saying he completely disagrees with the comments as reported, that Senator Clinton is no more ambitious than any other candidate who believes he or she can make a good President -- "we better be ambitious" -- and is not a polarizing figure because the right-wing message machine says so; and hopes every one of his supporters will refrain from any more character assaults and concentrate on who will make the best candidate and President (among a fantastic field of capable Democratic candidates) based strictly on the best solutions to the issues facing the country. In more or less, or better yet exactly, those words. It's a shame he has not already, and that caution induced no doubt by more incompetent consultants -- I would expect a lot better work from David Axelrod -- has hurt him already. It's early, though, thankfully.

Hillary should say something conciliatory, too. They need to draw their differences out without attacking the other's character. Even the attack on the other's positions during the primary should be carefully worded, too, to make room for the course reversal that one of them will have to make. After all, it is going to be one of the two of them.

The other war

Apparently, things are going swimmingly in Afghanistan too:

Al Jazeera has uncovered evidence that Taliban fighters are now in effective control of large parts of a key province in southwest Afghanistan, despite recent claims by Nato that their bases had been destroyed.

James Bays spent three days with the Taliban in Helmand and found that the group is running schools and medical facilities, and is travelling armed and unchallenged by Nato-led forces.

One thing I can say. I wouldn't want to be James Bays. Travelling with the Taliban doesn't appeal to me.

Another copter down

Via Raw Story, the German Press Agency is reporting that another of our helicopters has been shot down:

Baghdad- Another US helicopter has crashed in Iraq, Al-Arabiya television reports said Thursday. The reports quoted witnesses as saying that a helicopter had
crashed north of Baquba, 60 kilometres north of Baghdad. None of the crew were hurt, according to the reports.

If the US military command in Baghdad confirms the report, this would be the eighth helicopter lost by the US military in Iraq within the last month.
Also, attacking them while they are packing to go, the Shi'as are bombing British bases in southern Iraq:

An Iraqi security source said Thursday that two British military bases in Basra, which has a predominantly Shiite population, had been bombarded with rocket-propelled grenades in the past 24 hours.

The two British bases, located in downtown Basra and in the city's Shat al-Arab hotel, were bombed Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, the source added.

These are surely signs that Cheney is right and that things are going just splendidly in Iraq.

No rifles for the new troops

From today's NY Times we learn something about the National Guard troops that are being redeployed to Iraq:

“We’re behind the power curve, and we can’t piddle around,” Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, said in an interview. He added that one-third of his soldiers lacked the M-4 rifles preferred by active-duty soldiers and that there were also shortfalls in night vision goggles and other equipment. If his unit is going to be sent to Iraq next year, he said, “We expect the Army to resource the Guard at the same level as active-duty units.”

I would think it might be somewhat difficult to fight without guns. So, what are they going to expect these guys to do? Just stand there and get their heads shot off?

Brits leave vacuum for Iran to fill

Via Juan Cole, I see this in USA Today.

By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

BAGHDAD — Britain's planned reduction in its force in southern Iraq could empower Iran and lead to more bloodshed between rival Shiite Muslim groups, analysts warned Wednesday.

The area around Basra is less violent than Baghdad, and sectarian killings are rare, in part because it is overwhelmingly Shiite. But the government's authority there is rivaled by armed groups that are "thoroughly intertwined with criminal enterprises," according to a report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"In the coming year, the drawdown of British forces in the deep south will likely be accompanied by an upsurge of factional violence as the long-delayed fight for local supremacy begins in earnest," said the report, written by Iraq security specialists Michael Knights and Ed Williams.

It makes a lot of sense that, with the Brits gone, the Shi'a area down there near the Iranian coast would end up coming under the influence of Iran. I doubt we can do anything meaningful about it, but I doubt too that it comports with Bush's plans for the region.

The real solution here is to try to work things out with Iran so that whatever influence they do have is as benevolent as possible. Instead, we're guaranteeing it will be a malevolent as possible.


Right after posting this, I read this report by Christiane Amanpour about her meeting with an Iranian that supports my comments:

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- As I sat down recently with a senior Iranian government official, he urgently waved a column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in my face, one about how the United States and Iran need to engage each other.

''Natural allies,'' this official said.

It was a surprising choice of words considering the barbs Washington and Tehran have been trading of late.

"We are not after conflict. We are not after crisis. We are not after war," said this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But we don't know whether the same is true in the U.S. or not. If the same is true on the U.S. side, the first step must be to end this vicious cycle that can lead to dangerous action -- war."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Flip flopping may not hurt McCain, Giuliani, & Romney

Yesterday I recommended the book The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer. Today I suggest one lesson that might be learned from it. Don't be too sure that the shifting positions of McCain, Giuliani, and Romney on positions like abortion or gays will hurt them among the voters on the right. Altemeyer concludes that those with high scores on his authoritarian follower index (what he calls the "RWA") are also highly gullible when someone is telling them what they already believe to be true. Here are a couple of graphs from the third chapter:

Well, aren’t most people likely to trust someone who seems to agree with them?
Probably, but people differ enormously in gullibility. Low RWAs are downright
suspicious of someone who agrees with them when they can see ulterior motives
might be at work. They pay attention to the circumstances in which the other fellow is operating. But authoritarians do not, when they like the message.

So (to foreshadow later chapters a little) suppose you are a completely
unethical, dishonest, power-hungry, dirt-bag, scum-bucket politician who will say
whatever he has to say to get elected. (I apologize for putting you in this role, but it will only last for one more sentence.) Whom are you going to try to lead, high RWAs or low RWAs? Isn’t it obvious? The easy-sell high RWAs will open up their arms and wallets to you if you just sing their song, however poor your credibility. Those crabby low RWAs, on the other hand, will eye you warily when your credibility is suspect because you sing their song? So the scum-bucket politicians will usually head for the right-wing authoritarians, because the RWAs hunger for social endorsement of their beliefs so much they’re apt to trust anyone who tells them they’re right. Heck, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany running on a law-and-order platform just a few years after he tried to overthrow the government through an armed insurrection.

Reaction to Habeas Corpus denial

Here's a press release from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on the Appeals Court's decision to deny Habeas Corpus to the Guantanamo detainees:

WASHINGTON, DC­ (Feb. 21) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is extremely disappointed in the decision in which a divided panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that none of the prisoners at Guantanamo Naval Base have any right to challenge their indefinite imprisonment in federal court. The court ruled, in effect, that the United States can imprison people virtually forever without judicial review. These prisoners were captured by the United States, are confined in prisons built by the United States, are guarded by members of the United States Armed Forces, are subjected to interrogation by the United States intelligence services, and may be imprisoned for the rest of their lives, yet they cannot even petition a court for a writ of habeas corpus for determination whether their imprisonment was the result of a mistake.

Dissenting, Judge Judith W. Rogers reminded the majority that the United States Supreme Court has already stated that “[a]pplication of the habeas statute to persons detained at the [Guantanamo] base is consistent with the historical reach of the writ of habeas corpus." She further wrote that the D.C. court "offers no compelling analysis to compel the contrary conclusion.” The Constitution’s Suspension Clause, she said, acts as a limitation on the powers of Congress.

“The United States Supreme Court has twice ruled that the writ of habeas corpus extends to the prisoners at Guantanamo Navy Base, yet the lower courts and the Congress refuse to get this message,” said NACDL President Martin S. Pinales. “We hope the case proceeds quickly to the Supreme Court and that the court again will vindicate the historic and fundamental right to habeas corpus and uphold the right of the imprisoned to seek redress in court. Anything less is unthinkable in a democratic society that prides itself on upholding the rule of law and fidelity to the traditional values on which its legal system is based.”

NACDL also urges Congress quickly to rectify the problem it created last year in the Military Commission Act, which, by denying the Guantanamo detainees and others access to the courts, has regrettably returned us to the dark era predating not only the Geneva Conventions, but the Magna Carta.

Realism about Hillary and her vote

Media Matters has a good review of exactly what Hillary Clinton’s vote was, and exactly what she said about it at the time and later. As you will note from the article, right-wingers will try hard to characterize her vote as being “for the war,” in order to pull out the flip-flop or insincerity card once again. Considering the substantial possibility that she will be the Democratic candidate, it is extremely stupid in my opinion for Democrats to provide the ammunition for them with information that is (a) not even accurate – voted “for the war” – and (b) reconstructed history as to how obvious it was in the second week of October 2002, over five months before the invasion, that war was certain -- that Bush was lying -- and that Saddam did not have either a nuclear weapons “program” or any other weapons of mass destruction.

Besides the dire and specific warnings of the highest officers of the Administration and the CIA (warnings that had not yet degenerated into obvious talking point mantras but very soon would), the “realist” and presumably influential foreign policy establishment, including Scowcroft and Kissinger, was clearly concerned with the consequences of such a war (and saying so loudly). It was not yet public how thoroughly GW was disassociating himself from that establishment, and Bush with his 80-plus approval ratings was issuing public and private re-assurances that war was not inevitable if Saddam complied with the UN resolutions.

In a formal sense, the vote was not “for war” but for the President to have the authority to wage it if Iraq did not comply with those UN resolution. Since he actually did not have any such weapons, Saddam came into compliance when he finally let the inspectors do their job as they saw fit without any hindrance. Then, within a few months compliance could have been verified – with the combination of the inspectors’ expertise and the utter discrediting of every specific claim that Powell made at the UN providing virtually air-tight public cover – and war avoided. In that case, the Democrats who voted for the resolution (all the potential Presidential candidates did, obviously recognizing correctly how totally the Administration had the entire media establishment under control), having forced Saddam back into compliance without war but with tough talk tough, would have come out smelling like roses.

On the other hand, continuing to look at this as the situation existed at the time, if Bush either were to violate the resolution as he actually did – that is not an arguable point -- or to follow the resolution with much more international support if Saddam still refused to let in the inspectors, and in either case if he had then completed Phase I as he did, and left within a few weeks as Rumsfeld suggested, with a new, functioning and friendly government in place confirming the defector-fed declarations that our troops would be greeted as liberators – the “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead” strategy -- and if the Democrats en masse had refused to give the President the authority to force the issue even though, in fact, Saddam was in violation of the UN resolution, the Democratic Party would have been completely discredited on national security matters and arguably would have been dead for a generation, if not destroyed forever.

Those would have been grave consequences for the country, too. It’s easy in hindsight to say it should have been an easy vote. It was not.

On positive signs

Cheney says the Brits troop withdrawal is a positive sign:

TOKYO, Feb. 21, 2007 — British Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement that British troops will begin withdrawing from Iraq would appear to be bad news for the Bush administration.

Blair said today that Britain will cut its forces in Iraq to 5,500 by summer, down from 7,100 currently. And additional cuts to as few as 5,000 British troops in Iraq are possible by the end of summer, Blair said.

But in an exclusive interview with ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney said the move was actually good news and a sign of progress in Iraq.

Well then, I have a suggestion. If the Brits' withdrawal is a positive sign, think how much more positive the American's withdrawal would be.

Stop the escalation!

Like rats leaving the sinking ship

Denmark has announced that it will pull all of its troops out of Iraq in August, as Britain unveiled a plan to scale down its forces in the country.

My apologies to my friends from Denmark and the U.K. -- no insult intended.

Counter-productive public policy

A New Jersey couple installed solar panels in order to save on electricity and be environmentally friendly. Their real estate tax assessment went up $12,000, raising their taxes $400.00 a year, more than their savings.

HAMILTON -- Charley and Susan Rouse consider themselves an environmentally conscientious couple. They recycle, use energy- conserving light bulbs and even have a compost pile in their back yard.

Last August, the couple took their environmentalism a step further by installing solar panels on their Hamilton Lakes Drive home. Energy from the sun would heat their house, saving them money while using less fossil fuels.

But in early fall, the couple got a surprise from the township in the form of a property tax increase based on the value the solar panels.

"We were surprised," said Charley Rouse. "When we asked the tax assessor about it, we were told that it's considered an improvement to the home."

According to township records, the Rouses' property assessment jumped $12,000 for the solar panels, increasing their taxes by more than $400 this year.

The extra tax, Rouse said, outweighs the savings they have been realizing on their energy bills.

Apparently, State law specifically requires the value of solar panels to be included in the tax assessment.

I had been considering adding solar panels, but I never considered this possibility. After all, the State gives homeowners all kinds of direct incentives to install solar. This completely destroys whatever other incentives there might be.

Actually, what turned me away from solar panels is the fact that when you re-roof (about once every 20 years), you have to remove the panels to get at the shingles. The cost of uninstalling and then reinstalling the panels is by no means trivial. And, I'm nearing the end of the roof I have now.


JACKSON, Tenn. - A Jackson woman who contracted polio 57 years ago and continues to rely on an iron lung to breathe recently celebrated her 60th birthday, defying doctors' expectations that she could live so long and so fully. Dianne Odell, who turned 60 last week, is among only 30 to 40 people in the U.S. who depend on the devices.

Rapists rewarded by Iraqi government

Yesterday, I posted an excerpt of a post at Riverbend by an Iraqi woman bemoaning the fate of another Iraqi woman who claimed she had been raped by the Iraqi soldiers. That story has now blown up into a major bone of contention between the Shi'a and the Sunnis, with the government siding against the victim, naturally.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday fired a top Sunni official who had called for an international investigation into the rape allegations leveled by a Sunni Arab woman against three members of the Shiite-dominated security forces.

A statement by al-Maliki's office gave no reason in announcing the dismissal of Ahmed Abdul-Ghafour al-Samaraie, head of the Sunni Endowments. Al-Samaraie, whose organization cares for Sunni mosques and shrines in Iraq, had joined other prominent Sunnis in criticizing the government's handling of the case.

Al-Samaraie, speaking from Amman in neighboring Jordan, disputed al-Maliki's right to fire him, arguing that only Iraq's Presidential Council — which comprises President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies — has that authority.

He said the woman who made the rape allegations was one of many who he said are sexually assaulted by the security forces. "Many girls are raped but they refuse to appear in the media so as not to tarnish their reputations," he said.

The 20-year-old woman said she was assaulted Sunday at a police garrison where she was taken on suspicion of helping Sunni insurgents.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman, said the woman was admitted to a U.S.-run medical facility Sunday and was released the next day. He refused to divulge details of her medical treatment or examination, saying she left the hospital with her medical reports.

Al-Maliki's office released what it said was a medical report indicating no signs of rape.

Al-Maliki has said the rape allegations were being used by his critics to discredit the security forces and undermine a major, U.S.-led Baghdad crackdown. In exonerating the three officers Tuesday, al-Maliki said they should be rewarded as a sign of confidence in the force.

Al-Samaraie said Monday the rape allegations offered what he called proof of the failure of the security push in Baghdad to protect the city's residents.

"The Sunni Endowments strongly denounces this horrific crime and lets out a cry for help from the international community and human rights organizations, demanding that they launch an immediate investigation into this crime," said the statement, signed by al-Samaraie.

His dismissal is the latest move in a highly publicized and increasingly bitter tussle over the rape allegations, pitting al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government of al-Maliki against its Sunni Arab critics. The public quarrel is fueling charges by the Sunnis that the Baghdad crackdown was targeting Sunni neighborhoods and leaving unaffected Shiite areas harboring militias blamed for sectarian killings.

It really adds a touch of color to know that the rapists were rewarded by the government.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Authoritarians

Glenn Greenwald recommended the new on-line book The Authoritarians by psychology professor Bob Altemeyer at the Univeristy of Manitoba. I've read the first few chapters (he's got six chapters up at his web site) and I heartily concur. The book is eminently readable and truly fascinating. You can find it here. If you want to know what motivates the wingnuts and where they got it, read the book.

Misreported terror activity

Tell me, is there some reason why things like this tend to be coming out now that the Dems are in charge of Congress when the didn't come out before?

WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors counted immigration violations, marriage fraud and drug trafficking among anti-terror cases in the four years after 9/11 even though no evidence linked them to terror activity, a Justice Department audit said Tuesday.

And, oh yes, why do you suppose they counted all these things as terror activity? I'm sure it was purely accidental, aren't you?

Or, was it? The article goes on to tell us:

The numbers, used to monitor the department's progress in battling terrorists, are reported to Congress and the public and help, in part, shape the department's budget.

Closing the barn door after the cow got out

Gee, wouldn't you have thought there wouldn't be a need for this?

Analysis produced by the United States Intelligence Community must be "objective and independent of political considerations." This directive was issued last month by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and signed by John Negroponte, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence, and recently made public.

Now the question is did the back side of the page on which this memo was typed show a picture of someone with their fingers crossed behind their back?


Court gives Bush a free hand with detainees

This is certainly not good news. One more power absorbed into the King's bag of tricks.

WASHINGTON - Guantanamo Bay detainees may not challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a federal appeals court said Tuesday in a ruling upholding a key provision of a law at the center of President Bush's anti-terrorism plan.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 that civilian courts no longer have the authority to consider whether the military is illegally holding foreigners.

Barring detainees from the U.S. court system was a key provision in the Military Commissions Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a system to prosecute terrorism suspects.

Attorneys for the detainees immediately said they would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, which last year struck down the Bush administration's original plan for trying detainees before military commissions.

Ignoring the news

Jonathan Singer at MyDD bemoans the sad state of our media -- this time in the context of the Bush firings of U.S. Attorneys who were investigating Republicans:

The fact that so many of these attorneys, all of whom were appointed by President Bush (and thus are not susceptible to charges of liberal bias), were investigating corruption among the GOP caucuses on Capitol Hill raises some serious questions about the motivations of the Bush administration. What's more, it also raises serious questions about the media's unwillingness to cover this story with even a tenth of the fervor with which they dealt with relatively unimportant scandals like Whitewater and Monica-gate during the previous administration. Had President Clinton even considered firing a prosecutor looking into corrupt Democratic Party officials, the David Broders of the world would have been up in arms, not resting until each of the fired attorneys was restored to his or her office. But such a move by the Bush administration elicits coverage at the bottom of a story on page 11 of The Post and few other mentions from the pillars of the establishment media beyond that.

Did the oil make it all worthwhile?

At Riverbend, a blog by an Iraqi woman in Baghdad, we see this:

As I write this, Oprah is on Channel 4 (one of the MBC channels we get on Nilesat), showing Americans how to get out of debt. Her guest speaker is telling a studio full of American women who seem to have over-shopped that they could probably do with fewer designer products. As they talk about increasing incomes and fortunes, Sabrine Al-Janabi, a young Iraqi woman, is on Al Jazeera telling how Iraqi security forces abducted her from her home and raped her. You can only see her eyes, her voice is hoarse and it keeps breaking as she speaks. In the end she tells the reporter that she can’t talk about it anymore and she covers her eyes with shame.

She might just be the bravest Iraqi woman ever. Everyone knows American forces and Iraqi security forces are raping women (and men), but this is possibly the first woman who publicly comes out and tells about it using her actual name. Hearing her tell her story physically makes my heart ache. Some people will call her a liar. Others (including pro-war Iraqis) will call her a prostitute- shame on you in advance.

I wonder what excuse they used when they took her. It’s most likely she’s one of the thousands of people they round up under the general headline of ‘terrorist suspect’. She might have been one of those subtitles you read on CNN or BBC or Arabiya, “13 insurgents captured by Iraqi security forces.” The men who raped her are those same security forces Bush and Condi are so proud of- you know- the ones the Americans trained. It’s a chapter right out of the book that documents American occupation in Iraq: the chapter that will tell the story of 14-year-old Abeer who was raped, killed and burned with her little sister and parents.

... And yet, as the situation continues to deteriorate both for Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq, and for Americans inside Iraq, Americans in America are still debating on the state of the war and occupation- are they winning or losing? Is it better or worse.

Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile.

National Impotence Day

Via Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, I learn that in Britain, Valentine's Day is also National Impotence Day:

Valentine's Day is a day when there is a lot of talk about love and relationships so it's a good time to talk about sexual dysfunction - which could mean anything from an inability to maintain an erection, to lack of sexual desire. This failure to enjoy full intercourse is more common than most people think - affecting a significant number of men and women, at some time in their life. It can be very distressing and people are hesitant to get support because they feel embarrassed.

National Impotence Day aims to raise public and medical profession awareness of this stigmatised but common condition.

I thought they had changed the name of this disease to "Erectile Dysfunction (ED)." Somehow, "ED Day" has a better ring to it than "National Impotence Day." It sounds more like "VE Day" to me, and I can remember leaning out the window of our apartment in Larchmont, NY on VE Day, banging pans on the side of the building to celebrate.

Please pass the Viagra.

Cheney may be investigated

The Scooter trial may not be the end of it. The Shooter may become involved:

If Libby is found guilty, investigators are likely to probe further to determine if Libby devised what they consider a cover story in an effort to shield Cheney. They want to know whether Cheney might have known about the leaks ahead of time or had even encouraged Libby to provide information to reporters about Plame's CIA status, the same sources said.



What I really enjoy about this picture of Bush with George Washington at Mt. Vernon yesterday (from the NY Times) is how Bush is forced to look up -- way up -- to his predecessor.

Charity begins at ....

From today's Washington Post:

For the past three years, Michael J. Wagner directed the Army's largest effort to help the most vulnerable soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His office in Room 3E01 of the world-renowned hospital was supposed to match big-hearted donors with thousands of wounded soldiers who could not afford to feed their children, pay mortgages, buy plane tickets or put up visiting families in nearby hotels.

But while he was being paid to provide this vital service to patients, outpatients and their relations, Wagner was also seeking funders and soliciting donations for his own new charity, based in Texas, according to documents and interviews with current and former staff members. Some families also said Wagner treated them callously and made it hard for them to receive assistance.

Hmmmm. Texas, conflict of interest, incompetence, Texas. Hmmmm. I wonder if there's a connection to another prominent Texan who's also living in Washington right now.


Something to remember

Juan Cole makes a good point that no one in authority is going to remember:

In making continency plans for war against Iran, the Pentagon is thinking big. Not just surgical strikes on the civilian nuclear energy program, but hitting virtually everything of importance in the country. The Air Force kept telling us they could bomb Vietnam into submission. They couldn't. Then it was shock and awe in Iraq. Didn't work. Just remember, it is always the Army that has to come in and clean up the mess.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Republicans in action -- it boggles the mind

Digby on Hullabaloo has a good pick-up on the phony Republicans who attack Democrats for “not supporting the troops.” I mean it’s one thing to say you are supporting the troops by sticking more of them where they are more likely to get killed – and Republicans scared to death of not mindlessly backing Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have hardly seemed to care whether our kids were properly protected with the latest equipment or not. But it seems Rep. Sam Johnson takes the hypocrisy prize like a ton of Republicans: in 1994, he attacked Clinton and voted against maintaining the action in Bosnia that cost zero or very few American lives and actually has worked reasonably well. The modern Republicans can’t do anything right, can they? They attack a policy that worked when the President was a Democrat, and now they defend one that's a disaster.

Government covers up study finding lead in lunch boxes

The government found there were unsafe levels of lead in 20% of the vinyl lunch boxes being sold but lied about it to protect the manufacturers:

AP -- In 2005, when government scientists tested 60 soft, vinyl lunch boxes, they found that one in five contained amounts of lead that medical experts consider unsafe — and several had more than 10 times hazardous levels.

But that's not what they told the public.

Instead, theConsumer Product Safety Commission released a statement that they found "no instances of hazardous levels." And they refused to release their actual test results, citing regulations that protect manufacturers from having their information released to the public.

That data was not made public until The Associated Press received a box of about 1,500 pages of lab reports, in-house e-mails and other records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed a year ago.

Once again, profits for business are more important than the health of our citizens -- in this case our children. This administration has a history of this kind of behavior. Remember the fact that the EPA covered up that it knew the air was unhealthy at the World Trade Center site after 9/11.