Friday, August 20, 2004

Do I Hear Fifty?

Oil prices keep heading on up, all thanks to the stability that Bush has brought to the Middle East:
Oil prices hit a new record today after the Iraqi insurgency increased its pressure on the country's oil infrastructure and traders feared growing unrest might interrupt crude exports.

Crude futures for September delivery traded in New York rose to $49.40 a barrel, up 70 cents, the highest level since the New York Mercantile Exchange opened in 1983.


They Seized the Mosque

But Sadr was nowhere to be found:
Police detained hundreds of Shi'ite militiamen when they entered the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf today, but radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was not found, Iraqi officials said.

A government source put the number of fighters in the shrine at 400, but an interior ministry spokesman said police who entered the mosque had found 500 lightly armed men prepared to surrender.

"There are 500. They were escorted from the shrine, then the police will help them as much as they can. They may well be covered by the amnesty," Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the interior minister, told CNN television in a live interview.

UPDATE: Perhaps not:

Iraqi police in Najaf told CNN they have not seized control of the Imam Ali Mosque, contrary to a claim by an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman in Baghdad.

There have been no signs of activity around the mosque all day Friday, according to CNN producer Kianne Sadeq, who is near the mosque.


Porn Star Versus Pentagon

And guess which one has her priorities straight when it comes to waging a war? It's good to see some protest mounted against the inane policies of the U.S. military, which refuses women abortions even when they can pay while providing free boob jobs and lipo:
A group supporting natural breasts staged a small street protest in Hollywood on Wednesday against a U.S. military policy offering free breast implants to female soldiers.

The group, led by porn star and former California gubernatorial candidate Mary Carey, said the military should spend its money on "bullets, not boobs."

"I think girls should have natural boobs and natural beauty," Carey said after unveiling her own breasts in the protest at an Army recruiting office on Sunset Boulevard.

"Women should be happy with their bodies and what they're blessed with," the 24-year-old star of 37 porn films said.


Beer Bear for President

If the level of discourse in this presidential campaign isn't going to rise above the "Bush is a guy you could have a beer with" level, then I propose a new candidate (and one with discerning taste in beer, by the way):
A black bear was found passed out at a campground in Washington state recently after guzzling down three dozen cans of a local beer, a campground worker said on Wednesday.

"We noticed a bear sleeping on the common lawn and wondered what was going on until we discovered that there were a lot of beer cans lying around," said Lisa Broxson, a worker at the Baker Lake Resort, 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Seattle.

The hard-drinking bear, estimated to be about two years old, broke into campers' coolers and, using his claws and teeth to open the cans, swilled down the suds.

It turns out the bear was a bit of a beer sophisticate. He tried a mass-market Busch beer, but switched to Rainier Beer, a local ale, and stuck with it for his drinking binge.

Wildlife agents chased the bear away, but it returned the next day, said Broxson.

They set a trap using as bait some doughnuts, honey and two cans of Rainier Beer. It worked, and the bear was captured for relocation.


Soccer Players for Truth

Bush continues to fail to realize that most people aren't as spineless and compliant as the American media. And the Iraqi Olympic soccer team is having none of it:
Sadir had a message for U.S. president George W. Bush, who is using the Iraqi Olympic team in his latest re-election campaign advertisements.

In those spots, the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan appear as a narrator says, "At this Olympics there will be two more free nations -- and two fewer terrorist regimes."

(To see the ad, click here.)

"Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," Sadir told through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. "He can find another way to advertise himself."

Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush's TV advertisement. "How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?" Manajid told me. "He has committed so many crimes."

Link via capitol banter.


Breaking the Rules, for God

America is not, yet, a theocracy, and does not, yet, have an army of holy warriors. And it is rather a shame that this needs enforcement:
A Pentagon investigation has concluded that a senior intelligence officer violated regulations by failing to make it clear that he was not acting in an official capacity when, in speaking at churches, he cast the war on terrorism in religious terms, a Defense Department official said Thursday.

In most instances the officer, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, was wearing his Army uniform. The inquiry, by the Defense Department's deputy inspector general, found that General Boykin, deputy under secretary of defense for intelligence, had also violated Pentagon rules by failing to obtain advance clearance for his remarks, which gained wide publicity through news reports last fall.

In one appearance, according to those reports, General Boykin told a religious group in Oregon that Islamic extremists hated the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians.''

Discussing a 1993 battle by American soldiers against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, he told an audience: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

He also declared in one of his speeches that the enemy in the antiterrorism fight was Satan and that God had put President Bush in the White House.


Thursday, August 19, 2004


It's confirmed, the Republicans are frightening elderly, minority voters in Florida without a hint of valid cause. Disgusting:
The smell of voter suppression coming out of Florida is getting stronger. It turns out that a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, in which state troopers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando in a bizarre hunt for evidence of election fraud, is being conducted despite a finding by the department last May "that there was no basis to support the allegations of election fraud."

State officials have said that the investigation, which has already frightened many voters and intimidated elderly volunteers, is in response to allegations of voter fraud involving absentee ballots that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March. But the department considered that matter closed last spring, according to a letter from the office of Guy Tunnell, the department's commissioner, to Lawson Lamar, the state attorney in Orlando, who would be responsible for any criminal prosecutions.


More Abstinence Madness

The moderate mask the Republicans are attempting to don for their convention slips a bit, in this case:
Throwing a bone to its sex-obsessed religious base, the GOP has slipped an abstinence activist into its convention mix of mostly moderate speakers. Miss America 2003 will put a smiley face on President Bush's bulging chastity industry, for which he has allotted $273 million in his 2005 budget, plus a third of the $15 billion global AIDS-relief package.

The ascendancy of abstinence-only under Bush has not only altered funding priorities; it has sanctioned a climate of hostility toward sexual health professionals, who increasingly face harassment, intimidation and marginalization if they stray from the abstinence-only-unless-married line. For example, in the spring of 2003 a Tennessee teacher's thirty-year career nearly derailed after she commented on an abstinence video shown to her seventh-grade health class (her comments, presumably critical, were not made public). Charged with incompetence and insubordination, she was retrained and reassigned. Or take the Florida teacher who was suspended after his students used a banana to demonstrate how to put on a condom; he couldn't make the meeting where school officials fired him because his wife was in labor.


Mystery Solved

Halliburton's utter incompetence in keeping track of a full 43% of the billions given them by the U.S. goverment has been explained. Their accountants, apparently, are all Piraha:
The Piraha of the Amazon have almost legendary status in language research. They have no words at all for number. They use only only three words to count: one, two, many. To make things confusing, the words for one and two, in Piraha, are the same syllable, pronounced with a falling or rising inflection.

And to make things really difficult, the word for one can sometimes mean "roughly one", and the word for two can sometimes mean "not many".

Let me go ahead and state that this is facetious, and I am by no means implying that the Piraha are conniving, murderous bastards who profit from massive death and destruction.


Swift Boat Shills

The Bush administration can "disavow" or "condemn" the lying ad produced by the Swift Boat Liars all they want, but the truth is out:
How the group came into existence is a story of how veterans with longstanding anger_ about Mr. Kerry's antiwar statements in the early 1970's allied themselves with Texas Republicans.

Mr. Kerry called them "a front for the Bush campaign" - a charge the campaign denied. A series of interviews and a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.

Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family - one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's father's presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice. And the group's television commercial was produced by the same team that made the devastating ad mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when he and Mr. Bush's father faced off in the 1988 presidential election.

The strategy the veterans devised would ultimately paint John Kerry the war hero as John Kerry the "baby killer" and the fabricator of the events that resulted in his war medals. But on close examination, the accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth' prove to be riddled with inconsistencies. In many cases, material offered as proof by these veterans is undercut by official Navy records and the men's own statements.

Several of those now declaring Mr. Kerry "unfit" had lavished praise on him, some as recently as last year.


Two Can Play That Game

America's new policy of "preventive" war has done wonders to improve the stability of the world, don't you think?

In a quick rebuttal to an Israeli official’s remark that they might strike an Iranian nuclear plant should there be evidence that Iran was developing a weapon, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani warned that Iran might launch a preemptive strike against U.S. forces in the region to prevent an attack on its nuclear facilities.

“We will not sit (with arms folded) to wait for what others will do to us. Some military commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations which the Americans talk about are not their monopoly,” Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera TV when asked if Iran would respond to an American attack on its nuclear facilities.

“America is not the only one present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf and we can be present in Iraq,” he continued.


Kennedy Is a Terrorist

I guess we should have seen it coming for this long-time liberal:
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard this morning from one of its own about some of the problems with airline "no fly" watch lists. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., says he had a close encounter with the lists when trying to take the U.S. Airways shuttle out of Washington to Boston. The ticket agent wouldn't let him on the plane. His name was on the list in error.

After a flurry of phone calls, Kennedy was able to fly home, but then the same thing
happened coming back to Washington.

Kennedy says it took three calls to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to get his name stricken from the list. The process took several weeks, in all.

And how long does it take for those of us without Tom Ridge personal phone number?


Quit Saying That!

Before Kerry chose Edwards (and again, thank God he didn't pick Gephardt), I grew mightily sick and tired of all the people I heard hoping he'd pick, of all people, John McCain. Even if McCain weren't downright conservative, such an admission that a Republican was needed on the Democratic presidential ticket would have been suicidial idiocy.

But that time is past. Now, I am sick and tired of the repeated assertion that Kerry actively sought to woo McCain in the first place. Maybe it happened. I don't know. But there is absolutely no evidence that it is the case. None!

So quit saying it:
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, once courted by Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry, is emerging as a major force in the re-election campaign of President Bush, who vanquished McCain in the 2000 Republican primary.
McCain, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, has also called on the White House, to little avail, to condemn a television advertisement that sought to tarnish Kerry's military service record in Vietnam.

But McCain showed his Republican loyalty by resisting what those close to McCain said were feelers by Kerry to be the Democrat's vice presidential running mate.

So, the story is about how McCain is becoming a major force in Bush's
campaign, and the only evidence the journalist provides for his straight-out
assertion that Kerry courted McCain is what is said by "those close to

Did I say "journalist"? I meant "stenographer."


It's Official: Bad Apples

Apparently the present US military code is "Clear the brass and blame the grunts":
A high-level army inquiry has found that more than two dozen senior US commanders created conditions that allowed abuses to occur at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by failing to provide leadership and sufficient resources to run the jail, Pentagon and military officials say.

But the inquiry clears the military brass. It finds no evidence of direct culpability above the colonel who commanded the military intelligence unit at the prison, the officials said.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

End One Crisis, Start Another

Seems to be our plan in Iraq these days. On the one hand, the standoff in Najaf has at least some chance of ending without a catastrophic incident involving the Imam Ali shrine:
A delegate at the national conference in Iraq said radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had agreed to lay down arms and withdraw his fighters from the Imam Ali shrine to end the crisis in Najaf.

A letter from Sadr's office in Baghdad was read out at the conference, saying Sadr had agreed to demands which included leaving the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf.

One of Sadr's spokesmen confirmed the cleric had agreed to demands to leave a holy shrine and disarm his militia.

Juxtaposed with that story, however, is this one, in which we are killing people in the very area of Baghdad where Sadr's office is:
United States forces killed more than 50 Shi'ite militiamen today in an advance into a Baghdad suburb that is a powerbase for cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the military said.

The forces, backed by tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, advanced some 2.5km into Sadr City, a slum of two million mainly Shi'ite inhabitants, meeting sporadic resistance.

A US officer said soldiers killed "slightly over" 50 Iraqis identified as firing upon the advancing forces. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the death toll.


Abu Ghraib Riots

Two prisoners were killed and five wounded on Wednesday when a fight broke
out among hundreds of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, the U.S.
military said.

A statement issued by the U.S. Central Command did not make clear how
the prisoners died, but said that "lethal force" was used by U.S. troops to
bring the early-morning disturbance under control.


Kerry Dodged Service

Andy Borowitz "reports" on the latest round of attack ads from the Republicans:
A new Republican-financed negative ad is accusing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry of fleeing to Vietnam to avoid serving in the Alabama National Guard.

The ad, airing in most of the so-called battleground states, tries to contrast Sen. Kerry's alleged guard-dodging with the storied Alabama National Guard heroism of the Republican nominee, President George W. Bush.

In the ad, a narrator asks, "When the Alabama National Guard called young Americans to serve, where was John Kerry? Thousands of miles away, in Vietnam."

The commercial ends with a black-and-white freeze-frame of Kerry, over which the narrator asks, "John Kerry... reporting for duty?"


Buying the Peace

This is just ridiculous, not to mention a desperate attempt to get some sort of economic boost from the RNC by bribing protesters:

In a transparently mercantile attempt to keep protesters from disrupting the Republican national convention, New York will offer peaceful demonstrators discounts at select hotels, museums, shops and restaurants during convention week, which begins on August 29.

Law-abiding protesters will be given badges that bear a cartoonish rendition of the Statue of Liberty holding a sign that reads "peaceful political activists".

Agitators can present the buttons at places such as the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Sex, the Pokemon Centre store and various restaurants to save some cash during their stay in the city.

"It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said on Tuesday, when he announced the program at the city's tourism office, which will distribute the badges.

Protesters can also get the badges from groups that have a permit to rally.

But Mr Bloomberg conceded that not everyone who wore a badge would be strictly vetted for his or her peaceful intentions. "Unfortunately, we can't stop an anarchist from getting a button," he said, though he doubted any of them would want to wear one.


Religious Fanatics Set to Infiltrate the U.S.

Be afraid:
The Rev. Jerry Falwell will open a law school this month in hopes of training a generation of attorneys who will fight for conservative causes.

"We want to infiltrate the culture with men and women of God who are skilled in the legal profession," Falwell said in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "We'll be as far to the right as Harvard is to the left."
Falwell said his law school will be similar to its Christian-leaning counterparts like Regent University in Virginia Beach, which religious broadcaster Pat Robertson founded.

Classroom lectures and discussions will fuse the teachings of the Bible with the U.S. Constitution, stressing the connections between faith, law and morality, said law school Dean Bruce Green, who has experience in civil liberties litigation.
Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the law school is part of a crusade by Falwell to get the government to carry out his religious agenda.

"When Falwell talks about using the legal system to advance his personal religious beliefs, I get a whiff of the Taliban," Conn said. "This is a very diverse country with many different religious beliefs, and when you set up a law school to try to get the government and legal system to conform to only one of them, you're leaving everybody else out."



This is too much. If Bush's plan to look strong on defense is to tout his continued support of the "missile defense system" which absolutely does not work (a fact strangely absent from the article), then he is in real trouble:
President Bush reaffirmed his administration's commitment to building an antimissile system, accusing opponents of the program of "living in the past."

Although Bush did not mention his Democratic rival by name on Tuesday, his speech here at a Boeing Co. plant included a thinly veiled attack on John F. Kerry's stance on missile defense. "I think those who oppose this ballistic missile system don't understand the threats of the 21st century," he told 1,400 cheering Boeing employees and supporters.

Kerry has said he would cut back spending on missile defense.
Kerry foreign policy adviser Rand Beers said in a statement that in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "Bush and his closest advisers were preoccupied with missile defense, and their misunderstanding about the threats we face continues to this day."


Lost in Translation

The supposed terrorist connections of a mosque in Albany are starting to look shaky. Can we please set up intensive language programs for our agents so we can at least know what people are saying?
U.S. prosecutors acknowledged on Tuesday possible flaws in a key piece of evidence in their case against two leaders of an Albany, New York, mosque accused of supporting terrorism, The New York Times said on Wednesday.

The mosque leaders, Yassin Aref, 34, and Mohammed Hossain, 49, were arrested after a sting operation in which authorities said they agreed to help an FBI informant launder money to buy a shoulder-fired missile, as part of a plan to assassinate Munir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations.
Prosecutors said the Defense Department gave them information that a notebook with Aref's name and address was found in what they called a terrorist training camp in the western Iraq desert, near Syria.

They said a word on one page, written in Arabic, referred to Aref as "commander." In fact, the word was Kurdish, and could be translated as "brother," according to prosecutors.

Reviewing the page for the newspaper, Nijyar Shemdin, the U.S. representative for the Kurdistan Regional Government in Washington, said he did not see how a translation would have come up with the word "commander." He also said Aref was referred to with the common honorific "kak," which could mean brother or mister.

Aref's lawyer, Terence Kindlon, told the newspaper the error is emblematic of deeper problems in the government's case, and that his client would seek a new bail hearing. "It looks to be a two-bit frame-up," he said. "I suspect that there is something political driving this."


Not a Pretty Picture

Did somebody say "class warfare"? It's pretty clear who's winning that war.


Do the Families Matter?

Any number of family members of the victims of 9/11 will attest that they aren't all that important in the eyes of the Bush administration, which fought the investigation every step of the way.

Now, here's another test. Let's see how they do:
The family of the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl has appealed to American politicians not to use his name in their election campaigns.

The family issued the appeal after vice-president Dick Cheney mentioned Pearl in a campaign speech that criticised Democratic presidential contender John Kerry.
Mr Cheney mentioned both Pearl and Paul M Johnson Jr, an American citizen beheaded by militants in Saudi Arabia in June, in a speech aimed at discrediting rival presidential candidate Mr Kerry views on the "war on terror".

"A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans. The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity," said Mr Cheney.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Canada Begins to Accept the Inevitable

So, Republicans, how long will it be before our neighbor to the north falls into chaos?
Following an embarrassing court ruling in the Yukon, the Canadian government has decided not to oppose same-sex marriage in any future court cases.

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told the Canadian Bar Association Monday that Ottawa will no longer resist attempts by same-sex couples who go to court in those areas where gay marriage is not yet legal.

Last month the Yukon Supreme Court, striking down the federal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, lambasted the government for opposing the suit, brought by a Yellowknife gay couple.
The ruling opened the door in Canada's 7 other provinces and two territories for gay couples to go to court to marry.

"We will not be opposing any of these," Cotler told the Bar Association's annual conference in Winnipeg. "We will allow these proceedings as they arise."


Finally Applying the Brakes, Or Not

Contrary to what I posted earlier, the Army may in fact just keep on shoveling:
The U.S. Army on Tuesday appeared to reverse a decision to stop paying a portion of Halliburton Co.'s (HAL.N: Quote, Profile, Research) bills in Iraq and gave the company more time to resolve a billing dispute.

"I just got a phone call putting on hold the 15 percent withhold clause implementation and I don't know why or any of the particulars," said Linda Theis, a spokeswoman for the Army Field Support Command in Rock Island, Illinois.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Texas-based company and the Army said the military had decided to implement from Wednesday a 15 percent withholding on future bills for a logistics contract servicing U.S. troops in Iraq and elsewhere.


Why Intelligence Matters

There's been some debate the past couple of days about "intelligence" versus "character" as traits necessary to run the country. I don't want to get into all that, especially as I think it's a false dichotomy (not to mention not really applicable to this election, since one candidate has both, and the other has neither).

But a story from Alan Cullison, in The Atlantic Monthly, shows just how dangerous it can be to have an unintelligent and incurious man in charge. Cullison got his hands on a computer used by al-Qaeda and learned that Bush and his gang played right into the hands of al-Qaeda:
The desktop computer, it turned out, had been used mostly by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top deputy. It contained nearly a thousand text documents, dating back to 1997. Many were locked with passwords or encrypted. Most were in Arabic, but some were in French, Farsi, English, or Malay, written in an elliptical and evolving system of code words. I worked intensively for more than a year with several translators and with a colleague at The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Higgins, interviewing dozens of former jihadis to decipher the context, codes, and intentions of the messages for a series of articles that Higgins and I wrote for the Journal in 2002.

What emerged was an astonishing inside look at the day-to-day world of al-Qaeda, as managed by its top strategic planners—among them bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Atef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, all of whom were intimately involved in the planning of 9/11, and some of whom (bin Laden and al-Zawahiri) are still at large. The documents included budgets, training manuals for recruits, and scouting reports for international attacks, and they shed light on everything from personnel matters and petty bureaucratic sniping to theological discussions and debates about the merits of suicide operations. There were also video files, photographs, scanned documents, and Web pages, many of which, it became clear, were part of the group's increasingly sophisticated efforts to conduct a global Internet-based publicity and recruitment effort.

The jihadis' Kabul office employed a zealous manager—Ayman al-Zawahiri's brother Muhammad, who maintained the computer's files in a meticulous network of folders and subfolders that neatly laid out the group's organizational structure and strategic concerns. (Muhammad's system fell apart after he was arrested in 2000 in Dubai and extradited to Egypt.) The files not only provided critical active intelligence about the group's plans and methods at the time (including the first leads about the shoe bomber Richard Reid, who had yet to attempt his attack) but also, in a fragmentary way, revealed a road map of al-Qaeda's progress toward 9/11. Considered as a whole, the trove of material on the computer represents what is surely the fullest sociological profile of al-Qaeda ever to be made public.

Perhaps one of the most important insights to emerge from the computer is that 9/11 sprang not so much from al-Qaeda's strengths as from its weaknesses. The computer did not reveal any links to Iraq or any other deep-pocketed government; amid the group's penury the members fell to bitter infighting. The blow against the United States was meant to put an end to the internal rivalries, which are manifest in vitriolic memos between Kabul and cells abroad. Al-Qaeda's leaders worried about a military response from the United States, but in such a response they spied opportunity: they had fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and they fondly remembered that war as a galvanizing experience, an event that roused the indifferent of the Arab world to fight and win against a technologically superior Western infidel. The jihadis expected the United States, like the Soviet Union, to be a clumsy opponent. Afghanistan would again become a slowly filling graveyard for the imperial ambitions of a superpower.

Like the early Russian anarchists who wrote some of the most persuasive tracts on the uses of terror, al-Qaeda understood that its attacks would not lead to a quick collapse of the great powers. Rather, its aim was to tempt the powers to strike back in a way that would create sympathy for the terrorists. Al-Qaeda has so far gained little from the ground war in Afghanistan; the conflict in Iraq, closer to the center of the Arab world, is potentially more fruitful. As Arab resentment against the United States spreads, al-Qaeda may look less like a tightly knit terror group and more like a mass movement. And as the group develops synergy in working with other groups branded by the United States as enemies (in Iraq, the Israeli-occupied territories, Kashmir, the Mindanao Peninsula, and Chechnya, to name a few places), one wonders if the United States is indeed playing the role written for it on the computer.

Link via Avedon Carol.



Typical. A mining technique dumps tons and tons of debris onto mountain streams, destroying them. Environmentalists halt the destruction, slowing the growth of the mining industry. The Bush administration's response to all this?
Thousands of tons of rocky debris were dumped into valleys, permanently burying more than 700 miles of mountain streams. By 1999, concerns over the damage to waterways triggered a backlash of lawsuits and court rulings that slowed the industry's growth to a trickle.

Today, mountaintop removal is booming again, and the practice of dumping mining debris into streambeds is explicitly protected, thanks to a small wording change to federal environmental regulations. U.S. officials simply reclassified the debris from objectionable "waste" to legally acceptable "fill."


End Run

Some states are slowly wising up and managing to circumvent Big Pharma's grip on the federal government, which it uses to amass tremendous profits at our expense. It's about time:
Opening a new front in the fight over the cost of prescription drugs, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois is preparing to help residents of his state buy cheaper medicines from Britain and Ireland, as well as Canada.

Aides to Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, said he would announce on Tuesday that Illinois would create a program, accessible on the Internet, so people could buy 100 of the most common drugs for 25 percent to 50 percent less than in most American drugstores.

Federal authorities say it is illegal to buy drugs from outside the United States, but since early this year, officials in at least four other states - Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin - have set up Web sites that link residents to Canadian pharmacies. Expanding the market to Britain and Ireland, Mr. Blagojevich's aides said, will spread demand beyond Canada, where some suppliers have reported shortages of certain drugs.

"The drug companies have pretty aggressively been shutting supplies to Canada, and we want to ensure that the supply will meet the demand," Abby Ottenhoff, a spokeswoman for Mr. Blagojevich, said. "Ultimately, they can't shut down supplies to the world to keep prices high in the United States."


Finally Applying the Brakes

It's a minor slowdown of the race to shovel tax money into the coffers of Halliburton, but it's better than nothing:
The Halliburton Company said today that the United States Army had decided not to grant it additional time to substantiate its costs in Iraq and Kuwait, a decision that could cost the company 15 percent of its payment.

Government contractors normally cannot be paid more than 85 percent of their invoices until they fully account for their costs. Twice this year, the Army set this rule aside for Halliburton as the company cataloged its costs and explained how it was billing the government. The most recent reprieve expired on Sunday, and on Monday company officials said that the Army had given them assurances they could have another extension.

Today, however, the company issued a press release reversing that, saying that the Army would not grant them the reprieve after all.


Monday, August 16, 2004

Huge Leaps Backwards

The myth of American "progress," which assures us all that we must be better off and more free and so on than previous generations, is an egregious lie concealing numerous regressions, such as this:
According to two recent research studies, the path that awaits young, undereducated African-American men is more likely to lead them to prison than anywhere else.

In fact, with the expansion of the nation’s sprawling prison industrial complex since the 1980s, things have gotten far, far worse for black men everywhere.

Consider that in 1954—the year that the Supreme Court weighed in favor of desegregation with their Brown v. Board of Education decision—an estimated 98,000 African-Americans sat behind bars. Today, that figure stands at 884,500, or nine times the number of black men and women incarcerated at the advent of the Civil Rights movement.

Given current trends, one of every three African-American men born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.


A First Step?

I had no idea any initiatives remotely dealing with moves towards proportionality were on the radar at all. But Colorado is considering an interesting change:
An opportunity for Colorado citizens to change their state's electoral voting allocation to [sic--the author must mean "from"] a winner take all system is on the state ballot for November. If passed, Colorado would become the first state to allocate electoral votes proportionately according to the popular votes.

What does this mean for the future? The AP cites Republican Gov. Bill Owens and Republican State Party Chairman Ted Halaby as saying it would lessen the state's clout in presidential elections, warning that candidates will ignore the state and its nine electoral votes if the measure passes.

But that's all wrong. If the measure passed, it would mean that a candidate with no shot at winning the majority of votes would still visit Colorado and listen to the issues of local residents. Imagine if this ballot were law in all 50 states for the 2004 election. Kerry would be spending time in Mississippi, shoring up his minority base, and Bush would be there too, ensuring his majority vote.

In short, candidates would have to pay attention to all of the United States, and would have less incentive to make special-case catered offers for various states' constituencies. Less chance we'd see endorsements of ethanol (Iowa) and coal (W. Virginia) as progressive fuel alternatives.


It's My Birthday!

Well, it will be, in about 100 minutes. As of midnight, I'll be 33. Here's hoping this year of my life goes better for me than Jesus's did for him!


Cosmos 1

I remember seeing drawings of such spacecraft when I was quite young, and the thought of one actually being sent up is very exciting:
US and Russian scientists are planning the ultimate in fuel-economy travel: they hope to launch a space sailing ship driven only by the pressure of sunlight later this year.

Cosmos 1, an unfurled fan of 15 metre sails, each far thinner than a dustbin bag but stiffened and coated with mirror material, could be launched from a Russian nuclear missile submarine.

A rocket designed during the cold war to attack Britain or the US will be fired from beneath the Barents Sea with the furled sail in place of its warhead.

The Russians will use a second piece of cold war rocketry - designed to take spy satellites out of orbit - to push the spacecraft to its ideal orbit of 800km, far above the last wisps of the Earth's atmosphere.

Then it will unfurl its sails. According to theory, as the solar rays hit the mirrored surface of the sails and then bounce away, they will exert pressure. Even in the pure vacuum of space this pressure will be barely perceptible: five millionths of the push exerted, for instance, by an apple in the palm of a hand.

But under this lighter-than-featherweight touch, the spacecraft will begin to move. The 100kg object will accelerate at a barely measurable fraction of a millimetre per second, but will gain speed with every second in the sun. By the end of the first day it will have increased its velocity by 100mph. In 100 days, it could reach 10,000mph.


Superfund, Unfunded

No surprise here, unfortunately:
With about six weeks left in the federal government's fiscal year, dozens of Superfund sites that are eligible for cleanup money are likely to be granted nothing or a fraction of what their managers say is needed because of a budget shortfall that could exceed $250 million, according to a survey by the Democratic staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


Orange Alert

I don't know what will come of this, but I suggest that we pay attention, since I imagine the course of this lawsuit may hold some lessons for the depleted uranium lawsuits that'll come in the wake of the Iraq war:
About 100 Vietnamese citizens have joined in a class-action lawsuit against more than 30 chemical companies, seeking compensation for exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The suit, originally filed by only three plaintiffs in a New York federal court on January 30, is the first time Vietnamese citizens have ever sought legal compensation for the use of the defoliant by U.S. forces during the conflict. The majority of the plaintiffs joined in the lawsuit over the past week.

As many as 2 million Vietnamese are thought to be suffering from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, according to Kenneth Herrmann, director of the Vietnam Program at the State University of New York at Brockport.


It's Already November

Voter intimidation has come early this year:
State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.


"Data Quality Act"

Again, the government has quietly stacked the deck in favor of business, at our expense. Such bureaucratic details aren't sexy enough to receive much media attention, despite the profound effects they will have on all of us, for years to come:
Things were not looking good a few years ago for the makers of atrazine, America's second-leading weedkiller. The company was seeking approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to keep the highly profitable product on the market. But scientists were finding it was disrupting hormones in wildlife -- in some cases turning frogs into bizarre creatures bearing both male and female sex organs.

Last October, concerns about the herbicide led the European Union to ban atrazine, starting in 2005. Yet that same month, after 10 years of contentious scientific review, the EPA decided to permit ongoing use in the United States with no new restrictions.

Herbicide approvals are complicated, and there is no one reason that atrazine passed regulatory muster in this country. But close observers give significant credit to a single sentence that was added to the EPA's final scientific assessment last year.

Hormone disruption, it read, cannot be considered a "legitimate regulatory endpoint at this time" -- that is, it is not an acceptable reason to restrict a chemical's use -- because the government had not settled on an officially accepted test for measuring such disruption.

Those words, which effectively rendered moot hundreds of pages of scientific evidence, were adopted by the EPA as a result of a petition filed by a Washington consultant working with atrazine's primary manufacturer, Syngenta Crop Protection. The petition was filed under the Data Quality Act, a little-known piece of legislation that, under President Bush's Office of Management and Budget, has become a potent tool for companies seeking to beat back regulation.

The Data Quality Act -- written by an industry lobbyist and slipped into a giant appropriations bill in 2000 without congressional discussion or debate -- is just two sentences directing the OMB to ensure that all information disseminated by the federal government is reliable. But the Bush administration's interpretation of those two sentences could tip the balance in regulatory disputes that weigh the interests of consumers and businesses.


Cheney Is a Coward II

We deserve better, say ten (more) senior officers:

Compounding new allegations of President Bush being AWOL, ten senior military officials released the following statement today in response to the Vice President’s attacks on John Kerry today:

“We are deeply disappointed by the tone and tenor of President Bush and Vice President Cheney’s personal attacks on John Kerry, a decorated combat veteran who served his country with courage and honor. John Kerry is talking about his plan to address the most pressing issues facing our nation – jobs, the economy, health care, the war on terror, the war in Iraq. George Bush and Dick Cheney have chosen take their campaign to the gutter. We call on President Bush and Vice President Cheney to stop the irresponsible personal attacks and tell us where they want to take the country. Tell us how they plan to win the peace in Iraq. Tell us how they plan to get us back on track with the war on terror. Tell us where they plan to lead the country. The American people and our troops deserve better.”

Signed by:

Admiral William J. Crowe (United States Navy, Retired)
Admiral Stansfield Turner (United States Navy, Retired)
General Wesley K. Clark (United States Army, Retired)
General Merrill “Tony” A. McPeak (United States Air Force, Retired)
General Joseph Hoar (United States Marine Corps, Retired)
General Johnnie E. Wilson (United States Army, Retired)
Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn (United States Navy, Retired)
Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy (United States Army, Retired)
Lieutenant General Donald Kerrick (United States Army, Retired)
Lieutenant General Edward D. Baca


Powell to Japan: Get Your War On

And what more tactful time for an American general to criticize the Japanese constitution than just after the anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings?
U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell said Japan had to think about revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution if Tokyo really wanted to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Powell met with Japanese reporters at the State Department on Thursday and talked about a variety of topics.

He referred to Article 9 of the Constitution that bans the use of force in settling international disputes while talking about Japan's ambition for a more prominent role in world affairs.

If Japan wanted to play an active role on the international stage and become a Security Council permanent member, "Article 9 would have to be examined in that light," the secretary of state was quoted by wire reports as telling the reporters.


Cheney Is a Coward

As three thousand soldiers are mobilized from Camp Mabry today, I feel this story has a bit of local interest for Austinites:
Sen. Tom Harkin called Vice President Dick Cheney a "coward" for avoiding service in Vietnam and called on President Bush to end the "backdoor draft."

The Iowa Democrat was responding Friday to the call-up of a Des Moines police officer who has already completed his eight-year military commitment.

Harkin echoed comments earlier this week by Des Moines Police Chief William McCarthy, who said the military's treatment of Des Moines Police Officer Rodell Nydam was "evil."

Nydam, 26, is being called back to Iraq despite finishing his National Guard commitment in April. He's being called up under the military's "stop loss" exemption, which can extend duty in wartime.


The Headline Says It All

Pulling troops from Europe is very likely a good idea; the large contingent in Germany is a Cold War leftover that serves little purpose. Pulling troops from Asia is downright stupid, given the belligerent stance of both North Korea and China of late. Unfortunately, the Bush administration doesn't really care about whether or not their new policy makes sense, they care about this:
Bush's Troops Withdrawal Could Draw Votes

WASHINGTON - President Bush's plan to call tens of thousands of U.S. troops home from Europe and Asia could gain him election-year applause from military families, but won't ease the strain on soldiers still battling violent factions in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Chavez Wins

And in a preview of our own upcoming elections, the losing side cries fraud, citing electronic voting machines:
Venezuelan leftist President Hugo Chavez on Monday declared victory in a referendum on his rule but the opposition called the results "a gigantic fraud."

According to National Electoral Council President Francisco Carrasquero, Chavez won backing from 58 percent of voters with 94 percent of electoral rolls counted in the referendum on whether to recall him before his term ends.

But the opposition said it had won by almost the same margin and called the official results a fraud engineered through the use of electronic voting machines.

If anyone acts surprised when a similar claim is made in November, I'm going to slap them.