Saturday, December 18, 2004


Maybe it's just me, but this doesn't sound much like democracy:
A Justice Department (news - web sites) lawyer reportedly wrote a secret memo to the White House in 2001 concluding that President George W. Bush (news - web sites) has the authority to wage preemptive war against terrorists and countries even if they were not linked to the September 11 attacks.

According to the memo there are effectively "no limits" on the presidents authority to wage war, Newsweek magazine reports, noting that it seems to lay the legal groundwork for Bush to invade Iraq (news - web sites) even without approval Congressional approval.

"The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the states that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of Sept. 11," the memo reads, according to Newsweek.

The memo, titled "The Presidents Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them," argues that the president should be allowed to order whatever military action "in his best judgment" are necessary to protect the United States.

The presidents decisions to use force "are for him alone and are unreviewable," the memo reads.


No Surprise

The US, once again, proves to be obstructionist:
Two weeks of negotiations at a United Nations conference here on climate change ended early Saturday with a weak pledge to start limited, informal talks on ways to slow down global warming, after the United States blocked efforts to begin more substantive discussions.

The main focus was to discuss the Kyoto protocol on global warming, which goes into force on Feb. 16 and will require industrial nations to make substantial cuts in their emissions of so-called greenhouse gases. But another goal had been to draw the United States, which withdrew from the accord in 2001, back into discussions about ways to mitigate climate change after 2012, when the Kyoto agreement expires.


Another Blow to the Death Penalty

It's unconstitutional in Kansas:
Six inmates will be resentenced and avoid execution after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional.

In its 4-3 opinion, the state high court said the 1994 law is flawed because of a provision about how jurors should weigh death penalty arguments during sentencing.

The Kansas law states that when juries find arguments for and against execution equal, their decision should favor a death sentence.

But a majority of the justices said such a requirement violates the Eighth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, according to court officials.


Friday, December 17, 2004

The Death of the American Dream

Philalethes has pointed out a most depressing study:
Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.

Researchers also found that respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim Americans.

"It's sad news. It's disturbing news. But it's not unpredictable," said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society. "The nation is at war, even if it's not a traditional war. We just have to remain vigilant and continue to interface."

Paging Michelle Malkin...


Washington: The Fix Is In

This is patently absurd. Democracy continues rasping out its long, drawn-out death rattle:
A judge Friday granted a state Republican Party request to block the counting of hundreds of recently discovered King County ballots in the governor's race, which the GOP's candidate is winning by just a few dozen votes.

Even if the election workers wrongly rejected the ballots — 150 of which were discovered Friday — it is too late for King County to reconsider them now, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend said.

The issue of the ballots could prove pivotal: With all but two counties finished with a hand recount, Republican Dino Rossi was leading Democrat Christine Gregoire by 43 votes.

From reading state law and state Supreme Court decisions, "it is clear to me that it is not appropriate to go back and revisit decisions on whether ballots should or should not be counted," Arend said.

Democrats appealed to the state Supreme Court, and King County Elections Director Dean Logan said the county also planned to appeal.

"These are legitimate voters who cast legitimate ballots," he said. "It's just a travesty if we do not include these ballots.


More Catblogging

Why sumo wrestling is better than karate.


More Thanks

Thanks to spork_incident; the books from my wish list arrived today!

They are very much appreciated.


Killing the Ozone

Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration has fought for, and won, the right to keep on wearing out the ozone layer:
The Bush administration announced new rules Thursday to allow U.S. farmers who grow tomatoes, strawberries and other crops to continue using methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting pesticide that had been scheduled to be phased out worldwide next year.

The United States was among a dozen nations that won continued "critical use" exemptions from the phase-out at negotiations in Prague, Czech Republic last month. International negotiators granted the United States request to continue using the popular killer of insects and weeds at a rate of 37 percent, or 5,550 tons, of the 15,000 tons used in 1991.


R.I.P. Funky Little Shack

The Love Shack is gone:
A fire has gutted the five-room cabin in Athens, Georgia, believed to be the inspiration for The B-52's song "Love Shack." Singer Kate Pierson lived in the cabin in the 1970s.

The cabin was unoccupied and undergoing renovations, and Allisa Huestis was planning to move in next week. She says The B-52's told her it was the original Love Shack and the place where they wrote "Rock Lobster."



Britain is behaving in a very American manner, defying the rule of law--its own law--in the name of "security":
Britain's top court delivered a severe jolt to Prime Minister Tony Blair's post-September 11 security policies on Thursday by ruling against the detention of nine foreign terrorism suspects without trial.

The British government, Washington's chief ally in its "war on terror", said it would send the controversial law under which the Muslim men are held back to parliament.
But it refused to release the nine -- one of whom is accused of inspiring the September 11 US attacks -- for security reasons.


Spying on the UN

Very odd:
The United Nations European headquarters, where a listening device was discovered in a ministerial meeting room, is probably rife with secret spying equipment, a U.N. security source said on Friday.

"It's like Swiss cheese," a U.N. security source told Reuters, referring to the Swiss Emmenthal cheese which contains holes.

"If we had the technnical means and staff for thorough searches, I'm certain that we would find one microphone after another. The U.N. in New York and Vienna are the same," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.


He Cares

Thanks, Rummy, for being so benevolent, after being forced to:
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will begin personally signing condolence letters sent to families of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, after receiving criticism over his use of mechanical signatures.

In a statement provided to Stars and Stripes on Thursday, Rumsfeld tacitly admitted that in the past he has not personally signed the letters, but said he was responsible for writing and approving each of the 1,000-plus messages sent to the fallen soldiers’ families.

“I have directed that in the future I sign each letter,” he said in the statement.


Friday Sleepy Catblogging


No Marriage Is Better Than Gay Marriage

Let's just outlaw the whole thing, shall we?
The Social Security Administration is refusing to recognize any marriage - straight or gay - performed in New Paltz, New York.

The tiny hamlet north of Manhattan burst onto the national scene in February when its mayor followed San Francisco in allowing gays to marry. (story) New Paltz officials are now under a court imposed ban on conducting gay marriages, but the federal government is taking no chances.

A temporary directive from the Social Security Administration not to accept any marriage certificates issued in New Paltz as identification has now been made permanent.
The move came as a shock to one straight couple in the town. Susie Kilpatrick Wilkening recently married Jeremy Wilkening, but when she went to the Social Security office in Kingston, New York to get her surname changed to Wilkening she was told the federal government would not accept her marriage.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Budget Surplus!

No, not in this country, you silly thing. But very near:
The federal surplus swelled to $9 billion in just the first seven months of the current fiscal year, thanks to a windfall from Ottawa's sale of its stake in Petro-Canada.

The latest figures from the federal Finance Department show that from April to October, the government took in $9 billion more than it spent - dramatically larger than the $5.8-billion surplus reported during the same period a year ago.


It's Our Money

And it's being flushed down the toilet, for no fucking reason:
The Bush administration plans to ask for between $80 billion and $100 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, rather than the $70 billion to $75 billion the White House privately told members of Congress before the election, according to Pentagon and White House officials.


Creating a Crisis

Scream it from the rooftops. This administration's modus operandi is creating crises:

As President George W. Bush begins a big campaign to restructure Social Security, Democrats and a host of interest groups are mobilizing to fight his private account plan and protect the traditional retirement system.

Opponents hope to counter Bush's arguments that the current program faces financing problems that make it unsustainable and that allowing workers to invest some Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds will secure the system for younger workers.

"This is a manageable problem," said Rep. Robert Matsui of California, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee. "He is trying to create a crisis."


Due Process

That's one of the mainstays of the justice we are supposed to be spreading, right? Due process for everyone. Except for those "detained" at Guantanamo for going on three years now without benefit of counsel. And except for this man. Yes, universally hated, but the process is meaningless unless consistently applied, right?

Former dictator Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) met with a lawyer Thursday for the first time since his capture a year ago, officials said. Insurgents, meanwhile, killed three paramilitary police and a government official in Baghdad.

Saddam's meeting in his cell with a member of his legal team came as the Iraqi government is gearing up to begin the trials of some of Saddam's top deputies next week, ahead of the country's elections in January.

Saddam and the lawyer, an Iraqi, met for four hours at the undisclosed location where the ousted leader is being detained, said Ziad al-Khasawneh, head of the legal team hired by Saddam's wife.


Lights, Camera, and So Forth

The fictionalizing of this war began long ago. Now it's coming to the big screen:
Harrison Ford is to star in what will be Hollywood's first feature about the current Iraq war.

Producers Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher have bought the option for No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah, a non-fiction written by Slate reporter Bing West.

The book is due to be published in May and tells the story of an assault on Iraqi insurgents in Falluja, from the perspective of US marines.


Fleeing Rummy

It's all the rage these days, even among deranged right-wingers:

U.S. Sen. Trent Lott doesn't believe Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign immediately, but he does think Rumsfeld should be replaced sometime in the next year.

"I'm not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld," Lott, R-Mississippi, told the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning. "I don't think he listens enough to his uniformed officers."


Thank You

Sitting in my trashed living room with its lovely buckled hardwood floors, I just received two books from my wish list. I am again amazed by your generosity in helping me replenish my decimated library (the worst loss of all).

Thank you, CB in Canada and JM in Arizona!


War as Capitalism

I just like this passage. Well put:

Like all good captains of industry, they looked to substitute capital for labor.

Thus we have a Defense secretary more concerned about the Army and the force he'd like to have--the high-speed-low-drag transformed force of the future--than the force with which he actually has to fight today's wars. And, in fact, Rumsfeld and his lieutenants would also simply like to fight the wars they'd like to have rather than the war as it is.


Justice. Not Here.

Again, Europe proves itself more just than America. Hardly surprising, these days:
Nine foreign terror suspects held without charge under anti-terrorism laws for more than two years have won a House of Lords appeal against their indefinite detention.

The law lords ruled 8-1 in favour of the detainees by saying that the provisions in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 were incompatible with European human rights laws.

The ruling is a final blow for David Blunkett, who championed the law in the wake of the September 11 attacks but who resigned as Home Secretary yesterday following a visa scandal.


Plutocracy, or Kleptocracy?

Take your pick, as people keep on dying in Iraq:
Bush will hold the most lavish and expensive inauguration celebration in American history when he is sworn in for his second term next month. But he hopes to temper the four-day extravaganza by holding special events to honour US troops in Iraq.

Mr Bush’s inaugural committee is hoping to raise more than $40 million (£20 million) for the event, a record. It announced yesterday that the theme for inauguration week, Washington’s equivalent of the Oscars, will be “celebrating freedom, honouring service”.

It is seen as a valiant effort amid the frenzy of black-tie balls, fireworks, corporate donors and cocktail parties to remind revellers that America is a nation at war.

Mr Bush is intimately involved in the details of his second inauguration, the traditional celebration centred on the January 20 ceremony when US presidents take the oath of office. He is anxious that US troops be constantly honoured.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Taking Power from the People

They are taking the power that is rightfully ours and handing it over to corporations any way they can. And this battle is easily among the top five in importance. See if you can notice a similarity in the sorts of lawsuits Bush wants to limit:
President Bush said today he would send proposed legislation to Congress to limit "frivolous lawsuits" as a way to help the economy grow.

Mr. Bush, speaking at a two-day White House-sponsored economic summit, said the legislation would curb class-action litigation, lawsuits seeking damages for exposure to asbestos and medical malpractice suits.


Lunch Is for Wimps

So says Arnold:
The Schwarzenegger administration is seeking an emergency rule that would weaken a Gov. Gray Davis-era law that protects the rights of workers to take lunch breaks.

The unusual move by the governor's labor officials is aimed, they say, at limiting lawsuits by employees against their employers and clearing up confusion among employers about their responsibility to provide breaks.

But critics of the order, including labor groups and some Democratic lawmakers, accuse Schwarzenegger of trying to undo a long-standing right to lunch periods that was strengthened by Davis in 2000 to allow employees ranging from farmworkers to bus drivers to sue employers who denied them breaks and recover years of lost wages.

"This is quite a Christmas present to employers,'' said Laura Ho, an Oakland attorney whose law firm sued home mortgage giant Countrywide Financial Corp. over workers' missed meal periods. Meanwhile, several class-action lawsuits in California accuse major corporations of denying workers their breaks, including one filed in Alameda County on behalf of more than 200,000 Wal-Mart employees.


Learning Curve

Rather than American forces growing more effective at fighting the insurgents, it seems that they are getting better at fighting us:
A bold, innovative insurgency is becoming more effective against U.S. supply lines in Iraq (news - web sites) and explosive attacks have slowed military operations there, a senior American general said on Wednesday.

"They have had a growing understanding that where they can affect us is in the logistics flow," Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy chief of the U.S. Central Command, told reporters.

"They have gotten more effective in using IEDs," Smith added, referring to improvised explosive devices hidden beside roads by guerrillas fighting U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

"He (the insurgency) is becoming more effective," the general said. "They may use doorbells today to blow these things up. They may use remote controls from toys tomorrow. And as we adapt, they adapt."

Smith said U.S. forces in Iraq now totaled 148,000 troops -- up from 138,000 at the start of this month and near the 150,000 planned to protect national elections in January -- but that roadside explosives were hindering military operations and reconstruction nearly two years after the U.S.-led invasion of that country.

"Yes, they are," Smith replied when asked if response to such attacks was slowing down operations.

"They cause us to re-route vehicles. They cause us to have to employ tactics - although the tactics are generally successful - in avoiding them. And (they) cause us to have to convoy where maybe otherwise we would prefer to move in smaller numbers."

Hmm. We're being "hindered," are we? Or as one might say, "bogged down"?

As one would be in a quagmire, perhaps?


Loony, Bizarre, and Irresponsible

That sums up this administration, in general, rather well. But Molly Ivins is specifically referring to the Bush plan to destroy Social Security:
This is not some leftist conspiracy theory: Grover Norquist of The Club for Growth has been open about it for years. What we have here is a happy convergence of ideology (the Market Can Solve All Problems) and greed. The greed is from the financial industry, which stands to pick up an incalculable sum in profits – and, of course, the financial industry contributes generously to Guess Who. Just the Bush plan of partial privatization would cost about $1.5 trillion in transition costs over 10 years, and Bush wants to borrow that money.

Next week, the White House will launch a giant public relations campaign, just as it did with the campaign to sell us on the Iraq war, with a lot of phony information to convince us all this lunacy is good for us. Social Security is of particular concern to women, since we live longer and have fewer earnings to rely on in retirement.

It's kind of hard not to be stunned by the irresponsibility of this scheme. To just blithely borrow the money to destroy a successful social program is, well, loony, bizarre and irresponsible.


The Dumbening of America

Bush solves the problem handily, according to Talking Points Memo:
George W. Bush, international economist: "There's a trade deficit. That's easy to resolve: People can buy more United States products if they're worried about the trade deficit."

From comments just now in the Oval Office with Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi. And I'm told it was a bit difficult to tell whether or not he was joking.



I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you!
An attempt to launch an interceptor missile as part of the U.S. missile defence shield failed early Wednesday in the first test of the system in nearly two years.

The Missile Defense Agency said the ground-based interceptor automatically shutdown "due to an unknown anomaly" shortly before it was to be launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean.


We Give Up

We're stymied:
Three years after Osama bin Laden fled American bombs in his Tora Bora hideout, the search for the world's most wanted man has all but come to a halt because of Pakistan's refusal to permit cross-border raids from Afghanistan, according to CIA officials.

Washington has downgraded its efforts to catch the al-Qa'eda leader in Afghanistan, from where he supervised the September 11 attacks, because it has become convinced that he is hiding in Pakistan's virtually lawless Tribal Areas, which hug the 1,200-mile frontier.

Islamabad refuses to permit cross-border pursuits by US special forces based in Afghanistan's mountainous frontier regions, agency officials told the New York Times.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said at the weekend that bin Laden was "definitely" in the region and would eventually be caught.

But according to the New York Times, the seven semi-autonomous tribal regions where bin Laden is believed to be hiding with a group of elite al-Qa'eda associates have become inaccessible to US troops due to the hostility of local people and Pakistan's refusal to allow US forces to operate in its territory.

The Americans believe bin Laden and his lieutenants are hiding among sympathetic local tribesmen, funding his operations from the proceeds of opium sales.

Opium sales, by the way, have skyrocketed since America's invasion. So, once again, we've lent Osama and pals a big helping hand.


Adding Insult to Grievous Injury

The United States is by no means the only nation that must repress vast segments of its own past in order to function:
A Japanese court today rejected a legal bid for compensation and an official apology to be given to four elderly Chinese women who were forced to become sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the second world war.

Tokyo's high court acknowledged both the trauma suffered by the women and the wartime government's role in sexual slavery, but said that Japan's current government was not responsible for the atrocities committed by wartime rulers.

The four women, from China's Shanxi province and aged between 77 and 81, filed the original suit in 1995, seeking 20m yen (£98,000) in damages and an apology by officials. They said they had been repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers posted in China during the war.
After the ruling, one of the plaintiffs, aged 77, told reporters: "We suffered brutality under the Japanese military. We were constantly smashed, and we were injured. Why the Japanese government still does not admit its crimes? I will keep fighting for justice as long as I live."

Japan's military shipped thousands of women from Korea, China and other Asian countries to provide sex for Japanese troops during the second world war. Historians say that around 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery.


American Torturers, Part ?

The stories just keep on coming. Disgusting:
Marines in Iraq were convicted by military trials of committing a variety of abuses of captured Iraqis, including using an electric transformer to shock a detainee repeatedly to make him "dance," according to documents released Tuesday.
Another marine was sentenced to 90 days' confinement for squirting a flammable liquid on a detainee's hands and then lighting it with a match, also at Mahmudiya, in August 2003. The detainee suffered second-degree burns.

And we wonder why they don't see us as "liberators"?


Space Arms Race

Since the government has so much extra money just lying around, why the heck not?
Intelligence experts speculate that the highly classified endeavor is a top-secret satellite that would, or perhaps already can, intercept and shut down other countries' spy satellites.

The debate over the project leaked into the open on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, when Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, publicly complained that an unnamed spy project was "totally unjustified and very, very wasteful and dangerous to the national security." He called the program "stunningly expensive."
Many in the arms control community have long worried about such an anti-satellite program, saying that, particularly in time of crisis, such an operation could be construed as a hostile act and the first phase of a space war.

"The best asat is not a weapon that detonates next to an enemy satellite," said William E. Burrows of New York University, author of "Deep Black," a book on spy satellites. "Instead, it would be a signal that would tell the satellite to take the rest of the afternoon off."

Sending even defensive satellite weapons into orbit could start an arms race in space, warned John Pike, a defense analyst with, who has studied anti-satellite weapons for more than three decades. Pike said other countries would inevitably demand proof that any weapons were only defensive.

"It would present just absolutely insurmountable verification problems, because we are not going to let anybody look at our spy satellites," Pike said. "It is just not going to happen."


Same Old Song and Dance

The tax cuts have worked so well thus far that the Cheney-bot is pushing to make them permanent. Can't these people ever have a new idea?
Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) said Wednesday that it is critical to make President Bush (news - web sites)'s tax cuts permanent during his second term, while achieving broader reforms in the tax code and bolstering Social Security (news - web sites).

Speaking at the start of a two-day White House conference on the economy, Cheney said the administration would put a top priority on making the tax cuts, which are all due to expire after 2010, permanent as a way of bolstering future economic growth.

Cheney said the administration had accomplished a great deal in its first term but a number of unfinished items remain for Congress to address.

"We still have more work to do, but we believe we are on the right track," Cheney told the audience of business leaders, economists and Washington lobbyists.

The administration is hoping to build momentum for Bush's ambitious second-term agenda during the two-day White House-sponsored conference. Various panels were scheduled to address Bush's proposals on overhauling the tax code and Social Security as well as promoting freer trade and placing limits on lawsuits.


More Southern Idiocy, Part II

First, a Louisiana judge in blackface, and now this:
A rural Alabama judge began wearing a robe embroidered with the Ten Commandments to his Andalusia courtroom this week, echoing the statement made by the state Supreme Court chief justice ousted over a Ten Commandments display.

Covington County Presiding Circuit Court Judge Ashley McKathan said he ordered the robe and had it embroidered using his own money. He said he did it because he felt strongly that he should stand up for his personal religious convictions.

"Truth is an absolute value," McKathan said, "and you can't divorce the law from the truth. I feel we must resist the modern attempts to discount the truth."

Via Echidne of the Snakes.


Health Care Crisis, Cont'd

How long before we wake up and do what needs to be done?
To cope with rising health care costs, companies are asking current retirees to pay more for health insurance and some are telling future retirees to do without, according to a study released yesterday.


Good Strategy

Who knows if anything short of running out of oil will ever stop--or even slow--the great pollution machine that is the United States.

But the recasting of environmental issues as human rights issues is definitely worth a try:

The Eskimos, or Inuit, about 155,000 seal-hunting peoples scattered around the Arctic, plan to seek a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the United States, by contributing substantially to global warming, is threatening their existence.

The Inuit plan is part of a broader shift in the debate over human-caused climate change evident among participants in the 10th round of international talks taking place in Buenos Aires aimed at averting dangerous human interference with the climate system.

Inuit leaders said they planned to announce the effort at the climate meeting today.

Representatives of poor countries and communities - from the Arctic fringes to the atolls of the tropics to the flanks of the Himalayas - say they are imperiled by rising temperatures and seas through no fault of their own. They are casting the issue as no longer simply an environmental problem but as an assault on their basic human rights.

The commission, an investigative arm of the Organization of American States, has no enforcement powers. But a declaration that the United States has violated the Inuit's rights could create the foundation for an eventual lawsuit, either against the United States in an international court or against American companies in federal court, said a number of legal experts, including some aligned with industry.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Screw Up, Get a Medal

It's a disgrace, and anyone who has already received this medal should be righteously indignant:
President George W. Bush on Tuesday presented the government's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, to three men closely involved in the planning, execution and immediate aftermath of the Iraq war - and in some of the war's biggest controversies.
In an often lighthearted White House ceremony, Bush presented the blue-ribboned medals to L. Paul Bremer 3rd, the civilian administrator of Iraq after the invasion of Baghdad; General Tommy Franks, retired, who led the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and George Tenet, the former director of central intelligence.

A "lighthearted ceremony"? What the hell is that about while Iraq is still a deadly mess?


More Southern Stupidity

A white judge who wore blackface make-up, handcuffs and a jail jumpsuit at a Halloween party will be suspended for six months, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

The justices voted 5-2 to suspend Judge Timothy Ellender for a year without pay for dishonouring his position, but to defer half of that penalty. Ellender will lose more than $50 000 in pay, one judge noted.

Ellender, who is white, testified the costumes worn by him and his wife -- she was dressed as a police officer -- were meant only as a joke to show he was her prisoner.


Guard in More Danger Than Regular Army

I know this isn't what they thought they were signing up for:
In a reversal of trends from past wars, part-time soldiers in the Army National Guard are about one-third more likely to be killed in Iraq than full-time active-duty soldiers serving there, a USA TODAY analysis of Pentagon statistics shows.

According to figures furnished by the military branches, the active Army has sent about 250,000 soldiers to Iraq and 622 have been killed. That works out to 1 death for every 402 soldiers who have deployed. Some 37,000 Army Guard soldiers have been sent to Iraq since the war began and 140 have died there - 1 fatality for every 264 soldiers who have served, or about a 35 percent higher death rate.


Iraqi Hitler

In further observance of the one-year anniversary of Saddam Hussein's capture, let's turn to the interim Iraqi President for comment:
Ghazi Yawar, the interim Iraqi President, has given warning that instability could spawn an "Iraqi Hitler" if his country's citizens continue to feel humiliated and despondent like the Germans after their defeat in the First World War.

In a series of media interviews on a trip to London, Iraq's political figurehead also criticised Washington for its disastrous decision to dismantle Iraq's security forces after its invasion last year - which paved the way for a breakdown of law and order.

"We could have screened people out instead of screening them in and this could have saved us a lot of hassle and problems," Mr Yawar told the BBC.

Mr Yawar's criticisms of Pentagon policy in Iraq came a year to the day after the capture of Saddam Hussein created a short-lived euphoria among the US coalition and its civilian administrators.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we've got him," Paul Bremer, the then American governor of Iraq, told a crowded news conference in Baghdad on December 14, the day after Saddam was grabbed from a bolthole near Tikrit after eight months on the run.

In a nationally televised address later that day, President Bush told the United States: "In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over."

Saddam is still awaiting trial for alleged crimes against humanity and US Army officials said today that eight of his jailed lieutenants had begun a hunger strike to protest against their continuing detention.

The situation in Iraq has only worsened since his capture, with bombings, kidnappings and daily attacks on US and British forces.


One Year Later

One year ago today, the United States officially announced the capture of Saddam Hussein. This momentous event was supposed to lead to peace, since the only people fighting us were Ba'athist remnants who would crumble now that their leader was gone.

The news today:
A suicide car bomber on Monday morning ripped into a checkpoint outside of the U.S. stronghold in Baghdad, home of Iraq's interim government and the U.S. Embassy. At least nine Iraqis were killed and 22 were injured.

Witnesses said the blast came so suddenly that they didn't know what sort of car was involved - only that it left bodies and blood spread across the ground.

Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi reportedly took responsibility. Officials at the two hospitals that received the dead and wounded said nine Iraqis were killed, though the number might have been higher because family members might have taken remains away.

A second car bomb hit a convoy of Humvees in northern Baghdad on Monday morning, wounding three soldiers and an Iraqi.

The insurgency in Iraq - which includes nationalists, foreign fighters and Saddam Hussein loyalists - is still ferocious. Fighting continues even in areas where the U.S. military has launched large-scale operations.



Wonders never cease, but it looks as though the Idaho Senate may have some common sense and decency when it comes to gay rights:
A conservative group working on a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Idaho may not have as much support as it thinks.

The Post Register has identified 12 state senators who at least partly oppose the amendment -- enough to kill the effort in the Idaho Senate.

Some of the senators who oppose the amendment were willing to say so on record, the Idaho Falls newspaper reported. Others declined to go on the record, saying they want to see how the amendment is worded before making a final decision.

"I believe gay marriage is a wedge issue promoted by the far right to tear apart the Republican Party," said Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene. "I don't think this exercise is worth a hill of beans."


Let the Circus Begin

Does anyone believe justice can result?
Leaders in Saddam Hussein's regime will go on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes as early as next week, Iraq's interim premier says.

Iyad Allawi said that the "symbols" of the former regime would be tried "one by one" but gave few details.

There was no indication when Saddam Hussein himself would face trial.

Observers believe the trials will last months and some say the timing of the announcement was linked to elections planned for January.


Real Soldiers Know

That Rumsfeld is criminally incompetent. First McCain, now this:

Norman Schwarzkopf said yesterday he was "angry" at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's response to a soldier who complained he and his fellow grunts in Iraq lack sufficient armor plating.

"They deserve every bit of protection we can give them," Schwarzkopf scowled in an interview with "Hardball" host Chris Matthews on MSNBC. "I was very, very disappointed - let me put it stronger - I was angry by the words of the secretary of defense."

More than half of the more than 1,200 U.S. troops killed in Iraq have come from insurgent attacks on the vehicles.

"When he [Rumsfeld] laid it all on the Army, I mean, as if he as the secretary of defense didn't have anything to do with it, the Army was over there doing it themselves screwing up," Schwarzkopf said.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Koufax Awards

If you feel the love, then show the love.


Six Down

Fifty-five to go.


These People Elect the President?

Apparently, one tenth of Minnesotans wanted Edwards for president. Or rather, "Ewards":

Voting irregularities were few in Minnesota this year -- until it really counted.

Defeated Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry apparently is going to get one less electoral vote nationally than he should have -- 251 instead of 252 -- because of a mistake Monday by one of Minnesota's 10 DFL electors.

One of the 10 handwritten ballots cast for president carried the name of vice presidential candidate John Edwards (actually spelled "Ewards" on the ballot) rather than Kerry.

"I was shocked ... this will go in the history books," said Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, who presided over a ceremony that normally is uneventful.


McCain v. Rumsfeld

Well, McCain, had you backed the candidate who wouldn't ever have dreamed of appointing Rumsfeld, then he wouldn't be in the White House much longer, or you wouldn't be as culpable, at least.

But you backed the AWOL frat boy. You got what you deserved. Unfortunately, the troops did not:

U.S. Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) said Monday that he has "no confidence" in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, citing Rumsfeld's handling of the war in Iraq (news - web sites) and the failure to send more troops.

McCain, speaking to The Associated Press in an hourlong interview, said his comments were not a call for Rumsfeld's resignation, explaining that President Bush (news - web sites) "can have the team that he wants around him."

Asked about his confidence in the secretary's leadership, McCain recalled fielding a similar question a couple weeks ago.

"I said no. My answer is still no. No confidence," McCain said.

He estimated an additional 80,000 Army personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 more Marines would be needed to secure Iraq.

"I have strenuously argued for larger troop numbers in Iraq, including the right kind of troops — linguists, special forces, civil affairs, etc.," said McCain, R-Ariz. "There are very strong differences of opinion between myself and Secretary Rumsfeld on that issue."


Baby Steps Toward Justice

In Chile, Pinochet may be a tiny step closer to receiving some small part of what is due him:
A Chilean judge on Monday formally charged Augusto Pinochet with homicide and kidnapping in one of many pending cases related to human rights abuses committed during his 17-year rule, and ordered house arrest for the former dictator.

But Pinochet, 89, remained free after his lawyers filed an immediate injunction at the Santiago Appeals Court against the charges and against the house arrest order.


War Crimes

Remember back when hospitals were off-limits as targets? I do, but that memory is fading fast:
The U.S. military has been preventing delivery of medical care in several instances, medical staff say.

Iraqi doctors at many hospitals have reported raids by coalition forces. Some of the more recent raids have been in Amiriyat al-Fallujah, about 10km to the east of Fallujah, the town to which U.S. forces have laid bloody siege. Amiriyat al-Fallujah has been the source of several reported resistance attacks on U.S. forces.

The main hospital in Amiriyat al-Fallujah was raided twice recently by U.S. soldiers and members of the Iraqi National Guard, doctors say. ”The first time was November 29 at 5:40am, and the second time was the following day,” said a doctor at the hospital who did not want to give his real name for fear of U.S. reprisals.

In the first raid about 150 U.S. soldiers and at least 40 members of the Iraqi National Guard stormed the small hospital, he said.

”They were yelling loudly at everyone, both doctors and patients alike,” the young doctor said. ”They divided into groups and were all over the hospital. They broke the gates outside, they broke the doors of the garage, and they raided our supply room where our food and supplies are. They broke all the interior doors of the hospital, as well as every exterior door.”

He was then interrogated about resistance fighters, he said. ”The Americans threatened to do here what they did in Fallujah if I didn't cooperate with them,” he said.

Another doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that all of the doors of the clinics inside the hospital were kicked in. All of the doctors, along with the security guard were handcuffed and interrogated for several hours, he said.

The two doctors pointed to an ambulance with a shattered back window. ”When the Americans raided our hospital again last Tuesday at 7pm, they smashed one of our ambulances,” the first doctor said.

His colleague pointed to other bullet-riddled ambulances. ”The Americans have snipers all along the road between here and Fallujah,” he said. ”They are shooting our ambulances if they try to go to Fallujah.”


Trench Warfare

The social conservatives are planning to get serious pushing their regressive agendas through on the state and local levels. We have to fight them every last step of the way:
Energized by electoral victories last month that they say reflect wide support for more traditional social values, conservative Christian advocates across the country are pushing ahead state and local initiatives on thorny issues, including same-sex marriage, public education and abortion.

"I think people are becoming emboldened," said Michael D. Bowman, director of state legislative relations at Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian advocacy group based in Washington. "On legislative efforts, they're getting more gutsy, and on certain issues, they may introduce legislation that they normally may not have done."

It is on the state level "where most family issues are decided," Mr. Bowman said. And it is there that local advocacy groups hope to build quickly on the momentum from the election when legislatures convene in the new year.

In Texas, conservative Christians are backing an amendment to prevent human cloning, a measure that would also block the kind of cloning used in embryonic stem-cell research. In Georgia, advocacy groups hope to win approval this year of two measures limiting abortion, after redistricting helped Republicans take control of the state legislature. In Kansas, conservatives have won a majority on the State Board of Education, which is expected to introduce changes this spring to the high school science curriculum challenging the theory of evolution. And in Maryland, some black churches have joined with a white Republican state delegate to push for a ban on same-sex marriage.


Recount: Democratic Victory in Washington

Here's one recount battle that looks as though it will set things right:
The election director in Seattle's King County said Monday that hundreds of absentee ballots were mistakenly rejected in the heavily Democratic stronghold — enough to swing the close governor's race to Democrat Christine Gregoire.

A statewide hand recount is under way across Washington state after Republican Dino Rossi came out ahead of Gregoire by just 42 votes out of 2.9 million cast.

King County Elections Director Dean Logan said he will ask the county Canvass Board on Wednesday to amend the results of the Nov. 2 election in his county. Agreement is likely; Logan has a seat on the three-person board, and one of the other members is a Democrat.

Logan said election workers mistakenly rejected 561 absentee ballots because they thought signatures on the ballots did not match original voter registration records.

However, he said that the signatures simply were not on file in the county's computerized voter registration system and that original registration records should have been checked.

"We need to correct the error and count those votes," Logan said in a statement.

One of the rejected ballots belonged to King County Council Chairman Larry Phillips, The Seattle Times reported.

"I was under the absolute impression not only I voted, but followed the instructions correctly," Phillips said. "If it can happen to the King County Council chairman, it can happen to anyone else."


2004 Koufax Awards

Nominations are now open for outstanding lefty blogs.

Just sayin'.


Mustn't Mock Our Glorious Leader

Creeping fascism continues. When are no longer permitted to ridicule the powerful, that's oppression, plain and simple:

Bucky Turco, who organized the show, said that a market director had expressed reservations about the Bush portrait, a small colorful painting by Christopher Savido that from afar appears to be a likeness of the president but viewed up close reveals chimps swimming in a marshy landscape.

"I approached them with the idea of bringing an edgy show by emerging artists here. I showed them an issue of our magazine, and they were psyched," said Mr. Turco, publisher of Animal, a quarterly publication with offices in the market that features photographs and graphics inspired by urban culture.

Mr. Turco said that while he had cleared the work to be hung with Irwin Cohen, a director of Chelsea Market, the management took issue with the image of Bush.

"When we hung the show on Wednesday, we were asked to take down the Bush piece," he said. "I agreed but said I thought it makes a strong addition and I would re-hang it for the opening."

Mr. Turco did that, and last Thursday, the meandering hallway of the market on Manhattan's West Side filled with a gallery crowd of artists, models and rap singers. But the presence of a disc jockey and open bar created a nightclub milieu. That provoked another person who helps manage the market, Mr. Turco said.

"The party's over right now," Mr. Turco said the market worker told him before calling security to clear the crowd.

"I said, 'Let's walk and talk this over,' and when we passed Chris's painting, he flipped," Mr. Turco said. "If I didn't take the show down he was going to have me arrested, seize the art, and evict me from of my office," he said. Mr. Turco delivered a contrite letter to the market management the following day but was forced to remove the 60 art works, photos and paintings on Saturday, about a month before the show was supposed to end. The offices of Around the Clock Management were closed over the weekend and there was no response yesterday to repeated messages to a market representative.


Unexpected Hope

This caught me entirely by surprise. I had no idea anyone was working on such drugs:
Researchers at Rutgers University have developed a trio of drugs they believe can destroy HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to a published report.

The drugs, called DAPYs, mimic the virus by changing shape, which enables them to interfere with the way HIV attacks the immune system.

Tests conducted in conjunction with Johnson and Johnson have shown the drug to be easily absorbed with minimal side effects. It also can be taken in one pill, in contrast to the drug cocktails currently taken by many AIDS patients.

“This could be it,” Stephen Smith, the head of the department of infectious diseases at Saint Michael's Medical Center in Newark, said. “We're all looking for the next class of drugs.”

If this works out, it could be the beginning of the end of AIDS. Amazing.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Just Wrong

And depressing:
Thousands of African Americans marched Saturday to denounce same-sex marriage, invoking the name of slain civil rights leader martin Luther King to the anger of many gays and lesbians.

The march was organized by Bishop Eddie Long whose New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is one of the biggest black churches in the country.

The march set off from the King Center where Dr King is buried and ended with a rally at Turner Field. The unofficial parade count was set at 15,000.

Long avoided direct comments on gay marriage saying his followers "did not come in a march of hatred." But, the message was clear.

The church's website called the march a rally for traditional marriage and proclaims marriage between one man and one woman must be protected.

Long has called for a national ban on same-sex marriage.


More Gratitude

A huge thank you to CB. I personally love They completely rock--and I love Fup.

I am overawed by your gift. It'll be put to very good use, I assure you.


Working on It, and Going to Jail

Thanks, Rummy:
Six reservists, including two veteran officers who had received Bronze Stars, were court-martialed for what soldiers have been doing as long as there have been wars--scrounging to get what their outfit needed to do its job in Iraq (news - web sites).

Darrell Birt, one of those court-martialed for theft, destruction of Army property and conspiracy to cover up the crimes, had been decorated for his "initiative and courage" for leading his unit's delivery of fuel over the perilous roads of Iraq in the war's first months.

Now, Birt, 45, who was a chief warrant officer with 656th Transportation Company, based in Springfield, Ohio, and his commanding officer find themselves felons, dishonorably discharged and stripped of all military benefits.

The 656th played a crucial role in maintaining the gasoline supply that fueled everything from Black Hawk helicopters to Bradley Fighting Vehicles between Balad Airfield and Tikrit. The reservists in the company proudly boast that their fuel was in the vehicles driven by the 4th Infantry Division soldiers who found Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) hiding in a hole last year.

But when Birt's unit was ordered to head into Iraq in the heat of battle in April 2003 from its base in Kuwait, Birt said the company didn't have enough vehicles to haul the equipment it would need to do the job.

So, Birt explained, he and other reservists grabbed two tractors and two trailers left in Kuwait by other U.S. units that had already moved into Iraq.

Several weeks later, Birt and other reservists scrounged a third vehicle, an abandoned 5-ton cargo truck, and stripped it for parts they needed for repair of their trucks.

"We could have gone with what we had, but we would not have been able to complete our mission," said Birt, who was released from the brig on Oct. 17 and is petitioning for clemency in hope that he can return to the reserves.

"I admit that what we did was technically against the rules, but it wasn't for our own personal gain. It was so we could do our jobs."


Thank You

As far as I can tell, five books have been ordered off my Amazon wish list since I posted it yesterday.

I am utterly amazed and grateful for this generosity.

Thank you. It really does take the edge off this disaster.


Witch Hunt

May 5, the day that changed Aliakbar and Shahla Afshari's lives, began like most others. They shared coffee, dropped their 12-year-old son off at Cheat Lake Middle School here, then drove to their laboratories at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency that studies workplace hazards.

But that afternoon, their managers pulled the Afsharis aside and delivered a stunning message: they had failed secret background checks and were being fired. No explanations were offered and no appeals allowed. They were escorted to the door and told not to return.

Mrs. Afshari, a woman not prone to emotional flourishes, says she stood in the parking lot and wept. "I just wanted to know why," she said.

Seven months later, the Afsharis, Shiite Muslims who came from Iran 18 years ago to study, then stayed to build careers and raise three children, still have no answers.

They have been told they were fired for national security reasons that remain secret. When their lawyer requested the documents used to justify the action, he was told none existed. When he asked for copies of the agency's policies relating to the background checks, he received a generic personnel handbook.

Without any official explanations of why they failed their background checks, they came up with their own theory: their attendance, more than five years ago, at two conventions of a Persian student association that has come under F.B.I. scrutiny, once with a man who was later investigated by the bureau.

The Afsharis' case comes at time when immigrants from many nations, but particularly Islamic ones, are facing tougher scrutiny from government agencies.

Unable to clear their names or find new employment in their field, the Afsharis on Thursday resorted to that most American of recourses: they sued the institute and its parent agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, demanding back pay and reinstatement or the chance to appeal.



Perhaps the ultimate pragmatic argument against the oppression of other people is that such oppression not only harms the oppressed, but also corrodes the souls of the oppressors.

A case in point:
Of all the revelations that have rocked the Israeli army over the past week, perhaps none disturbed the public so much as the video footage of soldiers forcing a Palestinian man to play his violin.

The incident was not as shocking as the recording of an Israeli officer pumping the body of a 13-year-old girl full of bullets and then saying he would have shot her even if she had been three years old.

Nor was it as nauseating as the pictures in an Israeli newspaper of ultra-orthodox soldiers mocking Palestinian corpses by impaling a man's head on a pole and sticking a cigarette in his mouth.

But the matter of the violin touched on something deeper about the way Israelis see themselves, and their conflict with the Palestinians.

The violinist, Wissam Tayem, was on his way to a music lesson near Nablus when he said an Israeli officer ordered him to "play something sad" while soldiers made fun of him. After several minutes, he was told he could pass.

It may be that the soldiers wanted Mr Tayem to prove he was indeed a musician walking to a lesson because, as a man under 30, he would not normally have been permitted through the checkpoint.

But after the incident was videotaped by Jewish women peace activists, it prompted revulsion among Israelis not normally perturbed about the treatment of Arabs.

The rightwing Army Radio commentator Uri Orbach found the incident disturbingly reminiscent of Jewish musicians forced to provide background music to mass murder. "What about Majdanek?" he asked, referring to the Nazi extermination camp.


Social Security Theft

Allen Smith doesn't mince words:
The Bush administration is gearing up to pull off one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated against the American people. Under the guise of a plan to save Social Security, Karl Rove and company are pushing a scam to destroy Social Security, as we now know it. Although there are multiple motives behind the attack on Social Security, the prime motive appears to be an effort to cover up the theft of $1.5 trillion of Social Security money by the federal government over the past two decades, more than one-third of which has occurred under George W. Bush.