Thursday, March 31, 2005

Political Song Of The Day

This one's actually been out for a while, and it's a cover to boot, but it's excellent. A Perfect Circle's cover of Devo's Freedom Of Choice, just a visceral, kick-in-the-nuts kind of political song. Musically, it's almost Floydian, in the somber, cynical vocalisms that the English mastered back in the days of empire, with plenty of the industrial feedback squawks that many of the kids are enjoying with their commodified rock and/or roll these days.

It's hard to find a site that has a competent version of the lyrics; here's my best estimate.

We're victims of sedition on the open sea
No one ever said that life was free
Sank, swim, go down with the ship
Just use your freedom of choice

I’ll say it again in the land of the free
Use your freedom of choice
Freedom of choice

In ancient Rome there was a poem
Who followed along and watched it fall
He cast a stone
He felt secure
He felt that he would never be heard

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom of choice!

Then if you got it you don’t want it
Seems to be the rule of thumb
Don’t be tricked by what you see
You got two ways to go

I’ll say it again in the land of the free
Use your freedom of choice
Freedom of choice

Freedom of choice
Is what you've got
Freedom of choice!

In ancient Rome there was a poem
Who followed along and watched it fall
He cast a stone
He felt secure
He felt that his voice would never be heard

Freedom of choice
Is what you've got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It's A Gas Gas Gas

Enjoying your gas prices lately? Starting to regret buying that second Hummer? Getting into the office pool on when it'll hit $3.00 a gallon?

There's nothing to refocus your moral outrage like paying $2.49 a gallon to get the ol' Honda Accord back home from work, which is exactly what I did this afternoon. And yes, it starts with beating up on idiot "bigger is better" SUV owners, with all the externalites and increased aggregate demands.

It continues to China, whose rapidly ramped-up demand has very abruptly tightened up supply, hence affecting production and distribution. Yet China, whose gas prices are only slightly less than the US', has shrewdly expanded its supply, helping negotiate an end to the Darfur genocide in Sudan (and thus securing oil field access), and signing extraction contracts with Canada (who is clearly getting sick of the US' 'tude) and Venezuela. Either China's prices will start declining soon (especially if they re-peg the renminbi), or they will go the Euro route and invest fuel taxes into an actual public transportation system, count on it.

And what have we done to secure our own ever-increasing supply? Well, let's see. We invaded the country with the second-largest oil reserves on the planet and turned it into a net importer (for which we pay Halliburton to pay the ungrateful Kuwaitis $2.65 per gallon, and subsidize the Iraqi pump price of 5¢ per gallon). Remember how were sneeringly told by our moral and intellectual betters that this would all "pay for itself"? How's that been working out?

We tried and failed to topple Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, who has since vowed revenge, and threatened to completely kill Venezuelan exports to the US if we try that shit again. (China seems all too eager to help him carry out that threat from a financial standpoint, offering Chavez a huge new market. He may just decide to cut us out for sheer spite at some near point.)

So the big brilliant master plan from these geniuses boils down to drilling in ANWR, from which we should start seeing benefits in, oh, about a decade or so. I am fairly heterodox, as liberals go, on the environment. I am all for protecting nature, and natural parks, hate clear-cut logging, etc., etc. But I believe in the concept of resource stewardship; I believe that you can have paper and redwood decks and still have groves of old-growth trees. I believe you can drive cars and have lots of electric power, and sensibly extract oil and natural gas. The key is not getting too greedy or stupid, something at which we fail terribly.

The problem is that we have no balance. We think we can drive an enormous piece of shit to run simple errands, and never deal with all the externalities. We think we can get a cheap redwood deck and never have to hear about the volume of lumber that had to be extracted to drop the price so low. We have allowed liars and crooks to repeatedly dupe us into believing -- just as surely as we believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old and that God will come save us from our carelessness right before we finish ruining His master creation -- that we can eat our cake and still have it.

We could have agreed to drill in ANWR five years ago, with the proviso that CAFE standards be reinforced. But the automakers wouldn't hear of it; Ford makes something like $10-12K profit from every Expedition they sell. Again: short-term hard-on for the shareholders, long-term externalities for the entire rest of the world, whether they bought one of these fucking things or not. Meanwhile, oil companies keep on posting record profits.

And Dear Leader does exactly fuck-all about any of it. It's as if this stupid shit would just be a distraction from all the brush-clearin' and fence-paintin'. Liberatin' is hard work, done by good people.

Thanks again, values voters!

People Power

So the Kyrgyz government has been toppled by a bloodless popular coup. This has been cautiously billed as good news, though at first blush it smacks a bit of mob rule. Ousted leader Askar Akayev has been billed as a rather benign, if corrupt, despot. After all, this is Central Asia.

But after the initial ass-trumpet of "people power" triumphant and Freedom™ continuing his inexorable march, you could almost hear the thud of rational conclusion -- what if the Kyrgyzianites want us out, decide they are better off without American base and troop presence? What brilliant chess move would Dear Leader concoct then, with his far-seeing eye?

Fortunately, we still have our other great and noble democratic Central Asian allies Uzbekistan, whose leader Islam Karimov boils political dissidents alive, and Turkmenistan, whose leader Supamurat Niyazov has renamed all the months of the calendar after himself.

Yes, that feeling between your toes is Sweet Lady Liberty®, blowing you and me!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Tom DeLay Is Going To Hell

Tom DeLay compares his self-imposed persecution to that of Jesus Christ. Yes, seriously. PERRspectives kindly points out some other similarities between the two.

[via Atrios].

One More For The Road

Hopefully this will be final time we refer to the Terri Schiavo case. Indeed, we've endeavored to scrupulously avoid the whole mess for as long as possible, but obviously it has morphed into something of a microcosm of the greater cultural civil war at hand. So we battle on.

It has been said that war, in addition to all the pain and sorrow and death and violence, brings with it clarity. And that's true; war clarifies things. People must make actual objective decisions, draw a line, and pick which side of that line they will stand on. Such is the situation here.

Just when it seems that our well of contempt for the morons of the world has been tapped dry, they go and do something even stupider than before. The braying jackasses parked for days outside Terri Schiavo's hospice make a perfectly good argument against Darwin's thesis. Apparently a dozen people have been arrested thus far for attempting to sneak in food and/or water with which to nourish her. The latest of these was three kids and their father. "Dad" seemed all too impressed with himself, thinking he was giving his offspring a crash course in Sticking It To The Man, via some sort of putatively Thoreauvian act of civil disobedience. Dad and sons were unceremoniously handcuffed and hauled away.

It may have been more constructive to let these idiots through, to have let them sneak in and deliver their bounty to someone who can't swallow. Yeah. Let these kids see just how utterly stupid and irresponsible their so-called "parent" really is, and clap a manslaughter charge on Dad. You want a message, you clueless retards, there ya go. You can bring in a bucket of fried chicken and a gallon of Gatorade, and it won't help, not one damned bit. One more time -- Terri Schiavo cannot swallow; she has not been able to for fifteen long, torturous years. God is not going to miracle your gift of food down her esophagus, shit-for-brains -- she'll choke and drown.

This is a perfect illustration of the total lack of thought on the part of the protesters, who really ought to be commended at this point for showing the rest of us just what kind of dumb motherfuckers we're really up against. There is no bargaining with this level of fanaticism and sheer idiocy -- they just have to be slapped down. Preferably with weighted truncheons, and preferably in places where further procreation will be painful and thus impossible.

Some have done charming things such as superimposing Schiavo's face on the traditional picture of Jesus' crucifixion, and changing the usual "I.N.R.I." (the Latin for "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews") to "Terri Schiavo", thus making her their martyr.

And that's really the heart of the matter here -- this is not about Terri Schiavo for them. It never was. It's about their sheer inability to cope with things that are out of their control. It's about Their Faith. It's about Them, as far as They are concerned, though they'll never admit it.

How do we know? Well, let's take a look at their words and their actions. Some of these idiots are even referring to W. and Jeb as "Pontius Pilate" and "Judas". Far be it from us to defend a Bush (much less two), but come on. What exactly would these fools have them do -- subvert the law and spirit her away to where, the White House? Stick her in the Lincoln Bedroom and re-insert the feeding tube, and allow us all to foot the bill in holy perpetuity to keep Them happy? Both Bush brothers did all they could; indeed, they went above and beyond the legal call, taking literally unprecedented steps to subvert and overturn what had already been legally adjudicated nearly two dozen times over the years.

There doesn't seem to be any realistic, pragmatic objective to the wingnuts' aims. They do not seem to understand that it costs money, effort, time, and special facilities to maintain the care for this woman day after day, and as such, you can't just roll her out and spirit her away in the dead of night. Who undertakes the care for her? Who gets to pay that person?

There are so many more areas of cognitive dissonance, it is truly difficult to break them all down. Some of Them apparently not only want to murder Michael Schiavo, but Judge Greer. They seem to ignore the fact that twenty other judges have already adjudicated the exact same way as Judge Greer. Okay? This is not coincidence or anomaly, morons; this is what people who have to live in the real world call a pattern. See, people use "patterns" to determine little nuggets of empiricism called "facts". Welcome to the world of rational thought; come back when you can't stay so long.

It doesn't seem to occur to these dipshits that maybe this is a case for Ockham's Razor -- that after all the nefarious conspiracy theories and religious claptrap have been debunked, the simple fact is most likely that Mike Schiavo is just a guy with a wife who befell tragic circumstances. He made an honest effort for seven long years to find treatment for her, and has since had to reconcile to himself the cold hard fact that neither she nor he nor most of us would want to be stuck the way Terri Schiavo has been stuck.

If God had been planning a miracle for her, maybe He would have just re-regulated her severe potassium imbalance in the first place, and prevented this whole rotten mess. Who knows, maybe He did just that, for as long as He could, until Schiavo's bulimia got the best of the regulatory functions of her body.

The morons just don't know; they'll never know for sure. And after all these useless cocksuckers pull up stakes and go back to their caves to pick fleas off each others' backsides, Terri Schiavo's family still has to live with it all. But instead of using that brain that God gave Them, the morons have decided that this is Their call to arms, Their chance to assert Their faith.

They didn't choose to do any of this for Spiro Nikolouzos, nor for poor little Sun Hudson, the latter of whom succumbed not even two weeks ago from the tender mercies granted by the Texas Futile Care Law, signed by none other than then-Governor George W. Bush in 1999. No, because when the plug was pulled on Sun Hudson, there were no cameras or reporters for these self-righteous fucks to posture and preen in front of, like the fucking show cats that they are.

That's the worst of it -- the callous, cynical abuse of the rather noble ideal of real faith, of constant self-reflection and re-examination of personal moral principles. These assholes are not faithful; they are spiritual vampires, living parasitically off a dying woman, stuck in the thrall of their own dogma, secure in the sanctimonious notion that there's nothing new for them to learn. They've got it all figured out, just ask them. Not that you really need to ask them; they're all too happy to kick down your door and tell you How It Is.

And now Randall Terry says that he will do what he can to oust the Republican politicians. Sounds like we all owe Randall a big "thank you"; not only has he drawn a line we can all quite clearly see, a line which even most Christians and evangelicals have rejected (that government should intervene in end-of-life care decisions), but he wants to kick out moderate Republicans and run wingnuts in the midterms. That would make the return to sanity that much easier, before it does come down to calling for war on Jesusland. Enough is quite enough of the nonsense emanating from Bobo's World. Get back to work and quit wasting everyone's time, you stupid bastards.

Happy Easter, everybody!

Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury

Saturday's San Francisco Chronicle featured the odd juxtaposition of two articles which, in a rational universe, would come to symbolize the sort of cognitive disconnect 300 million Americans are forced to endure under the current reign of error.

First up is the official okey-doke from the Bush administration to sell F-16's to our good buddy Pakistan, for all their "help" in the ongoing War On Terror. Yes, from harboring Osama bin Laden in their tribal provinces, to keeping Abdul Qadeer Khan safe from US interrogation about nuclear proliferation to rogue entities, to enabling the rise of the Taliban and Islamic militants in the first place, Pakistan has done A-OK by us, no matter how you slice it.

President Bush rewarded a key ally in the war on terrorism Friday by authorizing the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, a move that reversed 15 years of policy begun under his father and that India warned would destabilize the volatile region.

The United States banned the sale of F-16s to Pakistan in 1990 out of concern over its then-undeclared nuclear weapons program, but the Bush administration has forged a close relationship with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf since Sept. 11, 2001, and considers his help crucial in the battle against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist organization.

Forget the usual Oedipal analyses that surround these sorts of policy reversals from Bush pére to Bush fils -- the fact is that Pakistan has not been a "good" ally, but rather an ally at gunpoint. After 9/11, they were given a stark choice, to get with the program or watch Karachi get turned into a parking lot. This was a reasonable proposition on our part, and Pakistan certainly made the correct choice, but they have dragged their feet from day one.

Then again, were bin Laden actually to be captured, it would be as purely symbolic as the capture of Saddam Hussein. It would not solve a thing -- indeed, it might very well provoke another 9/11. The real crux of this biscuit is that we don't know. Keep that in mind, no matter what the supposedly well-informed and high-minded talking heads may tell you. They just don't want you pulling the curtain.

Pakistan initially wants to buy about two dozen aircraft, but administration officials said there would be no limits on how many it could purchase.

The administration tried to balance the sale by announcing simultaneously that it would allow U.S. firms the right to provide India the next generation of sophisticated, multirole combat aircraft, including upgraded F-16 and F-18 warplanes, as well as develop broader cooperation in military command and control systems, early warning detection and missile defense programs.

Uh-huh. That's exactly what a good sheriff does, gives everyone in town a gun -- especially the Hatfields and the McCoys. As long as they point them at each other, I suppose. Still, just how high a role does placation have in our foreign policy? Apparently pretty high.

Congressional leaders have criticized the prospect of renewing F-16 sales given Musharraf's refusal to allow U.S. investigators to interview Abdel Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb who for years ran an illicit international ring providing nuclear technology to rogue nations.

Precisely. If we look at the "good ally" accounts ledger, Pakistan is found to be severely wanting by any honest measure. If we are serious about this war on terror, it beggars the imagination to try and honestly defend this action.

Which leads us to our second story, ironically placed next to the first one in the Chronicle.

A federal criminal investigation has uncovered evidence that the government of Pakistan has made clandestine purchases of U.S. high-tech components for use in its nuclear weapons program, in defiance of American law.

Federal authorities also say the highly specialized equipment at one point passed through the hands of an arms dealer in Islamabad, Pakistan, named Humayun Khan, who they say has ties to Islamic militants.

What exactly does Pakistan have to do to get pimp-slapped from these would-be tough guys -- nuke Houston? Really, this is getting fucking stupid, not to mention dangerous.

Even though President Bush has been pushing for an international crackdown on such trafficking, efforts by two U.S. agencies to send investigators to Pakistan to gather more evidence have been stymied for more than a year by other American officials, according to U.S. officials knowledgeable about the case.

"This is the age-old problem with Pakistan and the U.S.," said David Albright, director of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. "Other priorities always trump the United States from coming down hard on Pakistan's nuclear proliferation." A former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq and elsewhere, Albright favors getting tougher with Pakistan.

Selling them F-16s must be the "crackdown" part. Showed you, didn't we? Recognize, motherfucker, we crackin' down!

Pakistan must be positively quaking in their collective boots at this point, with this unprecedented show of force. Let us briefly compare and contrast with what it took for us to launch a full-scale invasion into Iraq -- a couple of doctored documents and bullshit rumors of what might happen. And here we have proof on top of proof on top of a systematic pattern of dangerous behavior working at direct cross purposes with American interests and security.

So once again we ask, what exactly does Pakistan have to do to get the smackdown it sorely deserves? It is a disruptive, unstable, corrupt troublemaker of a nation, good for little more than stirring up shit with the world's largest democracy (which would be India, for those of you who experienced the wonders of the American public educational system). It has been fucking with us for years, and has yet to even be "consequenced", as yuppie behavioral therapists would term it.

If ever a kid needed to be yanked up by his collar and had the shit beat out of him right in the middle of the aisle at the supermarket, it is now. Pakistan is that kid, and we keep indulging his bullshit. Apparently we won't get the message until the Space Needle or LAX has a dirty bomb go off.

So. Feel safer? Still think you got the right team on the job?

Friday, March 25, 2005

How Can We Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

It would be tremendously difficult, if not literally impossible, to recall the last time a crybaby of Barry Bonds' magnitude lit up the public radar. Not that it matters any; we gave up on baseball after the 1994 strike, only checking in to watch the Red Sox come back to bury Steinbrenner's tired-ass collection of mercenaries and end The Curse. But we do pay attention to the more newsworthy aspects of the game, and last season Bonds actually earned some sympathy, having to confront a seemingly endless array of pussy pitchers and managers that would just as soon intentionally walk the guy (intentional walks are another good reason to despise baseball in general) as throw some heat at him.

And that's also why we didn't give the steroid talk too much thought; it is assumed that a certain percentage of players (particularly power hitters) are at least a little juiced. So is the ball. So are the fans. People continuously bring up Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, but Ruth and Aaron didn't always have to face fresh pitchers -- who might even be a little juiced themselves -- who worked in five-and six-man rotations.

So it was six of one, half-dozen of the other, as far as we cared. Baseball is a number-diddler's game anyway, and is amazingly boring to watch.

But Bonds' most recent tirade, coming as it does on the heels of recent revelations about his complete lack of marital fidelity and disregard of tax codes, is quite enough. The man is pampered beyond belief, even by his own team. He makes no effort to even pretend to be a team-oriented individual; he is aloof and pissy to his teammates as well as the media. He makes an amazing amount of money to hit, catch, and throw a fucking ball.

No doubt the media are invasive. No doubt Bonds, like most sane people, is ill-suited to a constant barrage of cameras and microphones. Again, he is incredibly well-compensated for these inconveniences. He has all the money and pussy he could possibly want. People pick on George W. Bush once in a while (as you may have heard), and for all the man's faults, you don't hear him constantly bitching and whining about that. And his salary is 1/40th of Bonds'.

So grow the hell up, Barry, or fucking leave already. Really, no one gives a shit one way or the other, no one with a bit of sense anyway. It's only a game, and your constant whining has to have made it infinitely more unpleasant for the few people who haven't yet moved on to the NFL or NASCAR.

Don't go away mad, Barry....just go away. Honestly, life will go on.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Swinging The Hammer

Enough already with the endless Schiavo-gazing. Have we all missed something, or did the Republicans suddenly forget that they're supposed to be the party of Keeping Big Gubmint Off Your Back? It's no surprise to those of us who've been paying attention all along, of course, but they've become so much more brazen these days.

Remember when they used to whine about "states rights"? That was clearly just code for the southern mossbacks, who refuse to do the world a favor and die already. The results prove the lie on a multitude of issues, from the consistent attempts to override state initiatives on things like medicinal pot, euthanasia, and gay marriage, to the current (seemingly endless) game of cat-and-feeding-tube they've been playing with the life of Terri Schiavo.

In an earlier post, perhaps we were not abrupt enough on this subject. Since then, a proliferation of "news" stories ( and more importantly, the attendant idiot-on-the-street responses from John and Jane Q. Public, whipped up by the always-opportunistic pro-life activists) make one fact stunningly conspicuous by its very absence -- a great number of supposedly sentient Americans apparently don't realize that feeding tubes get pulled every day, almost always by direct request of the person in question. The argument is not whether or not Terri Schiavo had explicitly made such a request preventively at the early and hale age of 26; we are submitting that the shock and revulsion that so many people have publicly registered is so utterly ignorant of everyday reality, it's hardly worthy of sensible acknowledgement.

Then again, explaining this to people who participate in public prayer vigils is a complete waste of time; if they were smart enough to understand the concept, they'd probably be smart enough to have jobs. They seem blissfully unaware of just how contemptible their public piety really is -- unless they're devoting at least as much time actually helping the sick, rather than using them to pimp Their Cause.

Back to the Republicans. The Democrats have taken seemingly great care (which would be a first for them in many a moon) to let the sanctimonious, hypocritical quartet of DeLay, Santorum, Frist, and Bush take the lead on this non-issue. And rightly so; apparently the majority of Americans have registered their disapproval with this meddling nonsense:

Polls and analyses suggest that Republicans could find themselves out of step with many Americans, especially if Democrats find a more unified voice on the subject. An ABC News poll released yesterday concluded that "Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain."

By 63 to 28 percent, Americans support the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, which her husband says would be her wish. Seventy percent of the respondents said it was inappropriate for Congress to get involved as it has. And 67 percent said they believe that elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive are doing so mainly for political reasons.

Not that the Democrats are blameless in this; they could stand to be a bit more forthright and pro-active, but it's understandable why they prefer to err on the side of caution in such an emotionally-charged issue. There's not much upside in actively calling for starving a human being to death, and as the poll demonstrates, a preponderance of Americans plainly see the indecency in the Republicans' grandstanding here. They know a political football when they see it, and for once, they care -- because they know that the next time, it could be them kept tethered to a machine against their will in perpetuity.

Special note should be made of Tom DeLay, who has made a point of insulting Michael Schiavo, and attacking Schiavo's manhood in as public and tawdry a fashion as possible. Schiavo spent seven years carting his wife around, trying to get her the best care available, taking her to every specialist, even getting a nurse's license so he could care for her better, and all for naught.

Compare and contrast with family-values hero Newt Gingrich, who famously served one of his wives divorce papers in the cancer ward, and later got his cock sucked by his secretary for the same reason Clinton did -- because it "wasn't cheating". Hopefully DeLay's district finally comes to its senses and sends his useless ass packing next year. When he can comport yourself ethically for a couple weeks in a row, then maybe he can talk shit about someone else.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Real Life

Just a short post to say that real-life events have conspired (in a good way) to disrupt the normal blogging rhythm here at the Hammer. We will be regaining the normal spring in our step very shortly.

In the meantime, feel free to peruse the vast and knowing expanse of archival greatness that lurks in this here virtual thingy.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Lies, Damned Lies, And The Bushies

Remember back in the innocent days of the Clinton administration, when it wasn't about the sex, it was about the lying? Yeah, we remember those days too.

Also, it was about the children, and the drastic warping thereof upon exposure to the gory details of blowjobs and sperm-coated dresses. Not that we want to inflict such issues on young children, but we submit that more adults have learned rather warped attitudes about sex because everything was made out to be so terrible and naughty and secretive, than because they overheard a term and asked a supposedly responsible adult for some clarification, without the attendant snickers and gestures of the schoolyard.

Anyway, all that's so last millennium. Apparently there is no cognitive disconnect in explaining the chronic pants-on-fire dynamic of this entire miserable administration. The latest entry in the flaming-trousers sweepstakes is the disclosure of the fact that we lied to our Asian allies about North Korea's nuclear capabilities and ambitions, while simultaneously protecting the real culprit -- once again, our good buddies Pakistan.

In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.

Remember also after 9/11, the big outcry was over the supposed lack of coordination, communication, and ground-level data within our intelligence agency network (which comprises fifteen distinct intelligence agencies at this point. Paranoid much?). Again, as with Iraq, inconvenient or non-existent data are simply rearranged, memory-holed, or fabricated as needed.

Pakistan's role as both the buyer and the seller was concealed to cover up the part played by Washington's partner in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, according to the officials, who discussed the issue on the condition of anonymity. In addition, a North Korea-Pakistan transfer would not have been news to the U.S. allies, which have known of such transfers for years and viewed them as a business matter between sovereign states.

The Bush administration's approach, intended to isolate North Korea, instead left allies increasingly doubtful as they began to learn that the briefings omitted essential details about the transaction, U.S. officials and foreign diplomats said in interviews. North Korea responded to public reports last month about the briefings by withdrawing from talks with its neighbors and the United States.

In an effort to repair the damage, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is traveling through East Asia this weekend trying to get the six-nation talks back on track. The impasse was expected to dominate talks today in Seoul and then Beijing, which wields the greatest influence with North Korea.

So let's get this all straight -- we want our allies to work with us, so we deliberately lie and fabricate intel data, and feed them that shit sandwich. Meanwhile, the country that actually did the dirty deed faces no consequences whatsoever. This has been going on for quite some time, and it's a very dangerous hypocrisy. A.Q. Khan has been responsible for who knows how much nuclear proliferation, not just to rogue states like Libya, but very possibly to terrorist cells and networks.

But we don't know for sure, because Pakistan won't let us interrogate him. Indeed, he's a hero in Pakistan, whose massive population seethes with resentment at the US, and teems with militant Islamist gangs who have tried to assassinate Pervez Musharraf several times.

This is not a little white lie, folks. This is compromising national security to dance with the devil, and further alienate valuable allies in a very stupid and needless fashion.

The new details follow a string of controversies concerning the Bush administration's use of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion in March 2003, the White House offered a public case against Iraq that concealed dissent on nearly every element of intelligence and included interpretations unsupported by the evidence.

A presidential commission studying U.S. intelligence is reviewing the case, as well as judgments on Iran and North Korea. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also is reviewing evidence on nuclear, chemical and biological programs suspected in Iran and North Korea.

Gee, are we starting to see a pattern here? This is the same team of geniuses that's currently trying to get you to exchange Social Security for a sack of magic beans.

Since Pakistan became a key U.S. ally in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, the administration has not held President Pervez Musharraf accountable for actions taken by Khan while he was a member of Musharraf's cabinet and in charge of nuclear cooperation for the government.

"The administration is giving Pakistan a free ride when they don't deserve it and hurting U.S. interests at the same time," said Charles L. Pritchard, who was the Bush administration's special envoy for the North Korea talks until August 2003.

"As our allies get the full picture, it doesn't help our credibility with them," he said.

Exactly. Guess Pritchard's gonna be looking for work soon.

The United States tried to persuade North Korea to return to the talks, but without success. The North Korean leadership responded with a list of conditions, including a demand that Rice apologize for calling it an "outpost of tyranny."

During the first stop on her Asian tour, Rice used noticeably softer language on North Korea, telling a Tokyo audience that the U.S. offer was open to negotiation, and that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il should grab the opportunity.

We've already commented on the cult-like regime of Kim Jong Il, and have no illusions about the nature of that regime, nor about those of Libya or Pakistan (or the rest of the Middle East, for that matter). But the problem is that we're repeatedly insisting on help from our allies on this (and other matters, like, um, Iraq) and we keep bullshitting them about it. And we keep giving a truly dangerous regime that has already harmed us -- and continues to harbor the bastard that masterminded 9/11 -- a free pass.

Could there be a clearer indication that this administration has no concept or desire for anything remotely resembling true accountability?

I Before We

Although I have done a pretty fair amount of political and current events writing for the better part of the last seven years or so, at several fora, with the establishment of this blog over the past few months, I have noticed a new dynamic creeping into my writing overall.

Where I formerly used "I" self-referentially in commentary, it seems to have now morphed into "we". This is no pretension to royalty, nor to any sort of organized network of people churning out content. Nope, I'm just one guy, furiously typing away in the futile hope that I'll eventually crank out Shakespeare -- or at least Hunter Thompson.

Moreover, I make no pretense that this is the be-all/end-all of commentary; far from it. The current meme seems to be that of the "citizen journalist", and there's certainly the ideal for objective reportage of factual content, interspersed as it is with (hopefully) mighty rants. But real journos have resources (either through the organizational logistics of news agencies or networks, or through the cultivation of a set of valuable and newsworthy sources) and presumably have gone to some sort of school to hone their craft.

(And yes, Jeff Gannon™, real journalism is a craft; it's not a stepping stone for you and your strangely penis-shaped cranium to hog face time on the Faux News Network, commenting about the world as if you even knew the difference between Einstein and Freud. There's more to it than a weekend seminar in partisan foolishness masquerading as sober thought and analysis. But you already know that, don't you, dear?)

I do not have any journalism training, nor do I aspire to any. And aside from Google, I have no journalistic resources. I live in the hinterlands of Northern California, so it's not like I have a laundry list of valuable newsmaking contacts. I have a set of opinions on issues, and a bad temper. And that's all that's really needed for this, whatever it is.

It's not "citizen journalism" though, a term which makes me laugh at its inherent silliness almost as much as it makes me bristle at the very notion. The first thing they tell you in real journalism school is to take yourself out of the story, so there's that. Since we prefer commentary and analysis over mere objectivity (though that's certainly an important factor), that's not yet a concern, at least until we refine our craft a bit. No, I suppose if I were to attach any sort of "real" title to this....thing, I would maybe say "citizen columnist". Close enough, if one needs some sort of reference point (or handy phrase for googling).

Anyway, the I/we thing. There's no Strunk & White style guide for this citizen columnist deal, so we make it up as we go along (all of us bloggers, not just me or the royal "we"). What's comfortable about the "we" is that it seems to provide some semantic distance from whatever I'm commenting/ranting about. Plus it's kind of a tongue-in-cheek affectation, I (we) suppose.

Letting Go

Thus far, we have avoided any and all commentary on the Terri Schiavo story, for several reasons. The primary reason is the most obvious one: this is an intensely personal decision that deserves better than being politicized or second-guessed by people who have nothing whatsoever to do with it -- which is to say, everyone except Terri Schiavo's husband and parents.

But politicized and second-guessed is exactly what's happened here; indeed, Congress (never missing a good chance to score in political opportunism) has resorted to unprecedented measures to intervene in this case, trumpeting moral principle the entire time. Head House rat Tom DeLay has found a cause to distract from his seemingly endless ethical lapses.

"We are confident this compromise addresses everyone's concerns," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who has taken the lead in championing the parents' cause.

"We are confident it will provide Mrs. Schiavo a clear and appropriate avenue for appeal in federal court, and most importantly, we are confident this compromise will restore nutrition and hydration to Mrs. Schiavo as long as that appeal endures."

"Man On Dog" Santorum and "Cat Killer" Frist have also made a point of rapidly and publicly seizing the moral high ground on this, which should send some sort of signal to most sentient beings.

Personally (and we stress that word), this is a no-brainer. We are big on "quality of life" ideals, and this is infinitely bigger than, say, lopping off a hand or losing an eye. This is an inability to do anything besides draw breath, so we go by the Golden Rule here -- we wouldn't want to live like that, not for a second. Certainly not for fifteen years.

But it's impossible not empathize with the Schindlers, Terri Schiavo's parents. They are experiencing every parent's worst nightmare, the prospect of burying their child, and they've had to face it in as slow and torturous a fashion as one could conceive. Whatever one's opinion here, it is unfair to second-guess the Schindlers' feelings and actions in this, though we still reach the ineluctable conclusion that they are not doing their daughter any favors here. There is more to life than inhalation and photosensitivity, so much more. But still.

So we have nothing but sympathy for both the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo, as well as for Terri Schiavo herself, of course. But we have nothing but sheer contempt for the public prayer circles that have clung to this tragedy like barnacles. The prayer part is fine -- any honest atheist will at least acknowledge that it can't hurt -- it's the public part that we find off-putting. They are determined to make spectacles of themselves the way that only true cultists can. One man apparently hauled a cross to the hospice where Terri Schiavo languishes in a vegetative state. Unfortunately, he did not take the extra step of nailing himself to it and starving to death while crows ate his eyes. Still, one can hope.

Such politicized public jackassery (yes, it's a word, trust me) should not go unslapped, not only for its obnoxious nature, but for its selfishness. Yes, you heard us right. If these people really wanted to help and create a net positive in the world, they'd go into the hospice and ask to volunteer to, say, read to conscious cancer or AIDS patients. There are other people in this world besides Terri Schiavo who are en route to their maker, faster than they or their families would like; many of them, unlike Ms. Schiavo, are conscious of their doom. Perhaps a helping hand would ease their passage. Forgive an awful pun, but we are dead serious here.

But no, it's easier to make a spectacle of oneself, to sanctimoniously assert one's moral superiority in as public and tawdry a manner as possible. As our friends down under might say, good on ya, mate. Nicely done.

Now, coincidentally or not, here is an article from the Houston Chronicle that may point to just a teensy bit of moral inconsistency.

A patient's inability to pay for medical care combined with a prognosis that renders further care futile are two reasons a hospital might suggest cutting off life support, the chief medical officer at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital said Monday.

Dr. David Pate's comments came as the family of Spiro Nikolouzos fights to keep St. Luke's from turning off the ventilator and artificial feedings keeping the 68-year-old grandfather alive.

Monetary concerns don't arise in the Schiavo case because her care is paid for by her settlement (which, incidentally, was the result of a suit presuming that Ms. Schiavo's gynecologist should have known that Schiavo's eating disorders had created the dangerous mineral imbalance which triggered the heart attack that put her in her current state). But poor Mr. Nikolouzos hasn't that fiscal luxury, so this hospital in Texas, empowered by a law signed by then-Governor George W. Bush, has the legal right to pull the plug on him.

Again, personally, while we understand and sympathize the pain which the Schindlers and Nikolouzoses are going through, we feel that there is a point, tragic as it is, where you just have to let go, when the corporeal shell has become moribund, and the loved one's consciousness (or soul, if you prefer) is no longer there, no longer operable. Of course it is a difficult decision; that goes without saying. And reasonable people will have to agree to disagree as to whether it is the correct decision for a given family at a particular time. Decisions do not get much more subjective than that, which is why it's impossibly hard to attempt to wrap it all in the fineries of putatively sensible legislation.

In the meantime, you can just about set all the irony here to music, as the Schindlers have their personal tragedy paraded around by sanctimonious politicos who would just as soon ignore the health-care penury of the family of Spiro Nikolouzos.

[via Atrios]

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Push Comes To Shove

Via Kos we see this NY Times article on the latest creationism silliness.

Several Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject - or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth - fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures.

There are so many things wrong, just in that single sentence, that it's hard to know exactly where to begin. First, the theater managers are fools for underestimating people. And even if they're correct, and idiots show up to protest, so what? They'll just be looking stupid while giving additional publicity to the film.

Second, with or without protests outside of Imax theaters, there is undeniably a sizable (and apparently growing) contingent of anti-empirical creationism nonsense, and as such, responsible scientists had better get serious about meeting it head-on. These wingnuts who are insisting that creationism should be taught -- or even mentioned -- in science classes are as serious as they are delusional. They are not just going to go away on their own; we need to slap the whole movement down before we end up having to prostrate ourselves before taxpayer-funded religious monuments in every public building.

The number of theaters rejecting such films is small, people in the industry say - perhaps a dozen or fewer, most in the South.

Naturally. This goofy shit always happens in the supposedly quaint confines of Bobo's World. They're always insisting that their beliefs are "under attack", because the rest of us don't feel like subsidizing them -- yet they're always at the ready to begin their own attack on everyone else. Mel Gibson puts out a pornographically violent film that jibes with their religious beliefs (which, coincidentally or not, are psychological projections about how they view themselves culturally and politically), and they can't get enough of it. But scientists produce limited-release documentaries on empirically-known facts and science, and they can't handle it.

Faith without reflection, contemplation -- and yes, the occasional challenge or test of faith -- is just self-affirming cult behavior, a handy vehicle for the believer to merely affirm those things he believes about himself, and vociferously insists that they not only be tolerated, but publicly acknowledged and respected as The Official One True Belief Of All Americans....and by extension, the American government and its manifestations.

There is no logical practicality to any of their arguments. Would the murder rate go up if Ten Commandments monuments were banned from courthouses? Of course not. Does the Republic stand or fall if the Pledge of Allegiance is returned to its original, secular form? No, and it's utterly stupid to even pretend otherwise.

The thing is, they know it, but the dynamic of a culture war is "push us, we'll push you back". And for some reason, which they have been completely unable to articulate in anything resembling a logical fashion, they think that things like acknowledging the scientific practicality of evolution or allowing gays to formalize their relationships will not only affect their lives, but harm them. This is a logical impossibility, yet it persists, because it is their only weapon in defending the indefensible.

Look, if people want to believe that there's a guy who looks just like them up in the sky, who created uncountable billions of galaxies, stars, and planets, and hundreds of thousands of species on this planet alone, just to center it all around a species that is scarcely worth such consideration most of the time, fine. Good luck with that. It seems like a glorified coping mechanism to us, but that's not necessarily such a bad thing.

But when you insist that your right to believe also confers you the right to make everyone else subsidize your right to indoctrinate children and fellow citizens; to make the government (of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people) bend to your particular brand of will; to basically rub everyone's noses in your bullshit because your supposedly rock-solid faith cannot withstand even minimal intellectual scrutiny; then we cry foul.

And we vow to never stop pushing back. As long you insist on the right to tell other people what to think or how to live their lives, then we are eternally hostile to such a vile philosophy, which is not truly Christian to begin with, but again, merely cult-like.

Carol Murray, director of marketing for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, said the museum decided not to offer the movie after showing it to a sample audience, a practice often followed by managers of Imax theaters. Ms. Murray said 137 people participated in the survey, and while some thought it was well done, "some people said it was blasphemous."

In their written comments, she explained, they made statements like "I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact," or "I don't agree with their presentation of human existence."

Again, the theater people deserve no small measure of contempt for their sheer cowardice, as well as not giving their clientele the benefit of the doubt. It was the wrong decision, regardless of the accuracy of their assumptions. If they assumed wrong, then they underestimated the intellectual rigor of their audience, which is why everything has been so woefully dumbed-down to begin with.

And if they were right, and there would have been protests, again, so what? For every gutless weasel that opts out of seeing the film because of some placard-carrying morons, there's another (or another two, or five) who will hear about the movie and go just to see what all the fuss is about. Hell, we'd make a point of going to see such a movie, just for the express privilege of confronting these idiots and inviting them to please go fuck themselves and mind their own damned business.

We have definitely a lot more creation public than evolution public," said Lisa Buzzelli, who directs the Charleston Imax Theater in South Carolina, a commercial theater next to the Charleston Aquarium. Her theater had not ruled out ever showing "Volcanoes," Ms. Buzzelli said, "but being in the Bible Belt, the movie does have a lot to do with evolution, and we weigh that carefully."

Pietro Serapiglia, who handles distribution for the producer Stephen Low of Montreal, whose company made the film, said officials at other theaters told him they could not book the movie "for religious reasons," because it had "evolutionary overtones" or "would not go well with the Christian community" or because "the evolution stuff is a problem."

Hyman Field, who as a science foundation official had a role in the financing of "Volcanoes," said he understood that theaters must be responsive to their audiences. But Dr. Field he said he was "furious" that a science museum would decide not to show a scientifically accurate documentary like "Volcanoes" because it mentioned evolution.

"It's very alarming," he said, "all of this pressure being put on a lot of the public institutions by the fundamentalists."

One thing is axiomatic: anything in life worth having is worth fighting for. Clearly the fundamentalists believe this tenet. The rest of us had better get with the program and recognize this fact too, before it all erodes into some scientifically- and culturally-retarded Flanders-ocracy. A society that just cravenly avoids all conflict within itself, just to keep the peace with people who have no desire for such, is ultimately doomed to fail, and deservedly so.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Lapdogs Of War

Demonstrating Christopher Hitchens' axiom that "some people never learn, but then some people never intend to", a crispy new poll illustrates the cognitive divide as pertains to war and foreign policy.

A new Gallup Poll released today shows that while Americans have very negative opinions of Syria, North Korea, and Iran, by very wide margins they do not want to go to war with them. Still, about 4 in 10 Republicans favor military action against each of the countries.

Of course they do. What more need be said about these fools? They've had nearly three years (if you count the nine-month build-up to war) to figure it out. They see the ongoing bloodshed and chaos; they know by empirical observation the consequences of a total lack of post-bellum planning; they've seen the proliferation of lies and the concomitant modifications per exposure -- and worst, they know from the neo-con sales pitch that Iraq was the "low-hanging fruit". By definition, the other three countries mentioned would be even more of a problem than this popsicle stand with nukes we were supposedly just going to go in and knock over (forget that logical contradiction for the moment). Tell ya what, folks -- so long as you don't mind your kids getting drafted too, let's go. See how much you're itching for it then.

Or is this just another one of those things that someone else is supposed to go fight, while the tough-guy armchair generals stay home and get their deferments and call a favor with their connections and stay in school to get that underwater-basketweaving degree? Can't just join the National Guard anymore, guys -- they actually get sent over these days. This is not your W's war.

Of course, this sort of general cognitive dissonance amongst Republican supporters is certainly nothing new. You might recall the PIPA poll from last October, where it was pretty well demonstrated that Bush supporters were utterly clueless as to policy specifics:

Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.


Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments, "One of the reasons that Bush supporters have these beliefs is that they perceive the Bush administration confirming them. Interestingly, this is one point on which Bush and Kerry supporters agree." Eighty-two percent of Bush supporters perceive the Bush administration as saying that Iraq had WMD (63%) or that Iraq had a major WMD program (19%). Likewise, 75% say that the Bush administration is saying Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda. Equally large majorities of Kerry supporters hear the Bush administration expressing these views--73% say the Bush administration is saying Iraq had WMD (11% a major program) and 74% that Iraq was substantially supporting al Qaeda.

Steven Kull adds, "Another reason that Bush supporters may hold to these beliefs is that they have not accepted the idea that it does not matter whether Iraq had WMD or supported al Qaeda. Here too they are in agreement with Kerry supporters." Asked whether the US should have gone to war with Iraq if US intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al Qaeda, 58% of Bush supporters said the US should not have, and 61% assume that in this case the President would not have. Kull continues, "To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance, and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq."

There ya go. That's life in the Kool-Aid factory. But it also points to a dominating factor of American popular culture. Look at the proliferation of cookie-cutter "reality" shows by night, and idiotic ¿Donde Està Justice? court shows by day. Anyone who's ever been in an actual courtroom knows that this is not how people speak to each other in there. So it's as bogus in its way as the contrived and carefully-edited conflict Survivor. And many movies function on the "revenge fantasy" dynamic, and may or may not involve the employment of torture, depending on how "bad" the bad guy and his minions are portrayed.

The king of that genre is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It doesn't take a genius to connect the dots before us, and see how this allegiance to a post-Jerry Springer format of manufactured conflict and easy (and violent) resolution has penetrated the political decision-making process. Schwarzenegger is widely seen as a "man of action", but it's because he speaks the lingo of bluster and arrogance, not because he's actually accomplished so much politically.

The conclusion that we can safely infer from all this is that if you can whip up Americans into a frenzied panic, not only will they thank you for it, they won't even bother to check the facts, much less analyze them. The common meme is that it's because of 9/11, and while that obviously galvanized this sort of popular cognition, it was already in place to a certain extent. It gets enabled by mindless clips of contrived reality, movies that hardly bother with plot or characterization any more, and most of all, the corporate media conglomerate that pushes stupid non-stories to the forefront -- over and over and fucking over again. If I hear the name "Scott Peterson" one more fucking time, I swear....

When people get angry about this obvious dynamic, they tend to blame "the media". Well, they do suck, but somebody watches this shit; somebody made that rat-faced cunt Nancy Grace the new nighttime darling of CNN Headline News (which, believe it or not, used to actually show news, rather than reactive commentary on issues which affect only the immediate families of celebrity killers and their victims). Inexplicably, people watch this hyper-judgemental crap for something besides a quick anthropological observation.

It's a very dangerous dynamic, because it overtly encourages average Joes who have no practical knowledge of the case facts at hand to make a judgement call -- or even worse, to show up outside the courthouse with signs and knick-knacks so as to get on camera. A responsible media would instantly and consistently point out what hopeless losers these people are, and maybe encourage them to get a life. Instead, they're just part of the scenery; random landmarks of the intellectual landscape that looks more and more like a parched wasteland everywhere you turn, no matter how often you flip the remote.

Worst of all, as the PIPA poll and that new Gallup poll show, these ginned-up morons go out and vote, with only the foggiest idea of what they're voting for (or more likely, against).

Inside Larry King: The Lost Columns

Hello, friends and fellow goofballs, and welcome to another spitball session from the Sultan of Suspenders. Let's check the feedbag of news and potpourri....If there's a more useless sack of shit in the US Senate than Ted Stevens, it must be whoever's hand is up his ass....My favorite play from the Republican playbook is "Rams 25 Cutback" which usually involves Bill Frist, a bottle of Jim Beam, a rusty knife, and a litter of kittens....If you look up the word "underrated" in the Larry King Oxford Edition, you'll find a picture of Judge Reinhold....Next month's issue of Martha Stewart's recipe magazine features her new special pruno recipe, as well as 3 quick and easy ways to make your own prison-grade crank with household chemicals. Uncle Larry likes a shot of the booger sugar every now and again....Is it wrong of me to hope that Ken Lay's obvious case of ass-herpes is fatal?....No truth to the rumor that James Guckert chose the pseudonym "Jeff Gannon" because it's an anagram for "piping-hot man-chowder"....Don't come any closer, pal -- I'm strapped like Richard Grieco in 21 Jump Street....You say "milf", I say "the wife on Everyone Loves Raymond, whatever her name is"....What should I get John Bolton for a congratulatory gift -- a new toupée or some mustache color? Maybe a new leather teddy would be a nice surprise....I'm Larry King, and these suspenders are painted on.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy

Some days you start by intending to profile one illustrative news story and its ramifications, and the next thing you know, you're following a daisy chain of briefs from Turkish Press. But let's begin at the beginning here.

Two years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, the coalition is unraveling amid mounting casualties and kidnappings that have stoked anti-war sentiment and sapped leaders' resolve to keep troops in harm's way.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who confirmed he would seek re-election next year, alluded to the rising public discontent and said he had spoken with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, another strong Washington ally. "We need to construct a precise exit strategy, also because our publics' opinions expect this communication and we agree to talk about it soon."

Berlusconi and Blair, of course, are Bush's primary international friends, now that Putin's soul has suddenly turned opaque. They deserve credit for hanging in as long as they have, against the wishes of their people. One can actually give them credit and not assume base motives, because it can't possibly have been worth it for them on any material level.

Thirty-eight countries have provided troops in Iraq at one point or another. But 14 nations have permanently withdrawn since the March 2003 invasion, and today's coalition stands at 24. Excluding U.S. forces, there are 22,750 foreign soldiers still in Iraq.

The scramble to get out has taken the multinational force from a high of about 300,000 soldiers in the region early in 2003 to 172,750 and falling. About 150,000 U.S. troops shoulder the bulk of the responsibility and suffer the most casualties.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Venable, said the decisions by some nations to reduce or end their presence in Iraq was not a threat to security. "The coalition is strong," he said.

Venable said the reductions are part of the natural process of turning security over to Iraq's government. "The plan is to have the Iraqis fill in everywhere," he said.

It's to be expected that the "coalition" talk keeps going (though US forces account for just under 87% of the troop presence), and always will, long after they've all come home and this is long forgotten generations down the road. The military, even more so than the rest of the government, is a blunt instrument, which makes it so much easier to just stay on message and pull the standard "la la la we can't heeeeaaar you" bit.

But whatever; bureaucrats do what bureaucrats do. From a practical standpoint, the most telling stat here is the one the article doesn't mention -- how many Iraqi troops have been trained thus far, what is the overall goal, and what's the timeline. This is not some sort of "if we say our timeline, the insurgents will just wait us out" situation; this is fundamental as to the nature and completion of the mission at hand.

Among the nations that withdrew last year were Spain, which pulled out 1,300 soldiers; Tonga, 44; New Zealand, 60; Thailand, 423; the Philippines, 51; Honduras, 370; the Dominican Republic, 302; Nicaragua, 115; and Hungary, 300. Norway withdrew 150 troops but left 16 liaison officers, and Singapore withdrew 160, but later provided a landing ship tank and crew.

Last month, Portugal withdrew its 127 soldiers, and Moldova pulled out its 12.


America's top two allies in Iraq — Britain, with about 8,000 soldiers, and South Korea with 3,600 — are standing firm. Australia, Albania and Georgia are boosting their presence, and NATO is expanding its training mission in Baghdad.

Yet surveys suggest opposition is running at roughly two-thirds in most coalition countries.

We appreciate the sacrifice our allies are making for us in this cause, really. As pointed out earlier, there's really not much in it for, say, Albania -- they're never going to have a 9/11 of their own, and they certainly don't have a corporate industrial infrastructure to contract in Iraq and make a buck somewhere. Maybe we're doling out more aid, who knows. Regardless, sometimes it's the thought that counts.

Nonetheless, what with all this talk of democracy, here is a clear-cut situation where the populations of most of these nations opposed participation vociferously, yet were overruled by their leaders. I'm just saying.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....

The deputy commander of the Iraqi army in western Al-Anbar province was shot dead by US troops at a checkpoint Tuesday night, a police officer said.

"The US forces opened fire at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Brigadier General Ismail Swayed al-Obeid, who had left his base in Baghdadi to head home," police Captain Amin al-Hitti said.

"They spotted him on the road after the curfew, which goes into effect at 6 pm," the officer said in Baghdadi, 185 kilometres (142 miles) west of the capital.

No immediate reaction was available from the US military.

US forces have struggled to build up Iraqi security forces in Al-Anbar, where the country's insurgency is at its strongest, and many police and national guard units are suspected of having been infiltrated by rebels.

Surprisingly enough, they didn't reflexively accuse the general of bum-rushing the checkpoint at 100 mph. But that's what he gets for being out, uh, late. Can "Sgrena" be used as a verb yet? Do we need to print up another deck of cards with the good guys on them this time? We've had ongoing trouble getting, training, and retaining solid recruits for the Iraqi defense force; this is one of the main guys that was helping us do just that.

When this sort of stupid shit stops happening, then we can crow about demonstrations in Lebanon, or Hosni Mubarak saying "someday". Freedom is still crawling; he's not quite marching up and down the square. It could be generations before that happens, so let's dispense with the notion that Bush knew something the rest of the planet didn't, m'kay? Even if he had known, the notion that this was the best way to go about it is repellent.

Since Bono turned the job down, noted comb-licker Paul Wolfowitz has been tapped to replace James Wolfensohn as head of the World Bank. This seems to be the same cooperative dynamic that got John "Does the carpet match the drapes or the blinds?" Bolton nominated as ambassador to the UN. We trust that Wolfowitz will bring the same expertise and zeal to the World Bank, that he and Doug Feith and Steve Hadley and Steve Cambone brought to the intel-stovepiping division of the Pentagon. Look out, Botswana!

The US president highlighted Wolfowitz's experience at the US State Department and the Pentagon and as a previous ambassador to Indonesia.

"Paul is committed to development," said Bush, describing his nominee as a "compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job at the World Bank and that's why I called leaders of countries and that's why I put him up."

In other news, Ashlee Simpson will be the next head of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Finally, in Western Hemisphere oil-related news, Venezuela has lobbed what sounds like a threat.

If Venezuela is the subject of a new attack against its democracy and President Chavez, the distortion in the oil will be gigantic," Rafael Ramirez told reporters here.

"We would not sell a single barrel to the United States," added Ramirez, in Iran for a meeting of OPEC ministers.

Since the US accounts for half of Venezuela's oil exports, the only way they could pull this off and keep their own economy intact is if China has already expressed interest in stepping up its purchase rate, which it has. With oil prices back up to record highs, and Americans bracing themselves for $2.50 or even $3.00 per gallon this summer, Venezuela's newfound intestinal fortitude may be the hidden story with the most potential impact right now.

Back to your regularly scheduled coverage of Michael Jackson's sartorial habits.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

By now you have probably heard about the San Francisco Superior Court judge who declared California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Well, fake journalist/rent-boy homunculus Jeff Gannon™ has heard about it too. And boy is he ever, uh, still on the side of those who hate him for who he is. Whaaaa?

Fear not, for the ever-intrepid Gannon™ is even-handedly on the case. Witness the seemingly reasonable comment from the lone "pro-homosexual" spokesman:

Seth Kilbourn, Vice President for the pro-homosexual Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Marriage Project praised the decision, saying, “Hard-working, tax-paying Californians are now one step closer to equal rights under law, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender. We laud the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda, the ACLU and the plaintiffs in this case for bringing their stories forward and securing this important victory for equality.”

Yes, "Mister" Kilbourn, we've all heard your little happy talk about "equal" this and "rights" that. What about our rights not to see two guys holding hands, huh? How equal is it now? You know, God created Adam n' Eve, not Adam n' Steve! Haw haw haw!

Fortunately, Our Hero™ gives "equal" time (and then some) to the Defenders Of Marriage®.

Groups opposed to gay marriage were quick to respond to the ruling as well. Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America’s (CWA) Culture & Family Institute called San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer’s ruling “nonsensical.”

“Yet another irrational judge, like his counterparts in Massachusetts, can’t find a rational reason for defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman,” he said. “That’s because these judges are no longer acting rationally, and are imposing their own radical agenda, ignoring the law and the will of the people.”

Knight added, “Californians should remove Kramer from office because of this scandalous ruling. We also need to enact a constitutional amendment, at the state and federal levels, to protect marriage once and for all.”

Yeah, protect it, because if we give them the same rights as us, they'll....uh, they'll....dammit, they'll attack it and stuff! Don't you know that it's under attack? Oh, why won't someone please think of the children?

Eh, you get the idea. Here's another of these loons in the article:

Randy Thomasson, Executive Director of Campaign for California Families, which had full-party status defending marriage for a man and a woman in the Kramer’s court said, "This is a crazy ruling by an arrogant San Francisco judge who apparently hates marriage and the voters. Kramer has trashed the people's vote to keep marriage for a man and a woman and violated his oath to uphold the law instead of making new laws out of his own head. This is the worst type of judge. This case will be immediately appealed."

He continued, "It's hurtful and insulting to the voters when a judge attacks the voters and destroys the sacred institution of marriage for a man and a woman. This outrageous ruling will inspire average citizens to rise up and fight to protect marriage as it naturally is - for a man and a woman, a husband and wife."

Exactly what are they protecting, and exactly how could letting gays have the same rights as the rest of us undermine what's already in existence? Seems to me like they're just broadening it ever so slightly in definition. Not one of these halfwits has been able to explain exactly what the big deal is or the specifics of the "attack on marriage"; they just know they don't like it.

And there are several other opponents profiled in the article. Gannon™ ends up with the one pro, with one paragraph, and five con, each with either two or three paragraphs. This is "fair and balanced", I imagine. More likely, there's just more wingnut interest groups because there's more money in it, and that's really all these demagogues are after.

Here's the kicker -- this activist hippy judge they're all raving about? He's a Republican, appointed by Pete Wilson, and Roman Catholic to boot. This is anything but a stereotypical lefty judicial activist.

The native of Brookline, Mass., earned his law degree at the University of Southern California and practiced civil law in San Francisco before then- Gov. Pete Wilson named him to the bench. Over the years, the 57-year-old Roman Catholic and registered Republican has gained a reputation for being compassionate, respectful and unbiased.

Which is certainly more than you can say for Jeff™, who can now add "self-loathing" to his voluminous ledger of descriptives. Or maybe he was just "gay for pay" all along....

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Now You're Cooking With Gas

Wonder of wonders, we see that Cheneyburton, kings of the no-bid contract, are cornholing the US taxpayers once again.

Iraq needed fuel. Halliburton Co. was ordered to get it there — quick. So the Houston-based contractor charged the Pentagon $27.5 million to ship $82,100 worth of cooking and heating fuel.

In the latest revelation about the company's oft-criticized performance in Iraq, a Pentagon audit report disclosed Monday showed Halliburton subsidiary KBR spent $82,100 to buy liquefied petroleum gas, better-known as LPG, in Kuwait and then 335 times that number to transport the fuel into violence-ridden Iraq.

What sort of sweetheart deal does Halliburton have with the Kuwaitis, anyway? Late in 2003 it turned out Halliburton had been paying a Kuwaiti company $2.65 per gallon to import gasoline into the country with the planet's second-largest proven reserves. Furthermore, gas is subsidized in Iraq, so we got to pay even more to sell it to the Iraqis -- who, as you may or may not have heard, have some pretty sizable oil reserves -- for per gallon (scroll down near the bottom of the link -- that is not a typo. Five cents.).

It may be helpful to recall the obnoxious pre-invasion sentiments expressed by pro-war acolytes, that this thing would pay for itself quite handily. "In case you haven't heard, they've got some oil", was a frequent snotty rejoinder employed by many a trooper from the Fightin' Keyboarders Battalion.

Yeah. How's that been workin' for us, smartass?

Pentagon auditors combing through the company's books were mystified by this charge.

"It is illogical that it would cost $27,514,833 to deliver $82,100 in LPG fuel," officials from the Defense Contract Audit Agency noted in the report.

No, Mr. Spock, it is entirely logical that this would occur, once you stop and remind yourself that you're talking about war profiteers. It's not like Halliburton hasn't already been fined several times for this sort of thing.

Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said the figures were taken out of context.

"The implication is definitely misleading," Hall said. "Transporting fuel into Iraq was a mission fraught with danger, which increased the prices that firms were willing to offer for transportation."

Okay, then. Suppose you provide us rubes with more specific "context" for a 33,500% markup, than just the obvious. We know Iraq is "fraught with danger", even though we turn a corner every couple months. So share with us which firms jacked up the prices the most. Humor us, Wendy. We're customers looking at receipts, and we've already caught you burning us several times, so you could say we're a tad curious.

Company officials point out the firm's estimating and purchasing systems have recently received a nod of approval from the Pentagon's Defense Contract Management Agency.

In all, Halliburton submitted bills to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers totaling $875 million for supplying Iraq with fuel from May 2003 through March 2004.

Pentagon auditors questioned $108 million or about 12 percent of those costs.

That's substantially higher than the $61 million in possible fuel overcharges Pentagon auditors had previously identified. But that figure only covered the first five months of Halliburton's fuel supply assignment.

If Halliburton really believes that this is some sort of ringing endorsement, they're either stupid or huffing some industrial-grade solvents. Twelve percent is an unacceptable error rate for any organization. We wouldn't accept a 12% error rate from the IRS, or the SSA, or any other government body. Considering the endless gospel of the efficiencies of the free marketplace, it is maybe even less acceptable here.

Tell ya what, guys. Take 12% off Cheney's annual deferred bonus, just for shits and giggles, and see if that don't raise a high stink.

See Bobo Run

Does it get any more useless, more utterly clueless and retarded, than David Brooks? Outside of the Moonie Times or the North Korean press (which are less different from each other than you might imagine), we think not. And yet, just when we figure he can't out-stupid himself, he goes and proves us wrong. Bad Bobo!

Republican blunders: Republicans often argue that Democrats are out of touch with mainstream Americans, but this time it was the Republicans who were trapped in the insulated world of their own think tanks.

Having skimmed decades of private-account proposals, Republicans did not appreciate how unfamiliar this idea would seem to many people. They didn't appreciate how beloved Social Security is, and how much they would have to show they love it, too, before voters would trust them to reform it. In their efforts to create a risk-taking, dynamic society, they didn't appreciate how many people, including conservatives, value security and safety.

Um, duh. Imagine that -- a bunch of inbred corporate-owned wonks thought they knew what was best for reg'lar folks, and got theyselves showed up. Isn't that what happened to Kerry last November? Bobo seemed to think so way back then. But this is now.

A politically supple group would have done tax reform before Social Security reform. Tax reform is a less partisan issue, and might have set a precedent for compromise.

More experienced negotiators might have put the solvency issue before the personal-accounts issue. That would have created a consensus on the need for change before we got to the divisive issue of how to fix the system.

Is this guy for real? He seems to think he is. It's almost cute that he truly appears to think that the real goal is to "fix" or "reform" Social Security. It is not. For the thousandth time, the Republicans have already admitted that the plan isn't even written yet. Does anyone with a three-digit IQ need any more evidence that they are not serious about mending, but only about ending? (Uh, to loosely paraphrase the dude that got his pole smoked. Dude, that rocked!)

But Republican leaders have never really developed the skills required for cross-party horse-trading. Today's Republicans emerged in response to the ideological politics of the 1960's and were forged in the anti-political populism of the 1994 revolution. These anti-political creatures of conviction find sticking to orthodoxy easier than the art of compromise.

If there's one thing about Bobo that really makes my blood boil, this is it -- this backhanded Matlock bullshit, about how the durned 'publicans are just too danged honest n' forthright for their own good. Maybe not Matlock so much as Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. One of those guys. Yeah, that's the ticket -- "Man On Dog" Santorum and "Cat Killer" Frist are just too dad-burned principled to cotton with the likes o' the rest of 'em. One almost expects Roscoe P. Coltrane to get right on the case.

Democratic blunders: The Democrats are still traumatized by their own losses. They are focused on past defeats, not future opportunities, and interested in revenge, not governing and accomplishment.

Okay. Look back to Bobo's previous paragraph. Observe what he picks as pivotal moments in modern Republican party philosophy -- the '60s and 1994. Were they or were they not forged in the fire of bitter defeat, and were they or were they not defined by the stubborness of the party's principals (and principles)? So which is it, Fucko -- the hammer or the anvil?

This asshole cannot even be intellectually consistent for two stinking paragraphs. Just how is it that he keeps his job -- amazing deep-throat technique?

More seriously though, what exactly would Bobo have the Democrats do here? Bush has spent two months gallivanting around our fair land, preaching the gospel without any real plan. Really, what should a good opposition party do in this instance? Kowtow to Bush and beg his beneficence, and trust that the plan will be delivered and discussed in due time and good faith, like every single other plan from this gang? Really? If that's really what Bobo was expecting here, then he is impossibly even more useless and retarded than we had previously supposed. This guy must ride a fucking short bus to work or something.

Bobo seriously thinks that a good opposition should just get with the program, and get used to grabbing their ankles for whatever cockamamie scam this hopelessly reckless and uninformed chief executive decides is a good spot to invest his vaunted "political capital" and test his "mandate". This is not just poor writing, it's piss-poor thinking. I'm genuinely surprised Bobo wasn't considered for a Cabinet post in this administration.

When Social Security reform was broached, the party leaders went to the F.D.R. Memorial, as if the glory days of the 1930's were the guideposts for the 21st century. Meanwhile, the party base has grown militant with rage. The Howard Dean hotheads declare that they hate the evil Republicans, making compromise seem like collaborating with Satan. The militants, bloggers and polemicists have waged a relentless pressure campaign on any moderates who might even be thinking of offering constructive ideas.

Jesus H. Christ. You wanna know why "the party base has grown militant with rage", Bobo? Because your guy has willingly, gleefully pushed them into a corner, asshole. Do you know what a cornered animal does, Bobo? No, of course you don't -- you call a red-state rube to handle such things, and then try to talk him into cleaning your gutters, while you observe him anthropologically for his noble savage ways.

Fucking moron. Bush and his claque have shit all over middle-class Americans, their civil rights, and their long-term financial stability, rubbed all our noses in it, and Bobo wonders why people are pissed. This must be why he gets the big bucks.

If Social Security reform fails - and obviously I hope this obit becomes obsolete - it will be many years before any sort of big entitlement reform will come up again. The parties will keep playing chicken, and we will soon find ourselves catastrophically buried under our own debt.

It sounds like Bobo is at least sentient enough to know that his little jig (and hopefully gig) is about up. Despite the fear-mongering and back-patting from America's favorite glad-handing sack of shit, the road show has failed enormously, partially due to the fundamental dishonesty of it all, partly because the more the Bushies tell the truth about themselves, the less Americans like what they hear. Look at any poll from the last two years or so.

Oh, yes, there's one more group to be criticized: the American voters. For the past 30 years, Americans have wanted high entitlement spending and low taxes. From the looks of things today, they - or more precisely their children - are going to live with the consequences.

This one I'll actually give him. Bobo's right on this count -- if Americans read up on all the facts, and all the bullshit, and synthesize it properly, and they still keep putting Bush and his minions of stupid back in charge, then maybe they deserve what they get. They do. But we don't.

Monday, March 14, 2005

His Own Private Reno

Bringing back to mind all the nasty Janet Reno she-male jokes from the Clinton era, Karen Hughes, Bush's main work wife, returns to DC for a more far-flung policy role. (More here.) Instead of subbing flash-card practice with the Boy Genius every Tuesday, Hughes now gets to soft-pedal Condoleezza Rice's international ineptitude (Now With More Stiletto Action™!).

Hughes will not wear stilettos, thank God -- though the imminent oil strikes in such a case might help with the outrageous gas prices. Oh no he di'unt!

Introducing Hughes at the State Department, Rice said the United States must do much more to counter the “hateful propaganda” that is so common in the Islamic world.

Rice said Hughes believes strongly that the United States “must mobilize young people around the world to shatter the mistrust of past grievances and to foster a new spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.”

Please. She knows how to play ball, and was every bit the architect of Bush's first run in 2000 as His Prince Regentness Karl Rove was. There is literally no other reason to appoint her to this job. What a meta-issue, though -- a cheerleader for Dear Cheerleader. Wheels within wheels, my friends.

Hughes, who for years has had a major voice in crafting Bush’s domestic message, is a former counselor to the president who left the White House in 2002 to move her family back to Texas.

She is also a former Texas television reporter. She has continued to advise the president from her home in Austin.

I'm sure her reporter skills will come in most handy, since these guys are all about the fake-news agitprop.

Although not a diplomat by training, Hughes had a hand in several foreign policy initiatives during Bush’s first term, including efforts to promote democracy and improve the lives of women and children in Afghanistan.

How's that been working out?

'roid Rage

What with the release of Jose Canseco's tell-all book, and the Giambi brothers' abject confessions, steroid use and abuse is once again a hot media topic. Even worse, it has become a hot-button issue for Congress to stick its snout into.

House lawmakers investigating illegal steroid use in baseball said Sunday they have the votes to hold several current and former major-league players and two top baseball officials in contempt of Congress -- which could lead to fines or prison time -- if they refuse to appear at a hearing this week.

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., suggested Congress could also play hardball with the league and the players union by revoking baseball's antitrust exemption and its tax breaks if they continue to fight the subpoenas of the players.


"These people are not above the law," Davis said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "They may fly in private planes and make millions of dollars and be on baseball cards, but a subpoena is exactly what it says it is. They have to appear."

Heh. Good one, guys. You're gonna throw Sammy Sosa in jail and yank MLB's antitrust exemption -- which would do absolutely nothing -- if they don't go along with your little dog-and-pony show? Good luck with that. As we can see by the informal poll on the linked article, some 75% of respondents indicate the common-sense response of "Is this really the most pressing issue before Congress?".

Maybe it's just because it's a slow time of year or something. Recall this time last year, when the real big deal was that split-second of Janet Jackson's titty popping out at the Super Bowl halftime show. Within six weeks, every broadcaster had been put on notice by Congress and the FCC that huge fines would be rolling down.

Obviously, the idea is that our esteemed lawmakers -- from both sides of the aisle -- get to spin their wheels on an issue of very mild import, while pontificating as much as possible, thus making it look like they are Doing Something. The sad part is, they really could be using all this time and energy to do something useful.

Imagine if Congress gave half this much of a shit about Enron, or protecting seniors and veterans from bankruptcy ruin, or affordable health care, or researching alternative energy sources. You could come up with a dozen better things than steroids in a matter of seconds. So why the hell are they so all fired up about something that the vast majority of American people -- while rather repulsed by the whole thing -- do not regard as a tremendous priority?

Probably for the exact same reason the media makes sure you know more about Martha Stewart's poncho and Michael Jackson's pajamas than any of those important things -- it saves them the trouble of explaining all the fun ways your representatives are screwing you over, while leaving the loopholes for the top tier of Americans intact.

Arthur Miller put it best: Attention must be paid.