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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Not With A Whimper

The region I live in, the northern Central Valley of California, has been experiencing some serious precipitation. Many communities along the Sacramento River are experiencing flood warnings and record river levels. Since my house got flooded back in 1998, I am extra cautious (translation: paranoid) about being prepared. So after over 2" of rain came down during the day yesterday, I spent all last night (and I mean all; I finally got maybe two hours sleep at 5:00 AM) securing the valuables, getting guitars into their cases and then getting the cases on top of the second refrigerator in the garage; moving all the books and CDs off the lower shelves; etc. Also walking down to the nearby creek to check the levels every few hours. Fun stuff. But necessary, as today was supposed to be another 2" day, and that combined with the runoff from the hills would be sure to send the creek through my (and several other families') living room tonight if I wasn't ready.

At 8:30 AM this morning, I head down to the local public works yard to fill up some sandbags. I get a couple dozen of them in the truck before it starts hailing. Thinking "oh shit, here we go" I get home, and after another half hour of sideways rain not only does it suddenly stop, but the sun comes out. Fucking bizarre. And it stays nice and sunny all day, instead of the additional rain that would have caught me short-handed.

Although, a power pole that had snapped in half and hung over the nearby road, suspended over the lane by the wires, knocked out my electrical power all afternoon. I got it back just in time to watch the Raiders' last gasp effort to upset the Giants, fizzle out on a goal-line choke late in the 4th quarter (but that's for another post).

Then watching the news an hour ago, I see that the rain that we were supposed to get and didn't still managed to hit several counties to the south and west of here, leaving a lot of folks waist deep in brown water. Not another Katrina, but not a real pleasant way to bring in the new year.

We're not exactly in the clear where I'm at either; the rainy season is really just getting underway, another storm is scheduled to hit tomorrow, and more runoff from the hills will keep the creek dangerously high for a while. But the clear day today has bought me enough time to get enough sandbags to secure the perimeter over the rest of the long weekend. And after seeing what happened to the Russian River communities today and yesterday, I can't help but feel a bit sheepish at bitching about having no power all afternoon (though that does indeed suck).

Is there a larger point to all this? Not really. Just a fairly wild and unpredictable way to finish off a year that was also largely wild and unpredictable. And we broke the coveted 40,000 hit mark here at the Hammer, which is nice. So thanks for the continued readership, stay safe, take care of yourselves and each other, and get ready to take on 2006.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Rock The Casbah

Via Americablog, it appears that we may be setting the stage for a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nucular facilities.

This Der Spiegel article has the details:

It's hardly news that US President George Bush refuses to rule out possible military action against Iran if Tehran continues to pursue its controversial nuclear ambitions. But in Germany, speculation is mounting that Washington is preparing to carry out air strikes against suspected Iranian nuclear sites perhaps even as soon as early 2006.


Hear that creaking sound? That's the kinks straightening out of ol' V. D. Hanson's love sausage.

The most talked about story is a Dec. 23 piece by the German news agency DDP from journalist and intelligence expert Udo Ulfkotte. The story has generated controversy not only because of its material, but also because of the reporter's past. Critics allege that Ulfkotte in his previous reporting got too close to sources at Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND. But Ulfkotte has himself noted that he has been under investigation by the government in the past (indeed, his home and offices have been searched multiple times) for allegations that he published state secrets -- a charge that he claims would underscore rather than undermine the veracity of his work.

According to Ulfkotte's report, "western security sources" claim that during CIA Director Porter Goss' Dec. 12 visit to Ankara, he asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide support for a possibile 2006 air strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities. More specifically, Goss is said to have asked Turkey to provide unfettered exchange of intelligence that could help with a mission.


It's entirely likely that, not unlike Ahmadinejad's weird hortatory jabs at Israel, this is somewhat for show -- for now. As Bush has already pointed out (and was actually correct in doing so), all options are on the table. Right now it's unrealistic because Russia and China have already registered their serious disapproval of such a pre-emptive strike. And we're no longer in a position where we can just unilaterally give the finger.

So chances are that the next move is actually up to Iran, whether they want to keep fucking aorund in their theatrical attempts at nationalism, or if they're going to settle down. It might not hurt to reach out to them through the Euros, but that ain't gonna happen. So we do our little dance.

According to DDP, during his trip to Turkey, CIA chief Goss reportedly handed over three dossiers to Turkish security officials that purportedly contained evidence that Tehran is cooperating with Islamic terror network al-Qaida. A further dossier is said to contain information about the current status of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program. Sources in German security circles told the DDP reporter that Goss had ensured Ankara that the Turkish government would be informed of any possible air strikes against Iran a few hours before they happened. The Turkish government has also been given the "green light" to strike camps of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iran on the day in question.


This is where it gets a bit scary. Now, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, prior to 2001, al Qaida had hooked up with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We got Pakistan to reluctantly cooperate, but there's every sign that many elements of the military and intel agencies there may still be covertly helping al Qaida in general, and bin Laden in particular.

Then you have the Bushies' assertion that al Qaida was also in cahoots with Saddam Hussein. So, by the US goverments estimation, that would have been three national governments that al Qaida held some sort of sway over.

And now Iran, which would be four governments supposedly in the thrall of a terrorist gang. This would be suicidal on Tehran's part, and they know it. There's simply no upside for them to be involved with al Qaida, and risk being found out. (Though again, there has never seemed to be any real urgency about weeding out the pro-al Qaida forces in Musharraf's army, even though at least one of his top generals, who had breakfast with Bob Graham and current DCI Porter Goss on the morning of 9/11/2001, had been found to have wired $100K to Mohammed Atta.)

Here's my best uneducated guess. Former Afghan "freedom fighter" turned Taliban asset Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is known to have a base in northern Iran, where he goes back and forth across the Afghan border with impunity. Tehran lets him because, well, he's a religious whackjob fundamentalist warlord. But we've probably had the opportunity to take out Hekmatyar in Afghanistan, but like most warlords there, he's got his base.

This is speculation, I'll admit, but it's damned odd that this supposed al Qaida connection in Tehran is being bandied about. This administration ran out of "wolf" cards long ago, so we'll see where this leads.

Man Of The People

Like a dog returning to its vomit Chalabi returns to his true calling -- guarding the precious.

Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum has been temporarily released from his post amid a dispute over the government's petrol pricing policy.

He is to be replaced for 30 days by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi.


That should be outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, should it not? Chalabi turned out to be even more unpopular than Allawi in the latest election, rife as it is with complaints of tampering and intimidation.

Not that I exult in Chalabi's failure, mind you. He's a corrupt sack of shit, but at least he and Allawi are not insane fundamentalist whackjobs. The devil you know and all. Still, Chalabi's a scumbag, a longstanding siphon of US tax dollars, an aristocratic chump whose shameless fabulism got us into this mess in the first fucking place.

So yeah, let's just give him the keys to the store. He's earned it.

Fears of severe shortages, prompted by the closure of Iraq's largest oil refinery, have led to long queues at petrol stations in Baghdad.

The refinery in the northern town of Baiji has been shut since last week following death threats to tanker drivers.

A ministry spokesman told reporters that "production in the north, centre and south is about to suffocate".

The closure has jeopardised power supplies across northern Iraq and is costing the ministry $20m (£12m) a day.

....

The Iraqi government cut subsidies on petrol earlier this month shortly before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) backed a new $685m (£395m) loan to aid its economic reconstruction.

Protests broke out throughout the country as the price of petrol tripled from 50 to 150 dinars ($0.03 to $0.10) a litre.

Although billions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, fuel and electricity production have not reached the levels maintained before the invasion.


Well, I have no doubt that the IMF has found their boy. Less than 40¢ per gallon doesn't sound like much, but in a war-torn country with 70% unemployment, the relevant fact is that the price has been tripled overnight. Imagine the chaos here, should gas go from $2-something to $6-7 per gallon. Why, Hummer drivers might have to conserve by carpooling, or huddling together.

Guess Wolfie, as head of the World Bank (and thus the IMF), got his hand in the cookie jar after all. Thank Allah for a useful tool like Ahmad Chalabi. Keep him in mercenaries and his CIA stipend, and let him play his little games between us and the Iranians, and he's good to go.

Now why exactly am I supposed to trust that the domestic spying program will be competently handled?

[via firedoglake]

Speaking Of Cockpunchers Of Thermopylae

Wolcott neatly eviscerates the head cockpuncher.

An old-style conservative would have pinned the blame on the sainted Dr. Spock for creating a culture of coddling, but Hanson, being a neocon wrapped with the finest tobacco, has a loftier explanation on tap.

"One cause is the demise of history. The past is either not taught enough, or presented wrongly as a therapeutic exercise to excise our purported sins.

"Either way the result is the same: a historically ignorant populace who knows nothing about past American wars and their disappointments — and has absolutely no frame of reference to make sense of the present other than its own mercurial emotional state in any given news cycle."

This, of course, is the same populace that Hanson and his kind invoke whenever they piss scorn on the effete media elite who lack the bedrock wisdom and common sense of real people. When the polls show a majority of Americans support Bush, they're wiser than than the cynical pundits; when a majority of Americans oppose Bush, they're a bunch of dummies who don't know how good they have it.


This is exactly right. Of course, pols of all stripes trot out the hoary cliché of the simple wisdom of the commoners, when it suits them best, but conservatives seem to play this trump card more often, and with greater irony, as it is they who man the majority of the think tanks and media focus groups.

A nation of Homer Simpsons lacks physical and moral sinew, laments Hanson, cracking a walnut with one hand.

"...our affluent society is at a complete disconnect with hard physical work and appreciation of how tenuous life was for 2,500 years of civilization. Those in our media circus who deliver our truth can't weld, fix a car, shoot a gun, or do much of anything other than run around looking for scoops about how incompetent things are done daily in Iraq under the most trying of circumstances. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that our technologies and wealth give us a pass on the old obstacles of time and space — as if Iraq 7,000 miles away is no more distant than Washington is from New York. Perhaps soldiers on patrol who go for 20 hours without sleep with 70 pounds on their back are merely like journalists pulling an all-nighter to file a story. Perhaps the next scandal will be the absence of high-definition television in Iraq — and who plotted to keep flat screens out of Baghdad."

He's really full of the ripest fertilizer. It may be true that the jugglers and acrobats in the "media circus" would useless trying to fix the septic tank, but why single them out as distinctive soft products of the information age? It's not as if those who support the Iraq war clank around with tool belts around their waists. How handy does Hanson think his colleagues at NRO are around the house and garage, and how much manual work does he imagine Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, Reuel Marc Gerecht, and the editors of the Weekly Standard have done in their pampered existence? Find me the correlation between the ability to weld and the steely resolve to prosecute preemptive war--there isn't one. And I would note that conservatives reverence men and women who toil with their hands and technical knowhow, until of course they form a union and try to negotiate better working conditions and health benefits. Then they become blue-collar blackmailers who ought to consider themselves lucky their jobs haven't been outsourced--yet.


Yep, when you need the head gasket in your Buick replaced, who you gonna call -- John Kerry or the Doughy Pantload? The hypocrisy and cynicism of these assholes just never ends. Quasi-classical morons like Hanson scarcely take a Aristotelian breath between composing their latest ode to a Kansan urn, before they're off and invoking the absolute truths of the troops in the field. Very well then -- are the recruiters itching to saddle up Hanson's grandchildren for the noble quest? How about Pierce Bush, who is definitely of draft age? How about Ben Stein's teenaged son? How about Jenna and Not-Jenna?

Or are we just sticking to poor kids who have no other opportunities at their disposal, whose choices are a stultified existence selling gunny sacks of Cheetos to fat people at Walmart, or getting a shot at having Uncle Sam fund a college education by serving in the military? Whatever the case, the incessant invocations of Thucydides Gump and his tweedy associates ring hollow, coming as they do from ivory-tower bells.

And in reading in full Hanson's pronunciamento, there is still more to find unconscionably wrong.

After September 11 national-security-minded Democratic politicians fell over each other, voting for all sorts of tough measures. They passed the Patriot Act, approved the war in Afghanistan, voted to authorize the removal of Saddam Hussein, and nodded when they were briefed about Guantanamo or wiretap intercepts of suspect phone calls to and from the Middle East.


Somebody tell this fool the difference between emergency measures, which are temporary by nature and definition, and an open-ended covert policy, based on stovepiped intelligence which was not, contrary to Scott McClellan's shameless animatronic boilerplate, shared in full with even a significant portion of Congress. Hanson and his fellow Serious Thinkers remain oblivious, in their abject demurral of everyone's civil rights, to the fact that nothing except a supposed fear of even retroactive paperwork prevented the NSA from getting their FISA requests, seeing as how they've rejected something like five or six warrants, out of nearly 20,000 requests.

Such a batting average is apparently just not good enough for the fearless armchair warriors.

Now the horror of 9/11 and the sight of the doomed diving into the street fade. Gone mostly are the flags on the cars, and the orange and red alerts. The Democrats and the Left, in their amnesia, and as beneficiaries of the very policies they suddenly abhor, now mention al Qaeda very little and Islamic fascism hardly at all.


Contrary to Hanson's hairy-chested exhortations, no one has forgotten what happened on September 11, 2001. They haven't forgotten that Bush received as detailed a PDB as one could have hoped for, a full month before 9/11. They haven't forgotten that the big excuse at the time was that we had too much intel to process, a veritable fire hydrant of data that simply couldn't be coordinated properly through the byzantine interagency workings. Yet suddenly we need to spy at home and torture abroad, all the while proclaiming that we do not torture.

No, Mr. Hanson, no one has forgotten, and no one has pretended that everything's back to normal. But we Homer Simpsons can at least parse the rhetoric emanating from the Bushie poop-chute, and understand the incongruity of proclaiming the virtues of a garrisoned police state, while asking not even the simplest measures of resource conservation. Hanson and his ilk expect good Germans to just shut the hell up, be content with flipping houses to one another until the bubble finally bursts, and drive, drive, drive to our little hearts' content. As long as we're always, always afraid, living in fear, eternally grateful to the inveterate liars that have conjured this magical sphere of protection by spying on PETA.

*I believe the credit for the phrase "cockpunchers of Thermopylae" goes to TBogg. Absolutely brilliant.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

They Call Him Flipper, Flipper

Another rat deserts the wreck of the USS Enron.

Enron Corp.'s former chief accountant agreed to plead guilty today to criminal conduct that preceded the company's collapse into bankruptcy, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, sealing a deal that gives prosecutors another key witness against former chief executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling on the eve of their fraud trial.

Richard A. Causey, 45, who is facing more than two dozen criminal charges, is scheduled to appear in a Houston courtroom at 3 p.m. Eastern time today, according to court records. He reported directly to Skilling for years and participated with Lay on conference calls and analyst meetings in the weeks before Enron fell apart.

All three men had been scheduled to face trial Jan. 17, and the trio long had presented a united front. But eleventh hour negotiations with the Justice Department's Enron Task Force -- and the prospect of spending decades behind bars if he gambled at trial and lost -- ultimately proved persuasive for Causey, who had rejected previous government offers, the sources said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the impending trial.


Hoo-boy. January is already sizing up to be a verrrry interesting month. Between the Li'l Prince's pinballing poll ratings and impending domestic spy scandal, and good buddy Ken "Kenny Boy? Never heard of 'im." Lay's trial, and the House returning to "work" minus the Bug Man (despite their protracted "delay" for him), it's a good time to sell short on GOP futures.

The whole Enron debacle went to the back burner after 9/11, of course, but this thing has been brewing for years, and California is still recovering from what Lay and his slimy company did to this state. Count me in with CA State AG Bill Lockyer, who once infamously attested to his desire to toss Lay into a cell in San Quentin with an aggressive cellmate called "Spike".

At least Lay's nickname will probably remain "Kenny Boy" in prison.

Defense lawyers for Lay and Skilling are almost certain to seek a delay in the trial because of Causey's plea deal, the 16th by a former Enron executive.


Jesus. How many years do these assholes need to get their story straight? Can we sic Patrick Fitzgerald on them? Perhaps some "freedomboarding" in Gitmo will help Skilling and Kenny Boy remember what they did.

For friends of Causey, including his next-door neighbor Steve Huey, word of the advanced plea negotiations is bittersweet. They say Causey is devoted to his three children, the youngest of whom is in eighth grade, and is a devout Catholic who helped raise funds for a new church in the Woodlands, an upscale suburb of Houston.

"I don't think Rick has ever believed he did anything wrong," said Huey, who shared a Christmas Eve dinner with Causey and his wife, Elizabeth. "I think that Rick's concern is over the family and what the eventual outcome will be for the family. As you get closer to trial, you start to weigh the options and weigh the odds and the resources the federal government has."


Awwww. You know, fuck Rick Causey, okay? This little asshole enabled Enron to strong-arm the largest state in the US, home to 1 in 9 Americans. Californians watched their utility bills skyrocket almost literally overnight, because Causey's co-workers leaned on every power supplier to artificially drive up the price by an order of magnitude. Then they laundered their ill-gotten gain in hundreds of offshore companies. Then when the feds got hot on their trail, they had a nice little shredding party.

And Rick Causey doesn't believe he ever did anything wrong. Uh-huh. A lot of hard-working Californians literally had to choose between food and lights because of Rick Causey's company, but Causey's a great guy because he raised funds for a church (which the world just doesn't have enough of). I hope his family has the good sense to be ashamed and embarrassed by what Causey was a part of, because he's nothing more than a goddamned criminal. The only difference is, because he wears a suit instead of a ski mask, he'll go to a country-club prison for a few years, while the kid who robbed a liquor store of $300 gets 10-15 in Folsom. Sounds fair.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Yet Another Lame Fitzmas Poem

Because everyone else is doing it:

'Twas the night before Fitzmas, and all through the shire
Came the sneaking suspicion that the king was a liar

'Tween Karl and Tommy and Jack Abramoff
The snouts were entrenched in the same giant trough

Whilst the King played it dumb with his usual flair
Corruption as always infused the stale air

And I in my jam-jams, and woolen nightcap
Wished I could hibernate from all of this crap

But the system was broken, and would never be fixed
As long we 'murkins kept thumbing our dicks

The media didn't help, they were all bought and paid for
By the same guys who wanted to curry the king's favor

They were part of the problem, it all stands to reason
That Tweety and Li'l Russ were guilty of treason

Some folks assume that they just sold their souls
That, and also they're lazy assholes

They were better than Limbaugh, but not by that much
Using their fake objectivity as a crutch

Then all of a sudden, there arose such a clatter
Could Dennis Hastert had somehow gotten even fatter?

But no it was the king, with a slightly dazed grin
It was as if he'd forgotten what country he's in

On Scooter! On Rover! On Sean Boy! On Rush!
On Coulter! On Malkin! The Bill O' Rights we flush!

He ranted and raved, and he justified his crimes
He couldn't see why he should be doing hard time

"Your laws and your rights are what I say they are
And if you don't like it, you should move away far"

I thought about this, and considered my luck
Looked the Chimperor in the eye, and said, "Get fucked."

Maybe it's you that should move far away
To a country where everything must go your way

Meanwhile you're here, and we actually have laws
You're not God, you're not Jesus, and you're not Santa Claus

You're just a dumb asshole with a more famous dad
By far the worst president this country's ever had

So please quit pretending your shit don't stink
Get your ass back to work, and learn how to think

Laws apply to everyone, not everyone else
Or cronies who buy their way out with their wealth

And that's why your ass will soon be impeached
So the Oval Office can yet again be bleached

With that, the king almost looked a bit fearin'
He babbled about freedom n' terror n' brush-clearin'

But after a while, it all came to naught
Even he knew that this trial would be fought

I coulda gone further, but instead I stopped short
"Merry Fitzmas to all....see your dumb ass in court."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

....And Justice For All

From the Only in Bobo's World Department:

A man was jailed for more than a year without ever seeing a lawyer as he waited for a repeatedly postponed court hearing, gaining release only after a cellmate told an attorney about the case.

Walter Mann Sr., 69, was released Dec. 16 after a year and three months — more than twice the time he would have served if he had been convicted in his contempt-of-court case.


Contempt of court gets you six months or more? Ah, those activist judges.

Mann's legal troubles began in 2002, when his 13-year-old son assaulted him and was sent to a juvenile detention center. Mann, who was unemployed and on disability benefits, was ordered to pay $50 a month for the boy's housing but never did, according to court records.

Prosecutors sought to have Mann held in contempt of juvenile court, which led to an order that he be brought before a judge.


This is a nifty little scheme that many state and county governments pull on people with problem children and teenagers -- they charge them for their enforcement of the law. On the one hand, I can see the taxpayers' side of it, that they shouldn't be stuck bearing the brunt of others' poor parenting. However, most of these parents still have jobs to go to, other children to attend to, etc. It's not always as cut-and-dried as that; they don't always have a whole lot of options enabling them to do something about their asshole teenager.

But you know, as long as we're sticking them with the bill, at least until the little darling is of majority age. And if you don't have the money, here's a nice six-month or so sentence for contempt of court.

Prosecutors sought to have Mann held in contempt of juvenile court, which led to an order that he be brought before a judge.

The judge then incarcerated him in September 2004 for three warrants alleging that Mann wrote bad checks. Then he waited more than a year as his contempt case was postponed again and again.

"He wasn't lost in the system," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Don Peritz. "We knew he was here ... we hold them until the judge says to hold him no longer."

An October 2004 court docket entry suggests the judge's order was lifted, but Sheriff's Department records do not show it being lifted or Mann's release ordered.

Had he been convicted in the contempt case, he would have served a maximum of six months in jail and faced a $500 fine.

His release came after cellmate Jim Brooks, 64, heard from Mann that he had never seen a lawyer.

"I said, 'Man, why don't you call your people?' He said, 'Nah, I don't want to bother them with anything,'" Brooks said.

Brooks, jailed on minor theft charges, told his public defender, who told another public defender, Shoshana Paige. She made several calls and Mann was released the same day.


Funny how that works. The jailers are just doing what they're told, but the same day someone with some legal ability gets involved, they let this poor bastard go. Wonder how long they would have kept him if his cellmate hadn't told the PD.

Habeas corpus. It's not just shredded for terrists anymore.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Chilling Effect

As expected, the wingnuts are up in arms and vowing to fight for the noble cause of "intelligent design", in spite of the pimp-slapping Bush-appointed Republican judge John Jones gave them in the Dover case. Among other unusual (for the generally oblique pronunciamentos of court speech) phrases, Jones took pains in his decision to point out that several pro-ID witnesses had lied on the stand, and that the entire case was not only a disservice to the Dover students and their taxpaying parents, but an "utter waste" of scarce time and resources. Doesn't get much clearer than that.

"It was a real disappointment," biochemist Michael J. Behe, who testified in the trial, said from his office at Lehigh University. "It's hard to say this chills the atmosphere, because if you're publicly known as an ID supporter you can already kiss your tenure chances goodbye. It doesn't help."


In other news, a small, lonely group of obstetrics students at Johns Hopkins have protested that classes do not give enough time to the "stork-based theory" of reproduction.

"I'm real disappointed," student Michael A. Hunt said glumly. "I don't see why they can't show respect for my deeply-held beliefs, and teach both sides of the controversy. Stork-based delivery is a cornerstone of my spiritual beliefs. Everything else in the Bible hinges on the veracity of the stork and his duty. This just isn't right."

"Do you think Oral Roberts University has an obstetrics department?" Hunt asked brightly.


Some politically influential backers of intelligent design warned that U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, who was appointed by President Bush, so overreached that his ruling will outrage and inflame millions of conservative and religiously observant Americans.

"This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that's coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito," said Richard Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and is a political ally of White House adviser Karl Rove. "This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries -- if he had any eyes on advancing up the judicial ladder, he just sawed off the bottom rung."


Someone should tell Dick Land how ladders work; if Jones were trying to climb the ladder -- in a country where rampant boobism dictates that a true atheist has a snowball's chance in a fictitious hell of getting elected to anything -- he wouldn't count on needing the bottom rung anyway. Besides, who uses a wooden ladder anymore? Or does he mean an aluminum one, but the rung would be sawed off with a Sawzall?

Note how Dick is counting on Scalito to get confirmed, and that he and Roberts will just automatically toe the line for these knuckledraggers. We'll see. I almost hope he's right, because that's clearly what it's going to take to get apathetic Americans to wake up and give a shit about these animals abusing everyone's rights, including the right to not have superstitious nonsense forced on us all the fucking time.

And rest assured, the rest of the world is watching, especially our First World friends, who are watching bemusedly as we devolve into an industrialized Wingnutistan.

The writ of Judge John E Jones III runs only within the state of Pennsylvania. Yet his judgment this week in the case of Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District is the proverbial shot heard round the world. The implications his ruling that religious dogma has no place in the teaching of science go far beyond the picturesque town of Dover. For this was a legal battle that posed uncomfortable questions about the kind of country that George Bush's United States is now becoming.

Judge Jones's ruling may thus help to clarify some of the terms on which the modern world may be able to reconstruct a much-needed dialogue with America.
On Tuesday, Judge Jones delivered an emphatic ruling. He said it was unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania school district to treat "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in secondary school biology classes.


This is ridiculous and unnecessary, to have led the world for so long, and now to be in the position of watching even our allies regard us with a mixture of suspicion, pity, and contempt.

For a mix of reasons, Judge Jones's ruling is unlikely to be the last word on the subject. But the case has attracted nationwide and worldwide attention. This ruling matters, not just to the parents who brought it on their children's behalf, but because the belief in biblical literalism is on the march in America. A recent survey found only 26% of Americans believe, with Darwin, that life on earth has evolved through natural selection. Two-thirds favour the teaching of creationism alongside evolution, against which the judge ruled, while 38% think evolution should not be taught in school at all. ID has powerful adherents - including Mr Bush himself - and rich and militant supporters who will make trouble for those who hold the line on behalf of Darwin, evolution and science - no corporate sponsors came forward this year for the big Darwin exhibition now in New York, for instance.

Judge Jones has taken a powerful stand against this growing biblical literalism. But there is much more hard work and reasoning still to do to if America's reactionary tide of Christian fundamentalism is to be reversed.


Yes, the dark forces of reason and empiricism certainly have their work cut out for them, if there's any hope of beating back stork-based teachings. Here's a prime example of how the "thought" process works for the loons spearheading this (bowel) movement:

Contrary to Judge John Jones' assertions, intelligent design is not a religious-based idea, but instead an evidence-based scientific theory that holds there are certain features of living systems and the universe that are best explained by an intelligent cause. No legal decree can remove the digitally coded information from DNA, nor molecular machines from cells. The facts of biology cannot be overruled by a federal judge. Research on intelligent design will continue to go forward, and the scientific evidence will win out in the end.


Funny how this clown never quite gets around to offering any actual examples of this purported "scientific evidence" supporting stork-based theory, as opposed to merely seeking out particularities that evolutionary theory hasn't yet addressed. (No doubt that distinction's lost on the IDiots.) Possibly it's because, as West's bio at the end of the piece states, he's an associate professor of political science, not a biologist. Yet somehow he just knows better than 99% of the legitimate scientific community, which relies not only on systematic hypothesis testing, but a rigorous peer review process. Could stork-based theory stand up to such testing and peer review? Oh, I can't wait to find out. Like it's ever going to happen.

Evolutionists used to style themselves the champions of free speech and academic freedom against unthinking dogmatism. But increasingly, they have become the new dogmatists, demanding judicially-imposed censorship of dissent.


Um, asshole? First of all, "academic freedom" does not mean that you get to pretend that mythology is actual science. Second, this inherently political battle was overtly instigated by political groups who are deliberately trying to stage the next front in the Great Culture War. But yeah, if it takes a judge to get you cockroaches to quit wasting people's time and money with this shit, so be it. You asked for it.

Those who think they can stop the growing interest in intelligent design through court orders or intimidation are deluding themselves. Americans don't like being told there are some ideas they aren't permitted to investigate. Try to ban an idea, and you will generate even more interest in it.


Yeah, until they either check it out and realize it's total bullshit, or they just get bored of it and move on to something else. No doubt West and his fellow "scientists" will have the marketing rollout for that something else ready and waiting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Enablers

So first thing this morning, I hear about how Dear Cheerleader's poll woes are finally over. Apparently WaPo and NBC conjured up a frabjous 47% rating for Mister Man. Problem solved! Now it's safe for Republican pundit whores to nod sagely in unison about the inherent wisdom of the people. Funny how that wasn't on the table just two weeks -- and ten percentage points -- ago.

Except, not so fast. CNN has a contemporaneous poll showing Bush down at 41%, still an increase, but clearly not the miracle comeback the narrative seemed to demand. More like the proverbial "dead cat bounce".

President Bush's approval ratings do not appear to have changed significantly, despite a number of recent speeches he's given to shore up public support for the war in Iraq and its historic elections on Thursday.

A CNN/USA Today Gallup poll conducted over the weekend found his approval rating stood at 41 percent, while more than half, or 56 percent, disapprove of how the president is handling his job. A majority, or 52 percent, say it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq, and 61 percent say they disapprove of how he is handling Iraq specifically. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll interviews were conducted before President Bush's Oval Office address, which was broadcast on primetime television Sunday. (Read what he said.)

Although half of those surveyed considered Iraq's first full-term parliamentary election since the ouster of Saddam Hussein either a major or key step toward the U.S. achieving its goals in Iraq, only 40 percent felt the U.S. was winning the war. Half said that neither side was winning. (View poll results)

The poll was nearly split, 49 percent to 47 percent, between those who thought the U.S. will either "definitely" or "probably" win, and those who said the U.S. will lose. That said, 69 percent of those polled expressed optimism that the U.S. can win the war. The margin of error for how respondents assessed the war was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.


Wow. Only half think that we can win in Iraq (however that is being defined today), and only 40% think we're winning. Keep in mind that these polls were meant to be current with the most recent Iraqi election, which has already been rife with accusations of vote tampering and intimidation. (Plus the results, as expected, are accruing to the Iranian-backed fundamentalist loons.) Perhaps international monitoring would have helped -- except they had to impose strict martial law just to carry this thing off in the first place. Sound like we're winning?

Anyway, just another case where certain portions of major media choose to abdicate their roles and irresponsibly wax rhapsodic about pendulum swings and event bounces. Chances are that the ongoing revelations of Bush's illegal little eavesdropping program (and the lying about it, which is what we're all supposed to get inflamed over, remember) are going to shake those numbers back on down. Then you have Bush's butt-boy Tom DeLay going on trial soon, and Rove's impending indictment, and the growing Abramoff scandal, and the eventual resurgence in gasoline prices, and you can see some shit about to hit the fan.

But back to the domestic spying program, and the hollow pronunciamentos who want to meet these animals on everyfuckingthing, no matter how debased or flatly unconstitutional. The first example is Marshall Wittman, aka the Bull Moose, a blogger whom I occasionally enjoy for his centrist views and quirky writing. The Moose has been a bit too conciliatory as of late, with those who do not desire conciliation, but rather crave annihiliation. The Moose seems to think that if the Democrats just play nice with Republicans, that all will be well. How's that been working for them so far?

Now he hits rock bottom with a craven defense of Bush's bullshit.

However, as of yet, there is no clear evidence that they broke the law. Lawyers will endlessly debate the legitimacy of the Administration's citing of the Al Quaeda force resolution for authorization. Moreover, there was a legitimate concern that an open debate about modifications in the FISA law could have alerted our enemies that their calls were detected. And does anyone seriously believe that the targets of these calls were anyone else than potential security threats? There is absolutely no evidence that this was a "Nixonian" enemies list witch hunt.


For one, Bush has already been caught lying about all this several times, in a matter of just a few short days. First the denial of the program on Friday, then the defiant 180º admission the next day. Then the assertion that Congress had been briefed on all this, when in fact only a few key senators had -- and even then, were not allowed to discuss it with anyone else, which boils down to a simple edict: This is what we're doing. Don't tell anyone.

Now it turns out that Bush, in a speech last April, insisted that all surveillance was being done through the FISA court system, that it was all warranted. The current spin on that is that Bush was specifically referring to surveillances under the Patriot Act.

Anyone else wistful for the simple days, when we just had to parse "is" and "alone"?

The second problem with the Moose's paragraph above is his blanket assertion that this was only done on "potential security threats". Well, already it turns out that groups like PETA, Catholic anti-war protest groups, and collegiate gay legal rights groups were all targeted by this program.

Now, obviously the Moose did not know this when he put hoof to keyboard and intoned solemnly. But a brief recap of the history of this administration and its players shows a clear pattern of bad faith, compounded by sheer incompetence. What the fuck made him seriously think these guys wouldn't abuse whatever privilege they had unilaterally decreed for themselves? Give me a fucking break here.


Now that the controversy is out in the open, Democrats and Republicans should work together to improve and clarify the law rather than seeking retribution for past misunderstandings. The bottom line should be strengthening our national security while maintaining our liberties to the fullest extent possible.

What we do know is that we have not suffered another attack on the Homeland since 9/11. That is a miraculous fact. And President Bush should be applauded for protecting the country rather than excoriated, to say nothing of impeachment which is on the lips of some Democrats.


Yes, rather than raise that pesky matter of the Constitution, the opposition party should just applaud Dear Leader for his beneficent protection, regardless of how many people get disappeared to Gitmo, spied on, or harassed for checking out Mao's Little Red Book. Really, why not just join the Republican Party and have done with it. Maybe a two-party state really is only one party better than a one-party state.

The Moose forgets the most axiomatic Trumanism of all -- that when faced with the choice of a fake Republican and a real one, usually people will vote for the real one.

On the political front, in the past month, there has been a systematic effort at self-branding by the Democratic Party, and it is not good. From the defeatist Iraq talk to the obstruction on the Patriot Act, the donkey is effectively "rebranding" and "framing" itself as weak on national security. George Lakoff should be proud! Rather than the 2006 election being about the GOP's weak ethics, it may be about the Democrat's anemic defense credentials.

We live in a period that is similar to the Cold War in that there is an over-riding national security threat. The fundamental political and policy question is which party will the American people trust to defend the country and their families?


Apparently they're supposed to trust the ones who have persistently lied about everything, spent and tax-cut the country into record deficits, and subverted the law of the land every chance they've gotten -- and refused to take accountability for any of it. Right now, Bush is in the "abusive spouse" mode of response to it all. The next press conference will no doubt feature him in a wife-beater shirt, telling us, his bitch, that he wouldn't hit us if we weren't so mouthy. It's really our fault.

Saddest of all, Wittman might actually be right about his estimates of the political culture out there. Bush and his gang have not been brought to bear for any of this. Growing murmurs of discontent are not making any sort real dent in all this. And the Democrats, even with their pale attempts at "branding", can't even get that right.

Matt Stoller has some choice words for Barack Obama:

Powerful actors, like the top-down media, will not attack the President unless they think he's weak. But to make the case that he is weak, he must be treated with contempt, and that cannot happen when party leaders like Barack Obama simply refuse to act creatively and risk driving up their disapproval ratings.

....

What in the world is the difference between Tweety saying that "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs" and Senator Obama saying that Bush isn't a bad man and loves his country? They are both echoes of the same conventional wisdom line that those who dislike the President are bitter angry vicious crazy partisans consumed by hatred, instead of Nobel prize winning scientists and professionals fed up with the systematic looting of the country by a gang of right-wing white collar criminals. Politics is about character, and George W. Bush and the right-wingers who support him simply don't have much. It's that, and not policy differences, that separates the two parties.


Exactly. The Democrats need to revive that sort of debate because for one, it's true, but more importantly, they need to set their sights higher and think about the big picture. They seem to think that if they let the scandals implode the administration, they can take '06 and even '08 on the strength of that. They forget they they had the White House, with a boom economy and a popular president, and the Republican slime machine still got him impeached at twenty points higher approval than Bush has now. Having the leadership roles is not all there is to wielding the reins of power, and while fighting fire with fire is extremely unpleasant, it is also unfortunately crucial to their survival as a viable opposition. This measured disagreement by degrees just gives the Bushies time to get their next swagger strategy ready for rollout, and make the Democrats look like capitulating pussies all over again.

It doesn't have to be that way. Even honest-to-god sigint agents (signal intel -- wiretapping and monitoring) are pissed about the notion of their secret tech being turned on fellow citizens:

A few current and former signals intelligence guys have been checking in since this NSA domestic spying story broke. Their reactions range between midly creeped out and completely pissed off.

All of the sigint specialists emphasized repeatedly that keeping tabs on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they ordinarily do -- no matter what the conspiracy crowd may think.

"It's drilled into you from minute one that you should not ever, ever, ever, under any fucking circumstances turn this massive apparatus on an American citizen," one source says. "You do a lot of weird shit. But at least you don't fuck with your own people."


Doesn't get much simpler than that, does it? The main thing is to responsibly point out that this wasn't just a matter of listening in on a few dozen Saudi immigrants out in the woods starting a supposed paintball camp. This is monitoring and infiltrating domestic groups who had no terror agenda, but who had actively opposed administration policy. It's against federal law in and of itself, and Bush has compounded the situation by repeatedly lying and misrepresenting the situation. It is not treason to expect him to obey existing laws, and it is a path to ruin to just allow Bush to grant himself superpowers when he sees fit.

Two simple questions for intellectually honest conservatives:

  1. By Bush's own statements, the war on terror is ongoing, and presumably will outlast this administration. How would you feel about President Hillary Clinton having these awesome superpowers Bush has granted himself?


  2. Just where do you plan on drawing the line, as far as civil liberties you feel you can abrogate to executive fiat, and do you seriously think that your line will be exactly where their line will end up, if they even have one?

Help A Brutha Out

Digby is one of the good guys. He kicks ass and takes names, and he does what every good blogger must do (and almost no corporate media entity does) -- be both informative and entertaining. (Indeed, your average kajillion-dollar network news production is neither of those things.)

He's fighting the good fight, and we're all in this together, and so forth, so head on over, and give him a sawbuck or several if you can, or give him some click-through love on his ads if you're tapped. It's a worthwhile cause, like saving a puppy -- except this puppy has his incisors buried deep in the flanks of this festering sore of a government.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Left Behind: The Rapture Of Power

Seems that the Asian Century is being started without us.

Today, in Kuala Lumpur, a milestone is being set in Asia, one that will have a profound impact on the future of the region.

Leaders of 16 Asia Pacific countries are meeting in the first ever East Asia Summit (EAS) to define and chart the region’s role during the 21st century. Asia’s great economic and military powers -- China, Japan and India are present, so are the ten member nations of the Asean. The United States, which has always claimed to be a Pacific power and has deployed tremendous military firepower in the region to back that claim, is not. It was not invited.

But two of America’s lackeys or allies, Australia and New Zealand will be around.


Nice cheap shot at our imperialist running dog ANZAC allies, but the gist is the same -- the beginning of the tectonic political shift is under way, and we are conspicuous by our absence. Thanks to our presence in the Phillippines, Korea, and Okinawa, we have been able to keep East Asian ascendancy somewhat in check. But they're on the rise, they want to flex their growing muscle, and the sooner we're out of their faces, the sooner they can start going after each other.

For example, say Korea reunites, and they decide they no longer need our military presence there, as both they and Japan are growing in concurrence on. Now, a reunified Korea would, in subsuming the Yongbyon program in the north, be a bona-fide nuclear power. How do you think that will sit with Japan? They will certainly want in the club, if only for self-defense. Either way, you have a proliferation problem.

Or they can all just line up at A.Q. Khan's House O' Annihilation and throw him some benjamins. The end result is the same.

Then you the growing technological ability of India and Korea, the manufacturing ability of China, and the cultivation of lucrative trade markets other than the US. It's not a problem now, not yet, but look down the road toward the latter half of the next decade, and factor in the ever-decreasing quantity of accessible oil -- and the ever-increasing consumption in that part of the world that has far greater proximity to where most of the remaining oil is. They are going to be flush with cash, where we are stuck with Prince Numbnuts' sack of magic beans.

The US economy may have grown nicely on paper in the last two quarters, but doesn't seem to have gained any ground on our spending deficit or our trade/current accounts deficits with China, which put them in a rather advantageous spot over us.

Nor have we made any progress toward weaning ourselves from the petro tit, which will require squandering more and more resources maintaining a garrison in the Middle East. You think all the troops are coming home just in time for midterms? Fat chance. There'll be a small drawdown, and then rotating maintenance levels in Kuwait and Qatar for at least the next 10-12 years. Whatever your feelings on the morals of the war, that's a huge expense, and we're all still driving, aren't we?

Then we have the nascent South American bloc of nations with left-leaning presidents who have decided to get out from under the IMF, and stop taking orders from us. Worst of all, they're banding together.

Morales tried to reassure investors Monday, saying that while Bolivia will assert ownership rights over its natural resources, "that does not mean confiscating or expropriating property of the multinationals."
He could get guidance from Chavez, who has countered the wave of privatizations that swept Latin America in past decades by asserting more state control over joint energy ventures in Venezuela.
Flush with petrodollars from the world's fifth-largest oil reserves, Chavez also has announced deal after deal with his South American neighbors. Just last week, he and Silva laid the cornerstone for a $2.5 billion refinery in Brazil, and both leaders are talking about developing the region's infrastructure.
"We'll spend $10 billion, $20 billion, but we're going to integrate South America," Silva said.


And what are our brilliant leaders doing about all this to at least protect our position (hopefully without doing it at the expense of others for a change)? They're keeping Cuba out of the World Baseball Classic, out of sheer spite:

U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth called on the Bush administration to reverse its decision to keep Cuba out of next year's World Baseball Classic.

Ueberroth, a former baseball commissioner and head of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, said last week's decision by the Treasury Department to deny Cuba a permit to play in the 16-team event will damage American efforts to host the Olympics in the future. Olympic host countries must guarantee all nations can participate.

"It is important to any future bid city from the United States that this be reversed," Ueberroth said.


To the credit of Major League Baseball, they are doing everything they can to ensure that Cuba is included, as they should be. After all, how many Cubans are going to be on the American team? Not only that, but note who else is on the list of participants -- not only do you have those darned Venezuelan troublemakers, but noted repressive commie regime China. Funny how we ride our high horse like it's the fucking Kentucky Derby when Cuba comes up, but we don't say shit about our vaunted principles to China. Guess everything has its price.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Skidmark Amendment

The proposed constitutional amendment, in full:

The law is what we say it is, when we say it is.

In acknowledging the message was true, President Bush took aim at the messenger Saturday, saying that a newspaper jeopardized national security by revealing that he authorized wiretaps on U.S. citizens after September 11.

After The New York Times reported, and CNN confirmed, a claim that Bush gave the National Security Agency license to eavesdrop on Americans communicating with people overseas, the president said that his actions were permissible, but that leaking the revelation to the media was illegal.


Uh-huh. Except the Times sat on the story for over a year, supposedly to "investigate further". Someone should call a panel on blogger ethics. Once again, it would have been handy to know this stuff last fucking year, when we could have done something about it.

But it is rather comical to listen to Mister Man smack his wittle sppon against the high chair and excoriate the leakers. We know how you feel about leakers, Chief, at least when they leak stuff that supposed to benefit you.

Such a fine, moral, forthright straight-shooter. Why, I'd like to have a beer with him.

Bush added: "Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."

He acknowledged during the address that he allowed the NSA "to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."


Heh. Interesting how they go from the usual "nobody here but us chickens" mode to "yeah, we did it, and fuck you if you have a problem with it" in less than 24 hours. Verily and forsooth, the adults are in charge. Listen, why don't you guys take the weekend and see if you can get your stories straight, then send Fluffer McClellan out to disassemble to the press corps for the millionth time, treat us all like we're in third grade, and then you can go back to your power naps and pretzels. Sound like a deal?

After hearing Bush's response, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, said there was no law allowing the president's actions and that "it's a sad day."

"He's trying to claim somehow that the authorization for the Afghanistan attack after 9/11 permitted this, and that's just absurd," Feingold said. "There's not a single senator or member of Congress who thought we were authorizing wiretaps."

He added that the law clearly lays out how to obtain permission for wiretaps.

"If he needs a wiretap, the authority is already there -- the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act," Feingold said. "They can ask for a warrant to do that, and even if there's an emergency situation, they can go for 72 hours as long as they give notice at the end of 72 hours."


Feingold lays it out right there. They can file for a warrant under FISA quite easily; the mechanism is there for just that purpose. As I've already pointed out, there's a reason they've chosen this path to do things, the same reason they've chosen to outsource torture to former Iron Curtain gulags, the same reason they've "accidentally" kidnapped German and Canadian citizens and sent them to Egypt and Syria to get their fingernails yanked out for a year or so.

They don't think they should be held accountable for anything they do. They don't want to leave a paper trail. When they assured us post-9/11 that they had flirted with and discarded the notion of a shadow government to take care of covert domestic surveillance, it was an obvious head-fake, and sure enough, the truth is finally starting to trickle out.

Bush defended signing the order by saying that two of the September 11 hijackers who flew the plane into the Pentagon -- Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi -- "communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al Qaeda who were overseas, but we didn't know they were here until it was too late."

He said the authorizations have made it "more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time, and the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad."


Sure, except all we heard after the initial cries of intelligence failure was the opposite -- that if anything, we had a veritable firehose of intelligence, but lacked the proper mechanisms and interdepartmental coordination to process all of it. That was why the Homeland Security boondoggle was set up. That's why Slam Dunk Tenet got his golden handshake, and Porter Goss, who unwittingly met with Mahmoud Ahmad (a Pakistani ISI general who had contributed $100K to al Qaeda) on the morning of September 11, 2001, to be DCI.

Has Bush forgotten about the August 6, 2001 PDB (handed to him by none other than Harriet Miers) entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In The US"? Probably he has; that was pretty early into his vacation season that summer. Well, it doesn't all just go down the memory hole, Harvard -- some of us can recall all this shit pretty well.

And lest you just assume that all this covert muscle is being deployed exclusively at the swarthy types, this [via Kos] may disabuse us of that notion:

NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.
The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.
"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

....

The Little Red Book, is a collection of quotations and speech excerpts from Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung.
In the 1950s and '60s, during the Cultural Revolution in China, it was required reading. Although there are abridged versions available, the student asked for a version translated directly from the original book.
The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a "watch list." They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.


So are we fighting terrorism or retro communism? Why exactly did the agents not only put the arm on this kid, but not let him have the book, once they apparently realized that he was just working on a research paper? What is the fucking deal with these people?

Are we feeling safer yet?

Electile Dysfunction: Burqa Becomes "Freedom Jacket"

Not to piss on the justifiable parade of celebrating Iraq's lurching steps away from despotism, but the continued pretense that the lurch is toward something even remotely resembling a true democracy seems to be at a tragic clash with reality.

Basra, Iraq -- Just after the polls opened at 7 a.m. Thursday, Majid al-Sari sat on his living room couch dressed in a natty dark suit and red tie, looking out anxiously at the early sunlight.

"I feel tense," he said. "For myself and for Iraq."

Though a candidate from one of Iraq's smaller parties, Sari, 42, was only slightly nervous about his own electoral fate. He is first on his party's slate of candidates in Basra and expects to win a seat in Iraq's first full-term parliament.

But as a secular Shiite, his political career is fraught with risks. He says he faces threats from both Sunni insurgents and the shadowy Shiite militias that wield influence in Basra's police force. He travels freely, but only because he works at the Defense Ministry and has a retinue of 20 black-masked soldiers with guns and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

Above all, Sari says, he worries about Iraq's future and the bullying by religious parties, especially in the southern Shiite heartland.

"I was shocked to see the way religion has increased in Iraq," said Sari, a blunt, square-jawed man who lived in Sweden for more than a decade before the fall of Saddam Hussein. "I expected that once Iraq got its freedom, the effects of religion would fade."

Later in the day, as Sari drove through his native city, checking on polling sites in a white Land Cruiser, police illegally preached to voters through loudspeakers on top of their patrol cars, urging them to vote 555, the number of the main Shiite alliance. Despite his brace of guards and his official role, Sari said, he could do nothing to stop them.

"Eighty percent of them belong to militias for the religious parties," Sari said of the police. The numbers are in their favor, he added: There are 3,500 Iraqi soldiers in Basra but 14,500 police officers. "If there were to be clashes, there is no contest," he said.


Already Iraq has essentially subdivided itself, in the absence of its strongmen. The theocrats in the south, encouraged by overt Iranian influence, have emerged as a new Taliban. Here's a helpful photo attesting to that:



Pretty sweet, eh? That's the smell of Freedomocracy™, my friend.

Then you have the Kurds in the north, who have already struck their own deals with Norwegian oil companies to do some drilling and extracting. The Kurds are exercising their longstanding desire for autonomy, which is a wonderful thing, except that Turkey and (again) Iran also have sizable Kurdish populations, and they won't put up with rebellious incitement from Kirkuk. And how does a federalized Baghdad keep such a potential secession from occurring? The Kurds are not only essential to having any hope of balancing out the lunatic Shiites in the government, but their independence would seriously destabilize the entire region even further. So we are going to find ourselves working at cross purposes with our stated principles of fulfilling the yearnings of freedom.

Has any mainstream media agency tackled such an analysis of these likely scenarios? Of course not. They're too busy schmoozing and sucking up to the administration for access. They still do not seem to get that they are being played, that the Bushies need them to be useful idiots to get their message out for them. It does not occur to the media weasels that if they stood up en masse and walked away from Scott "Fluffer" McClellan the next time he lies and evades the questions, they will have to regroup and reconsider their tactics of lying and hypocrisy. Don't even play Fluffer's game any more; just get up, walk out, and leave him at the mercy of that dipshit weirdo Les Kinsolving. Maybe they can get Jeff Gannon™ back in, whatever. Quit giving them the satisfaction. Fucking grow a pair already. Do your damned jobs with some pride, people.

And while the large turnout earned some well-deserved huzzahs all around, we need to keep in mind that Iraqis have their own motives for this:

In Samarra, a rebellious city of 200,000 in the Sunni heartland, Mayor Mahmoud Ahmed said many residents were voting "because they think it is another way of getting the Americans out of the city."

More than 93,000 votes were cast in Samarra on Thursday, compared with barely 2,000 in the parliamentary election in January. "We believe that control for security in Samarra should be transferred from American soldiers to Iraqi soldiers and police. People believe if they vote, they will have representatives in parliament who will push the government to do that and make the Americans leave," the mayor said.

U.S. commanders in the area agreed with the assessment. "What motivates them is they think voting is part of a process to get us out of Samarra," said Lt. Col. Mark Wald, head of the 69th Armored Regiment in the 3rd Infantry Division. "There is a feeling here of a 'legitimate resistance' that only fights us because we are here. It follows if they have a legitimate government that they feel represents them, they can pressure the Americans to leave," he said.


And in some respects, it may just be the same as it ever was:

Though the election generally went smoothly, some voters complained of fraud and voter intimidation.

In Fallujah, the former Sunni insurgent bastion that was attacked by U.S. forces last year, 11 of the city's 35 polling stations did not receive ballot boxes, and some sites ran out of ballots in the morning, said Mayor Dhari al-Arsan. He said some voters thought it was done on purpose, but he attributed the shortage of ballot boxes to the large turnout.

In Mukshifa, near Tikrit, voters and police officials said Sheikh Shalon al-Boyisa, a leader running for parliament against 45 other candidates, used force to coerce people to vote for him. "I was coming here to vote. Democracy, you know," Ayad Rashid al-Boyisa, a retired Iraqi army major, said. "Sheikh Shalon showed up at the polling station and said to everybody: 'You are going to vote for me, Sheikh Shalon.' "

When he refused, the sheikh's bodyguards held him while the sheikh and his brother beat him on the head with a piece of brick, al-Boyisa said, displaying a scarred, bandaged head under a red-and-white kaffiyeh scarf.

Iraqi police confirmed al-Boyisa's allegations, but the sheikh's brother, Ali, denied that he or the sheikh had intimidated voters.

"We don't tell people how to vote -- it's democracy," Ali al-Boyisa said as the sheikh's servants carried dishes of rice and lamb to feed voters, election workers and police officers guarding the polling site.


It's impossible to unring the bell, unshit the bed, unstep on our dicks, etc. But we need to get serious about having a national conversation about the moral and practical issues surrounding troop withdrawal. Bush has been successful in keeping the timetable to his own designs, so that he can proclaim "victory" (as he chooses to define it, of course) and make a big show of a small drawdown by midterms.

But the thing is this -- regardless of the outcome, these people need to be made accountable for what they've done and how they've done it. Only a fool still really believes the PNAC delusion of a shining example of democracy for the rest of the region to follow, while we magnanimously recoup our soon-to-be $400 billion investment. Everyone sees us with our pants down, and the Iranians are going to run herd on Iraq the second we turn our backs and trudge back home.

This was a monumental fuck-up, based on a pack of lies, and even if we can get out of there with some face intact, the feckless morons who got us into this clusterfuck in the first place must account for their errors in principle and judgment. If you lose $400 billion for your company by cockily refusing to listen to people who know more about what you're doing than you yourself do, you deserve to lose your fucking job, at the very least.

And really, how much democracy can you read into Iraq's modest efforts, when our own little experiment has pretty much devolved into the Chimperor wiping his ass with the Constitution by imperial fiat? People seem to be taken with the odd notion that, since they have nothing to hide, they'd probably let themselves be strip-searched at random in the supermarket, if "freedom" required it of them. What they (and that preening fool Tom Brokaw, who really just needs to take his faux-avuncular harrumphing back to East Dakota or wherever) need to understand is that surveillance warrants are not difficult to get, that the Bushies deliberately avoided even bothering with that simple process for a reason. What is that reason? Well, if we had an investigative media, we might have an idea. Offhand, I assume they did it for the same reason Karl Rove licks his balls -- because they can. They want to see just how much they can get away with, where the limits are. They showed this propensity right from the start, when Bush's very first executive order was to seal off presidential archives from, you know, the public. Then 9/11 came along and provided them with all the cover they could dream of.

Perhaps that is the "democracy" they wish to export to the benighted slums of Iraq, by theocrat death squad, if necessary. We shall see. In the meantime, the purple finger gimmick is nice, but I'll take my platitudes with a big block of salt, thanks very much.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Myth America 2: Religion Boogaloo

James Wolcott helpfully steers us toward another brick in our mythic wall, a fantastic declamation of the cynicism exhibited by ivory-tower conservatards, when it comes to matters of faith, and specifically the deliberate promulgation of "intelligent design" mythos, couched in the greater monotheistic mythos.

As a matter of historical curiosity, this new turning of neocon eyes toward heaven comes just as Pope John Paul II has officially recognized that "the theory of evolution is more than an hypothesis." Indeed, it comes as evolutionary thinking itself is shedding considerable light on an array of questions and problems, from brain growth to the development of immune systems, from sociobiology to economics, from ecology to software design. Such research is yielding anti-designer results. F.A. Hayek long ago recognized the phenomenon of "spontaneous order" and described how it arose in markets, families, and other social institutions. Now, ingenious computer models are confirming Hayek's insights. It is increasingly obvious that social systems, from commerce to language, evolve and adapt without the need for top-down planning and organization. Order in markets is generated through processes analogous to Darwinian natural selection in biology. In other words, we can indeed have apparent design without a designer; the world is demonstrably brimming with just such phenomena.


Notice the libertarian trope of reflexively dismissing even the need for "top-down planning and organization". Still, his base premise is observably correct -- systems in both the natural kingdom and in the realm of human societal relationships can be observed to have an organically evolving quality unto themselves. The sentient qualities of the individuals will seek out the most advantageous situations for themselves in either type of case. It's just common sense.

But the neocon assault on Darwinism may not be based on either science or spirituality so much as on politics and political philosophy. That is the view of Paul Gross, a biologist and self-described conservative. Gross is much concerned with the interplay of science and politics--he is the co-author of the 1994 book, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science--and is puzzled by the attacks on evolutionary biology by people whose political views he largely shares. Regarding Commentary's anti-Darwin article, he says he is mystified that the magazine "would publish the damned thing without at least passing it by a few scientists first."

Gross believes that the conservative attack on Darwin may be a case of tactical politics. Some conservative intellectuals think religious fundamentalists are "essential to the political program of the right," says Gross. As a gesture of solidarity, he says, these intellectuals are publicly embracing arguments that appear to "keep God in the picture."


It's that sort of thing that confirms my assumption that "American intellectualism" is essentially an oxymoron on the level of "jumbo shrimp". American intellectuals are frequently compromised somewhere along the line, usually as rent-boys for a "think tank" funded by some whackjob Mr. Burns-type gazillionaire. Not only that, Americans themselves typically aren't politically aware enough to have even read any genuine intellectuals. Rush Limbaugh is not an intellectual. Dipshit hagiographers like Peggy Noonan and George Fwill, also not intellectuals. Court stenographers like Woodward and Miller -- not real reporters. (At least Woodward probably didn't fuck Mark Felt, where apparently Judy Miller would suck cock to get the inside scoop on a sack race.)

The end of the Cold War may also be a factor. Marx fell with the Soviet Union; Freud has been discredited by modern psychology and neuroscience. The last standing member of the 19th century's unholy materialist trinity is Darwin. Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial, makes the connection clear: "Darwinism is the most important of the materialist ideologies--Marxism, Freudianism, and behaviorism are others--which have done so much damage to science and society in the 20th century." Kristol agrees. "All I want to do," he told his AEI audience, "is break the bonds of Darwinian materialism which at the moment restrict our imagination. For the moment that's enough."


This is so ridiculous, on multiple levels. First, merely lumping Darwinism in with other "materialist ideologies" does not mitigate its inherent scientific probity. Second, it's a bit ironic that these fields are pejoratively dubbed as "materialist" by filthy-rich pelf-grubbing pseudo-intellectual twaddle-merchants renting themselves out to whoever will have them. Third, which is more "restricting" to "our" imagination -- the adventure of continuous scientific progress, or a collection of metaphorical fables written by Bronze Age Levantine tribesmen, said by its faithful to be absolutely immutable? It is disingenuous to even allow such lies to go unchallenged.

But something deeper seems to be going on, and the key to it can be found in Bork's assertion in his book that religious "belief is probably essential to a civilized future." These otherwise largely secular intellectuals may well have turned on Darwin because they have concluded that his theory of evolution undermines religious faith in society at large. Of course, this is not a novel thought. Many others have arrived at the same conclusion. Conservative activist Beverly LaHaye, a biblical literalist who is president of Concerned Women for America, puts the matter directly: "If the biblical account of creation in Genesis isn't true, how can we trust the rest of the Bible?"

Kristol and his colleagues may worry that once this one thread is pulled from the fabric of religious belief, perhaps the whole will become unraveled, with grave social consequences. Without the strictures and traditions imposed by a religion that promises to punish sinners, the moral controls that moderate our base desires will lose their validity, leading ultimately to moral chaos. Ironically, today many modern conservatives fervently agree with Karl Marx that religion is "the opium of the people"; they add a heartfelt, "Thank God!"

It is no secret that many neocons are in a deep funk over the state of American society. (For an especially glum assessment, dip into Bork's best-seller.) In the 1960s, many of them advocated federal programs to ameliorate such social ills as poverty, crime, racial discrimination, illegitimacy, and drug abuse. But as one social welfare program after another succumbed to its unintended consequences, they recognized the limits of governmental intervention. Having suffered a crisis of faith in the efficacy of social science, they now believe that only the restoration of religious belief among the masses can re-establish order in American society. As David Brooks recently wrote in the conservative journal The Weekly Standard, policy intellectuals used to sound like economists; now they sound like ministers. He's right. At conservative confabs today, the longing for yet one more Great Awakening of religious fervor is palpable.

Kristol has been quite candid about his belief that religion is essential for inculcating and sustaining morality in culture. He wrote in a 1991 essay, "If there is one indisputable fact about the human condition it is that no community can survive if it is persuaded--or even if it suspects--that its members are leading meaningless lives in a meaningless universe."


How about just leaving people the hell alone, and letting them figure it out for themselves? Nah, that'd be too easy -- plus, everyone would be doing their own thing, which would be bad for business.

Can it really be that simple? Can it really be all about a means of controlling the bewildered herd?

Another prominent neoconservative, Leon Kass, author of Toward a More Natural Science (1985), and a member of the University of Chicago's prestigious Committee on Social Thought, also believes that evolutionary theory poses a threat to social order: "[T]he creationists and their fundamentalist patrons...sense that orthodox evolutionary theory cannot support any notions we might have regarding human dignity or man's special place in the whole. And they see that Western moral teaching, so closely tied to Scripture, is also in peril if any major part of Scripture can be shown to be false."


Was it Chesterton or Burke who said that if men didn't believe in something, they'd believe anything? This is a more politicized iteration of that old saw. It would be nice if these assholes put their money where their mouths always are, but there's more to "regarding human dignity" than grudgingly accepting soup kitchens and holding toy drives once a year. How about the next corporation that guts its employees' pension fund after profiting $4 billion in six months, we make sure that upper management takes it in the shorts with equal force? Or does more money equal more dignity?

Kristol has acknowledged his intellectual debt to Strauss in a recent autobiographical essay. "What made him so controversial within the academic community was his disbelief in the Enlightenment dogma that `the truth will make men free.'" Kristol adds that "Strauss was an intellectual aristocrat who thought that the truth could make some [emphasis Kristol's] minds free, but he was convinced that there was an inherent conflict between philosophic truth and political order, and that the popularization and vulgarization of these truths might import unease, turmoil and the release of popular passions hitherto held in check by tradition and religion with utterly unpredictable, but mostly negative, consequences."

Kristol agrees with this view. "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people," he says in an interview. "There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

In crude terms, some critics of Strauss argue that he interpreted the ancient philosophers as offering two different teachings, an esoteric one which is available only to those who read the ancient texts closely, and an exoteric one accessible to naive readers. The exoteric interpretations were aimed at the mass of people, the vulgar, while the esoteric teachings--the hidden meanings--were vouchsafed to the few, the philosophers. Philosophers know the truth, but must keep it hidden from the vulgar, lest it upset them. What is the hidden truth known to philosophers? That there is no God and there is no ultimate foundation for morality. As Kristol suggests, it is necessary to keep this truth from the vulgar because such knowledge would only engender despair in them and lead to social breakdown. In his book, On Tyranny: An Interpretation of Xenophon's Hiero, Strauss asserts with unusual clarity that Socratic dialogues are "based on the premise that there is a disproportion between the intransigent quest for truth and the requirements of society, or that not all truths are always harmless."

....

Thus, to preserve society, wise people must publicly support the traditions and myths that sustain the political order and that encourage ordinary people to obey the laws and live justly. People will do so only if they believe that moral rules are divinely decreed or were set up by men who were inspired by the Divine.

Kristol restated this insight nearly five decades ago in an essay in Commentary dealing with Freud: "If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without...let men believe in the lies of religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves. Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the philosophers and the common men, and atheism becomes a guarded, esoteric doctrine--for if the illusions of religion were to be discredited, there is no telling with what madness men would be seized, with what uncontrollable anguish."


Oh, well good thing we have Strauss and Kristol and the rest of the enlightened ones -- who don't really believe it themselves -- to decide for us what "truths" we vulgar proles can and cannot handle. That is repulsive. As much as I beat on people for being suckers -- and most of them are -- the problem is not one of native intelligence. It is a problem of being conditioned to be suckers, by a crappy school system, an indifferent government, and a sensationalist media. People are just stuck on this hamster wheel of sorts, living on road rage and manufactured conflict, repeatedly trying to sate themselves with more useless shit. It's the only way to forget that their real wages stagnate while their cost of living keeps soaring; that they're just a paycheck or two from the streets; that if there's a medical emergency in the family, they're going to be left destitute, whether or not the treatment is successful.

The system has always been broken, because the systems have always revolved (and evolved) around the class who set up the system in the first place. Whether despotism, monarchy, republic, or democracy, there have always been inherent inequities in the system, and thus various mechanisms for dealing with the social fallout. Nationalist and religious mythos -- frequently intertwined -- are what these self-appointed keepers of the flame use to keep the flock docile. They believe they're lying for the Lord, because they genuinely believe that the majority of people need other people (like Kristol and Strauss, coincidentally enough) to look after them. What it boils down to is that they don't think we can take care of ourselves.

The glorious flip side to all that is this -- it's because they're scared shitless of what would happen if people got wise.

(still more to come)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Witless For The Persecution

Can the meme of George W. Bush as a likable, forthright, straight-shooter finally be put to rest now? Any honest Republican who still wants to persist in this retardation?

President Bush said yesterday he is confident that former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) is innocent of money-laundering charges, as he offered strong support for several top Republicans who have been battered by investigations or by rumors of fading clout inside the White House.

In an interview with Fox News, Bush said he hopes DeLay will be cleared of charges that he illegally steered corporate money into campaigns for the Texas legislature and will reclaim his powerful leadership position in Congress.


Well yeah, I'm sure he does want DeLay back ASAP, to continue the quest to gut Social Security and give it back to the Vanderbilts. DeLay, after all, is the Grand Moff Tarkin to Darth Cheney. Bush....eh, I dunno, maybe Jar Jar or something equally useless.

It is highly unusual for a president to express an opinion on a pending legal case. Richard M. Nixon, for instance, was widely criticized for declaring Charles Manson "guilty, directly or indirectly" of murder while Manson's trial was ongoing.


Hey, another cheap pop culture metaphor. If DeLay is Charles Manson, then Jack Abramoff is....who, Tex Watson? Whatever. Funny how this oh-so-ethical veneer of not commenting on litigating cases goes bye-bye when it's one of Himself's butt-boys. Fine. If, after DeLay is convicted and thrown out on his lacquered ass, the Democrats do not use that little nugget as the thermonucular sound bite for midterms, I fucking give up on them. Seriously. This is too fucking much. This needs to be knocked out of the goddamned park. Stupid little pussy love letters from Chuck Schumer do not cut it; they have use tactics that cannot be ignored.

And someone should tell Scott McClellan that whatever his job is, it engenders about as much respect as a fluffer at a Tijuana donkey show. To listen to McClellan, or his numbskull boss, speak about anything these days, is to listen to an abuse of the English language. It's doesn't even have the turgid sophistication of the traditional Orwellian doublespeak -- it's merely the call-and-response palaver employed by a three-year-old two-fisting the cookie jar so hard, he can't get his hands out, yet he persists that said jar jumped right off the counter and over his grubby little wrists. Damndest thing.

In the wide-ranging interview, Bush defended the Republican Party against charges of pervasive unethical behavior after the resignation of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) for taking bribes and the unfolding money-for-favors scandal centered on former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"Well, first of all, I feel Duke Cunningham was wrong and should be punished for what he did," Bush said. "And I think that anybody who does what he did should be punished, Republican or Democrat. Secondly, the Abramoff -- I'm not, frankly, all that familiar with a lot that's going on over at Capitol Hill, but it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties."

According to campaign finance reports, Abramoff and his clients contributed money to Democrats but substantially more to Republicans.


Well fucking duh. "Contributions" and "donations" are money exchanged for access to power. There is a party in power, and there is a party not in power. Let us say that you are a "contributor", or a "donor", say, an Indian casino looking to keep out the competition. You could hire the mob, but a slug like Tom DeLay works so much cheaper. Either way, hiring someone from the Not-In-Power Party is -- ¿como se dice? -- a waste of money.

But, you know, if Bush wants to play that game, I say let's play. I can scarcely admit that there was once a time when I was a ticket-splitter, that I voted for the person rather than the party. No more. I will never ever vote for a Republican again, not even for dog catcher, until they clean these stalinist lying hypocritical cocksuckers out of their party, and beg our forgiveness for putting them there. Enough is enough. I am tired of this "words mean what we say they mean" shit, with their fucking loser figurehead. Send Fredo and his disgusting posse home, once and for all.