Sunday, December 31, 2006

Top Ten George W. Bush Resolutions For The New Year

10. Clear more brush. You can never clear too much brush.

9. Read more Camus. Also that Rick Warren fella.

8. Barbecue up one o' them nice clone steaks. Mmmm, clone steak.

7. Deport that "Dirty Sanchez" guy Jenna's unemployed Argentine boyfriend keeps talking about. He sounds like a prick.

6. Start another Iraq Study Group to counter that bullshit one Poppy and Jimmy Baker set up. A good, unvarnished, bipartisan group of experts would have included Karl Rove, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. You don't need political cover when you've never done anything wrong.

5. Start an Iran Study Group and chair it with this guy. That'll teach Poppy to mess with Fredo's master planning.

4. Get more sleep. Can't have all those good, crisp decisions without a solid eleven hours, and a power nap or two during the day, you slave-driving motherfuckers.

3. Milk as much fake credibility as possible out of the latest accomplishment, courtesy of a bunch of guys who looked and sounded like they had just gotten done beheading a foreign contractor.

2. Pretend to be more attentive during Cheney's flash-card sessions, as if anybody really needs to know the difference between Sweden and Switzerland, or Iraq and Iran.

1. Come up with new excuses for wasting more lives.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Everything Is Coincidental

I'll be the one to protect you from your enemies and all your demons.
I'll be the one to protect you from a will to survive and a voice of reason.
I'll be the one to protect you from your enemies and your choices, son.
They're one and the same; I must isolate you, isolate and save you from yourself.

Swayin' to the rhythm of the new world order and
Countin' bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums
The boogeymen are comin'
The boogeymen are comin'
Keep your head down, go to sleep, to the rhythm of the war drum.
-- A Perfect Circle, Pet

Still digesting the imminent repercussions and ramifications of what the (well-deserved in the moral sense, if potentially very damaging in the strategic sense) execution of Saddam Hussein entails. I have a feeling that at least half the arguments to take place will be over whether any escalation or (incredibly unlikely but you never know) de-escalation of violence in the near future should be attributed or not to popular sentiment regarding said execution. How many insurgents can dance on the head of a pin? Let's have another pro-wrestling screamfest between Ann Coulter and some hapless "liberal" and find out!

One thing that still sticks in my craw seems like such a small, niggling detail, yet says so much to me about the overall decision-making process for Bush. It has already been reiterated several times by several major news sources that Bush signed off on his post-execution statement and went to sleep, right before the execution was to take place. Consider that for a moment. The last time a head of state was deposed by the United States, brought to trial, and formally executed was (correct me if I'm wrong) Hideki Tojo. This is, in many respects, a momentous, historic event, most especially if you are a true believer in the liberation trope.

And what does the leader of the free world, the supposed architect of all these wheels o' freedomocracy set in motion, culminating in the ultimate revenge, do, literally as the noose is placed around his arch-nemesis' neck for the final drop? He finishes watching Ghost Whisperer, pulls on his footie jammies, and goes night-night at 9:00 PM. I'm sorry, I will never understand such a mindset (or, more accurately, the utter lack of one). Just basic intellectual curiosity would have kept most of us up half the night, wondering, speculating -- hell, just asking for a range of opinions on what could happen. George W. Bush tucks in at the usual early time, as if everything were everything, and drifts off to sleep untroubled by dreams or doubt.

But maybe that's what people like him are supposed to do, since life never has any real consequences for them. He's never had to work for anything, nor will he; he'll always have his family of fellow grifters, his line of "donors" willing to prop him up and bankroll his failures for a favorable ROI. He's probably not lying when he says he doesn't care about polls or legacy; there's little doubt that he could spend the next two years below ten percent and the rest of his life at the top of every knowledgeable commentator's shit list, and it wouldn't matter to him. Polls and opinions are for suckers; certitude is where it's at.

Looking back at the rhetorical origins of the excuses put forth to invade Iraq, one finds odd coincidences. For instance, Saddam's declaration of an embargo in protest of Israel policy in Palestine, and barely weeks later Bush's initial declaration of what for him was a completely different policy from what he had endorsed as a candidate in 2000, a policy turnaround that even Tweety Matthews decried at the time. That's just coincidence.

That Poppy Bush and a slew of lifelong family cronies set themselves up to make tons of money regardless of whether Saddam was their man anymore -- also purely coincidental. It's entirely coincidental that Hussein was a good earner for them before it was decided that he had to sleep with the fishes. This administration is basically the Godfather movie from an alternate universe where Sonny and Fredo had lived (Junior's a bit of both), taken over the family business, and sidelined Vito and Mike. It's completely coincidental that the same people are still making money rebuilding what they were paid to destroy in the first place.

A good analogy to the Carlyle system is a Japanese tradition known as amakudari (literally, "descent from heaven"). Under this system, senior officials from Japanese ministries retire, only to be instantly hired as senior advisers by the companies and industry groups they were paid to regulate. "What we're really talking about is a systematic merging of the private and public sectors to the point where the distinctions get lost," said Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute and author of two acclaimed books on the Japanese system of governance. "The Carlyle Group is a perfect example. It's the use of former government officials for their access to government bureaucracies to determine contractual relations. It's inside knowledge--knowing where the government is going to spend money and then investing in it."

In turn, Carlyle executives influence policy--sometimes profoundly. On March 12 Carlucci, who is chairman of the US-Taiwan Business Council, a coalition of US multinationals doing business in Taiwan, invited Tang Yao-Ming, Taiwan's Defense Minister, to attend a closed-door summit of US and Taiwanese defense officials sponsored by the council and key US military contractors, including Carlyle's United Defense Industries. Tang's visit, which was capped by a meeting with US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, marked the highest-level defense contacts between Taipei and Washington since diplomatic relations were severed in 1979--and paralleled President Bush's push to expand arms sales to Taiwan, where Carlyle has significant investments. Carlyle people also testify frequently before government panels: senior adviser Arthur Levitt, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has been ubiquitous before Congressional hearings on Enron.

Carlyle's investment philosophy, as described in its brochures, is to focus "on industries we know and in which we have a competitive advantage," in particular "federally regulated or impacted industries such as aerospace/defense." Its capital is siphoned into fourteen funds, seven focused on US industries and real estate, four on Europe and three on Asia. The $1.3 billion Carlyle Partner II fund is the majority owner of United Defense, maker of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and other weapons systems, and owns Vought Aircraft, the world's largest supplier of commercial and military airline parts. Carlyle's largest acquisition took place two years ago in South Korea, when its $750 million Asia Buyout Fund invested $145 million to buy a controlling stake in KorAm Bank. Through United Defense, Carlyle owns Bofors Defense, a Swedish manufacturer of naval guns and other weapons. In its latest deal, finalized March 13, Carlyle is investing $50 million in Conexant Systems, a spinoff from defense giant Rockwell International, to manufacture silicon wafers for wireless communications and Internet supply markets around the world.

That we only seek to stabilize that which we also covet, and that Bush, his father, his siblings, his friends and donors manage to make a huge buck from that as well, wherever it occurs in the world, is perhaps the greatest coincidence of all.

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has taken bold steps to implement this strategy in several far-flung regions of the world. In the Caspian Sea basin -- said to harbor the second biggest reservoir of untapped petroleum after the Persian Gulf -- the United States is building new military bases and providing training to local defense forces. In Colombia, U.S.-equipped government forces will soon be guarding the Occidental Petroleum Company's Cano Limon oil pipeline. And in Venezuela -- America's third largest supplier of oil -- U.S. embassy personnel reportedly met with leaders of an abortive coup against President Hugo Chavez.

All of these developments are obviously tied to other foreign policy considerations besides oil. The United States clearly seeks to promote stability and fight terrorism in these and other areas of the world. But it is also true that the areas that are garnering the greatest degree of attention from Washington -- the Middle East, the Caspian Sea basin, and the Andean region -- are also areas that figure prominently in the administration's long-term energy strategy.

The aim of this strategy is simple: to procure as much of the world's oil for ravenous U.S. markets as possible. With domestic U.S. production facing progressive decline and national consumption rising with every passing day, the United States must obtain more and more of its oil from abroad. Exploitation of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), if allowed by Congress, could reduce U.S. oil imports by a tiny amount, but would not make any significant difference in the larger energy equation.

The only way to significantly reduce imports is to increase the fuel efficiency of U.S. motor vehicles -- but because President Bush is reluctant to require this, the administration has instead launched a global effort to expand U.S. access to foreign sources of petroleum.

This campaign was first laid out in the national energy plan drawn up by Vice President Dick Cheney in early 2001 and released by the White House last May. Because the plan calls for drilling on ANWR and was prepared with assistance from representatives of the scandal-ridden Enron Corporation, Congress and media have ignored its foreign policy implications. But however significant the domestic debate over Enron and ANWR, it is its international repercussions that are most likely to affect America's long-term future.

In essence, the Cheney report makes three key points:

* The United States must satisfy an ever-increasing share of its oil demand with imported supplies. (At present, the United States imports about 10 million barrels of oil per day, representing 53 percent of its total consumption; by 2020, daily U.S. imports will total nearly 17 million barrels, or 65 percent of consumption.)

* The United States cannot depend exclusively on traditional sources of supply like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Canada to provide this additional oil. It will also have to obtain substantial supplies from new sources, such as the Caspian states, Russia, and Africa.

* The United States cannot rely on market forces alone to gain access to these added supplies, but will also require a significant effort the part of government officials to overcome foreign resistance to the outward reach of American energy companies.

In line with these three principles, the Cheney plan calls on the Bush administration to undertake a wide range of initiatives aimed at increasing oil imports from overseas sources of supply. In particular, it calls on the president and secretaries of state, energy and commerce to work with leaders of the Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan to boost production in the Caspian region and to build new pipelines to the West. It also calls on U.S. officials to persuade their counterparts in Africa, the Persian Gulf and Latin America to open up their oil industries to greater U.S. oil-company involvement and to send more of their petroleum to the United States.

In advocating these measures, the Cheney team is well aware that U.S. efforts to gain access to increasing amounts of foreign petroleum could provoke resistance in some oil-producing regions. By 2020, the report notes, America "will import nearly two of every three barrels of oil (it consumes) -- a condition of increased dependency on foreign powers that do not always have America's interests at heart."

This means, of course, that American efforts to obtain increased supplies foreign oil will require more than trade deals and diplomacy - - it will also require the threat of or the use of force to dissuade hostile forces from attempting to obstruct the flow of petroleum to the United States. This, in turn, will require an enhanced U.S. capacity to operate militarily in areas of likely fighting over oil. It is for this reason that Washington is expanding the American military presence in the Persian Gulf area and beginning to establish such a presence in the Caspian basin (notably in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan). And while these efforts have been accelerated since Sept. 11, it is important to note that they began well before that date.

Don't worry. It's all just coincidence. Nothing to see here, folks; go back to your post-Christmas shopping sprees on the margin. Consume and waste as much you can. Something utterly mindless and retarded will be along momentarily to distract you.

Go back to sleep.

Science Friction

Scientists are gettin' a mite cocky these days -- not only are they foolishly claiming that some chunk of arctic ice the size of Manhattan broke off the ice shelf somewhere up there where we should be drilling in the first place, but apparently a bunch of stupid polar bears are whining about their habitat as well.

The Bush Administration conceded yesterday that global warming is threatening the polar bear with extinction, the first time that it has singled out climate change as a grave threat to the Arctic and its most iconic inhabitant.

In a move that will have profound consequences not only for the polar bear but potentially for America’s polluting industries, the Administration declared last night that the polar bear should be added to its endangered species list because of the drastic melting of its habitat.

The move would trigger mandatory legal safeguards that could potentially force US industries to cut their carbon dioxide output.

Dirk Kempthorne, the Interior Secretary, said: “We are concerned the polar bear’s habitat may literally be melting.”

I do hope that Secretary Kempthorne makes sure to check in with Short Bus Senator #1 from Tornado Gulch Oklahoma, Jim "Global warmin' sighntists is jes' lahk Nazehs!" Inhofe about all this. I mean, who ya gonna believe, a buncha drownin' bears, or someone who is a distinguished legislator and environmental scholar -- in his own mind, anyway?

The bears will be better off if they just move to Tulsa and learn to drive Hummers. Short Bus Inhofe would call that little nugget o' Solomonic wisdom a win-win.

Nature's giant clowns divvying up a nice meal of Short Bus Inhofe Tartare. Hope they can digest seersucker sautéed in Hai Karate.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Dead Man Walking

Saddam Hussein is about to die -- possibly within the hour -- and it's damned difficult to claim that that's a bad thing, in and of itself. People are welcome to disagree on the subject of capital punishment, and I certainly have expressed many doubts about the process even here in the U.S., but I maintain the principle that some people are simply vile enough to earn a hasty dispatch, and Hussein certainly fit that bill.

But this is a case fraught with special circumstances, obviously, and as such, it bears tight scrutiny. This is a case where the practical utility of executing Hussein is at least as important as the symbolism of it all. Everyone at least assumes that a spike in violence will accompany the official announcement of Hussein's death; how much or how long is anyone's guess.

So how many more people should die to accommodate the necessary symbolism of the deed -- one hundred; five hundred; ten thousand? That last is not an unreasonable long-term estimate; dozens of mangled bodies are found on a daily basis as it is. Hussein certainly turned Iraq into a fearful, paranoid charnel house with his brutal, thuggish rule, but he's not the only one in the country capable of it. Now there are many squads of would-be Saddams, not remotely contained or leveraged like the old boss, flawed as that arrangement was.

Would it be worth letting him rot away in prison, old and pathetic, to prevent him from becoming a misbegotten martyr, an artificial rallying point for Sunni insurgents? Does his execution -- by the very people whom he was convicted of murdering, no less -- serve as a Shi'a rallying point, a means for them to overtly assert their power in what was supposed to be a "unified" government?

According to Iraq law the convicted person has the right to see family 24 hours before the death sentence is carried out. Yesterday, Saddam said good-bye to his two brothers. And a top Iraq official said Saddam Hussein would be executed before six am. Saturday, Baghdad time, that's tonight at 10 PM Eastern/7 PM Pacific.

That would make sense from a security perspective. Hang Saddam before the Eid al-Adha holiday begins. Under the cover of darkness and then announce it at dawn. With daylight US troops would have a better idea as to what would be coming at them.

This writer has had his own personal experiences with Saddam Hussein. I watched from the roof of the Tel Aviv Hilton in 1991 as Iraq scuds slowly hovered over and fell onto Israel soil. One missed my home in Ramat Gan by only 200 meters. I have no sympathy for Saddam Hussein. But nor do I care to see Saddam turned into a martyr.

Saddam should rot in jail but should not be hanged. What would his hanging serve? He was not responsible for 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction were found (though I suspect they did exist earlier) and it was rumored his administration had met with the US Embassy the day before invading Kuwait and was given a green light by the US. And the war crimes that Saddam is accused of occured in 1982.
Why didn't the international community take action then? Why only after 2001?

Saddam's death will only serve to polarize more moderate Muslims. It will not make them fear the US, England or Israel even more so.

Islamic terrorists embrace death. They do not fear it. So who is the US punishing?

Robert Baer of TIME Magazine states: "If the deposed Iraqi leader is executed now, the country's Sunnis will always think of Saddam's rule as a golden era. Now is not the time to execute Saddam Hussein. With Iraq still under coalition occupation, as far as Iraqis are concerned the rope around Saddam's neck will be American. The Shi'a and the Kurds may not care whose rope it is - they just want the man dead and their pound of revenge. But for the Sunni, Saddam will become an instant martyr." Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, could not be more correct.

Again, I have no problem with capital punishment in principle, but the endless fetishizing of it is certainly exhausting to even attempt to defend. I think the principle is elemental in nature -- some motherfuckers simply don't deserve to live, period -- but there is nothing to be gained by allowing the specific subjects of the process to be turned into political totems.

So if Hussein is going to die after all -- in about forty minutes now and counting -- one hopes that at least we have carefully thought through all the practical ramifications of this, what it means for us, what it will mean for the Iraqis, whether it's an inadvertent (or, for that matter, deliberate) show of support for one side over another, something that will automatically translate directly into further lives lost, further bloodshed, further unnecessary pain for people who did nothing wrong in the first place, but are simply written off as collateral damage.

One hopes that we took all that into consideration, but I think we know better than that by now. Iraq has long been a place without hope, and executing Hussein is not going to change that one iota.

Mark Bowden's Atlantic piece from 2002 is still probably the most seminal profile to date on Hussein and his regime.

[Update 9:55PM PST: Well, the deed has been done, and good riddance to the rotten bastard. All we can do now is cross our fingers and hope that other wheels aren't set in motion, and that our actions aren't playing into the direct advantage of a single sect or neighboring power.

I think the most bizarre factoid I heard, just a little while ago on MSNBC, was that Bush was asleep when he was given the news. (This AP article affirms it, about halfway through.) That would have been around 9:00 PM Central at the ol' tumbleweed farm. Nothing quite like this has happened since World War 2, I believe, and the fucking guy still hits the hay at nine o'clock sharp (presumably) knowing what's going on. What the hell is wrong with this guy; is he six years old or something? That perfectly exemplifies the utterly incapable, incurious, unconscionable facade of actual leadership that is personified in Oedipus Tex.

And in the end, at least one of Hussein's former associates was able to keep all his houses -- including the one in Santo Domingo.

Note that the crimes for which Saddam Hussein was just executed were committed in 1982, more than a year before this infamous photo was taken. Did Rumsfeld have direct knowledge of the Dujail massacre? Does anyone seriously think it would have mattered?]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Shorter Doughy Pantload

Goldbleg pulls his index finger out of his helpless nostril just long enough to tap out this dribbling jape:

Me: Yes, Americans just love those self-made trial lawyers. As to why Edwards is a moderate, I have no idea.

Because Edwards is a moderate. Only the cultists who swung with the pendulum would figure otherwise. Goldbleg himself seems to think his own brand of pop-culture conservatardism is "moderate". People are frequently like that.

As for trial lawyers, they do actually have to work for a living, stock lawyer jokes aside. If Edwards had been an Enron executive, the Pantload would leap -- well, ooze anyway -- to his defense.

As for one of the poster boys (along with J-Pod) of the adult version of Country Day Prep School talking shit about whether or not someone else is "self-made", aren't you supposed to be working on a book, or did you finally find a low-self-esteem intern to color it for you?

Exercise In Futility

The news of Saddam Hussein's impending (and, I suppose it must be deliberately stated for the morally obtuse of the conservatardosphere, well-deserved) execution seems to be an almost complementary story, in light of the putative discussion of whether or not to "surge". Despite the release of an apparent letter from Hussein imploring Iraqis to let go of their hatred for us and each other, it is assumed that his death will at least be used as a pretext for a spike in violence.

But if the unrelenting and unnecessary carnage in Iraq is but a "comma" in history's grandiose book, then the execution of Hussein will ultimately render as little more than a diacritical mark, an umlaut of tyrannical destiny, if you will (and you probably should). It might even be considered a tad ironic that Hussein, essentially a top dog of internecine clan warfare to assert and retain his position for so long, gets usurped for his bad behavior by another practitioner of family honor, this time Oedipus Tex' swaggering, stuttering code of WASP omerta.

But whatever. Bad fucking guy, no two ways about it, hang 'im high. But then what? Does it resolve even a single one of our bogus operational misconceptions? Does it mitigate any of our precipitous loss of national reputation -- which, like it or not, becomes increasingly important when even a bunch of medieval cave-dwellers have access to sophisticated weapons and training?

No. It means very little as long as self-indulgent bozos keep drawing the wrong lessons from what's happened, and pontificate about it to their short-sighted audiences. The evidence seems quite clear -- just so there is no misunderstanding from certain people who are now claiming that they have been misinterpreted -- that had we concentrated on the job at hand in Afghanistan, worked with what Musharraf is attempting to do single-handedly in Pakistan, and clamped down on the Saudis and their back-door feeding of the monster, that no lives would have been lost in Iraq, and another terrorist attack in the U.S. would have been incredibly unlikely. Instead our famously incurious preznit got his dick caught in the foreign policy zipper, and we are locked into his failed legacy war for another decade. Containment is not a dishonorable thing to strive for; it certainly beats the hell out of dumbly hitting mercury with a hammer.

And of all things, it seems that Jerry Ford might have imparted a potent blow for sanity and probity, from beyond the grave, no less:

In a four-hour tape-recorded interview in July 2004, Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq advocated and carried out by key Bush advisers and veterans of his own administration -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and former U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- reported Woodward.

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said.

"And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

The Bush administration's initial justification for the war was that Iraq posed a threat because it had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. None were found.


Woodward said Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with Cheney and Rumsfeld, while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

"He (Cheney) was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president.

According to the article, Ford said he agreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."

Unfortunately, Cheney's fever was not the sort that could be cured by more cowbell, nor even by Britney Spears' pussy. This is a lifelong subordinate, a hard-wired company man who famously recreates by blowing away large numbers of semi-domesticated birds that are fattened beyond the point of aerodynamic stability. It may sound like a small, distasteful personal tic to some, but it's a pathological trait which heavily informs the operational dynamics of this administration. If Cheney looks at every task and challenge as just another portly game bird to be blown away with a thirty-aught-six, then that would pretty well explain how we got to this point, with so much death and destruction, every bit of it preventable.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Seat Warmer

Gerald Ford, by all accounts, was a personable enough guy. But it's always weird, these pro forma media rituals that automatically issue forth when a famous figurehead dies. And Ford, if nothing else, was perhaps the ultimate figurehead of modern American history, a placeholder who really didn't want the job.

What really rings strange is the squinting effort by the media monkeys to present Ford's pardoning of Nixon as some sort of heroic effort to "heal" the nation, to "bring us together". Well, I suppose a trial might have done the same thing. At the very least, it would have clearly defined those who felt that presidents should uphold the law, and those who feel that the office confers autocratic powers. Nixon henchmen Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld certainly were part of that latter category, and clearly never strayed from their roots.

What the Nixon pardon "brought together" was the clear vision of how the U.S. government views its supposed bosses, the citizens. The cliché is that they regard us as children, and certainly they do. But the practical structure is more like what the management-labor relationship might be at a large manufacturing corporation -- at least, back when we actually used to manufacture things, as opposed to bamboozling each other into spending money we don't really have on shit we don't really want.

So there was no "healing" at all, really, just one guy who had no further ambitions or agenda telling us that this was how it was going to be, and if you had a problem with that, tough shit. But at least we were all on the same page at that point, so in that sense, hey, instant unification. American citizens were all simultaneously notified that we were on a need-to-know basis, and that accountability was only for the little people. There's something to be said for that sort of clarity, provided people understand the ramifications.

(I was only seven years old when Nixon resigned, but I did understand that his name was reviled in my family, and generally prefaced with some colorful variant of "that asshole". But what's so bizarre is that Nixon would have to run as a centrist Democrat these days. That's a sorry testament as to how much the Christofascist/CPAC fruit-loops have not only taken over the Republican Party, but radically shifted the political center. Which has worked out superbly.)

One other thing that will certainly never be mentioned in the spate of masturbatory encomia is Ford's pivotal role in enabling the scumbag thug Suharto to butcher a quarter-million East Timorese. Ford and Kissinger's wink-is-as-good-as-a-nod handling of Indonesia's brutal ambitions was a true low point in Cold War realpolitik, and it's amazing that so much blood could go by and somehow not quite land on the hands of those who allowed it to happen.

But because the media are every bit as calcified as the government talking heads they fawn over, it happens with a lot more regularity than we -- or they -- would ever feel comfortable admitting.

Proxy War

Watching the smaller-scale violence in Somalia brings a sense of perspective to the notion of the war on terror, I suppose. But given the state of utter anarchy in the Horn of Africa, it's been a long time coming. What's becoming more and more clear, through the wonders of hindsight, is that all these dirty little proxy fights during the Cold War, supporting all these abysmal strongmen, had the ancillary effect of tamping down some ugly cultural and sectarian forces.

This is precisely the sort of thing John Robb has analyzed so consistently well, and something that we're simply not prepared to address, either politically or militarily. Low-level conflagrations in little-known or regarded areas, in the aggregate, will continue to disrupt regional infrastructural and financial systems. This particular flare-up is made more dangerous simply by its proximity to the Middle East, but it seems similar to what has been happening in Nigeria for some time -- Islamic courts in the north implementing draconian law and order mechanisms outside of official government purview in Lagos.

It seems that as these events and situations add up, especially in resource areas such as Nigeria, an enterprising unipolar superpower (hyperpower, whatever) could very easily find itself having to constantly put out fires. And constant crisis management, as any small business owner knows all too well, halts expansion and sets you in a pattern of chronic wheel-spinning.

Lots of people (and I am one of them) have postulated scenarios in which an ascendant Asian power bloc, centered around China and/or India, begin challenging U.S. hegemony by as soon as 2020. It would not even have to be in a military sense -- we are so in hock to China right now that a waffling Euro/Russian tilt to the east could tip the financial balance in their favor, perhaps irretrievably, given our overextension almost on the scale of the British Empire.

Third World states devolving into fractious enclaves would also catalyze such a scenario, as America gets caught between trying to get international cooperation to put these regional fires out without losing our own access to the local resources, and overcoming the world's building cynicism about our motives and means. A failed Somalia is bad enough, but something the world has already been witnessing for well over a decade. A failed Iraq is already a likelihood, no matter what we do at this point. The failed-state systempunkt paradigm, in terms of expenditures versus potential returns, is going to be where most of our upcoming problems will arise over the next decade, especially if it starts affecting keystone resource areas such as Nigeria.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nuke Kid On The Block

The prelude to what could end up being the next war commences, with the usual prefatory demurral by John Bolton's point man in State.

The Bush administration said Saturday it hopes the U.N. resolution penalizing Iran for its nuclear enrichment program will clear the way for tougher measures against Tehran by individual countries, particularly Russia.

``We don't think this resolution is enough in itself,'' Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. ``We want the international community to take further action. We're certainly not going to put all our eggs in the U.N. basket.''

Approval of the resolution under a part of the U.N. Charter that makes it binding is ``going to be humiliating for Iran,'' Burns told reporters after the unanimous vote.

Burns said the resolution takes away a main argument against bilateral penalties by individual countries, which have told U.S. officials that they could not do so until the U.N. acted. The administration wants other nations to join the U.S. and stop selling arms to Iran and to limit export credits to Tehran, he said.

``We want to let the Iranians know that there is a big cost to them,'' Burns said, so they will return to talks.

Please. There is no "humiliating" Tehran -- they just had a worldwide conference for Holocaust revisionists. Scarcely a week goes by without Ahmadinejad making the extra effort on some gratuitous Jew-baiting. Shame is not a big motivator here.

But money is, and that's at the heart of the sanctions, and the source of their ineffectiveness. Unless sanctions humiliate Iran's main trading partners -- that is, Russia and China -- it's not going to matter, it'll just be us and the Euros flapping our arms and making strange noises. And since the Europeans are dependent on Russia's energy beneficence, they're going to follow Pooty-Poot's lead in the end.

How's Vlad's soul lookin' these days? Anyone want to ask Alexander Litvinenko about that one?

Indeed, Iran wasted no time at all bringing Israel into this spat, as expected:

Iran denounced U.N. sanctions imposed on its nuclear program Saturday, accusing the Security Council of double standards for ignoring Israel's apparent recent admission of its nuclear capabilities.

Speaking after the Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution, Iran's U.N. ambassador called the sanctions illegal and accused Europe and the United States of trying to prevent Iran from pursuing peaceful nuclear technology.

"A nation is being punished for exercising its inalienable rights," said Javad Zarif, accusing the council of acting at the "behest of a dangerous regime with aggression and war crimes as its signature brand of behavior," referring to Israel.

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared to abandon Israel's long-standing policy of ambiguity on nuclear weapons when he listed Israel among countries that possess them. His office maintains his comments were misinterpreted.

Of course, Zarif's baiting nonsense aside, Israel is not a signatory to the NPT in the first place. Iran is, though of course under the Pahlavi regime, which undoubtedly renders it null and void from the mullahs' POV.

What we need to do is start disentangling the elements of this dispute: Israel; Iran's legitimate energy-trading needs; and Iran's legitimate security requirements. They do have some -- after all, two huge, close neighors have nukes pointed right at each other. A cranky Russian bear looms right over their heads. They rattle at Israel, but really, Israel is the least of Iran's worries, as long as Iran contains its own provocational belligerence.

These are all obviously complicated grudges to extricate from one another diplomatically, and will require patience, knowledge, compromise, and good faith on both sides. So of course it's not going to happen.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Season's Bleatings

Having endured the occasional Peggy Noonan column, I am secure in the assumption that the Wall Street Journal does not pester their writers over such trifles as probity and accuracy in their puling nonsense. I suspect, as Edroso points out, that there are simply only so many remaining broken windows and turnstile jumpers on the culture cop's beat. People have decided that maybe they don't need all the hectoring Footloose laws after all, and that they are even enjoying the sex every now and again, much to the disappointment of the moralizing scolds.

Still, one might at least figure that, talking dolphin tales aside, some grounding in reality is required. Or not.

The best thing about going to church this Christmas is that for at least an hour you won't have to think about religion.

By religion I of course don't mean the spiritual respite one may feel in a house of worship. I mean "religion"--the controversy, the battleground, the fighting word, the bomb-maker's inspiration and the lawsuit. Religion in the modern age.

Let's start with those nice Episcopalians. Last week seven Episcopal parishes in northern Virginia, one of which claims George Washington as a former parishioner, voted to separate from the U.S. Episcopal Church. It was Monday's lead story in the Washington Post. The seven parishes say they've lost patience with the mother church on matters such as homosexuality and the ordination of women. They plan to affiliate with a more traditional Episcopal diocese, in Nigeria.

In September, Pope Benedict elevated the politics of Islam and jihad, or holy war. Religion will be at issue in 2008's presidential politics. Mitt Romney's candidacy, one reads, must overcome the belief among Southern evangelicals that Mormonism isn't a religion. Sen. Sam Brownback, a hero to evangelicals, would build his campaign around the moral status of the culture. Meanwhile, the evangelicals find themselves beset by radical atheism.

It would be helpful if Henninger might bother to unpack some small part of all this, but of course he won't, because he -- and they -- have far too much invested at this point. His first point does not even pass muster as a qualified polemic -- it's just asinine. It requires forgetting, though Henninger himself reminds in the subsequent paragraphs, that the very problem is the sorry conflation of religion and politics. Of course, it has always been thus, since Levantine tribesmen were formalizing the specific by-laws for picking nits off one another's backsides. But we are at least supposed to maintain the pretense here of church and state separation, and that facade has crumbled steadily in the face of winger onslaughts.

Could that be the cause for "radical atheist" blowback? Henninger's unsure, but he's not going to pass judgment on the bizarrely ironic notion of self-righteous Episcopalians, in a notoriously neo-confederate part of the country, overtly aligning themselves with a crazy Nigerian who seriously believes that homosexuals should be thrown in jail.

As for Romney, the poor bastard's going to contort himself inextricably by next summer. All his genuflecting to the extra-chromosomers won't mean a damned thing if there aren't any deeds to back up his words. Mitt is simply too willing to leave folks alone for the wingers' liking, so unless he plans on protesting an abortion clinic and/or sponsoring gay marriage legislation (erm, too late for that last, one supposes), perhaps he can start burnishing his quals for a Giuliani cabinet post (forgetting, of course, the latter's impending clash with the Brownback wing as well). The point is that there's just no pleasing these people, but since Henninger is those people, he's just okey-doke with that. Radical atheists, not so much. Here's one now!

When I asked a young clerk at Borders on lower Broadway if they had Richard Dawkins's best-selling atheist manifesto, "The God Delusion," he replied, "Oh, we'd better: It's a fantastic book!" He swept the quarter-mile across the store to make sure I got it. "Enjoy!" he said sounding, well, triumphal. I laid it against my new copy of "The Catechism of the Catholic Church," felt no electrical current and departed.
For the purpose of a Christmas-weekend meditation on religion's place in the nation's life, the atheist counteroffensive is the most interesting of these concurrent rifts.

The book jacket for "The God Delusion" carries encomiums for Mr. Dawkins's attempt to argue religion out of existence from several men who are scientists or writers on science--Craig Venter (genomics), Steven Pinker (cognitive science) and Desmond Morris (zoology). Secular science has always grumbled about data-deprived religionists, but why have the fallen angels mounted another assault on Heaven? What seems to have made them pop is the movement in some U.S. towns to challenge or replace the teaching of Darwinist evolution. This has been taken by some scientists as a clear and present danger to the idea and practice of science itself.

Um, yes, asshole. What part of teaching thinly-disguised creationist myths in science classes are you having trouble comprehending? Someone had to finally take a stand, because these bozos keep infesting the public school system and bamboozling impressionable kids that one has to do with the other. You want to teach this stuff, start a comparative religion course. Otherwise, bugger off already.

I imagine that the brighter of these planarians might start figuring the problem out when we finally slip behind, say, Tanzania on the science aptitude ranking. As it is, we've only been behind a couple dozen countries for a decade or so. Is it directly because of the "Discovery" "Institute" goofballs and their bankrolled scams? Not completely, but it sure ain't helping.

This rift is unfortunate, because it upsets a useful institutional and historic balance in American life. Religion has been the supplier of virtue necessary to American exceptionalism. The suggestion here is not of an arid moral arrogance (the "absolutism" so feared by critics) but of reaping material and social benefits from shared virtues that have sustained the American enterprise--from its origins 'til now.

Virtues can vary by religion, but in the U.S. religiously originated virtue by and large organizes behavior toward civic good. Critics such as Richard Dawkins argue that utilitarian virtue can occur without religion. In "The God Delusion," Mr. Dawkins offers his own "new" Ten Commandments, such as "Do not discriminate or oppress" and "Value the future on a timescale longer than your own."

The socially formative virtues I have in mind, most of them expressible in a word and widely understood as a matter of tradition, would include: fortitude, prudence, temperance, justice, charity, hope, integrity, loyalty, honor, filial respect, mercy, diligence, generosity and forbearance. There are others. No one possesses them all, but all should possess some. By now the people of the West are agreed that virtue should allow society to progress. Religion's current critics, of course, say its politics are impeding scientific and medical progress, as with stem cells.

If Henninger has a problem with the current tenor of the debate, he would do better to attend to the source, which is the people who cannot seem to leave church business in the church. This is a battle they have pitched, quite deliberately and overtly. They apparently thought that they would be the only ones to get their backs up for their principles; they are now finding out the hard way that not only is that not true, but that many of their own have had enough of this Gladys Kravitz bullshit.

Maybe they are starting to figure out on their own, as adult participants in a free society, that not only are they responsible for their actions and beliefs, but that they are also allowed to choose those things for themselves. They do not need the nannying jerkoffs and their crappy-pizza magnate backers to make those decisions for them and their families. They do not need some closet case preacher to help them find their way. Whether they decide to believe or disbelieve, the decision is theirs to make.

And because organized religion, politically and otherwise, has always been about controlling the lives of others, that is what scares the shit out of them the most -- that people might discover enough common sense on their own to not need the arrogant moral hypocrites at all. That would be something; Henninger coming to his senses would be something else.

[Update 12/28 10:00 AM PST: Seems we have attracted the attention of traditional Anglicans, as the "unhinged rant of the week". I am just hoping to squeak through the playoffs, and hope that my late-season entry keeps memories fresh enough to possibly snag the coveted unhinged rant of the year award. Not sure what the grand prize is, but I'm sure it will be to my rather exacting atheist hedonistic sybarite standards.

More seriously, while I always enjoy the extra traffic, I admit to being a little confounded as to why, if I am so out of my tree in asserting that people and not religious politicians (and make no mistake, people like Peter Akinola and James Dobson and Tom Monaghan are precisely that) should take responsibility for sorting out their own lives, there is no refutation, merely a short, barely contextual excerpt blandly prefaced. Look, whenever politico-religious mouthpieces such as Daniel Henninger disingenuously ignore the origins of the putative atheist blowback, it's almost always deliberate; there's generally a pretty clear agenda at work, no matter how passive-aggressively they try to conceal it. I understand why politically-motivated believers can't leave other people alone; I have no idea why actual people of faith -- any faith -- would have anything to do with such creeps.

The incontestible, irrefutable fact is that Akinola has quite literally endeavored to criminalize homosexuality. This is nothing short of pathological, and I am not even going to pretend to put up with the sheer gall on the part of people who bitch about being persecuted, even as they continue to persecute. Now, if that's "unhinged", then so be it.]

It's A Wonderful Lie

So Mister Man has apparently made his mind up about this "surge" thing -- even though there's been a surge in Baghdad since mid-summer -- and now he's gotten the heretofore recalcitrant generals to back his carefully considered strategery to give it yet another one last shot.

Commanders have been skeptical of the value of increasing troops, and the decision represents a reversal for Casey, the highest-ranking officer in Iraq. Casey and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East who will step down in March, have long resisted adding troops in Iraq, arguing that it could delay the development of Iraqi security forces and increase anger at the United States in the Arab world.

The defense official said commanders had not determined the exact number of extra troops they would request.

Military officers have debated an increase of about 20,000, about five extra combat brigades. But while some officers think five extra brigades will be difficult to muster, others believe more troops will be required.

So what happens if this one last shot doesn't pan out? Well, you fob the blame off on to the nearest sucker, kick the can another Friedman or two, and by then the next wave of douchebags are rearranging the electoral deck chairs, and we start the dance over again. Sound good?

And for the record, these are the folks who will comprise the "surge":

Staff Sgt. Rob Puckett cradled his 6-month-old son, Blake, in the lap of his camouflage pants, lovingly tugged at the baby's tiny fists and cooed. Blake giggled. Puckett's wife, Marcie, 26, and daughter, Emily, 4, cuddled in the shadow of a glittering Christmas tree. Jasmine, the yellow Labrador puppy, flopped on her back on the living room floor, begging to be scratched.

In a few days, Puckett, 31, will throw his duffel bag in the back of Marcie's black Nissan Pathfinder, and she will drive him to the Army base at Fort Stewart, Ga., 10 minutes away. They will exchange teary goodbyes. Then Marcie will head home, and Puckett will go to Iraq for a year.


"What really hurts is not just that we're going," Puckett of Clarksville, Tenn., said as he tickled Blake's chin, triggering a fresh cadence of baby giggles. "It's that we have to be going back so soon."

The war in Iraq, now approaching its fifth year, has put an extraordinary strain on soldiers' families across the nation. But few have felt the burden of separation as profoundly as the Pucketts. The sergeant's unit, the 2-7 Infantry Battalion of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, is scheduled to deploy to Iraq next month for its third grueling combat tour since the war began in 2003. No other Army unit has been deployed to Iraq three times.

So far, 15 of Puckett's comrades have been killed and scores more wounded since the war began, including 41 injured during their 2005 deployment.

But for the soldiers, the war's toll is not limited to deaths and injuries or the incessant stress of fighting against an elusive and increasingly lethal foe. It is in the missed birthdays and anniversaries; in a child's first steps unseen; in marital bonds strained, sometimes to the breaking point.

"I thought it was a test, to see if I could handle a deployment," Christina Teasley, 31, wife of Sgt. 1st Class John Teasley, 33, said of her husband's last tour in Iraq in 2005. "I passed. Now we're doing it again."

While time away from families is nothing new in the Army, said Lt. Col. Douglas Crissman, commander of the 2-7, "you never had 12 months away, and then 12 months at home, and then 12 months away again."

"That changes the equation," said Crissman, 40, of Fairfax, Va., an 18-year Army veteran who took over the battalion in June. "Families are beginning to feel the stress of being in the Army."

What makes the forthcoming deployment harder is the uncertainty surrounding it. The soldiers know they will leave sometime in early January. But they do not know the exact date, and may not know it until a day or two -- or even hours -- before they depart.

"Last time, he came in and said six hours before he flew: 'I leave today,' " said Drema Tisdel, 31, wife of Sgt. Tim Tisdel, 28, from Fresno. "We live from day to day, waiting till they say it's time to go."

Just as unclear is when the soldiers will be coming back. One-year deployments are frequently extended. The 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, which is currently in Anbar province, was ordered to stay 46 extra days to allow the 2-7 and other 3rd Infantry Division units more time to prepare for their third deployment.

It's more than life and limb that is at stake here. It's families, marriages, relationships with children, stability, sanity. All the things we take for granted on a daily basis, getting snatched away on a whim, to save face, so a swaggering wuss and his deferment-seeking henchman can pretend to be tough at election time.

If it even appeared as if there was some sort of coherent plan in place, it would almost make sense. Nobody wants to inculcate a sense of futility by leaving "the job" undone, certainly. And in a more practical, personal sense, what genocidal wolves would the civilians be left to, between the militias and the corrupt police?

But the job is ill-defined; the means of achieving it, infinitely more so. And when even a lifelong company man like Colin Powell finally steps up and talks about structural problems forming in the armed forces, it's just not worth taking the chance anymore. So more people get stuck with yet another tour of duty, because the terminal jerkoff at the top didn;t know what he was getting into, and still has no clue how to get out of it. This is a volunteer army, as is frequently pointed out, but I haven't heard anyone seriously postulate that our service personnel signed up for this, three or more tours of duty refereeing IED warfare while the bozos upstairs try to figure out their cover story.

Thank God we've got our priorities straight. There is a chunk of the economy that does rely on shopping and consumerism (though that is a huge chunk of last-minute money, on what I have no idea), and I think most of us try to keep others in mind during the Christmas season. But more may be ultimately required, as our fatuously dense preznit still does not seem to get that in a democracy, the people at least nominally decide what they want. They have made that decision, and it's looking like they may have to enforce it. Protests aren't just for former soviet satellites. It could be an interesting spring.

In the meantime, have a great Christmas, or Festivus, or whatever you happen to celebrate.

Super Bad

James Brown just died, and even though he's been around forever, I didn't realize he was 73 years old. Considering how hard he supposedly lived for stretches, that's not too bad.

I don't listen to R&B/soul all that much nowadays, but occasionally I'll dig back into the old stuff. And from a pretty young age, there were entire summers where I listened to nothing but James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Al Green, Stevie Wonder. A great many of those songs, even when I haven't heard them in years, can bring back a flood of memories upon listening again. That's a real gift, and a tremendously rare one, and Brown used that gift to influence at least one and probably two generations of performers in several genres.

So throw on Live at the Apollo if you've got it, and give props to Soul Brother Number One.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Very Digby Christmas

Digby kicks ass. Go donate what you can, and spread the word if you can't. 'Nuff said.

Girls Gone Wild

So now Miss Nevada is a rampaging party girl? [link via TBogg] Is there something about beauty pageant contestants that we didn't already kinda assume? It's the silly season, and I will have some more serious posts up over the weekend, but this shit just strikes me as bizarre.

Miss Nevada USA was stripped of her title Thursday after racy photos of her appeared on the Internet, pageant officials said. Some of the photos show Katie Rees, 22, kissing other young women, exposing one of her breasts and pulling down her pants to show her thong underwear at a party in Tampa, Florida.

They're saying this like it's a bad thing....

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Mostly whenever the name Saparmurat Niyazov has come up in American news, it has usually been in the context of what a wacky guy he was. He named the month of January after himself, and the month of April after his mother. He published a book of his "wisdom" and mandated that every Turkmeni read it and internalize it. He put statues of himself everywhere in the country that he could. All very wild and woolly stuff.

Or maybe Niyazov was just crazy like a fox. After all, every nation, no matter how free and democratic, indulges in some degree of myth-making regarding its founders. Even though Western countries have at least managed to keep their myth-building until some respectable amount of time has passed after the leader in question is gone, the retroactive institutionalizations are rife with little white lies and tales designed to subconsciously nudge the unknowing observer in a certain direction.

Niyazov seemed more inclined to model himself after Kemal Ataturk, who inculcated a similarly monomaniacal cult of unifying personality, albeit in perhaps a more benevolent overall direction (unless, of course, you're Kurdish or Armenian). Turkey, for all its manifest faults, is now generally seen as heading in the "right" direction -- that is, stumbling toward modernization and relative political freedom. Niyazov's putative long-term goal was similar, so much so that he initially wanted to call himself "Ataturk" as well, until Turkey threatened to cut off diplomatic relations. So he chose "Turkmenbashi", which means essentially the same thing -- "father of all Turkmen".

"Father of his country". Where have we heard that one before?

Not to even remotely compare Washington with an unrepentant thug such as Niyazov, but both were hard men faced with hard circumstances, that of unifying and aligning fractious, rationally self-interested constituencies. Washington did it right, by building upon an enlightened plurality, educated people from abroad, Scottish Enlightenment principles, and open debate over what values and direction the new nation would encompass. Niyazov took advantage of an illiterate, insular constituency, inured to years of Soviet repression, and built on those ugly principles.

Still, it is a point of interest, if an admittedly esoteric one, that we never explore this supposed human need for external direction and leadership. Perhaps I'm just an anarcho-syndicalist at heart, or maybe I'm just hard-wired to ignore rah-rah rituals such as parades and mindless symbolism. These things appear to me to be matters of degree, if very stark degree in some cases. But the core principles of blind fealty and unquestioned loyalty, even in the face of external evidence to the contrary, seem universal. It's just that many cultures and histories, being more ancient and thus having cross-cutting grudges and enmities, utilize their ritualism for more overt control purposes.

Pound for pound, the real issue of the importance of Niyazov's passing will be almost completely ignored, and that's a shame, because it's a real opportunity to look at a textbook example of the future energy supply issues we face.

Although Turkmenistan this year has sent around 40 bcm through Gazprom's pipelines to Ukraine, the Russian company hopes to raise Turkmen imports to 60-70 bcm in 2007 and 70-80 bcm annually from 2009 to 2028 to shore up its own reserves.

For comparison, in 2005 Germany consumed 86 bcm and the United States 633 bcm.

As well as supplying Ukraine, Turkmenbashi was planning a gas pipeline via Afghanistan and Pakistan to India and another pipeline to China, marrying Beijing's desire to secure energy reserves with the advantage of diversifying away from Europe.

Turkmenistan has 2.9 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, but experts say the true figure may be higher, since information is sketchy and Soviet-era audit methods make comparisons difficult.

Turkmenbashi himself said last month his country had a 7-trillion cubic meter field and told parliament in October that foreign experts had estimated Turkmenistan's total hydrocarbon resources at the equivalent of 45.44 tcm, according to a transcript obtained by Reuters.

Even if those figures turn out to be fantasies, Turkmenistan remains the home of Central Asia's biggest gas reserves and one of the world's biggest gas powers.

The problem is that in Niyazov's monomaniacal drive to consolidate power, he either murdered or chased away many of the most competent people, the sort of people one needs to run a complicated, modernizing energy infrastructure. The power vacuum is very likely to attract Russian and Iranian interest, since Turkmenistan lies sandwiched between the two countries, and of course the U.S. oil company presence in nearby Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan will be sniffing around as well. So it turns into another commercial proxy squabble, this time between pro-U.S. and pro-Russian entities in Turkmenistan. Fun stuff.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tara Conner & Britney Spears To Marry, Have Paris Hilton's Love Child

You never know, it could happen.

The traction this story has gotten is bizarre, and could only have happened thanks to Donald Trump's innate ability to milk a rock for publicity.

Mr Trump summoned Miss Conner to a Manhattan meeting on Tuesday, amid speculation that the beauty queen would be stripped of her title.

Instead Mr Trump declared: "I've always been a believer in second chances."

He said Miss Conner had become caught up in the "whirlwind" of a New York lifestyle, and added that she would not get another chance.

A tearful Miss Conner, her voice breaking with emotion, thanked Mr Trump, saying: "I swear I will not let you down."

Last week Mr Trump was reported to be "seriously studying the situation", after becoming concerned at Miss Conner's personal conduct.

Right. "Seriously studying the situation" [all together now] in his pants.

As for Tara Conner, as a heterosexual male, I'd have to say that now seems like a good time to be a club rat/dj/promo weasel in NYC. As the father of a daughter, obviously I'd be mortified kick her ass. So it goes.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Startin' Up A Rumor

[Warning: NFL post.]

I have to say that, despite the Raiders' increasingly ugly season, I don't think the problem is quarterback Aaron Brooks. At least, he's not a major problem. And he deserves props for finally speaking out about the horrible management situation, and the way his team -- at least on the offensive side -- has completely quit on him.

Standing in the locker room on the team's day off, Brooks vented about problem receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, a problematic offensive line, short-lived pocket schemes and his benching late in Sunday's 20-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Whether the Raiders will bring Brooks back for a second season, he doesn't know. Until Shell's news conference Monday afternoon, Brooks didn't even know who would start Saturday night's home finale against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Two games left, who knows what they're thinking," Brooks said one hour before Shell addressed the media. "You see other issues across the board offensively that make you think, 'What the f -- have I got into? It's been tough. A lot of the time, I've been biting that fist of mine."


"When I got here, it was uproar from the jump," Brooks said. "There was controversy with Porter like, 'Mother f -- this coach and that coach.' What's going on? I'm just trying to feel everybody out, and that stuff happens.


Brooks also discussed poor pass protection that has surrendered 66 sacks. He has mobility to escape the pocket, but said that's difficult to do with the three-step drops added by new offensive coordinator John Shoop.

"With the inconsistency of the line, you never know what type of day it's going to be," Brooks said. "You hope and pray to God it's going to be a nice, clean day, but you know it doesn't happen like that so I have to be prepared to use all of my athletic ability."

As impolitic as it may be of Brooks to call out his own o-line, he's absolutely right, and about goddamned time someone said so. This is one of the most miserable groups of linemen I've ever seen at any level, in 30 years of watching football. Stupid penalties, false starts and bobbled snaps up the wazoo, piss-poor blocking -- it's fucking pathetic. They have clearly given up, on themselves, their teammates, the fans who pay a lot of hard-earned money to watch the retard ballet on the field. It's not that they're losing, it's that they're not even pretending to try. Even the defense is giving up, handing out career days to mediocre running backs. It's hard to blame them when their counterparts on the offense, apart from a few bright spots such as Ron Curry, are so incredibly inept and disjointed at even the simplest of things.

So here's the setup for the rumor I'm gonna start -- Moss is definitely gone, and if they can't get fair market value for Porter, Al Davis will pull a Marcus Allen on him and bench him out of sheer spite. That much is commonly assumed. They will have to take serious measures to repair the o-line. And Brooks wouldn't be talking like he is if he didn't want out, and the team can't justify dropping $5 mil on him next year when he doesn't have the numbers to show for it. So he'll probably be dealt, and backup Andrew Walter is not the answer until the line problems are addressed.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Falcons QB Mike Vick and coach Jim Mora will both probably be out at the end of the season. Vick is tired of the fans there, the team has chronic problems at receiver, and they have one of the league's best backups in Matt Schaub. They could afford to lose Vick, if an opportunity to bolster their receiver corps comes up.

Which is where Moss comes in. Between his attitude and his injuries, his market value is much less than what it was when he first arrived at Oakland. He needs a fresh start, and where better than a team that is also about to embark on a new start, with a pass-oriented offensive scheme that could use a veteran WR to mentor the others? So what about a trade straight across, Moss for Vick?

I'm not saying such a move would automatically work for either team, especially the Raiders, given their intractable organizational problems. They are simply never going to get any better until Al Davis lets people do their jobs, and pays his coaches what they're worth. Seriously, the team should be a textbook case in management theory, it's almost comically bad. But maybe swapping underperforming malcontents would give the teams a much-needed shot in the arm. Use that #1 or #2 draft pick on USC WR Dwayne Jarrett, get some decent linemen in the draft and free agency, and they couldn't possibly do any worse than they have been.

As for Brooks? He really seems like one of the good guys, and he's been unjustly maligned in all this. It's not his fault that the playbook is outdated and static, and the line execution has only been consistent in its sheer awfulness. He got a bum deal.

But anywhere he ends up, it'll be better than where he's at right now. Except maybe Detroit.


This fun little nugget (link via TPM) is a precursor of things to come after Mister Man is through kicking the can to the next White House occupant.

The likelihood that the George W. Bush presidential library will be located at SMU has not been welcome news for at least one segment of the university community. A letter, dated December 16, from "Faculty, Administrators, & Staff" of the Perkins School of Theology to R. Gerald Turner, president of the Board of Trustees, is now circulating not only on the SMU campus but also among a wider academic community, urging the board to "reconsider and to rescind SMU's pursuit of the presidential library."


In addition to opposing Bush's policies, the letter writers raise their voices against the purported mission of the library itself. Their concerns are based on a New York Daily News story of November 27, which describes the future library as a $500 million center (the costliest presidential library ever), the purpose of which would be "to spread the gospel of a presidency that for now gets poor marks from many scholars and a majority of Americans."

The letter to Turner makes the point that there are "two fundamentally different visions of the Library": a neutral space for unbiased academic research conducted by scholars, or a conservative think tank and policy institute that engages in legacy polishing and grooms young conservatives for public office.

That's actually news to me; I was not aware that there was any vision competing with the latter assumption, that it would be designed to function essentially as a half-billion dollar handjob of the Worst Preznit Ever. It would take about that much to render his pony stable remotely palatable.

Forget supporting; if there is any serious non-hack academic research that just doesn't flat-out condemn these guys, I'd be astonished. There literally isn't anyone left besides Richard Cougar Melloncamp Scaife's bevy of cabana boys, and the closet-case evangelicals who want to snort crank off their tumescent cocks. That may qualify as "academic" the way Bob Jones University is a "university", but among reasonable folk, not so much.

But hey. If a bunch of Junior's mendicant donors and glad-handing douchebags want to drop that kind of coin into a low-attendance outhouse for the hard of thinkin', let 'em.

If I Was Going To Jew-Bait, Here's How I'd Do It

Former publishing drama queen and future shopping-cart inhabitant Judith Regan, not content with pissing off every American simultaneously with her monstrous notion of pimping an O.J. Simpson cock-tease, decides to narrow her sights and do a little niche lunacy.

In an explosive telephone argument that led to her firing, publisher Judith Regan allegedly complained of a "Jewish cabal" against her in the book industry and stated that Jews "should know about ganging up, finding common enemies and telling the big lie."

A spokesman for Regan's former employer, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., told The Associated Press on Monday that the remarks were made during a conversation between Regan and HarperCollins attorney Mark Jackson, who took notes. At the time, the two were discussing the future of a controversial new novel about baseball star Mickey Mantle.


Butcher said that Regan and Jackson were discussing an upcoming Regan book, Peter Golenbock's "7: The Mickey Mantle Novel," in which the author, imagining he is Mantle, confesses in detail to a life of sexual exploits, including a tryst with Marilyn Monroe.

With Mantle's family and fans of the former Yankee enraged, Regan and Jackson of HarperCollins were discussing the timing and content of the book, according to Butcher. Regan became enraged by what she believed was HarperCollins' lack of support, and lashed out.

She complained that Jackson, HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, HarperCollins Executive Editor David Hirshey and longtime literary agent Esther Newberg were a "Jewish cabal," Butcher said.

She pleaded with Jackson: "Of all people, Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies and telling the big lie."

It's bad enough that she sounds like she's auditioning to be the next Mrs. Mel Gibson -- and presumably sober, at that -- but her stupid phrasing doesn't even make sense. What "big lie" are they telling, these HarperCollins people who are squashing the Mantle book? That it sucks? That no one will buy it and everyone will hate it? That Regan has pissed away whatever cachet her tiresome persona of shameless provocateur still held? That when Adam Smith upheld the virtues of capitalism, he has no idea that it would ultimately translate into some good-time girl for a mobbed-up mayoral crony trying to pass herself off as a semi-respectable publisher, peddling tell-alls from murderers and novels speculating that Mickey Mantle fucked his teammate's wife?

I'd like to say "stick a fork in her, she's done", but I'm sure they'll find a spot for her at Regnery or some such. Maybe she can help Goldbleg finish up his long-awaited Hitlery opus, and they can tour with Simpson, if he's not too busy searching for the real killers at the 14th hole.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Army Of Clod

Seems that '08 winger candidate Sam Brownback has an interesting (brown)backer.

The passions of Tom Monaghan: Pizza. God. Sam Brownback.

The Domino's pizza founder, one of the nation's richest and most controversial Roman Catholic philanthropists, is putting his money and influence into making Brownback, the Republican Kansas senator, the next president of the United States.

The former pizza magnate is advising the 2008 presidential exploratory committee for Brownback, a longtime social conservative who converted to Catholicism a few years ago. Monaghan, who declined an interview request, is expected to play a lead role in "Catholics for Brownback."

More important, his support is likely to be a big help to Brownback's fundraising, which is currently regarded as the weakest part of Brownback's candidacy.

"He brings to the table recognition in the Catholic community," said Marlene Elwell, a Michigan political activist who used to work for Monaghan. "It's always positive to have a leader in a community endorse you."

It's further proof that the universe is insane and ultimately entropic -- a guy makes an immense fortune peddling crappy pizza, and then uses that fortune to push his pet fascist causes in various ways. Political influence is just one of those ways.

But the extent of Monaghan's religious fervor could raise eyebrows among more secular voters.

"In the Catholic community, he's looked upon as kind of on the fringes," said the Rev. Robert Drinan, a liberal Roman Catholic priest and former Democratic congressman who teaches at Georgetown University. "The worldview is, 'We have to get back to a Catholic civilization'. They want to go back to a Christian society imposed from above. ... It's just another world they want to build."

Literally. Monaghan, who sold Domino's for nearly $1 billion in 1998, has spent a chunk of his fortune developing his own utopia on 5,000 acres in southwest Florida: Ave Maria, a planned community of 11,000 homes, built around a massive church and a doctrinaire Catholic university also called Ave Maria.

It bothers some involved in Catholic education that Monaghan and school leaders declared Ave Maria University necessary because many of the nation's 200-plus other Catholic colleges and universities strayed from church teachings.

"There is certainly a degree of presumption, even hubris, in marketing institutions of this type on the premise that all the other schools are failing to educate Catholics effectively," said Richard Yanikoski, the president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Even before his work in Florida, Monaghan was a lightning rod. Domino's was intermittently boycotted in the 1980s because of Monaghan's anti-abortion activism.

Monaghan has never before been a major player on a presidential campaign. Several people familiar with Monaghan and his work said they were surprised to see him involved.

In a rare interview, Monaghan told Newsweek earlier this year that "I believe all of history is just one big battle between good and evil. I don't want to be on the sidelines."

This is a guy who is too Catholic even for most Catholics. His weird little Florida dystopia has a host of tight strictures; the community owns all the land and the houses, and thus retains the "right" to push around anyone dumb enough to want to live under this guy's thumb. Every business that comes into town will have to abide by Monaghan's imposed moral code, which means no birth control sold at pharmacies, certain channels not allowed on cable or satellite systems -- real control-freak shit.

Tom Monaghan, if he had his way, would impose these views on the entire nation. He hopes to do so with Brownback. Now, you can look at this and say, "Well, Brownback has no chance, so let Monaghan waste his money." That might be true, but a lot can change in a year or so. In 1998, people laughed at the idea of a lunkhead Texas goober, whose only talent was being the wastrel son of a one-term president, running for the nation's high office in 2000.

Brownback is positioning himself to be the mouthpiece for a lot of aggrieved busybody christofascists, who do their damndest to live down to Mencken's old saw that a puritan is someone who is mortally terrified at the thought that somewhere out there, someone might be having fun. They've always been leery of Saint John McCain, and they'll never vote for a hedonistic sybarite like Rudy Giuliani. There are mild signs that some of these mega-congregationalists, humbled somewhat of late by their gay dope-fiend preachers coming out of the closet, but they live to moralize, and all they're waiting for is for someone to speak to that base tendency for them.

That someone is Sam Brownback, and he's being bankrolled by a loony billionaire. Some system, eh?

It's been a while since I've taken a serious poke at the God Squad, but I never understand their ability to believe that they are the ones being persecuted, when in fact it is they that have sustained a de facto tyranny of the majority for so long. Now that they're organized and mobilized, they are even more insufferable, and more aggressive than ever in their recruitment and money-raising tactics.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon's inspector general is looking into a promotional video that shows generals in uniform endorsing a Christian group that caters to political and military leaders, a spokesman said.

A watchdog group asked for a formal investigation into circumstances surrounding the video promoting the Christian Embassy, saying the role played by seven army and air force general violated military regulations.

"High level army and air force officials appearing in uniform, in the Pentagon touting the Christian embassy implies a government endorsement of the organization and its sectarian religious mission," the Military Religious Freedom Foundation wrote in demanding the investigation.

Nice, huh? These guys have their own little inside club. They harass Jews at the Air Force Academy, they go on public speaking tours in uniform and spray the crowd with their "my god can beat up their god" idiocy, they go to teen religious revivals in stadiums in full gear and exhort the kids to be warriors for Christ.

On the good foot, they're not burying gays up to their waists and stoning them to death, nor are they organizing death squads to ferret out Episcopalians and Presbyterians and other heretical sects. Awful large of them to exercise restraint. But they are abusing their appointed authority, and they need to be called on it.

The Christian Embassy describes itself on its website as a "non-political, multi-denominational ministry that has been caring for, encouraging and equipping our country's leaders and decision-makers for nearly 30 years."

Among other things, the group says it conducts weekly prayer breakfasts in the Pentagon's executive dinning room.

In the video, which was made in 2005, generals and senior Pentagon civilian officials give on camera testimonials praising the Christian Embassy.

Unidentified military personnel are shown in Bible study sessions and parts of the video were filmed at the Pentagon.

Major General Jack Catton says on camera that as a director of the Joint Staff he tells those he meets "I'm an old fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family, then my country."

"I would say Christian Embassy, in my interaction with other flag officers, has helped inspire some of that, you know, we talk about that kind of stuff, and I think it's a huge impact because you have many men and women who are seeking God's counsel and wisdom as we advise the chairman and the secretary of defense. Hallelujah," he said.

Rules prohibit military personnel from wearing their uniform when making public speeches unless they have been authorized. They also are required to include disclaimers in unofficial writings or speeches stating that the views expressed are their own and do not reflect those of the government.

I think these people need to be explicitly asked why church is not enough for them, why they have to organize and proselytize at their jobs. That is bullshit; if they tried that at a private sector job they'd be out on their asses in a heartbeat.

Tom Monaghan is not a philanthropist so much as a control freak; General Catton is a character out of Seven Days In May practically. Neither of them should be treated with kid gloves, and both should be explicitly asked exactly why it is that they can't just live their lives, and let everyone else live their own lives, and let this God that they can't stop talking about sort it all out for Himself.

This nagging, bullying crap is exactly what they whinge about when they grind their "nanny state" axe. This is no different.

Colin Blow

Thus spake Powellathustra on the pending "surge":

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," Powell seemed to draw as much from his 35-year Army career, including four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as from his more recent and difficult tenure as Bush's chief diplomat.

The summer surge of U.S. troops to try to stabilize Baghdad failed, he said, and any new attempt is unlikely to succeed. "If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question ... is what mission is it these troops are supposed to accomplish? ... Is it something that is really accomplishable? ... Do we have enough troops to accomplish it?"

Although he said he agrees with Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, that there should be an increase in U.S. advisers to the Iraqi military, he said that "sooner or later, you have to begin the baton pass, passing it off to the Iraqis for their security and to begin the drawdown of U.S. forces. I think that's got to happen sometime before the middle of next year."

Before any decision to increase troops, he said, "I'd want to have a clear understanding of what it is they're going for, how long they're going for. And let's be clear about something else. ... There really are no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there, there longer and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops."

He added: "That's how you surge. And that surge cannot be sustained."

The "active Army is about broken," Powell said. Even beyond Iraq, the Army and Marines have to "grow in size, in my military judgment," he said, adding that Congress must provide significant additional funding to sustain them.

I think it's terrific that General Powell is speaking his mind. I just wish he had done so in, oh, late '02-early '03. That would have been infinitely more helpful.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Stir Crazy

I suppose Corner denizen Andy McCarthy deserves some small amount of credit for at least taking pains to not impugn the patriotism or integrity of others. But these people persist in reaching some damned peculiar conclusions.

Many (but by no means all) of these people, also believe a major problem we face is Islam itself – i.e., that in its most authentic and dynamic form, it is fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-West, and anti-Semitic.

Consequently, these folks collectively believe that the imperatives the Bush administration has made of supporting the Maliki government and democratizing the greater Muslim world – Iraq being a test-case thereof – are unwise. They see popular elections (which the administration tries to sell as democratic elections) raising Islamists to power, they see Maliki supporting Hezbollah and making nice with Ahmadinejad, and they say: Why the hell are we putting our best and bravest in harm’s way for this?

Perceiving a lack of will to win that greater war, this camp says the smaller goals the administration has settled on in Iraq, and its dream of a democratic Middle East, are not important enough to U.S. national security to continue putting our troops in harm’s way.

These people now inflate the media’s count of those who oppose both the war and the president. But, in principle, they are not opposed to the “war on terror” properly understood, and their opposition to President Bush involves how the war is being prosecuted … not the decision to fight it in the first place. I think we are foolish if we don’t acknowledge these folks and listen to what they are saying. I think it’s particularly offensive to lump them in with the cut-n-run crowd. That’s not where they’re coming from.

This is a rather unhealthy conflation of several pernicious memes which plague the holdouts climbing the walls in their intellectual redoubts, not the least of which is that this administration is even capable of achieving the lofty idealistic goals the neocons have set. No Middle Eastern country is going to "democratize" in the near future, not to any level that would make any of this worthwhile. Period.

And they know it. They can point to Lebanon and Egypt all they like, but Egypt is not a democracy, and the Lebanese used their votes on what we officially view a terrorist group. So even the successes are failures, and there is no reason to believe that the acknowledged failures will turn around any time soon.

Even his attempt to differentiate these noble dissenters in the American political body from the "cut-n-run crowd" is clumsy. Who comprises that "crowd", and what are their precise opinions on this issue? Is McCarthy referring to the sizable number of people who were correct about this fiasco back in '02, who did the things that peaceable dissenters do in civilized societies, and were summarily shouted down by knuckleheads such as McCarthy and his colleagues? Has there ever been so much as a half-hearted apology from these tools for sliming everyone in their way with the effeminized epithets and cheap shots they traffic in?

They are engaging in rhetorical spelunking here, searching blindly for a palatable way to present the troop "surge" that will be the keystone of their New And Improved Super-Maximum Pony Plan. You can smell the desperation, the impending futility on their part. They have no plan; they have no timeline. They have no strategery.

They just know that they mustn't give up, because their Manichean world-view holds no other options. They are counting on Junior to have privileged information at hand that will confound the experts; what they forget is that even if he does possess such information, he has demonstrated consistently that he simply doesn't have the knowledge to process that info. This is an important distinction that has eluded them from day one.

So the "we need to listen to these folks and not lump 'em in with the traitors" schtick doesn't wash. It's a dodge. The numbers have incremented steadily, inexorably. If they were ever planning on "listening", they would have done so before this late date. They don't plan on "listening" -- they're trying to figure out a way to placate an increasingly angry center.

This sounds like it might be some sort of back-of-the-napkin preamble to what might anchor the few diplomatic sections of Maximum Pony Plan:

On Iran and Syria, I believe it should be the unmistakable, unambiguous, proudly stated policy of the United States that we favor regime change. We want Syria out of Lebanon – not just in form but in substance. We want the Iranian regime out, period. It is ridiculous after all this time that we do not have a settled Iranian policy.

Do we need militarily to invade these places? I don’t think so. But we need to make them know they are the enemy, that we see them that way, that we are committed to having them out, that we support their opposition, and that we will slap them around when they act against us. We need to make them understand that we are not going to be hamstrung by the Security Council when our national interests are at stake.

I mentioned a few days ago that Arthur Herman has a very interesting article in Commentary about how to deal with Iran – basically, don’t worry so much about the nukes; rather, deal with the regime and the conventional threat. I don’t feel competent enough in military affairs to say this is the way to go, but I sure think it’s worth considering. In any event, I think U.S. policy has to be reformulated around the principle that these guys are our enemies … not regimes we respect and are hoping, diplomatically, to bring around.

This is ludicrous. Is there something that makes McCarthy think that we haven't made those things quite clear to Iran and Syria? Are they supposedly under some bizarre misapprehension that we're not hostile to their governments?

These people haven't learned anything. Lesson #1 from Iraq should be that sometimes strongmen, as abominable as they are, are keeping a tight lid on some very dangerous internecine squabbles. Going in with no discernible idea whatsoever of how to control those things once the iron fist is removed is what got us into this mess.

And now they want to apply this ineptitude to two more countries -- even as Afghanistan is also steadily unraveling from underneath us -- because spending $250 million a day just isn't enough apparently. Okay, smart guys -- who replaces Bashar Assad, who by all accounts is pretty benign as despots go? What "democratic" leader do we install in Iran, a huge country with difficult terrain and 70 million people, most of them young?

I mean, I guess I can accept that they think that they mean well when they spout this confrontational puffery, but any sensible person should recognize it for the strutting nonsense it is. We are in no position to carry out a large-scale operation and occupation of Damascus, let alone all of Syria -- let alone Iran. You gonna tell a squad leader in the 3ID, on his fifth tour as it is, that he and his company get to go straight to Damascus because the 82nd Chairborne deeems it crucial, and we'll figure out the rest of the master plan once you're there? That's nuts. It's done. The only way the ops theater expands is with airstrikes, which would finalize our growing reputation as a rogue state, irresponsibly incurring thousands of civilian casualties in an insane "preventive" war.

The rest of the world -- including our heretofore beneficent friends at the East Asian central banks -- is watching and waiting to see what we do. The first thing should be to stop listening to these goofballs. No matter how seriously and soberly they present their manifesto, the inescapable conclusion is that they have no idea how to make it happen, nor any contingency plan when it fails. In any real-world occupation, that would be grounds for dismissal, if not charges of criminal negligence and depraved indifference.