Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Support Release of Fahrenheit 911

A right-wingnut site called Move America Forward is asking its readers to call on the movie chains that plan to show Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 and complain. They have posted a page with contact information for executives for the major movie houses for that purpose.

I propose that we subvert their own resources: Please go to this page and pick one, two or all of the contacts listed there and e-mail them with support for their decision to screen this film.

Mention the First Amendment. Mention a couple of groups known for wanting to suppress dissenting views; Communists, Fascists, Dictators of all stripes. Throw in a few of your own. Then mention the fact that you can influence a group of people not to patronize their businesses; how many people read your blog? how many people do you speak to daily? Let them know there are consequences for backing down from these fascist tactics. Be polite, don't use any profanity. But be firm in your conviction.

Go. And please, pass this around - post it on your blog.

Bush's Tax Cuts Are Working!

Well, that is if you have over $1 million in assets (not including your house). In an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription), they state that the number of millionaires in the US jumped by over 17% in 2003.

However, even the WSJ sees problems:

...the gap between the very rich and the rest of the population probably won't close -- and could widen in coming years. While the ultra-wealthy are prospering, average real wages in the U.S. haven't kept pace. Real estate, which makes up a far bigger share of wealth for middle-class households, could take a hit with rising interest rates. President Bush's tax-cut programs disproportionately benefit those at the top of the wealth pyramid.
BushCo.: Taking care of those who take care of them. Screw everyone else.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Traitors?

What kind of simpering, liberal, soft-on-terrorism, America haters want to oust Bush in November?

Members of the group -- a mix of Republicans and Democrats -- have served in capitals from Moscow to Tel Aviv and Lima to Kinshasa. The list includes a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former head of U.S. Central Command, a former CIA director and a decorated array of former ambassadors and assistant secretaries of state and defense.

[snip]

The group calls itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change.
Read the article - and the list of names and their former posts. This is going to be very damaging. Very damaging.

Cheney Caught in KBR Lie?

From today's Wall Street Journal (subscription):

Mr. Cheney has repeatedly denied any involvement in the choice of Halliburton, where he served as chief executive from 1995 until 2000, when he joined the Bush campaign. Kevin Kellems, Mr. Cheney's spokesman, said the office stood by its previous statements, and accused Mr. Waxman of trying to score political points. Various administration officials have said that the decision to pick Halliburton was made entirely by contracting officials within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

[snip]

But in a June 8 briefing to Mr. Waxman's staff, Pentagon official Michael Mobbs said it was an energy task force he headed within the U.S. Defense Department that decided to give the work to Halliburton without competition. The decision was then put before a high-level meeting of officials in the Bush administration that included Mr. [Scooter] Libby. Mr. Mobbs said none of the officials present at the meeting objected to the approach, according to the Waxman letter.

Mr. Waxman, the ranking minority member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Government Affairs Committee, also asked Mr. Cheney to clarify a March 2003 e-mail sent by an official at the Army Corps that indicates the Halliburton contract had been "coordinated" with the vice president's office. In the letter, Mr. Waxman asked Mr. Cheney to turn over any records on meetings or discussions his office may have had related to Halliburton's work in Iraq.
This is not the only "irregularity" in which KBR and the VP appear to be involved.

To quote Josh Marshall on another subject: "Always the VP, always the VP."

What Goes Around, Comes Around

How many bloggers - especially those of us on the left - predicted that BushCo.'s breaches of the Geneva Conventions and the Conventions on Torture would turn around and bite our soldiers and citizens on the ass? We didn't have to wait too long.

Like all of his past screw-ups, though, Bush never has to suffer the consequences. It's left for someone else. This time it's Paul M. Johnson Jr.

The kidnappers' statement threatened Mr. Johnson with violence like that suffered by Iraqi prisoners held by the American military at Abu Ghraib prison. It referred to him as a Christian "parasite," using an obscure Arabic word made popular by the former spokesman for Saddam Hussein's government.
Who will it be next?

The Gipper from the Grave: "Mr. Bush, Tear Down That Wall!"

From late Friday night on Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo comes word (via The National Catholic Reporter)that our very own George "Holier Than Thou" Bush is continuing his work to tear down the wall separating church and state. Not satisfied with "faith based charities" and stirring up the racist and homophobic fears of his conservative, born-again base, Bush has enlisted the Pope in his re-election campaign. From Friday's NYT:

In a column posted Friday evening on the paper's Web site, John L. Allen Jr., its correspondent in Rome and the dean of Vatican journalists, wrote that Mr. Bush had made the request in a June 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state. Citing an unnamed Vatican official, Mr. Allen wrote: "Bush said, 'Not all the American bishops are with me' on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism."

Mr. Allen wrote that others in the meeting confirmed that the president had pledged aggressive efforts "on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican's help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken." Cardinal Sodano did not respond, Mr. Allen reported, citing the same unnamed people.
If the Federal Election Commission had the gonads to enforce election laws, the Catholic church would be on the precipice of losing its tax exempt status in the US. If Bush had the intelligence to read the Constitution (and SCOTUS Case Law) he'd know he was treading on very dangerous ground. If Congress had anyone to truly lead they would impeach Bush tomorrow.

If pigs had wings...

Friday, June 11, 2004

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

It's off to Canada we go...


We're off to The Great White North for the weekend, eh. I'll be away from any real computer access - my wife's parents do have a computer, way up there in Moose Jaw; but it's very old, very slow and only has dial-up access through a couple of beer cans on a string. So no blogging until Sunday evening at the earliest, hosers.

Anyway, I have a great weekend, eh. If you stop by, leave a comment so the old blog doesn't get lonely - oh, and have a beer, eh!

More Trouble for Cheney?

The lead in this story from the NYT:

The Securities and Exchange Commission is formally investigating allegations that a Halliburton Co. subsidiary was involved in paying $180 million in bribes to get a natural gas project contract in Nigeria. Vice President Dick Cheney was head of the oil services conglomerate at the time.
Looks like BushCo's own Tricky Dick might be a little busy, what with investigations inside and outside of his government job...

Wall Street Journal Splitting Hairs

While the main sections of the Wall Street Journal continue to set the standard for reporting on many issues, the Editorial and Opinion pages continue to sink further into desperation in defense of BushCo. Consider this morning's unsigned editorial (subscription) about the recent leaking of administration memoranda on torture.

They could start by noting that no one has come up with a single instance of torture by American soldiers or with any policy directive advocating its use. The Abu Ghraib abuses were disgusting and are being duly punished, but the court martial charges do not include any incidents of torture.
Sometimes court cases go to trial where someone clearly murdered another person, but the prosecution doesn't think they can convict or they want to use the threat of a capital crime to get the accused to turn state's witness. That doesn't mean a murder hasn't occurred. So it is possible, in this case, that prosecutors are using these first trials to shake loose someone really responsible for what went on. The request by the major general (two stars) currently running the investigation that he be replace by someone with enough rank to question people much higher in the chain of command certainly hints at such a potential.

Consider, too the legalistic head-fake Ashcroft pulled when directly questioned about whether anyone in the administration authorized the use of torture, or interrogation methods that could be construed as torture: "This Administration rejects torture."

It makes me want to scream: "Just answer the goddamn question!"

Further hair splitting:

The latest hubbub concerns a December 2002 list of interrogation techniques approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and similar to those used at Abu Ghraib. They include forcing prisoners to stand for a maximum of four hours, the use of hoods, and quizzing them in 20-hour stretches. These "stress positions," as they're called, aren't torture either.
And finally, a little moral equivalism from our Rethug friends? Hard to believe, I know, but:

The subject of Wednesday's Senate hearing was the "torture" memos produced by the Justice Department early in 2002 and used as the basis for a Defense Department report a year later. The government hasn't released these private communications, but they have been leaking out in dribs and drabs in a kind of Beltway political torture.
The WSJ claims that these memos weren't policy, but were explorations of the legal landscape to be trod by the president. BULLSHIT. Lawyers do not spend their high-priced hours writing these things for no reason. Somebody in the administration wanted to know what they could get away with. They asked. The lawyers wrote the memos.

The Next World War?

I've been thinking about oil lately.

The price per barrel is approaching record highs when adjusted for inflation, but it's not the price that has me thinking. Most OPEC countries, save Saudi Arabia, are pumping near their capacity and it takes several years to build additional capacity and all the infrastructure that supports that capacity. Large oil companies - most infamously Shell - have "re-structured" their reserves or outright reduced the amount of oil they claim in known reserves. South East and Pacific-Rim nations, most especially China, have economies and populations that are expanding at unsustainable rates. And with growing economies and growing populations come rising demand for energy. The primary oil supplying region of the world is in perpetual turmoil.

So what happens when demand, whether temporary or permanently, outstrips supply? Of course prices go up. Way up. And demand will temporarily ease. But growing third-world populations will not stand by while their standards of living stagnate and that of the first-world continues to absorb resources at prodigious rates. The Chinese will not be denied their cars and their motorcylces and their washers and dryers and their internet connected refrigerators. Nor will the Indians, Pakistanis or Indonesians.

At what point will some leader emerge in what country and claim the need for - not leibensraum - but oil? And what will they do?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Farewell, Hesiod

Counterspin Central is no more.

Hesiod is one of the reasons I started blogging. And now he's gone. Go say farewell before his blog goes down.

If Only...

If you haven't seen the Quicktime movie "Bush for Peace," you really should. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wonder who let go of the puppet's strings...

" A Little Torture..."

It is commonly said that we are a nation of laws, not men. And we are. But beyond the laws, we are also a nation of men and women with a common ethic. Some things are not American. Torture, for damned sure, is one of them.
Richard Cohen, in an opinion piece in today's Washington Post. He is dead on. Go read the rest.

Stealth Outsourcing

Hemmed in by labor contracts with United Auto Workers and perhaps sensing the public's distaste for outsourcing and the attendant bad publicity, the Big Three Automakers have hit upon a new strategy. Force their suppliers to outsource. The automakers bring prices they can get in China to their suppliers and use those as the benchmark. They threaten their domestic suppliers with going directly to the Chinese if they can't meet the price. Of course the differences are so great that the only way the suppliers can meet the price and keep the business is to move their own manufacturing to China or buy subcomponents there. From this morning's WSJ (subscription):

Both GM and Ford acknowledge that Chinese auto-parts suppliers now serve as global "benchmark" prices for quality and price on certain components, such as electric-wire cables, radios, speakers, small motors, and even brakes, suspensions and aluminum wheels. The prices reflect China's average wage costs of 90 cents an hour, compared with $22.50 in the U.S., according to Roland Berger Strategy Consultants of Munich, Germany.

"It's Economics 101, Adam Smith," Ford President Nick Scheele says in an interview. "It's the law of comparative advantage." He says the benchmark component prices Ford is asking suppliers to match these days represent "optimal" prices, and can come from anywhere in the world, including China.
You read that correctly; 90 cents and hour. You can be sure that wage does not include any kind of retirement plan or health plan. Rest assured, too that no pesky environmental laws restrain the pollution of the communities where these parts are made and no OSHA rules get in the way of keeping Chinese workers in high-pressure, long-hour, dangerous working conditions.

The results of the pressures on the parts and accessories supply industry is devastating. Think about the following numbers, then think about other industries doing similar things. Then think about the people behind those numbers. The next statistic could be you.

According to a recent study of parts suppliers by Roland Berger, 133,000 jobs, or 16% of the labor pool, in the American parts industry have disappeared over the past four years as parts suppliers cut costs by improving productivity or shifting jobs to lower-cost countries such as China and Mexico. By 2010, the same study predicts a further 127,000 jobs, or 18% of the 707,000 remaining, will disappear or move overseas, says Andreas Mai, the author of the Roland Berger study.

Call on the Hot Line, Mr. President

Barbara Brugger, from comments at Respectful of Otters, said she wished she knew a T-shirt artist to make up a shirt with one of those "While you were out" memoes. I'd tell you what she wanted to say on that T-shirt, but instead, I whipped up the graphic she wanted. And I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Thank You!

Sometime this morning, The Fulcrum Site Meter officially went over the 10,000 visitor mark since mid-November of last year. Thank you to each and every person who has come by and especially to those of you who have left comments. I've used your comments to improve my writing and the blog itself. Each of your blogs, each of your comments has also taught me a lot about keeping such a site and about writing. I hope that I've managed to live up to the wonderful examples that so many of you have set.

Thank you, all. I look forward to reaching the 20K benchmark!

Extraconstitutional Excrement

What could possibly excuse the moral bankruptcy of this administration?

They started a war on false pretenses - all the pretenses they spun out were false. They alienated our country from our traditional allies. They failed to provide enough men or protective materiel to prosecute the war and its followup. They failed to sufficiently plan for the nation building that must follow a war. They failed to maintain a command climate that would discourage acts that violate several conventions on the treatment of prisoners.

What could be worse?

How about having White House lawyers draw up memoranda claiming that the President of the United States is not bound by the laws and treaties that apply to everyone else in the country. No such privilege can exist in a true democratic nation of laws. Bush feels he is above the law - in fact he had his lackeys draw up documents to claim exactly that.

What's next? Perhaps the "October Surprise" that so many on the left expect this year will be a coronation.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Bush; Setting Aside Laws and Torture

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal (via Josh Marshall) we learn that White House counsel advised that prisoners and detainees in the Middle East could be treated more harshly than would be allowed under the Geneva Conventions and the Conventions Against Torture.

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."
Besides the outrageous - and completely false - claim of extraconstitutional powers in this statement, it is disgusting to see the de-facto acceptance of torture in our actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and GITMO. And yet, we can see from the little evidence that we have seen that, indeed, this statement was not only accepted at face value by the administration, but its propagation down the chain-of-command was "successful."

In an interesting juxtaposition, an article in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription) notes that military lawyers were, and remain, uncomfortable with the liberties being taken with international and US law by the Bush administration.

Some top military lawyers in the Pentagon are questioning the propriety of interrogation techniques currently being employed to question al Qaeda captives at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, senior defense officials said.

[snip]

Military lawyers, many of whom worked closely in drafting the interrogation rules, have conveyed their concerns to Bush administration officials in the Pentagon, the defense officials said. Their objections to many of the tactics approved for use at Guantanamo illustrate a rift between senior military lawyers and Bush administration lawyers inside the Pentagon about which extreme interrogation measures are legal.
The highlighted sentence provides a peek into this world of chickenhawks versus the military. The military lawyers know that it is vital to the interests of the soldiers that the US been seen as holding the high moral ground in how we treat our prisoners and detainees. The civilian lawyers under the thrall of neo-con Pentagon advisors and their leash holders, are more interested in results - any results - regardless of the efficacy, the legality or the morality of their methods.

Having been in the military, I can tell you that it pains me to say this, but in this instance, the military lawyers, the folks from the JAG Corps, are the ones upholding the honor and the best interests of the military. We were let down by the commanders and the soldiers - by everyone in the chain-of-command - who let the abuse and torture of prisoners happen. Cooler heads did not prevail.

I hope that they kept all of their briefing notes. They may be needed at the Hague.

Monday, June 07, 2004

The Other Quagmire?

Did you know that the US now has 20,000 troops in Afghanistan? Did you know that's the most troops we've ever had there?

I didn't either.

Read the rest of my thoughts on this in my post "The Other Quagmire?" at The Liberal Coalition.

Begin the Beatification

It's actually been underway for years now. The renaming of National Airport. The attempt to get a street in every town renamed. Redesigning a coin with his likeness. But now that Ronald Reagan is dead, the movement among the right-wingers to make him some sort of national saint will pick up speed and momentum.

Get ready: over the next week it's going to be All Ronnie, All the Time.

To hear them speak about Reagan, in hushed tones more suitable to a church than to politics, is to see visions of his face peering down from murals and up from coins in a sort of reverse Soviet cult-of-personality. To the wingers he is "The Gipper," or "Dutch" or "The Great Communicator."

What you won't hear pass their lips are phrases like "October Surprise" or "Iran-Contra" or "ballooning deficits." And if you look at the old photographs of Number 40 in office, you'll see a eerily familiar and infamous cast of characters... faces that haven't changed in the intervening years as though they've made some sort of Dorian Grey deal with the devil.

Some great things happened while Reagan was in office, as did some very bad things. There is more evidence that he was directly responsible for the latter than for the former.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Secure, Undisclosed Location II

At first there were three, small, pale blue eggs. Nestled down into a cozy nest of straw and grass and an errant string or two. And then there were five. This afternoon, there was only one egg remaining - but this is a happy story. For the past couple of weeks, I've watched a female starling flit in and out of the fill tower to our underground propane tank. It seems her spring-time mission is coming to fruition.



A couple of sharp whistles gets these two to open their mouths, awaiting a treat. The other two must have only hatched this afternoon and have not quite figured out how to get their mother's attention. I hope the final egg hatches as well...

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Overreaction and The Continued Erosion of Civil Rights

A young Boston College student decided to protest outside a local military recruitment office. His idea? To dress as that anonymous abu Ghraib prisoner pictured standing on a box in a hooded cape with wires dangling from his fingers and genitals.

Brilliant, no?

Well...

Previtera stood outside the recruitment center for over an hour. And then the police arrived. Within hours he was facing charges more serious than any US soldier is facing for their role in the actual prison abuse in Iraq. Previtera was charged with three crimes: disturbing the peace, possession of a hoax device and making a false bomb threat. If convicted he could face years in prison.
You read that correctly; making a false bomb threat. Despite that one picture beamed around the world a million times and being instantly familiar to everyone, the cops charged him with making a bomb threat.

Michael McCarthy, a spokesman for the Boston Police Department told the Boston Phoenix: "It can be implied, with fingers and wires - especially in a heightened state of alert, as we are. Mr. Previtera should know better. He's a young adult educated at Boston College from a wealthy suburb. I'm sure he knows wires attached to his fingers, running to a milk crate, would arouse suspicion outside a military recruiters' office [when he's] dressed in prisoner's garb. If he has any questions as to why people think he may've had a bomb, then he needs to maybe go back to Boston College to brush up on his public policy. Or at least common sense, but they can't really teach that there."
Seems to me that Mr. McCarthy is the one in need of lessons on "common sense." And this seems to be another case where the rights of a citizen to protest peacfully is being trampled in the name of "security." But security in the defense of democracy is not served by destroying the very democracy being defended.

Via Terrette in the comments at The Yellow Doggerel Democrat.

CIA Head to Resign

No details yet, but Bush says Tenet to resign for personal reasons.

Is this the start of the unravelling of BushCo.? It will be interesting to see what details emerge about the real reasons Tenet is jumping ship.

UPDATE: Some details emerging. See here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Bush Retains Lawyer in CIA Leak Probe

Just in case, of course...

President Bush has consulted a private attorney in case he is interviewed or forced to testify about who may have leaked the name of a covert CIA operative to the media last summer, the White House said Wednesday.
Yes, it looks like Bush is preparing to "fully cooperate" as promised. Much like the way the rest of his staff has cooperated so far...

See more here.

Blogs for Bush: Rebutted

I've accepted an invitation from a few other bloggers to participate in a new blog called Blogs for Bush Rebutted. In the spirit of other blogs whose mission is to "watch" other blogs and present a more balanced viewpoint, this new endeavor will keep an eye on Blogs for Bush (no link from me) and try to present a nuanced, fact based rebuttal to charges leveled there against John Kerry, Democrats and liberals in general.

The genesis of the Rebuttal blog was an instance of banning an opposition commenter from the Blogs for Bush comments. Since the folks who run the blog were apparently not interested in a truly open forum, we decided to provide that forum - and perhaps more.

Please drop by Blogs for Bush Rebutted, see what the opposition is up to and get an open discussion on the issues.

Twins vs. Twins

Is the fact that Julia Roberts is pregnant with twins really that much more important than the theft of twin propane tanker trucks that CNN (and most talking head news networks) lead with the Roberts story and the other - if it was covered - was well down the list?

I'm not sure if that says more about the things that most Americans care about or how our friends in the SCLM prioritize stories. Or maybe it's a sure sign of the end of the American empire...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

It's All True; It's All False

All progressive bloggers - myself included - have long written about Bush's bait-n'-switch habits, making promises to fund programs and then making sure that Republicans in Congress failed to include funding for those same programs in budget bills. The past is evidence of their mendacity, but most on the Right will not learn the lessons of history when it comes to BushCo..

New evidence, though, raises the question "will they learn from direct evidence of intent to continue their ways?" My best guess is "no." From the Paul Krugman in today's New York Times:

Last week The Washington Post got hold of an Office of Management and Budget memo that directed federal agencies to prepare for post-election cuts in programs that George Bush has been touting on the campaign trail. These include nutrition for women, infants and children; Head Start; and homeland security. The numbers match those on a computer printout leaked earlier this year - one that administration officials claimed did not reflect policy.
Lots of folks have commented on the fact that BushCo. officials would rather lie even when the truth would prove favorable to them; they are pathological liars. So there doesn'tnecessarilyy need to be a reason for them to lie. But in this case, Krugman thinks there really is a reason for the bald faced lie:

...whatever they may say in public, administration officials know that sustaining Mr. Bush's tax cuts will require large cuts in popular government programs. And for the vast majority of Americans, the losses from these cuts will outweigh any gains from lower taxes.

It has long been clear that the Bush administration's claim that it can simultaneously pursue war, large tax cuts and a "compassionate" agenda doesn't add up. Now we have direct confirmation that the White House is engaged in bait and switch, that it intends to pursue a not at all compassionate agenda after this year's election.
Note closely those programs slated for cuts; programs that provide for the poorest among us and for homeland security.

When it comes time to vote in November, remember this story (and all the others) and ask yourself: "is this the kind of country I want to live in?" Vote your conscience.

Abu Ghraib - More of the Same

An article in today's Wall Street Journal claims that poor preparation was a key ingredient in the prisoner abuse scandal at abu Ghraib. The scope, type and duration of operations in the detention system were not anticipated nor planned for.

A big part of the problem was the intelligence system itself. Many interrogators and analysts showed up at Abu Ghraib with almost no knowledge of Iraqi culture. "I learned about everything I know about Islam after I deployed," Spc. Monath said.

In addition, though many of the interrogators had put in years of training in the U.S., an equal number knew practically nothing about their assignment. "We hardly got any training in interrogation before we went over," said Spc. Teaca. "It was really surprising because the job is so crucial."

[snip]

The interviews show an intelligence system ill-equipped to battle a largely faceless insurgency. Interrogators and analysts at Abu Ghraib, some of whom say they had little experience interrogating prisoners, knew little about the enemy they were fighting. And they were working within a military-intelligence system that was never designed to incarcerate and interrogate thousands of prisoners for months on end.

Problems were exacerbated by a corrosive relationship between soldiers and some of their superiors, who pressed interrogators to meet quotas on the number of interviews and reports they generated. The soldiers also faced unclear rules of interrogation that often seemed improvised on the fly.
So, instead of being an anomaly, this was another facet of the poor planning and the purposeful lack of resources given to the military in this misadventure by BushCo. Although not as deadly as sending soldiers into Iraq without the proper body armor or sufficient vehicle armor, it is, nonetheless, symptomatic of the hubris with which the whole affair was "planned."

This travesty, like the needless death of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis, rests squarely on the shoulders of Bush and his coterie of neo-con chicken-hawks.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Long Weekend, Short Blogging

Finally we've got some nice weather this weekend in Western New York. So I'll be spending most of today outside; there is lots of work to be done in the yard! Last night we had a great party for the couple who's wedding we went to in the Virgin Islands last month; instead of everyone hauling wedding gifts on the plane ride, we decided to have them open gifts here. It was a complete success!!

All of that, I guess, is the long way of saying that I probably won't be doing a lot of blogging this weekend. But then, I'm not sure that anyone's going to be doing a lot of blog reading this weekend.

If you do stop by and are looking for something to read or comment on, please joins the long (for this blog) comment thread on my post below about a supposed letter from a young Marine I found in the Wall Street Journal. Please join the conversation on "Some on the Left..."

I hope that you all have a wonderful long weekend; have fun, be safe.

Friday, May 28, 2004

The End of The Storm

We've been getting some really bad thunderstorms here in Western New York. There's been very heavy rain, winds gusting over 50 mph and lots of lightning and thunder of course. Luckily we haven't had the hail or the tornadoes that others in the Mid-West have had, but for this area it was bad enough.

Last night, after the latest round had gone through, the sun broke out at the same time that we had a very light rain shower. The conditions were just right...

I don't often mix politics with my photography, but I couldn't help thinking that perhaps, like the upcoming elections, this double rainbow was a portent of better weather and better things to come. Enjoy.

"Some on the Left..."

A letter in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye this morning. One of its readers was perpetuating the myth that those who oppose the war are disrespectful of the military and the sacrifices they make in these troubling times. Here's the letter in its entirety:

When our son, a Marine Corps corporal, calls home from Iraq, he always asks the same question -- "Dad, do you think the American people are turning their backs on the military?" My response is always the same. "Some on the left, who hate President Bush more than they love liberty, and many in the mainstream media, perhaps, but not the people."

Ed Johnson
Lumberton, N.C.
I know that neither Mr. Johnson, nor his son will ever read this blog. And perhaps there aren't many conservatives who stop by here either. But, let me state that Mr. Johnson has it exactly wrong. We on the left do not despise the military. Many, like myself, are ex-military and have a deep respect for the men and women who serve in far away places in very dangerous situations. Even more of us have no military experience, but have no doubt about the valor and selflessness of our military.

Some of us do, indeed, "hate" Bush; we hate what he's done to our country's standing in the world, hate what he's done to all of our civil liberties, hate that he's allowed himself to be distracted from the primary goal of protecting us all from terrorists (a generous reading of the situation), and hate what he's allowed to happen to our soldiers. We are not blind to history, we are not blind to the trouble that lurks in the modern world. We are just convinced that there are better ways to do things and much better people to do them.

Mr. Johnson, please let your son know; we have not, we will not "turn our backs on the military."

Who's on First?

If you experienced a little cognitive dissonance when John Ashcroft announced that "credible intelligence from multiple sources" indicated that al Qaeda is planning an attack in the US in the next few months and later in the same news cycle Tom Ridge said that the information didn't justify raising the alert level from yellow to orange, you're apparently not alone.

From this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription):

The different conclusions and poor communications are symptomatic of turf battles that have emerged since Homeland Security was created a little more than a year ago. Those battles are a growing source of concern to some in Congress and the administration, who worry that the lack of consensus between the two departments sends mixed signals that undermine the credibility of the terror-alert system and the government's ability to make people vigilant. One administration official said yesterday that Homeland Security is suffering from "growing pains" as it sorts out its role in the administration.

[snip]

Wednesday was not the first time that the two agencies have come to different conclusions on whether to warn the public of a terrorist threat. On March 24, the FBI issued a warning to law-enforcement agencies and industry officials about a potential terrorist threat to Texas oil refineries. But Homeland Security did not participate. In April, Rep. Cox and Rep. Jim Gibbons (R., Nevada), wrote Mr. Ridge to ask why his department and the FBI did not issue a joint threat advisory.

Mr. Ridge's office responded last week that prior to the FBI's March 24 warning, it had reviewed the intelligence and "deemed the information regarding this issue to be of little credibility." The FBI, however, went ahead and issued its advisory. The letter to Rep. Cox also stated that at this time there is no "formal Memorandum of Understanding between DHS and the FBI with respect to the issuance of advisories."
That's right... "no formal Memorandum of Understanding." It appears that BushCo. comes to a complete halt if the paperwork is not done; but as long as the paperwork is properly completed and filed, the job's done. Think back to Condoleeza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission; she wrote all the right memos, gave all the required briefings - she did all she could.

This administration is coming apart at the seams. Inernicine sniping and back stabbing - while likely happening for a while now - is becoming embarrassingly public. If it were just a matter of BushCo. self-destructing right before an election, I would be overjoyed. Unfortunately as we've seen over the past several months, it's becoming dangerous. If the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are not coordinating on the release of warnings, what else are they not talking about?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Not So Preposterous...

I'm a bit of a geek. There I admit it and I feel better.

How much of a geek? I read Scientific American for fun. I've had a subscription to Psychology Today Magazine. I've read nearly everything ever written by Stephen J. Gould. I wish I would have been able to study quantum physics in college. I slog through articles and books on physics and genetics (as long as they are short on equations and long on exposition).

All that to say that one of my favorite (mostly) non-political blogs is Preposterous Universe. The blog of Sean Carroll, a physicist at the University of Chicago. He explores "ideas on culture, science, politics," and he doesn't dumb things down (too much). If you are at all interested in modern physics and how it affects and intersects "real life" and you still want a smattering of intelligent progressive political thought, you really should head on over and see what Sean has to say.

Additional Specifications Before the Hague

In his post "Nukes, Glorious Nukes," The Yellow Doggerel Democrat reveals the most horrific speculation yet on the activities of a second Bush term. The resumption of nuclear weapons testing in the Nevada desert.

Steve is horrified, as we all should be:

George W. Bush is roughly the same age as I am. I cannot imagine that he has not run across some of the publications on the subject, and found someone to read them to him. If indeed he plans to resume nuclear testing despite what is known, he must indeed be as cruel as any ruler in the history of the planet. And I think he likes being that way.
Read the rest of the post. It'll send shivers down your spine...

UPDATE: Steve let me know that credit should go to Amy at BlogAmy for uncovering this little gem.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Always Low Expectations. Always.

It's been a while since I posted anything about Wal-Mart, but I haven't forgotten about them. Nor have I been in one of their stores. But an article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription) caught my eye this morning.

Seems that the company is up to its usual tricks. This time they are having low-level managers perform the work of hourly employees so that they don't have to pay overtime. So these "managers" are working as much as 75 hours per week with no overtime, no comp-time, no extra vacation. For between $30,000 to $45,000 per year.

Wal-Mart, a retailing giant with about 3,500 stores and 1.2 million workers in the U.S., and a well-known focus on lean margins, already faces 30 overtime-related suits on behalf of hourly workers in 28 states. Assistant managers who filed suit in Michigan and California, seeking back pay and damages say they spend much of their days on the same tasks assigned to hourly employees entitled to overtime.

The suits claim there is very little difference between the job duties of the hourly workers and assistant managers, especially the nighttime assistant managers, who, "in most cases, are simply glorified stockers who unload trucks, move products into the store and stock shelves," according to legal documents.

[snip]

Wal-Mart tries to hold labor costs to a slim 8% of sales, according to legal documents, compared with 9% to 10% on average at other large-store retailers. The company also encourages store managers to reduce their labor costs each year by about 0.2% or 0.3%, according to legal documents. Last year, Wal-Mart posted sales of $256 billion and net profit of $9 billion.
$9 billion. It boggles the mind. And yet they will squeeze their employees of overtime, vacation or even enough hours to be considered full-time. All for wages that ought to outrage anyone who knows how much it costs just to buy groceries for a small family.

Do us all a favor. The next time you think about stopping in at a Wal-Mart, go somewhere else. Anywhere else.

Secure, Undisclosed Location

No, I haven't found where Dick Cheney's been hiding out for most of the last 3 years. In our back yard we have a large propane tank - for our furnace and stove and clothes dryer - buried. Only the small refueling dome sticks out above ground. The lid to the dome has a small hole in it, maybe 2.5 - 3 inches across. Plenty big enough for a starling to get through apparently. When I saw one poke its head out and fly away, I thought I'd investigate.

Here's what I found:


I peeked in again a couple days after I took this picture, there are now 5 eggs.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Osama bin Who?

He's public enemy number one. Then he doesn't matter.

Afghanistan is the center of the War on Terror. And then it's Iraq.

Invading Iraq was supposed to protect us from more terrorist attacks by creating a stable, democratic country in the heart of the Middle East. Now, as we've feared, it's making the world a more dangerous place.

Al-Qaeda remains a viable and effective "network of networks" and has been galvanised by the war in Iraq, according to the London-based think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

US forces in Iraq present al-Qaeda with 'iconic' targets, the report says
It says that recent attacks in Spain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia show that the group has fully reconstituted itself after the loss of its base in Afghanistan.

Osama Bin Laden's network has set its sights firmly on the United States and its closest Western allies, the report says.

It would ideally like future operations to make use of weapons of mass destruction.

According to conservative intelligence estimates quoted by the IISS, the group is present in more than 60 countries and has "18,000 potential terrorists at large".

The IISS says the war in Iraq has focused the energies and resources of al-Qaeda and its followers, while diluting those of the global counter-terrorism coalition.
For this, you can thank the neo-cons and their Sock Puppet-in-Chief.

Media Self-Criticism

It's either a sign that our national media, those we on the left have for so long called Media Whores and the So Called Liberal Media (SCLM), are waking up to their true purpose or a sign of the impending rapture. I'll leave it to the reader to decide. But what else are we to think when senior MSNBC correspondent Michael Moran writes what can only be described as a blinding flash of the obvious:

A report released Monday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that most journalists feel the Bush administration got a free pass after the attacks of Sept. 11. In a poll of journalists and news executives, Pew reports that “the poll finds that many journalists —­ especially those in the national media — believe that the press has not been critical enough of President Bush. Majorities of print and broadcast journalists at national news organizations believe the press has been insufficiently critical of the administration.”
The circularity of the poll makes my head hurt, pollsters asking reporters about reporters reporting on politics. But I just have to say: "No kidding!" and "It's about damned time!"

Monday, May 24, 2004

Seven Missing Steps

Like an alcoholic trying to kick the habit, BushCo. seems addicted to bad policies in Iraq. Failure to convince the world and at least half the US that Saddam was an "imminent threat," failure to find WMD, failure to plan for after the war, failure to secure weapons caches, failure to distance itself from Ahmed Chalabi, failure to ensure the security of the Iraqi people, and on and on...

So tonight, The Sock Puppet-in-Chief will stand up before the American people and the world and announce his five "concrete steps" to hand over power to the Iraqi people. Unlike an AA member, it seems that Bush has forgotten the final seven steps to his twelve step program; as usual he's going to shortchange those his policy is meant to help.

In a sign just how out of touch and just how much spin is being put on the whole Iraq situation, White House Communications Director, Dan Bartlett, says that Iraq is "a little chaotic" right now. Further evidence that Republicans have not learned any lessons from past failures to plan and execute is supplied by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA): “It’s time to put some weight on the shoulders of the Iraqi military.”

Frightening Lightning

We had an incredible set of thunderstorms move through our area last night - as did plenty of other people in the country. Fortunately we had no damage, but the storms put on a truly awesome display:

Friday, May 21, 2004

It's Still Rock an' Roll to Me

Nick Hornby, in the New York Times writes about getting older and listening to Rock n' Roll. He writes with intelligence, but best of all, heart about a feeling I know well.

It's hard not to think about one's age and how it relates to rock music. I just turned 47, and with each passing year it becomes harder not to wonder whether I should be listening to something that is still thought of as more age appropriate — jazz, folk, classical, opera, funeral marches, the usual suspects. You've heard the arguments a million times: most rock music is made by the young, for the young, about being young, and if you're not young and you still listen to it, then you should be ashamed of yourself. And finally I've worked out my response to all that: I mostly agree with the description, even though it's crude, and makes no effort to address the recent, mainly excellent work of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Mr. Springsteen et al. The conclusion, however, makes no sense to me any more.
I'm only a couple years younger than Nick's 47 and while I've never really thought I should be listening to music "more age appropriate," I've often been asked or seen the look that asks the question, "you really listen to that stuff?" But Hornby's piece is more about finding the joy and the noise that ought to be in rock n' roll and is often missing in modern, commercial rock or the niche genres.

I've found my music taste goes in cycles. I loved the straight-ahead rock of the 70s, especially that music from my highschool years. During the 80s when music was just awful, I stayed with the 70s stuff. In the late 80s and early 90s when grunge and metal came on the scene, I was right there. Now, in the early 00s - or whatever we're calling this decade - I'm disenchanted again with most rock. So my computer and CD player are loaded with bits and pieces of new albums, when I find a track or two I like, but mostly I still listen to Alice in Chains and Nine Inch Nails and Bush and Nirvana.

But the cycle will continue. In fact, I'm starting to hear a few new things out there that I really like...

Railroaded

As though it were really surprising, all the news outlets today are screaming about railroad security (see, e.g., here and here).

Those who remember into the mist of time that is 2001 and 2002 will remember something about calls to protect airports and shipping ports and mass transit systems - including railways. Just as BushCo. resisted calls to form a Department of Homeland Security during those dark days, so, once that department was created, did they resist giving it free reign to secure those parts of the homeland that needed it most - including railways.

So now we find out that there are vague warnings about our rail lines, there are notices out about how to identify a "suicide bomber," and a small IR signaling device was found on a rail line "on the tracks near a rail yard in Philadelphia." This last has triggered, not an explosive device, but an investigation.

I wonder if that investigation will include the question of why it took almost 3 years to consider beginning to protect our mass transit systems. The safe money is on "no."

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Lashing Out

Read the ever wonderful Josh Marshall on how and why the conservatives - now that their grand adventure is proving to be both costly and futile - are lashing out at anyone who opposes or ever has opposed them.

Let's be a little more clear about what's going on here. Having led the country perilously close to humiliation and defeat, the architects of the war want to shift the blame for what's happened to their opponents who either said the whole thing was a mistake in the first place or criticized the incompetence of its execution as it unfolded. They take the blame, the moral accountability, by 'wishing' for a bad result. That at least is Podhoretz's reasoning.

Foreign Fighters Wed in Iraq?

A late night wedding or a safe house for foreign fighters in Iraq?

The details are covered in all the news outlets and all over the blogosphere right now, so I have nothing new to add in that department. I do want to emphasize something I've been posting in comments at various blogs, especially over at Counterspin Central.

Distilled, it goes something like this: Abu Ghraib has destroyed any credibility we may have retained in the Middle East.

The upshot? Regardless of what really happened at 3:00am in the far desert of Iraq, the destruction of a safe house or the massacre of a wedding party, whatever BushCo. says about it has no currency with the Middle East press or the public. In fact it may have less currency here in the US as well as we've already seen the lengths the administration will go to make the issue of prisoner abuse go away.

Cover-up, denial, keeping the ICRC from unannounced inspections, and now trying to foist the whole thing off on a handful of low-ranking soldiers; this has all been disastrous to our attempts to show our best face in the region. Dissembling is too mild for what's gone on over abu Ghraib, the lies and the deception are spread widely throughout the upper echelons of the military and throughout BushCo. Now this. Where are the gun-camera tapes from the helicopters involved in this? Where are the Tactical Operation Center logs that would probably show the activity taking place just prior to and during the operation? Where are the pilots involved?

Not that these things need to be served up on a plate for every incident like this, but if they exist and the are exculpatory, why not use them? Why the dismissive denials when our credibility is so diminished? It can only make the Iraqis and the rest of the region suspicious. And we've certainly not given them any reason lately to not suspect something's amiss.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Poor Loser

Same-sex couples have won a battle in Massachusetts, But Governor Mitt Romney won't let them have their moment of victory in peace. Not that you'd expect anything less...

One day after the start of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney demanded copies of marriage applications from four cities and towns that are defying his order not to marry out-of-state couples.

[snip]

For weeks, Mr. Romney, an opponent of same-sex marriage, has been saying that gay and lesbian residents of other states cannot marry in Massachusetts unless they intend to move here. He has said he does not want Massachusetts to become "the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage."

The governor has threatened to fine or criminally prosecute town clerks who issue licenses to out-of-state couples, and he has said that the state will not record those marriages and will inform the couples that their marriages are "null and void." The demand for the license applications on Tuesday appeared to be the first step in that process.

[snip]

Mr. Romney's stance on out-of-state couples is based on a 1913 law, adopted in part to bar interracial marriages. The law says the state cannot marry out-of-state couples if their marriage would be void in the couples' home states. The governor has interpreted that to mean that since no other state will marry same-sex couples, Massachusetts can marry only its own residents or those who swear under oath that they intend to move here.
Some wedding parties are probably still going on, the last piece of cake yet to be eaten, the cork in the last bottle of bubbly yet to be popped. Bigots, it seems, never rest.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Gas Pains

Maybe Kellogg, Brown & Root were just ahead of their time when they were gouging the Pentagon for gasoline earlier this year...


AP Photo from CNN.com

Piling On

Colin Powell has already begun distancing himself from BushCo., saying things and intimating others that show that he is as disgusted with them as the rest of us are. Now it's time for others to follow suit.

From the UPI:

Even worse for Rumsfeld and his coterie of neo-conservative true believers who have run the Pentagon for the past 3½ years, three major institutions in the Washington power structure have decided that after almost a full presidential term of being treated with contempt and abuse by them, it's payback time.

Those three institutions are: The United States Army, the Central Intelligence Agency and the old, relatively moderate but highly experienced Republican leadership in the United States Senate.
It is already accepted that the sources for Sy Hersh's latest expose on abu Ghraib were members of the Army and the CIA; what remains to be seen is whether the Senate Majority Leadership is willing, in its pique, to bring down a US President from their own party.

Stay tuned... oh, and you might want some popcorn for this one.

A Hero or A Pariah?

I never thought that Spc. Joseph Darby, the young soldier who exposed the torture of prisoners at abu Ghraib would be considered anything other than a hero. But I guess I should not have been so naive.

Rivka, at Respectful of Otters, reveals the ugly reality:

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised Darby for his "honorable actions." But Washington is a universe away. "They can call him what they want," says Mike Simico, a veteran visiting relatives in Cresaptown. "I call him a rat."

[snip]

An Army spokesman confirmed that Darby is on leave in the United States but wouldn't disclose where he is.
Read the rest of the story, but be prepared to be saddened by the revelation of the worst of us as Americans and as human beings.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Clueless IV

Just to shine a little light on the troop redeployment from Korea to the Middle East:

For 90% of the soldiers in South Korea, the assignment is considered a "hardship tour." The duration is one year, with the opportunity to get one trip home paid for by the military. Families are not usually allowed to accompany the soldiers on this tour. The location of the units in Korea means that they would be very much on the leading edge of any mischief perpetrated by the North; which means being constantly on alert, spending lots of time on exercises. It is a very stressful 12 months.

One of the first things that soldiers acquire when reporting for duty in Korea is a "countdown calendar." They typically know, to the day, when they are going home. So from the first day, they are crossing days off the calendar.

In the middle of all of this, the separation from family, the high OPTEMPO (operational tempo), the unknowns across the DMZ, imagine getting notice that you must pack your bags and head off to Iraq or Afghanistan. For a year (maybe more).

Imagine what that would do to your morale. Imagine what that would do to your job performance. Soldiers hate to be jerked around more than anyone else. Mostly because they are jerked around more than anyone else.

I've done that tour in Korea. I can't even imagine the confusion and the fury making its way through the 2nd Infantry Division right now. I'm sure the exact brigade being redeployed has not been notified yet. So the entire division will be distracted from its primary duty. And will soldiers ready to return to the US after nearly a full year be held up to deploy with their units? Probably.

Watch for the shit to hit the fan on this...

Clueless III

The situation in Iraq has gotten so bad, the troops stretched so thinly that the Pentagon may redeploy 4,000 troops from front-line duty in Korea to the Middle East. Reserve units are said to be experiencing troubles with recruiting new members and some estimates claim that troop rotations will have to become longer and more frequent. Equipment is being so used so heavily, that the Army has "recalled" 4 howitzers loaned to ski resorts for avalanche abatement and may be placed on active duty. Worries over continued safe supply of petroleum - combined with OPEC gaming of the market - has driven crude to it's highest price ever, with attendant soaring gasoline prices. Spending on continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (anyone remember that place?) is resulting in the largest federal deficit in decades; if it continues at it's estimated pace it will be the largest in history very soon. Additional supplemental spending bills are already making their way through Congress.

Amidst all of this, BushCo. adamantly refuses to request even the smallest of sacrifices from the American people. Regardless of your position on the war, on Bush in general, you just have to admit that Bush's "mouth is writing checks [his] ass can't cover."

Clueless II

On ABC News this morning, there was a piece on the still increasing cost of gasoline at the pumps. Somewhere in California the price on the pump was $4.079 per gallon. What got my attention even more than the price were the vehicles lined up to get gas.

SUVs. Lots of them.

One man admitted - and seemed to be laughing about it - that this was the second time it had cost him more than $50 to fill up his SUV.

Americans really do have a short memory. And no sense of the future. We live in the everlasting "now." Where gas is always cheap and plentiful, where it's always better to drive by yourself than to car pool or take public transit. If there were effective public transit, that is.

There is an old story - apocryphal perhaps, but maybe true - that in the early days of the auto industry, many of the major car companies bought local train and trolley lines around the country through front companies. Then they systematically dismantled them and sold the rolling stock for scrap. Those were the days of robber barons and the American nouveau riche. It seems that even today, we are paying for their greed and avarice.

Full Disclosure: I have a Honda CRV that has a 4-cylinder engine that gets around 30 miles to the gallon on the highway. But it is considered an SUV.
My other car is a small Saturn sedan that gets around 35 mpg.

Clueless

Despite intense weekend clashes with Shiite militia, despite the continuing revelations about Iraqi prisoner abuse and, finally, despite the assassination(?) of the head of the Iraqi Governing Council - despite everything - BushCo. are lining up to tell us that none of this affects their plans for Iraq, none of this affects their timeline for handing over "power" to Iraqis at the end of June.

Nothing these morons have said about Iraq has been true: from WMD to being greeted as liberators; from "Mission Accomplished" to al Qaeda links. Not one word they've spoken has even been in the same neighborhood as the truth. And yet they keep spouting platitudes and guarantees as though we are just supposed to keep believing them. Sadly, it seems that somewhere around 45% of Americans do just that. They keep on believing in the face of obvious lies, in the face of dissembling and deceit.

Just another weekend in Bush Country.