Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pirates of Somalia

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." -- H.L. Mencken
Nobody reminded me about International Talk Like a Pirate Day earlier this month. We can laugh at the hats, the flags, and the sea shanties, but now let me be the party-pooper and scare you about stories of real pirates:
The Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter loaded with tanks, artillery, grenade launchers and ammunition said in an interview on Tuesday that they had no idea the ship was carrying arms when they seized it on the high seas.

“We just saw a big ship,” the pirates’ spokesman, Sugule Ali, said in a telephone interview. “So we stopped it.”

The pirates quickly learned, though, that their booty was an estimated $30 million worth of heavy weaponry, heading for Kenya or Sudan, depending on whom you ask.
Even with the heavy weaponry, the story never really caught my interest. The pirates are clearly after a ransom and not the weapons.

But then I read another story about a pirated Iranian ship with very different cargo. This cargo was described as "chemicals, dangerous chemicals."
Somali pirates suffered skin burns, lost hair and fell gravely ill “within days” of boarding the MV Iran Deyanat. Some of them died.

Andrew Mwangura, the director of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, told the Sunday Times: “We don’t know exactly how many, but the information that I am getting is that some of them had died. There is something very wrong about that ship.”

The vessel’s declared cargo consists of “minerals” and “industrial products”. But officials involved in negotiations over the ship are convinced that it was sailing for Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia’s Islamist rebels.
I'm not a doctor, but I watch House a lot. Sounds like these pirates have a serious case of radiation exposure. But with so little coverage of this story, it's hard to know what's going on.

And if it is nuclear material or chemical weapons, then who shipped it, where was it headed and for what purpose? If it involves Iran, Russia, and/or China, then I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Post Turtle Palin

It's a sort of proof that history repeats itself when we see political jokes repeat themselves. Here is the post turtle joke updated for Sarah Palin:
While suturing a laceration on the hand of a 75-year old Texas rancher whose hand was caught in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Sarah Palin and her bid to be a heartbeat away from being President.

The old rancher said, "Well, ya know, Palin is a post turtle."

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a post turtle was.

The old rancher said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle."

The old rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor's face, so he continued to explain. "You know she didn't get up there by herself, she doesn't belong up there, she doesn't know what to do while she is up there, and you just wonder what kind of dumb ass put her up there to begin with."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Recipe for Disaster

Did you hear the rumors earlier this month that President Bush wanted Osama bin Laden captured or killed by November 4? That was basically the NPR headline two weeks ago, and I thought that the goal of election day (instead of say January 20) sounded transparently cynical and political even for Bush. But when I went looking for the article today, I found it had been reworked a bit to now read Bush Puts New Focus On Bin Laden, Al-Qaida... which still sounds cynical and political to me.

Though I've stated several times that the abandoned objective to capture bin Laden was a huge failure for Bush, I believe his current hot pursuit into Pakistan is a recipe for disaster. The President's new orders allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government.

And Pakistan is supposed to be an ally -- an ally with 173 million people, an Islamic government, a failing economy, nuclear weapons, and a new president who has suffered a "range of mental illnesses." Pakistan sounds like a new sanctuary for terrorism. The recent Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad might signal a new phase of the al Qaida offensive.

So why would we want to destabilize such a country further? Bush's new plan of bombing tribal regions along the borders could clearly be taken as an act of war.

I don't think this new operation is about catching Osama bin Laden or members of al Qaida. The surge in Iraq appears to be a success at this moment, so why not repeat it elsewhere? For a few more hundred billion dollars we can install a new puppet government in Pakistan. Our government will tell us we're liberating them or fighting terrorism or whatever... but nobody ever bluntly asks the American people if we want another war, another decades long commitment, another disaster on our hands.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Debates

Yeah, I watched the debates tonight. Honestly, I thought it was dull... but let me put some positive spin on that remark. It's good that they stuck to the economy and foreign policy because these are the problems threatening us. But neither candidate surprised me -- it's hard to surprise me when I know their positions already.

What's important is how the undecided voters react. CBS has some early results of an opinion poll of 500 uncommitted voters:

Forty percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-two percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-eight percent saw it as a draw.
I was a little worried that Obama came across as too congenial and the public would see that as a weakness, but maybe I'm wrong...

Speaking of being wrong, Obama was at his strongest when he pointed out when McCain has been dead wrong especially about the war with Iraq:

OBAMA: Look, I'm very proud of my vice presidential selection, Joe Biden, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as he explains, and as John well knows, the issues of Afghanistan, the issues of Iraq, critical issues like that, don't go through my subcommittee because they're done as a committee as a whole.

But that's Senate inside baseball. But let's get back to the core issue here. Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families.

They have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war.

And so John likes -- John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.

You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni. And you were wrong. And so my question is...

LEHRER: Senator Obama...

OBAMA: ... of judgment, of whether or not -- of whether or not -- if the question is who is best-equipped as the next president to make good decisions about how we use our military, how we make sure that we are prepared and ready for the next conflict, then I think we can take a look at our judgment.

And at another point Obama addressed the lessons of Iraq:

OBAMA: Well, this is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental difference because I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place.

Now six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so because I said that not only did we not know how much it was going to cost, what our exit strategy might be, how it would affect our relationships around the world, and whether our intelligence was sound, but also because we hadn't finished the job in Afghanistan.

We hadn't caught bin Laden. We hadn't put al Qaeda to rest, and as a consequence, I thought that it was going to be a distraction. Now Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment.

And I wish I had been wrong for the sake of the country and they had been right, but that's not the case. We've spent over $600 billion so far, soon to be $1 trillion. We have lost over 4,000 lives. We have seen 30,000 wounded, and most importantly, from a strategic national security perspective, al Qaeda is resurgent, stronger now than at any time since 2001.

We took our eye off the ball. And not to mention that we are still spending $10 billion a month, when they have a $79 billion surplus, at a time when we are in great distress here at home, and we just talked about the fact that our budget is way overstretched and we are borrowing money from overseas to try to finance just some of the basic functions of our government.

So I think the lesson to be drawn is that we should never hesitate to use military force, and I will not, as president, in order to keep the American people safe. But we have to use our military wisely. And we did not use our military wisely in Iraq.

McCain bit back with:
MCCAIN: The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind. That's the decision of the next president of the United States.
Is McCain not understanding this major criticism on his judgment? If he was wrong about going into Iraq, is he going to be wrong about going into Iran, Pakistan, or Russia or whoever the hell he wants to bomb next? I think McCain is doomed to make the same bad judgments again.

One question I wish the moderator had asked was how we define "winning" in Iraq. We can't have a meaningful discussion without this definition.

By the way, check out the fact checking on the debates. I suspected Obama was right about Kissinger's position on negotiations without preconditions.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Alternative News?

In between the banking crisis, presidential campaigns, and the world's obsession with Sarah Palin, other stuff is going on in the USA believe it or not.

From the New York Times:

Senior White House officials played a central role in deliberations in the spring of 2002 about whether the Central Intelligence Agency could legally use harsh interrogation techniques while questioning an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, according to newly released documents.

In meetings during that period, the officials debated specific interrogation methods that the C.I.A. had proposed to use on Qaeda operatives held at secret C.I.A. prisons overseas, the documents show. The meetings were led by Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top administration officials.
Why are we still using the phrase "harsh interrogation techniques" when we all know it's torture? I have no tolerance for euphemisms in these serious matters. But watching officials cover their asses is mildly amusing:
“I recall being told that U.S. military personnel were subjected in training to certain physical and psychological interrogation techniques and that these techniques had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm,” Ms. Rice, now secretary of state, wrote in response to one question.
I've never liked Rice because of her epic mistakes as national security adviser, but despite her screw-ups, she would have been a much better VP choice for McCain. It's sad that the Republicans got scared when they heard the rumors that Rice is a lesbian. It sure would have been an interesting election without the Christian conservatives on the Republican's side.

Anyway, maybe now that McCain and Obama have raced off to Washington to show us how they operate, they could also take a look at this whole torture issue. I'd like to know if we'll ever prosecute any high-level officials for these war crimes. We may never hold Bush or Cheney accountable, but maybe we can impeach Bybee?

And maybe we can find that $13 billion meant for reconstruction in Iraq. Seems the money has been wasted, stolen, and diverted to al-Qaeda.

Is it just a coincidence that these big stories are breaking during a week that the press is focused on the economy, the election, and Sarah Palin?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Police State Coming Soon

The last article I read before I went to bed last night was by Naomi Wolf about the coming police state:

You have to understand how things work in a closing society in order to understand "Palin Power." A gang or cabal seizes power, usually with an affable, weak figurehead at the fore. Then they will hold elections -- but they will make sure that the election will be corrupted and that the next affable, weak figurehead is entirely in their control. Remember, Russia has Presidents; Russia holds elections. Dictators and gangs of thugs all over the world hold elections. It means nothing. When a cabal has seized power you can have elections and even presidents, but you don't have freedom.

I realized early on with horror what I was seeing in Governor Palin: the continuation of the Rove-Cheney cabal, but this time without restraints. I heard her echo Bush 2000 soundbites ("the heart of America is on display") and realized Bush's speechwriters were writing her -- not McCain's -- speeches. I heard her tell George Bush's lies -- not McCain's -- to the American people, linking 9/11 to Iraq. I heard her make fun of Barack Obama for wanting to prevent the torture of prisoners -- this is Rove-Cheney's enthusiastic S and M, not McCain's, who, though he shamefully colluded in the 2006 Military Tribunals Act, is also a former prisoner of war and wrote an eloquent Newsweek piece in 2005 opposing torture.
This and The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are the stuff that give me nightmares. But when I woke up this morning, I only had one thought easing my worries: Palin isn't Bush in a dress -- she doesn't have the same loyalists that Bush once had. In fact, Alaska doesn't seem to have a very good relationship with their governor at all. If this article and comment section on the Anchorage Daily News site is any indication, many Alaskans are looking at the possibility of a recall election. Anyway, Sarah Palin doesn't garner the type of pathological Republican loyalty needed to take over the world...

Then I got out of bed, checked the blogs and read about an active-duty military force being deployed in the United States. What the hell do we need that for? So we can have more mass preemptive arrests as we witnessed on Labor Day in the Twin Cities? Is the government anticipating violent protests and civil unrest? Due to the financial crisis? Or due to an election they intend to hijack?

I guess it's time to familiarize ourselves with the Insurrection Act and the Posse Comitatus Act, but what good will it do when our leaders shamelessly ignore laws without accountability?

Yeah, sweet dreams.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Smart President

I'm ready for a smart President again.

Tonight as I watched The Daily Show, I saw the glaring contrast between George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. I'm not even certain if the comedy show intended the comparison, but here's how it went. They opened with a clip of Bush giving an inarticulate explanation of the financial crisis. Bush seemed almost surprised himself that parts of the economy are connected! Then he fumbled through a childish metaphor about a house of cards.

Then Jon Stewart interviewed Bill Clinton, and intellectually there is no competition between our 42nd and 43rd presidents (if videos don't show, they can be found here and here):

I wish Stewart asked Clinton about his opinion on the situation with Russia, and while they were on the subject of the economy, he probably should have asked Clinton why he signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999... too bad it's only a 30 minute comedy show. But hearing Clinton made me reminisce about happier days with a president who had something intelligent to say.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Missing in Action?

Hey, where is George W. Bush? In the middle of this financial crisis, his spokesman has made some outrageous comments about wanting to protect CEOs from caps on compensation... but no real leadership from our President? I'm not surprised.

Of course, we're hearing a lot from the US Treasury Secretary as he offers us a "cash for trash" plan. We're also hearing more from Obama and McCain as they offer platitudes on how they would fix things.

But what really irks me about McCain -- besides his plan to deregulate heath-care like he deregulated banking, besides the fact that many of his advisers worked for Bush, besides the fact that he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate -- is his comment about the "fundamentals of our economy" being strong and the ensuing defense of that comment.

We're expected to honestly believe that by "fundamentals" McCain meant the ingenuity of the American people? When was that ever the question? When has our ingenuity ever been weak? I can only see this as a cynical attempt to turn an elitist comment into an acclamation of the working man. What bullshit.

I can understand why Bush is hiding. He doesn't want to be seen with McCain and nobody wants to be seen with Bush. And oh yeah, also Bush's approval rating has sunk to 19%.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bush Seven Years Ago Today

On September 20, 2001, Bush addressed members of Congress and the American people for the first time since the attacks on September 11. The speech introduced the principles of the Bush Doctrine, and today reads like a collection of Bush's greatest hits:

the war on terror
either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists
they hate our freedoms
I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy

Also, he did a little name dropping with Iraq. He was not yet implying an Iraqi link with the attacks, but he would get to that in time. In fact, it only took a few months of innuendo to deceive the American people. The Christian Science Monitor reported on the shift in public opinion:
Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year, attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either "most" or "some" of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.
By August 2003, the misconception was widespread. A Washington Post poll indicated that about 70% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks. Sadly, in 2008, an important VP candidate is still spreading these lies for political gain.

She also holds the childish belief that terrorists hate us for our freedom, when in reality, they hate us for our airstrikes (if video doesn't show, click here):

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Party's Over

When conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly declares that the current economic crisis marks the end of Bush's legacy, then you really know that the party is over:
This is the end of President Bush's legacy... He’s done. He’s through... He will now go down in history along side Jimmy Carter as an ineffectual leader particularly in the last four years with Iraq and now the economy just imploding. And I’ll tell you the reason why: it’s poor leadership on his part. The people that he picked to run certain things have been disastrous. And no leadership and now Americans are getting hurt.
I'm glad O'Reilly is finally catching up to the rest of us who noticed the ineffectual leadership six, seven, or eight years ago. In fact, I wish I could give some kind of award to the Onion for the divine wisdom and warning they gave us three days before Bush's inauguration in 2001.

But even the Onion couldn't predict the foreclosure crisis. Predicting one in every 50 households receiving a foreclosure filing in some California counties would have seemed a little over the top even for a satire magazine... but that's exactly where it's at right now:
California cities accounted for eight of the top 10 metro foreclosure rates out of the 230 metro areas tracked in the August report. Stockton was No. 1, with one in every 50 households receiving a foreclosure filing during the month, followed by Merced, Modesto, Vallejo-Fairfield and Riverside-San Bernardino in the Nos. 2 to 5 spots. Other California cities in the top 10 were Bakersfield, Salinas-Monterey and Sacramento in the Nos. 8 to 10 spots.
The overall rate is one in every 416 U.S. households receiving a foreclosure filing during the month of August. That's up 27% from August 2007.

So, I'm trying to make sense of this, and not really understanding economics, I ask my friend Trung who is working on his masters degree in econ at the University of Missouri Kansas City:
ME: So explain the current economy to me?
TRUNG: I can summarize it in two words: it sucks.
ME: I wanted something more technical. Quote a little Thorstein Veblen for me.
TRUNG: Shit. He would go off on a tangent and not really explain it. In fact, I think his explanation would be filed with nonsensical mumbo jumbo and dances around the issues.
ME: How come Sarah Palin said government needs to stop meddling? And do you agree with her?
TRUNG: I'm not sure to what she's referring to in terms of government meddling. If She's saying meddling in loaning billions of dollars to these companies, I can understand why it might be a risk because it's our tax dollars going towards these companies.
ME: I was under the impression she meant fewer regulations.
TRUNG: Hmmm. Well, I'm not sure if I'm a good person to comment on it... neoclassical econ is a thing of the past.
I give Trung a lot of credit for even studying this stuff and then trying to answer my impromptu questions after a hard night of salsa dancing. Anyway, I can't expect any econ student to understand the takeover of AIG (American International Group Inc.), when the Bush administration is now putting themselves in uncharted territory:
It puts the government in control of a private insurer -- a historic development, particularly considering that AIG isn't directly regulated by the federal government. The Fed took the highly unusual step using legal authority granted in the Federal Reserve Act, which allows it to lend to nonbanks under "unusual and exigent" circumstances, something it invoked when Bear Stearns Cos. was rescued in March.
So, that seems to take care of this week's crisis. But where's the full story on how we got here?

A few days after declaring that "the fundamentals of our economy are still strong," John McCain is now calling for a high-level commission to investigate the securities industry.

However, McCain only needs to look as far as his once senior economic adviser, Phil Gramm. Gramm spearheaded the landmark Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999 which repealed the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act. Yesterday, The Washington Post reported on McCain and Gramm's decades of dismantling regulations and their new condemnation of "casual oversight":

McCain now condemns the executives at those companies for pursuing the ambitions that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act made possible, saying that "in an endless quest for easy money, they dreamed up investment schemes that they themselves don't even understand."

He said the misconduct was aided by "casual oversight by regulatory agencies in Washington," where he said oversight is "scattered, unfocused and ineffective."

"They haven't been doing their job right," McCain said yesterday, "or else we wouldn't have these massive problems on Wall Street, and that's a fact. At their worst, they've been caught up in Washington turf wars instead of working together to protect investors and the public interest."

Yesterday, Obama seized on what he called McCain's "newfound support for regulation" and accused his rival of backing "a broken system in Washington that is breaking the American economy."

Broken system. Quest for easy money. Imploding economy. And no long-term solutions. What a party! And I was never even invited. Sounds like we'll all take part in the clean-up though.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nature or Nurture


I found this image at Something Awful. The photos were taken from a 1980's Farsi Alphabet book for children. The owner of the book received it at age 2 or 3 while visiting Iran toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War. You may remember that was when the US was on Saddam's side.

Anyway, though I've never seen a children's book quite like this, I'm not going to pretend to be shocked. I've seen the Palestinian kid's show with the impostor Mickey Mouse promoting jihad. I've seen the sing-along DVDs glorifying suicide bombing. I'm also aware that the CIA was behind the violent images in Afghani textbooks when the US wanted to indoctrinate Afghan children with their duty to fight the Soviets:
In 1986, under President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. put a rush order on its proxy war in Afghanistan. The CIA gave Mujahideen an overwhelming arsenal of guns and missiles. But a lesser-known fact is that the U.S. also gave the Mujahideen hundreds of millions of dollars in non-lethal aid; $43 million just for the school textbooks. The U.S. Agency for International Development, AID, coordinated its work with the CIA, which ran the weapons program.
"The U.S. government told the AID to let the Afghan war chiefs decide the school curriculum and the content of the textbooks," says CBC'S Carol Off. "What discussions did you have with the Mujahideen leaders? Was it any effort to say maybe this isn't the best for an eight-year-old's mind?"

"No, because we were told that that was not for negotiations and that the content was to be that which they decided," says Goutier.

So children learn to count with bullets, to color in pictures of guns, and to sing about suicide missions. Adults brainwash them to fight their dirty wars. We do it to American children too (for profit even!) with toys like GI Joe.

What better way to keep the continuum of violence except to nurture it?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

More About the Bush Doctrine

After Sarah Palin's dismal response to Charlie Gibson's question about the Bush Doctrine, I can't get the issue out of my head. So many people are brushing off her lack of knowledge saying, "well, she'll only be VP." However, Glenn Greenwald sums up why we should indeed be scared:

To see why that matters, look at this excerpt today from a new book by The Washington Post's Barton Gellman, which details how Dick Cheney's office exerted virtually exclusive control over large numbers of key U.S. programs, and specifically over the illegal warrantless eavesdropping program -- facts that Gellman had previously documented. There is every reason to believe that Palin, too, would wield very substantial power as Vice President.

In general, the White House is now far and away the most powerful branch of our government -- state power is centralized there to an unprecedented degree. The presidency is so powerful that it's almost impossible for a President not to share substantial responsibility with the Vice President. Moreover, if McCain wins, he is quite likely to perceive -- accurately -- that his victory was due in large part to Palin and the enthusiasm she generated. Independently, her immense political popularity among key GOP factions will empower her. The fact that McCain seems completely uninterested in any issues other than fighting and starting wars and his petty fixation on earmarks -- underscored by his acute indifference to domestic policy -- will leave vast areas for her to manage. His advanced age and previous health problems makes it far more likely than usual that the Vice President will become President.

And so we'll have a powerful VP with no clearly-defined positions on many issues. Palin hasn't studied these policies or thought them through. And yet, without knowing the subject matter, her instinct was to embrace whatever this Bush Doctrine thing is.

What's doubly disturbing is that Gibson asked the same Bush Doctrine question to all the Republican and Democratic candidates during the primary debates, and all candidates were able to answer the question satisfactorily. So that leaves me wondering... wasn't Palin even watching the debates?

But here is the really big question: do we want a president who will continue the Bush Doctrine?

McCain clearly supports it (if video doesn't show, click here):

Barack Obama says that the Bush Doctrine is flawed, but it seems he hasn't rejected it completely:
OBAMA: And that's the flaw of the Bush doctrine. It wasn't that he went after those who attacked America. It was that he went after those who didn't.

And as a consequence, we have been bogged down, paid extraordinary -- an extraordinary price in blood and treasure, and we have fanned the anti-American sentiment that actually makes it more difficult for us to act in Pakistan.

Just one more point I want to make on this, Charlie. I think it is absolutely true that we have to, as much as possible, get Pakistan's agreement before we act. And that's always going to be the case.
At least, maybe, Palin (the moose caught in the headlights) has woken up the public to a foreign policy issue they should have been paying attention to all along.

Please, Somebody Ask Her About the Dinosaurs

I'd like to thank Saturday Night Live for finding the humor in this election season (if video doesn't show, click here):

Friday, September 12, 2008

Moose in the Headlights

Charlie Gibson has now vetted Sarah Palin more thoroughly than McCain's people ever did. In ABC's exclusive interview with Governor Palin, she often looks like a moose caught in the headlights. The most revealing and critically important excerpts reveal her lack of foreign policy experience:

GIBSON: We talk on the anniversary of 9/11. Why do you think those hijackers attacked? Why did they want to hurt us?

PALIN: You know, there is a very small percentage of Islamic believers who are extreme and they are violent and they do not believe in American ideals, and they attacked us and now we are at a point here seven years later, on the anniversary, in this post-9/11 world, where we're able to commit to never again. They see that the only option for them is to become a suicide bomber, to get caught up in this evil, in this terror. They need to be provided the hope that all Americans have instilled in us, because we're a democratic, we are a free, and we are a free-thinking society.

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view.

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that's the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

(read the rest here or watch the video here.)
Oh shit. She really is NOT fit to be VP or, god forbid, president. She doesn't understand -- or is even aware of -- the biggest foreign policy shift (and failure) this country has had in decades. Here is where Palin and Gibson both get it wrong:

Actually, it's preventive war, not pre-emptive. There's a key difference: Pre-emptive war is a long-accepted, noncontroversial practice—if an enemy is clearly massing and about to attack you, you get to strike them pre-emptively. Imagine on the playground the class bully (who has beaten up your friends already) comes up to you, repeatedly threatens to hit you, and then cocks his fist. It's straight self-defense and is a basic tenet of international law.

But the Bush Doctrine is one of preventive war: Attacking another country in order to prevent them from becoming a threat at some nebulous point down the line. To return to the playground analogy, it's as if you hauled off and socked someone because they looked at you funny—that odd look could be a signal that at some point in the future they're going to hit you. Better safe than sorry. But now you're the bully.

Pre-emptive war is generally accepted. The Bush Doctrine of preventive war was controversial and revolutionary. While Bush and his cronies repeatedly conflated the two concepts by referring to his new scheme as "pre-emptive" rather than "preventive," they are not the same.

Palin made another gross mistake that boiled my blood. She linked Iraq with the attacks on September 11, 2001. This ignorance is sickening. I thought these lies were revealed years ago? There was no link between Iraq and the attacks on September 11. There was no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda... And more importantly, doesn't she read my blog?

What scares me more -- and this applies to both Palin and John McCain -- is this obsession with making decisions in the blink of an eye. I'm sorry, but is knowing stuff out of style? What about weighing consequences? What about rationality and expertise? Negotiations?

What's going to happen when McCain and Palin find themselves in the middle of The Next Cuban Missile Crisis?

It's obvious that Sarah Palin crammed for this interview, but she failed. Charlie Gibson's questions were good, but Palin's answers were really really bad!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering September 11, 2001

Seven years ago today, the United States of America was attacked by al-Qaeda. The series of coordinated hijackings killed 2,974 people. Another 24 are missing and presumed dead. The overwhelming majority of these victims were civilians. The world mourned with us.

A revealing videotape showed Osama bin Laden as the mastermind behind the attacks.

The Bush administration claimed they never could have predicted the attacks. We now know this is false. The August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief made it clear that a terrorist attack inside the United States was imminent. But while the terrorist warnings were "blinking red," Bush was on a very long vacation at his ranch.

We know these facts now. No doubt, the public knows a lot now that Bush wouldn't tell us back then. He wouldn't tell us. He didn't want us to know. He stonewalled an investigation into the incompetence leading up to that fateful day. But eventually we got the 9/11 Commission Report... which held nobody accountable.

In the days and months after September 11, 2001, it seemed we had slipped into some kind of alternate universe where down was up, left was right, false was true, and wrong was the way we were headed.

Our government responded to the attacks by declaring a War on Terrorism, enacting the USA Patriot Act, drafting torture memos, and invading Afghanistan which was harboring al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Bush vowed to get bin Laden "dead or alive." But soon it seemed he forgot his mission:
"So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him... to be honest with you." -- George W. Bush, March 13, 2002.
He soon closed the unit responsible for capturing Osama Bin Laden. The American public didn't blink. Neither did the mainstream media. It seemed we were willing to accept anything without question.

And that's how we were led into the unrelated, unnecessary, distracting, and idiotic invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration fabricated the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. They forged a document claiming terrorists trained in Iraq and Iraq bought yellowcake uranium from Niger with the help of al Qaeda.

Indeed, the entire Iraq war was plotted before 9/11 with the main goal of controlling Iraq's natural resources.

But we went along because we were told lies, we were scared of terrorism, and we were blinded by patriotism.

There have been 4,155 U.S. Military deaths, and possibly 150,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. It's a travesty that the lives lost on September 11, 2001, have been exploited to launch this destruction.

Sadly, there are still people living in that alternate universe where the disaster of 9/11 is somehow seen as a the shining moment of the Bush administration. They cling to the notion that we were saved by George W. Bush when in reality he failed us. Yet the Republican party continues to use the tragedy for blatant propaganda and political gain. (Warning: the following video was shown at the RNC and is very offensive.)

After seven years of the War on Terrorism, we are no safer. Osama bin Laden lives on, we turned Iraq into a terrorist nation, and al-Qaeda is plotting new attacks from sanctuaries in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

And George W. Bush has never even apologized.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Politics First

Or is it cosmetics first? Maybe it's politics, cosmetics, then country? I know it's not country first -- that's for sure.

Today the Republican party is feigning outrage over Barack Obama's use of a tired old folksy saying: "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." Here is the complete unadulterated quote from Obama:
OBAMA: Let's just list this for a second. John McCain says he's about change, too. Except --- and so I guess his whole angle is, "Watch out, George Bush, except for economic policy, health-care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy, and Karl Rove-style politics. We're really gonna shake things up in Washington." That's not change. That's just calling some --- the same thing, something different. But you know, you can --- you know, you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig.
What's wrong with that? Well, John McCain's new campaign video (which has since been pulled from YouTube due to a copyright claim by CBS) takes the comment out of context and makes it look like Obama is calling Palin a pig. Never mind the fact that Obama is obviously not referring to Sarah Palin! That doesn't stop the mainstream media from taking the bait.

The irony, of course, is that Obama was making a point about exactly these tactics. Instead of talking about economic policy, health-care policy, tax policy, education policy, or foreign policy, the conversation has been reduced to this frivolous bullshit.

Any media outlet that runs this story, should also, if they have any credibility at all, show this video of McCain using the exact same phrase regarding Hillary Clinton's health-care policy:

Funny, I don't think McCain ever offered an apology to Hillary Clinton, and I don't think she ever asked for one either.

Anyway, now that the sad and desperate McCain campaign has gone from "straight talk" to "trash talk," let's get back to something substantive.

McCain and Palin recently wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal titled We'll Protect Taxpayers From More Bailouts. Here is the punchline of their piece:
Fannie and Freddie's lobbyists succeeded and Congress failed. Under our administration this will not happen again.
Why do I find this so tragically funny? McCain's campaign is full of lobbyists! Including a few -- Rick Davis, Aquiles Suarez, and Carlos Bonilla -- who have lobbied for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac!

I'll believe that McCain is the "maverick" when lipstick-wearing pigs can fly.

Monday, September 08, 2008

1000 Points of Light

"I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in." -- Inaugural Address of George H. W. Bush, January 20, 1989.

"On the other hand, you have a resume from a gifted man with an Ivy League education. He worked as a community organizer. (Laughter.) What? (Laughs.)" -- Rudy Giuliani at the RNC, September 3, 2008.

"I guess a small-town mayor if sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." -- Gov. Sarah Palin at the RNC, September 3, 2008.
Wow. Look how far the Republican party has come... in the wrong direction. Here is Barack Obama's response to this stupidity (if video doesn't show click here):

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Big Bang Day

"Particle physics is the unbelievable in pursuit of the unimaginable. To pinpoint the smallest fragments of the universe you have to build the biggest machine in the world. To recreate the first millionths of a second of creation you have to focus energy on an awesome scale." -- The Guardian

"Is that a hadron in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?" -- unknown geek
Wednesday, September 10 is a "big bang day" of sorts. The Large Hadron Collider buried under the Swiss Alps is scheduled to be turned on.

This experiment is one of the most ambitious, expensive, significant and complex in history. So I won't pretend that I understand it all. However, I do understand that this research can unlock some of the biggest mysteries in the universe:

The mountains of data produced will shed light on some of the toughest questions in physics. The origin of mass, the workings of gravity, the existence of extra dimensions and the nature of the 95 per cent of the Universe that cannot be seen will all be examined. Perhaps the biggest prize of all is the “God particle” – the Higgs boson. This was first proposed in 1964 by Peter Higgs, of Edinburgh University, as an explanation for why matter has mass, and can thus coalesce to form stars, planets and people. Previous atom-smashers, however, have failed to find it, but because the LHC is so much more powerful, scientists are confident that it will succeed.

Even a failure, however, would be exciting, because that would pose new questions about the laws of nature.

Of course, like all progress, this experiment comes with controversy. A few scientists, most notably Dr. Otto E. Rössler, have expressed serious concerns about the mini black holes that might be created. The LHC Safety Assessment Group says the fears are completely unfounded because nature’s own cosmic rays regularly produce more powerful particle collisions than those planned within the collider. All this drama comes with the inevitable lawsuits.

But hey, all this sounds exciting, so why doesn't the U.S. have its own super collider? Well we almost had a Superconducting Super Collider, but it was canceled by Congress in 1993. One reason given was that we no longer needed to prove the supremacy of American science... go figure?

Anyway, if you believe the end of the world is nigh, then have lots of sex, eat fatty foods, and don't do your homework. Otherwise, follow the experiment live on BBC's Radio 4.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

What's Wrong With Paper Ballots Anyway?

Fifty-eight days remain until the presidential election. If you're like me, then your mind is made up already, but you have a lingering anxiety about the many problems of our voting system.

A few weeks ago Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems, Inc.) admitted to major security flaws in their electronic voting machines (if video doesn't show, click here):

Let me just make this perfectly clear: Premier Election Solutions has admitted that their software used in at least 34 states does not count votes correctly. I will never trust electronic voting. I've written about the threat of electronic voting before, but it can't be repeated often enough. Casting your vote on a computer is like walking up to a window where a little man opens a curtain and asks "who do you want to vote for?" You answer him, he closes the curtain, and you never know what that little man does with your reply. It's a black box.

And these boxes can be easily hacked as proven in the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy. And these boxes are also proprietary meaning Premier made the inner workings secret so that citizens have no way to scrutinize the hardware or software. There is also no way to authenticate election results which can of course be done if paper ballots were used.

So what was wrong with paper ballots anyway? After all, they've been used since 139 B.C.

Well, the same company, Premier, makes optical-scan machines which tabulate paper ballots, and these machines can also be hacked!

But the biggest complaint with paper ballots has been poor design. For example, the infamous butterfly ballot used in Florida for the 2000 presidential election was blamed for many mis-marked ballots.

Punch card systems have also lost favor due to the high rate of inaccuracy related to the incomplete removal of the perforated chad and the inaccessibility to voters with disabilities.

Sometimes it seems that the MSM is trying to perpetuate the idea of paper ballot "voter fraud" like in the case of Dixville Notch, NH where 17 ballots were cast even though there were only 16 registered voters. Well, those reports were irresponsible and inaccurate as exposed on the Brad Blog.

The simple fact remains that any system that leaves a paper trail can at least be recounted by hand in a location where the process can be viewed by the public. You can't get that transparency with any electronic voting machine!

Therefore I have to conclude that paper ballots aren't perfect, but they are by far the best system available.

Finally, if you're wondering which candidates votes will go missing this year, remember in 2003 Walden O'Dell -- then the chief executive of Diebold Inc. -- told Republicans in a fund-raising letter that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." I don't for one second believe that their machine "glitches" are accidental.

Some other links of interest:

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Change is Coming?

Overall, McCain's speech wasn't bad. It certainly wasn't as awkward and painful as that one in June, but when "the maverick" starts railing against big government, corruption, and policy failures, my first thought is that he has amnesia. He's forgotten about the last 8 years and thinks he still has to vehemently fight the evil Democrat in the White House. Then I realize he's subtly trying to divorce himself from the Bush administration:
"I'm grateful to the president of the United States for leading us in these dark days following the worst attack in American history."

That was his only mention of George W. Bush. That's a good sign. However, it doesn't mean I trust McCain. Because when McCain talks about fighting lobbyists, I worry that few voters understand that his principal foreign policy adviser is Randy Scheunemann -- a man who Pat Buchanan describes as "a foreign agent whose assignment is to get America committed to spilling the blood of her sons for client regimes who have made this moral mercenary a rich man." In other words, McCain's foreign policy adviser is a lobbyist! Regardless of what you might think of Buchanan, that linked article is an informative one and worthy of a read.

Regarding corruption, McCain said, "I've fought corruption, and it didn't matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. They violated their public trust, and they had to be held accountable." I wonder if that means he'll be seriously considering prosecuting anybody from the Bush administration? Joe Biden, on the other hand, recently said that criminal violations will be pursued.

The remainder of McCain's speech was unremarkable and humorless. He said the usual stuff about taxes -- Democrats are "tax and spend" -- but personally I've come to prefer that to the Republican policy of "borrow and bomb" which I firmly believe McCain will be sticking to.

McCain also took the standard Republican call to drill here and drill now:

We'll attack -- we'll attack the problem on every front. We'll produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells off-shore, and we'll drill them now. We'll drill them now.

We'll -- we'll -- my friends, we'll build more nuclear power plants. We'll develop clean-coal technology. We'll increase the use of wind, tide, solar, and natural gas. We'll encourage the development and use of flex-fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.

I won't pretend to be a body language expert, but I have a good intuition about expressions. Did anybody else notice the little eye twitch when McCain said "electric automobiles"? It was more like an eye roll that showed disregard and said to me "yeah! right!"

Finally, I was noticing the handmade signs in the audience. Here were a few of my favorites:

You Can't Win An Occupation
McCain Votes Against Vets
The Mavrick

(That was the actual spelling on the last one.) Anyway, this concludes my coverage of the conventions, but I'll keep on blogging about the world as I see it.


While I'm waiting for tonight's RNC coverage to start, I thought I'd post this awesome video from last night's Daily Show:

I just heard that tonight's RNC theme is something about "Peace." Since I clearly see McCain as a war president, this ought to be interesting.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Country First?

Obviously I just can't get into this Republican National Convention, but I never pretended to be impartial.

I'm listening to Giuliani speak right now... or should I say 9iu11ani? I felt insulted by him right from the start as he tried to create a comparison between picking a job applicant and picking a President. Does he think we're dumb? We ARE picking a job applicant for the most important job in our country. Anyway, after that, he really launched into an attack on Barack Obama. One of his points was that Obama voted "present" 130 times as Senator. Well, these votes are not unusual:

It's true that Obama voted "present" dozens of times, part of the thousands of votes he cast in an eight-year span in Springfield. Illinois lawmakers commonly vote that way on a variety of issues, and he has countered that many of those votes were cast because of technical or legal considerations about the underlying legislation.

Often, Obama voted "present" with large groups of other Democrats to protest what they saw as Republican trickery or abuse of power. Other times, voting that way sends a message that a lawmaker supports a bill's intent, but has concerns about how the legislation is drafted. Voting this way also can be a way to duck a difficult issue, as McCain charged, although that's difficult to prove.

There are also cases where legislators vote "present" as part of a strategy. Obama did this on some abortion measures, voting "present" to encourage some wavering legislators to do the same instead of voting "yes". Their "present" votes had the same effect as "no" votes, so getting them to vote present helped defeat the bills.

Giuliani was followed by Sarah Palin, and she got a standing ovation right from the start. My first thought was that they filled this stadium with "low information voters."

It's no secret that the Republican party wants to show Palin's personality and likability. I think they succeeded. I'd certainly like to have her as a next-door neighbor, but not a Vice President. Nope.

Because I'm not one of those "low information voters." I've learned a lot about her this week. I'm not simply talking about her unwed pregnant teenage daughter. That news was so yesterday. I'm talking about her possible links to this group who propose the dissolution of the US federal government. And the Republicans want their slogan to be "country first"?

And what was that she mockingly said about terrorists being read their rights?
"Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights? Government is too big ... he wants to grow it."
I'm not even sure how her last statement follows, but clearly she's going to be another irrational opponent of habeas corpus.

The last half of her speech was filled with fear of terrorism, taxes, and nuclear weapons. She reaffirmed my belief that McCain will be another war president.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Republican Convention Coverage

I'm watching the Republican convention right now. So far, I'm happy to report that nobody has broken a hip.

Fred Thompson is talking a lot about McCain's personal story as a POW. It's difficult for me to listen to the stories of McCain's torture probably because I empathize too much. Without going into my own medical history, I'll tell you I've had many broken bones, and the idea of somebody having bones set without anesthesia, or being beaten while your arms are fractured and unusable is absolutely horrific. If you don't know the pain, I don't think you can imagine it.

Doesn't convince me that he's fit to be President though. But it sure is amusing to hear Republicans embrace the war hero story when eight years ago they vehemently rejected it.

Laura Bush's speech introducing George W. Bush was short, and full of myths. She says George Bush has kept us safe and then she gets a round of applause. My head spins.

Do I need to remind her that two big terrorist attacks happened under her husband's watch? Sept 11, 2001 followed by the anthrax attacks. Although Bush vowed to go after the perpetrators, we then invaded a non-terrorist nation and turned them into a terrorist nation. We never caught the criminal responsible for 9/11. In fact, the CIA closed the unit responsible for capturing Osama Bin Laden. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq has made us less safe.

"So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him... to be honest with you." -- George W. Bush, March 13, 2002.
And somehow Republicans spin these disasters as success and people cheer for it.

The other big myths we'll hear is that the surge is working, Palin is qualified, and somehow Republicans put country first (and Democrats do not?).

After this convention is over, I'm going to refrain from covering election politics too much. There are way too many other important things happening in the world.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Welcoming Committee

Last week ended with such a great feeling. This week, those great feelings are fading.

Last week I watched the Democratic National Convention. I got some unusual history lessons. I heard Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and others deliver remarkable speeches that were right on target. I watched Barack Obama make history accepting his party's nomination.

This week seems like a media circus and it's only Monday. I can barely keep up.

Hurricane Gustav has interrupted the Republican National Convention, and McCain's VP choice has a pregnant unwed teenage daughter. Some are referring to this as Hurricane Bristol. Ha!

And then there are these violent anti-war protests in St. Paul that aren't getting much attention, or at least not getting the type of attention they deserve. Glenn Greenwald has been reporting on the government raids on protesters:

As the police attacks on protesters in Minnesota continue -- see this video of the police swarming a bus transporting members of Earth Justice, seizing the bus and leaving the group members stranded on the side of the highway -- it appears increasingly clear that it is the Federal Government that is directing this intimidation campaign. Minnesota Public Radio reported yesterday that "the searches were led by the Ramsey County Sheriff's office. Deputies coordinated searches with the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Today's Star Tribune added that the raids were specifically "aided by informants planted in protest groups." Back in May, Marcy Wheeler presciently noted that the Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force -- an inter-agency group of federal, state and local law enforcement led by the FBI -- was actively recruiting Minneapolis residents to serve as plants, to infiltrate "vegan groups" and other left-wing activist groups and report back to the Task Force about what they were doing. There seems to be little doubt that it was this domestic spying by the Federal Government that led to the excessive and truly despicable home assaults by the police yesterday.

So our government has time to infiltrate vegan groups but seems to be shrugging off the Obama assassination plot?

This is turning into a bad week. I try to look on the bright side. If Sarah Palin can be VP, then I guess anybody can. Wait. That's not a good thing. Never mind.