Saturday, May 26, 2007

It's Not Like We Didn't Know They Knew, You Know...

File this under "Duh!" Moments In Bush Administration HIstory...
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence agencies warned the Bush administration before the Iraq war that al Qaeda and Iran could exploit a U.S. invasion to extend their sway in the region, a new Senate report said on Friday.

Congressional Democrats seized on the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee as clear evidence President George W. Bush, a Republican, and his advisers ignored warnings about the chaos that could follow a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"Today's report shows that the intelligence community gave the administration plenty of warning about the difficulties we would face if the decision was made to go to war," said Sen. John Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat and the committee's chairman.
Candy and flowers, indeed.

The paper, filed with the Senate in January, 2003, three months before the invasion began, point out that Al Qaeda would try to duplicate the tactics that had worked so well in Afghanistan barely two decades earlier: hit-and-run attacks on occupying troops that would eat up manpower and materiel with minimal exposure to the insurgents.

And we had to know those tactics. After all, we funded and provided the weaponry for them.

Iran's involvement becomes even more obvious: Al Qaeda wasn't about to go to Russia or China for support, and North Korea was too tied up and too poor to provide much more than logistics. This leaves Iran as the only possible backer of terrorist attacks in the region.

More important:
The papers, which the report said were circulated widely in the Bush administration, also warned there was a "significant chance that domestic groups (in Iraq) would engage in violent conflict with each other."
Pretty prescient, even if the conclusion it makes on this point is a rather obvious one: when a minority holds a nation in thrall, and is violently removed, the majority will have revenge on its mind.

Closing the barn door now that the horse is out, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had this to say, "President Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq in the worst possible way, and he did."

I couldn't have buttoned this essay any better.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

The Pretenders - Message Of Love

Arguably the best song they wrote. There aren't many bands who would feel comfortable slipping Oscar Wilde into their lyrics.

I would so have Chrissie Hynde's baby...

Friday Kitten Blogging

DEWD! Ur blocking mah sun!

I think I can haz a ferball...

Yes, that is his teddy bear...

A New Hope

Today, in case you missed it, is the 30th anniversary of the release of Star Wars.

So much has been written about the cultural effects of the film: we can begin with the introduction of Buddhist concepts imbued in The Force to a western audience in palatable form, to the reintroduction of old mythological icons along with a revival of Joseph Campbell's career.

We can talk about the linguistic effects it's had: "I have a bad feeling about this," or "May The Force be with you."

We can talk about the dreamery that was incubated by George Lucas and all those marvelous toys, set against the backdrop of what is essentially a western (basically, The Searchers). If Star Trek's communicators brought us flip cell phones, one can only imagine what Star Wars lightsabres will bring us!

Actually, that's a chilling thought, what with Republicans hel-bent on world domination.

We can talk about how filmmaking changed, going from a story-driven, reasonably cheap medium to an overblown, special effect laden blockbuster crap shoot, just in time for the VCR. Star Wars might actually have saved Hollywood. How this movie spawned Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator, even Titanic is the stuff of a history of filmmaking course.

Me, I'd rather talk about how the film changed my life, coming as it did just as I was leaving adolescence for adulthood. The ultimate "good versus evil" film, it showed me that good is not always pure, and that evil is not always it's own creation (indeed, the arc of the story from film #1 through #6 bears this out: evil is as evil does, and sometimes, one can renounce evil through sheer force of will). Thus, A New Hope.

It helped teach me to trust my own feelings, even when the world around me whispers urgently into my ear that something else is right, just because it's more popular.

It helped me, just after Vietnam and Watergate and the cancellation of the moon landings, to see that there could be a bigger future for this world, not just this country, one where science and faith live side by side. Mankind would survive, no matter the forces arrayed against it.

Most important, and a theme that keeps popping up lately for me, it shows me that one man in the right place at the right time can make a difference.

Even if that place is the voting booth or a office holder's Inbox.

Good luck today, and hey, may The Force be with you!

Oh, before I forget....the story ain't over, it seems...(hat tip, yet again, to MissCellania for pointing this out)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More Fallout From 9/11

The death toll from the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 has risen by one, officially:
Felicia Dunn-Jones died Feb. 10, 2002, and the cause of her death was determined to be sarcoidosis with cardiac involvement, said the New York City medical examiner's office.

"The office of chief medical examiner has thus concluded that Mrs. Dunn-Jones' exposure to World Trade Center dust on 9/11/01 contributed to her death and it has been ruled a homicide," read a news release from the agency, which had previously refused to include her in the list of 9/11 victims.
This is the first official death attributed, at least in part, to exposure to toxic fumes and dust at Ground Zero.

Eighteen thousand people were evacuated from those buildings. Hundreds of thousands of people work in the immediate vicinity. Millions were barraged with smoke for weeks afterwards.

For most of that time frame that the rubble burned and smoldered, throwing off fumes and dust, the prevailing winds carried the smoke offshore for the most part. If you believe in God, this may be a piece of evidence, since the weather at that time of summer usually comes up from the south, which would have meant millions more exposed to the stench and particles.

One day, I think it may have been the following Wednesday, the winds shifted around, and the fumes blew up into Manhattan. I remember that day well. I remember smelling the air and knowing I was smelling death. It was the second worst smell in my lifetime (I grew up across the river from a fat rending plant).

Many believe that the recent spike in respiratory disease in the city is due to exposure to these toxins. While I'd find it hard to agree with that conclusion, I cannot deny the possibility. Certainly, asbestos was in the air, and who knows what toxins from carpeting, dust, and other materials burned in the intense heat were released.

Sarcoidosis is an immune system disease that is caused by small tumours called "granulomas" which are epithelial cells that have been encapsulated by lymph cells (I'm sure at least one medical professional will complain about that description, but we're not medical experts here, and I've probably already taxed my readership's biology knowledge at "epithelial").

In and of itself, sarcoidosis is not necessarily fatal, but its immunosuppressive features can activate other diseases, such as tuberculosis. And of course, breathing becomes a chore.

On a lighter note, another effect of the 9/11 attacks was seen yesterday, as a peregrine falcon nest was discovered atop the Queens tower of the Throgs Neck Bridge. Peregrines are not unusual in New York City, preferring to nest high above the streets of the city. However, with the continual bustle of building at the World Trade Center site, their usual nesting places in lower Manhattan (such as One Wall Street) are too noisy (yes, noisy) for them to feel comfortable raising chicks there.

Oddly enough, the Throgs Neck Bridge, which is probably more conducive to a falcon nest anyway, is being renovated, which is how the nest was discovered. This is the first set of falcon nestlings born on top of the bridge since the 1980s, another indicator that the falcons have been forced away from their usual haunts in lower Manhattan, where nestlings were an annual occurence.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Hump Day Comedy Blogging

I can't add anything to this sparkling piece of comedy.

How Dumb Do They Think We Are?

There's more than a whiff of cynicism surrounding this story:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said on Tuesday the United States was impatient for forceful Chinese action to cut trade deficits but Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi said Beijing would not yield to pressure.

"There is growing skepticism in each country about the other's intentions," Paulson said at the start of two days of talks with a top-level Chinese delegation and amid growing anger in the U.S. Congress over China's huge trade surplus.

"Unfortunately, in America this is manifesting itself as anti-China sentiment as China becomes a symbol of the real and imagined downside of global competition," Paulson said.
Who they kiddin'? "Anti-China sentiment"? Where? Did I miss the memo?

Yes, I think there's legitimate concern over our trade and currency deficit with China, but no one in their right mind is blaming China. We've all seen how this administration has borrowed, borrowed, borrowed, taking a page out of the American consumer economy, like Paris Hilton with a platinum card on Rodeo Drive. Did China take advantage of this?

Does a drug pusher give free samples?

We practically, begged them to buy our debt. We practically begged them to open their cheap labor markets to American manufacturers. And now we have to practically beg them not to call in their chips?
Ma Xiuhong, China's vice commerce minister, said a group representing more than 200 Chinese firms will have signed at least $20 billion in deals with American companies when it wraps up a two-week 24-state tour on May 24.

But even a spate of contracts was unlikely to tamp down anger in the U.S. Congress over what many see as the artificially low value of the yuan, which they argue gives an unfair price advantage to Chinese exports.
Oh, duh! Those were the price advantages that, when we were exploiting the Chinese labor market, we were happily shelling out money for. Now that "sisters are doing it for themselves", we want a piece of the action?

Don't make me laugh. Yes, China has been gracious and noble in signing $20 billion in import contracts (they've probably laid half of this off on satellite countries that will repurchase goods, like North Korea or Vietnam), but there's a limit to what they will do, and certainly, any competitor worth his salt is smelling blood in the water.

We would act no differently (in point of fact, we haven't) in China's circumstances. We ought to clean up house here and next time, we can go into these talks with more moral authority and street cred.

In the meantime, I have to laugh at our arrogance. Yet again. What is it about this administration that they can't handle simple issues, like trade negotiations or armament treaties , or niggling over whether Bin Laden is still in charge of Al Qaeda without sounding like a classroom full of third graders?

Oh. Right. Magical children...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different...


Similar in style to LOL!Cats but with 100% more snark!

(Sharp salute to MissC)

UPDATE: Miss C mentioned in comments that there was also a LOL!Candidates link at LOL!President, so I followed it and found you can make your own macros of any picture...

How Hard Did He Have To Bite His Lip?

One might expect a President to defend his Attorney General, even while searching for the sword to slip between his ribs, but this might take the cake:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Monday accused Democrats in Congress who are seeking no-confidence votes on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of engaging in "pure political theater."[...]

Bush and Gonzales maintain that the ousters were justified though mishandled. Critics charge it seems as if Gonzales politicized the Justice Department and the firing of a number of federal prosecutors.

Bush rejected those charges, saying: "I frankly view what's taking place in Washington today as pure political theater."

"And it is the kind of political theater that has caused the American people to lose confidence in how Washington operates," Bush said at a joint news conference at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Now, if this had been his weekly radio address, I can imagine a quick trip to the cough button, followed by about ten seconds of dead air as Bush composes himself from the paroxystic fit of laughter.

The American people lost confidence in the war in Iraq roughly two years ago, and yet our esteemed President suddenly now wants us to pay attention to the feelings and opinions of the American people as he continues to attempt his coup-by-proxy of the government?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm..."Nothing to see here, folks! Move along! Move along!"

What's the next move in this chess game (or beat in this theatre piece, if you want to extrude Bush's tortured metaphor)? Here's a clue:
Busy legislative schedules will likely prevent Senate or House votes on the resolutions until next month, aides said.
Expect Gonzalez's resignation on Saturday, is the glaring note I take from this. Newspapers and wire services don't waste words when reporting up-to-date news, and that this paragraph is in a wire service story so prominently tells me that there's background information out there that can't be reported upon.

Of course, this wouldn't be the first Bush administration official to be ousted after getting a verbal bulwark from Bush. Heckuva a job there, Brownskinny!

, ,

Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday Monologging

"St. Crispian's Day" - Shakespeare's Henry V - as performed by Kenneth Branagh

Whistling Past The Graveyard

On the heels of Tony Blair's visit to America last week, the final one before he turns the reins over to Gordon Brown, current Chancellor of the Exchequer, comes this little item:
LONDON (Reuters) - Washington is confident British prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown will not pull British troops out of Iraq early, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told reporters Washington had an "excellent level of discussion and dialogue" with the British government on future policy in Iraq.
Key word there is "early". Blair has already announced the departure of British troops, as early as this summer, reducing British presence below 5,000 troops, which may (or may not) remain until 2008.

Anybody think Gordon Brown is about to speed that timetable up? I don't. I do, however, see him making even deeper cuts in troop levels(h/t, again, Mr. Doggity), particularly in light of the recent flare-ups in the Basra region, which has been the focus of British patrols. These flare-ups seem to have been in anticipation of the now-aborted arrival of Prince Harry.

Brown appears to be slightly less enthused with the EU than Blair, however, as he insisted England remain on the pound, as opposed to swapping over to the Euro. This seems to have been a clever move on his part. The pound has thrived beyond what the Euro has risen to on world markets. Kicking and screaming, tho, England will have to convert, I imagine.

The overarching question for Americans is, will Brown be as big a poodle as Blair?

Answer: probably not. (h/t Mr. Doggity, who really should start blogging...) Although the argument can be made that Brown will respect Blair's commitment to the war (and one suspects that Blair has declared the troop withdrawal to give Brown cover to go beyond his pronouncement), it's clear that Brown is his own man.
Gordon Brown is prepared to risk the future of the "special relationship" with the United States by reversing Tony Blair's support for the Iraq war, President George W Bush has been warned.

He has been briefed by White House officials to expect an announcement on British troop withdrawals from Mr Brown during his first 100 days in power. It would be designed to boost the new prime minister's popularity in the opinion polls.

Details of the talks came as a close ally of Mr Brown called for a quicker withdrawal of British troops. Nigel Griffiths, a former minister, said: "We should get out of Iraq as soon as is practicable. We should consult the Iraqi government - but they cannot have a veto. This cannot be delayed."
One can only hope that Brown will take a page from another "prime minister":
I love that word "relationship". Covers all manner of sins, doesn't it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm... Britain. We may be a small country but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

He's At It Again!

God bless you, Michael Moore (pun intended):
CANNES, France (Reuters) - Director Michael Moore says the U.S. health care system is driven by greed in his new documentary "SiCKO," and asks of Americans in general, "Where is our soul?"

He also said he could go to jail for taking a group of volunteers suffering ill health after helping in the September 11, 2001 rescue efforts on an unauthorized trip to Cuba, where they received exemplary treatment at virtually no cost.[...]

In "SiCKO" he turns his attention to health, asking why 50 million Americans, 9 million of them children, live without cover, while those that are insured are often driven to poverty by spiraling costs or wrongly refused treatment at all.

But the movie, which has taken Cannes by storm, goes further by portraying a country where the government is more interested in personal profit and protecting big business than caring for its citizens, many of whom cannot afford health insurance.
A question I've often asked here.

Michael Moore gets painted as a radical Commie bastard by the right wing, perhaps because he's not afraid to question the underlying system of this nation, not just its institutions. The true message of Fahrenheit 9-11 wasn't an expose of the Bush administration, but a condemnation of a country whose citizens take their freedoms for granted and don't even bother to ask why things are the way they are, right up to the people who legislate for us.

Which is likely why so many right wingers got pissed about that film: after all they thought they had the monopoly on outrage and libertarianism-- "lower taxes, and keep the damned government out of my business!"-- when in fact, they were pawns along with the rest of the sheeple.

And he does this, as always, with his trademark sardonism, making for what appears by all accounts to be another blockbuster of a movie.

I'll be in line, I'm sure, opening day.

UPDATE Apparently, some on the right wing are a little, um, ungrateful...
Filmmaker Michael Moore has come to the rescue of his harshest critic.

For several years now, Jim Kenefick has been railing against the Oscar-winning director on Recently, Kenefick wrote about the difficulty he was having paying his wife's medical bills. Fellow conservatives guided him toward a cheaper health insurer, but Kenefick said he still had trouble making payments.

"Someone e-mailed me and asked if an 'anonymous' benefactor could offer to pay my first year's premiums - $12,000," Kenefick wrote on his site.

He was skeptical when the check arrived. "I opened a whole new account at my bank, waited for it to clear, checked twice with bank personnel to make sure it wasn't a scam, and waited a full 60 days before spending the money. At that time, I started drawing on it and paying the monthly premiums until it was gone."

We can now confirm to Kenefick that his secret benefactor is none other than the dreaded, detestable, loathsome Michael Moore.

Moore didn't contact us. We heard it on our own. Yesterday, his reps said they couldn't reach the director, who is in France getting ready for tomorrow's screening at Cannes of his new movie, "Sicko."

One friend of Moore's did say, "We sure are happy Jim's wife received the care she needed."

Kenefick admitted the $12,000 "was like manna from heaven at that time. ... My business was almost dead, my wife was very, very ill, and I was racking up a few little health problems of my own. That money made it possible for us to begin to turn our lives around."

Still, he doesn't sound especially grateful.

Having suspected Moore might be his secret patron, he contends that his bete noir made the gift just to publicize "Sicko," which takes aim at America's health-care system and, we've heard, touches upon Moore's covert generosity.

"I knew he was using me," said Kenefick. "Moore is going to try to make me into one of his little puppets."

Kenefick wants it known that "I'm not an idiot. I know when to say yes to something, even if the string attached is obvious. What kind of moron turns down a free 12 grand?"
Yea. So Moore makes an anonymous donation to help him out, you know, milk of human kindness kind of stuff, tries to keep his name out of it, tries to make an honest, Maimonides-approved gift to someone in need, and this sicko, literally, has to hunt down his benefactor and "expose"

That kind of criticism may we all get!

Better he should have thanked the "anonymous donor" and then let it drop, instead of cashing the check and then slapping the hand that helped him.

Personally, I would have refused the check, if it had come from, say Ann Coulter, but I guess greed got the better of Kenefick, and then he got embarassed for himself, and his needy whining little welfare-statist self.

(h/t MissCellania)

If You Needed A Reason To Learn How To Scuba Dive...

How About Treasure?

A half bilion dollars in Colonial-era coins has been discovered in a wreck off the southern England coast by a team of American divers.

This would be the highest-valued shipwreck ever discovered, easily out-classing the Atocha (altho rumours abound that only half that treasure has been found.

So you could finance about half a run for the Presidency after just a weekend's worth of work and a lot of luck!

I kid. Treasure hunting is a very expensive hobby, and requires massive discipline and resources. And even still, a lot of luck. There are a lot of shipwrecks out there, and many of them have already been explored and looted. The ones that remain are either very well hidden, or in places that make salvage difficult, to put it mildly.

Like this as-yet-unidentified-publicly wreck, found in pretty rough seas near the English Channel, or so it appears, they tend to sink in places where ships sink readily.

Duh! The Atocha is fairly easy to dive to, in places you could even snorkel down and pick up loose coins (don't try it, folks, the wreck has been awarded to the Mel Fisher group), but that's sheer luck: the Atocha was hammered apart by at least one hurricane, and the wreck is strewn across the seas off the Florida Keys.

Most wrecks yield only historical information and anthropological evidence of who people were and how they lived, and a wreck with anything more than a modest amount of coinage or jewelry is extremely rare. Still, even the historic wrecks have some value to them.

People like Robert Ballard and Clive Cussler have managed to make a living going after wrecks (or rather, a livelihood...Cussler still has to write his nigh-unreadable books and Ballard gets a lot of assistance from various sources like the National Geographic Society). Wreck salvaging is not for the faint of heart, either.

But look what happens when you get lucky!