Saturday, September 08, 2007

Welcome To The Party, Pal!

For the record, let me state that, generally, I like Dick Durbin, bad hair and all. He was one of the few Senators to stand up against the Iraq war when the vote to authorize came up (in 2002, when he was running for re-election). However, he has voted to fund this war at every opportunity since. I don't think it's unfair to say that, with a re-election campaign on the horizon in 2008, Durbin's comments yesterday could be construed as a grandstand play:
"This Congress can't give President (George W.) Bush another blank check for Iraq," said Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, who has always opposed the war but until now voted to fund it.

"I can't support an open-ended appropriation which allows this president to continue this failed policy," he said in a speech at the left-leaning Center for National Policy.

Durbin, from Illinois, said he and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin were working on limits that could be attached to the next war funding bill, such as limiting troops to conducting counterterrorism operations and training Iraqi security forces.
Baby steps, to be sure, but a limit would be a step forward nonetheless.

Is it enough, though? Given that General Petraeus has already revealed that a major condition for the troop surge, the consolidation of the Iraqi government, is woefully behind any schedule benchmark, shouldn't this bill call for at least defunding the surge, since it's clearly not achieving its goals? After all, this Iraqi reconciliation was cited by Bush himself as a key, if not the key, to the troop surge.

Bush is asking for $200 billion for the Iraq invasion and the Afghanistan war, 70% earmarked for Iraq. By my calculations, about $25,000,000,000 will go towards supporting the surge (which comprises roughly 17% of the troops in Iraq). That should be cut immediately as a first step, with the immediate withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Iraq.

Next, we can redeploy remaining troops to secure the Anbar province, where it's generally agreed there may be some small measure of progress against the benchmarks that were established for Iraq as a whole. Those troops would be there strictly in a role of protecting Iraqi civilians and keeping the peace. Across the rest of Iraq, we would have limited troops deployed in training and counterterrorism details, which would greatly cut back our needs for personnel in country. We could likely pull another 50,000 troops out by next Spring, thus cutting American forces in half in the region.

Durbin's proposal appears to merely draw down some funding, keeping troop levels about constant but re-tasking them...sorry, that's right wing Pentagon them to policing and training details.

That hasn't exactly worked in Baghdad, and I don't see much hope for that tactic to work in too many other places.

Senator Durbin, you and Russ Feingold have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking a stronger stand now. Representative Murtha was hammered two years ago for speaking his mind precisely because he didn't have the weight of history on his side. Yet. While many of us who saw where the doomed Iraq invasion was heading could elicit that history would soon stand foursquare against the aggressor nation, the nation itself hadn't woken to that.

Now we have. Now we can set aside the chattering children of challenged intellect, who are about as relevant to this discussion as whether Pluto is a planet or not, and start to fix a problem that has been brewing since the invasion was announced, five years ago: how the hell do we get out of this mess?

Do it, Senator. You need to.

New Bin Laden Tape

You won't see this on your local news. Why? Because our government is skeered it might create a panic:

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

No need for any explanation

Friday Kitten Blogging

Ah mizz mah sistah. Dass me onner bed...

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) No duh!

2) Look for the Fed to lower interest rates in two weeks.

3) Apparently, someone is not singing from the same hymnal as Dubya.

4) D-huh? You give food to a group to hand food your citizens?

5) Oh dear God, NO!

6) I'm surprised this percentage is as low as it is, to be honest. But this survey only covers people who play games, not those who chat, handle personal email or, um, post to blogs. :-D

7) There's nothing more impressive to me than a full commitment to a lifestyle.

8) You know, this sounds like it should be a no-brainer. You make a mess, you clean it up, so someone's full of shit here.

9) I don't know...I know some pretty smart chimpanzees. Smart enough to stay out of a pile of shit.

10) It's official: dogs can now bite men.

11) No one ever accused Steve Jobs of being a dope. Apple makes gobs of money despite its small share of most of the markets it's in (save the iPod). $100 back on a half million phones is peanuts, and you'll note it's a store credit.

12) It's sort of like "Bee Flu," why you're having trouble finding honey. And it's no laughing matter.

13) More people are walking away from homes than are buying them.

Osama bin Laden. Spokesperson for Just For Men hair colour.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bad Air Day


Not that we in New York didn't know this already and not that we in New York haven't already figured out we got a non-lubricated rumphump, but it's nice to see a Federal agency make a real issue of this:
WASHINGTON - The Government Accountability Office has condemned the cleanup and testing program for Ground Zero-area buildings, saying the federal Environmental Protection Agency has largely ignored New Yorkers' health and safety concerns.

In a report released Wednesday, the nonpartisan federal watchdog claimed EPA's current program for indoor areas contaminated by World Trade Center dust has been underfunded, misdirected and failed to include areas in the Sept. 11 debris cloud north of Canal Street and in Brooklyn.

"While EPA has acted upon lessons learned following this disaster, some concerns remain about its preparedness to respond to indoor contamination following future disasters," concluded author John Stephenson.
The shocking revelation in this report is how the EPA could miss that Brooklyn, which lay for weeks under the cloud of smoke and dust blown off the Trade Center site by prevailing winds (with one or two days' respite due to winbd shifts or rain), was not included in the first round of air quality testing.

Anybody who wasn't blind could see the direction that cloud was flowing.

But, as they say, wait, there's more:
EPA's first indoor cleanup and testing plan, which focused primarily on airborne asbestos contamination and included only residences, was deemed inadequate by the agency's own inspector general.

The second program, inaugurated in late 2005, includes testing of dust for other toxins but still doesn't include businesses or testing of most ventilation systems in apartment towers.

At a news conference Wednesday, Clinton accused the EPA of "understating the potential risks" of indoor contamination to "discourage people from participating" in the new cleanup plan.

In a 26-page point-by-point rebuttal, EPA officials said their decision to limit the geographic scope of their program was based on computer modeling showing that most contamination occurred in Manhattan below Canal Street.
And that's likely true, the most immediate impact of the disaster was likely contained below Canal Street in lower Manhattan.

But people don't live in computer models, so it would have been a prudent and intell-- oh, who the hell am I kidding? We're talking the Bush administration, fer god's sake! Suffice it to say that they scoped out the minimum effort to put into any project, and then deducted a 20% vig off the top for their cronies.

And none of that goes anywhere near the lengths to explaining how, in a business district, commercial buildings were exempted from testing in the first place. I'm sure many of the landlords who owned buildings down there tested on their own (insurance companies likely demanded it,) as I'm sure many apartment building ventilation systems were tested, but let's be real: what landlord is going to risk his occupancy rate in the face of an economic collapse of the area by admitting, yes, there's a problem, and allowing tenants to make informed decisions about whether to continue living and working in his buildings?

The EPA should have been in there on September 12th, digging in the dirt to find out what was happening.

In the course of thirty years of Republican dominance in the White House, we as a nation have come to expect very little from our Presidents, basically, protect us at some minimal quantifiable level.

This administration has failed to do even that much. It failed to stop the terrorist attacks on 9/11, despite warnings out the wazoo about them coming. It has downgraded every single Federally funded program, from FDA inspections to FEMA disaster relief. It has cut funding to the Army Corps of Engineers in every single year of its existence, including the year after Katrina.

And now this.

I know the stated intent of some of Bush's backers was to make government small enough to drown in a bathtub. I just didn't think they meant to include the rest of us, as well.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

Robot Chicken Rulez!

The Flypaper Theory

A couple of stories in the news this morning reminded me of a salient fact, one that you can throw in the face of any conservative who believes the invasion of Iraq keeps us "fightin' 'em over there, so we don' have ta fight 'em here."

Item 1:
Sept. 5 (Bloomberg) -- German police arrested three people suspected of planning ``massive'' terrorist attacks on U.S. and other targets in the country, preventing the deaths of ``many, many people,'' the Chief Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms said.

The suspects, two Germans and a Turkish national, were arrested yesterday at a house in Oberschledorn, a village in the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia, officials said. Bomb- making materials and military detonators were also seized. The trio are alleged members of a local cell of the Islamist terrorist organization Jihad Union, which has links to al-Qaeda, Harms told reporters in the southern city of Karlsruhe today.
And Item 2:
Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Danish police arrested eight ``militant Islamists'' with alleged al-Qaeda links on suspicion of plotting a ``major'' attack.

Police held the men, whose ages are between 19 and 29, in the Copenhagen area today, Jakob Scharf, head of the Security Intelligence Service, told a news conference in the capital.

``With the arrests, we've prevented a major act of terrorism,'' Scharf said. The suspects are ``militant Islamists with international connections including ties to al-Qaeda.''

Danish intelligence-gathering efforts and security were stepped up when the Nordic country was singled out as a target by al-Qaeda after the July 7, 2005, London bombings. Today's arrests mark the third time in two years Danish police have detained terrorism suspects.

The men, of Afghani, Pakistani, Somali and Turkish origin, are suspected of having produced ``unstable explosives,'' Scharf said. Police will seek to charge them under Denmark's terrorism law, which can carry a life sentence.
Denmark, you may recall, was the site of an uproar over political cartoons which depicted the prophet Muhammad, thus putting itself squarely in the crosshairs of any Islamist organization that might consider bombing Western interests.

Germany, long a hot bed of Islamist fundamentalist activity (Mohammed Atta went to engineering school in Frankfurt, where he was recruited into Al Qaeda), is home to the largest American military presence on the European continent.

That distinction explains why the Danish arrests were of aliens, while the German plot involved German nationals.

And item 3:
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Police stepped up security and put this capital on high alert Tuesday after apparent twin suicide bombings in a nearby army garrison city killed 25 people and injured more than 60.

The double blasts struck at the heart of Pakistan's military establishment in Rawalpindi, which adjoins Islamabad and is home to President Pervez Musharraf and other senior government figures.

Although there was no claim of responsibility, officials suspect that the morning bombings were linked to the volatile situation in the region along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, where government forces have been battling Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
"Battling" is a curious word to apply to a government that has capitulated any time Al Qaeda has whined that it's coffee was too cold.

The phrase "Fighting them there..." has its roots in the Flypaper Theory, a military strategy that presumes one can draw one's enemy to a particular venue to wage a battle there. This works particularly well on an enemy as dispersed and insulated as guerillas or terrorists, small cells spread out over a wide geographic area.

In theory. In practice, not so much.

The Flypaper Theory presumes you understand the scope of the opposition, particularly their numbers, and that you can count on those folks rising to the bait, and allowing themselves to be trapped and "expedited". The bait had better be pretty damned attractive.

The prima facie evidence that this theory has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan is the simple statistic that, every year since the invasions, there have been more deaths in more places from terrorist attacks than the year before, even after factoring out Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bait is insufficient, and probably would have been unless Bush himself rode out in a tank during the fall of Baghdad. (/snark)

The gray area in this repudiation of the Flypaper Theory is whether we've failed to attract the existing population of terrorists, or if our actions have accelerated the creation of new terror cells worldwide.

Clearly, the latter has some traction: when homegrown cells begin to operate within the borders of their home countries, places where presumably those people are safe from suspicion of being anti-American terrorists or Al Qaeda members, you're creating new terrorists, as the German case demonstrates.

And of course, let's not forget that the spate of terror attempts in England over the past two years.

What we're seeing is a rejuvenated Al Qaeda begin to marshall forces and do dry runs for attacks directly at its enemy, much like a boxer who's been injured will first spar with some easy partners, then take some lower level tune up fights before challenging the champ for the title.

Too, the timing of these arrests (and the plots themselves) serve as reminders for the US: next week is the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Al Qaeda will strike again, it's just a matter of when and how and if they can.

Right now, the administration is whistling past the graveyard, praying that the attacks can be delayed until the next administration, so that the spinmeisters of Satan can pin it on the Democrats somehow even if the next President is a Republican. It clearly will never be Bush's fault.

Unless the attacks happen on his watch, something I'm sure Al Qaeda is keenly aware of.

Meanwhile, instead of flypaper attracting a bunch of the enemy to a slaughter, it looks more and more like Bush took a stick and smacked a hornets' nest in order to draw them out for the battle. Surprise, surprise, the world is getting stung in the ass.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Turning Up The Flames

It's the end of summer, Labor Day in the year before the Presidential election, and that means the campaigns kick off in earnest.

Many questions remain unanswered: Can Hillary hold on to a lead that appears insurmountable nationwide, yet is so slim (or worse) in key early states that she could be knocked out by early March? Can John finally get some media recognition (it might have helped if you and Elizabeth hadn't been so ham-fisted early on, John)? Can Barack finally put away the question "Is he black enough?"

And finally...can Fred run?

The GOP race is far more interesting than the Democratic race at this point, in my opinion. The Democrats know the players, and since a late entrance by Al Gore is nearly impossible at this point, we can pretty much sit back and let them hammer out policy positions (although there is an interesting wrinkle ahead for Barack Obama...and a mystery to be solved.)

The GOP, though...with McCain falling out of the race (perhaps as early as next month), the front runners are two RINOs who are desperately trying to shore up the right wing vote without actually taking stands on any issues of substance, like Iraq. As the field stands right now, many conservatives would rather stay home on primary day than vote for either Giuliani or Romney.

Ah....but then there's Fred Thompson. The Economist has an interesting article which points out his strengths and flaws:
Some criticisms of Mr Thompson seem well-founded. He has been running a campaign in all but name—which is illegal, since campaigns require adherence to federal rules, like financial disclosure. This was tolerated, for a while, especially by Republicans who didn’t want to look peevish by attacking him over a technicality. But a Democratic activist has given the proto-candidate a shove by filing a complaint, which Mr Thompson has several weeks to answer. He will almost certainly have entered the race formally by then.

The pseudo-campaign has also been chaotic, with a heavy turnover of staff and rumours of mismanagement by Mr Thompson’s wife. Political junkies who follow the inside business of politics saw a boss too distracted or lazy to bring order to his team. Accusations of a shoddy work ethic in his senate days (1995-2003) also resurfaced.

But Mr Thompson has begun to answer these criticisms. He claimed recently that he was merely waiting until the traditional coming-out period for politicians. And he points to the polls—usually showing him in second place on the Republican side, behind Mr Giuliani—as evidence that he is doing pretty well among ordinary people whatever the campaign experts think. Some see a potential “rope-a-dope” strategy, in which Mr Thompson leans back while his rivals punch themselves out.

Indeed one rival, Mr McCain, has flagged so heavily in recent months—both in campaign finance and in the polls—that many have predicted his exit from the campaign. It would take a minor miracle for him to recover. And this is good news for Mr Thompson: he would then face a pro-choice, gay-friendly New Yorker, and a Mormon from Massachusetts who recently converted to social conservatism, in Messrs Giuliani and Romney.

Mr Thompson has already taken a potshot at the frontrunner on his website, on a highly emotive issue for conservatives—Mr Giuliani’s record of tight gun-control in New York. Next to the former mayor, the gravely-voiced and towering Mr Thompson seems like he could have been born with a shotgun in his hands. Mr Giuliani’s former friendliness to immigrants will also prove a difficulty for him, and an opportunity for Mr Thompson.
In other words, Thompson will out-redneck Rudy and Romney as a strategy to win the nomination, a tough path considering his own checkered stances on issues like abortion while a Washington lobbyist.

Not that consistency is a hallmark of Republican presidential candidates. Remember, George "Yale" Bush ran as a Texas rancher only a year after buying his pseudospread at Crawford.

Too, his mindless disinterest in all things administrative smacks of more of Bush than a real change in the DC dynamic. It was one thing when Reagan followed one of the wonkier Presidents in American history, Jimmy Carter. People got tired of being preached to, and one suspects, turned to Reagan if for no other reason than he seemed to think things would fix themselves (they practically did, one might add).

Right now, after seven (and soon, eight) years of utter lack of interest in anything but a narrow-minded focus on helping his corporate cronies to a larger share of a "higher pie," it seems pretty clear that independents and even moderately conservative Americans see the cries for help of the nation, and realize that they need someone to get his hands dirty.

Or her's.

This is reflected consistently in polls that show all of the front-running Democrats whip Thompson handily in a general election, ties Joe Biden, barely beats Bill Richardson. In fact, the only candidate Thompson can reliably beat is Dennis Kucinich.

For his part, Thompson will have some catching up to do, not much, but enough that he'll have to take some chunks out of Rudy and Romney in order to win some of the early primaries (particularly Iowa and New Hampshire, where Romney has done yeoman work to position himself). That means the "nasty guns" have to be fired.

We ought to be licking our lips that Thompson is finally going to get off the pot Thursday. Imagine, a thoroughly beatable candidate who's going to do our dirty work for us. Remarkable!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Between Iraq And A Hard Place

(image courtesy Dorking Labs)

The US media reported this straightforwardly and factually, without making note of the implications (domestically as well as in England):
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has insisted that the withdrawal of British troops from the southern Iraqi city of Basra is not a defeat.
The 550 soldiers have handed Basra Palace over to Iraqi control and joined 5,000 UK troops at their last base, near Basra Airport, outside the city.

The MoD said the handover of Basra province was now due in the autumn.

Mr Brown insisted the withdrawal was "pre-planned and organised" and said UK forces would take an "overwatch" role.
The Coalition of the Willing is now us, and Poland. And even the Poles are groping for the exit.

I agree with Brown: the withdrawal of these troops is not an admission of defeat. It's an admission that it was a bloody stupid idea in the first place, and that Blair should have curtailed his bloody-minded instincts and cautioned Bush against invading Iraq.

See, Blair, by his own admission, had considered (no doubt in his cups) invading Iraq long before Bush had entered office, but was shackled by the fact that, well, he'd have to deal with the UN and world community. Clearly, he didn't have the chutzpah of Bush, who just doesn't give a damn.

We in the States often wondered why Blair was a poodle to Bush, when in point of fact, he was not going to get the political cover from a Gore administration to invade Iraq and establish a base for democracy in the Middle East with a Gore presidency. Bush was less a Svengali and more a Clyde to Blair's Bonnie.

In fairness to him, Blair announced the troop withdrawal just before his resignation earlier this year, allowing Brown a graceful way to get Britons out of the country without paying a political price himself. Blair himself is trying to broker a Middle East agreement via the Israelis and Palestinians, and it appears that he has had some success, given the recent outbreak of quiet in that conflict.

Bush's surprise visit to Iraq, in point of fact, may have been a way to deflect some of the coverage of the British withdrawal from the region. By sneaking in, and racing out, Bush would hope to draw the attention away from the men behind the curtain, and while Brown can argue that this is not an admission of defeat, Bush's stunt certainly lends credence to that charge.

The Bush White House, while never particularly deft in policy and promotion, has suddenly turned a tin ear to the events of the day.

All this now puts increasing pressure on the Democrats in Congress to come up with a viable plan to get our troops out, quickly, while staunching the blood from this bizarre and ill-advised incursion into another innocent nation's sovereignty.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Islamabad News For Musharraf

Developments in Pakistan keep one wondering how much longer Bush will wait to step in:
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto says negotiations with the country's leadership have broken down and that she will announce the day she is coming home on 14 September.

Nawaz Sharif, another exiled former PM, has already fixed a date for his return - 10 September - and he will head a procession through Punjab province, the country's political heartland, to his home city of Lahore.
In case you're keeping score, that's three people with legitimate claim to lead Pakistan.

Bhutto and Musharraf had been negotiating, at first secretly then not-so-secretly, over a power sharing scheme. Musharraf is under pressure from the Pakistani judiciary, since the law states clearly that no one can be head of the state and head of the army at the same time.

It didn't help matters much that Musharraf has had run-ins with the Pakistani courts, trying to fire the equivalent of a SCOTUS judge earlier this year.

Too, Bhutto herself is under some heat, as she has corruption charges pending against her, from two separate administrations (no wonder Condi Rice likes her!)

Clearly, Sharif don't like it (sorry), this pending coalition. A Bhutto-Musharraf power sharing scheme would see a coalition of moderate Pakistani (mostly Muslim) created, although not without some major rifts to be patched over among followers.

Sharif was deposed by Musharraf, so a deal between those two factions would be even more unlikely than a Bhutto/Musharraf alliance.

Sharif is no picnic either. Although he was successful in passing a constitutional amendment that essentially put an end to the process that has seen ten prime ministers since 1990 (the president of Pakistan, the position Musharraf holds, could remove the prime minister, the more powerful post, by declaration), he also passed some pretty nasty legislation with regards to the legislative process, in that the parliament could not declare a vote of no confidence and all party members had to vote along party lines.

Kinda negates the whole democratic process, don't you think?

We're not talking about the lesser of three evils, in other words: on the one hand, in Musharraf you have a military leader, a dictator, who's loyalties lie with an army that has been notorious for aiding the Taliban and Al Qaeda. On the other hand, you have a deposed prime minister who has long-standing (and likely true) corruption charges hanging over her head, and on the other other hand, you have a deposed prime minister who's a bit tyrranical in his own right.

All this unfolds against the backdrop of a deadline of November for new elections, and a growing-but-small number of radical Islamists likely following the Hezbollah and Hamas models for gaining entree into the mainstream political process in order to co-opt a moderate Muslim nation (and for a very good explanation of this crisis, I recommend you pick up this month's National Geographic magazine).

This election in Pakistan could be the single most important development in the United States 2008 Presidential election.