Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Something for Nothing

And tricks for free: an introduction to zero point energy.

According to classical physics, the kinetic energy of a particle in a box or the kinetic energy of the harmonic oscillator could be zero - namely if the velocity were zero. But quantum mechanics with its uncertainty principle implies that because the uncertainty of the exactly vanishing velocity is zero, the uncertainty of the position must be infinite.

The Rule of Law, part 3

So, why're the secret military tribunals secret?
Because there's no evidence. But we don't let a thing like that stop us..

A military tribunal determined last fall that Murat Kurnaz, a German national seized in Pakistan in 2001, was a member of al Qaeda and an enemy combatant whom the government could detain indefinitely at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The three military officers on the panel, whose identities are kept secret, said in papers filed in federal court that they reached their conclusion based largely on classified evidence that was too sensitive to release to the public.

In fact, that evidence, recently declassified and obtained by The Washington Post, shows that U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information that linked Kurnaz to al Qaeda, any other terrorist organization or terrorist activities.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Yahoo! News : : Documents Show FBI Helped Saudis Depart After 9/11 Attacks

In case you still thought it was a paranoid liberal conspiracy theory:

The FBI played an active role in arranging chartered flights for dozens of well-connected Saudi nationals -- including relatives of Osama bin Laden -- after the 9/11 terror attacks.

The New York Times reported that the documents show Federal Bureau of Investigation agents gave personal airport escorts to two prominent Saudi families who fled the United States, while several other Saudis were allowed to leave the country without first being interviewed, citing newly-released US government records.

Original New York Times story here.

The Nation : : Bolton's Big Secret

The Daily Outrage has a scoop on John Bolton:

Much has been written about the appointment of unilateralist uber-hawk John Bolton as America's new UN ambassador, but there's been almost nothing regarding Bolton's role in promoting the fantasy that Saddam Hussein tried to acquire enriched uranium from Niger.

Check Your Hypocrisy Scorecard

Score one: Tom Delay's personal hypocrisy, in pulling the plug on his father in 1988.

Score two: Then-Governor Bush's policy permitting medical industry to pull the plug over the objections of family.

And for a double whammy: eliminating all funding for traumatic brain injury treatment, while 60% of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq suffer from this sort of injury.

A Plank In The US's Eye

This is just too classic for words:

The State Department's annual human rights report released yesterday criticized countries for a range of interrogation practices it labeled as torture, including sleep deprivation for detainees, confining prisoners in contorted positions, stripping and blindfolding them and threatening them with dogs -- methods similar to those approved at times by the Bush administration for use on detainees in U.S. custody...
...The State Department report also harshly attacked the treatment of prisoners in such countries as Syria and Egypt, where the United States has shipped terrorism suspects under a practice known as "rendition." An Australian citizen has alleged that under Egyptian detention he was hung by his arms from hooks, repeatedly shocked, nearly drowned and brutally beaten. Most of his fingernails were missing when he later arrived at Guantanamo Bay.

The complete report is here.

The Next Hurrah : : Lebanese Government Resigns; Real Story is Syria

From the Next Hurrah's archives, a brief rundown of happenings in Damascus following the Hariri assassination:

It’s hard to imagine that the pro-Syrian government would step down from power without the assent of their Syrian backers. Syrian views Lebanon as a buffer between it and Israel, and they have been the biggest power brokers in internal Lebanese politics since they occupied large swaths of the country in 1976. Lacking the buffer of the Golan Heights, the ability to send troops from the north against an Israeli flank provides some of the deterrent Syria lost when it lost control of the Golan Heights in 1967 during the Six Day War. But control of Lebanon, once imposed by a force of over 40,000 troops, is coming at a greater cost to Syria, and it appears that Bashar Assad is calculating those costs as not in Syria’s self-interest. The real question may become whether Assad can maintain his hold on power, or whether other forces will rise up to determine a different set of priorities for Syria’s self-interest.

Haven't We Heard This Before?

Journalists sometimes seem like they have the easiest jobs on earth. When simply writing down what the administration tells you to grows too tiring, you can write down what they told you two years ago and change one letter.
From Knight-Ridder:

WASHINGTON - Iran has built a secret underground facility inside a tightly guarded military complex to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, an Iranian exile charged on Thursday...
... A U.S. official, who insisted on anonymity because the matter involved intelligence methods, said the claim could not be substantiated "at this point."

The Scotsman : : Government Document Confirms Bin Laden Evaded Capture

Not that catching the administration in a lie is news any longer, but someone had to mention it..

The issue was a source of contention during last year’s presidential election and both Mr Bush and Mr Cheney referred to a column written by the former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, who said bin Laden “was never within our grasp” as evidence of their claims.
General Tommy Franks wrote in the New York Times: “We don’t know to this day whether Mr bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001.”

Plame Case May End With Criminal Going Free and 'Witnesses' Jailed

Editor and Publisher describes the effects of Plamegate on an already-complicit media:

The chief of one top chain's Washington bureau speaks of leads on stories that have "fizzled." A senior investigative reporter for a prominent national newspaper made the point that there is no way to measure the insidious effect of the Fitzgerald probe, in that it has become an invisible part of the warp and woof of the relationship between a free press and a security-obsessed administration.

One of Miller's former colleagues put it this way when describing her problematic role in the Plame case: "She has made it tougher for us all" by, in his view, essentially inventing the claim that she was contemplating a story about Plame.

Quote Of The Day

"This is a private issue as it relates to my daughter and myself and my wife." -- Jeb Bush

New EPA Mercury Rule Omits Conflicting Data

The Washington Post comments on the recent lukewarm EPA mercury guidelines:

When the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a rule last week to limit mercury emissions from U.S. power plants, officials emphasized that the controls could not be more aggressive because the cost to industry already far exceeded the public health payoff.

What they did not reveal is that a Harvard University study paid for by the EPA, co-authored by an EPA scientist and peer-reviewed by two other EPA scientists had reached the opposite conclusion.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Traditions

A few words about the pagan holiday. The neighbors will be putting up maypoles soon, I expect.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Peace and Freedom

Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army have not been much in the news lately, but they're a major concern in Iraq.

In the week of March 14th, members of the Mahdi Army beat and shot two Iraqi students to death. The students had offended the Mahdi Army by having a picnic in the park and playing music.

The murders occured in view of local police and British troops, neither of whom intervened.

Sadr and the Mahdi Army are able to behave so thuggishly because the local elected officials are too afraid to do anything about them. Coalition forces will not act without those cowed official's sanction.

Meanwhile, there's an active campaign underway for Sistani to receive the Nobel peace prize.

More about this at Healing Iraq.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

CBS News : : Report: 108 Died In U.S. Custody

Just for contrast, let's look at how many Americans died under the tender care of the evil, nasty, torture-you-just-for-fun VC during the entirety of the Vietnam War: 114 deaths in captivity.
And the latest figures out of Iraq and Afghanistan? 108 deaths in US custody. Most from 'violent causes'.
I've said it before - our armed forces are efficient. All the brutality in 1/5 the time.

Aljazeera.Net : : Journalists tell of US Falluja killings

Further allegations of US atrocities, to start off the morning, and further allegations that US soldiers deliberately target anyone trying to count or report Iraqi casualties.

"The first major operation by US marines and Iraqi soldiers was to storm Falluja general hospital, arresting doctors and placing the facility under military control.
"The New York Times reported that 'the hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumours about heavy casualties'...

Schiavo Shennanegans

The University of Miami has a number of resources related to the Schiavo case, including this handy timeline. Also, to rebut people casting aspersions on the husband's motives, $1-million offered to end husband's role

Monday, March 21, 2005

GOP Hypocrisy And The Right To Die

First, the law which Bush signed while Governer of Texas in 1999:

If the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient is requesting life-sustaining treatment that the attending physician has decided and the review process has affirmed is inappropriate treatment, the patient shall be given available life-sustaining treatment pending transfer under Subsection (d). The patient is responsible for any costs incurred in transferring the patient to another facility. The physician and the health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment after the 10th day after the written decision required under Subsection (b) is provided to the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient..

And now, the GOP's talking points regarding the Terry Schiavo case:

This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.

Yeah, you'd think so. But apparently a 6 month old boy can get this treatment without a peep from the GOP.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Houston Chronicle : : Shipping Was Extra

Halliburton, through its KBR subsidiary, was recently awarded a contract to deliver $82,100 worth of LPG into Iraq. At 33,500% markup. This is part of an established pattern - Halliburton's overbilled Uncle Sam for fuel imports to the tune of $108 million since the end of 'major combat operations'.

In the latest revelation about the company's oft-criticized performance in Iraq, a Pentagon audit report disclosed Monday showed Halliburton subsidiary KBR spent $82,100 to buy liquefied petroleum gas, better-known as LPG, in Kuwait and then 335 times that number to transport the fuel into violence-ridden Iraq.

ANWR Voting Record

See how each Senator voted on the recent amendment here.

Guardian Unlimited : : 'One Huge US Jail'

With media attention diverted to Iraq - thanks to legions of 'embedded' reporters, and examples like Tareq Ayyoub, Mazen Dana, and Giuliana Sgrena to discourage the independant-minded - we're free to do all sorts of things elsewhere. The Guardian examines some of our current projects in Afghanistan.

Washington likes to hold up Afghanistan as an exemplar of how a rogue regime can be replaced by democracy. Meanwhile, human-rights activists and Afghan politicians have accused the US military of placing Afghanistan at the hub of a global system of detention centres where prisoners are held incommunicado and allegedly subjected to torture. The secrecy surrounding them prevents any real independent investigation of the allegations. "The detention system in Afghanistan exists entirely outside international norms, but it is only part of a far larger and more sinister jail network that we are only now beginning to understand," Michael Posner, director of the US legal watchdog Human Rights First, told us.

Washington Post : : Retirement Accounts Questioned

Well, if "Who came up with this stupid idea?" is the question. If the unrealistic rates of return the program's supporters are promoting are to be believed, 32% of workers who divert their payroll taxes would do worse than those who don't. Using more realistic figures, the percentage jumps to 71%. Brad Plumer has more:

...Note what's involved here: benefit cut #1, a tax hike, and benefit cut #2.** That's important.
...Shiller's just pointing out that private accounts won't make up the losses from benefit cut #2 described above. But workers will also still suffer from benefit cut #1, and they'll also have to pay off higher taxes thanks to all the borrowing involved in the transition to privatization. So when you factor in all three components of the Bush plan, workers are getting not a 3.4 percent return or a 2.6 percent return, but much, much less.

Washington Post : : War Helps Recruit Terrorists, Hill Told

More news from Captain Obvious:

"Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism," he said. "They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."

Of course, the US military and intelligence communities are 'baffled' by the rising insurgency. 'Gee, we invade their country, disrupt their lives and slaughter them in their thousands - why would they listen to people who tell them to fight back?'

NY Times : : Chavez Followers Get Paramilitary Training

Gee, and we hadn't even promised not to invade yet...

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Chanting ``fatherland or death,'' dozens of President Hugo Chavez's supporters lined up in formation, vowing to defend the country if the United States tries to invade. Led by an army reservist, the volunteers in black caps said their numbers would swell in the coming months.

See also: Venezuelan Leader Frustrates US

The United States, frustrated by frequent attacks from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is looking for ways to support opponents of the leftist leader in elections next year, US officials and analyst said.

Washington Post : : U.S. Misled Allies About Nuclear Export

And it gets better: we lied in order to protect Pakistan - the world's black market for nuclear arms and a major harborer of terrorists.

In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.

Pakistan's role as both the buyer and the seller was concealed to cover up the part played by Washington's partner in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders...

NY Times : : CIA Torture Might Have Broken Law

From the horse's mouth: the head of the CIA refuses to deny that his agency has illegaly tortured 'detainees' since 9/11.

Washington - Porter J. Goss, the director of central intelligence, said Thursday that he could not assure Congress that the Central Intelligence Agency's methods of interrogating terrorism suspects since Sept. 11, 2001, had been permissible under federal laws prohibiting torture.

t r u t h o u t : : The Intelligence Made Me Do It

Ray McGovern skewers the spin that the administration was duped into invading Iraq by faulty intelligence.

Let's review now. It was bad intelligence that made President George W. Bush invade Iraq, right? No, you say, and you are correct; that is just White House spin. The "intelligence" was conjured up many months after President George W. Bush's decision to attack.

Daily Kos :: Draft Must Be Ready Within 75 Days!

Recently FOIA'd documents reveal plans for a variety of draft scenarios.

On March 31st, the Director of the Selective Service System (the SSS) is due to report to the Pentagon that the agency is ready to open 1,980 draft board offices around the country and be ready to operate lotteries by June 15th...

...The Pentagon has been getting ready for a draft since Feb. 11, 2003, when the head of the SSS met with Deputy Undersecretaries of the DoD on the plans for a medical and special skills draft to be called with a combat draft.
Actual Secret Draft Agenda of Feb. 11 2003(.PDF)

Yahoo! News : : Study: Abstinence Pledgers May Risk STDs

Abstinence-only education exposes children to risk without affecting STD infection rates in the slightest.
Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to take chances with other kinds of sex that increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases...
... The pledging group was also less likely to use condoms during their first sexual experience or get tested for STDs, the researchers found.

Just another public health hazard being propped up by your tax dollars.

USA Today : : GOP Boards Up The 'Town Hall'

With the March campaign season coming up, Republicans are considering how best to push the destruction of Social Security, even in the face of massive popular disapproval.

Republicans in Congress have a game plan to avoid "March madness" when they go home this weekend to talk to constituents about Social Security during a two-week holiday recess.
Shaken by raucous protests at open "town hall"-style meetings last month, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio and other GOP leaders are urging lawmakers to hold lower-profile events this time.

BBC NEWS : : Secret US Plans For Iraq's Oil

Greg Palast has uncovered not one, but two administration plans for the forcible removal of Saddam and the plundering of Iraq's oil reserves. The planning began just weeks after Bush's appointment in 2000. The seperate strategies were the result of tension between two opposing camps - the neocons and Big Oil. The prevailing plan - finalized just before the invasion began in 2003 - is the focus of an article in next month's Harper's. Meanwhile, here's the BBC on the story, and some excerpts on Greg's website.

The industry-favoured plan was pushed aside by a secret plan, drafted just before the invasion in 2003, which called for the sell-off of all of Iraq's oil fields. The new plan was crafted by neo-conservatives intent on using Iraq's oil to destroy the Opec cartel through massive increases in production above Opec quotas.
The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London headed by Ahmed Chalabi shortly after the US entered Baghdad, according to Robert Ebel.
Mr Ebel, a former Energy and CIA oil analyst, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Newsnight he flew to the London meeting at the request of the State Department.
Mr Aljibury, once Ronald Reagan's "back-channel" to Saddam, claims that plans to sell off Iraq's oil, pushed by the US-installed Governing Council in 2003, helped instigate the insurgency and attacks on US and British occupying forces.

Iraq By The Numbers

American Progress marks the two year anniversary of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq with a few salient points:

The Bush administration's rationale for war was dead wrong. All of the rationales posed by the White House as justification for the war have been thoroughly debunked. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein had no collaborative ties to al Qaeda. Bush's talk of freedom and democracy appear to be afterthoughts to justify a war of choice. Although these are laudable goals, they were not the stated reasons for sending U.S. servicemen and women to die. The administration misled the nation into war and now wants us to believe its motives were noble.

Also, Think Progress has a few interesting figures, for the mathematically inclined.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Think Progress : : What Would Brian Boitano Do?

In the wake of the recent vote striking down a measure to prohibit drilling in ANWR, Think Progress raises aspects of the measure not discussed elsewhere: the impact on the protected Porcupine Caribou, and on the indiginous Gwich'in who depend on them.

Nothing Up My Sleeve...

Given that destroying Social Security is clearly a lost cause, why is the administration still trying so hard? Evangelical Capitalism suggests that it supplies a smoke screen for the bankruptcy and tort 'reform' measures.

One Shot, One Kill

One thing about US armed forces - they're efficient. The enemy had to kill 192 people to get Spain to withdraw from Iraq. With the Italians, we did the job with just one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

F*cked Company : Delay, Inc.

TAPPED offers an executive summary of the work being done by Think Progress, The Daily Delay, and The Stakeholder, in keeping tabs on the scandals surrounding the now-busily-circling-the-drain House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

* Austin district attorney Ronnie Earle’s ongoing grand jury investigation into campaign finance violations on the part of Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC) during the 2002 state legislative elections; as recently as last week Earle appeared on 60 Minutes and pointedly refused to rule out a future indictment of DeLay (who set up TRMPAC).
* The just-concluded civil trial concerning a lawsuit filed against TRMPAC by several ousted Texas Democratic legislators, during the course of which new evidence surfaced of DeLay’s direct involvement in TRMPAC’s operations. The TRMPAC scandal has not only helped to fatten the coffers of DeLay’s legal defense fund, but has also inspired the creation of a similar legal defense fund for the already-indicted DeLay operative Jim Ellis, to which House reps like Roy Blunt, Tom Feeney, and Ralph Regula have already contributed.
* The ever-expanding comic opera that is the Jack Abramoff-Mike Scanlon Indian casino lobbying scandal. Not only were Abramoff and Scanlon long-time confidants (and, in Scanlon’s case, a former employee) of DeLay’s, there is also clear evidence that one of Abramoff’s tribal clients funded a trip DeLay took to London in 2000 by funneling money through a right-wing think tank. Months later DeLay helped kill a bill the tribe wanted defeated.
* New evidence that DeLay, along with a bipartisan roster of fellow House members, took trips funded by a registered foreign agent -- the Korea- U.S. Exchange Council -- in violation of House ethics rules. As a must-read new report in Time reveals, the council shares the same address as the lobbying office of DeLay’s former chief of staff.
* The breakdown of the House ethics committee, which is now mired in a deadlock as Democratic members refuse to agree to the rules changes that DeLay helped push through in January and continue to rail against the purge of disloyal Republicans from the panel and their replacement by reps who have donated to DeLay’s legal defense fund. (It turns out that one of the new members, Lamar Smith of Texas, has not only donated to the fund but also hosted a fundraiser for TRMPAC in 2002.) The ethics committee imbroglio is now a PR battle -- Republicans would have no problem letting the committee remain paralyzed indefinitely if they believed they could get away with it, but Democrats are counting on the slew of recent ethics-related news coverage to shine the spotlight on the situation in the committee.

Yahoo! News : : Congress Mulls Cutting Food Aid to Poor

Faced with a choice between cutting corporate welfare to the nation's largest agribusiness concerns or taking food from the mouths of the starving poor - which would you do?
Check your answers here.

The president wants to lower the maximum subsidies that can be collected each year by any one farm operation from $360,000 to $250,000. He also asked Congress to cut by 5 percent all farm payments, and he wants to close loopholes that enable some growers to annually collect millions of dollars in subsidies.

Instead, Republican committee chairmen are looking to carve savings from nutrition and land conservation programs that are also run by the Agriculture Department. The government is projected to spend $52 billion this year on nutrition programs like food stamps, school lunches and special aid to low-income pregnant women and children. Farm subsidies will total less than half that, $24 billion.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said the $36 billion food stamp program is a good place to look for savings.

Negroponte's Troops Involved in Shooting

It turns out that the mobile patrol which fired on Giuliana Sgrena's car was personally assigned to.. John Negroponte.
Italy claims the US embassy was notified in advance of the rescued journalist's approach. Now.. who's our ambassador in Iraq?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Why Not Perry Mason?

In a comparison with the famous attorney, recent nomine to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals William Myers comes up short, despite the fact that his adversary does not actually exist.

Mr. Myers, nominated to a post where an essential function is to correct errors made by judges in jury trials, has never picked a jury, made a closing argument to a jury, questioned a witness before a jury, or participated in any way in a jury trial. All of his very limited practice (according to his questionnaire, he has only handled about 12 cases in his life and in some of those he was not the lead attorney) has been in non-jury cases.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The New Republic Online : : Iraq'd

The GOP is predictably stonewalling the political aspects of the 9/11 investigation:

Last July, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 511-page report into how the intelligence community erroneously assessed Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass production programs and relationship to Al Qaeda. However, it wasn't complete. Committee members opted to defer inquiry into the politically hazardous questions of how accurately the Bush administration represented the intelligence it possessed on Iraq to the Congress and the public and how appropriately administration policymakers influenced the assessment and presentation of intelligence products within the government until after the November election.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Breaking the Law

Thomas B. Griffith, President Bush's nominee for the federal appeals court in Washington, has for years been practicing law without a license. Wampum has more about the man here and here.

Mercy, Mercy Me

The American Prospect has a column concerning the GOP-controlled House's recent pig-in-a-silk-dress mercury report:

You won't believe it until you read it. With its recently released report titled "Mercury in Perspective: Fact and Fiction About the Debate Over Mercury”(.PDF), the GOP leadership of the House Committee on Resources has brought scientific debate on an already politicized issue to a new low...
...In order to achieve this feat, the Pombo report has to run roughshod over much of what we know about mercury risks from reliable sources like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Instead, the report turns to industry and think-tank opinion. Of its 59 references, 14 cite industry sources like the Edison Electric Institute and Electric Power Research Institute or conservative think tanks like the Center for Science and Public Policy (CSPP) at Frontiers of Freedom (which calls the basis for any regulation of mercury from power plants "questionable"). Indeed, compare Figures 1 and 7 from the Pombo report (.PDF) with Figures 1 and 3 from this CSPP document (.PDF) -- you may note some similarities.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Political Malpractice

The administration's position on medical malpractice awards is thoroughly punctured. Be sure to read the section on the economy just below, too.

According to the CBO, there is "no statistically significant difference in per capita health care spending between states with and without limits on malpractice torts."

Friday, March 11, 2005

Freedom On The March

From PERRspectives:

In triumphant and self-congratulatory tones, the President and his allies are taking credit for the sweeping reform throughout the Middle East. President Bush proclaimed, “Freedom is on the march.” The National Review’s Rich Lowry crowed “Bush has put the United States in the right position to encourage and take advantage of democratic irruptions in the region.” And in Time, while “history has yet to yield a verdict on the final outcome”, Charles Krauthammer was not so cautious: “three cheers for the Bush Doctrine.”

It’s too bad there’s no such thing.

More from Juan Cole:

I don't think Bush had anything much to do with the current Lebanese national movement except at the margins. Walid Jumblatt, the embittered son of Kamal whom the Syrians defeated in 1976 at the American behest, said he was inspired by the fall of Saddam. But this sort of statement from a Druze warlord strikes me as just as manipulative as the news conferences of Ahmad Chalabi, who is also inspired by Saddam's fall. Jumblatt has a long history of anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment that makes his sudden conversion to neoconism likely a mirage. He has wanted the Syrians back out since 1976, so it is not plausible that anything changed for him in 2003.

Social Security's Role

John Marshall defines the basic premise of Social Security:

The concept behind Social Security is fundamentally different. The first premise is that if you put in a lifetime's work there is simply a level of destitution below which society will not let you fall...
...People who made big bucks through their lives don't get a particularly good 'deal' from Social Security, if you insist on seeing it in investment terms. But that's a distorting prism, sort of like thinking you got a rotten deal on your medical insurance if you never have a catastrophic illness.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Tear Down This Wall!

An essay concerning the real causes for the decline of Soviet Communism.

The New Iraq

Puzzling Out Syria

Starting from this interview with Steven A. Cook, Bradford Plumer examines the current state of Syria:

Josh Landis had a post awhile back about how even if Bashar Assad wanted to crack down on the Iraqi Baathists inside Syria, he might not be able to due to corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, incompetence, etc. etc. Now it seems with the latest capture of a high-ranking Iraqi insurgent—one of Saddam's half-brothers—by Syrian intelligence, this might change. On the one hand, the dude was captured in Beirut, where Syrian intelligence seems really quite good, so it's no guarantee that the Damascus government can continue to crack down on Iraqis. And on the other other hand, perhaps this is all a shrewd move by Syria to get the U.S. off its back. ("We'll capture you some nice juicy Iraqi Baathists, you let us wander around in Lebanon for a bit longer, eh?")

Washington Post : : Italian Calls U.S. Gunfire Unjustified

Now that we get to hear Ms. Sgrena's version of events, we find it contradicts the official story:

"We weren't going very fast, given the circumstances. It was not a checkpoint, but a patrol that started firing right after lighting up a spotlight. The firing was not justified by the movement of our automobile,"..

NY Times : : Rule Change Lets C.I.A. Freely Send Suspects Abroad to Jails

In the days after 9/11, Bush signed a still-secret order allowing the CIA to outsource torture:

The Bush administration's secret program to transfer suspected terrorists to foreign countries for interrogation has been carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency under broad authority that has allowed it to act without case-by-case approval from the White House or the State or Justice Departments...

What Iraqi Checkpoints Are Like

Annia Ciezadlo gives us a look at the checkpoints where so many people are losing their lives:

You're driving along and you see a couple of soldiers standing by the side of the road - but that's a pretty ubiquitous sight in Baghdad, so you don't think anything of it. Next thing you know, soldiers are screaming at you, pointing their rifles and swiveling tank guns in your direction, and you didn't even know it was a checkpoint.

If it's confusing for me - and I'm an American - what is it like for Iraqis who don't speak English?

Don't Think of an Elephant

This review of Lakoff's classic includes an excerpt explaining in detail the conservative vs. progressive mindsets and values, beginning from the 'strict father/nurturant parent' ideas and building from there. This is why the book's a must read.

How a Contractor Cashed In on Iraq

Jason McLure examines price-gouging by the Administration's business associates in Iraq. This sort of embarassment is what led to the recent crackdown on whistleblower suits.

A $33,000 food order in Mosul was billed to the U.S.-led interim government of Iraq at $432,000. Electricity that cost $74,000 was invoiced at $400,000. Even $10 kettles got a 400 percent markup.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

TomPaine.com : : Hail, Hail The Gang's All Here

The nomination of John Negroponte to the new post of director of National Intelligence (DNI) caps a remarkable parade of Bush administration senior nominees. Among the most recent:

Alberto Gonzales, confirmed as attorney general: the lawyer who advised the president he could ignore the US War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions on torture and create a “reasonable basis in law...which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution.”
Michael Chertoff, confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security: the lawyer who looked the other way when 762 innocent immigrants (mostly of Arab and South Asian descent) were swept up in a post-9/11 dragnet and held as “terrorism suspects” for several months. The dictates of PR trumped habeas corpus; the detentions fostered an image of quick progress in the “war on terrorism.”
John Negroponte: the congenial, consummate diplomat now welcomed back into the brotherhood. Presently our ambassador in Baghdad, Negroponte is best known to many of us as the ambassador to Honduras with the uncanny ability to ignore human rights abuses so as not to endanger congressional support for the attempt to overthrow the duly elected government of Nicaragua in the '80s. Negroponte’s job was to hold up the Central American end of the Reagan administration’s support for the Contra counterrevolutionaries, keeping Congress in the dark, as necessary.

Consortiumnews : : Negroponte's Blind Spots

Perspective on the selection of John Negroponte for the post of national intelligence chief:

It seems that Negroponte either oversaw a stunningly inept U.S. intelligence operation at the embassy in Tegucigalpa – missing major events occurring almost under his nose – or he is someone ready to tolerate atrocities – including torture, rape and murder – while slanting intelligence reporting to please his superiors in Washington.

The New York Times : : New Poll Finds Bush Priorities Are Out of Step With Americans

But, you know, the electorate's delivered a mandate..

Americans say President Bush does not share the priorities of most of the country on either domestic or foreign issues, are increasingly resistant to his proposal to revamp Social Security and say they are uneasy with Mr. Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the retirement program, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The Seattle Times : : Rumsfeld Sued Over Detainees' Abuse

Seeking to link the U.S. military command to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American Civil Liberties Union and a human-rights organization sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and three Army commanders yesterday on behalf of former detainees, charging that the military authorized illegal interrogation techniques.

t r u t h o u t : : The Third Stage of American Empire

American history and empire, courtesy of William Rivers Pitt:

There have been three stages of American empire since the creation of this nation. Each has fed the other, and each has been established and fortified by war. More importantly, each has been fortified by the vast profits derived by the few in the making of war.

Think Progress : : Deforming the System

More about the Bankruptcy “Reform” Act:

This credit industry wish-list does nothing to address the causes of spiraling bankruptcy rates in America, like predatory lending practices, stagnant wages and a lack of health care. Instead, it cynically caricatures bankrupt families as “deadbeats” who must be punished by higher costs and less protection from creditors–never mind the fact that about 96% of all bankruptcies are caused by medical emergencies, job loss, divorce or a death in the family.

Salon : : Tearing Down the Press

Speculations about the Administration's taming of the press, and its ultimate course:

...in the wake of revelations about the aggressive and unprecedented tactics employed by the White House to manipulate the news, that relatively benign interpretation is being reexamined. Recent headlines about paid-off pundits, video press releases disguised as news telecasts, and the remarkable press access granted to a right-wing pseudo-journalist working under a phony name, have led some to conclude that the White House is not simply aggressively managing the news, but is out to sabotage the press corps from within, to undermine the integrity and reputation of journalism itself.

..."If you believe there is no inherent value to public dialogue based on fact, then that frees you up to try all sorts of things other people in power wouldn't have ever thought of."

LA Times : : Credit Card Firms Won as Users Lost

Besides being an overt transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, the stated reasons for the changes are completely moot.
From the LA Times:

In the eight years since they began pressing for the tough bankruptcy bill being debated in the Senate, America's big credit card companies have effectively inoculated themselves from many of the problems that sparked their call for the measure.
..."Most of the credit cards that end up in bankruptcy proceedings have already made a profit for the companies that issued them," said Robert R. Weed, a Virginia bankruptcy lawyer and onetime aide to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"That's because people are paying so many fees that they've already paid more than was originally borrowed," he said.

In addition, some experts say, the changes proposed in the Senate bill would fundamentally alter long-standing American legal policy on debt.

...The proposed law, by preventing many debtors from seeking bankruptcy protection, would compel financially insolvent borrowers to continue trying to pay off the old debts almost indefinitely.

MSNBC : : Aboard Air CIA

The story of Khaled el-Masri:

Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was taken off a bus in Macedonia...
...Masri says he was then flown to Afghanistan, where at a U.S. prison facility he was shackled, repeatedly punched and questioned about extremists at his mosque in Ulm, Germany..
...NEWSWEEK has obtained previously unpublished flight plans indicating the agency has been operating a Boeing 737 as part of a top-secret global charter servicing clandestine interrogation facilities used in the war on terror. And the Boeing's flight information, detailed to the day, seems to confirm Masri's tale of abduction.

TradeArabia : : Halliburton Could Get $1.5bn More Iraq Work

Halliburton, under scrutiny for its contracts in Iraq, would receive an extra $1.5 billion as part of the Bush administration's additional war spending proposal for fiscal 2005..

Macleans : : Is America Going Broke?

David Walker can see the future, and it scares the hell out of him.
...The numbers are staggering -- a US$43-trillion hole in America's public finances that's getting worse every day. And the stakes are almost inconceivable for a generation of politicians and voters raised in relative prosperity, who've never known severe economic hardship. But that plush North American lifestyle to which we've all grown accustomed has been bought on credit, and the bill is rapidly nearing its due date.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Washington Post : : Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld's Domain

An introduction to the Strategic Support Branch:

The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA's historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad...

LA Times : : Company's Work in Iraq Profited Bush's Uncle

William H.T. "Bucky" Bush, the President's uncle, recently pocketed $450,000, thanks to a no-bid contract the Pentagon just happened to give to his company. The DoD Inspector General is reviewing the contract; meanwhile, Rep. Henry A. Waxman is demanding that this and similar contracts be made public.

Asia Times Online : : Bush: The strategist in the shadows

Robert Juhl offers an interesting take on the US's current Middle Eastern policy: that George W. Bush is not merely a neo-con puppet, but in fact a cynical master manipulator who's played the right and slaughtered thousands in order to pacify the Middle East.

For decades, US geopolitical strategy in the Middle East has relied on Israel being the dominant player. Israel's power to inflict huge losses on its enemies has kept the rest of the Middle East players dependent on outside powers and disunited. This was a strategy that provided stable, cheap oil prices as long as oil supplies were plentiful and consumers had the upper hand.

In recent years, however, this strategy was becoming increasingly counter-productive...

...It was time for a fundamental change in strategy toward the Middle East. The question Bush confronted was how to reduce US reliance on Israel in a manner that would allow it to survive and, with skillful diplomacy, prosper.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Framing Project

PoliticalStrategy.org, home of the recommended-reading "Framing: Primer for a Progressive Revolution", has made the infamous Luntz Republican playbook(.ZIP) available, broken down chapter-by-chapter into searchable HTML.
PART 1: Introduction
PART 2: Setting the Context and Tone
PART 3: Growth, Prosperity, & Restore Energy and Economic Security
PART 4: International Trade: Promoting America's Competitiveness
PART 5: The Budget: Ending Wasteful Washington Spending
PART 6: Tax Relief & Simplification
PART 7: Social Security = Retirement Security

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Guardian Unlimited : : Why death is no big deal

In a bracing display of cynicism, AL Kennedy recounts a litany of horror stories from the War On Whatever and concludes death must be no big deal:

If either of them actually wanted the public's attention they should realize that having Kelly Osbourne shove a stick up their arse would have done it, or having someone, you know, attractive in those obscene photos. Think of how popular Hugh Grant's arrest snap still remains, and that barely suggests the erotic action that preceded his bust.

Syria & Lebanon: Understanding What's Next

In the wake of the Rafiq Hariri assasination, Juan Cole gets us up to speed with a backgrounder on Syria and Lebanon.

LA Times : : U.S. Wants Avowal Against Abortion

A summit marking the 10th anniversary of the U.N Women's Conference in Beijing with the stated goal of advancing global equality for women is being deadlocked by the US, until the attending delegates declare that women have no right to an abortion. This demand has led to a widespread outcry.
Of course, given that American women enjoy a Supreme Court sanctioned Constitutional right to an abortion, the Administration's position would seem to be that our Constitutional rights aren't really rights at all...

Telegraph : : 'America would back Israel attack on Iran'

Adding support to the theory that the US will strike Iran through an intermediary, witness this Telegraph article:

'Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened.'

What's So Bad About Medicare?

Bradford Plumer examines some of the problems, real and mythical, with the current Medicare system:

There are any number of myths about Medicaid: It provides crappy health care! Er, no, Medicaid recipients tend to be about as happy with their health care as those with private insurance. Or how about: The program is a bureaucratic nightmare! Not really. In 2002, administrative expenses were $12 billion for a $257.2 billion program. Now I've heard that this understates the administrative costs, but this argument mostly has to do with interest on the debt that funds these programs (i.e. not problems with Medicaid per se).

NY Times : : Kansas Prosecutor Demands Files on Late-Term Abortion Patients

Kansas is in the news again. This time the state Attorney General, a longtime abortion foe, is demanding the complete medical files of the patients of two Kansas abortion clinics. The American Prospect has a great deal of commentary.

NY Times : : Justice Dept. Opposes Bid to Revive Case Against F.B.I.

Labor Blog and Ezra Klein share their perspectives on a recently dismissed whistleblower suit against the FBI:
The translator, Sibel Edmonds, was a contract linguist for the bureau for about six months, translating material in Azerbaijani, Farsi and Turkish. Ms. Edmonds was dismissed in 2002 after complaining repeatedly that bureau linguists had produced slipshod and incomplete translations of important terrorism intelligence before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.