Saturday, August 4, 2007

Just Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?

Via Atrios:

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's electricity grid could collapse any day because of insurgent sabotage, rising demand, fuel shortages and provincial officials who are unplugging local power stations from the national system, electricity officials said on Saturday.


Hard To Swallow

I just don't get it. I really don't understand at all. First, Harry Reid and the most of the Dems cave on Bush's spying legislation and then this:

The back-and-forth over the surveillance bill came as partisan tensions on the Hill reached new heights. With Democrats scrambling to pass legislation covering energy and defense spending, GOP lawmakers in the House staged a walk-out late on Thursday night, accusing the Democratic leadership of stealing a key vote. The LAT argues that the rancor risks casting a shadow over the Democrats' first year of majority rule; the NYT traces the tension to an entrenched ideological standoff that has blocked progress throughout the year. The Post reports that the House will launch a special committee with subpoena power to investigate the vote-stealing charge—an extraordinary measure usually reserved for issues like Watergate or the Iran-Contra scandal.
Ok, nevermind the utter hypocrisy of Republicans being in a uproar over heavy-handed voting in the House. You have to hand it to them for being dramatic, their pure gall, and using their limited power.

But look at how the leadership is responding. The Republicans walked out! And the intrepid House leadership gets all sorry and wants to appoint a special prosecutor?

So in the Senate, Harry caves like a cheap tent and in the House, the Republicans, who are the minority, stage a walkout that causes the House Dems to cave. I just don't know. The Dems still do not understand the nature of politics as an event, a stage, a narrative, in this era. When will they understand that the optics matter more than substance, and appearing like wimps makes them .... well .... wimps.

Bush now has the cover he needs to continue what has been up to now and illegal wire tapping program. And in the House, Republicans now will have an "investigation" of the Democratic leadership by a special prosecutor, which will likely garner just a few headlines (do you think ordinary voters will understand that what happened was child's play compared to what the Republicans did? The Republicans never had a "special prosecutor investigating anything!?). The spying program is legitimized and is now a precedent for when they revisit the issue (the only real concession Dems got) in six months. The only oversight will be by two Bush administration officials, one of whom is Abu Gonzales.

The whole thing stinks.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Too Far

You find the funniest things when you're out and about.

Today I was waiting (forever it seemed) in the doctors office. To kill time, I picked up Newsweek and was surprised to see a story on anti-depressants .....

I've written on an earlier blog about the ridiculous "warnings" given to parents about using the family of SSRI's (Prozac et. al.) on teens. The anecdotal evidence of Prozac causing suicides was ridiculous on the face, and not supported by the evidence. But the lawyers and grieving parents, in my estimation, wrongly put enormous pressure on the FDA and it worked. Recommendations against the drug's use and labeling changes went forward.

Well, now it looks like the truth is starting to emerge:

According to a new study in The Journal of American Psychiatry, the number of SSRI prescriptions for pediatric depression (ages 5 to 18) tumbled more than 50 percent between 2003 and 2005. In a troubling parallel development, the number of teen suicides jumped a record 18 percent between 2003 and 2004, the most recent year for which data exist.

Are the two trends connected? Many experts say yes. "All the data point in one direction: antidepressants save lives and untreated depression kills people," says Dr. Kelly Posner, a Columbia University child psychiatrist. She and others cite an unwitting instigator: the Food and Drug Administration—which may have scared parents and doctors away from SSRIs in 2003 when it issued a health-advisory warning of a potential link between the popular drugs and teen suicide. The agency, assisted at the time by Posner, followed up in 2004 with a "black box" warning of an "increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior among children and adolescents." Now, amid fears that it's done more harm than good, there are calls for the FDA to modify and even repeal its black box. "I think the FDA has made a very serious mistake. It should lift its black-box warning because all it's doing is killing kids," says Dr. Robert Gibbons, of the University of Illinois's Center for Health Statistics. (Gibbons was a dissenting member of the FDA advisory committee that voted for the black box.) Others agree, including Dr. John Mann, a suicide expert at Columbia University, who fought the warning on the ground that it would have a chilling effect on treatment. "Short of rescinding, the FDA should shift its balance to reflect new wisdom about the beneficial effects of antidepressants," he says. Drugmakers continue to support the FDA but also suspect its actions have had a dangerous impact.
So it took a few dead kids to change the law, and it's now taking a whole lot more dead kids to have rationality return to drug policy.

Do you remember any headline stories about the evidence showing SSRI's are probably better than not? It was in the July 16th issue of Newsweek and I don't remember a thing about it in any other publications .... anywhere. Compare that with the hysterical headlines when the momentum started to go against Prozac. It's like a headline proclaiming that you molested your kid and a next day a retraction appears on page C15.

Good job FDA. Good job media. Shame on parents and practioners for falling for the hype. And RIP to the kids who likely could have been saved.


Stick Around

This is just too funny. Bush is threatening to keep Congress in session unless they pass an "acceptable" new FISA bill. And he can do it.

But so what? Let him. Congress needs to take their time on this legislation, unlike the Patriot Act. It will equally inconvenience Republicans, Democrats and the President, so it's no biggie.

Frankly, I'd think Bush would want Congress in recess given their relationship, investigations, and the P.R. that comes out for Georgie when Congress is in session.


California GOP Is Wacko

Unless your in California (and maybe not even then) you may not have heard that the minority Republicans in the Senate are holding the budget hostage to other concessions. Because a budget requires a two-thirds vote to pass, they're leveraging a bunch of other legislation with the threat of closing down the government.

We all know how well that worked for Newt.

You can read about the details here in a very nicely summarized post on the subject.



If you want to see a really really scary site, go here and look at pics of all the leftie DFH orange satan worshipping freakazoids of the Yearly Kos conference.

It's astounding how .... well .... normal these folks look. And young (which is a good thing). And diverse.


What If?

What if FDR had run the war like GWB?



Yet another lousy jobs report.

Now it looks to be getting hard to get a job at Starbucks. Ninety six thousand new jobs is well under the 150,000 minimum needed to keep up with population growth.


You Knew There Was A Reason

Bush seemed so willing to comply with putting domestic spying back under FISA. Gee, I wonder why?

Because he was told to?

A federal intelligence court judge earlier this year secretly declared a key element of the Bush administration’s wiretapping efforts illegal, according to a lawmaker and government sources, providing a previously unstated rationale for fevered efforts by congressional lawmakers this week to expand the president’s spying powers. […]

The judge, whose name could not be learned, concluded early this year that the government had overstepped its authority in attempting to broadly surveil communications between two locations overseas that are passed through routing stations in the United States, according to two other government sources familiar with the decision.


Too Funny

Just go read. Beware, some sexual content.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Oh No.

Right on cue .....

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota officials were warned as early as 1990 that the bridge that plummeted into the Mississippi River was "structurally deficient," yet they relied on a strategy of patchwork fixes and stepped-up inspections.

"We thought we had done all we could," state bridge engineer Dan Dorgan told reporters not far from the mangled remains of the span. "Obviously something went terribly wrong."
But hey. Claire and all her ilk have their new designer handbags. That means everything is ok, right? I'll bet the families of the 34 dead and missing think it's awfully important we have plenty of spare change via tax cuts so we can keep consuming more and more!


Now .... Cumon .....

Ok, I can believe that someone made a mistake resulting in a market whiplash for one day.

But two?

Here's todays trading:

As David Fry notes in the chart, someone is messing with us. I don't know if it's one of the big money boys, the Treasury secret bailout group or what, but this kind of action, and on this kind of huge volume, just doesn't happen unless someone with a whole lotta pull is manipulating the market.



More on that nutso WaPo editorial by Pollack/O'Hanlon:

Via Froomkin:

George Packer blogs for the New Yorker: "I talked to Pollack yesterday. In answer to some of the questions I raised: he spoke with very few Iraqis and could independently confirm very little of what he heard from American officials. . . . The improvements in security, he said, are 'relative,' which is a heavy qualification, given the extreme violence of 2006 and early 2007. And it's far from clear that progress anywhere is sustainable. Everywhere he went, the line Pollack heard was that the central government in Baghdad is broken and the only solutions that can work are local ones.

"It was a step back from the almost definitive tone of 'A War We Just Might Win' (a bad headline, and not the authors'). That tone was misplaced, and it is already being used by an Administration that has always thought tactically and will grasp any shred of support, regardless of the facts, to win the short-term argument."

like the title says.


Time For A Depression

This is nothing new, but it does seem to be hitting new heights. Where's the latest Great Gatsby novel?

NEW YORK - Before Claire Stern goes back to school as a high school senior this fall, she needs a new tote. But not just any bag will do.

"I want a tote bag by Jaye Hersh that the celebrities are wearing, they're called Market Bags," said Stern, 17, who lives in Bronxville, New York. "It's more stylish than a backpack."

The bags retail for more than $100 if they're monogrammed and Stern has noticed actresses Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Alba wearing them.

Shopping for back-to-school apparel is a late summer ritual. But as tweens and teens become increasingly savvy about fashion, they're asking for luxury products, such as $200 designer handbags and $100-plus jeans.
As I said, nothing new here except the degree. And of course the inevitable question is, where are the parents? The answer is, flipping the credit card out of their wallets:
Where parents put their foot down depends on their income, said Klaris. And while a wardrobe of Prada might be too much for a parent to handle [I'll bet more will afford it than the writer knows], they might be more willing to spend on accessories, she said.

"They want their kids to fit in," she said. "They're still buying T-shirts at Target, but still having that (luxury) handbag."
Fit in.


It's also important to note that all of this is going on in the midst of a significant decrease in the participation rate of teens in the job market.

Great values we've got going on here.


What We Call This Is ......

... the royal screw job:

And you know how well the Federal government is helping these people:

NEW ORLEANS - A federal appeals court ruled Thursday against Hurricane Katrina victims who argued their insurance policies should have covered flood damage caused by levee breaches that flooded 80 percent of New Orleans during the 2005 storm.

The case could affect thousands of rebuilding residents and business owners in Louisiana. An insurance expert had said a ruling against the industry could have cost insurers $1 billion.
Well, it's not over yet. The case will certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Oh .... crap.


Headline: Gates Is Pregnant!

Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, virtually admitted to being pregnant today:


"In some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys [the Iraqi parliament] to come together on legislation," Gates said. "The kinds of legislation they're talking about will establish the framework of Iraq for the future so it's almost like our constitutional convention ... And the difficulty in coming to grips with those, we may all have underestimated six or eight months ago."
Surly Gates is talking about his unborn baby as the "we" in that statement because I would guess that a majority of the other "we's" in the freaking WORLD knew this was nearly impossible.


Quote Of The Day

Walter Mondale on his tenure in the Carter Administration:

Since the Carter administration left office, we have been criticized for many things. Yet I remain enormously proud of what we did in those four years, especially that we told the truth, obeyed the law and kept the peace.
No minor accomplishment that. Funny how we all took it so much for granted.


Get What You Pay For

You surely have heard about the bridge collapse in Minnesota. We don't know why it fell yet, but it was built in 1967.

Digby sums it up for me:

Governments all over the country have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, shifting money to immediate needs like health care and child welfare and hoping against hope that the roads and bridges and buildings built during the new deal era held up. "No New Taxes" has been the rallying cry for decades now, but nobody ever said how we were supposed to pay for the things we all take for granted. And, of course,when things like this happen, the wingers blame the government and everyone decries taxes even more.
Too true. Since my teenage years the mantra of lower taxes has been trumpeted by Republicans. And of course, voters have gone right along with the call while all the time enjoying the investments made by their tax paying parents.

In California we used to have some of the best schools in the nation. But with tax cutting and tax increase laws that require a two-thirds majority to pass (in my adult years, I've only seen one instance of a local bond/tax being passed), school funding has been hurt significantly. Yes, the state has made some investments in education, but what money that is funneled to school districts is often inadequate, has so many strings as to be virtually unusable, and often comes at the expense of infrastructure needs (Sacramento leevees anyone?). Local control of quality education via property taxes is a thing of the past, and California schools are now some of the worst. And of course, this was all predicted back in the 1970's by those who opposed the tax cuts.

Like many things baby-boomer, the sense of entitlement without sacrifice has been the underlying operative political theory of politics. We're now seeing a slow motion meltdown of our tax supported institutions and infrastructure. The amazing thing is that they've held up as well as they have as long as they have. The only question I have now is just how bad does the meltdown have to go before people start to see the need to invest in the common good? We've been warned about a nation-wide crisis in lousy bridge maintenance for years yet have seemingly done little to stop the deterioration. If this bridge fell due to neglect, it will be a tragic lesson in inattention. And meanwhile, we twitter away trillions in Iraq ........


Slow Dissolution

Looks like the Iraq government is dissolving .... again .....

Juan Cole:

The project of a national unity government was pushed in spring of 2006 by the US ambassador of that time, Zalmay Khalilzad, as a way of mollifying the Sunni Arabs, who had been left out in the cold during the government of Ibrahim Jaafari. Jaafari's Shiite United Iraqi Alliance had a simple majority in parliament in 2005. It only achieved about 46% in the December, 2005, elections, however, and Jaafari's successor, Nuri al-Maliki, at first needed at least 15 or so supporters from other lists to retain his majority. As time went on, al-Maliki lost the support of the Fadhila Party (a splinter of the Sadrist movement popular in Basra and loyal to Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yaqubi), which has 15 seats in parliament. Then the Sadrists or followers of Muqtada al-Sadr (32 seats) withdrew from his government, pulling their ministers. Now the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front has departed.

There is no longer a national unity government.

Al-Maliki has not only made no progress toward national reconciliation with the Sunni Arabs, he has now lost the few Sunni Arabs willing to cooperate closely with him.

The 'benchmarks' not only have not been met, but the situation is going backwards from where it was in January.
I'm glad someone keeps track of the players because I can't.

Government members have come and gone before. Who knows what this will mean in the short term or whether it's the end of al Maliki. What we can say is that anarchy continues in Iraq, and not just militarily. The government is in disarray and unable to function. For all practical purposes, there is no government but merely figureheads who depend on the U.S. military to maintain and office.


Ooops + Moooo = Weeee

Those who do not follow the stock market much might not have noticed an unusual occurence yesterday. The market was down modestly most of the day. Then, all of the sudden and in the final minutes of trading, the stock markets popped up like a cork released under water. Why?

Here's a five minute chart of the market from yesterday. Note the pop at the end of the day:

Quite unusual.

Barry Ritholz thinks he now knows why. Turns out someone made an "error" in an earlier trade and needed to "unwind" that error by buying at the end of trading.


That set into motion a number of reactions by other traders, often using computer programs to determine when/what to buy/sell. The result? A market swing of 200 points in a matter of a few minutes.


Gives you some insight into how tricky and crazy the stock market is on any given day.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Work With Who?!

This is an edition of "what Digby said" regarding the Dems slurping all over themselves to work with the White House to passed law expanding the White House survellance activities:

Excerpt graf:

I feel like I woke up this morning and it was 2002 all over again. We have the two top Democratic contenders arguing about invading Pakistan and the Democratic congress is rushing to sign off on another secret surveillance program. (Hey, let's burn some Dixie Chicks albums just for fun! It would be irresponsible not to...)

I don't know what it's going to take to convince Democrats that trying to "out-tough" each other or especially trying to "out-tough" the GOP is always playing to the Republican's strength --- the authoritarian lizard brain. If this keeps up, by the time we get to the election, the Democratic candidate will be vying with the Republican over who will be the first to sign a new law legalizing torture for double parking. We don't win that way, never have, never will.
I don't get it. I really don't.


You Know He's Lying Because His Lips Move

This is a must watch from Josh Marshall's gang. Dontcha just love the smiley face with the pacifier in the lower left hand corner?:



There has been "less" sectarian violence in Iraq because there are fewer Iraqi's to kill! Those that aren't already dead have left the country!

Heckuvajobbushie. I guess if you kill or remove everyone, the war will be won!



A lot of folks are expressing concern over Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the Wall Street Journal.

It just doesn't bother me. While the WSJ's reporting has been outstanding, the editorial staff has no where lower to go. Rupert, like most animals of his kind, is driven by money. He may create or buy a tabloid brand, but I doubt he'd take a WSJ brand and change it. It's simply worth too much as it is. But if he does, there are other's who will fill their niche.


Casualties Spinning

There are a number of stories out there (I'm sure you can hear about it on the national teevee news) about how American casualties in Iraq during July were down significantly. I must admit, when I first read the story I was pleased. Then reality hits:

Juan Cole:

2007 saw the deadliest July for US troops since the Iraq War began. It also saw a 23% rise in Iraqi deaths over June. July is like a blast furnace in Iraq, with temperatures approaching 120 degrees F. in the shade. Guerrillas typically lie low in this unfavorable environment, compared to other seasons, and so the casualty rates go down. Instead, this year the killing season has gone on as if it were spring.


Number of US troops killed in Iraq, July, 2006: 43.

Not only were the US deaths unprecedentedly high in July, the March through June death statistics were also very high.

And, June saw the highest number of over-all attacks since the war began.

AP adds: "Iraqi deaths rose, with at least 2,024 civilians, government officials and security forces killed in July, about 23 percent more than the 1,640 who died violently in June, according to Associated Press figures compiled from police reports nationwide."

Pentagon spokesmen are attempting to portray this near doubling of July troop deaths as a sign of improvement on the security side, counting from June rather than looking at past July figures-- and I fear some corporate media are falling for it.
So,there were fewer American deaths than in June 07 but 23% more than the comparable July 06. And while there were fewer Americans dead, Iraqi's are getting slaughtered still.

In case you haven't noticed, there's a major news offensive to portray Iraq as improving in preparation for the kool-aid drinking Petraeus report in a few weeks.

I fear it may be working.

Iraq is not improving. The military campaign has simply escalated and dispersed the violence while the political solutions remain invisible. The media just never takes the time or trouble to put any context into a story. Rather, they simply act as stenographers for whatever the government says one news story at a time. The resulting narrative of a grouping of these stories is the government propaganda. Thank god for blogs.

There is going to need to be a huge pushback by progessives in September. The default momentum is going to be for leaders and popular opinion to want, desperately want to believe that everything is improving in Iraq. But at this point the evidence is still showing the opposite. To fight the momentum of belief is going to be very very difficult.


Rich Get Richer

Do you want to see just how it works? Look below the fold:

This is a post and chart are from a market blog I frequent. The chart is Beazer homes which, with the housing slowdown is not doing too well. In fact, rumors are of a bankruptcy. Not pretty eh? Not pretty unless you're a member of the club (Click to enlarge):

Timing Award

I do not know whether the chapter 11 story is a rumor or a fact as BZH is now down a mere 20%. What I do know is that congratulations are in order to BZH insider Ian J. McCarthy who on November 14, 2006 exercised an option to buy 179,535 shares at $8.02 and on the same day unloaded all 179,535 shares for $43.07.

On April 17,2006 Ian J. McCarthy did the same thing with 13,149 shares. Ian J. McCarthy is the president and CEO of Beazer Homes. No doubt this was all part of a broader diversification strategy.
When the suckers buy, the insiders sell. Guess who's get's left holding the bag?



I went to a Bank of America site today to be set up a login account to view my credit card info. They have a new security feature called "site key". It was quite interesting:

To set up your personal security site key, you have to choose an image and then name it. Later when you login, you will have to name the image to insure you're the logineeee. And of course, they give you a series of images to choose from. The very first image to choose was this:

Now, ladies and germs. Just what name would you give this image?


A Local Story

In Sonoma County, we have a water crisis.

We have plenty of water. Rains are plentiful and the population isn't that large.

No. Our problem is fish ....

That's right, fish. I live in one of the more liberal counties in the nation where progressives live their ideals. Thus when environmentalists identified a danger to salmon runs due to low water flows, a call for conservation went out.

Water for Sonoma County typically comes from Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. Both also serve the streams that salmon use to spawn. If the water flows are interrupted too drastically the salmon and other fish can't do their thing. We have another large recreational resevoir, Lake Sonoma, but no way to get the water to the populace. Until and unless a pipeline is built to be able to utilize this water, and that's a big if in environmentally friendly Sonoma County, conservation will be the watch-word.

The goal was for a 15% reduction in water use. We have all achieved over 16%, with relatively little pain. Lawns are being removed for indigenious landscaping, military showers are being taken, gray water used for irrigation as well as other water saving measures. And it's paying off.

I also want to note that this is the same county that built, at great expense, a large pipeline to transport waste water to the geysers that naturally occur nearby. Calpine, and electricity generator, uses the geysers to generate electricity. A few years back the geysers were "running dry" and Calpine was going to close the facility. With the wastewater pipeline they've been able to keep that electic generation going and in fact recently announced an increased in generating this very green electricity.

Congratulations to all of us in Sonoma County for showing that there are ways to live the good life while adjusting to resource scarcity. Having "more" isn't always the necessary to be happy. Sonoma County is proving it.


Quote of the Day

''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality —judiciously, as you will —we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''—senior Bush administration official


Mafia Tactics

What a surprise this is.

In 56 of Ohio's 88 counties, ballots and election records from 2004 have been "accidentally" destroyed, despite a federal order to preserve them -- it was crucial evidence which would have revealed whether the election was stolen.

Republicans obviously embrace the philosophy that laws are for "little people".


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Looks, Walks And Quacks

You can be damned sure it's a duck with this bunch. I would take this as proof, confirmed direct testimony, that Cheney is the one who sent Abu Gonzales and Card to harrass Ashcroft over the domestic spying program.

All the nonsense about Bush being his own man is .... well .... nonsense. Cheney has been running the country with the help of the Village people of Washington who are oh so serious, and the media who's done a smack up job.


Can You Believe This Crap?

Michael O'Hanlon apparently testified today before a House subcommittee. Matt Yglesias was there to report:

Matt, blogging and reporting over a telephone:

[O'Hanlon]Totally backed down. Said the progress has only been against aqi [al Qaeda], that sectarian violence and the civil war is as bad as ever, and that the current strategy will probably fail. He thinks we should partition the country. Why the turnabout from the optimistic op-ed? He didn't say.


UPDATE: Sorry for the confusion this engendered in some. As you'll see if you read the posts below, that's my note-taking of Michael O'Hanlon's testimony earlier this afternoon before a House Subcommittee.
Let's see if nine large media outlets cover his testimony with equal fervor to covering his op-ed in WaPo.

Don't hold your breath.


O'Hanlon/Pollack Follow-Up

We had another instance of the steno media eating up a story on Iraq without any critical examination. The subject is the op-ed (emphasis on opinion) in yesterdays WaPo by supposedly "harsh war critics" O'Hanlon and Pollack. I think Greenwald (via Atrios)sums it up pretty well.

I spent yesterday and today reading through virtually all of the writings and interviews of these two Brookings geniuses over the past four years concerning Iraq. There is no coherence or consistency to anything they say. It shifts constantly. They say whatever they need to say at the moment to justify the war for which they bear responsibility. It is exactly like reading through the writings of Bill Kristol, Tom Friedman and every other individual who flamboyantly supported this disaster and -- motivated solely by salvaging their own reputations -- are desperate to find some method to argue that they were right.
Go read the Think Progress link above. Out of nine major media appearances, there was minor scrutiny of the op-ed in ONE.




I have proof that I was right in my assertion:

Political Wire:

"As I understood Obama's statement, he's either going to invite to Washington or meet somewhere else the head of Cuba, who would be Castro, and the head of Iran, who is Ahmadinejad. That's quite a crew. I don't know that I would want to meet with them. Some people you just don’t meet with if they're going to use that to propagate their own propaganda. I thought Hillary Clinton was on the right side of that."

-- Rudy Giuliani, quoted by New York magazine, on the "mini-feud" between the Obama and Clinton campaigns.
See! If Rudy disagrees with Obama, Obama MUST be right .....


American Empire

William Arkin writes a follow-up to yesterdays terrific column on the arms deal the U.S. and it's Middle Eastern "allies". The man makes total sense. But is anyone listening? I think you know the answer:

But does anyone really imagine Saudi Arabia using its fighter jets in sustained long-range attacks? Can anyone see Egypt and Kuwait fighting side-by-side in a land war against Iran?

I didn't think so. The reality, and the problem, is that this deal paints a picture of an American Empire [my empasis]-- a military alliance of like-minded Arab states, a permanent U.S. military presence in the region, a focus on a monolithic enemy (Iran) -- while ignoring the roots of instability that exist in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The Bush administration officially unveiled its $20 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia and the five other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates yesterday, along with a 10-year, $43 billion military aid package for Israel and Egypt.

In describing the arms package, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the U.S. hoped to increase the "interoperability" among U.S. allies in the Middle East to confront the threat of radicalism. Interoperability is a Pentagon-invented buzzword that means the ability of different militaries to operate and communicate together. It is also a word that gives away the formality of what the Bush administration is attempting to build.

The new alliance, we are told, will "counter" Iran's supposed growing influence and strength in the region. "There isn't a doubt that Iran constitutes the single most important ... strategic challenge to the United States and to the kind of the Middle East that we want to see," Rice said yesterday.

Iran "supports everything that the rest of the world is trying to defend against," Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told The Post.

The Israeli government says it has no objections to the arms sales, evidently so mesmerized by this new Middle East alliance against Iran -- Israel's No. 1 strategic enemy -- that it is unable to see the long-term implications of what a new alliance symbolizes to the Arab street: an American Empire.

Iran may be a problem, but building a military alliance to counter it only makes the problem worse. Focusing our moderate allies on conventional war-making and military pomp diverts their attention from the domestic political troubles and internal dissatisfactions that are at the root of their own instability. Even more, it accentuates those dissatisfactions by signaling to the conspiracy-minded and agnostics that the United States is in command.


But how does a mountain of military equipment help reform? Are we just heading for a replay of late 1970's Iran, where we supply arms and support the "moderate" and even autocratic oil-selling, cappuccino-swilling, pro-Western regimes while revolution and terrorism build in the background?
When in the world are these people going to get it. The majority of the Middle East street sees the U.S. as the enemy, not Iran. By overblowing the Iranian threat and by militarizing the Middle East into a kind of cold war stance, we are further creating the monster. Remember Iran and the shah? Or how about Iraq? The proposed strategy has worked out so well so far, I think we should do more.

Finally. You know what's the kicker? I don't have a whole lot of confidence that, given our oil dependence, Democrats can see the region any differently.

Do you?


The News Under The Radar

Lest you begin to believe the hype from the wise ones of Washington, here's an excerpt of the real news from Iraq ..... just one day of it:

Police found 25 bodies in the streets on Monday, victims of sectarian death squads.

Reuters summarizes political violence on Monday:

' BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed six people and wounded 31 in al-Tayaran Square in a mainly Shi'ite area of central Baghdad, police said.

FALLUJA - Three U.S. soldiers were killed in combat operations in western Anbar province on Thursday, the U.S. military said.

NEAR BALAD - A suicide fuel truck bomb targeting an Iraqi army and police checkpoint killed four people and wounded six near the town of Balad, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, on Sunday, police said.

BALAD - A car bomb targeting a police patrol killed one policeman and wounded six others in Balad on Sunday, police said. . .

ISKANDARIYA - Three people were killed and two wounded in a fight between two Shi'ite and Sunni tribes on Sunday in Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.
Just because our crack media industry isn't reporting it, doesn't mean it isn't going on. I read this summary at Juan Cole's site every .... single .... day. Some of the days are more, some less, but never peaceful.


North American Union

It's coming. Joe has a good post all about it here. Be sure to click on the video.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Falafel Day! It Only Comes Once A Year

In the interest of keeping TG readers informed, and in the interests of doing whatever I can to piss of Bill O'Reilly or his minions, I thought I would propogate this picture:

Yes ladies and germs, that's the offending picture that set off Bill "falafel" O'Reilly to start a war with Daily Kos. This line from the lawsuit is my personal favorite.


Command. Control

Swopa has the explanation for all of us about Supreme John Roberts and his seizure. Makes perfect sense to me:

Needlenose's highly unreliable off-the-record sources report that the cause was an inadvertent power surge in Edwards' bionic command-and-control system, following the implantation of a new battery in Dick Cheney's pacemaker over the weekend.


Shit Sandwich

That's what Atrios calls it and I have to agree. It made it to ABC News tonight, and it's all a crock. But ABC had, oh .... maybe .... 30 seconds on it. And Martha Raddatz, again, took her 10 seconds to put things in perspective. After the jump, you can see the facts:

Copied in full from Think Progress:

In today’s New York Times, Brookings analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack praise the Bush administration’s progress in Iraq, writing that “we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms.” O’Hanlon and Pollack bill themselves “as two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.”

Today, the media parroted the O’Hanlon and Pollack’s inaccurate self-characterization. Fox News called O’Hanlon a “guy who’s been quite critical of this administration’s handling of the Iraq.” CNN called Pollack a “a vocal critic of the administration’s handling of the war.”

The media are ignoring the two men’s records. Pollack authored a pre-war book, which he described as “the case for invading Iraq.” Similarly, prior to the invasion, O’Hanlon predicted “a rapid and decisive” victory.

ThinkProgress has put together a sampling of O’Hanlon and Pollack’s “vocal criticisms” of Bush:


But despite this week’s proof that war is not always easy, the invasion is not going badly. As President Bush said at his news conference yesterday, “Coalition forces are advancing day by day in steady progress against the enemy.” Here’s why things are going well and why they will soon go even better. [New York Times, 3/28/03]

And now we’re talking about a crisis that may require much more rapid response in Iraq, if we decide to go to war. We’ve got to go to war by March, I think, if we’re going to use the good weather. [Fox News, 1/3/03]

But the Iraqis we met were nonetheless grateful for the defeat of Saddam and passionate about their country’s future. Their enthusiasm, and their desire to work together with U.S. and other coalition forces, warmed the heart of this former Peace Corps volunteer. Maybe that is why, on balance, I couldn’t help but leave the country with a real, if guarded and cautious, feeling of optimism. [Brookings, 9/30/03]

The United States and coalition partners would win any future war to overthrow Saddam Hussein in a rapid and decisive fashion. This will not be another Vietnam or another Korea. [O’Hanlon, 9/25/02]

O’REILLY: Mr. O’Hanlon, what do you think? Any doubt about going to war with Saddam?
O’HANLON: Not much doubt. [Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor, 2/28/03]

Rather than force a showdown with Mr. Bush this winter and spring, Congress should give his surge strategy a chance — while preparing for the real fight this fall. [Wall Street Journal, 3/1/07]


What should the United States do about Iraq? Hawks are wrong to think the problem is desperately urgent or connected to terrorism, but right to see the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein as so worrisome that it requires drastic action. … The United States has no choice left but to invade Iraq itself and eliminate the current regime. [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2002]

Given Mr. Hussein’s history of catastrophic miscalculations and his faith that nuclear weapons can deter not him but us, there is every reason to believe that the question is not one of war or no war, but rather war now or war later–a war without nuclear weapons or a war with them. [New York Times, 9/26/02]

FOX HOST: What about nuclear? What’s his — how long before he’ll have it?
POLLACK: I think the best estimates are that he probably will take four to six years, unless he can buy fissile material on the black market. If he can get it on the black market, it’s probably a matter of months. [Fox News’s On The Record With Greta Van Susteren, 9/30/02]

I think it’s very important that the president receive a very clear statement of support by the Congress, by the representatives of the American people. What we’re embarking on is potentially a very big military operation, and what’s more, the military operation itself might be the easiest part of what we’re doing. [NPR, 10/2/02]

Increasingly, the option that makes the most sense is for the United States to launch a full-scale invasion, eradicate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and rebuild Iraq as a prosperous and stable society-for the good of the United States, the Iraqi people, and the entire region. [The Threatening Storm, 2002]

Given Saddam Hussein’s current behavior, his track record, his aspirations and his terrifying beliefs about the utility of nuclear weapons, it would be reckless for us to assume that he can be deterred. Yes, we must weigh the costs of a war with Iraq today, but on the other side of the balance we must place the cost of a war with a nuclear-armed Iraq tomorrow. [New York Times, 2/21/03]

[T]he president’s plan is almost certainly the last chance to stabilize Iraq. It is the last chance to save Iraq would probably be a more accurate way to put it. [Brookings, 1/29/07]

Indeed, that is a large shit sandwich. Now be prepared for Joe Lieberman and every other Republican to be pointing to the editorial piece (as if it's a news piece) proclaiming that the surge is working!

And the beat goes on and on and on and on .....


FBI - Government Official Division

I think it's time for the FBI to open a new investigative division .... one dedicated totally to investigating elected officials:

Think Progess:

“Federal law enforcement agents are currently searching the Girdwood home of Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, an FBI agent said. ‘All I can say is that agents from the FBI and IRS are currently conducting a search at that residence,’ said Dave Heller, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Anchorage office. The search began this afternoon, he said. It’s the only such search warrant currently being served, he said.”
Obviously Democrats have their share of corruption. But it sure seems like an exclusive franchise of Republicans of late.


O'Reilly/Kos War

I haven't really been following this all that closely. Bill O'Reilly is such a clown it's hard to take anything from him seriously. But it looks like a war is raging between O'Reilly and Daily Kos. A stupid war, but if you're interested you can read about it here.



I happen to catch this picture of one of Iraq's parliamentary members right after their recess for a summer break:

Hey. DUDE! No hurry. Have a margarita on me ....


Clement Watch

Still waiting ....

Donna Leinwand writes in USA Today: "Any decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for allegedly lying to Congress rests with his subordinate, Solicitor General Paul Clement, who has few rules to guide him."

Hope Yen writes for the Associated Press: "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales must quickly clarify apparent contradictions in his testimony about warrantless spying or risk a possible perjury investigation, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said yesterday.

"'This is going to have a devastating effect on law enforcement throughout the country if it's not cleared up,' said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat."

Still waiting ......


A Great Place To Work

Here's an example of "sustainable security". Try just going to work:

BAGHDAD — The colonel pulls his Mercedes into the parking lot of the drab, 11-story concrete building, scanning the scene for suspicious cars.

Before reaching for the door handle, he studies the people loitering nearby in hopes he will be able to recognize anyone still there later in the day. He grips his pistol, the trigger cocked, wary of an ambush.

He has arrived at his office.

This is Iraq's Ministry of Interior — the balkanized command center for the nation's police and mirror of the deadly factions that have caused the government here to grind nearly to a halt.

The very language that Americans use to describe government — ministries, departments, agencies — belies the reality here of militias that kill under cover of police uniform and remain above the law. Until recently, one or two Interior Ministry police officers were assassinated each week while arriving or leaving the building, probably by fellow officers, senior police officials say.

That killing has been reduced, but Western diplomats still describe the Interior Ministry building as a "federation of oligarchs." Those who work in the building, like the colonel, liken departments to hostile countries. Survival depends on keeping abreast of shifting factional alliances and turf.

On the second floor is Gen. Mahdi Gharrawi, a former national police commander. Last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops found 1,400 prisoners, mostly Sunnis, at a base he controlled in east Baghdad. Many showed signs of torture. The interior minister blocked an arrest warrant against the general this year, senior Iraqi officials confirmed.

The third- and fifth-floor administrative departments are the domain of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, a Shiite group.

The sixth, home to border enforcement and the major crimes unit, belongs to the Badr Organization militia. Its leader, Deputy Minister Ahmed Khafaji, is lauded by some Western officials as an efficient administrator and suspected by others of running secret prisons.

The seventh floor is intelligence, where the Badr Organization and armed Kurdish groups struggle for control.

The ninth floor is shared by the department's inspector general and general counsel, religious Shiites. Their offices have been at the center of efforts to purge the department's remaining Sunni employees. The counsel's predecessor, a Sunni, was killed a year ago.

"They have some bad things on the ninth," says the colonel, a Sunni who, like other ministry officials, spoke on condition of anonymity to guard against retaliation.


Partitions divide the building's hallways, and gunmen guard the offices of deputy ministers. Senior police officials march up and down stairs rather than risk an elevator. They walk the halls flanked by bodyguards, wary of armed colleagues.


No floor has posed more of a challenge than the seventh, which houses the intelligence division. In theory, the intelligence office should be key to tracking and combating the insurgents who bomb Iraq's streets and marketplaces and attack U.S. soldiers. Instead, the division has been hobbled by a power struggle between two of America's nominal allies in Iraq, the Kurds and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

The fight came to a head earlier this year with a death threat against the Kurdish deputy minister in charge of intelligence, Hussein Ali Kamal. The Kurdish leader, who controls the eastern wing of the floor, was battling for control of the intelligence apparatus with his deputy, a Badr militia commander who dominates the western side.
Damned good thing they don't have a 13th floor.

The article continues on and on. And remember, this is a government office. It's certainly a microcosm of Iraq.

Swell place to work, eh?


Prepare Yourself

The new!, improved!, Iraq plan will be "sustainable security". Whatever the hell that means ......

They could at least change the spokespeople for their new product.


Iraq Soccer Victory

Just so you know, the captain of the Iraqi soccer team wants the U.S. out now.

What's our response? Petraeus says we'll be there through 2009. That's consistent with a Bush strategy of letting Iraq be a Democrats problem and fueling the usual "the Democrats lost the war" rhetoric.


The Real Problem

William Arkin discusses the real downside of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia:

But these arguments are so, well, Old War. There isn't one weapon in the package that will enhance American interests or security -- or Saudi security, for that matter -- and there certainly isn't one that threatens Israel. The real threat is the army of contractors and U.S. service members that will have to go to Saudi Arabia to support the deal. They will just fuel more Arab anger and more terrorism.


What comes with the deal, though, is far more subtle trouble: Saudi Arabia has demonstrated over decades that it has no interest in building up its own high-tech arms capabilities. American contractors will train, maintain and even operate the new Saudi equipment. American military personnel will follow. We will buy nothing in terms of security, and we will just put our own people in danger. But most important, we will once again renew the cycle of American penetration into the heart of Islam, one of Osama bin Laden's original and most compelling rallying points. That's why the Saudi deal is so dangerous.
Good points.

Most of the Saudi population is anti-American and the royal family sits on a civil tenderbox that has the lid sealed with petrodollars. More American "globalization" is the last thing that's needed in an Arab country just now. But don't look to American political leaders to understand that, nor the Saudi leaders for that matter.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Republican Watch

Digby and Yglesias take a stab at diagnosing the problems in Washington. Inevitably they get to Republican Watch ....

Here's Digby quoting Yglesias

As Matt Yglesias wrote here:
Much of the crisis in Washington today boils down precisely to the congressional GOP's unwillingness not so much to "do the right thing" but unwillingness to even be petty and power-hungry; their decision to see their job as backstopping the president come what may rather than to jealously horde[sic] the powers of their own offices.
This is why our institutions are failing. The founders never counted on politicians "doing the right thing." Profiles in courage are always in short supply and no government can depend upon good intentions. But they did assume that they would, at least, want to preserve their own careers and constitutional prerogatives. The modern Republicans are so committed to their party that they will follow their 28% president over the cliff, and that is a mindset we haven't seen since the civil war.
This is the nut of my Republican watch.

And I keep watching.

Republicans weren't thoroughly clean when it came to getting rid of tricky Dick, but in the end they did come through to save their own rearends. This bunch, indeed, looks to be willing to go over the cliff. And as is pointed out in the above post, ultimately the electorate has to thoroughly repudiate the current Republican totalitarian fiefdom at the ballot box .... and keep dumping them until they get the picture. If this doesn't happen, the Republic is in danger. The polls make me optimistic. But I'm also holding my breath.

Let's hope voters send a simple message in 2008:

Seeya! Wouldn't wannabeya. Don't let that electoral door hit you in the ass on the way out.


The State of Iraq

With my brief hiatus last week, I haven't been keeping abreast of events in Iraq like normal. I'm now catching up, and it's not pleasant ....

Swopa, who has done great blogging on the Iraq war, has a very nice summary post of recent events. It's a very good read if you want more detail.

The short version is that there are a couple of significant events unfolding. First, al Maliki let it leak that he and Petraeus are not exactly good friends. It seems that Maliki would like to put pressure on the U.S. to remove the general. Of course the Bush family needs Petraeus to have any hope of a fig leaf come September.

Why does is Maliki balking at Petraeus? Well, it seems that the new American strategy is the arm every Sunni that asks for a weapon or a uniform. In our neverending fight against the ghost army of al Qaeda and in an attempt to win friends and influence enemies by buying them off, the American military has apparently decided to join the Sunni side of the war to counter-balance Iranian influence. Of course the Maliki government is mainly Shiite and Iran leaning and thus not real happy at having Sunni's given arms, uniforms and training by Americans.

The final piece of the puzzle was the announcement of a quite large arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Swopa is of the opinion that the Saudi's have laid down the law to the Bush family. The shift in the direction to "team Sunni" is the result.

Of course this strategy can't end well. But no strategy will end well for Iraq and the region. The Shiite/Sunni war, at some level, is inevitable. The question continues to be how many American lives will be lost in "fixing" the unfixable.



The first release of last quarters GDP was a healthy appearing 3.4%. So why didn't the stock market cheer?

Take a look at the details. Particularly note the "blue" area of the contribution to GDP, consumer spending:

If the consumer continues to pull back, GDP going forward will be under pressure. So while the headline number was pretty good, the devil is in the details. Given that recently consumers have made of 2/3 of the economy, there is real recession concerns in the report.


Gasbag Edition

This is yet another chapter of "what Digby said":


On the Stephanopoulos bobble head roundtable this morning, Cokie Roberts raised the baton and started the drumbeat: the Democrats risk moving waaaaay too far to the left and that is going to be a biiiiig problem for them "just like it was in Vietnam." Yes, she said it out loud. And David Gergen agreed whole heartedly.

Does anyone recall these gasbags saying that Bush was moving so far to the right with his monarchic, fundamentalist, shock and awe presidency that it was going to be a biiiig problem for them? I must have missed all those warnings. Now that he's at 28% and the conservatives are on the run after having proven that there really is a limit to how far the crazed radical wingnuts can go, they are still warning about the Democrats moving too far to the left. These people have not had an original thought in 40 years.
Even 40 years may be charitable. As they say, go read the whole thing.