Friday, August 31, 2007

POLITICS - Views From the North West


"8 doctors in 9 months" from The Other Side, Central Washington State

Health care is tough for everyone everywhere in the United States. Though, one of the things that makes it tough for rural areas is the lack of doctors.

In Kittitas County, we have lost eight doctors over the last nine months. I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of doctors who go through medical school and decide the fastest way to pay off all those loans is to go into general practice in a small town.

I remember reading a book called “The Dance Of Legislation” back in college that talked about Sen. Warren Magnuson working a bill through the congress and the senate that gave incentives to doctors to move to small towns.

It looks like government (HEAVEN FORBID!) is bailing us out again by providing a grant to the Community Health Center of Yakima to fund a clinic in Ellensburg. It will start with two doctors on staff and work up to four.

This is exactly the kind of thing that flies in the face of the right wing nuts that think that government should ALWAYS get out of the way and let the private sector do it’s thing.

"Fear Mongering-induced Bigotry Strikes Again" by Darryl Holman, Hominid Views

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Ay-rab Mos-lums are hiding under your bed, in your car trunk, and boarding your airplanes. How dare they board our airplanes !

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

  • Flight 590 was scheduled to depart at 11 p.m. for Chicago O’Hare International Airport but was rescheduled for Wednesday at 10:15 a.m. after some kind of dispute among customers started at the gate and continued onto the plane, said American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner.

  • …televised reports claimed that the incident involved a group of six to seven Iraqi Americans and another passenger who was apparently uncomfortable that the men were speaking in Arabic.

  • The jet left the gate at 11:14 p.m. but did not take off and instead returned at 11:26 p.m. after a traveler with a child elected to get off the plane….

And here’s the kicker. From ABC News:
  • It turns out, the Iraqi men were in California to train Marines preparing for Iraq.

"Let the spin begin" by Ron Beasley, Middle Earth Journal

The New York Times knows that the Petraeus report will be phony numbers and spin. Well the pre-spin is well under way. First we have The Pentagon's Department of Corrective Thought and now the PhD General is at it himself.

Surge working: top US general
  • THE US troop surge in Iraq has thrown al-Qa'ida off balance and produced a dramatic reduction in sectarian killings and a drop in roadside bombings.

Fortunately we don't have to rely on the General or the administration for the truth. Even the AP is shooting holes in the spin.

Iraq body count running at double pace

  • BAGHDAD - This year's U.S. troop buildup has succeeded in bringing violence in Baghdad down from peak levels, but the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago.

  • Some of the recent bloodshed appears the result of militant fighters drifting into parts of northern Iraq, where they have fled after U.S.-led offensives. Baghdad, however, still accounts for slightly more than half of all war-related killings — the same percentage as a year ago, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

  • The tallies and trends offer a sobering snapshot after an additional 30,000 U.S. troops began campaigns in February to regain control of the Baghdad area. It also highlights one of the major themes expected in next month's Iraq progress report to Congress: some military headway, but extremist factions are far from broken.

  • In street-level terms, it means life for average Iraqis appears to be even more perilous and unpredictable.

Violence is down in Baghdad but As the AP reported earlier any security improvements in Baghdad may be more the result of increased control by Shiite militia than an increase in US presence. There is also the fact that most of the Sunnis have already been killed or driven out of Baghdad - the ethnic cleansing is complete.

And of course there is the great job Kevin Drum has done:

  • ...but it's this passage that makes me want to bang my head against the wall:

    • The fact is that the surge is President Bush's policy, and one that he implemented over the vociferous opposition of Democrats who thought the best strategy against al Qaeda in Iraq was to begin to leave. Now the surge has helped turn Sunni tribes against al Qaeda, advancing the goal that nearly everyone in the U.S. notionally shares of routing the terror group from Iraq.

  • Say it slowly: This. Is. A. Lie. The Sunni tribes began turning against AQI nearly a year ago. They did it on their own, not as part of any American military plan. They did it before the surge started. They did it before Gen. Petraeus was even a gleam in George Bush's eye.

Kevin also compared June/July, 06 with June/July, 07 and according to most of the metrics 07 was worse than 06.

All we will get from the Bush administration and their pet general is more spin and lies - it's starting already. As The Who said many years ago:

  • Then I'll get on my knees and pray
    We don't get fooled again

Thursday, August 30, 2007

POLITICS - Lobbying Database '98 to '07


Top Spenders, 1998-2007



US Chamber of Commerce


American Medical Assn


General Electric


American Hospital Assn


Pharmaceutical Rsrch & Mfrs of America




Edison Electric Institute


National Assn of Realtors


Business Roundtable


Northrop Grumman


Freddie Mac


Lockheed Martin


Blue Cross/Blue Shield


Boeing Co


Verizon Communications


General Motors


Philip Morris


Fannie Mae


Exxon Mobil


Ford Motor Co


And you wonder why Washington is so disconnected from the citizen-on-the-street? These "people" pay to make sure they are the only ones heard.

IRAQ - More From the Inside

These are excerpts to give you the gist, suggest you read her entire article

"More Sacrificial Lambs !" by Layla Anwar, An Arab Woman Blues, 8/29/2007


I had promised myself, I will stop writing for a few days at least. We all deserve a break, including me.

But how can I? Iraqis are not given a break. No respite whatsoever.So, it seems this is a luxury I cannot afford myself.

By Friday, all the British troops will have pulled out of Basrah. The Brits have effectively handed over the whole of Southern Iraq to shiite militias. Need I remind you that these militias are Iran's proxies in Iraq or do you get it by now?

Today Ahmadinajad stated the following :

"Iran is happy to fill the political vacuum in Iraq."

Today, Bush wagged his finger against Iran again, and Iran responded with more pavlovian drooling. Two dogs, a pitbull and a doberman barking at each other. Not more not less. Hear what Ahmadinajad has to say to that:

"He dismissed the possibility of any U.S. military action against Tehran, saying Washington had no plan and was not in a position to take such action."

Layla and Ahmadinajad may not be aware the our War President, Decider 'n Chief, Emperor Bush, believes that if he can start another war his legacy and the GOP will be saved. Hallelujah!

IRAQ - Everything is Going Fine! Everyone Else is Lying

"Report Finds Little Progress On Iraq Goals" by Karen De Young & Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, 8/30/2007


GAO Draft at Odds With White House

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. "While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."

"Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."

There's much more in the full article

Of course, IF this report went though the Whitehouse Propaganda Editors, it would come out saying just how rosie things are in Iraq today.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

POLITICS - Retrospect, Gonzo World

Ahhhh, now that he is fading into the sunset.......

"Favorite Memory: Gonzo on Habeas" by Robert Parry, Consortium News


But my personal favorite was his insistence that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t expressly recognize habeas corpus, the great fair-trial principle of English law that dates back to the Magna Carta in 1215.

“There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution,” Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 18. He did acknowledge, however, that there was “a prohibition against taking it away.”

Gonzales’s bizarre remark left Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a former federal prosecutor and the panel’s ranking Republican, sputtering in disbelief.

“Wait a minute,” Specter interjected. “The Constitution says you can’t take it away except in case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus unless there’s a rebellion or invasion?”

Gonzales continued, “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended” except in cases of rebellion or invasion.

“You may be treading on your interdiction of violating common sense,” Specter responded, as if confronting the sophomoric comments of a first-year law student who would never make it to a second year.

While the exchange drew little or no attention in the major news media, I found it revealing in several ways:

First, it exposed the narrow, ideological thinking that has pervaded the legal analysis of Gonzales and other Bush administration lawyers.

Neoconservative and right-wing legal operatives have long functioned with the notion that if they could conjure up a clever legal argument – no matter how flimsy – that their argument must be accepted as sound or at least treated with the utmost seriousness. If we can divine a rationale, we must be right.

That self-absorbed thinking has been at the core of the legal theories behind George W. Bush’s treatment of profound issues such as presidential power, government secrecy, and limitations on the inalienable rights of individuals who are not in Bush’s inner circle.

So, no matter how established habeas corpus might be in American legal traditions, Gonzales felt he could put it in question simply with the nit-picking observation that the Founders didn't explicitly spell out the Great Writ when writing the Constitution.

Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution states that “the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

The clear meaning of the clause, as interpreted for more than two centuries, is that the Founders recognized the long-established English principle of habeas corpus, which guarantees people the right of due process, such as formal charges and a fair trial.

However, under Gonzales’s constitutional theory not only would habeas corpus not be guaranteed, the American people also would have no assurances about freedom of religion, speech or the press. In the Bill of Rights, all those rights are defined in negative language: “Congress shall make no law …”

There's much more in the full article
Bold emphasis mine

Gonzo sure didn't get the schooling I got. That's where I learned the fundamental difference between a free society and a totalitarian one.

  • Totalitarian Society: Citizens cannot do anything unless it is granted by the government

  • Free Society: Anyone can do anything not forbidden by law
By Gonzo's logic, America is a Totalitarian Society, we have no Constitutional rights because they are not specifically granted.

I thank "God the Emperor Bush" enabler is going, going, and finally gone. This troglodyte should not be allowed to practice law in America. We should ship him to a country of another dictator to practice there. Like North Korea.

POLITICS - Ah, Yes "He" Supports Our Constitution

Another example of how Bush supports and defends our Constitution...NOT!


"All hail the Dear Leader!" Editorial, News Leader, Shenandoah Valley

We're accustomed to seeing images from Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, Kim Jong-il's North Korea and the late Saddam Hussein's Iraq of delirious supporters fawning over their Maximum Leader. There never seems to be a protester in sight — just an unending lovefest of happy, chanting devotees professing their adoration with voices and placards while Big Daddy dandles the babies and gives his blessings to the throngs. Makes you proud to live in America, land of the free, where that sort of thing doesn't happen, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, it doesn't — or it hasn't, at least during the reign of George II.

During 2004, when President George W. Bush was running for re-election, it became common practice for the president's political rallies to be orchestrated events, the campaign trail version of gated communities. No one was allowed in without a ticket. Even then, the anointed were often asked to sign "affidavits of support" — loyalty oaths, in other words — before their tickets were issued.

As un-American as all of this is, what is worse has been the revelation that the Bush administration had implemented a manual directing the orchestration of such events.

The "Presidential Advance Manual," dated October 2002 and stamped "Sensitive — Do Not Copy," gave rally organizers explicit instructions about how to ensure only the faithful were to be allowed an audience with the Omnipotent One, even from a distance. It detailed how Republican Brownshirts — excuse us, "rally squads" — were expected to handle the rare occasion when a Disloyal slipped through the filters:

"The rally squad's task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supporting chants to drown out the protestors (USA! USA! USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site. The rally squads can include, but are not limited to, college/(Y)oung (R)epublican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities."

A practical example of how the "rally squads" work can be gleaned from a Sept. 28, 2004 article in The New York Times describing how one protester, 51-year-old Michael Thorne, was handled when he and a few others managed to infiltrate an orchestrated Bush rally in Bangor, Maine:

"Mr. Thorne had yelled 'No more lies!' during Mr. Bush's speech, been quickly surrounded by half a dozen campaign aides heatedly yelling 'Four more years!' and been hustled out of the rally with several others wearing anti-Bush T-shirts by security guards and police officers."

The "rally squad" in action. Disloyalty is not tolerated in the Court of the Crimson King. However, since the state of the First Amendment in the United States has (not quite yet, at any rate) devolved to the level of a banana republic, protesters who cannot infiltrate the Gathering of the Faithful are not jailed or summarily executed. Instead, they are exiled to First Amendment Gulags. The manual directs the advance staff to ask local police "to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route."

What can be gleaned from the Presidential Advance Manual are only glimpses into the mindset of the Bush administration and its most loyal followers. Of its more than 100 pages, literally dozens of pages have been redacted. While some of this censored material may have involved items of legitimate security concern, trust levels do not run at their highest level when it is apparent that our national leader views those of us who are not willing to sign loyalty oaths as dispensable and unworthy of sharing space and oxygen with the Maximum Leader.

Red emphasis, mine

As far as this citizen is concerned, this is a violation of our "Maximum Leader's" oath of office. Of course we all could be wrong, maybe that wasn't a Bible he had his hand on.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

REMEMBRANCES - From My Navy Days

OK, it had to happen. This old geezer just has to reminisce on his 22 years in the United States Navy.

Here are 3 videos that say it all:

Dogfight: 4 Migs-17 vs. F-8 Crusader

F-8E Crusader versus Mig 21

NOTE: The number 19 in the opening shot stands for CVA 19, the USS Hancock, which my squadron VF211 deployed on. The F8 with side-numbers 1xx one of our sister squadrons, our F8's had side-number of 2xx.

F8 Crusader carrier landing

POLITICS - War Information Room, Propaganda Tool or Not?

"Pentagon Setting Up War Information Room" by The Associated Press, New York Times


Shaping the Bush administration's message on the Iraq war has taken on new fervor, just as anticipation is building for the September progress report from top military advisers.

For the Pentagon, getting out Iraq information will now include a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week Iraq Communications Desk that will pump out data from Baghdad -- serving as what could be considered a campaign war room.

According to a memo circulated Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press, Dorrance Smith, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, is looking for personnel for what he called the high-priority effort to distribute Defense Department information on Iraq.

The move -- requested by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England -- comes as administration officials are gearing up for a rash of reports on progress in Iraq and recommendations from the military on troop levels going into next year. The key report will come from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Other reports are expected from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, retired Gen. James Jones -- who will examine the progress of the Iraqi security forces -- and the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which will review whether the Iraqi government has hit security and political benchmarks outlined by Congress.

The Pentagon dismissed suggestions that the communications desk will be a message machine or propaganda tool, and instead said it is being set up to gather and distribute information from eight time zones away in a more efficient and timely manner.


Less than a year ago, Smith developed plans for teams of people to ''develop messages'' for the 24-hour news cycle and ''correct the record'' when news agencies put out what the Pentagon considered inaccurate information.

There's more in the full article

So, propaganda machine or not? Considering the propensity of the Bush Administration, I'd bet on the side of propaganda (aka correct the record) machine as far as actual operation.

Monday, August 27, 2007

IRAQ - PBS News Hour View 8/24/2007

What follows are excerpts from the transcript. The URL link includes the full transcript including video and audio files.

The reason I'm posting this is the discussion around the analogies to Vietnam, in the Learning lessons from Vietnam section.

  • David Brooks is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times who frequently writes about politics and modern American culture.

  • Mark Shields, a nationally known columnist and moderator of CNN's "Capital Gang," has provided weekly political analysis on The NewsHour since 1988.

"National Intelligence Estimate Released, Sectarian Violence Continues" News Hour Political Wrap

JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: To return to one of the president's favorite analogies of the week, Vietnam, I mean, we went through a succession. Every administration from Johnson on in Vietnam said, "Well" -- Kennedy, actually, it began with Kennedy -- "Well, what we really need is a better administration in Saigon."

And we were part and party to coups. We encouraged coups. We withdrew support elsewhere, and it didn't change the outcome at all. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II on Germany and Japan. We had half-a-million troops in a country just over half the size of Iraq. We could not affect the outcome and, sadly, I think that's the reality of Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: In general, what did you think of the president's use -- he not only mentioned Vietnam, he mentioned other wars, as well, in his statement today, in comparing them with what's happening in Iraq. What did you think of that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I return to my basic premise. I mean, in 1968, the Democratic Party was the party that led the opposition, the anti-war opposition in the country. The country was turning against the war. The Democrats were then blamed -- very effectively, politically -- by Richard Nixon and others on the Republican side for having lost that war.

And it's no accident that the Democrats have only held the White House 12 years since 1968. I mean, that's a theme that has worked effectively in the past.

I mean, the president on Japan, Jim, yes, we've had troops in Japan for half a century. In that half a century, not a single American troop has been assassinated by any militant dissident in Japan. And, secondly, not a single contract was awarded in the entire reconstruction in Japan to any American company. That's where the analogy really starts to limit.

RICH LOWRY: Well, the speech played as a Vietnam speech, but it was really an Asia speech. And my understanding is the president has been eager to make this Asia analogy for a long time, because if you look -- his argument is, as you look at the broad sweep of history and Asia in the 20th century, you know, 50 or 60 years ago you had two democracies, and now you have lots of them. And he wanted to talk about how regions change, obviously analogizing to the Middle East.

Now, no historical analogy is perfect, and obviously you can't give an Asia speech without mentioning Vietnam, and as soon as you mention Vietnam, everyone blows up. But I think if you look at the speech, the claims about Vietnam were fairly modest. He was saying, look, I'm not going to re-litigate this long argument, national argument we've had about Vietnam. But there was a consequence, a terrible and horrific consequence to defeat, and there will be one if we just give up and lose in Iraq, as well.

MARK SHIELDS: Let me just say in response: I think the terrible consequences and the human tragedy is just sad, tragic. But I will say this, Jim: I think it was a consequence of the United States staying there too long, rather than too short. The president makes and suggests that 10 years was not long enough, that we should have stayed...

There is much more to read, view, or listen in the full article.

There is a bigger reason why our experience with Vietnam is both applicable and different.

As oft said by the Administration, we are in a War Against Terrorism. Problem, terrorism in this case does not reside in Iraq. It is world-wide. Unlike Vietnam, WWI, or WWII, there is no one country we can bomb into surrender. This includes not only Iraq but also Iran; bombing these countries, or no matter how many troops or how long they stay, will win a War Against Terrorism. There are just too many countries where the kill-the-infidels-and-go-to-paradise terrorists live and work.

The only thing Bush's Iraq War had accomplished is to make Iraq a rallying-cry to every terrorist in the world. It has made Al Qaida stronger.

Pulling out of Iraq will have consequences, and they will not be pleasant. From our point of view, the question is (like Vietnam) how many American lives, as well as Iraqi, do we sacrifice before we admit enough-is-enough. How much of American dollars and prestige do we sacrifice before we admit enough-is-enough.

I for one, say enough!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

MAGE DIARIES - The Corruption of Money in Politic America

OK, it's about time I made my own comments on politics in America.

First, I been interested in politics since my high school days, and I'm 62 now. So I have a long perspective. Of course, that does NOT mean my opinion is any better than anyone else's. With that caveat, a piece on the increasing corruption of big-money on our political system.

Courts, at various levels, have decided that donations to candidates and political groups is an expression of free speech in the political arena. OK. They have a point, but there is a very big catch, big-money donations.

My definition: "Big-Money" = LARGE AMOUNTS OF CASH, or equivalent, given to politicians and political support groups at all levels of government (local, state, federal). This cash can come from any individual or group regardless of political party or other affiliation.

Now, why I'm concerned?

Think of big-money being the equivalent of someone shouting in a room where an important meeting is held, and decisions are discussed and made. Decisions that may effect individual lives or the welfare of our country. Now place yourself, an ordinary individual citizen, at that meeting. The question is, would anything you had to say be heard? Would you even get a chance to speak?

From the politician's point of view, if all he/she can hear is the people shouting, what information is he/she getting on any issue? Big-money is given for access, and if politicians who do have a limited amount of time in a given day, only have time to hear people or organizations who have prime-time access.... Can this human being actually have unbiased information on issues?

Note that those who have prime-time access can be from anywhere in our political landscape. Sierra Club, MADD, conservative or liberal think tanks, GM/Ford, Autoworkers Union, on and on. Then, at the top of my list, Lobbyist, who are paid to influence politicians and political decisions.

What chance does an ordinary citizen have to be heard? How far back in line does he have to wait to be seen, if at all?

With political information being heavily from prime-time access sources, are critical decisions about America being slanted to the desires of the few, the people/organizations with prim-time access? Is the desires and wishes of the ordinary citizen being ignored or misrepresented?

Then there's the disconnect of politicians, especially Washington DC politicians, which is real because they spend much too much time seeking money. Money to pay-off debts from their last re-election campaign or to fund their next re-election. This pursuit has become a year-around job and one wonders what time they really have left to critically think about the legislation they are working or voting on. Why do they have to spend so much time in pursuit of money, the EVER INCREASING cost of running a campaign.

Is there a solution? Maybe:
  1. Take the money completely out of running a campaign.

  2. Note the key word. I am not talking about donations in general, but of the cost to politicians of running a campaign. The ideal case would be a system that would cost the individual running for office nothing. Not a dime. No cost for TV, radio, or newspaper ads (these have the biggest cost). No cost for campaign-only WEB sites.

  3. Set a limited campaign period.

  4. My personal choice would be, "no politician could do any campaigning prior to 366 days before an election AND they must be registered for the election by no later than 366th day before the election." In effect, limit campaigning to one year prior to an election.

    There would be an official election panel, appointed every two years and to serve for two years, to review disputes over what is a campaign related action by a politician under my above proposal. The panel would have an odd number of members (to prevent dead-locks) and drawn from the full spectrum of political interests in our nation, the goal being that no one political interest have a majority on the panel.

For my proposal to work, both #1 & #2 must be implemented. One without the other dooms any reform.

Well, that's enough for this issue of Mage Diaries.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

THE LIGHT SIDE - San Diego Zoo

OK, a break from politics. Here are 3 articles from the San Diego Zoo blog.

"Kinah’s Hot Summer Days"

Nothing beats a swim for cooling off on a hot day. As mentioned in the earlier posted blog, Kinah Learns To Swim, Ituiri Forest’s local celebrity swamp monkey enjoys taking a dip as well! She has become quite the efficient swimmer. You can find her leaping in the water with gusto (cannonball!), leisurely paddling around, or holding her breath for submerged dives. She is often accompanied by her buddy, Jaribu, a quite attentive juvenile male. They actively wrestle, frolic, and dunk each other in the water. Then, just as quickly as they jump into the water, they’re out in a flash to sun themselves and dry off.

"Okapi Calf’s Big Adventure, Day One"

On August 9, Safarani and her calf, Sukari, made their way out of the maternity yard where they had been since the youngster was born on July 10 (see previous blog, Okapi Calf To See a Bigger World!). Safarani was most anxious to get back out into the larger exhibit space; we realized after watching her for a little while after the move that it was because she loves to eat all the plantings around the exhibit, something she’s not had access to for a couple of months. Now we know who’s been mowing through those plantings!

And of course, "Starting To See Black and White"

Our new panda cub is now a week old and it has changed so much already. One of the most striking changes that we see during the first few weeks of life is the development of the pandas’ trademark black-and-white coloring on the skin. Well, at about 12:30 p.m. today we got a great view of the cub nestled calmly in the crook of Bai Yun’s neck and there they were: the first signs of the black ears, eye-patches, and limbs! Look closely at the cub the next time Bai Yun gives us a peek. The black coloring should intensify dramatically over the coming week.

There's more in the first two articles


"US Shuts Down Controversial Anti-Terror Database" by Zonk, Slashdot

coondoggie writes
  • The massive anti-terror database established by the US government has been criticized for keeping track of regular everyday citizens. Computerworld reports that as of September 17th, the database will be shut down. 'The Threat and Local Observation Notices or TALON, was established in 2002 by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz as a way to collect and evaluate information about possible threats to U.S. service-members and defense civilians all over the world. Congress and others protested its apparent use as an unauthorized citizen tracking database. The TALON system came under fire in 2005 for improperly storing information about some civilian individuals and non-government-affiliated groups on its database. The Air Force developed TALON, or the Threat and Local Observation Notice system in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way to gather data on possible terrorist threats. Anti-war groups and other organizations, protested after it was revealed last year that the military had monitored anti-war activities, organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies.'

Hip, hip hooray! Good riddance.

IRAQ - One Congressman's View

"Setting the record straight on Iraq" by Congressman Jerry McNerney


Our women and men laying their lives on the line in Iraq have done everything we have asked of them. To honor their service, they deserve leaders who respect them enough to ask the tough questions, and -- when something isn't working -- not only acknowledge it, but fundamentally change course.

In September, Congress will be participating in perhaps the most critical discussion of this conflict since it began in 2003. My campaign web site has been receiving increasing amounts of email from concerned citizens curious about my stance on the war. So, as we approach this pivotal debate, I want to clearly and unequivocally express to you where I stand on the question of executing a responsible redeployment from Iraq:

  • I am firmly in favor of withdrawing troops on a timeline that includes both a definite start date and a definite end date ("date certain") and uses clearly-defined benchmarks. I am not in favor of an "open-ended" timeline for withdrawal, as some members of Congress have proposed recently.

As many foreign policy experts agree, setting a date certain for withdrawal is fundamental to forcing George W. Bush to bring our troops home from Iraq and ensuring the Iraqis step up and defend their own country. That's why -- even as I consider all proposals as a matter of due diligence -- I am standing strong on setting a definite redeployment end date (as an example, I recently voted for the "Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act" to safely draw down our troops over the course of nine months).

A voice of sanity in the face of the Bush/GOP insanity in this war.

Terrorists are not centered in Iraq. They are world-wide, and it is Bush who has made the war in Iraq a terrorist rallying point. Risking our troops, without end, in Iraq is not going to win any War on Terrorism.

POLITICS - Ah Yes, Our "Caring & Passionate" President

"Bush Administration Bravely Fights the New Communist Threat of Children's Health Insurance" by Nick Anthis, Scientific Activist 8/21/2007

Although the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP or CHIP) passed in both the House and the Senate earlier this month, the Bush Administration has once again decided that it prefers to preempt the Democratic process. President Bush had already promised to veto the legislation before it had even come up for a vote, but now it seems that the Administration can't even wait for the two chambers of Congress to reconcile their versions of the bill and has instead decided to carry out its agenda uninhibited while Congress is on recess.

Last Friday, the Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations, Dennis Smith, sent a letter to state health officials outlining the Bush Administration's new restrictions on SCHIP. The full letter can be read here. The questionable pretense of the Administration's actions is that expanding SCHIP will significantly decrease the number of children enrolled in private health insurance... and then (you have to read between the lines here) people will begin opting out of private coverage in droves, the system will collapse, Lenin will rise from the grave, and a Soviet flag will fly over Washington. Or, something like that, anyway.

Given the current state of our private health insurance system in the US, I don't find it reasonable to expect everyone to want to stay in the private system, but, accepting the assumption that decreases in enrollment in private health insurance must be avoided at costs, the "crowding out" effect of SCHIP has been rather mild so far. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates this effect at 25-50%. This means that for every 100 children enrolled in SCHIP, 25 to 50 would have left private coverage to enroll. This is a pretty liberal estimate compared to others, which have been lower. Regardless, the "crowding out" effect has been no worse than what was predicted (40%), and there are many indications that it has been much more mild. Due to confounding variables, however, these numbers are not particularly informative and do not get at the reasons for any decreases in private coverage. A better indication may be that a study of children enrolling in SCHIP in 2002 found that only 28% of these children had private insurance in the last six months and only 14% at the most had left this coverage voluntarily. The authors of the study conclude, and rightly so, that "relatively few SCHIP enrollees could have retained private coverage and that even fewer had parents who felt that the option was affordable."

The recent letter from the Bush Administration outlines the new restrictions for states wishing to expand SCHIP to children in families above 250% of the poverty line. One of these is "assurance that the State has enrolled at least 95 percent of the children in the State below 200 percent of the FPL who are eligible for either SCHIP or Medicaid (including a description of the steps the State takes to enroll these eligible children)." According to the AP, though, this is not a reasonable condition:

  • But, currently, no state can make such an assurance for their participation rates. The best that any state is doing is Vermont, with about 92 percent participation. So, essentially, eligibility for states' SCHIP programs would be capped at 250 percent of poverty, said health officials who examined the administration's new policy.

  • ......

  • Some 19 states, including the District of Columbia, provide health insurance coverage to children in families with incomes above 250 percent of the poverty level, or are in the process of doing so.

  • The new guidelines could have a dramatic impact on those states as well as any other that wanted to follow in their steps, said Cindy Mann, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Another condition is that "the State must establish a minimum of a one year period of reinsurance for individuals prior to receiving coverage." There's not much need to harp on this point, though, because I think that the absurdity of mandating that a child goes a full year without health insurance speaks for itself.

The Bush Administration's recent anti-SCHIP zealotry is unfortunate, considering that the program has otherwise been such a great success. According to the CBO, since the inception of SCHIP in 1997 the percentage of children in households at 100-200% of the poverty line without health insurance has dropped from 22.5% to 16.9%. Also, since it has been demonstrated that cuts to SCHIP can end up costing the system $2000 per child in the long run, there is not a good rationale to be restricting SCHIP. At this stage, though, it looks like our best chances lie in Congress, where hopefully the House and the Senate can reconcile their versions of the SCHIP expansion and then come up with a veto-proof majority in the House (one already exists in the Senate), thus overcoming the hurdles to children's health care put in place by the Bush Administration.

Yes, another example of Bush & GOP Compassionate Conservatism; aka money before people, the rich before the common citizen.

In this case, in their eyes it IS OK for a child to go without healthcare for a year for monetary reasons. Is this the America we want? I hope not.

Friday, August 17, 2007

WIKIPEDIA - Just a Reminder

An embarrassed Fox News hits Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia, but we all need to be reminded of the down-side of having an "encyclopedia" that can be edited by anyone. Then add the fact, that some entries MAY be from people who wouldn't know their arse from a hole-in-the-ground.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

POLITICS - Poking Fun at "Tricky Dicky" Cheney

"Daily Show"
Comedy Central

Halfway Home
Boner Poison
Nick Swardson's Pretend TimeBig LakeUgly Americans New Episodes

POLITICS - California, Will the GOP Never Stop

"Never stop what?" Stacking the deck in their own favor, unfairly.

"Stop the GOP Electoral College Power Grab in California" by Sen. Barbara Boxer

Just when you thought it was safe to start thinking about having a Democrat in the White House, along comes a cynical power grab by Republican operatives. And unfortunately, it's happening right here in my own state of California.

If you haven't heard already, Republican strategists recently announced plans to begin raising money for a dangerous initiative that would radically change the way California apportions our electoral votes in presidential elections. Rather than awarding all of California's electoral votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote -- the way it works in every single state except the small states of Maine and Nebraska -- their scheme would divvy up California's electoral votes based on the number of Congressional districts each candidate wins.

What does this mean? Well, if the last few elections are any guide, rather than the Democratic nominee winning all 55 of California's electoral votes in 2008, this new partisan scheme could hand 20 of California's electoral votes to the Republican candidate and only 35 to the Democrat.

Don't get me wrong: After the 2000 and 2004 election debacles, I'm a strong advocate for election reform. But it's absolutely wrong for California to go it alone. It's just patently unfair for a large "blue" state like California to change our system for awarding electoral votes while other large states which trend "red" like Texas and Florida don't change their system at the same time.

This isn't reform -- this is a partisan power grab by Republican operatives in the Karl Rove tradition.

The initiative's sponsors claim that their plan will make the presidential candidates spend more time campaigning in California. That's nonsense. Their scheme won't make candidates come to California during a general election any more than they do now -- which is rarely, and only to raise money.

Just look at the 2006 election. In 2006, only 2 of California's 53 Congressional districts were truly in play. In the remaining 51 districts, the margin of victory for the winning Republican or Democratic House candidate was always more than 6% -- and in most cases, the difference was 20 or 30 percentage points or more. The number of competitive districts in the 2008 election will not be much different than what we saw in 2006 -- so apportioning our electoral votes based on the winner of each Congressional district would clearly do nothing to bring the presidential candidates to California more often.

If America wants real election reform -- and I know I do -- we need to elect our President directly by the national popular vote, plain and simple. Then the candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia would be elected President. That's the fair thing to do.

Although I don't always agree with Sen. Boxer, she is correct in that this is just another GOP power-grab. If you are not the winner, just change the rules. Can you imagine INDIVIDUAL NFL teams acting this way, "we didn't get to the Super Bowl, so lets change the rules in our division so we can."

ECONOMY - We Never Seem to Learn

"Toward a More Complex and Difficult Depression" by Richard Thomas, The Huffington Post

The current liquidity crisis can be paralleled to events leading up to the Great Depression. Specifically, the departure from fundamental valuation principles and extension of credit in the subprime market is consistent with mistakes made by speculators in the late 1920s.

After World War I, the U.S. economy experienced a brief recession from 1920 until 1921 and then experienced robust growth until 1926. The economy grew because new retail markets and credit instruments were introduced to the public. Consumers were bombarded with notions of "buying now and paying later" from retail stores like Macy's (who recently posted a loss in profits). For the first time people could have things they really wanted without having to wait until they saved enough money to pay for it. This included the purchase of securities , and bank loans leveraged on them. Thus, the volume of credit transactions increased the volume of sales and loans, i.e. demand for goods and services. In short, people borrowed and spent like crazy not worrying about the debt they were incurring.

In response to the spending frenzy, firms increased investment to meet the demand for new goods and services. The markets that boomed most were new homes and automobile sales. However, these spending habits and increased production levels could not be sustained forever. The accumulating debt had to catch up with consumers at some point. That time came at the end of 1926, where gross investment peaked and market saturation took toll. Households fell into an unfavorable liquidity positions because of debt burdens and, therefore, demanded fewer goods. In effect, producer inventories increased and gross investment declined from 1927 until 1935.

Does this sound familiar?
There's more in the full article

Boy, does it. The Crash of '29 was the subject of a high school Sophomore history term paper I did, and what is happening today is Deja Vu from my research.

IRAQ - Inside View 8/16/2007

"Hide & Seek...again !" by Layla Anwar, An Arab Woman Blues

You know something, this business with figures is starting to really aggravate me. I understand that you can count very well, when it comes to dollars...This we all know. But why is it when it comes to killings, you conveniently misplace numbers ?

In previous posts, "An Add'h'olic" and "Let's call...", I alluded both directly and indirectly as to the number of deaths in Iraq. I even asked you to check the series of correspondence between Gabriele Zamparini, the Guardian and Znet.

I maintain that the Iraq Body Count figure of 70'000 is shameful to say the least.

I have also said on numerous occasions, that even the Lancet figure of 655'000 Iraqis dead is obsolete by now. I was slightly relieved to see that some websites did publish the more accurate figure of 1 million +. I reiterate yet again, the figure is greater than 1 million+.

I have also said that prior to the invasion the total population of Iraq was approximately 24 million in 2003.

German figures for 1997, placed the population number at 22.5 million. Remember that 1990-2003 were sanctions years and we lost 1.5+ million people during those 13 years.

I have also mentioned the famous Bremer question time and time again, when he asked one of the persons in his bureau in Baghdad what the population was and when the answer given was 24 million, he said let us bring it down to 5 or 6 million, that should be enough.

There is much more in the full article

We Americans need to remind ourselves that it is not just American lives being lost in Iraq.


"Bush’s War Forces Iraqi Women Into Prostitution" by Ken Grandlund, Bring It On

We went over to “win hearts and minds” while establishing “democracy in the Middle East” and saving America from a “looming mushroom cloud” of nuclear decimation perpetuated by Saddam Hussein. None of that has come to pass. What we have managed to achieve is increased hatred for America in the region, a hopelessly degrading civil war at foot, and no sign of the so-called WMD’s anywhere. Add turning pious Muslim women into prostitutes so they can feed their kids to the list of grand achievements America has realized under the woefully inadequate eye of George W. Bush.

According to this CNN report, Iraqi women are being forced into prostitution just to keep their families alive. And when I say “forced” I don’t mean that armed gangs are dragging them out of their homes and savagely raping them , tossing a few dinars at their feet. I mean that the country is in such a shambles, and so many men have been killed in sectarian violence, that family matriarchs are choosing to sell their sexual wares for food money just to keep their children from starving. In a country where religion often sees walking hand in hand or kissing in public as an affront to modesty and piety, these women are abandoning all their religious traditions and risking certain death upon discovery by family members simply to eat.

Kudos Dub’ya- you managed to become the Pimp of Iraq, albeit as a consequence of your incompetence.

IRAQ - Oh Yes, Hold Your Breath For Unbiased Report

"Not written by the pen of Petraeus" (video) Countdown, MSNBC

Aug. 15: Buried in a L.A. Times article was the statement that the Petraeus Report will not be written by Gen. Petraeus but by the White House instead. Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford and former Pentagon advisor P.J. Crowley discusses.

Yap, an unbiased report, NOT! Watch the video and see the Whitehouse Shill all but admit that Petraeus will not be giving the report.

ASSAULT ON CONSTITUTION - Orwell's 1984 Here and Now

Cry, my fellow Americans. In the name of safety we have finally lost any right to privacy. Orwell's 1984 (book) vision of a nation that constantly spies on its citizens has become reality. It is here, it is now.

"American Spy Satellites To Snoop On U.S." by Keach Hagey, CBS Evening News

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Department of Homeland Security has approved a measure to allow federal civilian agencies and law enforcement to turn American spy satellites on their own citizens for the first time.

Until now, the highly sensitive satellites were aimed mostly at other countries, usually ones we didn't really trust. Occasionally, geologists and NASA scientists got to use them to make things like topographical maps. Letting domestic security folks use them to spy is, the Journal says, "uncharted territory."

Officials have been mulling the plan for a couple years, but often bumped up against questions about whether this kind of snooping would violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which bars military for engaging in law-enforcement activity within the U.S., since the satellites are built for and owned by the Defense Department.

The decision was made three months ago by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnel, and OKed in May by DHS chief Michael Chertoff.

Access to the satellite will be controlled by a new Homeland Security branch, the National Applications Office. As Charles Allen, the DHS's chief intelligence officer who will head up the new program, summed up cryptically, "It is an idea whose time has come."

Naturally, privacy groups are freaking out. Sentences like this one probably don't help. "The full capabilities of these systems are unknown outside the intelligence community, because they are among the most closely held secrets in government."

One privacy advocate complained that it was this secrecy that was the real problem.

"You are talking about enormous power," said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel and director of the Project on Freedom, Security and Technology for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit group advocating privacy rights in the digital age. "Not only is the surveillance they are contemplating intrusive and omnipresent, it's also invisible. And that's what makes this so dangerous."

We all should be freaked out. About phone conversations overseas are being spied on (don't believe the only suspected terrorists malarkey, you can't know this until after you spy on the phone call); we have cameras watching street corners, now we have spy satellites watching us from above. From now on, be careful what you do in the open, in your own backyard or school or business or at the beach. Big Brother is watching.

Monday, August 13, 2007

POLITICS - In the Name of Keeping You Safe

"FISA courts dismantled just in time" by Marlene Lang, Daily Southtown

What if you or I could secretly commit crimes against our fellow citizens, bury the evidence of the crime by stamping it "TOP SECRET," refuse to answer questions when we are accused of committing the crime, and then, before we can be prosecuted for the crime, we can make a law that says the crime we committed is no longer a crime. And then call ourselves heroes.

Welcome to the New America.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has required, since 1978, that government agents obtain a warrant before spying on Americans. A special system of courts was set up to hear the reasons such spying was necessary, with judges granting the warrants under rather lenient conditions. The feds were allowed, when granted a warrant, to listen in on international phone calls; a later provision included electronic communications: It was simple accountability, based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

One week ago, the FISA court system was effectively set aside by your president and his sneaky administration, in the name of keeping you safe.

Bush's National Security Administration was accused in 2005 of listening in on the international calls of Americans, without getting warrants first. Two American attorneys for an Islamic charity organization have since sued the administration, armed with a log of their calls -- inadvertently released and copied -- despite the TOP SECRET stamp on every page. Their case is to be heard in federal court in San Francisco on Aug. 15.

What to do? The Bush administration had asked the court to dismiss the case altogether, then claimed it could not defend itself in such a lawsuit, because to do so, it would have to give up information that would threaten national security. In the New America, there seems to be no constitutional tromping that cannot be justified in the name of national security.

But, just a nose ahead of the first serious legal challenge to the NSA's spying program, Bush signed a law on Aug. 5 that revamps the NSA program, broadening the spy scope, making it all legal.

The handy new law allows international surveillance by means of fiber optic cable -- the medium of most international communication today -- and best of all, without a warrant. Who needs the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act?

It was a tricky move. The FISA law had not yet caught up with technology. But suddenly, it was a matter of great urgency, even though the administration had been stretching the spirit of the law and abusing advances in technology to get around the letter of the law, for years. These acrobatics will no longer be necessary.

The FISA courts have been stripped of any real oversight; the attorney general and the director of national intelligence will now approve international surveillance. There will be no examining of the individuals being spied upon, to decide if the surveillance is reasonable. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell called it "modernizing" FISA, and graciously submitted to post-surveillance "reviews."

McConnell assures us the new law's targets will be foreigners, not Americans.

So, relax. You can trust the Administration of the Freely Reigning Executive never to abuse or stretch the limits of its power. Or, you can stay off the phone with your friends overseas.

Yap, another "trust us" claim. No need for check-and-balances to protect our Constitutional Rights/Protections.

We can just trust the Attorney General to protect rights, especially after seeing his "stellar" (NOT) performance answering questions on this and other issues before Congressional Oversight Committees.

EARTH - More on Climate Change

"Climate model predicts hot decade" by Dan Vergano, USA Today

The next decade will be a hot one, according to scientists unveiling the first 10-year projection of global warming.

The climate projection, published today in the journal Science, suggests that a natural cooling trend in eastern and southern Pacific ocean waters has kept a lid on warming in recent years.

And it will continue to do so, scientists say, but not for long.

The projection spans 2006 to 2015. "At least half of the years after 2009 are predicted to be warmer than 1998, the warmest year currently on record," the researchers say in their report.

Globally, that means a typical year will be about half a degree warmer than in the previous 10 years, a projection in line with findings this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel's report, the work of thousands of scientists, also predicts steadily rising temperatures.

The creators of older climate models are most confident about their projections for the years around 2040, making a new decade projection especially important to politicians and other decision-makers, agrees Gavin Schmidt of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. "If this works, it is a good step forward," he says, but cautions that ocean temperature measurements vital to the decadal model are limited. Such measures are now fairly low tech, usually involving boats and thermometers.

Improved ocean measurements should soon improve the reliability of the decadal forecast, Smith says. And he adds one caveat the model can't account for. "Any major volcanic eruptions would cool the climate compared with our forecast."

Climate models have critics, such as renowned Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson. But the Hadley Center projections have been run backwards, so-called "hindcasts" that closely reproduce climate in past decades to check accuracy.

Everyone needs to realize that the potential warming of our climate is very important, regardless of the argument over the cause.

Changes in the climate effect agriculture world wide, and all coastal countries. All countries need to evaluate just what would happen to their nation if their agriculture changes or their costs flood, and take action before it becomes very expensive to mitigate.

POLITICS - More Bushworld "Supporting the Troops"

"Senators warned away from bigger GI Bill" by Rick Maze, Army Times

Lawmakers pushing for dramatic improvements in veterans’ education benefits can expect no help from the Bush administration.

While defense and veterans’ officials representing the administration acknowledge the value of having GI Bill benefits that help pay for college or vocational education, the administration does not support generous increases that would raise benefits to fully cover the cost of tuition and fees plus provide a $1,000 monthly stipend for living expenses.

Service members trying to attend college “are faced with the daunting task of taking multiple jobs to raise the money, attending a less prestigious institution, taking out student loans and/or living on mama’s couch to cut expenses,” said Patrick Campbell, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans.

But officials who testified July 31 before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said the possibility of receiving an average of $2,400 a month — which includes the stipend plus average college costs — would be enough to cause serious harm to the military at a time when it is hard to get and keep good people.

“The potential benefits of a higher benefit level to recruiting must be carefully evaluated in light of the difficulties some of the services are experiencing in the recruiting market,” said a joint statement submitted by Tom Bush, the Defense Department’s principal director for manpower and personnel, and Curt Gilroy, its director of accession policy. “Attracting qualified recruits using large, across-the-board basic benefits incurs the risk that many who enter for the benefits will leave as soon as they can to use them,” the statement said.

Several GI Bill initiatives are pending before Congress, but the one getting the most attention is S 22, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, introduced in January by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

The bill, which has wide support among Democrats, would provide a monthly payment of the cost of in-state tuition and fees for a four-year public college or university plus the $1,000 stipend, a combination Webb said would restore benefits to the level provided when the original GI Bill was created at the end of World War II.

Payments proposed by Webb would be a significant increase over the $1,075 maximum basic benefit payment now provided to those who have served at least three years on active duty.

However, defense officials said S 22 could hurt the military. Not only would a big education benefit encourage some people to go to college rather than stay in uniform, but payments to people with critical skills would be lower under the proposal than what is available today.

Those enlisting in critically needed skills can get up to $950 more a month in benefits; about 12,000 people a year get the so-called “kickers.” Pentagon officials said the combination of the basic benefit and the kicker, used by the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, is more than S 22 would provide.

So, we have the view of let only enlistees with "critical" skills get extra enlistment incentives and forget other potential enlistees. Now just which category do you think has the higher numbers, critical-skill enlistees or other enlistees?

Actually, this is an excuse by GOP anti-spending ideologues, even if it's for a good cause. Another money over people priority. This from a group who claim they "support the troops."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

POLITICS - For Those Who Want "God" Back In Government

"Pentagon generals in trouble for promoting 'Christian Embassy' " by David Edwards & Muriel Kane, RawStory

CNN reported Monday that the Pentagon's Inspector General has found that seven military officers, including four generals, engaged in misconduct three years ago when they appeared in a promotional video for an evangelical group called Christian Embassy.

Although no one in the military is allowed to seek converts while on active duty, the officers appear in uniform in the video, much of which, according to the Washington Post, was filmed inside the Pentagon. Former Acting Secretary of the Air Force Pete Geren appears as well.

Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate and former assistant counsel under President Reagan who founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which asked for the investigation, told CNN, "They were absolutely proselytizing. ... Numbers of them had actually led Christian Embassy Bible studies. They were well aware what this was about."

Christian Embassy, which targets the government and military, is an outreach group of Campus Crusade for Christ. The front page of their website features links for "I Work on Capitol Hill," "I Am a Member of the Diplomatic Community," "I Am a Presidential Appointee," and "I Work at the Pentagon."

"One of the reasons this is so sensitive, and so controversial" explained CNN, "is top commanders know that al Qaeda and other fundamentalist Islamic groups often make the claim that the US military is in, if you will, a crusade against Islam -- those of the Islamic faith. So there are still many, many questions now about just how much control, how much influence this Christian Embassy group and other groups have inside the Pentagon walls."

The full article contains a video clip of CNN's Situation Room and CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, both broadcast on August 6.

Although members of the military have a right to proselytize their personal beliefs, to do so while appearing to represent the military is dangerous and wrong. The PERSONAL RIGHT to practice religion includes NOT being pressured in someone else's religious practice; and having someone in a military uniform or, worst, within a government building, does give the impression that his/her particular religion is government preferred.

Also, this becomes a danger to America when it helps confirm what our Islamic enemies believe, that we are conducting a war against Islam.

Our government (local, state, federal) is Constitutionally prohibited from promoting ANY religion over another, PERIOD.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

IRAQ - View From "Across the Pond"

"The lessons Northern Ireland holds for Iraq" by David McKittrick, The Independent UK 8/1/2007


The fact that the Army was yesterday able to stand down its Northern Ireland operation after almost four grueling decades is a sign that even the most intractable conflicts can eventually be settled. A region that was long a symbol of discord has become a beacon of hope. Belfast is not Basra, and there are huge differences between the two conflicts, but perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the Northern Irish experience.

This applies on both the military and political fronts. First, it hardly needs saying that these things take time, as the duration of the Northern Ireland violence all too plainly indicates. The fact also has to be faced that armies, no matter how professional and well trained, learn slowly. In 1972, the IRA managed to kill 100 soldiers in a single year - that is, three full years after the Army arrived.

As this illustrates, the best-equipped national army can struggle against irregular forces which often use irregular weapons. In particular, the IRA proved especially ingenious in home-made explosive devices.

It may seem ridiculous to think of baked bean tins having a place in warfare, but the IRA, using plastic explosives and cunning adaptation, was able to penetrate military armor and claim soldiers' lives. Millions of pounds had to be spent on counter-measures. It is also vitally important to minimize friction between troops and civilians, since this can have hugely counter-productive results. A surprising number of IRA members, for example, tell of getting involved following apparently trivial incidents.


Long, bloodstained years were to pass before the realization began to dawn that neither Britain nor the IRA were ever going to surrender to each other. The recognition of this reality did not end the violence: that continued for many more years. But it led to a period of brooding introspection, much of it among imprisoned activists, as various elements came to grips with a central question: if victory is not possible, then what is?

For most, this was an unwelcome question, but as time went by it became an inescapable issue. Eventually this led on to dialogue across different groups.

To begin with, both the processes of debate and dialogue were conducted in strict secrecy, accompanied by repeated denials that anything of this type was going on at all. Again, violence continued while clandestine contacts went on, but eventually a subculture of negotiation developed. Quite apart from the wider issues, the violence itself was an issue, with the authorities pressing for ceasefires and the IRA demanding concessions in return.

Relationships developed among the protagonists and various go-betweens, with a certain amount of give-and-take. What did not develop was trust, yet this did not prove an insuperable obstacle. Each side in fact took it for granted that all the others were unscrupulous, up to all sorts of tricks and needed to be watched like a hawk. With this as a given, protagonists got used to the idea of conducting business on a basis of mutually anticipated perfidy.


Yet in the latter years, once some sort of negotiating framework has been established, gratuitous acts of violence lost their power to blow the process apart and instead seemed to increase the determination to see it through. In Northern Ireland the tragic case in point was the Omagh bomb, with which dissident republicans killed 29 people some months after the historic 1998 agreement was signed. At an earlier stage that might have wrecked everything; instead those innocent deaths cemented the peace by providing the most graphically terrible reminder of the alternative to a peace process.

This was partly because of the immense power of the sense, when it finally arrives, that peace is an idea whose time has come. It take years for this to permeate the more extreme elements but, in Belfast at any rate, the idea that peace was achievable generated surges of hope and energy.

It may be that at this juncture emotions in Iraq are too raw for a peace process to take root. Yet it is probably never too early to try to lay the groundwork for some future phase in which realism and pragmatism can take root. At some stage, the ambition for victory will hopefully give way to an acknowledgment of the inevitability of a negotiated settlement. For many, that will be an unpalatable thought, yet that is the lesson of the Belfast experience of war and peace.

This MAY be food for thought in today's Iraq.

Substitute Iraq's factions factions for Northern Ireland's factions. Replace the public (in our face) dialog in Iraq today, with the Northern Ireland dialog conducted in strict secrecy.

But then, is the Iraq solution a decades long one? This may be the reality, thanks to Bush.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

BIG BUSINESS - The Apple iPhone Rip-Off

"Apple Faces Mounting Complaints on iPhone Battery" by Ben Ames, IDG News Service

Officials in New York state asked Apple Inc. on Monday to change its iPhone design to allow consumers to replace their own batteries, just days after lawyers in Illinois filed a class-action lawsuit over the same complaint.

Apple charges customers a US$79 fee to replace the iPhone battery, which is sealed inside the phone instead of being attached by a removable latch, like most other consumer electronics. The company also charges an additional $29 to rent the user a temporary replacement phone to use during the repair.

"They" just don't understand. Apple is just really, really concerned about their customers. There's no profit motive involved. Ya, right....

VOTING THREAT - Voting Machines

"Senate to Hold Hearing on Security of Voting Machines" by Kim Zetter, Wired Magazine

In the wake of the California report released last week showing that Red Team security researchers were able to hack voting machines from three of the top voting machine companies, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) announced today that the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will hold a hearing in September to examine the report's findings. From the press release:

  • “I was very surprised to read how easily these machines could be hacked into and election results distorted,” Senator Feinstein said. “This report demonstrates the precarious risk of relying on electronic voting machines, especially when a verified paper record is not provided. These findings are yet another reason that states and counties should consider a move to optical scan machines that provide an auditable, individual voter-verified paper record without having to rely on a separate printer.”

One wonders where the senator has been the last four years that she's surprised by the findings revealed in the report. Feinstein introduced a bill earlier this year that would require voting machines nationwide to produce a paper trail, but the bill has received little support in the Senate thus far.

Another bill that Congressman Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) introduced in the House years ago (and reintroduced this year) is making better progress, though its path has hardly been smooth. As I reported two weeks ago, the bill almost died due to arguments among interest groups over sections of the bill dealing with the paper trail mandate and voter accessibility. A compromise was apparently reached this week (see the draft version that's been circulating on the internet), but voting activists are steaming mad with it since it would allow touch-screen machines with add-on printers to continue to be used. The machines use thermal paper, such as the kind used in cash registers.

Voting activist groups fought hard to get those printers in place in 2003 and 2004 and were the impetus for the original Holt bill back in 2003 which would have mandated that printers be installed on all touch-screen machines. But the activists have since changed their minds and now want touch-screen machines outlawed entirely and replaced with optical-scan machines that use a durable full-size paper ballot. The revised bill introduced this year initially seemed to suggest that touch-screen machines would be outlawed, but that wording in the bill has since changed to permit counties to use the touch-screen machines with printers.

Note that the "California report" above is a link to the article on the report itself. I highly suggest also reading this article.

SCIENCE - The New Hubble Telescope

"Son of Hubble, Prepare for a 2013 Liftoff" by Erin Biba, Wired Magazine

The Hubble Space Telescope is 17 years old — that's like 150 to you and me. Next year, the geriatric orbiting eye will receive its final tune-up, and soon it will go live on a farm where it can play with other obsolete space-based observatories. The good news is that NASA scientists have already cooked up a replacement. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for a 2013 launch, folds to fit into the cone of a rocket for deeper deployment than its predecessor. Once in orbit, it will capture infrared instead of visible light and — since distance equals time in space — will be able to see back to about 400 million years after the big bang. That should let it snag shots of the first bright objects, the origins of planetary systems, and the assembly of galaxies. "Every time you get new capabilities, you see a quantum jump in progress," says Mark Clampin, the observatory's project scientist. "I'm sure we'll discover things we've never seen before."

The rest of the article contains a graphic with explanations of the components.

I'm glad the decision was made to extend the current Hubble and build its replacement. We need the science.