Saturday, February 25, 2006

Down to the Sea in Ships

I wasn't going to talk about the Dubai port deal. I mean, hell, it's the story of the day. Everybody's chiming in on it, and I hate being accused of jumping on a bandwagon. But there's just so much material here - come on, even the Department of Homeland Security objected to this backdoor deal.

And, by the way, it's not just six ports any more. It's twenty-one. I'm starting to wonder if we'll have any American-controlled ports left after this settles down.

But let's be clear on one thing. Scott McClellan (who has got to have problems sleeping at night, considering the amount of open, obvious lying he's been doing in this job) said "This not about control of our ports, this is not about the security of our ports. And let me be very clear, one thing we will never do is outsource to anyone the control and security of our ports, whether that's Dubai or any other entity that operates terminals at our ports."

Well, let's turn that answer over to CNN correspondent Bill Tucker.
In simple terms, at most ports security works like this: while the ship is in the water, it's under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard. While docked at the port and those goods are being unloaded, it's under the jurisdiction of Customs and Border Protection. But the minute those goods come off of the ships and land on the dock, security is the sole responsibility of the terminal operator.

The security plans are reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security, but the terminal operator is solely responsible for the execution of those plans. The plans are classified secret. If a foreign government gains control of the terminal it becomes privy to the classified security arrangements.
It's strange, really, that Bush has been consistently bringing up 9/11 as justification for invading Iraq, but now he's willfully ignoring the fact that, unlike Iraq, the United Arab Emirates had extremely strong connections to the 9/11 hijackers.

But guess who did the investigation on Dubai? John Negroponte, who used to cover up the murder and torture of South American dictators. At least we know that investigation was thorough, right?

So, why is Bush so adamant about trying to get this deal through? Could it be the money? After all, Dubai gave one hundred million dollars in Katrina relief, nearly four times as much as all the other countries who donated, combined.

Or is the money a little closer to home? After all, the UAE gave one million dollars to the Bush Library. (Which won't be more than a closet, anyway. How much room does two copies of My Pet Goat need, anyway?) As CNN correspondent Christine Romans reported on Lou Dobbs' show, the Carlyle Group, where Bush Sr. worked as a senior advisor, got $8 billion in Dubai money just last year, and Neil Bush (the unknown Bush Brother) received funding for his educational software company from UAE investors. Two of Bush's aides have business ties to the very same, UAE government-controlled company that is now trying to buy our ports.

But the Bush family has never had a problem working with dictators if there was a little money in it for them, have they? His grandfather worked with Hitler, his father worked with the UAE in the Carlyle Group, and here's our President, selling out to the people who financed 9/11.

Kinda makes you feel warm all over, doesn't it?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

It's All About The Lies

Why is the fact that Dick Cheney shot a man in the face important? What is it about that act that makes it the perfect touchstone for the problems of the Bush Administration?

Is it because our boy Dick shot a man in the face? Is that all it is? Simple schadenfreude? Well, yes and no. It's nice when someone so blatantly unlikable, so wildly unconcerned about his fellow men, has a bad day. That's a simple fact about the human psyche - if you don't like someone, you don't want him to succeed. But that's not the most important factor here.

And, incidentally, nobody really wants Whittington to die. But consider the ramifications for old Dead-Eye Dick if one of those pellets that he pumped into that 78-year-old lawyer causes an embolism, or migrates into his heart. Dick has already openly and publicly done something unique in the Bush White House: he accepted blame for his actions. So what happens if it turns out that Dick committed "negligent homicide"? Does he go to jail like an ordinary citizen?

Probably not. But now we've touched on part of the problem. Cheney refused to go to the hospital, and was able to avoid law enforcement officials for an entire day. So is it any wonder that people ask if alcohol was involved in the shooting? He violated the most basic rule of firearms and a man went to the hospital because of it. At the very least, anyone else would have been forced to take a Breathalyzer test. But if you think that our vice president is going to be humiliated like that, then you don't know Dick.

There is no accountability in any of this Administration's dealings with the public. How can you tell when the White House is lying? When they make an official statement on any subject. They took us to war against Iraq based on lies.

They keep bringing up the specter of terrorism to keep the American people fearful, but a look around will show that they aren't really doing more than spying on Americans and slapping a new coat of paint on the old, ineffective programs. They haven't guarded any of the various chemical plants around the country, and the ports are not only unprotected but one of the country's largest was recently sold to the United Arab Emirates.

They claim to support the troops, but, not only does Bush not bother to send in enough troops or give them adequate equipment, but he is trying to give them the lowest pay raise in decades - a pay raise that not only lags significantly behind inflation, but is also the lowest raise offered to people putting their lives on the line since 1988. (It's equal to the pay raise given the troops in 1994 - when none of them were being actively attacked - but you have to go back to Reagan and George Bush v. 1.0 to go any lower. For obvious reasons, the Military Officer's Association tracks that kind of thing, and they show how badly the military lags behind the civilian populace in pay parity.)

And the actions of the Bush Administration aren't just angering progressives and liberals. George Will is an old-school conservative (something becoming rare in the Republican Party these days), and he has started pointing out the flaws in everything from taking us to war based on a lie, and then illegally spying on American citizens.

And in the latest news, despite official statements that American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as the Iraqi military can fend for themselves, it's becoming apparent that the US military has no intention of departing Iraq any time soon, since we're sinking billions of dollars into Iraqi superbases.

Which brings us back to why Dick Cheney's hunting accident is such a big deal. Because it shows just how the White House deals with the public. And it's something that the average man can understand. God bless Dick Cheney and his itchy trigger finger.

And by the way, if American officials are going to buy a hunting shotgun, wouldn't it be nice if they bought American? has gotten their hands on the report filed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which shows that Cheney was using an Italian-made Perazzi shotgun. (Hmm... where have I heard about that brand of shotgun before?)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Shh! Be vewwy vewwy quiet! We're hunting honkies!

While hunting for quail in Texas on Saturday, the Vice President of the United States shot a 78-year-old millionaire lawyer named Harry Whittington. (You know, there might be a joke I could make about "Dick Whittington," but I guess it wouldn't really be funny.)

And today, there are more variations of the sentence "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" floating around the Internet than there has been during any Administration in the history of the United States, to include the presidencies of Washington, Lincoln, Wilson or Roosevelt.

It's relatively certain that the shooting was an accident, since rich white guys are the group normally referred to by the Administration as "our base."
Katharine Armstrong, the ranch's owner, saw what happened Saturday and told reporters yesterday that Cheney was using a 28-gauge shotgun, which shoots fewer pellets and has a smaller shot pattern than a 12-gauge shotgun, making it harder to hit the target. Whittington was about 30 yards away when he was hit in the cheek, neck and chest, she said...

It was Armstrong's decision to alert the news media. Cheney's office made no public announcement, deciding to defer to Armstrong because the incident had taken place on her property. Armstrong called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, and when a reporter from the paper called the White House, the vice president's office confirmed the account.
Yes, true to their policy of never informing anyone about anything, the White House wasn’t going to break this story. Katherine Armstrong got nervous about that whole "criminal charges" thing, and contacted the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (free registration required).

According to her account, the Vice President was about 30 yards away from Whittington, and both were wearing orange vests. The Vice President was said to have a valid hunting license, but a spokesman for the Texas Game & Fish Commission stated that lawyer season wasn't due to start for another three weeks.

First of all, one of the primary rules of using a firearm of any kind is to know your backstop: if you're going to shoot in any direction, you damned well better know what is past the thing you're aiming at, because bullets don't just fly up to the target and then quit moving – they keep going for miles, sometimes.

Secondly, how can the White House not think that this was important enough to pass along to the press? When was the last time that a sitting vice president actively shot another person? I'm thinking that we need to go back to Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr for that. Maybe, just maybe, if you dig a little, you'll find some historical significance in this.

But in actual fact, the rumor is that Cheney was heard stating that Mr. Whittington was known to have reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, and the people of Corpus Christi would greet him with open arms as a liberator.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day. Leave the check on the bureau.

It's sad, in a world where there should be equality between the sexes by now, that men are often required to initiate courtship or romance. It's especially unfortunate, because most often, when women initiate either one, it works. However, from a simple cost-analysis perspective, it makes sense for the men to have to do the work, because, as Gary Busey's character pointed out in DC Cab, women "have half the money and all the pussy." So, with the fairer sex holding all the cards, it makes sense, from their perspective, that the men should be carrying the load in this endeavor.

However, continuing in that cost-effective vein, it seems that if the man wants to win her heart, he doesn't need expensive presents or jewelry. All he needs is a restaurant reservation.

Men who want to impress a woman will do best to wine and dine her. In this instance, we aren't taking our advice from any of the usual sources - not marriage counselors, not advice columnists, and especially not women (hey, what would they gain from giving us a straight answer in this case?) Instead, in this instance, we turn to words of wisdom from mathematicians.

A team of mathematicians from Imperial College London developed a mathematical formula to determine the best way to woo a woman. They did this by modeling courtship as a sequential game, according to Reuters.

The results:Women aren't impressed by cheap gifts. Don't waste your money.
Expensive gifts can definitely show a woman that the man has serious intentions, but if the woman is uninterested (or simply mercenary), it could backfire, and the man would end up with no woman and less cash.

So what's the best answer? A dinner at a fancy restaurant or an evening at the theater are considered expensive, but worthless gifts ("worthless" because they don't have intrinsic value, the way jewelry or a car do). Why is a worthless gift so effective? If the woman is not interested and doesn't accept the invitation, there is no cost to the man. And if she's already accepted the date, he knows she's interested in him, and is halfway home already.

Unfortunately, the date can't be inexpensive. A cheap meal and a video won't impress anybody. "Our analysis shows there is evolutionary logic in men 'burning money' to impress the girl," study co-author Robert Seymour told Reuters.

So, what do we learn here? Dinner works better than diamonds, but there had better be wine, candlelight, and incredible food. (The study findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.)

Of course, love and romance are murky subjects at best, and no one study is likely to get it right. Somewhere out there, there might just be a winning formula for romance. In the meantime, send her a card, you cheap bastard. And reflect on the fact that while Valentine's Day is a cash cow for florists, candy makers and Hallmark, it's also a big day for private detectives.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

An Award For The Lynch Mob

Let's consider the continued separation of reality from myth in the Iraqi conflict.

The Associated Press has a story out on the wires talking about the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, which was given the Valorous Unit award last Friday (January 27).

Reading through the story, you get the impression that the Rangers got the award for the rescue of Jessica Lynch - they were one of the units that participated in that operation, after all, and most of the story talks about that particular event. But they never really say that, and the unit has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan seven times since September 2002.

But, in fact, if you try and research the story, some versions come right out and say it: "Army Unit Honored For Rescue of Lynch." Which is entirely the wrong reason to give anyone an award.

The story of Jessica Lynch is a heart-rending story of a real American hero persevering in the face of danger. When the convoy she was riding with took a wrong turn and was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers, they fought back with everything they had. Surrounded by the corpses of fallen comrades, Jessica fought to the last, until finally, brutally stabbed and her body riddled with bullet wounds, she fell to the ground unconscious, both her legs broken by gunfire.

The Iraqi's held her in a hospital under guard, but a heroic Iraqi lawyer, visiting his wife in the hospital, saw her there being interrogated. He risked his life to alert the US military where she was being held, and in a stunning late-night raid, US forces entered the hospital under heavy fire and snatched the abused young woman from the clutches of her torturers.

They flew her to the US Army medical facility in Ramstein Air Base, Germany suffering from gunshot wounds and broken bones, and she was later awarded a Bronze Star for her heroism under fire. Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the lawyer who found her, was flown out of the country with his entire family, to prevent reprisals by the Iraqi government.

That's how it was reported. That's what her family was told. Unfortunately, it's a lie.

The convoy might have been ambushed: a lot of convoys were, both before and since. But Private Lynch was injured when her vehicle crashed, and her gun jammed before she could fire. The Iraqis took her to a hospital in Nassiriya, where she was given the only "specialist bed" in the hospital. Both the Iraqi doctors (and the American doctors in Germany) found no gunshot wounds, no stab wounds, just the standard injuries you'd expect for the victim of an auto accident. They gave her three liters of blood - because of shortages, two of those bottles had to be drawn directly from the arms of Iraqi hospital personnel.

When the commando raid rescued her, the Iraqi military had been gone for at least a day. There may have been scattered gunfire from insurgents outside, but there was no resistance inside the hospital. From a Guardian article about the incident:
"We heard the noise of helicopters," says Dr Anmar Uday. He says that they must have known there would be no resistance. "We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital.

"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors." All the time with the camera rolling. The Americans took no chances, restraining doctors and a patient who was handcuffed to a bed frame.

There was one more twist. Two days before the snatch squad arrived, Al-Houssona had arranged to deliver Jessica to the Americans in an ambulance. "I told her I will try and help you escape to the American Army but I will do this very secretly because I could lose my life." He put her in an ambulance and instructed the driver to go to the American checkpoint. When he was approaching it, the Americans opened fire. They fled just in time back to the hospital. The Americans had almost killed their prize catch.
Private Lynch herself has criticized the military accounts of her rescue, saying that they exaggerated events and recast her ordeal as a patriotic fable.

Through all of this, the Iraqi lawyer came out of it the best, being flown out of a third-world country at war, his entire family taken to New York, asylum granted by the US government, and a $500,000 book deal (Because Each Life is Precious, HarperCollins, 2003).

But the US government was desperate for a hero who they could parade in front of the American people. So Jessica Lynch was awarded a Bronze Star by the US Army, for being in a car wreck and getting adequate care at an Iraqi hospital.

That's what we call "the power of myth."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Heckling the State of the Union

This post might be a little longer than most. Bush gave his "State of the Union" address last night. It might have been easier to watch if I'd been drinking. Or if he had.

You know, the "State of the Union" address is actually a requirement from the Constitution. To be exact, Article II, section 3: "The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

That's it. That's the requirement. "From time to time." And here, by the way, is where I'm supposed to say something snarky like, "Well, gee. We've found a part of the Constitution that Bush isn't willing to despoil. Yet."

On the other hand, I could just say nasty things about his speech. That might be fun. So let's see what we've got here. He starts by talking about Coretta Scott King, who died yesterday. Nice touch. So he covered that. Let's move along.
In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate.
Yeah. It wouldn't be nearly as humorous for him to say that, if it wasn't the same day that Samuel Alito was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Meaning that ONE party now controls all three branches of the government.

Not that I'm bitter...
But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger.
Is it my imagination, or is this statement coming from the single most partisan president in the history of the United States?
Tonight the state of our Union is strong
Well, yeah. Sadly, it's strongly opposed to you. But let's not get into that...
The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership -- so the United States of America will continue to lead.
Where are we going, and what are we doing in this handbasket?
On September the 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country.
Whoa. Not even a minute into it, and he's already brought up 9/11, and used it to justify attacking Iraq. Gotta say, I'm impressed.
In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today, there are 122. And we're writing a new chapter in the story of self-government -- with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink...
Yup. Awesome job. The Palestinians just voted for Hamas, a known terrorist organization, the Iraqi's voted for closer ties with Iran (the second leg of the "Axis of Evil")... oh, let's just stop it there. The Middle East is a powder keg. 'Nuff said, right?

Well, you'd think. But Bush doesn't shut up about it for another couple of minutes.
We remain on the offensive against terror networks. We have killed or captured many of their leaders...
That's true. We've captured the Number Three man in al Qaeda about seventy-two times, haven’t we?
The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home. As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels -- but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.
See, it's simple. We'll pull out of Iraq, just like the Democrats want. But we'll do it slowly and carefully, just like the Democrats want... No, wait, that's not it...
In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice.
He probably won't listen, but at least he's seeking it, right?
Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.
Translation: ignore what I've done before now, and pretend that I know what I'm doing.
With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candor.
As long as what you say agrees with what I want. Otherwise, you're "aiding the terrorists."
A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison...
As opposed to all those other Iraqi's we've abandoned to death and prison...
...would put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country...
Wait a minute. Are those two even in Iraq? Yeah, I didn't think so. And just how strategic is Iraq, anyway?
Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices...
Hang on. You're talking about the people who actually joined the military, right? Not the ones who used the National Guard to avoid combat, right? And maybe didn’t even show up when they were supposed to. Of course, that was back when the National Guard wasn't sent overseas to Iraq, too.
They know what it's like... to wear heavy gear in the desert heat...
Well, some of them do. The ones who actually have armor.
So the United States of America supports democratic reform across the broader Middle East.
Until they elect Hamas, anyway.
The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people.
What? They've got Focus on the Family there, too?
The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.
Oh, gawd. Please don't say "weapons of mass destruction." Please don't say "weapons of mass destruction." Please don't say "weapons of mass destruction."...
We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS...
Which he probably caught because we refuse to send condoms to Africa. But that's OK. It's God's will, right?

But enough about those foreigners. Let's talk about how we can strip more civil rights from Americans, OK?
It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy.
That's correct. Like on August 6, 2001, when our government failed to connect with a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US."
...I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America.
See, we're calling it "terrorist surveillance" now. That whole "domestic spying" thing didn't go over too well.

This is getting boring. He's gonna try to justify spying on Americans for a while. Let's skip a little.
American leaders -- from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan...
Huh, three Democrats and a Republican. Oh, wait. He probably meant Teddy Roosevelt, didn't he?
Together, let us protect our country, support the men and women who defend us, and lead this world toward freedom.
Yup. Protect their Constitutional rights, give proper armor to troops who are getting shot at, and... hmmm... don't know what Bush considers "freedom" anymore.
We will build the prosperity of our country by strengthening our economic leadership in the world.
I think he means that "outsourcing jobs to other countries is good," but I'm not clear on this one.
We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy -- even though this economy could not function without them.
You're right. Somebody's got to pick the lettuce.
Keeping America competitive begins with keeping our economy growing.
Pay no attention to the automakers behind the curtain. And pay no attention to me while I try to justify tax cuts despite the billions (or even trillions) of dollars being spent in Iraq.
The retirement of the baby boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the federal government. By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone will be almost 60 percent of the entire federal budget.
Oh, he is NOT going to try and justify privatizing Social Security again, is he?
Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security (applause)
OK, hear that, George? They applauded the death of your stupid program. Get a clue here, will you?
Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care...
Hang on. He just said WHAT?
And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice -- leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB/GYN...
You're right. Who was it that said, "Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country"? I know I've heard that somewhere...
America is addicted to oil...
Now is where we start giggling like schoolgirls, since most of the Bush administration gets their money from Big Oil. Hell, Bush had Harken Oil, Condi Rice had an oil tanker named after her, and let's just ignore that whole Cheney energy task force thing. So, if oil is an addiction, what does that make YOU, Mr. President? A pusher?
...many Americans... still have deep concerns about the direction of our ... They're concerned about unethical conduct by public officials, and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage.
Whoa. I'm sorry. I nodded off. Did he just talk about DeLay, Abramoff and gay marriage in the same sentence? What'd I miss?

Maybe they're going to share a cell. That would be cool.
As we look at these challenges, we must never give in to the belief that America is in decline, or that our culture is doomed to unravel. The American people know better than that. We have proven the pessimists wrong before -- and we will do it again.
Yup. Hopefully in November of this year, and again in November, 2008. Assuming that we can't impeach your sorry ass before that.
Honorable people in both parties are working on reforms to strengthen the ethical standards of Washington...
Well, yes and no. "Honorable people" are indeed working on Congressional ethics. Sadly, none of them are Republicans....

OK, I'll admit it. Bush surprised me at this point. First he promised more money to rebuild New Orleans, and then he said this:
A hopeful society acts boldly to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, which can be prevented, and treated, and defeated.
I'm going to assume he means "homosexuality can be wiped out in our lifetime," though, because a George Bush who worries about HIV makes my head hurt.
Yet the destination of history is determined by human action, and every great movement of history comes to a point of choosing.
Yup. Like Cindy Sheehan getting moved out the back door in handcuffs, because you didn't approve of her T-shirt. That's a fine choice, Mr. President.
Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma, and achieved only half a victory over segregation.
Holy crap. You did NOT just compare yourself to Lincoln and King, did you?

You gotta admit, he's got cojones.
The United States could have accepted the permanent division of Europe, and been complicit in the oppression of others.
And if you’re trying to compare the conflict in Iraq to World War II, you’ve already lost. The only way the two would compare would be if the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, and in response, American forces invaded Brazil.
May God bless America.
And may God save us from you and your cronies.