Thursday, August 31, 2006

Optimus Prime

I needed to break up all these long, wordy political rants with a picture. What, you say you want to see a picture of Optimus Prime from the forthcoming Transformers movie? Word.

Make sure to read Lie #1

For some reason, janky eBlogger put my post on Bush below my George Carlin post. So scroll down to read the first "Bush Lie" regarding the politicization of the War on Iraq/War on Terror.

Bush Lie #1

From President Bush's speech today to the American Legion National Convention:

Here at home we have a choice to make about Iraq. Some politicians look at our efforts in Iraq and see a diversion from the war on terror. That would come as news to Osama bin Laden, who proclaimed that the "third world war is raging" in Iraq. It would come as news to the number two man of al Qaeda, Zawahiri, who has called the struggle in Iraq, quote, "the place for the greatest battle." It would come as news to the terrorists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and other countries, who have to come to Iraq to fight the rise of democracy.

Just a reminder: "These are important times, and I seriously hope people wouldn’t politicize these issues I’m going to talk about." -- President Bush, yesterday (8/30/06)

Also, it's worth noting the twisted logic of Bush's statements. Breaking it down into its discrete, inane components:

(1) Bush's invasion of Iraq has turned Iraq into haven for terrorists worldwide;
(2) Osama bin Laden, Bush quotes approvingly (because, you know, we haven't actually caught him) believes Iraq is fertile ground for terrorist activity;
(3) Ergo, Iraq is central to the War on Terror;
(4) "Politicians" -- read, Democrats -- who think that the amount of resources we've devoted to issue #1 (War in Iraq) instead of issue #2 (Osama bin Laden, responsible for 3,000+ U.S. deaths) -- are "diverting" resources from the War on Terror.

Think about that. By invading Iraq and failing to secure the country, we've created a breeding ground for terrorism. Therefore, we cannot divert resources from Iraq. We are at War with Oceania. We have always been at war with Oceania.

My brain just exploded.

Life imitating George Carlin

George Carlin, circa 1992:

On his album Jammin' in New York, George Carlin offers a hilarious final solution to the golf problem: Turn courses into housing for the homeless. By the comedian's estimate, golf courses occupy three million-plus acres of American real estate — room enough, he says, for "two Rhode Islands and a Delaware for the homeless." (from an article entitled "Golf War Syndrome")

Mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, circa yesterday:

Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto announced late Tuesday that the municipal government planned to seize two elite country clubs, Valle Arriba and the Caracas Country Club, and redevelop them as low-income housing projects.

The planned seizures were justified as part of [President Dipshit Hugo] Chavez's federal policy to redistribute privately owned land to the poor.

Life: No Longer Distinguishable from The Onion.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The lies our President tells

The White House has made national security, and the war in Iraq, the centerpieces of Mr. Bush’s strategy for helping Republicans try to retain control of Congress in this year’s election. Nonetheless, as he traveled to Arkansas and Tennessee today to raise money for Republican candidates, Mr. Bush insisted that his “series of speeches, they are not political speeches.”

“These are important times, and I seriously hope people wouldn’t politicize these issues I’m going to talk about,” Mr. Bush said after a fund-raising event at a private home in Little Rock before flying to another fund-raiser in Nashville. “We have a duty in this country to defeat the terrorists.”

-- NY Times, 8/30/06

My vow to the readers of this blog: every time I read a quote between now and the midterm elections wherein Bush or one of his senior advisors "politicize" the War on Terror, or the War in Iraq, I will post it on this site. Some groundrules:

The comment/quote must be obviously partisan. Statements such as "We have a duty in this country to defeat the terrorists," while being vague, obvious and inane, do not qualify. On the other hand, the following would qualify:

"It seems that in some quarters there's more of a focus on dividing our country than acting with unity against the gathering threats" -- Donald Rumsfeld, yesteday.

Although not mentioning anyone or any party by name, Rumsfeld's comments are an obvious attack on, well, anyone who disagrees with the Administration's handling of the war, using the old "If you're not with us, you're against us" canard.

This is just the first of what promises to be many, many "politicizations" of the War(s). Read them all here!

Targeted Killings, Targeted Invasions

The Washington Post has a fascinating article exploring the Israeli policy of assassinating terrorist leaders inside Palestine and other neighboring areas -- the so-called policy of "targeted killing." You may be surprised to see just how thoughtful the Israeli military and security services are before they strike, especially in comparison to another government I can think of. Here are the Israeli rules of engagement:

"That arrest is impossible; that targets are combatants; that senior cabinet members approve each attack; that civilian casualties are minimized; that operations are limited to areas not under Israeli control; and that targets are identified as a future threat."

Interestingly, the Israeli guidelines could be used as a template to craft a defensible policy of "liberal intervention" within sovereign states:

Containment and diplomacy is impossible; the head of state is a ruthless dictator; the international community (the U.N. or NATO) approves of attack; civilian casualties are minimized and reconstruction provided; limited to areas of severe depridation; and state is identified as a future threat.

In contrast, I present the Bush guidelines:

Containment and diplomacy should be relegated to the sidelines; the dictator should be an evil doer who's military is weak and/or have attempted to assassinate a Bush family member; civilian casualties will not be counted, and reconstruction will be promised but incompetently planned for (and will ultimately fail to be delivered); limited to areas that will act as magnets for jihadists and terrorist to acquire weapons and learn sophisticated methods of delivery; and information suggesting state may not, in fact, be a future threat . . . should be willfully ignored.

The Duke Non-rapes

A few days ago, the NY Times -- this is how I start half my blog posts, by the way -- ran a long, long, long story about the Duke Lacrosse Witch hunt, er, I mean, alleged rape case. Recap: The NY Times accused three (white, rich) kids on the Duke lacrosse team of raping a (black, presumably poor) stripper they hired. It's now become apparent that the case is complete bullshit -- the stripper made the whole thing up. So what does the NY Times do? Defend the prosecutor's decision to pursue these three innocent men because there was at least a modicum of evidence supporting the charges.

To read a complete evisceration of the Times' coverage, go here:

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld: Just how delusional is he?

In a recent speech to the American Legion, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld suggested that critics of the War in Iraq and the "War on Terror" were akin to those who advocated appeasement with Hitler.

While the rest of the media swarms all over the idiocy of that comment, I want to call attention to two of Rumsfeld's other comments (you can read the whole transcript here). First:

We hear everyday of new plans, new efforts, to murder Americans and other free people. Indeed, the plot recently discovered that would have killed hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of innocent men, women, and children on planes coming from Britain to the United States should have demonstrated to all that the enemy is serious, lethal, and relentless.

Recall that, just yesterday, the New York Times reported that:

"British investigators have still not determined whether there was a target date for the attacks or how many planes were to be involved. They say the estimate of 10 planes was speculative and exaggerated."

"Officials said they were still unsure of one critical question: whether any of the suspects was technically capable of assembling and detonating liquid explosives while airborne."

“In retrospect,’’ said Michael A. Sheehan, the former deputy commissioner of counterterrorism in the New York Police Department, “there may have been too much hyperventilating going on.”

In other words, we have no idea how serious this particular enemy was, very little indication that they were anywhere near capable of being lethal, and absolutely no evidence of "relentlessness." This is the reason we are at war in Iraq? This is why we are suspending civil liberties with wild abandon? And does Rumsfeld really believe this shit?

Ok, deep breath. Ready for more?

As the nature of the threat and the conflict in Iraq has changed over these past three years, so have the tactics and deployments. But while military tactics have changed and adapted to the realities on the ground, the strategy has not -- which is to empower the Iraqi people to defend, govern, and rebuild their own country.

The extremists themselves have called Iraq the “epicenter” in the War on Terror. They mean it. And our troops know how important completing the mission is.

No shit the extremists call Iraq the epicenter of the War on Terror. We've parked 150,000 legitimite military targets in the heart of the Middle East, with no discernible exit strategy to speak of (other than, you know, "empowering" the Iraqi people). Not only that, we've managed to piss off and offend virtually the entire world, such that no one is rooting for us to succeed (save Tony Blair). Oh, and as an added bonus, we've occupied a country where every citizen seems to own about seventeen firearms.

The "epicenter" is not going to hold in this bullshit "war" on "Terror." And sadly, Rumsfeld will be long gone before our troops have stopped dying.

Dog-bite law in California

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court ruled that kennel workers, like veterinarians, assume the risk of being bitten by dogs left in their care. It's a great victory for dog owners in California, and, on a more personal level, me, since I argued the case in the court of appeal and drafted the briefs for the Supreme Court.

If you'd like to read the opinion, go here, and click on Preibe v. Nelson:

Monday, August 28, 2006

TPV recent predictions: 2-0

The prosecutors have announced that the pedophile weirdo who "confessed" to killing JonBenet Ramsey will not -- repeat, not -- be charged with any crimes. Exactly as I predicted (see two week old post below).

[ed. -- How's that short-oil-futures investment strategy paying off? Shhhhhhhh...]

NY Times confirms Bojinka-plane plot overhyped (I think)

According to Today's Papers in Slate:

The New York Times leads with an analytical piece on wage stagnation, while off-leading the day's big scoop: an in-depth description of "a trove of evidence" that British police have collected against the suspects arrested earlier this month for allegedly plotting to bomb airliners with liquid explosives.

The NYT's piece on the bombing investigation includes previously undisclosed details about the "martyrdom" videotapes and bomb-making materials that, as has been widely reported, British police allegedly found when they arrested 21 people on Aug. 10. It also suggests that, for all the talk of "mass murder on an unimaginable scale," the plot, if it existed, was not that close to execution.

"In retrospect," one American counterterrorism expert tells the paper, "there may have been too much hyperventilating going on."

The story, based largely on interviews with "senior British officials," was not posted online as of TP's press time. According to an accompanying editor's note, while the story is being printed in the physical paper, its online publication is being "delayed temporarily on the advice of legal counsel" because of "British laws that prohibit publication of information that could be deemed prejudicial to defendants charged with a crime." So, if you want all the details, you'll have to get your fingers inky.

First, what's up with the American-based NY Times having to kowtow to weird British publication laws? Second, I predict that the so-called martyrdom videos will be debunked once someone who actually speaks Arabic can translate them. Third, I knew it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

When grownups are in charge

The emerging conventional wisdom about Israel's military performance in the recent war with Hezbollah is that the Israelis "cocked it up" (to borrow an apt British quip roughly akin to "screwed up royally" here). Leaving aside for a moment the geopolitical implications from this development, what's interesting is that the Israeli military leadership is (1) publicly admiting they made major mistakes and (2) demanding inquiries be made by the Israeli government to prevent the mistakes from being made again. From an AP story today:

In a letter to Israeli fighters, military chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz wrote: "Alongside the achievements, the fighting uncovered shortcomings in various areas — logistical, operational and command. We are committed to a thorough, honest, rapid and complete investigation of all the shortcomings and successes."

"Questions will be answered professionally, and everyone will be investigated — from me down to the last soldier," according to the letter, released by the military Thursday.

* * *
While Halutz was owning up to military missteps, the head of the Shin Bet security service was calling the war "a fiasco" in his first public statement on the fighting.

"The north was abandoned, the government systems collapsed there completely," Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin told a closed security forum, according to meeting participants. "There were many failures, and the public sees and understands this. This is not the time to whitewash. The truth must be told. ... Someone has to provide explanations and take responsibility."

My guess is, when the next major war between Israel and Hezbollah breaks out, Israel will be much better prepared, largely because of this capacity for self-criticism and analysis.

Question: do you believe our current Administration or military leadership possesses anywhere near the same capacity as the Israelis when it comes to the Iraq problem?

["I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." -- V.President Dick Cheney, June 2005]

["It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."-- Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld, February 2003]

Craigslist employment ad, how to write

Miracle Worker Wanted - Part Time (palo alto)
Reply to: job-198067645@craigslist.orgDate: 2006-08-23, 6:59PM PDT

Have you ever tried to build an elaborate sand castle – using dry sand?

If that challenge appeals to you, then you might be interested in working for me.

I am an estate planning, trusts, and probate attorney. I am a solo practitioner, and I define the word “disorganization”.

Let me be clear: I am not looking for a coach; I’m looking for someone who is obsessively organized (perhaps even “anal” about it) and who combines the cheery professionalism of Mary Poppins with the obstinacy of a Marine Drill Sergeant!

I have made futile attempts to develop, implement, and follow systems in my office so that things don’t fall through the cracks. Well, to be blunt, my crack’s cracks have cracks. … I enter “to do’s” in my PDA and promptly lose my PDA (I’ve never met a system that I haven’t been able to foil).

As they say in “Mission Impossible”, your job – if you choose to accept it – is to keep my office (mainly me) on track so that I can spend my time meeting with clients and bringing in enough revenue to make sure that I can pay your salary for years to come.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Analysis of the analysis of Bush's press conference

Over on, Fred Kaplan's posted an article ripping Bush's press conference yesterday. A Some observations about Fred's observations of George:

Among the many flabbergasting answers that President Bush gave at his press conference on Monday, this one—about Democrats who propose pulling out of Iraq—triggered the steepest jaw drop: "I would never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me. This has nothing to do with patriotism. It has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live."

George W. Bush criticizing someone for not understanding the world is like … well, it's like George W. Bush criticizing someone for not understanding the world. It's sui generis: No parallel quite captures the absurdity so succinctly.

This, after all, is the president who invaded Iraq without the slightest understanding of the country's ethnic composition or of the volcanic tensions that toppling its dictator might unleash. Complexity has no place in his schemes. Choices are never cloudy. The world is divided into the forces of terror and the forces of freedom: The one's defeat means the other's victory.

Much as it pains me to defend President Bush, seems to me Kaplan's missing the mark here. Bush's comment is not about whether Democrats have a nuanced understanding of the world. Indeed, in Bush's view, part of the problem is that nuanced understandings leads to paralysis and indecision. Rather, Bush believes that Democrats fail to perceive the interconnection between Middle East dictatorships and threats to American security interests -- the world in which we live, according to Bush, is a very dangeous one. Now, he may be wrong about that, but Kaplan should at least get the argument straight.

But here, from the transcript of the press conference, is how he sees the region's recent events:

  • What's very interesting about the violence in Lebanon and the violence in Iraq and the violence in Gaza is this: These are all groups of terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of democracy.
What is he talking about? Hamas, which has been responsible for much of the violence in Gaza, won the Palestinian territory's parliamentary elections. Hezbollah, which started its recent war with Israel, holds a substantial minority of seats in Lebanon's parliament and would probably win many more seats if a new election were held tomorrow. Many of the militants waging sectarian battle in Iraq have representation in Baghdad's popularly elected parliament.

Well, wait a second. Hamas and Hezbollah certainly have done well in local elections they've decided to participate in. But both groups have evidenced a complete disregard for the elected leadership of Palestine/Lebanon, and have engaged in terrorist tactics against their respective governments. The IRA had a political wing -- Sinn Fein was its name-o -- but I doubt many would call the IRA "prodemocracy."

After these two missteps, Kaplan buries a much more interesting argument at the end of his piece:

Asked if it might be time for a new strategy in Iraq, given the unceasing rise in casualties and chaos, Bush replied, "The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. … Either you say, 'It's important we stay there and get it done,' or we leave. We're not leaving, so long as I'm the president."

The reporter followed up, "Sir, that's not really the question. The strategy—"

Bush interrupted, "Sounded like the question to me."

First, it's not clear that the Iraqi people want a "democratic society" in the Western sense. Second, and more to the point, "helping Iraqis achieve a democratic society" may be a strategic objective, but it's not a strategy—any more than "ending poverty" or "going to the moon" is a strategy.

Strategy involves how to achieve one's objectives—or, as the great British strategist B.H. Liddell Hart put it, "the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy." These are the issues that Bush refuses to address publicly—what means and resources are to be applied, in what way, at what risk, and to what end, in pursuing his policy. Instead, he reduces everything to two options: "Cut and run" or, "Stay the course." It's as if there's nothing in between, no alternative way of applying military means. Could it be that he doesn't grasp the distinction between an "objective" and a "strategy," and so doesn't see that there might be alternatives? Might our situation be that grim?

To answer Kaplan's first question: Yes, Bush understands the distinction between objectives and strategy (although, admittedly, this was not evident during the press conference yesterday). The problem stems from our political versus military strategy dilemma in Iraq. No one wants to commit more troops, for political reasons, yet, the chief strategic failure in Iraq seems to be the failure to commit enough troops to the invasion. The Democrats only coherent alternative strategy -- a timetable for withdrawal -- pleases almost no one, as it will essentially be an admission of failure. Unfortunately, that means the situation may indeed be that grim.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Saddam show trial

Over at, Eric Umansky is asking a tough question about the trial of Saddam Hussein. Umansky's basic contention is that the trial has been a political disaster resulting in part from US and European attorneys being far too obsessed with procedural purity:

If you wanted to discredit the whole idea of the rule of law in Iraq, you could do worse than spend years fussing over legal protections for a serial mass murderer while civil strife overwhelms the judicial system for most Iraqis. How much of the trial of Saddam and his associates has really been about setting an example of the rule of law in Iraq -- and how much has been about American and European lawyers striving to set up a trial that would make them feel better about themselves?

Don't know. But I do think the trial of Saddam Hussein highlights some of the conceptual difficulties with "International Human Rights" -- a concept I'm usually very much in favor of. The reality is, putting Saddam on trial is sham. We know he's guilty of massive war crimes. The entire world knows he's guilty. So creating some pseudo-objective tribunal to put Saddam on trial seems utterly superflous to everyone except academics and international-rights attorneys.

My half-baked idea? Try dictators and other baddies like Saddam in abstentia, before invading their country (this has already been done with bin Laden, by the way). That way, once you've captured the baddie, all you have to do is execute sentence.

Scary bombmaking chemicals found!

According to the NY Times, just minutes ago:

Mr. Clarke [Brit antiterrorism official] said the police had found bomb-making chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, and electrical components. “We have also found a number of video recordings — these are sometimes referred to as martyrdom videos,” he said. “This has all given us a clearer picture of the alleged plot.”

Hydrogen peroxide is widely available, of course, as a sanitizer (and hair dye for annoying 12-year old surfer skater punks). "Electrical components" includes, well, just about everything that isn't animal or vegetable.

Stay tuned for more lunacy...

Scary bombmaking chemicals found!

According to the NY Times, just minutes ago:

Mr. Clarke [Brit antiterrorism official] said the police had found bomb-making chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, and electrical components. “We have also found a number of video recordings — these are sometimes referred to as martyrdom videos,” he said. “This has all given us a clearer picture of the alleged plot.”

Hydrogen peroxide is widely available, of course, as a sanitizer (and hair dye for annoying 12-year old surfer skater punks). "Electrical components" includes, well, just about everything that isn't animal or vegetable.

Stay tuned for more lunacy...

BBC on Bojinka

According to the BBC this morning:

Eleven people have been charged in connection with an alleged plot to blow up several transatlantic airliners.

Eight have been charged with conspiracy to murder and preparing acts of terrorism.

Two are accused of failing to disclose information and a 17-year-old faces a charge of possessing articles useful to a person preparing acts of terrorism.

One woman has been freed without charge and eleven people remain in custody, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

I'm very, very skeptical. "Articles useful to a person preparing acts of terrorism?" Does that include hair gel?

Note that one woman has already been freed without charge. Let's see what happens with the other 11 in custody.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The sort of story that you must not trust

The BBC is reporting that six "martyrdom" videos were made by the alleged hair-gel terrorists. In the BBC's own words:

Police investigating an alleged plot to bring down airliners have found several martyrdom videos in the course of their searches, the BBC has learned.

Unofficial police sources said the recordings - discovered on laptop computers - appear to have been made by some of the suspects being questioned.

Scotland Yard has refused to comment on what officers are finding.

Well, I take back my earlier praise of the British press. Unnamed, unidentified police sources claim to have found martyrdom videos on laptops -- and the BBC runs the story without question? Bear in mind that:

-- No one has seen the videos
-- The UK police officially won't comment
-- There is a strong, some would say almost certain possibility that if videos have indeed been found, the police don't know what they are or what they contain

If you think I'm crazy, or paranoid, I urge you to rent the BBC documentary "The Power of Nightmares," which contains actual footage of supposed terrorist "surveillance tapes" of Las Vegas. When you actually watch the video, it's pretty clear it was a bunch of teens on vacation who (foolishly, as it turns out) thought it would be fun to tape themselves walking around the strip.

C'mon BBC, pull yourself together -- expose this fearmongering nonsense of a nonplot!

TATP, IEDs, and whole lotta' BS

A few months ago, for work-based reasons I won't go into now, I attended a two-day conference on how to make improvised explosive devices. No joke. The seminar was run by the FBI's former expert on terrorist bombing and bombmaking, a guy who testified in virtually every major terrorist bombing trial in the last ten years (Kenya/Tanzania, Oklahoma City, Atlanta Olympics). He even brought, for show-and-tell, a copy of the replica shoe bomb the FBI constructed as evidence in the Richard Reid shoebomber case (the guy responsible for making us take off our shoes at airports).

In any event, my takeway impression from the IED seminar was that it was much harder for terrorists to make effective bombs than I thought. Although there is plenty of information floating around on the interweb, much is unreliable. More importantly, without a background in chemistry, it's very easy to blow your own fingers off (or worse) trying to build yourself a little IED for the weekend.

Which one of the reasons why I've been skeptical from the get-go of the hair-gel-on-a-plane plot. We learned about TATP, and it ain't easy to make. And sure enough, other people are starting to figure this out too:

Luckily, I have more faith in the British media asking tough questions about this alleged terrorist plot than I would here at home. We shall see.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

JonBenet Conspiracy Edition

Prediction: her parents really did kill her. Confession is false.

The Airplane Plot: Increasingly looking like bullshit!

From today's Washington Post:

Two top Pakistani intelligence agents said Wednesday that the would-be bombers wanted to carry out an al-Qaida-style attack to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 strikes, but were too "inexperienced" to carry out the plot.

The two senior agents, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if the terror cell members arrested in Pakistan and Britain had appropriate weapons and explosives training, they could have emulated massive attacks like those five years ago in New York and Washington as well as the July 7, 2005, London bombings.

The detainees in Britain and Pakistan had not attended terror-training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan and had relied on information gleaned from text books on how to make bombs, the officials said.

So lemme get this straight: these wannabe terrorists had no formal terrorist training, did not possess passports or plane tickets, and apparently were trying to make bombs by reading a book? And yet still managed to cripple air travel in the UK for two days, and make air travel nightmarishly cumbersome for thousands of passengers?

It's becoming increasingly clear to me that terrorists no longer need to succeed in their plots to create an atmosphere of fear and terror in our society. We are all too willing to create it ourselves.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The F-14 is no more

File this under random and irrelevant, but I just discovered the U.S. military has retired the F-14 Tomcat fighter jet. Not only is the same plane flown by Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in "Top Gun," it was also the model for two of my favorite childhood toys -- Jetfire from the Transformers, and the G.I. Joe "Stryker."

Hell of a plane, the F-14 Tomcat. Toymakers everywhere shall miss you.

The Bojinka Airplane Plot -- Looking ever so much fishier

Instead of writing an original post, I'm just going to steal the entire commentary from Andrew Sullivan:

So far, no one has been charged in the alleged terror plot to blow up several airplanes across the Atlantic. No evidence has been produced supporting the contention that such a plot was indeed imminent. Forgive me if my skepticism just ratcheted up a little notch. Under a law that the Tories helped weaken, the suspects can be held without charges for up to 28 days. Those days are ticking by. Remember: the British authorities had all these people under surveillance; they did not want to act last week; there was no imminent threat of anything but a possible "dummy-run," whatever deranged guest-bloggers at Malkin say. (Correction, please.) Bush and Blair discussed whether to throw Britain's airports into chaos over the weekend before the crackdown occurred.

Then we have the following comment from Craig Murray. Craig Murray was Tony Blair's ambassador to Uzbekistan whose internal memo complaining about evidence procured by out-sourced torture created a flap a while back. He is skeptical. Money quote:

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth ...

We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why?

I'd be interested in the number of plotters who had passports. How could they even stage a dummy-run with no passports? And what bomb-making materials did they actually have? These seem like legitimate questions to me; the British authorities have produced no evidence so far. If the only evidence they have was from torturing someone in Pakistan, then they have nothing that can stand up in anything like a court. I wonder if this story is going to get more interesting. I wonder if Lieberman's defeat, the resilience of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the emergence of a Hezbollah-style government in Iraq had any bearing on the decision by Bush and Blair to pre-empt the British police and order this alleged plot disabled. I wish I didn't find these questions popping into my head. But the alternative is to trust the Bush administration.

Bush's Alternate Reality

Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State, in an op-ed in today's Washington Post, describing the mandate of UN resolution 1701 (the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah "peace" resolution):

Second, this resolution will help the democratic government of Lebanon expand its sovereign authority. The international community is imposing an embargo on all weapons heading into Lebanon without the government's consent.

President Bush, as quoted in today's Washington Post:

On Monday, President Bush said the U.N. force would help undercut the ability of Iran and Syria to supply arms to Hezbollah by securing the Syrian border and ports. "In other words, part of the mandate and part of the mission of the troops, the UNIFIL troops, will be to seal off the Syrian border," Bush said.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, a French national who heads the U.N. peacekeeping department, on the UN's actual mandate and responsibilities in the region , again as quoted by the Washington Post:

[Guehenno] said he is considering sending a small number of customs experts and special police to advise Lebanese customs officials at some key entry points.

Sealing the Lebanese borders "is not something that the U.N. can do," he said. "What the U.N. can do is help the government of Lebanon manage its border in a way that is in conformity with the resolutions of the council."

Guehenno also cautioned that while U.N. peacekeepers are authorized to use force, they "are not going to forcibly disarm Hezbollah," adding: "That is not in the resolution. I don't think there would be many troop contributors who would think that would be a wise approach."

The sad thing is, I don't know whether Bush/Condi are intentionally lying or else just clueless about what's going on in the Middle East. Both?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bush v. Gore, the legal Voldemort

Interesting article by Adam Cohen in the NY Times regarding Bush v. Gore. Cohen's thesis: That courts and academics are wrongly ignoring the holding of Bush v. Gore. Recall that the text of the opinion tried to eschew any precedential value by claiming the ruling was "limited to the present circumstances." Indeed, this is largely the reason many felt the Court was making a politically expedient power grab on behalf of a Republican.

Well, as Cohen points out, you can't really do that (though courts try all the time). In a common law country, like ours is, reasoning applied in case X can also be applied in case Y -- otherwise, the law ceases to have meaning. This is as true for the Supreme Court as any other case.

This leads to some unexpected conclusions regarding Bush v. Gore. To quote Cohen:

The heart of Bush v. Gore’s analysis was its holding that the recount was unacceptable because the standards for vote counting varied from county to county. “Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms,” the court declared, “the state may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.” If this equal protection principle is taken seriously, if it was not just a pretext to put a preferred candidate in the White House, it should mean that states cannot provide some voters better voting machines, shorter lines, or more lenient standards for when their provisional ballots get counted — precisely the system that exists across the country right now.

In other words, the heart of the decision leads to what some might call a "progressive" outcome -- that states should have uniform standards for elections. Now, I don't particularly care about election standards (possibly because it's easy for me to vote, but also because most elections aren't that close) but I find it interesting that, nestled within one of the most reviled Supreme Court decisions of all time, one finds a very unexpected holding.

George Will nails it

From Lebanon to Iraq to the liquid-on-a-jetplane plot, George Will -- yep, George Will -- sizes up the self-delusional language of our government's leaders. Worth reading.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The idiots where I live

In winter 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, I attended an anti-war rally here in San Francisco. I remember being nauseated by the anti-Semitic billboards that were sprinkled liberally throughout the crowd -- many of which made no sense whatsoever in the context of the then-pending invasion.

Thus, perhaps it should be no surprise that at the "peace" rally here in SF this weekend regarding the current strife in Lebanon, the anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli idiots would be out in force. Here is a link to photos, including the horrific one you see above:

I understand that these pictures represent the idiotic minority of the anti-war crowd. Still, the sheer number of them, and the apparent lionization of Hamas and Hezbollah, is indicative of a passive tolerance for their beliefs.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

If I was the leader of an Islamic fascist group...

And I realized that I could shut down the entire airline industry in the UK simply by plotting to sneak explosives on, wouldn't I start concocting all sorts of ridiculous schemes, hoping to get caught by the government? No longer would the plot have to actually work -- instead, I could create a climate of reactive fear based on the illusion of my ability to implement my threat.

Food for fascist though.

Bojinka -- The Terrorist Plot the Terrorists Won't Give Up On

Some quick hits on the lead news story:

1. Color me skeptical, at this stage, about the real threat this plot posed. There have been too many bullshit terrorist plots announced by the governments of both countries for me to have any faith in the pronouncements of zealous federal officials. We already know that no bombs were, you know, actually constructed. The timing is also suspicious.

2. Dept. of Homeland Security Director Chertoff said the plot was "suggestive" of al Qaeda. What the hell does that mean? It involved Muslim terrorists?

3. Wait, maybe he means it was suggestive of al Qaeda, since, you know, al Qaeda operative Khalik Sheik Mohammed -- the guy who basically ran 9/11 (not bin Laden) -- had this same fucking plan 10 years ago. He called it "Bojinka" -- I swear this is all in the 9/11 Commission report -- and the plan was to blow up 10 planes in the air simultaneously(though over the Pacific, not the Atlantic). So I don't want to hear any more shit from Tom Friedman about how a "failure of imagination" resulted in 9/11 -- it's pretty clear that terrorists have a shit imagination and are fixated on blowing up airplanes.

4. My girlfriend was/is scheduled to go on a transatlantic flight from Heathrow to SFO on United a week from today. That should be fun.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Now I have something interesting to say about Lieberman

A few hours after I wrote a pretty weak post about Lieberman's election, and why it p0rtends ill for the Republicans, Jacob Weisberg of Slate writes that Ned Lamont's victory is a disaster for the Democrats. Here's the nut of Weisberg's analysis:

The problem for the Democrats is that the anti-Lieberman insurgents go far beyond simply opposing Bush's faulty rationale for the war, his dishonest argumentation for it, and his incompetent execution of it. Many of them appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously. They see Iraq purely as a symptom of a cynical and politicized right-wing response to Sept. 11, as opposed to a tragic misstep in a bigger conflict. Substantively, this view indicates a fundamental misapprehension of the problem of terrorism. Politically, it points the way to perpetual Democratic defeat.

What utter bullshit.

Leaving aside Weisberg's questionable "insurgent" euphism, the people who supported Lamont -- and despised Lieberman -- did so because of Lieberman's unwavering support of the Iraq War and, perhaps more damningly, President Bush. I defy Weisberg, or anyone else for that matter, to point to a single written example of an anti-Lieberman "insurgent" pooh-poohing the "wider, global battle of Islamic fantacism" seriously. Virtually all of the liberal blogosphere, if it can be lumped together as such, takes the threat of Islamic terrorism seriously -- not only because, like most Americans, they don't want our country to be attacked, but also because it's a great political position. Every soldier we have in Iraq is one less in Afghanistan, or in the mountains of Pakistan, or anywhere else where terror forments (Somalia, Lebanon, Indonesia).

Second, Weisberg claims the Iraq War was a "tragic mistep" in the War on Terror, rather than a "purely a symptom of a cynical and politicized right-wing response to Sept. 11." Well, it certainly has been tragic, and increasingly looks like a mistep -- the question is, why was the mistake made? Many Americans, myself included, felt that Sept. 11 th crystallized the reality of threats we'd been content to ignore -- and, based on the intelligence our government was presenting us, felt Saddam with WMDs posed a dangerous threat. Furthermore, a small subset of Americans, myself included, felt the murderous regime of Saddam was grounds enough for a liberal, humanitarian intervention.

But this was not the case advanced by the US government. Instead, at every opportunity, the Bush Administration conflated Iraq with Al Qaeda -- the poll numbers on this subject are well known -- and manipulated the evidence to fit the preordained conclusion. In other words, the build up to the Iraq War was purely the result of a politicized, neoconservative power grab that would have been impossible to achieve without 9/11.

If that's the substance, what about the politics? It's certainly true that, in throes of the Iraq War, Democrats are faced with a problem. John Kerry's question of 30 years ago still reverberates today: How do you ask the last man to die for a mistake? Moreover, many Democrats -- who were lied to like the rest of the country -- are now caught trying to explain their war votes while still supporting the troops. It's certainly a pickle, one that is torturing Hillary Clinton (and virtually assures she can't win the Democratic nomination).

But that doesn't mean the Democrats are screwed politically. Instead, the terms of the debate need to be redefined. Democrats need to explain that the War against Terror cannot be won militarily. It just can't. You cannot use nuclear-powered submarines to find 19 wannabe martyrs armed with box cutters. (If you want further proof of this basic point, may I point you toward the current asymmetrical war in southern Lebanon). No, the War against Terror is much more like the War on Drugs: not really a war at all, but instead, a complex and perpetual menace that can only be minimized -- never eradicated.

A number of political implications flow from this realization, and since this post is already too long, I'll save my comments for later. The takeaway point for Democrats, however, is recognizing that the "tragic mistep" in Iraq is one that would have only been made by a Republican Administration blinded by ideology and blind to reality.


Gen. Wesley Clark gets it:

You see, despite what Joe Lieberman believes, invading Iraq and diverting our attention away from Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is not being strong on national security. Blind allegiance to George W. Bush and his failed "stay the course" strategy is not being strong on national security. And no, Senator Lieberman, no matter how you demonize your opponents, there is no "antisecurity wing" of the Democratic Party.

Joe Lieberman Loses

I should have something interesting to say about Joe Lieberman's defeat yesterday in the Conn. primary, but I don't. I find it a tad ironic that the first major political casualty of the Iraq War is a Democrat (though perhaps only a nominal one). But the GOP has to be concerned that someone so high profile could flame out so suddenly, based on the Iraq War stance.

The critical question remains: will the Democrats decided to run on an anti-war theme? And if they do -- and win -- what does that mean for the future of Iraq? (Hint: civil war.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Is Castro dead?

If anyone knows, please add a comment.

Vegas baby Vegas

Blogging's been nonexistant because I just got back from a weekend in Vegas. Highlights: taking second in a 108-person tournament at the Venetian; meeting Chris "Jesus" Ferguson; befriending Paul Esfandiari (brother of Anthony "The Magician"); winning a huge pot when my AQ sucked out against AK; hearing my friend Dan, when asked what poker player he'd like to sleep with, unflinchingly state "Phil Ivey."

More posts on the world burning later today. Probably throw in another 9/11 post too, just to drive the hits up.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Seahawks Love

Seahawks fans, when not complaining about officiating, love to whine about the east coast media bias and the Hawks' "lack of respect" that results. So it's nice to see the folks over at Fox Sports -- who are the same folks at Football Outsiders, a great website for any football fan -- give the Hawks so much love this offseason. Fox has ranked every unit for all 32 teams. Here's the Seattle standings:
QB: 3rd
RB: 1st
WR/TE: 2nd
O-Line: 4th
D-Line: 2nd
LBs: 4th

Before anyone gets too cheery, of course, Fox has yet to rank the secondary or special teams, two areas where the Seahawks, er, sucked last year. No other team comes close to have so many top 5 finishes, or on both sides of the ball.

Hawks Hawks Hawks.

"Somethin' happenin' here..." (The 9/11 Conspiracy Song)

Yesterday, I posted a seemingly innocuous little swipe at the Defense Department for lying to the 9/11 Commission about our response to the airling hijackings on 9/11, based on an article in the Washington Post. My point, which I thought was relatively clear, was that our government is essentially lying to itself when one branch (in this case, Defense) lies to another (the Bush-appointed 9/11 Commission).

But then something strange happened on the way to hit count for this lil' blog -- my daily readership jumped through the roof! Typically, I get about 10 to 15 unique visitors per day -- thanks Dad, Mom, Girlfriend, and Ken the former Bush Administration official (yeah, you read that right, the Bush Administration reads my blog) -- but yesterday, I jumped to more than 100. And today I'm already up to 50, despite this being my first post of the day.

So what gives? Well, I urge you to peruse the anonymous comments left in response to my 9/11 Commission posting. Here's an excerpt:

In European countries there are since some time committees working trying to find out what really happened on 9/11. They assume that the news we all received all over the world, is false. What actually happened still has to be found out, but the airplanes who went into the two towers, did not make the towers to collaps, some reports say. There was much more to it, and it had nothing to do with Al Guaida . . . . The documentary film of Michael Moore gave more information and the commission seemed to agree with it. Michael Moore was apparently not telling lies, but had done a lot of research. Another film made later as a reponse to Moore's film, but made by the Republicans, was a sad, silly story to attack someone who knew the truth better than they did or seemed to know. And the Republicans feared Michael Moore. If Micheal Moore had been wrong it would never have been accepted and he would have to go to court for telling this to the world. I have the dvd here at home and sometimes watch it again and get more and more convinced that Michael Moore spoke the truth. And the 9/11 Commission did agree with him.

First, I'd like to welcome this anonymous commenter and everyone else who's stopped by to read The Parallax View in the last 24 hours. Second, I want to make clear that I think you and anyone else who thinks there was a conspiracy involving the US Government in relation to 9/11 are completely fruit loops. Look, I love a good conspiracy as much as the next guy -- did you know the CIA's ZR/Rifle assassination team may have used French assassins to kill Kennedy in Dallas as ordered by Bay of Pigs Commando William Harvey? -- but when it comes to the events of that fateful September, here's the scoop: Al Guida did it. With some planes. In the NY-DC-PA room.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Heavy Black Female

God, how I love a good NY Times self-parody piece. Have you read the story about the infiltration of advertising by "Heavy Black Females"? NO? Well, let me give you just a sample:

At 200 pounds plus — most of that pure attitude — she is hard to miss.

Her onscreen presence takes on many variations, but she is easily recognizable by a few defining traits. Other than her size, she is almost always black. She typically finds herself in an exchange that is either confrontational or embarrassing. And her best line is often little more than a sassy “Mmmm hmmm.”

* * *

The heavy black female makes one of her latest appearances in a commercial for the Dairy Queen Blizzard. In the spot, a man boarding an airplane sets his ice cream shake down so he can load his bag into an overhead compartment. As he reaches up, another passenger on the plane starts eating the Blizzard. Seeing this, the first man lets go of his bag so he can reclaim his Blizzard and inadvertently drops his luggage on another passenger’s head.

That unlucky passenger happens to be an overweight black woman who lets out an irritated gasp that reminds all the passengers around her who not to mess with.

I can't make this stuff up. Mmmm hmmm!

A government that lies to itself (9/11 Commission)

Remember the 9/11 Commission? The blue-ribbon panel commissioned by Pres. Bush to investigate what went wrong that September morning? The panel that produced the comprehensive---and shockingly well-written---9/11 Commission Report, the authoritative history of what happened?

Well, the Washington Post has an absolutely fascinating story about how, during the course of its investigation, the panel got so tired of being lied to by the Defense Department and the FAA, they considered bringing criminal charges to the Justice Department. Nut graph:

For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD and the FAA provided inaccurate information about the response to the hijackings in testimony and media appearances. Authorities suggested that U.S. air defenses had reacted quickly, that jets had been scrambled in response to the last two hijackings and that fighters were prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if it threatened Washington.

In fact, the commission reported a year later, audiotapes from NORAD's Northeast headquarters and other evidence showed clearly that the military never had any of the hijacked airliners in its sights and at one point chased a phantom aircraft -- American Airlines Flight 11 -- long after it had crashed into the World Trade Center.

What anger me about this, apart from the attempt to whitewash history, is that it's so goddamn dangerous for the safety of our country. People think the current Administration, and Republicans generally, are "tough on terror" and strong on national defense issues, but in reality, our government---and in particular, our military---seems fundamentally unable to acknowledge mistakes or address them, preferring instead to concoct false stories of heroism (e.g., Pat Tillman, or Saving Private Lynch).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bad sales pitch

From an email I received earlier today:

-----Original Message-----From: Peggy Ross [] Sent: Tuesday, August 01, 2006 1:23 PMTo: Benjamin RileySubject: Lawyer Chair Followup

Attorney Benjamin Riley :

Last week you received an e-mail offering our BodyBilt ergonomic office
chairs. As a lawyer, you spend long hours working at your desk for your clients.
The more time at your desk, the more money you bill and the more money you make.

Can I show you how our ergonomic chairs can help you
increase your productivity and billable hours? You will be surprised to
learn how much a chair can help your comfort level during and after
those long hours at the office.

Gee, Peggy, that's quite a sales pitch. But you might want to reconsider just how appealing that image of me sitting in a chair all day, slaving away, greedily trying to generate billable hours to make more money really is, and whether it's going to make me want to buy your product. For some crazy reason, I'm unenthused about the prospect of becoming a mindless fee-generating automaton slowly atrophying in my comfortable ErgoGenesis-brand shackles, er, chair.

In defense of Ann Coulter (sort of)

So to recap, Ann Coulter -- an insane, chain-smoking and possibly anorexic "author" who will say just about anything at this point to keep her books on the bestseller lists -- accused Bill Clinton of being gay. Here's her discussion with Entertainment Tonight (I think it's Entertainment Tonight -- "ET" anyway):

Ms. COULTER: I think that sort of rampant promiscuity does show some level of latent homosexuality.

DEUTSCH: OK, I think you need to say that again. That Bill Clinton, you think on some level, has — is a latent homosexual, is that what you’re saying?

Ms. COULTER: Yeah.

Oh no she didn't! Clinton likes having lots of sex. Homosexuals like having lots of sex. Ergo, Clinton is a latent homosexual.

Obviously, the argument is completely facile and stupid. But here's what's interesting: many people have latched on to this to accuse Coulter of being a homophobe. Cue Peter Beinart, of The New Republic, on a recent talk show with Coulter:

Mr. PETER BEINART ("The Good Fight" Author): It's a statement of a bigot. Pure and simple. To suggest that gay people are somehow inherently more promiscuous than straight people and that straight people who are promiscuous are--therefore have latent homosexuality tendencies, and, look, Larry, I'll--let me throw it to you. It's not enough for people like me, for liberals, to say that when Ann says that, she's being a bigot. You need to say it. As a conservative who agrees with her on issues, it's up to you, because you don't believe in a conservative movement that is bigoted. You don't believe that's what the Republican Party stands for. It's up to you to say that it's bigoted and to distance yourself from it.

Andrew Sullivan, in more reasoned fashion, notes that Ann has mistakenly conflated gay men -- who, like Bill Clinton, are laden with testosterone, and therefore eager to play ride the baloney pony -- with "homosexuals" in general:

The claim that Coulter is making and [Mickey Kaus of Slate] is seconding - that same-sex love is inherently more promiscuous than heterosexuality - has a simple, logical rejoinder: lesbians. Where are the lesbian bath-houses, Ann? Where's the rampant lesbian promiscuity? Aren't lesbians homosexual? Or do we just deploy these terms broadly, whenever they can be used to stigmatize an entire minority?

Ok, so at this point, you may be wondering how in the world I'm going to defend Ann Coulter's comments. Here's how: to state that you think someone is gay, or might enjoy gay sex (in this case, former President Bill Clinton) is not inherently bigoted. To be sure, many insecure people feel insulted if they are accused of being gay, but that's their problem. We should not reduce ourselves to the lowest common denominator by equating, in our minds, "homosexuality" or even "promiscuity as a personal flaw. Thus, when Ann Coulter says she thinks Bill Clinton might be gay, she slurs neither Clinton nor gays. Nor should we even consider it insulting when someone is thought to be gay because they are promiscous. The fact is, many gay men are promiscuous -- but so what? Coulter's reasoning is completely looney, but not bigoted. She hangs out with gay men, she observes that they like to fuck casually, and she applies this perception to, uh, Bill Clinton.

So Coulter thinks Bill Clinton is a promiscous gay man who might enjoy frequenting the bathhouse. What's wrong with that? No, seriously!