I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat! Steve Bates,
The Yellow Doggerel Democrat
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for January 2007


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Pentagon Spies On Antiwar Groups

Is anyone really surprised? And am I reliving the experiences of my youth? Via TalkLeft, an ACLU report begins as follows:

In December 2005, major media outlets began reporting that a highly secretive component of the Department of Defense was accumulating and maintaining information on peaceful groups within the United States. The reports were a disturbing echo of an earlier era of unchecked and illegal government surveillance — an era when the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover infiltrated civil rights and peace groups, and the United States military maintained secret files on tens of thousands of American citizens.


Background On February 1, 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests seeking records relating to Pentagon surveillance of anti-war groups. A secret Pentagon database obtained by NBC News, parts of which were published in December 2005, had revealed that nearly four dozen peaceful political gatherings, most of which were aimed at protesting military recruitment or the war in Iraq, were included among more than 1500 "suspicious incidents" reported across the United States. (Lisa Myers et al., Is The Pentagon Spying on Americans?, Dec. 14, 2005.) Subsequent news reports revealed that a highly secretive component of the Department of Defense, the Counterintelligence Field Activity Agency ("CIFA"), had been accumulating and maintaining information about domestic organizations and their peaceful political activities. CIFA, whose size and budget are classified, had been directed to track "potential terrorist threats" against the Department of Defense through reports known as Threat and Local Observation Notices ("TALON").

The TALON program was initiated in 2003 by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. (Michael Isikoff, Inside the Pentagon's Domestic Spying Program, NEWSWEEK, Jan. 30, 2006.) It was designed to permit civilians and military personnel to report on suspicious activity or terrorist threats near defense installations. CIFA would thereafter compile the nonvalidated "TALON reports" in a database, which would include the agency's assessment of whether the alleged threat was "credible" or "not credible." The TALON excerpts published by NBC News revealed, however, that the Department of Defense had strayed from its intended mission, sweeping in anti-war protests that occurred far from any military installation, and failing to remove reports of demonstrations that were deemed even by the Department of Defense to be "not credible" as threats. For example, one entry in the excerpt published by NBC News featured a student protest against military recruiters at New York State University in Albany; another noted that a planned demonstration at Fort Bragg, North Carolina had been determined not to be a credible threat because of its "peaceful" nature. Nonetheless, even those threat reports deemed "not credible" remained in the database.


Once any data, valid, erroneous or faked, is gathered, it seldom goes away... especially if it has potential use in politics, or perhaps in, um, running a surveillance state.

(HaloScan really is working, no matter what kind of garbage you see after you post a comment. Just close and reopen the comment window to see all the comments, including your own.)


Winter Wonderland? No.

"Bumper cars: winter mess edition" is more like it. Iced bridges and overpasses allow Houstonians to prove once again that they are incompetent at driving over anything frozen, though the worst freeway overpasses are shut down altogether. Here, just inside the southwest corner of Loop 610, it's not even raining at the moment. Stella faces only a couple of short bridges on her way to work; I have hopes she will make it intact. In the northern part of the Houston area, they have more problems... more precipitation, longer hours of freezing, significant flooding etc. Farther north and west in the state, Austin is a mess, and Dallas is a big mess. (For once, I'm not offering a sociopolitical assessment of Dallas... its weather is a mess.) Many people in West Texas are stuck in West Texas for the moment. All in all, though, inside the loop in Houston, this "arctic blast," as the TV stations are reporting it, is mostly a messy inconvenience.

Before those of you in the Northeast decide we're a bunch of weather wimps, please contemplate how well you would deal with our frequent summer combination: 100°F, 100% humidity. We may not know how to drive on ice (or have the equipment to do so), but we do know how to avoid heatstroke.

Off-topic: HaloScan seems to be in worse shape than usual, and it spews its database error messages into the comment box after a form-post. The comment seems to be saved anyway; feel free to try. Apparently, their log table is full. Shame! There are many errors that cannot be avoided; this one most certainly could have been.


34,452 Iraqis Killed

According to a United Nations report, that's how many Iraqis died violently last year. Bloomberg:

Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- At least 34,452 Iraqi civilians were killed in violence in the country in 2006, the United Nations said in a report. A further 36,685 people were injured.

Civilian casualties increased in the second half of 2006. A total of 14,338 civilians were killed in the first six months of the year, the UN said in July. Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the world body, last month said Iraq's sectarian violence was "much worse" than the 1975-1990 civil war in Lebanon, a conflict that is estimated to have killed 100,000 people.

"The root causes of the sectarian violence lie in revenge killings," the UN said today in an e- mailed statement on the report. Sectarian attacks are causing the migration of Iraq's professional class, the UN said, while the "basic rights and freedoms" of women and other minorities are "profoundly affected by violence and action by insurgents, militias and criminal gangs."

Attacks in Iraq today left almost 100 people dead,      ...


Baghdad is no worse than L.A.? Really?

[L.A.] Homicides dropped about 4%, from 487 in 2005 to 464 as of Dec. 23 this year [2006], according to Los Angeles Police Department statistics. The only crime to rise in 2006 was robbery, up 6% to 13,943 incidents.

So in 2006, you were almost three times as likely to die violently in Baghdad as to be robbed in L.A. L.A. homicides are surely typically personal; robberies, impersonal. How does one classify the deaths in Baghdad? One could see sectarian violence as something like gang violence. When does gang violence prevail? Right... when the basic infrastructure of orderly society has largely broken down. And why have basic protections collapsed in Baghdad? You tell me.

Mr. Bush may offer one of two self-serving explanations (or both; the man is insane): either he is not responsible for these deaths because Iraqis are killing each other, or he is not responsible because the deaths are the inevitable and in his view scarcely even regrettable collateral damage of Freedom'n'Democracy™ on the march. Either way, once the U.S. took over in Iraq, Mr. Bush and his administration assumed responsibility under international law for safety and security during occupation. Whether the deaths are Bush's fault, they were his job to prevent.

One could think about the condition Iraq would be in if Bush had never ordered an invasion. What would have happened, how many Iraqis would have died violently in a comparable period of time, if Iraq had entered civil war on its own, at the time of Saddam's natural death, rather than as a result of Bush's invasion? We'll never know, but it's hard to imagine more Iraqis would have died.

Another thing we'll probably never know is this: how many Baghdad residents have died and will die because the sewer system has collapsed? These deaths really should be included in the total, shouldn't they? Sewer systems may decay over time if not maintained, but they do not typically collapse without help. Yes, I know, their reconstruction is underway. It has been underway since at least 2004, and American contracting companies have been on the job since at least 2005. Bush may now think this is entirely Iraq's job... but until the U.S. ends the occupation, or someone actually fixes the sewer system, deaths and diseases in Baghdad due to "gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, cholera, diarrhoea and hepatitis" will become increasingly common.

Again, it is an occupying force's obligation under international law to maintain order and supply basic services. Bush acts as if defaulting on this obligation is fine, as long as his cronies are getting their money. It is high time the U.S. meets at least its most minimal humanitarian obligations under international law... or gets out of the way altogether.


Someone Please Tell Mr. Bush

... that America has already had the only King it ever needed.

In part to mark Rev. King's day, we went to see Freedom Writers. It was inspiring if predictable, and as Stella remarked, a tear-jerker. One must make allowances for the stereotypes in the first 15 minutes or so, particularly Hilary Swank's insufferable perkiness... no one who has emerged from an accredited college of education, presuming they've done their student teaching, could possibly be that naive. But suspend your disbelief for a while; the movie gets better.

I know it is typical on MLK Jr. Day to embark on a deep and serious examination of issues of race and racism, and goodness knows it wouldn't hurt all of us to contemplate this manifestly unfinished business of American society a bit more. I cannot manage serious introspection at the moment, so I'll tell a very short story.

In my late father's last years, we were engaged one day in a discussion of racial tension, civil rights and civil liberties... not an unusual conversation in our household... when he remarked on the degree of progress that had been made, at least in civil rights, over the span of his lifetime. (Dad was born in 1920, and had some hair-raising tales of racist incidents he recalled seeing in his youth. He was also an unabashed liberal in every meaningful sense of the word... the tree does not stand far from the nut.) I acknowledged the fact, remarking that we still had a long, long way to go, noting some incidents in then-recent history, including the L.A. riots of 1992 in the wake of the Rodney King incident.

Dad died in 1995, and I have thought of that conversation often in the intervening years. Without counting specific incidents of overt racism by individuals, government and out-and-out hate groups, I have a feeling that both race relations and civil rights have backslid. Indeed, some of the specific grievances Rev. King noted in his less famous but no less significant and controversial speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, could well have been voiced today. A question for all of you: are we going backward? How so? What can we do to arrest the backsliding?

In Houston, we have what the NOAA site refers to as "wintry mix" at the moment. Some MLK Jr. Day events were canceled or postponed. (If there is good news, it is that Gov. Rick Perry's inauguration will be similarly afflicted by the same spell of weather. Few are more deserving.) Stella and I are settled in at her apartment, two friendly cats in attendance (oh, how friendly they can be, once they realize how cold it is outside) and planning to avoid the predicted but unspecified frozen precipitation tonight. Tomorrow is another day; we may have to venture out. This is no big deal for many people, but those people have never seen Houstonians attempt to drive in snow and/or ice. Wherever you are, please stay safe and warm.

CORRECTION: Both MLK parades did, in fact, take place in Houston today. I must have been watching an announcement of cancellations in another city. Apologies for the inaccuracy.

CORRECTION to the correction: Stella says that TV news said there were some permit problems with some of the parades, but possibly not today's parades. The Chronicle certainly has a lot of parade photos, so something took place. I give up; I don't know what really happened. Ask Stella.


Building A Wall

Two posts from TalkLeft,

reveal two more bricks in the wall the Bush administration is building around us, separating us from our privacy and our civil liberties. The wall metaphor is not original with me; it emerged on one of TalkLeft's comment threads. But it is appropriate.

The second, more recent link above is, by a hair, the more troubling event. Quoting from the NYT article that Jeralyn links,

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 — Deep into an updated Army manual, the deletion of 10 words has left some national security experts wondering whether government lawyers are again asserting the executive branch’s right to wiretap Americans without a court warrant.


The original guidelines, from 1984, said the Army could seek to wiretap people inside the United States on an emergency basis by going to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, or by obtaining certification from the attorney general “issued under the authority of section 102(a) of the Act.”

That last phrase is missing from the latest manual, which says simply that the Army can seek emergency wiretapping authority pursuant to an order issued by the FISA court “or upon attorney general authorization.” It makes no mention of the attorney general doing so under FISA.

Bush administration officials said that the wording change was insignificant, adding that the Army would follow FISA requirements if it sought to wiretap an American.

But the manual’s language worries some national security experts. “The administration does not get to make up its own rules,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.


Maybe it does, indeed, get to make up its own rules. Maybe this is the latest step by the Bush administration to empower itself to treat the American people as its enemy.

Using this change, Alberto Gonzales would be able to authorize the military to tap your phone, on his own authority, without appearing before FISA for authorization. Think about that for a moment. I know; it's not any worse than what has already been done. But incremental unauthorized government surveillance is unauthorized government surveillance nonetheless. While frogs cannot be boiled to death by gradual increases in water temperature (what silliness), a totalitarian surveillance state can, indeed, be built almost imperceptibly, by degrees.

What's next? How far will our Congress allow the administration to go before they impeach Bush and Cheney? If you can think of some means short of impeachment by which the increasingly rapid erosion of our rights and liberties can be stopped, I would be very surprised. Mark my words, all questions of war and peace aside for the moment, these men intend to be de facto dictators. Are we going to stand aside and let them?


Cully Stimson, Un-American

UPDATE: Lilith of A Rational Animal offers another bullet point to be appended to the list below:

  • Barred from practicing law, in any jurisdiction, ever again, on grounds of moral turpitude.

Hear, hear!

UPDATE: David Kurtz of Talking Points Memo is all over this story. Start at the link, and work forward in time. My original post follows.

Please read Jeralyn Merritt's post, then these editorials by the Wapo and the NYT. Then tell me whether you agree with me that Stimson should be, in order,

  • summarily fired from his post as deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs,
  • sued by the law firms he defamed,
  • stripped of any credentials he still has to practice law at any level, and
  • sent back to law school... or maybe even to civics class in middle school... to relearn the fundamentals of the American justice system.

As one of Merritt's commenters said, considering Stimson works for Bush, it's more likely that he will receive a Medal of Freedom. How malevolent must Stimson be, to argue, first, that there is anyone, anywhere, no matter how evil, who does not deserve the fundamental right of counsel for his defense, and second, to couch his arguments in terms of a credible business threat to law firms that might undertake such a defense?

As the WaPo editorial puts it, "... it's shocking -- though perhaps not surprising -- that this is the person the administration has chosen to oversee detainee policy at Guantanamo." Precisely. Stimson is as bad as Bush wants him to be, and I wouldn't be surprised if his remarks, including the reference to this matter becoming a news story soon, were not planted by Rove himself. Like the editorial boards, I am shocked... but not surprised.


Saturday Signs

C'mon, baby, light my foyer...


A Presidency Of Cliff Notes

Those are the words of... you already know before I tell you... Keith Olbermann. Please view his special comment on Bush's speech. Olbermann doesn't omit anything this time.


Book Blogging

Why do I read so many British murder mysteries? I think I've finally figured out: each story contains from one to three violent deaths, rarely more; the deaths are properly regarded as horrifying anomalies set against an otherwise terribly ordered or at least nonviolent background; the killer is almost inevitably found out, usually by way of the workings of a brilliant mind; and justice is almost always served, or if not, is sacrificed only for the sake of a satisfying plot twist. What a contrast to an American's real life these days, in which the deaths seem countless though distant, the perpetrator is known in advance, and no one seems to give a damn. I've practically devoured two British mysteries from writers in two different generations in two weeks (see LibraryThing, in the right sidebar, for links):

  • Ngaio Marsh's Artists in Crime (1938) places an almost Victorian Inspector Alleyn against a background of assorted and sometimes sordid artists, painters in a studio class taught by a woman with whom Alleyn is in love, in a placing-on-a-pedestal sort of way. This is my first exposure to Marsh after a long steady diet of Christie and Sayers. My first impression is one of edgier writing than Christie's and a protagonist who is upper-crust (though possibly less so than Sayers's Wimsey; I'm still puzzling out the British class system), but a lot more uptight about himself and the world than Lord Peter. Granted, there must be differences between writing a Scotland Yard inspector and writing a gentleman consulting detective. In any case, the plot was satisfying (though a real-life Poirot would complain that it could not be worked out using only the information the reader is given) and the writing was excellent. I plan to start a Marsh collection.

  • Ian Rankin's A Good Hanging (1992) (I swear, I chose the book before Saddam's fate was determined) is a collection of short stories featuring his Inspector John Rebus, of Edinburgh. Rankin emphasizes Scotland's culture and in particular his flawed hero's deep knowledge of same on numerous occasions. Rebus is divorced, a dubious housekeeper, good in a fist fight, bright, and (best of all from my perspective) a serial punster, often thinking his puns but not saying them aloud. Again, this is my first encounter with Rankin's work. Having finished all of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series, presuming there will be no more of those, I was casting about for another fictional UK detective set more or less in our time. Rebus could well fill that need for me.

Now that was a self-indulgent post. So be it. Politics and war must occasionally give way to less dire pursuits such as murder!


Friday Sun Queen Blogging

Tabitha occupies her rightful place at the center of all things...

I thought we all could use a picture of a creature truly unfazed by recent events. It is amazing how often one or the other of Stella's cats occupies the very center of the sunburst. Stella assures me there is no texture difference in the fabric at the center... they just know they belong there.


Stop The Escalation

Via DBK of Blanton's and Ashton's, there will be protests against the escalation of the Iraq war tonight, including some in Houston. One is in front of the Mickey Leland Federal Bldg. (1919 Smith) at 6:00 PM; the other is a candlelight vigil in front of the First UU Church (Fannin at Southmore; this is the church I used to attend back in the days when I was awake on Sunday mornings) at 7:00 PM. Again, I will be unable to attend, but I sincerely hope you will choose an event and voice your outrage at Mr. Bush's escalation.

A note: these "pick-up" protests often bring out people with agendas of their own, often unrelated to the focus of stopping the escalation. Keep your focus, and do your best to see that the event is not co-opted. Remind everyone that this is about stopping Mr. Bush's war.


Five Years Of Guantánamo

Five years ago today, the first detainees... prisoners, why soften the verbiage... were transferred to Guantánamo. It is time for this blot on the human rights record of the United States to end. As Amnesty International puts it,

For the past five years, the US Government has detained hundreds of men in Guantánamo Bay, denying them their rights under US and international law. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay must be closed.

All detainees should either be charged and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards or released unconditionally.

Simple, isn't it? Comply with U.S. and international law. Charge and try the prisoners, or let them go. The concept is not difficult. Only in the topsy-turvy moral universe of George W. Bush and his neocon handlers is there any lack of that much-ballyhooed "moral clarity." Charge and try them, or let them go. (The prisoners, I mean... though the other interpretation works for me as well.) It's the American way.

Amnesty International is holding a number of rallies specific to the issue of Guantánamo. Houston's rally is at noon today at Mecom Fountain, the traffic circle in Main Street across from the Museum of Fine Arts - Houston. I cannot attend, but I hope you will if you're able.


Tinfoil Hat Works Well Enough

I've commented on more than one site today that I would watch the preznit's speech because my tinfoil hat was giving me a tingling sensation that Bush might say something not directly announced in the buildup before his speech. I did. And I was right. William Arkin notes the very thing I feared:

Seek out and destroy.

If there's anything in the President Bush's remarks tonight that we didn't already know or didn't anticipate him saying militarily about Iraq, it is his evident willingness to go to war with Syria and Iran to seek peace.

Speaking about the two countries tonight, the president said that the United States wiill "seek out and destroy" those who are providing material support to our enemies.

It is only a threat. But it is a far cry from the diplomatic proposals floated just last month for making Syria and Iran part of the solution. Can the president really be saying that we are willing to risk war with the two countries, and even attack elements inside them, to achieve peace in Iraq?


Yep. That's right. Bush did say that. And he will attempt to do that.

At this point, about the only thing that can stop him is strong and prompt action by Congress, both to deprive Bush of money to wage any more wars and to explicitly require him to come to Congress for authorization. Do we have a republic based on a Constitution? Does that Constitution give Congress both the power of the purse and the explicit authority to initiate wars? Can there be any doubt that attacks on Syria and/or Iran are new wars on nations not mentioned explicitly or implicitly in any authorizations Congress has provided Bush in the past?

If all those things are true, then Bush can be reined in ("reigned" in?) by the legitimate exercise of the constitutional powers of Congress... if Congress acts now.

If those things are not true, our newly elected Democratic Congress might as well give the man a crown and be done with it.

I see signs of hope from Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Kennedy that Democrats mean to take the struggle to Mr. Bush. But I don't see those signs on the web fronts of big-name news sources. You can find them, but not from the main pages. A mere half hour ago, there were articles on the news fronts of the WaPo, NYT and Google News about the planned Democratic response; now they've all been scrubbed. It's all Bush, Bush, Bush. Mr. Rove must have made a lot of phone calls really quickly. And our mainstream press, at least on its web front pages, is now telling only Bush's side of the story. There is no truth in Pravda, and no news in Izvestia. And they wonder why people turn to blogs for news.

OK, Democrats. It's time to do what we elected you to do. Now. Emphatically. No making nice. Do it!

An aside: even for Bush, his delivery was exceptionally flat; he was just phoning it in. But the best line about his demeanor during the speech (H/T Josh Marshall) was from, of all people, Howard Fineman: "George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup." May that remark one day prove prophetic.


The Emperor's New Escalation

Bush is scheduled to tell us all how he's going to win the Iraq war. In defiance of generals, diplomats and probably especially of Poppy's cronies, he is prepared to stick that middle finger in the eye of anyone who disagrees with him about the wisdom of escalating the Iraq war. That includes the American people... and probably their Congress as well.

Can Bush be prevented from doing this? Probably not, at least not now. Nonetheless, the attempt must be made, so as to establish an unequivocal record of responsibility for what happens next. Atrios says it well:

... The Democrats should pass something limiting the number of troops in Iraq. Bush will veto it. Republicans will make sure there aren't enough votes to override the veto. Stopping CooCoo Bananas from sending more troops is likely, in practical terms, impossible in the short term at least. But they can make sure it's clear whose war this is, and whose plan it is.

The WaPo (one of the links above) says Bush flipped the generals to reluctant acceptance by promising political and economic efforts in Iraq to complement the military escalation. I'd be willing to bet they know Bush is lying, but they are in no position to do anything about it. Bush's apparent ability to cajole and/or threaten people into doing things they know are unwise is one of his most dangerous aspects.

CNN quotes Dan Bartlett, counselor to the preznit (whatever that means):

"What we've seen time and time again in the security operations we've attempted in the past in Baghdad had two real fundamental flaws," Bartlett said. Operations did not include enough Iraqi or U.S. troops "to hold the neighborhoods we had cleared throughout Baghdad," he said.

"Rules of engagement -- where troops could go, who they could go after --were severely restricted by politics in Baghdad," Bartlett said. "That's going to change as well."

That's our preznit... bringing Freedom'n'Democracy™ to Iraq, one home invasion at a time... meanwhile bringing grief and despair (nobody trademarks those) to the people of America and Iraq, one family at a time.

The speech is at 9:00 PM Eastern time. For one rare time, I probably will watch, because I can't help feeling the preznit may slip in something that has not been announced. I have no evidence of that, and there's plenty of bad stuff without any unpredicted stinger, but I have learned that one underestimates Bush's capacity for evil at one's peril.

Aside: according to the WaPo article, the preznit is said to be prepared to say this in his speech tonight:

Tonight, this source said, the president will explain "that we have to go up before we go down."

Right. Any way you parse it, the preznit is one sick fuck.

(Correction applied a few seconds after initial posting: I inadvertently included one of my own paragraphs in the block quote from Atrios. I've now rendered unto Atrios only that which is Atrios's.)


Good Grief, Bill Gates!

This certainly opens up a new Vista:

When Microsoft introduces its long-awaited Windows Vista operating system this month, it will have an unlikely partner to thank for making its flagship product safe and secure for millions of computer users across the world: the National Security Agency.

For the first time, the giant software maker is acknowledging the help of the secretive agency, better known for eavesdropping on foreign officials and, more recently, U.S. citizens as part of the Bush administration's effort to combat terrorism. The agency said it has helped in the development of the security of Microsoft's new operating system -- the brains of a computer -- to protect it from worms, Trojan horses and other insidious computer attackers.


Security expert Bruce Schneier speculates on the nature of the help: plugging vulnerabilities, or deliberately opening new ones. You won't be overjoyed with his one-line conclusion.


Port Security: Too Costly?

Apparently one NY Times reporter thinks so, and uses the "some Senate Democrats" meme to explain:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 — House Democrats intend to fulfill a campaign promise this week by passing broad new antiterrorism legislation, but some Senate Democrats and the Bush administration object to security mandates in the plan, citing concerns about their cost and practicality.

The House measure, the Sept. 11 Commission Bill, is intended to write into law recommendations by the group that investigated the 2001 terror attacks. They include initiatives intended to disrupt global black markets for nuclear weapons technology and to enhance cargo inspection.


The bill requires that within three years, all cargo on passenger jets be inspected for explosives, as checked baggage is now. The House bill also requires that within five years all ship cargo containers headed to the United States be scanned overseas for components of a nuclear bomb.

Homeland Security Department officials say there is no proven technology for such comprehensive cargo screening, at least at a reasonable cost or without causing worldwide bottlenecks in trade. The screening for air cargo is estimated to cost $3.6 billion over the next decade, and ship inspections could cost even more. “Inspecting every container could cause ports to literally shut down,” said Russ Knocke, a Homeland Security spokesman.

Many Republicans and some Senate Democratic committee chairmen said that the goal of 100 percent inspections was worthy, but that they were not convinced that mandates should be included in the bill.


"Some [] Democrats..." we read that phrase a lot these days. And who would "some [] Democrats" be in this case?

“Airplane passengers must be assured that any cargo on a passenger jet will not pose a terrorist threat,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who now leads the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. “But we must achieve these goals in an efficient manner to allow for the free flow of commerce without placing undue economic burdens on importers or bringing air traffic to a standstill.”

So the biggest-name "Democrat" they can find to quote in opposition is not a Democrat at all. That's great reporting, isn't it. Does anyone else smell a rat? (NYC residents are excused from this test for the moment.) And a "Homeland Security spokesman" is less likely to be an impartial civil servant than a Bush administration political appointee.

I don't know if this proposal is a good idea or not, but the fact that Lieberman and Republicans oppose it inclines me to consider it in a positive light.

What else does the bill contain?

The House bill calls for changes in the way some $2 billion a year in state and local domestic security grants are distributed, so that the money is more based on risk. A separate bill has been introduced in the Senate that would provide antiterrorism grants for Amtrak, freight railroads and other transit systems, a plan that previously passed the Senate but was opposed by House Republican leaders.

What? Spend money based on risk assessments rather than regional pork? Why, that's un-Amurkin! Or at least un-Republican.

Seriously, why do Republicans oppose protecting our ports and railroads? What is the likeliest approach terrorists would take to importing nuclear or other weapons-related material? One can never be certain, of course, but the airlines are relatively well protected by now. If I were a terrorist (no, you right-wing nut-cases out there, I'm not), I'd look for another approach.

"Some" say the technology isn't there to do cargo inspections cheaply and non-disruptively. If that is so, why not? It should have been obvious to any thinking person, from at least 9/11/2001, that there are delivery options for terrorist attacks other than air. Do you mean to tell me that no one, no business, saw the opportunity to develop such technology to be sold to, say, port authorities? If not, why not? I would certainly believe that inspection technologies in place today are inadequate, but the whole premise stated by Republicans and Lieberman (I have a feeling I'll be typing that phrase a lot in the next two years) is that the protections cannot be implemented in a cost-effective and non-disruptive manner. I don't see the obvious truth of that. In fact, I smell another rat.

That leaves the cost as the only other serious unanswered argument against improving port and rail security. Perhaps if America stopped engaging in endless preemptive invasive wars against nations that have not attacked us, incurring a long-run total cost likely to be trillions of dollars, there might be more money available for those kinds of homeland security measures. I'm just sayin'.


A Sterling Record

There is a man (I presume it's a man) with the given name Sterling who happens to share my last name, though as far as I know he is unrelated to me. As I found out by accident, he also lived (lives?) in the same large apartment complex I've inhabited for over a decade.

I'm pretty sure Sterling is in debt, and in arrears, up to his eyeballs. For the past four or five years, I've gotten endless automated debt collection phone calls for Sterling. Somebody at some unknown company saw my number listed in the phone book, noted the address in the book (which lacks an apartment number, for better or worse), presumed that my initial 'S' stood for "Sterling" (it doesn't; you get something close to my real name on this site), and stuck my phone number on Sterling's debt record.

If I let my answer machine take the call, a collection-bot leaves a message with a long, involved phone number I'm supposed to call about an "important business matter." If I turn the answer machine off (yes, I can do that... it's yet another reason to have a physical machine instead of letting The Phone Company take messages), the presumed auto-dialer calls me. Incessantly. Every day for a couple of weeks on end. Six, seven, eight, nine... 10... 11... 12 times a day. Seven rings per call.

Today, the debt collector harassed me with 13 calls (so far). There were two other calls on the Caller ID that I recognized as being from another debt collector. That is a record... a Sterling record.

One such call came in while I was on the phone to my current client today. Having known him for a long time, I described the situation to him. He responded, "Ah. So you're about ready to (ahem) pound Sterling." I knew there was a reason I liked working for the guy. Actually, I feel sorry for Sterling; I presume he gets more of these calls than I do. Or maybe I get all of them.

While this is presumably not as bad as being on the no-fly list, there is one similarity: I have no recourse. There is no one I can call to get my number taken off the list. The collectors have apparently long since ceased using human beings to make calls, and I cannot try to persuade the 'bots that I am not Sterling. And there's no way I'll phone that number they leave, followed by the interminable case number: presuming Sterling has no intention of paying, that will simply convince the bastards to keep calling me. It's a no-win situation... as I'm sure they intend.

I have thought of changing phone numbers... away from a number I've had since about 1973, through three changes of residence. That idea holds little appeal.

I've thought of using a SIT (the doo-dah-dee sound) followed by a few seconds of silence as my outgoing message, telling people from whom I want to receive calls that I'm doing this.

If any of you technically adept people can think of a solution, I'd be glad to hear it.


Saturday Signs

This is the only photo I've ever taken in a public restroom. Honest! No, seriously!

   PermaLink Security Update

If you use the office suite from Sun, and you're still using 2.0 on a Windows platform, you need to upgrade to 2.1 right away: a critical security vulnerability, the first one found as best I can remember, needs to be plugged. It has to do with a Windows flaw in rendering .WMF graphics file; the problem is in Windows, but the fix is in OpenOffice. There's a patch for 2.0, but why bother... version 2.1 is free (as is everything about OpenOffice), and took less than 20 minutes to download and install on my low-end laptop.

If you've never heard of, and you're reluctant to spring hundreds of bucks for (say) MS Office but too scrupulous to steal it, you may want to take a look at (OOo, as they often abbreviate it):

  • OOo is free, open-source software. You don't pay a thing, ever.
  • OOo is developed under the umbrella of Sun, a well-established major vendor of hardware and software. Like all modern open-source software, it is written by professional developers donating time to projects managed in accordance with best industry standard practices. I.e., it's real software, not an amateur effort.
  • OOo lets you work on MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents up to the 97/2000/XP versions (used by most businesses) as well as the emerging OpenDocument formats.

In my experience, it's almost 100 percent compatible in editing MS Office files. I've found only one oddity, ever: it occurred while I was editing line graphics in a very complicated MS Word document, and it was easy to work around.

Here's an example of the chief benefit. The cost to equip my main desktop machine with MS Office 2003? I don't remember exactly, but it was around $400. The cost to equip my laptop with 2.1? zero. The other good thing about for those of us who are not glued to one operating system is that there are also versions for the Mac, Linux, various UNIX flavors, etc., and they're all free.

Warning, technobabble for geeks: The only real downside to OOo is that the database application, Base, is not nearly as easy to use as MS Access if you're using it to connect via ODBC to, say, SQL Server.


Dem Leaders Send Bush A Message

TPM Cafe has received an advance copy of the letter that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (doesn't that phrase do your heart good) are about to send to Mr. Bush regarding Iraq. The letter has, in my opinion, more strengths than weaknesses, and it concludes with a crucial paragraph:

Our troops and the American people have already sacrificed a great deal for the future of Iraq. After nearly four years of combat, tens of thousands of U.S. casualties, and over $300 billion dollars, it is time to bring the war to a close. We, therefore, strongly encourage you to reject any plans that call for our getting our troops any deeper into Iraq. We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future but, like many of our senior military leaders, we do not believe that adding more U.S. combat troops contributes to success.

(Emphasis mine.)

No soft-sell there: the message is "no surge." Now it's time for Dems to follow through. It will not be easy, and it may be politically painful, but it's time to exercise such authority as Congress has to compel Mr. Bush to abandon his by now unfathomably delusional plans. If this breaks any imagined bipartisan comity, too bad: civility is greatly overrated (as Mr. Cheney conclusively proved), and some things are more important than polite discourse.

To Reid and Pelosi I say this: Take Bush's Iraq money away, i.e., withhold additional funds for any purpose except withdrawal. Pass a resolution that makes it clear that the AUMF which Mr. Bush keeps claiming as his congressional authorization for unlimited war in pursuit of terrorists does NOT apply to discretionary invasions of countries that have not attacked us. If necessary (and I believe it is necessary), precipitate a constitutional crisis... it's bound to be a more significant one than the one Chief Justice Roberts is whining about.

In short, when Bush pushes... push Bush back.

(Clarification of one sentence added after initial publication. - SB)


Friday Gift Blogging

More holiday pictures. Ms. Sandy Claws issues her proclamation regarding the distribution of presents...

All your gift are belong to us!

Um, maybe we would prefer our own presents after all...


Here We Go

The headline of this NYT article previously read, "Euphoric Democrats Take Control of Congress"; later, someone removed the word "euphoric." I suppose encountering many of the same old Republicans took the euphoria out of the event. Still, someone must have asked mainstream middle-class voters, "Are euphoria or agin' ya?" And they finally woke up and answered, "We're for us!" and voted Democrats into power.

Harry and Mitch mouthed all the appropriate platitudes about bipartisanship. Yeah, say what you must, then do what you must... never forgetting Republican Grover Norquist's infamous definition of bipartisanship. As a more gentle soul than Norquist, I prefer to quote Robert Kuttner:

Bipartisanship is sometimes a necessary tactic. It is never a philosophy of governance. Otherwise, why have two parties?

Let the fun begin, and if there's any whining, remember, what goes around...


Olbermann On Bush's 'Sacrifice'

The video of Keith Olbermann's special comment is available here, on Crooks and Liars. The post also contains a rough transcript of Olbermann's comment. Here's a particularly dramatic moment:


If the BBC is right — and we can only pray it is not — he has settled on the only solution all the true experts agree, cannot possibly work: more American personnel in Iraq, not as trainers for Iraqi troops, but as part of some flabby plan for "sacrifice."


More American servicemen and women will have their lives risked.

More American servicemen and women will have their lives ended.

More American families will have to bear the unbearable, and rationalize the unforgivable — "sacrifice" — sacrifice now, sacrifice tomorrow, sacrifice forever.

And more Americans — more even than the two-thirds who already believe we need fewer troops in Iraq, not more — will have to conclude the President does not have any idea what he's doing - and that other Americans will have to die for that reason.

It must now be branded as propaganda — for even the President cannot truly feel that very many people still believe him to be competent in this area, let alone "the decider."

But from our impeccable reporter at the Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski, tonight comes confirmation of something called "surge and accelerate" — as many as 20-thousand additional troops — for "political purposes"…


"Political purposes..." for Mr. Bush, there are no other purposes. View the video; feel the outrage; be ready for Mr. Bush's announcement.


Bush's War With Iran: How It Begins

Shamelessly borrowing from ellroon, I give you the scenario that could soon be playing out as Bush plots his path to war... our path to war... with Iran. First, Larisa Alexandrovna, managing editor of Raw Story, guest-blogging at Juan Cole's Informed Comment:


This is what I think may be playing out, my opinion of course. And yes, the strategy is so brazenly obvious, arrogant, and antithetical to everything America is supposed to be and stand for that it will be difficult to digest.

What the Bush administration appears to be waiting for, stalling for, while they allegedly mull over the Iraq question, is for the naval carriers and other key assets to fall into position. This will happen in the first week of January. Saddam Hussein is being executed (and I would not be surprised if every major network aired it) to enrage tempers and fuel more violence in Iraq. This violence will justify an immediate need for a troop surge, although I think it will be described as temporary. Remember too that the British press has for the past week done nothing but report that Britain will be attacked by the New Year. Clearly they are preparing themselves for a contingency, and that contingency is the massive violence that will erupt across the Muslim world as they watch (and I really believe it will be televised) Saddam’s hanging just before the New Year.

Why [does] the rush to execute Saddam Hussein not account for Hajj? Or does it?

The carriers will be in position. I [imagine] there will be an event of some sort in Iraq, or the violence will spill into friendly (our friends[']) territory. It will be dramatic, even more so than the immediate violence.

The attacks will be blamed on Iran, with the help of the Saudis and Pakistan. Iran will be blamed for something that happens in Iran [Iraq?? - ed.]. The naval carriers, again, will be in position. The sanctions, as watered down as they are, have given the administration the blank check they needed from the world (and they still have their blank check from Congress) to order aerial strikes. The surge troops will be in position, and I estimate that ground support will begin around late February, early March.

Saddam’s execution and the violence will also be a convenient cover while the administration moves pieces into position.


Jeff Huber follows up at Alexandrovna's blog, atLargely:


Like Alexandrovna, I see a major escalation of the war in the Middle East being provoked. Some major act of terror or sectarian violence will likely occur; perhaps something in England or the U.S. Iran, now the "likely suspect" behind any and all violent extremism, will be blamed. U.S. naval and air strike forces will be in place to conduct an attack against Iran.

The possibilities are frightening. With increased violence in Iraq (or even without it), Mr. Bush will encounter little opposition to increasing ground troop levels in that country. Thanks to the provisions in the War Powers Resolution of 1973 that allow a president to commit forces to combat for 60 to 90 days without permission from Congress, Mr. Bush can order strikes on Iran on his own authority.


Can someone more knowledgeable than I am please tell me that this is not what is going on?


Ritual Sacrifice

... of, or at least self-inflicted damage to, hands, legs, etc., unintentional though it may be, is rather distressing. While I appreciate the notion that those who eat meat as part of a religious ritual may wish to perform the sacrifice themselves, doing so may not always be a particularly wise course:

Over a thousand hurt during animal sacrifices

Preparation for religious holiday feasts leads to numerous injuries in Turkey

Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey — Over a thousand Turks spent the first day of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha in emergency wards today after stabbing themselves or suffering other injuries while sacrificing startled animals.

At least 1,413 people — referred to as "amateur butchers" by the Turkish media — were treated at hospitals across the country, most suffering cuts to their hands and legs, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Four people were severely injured, crushed under the weight of large animals that fell on top of them, the agency reported. Another person was hurt when a crane used to lift an animal tumbled onto him, the agency said.

Three other people suffered heart attacks and died while trying to restrain animals, CNN-Turk television reported.


Now that is genuine self-sacrifice... and also the "most unkindest cut of all." I wield a pretty wicked knife in cutting up the tofu, but those who dine with me may rest assured they are consuming no flesh and blood, not even mine. And I've never been injured because a wheat roast fell on me.

H/T Catherine, who has temporarily moved some of her photos to Flickr while her forthcoming commercial site is in preparation.


New Year's Irresolution

Happy New Year, everyone. It's a beautiful day here, and I'm having trouble deciding what to do with it... spend it outdoors as much as possible, or do all the end-of-year record keeping I neglected to finish by the end of the year. I also cannot decide whether to post something serious or silly, philosophical or obscene, political or photographic...

I guess you could call it my New Year's irresolution.

Perhaps I can manage something better by the end of the day. Meanwhile, "silly" usually works best for me when I cannot make up my mind. So, as Stella reminds me as she practices her newly acquired Photoshop skills,


Selected Links To Recent Posts

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Three Thousand


Saturday Signs


The Obligatory Post - UPDATED


Friday Holiday Cat Blogging




Billmon Retires


Secret Tapes Again


Myth List


Caption This


Gerald Ford (1913-2006)


The Christmas Post


Happy Whatever You Celebrate


'A Rational Animal' Returns


Teen Drug Use Shows Unbelievable Decline


Friday Catherine Blogging


All Hail The Change In Seasons


Pottering Around With Titles





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Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
  - FDR

I belong to the Democratic Party wing of the Democratic Party.
  - Paul Wellstone

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