February 24, 2005

Project for the New American Century or the Plot for US World Domination

I have mentioned the Project for the New American Century in previous posts, and strongly advise all non-world domination inclined folks to read the evil plot for themselves. To whet your appetite for colonialism, here's some suggestions they offer.

Whatever the respectable motives behind the creation of the International Criminal Court, we should not let those blind us to the fact that the preservation of a decent world order depends chiefly on the exercise of American leadership.
American soldiers under international authority? Never!

Rather than maintain and improve America's nuclear deterrent, the Clinton Administration has put its faith in new arms control measures, most notably by signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The treaty proposed a new multilateral regime, consisting of some 150 states, whose principal effect would be to constrain America's unique role in providing the global nuclear umbrella that helps to keep states like Japan and South Korea from developing the weapons that are well within their scientific capability, while doing little to stem nuclear weapons proliferation.
What right do 150 nations have to tell us who we can blow up? The cat's out of the bag. Without total world domination, how can we protect freedom?

The strategic success is the end of the Iraq containment policy that required a large U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War. Significant numbers of U.S. forces were tied down in an increasingly hostile country. Their effect, moreover, on Hussein's conduct was dubious. Over the decade, the then-Iraqi leader grew ever more resistant to international demands that he open his country to weapons inspections. The current occupation of Iraq is temporary. By contrast, the containment policy required an endless commitment of forces.
It's important not to get tied down indefinitely in an increasingly hostile country.

Whatever the problems in Iraq, they pale in comparison with the history of Hussein's tyranny.
I wonder if Iraqis agree?

With the January 30 elections in Iraq, the insurgents lost all claims to being a "liberation" movement.
I heard many Iraqis voted because it was the only way to get rid of the Americans.

Islamic activism gained speed throughout the Middle East and has remained--outside of Iraq and now possibly Palestine--the only serious opposition to the vagaries, incompetence, and corruption of princely and dictatorial rule.
Tell it to Iran and Libya.

(It's not at all contradictory for an Egyptian to hope that January 30 will help end President Hosni Mubarak's despised dictatorship and yet feel a bit sickened that it is Shiite Arabs--the black sheep of the Arab Muslim family--who are leading the faithful to a democratic rebirth.) And it is certainly true that the enabling hand of the United States provokes great waves of contradictory passion. It is worthwhile to note that these same emotions are common among the Iraqi Shia: The more religious and nationalistic they are (and the two impulses are quite harmonious among the Shia), the more difficult they find it psychologically to accept their freedom from the Americans. But the Shia have--with the possible exception of the followers of Moktada al-Sadr--gotten over it. So likely will the average non-Iraqi Sunni Arab who wants to see elected leadership in his native land.
Well, we hope they will get over it.

If Ahmad Chalabi gains a position of influence inside the new national assembly, it would be wise for State and the CIA to ensure that any and all officials who were involved in his regular trashings--particularly the trashing of his home--do not serve in Iraq. The Bush administration is going to have a hard time working with and figuring out the Iraqi Shia (it is striking how thin U.S. embassy coverage of the Shia still seems), and it does not need to further antagonize one of the few Iraqis capable of appreciating both the religious and secular sides of the Iraqi Shiite family and who can present his understanding to the Americans in a way they can understand. Ahmad Chalabi may be wrong in his assessments--he has certainly made mistakes in the past--but the Bush administration is doing itself an enormous disservice if it allows the old State-CIA animus against Chalabi to continue any further. Irony is always both bitter and sweet. Tell Langley to live with it before Chalabi has the will and allies to get even.
And how, exactly, would he get that power? Chalabi's a huckster.

February 22, 2005

The Buck Stops Here?

In a recent, puckishly titled, article MSNBC states "Rumsfeld plays offense on the Hill". Rumsfeld causes offense on the Hill may be more appropriate. Somehow his testimony before the House and the Senate were scheduled for the same day. The House Armed Services Committee wasn't nearly finished with him yet when he bolted out, across the rotunda, to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Not only was his testimony brief, it was also useless and obstructive.

In his opening statement he implicitly chided Congress for "an increasingly casual regard for the protection of classified documents and information."

Asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq, Rumsfeld replied: "I am not going to give you a number."
Actually, they're being polite. The quote about the number of insurgents was really "I am not going to give you a number for it because it's not my business to do intelligent work." Seriously.

Did he care to voice an opinion on efforts by U.S. pilots to seek damages from their imprisonment in Iraq? "I don't."

Could he comment on what basing agreements he might seek in Iraq? "I can't."

How about the widely publicized cuts to programs for veterans? "I'm not familiar with the cuts you're referring to."

How long will the war last? "There's never been a war that was predictable as to length, casualty or cost in the history of mankind."

In Europe last week, Rumsfeld joked that he was no longer the "old Rumsfeld" who disdainfully referred to France and Germany as "Old Europe."

But Wednesday, he made it clear that the new Rumsfeld would not be a softy. When he scolded Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) by saying she incorrectly described his role, Tauscher inquired: "Is that old Rumsfeld talking to me now?"

"I think so," Rumsfeld said, smiling.

"I'd prefer new Rumsfeld," she requested.

"No, you don't," he said.

When I first read about this at Rude Pundit I was just thinking "What a jerk!". After letting it percolate for a couple days (sorry about that) I started seeing it as a symptom of a real systemic problem. Ultimate decision making power rests with the President (as he loves to remind us). People leaving the administration have spoken of George as being enthusiastic for all kinds of things that end up not happening. "Mars and Onward" for one example. Either he's got a short attention span, he's a really good actor, or he's not really in charge of the ship. The money keeps flowing toward the war, everything else is smoke and mirrors.
Why does George keep Rumsfeld around? If you remember Iran-Contra, you remember that everything came down to "Who knew what, when?". El Presidente needs Rumsfeld, and all the other loose cannons, to act independently and keep him from knowing too much. Rumsfeld depends on people like Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski for the same service. Once the buck reaches level of Spc. Charles Graner someone should start asking questions. Luckily, this is the era of personal responsibility. I guess Graner's trial and Bush's election are the same thing; an "accountability moment". People think torture is bad, but failing to prevent torture is perfectly understandable. Lets call it "trickle-up accountability".

February 20, 2005

Hunter Thompson Dead

According to his son, he killed himself. Sad, but I can't say I blame him. He'd seen a lot. This scene must have been a disappointment. Kinda like Hemingway.

February 19, 2005

Tour of the Blogosphere

Foreign Affairs Blog is talking about those few bad apples that keep turning up. From threatening kids with dogs to playing the Meow Mix song for hours on end, our boys and girls in uniform just keep taking matters into their own hands. We've got civilians and foreign governments joining the party too. There sure are a lot of loose cannons rolling around. Someone might get hurt.

The Sorest Loser is also talking torture, but from a more personal position with several different prisoner's experiences related. There's one here about a guy who got shipped to Syria, tortured, found innocent, and released. Oops, sorry. Wrong guy. Have a nice day.

The Progressive Blog Alliance Headquarters has some design changes to propose for American Capitalism. "What if the goods and services offered were examined for their benefits and costs to the individuals and the society alike." What if, indeed. Some interesting suggestions, anyway.

The Barking Dingo has some dirt courtesy of AP. Apparently, when Tom Ridge toured swing states before the election, he did so after consulting with Republican pollsters.
Susan Neely, a former assistant homeland security secretary who attended the May 17 session with Luntz and Ridge... (said) "We asked him his impression of how well we were explaining whatever the issues were of the day..."
See, nothing to do with the election at all.
"We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security."

Great minds must think alike, beacuse over at tunafishnews I found a psychological analysis of the red/blue divide.
Mammals have two primary drives, these being the survival instinct (get food and shelter, i.e. money) and the reproductive instinct (get laid).The first drive preserves the individual; the second preserves the species.
Conservatives generally like guns and money and 90-hour workweeks and killing animals. Liberals generally like sex and art and statues of naked women and the Family Leave Act.
Label the reproductive instinct blue, and label the survival instinct red, and you will never be very far wrong.

The Talking Dog also has something to add to that discussion. In response to President Bush saying he has not ruled out raising taxes on those who earn more than $90,000 a year to help bolster Social Security's finances, the Dog suggests that Democrats take him up on it.
Once the fortress of tax cuts for the rich solitude starts to break down, its time to sneak in other things-- ok, Mr. President, we can fully fund Halliburton/Bechtel, BUT-- we'll have to roll back the dividend and estate tax deductions... YES-- we'll let you drill in the Arctic-- BUT-- SUV tax credits and mileage requirement exemptions will have to be adjusted, other measures for conservation and green technologies will have to be stepped up INCLUDING PASSAGE OF THE KYOTO TREATY.
We can learn to compromise, or we can tear our government apart.

Last but not least, some interesting billboards have been appearing in Arizona.

Posted by Hello

February 16, 2005

Friends of America

In light of earlier comments about the cost of the war I present this article. It states that the Pentagon is spending more per soldier than ever before. It also offers this quote from Loren B. Thompson, a military expert with the Lexington Institute.
''The bottom-line problem with the all-volunteer force is you have to convince middle-class people to risk their lives for middle-class pay, so of course the price for each soldier keeps going up,''

Personally, I'm outraged by the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative. I hope Robert Novak goes to prison for it. I also think that whatever administration figures are involved should also go to prison. What any of this has to do with two virtuous reporters who refused to spread the story going to prison I have no idea. I understand the judge already knows the identity of the administration figure, he just wants to ask the reporters some questions about the approach. On the one hand, if journalists don't have confidentiality no one will tell them secrets. On the other hand, this really smells like treason to me. George isn't the only one who's heard of national security. We need to get to the bottom of this. All you eager Gannon snipers get busy.

Way down at the bottom of this article from Rolling Stone comes this startling claim.
David Qualls, who joined the Arkansas National Guard for a year, is one of 40,000 troops in Iraq who have been informed that their enlistment has been extended until December 24th, 2031.
That's no typo. He's suing the government for breach of contract over it. This must be that "backdoor draft" I keep hearing about. "Backdoor draft", "hillbilly armor", it sounds kinda folksy. Next thing you know we'll have "double-wide economics". Living on credit cards.

John Kerry really needs to shut up. A Reuters headline about his backing the president's new "supplemental" spending request for the wars only serves to remind me what a lame candidate he was in the first place.

In one of those stories that make me glad to be a blogger, the US government has actually denied court ordered compensation to US soldiers who were tortured in Gulf War I. That's right. No money for tortured vets. You see, it would have to come from Iraq, and Iraq's our friend now, so they need that money more than some POW types. Not that there's any chance of the nearly $1 billion providing food, water, electricity or anything other than a bulge in some rich man's pocket.

CBS reports that some states are considering doing away with their gas taxes. This move is in response to the wiliness of some people driving unfairly fuel efficient cars. If you don't buy enough gas, the state road improvement fund runs dry. The gas tax would be replaced by a "tax by the mile" system that would require every car to have a gps locator to keep track of mileage. What could possibly go wrong??

Tonight on NPR's Fresh Air, Terry Gross was interviewing Boyden Gray, chairman and founder of the group Committee for Justice, which was formed to promote conservative judicial nominees. I can't get a transcript yet so I will paraphrase the very last exchange of the interview (audio link). Terry asked this guy if, since Bush didn't win the election by much, and he's been saying he wants to be a uniter not a divider, why not stop nominating the type of conservative justices the Democrats always fight. The guy answered that Bush won the election, the Republicans control the Congress, and he didn't see why they should offer concessions to the enemy. That's the word I want to talk about. Enemy.
Who is the enemy? When Boyden Gray talks about enemies, he probably means liberals, maybe Democrats in general. The President talks about enemies a lot. Anyone who isn't with him is against him, remember, so he may have plenty. This is all an extension of the basic human division between rural and urban. Nature rewards respect for tradition, so rural people are more traditional. City life rewards tolerance and the willingness to take risks, so urban people welcome new ideas. It's the basic compromise at the heart of our Constitution.
The Constitution says that no matter where you live, in Montana or in Massachusetts, you are an American. Republican or Democrat, Socialist or Libertarian, we are all working for a better America. Some people may have different ideas about what the problems are or how to fix them, that's ok. As the internet is proving, diversity of ideas is a good thing. The problem is this "enemy" thing. You don't seek compromise with an enemy. There's no point in discussing anything with "them", all "they" believe is a bunch of lies.
Doesn't America have enough enemies right now without making more?

February 15, 2005

Today is a good day

For those of you who enjoy those funny animations about the president, here's a site with a bunch of original ones. This parody of Monty Python's Quest For The Holy Grail is my favorite.

There's a followup on the Dubai Shopping Festival. The big prize, 100 kg of gold, was won by a 9 year old Indian girl. Her father works as a timekeeper at a local construction company. The family says the gold won't change anything.

The Talking Dog offers an insiders view of bankruptcy reform.
As regular readers know, one of my prior incarnations was as a consumer bankruptcy lawyer, at one time, working for a variety of lawyers that had me probably involved in more consumer bankruptcy cases than anyone in the New York area.
And in hundreds upon hundreds of cases, the grim scenarios were always the same: a job loss (sometimes, even just the loss of a part time second job), an illness or death of a breadwinner, divorce and its attendant after effects, or sometimes, just accumulation of debts from rising interest rates and flat incomes and rising living expenses.

Bankruptcy "reform" is simply a classic case of redistributive risk: from those most able to bear it, to those least. It's not merely bad, its downright evil.

As I mentioned before, Iraq is missing somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 billion dollars. That's the money that was supposed to rebuild the country. Now it becomes obvious why everything's still a mess. Someone went to the Dubai Shopping Festival. I guess if they won anything, they didn't put it back in the kitty. Now tell me again how there didn't need to be bidding on Iraq reconstruction contracts because Halliburton was the only company that could do the job. Did we really pay Halliburton $1.9 million to guarantee that? I guess since it's not our schools, hospitals, roads, phones, electricity, gasoline, etc. that didn't get paid for, why should we care. Oh, wait, they were overcharging the military for fuel, food, and laundry. Did I mention they get paid way more than the soldiers. That's ok, though, because privatization is the wave of the future. How else can we achieve Rumsfeld's vision of a lighter, faster military? Outsourcing? And isn't it pretty cool, in a gangsta sort of way, to hear about people getting to carry $2 million in wrapped bricks of hundreds. I guess inflation has struck the price of freedom. Surely it didn't used to cost $3.9 billion a month.

We apologise for the technical difficulties

Blogger doesn't seem to want to post my stuff right now. I'll just hope it shows up.

February 14, 2005

The Republican agenda: open and hidden

Most Americans believe in some form of creationism, according to a CBS poll conducted ahead of last November's election. 55% of Americans believed God created humans in their present form and a further 27% believed humans evolved, but God guided the process.
65% of all Americans favoured schools teaching creationism and evolution while 37% wanted creationism taught instead of evolution.
The poll found greater support for teaching creationism among Republican voters - 71% of Bush voters favoured teaching creationism alongside evolution.
Remember the headline asking how so many Americans could be stupid enough to reelect Bush? Here's part of the answer. The punch line is, the administration's plate is full with Iraq, Iran, Europe, Russia, you get the idea. Not in the homeland. The courts will rule on this and that will be the end of it. Bush won't get involved now that the election's over.

Speaking of other concerns, I would like to bring up some old news. Remember when G.W. was running the first time and we all said "He's going to be a puppet for someone, probably his daddy." Well, the real puppet master is called The Project For The New American Century.
Some of the signatories of the official Statement of Principles include William J. Bennett, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Steve Forbes, I. Lewis Libby, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. It reads, in part:
we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles

If you think this sounds harmless, read further. A document titled Rebuilding America's Defences (pdf)
describes peace-keeping missions as 'demanding American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations';
reveals worries in the administration that Europe could rival the USA;
says 'even should Saddam pass from the scene' bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will remain permanently -- despite domestic opposition in the Gulf regimes to the stationing of US troops -- as 'Iran may well prove as large a threat to US interests as Iraq has';
spotlights China for 'regime change' saying 'it is time to increase the presence of American forces in southeast Asia'. This, it says, may lead to 'American and allied power providing the spur to the process of democratisation in China';
calls for the creation of 'US Space Forces', to dominate space, and the total control of cyberspace to prevent 'enemies' using the internet against the US;
hints that, despite threatening war against Iraq for developing weapons of mass destruction, the US may consider developing biological weapons -- which the nation has banned -- in decades to come. It says: 'New methods of attack -- electronic, 'non-lethal', biological -- will be more widely available ... combat likely will take place in new dimensions, in space, cyberspace, and perhaps the world of microbes ... advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool';
and pinpoints North Korea, Libya, Syria and Iran as dangerous regimes and says their existence justifies the creation of a 'world-wide command-and-control system'.
There's all sorts of evil plans over at the PNAC website. If you want to get paranoid, you should check it out.

Here's some fine political cartoons from Cagle

February 13, 2005

Pack Tactics and Rugged Individualists

For those who don't spend their lives glued to their computers it may come as some surprise that weblogs (at least some weblogs) are becoming a major media power. Or maybe the major media outlets are spawning weblogs. Anyway, prominent liberal blog Daily Kos investigated, exposed, and gloated over a White House reporter who was really a Republican Party lackey.

You may already know that the bloggers were the first to call Dan Rather on the Bush military service documents that prompted his retirement. Now they've brought down another media giant. Eason Jordan, chief news executive of CNN is stepping down after bloggers jumped on a remark he made about US military killing journalists. Jordan said he was responding to a comment by Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts that the 63 journalists killed in Iraq as "collateral damage."

Is this mob justice, or is it public accountability? I know I'm proud of the work done by the people at Kos. Digging in the public domain for information on public personalities seems fair enough. I just don't think the personal attacks are productive. Perhaps public figures need to learn better how to respond to internet attacks. The way it's looking now, anyone could be one good blog attack away from unemployment. "With great power comes great responsibility."

Getting away from the incestuous blog world, students at Dartmouth have constructed a 50' tall pirate ship from snow. Beautiful, isn't she.

Also enjoying the winter are the members of the Alaskan Alpine Club, who are building this.

It's 115' tall. You should check out the site and see how it works.

Benito Martinez says he is 123 years old. Doctors in his native Cuba believe he is four years younger than that. Either way, he is probably the oldest man in the world. Congratulations Benito!

February 12, 2005

An idea for better elections

In conversation this evening one of my friends mentioned that in New Jersey, where he grew up, they had "crossover" primary elections where people registered in one party could vote in the other party's primary.
My boyfriend replied that the only reason to vote in the other party's primary is to vote against a candidate you don't like.

It got me thinking about the primary system, and how most other countries have such huge lists of names on their ballots. I guess they don't have primaries. I guess they just have a general election and vote on all the candidates for each office. That's what they just did in Iraq. Surely in a place like Italy, with its hundreds of parties, they don't have primaries. Each party probably chooses its candidate or candidates in a small, informal convention, probably without balloons.

Back in America, isn't anyone else curious about how Howard Dean would have done if he had been on the ballot in November? Every election, I have watched my favorite candidates drop out of the race before I even get to vote for them. Iowa and New Hampshire take care of that. How unfair is it that I have to vote for the candidates that they give me. Two states have no business deciding things like that for the rest of us.

Here's my suggestion; don't have primaries. Put eight or ten people on the ballot. Ooh, but what about the Electoral College you may ask. Personally, I'd get rid of that too, but it could work by a simple majority, with electors chosen at meetings by the local parties. Maybe.

Just think how interesting presidential campaigns would become. The debates might be longer, but they'd be more useful, with some of the fringe elements bringing important but unpopular fact to the table. Instead of not being able to tell the Republican from the Democrat, the various branches of the parties would get more exposure. John McCain could run. Competition! Ideas! A real race! You could have a candidate who was pro-life but anti-defense. You could have a candidate who was a fiscal conservative and an environmentalist. You could have a candidate who believes what you believe. You could vote for him or her to be president. How cool would that be?

February 10, 2005

Religion rundown

In addition to politics and the music of Frank Zappa, I'm advertising some religious info; so today we'll have a non-denominational rundown of recent religious news stories.

First, of course, that "Main Man" of organized religion, the Pope. The Pope is feeling much better. He rode home from the hospital in the popemobile, and waved to onlookers.

In honor of His Holiness's illness, it's been a slow week in Christian news. First, the inhabitants of an Indian Catholic village are being threatened and attacked by Hindu fundamentalists. Some "holy man" stirring up trouble.

The family of a recently deceased American Indian activist wanted to incorporate some Lakota rituals into her funeral service. The American Indian Baptist Church replied, among other things, "drumming brings the demons." There's not much you can say to that.

Closing out Christianity, a feel-good story about evangelicals becoming environmentally aware.
"While evangelicals are open to being good stewards of God's creation, they believe people should only worship God, not creation," Green said. "This may sound like splitting hairs. But evangelicals don't see it that way. Their stereotype of environmentalists would be Druids who worship trees."

In other big news, Saudi Arabia has elections (sort of). I suppose there's something to be said for starting slowly. Half of the people electing half of the assembly certainly seems slow enough.
From the Daily Star in Lebanon comes this editorial.
Now, however, despite high oil prices, Saudi Arabia faces a population explosion, high unemployment - youth unemployment in particular is worrying - an economy dependent on the petroleum sector, and an ongoing tension between the forces of modernization and globalization on the one hand, and the forces of conservative religious beliefs and social mores born of a still very traditional and even tribal society on the other hand. There are other problems, such as a bloated and unproductive public sector. The private sector, however, is much stronger. Here there is a gap to bridge, and it is a gap made wider by a weak work ethic.

I found a good summary of the Shia/Sunni split in Iraq. It all started the day Muhammad died (intestate, as it were). Shia believe that the husband of Muhammad's oldest daughter, Ali, should be in charge. Sunni were more democratic, wanting to popularly elect their leaders. Much like with the Pope, this resulted in a series of compromises. Eventually 3 of Muhammad's other in-laws were chosen. Unfortunately one of them was from Mecca's powerful Umayyid clan. The Umayyids killed Ali, and the Shia still perform self-flagellation at the yearly festival mourning his death.
The Sunni community makes up 80 percent of the Islamic world, and has historically repressed the minority Shiites, except in Iran. The Sunni Ottoman sultan persecuted the Shiites in Mesopotamia, which would become Iraq. And when Iraq was established by the British after World War I, the persecution continued, though Sunnis were a minority in the new nation. The British found it difficult to deal with the Shiite ayatollahs and virtually excluded them from governance.
Saddam Hussein also mistreated the Shiites after he came to power in 1979. Fearing Shiites' numbers and potential power, he killed their leaders and ignored development of impoverished Shiite areas while lavishing money on Sunni cities. He even launched his war against Iran in 1980, after the Iranian revolution, to prevent Shiite influence from dominating Iraq.
Now the Shia can vote and the Sunni are terrified that they're going to end up living in East Iran.

It looks like they might be right to worry. Some Iraqi Shia muslims want to start using sharia law. Everyone knows that sharia is bad for women, but it's not too good for anyone who isn't the right kind of fundamentalist. On the other hand, it would probably end insurgent violence.

Morocco's minister in charge of Moroccans overseas, Nouzha Chekrouni has called upon the country's women living abroad to correct the image of Islam in the West.
Speaking at a conference on globalization and Muslim women, Chekrouni suggested they cooperate with western feminist movements in order to disseminate Islamic civilization values, correct the image of Islam in western media and dissociate the Muslim women from fanaticism and terrorism.

Malaysia is walking a fine line, trying to get rich on trade without becoming "western." The plan is called Islam Hadhari (civilizational Islam) and was outlined by Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as:
Faith and piety in Allah
A just and trustworthy government
A free and independent People
Mastery of knowledge
Balanced and comprehensive economic development
A good quality of life
Protection of the rights of minority groups and women
Cultural and moral integrity
Safeguarding the environment
Strong defenses

Results have been mixed, while the economy grew by 7.2% last year, income disparities and obesity rates remain serious problems. Consumerism is another rising trend.

I couldn't ask for a better lead-in to a story about a delightful celebration of rampant consumerism in the Islamic playground Dubai.
The Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) is reaching its climax with nearly $3 million and 100 kilograms of gold up for grabs, in the Gulf emirate's quest to become a leading tourist destination.
This year's DSF featured $27.1 million worth of prizes, with the daily highlights being raffle draws for three luxury cars and five kilograms of gold.
Jewellers have also pooled together for a grand win of $1.3 million worth of gold for one winner on the closing day, when another lucky person will walk away with 10 cars.
But the ultimate will be the lucky name picked for the $2.7 million cash prize.
A Bahraini tourist has reportedly won three cars in this year's festival alone.

They're giving away pounds of gold.

On the forgotten, dark continent of Africa Islam fuels many deplorable acts. A Somali Islamic militant group "liquidated" a British journalist outside her hotel. At the same time, an Iraqi journalist and his 4 year old son were killed in a separate attack.

There's also a religious element to the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. The government was arming and supporting Islamic tribesmen to control unrest in the tribal communities. Apparently, some of the victims are Islamic, too. Another example of why giving people guns doesn't usually result in peace.

Yemen concludes this look at Islam with an incredibly thoughtful and worthwhile editorial.
Yes, temptation may drive many men to assume some inkling of power or sway over the religious persuasions of the constituencies that surround them or share some or all their views on the best way of siding with the Divine. This in turn gives rise to the corruption of the true values that spiritual instinct would regard as anathema to the real purpose of religion and of course the corruption of free minds that are instinctively able to discern in their sub-conscience the difference between right and wrong and good and bad. So, religion is not at fault for many of the calamitous behavior of mankind as some skeptics about religious belief would like to suggest. It is really men, who have mistakenly set themselves on a spiritual pedestal that allows them to make use of religion to further their own mundane aspirations.
I have to stop there or I'll end up quoting the whole thing. It's really good. Read it.

Who ever said Buddhists aren't superstitious.
The authorities of Burma’s military junta, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) detained the abbot of Payeik-chimyin who was venerated by the ousted “Prime Minister” General Khin Nyunt, and imposed restrictions on two other renowned abbots.
The ruling generals’ soothsayers advised them that great problems could arise from small religious matters, according a civil servant who doesn’t want to be named.

Buddhism is under increasing opposition from Maoists in a number of countries. Even in India. The inhabitants of Bodhgaya, home of the famous bhodi tree under which the Buddah first found enlightenment, are living in peace so far.

Unlike Sikhs, who are rioting over the supposed elopement of two college-age Sikh girls and their Hindu boyfriends. Police have imposed curfew.

A man told the police that the Hindu goddess Durga had appeared in his dreams and asked him to sacrifice a minor if he wanted his problems to go away. So he found a five year old boy and did the deed. Another man must have had the same dream, because he tried to sacrifice his three year old neice but his neighbors stopped him before he could finish.

Right-wing Hindu activists opposed to Pakistan's cricket tour of India were arrested on Thursday making an unsuccessful attempt to damage the pitch at one of the match venues. That's not very sporting of them.

You've heard of praying for peace. Now hear about praying against it.
Israeli rabbis were planning on Sunday to hold special sessions in 100 synagogues to pray for the failure of this week's summit between prime minister Ariel Sharon and new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

And we mustn't forget the followers of traditional religions. This person in Zimbabwe was apparently born with both male and female sex organs and raised female. She paid a traditional healer to remove the male organs and was competing in junior track and field as a woman. She says she still owed the healer some money for the procedure so he has allowed the organs to grow back. Some people you just don't want to owe money to.

How is China like a giant shark?

giant shark courtesy of snopes.com
I like giant animals.

I was reading this weird story from fark about poisonious caterpillars invading Chinese villages, when suddenly the story jumped from caterpillars to cars. The last three paragraphs on the page are as follows.

Sin Chew Daily reported that more Malaysian Chinese had bought new cars in conjunction with this Chinese New Year compared with last year.

According to report, the Federal Territory Road Transport Department processed about 500 applications per day for new car registration in the week leading up to last year’s Chinese New Year, but this year, the number had increased to more than 600 per day.

It said that JPJ personnel were working overtime for the past week, sometimes till 10pm, to process the huge number of applications.

OK, I'm getting scared now.

February 09, 2005

Enquiring minds want to know

2 viewers complain about Superbowl halftime show

According to a report on Eonline.com, FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball said both complaints were by viewers who were "bored" by McCartney's 12-minute set, during he which he sang Beatles and Wings classics.

Get with the program! You can call the FCC to complain about boring programs.
1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET

I can't believe no one has thought of this before.

Karl Rove gets budget increase

I just noticed that the top half of this post is missing. That's the part about Karl Rove's promotion to deputy White House chief of staff. I said some clever things about how money must be tight if even Rove has to work two jobs. I don't really remember the rest. Sorry about the mixup.

Bush's former chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, will become assistant to the president for policy and strategic planning. He will be involved in advancing Bush's "compassionate agenda," such as his faith-based initiative, headed by Jim Towey.
Gerson will also oversee the writing of Bush's major addresses as well, such as the State of the Union address last week. Bill McGurn has become Bush's chief speechwriter.

If he writes good speeches, I'm sure he'll do just fine creating policy and strategy. And he still gets to fuel the Bush speech drinking game with more talk about "freedom" "democracy" "terrorists" and all the rest of the buzzwords you've come to know and love.

It's hard to imagine the president needing to consolidate his power, but there it is. The insiders are closing ranks, leaving the weak and unlucky out in the cold. It's just like he said with the budget, it's "results based". If you promote the agenda, you're ok. If you have the temerity to think you know better than the President of the United States of America, you can take a hike.

I think the comments are back up if anyone wants to leave one.

February 08, 2005

Bush Budget 2005 - What a relief

After that scary post a couple of days ago, I'm glad to say I was wrong. George has it all under control. He's got his finger on the pulse of the nation.
First the good news.
The Bush budget requests $500 millon so the IRS can call every taxpayer to thank them for participating.
The reason that the costs for the continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are not in the budget is because we're leaving.
Medicaide will be the first government agency run entirely on credit cards.
Instead of loitering in after-school programs, children will be forced to go home to play video games.
All veterans will recieve 1 coupon for a free wellness exam from the Cincinnati VA hospital.
The SEC tells the White House "cut our budget, we don't need it." Now that's some fiscal responsibility.
The price of electricity will remain at an all time low.

Even in the midst of all this joy, let us make time for some bittersweet partings.
Hubble will be replaced by an advanced telescope constructed of a makeup mirror duct taped to a digital camera.
Haliburton gets the contract to run Amtrak. Cheney is spending time communing with the ghost of Andrew Carnegie.

And although the debt will increase, the deficit will be cut in half.

Isn't that amazing. Something for everyone.

February 07, 2005

No Comment

The comments are down. It looks like the new look exhausted my meager CSS skills. I'll have them back up in a day or two.

Cheaper to die young

The recent news about the relationship between medical problems and bankruptcy seems pretty obvious. If you're too sick or injured to work, you will likely lose your insurance or be unable to make your co-payments. A couple thousand dollars debt can spiral out of control when you borrow to pay it. Many people, once they start seeing the bills roll in, quit going to the doctor or filling prescriptions. Their health gets worse, and if they don't declare bankruptcy, when they die the hospital takes the house.
If the President thinks that borrowing money to pay the bills is a good idea, and since he won this election, it looks like most people agree with him. Certainly credit cards and mortgage lenders have been doing brisk business. All this debt is a millstone around the economy.
Congress is debating making it more difficult to declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy lawyer William J. McLeod writes in the Boston Globe: The credit card industry is spending millions trying to convince Congress that the average American in debt is an irresponsible buffoon with an entitlement complex. Debtors cannot afford lobbyists. Before we let Congress shut the bankruptcy court doors on thousands of Americans, consider where you would be if your household lost a wage earner and then call your member of Congress.
Also from the Boston Globe, some interesting numbers on what Americans say they want from the government. By 2003, 79 percent of Americans said in a Washington Post/ABC News poll they support healthcare coverage for everyone even if meant raising taxes.
The poll asked, ''Which would you prefer: The current insurance system in the United States, in which most people get their health insurance from private employers, but some people have no insurance, OR, a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that's run by the government and financed by taxpayers?"
Universal healthcare won, 62 percent to 33 percent.
Getting even more specific, a 2003 Pew poll asked people if they favored the government ''guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means repealing most of the recent tax cuts."
Universal healthcare won, 67 percent to 26 percent.

You and I may think that's important, but here's what George wants us to think is worth paying for.

February 06, 2005

Condoleezza Rice: Defender of Freedom

"I don't think anybody thinks that the unelected mullahs who run that regime are a good thing, for either the Iranian people or for the region. The region is going in a quite different direction," she told reporters on her flight to London. "I think our European allies agree that the Iranian regime's human rights behavior, and its behavior towards its own population, is something to be loathed."

Check out that Condi! What a diplomat. Madeline Albright eat your heart out. It makes me feel good just knowing "Dr" Rice is out there showing the world how wonderful Americans can be.

Just out of idle curiosity, lets see how those "unelected mullahs" got to be in charge.

In 1953, Iran's prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who had been elected to parliament in 1923 and again in 1944, and who had been prime minister since 1951, was removed from power in a complex plot orchestrated by British and US intelligence agencies ("Operation Ajax"). Many scholars suspect that this ouster was motivated by British-US opposition to Mossadeq's attempt to nationalize Iran's oil. Following Mossadeq's fall, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Iran's monarch) grew increasingly dictatorial. With strong support from the USA and the UK, the Shah further modernized Iranian industry but crushed civil liberties. His autocratic rule, including systematic torture and other human rights violations, led to the Iranian revolution and overthrow of his regime in 1979. After over a year of political struggle between a variety of different groups, an Islamic republic was established under the Ayatollah Khomeini by popular vote.

I think that means we backed an oppressive dictator to secure our oil supply, then the Iranians decided on a policy of regime change. I'm not sure how they arranged to have a popular vote without US support, but they did.

However, in more recent years, the democratic political structure has led to the election of many reformist politicians, including the president, Mohammad Khatami. During the first decade of the 21st century, the struggle between reformists and conservatives over the future of the country continues through electoral politics.

That sounds pretty democratic to me, but what do I know. So now we're back to toppling legitimately elected governments. The War on Terror could learn a few lessons from the Cold War.

February 05, 2005

Bush budget 2005

Since the budget is a huge document, thousands of pages long, it seems only fitting that I undertake an epic summary of some of its high points. So many sources, so little time.

First, from the DNC website
Year by Year Cost of Making Bush Tax Cuts Permanent And Reforming AMT:
2009: $198 Billion
2010: $216 Billion
2011: $335 Billion
2012: $407 Billion
2013: $433 Billion
Total: $1.589 Trillion [CTJ Fact Sheet, http://www.ctj.org/pdf/binge03.pdf]
In 2004, Bush's three tax cuts over as many years reduced revenues by $270 billion. In 2003, Bush's tax cuts caused 44 percent of the deficit.
Holding non-defense, non-homeland security spending to less than 1 percent -- as Bush proposes for 2005 -- will have little impact on the deficit. Even a total freeze on discretionary spending would lower the deficit only by $3 billion, according to the House Appropriations Committee. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/27/03; www.govexec.com, 1/29/04]

Next, let's check in with the popular liberal blog Daily Kos
Probably, the most aggriegious (ed. egregious) of all is the proposal to make it more difficult to increase veterans disability compensation in the face of more and more of our troops coming home with no arms or legs.

The Council on Foreign Relations had this to say about the budget
federal funding for local fire departments so that they can respond better to possible terrorist attacks is slashed by a third. A different priority is to expand high-tech military spending, especially on advanced aircraft and missile defense. Since the main beneficiaries are only a few aerospace companies, this is as close to an "industrial policy" as the United States ever gets.

The official website of the Department of the Interior offered this subtle statement
"The Bush Administration has embraced the philosophy that a growing American economy is the solution to improving our environmental quality," said Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The pro-Palestinian site Counterpunch offered some surprising numbers
"That not less than $50,000,000 of the funds made available under this heading shall be made available for refugees from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and other refugees resettling in Israel."
"not less than $2,160,000,000 shall be available for grants only for Israel. Provided further, That to the extent that the Government of Israel requests that funds be used for such purposes, grants made available for Israel by this paragraph shall, as agreed by Israel and the United States, be available for advanced weapons systems, of which not less than $568,000,000 shall be available for the procurement in Israel of defense articles and defense services, including research and development."

The Union of Concerned Scientists offers these comforting thoughts
At $10.7 billion, a nearly 20 percent increase over last year, ballistic missile defense remains the single largest program in the overall defense budget of $420.7 billion.
Last year after much debate, Congress attempted to curtail the administration's most controversial nuclear weapons programs to develop new nuclear weapons capabilities and increase the readiness to resume nuclear weapons tests if so directed. Despite clear concerns expressed by Congress, this year's nuclear weapons budget requests more funds in these areas.

The League of Conservation Voters brings us tales of more shortfalls
Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency would fall by over $600 million dollars with the biggest impacts falling on water quality and science and technology programs. Land conservation would fall far short of current needs, with the greatest deficiencies occurring in land acquisition, wildlife protection, and parks funding. Certain critical clean energy programs would also be slashed, such as federal R&D into energy efficiency and solar energy, while unjustified subsidies to polluters continue.

From the AFL-CIO
The Bush budget proposal permanently locks in multitrillion-dollar tax breaks that mostly benefit the nation's wealthiest. To finance these taxes cuts for millionaires and billionaires, the budget inflates the already record-high $477 billion U.S. deficit and shortchanges or cuts funds for the domestic programs working families need most, from job creation to health care, transportation and education.
What's more, Bush may have a political agenda for blowing up the national deficit. A huge deficit offers justification for cutting spending on job creation and social programs and gives the Republican congressional leadership an excuse to renew calls to privatize Social Security and Medicare, says economist and University of Texas at Austin Public Policy Professor James Galbraith. Such privatization would be a bonanza for the insurance and financial services companies that back Bush's re-election, but not for working families.

The White House press release offers these concrete reforms
Today, President Bush announced his Fiscal Year 2005 budget, a plan to help make America a more secure, more prosperous, and more hopeful country.
The budget provides substantial increases to improve our Nation's security and win the War on Terror.
The President's budget includes a 10% increase over FY 2004 for the Department of Homeland Security, a doubling of funding for DHS programs since FY 2001.
His budget includes a new four-year, $300 million initiative to bring faith-based and community groups together with Federal agencies to help recently released prisoners make a successful transition back to society and long-term employment, reducing the chance that they will commit crimes again. This four-year, $300 million initiative will provide basic job training and placement, transitional housing, and mentoring.
His budget also provides $150 million as part of a three-year program for mentoring disadvantaged youth and children of prisoners, and $200 million as part of a three-year effort to provide treatment for addicts including through faith- based and community drug treatment programs.

Bloomberg sounds dubious
Bush also has yet to show how his budget will account for his campaign promise to make permanent $1.85 trillion in tax cuts that begin to expire in 2008.
Bush won't send to Congress his plan for overhauling Social Security to provide for private savings accounts before late February. That may increase the federal budget deficit by as much as $2 trillion over 10 years.

CNN offers these quotes from a Joshua Bolten apparently speaking for the White House
(edit: Bolten is the director of the Office of Management and Budget)
"You will see even more so in this budget than in the past, a focus on those (domestic programs) that are indeed federal priorities and delivering results," Bolten said in an interview.
Those programs that the administration thinks are performing poorly "are more likely to be reduced in this budget," Bolten said.Administration officials said Bush will propose combining 18 community development programs and cut their total spending by more than $1 billion. The largest is the $4.7 billion community development block grant, which assists more than 1,000 communities per year. Also affected are efforts for rural housing and economic improvements for Indian tribes.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has some good examples of doublespeak
"The people in Congress on both sides of the aisle have said, `Let's worry about the deficit.' I said, `OK, we'll worry about it again.' My last budget worried about it, this budget will really worry about it," Bush said Friday in Omaha, Neb
Is that possible?
"It depends on what you mean by possible," said Alice Rivlin, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and budget director in the Clinton White House. "Can he put together a budget proposal that does that on paper? Yes. Can it pass the Congress? I doubt it."
"You'd have to be terminating large numbers of programs, turning things back to the states. It would be a drastic reversal of federal policy for which he has not prepared the country," Rivlin said.
And two major expenses won't even be in the 2006 budget: rising costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and a sweeping Social Security overhaul that has already ignited bitter partisan fighting.

From the San Diego Union Tribune comes a warning about hidden costs
Mary E. McClymont, president of InterAction, an alliance of overseas relief organizations, said programs at risk for cuts include those providing education, health care and agriculture assistance. These programs help prevent the kind of instability that could turn some countries into breeding grounds for terrorists, she said.

Reuters points out another overlooked cost
The $419.3 billion draft 2006 Defense Department request for the fiscal year beginning next October includes only Pentagon spending, according to the U.S. officials, who asked not to be identified. It does not include spending by the Energy Department on U.S. nuclear weapons programs.

The Economist doesn't like the administration's math much
As an exercise in fiscal responsibility, it is a charade.
the budget does not factor in the future costs of keeping soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan: even Mr Bush's own budget director says costs could be as much as $50 billion for Iraq alone in 2005.
Take, first, the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which Mr Bush wants to make permanent at a ten-year cost, when other new proposals for tax-free savings schemes are added in, of $1.25 trillion. The cuts may well have provided a welcome economic stimulus at a time when confidence was knocked by recession and terrorist attack. But after 2009, these cuts will equal three-quarters of the total deficit, even by the administration's own numbers.

The St. Petersburg Times minces no words
Only the Agriculture Department and Environmental Protection Agency face substantial spending cuts under the Bush budget. In the USDA, the Forest Service would be hit hardest, and the EPA would see big reductions in spending for wastewater treatment and drinking water plants as well as scientific research into the health effects of pollution.
If this budget is able to cast President Bush as fiscally responsible, it will be one of the great con jobs of all time.

And finally from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (who know way more math than I do) some info on the deficit
In terms of legislation since 2001, tax cuts are the single most important factor in explaining the move from surpluses to deficits.
What caused a projected surplus of $5 trillion to become a projected deficit of $4.3 trillion? Approximately 35 percent of this stunning $9.3 trillion deterioration is due to the tax cuts enacted over the past three years or assumed in this analysis, making tax cuts the single largest factor attributable to policymakers' actions. Another 28 percent of the deterioration is due to spending legislation, with more than two-thirds of the growth in spending representing increased costs for defense, homeland security, and the war on terrorism (and only one-twenty-fifth of the new spending representing increased costs for domestic discretionary programs outside homeland security)

Tax cuts account for $3.3 trillion of the $9.3 trillion deterioration for the years 2002-2011, making them the most costly legislative change since 2001. Moreover, the share of the fiscal deterioration that is attributable to tax cuts rises over time. By 2014, tax cuts will account for 40 percent of the deterioration.

February 03, 2005

What else can we privatize?

In light of the president's plan to save Social Security from financial ruin through encouraging private investment, I thought today I would look at other troubled government programs that might benefit from privatization.

Police: What other reason is there to have concealed carry permits for pistols?

Federal Reserve: Even Thomas Jefferson was against the idea of a national bank.

Welfare/Child Protection: Only a faith based initiative could help these poor unfortunates.

NASA: There's plenty of universities and private companies in the space industry now. Space Ship One proved that the private sector can do it faster and cheaper.

FCC: Let the Nielson people take over. Then only the most popular programs will be shown.

EPA: It's just another liberal myth that the environment even needs protection. If trees needed help they'd say something

FAA/NTSB: Don't the airlines have enough problems without a bunch of "administrators" telling them what to do? Transportation safety? If you have a problem with it, buy a hummer.

National Park Service: Anheuser-Busch did a good job making Williamsburg into a profitable venture. Wonder what they could do with Montecello?

NOAA: When every town has a meteorologist, why pay the government to tell us the weather?

Interstates: How much money does the government waste on road repairs and construction? Carry some gravel in your trunk. If you see a hole, throw some in.

Voting: It should be pretty obvious by now that the government would rather have "free and fair" elections in Iraq than here at home. I'm sure Diebold would be happy to help.

Military/Homeland Security: Since Halliburton already has all our money, why not make them work for it!

Exporting Democracy

Many people have weighed in with opinions on the inauguration. I found Judy Bachrach's particularly satisfying. Robert Kuttner of the Boston Globe presents a less amusing, more thought provoking idea.
"Bush found billions for Iraq's election, but has underfunded the 2002 Help America Vote Act, a law intended to give states and localities financial help to develop more reliable balloting systems."
If you don't like that one. try this:
"The Bush administration made sure Iraq got an Independent Electoral Commission to keep the process honest. No such luck in the United States."
This one's a killer:
"It is ironic that one of America's biggest worries is that the elected rulers of Iraq will want to turn it into an Islamist Shi'ite theocracy. Press reports refer hopefully to Allawi as a ''secular Shi'ite."
By that criterion, how should we describe George W. Bush? A secular Christian? I don't think so. He is more determined to remove the separation of church and state and turn America into a theocracy than any chief executive in our history."

Am I the only one who noticed that Iraqis also have a quota for female representatives? I guess since we already have equal rights there's no need for quotas. I know I've seen that argument used against affirmative action.

Since Bush seems to think he has all the money in the world (literally) we can expect to see more of this cavalier attitude toward spending. The money intended to run the country will continue to be poured into the pockets of Darth Cheney's cronies. I'm sure the economy will be as good as new once the trickle-down effect kicks in.

In closing, I offer this recent quote from Fidel Castro:
Castro told his audience he watched Bush's inauguration speech last month and saw the face of a deranged person. Then he quipped "if only it were just the face,"

February 01, 2005

I'm not sure why, but I love this cartoon.

Bigger than Wal-Mart

In honor of Aljazeera becoming the 5th most influential brand on earth, let us visit those wacky mohammedians and see some of their media spin.

Here's an interesting take on the "what Americans believe" editorial.
... there is no provision in the US constitution, the longest living document of its kind, for a pre-emptive war, and that such a war is an anathema to Americans living today.
US ground units are stretched to the limit, and there is no reserve for a battle elsewhere. These errors would not have been made by the lowest cadet at West Point or a marine OCS candidate at Quantico, Virginia.

Next, for a little comic relief, "Rabbi: Tsunami punishment for pullout"
Last month's Asian tsunami disaster was a form of divine retribution for the world's support of the planned pullout of settlers from the Gaza Strip, a former chief rabbi of Israel has said.
"The all powerful one was angry with the nations that did not help Israel, which wanted an evacuation, a disengagement [from Gaza] ... and this provoked the earth to shake," Mordechai Eliahu said in a religious publication distributed on Monday in thousands of synagogues throughout Israel.

And finally, the buried lead. The already interesting story "Audits: US missing $9 billion in Iraq" includes a revealing last paragraph.
One of the main benefactors of Iraq funds was Texas-based firm Halliburton, which was paid about $1.7 billion dollars out of those funds to bring in fuel for Iraqi civilians. UN auditors have asked for a full accounting of these funds.

If you aren't aware of the gas rationing and such yet, go read what Riverbend has to say.

Dick Cheney should be pilloried.