Saturday, September 8, 2007

From Zymurgian's Trip

From the upper San Juan, a nice view of a cliff dwelling.


I seldom pay attention to the various right-wing pundits inside the beltway. That's what big blogs are for. But this one from David "Bobo" Brooks pissed me off:

Last night on PBS’ The NewsHour, New York Times columnist David Brooks compared 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden’s latest video message to “lefty blogs,” saying the al Qaeda head is like “one of these childish people posting rants at the
bottom of the page.”

No such luck

No, Bobo, us left-wing bloggers haven't killed 3000 Americans or created a foreign policy that drained the treasury to go to war with a country that was no threat to us. While you led the drumbeat for Iraq, we wanted to go after the guy who attacked us. While you collected a 6 figure salary for the NY Times, we have tried to speak the truth.
And I prefer to post my rants at the top of the page.

A Sunny Saturday

It's a beautiful sunny Saturday. Too nice a day to think about Iraq, Osama, our shrub, or any of the other myriad problems that we face. I wish I had a garden to mess with.

Friday, September 7, 2007

How to Respond

Rumor has it that in late 2000, Richard Clarke was screaming about a lack of translators and the firing of eight who might have been "gay". There was a symptom of the problem. When I applied to the State Department, a long ago (minor) conviction meant I was ineligible. I read and (sort of) speak Arabic, but I'm not a repuglican, and I may have smoked pot.
It is important to recognize the power bin Laden has as a symbol. His success in attacking America, and subsequent survival, acts as an inspiration to jihadis around the world. al-Qaeda has become a brand, with franchises around the world. Osama doesn't have direct control of these groups, nor does he need to. His words have achieved the goal of motivating a number of small terrorist groups around the world. Notice the number of groups arrested in Europe.
Which brings me to the point of how best to combat terrorism. This is not a military conflict, and won't be defeated by invading countries. Instead, it is an intelligence conflict. Notice that the majority of terrorist plots that have been foiled were as a result of informants.

There are 2 tactics which can effectively stop terrorist attacks.
1. Infiltrate. Old fashioned spy work. Not easy to do, and very risky for the spies, but quite effective. As an example, let's remember John Walker Lindh. The kid from Marin County joined the Taliban, and met bin Laden several times. While it appears that he was sincere when he joined, just the fact that he was able to get "inside" shows that there is an opening for planting someone within al-Qaeda. If al-Qaeda and like minded groups become riddled with spies, they will become paralyzed as plots are foiled and picked off one by one.

2. Better coordination with foreign intelligence. With so many countries in the world facing the threat of terrorist attacks, there's a lot of motivation to share more intelligence. While it means working with some unsavory regimes, there are mutual benefits. An example would be Syria. The Assad government is almost as hated by al-Qaeda as the American government, and if treated diplomatically would be a valuable ally. Our current administration's policy of confrontation instead of engagement makes us more vulnerable to terrorists, and needs to be reversed.

We do need to kill or capture Osama bin Laden for symbolic reasons. His continued ability to motivate attacks after six years makes us look like a paper tiger. Removing Osama won't stop terrorism, but it will be a psychological victory. The fact that he's still present, and able to taunt America, is a sign of how incompetent our shrub is.

Understanding Osama

Once upon a time (1998) a guy named Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States of America. He was ridiculed, as he didn't have a country or an army or even a large following. He was a "lunatic", a "madman", and "an Extremist". When the president of the USA tried to stop him, it was called "wag the dog". There was oral sex involved, so the media knew what mattered (not that I'm against oral sex).
The nice thing about blogs (because history is written by the victors) is that we can call 'em as we see 'em. The following is only my opinion, so it's not worth much.
When Osama bin-Laden declared a fatwa against America most everybody ignored it. Few noticed that he had recently defeated the Soviet Union. Yes, we helped him in that war. Osama learned. He understands how to manipulate America, and thereby bleed us dry.
Osama bin Laden is very smart (degree in engineering), very rich (roughly $500mil), and totally fanatical. His long battle with the Soviets left him as an expert at asymetrical warfare, and how to use small groups to achieve maximum impact. He knows exactly what he's trying to do. And he has the resources.
The right-wing wants you to be afraid of him. I understand the real threat, and while I believe it is real, I'm not going to be afraid.
The left-wing is saying that the timing of the threat is too convenient. True, but easy to understand. This leads to questions about motivations.
Our shrub (I can no longer type "bush" without "lilac") uses al-Qaeda as a propaganda tool. Osama uses "lilac bush" as a propaganda tool. That part is very predictable. It's also wrong.
Osama will hit us again. He's told us so before. The goal is to slowly bleed us to death. To keep us afraid. To draw us into wars that we cannot win. Shrub has been playing right into Osama's hand. By invading Iraq, shrub strengthened bin Laden's position. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, bin Laden's fiery rhetoric had only a fringe appeal. Now he is able to portray it as a war between America and Islam.
This is what we face. In my next post, I plan to offer my suggestion on what we should do.

More on the bin Laden Tape

Wow, that was quick. Too quick. A transcript from ABC is here (pdf). I haven't read it yet, but I'm skeptical. Previous translations of bin Laden's tapes and fatwa's released to the media have been uniformly bad. I'm unsure whether this is attempted disinformation, or that our intelligence agencies are low on translators.
I'm planning on viewing the original in Arabic before I draw any conclusions.
Added: Seems like all the likely Arabic web sites are down. Since the tape was scheduled for a future release date, I'm guessing that someone is upset that it ended up in American hands ahead of time. Maybe our intelligence is doing better than I thought.

What Report?

Now they tell us that the White House "Petreaus" report will be an oral report:

In the latest twist to the ongoing saga over the Petraeus White House report, a senior military official tells the Washington Times today that there will actually be no report at all:

A senior military officer said there will be no written presentation to the president on security and stability in Iraq. “There is no report. It is an assessment provided by them by testimony,” the officer said.

The only hard copy will be Gen. Petraeus’ opening statement to Congress, scheduled for Monday, along with any charts he will use in explaining the results of the troop surge in Baghdad over the past several months.

To recap, first the public was incorrectly led to believe that Gen. David Petraeus would issue his own report about the situation on the ground in Iraq. Then the Los Angeles Times reported that the so-called “Petraeus report” would “actually
be written by the White House

I've said it many times, that this report is pure spin. Whatever Petreaus says will not reflect the reality of Iraq, only some talking points that sound positive.

Oh well, at least they'll be saving some paper.

Now for a boobie

Happy Friday. Here's a red-footed boobie with ruffled feathers.

Stand Up Comedy

Is our shrub auditioning for a new career in stand up comedy? Consider these "jokes":

For George Bush, it was a gaffe waiting to happening.

The similarities in sounding between Australia and Austria led Bush into an embarrassing blunder down under.

The US president thanked Australian premier John Howard for visiting 'Austrian troops' in Iraq.

There are no Austrian troops there, although Australia has 1,500 military personnel in the region.

He continued his blunders by then confusing the organisations of APEC and OPEC.

Talking at a business forum on the eve of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation(APEC) summit in Sydney, Mr Bush also told Mr Howard: "Mr Prime Minister, thank you for your introduction. Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit."

As the audience laughed, the US president corrected himself and joked: "He invited me to the OPEC summit next year."

Australia has never been a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Yes, he really is that clueless. Why, oh why, does anybody take anything he says seriously?
Added: Of course, he can always up the stupidity:

Bush said that during his talks with Roh, he reaffirmed the U.S. position that Washington will consider the war formally over only when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il actually dismantles his nuclear program.

Whatever Roh heard Bush say through his translator, it wasn't good enough.

"I think I did not hear President Bush mention the — a declaration to end the Korean War just now," Roh said as cameras clicked and television cameras rolled.

Bush said he thought he was being clear, but obliged Roh and restated the U.S. position.

That wasn't good enough either. "If you could be a little bit clearer in your message," Roh said.

Bush, now looking irritated, replied: "I can't make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will end — will happen when Kim verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons."

The White House immediately downplayed the testy exchange and said the meeting went smoothly.

Damn arrogant for an idiot.

Only 500 days left.

He's Back

Another week of rhetoric about "progress" in Iraq, threats toward Iran, and preparation for the annual 9/11 memorials, and look who shows up:

CAIRO, Egypt September 7, 2007, 6:35 a.m. ET · The first new images of Osama bin Laden in nearly three years will be released ahead of the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Qaida's media arm announced, a move that would end the terror mastermind's longest period without a message.

The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday it had no credible information warning of an imminent threat to the United States, and analysts noted that al-Qaida tends to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary with a slew of messages.

Still, bin Laden's appearance would be significant. The al-Qaida leader has not appeared in new video footage since October 2004, and he has not put out a new audiotape in more than a year.

The man behind the attacks of 9/11 is still out there six years later. The person who DID declare war on us:(from bin Laden's 1998 fatwa)

All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims. And ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries. This was revealed by Imam Bin-Qadamah in "Al- Mughni," Imam al-Kisa'i in "Al-Bada'i," al-Qurtubi in his interpretation, and the shaykh of al-Islam in his books, where he said: "As for the fighting to repulse [an enemy], it is aimed at defending sanctity and religion, and it is a duty as agreed [by the ulema]. Nothing is more sacred than belief except repulsing an enemy who is attacking religion and life." On that basis, and in compliance with God's order, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims:

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."

Our shrub was intent on war with Iraq rather than the people who attacked us. There was NO al-Qaeda in Iraq before the 2003 invasion. While it's unclear exactly where bin Laden is now, it certainly isn't in Iraq.

Osama couldn't have had a better ally than our shrub. If we had a sensible president, every resource available would be in pursuit of bin Laden and al-Qaeda. He should have been killed or captured years ago.

Bin Laden's al-Qaeda was, and is, a real threat. Richard Clarke understood this, and tried to warn our shrub, without success. The media likes to portray bin Laden as a cave dwelling madman, but the reality is more dangerous. He's a wealthy, well educated, fanatic. He has been very clear about stating his goals and how he plans to achieve them.

Our leadership has failed miserably. Rather than counter the real threat, they have created countless new threats.

We deserve better.

Added: The CIA now claims to have a copy of the tape, and that they're analyzing it:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has obtained a copy of a purported new videotape of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and is studying it, U.S. officials said on Friday."We can confirm that the U.S. government has the video and it is being analyzed," one official said on condition of anonymity.

One clue they should look at is the apparent lack of grey in bin Laden's beard. It's a common Arabic practice to use hair dye to cover grey, and this could be a sign that he's in a more civilized area than he was in the recent past.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Chupacabra

Do they exist? It made for a great debate in the bar.

A rancher from the South Texas town of Cuero is telling a chupacabra tale, and she says she has the evidence in her freezer.

Is it a chupacabra or a grey fox?

Phylis Canion says the animal had been lurking around her ranch for years.

She said it first snatched cats, then chickens right through a wire cage.

“[It] opened it reached in pulled the chicken head out, sucked all the blood out, left the chicken in the cage,” she said.

Canion says two dozen chickens were sucked dry. The meat, she says, was left on the bone.

Neighbors speculate the blue-colored animal that was doing all that damage was a chupacabra. The name is translated from Spanish and means goat-sucker because the creature sucks the blood of livestock.

Canion says not one, but three chupacabras were spotted outside the town in recent days. All of them, she says, were blue-skinned, had no hair and had strange teeth.

Fun little story, if you ask me. Much more fun than nukes flying around the country.

My New Iraq Post

That's all.
Or not. Added:

"The terrorists and the Baathists loyal to the old regime will fail because America and our allies have a strategy, and our strategy is working."
President Bush
November 1, 2003

"Our strategy is working."
Vice President Cheney
September 28, 2004

"That's our strategy. And it is working and it is going to work, for the good of the country."
President Bush
June 24, 2005

"Our strategy is working."
White House's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq"
November 30, 2005

"This approach is working."
President Bush
December 7, 2005

"It is a concrete example of how our strategy is working."
Frm. White House spokesman Scott McClellan
March 20, 2006

"It took time to understand and adjust to the brutality of the enemy in Iraq. Yet the strategy is working."
President Bush
March 20, 2006

I don't know how many more times I can hear the same crap without screaming.

Football Season

Starts tonight. Which is good. I need the distraction.

Morning News

Reading the morning news over coffee, I get this cheery little piece:

Generations have praised the wisdom of getting up early in the morning, but a Japanese study says early-risers are actually at a higher risk of developing heart problems.

The study, conducted by researchers from several universities and hospitals in the western Japanese city of Kyoto, revealed a link between wake-up times and a person's cardiovascular condition.

"Rising early to go to work or exercise might not be beneficial to health, but rather a risk for vascular diseases," said an abstract of the study.;_ylt=AsF92L8ZCbGXkD24__2H4nOGOrgF

I'm a morning person, waking around 6:00 am most days, and I have high blood pressure (currently well under control by medication). Some days, I shouldn't read the news.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


One of the most gut-wrenching Iraqi blogs was Riverbend, but she had not posted since April when she announced that she, with her family, would be leaving Iraq. Today she's posted about her journey into exile:
We waited… and waited… and waited. It was decided we would leave mid to late June- examinations would be over and as we were planning to leave with my aunt and her two children- that was the time considered most convenient for all involved. The day we finally appointed as THE DAY, we woke up to an explosion not 2 km away and a curfew. The trip was postponed a week. The night before we were scheduled to travel, the driver who owned the GMC that would take us to the border excused himself from the trip- his brother had been killed in a shooting. Once again, it was postponed.

There was one point, during the final days of June, where I simply sat on my packed suitcase and cried. By early July, I was convinced we would never leave. I was sure the Iraqi border was as far away, for me, as the borders of Alaska. It had taken us well over two months to decide to leave by car instead of by plane. It had taken us yet another month to settle on Syria as opposed to Jordan. How long would it take us to reschedule leaving?

This is the human side of our occupation of Iraq. Imagine the feeling of leaving behind almost everything because it's too dangerous to stay.
The last few hours in the house were a blur. It was time to go and I went from room to room saying goodbye to everything. I said goodbye to my desk- the one I’d used all through high school and college. I said goodbye to the curtains and the bed and the couch. I said goodbye to the armchair E. and I broke when we were younger. I said goodbye to the big table over which we’d gathered for meals and to do homework. I said goodbye to the ghosts of the framed pictures that once hung on the walls, because the pictures have long since been taken down and stored away- but I knew just what hung where. I said goodbye to the silly board games we inevitably fought over- the Arabic Monopoly with the missing cards and money that no one had the heart to throw away.

I knew then as I know now that these were all just items- people are so much more important. Still, a house is like a museum in that it tells a certain history. You look at a cup or stuffed toy and a chapter of memories opens up before your very eyes. It suddenly hit me that I wanted to leave so much less than I thought I did.

Ignore the White House spin and the fornicating "Petreaus" report. This is what our shrub has created.

As we crossed the border and saw the last of the Iraqi flags, the tears began again. The car was silent except for the prattling of the driver who was telling us stories of escapades he had while crossing the border. I sneaked a look at my mother sitting beside me and her tears were flowing as well. There was simply nothing to say as we left Iraq. I wanted to sob, but I didn’t want to seem like a baby. I didn’t want the driver to think I was ungrateful for the chance to leave what had become a hellish place over the last four and a half years.

The Syrian border was almost equally packed, but the environment was more relaxed. People were getting out of their cars and stretching. Some of them recognized each other and waved or shared woeful stories or comments through the windows of the cars. Most importantly, we were all equal. Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds… we were all equal in front of the Syrian border personnel.

We were all refugees- rich or poor. And refugees all look the same- there’s a unique expression you’ll find on their faces- relief, mixed with sorrow, tinged with apprehension. The faces almost all look the same.

The first minutes after passing the border were overwhelming. Overwhelming relief
and overwhelming sadness… How is it that only a stretch of several kilometers and maybe twenty minutes, so firmly segregates life from death?

How is it that a border no one can see or touch stands between car bombs, militias, death squads and… peace, safety? It’s difficult to believe- even now. I sit here and write this and wonder why I can’t hear the explosions.

Please read the whole thing. Some of you may want to keep a box of tissues handy.

Finding the Obvious

Sometimes the media manages to see the obvious:

DES MOINES, Iowa — A year before they choose a new government for the post-Bush era, Americans are desperate to change the country's course.

According to opinion polls and interviews with political experts and voters, the U.S. population is more liberal than at any time in a generation, hungering to end the Iraq war, turn inward and use the federal government to solve problems at home.

Still, polling indicates, some want to turn farther right, demanding that the country fence off its Southern border, expel illegal immigrants and rein in a federal government grown fat under a Republican government they now dismiss as incompetent.

The surveys point to one thing almost all Americans tend to agree on: They're deeply unhappy with the way things are going in the United States and eager to move on. There's virtually no appetite to extend the Bush era, as there was at the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency in 1988 or Bill Clinton's in 2000.

  • Just 1 in 5 Americans think the country is going in the right direction, the worst outlook since the Reagan-Bush era ended in 1992.

  • Less than one-third of Americans like the way the current President Bush is handling his job, among the lowest ratings in half a century. The people had similarly dismal opinions just before they ended the Jimmy Carter era in 1980, the Kennedy-Johnson years in 1968 and the Roosevelt-Truman era in 1952.

  • The ranks of people who want the government to help the poor have risen sharply since the early 1990s — dramatically among independents, but even among Republicans.


Iowa isn't happy? Glad that you noticed. America isn't happy. They shouldn't be.

Added: Then I read this:

From CNN: "Men Want Hot Women, Study Confirms"

Amazing. I never would have guessed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Married to a Bad Idea

When I got divorced, my now ex-wife said "I guess I got married to a bad idea". In a way that was true. She thought I would grow into someone else. We were married as a couple of hippies, where our reception was held at the Dylan and Dead show in Eugene. When we divorced, she was a yuppie who asked me "when are you going to grow up?". I still love camping, river running, and "rock 'n roll", so I'm not a "grown up".
We reached the conclusion that divorcing each other was the only answer that we both could live happily with.
The rethugs are married to a bad idea in Iraq. Nothing they can do will lead to a positive outcome. The parties involved have grown too far apart. It's time for a divorce.

Congress is back

Here's the contact info, just in case you have something on your mind that you'd like to share with them.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Demolition Derby Report

A quick follow up on my post last Wednesday. My friend "A", fresh back from Fallujah, entered our local demolition derby at the county fair. In the first round on Saturday, he didn't last very long. The battery in the car exploded in the first minutes.
Which meant he was able to compete in Sunday's "mechanics derby" where cars that broke down in the first round compete after being repaired.
He won. It wasn't even close.
When I asked "A" about it, he said "piece of cake. A lot easier than dodging IED's".

Where's the Parade?

Our shrub makes a "surprise" visit to Iraq, where he was greeted with flowers and a spontaneous parade of Iraqi's grateful for their liberation. Or not.
Although Bush has touted the substantial political and security progress made in Anbar province, he was not scheduled to leave the security of the base to see those changes first hand.

"He is on a tight timeline," said Gen. Doug Lute, a deputy national security adviser, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We didn't really approach it like he is going to leave the base."

it does invite mockery

Of course, the PR spin will highlight "progress". Sayeth the shrub:

President Bush, after hearing from top U.S. and Iraqi leaders, said Monday that some U.S. troops could be sent home if security conditions across Iraq continue to improve as they have in this former hotbed of Sunni insurgency.

But the president, flanked by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, did not say how many troops could be withdrawn or how soon.

Bush spoke after hearing from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker, who are testifying to Congress next week assessing the president's troop buildup.

"Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we're now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces," Bush said.;_ylt=ApkXJAwU.8gd4b5NfcsTqCgUewgF

Does anybody believe this shit anymore?

It is unbelievable that for four years, the White House has been able to spin secret visits to Iraq as happy happy fun fun "surprise" visits, when in fact, they have secret
because Iraq is too dangerous for normal visits.

Smell the progress.

And the media laps it up.

Happy Labor Day


As we spend a day celebrating the American worker and the union movement, it's hard to feel optimistic. The workers are getting screwed:

American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more per person over the year.

They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a U.N. report released Monday, which said the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.”

The average U.S. worker produces $63,885 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries, the International Labor Organization said in its report. Ireland comes in second at $55,986, followed by Luxembourg at $55,641, Belgium at $55,235 and France at $54,609.

The U.S. employee put in an average 1,804 hours of work in 2006, the report said. That compared with 1,407.1 hours for the Norwegian worker and 1,564.4 for the French. Keep working, America!

I admit that I have mixed feelings about unions. Not the idea of unions; I think that the principle of worker unions is a good idea. But the reality of current unions don't match those principles. I've only had one union job in my life, so I'm not exactly an expert here, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. The union seemed much more dedicated to perpetuating their own bureaucracy than actually helping workers, and were only too willing to "compromise" when negotiating contracts. I never thought that I got much for the dues I paid.
The real problem for workers is the philosophy behind our current corporate capitalist system. Today, the emphasis is on showing good quarterly profits to the shareholders. This means that "expenses" (like wages) must be kept to a minimum. Long term investment is no longer rewarded in America. Instead, the short term numbers are what matters. CEO's are routinely given huge salaries for dismantling companies, laying off employees, cutting pensions and benefits, and generally screwing workers. Outsourcing everything possible is the fast track to large bonuses. It's a climate where workers are seen as a disposable commodity.
Unfortunately, modern unions lack the strength or will to fight back.
It feels like an ironic black comedy to say "happy labor day". Labor is not happy.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Bathroom Spider

It's Sunday, and I'm not motivated to blog much. But the spider in the bathroom window deserves a mention. There is a brown spider, about the size of a half-dollar, who's made his/her home in the corner of my bathroom window. I'm cool with spiders (heck, I had a couple of pet tarantulas when I was a teenager), so I let him/her be. But one of my housemates is less tolerant. He's tried to wipe out said spider several times. It's become a source of entertainment for me. The web is gone most evenings, and back each morning. Time will tell who is more persistent.