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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Still more poor response to Katrina.

WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the U.S. official with the power to order a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina, flew to Atlanta for a previously scheduled briefing on avian flu on the morning after the storm swept ashore.

Chertoff's decision to fly to Georgia for a business-as-usual briefing even as residents in New Orleans fought for their lives in rising floodwaters raises new questions about how much top officials knew about what was happening on the Gulf Coast and how focused they were on the unfolding tragedy.

In fact, Chertoff didn't know for sure that New Orleans' life-preserving levees had failed until a full day had passed.

And, by the way, I heard this off one of the news shows, Olberman, maybe. Apparently on the Saturday before Katrina, two days before this trip, while FEMA people were working to prepare, Chertoff was "working from home." This was followed by the inclusion that he had been in contact with the planning group "several times."

UPDATE: Here's a CNN mention Confirming Chertoff at home.

Chertoff worked from home the day Bosner first warned of the hurricane's catastrophic potential for New Orleans, CNN's Tom Foreman reported.


Just more poor response to Katrina

WASHINGTON - Two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, President Bush went on national television to announce a massive federal rescue and relief effort.

But orders to move didn't reach key active military units for another three days.

Once they received them, it took just eight hours for 3,600 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi with vital search-and-rescue helicopters. Another 2,500 soon followed from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

And good riddance....

90th Space Wing Public Affairs

9/16/2005 - F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. (AFPN) -- The era of the Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile, often credited with helping end the Cold War, is coming to its own close Sept. 19 with the final phase of the deactivation process.

And notice the title. Space warfare is illegal under international treaty.

More "notes from Paris"

As I said, a friend just got back from a trip to Paris when the Katrina relief failure was at it's worst, and I, apparently like many others, asked him what the "feel" is over there towards America. Let me say, that I wasn't interested in France particularly, just any first world, literate, non-english speaking country. Pretty much just wanted to see what the opinion was in a country with it's own robust press that didn't just reorganize AP stories.

Here is his response.

Having recently returned from Paris, I could write a broad article on views of the U.S. from elsewhere, but I'm going to focus on what has struck me most: A particular reaction I've repeatedly received here at home to part of my answer to the question: What do they think over there?
I've been amazed at how defensive people become when, in particular, I mention that many folks in the rest of the civilized world no longer have a great deal of faith in our election process. Some of the brightest folks I know, when told this, reacted very defensively, noting that the French system has significant issues, that Florida in 2000 was an aberration, etc., etc. You're missing the boat, folks. I don't care about any of that. Let me dissect may way to the point:
- First, these weren't solely French citizens, but folks from all over the the world who speak French and prefer to be Paris in September than at the U.S. Open.
- Second, I can't see any reason why would one bother to ask what "they" think "over there" unless one assumed "they" might have an opinion. That granted, when folks hear the rest of the world doesn't agree with their own views, I'm stunned that they want to argue with me about the subjective opinions I've relayed. Why?
- Finally, those who claim to disagree with "me," again, don't get it. I'm intentionally making no personal comment about what I think of our election process. I'm simply observing, unscientifically that, almost to a person (I'm guessing about 50 political conversations), those I spoke to from France and elsewhere were individuals who have long considered us a model of democracy and fair elections -- but no longer do so.
That's the rub and the point to be taken here. If you ask why they feel this way (again, no claims being made that this is a scientific poll), most responded that they found it difficult to believe that the American people -- or any free people -- would have legitimately re-elected our current President given all that had transpired during the first term.
Perhaps others can gloss over this point. If I'd heard it from a few on the fringe, I could, too. But this was a consistent message. It doesn't matter whether you like Bush or hate Bush. It doesn't matter if you're for the Iraq war or against it, for or against gay marriage and on and on and on. The view I heard was, and I repeat and paraphrase for simplicity: Most simply cannot believe that any free people would have legitimately re-elected our current President. Those are extremely strong words from the mouths of the educated.
So, believe the rest of the world is filled with idiots and that isolationism remains viable in the modern age. Think that U.S. political, economic and military might gives us an eternal free pass on all things worldly. Think whatever you want. That won't change the fact that almost half the people right here at home and almost all the people everywhere else in the world viewed the re-election of George W. Bush with shock, dismay, disbelief and horror and a creeping sense that something is very rotten in our little State of Denmark.
The point I've been leading up to, my friends, is simply this. Regarding our current leader, either the huge majority of the planet is right -- or a tiny, tiny minority of people, almost all of whom reside in the comfort of the U.S.A., are wrong.
Those who rush to argue with me about foreign opinions I've heard and conveyed honestly make me feel like they're desperately insisting on one thing:
Whatever the throngs may be screaming, the emporer does so have clothes.
You take it from there.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Oh my god. Bush admin just doesn't get it.

This from Brian Williams blog. Yes, that Brian Williams, the NBC news anchor, so this ain't just partisan slinging.

I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly News that we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans. It's enough to make some of the folks here who witnessed it... jump to certain conclusions.

Wanna see something really scary?

I was looking for a new business sim/empire builder game, and I came across this.

That's right, Prison Tycoon. Run your own prison. Here's the blurb from the publisher's site.

Private prisons have become the new growth industry. You will construct and run an efficient rehabilitation facility with nothing but money on your mind. There's no escaping under your watchful eye as you oversee every detail of prison life.

And notice the guard beating the guy on the ground in the second picture. I assume there's a setting for that.

Lit online

I was looking for an Upton Sinclair quote and came across this site which has a whole bunch of complete text classic literature. Just putting the link in because from time to time I want to quickly check something and I figure I'm not alone in that.


If the US goes into Iran, it's going alone.

After being tied down in Iraq, and the horrible catastrophe of Katrina, there is increasingly little support and less logistical capability, to militarily go after Iran. That is probably why the Pentagon planning document suggesting that the use of Nuke weapons on WMD sites was leaked, to give Iran the belief that we might be able to do something militarily to stop them. But it's looking very likely that the US will not even be able to bring Iran before the security council.

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 15 -- Despite an intense lobbying effort at the most senior levels, the Bush administration failed to persuade three key countries Thursday to back the United States in pressuring Iran to give up sensitive aspects of its nuclear energy program, diplomats and officials said.

Russia, China and India either publicly or privately turned down U.S. requests to help report Iran's case next week to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose economic sanctions or an oil embargo.

And the hunger strike at Guantanamo goes on

Just throwing this in, because it is getting so little play in the US press. And see the "Double Standard" post from yesterday for a little context.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A hunger strike at the U.S. prison for terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has grown to its largest point since detainees began their latest protest more than a month ago, a military official said Thursday.

After 11 detainees joined the protest overnight, there are now 131 taking part in the hunger strike, said Maj. Jeff Weir, a spokesman for the detention center.

Twenty-one of the striking prisoners were hospitalized in stable condition at the prison medical clinic, including 20 who were being tube-fed, Weir said.

Two quick notes - 1. The US army considers it a hunger strike if someone misses 9 meals in a row, and 2. Note that the byline is Puerto Rico, reporters are not allowed to actually see the hunger strikers.

Hugo. Hugo. Hugo.

Hugo Chavez addressed the UN global summit. I admire Chavez's fearlessness. I guess once the US tried to overthrow him, and he was popularly restored to power, once he gained evidence, beyond Pat Robertson's rant, that he believes proves the US at least had plans to assassinate him, and once he realized that he and his party are set to comfortably win the next election, he has come to the conclusion that he has nothing left to fear. His time may be limited, (see Trujillo) but no matter what he says, the oil transactions between the US and Venezuela will continue. And I admire that fearlessness and find it strangely endearing.

And, I genuinely think that he really is doing the best he can for the poor people in his country unlike so many second world leaders.

So without further ado, I give you .... Crazy Hugo addressing the UN.
(and by the way, note the mention of applause which is generally polite and tepid at these things.)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took President Bush to task in front of a global summit for waging war in Iraq without U.N. consent and won rousing applause for his critique. .....

"There were never weapons of mass destruction but Iraq was bombed, and over U.N. objections, (it was) occupied and continues being occupied," Chavez said. Bush alleged that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction but none have been found, shattering one of his main arguments for going to war. .......

Bush was not in the audience when Chavez spoke to the world representatives. But the U.S. president did address the summit's the opening session on Wednesday morning, then returned to Washington later that day.

World leaders at the summit had been asked to speak for five minutes but Chavez ran long and when the presiding diplomat passed him a note saying his time was up, he threw it on the floor. He said if Bush could speak for 20 minutes, so could he.

When he finally stopped, he got what observers said was the loudest applause of the summit. .....

In early August, Chavez accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of using its agents in Venezuela for espionage, and said Venezuela was suspending cooperation with the agency. The Bush administration denied the espionage charge.

Chavez, whose country is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, also warned the world is facing an unprecedented energy crisis.

He told reporters later the crisis will keep growing, "not because we the producers want it but because we are running out of oil."

Chavez singled out the United States as the most wasteful country, saying he was shocked when a quarter of all the cars he counted Thursday morning on New York streets had one person in them.

"That's crazy, one person with a huge car ... that is using up gas and polluting the atmosphere," he said at a news conference. "The world cannot tolerate this model of development called the American way of life."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Is that a statue of Andrew Jackson? Yes, but it don't matter

Scrap everything. It is an Andrew Jackson statue not confed general " Stonewall Jackson." I hope you'll forgive my mistake.

But, in my defense, I gotta say this, FEMA thought it was "Stonewall" Jackson, too.

Course if I'm measuring my competence by theirs ......

Came across this in a search.

Truehill recalled that FEMA officials showed the gathering a computer simulation, called a slosh model, predicting floodwaters rising to the horse's hoofs of Gen. Stonewall Jackson's statue in the French Quarter.

The double standard meter just blew up

The U.S. mission in Asmara(Eritrea) would not confirm or deny the latest arrests. A spokesman added that the two employees(Eritreans) arrested in 2001 were still being held without charge despite Washington's repeated demands for their release or trial.

And as for the Eritrean guy held at Guantanamo? No release, No trial. That metallic sproinging sound you hear is the double standard meter exploding in it's own astonishment.

And just to put the meter out of it's misery, there's this from Reuters.

Iraq's justice minister has condemned the U.S. military for detaining thousands of Iraqis for long periods without charge and wants to change a U.N. resolution that gives foreign troops immunity from Iraqi law.

***And while we're on double standards, can you tell me why Pakistan directly supplying arms, support, and harboring terrorists in relation to Kashmir is any different than Iran doing the same thing with Palestine?

Our Afghan strategy let Bin Laden escape.

(accidentally typed Bin Ledeen in the title. Pretty funny slip.)

Ran across this twice today, so gonna throw it up 'cause it is pretty big news. Think back to the strategy we employed in Afghanistan. Very few US forces(possibly because they were being held out so that they could go to Iraq,) helping provide tactics and air support for the guerilla warlords who were willing to work for the US. If we'd had significant US troops at Tora Bora is it possible that we could have captured Bin Laden? - Sure, but then why would we have to go into Iraq. Not that I'm alleging anything here.

KABUL (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden was provided safe passage to Pakistan in 2001 by Afghan commanders paid by al Qaeda and sympathetic to its cause, a senior Afghan official told Reuters on Wednesday.

And while I'm in the general area, the quite obvious civil war between the Sunni and Shia in Iraq seems to be becoming more formalized. With Iran offering support to the Shia, how long will the Sunni nations and populations stand down? Is this civil war going to become a hot war involving other middle eastern nations? Qui Bono? Oh, you know who.

Bush is my hero.

Nothing makes me love a president more than deficit spending my future earnings for partisan political purposes.

Part of an entry from Josh Marshall:

From here down is all Josh Marshall:

This worries me. Note the added emphasis. The clip comes from a piece in tomorrow's Post about yet another huge funding bill the president will roll out tomorrow for Katrina aid, which the Post says will cost more next year than the entire cost of the Iraq war thus far ...

Bush and Republican congressional leaders, by contrast, are calculating that the U.S. economy can safely absorb a sharp spike in spending and budget deficits, and that the only way to regain public confidence after the stumbling early response to the disaster is to spend whatever it takes to rebuild the region and help Katrina's victims get back on their feet.

Regain public confidence in who? Is the nation undergoing a crisis of confidence in itself?

Put that passage together with this one in Mike Allen's piece in the Time and I think you see where we're going ...

By late last week, Administration aides were describing a three-part comeback plan. The first: Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later. "Nothing can salve the wounds like money," said an official who helped develop the strategy.

What's driving this budgetary push is not a natural disaster but a political crisis, the president's political crisis. The White House is trying to undo self-inflicted political damage on the national dime.

Two stories on New Orleans

If for some reason you want a lot of detail about what went down at the NO Convention Center, the WaPo has a pretty big piece on it. But I gotta warn you, it's pretty rough reading.

Second, Michael Brown tries to explain himself and blame Gov. Blanco in a NYTimes interview, but ends up pointing out further Bush administration inaction.

But Mr. Brown's account, in which he described making "a blur of calls" all week to Mr. Chertoff, Mr. Card and Mr. Hagin, suggested that Mr. Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly by the top federal official at the scene that state and local authorities were overwhelmed and that the overall response was going badly.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Bush at the UN today.

NBC/WSJ poll pegged Bush approval at 40%, the lowest he has ever hit in this poll which has traditionally been about 2-3 points higher than most.

But more tellingly,

Approve: 37%
Disapprove: 58%

Troop Level:
Maintain: 36%
Reduce: 55%

75% say the US is not prepared for a WMD attack

How should Katrina reconstruction be funded?

Reduced Iraq spending: 45%
Repeal tax cuts: 27%
Cut federal spending: 12%
Increase the Deficit: 8%
Raise income taxes: 7%

I guess Colin Powell couldn't be brought in for this one.

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 -- With an hour-long slide show that blends satellite imagery with disquieting assumptions about Iran's nuclear energy program, Bush administration officials have been trying to convince allies that Tehran is on a fast track toward nuclear weapons.

The PowerPoint briefing, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries. Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts.

Sound Familiar?

Bush doesn't care about black people

Not true Kanye. Bush cares alot about black people. He cares about them so much that he is getting his Education Secretary to set up special classes for them.

“SEPARATE BUT EQUAL” EDUCATION: The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings will ask Congress to waive a federal law that bans educational segregation for homeless children. The Bush administration is arguing, along with states like Utah and Texas, that providing schooling for evacuees – who, in this case, are likened to homeless children — will be disruptive to public school systems, so they want to have sound legal backing for creating separate educational facilities for the 372,000 schoolchildren displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The State of Mississippi is opposed to waiving the Act because they argue the law helps evacuees enroll in schools without red tape. [WSJ, “Schooling Evacuees Provokes Debate,” 9/14/05]

And if you don't think this involves race, You're an idiot.

And I can't verify the source/interpretation of this story because WSJ is behind a pay wall and bugmenot.com doesn't have an active name/pass. If you have a subscription, please search this story then post in comments.

Thanks Mike

A pattern of neglect

First, this is old, 9 months, a year, a third hand clip from the Nelson report, kinda rumory, sometimes right.

There is rising concern amongst senior officials that President Bush does not grasp the increasingly grim reality of the security situation in Iraq because he refuses to listen to that type of information. Our sources say that attempts to brief Bush on various grim realities have been personally rebuffed by the President, who actually says that he does not want to hear "bad news."

Rather, Bush makes clear that all he wants are progress reports, where they exist, and those facts which seem to support his declared mission in Iraq...building democracy. "That's all he wants to hear about," we have been told. So "in" are the latest totals on school openings, and "out" are reports from senior US military commanders (and those intelligence experts still on the job) that they see an insurgency becoming increasingly effective, and their projection that "it will just get worse."

Our sources are firm in that they conclude this "good news only" directive comes from Bush himself; that is, it is not a trap or cocoon thrown around the President by National Security Advisor Rice, Vice President Cheney, and DOD Secretary Rumsfeld. In any event, whether self-imposed, or due to manipulation by irresponsible subordinates, the information/intelligence vacuum at the highest levels of the White House increasingly frightens those officials interested in objective assessment, and not just selling a political message.

Now, compare and contrast with this Newsweek depiction on Katrina.

Sept. 19, 2005 issue - It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.

Is it any wonder we're in the messes(plural) we're in? All Bush wants to hear is how well he's doing. It makes me wonder where we would be in Iraq, Katrina, the economy, Guantanamo, etc if we'd had a fully realized president.

If only his relationship with his father had been better...........

Michael Brown a scapegoat?

As bad as it is for the Bush admin that the FEMA director was unqualified/incompetent, how much more significant is it that the Homeland Security Director made incompetent mistakes in the "we'll keep you safe" administration. Knight Ridder has the goods.

WASHINGTON - The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show. ........

But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

The Left Coaster has a far more complete discussion with a far better analysis. They draw the link right up the chain to the White House. Click this para for a more thorough analysis.

Pipelines before hospitals

There's been an undercurrent topic on several of the left blogs about a decision made in Mississippi to task power/electrical workers to return power to the Colonial Pipeline which supplies gasoline to a fair portion of the southeast. The part of the decision which has been highlighted is that in order to do this, power company workers were tasked away from restoring power to hospitals for a day or two, and in one case had to cut power to a working hospital for 24 hours.

I didn't make much of it as it seems a priority choice despite the inflammatory hospitals edge.

But there's something VERY interesting in all this that Josh Marshall found in the coverage of this decision.
Dan Jordan, manager of Southern Pines Electric Power Association, said Vice President Dick Cheney's office called and left voice mails twice shortly after the storm struck, saying the Collins substations needed power restored immediately.
And Marshall's comments:

Cheney's office wouldn't talk. They referred the reporter to DHS. And they wouldn't talk either. .....

This is also pretty early in the crisis, August 30th, the day after the storm hit. The Veep's office seemed really proactive about getting that pipeline flowing again. I trust it won't seem too persnickety to note a certain contrast between the urgency of this response and that to the rest of the crisis in the region?

Okay, just for debate, I think that maybe that pipeline was pretty damned important in the national recovery from Katrina. But don't you find the intervention of the Vice President's office, around any and all established disaster chains of command, into a local power company interesting?

No one could have forseen 9-11

Remember Condi Rice, no one could have forseen Al Queada slamming planes into buildings.

Add that to the list of lies.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 - American aviation officials were warned as early as 1998 that Al Qaeda could "seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark," according to previously secret portions of a report prepared last year by the Sept. 11 commission. The officials also realized months before the Sept. 11 attacks that two of the three airports used in the hijackings had suffered repeated security lapses.

Cause after all, the FAA gets so much better intelligence than the head of the National Security Council.

And there's more. (all of this was information redacted by the Bush Admin when they edited the 9-11 commission report for release. Hmmm.... before an election, I wonder why they would do that....)

Much of the material now restored in the public version of the commission's report centered on the warnings the F.A.A. received about the threat of hijackings, including 52 intelligence documents in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks that mentioned Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.

Mike's battle over the pledge of allegiance

The pledge of allegiance has been barred from schools as unconstitutional for the reference to god.

Maybe, maybe not, but I don't want to argue that. Although, I always found the scheduled and forced utterance of a loyalty oath kind of creepy.

My battle with the pledge of allegiance was perhaps the first critical moment in my political consciousness, the first moment when I realized that adults and the society they lived in, and the actions they proscribed for me, might be fundamentally flawed.

A short version of the story.

I was in seventh grade, it was 1981. All through elementary school, we had been prompted to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. Then in junior high the process was repeated. Morning announcements and then we stood, faced the flag and recited the pledge of allegiance. I had done this without thinking along with everyone else for all those years, until one day when I stood, I just didn't feel like saying it, so I just stood there, kind of half mouthing it so that I wouldn't get into trouble. This continued for about a week, and during this time, I slowly began to look around at the other kids, not at the flag as instructed, and just kind of watched them. Mostly, they just stood and looked bored. And somehow, in a flash, it struck me just how odd this whole process was, forcing children to stand everyday and pledge their fealty to a piece of cloth, and to the republic.

Something inside my head changed in that moment. There was nothing in my history that would've indicated this, an "A" student, a well known rule follower and teacher's pet, suddenly, I was against the system. Somehow, it just seemed wrong that I was being forced to stand and take the pledge. Now, I gotta say, that I really had nothing against the pledge itself, merely the creepy process by which it was being forced on us. So I made up my mind.

The next day, I stood, not putting my hand on my heart, not even mouthing the words. I got a glance and a gesture to put my hand up from the girl who sat next to me, and a friend behind me gave me a little push on the shoulder and an emphatic eyebrow raise instructing me to join in. But I didn't.

It took three days for the teacher to notice which she followed with the same disaproving head nod indicating that I should put my hand up and join in. I looked away from her to the flag and thought about what all this must mean. She held me after class and asked me why I wasn't doing the pledge. The best I could manage was to try to explain to her that it just didn't feel right to be compelled to do it. In her most menacing voice, she told me to do it the next day. I didn't. In fact, I didn't even stand up. The stakes were raised, and the whole pledge process in the classroom broke down as everyone whispered about what I was, or perhaps better said, wasn't doing. I was sent to the principal's office.

After sitting there for the period, the teacher came in, explained the problem, me, to the principal, and then went back for her next class. You can guess the conversation. "Is there something wrong? Do you not like the pledge? You've always been such a good student." It went nowhere, because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to explain to them how creepy it seemed to me that we had to recite a loyalty oath every morning to whoever or whatever. I made it very clear that it was the compulsion that seemed wrong.

I'm gonna shorten the story cause this is getting longer than I intended. I was sent to the school counsellor who extensively interrogated me trying to figure out why this model student with perfect previous behavior was suddenly displaying this "aberrant and abnormal," his words, I remember them specifically, behavior. From the principal, I was threatened with discipline, staying after school, detention, etc. But they never did contact my parents, at least not that I know of, probably because they didn't want to open that can of worms.

Anyway, this went on for two and a half weeks or so, me sitting while everyone else stood reciting the pledge with their eyes flitting between me and the teacher who was decidedly not looking in my direction waiting for something to happen.

Finally, the principal called me in and gave me the "we can't force you" talk, this after weeks of threatening me with discipline specifically to try to force me. We came to the agreement that I would stand, so as not to disrupt too much, but was henceforth released from having to say the pledge. And that is how I continued through the rest of Junior High and High School(I assume there was a lengthy entry in my file). Some days I did say the pledge, and some days, I didn't. But I was happy because I had been freed of having to say the pledge. I had made my point that they couldn't force me to mouth words of belief. That my beliefs were mine.

And the really strange thing about all this, is that I didn't really have a problem with the pledge itself, as a thing, as a concept, or as an action. Something in my brain just popped one day and said, "they can't force me to think a certain way." And since then, I never have. And that has lead me on a politico-philosophical journey very different from most.

I can say without fear that I am unique, that my interpretation of the world is unique, and that I can explain and defend my understanding of the world because I had to arrive at it the hard way. I never believe what I'm told unless the facts or someone can explain why it is true.

I feel both truly sorry for, and envious of, those people who never seriously questioned what they were told be it in religion, in politics or in definition of self. Their lives have been much easier than mine, but they also believe the myths and fairytales they were told as true. I listen to people tell me they believe in the garden of eden and then they laugh at the equivalent Greek/Inca/Navaho/Aborignal creation myths as foolish because of course the real estate agent who lives next door to me happens to be smarter than all men of all other cultures throughout history. It must be empowering, but it is so obviously wrong. Which side would you want to live on.

Ingnorance is Strength.

So although I have no stringent opinion on whether or not God should be mentioned in the pledge, I do stand against the principle of making children recite the pledge at all. If your being forced to pledge a belief, whether or not religion is mentioned, you are still being forced to pledge.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Guantanamo hunger strike.

This is bigger than I thought.

A month-old hunger strike at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has grown to include at least 128 detainees, 18 of whom are forcibly receiving intravenous fluids or nutrition in the prison hospital, military officials and detainee lawyers said yesterday.

There are currently 520 nameless prisoners at Guantanamo.

Another proud "democratic" moment for Iraq and America

In the latest US military action in Tall Afar Iraq, many statistics were spewed out to show success. X number of insurgents killed(as in Vietnam, if they're killed, they're the enemy) and x number arrested.

Ever wonder how they determine who they pick up in the sweeps of all males 15-60 are "insurgents"? The WaPo gives a pretty good idea in this descriptive piece.

TALL AFAR, Iraq, Sept. 12 -- A masked teenager in an Iraqi army uniform walked slowly through a crowd of 400 detainees captured Monday, studying each face and rendering his verdict with a simple hand gesture, like a Roman emperor deciding the fate of gladiators.

A thumb pointed down meant the suspect was not thought to be an insurgent and would be released by U.S. soldiers. A thumb pointed up meant a man would be removed from the concertina wire-encased pen, handcuffed with tape or plastic ties and taken by truck to a military base to be interrogated. .......

By 8 a.m., nearly 400 people were assembled, squatting or seated in the dirt beside the road. Two of the men had bloodied faces and spots of red soaking through their green dishdashas.

"They tried to grab my father, and I said, 'He is old, you don't need to take him,' " said one of the men, whose upper lip and right ear were swollen and bleeding. "They hit us with their fists and their rifles."("they" refers to the Kurdish militia being used in this operation.)

Many of the men's hands were bound so tightly with plastic cuffs that their circulation was cut off, so U.S. soldiers cut the bindings and instead wrapped their hands with thick green tape.

(remember this as you read story after story of groups of men found dead in a pile with their hands bound.) ......

With a U.S. interpreter, he perused the crowd, pausing for less than two seconds to consider each man's fate. He never spoke a word aloud, only whispering occasionally to the interpreter.

After drawing out 52 suspects from the group, he spent longer assessing each of them in depth and providing more detailed information about their activities. He identified a man with a split lip and wearing a purple shirt and filthy white pants as "a beheader," saying he had killed at least 10 people.

"Cuts heads," Capt. Noah Hanners, leader of Blue Platoon in the 3rd ACR's Eagle Troop, wrote in blue marker on the man's forearm.

"You get treated special, buddy. Congratulations," Hanners said. ......

"Your source is not good, these are all innocent men," said a detainee wearing a gray dishdasha, who said he was a student in the city of Mosul, 40 miles to the east. "We are all Sunnis. That is why he chose us. He is Shia," he said, referring to the informant. ......

Before boarding trucks and returning to their base, the Kurdish soldiers lined up behind the detainees and posed for digital pictures. They threw packages of food and bottles of water to a large group of children assembled across the road, many of whose fathers had been detained.

Some children picked up the gifts, but several grabbed them and threw them at the departing army vehicles. One truck quickly stopped and a soldier got out and pointed his pistol at the children, causing them to scatter briefly, before he drove away. .....

"Another day of making friends," Hanners said, shaking his head.

Pull out now. Set a timetable and pull out in six months. Just get out of Iraq. We are not bringing Iraq up to democracy, we are going down. To me this echoes a bit of Vietnam, but more so of the Central American wars sponsored by Reagan/Bush the greater, and several policy making members of the current administration.

There were reports that Negroponte had developed and brought in the Salvador option. This is how they did it, only they exectued the men on the spot while the CIA personnel stood by. Again, referring to the piles of dead men found with their hands bound, I would wager that this is indeed going on when the WAPO reporters aren't invited along.

We're in another dirty war. God help us all.

Germany passes US in exports

This little tidbit came out during the horror phase of Katrina so I just filed it away. Thought I'd bring it out now.

Barely noticed, Germany has overtaken America to become the world's biggest single exporter, shipping the hardware that powers the rising economies of Asia and eastern Europe. Its trade surplus is now greater than that of China, Japan and India combined, reaching a staggering 16.8 billion euros in June alone. The profits made by German companies are running at over 33 per cent of national income, the highest in 40 years.

As an avowed "strong dollar" man, I would like to point out that the intentional weakening of the dollar has not substantially increased our exports, and has, in fact, substantially increased the cost of our imports. That, "lower the currency to increase the import/export ratio" Econ 101 theory doesn't really work when your trade gap is so huge. We have not rebalanced our trade with China, all we have done is increased the costs of our imports(including oil) which lowers the standard of living for the middle class and below.

As the Clinton policies demonstrated, a strong dollar draws in investments from the rest of the world, fleeing the insecure local currencies for the relatively stable dollar. This inflow of foreign capital draws in significant capital which is then invested in US businesses and assets. And this is a good thing, and should be a goal of monetary policy.

Beyond certain exporters, the only people who have really benefitted from the managed fall of the dollar are corporations who had been parking profits off shore, partly for tax reasons, who can now repatriate those profits at significantly lower tax rates thanks to Bush admin policies for significantly more US dollars. They're not by any means the only ones, but, as example, take a look at Halliburton and Bechtel.

Bush takes responsibility?

Bush Takes Responsibility for Blunders (AP)

I almost spit my drink at this one. I never ever thought I would see this headline.

And although this is news, there's a far more troubling buried lede in this story/mea culpa.

The president was asked whether people should be worried about the government's ability to handle another terrorist attack given failures in responding to Katrina.

"Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack? That's a very important question and it's in the national interest that we find out what went on so we can better respond," Bush replied.

4 years after 9-11, after a year and a half of campaigning on being the "security candidate," after 1896 American Soldiers dead in Iraq, 20,000 wounded, after running the largest deficits in history and adding roughly a trillion dollars to our national debt and all that we've been through,

This son of a bitch refuses to answer the question "Are we capable of dealing with a terror attack?"

*****Also, please notice that Bush made this claim of "responsibility" on the day that the Roberts hearings were being covered wall to wall by the news networks guaranteeing far less coverage than would have taken place just a day before or two afterward.

(the second story was pointed out by America Blog in this post.)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Kickin' Ass and Takin' Fuckin' Names

Gotta admit, I'm not a huge Sean Penn fan, and in his politics, sometimes his timing is pretty poor. But I may have to change my opinion. The Dude went into New Orleans when nobody else, even the feds, dared to. He took supplies in, and brought people out. No reason, no obligation. Just a sense of total outrage that the Bush administration had left the poor of New Orleans to fend for themselves. This picture was put in the NYPost and then up on Drudge to "horrify" the "wimpy, anti-gun, liberals. "

Well, you know what. This is what the Dems need. Enough with the stereo types. When people are in trouble, in we go. Risk or not. And if you wanna stop me you better get fuckin' ready.


(P.S. There are lots of other honorable mentions - Harry Connick, Jr. One of the Neville Bros. Eli and Payton Manning who also went in and should not be forgotten. But today we're talking about the Rifleman.)

Down the memory hole

And the turth is revised and the previous truth goes down the memory hole.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has quietly revised the official biography of its embattled director, Michael Brown, to correct an error about his background in local government following allegations he exaggerated his disaster relief experience. ........

Brown's biography on FEMA's Web site, www.fema.gov, was updated at just after 5 p.m. on Sunday to revise his title while working in local government in Edmond, Oklahoma, in the 1970s.

Just interesting

Kind of from left field, but interesting.

General (res.) Doron Almog, former head of the Israel Defense Forces' Southern Command, escaped arrest Sunday by the London police's anti-terrorist and war crimes unit, when he remained on an aircraft that had landed in Heathrow airport and returned with it to Israel several hours later.

Just how poor is our counter intelligence?

If the freakin' Fillipinos are successfully spying on us(the great world power that they are), just how poor is our counter intel?

An FBI intelligence analyst with top secret clearance was charged Monday with passing classified information about Filipino leaders to current and former officials of that nation.

Comments from Paris.

A friend of mine just returned from Paris. I asked him what was the general feeling there. Here is an abbreviated first response. Forgive the structure, but dude was worn out; he promised something more scholarly later.

I talked with a number of people at length, Muslim, Christian, French natives, tourists, etc., and found four common points... I thought the last one, by the way, was the most interesting:

- (As I've contended) No-one faulted the U.S. citizens for the 1st Bush regime. Who knew? But having re-elected him, we (as a nation) became complicit and forfeited the right to say our hands our washed clean of it all.

- They understand the country is split, although they do not begin to comprehend the division, not in terms of percentages, but in terms of the depth of the rift.

- They simply cannot fathom how religion is allowed to be played out so centrally on the political stage. They can't follow the hypocracy of our church/state separation lip service. That's one thing people misunderstand about the French.
Their belief in separation of church and state makes ours (or what's left of it) look pathetic.

- They feel sorry for us, almost like we felt sorry for the people of Iraq under Suddham Hussein (sp). They do not view our current system of elections (or governance) with a great deal of reverance, and suspect great corruption that "hoodwinks" the American populace -- if not outright rigs the voting.

Granted, I speak French. But I was in Paris, a New York sized city known for New York style rudeness (it ain't the French, folks.. it's huge cities). I did not encounter a single slight, a single example of rudeness, or a single critical remark aimed at my country unless I had initiated discussions and voiced my views -- and even then they were even-tempered and constructive. In my experience, Americans who complain of how badly they were treated abroad were generally acting, as so many sadly do, as the "ugly" American, demanding immediate service (that may not be the cultural norm) and that others should immediately understand their needs in a foreign language. Yeah. Like so many caucasion or even U.S. born hispanics have bothered to learn Spanish.

There were a number of books in the stores about understanding America, Americans, etc., and there is a real desire to do so.
A final quote from a Parisienne of the bourgois on the U.S. elections, the U.S. situation in general, terrorism and the general state of things: "Malheureusement, les betisement c'est la plus grand plague du monde" Translating the meaning as correctly (i.e., not word-for-word) as possible: "Sadly, stupidity is the world's greatest curse"

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Brilliant from Digby

Long post from Digby on the fourth Republican response to Katrina. It's old, it's ugly, and it was written by Pat Buchanon for the Nixon administration. Look at the maps, I think you can get the jist of it. Brilliant Blogging. Take a minute, it's worth it.

Surprising numbers

Well, not really surprising for the people who have been paying attention, but living down here among the Texas surburbanites, I'm surprised that the disapproval has seeped so deeply into those who aren't news junkies. We've all seen the approval ratings slide, but this is different. This is a big deal considering his whole reelection campaign was based on this number.

More critical to President Bush—and the GOP’s future as the nation’s majority party: most Americans, 52 percent, say they do not trust the president “to make the right decisions during a domestic crisis” (45 percent do). The numbers are exactly the same when the subject is trust of the president to make the right decisions during an international crisis.

Newsweek poll, so not the most rigorously scientific, but still a pretty big deal.

Couple of big interesting reads.

First, a WAPO timeline on Katrina.

Then a slamming Newsweek piece titled " How Bush blew it."

Sept. 19, 2005 issue - It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.

Then two really big pieces in the NYTimes.

One on the fiasco at Tora Bora that let Bin Laden get away.

And a second, analyzing a lack of success in the war on terror called Taking Stock of the Forever War

If you want detail on any of these situations, click the links, they are all very complete.

The compression of history

As you may know if you were reading this months ago, I've always been fascinated with the compression of history, how as time passes, events and people are distilled down to a paragraph or two. What is left in, and what is left out define history of this event. It's all kindof 1984.

An extreme example:

The trip comes on the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, an early crisis in the first Bush term that united the nation behind the president.

He was seen as decisive in the face of those attacks but four years later the White House was dealing with a natural disaster that has cost Bush support.

See, I don't remember Bush as decisive. I remember that awful day when he was flying around the country with the awkward statements from the Louisiana military base and one in Nebraska(?) It was not on the first day that he was "decisive."

Oh well, just an example of this phenomenon. And if you disagree with this consensus. you are left to argue your point.

I guess the bottom line is that there isn't a single history. It would be curious to see how the Romans or Lincoln would be presented if they'd had the plethora of voices preserved that we have in our current society.

Update: Here's another example from today, a whole article from the WaPo aying Sept. 11 commemoration will end up like Pearl Harbor day or Memorial day.

Decades ago, Davis couldn't imagine an era in which Dec. 7 wasn't seared on the collective consciousness. But year after year, the dwindling numbers attending the freezing-cold memorial services on that day tell him a different story.

I mean, what are the bare bones facts you know about Pearl Harbor and how does that effect your perception of that day, and , indeed, of US entry into WWII and the eventual bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. What if Roosevelt knew it was coming?(not much evidence, but some) That's not in the compressed history that validates the Nuking of two Japanese cities killing a quarter million.

This phenomena alters who we are, can be used to validate later actions. It is the power of the party in 1984, to alter history to change the future. Paraphrase. "Whoever controls the past controls the future. Whoever controls the present controls the past."