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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Picture of the Day - 3

George Bush's Gay Wedding.

Happy New Year, everybody. (Or do I have to say Merry New Year now?)

Be careful if you're out and about tonight. There are people like me out there.


Why even bother with the weak metaphor?

The Whitehouse sure got out the "brush clearing" message, the NYTimes and WaPo today both lead with it.

Obviously that's the metaphor that the administration wants to use as they attempt to set the agenda for next year's "fresh start" focused around the State of the Union speech. He's gonna focus on the economy and Iraq before the SOTU, but I just don't see how his message will get through.

Realistically, the following will or may occur during the weeks before the SOTU speech.
  1. We will get the year end summary articles on Iraq which will restate the casualty numbers and return the debate. Bush put the problem down, but not away.
  2. Abramoff will reach his plea deal and more details will come out.
  3. Delay will continue his defense in the TRMPAC case.
  4. Karl Rove will likely be indicted. Will the investigation continue?
  5. The Patriot act renewal will be revisited in the Senate.
  6. Alito confirmation hearings.
  7. Continued revelations and the stirrings of investigations in the NSA illegal spying.
  8. Iraq will either form a government or start their civil war in earnest.
  9. Congress will have to raise the debt level again.
  10. The beginnings of Republican congresspeople establishing independence from Bush before the 2006 midterms.
And this is just a list off the top of my head of the stuff we know about that's gonna happen in the next four weeks.

So, I would expect his poll numbers to be sliding again as he tries to present this "new" agenda. I just don't see how, with all of this going on, he's gonna be able to control the headlines. He will be spending all his time fighting "brush fires."

And if Rove gets indicted, as appears likely to me, all bets are off.

(also, just as a funny aside, the WaPo piece on "clearing brush" and the new agenda makes the point that our president likes starting fires. They sometimes save the piles of limbs so that he "can come home and do the honors himself.")

(And Duh! somehow I read right past it, Duke at Northland Liberal points out on that the WaPo story starts with this "On most of the 365 days he has enjoyed at his secluded ranch here." Bush has spent one freakin' year of his five in office at the ranch! And that doesn't even count the weekends at Camp David. You would think that with Iraq going to shit, somebody might be putting in a few hours, no?)

Picture of the Day - 2

Bush shaking hands with Uzbek president Karimov during a whitehouse visit.

A former British ambassador has published government documents he says prove that Britain knowingly received intelligence extracted under torture from prisoners in Uzbekistan.

Craig Murray, who was removed as ambassador to Uzbekistan after going public about his concerns, defied a Foreign Office ban to publish the internal memos on his Web site Friday.

(From Craig Murray's site) 15. At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.

TRMPAC may be the least of Delay's worries

Tom Delay has been doing everything within his power to hurry the TRMPAC case in Texas so that he can reclaim his position as leader of the House. Hastert and Blunt have even delayed reopening congress for two weeks, until Jan 31, to try to help him out. But it looks like he may soon view the TRMPAC case as a fond memory.
The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff......

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins. ....

the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda,....

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

And this is without Abramoff's testimony from the plea deal expected to be announced early next week. There is also mention of the sweatshop, (I'm sorry) textile companies paying a half million for Delay to block a vote.

It's a big article, I don't have the time to go through it all right now, but it looks like the WaPo has uncovered one of the slush funds in the pay for legislation scandal that is/was Abramoff.

But I will say again that compared to Plame, the Abramoff scandal is going to be great TV. Luxury items, big cash payouts, lavish trips and maybe dozens of lawmaker defendants all leaking to try to help their own cause. The interesting thing to me will be to what degree the disgust is attached to Republicans and to what degree it is attached to Congress as a whole.

And for something a little lighter....

This is the meanest joke I've seen played in awhile, but it's pretty damn funny. A little out of the blog's character, but I'm still laughing, so, here's the link. You just gotta watch the video.

Picture of the Day

Does anybody remember this guy? He was all the rage just a few years ago.

We know why the Bush administration stopped talking about him, but think for a minute, when was the last time you saw a news story on this guy.

The last thing I remember hearing was when Porter Goss said that he has an "excellent idea" where Osama bin Laden is hiding back in June 2005.

Nobody wanted to follow up on that?

Friday, December 30, 2005

US to attack Iran soon?

This has been bouncing around for about a month now, since Porter Goss's visit to Turkey(Dec. 12) where he met with Prime Minister Erdogan and also their intel chiefs. It has been alleged that he discussed possible military action against Iran in the near term.

The head of the CIA should be talking about possible actions with Iran's neighbors, and that in itself doesn't mean that an attack is imminent. However, Goss is making a pretty big show of this, going to Saudi, Pakistan, Jordan and Oman as well and making similar statements.

My gut tells me that this is just posturing, trying to get the message through to the Iranians that we are ready to strike in order to force them into accepting the current Russian enrichment offer. But I don't know.

I think such a strike against Iran at this time is pretty unlikely for three reasons. 1) The US, and Bush's presidency, is hanging by a thread in Iraq right now, and the meager hopes for a peaceful resolution would certainly be scuppered by creating a rift with the Iranians. 2) From what I've read, and I am not an expert on this, the likelihood is quite small of being able to significantly disable the Iranian nuclear program as it is now disbursed throughout the country and fortified in underground bunkers. 3) Iran has become one of China's main sources for oil, and in the US's current overextended geopolitical state, I would think that a political conflict with China could be a greater strategic loss.

The only really pro argument I can muster for immediate airstrikes would be if the Israelis were quietly threatening to really do it, not just talk about it for domestic political reasons.

I don't know, but since it's bouncing around and seemingly gaining some credence, so, I thought I'd throw it out for opinions.

Abramoff says "Happy New Year"

Looks like we're gonna start the new year off right. A status hearing on the deal is scheduled for 3:30 Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors and lawyers for Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff are putting the finishing touches on a plea deal that could be announced as early as Tuesday, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The plea agreement would secure the lobbyist's testimony against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients......

Abramoff's cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases against up to 20 lawmakers and their staff members.

So much for Bush resetting the agenda around the State of the Union speech. Also, has anybody else noticed that the "cases against" number keeps going up?

Whitehouse denies seeking NSA leak probe.

This is not surprising.
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about President Bush's secret domestic spying program.

But this is.
"The Justice Department undertook this action on its own, which is the way it should be," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said in Crawford, Texas, where the President was enjoying a year-end vacation on his ranch.

Anybody buying that?

AND, (unrelated) Chalabi as Iraqi oil minister? After garnering an impressive .89% of the Iraqi vote, not even enough for a seat in parliament, Chalabi lands as oil minister? The guy who is wanted for embezzlement in Jordan? Well, I guess he does have a reputation for getting the Americans to do anything he wants them to....

Picture of the Day - 2

Marines attending a memorial for Cpl. Michael Presley.

Lying again, this time on the budget.

Again? This is bad enough, but take a look at the short term history below the article.

Snow warned that even if the Treasury took "all available prudent and legal actions" to avoid breaching the ceiling, "we anticipate that we can finance government operations no longer than mid-March".

"Accordingly, I am writing to request that Congress raise the statutory debt limit as soon as possible."

The Republican-led Congress last voted to increase the debt limit in mid-November 2004, despite opposition from Democrats who demanded the free-spending federal government tighten its belt instead.

I was curious, so I looked back, and that previous debt increase, that was just thirteen months ago, was for a raise in the allowable debt by 800 Billion Dollars. They added $800 Billion in debt in just over a year!!!!!!

So, thinking that this $800 billion doesn't really gibe with the what I think I've heard from the Bushies, I went to the whitehouse site and found this from July 13, 2005.

Today, The Office Of Management And Budget Reported The FY2005 Budget Deficit Is Projected to Be $94 Billion Less Than Forecast Last February. At $333 billion, or 2.7 percent of GDP, it would be smaller than the deficits in 15 of the last 25 years as a percentage of GDP.

I do not present myself as a budget expert. I recognize that there my be items, like social security for instance, that may reflect the differences in these numbers. I just don't know enough to say. But damn, I can look at the addition of $800 Billion in debt in a little more than a year and recognize that something is horribly wrong.

Here goes the math compulsion again: 800 Billon into 300 million americans = $2,667 in additional debt added per person in a little more than a year. And that doesn't even count taxes you paid.

They are destroying my country more surely than if they were trying to do so. How much interest do you think will accrue on that $800 billion? What effect will that have on my interest rates? The value of the dollar? The future of my nieces and nephew?

The empire is bankrupt, both morally and financially. It is past its crest. Rational management would attempt to position the US for its future world role, to soften the inevitable landing.

This is how Russia died.

Impeachment will hang in the balance

Huge article on the front page of the WaPo on the whole panoply of questionably legal tactics the Bush administration has ordered from the CIA since 9-11. This article focuses solely on the actions taken by the CIA, so other programs like the NSA stuff are barely mentioned.

The "presidential powers during wartime" argument just got alot more significant, because if the Bush administration's argument does not meet legal muster, the president himself, according to actions outlined in this article, could be at the sharp end of hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal charges, although I doubt that it would ever reach that point.

But, this article states, fairly clearly from a knowledgeable and on record, named source, that Bush has been hip deep in all this, and seems to "relish... the dirty details." So, there is no plausible deniability.

Huge article. There's alot more here than I'm excerpting. Read it, read it, read it.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.....

"In the past, presidents set up buffers to distance themselves from covert action," said A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004. "But this president, who is breaking down the boundaries between covert action and conventional war, seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations." .....

In four years, the GST has become larger than the CIA's covert action programs in Afghanistan and Central America in the 1980s, according to current and former intelligence officials......

Bush delegated much of the day-to-day decision-making and the creation of individual components to then-CIA Director George J. Tenet, according to congressional and intelligence officials who were briefed on the finding at the time.....

Tenet, according to half a dozen former intelligence officials, delegated most of the decision making on lethal action to the CIA's Counterterrorist Center. .....

One way the White House limited debate over its program was to virtually shut out Congress during the early years. Congress, for its part, raised only weak and sporadic protests. The administration sometimes refused to give the committees charged with overseeing intelligence agencies the details they requested. It also cut the number of members of Congress routinely briefed on these matters, usually to four members -- the chairmen and ranking Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence panels.

So, authorized by presidential signature, based on questionable internal legal opinions, and hidden from oversight. If he doesn't have the legal power that he claims,....

Another great article from Dana Priest(also the author of the secret prisons story.) Sorry I left her off my list of honest journalists earler.

Picture of the Day

How many more?

As the cause is still in dispute after fourteen years, I have to wonder, how many more?

'Gulf War syndrome', a debilitating multi-symptom affliction identified in many soldiers after the 1991 conflict in Kuwait, is likely to strike US troops fighting in Iraq, a new study shows.

Vote for veteran's benefits every chance you get. They upheld their part of the bargain.

For the MSM, after all the media revelations.

Just a quick note to the "celebrity reporters" Woodward, Viveca Novak, Robert Novak, Judy Miller and the like. While you are selling out your ethics to go to the right parties and hang with the cool kids, afraid of even slightly offending your "sources," these guys are risking everything fighting for their ethics and their readers.

BEIJING - Reporters at a Beijing newspaper known for covering sensitive topics walked off the job after an editor was removed this week amid efforts to tighten press controls, employees said Friday.....

In June, it broke the story of an attack by armed men that killed six villagers who were protesting the seizure of land for a power plant near the northern city of Dingzhou. The government arrested more than 100 people and investigated two local Communist Party officials after the report was picked up by other Chinese outlets and foreign media.

And yes, despite some really good, honest work by some of the smaller outlets Knight Ridder, Christian Science Monitor, New Yorker, and I gotta mention Jason at Rawstory, it has come to this: the Chinese media are fighting for their freedoms while the NYTimes are holding stories at the request of the president.

I have to say it again: This is not the America I was brought up to believe in.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Picture of the Day - 3

Another picture from the chaos during the Egyptian elections. No statement in this, I just like the moment this picture captures.


On a slow news day, just a couple of quickies.

WaPo has a story(A04) on the justice dept. appealing the Padilla case to the supreme court in effect arguing that the president has supreme power over the judiciary in time of war.

Bush approval numbers have bumped up about 5 points from an avg. low around 37% to an avg. around 42%. And while you're there, take a look at the 2006 congressional poll numbers. Pretty consistently Dems +9%, although these numbers do not take gerrymandering into account.

Also, I don't know why, I got to thinking what country or group would be the next to use a nuclear weapon? Terrorists? N. Korea? US? Israel? India/Pakistan? Russia? Iran? At the current time, I would put Iran at the end of the list, but they seem to be the only ones under any pressure at all.

For some reason, sometimes on a pretty day I start thinking about the nuclear missiles pointed at my head. Yes, I know, I have trouble being happy sometimes.

Picture of the day - 2

US soldiers rolling up a flag as they prepare to turn over a base in Mosul.

Intelligence is not naturally selected

Just a quick Mike thought for the day. Being an avowed evolutionist, this has always fascinated me as it runs counter to our "survival of the fittest" interpretation of Darwin's theory.

In modern America, intelligence is not a preferred trait.

Think I'm crazy? There's all sorts of data to support this assertion. Shorthanding the data, individuals with higher IQ scores or PHD's tend to reproduce at a far lower rate than those with low IQ's or a high school education or less. (The IQ correlation, I would imagine, has a lower boundary at some point, below 75 or 80, at which the relationship begins to trend the other way.)

As there is no broad historical data regarding correlations between IQ or educational levels and reproduction rates, there is no way to tell whether this is a temporary cultural distortion unique to modern societies or a longer trend. Or whether, in fact, it is some great evolutionary truth.

Personally, I would suspect that it is a cultural distortion, though I can't speculate on its historical depth. Also, on a population wide basis, it would take a significantly longer time than the era of modern societies to produce a real, significant evolutionary result.

But I find it fascinating that our society produces a result so counter to the majority understanding of the "survival of the fittest" interpretation of evolutionary theory.

(Another odd evolutionary distortion of our modern society is that cows are evolving to taste better to their main predator, man. It is in their reproductive interests to look like they taste the very best, and thus, they will be allowed to procreate at higher rates. Just very odd.)

Just trying to put something interesting up while we wait for the Iraqi Civil War to start.

Life without politicians....

With Congress out and the administration officials all on vacation, it's amazing how quiet the news has become.

But, of all the vacationers, maybe Condi Rice should be the lone office light on in Washington as rebuilding Iraq has been moved into her portfolio. But, no, unlike the people of Iraq and the US soldiers there, she got to take a week and a half off.

Picture of the Day

Bring 'em home.

I'll help make the signs.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Abramoff to reach a deal this week?

The WaPo has a big summary Abramoff article today. No new ground except that it says this,

Justice Department prosecutors are pressing him and his lawyers to settle fraud and bribery allegations by the end of this week, sources knowledgeable about the case said. Unless he reaches a plea deal, he faces trial Jan. 9 in Florida in a related fraud case.

Merry Christmas, Tom Delay and Bob Ney. And to the rest of you dozen under the prosecutors microscope, a happy new year.

Picture of the Day - 2

Why you don't break the rules.

I tried to outline the legal complications that the Bush administrations' rule breaking caused in efforts to put terror defendants in jail through the courts. But this is a much better version at firedoglake. Bottom line, a whole raft of prosecutions and even convictions could be overturned via the NSA wiretap scandal. This NSA program may end up freeing terrorists!

Iraqi Civil War - Kurds preparing to seize Kirkuk (KR)

Looks like the starting deployments for the Iraqi civil war are being filled. The Kurds, it appears, have been using the constant conflicts between the Sunni and Shia to position their forces to retake oil rich Kirkuk. It was the likely action, given the Kurds expulsion from the oil rich region, but this Knight-Ridder article seems to place the likely first major battle of the Iraqi civil war there in the very near future.

KIRKUK, Iraq - Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan......

Their strategy(the Kurds) mirrors that of Shiite Muslim parties in southern Iraq, which have stocked Iraqi army and police units with members of their own militias and have maintained a separate militia presence throughout Iraq's central and southern provinces. The militias now are illegal under Iraqi law but operate openly in many areas. Peshmerga leaders said in interviews that they expected the Shiites to create a semi-autonomous and then independent state in the south as they would do in the north.

The Bush administration - and Iraq's neighbors - oppose the nation's fragmentation, fearing that it could lead to regional collapse.

Also, we've heard alot from the Bush admin about the "beacon of freedom in a part of the world that is desperate for freedom and liberty" which "will serve as such an optimistic and hopeful example for reformers from Tehran to Damascus."

We haven't heard so much about the fears that an Iraqi fragmentation coud lead to a regional collapse.

Clap harder, Bush administration, Tinkerbell is dying.


Remember, not that long ago, when we all thought that the Enron scandal was the biggest scandal we would see for quite awhile, that it would reverberate. We were but children then.

Also, maybe the Germans aren't the best people to be talking about electronically tagging suspect populations.

Picture of the Day

Sunni women in Iraq marching in support of the MARAM alliance.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Did you know Saddam had WMD's?

Move America Forward runs commercials claiming

"Newly found Iraqi documents show that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, including anthrax and mustard gas, and had "extensive ties" to al Qaeda. The discoveries are being covered up by those "willing to undermine support for the war on terrorism to selfishly advance their shameless political ambitions."

I'm not kidding. This is for real.

The Rules exist for a reason.

No matter how well intentioned, this is what happens when you break the rules. Illegal detentions led to inadmissible evidence leading to illegal wiretaps. Illegal wiretaps led to inadmissible evidence that led to illegal detentions. Both led to renditions and illegal torture which led to more of both.

Once the decision was made to break the law regarding any one of these, the Bush administration set off a cascade of further illegal actions because they couldn't suddenly "launder" what they knew to make it suddenly admissible in a court.

It's like a little boy telling lies.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 - Defense lawyers in some of the country's biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.

Do you want some candy, little boy?

Does anybody else think it's creepy that the military is using pizza, free i-tunes and videogames to lure young men into joining? I mean, isn't that the way child molesters and christian youth groups get their subjects?

Same article, Charles Moskos, a military recruiting expert and professor emeritus at Northwestern University, says if they really want to support the military, it's time for the Bush family to get some skin in the game.
Military recruiters in the United States acknowledge that getting first daughter Jenna Bush to join would be a far bigger boost than even doubling the recruiting budget again, Moskos said.

Picture of the Day - 2

Iraq. A US soldier seen through bulletholes shot in the Camp Victory sign.

Bush went around FISA because they refused his applications?

Reading this, it doesn't sound like they're referencing a specific case, but instead making an allegation based on increased activity by the FISA court. As this doesn't have a case example, it appears no more than a conjecture of causal linkage by James Bamford, but it is a huge allegation if true. If true, this would be violating not only the letter, but also the explicit spirit, of the FISA law. (Seattle Post Intelligencer)

WASHINGTON -- Government records show that the administration was encountering unprecedented second-guessing by the secret federal surveillance court when President Bush decided to bypass the panel and order surveillance of U.S.-based terror suspects without the court's approval.

Also, does anybody else remember the unresolved scuffle around Bolton's confirmation hearings to the UN? Remember he had requested an unusual number of transcripts from the NSA on US citizens?
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the State Department had refused to provide Bolton's rationale for asking for records on intercepted phone calls made by Americans......

Sparks said Richardson's call to Dodd was triggered when he read an online story by Washington journalist Wayne Madsen. The story said intelligence community "insiders" claim the NSA circumvented a ban on domestic surveillance by asserting that the intercepted calls were part of "training missions."

Tancredo for President

Good news this morning. The LATimes has a piece on Tom Tancredo talking about a run for President in 2008. He is the top current elected example of why I think Nixon's "Southern Strategy" ruined the GOP in the long term.

By embracing the southerners who opposed civil rights in the '72 election, the GOP shifted part of their base to "nativist" elements whose issues of "preserving our national identity" represent a dimininshing demographic slice as America grows. The GOP can't keep this side of the party quiet, thus the "soft-bigotry" of immigration and anti-equal opportunity will send the growing "minority" constituencies to the Democrats for a generation. I explained it far better here.

Anyhow, Tancredo is the true face of one segment of the Republican party that they would prefer not to admit to, and he's talking about running for president in 2008 to bring it out. Awesome. The best way to expose bigots is to put them in a bigger room and let them talk off the cuff.

Tancredo — pronounced Tan-CRAY-dough is even pondering a run for president in 2008. Not to win — he doesn't kid himself — but to put illegal immigration front and center, even if that drives a wedge further in the GOP.....

Tancredo dates his interest in immigration to his years as a teacher dealing with bilingual education. "It was far more political than educational," says Tancredo, the grandson of Italian immigrants. He suggests that today's newcomers are more likely to segregate themselves as "some hyphenated something or other" than try to assimilate.

He sees his work on immigration as part of a larger fight to save Western civilization from a "cult of multiculturalism" that threatens to cleave the country into ethnic fiefs.

"It's of no consequence to me where you're from," he says, shouting over the roar of the Orange County crowd. "All that I ask of you is that when you get here, you become an American!" .....

In a CNN interview on immigration legislation, he unfurled a long, winding metaphor about "a mail-order bride" and her "bad seed" baby when, abruptly, he stopped and laughed at the verbal mess he'd made. .....

When the Denver Post profiled the honor roll student of an illegal immigrant family, Tancredo unsuccessfully tried to have the family deported.

(And, just quick reminder, if you don't have an account with the LATimes, you can use the incredibly useful www.bugmenot.com link to the right to get an active username and password. It's a database of active user/pass for a ton of sites. It's a newsjunkie's dream.)

CIA, NSA for Kids

Crooks and Liars has these up so you may have already seen them, but they're just so startlingly obtuse, I thought I'd throw up the links as well.

NSA for Kids (cryptokids) and CIA's Homepage for Kids which contains Ginger's CIA Adventure which features a blue cartoon bear(Ginger) wandering around CIA headquarters unescorted because her guide was out of the office(for kids K-5.)

Stop Wasting My Money and FIND BIN LADEN, you peckerheads!!!!!!!!

Picture of the Day

The sign controversy in Duluth makes the front page(prominent) of the NYTimes website. Short version, Scott Cameron, wounded Vietnam vet(left), maintains this sign in a storefront window next to a recruiting station. It's the campaign office for a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate.

Cameron says, "that his purpose is not to prevent new recruits from signing up for the Army, but to honor those who made sacrifices. Still, Mr. Cameron also says, "Before they join the military, people better know what they're getting into.""

Needless to say, the recruiters are none too happy. Check out their quote.

"It's disheartening," Staff Sgt. Gary J. Capan, the station's commander, said. "Everyone knows that people are dying in Iraq, but to walk past this on the way to work every day is too much."

The WaPo has a piece(A01) on the limiting of Veteran benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Picture of the Day - 2

Rumsfeld getting practice for his next job, serving food for a Halliburton subcontractor at $12 per 12 hour day.

Rumsfeld in a Christmas day photo op serving troops in Iraq.

Also: Look at that soldier's face. Do you think he gives a crap that Rumsfeld's there?

Picture of the Day

It's after Christmas now, but they're still watching. It seems that the NSA has taken over Santa's surveillance role.

(strident) "So be good for goodness' sake."

LATimes alleges far broader spying.

Dateline LATimes, Dec. 25. Just a little Merry Christmas from the Bush administration.

WASHINGTON — President Bush has acknowledged that several hundred targeted Americans were wiretapped without warrants under the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, and now some U.S. officials and outside experts say they suspect that the government is engaged in a far broader U.S. surveillance operation. ....

The suspicion is quietly gaining currency among current and former U.S. intelligence officials and among outside experts familiar with how the NSA operates. .....

"It's really obvious to me that it's a look-at-everything type program," said cryptography expert Bruce Schneier, who has written several books about security.

Schneier and others suspect that the NSA may be turning its satellites toward the United States and gathering vast streams of raw data from many more people than disclosed — potentially including all e-mails and phone calls from the United States to certain other countries......

After such massive volumes of information are collected, they are searched for suspicious language. The administration could thus argue that only hundreds of people were monitored because those conversations were the ones that were flagged because they contained suspicious words, Schneier said.

"If a computer looks at all e-mail and says 'bing' once, is that monitoring one person or millions?" Schneier asked. "The Bush numbers are depending on that subterfuge."

One former senior Pentagon official who has overseen such "data mining" said he also believed the NSA was probably conducting such wholesale surveillance.

Maybe NSA spying isn't so illegal

For those of us who think the current NSA spying scandal,(? nobody's come up with a good third word there) is absolutely, totally illegal I have an observation from one of my previous business lives that may say part of the shocking revelations may be legal.

When it comes to monitoring, there is a very distinct legal difference between trapped information, or call detail information, and the content of the call.

About ten years ago, in one of my previous economic incarnations, I was an IS manager and one of the areas under my responsibilities was the phone system. Medium sized company spread over six states 800-1,000 employees. Well, one day, one of the VP's who functioned on my level came to me with the belief that one of his employees was passing pricing information to another company from the office. His first reaction was we've gotta record this guy's phone calls and email, but the company hadn't issued the previous "all your communications my be monitored policy memo," and if we had done so at that point, certainly the guy would have immediately stopped. So, we got a lawyer's consultation.

My takeaway from that conversation was that "trapped" call detail was treated distinctly differently under the law than a call's content. In other words, without any notification, we could look at all the details of any call past or present that passed through the phone system without any legal issues arising, number of origin, number called, length of call, etc. The content of the call, however, was a wholly more complicated legal matter.

Bottom line, the type of "call detail" information that the phone companies were transferring from their major overseas switches to the government for analysis, may not be protected under the Fourth Amendment the same way that the content of the calls would be.

It's roughly the equivalent of the "LUD's," the local usage details, that they always so easily obtain in cop shows like Law and Order, or whatever.

So, when you read something like this, no matter how creepy it feels, it may well be within the law, (the "besides" part is clearly illegal)
As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain back-door access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said......

What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.

Or this:
A former telecommunications technology manager told the Times that industry leaders have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists.

Now, a couple of disqualifiers on this post. I am not a lawyer and my understanding of this is a filtered version of how the law was presented to me years ago. At the time, 1995, email was still fairly new, so I have no idea of the law surrounding email, especially as the "detail," routing info is actually contained within the communication. We decided to not even try to go after his email.

And, lastly, from what I've read of the information leaked so far on the NSA spying, this "call detail" analysis is only one small part of a far bigger and more obtrusive policy. From the reporting thus far, it does appear that the NSA was/is(?) monitoring content in some cases involving US citizens on US soil, and that would be very clearly illegal.

I just wanted to add the little bit that I know about to the blogosphere.

(By the way, the guy ended up getting busted when one of his assistants walked through the open door to his office while he was doing this. Hate to leave the story without an ending.)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Picture of the Day - 3

(AP) U.S. Army soldiers carried out raids in dusty Iraqi towns. Military doctors treated soldiers wounded by roadside bombs. Christmas in Iraq was just another day on the front lines for the U.S. military.

Troops woke long before sunrise on a cold, rainy Christmas morning to raid an upscale neighborhood a few miles from their base. In honor of the day, they dubbed the target "Whoville," after the town in the Dr. Seuss book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Hope everybody had a Merry or a Happy, or just appreciates that the Christians got them a day off work. (It's the least they could do after everything else, huh?)

Back to it tomorrow morning. I have something to say that may be controversial on the NSA tap scandal. It's late, and it's Christmas. Tomorrow morning, I promise.

Picture of the Day - 2

Christmas sacraments in China.

Christmas Truce

The NYTimes has a nice article on my favorite Christmas story, the WWI Christmas Truce in 1914.

And, Antiwar has links to 16 different stories on the Christmas Truce. (It's whole section about halfway down the right column under the Christmas Truce picture montage.)

Picture of the Day