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Lets's talk about democracy
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Saturday, 28 January 2006

OK, so I've been picking on big bad Vlad Putin for the past few days, so I won't mention the deplorable state of his army. Or maybe I will.

Reuters reports: Andrei Sychev, 19, [A recent army conscript] was tied up and beaten for hours by drunken soldiers over the New Year holiday at a tank academy in Chelyabinsk, in the Ural mountains.

Today, protesters in Moscow demanded that Vlad's old buddy in the KGB, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, should be fired. Good luck with that. [Remember what happened to the angry mother of a sailor who died on the Kursk.

Amnesty International reports:

"Amnesty International continues to receive reports of torture and ill-treatment of soldiers by their superiors, in some cases resulting in death, including forced suicides. Information received by the organization suggests failure on the part of the authorities to conduct prompt and impartial investigations of such cases and prosecute the perpetrators. Amnesty International has not been informed of any measures taken by the authorities to compensate the victims of torture and abuse in the army and to eradicate the practice of brutality in the military forces."

And article in the Moscow Times from 2003 reports that since the Russian Army has no equivalent to our NCOs, so-called "Grandfathers" are put in charge of the soldiers:

"Today, unit commanders concern themselves with battle strategy and, wanting not to be bothered with supervising troops' daily life and discipline, delegate to grandfathers the dirty work of keeping order among their peers in the barracks, while they, the professional officers, return home to their families at night.

From the 1960s, grandfathers began to take on the roles of the nonexistent professional NCOs -- safeguarding discipline, order and unit traditions. Commanding officers tended to turn a blind eye to the grandfathers' methods of disciplining younger soldiers -- as long as there was some sort of order in the barracks. As the conscript saying goes: The first year, the grandfathers beat you; the second year, you, in turn, beat up the newly enlisted."

That's a nice system! How on earth does the Russian army function? Well, as long as the oil money keeps flowing, that's all Vlad cares about.

As bad as this all sounds, it could be much, much worse. The Soldier's Mothers of St. Petersberg (Vlad's hometown)---one of many groups of mothers who try to keep their sons out of the army---wrote back in 1995 that:

"According to an official survey conducted by a commitee commissioned by the President: there are 6000-8000 deaths caused by physical or psychological violence, 500 suicides and numerous vicfims who died either by accident or because of identifiable causes each year (the estimates of the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg are five to ten times higher)."

Predictably, an article on the Soldier's Mothers says: "Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has criticized the ``so-called'' Committee of Soldiers' Mothers for standing in the way of military justice - saying soldiers should take complaints to their superiors, not go on ``marathon'' treks in search of support."

Hmmm..I wonder of any of these mother's groups, which are NGOs, might be the reason Vlad is trying to outlaw them? (They're probably getting money from the UK and communicating with rocks, too.)

The Moscow Times reported back in July, when Vlad was hatching his new laws against foreign NGOs that he said, "We are against overseas funding for the political activities [of NGOs] in Russia. I categorically object. Not a single state that respects itself does that, and we won't allow it either."

Posted by bushmeister0 at 4:35 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006 4:22 PM EST
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Friday, 27 January 2006
Hamas might be crazy.
Topic: Israel
[See my posts at Non Sum Dignus for more news]

Yesterday, when I wrote about Hamas winning the parliamentary elections in the PA, I might have been a little bit too optimistic about the militant Islamist group's willingness to change. The present leaders of Hamas are not exactly your standard wild-eyed fanatics---they are mainly professionals with degrees---but then again their charter calls for the destruction of Israel, so I don't know how reasonable they're going to be. I really hope they will drop the 'destroy Israel' talk and get on with providing the Palestinians with a better future, because until they stop banging their head against the wall with this crazy notion that they're going to beat Israel with suicide bombers, they're not going to be able to govern. I really doubt the majority of Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank want to go another round with the IDF, I'm sure that's not what they were voting for.

Hopefully, we won't have to go through the whole long process of haggling that went on before the PLO finally recognized the existence of Israel, and we can get on with it. The Palestinians are a pretty pragmatic and secular people; let’s hope their new leaders are up to the task of bringing them into the modern world. They've certainly got a better chance of eventually becoming a peaceful, prosperous and democratic county than the Iraqis do. Large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians want a two-state solution to this pointless and bloody war, so it's up to both of them to make their leaders do the right thing.

Vlad "the Impaler" Putin is cracking me up!

As everyone knows the Russians caught Britsh spies communicating with a rock last week. Today, the Guardian reports "The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, yesterday said that four British diplomats accused of espionage in Moscow should not be expelled, as their replacements might be cleverer than they were and harder to catch."

Mr Putin said: 'My opinion is that if these intelligence agents are expelled, they [the UK] will send new ones. These new people may prove to be smart. In this case, we will have to go to much trouble spotting them. Think about it,' he said, according to Interfax."

Oh, he's a funny guy!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:10 PM EST
Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006 1:34 PM EST
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Thursday, 26 January 2006
Hamas, Georgia and the PLA
Topic: Bush Administraiton

Yesterday, the Palestinians held a peaceful democratic election. The polls were secure, there were plenty of ballots, the elections staff were well trained, there were no long lines with frustrated voters storming off because they weren't able to vote and there were no shenanigans. It was pretty much everything our elections in 2004 weren't. The Palestinian people should be extremely proud of themselves; they pulled off a fair and free election in the Middle East, while under occupation! I can't see any way that Israel and the U.S. can get around having to deal with this new Hamas led government, the voter turnout was an astounding 78%, even larger than the Iraqi turnout, they have a huge mandate. The Palestinian people have created their own facts on the ground and Israel and the U.S. have to adjust to the new realities of the situation.

Today W. greeted this great achievement with a cold douche. He said you can't be a "partner for peace" and have an armed wing. Of course, this problem wasn't an impediment to the Northern Ireland peace process; all the sides involved then had their own militias. And, lest we forget, everyone in the new Iraqi government has their own armed wings, so it would be pretty hypocritical to signal Hamas out for special attention. If Muktada al-Sadr can be in the government and hold on to his Medhi Army---which has killed scores of US troops----it's a little difficult to make the case Hamas is any worse and they're certainly a lot more peaceful these day than the Badr brigade is. They've scrupulously adhered to the ceasefire they signed on to last year with Israel and even an IDF report pointed out that Palestinian violence has decreased by 60% in the past year and it wasn't the Israeli "wall of shame" that was responsible, it was the Palestinians themselves.

You could just see in the media were really hoping that Fatah could pull this off, but it seemed pretty clear, even to a novice observer like me, that Hamas was going to win. All I read and heard in the news was that a lot of people were really frustrated with the incompetence and corruption of Fatah and you could just see, if you were looking, that there was this universal desire for a big change. (And it didn't help that Fatah ran a lousy campaign. Splitting their votes by running multiple candidates in some places really wasn't such a hot idea.) Beyond the corruption and everything else, there was also a total stagnation in the "peace process" under Abu Mazen because Sharon decided very early on that he had no partner on the other side. Everything that has been happening over the past year in the "peace process," from the massive settlement building around East Jerusalem, to the "Apartheid wall" to the Gaza pullout, has been entirely Israel acting unilaterally. Maybe, as Ambassador Afif Safieh pointed out on Radio Times this morning, it will take extremists like Hamas to get the ball rolling again with the Israelis. Just like only Nixon could go to China and only the "Butcher of Beirut" could pull out of Gaza, perhaps Hamas will surprise everyone and become the great peace makers.

Or, the Israelis will overreact and elect Likud with Bibi Netanyahu at the head and we'll go back to square one. In any case, despite the media hoping against hope that Abu Mazen will be around to rein in Hamas, I wouldn't bet on it. If he's not gone within a week, I'd be surprised. He blew it for Fatah and he personally is at the end of his rope. A Fatah spokesman told the World back on the 18th that Abbas was tired and extremely depressed and he didn't expect Abbas to last eight months. Even Rafiq Husseini, his chief of staff, conceded that "He thinks this that this one year in office has been the heaviest of his life, which has been very traumatic, very difficult. Three more years will be almost as difficult. Therefore, I don't think any human being---super or not super---would be able to manage anymore." [Inquirer]

Georgia on my mind:

A big story that's being totally ignored today is the power crisis in Georgia. The Georgian president Mikail Saakashvili cut his visit short to the economic conference in Davos to go back to Tbilisi to deal with his country's energy problem caused by two simultaneous bombings of pipelines and power lines on the Russian side of the border. The total lack of power coming from Russia (without love) has sent a modernizing, western leaning democracy back into the middle ages. The NYT today basically buys the Russian line, hook-line-and-sinker, that it was the Chechans or some other group bend on disrupting Russian's energy infrastructure. I don't believe it for a second: there's no doubt in mind that Vlad "the Impaler" Putin is taking advantage of his leverage over the US right now vis the Iran nuke issue, to get a little payback from that young punk Saakashvili.

It's not like the Russians haven't been threatening even Western Europe over the past month with power cut-offs similar to what they did in Ukraine, if they don't play ball with Vlad. This is a very worrying development which seems to be being totally ignored by the American media. Saakashvili himself has no doubt about who is behind this and he went on at length with the BBC this morning about it. The Russians themselves haven't exactly been going out of their way to deny it. Their statements about the Georgians being hysterical and the "bacchanal" comment (i.e. they're a bunch of drunks) is leading me to the conclusion they're actually enjoying having 5 million Georgian's potentially freeze to death. It's not like they care about their own people freezing to death in the streets of Moscow, so why would they care about a country that's turned it back on them. Keep in mind that we have troops in Georgia and W. has touted the Crimson Revolution in Georgia as a great achievement of his administration's commitment to democracy. The silence coming from Washington on this issue is kind of puzzling. Well, I guess it is unless you factor in the fact that we absolutely no policy alternatives to the Iran nuclear crisis without the Russian's help. We'll see how committed W. is to democracy if he decided to leave Georgia to the tender mercies of big bad Vlad, that thug in a business suit.

On to China:

Hell, we're even giving the Chinese a big pass because we've got no clue on how to deal with North Korea unless they help us out. China could invade Taiwan tomorrow and it might take us a while to get around to doing anything about it. I'm digressing somewhat, but my former neo-con roommate, who is a big time Asia policy wonk, came up with a scenario whereby the Chinese military landed a small force of troops inside Taiwan and created a bridgehead by occupying a city and in so doing left us with a major problem in how to deal with it.

The military alternatives to a situation like this would be almost nil; we couldn't exactly send in the 7th fleet to take them out, so what would we do? Blockade Taiwan so they couldn't resupply? Shoot down their transport planes? Let the Taiwanese military deal with it and let it turn into an all out war when the Chinese sent more troops into reinforce them?

Right now, they might actually be able to get away with it because we got nothing. According to a pentagon report released Tuesday, the defense department risks "breaking the force" by sending the army on repeated combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite Rummy's dismissal of the report saying that these conclusions are "either out of date or misdirected," (Who the hell even listens to this guy anymore?) we've got 26,000 Marines bogged down in Anbar province and presumably we'd need them in any confrontation with China over Taiwan, so I don't see where more Marines are going to come from. We don't have any Army to call on either.

The author of the pentagon study, Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, writes "Unless the Army is willing to stress its rotation base further, it effectively has no strategic reserve." I don't know about you, but that's kind of scary. According to the Department of Defense we presently have 76,854 troops in East Asia and the Pacific, but not all of them are combat troops and even if they were that's not a big enough force to deal with the PLA.

I'm not saying we're going to war with China, I'm just throwing stuff out there. Basically, beyond what we've got in Iraq, we've got nada, is all I'm saying. To most people this might be a major problem but not to Rummy, he's got a victory strategy.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:11 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 28 January 2006 12:14 PM EST
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Wednesday, 25 January 2006
Not Mr. Lincoln's war.

The bulk of my BS today is over at Non Sum Dignus, including my take on the Palestinian elections and the Bush administraton's bumbling before hurricane Katrina.

"Torture boy" on breaking the law:

The NYT reports Attorney General Alberto "Waterboard" Gonzales, in a speech at GW yesterday, cited "the long tradition of wartime enemy surveillance," without warrants by former presidents as a justification for this president's current policy of domestic spying. If you look at what he didn't say about these examples of presidential over-reach you might be a little more frightened.

He said George Washington intercepted mail between the British and Americans: but, of course, back then there was no constitution or courts to check him.

Woodrow Wilson might have spied during WWI: but his administration also rounded up hundreds of people for no reason and deported foreigners because they happened to be from countries the government identified as hotbeds of anarchism. Sound familiar?

FDR intercepted communications in and out of the U.S. during WWII, but then again, he also locked up 100,000 Japanese Americans, too; is this the sort of thing we can expect from this administration next? (FDR did it and he was a democrat, right?)

Torture boy also mentioned Abraham Lincoln intercepting telegraph lines during the Civil War, but a lot of them were in enemy territory in the south, not exactly the same thing as intercepting millions of email messages and phone numbers.

The adminstraion is always involking Lincoln's actions during the Civil War to excuse their violations of the consitution, but read what Lincoln would undoubtably say to Bush & Co. if he were here today:

"The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood." [NSD]

And see also what he said about preemptive war:

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose."

Now, we're finding out whether we can "fix any limit to his power" and it's not looking good.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 5:17 PM EST
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Friday, 20 January 2006
Smoking guns and moving money.
Topic: Bush Administraiton

The WaPo reports: "Iran said on Friday it was moving funds out of Europe to shield them from possible U.N. sanctions and flexed its oil muscles with a proposal to cut OPEC output.

"Yes, Iran has started withdrawing money from European banks and transferring it to other banks abroad," said a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be named."

Speculation has it they might be moving the funds to Asia or to Switzerland. I wonder which Asian nation might be a beneficiary of $30 billion of Iranian cash? The threat of cutting oil output is sending the price of oil up to $67 and the stock market is taking a nose dive as I write. It doesn't help that French president Jacques Chirac is threatening Iran with a nuclear douche. He said yesterday, according to the AP, "leaders of states that would use terrorist means against us" [could face] "a firm and fitting response."

That's the way to calm things down! There's no shortage of loonies out there wanting to throw nukes around, though. Trudy Rubin of the Philly Inquirer wrote last week that:

"The millennial obsession of Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, adds urgency to U.S. and European efforts to keep Iran from the bomb. In a speech at the United Nations, Ahmadinejad urged the Lord "to hasten the emergence of... the promised one," the Shiite Muslim equivalent of the Messiah. He is said to be obsessed with the Mahdaviat, the belief in the second coming of the 12th Shiite imam, known as the Mahdi, who has been in hiding for more than 1,000 years. The Iranian's combination of devotion and inflammatory threats against Israel highlights the potential danger of an Iranian bomb."

I think she might overstating this particular threat just slightly. I don't think the second coming of the Mahdi requires a nuclear holocaust like Ronald Reagan's rapture did. Remember, the man with his hands on the button back in the eighties thought he would be the president to usher in the coming of the lord.

Reagan said in an interview People magazine in 1983 that,"T]theologians had been studying the ancient prophecies -- what would portend the coming of Armageddon-- and have said that never, in the time between the prophecies up until now, has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this. I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns." [Common Sense Almanac]

And if that's not scary enough, keep in mind Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer before she let Ronnie poopy pants do anything. Don Regan wrote that, "Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise."

["My fellow Americans," he joked, "I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.]

So, Ahmadinejad doesn't sound that frightening to me in comparison. He doesn't have the bomb and he doesn't have that much power. He's got a big mouth, yes, but Hashemi Ali Rafsanjani is the real power behind the scenes. If you recall he was also the recipient of a cake and a bible signed by Reagan back in the Iran/Contra days, delivered to him by Ollie North and Robert McFarlane. Truly wacky! So he's probably figuring this dumbass we got in the White House now is just as flaky and can be played like the Iranians played Ronnie.

I'm digressing all over the place here today. What point am I trying to make?

In a bit of good news today a basically forgotten scandal amidst, all the others concerning this administration, Lawrence A. Franklin was sentenced to 12 years in prison for helping the Israelis spy on us. [AP]Franklin claims he was only trying to help the US.

"The judge said Friday that Franklin believed the National Security Council was insufficiently concerned with the threat posed by an unspecified Middle Eastern nation. Franklin thought leaking information might eventually persuade the Security Council to take more serious action, he said. While the Middle Eastern country was not named in the court record, sources and the facts of the case point to Iran."

The smoking gun: Not!

Well, what do you know, we're back to Iran again. Not that Israel has any hand this big push to bring Iran to the Security Council. [See this blog for more on the Franklin case]

I found this interesting insight from Atimes.com back in May of this year on the media treatment of the Iran situation and it's very prescient:

"It is hardly given that in the light of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, fulfilling its NPT obligations, the Security Council would impose sanctions on Iran and, in case it chooses to do so, that would mean an oil embargo, causing higher oil prices hardly affordable by the global economy; short of oil embargo, a UN sanction would be practically toothless and a continuation of the present, decade-long US sanctions, which have proven a failure in deterring foreign investments in Iran, as the Iran-China mega deal worth US$100 billion clearly demonstrates. In all likelihood, China would veto any Security Council sanctions on Iran as long as no smoking gun on Iran's alleged weapons program has been found."

In regard to the smoking gun all the US apparently has to offer is a lap top they claim has Iranian plans for a nuclear warhead on it but the NYT writes that those who have seen it are skeptical:

"This chapter in the confrontation with Iran is infused with the memory of the faulty intelligence on Iraq's unconventional arms. In this atmosphere, though few countries are willing to believe Iran's denials about nuclear arms, few are willing to accept the United States' weapons intelligence without question. "I can fabricate that data," a senior European diplomat said of the documents. "It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt."

So, there you go, no one believes a word we say so good luck getting sanctions on Iran. I know, how about focusing on the mess in Iraq before we start another war!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 3:18 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 21 January 2006 4:08 PM EST
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Wednesday, 18 January 2006
The Iran flap. Much flapping, little lift.
Mood:  incredulous
Topic: General News.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this big push by the US and the Europeans to take-Iran-out-to-the-woodshed for their nuclear program of late. The administration has been dithering over a policy on Iran for the past four years, leaving the matter entirely to the EU to take care of, but now all of a sudden there's this big crisis we need to get in the middle of. My question is: what good would imposing sanctions on Iran do at this point anyway? It's a little late in the game, it seems, because the Iranians have been had plenty of time to prepare for such an eventuality and according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, the Iranians have been stockpiling food and medicine over the past few years to blunt the effects of any sanctions. [NYT]

They've also been very busy signing up countries like China and India to sell their oil and gas to and the Russians are making a mint from Iranian arms purchases, so it would appear all these three countries, at least, would view sanctions as bad for business. The repeated attempts of the Bush administration to isolate the Iranians diplomatically would appear to be going no-where fast; and, besides, why would Russia or China want to pull America's chestnuts out of the fire for them, when they can instead sit back and watch us crash and burn while they make money?

On Monday, the permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany made a big show of meeting in London to discuss the referral of Iran to the UN, but even after all the behind-closed-doors arm twisting it looked like international unanimity on this burning issue was still a little shaky. Vlad "the impaler" Putin said, "The Iranian nuclear problem requires a very accurate approach without rash or erroneous moves," and he was continuing to hold out the hope that the Iranians might yet go along with the plan to have the Russians enrich the uranium for them.

The new Iranian ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, playing the reasonable Iranian said, "We believe that Iran and Russia should find a way out of this jointly." Reports have it that Condi was burning up the phone lines over the past weekend trying to get Russia onboard for a referral to the Security Council in the expectation that China would go along, too---or at least abstain---but the Chinese were still playing their cagey games saying in a statement that, "China believes that under the current situation, all relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to solving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations."

Even our good friends the Saudis, who are no friends to the Iranians, weren't exactly behind us 100% on taking Iran to the UN. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told the BBC that he was skeptical that a nuclear Iran would really be a threat, particularly to Israel, because if they did try to "wipe Israel off the map" they'd be killing Palestinians too. He blamed the Western countries, partly, for the standoff saying, "The West in allowing Israel to establish its nuclear capability has done the damage. As long as you make one exception, you open the way for logical arguments of why him and not me." Of course, Cheney is over there now, so they might start taking a different tone if the price is right.

[The issue of Israel's nukes leading to an arms race in the Middle East isn't new, by the way. Recently released Nixon papers show that Undersecretary of State Joseph J. Sisko wrote in a 1969 memo to Secretary William Rogers that, "Israel's possession of nuclear weapons would do nothing to deter Arab guerrilla warfare or reduce Arab irrationality. On the contrary it would add a dangerous new element to Arab-Israeli hostility with added risk of confrontation between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.][CBS]

There appears, also, to be some dissention inside the administration itself about this course of action against Iran. An administration official, who wished to remain unnamed, was quoted in an article in the NYT by Steven Weisman as saying, "I've been surprised that so many people are acting like referral to the Security Council is some important event that will bring about change in the government of Iran. I don't buy it." He might be one of those hawks, though; who thinks regime-change or military strikes is the better way to go. That's basically all we've got as far as debate in the administration goes on this issue: Either, we go the "diplomatic" route, or we get aggressive. Both "strategies" offer no carrots or sticks and that's why neither will work.

Not that there's any sanity coming from congress on this issue either. John McCain said on Face the Nation that this standoff with Iran was the "most grave situation that we have faced since the end of the cold war, absent the whole war on terror." The military option he said should be "the last option," but "to say under no circumstances would we exercise the military option, that would be crazy." Democratic Senator Evan Bayh offered his informed opinion that there were elements of the Iranian nuclear program that could be taken out, which "would dramatically delay its development." Oh, really? The Iranians have dispersed their nuclear facilities to some 300 sites around the country making the utility of military strikes highly dubious and even if we were successful in such an attack, whose to say they don't turn around and start giving the insurgents in Iraq some real high tech weaponry?

Just last week three US helicopters were brought down killing 16 Americans and my bet is that the Iranians had something to do with it. Remember, the Russians have a lot of those Streala shoulder-fired heat-seeking missile launchers and they're not too particular who they sell them to. (They sold a ton to Saddam and no one knows where they are now.) If the insurgents can start shooting down our aircraft at will, that makes the job in Iraq a whole lot tougher. Iran also has its tentacles in Lebanon through Hezbollah and in the West Bank and Gaza through Hamas and they could make things really difficult for us if they wanted to. Or, they could stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and all of W.'s SUV driving supporters could really be hurting.

Real men talk to Tehran:

The only solution to the this "grave situation" is to start talking to Tehran. There are people inside the administration that have been pushing for talks with Iran for years, but they've been largely marginalized and we see where this refusal to deal with reality has led. In desperation, W. actually did authorize Zalmay Khalilzad to talk to the Iranians about all the weapons coming over the border, but the Iranians rebuffed the overture because they're not interested in talking about that, they interested in getting a deal on the nuclear issue; with us. The Iranians clearly don't take the Europeans seriously because they figure nothing they agree to will stand unless the US signs off on it first, so all of this "effort" on the part of the US to "engage" through their European partners on the nuclear issue has been pretty much a waste of time. A total lack of a policy isn't a policy.

I still think Mahmoud Amadinejad is just a battering ram that the real powers-that-be inside the Iranian government are using to gain leverage in negotiations. Abbas Milani says, "At this stage, they are convinced that the more hardball they play, the more the West will collapse." In a rare moment of lucidity last week Ahmadinejad said, "We follow our national interests within the framework of international regulations, and have the leverage to defend our interests," which seems to me to be a very concise explanation of their position. They're not breaking international law by opening up their enrichment facilities and they're a powerful country in the middle of a very dangerous region of the world that could either, be helpful in solving many issues roiling the Middle East, from Israel to Lebanon to Afghanistan, or they could make our lives very difficult. As powerful as they are, though, they've got a major inferiority complex that could be exploited by a more open minded administration; not this one obviously.

My guess is all this posturing will come to nothing in the end and we'll be back to square one soon enough. My worry is that if Iran doesn't respond in the way the W. wants them to and "diplomacy fails" again, he just might play some hardball of his own and do something stupid like attempt to take out Natanz or other facilities in an attempt to save face. Preempting Israel from taking matters into their own hands might also be an important calculation in the arithmetic of W.'s bully-politics, too, because that sort of thing would open up a very nasty can of worms and it could stir up a whole world of trouble we don't need, especially when one considers how reliant on a Shiite led government in Iraq we are and you know who they take their marching orders from.

In Iraq:

Speaking of our good friends and allies in the Iraqi government: the WaPo reported last week that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Sciri, one of the leading parties in the soon to be government, said the idea of a re-do on the constitution was off the table. He said he would not allow a new government to "change the essence" of the constitution. The Shiites and the Kurds had promised the Sunnis to amend the constitution after the Dec. elections if they'd go along in voting for it, which was seen as a major concession on the part of the majority by our man in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad. The issue of most importance for the Sunnis was that the Kurds and the Shiites not break the country up into autonomous zones rich in oil, leaving them with a whole bunch of desert.

A spokesman for al-Hakim said, "The major points in the constitution were agreed to by all the parties that participated in the drafting of the constitution. As for changes in the powers, some points or details, these are open to negotiation. However, the main principles which were agreed to by all sides, and approved by the people in a popular referendum [just barely] they cannot be touched."

So, that's good, when the Shiites were just another party in a make-believe government, they were willing to promise the moon, but now that they're going to be ruling an internationally sanctioned, legitimately sovereign government; they're saying 'not so fast.' They can do the math and they don't feel like sharing anymore. If they do get their own slice of the country in the south, a USAID paper might point to the type of "democracy" they would practice.

Want to make a cool 3 billion? You sure?

The paper which is describing Iraq for potential bidders to a 1.32 billion dollar reconstruction contract says that in the south of the country, "social liberties have been curtailed dramatically by roving bands of self-appointed religious-moral police." The Post adds, "In cities, women's dress codes are enforced and barbers who remove facial hair have been killed, and liquor stores and clubs have been bombed." Sounds more like Afghanistan, or Iran, than it does the newly freed Iraq.

But, everything will be alright after we handover power to the Iraqis, right? What might such a totally independent Iraq look like, you might ask:

Well, let's take the example of the transfer of some of Saddam's palaces to local Iraqi military units in Tikrit on Nov. 22 of last year. Amidst a brass band and much pomp and ceremony---and a stray dud mortar that sent all the dignitaries running for cover---Col Mark McKnight, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, handed over the keys to the governor of Salahuddin Province with these words, "The passing of this facility is a simple ceremony that vividly demonstrates the continuing progress being made by the Iraqi government and their people."

Ellen Knickmeyer writes in the WaPo that soon after the American's left, though, "Looters moved in, ripping out doors, air conditioners, ceiling fans and light switch plates from some of the compound's 136 palaces, leaving little more than plaster and dangling electric wires." The Governor of the province, Hamed Hammod Shekti, said "The palace was turned over to the Iraqi army units in the presence of Deputy Governor Adullah Naji Jabara. Two weeks later I heard the palace was looted. Now who can I accuse of the looting?" Knickmeyer writes that, "Over several days after the transfer of control from US to Iraqi hands, furnishings from the palaces turned up in one local market for sale by truck load."

The US military when asked about the looting said they "would fully expect the Iraqi authorities to address any criminal activities," now that it wasn't their problem anymore. A local police commander, Lt. Col. Mahmud Hiazza, accused the Deputy Governor of being involved in the looting and was transferred shortly after to Baiji. "The reason they transferred me is definatly I will get killed there," he said. He resigned instead, Knickmeyer writes. Smart guy!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 5:12 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006 5:19 PM EST
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Saturday, 14 January 2006
W. is talking to his father again. No, not the one on earth, the other one.
Mood:  rushed
Topic: Bush Administraiton

I have just a very short amount of time today, but I did want to comment on all this saber rattling going on over Iran and its opening of UN seals on its Nantaz nuclear facility. They do have that right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, right?

W. says it's, "unacceptable" for Iran to have the bomb and, "The reason it's unacceptable is because Iran, armed with a nuclear weapon, poses a grave threat to the security of the world (Or to Israel at least)."

Hmm..."A grave threat..." that sounds strangly familiar.

The WaPo writes that, "The "grave threat" language was not in any talking points prepared and distributed yesterday across the U.S. government, and it surprised diplomats and even some of Bush's own aides." Great, that's reassuring, has he been talking to his heavenly father again?

"A White House aide said it was not meant as a signal. 'There was no intent to mimic language,' the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity." Whew!

Not that I think Iran should have the bomb, by any means, but the the administration cites Iran's concealment of its nuclear program for over twenty years as a reason they can't be trusted now. I don't understand, didn't Israel lie to the US about its A-bomb project? And aren't we going to do a multi billion dollar civilian nuclear power plant deal with India,who ,by the way, didn't bother to tell anyone they were building a nuke? (Something tells me they had wiping Pakistan off the map on their minds at one point, too.)

And what about our good friends the Pakistanis---Or Pakis, as W. likes to call them---and their national hero A. Q. Khan? Seems to me we wouldn't be worried about Iran right now if he hadn't sold them all their equipment and know how.

In any case, I don't want mullahs with a bomb, but its kind of hard for me to see what's really going on here.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:05 PM EST
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Wednesday, 11 January 2006
Arik Sharon and dirty traitors.
Topic: Iraq

I don't know about you, but I'm really getting sick of the hourly updates on the health of Arik Sharon on NPR. He had a massive stroke and assuming he lives through this, he's not going to be Prime Minister anymore, so let's move on. My God, you'd think he was the Pope or something the way NPR is carrying on about every small tidbit of news on his condition. I defiantly got the feeling that if had died last week, we were going to be in store for a round-the-clock Saturnalia of fawning adulation for the "Butcher of Beirut" the likes of which we hadn't heard since the Reagan funeral.

Fortunately, the "Killer of Qibya" is still alive, so we're spared having to hear about what a statesman and man of peace he was (With Lianne Hansen sobbing in the background) for a little while longer at least.

I don't understand why Sharon is getting all this coverage in the first place. Not only is he considered by a large portion of the Middle East, including many Jews, to be a blood-thirsty murdering war criminal, but he's the leader of a country the size of Rhode Island. I don't see what effect his incapacitation or death has on the average American in the long run. Whatever the long term consequences of his unexpected removal from the scene has on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, it certainly doesn't warrant the kind of wall to wall media attention it’s getting.

It would seem to me the death of Fidel would have much larger ramifications for both U.S. foreign and domestic policy, but I wouldn't expect any long expos?s on what he did for the literacy and health care of the average Cuban from NPR. Rather, when he does go, you can be sure we'll be treated to long interviews with Otto Reich on the horrors perpetrated on the Cuban people by "the Monster" and endless coverage of cheering Cubanos celebrating on Revolution Square as they prepare to welcome the returning Yankis with open arms and bouquets of flowers.

Shiites and Sunnis are in agreement: we shouldn't let the door hit us in the ass on the way out!

Speaking of being greeted with happy children with their hands out for American chocolate bars and grateful young women sporting their new pantyhose, the situation in Iraq is pretty much getting back to normal after the relative lull in the immediate aftermath of the Dec. 15th elections. Since that glorious day when 70% (70%!!!!) of Iraqi voters turned out to elect their new theocratic government, we've lost about 55 troops and over 500 civilians have died in a spate of bloody suicide attacks, which have been especially horrific even by Iraqi standards.

Last Thursday, after attacks in Karbala and Ramadi that killed 130 Iraqis, Aziz al-Hakim, the head of Sciri---the political wing of the Badr brigade---blamed the bloodshed on the U.S.! [NYT]It appears, American military "pressure" on the Interior and Defense ministries to stop torturing and killing innocent Sunnis is preventing those ministries from, "Doing their job chasing terrorists and maintaining the souls of innocent Iraqi people," according to al-Hakim. "We're laying the responsibility for the blood of innocents shed in the past few days on the multinational forces." Then he added ominously, "Our people will not be patient for much longer with these dirty sectarian crimes." Of course, Sciri and its band of killers known as the Badr brigade are suspected of some pretty dirty sectarian crimes themselves, but al-Hakim and his buddy Bayan Jabr, the Interior minister and former Badr commander, are only asking for the powers W. has given himself in the war on terror.

I think it’s ironic that W. finds the evidence of secret Interior ministry torture chambers "unacceptable" when he continues to condone just that sort of thing even after signing the McCain anti-torture law. Writing in the margins that he basically doesn't have to obey the law if he doesn't want to, these new "signing agreements" are a sort of modern version of the pocket veto except that in this case the president actually signs it and then, in a new twist, tosses it in the trash.

In any case, yesterday, in a new sign of Iraqi unity, in a call for peace and bridging sectarian differences during the Eid al-Adha season, Harith al-Ubaidi, from the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front, said Sunnis were "hand in hand" with Shiites against the bombing in Karbala. Well, that's promising, no doubt, but unfortunately after that he said, "We also demand that the occupier get out, because he is the reason behind every crime." At least, all the parties can agree on one thing, we have to go. See, I'm not one of those "defeatists" who, W. said in his speech at the VFW in DC, "Refuse to see anything that's right," in Iraq. Iraqi unity is a good thing, right?

In his speech on Tuesday, W. 'Oh-pined' on the limits of political speech: He said, "In a free society, there's only one check on political speech, and that's the judgment of the American people." I'm not quite sure where he's going with this, but I think he was urging the voters to toss out the bums who dare question his rule, and who are, it naturally follows, giving aid and "comfort to our adversaries." So, in other words, punish anyone who doesn't agree with me that everything is A-OK in Iraq. Anyone who dares question anything I do is a traitor. "Partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil or because of Israel or because we misled the American people," are irresponsible, which is code for 'traitor.'

It's funny he brought up Israel as a reason for going into Iraq; I haven't heard that one lately. In fact it was in September of 2002, before the war, when Phillip Zelikow, one of his top advisors and also former executive director of the 9/11 commission---said in a speech at , "Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat [is] and actually has been since 1990 - it’s the threat against Israel.” [This blog.]Was W. really talking about Iraq or was just thinking ahead to Iran?

Anyway...you know, I hear a lot about Hugo Chavez over-reaching with his presidential powers and calling his political opponents traitors and according to the mainstream media this is a sign of a "quasi" dictatorship, even though he's been elected twice and has a large majority of popular support, but when W. calls democratic congressmen traitors, which is basically what he'd implied in this speech and says his presidential prerogatives allow him to by pass congress, the rule of law and anything thing else he says it does, that's ok. I don't know, I think there might be some sort of double standard going on here.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:53 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006 5:25 PM EST
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Wednesday, 4 January 2006
Nobody home.

I'm posting today on Non Sum Dignus as the tripod blog seems to be all fouled up with pop ups and all kinds of other weirdness that causes people's browsers to crash. I don't know what's going on with tripod lately, but I think I might start doing the majority of my blogging over here at Blogspot. I don't know, maybe the NSA is taking a page from the Chinese security services and is messing with my blog by infecting it with viruses and such?

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:20 PM EST
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Monday, 2 January 2006
Ave Potus Caligula Caesar. Morituri Te Salutant!
Topic: Bush Administraiton

W. continues to defend his one man rule saying yesterday that this whole breaking-the-laws-against-domestic spying thing was no big deal. "This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America, and I repeat limited."

To him it might be limited, but tapping into switchers that contain millions of messages from American's e-mails and phones and then mining the data for God knows what and passing that info around to the FBI, DIA, CIA and Department of Homeland Security for their own designs---including the pentagon compiling files on anti-war protesters---seems a little more than simply finding out, "If somebody from al Qaeda is calling you, we'd like to know why."

Maybe, W. doesn't even understand what they're up to because he also assured everyone that, "The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers called from the outside of the United States of known al Qaeda or affiliated people." The Post says, "The White House later clarified that the program monitors both incoming and outgoing calls." And they might have added thousands of calls, not just a few.

Worse than Nixon?

This is reminiscent of the NSA spying on Americans in the 70's under program Shamrock and operation Minaret. According to the Church commission report of the Senate SELECT COMMITTEE TO STUDY GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS
in 1976:

"NSA has intercepted and disseminated international communications of American citizens whose privacy ought to be protected under our Constitution. For example, from August 1945 to May 1975, NSA obtained copies of many international telegrams sent to, from, or through the United States from three telegraph companies. In addition, from the early 1960s until 1973, NSA targeted the international communications of certain American citizens by placing their names on a "watch list." Intercepted messages were disseminated to the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), and the Department of Defense. In neither program were warrants obtained."

[Sound familiar? These revelations led to the 1978 law that W. is now breaking.]

Apparently, as legal and above-board as this new updated program of domestic spying is, the NYT reported Sunday, "That James B. Comey, then deputy attorney general, refused to sign on to the recertification of the program in March 2004.

That prompted two of Mr. Bush's most senior aides - Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel and now the attorney general - to make an emergency hospital visit to John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to try to persuade him to give his authorization, as required by White House procedures for the program." They probably had him doped up pretty good before he went ahead and signed it, too.

President to appoint horse to Senate?

Beyond the question of what the government is doing with all this information and which agencies are making lists to see who's being naughty and nice, what happens to all these watch lists if a less than benevolent regime ever takes power? I mean, what if Hillary gets into the White House and starts using all this information to go after all the right wingers? Food for thought all you Free Republic types out there!

You know, the Romans thought they were sitting pretty when the young son of Germanicus took over from the tyrannical Tiberius and made a big show of burning all the secret files Sajanus had kept on the personal lives of everybody, but what they didn't know was that he had copies and they soon learned that "little boot" was a little crazy. And that young man grew up to be Caligula...And that's the rest of the story. Good night folks!

Cheney: no fear of flying!

W. & Co. are really into knowing everything about what and who you're talking to, but Dick Cheney is busy making sure no one knows anything about what he's doing. I hear he's had google earth blur the image over his residence and he isn't telling anyone where he travels, who pays for it, or what it's costing us.

According to Lobby Watch (Via This Fucking War, thanks madtom):

"Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff have been unilaterally exempting themselves from long-standing travel disclosure rules followed by the rest of the executive branch, including the Office of the President, the Center for Public Integrity has discovered.

Cheney's office also appears to have stuck taxpayers with untold millions in travel costs rather than accepting trip sponsors' funds that the rules would require to be disclosed. Some would credit the vice president's office for not accepting outside cash to cover his travel costs. That may be true, but critics point out that the Office of the Vice President's lack of disclosure also creates an opaque situation, with little or no transparency or accountability and at a substantial cost to taxpayers."

Boy, even W. has to follow these rules, but not Darth. Makes you wonder who is really in control over there at 1600.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 3:20 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 2 January 2006 3:29 PM EST
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