The Talking Dog

November 29, 2004, Welcome Back, Al-Zawahiri

Just when we were getting used to a probable record month for American casualties in Iraq, Al Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri sends greetings via a video broadcast on al Jazeera television.

The video-tape was pretty close to OBL's own pre-election message (which, translated from the Arabic, went something like "while Bush is obviously great for our business, given that Kerry is pandering to your stupid rural assholes by trying to get a seat at the tough guy's table, he won't be that bad for business either").

The text of the portions that al Jazeera broadcast (my translation) was something like "Egypt and Saudi Arabia help infidels kill Muslims yada yada yada Die Zionist Pigs yada yada yada We laugh at you, Pervez Musharaf yada yada yada You stupid Americans' elections in Iraq and Afghanistan won't get you anywhere yada yada yada We got lucky on 9-11 and really shot our wad so all we can do is taunt you with these videos".

Well, at least four more years of this, folks. You know, some of you people may be visiting New York or Washington if these people ever get their act together again (which, frankly, is not that likely). Oh well. I won't lose any sleep worrying about a highly unlikely terrorist attack; why bother, when we have an almost certain social breakdown caused by our insanely irresponsible financial policies on its way.

November 28, 2004, Axis of Evil TM Roundup

This week's visit to our friends at Beijing's People's Daily will give us a brief look at all three members of the Axis of Evil TM.

First, from Iran, we see that the Iranian foreign ministry is quibbling with the recent purported agreement with European powers Britain, France and Germany to suspend uranium enrichment activities, though Iran ("with the support of nations from the non-aligned movement") is seeking to modify aspects of the agreement, including keeping 20 centrifuges "for research". Note that the USA continues to accuse Iran of developing weapons. Our problem here is that (1) we have no real military leverage-- we are overspent in Iraq right now, and short of some bombing runs which I don't think would get the job done, are reduced to "diplomatic" leverage against a nation we've had no relations with for a quarter century, (2) the rest of the world has no leverage either, other than, perhaps "moral suasion", or worse (3) other than the USA and the EU, the rest of the world has little interest in whether or not Iran develops nuclear weapons, which they perceive will be aimed at Israel, the EU or USA, and not them. I have suggested that this IS an area for our friends in Beijing: pointing out to President Hu that the USA being subject to nuclear blackmail (or even having to deal with its principal client Israel subject to nuclear blackmail) is bad for business. I would have liked a credible military threat, of course, but Bush-family-bogeyman Saddam Hussein was far more important, don't you know.

Closer to home (if your home is... Beijing), comes to this report that (inexplicably) North Korea is suspending work on is light water nuclear reactor. This reactor, not usually used for weapons, is the product of our 1994 agreement with the DPRK to suspend its weapons program-- the deal that wildman Kim Jong Il's government broke around 2000, and caused all sorts of trouble. My guess is that the North Koreans are simply diverting resources to their actual weapons programs, rather than something merely designed to generate energy for their desperately poor nation. Once again-- the answer as I see it is to make it clear to the Chinese that nuclear blackmail of us (and our key clients in Seoul and Tokyo) would be very bad for business. Here, the Chinese have far more direct leverage. Again, my view is that the ultimate deal should be buying North Korea's nuclear program lock, stock and barrel, and while we're at it, buying down its conventional army (the kind of aid package I'm talking about would cost a fraction of our little Iran adventure, btw). Again, though-- the Chinese would have to broker it. I have every confidence in their ability to do it (though none in our own...)

And finally, its back to Iraq, where the interim government states that (God willing) the January 30th elections will not be delayed (the Sunnis be damned, even though 17 political parties, including Interim PM Allawi's own party have called for a six month delay, and the American elections have safely returned the Imperium). This is not unexpected: the January 30th elections are a key part of American domestic policy, possibly to enable the Pentagon to declare victory and start drawing down troops so that they might be available for an adventure in Iran or Syria (or something). I'll just say this: the Iraqis are a resilient people. This might somehow work out, despite the ham-handed American actions which have turned the country into a complete and total hash (key stat: child malnutrition has doubled and gone back to the same level as the height of sanctions; we have made things far worse than under the discredited Oil for Food Program; but I digress). In short, I am convinced that the best gift we can give the Iraqi people is to leave as soon after their election as possible. Given domestic political imperatives, the Bush Administration may well agree with this sentiment-- doing a double-back-flip on those who voted for it thinking that the perceived pussy John Kerry would "cut and run". Well, time will tell.

This has been Axis of Evil TM roundup.

November 27, 2004, Pick in Kiev (continued)

The potentially explosive situation in Kiev, Ukraine following the hotly disputed presidential election rolls along. According to this piece (representing this week's visit to Pravda), time is not on the side of the opposition, whose candidate Victor Yuschenko managed to get Ukraine's supreme court to hold up certifying the election results.

Pravda's take is that we have an especially interesting situation in Ukraine, where the Kremlin has sided with the sitting government of outgoing current president Leonid Kuchma along with the government's candidate, Victor Yanukovich, and the European Union has clearly sided with challenger Yuschenko. Naturally, Yanukovich is looking to strengthen ties with Moscow, and Yuschenko, with the EU. Pravda's tone is decidedly pro-Moscow in this case, noting that a number of Eastern European leaders who have arrived in Kiev to mediate (including Polish President Alexander "the Kwaz" Kwazniewski) are doing so at the behest and behalf of the EU. Of course the Kwaz is marching to the tune of Brussels, here. No reason why a Polish president (btw, former Polish President Lech Walesa is also in Kiev to try to mediate) might have an interest in Ukraine (which, IIRC, borders... Poland...).

The Pravda piece also asserts that the mood of the street crowds may determine the outcome here, aned given the onset of winter, darkness, et al., they may not be able to keep up this fight all that much longer, ultimately favoring Yanukovich.

We'll see how this works out. Russian President Putin's advice, on its face, of letting Ukrainian institutions work out Ukrainian affairs without interference from Brussels or Washington (or Moscow?) is sound, and indeed, unassailable. At the moment, Ukraine's supreme court has the matter in hand (first hearings scheduled for Monday). Ukraine's parliament is in emergency session, and there may be a consensus for a new elections. My understanding as I write this (around 15:00 GMT) is that the election results have been decertified and new elections are in the offing. Naturally, portions of Eastern Ukraine (more Russian speaking) are threatening to break off (recall Czechoslovakia broke into the Czech Republic and Slovakia; unclear what Ukraine would break into... "U" and "Kraine"? Developing...)

I disagree with Pravda on the power of the street protest movements: in Eastern Europe, at least, these movements tend to be fomenters of change, and frankly, I think are accelerating events there by changing the political dynamic. Ukrainian institutions may well conclude that Yanukovich is the rightful winner, but if so, will not do so in a half-assed and brazenly partisan way (see Bush v. Gore), but will have to do so openly, and for damned good reason.

At least, that's what I'm hoping. So far, at least, the situation has not degenerated into violence. Let's hope at least that record continues, and this is resolved peacefully, if not to the satisfaction of all sides.

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November 25, 2004, Happy Thanksgiving

While America's "morality-obsessed" voters get ready for their national day of gluttony (to be followed by our national month or so of avarice), yours truly would like to give thanks... to the people of Ukraine for taking democracy seriously enough to threaten an armed revolt when an election is clearly stolen right from under them (we're obviously hoping this works out peacefully and orderly, with no loss of life; still, I am heartened by the enthusiasm all around) . While EU and Russian leaders are urging a peaceful resolution, its good to see that there are things in this world that some people actually take seriously enough to take to the streets about in meaningful numbers.

It's not without some irony that American officals (like our lame duck Secretary of State) are acknowledging that Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's apparent electoral win for the Ukrainian presidency over challenger Victor Yushchenko is apparently tainted by fraud and not recognized as legitimate by the American government. The primary bone of contention, of course, is that exit polls show clearly that Yuschenko won. (Of course, exit polls were exactly accurate in predicting which American presidential candidate won... except in electronic-voting-machine heavy swing states Ohio and Florida. In some sense, it is a sign of our own national maturity that we have an orderly court system that we all respect... even when those very courts betray that respect. On the other hand, there are plenty of appropriate peaceful ways to show our outrage here... that aren't being pursued. I believe it was Dr. King who said that we begin to die the day we stop talking about things that are important.)

Back in Kiev, Yuschenko supporters have been taking to the cold streets for days, and at various times, Yuschenko has threatened blockades, strikes, or worse. Yuschenko has offered to hold a new election, and at other times Yanukovych has been conciliatory and... less conciliatory.

For the moment, Yuschenko (apparently) will take his dispute with Ukraine's election commission to Ukraine's courts. If Ukraine's high court proves to be as corrupt as the election commission (never seen THAT before), it remains unclear what will happen next (even as former Polish Solidarity union leader and President Lech Walesa is in Kiev to try to mediate a peaceful resolution). The situation remains potentially explosive (though thankfully, Ukraine renounced the Soviet era nuclear weapons on its soil a long time ago).

Thankful, talking dog, for potentially maddening disorder among a nation over 40,000,000 people? You're damned right. While only 21% of our own 18-25 year olds bothered to get off their ass to vote in our own nation, other nations that have experienced totalitarianism and privation and chaos, et al. understand just how important... some things-- like democracy-- are. So important, they are worth taking chances for. And they will not sit back and take them for granted. It's as if these people were... alive.

And for that, I am thankful. Even if they're not my own countrymen.

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November 23, 2004, Rummy Denies Helping to Kill Bill Reducing Own Power

There are the known knowns, and the known untruths, such as SecDef Rumsfeld's statement that he supports the recently killed-by-Congress legislative overhaul of the nation's intelligence apparatus. One of the killed proviswions, the darling of the 9-11 Commission, would have consolidated many intelligence functions under a national intelligence coordinator (a job left vacant over the last four years while NSC Advisor "Dr." Condolleezza Rice took a paid leave of absence from her position that usually performs this function).

To be honest with you, I was never a big fan of the intelligence "reform". Having a national drug czar has done little if anything to advance the "War on Drugs TM". Of course, to be fair, that's because the War on Drugs TM is a stupid idea, that wastes billions of dollars and probably millions of lives in a futile effort to alter human nature, in a stupid, self-defeating puritan way that only Americans would even dream of doing. So, having an intelligence czar could marginalize critical intelligence. The fact is, it wasn't the lack of an intelligence coordinator that was the cause of failure prior to 9-11: it was a failure of existing government officials, most prominently the aforementioned "Dr." Rice, the President himself, and of course, SecDef Rumsfeld, former FBI Director and full-time Clinton hater Louis "World B." Freeh (Mueller stepped in just a few days before 9-11) and former CIA Director Tenet, among many others. Having an intelligence czar then would have involved the President installing yet another incompetent yes-man, who would have doubtless missed all the pre-9-11 signals.

The fact is, the institutions didn't fail. The President failed. And the American people have decided that, like the President himself, they're o.k. with failure. As long as he talks tough and allows us the fantasy of safety, well, we'll reward him and his (incompetent) people with a job extension.

So... I didn't see the failure of the intelligence bill/window dressing as all that big a deal. What's interesting, of course, is that both Rumsfeld and the White House were calling Congressmen left and right trying to kill this particular reform, which they publicly tell us they want, even though we all know that they do not (they LIKE the current arrangements, as an intelligence czar might potentially actually show some independence...) And yet, they insist (despite their hands in the cookie jar) on saying that "OH NO, OF COURSE WE SUPPORTED THE BILL... ITS THAT DAMNED CONGRESS."

A Congress that owes its job to Karl Rove and knows it. Sure: the mean old Congress took upon itself to balk at what the President wants. Right.

Get used to it: we'll be seeing this sort of song and dance a lot over the next four years.

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November 22, 2004, Colin says he's pleased by Palestinian election preparations; Bush asks "did someone say something?"

Lame duck Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the first time in sixteen months (is it actually conceivable that an American Secretary of State has been absent from Israel for that long?) announced that he was pleased with both preparations by the Palestinians for their election and preparations by the Israelis to actually allow Palestinian candidates to move around to campaign and Palestinian voters to vote.

I suppose Powell is in the area because "the quartet" (USA, EU, UN and... Russia? RUSSIA?) are meeting at the Sharm el Sheik resort in Egypt to discuss peace in the post-Arafat world.

Needless to say, Powell IS interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and yet, on Bush-family business, didn't want to appear in the region within over a year before the election. We can only imagine the intense of level of interest that will be shown by Powell's successor, "Dr." Rice.

This is a fascinating freebie, which we are guaranteed to squander. We can basically ride the sudden wave of enthusiasm among Israeli public opinion for Israeli withdrawal (starting with unilateral withdrawal from Gaza) and take advantage of Arafat's fortuitous death (let's face it; just as the old joke is that whatever day Arafat died would be a Jewish holiday, so any time he died would be fortuitous) to actually ram peace down the parties' throats. We could, for example, tie the hands of extremist/irredentist Jews who refused to give up the settlements by threatening Security Council action against Israel for not playing ball (NOT the Arab and third-world dictatorship dominated General Assembly), or more importantly, threatening to cut Israel off financially.

Of course, none of this is politically viable because of domestic American politics... even for Mandate Man ... Still, there are plenty of intermediate pressure points we could play to move things along-- again, given that there is a fortuitous willingness among most Israelis right now for some action in this department.

Not to worry. We won't do anything much. If Arik Sharon wants a deal, we will green-light it. Given that the deal he envisions would involve a few islands of Palestinian pockets in a sea of Jewish settlement, it doesn't strike me that a democratic Palestinian government seeking a viable new state would go along with it. But then, the status quo isn't so bad... unless you're Palestinian... or Israeli...

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November 21, 2004, We promised 'em elections, by God they'll GET elections

Because I find what we have wrought on the Iraqi people to be far too depressing to read about these days in English, I figured I'd introduce a new feature, linking to commentary in French, like this piece from Paris' Le Monde. What my two years of high school French allow me to glean from this piece are that: (1) we have scheduled elections in Iraq (for a national assembly, Kurdish parliament and regional provincial governments) for January 30, 2005 (apparently keeping that promise), (2) Sunnis are somewhat tense about the whole thing, given that Shiites outnumber them, and might just be looking for some payback from the ballot box, and (3) there seems to be an increase in violent activity all around Iraq, which is bad, seeing as Iraq is starting from a pretty violent baseline.

The argent line from the piece is Mais un haut gradé de l'armée américaine a nuancé ces propos, samedi, en affirmant : "Il est trop tôt pour dire que la colonne vertébrale de l'insurrection est brisée." My high school French tells me this means that some unnamed American official said that it would be kind of too early to say that the American assault on Falluja broke the back of the insurgency. (Given that I suspect that I probably have the most erudite audience in all of blogdom, if not the universe, anyone with a better translation is free to post it in comments, or otherwise, give their impressions of the Le Monde piece, or of course, to tell me to stop linking to anything the French have to say. Zut alors.)

The long and short of it seems to be that we'd best learn to like, maybe even love, the mess we've created over in Iraq. Because its ours now.

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November 21, 2004, How now, kow tow?

Recently re-elected American President George W. Bush (secret identity and day job of super-hero "Mandate Man") met with his buddy (from The Super-Power Friends), Chinese Premier Hu Jin-tao (secret identity and day job of "Debt Buy Guy") at Santiago, Chile as part of the twelfth Asia Pacific economic summit, and their meeting is nicely capsulized in this piece (also known as this week's visit to our friends from Beijing's People's Daily).

It's an interesting study, actually. For one thing, it notes that in a virtually complete and total turnabout, George W. Bush is, hook, line and sinker, adopting the Mainland Chinese position towards "renegade province" Taiwan, i.e., for at least rhetorical purposes, there is "one China" (and two... or more... systems... for now...) Further, Taiwanese independence bad, "peaceful" reunification good. So much for all that ill will from our spy-plane being shot down back in The Year 1 B-911, or Bush's calling China " a strategic competitor". Say this for the Chinese: they don't hold a grudge. No sirree.

WARNING: The following paragraph should be avoided by people who are in danger of going insane if they know too much about the Bush family.

Recall that shortly after American-PRC relations were initiated via Nixon, ping-pong diplomacy and all that, our first envoy to the People's Republic was none other than George H.W. "Poppy" Bush. Further, note that Neil Bush (yes, that Neil Bush) receives a great deal of "consulting work" from entities closely associated with the PRC's People's Liberation Army. We won't even talk about the relationship between Rosalind Chao (Junior Bush's Labor Secretary) and her husband Kentucky Senator Mitch "Prince of Darkness Pro Tempore When Bob Novak Is out of Town" McConnell and their cozy relationship to the Mainland regime. Knowing all of this, is it possible that American economic policy might be intentionally running up massive budget and trade deficits, for the benefit of China? I mean, China at this point is running a massive trade surplus with us (btw, pretty much alone; China buys more than it sells to most of the rest of the world), and of course, China is buying up all those T-bills we keep floating in lieu of actualy taxing our own people to fund our own government's obligations.

(We now resume our regularly scheduled post; you may turn your monitors back on.)

To the extent there is good news out of the piece, it appears that our President is going to defer to China a lot more heavily than many would have anticipated in dealing with the Wildcard regime of the DPRK (North Korea). Good news, you say? We're going to defer dealing with nutjobs who threaten the ability to destroy two of our most important allies (South Korea and Japan), not to mention, our own West Coast, to a communist regime? You bet. That's good news. It means that George W. Bush has recognized the limits to projecting American power-- albeit, limits that he created by chosing to squander that power in Mesopotamia for personal and domestic political reasons. It means we have no choice but to seek "regional cooperation", which means we have to at least behave like grown ups, at least in that part of the world.

Ah, but it also means that the Chinese recognize that they have an investment too: in plain English, they own our ass. Hence, it will not be in the Chinese national interest to allow the North Koreans to engage in nuclear blackmail over us, or more importantly, to merrily dispense nuclear weapons to terrorists for use in North America. Why? Exactly: they own our ass. We is Beijing's bitch, baby. Although the Saudis are sufficiently evil not to care all that much if their investment here is threatened by Saudi lunatics blowing shit up stateside, the Chinese are not. They need a place to keep selling their cheap tchotchkes: and that place is the United States of America; by contrast, the Saudis can sell their oil to anyone.

You see, this is the same reason why I am somewhat more optimistic than most people regarding Iran: the mullahs, Allah be praised, are greedy mother fuckers with billions being siphoned off to Switzerland. Unlike crazy psychotic (but pure and not-corrupt) players like bin laden, Ayatollah Khamani and the rest of the theocracy there don't want to die. That would truly be a bummer to their investments. Why they want nukes is pretty understandable: their neighbors in Russia and nearby Pakistan and India have them, and as they learned from watching what went down in the rest of the Axis of Evil TM, having nukes means the United States can't really make good on promises of regime change. Iran is a tad more dangerous than most places, given its extensive support of nasty terrorists like Hizbollah. Of course, Israel has a couple of hundred nuclear devices, and could, if necessary (and I suspect it would if it came to it) destroy most of the Arab and Persian world (that includes-- first and foremost- Iran) should some kind of nuclear strike be aimed at Israel. See above re: mullahs and not wanting to die. Still, it just adds needless complication and risk that we should avoid (and would probably succeed in avoiding, but for having so starkly shown the limitations of American power... in Iraq.)

Solution? Exactly. The Chinese. A fair part of Iran's nuke problem is helped out by "our ally" Pakistan and Dr. Strangelove Khan. If we can use China to pressure Pakistan to pressure Iran, we might actually be able to get something done via back-channels. Why would China help us out this way? See above re: "they own our ass."

China treats dissenters pretty viciously (everyone from Moslems in Western Xinxiang province to Tibetans to Christians to Falun Gang to plain old political dissenters). But there's not too much we can say about it. See above re: they own our ass.

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November 20, 2004, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold War

This week's visit to Pravda gives us this brief discussion of the recent announcement by new CIA Director/Bush political officer Porter Goss of a "new approach" to the CIA's work of intelligence gathering. Goss has apparently renewed his subscription to the magazine Duh!, and concluded that (wait for it) North Korea and Iran present the most serious threats to American interests, and therefore, will be the focus of the agency's intelligence efforts.

Goss, who was a CIA clandestine operative back in the 60's, before later becoming a Congressman and loyal foot-soldier for Newt Gingrich and the more outlandish excesses of the Republicans a a loyal cheerleader for the Emperor, now wants to bring in "new approaches" to the agencies operations, new approaches which even Goss acknowledges will put our agents at grave danger.

This is all very interesting. After the events of 9-11-01, and the unbelievable (or, all too believable) failures of intelligence leading to the run-up to the Iraq Adventure, and other intelligence failures, the current perception of America's spook services is, well, less than ideal. In Goss's day back in the 60's, what's interesting is that while the agency was probably no less incompetent than it is now (think "Bay of Pigs"), because of, oh, the fact that somehow the world didn't get blown up (which took a lot more plain old good luck than most would care to admit) and James Bond movies, the CIA was perceived as remarkably competent and efficient.

Well, here we are. Let me lay out the world score-board, for those who haven't figured it out (just some highlights; we needn't concern ourselves with the second divisions and how other smaller clubs are faring.) The United States' entire combat capacity is now engaged, thanks to Iraq. And even in Iraq, we are being held to a rather bloody draw by "insurgents" who are not (apparently) backed by any specific government (except our "ally" Saudi Arabia), and probably need hundreds of thousands of additional troops who, of course, we do not have. Another "ally", Pakistan, thanks to its Dr. Khan, who really is the living embodiment of a Bond villain, is proliferating nuclear weapons technology for cash all over the place, and his efforts have brought most fruition to the aforementioned North Korea and Iran, though there are others.

In North Korea, notwithstanding over 30,000 American troops stationed on the border (and hundreds of thousands of South Korean troops), any likely military option would result in serious casualties to allies South Korea and Japan, and of course, unknown results given that China (our principal financier these days) is considered a North Korean ally (its only one, actually). The President is engaging in multi-party regional talks, which seem to... not be going anywhere too good... Oh-- did I mention North Korea also has ballistic missiles which can probably reach Alaska, and maybe the West Coast?

In Iran, nuclear programs proceed apace. The Iranians, of course, are a country we haven't talked to in 25 years. They merrily support Hizbollah and some of the nastiest prick terrorists on the planet (though as far as we know, Shia Iran doesn't like Sunni Al Qaeda very much... as far as we know...) Their mullah leaders are also unpredictable and potentially irrational, though they ARE at least, greedy bastards, and probably therefore, don't want to commit suicide. Israel, with its own arsenal of perhaps a couple of hundred nuclear devices at Dimona (in the Negev) regards Iran (rightly) as an existential threat (unlike Iraq, despite Neocon fantasies that Iraq presented the threat). Lately, we have been talking about military action against Iran. Such talk is not credible. (See above, re: entirely committed to Iraq).

Our good buddies in Russia, btw, who are also "battling terrorism" (the ineivitable results of their brutal actions in Chechnya), are also active in helping Iran develop its nuclear program.

Other countries out there that (thanks to the aforementioned Dr. Khan) that likely are developing nuclear weapons at some stage include South Korea, Brazil, and Nigeria. There are others.

Again: our ability to respond diplomatically is somewhat compromised because (1) straight diplomacy will probably not be well received, as we are led by people whose incompetence can only be described as criminal, and anyone in the diplomatic or intelligence systems who might have been competent (George Tenet, Colin Powell, et al.) is being flushed out in favor of loyalist yes-persons (Porter Goss, Condoleezza Rice, et al.); (2) we lack a credible military threat to back up our diplomacy (a point which Senator Kerry failed to make during his recent disastrously bad campaign; he should have acknowledged that his Iraq vote was a huge mistake because it gave the President a green light to divert our already overcommitted military to an irrelevant theater, and give far freer reign to the two actually dangerous members of the Axis of Evil TM- Iran and North Korea- to advance their nuclear programs); and (3) we lack even the financial ability to buy our way to peace.

This last option, of course is alternatively known as "appeasement", but is much maligned for no good reason. Everything from "Club Med for Dictators" to the sort of "economic development assistance" we have previously offered to North Korea and Europe seems to be offering to Iran could work, at least for a while. With enough money, for example, we can buy North Korea's nuclear program: we can literally be its only and best customer (reducing the load on our current nuke factory in Texas), and buy ourselves verification in the process. We could probably do the same thing in Iran, and bring Iran in to help us stabilize the Shia areas of Iraq (while we keep their activities there under our scrutiny). Of course, besides money, things like this take half a brain. We have neither under the deficit happy Bush Administration.

Look for Goss's new spooks to try to do more with less.

We've been blessed with a great deal of luck before. Maybe we'll keep the streak going, even if naysayers like me think there is a point we have long exceeded where you push your luck too far. The American people certainly vote that way; as always, I'll acknowledge that I might be the one out of touch. Might be. I'm kind of hoping I am.

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November 18, 2004, Wonder Drugs That Make You Wonder

In some recent exchanges between yours truly and Granny, who, by profession, is a pharmacy technician, we learned from Granny that the recently-pulled-off-the-market arthritis drug Vioxx (from Merck... its stock price has suffered some...) was only the beginning.

We learn today from a respected scientist (and government drug reviewer), David Graham, that at least five more FDA-approved drugs pose imminent risks, and should be pulled off the market immediately. These drugs are Meridia (a weight-loss drug which creates risks of higher blood pressure and stroke among people taking it), Crestor (an anti-cholesterol drug that causes occurrence of renal failure and other serious side effects among people taking it, while two of three other statin competitors prevent heart attack and stroke and do not cause renal failure),
Accutane (an acne drug linked to birth defects; Graham said the drug represents a 20-year "regulatory failure" by the FDA and sales should be restricted immediately ), Bextra (a painkiller that Graham says poses the same heart attack and stroke risk as Vioxx) and Serevent (an asthma treatment that Graham says has shown, with 90 percent certainty in a long-term trial in England, to cause deaths due to asthma;"We've got case reports of people dying, clutching their Serevent inhaler," Graham said. "But Serevent is still on the market."). Drug makers defended the use and safety of their products, as did, of course, the pharmaceutical industry council, also known as the "Food and Drug Administration".

Graham contended the country is "virtually defenseless" against a repeat of the Vioxx debacle, because of hopeless conflicts within the FDA, and a defective mechanism to ensure drug safety. Naturally, Dr. Steven Galson of the FDA rejected that comment as having "no basis in fact." Merck & Co. previously pulled Vioxx from the market on Sept. 30 after a study indicated the popular painkiller doubled the risk of heart attacks and stroke when taken for longer than 18 months.

Again, Granny believes this is the tip of the iceberg: no one (for example) is keeping track of the unbelievable number of possible adverse drug interactions, particularly from long term use, of the ever increasing and more complicated (and more profitable) group of wonder drugs.

To be fair, this has a number of factors driving it. Americans are always willing to reach for a magic pill to solve everything, even if prudence would dictate simply grinning and bearing the condition, or leading a simple, decent healthy lifestyle of reasonable diet, exercise, not smoking and so forth. Our perverse health care system will happily pay hundreds of dollars a month, forever, for the latest wonder drug, rather than far more reasonable costs of, say, a health club membership, or reasonable dietary counseling. And of course, we are obsessed with quick relief for everything... probably caused by our industrial-assembly-line public education system and hair-trigger attention spans caused by television (and the crap that's on it).

Well, the quick relief, it seems, presents far more problems than they solve, in many cases. As we obsess about this year's budget destroying gimmick, the Medicare "prescription drug benefit", perhaps we should consider whether this is "a benefit" at all to anyone... except pharmaceutical companies... at any level.

Anyway, since Americans clearly voted for a mandate against reality, there's no point in worrying about any of this for at least the next four years or so.

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November 17, 2004, Fallujah Again

That pun is overly used by Jim Henley, but I have learned in blogging as everywhere else, when stealing, steal from the best. And just as I have stolen the post title, so the link is... "borrowed", or at least generously provided to us by Bruce "the Veep" Moomaw, who gives us the Grey Lady's account of... just why our marines aren't finding lots and lots of deceased insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq.

Short answer, of course, is that in the weeks and longer of run-up to this, the smarter insurgents (and as many civilians as could) up and left, leaving behind a crack suicide squad to pin down our forces and take as many of us as they could, and by yet more time and cover for their comrades to escape, regroup, and attack us another day. Quite possibly, from an eventually to be abandoned Fallujah!

Fallujah, of course, must be seen for what it was: a domestic political initiative designed before the election (though executed after) to convince an otherwise uninterested or at least forgiving American people that "we are making progress" in whatever it is we are doing in Iraq. What we are doing, of course, is getting our own people killed (1200 now, and counting), our own treasury decimated (hundreds of billions down the toilet), fomenting years, if not decades of resentment and hatred toward us, which will almost certainly result in future terrorist attacks against our interests (if not necessarily carried out in North America).

As an added benefit, our military has been stretched beyond the breaking point, and the usual politically expedient solution for such a situation is a draft; the 79% of 18 to 25 year olds brought this upon themselves, of course, by not going out and voting, perhaps for a candidate who might NOT risk getting them killed in a fool's errand to show his Poppy whose was bigger.

Well, that's where we are. Mired in a war against "insurgents" largely of our own making in a theater we cannot win, largely fought for a strange combination of (1) deliberately destabilizing the region to make sure Iraqi oil does not come on line anytime soon (thereby increasing the price of all to the benefit of the President's Saudi friends... and masters...), (2) keeping an American presence in Iraq, on the doorstep of Saudi, so that our presence in the Kingdom of Petro-Plutocrats can be reduced (for Saudi domestic benefit, (3) propping up the Praetorian state, so that GOP-contributing defense contractors have a nice source of revenue which can be recycled to Republican candidates, and of course, most importantly, (4) keeping the Treasury bereft of spare funds that might go to those awful social programs.

The President has a mandate for all of this. Don't worry about his actual margin of victory: the fact that he wasn't trounced by at least 30 million votes is mandate enough.

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November 16, 2004, Rank Incompetence Has Its Privileges

Brief news event (apropos of the post title), thanks to Bruce the Veep, who solves the mystery of why Colin is out, and Rummy is in, with this WaPo piece. What it boils down to is that if the Colin Powell wing were to survive while the Rummy wing were to be ousted, this might be perceived as a tacit admission that the fucking disaster known as the Iraq campaign wasn't a perfectly executed military masterpiece that threatened to undermine rather than enhance our national security.

Hence, rather than admit the possibility that a disastrous policy was... the least bit problematic... best to jettison everyone else and continue executing the disastrous policy. Those of us who were perplexed that Senator Kerry didn't say "My vote for the war was a mistake; therefore, my vote not to pay for it was NOT a mistake and if elected President, I will get us the fuck OUT of this mistake so fast your heads will spin..." need no longer worry about it.

Because the policy executed by the Bush Administration is, of course, flawless, and we should all give thanks to the one true God (Pat and Jerry, which one is that?) for blessing us with a leader like George W. Bush and a brilliant tactician like Donald Rumsfeld.

I didn't get a hozah! out of you... you'd best watcheth thine derriere...

Finally, a hearty happy birthday to Mrs. TD. (We went out to see Bobby Short for the occasion; unlike our SecDef, Bobby is VERY competent, as is Mrs. TD.) And tomorrow night (17 November)those of you so inclined can figure out a way to listen to your talking dog on internet radio with Shaun from Vegas (baby). Don't ask me how... Just figure out how... and tune in! (8 pm PST, I understand.)

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November 15, 2004, Colin Out; Condi In

The President seems not to be wasting any time in his cabinet shake-ups. Just hours after forcing/accepting the resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the President announced his choice of National Security Advisor Incompentalleezza "Condi" Rice to replace him at State.

It's becoming clear that the President now wants to use his "mandate", i.e. 51% or so of the population has unequivocally endorsed his agenda of deficit spending to finance tax cuts for the super-well-off, aggressive, poorly planned foreign adventures (featuring atrocities like torture and killing of civilians), locking up citizens at whim, environmental degradation and an aggressive path toward national ruination on all spheres, and now wants to place pure, proven loyalists like Gonzales at Justice, Goss at CIA, and now, Rice at State.

You see, in this Administration, loyalty to the Emperor is what matters-- not merely loyalty to the Imperium (we won't even pretend its about loyalty to the Empire, the people, or any nonsense like that).

Frankly, I sit back here, and say this: It's Bush's team. He's entitled to staff it with people he wants. If it's a fucking disaster, it's ultimate his responsibility, even if the voters seem willing to give him a pass, be it for the actual reason (pure meanness on the part of the American people that has more than a tinge of affirmative sadism) or the perceived reason (we have everything to fear-- fear itself, swarthy people... Kerry... or any Democrat... can't protect
us the way Emperor Daddy... Junior... whatever... can) for Bush's reelection.

Our republic has survived venal people before. Of course, in general, at least those venal people usually had some basic levels of competence. We're about to see if our Founders could anticipate not merely venal people, but venal and insanely stupid and irresponsible people.

We'll likely survive this group too. However, no bets please.

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November 14, 2004, Sunrise at Ramallah?

Our visit to Beijing's People's Daily first gives us this sometimes gushing, sometimes accurate, discussion of Yasir Arafat, his "legacy", and, finally, the prospects for something good to come out of the Israeli-Palestinian situation now that this criminal (my words) is finally dead.

While the early analyses discuss the magnitude of Arafat as a figure (having monopolized all Palestinian levers of power), as the piece goes on, a more "real-politik" approach takes hold of the Chinese analysts, and they point out that Palestinian institutions (including even Hamas and Hizbollah) seem to be behaving in an orderly fashion now, and it is very likely that there will emerge some sort of credible Palestinian leadership. (While I have noted that American opinion couldn't care less about the situation, as commenter Haggai has noted here, the fact that Israeli public opinion is now shifting toward disengagement, if Gaza if nowhere else, presents a strong likelihood that there will be tremendous pressure for progress within Israeli society. For their part, the Palestinians have announced elections for January 9th to replace Arafat... while we have gotten thousands killed for the fantasy of Iraqi democracy, the reality of Palestinian democracy may result from the death of but one...).

The money line in the People's Daily piece comes at the very end:

In brief, the end of the Arafat era will place before Arab countries the task of repositioning their relations with Palestine. On the balance of the interests of these countries, the question as to whether post-Arafat Palestine will remain as weighty as it was before still needs to be observed.

In other words, the Palestinians have been used as a political football by Arab governments for decades, much to the delight of (and at the behest of) Arafat. Now that he's gone... this could change. And that could have overarching implications in the Middle East... particularly now that the United States has insisted on placing its big bootprint smack in the middle of the region. To paraphrase the (IIRC apocryphal) translation of the Chinese character for "crisis": danger plus opportunity.

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November 13, 2004, Race of evil birds plans bio-terror attack

This week's visit to Pravda (have we missed a visit somewhere back there?) gives us this brief piece outlining a possible threat to humanity from the latest strain of avian (or "bird") flu originating in Far Eastern chickens and travelling via ducks (the old Marx Brothers bit... China? Marx? Never mind...) quite possibly into a strain transmittable to humans.

The reference to the Spanish flu, of course, refers to the pandemic that broke out right after World War I, and killed well over 20 million world wide (around the same number as the world war itself). The reference to the Black Death, if possible, is even more ominous, as the bubonic plague transmitted by rats killed something around a third of Europe's population around the 1300's.
While I would hope that a large part of the world, with modern public health measures, would be far less susceptible to a pandemic than they were 85 years ago, given that the world, in large parts anyway, is already subject to an AIDS pandemic, reducing immuno-resistance as it is, and given the much larger population and the "mega-metropolises" (massive cities well over 10,000,000 people-- several in China and India, Karachi, Pakistan, Lagos, Nigeria, Mexico City, Rio and Sao Paolo, Brazil), I would have to guess the possibility of a devastating pandemic with worldwide deaths well in excess of 1918-19 levels is hardly out of the question.

As always, Americans prove totally incapable of assessing the actual risks of anything. Hence, we seem to have no problem as we value "intellectual property rights" of government subsidized pharmaceutical companies who refuse to set realistic prices for AIDS drugs in the third world as more important than (1) saving human lives over there, and (2) reducing the possibility of devastating pandemic that will infest and blow back over here. We stand by as our own government-- alone in the world-- fails to step up to make sure it has ample alternative supply of this year's flu vaccine (a mistake that will probably result in the unnecessary shortening of thousands of American lives). But we go apeshit at the possibility of (Arab) terrorists exploding a nuclear device in one American city.

The fact is, I would guess that pandemic is a far likelier threat to our nation's people. My guess is that the attention it receives from our government would be something like "zero". Why? There aren't the immense profits to be made from heading off a pandemic that there would be to solve such burning problems as heartburn (sorry), baldness, depression, obesity...

Pravda sends us a polite little wake up call. While I would hope that we take our collective head out of our ass and "think globally" about public health, other than gay-bashing and government spending without paying for it, it's hard for me to think of anything the majority of Americans care about. Including our own health and safety.

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November 12, 2004, Scott Won't Go Scot Free

Scott Peterson was found guilty of first degree murder in the case of his late wife Laci and of second degree murder in the case of their unborn son Connor (Laci was eight months pregnant), according to a California jury. Peterson, who has used what I'll call a "chutzpah defense" strategy, was, as you will recall, found shortly after the death of his wife having $15,000 in cash and having dyed his hair, and reputed to be headed for Mexico (rule one: when fleeing the country after committing a heinous crime, flee). Peterson had also (coincidentally) bought a boat shortly before Laci's death and (even more coincidentally) was "out fishing" around the time of the mureder and (you just won't BELIEVE this coincidence-- but it's just a coincidence-- or a frame) Laci's body washed up right around the marina where Scott kept his boat.

Among the theories (besides "no one actually SAW him kill Laci" and "Scott watched CSI enough times to know not to leave physical evidence, so he must be not guilty") offered by defense lawyer to the star scumbags Mark Geragos concerned the motive: why would Scott want to leave his life for this particular bimbo when he had at least two other affairs? (chutzpah defense).

Well, the judge having duly tossed off the troublemaker jurors likely to acquit, Peterson has been duly convicted, and faces either the more humane lethal injection, or life without parole in California's gang-rape happy prison system (at least the former California attorney general was big on telling us it was gang-rape happy).

To be honest with you, if someone like Peterson were actually executed (not merely sentenced to death, but actually executed), it would go a long way at least in my own mind of dispelling the notion that Americans cannot-- as in we're incapable of it-- administer the death penalty fairly, because we would never (as in NEVER) administer it to a good looking middle class White man.

Not to worry. We won't in this case, either. Even if Peterson seems as deserving a case as any we've seen in some time.

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November 11, 2004, Arafat Dies at 75

After a sudden illness and two weeks of near death, Palestinian Authority President and P.L.O. Chairman Yasir Arafat died at 75 in a French military hospital. The cause of death is currently a mystery. Palestinian institutions appear to be orderly engaging in their succession process.

Israeli PM Sharon has announced that this could trigger a "historic turning point" in the Middle East as to peace possibilities. (Ordinarily, one would want an American honest broker along for the ride, but the American voters recently made that impossible by returning the Imperium.)

I have long held that Arafat (naturally rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize for this) was the principal obstacle to peace. His death now presents a very serious opportunity... will it be squandered?

IF... Israel now tries to shove a non-viable archipelago down the throats of the new Palestinian leadership (which looks to be divided among at least four players, the heads of the PA, PLO, Fatah and the Prime Minister).... "peace" may still be unavailing.

IF... Israel goes back to what could be called "the Taba plan" proposed back when Ehud Barak was PM and Arafat, of course, rejected, and builds on that, maybe we could actually get somewhere.

Time will tell. All I'll say now about Arafat is that he was a major figure, and his death is significant. It does indeed present an opportunity. For what, remains to be seen.

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November 10, 2004, Speedy Gonzales Announcement...

The ink wasn't even dry on John Ashcroft's long overdue resignation, before the President announced his choice to replace Ashcroft as our nation's attorney general: White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. Notice that the usual Democratic spokesmen, Senators Chuck Schumer and Pat Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee, both expressed what appeared to praise of the (perceived to be moderate)
Gonzales. They are simply telegraphing what I assure you will be a smooth and painless confirmation process for Gonzales, because... he is perceived to be moderate...

Of course, Gonzales is anything but, having penned memoranda justifying the President's "inherent" power akin to the divine right of kings, including and especially the (non-existent) power of the President to authorize torture of innocent people. But I digress.

Given that he was kind of loose on parental notification of juvenile abortions back as a judge in Texas, the fundies kind of have a problem with him. No matter: Latinos gave 44% of their vote to the President, and as usual, they will be rewarded with a photo-op and a token appointment, in this case, the nation's first Hispanic Attorney General (and a shoo-in to replace Rehnquist as our first Hispanic Chief Justice).

While much of the left side of the blogosphere is up in arms because of Gonzales' above-referenced support of torture and the divine right of Bush, they forget simple politics. Democrats did not overcome a perception that the fillibuster against Miguel Estrada* was somehow an attack by Democrats against all Latinos. What this means is that no-- as in zero-- political capital will be wasted on Alberto Gonzales, lest Democrats hand Bush yet further inroads in America's fastest growing ethnic minority, Latinos (who, let's face it, tend be far more conservative as individuals than do their so-called "leaders".)

So, let's all congratulate Attorney General Gonzales, both on his new job, and on his appointment soon as our Chief Justice. He will have quite the resume.

Look: we are getting so out-played politically, I cannot tell you. Estrada was blocked because of abortion (let's not kid ourselves). Hispanics have responded, IMHO, by supporting Bush in semi-record numbers (there's just no other explanation that I find credible). Just another example of how the abortion issue seems to trump every other aspect of the Democratic agenda, and keeps getting Democrats bitten on the ass.

I suggest (assuming we care about ever winning the presidency again) that abortion (now unavailable in 86% if American counties, according to Planned Parenthood) should be entirely, 100%, a matter of state law. NOT a fundamental, federal right (meaning the Supreme Court can take it away, just as it created it in the first place), nor anything the federal government can do anything about at all. Let Alabama (where you probably can't get one anyway) ban the procedure; as long as the blue states legalize it, why isn't that good enough? Just my opinion.

Because our new attorney general (and next chief justice) believes in the Divine Right of Bushes to rule unbounded by law, including the power to direct torture.
And his confirmation is pretty much a done deal.

*What a year this has been for Columbia College, and especially Columbia '83! Besides Estrada, my college class features Illinois' new senator Barack Obama, and Martha Stewart's co-defendant Peter Bacanovic, and former Connecdticut Governor John Rowland's principal tormentor, Steven Reich. Columbia College '78 also boasts disgraced soon to be former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey.

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November 9, 2004, Warning in America

Not even his resignation today (along with that of Commerce Secretary Don Evans) could stop Attorney General John Ashcroft from continuing to pursue the Bush Administration's obsession with pre-cradle to grave control of the most private aspects of your lives. Case in point, is the appeal of a Ninth Circuit decision which precluded federal prosecutions against Oregon doctors (acting pursuant to a state law) who prescribed lethal dosages of drugs to cancer patients to hasten their deaths and ease their pain.

I'm sure we can look forward to the Supreme Court backing up their boy by the usual 5-4 decision.

Ominously, since Junior owes his second term to the fundies-- and knows it-- he will make pursuing their agenda-- i.e., preventing women from terminating unwanted pregnancies while still making it harder for them to obtain birth control, and then keeping people in extreme pain from ending their misery while still denying their famililes more expansive medical coverage, a big part of "the mandate"... that "political capital" he will now spend.

Four more years.

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November 8, 2004, Damned judges...

A federal district judge in Washington halted the process of military commissions deciding the fates of at least four of the perpetual prisoners now in illegal confinement in the American gulag at Guantanimo Bay, Cuba.

"Unless and until a competent tribunal determines that petitioner is not entitled to protections afforded prisoners of war under Article 4 of the Geneva Convention ... of Aug. 12, 1949, he may not be tried by military commission for the offenses with which he is charged," U.S. District Judge James Robertson said in his ruling.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, 34, of Yemen, was lucky enough to have a defense lawyer who managed to get a federal judge to halt the proceedings, before the military kangaroo kourt decided to send Hamdan (reputedly OBL's driver) to his fate. Thank God we still have judges with enough integrity to actually follow the law...

Here's the thing: if you put the Bill of Rights to a vote right now before the American people, it might well lose. As I alluded to recently, Americans are downright mean: they are much more interested in inflicting punishment on someone else than they would be on protecting even their own rights. It is, of course, why we HAVE a constitution and courts to enforce them that transcend any individual democratic decision... it's our constitution and tradition of protected freedoms that make this country great, not the fact that in some respects our republic resembles a democracy.

Which takes us back to an analytical point. This will be useful if Democrats ever expect to win another presidential election.

As of July of this year, George W. Bush was dead. Finished. It became John Kerry's race to lose. Which, of course, he did. Why?

Because John Kerry weighted himself with a fantasy: that he could overcome the electorate's traditional suspicion of Democrats on national security issues by simply pretending he was a militaristic tough guy ("John Kerry reporting for duty.") The deft response to Karl Rove was to take on that image directly-- with probable lies, of course, and dishonoring every man and woman that ever served our country in the process-- but then, it worked didn't it (and besides-- Americans are mean; they respect viciousness far more than honor).

More to the point, Kerry ignored the reason Bush was dead in the water: Abu Ghraib. And collaterally, Gitmo. The American people were, for a time, actually outraged that torture (and more importantly, useless gratuitous torture of innocent people including children) was being done in the name of this country. Indeed, I would say the American people were (dare I say it) ashamed.

So, enter John Kerry with the perfect opportunity to bring in his past. No, not the sixteen months or so he was a naval officer in the Vietnam theater, and not the period after that when he protested the war. No, no. BOTH PERIODS. Kerry could have spoken of (get this): dishonor. Not the dishonor of George W. Bush's desertion from the National Guard-- no one cared about that. The dishonor of our president having ordered torture, and then standing by while that order, originally intended for OBL and AQ bigwigs, got morphed for women and children picked up at random off the streets of Baghdad. Kerry should have, on a daily basis, shown the pictures, and demanded an apology from the President himself... and more importantly, someone to be held accountable (i.e., firing Rumsfeld, for example).

Here's the fundamental point: Abu Ghraib was not an opportunity for political points: Abu Ghraib is (hopefully) a one-off outrage. Something to be apologized for. The President made being American something dirty. In short: IT WAS WRONG. Just as holding people arbitrarily, even if apparently for our safety, in violation of treaties, laws and our constitution, IS WRONG.

This wasn't a matter of risking swing voters in Franklin County, Ohio or Orange County, Florida... this was a matter of RIGHT AND WRONG, things that no HUMAN BEING should stand for, let alone an American, let alone an American seeking the presidency. WRONG. Not inconvenient, or ugly, or inexpedient... WRONG.

But neither Senators Kerry nor Edwards dared even mention these outrages. Any wonder 58 or 9 million people seemed unconcerned with them too?

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November 7, 2004, Mission accomplished

In my case, completing the preposterous "two marathons on two consecutive weekends", that featured a 5:55 (and still alive) finish in Washington, D.C.'s Marine Corps Marathon, and today, completing what appears to be the fastest marathon I have run since I was 19, with today's ING New York City Marathon finish in a shade under 5 hours, 4 minutes. Many thanks to Mrs. TD and the Loquacious Pup, for cheering us on in Brooklyn, TD friend Paul for cheering us on in Queens, and Mr. Crabcakes for coming out in Manhattan (and buying your talking dog a much needed bottle of cold Gatorade).

In contrast to the more bi-partisan spirit in our nation's capital last week, this week many runners featured tags on their backs that said "No Mandate", and in the case of one lovely female competitor, "Mandate My Ass" written, well... I'll leave that to your imagination.

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November 6, 2004, Look at this... a talking dog

Care of everybody's favorite blogging ventriloquist Joe Gandelman we give you this (apparently documented) story of a talking dog out of Russia.

Given that our own site features a talking dog (already), visits from a typing crab, frequent references to a simian president, and hosts an entire "dog run" of over 200 assorted other creatures (most of them classified as dog breeds), let's just say... we don't really need the competition.

Anyway, let's wish Yula a hearty zdrastvityeh, or however you say "howdie" bi ruskya.

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November 5, 2004, The Ramadan Offensive

Having achieved their mission (the reelection of the Imperium), our military men and women now get their reward: the opportunity to kill hundreds, maybe thousands of innocent civilians in the course of an insanely ill advised all-out assault on Falluja. It is widely believed that the combination of the casualties and the resentment we will cause by doing this will help to undermine "the elections in Iraq scheduled for January" that we dangled out there to the rube voters here.

In the end, there was no reason for Bush to have done that. Our voters came out in record numbers to say "we don't care, big guy." In short, Iraq doesn't matter. Terrorism doesn't matter. The economy doesn't matter. Making a statement that we want to discriminate against gays-- that matters (though the veep points out that numerically, Bush didn't do marginally better in states with gay-bashing amendments on their ballots than he did overall).

No, mostly what matters is pure viciousness: Bush has seething fangs and hatred oozing out of his pores, whereas Kerry is perceived as a civilized man (and hence a pussy). Not that Bush isn't a pussy-- it's that he's vicious, unpleasant, and stupid.

As an attorney, I'm occasionally asked to pick a jury. The jury theory is "blood is thicker than water", meaning, pick jurors that will identify with your client (or, in rare cases, you). Usually, we make knee-jerk calls based on the gender, race, sometimes occupation, neighborhood, familial status and sometimes, just a gut feeling of affinity between juror and client. But the theory: a juror that will like our client, because they identify with our client, is generally accepted. Well, the irony is that the team with two lawyers got beat by this rule: the other guys had the Rovish jury consultant on their team, and he put the package together to convince Americans to vote for the side they identified with: narrow, mean-spirited, small-minded, bigoted, belligerent... Kerry tried to appeal to their intelligence, Edwards to their hopes and dreams.


Well, at least 58 million Americans will doubtless be cheering as we force our own military to commit the grossest of atrocities at Falluja, just for our entertainment. I didn't get a harumph out of you... you better watch your ass...

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November 4, 2004, Time marches on...

Two stories out of the Middle East.

First, in Axis of Evil TM news, this brief BBC retrospective and interviews of two of the players on this, the 25th anniversary of the taking of American embassy hostages in Tehran, Iran.
While many, like me, believe that our ongoing refusal to engage Iran in any meaningful manner (for twenty five years now, and counting) is probably not the greatest of ideas, most likely because of it, the Iranian people by and large like us (joining perhaps only the Israelis in the region in doing that). Of course, in honor of the Silver Anniversary, at some point during the jubilee year, we might just turn our rolling world war against Iran (the President would doubtless declare that he has just been given "a mandate" to do that, as if he needed one). Hey, we're gonna have to do SOMETHING with those kids we'll be drafting next year, right?

The other story is interesting: Yasir Arafat seems to be in the process of dying. Many rumors have circulated that he was already dead, but he seems to be hanging on a bit longer. Frankly, that Arafat will (likely) die and that his death will not be perceived as at the hands of Israel will be far better than any alternative I can think of. I have long held that his continued existence was the principle obstacle to peace, though by no means would his death be a sufficient condition to it. Ariel Sharon, backed up by our not-particularly-interested-President, merrily paves over the West Bank and launches helicopter gunship attacks willy nilly killing combatant, women and children alike, in Gaza (while proposing to withdraw from Gaza, for which Sharon is under perpetual threat from Jewish extremists.)

Obviously, it's too bad that the American people have no particular interest in our being honest brokers in the Middle East (or indeed, in much of anything except gay-bashing, apparently). Which is too bad. Because Arafat's death could be a rapid catalyst to moving along the peace process. Fortunately, some institutions in the Palestinian camp exist (like its semi-powerless parliament) that can now step up, and finally-- FINALLY-- give us a relatively straight negotiating partner with Israel, and not a coward afraid of being killed by his own people (or compromising his billion dollar skimming and protection rackets).

Not to worry: nothing good will come of any of this. The American people just saw to that.

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November 3, 2004, Life will go on... with luck...

The Emperor of Ice-Cream, by Wallace Stevens

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

The Republicans now control all branches of government by an even wider margin, having won the White House again, and expanded their majorities in the Senate and House. It will be hard, now that Bush is not even saddled with worrying about reelection, to prevent him from truly going crazy with his agenda. We'll see if the 58,000,000 plus Americans that voted for that insane excess will like it once they have it. We have a country that looks a lot like the man who leads it: obnoxious, obstinate, profligate, and willing to push the envelope, be it militarily or financially, until some other force comes along and pushes back (like when his Poppy called in Billy Graham to straighten up his drinking problem). Our military is already overstretched; and it's only a matter of time before the Chinese take away our national credit card and relegate us to Argentina del Norte.

The voters said: "Party on, Dudes", as if the Deek in Chief was still tapping that keg. We'll see. George W. Bush has indeed shown his Daddy that his is bigger.
And it only took thousands of dead Americans, tens of thousands of dead Asians, and the probable destruction of our economy. But Dubya's is still bigger. Fifty eight million Americans can't all be wrong, can they?

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November 2, 2004, Bad stuff beyond our borders

It appears that Sudanese army and police forces have surrounded at least three refugee camps in the Darfur region of that country, forcing relief agencies to remove workers and cutting off refugees in the camps from the outside world. Apparently, "angry Arabs" are gathering near the camps, supposedly in retaliation for the kidnappings of a number of Arabs by the Darfur rebel groups, who are mostly Black Africans.

Chosing the cover of an American election to minimize, or at least delay, responsive action from the rest of the world, just might not be a coincidence.

None of this bodes well: at best, this will amount to a forced relocation of the refugees to their home villages where they will be much more vulnerable to attacks from Arab militias (the "Janjaweed"), many of which are backed by government helicopter gunships. At worst, we may be looking at a potential horror show: the names Golu, Zaleinge and Nertetie camps could join Srebrenica and Rwanda in the realm of modern massacres. Let's hope they don't.

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November 2, 2004, It's Election Day.

What are you reading this for?

Go vote.

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November 1, 2004, It's the big day

That's right! The big day! The day after completing the Marine Corps Marathon in and around our nation's capital in an "asterisked" time of 5 hours 55 minutes and some (painful) seconds.

We asterisk it because our running partner and "Gym Set" teammate Jim Henley suffered a mid-race injury, with his knee giving out on him at Mile 12. Jim soldiered (or marined, as the case may be) onward, but by mile 16, he realized that the risk of serious damage to the knee warranted, and wisely adopted the distance runner's adage: "He who runs and runs away, lives to run another day." The time between Mile 16 and Mile 17 was... a little longer than usual (although, stretching while Jim's knee was being wrapped at the medical tent will probably pay dividends in post-race recovery). Conditions featured a most unseasonably daily high of eighty degrees, on the often unshaded course. Hopefully, Jim will recover quickly, and finish the marathon distance in the near future, before he turns his attention to other, more sensible pursuits.

I, of course, will do no such thing, and hope that the 80 degree day (and the fact that I appear to have lost eleven pounds) will serve me well coming into next Sunday's ING New York City Marathon.

So, that's news from "the big day".

It also looks like it's Election Day tomorrow, so go out and vote for whoever it is you'd like to see win elective office. And Semper Fi.

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