The Talking Dog

August 27, 2005, Better living through chemistry

In a politics before science or health everytime move, and in a surprise to exactly no one (except seemingly Senators Clinton and Murray, who, perhaps, are running for something...) FDA overrode its own advisory board and voted to delay the "Plan B" contraceptive, a/k/a "the morning after pill" for over the counter sales.

Seven states already allow over the counter sales of the drug, which, as a practical matter, would make it available to the 16 and under crowd. While Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton (you heard it hear first!) knows that the key component of the Democratic Party consortium is single women who favor the most widely available abortions available (often beyond what is reasonable, certainly politically if not medically); by contrast, the Republican Party's leading lights, including the Republican Governors of Massachusetts and New York (Romney and Pataki), recently vetoed such bills re: the morning after pill, knowing that the Republican Party base consists of religio-fascist nuts who want to ban abortion period (and no one believes me, but they are largely winning with abortion currently unobtainable in 86% of American counties according to Planned Parenthood) and the corporate banditti set whose view is that abortion should be limited to "rape, incest, and me..."

How shall I say this? Elections have consequences. Democrats have lost the last two (by hook or by crook), but given the President's gains among unlikely voters who are, nonetheless, religiously conservative (Blacks, Latinos...), this issue was doubtless a factor. We would like to believe that most agencies concerned with things that shouldn't be political, like our public health agencies such as the FDA, shouldn't be so damned... political.

But we have learned differently. Let me make this even easier: the national agenda is, by and large, set by that most uncool body, the House of Representatives. Why? Because that is the body that can impeach the President. That is the body that can effectively veto everything the President wants by way of an agenda, simply by never introducing the bill. That is the one body that introduces spending bills. ALL spending bills. No, it's not as cool as the senate that approves judges and treaties, but (no one believes me), its more important. And it is the one unifying force in the Republican utility belt: that is the one thing the GOP has controlled for over ten years.

So. We can either take the House back... or we can get used to this sort of governmental action (or inaction)... until we do...

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August 24, 2005, Everything you always wanted in a beer. And less.

It was only a matter of time before the Pentagon's base closing commission decided to... close some bases, and this Wapo piece
gives us some of the unpleasant details, whereby GOP Congress members from Maine to Connecticut to Virginia desperately manage to save some bases from
the axe...

Compare and contrast our trimming a massive amount of military infrastructure at the same time our President steps up the rhetoric about the yada yada yada unprecedented threats we face and the yada yada yada supreme effort and sacrifices needed to win the war on terror... all of which digby brilliantly summarizes as (possible Godwin's Law violation warning...) Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer!

It seems that a combination of one 48-year old woman camping outside his front gates and 36% approval ratings less than a year after stealing (and I do mean stealing) reelection, and the prospect of the beloved Turdblossom facing possible indictment for his treason (though the charge will doubtless be more technical and inocuous sounding), may, finally, be throwing our Dear Leader off his game.

Not to worry: I think the President's people understand this is not the time to change anything. We've still got a week to go in August... when everyone knows you don't introduce new products... Anyone who opposes any aspect of the President's handling of the war supports the terrorists, and will, in due course, be dealt with accordingly...

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August 23, 2005, Cleans. Disinfects. Deodorizes.

On the occasion of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's visit to fellow pain-in-the-ass leader Fidel Castro of Cuba, some words of welcome from televangelist Pat Robertson, who called for Chavez's murder. No, for those of you not aware of this leading story of the blogosphere, Pat Robertson, a guy who told us that God brought 9-11 upon us because we just has too many faggots, and a leading figure in the Republican Party (note the nice try by the White House to distance themselves from this homicidal psychopath)... Pat Robertson, one of the most watched and influential of the hard-ass Christian Right in close alliance with the corporate banditti and fascisti of the Republican Party called for the murder of a democratically elected Western leader.

International incident, anyone? (Well, for one thing, assuming that the Bushmen actually had a plan to knock off Chavez, they'll have to shelve it... hopefully, President Chavez wasn't planning on flying a small plane around the Midwest with a Democratic senate candidate... )

Haven't we caused enough trouble? Bad enough we staged a botched coup against the man. What's next? The full Castro treatment? Trying to dissolve his beard and sending him pizzas he didn't order? Or Presidential speeches calling for regime change, to liberate the Venezuelans from their elected leadership?

Yeah, Karl Rove had nothing to do with this. I'm shocked, shocked I say that someone would even think of such a thing...

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August 22, 2005, Just slightly ahead of our time

The Iraqi National Assembly decided to respond to U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad the way many of my classmates back at dear old Columbia did when he taught political science there:
cram for a few nights in a row, and declare the paper finished whether it is or not. In this case, its not finished, of course; the Iraqi politicians needed to say it was finished in order to buy three more days to make it look pretty (which right now it does not, what with an alliance of Kurds and Shia more or less cutting the Sunnis out, just to get it done).

Now, why you might ask, is it so God damned important that the Iraqis meet this particular artificial deadline imposed upon them by the heavy-hand of the occupying power? Because, friends, our President is facing... well... trouble, that starts with T for Tigris which rhymes with E which stands for Euphrates... our President desperately needs the interim Iraqi arbitrary deadline met, so that the
cutting and running strategic withdrawal and restoring command and control to the Iraqi people can begin ASAP.

Because that's all the Iraq thing ever was. It was always about domestic American politics, period. It was essential to maintain the ongoing fiction that Republicans are he-men and Democrats are pussies (false: both parties have proven that they are opportunistic assholes, incapable of assessing facts beyond what they think will get themselves elected or reelected, and frequently, traitors.) It was essential to have an excuse to keep pumping up the defense budget (the agency responsible for generating the most impressive kickbacks.)

OBL is still out there, of course. Not to worry: he's primarily out there because he's a more valuable bogeyman at large; if we capture him, then it will be harder to justify the fearmongering that justifies our incursion into Iraq.

Ah, yes. Our incursion into Iraq, where the American death-toll begins slowly but surely to approach that of 9-11 itself, as we are within a couple of weeks of 9-11 Version 4.0... the President's attempts to invoke 9-11 as a catch-all universal justification for (1) decimating our military's reserve system, (2) killing nearly 2,000 Americans (3) wasting at least a quarter of a trillion dollars while (4) cutting taxes for the rich, (5) killing tens of thousands of foreigners, thereby (6) increasing the likelihood of future terrorist assaults on our allies and of course, ourselves...

Oh, f*** it. Good to see the Iraqis doing their best to complete Professor Khalilzad's assignment. Good show, fellows. And good luck to you. Man, will you all need it.

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August 21, 2005, Energy for a strong America

As the price of oil (as measured by the cost of my filling up the tank of the TD-station wagon) hits a new record ($34.00, at $2.99 per gallon at the local self-service), and oil is in the mid $60's/bbl., it's a pretty good time to take a look at this lengthy article by Peter Maass of the Grey Lady's Sunday Magazine on whether we have reached "peak oil".

It's a fascinating article: Maass speaks with many in the oil-patch, including Saudis, and we have an interesting discussion of a phenomenon that dare not speak its name. That is, Saudi may have lots of oil, but there is a finite rate at which it can be extracted from the ground, and worse, pushing too hard now may screw up the ability to extract more later, as a matter of geology.

Further, the article notes the ultimate Saudi paradox (shared by the rest of OPEC): sure, a few more bucks a barrel of oil now is great... unless it triggers a world wide recession, thereby lowering demand, and hence, the price... or worse still, if it gets too high, suddenly alternative energy sources look good by comparison... in short, higher prices if too high can be a revenue disaster.

With all this, then, one wonders why the Saudis were so keen on having their agent (the one who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) launch a war of aggression at their oil producing neighbor to the North... sure, it would drive the price up in the short run, but might having a few million barrels a day of Iraqi oil around help the Saudis maintain their swing production position?

Well... this is a rare congruence of generational issues: the Saudi leadership is superannuated, with the new king in his 80's and the new crown prince in his 70's... while our nation is governed by a man with the maturity of (at best) a teenager still giddy from having been given the keys to the car, who has been surrounded with the most impressive group of yes-men since, well... I don't want to have Godwin's Law invoked!

Anyway, the Saudi leadership also realizes that its best days may be right this second; it has lost control over a great many of its underlings, some of whom financed the events of 9-11, for example, as well as stage-managing its aftermath including the invasion of Iraq. So... from their perspective, it's let the good times roll! For the moment, explosive Chinese demand will keep the world from going into the kind of recession or worse that will result in reduced oil revenue, and as I have noted before, Americans have not adjusted their behavior one iota to the new high price regime.

It's amazing that we have all put our collective heads in the sands of the Saudi desert... perhaps $65/bbl. oil will start to change some perspectives. Or perhaps $85, $95 or beyond for a barrel of oil will let the world's economic engine continue to rev along just fine... or perhaps not...

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August 19, 2005, Not just a job. It's an adventure.

The U.S. Navy hasn't used that particular tagline for a while; my favorite Navy ad remains one I saw on a billboard over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway which appeared shortly after 9-11 (and well before our invasion of Iraq), and then not much thereafter, i.e. "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of those who threaten them."

In any event, we're back to the adventure part as some maniacs fired katyusha rockets (the kind favored by Palestinians lobbing things at Israel) over two U.S. Navy vessels docked at Aqaba, Jordan. For good measure, they managed to kill one Jordanian soldier and seriously injure another, and one of the rockets drifted over the border into Eilat, Israel (one of the least targeted locales for terrorism within the Jewish s tate).

Sufficeth to say, this story is still "developing", including awaiting a final determination as to whether the target was (1) the United States Navy, (2) the Jordanian military, or (3) Israel, or (4) all of the above... Given the current Israeli pullout in Gaza, the possible American pullout from Iraq if we can get them to agree to a damned constitution, and everything else going on in the region... well, let's just say that this could be a lot of things.

None of them good, of course...

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August 18, 2005, Like a Good Neighbor...

Evidently, American heavy-handedness regarding the International Criminal Court has had another effect: resentment of nations in the Americas because we have reduced aid packages to them in petty retaliation for refusing to grant Americans blanket immunity from the I.C.C.

This is reminiscent of all that good will we got by cutting out countries not members of the "Coalition of the Billing" from bidding on Iraqi reconstruction contracts.

In the case of the I.C.C. aid cut-offs, however, it jeopardizes relationships with nations that help us battle things like, oh, drug trafficking and terrorism. Worse, it creates a vacuum where our strategic... competitors... like, say, China (which, as we speak, is conducting an unprecedented all-forces war-games exercise with our pals, the Russians...) can buy into some relationships with countries pretty close to our doorstep (and certainly well within our traditional sphere of influence), simply because the freaking Bush Adminstration has a bug up its ass about "American exceptionalism"... the sort of bug that... creates openings for our... competitors...

Just another area where the Bush Adminsitration prepares us for "the long term"... assuming the world ends next Wednesday.

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August 17, 2005, Image is Everything

While the President blames trial lawyers for just about everything from terrorism to poverty to high health care costs to the heartbreak of psoriasis, because, for no other reason, the American Trial Lawyers' Association is the second most loyal donors to the Democratic Party coffers (behind the schoolteachers of the National Education Association), statistics come out showing that, in fact, tort trials are down over 80% in the nation's federal courts.

While there are a lot of explanations for this, such as the Supreme Court's ruling in Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals (Daubert is designed to permit a federal judge to preclude "junk science" from making its way to a jury's consideration; confession: your talking dog has used Daubert in the course of his own practice on occasion, when advantageous, as would any lawyer...), and other Supreme Court decisions are just making it harder to sue and win in federal court. The actual reason is simply that the nation is getting more conservative as a general matter, and this is reflected in its laws, and ultimiately, in its jury verdicts.

While the President keeps signing law after law designed to make it harder for litigants to seek redress in the federal courts, he does this as such cases are declining precipitously anyway...

The motivations of the President are clear: 1%, is, of course, to help his big business clientele avoid responsibility for its actions. The other 99% is devoted to denying one of the Democratic Party's biggest contributors from a source of revenue.

The irony, of course, is that the federal courts are proving to be a more and more irrelevant part of the game. But then... why should we attribute competence to the President in this area, as opposed to any other?

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August 17, 2005, Where do you want to go today?

I thought that slogan of the Microsoft company might be appropriate to the story about a world-wide worm attack on computers running Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system, but, alas, the tag-line seems even more appropriate for this horror show of today, a bus station bombing in Baghdad that has resulted in at least 43 deaths.

Of course, both stories kind of come down to the same two word phrase: American arrogance. Microsoft has gone on to be the biggest success story in American financial history not by giving the world a better product, but by being an aggressive monopolist (occasionally illegally aggressive), deliberately making its products incompatible with competitors (and frequently with itself), and, well, you know the rest. I go through a computer an average of more than once a year, simply because the damned things get attacked by spyware and crap that Windows operating systems are notoriously vulnerable to. Anyway... this sort of thing will just keep happening, because of the way Microsoft does business.

And as to Baghdad, well... not much more I can say on that score. Fortunately, it looks like we can make up another artificial deadline, in this case, a draft constitution by next Monday, which may get the political-feel-good-bandwagon back on track, as Iraq slowly moves its way toward becoming a Shiite-dominated theocratic autocracy closely aligned with our pals in Tehran (with an autonomous Kurdish enclave, that should make our friends in Ankara happy!)
No... not much more I can say about Baghdad...

Where do you want to go today? Well... "not Iraq" comes to mind...

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August 15, 2005, A thousand sheets last longer...

This just in: the Iraqi parliament has failed to meet the August 15th deadline to adopt a proposed constitution, voting instead to give itself another week to reach a draft accord. Dog Run Member and regional expert Professor Juan Cole asserts, based on, you know, the interim Iraqi law we stage-managed, that the failure to adopt the constitution on time should result in the dissolution of parliament. Americans, not living in a parliamentary system, might not be sure what that means. But everyone else does: new elections. Which, in the case of Iraq, mean another national lockdown, and, if we want to avoid a day of national carnage, probably tens of thousands of additional American troops which we don't have.

This is not good news for the President. Obviously, his approval ratings have taken their version of an August swoon, as the country is... not happy... with the high casualties and no end in sight, and no particularly good result. The mightiest man in the universe (just ask him) is being dogged by a not particularly scary looking 48-year old woman... not even her husband's filing for divorce will likely alter her course...

And good old Dick Cheney is apparently plotting a nuclear strike against Iran in the event of another 9-11 type attack, whether or not any involvement on Iran's part can be shown.

This was all predictable. The new Iraqi constitution (assuming they ever agree on one) can best be termed "a new product". And anyone in the White House press office will tell you: you don't introduce new products in August.

Jeez, people. Can't the President fall off his mountainbike in peace? For God's sake... let him get on with his life!

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August 14, 2005, I liked it so much I bought the company!

And so its on... Israel's absolutely unilateral, absolutely unconditional pullout from the Gaza Strip... David Kuttab writing in the Jerusalem Post gives us this observation of the utter confusion among Palestinian national leaders as to how to react.

While some (like Hamas, for example) advocate a raucus celebration of successful resistance to "the Zionist Entity", others realize (rightly) that Israel will likely dig in even harder on the other "drop dead" issues to Palestinians, i.e., the West Bank and Jerusalem.

I don't know how to break this: but this doesn't have to be a zero sum game. Israel (and the Jewish people) have no historic claims to Gaza dating from the Old Testament; there are over a million Palestinian Arabs there in one of the most densely populated places on Earth. PM Sharon has spent the last couple of years aggressively de-fanging Hamas and other militants precisely so that this moment could come: Israel shedding itself of a territory that has proven to be more trouble than its worth, while the Palestinians finally (finally!) now that the principal-obstacle-to-peace Arafat is long dead, have unified control over this territory, without irritating Jewish settlements in the middle of it (and the IDF need not continue to risk its forces to defend said settlements.)

It's actually a win-win: everyone can celebrate this one. Yes, there will be lots of people in the settler movement disappointed at "Sharon's betrayal". But Sharon is a lot smarter and cagier than you give him credit for: Israel needs to rebuild a healthy dose of moral authority. And Israel needs to recognize the reality that as a democracy, it cannot hold on to millions of Arabs who will eventually outnumber its Jewish citizens.

I supported the campaign of defeated Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna precisely because he advocated exactly what Sharon has just done: just get out of Gaza, no strings attached, because its in Israel's interests to do so. The Israeli people-- correctly it turns out-- disagreed with me, voting instead for the apparently more hard-ass sounding Ariel Sharon, believing that he could actually get it done (while, amazingly, continuing to build "the wall", and in no other sense, behaving conciliatorily toward the Palestinian Arabs, while still able to stand up to the hardass assholes in hihs own party like Bibi...)

Amazing. I don't know about you, but I think this is a great day, that everyone of good will everywhere should be celebrating.

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August 14, 2005, Lifts and Separates

It's a mad, mad, mad world... so a few disparate links drawn from the front page of our comrades' in Beijing's house organ People's Daily: first, this lamentation from the PRC on the occasion of the assassination of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister in Colombo (naturally, Tamil separatists are suspected). Then, we have this, proposing to shoot down Taiwan's bid for a U.N. seat before it manages to get anywhere... We get this discussion of an American-born Chinese industrialist, who laments American waste and proposes that China develop a "recycling based" economy; and this prediction for strong, if not brilliant, economic performance in the second half of this year.

I give you these items to note that while the authoritarians in China are concerned with their solipsisms (Taiwan, their own economy), there is also an interest on the part of the world's most populous nation in the rest of the world. Something that might be nice in our press. On occasion.

(Then again, just when I was hoping I could go to Beijing to escape all word of Branjelina... we get this)

In the immortal words of Emily LaTella... never mind...

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August 13, 2005, Enjoy that refreshing new feeling

This week's visit to our comrades from Pravda gives us this lengthy discussion by Robert Higgs of the implications of the Bush Administration's re-branding efforts from the Global War on Terror to the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism.

Mr. Higgs questions if Bush Administration officials can possibly be as stupid as they profess to be, that is, do they actually believe that the hearts and minds of people we are invading, bombing and torturing can possibly be won over simply because we have come up with a pithy new slogan (such as the 1962 slogan from the Coca Cola Company that I'm using as a post-title)?

Mr. Higgs believes that the tide may be turning on public opinion: just too much carnage, too many lies, too much disconnected optimism from the Bushmen for the public to stand by endlessly... the public may well demand an actual change in actual policy... instead of just what the policy is called..

Given the immense pressure the President seems to be feeling from one lone 48-year old woman, and given that it looks like the Iraqis might meet their August 15th deadline for adoption of a constitution as they reached a key compromise on oil distribution (though not on overall power sharing) this might just be an excellent time to start our cutting and running strategic withdrawal and restoring command and control to the Iraqi people.

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August 11, 2005, I'd walk a mile for a camel

So, presumably, would one of OBL's alleged aides, Tarik A. Hamdi, who is apparently now working for the new Iraqi government at its diplomatic facilities in neighboring Turkey. Supposedly, Hamdi provided batteries for a satellite phone used by the head Evildoer himself.

Interestingly, evidence was released about Hamdi's activities while he was living and working for an Islamic Institute in Herndon, Virginia (near the nation's capitol). But somehow, Mr. Hamdi, regarded as a stateside contact for bin Laden and/or A.Q., was permitted to not only move around, but get a job with the new Iraqi government that we are propping up.

Assuming this fellow really is as important to the bad guys as our government's affidavits assert he is, why isn't he in jail? And if the Government doesn't have the evidence to back up these contentions, then why the hell is it making them? And frankly, who exactly do we have in custody?

Coming off the revelations that the 9-11 Commission blew off information that the military was already tracking Mohammed Atta and his friends over a year before 9-11... and given that the purported surveillance of Mr. Hamdi all took place after 9-11... is there any reason to have confidence in any part of our defense, intelligence, or evaluation apparatus?

You got me...

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August 11, 2005, Aim high

It seems like being a blue state would be a state of mind if one's state has any desire not to have its Air National Guard facility shuttered by the Pentagon, according to this Grey Lady piece. To demonstrate that the Pentagon's commitment is to protect us from "threats of the present", note that one of the facilities scheduled for mothballing (or at least, losing its main fighter contingents) is none other than Massachusetts' Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, which was the location from which fighters were scrambled to confront two airliners that eventually crashed into the World Trade Center.

I wonder what new Dog Run member Bulldog Manifesto will make out of this... the Bulldog has been all over the 9-11 and WTC stories... and like me (and now the Grey Lady herself), is observing... problems... with how the 9-11 Commission (this generation's Warren Commission)... drew its conclusions (lately, of course, the 9-11 Commission seems to have blown off evidence that the military was actually well aware of the identities of Mohammad Atta and three other highjackers in 2000...)

Well, we briefly talked about base closures as just one of Secretarrissimo Rumsfeld's half-assed short term measures in our recent interview with Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Hackett Fischer, who compared and contrasted General George Washington's forward thinking approaches to building military infrastructure, as opposed to the current thinking about destroying it (though still raising its cost).

Who knows. Despite the longings of many (perhaps most) Americans to be told what to do, this remains a free country, and truth is slowly, slowly filtering out there. Frankly, this "punish the bastards who didn't vote for me" strategy of base closings will result in a blow-back: the GOP House Majority (a/k/a "the ballgame") is based on blue-state GOP Congressman (mostly from exurbs and some rural areas). They will not let the President's and Secretary's personal petty needs for budgetary revenge cost them their own cushy seats...

At least I don't think so... More mirth and merriment to follow...

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August 10, 2005, Snap, crackle and pop

In addition to continuing carnage against American (and Iraqi) security forces, a leading Shiite militia decided to fight City Hall the old fashioned way: by deposing Baghdad's Mayor and taking over its City Hall.

My guess is 95%, if not 99%, of Iraq's actual citizenry would rather the God damned insurgents (Saudi-sponsored foreign maniacs, Saddam-loyalist dead-enders, some Iranian-sponsored opportunists, a few plain old petty criminals...) would just stop, leave them alone, and let them get on with the business of trying to assemble some semblance of an orderly country and orderly lives.

But, as we know, it doesn't take all that many people to turn any situation into a total, bloody mess. Unfortunately, it probably takes a great many more people to stop that small group... and those people are not available. We don't have them. With apologies to Senator Kerry, our allies don't have them. The Iraqis themselves are years away from having them. The Iranians have the people, of course... but let's not go there...

So... This is just the way it is, and the way it's going to be. The Iraqis are a long-suffering people. They're going to suffer some more. The nascent democracy we set up may yet take hold; or it may be forced into expedient compromise with the most powerful thugs nearby...

In the end, our intervention in Mesopotamia may achieve salutory ends, or it may not. But for those who thought in terms of "cakewalks", or who thought that this life-time (if not multi-generational) project should have been entered lightly for short-term emotional reasons... well, here we are.

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August 9, 2005, Fly the Friendly Skies (II)

The world presumably breathed a great sigh of relief upon the safe return and landing of the space shuttle Discovery at California's Edwards Air Force Base this morning. Obviously, the same problems on take-off that plagued the Columbia were a cause of grave concern; they will have to be looked at.

And indeed, our entire commitment to a manned space program will also have to be looked at: we can get far greater bang for our buck in term of scientific value and sheer cost-effectiveness through unmanned probes, like the Mars rovers, or the Pioneer out there somewhere that some genius is thinking about no longer funding, despite its having achieved the farthest distance of any Earth-launched object...

The manned program is about sizzle and publicity: to be honest, its why people like NASCAR: not for the boring rote of a mission gone well, but for the exhileration of the terror of knowing that somebody might just die in a fiery crash. That's really not a good reason to have a multi-billion dollar government program. Especially one to keep as spurious and stupid an idea as the international space station serviced, via the best 1970's era technology we have (a/k/a the shuttle program).

Some poetic irony, perhaps, that this demonstration of the... tenuousness... of our mastery of technology takes place on the 60th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing... The fact is, nuclear weapons technology allowed us to finally end what had been (and remains, actually) the most horrific war in human history... but opened up an era where, for decades, we were threatened with total obliteration by that very same technology, and where we face the potential of rogue states or stateless rogues using the same technology against us...

Just as successfully launching and returning a space shuttle is a dangerous and complicated business, so is making our way in this world without getting ourselves... well, you know... Simple answers (evil-doers... global struggles against forces of darkness and chaos... you're with us or against us...) may sound great to simple (as in stupid) people... but they are not good answers, nor more importantly are they the CORRECT answers. The fact is, operating in this complicated planet probably IS rocket science... are we up to it? God help us if we're not...

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August 8, 2005, If it says Libby's, Libby's, Libby's on the label, label, label...

Libby... a... er, Libya, anyway... as noted by our brief visit to our Beijing comrades at People's Daily, who give us this quick update that Occidental Petroleum is the first major U.S. oil company to dip its toe back in Libya, as part of a relatively major U.S. incursion to seek out combustible black gunk from... Africa.

Certainly, OPEC members Libya and Nigeria were (and are) major players in the oil game, but growing, growing are places like Angola and obscure islands Sao Tome and Principe and all sorts of other venues all over Africa. One would have thought it would have been love and kisses from American producers a while ago (Colonel Moammar, after all, handed old Dubya a nice propaganda coup by unilaterally disassembling... or was it dissembling... his weapons of mass destruction program).

Of course,screwing around North Africa in search of oil goes back at least as far as Rommell, if not Lawrence of Arabia. Nothing really new here. Of course, I didn't come across this story in any Western press... the Chinese are sensitive to oil related stories, what with our foolishly racist, xenophobic and self-defeating opposition to a Chinese concern's acquisition of Unocal from which China is still reeling (and IMHO, helped speed China's decision to start free-floating its currency, realizing that it had better actually stabilize things, because, to quote John, Paul, George and Ringo: "you only give me your funny paper," meaning the Chinese selling us artificially cheap stuff because of a pegged currency was rapidly ceasing to be in China's own interests... if still in Walmart's...)

Anyway, OcciPet returns to the shores of Tripoli... Armand would be so proud. Once again, why we span the metropole to bring you news from beyond just Oceania... we'll leave you with this discussion of Russian-Chinese joint naval exercises in the Pacific... I don't believe the two nations conducted exercises of this nature, even when both were firmly communist...

Again, things not ordinarily covered in our "globally challenged" solipsistic American press that you just might want to know about... speaking of which, R.I.P. Peter Jennings, who passed away at 67... whether "9-11 changed everything" or not, note that all of the traditional big 3 major networks have turned over their anchors since then... for whatever reason, it was Jennings' coverage I mostly watched on 9-11 itself (after returning home from across the street from... the WTC)... just the things one remembers... well, R.I.P., Peter Jennings...

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August 7, 2005, My bologna has a first name...

Israeli Finance Minister and Political Lazarus Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu resigned in protest over the now all but inevitable pullout from Gaza, to the delight of both the Israeli left and right (and m'self). Bibi was ridden out of the premiership on a rail after various scandals, and amazingly, has made it back to the forefront of Israeli politics. (I remember Bibi from a talk he gave in the mid-80's at NYU law school, back when he was Israel's ambaassador to the UN; man is he smart and charismatic... those aren't good enough to cover a paucity of character, however.) There are those of us who will never, ever, ever forgive him for the poisoned rhetoric that led may well have directly to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, when Bibi was then trying to derail another incarnation of the Israeli-Arab peace process. The good news now is that unlike Rabin's, Sharon's hardass credentials are well set to all but the most right wing. Most Israelis favored the unilateral pullout from Gaza (where Israel does not belong) which, of course, was the main campaign position of former Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna, duly coopted, and about to be implemented, by none other than Ariel Sharon. Who will go down as Israel's greatest peace-maker, despite all the crap that others may want to lay upon him. Bibi: you're an asshole. And, btw, you ARE the weakest link. Good bye.

Mel Gibson has been asked by his adopted homeland of Australia (he's a native of Westchester County's Peekskill, NY, IIRC) to do a live version of his Passion of Christ, i.e., staging the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Sydney, in some kind of a bid to obtain a major world Catholic conference. Mel's father, from whom apparently Mel gets his enthusiasm for trying to stir up centuries' old passions (for anti-semitism, burning of heretics and witches, etc.) you will recall, believes in a form of Catholicism that is too hardass to accept the authority of the Pope, which our friend Julia once likened to the branch of Judaism that advocates keeping Kosher by eating bacon cheeseburgers on Passover.

On a thematic note, Julia is also kind enought to send us this troubling tale of how certain members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy TM failed to get the memo about "support our troops", at least when such message is overridden by "God hates faggots most of all". There was quite a lengthy piece devoted to the one-man glue who literally holds the VRWC TM together, one Grover Norquist, in the current New Yorker (discussed with the author here); Grover, you must be so proud of the members of your big tent, and that the likes of the "Reverand" Phelps are pissing out of your tent (and on the memories of slain American service personnel) instead of on you, as you richly deserve.

Cautionary word of advice, Grover, from Comrade Trotsky: "The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end. " The rest of us might just not value "lower federal estate taxes" to the same degree you do, I guess. Of course, it's a free country (no thanks you to you, and the VRWC TM...)

For now.

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August 7, 2005, Calgon - take me away!

Maybe I'll just go to all good news all the time. Wouldn't that be special? Well, we'll start with TD Brother (a/k/a The Rabid Dog) and congratulate him on his wedding; a great time was had by all, and it was wonderful to see some of the TD cousins we haven't seen in far too long... (because let's face it... how often does your only brother get married?)

The other good news comes to us from the far Pacific, where thanks to international help led by Her Majesty's Navy, seven intrepid Russian submariners were rescued from their trapped AS-28 mini-sub off the Kamchatka coast. For a little back story on the international efforts to save the crew (which I'm sure the world will join me in taking delight that it proved to be a successful rescue), check this out from our comrades at Pravda.

You see, what's amazing is that fifteen or twenty years ago, this kind of rescue would have been unthinkable; the then Soviet Union was our mortal enemy, and was capable of hurling hundreds of nuclear war heads at us and obliterating our existence in a matter of hours. On the somber occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing (yesterday), I give you this unnecessarily (and erroneously) scathingly anti-American piece from our buddy Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, of Pravda.

Regulars here (particularly those of you so regular that you even read this thing on weekends) know that I often link to Mr. Bancroft-Hinchey's pieces; though often (like the current one) scathingly anti-American, the critiques are often painfully close. This one doesn't work, of course: by August of 1945, World War II was approaching its sixth anniversary; Germany had already surrendered, and Japan was facing set back after set back, and yet, showed no signs of relenting. The fact is, we had already fire-bombed Tokyo using conventional incendiary devices, with casualties and damage at least in the same league as the atomic bomb, if not quite the same number. An all out invasion of the Japanese home islands would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of additional American casualties, and millions of Japanese.

I read a few years ago that Colonel Paul Tibbets who led the bombing mission was thought by many in Japan to be a hero: "Tojo would have killed us all" being the appropriate sentiment. The fact is, not even Hiroshima brought capitulation from Japan: a second demonstration was required before the Japanese sued for peace...

Why do I say this? First, this quote from Leon Trotsky (with whom I and Sen. Hillary Clinton share a birthday): "Where force is necessary, there it must be applied boldly, decisively and completely. But one must know the limitations of force; one must know when to blend force with a maneuver, a blow with an agreement."

Since I'm on a good news theme, let me just go with it: we do not face an unprecedented threat today. The world is, in fact, infinitely
safer than it has ever been before, certainly safer than it has been since that horrible, yet unbelievably wonderful, month of August 1945, when man's ultimate dream-- that of annihiliating himself and everything else on the planet-- became demonstrated as not merely possible, but easy. And for nearly half a century, we teetered on the brink of instant annihilation. We no longer do. Are there individual problems out there? Yes. People who hate us? Yes. Criminals, who every now and again are going to get through and hurt us? Yes. Possible that some maniac might sneak in here with an A-bomb? Yup. Same scenarios we've been seeing since James Bond movies from the early 60's, btw. Any reason whatsoever to change our world view, that this is not the safest, most wonderful time we ever had and therefore we should throw away our promise, our freedom, our morality... um... no. You see, 9-11 changed nothing, other than rhetoric, perception, and a pretty frank demonstration that Americans don't understand SHIT about ANYTHING.

Was Hitler an existential threat to us all? Oh yes. Was the prospect of thousands of Soviet ICBMs? Oh, yeah-- as terrifying as it gets. Osama fucking bin laden? Give me a fucking break, people.

I was born in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis. I spent the morning of 9-11 100 yards or so from the World Trade Center. Every work day morning, I go to work roughly 100 yards from that very same site (in a different direction), via the New York City subway system. Am I ever worried? I'd be a damned liar if I said I wasn't. But I'll tell you what: I'm a damned sight more worried that we're just going to throw away everything that made this country great because we don't have a freaking clue about how God damned good we have it.

Congratulations, TD Brother and Sister-in-Law. Vasa d'aroviyev, crew of AS-28 (and thank you, Her Majesty's Navy). The world is a wonderful place, boys and girls. Unless we don't want it to be, of course, in which case, it won't be.

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August 5, 2005, Good to the last drop

Given that the President and his team have declared August an official "slow news month" (and certainly, there will be no new major product launches, let me tell you...) , let's talk about the most important event happening in the universe: Michael Jackson and a couple of jurors from his recent molestation trial are out shlepping the rights to their book deals.

Recall what an impressive cottage publishing industry the O.J. trial proved to be, what with Darden and Clarke and Judge Ito and Cato and the Green Hornet and the rest of them, all with big-buck book deals. So.... I mean, the Jackson molestation trial was almost as important a cultural milestone, right?

I recall reading a few years ago that we live in a world where Dennis Rodman tremendously outsells Hemingway, assuming Hemingway himself could even be published anymore ("too much like Hemingway!")

The freak is a talented musician and performer; no one is taking that away from him. He is also... a freak, and almost without question, a child molestor.
Hopefully, the King of Pop's book will be an "as told to" by someone who visits him at his new permanent address... in Bahrain.

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August 3, 2005, 99 and 44/100 % pure... ?

I really don't want to think too much about the fact that NASA is deliberately risking the lives of seven people on what amounts to a publicity stunt (even if it appears that Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson may well have successfully performed the exterior repair he set out to do) or that the bad guys in Iraq seem to be improving their game.

No. I'd like to discuss what really matters, and what might be the only good news I've seen today: Michael Jackson is buying a house in Bahrain, and might just move there. He and his three children took off for Bahrain shortly after his recent acquittal on child molestation charges. He's been hanging out with his next door neighbor the prince, and loves the local Bahrainian custom of walking around in long flowing robes that you can put over your head and face too (instead of those irritating gauze masks).

While one shudders at the thought of what penalty Bahrainian law might impose for child molestation, one can take relief for Michael knowing that while under California law, celebrities are immune from conviction, under Bahrainian law, he is probably immune from indictment.

Rock the Kasbah. Welcome the King of Pasha. Or something. And I'm sure the people of Bahrain would love to welcome Michael as a new permanent resident there. I know I would...

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August 1, 2005, Beyond Petroleum

Well, not that far beyond... crude oil prices spiked to close at a record $61 and change today, part of the pot pourri of events that included the death of Saudi King Fahd, concerns over refinery capacity and fears about Iran's nuclear program. Given the President's close ties with the House of Saud, and of course, the oil industry, one might think that the policies which have continued to drive oil prices higher-- the Iraq war helping keep the world's second largest reserves unavailable to world markets, an America committed to wasting ever more energy, and no efforts whatsoever to develop alternative forms of energy, all while denying that there are environmental consequences to the use of oil-- were... designed to get us higher oil prices. And yet, even while trips that last summer cost $20 or so (say, the cost of a typical tank of gas) now cost $30 (that same tank of gas this summer), there seems little evidence that Americans will adjust their habits in any way. Needless to say, the President's policies (whatever they are!) would seem to be working...

I guess we'll also be improving our standing in the world, since our new diplomatic standardbearer at the United Nations will be none other than John Bolton, via a recess appointment. Bush is persistent: he would not take no for an answer on Bolton, even when senators from his own party bolted on Bolton, concluding that he simply lacked the character and wherewithal for a job requiring some level of... diplomacy. While many will be pissed at the President for "going around the senate", my view is that Bush gets to have his team, barring, say, something like a criminal conviction, or something truly outrageous. So what if he wants to have a guy who is clearly not the least bit diplomatic as a diplomat? The Constitution gives the President that call... in this case, I think "advise and consent" is... siilliness. I'm sorry... but I would much rather see some genuine battles about things like bankruptcy repeal, the environment, the minimum wage, universal health insurance, cost efficient (and not intrinsically corrupt) national defense, actual taxation of rich people, and that sort of thing... judges are interesting, but frankly, less important. And fights over cabinet officials... well, I just don't think they're very important at all compared to some of the things I've just rattled off... obviously, the Democratic Party leadership disagrees with me.

Finally, following up on a story I relayed from Pravda a month or two ago, not surprisingly, our friends in Uzbekistan decided to serve an eviction notice on an American air-base there. This is a tough one... it appears that our actual quiet efforts to enhance democracy in places like Georgia and Ukraine may have caught the notice of more autocratic places like... Uzbekistan (and certainly Russia)... interestingly, our efforts in those places involved helping the locals help themselves... as opposed to attempting to impose democracy by force (remind anyone of someplace somewhere?) Also, we have rightly been questioning last May's massacres in Andijan by Uzbek forces, and continued to demand an investigation. While this may appear to be a set-back in our management of the never-ending Afghan campaign, its actually a sign that maybe we have our priorities in order somewhere.

And on that positive note...

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