Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"I thought it was going to help," Bush said.

So, President Bush now admits that Osama bin Laden's late cameo appearance in the 2004 Presidential campaign actually helped him win re-election, according to a new book by Bill Sammon, Strategery.

"What does it mean? Is it going to help? Is it going to hurt?" Bush told Sammon of the bin Laden tapes.

"Anything that drops in at the end of a campaign that is not already decided creates all kinds of anxieties, because you're not sure of the effect.

"I thought it was going to help," Bush said.

"I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn't want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush."

Just one more reason why many believe that bin Laden long has been a convenient tool of the Bushes and the neo-conservative set. Bush's comments to Sammon would appear to hammer that point straight home.

Captions, Anyone???

President Bush met today with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

What, if anything, is Dubya thinking as he gazes fondly at the Prime Minister in the photo above?

I'll get it started:

"I wonder if it's true that Italian men with big noses also have big..."

Sunday, February 26, 2006

New WTC security plan: No planes allowed!

Apparently, the new World Trade Center complex to be built in New York City will employ some of the most sophisticated security technology available.

Visitors to the complex that eventually will fill the World Trade Center site might have to submit to iris scans or thumb print analysis to get into buildings, while smart cameras try to match their faces to a photo database of known terrorists. Well-paid armed guards would be on patrol and sensors would test the air for lethal gases.

Sounds like they're going to make the new development more secure than Fort Knox. And I can't wait to see the force-field and surface-to-air missiles they deploy to keep jumbo jets from crashing into it!

All of the whiz bang, techno-security gadgets are fine and dandy, but the plan seems to go just a tad overboard. I mean, it wasn't as though the original WTC was infiltrated and attacked by scores of masked terrorists who would have been thwarted by iris scans and other biometric devices.

For crying out loud, they flew planes into the buildings!!

I think it would be difficult to do an iris scan on the pilot of a rogue aircraft as it approaches a building, and then have a computerized voice reply, "Your identity is not a match. Please stop your vehicle at once."

Can you say, "Overkill?"

Friday, February 24, 2006

State of confusion: Utah wants fewer videos, more guns for kids

It seems that the residents of Utah are in a state of confusion about what constitutes danger to their children. While the state legislature is about to make it a felony for an adult to provide a minor with a violent video game, it also is about to lower the hunting age in Utah from 14 to 12.

In addition, state lawmakers want to eliminate the minimum age altogether for hunting turkey and small game. Does quail qualify as small game? Perhaps the Vice President can take his young grandchildren hunting in Utah next time he's in the mood for a little shootin'. Every young'un needs a good peppering every now and then, after all.

While I'm not one to believe that some of the violent video games on the market today are necessarily appropriate for children, that decision should be left to parents to make. And it seems just a bit whacky that they want to eliminate the chance that a child can kill a fake person with a fake gun, but enhance the possibility that he or she can kill a real person with a real gun.

HB257, which passed 56-8, would add extremely violent "interactive video or electronic" games to the state's statute protecting minors from harmful material; the statute is commonly used to prosecute those who provide pornography to children.

To violate the terms of the legislation, a violent video game would have to be "patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community" and lack any serious "literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors."

Rep. Scott Wyatt, R-Logan, said such a tough standard means only the most depraved video games would fall under this bill.

Patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community, eh? In Utah, I guess that means Spongebob Squarepants is out.

Luckily, at least some in Utah appear to have the right perspective on this.

(A) few lawmakers, including Orem Republican Margaret Dayton and Salt Lake City Democrat Ross Romero, questioned HB257's constitutionality.

Dayton said the bill was "frustrating." She dislikes such video games but said violence has certain constitutional protections that pornography does not have.

"That's why we can have pictures in the Bible, battle scenes or war movies," she said.

Romero also didn't like the fact the bill could land a parent in jail for two weeks, if they buy an extremely violent video game for their child.

But that doesn't seem to matter to
Rep. David Hogue, R-Riverton.

"It will set an example that Utah is a family state," he said.

Sending parents to jail for letting their kids play a video game while encouraging younger kids to head out into public with shotguns. Now there are some real family values for you!

(Thanks to The DrewL Bucket's official Utah social and political correspondent, Charlie E - no relation to Sheila E, as far as I know - for contributing to this report.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

DP World deal includes odd concessions

According to the AP, the deal that would allow Dubai-based DP World to take over the operation of six major U.S. ports contains several concessions that may limit access to the company's U.S. business records.

The Bush administration secretly required a company in the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with future U.S. investigations before approving its takeover of operations at six American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. It chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.

As part of the $6.8 billion purchase, state-owned Dubai Ports World agreed to reveal records on demand about "foreign operational direction" of its business at U.S. ports, the documents said. Those records broadly include details about the design, maintenance or operation of ports and equipment.

The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries.

Does the deal potentially shield DP World from legal action in the U.S.? Are there other records of a, shall we say, compromising nature that would not be accessible, if necessary?

This sweet deal brokered by the Bush administration seems to get more and more dubious by the day. Links to two key Bush administration members already are raising some eyebrows in Washington and elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Three Stooges: Larry, Curly and Mohammad

Earlier today the feds announced they've indicted three men from Toledo, Ohio, on charges relating to terrorism. Apparently, they were attempting to plan attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

Is it just me, or does this indictment seem just a bit odd? I mean, there seem to be more than enough bombs - or IEDs - going off in Iraq on a daily basis; wouldn't it be more effective to plan attacks elsewhere?

However, according to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the indictment sends an important message to us all.

"This case stands as a reminder of the need for continued vigilance in the war on terrorism."

He's got that right. It's no secret that the White House is constantly looking for ways to remind us about the menacing terrorist element lurking in the shadows. Or in Toledo, Ohio.

And speaking of Toledo...any chance that the White House is trying to shift the focus of Ohioans from the scourge of Republican ethics lapses in that state back to the more critical, fear-based messages of terror and war? Ohio Republicans are on the run. No doubt Ohio's voting population needed a collective slap about the face to get them back into the mode of fear, fear, fear.

Elements of this story - especially given the Bush administration's penchant for, well, lying - just don't seem to add up.

The indictment does not specify if any attacks were imminent but says the suspects recruited others as early as November 2004 to train for a violent holy war against the United States and its allies in Iraq.

Okay. But if you want to unleash a holy war against the United States, why go all the way to Iraq to do it when you're already smack dab in the midst of your supposed enemy? Do you really need to travel to Fallujah when a few bombs exploding in Cleveland would do? I mean, bombs exploding in Fallujah would get lost in the news of the day, while a few IEDs detonating in the "Mistake by the Lake" would be front page news nationwide. But I digress...

Two of the men discussed plans to practice setting off explosives on July 4, 2005, so that the bombs would not be noticed, the indictment alleges. It's not clear if the suspects went through with those plans.

Last time I checked, buying bombs to explode on Independence Day is the American way, especially in the heartland and the south - aka the Red States - where a fireworks stand is always within an easy 5 minute drive. Nothing unusual there.

The indictment says the group also traveled together to a shooting range to practice shooting guns and studied how to make explosives.

Well, unlike our very own Vice President, at least they realized their need for some practice before unleashing their firearm skills on the world. I'm sure the NRA is pleased to know that their elected right wing administration considers shooting range participation akin to terrorist training activity.

It also alleges that at least one of the men researched and solicited funding for the training, including getting unspecified government grants and private sponsors. The indictment does not say which government or name any potential sponsors.

Government grants? Wouldn't it be ironic if it were our own government that bankrolled this lot? Nothing would surprise me when talking about this "Charlie Brown" - er, Michael Brown - administration.

Amawi is accused of twice threatening in conversations to kill or injure Bush. He also is charged with distributing information about the making and use of an explosive device.

The others are Marwan Othman El-Hindi, 42, a U.S. citizen born in Jordan; and Wassim I. Mazloum, 24, who came to the U.S. from Lebanon in 2000,

Mazloum operated a car business in Toledo with his brother. The indictment accuses him of offering to use his dealership as a cover for traveling to and from Iraq so that he could learn how to build small explosives using household materials.

Firstly, what conversations were these? Were they recorded under a warrant or without a warrant? I'd be willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that this whole affair is being thrown into the public domain in order to justify the warrantless spying program.

"See. We're catching real, live terrorists with this program. It works. Now, shut up!" I can hear it now.

Secondly, do they really need to travel to and from Iraq to learn how to build small explosives using household materials?

Hello! That's what the Internet is for!!

I just find this whole case to be lacking. That is, either the alleged terrorists are seriously lacking brains...or the Bush administration is completely lacking any shred of integrity in what looks like a complete sham of an indictment.

After all, why should any of us believe anything that this crooked administration does or says anymore? It just seems to be more of the same old smoke being blown up our collective ass. Marwan, Wassim and Mohammad seem to be nothing more than three stooges in the Bushies' ongoing attempt to foment fear and uncertainty among the populace. And it's likely to get more and more brazen as the November mid-term elections approach.

The only other question I have about this case: Where's Shemp?

No square to spare? Look out!

I've heard of some really stupid acts in my time, but this one has to rank right up there among the dumbest of all time.

A Florida man has been accused of fatally beating his roommate with a sledgehammer and a claw hammer because there was no toilet paper in their home.

Franklin Crow, 56, was charged Monday with homicide in the death of Kenneth Matthews, 58, according to the Marion County Sheriff's Office. Capt. Thomas Bibb said Crow initially denied his involvement, but confessed during questioning.

Yes, that's right. A man's life was snuffed because his roommate couldn't deal with a lack of toilet paper. Somewhere, Mr. Whipple is looking down with a knowing grin on his face. A man's gotta have his Charmin, after all.

But the perp in this case didn't just kill his roommate. No. He bashed his head in so badly that his identity had to be confirmed through fingerprinting.

Now that's some serious toilet paper rage. Must have been a five-wiper!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

ShotgunGate: There were "guides"?

Interesting article in Newsweek that discusses last weekend's infamous shooting in south Texas as well as the broader strangeness that is Dick Cheney. But one passage about the shooting, in particular, caught my eye:

It was late afternoon, and the hunters were ready to call it a day. Harry Whittington, a prominent Austin lawyer and big-time GOP donor, had bagged two birds with two shots. "Great shot, Harry, you got a double!" called out Katharine. While Whittington went off with his dog and his guides to find the dead birds, Cheney and Pam Willeford, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein and another major GOP donor, went ahead to look for another covey of birds. Cheney spotted a bird flying behind him, swung around with his Italian-made 28-gauge shotgun toward the setting sun and pulled the trigger. Whittington, wearing a regulation orange vest, was approaching out of a slight gully, some 30 yards away.

This is the first I've heard that there were hunting guides along with the three-person hunting group that included Dick Cheney, Harry Whittington and Ambassador Pamela Willeford. And it sounds as though the guides - plural - went with Whittington.

So, did that leave any additional guides with Cheney and Willeford? Were they left alone at that point? Why would more than one guide accompany Whittington while, apparently, leaving Cheney and Willeford by themselves? And what were the guides doing when Whittington attempted to re-join Cheney and Willeford? Have these guides been interviewed by law enforcement officials to get their side of the story?

So many questions.

Every other story I have read led me to believe that Cheney, Whittington and Willeford were on their own in the brush, that the nearest witnesses were located in a vehicle about a hundred yards away. But now there seems to be a casual mention of "guides" in the Newsweek story.

Additionally, if Whittington was with "his dog and his guides", how the hell could two people - Cheney and Willeford - not have heard at least three people and a dog approaching through the brush at a distance of just 30 yards? Were their senses dulled by something? Were they otherwise pre-occupied?

As more clues come out on this episode, it becomes more apparent that this may not have been "just" a hunting accident.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

How dependent is the U.S. on Persian Gulf oil? Not so much

On The Daily Show the other night, Jon Stewart's guest was Peter Tertzakian, author of a recently published book entitled, A Thousand Barrels a Second. Obviously, the topic of oil and gas is a somewhat timely one given the events of the last few years, including war in the Middle East, hurricanes hitting the U.S. and gasoline price spikes around the world.

Tertzakian is a Canadian and an expert on the oil and gas industry, having worked eight years for Chevron Corporation and then going on to success as an energy industry investment analyst. Currently, he is Chief Energy Economist and Director of ARC Financial Corporation, one of the world's leading private equity firms focused on energy.

In short, he knows his stuff.

But what really caught my attention was when Stewart asked Tertzakian: From which country does the United States acquire the largest percentage of its imported oil? And Stewart acknowledged - as I think most of us would - that the answer shocked him.

The country?




As Stewart said, he assumed the answer would be Saudi Arabia or, perhaps, Iran or Iraq. Nope. And I would venture to guess that well over 90% of the U.S. population, when asked that same question, would assume the answer would be a country in the Persian Gulf. Again, nope.

It seems that, whenever the discussion turns to oil and gas, most everyone assumes that our dependency on foreign oil - our addiction, if you will - is tied directly to the Middle East and the murder and mayhem constantly taking place there. But as we learned from the recent discussion between Stewart and Tertzakian, that assumption is completely false.

My interest sufficiently piqued, I decided to do a little follow-up research on the web. After uncovering some official import statistics from the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration web site, I found what I was looking for:

Crude Oil Imports (Top 15 Countries)
(Thousand Barrels per Day)
Country Dec-05 Nov-05 YTD 2005 Dec-04 Jan - Dec 2004

CANADA 1,892 1,776 1,642 1,556 1,616
MEXICO 1,707 1,658 1,550 1,552 1,598
SAUDI ARABIA 1,438 1,267 1,438 1,449 1,495
VENEZUELA 1,183 1,009 1,231 1,379 1,297
NIGERIA 1,174 1,163 1,060 1,006 1,078
ANGOLA 425 641 450 306 306
IRAQ 390 572 520 626 655
ECUADOR 340 264 276 261 232
KUWAIT 268 273 215 205 241
ALGERIA 212 265 228 199 215
BRAZIL 159 65 94 0 51
GABON 139 66 127 233 142
COLOMBIA 135 281 156 135 142
NORWAY 66 103 119 63 143
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO 62 70 62 22 49

Sure enough, we import the most crude oil from our neighbors to the north. In fact, approximately 36% of our imports come from our two North American neighbors and top two crude oil partners, Canada and Mexico, while only about 20% of our imports come from the Middle East.

Furthermore, because our imported oil represents only about 50-60% of our total consumption (meaning our domestic production makes up the balance), the percentage of our total consumption - around 20 million barrels a day - that comes from the Middle East is only in the range of 10-12%. That's it! And about two-thirds of that comes from Saudi Arabia with most of the remainder coming from Iraq and Kuwait.

Now, I don't want to necessarily imply that Middle Eastern oil is insignificant to us. Certainly, that region of the world has vast reserves of fossil fuels. But to learn that better than 75% of our nation's consumption of crude oil is supplied by the U.S., Canada and Mexico? Needless to say, it came as quite a surprise.

So it begs the questions: If we really aren't so reliant on Middle Eastern oil after all, why is it that we all believe we are? And why is it that our government continually drives home the point that we are?

And more to the point: Are we dependent upon the Middle East....or is the Middle East dependent upon us?

Another one of those things that make you go, "Hmmmmmmmm."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Good Move: Paul Hackett steps aside from Ohio Senate race

On the surface, I was disappointed to hear that Paul Hackett had been "asked" to step aside by Dem leaders in his bid for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate race in Ohio. He has a good message and showed that he can give a Republican in a Republican stronghold a run for her money.

But from a strategic point of view, I must say that this appears to be a good decision for the Democrats. Hackett's message is the war, but Ohio's fate is more likely to turn this year on ethics. Brown can sell that message. Brown also has much more financial support and legislative experience that he can leverage in the Senate. Hackett is a newbie who might be better served by trying to get into the House first.

I like Hackett, but it doesn't do the Dems much good to have Brown and Hackett beat each other up and have just one of them standing to fight in November. They need to spread themselves around to gain more numbers rather than concentrating in the same race.

The Republicans have eaten the Dems' lunch over the last 12 years when it comes to election strategy. It's high time that the Dems start to employ effective strategic planning of their own to counter the Repubs' strength. I believe this is an example of that. It may seem a bit cruel on the surface, but it really is the right thing to do. Hopefully, Hackett will realize this and take another run at a House seat.

White House jokes; victim suffers heart attack

Nice to see the White House finds so much humor in its Veep's shooting prowess while the man who was either shot or peppered with birdshot, depending on your point of view, suffered a mild heart attack this morning caused by birdshot that is lodged in his heart.

I'm not a physician, but it seems to me that birdshot lodged in one's heart isn't exactly the result of a mild peppering with birdshot. While the White House would have us believe that Whittington just took a bit of a pelting from Cheney's 28-gauge shotgun, it appears that there was just a bit more penetration than originally indicated.

Mr. Whittington, the victim, is no longer in the sights of Dick Cheney's weaponry. But it appears that he isn't quite out of the woods just yet.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Was Plame's identity disclosed to foil intelligence on Iran's nukes?

The Raw Story is reporting that, according to confidential sources, Valerie Plame's covert work for the CIA was directly tied to Iran's nuclear proliferation efforts. If true, this could open an interesting can of worms regarding the intent of those who disclosed her identity to the media in 2003.

The line of thinking has been that Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative was disclosed in order to cast doubt on Joseph Wilson's op-ed piece regarding the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's nuclear intentions. Wilson is Plame's husband. After he ventured to Niger in 2002, Wilson reported back to the CIA that claims about Iraq's purchasing yellowcake uranium from Niger were false. In spite of this, the Bush administration continued to claim otherwise.

So, if Plame's work involved Iran's nuclear ambitions - or lack thereof - is it possible that she was outed in order to hinder her intelligence gathering work on Iran? The Bush administration's plans for Iran are directly tied to that country's alleged attempts to revive its dormant nuclear weapons program. Could Plame's work have jeopardized these plans?

With Plame and her intelligence network put out of commission the moment her identity was disclosed, any evidence that could have countered what the Bush administration now wants to sell as fact essentially went up in smoke.

We'll have to keep an eye on this story.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Joint Chiefs Recommended Attacks on Americans

The year was 1962. Castro was in control of Cuba. The United States was perplexed by a communist regime that had close ties to the Soviet Union and was located just 90 miles from the U.S. mainland.

What to do?

Well, as uncovered in James Bamford's 2001 book "Body of Secrets", the Joint Chiefs of Staff came up with an unusual recommendation: Operation Northwoods.

What was Operation Northwoods?

Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans reportedly included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities.

The plans were developed as ways to trick the American public and the international community into supporting a war to oust Cuba's then new leader, communist Fidel Castro.

America's top military brass even contemplated causing U.S. military casualties, writing: "We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba," and, "casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation."

That's right. This nation's top military brass - led by Eisenhower appointee Army Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer (pictured above) - recommended attacks on their own military personnel and innocent civilians in order to justify going to war with Cuba.

Thankfully, the plan that was endorsed by all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was rejected by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. And it wasn't until nearly forty years later that Operation Northwoods finally was disclosed under a Freedom of Information Act request.

That such an abominable suggestion would even be made in the first place is, perhaps, secondary in stupidity to the fact that Operation Northwoods was committed to paper for all eternity. As some have pointed out, had such an operation been drawn up by the CIA, the paper trail would have been non-existent. Nobody ever would have known that such an operation had been contemplated. Apparently, the military hadn't quite figured out the subtle nuances of "black ops".

Not that the Joint Chiefs should be faulted for a lack of trying, however. Despite being shot down by McNamara on Operation Northwoods, the Joint Chiefs continued to develop "pretext" plans.

One idea was to create a war between Cuba and another Latin American country so that the United States could intervene. Another was to pay someone in the Castro government to attack U.S. forces at the Guantanamo naval base — an act, which Bamford notes, would have amounted to treason. And another was to fly low level U-2 flights over Cuba, with the intention of having one shot down as a pretext for a war.

Our military leaders had some crazy ideas back then. Driven by a distrust of what they considered to be a soft, liberal civilian leadership, the Joint Chiefs took it upon themselves to find their own solutions to vexing, geo-political problems. As far as we know, they were unsuccessful in carrying them out.

So why does Operation Northwoods bear mentioning today, nearly 45 years after the fact? Frankly, I found it to be an interesting concept that our leaders at the highest levels of government would actually - and seriously - consider unleashing deadly attacks on its own people in order to justify a course of action.

Would others consider doing something similar? Could certain distant or more recent events have had a more devious - or sinister - pretext? Would the leadership of this country consider murdering its own in order to further an agenda?

While many would call such questions akin to treason for even suggesting something so unthinkable, history tells us that, yes, some in our leadership would consider doing just that.

Could it happen again? You be the judge.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bringing FEAR to a high school near you

This morning's Dallas Morning News reports that a local high school is getting ready to offer a new course next fall. Nothing too unusual about that, you say? Perhaps a new literature or mathematics or science course designed to better prepare our youth for the rigors of college?

Well, not exactly.

As it turns out, Southlake (TX) Carroll Senior High School plans to offer an elective course in...homeland security. And given that Southlake is a very tony suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth, there's little doubt that the pronounced Republican leaning of the town's well-to-do populace hasn't particularly hindered the development of such a course.

Students would study information security, domestic and world terrorism, criminal justice and forensic psychology in the elective course approved by the school board on Monday.

The district is awaiting approval from the Texas Education Agency so that students can receive state credit for the introductory class.

"We just thought if you're an accountant or whatever your job is going to be in life, it would serve you well as you move into this time in history that you know something about homeland security," Carroll Senior High principal Daniel Presley said.

Carroll Senior High teacher Sandra Griffin, who researched and developed the curriculum, said the course makes sense because the high school in Southlake is near Alliance Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and close to state border issues.

"It's just a critical need, especially for our area because of our proximity and some avenues that terrorists choose," Ms. Griffin said. "As we know from 9/11, it's the airways."

A social studies or science teacher will lead the course. Students will analyze terrorist attacks, use vocabulary associated with homeland security, learn the government's role in policy development, practice negotiation and mediation strategies, and study the impact of terrorism.

So much for focusing on the enhancement of students' capabilities in math and science. Let's just teach them why everyone should be afraid of the Bush administration's favorite bogeyman: the terrorist.

Who knows? This might even catch on in other parts of the country. We might even see homeland security courses combined with intelligent design curricula to create a one-two punch of right wing hysteria in our public schools. Wouldn't that be a treat?

David McEntire, associate professor of emergency administration and planning at the University of North Texas, said the Carroll school district is being progressive by offering such a course at the high school level.

"I think that our world has changed dramatically," Dr. McEntire said. "There is an increasing recognition that terrorism is a major threat that we have to deal with.

"Because it's a relatively new field, we really need to have the public buy-in in dealing with terrorism," he said.

Never mind the fact that over 15,000 people are killed by drunk drivers in this country every year, or that over 30,000 people are killed by handguns each year, but let's continue to focus all of our attention on the remote chance that the terrorists are going to blow us all to pieces.

Of course, terrorism is a threat, both here and around the world. The terrible events of 9/11/01 demonstrated that in brutally vivid detail. But most of us are far more likely to die driving to or from work each day than ever being the victim of a terrorist attack. Yet, an inordinate amount of attention and money continues to fuel the pyre of fear that has been set ablaze - and continually stoked - by the Bush administration. And soon, many of our youngsters may become the newest experts in the "war on terror".

Honestly, I'd be much more impressed if our kids became experts in the "war on drugs" or in the "war on cancer". Alas, there are only so many wars that can be fought at any one time. The "war on terror" seems to be the war of choice at the moment...and, sadly, for some time to come.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hannity and O'Reilly: Wholesome and kid-friendly?

The Dish Network has unveiled a new programming package designed specifically for families with kids. It's called DishFAMILY and it's touted as "wholesome, worry-free TV."

Among the 40 available channels of "kid-friendly, parent-approved TV" is none other than FOX News Channel, featuring the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.

Nice to see that Dish is more than happy to unleash the vile and ignorant drivel of Hannity and O'Reilly, among others, on our nation's youngsters. Like many of those on the right, these hucksters may talk a good game about family and values, but it's nothing more than smoke and mirrors...and lies.

Just ask Andrea Mackris about the loofah sponge.

Allowing kids to watch FOX News isn't far removed from child abuse. No thanks. There's plenty of other garbage on TV without exposing kids to the most biased news coverage this side of Pyongyang.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bush: Gone fishing

A very revealing article in Sunday's Washington Post indicates that the Bush administration's infamous warrantless surveillance program is nothing but a big fishing expedition that turned up little in the way of actionable leads in relation to the useless leads it produced.

And, according to many legal analysts who have studied the matter, this is a major problem in relation to both the probable cause and the reasonable basis provisions in the Fourth Amendment.

Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well. That step still requires a warrant from a federal judge, for which the government must supply evidence of probable cause.

The Bush administration refuses to say -- in public or in closed session of Congress -- how many Americans in the past four years have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority. Two knowledgeable sources placed that number in the thousands; one of them, more specific, said about 5,000.

The program has touched many more Americans than that. Surveillance takes place in several stages, officials said, the earliest by machine. Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears.

Successive stages of filtering grow more intrusive as artificial intelligence systems rank voice and data traffic in order of likeliest interest to human analysts. But intelligence officers, who test the computer judgments by listening initially to brief fragments of conversation, "wash out" most of the leads within days or weeks.

The scale of warrantless surveillance, and the high proportion of bystanders swept in, sheds new light on Bush's circumvention of the courts. National security lawyers, in and out of government, said the washout rate raised fresh doubts about the program's lawfulness under the Fourth Amendment, because a search cannot be judged "reasonable" if it is based on evidence that experience shows to be unreliable. Other officials said the disclosures might shift the terms of public debate, altering perceptions about the balance between privacy lost and security gained.

Hmmm. Sounds like a problem to me.

The article goes on to talk about a variety of mechanical methods of obtaining and sifting through communications. And by the sound of it, the government may be well on its way to sifting through ALL of our communications for tidbits of useful information. If they're looking for legitimate terrorist threats, that's one thing. But it opens an entirely new can of worms if the government - or certain elements within that government - decides to look for something else altogether.

Do you trust your government to do only the "right" thing with all of this information? I don't.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Tom Brady Elected to Hall of Fame

Among those selected today for induction into the pro football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the happiest of all must be New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady. For a man who's been a starter for just five years and is still an active player, such an enormous honor must have been unexpected for the 28-year-old.

You see, Hall of Fame eligibility normally requires a wait of five years after retiring from the NFL. And many players, such as another of today's inductees, Rayfield Wright, have been gone from the game for decades before being selected for induction. Brady is just entering the prime of his career and his ticket to Canton already has been stamped. His bronze likeness is being forged and his yellow member blazer is on order.

What's that you say? Tom Brady wasn't selected for HOF induction today?

Well, you do have a point there. Technically, I suppose, he wasn't actually named to the 2006 class of inductees. But he might as well have been. With the actual selection of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman today, it all but ensures that Brady will be enshrined in Canton in the not-so-distant future. Sure, he's got a bunch more years to play in the NFL, but he's HOF-bound. Guaranteed!

Why am I so certain of that? Namely, because of Aikman.

Quite simply, Aikman was able to turn a decent, 12-year NFL run into a Hall of Fame calibre career by doing something that Brady already has accomplished in just six seasons: leading his team to three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span. Aikman did it with the Cowboys during the 1992, 1993 and 1995 seasons. Brady did it with the Patriots during the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Okay, so Brady's won a few Super Bowls. Why should that qualify him for the HOF when he's only been in the league since 2000? Shouldn't a player have to prove his worthiness over a longer period than just five or six seasons?

Well, former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers, who was inducted in the HOF in 1977, played essentially five seasons in a career shortened by injury. But even though he played in only 68 games from 1965 to 1971, his undeniable talent and spectacular performance on the field over that short time period made him a no-brainer choice for induction in his first year of eligibility. And he never even played in a league championship game, let alone won one.

But perhaps the strongest case for Brady's eventual induction is Aikman, also selected for induction in his first year of eligibility. In spite of Aikman's three Super Bowl victories, his career statistics were relatively pedestrian compared to most HOF quarterbacks. Over his twelve seasons, Aikman threw for 20 or more touchdowns in a season just once and averaged exactly one touchdown pass per game, throwing for 165 TDs in 165 games. Brady, meanwhile, already has thrown 123 TD passes in just 80 games.

In addition, Aikman and Brady have similar career numbers in completion percentage (61.5% and 61.9%, respectively) and yards per passing attempt (7.0 and 7.1, respectively). Aikman finished his career with only 24 more TD passes than interceptions thrown, while Brady is already a plus-57 on that statistic. And unless Brady's arm falls off, he will continue to widen that gap.

There was some concern before today's selection results were announced that Troy Aikman's career statistics didn't warrant HOF status. But the three Super Bowl wins combined with a stellar reputation as a team player and an all-around good guy clearly were enough to satisfy the voters that Aikman was a no-brainer choice in his first year of eligibility.

When Aikman is officially enshrined in Canton this summer, Brady will get a nice sneak peak at his own future. And whatever else he accomplishes during his playing career will be nothing but gravy. Not bad for a sixth round draft pick (#199 overall) out of Michigan who was only the seventh quarterback taken in what was a down year for quarterback prospects.

Yes, Tom Brady must be a very happy young man today. After just six seasons in the NFL, he's already secured his place in history. In fact, he might as well start composing his induction speech and putting together his invitation list right now. He may have been a late bloomer coming out of college, but he won't waste any time getting to the HOF dance. It's really just a matter of time.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Do you wanna know a secret?

From a news report on Yahoo:

"It, obviously, reveals techniques and sources and methods that are important to try to protect," Cheney said. "It gives information to our enemies about how we go about collecting intelligence against them. It also raises questions in the minds of other intelligence services about whether or not they can work with the United States intelligence service, with our for example, if we can't keep a secret."

What the hell is this guy smoking? I think Cheney must have gotten an angioplasty balloon that went to his brain and self-inflated. Poof!

Can't keep a secret? His own office outed a CIA officer's identity and he's bellyaching about keeping secrets?

And that's not to mention the FACT that exposing an illegal, warrantless spying operation has done absolutely nothing to harm investigative techniques. That is absolutely ridiculous!

These people are all insane!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

New Name Alert: "The Long War"

Apparently, "The War on Terror" is losing its cachet in certain circles. So, to combat the inevitable ambivalence that many Americans may begin to exhibit towards "The War on Terror", the White House and the Pentagon have begun to re-brand the global conflict as "The Long War".

The United States is engaged in what could be a generational conflict akin to the Cold War, the kind of struggle that might last decades as allies work to root out terrorists across the globe and battle extremists who want to rule the world, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.

Rumsfeld, who laid out broad strategies for what the military and the Bush administration are now calling the "long war," likened al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin while urging Americans not to give in on the battle of wills that could stretch for years. He said there is a tendency to underestimate the threats that terrorists pose to global security, and said liberty is at stake.

That's right. The Bush administration, apparently, is admitting that it cannot win "The War on Terror". And, as a result, it also is affirming that the neo-conservative-led Republican Party has been able to successfully replace the U.S. defense and military complex's Cold War sustenance with a newfound, long-term source of funding. The death knell felt throughout the defense industry when the Berlin Wall came crumbling down and the old Soviet Union split apart into its respective Republics has been overtaken by newfound optimism for a virtual pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: a long-term conflict that will prop up defense coffers for decades to come.

We all know that 9/11/01 was a terrible tragedy, but it certainly wasn't the beginning of terrorism, something that has been around for a long, long, long time. Attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole, not to mention the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, are just a few of the many examples of terrorist activity in recent years. And much of the terrorist activity hasn't been undertaken by Islamic extremists, either. The Irish Republican Army, Spain's Basque Separatists, Germany's Red Brigade are just three of many terror groups intent on making their respective points by resorting to violent attacks. Again, it's nothing new. Yet, I don't recall anyone declaring a "war on terror", per se.

We all know that the Bush administration paid virtually no attention to terrorism in its first eight months in office in 2001. In fact, direct requests and pleas from terrorism experts such as Richard Clarke fell on deaf ears within the Bush administration. Even Presidential Daily Briefings highlighting the potential for terrorist attacks went unheeded in the White House. When it came to terrorism, the silence eminating from the White House was, indeed, deafening...especially in hindsight.

Then one brutal act of terrorism in this country apparently changed the world forever. It served as the catalyst for not only "The War on Terror", but also a war in Iraq and now "The Long War". But, in reality, terrorism has always been with us and it always will be with us in one form or another. It's really nothing new.

Is the military the right tool for eradicating terrorism, as the White House and the Pentagon seem to believe? Quite simply, no. It's not a military issue at all. It's a law enforcement issue. Terrorists are criminals. They are not "enemy combatants", as the Bush White House would have us believe. The "War on Terror" should be no different than the "War on Organized Crime" or the "War on Drugs" or the "War on White Collar Crime". It's a law enforcement issue, not a military one.

But there are too many benefits to a military "War on Terror" for the Bush administration and its long list of cronies. In fact, any war is good for this group. Too many benefits accrue, not the least of which is the enormous executive power grab that the White House has undertaken over the last four-plus years. Add in the ungodly amounts of money accruing to major players in the military-industrial complex and war really turns into a great business proposition.

Sadly, in the eyes of the Bush administration and its neo-con core, war has become as American as baseball and apple pie. And now that the rest of the world is coming to understand this so well, "The Long War" may, indeed, prove to be longer than any of us would ever dare to imagine.

Welcome to life with a target on our backs.