Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Sports Desk - Euro 2008

Well, the two sides for the final match of the Euro 2008 Football Championships are set.

Germany faced off against Turkey on Wednesday. The Germans were confident, but the Turks played with a great deal of heart and actually drew level with the favorites 2-2 very late in the match. It looked like another session of extra time for the Turks when Philip Lahm, in the 90th minute, put one into the back of the net for Germany. Final, 3-2 Germany, but Turkey has nothing to hang their heads about.

Russia took the pitch against Spain on Thursday, in filthy weather that degenerated into a driving downpour complete with lightning. A scoreless first half was followed by Spain simply exploding offensively while their defense kept the Russians at bay. Final, 3-0 Spain, setting up their first Euro final match in 24 years.

My pick for the final match on Sunday afternoon? Germany.

What Was This Guy Thinking?

When I read this, it made me laugh so hard I thought I would bust something:

Right-wing pedophile bomb-maker jailed

A right-wing extremist and pedophile, who wanted to secure a future for white children and kept explosives at his Yorkshire, England, flat, has been jailed for 16 years.

I guess he wanted to make sure he went to jail.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Left Hand and the Right Hand

An article today in the Washington Post caught my eye, concerning two rather divergent views of how things are going in Iraq. The first report, put together by the Government Accounting Office (the investigative arm of the Congress) said that while the level of violence has indeed gone down - and that's a very good thing - the country remains little more than a basket case and many of the Bush Administration's political goals for the surge as set forth in January 2007 haven't been met.

Those goals included the passage of certain laws, which haven't been passed. Iraq's oil production targets also haven't been met, and the Iraqi government seems to be spending less money (giving rise in my suspicious mind that people are skimming from the till and squirreling the money away offshore).

Particularly damning seems to be the revelation that there didn't seem to be an plan in place for what to do after the troop escalation was done, whether to draw down the troops or to give the Iraqis even more Friedman Units in which to meet the goals.

Now, the Pentagon unveiled its own report, which paints rather a different picture. It concedes that the drop in violence, while a very good thing, is still very tenuous at best (witness the recent killings of US troops - six in the past week). It also criticizes the GAO for not taking into account the possible bad influence Syria and Iran might have for the continuing violence in parts of the country.

The Pentagon's report also states that there is no need to change the plan as it sits right now.

The article has a very interesting line in it: "In many respects, the two reports seemed to assess wholly different realities."

Indeed. Which got me thinking about a little passage from the book Vietnam: A History, by Stanley Karnow (Penguin Books, 1983). In 1963 President Kennedy sent two aides to South Vietnam on a fact-finding mission. One, an optimist, spoke mostly to US and South Vietnamese military officials; the other, a pessimist, spoke to urban bureaucrats and politicians.

When their reports were given to JFK on September 10, 1963 he asked, "You two did visit the same country didn't you?" (p. 293)

One might put the same question to the GAO and the Pentagon.

US Banking System is Doomed

How's that for an attention-grabbing title?

A very interesting article in The Age posits exactly that - that the banking system in this country, fed by numerous bubbles of bad credit and faulty deals, is about to go into the tank.

But don't take my word for it. Read the whole article, for which these few bits will suffice:

"The US banking system as it exists now will not survive and its death throes will be painful. Details of its demise are in evidence everywhere you look. The fall of Bear Stearns, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and rumours circling the future of market super-heavyweight Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch attest to the end of the broker-dealer form of banking that cannot survive without securitisation, a system essentially built on kickbacks, big bonuses and the movement of money dressed up as industry."

"The US, like all of us, conditioned itself to believe in economic cycles and the inevitable bounce. But each correction has seen the creation of a new and less stable bubble. On this fact, several authorities are now coming to the same conclusion."

"Increasingly, independent analysts like Whalen and Hudson are blaming deregulation, especially the repeal of the 1930s Glass-Steagall Act that was passed to prevent a recurrence of the practices and results we are seeing today, and repealed by Bill Clinton, leading, as Hudson observed, to insufficient, or non-existent, oversight."

In matters economic, I defer to experts such as The Dark Wraith to confirm the arguments made in this article.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Beautiful Game

I've been watching the Euro 2008 championship football (that's association football, or soccer) tournament, either on TV or online, and so far it's been a great show.

The refereeing could be better, though, but they're not Argos - they don't have a thousand eyes and in many cases their calls depend on what angle they're looking at. There's no instant replay in football, you see.

So any way, time for a quick recap as we look at each of the sides coming into the semifinals.

Germany: Favored to win the championship, they started out poorly in the groups by losing to cohost Austria. They managed to advance to the quarterfinals and beat the tar out of Portugal, 3-1. Very strong, with stars like Ballack, Podolski, Klose and Schweinsteiger.

Turkey: Turkey's been running on sheer heart and guts, finally beating Croatia on penalty kicks in order to get into the semis. Many of their star players, like Nihat, are out either due to suspensions or to injuries. There's even some speculation as to whether there are enough players left to take to the pitch.

Germany plays Turkey in a semifinal match on Wednesday. Since I'm part German I expect Germany to win, but the sentimental fave will be the Turks (they've never gotten this far before).

Russia: The Russians beat the heavily favored Netherlands side 3-1 in extra time to advance; like the Turks this is about the farthest they've managed to get. Very strong side, with Kolodin and Pavlyuchenko showing speed, strength and accuracy. I expect them to win.

Spain: Spain sent the Italians home yesterday with a match that went scoreless through regulation and both extra periods, finally deciding the issue on penalty kicks. Heavy strikers such as Fabregas, David Villa and Torres will give the Russians a run for their money.

Russia faces Spain on Thursday.

It's been great fun to watch all of the matches, and I'm amazed that there have been so few injuries (soccer players wear very little protective gear, and their shoes have cleats that can cause real harm if used improperly).

My picks for the final will be Russia and Germany. Russia will fly right at Spain, trusting to their swarming offense to overpower the Spanish defense; Germany might have some trouble out of the Turkish side, but since they'll be playing a largely scratch team Ballack & Co. will win.

Eventual winner? My pick is Germany.

I'll update this the day before the final.


George Carlin

Comedian, Gadfly, Author

1937 - 2008

Rest in Peace

Notable quotes:

"Ignore these four words."

"Christians must be sick in the head. Only someone who hates himself could possibly think of the pleasures of masturbation as self-abuse."

"I have no regrets in life. Although I am kind of sorry I never got to beat a man to death while wearing a tuxedo."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday Rant Corner

One of the things I like to do in the mornings is to read the local newspaper. National and world news is usually covered by the Internet when I go online; local and state events (particularly stuff that happened while I was asleep) are the province of the local paper.

One of the features I read is the reader's poll, which poses a question and lists some of the more printable responses.

The question du jour was "Do you think America is on the wrong track?" 441 people responded, with 85% saying Yes and 15% saying no.

Two of the responses, one a Yes and the other a No, leaped out at me.

The Yes response: "Yes, the people do know it was when our sin-sick government changed the laws in this country that we were founded on to satisfy their sin-sick hearts. No one man can change it all back but our prayers can."

Uh, huh.

I'm guessing that this person has a problem with gay marriage, legalized abortion, with blacks counting as more than 3/5 of a human being for voting purposes (and women and Native Americans not counting at all), with Miranda rights and the application of due process to the states. We are a nation of laws, and people wrote our laws. Our law and government derive from the sovereignty of the people, not from God or from some ruler.

Laws must change to reflect changes in society and respond to real events. However, there is still a law on the books in the State of Florida that makes it a misdemeanor to live together outside of the marriage bond.

So this person has some problem seeing basic civics.

Just like the person who penned this No response: "No, but the Bible says that God appoints our leaders and if we go against our leaders, we're going against God."

I nearly spit out my tea when I read this. Apparently this person not only has no grasp of basic civics, but also still believes in the Divine Right of Kings. May be a predestinarian as well, who believes that no matter what we do, it's all been mapped out before the creation of the universe and nothing we can do can change it. No free will, you see.

This person probably voted for Bush, too.

If we don't like our leaders, we get rid of them by means of the ballot (other countries use the bullet method). That's why we have elections.

So, what's got you ranting today?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How I Spent My Day Off

Mostly flat on my back.

And there was a woman involved, and another guy.

And it involved both pain and pleasure - even some blood.

In other words ...

I spent a fun filled five hours in a dentist's chair having a root canal, attended by the dentist and a hygienist.

Amazingly, the cleaning at the start of the day hurt worse than the actual root canal procedure.

So that explains the pain. What about the pleasure?

Each room in this dentist's office has a TV hooked up with earphones so you can at least listen while you're being drilled and filled. So I got to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which at one point had me laughing so hard I was afraid I would make the dentist slip with the drill.

So that's how I spent my day off, and managed to make it sound at first like a five-hour marathon of sin and depravity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Recharging the Batteries

I am a bit hyperactive, and have been since I was a child. I recall being given Ritalin when it was a vile, clear and wholly bitter-tasting liquid that had be poured over a tablespoon of table sugar in order to force it down my throat (which kind of defeated the purpose).

As a result, I don't need much sleep - about four or six hours a night. As I've grown older, though, that lack of sleep catches up to me.

Case in point: Yesterday.

I got a grand total of about four hours of sleep the previous night (which included watching the strangely dissatisfying season finale of Battlestar Galactica), and the workplace's computer screen and fluorescent lighting conspired to give me a migraine. I fought through it (my body knows who's boss) with the promise that I'd sleep when I got home.

As soon as I got home I hurriedly made my way through my mail and dinner, watered the plants and chastised the cats, and was sound asleep before 8.

And slept all the way through to my alarm. Seven full hours, and I'll sleep in on my days off later in the week.

Feeling great today, yes.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Can we stop now?

Can we PLEASE stop watching and listening to nonstop encomiums about how wonderful Tim Russert was? He was a lawyer turned interviewer (not a journalist), and he favored leaping out from behind a rhetorical tree and screaming "Gotcha!"

Here's what went on while the press mourned and performed funerary games:

Four Marines died in Afghanistan, and President Karzai has threatened to invade Pakistan.

Iowans (among others in the Midwest) were flooded out of house and work, and the corn and soybean crops for this year are largely knackered. Get ready for higher food prices.

Our Dear Leader had tea with Elizabeth II while riot police dealt with protestors outside Whitehall.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Watching ...

... It all just slip away.

George Bush is on his farewell tour of Europe right now, meeting in Britain with PM Gordon Brown and presumably begging him to not lay down a timetable for the withdrawal of the last British troops in Iraq. If the British withdraw, American troops will have to be detailed to the south in order to keep the supply lines to Kuwait and the port of Basra open and at least somewhat secure.

Part of the need for a secure line to the south is in the event we need to make a fighting withdrawal from the country. If the Iraqi government demands that we leave, chances are VP Cheney will exert every influence on the President to keep us there. Which will cause very nasty things to happen.

Kind of difficult when a government you put into place doesn't do things the way you want, huh?

Speaking of which, do you recall that the Hamas-led government in Gaza was the legally elected government of the Palestinian Authority? Yep, it's true; but rather than recognize the fait very accompli, the US and Europe have cut ties to Gaza.

It's odd - Nepal's government includes former Maoist terrorists, as did Israel's back in 1948. We didn't waste much time in recognizing them, now did we?

By the way - Bush's great dream of a new settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Don't hold your breath; Israelis keep building new settlements on Palestinian land, aggravating the situation. In fact, Secretary of State and Surrogate Bush Wife Condi Rice is in Israel now, talking to her counterpart and saying that it's "simply not helpful."

Understatement of the month, Condi Baby.

Which brings us to Afghanistan, which some are calling The Forgotten War. Four US Marines died there last week, and I surely hope that they and their sacrifice are not forgotten.

A group of Pakistani soldiers apparently got blown up by the US last week, and Pakistan got all hot under the collar (can you blame them?) about it.

Which led Afghan President Hamid "Unocal Is Your Friend!" Karzai to threaten to invade Pakistan in order to stop the cross-border raids that simply not being helpful. Pakistan said that they wouldn't allow Afghan troops to enter Pakistani territory - which brings up a very interesting set of scenarios.

Earlier this week, a very well-planned and coordinated attack on the second-biggest prison in Afghanistan (reports of two truck bombs at opposite ends of the compound, and RPG fire inside) freed some 800 or so inmates, many of whom were Taliban and al-Qaeda cell leaders and suicide bombers. A region-wide manhunt has so far killed 15 of the escapees, but chances are the bulk of them have managed to get into friendly territory or back across the border into Pakistan.

So here are these escaped inmates, all with certain skills and most likely with blood in their eyes, loosed upon the land again.

I was watching PBS's Frontline this morning and they were replaying the two-part Bush's War documentary. I was struck again by the immense amount of hubris displayed by the major players in the preparation, execution and aftermath of the initial combat operation, and the missteps that have dragged us, inexorably, to where we are now.

So George Bush will ride out the clock, watching it all just slip away.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Throwing in a Monkey Wrench

The Supreme Court of the United States, by a 5-4 decision (all four conservative Justices dissented), yesterday handed down a huge slap in the face to Bush Regime in the case of Boumediene v. Bush. Click on the link and read at least the Syllabus - it's only 8 pages of a 134-page decision. The rest is dicta and dissents (Scalia's reaches a new height in screeching irrelevancy and "We're all gonna die!" fear rhetoric).

What the decision does is strike down the operative section, Section 7, of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which set up the kangaroo courts that are to 'try' detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, as well as elsewhere in the world (including some that may be held aboard Navy ships - another violation of international law, if true). Section 7 of the MCA denied the detainees the right of habeas corpus - the legal right to challenge, in open court, the State's detention of a subject.

Habeas corpus was hard-wired into the Constitution for a reason; in fact, it's one of only two legal rights that were hard-wired (the other, as I recall, being the prohibition against bills of attainder). The Framers didn't want the government to have the right or the ability to lock people up without reason, charges or trial, so they took the legal precedent set down in Magna Carta and in English common law and enshrined it in our Supreme Law of the Land.

How did Dear Leader react? Well, he didn't like it, but said that he would "abide by it."

Two words, folks:

Complete. Idiot.

Unless Bush decides to go whole hog and arrest the five Justices who wrote this decision, a la Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, he HAS NO CHOICE but to "abide by it." The Supreme Court, the third branch of the government and the interpreters of laws, has spoken. And since the Court stressed that the right is embodied directly in the Constitution, the Congress can do nothing about it without amending the document to write habeas corpus out of the Law of the Land and make it optional - subject to executive or legislative whim or fiat.

Which I don't think the Congress would do. There's a different Party in power in both Houses now, and the trends are pointing in the direction of that majority only strengthening as things get worse. So if Bush goes back to the Hill and asks for a new MCA, he's likely going to be told to suck it and suck it hard.

Which is a good thing for the continued rule of law in this country.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

We Wuz Pwned ...

According to Wikipedia, "pwned" (variously pronounced, but usually as "owned") means that someone has been fooled, bamboozled or duped into a course of action that spells easy victory for the opponent. It apparently grew out of Internet slang.

Etymology is fun, isn't it?

Now, I want to introduce you to this guy:

His name is Manucher Ghorbanifar, a gentleman of leisure and dealer in weapons and information. Iranian-born, he is probably the single biggest jiveass liar and complete motherfucker to cross the path of the United States in the past 50 years. With the help of Reagan White House operatives Michael Ledeen and Oliver North, Ghorbanifar sold the idea of selling weapons to the MEK terrorist group on the strength that they were against the Islamic government in Tehran, and then skimming the profits from those sales to fund the contras in Nicaragua.

That's rather simplistic, but it's the bare bones of the idea. And what did we get for it?

About 240 dead Marines, killed in their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Makes me wonder why Ollie North hasn't shot himself yet. It also got us a Socialist government in Nicaragua and the destruction of any credibility that might have been enjoyed by Ronald Reagan up to that point. There was the possibility that he could have been impeached, but I guess enough people were scared of having to do it again, so soon (10 years) after another Republican was impeached, that they balked.

Ghorbanifar's name, however, surfaced again shortly after 9/11. Again, with Ledeen's help (and illustrating that neoconservatives are like the old Bourbons - they forget nothing and they learn nothing) Ghorbanifar tried to sell us information on Iraq and Iran that he said came from dissidents within Iran, that could be useful in our war on terror.

The Defense Department recalled Ghorbanifar, though, and their counterintelligence investigators doubted that what he had on offer was useful - but could have been planted to manipulate us. That investigation, however, was stopped by an undersecretary within then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office.

The McClatchy News Service came out with this article a couple days ago in which the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the village idiots, in other words) finally reported that a lot of the information used to gull the American people into war was almost straight moonshine. Some of that goes straight back to Ghorbanifar, with major help from Ledeen, Douglas Feith, and at least one official within Vice-President Cheney's office.

So, who stood to gain from all of this? Ghorbanifar angled for up to $30 million in taxpayer's money, showing that he's not just a liar but a greedy little shit. But who stood to gain The Most?

That answer would have to be the Islamic Republic of Iran, and does not require any great exercise of logic or geopolitical expertise to deduce. Iraq was a secular Sunni thorn in Iran's side, having attacked it in 1980 and locking it into a barbarous war of attrition for eight years. Iraq was always the only nation in the region strong enough to restrain Iran.

So the idea that Ghorbanifar was Tehran's agent when he peddled his dubious info to Ledeen, et. al. is actually quite plausible.

And, to reprise the question I asked earlier, what did we get for it?

Five years of war.

4100 dead American soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen.

Thousands wounded and traumatized.

Iraq impotent for decades to come.

And the Islamic Republic of Iran the winner in the game.

Sure enough, We Got Pwned.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Nuclear Superpower Rule #1 - Don't Lose Them!

Defense Secretary Gates fired (forced to resign is the same as "fired") Air Force Secretary Wynne and the USAF's Chief of Staff, General Moseley a couple days ago.

The reason(s)?

Well, for starters there was that little tiny slipup with fitting six nuclear weapons to a B-52 bomber and flying them from North Dakota to Louisiana. Without letting anyone know, without National Command Authority knowing that a half-dozen representatives of The Ultimate Weapon had gone missing - for thirty-six damned hours.

Oh sure, the USAF command disciplined a small pack of colonels and quite a few of the lesser ranks, but apparently their response was a bit too limp for Gates' liking (can't say as I blame him).

The other incident involved the oopsie of sending four fuses for nuclear warheads to Taipei. It was an accident - poor inventory control - and we got them right back. There were disciplinary actions, but again the response was a bit, um, lacakdaisical.

Which brings me back to me agreeing with Robert Gates and the title of this post.

If you're going to stockpile nuclear weaponry you better make godsdamned sure you keep them under lock and key, and know exactly where they are at all times. And make certain that the people you've assigned to watch them know that their careers will turn into a Series of Terrible Misunderstandings if they don't maintain accountability.

A weapon capable of leveling a city isn't something you want wandering out loose at night, visiting bars and accosting hookers.

So keep 'em locked up. The job you save just may be your own.

An Odd Perspective ...

... Or why it's sometimes not good to let me just sit and think. Odd associations may link up in my head.

First, dear readers, I ask you to peruse Robert McElvaine's column in the Huffington Post. Take your time, and you'll have to admit he has an interesting premise - that Robert Kennedy's murder basically started a civil war in the United States. It wasn't a very violent clash, being mainly political, but it was between those who wanted American culture to remain static and those who wanted change to fit the shifting climate of the times.

To paraphrase Kennedy's own words, there were those who saw things as they were and said "Leave well enough alone."

At the time, leaving things well enough alone wasn't nearly good enough. Times were changing, and it would have been interesting to see a charismatic idealist (RFK) gain the White House. Had he not been shot by Sirhan, I think he would have beaten Humphrey for the nomination and gone on to beat Nixon in the general election of 1968. We might never have seen police rioting in Chicago.

Now, time for the odd associations.

Keeping this in mind, let me introduce you to The Mule. In Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, The Mule was the one factor that Hari Seldon's psychohistory (a predictive mathematics that essentially mapped out accurately all major human political trends over a thousand years or so) couldn't predict. He was a wild card, and repairing the damage to Seldon's predictions took several decades.

Several decades.

And so we come to Barack Obama. He's close to my age, and what I would call a charismatic idealist. He also has appealed to voters in the 45-59 age bracket - perhaps not coincidentally those who were children or teenagers when Kennedy was shot.

So, are we back on track? have the Culture Wars reached a turning point? Only time will tell.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"Better Late Than Never" Corner

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (I guess they call it that because it's drawn from the village idiots in the Senate) finally released a comprehensive report on the ginned-up, fabricated, cherry-picked and politically-motivated reasons for invading Iraq that George Bush and his minions sold most of America on back in 2002.

(Damn, that was a long sentence.)

Plus former Press Mouthpiece Scott McClellan came out with a book in which he told those of us who already knew it that the press was either complicit or very soft in questioning him and the Administration.

And two days after her primary opponent clinched the Democratic nomination for President, Hillary's campaign staff has started bruiting it about that she'll suspend her campaign and endorse Obama - on Saturday.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Kick in the Vilsack

This had to hurt.

Vilsack says it's over.

Former Iowa Governor Tom "Stop Making Fun of My Name" Vilsack is one of Hillary Clinton's most ardent supporters. Mr. Vilsack has called for Hillary to withdraw from the race, saying that it's "pretty clear" that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee.

And this the day after the Clinton campaign trumpeted the victory over Obama in Puerto Rico. Yep, 55 delegates (more than half the states in the US can muster up) and across every demographic on the island. Yes, it was a victory.

Doesn't really mean a thing for November though - sorry to burst your bubble like that.

You see, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, not a state - it can vote in primaries but not in the general election in November, for some strange reason.

With a withdrawal call coming from one of her closest and most enthusiastic supporters, the time is fast approaching when she will have to fish or cut bait. The last two primaries are Tuesday, and if the superdelegates move en masse to Obama, she's out. Period.

Wearing out the RIP Sign

I just learned that Bo Diddley died today at his home in Archer, Florida.

A lot of performers and people I know of have passed away in the past few weeks.

Harvey Korman
Yves Saint-Laurent
Sidney Pollack
Earle Hagen

And it's been a year to the day since Steve Gilliard, editor of The News Blog, passed away. We still miss you, Gilly - and eff the effing Yankees.