March 31, 2004

On the Air

As Mark at VuDeja pointed out, Air America Radio is on the air. Their programming hasn't started officially at this time, but an excerpt from the audio book version of "Lying Liars" (Chapter 13, on Bill O'Reilly). You have to sign up in order to listen to more than the sample; when you sign up, they give you:

Top 6 Reasons to join us:

1. John Ashcroft will know where to find you.
2. All our annoying pop-up ads are invisible.
3. Because they shut down the Dennis Kucinich dating chat room.
4. Our spam is vegetarian.
5. You like making up passwords.
6. You were banned from the Fox News website for having your own opinion.
I had a few problems signing up--a few server errors, and it took about a half hour before the confirmation-code email arrived, but after signing up, you can access the streaming audio (Real Audio, though their FAQ suggests Windows Media, Quicktime, and other media formats may be forthcoming). You can get the basic information, but a lot isn't there yet (like the blogs), and searching around, I got a lot more server errors--probably a mix between this being a new site, and enthusiastic listeners bombarding the site.

They also mention that their two main shows (by Franken and Rhodes) are rebroadcast after 11pm, or 11 hours after their first broadcast. They also mention an audio archive, which appears to be at least a one-week record of their shows--or at least I hope so, as the timing of my schedule makes it likely that I will be asleep during the inaugural broadcast and working through the repeat.

More as it comes in--such as what time zone the scheduling is based on (they don't seem to say!), and how the streaming stands up.

Posted by Luis at 09:49 PM | Comments (5)

Oh, And By the Way...

Buried under the news that Rice will testify under oath to the commission, is the new information on how Bush and Cheney will testify. Not only will they do so in private, not only will they not be under oath, and not only will the testimony be cut off after just one measly hour--but now they tell us that Bush and Cheney will appear together. Meaning that they will not even testify for an hour each, but more like just a half hour. And perhaps a huge chunk of that time will be dedicated to pre-written opening statements. In the end, neither Bush nor Cheney will have to answer more than just a few questions each.

Isn't it great how Bush and Cheney are bending over backwards to help the committee?

By the way, expect Bush to claim later that it was their intent from the beginning to have Rice testify; this will fall in with Bush Revisionism that says that he intended to get Congressional approval and U.N. support for the Iraq war all along, and that he had stated before the election that he would allow a budget deficit if he "hit the Trifecta" of recession, national emergency and war. All of those claims are completely false.

Posted by Luis at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

Pouring Gas on the Tax Debate

Kerry has to get the word out better on his tax plans--it seems that Bush is being successful in smearing him on the issue. A CNN/Gallup poll had 58 percent saying that Kerry would raise their taxes (as opposed to 29 percent saying "no"). I seriously doubt that 58% of all Americans make over $200,000 a year, which is why Kerry should make the point more clear. From his web site:

John Kerry has a plan to cut taxes for middle class families and repeal the Bush tax cuts for families making over $200,000 to invest in health care and education. ...

Specifically, he wants to protect the increases in the child tax credit, the reduced marriage penalty and the new tax bracket that helps people save $350 on their first level of income. He strongly disagrees with Democrats who want to repeal these tax cuts because it would cost a typical middle-class family with two children an additional $2,000. These families are often already struggling with higher health care costs and higher state and local taxes. In fact, John Kerry wants to give more tax breaks to the middle class with new tax credits on health care and college tuition.

Not being able to attack Kerry for that, Bush is--amazingly--going after Kerry on gas taxes. This coming from the "Enron President" who has overseen the biggest hike in gas prices in recent memory. Remember when people were wondering in Bush and Cheney's strong oil ties would be used for the industry or to make the industry more reasonable? No more mystery there; Halliburton is bloated with your tax dollars, and while you're being charged usurious prices at the pump, Ken Lay still hasn't been charged with a single crime.

And yet Kerry will make gas prices higher? Bush's claim is based on the fact that Kerry voiced support for a gas tax hike. Wow! Sounds like a dangerous tax-hiker, right? Except that Kerry voiced that support ten years ago, when prices were almost half of what they are now. And the support was fleeting, just a few mentions of it in the context of cutting the deficits at the time. And he never actually voted for it in the end. Well. Doesn't sound like such a rabid tax-hiker, after all, does he? Factcheck.org does a great job of laying out the story.

But here's a surprising kicker: far more recently, Bush's chief economic advisor, much more vociferously proposed exactly the same tax! The advisor is Gregory Mankiw (remember, the guy who wanted to call fast food jobs "manufacturing"?), and in 1999 he suggested raising gas taxes by 50 cents a gallon as a way to offset other taxes. So if Kerry's a gas-taxer, then how is Bush not? Both claims would be equally tenuous.

But when Bush attacks Kerry on taxes, he bends every perception to the breaking point. For example, Kerry not wanting to extend the massive tax cuts for wealthy Americans beyond its expiration date is a "tax hike." Once Kerry voted to keep the tax on cigarettes the same, instead of cutting it in half. That's another one of his famous "tax hikes." Again, Factcheck.org fries Bush on the matter.

The fact is, the only people who are making more and paying less these days are millionaires and billionaires; the paltry three hundred bucks that some in the middle got has long been shot on higher prices at the pump, not to mention lower wages at work, if you're lucky enough to have a job.

And yet still, the perception is that Bush is better on the issue. Well, start talking, people. Get the word out!

Posted by Luis at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

Gearing Up...

Air America Radio has changed their web site to an under-construction graphic (shown below) with radio frequencies to tune in on (sorry, dad, San Francisco is still not listed--but Fran, listen in at WLIB 1190 AM).

Looks like the New York Times was right about the webcasting! Great!

Posted by Luis at 12:19 AM | Comments (2)

March 30, 2004

Secrets as Weapons

I can honestly tell you that I had concerns about the Bush administration and the GOP saying they want to declassify documents in the hope of showing contradictions in Richard Clarke's testimony and prior statements. Because they feel so vulnerable on the issue of 9/11, because this was supposed to be their strength and because Clarke is such a credible witness, they have gone completely rabid in attacking him in every way imaginable. They've called him greedy, backstabbing, partisan, and most of all contradictory--a charge that was raised when they realized that they made him spin a background briefing in August 2002. That briefing by Clarke, meant to represent Rice, Fleischer and Bush, was the result of them telling him to stretch the truth as far as it would go before breaking it, which he refused to do--and now they use the fact that they made him spin for them in trying to make him look dishonest.

But that's not even what is most disturbing--it's the willingness, the almost ferocious intent of the Republicans to use classified material to their advantage. With echoes of the Valerie Plame affair (where senior officials in the White House made public a CIA operative's identity as a way to attack her husband, who had publicly noted a lie by Bush), the administration is now having the CIA go through all the classified material on Clarke, to see what they can declassify. My own first reaction was, "I'll bet the do a lot of cherry-picking and taking out of context to support their case as best they can, and suppress any and all materials that prove Clarke right, claiming that material cannot be declassified."

Of course, I never expected that anyone would be able to prove it. But lo, just one day later, official sources told NBC News that they were doing exactly that:

U.S. officials told NBC News that the full record of Clarke’s testimony two years ago would not be declassified. They said that at the request of the White House, however, the CIA was going through the transcript to see what could be declassified, with an eye toward pointing out contradictions. [emphasis mine]
Amazing. Utterly amazing. You can probably expect "corrections" soon, that is if anyone in the press happens to notice it--it is buried at the bottom of the linked article.

Meanwhile, the Bush smear machine is going full-blast in accusing Kerry of raising every tax in sight. Kerry's official stand is that he would repeal the Bush tax cuts for people making over $200,000 a year, and would cut taxes for people making less with targeted needs, and for businesses that keep jobs in the U.S.

Posted by Luis at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

Quick Notes

Check out Kevin Drum's analysis of Richard Clarke's book. It's a good one; brief, concise, to the point.


To those who said that Spain is "appeasing" the terrorists (a shameless attempt to paint them as Chamberlains) by their likely pull out of Iraq, please note that they are doubling their presence in Afghanistan. If they are appeasing al Qaeda, then why are they intensifying their hunt for him? Don't make no sense, do it? Unless they aren't appeasers, and simply disagree with the war in Iraq, separate from terrorism.


"President Bush said Saturday his tax cuts helped fuel the recent surge in home sales that has helped push homeownership to record levels in the United States," or so CNN reports. Of course, that's kind of predictable. If any good economic news, even meager portions of it, comes out, Bush assigns credit to his tax cuts; if any bad news comes out, then it's Clinton or 9/11. Let's face it--if his tax cuts, now three years on, were to have a clear-cut effect, we'd have noticed it by now. The pittance of good news about the economy now is not due to them, except perhaps in a secondary or tertiary way--but there a lot of negative stuff happening that they could easily be responsible for.


Rice's excuse for not appearing in public, under oath, before the 9/11 commission, is "separation of powers," based on executive privilege, a shaky concept at best. NSA's and their staff have testified before, and the idea of privilege was something mostly invented by Nixon to keep them from having to testify before Congress. Also, the privilege could easily be protected by claiming that it was their choice to testify--just do that and everything would be hunky-dory. But still Rice is hiding behind the flimsy skirts of this artificial "principle."

And how come the commission is a "congressional" body when it was hand-picked by President Bush?

Posted by Luis at 01:07 AM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2004

Rice Throwing and Bush Dropping

Condoleezza Rice remains steady in her insistence that she, as National Security Advisor, should not appear before the 9/11 commission. Why? Because someone in her position should never testify on matters of policy in an investigation, as much as she desperately wishes she could testify. Yeah, right. Josh Marshall points out how insipid that excuse is. Not to mention that it apparently is OK for Rice to make it her new full-time job appear on pretty much every talk show in existence. How is that really different in terms of principle? It seems pretty likely, from her absolute refusal to testify now, and the many rather obvious lies she's told, that if she appears before that commission, she believes that she'll be ripped apart on a variety of issues.


Polling information taken after Richard Clarke's revelations show that Bush's ratings on handling terror have dropped significantly to 57% from a 70% last month suggesting that the massive, concerted character attacks on Clarke didn't have much effect. Strangely, Bush's poll numbers in terms of popularity and he remains neck-and-neck with Kerry in the race for president. The media suggests that perhaps the American people don't factor terrorism handling as important in their consideration for who should be president, but frankly, I have the feeling that we're still seeing the post-9/11 support-the-president factor at work here.

Consider that Bush's natural state in polls is to drop steadily unless some crisis or important story bumps him up. Then consider that Bush has hit a basement plateau at just under 50%. Usually a president has about 30% to 35% as his absolute base, the number of people who'd vote for him no matter what. In the polls, though, Bush's limit seems to be his current state, as he has hovered there for some three months now, despite bad news, embarrassments and massive foot-shooting that has been going on almost every day. How can that be?

I think what we're seeing is an artificially enlarged base due to the post-9/11 factor, where people give nominal support to the president because that's what people do in frightening times. The question is, does that kind of support translate to the ballot box? You'll not be surprised when I tell you that I think the answer is "no." What people tell the pollsters is not always what they decide to do at the polls. I recall back in 1992, when I was renting a room at a house in San Francisco while getting my B.A., my landlord, a Republican who many times spoke for Bush Sr. and against Clinton, surprised me near election day when he told me he'd be voting for Clinton. "I know that he'll raise my taxes," he told me sourly, " but frankly I think that's the right thing to do." Before he voted, he was supporting his party, but when he went to the polls, he voted what he felt was right.

In terms of Bush's current popularity, I think people are telling pollsters they support the presidency in a time of perceived crisis--but I really do not think that this necessarily translates to support for Bush. So many people have heard the sentiment that if you don't support the president, then you are helping the terrorists, and I think a lot of people believe that. But when people go to the polls, I think they will vote not as a show of support, but based on what their beliefs are.

And let's not forget the BlogD Mantra: turnout, turnout, turnout. That doesn't show up in polls.

Posted by Luis at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2004

We Did, but We Didn't

Every day now something comes up that further incriminates the Bush administration. Lies, offensive behavior, policy blunders, misinformation, and the occasional federal felony. If senior officials aren't lying or handing out contradictory testimony, then a commercial or the president's words offend a families of soldiers or 9/11 victims, or perhaps another improper business connection is revealed or, well, something. Today, it's the administration's claim that they were going after bin Laden hot and heavy before 9/11. No sirree, they were not asleep at the switch, not them.

At his 9/11 commission testimony, Colin Powell said:

Above all, from the start, the president by word and deed made clear his interest and his intense desire to protect the nation from terrorism. He frequently asked and prodded us to do more. He decided early on that we needed to be more aggressive in going after terrorists and especially al Qaeda.

However, look at this transcript from CNN, dated April 30, 2001:
The State Department officially released its annual terrorism report just a little more than an hour ago, but unlike last year, there's no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. A senior State Department official tells CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden and "personalizing terrorism." Still, Secretary of State Colin Powell says efforts to fight global terrorism will remain consistent. "
Not exactly consistent, is it? But perhaps they were secretly going after bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Posted by Luis at 03:09 AM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2004

Getting the Lie Straight

"Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles...."

--Condoleezza Rice, op-ed in the Washington Post

"President Bush said they had no specific information about Sept. 11, and that's accurate. But there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand and that several people were already in the country by May of 2001. They should've alerted the people to the threat we're facing."

--former FBI translator, Sibel Edmonds

Oops.
Our plan called for military options to attack al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets -- taking the fight to the enemy where he lived.

--Condoleezza Rice, op-ed in the Washington Post

Gorelick: "Is it true, as Dr. Rice said, 'Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaida and Taliban leadership'?"
Armitage: "No, I think that was amended after the horror of 9/11."

--9/11 Commission Testimony by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage

Oops again.

I guess it's hard to get your stories straight when you're lying so much.

Posted by Luis at 07:16 PM | Comments (0)

Talk Big but Carry Little Funding

This country needs a national goal for broadband technology, for the spread of broadband technology. We ought to have a universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007, and then we ought to make sure as soon as possible thereafter, consumers have got plenty of choices when it comes to purchasing the broadband carrier. See, the more choices there are, the more the price will go down. And the more the price goes down, the more users there will be. And the more users there will be, the more likely it is America will stay on the competitive edge of world trade.

--President Bush, March 26, 2004, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Well, goodie for him. Three years after the DSL market started to stagnate, he finally gets around to saying that we need cheap, universal broadband. And his only comment on how? Make sure there are plenty of choices. And he later added, we must not tax access (which I'm sure lots of people would have suggested as a way to make broadband cheaper).

Well, problem solved.

Yeah, right. There are quite a few problems that need to be solved, and I don't really see Bush solving any of them. Japan surged ahead with their "e-Japan" strategy, and now 40 Mbps DSL is available to a very large percent of the population here, with 100 Mbps fiber optic also available to many, and other options like vDSL on their way. This was accomplished at least in part by government action, subsidizing loans for the construction of broadband infrastructure to the tune of a few billion dollars, something Bush does not have us doing yet. American efforts are less orchestrated and more scattershot; a national plan has not yet been established. In Japan, the "e-Japan" initiative aims for universal access of 30- to 100 Mbps by 2005. And since the tech bubble collapse in 2000, the quality of broadband in the U.S. for most has actually fallen, with prices remaining high. It is also arguable as to whether what is provided to Americans today can be called "broadband." The FCC defines that as a 200 kilobit connection. That's about 1/100th of what in Japan today is considered low-end DSL. And penetration in Japan is deeper, too; in 2001, the U.S. had more broadband penetration than Japan by at least a factor of two, but in 2003, Japan swept past the U.S., with more than double the connections, and that trend has likely continued or even accelerated in 2004, with most ISPs offering 40 Mbps+ DSL.

And that's not even getting into problems more pervasive in the U.S., including "last-mile" costs for rural areas, and regulation concerns. If the U.S. is going to get universal broadband, much less cheap broadband, any time soon, Bush will have to get up off his butt and actually do something, as opposed to just making stirring references in speeches to homeowners in New Mexico. But don't count on it--in areas such as education ("No Child Left Behind"), space exploration (the Mars mission), and fighting AIDS in Africa, Bush has talked big but in fact delivered next to nothing. He is the champion of the unfunded mandate. Expect his action on broadband to be the same.

Posted by Luis at 03:42 PM | Comments (1)

Microsoft and Justice (long post)

In 1998, Microsoft did something that was widely protested: it tied its browser software to its operating system. This was part of Microsoft's strategy to dominate the browser software market, and the trigger for a massive lawsuit by the U.S. government and many states against the software giant on antitrust grounds. While that suit was sabotaged in the end, a similar action is now entering a promising phase in Europe--but must first withstand similar attempts at sabotage. First, a bit of background.

Let's go back in time a little. The first event of note happened at the beginning of the 80's, when the Apple ][ computer dominated the PC market. IBM wanted to do that, so they created a new computer, the "IBM PC," that would do the trick. When they went looking for an OS, they turned to Bill Gates, who was doing other work for them. Gates bought an operating system, Q-DOS, from another firm for $50,000 and presented it to IBM with the new name "MS-DOS" slapped onto it. But Gates did not want to simply sell it to them for a quick profit; he wanted to license it to them, allow them to include it with their computers for a fee, with Gates retaining ownership. IBM execs decided that the computer hardware was where the money was, and so they agreed with Gates' request. That is now remembered as one of the most idiotic decisions in recent business history. Microsoft based their success on the ownership of that operating system.

One thing should be noted about Microsoft, and that is their quick & dirty approach to capturing a market. When a competitor comes out with software which Microsoft wants to dominate, it produces its own version as quickly as possible. The product is, at first, of extremely poor quality, and only becomes truly workable after several upgrades. One example of this is Microsoft's operating system itself.

In 1993, when Apple released the Lisa (the precursor to the Macintosh), it became a public matter that Apple was switching to the GUI (Graphics User Interface), which used windows, icons and menus as visual metaphors for controlling the computer, as opposed to the text interface used by MS-DOS and other OS's, which depended on specifically-typed and hard-to-learn text commands in order to operate. The GUI made it possible for anyone and their grandmother to use a PC. When Microsoft saw this happening, they knew they had to come out with a GUI OS as well, or wither and die. But there was not enough time to create a GUI OS from the ground up, so Microsoft slapped together a sloppy and barely workable GUI on top of MS-DOS. The sloppiness showed, and for many years, the OS was far inferior to the Macintosh, which premiered with a GUI in 1984. Eventually, however, after several revisions, MS Windows became more acceptable, but not until the 90's. It took at least a decade for Microsoft to finally produce a ground-up GUI OS to take over the heavy lifting for MS-DOS, and that was Windows NT. While MS-DOS remained the center of Windows Home versions until 2001 (Windows 95, 98, and Me), NT took over completely when Windows XP was released. Along the way, they stole the best features of the Mac's OS and made them their own.

So one might wonder, how come in the first several years, Microsoft captured so much of the market with an inferior OS? The main reason for that was IBM's strategy for their platform, the IBM PC. While Apple computers are proprietary and can only be produced by Apple (save for an abortive experiment with clones some years back), the IBM PC was, from the start, open for any company to produce. So companies that wanted in on the market found the IBM PC (now just called "PC") platform the way to go, and the intense competition and widespread production kept prices down, a necessity for many businesses. That, combined with Apple's loss of direction while Steve Jobs was away, allowed the PC to dominate the market. And Microsoft dominated the PC.

That dominance is what has brought criticism of Microsoft, because of the way they use it. Microsoft does not only make the operating system, it also produces Microsoft Office (Which includes software for word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, scheduling and database), a browser, email, a music and video ("multimedia") viewer, and others (such as Publisher for DTP and FrontPage for web page design). On the PC platform, Microsoft has many competitors for application software of that type--and those competitors have long cried foul over Microsoft's oppressive tactics.

The Windows OS has been a cornerstone of those tactics. Since Microsoft controls the OS, it can use that control to give their application software an edge over competitors. Imagine if one business owned a shopping center, and rented out most of the space to other businesses, while keeping its own stores as part of the mall. Those mall-owned stores would be competing with other stores in the shopping center trying to sell the same goods. The business which owns the shopping center would have an unfair advantage over all the other shops. It could give the best locations to its own shops and make the other businesses operate in hard-to-find locations with little traffic. It could control the messages displayed on the main marquee of the mall, using it to advertise only its own stores. It could put bus stops and walkways so they led consumers to their own shops and away from other shops. It could keep information about the complex's infrastructure (phones, electricity, water, etc.) secret and so control other stores' use of those facilities.

You might ask, why don't those stores just move to another mall? The answer is, because this is the mall that 95% of all people visit.

These are the kinds of things Microsoft does. Microsoft's own software is featured in their OS to the exclusion of other companies' software. Why do most people use the Internet Explorer browser? Because that's what is on their desktop when they get the computer. An amazing number of people do not even know that other browsers exist. The OS and browser software together tend to steer people towards Microsoft's products and services and away from those of others. And Microsoft keeps the source code of the OS a heavily-guarded secret, which allows their software to work smoothly with Windows, while other software by third-party companies struggles to keep up--not because of inferior design, but because Microsoft jealously guards the ability to interoperate with the OS so that they can stay on top.

Okay, another bit of history. In 1993, Marc Andreeson invented a new kind of software: the browser. The program that you use to view web pages, the one that practically started the entire Internet revolution and boom of the 1990's. The first one he created at the University of Chicago, and it was called Mosaic. But then Andreeson started his own company and presented the Netscape browser. For many years, Netscape was the browser, the most popular, the gold standard.

Microsoft wanted to take that away from them. They created Explorer, and used their dominance of the Desktop to put Explorer before everyone's cursor, meaning that anyone who wanted Netscape would have to (a) learn about it, and (b) go to the web site and download it. This was a huge disadvantage.

But in 1998, Microsoft went even further: they integrated the Explorer browser directly into the Windows Operating System. Open a folder in any Windows OS since Windows 98 (98, Me, 2000, XP). With standard settings, you should see an address bar, just like in a browser, and have the option to list Internet links in the toolbar of the window. Select the Tools menu and choose "Options," and you'll have the ability to enable browser-style or classic windows, even make files and folders appear like Internet hyperlinks, blue and underlined, which open with a single click. These and other browser features became an integrated part of the Operating System--meaning that you couldn't remove them. And without removing them, Microsoft's Explorer browser was even more ensured to remain the browser everyone used. Netscape, once the king of browsers, and with better features and operability than Explorer, lost the war. People stopped using it, not because it was worse, but because Microsoft abused it's ownership of the Desktop and so pushed it into obscurity.

Today, Microsoft does the same thing with Windows Media Player, the app most people now use to play music and video files. Just like Explorer, it is the default player because Microsoft owns the Desktop and puts it, and nothing else, there.

So in 1998, the Justice department under the Clinton administration, with the cooperation of many state governments, initiated legal action against Microsoft. In 2000, a judge came very close to ordering Microsoft to be split in two--one company for the Windows OS, another for the application software, and Gates could only retain one. That possibility was temporarily set aside when a appeals court decided that the judge who handed down the initial verdict had tainted the proceedings by speaking about it to the media. The government still had the potential to ask for the breakup again with another judge, and had a good chance of winning. But then something happened which saved Microsoft's bacon.

Bush got elected.

Microsoft contributed much to both parties, spreading the money around, but that didn't work with Clinton. It did, however, with Bush, who got more donations from Microsoft than anyone else, and when bought, stays bought. Ashcroft was similarly a large Microsoft benefactor. Just five days before 9/11, John Ashcroft suddenly declared that the government would not ask for Microsoft to be split in two, a threat seen as the most potent weapon with which to make Microsoft behave. Ashcroft also ruled out forcing Microsoft to reveal its most important source code and letting other software vendors work on an even playing field. He also decided to allow Microsoft to continue bundling its own software with Windows and excluding other companies' software. He nixed the plan to have a technical committee be a watchdog to see that Microsoft was following the settlement, and instead allowed Microsoft to police itself. It only demanded weak sanctions which were made almost toothless by vague language which Microsoft was able to weasel around. Even these weak sanctions would only last for five years.

Why did Ashcroft decide to unilaterally surrender all of his leverage and essentially surrender the case completely? According to Ashcroft's DOJ, it was in order to "streamline the case with the goal of securing an effective remedy as quickly as possible."

Well, Bush and Ashcroft may have been bought, but the rest of the world hasn't. While Asian countries mull over what to do, the European Union has taken action: this week, EU trade regulators judged that Microsoft had violated antitrust laws in Europe, and declared that Microsoft would be fined $612 million, would be forced to sell a version without its own software loaded up front, and would be required to reveal its source code to competitors; and that a non-Microsoft committee would oversee the enforcement of those penalties. In other words, the EU did what Bush and Ashcroft sabotaged, short of being able to split Microsoft into two companies.

Well, Microsoft spent their money well, with ten congressmen, including prominent Republicans (Senate Majority leader Bill Frist and head of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Richard Lugar) immediately pronouncing that the EU is headed towards a "trade war" if it carries out these sanctions.

A trade war? Because the EU didn't get bought? Because they fined a company for antitrust and were right? How would this stifle U.S. trade at all? If anything, U.S. companies other than Microsoft have everything to gain from this, and it could open up a more competitive computer software market with great benefits to the industry and to consumers as well. But instead, the U.S. is going to engage in a damaging and expensive trade war in order to allow Bill Gates to keep his monopoly intact?

And don't expect anything to happen soon. Microsoft immediately filed an appeal, and it will probably be five years before anything is decided--and it could drag on longer than that.

Posted by Luis at 02:59 AM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2004

DeLay DeMoted?

I can only post on this quickly as I get ready for work, but it appears that a long-overdue comeuppance is on its way: Tom DeLay will likely have to step down as House Majority Leader. Why? Because he will probably be indicted on felony charges of campaign finance abuses in Texas. Now, that sounds kind of like getting Al Capone for tax evasion, but it works for me.

Posted by Luis at 11:46 AM | Comments (1)

A Credible, Class Act

In his own words:

KING: Was 9/11 preventable?

CLARKE: Well, we'll never know. But let me compare 9/11 and the period immediately before it to the millennium rollover and the period immediately before that. In December, 1999, we received intelligence reports that there were going to be major al Qaeda attacks. President Clinton asked his national security adviser Sandy Berger to hold daily meetings with the attorney general, the FBI director, the CIA director and stop the attacks. And every day they went back from the White House to the FBI, to the Justice Department, to the CIA and they shook the trees to find out if there was any information. You know, when you know the United States is going to be attacked, the top people in the United States government ought to be working hands-on to prevent it and working together.

Now, contrast that with what happened in the summer of 2001, when we even had more clear indications that there was going to be an attack. Did the president ask for daily meetings of his team to try to stop the attack? Did Condi Rice hold meetings of her counterparts to try to stop the attack? No.

And if she had, if the FBI director and the attorney general had gone back day after day to their department to the White House, what would they have shaken loose? We now know from testimony before the Commission that buried in the FBI was the fact that two of the hijackers had entered the United States. Now, if that information had been able to be shaken loose by the FBI director and the attorney general in response to daily meetings with the White House, if we had known that those two -- if the attorney general had known, if the FBI director had known, that those two were in the United States, Larry, I believe we could have caught those two. Would that have stopped...

CLARKE: Some people in the FBI knew. And if Condi Rice had been doing her job and holding those daily meetings, the way Sandy Berger did, if she had a hands-on attitude to being national security adviser, when she had information that there was a threat against the United States, that kind of information was shaken out in December 1999, it would have been shaken out in the summer of 2001, if she had been doing her job. -- Transcript of the whole interview

Watching this guy, he comes across not just as credible, but as amazingly credible. In that his answers are clear, crystallized and consistent. Even in the face of all the mud thrown at him, he answered the charges with eminent believability and clarity. While Rice and Cheney's claims are scattershot and inconsistent, Clarke's response is well-thought out and demanded respect. I know, maybe that's me, but it came across so strongly, I tend to believe it is not just me.

The man is not just criticizing Bush. He criticizes Clinton, and he criticizes himself. That is something Bush's people are not doing--they are excusing themselves, covering for themselves. But no one, no one else has apologized to the American people the way Clarke has, so publicly, and so heartfelt--that was first-class, all the way. No one else has managed to be as non-partisan as Clarke has, criticizing anyone who deserved it, even himself, whatever their political affiliations. Right now, Clarke is coming across as the single most credible witness in the whole affair, and I am glad that he is making himself available as much as he is. I will be taking some points from his testimony and television appearances, and focus on his message in posts to come.

And here is the apology he made at the start of the hearings; while everyone else took that opportunity to lay out their version of events, Clarke chose to do this. See for yourself, and ask yourself if you can really say that this is not a class act:

I welcome these hearings because of the opportunity that they provide to the American people to better understand why the tragedy of 9/11 happened and what we must do to prevent a reoccurance.

I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11.

To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed.

And for that failure, I would ask -- once all the facts are out -- for your understanding and for your forgiveness.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I'll be glad to take your questions.


Posted by Luis at 01:35 AM | Comments (0)

Not Funny

A recurring joke [at the Radio & Television Correspondents' Association dinner] involved photos of the president in awkward positions -- bent over as if he's looking under a table, leaning to look out a window -- accompanied by remarks such as "Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere!" and "Nope, no weapons over there!" and "Maybe under here?" -- Washington Post
Not very funny at all. After sending 588 American soldiers to their deaths for his political war, after having lied to the American people about the reasons for that war (knowing full well they never would have agreed if told the truth), he has the unmitigated gall to joke about it. "Oh, isn't it funny? I just started a war, killed more than half a thousand Americans, destabilized the Middle East, and sent us to the poorhouse! Oops! Let's joke about it!" Already there are people writing in to TV shows complaining about his crass indifference, and more protest is certain to come soon.

After Richard Clarke put on a class act and begged for the forgiveness of the 9/11 families, family representatives marked their respect for his sensitivity. And just hours later, the president was making jokes that were sure to offend so many. And the scary thing is, just as it was with Bush using the video of a flag-draped corpse being pulled out of the WTC rubble in a campaign commercial, Bush and his people truly seem to think there is nothing wrong with this sort of thing. It's as if they have zero empathy, no true sense for the feelings of people.

It is utterly amazing that this pathetic excuse for a president has either been revealed as a liar and a hack, or has shot himself in the foot, regularly, practically every other day for a few months now, and the press still gives him a wide berth. It is a wonder that his numbers are as high as 50%, even with the press laying off him so much. But I will return to my mantra: turnout, turnout, turnout. It doesn't show up in polls. It sneaks up on you. And I think it will have a major effect, not only on the presidential election, but on the congressional elections as well. And: look at the third chart down at RealClear polls, and look at the numbers for Congress. The Democrats have consistently polled ahead, an average of 4% above Republicans. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, and yes, it is way to early to tell. But: turnout, turnout, turnout. Repeat after me.


Another note in the "not funny" column. I heard a new expression in a report on the recent assassinations of Hamas leaders by Israel. The expression: "extra-judicial killings." Is that what they call assassinations now? Ones that take out a target, and all too often a whole bunch of people--excuse me, "collateral damage"--with that target? Frankly, this is more scary than the Reaganspeak terminology (e.g., "freedom fighters" vs. "terrorists" to denote thugs we like and ones we don't like). Now, direct from Israel, we have "extra-judicial killings" versus "homicide bombers" to denote Israel killing Palestinians and Palestinians killing Israelis. The Sharon government has been taking lessons from the GOP, it seems. News flash, folks: they're all murders.

Posted by Luis at 01:10 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004

Web Pages to Visit

One interesting site you may want to look at is the Fundrace 2004 Neighbor Search, which allows you to type in a name or a ZIP code and then get a list of people who donated money to political campaigns, with their address (though many use their business address). It is a bit discouraging that you have to make that information so public (you undoubtedly will get blasted with requests for donations once the fundraisers, and not just political ones, get your name and address), but I suppose that's the price you pay for protecting the system against massive anonymous, illegal donations.

The site also features great maps showing the geography of the donations, sortable by amount, candidate and so on, with the maps detailed by county, area, and state.


Another site to look at is Iraq on the Record, a database on the House of Representatives site, which allows you to search through a comprehensive listing of 237 different false or misleading statements made by Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, or Rumsfeld, sortable by subject, keyword, and date. For example, Bush claims he never said Iraq was an "imminent threat," right? Well--

Today the world is also uniting to answer the unique and urgent threat posed by Iraq. A dictator who has used weapons of mass destruction on his own people must not be allowed to produce or possess those weapons. We will not permit Saddam Hussein to blackmail and/or terrorize nations which love freedom."

Source: President Bush Speaks to Atlantic Youth Council, CNN (11/20/2002).

"On its present course, the Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency. . . . it has developed weapons of mass death."

Source: President, House Leadership Agree on Iraq Resolution, White House (10/2/2002).


Unless you want to make the losing argument that "urgent" is not synonymous with "imminent," it looks like Bush was lying. What a fun database!


You might also want to use Wikipedia for an information source in the future. Wikipedia is a free, open-source encyclopedia, and is very helpful on a wide range of topics, with 230,000 entries so far. "Wiki-wiki" is a Hawaiian word meaning "super fast," and when used to refer to a web site, means a collaborative project like Wikipedia, where anyone can contribute to the content of the site. Disinfopedia is the "propaganda" version of Wikipedia.


If you want to keep track of Bush's job ratings, you can visit RealClear Politics or Polling Report.com. RealClear has a much nicer format and is easier to distill information from, whereas Polling Report has more raw data. Pollkatz has a great compilation of polling over time, with good charts--but their data has not been updated for two months or so.


And finally, for those of you who enjoy conspiracy theories, this page will keep you pretty busy. It gives a very highly detailed, heavily sourced account of Flight 93 on 9/11, the plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The administration's answers about this ("we didn't shoot it down") just don't match up with the facts, which demonstrate, for example, that the cockpit tape recording played for the families cut off three minutes before the recorded time of the crash. A lot of good material there, very well put together. I have to say that I do not believe that Flight 93 crashed because of the struggle in the cockpit--the engine landed intact a mile away, indicating that it was shot down; paper debris was found miles from the crash site, too far to have been blown there from the crash. One passenger called 911 claiming to have heard an explosion and seen white smoke coming from the wing; after the call was mentioned to the press, the 911 operator was immediately shut up and not allowed to speak about the matter, the records labeled confidential and never shown publicly, and the government now denies it ever happened.

It is also interesting to note that Bush admits giving Cheney authorization to shoot down the plane. It is my guess that they did exactly that, and then lost the nerve to admit it to the public. Call me a conspiracy nut, but it fits the facts, as well as this administration's willingness to hide actions they don't want people to see (can you tell me what happened at Cheney's energy policy meetings? No? There you go).

Posted by Luis at 01:30 PM | Comments (1)

White House Smears Clarke for Doing Their Dirty Work

The latest, and from how the media is handling it, the most damaging attack against Clarke by the White House has to do with a briefing Clarke gave to reporters in 2002. In the briefing, he said:

the Clinton administration had a strategy in place, effectively dating from 1998. And there were a number of issues on the table since 1998. And they remained on the table when that administration went out of office — issues like aiding the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, changing our Pakistan policy -- uh, changing our policy toward Uzbekistan. And in January 2001, the incoming Bush administration was briefed on the existing strategy. They were also briefed on these series of issues that had not been decided on in a couple of years.

And the third point is the Bush administration decided then, you know, in late January, to do two things. One, vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all of the lethal covert action findings, which we've now made public to some extent.

Those are the important parts that are being pointed out; the administration claims that because Clarke said these words, and they go against what he says today, that means that Clarke is contradicting his former statements and so he is a liar, nyah nyah.

What they don't mention, and what the press is not doing a good job of pointing out, is that Clarke said these things while representing the Bush administration. In short, they were not his opinions. They were the words the Bush White House wanted him to say, and like any good soldier he went along. Note that the date is August 2002, before Bush invaded Iraq, which is to a great extent the thing that made Clarke upset, so at that point Clarke was still willing to do his job, which, effectively, was to tell things the way Bush wanted them told, or quit.

So the Bush White House is saying that Clarke is untrustworthy because he obeyed them when they told him to paint a distorted picture. That's quite a thing. "He's a liar because we told him to say that."

It should also be noted that the briefing in question is presently available in one location and one location only: Fox News. What a surprise.

Posted by Luis at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

Osama on a Silver Platter? Yeah, Right.

At the hearings just starting right now, with Sandy Berger and Richard Clarke, you may or may not hear mention of a person by the name of Mansoor Ijaz, and how Clinton was offered Osama bin Laden in 1996 (and possibly in 2000), but let him go. Quite frankly, I'm getting sick and tired of this old overcooked falsehood repeated again and again. The idea is that Clinton was given a viable chance to get bin Laden and somehow decided, "nah, we could put him in prison, but let's intentionally let him go free." This is unadulterated Drudge-style garbage.

The oft-repeated right-wing version of the story originates from one Mansoor Ijaz, an investment banker now based in New York, a former "lobbyist for Pakistan" who is now a regular Clinton hit-man on conservative FOX News and the National Review. The story seems to have many variations, that Osama was offered up once, twice, even three times. However, Ijaz has no evidence whatsoever that he was integral, or more than just a liar--and the Clinton White House fully denied that Ijaz was of any use in the situation. They saw him as self-serving, having business ties with Sudan, which was then under embargo for their terrorist ties, wanting the embargo lifted so he could position himself profitably when Sudan opened its oil fields for export as planned in 1997. Clinton's people, having worked with him before in dealing with Pakistan, this time disregarded him because of the conflicts inherent in his Sudan business connections, not to mention Ijaz's tendencies to present himself inaccurately to several foreign nations as "agent" of the U.S. government. The Clinton administration underwent negotiations with Sudan without Ijaz, but Ijaz's self-important story gets repeated ad nauseam--by Ijaz himself--with right-wing platforms eager to give him air time and column space. Ijaz later made even more fantastic claims that he could get Osama extradited in 2000, again unsupported. Apparently, Ijaz would have us believe that he had Osama in a bottle and pleaded with Clinton to take him, but Clinton maliciously unleashed him to wreak havoc upon the world.

Here is the story as it happened:

The government of Sudan, using a back channel direct from its president to the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States, offered in the early spring of 1996 to arrest Osama bin Laden and place him in custody in Saudi Arabia, according to officials and former officials in all three countries.

The Clinton administration struggled to find a way to accept the offer in secret contacts that stretched from a meeting at hotel in Arlington, Virginia, on March 3, 1996, to a fax that closed the door on the effort 10 weeks later.

Unable to persuade the Saudis to accept Mr. bin Laden, and lacking a case to indict him in U.S. courts, the Clinton administration finally gave up on the capture. ...

Resigned to Mr. bin Laden's departure from Sudan, some officials raised the possibility of shooting down his chartered aircraft, but the idea was never seriously pursued because Mr. bin Laden had not been linked to a dead American, and it was inconceivable that Mr. Clinton would sign the "lethal finding" necessary under the circumstances.


In short, Sudan claimed that it would arrest Osama and extradite him to another country, though the veracity of that offer has never been confirmed, and was doubted by many. But the Clinton administration tried to achieve this. However, the U.S. itself could not take him because at that time (and this is what the right-wing hatchet stories usually leave out), bin Laden had not been connected with any U.S. deaths, and the U.S. did not have any jurisdiction to try him. So they tried to convince the Saudis to take him, but the Saudis refused. To suggest that Clinton had the ability to nab bin Laden but decided not to goes contrary to Clinton's 10-week effort to get bin Laden put in a Saudi jail and possibly executed there. The deal was simply unworkable, pure and simple.



It will interesting to see what Clarke does say, in the light of an unrelenting smear campaign against him by the Bush administration. Cheney, for example, said that Clarke was "out of the loop," which is bizarre considering that he was the head of the administration's counter-terrorist operations. Powell claimed that no one handed them a plan for dealing with al Qaeda (though Berger is at this moment claiming the exact opposite, that he told Rice she would be dealing more with al Qaeda than anything else), and in general Bush people are saying, "hey, no one told us" among attempts to pain Clarke a partisan, a bitter and disgruntled man, or a profiteer. Of course, none of that fits the profile for Clarke, and the fact that he served under Reagan and both Bushes as well as Clinton--and that others back up his story.

There are just too many people saying the same things, Clarke is the icing on the cake. At some point, the rantings of the Bush administration, aimed now at so many different people, are going to wear impossibly thin on the ears of the American people (if they haven't already). With so many respectable names coming out and saying that Bush is a dangerous fool, it is becoming more and more clear that they're not all kooks, liars and profiteers.

Posted by Luis at 01:40 AM | Comments (5)

March 24, 2004

Maxx Power

I have been quite remiss in in my neglect until now to mention and link to Justin Faulkner's Maxx Power site. Justin has been a long-time contributor of valued comments here, and the site he runs has great commentary you should take a look at, regularly. His posts are extremely well-informed, and better detailed than my own. You can find a permanent link on the LinkBoard to the right. Sorry not to get to this before now, Justin.

Posted by Luis at 11:48 AM | Comments (4)

Mars on the Desktop

NASA has recently come out with a spectacular panoramic image of the Bonneville Crater, with startling resolution and quality. I now use the image for my Desktop, and suggest that you do as well. If you click on the image in this entry, you will see the full-size 1280 x 854 image I am using now (slightly enhanced from the NASA version). If you would like to get different image sizes, let me know and I'll see what I can do. I just love this image for so many reasons, not the least of which is the small but startling piece of metal debris in the upper left corner, startlingly out of place and for a moment evocative of something artificial and alien--which it is, in a sense, being the remains of Spirit's own heat shield, as alien to Mars as anything can be. But the entire vista, the hills in the background, the amazing detail of the rocks in the foreground--this is a great view to see out your window every day. I just love it.

Posted by Luis at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

Better Than Moore

This is available on a T-Shirt.

Posted by Luis at 02:42 AM | Comments (2)

March 23, 2004

Air America Radio

NOTE: Many people have been leaving comments which suggest that they believe that this is the official blog for Air America Radio. It is not. The is The Blog From Another Dimension, a private blog. Only this particular entry is titled "Air America Radio." I think people are confused because I'm now #1 on Google for "Air America Radio Blog" as search terms. The blogs on AAR shut down after the first day, apparently due to techinal problems and/or visitor overload. You can visit the official Air America Radio web site right here.

NOTE: Other postings on this blog about AAR include Gearing Up, On The Air, AA Web Site Back to Spec, and Air America Radio Blogs.


Beginning March 31, just nine days from today, a new radio network will be taking form, something that has not happened for quite some time. Most radio broadcasting in recent years has been in the form of content producers generating programming, and then selling, or syndicating, that content to broadcasters nationwide. However, this has also meant that conservatives have had a lock on the ideological spin of the radio dial because they massively predominate the medium--and since radio stations do not mix and match disparate styles well, it has been hard for any real liberal voice to gain a foothold.

So in comes Air America Radio, a new radio network, with branches in charge of running the stations and generating the programming, charging into at least four major U.S. markets at the end of this month. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York will get the full blast of programming (with syndication and web casts, it is said, filling in elsewhere for the time being). On this, featured host and political commentator Al Franken commented, "I’m so happy that Air America Radio will be on in three battleground states, New York, Illinois and California….no wait…those aren’t battleground states. What the hell are we doing?" Franken, by the way, was just featured in a lengthy article in the New York Times, a very well done piece which in neither a love letter nor a trash piece--"fair and balanced," you might say.

Al Franken has become the virtual logo of the network, and will broadcast a daily 3-hour show, with other hosts such as actress and comedienne Janeane Garofalo, humorist Sam Seder, hip hop star Chuck D, Marty Kaplan, and Randi Rhodes filling up the Monday-through-Friday schedule. Al Franken's show, called "The O’ Franken Factor," will doubtlessly dominate the network, and has been talked about a great deal. Personally, I think they should start trying to sign up Joe Conason and Aaron McGruder, not to mention the unsinkable Molly Ivins.

As soon as they come on line, I plan to start listening in...

Posted by Luis at 07:51 AM | Comments (23)

What the Heck Is With My Powerbook?

It's happened perhaps a half dozen times by now, only infrequently, maybe once every three or four months at best. But every once in a while, there is a bizarre type of crash--one which scared the hell out of me when I first saw it because it looked like my TFT screen had become completely fried.

At first, it seems like there might be a kind of freeze or kernel panic, because the monitor picture suddenly lightens in the way it used to for a kernel panic--every other pixel becoming lighter. But then it diverges, giving no error or panic message. Instead, it keeps getting lighter, and lighter, with major elements of the last monitor image becoming distorted... and then streaks, like water trails down a window in the rain, start to appear.

Fortunately, when I restart the computer, the screen immediately returns to normal and there are no problems at all until the next freeze. But it quite seriously weirds me out. This time I had the presence of mind to get my camera out and document the problem. Maybe I'll take it to the Genius Bar at Apple Ginza and ask them if they know what it is. In the meantime, does anyone out there in blogland have any idea of what this is? Any help would be appreciated.

Posted by Luis at 01:16 AM | Comments (7)

March 22, 2004

LinkBoard and Standards

Just a small note on the blog design. For the economy of space and for a better appearance, I have started to display links to other sites on the "LinkBoard" located on the lower right (main page only, for now), just below the "Categories" section. A few may be hard to read, but I kind of like the graphic representation better, and this allows me to put a lot more links into a smaller space--and lets me locate the links closer to the top of the page while not pushing other items so far below. If you have a suggestion for a site that fits in with the type of sites I have on the board, let me know.

If you have a monitor set to 800 x 600 resolution--buy a new monitor! Or set the darn thing to a better resolution. Join the 21st century! This site is optimized to for a minimum 1024 x 768 resolution, though you can still read it at 800 x 600 (objects just start crossing over borders and overlapping). I generate the site using the 1280 x 854 monitor on my Macintosh PowerBook G4 (800 DVI), and check it on my Windows PC monitor set to 1280 x 1024. If you don't know how to set the resolution, then: for Mac OS X, open System Preferences, click on "Displays," and click on the desired resolution; for Windows, right-click on the Desktop, choose "Properties" at the bottom of the pop-up menu, click the "Settings" tab at top, and set the resolution in the lower half of the dialog box. (Note: on a Windows machine, especially a cheap one, I would advise caution: I have used some Windows computers that, when I set the resolution too high, the monitor blacks out, probably because of insufficient video memory. With luck, the resolution will reset itself in 15 seconds, but if not, I don't know how to fix that particular problem...)

This blog is also produced with Mozilla/FireFox as a way to check the appearance, not Explorer. I have found Explorer to be notably deficient in its performance in many ways. Mozilla, and it's little brother FireFox, are tabbed browsers with great pop-up window blockers, superior preference settings, and much more. If you're using Explorer now, ask yourself why--and if you're like most people, the answer will be, "because that's what was on my desktop when I started browsing." Hardly a compelling reason for choosing software--and if that was your answer, then get your butt over to Mozilla.org and download the free Mozilla or FireFox browsers (FireFox is a streamlined browser, Mozilla is a fully-featured Internet suite including email, web page editing, and more). Both are open-source, with upgrades coming out with good frequency.

Posted by Luis at 08:07 PM | Comments (5)

Update on Richard Clarke Interview

Here is an excerpt from the 60 Minutes interview, and it is rather damning for the Bush administration.

Clarke was the president's chief adviser on terrorism, yet it wasn't until Sept. 11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke says that prior to Sept. 11, the administration didn't take the threat seriously.

"We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on.

"I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back. They wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years."

Clarke finally got his meeting about al Qaeda in April, three months after his urgent request. But it wasn't with the president or cabinet. It was with the second-in-command in each relevant department.

For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz.

Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!' And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."

The Bush team needs to be investigated for massive incompetence resulting in a national disaster, if you ask me. They were warned, in no uncertain terms, but their political agenda won the day--and that's how we got started down this path of destruction.

Posted by Luis at 05:00 AM | Comments (11)

March 21, 2004

Further Proof Damning Bush for 9/11 (as if it were really needed)

With the recent revelations brought forth by Richard A. Clarke (former counter-terrorism coordinator from both Clinton and Bush 43 administrations), the picture of the Bush administration's malfeasance regarding terrorism has been made more complete.

We already knew that Clinton had put together a solid plan to fight terrorism. Clinton, in fact, had gone after al Qaeda as best he could, and the Republicans had even termed Clinton's attacks on bin Laden as excessive, just an excuse to avoid attention on more important matters, such as whether or not he had gotten sexual favors from an intern. Of course, after the 9/11 attacks, suddenly Clinton was attacked as having been soft on al Qaeda, and the whole mess was his fault. But we found out soon that Clinton, in fact, had a bold plan to hit back at al Qaeda after the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in late 2000, and had presented those plans to Bush.

However, Clinton was perhaps too much more a considerate president leaving office than he should have been. In 1992, Bush Sr. decided to send troops into Somalia while he was a lame duck, essentially sticking Clinton with the check, forcing him to either accept a losing battle in the country or look weak by pulling out the troops. That is one of my greater criticisms of Bush 41, that he played politics with soldiers' lives to give Clinton a black eye as he entered office. Bush never would have engaged in a military action in Somalia had he won reelection.

Clinton, instead of starting a major military offensive at the end of his term and sticking it in turn to Bush Jr., instead gave the new administration his battle plans and let them make the call.

And the Bush people crashed and burned, ignoring the advice and letting their guard slip dangerously. Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Richard Clarke briefed Condoleezza Rice on the plans just a few weeks before Bush took office, making their urgency and utility well-known to the Bush White House. And the Bush White House shut them down, cold. Part of the reason for this was that Bush was busy pushing a missile defense shield, and the idea of terrorist attacks played contrary to that. After all, it would be inconsistent to be fighting an active war on terrorism while developing a missile shield which, by nature, was completely ineffective in countering terrorist threats.

And now we hear from Clarke not only a solid confirmation that the Clinton plan was shunted aside, but that further reasons included the fact that Bush & Co. were far too busy planning an attack on Iraq to be bothered with minor-leaguers like al Qaeda. This despite Bush's campaign pledge against nation-building, as he secretly planned for regime change and nation-building in Iraq.

So focused were they on Iraq, that when 9/11 happened and it was clear that the enemy was in Afghanistan, Donald Rumsfeld pushed for attacks on Iraq, suggesting Afghanistan--where bin Laden was--be left alone. Why? Clarke claims that "Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq, and we all said, 'No, no, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan.' Rumsfeld said there aren't good targets in Afghanistan, and there are lots of good targets in Iraq."

It strains credulity that more Americans do not hold Bush culpable for the disastrous errors that led up to 9/11, and the obvious prior intent Bush & Co. had to invade Iraq, no matter what evidence they claimed. And this is not just people who worked for Clinton speaking, that includes Bush's own man from the Treasury Department, Paul O'Neill, confirming Bush's intent to invade Iraq pre-9/11. Add to that the fact that Bush selfishly refused to create a commission to research the security deficits that allowed 9/11 to happen, and then created a hand-picked executive commission (avoiding a congressionally-appointed one) only when his hand was forced--and even still today demonstrates strident unwillingness to assist that very commission.

The answer could no be more clear: Bush screwed up on 9/11, big time, and he knows all too well exactly where the blame lies. Clarke's new disclosures on the matter simply bolster that particular conclusion.

Posted by Luis at 10:03 PM | Comments (15)

March 20, 2004

500th Post

You may wonder at the 500th-post claim because the permalink contained in the date for this entry says "516," but that counting includes test posts I did early on which have since been deleted. So this is #500, and is coming close to the first anniversary to this blog, which will be April 6th, a year after I posted to mention how hard it could be for the uninitiated to set up a blog. But I was also posting about my upcoming trip to Spain, which took me off the air for a few weeks. My real blogging got started in late April after I returned from the trip, and has become a routine for me--especially since August 2 of last year, when I made a resolution to blog at least once each day (231 consecutive days and counting).

Things have changed since I started. After my first full month of blogging, the average number of visitors per day was 22, with a grand monthly total of 442 unique visitors. In the past ten days, my average number of visitors per day was 403, and as of the year to date, I have been averaging about 5400 unique visitors per month. Quite a lift up, though recently the numbers seem to have reached a kind of plateau.

If you are a regular reader of the site, then you are aware of the fact that this site has become a tourist attraction for eyelid twitchers, after a very early post on the topic drew an amazing number of Google hits (I'm presently #2 on Google for that search term, and at least 20 people a day come from search engines looking for information on that topic). Making gyoza is next most popular, with a recent surge of a few dozen Indonesian women from the IndoUSAcouples forum. My review of Mac OS X v. 10.3, a.k.a. Panther, is still drawing lots of hits, after its debut drew the first link from MacSurfer.com that I received--one which brought 8,000 visitors to the site in just two days. And my blog about Christmas in Japan is still getting hits from a prominent mention in the Japan Times several months back.

Running a blog, it seems, can bring you into the public eye in unexpected and often quite interesting ways. The MacSurfer flood was completely unexpected, and checking the stats for the site are kind of like unwrapping a present--you never know what's going to be in there. And yeah, it's narcissistic to a certain degree, I'll grant you that. But narcissism can be so fun!

I should also take the time to thank people who have me on their blogrolls, where many of my visitors also come from: Mark at VuDeja, "K" from Kinuk.co.uk, Nils at Alive in Kyoto, Tim at ChariOtaku, and Kurt at his Hmmn blog at Easterwood. Many of these are linked through the Japan Bloggers Webring, which also sends readers this way via their members list. Thanks also go to Kristen, whose blog made me aware of what is possible in blogging, and to Sako Eaton, with whom I have started the xpat.org web site, designed for North American expats who want to comment on politics and social issues (we're always open to new contributors--leave a comment with an email address and I can tell you how to join).

Meanwhile, back on BlogD, the latest comment (#569) was left by Latisha, who read the comments on the ancillary eyelid twitching post, and tells us that she started sharing our malady when her husband left for Iraq 3 weeks ago. Our hopes and prayers go out to you, Latisha, and we hope your husband returns to you safe.

Posted by Luis at 02:39 PM | Comments (6)

The Union Burma Label

This is actually post #501, but I am backdating it to keep the #500 post alive at the top of the blog for a day.

As the election season draws nearer, I will more and more be commenting on the state of things, providing information as well as I can as to why we should not elect Bush, and why Kerry is far more the right man for the job. There is a new category for the blog, Reasons to Not Vote for Bush, and in the next month I plan to start making categorical entries there outlining why Bush is so terribly, disastrously wrong for the country on a plethora of issues, and how the country and the world will be far better off with Kerry in office.

In the meantime, hardly a day goes by when the Bush administration and their associates do not do something rather notably stupid, offensive, or outright illegal. The latest was actually all three: an official merchandiser for Bush/Cheney campaign apparel, it turns out, was selling sweaters emblazoned with the Bush/Cheney logo, all nice and patriotic-looking--except the pullovers were made in Myanmar, formerly known as the nation of Burma.

This is stupid and offensive because the Bush administration has been trying to fight the (unfortunately quite true) image of being an administration that approves of outsourcing, of sending jobs overseas so they can be done more cheaply--thus exporting valuable American jobs. Bush & Co. have been trying to make people believe that the U.S. economy is booming, but the fact that we are hemorrhaging jobs is kind of putting a damper on that. Just last week, Bush tried to appoint a "jobs czar" who would oversee the protection of American jobs. Unfortunately, the businessman Bush chose, a Mr. Anthony Raimondo, whose company makes pre-fab building materials, had fired 75 of his workers (one-sixth of his employees) in 2002 and sent those jobs to China. Which perfectly represented the Bush administration, but not in a way they were looking for. The Bush team promptly put its collective tail between its legs and withdrew the appointment (already six months late, and still no one occupies the job).

The illegal part comes when you realize that not only did the Bush/Cheney sweaters were made abroad, but they were made in Myanmar. And that's relevant because last July, none other than George W. Bush slapped an embargo, effective September 1st, on all imports from Myanmar, to pressure the country to change from a military dictatorship to a Democracy. So we find out that now Bush merchandise is somehow slipping by his own import ban--which the person who runs the merchandising business admits is clearly illegal.

And the blunders just keep on coming....

Posted by Luis at 10:17 AM | Comments (1)

March 19, 2004

Bush Administration Faked News Videos

I don't know how I missed this story until now. It is related to yesterday's post on the Medicare bill, the cost of which Bush's people lied about in order to get it passed.

But now it seems that while one hand of the Bush administration was busy deceiving Congress, the other was busy deceiving the people, in the shape of fake news video segments. In the videos, "reporters" named "Karen Ryan" and "Alberto Garcia" appear as journalists who praise Bush's Medicare plan. Problem is, they're actors. In one video, actors playing a pharmacist and a customer discuss how great Bush's Medicare plan is, saying that it "helps you better afford your medications." Bush is also shown receiving a standing ovation. These videos were then sent to news stations, with scripts for the anchors to use to introduce them. Many TV stations did exactly that, presenting these fictional reporters and stories as the real thing, with no indication that they were produced by the government. The videos aired more than 50 times across the country as of a month ago.

Now, you see press releases all the time which are designed to look like they came from a media outlet when they really came straight from an interested party. But this goes way over the line. Calling actors "reporters," faking videotaped scenes with actors pretending to be pharmacists and patients, failing to identify them as coming from the government, selling them as real--and just as disturbing, making all of them with federal money, when they are little more than thinly disguised political commercials for Bush.

The Bush administration says this is somehow OK because when they pitched it to the TV stations, they didn't hide the fact they they were working for the government. But using federal money for what are effectively campaign commercials ("publicity or propaganda purposes" is the legal term used) is in violation of federal law. Yet another criminal offense on Bush's record, and like so many others, one that he will never be held accountable for.

Posted by Luis at 11:48 AM | Comments (2)

March 18, 2004

Yet Another Scandal... or Two

In case you have missed some of the recent news, or like many, if you gloss over a story once you spot "Medicare" in the title, you may not have heard about the most recent Bush White House scandal. The Bush administration has its own plans for Medicare, and the information it gave to Congress claimed that the plan would cost only $395 million over ten years. Thirteen Republican representatives swore they would not vote for the bill if it cost more than $400 billion. But while the debate was going on in Congress, the Bush White House, with all the information available, some they did not hand over to Congress, had an internal estimate for the bill at $534 billion--$139 billion higher than they publicly related to Congress, and far, far over the estimate House Republicans required. The Medicare bill passed a vote in the House last summer by only 5 votes--220 to 215.

So this brings up a pretty serious question: did the White House deliberately deceive Congress as to the price of the bill so it could be passed, knowing Bush's plan would fail if they revealed the true cost? According to two people, a congressional aide (Ms. Cybele Bjorklund) and a government actuary (a statistician who calculates insurance costs, this one a Mr. Rick Foster), claim that the Bush administrator in charge of Medicare, one Thomas A. Sculley, threatened to fire Foster if he gave the real numbers to Congress. According to Ms. Bjorklund, Sculley told her that "If Rick Foster gives that to you, I'll fire him so fast his head will spin."

Now, the Democratic Medicare plan cost a lot more, but Bush won a good deal of popularity saying he could do better on the cheap. Announcing a 35% cost hike and losing the vote would have been a blow to Bush. Right now, Bush's press secretary is saying the White House supports an investigation, but you can bet that no one will ever pass the buck higher than Sculley. And yet, it is one more scandal atop so many others. There is the investigation into the Valerie Plame felony that is focusing on Cheney's Chief of Staff, there is the investigation into the Republicans' 18-month systematic rifling and eventual publication of Democratic Senators' computer files, and let's not forget the scandal about Bush's bald-faced lies about WMD and the threat of Iraq, and the investigation into intelligence failures surrounding 9/11.

And if you want to see a tiny dollop of justice served, see this ad (Flash plug-in required) by MoveOn.org, which is nothing more than a presentation of Donald Rumsfeld getting zinged by an interviewer on Face the Nation, at one moment claiming that no one in the Bush administration said Saddam's Iraq was an "imminent threat," and the next moment being presented with two of his own quotes which stated exactly that (one dismissing the negative statement of imminent threat, and the other stating imminent threat in slightly different words). Rumsfeld tries to squirm out, but doesn't do a very good job. It starts with Rumsfeld saying, "you and a few other critics are the only people I've heard use the phrase, 'imminent threat.' I didn't. The president didn't. And it's become kind of folklore that that's what happened." But then, Rumsfeld is reminded that he said, "Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent.... I would not be so certain." And, "No terror state poses a great or more immediate threat ... than the regime of Saddam Hussein of Iraq."

Okay... so he didn't use the exact words, "Saddam Hussein's Iraq is an imminent threat." But like Bush, Cheney, and so many others, he said the exact same thing in other ways.

And seeing how all of these are just getting started, Bush's hopes for sweet timing to help him win his campaign are not as encouraging as one might think. But Bush may have a trump card to play: Osama bin Laden. When reports were made out of Iran that bin Laden had been caught, and Bush was simply holding him for release at a politically opportune time, one should note that very soon after, the Bush administration began a huge 24/7 push to hunt down bin Laden--a search that was previously scheduled to start in May. Probably bin Laden has not been caught, but I would not be at all surprised if he were pinned down, and publicity is being generated to be a prelude to his capture... and that had the reports of bin Laden's capture had not been reported, we would not be seeing any of this now. So, okay, call me a conspiracy theorist. But this is exactly the kind of manipulation Bush has shown he is expert at, and so if bin Laden is caught within the next few weeks--as I suspect he will be--my suspicions will be at an all-time high.

Posted by Luis at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2004

That's Not Chorizo

When I was a kid, my mom used to make Caldo, a meat and vegetable stew, for my dad. My favorite part was the chorizo (the "z" pronounced as "th"), the smoky, spicy sausage. When I went to Spain a year ago, I went chorizo crazy--I had to get as much of it as I could while the getting was good. I even took three full-sized chorizo back with me to Japan, along with three large cans of pimenton, the spice that gives chorizo its signature flavor.


Well, the chorizo didn't last too long, though I was able to restock the pimenton during my visit home last December. And there is a Spanish restaurant I found in central Tokyo which serves good Chorizo (Spain Club, Tsukishima 1-14-7. Open noon-2:30, 5:30-10pm daily. Phone: 03-3533-5381). But other than that, good chorizo is hard to find.

Take what you can get at the supermarket, for example. In Spain, a good market would have a large meat section, where they have all sorts of spiced meats hanging, for sale by slice or sausage roll. Here in Japan, whatever there is in that area is not only vacuum packed in plastic but is also mighty tame in comparison, at least in most supermarkets.

And they do sell chorizo. Or at least what they call chorizo. But you know, it just ain't chorizo. Pales terribly in comparison with the real thing. I mean, just look at it, here on the left. It's just plain sausage with a little spice. Not the same thing at all.

I gotta get me back to Spain sometime. I've got a real Chorizo Jones going here.

Now, this is real chorizo, on the plate and in the store, in Spain.

Posted by Luis at 10:12 PM | Comments (3)

March 16, 2004

American Bases in Japan

Something that Americans do not often think about is what it would be like to have foreign military bases in your country. Even living in Japan, knowing the bases are here, it doesn't come to mind much, and though there are many who protest the bases in Okinawa and sometimes elsewhere in Japan, the truth is, you don't hear about it often. But then, most Japanese people will not complain about the obnoxious politicians during campaign season with their all-day loudspeaker truck battles, so it doesn't mean that nobody minds. I certainly know that Americans would mind if, say, England had bases across the country.

Living out in Western Tokyo, I tend to be reminded of this a bit more often. Just tonight, several jets flew over--more than usual, but still, we get them flying out of Yokota Air base, the main American base in Japan, housing the HQ for a string of military bases with as many as 50,000 American servicepeople living on them, along with about 52,000 dependents. That's a lot of people.

Most of the forces are based in Okinawa (around 78%), including bases at Kadena, Futenma and Torii; Okinawa is a well-known island at the southernmost end of the Japanese archipelago. It's famous for being a Hawaii-like resort, and for the fact that American bases occupy 30% of the land area on the island. Next is Tokyo, with bases in Yokota (air base), Yokosuka (naval), Zama, Sagamihara, Fuji and Atsugi. That probably does not include the U.S.-military-run area in tama, immediately behind my apartment building in fact, which houses ammunition storage and a golf course/recreation center. There's also the naval base at Sasebo (Nagasaki), the Marine Corps base in Iwakuni (Yamaguchi, also southern Japan), and Misawa Air Base (Aomori, in northern Japan).

I remember first going to Yokota, to visit a coworker living there. You come through the gate, and suddenly you're looking at an American landscape. The streets, the green-lawned front yards, the building styles, the shops and their contents--it's like being suddenly transported to the U.S. In the days before Costco and other now-common import stores, the shops on base were a major attraction--if you could buy something there. You need to have base ID to do that. I remember one friend who said he'd found a way to sneak on base at Yokota--had to do with following train tracks until they intersected with a road on base, which was unguarded--and usually got away with shopping there by claiming he'd forgotten his ID cards at home.

But few Japanese know what it's like on the base, save for those who work there or those who visit for air shows and the like. It's something I'd be interested in talking to more Japanese people about. One time, it came up while I was visiting the local hospital. A man in his eighties, very gregarious, struck up a conversation (in Japanese), and we talk about various topics. One that came up was the bases (the entrance to the local munitions dump and rec center is right next to the hospital), and I asked him how he felt about it. He didn't mind, he said; "we lost the war, after all." I suppose that made a certain sense to him, having lived through that time. But I have to wonder what younger Japanese people feel about it. Strange that I've been in Japan close to 12 years now and have never asked. But I suspect the answer would be along the lines of not knowing much and not caring much--it's just the way things are.

Do any of the visitors here have their own stories, conversations you can relate on the subject? I'd be interested to know.

Posted by Luis at 09:08 PM | Comments (45)

March 15, 2004

Madrid II

A lot of people have been talking about the Spanish elections, and I realized it has been days since I have mentioned it. I am not in constant contact with family in Spain, though my father is, so I have not heard how this has unraveled locally in Spain. Many people, my aunt included, thought that it was an ETA bombing, largely due to the timing (just before an election) but also because of reports that the explosive used was similar to the ETA's.

Anti-war postings like this, as well as banners and signs, were everywhere in Spain last April

For a few days, that was all that really came out, with the Spanish government not saying much about what they found, despite growing suspicions abroad and in Spain that it may have been al Qaeda--particularly, the target (working people as opposed to politicians), the scale (200 killed in one day, as opposed to 800 killed by ETA over 30 years), and the more sophisticated coordination of the attack. Add to that the fact that the ETA denied responsibility for the attacks, something they have never done before.

The conservatives had an interest in finding ETA to be the villains--it would bolster their showing in the elections, as they have been known to be the tough ones when it concerns the Basque separatists. In contrast, an al Qaeda attack would hurt them, as 90% of the population in Spain has been solidly against the Iraq war, and an al Qaeda attack would further the public animosity because it would appear that the Aznar government brought on the terrorist attacks and was unable to prevent them.

Even so, it is quite possible that the al Qaeda attacks would not have hurt the government so much--but what really hurt the conservatives is that they withheld information of arrests of al Qaeda suspects, and tried to use the specter of the ETA to their advantage in the last few days before the election. And that the people of Spain were furious over. The conservatives effectively shot themselves in the foot. The Socialists won with unexpected strength, not quite clinching the majority, but with enough seats to create a coalition of their own, to control the government--and now, they are reporting that they will pull the 1,300 Spanish troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. My aunt, though still traumatized over the attacks, is ecstatic about the political developments, having been furious with the Spanish involvement in the war.

It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next several weeks. The "Coalition of the Willing," as it stands, may have one less member very soon. It may have been a victory for al Qaeda, if they were indeed the perps, but it was Aznar's people who made it into one for them. It also opens questions about what might happen in the United States this Fall--our trains are no better protected, as well as a lot of other infrastructure, and Bush has spent very little domestically to protect against terrorism. The question really is, does al Qaeda want to hurt Bush in the election, or help him? A very relevant question, depending on how you see things.

Posted by Luis at 08:02 PM | Comments (1)

Interview with a Medic from Iraq

There is an interview with a U.S. soldier returned from Iraq, a medic, by Daniel Redwood, posted on this site. A very calm, detailed and informative look at what is happening in Iraq, one that is not Sanitized For Your Protection, from the viewpoint of a medic who has been in the thick of things. Among the more interesting points:

  • The sanitization of the war. Dead and wounded being hidden from view, and active orders from the government to not count Iraqi casualties. Political sanitization too--before the 2003 Thanksgiving photo-op with Bush, soldiers were given a questionnaire asking “Do you support the president?” Only soldiers who responded with a "gung-ho, A-1, 100 percent yes" were allowed to eat the turkey meal; the other soldiers were given MREs and not allowed in the cafeteria for the Thanksgiving dinner.

    Also about how only soldiers who are saying positive things tend to get put before the media (the soldier interviewed had to remain anonymous because he is still serving, and is not supposed to speak freely in criticism against the government); about how villages and areas are cleaned up before politicians or others visit to see them, how they are not taken to certain areas.

  • Soldiers not being cared for. About the flak jackets not being supplied, nor good enough footwear, canteens and backpacks; too much gear being worthless because it got supplied on the cheap, or not at all, and how they and their families have to get the gear themselves, and pay out of their own pocket. The need for V.A. Hospitals and treatment for all the wounded and traumatized who are coming back, and the administration that wants to cut billions from that program.

  • The troop rotation, and how a present 80% well-trained active-duty and 20% green reserve force will be switched to a 20% active-duty and 80% reserve force (possibly 50-50), and how this is exceedingly dangerous; with the extreme heat of the summer months coming, the death toll in the coming months may rise significantly. There has been no other war in which such a high percentage of the troops in the field were less-trained reservists.

  • Aftermath issues, such as a high suicide and divorce rate among returning soldiers.

  • That our soldiers will be there for 10 years. (Something rarely mentioned, something Bush & Co. try to mask with the "handover of power" to Iraqis--our soldiers will continue to be there, and will continue to be killed). About how things could seriously get out of hand, how Iraqis were happy that we got rid of Saddam but want us to get out and get out now.
And a lot more stuff. Informative. Sometimes disturbing.

We've all been aware of the fact that Bush has wanted all negative light on the war smothered, but it is rare to hear so directly from a person involved that there is a standing order not to count Iraqi dead and wounded. The suicide and divorce rate of returning soldiers is also an issue not reported much. We really are being kept largely unaware of the real costs being paid for this war, aside from the massive financial burdens and costs in international influence and respect.

The soldiers not being cared for we've heard about as well, but it tends to stay under the radar of the media. I remember at the Democrats Abroad Caucus, one attendee reporting that her son did not get his flak jacket, so they had to buy one and send it to him. This is a very real and onerous shortcoming of the Bush military.

But perhaps most disturbing is the report about the percentage of reserves in the troop rotation. I had not known about that. That a majority of troops in a war zone will be reservists, that the danger and casualty rate is likely to rise, not because resistance is higher but because the administration is mishandling the war. That, combined with recruiting and reenlistment problems, and the fact that we will be there at least ten more years, is a matter that should be of great concern.

We were lied to about the reasons for invading Iraq, and now we are being lied to about the state of affairs. With an election coming up, the president is hiding the dead and wounded, muffling the opposition, and trying desperately to make Americans believe that we will not be there much longer--when exactly the opposite is true.

Thanks once more to Tim at ChariOtaku for alerting me to this.

Posted by Luis at 03:17 AM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2004

B.L.O.G.D.: Biomechanical Lifeform Optimized for Galactic Destruction

I found out about the link to this site from Tim at ChariOtaku in Kurashiki (who got it from S.N.A.C.K.F.I.G.H.T.):

The Cyborg Name Generator
And so here is mine, for BlogD:
B.L.O.G.D.: Biomechanical Lifeform Optimized for Galactic Destruction
The site allows you to download and use the graphic generated by your request, as pictured at right. I love fun stuff like this on the web. Reminds me of the one I posted on about 9 months ago, the Dialectizer. Here's my blog in Jive, if you're interested.

Anyone have their own favorite fun site?

Posted by Luis at 10:36 PM | Comments (1)

March 13, 2004

Using the Image

In a discussion group I frequent, someone posted on a recent Bush campaign commercial that claimed Kerry was weak on National Security. In the ad, they mentioned terrorism as a major threat, and above the terrorist label, showed a picture of an obviously Arab-American male, looking back somewhat insidiously. At least one major Arab-American group is protesting this representation, and is demanding the ad be changed or pulled. Now, usually I would be posting about how it seems that Bush can’t create an ad without offending a great many people in some way or another, or how stupid and fake the ad is for saying that Kerry wants to weaken the fight against terrorism, but this time I’m focusing on the appropriateness of the image. The poster on the forum I mentioned usually provides a liberal view, but this time saw nothing wrong with the image. Just after 9/11, in one of Bush’s rare good deeds, he urged the country not to take out their anger at the terrorist attack on Muslims or Arabs; now two years and a half later, I think it is important for us to remember what Bush said then, as he so clearly has forgotten it himself. It is, in my opinion, not OK to use generic racial images like that one in the ad. You may not feel that is the case, but you may also be white. Let me explain.

This is where having personal experience with racial discrimination is necessary to understand the objections. You may think you can understand how people think and feel because of discrimination, you may even know people who have experienced it and think you understand because of that. But as someone who has been in both places, I can tell you that you have to be the recipient before you can really understand it well--and I believe I don't even have the whole understanding of racism in America because racism in Japan is less serious, though more open.

In the 1980's, Japan and America suffered a great deal of animosity due to adverse trade relations. On top of that, Japan was feeling its oats as a country, feeling on top of the world, and nationalism was enjoying a resurgence. As an American living in Japan at that time, I felt the repercussions of negativity against non-Japanese, and Americans specifically. Americans were all too often portrayed as violent, criminal, and diseased (AIDS-carrying). I got pulled over on my bicycle by police for 'biking while white,' accused every time of stealing it (even when well-groomed and dressed in a business suit, coming back from work). I was told to leave restaurants, denied membership in stores like video rental shops, and in the countryside I was stared at, pointed at and sometimes ridiculed. 95%+ of apartment landlords refused to let me even see an apartment because "gaijin wa dame" ("foreigners are no good"), and some even posted ads reading "no pets, prostitutes or foreigners allowed." On TV, Americans were often portrayed as gun-loving, violent criminals or AIDS carriers; in baseball, American players were intentionally beaned far more often than usual, then labeled as violent when they rushed the mound. The word for "foreigner" in Japanese was even played upon to change the meaning to "harmful person."

And when the cops pulled me over on my bike for the Nth time, surrounded me, checked my bike's serial number and called it in while demanding my ID and grilling me on the street--I would see Japanese people passing by, carefully looking without looking, and I knew that at least some were thinking, "so it's true!"

So if, on TV, someone showed a photo of someone who looked like me and labeled it "Criminal," then hell yes, I would be offended. Worse, if I saw that in a political ad, I would be offended and not just a little scared. Because the ad would (a) play on people's fears, and increase those fears they felt when they saw me on the street, and (b) if the politician won (and fear sells well), there would be yet another person in power who saw political gain in making me out to be a threat to the country.

Now, today, things are different and much better in Japan in these respects. The trade war pretty much forgotten about, the animosities not so prevalent. It’s a different story now. Foreigners are not so often pulled over and accused, apartments are easier to find—I haven’t been at the receiving end of any discrimination I can discern for many years now. But I can still remember, and I can still recognize the same elements of that harmful discrimination back home. Remember, Bush was supposed to be the one who didn’t do this kind of thing; that he approves of that ad, to me, shows that (a) he has changed his beliefs on the issue, (b) he never believed it and told Americans what he did after 9/11 for some other reason, (c) he still believes but is willing to betray those beliefs to get elected, or (d) his understanding of the issue is so weak that he simply can't see the difference. Any way you look at it, it’s not pretty. As James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute said, "This is the very thing that the president warned against after 9-11. He was so wise to tell the country not to fall prey to the negative stereotypes that exploit fear. Now the president seems to be doing what he warned against."

I have seen the ad, and I do understand how Zogby feels. So because of that, and not just a generic liberal principle, I agree with him wholeheartedly. The ad should be pulled, and Bush should not do that kind of thing again.

Posted by Luis at 02:39 PM | Comments (3)

March 12, 2004

Madrid

You may have heard the stories already about what happened in Madrid. This story held significance for me not just because it is a terrible terrorist attack, but because of my family in Spain--an aunt, uncle and cousins live in the part of Madrid where the attacks took place. Not long ago I had a conference call between my father in San Francisco and my aunt in the eastern section of central Madrid. She was terribly upset over the attacks, pointing out that the trains bombed were mostly used by working people in the communities hit. Her son, my cousin, used to take that exact train line to get to work, but not recently, and everyone in the family is all right. There are shades of the Tokyo gas attacks here, not a little because my brother and his wife narrowly missed that attack themselves.

Latest reports put the death toll at 186, with more than 1,000 injured. Stories are coming out of the gruesome nature of the blast scenes, stories of survivors, reminiscent of 9/11 in some ways. (I understand that this is perhaps the worst terrorist attack in Western Europe for some time.) My aunt was particularly touched by the story of an infant, with no parents to be seen, who was found near one of the trains. The child was brought to a hospital, and it turned out that its mother was there, a survivor, and they were reunited.

The government and the people seem pretty certain this was ETA, although some have mentioned the name al Qaeda. My aunt is not buying that, however, and blames the ETA for trying to blame someone other than themselves for their own attack. She says that news reports cite analyses of the explosives used in the attack and show that they are the ETA's materials. The ETA are Marxist Basque separatists, an extreme terrorist faction. The Basques, repressed by Franco during his regime, are similar to Quebecers in that they are independent and would like a free state (Basques claim an area mostly in northern Spain, but that extends into France); Basque regions now have relative autonomy, and like many regions of Spain, their own distinct language dialect.

As for why ETA would commit this repugnant attack, when it seems like it would only hurt their cause, there is speculation that they are trying to influence the elections Sunday; that such an attack would favor the conservatives, the conservatives would be tougher on the Basques, and that would push the Basque people more toward the direction that the ETA wants to go.

Time will tell more about the story; like all breaking news, there are bound to be many missing and erroneous details.

Posted by Luis at 01:56 AM | Comments (1)

March 11, 2004

Another Quake

Got hit by another quake, this one as I was winding up a class. The quake measured 5.2 (some reports say 5.4) on the Richter scale, but was centered off the coast, so it wasn't huge in town--it never got to the we'd-better-leave-the-room scale or anything. But the class did shake and rattle some. At that point in time, a student was giving her PowerPoint presentation, and as the students in the class reacted to the quake nervously, this one student just kept going right through her presentation without so much as blinking.

Turned out, afterwards, we found out she was the only one in the class that didn't even notice the quake! She was so focused on what she was doing--and was pretty surprised to hear that it was the room that was shaking.

I know exactly how she felt.

Posted by Luis at 08:25 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2004

Smoker's Paradise Lost? Not Yet...

Last weekend, Sako and I met to discuss the goings-on at The Expat, and sat down to eat at an Italian place near Hashimoto Station. As we were being seated, I asked if there was a no-smoking section. Sorry, the waiter told us. Not here. Afterwards, we went for a drink at Starbucks, the ubiquitous U.S. coffee and snack lounge--one of the few places in Japan that is non-smoking. That contrast might show the divide between past and present in Japan, but the country is still pretty firmly on the smoking side of things.

Historically, Japan has been a smoker's paradise. Whatever concessions that were made for non-smokers was superficial, at best, and many times they still are. For example, not long ago I stopped at a McDonald's for a quick lunch. I was told that in the seating area, there was a non-smoking section--but before I even got there, I knew what I would find. And sure enough, the "no smoking" section was three small tables at the back end of the room (almost always opposite from the windows), and not more than five feet from several other tables filled with smokers, with no air currents favoring the no-smoking area. When I left a half hour later, my clothes and hair smelled like an ashtray.

That's what has been called the "Menagerie Lion," a famous child's mispronunciation of "Imaginary Line," a standard smoking issue in Japan. Separate areas for smoking and non-smoking are found only when they are naturally formed, like restaurants with tables on two different floors. Sometimes the floor area is great enough to allow for some actual semblance of separation. But usually, you can expect no real protection from the smoke, and precious few eating establishments have entirely no-smoking policies.

Some areas have improved, however; trains and train stations are an excellent example. Local trains are now of course no-smoking, but many trains with seat reservations (like the Narita Express) have smoking cars. That would not be so bad, but the non-smoking cars allow smoking in the areas at the ends of cars near the doors. There is a door closing that area off, but it is motion-activated, and since the smoker almost always sets it off every minute or so, the smoke rushes in--which is less of an issue anyway as the air conditioning is recycled and shared through the areas, meaning that it's pretty much a smoking car anyway.

Train platforms are mostly non-smoking; the Keio Line recently banned smoking altogether on them. Other lines have a few smoking areas along the platform, and despite the outdoor ventilation one generally has to stand a fair distance away from them (or upwind if there's a breeze) to stay in fresh air--not that smokers will always honor the no-smoking signs.

Things are improving, but at a snail's pace. I do remember back in the mid-80's having to get up from my seat at the movie theater every other time I saw a film to tell some guy five rows in front to stop smoking (it's not just the smell, it gets in the way of the picture), and that never happens to me any more. I see fewer people taking ashtrays from smoking areas into the non-smoking areas for a few puffs. And the yakitori place I've been a regular at for 15 years, despite being a smoking joint, watches out for me--the guys behind the counter, knowing my preferences, kindly try to arrange seating for me so as to keep me segregated enough to make a big difference.

But it should be noted that Japan's tobacco industry is still coddled by the government, which is still a major stockholder in Japan Tobacco, the third biggest cigarette company in the world. Warning labels, last time I checked, were still very mild (along the lines of saying, "Try not to smoke too much"). Campaign girls can still be seen handing out free sample packs on the streets near major stations. And cigarette butts decomposing on the sidewalk and streets are still more ubiquitous than cell phones. So it'll be a while yet. But things are getting better.

Posted by Luis at 09:28 PM | Comments (7)

March 09, 2004

Meanwhile, Back in Japan

The Daily Yomiuri, for all its faults, has a nice event every year with its cartoon contest. Tied for third place was this cartoon, which prompted me to laugh out loud--but I caution you that you have to be a bit familiar with things Japanese to understand it.


The Japanese government moves closer and closer to amending its American-imposed peacetime constitution so as to curtail or repeal the no-war stipulation. But it also realizes that Japan is going to need more soldiers when that happens. Not to worry; the Japanese government is on the job. What's the strategy?

Dancing sailors.

Really. The commercial features seven men dressed as sailors, prancing about the deck of a warship, singing, "Nippon Seaman Ship, Seaman Ship, For Love...For Peace." Really. I kid you not. I mean, they might have taken the "Navy of One" route. Or perhaps, "Sea All You Can See." But it looks like they opted for, "The Few. The Proud. The Dancing Navy."

You gotta take a look--the Japanese Navy, called the Japan Marine Self Defense Forces, has put the commercial up on their web site (Flash plugin required), complete with high kicks and gyrating hips. It's quite a thing.

Update: Here's the video via YouTube:


The end of an era: Beef in a Bowl. Gyuudon, as it's called, has long been a favorite dish for diners seeking fast food in Japan, at places like the now-famous Yoshinoya. But that is beginning to end now, after a single cow in the United States tested positive for Mad Cow Disease. The gyuudon restaurants are taking beef off the menu, as U.S. beef is banned and Aussie beef doesn't sit as well with the customers. So beef is out, and many gyuudon lovers will have to find cheap culinary satisfaction some other way.

Of course, one has to wonder, why U.S. beef is banned. The single cow that tested positive came from Canada, and the U.S. has found no other cases in three months. You could say that they are being careful, but if that is so, then why is Japanese beef still on the market? Japan just uncovered yet another case of Japanese BSE, the eleventh so far since the first was discovered on September 10th, 2001. And all of those cows were born and raised in Japan.

Seems to me U.S. beef is safer.


You might enjoy this man-on-the-street bit from Japan Today. The question: What kind of attitude toward Japan or Japanese by foreigners don't you like? Some pretty interesting answers there, and some discussion by mostly non-Japanese people afterwards.

Poor Mr. Aso.

Posted by Luis at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2004

Stealing Judak

As you may recall, Republican staffers were caught stealing Democrats' files off the Senate server. A lot of this has been murky, as we have only had secondhand reports of what was going on, many of them coming from partisan sources. However, I just found a copy of the Pickle report, and here are some quotes that might help clear a few things up:

The clerk [Jason Lundell] first became aware that he could access the files of Democratic staff some time in October or November of 2001. He made this discovery after watching the Committee's Systems Administrator perform some work on his computer. An admittedly curious person, the clerk attempted to duplicate what the System Administrator had done.
Now, that is kind of what we've heard so far--but it lacks in detail as to how it happened. From later in the report:
The forensic analysis indicated that a majority of the files and folders on the server were accessible to all users on the network. Any user on the network could read, create, modify, or delete any of the files or folders within these folders. The investigation revealed that users whose network profiles were established prior to August 2001- when a new System Administrator was hired by the Committee - were generally established correctly and had strict permissions; those established after the date were "open." The investigators do not believe that the Committee's System Administrator acted maliciously, or that he himself inappropriately accessed any user's files. Rather, this significant security vulnerability appears to have been caused by the System Administrator's inexperience, and a lack of training and oversight. This System Administrator left the Committee in July 2003, but permissions remained "open."
And then we get to the details no one to my knowledge has reported here before:
According to Mr. Lundell, he accessed "My Network Places/Entire Network/Judak." In so doing, he was able to observe all of the users' home directories. He then clicked on different folders to see which ones he could access; he was able to access some folders, but not others. The folders that he could access, he stated, belonged to both Republican and Democratic staff.
Okay, at this point it seems pretty clear what had happened. The system admin, hired in 2001 right after he graduated from college, was reportedly "inexperienced" and "sloppy" in how he managed permissions. I work with a Windows NT 4.0 server at my school, the same system these files were on, and I have also worked with permissions (we don't want students accessing teachers' files). Each user has an account which is accessed by entering a user name and password. When you share a folder, you have the option of allowing whatever users you wish to access that folder. You can specify specific users, or classes/groups of users, or just "everyone."

It is apparent that this green sysadmin somehow or other set most of the folders on the server to be shared by "everyone." Pickle does not assume he was "malicious," but frankly, I find it astounding that any sysadmin with even two day's experience, working for the Senate, for crying out loud, would somehow "accidentally" allow all private folders to have "everyone" access. This guy should never again be allowed to manage a system--whether he intentionally set the permissions like that or not.

According to Mr. Lundell, all he saw was the sysadmin go to "My Network Places" and go to "Entire Network" at which point he could access the "Judak" server and see all the user account folders. At this point, it would not be evident that there was a security breach, because each and any of those folders could be protected and could refuse to open with the correct account login. One would actually have to attempt to get into the folders to know that security was not in place. So Lundell then went to work rifling through the Democrats' files.

A few comments about this:

First, it does away with the claims by conservatives that the Democrats were at fault for the security breach or intentionally left files open for anyone to see. To their knowledge, each and every user folder was safeguarded so that only they and the admins could see the folders; they had every reason to believe that security was in place and their files were secure. A Republican legal counsel claims that a Republican tech, by his "firmest recollection," says he "left a message" with his Democratic counterpart (conveniently unproveable, undocumented, and reeking of an after-the-fact attempt to avoid party culpability). This has been claimed by some to be proof of official notification to the Democrats, thus sloughing off the blame to them. However, if you read the report, the claim did not even state that the Democrats had been informed of the problem, but only that "What I can remember is leaving him a message to call me about a concern and he didn't return my call." In other words, he did not leave a message saying, "your files are wide open," but just that he "had a concern," and that when his counterpart did not call him back, he did not ever again attempt to notify him. Hardly exculpatory for the whole situation.

Second, what Lundell did was knowingly wrong. Despite his discovery of an easy access to private files, he was fully aware of the fact that these files were private and that he was not supposed to be accessing them. An honest person would have immediately contacted the sysadmin and informed him/her of the security flaw, so the admin could reset the permissions correctly. Lundell not only did not do this, he continued to access private files, and shared them with others.

The story continues:

Lundell tried to use his newfound access to the files to curry favor with a supervisor (he found documents pertaining to the Pickering appointment in late 2001), but when he showed her what he'd gotten, she admonished him and told him not to do that anymore and had the printouts shredded. It is not stated if said supervisor knew how the security was breached or if she directed Lundell to inform the sysadmin. But then:

In December of 2001 Mr. Miranda joined the Judiciary Committee as a counsel for the Nominations Unit. Mr. Lundell stated that a short time after Mr. Miranda was hired, he showed Mr. Miranda how to access Democratic staff files and explained that Mr._____ and Ms. ______ had instructed him not to use Democratic materials. Mr. Miranda's response, according to Mr. Lundell, was that everyone knew about the open access and that he did not have to follow the directions given by Mr. _____ and Ms. _____. Furthermore, Mr. Lundell recalled that Mr. Miranda told him that Senator Hatch wanted the staff to use any means necessary to support President Bush's nominees.
As a side note, the original file I have found has all names redacted, but I have filled in the obvious ones. I am 99% certain that the unfilled "Mr." and "Ms." are Alexander Dahl and Rena Comisac, higher-level Hatch staffers.

In any case, Lundell appears to be painting Miranda as the real black hat, as being the one who directed the continued access of the files over a period of 18 months, despite the fact that obvious ethics and the higher-level staffer's admonishment clearly indicated that they were engaged in unethical and possibly illegal behavior. There are also emails recovered that proved that Republicans staffers knew this was all illegitimate; here are their email excerpts:

Can I ask you to undertake a discreet mission. Mr. _____ should get a complete relpcate [sic]of the Ame Ex binder. He needs to get up to speed with outr [sic] best info as he build [sic] relationships with the press.

Let me know how soon...assuming you accept, Mr.Phelps.


Of course I would be happy to assist in this covert action. The question is: exactly how much should I provide? You know, we have loads on [sic] information.

As is the usual practice, please don't let anyone here know that I know all this.
The quotes also demostrate that they were making sure that their own files were not accessible to others, as they pilfered the files of the Democrats.

Mr. Miranda's statement that "everybody" knew about the open files was either a fabrication, or referred only to the GOP staffers gossiping about it (though in the investigation, some GOP staffers claimed to be unaware of the fact). Had the Democrats known, it is obvious that they would not have left their files open like that. But if the statement were true to the extent of all the Republican staffers knowing about it, that would also open up questions about who else may have been accessing files.

The final analysis is that Republican staffers knowingly accessed Democrat's files; they knew this was unethical, and took effort to conceal what they were doing and cover it up. In short, they stole private notes and used them politically. That violated several laws, and a criminal investigation is forthcoming. The report, under the section "Referral for Sanctions," outlines what laws may have been violated; this is probably the section that spurred even Republican Orrin Hatch to indicate that a criminal investigation is likely.

Posted by Luis at 02:05 PM | Comments (0)

From Drudge to the Pros--Second Batter Up in the Smear Game

Watch out, the professional dirty-tricks teams are beginning to show their colors.

Kerry has already withstood three dirty-tricks attacks, all of those coming from Matt Drudge. The first was the Botox scam, where Drudge chose two groups of photos--one where Kerry had his eyebrows raised and was lit from above, accentuating his forehead wrinkles, and another group where Kerry had his eyebrows lowered, had a relaxed expression, and was photographed with straight-on flash lighting, thus de-accentuating the wrinkles. Drudge then called these evidence that Kerry had Botox treatments. The charges were ridiculously false, of course.

Drudge's second attempt was to try to frame Kerry as being diabolically in league with "Hanoi Jane" Fonda. The evidence? A photo of Kerry in an audience standing several rows back and many meters away from Fonda, two years before she went to Hanoi. The fraud was initially taken as serious when another photo of Kerry and Fonda on stage next to each other was discovered, except that photo turned out to be a fake. The frame-up died a silent, withering death.

Drudge's final attempt was his most bold: a claim that Kerry had had an affair with a woman who worked for the Associated Press, labeled an "intern," who "fled to Africa" to escape the scandal; Drudge claimed this was being seriously investigated by several major news agencies, and claimed that three reporters had revealed to him that Wesley Clark, in an off-the-record comment, had claimed that Kerry would "implode over an intern scandal." Well, the intern was not an intern, there was no affair, the woman's parents, who were quoted as saying Kerry was a "scumbag" said nothing of the sort and planned to vote for him, and the woman had gone to Africa to be with her fiance. And the Clark quote was fake as well.

That was strike three for Drudge. I don't know if he's tried to put any more whoppers out there, but if he ever does, it is doubtful that anyone but the GOP faithful will take him as anything other than a sad joke.

Time for the next batter: the real dirty tricks artists. And they've just taken two swings at the plate.

First was an attempt to silence the public opposition with a letter to TV stations "urging" them to yank ads critical of Bush. The letter, fired off by the Republican National Committee (RNC) counsel Jill Holtzman Vogel, claimed that ads produced by the liberal advocacy group "MoveOn.org" violate federal campaign laws. The letter from the RNC chief lawyer name-dropped the FCC in a threatening manner, obviously intended to scare the stations into pulling the ads immediately.

MoveOn.org drew attention a short while ago when it put out the call for Americans to come up with "Bush in 30 Seconds" ads, designed to showcase the damage done by Bush, and reasons why he should not be re-elected. Many ads were submitted, a great many making salient points in both entertaining and sometimes poignant ways. These ads have been running on cable for a while, and MoveOn tried to get one aired during the Super Bowl--but CBS shot it down, claiming that it did not air "advocacy ads." But recently, MoveOn has spent $1.4 million of small-denomination donations to air the ads nationally, with another $1 million coming soon. In steps the RNC, trying their hardest to distort the law and get TV stations to pull opposition ads while at the same time trying to smear the other side, not being able to fight on the actual issues themselves.

The RNC lawyer claims that MoveOn had to have used donations that exceeded the legal limit and pointed out big donations from George Soros and Steven Bing, and hinted that MoveOn could not possibly cover the ads with smaller donations only. But the letter is crafted in such a way that it does not actually name specific figures or provide any actual proof of wrongdoing--the closest it comes in actuality is that vague and unsupported claim that there are not enough small donations, and otherwise quotes a lot of legalese to make it sound like there's an illegality. MoveOn, however, immediately pointed out that they have received $10 million in small donations, and points out that the RNC is distorting the law in order to scare FCC-regulated broadcasters into silencing the president's critics.

So strike one. Next comes the second pitch, a wild throw, this in the form of a bizarre accusation against Kerry himself. The claim is that a Harvard Crimson reporter, some 30 odd years ago, trailed Kerry for a time and learned that Kerry had asked for a student deferment to study in Paris for a year, but was turned down, and that in response to that, Kerry volunteered for the Navy. Reported by the right-wing Telegraph news agency in the U.K., it quotes none other than veteran Republican dirty-tricks master Lucianne Goldberg as saying, "This means that Kerry didn't jump into all that heroic service until he was pushed, and it is a very nice piece of information." Republican strategists tagged this story as somehow canceling out Bush's evading Vietnam by joining the National Guard.

That reaction is not just bizarre, but utterly insane. Those two cases are equal? Bush asked for, and got, student deferments all the way through Yale, and only after he had finished them and no more were forthcoming, did he use privilege to jump over 500 people in line and get the red-carpet welcome into the Texas ANG, his golden ticket out of Vietnam service--and after savoring several luxuries awarded solely for being the son of a politician, he went AWOL and then got out early. And let's not even talk about Cheney's string of deferments, because he had "other priorities" than serving the nation at that time.

Kerry, on the other hand, asked for one deferment to study, did not get it, and volunteered for actual duty in combat. And then he served in combat, saved lives, got shot, performed heroically, was awarded some of the highest decorations there are, and came back a veteran. And that's the same thing?

Fortunately, it looks like this fell so spectacularly flat that Republicans have taken their hands off it like a red-hot potato (excuse me, "potatoe"). After the initial release of the story, few are jumping on it any more.

Strike two.

Anyone want to wager on what the third pitch will be, and how the RNC will strike out with it?

After that, it's either Bush or Cheney left to come up to bat, and they'll have no one on base to clean up with. Pity.

Posted by Luis at 04:27 AM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2004

Cable Conundrum

One of the nice things about living where I do is that the neighborhood is very nice. I'm just 45 minutes from downtown Tokyo by train, but the town I live in is open, spacious and green. Lots of parks, great view from where I live. There are drawbacks, however--fewer stores, and my place is a good distance from the train station, so I have to depend on buses, and they usually are not very convenient.

And oh yeah, the cable TV sucks.

Cable TV in Japan is very different from back home. You don't get fifty channels here. Nor seventy. With the most liberal count, you get 35 where I live. Only about 20 count as non-broadcast type of channels, the rest are just local stations you can get for free. And of the non-broadcast channels, few are worth watching. CNNj, Super Channel (U.S. TV shows), Movie Plus, and Discovery Channel are all that are really worth watching. MTV if you like that. But the rest are pretty much mind-numbing, like the "Go and Shogi Channel," a channel devoted to the Japanese board games go (or "i-go," the one with black and white stones on a grid) and shogi (Japanese chess). Not included are channels most other cable companies give their clients, like the BBC, FOX (entertainment, not news), AXN (lots more syndicated TV shows), TBS Movies, and lots of other good channels.

Every once in a while, they dangle the hope of new channels in front of you. I just got a questionnaire which asks to rate which channels you like, which you don't, and which channels would you like to get. Last time this happened, they listed all the really good channels everyone else has--but the "results of the survey" apparently prompted them to get rid of an excellent news channel and a few other decent stations, and add pretty much just crap--including the "Go and Shogi" channel, yet another sports news channel (we already had three), and a home shopping channel. Oh, joy.

So I'm filling out the questionnaire yet again, but without hope of getting anything decent. Probably they'll take away the Discovery Channel and give us "The Golf Network" or "The Golf Channel" (both are candidates this time, but I'd rather go with Nader on that one), "The Jidai Geki Channel" (24-hour bad samurai dramas from 30 years ago), and Yet Another Sports Channel (5 of the 20 extra choices offered are sports).

I'd go for the SkyPerfecTV satellite dish, but another apartment building is 10 meters too far in the wrong direction and is blocking the reception.

Ah, the horrible suffering I must endure.

Posted by Luis at 12:56 AM | Comments (9)

March 06, 2004

Well, That's Kind of Embarrassing

In his recent batch of new election campaign ads, the more positive ad had George W. Bush talking about how good things are:

"And as the economy grows, the job base grows, and somebody who is looking for work will be more likely to find a job ... I know what we need to do to continue economic growth so people can find work."
And just a few days later, the new job numbers for February are out. With 150,000 jobs needed to just break even, with 200,000 to 300,000 net jobs gained every month seen as needed to truly break out of the recession, and with economists having averaged in their predictions that we would get 130,000 jobs in February... a grand total of 21,000 jobs were created that month. Relative to growth caused just by young people entering the work force, that's a net loss. It is below any economist's projections... and it gets worse: it turns out that January's numbers, among the highest in a long time, weren't as good as we thought. Instead of gaining 112,000 that month, we actually gained about 97,000, or 15,000 fewer than reported.

What's more, factories, construction, and manufacturing industries lost jobs, while the greatest gains were in temp jobs, which have few if any benefits and are far less desirable jobs.

But look at the bright side: it's all Clinton's fault.

Posted by Luis at 01:15 AM | Comments (1)

March 05, 2004

Using 9/11

The question that will, without any doubt, be arising in the next eight months is, how far can Bush go to use 9/11 for his own personal political advantage?

The question first arose when Bush and the GOP tried to sell a photo of Bush on Air Force One on 9/11 to raise funds for the party during midterms elections. For $150, you could get a copy. 9/11 was a national tragedy, sacrosanct in a very real way. The key word there is that it was a national tragedy. Not a Republican one. Not a partisan one in any way. That would belittle it, and demean the price the country paid on that day, and what it means to us as a people. And you don't lightly go around using such tragedies to ask people for money so you can win an election. At least you're not supposed to.

Bush & Co., however, have been busy pushing the envelope on that one. It started with the fundraising photo, and escalated when the GOP chose New York for their convention venue this election year. Not that there is anything objectionable about New York, but at this time and with this president it smacks of opportunism. As if to say, "this is where George W. Bush had a good day." And the GOP is playing this to the hilt: they have delayed their convention to the first week of September so that it will land as close as possible to the 9/11 anniversary, and most likely will blend into the memorial ceremonials to follow, tying Bush's campaign in with the remembrance of the victims of that day. Add to that Bush's recent indirect attempt to squash the 9/11 commission from extending their deadline to do the job right because it would come closer to the GOP convention, and what you have is a president crassly using a national tragedy as a showpiece, a PR stunt, a political ad. Three thousand dead to elect a president.

Recent reports that the GOP is seriously considering using Ground Zero itself for Bush to give his acceptance speech are hard to believe, but they're there. And considering the fact that 9/11 families are already angry just because Bush has used 9/11 images in his new presidential ads, one can only imagine the firestorm of criticism and protest should Bush choose such sacred ground for what is one of the definitive partisan political events in the country. As if the GOP owns 9/11, and Bush has a right to capitalize on it for his benefit.

So you can expect to see a testing of these boundaries, and if the past is any indication, you can expect that testing to be done in a kind of blundering way, as Bush & Co. seem to be more than a little blind to the sensitivities involved.

Posted by Luis at 04:04 AM | Comments (2)

March 04, 2004

It Was Like This When I Found It

Remember that episode of the Simpsons where Homer teaches Bart the most important lesson in life? When you screw something up, just say, "It was like this when I found it!" Bart, over time, has also used the old stand-by, "I didn't do it."

I guess we've got President El-Barto or something, because one of his first new ads (free registration required to access the page, with Real Media videos) essentially blames everything bad on Clinton. Over soft piano music and slow cross-fades between still images, the commercial displays the captions:

January 2001: The Challenge An Economy in Recession A Stock Market in Decline A Dot-com Boom... Gone Bust Then... A Day of Tragedy Today, America is Turning the Corner Rising to the Challenge Safer, Stronger

Essentially, Bush is saying that everything bad going on is not his fault--despite the fact that most of it is wrong and, at best, misleading. The recession did not kick in until much later, and Bush ignored terrorism concerns before 9/11, essentially scrapping the plans and mechanisms built by Clinton (terrorism played against Bush's campaign for missile defense). The economy he did inherit, but the ad is misleading because Bush has failed to pull us out of it. The last recession we pulled out of in three years, but this one Bush has yet to bring us out of, especially as far as jobs are concerned. OK, so he was handed a bad economy (after the biggest economic boom in history, led by Clinton)--it's his job to fix it, and he failed to do so. His fix-all cure was to slash taxes for the rich while giving a modicum to the middle class, and then wait for a recovery so he could claim credit. The promised jobs and overall recovery as well have not come, but Bush is pretending like the dickens like it has.

But the big message here is one of pointing blame: it's Clinton's fault, then 9/11 hit, I got a Trifecta, so don't blame me, I just work here, and if you don't look too hard and squint a little, you can imagine things are fine.

This is leadership? This is accountability? Of course not. But as Kerry has pointed out, Bush doesn't have much to talk about that doesn't reek of failure or scandal. So everything has to be sanitized, whitewashed... or blamed on someone or something else. The thing is, this most likely will not fly. The American people, as a whole, are well-known to blame the sitting president for what problems exist, whether the president is actually to blame or not. And the people are not complete fools, either--the finger-pointing game will only travel so far.


In other Bush administration business lately, the independent 9/11 commission, after asking for and getting a two-month extension (which Bush tried to block through Speaker Hastert), is now telling Bush and Cheney that the commission will not put up with Bush and Cheney chintzing out on their duties. The president and VP said they would appear before the commission to answer questions about 9/11 (if they didn't it would have been a public disgrace), but they are trying to do it and avoid doing it at the same time: they say that they will visit only if the meeting is closed and private, and only for one hour each, and only before the chairman and vice-chairman, not the whole commission. In other words, they're trying to blow it off.

Well, the commission is not having any of that. They are now insisting that Bush and Cheney appear in public in front of the full committee, without the strict limitations the administration wants to inflict. (Both Clinton and Gore have agreed to meet with the full commission without time restraints.) They cannot force Bush and Cheney to comply, but if they raise a stink--especially now that the election year is in full gear--it could look pretty bad. Particularly if families of the victims come up again and start criticizing them on TV. Hastert is trying to fix things up and cover for the president again by talking to the Republican head of the commission, but apparently the commission is a bit more independent than the GOP had hoped for.

Their evasions are lame as well--a White House spokesman claimed that executive branch members do not have to appear before "legislative bodies," claiming that the White House-appointed commission (Bush insisted on appointing the commission himself to head off a Congressional investigation) is somehow "considered a legislative body." It's an executive commission! They don't pass laws.

Bush has been dodging a real investigation into 9/11 practically since 9/12--and now, with all of this coming to a head at election time, he has no one to blame but himself. Had he started the commission right away instead of waiting a few years to get it going, this would have all been in the past already.

Posted by Luis at 01:27 PM | Comments (2)

March 03, 2004

Edwards Is Out

The AP has just reported this minute that Edwards is quitting the race. After losing Ohio to Kerry, and even with a possible victory in Georgia, Edwards has apparently decided that it just isn't winnable. One can only imagine at this point what conversations must have been had, what deals might have been made. Edwards, speaking now, is making very conciliatory sounds about himself and John Kerry--it is possible that the VP slot has just been filled, and it would be very sensible this way indeed.

If the report is true--it is not unexpected, but perhaps is much earlier than had been expected--the Kerry will have a lock, no matter what the results here are. Although Edwards didn't say it in his speech just finished now, CNN claims his withdrawal is now official, and Edwards will announce formally tomorrow.

Posted by Luis at 10:16 AM | Comments (1)

And the Printer Works Well

So the HP All-in-one printer (HP PSC 2450 PhotoSmart All-In-One) got here as promised Sunday, and I've been working with it since then. Most everything works just great. I set up the software on both the Mac and the PC (both included English language versions of the software), and the functions mostly seemed to work just fine out of the box; the drivers do a good job here. Without any serious fiddling around, I was able to print very nicely.

One of the most impressive things--and not just for the all-in-ones, but for ink jets in particular--is the photo printing. Although a few printouts had noticeable banded lines running through lighter areas of the picture, most photos I printed (3.5" x 5") came out amazingly clear and sharp, pretty much indistinguishable from photos printed by a photo lab. And that's using the cheaper photo paper, not the good stuff, and not at best printing resolution. I haven't tried an 8x10 glossy yet, but will at some point. Most people who see the photos can't believe they were made by an ink jet.

What impressed me as much was the copy feature. I took out a map book and put it on the scanner glass, and hit "copy"--and the copy came out very nicely. Even on regular paper at normal quality, it came out with quite acceptable clarity and accuracy. This will work much better than carrying a big map book around next time I want a street guide. Apparently, using photo paper at high quality, it can effectively reproduce a photo you place on the machine to copy--which I haven't tried yet but can believe. I also haven't tried to fax yet, nor have I tried the

The photo printing worked as promised--take your flash memory card out of your digital camera, stick it into the slot in the printer (there are four, for different types of media), and the images come up on the 2.5" LCD screen. Select the one you want, change the settings for paper size, quality, etc., and off it goes.

The downside: so far I can't even find the OCR program which is promised in the documentation. It is supposed to come with something called "ReadIris," but it seems to not be included in the installation, which would be a big disappointment. HP's customer support has been a mixed bag--their first reply came a day later than promised and was a canned response, which I hate (canned responses almost never accurately address the specific problem you have, and this one did not either). When I wrote back asking for a real person to answer, I got a prompt reply which was quite long, but boiled down to "call customer support by phone." Yargh.

Another shortfall is the lack of network capability--I would have had to pay an extra $200 just for that one feature--so I have to suffer with a USB switching box, and will have to set up my Powerbook in the living room and plug it in there whenever I want to print from my Mac.

Posted by Luis at 12:27 AM | Comments (8)

March 02, 2004

Can They Do That?

In researching the preceding story, I came across an interesting anomaly. I had Googled for information on bomb attacks in Iraq, and found a report that was repeated in many news sites. Now, that is normal. The Associated Press (the author in this case) and other wire services commonly put out stories that are picked up by many news outfits and are printed/posted verbatim, or cut down for size.

The question is, can the news organization that uses an AP story change the content?

When I did the search, I got the usual string of identical articles from a variety of news sites, and it looked like this:

Atlanta Journal Constitution, GA - Twin suicide bombers kill 109 people …
Tuscaloosa News (subscription), AL - Twin suicide bombers kill 109 people …
Boston Globe, MA -Twin suicide bombers kill 109 people …
Times Picayune, LA -Twin suicide bombers kill 109 people …
NEWS.com.au, Australia - Twin suicide bombers kill 109 people …
Guardian, UK - Twin suicide bombers kill 109 people …
New York Newsday, United States - Twin suicide bombers kill 109 people …
Akron Beacon Journal, OH - Twin suicide bombers kill 109 people …
And then there was one that looked a little out of place:
FOX News - Twin homicide bombers kill 109 people ...
Sure enough, when I checked the article, Fox had changed every occurrence of "suicide bomber" into "homicide bomber," a kind of terminology used by--you guessed it--neoconservatives. Apparently Fox News now changes every instance of "suicide bomber" into "homicide bomber," a neo-speak expression coined by the Sharon government in Israel to try to cast the Palestinians responsible for such attacks in the worst possible light.

Aside from linguistic objections (I though these were the people who hated altered speech--I guess it's just bad when it is "PC" speech), my question is--can Fox or anyone else change the writing of a story directly attributed to the Associated Press? Doesn't the AP take a dim view of such things? I tried to find the AP's license agreement, but couldn't. Anyone know about that?

Posted by Luis at 11:48 PM | Comments (3)

Good News and Bad News

The good news is, fewer American and other coalition soldiers have been dying in Iraq. In February, only 20 American soldiers and three other coalition troops were killed in Iraq. That represents an average of 0.79 deaths per day, a distinct improvement over prior months--the next lowest casualty rate was in September, when the rate was 1.1 per day, and the highest was last November, when 110 people dies and the rate was 3.67.

As much as this news is greatly welcome, it is not, unfortunately, a measure of success in the country. That's because the bad news is, as has become obvious in the past several hours, that the guerillas in Iraq have refocused their attention on Iraqi police and civilian targets, with devastating results. At the beginning of February, two suicide bombers killed at least 109 people at Kurdish Party Offices in Northern Iraq. 100 more were killed in blasts over two days on February 10-11. Attacks on police stations and other offices in Fallujah left 27 Iraqis dead on February 15th. 10 Iraqis were killed on an attack on a police station on the 23rd. Furthermore, the attacks are less and less the purported works of foreign terrorists, but instead tend to be natives, willing to blow themselves up for whatever cause they may have.

And now today, coordinated attacks in Baghdad and Karbala have killed at least 141 civilians as they celebrated Ashoura, a holy Shiite celebration banned under Saddam Hussein. More than 400 were injured in the attacks.

The fallout from the attacks is yet to be known, but it will probably not be good. Many are already blaming the Americans and Israelis, and this attack on a Shiite holy pilgrimage is bound to make things much more difficult in the attempted transfer of power back to Iraqis. Shiites comprise 60% of the population and are demanding that the new constitution be at least partly based upon Islamic law; they want direct elections that would give them de facto control over Iraq, while the Bush administration tries to institute caucuses or other measures that would prevent such a thing. The American welcome is wearing thin in Iraq, and the commission set up to write the constitution is more and more being dismissed as a puppet institution controlled by the U.S.

The conclusion on all of this is that things are not going well in Iraq. And a serious question is, as the election draws closer and if things continue to go wrong, will Bush pull out our troops without leaving anyone except the Iraqis in charge? The insurgency has not faded, it has simply redirected its attacks. The Shiites are still opposed to any form of government which does not give them a strong hand in running things the way they want, and now they are bound to play the victim card.

When July comes around and things have not been settled, will we--or, that is, Bush--bug out for the election's sake?

Posted by Luis at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2004

Iraqirony

Calpundit quoted the Washington Post article on Bush's new "Greater Middle East Initiative." It includes:

It calls for the United States and Europe to press for and assist free elections, foster new independent media, help create a "literate generation"....[promote] freedom, knowledge and women's empowerment....increase funding of democracy, human rights, media, women's and other groups....assistance in civic education, the creation of independent election commissions, and voter registration, particularly of women....with special emphasis on providing computer technology to schools and on teacher-training institutes to target women....It also suggests that providing $500 million in micro-loans -- of about $400 each -- would spur 1.2 million small entrepreneurs out of poverty.
Calpundit noted that there was a lot of mentioning of women in that, and he is right. But my first thought was, "OK--when will we get all those things in America?" In Iraq, Bush is pushing for more funding for education, is fighting tooth and nail to keep religion out of government, and is trying to establish rights for women... while in the U.S., he gives unfunded mandates that strap schools financially (so he can look like he's doing something to fix education while still starving them for cash), wants religion (Christianity) to be an integral part of government, and is trying to take away reproductive rights for women.

In addition, he is offering money for small businesses and trying to fight poverty in Iraq, while in the U.S. he only gives handouts to megacorps and the wealthy; in Iraq, he wants an independent media, while in the U.S. he tries to get the media to be lapdogs for his administration; he wants increased voter registration for Iraq, while he is against making it easier for the poor to register back home, because they're more Democratic than Republican; Iraq should get independent election commissions, while in Florida, he did everything possible to stop a legal counting of the vote and asked the Supreme Court to decide the election for us....

If Bush just applied the governance he wants in Iraq to his own job in the U.S., he wouldn't be half-bad as president.

Posted by Luis at 01:48 PM | Comments (0)