April 30, 2004

Inhumanity in an Inhuman Endeavor

It's hard to decide whether and how much to blog about the photos exposed on 60 Minutes II about the Iraqi prisoners humiliated and tortured by U.S. troops guarding them. The reason not to would be the fact that the actions taken by the soldiers involved do not reflect on the conduct or behavior of the vast majority of our troops there, and if presented the wrong way, would make people believe that it is representative.

However, the reasons for passing on this information are even more important, the most relevant reasons being the effect the war is having on our troops, and the effect that images like this will have on Iraqis. Not to mention, of course, the moral high ground we may or may not have to be there at all.

First, some of the details of how the prisoners were treated:

Some pictures show Americans, men and women in military uniforms, posing with naked Iraqi prisoners. There are shots of the prisoners stacked in a pyramid, one with a slur written on his skin in English. In some, the male prisoners are positioned to simulate sex with each other.

According to the Army, one Iraqi prisoner was told to stand on a box with his head covered, wires attached to his hands. He was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted.

Another picture shows a detainee with wires attached to his genitals. Another shows a dog attacking an Iraqi prisoner. There is also a picture of an Iraqi man who appears to be dead — and badly beaten. In most of the pictures, the Americans are laughing, posing, pointing, or giving the camera a thumbs-up.

That's part of the report--the full story is here.

Despite the fact that far greater harm has been done to far greater people in the past year in Iraq, the details of this report may be more damaging to the American occupation of Iraq than anything else so far. The U.S. and British governments are fiercely denouncing the actions, but that may not matter at all in the end. The Arab world is seeing these images, and though there are few reports so far, the expected reaction would be one of outrage. Consider, for example, that "one photo is of a female US soldier standing by a naked prisoner, also hooded. The soldier is pointing at his genitals and grinning at the camera." That, to put it lightly, will not play well in the Middle East.

The soldiers accused of the crimes seem now to be pointing the finger at the military establishment, blaming it for not training the soldiers how to treat prisoners. Now, I'd be the first to blame the current administration for not seeing to the necessary details, and to stand up for soldiers I thought were being unfairly accused. But on this one, I cannot--I simply can't accept the idea that the people involved didn't know, with or without training, that what they were doing was unacceptable.

Nevertheless, there may be one mitigating factor: the war itself, and what effect it has on people. Witness this video aired on CNN of a wounded Iraqi crawling away from American forces, only to have the soldiers patiently take aim and kill the man--at which point the marines cheer. Not exactly the clean fight we usually imagine, nor the behavior we expect from our people fighting there. But then again, we have to remember that these people are living in a world of death, as evidenced by these photos (warning--some are highly graphic and disturbing) posted by an American soldier in Iraq. When this is your daily routine, the word "desensitized" doesn't seem to do the effect justice. The atmosphere of war thus contributes to the inhumanity. The only reason we see so much more of this is because of the advent of digital photography--cheap and easy to publish--in the hands of the troops there. I'll give you good odds that by the next war there will be new military regs forbidding soldiers from possessing unauthorized cameras in a war zone.

But the effect is still real, and it is not helping the effort in Iraq. It makes any American attempt to pacify the region into a situation where we take one step forward and two steps back.

Finally, there is the damage to the moral high ground we have occupied only tenuously. And I say this not as one who claimed we had it, but simply as an objective report of what the Bush administration claimed. After all, Saddam tortured all those people for his enjoyment, and that's what made him bad, right? But now Americans have been doing the same thing--kinda hard to point the finger quite so vociferously.

It's getting messier. At this time, 143 coalition soldiers (138 American) have been killed in Iraq in April, making this month the bloodiest for Americans in the entire war so far. Nearly five Americans are being killed daily. That number only stands to rise. As time goes by, it becomes more and more clear that the current effort simply cannot work.

What needs to be done, the only action that has even the slightest hope of bringing some order to Iraq, is to start from scratch. We need to be able to go to the U.N. and tell them, "this isn't working." We have to work out a plan that can be agreed upon by many nations, especially Arab nations, Egypt and Jordan to be sure, but others as well. And then the majority of U.S. troops need to be pulled out and replaced with a broad--and non-fictional--coalition of forces from dozens of countries. And the U.S. and England must stand back and take only a secondary role at best. I doubt that the Iraqis will ever accept anything else.

It is time for Americans to stop listening to the stream of bullshit that has been coming out of Bush and Cheney, to let go of the lucrative oil industry and reconstruction contracts which we so covetously deny to countries we currently do not like, admit to the failure that is the present in Iraq, and let the world community give its aura of legitimacy to the new Iraq. The fake and pathetic attempts to pretend we are doing this are not fooling anyone. To do this for real is the only chance we have of salvaging the situation.

And we all know that Bush and Cheney would sooner have Iraq burn than to do this. Which, of course, leaves us with only one recourse.

Posted by Luis at 11:25 PM | Comments (2)

April 29, 2004

Here Comes and There Goes the Sun

Sorry, I've been a bit low-key on the political stuff lately--part of my vacation, trying to relax here. But I will be coming back with that soon, to delve into the Reasons to Not Vote for Bush series, and adding the brand-new Reasons to Vote for Kerry category.

In the meantime, enjoy a few more photos of the beautiful sunrises and sunsets I've been enjoying lately.


Posted by Luis at 09:18 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2004

Bait and Switch, Cheney-Style

Well, Dick Cheney was being his regular obnoxious self again. In mid-May, Cheney's staff approached Westminster College President Fletcher Lamkin about giving a "major foreign policy address" at his university. Obviously, any college would be greatly interested in having such a speaker, and Lamkin approved.

When Cheney showed up, however, he delivered no such address. Instead, he used the opportunity to bash and smear John Kerry for most of the speech.

Lamkin, a former administrator at West Point, describes himself as independent, and a little bit right of center. "I must admit that I was surprised and disappointed that Mr. Cheney chose to step off the high ground and resort to Kerry-bashing," and that the second half of the speech "was all about politics and a political stump speech and in that respect it was disappointing." Lamkin claims that Cheney's people misled him about the content of Cheney's address: "Nothing was said about a stump speech."

Wishing to maintain a balanced set of viewpoints on campus, Lamkin has invited Kerry to come and speak at the university as well. Kerry has accepted the offer and will speak there on Friday.

Posted by Luis at 09:20 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2004

Morning Photo

During vacations my sleep schedule gets shot to hell. One advantage of this is that I see a lot more sunrises. I really should aim towards waking up to them and not going to sleep by them, though...

Posted by Luis at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2004

Japanese Politicians Turn Viciously on Heroes

The three Japanese people initially taken hostage in Iraq may have thought that they were having the worst experience of their lives. Apparently, Japanese politicians and right-wing organizations are making it even more unpleasant for them now that they are back home. The way these people have been treated in their home country is cruel, heartless--and highly politically motivated.

Usually these people would not be treated like this. In America, we greet returning victims of kidnapping with yellow ribbons. Japan does not have that custom, but usually it treats with high regard those sons and daughters of Japan who have shown strength overseas, representing Japan well.

These three should have been such heroes of Japan. Nahoko Takato, 34, was helping Iraqi street children, an act of selfless charity at her own great personal risk. Even after her ordeal in Iraq, she did not want to stop helping people in the war-torn country. The kidnappers, she said, "did things to me that I did not like. But I cannot hate the Iraqi people."

Soichiro Koriyama, 32, is a freelance photographer, and sees it as his job to document what is happening in Iraq. He has photographed people who have suffered from war and disease in developing countries like Thailand; this is no money-seeker, but a man who wants to publicize the suffering of people in an attempt to stir awareness of their plights, to make people aware of what is happening in the world so they can help. Koriyama, a former soldier in Japan's self-defense forces, labored as a construction worker in Japan to raise the money to go to Iraq.

The third, Noriaki Imai, is a man concerned with depleted uranium shells used in wars; these shells are left behind in war zones, and create a radioactive hazard, contaminating the landscape; Imai planned a picture book about Iraqi children poisoned by the shells.

These were no seekers of fame, they were not there for the money or the glory. All three of them wanted nothing more than to help others who could not fend or speak for themselves. The three are humanitarians all. And two of them, Takato and Koriyama, wanted to keep on doing their work, despite the great risks involved. And that dedication to the welfare of others was their downfall.

Once Koizumi and the right-wing politicians heard that at least two of the three former hostages wanted to stay on, the attacks began. Koizumi said publicly, "It doesn't matter how good their intentions are. After this ordeal and having had so many officials working without sleep or food to help them, they still talk that way. They should be aware of their actions." Another politician said, "If they really hate to return to Japan, I want them to defect to Iraq. Since we've paid so much from the state coffers, I feel they should compensate us for it."

Why such icy hatred? Well, the three humanitarian heroes had become inconvenient to a conservative government that is intent on dismantling a vital part of Japan's constitution, the part that says Japan should militarize only for self-defense, and never for offense. Japan's participation in Iraq, no matter how small and tenuous, is the first fragile step towards bringing Japan back onto the world stage as a military power. It embarrassed Koizumi and his party, with a bellwether election just a few weeks away to test how the public reacted to the new role of the military. The hostages screwed up that mission for them because Japanese citizens started asking why the troops were really there, and perhaps they should be removed. Japanese friends I have spoken to about this say that they would prefer the troops come home, especially if it puts Japanese into harm's way.

The government could not stand this. So as soon as the Japanese government (some say by bribing the hostage takers) successfully got the hostages released, they wasted no time in vilifying them. They called the reckless, irresponsible, trouble-makers, self-righteous, nuisances, even "Japan's shame," and attacked them for going into harm's way. They whined about how government workers sacrificed so much, and the government spent so much time and money to help them, and they want to stay in Iraq?! Ultra-right-wingers--a nasty group here in Japan--showed up at the airport to insult and harass them.

Then the real smear campaign began. Takato, the woman who helps street children, was featured in the gossip rags and right-leaning newspaper editorials as a juvenile smoker and drug addict who had connections with terrorist organizations. Noriaki Imai was accused of coming from a Marxist home and was called a "communist sympathizer," however that could possibly have any relationship to his work to help children in Iraq.

To add insult to injury, the Japanese government plans to bill them at least $6000 for air fare and medical checkups.

Having returned home, they have been so hopelessly smeared by the right-wing establishment in this country that neither they nor their families can show themselves in public. Nahoko Takato had to be calmed with tranquilizers, and doctors have announced that their treatment here in Japan has been far worse in many ways than their captivity in Iraq:

Dr. Satoru Saito, a psychiatrist who examined the three former hostages twice since their return, said the stress they were enduring now was "much heavier" than what they experienced during their captivity in Iraq. Asked to name their three most stressful moments, the former hostages told him, in ascending order: the moment when they were kidnapped on their way to Baghdad, the knife-wielding incident, and the moment they watched a television show the morning after their return here and realized Japan's anger with them.

"Let's say the knife incident, which lasted about 10 minutes, ranks 10 on a stress level," Dr. Saito said in an interview at his clinic on Thursday. "After they came back to Japan and saw the morning news show, their stress level ranked 12."

Well, Koizumi's tactics worked. They won the elections.

And three selfless Japanese heroes have been ground into the dirt. Job well done.

Posted by Luis at 11:16 PM | Comments (10)

April 25, 2004

Moving Pictures (An Annoyance for Bush)

President Bush was "moved" by the photos of flag-draped coffins today. Yeah, right. That means that either this is the first time he was made aware that fallen American soldiers were being brought home, or he was lying so that he would look good politically. The latter, of course, is the correct answer--just as fake and dishonest as the administration's claim that their policy of not releasing photos of the flag-draped coffins is to protect the privacy of the families. What a pathetic lie. Look at the photos. Can you identify any soldier, any family? Of course not. In refusing to attend the funeral of one American soldier, and in trying to hide the fact that these men and women of honor are returning home having made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, Bush is doing them the greatest dishonor. And he has the unmitigated gall to try to claim it's all for the families' sake.

Here's how much he honors the soldiers: though he has not attended the funeral of one American soldier, he did attend the funeral of an Australian soldier, a Sergeant Andrew Russell, last October--but the widow of the soldier, Kylie Russell, was not invited to the funeral. Can you even imagine that? Not inviting the widow??

That's how much he is moved for the families of the fallen soldiers. Many families of the soldiers are protesting Bush and his policy of cover-up, not the people responsible for leaking the photos.

Well, the Bush administration kept up its policy of total retribution against anyone who dares to do something they don't approve of. The woman who released the photos, Tami Silicio, who works for a military contractor, was immediately sacked. That might be seen as simply taking action against someone who broke the rules. But they didn't stop there. They made sure that her husband was fired as well, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with it. That's right--if you screw with the Bush administration, they don't just go after you, they after your whole family. Ambassador Joseph Wilson can attest to that--they outed his wife as a CIA operative, if you'll recall, because Wilson had the temerity to point out that Bush lied to the American people.

The bag men for Bush this time was the Maytag Aircraft Corporation, part of the Mercury Air Group. I could find no direct information on Maytag, but here is a page to contact Mercury (or you can call them at 1-310-827-2737--ask to talk to William Silva), and here is contact information for your Congressperson. Send them a note and let them know what you think of all this.

Posted by Luis at 01:54 AM | Comments (1)

April 24, 2004

Opt1ng 0ut

I am currently experimenting with various methods of getting spammed. In the computer class I teach, I try to give advice about how to avoid getting spam at your email address. The advice I give includes seven basic rules:


  1. Never respond to a spam email

  2. Do not publish your email address on any web page, BBS/Forums or chat

  3. Do not use your main email address to sign up for anything; use a throwaway account

  4. Whenever you give your email address, even to family and friends,
    stress that they must never sign you up for anything, or distribute
    your email address to anyone without your permission, especially to any
    commercial enterprise

  5. When choosing a hotmail or yahoo address, don't choose a short name (to avoid dictionary spam)

  6. Do not use the "opt-out" link in any email you receive

  7. Turn off HTML graphics in your email (they will notify the spammer that you're viewing their email)

In order to get an idea how dangerous each of these spam-catching methods are, I decided to create some throwaway accounts and try to see how much spam I could receive. I would use each throwaway email address in a unique situation, so it would be clear which method had garnered the junk mail.

#1 I will try after establishing a junk mail stream at one of the new accounts.

#2 I decided to try by putting another throwaway email address--made invisible by matching the font color with the background color--onto the main page of my blog site. Within a few days I started getting junk mail at that address.

#3 I have not gotten around to, but #4 I suffered from already when a cousin in Spain, without my permission or knowledge, signed me up for an ancestry site, clearly highly commercial. Within weeks my spam multiplied incredibly. I also have two or three throwaway addresses I use to sign up for stuff, and they get their share of spam nowadays.

#5 I had already suffered from--I had chosen a 6-letter Yahoo email ID, and immediately received about 60 emails per day right from the beginning.

And then there's #6, the opt-out. About four or five years ago--some months after my cousin signed me up for that spam-rich 'service'--I made the mistake of trying to opt out from the spam--and noted a few weeks later that my spam multiplied again.

Of course, the opt-out is most likely a trick. Spammers usually do not know if the email addresses they have are genuine; the majority are usually dead or non-existent accounts. So to get you to tell them that (a) your account is active, and even better, (b) you read your junk mail, they use tactics like the opt-out to make you expose those facts. Just like with the HTML graphics (#7), the opt-out will sound alarms that they have a live one, and more spam will likely be forthcoming, not less.

My current attempt to make them show their colors is not generating any spam yet, but it has only been a week. I searched my spam, and found various opt-out links. One of the first things I noticed was the URL that the link varied from email to email. Many of them were generic URLs that led to an opt-out page everyone would share. However, some of the opt-out links in the email I looked at had URLs that included codes--for example:

http://bilkytrpnpyh@yw21ut6.com/byebye.html

I have changed some of the specific letters and numbers in there to avoid the spammer recognizing it, but you can see the concept. See the letters preceding the @ sign? That's a code which identifies you. If you click on that link, they will know which email account the spam was sent to, no matter which address you type on their opt-out page. Not wanting to trigger even more spam at my actual email address, I decided only to use opt-outs that were generic. I've signed on to 26 different opt-put programs so far, and no spam has come back from them yet--though it has only been a week so far.

Another thing I noticed from skimming through the spam was the creativity in telling you that you can opt out. Most spam uses a unique message to tell you how to get off their lists. This is part of their attempt to evade your email's spam filter. If everyone used "To opt out, click here," for example, then the spam filters could zap every spam that comes along. So they want to avoid using recognizable text strings. Here's a list of many of the messages in the spam I got:

c1ick here - T0 0PT 0UT
click here if you would not like to receive future mailings.
cross my name off
Discon
D-I-S-C-O-N-T-I-N-U-E
Don't want anymore
Don't you like it?
Future reference options:
GetOffTheList
I don't like emails.
I don't need this
I don't think so
I want to say adios
If you do not w.ish to recei.ve these offers in the futu.re, rm You.rself
If you do not want to receive further mailings from ----, unsubscribe by sending an email
If you do not want to receive, please use this link
If you do not wish to receive e-mails from us in the future, Click here to unsubscribe.
no chance
NO MAILZ
No moore
No more ads
no more email'z
No More Please
No Thanks
No Thanks, Opt Me Out
Not interested? Please surf here
Please don't ask me again
press to stop receiving
pwzleduasese remove y{ouxrsel&f, if yo4iu would li(ke to disc"ontinue further mailing
rem ve
Remove here:
remove me
rmv
Subtract yourself here please
T o b e rem ov ed cl ic k he re
Take off
This isn't for me
To be nullified from our promotion efforts, based upon, this list please proceed forward to the following HTML based removal applicaiton for email.
to be removed click here
To be removed from further emails send email to
To modify your future contact options, please reference here
To stop future advertisement click here
ToRemoveClickHere
Unsub
We will immediatly discontinue offers... just see address below and you will not see us ever again.
You may take yourself off the l.ist he.re
Also note that some of these contain words that are broken up by spaces, hyphens, or junk characters, or replace letters with simi1@r-100king numbers or symbols.

Many have even taken the image route--not including any text at all, but instead just an image with their message on it. Most use the HTML graphics route, which has the dual advantage of getting around some spam filters as well as identifying who is reading their junk mail.

Spam really is an involved business, and I have only scratched the surface here.

Posted by Luis at 04:56 PM | Comments (2)

April 23, 2004

Fool Me Once, Fool Me Again

I have often wondered in amazement as to how Bush, in the light of several months of scandal, lies, lawbreaking and bad news in general, has been able to hold steady in the polls over time. Part of it, of course, is his base constituency, but I also think a great deal of it has to do with the old saying, "you can fool some of the people some of the time"--although, more accurately in this case, that should read, "you can fool some of the people all of the time."

How so? Remember when the poll was taken saying that 69% of the American people believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks? Well, even after Bush came out and denied that publicly, he and others in his administration have persisted in tying pre-war Iraq with terrorism, and the lies have worked. Despite there being absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support the concept, fully 57% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein gave "substantial support" to al Qaeda. While not the exact same position as the previous poll, it is very close, so much so as to be virtually the same. Bush's campaign of lying to make people see a tie between Hussein and 9/11 has been so effective that Bush can come out and say there was no tie, and yet he can still make more than half of the American people believe it.

Further numbers from the survey: 45% think that there is "clear evidence" Hussein worked with al Qaeda, and 60% believed that Hussein either had WMD or had a "major program for developing them." All of these beliefs fly directly in the face of known fact.

And so Bush remains steady at 50% in the polls. Even if Bush's base is as low as 30%, I guess this is evidence that he can so completely fool at least another 20% into believing things that are so obviously false. The only question remains, what is the reason these 20% of the people believe such clear falsehoods? Fear? Blind patriotism? Stupidity? Possibly a combination of those three, and some others to boot. That people would choose to accept such an openly corrupt president for these reasons is reason for dismay, to say the least.

Posted by Luis at 11:32 PM | Comments (1)

April 22, 2004

Fahrenheit 911: Coming Soon

Heads-up credit to Mark at VuDeja on the fact that Michael Moore's new film, Fahrenheit 911 ("The Temperature at which Freedom Burns") will be premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year. I had already heard that the film would be ready to show sometime soon from Moore's recent article on Bush's press conference. In that article dated April 14th, he mentioned that he had to finish the film in four weeks--it is possible that he knew that Cannes was possible a week in advance. The IMDB lists Moore's film as having its general release in September, which jibes with Moore's earlier statements that the film would be released a few months before the election.

About the honor of being featured again at Cannes--a rare privilege for documentary films--Moore remarks, "I am deeply honored by this announcement, considering it comes from our mortal enemy, the French." Moore had been pretty quiet in the past several months because he has been working solidly on the new film.

The Cannes site lists the film's running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes. Moore is reportedly preparing his next film, Sicko, a film about the American Health Care system.

Posted by Luis at 08:02 PM | Comments (3)

April 21, 2004

Entrance Ceremony

Well, the Winter semester has ended where I teach, and that means another new year at the school. Our attendance has been down a bit since 9/11--our school prepares Japanese youngsters of college age to go to institutions of higher education in the U.S. and elsewhere (though many take our own Associate of the Arts degree program here in Japan before moving on), and since the terrorism scare, and then the build-up to the Iraq war, more people have been a bit more nervous about studying abroad. However, that appears to be turning around, as our numbers are growing again--as you can see a bit in the photo above, about 600 new students entering this Spring.

So we had our annual entrance ceremony, which is always fun--meeting the new students and their parents, getting to know some of the people we'll be spending a lot of time with in the next year and two. Also, we hold these events at nice hotels (this year at the ANA Hotel, last year at the Century Hyatt), where the halls are nice and the food excellent--see the chef carving the roast beef at right, and one small example of the pastries below.

There was also entertainment; some from the outside, like a marching band, a professional bagpipe player, a magician, and a string quartet--and from students, including a violin duet (two young ladies who styled themselves "The Violin Vixens"), a choir singing an original composition, and a pair of dancers. That along with the requisite speeches and presentations of awards to last year's students.

All in all, quite a big and impressive bash. If you'd like to see more photographs, you can visit a small gallery of photos from the event.


An elderly woman made an impromptu dance for the Violin Vixens


Yum...

Posted by Luis at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2004

The Liberal Media Strikes Again

This time it's in the form of air time. Yes, Bush enjoys the advantages of incumbency, which also means that he gets to make important announcements, have White House press conferences and the like. But according to the Washington Post, it is becoming clear that even minor Bush administration events and interviews are being given far more air time than major Kerry events.

"When President Bush delivered a routine stump speech to a group of New Mexico homeowners on March 26, CNN and Fox News each carried his appearance for 35 minutes, and MSNBC for 33 minutes.

When John Kerry gave what was billed as a major address on national security at George Washington University on March 17, he was knocked off the screen by a large explosion in Baghdad. CNN and Fox each dropped Kerry (who had been reduced to small box) after three minutes, and MSNBC never picked him up. But as the Iraq coverage continued, all three networks carried Vice President Cheney in California attacking Kerry as weak on national security -- Fox for 28 minutes, MSNBC for 23 and CNN for 13."

The networks claim that it's because the president has a greater effect on world politics, that he speaks for the country, Kerry isn't out there saying very much, yadda yadda yadda--read the article. But the example above makes it clear: the vice president delivering a political attack on Kerry warranted more air time than Kerry making an address on national security. No excuse can explain that away.

Posted by Luis at 07:17 AM | Comments (1)

April 19, 2004

Oops

An alert listener to the Randi Rhodes show caught George Tenet in a lie. During his testimony, Tenet claimed that Bush could not have gotten the information about Moussaoui, arrested by the FBI on August 16th, because he did not see Bush in time. Previously, there was the claim that the Moussaoui information had not been distributed at high levels, but when the CIA report entitled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly" came to the attention of the 9/11 commission and the public, it was a wee bit hard to deny. Still, Tenet tried to cover for Bush:

ROEMER: "And do you have the information at that point on Moussaoui?"

TENET: "Yes, I was briefed on Moussaoui in late August. . . . I believe it's the 23rd or the 24th."

. . . . .

ROEMER: "Would it have made any difference if you had mentioned -- did you ever mention it, for instance, to the president?"

TENET: "I didn't see the president. I was not in briefings with him during this time."

ROEMER: "You didn't see the president between August 6, 2001, and September 10th?"

TENET: "Well, no. Before -- saw him after Labor Day, to be sure."

ROEMER: "So you saw him September 4th -- at the principals' meeting?"

TENET: "It was not at the principals' meeting."

ROEMER: "OK I'm just confused. You see him on August 6th with the (President's Daily Brief)."

TENET: "No, I do not, sir. I'm not there."

ROEMER: "OK. You're not -- when do you see him in August?"

TENET: "I don't believe I do."

ROEMER: "You don't see the president of the United States once in the month of August?"

TENET: "He's in Texas, and I'm either here or on leave."

ROEMER: "But you never get on the phone or in any kind of conference with him to talk at this level of high chatter and huge warnings during the spring and summer to talk to him through the whole month of August?"

TENET: "We talked to him directly throughout the spring and early summer almost every day."

ROEMER: "But not in August?"

TENET: "In this time period, I'm not talking to him, no."

Well, later it turns out that this was not entirely true--Tenet did meet Bush in August, but the CIA spokesman said it was OK, because "Tenet had, in fact, briefed Bush in Texas on August 17, but not about Moussaoui." So Tenet did see Bush in Crawford, but a week before he found out about Moussaoui. Right?

Erm, well, not really. The alert Rhodes listener pointed to this page on the White House web site, an interview with Bush at Crawford on August 25th, in which Bush said:

Actually, you know, what we call the governor's house, the place where you all came out during the -- that's where we went. Condi and Karen Hughes stayed there. And right across the street from that is a -- it's a nice looking government doublewide. (Laughter.) And that's where the mil aide, the nurse, the WHCA head, the doc, they stay.

The CIA briefings, I have on our porch, the end of our porch looking out over the lake. When Tenet came up, that's where we visited, out there.

You know, everybody wants to see the ranch, which I'm proud to show it off. So George Tenet and I -- yesterday, we piled in the new nominees for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Vice Chairman and their wives and went right up the canyon. [emphasis mine]

Oops.

So, Hastert was screaming for Richard Clarke to be tried for perjury. How about Tenet?

Posted by Luis at 01:32 AM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2004

Air America Radio: Teething Pains, but Growing Strong

Air America Radio (AAR) has been ordered back on the air in Chicago. AAR discovered that MultiCultural Radio Broadcasting, which owns the L.A. and Chicago stations, had been double-dipping--charging AAR for the lease on the station while simultaneously leasing it to someone else--and so stopped payment on its fees for the L.A. station until the matter could be cleared. MultiCultural, in retaliation, yanked AAR from the airwaves not just in L.A. but in Chicago as well, where AAR had continued payments. MultiCultural then released a press release claiming AAR's check had bounced, which was untrue.

So a Chicago judge ordered them back on the air in Chicago, where they are now--but L.A. remains dark while the disagreement is ironed out; it should be back on the air soon, however.

This is a minor stumble in AAR's first month of broadcasting. Right-wing critics, however, are already writing the network's obituary, claiming that is is "hypocritical and desperate"--with no evidence to support either charge, naturally--and that its ratings stink--before the ratings are even out. They try to gloss over the fact that AAR, with practically no paid PR campaign before its opening, no big rollout except that they simply went on the air, is now one of the most-visited (top 50) web sites on the Internet, and has sent out 2 million audio streams over their RealNetworks connection in just one week. On opening day, they had as many as 50,000 connections going at one time. That made it the biggest ever news stream, save for special breaking news events. And that's despite all the technical difficulties that they've been suffering in getting this going.

Soon they will be opening new radio broadcasts in San Francisco, Sacramento, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Santa Fe NM, Portland ME, and two new satellite networks. Those are just the latest additions, after Minneapolis, West Palm Beach, Riverside CA, Key West, and Plattsburgh/Burlington (NY/VT) were added in AAR's first week.

This is really the only way liberal talk radio could come out in the U.S., so dominated the airwaves by conservative owners. For example, one of AAR's top broadcasters is Randi Rhodes, the acerbic left-wing talk show host and Air Force veteran from southern Florida. Despite the fact that her show regularly got higher ratings than Rush Limbaugh in his home market, Clear Channel--the right-wing national network that broadcasts Rush Limbaugh and has been cutting Howard Stern off at the knees since he went liberal--refused to ever syndicate Rhodes despite her fantastic ratings in Florida.

When the first ratings come out, we'll see how well the network is doing in its first infant steps. But the lies spread by right-wingers about AAR's cash-flow problems are outright false--AAR has enough capital to operate for two years at least.

And remember, this station is still in its infancy. If you'll recall, the Fox network as laughed off as a joke for a few years when it first started, for many of the same reasons AAR is being knocked for now. So the show is far from over--it's just getting warmed up.

Posted by Luis at 06:54 PM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2004

Hostages and Mad Cows

The first three Japanese hostages are back, but two more (a journalist and a "civic group activist," whatever that is) have been taken, so I guess it's back to work for the government. Meanwhile, opinions in Japan remain varied but low-key on the long-term impact of the SDF presence and Japanese hostages in Japan. One young woman commented, "Those three people were doing what they wanted, even though the Japanese government repeatedly warned that Iraq was too dangerous a place to go to. However, Koizumi was the one who sent the SDF in violation of the Constitution. I wonder what he would have done if those three had died. Their release is good news and a lucky break for Koizumi, even though he did not recall the SDF."

Well, Koizumi is none too happy that two of the three released hostages want to go back to Iraq and continue their work. While the government got fairly good marks for how it handled the crisis, it remains vulnerable on the issue. Not too surprising, since most Japanese people--86%--will blame him for any deaths, whether they're SDF or civilians. He commented on an advisory by Japan warning Japanese civilians to avoid travel to Iraq, reminding the former hostages how much work they put the government through to get them back. "It doesn't matter how good their intentions are," Koizumi complained. "After this ordeal and having had so many officials working without sleep or food to help them, they still talk that way. They should be aware of their actions." One senior official, apparently on the condition of anonymity, remarked, "If they really hate to return to Japan, I want them to defect to Iraq. Since we've paid so much from the state coffers, I feel they should compensate us for it." Which makes one wonder if indeed there was a payoff. It should be noted that mostly the anger towards these dedicated people comes from the government, which has the most to lose politically.


Meanwhile, Japan is slowly opening the gates for U.S. beef to be imported into Japan. The previous reopening of the market consisted of allowing U.S. beef to enter Japan only if each carcass is tested for Mad Cow disease--pretty fair, considering that all Japanese beef must undergo the same requirement. Even so, this has not mollified the U.S. government completely, as it recently prevented one cattle producer that wanted to test their cattle for export from carrying out those tests.

Yesterday, Japanese government announced that it is loosening the standards a little, allowing cows younger than 20 months to be imported without any testing. Considering that only one case of mad cow disease has been found in America, and that cow was raised in Canada, there is the possibility that Japan is being a bit strict. However, there remains the question why the U.S. government is so strong against testing. If they are taking that stance out of principle, then OK, but if they are trying to hide more possible cases of the disease, then there may be reason to worry.

Posted by Luis at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

April 16, 2004

Tax Time, Japan-Style

So, you're an American living in Japan, it's past April 15th, and your taxes are still not ready? Well, don't worry about it quite yet. You get an automatic 2-month extension from the IRS, until June 15th, to file your income taxes. And if you want to, you can file for another extension after that, and usually you get it--but June 15th is enough, and filing for an extension would actually be more trouble than it's worth unless you have some unfortunate and bizarre situation going on there.

Since we all get the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), now at $80,000 per year, most of us unlucky enough not to earn more than that end up not paying anything in taxes to the U.S.--which is fair, because we have to pay full taxes here in Japan. But we have to file with the IRS anyway.

"But I don't owe anything, and I paid taxes to Japan, so I don't need to file." Well, we all wish it were so. But alas, you have to file no matter what. In fact, you have to file to get the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion--if you don't file, then technically you will have to pay complete U.S. taxes! So make sure you do file...

In order to file, you need Form 1040, Form 2555, a 2003 "gensen chusho" form (a small slip that documents your income and tax fess for the year) from your work, and the 2003 Annual Average Rate for the yen and dollar.

By the way, here's a news flash: As of June this year, the IRS office at the Tokyo embassy will be shutting down permanently, which sucks big-time. The person at the office said the shut-down is to save money (money that Bush has spent on Halliburton or tax breaks for billionaires). They have always been there to answer phone calls, not to mention being there to help you in person if you have problems that can't be handled by phone. So now if you need help, you have to pay international dialing rates and wait on hold for an hour and a half to talk to someone in Philadelphia who knows nothing about paying your taxes from Japan. Ah, Bush's America.

But if you want help in the next two months, then call (03) 3224-5466; press "8" as soon as you hear talking in order to avoid the mind-numbing voice mail handling, and instead get switched directly to an "assistor." If they're busy or out to lunch, then you can leave a message and they'll get back to you.

Anyway, I decided that this year I was going to explain how to get those forms done, because there is a bit of a confusing process to go through for this (it wouldn't be taxes if it weren't at least a little confusing), and I tend to forget how to do this from year to year. This explanation should help all you regular Americans living in Japan do your tax returns, although:

DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional tax preparer. I do not guarantee that any of the information or advice on this page is correct. If there are any errors which lead you to make errors, that is your responsibility.

In other words, I want to try to help you, not get sued by you. So follow my advice at your own risk. that said, here we go:

(see continuation)

First, get your gensen choshu hyo (源泉徴収票), from the accountants at your workplace. The form looks like this:

gensenchoshu

Let's say that the amount is 5,000,000 yen, for the sake of this example. Now go to the IRS page at the Japan embassy to find out the official exchange rate to calculate how to translate. If you trust me here, I'll tell you now that it is 113.873. Divide your yen income by that amount; that's your dollar income for 2003. With the example amount of 5 million yen, it comes out to $43,908.54. The Tokyo IRS office says you round to the closest dollar, so in my example it'd be $43,909. Write that number down, you'll be using it.

Now, if you've paid taxes from your current address before, you'll have gotten your 2003-1040 form book; if not, you can download the forms from the IRS at the links I showed above. The booklet, if you have it, has duplicate copies of the 1040 and 2555, which is what most people need and is what I'll be explaining how to use.

I like to start with the 2555, because there's data from that sheet you'll need to input early on in the 1040, and not the other way around. Start by filling out Part 1, with your name, address, and other info.

2555-1a

Don't forget your Social Security number at the top. Fill out your address and occupation, and the name and address of your employer. Ask your employer for this, because they may have a special business address for you to use. If you have filed a 2555 before, write the year you did so on 6a. It is likely that you'll check the "no" box on 6c and 8a, but check them and make sure anyway. On line 7, put your country of citizenship.

Now you choose which way you'll prove that you lived outside the U.S. There's the "Bona-Fide" test, and then there's the "Physical Presence" test. The bona-fide test is if you (a) have lived in Japan for more than one year, and (b) have a contract period longer than one year. Since most foreign workers in Japan are limited to one-year renewable contracts, the physical presence test is called for; you can skip over Part II and go straight to Part III on page 2.

I've been doing the Physical Presence test every time since I came to Japan, and I just got misdirected into doing the bona-fide test by the IRS office. Yesterday, I told them I was doing the physical presence test, and the woman acted like I was crazy, the bona-fide test is much easier! I asked her if she was sure I qualified; she asked if I'd lived in Japan for more than one year, and when I said "yes," she told me that I should really do the bona-fide. So I spent much of last night and this morning trying to figure it out, and trying many times to call the office to clear up subtle questions. When I finally got through to the IRS office (a lot of we're-busy-now hang-ups)--I think I got the same woman--I asked, among other things, about line 15a and what the contract terms were about, and she said that if my contract was for one year or less I wouldn't qualify, and would have to do the physical presence test. When I complained that yesterday she had directed me without any reservation to doing the bona-fide, she shot back, "well, maybe you didn't tell me you had a one year contract!" Yeah, lady. Thanks a lot for nothing. Good thing I worked on copies and didn't mark up my originals.

passportstampsa

Next, if you traveled in 2003, get out your passport and figure out departure and arrival dates, and note which countries you visited on each trip; that'll be needed for the 2555. In my case, I visited Spain in April and the U.S. in December.

With this information, I can fill out the physical presence section:

2555-2a

Note that you only have to count the full days, days in which you are present in another country from start to finish; therefore, my Spain trip counts as 12 days, and my American trip as 18. That brings me to a total of 30--which is good, because if it is more than 35, then I have to go to some trouble to offset the one-year physical test period, and that entails more confusion.

From here, things get a bit more straightforward. On page 2, just fill in your dollar income, the same number, on lines 19, 24 and 26. You would only need to fill out other stuff if you have special financial conditions, like special reimbursements for housing, cars, meals, home leave, etc. which is not included in your income total stated in your gensen choshu hyo. Again, most people don't have this--if you do, you'll have to translate the amount into yen and add it to the total.

Then you carry your total--still my imaginary $43,909 in my case--to line 27 on page 3, the last page. You should check "no" under line 27 unless you want to claim the housing deduction--not necessary if your total will be under $80,000. So we jump to Part VII.

2555-3

On line 36, I write down how many days I was in Japan--365 minus the number of full days counted in Part III, Line 18. In my case, 30 full days, making my amount for line 36 "335." Then you have to divide your number from line 36 by 365, which in my case is .918, and put that on line 37. Then multiply line 37 by $80,000. I get $73,440. That's the largest amount I can deduct. But since my total income was $43,909, I put that number on lines 39 and 40--on line 40 because it's the smaller number.

The same amount is carried to lines 41 and 43, so long as you have no special deductions--and you're done with Form 2555!

Now go to your 1040 form. Fill out your name, address and other personal information, as well as your filing status and exemptions (for me, just the "yourself" exemption).

Next, on line 7, put your income in dollars. Above the dotted line to the left of the number you just wrote, pen in the calculation that got that number--e.g., "¥5,000,000 ÷ 113.873 = $43,909."

1040-1-7

Next, you have to add any interest or dividend income from the U.S. For example, if you have a bank account, then you should have a 1099-INT form that was sent to you from your bank listing the total interest income for 2003. If you have stock and received dividends, that must be listed also. Any taxable income of that sort has to be included here. If you do not have that information available, then there is a solution: I do not in any way comment on its legality, but you could possibly enter an amount that you are certain is greater than the amount you actually earned. Say you have a few thousand dollars in the bank at home--the interest you got was surely not more than $100. And since that is way under the minimum tax level, you could write $100.00 on the form. Whatever your number is, write that in on line 8a.

1040-1-21

Then, on line 21, write "FORM 2555" in the blank white box in the blue zone, and write the amount of your income, from line 43 of Form 2555, in brackets (denoting a negative amount) in the number area of line 21. On line 22, you add up all the numbers, which should be the amount from 8a, as lines 7 and 21 cancel each other out. In my imaginary case here, it is $100. Since I have no special adjustments, I simply bring the total down to line 34, and then to page 2 on line 35.

1040-2

On line 37, fill in 4,750 (the single-or-married-filing-separately deduction, unless you are filing married jointly). You can subtract that amount from your total on line 35, so the total will clearly be "0". On line 39, you get to deduct another $3,050 for each exemption claimed on page 1 line 6, which for me is just one, but it is moot as my amount is already zero and anything deducted will still add up to zero. And from there, it's zeroes all the way down to line 72, the amount you owe.

Sign it, seal it, and send it off.

I usually like to take it to the embassy myself, often because there's other stuff I can do there and it's not far from my work. This year I want to pick up voter registration materials, so I'll be going in early next week.

I hope this was of some help!

Posted by Luis at 04:33 PM | Comments (5)

April 15, 2004

News Bits 4-15-2004

Bush Continues Unilateral Diplomacy. He seems to have a new strategy for creating peace in the Middle East: screw the Palestinians. After all, negotiations go so much more smoothly when only one side is there to deal with, don't you think?

Bush has given his full approval to a new plan of Sharon's that, while not exactly giving the hard-line Israelis everything they want, is far from satisfying for the Palestinians. It's as if Bush realizes that he is so far from capable of delivering real peace to the Middle East that he has just given up trying and has gone full-force into backing Israel without even the pretense of placating the Palestinians.

And then there's the the fact that Bush would like nothing more than to sway just enough Jewish voters to swing states like Florida his way. Can't forget about that.


Kerry Debates Like Bush Never Would. Can you imagine a GOP event where the crowd is anything but 100% gung-ho in conforming and mindlessly cheering Bush? Which is not so thoroughly controlled that only the most faithful of the faithful are allowed in the door? Democrats filter out the opposition protesters, too--but not the internal protesters like the GOP does.

Take it one step further: Imagine a Republican who disagrees with Bush stating his point loudly very close to Bush--and Bush decides to engage the person one-to-one in debate.

Okay, have you stopped giggling at such a ludicrous image yet?

Bush is not like that. He prefers scripted events, and we all know that on his own, unprepared, he would not be able to argue his way out of a paper sack. Kerry, on the other hand, is capable of such things.

I think it speaks volumes to the integrity within the party and to the honesty of the man himself when Kerry takes the concerns of a single individual seriously enough to debate him publicly, impromptu. The protester accused Kerry of supporting an imperialist war in Iraq despite Kerry having been an anti-war activist decades ago.

Kerry made his point by explaining that we can't just abandon Iraq; now that Bush has gotten us into this, we have to engage ourselves to make sure things run right. Like a father who finds that his kid has thrown paintballs at passing cars, we can't just leave--we have to help clean up the mess, and then take junior home and spank him (my analogy, not Kerry's).

However, simply the fact that the guy could get in, and that Kerry met him in debate, is remarkable--I guarantee that you will never see anything so unscripted on the Bush campaign trail.


Yet Another Case of Republicans Using Secrets as Weapons. Just like Bush and Cheney's people decided to expose Valerie Plame's undercover status as vindictive retribution against her husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson for daring to show up Bush as a liar, or the GOP's intent to declassify selective documents in an attempt to smear Richard Clarke for doing the same thing...

Now John Ashcroft has unilaterally decided to declassify secret FBI memo written by Gorelick in 1995, and the GOP, clearly prepared for this in advance, is howling for Gorelick to resign from the committee (leaving a Republican majority in addition to Republican chairmanship). Of course, there's no need for her to resign--at worst, she would recuse herself from the relevant issues. But you know that won't satisfy the bloodthirsty trolls.

Most disturbing here is the extreme willingness of right-wingers today to declassify anything that could help them smear an opponent, while at the same time screaming bloody murder even at the hint of declassifying anything that won't help them politically, no matter how harmless the information may be. They currently have control over what gets declassified and what does not, and they have demonstrated an unswerving desire to use that politically.

This is patriotic? Please. This is--at the risk of sounding Coulterish--treason.


Air America Radio Off the Air in Chicago and L.A. This comes, not from a bounced check as Matt Drudge is claiming, but from a dispute between the L.A. station's owner, Arthur Liu, and AAR about Liu's alleged double-dipping for profit while AAR was paying for use of the station.

According to AAR's general counsel, David Goodfriend, AAR was paying Liu for the L.A. station from early February, even though AAR did not start broadcasting from the end of March. (Has it only been a few weeks since AAR went on the air? Amazing...) During that time, while AAR was paying the bills, Liu sold time on the frequency to someone else at the same time--that's the double-dipping charge.

In protest, AAR withheld a $1 million payment (no check bounced, sorry Matt) until Liu coughed up the money he made while AAR was paying for full use of the station. Liu decided to try to cut AAR off at the knees, and turned off their programming not only in Los Angeles, but in Chicago as well.

The matter will undoubtedly reach a court soon, and at least a provisional settlement made shortly.


Apple Computer Wins. Tripling of Profits with the iPod Well, I've got one. Why don't you? It really is the best of what's out there, IMHO.

I also think that Apple should take a much closer look at branching out farther in this direction, making other consumer-electronics items. Perhaps a home media-control center which can be used to control audio, video and whatever other media you have, as well as transfer data between them? Move the video off your computer and on to your TV, or the music between your iPod, computer, and stereo system. Or perhaps an Apple cell phone, which they've shied away from, but one built to work incredibly well with an Apple computer.

By the way, if you are interested in helping a switcher make the move to an Apple, come and help give information to Sako, who's now looking at a new eMac.

Posted by Luis at 01:16 PM | Comments (3)

Oh, Come On

How much ludicrous lying on the part of Bush & Co. is needed before people start getting tired of being taken for fools?

Remember how the Bush people insisted that they did not get notice that bin Laden was a big threat--and then we find out that Berger and Clarke warned them in the strongest possible terms? And then they claimed that they had no intel about how bin Laden might be using airplanes, and then we hear about the August 6th PDB that not only shows how Bush and Rice knew bin Laden was a huge threat, but that planes were mentioned as well?

Well, they're still lying. In recent days, they've been downplaying how much of a threat bin Laden seemed to be, how he wasn't really worthy of too much notice. Certainly Rice didn't think he was a menace as she wasn't going to include him in a major security address at John Hopkins on 9/11--and during her testimony, she played down the 8/6 PDB as a "historical document" (she must have been crazy to think we weren't going to see that).

Guess what? New information has come out about the titles of other PDBs in April and May of that year. they include:

"Bin Laden planning multiple operations"
"Bin Laden network's plans advancing"
"Bin Laden threats are real"
And that's not including the oldie but goodie, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." For crying out loud, what else will we find out next? A September 1st memo entitled, "bin Laden planning to use jet liners to crash into WTC and Pentagon"? In complete honesty, it would not really surprise me much at this point.

I mean, come on. They knew far more than they needed to. They screwed up!

Posted by Luis at 12:06 AM | Comments (1)

April 14, 2004

Bush Press Conference, 4/13/2004: Questions Part II

When asked by White House correspondent John King about the dismally small number of foreign troops and how calling them an "international coalition" is more fiction and window dressing than truth, Bush took a page out of the book using dead soldiers' honor to protect himself: "I don't think people ought to demean the contributions of our friends into Iraq." Same thing he sometimes says when people claim his war in Iraq is not justified, how dare you suggest that those soldiers died in vain--something I first heard from Reagan about the marines in Lebanon and his blunder in sending them there.

Bush actually did take this line with the soldiers in Iraq as well, saying "One of the things that's very important ... is to never allow our youngsters to die in vain. And I made that pledge to their parents. Withdrawing from the battlefield of Iraq would be just that, and it's not going to happen under my watch." In saying so, tying the soldiers' sacrifice to his own political agenda. As I've written before, bushpc3this cowardly, slimy and opportunistic perversion of using the honor of those who have served and given their lives, just to protect a politician's hide and further his agenda--it makes me physically ill.

Bush also likened what is happening in Iraq to what happened in Japan after WWII--he wondered what things would have been like if we had "blown the peace" with them, and not brought Japan back in line as a responsible world citizen. Of course, three problems there: first, Iraq now is not Japan then, the two are worlds apart and the on-the-ground situations in both places are hardly comparable; second, Japan was far more necessary to attack, far more a threat to world peace, than Iraq ever was; and third, Bush is currently helping Japanese right-wingers deconstruct the post-WWII nation that we built, tearing down one of the single most important postwar imperatives, that Japan's military be oriented toward self-defense only.

Reporters tried to ask questions without Bush calling on them first; Bush smirked and said, "I've got some must-calls, I'm sorry." It did not appear that Bush had any spontaneous calls during the press conference--as it was a year ago, he likely called only from his list this time again.

When asked about whether he waited too long to confront terrorism and went too quickly into Iraq, Bush again retreated to the "we weren't on a war footing" excuse, that there was nothing we could do about al Qaeda before 9/11 changed the world--but on preemptively striking Iraq, Bush brought up Libya, which stands out as a phenomenal crock. He acted, as most conservatives do, as if Libya were intransigent and aggressive until Bush invaded Iraq, then their knees turned to jelly and they shot up the white flag in fear that Bush might catch them, too. What a pile of manure that is. Libya wanted to stop U.N. sanctions and get back into the international community, and he started with Clinton, long before Iraq was invaded. Libya offering up its paltry WMD program was simply them taking advantage of the Iraq war to make it look like they were taking giant strides to atone for past behavior and so win points that would help them out. But give up WMD because they feared Bush? That's a joke, and a bad one. Libya knows just like everyone else that America is now over-extended and cannot just go romping into Northern Africa--and we weren't even much on their case in terms of WMD. Bush's claim is a lie and a scam, pure and simple.

Then he had the gall to bring up A. Q. Khan's leaking of nuclear secrets to Iran and other countries as if that were a great example of us winning the war on terror. Beg pardon? We caught Pakistan doing this--far too late, unfortunately--and let them blame it all on one guy, and then we let them pardon the one guy. that's a victory in the war on terror? No, it's not--it's another bad joke.

This is where Bush was asked about his greatest mistake, and Bush wormed around, trying to have it both ways--both admitting to having made mistakes, but not telling what any of them were. "I hope - I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't - you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one." Yeah. Sure. Amidst a list of things he went on about that he felt were not mistakes, Bush alluded to the WMD--and again justified his claims in any way he could, again bringing forth this Charlie Duelfer guy as if he were the final word in WMD, and the tired claims that somehow WMD were in there and the Iraqi people are still so terrified of Saddam Hussein that they just can't bring themselves to tell us where they are. By the end of the question, Bush had turned his answer into one for a question about how evil Hussein was and how there really are WMD just waiting for us to find them.

In his answer to Ann Compton of ABC News about intelligence reform, Bush turned and pivoted until he was saying this:

I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country's gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world.

And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom. We have an obligation to help feed the hungry. I think the American people find it interesting that we're providing food for the North Korea people who starve.

We have an obligation to lead the fight on AIDS, on Africa. And we have an obligation to work toward a more free world. That's our obligation. That is what we have been called to do, as far as I'm concerned.

Okay, first, with this thing about God talking to him again, it may work with some but it's starting to get a lot of people worried, those at least who heard the relatively suppressed news report that Bush once stated that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

bushpc4Then there's the idea that Bush was responsible for feeding people in North Korea--that was a program started under Clinton that Republicans have attacked him for, as being too friendly and appeasing; Bush has let the North Korean situation degrade so far that a few days ago, North Korea publicly announced that Bush is "driving the military situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war." And AIDS in Africa is something that Bush promised but has not followed through on. How duplicitous can this guy be and still get away with it like he does?

Finally, he called on Don Gonyea of NPR, who asked Bush if he failed as a communicator, failed to make his case. To which, Bush said we'd have to wait to see what voters say in November--and then went straight into what was obviously a well-rehearsed ending statement to wrap things up. "I hope today you've got a sense of my conviction ... the course this administration is taking will make America more secure and the world more free ... It's a conviction that's deep in my soul."

He even managed to take a swipe at Kerry, implying that a vote for him was one for leadership, and a vote for Kerry was one to shirk responsibility. Cute.

Two points I'd like to make. First: reporters are spineless. I remember a day when reporters used to respond to a president's statement with the words, "But Mr. President," and then take on the president about a misstatement or obvious obfuscation he'd made. Bush told a long string of whoppers here, and the reporters just let them slide by.

Second, the media analysis after the press conference. I had to ask myself if these people had really watched the same press conference I had. Everyone was glowing about how Bush handled himself so well, made his case so well on Iraq and national defense. My father put it in a more understandable light, pointing out that the bar has been set so low (Bush did call himself the master of lowered expectations), and Bush's more outrageous lies were on things that won't necessarily come back to bite him--for example, he could lie about North Korea, AIDS in Africa, the claims about details in WMD, or what exactly the 9/11 warnings were in terms of hijackings or using planes--that most of the public is not well enough versed to catch on to stuff like that. I agree to a point, but frankly, that's supposed to be the job of the press--to inform people on such things--and it is clear that the mainstream press is just as content to stay at the same removed, uneducated level of analysis and criticism that most Americans seem to have nowadays.

That needs to change, and I would be just as happy if that changed at the start of a new Kerry administration--so long as it continues into the next Republican administration as well. But I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by Luis at 01:27 PM | Comments (3)

Bush Press Conference, 4/13/2004: Questions Part I

Okay, Bush clearly was looking at and calling reporters from a list, right up until the end. However, the reporters he called on did not seem like the usual right-wing bevy, at least. And there were some tough questions.

One theme, found in many questions, was to see if Bush would take up the tone of Richard Clarke and apologize, take some responsibility for what happened, and admit to mistakes. Bush steadfastly refused to do so. He didn't come right out and say "I'm not sorry for anything," but he came close. When directly questioned on whether he'd made any mistakes, he said he was sure he'd made some, but none came to mind--"I'm sure that something will pop into my head," he told correspondent John F. Robertson, in the pressure of the press conference.

bushpc1It was amazingly clear how Bush wandered into and out of his scripted, practiced lines--he would be speaking eloquently one moment, but then seem flustered, lost and fumbling for words the next. It made those scripted parts sound as artificial as they really were.

He started off with some softballs, clearly lined up--question about comparing Iraq with Vietnam ("I think the analogy is false"), and for more troops to be sent (he put all the onus and responsibility on the shoulders of General Abizaid; "if that's what he wants, that's what he gets ... If he wants to keep troops there to help, I'm more than willing to say, yes, General Abizaid").

Terry Moran of ABC then asked about how Bush reconciles what we know today with his claims that "U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers; that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction; and that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction." Bush's first response--"He was a threat because he had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. He was a threat because he coddled terrorists. He was a threat because he funded suiciders. He was a threat to the region. He was a threat to the United States"--was essentially a boiled-down list, the dry sediment of the many, many accusations that Bush has made before, but limited to the few precipitated accusations that can still even distantly be called true, knowing what we know today. Of course, they're full of deception--we gave him the chemical weapons to use on his own people and Reagan did nothing about it at the time, as Hussein was our friend; the terrorists he "coddled" were few, and it is unclear if any of them were a real threat to us; and I have never heard any report that Hussein actually paid his promised bounty to the families of suicide bombers in Palestine. Saddam was not much of a threat to anybody at the time, much less the U.S.

bushpc2Bush then went on about how Saddam refused to disarm--well, disarm what? This seems to be an extension or variation of Bush's past claim that we wanted inspectors, but Saddam wouldn't let them in--a Bush claim that was complete fiction. The best Bush could provide in the way of evidence was a guy named Charlie Duelfer, and how this guy found the Iraqis to have been deceptive in some vague way. Bush said that Duelfer "confirmed that Saddam had the ability to produce biological and chemical weapons." A lie, of course--how did he confirm that? Even in front of a mass of reporters, Bush has the gall to make up fiction like that. We never confirmed that Hussein could do that, except in the broad sense that anyone with access to the Internet could whip up primitive chemical weapons like mustard gas in his garage.

The next question, from Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times, really put Bush into a tailspin. She asked, "do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11th?"

Now, to understand how badly Bush fell apart at this time, you really have to see it for yourself. I'll see if I can capture this part and put it up for view. Bush's transcript goes like this:

Let me put that -- quote to Woodward in context, because he had asked me if I was -- something about killing bin Laden. That's what the question was.

And I said, you know, compared to how I felt at the time, after the attack, I didn't have that -- and I also went on to say, my blood wasn't boiling, I think is what the quote said.

I didn't see -- I mean, I didn't have that great sense of outrage that I felt on September the 11th. I was, huh -- on that day, I was angry and sad. Angry that -- al-Qaida -- I thought at the time al-Qaida, found out shortly thereafter it was al-Qaida -- had unleashed this attack. Sad for those who lost their life.

Umm... Your question, do I feel -- yes?

Bush then fell into an easier, though disengaged and choppy scripted mode, and wandered from topic to topic, of course never admitting to any responsibility, or to any error. But his overall response to this question was uncoordinated and flustered, to be generous. (Betcha they don't play that back very often on TV.) He stuck in bits and pieces of stuff he'd obviously been primed to spit out at some point: the Patriot Act is an important change, we weren't on a war footing, we were kind of stovepiped, there were gathering threats, we must do everything in our power to find these killers and bring them to justice before they hurt us again. Nothing in real response to the question, just hitting the highlights of his political agenda. The "war footing" idea he pounded home, 3 or 4 times in his speaking tonight, as an excuse as to why they didn't successfully prevent 9/11.

His fumbling continued when David Gregory followed up on the previous questions, noting that Bush never admits a mistake. Bush hemmed and hawed, brought up "war footing" again, and, of course, did not admit to any mistakes. "But there was nobody in our government," he pointed out, "that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale." Well, no one there must have ever read Tom Clancy. It also avoids the point that Edwin Chen of the L.A. Times brought up next, that the reports did talk about hijacking--so why didn't Bush or others do anything about airplane security? Bush first dissembled that the air threat mentioned was referring to the Genoa G8 Conference (where there were anti-aircraft batteries and Bush slept on an aircraft carrier to avoid airplane terrorism). This is wrong, because it refers to FBI information about hijackings in the U.S.

He also tried to slough off blame to the CIA, saying that Tenet was his information source, blaming the FBI, saying that their report made it seem like they were doing their job--after which, a Fox News reporter lobbed the softball that the FBI misreported the number of field investigations, to which Bush glommed on: "of course I expect to get valid information. I can't make good decisions unless I get valid information." In the previous question, Bush also parroted Rice's "move heaven and earth" quote, if only they had been told exactly when, where and how the attack was going to take place. I've commented on that red herring before.

Bush then again sidestepped a question from John Roberts of CBS about whether he'd apologize, expressing sympathy, but claiming the responsibility was Osama bin Laden's, and not the least bit his own. My own take on this is that bin Laden is like a mad dog--he'll hurt you, of course, but the dogcatcher is responsible for getting him off the streets before he bites your children. If the dogcatcher is asleep on the job, he can't go whining about how the dog was responsible for everything.

To be continued...

Posted by Luis at 12:20 PM | Comments (2)

Bush Press Conference, 4/13/2004: Main Statement

bushpcaThe conference is about to begin. One concern that has come up in my mind is how the press will or will not be played by the administration this time. If you will recall, in his last East Room press conference in March last year, the press was both controlled and beaten down--reporters were hand-picked, Bush Communications director Dan Bartlett knowing who would ask what and choosing only those that Bush wanted and expected; reporters that might ask hardballs were shuffled to the back of the room or left out altogether; no follow-up questions unless Bush granted them specifically... Here Bush comes, we'll find out.

Bush starts off with a Bushism: "This has been tough weeks in that country." Not a strong start, he already sounds like he's having a tough time pronouncing words, and not just the foreign names.

One of his first points is to run down and besmirch al Sadr, the Muslim cleric who is our biggest (or at least most noted) thorn in Iraq at present. He talks about personally presenting purple hearts to wounded soldiers, and about the dead. "We will finish the work of the fallen." Using the deaths of honorable soldiers to legitimize his cause again, I see.

He then directly attacks the need for more troops, and says he will send them--but quickly pirouettes back to the handover of power to the Iraqis, saying he will stick to his schedule, and continues on about how Iraq must be "independent, free, and secure." This is a common tactic in his speech--when he addresses a difficult point, he spits it out quickly, then immediately pivots to another, more comfortable area where he can sound bold and patriotic.

He speaks of getting Fallujah back to order, wanting to put it back into the hands of Iraqi forces (because they will not go in until the fighting stops). But he also mentions the demand for the Iraqis to hand over those who mutilated the bodies of the four mercenaries; this might be a sticking point.

In talking about the handover of power, he actually invokes the U.N. presence, not to mention NATO--despite their incredibly limited role so far. He talks about bringing NATO into Iraq in stronger form, but how that will be accomplished is as yet unclear.

Ah. Here we go. This is where he drops the other shoe, letting people know that after the handover of power, we will continue to be there militarily--as I mentioned about his tactics, he steps away from that statement right quick--but he got it in there. I have long held that Bush would be in trouble trying to make people think that we're leaving Iraq, while we will actually have a great many troops there for many, many years to come.

And now he is reaching his trembling-voice, solemn invocation of atrocities committed by our enemies. His "they're such horrible, violent, unforgivable thugs we have no choice but to do this." He talks about the hostages, the roadside bombs--going through a laundry list of crimes, including killing women, murdering Jews, even threatening freedoms of Americans in America. And now, a few minutes into that streak, the people fighting us in Iraq have morphed into terrorists, specifically al Qaeda.

He is finishing off that tirade with another laundry list of how the world would end if we follow any other path but that which he lays down, followed by the inevitable teary-eyed "we're fighting for freedom" and "it'll get harder before it gets easier."

Okay, I have my notes on the questions, and will post the analysis so far, coming back as soon as I can with the questions and an analysis of Bush's answers.

Posted by Luis at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

Bush Press Conference in One Hour

It's been about a year since the last one held in the East Room of the White House, where he lied through his teeth about what Iraq was up to ("He has trained and financed ... al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations ... He has weapons of mass destruction ... I will not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons"). The conference tonight is supposed to be on "where we are in Iraq right now and where we are headed."

After three and a half years, Bush will have given only 12 solo press conferences, the fewest of any president in modern history. At this point in their presidencies, Bush Sr. had had 75 such conferences, Carter 55, Clinton 40, Nixon 25 and even the stick-to-the-script Reagan had 22. This will be Bush's 3rd prime-time conference ever.

This conference will begin with an unusually-long (18 minutes) opening statement focusing only on Iraq--with the escalating violence (80 Americans killed so far this month), the hand-off of power (well, the illusion of it anyway) coming soon, and while he promised to bring troops home, he's probably going to be making 20,000 troops stay longer in Iraq.

I'll be watching this one and taking notes, posting soon thereafter.

Now, where's my blood pressure medication?

Posted by Luis at 08:50 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2004

Back in Action Again

Okay, so I was wrong. And glad to be so.

When I dropped my Canon PowerShot 30 on the concrete floor at Costco last night, I figured that was it for old Bessy. I'd already dropped it once before (leaving the lens cover slightly off kilter), but this time I thought it was done for. Or, at least, that it would cost almost as much as the camera, or more than a few hundred dollars at least, and a week or so to repair it.

Just to make sure, I called up Canon today, and they put me in touch with their shop in Shinjuku (where I happened to be going today anyway), and it happens I know the place--their Zero-One shop on the 1st floor of the Mitsui Building. I used to go there all the time when I was working at a language school on the 46th floor of the Shinjuku Center Building across the street.

So I went in there and asked, and the guy said, "Looks like it's the optical unit. Hmm. Yeah, we can fix it." I asked him how much, and that's where the day started getting better. 12,000 yen, he said (about $115). How long will it take, I asked. "Let's see... can you come back at..." (he looked at a schedule) "... about 5:15 pm?" About two hours later. Cool.

So I went to work to drop off the grades for my three courses, just completed, and now we get a one-month vacation--and my box of Amazon.com DVDs came, with the Jurassic Park boxed set, Friends 6th season and Futurama 3rd season, among a few others. Even better. Then to the dentist--wouldn't you know, no cavities. Then back to the camera shop, pick up a working camera, and home.

The weather was lousy today--55 degrees F and overcast, while it was about 80 degrees and sunny yesterday. But things worked out a lot better today than yesterday, so I guess it evens out for me.

The photo at top right, by the way, is of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Shintaro Ishihara is in there somewhere), taken just outside the Canon shop entrance, to test the repaired camera.

Posted by Luis at 09:24 PM | Comments (1)

If This Is "Under Control"...

... then I'd hate to see what "out of control" looks like. In the first twelve days of April, 73 Americans (the number increased as I wrote this) and 2 other coalition soldiers were killed in fighting. That makes this month the deadliest for Americans, even more so than when the fighting was at its worst in the initial invasion. 65 Americans died in 12 days of fighting when the invasion started in March 2003.

Think about it: we've been in Iraq for a year now. And yet American soldiers are dying more today than they were when Saddam Hussein was in control, and we were invading from the outside. How can it be that we have Iraq "under control" now?

The Iraqi people, even those who welcomed Americans at first, are now feeling humiliated, threatened and angry. They see more and more Iraqis, all too often innocent "collateral damage" victims, all too often children. They are an occupied country, and despite the machinations of the Bush press offices in Washington D.C. and Baghdad, things for them are not better than they were under Saddam. They see a foreign force installing a puppet government and establishing more than a dozen permanent military bases, and do not much wonder where the oil profits are going to. The religious factions of Sunni and Shiite are actually united, but not to form Bush's desired government, rather to fight the coalition. Al Sadr has become a new national hero. No wonder more and more Iraqis are deciding to fight.

Then there are the points about our sources. Already tired, demoralized, and upset about being in a place they never thought they would have to go to for a far longer time than they thought they would ever be required to be, the hot, dry summer is coming and fewer and fewer trained soldiers will be replacing them--non-active, lesser-trained reserves will be the bulk of the replacements. Then there are the lost jobs, lost marriages, and suicides, the Veterans' benefits weakened by the GOP, and the prospect of being called back as our men and women will be there in numbers at 14 permanent bases for at least 10 years. And then there's the explosion of violence and conflict. Rumsfeld said last week that if the American generals in Iraq want more troops, all they have to do is ask. Well, they're asking. Rumsfeld is still silent.

And now there is the Iraqi army, which was supposed to pick up some of the slack from the coalition forces, telling the American command en masse that they will not be going into Fallujah, thank you very much, because they did not sign up to roll in and kill other Iraqis.

I was interrupted for about an hour and a half and came back to this. In that time, another soldier was reported killed. 74 for 12 days in April, perhaps more by the end of day.

This is "under control"?

Posted by Luis at 01:45 AM | Comments (1)

April 12, 2004

Mt. Takao... And Probably the Last Photos That Camera Will Take

Damn.

Not about the photos, no. The photos came out really well, as they usually do with the camera. See?

tak10

tak1aNo, the thing I'm upset about is my own stupidity. I was careless with the camera when I stopped at Costco on the way back. I picked my jacket up out of the cart as I unloaded it at the checkout counter, and I heard a loud, sharp CRACK! on the rock-hard cement floor. The camera had slipped out and fallen onto the concrete.

I paid for my things and set the cart aside, and when I turned the camera on there was hope--the display on the back showed the pictures I'd taken earlier just fine.

But when I turned to photo mode, the screen was black. Obviously either the CCD receptors are broken, or something connecting them to the camera is. And this is not a clumsy trinket to be casually disassembled--nor is it under warranty any more. I had it just under two years. Took thousands of photos with it, it served me incredibly well--but it should have lasted five or ten years, not less than two.

The ironic thing is, just the other night I looked at C/Net reviews to see what the current top-rated mid-range digital camera is. And guess what. It's still the exact same model that I have, the Canon PowerShot S30. If I want to replace it with the best camera of its type, I have to get the same camera--can't even get a new camera with better features. That speaks volumes for the value of the camera--and doesn't make me feel too hot about having broken this one.

I suppose I could get it repaired, of course I'll check it out--but such repairs often exceed the price of a brand-new camera, and then you have to worry about it breaking again.

Don't you hate it when stuff like this happens? Still, there is no denying it: if that's my worst problem in life, then I guess I am in excellent shape. Ah well.

Posted by Luis at 08:20 PM | Comments (2)

Spring Sunrise

sunrise410

One of the benefits of spending a sleepless night because of a bad cold--you get to see the sunrise.

Posted by Luis at 12:08 PM | Comments (2)

2 + 2 = 9/11

Before I mention too many new developments, I very much want to reiterate one solid point: while the Bush administration did not get telegraphed the exact time, date, location and method of the 9/11, they did in fact receive more than enough information to put them on a higher alert, so that they should have asked for and seen the clearer warnings of 9/11 that never got passed up far enough for them to see--and they could have easily prevented 9/11 had they done so. I reiterate this because I see so many excuses from Bush & Co. getting far too much credence in recent days. Here's the equation:

From the beginning of the year, they were warned by Clinton administration officials that al Qaeda cells were in fact in the country. On July 6th, the CIA warned of a terrorist attack that would be "catastrophic," and that would be quantitatively different from anything that had been done to date. In late July, during the Genoa conference, they were made acutely aware of al Qaeda's plans to use aircraft as weapons. And in the now-infamous August 6th Presidential Daily Briefing (PDF file), it was made clear that there was a great deal of al Qaeda activity in the U.S., and there were hints that they were planning to hijack aircraft.

None of that equals 9/11, as Bush is desperate to point out, but here is what it does equal: they knew that al Qaeda was here, they were up to something, and it would be very bad. That much is not in question, is not challenged. So, their reaction should have been this: shake the trees. Something bad is coming guys, and we want anything and everything even remotely concerned with al Qaeda given top priority. Bush's people claim they did this, but it is incredibly obvious they did not. If they had, then two key pieces of intelligence would have fallen from the trees, namely: the Phoenix Memo of July 10, sent from Phoenix FBI agent Kenneth Williams, which reported that individuals connected to Osama bin Laden were studying at flight schools in the area, and there was "the possibility of a coordinated effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation universities and colleges," and "[t]he individuals will be in a position in the future to conduct terror activity against civil aviation targets." And then, there was the August 15th arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in Minnesota, a man with jihadist connections who was training to fly commercial jets, but with no prior flying experience and no explanation of how he got his funding or why he was in the U.S. And it's not like the agents involved weren't stressing the intel enough.

That's what Rice would have seen: two reports within one month of potential terrorists attending flight schools in the U.S., with reports elsewhere that bin Laden was (a) thinking of using airplanes, and (b) planning a "catastrophic" attack on the U.S.

That would have been more than enough for Rice to look at and say, "hmmm, let's maybe send some FBI agents out to all the other flight schools around the country and see if there are any suspicious, Middle-Eastern flight school students with possible terrorist links." From there, it would have taken only a few days to find the majority of the suspects, go to high alert, investigate the suspects, give warnings to airports and law enforcement agencies nationwide, and well before 9/11, slap their asses in jail. No 9/11.

This method was proved in the millennium terror attempts, and the perfect job that Clinton's people did in preventing all of the al Qaeda attacks in Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston and New York. Sure, the one Seattle customs agent Rice pointed to got lucky, but (a) only because she was warned and directed to look for something in a way that Rice never warned FBI agents to do, and (b) that was only one of many attacks that were foiled by the tree-shaking which Richard Clarke described.

"But we didn't have enough time to get things set up," the Bush people whine, "233 days wasn't enough time!" Bull. A few weeks would be all that it took. A massive reorganization of the intelligence community would have been nice (though Bush & Co. were against homeland security and were cutting counter-terrorism funding), but that wasn't enough to keep the government from working--as Clinton's people showed us in the millennium terrorist roll-up. The FBI was in place, Clinton's experienced counter-terrorism people were still there, trying to tell the Bushies to do what they should have done, and the Bush people were in place. Time is not what killed the making of the connection. It was the lack of will to focus on terrorism, the plain dearth of common sense. There was more than enough time.

"But we never got warnings in the form of giant, flashing neon signs that told us the time, date, flight numbers and methods of the hijackings!" the Bush people cry desperately (and repeatedly). Well, if that's what you need to stop a terrorist attack, then we are in deep shit, because you never get that kind of detailed information in the real world. This excuse is the worst of all, because it is so ridiculous, so pathetic beneath the false formica veneer of its surface, that there is no doubt whatsoever that Rice and Bush know that they are misleading the people, desperate enough to use such a lame excuse because it's all they've got. As I have laid out above, there was more than enough warning. All the pieces were there. It would not have been hard at all to put them together without the benefit of hindsight; all it would have taken was basic competence to put 2 plus 2 together. But because Bush & Co. were do damned focused on missile defense, because terrorism was antithetical to that agenda, and because they were so keen to diss anything even smelling of Clinton, they failed to do what they needed in order to get that second "2" of the equation, and so they failed to add the pieces together. As a result, the terrorists walked right past the otherwise-engaged Bush administration, right onto the airplanes and committed their atrocious act.

There is no excuse folks, and don't let any of the Bushies tell you otherwise.

Posted by Luis at 11:40 AM | Comments (2)

April 11, 2004

Hostages, Released and Taken

Okay, a lot of stuff going on here. First, there is a report that the three Japanese hostages reported on earlier will be released. Apparently, there was "mediation by the Islamic Clerics Committee - an Iraqi Sunni Muslim organization." The hostage-takers revised their demand to having the Japanese people bring their case to their government to pull out their troops, which makes little sense in two ways: the troops are not there to fight, but to reconstruct, and there is little chance the Japanese people will press their government on the issue, by their request or otherwise. But the hostages will likely be released, so great news.

On the other hand, this seems to have started a trend. This group claims to have an American hostage, and may be one of six Americans--two soldiers and four civilian contractors--who are currently missing after an attack near Baghdad International Airport. This might be the same group that claims to have taken as many as thirty hostages, as they claimed to have killed American soldiers and have the bodies--though they claim to have killed four, not the two reported missing. "We are calling for the withdrawal of American and coalition forces," they reported; "We have Japanese, Bulgarian, Israeli, American, Spanish and Korean hostages." They threatened that "[i]f America doesn't lift its blockade of Falluja their heads will be cut off."

It looks like this will not be the end of the story, not by far. If they start taking more and more civilian hostages, this could become even more of a morass for the United States and other coalition states.

Posted by Luis at 11:46 AM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2004

From Kung-Log to Ecto

It may be time for an upgrade.

For a while now, I have been using the freeware/donationware "Kung-Log" app for the Mac to make my blog entries. I am just finishing up grading my final exams (and finishing up suffering from a particularly bad throat cold, but you don't want to hear about that, trust me), and was planning to reinstall Kung-Log, as it had started to get buggy on me--I could no longer retrieve posted articles to edit, for example, and the comment and format settings would switch at apparently random times.

But now the same people have evolved Kung-Log, changing its name and status: it is now called Ecto, and is now shareware (US$17.95, two-week free trial allowed; visit their web site).

ecto1

ecto3For those of you who are not familiar with this kind of thing, it's a blog authoring tool. Usually, when you make entries in your blog, you have to do so through your browser, in a web page format using forms and CGI scripts. It can be tedious, requiring jumping between several pages (which can take a while at times), there is no spell-checking (unless you have outfitted your browser that way), certain blog software works differently with some browsers (they're usually designed to work optimally with Explorer, which I hate), and if the browsers crashes, you're out of luck, unless you publish often as a draft, which can also be a pain. And forget about uploading images, I couldn't even figure that one out.

Blog authoring tools are stand-alone apps which are designed to make blogging much easier. They allow easier access to functions, speedy response, and in-line spell-checking, along with easy image uploading--a huge help. For those of you poor souls stuck with a PC, the common tool is W.Bloggar, a clunky tool at best. For the Mac, there has been Kung-Log, and while snazzy, it needed a cleaning-up--and it got that, with the new version, Ecto.

Ecto is very similar in form to Kung-Log. Most of the features are the same, though many have morphed a little bit. For example, the various text windows (Main, Continuation, Summary) have been divided into tabs; the categories are now a check-box list, not a pull-down menu; the recent entries and drafts have both been removed from tabbed placements in the slide-out drawer, and thrown together into a single window, which is now searchable (a la iTunes, though the entry with the search term is highlighted, and the list does not reduce to found entries only); the upload manager has a few more features; and there is now a status window that tells you what is going on.

ecto4

ecto7Another feature brought over from Kung-Log is the ability to set HTML tags. Let's say you like to put quotes from others in blockquotes, in italics. This would usually require typing "blockquotes" and "em" in brackets before the quote, and the ending versions (with a slash before the command) at the end of the quote. You can set such HTML tags in Kung-Log/Ecto, along with your own hotkey commands; just select the text you want to affect, and type the command. Ecto will automatically place the HTML for you.

The same is true for images, which are a snap here. First, place the cursor where you want the picture to go. Open the Upload Manager window, drag and drop an image (or other) file onto the preview window, select your settings (alternate text, alignment, borders, margins, etc,), then click Upload. Ecto automatically sends the image up to your web site, and then places the required HTML tags in your entry where you left the cursor. This is perhaps one of the most indispensable features of the program if you want to include photos in your blog like I do.

There is another feature which, for a while, I mistook as a bug: in Kung-Log, when I set the URLs to Ping (this is a feature that alerts blog monitoring web sites when you post a new entry; you can add more monitoring sites manually), the new settings disappeared when I quit and returned later. This happened ecto6with Ecto also, but my Upload Image settings seemed to have reset as well. I finally figured out that to avoid this happening, you have to change the settings, then go to the Draft menu and select "Save Settings." I don't like this bit, as it struck me as counter-intuitive, but it seems to be just a difference of opinion between myself and other users; according to the software author, it is set up this way at the request of users who use different settings, but only by exception.

New features in Ecto: the new windows, the redesign of the buttons, tabs, drawers and palettes; a very easy setup procedure, you just have to type the blog's URL, your username and your password, and Ecto does the rest; inter-operability with iPhoto for photo placement (I haven't tried this yet), to go along with the long-standing feature of including a note of what you're playing on iTunes at the time of posting; and very importantly, a now truly-WYSIWYG preview window (Kung-Log's was not in the least accurate). Another improvement is better save features. In Kung-Log, the app went into spinning-beachball wait mode when it was posting an entry, something which could take some time. Ecto does this in the background, allowing you to get on to the next task immediately.

Ecto can post in English as well as Japanese, French and German, can switch between brushed metal and OS X eye-candy skins, is highly customizable and and has tons of features, many of which I haven't explored yet. It can post to Movable Type, TypePad, Metaweblog, Blogger, WordPress, MarkDown, and Nucleus weblog platforms. If you blog a lot on your Mac, it can soon become something you can't live without. I'll very likely be buying the upgrade when the trial runs out, save if some hairy bug presents itself before then, which I doubt.

ecto88x31
Posted by Luis at 10:58 PM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2004

We Were Warned

As I mentioned before, one thing that was clear in Rice's testimony was that she wanted to bring the point home on a set of talking points, repeating them several times so that they were certain to make the sound-bite reel. Ones that stood out included that Bush met with CIA chief and other principles almost every day; there was no "silver bullet" that would have stopped 9/11; there were "structural problems" that were the real cause of the problem (she mentioned this a few dozen times); the August 6th PDB was "historical" in nature, not a warning; that Clarke was responsible for a lot (implying that he was more to blame), and the like.

But the one point that stuck out to me was the idea that the Bush administration was not at fault because there was no specific warning about 9/11, that we did not get the specific date, time, location and method of the attack. Commission member James R. Thompson (R) repeated that, saying that we didn't know "when where and how" the attacks would come. The attacks were too vague, Rice pounded home.

I mean, come on. If we can only stop attacks if we have the exact plans telegraphed to us, then we are in huge trouble. It's a shameless red herring, saying that we didn't have good enough intel.

Let's review what we did know.

  • On January 25th, Clarke told Rice that there were al Qaeda sleeper cells in the U.S., and gave warnings that al Qaeda was the greatest terrorist threat facing the U.S.

  • In the summer of 2001, the FBI uncovered the fact that al Qaeda operatives were in the U.S., and were planning an attack using airplanes, according to Sibel Edmonds.

  • On July 6th, the CIA warned of a terrorist attack that would be "catastrophic," and that would be quantitatively different from anything that had been done to date.

  • On July 10th, Phoenix, AZ FBI agent Kenneth Williams reported that individuals connected to Osama bin Laden were studying at flight schools in the area, and there was "the possibility of a coordinated effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation universities and colleges," and "[t]he individuals will be in a position in the future to conduct terror activity against civil aviation targets." [this point added in edit]

  • On July 20-22, Rice and Bush were both at an economic summit in Genoa, Italy, where there was specific intelligence about bin Laden using jet liners to attack the summit; the threat was taken so seriously that there were anti-aircraft batteries deployed in the city, and Bush spent the night on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.

  • On August 6th, the PDB was titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

  • On August 16th, Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota on immigration charges, a man who had jihadist connections, who had been in a flight school in Minnesota trying to learn how to fly a commercial jetliner despite having no prior training, had no explanation for the funds in his bank account, and no explanation for why he was in the United States. The Minnesota FBI was trying to pursue the matter, pushing a reluctant Washington FBI bureau.

  • And on September 4, Richard Clarke sent Rice a memo warning Rice "to imagine a day after hundreds of Americans lay dead at home and abroad after a terrorist attack."
And that's just the warnings that we've been told about. Clearly, there could be and probably are warnings that are still classified and hidden by the Bush administration (like the August 6th PDB, the title of which was classified until yesterday).

Knowing all of this, it becomes all but impossible to imagine that the September 11 attacks were not preventable. It is a fact that from the start, the Bush administration did not take the terrorism threat very seriously, the put major emphasis on missile defense, and just before 9/11 they cut counter-terrorism funding.

However, if Rice and Bush had taken the threat seriously from the start, alerts could have been put out to intelligence agencies to be alert for anything possibly related to this (as commission member Gorelick pointed out, they were not given any such warnings or instructions). In July, Rice had sufficient warnings that something was coming along, such that if she had "shaken the tree" in earnest, if she had told the FBI and CIA to go on high alert and pass on all warnings, they would have learned about the Edmonds tapes, and would have known something big was coming--and then Zacarias Moussaoui would have stuck out like a gigantic sore thumb. With him, they would have had a potential terrorist training for jet piloting; that would have led them to check pilot training schools across the U.S. for others like him, they would have found most of the other hijackers, and could have rolled up the entire operation with weeks to spare.

This is not pie-in-the-sky or pure hindsight, this is real information that could have been passed on, and probably would have been under Gore because he would have carried on with Clinton policies that called for this kind of thing.

We were warned. We did have information specific enough to lead us to find the terrorists. This was not an inevitable attack. Rice screwed up. Bush blew it. It's as simple as that.

Posted by Luis at 03:30 PM | Comments (3)

Hostage Terror

knifeMore details have come out about the three Japanese hostages held in Japan, some of them harrowing:

"The government will do its utmost so that those who have become hostages will be safely released as soon as possible," he said, adding there is "no reason" for Japan to withdraw troops that are conducting humanitarian reconstruction aid for Iraqi people. ...

Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the kidnappers shouted "Allahu akbar" — God is great — in the video and held knives to the throats of the Japanese. ...

In the full video, four masked men point knives and swords at the blindfolded captives as they lay on the floor of a room with concrete walls.

At one point, a gunman holds a knife to the throat of one of the men, whose blindfold has been removed; his eyes widen in panic and he struggles to try to get free. The woman screams and weeps.

A Senior SDF (Self-Defense Forces) official said, "We could be laughed at by other countries if we run away." Perhaps true enough, but it seems to me that this is not really the point. I think that it is a foregone conclusion that Japan will not agree to any sort of pullout in exchange for the hostages. The question is whether the hostage-takers, if they can even be contacted, will agree to anything less than a troop pullout as a reason for not killing the hostages.

And if the hostages are killed, especially if it done in a way that would shock the Japanese people--especially with such personal information, names and faces and families to associate with the victims--what will be the political fallout, not just for the current Koizumi government, but for the whole right-wing-led movement to remilitarize Japan?

Interestingly, the news reports in Japan seem to be emphasizing the fact that this terrorist group, calling themselves the "Mujahedeen Brigades," is not on the list of known terrorist groups, and seem to be suggesting that this is not truly a political terrorist action, but rather one done for money or other non-political reasons.

I spoke to two Japanese acquaintances about the issue, one who supported sending the SDF forces, the other against. Both mentioned that the three people who went there went of their own volition, and they knew the risks; therefore, although this is a terrible thing, it is not really related to the SDF forces being in Japan. The target--three civilians--didn't seem to make sense. Japan's SDF forces, while armed, are only doing reconstruction work, so why target Japan? My friend who supported the SDF being there said that killing these three civilians wouldn't change their mind on sending people to help reconstruct Iraq, though they did say that if SDF forces became the targets, they might change their opinion because it would clearly be too dangerous.

One factor that plays into this matter laterally is the nature of the SDF forces sent overseas. This is a political hot potato in Japan, though the lines are sometimes blurred. My friend who supported the SDF being in Iraq saw them as purely reconstruction workers, and while armed, armed only for self-defense. That much is of course true, but there are deeper politics involved. If the forces are only there for reconstruction, then why send military troops? My own belief is that this is a gradated political effort to transform Japan's constitutionally mandated self-defense-only military stance into one that allows Japanese troops to go overseas--right now, just a fledgling step to do reconstruction, but as time goes on, perhaps they will take on more of a military role--one which would naturally evolve as armed Japanese soldiers are sent into combat zones.

So while I agree that the hostage situation is not really connected to the political situation per se, and the hostage takers chose a strange and perhaps even meaningless or powerless manner to effect change, this situation is a direct consequence of changing Japan's military stance.

Comments?

Posted by Luis at 12:10 PM | Comments (9)

Center for American Progress

Soon as I get the time, I will add this site to my Link Board. The Center for American Progress really does a bang-up job of highlighting information that you need to know to deal with the constant stream of disinformation and lies coming out of the Bush White House.

Most recently: their coverage of the Rice testimony before the 9/11 commission, and specifically the August 6th Presidential Daily Briefing entitled, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'The highlights:

* The Bush administration hid the PDB, probably because it was called "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." That is a bit embarrassing. "The American public deserves to know what President Bush knew and when." Right on.

* There were "explicit and repeated warnings about al Qaeda attacks." Rice claimed that the FBI sent warnings to field offices, but the commission member could find not a single piece of evidence to verify this.

* The administration did little or nothing to combat terrorism before 9/11. The administration even tried to cut counterterrorism funding.

Posted by Luis at 10:36 AM | Comments (3)

Rice Testifies

I have been watching the Rice testimony (it's still not over right now) before the 9/11 Commission, and it has been both interesting and predictable. It has been predictable as Rice has given the same old stale excuses about why they didn't do anything: they only had 233 days, there were structural problems that kept the agencies from communicating, there was never any specific information about al Qaeda attacks, and no matter when they could have started to do anything, there just wasn't any time to do anything that could have prevented 9/11.

On the other hand, there have been some surprises, and a little declassification, such as the fact that a PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) while Bush was on vacation in Crawford was titled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States." Rice tried to dismiss this as a "historical document," that it did not address potential threats but just covered what bin Laden had done in the past. This PDB is still not declassified, and despite many requests by the Democratic members to declassify it, Rice hemmed and hawed and avoided answering directly. Obviously if this memo were declassified, there would be some pretty damaging information there.

Rice also kept saying that the threats were vague, and that she would have "moved heaven and earth" to stop the attacks if they had known the day, the targets, and the manner of the attacks. The thing is, one almost never gets that kind of detailed information. If you have to be telegraphed such detailed info in order to stop an attack, then you are pretty undeniably incompetent--a responsible and even halfway competent administration would take warnings, just like the ones it did receive, and work to locate more detailed information, and institute security measures that could be used to thwart the attack. Rice's repeated claims that there was nothing she or anyone else could have done come across as self-serving, to say the least.

A great moment was when Bob Kerrey asked about Bush being "tired of swatting flies," which Rice had spoken of time and again, and he blew that simpering platitude out of the water by asking Rice exactly which flies had he swatted--pointing out that Bush could not have tired of something he hadn't done yet. Rice, of course, avoided the question. Kerrey's question, hopefully, clarified to the public that these kinds of sound bites that Rice was clearly trying to put out there for the media to pick up ("swatting flies," "structural problems," "no silver bullet") really are empty and meaningless.

There is a lot of information here to go over, and I'm sure we'll be going over a lot of this very soon.

UPDATE: The Commission's head stated that they have made a direct request to the White House to declassify the PDB, and that will be answered perhaps by next week.

Posted by Luis at 12:55 AM | Comments (2)

April 08, 2004

Japan Now Tested on Its Military Commitment

Three Japanese civilians Japanese civilians have been kidnaped in Iraq, along with seven or eight South Koreans. The three Japanese are being focused on now, as a videotape has been released (and shown on NHK national television) showing their identities, along with a message of extortion forwarded by Al-Jazeera: "Three of your sons have fallen into our hands. We offer you two choices: either pull out your forces, or we will burn them alive. We give you three days starting the day this tape is broadcast."

The three, two men and one woman, have been identified as Noriaki Imai (18), Soichiro Koriyama (32) and Nahoko Takato (34).

This will be an extremely difficult problem for Prime Minister Koizumi, as the story of these three Japanese citizens will be closely followed, and he and his policy to support the Iraq war and sending Japanese military (Self-Defense Forces, or SDF) to battle zones. If the Japanese people are faced with three of their citizens, with names and faces, being burned alive as sacrifices to Koizumi's militaristic policies, then Koizumi's government will be faced with a grave test to justify themselves.

This is significant because Koizumi and others have been pressing for Japan to take a much more militaristic stance, changing the post-war constitution (or sidestepping it) to allow Japan to send armed troops overseas and have more than just defensive forces. The conservatives here have long been pressing hard for this, with the right-wing Yomiuri media corporation especially using its media outlets to popularize the campaign.

But when you do things like that, things like this happen. Until now, the Japanese people have uneasily acquiesced to this campaign--but faced with a terrorist response with such a personal face, it is uncertain how the Japanese people will respond to all of this.

UPDATE: The seven South Koreans, evangelical Christian ministers, have been freed. Two Arab men have also been kidnaped, and at least one had a U.S. driver's license, and attended school in the U.S. The Japanese government has already stated publicly that it will not withdraw its troops, saying it has "no reason" to do so.

This information on the hostages comes from Japan Today:

Koriyama, 32, is a freelance journalist from Miyazaki Prefecture. The video footage showed his staff identification card from Japanese magazine Weekly Asahi.

The Asahi Shimbun said Koriyama is currently not contracted to the company but has frequented the office due to personal ties with editors there. He had provided photos for the weekly magazine by contract on several occasions.

Takato, 34, is a volunteer worker from Chitose, Hokkaido. Her mother Kyoko said on Thursday night, "That is her in the footage. I believe the Foreign Ministry will contact us later."

Imai, 18, is also from Hokkaido. His family said he is a friend of Takato's and that he got to know Koriyama in Amman. His mother confirmed the man in the video is her son, and said he was scheduled to return around April 17-18.

Posted by Luis at 10:54 PM | Comments (1)

C-Section Contrast

I don't usually blog on this topic, but the synchronicity of these two stories struck me as interesting.

First we have a woman from Utah who, when told it was necessary by her doctors, refused to undergo a C-section to give birth to her twins. Finally, she did undergo a C-section, but because of her delay, as well as the drugs in her system, one of the children was stillborn. Now, I believe her when she says that she did not avoid the C-section because she didn't want the scar--apparently she had had two C-sections before--but certainly she was negligent to ignore the doctors' advice (unless claims of mental incompetence are true, which I sort of doubt in a very uninformed way), and more so for using alcohol and illegal drugs, which even a person who is relatively incompetent should know is not kosher.

But the interesting contrast comes from a story from Mexico, where a woman not only had a C-section to give birth to a healthy child (she had lost a previous child in labor), but--because the baby was not coming naturally, and because she was 8 hours from a hospital, in a rural area with no electricity and no clean water--and I presume also there was no one else present or willing to do it--she performed the C-section on herself with a kitchen knife after downing three small glasses of tequila. Now that is an amazing feat, and demonstrative of what lengths a parent will go to in order to preserve a child. That woman deserves a medal.

Posted by Luis at 10:38 AM | Comments (3)

April 07, 2004

Air America Radio Blogs

Well, with the official web site going up and down on a daily basis, it might be better to just link directly to the main blog pages of the top 3 shows on AAR:

The O'Franken Factor Blog
The Majority Report Blog
The Randi Rhodes Web Site

Oh, and by the way--Nader failed to get enough signatures in one day to qualify for the ballot in Oregon, of all states. Couldn't even get 1,000 people to sign their names for him in a single day. That's saying something. So Nader will have to fall back on the option to get 15,000 signatures within a 3-month period. Too bad.

Posted by Luis at 06:59 PM | Comments (2)

Iraq Exploding

New reports from Iraq report that 12 marines have died in the fighting in Ar Ramadi, a city about 40 km west of Al Fallujah, which is about 50 km west of Baghdad. This is in addition to the deaths in Fallujah, after U.S. forces closed in on the city (previously left alone to fester as an anti-coalition stronghold) in response to the killing of Marines and civilian contractors (mercenaries) in the area. Fighting is also going on in the Sadr City slums, sparked by the arrest of the deputy of the Shiite cleric al-Sadr.

The thing is, this fighting is not a winding down of anything, nor is it a climax--it is just the beginning of a new round of unrest and rebellion, and it is just going to get worse. It will get worse when troop rotation brings in a majority of reservists (as opposed to active-duty troops), it will get worse in the heat of the oncoming summer, and it will get worse as the people of Iraq become more and more unwilling to live under U.S. command.

As noted a few posts ago, Bush's flacks have been spinning most of the news coming out of Iraq, trying to establish the talking points of (a) we're greeted as liberators, not occupiers; (b) we're improving things and the infrastructure is better now than it was under Saddam; and (c) things are getting better, they're under control, we're winning the peace, and we're ready to hand the whole thing over to the Iraqis well in time for the election. However, the truth of the matter is that most Iraqis, even those ecstatic over the ouster of Hussein, want us gone, completely, not with 14 permanent military bases, not with a pronounced 10-year military presence, and not even with any control over the new government--they just want us gone, and now radical groups are taking up arms and shooting at our soldiers.

With the recent fighting in Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, and Najaf, the death toll for the month of April is up to 37 just for the first six days of the month, making April so far the bloodiest month for U.S. and coalition forces since the invasion began last March, with an average 6 or so deaths per day. And this is just the beginning of a bloody new uprising. This is decidedly not going our way.

Administration officials try to play this down, of course, and have been for some time. This little snippet is from Fox News' Brit Hume last August:

California Roughly Same Size As Iraq

Two hundred and seventy seven U.S. soldiers have now died in Iraq, which means that, statistically speaking, U.S. soldiers have less of a chance of dying from all causes in Iraq than citizens have of being murdered in California…which is roughly the same geographical size. The most recent statistics indicate California has more than 2,300 homicides each year, which means about 6.6 murders each day. Meanwhile, U.S. troops have been in Iraq for 160 days, which means they are incurring about 1.7, including illness and accidents, each day.

What Hume failed to mention is that California has a population of 34 million people, as opposed to 145,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. That means that one out of every 14,783 people in California is murdered each year, as opposed to one out of every 206 now in Iraq--a 72-to-1 disparity. When told of this, Hume blithely replied, "Admittedly it was a crude comparison, but it was illustrative of something." Yes indeed. It was illustrative of the fact that Hume is an idiot.

Iraq may very well be a far bigger issue this November than we thought.

Posted by Luis at 06:39 PM | Comments (0)

Secrecy in the Bush White Now at "Ludicrous" on the Outrage Scale

This from Talking Points Memo. I was flabbergasted, appalled and outraged when I read it.

Remember the speech Condi Rice was supposed to have made on 9/11 but got interrupted by the terrorist attacks? A speech on the threats that faced the nation, in which she was pushing mainly for missile defense, and barely mentioned terrorism at all except as a reason to suspect states like Iraq?

The 9/11 commission told the White House they wanted to see the speech.

The White House said "no."

Why? It's confidential. That's right. A speech that Condi Rice was going to make at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, a speech that would have been 100% available to anyone who wanted to get ahold of it after she made it--it is now a state secret. Coincidentally, it is announced as classified just a few days before Rice is scheduled to testify before the 9/11 Commission and explain how Richard Clarke was wrong about how she and the Bush administration were so intently focused on al Qaeda as she has claimed--a defense that would be slightly difficult to support in the light of her giving a speech on 9/11 that essentially dismissed terrorism as the most serious--or even a fairly serious--threat.

How far does Bush think he can go in the outrageous behavior?

Posted by Luis at 01:39 PM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2004

One-Year Anniversary

Today marks one full year since the inauguration of this blog site. Many thanks to all of those who visit! I plan to continue for however many years to come as I can manage, posting every day.

Posted by Luis at 11:39 AM | Comments (2)

George Bush on Iraq Power transfer: Wha?

"The United Nations representative is there now to work on the -- on a -- on to whom we transfer sovereignty. I mean, in other words, it's one thing to decide to transfer. We're now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty."

--Bush answering a reporter's question in Charlotte, North Carolina, April 5, 2004

What the heck does that mean?

Posted by Luis at 10:51 AM | Comments (3)

Bush at 43%: Is Pew Right?

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has released the results of their latest survey: Bush's popularity rating has (finally!) fallen to a new low of 43%, the lowest Bush has ever polled at. The bad news is that Pew has always been on the low side, and it is too early yet to tell if this is a blip or a new trend. One encouraging piece of corroborating evidence is that Zogby has had him at 46% and 47% over the past several weeks, though they have often been a low poll too. So I am watchfully hopeful.

The poll adds that public approval of Bush's handling of Iraq has fallen to 40%, which will probably only fall further as the death toll sadly and inevitably mounts. Support for Bush on the economy is down to 39%, and his energy policy gets only 29%, undoubtedly not helped greatly by high gas prices.

At the same time, low poll numbers could be a bit scary, for reasons that I have spoken of for a long time now: we know that Bush and Cheney have no problem with committing extreme acts for their political benefit, and the only thing that has ever brought Bush's poll numbers up were terrorist attacks, starting a war, and capturing an enemy--and if they can't (or haven't) capture(d) Osama bin Laden, then what will they do if things become desperate for them?

In the meantime, I will take these poll numbers as a good sign.

Posted by Luis at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

The Outrage List Continues: Part III

It is hard to see just a few days go by without another set of lies and scams perpetrated by the Bush people, and remember, people, these are just the ones we find out about--there are without doubt many more.

The first one is all too public, the failing of the Bush administration to manage postwar Iraq. Their failure to have a coherent postwar strategy, their arrogant posturing and just plain stupidity making a far more respectable U.N. force to keep the peace, and Bush's desperate rush to hand over power so he can pretend that U.S. troops aren't there (while they will really be there for at least another decade), have all led to this carnage we see today.

The number of U.S. soldiers killed now number 15 for the month of April (one other foreign soldier died as well), for an average of 3.2 Coalition troops killed per day--which is a startling number. That's just slightly behind the 3.6 per day killed in November, and that was when helicopters full of soldiers got shot down--this month our people are getting killed one by one, by bombs and in combat. And if you go past last November, this month so far has been bloodier for our troops than any month since the invasion began last March.

And that is before the summer heat starts up, and before a major turnover of troops will make a majority of troops reservists, minimally trained, the first time practically untrained soldiers have outnumbered active-duty troops. That, along with growing resentment of American troops in Iraq by the Iraqis, promises to make this quagmire bloodier and bloodier still.

But at least we have the comfort of knowing that the sacrifice of our young fighting forces will not be allowed to work against the election campaign of George W. Bush. Why? Because he's stacked the Iraq press office with a very large number of GOP staffers whose job it is to spin the Iraq news to benefit Bush's election run. "One-third of the U.S. civilian workers in the press office have GOP ties, running an enterprise that critics see as an outpost of Bush's re-election effort with Iraq a top concern."

And Bush's corruption of public information to help him get elected doesn't stop in Baghdad. Remember the 9/11 commission? Remember how Bush, through Dennis Hastert, did everything possible to stop the 9/11 commission from getting a 2-month extension because they were terrified of the investigation report coming out too close to the November elections? Well, problem solved. You won't get a chance to see the 9/11 commission report before the election, if Bush gets his way. They are saying that they will have to put the report through a "vetting" process, and they may not get finished with it until after the election.

But with luck, we'll get a look at what they've found through leaks, and that is the fact (which I've blogged on recently) that the 9/11 attack "were probably preventable." Any wonder the Bush White House--who before were incredibly anxious to get the report out asap and tried to block a 2-month extension the commission called for--is now saying that it'll take so much time they won't be able to say anything before the election. What a surprise.

And then we have piece of evidence #26 that Bush was planning to invade Iraq from early on: a former British ambassador reported that just nine days after 9/11, Bush told Blair that "when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq." Remember how the Bush people blasted Paul O'Neill, smearing him as some kind of psychotic, greedy liar because he claimed Bush was focused on invading Iraq from long before 9/11? Same for Richard Clarke? What will they say about this former British ambassador? Will they call him a raving loony? How many more ultimately respectable, intelligent and formidable men and women will Bush's people have to smear before people get wise to the lies?

And while we're talking about how Bush's people are smearing those who dare criticize them, look at the list of people who served the Bush administration that they are now attacking: Paul O'Neill, Joseph Smith, Lawrence Lindsay, Anthony Zinni, Eric Shinseki, Richard Foster, John DiIulio, Scott Ritter, and Richard Clarke. That's a lot of people, and that's just the A-list, but my point is this: if so many people who used to work for Bush are all liars, profiteers, child molesters, psychotics and so on--what does this say about the quality of people working for the Bush administration? These are the smart, honorable and dignified people Bush promised to surround himself with? No, the fact is, these are the honorable people about which none of the Bush smears are true, which is why they all had to leave--there's no place for people of such integrity in Bush's White House.

And closing for today before I overload once again (too late!), now we also find out that Bush's people sent out an email to the troops telling them to lie about the environment whenever asked about it, to wit: "global warming has not been proved, air quality is 'getting better', the world's forests are 'spreading, not deadening', oil reserves are 'increasing, not decreasing', and the 'world's water is cleaner and reaching more people.'" The source of these claims? A research institute funded by Mobil Oil. A Republican strategist behind most of this is reported to have said, "There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science." Which is the hallmark of Bush's scientific policy: fight the science. Make sure the ideology wins out. Science proves Bush wrong? Rewrite the report. It's as simple as that!

Oy. Yet more Outrage Overload. How much longer can this go on?

Posted by Luis at 02:53 AM | Comments (3)

April 05, 2004

Air America Web Site Back to Spec (...and then not)

Well, if you visit the Air America Radio web site, you'll find that it is pretty much back to what is was supposed to be at the start. The sections that were there when AAR started, including Member Login, Audio Archives, and Blogs, have now returned. Things seem to be getting smoothed out over there, and the streaming audio is getting better, too. Still a few "Tune back during regular broadcast hours" during broadcast hours, but now at least I don't get my stream cut off every hour or so.

The audio archives, by the way, still don't have anything in them--but it should be coming soon. I'd love to be able to hear the entire Michael Moore interview at last, and because of the timing of The Majority Report (during my working hours) and there being no repeat broadcast of that show, I haven't heard as much of that show as I'd have liked.

One of the shows said that San Francisco's radio station should be starting within a few weeks, and I understand that San Jose is coming too; San Jose may be necessary for south peninsula listeners because, as my father tells it, the SF station may be FM and might not have the reach that AM stations do.

More as it comes in.

UPDATE: And now it's back to the abbreviated version. Ah well. I'll let you know when it comes back.

Posted by Luis at 08:05 PM | Comments (1)

Get Kerry In

Turnout, turnout, turnout. Remember, the mantra of this site until election day. And Kerry is showing strongly in that area. People are turning out in huge numbers to contribute to Kerry's campaign--and I joined them today as well. As they have announced online, they have been breaking records--Democrat and Republican records alike--for fundraising. The most raised in any month ($38 million in March), the most grassroots (regular folk) contributions per quarter (355,000), and records for the most raised online for the quarter or for a specific day ($2.6 million on March 4th).

Let's keep up the donations, folks, he's still more than $100 million behind behemoth Bush, who didn't have to spend a dime of his own during the primaries (but he spent lots of your tax dollars using Air Force One to buzz spectators at NASCAR), and now has a $170 million war chest. So while Kerry is catching up fast, he still needs our help--I just pitched in a hundred bucks, what can you give? Post a comment if you gave, tell us how much and add your encouragement!

Here's how: go to Kerry's main page, click on the Make a Contribution button, and input your name, address, occupation and credit card information. Select the amount you'd like to contribute.


After that, you'll get a thank you page:

And you can click on the option to get a printable receipt (though it's not tax-deductible).

So go for it!


Posted by Luis at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)

RIAA Unjustified, New Study Reveals

It's nice to see one's views vindicated every once in a while. About 9 months ago, I blogged on my opinion that the drop in music sales was not due to people downloading music across the file sharing networks. The RIAA claims that their sales have been dropping for close to four years now because of the music pirates. I pointed out that the sales of music CDs began dropping when the economy turned bad and we dipped into a recession--hardly something that requires a rocket scientist to figure out. I also pointed out that people were using Napster like crazy before 2000, and music sales were booming then.

Well, a new study--this one, for a change, not paid for by the music industry--has found there there is really no connection between piracy and falling music sales. They closely monitored levels of illegal music downloads and legal music sales, and found that there was no correlation between the two. When illegal downloading spiked, music sales were unaffected--or if there was an effect, it was at a 5000-to-1 ratio, meaning that 5000 people would have to download a song before one person decided not to buy it legally. People who download and don't buy are people who would not have bought the music anyway. That doesn't make it legal, or right, but it does show that the RIAA's claim is bogus and their vehement crackdown is wholly unjustified by the terms they themselves claim.

The RIAA discounts this, pointing to the studies they have done--but their studies are based on surveys, where people are asked about whether they commit crimes or not. The authors of the new study point out that people will not always answer such questions honestly.

And let's not forget, the RIAA aren't exactly saints themselves; you should really read this very well-written essay by Orson Scott Card on the subject; the RIAA has, for a very long time, ripped off artists to no end.

Posted by Luis at 01:53 PM | Comments (1)

Blossom Time

Caught this nice image on the way home the other day, the sun setting behind a cherry blossom tree. The trees are in full blossom in Tokyo now, and the trees are very popular, and are all around. It's a beautiful time, even though the past few days of rain have subdued the trees a bit.

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

Daylight Savings

For Americans living in Japan, please note that DST took effect yesterday in the U.S., so the times have shifted. Remember to add that extra hour when you translate times--or to subtract the hour if you count backwards when you translate.

I don't like using the "count backwards" 16- or 17-hour (west coast, PST) subtraction method of figuring out the time difference between here and there; 16 and 17 hours is a bigger number to subtract, and more often you cross day lines and it gets confusing, making errors that can wake your relatives up at unfortunate hours.

I prefer to add 7 or 8 hours (again, PST), then subtract a day. Two steps, separate, a lot easier to do. So right now, it's 11:40 am on Monday in Japan. Add 8 hours (now that DST has kicked in; last week, it was 7 hours), making the time there 7:40 pm--and that by itself is often enough, the day of the week is not important, in my family at least. But if necessary, just subtract a day, and you get 7:40 pm Sunday in San Francisco.

I suppose it is less of an issue if the people you're calling are on the east coast, and the difference is to add 11 hours or subtract 13 (10 and 14 when DST is not in action). But I still prefer the addition method.

Speaking of which, when is Japan going to get DST? The sun comes up at 4:30 am in the summer, way earlier than most people need. Great for the farmers, who had a controlling block of votes many years back (I wonder if they still do?), but lousy for the rest of us as it means early darkness and wasted sunlight. And I'm a late owl, and on my late-late nights I go to sleep as the sun rises, which feels strange. I remember on my visit to Spain last April, they not only had DST ("summer time" in Europe), but Spain was on the west edge of a wide time zone--the sun set at about 9 pm. Maybe not great for early risers, but I thought it was terrific.

Posted by Luis at 11:36 AM | Comments (1)

April 04, 2004

More Overload

Here are some more points of outrage, just part of the massive waves of dirty dealing, scandal and incompetence that has become apparent over recent weeks and months. To punctuate this, I would like to point out that if Clinton had done any of this, Republicans would be calling for his head. It is useful to imagine the name Clinton wherever you see Bush in this post and the last one, and you'll have a slightly better ability to imagine the massive Republican outrage should that have been the case--and the total double standard that now exists, with the right wing claiming that we're tired of scandal (until the next Democrat comes into office), and making weak attempts to rationalize, excuse, or much more often obfuscate Bush's malfeasance.

One of those points is honesty. Remember how Bush was supposed to bring "honor and dignity" back to the White house? How they claimed that Clinton lied so much, and painted Gore as a liar even more so? And then it turns out Bush was lying through his teeth all along. He lied about not wanting to do nation-building, lied about his criminal record (I still can't believe we elected, if you can call it that, a man with a criminal record, with a DUI, and a VP with two DUIs!); they lied about willingness to delve into deficit spending; they lied about the vandalism at the White House, about how the Clinton team ripped out the "W"s on the keyboards. And that was just the beginning. There were the unending lies about Iraq and Saddam Hussein and WMD. Now we have Bush lying to Congress about Medicare, Rice lying to everybody about everything, and even the formerly statesmanlike Colin Powell admitting that is "ironclad" evidence was, in retrospect, not so "solid" after all. Gee whiz, ya think?

Another lie being propagated right now is that Bush did everything possible to catch bin Laden--no, wait, he didn't, but they were going after al Qaeda--no, no, that's not right either, but they were all over the terrorism problem--well, actually not. But at least we can take heart in the reassurance that Bush & Co. couldn't really have done anything to prevent 9/11. After all, the Clinton administration were such slackers, the election thing meant they had to get off to a late start, and by the time it was humanly possible to act, the terrorists were already in place and nothing could be done. Right? BZZZT. Nope. That's wrong too. They were occupying their offices from early on, they were warned from the outset, vividly, about al Qaeda, a plan of action (let's not quibble over words, Clinton's people had a set of actions to take and it was thoroughly transmitted to Bush's people), and Clarke was there trying and trying to push them into action--but they were too caught up in Star Wars missile defense, and terrorism played badly in that scenario, and they just gave it no credence. But most importantly, Clarke painted a very clear picture of how 9/11 could have been prevented, just as the Clinton WHite House prevented massive attacks planned by al Qaeda on American soil for the millennium celebrations:

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.

Now with Sibel Edmonds coming forward and saying that the information not only existed but was passed up to the administration, this suggestion has even more merit to it. There is an extremely high probability that had Gore been elected, then the information would have gotten through, and 9/11 would never have happened. Under Bush, though, the terrorists walked right in, because Bush & Co. were far too busy looking for missiles in the sky.

Then there is the business side, the money scandals. Has Ken Lay, Bush's biggest contributor since 1994, been charged, let alone punished, for his massive fraud that so damaged the economy and stole the life savings of so many Americans? He never acted when Enron and other oil companies ripped Californians off to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. Cheney included all the oil companies, including Enron, to write the nation's energy policy, and then tried like crazy to keep all of that a secret (it is now before the Supreme Court, where it will be ruled on by Cheney's best bud, Antonin Scalia--gee, I wonder what he'll decide on the matter?). And let's not even get started on Halliburton.

What fewer people know is that Bush has long-time relations with the bin Laden family and the Saudi royal family. Bush Sr. as well as Jr. were getting massive funding and investment out of these people since the late 1970's, the current Bush's involvement beginning with his first business, Arbusto ("Bush" in Spanish), which Bush promptly bankrupted. But the relationship continues to this day, and was most clearly evidenced by Bush's redacting a few dozen pages from an important terrorism report, pages which would have shown the Saudis as being very much behind Islamic terrorist groups; it was demonstrated strongly also in the few days following 9/11, when Bush had the entire bin Laden clan resident in the U.S. airlifted out, even as Americans were not allowed to fly.

On Al Franken's new radio show, Michael Moore was a guest and they discussed a very applicable analogy to this situation. Imagine the following: after the Oklahoma bombing of the Murrah building by Timothy McVeigh, the FBI suspects McVeigh is the bomber and wants to talk to his family members. Clinton, however, gets the entire McVeigh family together, loads them on a plane, refuses to let the FBI question them in full, and instead carts the whole lot off to Paris, outside U.S. jurisdiction. And then we learn later that Clinton had substantial financial relationships with the McVeighs over the past two decades or more.

If that had ever happened, the right wing would have gone nuclear. Impeachment hearings would have started within minutes, and conservatives everywhere would be blasting Clinton from here to doomsday--and the Democrats probably would have been with them. But when the exact same scenario is played out by Bush, airlifting the entire bin Laden family from the U.S. while no U.S. citizen was allowed to fly, not letting the FBI question them thoroughly--and now we know that the bin ladens were financing Bush for many, many years... it defies belief that Bush can get away with this and no one seems to think that it is worthy of much attention.

For further information, I would direct you to buy House of Bush, House of Saud, and wait for Michael Moore's new movie, Farenheit 911, slated for release this summer, before the election. It is absolutely unforgivable how slimy these associations Bush has and how he has unabashedly given massive favors to Halliburton, Enron execs, the bin Laden family and the Saudis in return for their long financial support for Bush and Cheney. You can say this about Bush: he is loyal, and is a politician that, when bought, stay bought.

And how about outright criminal activity? You know that Republicans were systematically stealing Democratic Senators' files for a year and a half, leaking them to Fox News and conservative columnists, in violation of law. And even if you don't consider lying to Congress about Medicare, or spending millions of federal dollars on fake Medicare ads that were thinly disguised campaign commercials, as crimes, then how about the Plame affair? First, Bush lies to Congress, the people and the world about Saddam building nukes, saying the he knew it was true because of British intel that said Hussein tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger--when in fact, his own intel people told him the claim was fake. Then former Ambassador Joseph Wilson had the courage to come forth and tell the truth about that, in response to which, the vicious Bush attack dogs made public the fact that Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA operative, a federal felony punishable with prison time, and a crime that ruined the career of Wilson's wife, and could have placed her and those she'd recruited in danger of being killed. The investigation into that now spans from Karl Rove's office to Dick Cheney's chief of staff and others in his office.

Truly, this administration's staff has a vicious, bloodthirsty vindictive streak a mile and a half long. You speak out against them, and they will lie, cheat, steal, and commit federal crimes to dirty your name, ruin your career and drive you into hiding. And yet so many people--Paul O'Neill, Joseph Smith, Lawrence Lindsay, Anthony Zinni, Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, Richard Foster, the Medicare actuary, John DiIulio, and Richard Clarke--all viciously smeared by Bush & Co., and that's just the people who used to work in the Bush administration!

Again, this is just too much, I'm getting overloaded by all of this. And again, there is so much more.

People, we have to talk about this! get these facts down, print these posts, email them to friends, get people talking and aware of all this, because the conservative media is hiding so much of it. I don't know how many times I have spoken about facts like these with family and friends, and have gotten the reaction, "when did that happen?" because the news shows they watch and newspapers they read don't report on them much at all. And yet, these are all documented facts, people. Talk! Let people know! Don't wait, do it now!

Posted by Luis at 07:28 PM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2004

Outrage Overload

Man, I gotta tell ya. There is just almost too much out there to be outraged about, it is hard to blog about it all, it feels just overwhelming. Let me see if I can't list some of the stuff that has been coming out, being brief so that the overload factor doesn't click in too fast.

Condoleezza Rice not testifying, until public criticism and pressure got so strong that Bush couldn't keep up the fake pretense that there was some principle involved. So many lies here. The precedence? A joke--they had many options to get around that, including the one they eventually chose, to agree while specifically stating that this would not set a precedence. You see? Easy. Another lie: Condi wanted to testify, she just oh so much prayed she could testify, if only she was able to publicly talk about this under oath, it was her most treasured dream... God, please. She has lied so often, lies which are shown up not just by opponents and independents, but by her own people. Yeah, I'm absolutely sure she had a real jones for coming back and testifying under oath after all that.

And what is with this garbage about the 9/11 commission being a congressional body? It is nothing of the sort! Bush himself hand-picked the commission, it is an executive body--and Bush did that for the express purpose of preventing Congress from doing it, forming an investigation that might not go the way he wanted--not that this commission has been as submissive as Bush would have hoped. But make no mistake--it is not a congressional body, and therefore there is no conflict with having Rice or anyone else testifying.

Then there's Sibel Edmonds, the FBI translator who was fired by the FBI in 2002 after she publicly criticized the FBI for incompetence. Edmonds called Rice's claim that neither she nor other in the Bush administration got warning about 9/11, "an outrageous lie." Rice said, "Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles... ". Edmonds says that such intelligence was provided to administration officials. "We should have had orange or red-type of alert in June or July of 2001. There was that much information available," she told Salon. Furthermore, "If you put this information [I saw] with other stuff they had from the Phoenix memo [about suspects taking flying lessons] and stuff coming in from field offices about flight schools, there is no way they can say they did not know. An idiot could work it out." Edmonds testified about this to the commission, giving them "details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily." Her story has reportedly been corroborated by other sources within the FBI.

But we may not hear any more from Edmonds, she's being muzzled. She's been under a gag order from the Justice Department since 2002, and the Bush White House has been seeking to quiet her further under the rarely used "state secrets privilege." How the hell is this a state secret other than to make secret the fact that the Bush administration was warned, ignored the warnings, and now is trying to cover that up and lie about it to the people and the Congress. (Again, Condi is dying to testify under oath about that?)

Additionally, Many others, including Richard Clarke, Gary Hart, and other players within and without the administration have told of their warnings to the Bush administration about 9/11. Condi Rice was scheduled to give a speech on threats to American security on 9/11 (yes, in 2001), and it focused on missile defense, but also mentioned a plethora of other items--but not one mention about al Qaeda. This at a time when the Bush administration is now insisting they were intently focused on al Qaeda!

There's another story out that you may have missed because the White House did an expert job of slipping it in underneath other news more focused on by people. When they released the big news that they had flip-flopped and Rice would testify publicly under oath, they also released, in a by-the-way kind of manner, that Bush and Cheney would give their testimony together. In addition to the standing conditions that Bush and Cheney not testify under oath, or publicly, or to the whole commission, or for very long, they will now appear at the same time, which will not only further cut down the time they spend testifying, and further this would allow Cheney to shield Bush--who would likely come across as foolish were he to be there all by himself. When you investigate something, you don't interview people together, you do it separately so you can compare the stories. This new unilateral demand has been glossed over by the media, but it should not be--it is a big deal. Just like it is a big deal that they refuse to testify under oath; after all, the main reason you refuse to testify under oath is because you want to lie about something and not be held accountable for it.

We're seeing issue after issue, witness after witness, evidence and more evidence being hidden, unreleased, and classified (unless they want to use it to smear someone, then there's no limit to what you can declassify), and the latest thing to be hidden by the White House is, believe it or not, 8,000 documents from the Clinton administration. The White House is now blocking the 9/11 commission from seeing those thousands of documents from the Clinton administration regarding security and 9/11. According to the New York Times, "Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said some Clinton administration documents had been withheld because they were 'duplicative or unrelated,' while others were withheld because they were 'highly sensitive' and the information in them could be relayed to the commission in other ways." Yeah, I'll bet. The commission has been cleared for highly sensitive documents, and they can sift through the documents themselves--this is just yet another way the administration controls the information that will eventually become public; you can bet that if those documents incriminated the Clinton administration, not only would they not keep them from the 9/11 commission, they would actively leak them to Fox News.

Then there was the entire Medicare scandal, where the Bush administration knowingly lied to Congress about the cost of Bush's Medicare plan. The plan itself was bad enough for Democrats, of course, but it was actually so bad the there were Republicans who would never agree to it, saying that if it cost anything more than $400 billion. Bush & Co. then said, surprise surprise, that it would only cost $395 billion, a very convenient number right where the Republicans wanted it. But what they did not say was that it would actually cost $534 billion--and Congress passed the bill with the lying estimate, by five votes. Then a brave actuary, a guy named Rick Foster, realized that the number they were reporting was wrong, and told his bosses about it--who promptly threatened to fire him if he dared to speak a word of it publicly, or to Congress. And if that's not enough, the White House additionally tried to lie to the American people, producing fake news story videos which amounted to nothing more than campaign commercials for president Bush, trying to get news programs to carry the commercials as real, with no disclaimers, no mention of the real source, no statement to the effect that the "reporters" and "real people" in the video were paid actors.

More on the issue side and less on the outrageous criminal acts side, there is the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which is nothing other than an attempt to slowly chip away at Roe v. Wade, trying in yet another way to laterally categorize a fetus as a person. This is in concert with the attack on fictional "partial birth abortion," a painfully mangled, twisted and wholly exaggerated misrepresentation of a medical procedure which, while ugly (as nature often is), is absolutely necessary in a rare number of cases. If a fetus is non-viable (for example, if it developed with no brain) and any attempt to bear the child naturally or do a C-section would likely result in injury or death to the mother, the procedure is used. But to hear the religious right tell it, the procedure is used all the time to abort perfectly healthy babies as they are being born. Yet that atrocity of a piece of legislation was passed, laying yet another illegitimate brick in the wall to block reproductive rights.

Believe it or not, I am just getting started. There is a lot more. But I have been at this for a few hours and I have other things to do. But there will be more coming soon. It is just hard to try to get this all out without being overwhelmed.

One thing to do today: make a contribution to John Kerry. Man, oh man, do we ever need him right now. I will blog on that later.

Posted by Luis at 06:03 PM | Comments (4)

April 02, 2004

Jobs: Good News and Bad News

The good news here helps Bush out some, and you can bet that after their long string of goofs, offenses, felonies and generally shooting themselves in the foot, they are going to take this one morsel and milk it within an inch of its life. After hugely disappointing job growth over the past 6-8 months, still 3 million jobs in the hole, March brings good news: 308,000 jobs were added to the workforce. Good news for you and your neighbors, but expect an overly-exuberant Bush White House to make this sound like every single thing Bush has done since January 2001 is now fully vindicated, end of story, go home and vote for Bush.

Of course, there is bad news, news which they won't tell you about. For example, at the very minimum, 150,000 jobs must be gained every month just to tread water, because that number is needed to match population growth. Now look at the first three months of the year: January, 97,000; February, 21,000; and March, 308,000. That's a total of 426,000 new jobs since the start of the year. In order to break even, we needed a minimum of 450,000. And that's not even counting the deficient numbers for job growth since last August. Just for this year alone, we're still 24,000 jobs in the hole, and in terms of how many jobs are needed to signal a recovery from the recession, we're between 175,000 and 475,000 jobs behind. But what you'll hear from the right wing is how this far exceeded expectations of 123,000 jobs--and they won't tell you that the expectations were for poor growth, depressed because they expected a bad showing, and predictors had been embarrassed by way overestimating numbers in past months.

And there are more mitigating circumstances: 72,000 of those jobs for March were due to the end of a supermarket strike in southern California. Subtract those numbers and the totals are even less impressive. Also, the new jobs do not include any manufacturing jobs. these numbers just came out now, and so I can't find details on exactly what the bulk of the jobs are

Nevertheless, the White House will no doubt spin this as just the beginning of a jobs boom, and true, that may be--but remember, in January, we thought we had an increase in job growth, up to 112,000, and that was touted as 'just the beginning' also--until February numbers were 21,000, and they downgraded the January figures by 15,000. April numbers will be better to indicate whether this is the beginning of a surge, or just another high blip with a disappointing follow-through.

One should also keep in mind that unemployment went up from 5.6% to 5.7%, mostly because more people renewed job hunting, and were unable to find jobs--a reminder that there are millions of people out there with no jobs, but who are not counted in the numbers.

Overall, a very mixed bag. Let's see where it takes us. And in the meantime, don't let the endless gleeful gloating by the Republicans get your hopes up--you're still more likely to get a job at burger King than you are to get one at Chrysler. Wait and see where this takes us.

On the one hand, I really hope people find jobs. On the other hand, after doing such a botched-up job with the economy for more than three years, it galls me that Bush might get re-elected simply because of an arbitrary upsurge right near the election--and if it helps him out with votes, it might also help Bush to sell the ludicrous idea that excessively huge tax cuts for millionaires somehow bring about modest job growth three years later--and then we'll all really be screwed. Four more years of this and the country will be utterly shot to hell. I hate to say it, but I kind of hope that a recovery will wait until December; better that a few people wait a few more months for jobs than to let the most recklessly dangerous president in recent memory to crush their hopes and dreams for several more years.

Posted by Luis at 11:20 PM | Comments (2)

Blog Stuff

Last month was a record-breaker, with The BfAD going past 6000 visitors (I got 10,000 one month last year, but that was due to a very unusual link-in from macsurfer), with an average of 425 unique visitors per day. Eyelid twitching and gyoza recipes remain among the most popular, but my extensive review of Matrix Revolutions (212 views) and my special page detailing Bush's sordid past got heavy traffic as well.

And now I seem to be getting a huge amount of traffic from my bits about Air America Radio; the stats aren't in on that yet, but I'm getting lots of comments, and somehow I'm #1 on Google for the search "Air America radio Blog." Cool.

UPDATE: Okay, here's an interesting one. My blog post, titled "Air America Radio", has been getting lots of comments from people who seem to think that it is actually the official blog for Air Americaa Radio. Someone asked if Sam and Janeane were reading the post now (who knows, maybe!), and 9 others followed with praise and commentary. This is a little surreal.

Posted by Luis at 12:11 PM | Comments (2)

Who's Joking?

This one comes from the Bizarre And Funny file on Bush. David Letterman recently has been having fun with the presidential campaign, first with his "Unfair Edit" where people like Bush, Kerry, and Schwarzenegger had their words blatantly spliced so they said things like Kerry saying, "If I am elected/I make you this pledge/that I will be/utterly inept," or Bush saying, "In two weeks/members/of my administration and this Congress/will be/in a prison cell."

A more recent gag on Letterman is the use of footage of Bush on the campaign trail, with either Bush or the people around him coming across as being incredibly bored. But his latest jaunt into visual political humor has gotten entangled in sloppy journalism and perhaps even bizarre White House behavior--depending on how this plays out.

The Washington Post ran this lengthy article on it, but in short, Letterman made fun of Bush by showing selected clips of Bush giving a speech with people standing in the background--see the photo to right. The piece was called, "George W. Bush Invigorates America's Youth." The boy on bush's right (your left) was engaging in various I'm-incredibly-bored behavior, including great yawns, nodding off to sleep and catching himself, and looking at his watch--while those around him completely ignore his behavior. The clips as presented by Letterman, I am told by my father, are incredibly funny. But that's not the end of it.

UPDATE: I found a Real player version of the clip, at 2 MB in size. I don't know if it'll work this way, but see if you can view it.

The RealPlayer file doesn't work for most people. Here is the YouTube version:


The next morning, CNN picked up the video shown by Letterman and aired it, giving him credit. Then they reported that the White House called and claimed that the tape had been doctored, edited to add the kid in. Then Letterman went on that night and claimed the tape was genuine. Then CNN claimed that the White House never called them.

So there's quite the mix-up here. I'm just waiting to see the tape of that kid. Sounds hilarious.

Also funny: this. Reminds me of an editorial cartoon I did over 20 years ago for the Stanford Daily.

Posted by Luis at 01:59 AM | Comments (1)

April 01, 2004

Still On the Air, but the Web Is Different

Well, Air America is on the Air, all right. I just woke up and heard the host on the phone with someone, arguing with them pretty vociferously. It sounded like quite a fight, they were overtalking, and at times, the host was nearly screaming at him, and the guest was really agitated. My first thought was, boy they really don't screen the callers, and they just let the people who call in go too far--not to mention the host! And then, as I listened on, I slowly realized... the voice on the phone was Ralph Nader! And the host really got him pissed off! I mean, he was discombobulated, trying to get out his standard lines--but the host, Randi Rhodes, was really digging into him, telling him point-blank that we can't afford him running and not accepting his usual platitudes... until Nader got so pissed off he shouted at her about her interviewing being really bad, and she was screwing up the first day of Air America, and he hung up, angrily. Wow. Now that's an interview.

So, fortunately, we can get the streaming audio. Unfortunately, the web site has been so overwhelmed by visitors, they had to take it down and leave the main page as a simple link to their streaming audio (for the moment without any registration required).

I was able to catch only about ten minutes of Franken last night before falling asleep, and it looks like I'll miss them on the repeat, dangit. I can only hope they'll have it in the archive.

Posted by Luis at 07:50 AM | Comments (1)