Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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TED Talks to Julian Assange

font=3 If you aren’t familiar with TED Talks yet, I am about to change that.

TED started in 1984, the year I graduated from college, as a conference to bring together people from the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It is a nonprofit that holds annual conferences in both Long Beach and in Palm Springs each spring, and has grown to hold the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK each summer. The TED Talks are published on the TED Talks video site, which has the capability of translating the talks into up to 27 different languages at this point. More are planned. TED does much more each year to facilitate advancement of the arts and sciences.

The video site on the web offers hundreds of 18 minute talks – not lectures – on subjects as diverse as Cassini’s discovery of the surface tectonics on Saturn’s moon Titan to Sam Harris’s explanation of how morality is hardwired into humans and other animals. The speakers are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes.

The spelunker who plans to lead the expedition to mine moon ice is absolutely riveting. Watch him. How can cave exploration and space exploration be related? How can a spelunker think that he can go into space and mine water on the moon as a propellant for space vehicles to then go to Europa? Is this science fiction? Not the way he tells it. Watch the video. If it doesn’t make your jaw drop, you aren’t paying attention.

TED isn’t just about science.A pair of  beautiful dancers perform Symbiosis – and it is understandable. Isabel Allende tells  true tales of passion, Natalie Merchant sings nearly forgotten children’s poems from the 19th and 20th century from her recent album Leave Your Sleep.

TED is on the edge of what is happening in the world. In July 2010. Chris Anderson of TED interviewed Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks had just released the documents related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and there were rumors that it had still more documents that would set the US government on its ear.

Consider what Julian Assange says in this interview. He explains how the site operates, what it has accomplished, and what drives him. The interview includes graphic footage of a recent US airstrike in Baghdad in which a number of civilians and two Reuters reporters were killed.

Did you note that Assange specifically denies having the embassy cables? In the same breath he said assertively that if WikiLeaks had them, it has a duty to release them so that the world knows.

Assange asserted that “it’s a worry that the rest of the world’s media is doing such a bad job that a little group of activists is able to release more of that type of information than the rest of the world press combined”? Mainstream media does not release documents like  these – not since the Pentagon Papers, that is. One has to wonder if our corporate media even would release such explosive news in this day and age. The news we do get is slanted in such a way as to suit the editorial desires of the publisher, and so often one publisher publishes numerous large newspapers, owns numerous television stations, and even owns radio stations. The news is the same on each one. We no longer have news. We have propaganda. The days of Walter Cronkite are gone.

What does WikiLeaks seek to publish? According to Assange, anything that an organization wants to keep secret. If there is an economic reason for keeping a secret, then it is in the best interest of the world to expose that secret in order to level the playing field. That, he says, is what journalism is.

That is what investigative journalism should be.

Assange pointed out that releasing the video of the Apache helicopter firing on the group of civilians that included the Reuters reporters was not done to inform the Afghans or the Iraqis. They see it every day,” he claimed. “But it will change the perception and opinion of the people who are paying for it all. And that is our hope.” Knowing in advance that innocents were killed in that incident may color our perception of what happened. We hear the soldiers in the helicopter talking and laughing, but to know that the firing was indiscriminate changed how we feel about their demeanor. Is this incident isolated? Or is it typical? We do not know We know this incident happened. We saw it; We do not know if more, similar incidents have happened. We hope not; we fear so.

WikiLeaks’s activities around the globe have resulted in major changes for the better, and for human rights and freedom. The Kenyan election was one example, and recently the Iceland legislature’s passage of a law allowing freedom of speech for journalists that is perhaps the broadest in the world is another.

Americans are divided on the issue of the Embassy documents, and on the war documents. WikiLeaks released them to show abuses. Our country is committing those abuses. It is natural to defend our country, but at the same time, we should not be committing the abuses. We have been caught, Our misdeeds have been exposed by our own words. Yes, it is embarrassing. Yes, we have lost face on the world stage.

Perhaps had we not committed those abuses, our faces would not be so red right now.

Thank you, WikiLeaks, for showing us; the truth.


December 13, 2010 Posted by | Domestic, Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, War | 1 Comment

Saumur Ecole de Cavalerie, Courses de Tetes

My office, and my my messy desk, with the offending painting.

I have this print hanging on the wall of my office. My assistant, the lovely and incomparable Jane, thinks it is morbid and shocking.  I think it metaphorically demonstrates what a good trial lawyer does.

The name of the painting is “Saumur Ecole de Cavalerie, Course de Tetes (Carrousel).” It is by Albert Adams. Although my French is as rusty as my ancient Etruscan (that means it’s somewhat better than my Sumerian, at least idiomatically), I can roughly translate this to mean that the French cavalry school at Saumur has a ring it calls “The Course of Heads.”  Apparently the cavalry students brandish sabers and attempt to collect as many heads as possible as they go through the course.

Here’s a close-up:

You can see the reflection of the mess on my desk in the glass.  Attractive, non?

Given the French predilection and national past time of separating heads from bodies (see: guillotine) it may be necessary, occasionally, for a French cavalryman to pick up the mess.  Someone has to, after all.  All those loose heads lolling and rolling about the countryside and through the city streets would be a menace and cause the bourgeoisie to trip and fall, thus giving rise to lawsuits of the variety I’d like to bring on behalf of my bruised and battered bourgeois client.  (Hands fallen future plaintiff a business card.  “Call me,”  I say.  “Merci.”)

But back to the incomparable and indispensable Jane, who says that this particular picture is, in a word, “gross.”

Since I have only one print of the painting, I am 143 short of a gross. She must mean something else by her statement.

I think it’s entirely appropriate for my law office.

I have always loved this print, which hung in my grandparents’ house, and which I rescued from my aunt who had it stored in a damp storage building about 20 years ago. Aside from the fact that I find it fascinating, though, there is the metaphor.

A better quality image than my cell phone is capable of, which I obtained off the net.
You can see a close-up of it on that web page:


March 24, 2009 Posted by | History, Lawyer, War | Leave a comment

Guantanamo Detainees

It seems, despite Dick Cheney’s assertion that all that are left in Guantánamo are the “worst of the worst,” there was at least one completely innocent guy detained there until three days ago as an “enemy combatant.” Haji Bismullah was so innocent, in fact, that that he actually fought against the Taliban and was a member of the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. Thanks to George Bush’s suspension of habeas corpus, Haji Bismullah has spent the last six years locked up in that wretched concentration camp anyway.

A military panel, not a habeas proceeding, cleared Bismullah of his status as an “enemy combatant” last week, and over the weekend he was flown back to Afghanistan.

I’m sure he’s not bitter. It was an honest mistake, right? They all look alike under those turbans.

Between January 2002 and May 2006, 759 individuals classified as “enemy combatants” were treated to an all-expense-paid vacation to balmy Cuba, courtesy of the U.S. Government.

The Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants has now done two annual reviews.  It took several years to get the Administrative Review Board in place. When the Combatant Status Review Tribunals geared up July 30, 2004, nearly every detainee was designated a “keeper.” In less than six months, 558 detainees had had their cases heard before the tribunal. Assuming a five-day, forty-hour work week for the 25 weeks between Friday, July 30, 2004, and Thursday, January 20, 2005 (and assuming that no holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s were observed and work just continued), that’s less than two hours per case.

Two hours is plenty of time to review whether someone needs to be held as an enemy combatant when the detainee is not permitted to know the evidence against him, or to have the help of a legal professional, or otherwise to defend himself.

As one Washington Times commentator put it, “Detentions of alleged enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) and extraordinary renditions smack more of Franz Kafka’s The Trial than of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.”  I would expect that the men imprisoned there without any recourse and without notice of what they did wrong might feel a surreal quality to their experience. Haji Bismullah is not the only one.

Only thirty-eight men were freed by that first round of reviews by the Office of Administrative Review, and 520 continued to be held as “enemy combatants.” It’s no surprise to me that these 520 men continued to be held at Guantánamo when one considers that they were not permitted access to all of the allegations that initially gave rise to their status as enemy combatants, and that they were not given the benefit of legal representation.  What’s equally bad, though, is that only 37 of those first 558 tribunals were attended by the media.

The media weren’t turned away from any of the reviews, insisted a spokesman for the Office of Administrative Review. All the media had to do if they wanted to attend a review hearing was 1) be on the island the day the review happened and 2) ask to go.  Of course, the Office of Administrative review didn’t tell anyone in advance when the hearings were.  Dumb luck seems to be the device by which those 37 hearings were attended.  Even when the transcripts of the hearings are released, the names are redacted from them – the public has no way of knowing who the detainees were or who any of the other players are in the decision to hold or release them.

In 2005, there were 463 recommendations that resulted in 14 releases, 119 transfers of prisoners to other facilities. The Administrative Review Board decided to continue to detain 330 of the prisoners remaining in Guantánamo.  In 2006, two prisoners were released, 55 became eligible for transfer, and 273 continued to be detained at Guantánamo.

Since a Supreme Court decision in June 2008 gave detainees the right to have their detentions reviewed by federal judges in habeas cases, the government has won only three of them. Three! Not surprisingly, Bush’s Department of Justice has appealed some of the rulings it lost.

As The Decider and his waterboarding cronies prepared leave Washington, they speeded up the release of many men held at Guantánamo over the last seven years.

Nearly ten percent of the “worst of the worst” have been released in the last three months. One of them, a poor kid from Chad, who spent the first two thirds of his life in Saudi Arabia with his parents, was accused of being a member of an Al-Qaeda cell in London when he was 11. He was sent to Guantánamo when he was 14, where he stayed until last week. He says that he was tortured during his imprisonment there.

If young Muhammad Hamid Al Qarani was not an enemy of the United States before his capture and designation as an enemy combatant, you can bet he’s one now, having grown up subject to the loving nurture of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.  He spent nearly one third of his life being held indefinitely there.  Do you think that might give a kid some issues?

In September, the Department of Defense admitted that a dozen teenagers had been held at Guantánamo over the last six years, four of whom were still there. Five of these kids were released, but one commited suicide. If my own child were held in a foreign prison, not even as a Prisoner of War but under a nebulous designation that prevents any treaties from applying to him, I would be advocating strongly for the war crimes of the country holding him to be punished – and punished severely.

There’s still another problem, though.  About 50 of the detainees who have been cleared for release have no place to go.  Either their homelands won’t accept them or they don’t have a homeland.  Some who fall under the latter status are Palestinian.  Yemen won’t accept its natives back. And even as the numbers in Gitmo dwindle, there are still thousands of detainees held in military prisons in other countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, and  the joint US/UK base on the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia.

President Barack Obama has said consistently over the last two years that he intends to close the Guantánamo Bay as a detention center. Last week it was reported that he might issue the executive order closing the prison camp as soon as today, although other reports are that closing the prison might not be accomplished even within the first 100 days that he is in office.

I hope he does more than just close the prison camp. I hope he repatriates each and every person held there. If they are terrorists, their own countries can deal with them. The United States government has refused to do anything but warehouse them.


Rulings of Improper Detentions as the Bush Era Closes (NY Times, January 19, 2009)
Obama Vows to Close Guantanamo (Al Jazeera English, November 18, 2008)
Obama Closing Guantanamo: Preparing Order in First Week (The Huffington Post, January 12, 2009)
24 Gitmo Prisoners Ruled Wrongfully Held in Last three Months (The Washington Independent, January 19, 2009)
Obama: Guantanamo Center Might Not Close Within First 100 Days (Baltimore Sun, January 20, 2009)
Annual Administrative Review Boards for Enemy Combatants Held at Guantanamo Attributable to Senior Defense Officials (DoD, March 6, 2007)
List of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from January 2002 through May 15, 2006 (DoD, May 15, 2006)

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Domestic, Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, War | Leave a comment


Not only is he likely to die by the end of his first term in office (see the actuarial tables if you think I’m kidding), he’s clueless.

Yes, the wars in central Asia are a problem.  But even bigger and more worrisome is our country’s fiscal well-being.  To quote James Carville’s “war room” reminder from 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Sixteen years later, it’s the economy again.  And that’s stupid.
As if it wasn’t bad enough before, the past two weeks have seen our economy positively reeling from blows repeatedly delivered to it over the past several years.

First, September 7 it was announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were insolvent and had to be taken over by the government.  These two publicly owned companies either own or guarantee fully half of the mortgages in America. That’s right: of the twelve trillion dollars – that’s 12 followed by a dozen zeroes, for those of you who don’t know –  in money borrowed to finance the American Dream, $6 trillion of it was, in one form or another, the ultimate responsibility of these two companies.

Fannie and Freddie are, according to Fortune’s listing of the “Global 500,” the 161st and 162nd largest companies in the world respectively. The ranking is based on their annual revenue, which for each company is a little over $43 billion. Their profits, however, are in the negatives.  Fannie Mae reports losses of $2.05 billion and Freddie Mac, even worse, reports losses of $3.094 billion. And together they were on the hook for six trillion dollars in debt, over one percent of which was delinquent. That’s a recipe for bankruptcy in anyone’s pocketbook.

Are these companies even the biggest losers on the scale of gargantuan companies posting gargantuan losses?  No.  General Motors (yes, another cornerstone of the American economy and a major employer worldwide) boasts that honor.  With revenues of more than $182 billion, GM is posting a loss of $38.732 billion.   Ford Motor Company isn’t quite as desperate.  It comes in at #10 on the list of losers at a loss of $1.8 billion.  A loss like that seems manageable in comparison to GM’s, doesn’t  it?

Another US company, Sprint/Nextel, which is the third largest among the telecom giants, is posting losses exceeding $26 trillion this year.  Staggering losses like these do more than cause a company to go bankrupt.  Companies vaporize due to losses like these.  Then there’s the domino effect of the fallout: lost jobs, unpaid debts to other companies, and a gap in the economy that no amount of politicking can fill.

Will the government rescue GM like it rescued the Chrysler Corporation in the 1970’s? Our automakers employ an awful lot of people.  It will be very hard for the United States, competing with Indian and Chinese workers who charge pennies to the dollars charged by American workers for their time, to fill a manufacturing hole of that size.

It’s a big jump from these staggering losses to the next bracket of the biggest losers on Fortune’s list.  A German bank, in the red because it helped bail out a German competitor that had tanked because it had invested heavily in American subprime mortgages, is next in line with losses of $8.4 billion, but then, when we look to the next giant losers, we’re back on American soil.

Merrill Lynch is the fourth biggest money loser worldwide right now. Merrill Lynch was in the news this weekend because Bank of America became its white knight, dashing in to rescue the failing investment giant, whose offices fill all 34 floors of the Four World Financial Center Building in Manhattan’s famous financial district.  We might note here that the same subprime lending crisis has led to the failure of this icon of investing.  We might also note that Merrill Lynch is one of the relative handful of investment companies that survived the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  News of its failure is ominous, indeed.

Four of the top five money losers in the world are American, and the one that isn’t had losses caused entirely by the American subprime crisis. And get this: one of the top five losers is an agency of the American government!  Did that sentence get your attention? It should have.  Yes, the United States Postal Service is number five on the list of losers.

Now, I could wax lyrical about the mismanagement of the postal service here, but I’ll save my rant for another time.  Maybe I’ll mention something in the comments to this blog about how much freaking money the USPS spends to advertise its monopoly. But for now I’ll pass.  There’s a lot of complex analysis that goes into that discussion, and I’m talking about the economy in general, here.  I’m talking about a certain presidential candidate’s understanding of the economy in particular.

You see, despite Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, despite the subprime and credit crises, despite the failure of Merrill Lynch and AIG, which the Federal Reserve decided to help yesterday with an $85 billion bailout loan, despite the bankruptcy filing this weekend of Lehman Brothers, another huge investment firm, John McCain believes our economy is fundamentally sound.

Now, keep in mind that we have a federal budget deficit of $9 trillion that has grown by well over $400 billion a year since the current administration has been in control. We’re fighting two wars in central Asia at an annual cost of $200 billion, which we have borrowed from China – China! – to finance. The Federal Reserve just lent AIG $85 billion, and that money has to come from somewhere.  Internationally, our currency is weak.

When the wars started, President Bush expanded the government in an unprecedented move by creating a Department of Homeland Security.  (Excuse me, but wasn’t that what the already-existing National Security Agency for?  Wasn’t Homeland Security redundant?  I feel another rant coming on.  I’ll stop here.)

The biggest financial  losers globally are either American companies or driven to their staggering losses by American economic policies and practices, and John McCain thinks that the economy is fundamentally sound.

John McCain thinks that America’s big employers and investors can sustain staggering losses and the economy is still fundamentally sound.

Something in that jungle prison over there did more than make him unable to comprehend how to send an email.  Something in that jungle prison over there robbed him of his ability to see what is obviously an unfolding financial disaster on a scale with the Great Depression.

John McCain thinks the economy is fundamentally sound. He said so on Monday, the same day Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.

The emperor is wearing no clothes, and his consort is a redneck rodeo queen.

Tens of thousands of jobs on Wall Street are at risk, as are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the automotive industry.  Monday was the worst day for the stock market since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The dollar is weak against foreign currencies. We’re fighting two wars. Oil, which we depend upon as much as we depend upon water, is three times as costly as it ought to be. Worker productivity has increased, but wages have not.

Our government isn’t financially sound.  It has debt it can’t possibly repay and it has pushed a pro-credit, pro-housing agenda among the populace until consumers no longer can pay for what they buy. Unemployment is rising, and job creation is ridiculously low, a dangerous situation when we look at the potential for both white collar and blue collar job losses.

McCain thinks the government is fundamentally sound? You’ve got to be kidding me.

September 17, 2008 Posted by | Domestic, Economy, News, Politics, Uncategorized, War | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Putting the War for Oil in Perspective

Graphic shamelessly ripped off from Robin Nixon’s blog, “It’s the Only One We Have.”

November 5, 2007 Posted by | Environment, Iraq, News, Science, War | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perspectives on War

I was talking recently with a couple of friends who have experience in military and foreign relations. As sometimes happens with us, the discussion turned to politics.

The question was asked, “What do you think about Russia and China conducting joint military training?”

One friend, who has a military background, dismissed the exercises as “showing off.”

“So you don’t think they can amass the power to oppose the US in world military matters?” I asked.

“I think the trainings were a desperation move,” my other friend responded. This friend has worked with the American diplomatic corps in international locations for years.

“Why do you say that?”

“China and Russia consider themselves decision makers along with US on international levels, but in recent years, they have found themselves out the picture and being ignored. They are trying to drawn some attention hoping the world will remember their presences.”

“As though the world doesn’t remember that they are both serious nuclear powers?” I was skeptical.

“They hope, among other things, that if they make a display of comradeship and display their combined military might, other countries will look to them with more respect,” said my diplomatic friend.

“They can only do so much, though,” agreed my military friend. “In the end, they know and everyone knows that we could crush them and their entire military in less than 24 hours.”

“Yeah, right,” I said sarcastically. “Like we crushed Iraq.”

“No war has ever been won faster than Iraq,” declared my military friend.

“What about the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War?”

“No. We won the war in less than eight hours and then we invaded to take out the remaining resistance. It took time to cover the land and actually get to Baghdad, but by then the war had been won.”

“What do you mean, eight hours? Eight hours from when we got to Baghdad, or eight hours from when we crossed the Kuwait border initially?”

“By military definition, a war is won when one side destroys the enemy’s military and renders it unable to fight. That only took us less than eight hours with airstrikes, before we ever crossed the border,” my military friend explained.

I repeated one of my initial questions. “Could we cripple the combined military of Russia and China as quickly, without nuclear reprisal?”

“Easily,” my military friend asserted. My diplomat friend agreed with a nod.

“Without inviting a nuclear attack from them?” I was very skeptical.

“There is no assurance that we could avoid nuclear missiles getting into our territories,” said my diplomat friend. “Desperation may lead the losing countries to try using their nuclear power, and they might get missiles through before we could destroy them.”

My military friend added, “But we have jets that have never been used in any war, sophisticated weapons…”

“Do you really believe that we are 100% capable of taking out any nuclear warhead directed at the US or its allies?” I demanded. No matter what the technology might be, error-prone humans create the equipment, program it, and operate it.

“Nothing is one hundred percent assured,” agreed my diplomat friend.

“Do you think any country would actually use nuclear weapons?”

“Yes,” asserted my military friend without hesitation. “Any Muslim country that obtains nuclear weapons will use them against us.”

I was still skeptical, but thoughtful. “I prefer to think that the lessons of Japan and even of Chernobyl would cause leaders not to use them, but if the nuclear arsenal of a country got into the hands of fanatics, I don’t think we would be able to judge what might happen. Fanatics just don’t think like we do.”

“Consider, too, that the world population is increasing and there are not enough natural resources to satisfy everyone. It won’t be long before the countries of the world will be fighting over resources as basic to sustaining life as water.” My diplomat friend has already been at the negotiating table on matters of resources and the environment.

“That is definitely true,” I agreed. “But if nuclear weapons are used, then the land affected by them becomes uninhabitable, and resources like water that pass through contaminated lands will be unusable.”

“Right, but some countries may see themselves as having no choice but to destroy more powerful countries just so they can survive. They believe the historically powerful countries are dominating the world and they need to be taken out. For instance, that is what many Muslims believe. They think the only way for Islam and their way of life to survive is if there is no powerful Western influence over their government or their culture.” My military friend feels strongly about this, in case that fact escaped anyone.

“There are plenty of countries that resent our interference in their policies. Venezuela is one. Obviously the Muslim world thinks that of any non-Muslim power. China has been careful to prevent foreign influence and accused England of causing their population to become addicted to opium in the 19th century in an effort to control them,” my diplomat friend pointed out.

“No country appreciates the interference of outside forces,” I agreed, “unless they see that country as an ally that has been invited for a particular purpose – like Kuwait during the Gulf War.”

“The bottom line,” declared my military friend, grinning, “is that we need to destroy the rest of the world sooner rather than later if we want to stay in the driver’s seat.”

“Now you’re thinking clearly!” I laughed.

“Right,” said my diplomat friend. “Instead of annexing the rest of the world, we should just annihilate those other countries. We should learn from the mistakes Rome made.”

“Not to mention the Soviet Union,” I added. “Ancient Greece, ancient Persia, Hitler, Napoleon – all made the same mistake of trying to conquer the world when they should have just destroyed it.”

“Finally you two are talking like people who know what they are talking about,” my military friend chuckled.

What’s disconcerting is that I’m not sure he wasn’t just a little bit serious.

October 16, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, History, Humor, Iraq, News, Politics, War | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Defeat in Iraq?

Map of Iraq

Map of Iraq

The following is a story off the wires from a news service in India. Upon reading it, my question is this:

If the American Intelligence community believes that the British have been defeated in Basra (Al Basrah on the map above), what must they think has happened in Baghdad, where violence is so much worse? And why isn’t THAT being reported?


London, Aug.8 (ANI): American intelligence officials believe that British forces have been defeated in Basra.

According to The Telegraph and the Washington Post, British commanders had reportedly allowed militias loyal to three Shia Muslim groups to take control of the city. ntelligence officials were quoted as saying that about 500 British troops based at the Basra Palace have been “surrounded like cowboys and Indians”.

Basra is one of four provinces handed over to British control after of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Three of the four provinces have been pacified and handed back to local leaders; Basra, the most populous, is due to be returned by the year end.

Both papers quoted Major Mike Shearer, a spokesman for the British command in Basra, as saying that the suggestion that UK troop levels in the province (5,500), had been cut too fast, was not true.

“This is not Dorset, but Basra’s crime levels are half the level of Washington,” he said.

A second British official in Basra, while admitting that violence has increased in the city, said the American criticism was misplaced.

Gordon Brown told George W Bush at their meeting at Camp David last week that British troops planned to hand over responsibility for Basra to local leaders within months, but that the decision was in the hands of British commanders.

Britain’s former governor of Basra, Sir Hilary Synnott, said the US criticism was payback for British claims two years ago that Basra was a success while Washington had failed in Baghdad.

A think-tank report has said the legacy of British rule in Basra was “the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighbourhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias”.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Washington said yesterday that the Washington Post report did not reflect America’s official position on British force levels.

August 8, 2007 Posted by | Iraq, News, War | Leave a comment

Hamas Leader Says Israel’s Existence is a Reality

Honest to god, this is the REAL Reuters Headline.

It leads me to ask the obvious question:
If Hamas is just now figuring this out, where have they thought the bombs were coming from all this time?

January 10, 2007 Posted by | News, Politics, Religion, War | Leave a comment

A Twizzle in Time: A Twisted Political Fairy Tale

A Twisted Political Fairy Tale magnify

Once upon a time there was a spoiled rotten prince named George who got to be king. He was a brat of a prince, and his father, Old King George, always expected his somewhat less bratty and somewhat nobler brother Jeb to become King, but somehow Bratty Prince George weaseled his way onto the throne while the Old King and Prince Jeb weren’t looking. Now that he was on the throne, it was proving impossible to dislodge him.

One day, a group of the bratty king’s reluctant advisors were talking about him behind his back, which was the safest way to say negative things about the bratty king. Count John of the Ashy Croft mentioned his concern. “He gets this glazed look in his eyes and it there’s no getting through to him,” he complained.

General Colin the Powellful, a mighty warrior dedicated to the kingdom, related what he had seen. “He puts his arms out, stretched in front of him like a zombie or like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, and says in a weird voice, ‘must have Twizzlers, must have Twizzlers.’ It’s sick. HE thinks he’s being funny!” The grizzled general shook his head is disgust.

Condi, the Baroness Rice, who was in charge of all things having to do with grain, noted that the bratty king’s obsession with Twizzlers was so extreme that “he just seethes and bristles until I show up with his daily supply. And if I’m late, he’ll be screaming, ‘where’s my sugar? Get me some sugar!’ It’s horrifying. And I’m in charge of grains, not sugar! It’s not my job!” Her lovely brow furrowed with grumpiness as she stamped her dainty foot.

“I know what you mean,” agreed the king’s new personal physician, Dr. Moritsugu. “He does the same thing to me. It’s impossible! I’m a Doctor, guys, not a confectioner!”

Earl Rover, perhaps the bratty king’s best friend and closest advisor, confided that the famous “pretzel incident,” where the bratty king allegedly choked on a pretzel in in a local tavern, was a coverup for the real problem. “He choked on a Twizzler, but I didn’t want the public to know the awful truth.” The earl was almost in tears as he confessed this secret. “I mean, he drinks tankards of ale using Twizzlers as straws! Even peasants with iron stomachs retch at that combination. The kingdom will soon be knee-deep in barf.” The others nodded sympathetically, all looking a bit green.

Wolf O’Wits, a lesser noble desperate to keep his advisory position and fearing a fall from favor, said that he always kept a bag of Twizzlers nearby. “If the King starts suggesting that he’s unhappy with my advice, I just offer him a Twizzler. It works every time.”

The Don of Rummy, advisor of all things alcohol-and-cards-related, admitted that he also used Twizzlers to suck up to the bratty king. “I keep some around at all times,” he confided. It keeps the king calm and I can pretty much get accomplished whatever I feel I need to.” Wolf O’Wits nodded in agreement. Colin the Powellful looked askance at the Don, whose agenda he disapproved of.

Richard the Clarke, a crusty advisor left over from several kings before, posed the inevitable question: “What should we do?”

The advisors all shook their heads in bafflement and sadness. Robert the Gateskeeper spoke up. He was in charge of defense of the kingdom, and saw the bratty king’s Twizzler addiction as a weakness that could be penetrated by enemies. “We have to break his addiction,” the Gateskeeper said decisively.

“But how?” asked Baroness Rice, who was not much for original ideas.

“I know!” said Earl Rover. ” Let’s call Alan of the Green Span.” The Green Span was the most impressive bridge into the Kingdom, and Alan of the Green Span was a very famous bridge-tender. He was known for having established the toll rates that must be paid by anyone entering the kingdom on business. Many people thought he had the answer to almost everything because he was so wise. So the advisors trooped off to visit Alan of the Green Span, who was tending flowers in his retirement.

“I don’t think I can be of much assistance,” Alan of the Green Span objected as he deadheaded his petunias. “I’m retired. Let the young men in charge of things decide such policy.” When he said this he looked pointedly at the Don of Rummy. It was well known that Rummy’s policies and decisions were unpopular in the kingdom. In fact, there were rumors that Robert the Gateskeeper would replace the Don as the bratty king’s confidante very soon. But of course, those were just rumours.

Next the advisors decided to consult Alberto, the most famous lawyer in all the kingdom. “Unless you want to sue the manufacturer of Twizzlers or get an injunction to shut down production, I can’t help,” said Alberto. He shrugged his shoulders and examined his briefs. Condi examined his briefs, too.

“Alberto had a good idea, actually,” remarked Gutierrez, who was the advisor over the various commercial guilds in the kingdom. “If there is an injunction, then no more Twizzlers can be made, and the king will have to do without. Perhaps a modicum of sanity will then return to the throne.”

“Yes,” agreed Michael of Shirt Off, who was very concerned that the kingdom be secure so that he could go play half-naked golf. “An injunction is just the thing to do.”

So the advisors, now joined by Gutierrez and Shirt Off, and with the blessing of Alan of the Green Span (and accompanied by a selection of his finest cut flowers) went back to Alberto.

“There has to be a reason to shut down production of Twizzlers,” explained Alberto. Obviously we can’t give the real reason because the king would simply issue a decree saying that Twizzler production could go on. We have to come up with another reason.”

The advisors thought and thought. Then an advisor who had not spoken up before had an idea. Michael of Leave It, generally a lazy advisor known for his tendency to procrastinate, suggested looking at the label on a package of the King’s favorite Twizzlers. “Corn Syrup, Flour, Sugar, Cornstarch, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil 2% or Less, Salt 2% or Less, Artificial Flavorings 2% or Less, Citric Acid 2% or Less, Potassium Sorbate 2% or Less – a Preservative, Artificial Coloring 2% or Less – Includes Red 40 …”

“What does THAT mean?” cried Wolf O’Wits.

“I recognize some of those words, but not very many,” agreed Richard the Clarke.

“Aha!” shouted Gutierrez. “I think we have our angle!”

Even Alberto looked confused, but as Gutierrez explained his reasoning, smiles appeared on the faces of all the advisors. Alberto grinned. “Yes, I think that will work,” he said.

The next day Judge John Robert, the highest judge in all the land, entered an injunction against the manufacture of Twizzlers. Puffing on his houka, the high Judge announced that henceforth there would be a permanent injunction against the manufacture not only of Twizzlers but of any item claiming to be food that did not contain all ingredients easily recognizable as food to any casual label-reader.

It was not long before the bratty king left the kingdom on a crusade to other lands to find the elusive Twizzler. He left his most trusted advisors in charge, but his penis, which he jokingly referred to as “Chainy” accompanied him assuring that there would be no offspring of the bratty king left in the kingdom.

Years went by and no one heard from the bratty king. A new king was selected and assumed the throne. Even though the new kinghad his own issues, nothing as serious as the Twizzler escapade ever troubled the kingdom again. And the citizens were healthier, to boot.

Children, the moral of the story is that if you can’t pronounce it, if it’s not made of things you can imagine consuming raw, don’t eat it. It might make you as crazy as bratty King George.

Bardic voices inspiring this fairy tale include Broken Newz.

January 10, 2007 Posted by | Creative Writing, Fiction, Humor, Iraq, News, Politics, War, Writing | Leave a comment

Dixie Chicks


The Dixie Chicks Ad NBC Doesn’t Want You To See

The Dixie Chicks were blacklisted by radios stations nationwide because the lead singer, Natalie Maines, said to a cheering crowd, “We are ashamed that President bush is from Texas.”

NBC won’t run an ad for the movie, because it says the ad is “disparaging to President Bush.”

For the love of all that’s free in this country, don’t they air ads disparaging to the president every four years, every time he has a political challenger?

December 1, 2006 Posted by | News, Politics, War | Leave a comment


Kurdistan magnify

Kurds are one of the largest ethnic populations in the world without a country.

The Kurds are an ancient people who have inhabited the area of Kurdistan for as long as 8,000 years.  The Kurdish language cannot be taught legally in Iranian schools.  It is banned entirely as a language in Syria, and Turkey has prosecuted people for using it even as recently as 2003.  The only part of Kurdistan where the language thrives is Iraq, and Iraq hosts Kurdish refugees from the other parts of Kurdistan. Although the language in Indo-Iranian in origin, “the historical development of the Kurdish language (both grammar and vocabulary) is distinct and different than the other members of the Iranian language family,” according to Wikipedia.

For centuries the Kurds have been persecuted much like the Jews of Europe and the Native tribes of North America.  For instance, in the 16th century, as the Ottomans conquered more and more of Persian, entire Kurdish regions of Anatolia were systematically destroyed.  Cities were and crops were burned and the people who survived were forcibly marched to Azerbaijan and even further east, as far as 1,500 miles away to Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.

Because of their ethnic identity, Kurds have continually sought autonomy from the governments that have split Kurdistan.  When the Ottoman Empire finally decayed out of existence in the early  20th century, many Kurds expected that autonomy.  When it failed to materialize, they believed that the newly created Turkish republic had betrayed them.  Backed by the United Kingdom, Turkish Kurds declared independence in 1927 and established the Republic of Ararat, which was never recognized by the international community.  In 1931Turkey resumed control over the disputed area. Turkey again suppressed Kurdist revolts in 1937-1938, while Iran did the same in the 1920s. The Soviet-sponsored Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, in Iran, lasted barely more than one year after World War II.  Kurds fought Iraq’s Baathist government for independence in the 1960’s and in 1970 rejected limited territorial self-rule within Iraq, unsuccessfully demanding larger areas including the oil-rich Kirkuk region.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime implemented anti-Kurdish policies and practices which were widely condemned by the international community.  Among the more notorious actions against the Kurds under his rule was the Halabja poison gas attack, when Saddam used of chemical weapons against the Kurds. Thousands died.

Later, Saddam’s army, under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid, carried out  a systematic genocide of the Kurdish people. From March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, more than 2000 Kurdish villages were destroyed and an estimated 50,000 Kurds were killed in rural areas. The large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) was completely destroyed by the Iraqi army. The campaign also included Arabization of Kirkuk, a program to drive Kurds out of the oil-rich city and replace them with Arab settlers from central and southern Iraq. Kurdish sources report the number of dead to be greater than 182,000. Saddam Hussein is currently on trial and no doubt awaiting sentencing for his crimes against the Kurds.

So should Kurdistan be autonomous?

Since we invaded the country, the most peaceful portion of the Iraq has been the Kurdish north.  I have seen several articles about non-Kurdish Iraqis moving to Iraqi Kurdistan to escape the violence.  One has to wonder if this mass migration will result in the violence being brought to the doorstep of the peaceful Kurds. To a degree, it already has in cities like Kirkuk and Mosul.

Kirkuk itself is a thorny issue within the issue of Kurdish autonomy within Iraq.  Kirkuk is in a region with vast oil resources, but lies on the southwestern edge of the Kurdish area.  Negotiations with the Baathist government in 1970 broke down over whether or not Kirkuk would be part of the Kurdish autonomous region.

Iraqi Kurds want independence.  It would seem at first glance that an independent Kurdistan would be reasonable, except that our ally Turkey objects.  Turkey has the largest population of Kurds.

The area that would make an ethnic Kurdistan actually spreads into six countries: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.  An estimated 25-40 million Kurds inhabit the area, which is approximately the size of France.  If Iraqi Kurds win independence, there could very easily be a domino effect in the other five countries with Kurdish populations.  This would destabilize the entire region, especially Turkey, Iran and Syria.  I can’t imagine anyone wants to see any of these countries, especially Iran or Syria, destabilized.

November 4, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, Religion, War | 1 Comment

The Hunt for WMD Continues


Terror Watch: The Hunt for WMD Continues

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R. – Mich.) demanded in recent weeks that US intelligence agencies continue to look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  He might be another voice in the crowd, but unfortunately he is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  The intelligence officials who report to his committee say there is nothing new to discover.

We have been in Iraq for three years now.  The UN weapons inspectors found nothing in the years preceding our invasion of Iraq, and since the invasion nothing of any significance has been found.  Yet Rep. Hoekstra wants to devote hundreds more man hours to continue looking for these phantom WMDs.

To be fair, some old chemical weapons have been found.  Recently 300 old chemical shells were found, and there were 500 sarin shells found earlier.  All of these shells, though, dated back to before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.  They were in such bad condition they couldn’t have conceiveably been used for any destructive purpose.

Saddam Hussein did not possess WMDs  before President Bush decided to invade Iraq.  He apparently had no plans to revive his program.   The WMDs that justified the invasion did not exist.  We went to war over phantom chemicals.

Hoekstra insists that “there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq.” The thing is, though, Hoekstra has said he wants the intelligence agencies “to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war.”   BEFORE the war?  Why? It’s beating such a dead horse!  They don’t exist, and even if they do, they are in such poor shape they can’t be used!  Why waste the manpower and money to continue this wild goose chase?  Is he that desperate to somehow vindicate the White House?  Even the White House has backed off on its claims of WMDs.

Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Hoekstra, asserts that Hoekstra’s main concern is that all munitions dumps and sites that could still pose a hazard to U.S. soldiers be found. “Any effort that chairman Hoekstra has made in this area has been aimed at insuring the safety of our troops overseas,” he said.  So it’s not to make the Iraqi people more secure.  It’s to make our soldiers more secure.  But the alleged WMDs don’t pose a threat to our people!

There are those in the U.S. intelligence community who see Hoekstra’s demands as a waste of time.  One source Hoekstra claimed for proof of the existence of the WMDs was Georges Sada, a former Iraqi Air Force general who claimed in a book that chemical weapons were flown from Iraq to Syria prior to the U.S. invasion. Sada has admitted he never actually saw any of the weapons, but his allegations were prominently featured on Fox News.

The bottom line is that more than three years into the war, the mission is not accomplished and is unlikely ever to be accomplished.  There are better and more productive things to spend our intelligence resources on than a search for ghosts.

October 8, 2006 Posted by | Iraq, News, War | 1 Comment

‘Just a Comma’ on National Punctuation Day

'Just a Comma' magnify

According to the Carpetbagger Report, which can be accessed on the Think Progress website, this afternoon on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, George W. Bush practically said that all the sectarian violence in Iraq is irrelevant. When history views what is going on in Iraq now, Bush claims it will be seen as “just a comma.”

Is it just me, or does anyone else think he needs to go back to primary school and learn punctuation?

This is what was said:

BLITZER: Let’s move on and talk a little bit about Iraq. Because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public, a lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war, if not already a civil war…. We see these horrible bodies showing up, tortured, mutilation. The Shia and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, al Qaeda in Iraq is still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see — you see it on TV, and that’s the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there’s also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people…. Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy.

Presubably our Ivy League-educated Miscommunicator in Chief meant that all the mutilations, the suicide bombs, the beheadings, as well as all the senseless murder of civilian men, women and children in the marketplaces and at mosques, will be only a footnote in Iraqi history. That would make more sense, anyway.

I find it extremely hard to believe that what is happening in Iraq right now will be reduced to some kind of punctuation mark – a squiggle that doesn’t even mention it. Heck, I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I believe that it will even merit considerably more than a footnote! The Boston Tea Party merits more than a footnote, after all, and it had all the hallmarks of a fraternity prank, the likes of which I’m sure our esteemed chief executive was familiar with at Yale. If dumping a cargo of tea into Boston Harbor is part of the legend of American democracy, surely the mutilations and murders of thousands of people over a period of a few months will be part of the legend of Iraqi democracy.

How could we have re-elected this idiot? How could this fool ever have been elected president in the first place? Oh, yeah. I forgot. He wasn’t.

Perhaps Bush decided to make this comment because today is National Punctuation Day. No kidding. It really is.

September 24, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Grammar, History, Iraq, News, Politics, War | Leave a comment

Gaining Respect for (gulp) Condoleezza

Lawyers and G.O.P. Chiefs Resist Proposal on Tribunal – New York Times

Selected portions of this astounding article:

    “The Bush administration’s proposal to bring leading terrorism suspects before military tribunals met stiff resistance Thursday from key Republicans and top military lawyers who said some provisions would not withstand legal scrutiny or do enough to repair the nation’s tarnished reputation internationally….
    “The administration officials, who agreed to discuss internal administration deliberations in exchange for anonymity, said the decision to transfer high-level terror suspects from Central Intelligence Agency prisons to military custody had been the result of months of secret debate at the highest levels of government.
    “The officials said the change had been most vigorously championed by the State Department, under Condoleezza Rice, against some resistance from a range of officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who had defended the status quo, in which high-level leaders of Al Qaeda, including the man identified as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, have been held in secret C.I.A custody.
Brig, Gen. James C. Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines, said that no civilized country should deny a defendant the right to see the evidence against him and that the United States ‘should not be the first.’
    “Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, the judge advocate general of the Army, made the same point, and Rear Adm. Bruce E. MacDonald, the judge advocate general of the Navy, said military law provided rules for using classified evidence, whereby a judge could prepare an unclassified version of the evidence to share with the jury and the accused and his lawyer.
    Senate Republicans said the proposal to deny the accused the right to see classified evidence was one of the main points of contention remaining between them and the administration.
    ‘It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them,’  said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has played a key role in the drafting of alternative legislation as a member of the Armed Services Committee and a military judge.  ‘”Trust us, you’re guilty, we’re going to execute you, but we can’t tell you why”? That’s not going to pass muster; that’s not necessary.”

I may have to rethink my total disgust with absolutely every member of the Bush administration.  This NYT  article tells us that Condi actually opposes holding suspected terrorists in secret CIA prisons.  She apparently even wants to give them a trial before they are executed.  Yes, a member of the Bush administration thinks perhaps due process should at least be given a nod with respect to these people.

The article says she and Cheney have been in conflict over this subject.  Anyone in the administration who stands up to Cheney has my attention, if not my respect.  That man scares the hell out of me.  W observed the same vice presidential plan as his father – pick one that would be a much worse president and guarantee no one will opt for assassination.

How should our government prosecute someone when the evidence against them is classified?  The Bush administration would simply say that the defendant shouldn’t know the classified evidence against him, but should be convicted anyway.  This violates the Confrontation Clause in the US Constitution, which provides that a criminal defendant should be fully apprised of the evidence against him and be able to confront the witnesses presenting that evidence.

The Confrontation Clause is part of the Bill of Rights, those first ten Amendments to the Constitution that address the basic rights and freedoms that all people should have.  This is where we find the freedom of speech and religion, the right to be secure in our homes against government intrusion, the right of states to organize militias, the criminal defendant’s right to a lawyer, the right to associate with whomever we wish.

Why was this included in the Bill of Rights?  We should keep in mind that the framers of our constitution were considered criminals themselves at one point in their lives: immediately before and during the revolutionary war.  In crafting the constitution there were months of heated debate and argument about wehat to include and how it should be include d.  The framers carefully worded each phrase so as to lay a foundation for a free society.

I think if any of the framers were alive today to see how much government intrusion there is in our daily lives, they would be shocked senseless.

But back to the issue of confrontation: When one is accused of a crime and subject to losing his liberty or his life becauseof the accusations, he must know what the evidence is and he must be given a lawyer so that he can do his best to effectively counter it.  His liberty is on the line.    His life may be on the line.   The Bush administration would have us support keeping the terrorist suspects in custody as well as the prisoners of war held at Guantanamo Bay, just because the administration doesn’t want to explain what the evidence is.

This is the same administration that insisted Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, remember?  And it says, just like when it justified going to war in Iraq, “we have good evidence, but we’re not going to tell you what it is.”

The chief executive of the United States government should support the constitution enthusiastically and without exception.  This administration has sought ways around it and other laws at every turn.  It diminishes my respect for the government.

September 8, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, News, Politics, War | Leave a comment