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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 02/17/2008 - 02/24/2008
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And, yes, I DO take it personally

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Upholding the U.S. Constitution - what a concept!

(thanks to mcjoan at daily kos...)

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Now, the Bush admin is claiming the telcos are refusing to cooperate

lord almighty... the bush administration is never going to stop playing the fear card...
Two top Bush administration officials said Friday that some telecommunications companies are resisting wiretapping orders for terrorists because a surveillance law expired nearly a week ago.

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey made the assertion in a letter to Congress, the latest salvo in a rhetorical war between the White House and Capitol Hill over the law's expiration and the refusal of House Democrats to adopt a Senate-passed bill in its place.

The House has passed its own version of surveillance legislation. Democrats want to work out the differences between the bills rather than accept the Senate's version outright.

The two bills differ in one important way: The Senate bill provides retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that wiretapped American phone and computer lines at the government's request after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but without the permission of a secret court created 30 years ago to oversee such activities. The House does not provide telecom immunity.

President Bush has promised to veto any surveillance bill that does not protect the companies from civil lawsuits that allege violations of privacy and wiretapping laws under the warrantless wiretapping program.

McConnell predicted last week that the government's surveillance of terrorists would be harmed by the expiration of the law. He and Mukasey said that, six days after the law expired, that prediction has come true.

"We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress' failure to act," they wrote in a letter to Rep. Sylvestre Reyes, chairman of the House intelligence committee.

They said some private companies have delayed or refused compliance with requests to initiate wiretaps against people covered by orders issued under the expired law. They said most companies are cooperating, but some have suggested they will stop if "the uncertainty persists."

Senior administration officials refused Friday to specify which companies, or how many, were not cooperating. They said the companies believe the law's expiration means no changes can be made in existing orders, which can last for as long as a year. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

so, we've got to go to those telecoms and tell them, "look, we know we 'forced' you to break the law, and we know we told you we'd fix everything up for you, but we didn't expect that breaking the law was going to cause so much fuss, so just hang in there and keep on breaking the law, and we'll keep trying to change the law so that you won't have to break it any more, ok...?"

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Paco's trail of ruin in Argentina

i've been aware of the paco plague but, fortunately, i haven't seen much of it first-hand... on a couple of occasions, i've encountered young men on the street displaying a visibly hostile air and behaving erratically who i strongly suspect had been smoking paco... they were forcing themselves past people on the sidewalk, trying to catch someone's eye and spouting incoherent taunts as if they were trying to pick a fight... it was clear to me that responding in any way, even with a change of facial expression or body language, could potentially produce a violent confrontation...

from today's nyt...

[T]he irrepressible spread of paco, a highly addictive, smokable cocaine residue that has destroyed thousands of lives in Argentina [has] caused a cycle of drug-induced street violence never seen before in this country.

The scourge underscores a significant shift in both Argentina and its larger neighbor, Brazil, which in just a few years have become sizable cocaine consumers. Brazil now ranks as the second largest consumer of cocaine in the world after the United States, the State Department says.

this is a good article and is worth reading in full... there's also an accompanying video clip which gives a flavor of the villas miserias (shantytowns) that have become a much larger feature of the buenos aires landscape since the economic collapse of 2001, a feature, naturally, that the ever-increasing hordes of gringo turistas never see...

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Bolivia withdraws from SOA/WHINSEC


i guess i'm surprised it didn't happen sooner...
In a letter to the Commandant of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, U.S. Army Col. Gilberto Perez, Bolivian President Evo Morales formally announced yesterday that he will not send Bolivian military officers to attend training programs at the institute formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

The announcement came as confirmation of a previous statement made by President Morales in October of last year when he announced that he would discontinue sending troops to the institute based on its historical ties to oppressive military regimes in Latin America. Bolivia has now officially become the fifth country after Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela to announce a withdrawal from the Fort Benning institution due to its negative image amongst Latin Americans.

The SOA/WHINSEC is a U.S. tax-payer funded military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. It was originally founded in 1946 in the Panama Canal zone and relocated to Fort Benning in 1984. The institution was catapulted into the headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution.

operation condor is certainly one of the darkest chapters in u.s.-latin american history...

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Just say "NO" to illegal wiretapping and telecom immunity

(thanks to kagro x at daily kos...)

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Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ): another one bites the dust

let's take these corrupt bastards DOWN... repub or dem, let's move back to the rule of law...
Republican Rep. Rick Renzi has been indicted for extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other charges related to a land deal in Arizona.

A 26-page federal indictment unsealed in Arizona accuses Renzi and two former business partners of conspiring to promote the sale of land that buyers could swap for property owned by the federal government. The sale netted one of Renzi's former partners $4.5 million.

in most countries i visit or spend time in, the good citizens KNOW their government is corrupt... in the u.s. we tend to live in this delusion that our public officials actually have our best interests at heart... sure, there's the occasional congressman and senator, but those are just one-off, dontcha know... it's about time that people figured out that the whole goddam thing is rotten to the core, full of crooks, liars, and generally slimy folks...

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Home mortgages - upside down and underwater

from today's nyt...
Not since the Depression has a larger share of Americans owed more on their homes than they are worth. With the collapse of the housing boom, nearly 8.8 million homeowners, or 10.3 percent of the total, are underwater. That is more than double the percentage just a year ago, according to a new estimate of the damage by Moody’s

i was enormously relieved when my son and his wife re-financed their home a couple of years ago, switching from an arm to a fixed-rate mortgage... unfortunately, as part of that transaction, in which the value of the house was re-appraised at a significantly higher value than they bought it for, they took a chunk of the increased equity and used it to do some landscaping and home improvements... now, with housing prices falling and no bottom in sight, they, along with those nearly 8.8 million other homeowners, owe more on the house than it's currently worth... they would have been content to ride it out except that they're trying to get back to my daughter-in-law's home state, and just last week she had to turn down a job offer there because they simply can't afford to sell right now...

as the article goes on to say...

For Americans caught in a mortgage trap and owing more on a home than it would sell for, consumer spending and confidence are the most immediate casualties, [Richard T. Curtin, director of the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers] reports. But the damage goes deeper.

People cannot move easily to jobs in other cities if they have to sell their homes at a loss. The $168 billion federal stimulus package is likely to be less effective than intended because many homeowners may simply use their government checks to pay down their debts.

not a day goes by that i am not deeply grateful for my asset and debt-free life...

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Serbia, Kosovo and the sacking of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade

Kosovo in relation to Serbia

what's puzzling to me, having seen numbers of u.s. embassies in other countries, is how such fortresses could possibly be breached... the embassies i've seen are armed camps with concertina wire, omnipresent security forces (both u.s. and private contractors), concrete barriers and bullet and impact-proof glass aplenty, and formidable layers of access points from street to interior offices... as with most news stories these days, something seems askew...

Angry Serbs broke into the U.S. Embassy and set fire to an office Thursday night as rioters rampaged through Belgrade's streets, putting an exclamation point of violence to a day of mass protest against Western support for an independent Kosovo.

At least 150,000 people rallied in Belgrade, waving Serbian flags and signs proclaiming "Stop USA terror," to denounce the bid by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority to create their own state out of what Serbs consider the ancient heartland of their culture.

The United States strongly criticized the violence and the Serb response. White House spokesman Dana Perino said the embassy "was attacked by thugs" and Serb police didn't do enough to stop it. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. warned Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic that it would hold them personally responsible for further damage.

Protesters burned American flags and the mob that attacked the embassy tore down the U.S. flag there. Crowds also ransacked a McDonald's, looted stores and fought with police in front of other diplomatic compounds in a display of the resentment seething in Serbia over the secession of what has been its southernmost province.

A charred body was found in the U.S. Embassy after the fire was put out, but all staff were accounted for, embassy spokeswoman Rian Harris said. Belgrade's Pink TV said the body appeared to be that of a rioter.

also, like virtually every other news story these days, this one is a textbook example of context-free journalism... nowhere is it mentioned that serbia, as the core of the former yugoslavia, has watched as its economic base, geography, culture, and pride have been whittled down to almost nothing, the most recent examples being kosovo and, in 2006, montenegro... can you imagine the uproar in the u.s. if the northern parts of new hampshire and maine were ceded to quebec or if new mexico and the part of colorado south of the arkansas river were ceded to mexico...? in fact, just such a scenario has already happened in the u.s. with the lakota nation, but, given the official u.s. policy to treat anything to do with native americans as either a joke or to ignore it altogether, few americans are even aware that it took place last december...

(see my previous posts on serbia and kosovo here...)

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Juan Cole: three world-changing events

i don't know about world-changing, but they're pretty significant...
Three things happened on Thursday that changed the world.

The victorious Pakistan People's Party, now the largest in the Pakistani lower house of parliament, has reached a deal for a coalition with two other parties. One is the Muslim League-N, loyal to former PM Nawaz Sharif, which has a quarter of seats in the federal legislature. The other is the Awami National Party, a Pushtun (Pathan) secular nationalist party.

Meanwhile the White House and the State Department appear to be confusing the Pakistani public by taking opposite stances on what needs to be done.

Second, angry Serbs attacked the US embassy in Belgrade.

Note that Neoconservative pundits kept telling us that there was something deeply wrong with Muslims for protesting when they were kicked or expelled, saying that look, the Serbs have been harmed by US policies but they don't go around attacking US embassies. I guess they'll have to find a new argument.

Third, Clinton " only managed only a draw in the debate with Obama She needed to fluster him into saying something that he should not. She failed. He looked strong, confident and presidential. It seems unlikely now that she can overcome his lead in pledged delegates.

i'll have more on serbia in the following post...

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Greenwald on the establishment press: "Helping to spread this poison is what they do"

even though the smearing of obama is just getting underway, glenn is gearing up for the massive effort yet to come...
[T]o recap, just from the last few days: Obama is the candidate of The Arabs who hates The Jews and has an "ease around Israel animus." He's basically just a soft-spoken Al Sharpton. His wife might deserve a "lynching party" for her radical anti-American hatred. And, of course, he's a closeted Muslim and Che Guevara fan. And that's just so far, with eight more months and many hundreds of millions of dollars to go.

The point isn't that this reflects poorly on Obama's electability -- it doesn't, at all (it might do the opposite). The point is that that one should expect what's coming, and realize -- most importantly -- that our establishment press takes its cues in all sorts of ways from exactly the dark crevices from which this filth spews and they will lead the way in helping to spread it. The establishment press is dependent upon the GOP establishment, which for years has provided them with their sources and access, and helping to spread this poison is what they do.

glenn also quotes digby...
As Digby said, the Democratic primary is exceedingly polite when compared to what is coming: "Just wait until you see what Ari Fleischer and his quarter of a billion have in store for us."

oh, gosh, i can hardly wait...

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The truth continues to trickle out: Britain connects Diego Garcia with extraordinary rendition flights

i posted back in mid-october on the possibility that diego garcia is a cia black site... it looks like, ever-so-slowly, the truth is coming out...
Two U.S. planes carrying terrorism suspects refueled at a U.S. base on British-ruled Diego Garcia in 2002, Britain said on Thursday, contradicting earlier assurances.

"Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia had not been used for rendition flights, recent U.S. investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when this had in fact occurred," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told parliament. Diego Garcia is an Indian Ocean island.

given the island's extreme isolation from just about anywhere, what do you think the likelihood is that they were "JUST" refueling stops for extraordinary rendition flights...?

here are some google earth shots of diego garcia...

The above shows the entire Diego Garcia
atoll surrounding the lagoon. Although
you can't see them very well in this shot,
there are 7 ships in the lagoon and 2
in port.

The above is a closer-in shot of the
airbase. The port is in the middle left
and the housing area is on the extreme
upper left.

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U.S. demos space weapons technology

whether the shoot-down was intended as a demo or not, it most certainly served as one... imho, there's one hell of a lot more going on here than we've been told...
[A] single SM-3 missile fired from the USS Lake Erie hit the satellite at 10:26 p.m. Eastern time. The missile struck the dead satellite about 150 miles above Earth as it traveled in orbit at more than 17,000 mph.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bush's approval drops in to the teens

quoting atrios, Holy Crap...!
George W. Bush's overall job approval rating has dropped to a new low in American Research Group polling as 78% of Americans say that the national economy is getting worse according to the latest survey from the American Research Group.

Among all Americans, 19% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 77% disapprove. When it comes to Bush's handling of the economy, 14% approve and 79% disapprove.

Among Americans registered to vote, 18% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 78% disapprove. When it comes to the way Bush is handling the economy, 15% of registered voters approve of the way Bush is handling the economy and 79% disapprove.

dismal... also, note the precipitous plunge from january to february...

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The FT picks up on Roubini's economic collapse scenario

i posted on nouriel roubini's financial collapse scenario back on 7 february... i see that the venerable financial times has now taken note... i won't excerpt the ft article as it's just a repeat of both my post and roubini's article... however, i thought these two ft graphics would be of interest...

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Of COURSE Pervez is refusing to step down

anyone besides me that finds that in the least bit NOT surprising...?
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says he has no plans to resign, despite a sweeping victory by the opposition in the country's parliamentary elections.

Mr Musharraf told the Wall Street Journal there was a need to move forward to help bring about a stable democratic government in Pakistan.

US President George Bush called the vote a victory for Pakistani democracy.

btw, musharraf's current term expires in 2012...

i've got a hunch that ol' pervez is holding something over washington's head that is much deeper, darker, blacker and uglier than we could even imagine, and that it has to do with 9/11... why do i think that...? like i said, it's just a hunch...

Pervez Musharraf official website

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Corporatocracy: talking the talk but will they walk it too?

yeah, yeah, yeah...
Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama intensified their populist appeals on Monday, responding to widespread economic anxiety and pushing the Democratic Party further from the business-friendly posture once championed by Bill Clinton.

Senator Barack Obama at a rally at Youngstown State University in Ohio. “We now have greater income inequality than any time since the Great Depression,” he said at another event in Ohio.

Mrs. Clinton, speaking on the eve of the Wisconsin primary but looking forward to primaries in Ohio and Texas on March 4, issued a 12-page compendium of her economic policies that emphasizes programs aiding families stressed by high oil prices, home foreclosures, costly student loans and soaring health care premiums.

In public appearances here and in her economic booklet, she took aim at hedge fund managers, oil company profits, drug company subsidies and trade agreements that she says encourage companies to export jobs.


Campaigning in Ohio before flying to Wisconsin for an election-eve rally, Mr. Obama said the wealthy had “made out like bandits” under the Bush administration and called for an end to tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas.

“In the last year alone,” Mr. Obama said, “93 plants have closed in this state. And yet, year after year, politicians in Washington sign trade agreements that are riddled with perks for big corporations but have absolutely no protections for American workers. It’s bad for our economy; it’s bad for our country.”

gee, it sure SOUNDS good, doesn't it...? but, before we get all cranked up about hillary and barack challenging our monied elites, let's re-visit a partial list of their advisors, shall we...? (oh, and btw, i can't let that "business-friendly" crap stand, unless "business-friendly" is taken to mean government and business feasting at an enormous banquet table on the spoils of war and the pound of flesh contributed by every citizen who didn't receive the engraved invitation to the party...)

from my post of 12 january, courtesy of the washington post...

Hillary Clinton

Madeleine K. Albright, President Clinton’s secretary of state and now chairperson of the National Democratic Institute, foreign policy adviser
Samuel R. Berger, President Clinton’s national security adviser and now a principal at business consultancy Stonebridge, foreign policy adviser
Lt. Gen. Daniel William Christman, a former West Point superintendent and now senior vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, foreign policy adviser
Gen. Wesley K. Clark, President Clinton’s Kosovo commander and now a Democratic fundraiser, endorsed Sen. Clinton Sept. 15
John H. Dalton, President Clinton’s Navy secretary and now president of the Financial Services Roundtable’s Housing Policy Council, veterans and military retirees for Hillary
Lee Feinstein, a deputy in President Clinton’s State Department, national security coordinator
Leslie H. Gelb; president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former New York Times correspondent and a former State and Defense Department official, informal adviser
Richard C. Holbrooke, President Clinton’s UN ambassador and broker of the Dayton Peace Accords (and now a Washington Post columnist), foreign policy adviser
Martin S. Indyk, President Clinton’s ambassador to Israel and now director of Brookings’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, foreign policy adviser
Gen. John M. ("Jack") Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff who co-crafted the Iraq "surge" and is now a military analyst (sometimes for ABC news), military issues adviser
Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy, former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, veterans and military retirees for Hillary
Lt. Gen. Donald L. Kerrick, President Clinton’s deputy national security adviser, organizes meetings of retired officers
Col. Andrew F. Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, briefed Hillary Clinton as well as Sen. John McCain and Gov. Bill Richardson
Vali Nasr, Naval Postgraduate School professor, Middle East adviser
Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings senior fellow and former Congressional Budget Office defense and foreign policy analyst, supporter
Rep. (and retired Vice Adm.) Joseph Sestak, veterans and military retirees for Hillary
Andrew Shapiro, Sen. Clinton’s Senate foreign policy staffer
Jeffrey H. Smith, former CIA general counsel and now a partner leading the public policy and government contracts group of law firm Arnold & Porter, national security adviser
Strobe Talbott, Brookings president, informal adviser
Togo D. West, President Clinton’s secretary for veterans affairs and former secretary of the Army, veterans and military retirees for Hillary
Former Amb. Joseph C. Wilson IV, the half of the Plamegate couple who criticized the administration for using questionable evidence to promote the Iraq war, endorsed Sen. Clinton July 16

Barack Obama

Former Amb. Jeffrey Bader, President Clinton’s National Security Council Asia specialist and now head of Brookings’s China center, national security adviser
Mark Brzezinski, President Clinton’s National Security Council Southeast Europe specialist and now a partner at law firm McGuireWoods, national security adviser
Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser and now a Center for Strategic and International Studies counselor and trustee and frequent guest on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, foreign policy adviser
Richard A. Clarke, President Clinton and President George W. Bush’s counterterrorism czar and now head of Good Harbor Consulting and an ABC News contributor, sometimes Obama adviser
Gregory B. Craig, State Department director of policy planning under President Clinton and now a partner at law firm Williams & Connolly, foreign policy adviser
Roger W. Cressey, former National Security Council counterterrorism staffer and now Good Harbor Consulting president and NBC News consultant, has advised Obama but says not exclusive
Ivo H. Daalder, National Security Council director for European affairs during President Clinton’s administration and now a Brookings senior fellow, foreign policy adviser
Richard Danzig, President Clinton’s Navy secretary and now a Center for Strategic and International Analysis fellow, national security adviser
Philip H. Gordon, President Clinton’s National Security Council staffer for Europe and now a Brookings senior fellow, national security adviser
Maj. Gen. J. (Jonathan) Scott Gration, a 32-year Air Force veteran and now CEO of Africa anti-poverty effort Millennium Villages, national security adviser and surrogate
Lawrence J. Korb, assistant secretary of defense from 1981-1985 and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, informal foreign policy adviser
W. Anthony Lake, President Clinton’s national security adviser and now a professor at Georgetown’s school of foreign service, foreign policy adviser
James M. Ludes, former defense and foreign policy adviser to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and now executive director of the American Security Project, national security adviser
Robert Malley, President Clinton’s Middle East envoy and now International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa program director, national security adviser
Gen. Merrill A. ("Tony") McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff and now a business consultant, national security adviser
Denis McDonough, Center for American Progress senior fellow and former policy adviser to then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, foreign policy coordinator
Samantha Power, Harvard-based human rights scholar and Pulitzer Prize winning writer, foreign policy adviser
Susan E. Rice, President Clinton’s Africa specialist at the State Department and National Security Council and now a Brookings senior fellow, foreign policy adviser
Bruce O. Riedel, former CIA officer and National Security Council staffer for Near East and Asian affairs and now a Brookings senior fellow, national security adviser
Dennis B. Ross, President Clinton’s Middle East negotiator and now a Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow, Middle East adviser
Sarah Sewall, deputy assistant secretary of defense for peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance during President Clinton’s administration and now director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, national security adviser
Daniel B. Shapiro, National Security Council director for legislative affairs during President Clinton’s administration and now a lobbyist with Timmons & Company, Middle East adviser
Mona Sutphen, former aide to President Clinton’s National Security adviser Samuel R. Berger and to United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson and now managing director of business consultancy Stonebridge, national security adviser

after you've digested that list, tell me if a single goddam thing is going to change if either of those two gets elected...

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Forn turists...? We don't need yer stinkin' money...!

Overseas arrivals to the U.S. have declined 11% this decade, to 23 million in 2007 from 26 million in 2000. Travel is the world's largest industry, currently worth $5 trillion, and it is growing 6% a year. It employs almost a quarter of a billion people. And yet the U.S. is missing out on this wonderful human commerce.

we're not only missing out on the commerce... encounters with folks from other countries are a wonderful way to expand your own horizons...

i find it hugely enjoyable to engage with visitors from other countries in the u.s... i can learn a little bit about their country and their impressions of mine, or even steer them to something worthwhile not mentioned in their guidebooks... yes, i have the great pleasure of living part-time outside of the u.s., a daily opportunity to soak in another culture, but my geographically and culturally-challenged fellow citizens could benefit greatly by rubbing shoulders once in a while with people from other countries... too bad we make it so damn hard...

how so, you may ask...?

American arrogance. The United States is a crass, greedy and rude host.

To start, we treat foreigners as criminals until proved otherwise.

These are the 29 countries whose citizens may visit the U.S. without a visa: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain. It's a near lily-white list. The rest of the world's people -- all 5 multicolored billion of them -- are suspect. And overseas, they know the U.S. thinks that.

Canada, by comparison, accepts nonvisa visits from citizens of more than 50 countries. The European Union exempts all EU-member nations, plus another 43 countries, including South Korea, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. So it's easier for a Mexican citizen to visit Europe than the United States.

and getting a visa...?
[T]he visa process involves going in person to a U.S. Embassy or consulate for an interview. And as the woman in Belize learned, there are no refunds if your visa application is rejected. Why are people turned away? Scruffiness, unsuitability, past contributions to Greenpeace or general ickiness. Read the State Department guidelines -- visitors must satisfy consular officers that they deserve to enter. But consular officials do not have to explain reasons for rejection, and they don't.

A colleague of mine has a business in Brazil, and one of his investors conceived the idea of taking his family to Walt Disney World. This wealthy businessman, who could buy a whole hotel in the U.S., never mind hotel rooms, flew to Sao Paulo, paid $500 ($100 a person) to apply for a visa, and patiently spent an hour answering questions. Two weeks later he was turned down. The letter suggested that he reapply ($500 more, please!) but, surprise, he took his family to Europe. Brazilians don't need visas to enter the EU.

The nonrefundable U.S. visa application fee recently went up to $131. Luckily for many visitor wannabes, their currencies are climbing while the dollar is shredding. Unluckily for us, we're too busy protecting the homeland from supposedly scurrilous foreigners to let them in. Until we change our official and unofficial attitudes toward the world, 5 billion people will pass us by.

a year and a half ago, i was verbally assaulted on a street in sofia, bulgaria, by a gentleman (and i use the word loosely) furious over the fact that i, as a u.s. citizen, was able to enter his country and to walk the streets of his capital city without a visa while he was unable to obtain a visa to the united states to visit his daughter... how could i argue...?

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The end of the Castro era

Fidel Castro in his early years

Fidel Castro in Argentina
in July 2006

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Tuesday that he will not return to lead the country as president or commander-in-chief, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution.

fidel castro has been a fixture of my mental landscape since i was eleven years old... his image was burned in to my brain during the cuban missile crisis but only became more than a two-dimensional propaganda target in the past few years...

i had the opportunity in 2004 to meet and get to know the former ambassador to cuba of a former socialist country... he is a delightful individual, intelligent and urbane, and we quickly discovered we shared the same twisted sense of humor... over dinner one evening, he regaled me with hours-long conversations he had with fidel about every conceivable subject and where castro revealed himself to be a most engaging and decent individual, fully wise in the ways of the world, and a passionate advocate of the common man... listening to his first-hand experiences, i quickly came to realize just how little i knew of fidel and how my views of him had been so effectively shaped by the bias of my own country...

love him or hate him, fidel castro has achieved something for cuba that no other country but north korea has been able to accomplish... he has kept cuba out of the grasp of the united states for nearly fifty years, and that, in itself, is quite remarkable...

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Monday, February 18, 2008

"There is no one in the Bush administration with enough integrity to resign. ... The Bush administration is a blight upon America and upon the world."

paul craig roberts 'splains it for us...
Do we Americans have any honor, any humanity, any integrity, any awareness of the crimes our government is committing in our name? Do we have a moral conscience?

How can a moral conscience be reconciled with our continuing to tolerate our government which has invaded two countries on the basis of lies and deception, destroyed their civilian infrastructures and murdered hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children?

The killing and occupation continue even though we now know that the invasions were based on lies and fabricated "evidence." The entire world knows this. Yet Americans continue to act as if the gratuitous invasions, the gratuitous killing, and the gratuitous destruction are justified. There is no end of it in sight.

If Americans have any honor, how can they betray their Founding Fathers, who gave them liberty, by tolerating a government that claims immunity to law and the Constitution and is erecting a police state in their midst?


The people ask over and over, "What can we do?"

Very little when the institutions put in place to protect the people from tyranny fail. In the U.S., the institutions have failed across the board.

The freedom and independence of the watchdog press was destroyed by the media concentration that was permitted by the Clinton administration and Congress. Americans who rely on traditional print and TV media simply have no idea what is afoot.

Political competition failed when the opposition party became a "me-too" party. The Democrats even confirmed as attorney general Michael Mukasey, an authoritarian who refuses to condemn torture and whose rulings as a federal judge undermined habeas corpus. Such a person is now the highest law enforcement officer in the United States.

The judicial system failed when federal judges ruled that "state secrets" and "national security" are more important than government accountability and the rule of law.

The separation of powers failed when Congress acquiesced to the executive branch's claims of primary power and independence from statutory law and the Constitution.

It failed again when the Democrats refused to impeach Bush and Cheney, the two greatest criminals in American political history.


There is no one in the Bush administration with enough integrity to resign. It is a government devoid of truth, morality, decency, and honor. The Bush administration is a blight upon America and upon the world.

and here we sit, debating on the relative merits of barack, hillary, and saint john while our country continues to swirl the drain...

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"Fear the loss, perceive the danger, and do something about it!"

a reasonably comprehensive run-down in the current state of affairs...

The Defense Department has developed a "Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support" against terrorism that pledges to "transform US military forces to execute homeland defense missions in the...US homeland." The Pentagon is presently collecting files on antiwar protesters and is prepared to maximize "threat awareness" and to seize "the initiative from those who would harm us." The Pentagon's National Counterterrorism Center's central repository now includes the names of 325,000 "terrorist" suspects.

In October 2003, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld approved a secret "Information Operations Roadmap" calling for "full spectrum" information operations, including a strategy for seizing the Internet and controlling the flow of information. It views the world wide web as a potential military adversary and speaks of "fighting the net."

The U.S. Army Internet website displays information about the Pentagon's "Civilian Inmate Labor Program," including "policy and guidance for establishing civilian inmate labor programs and civilian prison camps on Army installations." The program underwent a "rapid action revision" on January 14, 2005 to provide a "template for developing agreements" between the Army and corrections facilities for the use of civilian inmate labor on Army installations.

In yet another exercise in September 2005, the Pentagon's U.S. Northern Command conducted a top secret operation known as Granite Shadow that involved emergency military operations within the continental United States without civilian supervision or control. Under the plan, military special forces units operating under unique rules of engagement involving deadly force were deployed to enforce "unity of command."

The original mission of FEMA was to assure the survival of the United States government in the case of nuclear attack, with a secondary responsibility to coordinate the federal response to natural disasters. However, FEMA has come to operate as a secret government in waiting, with powers far beyond that of any other federal agency.

Specific and detailed executive orders now empower FEMA to: take over all transportation, highways and seaports; seize and operate all communications media; take over all electric, gas and petroleum power, fuels and minerals; take over all airports and aircraft; take over all railroads, inland waterways and public storage facilities; take over all farms and food resources; register all persons and force civilians into work brigades; take over all health, education and welfare functions; and establish control over the mechanisms of production and distribution of energy sources, wages, salaries, credit and the flow of money in all U.S. financial institutions.

Executive Order 11921 provides that, once a state of emergency has been declared by the president, the action cannot be reviewed by Congress for six months.

The John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 contains a provision entitled "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies." One effect of the provision is to expand the president's limited power to deploy the military within the United States only "to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy" to include "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident."

The Act authorized the president to assume local authority "if domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order." The president now has the power, without any advance notice to Congress, to declare marital law in any city experiencing a civil disturbance or riot similar to any of those experienced in the past 40 years and to deploy the military, irrespective of the wishes or consent of local and state authorities.

On May 9, 2007, President Bush signed a "National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive" defining the "Catastrophic Emergency" leading to "Continuity of Government coordinated efforts by the Executive Branch to ensure that National Essential Functions continue to be performed." Such emergencies include "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions." Continuity of Operations includes the continuation of mission-essential functions "during a wide range of emergencies, including localized acts of nature, accidents, and technological or attack-related emergencies."

In its definition of "Enduring Constitutional Government," the Presidential Directive envisions a "cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government;" however, it (the effort) is to be "coordinated by the President, as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches..." Comity is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as, "Courtesy; complaisance; respect; a willingness to grant a privilege, not as a matter of right, but out of deference and good will." In other words, the "Enduring Constitutional Government" will be run by the president and any "cooperative" role played by Congress and the judiciary will be at his pleasure.

Even though Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution provides that, "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States..., " President Bush has, pursuant to his own directives, given himself the unrestrained power to declare whatever he imagines to be an emergency. Once he does so, he alone controls the entire apparatus of government. He will become responsible for arranging for the "orderly succession" and the "appropriate transition of leadership" of the other two branches of government, and he will do all of this with the able assistance of his Vice President, who has the primary job of coordinating things.

Conceivably, at his or her sole discretion, existing and future presidents have the power to use any provocation, including the election of a successor president hostile to his or her existing policies, to declare a state of emergency and to seize and operate the government as a dictatorship for an indefinite period of time.

More realistically, an increase in street and campus protests against the Iraq War, similar to those of the Sixties, could easily lead to the imposition of martial law in the Unites States as an extension of the War on Terrorism. Or, as the current recession deepens into a depression with wide-spread unemployment, hunger and civil unrest, martial law could be imposed and military work camps established. Irrespective of how it plays out, every scenario involves mass preventative detentions, without trial, by the military and requires federal confinement facilities.

Accepting the fact that the president has the power to detain as many American citizens as he chooses, is the government actually building facilities to concentrate them?

In January 2006, the Department of Homeland Security awarded a $385 million contract to former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), to provide detention centers in the United States to deal with "an emergency influx of immigrants into the US, or to support the rapid deployment of new programs." Unexplained were these "new programs" and why they require a major expansion of detention centers.

A clue to the definition of "new programs" can be found in President Bush's claim that "the territory of the United States is part of the battlefield" against terrorism and that he has the power as Commander-in-chief to detain indefinitely any American citizen he designates as an enemy combatant. He signed the Military Commissions Act in October 2006 that suspends habeas corpus rights for everyone he deems to be an enemy combatant and allows him to confine them indefinitely without trial or access to counsel. Once detained under the Act, "no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause for action whatsoever...."

The KBR contract is open-ended and authorizes a payment of up to $385 million per deployment. It is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which envisions the development of at least four detention centers, each detaining up to 5,000 single males and females, families with children, and the sick and criminal. Established at "unused military sites or [leased] temporary structures," each facility will be able to accommodate the sick and criminals for extended detentions and to arrange for the "rendition" of potential terrorists to sites outside the continental United States.

Cops have an old saying that you're not paranoid if someone really is following you. We cannot forget that our president has already seized extraordinary dictatorial powers and that he really is spending millions of dollars for the construction of detention facilities to support the "rapid development" of his "new programs." Nor, can we ignore that, contrary to international law, the United States government is in fact detaining hundreds of "unlawful combatants" in prison facilities in Guantanamo Bay and at other secret locations around the world. Finally, we have to accept: that our government is abusing and torturing these detainees to obtain information that will be used against them should they ever come to trial; that they have no access to the federal courts to appeal their detentions; that they cannot consult with counsel without the presence of military monitors, who also read their legal mail; that they cannot review or challenge the "classified" evidence against them; and that they cannot confront or cross examine the witnesses against them.

There's another old saying, "If you snooze, you lose." We have a very narrow window of opportunity between the time we recognize a deadly threat and when we do something about it. Given the highly-advanced technological age we live in and the ready availability of overwhelming military force, once our freedoms are lost, they will be gone forever, whether or not every single one of us is "bearing arms."

Two weeks ago, Congress took an important first step in restricting the president's power by repealing a largely unrecognized section of the 2007 Defense Appropriations Act that, last year, effectively transferred command of the National Guards from state governors to the president. With the unanimous support of the National Governors Association, the National Sheriffs' Association and other law enforcement agencies, Congress restricted the power of the president to order the National Guard of any state to be used within that state or in any other state without the consent of the appropriate state governors.

We must immediately stop the deployment of National Guard troops to fight the illegal war in Iraq and bring them all home where they belong. Remaining under the control of state governors and given time to rest and the resources to re-equip, a well-trained and properly deployed National Guard, acting in support of local law enforcement, will be able to maintain order in most, if not all, domestic disturbances, natural disasters and terrorists attacks. If we survived the assassinations and riots of the Sixties, and 9-11, without martial law, we should be able to get by today without military intervention or the president's help.

There is no time to lose! Congress must immediately hold hearings on the power of the president to declare martial law, to deploy the military within the United States, and to detain American citizens, without trial or benefit of habeas corpus. Congress must establish the constitutional limits of presidential power by statute, rather than to allow the president to do so by his own executive orders.

The incursions on civil liberties in the United States in the past 25 years, and particularly since 9-11, are mind boggling. It matters not whether you are a Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, conservative or liberal, you have been deprived of substantial freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, unnecessarily, in the War on Terrorism. Fear the loss, perceive the danger, and do something about it!

once again, repeating myself ad nauseam, none of the above should remain in place when the new president takes the oath of office on 20 january 2009...

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Hayden, McConnell and Mukasey are "highly respected and nonpolitical officials"

IF it is true, according to bill kristol, writing in today's nyt, that...
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of national intelligence, the retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, and the attorney general, the former federal judge Michael Mukasey, are highly respected and nonpolitical officials with little in the way of partisanship or ideology in their backgrounds.

THEN why, pray tell, are they behaving that way now...?

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

143M lbs. of beef - "Westland did not routinely contact its veterinarian when cattle became non-ambulatory"

"non-ambulatory..." ya gotta love it...
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sunday recalled 143 million pounds of frozen beef from a Southern California slaughterhouse that is being investigated for mistreating cattle.

Officials said it was the largest beef recall in the United States, surpassing a 1999 ban of 35 million pounds of ready-to-eat meats.

The federal agency said the recall will affect beef products dating to Feb. 1, 2006, that came from Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., which supplies meat to the federal school lunch program and to some major fast-food chains.

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said his department has evidence that Westland did not routinely contact its veterinarian when cattle became non-ambulatory after passing inspection, violating health regulations.

"Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection, Food Safety and Inspection Service has determined them to be unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall," Schafer said in a statement.

Federal officials suspended operations at Westland/Hallmark after an undercover video surfaced showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts.


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No photoblogging today - silliness instead

puppetji on enlightenment...

then again, maybe not so silly after all...

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it's been WAY TOO LONG since i've posted a steve bell cartoon...

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Holy crap! The UK is nationalising the Northern Rock bank!

for the UK to be making a move like this, things have GOT to be EVER SO MUCH WORSE than advertised...
The Treasury today announced that the beleaguered bank Northern Rock will be nationalised.

In a statement, the chancellor, Alistair Darling, said that "under the current market conditions" neither of the two last-minute bids - submitted by Richard Branson's Virgin consortium and the Northern Rock management team - delivered "sufficient value for money to the taxpayer".

It marks the failure of the government to reach a deal with the private sector over the future of the bank. Emergency legislation will now be rushed through parliament.

Mr Darling said the move met "our objective of protecting taxpayers' interests".

every time i hear a phrase like "protecting taxpayers' interests," my hand immediately grabs for my wallet...

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Dallas Morning News breaks the Sibel story

yes, it's phil giraldi, and yes, it's on the op-ed page, but, hey... at least it's a major u.s. paper...

Philip Giraldi: What FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds found in translation

FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds has spilled her secrets, says PHILIP GIRALDI. Why is her story being covered up?
12:00 AM CST on Sunday, February 17, 2008

Most Americans have never heard of Sibel Edmonds, and if the U.S. government has its way, they never will.

The former FBI translator turned whistle-blower tells a chilling story of corruption at Washington's highest levels – sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Ms. Edmonds' account is full of dates, places and names. And if she is to be believed, a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani and Turkish sources was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defense Departments. Her charges could be easily confirmed or dismissed if classified government documents were made available to investigators.

But Congress has refused to act, and the Justice Department has shrouded Ms. Edmonds' case in the state-secrets privilege, a rarely used measure so sweeping that it precludes even a closed hearing attended only by officials with top-secret security clearances. According to the Department of Justice, such an investigation "could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the foreign policy and national security of the United States."

After five years of thwarted legal challenges and fruitless attempts to launch a congressional investigation, Sibel Edmonds is telling her story, though her defiance could land her in jail. After reading its November piece about Louai al-Sakka, an al-Qaeda terrorist who trained 9/11 hijackers in Turkey, Ms. Edmonds approached the Sunday Times of London. On Jan. 6, the Times, a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper that does not normally encourage exposés damaging to the Bush administration, featured a long article. The news quickly spread around the world – but not in the United States.

why should getting the REALLY important stuff out in the public eye be like trying to shove a camel through the eye of a needle...?

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Don't support terrorism, support LOVE!

Mark Fiore

Click on image to play

(thanks to avedon at atrios...)

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Greenwald: "There is one reason, and one reason only, that the Protect America Act expired"

this post is dedicated to the protect america act which expired 7 hours ago at midnight, est...
There is one reason, and one reason only, that the Protect America Act expired. Its name is "George W. Bush." That is who refused to agree to the Democrats' offer to extend the law by 21 days (or longer), then repeatedly threatened to veto any such extension ("US President George W. Bush on Wednesday vowed to veto another temporary extension of a domestic spying law"), then directed the always-obedient House Republicans to vote unanimously against the extension, which they (needless to say) did. This vital-to-our-safety piece of legislation expired only because George W. Bush repeatedly blocked its extension. It's just that simple.


[M]any right-wing polemicists use fearmongering techniques like this... manipulatively, to exploit the Terrorist threat for more unchecked government power and to advance their political agenda.

But many of them actually believe this, and there are undoubtedly all sorts of individuals in the U.S. today nervously looking at their clocks, with accelerating heartbeat and a deepening sense of foreboding, knowing that the Hour of Danger is nigh upon us. This pitiful, fear-drenched absurdity is the face of the Bush Movement, the symbol of the post-9/11 Bush Era in the United States.

a commenter to greenwald's post, fmd, inquires...
If the nation is really going to be more vulnerable as the result of the expiration of the PAA (Protect AT&T Act), why hasn't Homeland Security's color coded threat level been raised to Magenta or Puce or some such thing?

so, on a sunday morning here in buenos aires, as i look out at the brilliant blue sky and listen to the occasional annoying ratcheting of the cicadas float in on the summer breeze, i wonder if my country will make it through the day without a determined and dreaded jihadi attack, now that the paa telephone companies* is are no longer there to protect us...
Officials made clearer Friday that the real dispute is over the protection of phone companies for past actions. Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, told National Public Radio on Friday: "It's true that some of the authorities would carry over to the period they were established for one year. That would put us into the August, September time frame. However, that's not the real issue. The issue is liability protection for the private sector. We can't do this mission without their help."

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