Target: NYC!!!

No, not by bicyclists or cartoon characters. No, it's much worse: Iranians.

"We're concerned that Iranian agents were engaged in reconnaissance that might be used in an attack against New York City at some future date," Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told NEWSWEEK.

I'd recommend to Commissioner Kelly and his crack police team that they guard against the possibility of unmanned drones flying over the city and spraying something evil over everyone. Because, as we all know, Iraq had some pretty fucking rocking drones before the war, and they had to have gone somewhere.

This is beyond laughable. Thank you, Mark Hosenball and Newsweek, for covering this important story and helping to whip up patriotic hate-frenzy against Iran The Enemy Which Must Be Attacked Right Now. If you're not getting a check from the administration, you should be.


Little pots of money

Gonna be busy over the next few days, with deadlines approaching, crime fighting, and what not. So, sadly for you, my hordes of dedicated readers, light posting till then.

Seymour Hersh's new piece is getting a lot of play, for good reason. One quick thing to point out related to a recent post on this blog is this little insight:

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. ?There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,? he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

So there was a method to the "madness" after all. Shipping all that nice, untraceable cash to a war zone makes perfect sense - if you're planning on doing things that don't bear a great deal of oversight (like, to take just one completely random example, financing death squads).

The fuckheads in the Bush administration are in way over their heads and are going to get played - on your dime and with a lot of dead people left in their wake. Just as short-sighted American interference in Afghanistan helped lead to the rise of OBL and The Al Qaida Phenomenon, the US government now is paving the way for some bad shit to roll through a few years down the line.

Anyway... try this for surreal distraction. Goes well with peanut butter:


How stupid is we?

Matt Taibbi once again considers what passes for news here in America:

On the same day that Britney was shaving her head, a guy I know who works in the office of Senator Bernie Sanders sent me an email. He was trying very hard to get news organizations interested in some research his office had done about George Bush's proposed 2008 budget, which was unveiled two weeks ago and received relatively little press, mainly because of the controversy over the Iraq war resolution. All the same, the Bush budget is an amazing document. It would be hard to imagine a document that more clearly articulates the priorities of our current political elite.

Not only does it make many of Bush's tax cuts permanent, but it envisions a complete repeal of the Estate Tax, which mainly affects only those who are in the top two-tenths of the top one percent of the richest people in this country. The proposed savings from the cuts over the next decade are about $442 billion, or just slightly less than the amount of the annual defense budget (minus Iraq war expenses). But what's interesting about these cuts are how Bush plans to pay for them.

Sanders's office came up with some interesting numbers here. If the Estate Tax were to be repealed completely, the estimated savings to just one family -- the Walton family, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- would be about $32.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.

The proposed reductions to Medicaid over the same time frame? $28 billion.

It's way past time for a "sensationalist" press who will deal with shit like this head-on - and by "sensationalist," I mean a press who will actually cover it.

Italian government falls

Prodi's broad coalition in Italy has collapsed*. The trigger was a failed vote on Italy's participation in the NATO Afghanistan force and the construction of a new US military base in Vicenza.

Various commentators will have their opinions, and much of the blame is already being levelled at Rifondazione, the communist party in Prodi's government. Communists always make good punching bags, it is true, but a good portion of the blame should be assigned to Prodi himself and, especially, Massimo D'Alema, the foolish (ex-) foreign minister.

First, D'Alema was the one who made the vote into a vote of confidence when it wasn't intended as such. Naturally, the far-right, led by the reprehensible and criminal Berlusconi, happily picked up on this when the vote failed. Second, and much more important, D'Alema's reasoning behind both Italy's Afghanistan venture and the US base is deeply flawed and, considering the Italian public's overwhelming anti-war position, unsustainable.

As long as countries like Italy keep their soldiers in Afghanistan, the US can continue to devote its resources and attention elsewhere (like Iraq and, increasingly likely, Iran). Propping up the US in Afghanistan - in which it has had a military occupation for nearly 6 years already, with deteriorating conditions and nothing like the promises that were made before the invasion - enables the Bush administration to interfere elsewhere in the world and maintain a damaging and unworkable policy there.

D'Alema's contention that rejecting the base "expansion" (actually, the construction of different facilities in a different part of the city) would have been a "hostile act" towards America is laughable and, to put it as nice as I can, rather stupid. It might have been a "hostile act" towards the Bush administration's arrogance and hubris - certainly not a bad thing - but not towards the United States, whose ever-increasing network of bases around the world enables it to engage in increasingly despotic imperialistic behavior. Such an eventuality is not good for the victims themselves, not good for Italy, and also not good for Americans.

D'Alema and Prodi were in a position to deliver leadership, actually represent the Italian public and contribute (in a small way, to be sure) to reigning in America's overinflated and increasingly dangerous ambitions. But they chose not to do this. The danger now is that Berlusconi will take over the government again, and they will have contributed to this potential outcome in no small measure.

*One part of this article is rather disingenuous. The author makes it seem like the "Machiavellian" Giulio Andreotti was one of the string-pulling communist wreckers by placing his betrayal of the government in between two paragraphs fingering the far-left for the government's collapse, when in fact Andreotti is a member of the Christian Democrats.


Time for "congestion charges" in the US

When I see reactions like this to "Red Ken" Livingstone's "congestion charge" for driving in certain areas of London, my confidence in the wisdom of this policy only increases:

Michele Weininger, a businesswoman from west London, said: "Ken Livingstone has a built-in hatred for people on this side of London. He calls us toffs. What he doesn't realise is that this area is mixed. We voted against this. The riff-raff voted Ken Livingstone in. But we are not riff-raff here. We are decent people."

Yes, Michele, you toff - and now you're going to be a little poorer while you drive around doing your "decent" things.

It is past time for a similar policy in our larger urban centers in the US. I'm thinking particularly of New York (and specifically Manhattan) and San Francisco - both are relatively small in size, making it easy for riff-raff (and, surprisngly, decent people as well) to get around on foot, bike or public transport, as long as the streets are not clogged up with toffs driving their cars everywhere.

Oh, and we might think of taxing the rich while we we're at it.

A "surge" of their own

Looks like "The Insurgents" have launched their own "surge":

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and 17 wounded when insurgents launched a coordinated attack on an outpost north of Baghdad on Monday in what appeared to be one of the biggest such assaults in months.

Four years later, still "bringing it on". Happy, President Bush?


Administration ponders what may have - but probably didn't - go wrong

I have to admit that I had my doubts about whether Tony Snow would be able to replace - really replace - the inimitable Scotty McClellan as Bush's chief mouthpiece. But reading the following exchange with the press removed a lot of the doubt:

"What went wrong?" the reporter reasonably asked.

Snow replied: "I'm not sure anything went wrong."

Not bad. The method is irrefutable and shows a subtle understanding of the complexities of meaning and communication: when faced with a hostile question, just shift into that mode where words no longer have the meanings that you and I usually assign them. Cut the tie between signifier and signified and make any word mean whatever you want. Don't bother trying to refute stuff using "facts" and "arguments," because in that case you've already accepted your tormentor's codes, rules, and a host of taken-for-granted assumptions. No, simply act like you don't even speak the same language as your interlocutor and dodge the whole game.

But he's still not quite there yet:

But you have -- it is pretty clear that some of the other assessments were wrong, and you deal with it.

Well, damn. So something went wrong after all. It must be hard sometimes, keeping everything straight. Thankfully, just "assessments" were at fault, though - the hundreds of thousands of deaths, disintegrating country, and deadly capital city must have been all part of the plan.


Personality Crisis

New York Dolls, 1973:

Johansen/Thunders or Strummer/Jones? It's a difficult decision - but I think I know who I would take.

US Senators: true Financial Panthers

Funny how things like this work:

US senators' personal stock portfolios outperformed the market by an average of 12 per cent a year in the five years to 1998, according to a new study.

A separate study in 2000, covering 66,465 US households from 1991 to 1996 showed that the average household's portfolio underperformed the market by 1.44 per cent a year, on average. Corporate insiders (defined as senior executives) usually outperform by about 5 per cent.

Of course, with the way things are going, you don't need a Financial Panther, senatorial or otherwise, to know where to invest.

(NYT link via Max)


Free money

Of course, such a thing doesn't exist - but America's first viceroy of Iraq, "Jerry" Bremer, acted like it does:

In a hearing before the chief House oversight committee, Democrats on Tuesday demanded answers from Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraq's first post-occupation government, and oversaw the disbursement of $12bn in cash in reconstruction funds in the months after the invasion.

Mr Waxman took Mr Bremer to task for the manner in which US officials disbursed $20bn (?15.5bn, £10.2bn), including $12bn in cash, in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2004. Mr Waxman said that, in a 13-month period, the US government had shipped 360 tonnes of cash to Iraq. "Who in their right minds would send 360 tonnes of cash into a war zone? But that's exactly what [this government] did."

One official from the provisional authority described an environment awash with $100 bills, said a memo released by Mr Waxman's office. "One contractor received a $2m payment in a duffel bag stuffed with shrink-wrapped bundles of currency." In some cases, cash was stored in unguarded sacks in Iraqi ministry offices.

Ok - so the Dems are all over Bremer, and by extension his boss in the White House, for incompetence and, quite probably, corruption and financial malfeasance. Good, right?

Actually, compare the tone of that article with one by Dana Milbank on the same hearings:

But Bremer proved unexpectedly agile at shifting blame: to administration planners ("The planning before the war was inadequate"), his superiors in the Bush administration ("We never had sufficient support"), and the Iraqi people ("The country was in chaos -- socially, politically and economically").

And Democrats, after 12 years in the minority, were out of practice. Instead of going after Bremer's greatest vulnerabilities -- his autocratic management style and his "de-Baathification" of Iraq -- Democrats instead chose a strange focus for the hearing: the failure to account for $8 billion of cash payments three years ago. After nearly five hours of questioning, the lawmakers failed to find a smoking gun: It wasn't U.S. taxpayer money, it was a pittance compared with U.S. spending in Iraq, there was no hard evidence of fraud, and the episode had been investigated two years ago.

Republicans could hardly believe their luck. "Nobody took him on," exulted Tom Davis (R-Va.), who surrendered the chairman's gavel to Waxman last month. "We thought they'd be all over him for de-Baathification."

Leaving aside the reprehensible justifications that appeared there - apparently, it was ok to throw away the money (a mere "pittance"), because it was Iraqi money, not good American money - the fact that the Dems went into this with nothing other than the charges and with no new evidence to pin anything on Bremer is fucking lame, because, as noted in Milbank's article, this charge is two years old.

We don't need a rehash of stuff that happened two years ago. Try doing something useful: actually hold these cretins responsible, get the soldiers out of Iraq, and prevent them from going into Iran.


Your tax dollars at work

Via the Antiwar blog comes this story, sure to bring a tear to the eye of even the most jaded and cynical snake-oil peddler:

President Bush yesterday asked Congress for an additional $6.4 billion to develop ways of defeating roadside bombs in Iraq -- nearly double what has been provided since 2003 -- in the hopes of reviving an effort once billed as the "Manhattan Project" of the war but which has failed to stop the insurgents' weapon of choice from becoming even deadlier.

Yes - $6.4 BILLION for the sole purpose of combatting IEDs - homemade bombs that are stuffed in soda cans or, as the Antiwar writer put it, in a "dead dog's belly" . But wait - it gets better:

The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization... has received $6.7 billion in taxpayer dollars since 2003, for the sole purpose of eliminating the threat of so-called improvised explosive devices.

Yes - $6.4 BILLION (making a total of $13.1 BILLION) going to a group that goes by the preposterous name" Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization", for the sole purpose of combatting home-made bombs. I think I can be excused for failing to have confidence in a project with a sub-Inspector Gadget moniker.

The program has ballooned into a massive organization employing thousands of private contractors, and is based in a northern Virginia office complex where some of the largest defense industry firms have their Washington operations.

Follow the money, indeed. "Supporting the troops" has never been so profitable.


The time is coming...

George Galloway makes rabble-rousing speeches in Parliament and prophecies of Blair's doom so that I don't have to.

Sadly, you'll never see a Democrat with this kind of fire taking on our dim-witted war criminal president.


No one is spared

Joel Beinin has a piece in the local rag on free speech, hatemongering, and having an honest look at Israel/Palestine.

Beinin's book, Was the Red Flag Flying There?, an examination of the socialist and communist parties' involvement in the foundation and early life of Israel, remains one of the more interesting studies of the Israel-Palestine conflict - at least if you're interested in leftist politics and its failures (kind of redundant, I know).

I think I can sum up Beinin's conclusions by saying that the flag wasn't so much red as a very, very light pink - almost a white flag, in fact.


"Genuine success"

Matt Taibbi on "The Surge":

I was in Tal Afar's "genuine success" story over the summer. It was such a success story that the city's neurotic, hand-wringing mayor, Najim Abdullah al-Jubori, actually asked American officials during a meeting I attended if they could tell President Bush to stop calling it a success story. "It just makes the terrorists angry," he said.

After that meeting, the unit I was with -- MPs from Oklahoma on a personal security detail, guarding a colonel who was inspecting police stations in the area -- went to a precinct house in one of Tal Afar's "safe" neighborhoods. There I found five American soldiers huddling in a room about the size of a walk-in closet, hunched over a pile of MRE wrappers and PlayStation cassettes. They seldom ever left that room, they explained. Occasionally they would have to go out and fight whenever someone started shooting at the police station (a regular occurrence, they said)...

Such success - so why does Matt Taibbi hate America so much?

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