Bomb attacks increase in Iraq?

According to a story by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent, “there were 15,527 attacks on coalition forces, largely American, from July 2004 to late March 2005. Some 2,404 attacks took place in Baghdad from 1 November to 12 March.” Both these timeframes include the run up to the election held at the end of January, and the Bush Administration has been hoping that the election–and the formation of a government since–would improve matters. However, “[t]he bombings in the past week underline that the insurgents have lost none of their ability to carry out attacks, almost always without regard for civilian casualties, all over Iraq. In the three months since the elections on 30 January there was a drop in American losses which led to official optimism that the guerrilla war was on the wane.” Supposedly, the insurgents are seeking “direct talks with the US, a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces and the right to rebuild the Baath party.”

Victory in pepper spray trial

According to a story on IndyNews, a jury has returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Earth First! protesters whose eyes Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies dabbed with pepper spray in “three incidents in 1997.” The protesters alleged deputies used excessive force.

Mac OS X 10.4

[Updated] So I have Tiger. I encountered some difficulties: My laptop’s SuperDrive is dead, so I tried installing it from an external DVD reader; the PowerBook would not boot off the external DVD. I then moved the cord from the DVD reader over to my iMac, and the installer got far enough that my old system was unrecoverable, but not far enough to complete the installation. So moving the disc into the iMac’s drive, I now have a fresh Tiger on my iMac.

Some friends are going to miss out on some TV shows I was saving for them, and I lost an episode of Masterpiece Theater (so now I won’t be able to stand to watch the rest of the series Island at War), but that’s the only real data loss. I keep all my information on my laptop and use the iMac to handle the home front, particularly while I’m away, dealing with Faxes, etc. It seems like it will do all this better, but I’m still setting things up.

And I will need to upgrade the PowerBook, but that means fixing the SuperDrive, which will put me out of a bunch of money I don’t have at the moment and out of my laptop — which I rely on for everything — for a couple days. Fortunately, a taxi license has finally come through, so I’ll at least — hopefully — have some income, after being completely unemployed since January. But this will enable all those cool features — as advertised.

The biggest downside seems to be that tor doesn’t seem to work; privoxy returns an error indicating that DNS lookups fail. Setting up Automator workflows can be irritating when tasks don’t want to be inserted where you mean to put them. Otherwise, it all seems to work.

They actually believe this?

In an interview, Tom DeLay made some remarkable comments:

  1. “More important than that is that it’s been over 10 years since we voted to raise any federal taxes. How did we do that? We grew the economy. Through our policies, we helped the economy grow.” Ten years ago, the president was Bill Clinton. According to the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, “In the late 1990s budget-tightening measures—aided by the U.S. economic boom—reduced the deficit and led to two consecutive federal budget surpluses (1998–99); back-to-back surpluses had last occurred in 1956–57. In 1998, President Clinton presented to Congress a balanced federal budget, the first such budget since 1969. A balanced budget was maintained through late 2001, but tax cuts, the cost of President Bush’s “war on terrorism,” increased defense and other spending, and the effects of an economic recession produced a deficit again beginning with the 2002 budget. The 2004 deficit reached a new record level, $412.6 billion, a figure that did not include tens of billions spent on the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.”
  2. “And the most important thing that will change health care in this country is health savings accounts. That was the biggest victory in the Medicare system.” Robert N. Butler, M.D., in a presentation to the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, said, “While it is difficult to predict the future, current trends suggest that the population thirty years from now – the Baby Boomers – will be healthier and will enjoy a more robust quality of life than older persons today. Their financial status, however, is more difficult to predict, but studies indicate that the financial status of women will be lower than that of men. It is also clear that the subgroups of older persons with frailty and dementia will grow unless there is successful research, which depends upon significant investments in research now, since obviously, research takes time. African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans remain vulnerable, and do not enjoy the life expectancy of our majority population. Poverty, the lack of access to adequate health care early in life and lifestyle contribute to this unfortunate disadvantage in life expectancy.” Since it is only the well off who can afford to save, DeLay is effectively advocating a genocide of anyone who has not profited from the present economic order.
  3. “I think it’s incredibly important – before we even look at guest worker or anything else – to convince the American people that we are protecting our borders. I personally think that we ought to use the eyes and ears of our military.” But the military is already over-extended in Iraq and Afghanistan and the likelihood of a withdrawal is dubious at best. DeLay explains, “You cannot put soldiers on the border. Soldiers are trained to kill. They’re not trained as border patrol or police, and you cannot do that. But you can use their technology.” He would use the military’s technological surveillance capabilities, but without an armed force, how will you defend passive monitoring equipment?
  4. DeLay continued to blame Democrats for ethics charges against him, saying they don’t have any other agenda. He claims public support: “Have you not seen the television in the last few days? Members are out on television, they’re talking about it. There’s a huge conservative movement out there that’s working very hard. There’s friends all over the place working hard.” But even in his own district, “House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s footing among his constituents has slipped drastically during the past year and a majority of his district disapproves of how he handled the Terri Schiavo case, according to a Houston Chronicle poll.”
  5. “The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that’s nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn’t stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn’t stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn’t stop them.”

Leak substantiates accusations on Goldsmith advice to Blair

[Updated] According to a story in the Independent, “12 days before Britain went to war [in Iraq], Lord Goldsmith warned Mr Blair in a 13-page memo of six reasons why the war could be illegal. In spite of assurances that the Attorney General had been ‘unequivocal’ in saying that the war would be legal, Lord Goldsmith said Britain could be challenged under international law because it was up to the UN, not Mr Blair, to decide whether Saddam Hussein was in breach of UN resolutions. He said it would be ‘safer’ to obtain a second resolution to justify using military force.” An excerpt from the memo states:

However, the argument that resolution 1441 alone has revived the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 will only be sustainable if there are strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity. In other words, we would need to be able to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-cooperation. Given the structure of the resolution as a whole, the views of UNMOVIC and the IAEA will be highly significant in this respect. In the light of the latest reporting by UNMOVIC, you will need to consider very carefully whether the evidence of non-cooperation and non- compliance by Iraq is sufficiently compelling to justify the conclusion that Iraq has failed to take its final opportunity.

When the memo was leaked (it has now been published), Blair seemed to have been caught lying. “Michael Howard, the Tory leader, [called] the Prime Minister a ‘liar’. Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said it would put trust in Mr Blair at the heart of the election and turn the contest into a referendum on Mr Blair’s integrity.” If Blair is perceived to have misled Parliament, it has been said in the past he would have to resign. According to yet another story, “Professor Peter Hennessy, an expert on constitutional affairs, said: ‘The whole thing reeks.’ Dominic Grieve, the Tory legal affairs spokesman said: ‘There has been a gross deception.'” The election will be held on 5 May.

I would expect Ministers in a Government I lead to resign if they lie to Parliament.

The fallout may be beginning. According to the Independent, “Brian Sedgemore, who is standing down after 27 years as a Labour MP,” wrote, “”I voted against the war on Iraq and it becomes clearer every day that Blair decided to go to war after meeting Bush on his Texas ranch in 2002. After that, he lied to persuade the country to support him.” According to the BBC, “The Scottish National Party is set to join Celtic counterparts Plaid Cymru and call for Tony Blair to be impeached over the war in Iraq. The SNP will make the joint declaration alongside the Welsh nationalist party on Tuesday.”

A defiant Mr Blair insisted he would not apologise for the war when he came under sustained criticism after the leaking of the Attorney General’s advice questioning the legality of the conflict. But Mr Sedgemore , who has been a Labour Party member for 37 years, yesterday blamed the Labour Party’s policies on Iraq for his decision to join the Liberal Democrats.

Blair has, as seen on the BBC World News (produced for the US market), been pointing to a desire to remove Saddam Hussein. This is London quoted him saying, “I cannot apologise for that decision because I still think the world is a better place with Saddam in prison rather than in power.” And indeed, lots of people wanted Saddam out of power. This at least is an honest answer, as opposed to claims about weapons of mass destruction, and spreading democracy. If it were an adequate answer, surely Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe, among others, would also have been removed from power. On the other hand, “The Labour Party has opened a 10-point lead over the Tories, the latest opinion poll by NOP for The Independent found.” “But there will be fears in the high command that [Sedgemore’s] call to voters to back the Liberal Democrats could mobilise dissenting voters against the war, and tip the balance against Labour in marginal seats.”

Report on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Hallucination out

[Updated] The final report compiled by the US-led 1,700-member Iraq Survey Team–as expected–reported it had found no weapons of mass destruction, and “[b]ased on evidence available … it is unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place. However ISG was unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials.”

But the Bush Administration retains some plausible deniability. Julian Borger wrote in Salon.com that, “The report reserves its most scathing remarks for the manner in which military intelligence went looking for weapons immediately after the war.” Because the search was so badly mishandled, the Bush Administration will be able to escape some blame by pointing to poor intelligence coordination (which has since supposedly been rectified through reform). And we still don’t really know whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or not.

Lunar power stations imagined

A team of scientists led by Alex Freundlich, a physicist at the University of Houston, has successfully created a solar panel from a sample of soil like that brought back from the moon — by melting it. The idea is to send a rover up to the site of any future moon habitation in advance, and set it to work creating acres of solar panels, creating a power source just waiting to be tapped into. With further work, the moon could be turned into a power source for earth. “About 13,000 terawatts of sunshine falls on the moon, about 100 times the amount of all the energy used on Earth. By harvesting just a fraction of that solar energy and returning it to Earth, there would be cheap and unlimited power for all.”

Perceived Authenticity: Persuading the poor to vote against their own interest

Thomas Frank writes in the New York Review of Books about the failure of liberals to counter the class war being waged by Republicans, who portray liberals to the lower class as elitist, while pursuing policies that further enrich the already rich at the expense of the poor. Frank makes a number of good points, for conservatives use evidence that is largely made up; appealing to faith, empirical validation becomes irrelevant. Progressive views have, of course, been silenced in the mainstream media for a while, and Frank seeks to call Democrats to task. The urgency of the problem rests in one bit of evidence he cites is from the presidential campaign last year:

Calling themselves the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of Kerry’s former comrades-in-arms stepped forward to declare that the candidate was a liar who did not deserve the medals he had won in combat and that his later activities as an antiwar leader amounted to a betrayal of the men he served with in Southeast Asia. It didn’t matter that the accusations angrily advanced by the “Swifties” (as they are fondly known on the right) crumbled under the slightest scrutiny, just as it didn’t matter that the principal members of the Bush administration had actively avoided service in Vietnam while Kerry had volunteered for it, and just as it didn’t matter that the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had botched the nation’s current military effort and even sent insufficiently armored soldiers into action. The backlash narrative is more powerful than mere facts, and according to this central mythology conservatives are always hardworking patriots who love their country and are persecuted for it, while liberals, who are either high-born weaklings or eggheads hypnotized by some fancy idea, are always ready to sell their nation out at a moment’s notice.

LIberals, in general, have failed to address this. They have talked about it, and sought to refute the allegations. Yet they’ve been drowned out.

Frank also describes how war plays to the conservative hand:

What makes national security such a winner for Republicans is that is dramatizes the same negative qualities of liberalism that we see in the so-called “values” issues, only much more forcefully. War casts in sharp relief the inauthenticity of the liberals, the insincerity of their patriotism, and their intellectual distance (always trying to “understand” the terrorists’ motives) from the raw emotions felt by ordinary Americans—each quality an expression of the deracinated upper-classness that is thought to be the defining characteristic of liberalism.

Appealing to reason, liberals don’t appeal to the guy on the sofa with a can of beer and a football game on television. It was easier instead and certainly more spectacular, for the mass media to play an endless loop of jets ploughing into the World Trade Center, and then for a bunch of people to drive around, flying US flags from their pickup truck beds. And of course, the right has succeeded in painting Liberals as waging a war on faith:

Residents of West Virginia and Arkansas received mailings from the Republican National Committee warning that liberals would ban the Bible if they got the chance. In numerous other states, voters were energized by ballot initiatives proposing constitutional amendments reacting to the illusory threat of gay marriage, an institution that was already illegal almost everywhere, but that conservative activists nonetheless decried as a mortal, immediate menace to civilization itself.

This, of course, ignores that liberals are trying to get gay marriage legalized, for, as an increasing number of court rulings declare, there is no way to ban it consistently with constitutional guarantees of equal protection. To the claim that gay marriage is an attack on faith, I would argue instead that marriage itself is an establishment of religion and therefore that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether, thus effectively allowing anyone who so desires to marry anyone they choose, according to their own moral dictates.

But Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it and “founder of the Sojourners Community and editor of Sojourners Magazine” argued on Democracy Now! that fundamentalists and evangelists on the right had hijacked religion, claiming that any on the left are godless:

One guy from Kentucky said, he said, I have been an evangelical Christian my whole life. Imagine my surprise when I woke up and found the newspaper saying I’m not a person of faith. Imagine my surprise.

Wallis argued for reclaiming religion, saying, “The answer to bad religion, I think, is not secularism but better religion. So, how do we talk about a prophetic faith? In my Christian tradition, I want to talk about Jesus. How did Jesus become pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-American? It doesn’t make sense. And yet, that’s what we’re faced with. So, really, a rescue operation is what I think is required now, to take back our faith from those who have made it into a kind of a political weapon and a wedge.”

The focus on gay marriage, some would say, is a red herring. As Al Sharpton told the Democratic National Convention, “The promise of America says we will guarantee quality education for all children and not spend more money on metal detectors than computers in our schools. The promise of America guarantees health care for all of its citizens and doesn’t force seniors to go to Canada to buy prescription drugs they can’t afford here at home. The promise of America provides that those who work in our health care system can afford to be hospitalized in the very beds they clean up every day. The promise of America is that government does not seek to regulate your behavior in the bedroom, but to guarantee your right to provide food in the kitchen. The promise of America that we stand for human rights, whether it’s fighting against slavery in the Sudan; AIDS in Lesotho; or police misconduct in this country. The promise of America is one immigration policy for all who seek to enter our shores.”

It’s all a problem for me, for all sides in this dispute would silence me. As a Taoist, I have little at stake in Christian doctrine, except that it is so often the sole basis for constraints upon my freedom. And my arguments, no matter how clever, carry little weight, particularly with the religious right. I can only point to the right’s portrayal of itself as victim, by pointing to President Bush’s hiring practices, and to my own faith, and asserting, contrary to their own notion of the United States as a “Christian nation,” that I too have full constitutional protection for my beliefs. I cannot, with authority, speak to what Christ really preached, or argue for “a better (Christian) religion,” or address the conviction of those who think secularism would turn America away from its heritage. As a non-Christian, I am to be silenced.

Taoism, at least as I practice it has no god, thus I am evidence of liberal ungodliness; I am to be silenced.

I am struggling financially (though not academically) to make it through school and into a graduate program. I got laid off from my last decent job in the dot-com crash of 2001, and haven’t been able to find gainful employment since. But I am portrayed as a member of the liberal elite, and as such, I cannot speak to the interests of the poor. For I am not “authentic.” I am to be silenced.

Frank points out that the Democrats have abandoned their traditional base:

For the 2004 campaign, Kerry moved to the center, following the well-worn path of the corporate Democrats before him, downplaying any “liberal” economic positions that might cost him among the funders and affirming his support for the Iraq invasion even after the official justifications for that exercise had been utterly discredited. Kerry’s pallid strategy offered little to motivate the party’s traditional liberal and working-class base, but revulsion against Bush was assumed to be reason enough to get out and vote.

So I have no major political party that represents me (thus I am now registered with Peace and Freedom), and I am silenced.

For though I speak, I am drowned out by all those conservative voices that love to protest media bias, and I might as well be silent.

Iraqi insurgents may force US military draft

According to a report written by Bryan Bender for the Boston Globe, “Insurgents in Iraq have staged increasingly sophisticated attacks in recent weeks, according to US military assessments, moving beyond roadside bombings and suicide attacks to mount large-scale assaults against US and Iraqi forces and civilians,” prompting “some commanders to reexamine their belief that the insurgency was on the wane, even though the number of daily attacks has fallen since the landmark Jan. 30 election.”

“[T]hey worry that insurgents are making inroads toward sparking a full-blown sectarian war and offered cautions about recent predictions that the United States could significantly reduce its forces from the current 142,000 within a year.” The present US military deployment is unsustainable with an all-volunteer force. If insurgents succeed in forcing the US to resume a draft, they will be well on their way to inflicting another Vietnam-style humiliation on the United States.

[[R]etired Army General John] Keane took issue with those military officials who have suggested that the insurgency was waning because the number of attacks across the country had declined to about 50 a day, compared with more than 200 per day last year, according to Pentagon figures.

”It’s always dangerous to look at [the numbers of] enemy attacks,” said Keane, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Defense Policy Board, which advises Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. ”They can be very misleading, as much as the body counts in Vietnam. . . . It can lead to wrong conclusions.”

Keane has recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq. Keane emphasized the resiliancy of insurgent forces.

Echoing Keane’s concerns, retired Army General George Joulwan cautioned against declaring military victory too soon.

”Never underestimate the enemy,” he said in an interview. ”The worst thing we can do is paint too rosy a picture. The insurgents may not be able to defeat us on the battlefield, but they have developed their strategy. Can we prevail in the end, yes. But I think it is going to take a long time.”

Time is something the US military may not have. The particularly frightening part is that the mostly Sunni insurgency seems to be seeking to provoke the Shi’ite majority. This is not a tactic which would likely be employed by a force worried about its own ability to sustain conflict. even if outnumbered by Shi’ites and outgunned by Americans. According to a story originally published in the Wall Street Journal, “Despite claims that the insurgency in Iraq has declined, an internal Army analysis finds that attacks haven’t necessarily lessened in recent months, but rather appear to have shifted away from U.S. troops to more vulnerable Iraqis.”

It is clear to the local population that US forces are failing to control the situation even in a small area. According to a story in the Belfast Telegraph, “The inability of the US army to secure the seven-mile road between Baghdad and the airport, also the site of the main US military base, has become a symbol of the failure of the US in Iraq. Heavily armoured US patrols, prone to open fire unpredictably, are regarded as being as dangerous as the insurgents.”