Thursday, May 31, 2007

Triangle of Death Hostage Search: Day 19

STILL SEARCHING
The lonely vigils continue in four communities for the two missing soldiers seized in a May 12 ambush.

Neighbors of Maria del Rosario Duran, the mother of Specialist Alex R. Jimenez, have tied yellow ribbons to fences, around trees and on doors on her home in the Corona neighborhood of Queens to show their support for the family. The scene is similar in the town of Lawence, Massachusetts, where Jimenez's father, Ramon Jimenez, lives, and at Fort Drum, New York, where wife Yaderlin resides, as well as in Lake Orion Township, Michigan, home of the adoptive family of Private Byron R. Fouty.

Fouty's stepfather, Gordon Dibler Jr., said he wants his "hero" to come home:
"I can't take a breath without thinking about it. His life is more than a news ticker. He's my hero."
* * * * *
DNA tests are being run on a body that could be that of one of the two missing soldiers seized in the ambush.

Military officials warned that the body, found Sunday at an undisclosed location, did not initially appear to fit descriptions of either Jimenez or Fouty, but there was a suggestion that it was not that of an Iraqi.

Meanwhile, insurgents continue to use tactics elsewhere in Iraq similar to those that precipitated the ambush-kidnappings.

Insurgents ambushed a rapid-response team sent to rescue soldiers in a helicopter crash Monday in Diyala province, killing six with roadside bombs, according to Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver, a military spokesman.

Said Garver:

"They are an adaptive, difficult enemy with an ability to change tactics to adapt to what’s happening on the ground."

* * * * *
Here's an index of previous Kiko's House reports on the ambush and search:

Wednesday, May 30: Chris's Final Resting Place
Tuesday, May 29:
A Shrine to the Dead
Monday, May 28: The Next War
Sunday, May 27: Search Enters Third Week
Saturday, May 26:
A Somber Holiday in Michigan
Friday, May 25:
Memorial Day Edition
Thursday, May 24:
A Vigil For Joseph Anzack

Wednesday, May 23:
A Body Is Found

Tuesday, May 22:
Ambush Victims Come Home For Burial
Monday, May 21: Hopes Grow Slimmer

Sunday, May 20:
A Flicker of Hope But the Trail Goes Cold
Saturday, May 19: The Triangle of Death Up Close

Friday, May 18:
Who Are the Dead and Missing Men?
Thursday, May 17: Has the Search Impacted on the Surge?
Wednesday, May 16: Anatomy of An Abduction & Search

Photograph by Michael Kambor for The New York Times

Why Fred Thompson Is Just Another Hack

For those of you who watch every jot and tittle of a presidential campaign that has 18 looong months to go, the mere mention of the any-day-now entry of manly man Fred Thompson into the already crowded Republican field has been like a dose of extra-strength Viagra and a convenient excuse for overlooking the sordid state of American politics.

Hope spring eternal and all that bushwah.
I am not one of bloggers who endlessly obsess on the campaign and don't for a moment get fooled by the flapdoodlery of most of the presidential wannabes.

But I would be remiss if I failed to note that Thompson already is showing himself to be just another hack by courting Tim Griffin, the U.S. attorney for Arkansas, to be his campaign manager.
Tim Boy cut his bicuspids at the knee of Karl Rove and has his dirty mitts all over the U.S. attorney scandal. He is expected to resign his federal post on Friday but would be out of work in a few months anyhow because of the shennanigans that landed him in the job in the first place.

Details here.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision on a tight time frame to file such cases. The dissenters said the ruling ignored workplace realities.

The decision came in a case involving a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., the only woman among 16 men at the same management level, who was paid less than any of her colleagues, including those with less seniority. She learned that fact late in a career of nearly 20 years — too late, according to the Supreme Court’s majority.

-- LINDA GREENHOUSE

The effect of the case is to insulate employers from wage discrimination claims as long as they can hid[e] the evidence from the employee being discriminated against for 180 days, a result contrary to the purpose of the statute that is in no way compelled by its language.

-- SCOTT LEMIEUX

Does the decision ignore workplace realities? Probably. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, salary increases do not get published, so any apparent inequity would take quite some time to discover. Further, it would take a long time to prove a pattern of such discrimination for an employer, especially one (like Goodyear) with many facilities in many jurisdictions. In fact, even for one employee, it would likely take more than one review cycle to determine whether discrimination exists or just one poorly-executed review.

And the response to that for the Court should be: Write better laws. It is not the job of the Supreme Court to rewrite poorly-constructed legislation. Congress obviously intended for a short window of opportunity for these complaints, for whatever reason they had. The Supreme Court follows the law, unless the law is expressly unconstitutional. Fine-tuning dumb laws and badly-written legislation isn't the purview of the Court, but rather the responsibility of Congress.

It's mind-boggling to me that the original instinct (however it came up) to discriminate is the only discrimination actionable under Title VII--while the actual, material, measurable, noticeable, empirical disparity in pay that--we should remember--is why the women is suing in the first place, isn't.

-- DAVID SCHRAUB

[T]his decision is inconsistent with the purposes of the Title VII to both make victims of discrimination whole and to eradicate employment discriminatory practices from society at large. It leads to an absurd situation where employees either must bring pay claims prematurely when there is not enough evidence that there has been unlawful pay discrimination or wait to a later time when there exists more substantial evidence of pay discrimination and be barred from bringing such claims by the statute of limitations . . . This inequitable state of affairs cannot stand and, it is my hope, it will be legislatively nullified.

[I]t’s a way to rule against a woman in a case where gender discrimination is so blatant that you can’t do what sexists usually do and pretend it’s something else. The standard argument against why the pay gap is a problem is that it’s the fault of the victims themselves, having, um, made the “choice” to take the lower pay. The word “choice” is the absolute favorite of people who like to blame the victims, and in this case, [Justice] Alito gave himself a hernia trying to make years and years of pay discrimination the victim’s fault because she did not file a complaint about pay discrimination before it happened.

-- AMANDA MARCOTTE

The ruling is the latest indication that a court that once proudly stood up for the disadvantaged is increasingly protective of the powerful.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wilson-Plame: The Big Lie Is Debunked

THEY'RE NOT BACK. THEY NEVER WENT AWAY.
The right-wing punditocracy has blathered on ad nauseam that Valerie Plame could not have been outted because she was not a covert CIA employee, and therefore the Wilson-Plame leak scandal is nothing more than a mere drip.

Never mind that dancing on the head of this particular pin did nothing to obscure the ferocity with which Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove and their handmaidens pushed back after Mr. Valerie Plame – aka former career diplomat Joseph Wilson – published an op-ed piece in The New York Times debunking a key lie in the Bush administration’s rationale for talking the U.S. to war in Iraq.

Anyhow, while I was watching a “Seinfeld” rerun or something the other night, NBC News reported that a newly declassified summary detailing Plame’s work history at the spy agency shows that she was indeed "covert" when her name was leaked to syndicated Bush sycophant Robert Novak in July 2003, setting in motion a series of events that climaxed with the conviction of Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

The summary states that:

"Ms. Wilson was a covert CIA employee for who the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States. . . .

"While assigned to CPD [Counterprofileration Division], Ms. Wilson engaged in temporary duty (TDY) travel overseas on official business. She traveled at least seven times to more than ten countries. When traveling overseas, Ms. Wilson always traveled under a cover identity — sometimes in true name and sometimes in alias — but always using cover — whether official or non-official cover (NOC) — with no ostensible relationship to the CIA."

The summary was among the attachments to a memorandum from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to the court recommending that Libby spend 2 ½ to 3 years in the slammer for obstructing his leak investigation and then lying about it.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER NOW?
Certainly not because it will result in clarifications, let alone apologies, from the talking heads who have ceaselessly criticized Plame and Wilson. In fact, the sight of grown men doing grand jetés around the news that Plame was indeed covert is interesting in and of itself.

(No word on whether Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters is wearing tights and a tutu today, but he is a semi-exception to the pack, but blames not the White House but George Tenet's slipshod management of the CIA. Meanwhile, Rick Moran over at Rightwing Nuthouse finds the outting to have been reprehensible, but can't resist kicking Larry Johnson in the shins. Hope he was wearing ballet slippers.)

It matters because it is a key to the success of a second trial that could be far more damaging to Cheney and the Bush administration.

That would be a civil trial on the lawsuit that Wilson and Plame have filed against Cheney, Libby, Karl Rove and Richard Armitage.

The lawsuit would have proceeded no matter the outcome of the Libby criminal trial. That is because it is not about whether Libby obstructed justice and lied, both of which he did with abandon, but whether the high-profile defendants violated the constitutional rights of Mr. and Mrs. Plame-Wilson by conspiring to retaliate against them after Wilson’s Times piece.

Plame and Wilson are asking for unspecified monetary damages for what they describe as a "gross invasion of privacy" that could jeopardize the safety of their children and target Plame – whom we now know was indeed covert -- for retribution by enemies of the U.S. They also allege that the incident has impaired their professional opportunities.

The same blabbermouths who have dissed Plame call the civil suit "an alternative version of reality" and worse, but it is not going to be wished away.

Although the analogy is less than perfect, the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil cases help explain why the suit could be so damaging.

Under the rules of criminal procedure, Simpson could be found guilty at his criminal trial only if the evidence showed beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the murderer. Largely because of an inept prosecution, the jury did have doubts and Simpson walked.

Under the rules of civil procedure, Simpson could be found guilty at his civil trial on a lawsuit brought by the families of the victims if there was merely a preponderance of evidence that he was responsible for the murders. The jury found there to be more than enough evidence, Simpson was found guilty and ordered to pay the families $33.5 million.

The same test will apply to a Wilson-Plame civil trial and the defendants, if found guilty, would have to pay the plaintiffs big bucks for violating their civil rights. No jail time would be involved.

DISCOVERY WILL BE A BITCH
But it will be the run-up to a civil trial that could be even more problematic for Cheney and his posse than the trial itself. I am fond of saying that "discovery will be a bitch" in my sometime role as a legal consultant and for good reason because that often is where the most blood is spilled.

Discovery is the process in which attorneys obtain information before trial through demands for documents, depositions of the plaintiffs and potential witnesses under oath and written interrogatories. Under the law, that process is pretty much wide open on the theory that both sides have a right to go to trial with as much knowledge as possible and that no side should be able to keep secrets from the other.

All of this begs the question of whether there will be a trial.

In November, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that their positions as high-level government employees protect them from prosecution and, even more unbelievable, that outting Plame was within the scope of their responsibilities.
In other words, they were just doing their jobs. And besides which, they're above the law.
A ruling is expeted on the motion in the next 30 to 60 days and I would not be so rash to predict what the court will do.

But my gut tells me that the suit will proceed to discovery and then to trial if there is not a whopper of an out-of-court settlement. That is if Wilson and Plame would even accept one.

The plaintiffs are not particularly sympathetic characters.

Wilson has been especially self aggrandizing as he and the missus rattle the tin cup at fundraisers, but that won't matter when a jury is confronted with the spoils of discovery and the harsh reality of what rotten sons of bitches have run the U.S. for the last six-plus years.

Iraq: Drink Thish & Call Me in 6 Momths

A U.S. -- not Iraqi -- soldier stands guard after Tuesday attack
One of the most insidious consequences of always putting politics ahead of policy in the Age of Bush has been the slow but inevitable unraveling of the administration's "strategy" in Iraq. Or "strategies," to be more accurate.
Having determinedly misled the public about why it was taking the U.S. to war, it stands to reason that the White House never came clean about the sacrifices that would be necessary to win the peace.

In fact, not only were Americans not asked to sacrifice, the rich were given a hefty tax cut and the rest of us the compassionate conservative's equivalent of a bag of salted peanuts. All the while, what actually was going on in Iraq was wrapped in a swadling of upbeat platitudes that the mainstream media swallowed whole.

This has resulted in a dizzying and, in retrospect, neverendingly idiotic series of pronouncements that the corner is about to be turned. About to be turned. About to be turned. About to be . . .
Most idiotic of this idiocy is that the Iraqi government only needs six months before it is capable of standing up so that American troops could stand down. Six months. Six months. Six . . . This bald-faced lie has been uttered with regularity for several years. Several years. Several years. Several . . .

Now comes Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who is concluding an embed with the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery in western Baghdad courtesy of Public Media Inc., a great young organization co-run by that consummate embedder himself, Bill Roggio.

Gartenstein-Ross finds much positive to write about the surge, but then there's this shocker in a post at Roggio’s The Fourth Rail:

"Virtually all the U.S. officials with whom I spoke feel that American strategy now boils down to a single goal: strategic disengagement. That is, the U.S. wants to strengthen the Iraqi government to the point that it is self-sustaining enough that the country will not collapse into chaos as U.S. troops are brought back home. It’s unclear how long this will take. One Army staff sergeant who has worked closely with the Iraqi army and police thinks that 'several years' [italics mine] is the best estimate. . . . A U.S. official told me that in the past, the line was always that the U.S. was 'six months' away from turning the country over to the Iraqis. This was detrimental to overall planning, because strategy was geared toward maximizing results over the six-month period before the handover would allegedly take place. Now the military’s plans are more long-term: they are trying to look at what will be best for Iraq several years down the line, and placing less emphasis on when the U.S. commitment expires."
I want to cry when I read reports like this because, well, when it comes to Iraq the truth hurts like bloody hell.

And for the most part, U.S. commanders have merely been doing what the White House told them to do, knowing all the while that the president, his enablers and their grand sycophancy were drunk on that notoriously intoxicating neocon Kool Aid.

But now, in the fifth year of George Bush's Forever War, the punch bowl is empty.

The Kool Aid is gone.

The U.S. has run out of six-month turnarounds and the expiration date (pun very much intended) is drawing ever closer.
Photograph by Ali Jasim/Reuters

Triangle of Death Hostage Search: Day 18

Another of the five U.S. soldiers killed as a result of an Al Qaeda-led ambush on May 12 has reached his final resting place.
Corporal Christopher Edward Murphy was buried yesterday afternoon in Arlington National Cemetery after a memorial service in Gladys, Campbell County, Virginia.
Murphy was a 2004 graduate of William Campbell High School, where hundreds of people gathered in the school gymnasium to celebrate his 21 years of life.

When Christopher was a kid, his older sister Shawna Murphy said, he loved Star Trek and treasured a model of one of the spaceships from the TV show. Her voice cracking, she said that in a fit of adolescent anger, she destroyed it:

"I meant it then. But I don’t mean it now.

"I’m going to always remember him for the depth of love he had for the people around him. Christopher was more generous of a heart than anyone had a right to be."

Murphy's mother, Rosemary Balian, embraced each person who spoke about her son, saying:

"We love him and care for him even though he will no longer be physically here with us.

"We had 21 blessed years with Chris."

She and Darryl Balian, Murphy’s father, were presented the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for their son’s service, while high school Principal Rob Arnold gave the family a banner that had hung in the school’s cafeteria for students to sign after the news of his death.

The high school will retire number 75, the football jersey that Murphy wore when he played for the William Campbell Generals.

Murphy’s casket, draped in a U.S. flag, sat at the center of the gym. A collage with photos of the young man through the years rested nearby. Several bouquets of red, white and blue flowers surrounded the front of the gym.

A seven–member honor guard performed a 21-gun salute, and a bugler played "Taps" before Murphy began his last journey to Arlington National Cemetery.

Said Cleveland Vassal, Murphy’s longtime friend:

"To know that our friend will no longer be with us … it leaves a sting in your heart.

"[But] “He’s not feeling any more pain. He’s happy, and he’s all right."

The search continues for two soldiers from Murphy's unit -- Specialist Alex R. Jiminez and Private Byron Fouty.

* * * * *
Here's an index of previous Kiko's House reports on the ambush and search:

Tuesday, May 29: A Shrine to the Dead
Monday, May 28: The Next War
Sunday, May 27: Search Enters Third Week
Saturday, May 26:
A Somber Holiday in Michigan
Friday, May 25:
Memorial Day Edition
Thursday, May 24:
A Vigil For Joseph Anzack

Wednesday, May 23:
A Body Is Found

Tuesday, May 22:
Ambush Victims Come Home For Burial
Monday, May 21: Hopes Grow Slimmer

Sunday, May 20:
A Flicker of Hope But the Trail Goes Cold
Saturday, May 19: The Triangle of Death Up Close

Friday, May 18:
Who Are the Dead and Missing Men?
Thursday, May 17: Has the Search Impacted on the Surge?
Wednesday, May 16: Anatomy of An Abduction & Search

Meanwhile, Back At the Other War . . .

Over the weekend, Andrew Sullivan posted this image of Guardsman Daniel Probyn at The Daily Dish as part of a Memorial Day weekend photo essay.

Probyn, a British soldier from the Grenadier Guards Regiment, had helped repel an an assault of Taliban insurgents earlier this month at at a desert combat security outpost in the Garmsir District.

He was killed on Saturday at age 22.
Photograph by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

A Bridge Way Too Far

State representatives unveil sign renaming bridge

While the gesture was well meant, the renaming of a bridge in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania for area war veterans is hilariously if unintentionally appropriate.

In Memorial Day weekend ceremonies, the Interboro Bridge linking Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg was renamed the Veterans Bridge by beaming pols blithely oblivious to the irony.
The bridge is an apt metaphor for the dysfunctional system that is supposed to take care of America’s most grievously wounded vets.

The bridge carries far more traffic than it was built for and has been in a state of woeful neglect for years with axle-bending potholes, some so large that the reinforcing steel that is (hopefully) keeping the concrete structure from falling down is visible.
An obvious question is which will be fixed first: The veterans health-care system or the bridge? My advice would be to not hold your breath for either.

Photograph by Mark A. Genito/Pocono Record

A Sad Tale of Education & Incarceration

It is no secret that the U.S. is the most incarcerating-est country in the so-called Free World, but things have gotten so bad in California that the prisons budget is approaching the education budget.

In a post at Crooked Timber, blogger Kieran Murphy quotes economist-political scientist Joseph Schumpeter as saying:
"The budget is the skeleton of the state, stripped of all misleading ideologies."
With that in mind, the present trend in California is nothing short of horrifying and we can expect to see much the same elsewhere.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

[Allison] Stokke has decided that control is essentially beyond her grasp. Instead, she said, she has learned a distressing lesson in the unruly momentum of the Internet. A fan on a Cal football message board posted a picture of the attractive, athletic pole vaulter. A popular sports blogger in New York found the picture and posted it on his site. Dozens of other bloggers picked up the same image and spread it. Within days, hundreds of thousands of Internet users had searched for Stokke's picture and leered.

The wave of attention has steamrolled Stokke and her family in Newport Beach, Calif. She is recognized -- and stared at -- in coffee shops. She locks her doors and tries not to leave the house alone. Her father, Allan Stokke, comes home from his job as a lawyer and searches the Internet. He reads message boards and tries to pick out potential stalkers.

Of all the many tragic paradoxes of the Iraq war, the latest one is arguably the most worrying. Yes, we invaded a country to secure weapons of mass destruction that were not there. Yes, we deposed a man for killing thousands of his subjects, only to unleash murder of innocents on a wider, unstoppable scale. Yes, we invaded to create democracy, but have rendered the concept of democracy in the Middle East synonymous with mass death, chaos and anarchy. But the latest twist is a real zinger. A war to defeat terrorism has actually massively increased its prevalence in the last two years, and is now creating a terror-factory to murder more innocents across the globe, including here. That terror factory is Bush's Iraq.

-- ANDREW SULLIVAN

One of the things about being profoundly out of sympathy with our present administration is that it has made me much more vividly aware than I ever was before of how extraordinary civilian control of the military is. Think about it: so many people are willing to risk their lives for their country without requiring, in return, any control over when they will be asked to risk their lives, and why. If we were governed by people of immense wisdom and judiciousness, or for that matter by people who were just basically decent and thoughtful, this might be less striking. But to be willing to risk your life whoever governs you -- that's an act of staggering generosity, which, as far as I'm concerned, we can never repay.

-- HILZOY

Ah, the famous civility of rightwing bloggers. Leading conservatives from Reynolds to Malkin to Hewitt will tell you that civility makes righties better people than the angry liberal mob. Rightwingers never stoop to petty name-calling, they will tell you, and they correct their own on the (vanishingly!) rare occasion when somebody proves them wrong. We even have a commenter who mostly bewails the mean, terribly uncivil Left.
-- TIM F.

To perform "[A] Streetcar [Named Desire]" without cigarettes, or "Twelve Angry Men" without a smoke-filled jury room, is to insult the intelligence of audiences who come to see these well-known plays expecting to see them performed as written. . . . Such a ban isn’t unconstitutional — but it’s stupid, which is even worse. It makes Chicago look like a backwoods burg full of philistine pols with nothing better to do than mind other people’s business. . . . [S]ince when did Carl Sandburg’s City of the Big Shoulders turn into Nannytown, U.S.A.? As for those Chicagoans who don’t care to have their nostrils brutalized by the smell of a lone cigarette burning halfway across a crowded theater, they have an inalienable right of their own — the right to head for the nearest exit. I urge them to exercise it and leave the actors to go about their stage business undisturbed.

Guest Blog: Country Planning

Commentary by COUNTRY BUMPKIN
Well, hello all you people! It’s been a while, but here we are again.

This is our fifth autumn in these parts, and in contrast with the four which went before (isn’t that musical, somehow?) it has been a season of the most unutterably sublime weather. No wind, no rain, no clouds. Even now daytime temperatures are rising into the late teens and early twenties, though the nights are getting chilly. And longer. Only a month to go to the winter solstice.

It’s a mixed blessing. Farmers here (and in other parts of the country) can’t grow grass while the soil remains dry and when the weather chills with the arrival of winter, there is a real risk they will find themselves having to buy in feed earlier than usual. In some places livestock is already being sold down as farmers hedge against the possibility that they won’t be able to feed them. And as you can quickly deduce a shortage of feed and a surplus of animals raises costs on the one hand and reduces income on the other. But, as my farming friends are fond of saying, that’s life.

For us town-dwellers the problem is a little different. Nature’s rhythms are not much disturbed by climatic oddities (yet) and so on the streets and gardens and in the roof guttering lies a mass of brightly coloured fallen autumn leaves. In past years they were soaked with rain and made soggy and slippery but rotted away quickly. This year they are dry and there is not enough wind to blow them into the neighbour’s place. In a little while they will be gone, but right at this moment it’s a big, big mess!

The other evening I had just finished drying myself after stepping out of the shower when suddenly everything went dark. Timing is everything in cases like this, because if the power had failed while the water was running I would have been immediately frozen into immobility. The gas heater which heats the bathroom water won’t work if there is no electricity. But hey . . .

The blackness lasted a couple of hours, and reading in bed was not an option so a chap — and his wife — turned over and went to sleep. Imagine my surprise next day when the local paper reported causes and effects one can only wonder at:

A high-wire possum that blew a key power line in Masterton has been blamed for rupturing a nearby Renall Street water main and plunging into darkness 9000 Wairarapa homes for about two hours last night.

The possum, it can be safely assumed, was turned into a fricassee and everyone will be glad because they’re a pest, but I really have to question whether the poor creature was clever enough to rupture a water pipe from a block away and up a pole. But it must be true, because it took two reporters to bring this information to us and you all believe what you read in the paper, don’t you?

A few weeks back youngest grandson came to visit, so I took him to the local swimming complex. This seemingly innocent activity caused a contretemps, as it turns out, and I can do no better than to repeat here a portion of the email I wrote to the city manager:

I took my visiting 11-year old grandson to the pool today, where he had a couple of hours of great fun. While he was swimming, I took a dozen or so photos of him to send his parents, and it was when I took the 12th one that it happened.

A very nice young man in a yellow shirt came up behind me, and told me that I was not allowed to take pictures without the approval of the manager. Why? For child safety reasons. What child safety reasons? Oh, you know, paedophiles and things like that.

I’d be very interested to know the origins of this lunatic and outrageous policy. Is it a Council policy, or did the pool manager dream it up? How many paedophiles have been prevented from doing harm by it?

This is appalling, and total madness! What on earth are we coming to?

What are we coming to, indeed. You can pretty much write the reply I got yourselves, but the incident once more brings into focus what happens when a community — defined in this case as the inhabitants of New Zealand — start to accept and approve of the notion that if a problem arises which is created by a tiny minority of people, then regulations must be enacted which have to be inflicted on the entirely normal and responsible majority. Politically it is sound up to a point, but if enough of it goes on and it penetrates deeper and deeper into people’s everyday activities then the warnings of George Orwell suddenly spring to mind. Again. Recent opinion polls strongly indicate that our present set of governors may not be around much longer to perpetrate such legislative laziness, but that raises the question of whether their successors are capable of much better.

Almost a year ago I reported that we have installed a heat pump in the family room at the back of the house, and I am learning that it has changed the way we use our property. It is capable of heating quite a considerable volume of air, namely the family room, the kitchen and the dining room. It will also slightly lift the temperature of the living room as well, but since we scarcely ever use the living room now it hardly matters. When we need it, we light the fire and the two heating systems combined make for an experience of the greatest of comfort. Nevertheless, our woodshed is still full of manuka which burns hot and slow, and because it’s an expensive firewood its lack of use is making an excellent contribution to the economics of the heat pump. The reality is that saving energy requires capital expenditure up front, and this is one of the great stumbling blocks to reducing man-made emissions of carbon dioxide. But I expect the excitement about that to fade before long, and I belong to the group of people who entirely accept that while the climate is warming, I’m not the cause. And neither are you.

To add to our evening comfort in the family room, we bought a standard lamp with one of those dishes that faces upward to reflect the light from the ceiling. It has a halogen light source, and it took us a couple of occasions to figure out where the smell of burning was coming from. From time to time an insect will brush against the halogen bulb and suffer a fate rather like that of the possum on the power line. Toasted wasp, anyone? Pfworrrrr . . .

Late in the summer, before the leaves had really begun to change colour, we took a short drive to the west with our Wellington family to a favourite pottery. To reach the little shop you turn off the road and drive up a gravel driveway. On this occasion we were surprised to see that right beside the driveway and invisible from the road, a field had been occupied by cricket players, all properly dressed in whites, along with their relatives and their cars. It was a scene straight out of an English jigsaw puzzle; a village green in the traditional style, made even more attractive by its sheer unexpectedness. Evidently the matches are put on by the potter, which has the additional piquancy that the potter is not, so far as I know, an Englishman. In such ways the defunct Empire continues to exert its influence.

* * * * *
Country Bumpkin is a bibliophile and man of the world who lives in New Zealand. Among his other guest blogs are Country Travel, Country Polikarpovs, Country History, The Country Way of All Flesh, Country Images, Country Winter and Country Ice.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

If You Plant Ice You're Gonna Harvest Wind

Of all the lies that President Bush has told, none is larger nor has been told with greater frequency than Iraq had to be invaded because it was a hotbed of terrorism.

Despite the exertions of the White House and its right-wing lapdogs in the media and blogosphere to prove that canard in the five years since it replaced nonexistent WMD as the primary justification for the invasion, there is of course no evidence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a safe harbor for players in the global Islamic jihad. Yes, there has been the occasional report of Saddam Official A meeting with Terrorist Rep B in some foreign capital, but nothing remotely of substance.

What there is substantial evidence of is that George Bush’s war has become the Wal-Mart of the global Islamic jihad, drawing an extraordinary range of terrorists and terrorist wannabes who make up a small, if significant, part of the insurgency. (That brings up another lie: That the bulk of the insurgency consists of non-Iraqis.)

Now comes word -- in retrospect an inevitable and predictable consequence of a wrongheaded war and botched occupation -- that the U.S. has been so successful in growing terrorism in Iraq that Iraq is beginning to export terrorists and their tactics to neighboring countries and beyond.

Way to go Mr. President!

Reports the New York Times:

"Some of the fighters appear to be leaving as part of the waves of Iraqi refugees crossing borders that government officials acknowledge they struggle to control. But others are dispatched from Iraq for specific missions. . . . .

"Estimating the number of fighters leaving Iraq is at least as difficult as it has been to count foreign militants joining the insurgency. But early signs of an exodus are clear, and officials in the United States and the Middle East say the potential for veterans of the insurgency to spread far beyond Iraq is significant.

"Maj. Gen. Achraf Rifi, general director of the Internal Security Forces in Lebanon, said in a recent interview that 'if any country says it is safe from this, they are putting their heads in the sand'."

Just last week, the beleaguered Lebanese Army found itself in a pitched battle against a militant group, Fatah al Islam, whose ranks include as many as 50 veterans of the war in Iraq.

President Bush, of course, is entirely to blame for this state of affairs because, quite simply, he has been in charge, has always said he knows best and has been deaf to advice, let alone criticism, that runs contrary to his mantra that those dastardly terrorists were a pre-existing problem in Iraq.

Triangle of Death Hostage Search: Day 17

SERGEANT DORR'S SHRINE

The trail for two U.S. soldiers still missing after a May 12 ambush appears to have gone cold.

U.S. commanders say they are confident that they have in custody many of the people directly related to the attack in the Triangle of Death, but judging from reduced number of searchers three-plus weeks on, there are no fresh leads as to the whereabouts of Specialist Alex R. Jimenez and Private Byron W. Fouty.

Meanwhile, back at the headquarters of Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, a simple shrine made of plywood and two-by-fours has been erected to honor the soldiers killed in the ambush, as well as two others from the unit who died in December.

Sergeant Curtis Dorr, who built the shrine in the former villa turned outpost, wishes it could be grander, perhaps some pieces of felt to hide the knotholes or some trim to make it a more fitting tribute for a Memorial Day ceremony.

Associated Press reporter-photographer Mary Allaruzzo, writing from Quarhuli, says that:

"Dorr, 38, of Troy, Maine, touched each of the framed pictures and remembered his fallen friends . . .

'They were just kids,' he said, thinking about Sergeant Anthony Schober, 23, of Reno, Nev. 'Just kids.'

Then he turned to the photo of Sergeant First Class Class James D. Connell Jr., 40, of Lake City, Tennessee.

'Sergeant First Class Connell has four kids,' Dorr added. 'Such a waste'."

It was a rough Memorial Day weekend for platoon leader Lieutenant Morgan Spring-Glace, 25, of Worcester, Mass. His job is to write the letters to the families of his men, but he is struggling with that task:.

"I never thought I'd be in a situation like this.

"One of my men said to me . . . .as we were coming back from this mission that, 'It's like they could come back any time, you know?' I know the feeling. It's like you can just press the button and go back to the way it was."

* * * * *
Lawrence, Massachusetts veterans observed a moment of silence yesterday for one of their own, Specialist Jimenez.

During the city's Memorial Day service at St. Mary's Cemetery, Francisco Ureña, Lawrence's director of veterans, said he had asked a crowd of 200 veterans and their families not to forget Jimenez, 25.

"I told the audience to keep him in their thoughts and prayers," Ureña said.

* * * * *
Here's an index of previous Kiko's House reports on the ambush and search:

Monday, May 28: The Next War
Sunday, May 27: Search Enters Third Week
Saturday, May 26:
A Somber Holiday in Michigan
Friday, May 25:
Memorial Day Edition
Thursday, May 24:
A Vigil For Joseph Anzack

Wednesday, May 23:
A Body Is Found

Tuesday, May 22:
Ambush Victims Come Home For Burial
Monday, May 21: Hopes Grow Slimmer

Sunday, May 20:
A Flicker of Hope But the Trail Goes Cold
Saturday, May 19: The Triangle of Death Up Close

Friday, May 18:
Who Are the Dead and Missing Men?
Thursday, May 17: Has the Search Impacted on the Surge?
Wednesday, May 16: Anatomy of An Abduction & Search

Photograph by Mary Alleruzzo for The Associated Press

Tense, Sober & In the End Chickenhearted

Write Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas in Newsweek:
"Appalled by the White House's heavy-handed attempt to coerce the gravely ill attorney general, virtually the entire top leadership of the Justice Department is threatening to resign. The group includes the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum and the chief of the Criminal Division, Chris Wray. Some of them gather in the conference room of Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who describes Ashcroft's bravely turning away the president's men from his hospital bed. The mood that night in the conference room was tense — and sober. "This was a showdown," says a former senior Justice Department official who was there. "Everybody understood the choice they were making and the gravity of the situation. Everybody knew what the stakes were." A different source estimated that as many as 30 top DOJ officials would have resigned."
Yeah, but when all was said and done they didn't.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Top Cannes prize went to "4 Months, 3 Weeks . . . " More here.

However wholeheartedly we disposed of their horrific dictator, the Iraqis were always pawns on the geopolitical chessboard rather than actual people in the administration’s reckless bet to “transform” the Middle East. From “Stuff happens!” on, nearly every aspect of Washington policy in Iraq exuded contempt for the beneficiaries of our supposed munificence. Now this animus is completely out of the closet. Without Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to kick around anymore, the war’s dead-enders are pinning the fiasco on the Iraqis themselves. Our government abhors them almost as much as the Lou Dobbs spear carriers loathe those swarming “aliens” from Mexico.

-- FRANK RICH

I’m beginning to get the impression there is nothing more important to the Associated Press in its Iraq reportage than the number of “American soldiers killed in this unpopular war.” That phrase, with a number, is typically trotted out no later than graph three in AP stories on Iraq. It’s as though the body count is the sole measure upon which all decisions and action must turn. There certainly has been no effort by the Associated Press, or other major news organizations on the ground in Iraq, to examine progress in anything but the most dismissive manner, with a quick revert to body count.

-- JULES CRITTENDEN

U.S. military leaders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that most of the broad political goals President Bush laid out early this year in his announcement of a troop buildup will not be met this summer and are seeking ways to redefine success.

. . . Military officers said they understood that any report that key goals had not been met would add to congressional Democrats' skepticism. But some counterinsurgency advisors to Petraeus have argued that it was never realistic to expect that Iraqis would reach agreement on some of their most divisive issues after just a few months of the American troop buildup.

-- JULIAN BARNES

Iraqis have told me many times that the larger part of this war is not about religion. Fanatical groups such as Al Qaeda surely have wreaked havoc, but a huge part of the war is about business, influence and resources. The American Commanding General, David Petraeus, has said repeatedly that money is ammunition in this war. The meetings I attend with local leaders around Iraq are never about religion. Religion is seldom if ever brought up. The meetings are about security, electricity, jobs, water projects. The meetings often are about influence, and politics fit for a novel.

-- MICHAEL YON

The Democratic party is at it again, employing its traditional talent for intramural invective. This old habit doesn’t necessarily serve its members well. Liberals have long complained – accurately – that Bush has been pursuing his war with scant regard for the facts on the ground, but their current anger at the Democratic Congress suggests that they, too, are prone to ignoring reality.

The facts on the ground, in Washington, are simple: The Democrats may have the gavel, but they don’t have the votes to impose their will on Bush and override his vetoes. The margins are way too thin. And a fair number of elected Democrats represent moderate swing districts, in places like Indiana and North Carolina, where constitutents have soured on the war, but nevertheless might view a war money cutoff as tantamount to abandoning the troops in harm’s way.

-- DICK POLMAN

In defending the Iraq war, leading Republican presidential contenders are increasingly echoing words and phrases used by President Bush in the run-up to the war that reinforce the misleading impression that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

-- PETER CANELLOS

According to The (New York) Daily News, presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is paying his wife $10,000 a month to help write his speeches. That’s every wife’s dream, huh? To be able to put words in your husband’s mouth and get paid for it.

-- JAY LENO

This marks the first time in 50 years that the Labor Party has lost an election in Scotland. Fifty years is a long time -- in politics, it is a virtual eternity.

Scare tactics often work in elections, and with the Labor Party contemplating defeat, it was willing to throw all the negativity it could into this campaign. People in Scotland heard it all: Labor conjured up descriptions of plague and pestilence if Scots voted for the SNP [Scottish National Party] and a new and different government.

And I'll tell you this: It didn't work. In fact, it backfired badly on Labor.

Scots voted for optimism. They voted for change. They voted for progress.

-- SEAN CONNERY

I have a pretty good idea where we'll find the founders of that Google-beating start-up. I think they are working right now at Google. Google is an amazing entrepreneurial petri dish. Yet at the same time, it is doomed to disappoint nearly every entrepreneurial type who works there. This is key: Google is sowing the seeds of its own eventual destruction. It can't help doing so. . . . Google has designed a working environment that provides almost everything their technical people need except a guaranteed sense of satisfaction.

-- ROBERT X. CRINGLEY

"Ye shall be as gods." That’s what Detroit told us. "Ye shall be as gods." And Detroit was Parnassus.

Then it all fell apart. Starting in the late 1960s (except for the Corvette, always the design leader in North America), American cars became shapeless blobs. When the cool sport utility vehicles and pickups and the late-’90s Caddys came along — reversing a bad spell for the Cadillac nameplate — there was a slight uptick. But even now, look at the style, feel the feel of the Nissan Altima or the Toyota Camry (often designed and made in America) compared with most of the Big Three’s offerings, and the comparison is pathetic.

-- BEN STEIN

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Memorial Day of Whine & Roses

It is Memorial Day today in the U.S.

The holiday originally was called Decoration Day and was a day of remembrance for Union soldiers who died in the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include soldiers who died in any war.

As always, I've hung an American flag outside of Kiko's House this Memorial Day.

As always, I will keep the day simple. I'll have a go on my mountain bike after I post this and probably watch some baseball later, but that will be about it.

As always, I will remember that freedom of speech is not protected by journalists like myself but by the men and women who have given their lives to defend American values.

As always, I will feel a sadness over loved ones and friends who will not be with us this Memorial Day because of their sacrifices. Nick Tuke, Chuck Callanan, Jim Mullen, Mike Tames and Bob Layton. And the men who recently perished in the Iron Triangle of Iraq -- Christopher Murphy, Anthony Schober, Joseph Anzack, Daniel Courneya and James Connell -- whom I feel like I have gotten to know in death if not in life, as well as their missing comrades, Alex Jimenez and Byron Fouty.

But this Memorial Day is different. Besides being sad, I also am angry -- a slow burn, I suppose -- over the mess that we've made of our great country.

I say we because this has been too big a job for even our imperial president and his court jesters.

As my cousin County Bumpkin is fond of saying, dissent and bickering are the soundtrack of a democracy. But this should be a golden age for America and it is anything but. I cannot recall a time in my life when so few have so much and so many are struggling. When America's heart and soul -- its middle class -- is so beleaguered. When we are so incapable of a national consensus on anything beyond the belief that government and many of our institutions have failed us. That things only will get worse before they get better, if they ever get better.

I am fond of saying that public opinion polls are snapshots in history.

Well, the current batch don’t present a very pretty picture with seven out of 10 Americans saying the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction. Seven out of 10. Extraordinary.

So what’s to be done about this dismal state of affairs?

Nothing.

Nothing at all until George Bush slinks back to his Texas ranch 20 long months from now to pick among the sagebrush for his squandered legacy. Even then, the Democrats cannot be counted on to begin putting a house back in order that they had a big hand in tearing down.

Such pessimism is uncharacteristic of me, let alone Americans in general, and I feel a twinge of shame that I am unable to be more upbeat this Memorial Day. But my glass is well below half empty, especially when I reflect on the sacrifices our men and women at arms are being asked to make for such an obscenely wrong war (1,000 more have perished since Memorial Day 2006), how little support we have given them beyond those ubiquitous yellow ribbons on our SUVs, and how our hypocritical leaders have failed so many of the most physically and emotionally damaged of them while harrumphing that people who do not buy into their bankrupt foreign policy are unpatriotic.

Sacrifices for what? An ill focused and foundering War on Terror? The mess in Mesopotamia? The underresourced war in Afghanistan? Preparing for the next war against Iran? You tell me.

-- Love and Peace, SHAUN

Triangle of Death Hostage Search: Day 16

THE NEXT WAR

Out there, we've walked quite friendly up to Death,
Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland,
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour of his breath,
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets and he's coughed
Shrapnel. We chorussed when he sang aloft,
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier's paid to kick against His powers.
We laughed, -knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.

* * * * *
Sixteen days after they were kidnapped in an Al-Qaeda-led ambush, the search continues for Specialist Alex Jimenez, 25, and Private Byron Fouty,19.

Here's an index of previous Kiko's House reports on the ambush and search:

Sunday, May 27: Search Enters Third Week
Saturday, May 26:
A Somber Holiday in Michigan
Friday, May 25:
Memorial Day Edition
Thursday, May 24:
A Vigil For Joseph Anzack

Wednesday, May 23:
A Body Is Found

Tuesday, May 22:
Ambush Victims Come Home For Burial
Monday, May 21: Hopes Grow Slimmer

Sunday, May 20:
A Flicker of Hope But the Trail Goes Cold
Saturday, May 19: The Triangle of Death Up Close

Friday, May 18:
Who Are the Dead and Missing Men?
Thursday, May 17: Has the Search Impacted on the Surge?
Wednesday, May 16: Anatomy of An Abduction & Search

Photograph by Michael Kamber for The New York Times