Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Legal Right to Fair Use

A commenter to an earlier of my postings, Christmas Presents, implied I was stealing copyrighted material. As a service to this gentleman, here is a quick primer on the concept of Fair Use.

In the United States, copyrighted material may be used without permission in limited ways subject to quite expansive criteria. There are four common tests of Fair Use.
As an example, I will use the photo of the musical group GrooveLily that I used in Christmas Presents without permission.
  1. What is the character of the use? Is the use personal, commentary or review, or is the use commercial - am I putting it on a t-shirt and selling it? I am using the photo to promote a musical group that I like.
  2. What is the nature of the work to be used? Is it fact or imaginative? You can copyright text of a news story but you can't copyright the facts in that story. You can't take someone else's fictional story and claim it as your own. The photo is a mix, it is an artistic work of real people.
  3. How much of the work is used? Am I using a sentence, a paragraph, the whole damn novel? The photo is used in its entirety. None of their music is reproduced without permission.
  4. What is the effect on the work's value? If my use of the work were seen by millions, what would be the effect? Would it diminish the value of the original work? This is a publicity photo. I linked back to the GrooveLily website. If millions saw it GrooveLily might sell many more CDs. I'm guessing they would like that.
Bloggers quote bits and pieces of published works all the time. The works falls under Fair Use because the use is limited, for the purposes of commentary or criticism, and due credit is given through hyperlinks. Occasionally, I have used art to illustrate a post that is likely protected by copyright. For example, here I used a painting by a living artist hanging in the Tate Gallery. I referenced the work and linked directly to the source of the photo. The effect of seeing my blog post is to promote the artist and his work.

So, to answer your questions. No, I didn't bother to get permission. Yes, I do know the copyright laws (probably damn well better than you do). I don't need permission because everything I use in all my posts is well within the concept of Fair Use.

In producing this work, I referenced without permission a publication by the University of Texas. It was Fair Use.

Tidbits and Nicknacks

  • Saddam Hussein was hanged on the Moslim holiday of Eid Al Adha. This is like holding an execution on Christmas. Some Iraqis are calling it a "blessing" of the season. Other Moslims are calling it a desecration of a holy day. One commenter at Dean's World notes that this kind of needless complication smells of White House bungling.
  • I wake up this morning and click on NPR just as the news reader is saying "President Bush is lying in state at this hour." He meant "President Ford" but that was one hell of a way to wake up on a Sunday morning.
The answer to the Magical Mystery Meme
1. True. A couple decades ago, I was the assistant to the project manager of a sewage recycling demonstration project being built in Tijuana and was an invited guest to many sewage related events. Raw sewage and caviar makes for a surreal afternoon.
2. True. In the muskeg swamps of the northern Yukon you either adapt to the mosquito swarms or they drive you insane. Not a little crazy, stark raving insane. After a couple weeks to adapt (and a mid-summer snow storm that killed off several tons of the bugs and left the survivors sluggish) I began to relate to the little mothers just trying to feed their children. Then I would kill them.
3. False. This is something I wanted to do while in college but a surfeit of fear and common sense prevented it. It is true that you mostly regret the things you never did.
4. True. I was loosely connected to the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation and this was a research trip. Traveling with a mountain lion researcher consists mostly of standing on a ridge with a guy carrying a radio receiver, having him point to a distant thicket of chaparral, and hearing that there is a lion hiding there that you can't see. The blood thirsty raccoons were the most memorable part of the trip.
5. True. Among the things I learned on that trip: Hotel restaurants in Skagway won't serve hippies. Disputes over parking places in Ketchikan can be decided by who has the biggest gun. When traveling on the Alaskan State Ferry system, stay away from the tourists and hang out with the locals - way more fun. Even huge dogs won't bite if you don't show fear.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Thoughts Upon a Hanging

By the end Saddam Hussein had become just a comma in the history of Iraq, of little conequence compared to the daily butchery and chaos that the country continues to suffer under the American occupation. One would hope, at least, that his death would slack the thirst for blood that has become the central core of conservative philosophy in the United States, but I have no delusions. Skimming rightwing web blogs I have encountered the expected schoolgirl giddiness mixed with outrage at anyone who does not share their glee with sufficient enthusiasm.

I'm afraid that nothing will sate the bloodlust of my fellow countrymen. American conservativism feeds on death and war. There is not enough hemp, not enough bombs to ever quiet the souls of the Republican Death Cult.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Let's Go To ... Iran

I never cease to be amazed. With the Iraq War an unmitigated cock up, there are still deranged neo-cons who think beginning a war with Iran would be a brilliant follow-up. George Mason History Professor Arthur Herman offers his chickenhawk wetdream in Commentary Magazine.

Herman's war plan for Iran is the same as all of the others I've read in the last year.
  • Bomb the Hell out of the country,
  • Capture Iran's off shore oil rigs,
  • Kick back and have a brewski.
Herman is an apostle, a true believer, in the religion of "painless war." He believe defeating Iran will require only one Marine brigade (3,000 troops) plus the shock-and-awe air power of two carrier groups. He is certain that the Iranian military will meekly accept the beating like a wimpering puppy, that the Iranian people will react to being bombed back into the stone age by overthrowing their government and installing a pro-American democracy, and that the rest of the world will stand back in wonder as the Lone Great Superpower flexes its muscles.

I feel sorry for Herman's students because Professor Herman is more ignorant of history than the rankest freshman. No country in the history of air power has ever been defeated purely by bombing. Not Great Britain or Germany and Japan during WWII, not North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder, not even Iraq in 1991 or 2003. It takes boots on the ground to win a war. Bombing campaigns can devastate a nation's infrastructure but they do not demoralize its people. Rather, it unites the citizens to stand against the cowardly bastards who are lobbing the bombs from a safe distance.

Herman's strategic military knowledge is no better than his historical knowledge. His plan is to use one Marine brigade to occupy 100 Iranian off shore oil rigs. That would place a single platoon atop each of 100 highly explosive targets. Herman doesn't even consider the absolute certainty that Iranians would gladly blow up captured oil rigs to kill American Marines.

The sickest delusion is one that neo-cons have continued to hold since before the Iraq War. They believe that the United States can start a "short, sharp war" and once we declare the war is over - by God, the war is over. Saying "Mission Accomplished" doesn't make it so. Just like the Iraqis, the Iranians will not stop fighting just because we don't want to fight anymore.

Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory has an outstanding commentary on Herman specifically and neo-con insanity in general. His final words on the subject deserve repeating,
excising people like Herman and his allies from our political dialogue is the highest priority in beginning to repair the destruction they have spawned.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

'Tis the Silly Season

There is just not a lot happening for opinion bloggers this time of year. Sure, the killing and dismembering in Iraq is continuing apace. President Bush is laboring mightily to come up with some way to describe his "New Approach" in Iraq so it doesn't sound like just pouring more troops into a Stay-the-Course cauldron. It's raining, or snowing, depending on your latitude and altitude. There is not much sun to brighten up the annoyingly short days.

Which brings me to the Magical Mystery Meme. 300 Dollar Wonder tagged me with this challenge: Write five stories. Four are absolutely true, the other is utter crap. Guess which is false.
  1. I ate caviar on Ritz crackers at the grand opening of a sewage treatment pond south of Tijuana. There is something oddly beautiful about the way the bright sun glistens off billowing foam pillars of human waste as they soars high in the sky.
  2. While kayaking on the Porcupine River well above the Artic Circle in the Yukon Territory I developed such a rapport with the millions of mosquitos there I would calmly watch them sucking blood from my arm before regretfully squishing them.
  3. In my youth I bought a mule and hiked alone from Lone Pine to Death Valley. The route crossed the Cottonwood Mountains and down Marble Canyon to Stovepipe Wells where a friend picked me up. It was far more brutal than I had imagined; the mule died on the trail.
  4. I was once chased by a herd of ravenous raccoons while visiting with a mountain lion researcher in Northern California. The raccoons had been making a decent living off of humans in a campground south of San Francisco but an earthquake caused landslide had closed the road and they had changed from sly nocturnal thieves into bold daytime gangsters.
  5. While on a solo tour of Alaska's Inside Passage I was walking from the ferry terminal to downtown Sitka when a huge dog, large enough to frighten an Alaskan bear, ran down the road to confront me. As I stared down the snarling dog I imagined the headline, "Patriotic Pooch Eats Hippie Freak." I was a patient hippie. The dog got bored with the staring contest and wandered away.
So, there you have it. Four stories that are totally true and one brewed out of my sick imagination. Good luck.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Those Who Cannot Learn from History Are Doomed to Repeat It

The parallels between the American adventure in Iraq and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's would be instructive if anyone in power in the United States would try to learn from it.

The Soviet-Afghan War
The Afghans never warmed to the Soviet occupation. There were protests, general strikes, and a infant insurgency. Still, it seemed to go well early. In the second year, 1980, there was a small, token troop withdrawal. But the pro-Soviet Afghan government was incompetent, the Soviet civilians in country (the KGB) were renown for both their corruption and brutality - not unlike the American mercs in Iraq today.

The Soviet Surge
While the Soviets never had the succinct phrase "as they stand up, we will stand down," their goal was the same. They wanted to build up the Afghan forces so the Red Army could go home. In 1983, during the fifth year of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the mujaheddin insurgency was growing both in strength and efficiency. The Soviet Union decided to surge in an additional 30,000 troops (raising troops levels from 80,000 to 110,000). Their plan was to suppress the insurgents and buy time to train the Afghan Army.

An article published by the Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1996 listed the goals of the Soviet military occupation, goals remarkably similar to the US Army strategy for Iraq.

  • stabilizing the country by garrisoning the main routes, major cities, airbases and logistics sites;
  • relieving the Afghan government forces of garrison duties and pushing them into the countryside to battle the resistance;
  • providing logistic, air, artillery and intelligence support to the Afghan forces;
  • providing minimum interface between the Soviet occupation forces and the local populace;
  • accepting minimal Soviet casualties; and,
  • strengthening the Afghan forces, so once the resistance was defeated, the Soviet Army could be withdrawn.
  • How Did It Work?
    The Surge became a permanent escalation. Troops levels stayed above 110,000 for five years, until the Red Army began to withdraw in 1988. The Soviets trained the Afghans to fight like modern soldiers, they would then desert and take their weapons to join their tribal militas and use their training to kill Russians. From the same article are some of the lessons learned by the Red Army in Afghanistan that the US Army has failed to heed.

  • A guerrilla war is not a war of technology versus peasantry. Rather, it is a contest of endurance and national will. The side with the greatest moral commitment (ideological, religious or patriotic) will hold the ground at the end of the conflict.
  • Battlefield victory can be almost irrelevant, since victory is often determined by morale, obstinacy and survival.
  • Tactics for conventional war will not work against guerrillas.
  • Support of the population is essential for the winning side.

  • The Red Army suffered 13,310 deaths and 35,478 wounded during nine years of war. The US Army has had 2,979 killed and 22,032 wounded in less than four years. These are very similar numbers. The Red Army averaged about 450 casualities per month; the US Army is averaging over 500 casualities per month. The better survival rate of wounded soldiers (8 to 1 in Iraq; 3 to 1 in Afghanistan) is a sign of better body armor, not less intense fighting.

    The lessons are there in history. The United States leadership seems determined to repeat history along it's bloody, failed path.

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    Christmas Presents

    Here are a few gifts for the season.

    Best Comedian, Ever, Before You Knew Him
    Bill Cosby, back in the sixties and seventies before his television shows, was the best stand-up comic there ever was. This is one of his classic routines.

    Best Music You Have Never Heard
    GrooveLily. They are an eclectic rock band out of New York. If you haven't heard them, and you probably haven't, you are missing a treat. Visit their website. Go, now, I'll wait....Now go to the website for the off-Broadway production of Striking 12, their New Year's Eve telling of "The Little Match Girl." It is funny and touching and heartwarming. Just what we need on these cold winter nights. I'll wait again....Did you visit the Media section? Did you listen to to the sample of "Sales Pitch" from the show's CD? I didn't think so. Go back....

    Great Movie You May Have Missed
    If you only know Barbara Stanwyck from "The Big Valley" or Fred MacMurray from his Disney films, you probably skipped this film noir classic. Don't.

    The Great American Novel

    Others will disagree. I know and don't care. This is the greatest novel by the greatest American writer. Period.

    You probably are already watching Battlestar Galactica, but for one moment do you think I would miss the opportunity to post a photo of that most striking of Cylons, Lucy Lawless.

    At the risk of enraging the War on Christmas crowd, may the coming year bring Peace On Earth. Finally.

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    Playing Tag

    The game is tag. I got tagged by Kvatch at Blognomyous.
    The rules:
    1. find the nearest book
    2. list title and author
    3. turn to page 123
    4. go to the fifth sentence
    5. copy out the next three sentences
    6. tag three more
    The book: The Treasure of Sierra Madre
    Author: B. Traven

    "Free is the bush, and the desert, and the woods, and the mountain ranges for whoever likes to camp there. In that you are right. But we were the first here; we've got the first claim."

    Finished reading it recently and haven't shelved it. Passing things along to Pissedonpolitics, Hecate, and 300 Dollar Wonder.

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Shorter Iraq War Plans

    Everybody has a different plan for what to do next in Iraq. As a public service, here is the gist of all of the plans.

    The Politicians
    St. John McCain ~ Pour in more troops...and then more troops...and still more troops for, gee, well forever, because I was in a prison camp and missed all the fun when we did that in Vietnam.
    Sen. Harry Reid ~ Pour in more troops...and take them right back out again.
    President George Bush ~ Pour in more troops and wait for the Invisible Pink Unicorn to arrive with a miracle.
    Prime Minister Tony Blair ~ Whatever you want, George.
    Joint Chiefs of Staff ~ Have a plan first, for once in your fucked up life have a fucking plan before doing something.
    Iraq Study Group ~ Talk to everyone, and quietly sneak out while everyone is talking.

    In the Region
    Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki
    ~ But, everything is going so well.
    Iranian President Ahmadinejad ~ Yea, like we're going to help you.
    Muqtada al-Sadr ~ Kill all the Sunnis.
    Saudi Arabia ~ Kill all the Shi'ites.
    Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ~ Kill all the Iranians, too.

    None of the politicans seem to be listening to...
    Just about everybody who isn't certifiably insane ~ Bug out of there. As soon as possible bug-the-Hell out of there.

    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    It's Called 'Gambling' for a Reason

    It is known as "doubling down" in gambling and stock market investing. It is the practice of doubling the money you have investment in a losing position with the hope that the law of averages will eventually work in your favor.
    My Pappy took me into a casino. He pointed to the faro table, roulette, craps, and chuck-a-luck. "Son," he said, "this here is what they call 'gambling.' Gambling is for suckers. The odds are always against you; you can never win. As long as you live, stick with poker." ~ Bret Maverick
    Doubling down is also the Iraq War strategy currently favored by St. John McCain and President Bush. Their plan is to add an additional 20, 30, 40 thousand troops to the Iraq War - it seems the number is getting bigger with each passing day. The theory is, if we keep pouring more and more bodies into the Iraq conflict, eventually, we just have to win. We just have to.

    Doubling down is a sucker play. It was the US strategy in Vietnam and the Soviet strategy in Afganistan. It is what losers do when their ego overwhelms their intelligence.

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    The Definition of 'Secret' Is...
    Damn, I Don't Know Anymore

    1.25 - These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
    6.9 - O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands. ~ The Art of War, Sun Tsu
    The Pentagon has released its 282-page counterinsurgency manual as an open document, available to absolutely everyone. Including allowing the insurgents in Iraq to know exactly which tactics will be used and how they will be implemented. If knowledge is power, and in war it is, then the Pentagon has empowered the insurgents beyond any explosive weapon they could possibly have acquired.

    On the other hand, former National Security Council Middle East analyst, Flynt Leverett, has written an op-ed for the New York Times. The article contains no secrets and has been approved by the CIA for publication. However, it is critical of the Bush Administration's refusal to engage in negotiations with Iran. The White House has declared Leverett's article Top Secret and forbidden its publication.

    So, a highly sensitive document the release of which could, and probably will, cause the deaths of scores of servicemembers? That is an open, public document. But, an opinion piece that contains nothing remotely sensitive but is disparaging of the President's diplomacy? That is a classified state secret.

    If release risks Bush's poll numbers? Secret.
    If release only risks the lives of cannonfodder? Not secret.
    Sense this makes? None.

    P.S. I got my PDF copy of the counterinsurgency manual, get yours.

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Go Ahead and Filibuster

    The Republicans in the Senate have come up with a brilliant idea. By brilliant I mean grotesque in a vile and soulless way. Republicans are threatening to filibuster the Senate's organizing resolution unless the rules are written to give Republicans control of the Senate in the event that Senator Tim Johnson dies.

    Go ahead! Let 'em Filibuster! Let the bastards explain how they are not bloodthirsty vultures circling an honorable man's sick bed. Don't be gentle. Force them to talk day and night - no sleep breaks, no bathroom breaks. Hold cloture vote after cloture vote. Force the Republicans in mass to repeatedly defend the indefensible. Force them, again and again, to explain to an American public that doesn't give a rat's ass about the procedural setup of the United States Senate just why they are shutting down the government while patriotic Americans are dying in Iraq. Don't give an inch. Not a sentence. Not a syllable. Not a vowel. Stand firm against these sick bastards and their cult of death!

    Art is by Leonardo da Vinci, pen and ink on paper, depicting a committee of five Republican senators. Left to right they are: Orrin Hatch, Trent Lott, Jim Bunning, Saxby Chambliss, and Elizabeth Dole.

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Theorizing upon Senator Johnson's Illness

    I won't say I believe this, necessarily. But...considering what we know to date:
    • Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) has been stricken with a mysterious illness that is not a stroke but presents similar symptoms
    • If Senator Johnson dies his replacement will be appointed by the Republican governor of South Dakota
    • If he is replaced by a Republican, control of the Senate will go to the Republicans
    • Following the November election, a few rightwings were speculating as to which Democratic senators in states with Republican governors had the best chances of dying and thusly reversing control of the senate
    • In recent years, two Democratic senators from Midwestern states - Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Mel Carnahan of Missouri - died in mysterious airplane crashes. Wellstone's death led to the election of Republican Norm Coleman; Carnahan's death should have left the field open for John Ashcroft but Carnahan won the election posthumously.
    I hope I am just being paranoid. I pray that Senator Johnson recovers and the cause of his illness is discovered and is beyond question. But, there is a thought nagging at my brain that will not let me sleep. What if Senator Johnson was poisoned? Can we have faith that the cadre of true believers in Dick Cheney and George Bush did not have a hand in this? It is part of the sickness of the current administration that this is both possible and believable.

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Reliving History - Afganistan/Vietnam Perspective

    The news that Bush is seeking to replace Iraq's president is just deja-vu to me. Both the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afganistan and the United States during the Vietnam War tried to turn around losing wars with the same tactic and it failed both times.

    Vietnam War
    On three occasions, the United States change the course of the Vietnam War by changing the leadership of Vietnam. In 1963, the CIA had South Vietnam's long time leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, assassinated. Ngo had an annoying independent streak that frustrated the American leaders who wanted a free hand in the war. He was replaced by a CIA favorite, Duong Van Minh, who was overthrown in a coup by the US Army's choice, Nguyen Khanh. Lyndon Johnson's man, puppetmaster Nguyen Cao Ky, and Ky's puppet, Nguyan Van Thieu, who became Richard Nixon's favorite, followed. The revolving door of South Vietnam leaders marked the ebb and flow by various factions within the United States government for control of the war.

    Soviet Afganistan War
    This war most closely resembles the United States Iraq adventure. The Soviets installed Babrak Karmal in 1979. By 1986, the Russians had decided that Karmal was too weak to end the insurgency that wracked the country. Mohammad Najibullah was "elected" to replace Karmal. The Russians then stepped up the fighting in Afganistan in the hopes of crushing the insurgency and allow for the withdrawl of the Red Army. It didn't work too well.

    Iraq Today
    Bush seems to be playing from the Soviet handbook. Could this be the influence of Condi Rice? She is an expert on the old Soviet Union and may be reaching for a solution to the Soviet strategies she knows so well. I feel confident I can predicted the future here. Al-Maliki will be replaced by someone hand chosen by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim - puppet and puppetmaster (Iraq versions of Thieu and Ky). American forces will engage Muqtada al-Sadr's Madhi Army and use that combat to declare victory and withdraw from Iraq (the Soviet component). Iraq will evolve into an Iranian satrap. Iran will control the country but George Bush will have saved face. Oh, and several hundred more American soldiers will die worthless deaths.

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    Blaming Cassandra

    One of the most common themes coming from the rightwing is to blame liberals for the failure of the Iraq War. If it were not for us Surrender Monkeys undermining the war effort Iraq would be Utopia now. Nonsense. We didn't cause the failures, we just predicted them.

    The war was destined to fail. Conquer a third-rate dictatorship - easy. Impose a pluralistic pro-American democracy at the point of a gun without utterly obliterating their society (see Japan and Germany in WWII) - absurd. Do it without the support of the international community, indeed without any apparent plans for the postwar occupation - hubris. It is easy to walk into a swamp without a map, compass, or hip-wadders. It is easy to go in but damn hard to get out again alive.

    I admit I underestimated the degree of failure. I did not anticipate the level of corruption of the Coalition Provisional Authority and how that would inhibit reconstruction as well as encourage Iraqi corruption. While I anticipated opposition by Shi'ites, I didn't foresee the pending civil war between Shi'ite factions (Mahdi Army vs. Badr Brigade). I didn't predict that the Pentagon would allow wide-spread looting in the aftermath of the conquest of Baghdad and how that would quickly destroy any image of omnipotence the invasion would give to the US Army. I didn't anticipate our soldiers would be exposed to the world torturing prisoners. While I knew President Bush was not the sharpest pencil in the drawer, I failed to envision his pigheadedness.

    Blaming liberals for our defeat in Iraq is like blaming Cassandra for the fall of Troy. We may have predicted it, but we didn't cause it. The failures in Iraq have been caused by attempting an impossible task and doing it incompetently.
    Cassandra ~ daughter of King Priam of Troy. Beloved by the god Apollo, he granted her the gift of prophesy; spurned by her, he cursed her to never be believed. She predicted the Trojan War, the fall of Troy, and her own rape and death. No one believed her until it was too late.

    Thursday, December 07, 2006

    The Lexicography of Defeat

    • we will never accept anything less than complete victory. ~ George Bush (11/30/2005)
    • [The Iraqi election is] a resounding success. ~ George Bush (1/30/2005)
    • we will stay, we will fight, and we will win in Iraq. ~ George Bush (9/7/2006)
    • Mission Accomplished. ~ Presidential banner (5/2/2003)
    • we will defeat the enemy in Iraq. ~ George Bush (10/6/2005)
    • I believe we'll prevail. ~ George Bush (12/7/2006)
    The sad truth is that President Bush is running out of synonyms. Prevail is pretty much the last word available in the English language. Conquer, subjugate, and dominion are still unused but they are a tad harsh. He can reach into the bag of metaphors next time with hit a grand slam, clean sweep, or take the bacon. Well, the last one may not play too well in Moslem countries.

    Each word he has used has had to be discarded, tainted by its connection to the Iraq debacle. Even the rich English language is not a bottomless resource for ways to misstate the same failed concept. My suggestion is that Bush start using foreign languages. Jordskredssejr is a fine, Danish word meaning a great victory. It will be fun to hear him try to pronounce it.

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    I haven't read the Iraq Study Group Report yet

    And, I won't until I am feeling so increadibly bored that it is a choice between that and reading the back of the toothpaste tube. If you want to read it you can download it here. Don't buy a copy. After scrolling down 13 pages, mostly blank, to get to the first meaningful text I can tell you with out reading further that the ISG report is not worth killing any trees to print.

    What to do When Jack Bauer Is Indicted?

    Twenty-six Americans, mostly CIA agents will be indicted in an Italian court for the illegal kidnapping of a Muslim cleric from Italian soil. The cleric was rendered by the CIA to Egypt where he was tortured. It appears to have been a sloppy kidnapping plot, more Clouseau than Bond, as they left behind a trail of clues.

    Of course, they all will use that time honored justification for criminal acts under the color of authority, "I was just following orders." This even can't be excused with an "ends justify the means" defense. There is no evidence they got anything out of torturing that cleric except, perhaps, some perverse sexual release. At what point should American officials be held responsibility for the evil they have done "following orders?"

    There must be public extradition hearings for these 26 Americans. If government officials want to defend these kidnappers they should do so in open court. If Administration officials ordered these people to violated Italian law then they should stand accused in open court. Will this have a chilling effect on CIA operatives in the future? Will they refuse to commit felonies in the future out of fear they might face criminal charges for their actions? I hope so.


    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Five Things That Made Me Think

    The Lives We've Ruined
    The Times of London looks at the lives of six ordinary Iraqis. In Iraq street cleaners are collaborators; picking up trash can get you killed. There is a baker who has been hunted by Sunni death squads because most bakers in Iraq are Shi'ite. A barber fears to trim a beard, barbers are frequently murdered for providing such a service in Baghdad. It is a painful read.

    They have taken off their Rose Colored Glasses
    The neocon analysis of the failures in Iraq in Vanity Fair are remarkably on target. The descriptions of the Bush Administration by the "founders of the feast" that is the Iraq War is devastating. These people who believed that war would bring Utopia to the Middle East have turned on the monster they gave birth to. They may finally be correct that with the manifest failures in Iraq the worst is yet to come. The final words of the author, David Rose:
    One of the reasons we are in this mess is that the neocons' gleaming pre-war promises turned out to be wrong. The truly horrifying possibility is that, this time, they may be right.
    The blogger BitchPhD looks at the confinement of Jose Padilla and recoils in shame. It doesn't matter what Padilla did, or thought about doing. Even the worst of mankind does not deserve such treatment. It should be noted that the prosecution is begging the judge in Padilla's trial to ban any mention of the condition of his three year confinement because it will prejudice any sane jury against the government.

    The Chinese Understand Capitalism...
    better than we do. I have not seen any Western economist discuss that virtual currency, money that exists only online, will make it infinitely more difficult to control the real money supply, hence control inflation. The Chinese see into the future much more clearly than Westerners who are obsessed with perfecting the past.

    The Onion May Save Us
    By printing it first, the Onion may have saved us from the spectacle of the state of Kansas outlawing the fact of evolution, not just the teaching of it. You know there was someone in the state, perhaps a senator with presidential ambitions, who was considering it.

    Art is "Thinking Aloud in the Museum of Art" by Howard Hodgkin.

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    Handicapping the Presidential Race - Republicans

    I don’t understands Republicans. I really don’t. How did they every come up with Bob Dole in 1996? How did either Bush, father or child, make it past the doubled over in laughter phase? Yet, they tend to nominate people who frequently win. (For my interest, I have added in red their Tradespot odds as of 12/6/2006.)

    Mitt Romney (gov-MA) - 5 to 1 (6 to 1)
    Polling in the middle of the field (9%), he has the best growth potential. Walking a tightrope. Trying to appeal to religious conservatives and political moderates (a Mormon from Massachusetts) without appearing to be a liberal religious wacko (a Massachusetts Mormon). Leads the outsider faction.

    John McCain (sen-AZ) - 6 to 1 (1 to 1)
    Second in most polls at 30%. Crafted the campaign financing laws to advantage himself. Benefits from the Republican habit of nominating the “guy who’s earned it” whether he deserves it or not. See Bob Dole in 1996. He is hated by the rightwing activists who vote in primaries. Too old, will be 72 on election day. McCain's best chance at becoming president is by pulling a Lieberman and running as a third party independent against a Hillary versus Condi, all woman election.

    Newt Gingrich (GA) - 8 to 1 (20 to 1)
    Polling 9%, Newt is the choice of the movement conservatives, are there any left? Actually, he has a chance in a weak field.

    Condoleezza Rice (AL) - 9 to 1 (50 to 1)
    Tied at the hip to George Bush, a darling of the neo-cons and pro-war Republicans. Her speaking style is close to unbearable, but, then, so is Bush’s. She is the only real Bush insider in the race. Condi is the hardest person to handicap. She is not mentioned in all the polls but does well when she is.

    Tom Tancredo (rep-CO) - 10 to 1 (500 to 1)
    The sweetheart of the anti-immigration crowd. Probably lost Florida with his crack about third-world Miami.

    Rudy Giuliani (NY) - 12 to 1 (6 to 1)
    Leads all the polls (33%) but, come on. His highest office has been mayor of New York City. He is pro-abortion, pro-gay, and anti-gun. His lifestyle is metrosexual so he can forget the social conservatives. His only appeal is among the "9-11 changed everything" crowd. I can’t begin to understand why he is polling so well. Did I mention that I don’t understand Republicans?

    Tommy Thompson (WI) - 15 to 1, Jeb Bush (gov-FL) - 18 to 1 (100 to 1), Sam Brownback (sen-KS) 20 to 1 (60 to 1)
    Long shots. Thompson (3%) has no base. Never count out a Bush (Jenna for 2032, anyone?), but he is a better bet for 2012. Brownback (2%) is the hero of the creationists.

    George Allen (VA) - 80 to 1 (300 to 1)
    John Sununu (sen-NH), Chuck Hagel (sen-NB) (90 to 1), Mike Huckabee (gov-AR) (10 to 1), George Pataki (gov-NY) (200 to 1) - all 99 to 1

    Bet on Allen running to try to redeem his reputation. Bet on him losing. Hagel and Pataki (1%) are considered RINOs by Republican activists; no chance. Sununu and Huckabee will only run as a gift to comics.

    Duncan Hunter (rep-CA) - 998 to 1 (1000 to 1)
    Duncan (2%) is my representative to Congress. I know the guy. He is the epitome of the "hail fellow, well met" glad-handing politician. As corrupt as his best friend, Duke Cunningham, but smarter. Losing the chair of the House Armed Services Committee is a major hit to Duncan’s finances. He is running for president to have a second campaign committee to collect and filter money to his family and their retainers.

    Michael Smith (OR), John Cox (IL) - 999 to 1
    Smith and Cox are just trying to meet women.

    Sources: CNN polling data, wikipedia

    Saturday, December 02, 2006

    Handicapping the Presidential Race - Democrats

    A caveat, I am lousy at making presidential predictions. In 1974, I didn’t foresee an obscure governor from Georgia would be elected in 1976. I thought Walter Mondale would defeat Reagan in 1984. I predicted failure for the inarticulate, alcoholic son of a failed president in 2000. (For my interest, I have added in red their Tradespot odds as of 12/6/2006.)

    Hillary Clinton (sen-NY) - 6 to 1 (4 to 5)
    Leads the early polls with 33%. There is a huge anyone-but-Hillary movement (of which I am a member) but she has the best organization of anyone in the race, is a strong campaigner, and benefits from the financial advantages senators have. I will be disappointed if she wins the nomination, but not surprised.

    Brian Schweitzer (gov-MO) - 7 to 1 (1000 to 1)
    This is a dark horse who isn’t mentioned on any of the polls. He is a successful western governor from a western, presumptively red state. My, albeit western, opinion is that the chances of a long term shift to a Democratic majority lies in making the western states blue. Nominating a western governor could make that happen.

    Barack Obama (sen-IL) - 8 to 1 (5 to 1)
    Second in the most recent poll (15%). He has more charisma than every other potential candidate combined. He has a John Kennedy aura about him. The question is whether he can maintain the charm for another 18 months.

    John Edwards (SC) - 9 to 1 (10 to 1)
    Last season’s charmer. His biggest flaw is he has no natural base to work from. Polling 14%

    Wesley Clark (IL) - 10 to 1 (90 to 1)
    The man with the military creds. If national security is a big 2008 issue, Clark will benefit the most. He has honed his media skills the past two years. Polling 4%.

    Al Gore (TN) - 12 to 1 (11 to 1)
    My choice. My man. The man who should have been president. His biggest flaw in 2000 was his image as a wooden politician. He has developed a vibrant speaking skill since then. I don’t know why he isn’t polling better than 14%.

    Bill Richardson (gov-NM) - 15 to 1 (80 to 1), Carl Levin (sen-MI) - 20 to 1
    We are getting into the long-shots. Richardson (3%) wants to be president and virtually nobody has noticed. Levin doesn’t want to run but has a presidential bearing.

    Gary Hart (CO), John Kerry (sen-MA) (70 to 1), Tom Daschle (SD) (1000 to 1), Joe Biden (sen-DE) (100 to 1) - 25 to 1 each
    The old warhorses. Hart has been out of politics for a generation. Kerry (7%) is personality impaired. Daschle is forgotten. Biden (3%) has been running for president since Lincoln. Nominating any of them is giving up on the general election.

    Evan Bayh (sen-IN) (40 to 1), Chris Dodd (sen-CT) (170 to 1), Tom Vilsack (gov-IA) (50 to 1) - 99 to 1
    Mike Gravel (AK) - 999 to 1
    No hope. They are running out of ego.

    Sources: CNN polling data, wikipedia

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    Someone Stupid, Someone Insane

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. ~ Benjamin Franklin or Albert Einstein depending on which source you use. Anyhow, somebody brilliant said it.

    President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers ~ Guardian, November 16, 2006

    Currently, there are 150,000 US troops, with more fire power than God, in Iraq. There is nothing more that 170,000 troops can accomplish. The plan coming from the Bush-al-Maliki is the same as all of the other plans. Just wait one more Friedman Unit (until July 2007) and Iraq will magically become the New Eden.

    There is no new insight here. The President of the United States is mad as a march hare.