Friday, March 30, 2007

Terrance on the Purge... of Orcinus? (Plus, more on the A-List and Iran)

Terrance over at the Republic of T has a really great entry on the whole blogroll purge debacle.

One thing he brings up that I hadn't noticed: apparently Dave Neiwert's Orcinus was one of the purged blogs.

May I be the first to say what the HELL? The work Neiwert's done on right-wing eliminationism and quasi-fascism practically justifies Blogspot! It's one of the main sites I point to in real life when I'm talking about the possibilities of blogs! Sure, I can see forgetting to add it. Inertia is a vile and terrible thing. But who on earth would make the conscious, baffling choice to excise it from an existing blogroll?

In any case, my own inertia has abated enough to add both "Republic of T" and the long-overdue "Orcinus" to my own roll.

As for the "A-list", I have to admit that aside from everything else, I'm both disappointed and concerned that as their quest for influence intensifies, many seem to have become more and more myopic and political. Yes, Abu Gonzalez is a turd. Sorry, but there are more important things going on in the world right now.

Iran, for instance.

Few of the A-Listers seem to even notice or care about that.

I mean, maybe somebody can explain to me how the right going hog-wild over this issue and the big progressives seemingly ignoring it (according to Technorati and Google blog search, anyway) will actually help keep the west out of Iran? Craig Murray should be plastered across half of the progressive blogosphere, and instead we get Friedman Units, babble about "Liebercrats" that carefully ignores actual foreign policy, and Abu Freaking Gonzalez everywhere.

(With some exceptions. The Huffington Post appears to be on it, for example, even mentioning Murray.)

Yes, I know that Kos has complained that he can't be all things to all people. Sorry, Markos, but the people who want to "crash the gates" need to actually care about what government does first.

After seeing the way that Iran has been neglected? I'm no longer convinced that the "A-list" really does care anymore.

(This is not to say that people over at Daily Kos haven't addressed the issue. There's a good diary here on it by Meteor Blades, for example. But Meteor Blades isn't the name on the masthead.)

Can a Nation-State Jump the Shark?

Ok, while I'm really not fond of how the UK has handled this situation, and I do think that the benefit of the doubt exists about whether the British soldiers were in Iranian waters, and I can even see them admitting it...

...getting hostage Faye Turner to call the war in Iraq a crime or a mistake or whatever is just dumb. It ruins your credibility, guys, and makes it seem like you have a pistol pointed at the head of the poor woman while she's writing, even if you don't.

Seriously, rethink the overreach, or this is only going to get worse.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

More on the Iranians and the Sailors

By all accounts they're doing well enough, although it's unlikely that they're going anywhere soon. They were going to release one sailor, the sole woman, but it's been bogged down over the question of whether the Brits were in Iranian waters. Considering that's the entire legal question here, I doubt either side is going to easily back down on it.

The UK is complaining about the broadcasting of the prisoners on Iranian television. They're citing the same prohibitions on "exposing prisoners to national curiosity" that the Americans used against the Iraqis a while back. Two problems with that: Iran is not in a state of war with the UK, and the Coalition of the Willing has a very nasty habit of doing the same damned thing.

(Remember Saddam getting his teeth checked on TV? Because I do. Not a leg to stand on.)

As for exactly where all this happened, in Iraqi waters or Iranian, things are getting trickier. The Brits have used GPS devices to show that they were on the Iraqi side of a "notional line" extending from the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. The Iranians disagree, but their stated coordinates appear to be shifting around somewhat, raising questions about their credibility. The problem is that according to Craig Murray, that "notional line" may not be legitimate after all- that the Iranians and Iraqis had never set down exactly WHERE the line was, and wherever it is, it's probably not there:

The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

But there are two colossal problems.

A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.

None of which changes the fact that the Iranians, having made their point, should have handed back the captives immediately. I pray they do so before this thing spirals out of control. But by producing a fake map of the Iran/Iraq boundary, notably unfavourable to Iran, we can only harden the Iranian position.
Can't disagree with this one bit.

Murray, by the way, has several other excellent posts on this.

Now, as for what's REALLY going on... I'm with Murray when he says that both sides are "acting like idiots". The Iranians should have released the soldiers by now; persisting in holding them only ratchets up the tension. Yes, the UK may spin it as a victory if they're released, but outside of Washington and a small bit of London, who'd buy it?

The UK, in turn, shouldn't be trying to spin the border, should have known in the first place that doing incredibly provocative activities in disputed waters is dodgy at best, and should make it clear that this isn't part of a hunt for a bombing campaign's casus belli, as that will make Iran dig in their heels further.

As to where this goes... I still think the UK is floundering somewhat. If Murray's points don't get out into the wider media, they might buy the UK's line. Since he was already mentioned on the BBC site, though, I think that cat's well out of the bag. I don't think going to the UN will help much; I'm sure they'll have backing from the US, but Russian and China are going to be a much harder sell, considering Iranian oil and China's paranoia about national sovereignty. They might get a resolution, but it'll be watered down.

More as it develops.

(Fixed some issues.)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More Sanctions for Iran

If the Iranian seizure of British sailors was intended to try to dissuade the UN from sanctions, it didn't work: more sanctions have been placed on Iran. The sanctions aren't, (according to the Herald Tribune), that much worse than the ones that were already there, but the resolution was unanimous, suggesting that any attempt to play the security council against itself is unlikely to be effective.

For its part, Iran has been defiant, calling the sanctions "unlawful and unjustifiable" and vowing that they will have no effect on its nascent nuclear program. That may be true, but it may also be a show of bluster for the cameras and to keep spirits high back home. Since the nuclear program appears to be very popular with the Iranian public, that wouldn't surprise me.

More as this develops, but in the meantime: you folks know as well as I do that Ahmadinejad's Visa got scuttled. If THAT doesn't stink of this White House, what does?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Iran says Soldiers Admitted to Trespassing in Iranian Waters

Link on CNN. The British Ministry of Defense isn't backing up the claim, although as we've seen, the Brits have been backing down a little on this question.

Oh, and what the hell is Time babbling about? Their "analysis" of the case essentially comes down to "Iran kidnaps soldiers because they're all horrible nationalist bastards and wanted to "send a message" to the US, gangland-style.

Yes, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is an outfit under the direct control of Ayatollah Khamenei. That doesn't make them suicidally aggressive, especially with how relatively pragmatic Khamenei has shown himself to be over the years. The article itself even admits that "within Tehran political circles [the IRGC commander] is seen as pragmatic" as well; complaining about his extremist public pronouncements without, uh, actually providing any doesn't do wonders for your case, guys. That just implies that the public extremism is a front for more pragmatic leadership.

(But, of course, you never see that in the third world, right?)

I'm still not sure why the IRGC seized these guys, and where they were operating. I really do get the sense that they were in disputed waters, and I take Craig Murray's comments seriously; the Brits may be at fault in this case. Iran may well be "sending a message", too, using completely blameless troops. We need more than "sources" and veiled suggestion, however to determine what's actually going on.

Turkey to Move into Kurdistan?

One of the things I had always been concerned about regarding the Iraq war is the de-facto independence of the Kurds. I had thought that the Kurds in Iran and Turkey may move to join their newly freed counterparts in Iraq, with dire and violent consequences. A nightmare scenario for me has always been Turkey invading Iraq, as it would potentially pit the United States against Turkey and likely tear NATO (and Europe) apart.

If this is true, it looks like this may be finally happening. The Americans are doing their best to head it off--at least as much as a government supporting ANOTHER Kurdish insurgency in Iran actually can--but whether they'll succeed is still very much in question.

Keep watching, folks. This could be a bumpy weekend.

Hat tip to, yes, a diary at DailyKos- specifically Turkana

Friday, March 23, 2007

Finally, a Good Progressive Take on the Iran Thing

Courtesy of former British Ambassador Craig Murray:

The capture of British Marines by Iran has happened before, then on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. It will doubtless be used by those seeking to bang the war drum against Iran, though I imagine it will be fairly quickly resolved.

Before people get too carried away, the following is worth bearing in mind. I write as a former Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Iranians claimed the British soldiers had strayed into Iranian territorial waters. If they had, then the Iranians had every right to detain them for questioning.

The difficulty is that the maritime delimitation in the North West of the Persian Gulf, between Iraq, Kuwait and Iran, has never been resolved. It is not therefore a question of just checking your GPS to see where you are. This is a perfectly legitimate dispute, in which nobody is particularly at fault. Lateral maritime boundaries from a coastal border point are intensely complicated things, especially where islands and coastal banks become a factor.

Disputes are not unusual. I was personally heavily involved in negotiating British maritime boundaries with Ireland, France and Denmark just ten years ago, and not all our own boundaries are resolved even now. There is nothing outlandish about Iranian claims, and we have no right in law to be boarding Iranian or other shipping in what may well be Iranian waters.

The UN Convention on the Law of The Sea carries a heavy presumption on the right of commercial vessels to "innocent passage", especially through straits like Hormuz and in both territorial and international waters. You probably won't read this elsewhere in these jingoistic times but, in international law, we are very probably in the wrong. As long as the Iranians neither mistreat our Marines nor wilfully detain them too long, they have the right.
Bolding mine. Nothing to disagree with here. Indicting commercial vessels is always sort of a tricky subject, and as I said, the question of territorial waters on that particular waterway is an especially tricky one. Provided the sailors aren't harmed, Iran may well be in the clear on this.

Not exactly what Washington wants to hear, or the people who think that 300 was a strategic blueprint, but regardless, it's a possibility.

The Possibility of British Incursion in Iranian Waters

Ah, things are becoming a bit clearer. I was right to suspect that the charges against the British soldiers would be incursion into Iranian waters, especially considering that disputes over the border between Iranian and Iraqi waters in the Shatt-al-Arab was the genesis of the Iran-Iraq war.

If the Brits really were seizing vessels in Iranian waters, or using Iranian waters to do so, then all of a sudden the Casus Belli has reversed itself- the Brits have (arguably) committed an act of war against the Iranians, instead of the other way around.

(That is, of course, assuming that the invasion of an Iranian consulate by American forces a while back wasn't already. The U.S. had a figleaf there, claiming that it wasn't really an embassy so it didn't count, but I somehow doubt they'd accept that argument were it the other way around.)

So, the question being raised by the right wingers (if not the progressives; where the hell ARE they on this issue?) is "why now?" That's actually a good question, but not quite for the reason you'd think, assuming it's not just a coincidence.

According to the linked story, today's a holiday in Iran; that's why it's been tough to get in touch with anybody in Iran today. Now, that might mean that the Iranians timed this deliberately so that they wouldn't have to diplomatically respond to the inevitable firestorm of criticism.

Another possibility that I haven't seen discussed, though, is that it's the Brits taking advantage of this. If they provoke a response today, then they get the opportunity to get out in front on this issue- to condition the world media's response, and set the idea into the public's head that they were operating in Iraqi waters, not Iranian. By the time the Iranians respond, the UK (and, of course, the United States) firmly control the perception of who is in the wrong and who is in the right on this. By Monday, Iran is an international pariah.

Either is possible. The latter is somewhat Machiavellian, but that doesn't make it impossible, just a little less likely.

More as this develops. After all, somebody's gotta write on this who isn't baying for Persian blood.

How to achieve "Victory" in Iran

Tami asks, as a reaction to the casus belli issue, what exactly "victory" would be in a conflict with Iran and how it's possible with the enormous problems the U.S. Army is facing right now.

It's a good question. The answer is that "victory" can end up being subjective, and the perception of how to get there even more so. People disagree about how to achieve victory; one side may be right, another may be wrong, but there's still going to be disagreement.

In the case of Iran, the Powers That Be in DoD clearly still believe that victory is possible from the air, and from the sea. Thing is, it's only the U.S. Army that's truly bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other branches are, if anything, somewhat underutilized right now.

(Air and sea power is pretty useless in fighting an urban insurgency.)

Here's the strategic breakdown. The key issue with Iran is whether it can be cowed into capitulation, or humiliated into a domestic revolution. Either way, the Iranian nuclear threat is diminished: in the former case, the mullahs are disarmed enough that US (and Israeli) strategic preeminence in the region is unquestioned, and in the latter case, the theory is that more democratic, pro-Western forces than the Mullahs would succeed in a revolution, and the US (and Israel) retains regional strategic supremacy. Humiliation would provoke the revolution, because it would show how weak the leadership actually is, and others would seize the opportunity.

The American neoconservatives have always been of the opinion that this is possible, and that air power can do this, whether land-based (the Air Force) or sea-based (the Navy). Blow up enough of the infrastructure that the Mullahs depend on, and the people will revolt, because they don't hate the United States anywhere near as much as their government masters do, or as much as they hate said masters themselves. A revolution will take place again in Iran, but this time, it'll be a revolution by supposedly pro-western elements, such as Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which they've been careful to avoid applying the "terrorist" label to. They'll then open up the country to American troops and American influence.

That's how the United States would, theoretically, win without ground power, and how they could win with their forces in Iraq still bogged down.

Of course, a lot could go wrong. There are a ton of assumptions there. I don't agree with a lot of them, principally the idea that bombing the crap out of Tehran would foment an anti-Mullah revolution instead of a "rally 'round the flag" effect. It's never been quite clear why they think this would be the case, beyond the most powerful Orientalism the world has seen since the sunset of the British Empire. It's contradicted by America's own experiences and any objective historical analysis of the region.

Nonetheless, Tami, that's how they think they'd win.

God help us all.

"Weird how selling out involves no money."

Quick reminder, on the off chance that Duncan was serious:

the big money in politics comes after you've "sold out", not during.

This sort of thing makes me miss 2002.

Casus Belli

One of the big questions about any upcoming American attack on Iran is the justification they'd use for it. They need a casus belli.

They now have it.

My guess is that there's more going on here than we're reading in the news. There is nothing in the Guardian or in, from what I've seen, any other papers about why Iran did what they did. Certainly the Iranian commanders aren't dumb enough to think that there wouldn't be repercussions for this activity, so there would have to be a justification from the Iranian side.

(Judging by how touchy they are about it, I'd imagine that the British were either acting on the Iranian side of the Shatt-al-Arab river, or interdicting ships headed to Iraq from Iran, or both. The Royal Navy apparently insists they were in Iraqi waters. They'd probably do that no matter what, not being blithering idiots themselves, so I don't find that entirely credible.)

(I know that if I were looking to set up a casus belli by deliberately provoking the Iranians, this would probably be how I'd do it.)

In any case, for those out there panting at the thought of getting to attack Iran, might I remind you that you already have two wars that you haven't won yet? I'd suggest dealing with them before opening up a third front, especially when one of those (Iraq) will become a nightmarish insurgent hell the second the bombs drop on Tehran.

Halliburton Killed My Cat!

I finished "Imperial Life in the Emerald City", and it is as thorough an indictment of the Republicans and their corporate allies as you could ask for.

I had always believed that the problem with the occupation--other than its central goals--was that loyal, ideological staffers are the worst people you could ask to do the difficult and tricky work of reconstruction. Chandrasekaran's book, however, showed that it was even worse than that- that qualified people were being turned away and Halliburton was using its political connections to get away with murder.

I didn't know how true that latter assertion was.

I only found out when I read the following passage. It's the one that affected me the most out of perhaps all of them, and if you're the type to "catblog", I doubt you'll disagree.

After Uday's menagerie was moved into Baghdad's zoo, most CPA staffers assumed that humans were the only species in the green Zone, save for the bomb-sniffing dogs and the odd feral cat skittering among the housing trailers. The CPA's senior adviser to the Ministry of Environment pronounce the Emerald City a wasteland, devoid of wildlife.

Alex Dehgan knew better. He was a biologist who had spent three years observing animals in the wild. Every time he walked around the Green Zone, he kept his eyes peeled. He saw bats over the pool at night, barn owls in palm trees, and desert foxes in remote corners of the palace garden. "The Green Zone was filled with life, he said. "it was beautiful, and it seemed like everyone in the Green Zone was unaware of them like they were unaware of many other things."

The other humans did notice the cats--and kittens--scampering in the garden and the trailer parks. Staffers named them and played with them during breaks. They even stole cartons of milk and cheese from the dining hall for their newfound companions.

When Halliburton managers discovered the pets in their midst, they asked the marines guarding the palace to shoot the cats on sight lest they spread illnesses.

Dehgan deemed it bad science. "The danger of disease was probably infinitesimally small,", he said. "this wasn't done with any thought to the psychological value that these cats provided."

When the execution orders were announced, CPA staffers saved their favorites, hiding them in trailers, in bathrooms, in the pool house. David Gompert, Bremer's security adviser, kept a cat he named Mickey in his palace office. Mickey was watched over by Gompert's security detail, but he still managed to chew through several sensitive documents.

The Halliburton cat killers finally got wise to the asylum strategy and deployed Filipino contract workers on a hunt-and-kill mission. They opened every trailer while the occupants were at work and rounded up every cat they found.

One night in June, a woman stood wailing outside her trailer. She was due to ship out in two days and had taken her cat to a veterinarian for the necessary shots for entrance to Aemrican. Whens he returned to her room, she found a note from the death squad informing her that her cat had been seized because it was against the rules to house animals in the trailers.

"They killed my pet," she sobbed. "I hate them."
She ain't the only one. Halliburton and it's CPA allies wouldn't listen to an mammalian biologist (Dehgan) because he had the audacity to be based out of the State Department. Instead, they issued a senseless and cruel order, and when people defied it, instead of approaching the owners and coming to a solution, they dispassionately and cowardly crept into peoples homes and killed their cats.

So just remember, folks, the next time you see a cute picture of a kitty on your favorite blog, that were it up to Halliburton, they'd conjure some bullshit excuse, and then they'd take the thing out back and blow its adorable little brains out. And why? Because they know the president, and that's all the authority and expertise they need.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different

We present to you:

Surfing Rodents

Discuss amongst yourselves. And thank Bitch Ph.D for the link.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Welcome to the Green Zone, Check Your Brain at the Door

I've finally gained the opportunity to read Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald Kingdom. I'm only a few chapters in, but already it's horrifying.

More than that, though, it's educational. While everybody is aware that there was little in the way of reconstruction plans, Chandrasekaran is one of the first to highlight the idea that Garner (and to a lesser extent Bremer) were set up to fail. The reason why? That old villian Ahmed Chalabi. The office of the Vice President and the neocons at DoD were absolutely intent on handing over power to Chalabi, but knew that the CIA and State (as well as the old hands at DoD) would vigorously fight the idea. Any attempt to hand over control to Chalabi had to be done through the back door, so they deliberately hobbled Garner and the ORHA, with the hopes that in desperation they'd turn to Chalabi and his exiles for support. That would (so the theory went) legitimize Chalabi and set him up to be the logical successor to Garner.

That, uh, didn't work. Both because Chalabi was completely unsuited to the job and openly mocked in most of Iraq, and because making it happen meant that they had to systematically remove almost every qualified applicant for work in Iraq, because they were either familiar with Chalabi and didn't trust him, or were too close to State and the CIA, or weren't sufficiently loyal enough to the Republican party.

Meanwhile, junior Republican congressional staffers got to be big cheeses in Iraq, and bring that unique brand of governing incompetence that you can only really get from doctrinaire Republicans to the people of Iraq.

Lucky them.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

On Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

So supposedly the guy confessed to being the mastermind behind everything Al Qaeda has done, if not everything everybody who doesn't like the United States has done, ever.

That confession came after a long stint at Gitmo and another unnamed secret CIA prison. He had no access to lawyers, and enjoyed plenty of waterboarding and other pleasant forms of "coercion" we've probably never heard of.

I trust I don't have to explain to you folks why I find that a little questionable? Sketchy? Dodgy, perhaps? Sure, he almost certainly had a lot to do with 9/11, but we knew that before he started getting (almost) drowned for days on end.

All this is going to prove is that nobody outside the Republican party trusts the US government anymore.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

No, Really, This Time It's Gonna Work!

Color me skeptical about the idea that the surge is working. Robert Kagan argues that his brother's vaunted "surge" is leading to greater security. What's it based on, you ask? A pair of Iraqi bloggers notorious for toeing the Bush administration line (they're Pajamas bloggers, summing THAT up), Brian Williams not being quite so afraid, and "cracks in the Shiite governing coalition".

Er, yeah.

Call me when Riverbend backs any of this up. I'm not going to be holding my breath waiting, though.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Topic That Shall Not Rear Its Head

Has reared its head over on Eschaton, where we see Atrios crying foul over the idea that somebody might take offence to a post where he says, essentially, that he doesn't link to your blog because it SUCKS.

(Yes, that's actually the name of the post. "Why your blog sucks".)

Now, I'm pretty confident that Atrios won't read this, as I don't update enough or in the right "Glenn Greenwald" fashion, and have committed the (previously unstated) unpardonable sin of having light text on a dark background.

(I wonder how he handled blackboards as a former academic, but I digress.)

Still, were he to read this, I'd suggest a few points:

#1: Every blogger, no matter how well read, tends to suffer from "Ted Barlow syndrome"; the belief that nothing you say or do or write matters. I think it's a bit of a misnomer, in that almost EVERYBODY suffers from this problem- with bloggers its just a little more apparent because they actually do have a venue for what they're saying. This is why people complain about not being read, but the alternative is potentially talented writers simply stopping entirely.

Like, well, Ted Barlow.

#2: He needs to learn himself some Pagerank. Yes, blogrolls matter.

#3: He needs to learn himself some manners. Whether or not you agree that blogrolls are an important community- and identity-building tool, I think everybody can agree this is kind of a bad move. Telling people that are ostensibly on the same side as you "Go away, your blog sucks and you suck for writing it" is pretty goddamned wrongheaded no matter how you look at it.

(Individual arguments and opinions? Sure. Go nuts. But a generalized "piss off and die?")

#4: He's starting to sound a little like a winger. Not in his opinions, but in how he's presenting them. In both of the pieces I linked to, he didn't quote a single word of the critical blogs that he's supposedly responding to. Indeed, the "your blog sucks" posting features such a lovely bit of strawman argumentation that it would make a Fox News anchor weep:

7) An elite cabal of bloggers, all on the Hillary Clinton for President campaign payroll, have conspired to suppress your original voice by any means necessary, including the implementation of very elitist and anti-democratic peer review systems such as the open posting and "recommended diary" system at Daily Kos. This is certainly an interesting theory, and one which several blogs seem to be devoted to exploring, but absent further evidence you might want to look for alternative explanations.
Gimme a break. If Atrios wants to respond to critics like skippy and Mary Scott O'Connor, then by all means, I recommend that he do so. Both have put forward excellent arguments about the nature of blogrolling and of the concept of a "blogosphere" itself that deserve to be engaged seriously and honestly. Screwing around trying to be funny is just insulting. It's also more than a little sad: it smacks of an affectation of not caring that is contradicted by the existence of the posts themselves.

Oh, and as for #5?

If you think skippy or MSOC's stuff on the blogrolling controversy is a reason why either blog "sucks", you're out to lunch. O'Connor's entry on Kos was one of the best, most savage pieces I'd read in a good while, and skippy's entries on this issue have been consistently interesting and (unlike "your blog sucks") often really funny.

Of course, I might just think this because my blog sucks, along with everybody else that Atrios tossed overboard.

Somehow, though, I think I'll continue to "look for alternate explanations".

The Cripple's Crusade

People had been asking, almost from the first day the "surge" was announced, where the soldiers were going to come from. After all, the U.S. Army and National Guards have been practically crippled by the constant tours in Iraq. Who would be sent? There was nobody else to send.

Now we know.

The United States is sending its wounded to battle.

As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.

On Feb. 15, Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems -- from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny.
Can we believe these denials of a massive "reevaluation" on Feb. 15? Well, here's one case:

One female soldier with psychiatric issues and a spine problem has been in the Army for nearly 20 years. "My [health] is deteriorating," she said over dinner at a restaurant near Fort Benning. "My spine is separating. I can't carry gear." Her medical records include the note "unable to deploy overseas." Her status was also reviewed on Feb. 15. And she has been ordered to Iraq this week.
Nothing about this is really new. Iraq has forced down recruitment standards across the board: people who were previously seen as too old, too mentally challenged, or too uneducated for service are being actively recruited. A draft is (currently) politically impossible, as is taking in minors, so this is one of the few options left to them to keep the numbers up.

Of course, as TPM points out, this could be an isolated incident. I personally doubt it, though. What it is is one more symptom of a military slowly devouring itself to fight Bush's war.

Somewhere in Pakistan, Osama just keeps on laughing.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Progressives and Genre Fiction?

I realize that the attempts to try to turn the movie 300 into some kind of paen to Bush's fight against the Islamic Hordes is a little nauseating, and maybe I'm a little biased on this...

but what is with progressives being (and pardon my language) complete dicks about genre fiction?

The only thing sadder than arrested development is those moaning about it inside the armor of their own proud ignorance.

Honestly, anybody who actually writes "graphic...ahem... novels" deserves a good swift kick in the behind.

(And no, you're not excused either, James. Trying to burnish anti-conservative cred by taking cheap shots at Captain America is just ludicrous. The arc that led up to his demise, apparently, featured political positions on his behalf that would probably cause Rush Limbaugh's head to explode.)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

You Gotta Be Kidding, Right?

I realize that Bush is almost certainly going to pardon Libby when his two years are up. Fine. That's the way the game works.

That said, why on earth is there even a debate over whether he should pardon him now?

If some people imagined a verdict in the criminal trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. would calm the political passions surrounding his fate, they may have forgotten two words with a combustible history: presidential pardon.

The 11 jurors had barely pronounced Mr. Libby guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury on Tuesday when a new donnybrook broke out.

“Now President Bush must pledge not to pardon Libby for his criminal conduct,” declared Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader, taking a stance echoed by other Congressional Democrats, some editorial writers and bloggers on the left.

From the right came a Wednesday editorial in The Wall Street Journal, which thundered that “the time for a pardon is now,” a point of view shared by The Weekly Standard, National Review and conservative admirers and friends of Mr. Libby. Many of the calls for his pardon demanded immediate action, instead of a wait for appeals to wend their way through the courts.
Of course he shouldn't be pardoned. There no question of his guilt, and this "underlying crime" stuff is absolutely meaningless, as the whole point of having perjury as a crime is because perjury irretrievably muddies the waters on that count. Getting away with crime would be trivial if people could lie with impunity, as you could easily compel witnesses to lie their faces off for your benefit.

Besides, the question about an underlying "crime" is unimportant compared to the question of whether there was an underlying act that could have led to criminal prosecution were there not perjury involved. After all, no act is technically a crime until you are convicted of it. That's the distinction between Clinton and Libby- Clinton lied about an entirely legal act (getting a hummer at the office) whereas Libby lied about endangering the entire extended espionage network of someone under non-official cover.

(And it's not even clear that Clinton perjured himself. He mainly split hairs over the definition of "sex".)

I know that the conservatives want to stand by their man. I also know that the right to pardon rests with a president for good reason. Still, this is just ludicrous. There's no grounds for pardon either legally, morally or politically. If the case was decided poorly, that may be grounds for an appeal, but if Bush simply scoops up Libby and says "nah, I don't like that result", then why bother with the whole thing? Might as well just parade the accused in front of him, and decide whether they live or die by a thumbs up/thumbs down system.

Then again, conservatives seem awfully fond of Rome. Maybe there's a connection there?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Monday, March 05, 2007

This is Starting to Become a Problem

That stock market drop in China (and the shockwaves coming from it) made sense, and at the time I thought of it as simply a correction of a somewhat-overheated economy.

Now I'm not so sure. According to the BBC, the global markets are continuing to take hits- largely due to an exploding Japanese yen taking bites out of that country's exports, continuing questions about the stability of China, and other concerns about the state of the US economy.

Asia's regional economy wasn't the most stable thing to begin with. Now, I'm starting to get a little worried.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hah! From Zero to Lack of Credibility in One Post

Like I said a few posts ago, I do retain some interest in Canadian liberal politics after the leadership battle. That means that, among other things, I read some Canadian blogs, including the always-interesting Calgrit.

In Calgrit's thread on the whole polling issue, as well as Jason Cherniak's, there has been a veritable carpet-bombing by one commentator by the name of Erik Sorenson. A quick scan of his site shows that the man has a serious hate-on for Stephane Dion.

Unfortunately, said quick scan also showed that he not only has no idea what a push poll is, he thinks David Suzuki is a terrorist.

Oh, and he also uses scare quotes for the Suzuki "foundation".

He's free to post wherever and whatever he wishes, of course. Still, I really don't think the Liberals should be taking political or policy advice from guys like this. File it in the round bin and move on.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Japan and the "Comfort Women"

Remember how I mentioned that Asia is a really tricky part of the world right now? Part of that is due to American mishandling of North Korea. Part of it is because of China and North Korea being, um, China and North Korea.

Part of it, though, is due to Japan's issues with its past. Things are improving, but every so often, you get something like this:

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said there is no evidence that women were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II.

He told reporters there was "no evidence to prove there was coercion", adding "we have to take it from there"...

..."There has been debate over the question of whether there was coercion," Mr Abe told journalists on Thursday.

"But the fact is, there was no evidence to prove there was coercion as initially suggested."

"That largely changes what constitutes the definition of coercion, and we have to take it from there," he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiitake later said the Japanese government did not agree with the US congressional resolution, but still honoured the 1993 statement.

The resolution before the US Congress seeks to reject the revisionists' moves by calling on the Japanese prime minister to "formally acknowledge, apologise and accept historical responsibility" for the comfort women.
Needless to say, Korea and China aren't happy, and neither is Congress. The annoying thing is that if you split hairs enough, Japan has a point. Girls were coerced, and the Imperial Army definitely procured these women, but many of them were forcibly coerced by locals or were "volunteers" (that didn't want to starve, but they weren't forcibly coerced.) It's difficult to prove that the Imperial army directly and forcibly coerced these women. That's why Japan can plausibly deny it.

That said, it barely matters, and Japan shouldn't be splitting hairs on this. There is the possibility that they'll have to pay compensation, but the regional problems that this engenders are far worse than the costs of compensation. It's more about the conflict within Japan over their wartime record, and over what that means for Japanese identity itself. It's sort of like the continuing open wound that is America's history of slavery- people would prefer to move on and pretend it didn't happen and that it doesn't have effects to this day, but it does, and you really have to face it and accept it.

I have confidence that both Japan and the United States will face their history square-on. Many within both countries already do, and after all, if the Germans could face up to the Holocaust, then Japan and the US (and everybody else) can face up to their pasts too.

In the meantime, though, this inadvisable move on Abe's part is likely to spark outrage in the region. More of THAT, they don't need.

Statistical Weighting in Online Surveying

Did a quick blurb over on Jason Cherniak's site in response to this entry on polls in Canada showing that the Conservatives are wildly ahead of the Liberals.

Cherniak's problem is that they were online surveys, and the Internet ain't exactly the most demographically representative place in the world. People pointed out (rightly enough) that you can fix that with weighting.

I responded in some detail, but it broke down to two things that bother me about online surveying:

1) The Internet's somewhat abstracted nature means that people may be less likely to either tell the truth or carefully consider their comments. Anybody who's read a blog (or Usenet, or a web forum, or pretty much anything here, really) knows that people often post at length and repent at leisure, because of the prevailing belief that nothing that goes on here really matters.

(That's at the root of good ol' Ted Barlow disease, which is bloggers quitting because they believe that what they write doesn't really matter. I can commiserate. But I digress.)

That could mean that people are less likely to respond carefully and honestly to a poll for the precise opposite reason that they lie on other polls: instead of being too concerned about what it says about them, they'll think it doesn't matter at all. They won't carefully consider the questions or their answer. They'll just vote for the rhinoceros party because it's funny.

2) Demographic problems can be avoided through weighting specific socio-economic groups. The problem, though, is that weighting can massively increase the likelihood that misrepresentation of those specific groups can take place. If you take a poll and there are something like two people from a specific small (but significant) group, no matter HOW you weight them you're going to have problems. If, for example, poor people on the Internet are disproportionately inclined towards conservatism compared to the poverty-stricken population as a whole, and they're overweighted, it's going to REALLY screw with your poll.

And, yes, conservatives really are overrepresented on the Internet. That's the reason this site was created, remember?

Oh, and 3) The respondees are inherently self-selected, even more than in phone and mail polls. You can't weight to correct for that, either.

I don't think phone polls are perfect, of course. Neither are mail polls (the response rate for mail polls is abysmal.) But I really, really don't trust online polling. Not when Zogby was doing it and it showed Kerry way ahead in 2004, and not today with Angus Reid doing it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Small Addendum on the North Korea Thing

One of the reasons why this matters is because the United States didn't really live up to its promises to North Korea in the 1994 agreed framework. To be blunt, they were supposed to get light water reactors and enough know-how to run them, and that didn't really happen. It kind of sort of happened, but the United States dragged its feet, confident that it just needed to buy time until Kim Jong-Il's regime finally, inevitably, fell.

It hasn't fallen.

That's why things are so screwed up right now. That, and Japan's fierce (and understandable) outrage over North Korea kidnapping Japanese to teach Japan's language and culture to North Korean agents, but the basic justification is the North Korean "cheating" serving as a justification for America neglecting its own promises, thus allowing NK to charge that the deal was already broken.

Hindsite is 20-20.

(Or 20...19...18...17...)

North Korea's Cheatin' Heart?

Maybe, maybe not. It would appear that the evidence that North Korea was "cheating" on its negotiated settlement with the United States during the 1990s is as sketchy as I had always thought it was. Apparently North Korea was, quite possibly, not pursuing a uranium-based bomb at all.

The disclosure underscores broader questions about the ability of intelligence agencies to discern the precise status of foreign weapons programs. The original assessment about North Korea came during the same period that the administration was building its case about Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs, which turned out to be based on flawed intelligence. And the new North Korea assessment comes amid debate over intelligence about Iran’s weapons.

The public revelation of the intelligence agencies’ doubts, which have been brewing for some time, came almost by happenstance. In a little-noticed exchange on Tuesday at a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Joseph DeTrani, a longtime intelligence official, told Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island that “we still have confidence that the program is in existence — at the mid-confidence level.” Under the intelligence agencies’ own definitions, that level “means the information is interpreted in various ways, we have alternative views” or it is not fully corroborated.

“The administration appears to have made a very costly decision that has resulted in a fourfold increase in the nuclear weapons of North Korea,” Senator Reed said in an interview on Wednesday. “If that was based in part on mixing up North Korea’s ambitions with their accomplishments, it’s important.”

Two administration officials, who declined to be identified, suggested that if the administration harbored the same doubts in 2002 that it harbored now, the negotiating strategy for dealing with North Korea might have been different — and the tit-for-tat actions that led to October’s nuclear test could, conceivably, have been avoided.

The strongest evidence for the original assessment was Pakistan’s sale to North Korea of upwards of 20 centrifuges, machines that spin fast to convert uranium gas into highly enriched uranium, a main fuel for atom bombs. Officials feared that the North Koreans would use those centrifuges as models to build a vast enrichment complex. But in interviews this week, experts inside and outside the government said that since then, little or no evidence of Korean procurements had emerged to back up those fears.
The bolded part is what's key here. Intel agencies screw up all the time. Intelligence is a difficult game, especially when you have counter-intelligence activities that are often almost as sophisticated as the spies' work itself.

What bothers me is that now we've established a pattern. They're not just fools and liars, they appear to be serial fools and liars. I mean, does this sound familiar to anybody else?

But David A. Kay, a nuclear expert and former official who in 2003 and 2004 led the American hunt for unconventional arms in Iraq, said he had found the administration’s claims about the North Korean uranium program unpersuasive. “They were driving it way further than the evidence indicated it should go,” he said in an interview. The leap of logic, Dr. Kay added, turned evidence of equipment purchases into “a significant production capability.”
So. First they cook the intel on Iraq, then on North Korea. Now, somehow, they expect anybody to take them seriously on Iran? Hah.

Even worse is the effect this is likely to have on regional partners like Japan. Japan has pretty wholeheartedly thrown itself into supporting the American position on North Korea, but now we see indicators that Kim Jong-Il might not be the aggressor that the uranium cheating would imply. The whole situation of him getting screwed by the Americans and then responding in turn suggests that he is pretty much exactly as I had always suspected- terrified of losing power and willing to defend it, but neither mad nor overly inclined to gallivanting around the region. Because the Japanese have believed that he is an aggressor, though, they've taken steps that he (and everybody else in the region that dislikes Japan) is almost certain to find threatening in-and-of themselves.

An Asian security dilemma would be an absolute disaster, worse than anything going on the middle east. Everybody knows this, yet it seems like George W. Bush and his neocon cronies may have inadvertantly done their best to start one.

Worst. President. Ever.

(Edit: cred should go to Tapped for mentioning it first.)