Chavez Wins Election
Posted by Lurch on December 04, 2006 • Comments (3)TrackBack (0)Permalink

Hugo Chavez has won re-election as President of Venezuela by a very large margin. Appearing on the balcony of the Presidential Palace, Mr Chavez spoke to a crowd of elated supporters:

"Today we gave another lesson in dignity to the imperialists, it is another defeat for the empire of Mr. Danger," Chavez roared from a balcony above the crowds using one of the insults he has tossed at the U.S. president.

The former soldier's victory will further rile the White House, which worries about Chavez destabilizing Latin America neighbors and strengthening ties between the OPEC heavyweight Venezuela and U.S. foes Cuba and Iran.

Many of our less uderstanding fellow citizens were quite upset when Mr Chavez spoke to the UN General Assembly and referred to Mr Bu$h as "The Devil," and joked about smelling sulphur where our Great Warrior Leader had stood. It is certain they will be less upset by this new nickname.

A statement of protest is expected later today from Mr Danger's spokesman, Mr Snow.

Repairs Falter in New Orleans
Posted by Lurch on December 04, 2006 • Comments (0)TrackBack (0)Permalink

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, America waited – in vain- for the Bu$h malAdministration to do something. For more than two days America was treated to the spectacle of people struggling to stay alive in hip deep water. The few television assets in the city broadcast pathetic images of people trying to fid food and water in order to survive. We watched and heard mind-numbing stories from Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera begging for someone – anyone – to do something – anything – to help our citizens in the city. Many people died after the storm swept across Southeast Louisiana and Mississippi. No one knows for sure how many died – estimates reach over 1,800, and there are many still unaccounted for. Thousands were made homeless when levies broke and major parts of the city were flooded.

The United States Government seemed to be paralyzed. The USS Bataan, a 840 foot long Amphibious Assault ship waited out the storm in the Gulf of Mexico, and then followed the storm towards land. Within hours of the hurricane passing through New Orleans, helicopters from the ship were plucking people out of deep water, rescuing them from rooftops. Other Navy ships were quickly routed to the area. Available National Guard units were dispatched – not to rescue people, but to keep them from getting out of New Orleans. While people suffered, newsmen cried on camera, and people drowned or died of thirst, starvation, lack of medicine, or just neglect, a nation watched horrified as the Bu$h government slowly, ponderously staggered around like a drunk trying to find a lamp post to hang onto.

FEMA failed in its mission because it had been made into a political hackery – a dumping ground of patronage for the faithful party members who needed jobs. In fact, skilled professionals had been pushed aside to make room for hacks. It’s the Bu$h way of doing things.

Today’s NY Times revisits New Orleans, highlighting the repair and reconstruction effort.

NEW ORLEANS — For months, the Army Corps of Engineers raced through the city, frantically patching broken levees and building floodgates to prepare for a hurricane season, now ended, that produced no hurricanes here.

That repair work is essentially complete and the corps has moved on to the task of strengthening flood protection in New Orleans beyond its pre-Hurricane Katrina level, hoping to entice residents back. But lately the bulldozers have been idle, and the trucks motionless. The pace has slowed, those in the region say, with little trace of the round-the-clock frenzy of the first phase.

“We don’t see that anymore,” said Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the hurricane center at Louisiana State University.

Contractors are waiting impatiently for the chance to bid on jobs. “By now, I would have expected there to be many more jobs bid and under way,” said Robert Boh, the head of Boh Brothers, a major local contractor. “We’re going to dance as soon as anyone asks us.”

One can understand the immediate need to make crash repairs, to at least get a flawed system back to some level of protection as soon as possible. This year’s hurricane season was kind to New Orleans, as it was to all of the south. To hope for a second such year is very foolish, and undoubtedly the Corps professionals understand this.

Col. Jeff Bedey, who heads the Hurricane Protection Office, said that what appeared to be a slowdown was just an absence of obvious work like digging and piling dirt; Colonel Bedey said that the planning and contract work was proceeding rapidly. The corps, he added, does not want to build another “system in name only,” as its own report referred to the pre-Katrina patchwork of components that failed.

“We’ve got one opportunity here,” he said, “and we’ve got to do this right.”

The challenges are enormous. Congress has ordered the Army Corps to upgrade the city’s hurricane protection system to standards first authorized in 1965 — goals that were not reached because of a series of compromises and mistakes, the corps has admitted.

After those standards are reached, the corps must upgrade the system further, to resist a storm that has a 1 in 100 chance of occurring in any given year.

The City of New Orleans, if it is to rise again, must be as it was before – a city of homes and businesses. No city can survive without both places to work and places to live. It cannot be a city without both venues.


The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports the city is now threatened with a challenge that will most likely prevent its being rebuilt.

St. Paul Travelers Cos. Inc., Louisiana's largest commercial insurance provider, plans to cancel all of its commercial property policies in the New Orleans area next year, sparking fears that other insurers will follow and slow the region's economic recovery.

Travelers spokeswoman Jennifer Wislocki said the company has "a high concentration of commercial policies in the hurricane-prone areas of Louisiana" and will not renew many commercial policies when they expire.

"To keep future losses to a more acceptable level for continued financial stability, we are reducing our exposure in some of these areas by non-renewing a number of small- to mid-sized commercial properties," Wislocki said.

Most business in the US are in this category – small to mid-sized, and all of them must carry insurance. To try to operate a business without insurance is more than foolhardy. The great fear of course is that other companies will follow St Paul’s lead now and also abandon New Orleans. St Paul only offers basic commercial policies, protecting from fire, lightning, wind and the like. Flood insurance can only be gotten though a special program administered by the Federal Government.

But the unique low-lying terrain of New Orleans could cause water to rush in and sit in place for days or weeks, as happened after Katrina.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, who was tipped off about Travelers' plans Wednesday night by the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, said he was stunned by the news. When he met with Travelers on Thursday, he was equally stunned by the stated reason for the company's retrenchment.

"They cited the state of the rebuilding of our levee system as the primary reason for their decision," Donelon said.

It’s ironic that the Corps of Engineers, in trying to create a perfect protection system for New Orleans, might be preventing its reconstruction. Of course, it’s not all the Corps’ fault:

[I]insurance companies say that when there is a disaster that includes both wind and flood damage, they end up paying more on claims and facing higher costs in litigation because policyholders who don't have enough flood coverage press harder for money, he said. And unlike storm surge at the beach, which rolls back out to sea, houses in the New Orleans area have the potential to baste in putrid flood water for weeks, as they did after Katrina.

On Monday, Travelers also found that it could face additional legal liability for levee breach flooding when U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval ruled that the flood exclusion language in the policy forms of Travelers and a bunch of other insurance companies was vague, opening the door for the insurers to be held responsible for flood damage. Since insurance companies write the contracts that people sign, lawyers say any finding of ambiguity in an exclusion is generally a win for the policyholder.

Insurance companies are soul-less creations with one function: to survive and grow fatter. All insurance companies are now alarmed at the damage a hurricane can cause, and they are increasingly retreating from shorelines in attempts to limit their liability. But shorelines and coastal areas are vital locations for commerce, and their cities are more than buildings; they are homes and stores, offices, schools, hospitals, lives and hopes.

Which is more vital to America?


Another Strident Voice for More War
Posted by Lurch on December 03, 2006 • Comments (3)TrackBack (0)Permalink

Michael Ledeen, who is one of the most significant Likudnik operatives still influencing American foreign policy (primarily because he hasn’t yet been completely discredited, like Perle, Wolfowitz, and Feith,) was “invited” to write an article for PajamasMedia last week. (By “invited” I mean they were instructed to prepare room for a minor policy and attack paper from him.) And Mr Ledeen did not fail.

Now that Phase I of the Yinon Strategy has been accomplished, Phase II must be taken in hand, and it must be done quickly because the basic weakness of the entire Strategy has been exposed for the world to see. Iraq lies in chaos, a seemingly unresolvable mass of seething murder, sectarian strife, and brutality. Now, on to Iran!!!!

As with all neocon and Likudnik policy writings, this stage is premised upon a lie, and buttressed with non-facts and unsupported allegations.

This one takes off from one of the Big Stories on Thursday, with ABC News telling us that “Iranian Weapons Arm Iraqi Militia.” It says that American officials in Iraq now have “smoking gun” evidence that our troops are being targeted with Iranian-made weapons, which have been provided by the Iranian Government to Shi’ite killers, notably the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al Sadr.

That’s big news: a breakthrough, in fact. Up until this article, so far as I know, no American official was willing to blame the Iranian regime for the lethal equipment. They acknowledged that Iranian-made stuff was in Iraq, but they always gave the regime some wiggle room.

No more. They’ve now blamed the regime…for an act of war against the United States.

Before commenting on this, let’s take a look at the article Mr Ledeen is sourcing from:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2006 — U.S. officials say they have found smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories. According to a senior defense official, coalition forces have recently seized Iranian-made weapons and munitions that bear manufacturing dates in 2006.

This suggests, say the sources, that the material is going directly from Iranian factories to Shia militias, rather than taking a roundabout path through the black market. "There is no way this could be done without (Iranian) government approval," says a senior official.

The first thought a cynical man might have is that the Bu$h malAdministration wouldn’t have a foreign policy if it were not for “unnamed government sources.” Isn’t anybody in this government willing to allow his name to be put to propaganda so as to lend it a smidgen of credibility?

The point about 2006 manufacturing dates is supposed to be especially damning, I suppose. After all, when the USG sells military equipment to foreign governments, arms dealers, and paramilitary groups to further its foreign policy goals it only sells 20 year old stuff. This would prove that our hearts are good, and the Iranians are evil. Of course the Iranians are supplying Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. They’re co-religionists and they’re fighting a civil war based on religious grounds.

There is a good point made in the ABC news story though:

Iranian-made munitions found in Iraq include advanced IEDs designed to pierce armor and anti-tank weapons. U.S. intelligence believes the weapons have been supplied to Iraq's growing Shia militias from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is also believed to be training Iraqi militia fighters in Iran.

How dastardly of these Iranians to be supplying weaponry to their friends in order to have their friends attrite the army pledged to destroy Iran as part of the “axis of evil.”

I suppose interjecting that the Iranian shaped charge weapons wouldn’t be a factor if we weren’t in Iraq, is pointless. That’s talking about yesterday’s news. After all, if you get bitten trying to kiss a rattlesnake it’s obviously the rattlesnake’s fault.

Ledeen again:

In the battles in Fallujah and Hilla a couple of years ago, the Marines and Special Forces units discovered abundant evidence of the Iranian role, including photographs—taken in Syria—showing Iraq terrorists alongside Syrian and Iranian spooks, notably from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. They also found phone lists, computer files, and handwritten materials of Iranian provenance. How do I know this? I spent time with one of the interpreters who personally translated the stuff. And then I confirmed it with some military people.

It is truly outrageous that these Iranians are advising other Shiites in Iraq about how to fight to get their country back. How dare they?

On CNN’s News Night Jim Clancy spoke with Col Sam Gardiner, USAF (Ret) ON April 14, 2006 about possible military confrontation with Iran. Just prior to this cut, they discussed just how many Iranian military sites would have to be struck in an air campaign. (The list is far more extensive than we have been told.) The entire transcript is available here.

CLANCY: Well, Colonel Gardiner, from what you're saying, it would seem like military men, then, might be cautioning, don't go ahead with this. But what are the signs that are out there right now? Is there any evidence of any movement in that direction?

GARDINER: Sure. Actually, Jim, I would say -- and this may shock some -- I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way.

CLANCY: Why?

GARDINER: And let me say this -- I'm saying this carefully. First of all, Sy Hersh said in that article which was...

CLANCY: Yes, but that's one unnamed source.

GARDINER: Let me check that. Not unnamed source as not being valid.

The way "The New Yorker" does it, if somebody tells Sy Hersh something, somebody else in the magazine calls them and says, "Did you tell Sy Hersh that?" That's one point.

The secretary [sic] point is, the Iranians have been saying American military troops are in there, have been saying it for almost a year. I was in Berlin two weeks ago, sat next to the ambassador, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA. And I said, "Hey, I hear you're accusing Americans of being in there operating with some of the units that have shot up revolution guard units."

He said, quite frankly, "Yes, we know they are. We've captured some of the units, and they've confessed to working with the Americans."

The evidence is mounting that that decision has already been made, and I don't know that the other part of that has been completed, that there has been any congressional approval to do this.

My view of the plan is, there is this period in which some kinds of ground troops will operate inside Iran, and then what we're talking about is the second part, which is this air strike.

CLANCY: All right. You lay this whole scenario, but there are still a lot of caution flags that one would see out here.

GARDINER: Sure. True.

CLANCY: If they do decide on a military option...

GARDINER: Right?

CLANCY: ... what's the realistic chance of success? What's your -- your prognosis for that kind of reaction here?

GARDINER: Yes. Let me give you two answers to that. First of all, the chance of getting the facilities and setting back the program, I think the chances go from maybe two years to actually accelerating the program. You know, we could cause them to redouble their efforts. That's on one side.

The other side is this sort of horizontal escalation by the Iranians.

My assessment is -- and it's because of regime problems at home -- that if we strike, they're likely to want to blame Israel. Now that's -- because that sells well at home.

Blaming Israel means that there's a chance that we could see Hezbollah, Hamas targeting Israel. We could very easily see this thing escalate into a broader Middle East war, particularly when you add Muslim rage.

A cautious man might wonder whether Mr Ledeen, in his lust to reduce Iran to the internal chaos that is now seen in Iraq, has considered the consequences of his ideological imperatives.

And finally,

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 — The White House said Friday that President Bush would meet next week with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of one of the most powerful Shiite parties in Iraq, the latest step in a burst of new administration attempts to try different approaches to bolstering the fragile Iraqi government.

Mr. Hakim heads a party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, that is closely tied to Iran, so much so that just a few years ago, Washington shunned it. The party, usually referred to by its acronym, Sciri, was founded in Iran and its armed wing, the Badr Brigade, fought against Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Is Mr Ledeen aware that Mr Bu$h is now entering into discussions with an Iranian-backed cleric/politician?

UPDATE: Oooops. Mr Ledeen loses another rung in his ladder:

[BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT]: Army Brigadier General John Custer is the senior intelligence officer for General John Abizaid at the U.S. Central Command. He gave CNN a rare interview as Abizaid travels throughout the region. Custer says the violence is at the core of what he calls a revenge society that now is Iraq.

CUSTER: The Shia are trying to move Sunnis out of mixed neighborhoods to turn some neighborhoods into more Shia-based neighborhoods. The Sunnis are resisting, the Sunnis are then coming back at the Shia.

STARR: U.S. military intelligence believes Iran is playing a significant, but perhaps not decisive role in supporting Shia militias and death squads. Custer says the largest Shia militia, Muqtada al- Sadr's Madhi army, now has an Iranian controlled element inside Iraq. U.S. officials say members of the Madhi Army have trained both in Iran and Lebanon. Custer thinks Sadr's recent move to pull his crucial support from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may backfire.

CUSTER: He faces quite a strain there because the network of patronage that he acquires from that is a great deal of his power. So we question how long he can do that.

STARR: But it is the revenge society of Iraq that Custer is focused on. Iran, he says, is not the central issue.

CUSTER: If I could snap my fingers and move Iran out of the picture it wouldn't change -- it wouldn't end the conflict. It wouldn't drastically change the conflict. It's not decisive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

A tip of the too-small Kevlar helmet to The Agoinst for help with this article.

Tongues That Betray to Attentive Ears
Posted by Lurch on December 02, 2006 • Comments (1)Permalink

Back earlier this year people in the US discussed the NSA “wiretapping” situation, although I always maintained that it was “electronic monitoring” rather than “wiretapping” as such as I felt that the Bu$h malAdministration was availing itself of all possible venues to spy on domestic dissenters, including the obvious ones, such as Democratic politicians, and probably well-known progressive and liberal public names such as Barbra Streisand, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon. These are names that just pop into mind instantaneously. The point is, I was trying to posit a full court press on all those leading and participating in a public process of opposition to the fascistic tendencies of the Bu$hies.

The purpose of such monitoring is to obtain information, which can be used to circumvent plans or even to obtain information that the holder might not want made public, if you understand where I’m going.

At the time, it was understood that land phones and computers were certainly subject to interception. There was also talk of “roving wiretaps” which was correctly understood to mean cell phones, however, there may have been a dimension here that was not clearly understood.

The TalkLeft webpage discusses an interesting FBI investigation into organized crime today, introducing a CNET.com article reporting another screwdriver in the FBI toolbox:

The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone's microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

The technique is called a "roving bug," and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.

Nextel cell phones owned by two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his attorney Peter Peluso, were used by the FBI to listen in on nearby conversations. The FBI views Ardito as one of the most powerful men in the Genovese family, a major part of the national Mafia.

The surveillance technique came to light in an opinion published this week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He ruled that the "roving bug" was legal because federal wiretapping law is broad enough to permit eavesdropping even of conversations that take place near a suspect's cell phone.

Who could have guessed some cell phones can be turned on by remote control? Winston Smith would not have been surprised.

Glad Tidings
Posted by Lurch on December 02, 2006 • Comments (0)TrackBack (0)Permalink

I missed this tidbit earlier this month.

The best indicator I can find that the Democrats can seriously firm up their control of the both houses of Congress, as well as seize the White House:

FBI Criminal Division chief James Burrus says “the bureau is ramping up its ability to catch crooked politicians and might run an undercover sting on Congress.” He expects an emphasis on rooting out public corruption “for many, many, many years to come.”

A cynical man would note they had no interest whatsoever in public corruption from 1994 to early 2006.


Compliments
Posted by Lurch on December 02, 2006 • Comments (4)Permalink

“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!”

President Bush said Wednesday he wants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain in his administration until the end of his presidency[.] (“Both men are doing fantastic jobs.”)

AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 30 — President Bush today proclaimed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki "the right guy for Iraq," and said the two had agreed to speed the turnover of security responsibility from American to Iraqi forces.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 — The White House said Friday that President Bush would meet next week with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of one of the most powerful Shiite parties in Iraq, the latest step in a burst of new administration attempts to try different approaches to bolstering the fragile Iraqi government.

The effort is part of a White House strategy that calls for reaching out to a wider circle of Iraqi politicians to give greater support to the weak government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and lessen his dependence on Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric.

Yes, that would be the same Abdul Aziz l-Hkim who is the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The SCIRI that is backed by Iran. The same Iran that is part of the “axis of evil” and is endangering peace in the world by trying to get nuclear weapons and is a serious danger to the United States. The Iran whose President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is more evil than Hitler because…. Well, just because Iran is next on Bu$hCo’s targets list.

No one should be surprised by this move. Not because it is a smart diplomatic move, but because the Bu$h malAdministration is desperately floundering in Iraq. Painted into a corner by Mr Bu$h’s ego-driven insistence on attacking Iraq in order to prove to his mother that he is a greater warrior than his father, they went into this swamp with no follow up plan, beguiled by the self-interested blandishments of Ahmad Chalabi, their designated puppet for the westernized government they needed to support their plans for the rest of the Middle East. It’s quite ironic; a pack of con men gulled by one of their own.

And it’s part of the Bu$h habit pattern to compliment the sacrifice as the knife is sharpened.

But let’s just this once lay aside the cynicism and consider the possibility that this is all straight stuff, and Mr Bu$h really does want to stick with Prime Minister Maliki and support his government in its task to overcome all the domestic opposition and bring peace to this tragically savaged country. Why Hakim? He’s a political competitor of Muqtada al-Sadr, and Sadr commands the Mahdi Army, a group of tough trained fighters that some have estimated as being as large as 70,000. Why not Sadr himself?

There’s a lot of bad blood between al-Sadr and the US. He’s been a pretty constant opponent of the US occupation and the abject failure of that occupation has proven him right. He’s not the religious and ideological icon that his father was, but he is the leader of his father’s political faction, and has their complete loyalty and confidence. He is a powerbroker in today’s Iraq. It’s estimated that Sadr and his organization lends more than 30% of Maliki’s support.

Hakim is the Hobson’s choice.

Mr Bu$h has had a lot of domestic opposition from his own party because of the loss of power following the mid-term elections. The message that has been put to him is clear: win in Iraq, or get us out before the 2008 elections or we will be destroyed. Thus we see the tame Baker-Hamilton Commission blandly stating we will be disengaged in Iraq by mid-2008, despite Mr Bu$h’s insistence that we will stay there “until the job is done.” Mr Bu$h’s meeting this week with Mr Maliki officially confirmed that he’s the “right guy” to clean up Mr Bu$h’s mess in Iraq, and get the country pacified.

The message to Maliki: get this straightened out or you’re toast.

The message to Hakim: help us subdue Sadr and be the kingmaker.

There’s a third message, of course, unspoken. American meddling in Iraq is dangerous. Consider how things would look if a foreign leader, like, say Russian President Vladimir Putin, met with Hillary Clinton to discuss cleaning up the mess that is America.


Florida Flagpole Causes Funds Forfeiture
Posted by Lurch on December 01, 2006 • Comments (5)Permalink


Homeowners association boards are desperate little tyrannies in Florida. Usually composed of retirees with too much time and too much opinion on their hands, they spend their days as minor governmental bodies with extraordinary powers. They will restrict what you can do with your property, to the extent of dictating paint colors both outside and inside your home, and the extent and types of trees, plants and flowers you may decorate your yard with. Invariably the argument is that your individual action will adversely affect others’ “property values” in some mystic fashion only understood within their own aging, sclerotic minds.

Back in 1999 Florida veteran and homeowner put up a flagpole on his lawn and flew the flag, proudly. His homeowner association was of course outraged because if he had a flagpole possibly some other near-senile fool might not want to buy their homes from their children fifteen years from now.

In 1999, Jupiter resident George Andres had a problem displaying his flag in his front yard. The Indian Creek homeowners association had a bylaw prohibiting the display of a flagpole in the front lawn. Andres' protested by displaying the flag anyway, while the Indian Creek homeowners association went as far as foreclosing his home to cover legal fees after being in court at least twenty-eight times. Even after Governor Jeb Bush visited his home along with all of the local and national media, the homeowners association wasn't giving up without a fight. Andres said, "Well, first they said that it was going to cost more to cut the grass around the pole, which is kind of funny. And then they told me that the flagpole was going to take away from the value of the property. And I said, well, then we should be able to take away all the trees around here, because they're the same as the pole. And my pole is a portable pole. And the state government says I can do it."

George Andres won and was allowed to display his flag in his front lawn with the use of a flagpole.

During the last week of July 2006, President George Bush signed the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005, allowing residents to display the flag on their residential property despite any homeowners association rules.

This is most likely the only action Mr Bu$h ever took during his occupation of our Oval Office that did no harm to a poor or middle class American.

Fast forward to November, 2006:

Barry Silver took on a long shot when he agreed to represent a Jupiter man against a homeowners association in a tangled legal fight over a flagpole.

On Thursday, after five years of litigation, it paid off.

In a rare decision, a judge ordered the homeowners association to pay Silver twice his regular legal fees - a total of $126,225 - after he successfully argued the case against The Indian Creek Homeowners Association Phase 3B.

Originally, Silver agreed to represent George Andres, a 68-year-old veteran at odds with his neighborhood association over a flagpole he had put in his yard, for free. By the time he came on board, a judge had ruled against Andres, and he and his wife were ordered to pay about $30,000 in attorneys' fees.

An attorney for the association then filed a foreclosure lawsuit because Andres couldn't pay.

Silver got a temporary injunction that kept Andres' American flag flying and then won an appeal that reversed the rulings against Andres. As Silver made the case, he said, he saw a way to argue that the homeowners association should pick up the tab for his services.

"In Florida, homeowners associations are used to running roughshod over the rights of their clients. And the reason they can do that is once they decide to go after one of their own homeowners, it's virtually impossible for a homeowner to find an attorney to represent them," Silver said, explaining the crux of his argument.

Circuit Court Judge Edward Fine bought it, and as part of the decision awarded Silver twice his regular hourly fee, because of the risk involved in taking such a labor-intensive case without guarantee of payment.

About frickin time.


Leaving Iraq
Posted by Lurch on November 30, 2006 • Comments (6)TrackBack (0)Permalink

Things are tough in Iraq these days. The US is caught in a three-way tug of war with the Muqtada al-Sadr, whose organization, the largest of the Shiite power blocs, comprises much of the political support Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki enjoys. Sadr’s Mahdi Army is the largest private armed force in the country, and it is believed that members of this army have heavily infiltrated the national police and Iraqi army. It is rumored to have as many as 70,000 fighters, but no one is really sure. Then there is the Sunni contingent, which is reinforced by a large contingent of Ba’athists and former members of the Iraqi Army and Republican Guard – battle hardened veterans of eight years of war with Iran. Estimates of this force run as high as 50,000. These two groups shoot and kill each other, and collect the occasional American scalp when opportunity presents itself. The third group is the legendary and almost mythical al-Qaeda in Iraq. Long pointed out by Bu$hCo and CENTCOM as the greatest danger facing humanity since Noah’s flood, realistic estimates place its strength at perhaps 1,500 fighters.

A recent Marine Corps report admitted that Anbar province was basically lost, and unrecoverable, given the US troop strength available to fight there. There are perhaps 15,000 US troops in the immediate vicinity of Baghdad, and, joined with the 12,000 or so Iraqi Army and National Police forces, they are hard-pressed to maintain any real semblance of order and security. Recently there has been talk of surging 20,000 to 50,000 troops into Iraq to get a handle on all the death and killing and bring some semblance of peace to the capital city at least. This talk emanates primarily from John McCain and Joe Lieberman, two morally corrupt politicians who would consign their grandchildren to walk point in Sadr City if it guaranteed them the White House. General John Abizaid recently appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and said he didn’t need the troops that Senators McCain and Lieberman have been posturing for.

Since we don’t have 600,000 troops to adequately police Iraq and train up its army, we should start planning for our inevitable evacuation. Some have postulated this will be an orderly, calm withdrawal “over the horizon,” while others have compared it to a Chosin Reservoir retreat, but with much more fighting to escape.

Since Mr Bu$h will never permit an American evacuation of Iraq because that would be an explicit sign of yet another failure in a lifetime of failures, some people have even compared the situation to the German Sixth Army’s position at Stalingrad, although that’s probably a bit extreme.

Steve Gilliard has examined some of the possibilities here, here, and here.

He doesn’t make it look attractive.

Ahmadinejad Writes a Letter
Posted by Lurch on November 30, 2006 • Comments (0)TrackBack (0)Permalink

That madcap scamp Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, has written another public letter to the American people. Among other things, he told the American people on Wednesday that he was certain they detested President Bush’s policies — his support for Israel, war in Iraq and curtailed civil liberties — and he offered to work with them to reverse those policies.


The call came in the form of a six-page letter in English, published online and addressed to “noble Americans” that discussed “the many wars and calamities caused by the U.S. administration.” It suggested that Americans had been fooled into accepting their government’s policies, especially toward Israel.

“What have the Zionists done for the American people that the U.S. administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors?” Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote. “Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors?”

This was the latest public step by Iran’s president to promote a dialogue with the United States. He wrote a letter to Mr. Bush in May, calling on him to shift his policies and open a discussion, but it was dismissed by the White House as irrelevant to the central issue dividing them — Iran’s nuclear program. Then Mr. Ahmadinejad challenged Mr. Bush to a public debate, also dismissed by the White House.

It’s actually nice that this sort of communication can go on in the world today, fraught with so much danger, death and destruction. Of course, during the next couple of days the internet tubes will be overflowing with outraged howls from our wrongwing colleagues, because they will insist that a man with such evil intent should not be allowed to address peoples on another country. Let’s note in passing no one was too put out when Mr Bu$h addressed the Iranian people directly while addressing the United Nations in September. This is merely poof that Mr Ahmadinejad is considered a serious man by our wingers, whereas Mr Bu$h apparently is not.

The six page letter addressed many topics, including poverty, homelessness and the loss of civil liberties in America, religion and its practice, and the actions of the Bu$h malAdministration in the Middle east.


While Americans tend to focus on foreign officials like Mr Aghmadinejad as some sort of official spokesman, real political power resides in the council of imams and mullahs who make up the Council of Guardians. The President is somewhat of a figurehead position. Some people say the American form of government is wrong, and that, especially these days, our President should also be a figurehead with no practical power.


Embezzlement
Posted by Lurch on November 30, 2006 • Comments (0)TrackBack (0)Permalink

In what may be one of the Republican Party’s last sloppy wet kisses to Big Business and Wall Street for a while, an “independent” committee formed by Treasury Secretary Henry M Paulson Jr has recommended the US adopt new rules to allow the Republicans’ big campaign donors to steal as much money as they possibly can.

Among the recommendations:

It recommends making it harder for companies to be indicted by the government or sued by private lawyers, and urges policies to keep the Securities and Exchange Commission from adopting rules that impose high costs on business.

[Insisting the] S.E.C. should be required to perform cost-benefit analyses on all rules before they were adopted. It said the S.E.C. should also take steps to rein in private securities litigation and adopt policies to shield corporate directors and auditors from some lawsuits.

The report said President Bush should direct the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets — composed of Mr. Paulson and the chairmen of the Federal Reserve, the S.E.C. and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission — “to examine the legal and regulatory concerns we raise and to propose whatever reforms it views necessary.”

That could include permitting the group to review cost-benefit analyses before S.E.C. rules take effect, providing businesses with one more avenue of appeal against new rules they oppose.

The report also calls for relatively modest changes in the enforcement of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and supports greater shareholder democracy by limiting antitakeover defenses of companies.

After all, why should they be inconvenienced with silly laws designed to prevent more Enrons? And we certainly should require corporate officers and Directors to be held accountable for the actions of the companies they lead, should we?

And of course, these changes should be made NOW

With Congress soon to be under control of the Democrats, the report recommends changes that can be made without legislation. Even so, it remains unclear how much of the report will be adopted by the Treasury or the S.E.C. While the committee said its recommendations would help investors, they drew immediate criticism from one former member of the S.E.C., who said the recommendations would damage the commission and roll back needed regulation. [emp added]

By all means, let’s unlock the safe and allow one last grand smash-and-grab for the corporate millionaires before the adults take over.

No Friend of the Constitution
Posted by Lurch on November 29, 2006 • Comments (11)TrackBack (0)Permalink

Newt Gingrich, the disgraced ex-Speaker of the House, who was required to resign under three clouds of scandal, signaled his willingness to continue Mr Bu$h’s plan of destroying the US Constitution on Monday. Speaking at a Manchester, New Hampshire awards dinner Mr Gingrich said that it may be necessary to destroy the Constitution in order to save it.

Did we say “willingness’? Perhaps a better description is “eagerness.”

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: My (INAUDIBLE) view is that either before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that we use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us, to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.

Why is it always Republicans who want to limit freedoms? Some people would say that Mr Gingrich was fairly salivating with anticipation as he described to need to shut down the internet before some unnamed people who “want to kill us” cause us to lose a city.

Because, of course, we wouldn’t want the smoking gun to be a smoking city. And heaven knows the Republicans have no idea whatsoever how to protect our borders, ports, and airports, or they would surely have done so, no? So the obvious answer is to prevent people from talking to one another.

Perhaps Mr Gingrich wasn’t referring to “the terrorists” but rather people who just oppose the elitism, corruption, criminality, greed, misogyny, and racial and religious discrimination which is so rampant in the Republican Party today? If that were the case one can easily understand why clamping down on the internet would be a good way to preserve the Republican Way of Life.

Ironically, Mr Gingrich was speaking at a dinner honoring Freedom of Speech. Cancel that. Any man who would ask a wife in a hospital bed dying of cancer for a divorce is incapable of understanding irony if it bit him in his wallet.

The Keith Olbermann show featured a video clip of some of Mr Gingrich’s remarks, complete with still shots of facial grimaces appropriate for a great leader and statesman regretfully explaining why the chocolate ration has been raised to 20 grams. This clip can be found at the always reliable Crooks & Liars, along with a brief discussion between Mr Olbermann and the Constitutional expert Jonathan Turley.

An Empty Nest
Posted by Lurch on November 29, 2006 • Comments (2)Permalink

Mr Bu$h instructed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to meet him in Amman, Jordan in order to give him some of that world-renowned “look into the eyes” counseling. Muqtada al-Sadr told Mr Maliki, who derives much of his political support from al-Sadr, not to go there.

Mr Maliki went to Amman.


Via AMERICAblog, we learn that the AP is reporting Mr Maliki will return to a much smaller base of support:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Lawmakers and Cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Wednesday they have carried out their threat to suspend participation in Parliament and the government to protest Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's summit with U.S. President George W. Bush.

The 30 lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers said their action was necessary because the meeting in Jordan constituted a "provocation to the feelings of the Iraqi people and a violation of their constitutional rights." Their statement did not explain that claim.

"We are sticking to our position. ... The boycott is still valid," Falih Hassan, a Sadrist legislator, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Bush is a criminal who killed a lot of Iraqis and we do not want him to interfere in Iraq's affairs. The Iraqi government should negotiate with the U.N. Security Council, not with the leader of the country that is occupying Iraq."

This ought to give them something interesting to talk about in Amman.

The N-Word
Posted by Lurch on November 29, 2006 • Comments (7)TrackBack (0)Permalink

Diana McWhorter, writing in today’s Slate< discusses the comparisons no one is permitted to make: post-Weimar Germany and post-2001 United States.

The taboo is itself a precept of the propaganda state. Usually its enforcers profess a politically correct motive: the exceptionalism of genocidal Jewish victimhood. Thus, poor Sen. Richard Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, found himself apologizing to the Anti-Defamation League after Republicans jumped all over him for invoking Nazi Germany to describe the conditions at Guantanamo. And so by allowing the issue to be defined by the unique suffering of the Jews, we ignore the Holocaust's more universal hallmark: the banal ordinariness of the citizens who perpetrated it. The relevance of Third Reich Germany to today's America is not that Bush equals Hitler or that the United States government is a death machine. It's that it provides a rather spectacular example of the insidious process by which decent people come to regard the unthinkable as not only thinkable but doable, justifiable. Of the way freethinkers and speakers become compliant and self-censoring. Of the mechanism by which moral or humanistic categories are converted into bureaucratic ones. And finally, of the willingness with which we hand control over to the state and convince ourselves that we are the masters of our destiny.

Others have compared the steady erosion of civil liberties under Mr Bu$h’s rule to the theme of the frog in a pot of water that does not notice the flame until suddenly the boiling water kills it. Thus, we find ourselves in 2006 a nation debating just which sorts of torture are acceptable when interrogating people innocent of any crime. The word-masters have successfully shifted the topic from the pure evil of torture to one of degrees of bestiality. We discuss under which circumstances Mr Bu$h is allowed to violate the Constitution by authorizing the NSA to wiretap Americans without a court order rather than the evil criminality of the authorization itself. The point of Godwin’s Law is not that comparing Mr Bu$h to Adolph Hitler is beyond the pale. The real foundation is the discussion of the apparatchiki and bureaucrats who turn his sociopathic inclinations into laws, orders and policies. Documents recently surfaced that point to Mr Rumsfeld at the instigator of the torture policies in force at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but that is not accurate of course. At some point we will find documentation that he drew his authority from an approval by Mr Bu$h himself. This is undoubtedly as certain as green apples, Mom’s apron, and Lassie’s ability to find Timmy each week.

The most literal shock of recognition was the repulsively callous arrogance of the term "shock and awe." (The Iraqi people were supposed to pause and be impressed by our bombs before being incinerated/liberated by them?) Airstrikes as propaganda had been the invention of the German Luftwaffe, whose signature work, the terror-bombing Blitz of England, did not awe the British people into submission, either. Then there were subtler reverberations. When Bush's brain trust pushed through its executive-enhancing stratagems, I happened to be reading about brilliant German legal theoretician Carl Schmitt, who codified Hitler's führerprincip [sic] into law. (In the Balkans of cyberspace, I discovered, lurked an excellent article by Alan Wolfe detailing how Schmitt's theories also predicted the salt-the-ground political tactics of the Karl Rove conservatives.) When the administration established a class of nonpersons known as the "unlawful enemy combatant," I flashed on how the Nazis legalized their treatment of the Jews simply by rendering them stateless. And then in 2004, the Republicans threatened to override Senate rules and abolish the filibuster in order to thwart the Democrats' stand against Bush's most extremist nominees for federal judgeships. This "nuclear option" (so named by Trent Lott in acknowledgment of his party's willingness to destroy the Congress in order to save the country) struck me as a functional analog of the Enabling Act of 1933, which consolidated the German government under Chancellor Hitler and effectively dissolved the Reichstag as a parliamentary body.

We had a little fun with the Fuehrerprinzip issue here, when we discussed the turning away from the Dark Force by MG Paul Eaton (ret). It drew an interesting comment from a concern troll who seemed to argue that because Iraq didn’t immediately turn into a G-rated version of Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi’s Perfumed Garden under General Eaton’s stewardship, his criticism of Mr Bu$h’s most excellent Iraq adventure is obviously flawed.

A quick note to concern trolls: It is not necessary to mirror something in order to mimic it. The fact that we have no Hitlerjugend nor Reicharbeitsdienst does not invalidate the comparison.

There’s lots more good comparisons in Ms McWhorter’s essay and a relaxed reading will hammer home the point that Godwin’s Law is sometimes not an issue.


Suspicions
Posted by Lurch on November 28, 2006 • Comments (6)Permalink

This sweet little bit is lifted in its entirety from Tom Tomorrow's Modern World:

Anyone who’s spent any time reading right wing blogs already understood this to be true:

Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.

The study used Modified General Assessment Functioning, or MGAF, a 100-point scale that measures the functioning of disabled patients. A second scale, developed by Rakfeldt, was also used. Knowledge of current issues, government and politics were assessed on a 12-item scale devised by the study authors.

“Bush supporters had significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry,” the study says.

If there are no questions, class is dismissed for the day.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Regional Peace
Posted by Lurch on November 28, 2006 • Comments (10)Permalink

A certain segment of our political discourse – the Likudnik operatives inside our government and those who advise and support them from organizations like AIPAC, JINSA, CSIS, AEI, Heritage, Weekly Standard, National Review – are determined to prove they were right all along about Iraq by getting us involved in a war with Iran.

It’s hard to explain why this is happening. A visitor from another planet would scratch his head in wonder (assuming they had heads.) One of the primary rules of warfare is to never reinforce failure. Yet, here we are, paying serious attention to these unserious men whose ridiculous advice and ideological loyalty to another country and got us stuck in this swamp, surrounded by alligators.

The rules of war were actually established by the historical character known as Sun Tzu in the 2nd century B.C. His work The Art of War is considered so basic and revelatory that it is required reading at most military training schools, and enjoyed a period of hipness in the business world after the Japanese business model swamped the US automotive industry in the 1970s and 1980s. But Sun Tzu seems to no longer be relevant in the Age of Bu$h.

Thus we find the Bu$h malAdministration, which will certainly someday be held up as an example of incompetent and blindly self-serving government, going around the Middle East once again trying to enlist others to get the country separated from the tar baby of Iraq. James Baker and his associates in the Iraq Study Group2 have been traveling around the Middle East, trying to find a face-saving method of extricating what’s left of our army before it falls apart from exhaustion. (Iraq Study Group1 was Mr Cheney’s group of elves charged with inventing excuses to justify attacking Iraq.)

Despite the ideological protests of the always-wrong neocons, Mr Baker has even been in discussions with Syria and Iran. Since Iran is in fact a regional power it’s confusing why they should not be talked with. A cynical man would wonder whether the issue at hand is something that happened 27 years ago or Israel’s aspirations of regional dominance.

Dick “dick” Cheney has been in Saudi Arabia trying to get them to invest some of their oil billions in paying for Iraq reconstruction, since we let HalliCheneyBurton take all of our money while painting those three schools and giving tainted food and water to our troops.

Meanwhile Mr Bu$h has been busy visiting the Baltic, making happy speeches about emerging democracies, apparently in the vague hope that people will confuse this talk with what his ego has fostered in Iraq. There has been talk in the last week that NATO is losing control of Afghanistan, and another of My Bu$h’s talking points is that members must invest more money and troops to regain the initiative there. Oddly enough our NATO allies, who were steadfastly devoted to our cause in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, are somewhat leery now, in the aftermath of Iraq.

RIGA (Reuters) - President Bush appealed to NATO allies on Tuesday to provide more troops with fewer national restrictions for the alliance's most dangerous mission in Afghanistan, hours before a summit of allied leaders.

"To succeed in Afghanistan, NATO allies must provide the forces NATO military commanders require," Bush told a joint news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in Tallinn on his way to the NATO meeting in neighboring Latvia.

"Like Estonia, member nations must accept difficult assignments if we expect to be successful," he said in a veiled reference to numerous so-called national caveats that restrict where, when and how allies' troops can be used.

It would be a great tragedy for the world if the important mission in Afghanistan was lost because of the catastrophe of Mr Bu$h’s ego-war in Iraq. Somehow, it will end up being Speaker Pelosi’s fault.


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