Sunday, June 22, 2008

Gee Thanks WaPo

Is this any way to begin my day? I think not.
Granted, the photograph is part of a good article by Julia Latynina "Open Season - Life in Putin's Russia," that is worth a moment of your time today. But really WaPo editors. This is not a picture I need hanging around in my brain.

And as much as I would love to interpret and blog on this article, I am going to leave it to our resident Russo-expert, upon the return of the esteemed Bucky. Suffice it to say the opening two paragraphs lets you know what is coming - a sad but needed glimpse into Putin-world.

MOSCOW On Nov. 9, 2007, during a special operation in the village of Chemulga, in the republic of Ingushetia, Russian special forces shot and killed an individual by the name of Rakhim Amriyev. Eyewitnesses said that they shot him in the head and placed an automatic rifle beside his body. Then, as dozens of villagers who had run out of their homes looked on, the troops used an armored personnel carrier to demolish a wall of the one-room house where Amriyev lived and announced that he had died in a shootout.

You may ask how I can be sure that things happened this way -- that Amriyev didn't fire back, that he wasn't a terrorist and that the automatic rifle was planted. I'm absolutely certain -- because Rakhim Amriyev was 6 years old.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Interesting Read of the Week - Descent into Chaos

I know, I know, you think we've already made that descent. Well if we haven't yet Ahmed Rashid argues in his new book that we're about to. "Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia," is the Pakistani journalist's bit at waking us up to what is really going on beyond the skin-deep reports from news agencies or smiley-face reports from the Bush administration on progress.

Rashid pulls no punches, declaring that "the international community’s lukewarm commitment to Afghanistan after 9/11 has been matched only by its incompetence, incoherence and conflicting strategies — all led by the United States" and that Bush's support of Musharraf's military dictatorship over the interests of democracy and the Pakistani people "has created immense hatred for the US army and America, hatred that penetrates all classes of society”.

No surprise here for most of us. And nothing that will get past the blinders of personnel in the Bush White House or State Department I fear. Rashid revisits the administration's failure to deploy the ground troops needed in Afghanistan to keep Bin Laden & his Taliban buddies from escaping into Pakistan in 2001 and Bush's blind spot for Musharraf's war on democracy as long as he agreed to support the "war on terror." Meanwhile, Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, was actively supporting those Taliban refugees - to the point of flying aircraft over the border to evacuate Taliban buddies and ISI personnel before Kabul fell. The ISI, according to Rashid, continues to shelter and help Taliban fighters.

As Bush refined his Iraq invasion argument to one of supporting democracy and riding the world of tyrants, 90-percent of Washington's Pakistan aid was going to its military, not its people. And in Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov (not exactly Mr. Happy Democracy) became one of our best friends in exchange for an American base and a CIA torture (oops, I mean rendition) building.

Bush & Co., not only turned a blind eye to Afghanistan's drug lords, but even subsidized some. And not to seem churlish in an election year, while fighting Kerry in 2004, Bush turned loose some money for reconstruction work. Money that dried up after the November election. And the money that flowed into Afghanistan was aid aimed at appeasing Bush donors, consultants and contractors, not the population of Afghanistan.

Another "triumph" for democracy at the hands of the Bush administration.

People of Iowa - Prepare Yourselves

And cross your fingers that following Bush's visit won't be one of the government's favorite contractors, KBR, coming in to "help" you. Alert readers recognize KBR as one of companies that grew out of Halliburton. You may have thought that Halliburton and KBR's only picked America's defense pocketbooks. Foolish readers. Opportunists flood to where the money is, and again, the place where the money is going to be is a flood zone.

A recently released report (thank you FOIA) from an internal audit shows that KBR's response to the Katrina disaster was one hell of a boost to the company's bottom line. And the people being helped? Not so much. More of a boot to their bottoms, period. KBR was hired to set up trailer parks for displaced Navy personnel, make roof repairs on the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport and remove debris. What did the report show? Enjoy reading where your tax dollars went this time.

The Navy entered into an illegal "cost-plus-percentage-of-cost" contract with the company. Higher costs meant more profit for KBR, which rewarded the company for "inefficiency and non-economical performance."

KBR paid $4.1 million for services and meals that should have cost $1.7 million, and it awarded sole-source or limited-competition subcontracts that overpaid hourly rates to roofers.

KBR paid $540 a month for cell phones for some of its roofers, and also charged a $720-per-month fee per employee for fuel, despite the company’s agreement to provide fuel in the contract.

Several unusual costs, including monthly employee cellphone charges of $540 during roof repairs, $720 per month in gas charges -- even as the Navy was already paying for work-site fuel expenses -- and expensive meals, including steak and eggs.

KBR was hired to build trailer parks for displaced Navy personnel. Each trailer was supposed to have 200-ampere electrical service and water piping, but the subcontractors hired by KBR gave each trailer 100-ampere service and did not lay piping at proper building-code levels. As a result, a second contractor was paid $200,000 to fix the problems. One laundry facility was unusable, and structures were wired with plugs that had only about half of the power-handling capacity they needed. The plugs had to be replaced.

Roof repairs at the NCBC Gulfport took twice as long as the terms of the original agreement, the report said. Construction crews were rated as below average in competence in many cases, and got the job right only after much oversight from government inspectors.

The company was paid nearly all contract amounts despite "marginal-to-average performance."

"Marginal to average performance" - can't think of a bigger sign that this company has Bush/Cheney ties, can you? The audit requested that the Navy seek refunds of at least $8.5 million for "inappropriate" payments to KBR. We'll see how that moves along.

So if you're knee deep in Iowa mud looking for some of that help Bush offered - be wary of the hands that come to help and cross your fingers it's not KBR or another group of their low ethical and high opportunistic standards.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day to All the Dads Out There

There's a Mary Mapes Dodge quote I just love about fathers - and rings very true to mine.

"What a dreadful thing it must be to have a dull father."

Oh, so very true. So happy father's day out there to my anything but dull dad - and all the other dads out there.

And Here We Go Again

Gay couples are lining up once again in California to get married. San Fran's mayor, Gavin Newsom is scheduled to marry one couple as soon as the ban is lifted at 5pm on Monday. The couple, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, in their 80s, are still living together after 50 years. Forget about letting them get married, they should get an apology from every public official and pinhead who thinks that their right to get married is anything but long, long overdue. Fifty years? Quick. How many straight couples can you name with that kind of staying power? One? Two?

A number of stories have touted the coming economic boom in California's marriage-related businesses. Unlike Massachusetts, California isn't restricting these marriages to residents. And we're going to be looking at more than a few legal battles across various states as people push to make their California marriages stick wherever they live.

The legal process behind California's latest shot at legalizing gay marriage can, at best, be labeled a mess. This long road still has quite a way to go and it wouldn't be at all surprising to find the law overturned and argued again and again before it's finally law for good.

And it will be a law for good. Not just in California and Massachusetts, but across the U.S. The only question is when. This is just one of those fears that generations grow out of. When you look at any data on gay marriage, the older the respondent, the less likely to support it, the younger, the more likely. Of course, the fact that it is coming isn't always good enough. It's not good enough for those who have to wait, and it's definitely not good for those who fear change even as they see it coming down the track.

Who knows how long the new policy will hold in California, or how long it will take for other states to stop clinging to outdated policies out of fear and ignorance. Best wishes to the couples who are taking the plunge in California in the days and weeks to come. I'm throwing some virtual rice over you.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

God and Man at Houston

Houston is no place to be in the summer under the best of circumstances. Just how much fun must it be there now, as the state Board of Education is selecting the curriculum standards for the state's new science texts.

Yup, you guessed it, once again it's time for Evolution vs. Creationism. The sport in which people who don't mind surviving illnesses thanks to medicines designed to overcome evolving diseases decry the belief in evolution as something somehow against God. When I'm in my best of moods, I figure it's simply part of God's plan, that he decided not to provide all people with functioning or evolving brains. In my worst of moods, I simply find these folks to be idiots.

The latest trend in making Creationism fashionable is to not to add creationism itself, which has been turned out of curriculum thanks to court rulings, but to add instruction on the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. Some of this gets all mucked up by language, of all things. The word "theory," for instance is seized upon by creationists who want to push their certainty and beliefs into classrooms as replacements for mere "theories."

One more time creationistas, scientific "theories" are not guesses. The word means a tested explanation of how and why a natural phenomenon occurs. It refers to something that is well-documented and observed.

So why is the Houston school board looking at weakening their students' grasp of scientific theory in favor of belief? Maybe because of the 15 members of the board, seven (one short of a majority) believe in intelligent design, one of the most oxymoronic phrases of all time. As does, by the way, Texas governor Rick Perry. (What IS it, after all, about Texas and their governors lately?) Intelligence, in fact, is the one thing that is missing from these folks.

Best of luck to Texas' kids. Here's hoping that you'll get a decent education from your state. That somewhere, somehow, their parents will remember their duty to their children.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Quite a moment

I'm going to steal the following riff from Andrew Sullivan's blog, because i think it says it all about what happened tonight in the Democratic race for President:

"Tomorrow I will go to the African American cemetery outside of Chicago where my great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and my mother and father are buried. And I will tell them that they were right -- that if we studied hard, worked hard, kept the faith, fought for justice, prayed, that this day would come.
And it has."

Despite all the acrimony, negative press, loose-cannon preachers and intermural sniping this campaign has(unfortunately)witnessed, we should not lose sight of the fact that an African-American citizen of this country will compete this year for the highest office in the land and arguably the most important in the world. It was only about 50 years ago that African-Americans began risking their lives in the interest of attaining...the same basic rights promised to EVERY American citizen in the founding documents of the United States. We HAVE come a long way, baby.

I'm there with that Sullivan poster...a humbling, awe-inspiring moment in American history.

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