AOL HaXored by L33t Kiddie

Check out this InfoWorld article about an absolute worst case security scenario - having such a huge organization that some know-nothing script-kiddie can seriously compromise your network. From a security professional's point of view, it's pathetic, especially considering AOL is not new to being attacked. These types of unsophisticated, basement-middleschooler attack can almost always be stopped by a competently enacted information security plan.

Unfortunately for the business world, this type of thing happens all too often. Valve, the developer for the hugely popular Half-Life series of games, was victimized as well, and they're a manageably small organization. In Valve's case, they had Steam, their brand-new encryption system stolen. This was the very system that was going to ensure that people could not steal their game. Ironic. Needless to say, they went many millions of dollars into the hole due to pushing the release date back enough to reengineer their IP-protection scheme. They missed the holiday launch. Ouch.

What unites these two hacks? The software monoculture. The fact that everyone under the sun uses Microsoft code draws the bad guys to the scene, and the closed-source, security-through-obscurity approach to security that Microsoft uses ensures an unending string of bugs that can lead to privilege escalation, and thereby to viruses, ad-ware, and these worst-case breakins. Although the problem is simple, the equally simple solution of MS avoidance is not possible.

In the case of Valve, the original attack was born through e-mail, since identifying a target's e-mail client is a breeze, and so many people use MS Outlook - a horrible pox on the security world. The bad guys ID'd the Outlook version, and then started sending malformed e-mails that would exploit a recently found Outlook bug. If Valve had simply used a different mail client - any open source client would do - they could have falsified their client-ids and been completely safe from e-mail born attacks. At that point, as long as they didn't use IE, kept virus-scanners on their computers and had a real firewall at the gateway, they would have been completely safe from all but the most skilled hacker or disgruntled insider.

So, the solution is not to avoid Microsoft software entirely, since that is impossible. Rather, simply avoid as much of it as you can. Use the operating system to ensure compatibility, and then eschew every one of their other products. In case you're wondering about replacements:
  • Microsoft Office -> OpenOffice.org
  • Internet Explorer -> Mozilla Firefox
  • Outlook/Outlook Express -> Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Messenger -> GAIM, Trillian
All of those are free, and all are open source.

I'd just like to add: Can't stop now cuz it's HaXor 4 Lif3!

Alternative Energy: Better All The Time

Canada is building a 40 MegaWatt solar power plant that will generate enough power to supply 10,000 homes in Ontario. Even in the frozen north it is now economically feasible, thanks to a dramatic decrease in the cost of photocells.

Conservatives are always saying that dealing with the grave national security threat posed by our reliance on subterranean oil would cripple our economy. I think just the opposite. People are going to get very rich, indeed, and everyone will win.

Odious Vacations and a Test of Iraqi Sovereignty

I know that we want Iraq to adopt many of the political values we have here in America, what with the democracy and all, but this is ridiculous. They've taken Bush's leadership to heart and are going on a summer vacation, critically pressing business be damned!

That's right, despite the total lack of political progress - the very progress that was this Surge's sole purpose to enable - the Iraqi government is going on a two month vacation... errr, I mean, "home work session." They have to consult with their constituents, of course, despite the fact that if they press too much flesh they're in serious danger of ending up blindfolded in someone's trunk. Furthermore, I'm not sure how much consultation they really require: "Oh, so you're saying you want the government to do something to insure security? Man, I sure am glad I went on this vacation to keep me grounded with the real concerns of the people!" Give me a break. Just tell it like it is, Parliament - that living in the bubble of the greenzone amidst the falling mortars is "hard work," and you need to go clear some brush to keep the ol' governing juices flowing.

I was stunned when I heard, frankly, but when I saw it confirmed on a brace of Sunday shows - once by the President of Iraq, I believe, on CNN - I was convinced I hadn't imagined it. If the Iraqis take the two month vacation they're talking about, that's it. The jig is up back here in America. Our boys are buying the Iraqi government time with their blood. Every day that goes by without action, more American lives are wasted for people that have no real value for the sacrifice. There aint no way that they can go on vacation without making progress toward political reconciliation. When they come back, there might not be any Americans waiting for them.

So, it's clear that I feel the moral calculus should compel the Iraqis to forgo their vacations. The real question is how our government will deal with this radioactive potato. The fact is that back here in the States this is a political catastrophe, and could spell the final death of support for this war. Nothing could send the message of the futility of our "strategy" so clearly. It will be interesting to see how we go about twisting arms to forestall the storm. I would expect us to go to the mat behind closed doors, eagerly issuing ultimatums. This is a case where even President Bush might support the "do it our way or we're leaving" threat, since this is an existential threat to the effort anyway.

Can we do this over the phone, or do we send an enforcer? This seems like a face-to-face confrontation to me. Let's see how much control of their internal affairs this "sovereign" government really has.


Condi the Criminal?

Congress mandates a yearly report from the State Department cataloguing and commenting on the international terrorist events of the preceding year. Over and over, we have seen how the amount of terrorism being perpetrated in the world is driven ever higher, with new records for violence seemingly every year. Needless to say, this report is always a political hot-potato, making headlines by putting the lie to Bush's strategy in the War on Terror, and our newest pending report promises the same. Given the increasingly one-sided political debate on Iraq and the current imbroglio over funding, this report couldn't have come at a worse time for the Bush White House. Surprise, surprise! To solve their political problem, the Bush Administration considered breaking the law:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her top aides had considered postponing or downplaying the release of this year's edition, due to the extreme political sensitivities, several officials said. But ultimately, they decided to issue the report on or about the congressionally mandated deadline of Tuesday, the officials said.

Needless to say, you cannot ignore the will of Congress because it would be politically inconvenient to obey. At least, that used to be the case before the Bush Administration's theory of lawlessness took hold.

An Escalation After All, and Ruing Defeat

So, McCain gets his way on every front. It's no longer a temporary surge:

The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Mr. Bush's top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.

In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of President Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.

Remember that originally we were told that the new strategy would have to be showing tangible results by the summer - the "last chance." Then the deadline for that last chance was pushed back to the Fall. Now we're told that even by September we shouldn't expect real progress, because counterinsurgency work takes significant time and resources. Well, duh.

This is a sad day for McCain's presidential aspirations, since his only criticisms of the surge concerned its temporary nature and size - both of which have now been addressed, bringing the policy 100% under his ownership. In Iraq we've got a central government that is not central to national life, nor is it capable of governing even inside its small sphere of influence; Iraqi troops that we are no longer even attempting to replace us with, despite billions of dollars and years of training; a "National Unity" government that is not only frighteningly fractious, but also has not taken one step towards any of the critical acts of political reconciliation that are linchpins of our stated strategy. We are stalling furiously, forever pushing the moment of reckoning, when even the President and his 29%-supporters are forced to acknowledge the failure they have brought us in Iraq and the disastrous consequences that failure has had for America.

Please make no mistake - I am not rooting for defeat in Iraq, I am ruing it. That the Republicans gave us such a defeat is catastrophic.

They Stand Up, We Don't Stand Down

I know I've been lax by letting this go a few days without comment, but this major change needs to be entered into the record:
Military planners have abandoned the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home soon and now believe that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.

Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration's Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said.

No change has been announced, and a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck, said training Iraqis remains important. "We are just adding another leg to our mission," Keck said, referring to the greater U.S. role in establishing security that new troops arriving in Iraq will undertake.

Stand Up/Stand Down was the end game for Iraq - the talking point that would allow us to declare victory and go home without having to achieve the impossible victory we were once promised. You might naturally ask: "now that we're not standing up the Iraqi Army, what's the new end game?" Answer: we're supposed to "defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces." For those of you paying attention, that is precisely the military victory we're told is not possible.

In the immortal words of Country Joe, "1, 2, 3, What are we fightin' for?"


Rove Admits Playing into bin Laden's Hands

In a question-and-answer period after his speech, Rove was asked whose idea it was to start a pre-emptive war in Iraq.

"I wish the war were over," Rove said. "I wish the war never existed... History has given us a challenge."

"I think it was Osama bin Laden’s," Rove replied.

I've never agreed with Karl Rove more. I've said before that through the War in Iraq we've substantially accomplished bin Laden's strategic goals and ensured his relevance through boosted recruitment and cultural momentum. Rather than pursuing a global counterinsurgency, wherein the extremist elements are leveraged away from the surrounding population, thereby decreasing its support base and withering the movement to death, we pursued an ever-escalating regional conflict where we are increasingly seen as at War with Islam.

Picking the ground over which to fight is the concern of the engagement's commander. Generals plan campaigns, Colonels handle regions, Majors execute operations, and in every context the ground over which you will be fighting is critical to determining the outcome. Prepositioning your resources so that the ground is favorable to your side is a basic responsibility of command, so what does it say that our Chief Commander picked our ground so poorly? We're at war with the world's largest religion, in the world's most volatile region - a region our economy depends on utterly. This is brilliant work, Commander.


Iran helps Everybody!

File this under the ever-growing "unlikely" folder.
A senior US general has said that coalition forces in Afghanistan have intercepted Iranian-made weapons on their way to Taliban fighters.
Really? Like hell.

This follows on the hells of another Iranian-aid-to-our-enemies story we've heard recently. Namely, that the Iranians were sending armaments to the Sunnis in Anbar Province in Iraq (the Sunnis were using EFPs, after all).

There are so many reasons these stories are implausible. First, you'd have be living under a rock (or be a Republican congressman), to not know that Iran is Shiite and the Taliban is Sunni. That simple ethnic divide would be enough for me to call shenanigans on this statement from the US Army.

However, we also need to factor in the history of these specific groups. The government of Iran had been an enemy of the Taliban since its inception - they were yet another zealous enemy on Iran's borders (the first of their enemies we dispatched for them). Iran had been funding the Northern Alliance before we co-opted them to help us fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. As for Iraq, the Shiites of Iran have historically battled with the Sunni minority, both through total war and through clandestine efforts.

These stories, as I said, are just implausible. The Shiites of Iran are not helping the Sunnis of Iraq kill their Shiite brothers. The Administration should realize that when you have no credibility left, you shouldn't stretch it further.

Karl Rove and the Presidential Records Act

The Blackberry network is down today. You know what that means...

Karl Rove is now being forced to comply with the Presidential Records Act! Imagine that: A White House official obeying a congressional law covering the behavior of the executive! The inconsistency must be killing them.


Review of Gates

Wow. For a guy in a tough position, Robert Gates, our new defense secretary, is keeping it real. Really real, son:

Gates, on a Middle East tour, called for a range of efforts from inside and outside Iraq to speed up the formation of a broad-based government of Iraq's majority Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.

...."The debate in Congress ... has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited," Gates told Pentagon reporters traveling with him in Jordan. "The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact ... in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."

That was nice of him to say. We should send him a card.

And remember that during the Iraq funding debate we've just had, President Bush emphasized over and over that the lack of funding would result in troops being deployed longer - "a significant hardship," he said. You could see the trajectory of the Rovian strategy: veto the bill, then announce a troop extension and blame the Democrats. Fortunately for us, someone from the DoD leaked that an extension was happening, and then Gates formally announced the extension weeks before the veto. Bam! Gates killed that lie before it was even born.

Maybe when we get rid of Gonzo, we'll be able to replace him with a nice level headed guy like Gates. Stellar performance under pressure so far.

Science and Religion

It's a common argument amongst biblical literalists that science is simply the religion of all us ungodly apostates who believe the world is more than 6,000 years old. This argument, like all of their others, is pitiably wrong.

The kernel of the difference between science and religion is a concept called falsifiability. Scientists always know exactly what new fact would destroy their theory and force them into the uncharted wilds. If someone had produced an apple that fell up, for instance, Newton's attempt at a theory of gravity would have been devastated. When asked what could disprove evolution, the great biologist J. B. S. Haldane responded: "Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian." By contrast, for Creationists there is no new fact that could ever cause them to renounce their theory. Indeed, even when their efforts to use scientific arguments to prove the biblical account are left in tatters - exposed as the frauds and lies they are - the believers go on as if nothing has changed.

What made me linger on this topic was the recent data returned from a NASA probe:
Gravity Probe B uses four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure two effects of Einstein's general relativity theory — the geodetic effect and frame dragging. According to the mission's principal investigator, the data from Gravity Probe B's gyroscopes confirm the Einstein theory's value for the geodetic effect to better than 1%. In a common analogy, the geodetic effect is similar to the shape of the dip created when the ball is placed on to a rubber sheet. If the ball is then rotated, it will start to drag the rubber sheet around with it. In a similar way, the Earth drags local space and time around with it — ever so slightly — as it rotates. Over time, these effects cause the angle of spin of the satellite's gyroscopes to shift by tiny amounts.
Here is the difference between science and religion reaffirmed. If the results from Gravity B had been data conflicting with predictions, then Einstein would be wrong and the community goes in search of a new theory. Such an even would be traumatic. In fact, people commit suicide over such upheavals, but that doesn't mean that the scientific community averts its eyes from the Truth in order to remain comfortable in their false theory. Truth is their passion. It can never be denied.

So, for those who maintain that science and religion are equivalent, tell me an experiment that could ever falsify god and I'll agree. (ed. see? even my theory of the difference between science and religion is falsifiable!)

Note: Incidentally, falsifiability is why string theory is math and not science. Under current energy constraints, it is an unfalsifiable theory. Build me an orbital accelerator and then I'll call it science.

Thoughts and Predictions on the Primaries

This election is gravy for the Democrats. Here are my thoughts.


  • John McCain - The old Maverick has tried like hell to shred the tires on the Straight Talk Express, literally embracing Bush. He's got Bush's institutional support sewn up, and that's far more important in the Republican Primary than in the Democratic, since the tendency for the GOP to nominate frontrunners is well documented. Unfortunately for him, the base still hates him, never having forgiven the original sins of campaign finance reform and having that black illegitimate child. Add in his position on immigration and the base will never trust him, no matter how much warmongering he engages in. Support for the Iraq War will, however, succeed in pushing away all independent support. It was the independents that made McCain in 2000, and they'll unmake him now.
  • Mitt Romney - There is already a dolphin following Mitt Romney around the country. His name is Flipper, and there's no shortage of material for him to work with. Poor Mitt Romney... it was inevitable. It'd be like Ben Nelson trying to get the Democratic nomination - no, even less likely than that. I mean, Romney was a Republican running for the Senate in Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy. The poor guy had to strenuously disavow everything he now has to embrace. That being said, he "looks presidential," rakes in the cash, and has spent it to create the best organizations in the early primary states. When the other candidates start spending money to tarnish him, we'll see if he can maintain his lead. If he's able to swing a victory in Iowa or New Hampshire he will immediately become the prohibitive favorite. Amongst the currently declared, he has by far the best chances of winning the nomination, cult membership notwithstanding.
  • Rudy Giuliani - When I saw this video of Rudy in drag, enjoying getting felt up by Donald Trump, I sorta stopped paying attention to his candidacy. What's the point? With positions like this he knows that his only chance is to win the nomination by decisive victories in the big blue states, notably California, on the Super Primary day, February 5th. Once again, I have to bear bad news... the way I see the psychology of campaigns working, with such a hugely extended process, the momentum from the Iowa/New Hampshire week wont hardly be dented in the two intervening weeks before February 5th. Rudy is sunk.
  • Newt Gingrich - Although the man gave the Republicans the great Revolution in '94, he also critically overplayed his hand, thinking the country at large hated Clinton the same way he did. Furthermore, we have in Newt yet another critically challenged marital history, with Gingrich's ultimate moment of shame coming when he pushed divorce proceedings on his hospitalized and cancer stricken wife. Hypocrisy abounds with the former Speaker of the House, and the Christian conservative base notices.
  • Mike Huckabee - An ordained Baptist minister with a story of personal adversity? Shouldn't this guy be the candidate of the religious right? Heck, where is the religious right? Or has David Kuo's call for a boycott of elections by evangelicals actually resonated? Huckabee would be a favorite any other year, but he just can't seem to raise any money or get any attention - sort of prerequisites for the job. Of course, when the electorate starts paying attention in the final month maybe they'll realize they don't have an evangelical candidate and make him competitive in spite of the party elders. In Iowa 40% of the Republicans are self-described evangelicals, so he could make serious moves in a short time.
  • None of the Above - Now here's the real star of the Republican nomination thus far. The poor GOP can't be happy with the bunch of serial adulterers and flipfloppers they've got lined up. There's not one of them that exemplifies the "family values" rhetoric that is so necessary for firing up the base. Remember, 29% of Americans still support President Bush, and 25% believe that the 2nd coming of Christ will occur this year. Something tells me these are the same people. It's difficult to imagine a path to the nomination that doesn't include them. There will continue to be dissatisfaction with the field until a conservative angel descends on the process. Who that will be, I have no idea, but if Romney doesn't own it in Iowa, None of the Above has my prediction.

  • Hilary Clinton - My primary problem with a second Clinton Presidency is that, were she elected for 2 terms, we would have two families controlling the Oval Office for 28 years. We are a country of over 300 million - I think we can diversify our leadership pool a tad. That being said, she's scary-competent. It would be awfully nice to see a Democratic campaign well run, leading to a well run White House. Both would represent a much-needed change. For realism's sake, I've got to put my prediction on Hilary.
  • Barack Obama - This man set me on fire at the 2004 convention. Admittedly, after hearing Kerry speak so extensively, I was ready to be disproportionately impressed by someone who could give a freaking speech. I remember George W. Bush's renomination speech distinctly. It brought tears to my eyes. I believe Obama has the potential to bring people together in a way that the historically divisive Hilary Clinton will find difficult or impossible. This has real value in my eyes. There is a substantial amount of healing that needs to be done in the country after what Bush has wrought, and Barack is the right candidate to get it done. I'll be rooting for Obama.
  • John Edwards - I know lots of people who really like John Edwards... I just don't really get it myself. I mean, sure, he's from the south and is therefore somehow more electable. My reticence about his candidacy is amorphous. Something about him makes me uncomfortable. I just don't feel, from his responses, that he's got the voltage I want to see in my President. When things start getting tight in Iowa we'll see if he opens up the rhetorical mains.
  • Joe Biden - Now there's a man with voltage. I don't care if, at times, he does go on. I myself have a torrid love affair with the comma, so who am I to judge? There may be problems with message discipline in the full national campaign, but ultimately I would rather have a gritty, less polished man as my President. It makes it easier to trust them, and I trust Joe Biden. With the celebrities at the top of the race, Biden doesn't stand a chance, but I'll push hard for him as VP.
  • Bill Richardson - I want to like him, but once again, he's not quite ready for prime time. I have a very similar feeling about Edwards.
  • Al Gore - The former Vice President will win the Oscar, of course, but that wont be enough to push him into the race. We'll see if winning the Nobel Peace Prize is enough to make him take on Hilary. If he enters the race he will be the Anti-Hilary candidate that the disaffecteds will rally to, and if enough others drop out of the race, he has a real chance.
There it is. Let's see how I do.


Bush Gave the Norks Nukes, pt II

(Pt. 1 here) File this under Unbelievable:

"From our investigations it is apparent that ... the Bank did not introduce counterfeit U.S. currency notes into circulation," the Ernst & Young audit said, noting that large cash deposits from North Korea were routinely screened for counterfeits by the Hong Kong branch of an unidentified bank with U.S. operations.

The audit's conclusions about the laundering of counterfeit currency are significant because they cast doubt on Bush administration claims that North Korea has engaged in state-sponsored counterfeiting and introducing these fake bills via Banco Delta.

What's the most important national security goal America has? To stifle the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a bulwark against the day when a bomb will go off in one of our cities. Well, in this case we had come to an agreement for exactly that - the much ballyhooed September 19 2005 Agreement, wherein the North Koreans would return to the requirements of the Non Proliferation Treaty. The day after announcing that agreement, a different division of the US Government accused the North Koreans of counterfeiting billions of dollars and being a "criminal state." They froze the Nork's international accounts - quite the blow for an already poverty-stricken nation - driving the Norks from the agreement, and guaranteeing that this "terrorist madman" acquire a half-dozen nuclear weapons.

That, of course, is the charitable interpretation. There's an increasing chance that this counterfeited blow-up was manufactured for the express purpose of derailing progress, as part of a "spread the chaos" grand strategy. This cynicism is supported by the fact that this is an exact repeat of the uranium enrichment fabrication that destroyed Clinton's Agreed Framework in the first place. The failure of Bush's policy could not be more clearly demonstrated. It begins to amount to a dereliction.

Fox News Viewers Least Informed

A Pew study has found that Fox News viewers are amongst the worst informed participants in our democracy, ranking above only the tabloid shows. That's gotta hurt the old Fair and Balanced pride. Or perhaps they view it as an achievement?

There is a thing called truth, but Fox News provides the necessary informational infrastructure to live in fantasy land. Thank heavens occasionally someone with the credibility of Pew comes along to quantify that distortion.

Sadr Pulls Cabinet Ministers

Moqtada is causing more trouble. As of today, he's pulled his six cabinet ministers out of the government. So much for a government of national unity, eh?

This has happened before, and almost certainly wont topple the government, but once again we see that the troop surge, while not decreasing violence around the country (and hardly in the capital), has succeeded in exacerbating the instability and thereby hampering necessary political progress.

Speaking of political progress, Fox News Sunday (video) provided a nice litany of promised political acts of reconciliation that have yet to come to pass:
  • No Oil Revenue Sharing Law - this would prevent the Sunnis from feeling like they will share in the riches, thereby decreasing the motivation to blow yourself up.
  • No DeBaathification Reconciliation - re enfranchising the thousands of Iraqis that were only in the Baath Party out of political necessity, once again decreasing the support base for the insurgency
  • No Local Elections Set - Local control, as the Constitution guarantees, will give a larger set of people a stake in maintaining stability
  • No Amended Constitution - the only reason the Sunnis agreed to ratify the Constitution was the assurance (from our Ambassador, no less) that the Constitution would be modified to address their concerns.
Despite all the talk of "political progress" that Iraq is making (to make up for the lack of "security progress"), I can't seem to find any since the formation of the national unity government after the last set of elections. Where are the results? The Maliki government seems to constantly confirm that they are not interested in making the hard decisions and concessions necessary to achieve a peace, and they don't feel required to make those concessions because they know that the American military is propping up the government while literally protecting their hides.

Perhaps using the Democratic Congress's anti-war stance as a threat could get them in gear?


Sadr's Effect

I noted recently that Moqtada Al Sadr has begun calling for active resistance to push us occupiers out of Iraq. I wonder if he's had an effect?

The angry crowd chanted "Betrayers," in between outbursts of "Muqtada, Muqtada," invoking the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

A mob of about 200 mostly al-Sadr loyalists marched toward the heavily protected provincial council building, known as the "Karbala Green Zone," and hurled rocks at it before the Iraqi Army intervened to stop the crowd.


As police and ambulances approached to carry away victims, angry residents shot at them, witnesses said. The police responded, firing bullets into the air to dissipate the angry crowd. As the bullets rained down, a child and elderly man were killed, witnesses said.

200 in Karbala? Color me unimpressed.

Oh wait:

Wrapped in the Iraqi flag and chanting anti-American slogans, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shia snaked into the holy city of Najaf yesterday for a protest rally to mark the fourth anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein and to demand the ejection from Iraq of US and British troops.

The march was a show of strength by the powerful Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who had called for a peaceful mass protest to express opposition to "Iraq's occupiers". Ali Hussein, a member of Mr Sadr's al-Mahdi militia from Baghdad, said that about 1m-1.5 million supporters of Mr Sadr had taken part, though police estimates gave a figure of less than a million.

That's more like what I was expecting. Let's hope these people don't decide to cut our supply lines through the Shia south. That would be one of the few terrible things that are possible that haven't happened yet.

Incidentally, who, exactly, do the locals blame for the increasing violence outside of Baghdad?

Aqeel al-Khazaali, the governor of Karbala, blamed the Baghdad Security Plan for the attack inside the relatively safe southern city. Karbala is about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

"The Baghdad crackdown and the tribes in Ramadi are forcing the terrorists to leave their cities," he said. "Now Karbala is under fire from terrorists, and the central government has to take the necessary steps to help us to protect the holy city."

That's right. They blame the American Surge.

Finally, the incident I find the most troubling, via Greenwald:

In Diwaniya, in the south, where American and Iraqi forces have been clashing for more than a week with militiamen loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, American soldiers prevented Mr. Sadr’s followers from gathering and praying at a mosque dedicated to Imam Ali, an important figure in Shiism.

The militiamen then went to pray at the Sadr group's office, where Americans arrested three men, including the main spokesman. Mr. Sadr's supporters blocked the American vehicles from leaving, and the Americans released the three men, witnesses said.

Now that's trouble. This is exactly the sort of thing that made the American forces avoid conflict with Sadr - he's just too big to tackle. The specifics of the provocation don't even seem to matter. Whether Sadr is wanted for murder, ordering his army to attack American soldiers, or even kidnapping and holding an American soldier, there doesn't seem to be anything he can do that will create a meaningful penalty. His continued prominence dooms any concept of victory in Iraq.


Final Word on Pelosi in Syria

The outrage surrounding Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria really began with her conveyed "message of calm" from Israel. Here's the piece in Haaretz, before the controversy began:
The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus today, and will deliver a message of calm from Israel.

"We hope the message will be understood," political sources in Israel said yesterday. "The question is whether Assad is looking for an excuse ... so that he can carry out an attack against Israel in the summer, or whether this is a mistaken assessment."

Pelosi visited Israel yesterday and told her Israeli interlocutors that the country must speak with Assad and that the door should not be closed to Syria, even though she is aware that Syria supports terrorism and continued cooperation with Iran.

So, government sources in Israel confirmed to their most high-brow paper that Pelosi was delivering a message designed to avert an armed confrontation with Syria. The contrast that action struck with the Bush Administration's policies had to have them worried. She was speaking to America's enemies, which, of course, is a big shock. She presented the current tough message of America's foreign policy - identical to the Bush Administration's minus the silent treatment - proving that talking to your enemies does not unduly reward them. Most strikingly, it was an American government official tangibly working for peace. Unprecedented! Here was a member of the Democratic Party enacting one of the Baker Commission's recommendations, taking affirmative action to improve our national security by acting to stabilize the middle east, while the Bush Administration knows only war and chaos. The contrast was anything but flattering, so of course the White House felt the need to hit back.

They hit back by accusing the Speaker of the House of bungling a simple "message of calm." But:

If that was the case, why did Olmert need to make a clarification, as Israelis were not speaking on the record. Lantos suggested there was pressure from the White House.

"It's obvious the White House is desperate to find some phony criticism of the speaker's trip, even though it was a bipartisan trip," said Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who is considered the Democrat closest to the pro-Israel lobby. "I have nothing but contempt and disdain for the attempt to undermine this trip."

The White House had no comment on the allegations by Lantos that it pressured Olmert to offer a clarification.

Such backdoor statecraft between the White House and Olmert would not be unprecedented.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked Olmert into a 48-hour cease-fire during the war with Hezbollah to allow humanitarian relief, but within hours Israeli planes were bombing again, to Rice's surprise and anger. Olmert had received a call, apparently from Cheney's office, telling him to ignore Rice.

She was doing good in the world, so they just had to create a controversy.

Postscript: No, Pelosi is not taking a trip to Iran, and never was. Despite her direct refutations,
the right-wing media continues to report it as fact. Another zombie lie is born.


Remember that one of the "encouraging signs" of this latest troop surge was that Moqtada Al Sadr's militia, the Mehdi Army, was not stepping up to the fight, but rather receding into the slums and allowing our soldiers to do their work without resistance. Admittedly, I never saw this as particularly good news, since a "temporary troop surge" doubly implies that our guys were going to be gone soon enough - an example of the all-dreaded "announcing your plan to the enemy" so that they "lay low and don't fight until we're gone." Because Bush's goal is an Iraq thats stable after we're gone, I never saw how leaving one of the single largest sources of instability unaddressed could possibly be a good thing.

Well, I'm not sure I like the alternative any better. Sadr is now calling for active resistance.
BAGHDAD -- Calling the United States the "great evil," powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr on Sunday ordered his militiamen to redouble their effort to oppose American troops and argued that Iraq's army and police force should join him in defeating "your archenemy."

The cleric's verbal assault came as the U.S. military announced that 10 American soldiers were killed over the weekend, including six Sunday in attacks north and south of Baghdad. At least 69 Iraqis also were killed or found dead across Iraq.
To quote Saddam's state-sanctioned executioners: "MOQTADA! MOQTADA! MOQTADA!"


Cheney a Liar. (not exactly a headline, I know)

I have the good fortune to hear most of Cheney's impromptu Rush concerts live, so I get to laugh at his lies in realtime. Man, did he tell a series of doozies today (transcript via TPMMuckraker):
..remember Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist, al Qaeda affiliate; ran a training camp in Afghanistan for al Qaeda(1), then migrated -- after we went into Afghanistan and shut him down there, he went to Baghdad, took up residence there (2) before we ever launched into Iraq; organized the al Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene (3), and then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June.... This is al Qaeda operating in Iraq. And as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq (4).
As I drove I raged at the radio: 1) Zarqawi wasn't in Afghanistan before Iraq, nor was he a member of Al Qaeda. 2) Zarqawi wasn't in Baghdad before the invasion, but in the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. 3) Zarqawi created Al Qaeda in Iraq many months after the invasion. 4) How many times do we have to kill the Iraq-Al Qaeda-link lie before it dies?!

Luckily, it turns out that on the same day, we received yet another report conclusively demolishing the pre-war ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Granted, Al Qaeda is in Iraq now, but that's only because we invited them in with our stupidity. Al Qaeda safe-havens + 1, courtesy of George Bush.

From the report, for the record:
Captured Iraqi documents and intelligence interrogations of Saddam Hussein and two former aides "all confirmed" that Hussein's regime was not directly cooperating with al-Qaeda before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a declassified Defense Department report released yesterday.

The declassified version of the report, by acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble, also contains new details about the intelligence community's prewar consensus that the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda figures had only limited contacts, and about its judgments that reports of deeper links were based on dubious or unconfirmed information. The report had been released in summary form in February.

The report's release came on the same day that Vice President Cheney, appearing on Rush Limbaugh's radio program, repeated his allegation that al-Qaeda was operating inside Iraq "before we ever launched" the war, under the direction of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist killed last June.

"This is al-Qaeda operating in Iraq," Cheney told Limbaugh's listeners about Zarqawi, who he said had "led the charge for Iraq." Cheney cited the alleged history to illustrate his argument that withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq would "play right into the hands of al-Qaeda."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), who requested the report's declassification, said in a written statement that the complete text demonstrates more fully why the inspector general concluded that a key Pentagon office -- run by then-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith -- had inappropriately written intelligence assessments before the March 2003 invasion alleging connections between al-Qaeda and Iraq that the U.S. intelligence consensus disputed.

The report, in a passage previously marked secret, said Feith's office had asserted in a briefing given to Cheney's chief of staff in September 2002 that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda was "mature" and "symbiotic," marked by shared interests and evidenced by cooperation across 10 categories, including training, financing and logistics.

Instead, the report said, the CIA had concluded in June 2002 that there were few substantiated contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and Iraqi officials and had said that it lacked evidence of a long-term relationship like the ones Iraq had forged with other terrorist groups.

Will this report be the end of the VPs lying on this issue? Don't hold your breath.


O'Reilly Blows a Fuse

Whoa! Somebody has gotten under O'Reilly's skin in a big way. Here's Video of him going off in a way you rarely see on TV, and, of all people, his target is Geraldo! Poor Geraldo literally begs for reprieve a couple of times before the end of the bloodbath, but he gets the better of Bill-O in the end.

Another Convention Overthrown

The Attack Ad that the Republicans are running against one of the Republican District Attorneys - a man who is now a private citizen, not running for anything or even selling any books. Still, they're using campaign money to attack him.

Here's the audio of that 60 second spot.

The ferocity of that attack lets us know exactly which of the prosecutors they fear the most.

What's wrong with the people that run our government? In the past we didn't need to worry about the conventions of our government being used to subvert the Republic.

Not Even Trying to Obfuscate the Hostage Swap

For those of you playing along at home, it looks like we have a winner in the Hostage-Swap game. It turns out America released an Iranian Diplomat a mere 18 hours before the British sailors were freed:

The Iranian diplomat released Tuesday preceding the announcement that Iran would free the 15 British sailors it had taken hostage was being held in a joint Iraqi and American facility, and was released in part because of a decision at the highest levels of the American government.

The decision to release Jalal Sharafi on Tuesday was made at the White House, according to an administration official who asked to be anonymous because of the sensitivity of the information. The release took place over the objections of some commanders in the field.

And this from the reliably right-wing Sun:
On Tuesday Iraq and America freed an Iranian "diplomat" they had been holding, and the next day Iran turned around and announced it would release the 15 royal marines it had been holding hostage. Whether there was a connection was the question on everyone's mind yesterday. Ann Compton of ABC News put it directly to Vice President Cheney in an interview touching on the royal marines. "Do you think there was any quid pro quo for their release?" she asked. "I don't know," Mr. Cheney responded. It was an interesting response, given that Mr. Cheney presumably has access to a lot of information about this sort of thing and that if he had wanted to deny flatly that there had been a quid pro quo, he could have answered, "no."
"I don't know." Right. Iran played us to the hilt, forcing the release of their man from Iraq. It's quite the stunning victory for our enemies. That Iraq War still looks like a good idea to you, doesn't it, neocons?

And, since I have the opportunity, I have to take it:

What a terrible thing to have to celebrate about.