Video: Anti-Mortar Point Defense

Feast your eyes on this:

That's a thing of beauty. Of course, give the bad guys three launchers and their rounds will still get through. Still, though, this sort of thing might make life in the Greenzone a little more hospitable.

Valerie Plame Was Covert

Surprise, Surprise!

Of course, this has been a known fact for quite some time, despite the constant lies about it from the right wing media.

GIs Want Out

We hear so much about the resolve of the troops to complete this flawed mission, regardless of the difficulties imposed upon them by the stultifying incompetence of their leaders. Well, rather than trusting John McCain to give us the now deprecated straight talk, let's hear from them directly, shall we? The first two sentences from this Sergeant smack of the old sentiment: "1, 2, 3, What are we fighting for?..."
...on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this past February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber's body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

"I thought, 'What are we doing here? Why are we still here?' " said (Staff Sergeant David) Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. "We're helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us."

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers - the younger, more recent enlistees in particular - seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

With few reliable surveys of soldiers' attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in Delta Company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop
Why are we still there, indeed, David. The very problems we seek to address are exacerbated by the aid we give. When we train the mostly Shiite police and army to quell the sectarian violence, we are arming militiamen who carry out attacks on Sunnis and our soldiers. Now that we are arming the Sunni insurgents to attack Al Qaeda, we're once again putting arms into the hands of our enemies. And even if these tactics worked at stabilizing the country, we've still vastly magnified Iran's power in the region and globally by giving it such a powerful proxy in Iraq. For those who doubt Iran's influence: Iraq's government will always be Shiite dominated, and where do you think those Shiite politicos went during the bad years of exile while Iraq was ruled by Saddam? That's right. The Dawa Party has its offices in Tehran.

We have only the faintest glimmer of hope for an outcome we could cynically call success in Iraq, and even that success looks an awful lot like failure. Staying in Iraq damages our national interests across the board, with the critical blows coming to our security. Leaving Iraq, despite the ongoing escalation from blood-puddle to blood-bath to blood-fountain it would sustain, is the course that makes America the safest. Once we are out of Iraq, we can move on to a decades-long project I can support - refinishing America's image in the world.

(h/t C&L)


Cancer and Vitamin D

Another amazing bit of science to improve our lives:
The trial involv[ed] 1,200 women, and found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn't take it, a drop so large — twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking — it almost looks like a typographical error. And in an era of pricey medical advances, the reduction seems even more remarkable because it was achieved with an over-the-counter supplement costing pennies a day. One of the researchers who made the discovery, professor of medicine Robert Heaney of Creighton University in Nebraska, says vitamin D deficiency is showing up in so many illnesses besides cancer that nearly all disease figures in Canada and the U.S. will need to be re-evaluated. 'We don't really know what the status of chronic disease is in the North American population,' he said, 'until we normalize vitamin D status.'"
That's a substantial breakthrough, if further study supports the conclusion.


Short Answers

Atrios wonders:
I'm fascinated by this 72% wrong track number. I'd like to understand it more. I'm not sure I have sense of the basic reasons why so many people think things are going to hell. We can all come up with various possibilities, and there won't be one single answer, but I still think there's probably a coherent narrative to be teased out. I'm just not sure what it is.
Answer: Immigration. This poll was taken during May 18-23, and the immigration deal was announced on the 17th. This is the summary of the story at FoxNews:
A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers and the White House struck an immigration reform deal Thursday that would grant legal status to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the United States ...
That's amnesty, right in the first sentence.

I think the reason behind the spike to 72% is as clear as day. We already had a high wrongtrack number before immigration, so only diehard Republicans - disproportionately Fox views according to a recent study - still believed the country was on the right track. Then the immigration deal hits, socking the Fox News viewing, talk-radio listening base right in the ragerocks. If you had been listening to talk radio, Atrios, you wouldn't have to wonder why the Wrongtrack number spiked.

Greenwald on Muslims

If you've turned on Fox News in the last couple of days, you'll no doubt have heard of a new report detailing the permissive attitude American Muslims have for attacking innocent civilians. To those engaged in a climactic struggle against Islamofascism, this serves as further evidence that they are on the side of pure white goodness, whereas the dirty ragheads engage in the most deprived barbarism imaginable. Furthermore, it simultaneously reminds them that non-white immigrants are really scary, which is an important impression to keep fresh.

Certainly, a poll of Americans would bare that opinion out, right?

First, the numbers for the dirty Muslims:

Followed by the results for America, which will no doubt be reflect a greater respect of human life:


The percentage of Americans who feel it is acceptable to intentionally target civilians (a higher standard, even, than the one that caused the uproar on the right) is more than twice that of Muslim countries. We are twice as bloodthirsty and barbaric, by the right's own metric.

Time to open internment camps for us dangerous whiteys.

More Babies

Want a treat? Here's a pair of wackos opposing birth control on Fox News because it allows women to have an active sex life without fear of pregnancy! Shocker!

To all appearances, the right's motivation on these issues is that they want to control when women have sex. Men can copulate all they want, thanks to that millenia-old foundational tradition of primogeniture. Illegitimate children are not our concern! And if a single woman gets pregnant, a pox on the bastard child and the whoreslut of a mother. Men gratify their pleasure, while women bear the price.

I'm writing this as I watch it, and man, this woman, in particular, is, without a doubt, a wacko. (Where would you go for your daily dose of vitamin-comma without me?) Wow. The video ends with cross-talk and this wacko yelling, "More Babies. Babies. More Babies. We want more babies. Babies." That's creepy.


Fly Paper isn't Important

Atrios picks out this internal contradiction in the President's position on the Iraq War.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You say you want nothing short of victory, that leaving Iraq would be catastrophic; you once again mentioned al Qaeda. Does that mean that you are willing to leave American troops there, no matter what the Iraqi government does? I know this is a question we've asked before, but you can begin it with a "yes" or "no."

THE PRESIDENT: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It's their government's choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.
Iraq is the battle that will determine our future security. We must win in Iraq, because terrorists want to kill your wife and children. We must not leave Iraq, because those terrorists will follow us home. But if the Iraqi government tells us to leave, we'll go home and wait for the scimitar to fall. It all makes perfect sense.

The answer to the contradiction is not that we are lying about leaving Iraq if asked, but rather that we are lying about the threat our leaving poses to America. If this were actually a seminal battle of good versus evil we would have an actual national effort to assure our victory. With the way we have and continue to fight this war, it simply can't be as important as they say, since the cost of victory is only as high as "please continue shopping."


Department of the Obvious: Iraq War Good for Al Qaeda

That's right. Here is yet another illustration of that obvious fact:

U.S. officials said that Al Qaeda's command base in Pakistan increasingly is being funded by cash coming out of Iraq, where the terrorist network's operatives are raising substantial sums from donations to the anti-American insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activity.

The influx of money has bolstered Al Qaeda's leadership ranks at a time when the core command is regrouping and reasserting influence over its far-flung network.

....Little more than a year ago, Al Qaeda's core command was thought to be in a financial crunch. But U.S. officials said cash shipped from Iraq has eased those troubles. "Iraq is a big moneymaker for them," said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official.

We took money and resources from the effort to capture or kill bin Laden and his cohorts in order to create a fun-filled terrorist training and financing bonanza in Iraq, and we're surprised it's helping Al Qaeda? These outcomes were frighteningly likely before the war began, and we blundered in anyway. For what? There was not a single justification for the war that was still operative when the war began. We went to war because we wanted to go to war, the prototypical act of aggression.

Before September 11th, the world was different, and leaders could be forgiven their policies that helped lead to the attack. Now, everyone knows where the blame lies.


Life on Other Planets

Bam, baby.
For the first time, astronomers have discovered a planet far, far away that might be similar to Earth. This distant world, which pirouettes around a dim bulb of a star with the unglamorous name Gliese 581, may possibly sport a landscape that would be vaguely familiar to us - a panorama of liquid oceans and drifting continents. If so, there's the chance that it's a home to life - perhaps even advanced life.
If there isn't life on this planet now, there will be in a billion years. A few billion more and we'll be able to talk to them. I hope I'm still around.


Answers to Global Warming Denial

A compendium of responses to arguments against global warming is something I've been thinking about producing for a while. Seeing the New Scientist do the work so I don't have to made me sigh contentedness. Satisfying.

Human CO2 emissions are too tiny to matter

We can't do anything about climate change

The 'hockey stick' graph has been proven wrong

Chaotic systems are not predictable

We can't trust computer models of climate

They predicted global cooling in the 1970s

It's been far warmer in the past, what's the big deal?

It's too cold where I live - warming will be great

Global warming is down to the Sun, not humans

It’s all down to cosmic rays

CO2 isn't the most important greenhouse gas

The lower atmosphere is cooling, not warming

Antarctica is getting cooler, not warmer, disproving global warming

The oceans are cooling

The cooling after 1940 shows CO2 does not cause warming

It was warmer during the Medieval period, with vineyards in England

We are simply recovering from the Little Ice Age

Warming will cause an ice age in Europe

Ice cores show CO2 increases lag behind temperature rises, disproving the link to global warming

Ice cores show CO2 rising as temperatures fell

Mars and Pluto are warming too

Many leading scientists question climate change

It's all a conspiracy

Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming

Higher CO2 levels will boost plant growth and food production

Polar bear numbers are increasing

What do you have to say about that, Global Warming deniers?

GOP Primary First to Jump Ugly

Oh, smack. McCain shows more of his desperation by mercilessly mocking the poor varmint-shooting flip-flopper, Mitt Romney.

For the establishment GOP candidate - the long foreseen frontrunner - to be sinking to such attacks is truly surprising. Anyone but McCain would be well on his procession to coronation with the Republican nomination.


FoxNews GOP Debate Observations

The largest applause lines of the night all seemed to consist of hearty endorsements of our country's "Enhanced Interogation Techniques," even going so far as to long for the fictional Jack Bauer in Brit Hume's hypothetical hour of need. To hear the party of moral values advocating torture so enthusiastically, like the crowd at a dog fight, should cause significantly more cognitive dissonance in me than it does. Instead, the supression of human (or even Christian) decency for political expediency seems like par for the course within the Republican Party.

Also, I still can't get over Fox allowing applause. "You gotta be kidding me" was my first reaction. I liked it even less as the applause did exactly what it was intended too - create a cliquish popularity contest designed to completely marginalize any idea even slightly outside the Republican mainstream. It is a silent means of controlling the content of the debate - far more effective than outright censorship.


Hagel-Bloomberg '08

Calling all Democrats! Donate to Hagel and encourage a third party run! He's on the brink, with just a little push needed to get him to jump. Actually, given the way he ends this interview (video), I think he's planning it already. He concludes by offering an absolutely glowing endorsement of Bloomberg - the type of endorsement normally reserved for children of adoring grandparents or running mates - and then wistfully comments that it would be an amazing thing if a boy from Nebraska and a big city mayor could get together for the betterment of the country.

Hagel-Bloomberg '08, baby! Believe me. He lays it on that thickly.

From Hagel's naturally independent and yet Republican perspective, this is the perfect time to torpedo the electoral chances of his party in order to serve a greater good - that of incubating credible third party politics in this country. The Republicans overwhelmingly think they're going to lose anyway, so scuttling the effort further with a Republican independent ticket doesn't look like much of a betrayal.

So, fortunately for America, this will guarantee a Democratic victory in '08, which means that we will finally begin addressing the largest threats to America. Unfortunately for political junkies like me, however, this sucks almost all the fun out of the process, since the conclusion is foregone. Oh well. I'll take that trade.

Boxer's Boxing

Here is an excellent example of Senator Boxer beating poor Senator Graham silly after he says Reid believes the troops are losers (video). More like this, please.

BOXER: I don't know anyone who opposes this war that ever said our troops are losers. Our troopers are winners.

GRAHAM: Harry Reid did.

BOXER: Excuse me. He never said our troops are losers. Now, Lindsey, just be careful what you say. The bottom line here is, the losers are the ones who have, you know, engineered this war, made a huge mistake, Dick Cheney, we're in the last throes, the war will last six months, and all of you who have supported this escalation and have turned us away from fighting al Qaida into putting us in the middle of a civil war.

BOXER: "The loser is the Commander in Chief who has not lead our country well."

Watch the segment. It's a thing of beauty.

Interestingly, watch Lindsey carefully in the seconds after he steps in it. He can see what he's done. Look at that hard swallow and fidgeting. That's not the normal Graham we know so well. He knows he's crossed a line, given the Boxer the perfect pitch, and all he can do is sit and watch as she creams it out of the park. This is the sort of response all Democrats need to have on the tips of their tongues when Republicans try to slap us around. Hitting back carries a much weightier message than the English alone would imply.


Iraqi Oil Law DOA

It has not even reached parliament, but the oil law that U.S. officials call vital to ending Iraq's civil war is in serious trouble among Iraqi lawmakers, many of whom see it as a sloppy document rushed forward to satisfy Washington's clock.

Opposition ranges from vehement to measured, but two things are clear: The May deadline that the White House had been banking on is in doubt. And even if the law is passed, it fails to resolve key issues, including how to divide Iraq's oil revenue among its Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni regions, and how much foreign investment to allow. Those questions would be put off for future debates.

The problems of the oil bill bode poorly for the other so-called benchmarks that the Bush administration has been pressuring Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government to meet. Those include provincial elections, reversing a prohibition against former Baath Party members holding government and military positions and revision of Iraq's constitution.
This is the Hydrocarbon Law that was so ballyhooed a few weeks ago, even though it had only made it through an executive committee and not the Parliament. It was hailed as a breakthrough achievement, since oil redistribution is one of the key political concessions necessary if we are ever to achieve anything we can even dishonestly call "victory in Iraq." Now even the hope of saving face is slipping away.

Things can get worse in Iraq.



Remember the farmer family that Rudy's campaign snubbed because they weren't rich enough to demagogue the inheritance tax? You knew it would only be a matter of time before he got hit on the issue, and McCain is the one taking the swing:
Senator John McCain put in a personal call today to an Iowa woman that was
snubbed by Rudy Giuliani's campaign, asking to meet with her and apologizing to
her on "behalf of all politicians," the woman told me this evening.

"John McCain personally called me -- today, this afternoon," the woman, Deb
VonSprecken, told me. "Wow. He said, `I want to come and meet you.'"


In his call to Deb, McCain apologized to her on the Rudy campaign's behalf and asked if he could come see her, the woman says. "He apologized on behalf of all politicians," she told me. "He just apologized in general. He was really sweet. I recognized his voice from TV. He was very, very polite, funny."

In asking to come visit with her, "He started teasing me and saying, `We're doing a security check. I'm homing in on satellite,'" Deb tells me. "I said, `No, no, don't do it.' We were laughing. It was incredibly nice."

McCain, that old charmer! Shameless flirt!

If McCain, the normally preordained GOP establishment candidate, feels the need to stoop to shots like this, you know the GOP nomination process is a mess compared to the orderly procession to coronation we normally see from the authoritarian party. If he can get this attack media play, maybe it will even buoy his campaign by sinking Giuliani's.


Gibbons Typecast

Ahhh, my old foe, Jim Gibbons, Governor of Nevada and scandal magnet. Smart, Jim. Real smart:
Then-Congressman Jim Gibbons, seated, toasts with Dennis Montgomery during a March 2005 cruise. Montgomery has now accused Gibbons of accepting cash on the trip.
It's like he thinks he's obligated to get in trouble.

I can't believe we lost to that man out in Nevada. Then again, I sort of came to this politics thing only in the middle of an era of Republican domination, so being on the losing side of at least one election builds my cred in the party. Ha!

NSA Program Criminalized - Again!

The Democratic House of Representatives have passed an entirely redundant bill, and yet I applaud them for it:
As the Senate Report noted, FISA "was designed . . . to curb the practice by which the Executive Branch may conduct warrantless electronic surveillance on its own unilateral determination that national security justifies it." The Bill ends plans by the Bush Administration that would give the NSA the freedom to pry into the lives of ordinary Americans. The ACLU noted that, despite many recent hearings about 'modernization' and 'technology neutrality,' the administration has not publicly provided Congress with a single example of how current FISA standards have either prevented the intelligence community from using new technologies, or proven unworkable for the agents tasked with following them.
Of course, the program was already illegal, as FISA was already the sole governing statute on the wiretapping of American's electronic communications. All this bill does is say, in effect, "Yes, when we passed FISA by a vote of 95-1, we really did mean it. We weren't just making a suggestion. It wasn't idle chitchat. It was, and is law. Follow it."

High Crimes from Powell's Chief of Staff

Colonel Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, has bammed up the rhetoric a notch, saying that Bush has committed high crimes by taking us to war with Iraq for specious reasons. You can listen to the audio of the interview here.

That's a died-in-the-wool military Republican calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.

I doubt impeachment will happen, since installing Nancy Pelosi as the President of the United States would, shall we say, challenge the optics. Despite impeachment's improbability, it is called for. This President broke the law for years with the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, and there must be accountability. Despite the overwhelming circumstantial evidence, it's hard to put together an airtight case on the WMD issue, but the NSA program is a lock. Violating this law is a felony, and they've admitted to the crime. If we are to preserve the Republic, the rule of law must be preserved.


Reasons for Blogging

The incomparable Firedoglake offers advice on how to build a successful blog.

Excellent advice, I'm sure. However, I'm not interested in those goals. I do this for other reasons. My drive is mostly bound up in a pure enjoyment I have for the writing itself, and the homologous desire to improve the skill. Really, at the heart of it is my delight in using my brain for thinking about tangly things, because it's fun, I'm good at it, and this way I get to put my money where my mouth is with predictions and the like. Of course, I also enjoy being part of the movement, and translating these intellectual gymnastics into real world change - mostly through voter registration. What I am not looking for is to turn this blog into my job, or even any form of revenue source. That would tie me down to a regular update schedule, and my life is too incredible for something like that.

As you may notice, none of those goals necessitate self-identification, hence the anonymity. Keep it that way. :)

Rudy the Farmer Hater.

Rudy's campaign has been caught in what would be a career ending gaff for a Democrat:
Last weekend Deb and Jerry VonSprecken of Olin received a call from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign office asking them if they would be interested in holding a campaign rally on May 4, after she had donated to his campaign.

“We thought it would be an honor and agreed,” said Jerry.

Because I'm citing it, you know it doesn't end well. You should read it yourself, but I'll give away the punchline: the farmers were too poor to warrant a visit.

Incidentally, they shouldn't have been surprised that this farmer's family wouldn't be covered by the Inheritance Tax, since almost zero privately owned farms are large enough to incur the tax. It really is a tax only on the very-wealthy.

Romney Gave to Planned Parenthood too!

Oh dear!
Former governor Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, gave a $150 donation to the abortion-rights group Planned Parenthood in 1994, at a time that Romney considered himself to be effectively "pro-choice," the Romney campaign confirmed today. Campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said Mrs. Romney has no recollection of the circumstances under which she donated the money…read on
Wow. That'll be a stumbling block. Remember that this is occurring just a week after Giuliani decided to fully embrace his pro-choice position because of donations to the same group The rain just keeps falling for the Republicans.

Hello Fred Thompson.

Cheney the Enforcer

11 House Republicans met privately with President Bush recently to make it clear that their support for the Iraq War would not last forever. It was reportedly a "frank" discussion, which sounds to me like Bush got an earful, and it represents a seachange in how Republicans are dealing with the President on this war. At the end of the surprising report comes confirmation that Cheney has been sent to Iraq to bring the pain:
One congressman said, “How can our sons and daughters spill their blood while the Iraqi government goes on vacation?” The president responded, “The vice president is over there to tell them, do not go on vacation.”
How can our boys die while they go on vacation?

Iraqi Government Wants Us Out

Things like this have been happening in the Iraqi government for a while now:

On Tuesday, without note in the U.S. media, more than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected the continuing occupation of their country. 144 lawmakers signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, according to Nassar Al-Rubaie, a spokesman for the Al Sadr movement, the nationalist Shia group that sponsored the petition.

It's a hugely significant development. Lawmakers demanding an end to the occupation now have the upper hand in the Iraqi legislature for the first time; previous attempts at a similar resolution fell just short of the 138 votes needed to pass (there are 275 members of the Iraqi parliament, but many have fled the country's civil conflict, and at times it's been difficult to arrive at a quorum)....

We have said again and again that we are in Iraq with the consent of the sovereign government, and that if the Iraqis asked us to leave, we would gladly show ourselves the door. The momentum is very much in the wrong direction on that score, and if they give us any reason to claim the defeat there wasn't our fault, I expect us to jump at the opportunity.


Vacations Bring the Cheney

Remember the Iraqi government's planned vacation that has been causing so much anger back here in the States? Well, I nearly called it by saying we would have to send an enforcer to make an offer they couldn't refuse. If only I had guessed it would be the scariest guy in the Administration, Dick Cheney.
Vice President Dick Cheney’s surprise trip to Baghdad today was meant to deliver a tough message to the Iraqi government – put off your vacation plans and get back to work.

U.S. officials have been livid since discovering that Iraq’s fledgling parliament – hardly a hive of activity in the first place – was planning to take a two-month summer recess, postponing work on a bill spelling out how oil money would be shared among Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups or a law authorizing new regional elections.

Bam. Now let's see just how seriously this government takes its sovereignty.

Optimal Babyfication

My God!
The time of year a woman conceives may influence the future academic performance of her child, according to research reported this week at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting.

When researchers linked standardized test scores of 1,667,391 Indiana students in grades 3 through 10 with the month in which each student had been conceived, they found that children conceived May through August scored significantly lower on math and language tests than children conceived during other months of the year.

The correlation between test scores and conception season held regardless of race, gender, and grade level.

I'm keeping this one in mind. That's some useful science, right there. No babyfication in the summer!


The Excercise of Hegemony

The Sunnis seem to have finally realized what was always painfully obvious - so obvious, it doesn't remotely deserve an I Called It - that the Iraqi constitution is not going to be amended in any meaningful way. Guess what? They aren't happy.

Iraq's top Sunni official has set a deadline of next week for pulling his entire bloc out of the government....Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi made his comments in an interview with CNN. He said if key amendments to the Iraq Constitution are not made by May 15, he will step down and pull his 44 Sunni politicians out of the 275-member Iraqi parliament.

"If the constitution is not subject to major changes, definitely, I will tell my constituency frankly that I have made the mistake of my life when I put my endorsement to that national accord," he said.

Specifically, he wants guarantees in the constitution that the country won't be split into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish federal states that he says will disadvantage Sunnis.

Remember that this is following on the heels of the Sadr Block withdrawing their cabinet ministers. The Iraqi government, always full of holes, is now disintegrating as we watch.

This is the point where your Secretary of State goes to the Vice President, smacks him in the face as hard as possible without touching him and says something like, "Listen, Tariq. What happens if you pull out of the government? What governmental framework would be left, to allow you to achieve your goal of preventing the loose federalism that the Iraqi Constitution enables? If you pull out, the government falls, and guess what? The de facto segregation and sectarian tribalism that remains will be a loose federal system. Your goals are lost forever. You would be a failure.

"And let's not forget what happens to you and your parliament friends, Mr. Vice President. You are the ultimate government collaborators - working directly with the American occupation. You've shaken George W. Bush's hand, for God's sake! Amongst the Sunni population especially, I expect that will be a dangerous life.

"Of course, there's only one way to achieve your goals. Only the path of order and dialogue can keep the nation together enough to ensure you and yours make bank. If you pull out and the government falls to the point where it can't even maintain a facade of operation, then we're gone soon after, and your life gets real scary, real fast. So stop this bullshit."

Hopefully a verbal beating of that flavor would be enough to scare them back in line. Exercising those kinds of leverage are the wages of hegemony, and if we don't use them in this case, where we're told the nation's future security is substantially at stake, what's the point of having that power?

But the sad thing is that this move does make some sense for the Sunni. What guarantee do they have that after American forces are gone the payments from oil redistribution will continue? Hell, some Iraqis will no doubt say that the Shiite's have no incentive to continue them. As we knew would be the case, generosity and equanimity are not miraculously springing to bloom in a bed sown with chaos, death, and hundreds of years of religious and tribal hatred. Go figure, huh?

Maybe if we just stay for another six months, the core dynamics will magically change. I'll do my part by clapping as loudly as I can. I support the troops, after all.

Wanted: Commander in Chief

When we first heard about the possibility of hiring a War Czar you should have heard how they pooh-pooh'd it in the White House press briefings. "No decision has been made about creating a new position," they said repeatedly, which translates as "we're not sure we can find anyone to take the job."

Now that the White House is searching for a "war czar," it begs the question of who has been coordinating U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan the past four years.

A team of West Wing players led by national security adviser Stephen Hadley has tried to keep turf-conscious agencies marching in the same direction on military, political and reconstruction fronts. A few Bush aides say privately, however, that the White House probably should have recruited someone to oversee the war effort a year ago.

Critics say the administration's job of coordinating the war has never gone smooth enough or fast enough. And now two key members of the White House team focused on the war are leaving.

"The problem is not broad strategy and policy, it's that the bureaucracy is so inefficient and there's been so little follow-up that the machine doesn't work," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said. He believes red tape in Washington is the biggest obstacle to winning in Iraq.

Ahhh, Newt Gingrich. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, the Big-Ideas-Man of the Republican Party is savvy enough to understand that the real problem in Iraq is not a centuries old sectarian war, but filling out forms in triplicate. Reshuffling our bureaucracy is his grand plan for salvaging Iraq, yet he's seen as an intellectual giant that could swoop in and save the party from the likes of serial wafflers like Romney and Giuliani. Woe betide the Republicans if this benighted pablum spewer is their last best hope.

As for the substance of the War Czar position, the response is obvious: don't we already have a Commander in Chief? I think I have heard that we do. Perhaps he has the authority to cut through that bastard red-tape that Gingrich thinks is detonating EFPs in Baghdad? Or, if the President is too busy (perhaps, like Osama, he doesn't like to "think too much" about the Iraq War), perhaps the Secretary of Defense has some power? Or the Joint Chiefs?

The reason they can't find a taker for this position is as plain as day. They can't blame Bush, Gates, the Joint Chiefs, or General Petreus for the ever darkening cloud of looming defeat, so they need a fall guy. This War Czar wont change the dynamic in the war from Washington, because if that were possible it would have happened by now. Despite the fact that this government misled us into a terrible war doesn't mean that they relish the continued loss of American lives, so if shuffling bureaucracies could solve this, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

I really can't imagine someone with a choice taking this job.


AACS hacked irevokably

AACS, the new encryption system designed by the movie industry to replace CSS in the new generation of high resolution DVDs, has already had one of its secret keys broken, despite the fact that there are barely any AACS-protected products yet on the market. This encryption key allows the No-Intellectual-Property types to make perfect copies of the new generation of DVDs. My response, as a cryptography guy myself, is "what took them so long?"

When the assault on AACS began, the first victory was won by the hackers who successfully extracted a secret hexadecimal key used to decrypt the movies inside the players into a viewable form. This, in itself, is not devastating, although it is an extremely expensive problem to fix. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) could simply revoke that one key from the keyspace and their problem is solved. Of course, all the HD-DVD players out in the world that use that key for decryption would not be able to play any movies factory-pressed from the date of revocation forward, and that's where the cost occurs. Annoying, yes. Devastating, no.

It is the nature of the attack used to discover that first secret key that makes this devastating. By inserting a modified chip into their player, they can observe the device's handshaking with the message and the invocation of the cryptosystem to verify and decrypt the video. From this chip they can obtain Volume IDs, from which they can derive an unlimited number of valid secret keys. According to the hackers (a most trustworthy group), the infrastructure they have in place cannot be destroyed without tearing the entire AACS encryption scheme to the ground and starting back from scratch. In the words of Elzar: "movie industry, Bam."

The funny thing is that I wouldn't be surprised if they had this hack completed months ago, when the announcement of it would have forestalled the rollout of this new technology. Instead, just as with the original DVD protection, CSS, they wait until the standards are all finalized and millions of players have shipped. At that point, there's really nothing to be done.

Interestingly, tying this back to governance, this little AACS episode represents a stunning victory against the utterly vacuous DMCA. Mass civil disobedience against dumb laws strikes me as a good thing. People have produced songs, T-shits, animated gifs, and heavily obfuscated programs containing these codes. You cannot suppress this speech, and it's pointless to try.


Success Finally Redefined!

We all know the redefined victory we're working towards in Iraq: "a country that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself." For quite some time it has been clear that this even this hollow, Iran-emboldening "victory" is beyond our reach. Well, today our President lowered the limbo bar a bit further:

Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed. And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down. Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that's what we're trying to achieve.

An "acceptable level of violence," indeed. I wonder, how many carbombs a week would we, as Americans, decide is "acceptable" to live with?

How long do you think we'll have to wait before a minimal and temporary decrease in violence renders a level declared "acceptable?" How many Americans will die in the interim?