Monday, December 31, 2007

Huckabee Excuses His Own NIE Blunder, "Bush is Worse"

The Quad City Times reports:
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee defended his failure to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in early December, joking in an interview Monday that President Bush didn’t read intelligence reports for four years.
Huckabee came under fire in early December when, in response to a reporter’s question about the Iran report, Huckabee said he wasn’t aware of it. Huckabee’s lack of familiarity with the National Intelligence Estimate — a report that showed Iran had discontinued its nuclear program — provided fuel for his critics who said he was a lightweight on foreign policy.

“The whole perception was based on an ambush question on the NIE report,” Huckabee said in an interview Monday with the Quad-City Times. “From there, it was like, ‘Wow.’ That was released at 10 o’clock in the morning. At 5:30 in the afternoon, somebody says, ‘Have you read the report?’ Maybe I should’ve said, ‘Have you read the report?’ President Bush didn’t read it for four years; I don’t know why I should read it in four hours.”

His comment about President Bush appears to be a reference to allegations made by Bush’s critics that Bush didn’t pay close enough attention to intelligence reports, particularly in the early years of his presidency.

When asked to clarify, Huckabee said this:

“The point I’m trying to make is that, on the campaign trail, nobody’s going to be able, if they’ve been campaigning as hard as we have been, to keep up with every single thing, from what happened to Britney last night to who won ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ ”

He said the campaign learned from the criticism related to the Iran report and now he gets regular briefings about developments in foreign policy.
On top of the briefings about Britney and 'Dancing with the Stars'.


The NIE had been out for 30 hours. Not only hadn't Huckabee read it, he didn't know what it was.

Why is this guy running?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

At The Crossroads of U.S. Foreign Policy in Pakistan

U.S. Strives to Keep Footing in Tangled Pakistan Situation - For the Bush administration, there is no Plan B for Pakistan.

The Washington Post reports:
The assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto dramatically altered Pakistani politics, forcing the largest opposition party to find new leadership on the eve of an election, jeopardizing a fragile transition to democracy, and leaving Washington even more dependent on the controversial President Pervez Musharraf as the lone pro-U.S. leader in a nation facing growing extremism.

Despite anxiety among intelligence officials and experts, however, the administration is only slightly tweaking a course charted over the past 18 months to support the creation of a political center revolving around Musharraf, according to U.S. officials.

"Plan A still has to work," said a senior administration official involved in Pakistan policy. "We all have to appeal to moderate forces to come together and carry the election and create a more solidly based government, then use that as a platform to fight the terrorists."
U.S. policy remains wedded to Musharraf despite growing warnings from experts, presidential candidates and even a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan that his dictatorial ways are untenable. Some contend that Pakistan would be better off without him.

"This administration has had a disastrous policy toward Pakistan, as bad as the Iraq policy," said Robert Templer of the International Crisis Group. "They are clinging to the wreckage of Musharraf, flailing around. . . . Musharraf has outlived all possible usage to Pakistan and the United States."

Templer contends that without Musharraf, moderate forces, coming from Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, the moderate Balochistan National Party and the mostly Pashtun Awami National Party, could create a new, more legitimate centrist political space.

But with Musharraf having won a five-year presidential term in October -- an election perceived by many as tainted and illegitimate -- the looming question centers on who will become prime minister. Bhutto was expected to assume that role after the January election, a move U.S. officials believed would have bolstered both Musharraf and U.S. interests. But now there are no obvious heirs.

"We have a room full of tigers in Pakistan," the senior U.S. official said. "This is a really complicated situation, and we have to use our influence in a lot of ways but also realize we can't determine the outcome. We're not dropping pixie dust on someone to anoint them as the next leader."

Washington's challenges now are far more daunting than they were in brokering a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf that produced her return from exile and the promise of free elections.

At the top of the list is getting former prime minister Sharif to reverse course on boycotting the Jan. 8 parliamentary election. The United States is in the awkward position of trying to coax a party leader with an anti-American platform and close ties to religious parties to cooperate with Musharraf, a secular former general and top U.S. ally in fighting extremism.

The two men are bitter rivals. Sharif has accused Musharraf of treason for toppling his democratically elected government in a military coup in 1999. Musharraf, in turn, believes Sharif tried to kill him, his wife and 200 other passengers when the Sharif government in 1999 initially refused to allow a commercial jetliner carrying Musharraf to land in Pakistan even though fuel was running low. In his autobiography, Musharraf alleges that the airliner had only seven minutes of fuel when it finally landed after the military intervened.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad reached out to Sharif's brother and other members of his party the day of Bhutto's assassination, U.S. officials said. "We would certainly encourage him, as well as all others . . . to participate in the process with an eye towards ensuring there is the broadest possible opportunity for the Pakistani people to choose among a variety of legitimate political actors," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

But U.S. officials also said Sharif's call for an election boycott on the day of Bhutto's death was unseemly and an obvious ploy to pressure Musharraf when the Pakistan Muslim League-Q -- loyal to Musharraf and a rival of Sharif's faction -- was increasingly isolated.

"Nawaz is not our nemesis. He is likely to be part of whatever political solution evolves out of the present situation," John Stuart Blackton, a former U.S. diplomat in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said. "Nawaz isn't fond of America, but he isn't anti-American."

The other U.S. priority is helping to hold Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party together, officials said.

Pakistan's largest opposition party, ruled by a family dynasty, now must reorganize without a Bhutto in charge, they said. Long divided by competing tendencies, some members wanted to boycott the election after Musharraf imposed emergency rule last month, while others favored running for parliament. When Bhutto opted to participate, the others fell in line. Without her, some experts expect the party to get bogged down in debate or to fragment.

On the day of Bhutto's death, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned PPP deputy leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim to offer condolences and express hope that the PPP would not change its plans to participate in the election, U.S. officials said.

The future of the PPP depends in part on what Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, does and how the party "survives the machinations" of ISI, Pakistan's military intelligence service, Templer said. "For the past eight years, the military and the ISI have done everything to splinter the party, through violence and intimidation. Despite that, it has hung together in a disciplined way."

Zardari's future role is a big unknown, analysts said. The environment minister when his wife was prime minister, he is a controversial businessman imprisoned for 11 years on corruption and attempted murder charges, most of which were dismissed. After his release, he went into exile, where he stayed when Bhutto returned in October.

Two other immediate challenges, U.S. officials said, are encouraging Pakistani leaders to hold the elections on Jan. 8 or shortly thereafter and prodding Musharraf to ensure that they are fair. On timing, they say the PPP should have the greatest say, given its problems since Bhutto's death. "Everyone needs to give them a fair chance," the senior official said.

Longer-term, as part of its original plan, the administration next month will launch a five-year, $750 million development effort to bring education, jobs and better security to the volatile frontier areas.

But critics warn that Plan A -- from rushing into elections already widely viewed as rigged to relying on Musharraf -- is unsustainable without Bhutto.

"It's folly," said C. Christine Fair of the Rand Corp. Even before Bhutto's death, the elections were being questioned because of limited campaign time and Musharraf's manipulation of the Supreme Court, she said. "Pakistanis are going to read [elections] as a sham to prop up Musharraf as Washington's water boy." The Bush administration should instead encourage Musharraf to promote reconciliation across the parties, which would jointly decide the date for elections, and to restore the ousted members of the Supreme Court, she said.

A new round of "farcical elections" will produce a weak government that Musharraf will try to manipulate, warned Stephen P. Cohen of the Brookings Institution. And in an op-ed co-written for yesterday's Washington Post, Wendy Chamberlin, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, warned that a vote without prior political reforms "would almost certainly provoke a violent backlash."

Analysts are also concerned that the administration does not appear to be developing alternatives in case something happens to Musharraf, who has faced several assassination attempts or plots, or growing public disdain makes him an untenable ally.

Democratic presidential candidates have issued harsh criticisms of Musharraf. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) has said there is little reason to trust the Pakistani government, while New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has called for Musharraf to step down. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) also questioned the wisdom of sticking with this ally. "As long as we are supporting somebody who the Pakistani people themselves believe has subverted democracy, that strengthens the hand of the Islamic militants," he said in Iowa.

U.S. officials acknowledge that Musharraf's party is more isolated than ever. "It will have to work harder for its own voters and to try and pick up others," the senior official said. Suspicions in Bhutto's party that the government in some way colluded with extremists to murder her will also make it harder for the PPP to cooperate with Musharraf, he added.

Others warn of a political implosion if violence continues and a flawed election is held. "In the best case for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the worst case for the world, Pakistan could fall into such turmoil that the very control of the state could fall into Islamist hands, or Pakistan could effectively fracture -- with its massive armaments, including dozens of nuclear weapons, falling into the wrong hands," said J. Alexander Thier, a former U.N. official now at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Worst. President. Ever. EVER.

Bhutto Tried To Hire U.S. Security Guards

The U.S. has given billions of dollars to Musharraf's military for training and eradication of terrorists from hideouts in Pakistan. It was Condoleeza Rice and John Negroponte who brokered the deal with Musharraf for Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan. If U.S. policy in our 'war on terror' depends on Bhutto's participation in Pakistan's election for Prime Minister, who would put Bhutto into Pakistan without beefy security in place before she even landed? And who would let her stay without even beefier-than-beefed-up security after the attempt on her life once she arrived in Pakistan on October 18, 2007?

The Washington Times reports:
Benazir Bhutto was so fearful for her life that she tried to hire British and American security firms, including Blackwater, to protect her, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf refused to allow the foreign contractors to operate in Pakistan, her aides said.

"She asked to bring in trained security personnel from abroad," said Mark Siegel, her U.S. representative. "In fact, she and her husband repeatedly tried to get visas for such protection, but they were denied by the government of Pakistan."

Her entourage discussed deals with North Carolina-based Blackwater Corp., sources said.

"We were approached to provide [former] Prime Minister Bhutto's security, but an agreement was unfortunately never reached," a Blackwater spokeswoman said, confirming the negotiations. She declined to go into the precise details.
Sources within the British private security industry said she also had negotiations with the London-based firm Armor Group, which guards British diplomats in the Middle East. The company, however, said last night it had no knowledge of any talks.

Mrs. Bhutto frantically contacted officials, diplomats and friends in the United States, Europe and the Persian Gulf to urge Mr. Musharraf to improve her security in the wake of the suicide bomb attack that killed more than 140 during her homecoming parade on Oct 18.

Indeed, U.S. diplomats took the highly unusual step of providing her directly with confidential U.S. intelligence about terrorist threats to her life, knowledgeable sources said. Pakistan's Interior Ministry also passed on details of plots against her, and aides said letters containing death threats had been smuggled into her home.

Husain Haqqani, a U.S.-based Bhutto adviser, director of the Center for International Relations and a professor at Boston University, confirmed that she wanted to use private international security contractors but said the Musharraf regime would not approve the plan.

He said the United States, which has arranged for private contractors to guard Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top leaders in Iraq, was reluctant to pressure Mr. Musharraf, an ally in the war on terrorism, to change his mind, despite the view that U.S. officials considered Mrs. Bhutto a linchpin in their crucial diplomatic bid to encourage Pakistan to return to democracy.
In addition to private contractors, the U.S. State Department also provides protection for foreign dignitaries around the world through its Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, is surrounded by Diplomatic Security special agents as he arrives for a groundbreaking ceremony in Parwan, some 34 miles north of Kabul. The groundbreaking ceremony celebrated a road linking the Panjshir Valley to Parwan in the district of Bayan.

At the invitation of Liberian President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the Diplomatic Security Service is providing temporary assistance with security and training for her Liberian protective detail.

A Diplomatic Security special agent assigned to a Mobile Security Deployment team stands guard outside Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's office as Prime Minister Qureia meets with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the West Bank town of Ramallah

Officials from Mrs. Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party have complained that security arrangements for her were woefully inadequate, given the seriousness of the threats against her from al Qaeda, the Taliban and others. She relied largely on using a "human shield" of loyal followers who would form a ring around her, but as the attack Thursday proved, it was little protection against a determined assailant.

Some security industry specialists have suggested, however, that there may have been other reasons why the help of foreign security firms was not enlisted.

To be surrounded by an entourage of foreign bodyguards would have added to criticisms that Mrs. Bhutto was in the pocket of the West — an accusation leveled at Mr. Karzai — and might not have been welcomed by her own Pakistani security staff. But the firms could have taken a background role as consultants and trained locals in bodyguarding techniques to maintain a Pakistani face to her entourage.

"It's odd and disturbing that the Pakistan government did not do a better job of protecting her and that the U.S. apparently could not do more to persuade them," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and former National Security Council director for South Asia. "She made it very clear privately and publicly that she did not have enough security. That was abundantly clear after the attack on her return."
After enough blunders, you start to wonder if the blunders weren't the 'hoped for' outcome that the Bush administration had intended all along.

Nobody is this incompetent and left in place by a Congress unless it's serving the purpose of the powerful elite machine behind them all. And democracy is the last thing that those in power want to take hold across the globe.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Who's Briefing This Guy?

If he isn't ducking questions (such as why, in his autobiography, he linked homosexuality with pedophilia, necrophilia and sadomasochism) or promising to throw doctors in jail for providing women with the safe medical procedure of abortion (let's all try to remember that abortion is still legal in the U.S.), Arkansas-governor-and-presidential-wannabe Mike Huckabee is showing off his credentials from the Nodda Cloo foreign policy school at Ouachita Baptist University.

USA Today reports:
As his campaign has surged, Mike Huckabee has made a series of public foreign policy gaffes, fueling attacks by rivals that he lacks the international experience to be president.

The former governor of Arkansas has confused the status of martial law in Pakistan, raised questions about Pakistanis crossing the U.S. border and wasn't initially familiar with the latest U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran's nuclear weapons program.

While the missteps are his, a tough foreign policy critique has often been lobbed against governors, or past governors, running for president — Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, among them. But what Reagan, Clinton and Bush had — and what Huckabee seems to sorely lack in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination — was a roster of respected foreign policy advisers to reassure voters on national security issues.
On Friday morning, Huckabee listed former U.N. ambassador John Bolton as someone with whom he either has "spoken or will continue to speak."

At a Thursday evening news conference, Huckabee said, "I've corresponded with John Bolton, who's agreed to work with us on developing foreign policy."

Bolton, however, has a different view. "I'd be happy to speak with Huckabee, but I haven't spoken with him yet," said Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.

"I'm not an official or unofficial adviser to anyone," said Bolton, who mentioned he'd had conversations with other Republican candidates but declined to name any names.

Asked to explain Bolton's comments, Huckabee aides said the former Arkansas governor had e-mailed with Bolton. Bolton did not immediately respond to a request to address Huckabee's e-mailing claims.

Huckabee said he had also spoken with former State Department official Richard Haass (now president of the Council on Foreign Relations); military analyst Ken Allard; former national security adviser Richard Allen; former House speaker Newt Gingrich; Frank Gaffney, founder of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank; and a "number of military personnel."

A Gingrich spokesman said the two men had spoken, on an unofficial basis, on Friday.

Council on Foreign Relations spokeswoman Lisa Shields said Haass has "briefed Huckabee on foreign policy issues as well as [briefing] many other candidates" in both parties. Shields stressed that the relationship was not exclusive and that Haass was not affiliated with the campaign.

Reached via e-mail, Allen said an intermediary asked him to speak with Huckabee, but he hadn't yet agreed. "I'm gradually getting older, but am fully capable of recalling with whom I have spoken," said the former Nixon and Reagan foreign policy campaign adviser.

Allard and Gaffney could not be reached for comment.

Huckabee argues that foreign policy is less about experience and more about judgment. "The most important thing a president does is to make tough decisions when confronted with a crisis," he said Friday. As a governor, "you've dealt with the unexpected, a crisis, time and time again."

The confusion over Bolton, however, is the latest in a growing list of foreign policy hiccups by the Iowa front-runner. And to succeed nationally, Huckabee must broaden support beyond his socially conservative base by proving his competency on issues such as national security.

On Thursday, he commented on the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, saying the U.S. needs to consider "what impact does it have on whether or not there's going to be martial law continuing in Pakistan." Martial law, as it turns out, was lifted two weeks ago.

Huckabee clarified the point later that day. "What I said was, you know, it was not that I was unaware that it was suspended two weeks ago, or lifted two weeks ago. The point was continued: ... Would it be reinstated? Would it be placed back in?" he said.

Huckabee also raised eyebrows Thursday when he said that Bhutto's death should prompt "an immediate, very clear monitoring of our borders and particularly to make sure if there's any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country."

And earlier this month, Huckabee said he was unfamiliar with the National Intelligence Estimate reporting that Iran hadn't had a program to develop nuclear weapons since 2003.

Huckabee's lack of foreign policy experience has fueled a host of critics. On Thursday, rival Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Bhutto's assassination highlights Huckabee's lack of foreign policy experience.

"You know, I don't think it's appropriate to respond in a political way," Huckabee said.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced Huckabee's critique of the Bush administration as having a "bunker mentality" when it comes to foreign policy.

"The idea that somehow this is a go-it-alone policy is just simply ludicrous," she said at a State Department news conference. "One would only have to be not observing the facts, let me say that, to say that this is now a go-it-alone foreign policy."
I long for the good old days, when candidates for the highest office in the land and the leadership of the free world brought a firm base of knowledge about the affairs of the world based on a sound education, extensive travel and life experience in business, government service, or both.

Nowadays it seems that more of them would prefer on-the-job training, a precedent that was set by Bush 41, who called on his former aides to put together a crash tutorial on world history to prepare his 52-year-old son for a Presidential run.

Call me crazy, but I'd like our next Commander-in-Chief to be able to find Pakistan on a map. It isn't this guy:

Will Evangelicals Do It To America Again?

Will evangelical Christians saddle us with another president too ignorant to be trusted with the awesome responsibility that is the Commander-in-Chief of the greatest military power in the world?

The New York Times reports:
In discussing the volatile situation in Pakistan, Mike Huckabee has made several erroneous or misleading statements at a time when he has been under increasing scrutiny from fellow presidential candidates for a lack of fluency in foreign policy issues.

Explaining statements he made suggesting that the instability in Pakistan should remind Americans to tighten security on the southern border of the United States, Mr. Huckabee said Friday that “we have more Pakistani illegals coming across our border than all other nationalities, except those immediately south of the border.”

Asked to justify the statement, he later cited a March 2006 article in The Denver Post reporting that from 2002 to 2005, Pakistanis were the most numerous non-Latin Americans caught entering the United States illegally. According to The Post, 660 Pakistanis were detained in that period.

A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security, however, concluded that, over all, illegal immigrants from the Philippines, India, Korea, China and Vietnam were all far more numerous than those from Pakistan.
In a separate interview on Friday on MSNBC, Mr. Huckabee, a Republican, said that the Pakistani government “does not have enough control of those eastern borders near Afghanistan to be able go after the terrorists.” Those borders are on the western side of Pakistan, not the eastern side.

Further, he offered an Orlando crowd his “apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.” His aides said later that he meant to say “sympathies.”

He also said he was worried about martial law “continuing” in Pakistan, although Mr. Musharraf lifted the state of emergency on Dec. 15. Mr. Huckabee later said that he was referring to a renewal of full martial law and said that some elements, including restrictions on judges and the news media, had continued.

Mr. Huckabee’s comments on the situation in Pakistan were not the first time he has been caught unprepared on foreign policy matters. Early this month, after the release of a National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Mr. Huckabee said that he was not familiar with the report, even though it had been widely reported in the news for more than 30 hours.
When do those who gave us Bush and Cheney realize that the most important decision they should be ever be trusted with again is what to wear when they get out of bed every day? And when are we going to say this out loud to them?

Gasping Canaries in the Mines - Hay shortage driving up incidence of neglect and voluntary forfeitures

"They eat before I do."

Livestock owners say the situation is now so desperate, many of them are having to get rid of some of their animals, simply because they can't afford to feed them.

The News & Observer reports:
Rescue agencies are taking in record numbers of horses across the state, many emaciated because of the drought-related hay shortage.
In the most recent case, a Randolph County woman was charged Thursday with 11 counts of animal abuse and eight counts of disposing of a dead animal improperly, after county officials investigated separate reports of a large number of dead horses scattered on the ground and of 11 live horses jammed into an undersize corral with no water and little hay.

The U.S. Equine Rescue League normally accepts about 100 neglected or abused horses a year in the three states where it operates, which include North Carolina. This year, the agency has taken in about 170 -- 90 in this state alone -- said Jennifer Malpass, director of the league's Triangle chapter.

Horse rescue groups nationally -- even those in states not stricken with a severe drought -- are being inundated with pleas to take neglected horses.

One group in Florida is fielding daily calls, up from bimonthly requests early this year. A rescue group in south central Kentucky had to turn away 13 horses this month. Kathy Grant, an equine cruelty investigator who runs a rescue group, says the rural roads in her eastern Tennessee community are lined with pastures dotted with emaciated horses.

"A lot of the farmers around here have hay, but they're holding on to it," said Grant. "When they're releasing it, they're charging exorbitant rates. A normal person can't afford it."

A round bale jumped from $12 to $100 since the summer, Grant said. In South Carolina, rescue volunteers noticed the price triple. In Texas, struck by a severe drought last year, hay prices haven't leveled off; horse owners are paying double what they did three years ago.

High prices are leaving owners with tough choices. Some are voluntarily forfeiting their animals. In other cases, horses are seized after county officials determine they have been abused or neglected.

County officials typically don't have holding facilities for large animals and so depend on agencies such as the rescue league to assume responsibility for horses. The league nurses them back to health, then places them in foster homes until someone adopts them, Malpass said.

The flood of rescues this year is a double blow to the volunteers.

Even before the drought, they were struggling to find space for foster horses. Now, they not only have to find shelter for more horses but also feed them when hay is expensive and scarce, Malpass said.

Hay donations drop

Her chapter normally receives about 300 bales of donated hay before winter, mostly from big horse operations clearing spring hay from their storage barns to make room for the fall cutting. But there was so little to spare that hay donations this year were only about a third the normal amount.

That means the volunteer rescuers are having to pull money out of their own pockets -- and a lot of it -- for hay, which has doubled in price in many areas.

The hay crisis also has increased the severity of the cases they are seeing, said Amy Woodard, a volunteer who leads the league's efforts in the northeastern corner of the state.

As the expense of feeding them has risen, the selling prices of horses have dropped. That has made purchase possible for people who might not be able to afford proper food and health care, or who didn't have the knowledge to keep horses healthy, Malpass said.

'Pieces everywhere'

The horse owner in the Randolph County case, Jauvanna Craven, 51, of Groom Road, Sophia, surrendered her horses. That saved time in court and allowed the county to get the surviving horses more quickly into the hands of rescuers.

Randolph County Health Director MiMi Cooper was so shocked at the animals' condition that she went to Craven to issue the charges herself. Craven could have faced more counts of improper disposal, said Cooper, who owns four horses herself.
"There were probably more than eight, but there were pieces [of dead horses] everywhere," she said. "Do you know what I had to do? I had to count heads."

Craven could not be reached for comment.

She had kept the horses on a 22-acre tract but sold it recently, Cooper said. The new owners discovered a number of horse carcasses and called the health department Dec. 21 to report them.

On the same day, the department got what it thought was an unrelated call about the 11 living horses, which were in a different location. They were confined in a pen that was big enough for only one or two horses, Cooper said. The horses were clearly starving, with every rib showing and their hip and shoulder bones jutting. One had an injury and had to be euthanized.

"She said that she was running a rescue operation," Cooper said. "That's not how you rescue horses."

The Equine Rescue League's Triad chapter took four of the horses, and another agency took three. The other three were apparently owned by someone else, who hadn't known about their health problems, and he took them away.

Shortage hits everyone

The hay shortage is so bad, though, that even conscientious owners are getting into trouble, Malpass said.

Marilyn Kille, who is taking care of three foster horses just outside Chapel Hill, said that people who own only one or two horses don't often have the massive dry storage space required for a whole winter supply of hay.

Normally, hay is abundant enough that suppliers keep plenty on hand, and horse owners can drop by every couple of weeks to buy more. Now, horse owners are competing for the scant supply against beef and dairy operations. Often, the only way to get it is to buy full truckloads from as far away as Ohio or New York.

Randolph County has fielded at least half a dozen calls this year from owners who didn't know where to turn, Cooper said, and area veterinarians have been getting similar calls.

Depending on the situation, Cooper said, the county steers them to hay sources like the on-line list kept by the state agriculture department, or links them with a rescue agency. Instead of suggesting that owners give up horses, the rescue agency prefers to teach them how to keep horses healthy, Malpass said.

Usually that approach works, she said. When it doesn't, the county or the rescuers ask the owner to give up the horse, or the county takes the owner to court to force the issue.

Normally rescues taper off in summer, when horses can graze. That's when the rescuers get a breather and start to build up their stores of hay.

This past summer, though, there was no break in rescues and the hay donations didn't come. So now, Malpass' group finds itself starting winter -- when livestock rely more on hay and less on grazing -- with an unusual number of horses to feed, not nearly enough hay and predictions that hay crops next year might be poor, too.

"It's really worrying because it can only get worse from here," she said.

Campaigns Turn To Pakistan

Candidates stress fighting terrorism

McClatchy reports:
The presidential campaign erupted Friday into a full-blown debate over how best to stabilize Pakistan as candidates vied in the few days before Thursday's Iowa caucuses to show who was best prepared to lead the fight against terrorism.
In the wake of Thursday's assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, Republican and Democratic presidential candidates spent much of Friday laying out specific policies they'd follow now -- or, for Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and two former Republican governors, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, trying to convince voters that they're qualified to play in that league.

The rivals with thicker foreign-policy resumes offered detailed blueprints of how they would deal with Pakistan. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador, struck first, telling a Des Moines audience that the United States should give Pakistan "not one penny more until [President Pervez] Musharraf is gone and the rule of law is restored."

Most Democratic candidates wouldn't go that far; New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton offered a multi-part plan to restore stability but stopped short of calling for Musharraf's ouster.

"I don't think the Pakistani government at this time under President Musharraf has any credibility at all," Clinton said as she visited Story City. "They have disbanded an independent judiciary. They have oppressed a free press."

She called for a "full, independent, international investigation."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., urged putting new pressure on Musharraf to hold "fair elections as soon as possible," while Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., a senior Foreign Relations member, urged that Pakistan's elections be postponed.

The fight was not just over ideas -- it was over foreign policy pedigree, too.

Dodd took aim at Clinton, questioning her experience.

"It isn't enough to be sitting on the sidelines, watching your husband deal with these problems over the years," Dodd said. And he termed Richardson's call for Musharraf to resign "a dangerous idea."

GOP backs Musharraf

The Republican debate had a different tone. Most candidates were more willing to tolerate, and in some cases even praise, Musharraf, while they painted Democrats as unsteady and weak.

"I don't think it would be a good idea to call for him [Musharraf] to step down now," former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson told CNN on Friday. "I hope that we as candidates out here don't start lobbing these ideas that get plenty of attention but are not very sound. This is a serious matter. It's going to be with us for some time, and we need to be deliberate in our approach to it because we have several interests involved."

Arizona Sen. John McCain said, "You're going to hear a lot of criticism about Musharraf, that he hasn't done everything we wanted him to do, but he did agree to step down as head of the military, and he did get the elections."

Romney stressed his experience as a business executive -- saying he could put together "a great team" to help manage crises -- while Huckabee linked the assassination to illegal immigration, saying it highlighted the importance of securing the nation's borders by building a fence along the Mexican border.

Dynastic Democracy = Oxymoron

There is no such thing as democracy when power is concentrated and passed from one generation to the next within one family....

Benazir Bhutto, flanked by her father, Pakistan's former Prime Minister Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (photograph above her right shoulder), and her son, Bilawal, October 1993.

....Or two families. Or two political parties. Not in Pakistan (population 165 million), nor in the United States (population 300 million).

US First Lady Hillary Clinton (L) smiles with Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at a luncheon in her honor at Prime Minister House in Islamabad 26 March. Bhutto described Mrs. Clinton as a "symbol for women throughout the world."

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan makes remarks beside US President George Bush during White House welcoming ceremonies 06 June 1989, Washington, DC.

McClatchy reports:
Benazir Bhutto left a last will and testament that maps out the future for her political party and who should lead it in her absence, her husband Asif Zardari disclosed on Saturday.

The document will be presented to her Pakistan People's Party on Sunday. It's expected to include her preference for who should lead the party in her absence. Zardari himself would be a highly controversial contender. Their son Bilawal would win a huge amount of goodwill, but is still a teenager, and Zardari appeared to rule him out on Saturday.

"He's too young. He's 19 years old," Zardari said.
Zardari said he opened the letter himself only on Saturday. Its contents will be read to an emergency meeting of the party on Sunday by Bilawal, a student at Britain's prestigious Oxford University, where his mother also studied.

"She left a message for the party and she left a will," Zardari said, in between meeting mourners who came by the hundreds to Benazir Bhutto's family home here in the village of Naudero. "This [document] is about politics. What we should do and how we should go about things."

Asked whether he wanted to lead the party, he didn't dismiss it.

"Lets see.... It depends on the party and it depends on the will."

Bilawal, circled, along with his sisters and other family members at Benazir Bhutto's funeral

Longer term, it's widely predicted that Bilawal Bhutto will take over leadership of the party, Pakistan's most popular political machine, which has always been led by a Bhutto. Benazir's sister, her only surviving sibling, has never taken part in politics.

The People's Party is faced with a vacuum of leadership. There are no towering figures within the party. Many say that Ms. Bhutto did not allow others to gain much recognition, and she concentrated power and decision-making in her hands. The party must also decide whether to boycott the parliamentary elections, now set for January 8.

These political decisions must be made amid continued grief and mourning. On Sunday, special prayers will mark the third day after her death, an important marker in the Muslim faith.

On Saturday Zardari met with mourners. He stood in the courtyard of the family home, where mats had been spread. He embraced each man in turn, as dozens lined up every few minutes. Then there would be a short break for prayers, and the mourners would start coming forward again. Women passed through but went to a different area.

Many men were in tears, some crying uncontrollably. Most looked like poor peasant farmers from the surrounding countryside, dressed in tatty and stained clothing. Also attending were some political figures.

Periodically, large groups of veiled women would enter the compound wailing and beating their heads.

Zardari kept his composure throughout.

A neighbor in the village, Dur Mohammed, who came to Benazir's house, said: "We feel this was not the body of Benazir Bhutto. This was the corpse of our future, our dreams."

The crowd's emotion reached a breaking point with the arrival of Nawaz Sharif, leader of another political party who had been a bitter rival of Benazir. The throng surrounded him and his entourage, chanting "Benazir is innocent" and "long live Bhutto".

Deep anger was evident.

"She repeatedly told the government that the security had to be beefed up. She was very much concerned for her life," said a cousin, Shahid Hussain Bhutto. "It was not a suicide attack. It was a planned, targeted, killing."

Iqbal Haider, a former attorney general of Pakistan, said the government was "trying to create confusion and hide the real killers".

"Where was the security? Why didn't they cover the vehicle? There was no security, no precautions. That is why we hold [President] Pervez Musharraf responsible."

If it's not one of Benazir Bhutto's children being groomed to retain power, it's another:
Benazir Bhutto wanted her children to keep off politics and fiercely guarded them from the media.

After her assassination, true to sub-continental traditions, speculation has already begun on which of her two older children will become her political heir.

The eldest, 19-year-old Bilawal, has emerged as a possible contender to continue his family’s dynasty. And Bakhtawar Zardari, 16 — two years older than the youngest Asifa — is on record saying three years ago that her life’s mission was to serve Pakistan as a politician.

Benazir Bhutto, seated with her three children (l-r); Bakhtawar, Asifa and Bilawal

Bilawal Bhutto, who uses his mother’s surname and looked disconsolate at the funeral today, is believed to have a keen interest in history and politics. He was first tapped as a possible successor when he enrolled at Oxford, the same university from which his mother and grandfather graduated.

Pakistan People’s Party leaders had earlier said Bilawal would not enter politics till he had finished his degree but those comments were themselves taken as a hint of his future intentions.

Some party sources, however, were doubtful how inclined the young man would be to take up the responsibility at the moment.

Bakhtawar may not have had any hesitation, from what she had said in an interview to The Telegraph in August 2004.

“I will surely enter the political arena and carry forward the mission of my mother Benazir Bhutto and grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — to serve Pakistan,” the 13-year-old had said in Karachi, choosing her words as carefully as a seasoned politician.

She had come over from Dubai, where the children lived with Bhutto during her eight years of self-imposed exile, to see her ailing father, Asif Ali Zardari.

The trip and the interview were an exception, considering the protective cover under which Bhutto kept her children.

Asked by an American reporter in 1994 if her children would follow her into politics, she had replied with conviction: “No. Never. Politics in Pakistan is much too dangerous.”

She had added: “I would like to see my son as a lawyer and I would like my (elder) daughter to be a social worker.”

Sometime this year, however, she seemed to have changed her mind. Newspapers said she was grooming Bilawal, registering him as a Pakistani citizen through the embassy in Dubai, making him eligible to vote in her hometown of Larkana.

In that Bhutto might have been following in the footsteps of her mother Nusrat, who had favoured son Murtaza over her daughter as the successor to husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Bhutto — who was older than her brother which Bakhtawar is not — had then dismissed Nusrat’s position as reflecting “pure male prejudice”.

Her reported decision to back Bilawal would have partially mirrored Sonia Gandhi’s choice of Rahul over Priyanka at a time many in the Congress saw the more articulate daughter as the natural political heir to Rajiv Gandhi.

Some PPP lobbies are touting a woman successor, but it’s not Bakhtawar. The candidate is Murtaza’s 25-year-old daughter, an educated, photogenic and headstrong woman who has criticised Bhutto in her columns for the English-language daily The News.

Around the time Bakhtawar gave the interview to The Telegraph, Zardari had said he wanted to see all the three children in politics. He said he expected Bakhtawar and Asifa to join the PPP women’s wing and Bilawal the students’ body.

Family friends described the children as “humble and respectful of elders”.

“All three, like their mother, are fond of books and literature,” said Iqbal Haider, secretary-general of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and former law minister.

Haider said Bilawal took after Bhutto also in his love of computers. The tall and dapper young man, often described as Z.A. Bhutto Junior, “is deeply attached to his mother and speaks very affectionately of her all the time,” Haider said.

Bhutto, when she was Prime Minister, used to carry a baby Bilawal in her arms even to official functions to her aides’ consternation.

The young man today helped carry Bhutto’s coffin to the plane at Islamabad.

Bhutto doted on her children and closely followed their education and guided their upbringing. She resisted previous calls for return to Pakistan, saying her children needed a mother.

It was only when they entered their teens that she agreed to take the plunge again in the rough-and-tumble of Pakistan’s politics, only to fall a victim to it.

She had taken time off her election campaign yesterday morning to speak to her children. It turned out to be the last time.

Neither Zardari nor Bilawal wanted to discuss their family’s political plans after their arrival in Pakistan late last night.

“I have only now begun to mourn her death,” said Zardari, 51, who had 10 days ago celebrated 20 years of marriage to Bhutto, 54.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"Bhutto's Death A Blow To The U.S.", says U.S. Foreign Policy Insiders

Her return to Pakistan was part of anti-terrorism strategy

The Washington Post reports:
For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call was the culmination of more than a year of secret diplomacy - and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington's key ally in the battle against terrorism.
But the diplomacy that ended abruptly with Bhutto's assassination Thursday at a political rally always was an enormous gamble, according to current and former U.S. policy-makers, intelligence officials and outside analysts.

It was a stunning turnaround for Bhutto, a former prime minister who was forced from power in 1996 amid corruption charges. She was suddenly visiting with top State Department officials, dining with U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and conferring with members of the National Security Council. As President Pervez Musharraf's political future began to unravel this year, Bhutto became the only politician who might help keep him in power.

"The U.S. came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact," said Mark Siegel, who lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

How was the U.S. so certain that Musharraf would prevail in elections against Bhutto?
Bhutto's assassination leaves Pakistan's future - and Musharraf's - in doubt, some experts said. "U.S. policy is in tatters. The administration was relying on Benazir Bhutto's participation in elections to legitimate Musharraf's continued power as president," said Barnett Rubin of New York University. "Now, Musharraf is finished."

Bhutto's death also demonstrates the growing power and reach of militant anti-government forces in Pakistan, which pose an existential threat to the country, said J. Alexander Thier, a former U.N. official now at the U.S. Institute for Peace. "The dangerous cocktail of forces of instability (that) exist in Pakistan - Talibanism, sectarianism, ethnic nationalism - could react in dangerous and unexpected ways if things unravel further," he said.

But others insist the U.S.-orchestrated deal fundamentally altered Pakistani politics in ways that will be difficult to undo, even though Bhutto is gone. "Her return has helped crack open this political situation. It's now very fluid, which makes it uncomfortable and dangerous," said Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations. "But the status quo before she returned was also dangerous from a U.S. perspective. Forcing some movement in the long run was in the U.S. interests."

Bhutto's assassination during a campaign stop in Rawalpindi might even work in favor of her Pakistan Peoples Party, with parliamentary elections due in less than two weeks, Coleman said. "From the U.S. perspective, the PPP is the best ally the U.S. has in terms of an institution in Pakistan."

Bhutto's political comeback was a long time in the works - and uncertain for much of the past 18 months. In mid-2006, Bhutto and Musharraf started communicating through intermediaries about how they might cooperate. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was often an intermediary, traveling to Islamabad to speak with Musharraf and to Bhutto's homes in London and Dubai to meet with her.

Under U.S. urging, Bhutto and Musharraf met face-to-face in January and July in Dubai, according to U.S. officials. It was not a warm exchange, with Musharraf resisting a deal to drop corruption charges so she could return to Pakistan. He made no secret of his feelings.

In his 2006 autobiography, "In the Line of Fire," Musharraf wrote that Bhutto had "twice been tried, been tested and failed, (and) had to be denied a third chance." She had not allowed her own party to become democratic, he contended. "Benazir became her party's 'chairperson for life,' in the tradition of the old African dictators!"

The turning point to get Musharraf on board was a September trip by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Islamabad. "He basically delivered a message to Musharraf that we would stand by him, but he needed a democratic facade on the government, and we thought Benazir was the right choice for that face," said Bruce Riedel, former CIA and national security council staffer now at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

U.S. assurances

As part of the deal, Bhutto's party agreed not to protest against Musharraf's re-election in September to his third term. In return, Musharraf agreed to lift the corruption charges against Bhutto. But Bhutto sought one particular guarantee - that Washington would ensure Musharraf followed through on free and fair elections producing a civilian government.

Rice, who became engaged in the final stages of brokering a deal, called Bhutto in Dubai and pledged that Washington would see the process through, according to Siegel. A week later, on Oct. 18, Bhutto returned.

Ten weeks later, she was dead.

Xenia Dormandy, former National Security Council expert on South Asia now at Harvard University's Belfer Center, said U.S. meddling is not to blame for Bhutto's death. "It is very clear the United States encouraged" an agreement, she said, "but U.S. policy is in no way responsible for what happened. I don't think we could have played it differently."
You would think we would have learned by now not to meddle in the affairs of other nations.

If the Bush administration was behind the deal and wanted Bhutto to remain alive, why wasn't her security improved? Particularly after the assassination attempt on October 18, 2007, upon her arrival back in Pakistan from exile?

Is it possible that the expected meltdown inside of Pakistan (with or without scheduled elections) is just the excuse that Bush and Cheney have been looking for, under the cover of chaos, to back Musharraf's continued dictatorship? With Bhutto's violent and grisly murder, Bush and Cheney get to beat the war drums by resurrecting the fear card, until they're able to expand the war into Iran (or Syria, or ?), insuring a 'long war' no matter who gets into the White House in the 2008 election.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Okay, We Can Do This The Hard Way, Or The Easy Way

Feeding the homeless

The hard way, as reported by the Sun-Sentinel:
Calling this city a place where you have to "pay to pray," two groups that feed the homeless took a swipe at West Palm Beach on Wednesday in a lawsuit objecting to a new ban on those feedings in downtown parks.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, argues that the city is violating the constitutional rights of the groups to assemble and worship freely and is targeting the poor and the homeless.

"We would like to work with the city," said attorney Barry Silver, who is representing one of the two plaintiffs. "Instead, the city is trying to prevent agencies that are trying to help the homeless. This is the wrong direction for the city to go."

The lawsuit argues that in the city under Mayor Lois Frankel, those wishing to freely practice religion must "contribute to the mayor's favorite charities, which include her own campaign war chest."

The veiled reference to a recent grand jury report, that labeled the city a place where developers perceive a "pay-to-play" policy under Frankel, brought sharp retort.

"The notion that you somehow have to contribute money to practice your religion is absurd," city spokesman Peter Robbins said. "It makes a nice headline, but there's no truth to it at all."

When the City Commission passed the law on Sept. 24, city leaders said they were responding to complaints of struggling downtown business owners that the feedings created disturbances with panhandlers and some drug use.

But the two groups that feed the homeless — Food Not Bombs, which is not religious, and Art and Compassion, which is a ministry without a church — argued that it was an effort to sweep the homeless out of sight.

Silver said Frankel rejected efforts by the groups to discuss the issue.

"She listened to the business community," Silver said. "But to the homeless community, she turned a deaf ear. That's why we call it a 'pay to pray' system."

Robbins said the city thinks that Centennial Square, where children come to the public library and play at the fountain, is an inappropriate venue for food distributions. He said the city offered several compromises, but all were rejected.

"All we are seeking in this ordinance is balance," Robbins said. "The homeless issue is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. We are just seeking to balance the needs of the homeless with all the other needs that come into play."

The lawsuit cites the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, saying the law violates freedoms of worship and assembly.

It also contends that the law violates the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says that if the government must burden a person's right to exercise religion, it must do so with the least restrictive means.

"Criminalizing food sharing is not the least restrictive means of assuaging any perceived 'conflict' with the public's use of these public parks," the lawsuit states.

Robbins said city staff reviewed the ordinance carefully before the commission voted to make it law, and he was confident there was nothing unlawful in it.

The lawsuit asks the court for a temporary suspension of the law until a ruling is made and a permanent removal of it.

"When it comes to helping the homeless, governments should lead, follow or get out of the way," Silver said. "So far, they've failed to lead, refused to follow and this lawsuit is our effort to force the city to get out of the way and let us help those who are in need."

Or, an easier way:

Meet Tom Mabe here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Worms Infect More Poor Americans Than Thought

Reuters reports:

"Because of its possible links to asthma, it would be important to determine whether covert toxocariasis is a basis for the rise of asthma among inner-city children in the northeastern United States," he added.

"Cysticercosis is another very serious parasitic worm infection ... caused by the tapeworm Taenia solium, that results in seizures and other neurological manifestations," Hotez wrote.

He said up to 2,000 new cases of neurological disease caused by tapeworms are diagnosed every year in the United States. More than 2 percent of adult Latinos may be infected, and with 35 million Hispanics in the United States, this could add up to tens of thousands of cases, Hotez said.

"In the hospitals of Los Angeles, California, neurocysticercosis currently accounts for 10 percent of all seizures presenting to some emergency departments," he wrote.

"We need to begin erasing these horrific health disparities," Hotez wrote in the paper, available online.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Christmas morning. The television isn't working. Bah humbug.

Actually, the television is working fine; there's something wrong with the DishNet connection and the soonest they can get a technician here is Thursday. I guess he's coming from India.

The tech support that Maximillian managed to get on the phone speculated that it might be something in the connection inside the junction circuit box located on the wall outside of the garage. So Max had to try his manly man on it, delivering a few well-placed whacks, which, of course, had no effect. Or no healing effect. Returning from the garage, Max told me he thinks that maybe a little later, "Once it warms up a little and the condensation evaporates, it might fix the problem." Or, at least it might have, before the "well placed whacks" knocked something loose or broke something in the fine integrated circuitry.

After I fixed 'the look' on him (which he swears has a full orchestral track of the collective sighs of women from time immemorial chanting, "these idiot men, these idiot men, are id-i-ot id-i-ot id-i-ots"), he defends his fix-it skills by reminding me how our nation's nuclear missile arsenal are maintained:

Back in the late 1960s, a friend who was in the Air Force ROTC, graduated and was put in charge of a minuteman missile silo in a western state. He recounted that when performing periodic maintenance tests on the controlling electronics, they would fail about 40% of the time. He said that usually what they would do would be to pull the suspected circuit board out of the rack, drop it on the cement floor, and kick it a few times. After plugging it back into the rack, he said, "It would usually work."

So you might say that our country's national security depended on a well-placed kick.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good luck.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Anarchy Capitalism

Stocked with messages - Artists, would-be advertisers use unsuspecting stores as medium

The New York Times reports:
This is the season of frenetic shopping, but for a devious few people it’s also the season of spirited shopdropping.

Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary.

Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores.

Self-published authors sneak their works into the “new releases” section, while personal trainers put their business cards into weight-loss books, and aspiring professional photographers make homemade cards — their Web site address included, of course — and covertly plant them into stationery-store racks.

“Everyone else is pushing their product, so why shouldn’t we?” said Jeff Eyrich, a producer for several independent bands, who puts stacks of his bands’ CDs — marked “free” — on music racks at Starbucks whenever the cashiers look away.

Ryan Watkins-Hughes, a photographer from Brooklyn, invited four other artists to help him shopdrop at the Whole Foods store in Union Square. Watkins-Hughes bought canned food at the store and replaced the labels with his photographs, leaving the original bar codes intact.

Though not new, shopdropping has grown in popularity in recent years, especially as artists have gathered to swap tactics at Web sites like, and groups like the Anti-Advertising Agency, a political art collective, do training workshops open to the public.

Retailers fear the practice may annoy shoppers and raise legal or safety concerns, particularly when it involves children’s toys or trademarked products.

“Our goal at all times is to provide comfortable and distraction-free shopping,” said Bethany Zucco, a spokeswoman for Target. “We think this type of activity would certainly not contribute to that goal.” She said she did not know of any shopdropping at Target stores.

But Packard Jennings does. An artist who lives in Oakland, Calif., he said that for the last seven months he had been working on a new batch of his Anarchist action figure that he began shopdropping this week at Target and Wal-Mart stores in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“When better than Christmas to make a point about hyper-consumerism?” asked Mr. Jennings, 37, whose action figure comes with tiny accessories including a gas mask, bolt cutter, and two Molotov cocktails, and looks convincingly like any other doll on most toy-store shelves. Putting it in stores and filming people as they try to buy it as they interact with store clerks, Mr. Jennings said he hoped to show that even radical ideology gets commercialized. He said for safety reasons he retrieves the figures before customers take them home.

Jason Brody, lead singer for an independent pop-rock band in the East Village, said his group recently altered its shopdropping tactics to cater to the holiday rush.

Normally the band, the Death of Jason Brody, slips promotional CD singles between the pages of The Village Voice newspaper and into the racks at large music stores. But lately, band members have been slipping into department stores and putting stickers with logos for trendy designers like Diesel, John Varvatos and 7 for All Mankind on their CDs, which they then slip into the pockets of designer jeans or place on counters.

“Bloomingdale’s and 7 for All Mankind present the Death of Jason Brody, our pick for New York band to watch in 2008,” read a sticker on one of the CDs placed near a register at Bloomingdales. “As thanks for trying us on, we’re giving you this special holiday gift.” Bloomingdales and 7 for All Mankind declined to comment.

For pet store owners, the holidays usher in a form of shopdropping with a touch of buyer’s remorse. What seemed like a cute gift idea at the time can end up being dumped back at a store, left discretely to roam the aisles.

“After Easter, there’s a wave of bunnies; after Halloween, it’s black cats; after Christmas, it’s puppies,” said Don Cowan, a spokesman for the store chain Petco, which in the month after each of those holidays sees 100 to 150 pets abandoned in its aisles or left after hours in cages in front of stores. Snakes have been left in crates, mice and hamsters surreptitiously dropped in dry aquariums, even a donkey left behind after a store’s annual pet talent show, Mr. Cowan said.

Bookstores are especially popular for self-promotion and religious types of shopdropping.

At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., local authors have been putting bookmarks advertising their own works in books on similar topics. At Mac’s Backs Paperbacks, a used bookstore in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, employees are dealing with the influx of shopdropped works by local poets and playwrights by putting a price tag on them and leaving them on the shelves.

At Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., religious groups have been hitting the magazines in the science section with fliers featuring Christian cartoons, while their adversaries have been moving Bibles from the religion section to the fantasy/science-fiction section.

This week an arts group in Oakland, the Center for Tactical Magic, began shopdropping neatly folded stacks of homemade T-shirts into Wal-Mart and Target stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The shirts feature radical images and slogans like one with the faces of Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist. It says, “Peace on Earth. After we overthrow capitalism.”

“Our point is to put a message, not a price tag, on them,” said Aaron Gach, 33, a spokesman for the group.

Mr. Jennings’s anarchist action figure met with a befuddled reaction from a Target store manager on Wednesday in El Cerrito, Calif.

“I don’t think this is a product that we sell,” the manager said as Mr. Jennings pretended to be a customer trying to buy it. “It’s definitely antifamily, which is not what Target is about.”

One of the first reports of shopdropping was in 1989, when a group called the Barbie Liberation Organization sought to make a point about sexism in children’s toys by swapping the voice hardware of Barbie dolls with those in GI Joe figures before putting the dolls back on store shelves.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, said he was not sure if shopdropping was illegal but that some forms of it could raise safety concerns because the items left on store shelves might not abide by labeling requirements and federal safety standards.

Ryan Watkins-Hughes, 28, a photographer from Brooklyn, teamed up with four other artists to shopdrop canned goods with altered labels at Whole Foods stores in New York City this week. “In the holidays, people get into this head-down, plow-through-the-shopping autopilot mode,” Mr. Watkins-Hughes said “‘I got to get a dress for Cindy, get a stereo for Uncle John, go buy canned goods for the charity drive and get back home.’”

“Warhol took the can into the gallery. We bring the art to the can,” he said, adding that the labels consisted of photographs of places he had traveled combined with the can’s original bar code so that people could still buy them.

“What we do is try to inject a brief moment of wonder that helps wake them up from that rushed stupor,” he said, pausing to add, “That’s the true holiday spirit, isn’t it?”

Friday, December 21, 2007

Representative Wexler Wants Cheney Impeachment Hearings . . . .

. . . . And He Wants You To Sign Another Petition For Them []

I can't help but get the feeling that this is yet another in a long line of the Democrats' bums' rush tactics.

In the last few years, I've signed at least a half a dozen petitions urging Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney, and hold more investigations that would compel evidence of what this administration has been up to, with absolutely no results. And I vaguely recall the American people throwing Republicans out of office in the 2006 elections, replacing them with Democrats because (according to the exit polling), "Voters had had enough of Bush, Cheney, Republicans, the war in Iraq, and wanted change and out of Iraq."

So much for "Elections have results".

Why does a U.S. States congressman need yet another petition before holding hearings? Have the others gone astray? To the wrong address? Are members of Congress unaware of the polls which support, by a majority, removing both Bush and Cheney from office?

Wexler isn't without some seniority and power in Congress. He's on the House Judiciary Committee (he sits on the Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property Subcommittee), the Committee on Financial Services (he sits on the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, and the Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology Subcommittee, and the Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee), the Foreign Affairs Committee (of which he chairs the Europe Subcommittee and sits on the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee).

So what is this petition for and who needs to be convinced? How many signatures will be enough? Last week, Wexler wrote on Huffington Post:
If we can get 50,000 or even more people to sign up in support of this effort I will report back to each and every Democratic colleague of mine the true power that exists behind this movement.
I don't know what the magic is in the 50,000 number, but it's been met and ignored before. One petition calling for impeachment at has 985,871 signatures. If that hasn't been enough (as well as all of the other petitions and polls) to move Congress to get this show on the road, it's a mystery what Wexler's petition can accomplish.

But I guess we'll see very shortly what Wexler can do with it, because last I looked, more than 123,000 people had signed Wexler's petition.

Friday Cat Blogging

Cat Alarm Clock:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Miss Landmine


She's one of ten contestants for Miss Landmine 2008.

Ana Diogo (32)

City: Benguela
Mine accident: 1984, tending fields
Marital Status: Widow
Kids: 3, aged (12, 11, 3)
Occupation: Unemployed, sells tomatoes in the street when she gets hold of any
Dream job: Anything
Favorite color: Sand
Clothes / Roupa: American Apparel, € 34
Turban & Jewellery / Jóias: Myffdesign, € 15
Location / Locação: Hotel Panorama, Ilha do Cabo, Luanda

Mine / Mina: VS-50 anti-personnel , € 12
Release / Accionamento: Pressure / Por pressao
Explosive / Explosivo: 45 grammes TNT
Produced by / Origem: Italy / Itália

Friday, December 14, 2007

Representative Robert Wexler Makes The Case For Impeachment Hearings

U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler [D-FL] writes:
I was serving in Congress and on the Judiciary Committee for the ridiculous and politically motivated impeachment hearings of President Clinton. During that witch hunt Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and Ken Starr wasted a year and a half on investigations and hearings about President Clinton's personal relations. However, this attempted coup d'etat by Republicans against President Clinton was not and should not be the standard of impeachment that was enshrined by the Founders in our Constitution.
First, impeachment hearings are only proper when significant allegations exist that the President or Vice-President, or others civil officers, committed actions - within their official duties - that constitute 'High Crimes and Misdemeanors.' The allegations against Clinton - involving a personal affair - never reached this threshold. The serious charges against Cheney involve alleged crimes that are central to his duties of Vice-President; namely war and peace, the widespread violations of civil liberties, and the security of the United States and our covert agents.

Unlike the show trial put on by Republicans against President Clinton, a proper impeachment hearing would involve a fair and objective presentation of the facts without hyperbole or political gamesmanship. The hard evidence that is presented at the hearings will be judged fully both by Congress and the American people. The evidence alone will determine the outcome, and if it is determined that Vice President Cheney committed "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" he should be properly impeached and put on trial before the Senate.

After the Democratic Party regained control of Congress, many - myself included - thought that it might be possible to meet President Bush half-way on the large issues facing our nation. Unfortunately, Bush has been nothing more than an ideological obstacle. He has vetoed stem cell research. He has vetoed efforts to bring our troops home from Iraq. He vetoed children's health care. So, the idea that we are somehow inhibiting Congress from passing our agenda by holding impeachment hearings - unfortunately - is a false argument.

Instead, I believe that we can both live up to our Constitutional obligation by holding hearings and pass a Democratic agenda. If President Bush perceives that the Democratic Congress is weak and unwilling to aggressively push our agenda - he will continue to veto legislation, such as children's health care - that is supported by a majority of Americans. The only way to move a progressive Democratic agenda is by acting through strength and following through on our core principles. A Congress willing to stand up to the abuses of the Bush Administration through impeachment hearings will demonstrate a strength of will that will more likely convince Bush to accommodate on issues such as Iraq, health care, and energy and environmental issues.

Today, I was joined by two other members of the House Judiciary Committee, Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Tammy Baldwin, who penned an online editorial with me calling for these impeachment hearings. In support of this effort I am releasing a call to action on video and launched The full op-ed from the three Judiciary Committee Members can be read at this site. If we can get 50,000 or even more people to sign up in support of this effort I will report back to each and every Democratic colleague of mine the true power that exists behind this movement.

Advantages of Mass Transit

Like This Wasn't Foreseeable When The Senate Confirmed Him

Mukasey Rejects Call for CIA Tape Details and Special Prosecutor

The Washington Post reports:
Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey today sharply rebuffed congressional demands for details about the Justice Department's inquiry into the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes, saying that providing such information would make it appear that the department was "subject to political influence."

In letters to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee and others, Mukasey also reiterated his opposition to appointing a special prosecutor to the tapes investigation, saying he was "aware of no facts at present" that would require such a step.

"At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice," Mukasey wrote. "Consistent with that testimony, the facts will be followed wherever they lead in this inquiry, and the relevant law applied."

Wouldn't you have loved to be a fly on Chuck Schumer's wall when he heard about Mukasey's response to the bipartisan inquiry by U.S. senators? And just when you think you've heard every conceivable weasel word and spinned excuse by the Bush administration's appointees for stalling, stonewalling, and not cooperating with Congress's Constitutionally-required role of oversight and investigation.

Senators Dianne Feinstein, Russ Feingold and Chuck Schumer (the senator who suggested that Bush nominate Mukasey for the job) confer during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting to vote on sending Michael Mukasey's nomination as Attorney General to the floor of the Senate.
One letter was sent to Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Similar correspondence was sent to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and to House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and other House Democrats.

The three letters represent an attempt by Mukasey to push back against growing pressure from lawmakers, primarily Democrats, who have showered the Justice Department with demands for investigations or information on topics ranging from the baseball steroids scandal to allegations of rape by a former military contractor employee.

The letters also are an assertive move by the new attorney general, who was confirmed last month with the lowest level of Senate support in the past half century because of his refusal to say whether a form of simulated drowning known as waterboarding amounts to torture under U.S. law.

Mukasey replaced former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, who left office in September after the furor over his handling of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and allegations that he misled Congress in sworn testimony.

The CIA disclosed last week that it destroyed videotapes in 2005 depicting interrogation sessions for alleged al-Qaeda operatives Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, commonly known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Administration officials have said that lawyers at the Justice Department and the White House, including former counsel Harriet E. Miers, advised the CIA against destroying the tapes but that CIA lawyers ruled their preservation was not required.

The Justice Department announced Saturday it had joined the CIA's inspector general in launching a preliminary inquiry into the tape destruction, and prosecutors asked the CIA to preserve any related evidence.

Leahy and Specter asked Mukasey on Dec. 10 for "a complete account of the Justice Department's own knowledge of and involvement with" the tape destruction. The two senators included a list of 16 separate questions, including whether the Justice Department had offered legal advice to the CIA about the tapes or had communicated with the White House about the issue.

Durbin had sent a letter to Mukasey Dec. 7 asking whether an investigation into the tape destruction would be pursued. Conyers and three other House Democrats authored a similar letter on the same day.

Mukasey wrote to the lawmakers that Justice "has a long-standing policy of declining to provide non-public information about pending matters.

"This policy is based in part on our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence," Mukasey wrote to Conyers and the others. "Accordingly, I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter, but appreciate the Committee's interests in this matter."

The tape investigation is being led by Kenneth Wainstein, head of the Justice Department's National Security Division. Wainstein held his first substantive meeting on the case Wednesday with staffers at the CIA inspector general's office, according to a law enforcement official.

Several Democrats have raised questions about the propriety of having the inquiry run by the Justice Department, whose lawyers were involved in offering legal advice about the tapes, and the CIA inspector general, whose office reviewed the tapes before they were destroyed.

CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said last week that the inspector general's office examined the tapes in 2003 "as part of its look at the Agency's detention and interrogation practices."

Also yesterday, the beleaguered head of the Justice Department's Voting Rights Section disclosed in a letter to employees that he was being transferred to another job in the agency.

John K. Tanner said he was moving to the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices after nearly 32 years in the Civil Rights Division.

Tanner had come under fire for making a series of racially charged statements earlier this year, including a suggestion that black voters are not hurt as much as whites by voter identification laws because "they die first."

Tanner apologized for the "tone" of his remarks in House testimony, but stuck with his overall argument that demographic differences temper the impact of identification laws on minorities. Tanner also was criticized by Democrats for approving a Georgia voter identification law in 2005 that was struck down by a federal court as discriminatory.

Tanner is the subject of an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility into his travel records and trips he approved for a subordinate, officials have said.

The move to shift Tanner out of civil rights could be seen as a move by Mukasey to tamp down criticism of the department's recent record. But Justice also filed a friend-of-the-court brief earlier this week siding with an Indiana identification law, which has been criticized by liberal groups and many voting experts.
Meanwhile, John Cook at Radar Online reports:
Behold, the Bush Administration in chart form: Federal spending on paper shredding has increased more than 600 percent since George W. Bush took office. This chart, generated by, the U.S. government's brand spanking new database of federal expenditures, shows spending on "contracts for paper shredding services" going back to 2000. Click here for the full, heartbreaking breakdown. In 2000, the feds spent $452,807 to make unpleasant truths go away; by 2006, the "Cheney Effect" had bumped that number up to $2.9 million. And by halfway through 2007, the feds almost matched that number, with $2.7 million and counting. Pretty much says it all.

HELL BENT ON DESTRUCTION Shredding contracts during Bush/Cheney