Prague Twin

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

End of an Era

According to an unconfirmed rumor, the railroad crossing gate that you see here is the last hand-power railroad crossing gate in the EU. If you look just below dead-center you will see the "cables" coming out from under the stone housing that leads out of the main mechanism. Those stones are probably there because there is a pedestrian short-cut over those stones. You wouldn't want people to trip on the cables. I put "cables" in quotes becuase the "cables" are nothing more that 12 gauge wire. Basically, they are made of good stong bailing wire. You can see the short iron poles sticking up every 10 yards or so which support the "cables". Way off in the distance, you can see the train station on the right. The white line is the edge of the plaform. Just on this side of the platform, the "cables" run underneath the railroad tracks and are then connect to a crank that the attendent turns by hand to raise and lower the gate. Don't ask me what they do when they break.

In this picture, you can see where they have dug up the ground to lay electricity, which I am presuming will run the gates very soon. They turned off the electricity for the entire neighborhood for most of the day yesterday to do this electric work. If you look closely at the red-and-white painted gate, you can almost see that it is made of a small, debranched tree, which is simple, cheap, and effective (which is probably why they stopped). The diameter of the gate naturally gets smaller towards the far end which reduces the torque on the iron fittings.

What I will really miss, is the slow, irregular ringing of the bell as the gates go up and down. Ding... DingDing, Ding...Din-Din-Ding..... . Faster as the crank is on the way down and slower as the crank is on the upturn, plus a certain randomness that can only be created by a hand-operated, mechanically-activated, railroad bell.

Obviously, there are no signal least not yet.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Iran Sanctions

Here is a question. Are sweeping, multi-lateral economic sanctions considered diplomacy? If you are comparing them to war, I suppose they are. So in line with President Bush's recent promise to "try diplomacy first" with Iran, the United States is now calling for economic sancitons on Iran.

During a recent appearance with Israeli PM Olmert, Bush said...

We’re headed — we’re on the cusp of going to the Security Council. And as — I repeat, to your question, obviously we’d like to solve this issue peacefully and diplomatically. And the more the Iranians refuse to negotiate in good faith, more countries are beginning to realize that we must continue to work together.

In the interests of diplomacy, Mr. President, instead of dismissing (via the Secretary of State) the letter that President Ahmadinejad wrote to you and going around the Security Council towards international sanctions, perphaps you could sit down and write some kind of response to the letter. Something from the gut, you know, just to be polite. After all, politeness is the first rule of diplomacy. Each manuever is crafted to elicit some generosity from the other side. Each small extention from one side should be greeted in equal measure from the other. It doesn't matter what the letter says, Mr. President, just write him something to let him know you care. You remember when you were a kid and your Grandma sent you $5 bucks for Easter, and your Mom made you write a thank you note. Same principle, only without the $5.

So, in the interest of "trying diplomacy first", please Mr. President, try first writing a letter. Think of it as diplomatic baby steps. Step two, would be to go to the Security Council. Step three is calling for broad international sanctions. Then, when all that fails, you get to start dropping bombs. I know, it seems like a lot to go through when the end is so obvious and pre-determined. But these are the sacrifices we make to pretend we come from a free country, based on justice, diplomacy, and the rule of law. We must appear to be making every effort at diplomacy, instead of just paying lip service to it.

Memorial Thanks

Instead of posting an opinion today, I am just going to say this.


Thats all.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Panic on the Hill

There was full blown panic on Capitol Hill yesterday as reports of gunfire emerged around 10:30 a.m. Fearing the worst, The Real Ugly American kept us updated on every new bit of inflamatory rumor that came along. Five hours of updates later, the all clear came. Then the really embarrassing news that Rep. Jim Saxton (R, New Jersey) thought he heard 6 to 10 shots. He didn't report that Rep. Saxton is a Republican. Maybe he was afraid it was classified.

At least the Real Ugly American had the integrity to report who had heard the "shots". Michelle Malkin on the other hand, who was also live-blogging updates, my favorite of which is..

12noon. First possible witness report...Jim Angle reporting that two women told police that they saw a man with a gun as they came out of Rayburn gym.

she reported the all clear, but didn't report that the person who had "heard shots", was in fact Rep. Jim Saxton (R, which stands for Republican, New Jersey).

I guess it is kind of embarrasing for the pundits.

What is really embarrasing, and what neither of these two reported was that it was construction noise that the honorabale gentleman from New Yersey actually heard.

At this point I just want to interject that while it was happening, I commented on this post at Dusty's blog with a really long name.

I suspected that this was all much ado about nothing, and as I was writing the comment, the all clear came. Here was the comment...

Sounds like hysteria to me. Someone thinks they saw someone with a gun, and there may have been a shot.

Sounds more like a board fell over in the parking lot, and an undercover got a little frisky and someone saw him. Oh [sic] some other such thing.

Imagine if they shut down the Iraqi parliament every time something like this happened.

I'm so glad I am not there right now. I'm not even getting a report in the hourly round up now. Oh wait, live blogging..... there it is.. "the all clear"

Yea, duh, didn't see that one comming.

As great as that moment was, imagine my utter glee when I found out that it was indeed construction noise. The Gun Toting Liberal has a scathing condemnation of Rep. Saxton and gental jabs for the other panic sticken like the Real Ugly American.

On the off chance that you are reading this Real Ugly American, our distinctly different reactions to this event underpin our distinctly different world view.

Has anyone ever read "The Boy Who Cried Wolf?"

UPDATE: Malkin is now bagging on Saxton. Good for her!

Leaking Classified Information

I am in a debate with my favorite sparing partner regarding the interpretaion of US CODE: Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 37 whose interpretation is in debate. At question is to whom the enforcement of these laws will extend.

The law addresses the disclosure of classified information in Paragraph 798. "Disclosure of classifed information"

Here it is stated:

(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information—
(1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code, cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any foreign government; or
(2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or planned for use by the United States or any foreign government for cryptographic or communication intelligence purposes; or
(3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or
(4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government, knowing the same to have been obtained by such processes—
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

The enforcement of this law, up until now, has been limited mostly to government officials who have a security clearance and thus are privy to said information. The law has been generally employed to punish those who breach the internal communication sealed loop. I think according to this law, if a government official were to give some information to a friend who did not work for the government, it would be hard to prosecute the friend if he were to go to the press, but it may be possible, especially if the friend was likely to understand that the information was being given with an understanding of confidentiality.

But the reporter who then publishes the information has yet to be prosecuted in the history of the United States as this memo excerpt from the University of Chicago Faculty Blog points out.

In his memo, Geoffrey Stone lays out three seperate types of classified information.

But, of course, there are secrets and there are secrets, and in exploring this matter it may be helpful to distinguish three different types of secrets. First, there are what we might call “illegitimate” government secrets. In this category of secrets, government officials are attempting to shield from public scrutiny their own misjudgments, incompetence, misconduct, venality, cupidity, corruption, or criminality. In a self-governing society, it is vital that such secrets must be exposed. What makes this difficult is that government officials attempting to maintain such secrets may invoke the claim of national security as a cover. We know from historical experience that this happens all-too-often.
Second, there are “legitimate but newsworthy” government secrets. The publication of such a secret may harm the national security and have substantial “value as a step to truth.” For example, the publication of secret information that Army rifles routinely misfire might be both harmful and beneficial to the national interest. Or the publication of secret information that the security of our nuclear power plants is inadequate might both endanger and further the national interest. In such situations, it is often difficult to know which effect predominates.
Third, there are “legitimate and non-newsworthy” government secrets. The public disclosure of such secrets may harm the national security and have only “slight value as a step to truth.” An example would be a publication disclosing that the United States has broken the enemy’s code, in circumstances in which this disclosure furthers no legitimate public interest. Of course, whether any particular publication furthers a legitimate public interest is commonly a matter of dispute, so it may be easier to state this category in the abstract than to apply it in practice.

I had foolishly broken it down in my mind to only 2 (the first and the third) but SOME people cannot see the difference between the three. (You know who you are).

This is a complex issue, and one that has been debated in the past. I for one agree with the principle that the government has the obligation in the interests of a free society to let the press disseminate information that they acquire from government sources. The government also has the right and obligation to go after the person or people who broke their oath not to disclose such classified information.

Recently, Alberto Gonzales has raised the issue again.

"There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected."

Aside from the fear-baiting, Gonzales is also wrong to ignore history. The same debate took place in 1917 and rightly, the Congress decided that it was best to stick to a "prosecute at the source" policy in the interests of a free society. The press was free to report without fear of prosecution and the security of the nation was not comprimised, nor has it been since, as a result of a press release.

Considerations of widening the interpretation of this law have been on the table since before 9/11, interestingly enough.

In my humble opinion, it would be a shame to restrict the press in a way that has not been done in the entire history of the United States. Should Mr. Gonzales get his way, it will be a very sad day indeed for all of us.

Weekly Economic Report

This was the most interesting week of trading in quite some time.

After last week's jitters and fears of a precipitous drop, the markets continued to slide into negative territory, with the Dow hitting a point below 11,000 on Wednesday. But Thursday and Friday, the global markets rallied, and there was a very strong upward move at the end of European trading, triggered by the postivie U.S. open on Friday. Roughly half of the losses that occured in the 10 worst days of trading in several years were erased Thursday and Friday. The Nasdaq is back into positive territory for the year. However, the Dow is still off 4% from it's highs just 2 weeks ago, and many of the global markets are 5 to 6% off their recent highs. The Nikkei index, however is shooting up fast, gaining almost 3% on Friday.

Where do we go from here? That is anyone's guess. One thing for certain, the whole dynamic of trading has sudenly changed from stable growth to high volatility. If you look at this six month chart you can see that the pattern has changed and volatility has increased. This is great for traders, but not good for long term investors. There is a lot of risk in the market, and this will probably continue for some time.

Last week I predicted that the EUR/USD rate would stay between $1.26 and $1.30 for quite a while. I also pointed out that $1.2690 looked to be providing support. Well, the range is even tighter with the pair staying confined between just under $1.27 and $1.29. However, the volatility was evident as the pair bounced between this range with fantastic speed. This is a range trader's paradise for now.

Very good economic data came out of the U.S. this week including strong home sales (surprised me) and Q1 GDP (5.3%). Housing data was better than expected, but not exactly great. Q1 GDP was less than expected, but still a very strong number. These numbers, however, were unable to lift the dollar, which means that further weakness in the dollar is expected. I don't think we are going to see the $1.2690 support broken (it bounced off it that support no less that 3 times this week). Instead, if the Euro can break $1.29, and carry through $1.30, we could see $1.35 or even $1.40. Right now the Euro stands at $1.2730. Not a bad time to set a stop loss just below the $1.2690 level and let it ride.

One thing that is freely admitted even by the MSNBC cheerleaders is that "we see a migration of capital into foreign markets." Cited as a cause is the extra layer of bureaucracy that has been added as a result of the Enron scandal. Another factor is the fear that many investors have that the U.S. market is overvalued: How many more Enron type stories are out there just waiting to break? No one knows. Finally, the dollar weakness of late, and its expected further weakness makes foreign investmenst more attractive.

In summary, there is a chance that we will see significant gains next week coming out of this impressive bounce off of the test of 11,000 in the dow. We could easily see new record highs in the comming weeks, so all you bargin hunters out there that bought in on the last dip have a good chance to make some serious cash. But investors beware: there is significant risk in the market right now. A 1,000 point drop in less than a week is entirely possible.

The best advice out there right now for investors: BE CAREFUL! Tight stops and cautious moves. Even a small trade can earn you a lot or put you in the poor house. There is no need to be agressive right now.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Post #100

I guess for some people, 100 posts isn't much. But since I started this blog about 5 months ago, it is a milestone for me.

I wanted to look at the beginning of the blog, and reflect a bit about why the hell I'm doing this after all. I noticed that my first post (other than an introduction note) was on Iraq. The heart of the argument I was making at the time was...

According to, the average number of coalition casualties per day since the March 2003 invation is 2.34 per day. It fluctuates month to month and period to period, but interestingly enough, as we get further and further into this war, the average remains virtually unchanged and it seems to be getting more and more consistent. Whereas early on we had months with over 4 per day and as little as .79 per day in February 2004, 2005 has seen a much more consistent loss of coalition life. But if you throw out the first few months of "major combat operations" you will see a pretty consistent pattern. So the next time you hear someone on the left saying things are getting worse, or someone on the right saying things are getting better, just remember this: things are essentially unchanged. Unchanged as well are the number of insurgent attacks.

I think that history is playing out pretty well for me. A no brainer, I think, but an opinion you don't hear much.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am trying to show things as they are, and not how I want them to be. I save my strong opinions (usually) for the comment boxes.

I'm not trying to say that I am non-baised. Certainly the subject matter I choose to report on makes my bais clear if I don't make it clear enough in the posts. I think that the facts end up supporting my positions. I don't need to push it, but sometimes I do anyway. Hey, I'm only human, and I don't have an editor hanging over my head.

Anyway, thank you to everyone who reads this blog, and especially those who take the time to leave comments. You have all helped me understand the world better. If I have done the same for anyone, on even the most subtle level, then this has all been worth it.

Happy blogging everyone!


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lay Convicted

Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead!

This is the best news I have heard in a while.

Finally, after all these years, they have held one of these corporate bastards accountable for the lives that they ruin. This is real progress.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Russian Visa

I've had to get visas in the past. Getting a permanent visa for the Czech Republic was an absoluteley harrowing experience, for example. So I guess I should have been more prepared for a hassle when I went to get a single-entry visa to Russia today.

Yesterday I found out that my invitation letter from my sponsor was not sufficient and I would have to send away for an official invitation letter from the Russian Ministry of Affairs. Within the day, and $45 dollars later, I had it. So far so good. Now this letter is to confirm that I have a place to stay. So now officially I am staying at the "Hotel Budapest". I can assure you I am not. This document then is a required forgery, provided by the state.

Nevertheless, today I went to the Russian embassy with all of my papers in order, or so I thought. I had downloaded application forms of the internet, I had affixed photos to the applications, and had in my possesion all of the other required documents. I was well prepared. I was not as well prepared for the scene outside the embassy.

The Russian embassy in Prague has a big fence and gate in front. A man with a blue, puffy face lets people in and out to keep the crowds down inside. So outside, it is a free for all. I tried to be diplomatic, but after nearly two hours I was smashed up to the front like everyone else. The whole time, mind you, there are people who are coming just for a pick-up and they wave their slip of paper and fight their way through the crowd. One lady that was aquiring visas as a job helped me out a little and I finally got in. I went through a metal detector, but my bag was not searched.

There was a very small Asian man right in front of me at the window. The man behind the window was staring at him, shaking his head. My compatriate was vaguely arguing, looking stunned. Within 30 seconds, the man behind the window called for the security guy, and the Asian man was escorted out to the crowd beyond the fence, the whole time looking confused and helpless.

Undaunted, I stepped up to the window and presented my "perfect" applications. He scoughed at them and handed me two, two-page applications to fill out. I sat down and got busy. The questions started getting hard.

Name every country you have visited in the last ten years, and the year visited.

For this question I was provided a single box about 3" X 1". Great. My first big European tour was 9 years ago, and I haven't exactly been sitting on my butt since then. Still, I could answer the question. Then came the questions that I could not possibly answer.

Name every school you have ever attended except "high school" and list their addresses and phone numbers.

List every non-profit group or charitable organization that you have ever worked for or donated to.

Then they ask if you have ever been arrested for anything or are or have ever been a drug-addict and so on. I told them what they wanted to hear.

I went back to the booth and the man behind the window asks for a copy of my passport and he wants the photos removed from the old application and fixed on to the new one (I should have known better but time was running out). I don't have a copy, and there is a copy machine right behind him, but he won't make one. I wander around in the lobby trying to figure this one out. There is no way I can leave and get back in. I ask the lady at the money desk. "Niet!" I get the lady at the next window to make me one, then I affix the photos to the new application, but by the time I get back to the window, the man behind it says, "We are closed. Come back tomorrow."

I step back, a bit dazed and prepare to leave. But in the meantime, the security gaurd (who also turned me down for a copy on his way to the back) has gone to the back. It is pretty cold outside, so before I go out the self-locking door to the courtyard, I am going to wait until someone else gives it a shot. Within a minute, a young, blond lady went out and found the gate locked. Well at least I got one thing right today! She comes to glass door pleading for help from me, of all people. I say in half shouts and sign language that the security gaurd is in the back. "Use the buzzer!" I say.

She returns to the gate where her boyfriend is waiting for her in the same place I had been imprisoned for the last two hours, and oh how I longed to be back there. Now I was stuck in the place that I had worked so hard to get in. After a while, the man behind the window yelled at me that they are closed and I should leave, I yelled back that it is locked. I yelled becuase you would have to to be heard: He is behind the window and I am now like 6 feet away from it. He waves his hand at me dismissively and disappears.

There are four other people remaining in the office. Two of them have presently finished their business and have figured out the problem in the courtyard. The three of us continue to wait near the glass door. Only two people remain with unfinished business. Both are quite old and dressed very conservatively. They finish up at about the same time, and head out to the courtyard immediately with the gentleman in the lead. The young lady who has now been standing in the courtyard for about 20 minutes steps aside.

The gate opens easily and we all follow him out.

I can't wait until tomorrow.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Serbia and Montenegro

A new country was born today when Montenegro decided by way of referendum to split from Serbia.

The EU has commended Montenegro on its decision and promised to honor the decision to split from Serbia. They also plan to consider Montenegro for EU membership.

This does not come as much of a surprise. Any country with an "and" in the middle of its name is a candidate for a split.

Congratulations Montenegro. I wouldn't want to share my country with the Serbians either.

Late Market Wrap-Up

I said I would do this on Friday, but, well, you know.

Last week was rough on US equities. It looked like the bloodletting from the end of the previous week had shored up on Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday's higher than expected CPI data fueled fears that inflationary concerns would force the Fed to continue to raise interest rates. These fears resulted in a precipitous drop in equities on Wednesday.

On Thursday, stronger than expected initial jobless claims continued to fuel worries that the U.S. economy is indeed finally starting to show signs of softening. However, the high number of jobless claims has the inverse effect on the Fed rate decision than inflationary concerns. Higher unemployment means the Fed is more likely to pause in raising interest rates to help grow the economy. Having said that, the Fed says the inflationary concerns are primary, which means that they will probably continue to raise rates.

By the end of the week, we saw signs of nervousness. Very high volume indicates that people are making moves to hedge their bets and diversify their portfolios ahead of a possibly volatile correction.

In sum, the market has come to its senses. In my view this correction is overdue, which is why it could be quite damaging if it gains momentum. Commodity prices have pullled back, and the dollar finally broke it's two-month losing trend. The dollar is at about $1.27 to the Euro. The psychologically important $1.30 barrier was not broken, but the resistance treadline was. $1.2690 seems to be providing short-term resistance, but a correction all the back down to $1.24 is possible. In my view, this range between $1.26 and $1.30 should hold for some time.

There is nervousness and volatility that we have not seen in the markets in some time. Europe has opened lower today. Everyone agrees we are in the midst of a correction, but no one knows how much of a correction we will actually see. Nervousness, yes. Full-blown panic, not yet.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Diplomatic License

A few months back CNN cancelled Diplomatic License (I'd offer a link, but CNN has expunged them from their website). As you may know, this show was hosted Richard Roth, and it was a weekly wrap-up of events at the UN. I used to enjoy watching the show quite a bit because it was content heavy. I was pretty upset when CNN cancelled it, and Richard mentioned on the final broadcast that if viewers had an opinion about it, they could write in. In fit of rage, this is what I wrote.

To Whom it May Concern:

I have just learned that Diplomatic License is to be
cancelled. Although I can't say I am surprised, I am
quite disappointed. I suppose that any show that has
actual content is in danger of being cancelled as we
move further and further away from any real substance
in television media.

However, I can't help but to wonder if the problem is
not that people do not want substance, or if the
television media itself has trained the public not to
accept substance as something desirable.

If the latter is in anyway true, then CNN has in fact
done more to keep the public uninformed than to
enlighten the people. If this trend continues, soon
there will be nothing of substance on CNN whatsover,
and instead of informing the public (which ostesibly
is your goal) you will in fact help keep the masses
underiformed and thus powerless.

Congratulations. You must be very proud.

I had pretty much forgotten about the letter right after I sent it out, but Richard sent me a response back this week, so I got to read my words again. I just thought it was interesting how sometimes rage helps me express myself clearly.

The response was pretty much a form letter, but I got the sense that he actually read the letter and liked it. Here is what he had to say...
Dear Michael,

Love the email. I wanted to thank you for your kind note. What can I
say? They killed us the next week. Its not the same to be at the UN and
my future is murky.
My small team offers thanks to support from viewers like you.
Richard Roth

Sounds like I at least brought a smile to his face.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Czech Sidewalk

Sidewalks are made a little differently here than what I am used to. Not to say that this is how they make all the sidewalks around here, but they use this method quite extensively near the center of Prague. You will notice that the guy in the picture actually has to set each individual stone. Below, is picture of a single stone, and the huge sacks which they arrive in.

The next picture is an example of where they have to actually break stones to fit the space.

And here you can see the work in progress.

Here is the final product. Notice how they lay sand on the surface which then finds its way into the cracks between the stones, and thus locking everything in place.

It is a very labor intensive, yet practical way of doing things. If the sidewalk needs to be taken up for whatever reason at a later date, the stones can be removed and then replaced. The only material used would be a little sand. They make the street the same way, but the stones are bigger. You will notice another key difference here which is that people are free to walk through the construction zone. The city assumes no liablility for a person's saftey in this case.

This is a nice Prague neighborhood, but nothing fancy. I have to say, though, it seems to be getting nicer all the time.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Real Milblog

Lance Corporal Sean Barney, a former aide for Sen. Tom Carper D-DE, was seriously wounded in Fallujah on May 12th.

He had joined the marines in reaction to 9/11 (a bit late from what I can gather), and was writing a blog for his progressive think tank called third way, right up until he was shot in the neck. He had only been there a month, so you can literally read his whole blog in about 15 minutes. It is quite good. Here is how the last entry started...

Well, one month down, six months to go. Time is moving fairly quickly here. The days that we are patrolling or conducting other operations are hectic, so time flies. The days we are on the FOB security move more slowly, but they provide us a chance to rest our bodies.

The city of Fallujah has been relatively quiet (knock on wood) for the last week or so.....


This puts a human face on the human cost of this war. This is someone who has a voice. It will be interesting to see what he has to say when he recovers.

One question: Didn't Coalitions Forces completely clear Fallujah? Did I miss something?

Gas Rumors

I just got this as a forward. If anyone more knowledgeable has thoughts, I'd love to hear them...

I just think everyone should know. I am a tugboat sailor. The gas
shortage is totally bogus. There are "fleets" all up and down the gulf coast
that you don't know about. They consist of hundreds and thousands of tank
barges that we tie up daily that are filled with millions of gallons of
fuel. The big companies pump their fuel into the barges and as long as the
fuel is in a barge it is considered offshore and not part of the reserve.
So, there are millions of gallons of fuel tied up to spud barges all through
the bays, intracoastal inlets, and canals all up and down the coast that the
companies don't have to report.
They fabricate the shortage by pumping their millions of gallons of fuel
and hide them in these fleets creating the shortage so they can make their
multi billion dollar gains while we can't afford the gas at the pump. I've
never in my life asked anyone to forward anything, but this has me fuming.
(Accidental pun now intended) With many voices, we can put a stop to this.
Get the word out!!!!!!

James F. Ransdell

Guy wants the word out. I figure, lets get it out and see what the reaction is.

Hayden Confirmation

One of the few times we get some strait talk out of our leaders is when an appointee has to go through a confirmation process. I think today's hearing, with a few exceptions, was one of those times.

First and foremost, we once again heard of a covert domestic spying program, initiated by the president, but this time from the man who led it.

Hayden said he decided to go ahead with the then-covert surveillance program, which has been confirmed by Bush, believing it to be legal and necessary.

"When I had to make this personal decision in October 2001 ... the math was pretty straightforward. I could not not do this," Hayden said.

Saying you can not not do something because of the circumstances is a far cry from something being legal, but I digress. Most important in these hearings are the things that are not said.

Under questioning from Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, Hayden said he would only talk about the part of the program the president had confirmed.

"Is that the whole program?" asked Levin.

"I'm not at liberty to talk about that in open session," Hayden said. A closed-door session was planned for later in the day.

Translation: I will tell you about the other parts of the plan that the president has cleared me to discuss, but you bet your ass there is more, a whole lot more, and even y'all are going to only see the tip of the iceberg. Don't worry.

He has had disagreements with Rumsfeld, which is a plus in this case. How often is it a plus that you have had disagreements with a person that you will have to work closely with? I don't think he had much choice on this one. If he comes off like a yes-man for Rumsfeld, he is dead in the water. Nice coaching.

The following is the most important quote of the day.

"We just took too much for granted. We didn't challenge our basic assumptions."

Listen up Iran hawks. Words of wisdom right there.

The democrats acted like sheep in wolves clothing as usual.

Hayden, as expected, drew the most fire from Democratic members. "I now have a difficult time with your credibility," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Yes, and, your point? That didn't work on Condi (just ask Barbara Boxer), and it won't work now. Now for your rehearsed sound bite.

"I would reaffirm the CIA's proud culture of risk-taking,"

Is that spy language for breaking the law? If not, what exactly does that mean? What they need is an insider cleric. Now that would be risky.

I think Hayden will be confirmed rather easily. No one wants a fight on this one. They need someone in there, and this guy seems like at least he is competent, which is saying a lot for a Bush appointee.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

European Championship

The European Champions league is THE professional sporting event of the year here. For professional soccer, it is the ultimate title because all of the best players, play in European leagues, and this is the best of the best.

This year it is Barcelona against Arsenal in the final. Barcelona won the very competitive Spanish league this year for a fourth consecutive title (a record). Arsenal has never advanced past the quarterfinals prior to this year. They play a two-game aggregate format. CORRECTION:/ It is all or nothing, the final tonight in Paris.

First half:

Thierry Henry (France) of Arsenal had two shots on goal within the first 4 minutes. The first being an amazing first touch in the box, and a quick punch with the outside of his foot that was leg-saved by the goalie.

Barcelona countered with two shots on goal, and then Ronaldino (Brazil) of Barcelona made a beautiful pass to Samuel Eto'o but he appeared to be offside. Curriously, there is no film of the exact moment when Ronaldinho made the pass to prove if Eto'o was indeed offside. Eto'o then was free to the goal at about 40 yards out and the Arsenal goalie Lehmann takes out Eto'o without getting any ball. Barcelona would have scored, but a foul was called and Lehmann was red-carded.

About 10 minutes later, Campell of Arsenal scored on a header off of an Henry free kick.

In the third minute of extra time (rough game), Eto'o had a clean shot on goal that was blocked by the replacement goalie and bounced hard off the left crossbar.

End of first half: 1-0 Arsenal

Second half:

Arsenal continued to put the pressure on with shots from Henry and Llungberg. Ronaldinho had several chances but only put one shot on goal.

In the 60th minute, Barcelona brought on Henrik Larsson which proved to be a great move. In the 76th minute he made a perfect pass to Eto'o who scored. Five minutes later he had another assist to Billetti.

Barcelona worked the clock and are now European Champions.

Final: Barcelona 2, Arsenal 1

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Compassionate Conservative

Is it my imagination, or is the administration trying to put a happy face on right now? On Monday the Pentagon released the list of detainies at Guantanamo Bay. Today, Tuesday, they announce that they plan to realease the video of American Airlines flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon.

Of couse, let us not forget that Bush gave his speech on Monday which he didn't arrange until Friday under marginaly unusual circumstances. (h/t Mikevotes)

The circumstances around how the speech was arranged notwithstanding, this speech was set up and timed. Why? So the president could force us to think about illegal immigration but promise to do nothing to effectively address the problem.

Maybe I am seeing things, but it seems like the administration is trying to come off as compasionate and fair. No one is buying it, but they are trying.

Is this the pathetic throes of an administration watching their polling numbers continue to plumb new lows, or is this an offering before an admission of guilt?

Only time will tell.

UPDATE: The video has been released, but you have to go through DOD procedures to get it. I wonder how long before they have it up at Crooks and Liars.

SECOND UPDATE: The video is up at Judicial Watch

Angry Rant

The other day I received an email from a dear friend of mine. The level of anger and frustration struck me as something a bit alien from my removed vantage. With his permission, I am publising a part of that email here...

Snow...that's a joke. What has he really stood out against? Dubai? Bush not being true to "conservatism" whatever the hell that means anymore? Big deal. Bunch of smoke. Everybody at Fox is a suckup to the corps paying for the infotainment. And don't even get me started on CNN. I tell ya, the "left" and "moderate" is worse than the "right." Fuckin weak pricks. I HATE the media. It's amazing how much more tolerant and positive you are than I am. And a press guy was last in his position during Ford admin btw.

Fuck it all. the headline today is Kennedy's car accident. WHO CARES!!! I'm so sick of the media telling all the lemings what is important. The very lastest outrage for me is Bush's quote last week of "The media is important to democracy." What a fucking spin pig! The media does not support democracy anymore. Even the "liberal" and "progressive" am stations are garbage. I call them now, and say my piece, and they fucking suck, ignore the comment and continue with their own spin. So they rail on Bush over Iraq. Big deal. They still get paid by the same sponsors, they are all owned now by a handful of corps, and they still blame al Qaida for terrorism! Terrorism is a fabrication of American foreign policy. From the creation of Isreal to the future of Iran and Syria, It's all us. We sponsor it, we encourage it, and we commit it. al Qaida is nothin but a CIA backed media smokescreen. Fucking pigs.

Then there little news briefs are the same fear mongering Fox news gets on about...ya know, car accident, personified weather that will kill you, mosquito and bird diseases, rape, murder, etc. And the Dems are no better. Bunch of fucking paid off hypocrits. And wussies too. Dude, anyway, I gotta quit this tirade. I would never make it as a blogger. I overheat at one comment.

Thoughts anyone?


I'm not a huge fan of, but I read a fantastic post at "It's my Right to be Left of the Center" the other day that made me rethink my opinion of them at least a little.

I'm not saying I agree with everything they do, but the event covered in Dusty's blog is exactly what needs to be done.

Please, read about the event, but for those with short attention spans here is the jist of what was done:

We had a nice big visual in the check made out to Wild Bill for $570,550.00. We symbolically tore up the check,demanded he stop kissing drug companies ass's and protect the seniors and disabled in his district. We then walked into his nice, COOL office and presented the petitions to one of his minions.

Way to go and Dusty for holding your elected representatives accountable for selling out their own constituancy in order to line their own pockets!

If we want real reform, this is exactly the type of thing that needs to be done over, and over, and over, and over.....

Monday, May 15, 2006

Rove Unfazed

You have to love this piece which is more like a human interest story than actual news. The only reason given for the timing of this article was Rove's fith appearance before the grand jury, which was on April 27th, and the grand jury's upcoming Wednesday meeting.

Today is Monday.

From the article....

Rove's fifth appearance before a grand jury rekindled speculation that he, too, could be indicted. Fitzgerald has advised Rove that he is not a target of the investigation, according to Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin.

As the grand jury prepares to meet again on Wednesday, the waiting game for Rove continues.

Translation: there is no reason for us to be running this story right now other than for positioning, and because of the Leopold piece which will not be mentioned here.

Be sure to check out reality-based educator and Born at the Crest of the Empire for the latest news.

Apparently Leopold is sticking by his story, and the indictment should come down Wednesday.

Helicopters Going Down with Frequency

When the British helicopter was downed on May 6th, I made the point that Iranian missles may be finding their way into the hands of the Mahdi army.

The media still reports that that the Brittish helicopter went down "apparently from a missle." Has anyone heard an update on the investigation? No? Neither have I.

So now, just eight days after the Brittish chopper went down, a US chopper has been taken down.

No word yet if a missle was used. No details have been released by the US military. I doubt we will ever hear the details for strategic reasons. If I had to guess, missles are now being used, and they will continue to target helicopters for the simple fact that helicopter downings make the news wire.

Abuse of Power

On Friday, Bush gave his weekly radio address wherein he claimed...

It is important for Americans to understand that our activities strictly target al Qaeda and its known affiliates........ Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda terrorists and its affiliates who want to harm the American people.

Today, ABC's news blog reports that the database the NSA is developing will be used to identify journalists' sources in an effort to fight leaks.

Irrespective of whether or not this is legal, or whether or not you agree with the NSA's use of this information, if this report is accurate, the president has lied to the public.

I know, it's shocking. Hard to imagine even.

But the larger point is that the gathering of information for one purpose can lead to it being used for another purpose. Once the government oversteps its bounds, the infringements will continue. Give them an inch.... History Mike has a great post on this point.

The datamining efforts by the NSA, however, are just a portion of the gradual erosion of privacy in this country, which began long before President Bush took office. Once the door is opened to illegal acts by the government the precedent is set for future assaults on liberty, and members of both major parties seem all too willing to allow our liberties to be usurped.

This is the point that gets overlooked in all of this. The question should not be, "will datamining efforts help the NSA fight terrorism?" The question should be, "is datamining legal and constitutional in this case?"

As we continue to give up our civil liberties in the interests of expediency, facism continues to make further inroads.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Guantanamo Bay to be Closed.

It looks as if the Bush administration is getting serious about closing Guantanamo Bay.

The last paragraph struck me as being funny..

Washington has been soliciting advice on how to rehabilitate detainees who might otherwise rejoin the jihad if freed. One of those consulted, Rohan Gunaratna, the author of Inside Al-Qaeda, said: “The Americans are now seriously thinking of rehabilitation.”

No matter how hard I try, I just can't imagine this hypothetical rehabilitation program. Are they going to set up institutions in Yemen as well? Would they be voulutary or imposed? Also, if they think they can rehabilitate jihadist (which I think is a suspect proposition), why didn't they start four years ago?

I guess I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. If Guantanamo Bay is cleaning house, I am happy.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rove to be Indicted

Jason Leopold reports that Karl Rove has informed the White House that he will indeed be indicted. It is not clear if he will be indicted only on perjury charges, or if Fitzgerald will include a more serious obstruction of justice charge.

This has not been confirmed in the major media, but as Mike at Born at the Crest of the Empire pointed out, Leopold is way out in front on this one, and he hasn't been proven wrong yet. I wouldn't bet against him. Thanks for being on the ball, Mike.

I'm sticking with next Friday as the day. I really thought it was too soon this Friday. Now that the information is out, the indictment is probably imminent.

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Profesional take on the Market

You may have read what I said below. Now hear what the profesionals had to say...

[BRIEFING.COM] Stocks tumbled for a second straight day as realization that interest rates are still going higher, perhaps much higher than what has been priced into the market so far, prompted broad-based consolidation which closed all three major averages down at least 1.0%. The absence of any notable leadership, as all ten economic sectors finished in negative territory, and above average volume to the downside lending even more conviction behind another dismal performance, kept buyers sidelined heading into the weekend.

Before the bell, investors found some comfort after the U.S. Trade Deficit unexpectedly narrowed for a second straight month in March to $62 bln. However, realizing that such a decline will leave an upward revision to Q1 GDP growth -- a red flag for inflation hawks -- and additional data that showed the largest jump in import prices since September, which will weigh heavily on the April Trade Deficit, continued to underpin a sense of nervousness throughout the Treasury market. As a result, stocks again took a bearish cue from rising interest rates and traded in sympathy with further deterioration in bonds which lifted the yield on the 10-yr note to another 4-year high (5.18%).

With no notable earnings reports on the docket and over 90% of the S&P 500 having already reported Q1 results, investors also turned their attention to further weakness in the dollar -- a concern that we're not buying into as a presumed bearish factor for the market. After all, a modestly weak dollar is actually good for U.S. equities since it increases demand for U.S. products and increases the value in dollars of overseas profits for U.S. companies. Nevertheless, the recent damage done on the commodity price front due in part to a weaker greenback making dollar-denominated assets like gold and oil more attractive, continued to act as an overhang even though crude prices fell 1.7% and gold lost 1.2%. In fact, modest consolidation throughout commodities merely prompted investors to lock in profits from this year's two best performing sectors. Energy and Materials plunged 2.9% and 2.1%, respectively. To wit, Alcoa (AA 34.79 -1.23) was the worst performing Dow component Friday with ExxonMobil (XOM 62.20 -1.26), ranking third on the price-weighted index with a 2.0% pullback, also contributed to the Dow snapping a five-week winning streak.

Speaking of Industrials, the sector has been the third best performer in 2006 and, as one might deduce from all of this year's leaders getting hit the hardest Friday, turned in the day's third worst performance. Caterpillar (CAT 77.81 -1.81), United Technologies (UTX 64.87 -0.95), and Honeywell (HON 42.91 -0.63) -- all recently at 52-week highs -- were also influential Dow components that weighed on blue chips throughout the session.

On a positive note, chip maker Analog Devices (ADI 36.03 +1.35) beat estimates by three cents and issued upside guidance, which plays into our Overweight rating on Technology; however, follow-through consolidation throughout the influential sector also took a toll on investors asking themselves if they should in fact "sell in May and go away."

Overall, not that bad, but some disturbing new signs that are probably long overdue. We could have stagflation right ahead of us.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Prozac Anyone?

I just heard that one in 10 Americans take some form of Anti-Depresant at an annual cost of $6 billion dollars.

No wonder Bush doesn't want drugs from Cananda. Think of the implications for the trade deficit.

Nigeria Pipeline Explosion

Despite today's Nigerian pipeline explsion which vanquished at least 200 people in less than a second, oil is only $72 a barrel right now, now about a buck for the day. Remember just a while back when our eyes popped out at $50, and now we may never see $60 again.

Wow, the price of oil is dropping, just an hour and one half after this explosion. They didn't even mention it on Closing Bell.

UPDATE: They finally mentioned it in passing ten minutes after the closing bell.

So the dow takes the biggest two day drop since last October. This is a sharp turn, but it had to happen. Six strait months of gains leading into it. Poor consumer sentiment and interest rate hike/inflation fears pulled it down.

Even the Bulls are saying sell. Last week I hear an analyst saying he was sticking with his prediction of an 8% gain in the dow for the year and they asked, "but it has already gone up 8% this year. So?" And he shrugged meaning, yea, there is going to be a correction. And here it comes. Monday could be ugly.

I saw a market bear who has been investing in European Markets and gold for the last 6 years (wow, he is stoked). For all the hoopla about the American economy, those who have been investing in Europe have been cleaning up. Why? Take the Czech Republic for instance. Those who invested here 5 years ago have seen good returns in crown terms. But the crown has nearly doubled its value against the dollar. So an American who invested dollars here five years ago can sell out now with no profit, and almost "double his money." What does that tell you about the dollar, and the real strength of th US economy. When people start to say the emperor has no clothes...look out.

The bull that he was arguing with had no chance, not right now. He wasn't the brightest guy anyway, sacrificial lamb. Probably the only bull they could get today. Here is a partial quote, "If you look at a country like London...."

One last thing... Gold is closing today down, DOWN to $712 an ounce. Import prices up 2.1% for the month. Inflation anyone?

Sorry about the all the financials. I'm going to keep it to Fridays. Sort of a weekly wrapup thing.

A Litlle Good News, very little.

There was definately some profit taking on the stock market this week, bringing it back down to 11,500. I expect that there will be a retracement of that loss today (Friday). Why?

Well, the dollar did not recover and trigger a mass profit taking from foreign investors. It was wishful thinking on my part that it would. No, the Euro now costs $1.29, a full cent higher than last weekend. I had expected $1.2850 to provide some resistance, but it went right through peaking out at $1.2950 a couple of hours ago. It looks like $1.30 and higher is a real posibility. This provides perceived value in the stock market for foreign investors as stocks now cost less in their own domestic currency.

Economic data out of the states this week was mixed. Government revenue on Wednesday was excellent, but did not exceed expectations. A feather in the cap, however, for the supply-siders. Today's lower than expected trade deficit number ($62 billion, $5 billion less than expected but still one of the highest months on record) gave the dollar the briefiest of releif before the University of Michigan consumer sentiment tumbled 8.4 points to its lowest level in 7 months, which was right after Katrina. Removing that outlier, we now see the lowest consumer sentiment in the US in over 3 years. Import prices shot up by 2.1%, more than double the expected number. Inflation clues just keep piling up. Like the first few drops of rain. Ten year bonds are also gaining on inflation concerns. Commodities continue to set new quarter century highs, especially gold and copper.

So the Euro now sits at $1.29 and there is no relief in sight for the dollar. I predict that before the end of the year, we are going to see something close to a record high for the Euro against the dollar. Significant changes announced at the G7 coupled with mixed data out of the states and stronger data now coming out of Europe means the dollar has its back up against the wall... again.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

NSA Tracking Call Patterns

Washington Post reports today...

President Bush, responding to a newspaper report on a previously undisclosed program to track the phone call patterns of millions of Americans, insisted today that U.S. intelligence activities he has authorized are lawful and aimed strictly at the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Wait.... Millions of calls and their efforts are directed at the al-Qaeda network? Either terrorism is way more prevalent than anyone thought, or we have been lied to: pure and simpe.

The thing that bugs me the most is how easily a huge data base of calls would create a network of information, like an organism. Everything could be shown to be connected.

Anyone they want can be connected to a terrorist. How hard would it be to be just a couple of degrees away from a terrorist without even knowing it?

Have you ever played Six degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Now imagine how easy it would be for you or me to be "linked to terrorism". We can all get terrorism ratings to go with our credit ratings! JOY!

Here is how it works: if I know a guy who, knows a guy, who knows a guy who is a terrorist, that makes me a 2. I'm not sure what my number would actually be. I met a Basque guy. I'm sure that connects me with a terrorist. Heck, maybe I know a terrorist and don't even know it? Maybe my terroist rating is 1. I really can't be sure.

Want to know your number? Just ask the NSA.... They know.

Or better yet, why not ask Michael V. Hayden himself? Oh, what luck! Looks like we will get the chance!

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Chomsky on Kosovo

If you missed Noam Chomsky's A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo, that's a shame. It's never too late.

This is required reading for anyone who thinks George Bush is evil but Clinton is a nice guy. It is current because Chomsky's basic contention lends well to the notion of fighting terrorism in Iraq.

The logic, widely accepted, is intriguing. Uncontroversially, the vast crimes took place after the bombing began: they were not a cause but a consequence. It requires considerable audacity, therefore, to take the crimes to provide retrospective justification for the actions that contributed to inciting them.

The best part is Wesley Clark's assessment...

As the bombing campaign began, U.S.-NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark informed the press that it was “entirely predictable” that Serb terror would intensify as a result. Shortly after, Clark explained again that “The military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt, as well as the terrible efficiency with which he would carry it out.” Elaborating a few weeks later, he observed that the NATO operation planned by “the political leadership...was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing. It was not designed as a means of waging war against the Serb and MUP [internal police] forces in Kosovo. Not in any way. There was never any intent to do that. That was not the idea.” General Clark stated further that plans for Operation Horseshoe “have never been shared with me,” referring to the alleged Serb plan to expel the population that was publicized by NATO after the shocking Serb reaction to the bombing had become evident.

Chomsky is absolutely relentless throughout. A fantastic read. Interesting how the media, and the world, give Clinton a pass on this one.

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The Czech Movie Experience

I went to see a movie in Liberec (a Czech city of about 100,000) last night. The review is in the previous post.

The experience of seeing a movie here is sometimes more interesting than the movie itself. I'm not sure this was the case last night, but the experience was different than what a lot of people stateside are used to.

The theater in Liberec is a small, old theater. There is assigned seating, but last night there was only about 20 people so we were told to sit wherever. What a relief! The first time I saw a movie here was in 1997. About 30 people had sat in their assigned seats in a theater that holds 200. All sat in one square in the middle of the theater without a single empty seat among them, with one exception: I was sitting well away from the group wondering, "what is wrong with these people?" Luckily, things are changing.

After we purchased our tickets, Ivan and I went upstairs to the bar that is attached to the theater. I asked the bartender if I could bring the glass into the theater with me. He asked if there were a lot of people and I assured him there weren't. Yes was the answer. I paid my 90 cents for a half liter of the finest beer you ever tasted, had a few sips, and we went to see the film. One thing about the bar was that there was a table of about 10 guys sitting a smoking a joint. The bartender was helping them.

After the film, I returned my glass, chatted with the bartender a bit, and walked into the center of town to have a kebab. A guy named Abraham (he is from Jordan) runs the Kebab shop, and thank god for that. This is the only real kebab you can get in the Czech Republic as far as I know. Lamb on the spit with 27 spices, and real homemade bread. While I was eating, I was approached by a drunken Ukrainian who tried to pick me up speaking German. Needless to say, he was unsuccessful. I was flattered nonetheless.

I guess what struck me the most about the night was the relaxed atmosphere, and the freedom. Liberec leaves a lot to be desired, however, the freedom to do what you want when you want is not an issue.

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Syriana Review

I went to see Syriana last night (yes, it finally made it to the Czech Republic). I liked the movie, but I had some serious problems with it.

What was good about the movie is that these key points were made.

1. The CIA employs some shady people
2. The oil business is run by insiders.
3. The US government is a party to this.
4. There are way too many people out of work worldwide.
5. The killing that the US does is coming back in the form of terrorism.

I think it is important that people think about these things. If this movie helped people think about these things, then it was worth it. Having said that, I had some problems with the movie.

First of all, it was pretty boring. A little more action or sex might have helped ticket sales and thus spread the message of the film to a wider audience. There had been a story about an American woman (former beauty queen) who became a very expensive ($1 million for a weekend) call girl for one of the Emirs in the original script, but it got cut. That might have helped.

Secondly, the scene with the boy dieing in the pool seemed unnecessary. It seemed like it was just for shock value. Cheap, and ineffective.

Thirdly, the scenes wherein the players are talking business and economics are poorly written. They are too complex for the average person, and they are not accurate enough for those of us who are really interested in these things. I had to cringe several times when they said things that just weren't right. At the same time, I'm sure there were plenty of people saying, "Huh?"

Essentially, there was a lot of Hollywood crap in the movie, but Clooney was great, and if it opened someone's eyes to what the hell is going on, then it was worth making and worth seeing.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tax Cuts

Blognonymous has a post up about the new GOP tax cut plan.

It reminded me that XDA had a post up the other day that was trying to debunk the myth of anti-progressive taxes. You could see what he was doing there, trying to make something look like it favored the rich when in fact it was a flat tax cut (when measured as a percentage reduction of tax burden vs. income as in the Blognonymous post).

As you can see on Blognonymous, the GOP plan would make the tax code less progressive (unlike the hypothetical example put forth on the conservative blog).

As usual, hypothetical examples are no match for crunching real numbers that have real consequences for real people. Really.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Zuma is Back

I'm guessing not alot of you in the States have heard of the former Deputy President of South Africa, but exactly 24 hours after being acquitted of rape, he declares, "I'm back!"

He had stepped down from his position as deputy president of the African National Congress for the duration of the trial. The trial ended yesterday. Incidentally, the verdict announcement was the lead story for all the major European outlets. (There is no Duke rape case over here to get the blood flowing).

Zuma was accused of raping a family friend who is HIV positive. He claimed the sex was concentual. He was quoted as saying that while giving her a massage, he noticed she was aroused and his Zulu culture required that he have sex with her. If he refused, she would likely be insulted and accuse him of rape.

He testified that after sex, he took a shower to prevent contracting the HIV virus.

Despite this, there is significant support for this man. There were jubilant parades when he was found innocent (and a few protesters). He has a base that dates back to apartheid, and a chance to claim the presidency.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

I am Not Afraid

These guys have put together a 20,000 photo strong photo gallery of people who are not afraid. (Really, click on the gallery and take a look at the kid in the top right corner. To me that says it all.)

If you haven't heard about it, here is the deal. The English response to the March 11, 2004 London bombings was quite different than the American one. As was told to me, the older people told everyone that they had to get back on those busses the very next day. A lot of younger people had their grandparents call them to tell them how important it was, how that during WWII they felt it was their duty to go to bars, and have a good time even though there were bombs dropping quite literally on their heads. This was their act of defiance.

So too, this movement is one of defiance. People are aksed to send in these "I am not afraid" photos as a show of strength and a rejection of terror. Why?

Terrorism is thus named because its central goal is to bring about terror. Are you with me so far?


1.Intense, overpowering fear.
2.One that instills intense fear: a rabid dog that became the terror of the neighborhood.
3.The ability to instill intense fear: the terror of jackboots pounding down the street.
4.Violence committed or threatened by a group to intimidate or coerce a population, as for military or political purposes.

So to defeat terror (and the president does say that we are in a "War on Terror"), we must first and foremost defeat that intense and overpowering fear within ourselves.

(Step two is to round up all the rabid dogs around the neighborhood).

Of course when we talk about terrorism, we are talking about definition #4. But notice how that definition reads: ".... to intimidate or coerce a population." The end goal for the terroists is to make you afraid. They know they don't have the resources to destroy you, they want you to destroy yourself by being afraid, which will lead you to a string of bad decisions made in fear. These decisions will be your undoing. Which is why the...

"Only thing we have to fear is fear itself"
-FDR, First Inaugural Address.

From Septmeber 11th, 2001 until September 17th, 2001 there were no international flights coming out of San Francisco International airport (or any other US airport for that matter). My best friend had planned to travel to visit me on September 11th, but awoke in the morning to his clock radio which told him, "... all flights in North America have been cancelled."

J is one of those guys who is afraid of nothing. He was one of those passengers who just wouldn't take no for an answer. He thought it was his duty, as an American, to get on the very next plane in defiance. "Fucking bastard terrorists! Screw you! You can't scare me! I'm on the next plane! I'll fly to freaking Cairo right now and not think anything of it!,"... and on and on as J does.

So obviously I was watching very closely to see how long before the US could "safely" return the big birds to the sky. I had a personal reason, but at the same time, I knew that somewhere in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden was counting the days. He had nothing planned in the immediate aftermath. "No, now it is time to watch them squirm," he was thinking.

And squirm we did. For six miserable days. Not only the depression from what this attack meant for the future, not only the fact that I had moved mountains to have time off to hang out with J, but most importantly, I felt we were losing something more important: the battle to contain our own fear.

I'm sure that bin Laden must have been in almost euphoric bliss by the 5th day of no flights in the US. There was probably heady talk about stretching it out for two weeks. We joked about the terrorists having a non-stop party until the planes were back up, and they were getting tired because NOBODY thought it could last six whole days.

The US showed just how afraid they truly were. By grounding those planes for a six full days, we gave the terrorists a huge victory that they could not win for themselves, and that we will never be able to get back. Those six days remain as a blemish on the proud history of the United States. They needed us to give it to them an we served it up with a side of Iraq. Osama couldn't be happier.

I am Not Afraid. I never have been, and I certainly am not now. I will travel wherever I like, whenever I like. I will hold my head high and proud.

I am Not Afraid. Are you?

Big Week

With the markets hitting half-decade highs on Friday, the dollar continuing its precipitous slide, gold sitting on a spike, and oil hovering around $70, all eyes are on this week to see where we go from here.

Word on the street is that the dollar could be looking at $1.40 to the Euro. Short term, however, there is some thinking that it will correct back down to $1.24 (it is almost $1.28 right now), but that is now the bottom for the dollar. As fast as it has lost 7 cents on the dollar, the same event (G7 meeting) resulted in a quick 11 cent slide. This thing could still have legs.

Warren Buffet has a big bet against the dollar right now, although it isn't as big as it was. Here is a guy who has a $45 billion fund. Add to that the fact that people make their living by doing what he does. Here is a guy who can move markets by himself, and he is betting agains the dollar and said this morning that he had made several billion betting against the dollar on foreign currencies, but that his plan now involves owning more foreign assets in a broader plan to profit from the weak dollar. Ouch.

We get the deficit number on Wednesday and the trade deficit on Friday. Both are going to be crucial for the dollar, but the deficit number is especially important becuase it is the April report that includes individual tax receipts. It is a big test for those who expect more income from lower taxes. We will see on Wednesday.

I'm going to predict better than expected numbers out of the states this week resulting in a correction for the dollar. However, I suspect we will see 1.2850 before there is any relief for the dollar bulls.

I have to suspect that we will see a slight correction for the stock market, but after that I won't be surprised if it keeps going up. A correction in the dollar, however, could trigger some profit taking from foreign investors who have seen their stocks swell but their profits get eaten up by dollar weakness.

Oil looks to have hit a double top, and inventories are up so we may see a correction back down around $66, but it will be a higher low than the last one, setting up a higher high the next time around. That is what to expect this summer when driving season kicks in.

Gold is correcting slightly. Gold is telling me inflation is right around the corner. The gold chart is the steepest right now.

It is going to be a fun week.

Bush Read my Blog

I must have made a pretty decent argument here for closing Guantanamo bay. A mere three months later, it looks like the president has finished reading the post and has seen the logic of my argument.

Read how he has come to his senses here.

From the article...

"Our top court must still rule on whether they should go before a civil or military court," he said.

I had no idea that this entire time it was just a procedural hold-up! It sounds like the Supreme Court has way too many things to decide if five years on, they are no closer to a decision. Maybe they should get some flowers and pull petals,"Civil, Miliary, Civil, Military... ." Who knew it was that good for nothing Supreme Court who was holding up justice? (Don't worry, the irony hasn't been lost on me).

It sounds like there is a potential spoiler though...

"Every once and a while someone pops up and gets some press for saying 'Oh let's close Guantanamo Bay.' Well, if someone has a better idea, I'd like to hear it," Rumsfeld said in a February speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Yes Mr. Rumsfeld, like myself. I didn't get a lot of press at the time, but it looks like your boss read what I wrote and he is convinced that closing the place is a good idea. It only took five years for him to come to the conclusion many of us came to years ago, but better late than never.

I've said it before and I will say it again...

Close Guantanamo Bay.....Please!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Situation Unchanged

I've said it before and I will say it again (is there an echo in here?). The situation in Iraq remains largely unchanged in terms of troop loss.

Contrary to those on the right who are the first to point out when troop loss declines, and contrary to those on the left who will pipe-up whenever a chopper goes down and creates a spike, troop loss for the United States, and the Coalition as a whole, remains largely unchanged.

In fact, as time goes on, we get less and less sporadic numbers. The monthly average stays very close to the average for the whole war. Of late, the average is down to about 2.0 per day, whereas the overall average is 2.3. But that makes sense since the first month was the deadliest. So after one of the quietest months of the war, March, where US forces lost exactly one soldier per day, April saw a significant spike, and now the first week in May has seen (you guessed it) about 2 fatalities per day.

April essentially balances out the previous months to just under 2 fatalities per day.

However, a possibly ominous new trend could soon emerge. As evidenced by the recent British helicopter incident, shooting down a helicopter has a much stronger effect on the population. Chaos and celebration, although small scale for now, ensuses almost immediatley. Roadside bombs have become so commonplace, that those who want to catch a headline are going to be increasingly going after helicopters. If it is found that Iran is providing the Mahdi Army with missles, then Houston, we have a problem.

This helicopter downing is especially bad for the British in their battle of public opinion back home. The Brits have only lost 19 men in the previous 15 months. Barely over one per month. Losing four in one day is going to hit home hard.

So while the trend continues nearly unchanged, with no major outliers in the last year and a quarter, there are some bad signs on the horizon.

I'm going to predict that we will see more losses from helicopter downings and less from roadside bombs, with the result being about the same. More or less, you can figure the US is probably going to lose about two brave soldiers per day. If you were an oddsmaker or a trader, this is exactly how you would call it. It would be irrational to call it any other way.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Random Thougt

Sometimes you tell the truth so well, you make everyone mad.

I wrote this a while back, but I think it leads in well to the Colbert issue below this post.

Finding Colbert

It has been getting harder and harder to find Colbert's speach on a Google search. Not only that, but You Tube and iFilm have both yanked the video. Alot of the links on people's blogs dont work either.

Credit to Crooks and Liars who found the Google link.

Yea, funny, Google is making it harder to find, and people are voluntarily pulling it from their sites (iFilm comes out and says it, the others mostly just redirect), but they still carry it. To completely remove it from their video file would be pretty messed up. Kind of like what they are doing in China. We need to watch them carefully before they start using filters on us. Maybe they already are, which is what this is starting to look like.

So thanks Crooks and Liars and here is the direct link.

It is a must view for all Americans. I don't think we have seen this level of criticism in history, and we are not likely to see it again soon.

Beside that, it is hilarious. It gets better each time I watch it.

Skull Valley Utah

In case you haven't heard, Utah's Skull Vallley Goshutes have won approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow a private consortium of out-of-state utility companies known as Private Fuel Storage to store some 40,000 tons of nuclear waste on their land. (Here are some fun facts.)

The Goshutes do not have to meet the same standards as private land owners because of their reservation's sovereign area status. However, the Bureau of Land Management has stepped in to block the proposed deal.

Most recently, Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett have blasted PFS's security plans for a transfer station.

The plan looks to be dead largely due to the government's objection to having it close to Dungway Proving Grounds, the United States center for chemical and biological defense. This is an extremely sensitive area for the government, and they probably don't want a lot of added attention being focused there. Imagine all the protests when the waste actually starts being shipped just 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. Also, evironmentalists are trying to fear-monger suggesting that the nearby Utah Test and Training Range tests fighter planes over that area, and one could crash into the storage facitlity. As unlikely as that is, initially it got some traction.

The Las Vegas Sun reports...

In an interview, Carpenter said the BLM cannot make a decision to authorize the construction of a Skull Valley rail line over government land because of restrictions Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, wrote into a 2000 defense appropriations bill.

Hansen's provision blocked the bureau from changing a land-use plan to grant a right of way across government land for the rail line. The Bureau of Land Management can't act until the Pentagon studies how proposed wilderness areas for Utah's west desert might affect operations at the Utah Test and Training Range. The Pentagon is nowhere near starting the study.

So the BLM was trying to block the project by creating wilderness area on the transport route, but the Pentagon first has to show that this will not affect their operations. Since this will probably never happen, Hatch and Bennett are trying to kill it with security concerns: more fear-mongering.

I'm not a huge fan of nuclear power because of the waste. 20% of the United States' electricy is generated by nuclear power. However, there is currently 77,000 tons of waste that needs a home for the next 10,000 years. The consortium trying to get the contract to store some 60% of that estimates that the cost to store it for the next 40 years will be 3.1 Billion dollars. Is nuclear power really that cheap when you consider waste desposal?

This case shows how everyone, including the Feds, are suffering from NIMBY syndrome. No one wants the waste in their back yard, not even if your back yard is the place where you develop and destroy chemical weapons. (Sounds like a pretty good fit to me.)

It also shows how the debates around these issues, and the government reactions to them are largely straw-man arguments being stood up in lieu of the real concerns that need to be addressed. So instead of taking on the issue as a whole, we argue about whether or not a proposed transfer point where the steel casks of nuclear waste are loaded onto trucks is safe from terrorist attack.

Is that really the issue here?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Prague Revolt of 1945

On today's date in 1945 the citizens of Prague began what would be a 5 day revolt against German occupation forces. The national radio station started broadcasting in the Czech language, 1600 barricades were set up around the city, and people took to the streets in open defiance.

For the Czechs, this day is considered the end of the war.

Economic Snapshot

The big news today is the April jobs report.

138,000 Non-farm jobs were added in April, much less that expected, but right about level with the three-month trend. Unemployment is at 4.7% and average hourly earnings rose .5%. The rise in average hourly earnings may be an indication that inflation is around the corner, but that is only speculation at this point. These numbers make it even more likely now that the Fed will raise rates just one more time to 5% and then pause. As a result, the dollar continues on its downward spiral, breaking $1.27 to the Euro and approaching a 12 month low.

Gold continues to gain momentum, breaking $680, but copper has finally come down a little.

Oil has dipped back under $70 a barrel.

The stock market is rallying. Both the Dow and the S&P are at now at levels not seen in over 5 years. The Dow has just broken 11,500 which is a six year high. Another 250 points would be a new record.

What is the bad news? Retailers laid off 36,000 workers, indicating that consumer spending may finally starting to soften. Housing continues to slow.

The market is very hot right now. There are indications of inflation around the corner, and the fear is that if the Fed stops raising rates too soon, inflation could become a problem.

Just plain wierd: transportation stocks are hitting record highs despite $70 oil.

In my view:

What we are seeing is a continuation of the trend that was started with the cuts in capital gains taxes. All this free money floating around has to be invested, which is why the stock market is going up, and gold is going up at the same time. This pace is simply not sustainable.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Moussaoui Gets Life

I am really glad they didn't kill him. Although the jury said they did not fear him becoming a martyr for the radical Islamic movement, I sure did.

link here in case you live under a rock

Under the Radar

I wanted to see if this got picked up, but apparently it has slipped under the radar. Iran Watch led me to this story.

Basically, Iran is shelling the Kurds in Iraq. To me, there could be few things more significant at this point. When you consider that Iran is shelling a country that the US is occupying, coupled with the fact that a member of NATO (Turkey) seems to be compliant and then add that Peshmerga troops may need help to defend the north, you can't help but to wonder, "Why the hell isn't this front page news?!"

By the way, if you want to scare the hell out of yourself, read the comment section over there at Iran Watch. Here is a group of people who consider any hint that Israel is going to start bombing Iran "good news." Then they cite the bible in their glee, and everyone agrees all the time.

No offense y'all, but you scare me like Iran scares Israel.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Boycott Google? Pt. II

After doing a bit of research and reflection, I have decided that boycotting Google is not in anyone's best interests. The original post had to do with Yahoo! for giving up the information that led to the arrests of several bloggers. Google has avoided this area of business for exactly that reason: they did not want to be put in that position.

I guess what it really comes down to is this: if you are going to do business with China, you have to play by their rules. China has a long road ahead of them. If the people of China want an open society, it will be up to them to make the strides that will lead them there. They should be supported in their efforts whenever possible, but we should be realistic about our ability to change the Chinese government. I think even President Bush realizes his own limits in this regard which is really saying something.

Finally, I just think there are more important battles to fight. How about boycotting Exxon, for example, or any company owned by the Maxxam corporation? Why Maxxam? Its CEO Charles Hurwitz is number one on my s*** list. Have a browse here to see why. In short, he is the human manifestation of everything that is wrong with the corporate system. A criminal who remains at large in his Manhattan penthouse.

But I digress. The point is that in this world of corporate criminals who own our lives (if not our souls) putting pressure on Google because they are not championing human rights in China just seems, well, a little misdirected.

I think I'm going to get into this Hurwitz thing again. It has been too long, and the saga continues.

May Day Pt. II

Now that the May Day protests have come and gone, I wanted to reflect on them briefly.

First of all, I had reported that people were wearing red. I suppose what I saw was organizers getting ready and being easily identifiable in red. The color of the day was, of course, white. I heard this was to represent peace, although in Denver apparently it was as a show of soldarity among restaurant workers. Dever, incidentally, was a sea of white.

A very interesting response I got to my original post was from Roger at XDA who didn't know the history of May Day. Now Roger is at least a history buff, and probably much more. If HE didn't know, how many people actually did? Can I get some feedback on this one?

I had blamed myself for being ignorant, but in the end, it looks like May Day is a pretty well kept secret in the USA, and I'm sure no one calls it, "International Workers' Day" as it is known, well, internationally.

I did notice that on the Mexico side, there was a lot more red being worn, as was the case elsewhere in the world.

Final note: In Prague, there was an anti-communist rally on May Day. A banner being held read (in Czech), "Good people don't need communism." Does that mean bad people do? The communist party is alive and well here, garnering about 10% of the popular vote and up to 20% in some regions (especially the industrial areas).

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day

Today is International Workers' day, so logically, I'm not working. May Day, as most people call it, has it's roots in the United States, but ironically, the United States has done more to obfuscate this holiday more than anyone else.

I'll get to that in a minute, but let's just look at what a rare holiday this is. First of all, it is an international holiday which is rare in and of itself. The other international holidays are usually religious in nature. Then, of course there is New Years, but this is the most obvious all annual events.

May Day is neither religious, nor nationalistic in nature. It does not celebrate a birth of a person. Instead, it celebrates the May 1st, 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago which is considered to have led to the the eight-hour work day in the United States. There were subsequent riots in 1894 and in 1919 in Cleveland, Ohio which probably helped the day to gain more significance.

The communists used it to signify the revolution of the working class, and used it as a time to celebrate the honor of work. People sometimes greeted each other by saying, "pride in work" instead of the traditional, "good day". (Young people say it now as a joke). Work is obviously the center of any socialist ideology. So it isn't really surprising that the US has worked to distract people from this observance. The most obvious tactic is the completely random "Labor Day" celebrated on the first Monday in September, because, well, just because.

Growing up I vaguely remember hearing about "May Day", but I never knew what it actually was. Now that is my fault, but it wasnt' ever made clear. Conversely, you can't find someone in this country who doesn't know what it is. It is one of those times when I fall into the ignorant American stereotype.

Anyway, I'm watching the early morning preperations for today's planned protest. The protesters are dressed in red. I never thought I would see the day in America where they would take back what has been of late a socialist holiday and march it down the streets. Dressed in red. If this thing is as big as they are hyping it to be... well we will see.

There are significant demonstrations taking place in several countries in Asia including Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Cambodia.

Workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, summed it up...

"No more death in factories," they chanted. And "we want duty-free access."

I've just seen protesters in Cambodia and Bangladesh on CNN. It looks pretty tame so far, but it's a significant effort indeed.

So as the protesters in the United States get ready to take back May Day, and turn it back into what it once was, I just want to remember one last attempted assault on this holiday, which happened exactly three years ago today. That was when George Bush stood behind that fateful banner declaring "mission accomplished" in an absolutely awe-inspiring (or gut-wrenching depending on your perspective) use of political pageantry. The president wanted to make it his day. Part of what "Mission Accomplished" meant was that at least on May 1st, 2003, no one in America would be talking about some socialist revolutionary non-sense.

It looks like, as in Iraq, the mission was only temporarily accomplished. The greater battle continues.

May Day has come home, and it's mad as hell.