Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Current U.S. Senator 

Actually said this:

Talking about his family earlier this year, the Republican senator recalled that "Lincoln killed one of them at Antietam."

/Jeff Sessions (R-AL)


Stem Cell Shuffle 

Kevin Drum tracks what's happening with the stem cell legislation (Hint: Politics getting in the way, yet again.):
STEM CELLS....Steve Benen notes today that last year the House passed legislation to liberalize embryonic stem cell research. In the Senate, Bill Frist said he supported the bill and would bring it up for a vote. It's a measure that has broad bipartisan support and is extremely popular with the public.

So what happened to it? Well, George Bush claims he'll veto it. If he does, it will show up the Republican Party as captives of the Christian right, unwilling to support promising scientific research for fear of offending a small band of blastocyst rights extremists. Conversely, if he signs it, it will send James Dobson and Pat Robertson into hysterics and Republicans can kiss the 2006 midterms goodbye.

Thus Bill Frist's strategy: run and hide. Pretty gutty bunch, these Republicans, aren't they?
Let's see the Democrats put stem cells on every state ballot in November. If the GOP can do it with gay marriage or abortion, the Dems have to use the ploy too. Stem cells would be perfect.



I highly recommend this book. Perhaps I just haven't been looking hard enough, but I feel like a lot isn't known about what happened in East Germany. Stasiland digs into that theory, and comes up with: most former West Germans don't really care, and most former East Germans want to move on, or even miss the former East Germany. The big theme of the book (and East Germany itself) is the network of informers-official and unofficial-that the East German security force (Stasi) built up. Just think about this (taken from the review linked below):

The central problem that Funder explores is rooted in a statistic mentioned early in the book: "In the GDR, there was one Stasi officer or informant for every sixty-three people. If part-time informers are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens." This means an informer for every family, and an unthinkable post-liberation situation in which one in six people may be the one who informed on you. Furthermore, the Stasi kept files on approximately six million people, a third of the country's population.

That is unbelievable. The Stasi wanted to know everything about everybody. While many people were kept terrified, many other liked the feeling of protection. I guess living in Nazi Germany and then surviving World War 2, much of the East German population was ripe for government domination.

In depth review here.


Monday, May 22, 2006

26.5 Million Pounds 

Anatomy of the heist that rocked the peace process. Long, but interesting read.


Thursday, May 18, 2006


The CIA has a homepage for kids!



American Idol 

I caught about 4 mintutes of Idol last night, and I can't understand how anyone can watch it. It's a glorified karaoke contest, featuring a bunch of cheeseballs. Now this is a good show.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Iran Weapons in Iraq 

This could be devastating:
In the past two weeks, Iran has been pumping into Iraq two types of extra-lethal weapons in very large quantities. They have already taken their toll in the shooting down of two military helicopters - one American and one British – and an estimated 19 deaths of US military personnel.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources estimate the delivery to Iraqi insurgents as consisting of around 1,000 SA-7 Strela ground-air missiles made in Iran, and a very large quantity of a newly-developed roadside bomb, loaded with compressed gas instead of ball bearings and cartridges, to magnify their blast and explosive power.

The supplies have been distributed across Iraq - Basra and Amara in the south, Baghdad and its environs, Haditha in the west, and Mosul in the north.

The new bombs, developed jointly by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanese Hizballah, have already gone into service with the Shiite terrorists on the Lebanese border with Israel. Israeli military sources say it is only a matter of time before the deadly roadside bombs, already used in Iraq, will also reach Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In Iraq, the new weaponry has had three major effects:

1. The guerrilla-terrorist groups which received the shoulder-carried, highly mobile Strela missiles have scored three hits in fourteen days. On May 6, they fired a missile from one of Basra’s crowded alleys and downed a British military helicopter, killing all four military personnel aboard. Sunday, May 14, Iraqi insurgents shot down an American helicopter, killing its two crewmen over Yussifiya, inside the Triangle of Death south of Baghdad.

2. The number of roadside bomb attacks, their precision and lethality is going up all the time. Sunday, May 14, four US soldiers died in these blasts in the western Anbar province and Baghdad, while 2 British soldiers were killed and another injured at the same time near Basra. In seven days, the British force stationed in southern Iraq lost seven men, a record for that space of time in the three-year war. In the first half of May, US troop losses spiraled to 19, most of them the victims of the new roadside bombs.

3. Together with the new Iranian weapons, a new array of Shiite terrorist groups has sprung up and is hitting American and British troops. The coalition has imposed a blackout on this disturbing development.

Until now, the insurgent forces fighting the coalition consisted mostly of Baathists, Islamist and al Qaeda. The only Shiite enemy was the radical Mogtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army. The appearance of the new Shiite insurgents is a dread milestone in the Iraq war, one which has caught US and UK commanders by surprise and unprepared for the steep rise in troop losses.

DEBKAfile’s Exclusive Iraq sources offer some information on the new groups. One is located north of Baghdad and calls itself Brigades of the Imam Kazim. Another, called Brigades of Imam Ali, claimed the attack on April 27 in Nasiriya in which one of their new roadside bombs killed two Italian troops. In the Rostumiya region south of Baghdad, a Shiite group called Brigades of the Imam Hadi has begun operating. Our sources report that this group has been firing Katyusha rockets at American bases in the region, similar to the mortar attack directed at a British base in Amara Monday, May 15.

After each attack, these unknown quantities issue bulletins describing their actions, some accompanied by video footage from the scene of action.

The blackout was imposed on the new Shiite groups in the absence of American or British intelligence on who they and their commanders are, how they operate and what makes them tick. Research must start from square one to find out whether they are being controlled from Tehran, some Iraqi Shiite faction or elements which chanced to lay hands on the new-fangled weaponry.

Could the introduction of the Iranian surface-to-air missile in Iraq have the same effect as the introduction of the stinger missile in the Soviet-Afghan War? I hope not. The stingers were a strategic and psychological nightmare for the Soviets. In a very short time, Iraqi insurgents have already downed 2 helicopters. The Afghans had similar luck:
in their first three attempts, the mujahideen downed three Soviet Hind helicopter gunships with the Stinger.

The question is: In the 80's, we let Pakistan act as the intermediary with the stinger missiles. Even though the stingers were known U.S. missiles, we kept things on the DL. Is another country supplying Iran with these missiles? China? Russia?

Update 5/16 9:47 AM From Debka:
Al Qaeda in Iraq claims to have downed 4 ‘Crusader” helicopters over Yussufiyeh Monday – not just one as the Americans reported

May 15, 2006, 6:41 PM (GMT+02:00)

The authenticity of the claim remains to be tested. Earlier, the US military reported a helicopter shot down with the loss of the two-man crew.

It was the second shot down in the same area south of Baghdad in six weeks and raised the weekend toll to US troops. Two US Marines died Sunday in combat in Anbar province and two more in a roadside bombing in Baghdad. Eight Iraqis also killed by insurgents Monday in the capital.


Friday, May 05, 2006


25 years ago today:

The 1981 republican hunger strike was a time of violence, of sacrifice, of death and of horror, a time of huge polarisation and division which created new depths of bitterness and revitalised a flagging IRA.

Ten republicans starved themselves to death in the Maze prison near Belfast in what was a long drawn-out agony for them, and for Northern Ireland. The crisis plunged the province into one of the worst convulsions it has experienced, putting the population through communal trauma and laying the basis for a deadly cycle of increased violence.

Many deaths on the streets followed. The IRA attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher, in a revenge bomb attack on the Tory party conference in Brighton three years later, was one example.

And yet the paradox is that this struggle was to set the IRA and Sinn Fein on an unexpected new path which eventually led to the peace process. No one realised this at the time; most were aghast at the turmoil which spread from the IRA cells of the Maze to poison community relations and caused many to despair that there might never be peace. Most thought it a crushing defeat for the republicans, a view shared then by many within the IRA and Sinn Fein. Yet today Sinn Fein is the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, and growing strongly in the south.

In other words, it now possesses the political status that Bobby Sands and the other strikers died for; the status Mrs Thatcher refused to grant. Before the hunger strike, Sands and other prisoners had staged years of protests in the Maze but Mrs Thatcher was adamant the IRA should be treated as common criminals.

When Sands died 25 years ago today, his 66th day of hungerstrike, he ascended into republican Valhalla, regarded as the IRA's most prominent martyr and an emblem of self-sacrifice. His portrait, repainted annually, remains one of the most prominent of the republican murals on Belfast's Falls Road.

Huge tensions grew during the campaign, which was marked by one stunning development, when Sands won a Westminster by-election from his cell. His narrow win was a propaganda victory of enormous proportions. The world's image of Sands was largely based on a photograph taken in the prison which showed him in a smiling group of prisoners, his fair hair at rock-star length. But with hindsight, it was a photograph steeped in irony. In December last year we learnt that Denis Donaldson, the IRA prisoner pictured draping an arm around Sands' shoulders, had later turned Special Branch spy.

Sands' election spurred frantic attempts to mediate or find a resolution. An envoy from the Pope spent an hour with Sands in his cell, and media from all over the world flocked to Belfast. His death provoked waves of political tumult and riot. Hostile reaction to Britain came from around the world, with several cities, including Paris and Tehran, naming streets after Sands. At least 100,000 people attended his funeral. But after 10 deaths, the protest petered out as relatives of comatose hunger-strikers, encouraged by a priest, Father Denis Faul, allowed doctors to administer food.

The Troubles took many twists, but the key development was that republicans experimented with a mixture of politics and violence. The politics prevailed. Although ostensibly a defeat, the hunger strike provided republicans with a political launching pad, the foundation of Sinn Fein's electoral success. Some observers regard it as the genesis of the peace process. What was first designed as an instrument of subversion and sabotage led to the displacement of the IRA by today's Sinn Fein.

Not everyone in republicanism has travelled with Sinn Fein on its long political march. Prominent among dissenters has been Bobby Sands' sister, Bernadette. She is married to Mickey McKevitt, who has been jailed for heading the Real IRA, the breakaway group responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing. As head of the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, Mrs Sands-McKevitt claims Sinn Fein's backing of the peace process is a betrayal of what her brother fought and died for. But few in the republican mainstream agree with her.

Today on the 25th anniversary of her brother's death, thousands of them will gather to reaffirm his status as one of republicanism's most revered heroes.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tora Bora of Sinai 

I hope the outcome of this battle is better than the original "Battle of Tora Bora":
DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal that despite comprehensive sweeps with casualties on both sides since last week, Egyptian forces have not been able to capture al Qaeda hard core leaders. The main battle has been raging three days against the fortified terrorist stronghold on Jebel Magharah, 22km SW of El Arish and west of a former al Qaeda base on Jebel Hilal (alt. 654 meters). Signals passed among the troops describe the operation as the “Tora Bora of Sinai,” naming it after the fierce epic US-al Qaeda engagement in Afghanistan three years ago.

Egypt launched a large-scale clean-up operation against al Qaeda’s various Sinai bases last week after three bomb blasts killed at least 34 people at the Sinai resort of Dahab Tuesday. They are also reported to be raiding more new al Qaeda havens around St. Catherine’s monastery and Wadi Paran in the south.



Operation Iranian Freedom coming soon?
America and the Europeans have co-drafted a UN Security Council Resolution with some teeth and have written into the resolution the trigger for economic sanctions against Iran if it fails to cease its nuclear program.

This is serious.

Previously, all John Bolton and Nick Burns had been able to push out of the Security Council was a declaration, which was not binding.

On the military front, Sy Hersh's sources tell him that we are planning for an invasive hot strike against Iran. My sources do not confirm the Hersh assertion that a strike against Iran will occur this summer but do suggest that there is a great deal of operations/logistics planning underway. My sources also say that if a large scale operation against Iran looked likely, we would see scores of generals in the military elect to resign rather than participate.

On the diplomatic front, Burns and Bolton are pushing for the imposition of sanctions against Iran -- as a way to further isolate Iran in the hope that some players in the Iranian political scene will see that they might tie an end to sanctions as well as potentially normalized relations with and security guarantee from the U.S. to standing down on Iran's nuclear program.

The problem with the sanctions track is that China and Russia are opposing, and though Europe has drafted the resolution with the U.S., many believe that Japan and Europe will be highly porous in economic flows to Iran. Thus, any sanctions regime has serious implementation flaws, and America may once again find itself (with or without Europe) mostly isolated in an effort to impose unilateral sanctions.

The toxic mix is that Iran believes that America is weak right now and will wilt when oil prices shoot higher, while on the other hand, George Bush intends to make sure that Iran and other nations don't underestimate American strength and resolve, tilting towards force when he can afford it to demonstrate power.

This mess is looking increasingly like 1914 -- when nations fell into war because of ego, attitude, poorly thought strategies regarding basic strategic interests, and miscalculation


Monday, May 01, 2006

Becuase it Worked So Well Last Time... 

Iran needs a Shah!
Pahlavi, who lives in exile in the United States, said he has been in contact with elements of the Revolutionary Guard that would be willing to play such a role, and activists who could help spark the civil disobedience.

He also said that the U.S. and other governments can help by imposing “smart sanctions” on the leaders of Iranian regime, but he categorically opposes U.S. military intervention.

After the revolution he envisions, Pahlavi said, he would be willing to become a constitutional monarch in Iran if an Iranian constitutional convention offered him that role. “I’m ready to serve in that capacity,” he said. “If the people so choose, it would be my greatest honor.”


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