Archive for July, 2006

Hitting the Road

Posted: July 31, 2006 in Uncategorized

“On the road again…”

After a frenzied weekend, I’m almost packed up and ready to go. The movers are coming for the furniture today and after that I’m going to relax before the long trip that begins tomorrow.

The current plan is to go to Denver and stay at my cousin’s place for a day or two, then continue on to LA to make it there in time for August 10th, which is when I’m going to move in to my new apartment. I’ve come up with four different routes to get to Denver through the Midwest or the South, I haven’t yet decided which one I’m going to take.

I don’t know what kind of Internet access I’ll have on the way, so my blogging (if any) will be very sporadic. I will be keeping a journal with detailed notes of the trip and am also bringing along a digital camera. I’ll refer back to the journal for writing the entries from each day of the trip and will upload photos as soon as I get the chance.

In the meantime, I will steal a line from Jack Bauer: “I’m going dark.”

I’ve been out of town the past few days so I have not been able to get my regular dose of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Stephen Colbert took the morning shows out to the woodshed and proceeded to systematically tear them apart using sarcasm alone over their handling of his “interview” with Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Florida).

Moral of the story: Did everyone forget Colbert’s skewering of President Bush at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner earlier this year? If you mess with this man, you do so at your own peril, and it won’t be pretty.

Closing Up Shop in DC

Posted: July 26, 2006 in Beltway Drama, Music

I’ll be off this thing for the next couple of days while I pack up my apartment in anticipation for the big move next Monday. Once all my stuff is packed up and ready to go, if I have time I’ll sit down and do some writing before I leave town.

In the meantime, I’ve updated the playlist in the right hand column. All of the songs contain references to or are about California or Los Angeles, some good (by that I mean positive, happy, cheery, etc.), some not.

Career Retrospective

Posted: July 25, 2006 in Humor, Media

The Onion takes us through the highlights of Dan Rather’s career at CBS.

Henry Schuster has a new column this week exploring the reasons behind the popular support for Hezbollah within the Lebanese Shiite community.

Schuster sums it all up in one sentence:

People here see Hezbollah as a political movement and a social service provider as much as it is a militia that delivers the goods for its followers, in this traditionally poor and dispossessed Shiite community.

The solidarity with Hezbollah is not limited to purely religious grounds. Schuster reports that a CNN crew found Hezbollah had moved into a school in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut that was being used as a shelter by refugees and were organizing relief efforts.

The Counterterrorism Blog has an entry from its special correspondent on the ground in Beirut reporting that Hezbollah has penetrated Christian areas in Lebanon.

This is as much a failure of fulfilling basic social services by the government as it is a good PR and grassroots outreach and recruitment effort by Hezbollah. Until the Lebanese government and the international community tries to break the goodwill and long standing relationship between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Shiites by offering them other options to Hezbollah, it will continue to be business as usual even after the current crisis is over.

Wrong Number

Posted: July 24, 2006 in Humor, Media

From Editor and Publisher:

‘Wash Post’ Error: Ran Sex Phone Number for Lebanon Evacuees

By E&P Staff

Published: July 21, 2006 12:25 AM ET

NEW YORK The Washington Post ran an article Thursday that included a phone number for evacuees in Lebanon to call — but it turned out to be a number for a sex line.

The paper corrected it online but the number already appeared in print on A19.

The Web site Wonkette first reported it. A staffer called the “800” and got, the site said, this message: “Feeling horny? Try these red hot lines from National. Live hot fun at just 69 cents per minute.”

The lesson, it said: “Americans seeking information about evacuations of US citizens in Lebanon should just relax, man.”

Photo from the Nuclear Weapon Archive.

The Washington Post has a front page story today on the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

From the article:

Pakistan has begun building what independent analysts say is a powerful new reactor for producing plutonium, a move that, if verified, would signal a major expansion of the country’s nuclear weapons capabilities and a potential new escalation in the region’s arms race.

Satellite photos of Pakistan’s Khushab nuclear site show what appears to be a partially completed heavy-water reactor capable of producing enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year, a 20-fold increase from Pakistan’s current capabilities, according to a technical assessment by Washington-based nuclear experts.

The assessment’s key judgments were endorsed by two other independent nuclear experts who reviewed the commercially available satellite images, provided by Digital Globe, and supporting data. In Pakistan, officials would not confirm or deny the report, but a senior Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that a nuclear expansion was underway.

“Pakistan’s nuclear program has matured. We’re now consolidating the program with further expansions,” the official said. The expanded program includes “some civilian nuclear power and some military components,” he said.

The development raises fresh concerns about a decades-old rivalry between Pakistan and India. Both countries already possess dozens of nuclear warheads and a variety of missiles and other means for delivering them.

This is coming from the same country that was the hub of the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network, which sold nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.

This is also a country with a social element that has strong Islamist, anti-Western sentiment bubbling under the surface. The head of state, General Pervez Musharraf, is caught in a very delicate political balancing act, where he has to try to keep the United States and its allies happy with assistance, intelligence, and cooperation in the fight against terrorism and rebuliding Afghanistan, as well as the more extreme elements of Pakistani society which have already plotted to assassinate him three times and tried it twice.

About a year ago, CNN Presents did a one hour program on the possibility of a terrorist attack involving nuclear or radiological material. One of the scenarios explored in the program as to how a terrorist organization might get the materials for an attack was through Pakistan. One worst case scenario for this would be if Musharraf is overthrown or assassinated, and a new Islamist government hostile towards the west takes power. If that happened, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal would effectively be at its disposal to use against whoever it wants.

Also worth keeping in mind is the historical cultural and political tensions between India and Pakistan which have flared up from time to time. It wasn’t too long ago that Pakistan and India came very close to breaking out into a full-fledged war, and both sides had nuclear weapons stockpiles ready to go.

More recently, you had President Bush’s visit to India back in March which resulted in a landmark deal with the Indian government on its civilian nuclear program, and the train attacks in Mumbai which killed 174 people a few weeks ago, leading some to speculate whether Pakistan was involved.

Other than in the Middle East, I couldn’t think of a worse possible scenario where two opposing countries with a history of conflict that also have nuclear weapons aimed at each other and ready to fire at any moment.

The Counterterrorism Blog offers some insight into a disturbing potential development in the current violence in the Middle East, attributed to news first reported by the Jerusalem Post: that Hezbollah sleeper cells set up outside of Lebanon with backing from Iran have been placed on standby to possibly carry out terror attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world.

I’m copying and pasting their analysis here, but if you want to read the relevant excerpts of the original Jerusalem Post story, head over to their site.

A word of caution: At this point, there’s no source for the claim that Hizballah cells have been put on standby. The first paragraph states that the Jerusalem Post learned this today, but leaves out any mention of who the Post learned this from. Although the second paragraph cites Shin Bet as a source, this is only for confirmation that it “instructed embassies, consulates and Jewish institutions it was responsible for abroad to raise their level of awareness” — it doesn’t state that Shin Bet told the Post that Hizballah cells were put on standby. Putting these institutions on alert seems a wise move even if there were no evidence that Hizballah cells were on standby.

Counterterrorism consultant Dan Darling comments in an e-mail to me: “I expect that Hezbollah cells, sleeper or otherwise, were put on notice that they might be called upon to carry out attacks in the event that things started to get nasty. If you’re running an international terrorist organization, this would seem to me to be a prudent move before you engage in an unprovoked cross-border raid and kidnapping that seems almost certain to spark a regional conflict. I’ve been operating under the assumption that they had cells in place to carry off attacks at least in Europe should they desire to utilize them since the conflict first started . . . .”

This story is worth following, as Hizballah’s activation of sleeper cells would substantially raise what are already large stakes.

This is not the plot to an episode of 24. This is a very real and disturbing possibility which if true, could escalate the violence even further in the hornet’s nest that is now the Middle East. Given their background and track record (see pages 8-9 of the file), and more info available here, I would not take this lightly if I were involved in any counterterrorism, intelligence, or diplomatic circles working on a solution to this crisis.

The Associated Press has an interesting story on how convicted former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham used the classified appropriations process in his capacity as a member of the House Intelligence Committee to steer appropriations money for projects of his choice that would “benefit him or his associates.”

Here’s the basics of the AP story:

An independent investigation has found that imprisoned former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham took advantage of secrecy and badgered congressional aides to help slip items into classified bills that would benefit him and his associates.

The finding comes from Michael Stern, an outside investigator hired by the House Intelligence Committee to look into how Cunningham was able to carry out the scheme. Stern is working with the committee to fix vulnerabilities in the way top-secret legislation is written, said congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the committee still is being briefed on Stern’s findings.

Cunningham’s case has put a stark spotlight on the oversight of classified – or “black” – budgets. Unlike legislation dealing with social and economic issues, intelligence bills and parts of defense bills are written in private, in the name of national security.

That means it is up to members of Congress and select aides with security clearances to ensure that legislation is appropriate.

Speaking from personal experience at my previous job where on a few occasions I had to go through similar documents and trying to fact check or analyze the data they contain, government budget documents which are available to the public generally tend to be monstrous in size and mind-numbingly dull in scope and detail to begin with. What makes this budget bill different is that anything dealing with the intelligence community budget is classified, because the U.S. government does not want to give any hints to foreign governments or intelligence agencies any ideas about what the CIA, NSA, NRO, NGA, DIA, or other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community alphabet soup might be up to based on how much money they’re getting from Congress.

As the AP story points out, pork projects buried in classified budgets are nothing new, citing Senators Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) as examples. However, given all of the recent controversies involving the practice of earmarking, as well as some of the projects which were going to receive congressional funding (i.e. the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska), it would not be surprising to me if at some point in the future, a massive overhaul of the appropriations and earmarking process will be necessary.

Finally, the article also adds that when dealing with classified budgets the judgment is strictly up to the committee members and a handful of aides who have the appropriate security clearances. Because of this, no outside interest groups (i.e. Citizens Against Government Waste or POGO) or the media can go through it and look for possible evidence of pork projects, wasteful spending, conflicts of interest, or corruption.

Bringing Out the Big Guns

Posted: July 20, 2006 in 2006 Elections

From the Hotline, we find out that Joe Lieberman is calling in the heavy artillery:

Lieberman Campaign Announces Former President Bill Clinton to Campaign for Sen. Joe Lieberman

Will Make Campaign Stop Next Monday in Waterbury
July 20, 2006

Hartford, CT- The Lieberman Campaign announced today that Former President Bill Clinton will make a campaign stop for Sen. Joe Lieberman next Monday, July 24 in Waterbury.

“We are thrilled to have President Clinton come to the state to campaign for Sen. Lieberman,” said Marion Steinfels, Lieberman campaign spokesman. “It is not only a big day for our campaign, but it is a big day for Waterbury and Connecticut.”

Clinton and Lieberman have known each other since Clinton worked on Lieberman’s first campaign for State Senate in 1970 while he was in school at Yale in New Haven. Years later, Lieberman was the first Senator outside the South to endorse Clinton in his 1992 Presidential Campaign.

Waterbury has been the site of several high profile political visits including a visit by then Sen. Kennedy on the eve of the 1960 presidential election.