Monday, January 17, 2005

January 14 - 16, 2005

Al Qaida - Moving on Up

How’s the war against terrorism going? Fine. In fact, if you’re a terrorist, times have never been better. While al Qaida sprouted in Taliban-run Afghanistan, it now flourishes in Iraq. A new study just released by CIA think tank National Intelligence Council says Iraq has become the West Point of terrorism.

“Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists,” the NIC report said.

“Iraq provides terrorists with a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and disperse to various other countries."

The NIC report was no slapdash deal. It took a year to produce and includes the analysis of 1,000 U.S. and foreign experts.

"The al-Qaida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq," the report says.

So, the next time the President brags to reporters that Iraq is better off today than it was under Saddam, one of them might want to ask him if the world is better off. The CIA clearly seems to thing not.

Compassionate Conservative Update

What’s a President to do when he wakes up and discovers that he broke the bank when he wrote all those tax rebate checks to the already rich? Well, he could ask the rich to relinquish some of those tax breaks. But no, that would be wrong. Instead the best place to begin tightening the fiscal belt is where the belt is already about a tight as it gets – squeeze the poor one more time. Balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

So yesterday the compassionate White House announced it would slash the budget of Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD.) They figure they can “save” about $8 billion by killing dozens of economic development projects, scrapping a rural housing program and folding high-profile anti-poverty efforts into the Labor and Commerce departments, administration officials said yesterday. It’s all part of Bush “lean and mean” 2006 budget – with apparent emphasis on “mean.”

Among the programs to be cut, Youthbuild USA, a $62 million program to teach teens from poor families home-construction skills, the $24 million rural housing and economic development program will be eliminated as will be the $260 million in economic development projects in poor areas. In all HUD would ultimately lose a quarter of its $31 billion budget.

At the other end of the economic scale Bush $1.6 trillion in tax cuts, which most benefited the rich, go untouched. Yo, George. Where’s the trickle down? So far the only thing rolling down hill is … well you know.

Royal Genes

If you need proof that inbreeding among royals remains a problem, look no further than young Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne. In case you have not heard, the young prince showed up at a costume party dressed as a Nazi officer, swastika armband and all. This just two weeks before Queen granny meets with Holocaust survivors to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps. Nicely done young man. The timing, the costume – you got it all wrong. Maybe for your next costume ball you go as Jeffery Dahmer while munching a human leg.

Poor Harry. What can we expect from a lad burdened by chromosomes from a father who clearly carries the mutant dorkus-maximus gene and a mother who suffered from chronic dittsyittus?

But before we Americans start feeling any smug satisfaction, remember, we have Uncurious George running things here – a man who thinks a chromosome is something shiny on a car fender.


I am not a sports guy. In fact the first thing I do in the morning is shake the sports section out of the paper so I do not accidentally come across it while reading real news. But I did take note of the big deal major league baseball made yesterday out of their new steroid testing policy.

What a disgrace. I mean, either using performance enhancing drugs is cheating or its not. And if someone gets caught cheating they should be thrown out of the game for good. I have zero tolerance for cheaters. But okay, I am willing to give even cheaters a second chance. Everyone makes mistakes. But only born cheaters keep cheating. So, the second time I am done with them forever. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

So then you can imagine how monumentally unimpressed I was with baseball’s new drug policy. Get caught once using performance enhancing drugs and you get a 10 suspension…oooooooooo. How strict is that? Get caught again and it’s a 30-day slap on your grotesquely oversized wrist. Get caught again and your 280 pound ass has to sit out for 60 days. You have to get caught five times before you get your now incredible hulk kicked out for an entire season. But just one season. You can return next year, bigger than ever.

This is not an anti-doping policy. It’s a game within the game.

Oh, and little noticed by most was that the league dropped any mention of punishment for using uppers (AKA “greenies”) that are so common in the dugout. So, let’s see, they can’t dope up on steroids but they can pop amphetamines with impunity. Are you little leaguers out there paying attention? Want to speed up your game a few notches?

Come on boys of summer! If you are serious about getting the drug cheaters out of your sport bite the bullet and adopt the same drug testing program and punishments the world applies to Olympic athletes. Otherwise just drop all the pretense and go for it. Let baseball become a sport with teams made up of men with necks bigger than their waists, legs like tree trunks, arms like backhoes. Then rename the sport “Freakball.” Let the games begin.

Grunt, grunt.

Computing for Dummies

Even my hometown pet shop can do it. The local tire retailer does it. The regional grocery warehouse can do it. Corporations around the world do it every day. Only the US government can do it.

Do what? Set up and operate computer systems. We got the latest proof of this incomprehensible incompetence when the FBI announced that the agency has wasted $170 million on a computer system that does not work. The system, a key cog in the national war on terrorism, was supposed to help agents share data about terrorist threats and other criminal cases. Trouble is after two years of fiddling with the hardware and software it still does not work. Not even a little bit. (An FBI spokesshill said that the failure of the system “is not affecting the FBI’s pursuit of terrorists.”

(Yes, I am sure it is not affecting it – positively anyway.)

I have used computers in my work since 1980 and, annoying as they can be, I have always gotten more than my money’s worth out of every system and system upgrade I bought. I have NEVER had to throw one out because it did not work. Never. The very thought of doing so boggles a private sector mind.

But the US government does so all the time. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration has been trying for the past TEN YEARS to upgrade its air traffic control computer systems. They paid IBM over $1 billion for a system that still does not work. The contract was taken over by Lockheed, which is now milking the FAA cow. Meanwhile airport towers across the US are still using computer systems designed during the 60s and 70s and so old they use increasingly scarce vacuum tubes.

Maybe those pro-private sector Republicans in Congress might just want to ask what the hell is going on here. Why can’t government buy hardware and software like everyone else and get it to do whatever it is they need to get done? Oh, and why did IBM bet to keep the $1 billion for failing? And just who got the $170 million for the FBI computer systems now being carted to the trash bin?

Can’t anyone up there spell “refund,” or “lawyer?”

Just wondering. I mean, if we are going to cut HUD’s budget…. Well, you get the point.

See ya’ll next week.

By Stephen Pizzo
Raconteur at Large

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