Friday, July 07, 2006

Round and round we go, take your partner dosy d'oh!

As was inevitable, Israel's latest incursion into Gaza has turned into a bloody mess with 21 Palestinians dead from yesterday's fighting -- all of them militants, naturally -- and one Israeli soldier dead. Now, I forget, why is Israel going back into Gaza? Oh right, to rescue the Gilad Shalit the missing soldier. Because the Israelis were so concerned for Shalit's well-being, they initially waited several days to see if a diplomatic solution could be found, which necessarily meant negotiating with Hamas -- but who they don't talk to because they're a terrorist organization.

But then, before the haggling could even begin, the Israelis started taking out civilian infrastructure like the only power plant in Gaza, bombing the Islamic University, repeatedly hitting Gaza's interior ministry building, arresting a third of the members of the democratically elected Hamas government, and waging psychological warfare on the population of Gaza with round the clock sonic booms. What Israel sees as a "restrained" operation, the rest of the world sees as war crimes. The government of Switzerland, not exactly known for their anti-Israel stance, came out this week and said Israel was violating international law. Yesterday, the UN Human Rights Council voted 29-11, with five abstentions, to condemn Israel's attack on civilians.

Even the FT, not typically an anti-Israel paper, wrote in an editorial that the Israel's strategy was "mindless." The paper writes that this situation requires "forceful diplomatic intervention" and that the "response of the US and its allies, calling for 'restraint' is mutedly inadequate."

The editorial goes on: "Consider, for a moment, what would have happened if, in reaction to the IRA seizing a soldier, the British government had: invaded Northern Ireland; punished its people by destroying its electricity supply, transport links and government offices; shelled Belfast and Derry from land, sea and air; cratered the Falls Road; used the Royal Air force to buzz offices of the Taoiseach in Dublin; and arrested every Republican it could lay its hands on. There would rightly have been an international outcry -- and so there should be in this case."

So where is it? Where's the US calling for its biggest recipient of foreign aide to tone it down? Tony Snow said this week that Israel should ensure that, "innocent civilians are not harmed" and "avoid the unnecessary destruction of property and infrastructure." It's a little too late for that, but keep in mind Snow says what's really important is that the Palestinians are, "complicit in perpetrating violence. The hostage taking and the attacks by Hamas last weekend have precipitated the current events in Gaza." [AP] Of course, what he didn't mention was that on the 25th of June, four days before Shalit was abducted, Israeli commandos launched a lighting raid into Gaza and kidnapped -- sorry, "arrested" -- two Hamas militants.

Around that time also Israel conducted another one of their patented extra judicial assassinations killing Jamal Abu Samadhana, a local militia leader, and before that killed 8 civilians in an artillery barrage on the Gaza beach near Beit Layiha. In the two weeks leading up to the kidnapping of Shalit, Israeli accidentally killed 11 other civilians including young children in several bungled attempts to kill Hamas fighters.

But this is all about the Palestinians and their terrorist government which, incidentally, was right on the cusp of backing down on Abu Mazen's demand that Hamas at least implicitly recognize Israel and let him negotiate based on the two-state solution. This is all "irrelevant" the Israelis say now, because some splinter group took one Israeli soldier.

Well, it's all over for the Palestinian people, all of them, who are now doomed to suffer because they had the audacity to exercise their democratic right to vote, which George W. Bush insisted on them doing

Monday, July 03, 2006

Another GI atrocity?

The WaPo reports today:

"A former soldier discharged because of a 'personality disorder' was accused in federal court Monday of executing an Iraqi family so he and other troops could rape and murder a young woman they had been eyeing at a traffic checkpoint. The Army is charging a former Pfc. Steven Green with the murder and rape of a 15-year old Iraqi girl."

Although, we don't know what Green's story is yet, beyond the "personality disorder," he remains innocent until proven guilty, if these allegations are true, this would be by far the worst thing to happen to our image in the eyes of Iraqis -- who we're supposedly there to protect --- and the larger Muslim world since the war began. Rape is probably the most serious offense in the Islamic religion bar none and such crimes committed by our soldiers, who are already viewed as crusader infidels by many in Iraq, are sure to inspire calls for bloody revenge and further recruitment for insurgents.

I don't want to prejudge Private Green, but this is clearly not a case of young soldiers "snapping" under fire (not that I'm buying that story regarding Haditha). Apparently, Green and possibly three other soldiers in his unit had had their sights set on this girl for weeks before they did what they did. And besides the premeditated nature of the act, they compounded the crime by trying to cover it up by killing witnesses -- her entire family -- and then attempting to destroy the evidence by burning her body.

As atrocities go, this one is pretty horrific and is totally inexcusable. Naturally, there will be some people out there trying to make excuses, like Michael Savage's listeners. I understand as Americans we don't want to believe our young fighting people could possibly be capable of doing such things, but some of them obviously are. Instead of blaming the "liberal media” or even the military justice system for the actions of these alleged killers, we should be trying to figure out what exactly happened and then moving swiftly to severely punish the guilty. Dismissing these acts as just something that happens in every war does the vast majority of our troops in Iraq doing the right thing and following the rules a great disservice.

I support our troops as much as anyone -- my father was not only a Marine but also a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne -- but I don't let my sympathy for the majority of the good people over there trying to cope with a very bad situation cloud my judgment when it comes to cold blooded murder. If we're going to pound our chests, wave the flag and tell the world on how great we are we have to walk the walk. We can't on the one hand say the people we're fighting are pure evil, but on the other hand give our troops a pass when they commit such evil acts themselves. Anyone who defends American soldiers who torture, rape or kill innocent civilians don't understand what it is this country stands for and what our people are fighting and dying to defend.

Another "glitch" on the space truck:

Strike three for launching the space shuttle Discovery today: this time around it's not the typical crappy weather of the Sunshine State, rather it's a three inch tear in the insulating foam on the external fuel tank (gosh, that's never happened before right?). Presumably, sooner or later Nasa is going to manage to launch the shuttle and when they do I'm sure everyone in Nasa management will be crossing their fingers and toes hoping nothing goes seriously wrong this time. Besides the obvious very pressing imperatives of this mission, which include bringing up a deep freezer to the International Space Station (ISS) and picking up a few tons of trash, the entire future of the space shuttle program might be riding on the success of this mission.

Nasa says that if they can just figure out how to fix that nagging little problem of tiny bits of foam breaking off the fuel tank and damaging the heating tiles that insulate the shuttle from burning up in re-entry; their plan is to fly 16 more missions before shutting the program down in 2010. This would all go out the window if something were to go wrong, it would mean our plans for a manned mission to Mars, W.'s big trillion dollar SiFi fantasy, and would be pretty much kaput for the foreseeable future.

My question is: why are we wasting money to send this ancient piece of 60's era technology into space again in the first place? Shouldn't we be focusing on developing and constructing the next generation of manned space ships that will get us to Mars, or at the very at least back to the ISS before it falls out of the sky?

Unfortunately, that sort of forward thinking about the future of our manned exploration of space is being put on the back burner while Nasa obsesses about the flying foam problem. Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale says hopefully, “In terms of foam, we're so much smarter this year than we were last year" and though that may sound reassuring, it apparently isn't enough for Nasa engineers Brian O'Connor, the chief safety officer, or chief engineer, Christopher Scolese, who recommended two weeks ago that the shuttle not go up due to the on-going issues with foam. Scolese wrote in the flight-readiness review that, "I remain no-go based upon the potential loss of the vehicle." Though some might read that and call for a pause to make sure they know exactly what they're getting into, Nasa management is having none of it. [Sun Sentinel]

Nasa chief Michael Griffin (a Bush political appointee) is determined to risk a 'go' order regardless of the dangers to keep the shuttle program going and complete the politically sensitive construction of the ISS (As if that's really going to happen). Griffin said on CNN yesterday that, "I've kind of steeped myself in this problem for the last month, and I'm quite confident that we've got a very good chance of flying and flying safely." Wow, a whole month, I feel confident don't you?

Once again, politics seems to be trumping professional expertise, which has become a cornerstone of the way this administration does business. "Looking at the whole picture," Griffin says, "I'm willing to take a little bit of programmic risk now --- notice I did not say crew risk . . . in order to prevent a excessive build-up of programmic risk later on." Can you say: beurocratic double-talk?

Scolese and O'Connor eventually agreed to shelve their reservations about safety and go along with Griffin's 'go' order based on his daring plan to use the ISS as a life-boat in case the shuttle is too damaged to return safely and then send another shuttle up to rescue them. Though this sounds to me like something Nasa management came up with on the back of a napkin over a three martini lunch, this idea is actually being taken seriously. It gets better though; in order to make room for the second shuttle to dock with the ISS, they would use some sort of cable to give instructions to Discovery's computers to fly back to Earth on its own (while presumably not bursting into flames).

Whether Scolese and O'Connor are actually buying any of this or not --or more importantly, were pressured to sign off on this -- I can only speculate. It can't have escaped their notice, though, that Griffin's brilliant plan sort of falls apart if the Atlantis, the next shuttle in line, is also damaged by the foam (how many astronauts can you pack into the ISS?). I suppose in that case we could always ask the Russians to come bail us out but that would be a real embarrassment wouldn't it? (Maybe, Cheney & cabal ought to tone down the anti-Putin rhetoric just in case.)

Just as in last year's Discovery mission, two astronauts will be doing space walks, known in the biz as EVAs, to inspect the shuttle to make sure its capable of returning safely. Back in the old days when Nasa actually knew how to do things like go to the moon, space walks were a big deal. Now, however, they're just done to fix the creaky old shuttle that always seems to be on the verge of falling apart. (What would Ed White say?) To me, adding another risk factor like walking in space to this already pointless endeavor is crazy.

I say we call it a day with the shuttle, it's been almost 40 years since we went to the moon and we've been going backwards ever since. My God, the damn Chinese will be zooming past the ISS on their way to the moon and by then we'll be using rubber band propellers to get the shuttle up. What would Gus Grissom say if he were here today? Probably something along the lines of, ‘how can we get to Mars if we can't fix some foam?'
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