Friday, June 14, 2002

Personal aside.

Damn. I don't know what to say. It's another messy, messy one. But how can anyone possibly say that he didn't know his life was in danger?

To date, no one has been brought to justice in connection with the murder of Pat Finucane.

There's also no clear and reliable evidence that points to one individual. Arresting people for being Irish in the wrong place at the wrong time is bad. Arresting people just for the sake of saying "Finucane avenged" is bad, too. Ask yourself this: do you want justice, or do you just want to see a head on a pike?

Colombia Three refuse to eat over poisoning fears

Let them kill you, or kill yourselves. I would make a nasty comment like "either way, the world would be a better place without you in it", but I'm bigger than that, so I won't.

Rummy should provide evidence but the Iranian government can make all the claims it likes and be believed.


Thursday, June 13, 2002

Where would we be without astute experts like this:

Shark experts say bites will increase as beach crowds grow

John Cole is back! He's in fine form, and he's got some good advice for the yungins.

There's a lot to be said about the rights of detainees. There's even more to be said about the surrender and denial of civil liberties. In the wake of the attacks, I remember thinking that I would be willing to voluntarily and, even more important, temporarily give up some of those liberties to better ensure that something of that magnitude never happend again. People deserve due process. Even if the answer to the question of their guilt is blatant, they deserve fair and equitable treatment.

But in this guy's case, I don't give a shit.

Tony Blair on "Thatcherism":

Mr Blair said he was "delighted we have moved this country away from Thatcherism, because the problem with Thatcherism is that it took no account of social division, grossly under invested in our public services, it did not care about unemployment, isolated this country in Europe. That is precisely why I am delighted we have a got a new Labour government today to put this right."

Uh-huh. Okay. Will one of Tony's advisors kindly instruct the Prime Minister to put the crack pipe down?

UUP may merge with Tories

And that's a pretty big MAY.

Magnus Linklater on yesterday's Charles Clarke temper tantrum:

"It is a paradox worthy of a thesis that the governments that are most paranoid about the press are those with least reason to worry about it."

I want to have that man's babies.

Not only did Bush, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and the AARP know it was going to happen, but now it looks like the MI5 knew it was going to happen, too!

Hitchhiker Thursdays

"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Douglas Adams

I didn't read, watch, or otherwise consume one piece of media between 5 o'clock yesterday evening and this morning. But I can conclude two things with certainty:

-the Lakers won. Everyone in my neighborhood jumps in their cars and drives around honking their horns whenever they win a big game. Last night, some folks even set off fireworks.

-Mexico won some World Cup thingie. Driving through Lennox, guys were lining the streets waving Mexican flags.

Sports and pride. Strange beans.

It's an international cat fight. And it's tons of fun. Check it out. In honor of my granddaddies, my money's on Britain.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

I remember once when I was taking a course on air cargo security and anti-terrorism measures, a man in the class raised a pretty unsettling point: for all of our efforts, all of the regulations, and any safety measures carried out by airlines, forwarders, and the FAA (and now, the TSA), what's to stop somebody who really wants to knock a plane out of the sky from just going to the end of a runway with a bazooka and taking a shot?

It's even more unsettling now.

Germany on Wednesday said it had received intelligence of a possible al-Qaida threat to shoot down civilian airliners, while officials in India claimed they had evidence of an imminent al-Qaida attack on financial institutions in Bombay.

Damn, this is funny as hell. Except that Mr. Blair forgot to include the "I swear on my herd of sheep that this is all 100% legal" stuff.

Simon Jenkins:

The great wars of the 20th century were real wars. They threatened the existence of states with subjugation and slavery. The need to eradicate al-Qaeda and those who wield dangerous weapons is serious. But al-Qaeda’s success was in large part the result of a gross failure of American policy, both in domestic intelligence and in appeasing Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. Such a threat must be fought, but as a criminal conspiracy not a war of states.

For the last time: it was not a criminal conspiracy. It was an act of war. Period. Just because al-Quaeda doesn't come with borders and a tidy target on which to drop a bomb, it's a far shot from saying they're mere "criminals". The "criminal" part is obvious. The geography is a dubious and daunting matter. And any "success" these bastards have been met with is a result of their fierce and relentless hatred, not American foreign policy. Lot's of people don't like American foreign policy. They bitch about it in cafes in Europe. They host websites devoted to criticizing it. The get jobs as editorial commentators at the Guardian. They don't willfully and maliciously murder thousands of innocent people and destroy engineering marvels in a fit of jealous rage. That, pure and simple, is what al-Quaeda is all about.

Labour fury at 'pious media hypocrites'

How about "British voters furious at lying and inefficient government"?

Labour's frustration at months of attacks over sleaze and spin boils over today as the party chairman launches a ferocious attack on “pious and hypocritical” media criticism.

Good for you, pal. Attaway to make things better for the party.

With the Government’s relations with parts of the media at a record low, Charles Clarke fuels the conflict with an article in The Times in which he accuses sections of the press of doing their best to bring democratic politics into disrepute.

You see, this explains all those headlines that read "Stephen Byers is a liar! Democracy must go!"

His salvo is the fiercest by any minister since Labour came to power and reflects Downing Street’s anger and despair at what it regards as unfair treatment. Officials are privately accusing some newspapers of being ready to lie to do the Government down.

Boo hoo for them. My heart bleeds. Dudes, you're running the friggin' country. It's fair to expect the media to keep an eye on what you're doing. And you'd better get busy substantiating your claims that the media is "lying", or shut the hell up and suffer the consequences of your policy and actions coming to public light.

In his article, Mr Clarke denies that Labour has sought out personal information about its opponents, and says that it is the media, not political parties, that “camp out on people’s doorsteps, duplicitously seek personal financial information and ‘expose’ personal sexual peccadillos”. This, he suspects, is “all to sell newspapers rather than to pursue any higher public interest”.

I've watched Question Time religiously since John Major was PM. There's a tactic employed by Tony Blair that became so typical, it was the greatest sure bet on the planet: when anyone raises issue with party policy or lack of delivering on promises or maturing and improving public services, just say "well, we've had a hard time cleaning up the mess of the previous government". When in doubt or fumbling for answers to important questions, blame the other guys. It's a cheap tactic, and it doesn't get anything solved.

In spite of all the rows about political fundraising, from Ecclestone, to Desmond, to Mittal, serious misconduct has never been demonstrated because it does not exist, he says. But in the process any individual who decides to donate to any party knows that they “risk vicious character assassination in the tabloid media”.

But David Davis, the Conservative chairman, accused Mr Clarke of paranoia, saying: “It is typical of new Labour that when they are criticised they attack their critics.”

See above.

P.S. Here's the article by Charles Clarke.

White House, GAO Debate Vandalism

A government investigation, prompted by Bush administration charges that aides to President Bill Clinton vandalized the White House as they left, found at least $19,000 in damage but concluded it may have been typical of recent outgoing administrations.

May have been typical? Typical is like having to put in new carpeting or re-paint the walls. Not replace 62 vandalized computer keyboards.

"Damage, theft, vandalism, and pranks occurred in the White House complex during the 2001 presidential transition," concluded the report, which had been commissioned by Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.). "Incidents such as the removal of keys from computer keyboards; the theft of various items; the leaving of certain voice mail messages, signs and written messages; and the placing of glue on desk drawers clearly were intentional acts."

Intentional. Not, oops, I spilled cranberry juice on the Dolly Madison chez lounge.

The report said "some of the same types of observations that were made concerning the condition of the White House complex during the 2001 transition were also made during the 1993 transition," when Clinton was taking office. The report said that the GAO was "unable to conclude whether the 2001 transition was worse than previous ones" but that career government employees recalled similar conditions in 1989, when President Bush's father was inaugurated.

Kindly itemize those "observations" here, and I'll consider granting them some merit.

And from the sands of "no, the media is not biased!":

Though Bush officials have said repeatedly they had no interest in furthering the controversy, they responded to the GAO report paragraph by paragraph.

Well, if someone told you that you were full of shit and that people leaving behind signs comparing you to monkeys in your new residence was "typical", wouldn't you respond paragraph by paragraph?

The report said 29 White House staff members "observed about two dozen prank signs, printed materials, stickers, or written messages that were affixed to walls or desks; placed in copiers, desks and cabinets; or placed on the floor." Six White House staffers "said that they had observed writing on the walls (words) in a total of two rooms," the GAO said.

If this is the standard material left behind in an administrative transition, then may God help us. I expect a little bit more from people who walk the halls of the White House.

The most recent winner of the Juan Gato With Cheese! Award For Stating the Bleeding Obvious is Northern Secretary Dr. John Reid:

Dr. John Reid said, however, that he also accepted that paramilitaries had been involved in recent inter-communal violence in East Belfast.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Some guy named Joe P. wrote in claiming to be a regular reader (clearly there is something wrong with this man) and chiding me for not taking on this piece of blah from yesterday's Daily Wanker. Sorry Joe. Honestly, sometimes it's just so bad I feel that flogging this kind of nonsense is a waste of effort. But since you seem like a nice guy, and because I feel sorry for you that you live in Cleveland, this is for you.

When the hijacked planes hit the twin towers, nine months ago tomorrow, there were some - not least in Downing Street - who believed the priorities of George Bush's presidency were irrevocably altered.

What a discerning lot they are.

Up to September 11, their argument ran, the Bush administration had been preoccupied with the domestic agenda, headed by populist tax cuts and conservative social initiatives.

Holy pixie sticks! You mean to tell me that the President of the United States of America was distracted by the agenda of...The United States of America? What kind of an asshole is that Bush person anyway? Who does he think he's kidding?

What mattered were American corporations and American voters.

Um, well...yeah. That's what an American president generally concerns himself with. Should Bush have been paying more attention to the needs of British voters?

But September 11, according to this view, transformed everything for Mr Bush. Under assault, the US was willy-nilly compelled to engage with the world.

Just like, according to my view, this leader is willy-nilly compelling me to choke on my ham sandwich (no Mamma Cass jokes, please.).

One might disapprove of some of its responses and regret some of the president's language, but the long and winding road from Ground Zero was at least leading America inexorably back into the world.

After a long turn in outer space.

As complex issue followed complex issue - Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iraq, India-Pakistan or even Europe and Nato - the administration was supposedly learning that the world was interdependent, acknowledging US responsibilities, and accepting that to refract everything through the single prism of the conservative Republican domestic agenda was no longer appropriate.

Nobody in the administration knew that the world was interdependent on September 10. That is so trite and condescending, it's remarkable. Like cheering on a baby taking their first steps. Plus, it's a load of poo.

Nine months on, it is still the conservative domestic agenda, rather than any rediscovered global pragmatism, that is driving the US administration's response to the fallout from the assaults on New York and Washington.

Global pragmatism? You've got to be joking. Washington is in America. New York is in America. Seems to be that the best place for Bush's focus to be is AMERICA, be it conservative or otherwise.

It was a political move, designed to distract attention from the increasing evidence that the administration's domestic obsessions helped blind it to the seriousness of the threat it faced from al-Qaida.

No it wasn't. When are you twits going to give up on this "wag the dog" rubbish anyway?

The rest of it is bullshit. Helpful for bulemics who don't like sticking stuff down their throat to induce tossed cookies, but not much more than that. I'm done.

Aside: I have no idea why the word "Wanker" appears twice in the paragraph above. It looks fine in the template. Anyone have any idea what might be doing this?

Ever watched the ABC morning show "The View"? Neither have I. So it's more than a little unfair for me to describe it as windbagged pepperpots at a coffee klatsche in hell, but that's what the previews suggest.

During a recent episode, network executives bleeped out the word "Jesus" during the tape-delayed west coast broadcast, when Joy Behar thanked Him after giving up on her diet. Apparently, the execs deemed Behar's use of the word as "offensive".

Yes, the network that doesn't shudder a tilt about broadcasting the bare ass of Dennis Franz suddenly gets knocking knees when some woman in a gabfest thanks the Lord because she can finally start eating Ho-Hos and onion rings again. Ah, the strange world of television.

This one goes into my Top Ten Worst of All Time. I'm thinking of suing Cameron Crowe. I want those two hours of my life back.

Thank God.

Thanks to FFM for the link.

Monday, June 10, 2002

Sasha Castel has pre-written her own obituary.

As I mentioned in the comments section, but would like to further clarify here, the reason why the union between Ms. Castel and one George Clooney came to an end is because he left her for me.

John Gotti is dead.

The former Mafia boss died in Springfield, Mo., said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity. He had suffered from throat cancer and had been moved to the prison hospital from the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Ill.

I work in the air cargo industry, so I found this article in the WaPo to be particularly interesting.

Security for cargo carried on passenger planes is "easily circumvented," the Transportation Department's inspector general has warned in a draft report that has yet to be made public.

In a lot of ways, this is true. But the real danger, from my point of view, is more at the hands of greedy or sloppy freight forwarders who are not mindful of current regulations, or disregard them completely to turn better profits.

Consider this: the jerks who bombed the WTC originally wanted to blow up a passenger airplane. The only reason they were not successful is because the freight forwarders they approached asked too many questions.

Both sets of documents, obtained by The Washington Post, describe an air-cargo system that includes no routine scrutiny of packages and serious gaps in efforts to ensure shippers follow security procedures.

This is also true. But it's not only the shippers. On more than one occasion, I have delivered small and urgent boxes to the wharehouse facilities near LAX myself. I have stood in the facility, passed the yellow do-not-cross line for up to a half an hour, holding cargo whose next stop is the belly of a passenger airplane, without a single soul asking me who I was and what I was doing there.

Consider this: it takes a bomb weighing one pound, approximately the size of a grapefruit, to blow a passenger airplane out of the sky.

The TSA documents and the inspector general's report also caution that any changes causing expense or delay in the air-cargo system could cause widespread disruption to U.S. business, which has grown dependent on moving goods rapidly.

Following September 11, regulations changed and my job got a little bit harder. But most of the changes really only amount to a longer paper trail, and not necessarily tighter restrictions ultimately aimed at prevention.

The TSA's discussion document and a follow-up titled "Short-Term Cargo Security Enhancement Plan" lay out a series of less-disruptive steps to begin addressing cargo security. Those methods include performing high-profile "blitz audits" of lax freight companies and immediately subjecting 5 percent of all air cargo to physical searches.

I've long encouraged this. If my company is subjected to one of these "blitz audits", also called "strikes", we're ready. I make darn sure we've got every piece of paper we are required, and have informed any and all of our contractors of their responsibilities.

Airlines are financially dependent on cargo, which carries higher profit margins than passengers, who need costly extras that include leg room and hot meals.

Many airlines actually promise me that they will bump passengers to make room for my cargo, if I pay them enough. But, since September 11, virtually all airlines have begun charging a "security surcharge", which ranges from ten to fifteen cents per kilogram of either the gross or dimensional weight of the cargo. Why more burden in terms of cargo screening isn't being placed on individual airlines, especially now that they are charging shippers for it, is beyond me.

The government oversight system is based on the "known shipper" regime, which means that the person or business sending a package has an established reputation.

Not necessarily. I'm not allowed to detail the requirements for a shipper to establish themselves as "known" to my company, but they aren't all that strict. This means that freight forwarders have to be relied upon to excercise good judgement, and not be so money-hungry and desperate for revenue from shipments that they will find a way to circumvent the regulations, fabricate the paperwork, or just plain lie.

The government banned unknown shippers from commercial airlines immediately after Sept. 11. Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead told Congress that was a significant step, but he has urged the TSA to go further.

There were also several other "steps", including requiring that freight forwarders physically visit the establishments of the commercial exporters for whom they handle and manifest cargo.

The problem with relying on the known shipper regime, according to the inspector general's report, is that it allows approved cargo to fly on passenger planes with only a "visual inspection of the package exterior for tampering or leakage. . . . We found that a terrorist could easily circumvent known shipper policy and ship cargo such as explosives and incendiaries on commercial aircraft without being identified or the cargo being screened."

Sort of. But they'd have to lie about the contents of their packages. Customs requires invoices for export. My company requires packing lists that detail the contents. Also, most explosives are not allowed to be shipped on passenger aircraft. Most airlines voluntarily refuse the ones that are allowed because of the risk.

TSA investigators found that it would be easy for someone to fake known shipper status. Shipments rely on two documents for authentication and both could be easily counterfeited, the agency's discussion document said. To pass through the system, both require only a known shipper's registration number, which is not kept secret.

Not so. There are a number of other requirements that, again, I'm not allowed to detail here. But trust me, it's not as easy as getting a fake driver's license and handing 500 kilograms of TNT over to me to deliver to an airline.

Another loophole in the system was created last year when the FAA ruled that the person who requests a shipment of cargo could be considered the shipper, according to the inspector general's report. If a restaurant in Chicago ordered mushrooms from a farm in Seattle, for example, the restaurant was listed as the shipper, the report said. The mushroom grower sending the cargo was never identified and the cargo was never screened.

It's not that simple. For instance, we have a client in the Netherlands who manufactures commercial and military aircraft. They've been our client for decades. They are a long time established business. They contact suppliers in the United States, such as Honeywell, Northrop, etc. for various components and instruct them to send those parts to us for consolidation to Holland. So, in this case, the client in Holland is considered the shipper, and their stateside suppliers do not have to undergo background or security checks. This makes sense, since we were not approached by the suppliers themselves. The international company contacts them, receives detailed product information, and establishes a business relationship with the U.S. company, creates detailed purchase orders and payment terms, all before instructing the supplier to deliver the goods to our wharehouse for export.

A step farther along the distribution chain are freight forwarders, who consolidate cargo from multiple shippers. It is up to the freight forwarder to certify that all the cargo came from known shippers, so the reliability and truthfulness of the forwarder is crucial.

Very true, as illustrated above.

Even if a freight forwarder is fully inspected and compliant, the forwarder can hand over the shipment to an unknown trucking company to take to the airport. There is no requirement for background checks of truckers or employees at freight-forwarding companies.

Sort of. But the law also states that I am ultimately accountable for the actions of all of my agents. For instance, if I hand over a shipment to a trucker, and he arrives at the airport with his truck unlocked, or the cargo in any way not protected from outside tampering, I am fined $1,000 for every piece of cargo on that truck. I alert every trucking company that we use of their responsibilities, and have them sign a statement and return it to our office to keep on file. This is the reason why ValuJet was cited for the Everglades crash in 1996, despite the fact that it was a result of the wrongdoing of their maintenaince and facitlity agents, Sabre Tech.

Air carriers and freight forwarders should be required to do an ID check for every delivery and keep the information on file for 90 days. The agency also proposed requiring air carriers and freight forwarders to immediately submit lists of all known shippers for the proposed cargo profiling database.

This would be cumbersome and detrimental to productivity and profit. Whether or not it is ultimately worth the effort, I can't say. It all depends on how well the database is monitored by the TSA.

Many of the fixes urged by TSA staffers in March were "labor-intensive," Wilkening said, and physical inspection of cargo is not the point of current efforts. "The focus has been on revalidating customers, and revalidating the relationships between airlines and their customers" through visits and discussions with industry, he said. "If these relationships can't be revalidated, the cargo can't fly."

I believe that the maximum amount of effort should be exerted by the airlines. Not that this should release me from any of my responsibilities to ensure that what I'm handing over to them is properly documented and safely packaged, but it's their plane, their passengers, and their reputations that are at risk. They're charging me and my exporters extra money because of "increased security costs". I want to see some results.

I really hope that Peter Mandelson is not such a dope that he acutally feels that this is some kind of novel and astute revelation:

In other words, social justice is as strong a condition for governing successfully as adherence to market realities.