Allied troops take initial control in Taliban haven of Marja

Injured Taliban fighters receiving medical care after capture
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

American, Afghan and British troops seized crucial positions across the Taliban stronghold of Marja on Saturday, encountering intense but sporadic fighting as they began the treacherous ordeal of house-to-house searches.

More than 6,000 American, Afghan and British troops came in fast early on Saturday, overwhelming most immediate resistance. But as the troops began to fan out on searches, fighting with Taliban insurgents grew in frequency and intensity across a wide area.

The pattern suggested that the hardest fighting lay in the days to come…

American commanders said the troops had achieved every first-day objective. That included advancing into the city itself and seizing intersections, government buildings and one of the city’s main bazaars in the center of town…

From those posts, Marines and soldiers began to go on patrols, searching door to door for weapons and fighters. This phase of the operation, considered the most dangerous, is expected to last at least five days. The biggest concern is bombs and booby-traps, of which there are believed to be hundreds, in roads, houses and footpaths…

What has been advertised as the most important, and novel, aspect of the Marja operation got under way on Saturday. After clearing Marja, American and Afghan officials say, they intend to import an entire Afghan civil administration, along with nearly 2,000 Afghan police officers, to help keep the Taliban from coming back in. The first of those, about 1,000 Afghan paramilitary police, were scheduled to begin arriving within 24 hours…

Several aspects of this battle appear unique, differing greatly from standard – which means old-fashioned – U.S. military strategy and tactics. General MacChrystal is one of those advocating, studying, inventing new approaches in what is termed Fourth Generation Warfare.

I imagine that the Conservatives and teabaggers back in the U.S. – inside either party – are hoping for failure as strongly as they hoped for failure in the United States of the stimulus plan. Change which steps forward into history, even cautiously, strikes fear into cowards thoroughly committed to 18th Century ideology. And worse.

Using a frozen sausage as iPhone stylus

Using an iPhone in the cold presents a quandry. You don’t want to freeze your fingers, but gloves make the touchscreen difficult to use. Unless you’ve got Dots Gloves.

Or sausages.

In South Korea, CJ Corporation noticed a sharp increase in sales of their frozen sausages. Not because they’re especially tasty, because cold commuters have discovered that they make an effective iPod stylus. It seems that they’re electrostatically compatible with the iPod’s touch screen, and nearly as effective as using a human finger.

The folks at TUAW said they were going to try something from Jimmy Dean. They must be vegans or sumpin’. I don’t know of anything that Jimmy sells that is the right shape.

Now – Slim Jims? That might be just right.

Costa Rica arrests Mexican gangsters with a ton of cocaine

Mexican training center for snow sports

Costa Rican police seized around a ton of cocaine and arrested two suspected Mexican traffickers in the latest sign Mexican gangs are stepping up their use of the country as a storage point.

Police found 2,139 pounds of cocaine stashed at a rural house near the Pacific coast northwest of San Jose, and arrested two Mexican nationals at the scene. They are believed to be members of Mexico’s Juarez cartel, the public security ministry said.

President-elect Laura Chinchilla, a former security minister who won a landslide election victory on Sunday, has said combating Mexican drug gangs operating in Costa Rica will be a priority when she takes power in May.

A three-year army crackdown on drug gangs in Mexico has encouraged some traffickers to push south into Central America, setting up bases in countries like Guatemala as they seek new routes to smuggle South American cocaine to the United States.

Costa Rican authorities have seized 93 ton of cocaine between 2006 and 2009 — nearly twice the amount the country captured in the preceding decade.

Costa Rica is known for being an oasis of stability, high living standards and low crime in a region scarred by Cold War-era civil wars and plagued by violent street gangs.

But it also sits halfway between the cocaine-producing Andes and Mexico, whose smuggling gangs earn some $40 billion a year smuggling the drug north using planes, boats and trucks.

Sit in the middle of the highway between vendors and consumers of death and destruction – yes, you may be run over by a drugs steamroller.

Producer nations do little to stop the trade. Consumer nations – like the United States – are endlessly mired in moral stupidity wallpapered with biblical quotes and opportunist politicians. All that a nation in the middle can do – like Costa Rica – is to defend their own interests and safety as aggressively as possible.

Justice Department appeals ban on tracking cell-phones

The government argued on Friday that it should be allowed access to people’s cell-phone records to help track suspected criminals.

A Justice Department attorney urged a federal appeals court to overturn lower court rulings denying it the right to seek information from communications companies about the call activity of specific numbers that authorities believe are associated with criminal activity.

But civil rights lawyers argued that providing information such as dates, times and call duration, and which cell towers the calls used, would be an invasion of privacy and a violation of constitutional protections against unjustified arrest.

Attorneys for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology said the government should have to obtain a warrant to track an individual via a cell phone and show probable cause that the information would provide evidence of a crime…

Judge Dolores Sloviter, one of a three-judge panel, told Eckenwiler the government’s case raised questions about the government’s rights to track individuals.

“There are governments in the world that would like to know where some of their people are or have been,” she said, citing Iran as a government that monitors political meetings. “Wouldn’t the government find it useful if it could get that information without showing probable cause? Don’t we have to be concerned about that?”

I don’t recall a year since I publicly joined anti-establishment politics that meetings or manifestations I attended weren’t monitored by government. Local, state or federal. The record, in my experience, was 5 of us handing out draft dodger leaflets in front of the New Orleans draft board while being photographed by 14 separate federal, state and local police bodies – that we could identify.

All this case is discussing is how convenient and cost-effective courts may make snooping for the government. Not the process.

OTOH, I hope this post doesn’t nudge our more paranoid readers into hurling their cell phone out of fear and trembling into the nearest dumpster. Sometimes, simple, easy access to communications trumps snoopery.

A Hopey-Changey tale Republicans/Blue Dog Democrats hate!

The U.S. Army has cleared Oshkosh Corp to resume work on a $3 billion medium truck contract, after a month-long reevaluation of all three bids originally submitted for the work.

In December, the congressional Government Accountability Office had upheld protests filed by losing bidders BAE Systems Plc and Navistar International Corp, telling the Army to go back and reevaluate the bids, as well as Navistar’s past performance.

In a statement issued late on Friday, the Army said it decided the Oshkosh bid was still the best one in late January, and a peer review conducted by top Pentagon officials subsequently affirmed the Army’s decision.

As a result, the Army said it was lifting a stop work order, which would allow Oshkosh to resume work on the trucks…

Defense consultant Jim McAleese said the decision was in line with expectations, and would result in savings for the Army of over $1 billion…

Oshkosh surprised analysts when it won the medium truck contract last August, beating out incumbent BAE Systems, which had been making the trucks for the Army for 17 years.

The “military industrial complex” – which generally means corporations in conservative Republican or Democrat districts who are stuck entirely up into the bowels of Pentagon flunkeys – usually can rely upon a year or two of wearing down bona fide contract awards through the sort of political ennui we’ve come to know and love in the current Congress.

That Obama has succeeded in planting an administrative boot right between the greedy hemispheres of entrenched corporate butts is one of the most significant examples of change since FDR was elected in the 1930’s. The sort of “Hopey-Changey” that never happened before.

BTW, last election cycle, BAE forked over more than $615,000 in campaign contributions to incumbents.

What would Jesus smoke?

“Hmmm… too tame.”

A marijuana bust along the U.S.-Mexico border revealed 30 pounds of the drug stuffed into framed pictures of Jesus Christ, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said Wednesday.

“This is not the first time we have seen smugglers attempt to use religious figures and articles of faith to further their criminal enterprise,” said William Molaski, port director of the agency’s office in El Paso, Texas, in a statement.

“What some might find offensive or sacrilegious has unfortunately become a standard operating procedure for drug smugglers. This would include using religious symbols, children and senior citizens in their attempts to defeat the CBP inspection process.”

There’s a pun involving holy rollers in here somewhere.

War dogs remembered, decades late

Maybe it was the sound of the wind cutting through the wire. Perhaps he caught a small vibration with his keen eyes. Or it could have been a slight difference in the air’s smell.
Whatever it was, when Sarge noticed that his Marine Corps handler, Fred Dorr, was creeping down the wrong path in the Vietnam jungle, the German shepherd did something he’d never done out in the field: He looked at Dorr and barked, before taking a seat.

“When he sat down, I knew there was a trip wire. I was one step away from it,” remembered Dorr, who with his dog in 1969 was “walking point,” leading the way for a dozen soldiers. Had the hidden explosive device been tripped, “It would have gotten half of us.”

More than 40 years later, the gratitude and love Dorr, 59, feels for the dog he served with is as strong as ever. And it’s for this reason that Dorr, president of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association, drove from his Yoakum, Texas, home to be in Southern California this week.

About 200 Vietnam War dog handlers, who were trained to read and communicate with their canine partners, have gathered for a reunion. And on Saturday they’ll join an expected several thousand others for the 10th anniversary rededication of the War Dog Memorial at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside…

Washington also took notice. In November 2000, President Clinton signed into law legislation that established a military working dog adoption program. Now the dogs working in Iraq and Afghanistan will have a chance to find comfortable homes when they return from war.

For Dorr, of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association, this has been a blessing. He said leaving his partner Sarge behind, all those decades ago, haunted him…

But he now has Bluma, the war dog he adopted from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The German shepherd, who has hip problems, looks uncannily like Sarge, he said, and having him around is a source of comfort.

I’m taking care of an old vet,” Dorr said, “and he’s taking care of me.”

RTFA. A tale worth telling and retelling. A reminder that the bond of companionship between human and dog can be a strong as any other. Maybe more worthy.