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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Impressions from Baghdad

The NYTimes has an eyeopening report from a correspondent, Jeffrey Gettleman about the recent changes in Iraq.

It's short and well worth a read.
The minute I got to the scene, I realized I was stepping into a new Iraq. Another new Iraq, really; maybe even the third Iraq I have seen since I began reporting here in 2003.

Gone were the American tanks that used to guard the intersections. Instead, aggressive teenagers with machine guns and shiny soccer jerseys ruled the streets. They poked their heads into cars and detained whomever they wanted. There were even 8-year-olds running checkpoints, some toting toy pistols, others toting real ones. Whatever they carried, 4-foot-tall militias made me nervous. The streets now had a truly Liberian feel.....

If this all sounds depressing, it is. That's how people here feel. I've been looking hard, but in two weeks I haven't found an Iraqi optimist.....

It is difficult to communicate just how violent Baghdad has become.

Gettleman also has another more formal and "newsy" article on the scores of men who have been found tortured and killed in Baghdad simply for being Sunni or Shia, but this is the one that impacted me.

Picture of the Day - 2

Reporting the "Good News" in Iraq

President Bush told reporters, after criticizing them, to go out and look at the progress in Iraq. The examples he offered were the hopeful signs in Tal Afar, and the schools. They always emphasize the schools. Well, it seems a couple of reporters did just that, and they didn't come back with "good news."

First, on the administration's recent contention that Tal Afar has been a success story, a Reuters reporter actually went to Tal Afar and talked with the residents.

Short answer, not so much. The Al Qaeda elements have indeed been driven out, but there are still killings, seemingly arbitrary arrests, random mortar attacks and gunfire, and one resident referred to it as a "ghost town" as so many legitimate civilians have been driven out by the cycle of violence.

Second, an AP reporter decided to do a story on the schools in Baghdad, as recommended by the war proponents. What she found is that the violence that is taking place all over Iraq is affecting the schools as well, mortar attacks, kidnappings, assassinations, hundreds dead, and 400+ schools closed because of violence and attacks. The article is aptly titled, Schools Also on the Front Lines in Iraq.

And, as for that whole dispute about the application of the term "civil war," the Iraqis themselves seem to be using that phrase more and more, and really, whether the Iraqis think it's a civil war is really all that matters towards the outcome.

The battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims for control of Baghdad has already started, say Iraqi political leaders who predict fierce street fighting will break out as each community takes over districts in which it is strongest.

"The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said. "Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area." He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

This article in the Independent by Patrick Cockburn presents a very different view of the current "state of play" in regards to Iraq's civil war than we've been getting here. If it's accurate, which I think it is, the seams are about to burst into open street fighting and a factionalized use of army units.

Hillary's opponent cracking under the pressure.

After Jeanne Pirro pulled out of the Senate race against Hillary Clinton, the Republicans had trouble finding someone else to run. Perhaps they should have looked a little harder, because KT McFarland is looking to make Alan Keyes appear sane.

"Hillary Clinton is really worried about me, and is so worried, in fact, that she had helicopters flying over my house in Southampton today taking pictures," according to a prominent GOP activist who was at the event.

Her campaign staff tried to lay it off as a joke, but apparently Ms. McFarland just had a paranoid break at this campaign event.

"It was a joke, and people laughed," O'Reilly insisted.

But three witnesses who were present said nobody in the audience cracked a smile.

"The whole room sort of went silent when she said it," one person said.

Pretty scary.

There were no blacks in Mayberry

This line of crap in the "culture war" has always bothered me.

(Mike Huckabee - Arkansas governor and Republican presidential hopeful.)
"Let's face it," he recently told a crowd of Christian conservatives in Iowa, the state that holds the nation's earliest presidential caucuses. "In our lifetimes, we've seen our country go from 'Leave It to Beaver' to 'Beavis and Butt-head,' from Barney Fife to Barney Frank, from 'Father Knows Best' to television shows where father knows nothing."

But see, the problem, Mr. Huckabee, is that Mayberry never really existed. It was on TV. It represents an idealized version of reality you remember from your childhood, not the full reality of life.

For instance, there were no black people in Mayberry. Just how "friendly and genial" do you think a real sheriff or the people in a real North Carolina small town would've been to a black family looking to settle there. And it's not just that.

On the shows, women were opressed into housewifedom, children were at least threatened with being "whipped," and anyone who fell outside the "mainstream values" was not present in the society.

This is the fake TV community in which Mr. Huckabee and so many other "Conservatives" want to live. It's pretty creepy really if you think about it. Citing another old popular show, it's kind of a Twilight Zone type thing. "These people loved the world of their TV so much that they tried to model their society on it."

That's the vision of "American Values" that the Republicans attempt to evoke. It's a very powerful device which taps the collective archetypes within the psyche of the baby boomers crafted in significant part from TV of their childhood. It's an odd call to a psychological regression to the images and simplicity of they collectively share.

But you see, Mr. Huckabee, despite your illusions, that society never existed. On the TV of your childhood, there were no massive layoffs, no outsourcing or health benefits, no substance abuse beyond the "loveable drunk," no divorces or loveless marriages, no child abuse or rape, no one got sick or died, no one went hungry..... hell, nobody even really sweated despite the fact that there was no airconditioning.

That "memory" you have was not the real world, and, I fear that that make believe world is where you want to lead us. But that won't work, because this "model society" never existed.

There were no blacks in Mayberry, Mr. Huckabee.

(If you've never seen the movie Pleasantville, I would recommend it highly. I know that not everybody likes it, but I loved the extremely gentle way in which it depicted the transition from the fifties to the opening of minds of the sexual revolution and freeing of the soul. It's a little long, and the device is a little obvious, but there is a gentleness of the movie I have always found endearing. And, it makes this same point in a very beautiful way.)

Picture of the Day

(AFP - Ali Al-Saadi)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Evidence of Warrantless Physical Searches in the Portland Case?

A few odd pieces to the puzzle on the searches and spying front this afternoon. I don't really know what to make of any of them, or even if they're connected, but I'm going to put them up anyhow.

First, there's this really weird article out of a local TV station in Washington State.
PORTLAND, ORE. - A secret document in an Oregon lawsuit challenging President Bush's domestic wiretapping program will be held in a secure facility in Seattle while the judge and lawyers try to figure out how to keep it under wraps in Portland.

U.S. District Judge Garr King decided this week that the document couldn't be held securely in a federal courthouse in Portland, and shouldn't be held at the local office of the FBI, a defendant in the case....

(the US attorney's office in Seattle hoped it could later be made public, but....) A government lawyer said, however, the document would be so black with redactions that it couldn't be understood.

Weird, huh?

Now, the reason this caught my interest was the US News and World Report article last weekend that alleged(second hand) warrantless physical searches of an attorney's office, AN ATTORNEY WHO WAS DEFENDING THE SAME CHARITY, al-Haramain. (second page, last two paragraphs.)

Also, in that same US News article was this where Alberto Gonzales made a "tacit case" that under their theory of the unitary executive warrantless physical searches were within presidential authority.
But in a little-noticed white paper submitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Congress on January 19 justifying the legality of the NSA eavesdropping, Justice Department lawyers made a tacit case that President Bush also has the inherent authority to order such physical searches. In order to fulfill his duties as commander in chief, the 42-page white paper says, "a consistent understanding has developed that the president has inherent constitutional authority to conduct warrantless searches and surveillance within the United States for foreign intelligence purposes."

Lastly, we have this bit from Rawstory, in Gonzales's answers to Congress, that says that attorney/client conversations are not specifically exempted from the warrantless eavesdropping program.

So, putting these loose threads together, we have Gonzales admitting that attorney conversations may not have been protected, a "tacit case" by the Justice Dept that physical searches are equivalent to tapping international calls under the authority they're claiming, some suggestions of the feds conducting warrantless physical searches of another attorney associated WITH THE SAME CHARITY.

And now we have a mystery document that is so hot that it must be stored offsite in a secure vault, and so incriminating that the FBI, even in with their best measures, is not allowed to keep it in their possession.

We got something cooking here.

In case you're not a Rawstory fan, here's the AP version of the article. Also, attorney Nelson who claims he has been the subject of multiple warrantless searches of his office and home, was on Olberman tonight, repeat at 11PM Central - first segment.

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(AFP-Mandel Ngan)

The Patriot Act Signing Statement

Briefly, Bush has been issuing signing statements with alot of the bills he signs into law. The theory is that these signing statements indicate the executive's position and understanding of the law, and they've been around for awhile.

But George Bush has taken to issuing legal arguments within this administration's signing statements, most famously on the torture amendment. Effectively, that statement argued that Bush was not bound by the torture amendment that he was signing into law.

We've got another one here reported by Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe.
WASHINGTON -- When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.....

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."

Bush wrote: ''The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information . . . "

There is no law but Ceasar.

Or, maybe better said paraphrasing Al Gonzales, "we look forward to working with Congress in their advisory role."

My Congresman is a Racist - John Culberson

Check this out. My local paper cites a study about Houston's weariness with the Katrina evacuees.

But the real thing we learn is that my congressman, John Culberson, appears to have pulled his sheet out of storage for the midterm elections.
"These results reflect what I'm hearing from my constituents," said U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston. "I think the percentage of people unhappy with the deadbeats from New Orleans would be larger but for the big hearts of Houstonians who want these folks to get back on their feet, as I do."....

"If they can work, but won't work, ship 'em back," he said. "If they cause problems in the schools, if they commit crime, there ought to be a one-strike rule — ship 'em back."

Although Culberson said he has been trying to attach such a provision to pending legislation, it's unclear how such an idea could be implemented.

See. According to Congressman Culberson, blacks are deadbeats who don't want to work. They're naturally prone to violence and can't be trusted around our children. And he believes in this so strongly that he's trying to pass (national?) legislation to affirm the power "ship 'em back."

And, by the way Mr. Culberson, this is America. Where do you come off with "Ship 'em back?" Is that your version of "Go back to Africa," you race-baiting scumbag?

I hate to say this, but this type of racial politics is going to be played out all over the country around immigration for the midterms. This is just a localized version.

Get ready. It's going to be awful.

The language of Iraq.

Has anyone else noticed that Iraq is no longer "hard work?"

Bush used this phrase in relation to Iraq clustered very frequently in the Summer of election year 2004.

And now it's gone. Just curious.

Picture of the Day - 2

Presidenting is hard.

Iraq Catchall

I ran across a whole bunch of odd Iraq bits this morning so I'm going to throw them all together.

First, US military spokesman in Iraq says that Iraq's violence is limited.

In a rundown of recent military activity, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the U.S. military spokesman, said most violence was focused in three central provinces, including Baghdad.

"There is not widespread violence across Iraq. There is not. Seventy-five percent of the attacks still take place in Baghdad, al-Anbar or Salaheddin (provinces). And in the other 15 provinces, they all averaged less than six attacks a day, and 12 of those provinces averaged less than two attacks a day."

So, leaving aside that those three hot provinces represent over 30% of the population, it is the military's contention that those other provinces are quiet if they "average less" than 60-180 attacks a month or 480-1,440 terror attacks per province since August. I hate to quibble, but that doesn't sound quiet to me.

(jiggering the numbers again, the quiet portion of the country of 18 million people suffered 5,760 attacks that were reported or recognized by the US military since August. Maybe we should move there.)

And, I don't know if it's actually being there amidst the negotiations, but Zalmay Khalilzad seems to be the only US/adminsitration figure who really has any idea of how bad it is.
Speaking to the Washington Post, he also noted that despite a suicide car bombing on Thursday that killed at least 25 people at a police headquarters, more people died in death squad-style sectarian killings in recent weeks than in bombings.

In the same article, the US is still trying to use Allawi who took a small percent of the vote(14% maybe?) as their standard bearer in this extraconstitutional Iraqi Security Council construct.
Allawi, with powerful backers in Washington, is widely tipped among senior political sources to play a leading role in the new Security Council, which some portray as a powerful parallel administration whose creation could sidestep deadlock among Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds on forming a unity government.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it sounds like this Security Council is indeed going to sidestep the constitutional process by creating a temporary appointed government.

And from Juan Cole, Iraq's Interior Minister announced that there are only a few hundred foreign fighters left in Iraq.

Low scale ethnic cleansing seems to be gathering steam.

Juan Cole also has a Salon piece on the administration's efforts to redefine Iraq as anything but a civil war.

Finally, amidst the UN negotiations on Iran's nuclear program which the Russians are rejecting, ABCNews investigative unit (see Brian Ross, the new Judy Miller) just happens to run across some documentation that shows the Russians were leaking US war plans to the Iraqis. Just another coincidence, I'm sure.

And, We're all Gonna Die

I find it really frightening that the better science understands some of the mechanics of Global Warming, the more dire the predictions become.
A study in the US journal Science suggests a threshold triggering a rise in sea level of several metres could be reached before the end of the century.

In the American translations of this BBC article, they're using the estimation of 20 feet. How will the grandchildren look back on us?

Picture of the Day


Nixon thought he had political capital for his second term, too.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Is rendition still of interest to America?

You may or may not already know the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen kidnapped in New York by the US government, flown around Europe to be eventually deposited in Syrian custody where he was tortured for nine months, (he was innocent, by the way.)

Wouldn't you think his sworn testimony to an EU committee looking at renditions and Human Rights violations might be worth a mention in the US press?

The New Judy Miller, Brian Ross?

Is Brian Ross of ABCNews the new Judy Miller?

I just want to throw this out there, three stories out of ABCNews all pushing fear, two with a Brian Ross byline and another uncredited, one each week. If I look at the stories, it just makes me raise an eyebrow.

First, Brian Ross was the reporter who broke the already discredited story about IED's coming into Iraq from Iran, conveniently right before the White House started making the claim, very similar to Judy Miller publishing the now discredited "aluminum tubes" story on the day of the Cheney rollout of that propaganda piece.

Next, a week later, with Bush polls down, a scare piece on the bird flu.

Then, yesterday, in an article crediting ABC's Investigative Unit of which Brian Ross is the featured player, was the report of all sorts of Al Qaeda/Iraq tie ins. Reading this article it seems to present it without the context that during the period when these contacts took place, 94-95, many other governments, including the US were in contact with Bin Laden. It just seems to imply a more significant tie.

One more from Mar. 20. Right in concert with Donald Rumsfeld complaining that "the enemy" is more saavy at using new communications, the internet etc, Brian Ross has a story on the Iraqi insurgents' media campaign.

I'm not saying it outright, because I don't think the evidence is concrete, but I'm just making a suggestion that this might be something to watch.

In the last month his stories seem to be coinciding with the messages out of the White House.

Picture of the Day - 2

(Flashback to the signage following the SOTU. Thought it would be an interesting comparison with the giant less subtle signage in the next picture below.

Remember in the SOTU how if we stood against the war in Iraq we were isolationist and then that transitioned over a couple of days into our isolationism on Iraq implying that we did not believe that America could be economically competitive in the world.

Just another slimy tactic to tar critics of the war as unpatriotic.)

And for something a little lighter....

The Smoking Gun has posted a copy of Dick Cheney's "rider." These are always pretty funny, a list of special conditions celebrities require when they travel or backstage at concerts. This is very tame compared to most of the ones the Smoking Gun has posted over the years, but I do find one condition pretty funny for Cheney's "downtime room."

Cheney requires that the places that he stays are to pretune the TV's to Foxnews. It's not that I'm surprised that Dick Cheney would watch FoxNews, but pretuned? Is he afraid that in that brief moment before he is able to switch the channel that his patriotism might somehow be contaminated by Daryn Kagan or Soledad O'Brien?

The Lessons of 9-11

George Bush often throws out the phrase "the lessons of 9-11" in one form or another, and while I was reading some clips from the President's talk yesterday, the question finally occurred to me, what were the lessons of 9-11?

The main lesson I've taken, looking back now with a little scope and perspective, is that US foreign policy has consequences. (Another reason Iraq was a bad idea, by the way.)

I won't do the full detail here, but, as most of you probably know, Al Qaeda was a CIA creation intended to cripple the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the same motivating philosphical base on which Al Qaeda was built by the US, get the foreigners out of the region so that "true Islam could be restored," is now the same philosphical message through which Al Qaeda is finding its broadening support in its atatcks on the US and the West.

George Bush's "lesson of 9-11," on the other hand, is a very simplistic lesson in fear, at least that's the one he wants Americans to take to heart. George Bush's "lesson of 9-11" is that we need a more aggressive, active, and violent foreign policy. Also, he wants America to learn that only through war can Americans hope to be safe. War is Peace.

(Again, like Iraq, this fails to recognize the realities of dealing with an insurgency, whether it is the clearly defined and geographically bound like current one in Iraq, or a larger more amorphous movement like Al Qaeda which might be argued to be a broader worldwide "insurgency" against American hegemony. There are certainly some differences, but I think the comparison can be loosely applied. I would be more than willing to take up a broader discussion of this if anyone shows interest.)

I feel obliged to point out that this "lesson" bears a remarkable similarity to the politics of Israel, where increasing levels of action by the Israelis brought increasing levels of resistance from the Palestinians eventually giving the terrorist organization Hamas control of the Palestinian government. And from the rise in anti-American Islamist influence around the globe, Saudi, Egypt, Pakistan, etc., I would argue that George Bush's implementation of his "lesson" is having the same effect.

Just kind of rambling this morning, but the question is hanging with me. What were your "lessons of 9-11?"

Picture of the Day

Well, I didn't think he had a plan before, but maybe I was wrong. I mean, look at all that signage.

Seems a little desperate, doesn't it?

(Also, I don't know if anyone else noticed all the strange ticks and mouth movements the President displayed at his press conference. Much has been made of them over the years, but that seemed to be the highest frequency I remember. Somebody clipped about a five second video of the worst one I remember seeing. I don't think it's Tourette's, but it is there. I'm just not comfortable trying to diagnose him from 5 seconds of video. I'm not Bill Frist after all. Just click on the play arrow.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Operation Swarmer compromised by Iraqi forces

I just noticed this on SFTT.org (Col David Hackworth's site before he passed on.) It might explain why Operation PR was such a fizzle.
"Operation Swarmer was compromised by the Iraqis. As soon as Iraqi units left their barracks, their soldiers and local police watching movements were on cell phones. Orders are not even issued to Iraqi units until 1 hr prior to loading onto trucks and slicks. The insurgents were tipped off. People we interviewed in the area stated the insurgent cells and cell leaders abruptly left 3 hrs before we even arrived. This operation was an exercise in PR on how well the Iraqi forces are taking the fight to the enemy, but had little operational success."

This is single source, unsubstantiated, but that's the way SFTT works. Their goal is to provide an outlet for soldiers in the field to get their complaints out anonymously. So, a grain of salt, but, quite frankly, most of their stuff turns out to be true. They were talking body armor and Humvee armor before anybody else.

Picture of the Day - 3

Sini left a message asking for another crazy Condi picture (I do take requests) so I thought I'd post this one.

And, yes, she was there on the USS Abraham Lincoln for the "Mission Accomplished" speech.

It's funny, but everytime Bush does something wrong, there she is..... Funny that.

Bend over and kiss it goodbye.

When the terrorists strike again, or the inevitable hurricane comes ashore in five months or so, once again we will have a new way to measure the costs of the Iraq war.
Since the war began, the Guard has been badly stripped of equipment and resources even as it is tasked with one of the most important on-call jobs on American soil: to be the first line of homeland defense and security in the event of a catastrophic terror attack or a devastating national emergency such as Hurricane Katrina......

Non-deployed Guard units have just 5 percent of the lightweight rifles and 14 percent of the machine guns they are authorized to have.

Units nationwide have just 8 percent of the flatbed semi-trailers they are authorized to have and 10 percent of the Humvees.

And despite the fact the Guard likely would be the first force to respond to a terrorist attack, which many experts fear could involve the use of chemical or biological weapons, its units have only 14 percent of their authorized chemical decontamination equipment and virtually none of the chemical agent monitoring equipment they are supposed to have.

I mean, holy crap! I knew there had been "stripping" of National Guard equipment for Iraq, but just what resources have been left to protect America. The terrorists had better be content to fight us over there, as George Bush theorizes, because this administration's Iraq failure has destroyed the means for us to fight them over here.

(By the way, with no real winter down here on the gulf coast, the gulf waters are warm, and they're predicting a particularly nasty hurricane season. I even saw one article theorizing that the conditions may be right for another hurricane to hit New York.)

Fertility Drugs for Laura Bush

I'm just posting this so it can gain a little notice and maybe help in the Roe v Wade debate by pointing out the logical inconsistencies of the Religious Right's position that abortion is against God's will, but creating life is just hunky dory. (so, if you feel the need to make the inevitable "Chimpy couldn't get it up" comment, please keep it in good taste.)
March 22, 2006 -- FIRST Lady Laura Bush gave birth to twin daughters Jenna and Barbara only after taking powerful fertility drugs, according to a major new book.

In "Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady" (Random House).......

This is from a gossip column, but as it goes into a fairly detalied list of the drugs taken, time frames, days of the week, etc., I tend to think it's true.

Is this story a plant?

It's a weird grey day here in Houston, and I've already got the tinfoil hat out from the earlier post on Bolivia, so I thought I'd ask, does this morning's WaPo article about the Bush administration channeling $157 million in grants to rightwing Christian goups seem like a planted story to anyone else?

There's been alot of polling showing Bush losing support from the evangelicals and fundies, my question is, in the face of these falling polls, could this story have come from the White House in an effort to shore up that base by showing them that Bush is taking care of them?

I don't see any clear newspeg in the story, a report or audit from some outraged group or oversight agency that brought this forward. So, I just wonder whether some politico in or around the administration called Thomas Edsall and said, "I've got a story for you."

I don't know, just throwing it out as it crossed my mind.

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US Strategy In Case of Iraqi Civil War

Leaving aside the debate over whether or not Iraq is already in civil war, (I know, Greyhair) take a look at this piece by NBC's Jim Miklaszewski on the military's planning for that possibility.
Military officials tell NBC News the first objective, however, is to head off a civil war. The U.S. military hopes to keep Iraqi security forces from taking sides in the sectarian violence by pressuring the Iraqi government to crack down on any rogue elements within the police or military.

The second option: U.S. forces could again be sent into combat against sectarian militias, which military officials say would require an increase in the number of American soldiers and Marines in Iraq.

And the last resort, if violence is spinning out of countrol: Military officials say they would also have to consider the possible withdrawal of American forces.

No real surprise in any of those options, but it seems to me that option one is more or less a tinkerbell strategy, and with Bush still in office, option three is probably off the table.

(My reasoning on this is that Bush seems more concerned about his legacy being "losing Iraq" than any concern for US troops, the fate of Iraq, or the US's future standing. Like the debt, his plan is to leave the mess to the next president so his "legacy" will be clear. He can then blame failure in Iraq on someone else for "not continuing his policy.")

So, if these are the choices the military is really considering, the American public had better prepare itself for US troops in the middle of an Iraqi civil war.

It just keeps getting worse.

Regime change in Bolivia?

Just found this interesting in light of the recent anti-US politics of Bolivia. Two explosions in hotels near the seat of the government, two foreigners arrested, one of them "an American man."

I don't know anything more at this point, but the antennae are up.

It's the media's fault we're losing Iraq

This last ditch position Bush laid out in his press conference is being criticized and made fun of everywhere, so, no matter how tempted, I'm not going to do much on it.

I just thought I'd point out that criticizing the media is the only avenue left to Bush. Quite obviously, his "strategy" cannot substantially affect the violence, so all that's left is to criticize the media for covering it.

It's like a coach of a team of all stars blaming the refs after a loss. Mr. President, it's not the refs, it's the gameplan.

(Also, anybody else notice that the headline coming out of that press conference seems to be some version of "Bush Says US Troops to Stay in Iraq Through 2008?" I don't think that's the reassuring front page they were hoping would come out of that.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

Katrina video

One of the bloggers at First Draft went down to New Orleans for the last week or so, and put a short video up over at their site of driving around the 9th Ward. Although I'm not crazy about the music, it gives incredible depth to the scope of the damage.

As horrible as the images were that we saw out of that disaster, this captures the true breadth of the tragedy. And remember, this was filmed just last week.

This is just phenomenal blogging. Amidst all my little agogs and snarks and "look at this" posts .... This is what blogs can offer. I really can't praise it enough. Take a look.

$20,000 for each "liberated" Iraqi.

For some reason last night, the numbers started bothering me. What is the real cost in dollars of liberating Iraqis? (I'm going to leave aside the immeasurable human toll in this excercise.)

I'm going to use $440 billion as the cost of the Iraqi war as it is mathematically simple falls roughly in the midpoint of the administrations current lowball claim of something like $250 billion and the seemingly supportable broader $1 trillion number that's been floating around.

Using that number and the consensus guess of 22 million Iraqis, the equation looks like this.

$440,000,000,000 / 22,000,000 = $20,000 per "liberated" Iraqi.

Assuming that the Iraqis have actually been "liberated" and that not another dollar will need to be spent to ensure that they stay "liberated," does that sound like a good return on investment for either the US or Iraqi people?

What is going to happen to the Iraqi "collaborators?"

As it becomes increasingly apparent that if the US ever leaves Iraq, it will not leave it a stable, lawful democracy, a question keeps coming into my mind. When the US pulls out, what will be the fate of the believers and opportunists who served the American military as translators, informants, and even base staff?

Certainly, I'm not concerned with the Chalabis and Pachachis as these transnational opportunists will, as they have in the past, be able to take care of themselves, but instead, I'm talking about the fairly average Iraqis who might carry a stigma after haveing aided the US military even in such lowly roles as laundry women.

This came to mind again last night as I was watching a documentary on the evacuations of Vietnam after Ford issued the pullout order, the horrible scenes of the World Airways flights being chased down the runways in Danang, the near riots as the South Vietnamese tried to enter the US embassy in Saigon to get on the last flight out.

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Bush Press Conference 10AM Eastern.

Must See TV. According to Amblog, CNN has just announced the President will hold a press conference at 10AM eastern. I'll be quite curious, with the charges of incompetence gaining steam, how deferential the press will be.

And will somebody ask him again, "what mistakes have been made in your presidency?"

No Gore in 2008

I had really started to fall in love with the new "remodeled" Al Gore. In a speech Monday Gore said he is not planning to run in 2008.

This makes me sad.

UPDATE: Reality-based educator pointed me to this very recent American Prospect article on Gore I had forgotten about. Thanks.

Dana Milbank Slams Chertoff

Oh my, oh my.

Dana Milbank just unloads on Chertoff in his Washington Sketch column. He starts with an anecdote of Chertoff dining at the Heritage foundation yesterday, while there was a fire at a McDonald's at Union Station.
Chertoff aides watched the mayhem from the Heritage windows, but Chertoff himself missed the hullabaloo; one of his lunch partners explained that his security guards had ordered the blinds drawn.

It gets worse from there.

Picture of the Day

Monday, March 20, 2006

More evidence of cooked intel

NBC has a pretty big scoop on Iraq prewar intel. Apparently, the CIA had contact with Naji Sabri, an Iraqi so high in Saddam's power structure that he gave the rebuttal at the UN to Colin Powell's lies for war.

So, this insider, a source so high up in the government, was giving them accurate information, no germ warfare agents, many years from nuclear weapon, and they ignored him. Ahmed Chalabi gives them a known prevaricator like 'Curveball,' and they take that intel to the President who presents the information to the American people as fact.

The fix was in, Mr. Bush supporter. How much more evidence do you need?

What is the cost of Iraq?

Two reference sites catalog the cost of the Iraq War in different respects.

First, a geographic breakdown of just how much the Iraq war is costing us in dollars. Scroll down to find your state or city. Mine? Texas - $25.6 billion, Houston - $2.2 billion. That sure would cover a lot of children's health care in one of the nation's lowest ranked states where, not coincidentally, George Bush was governor.

Second, a link from my aunt (thanks,) to an MSNBC page that shows a breakdown of US and Iraqi deaths on a map of Iraq by time period. (I find it disturbing to watch that bar chart on the right climb up marking the deaths.)

Maybe at least they'll do less damage....

A modern day record.
WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives is on track this year to be in session for fewer days than the Congress Harry Truman labeled as "do-nothing" during his 1948 re-election campaign.

We have to include the fact that the House leadership put off it's resumption after Christmas because they were hoping an extra two weeks would allow Tom Delay to resume his leadership role, (I'm not kidding,) but I think this reinforces the general perception that Republican House members are running scared for their seats.

The House has been in session 19 days so far this year, a total of 47 hours in session, and is scheduled for a total of 97 this year. That's a record amount of scheduled campaigning time.

Quote of the Day - Pat Roberts.

On Pat Roberts, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who is not investigating Phase II of the Pre-War Intelligence and is giving the administration a total pass without even investigation into what went/is going on in the NSA spying.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, defending the GOP proposal against critics who say it's pathetically weak, said he resented being called a "lap dog of the administration." That label certainly is unfair. Even lap dogs will bite if they're kicked often enough, which is more than you can say for congressional Republicans.

Picture of the Day

After Iraq

Please urge your legislators every chance you get, whether they're Dem or Republican, to reinstate all the veterans benefits this administration has cut. Remove the extra red tape. Whether their injuries are physical or mental, every healthcare door in this country should be open to vets and they should be welcomed at the front of the line. We owe that to them. They held up their end of the bargain.

Certainly, this case is extreme and captures the experience of only a small number of Iraq veterans returning, but it is also certainly the experience more than just this one returning vet. (The Oregonian.)

The Fourth of July had fizzled into a tense fifth at the tidy two-story Hillsboro home. Outside, water shimmered blue in the backyard pool and bicycles lay on the lawn. Inside, William R. Stout Jr.stepped toward his wife.

"Give me the gun," he demanded.

Thirteen-year-old Samantha Stout pushed between her parents. Sam was petite for her age, but her voice was strong. "Dad," she said, "stop it!"

"Dad and I are just trying to talk," Wendy Stout recalls saying. "Go into the other room."

"I just want to clean my gun," police reported the father of two saying. He'd started with a beer that summer evening and then moved on to four tumblers of Jack Daniel's and Coke. Then he demanded his 9 mm Makarov.

"It's not here, Bill," Wendy recalls saying. The relief that the 40-year-old woman felt at having her husband return from Iraq nine months earlier had dissolved in his dark moods and the growing realization that he could hurt himself. Wendy was worried enough to have taken Bill's old pistol from its bedroom hiding place, wrapped it in a plastic bag and shoved it under the back deck.

"Give me the gun," he barked again. He smacked the electric fan, sending it skittering across the floor. Sammy's little sister, Maggie, 10, started to cry. Their dad never hit anyone or anything.

Suddenly, Bill grabbed his wife's left wrist. The girls screamed.

Afghan man facing death penalty for religion

This is current. This is an action under the current Afghan government in the capital Kabul that we helped put in place.
KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan man is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death on a charge of converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under this country's Islamic laws, a judge said Sunday....

"We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," the judge said. "It is an attack on Islam."....

Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which is interpreted by many Muslims to require that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death, said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission....

"He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one," Wasi told AP. "We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty."

I'm sure there will be outcries among the fundamentalists who view this as an attack on Christianity, but I see it seperate from the particular religions. I see it as a signpost of just how short a distance Afghanistan has actually travelled. We may have changed the nameplates, but exactly how much did we really change the government?

Iraq spending will rise to $9.8 billion per month (CRS)

This report apparently accounts for equipment "repair and replacement" to make up for the losses and equipment damage as well as accounting for stateside medical care for returning vets.
March 17 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan will average 44 percent more in the current fiscal year than in fiscal 2005, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said.

Spending will rise to $9.8 billion a month from the $6.8 billion a month the Pentagon said it spent last year, the research service said. ......

It also figures in costs for health care, fuel, national intelligence and the training of Iraqi and Afghan security forces -- ``now a substantial expense,'' it said.

The research service said it considers ``all war and occupation costs,'' while the Pentagon counts just the cost of personnel, maintenance and operations.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Picture of the Day - 2

Iraq, starting year four.

I thought as my recognition of the 3 year anniversary of the Iraq war, I might link to some of the "homecoming" photos I've posted over the last few months. I really would recommend a browse. They're posted in chronological order.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Warrantless Physical Searches and "Black Bag" Jobs: The Elimination of the Constitution of the United States

The US News and World Report article on the (possible) use by the Bush administration of warrantless physical searches is finally up.

Really, this article just indicates the extension of the previous legal justifications offered by Al Gonzales for the NSA wiretapping to cover physical searches as well.

But there is a significant difference in the application of the "Gonzales argument" to physical searches. The subjects of the searches are without question residents or citizens of the United States, and unless they live in one big-assed house, there can be no deceptive claim that "one end of the call is international."

So, now we have the basic terms of Gonzales' argument reduced to their starkest forms. Is a president, in "war time" completely exempt from the Constitution?

That is the argument this administration is making in the midst of the "long war" or "generational conflict." So, in effect they are arguing that for the next twenty years, the Constitution will no longer apply.

(Two Asides. First, let me say, that had I been living in the days of FDR when he so clumsily tromped all over the Constitution, I would have been writing almost this exact same piece. I am strongly libertarian when it comes to civil rights and the Constitution. I am not a Democrat by nature, I am a true centrist having voted about 50-50 over the last twelve years, whose opposition to extremes policy in this administration has put me in the anti-Bush camp.

Second. The alleged incidents of potential warrantless searches cited in the last two paragraphs of page two, sound more like the amateurish break-ins of Watergate rather than the more professional sacking of Daniel Ellsberg's psychologist's office.)


This quote is everywhere, but it still bears repeating.
"It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more," Ayad Allawi(Iraq's former Prime Minister and current leader of the National Iraqi List) told the British Broadcasting Corp. "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Out of a really interesting LATimes article on the Bush administration's defining "victory" down from the early claims that the US would defeat the insurgents, to the current plan of handing the problem of the insurgency over to the Iraqis,
"The Sunnis already see us as having chosen sides," said Steven Biddle, a former professor at the U.S. Army War College who is at the private Council on Foreign Relations.

Biddle has argued that by building new Iraqi security forces dominated by Shiites and Kurds, the United States in effect has armed and trained two of the sides in the Iraqi conflict. The Sunnis, he wrote in a recent article, "perceive the 'national' army and police force as a Shiite-Kurdish militia on steroids."

I don't know why, but this AP story on the difficulties Staff Sgt. Douglas Piper has suffered after returning from Iraq with an acrylic eye and brain trauma riveted me.

And, not directly on topic, but surely related to the Iraq conversation, Haaretz, and a couple of other news outlets, are reporting on a new study that claims,
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Middle East policy is not in America's national interest and is motivated primarily by the country's pro-Israel lobby, according to a study published yesterday by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Chicago. ....

The study also documents accusations that American supporters of Israel pushed the United States into war with Iraq. It lists senior Bush administration officials who supported the war and are also known to support Israel, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and David Wurmser.

Picture of the Day - My Local Megachurch

Some of you may not be acquainted with the reality of the MegaChurch. These pictures are from the biggest of them all, Lakewood Church in Houston. It's about a mile from my house.

Interestingly, over the past six months, the name of the church has been removed from it's prominent place on the front of the big square building to be replaced by a logoized version of the pastor's name, Joel Osteen. You may already know that name as he has been pounding out money making "products" over the last two years, books, DVD's, etc.

The reason for the odd configuration in the second picture is that this used to be The Summit, the building where the Houston Rockets used to play. It was bought by the Lakewood folks, somewhat refurbished, and holds over 16,000 people in the configuration they used to use for rock concerts.

I just thought that these pictures might give some flesh to what's really going on down here in the bible belt.

(This is a repost from Christmas Eve. I figured alot of people might not have seen it over the holidays.)