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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The new "new plan for Iraq"

Bush is holding a two day strategy session on Iraq starting Monday at Camp David. (He went to Camp David Friday afternoon, but the meeting isn't until Monday. I guess he can't be disturbed on his "weekends.")

But take a look at the characterizations of this meeting by those involved.
One of the senior officials involved in the strategy session characterized it as a "last, best chance to get this right," an implicit acknowledgment that previous American-led efforts had gone astray....

in an analogy used by several American officials, to begin to let go of the bicycle seat and find out if the Iraqi government can stay upright with less American support.....

Both American and Iraqi officials now acknowledge that they will have to seek billions in investment and aid from Persian Gulf nations that have been unwilling to contribute many dollars or any soldiers.....

At least they're finally recognizing that Iraq is a disaster, even if it is off the record. But wait, before you get excited, take a look at what they think is the solution.
"None of these problems — or even the solutions that are being proposed — are new," said one former senior official who worked extensively on reconstruction, but did not want his name published because he still deals with the administration regularly. "What's been lacking is the political will."Administration officials say they are not trying to reinvent the reconstruction, but rather relaunch it.

You see, according to administration officials, the problems in Iraq are just that the programs have been marketed wrong, and once they're relaunched in their gleaming new packaging, with the proper political will to let US soldiers die while we wait, then the Iraqis will buy in and it will work. Honest.

More of the same.

(Which non-FoxNews media host do you think will be the most glowing as they speak of this repackaging as "a recognition of past mistakes" and "the president really attacking the problem?" Daryn Kagan? Tucker Carlson? The CNN White House correspondent, Maseurve?)

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A Medicare Timebomb

Honestly, I haven't kept up with all the details on the Medicare Drug Plan, but this surprises me. Millions of seniors on the Bush Drug Plan are about to get nailed for $3,600 that they don't see coming.
In coming months, millions of beneficiaries will have similar experiences, as the cost of their drugs reaches the initial coverage limit of $2,250. Like Mr. Flores, they will have to pay the full cost of each medicine until their out-of-pocket costs reach $3,600. At that point, Medicare coverage resumes, paying 95 percent of the cost of each prescription.

On May 2, Mr. Flores paid $20 for Plavix, a blood thinner used to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and Medicare paid $109.62. But when he refilled the prescription at the end of May, he was in the coverage gap, so he had to pay the full amount, $129.62.

Mr. Flores is angry with Medicare, with his drug plan and even with the pharmacists who try to help him. He says no one told him about the coverage gap when he signed up.

Tell me this doesn't sound like something that going to create some serious anti-Republican backlash.

From Juan Cole on Ramadi

I don't know exactly why, but I found this interesting from Juan Cole.
Al-Zaman reports that heavy street fighting broke out on Friday in downtown Ramadi between US forces and guerrillas. According to the al-Zaman correspondent in the city, the fighting was heaviest at 20th and at 17 Tammuz streets and the al-Kas district. Medium strength weaponry (i.e. more than just light arms) were used. The US deployed gunship helicopters. US Marines occupied several tall buildings. ....

Al-Zaman adds, "According to our correspondent, the prayer for the dead was read in most of the mosques after the Friday congregational prayers, in Hit, Qaim, and Ramadi, on the occasion of Zarqawi's death. Marine patrols with Lebanese translators were seen near the major mosques in more than one place in Anbar province, to monitor the preachers.

(The original source is in Arabic, but I trust Cole's interpretation.)

Also, further down in the same post, Prof. Cole points out that the new Sunni Defense Minister Al Ubaidi, and ex-Saddam Baathist, was confirmed primarily on Shia votes. The religious Sunni parties gave him no support at all, and it is those groups who are mostly tied to the resistance. So, the "Sunni" Defense Minister comes to power with primarily Shia/UIA backing. Just interesting in the factional dynamics of Iraq.

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Condi wins the argument on Somalia

After a month of reports of US personnel backing and funding Somali warlords in an effort to defeat the Islamic militia, the ICU, presumably DoD and/or CIA, the US has suddenly turned 180 degrees and is attempting to establish a diplomatic contact group with the ICU. Perhaps that's because they won the war, and there's no other choice.

I don't know how much influence the US will have after funding the other side for so long, but once again it appears that Condi Rice has won an argument backed largely by the failure of the Cheney/Rumsfeld aggressive tactics and the facts on the ground. (See Iran.)

Does this shift in policy represent Condi's star rising or the hawks' star falling? Or is the diplomatic route still plan C after everything else has failed? Remember that since 2005, Condi Rice is now in charge of Iraq reconstruction. And that's going so well, isn't it?

Bilderberg in Ottawa.

For those of you who might not know, Bilderberg is a highly secretive meeting of the world's most richest and most powerful, although the guest list often includes a few odd choices. There are many who believe that Bilderberg is a giant conspiracy, a meeting of the world's elite where worldwide decisions are made on economics and policy. I'm never quite sure, but I always find the thing creepy.

And, perhaps the reason that the suspicions remain is the odd guestlist. Outside of the obvious, policy makers, Kissinger, Bryzynski, their Chinese and Russian counterparts, and business moguls and CEOs, there are always a few selections that just make you wonder.

One of the attendees at this secretive conference of 125 or so of the world's most influential political figures and CEO's is Ahmad Chalabi. Weird, huh? (Maybe Richard Perle got him in.)

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Iran - Female students at noon prayers.

Friday, June 09, 2006

And the Iraqis thought they were in charge....

Friday night dump, designed to get the least press coverage possible. What truth is the administration trying to hide on this Friday while everyone's talking about Zarqawi? We're not leaving Iraq.
While saying that he is "thrilled" that the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "a man with a lot of blood on his hands," has been eliminated, the president stopped short of endorsing a recent statement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Iraqi forces will be able to control their country within 18 months.

Or if that's not enough of a message for the Iraqis,
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have put the United States on record against the permanent basing of U.S. military facilities in that country, a lawmaker and congressional aides said on Friday.

The US is not leaving Iraq, ever.

The US army never leaves after a war, England, Germany, Japan, the Phillipines, Korea, Bosnia.... From WWII, the only major engagement that didn't leave a US footprint behind was Vietnam.

At some point there will be a drawdown of troops, but not a complete withdrawal. Those bases skirting the Iraqi, Iranian, and Saudi oilfields are one of the main reasons the Iraq war was launched.

Except Afghanistan. By the nature of the small initial deployment and use of local warlords, I really don't think the administration wanted to be there in the first place, but they have to be in Afghanistan because they're supposed to be chasing Bin Laden and that props up the geostrategic Iraq war.

And because of this lack of commitment, Afghanistan has turned worse and Karzai's government is getting desperate.
The Afghan government is considering arming tribal groups across the south of the country, where Nato is set to take command next month, in a move diplomats say would destabilise the country.

The NYTimes has a big article on the resurgence of the Taleban as the US largely withdraws from Afghanistan.

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General Mike Hagee adressing marines in Iraq during ethics training.

Shifting Zarqawi?

Does the report that Zarqawi was found alive after the bombing and then died make him a more sympathetic character, more human somehow, by creating an image of a man as his life ebbs?

How about "A Dying Al-Zarqawi Tried to Get Away," that "Al-Zarqawi attempted to, sort of, turn away off the stretcher," and then "everybody re-secured him back onto the stretcher, but he died almost immediately thereafter," does that influence the image?

I don't know. I'm just curious.

(By the way, the Zarqawi alive story was the top story on CNN's web page this morning, big splash, big photo, now six hours later, it's not even on the front page.)

Specter covers the turd

Arlen Specter is doing it again.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed legislation that would give President Bush the option of seeking a warrant from a special court for an electronic surveillance program such as the one being conducted by the National Security Agency.

Sen. Arlen Specter's approach modifies his earlier position that the NSA eavesdropping program, which targets international telephone calls and e-mails in which one party is suspected of links to terrorists, must be subject to supervision by the secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The option? So, in other words, Arlen Specter has proposed a law that is completely non-binding after his previous statements of outrage. But it actually gets worse.
Another part of the Specter bill would grant blanket amnesty to anyone who authorized warrantless surveillance under presidential authority, a provision that seems to ensure that no one would be held criminally liable if the current program is found illegal under present law.

Blanket Amnesty! So, the majority party is allowed to break the laws so long as they hold their majority, and Arlen Specter will bend his "high principles" if there is a threat to his campaign money.

After his cancer scare Specter seemed to have a brief window of candor, courage, and honesty. I guess his ethics went into remission, too.

(I know that's across the line but I'm pissed.)

Just for context remember two other recent actions in the last month helping the Bush administration in complete contradiction to Specter's professed "beliefs," first voting the gay marriage amendment out of committee even while admitting being totally opposed to it, second, the complete turnabout on having telecom officials testify in the NSA hearing.

I thought this quote summed it up nicely.
In the past, Democrats have been frustrated by Specter, who they say raises their hopes with tough talk against the White House but dashes them with disappointing action. In April, Senate minority leader Harry Reid labeled Specter a "moderate Republican . . . whenever you don't need him."

The NSA wants to know.

I recognize that the internet can be used for good or ill, but "mass harvesting" of myspace?
New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon's National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks.

Now, this is a little different from the other NSA intrusions in that people on myspace have voluntarily put that information out there as publicly available. But, maybe we should describe these NSA programs instead as Seven Degrees of Guantanamo.
The idea is to see by how many links or "degrees" separate people from, say, a member of a blacklisted organisation. ....

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Political Capital

Has anyone else noticed that over the last two weeks Bush and the Republicans are only talking about issues that are likely to fail in Congress? Immigration reform is not likely until next year and the gay marriage constitutional amendment was DOA. Even the Estate Tax Repeal is unlikely to go anywhere this term.

To top it off, there is no major policy legislation of any kind on the horizon in this election year. I mean, a rational response to low poll numbers would be to pass legislation that is highly popular, but they aren't going to do that. The Republicans are not going to do anything for the rest of the year.

My guess is that this falls into my "weather channel" theory of politics that the Republicans practice so well.

The idea is that instead of running on accomplishments, you highlight problems which rile your voters and promise them solutions only after the next election. It is an unstated bargain which only works if voters believe that the current lack of action is due to forces beyond the majority's control.

It's part of the majority as minority, values as victims, impression that the Repubs have somehow cultivated among their base. It's not their fault if things don't get done, it's the Democrats. (The same Democratic juggernaut that is portrayed as weak kneed, with no agenda, uncoordinated, and in decline.)

Also, does anyone else find it odd how low Bush's profile was yesterday after the Zarqawi death? It's almost like they didn't want the unpopular Bush out there to distract from the good news. Or is it that they know that the killing will have little real impact, and didn't want Bush to have another "Mission Accomplished" moment? I just found his absence from the stage very odd.

While I'm talking vague politics, what are the possibilities and implications of a slowing economy? Before we get into a debate on the strength or weakness of the economy, I do understand the difference between Macro and Micro. I know that real wages have stagnated for years and inflation is taking it's bite, but significantly lately, the macro-numbers are starting fade and sag and show signs of some real problems, and that's a big deal.

Because no matter the arguments about distribution of wealth and income, a falling tide will lower all boats, and while Bush was getting no real political support for the "boom" he was claiming, I feel certain at this point he will take the blame if things start going south.

It's just another headwind this administration won't be able to handle. I think that's the element that may Bush approval approval numbers into the 20's. Can we call him the worst president then?

Just how much have these guys cost us?

Zarqawi was a tool

This is from the Independent. It echoes other reporting about the US's use of Zarqawi as a propaganda piece against the US population, but it was the example at hand this morning.

This is not to say Zarqawi wasn't a bad guy, he was, but his promotion as a terror supervillian served everyone's interests, the US, Al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgency, the Iraqi government, and Zarqawi himself, whether it reflected reality or not.

No sooner was Saddam captured than the US spokesmen began to mention Zarqawi's name in every sentence. "If the weather is bad they will blame it on Zarqawi," an Iraqi journalist once said to me. It emerged earlier this year that the US emphasis on Zarqawi as the prime leader of the Iraqi resistance was part of a carefully calculated propaganda programme. A dubious letter from Zarqawi was conveniently discovered. One internal briefing document quoted by The Washington Post records Brigadier General Kimmitt, the chief US military spokesman at the time, as saying: "The Zarqawi psy-op programme is the most successful information campaign to date." The US campaign was largely geared towards the American public and above all the American voter. It was geared to proving that the invasion of Iraq was a reasonable response to the 9/11 attacks. This meant it was necessary to show al-Qa'ida was strong in Iraq and play down the fact that this had only happened after the invasion.

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Fighters in the streets of Ramadi, 2005.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Tom Delay divisive to the end

His retirement speech, a formality normally full of goodwill and collegiality, praised the value of partisanship and was so insulting to Dems that "At least two dozen Democratic lawmakers rose and left."

And, check this out, the Texas Democratic party has sued the Republicans in an effort to keep Delay's name on the ballot for the fall election. I don't know if you remember, but his controversial method of taking his name off the ballot was to change his residency from Texas to Virginia, but you see, the Dems hold in their hands an affidavit signed by Delay when he filed for re-election where he claims he is eligible.

The judge issued a stay and, I don't have any sense where it's going, but the change in Tom Delay's political fortunes is funny to me.

Some thoughts on Zarqawi - A Grand Bargain.

First, let me say that I'm glad Zarqawi has been stopped. In the lingo of the administration, this was a "bad guy." But let's just explore this story a minute. (Wipe the cobwebs off your tinfoil hat, because I have almost no substantiation for what I'm going to say. If you don't like speculation, skip this post.)

There has been some previous reporting that the Sunni insurgency, the indigenous insurgency which is pursuing solely local goals, had grown increasingly disenchanted with Zarqawi. While Zarqawi was pursuing his vision of Al Qaeda's goals (Al Qaeda didn't like him either,) the major factions in the Sunni insurgency are fighting for domestic political gain, for their relative place and power in the future political structure of Iraq. Although they were more than happy to utilize Zarqawi, as he began to craft himself as a hero/martyr, he became increasingly less useful and began to work at cross purposes. Early on, Zarqawi's successful recruitment of foreign fighters was vital as it provided a core of crack troops to the Sunnis, but as the fighting has stretched on for three years, idigineous Iraqi Sunnis have had the opportunity to "train up," making those foreign fighters loose guns. (I can't search for supporting links right now because of blogger. Aaaargh.)

Now, that being said, let's look at the timing of the major Iraq events over the last few days. Iraqi Prime minister Maliki agrees to a release of 2,500 Sunni prisoners, making a "downpayment" release of 600 yesterday morning. Within hours after the release, the knowledge of Zarqawi's whereabouts suddenly becomes certain,
"Last night was the first time that we have had definitive, unquestionable information as to exactly where [al-Zarqawi] was located, knowing that we could strike that target without causing collateral damage to other Iraqi civilians and personnel in the area," Caldwell said.

Then, this morning, a short time after the announcement of Zarqawi's killing, Maliki is suddenly able to announce an agreement on new Defense and Interior Ministers.

This series of events reads to me like a grand bargain was struck between the Sunnis and the Maliki government. Release some Sunni prisoners, some early as good faith, and we will give you Zarqawi and stop opposition to the Ministerial appointments.

This deal makes sense for all sides. The Sunnis gain the release of thousands of their people, but more importantly rid themselves of Zarqawi in a way that they will not be blamed for. The Maliki government gets rid of a major security threat and gets it's ministerial appointments. Oh, and the US gets to claim the kill which is good domestic PR and takes the anger off the Shia government averting another wave of sectarian reprisals. It's win-win-win.

Just a working theory. It may change.

(I have no proof, and I find it unlikely that if this is true, we will get any, because the only way this works is if the official story holds. Also, I can't edit this once it goes up, so if there're any major glaring errors, please be kind.)

UPDATE: The NYTimes offers a vague description of "an Iraqi informant inside Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia provided the critical piece of intelligence."

And from a DoD press release, "Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led forces to al-Zarqawi."

Jerry Lewis is toast!

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis (R - Ca.) is in serious legal trouble. There's been alot of smoke, but these two developments today may spell the end of Rep. Lewis.

First, a former businessman/client of Congressman Lewis in an interview with NBC, pretty much said that Rep. Lewis was requiring a payout to a friend, then today it was revealed by RollCall that the FBI has "retrieved the chairman’s financial records late last month."

And this is seperate from Abramoff, and maybe seperate from Wilkes.

From a non-expert view, it appears that Lewis liked to use cutouts in his operations. A briber would pay Lewis or a family member, and the Lewis would arrange for another congressman to do the act, or vice versa, he would do the act, but the payment would go to a cutout.

Clever, dirty, and certain to involve more people.


It's doing it again. Blogger was just absent for a large part of today. Now, it's shakily back with an outage planned for tonight. I'll post as best I can.

I told you these outages usually come in clusters.

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Bush Sr. tried to replace Rumsfeld - Blumenthal

(It's Salon, so you can get to it if you watch the little ad.)
Former President George H.W. Bush waged a secret campaign over several months early this year to remove Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The elder Bush went so far as to recruit Rumsfeld's potential replacement, personally asking a retired four-star general if he would accept the position, a reliable source close to the general told me. But the former president's effort failed, apparently rebuffed by the current president.

This is in a column, but it's Sidney Blumenthal, so I give it creedence. There's a bit more there, but it is more "characterized" than this.

Explain this to me

This seems to be a near classic example of hiding bad news behind "protecting the troops."
The Pentagon is refusing to release data on how many soldiers have suffered brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. It says disclosing the results would put the lives of those fighting at risk.

If you can tell me how the release of that data puts lives at risk, I'd really like to hear it.

Zarqawi killed - Will it make a difference?

I think the death of Zarqawi will make some difference, at least in the short term on the number of high casualty bomb attacks. My understanding of the tapestry of violence that is the Iraq civil war is that a fair number (not all) of the large casualty bombings were being carried out by his group.

In the short term, I would expect the group to hurriedly execute anything else they have in the near preparation stage both in an attempt to prove they're not wounded, and in attempt to fire their bullets before they get caught. For the first time, the US seems to have gotten some really good high value intel on them.

But, it must be said that at this point, Al Qaeda in Iraq is only one of so many violent actors on the battlefield. The IED's, the death squads, and smaller casualty events both against the US and Iraqis that constitute the mass of the daily violence are largely being carried out by the various factions in the Civil War.

The real question on this that is yet to be answered this morning, is what other damage has been done to Zarqawi's group. We don't yet have ID's on the others who were killed in the airstrike, and we don't yet know how the intel was developed. Does the US have someone inside the group or was this an outside person who knew about a safe house visit?

Remember that there has been an increasingly difficult relationship between the mainline Iraqi-based insurgency and Zarqawi's group peopled with so many foreigners. Their goals and his goals have diverged since negotiations on the government started so many months ago. It's certainly possible that the Sunni insurgency, or some group within it, told the US where he was to get rid of him and get another leader in who they "could work with." We just don't know at this point.

Also, it must be noted that the relationship between Zarqawi's "Al Qaeda" in Iraq and the Bin Laden led Al Qaeda has always been fairly tenuous. I don't know how much Zarqawi was truly working with Al Qaeda and how much the association was just claimed to give him authority. I have to figure that, at the very least, there was little if any conversation and coordination between them, because I would think that communications from Iraq to Pakistan are probably the most monitored in the world.

I don't think Zarqawi's death will substantially dispirit the group, however, succession now becomes a major issue. If you had travelled to Iraq from Britain for example, I don't think this would make you turn around and go home.

Will there be a clean succession or will we see a fracturing of the group, in which case there might be several smaller groups attempting to carry out attacks in an attempt to grab the mantle?

We're also going to find out over the near term how much of the anti-US Sunni resistance in Anbar was constructed, supported, and carried out by that group.

These are just first thoughts, and I would be quite ecstatic of somehow this dealt a major blow to the overall level of violence in Iraq, but my sense is that we're too far down the road for this to make that major of an impact. The Al Qaeda attack on the Askariyah shrine (the "golden mosque") in Samarra really lit the fuse on the civil war. Since that attack, the significant majority of the violence has been carried out in factional fighting.

So, I do see this as a success in many regards, but it will not even slow the mainline violence of the Civil War, and depending who else was killed in the strike, may or may not hobble his group in the near term. This is certainly a positive step, especially in a PR sense, but as to the degree of difference it will really make, I just don't see all that much.

(Perhaps I should note here that none of the US officials are saying this is going to make any real difference. Bush. Gen. Casey.)

UPDATE: From Juan Cole, we have a report "that groups in Fallujah have launched attacks on Zarqawi followers there after the latter attacked the al-Husain Mosque in the Askari quarter two days ago." That would seem to support the possibility that a Sunni insurgent group "turned Zarqawi over" to the US which is a really intriguing possibility. (The source is in Arabic so I'm just going to trust him.)

Also: Maliki finally presented names to the Iraqi parliament for the Interior and Defense Ministries. They're not yet approved, but I would guess he wouldn't bring them up if the deal hasn't already been struck. More on this later as we find out who they are.

(Also: Baghdad Burning, the Iraqi blog, really captures a mood today.)

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Irony Night Part III

On the same day that the Senate voted on the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendement that the President supports, he said this.
This is a tough debate for America, it really is. It's a tough debate because it's one in which the language can sometimes send the wrong signals about what we're about. People are very emotional about this issue. And my admonition to people who are concerned about the immigration debate is to remember that language can send signals about who we are as a nation. That harsh, ugly rhetoric on the debate tends to divide our country. It tends to forget the values that have made us great.

I think he's right after all. The Homos should have to pay a fine and learn English. And the Hispanics, they shouldn't be allowed to marry.

Sorry, sometimes, when you hate so many, it's hard to keep straight who we're hating today.

The Two faces of Arlen Specter, Again.

First, let's flash back and remember that the gay marriage vote on the Senate floor today, is solely due to Specter letting it out of committee with this unfogettable line,

"Specter said he is "totally opposed" to it but felt it deserved a Senate debate."

That being noted, he's doing it again. Rawstory reports:
Specter’s anger peaked Tuesday after he learned that Cheney had been lobbying Republican members of the committee to “oppose any Judiciary Committee hearing, even a closed one” that involved telephone companies that have cooperated with the NSA.

But, see, despite his outrage, he's more than happy to do whatever they tell him. (AP Today)
Phone company executives won't be grilled by a Senate panel anytime soon about their roles in the Bush administration's eavesdropping program. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Tuesday he will hold off subpoenaing the telecommunications chiefs while he works with the White House on his legislation that would ask a secretive federal court to review the constitutionality of Bush's surveillance operations.

Just stop lying, Arlen. Stop trying to pretend. You're the worst kind because you know what you're doing is wrong, and yet you're still doing it.

Pride of the Yankees

Do you have your irony shield on?

John Bolton went off on the no. 2 man at the UN today for a speech he made accusing the US government of not reporting the "good news" about the UN's works. I'm not kidding.
UNITED NATIONS -- The United States strongly criticized the No. 2 United Nations official on Wednesday for a speech he gave that accused the U.S. government of leaving Americans in the dark about the world body's good works.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton called Tuesday's speech by Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown a "very, very grave mistake" that could undermine Secretary-General Kofi Annan's efforts to push through an ambitious reform agenda at the world organization.

Keillor is funny in print, too

This is from Garrison Keillor on Salon. (If you watch the ad, you can read the whole thing, but this is pretty much the kicker in the piece.)
You might not have always liked Republicans, but you could count on them to manage the bank. They might be lousy tippers, act snooty, talk through their noses, wear spats and splash mud on you as they race their Pierce-Arrows through the village, but you knew they could do the math. To see them produce a ninny and then follow him loyally into the swamp for five years is disconcerting, like seeing the Rolling Stones take up lite jazz. So here we are at an uneasy point in our history, mired in a costly war and getting nowhere, a supine Congress granting absolute power to a president who seems to get smaller and dimmer, and the best the Republicans can offer is San Franciscophobia? This is beyond pitiful. This is violently stupid.

It is painful to look at your father and realize the old man should not be allowed to manage his own money anymore. This is the discovery the country has made about the party in power. They are inept. The checkbook needs to be taken away. They will rant, they will screech, they will wave their canes at you and call you all sorts of names, but you have to do what you have to do.


Sorry for the dearth of posts today, but Blogger, was slow, then error prone, then down. Unfortunately these outages often occur in flurries, so if I disappear again, that's probably what it is.

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Quick Facts on the renditions story

Dick Marty, the Swiss investigator examining US rendition flights through Europe to the secret CIA prisons in Poland and Romania, has released a report detailing some of his findings. I found all the articles on this rather convoluted except this one with its nice brief summary.
Marty admits he has "no formal evidence" of secret CIA detention centres but says his report indicates many states had actively or passively taken part in the system of CIA secret flights and secret transfers known as renditions.

Among the charges:-

* Poland and Romania ran secret detention centres

* Germany, Turkey, Spain, Cyprus and Azerbaijan were "staging points" for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees

* Ireland, Britain, Portugal, Greece and Italy were "stopovers" for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees

* Sweden, Bosnia, Britain, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Germany and Turkey handed over suspects

* Cairo, Amman, Islamabad, Rabat, Kabul, Guantanamo Bay, Tashkent, Algiers and Baghdad served as detainee transfer/drop-off points

(Link from First Draft.)

The linguistic deviltry of "The Culture War"

I've heard the phrase a thousand times, but the real subtext of the overused "culture war" just suddenly snapped into focus for me this morning. By the use of that phrase, an enemy is created, and, apparently, by supporting individual rights and freedoms, I'm that enemy of America. I didn't even know I was at war.

A positive for "our side," Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who tried to launch a political career by demanding the ten commandments be displayed everywhere was beaten by 2-1 in his bid to be the Republican candidate for governor of Alabama. Yay godless, communist liberals. Push 'em back. Push 'em back. Waaaaay back.

Also, Tom Delay is trying to clear his "legacy" by pinning blame for any upcoming midterm problems on other Republican's "panic, depression and woe-is-me-ism." Right, Tom. It's their fault. Not that you ran the Congress with the ethics of a Nigerian politician. Have you talked to your wife lately? How does her lobbyist funded retirement look?

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How do the troops feel about this?

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 6 — Iraq's new government said on Tuesday that it would release 2,500 detainees, nearly 10 percent of those held in Iraqi and American detention centers, and that it would adopt a "national reconciliation" plan to reintegrate former members of Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party into society. ....

Lieutenant Colonel Curry said that the terms of the detainees' release included a pledge to renounce violence "and to be good citizens of Iraq." He added, "All of these detainees selected for release have been found to be relatively low threats."

So, you're in Iraq for your second or third tour, and each time you come back the tone from the Iraqis has grown increasingly hostile. You've watched friends get maimed and killed and now, suddenly, the guys you captured are being released? How do you think that's going to go down with the troops?

Would this make you more likely or less likely to apprehend subjects alive?

This is really bad.

(Notice there's no affirmative quote in this article from anybody in the US military going on the record to say they support this or that it's a good idea. Or the AP version. Or Reuters.)

Also: This smacks of desperate deal making by Al Maliki.

A stray thought on the 2006 midterms

One of the oddest possible outcomes of the 2006 midterm elections is that the Congressional seats and Senate offices most likely to flip from Republican to Democrat are the more moderate seats leaving the "redder" Republicans with more relative power within their party.

So, a shift to the left in the country could produce a Republican party further to the right.

Weird, huh?

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Frist: There's homos out there!

Bush really believes in the anti-gay marriage amendment

Boy, Bush is really committed to anti-gay marriage amendment. He made his little speech, got his applause, then bugged outta town to Artesia, New Mexico to talk about immigration.

No phone calls, no strong arming, no support.

Some Thoughts on Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is not a sign of a society in ascension.

Fundamentalist tendencies, whether they are religious or political, tend to develop among cultures under perceived threat. One way to force a movement towards fundamentalism is to create a sense of external threat to the group.

Ascension within fundamentalist structures requires blind devotion to principles. Once the momentum of a fundamentalist movement is formed, increasingly extreme statements and acts of devotion are required. Fundamentalist structures tend to create fanatics.

The fundamentalist mindset is prone towards absolutist views of the world, making clear black and white distinctions between those in the group and those outside the group. This strict division often manifests itself as a perceived battle of purity versus heresy. Challenges to the fundamentalist belief set are often met with overly aggresive response.

Fundamentalist organizations frequently throw up leader imbued with mythical characteristics which represent the purest ideals of the fundamentalist movement.

Over time, fundamentalist structures tend to destroy themselves either through exclusion or infighting over increasingly narrow doctrinal disputes.

Frequently, one group will splinter off preaching a more radical version of the fundamentalist belief. This fracturing often creates a smaller extremely radical sect of the fundamentalist movement constituted of individuals who believe that the original group was not stringent enough.

Fundamentalist structures often end after some excessive act carried out in the movement's name.

(These are just random thoughts this afternoon. Any additions, comments, or corrections would be welcomed.)

Picture of the Day - 2

Let's go back to what Atrios said in mid-May....
I know what they're thinking at the White House. We can have a lovely little "fake war" at the border, one with all the cool uniforms, hummers, helicopters, etc... A war which is entirely safe. A war where there isn't really an enemy. And the president can safely visit that war, prance around in his codpiece, yell things out a bullhorn while sitting astride a massive hummer.

Ridiculous, but that's probably the plan.

(By the way, notice that they don't trust the border patrol guy with a real gun.)

(Try three more. 1 2 3. If only the Bush administration could figure out a way to govern as effectively as they pursue photo ops.)

It must be an election year

The media is chattering about gay marriage, people of color(immigrants) destroying America, Iraq turning yet another corner, and now leaks of vague, completely unsubstantiated terror threats.

The media likes all of these issues, besides Iraq, because they are "easy" stories. Gay marriage, immigration, and vague terror threats involve no cost and practically no reporting. The 24 hour networks can fill their vast empty spaces by isolating these issues down to he said/she said and get think tankers and politicians to act as unpaid talent.

I mean, look at the majority of the Iraq coverage (the majority of airtime at least.) The coverage of Iraq is very rarely about reporting, but instead reduced down to a pro-Bush and anti-Bush representative talking about how they feel about Iraq and Iraq policy. I don't give a crap how Bob Shrum feels, or Pat Buchanon. That doesn't help anybody but the political parties and the 24 hour networks.

The simpler these issues are, and the more free from actual fact, the better for the networks. The constructed conflict is about feeling not thinking. That's why Colbert is so brilliant, and that's why Jon Stewart was able to take apart Crossfire. (Tucker Carlson is still "hurting America" by the way.)

Picture of the Day

Quote of the Day

From the Doonesbury/Gary Trudeau page:

"Marriage is under vicious attack now, I think from the forces of hell itself."

-- Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson

Maliki's fragile coalition

I had figured that it would be subduing the Shia splinter group in Basra that would fracture Maliki's governing coalition, and this might just be heavy politics over the post, but if Maliki can't hold the Shia coalition together, whatever pretense of government that is in Iraq may crumble.
Political sources said Maliki's rivals in his ruling Shi'ite Alliance had objected to his choice for interior minister, a job that also includes being in charge of police.

Officials in the Alliance and other blocs question whether his government can survive the combined pressure of internal rivalries and the incessant killing.

"Maliki's government may only last for another 6 months. That is what many think. There is too much pressure and too many players," said a source outside of Maliki's Dawa party.

"The situation is difficult, very, very difficult. There is more than a 60 percent chance that it will not continue. The government is not up to it."

Islamicists seize Somali capitol

I've been following this for a month, and it appears that Mogadishu has fallen to the Islamic Courts Union, a rather extremist Islamic group who are intent upon installing sharia law.
MOGADISHU, Somalia - An Islamic militia with alleged links to al-Qaida seized Somalia's capital Monday after weeks of fighting with U.S.-backed secular warlords, raising fears that the nation could fall under the sway of Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.

Also, from the WaPo version.
The militia, whose membership transcends the clan lines that traditionally dominate Somali politics, appears to control a 65-mile radius around the capital.The group has gained ground as a U.N.-backed interim government struggles to assert control outside its base in Baidoa, 155 miles from Mogadishu.

The entire "Horn of Africa" region is spiralling downward right now with the problems in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia. The US is operating a small force of military and intelligence officers out of Djibouti, but the trending right now is towards a failed region with Islamic militias carving out territories.

I don't think these groups could affect the level of control to shield Bin Laden, but if the states do go "lawless," there could well be a protected space for other members of Al Qaeda.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3


A morgue worker unloads a cardboard box of severed heads at the morgue in Baqouba, Iraq Saturday, June 3, 2006. Iraqi police on Saturday found eight severed heads north of Baghdad with a note indicating at least one of the men were killed in retaliation for the slaying of four Shiite doctors, authorities said. (AP Photo/Adam Hadi)

(There were actually two boxes, but those pictures pushed the line. Here and here.)

More notes on the Gay Marriage pandering

First, let me say how pleased I am that almost every report on this gay-baiting disgrace is making note of the fact that it is merely a political ploy and has no chance of passing. The recognition that this is just political posturing for votes is such an improvement on the unskeptical 2004 coverage. Also, a lot of the articles contain quotes from "the base" agreeing that the Republicans are blowing election year smoke. Notes:

Tony Snow is just awful. He called "marriage protection" a civil rights issue, (perhaps he meant reversing civil rights?) and then he couldn't define civil rights among many other errors. Holden does a more complete takedown of that error today and several more.

Aravosis at Americablog makes the interesting point that all the "name" protestant leaders(Dobson, Perkins, etc.) were seated in the back and kept off camera.

Also, why the small crowd jammed into the small room? (which created a weird space) "The White House told activists that Monday's speech would be in the Rose Garden, but after criticism that he was using such a symbolic site, the White House moved it to an office building next door." (CNN reports that it was done "without explanation.")

Watching these guys, I think we can agree there's more story there than a White House concern over the use of a "symbolic site."

Fear of protest? "Homoterrorists"? Maybe because they couldn't hide Dobson and Perkins outside? I don't know, but I hope somebody can dig out the reason for the sudden change. I'll bet it would gut the whole effort.

The Real Threat

From Morning Martini:
Forget the war in Iraq or hurricane preparedness or whatever is happening with Iran. That’s what I did this weekend because I had more pressing matters on my mind. Mr. Pop and I used our time wisely as we made several trips to Wal-Mart to stock up and prepare for the attacks that are surely to come on our marriage. We are taking this quite seriously.

If you think that's funny, it gets better from there.

Picture of the Day - 2

Yeah, Right, A Few Bad Apples

Rumsfeld needs to go.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.


I don't really care for the editorial this comes from, but I thought this was interesting enough to excerpt.
The guest at the European-American Press Club was the U.N. undersecretary-general for communications, Shashi Tharoor. He began his opening remarks by talking about Pew surveys in 21 major countries, all of them reporting declining regard for the United Nations. "It started with Iraq. The United Nations began losing stature everywhere, but for different reasons."

He said that large numbers of the respondents in 20 of the 21 countries blamed the United Nations for not being able to stop or control the United States in Iraq. The 21st country was the United States, where respondents blamed the U.N. for not helping us enough in Iraq.

Crazy in Texas

From Texas Republican convention (nothing like a little shrouded racial bashing during a prayer meeting, eh?)

At Saturday morning's prayer meeting, ministers delivered prayers, gospel singers sang, and the Rev. Dale Young, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Laredo, picked up the convention's dominant theme of immigration. "Lord, your words tell us there's a sign that this nation is under a curse, when the alien who lives among us grows higher and higher and we grow lower and lower," he preached.

From our Governor, put in place by the Texas Bush machine,
A US state is to enlist web users in its fight against illegal immigration by offering live surveillance footage of the Mexican border on the internet. The plan will allow web users worldwide to watch Texas' border with Mexico and phone the authorities if they spot any apparently illegal crossings.

But, on the bright side, Friday is Tom Delay's last day in Congress.

(Late addition: In a CBS Marketwatch article on lobbyist paid trips for congressmen, my state's shame, Sen. John Cornyn, tops the list with the most egregious example, a one day $20,000 trip from Washington to Hidalgo, Texas "to accept an award as The BorderFest Border Texan of the Year.")

Picture of the Day

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Call me a cynic, but......

This story outlining Saddam's crimes against humanity and a mass grave of 28 bodies just suddenly appears on the front page of the NYTimes in the week following all the Haditha press and other allegations of excessive force, and, it's apparently sourced to the Army Corps of Engineers.
What happened here is not only a macabre marker in the history of Iraq under Mr. Hussein, but a harrowing footnote in American politics. The victims here, American and Iraqi officials say, died in Mr. Hussein's suppression of the Shiite uprising across southern Iraq in early 1991. It was a rebellion that survivors — and American critics of the President George H. W. Bush — say that the president encouraged after halting American troops at Iraq's southern border with Kuwait at the end of the Persian Gulf war.

Did you get the talking points clearly enough? Not only was Saddam horribly evil, far worse than anything the US might have done, and it was a lack of courage in George the Better in "not finishing the fight" that caused this to happen.

Now, it has to be said that John Burns is a top notch war correspondent, but after years of no reporting on any of the mass grave sites, suddenly it's a big front page story?

Later: Rereading the article, I think we get a pretty good sense of who generated the story idea, "American officials who brought two reporters to the desert grave site on Saturday,"

Fighting them over there....

I found this article interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it is curious that these British citizens would head to Iraq to carry out suicide bombings for Al Qaeda rather than staying for operations in their British home. Second, I think it's notable that the trickle of western recruitment is broadening to a stream.
UP TO 150 Islamic radicals have travelled from Britain to Iraq to join up with a “British brigade” that has been established by Al-Qaeda leaders to fight coalition forces.

Senior security sources say leaders of the Iraqi insurgency have set up a “foreign legion” composed entirely of westerners to fight alongside the insurgents in the war against British and American forces. Some are preparing to carry out suicide attacks while others have received basic combat training for attacks on western troops The so-called “British brigade” is said to be operating under the direct command of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Members of the unit are thought to be in the Sunni triangle, a combat zone and Al-Qaeda hotbed west of Baghdad.

The flow of young Muslim men from western Europe to Iraq has increased dramatically in the past two years. The “pipeline” of suspected terrorists is being fuelled by growing resentment about American and British policy and scandals such as the mistreatment of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison.

A senior security source, confirming that between 120 and 150 Britons had travelled to Iraq, said there was concern that the flow was increasing: “The really worrying thing is that this has become a movement that people believe in. It’s not simply a matter of them joining a terrorist organisation.”

(I do wonder about the accuracy of the 150 number (estimate or known?), and we have no idea how many might have been recruited and stayed in Britain.)

Picture of the Day - 2

(This was from one of those "Bush talks with normal folks about gas prices" photo ops in late April.)

ABA to review Constitutionalality of Bush signing statements.

Charlie Savage who has been doing all the major stories on Bush's signing statements, has another.
WASHINGTON -- The board of governors of the American Bar Association voted unanimously yesterday to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his constitutional authority in reserving the right to ignore more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office.

You know this is going to be spun as trial lawyers, etc. etc., but this is a pretty big deal from a major organization.

Compressing History

One of the things that has long fascinated me in news coverage is the way that news stories which once covered every front page are eventually reduced to brief explanatory parentheticals through time. It's a necessary function because as you are writing current news, it is not practical to recover all the elements of a previous story, but in that compression, often critical context is lost, and very often, this compression ends up misrepresenting reality or propagating open falsehoods.

One example that's always bugged me is the claim that Saddam "threw the inspectors out" in 1998. What actually happened is that he limited their ability to look inside some of his "palaces" and government buildings as well as trcking their movements and sending warnings to the sites facing inspection so that they could rapidly clean up.

Saddam's concern, later proved correct, was that the weapons inspection teams were riddled with foreign spies trying to gather information seperate from the inspections. So, Saddam severely limited their access to some secure sites that were involved with defense outside WMD. Faced with this, the US forced a showdown that involved pulling out the inspectors before the missile attacks.

But see, that's way too long to include in every article about Saddam and Iraq, so the press seems to have settled instead on the shorthand version that "Saddam threw the inspectors out" even though it is plainly incorrect.

This little inaccuracies can be extremely important as they serve to alter history in the collective understanding, and, thus, these innacuracies can have an impact on future policies and actions.

The "Saddam threw the inspectors out" compression is just one rather egregious example of the "compression of history" that takes the form of journalistic shorthand when that period is discussed. There are obvious political reasons that version has been propagated. So, on to the current examples that caught my attention lately.
From the NYTimes yesterday: The poisonous blend of smuggling and sabotage is yet another blow to the economy of a country whose huge oil reserves were expected before the 2003 invasion to pay for its reconstruction.

Really? That was a widely held belief? To my memory only one person ever made that claim, Paul Wolfowitz, and he was one of the most hawkish towards war with Iraq. He was ridiculed at the time for the claim, and yet that "expectation" now covers us all? Or from the WaPo,
Symbolically, at least, the White House is eager to rebut the longstanding public impression of a president in a bunker listening only to like-minded advisers. Substantively, Bush has hardly signaled a major course change in the direction of his presidency, and skeptics recall past instances when nonconformists within the administration were shut out.

Skeptics recall? Colin Powell, Paul O'Neill, Christine Todd Whitman, just as a short list, were all widely reported in the pages of the WaPo as having been shut out.

These are very short term versions of this phenomena which is often most visibly present in the obituaries of major political figures. As example, I'll be very curious to read the Kissinger obituary.

It's through this selective compression that that the characterization of an individual or an event mutates through time. This compression is often the beginning stage in the formation of history.

And, it matters. Look at the history of Reagan that has been crafted, "tax cutter," "booming economy," defeated the Soviets. It is largely on this mythical description that the Republicans have claimed their position as the party better on the economy and better on defense. And that myth shifted the country's impression and led to the current Republican majority we see now. To give a sense of the depth of it, look how much incompetence, how many failures it has taken for the Bush administration to shake the grip of this myth.

The myth underlying the impression of the Republican party could just as easily be Nixon. And, going forward, it may well be Bush. That's why the "giver of freedom" tag is so important for the Republicans to attach to the Bush legacy. It will serve to justify the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan as the true horror of those wars slowly becomes reduced to a shorthand list of 2,475 killed and 18,000 wounded.

I don't know, I'm really starting to ramble. I hope you found something thought provoking in this. If not, sorry to waste your time. But, I do think that this is why all the blogs that do media criticism should be lauded, even if they're just chasing down little details. Because those little details can develop over time and alter current actions.

(This post is for Greyhair who took me to task once for minimizing media criticism which wasn't my intention. My point was that I didn't like to do media criticism because it never ends. But I do recognize it as vitally important.)

The Vatican and China

There's been a very interesting conflict going on between the Catholic Church and China over the last few years. There was the Chinese appointment of bishops without Vatican approval and continued pressure by the Vatican to alter the Chinese government's policies.

The latest is open criticism of the Tiananmen crackdown by the highest Catholic official in the country.

The reason I find this interesting is that I see some echo of the Vatican's efforts against the Soviet Union in the Eastern Bloc states. I don't know if it will develop to that level, but it does appear that the Catholic Church seems to be acting as one of the west's lever points on the Chinese government.

Picture of the Day

South of the Border

Three articles in the last few days about Central/South America's shift to the left and away from America.

The presidents of 10 countries from Mexico to Columbia signed a joint venture to develop oil, gas, and hydroelectric power. The numbers are relatively small, but it appears this is being done independent of the energy "majors." If this is a trend, it's a big one towards self development and collective independence.

Evo Morales in Bolivia has begun his "agrarian revolution," seizing land from the wealthy landowners and turning it over to the poor and indiginous peoples. No telling yet how the recipients are designated, whether it is a genuine land reform or a political giveaway similar to Zimbabwe.

Mexico City's socialist ex-mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is doing well enough in the runup to the presidential election that the NYTimes felt it necessary to do a giant hit piece on him.

Listen Mr. Anti-Immigration Man, if you want to stop illegal immigration, your best bet is a more socialist Mexico that eases the oppressive inequity and raises living standards for the poorest Mexicans. I know, it runs against everything you were told on FoxNews, but it's the best way to stem the flow.