.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The cyanide attack in NY that didn't happen

Ummmm.... In this story of a cyanide attack on the NY subway system that was called off by Al Qaeda in Feb '03, did Time magazine just tell me how to construct a cyanide dispersal device?

(I'm guessing that this Suskind reporting relates to this terror warning on Feb. 7, 2003.)

Obama puff piece

I'm a fan so I'm going to link to the WaPo frontpage puff piece on Barack Obama (which mentions a possible presidential run.)

Picture of the Day - 3

It's not about winning.

It's about getting back up.

It's about fighting on.

I couldn't be prouder.

Forward Brian McBride had three stitches on one cheek from a vicious elbow. A bandage covered where Landon Donovan received intravenous fluid. Jimmy Conrad had cotton stuffed up his nose, also the result of an elbow, and played part of the game with vision so blurry he had to ask a teammate whether he was bleeding.

Iraqi readiness.

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has stopped releasing its assessment of the number of Iraqi army units deemed capable of battling insurgents without U.S. military help.....

The decision to stop making the information public came after reports showed a steady decline in the number of qualified Iraqi units. That number now is classified, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Victor Renuart, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.....

A spokeswoman for Renuart, Air Force Maj. Almarah Belk, said the Pentagon stopped making the Level 1 report public because of "operational security and not letting the enemy know exactly what the Iraqi security forces' capabilities are."

I'm too lazy right now to do all the digging to track the various ups and downs of US estimates of Iraqi capabilities, but right now the claim is that there are 263,000 total Iraqi Army and Police personnel. The eventual goal is 325,000.

According to current Pentagon claims, there are 56,000 troops at level 2 (able to fight with US support), and none at level 1.

197,000 or 75% of current Iraqi forces are at level 3 or 4 - no breakdown. (level 3 - will fight if a US soldier is there to make them, level 4 - "units being formed" (troops on paper.))

Oh, and just as a kicker, what's the new measure of success?

"The new metric of readiness is how many square miles of Iraq indigenous units have assumed responsibility for. That has shown a two-thirds increase since the beginning of the year."

So, in other words, spread a dozen Iraqi troops in guardshacks around the empty western deserts, and voila, 50% of the country is under the control of Iraqi forces. Now that's an election winning metric.

"Snapshots from the Office"

As far as I can tell, this document (.pdf) sent from Khalilzad to Condi Rice is an informal status report reflecting anecdotal reports about the daily life of Iraqi staff members at the Public Affairs office in Baghdad.

I just found it interesting and Saturday's are slow blogging days.

(Thanks a ton to anonymous who put the article link, From the Embassy, a Grim Report, in the comments.)

Picture of the Day - 2

On Zarqawi's successor and the "treasure trove"

Laura Rozen has an interesting post on the aftermath of the Zarqawi killing mentioning the possibility that the "revelations" from the documents seized and the US's naming of Zarqawi's successor could well be psy-ops designed to confuse and demoralize the remainder of his supporters.

Whether it matters anymore, it is technically illegal for the DoD to intentionally distribute propaganda to the US people through the US press. So take notice that alot of the "treasure trove" revelations, like Zarqawi seeking a US-Iran war, are coming out of Iraqi officials.

Do you really think that the US, who conducted the forensics on the Zarqawi bombing and has conducted most of the related Al Qaeda raids, would turn all that information over to the Iraqis for analysis? The US tells the Iraqis next to nothing for fear of infiltration.

UPDATE: Look at the vague way this information was released, claiming US knowledge of all contacts and channels through non-public military sources whose names are not attached to the information.
They also are learning who is connected to whom and how external support is funneled through Iraq from across the Middle East, including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iran. Several officials requested anonymity while the investigations were unfolding.

Picture of the Day

Another anecdotal report

The USAToday has had a blogger/reporter with the Marines in Anbar and today is the first morning I've come across it. There's this "day in the life" piece, but what caught my eye is this anecdotal mention of the sporadic use of amphetamines. (I've seen several of these recently related to the Marines in Anbar.)
Millard says some troops use amphetamines to keep alert. "Imagine driving around on patrol for 24 hours in 130-degree heat with no air conditioning."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Say a little prayer

Say a little prayer for these two soldiers tonight. I don't normally go in for such things myself, but tonight I may make an exception.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 16 — Two American soldiers were missing and one was killed after they came under attack today at a traffic checkpoint southwest of Baghdad, an area where al Qaeda fighters have been strong, the military said....

“After hearing small arms fire and explosions in the vicinity of the checkpoint, a quick reaction force responded to the scene,” the statement said. It said American forces had started a search “to locate and determine the status of the soldiers.” The military did not say whether the men had been captured, although a military spokeswoman in an e-mail message acknowledged that capture was possible.

Picture of the Day - 3

Pentagon details abuse of Iraq detainees

That's the headline, but there's really not too much detail. This is classic Friday night dump and about as sanitized as they could make it. (And notice "with many portions blacked out.")
(Check out the updates.)
WASHINGTON - U.S. special operations forces fed some Iraqi detainees only bread and water for up to 17 days, used unapproved interrogation practices such as sleep deprivation and loud music and stripped at least one prisoner, according to a Pentagon report on incidents dating to 2003 and 2004.

The report, with many portions blacked out, concludes that the detainees' treatment was wrong but not illegal and reflected inadequate resources and lack of oversight and proper guidance more than deliberate abuse. No military personnel were punished as a result of the investigation.

UPDATE: Take a look at the AP version of the story which begins not with details of abuse, but the reports' conclusions that they problems were systemic, stemming from poor policy. And poor policy means it isn't just a few bad apples. It points to the Pentagon's door.
Murky procedures, lack of oversight and inadequate resources led to mistakes in the way U.S. troops treated Iraq and Afghanistan detainees. But two Pentagon reports, made public Friday, found no widespread mistreatment or illegal actions by the military.

And, the WaPo report also points to policy, not bad apples. (Funny how the article that didn't point to the Pentagon was the first source, eh?)
A secretive military Special Operations group in Iraq used several unauthorized interrogation tactics on detainees in early 2004 after it erroneously received an outdated policy from commanders in Baghdad, according to a high-level military investigative report released yesterday at the Pentagon....

But Formica concluded that the soldiers using the tactics were not responsible for violating policy or the law from February to May 2004 because they believed what they were doing had been approved. That position in many ways echoes what Abu Ghraib defense lawyers have asserted in military courts over the past two years: That soldiers believed they were following commanders' rules when they used such tactics on detainees.

Is immigration no longer a crisis?

The political points have been scored by the right on immigration, and now that it looks like an actual law might not be achievable, the Republicans are moving on. The hate was generated, "the base" energized, and now, apparently, the crisis is over.

I wonder how those who really cared about border security feel about being used like that?
President Bush has refused to meet with border law enforcement officials from Texas for a second time. His response to their request came in the form of a letter Monday, angering both lawmakers and sheriffs.

(Ted Poe, referenced in the article as pushing for hearings, is a nutball Republican Congressman from Houston who got famous for "alternative sentencing" when he was a judge. (for example, making someone wear a sign around their neck saying "I am a thief" for thirty days rather than going to jail.) He's a real piece of work.)

I figured it out

I finally figured out why I haven't felt all that "bloggy" the last couple of days; I'm still recovering from the Rove news. I recognize that "not anticipating indictment" may well mean greater trouble for the White House, but the way this news rang in my head resonated with a broader sense of helplessness stemming from events in the last 6 months or so.

We're still in Iraq and it's gotten substantially worse with still no real explanation as to why the war was launched. They're still tapping phones without warrant. They're still collecting call data, running secret CIA prisons, and, through a signing statement, still torturing non-military prisoners. Guantanamo is still dispensing its lack of extrajudicial justice, and none of these policies have changed, or seem likely to change.

Somehow, the Rove indictment triggered this cascade of despair in me that things aren't changing. So, sorry if I've been a little off my game.

(Oh, and as a personal interest, we still don't know why Porter Goss was fired or had any investigation of who authored the Niger forgeries.)

CRAP. And now, today, we've got news that TIA(Total Information Awareness,) the massive database of everything, lives on, only without the oversight.

If anybody needs me, I'll be in the bunker.

Truthout backs off Leopold story

Mark Ash of Truthout has issued a statement about the Leopold story. As it has been my belief all along that Jason Leopold honestly reported what he was told, I'm glad to see Truthout didn't throw him under the bus.

Picture of the Day - 2

Quickhits - Pentagon edition

In the coverage of the signing of the $94.5 "emergency" spending bill to keep the costs of Iraq out of the regular budget, I noticed this, "Congress is also advancing separate legislation adding an additional $50 billion in war funds to keep combat operations running from October through March or so."

The costs of the Iraq war are taking a domestic bite on the military. Fort Sam Houston is receiving termination notices on their utility bills, and has already had to cancel cell phones, lease cars, and cut contractors. I guess training medics isn't all that important.

In the meantime, the Pentagon found the time to issue a 74 page list of talking points for the House and Senate debates titled "Iraq floor debate prep book,"that is "an exhaustive rebuttal of criticisms of the war and a defense of the administration's conduct of the war." If they fought the war as hard as they fought their critics, we'd be out of Iraq by now.

Cheney ties Iraq to terrorism, again.

The White House released the transcript, so he's saying something they want him saying on record.
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Vice President Dick Cheney said that the war in Iraq was "in part responsible" for the absence of terrorist attacks in the United States since the September 11, 2001 strikes. ....

"Iraq was a safe haven for terrorists, it had a guy running it who had started two wars, who had produced and used weapons of mass destruction. Taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do," he said.

"It's also, I think, in part responsible for the fact that we haven't been hit again in nearly five years. That's no accident," Cheney said.

"The fact is, we've taken the battle to the enemy. That's been the key to the safety and security of the American people these last few years, and we need to continue to do it," he said.

I think the key question is, since Iraq was not connected to Al Qaeda before the US invasion, by what standard are they "the enemy" in a terrorist sense. Will someone please ask him that question? Of course, that would require Cheney being interviewed by someone other than Rush Limbaugh or FoxNews.

(There was an interesting little bit on The Daily Show when Tim Russert was on the other night, where Russert wistfully said how much he wished he could get Cheney back on his show to answer some of the mistatements. Think that's going to happen?)

The Iraq war is costing us

This is the whole point of this blog. The era of the US as a hyper-hegemon is over, and it is absolutely critical that the focus be on shrewd leadership during this period of global readjustment.

That's why I'm so hard on the Bush administration, not because they have shown corruption and rank incompetence, our country has survived bad leadership before, but because their incompetence has interfered with the most important transition our country has faced since the Civil war.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States needs to show greater moral and economic leadership if it wants to be an influence in the developing world amid the rise of emerging powers like China, former World Bank head and Citigroup advisor James Wolfensohn said on Thursday.......

He said he recently traveled to Africa where increased Chinese business interests were evident, illustrating the Asian powers' economic push into developing economies.

"There is a changing balance of which we are now seeing the beginnings of," Wolfensohn said. "It's not just us rich people sitting in fancy hotels in the United States. We're seeing the beginnings of an emergence of a different perception."

Wolfensohn was speaking specifically about poverty and development issues, but the core is the same. The Bush administration has focused their interests on the violent imposition of will upon Muslim countries of the middle east which is at best a temporary solution, while ignoring long term development in the second and third world of Asia, South America, and Africa.

The US empire is at the point where it's protectorates are starting to "rebel" against policy. The options are to attempt to renegotiate the relationship or to try to maintain the status quo through military, diplomatic, or economic "force."

If you look at the history of empire, this is a critical stage in downfall. It is the very attempts to use force to dominate that creates the openings for the secondary power to ascend, while overstressing the dominant country through wars, debt, and overextension.

(And, yes, I agree that during WWII and leading into the positioning of the Cold War was also a critical period, but as the US was ascendant at the time, mistakes were more readily covered.)

Picture of the Day

This is from the Press Conference Tuesday. I wish I knew what question brought this out.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Still not feeling all that "bloggy" so here's a number of articles from the last few days that I didn't get around to.

Emergency rooms are too few, understaffed with long waits. Where's that guy who's supposed to be protcting us from terrorists and the bird flu? Shouldn't he be doing something about this? The system is already breaking without an event stress.

In another vote of confidence in the administration's ability to deal with emergency, foreign countries are asking their citizens along the Gulf Coast to register their names and addresses with their home country so they can come get them in case of an emergency, not wait for US disaster relief.

In the recently launched Iraq maneuver designed to quell the violence in Baghdad(Operation Forward Together,) the Iraqi government has issued special uniforms and emblems for the trucks "to distinguish legitimate forces in the coming days." (Last paragraph.)

There's a growing movement to name streets, parks, etc., after soldiers who have died in Iraq. That's alot of streets.

And, this oped piece in the NYPost lays the recent slides in the financial markets on Ben Bernanke. I don't know if I agree or not, but what caught my eye was this tidbit, "Oil tumbled here 2 percent to $68.56 a barrel - which is more than triple its price of $19.73 a barrel in January 2002."

Good night.

Picture of the Day - 3

"Please, PLEASE, let them think Iraq is going better..."

(Not feeling really bloggy today. That long post this morning took it outta me.)

Global Warming Feedback Loops

This story is a bit of a rehash on a story I first saw on the BBC almost a year ago.

The thing that often gets lost in all the global warming discussion is just how complicated the system really is, and how, because of that, small things can have a great effect. As example, take a look at the CO2 feedback loop we're nearing. It could be the lighter fluid on the fire.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ancient roots and bones locked in long-frozen soil in Siberia are starting to thaw, and have the potential to unleash billions of tones of carbon and accelerate global warming, scientists said on Thursday.

This vast carbon reservoir, contained in permafrost soil in northeastern Siberia, contains about 75 times more carbon than the amount released into the atmosphere each year by the burning of fossil fuels, the researchers said in a statement.

Siberia isn't the only place on Earth with massive lodes of permafrost -- parts of Alaska, Canada and northern Europe have them too. The Siberian area is possibly the world's largest, covering nearly 400,000 square miles, with an average depth of 82 feet, and probably holds about 500 billion metric tons of carbon.

These feedback mechanisms have the potential to massively amplify any man made effects we are creating. By raising temperature a couple of degrees, a self-sustaining process is put in motion which could easily double that. Another potential feedback loop is in the relationship of melting Artic sea ice and open water which absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice.

The scary thing to me is that all previous mainstream climate modelling, including their impact assessments, hasn't taken these mechanisms into account.

We're at the tipping point, and we don't really know what's on the other side.

So Typical

I'm sick to death of this story, that there was over $1 Billion in fraudulent claims related to Katrina. Yes, it's bad. Yes, the Justice Department should investigate and prosecute where necessary, but c'mon, media.

Billions, I repeat, billions awarded in no-bid contracts for Halliburton and subsidiaries apparently with some involvement by the VP's office. That's not millions of little crimes, that's one HUGE crime.

The FDA apparently approving "the sale of the antibiotic Ketek even after the government learned safety tests on the drug had been forged."

These are real crimes, these are big premeditated crimes, that may have cost lives. Where is the breathless headline story on these?

Picture of the Day - 2

What the war really costs

Apparently, despite the President's rosy outlook after his "daring" trip to Iraq, the Senate wants to know just how much this is going to cost(in dollars) going forward.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to force President George W. Bush to submit a budget for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars instead of financing them in emergency bills that are pushed through Congress with minimal scrutiny.

As Congress prepared to pass an emergency bill with $65.8 billion the Pentagon urgently wanted for the wars, the Senate voted 98-0 to end the practice and make the administration lay out the wars' expected costs in its annual budget submitted to Congress in February.

But as we all know, that's just one of the costs of the war.

WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war has reached 2,500, the Pentagon said Thursday, more than three years into a conflict that finds U.S. and allied foreign forces locked in a struggle with a resilient insurgency.

Terror definitions through the lens of politics

One of the little discussed aspects of the "War on Terrorism" is how terrorism is defined, and through that, which individuals and/or groups are subject to the Constitution diminishing laws constructed to deal with terrorism.

I think very few people would argue that Al Qaeda is, and should be defined, as a terror group. That's a clear case, but as we slide down the scale, the act of definition becomes murkier and far more subject to political influence and abuse. And this definition does matter both to the rights of the accused and the penalties they face.

Before I continue, let me make it very clear that I do not condone any of these acts, but I am very concerned about the seeming selective use by prosecutors of statutes to prosecute some acts of political violence as terrorism, with all the implications, while treating other incidents as "simple" crimes.

For example, there have been several prosecutions for ecoterrorism. This one involved arson against land developers, and this one involved no violence at all, merely harassment. In neither case was there an intent to kill, but both cases were prosecuted under terror statutes.

Now, let's look at what doesn't get charged under terror statutes. Robert Weiler, an anti abortion activist in Maryland was recently turned in by his father. He had a working bomb that went off when authorities were trying to disable it.
(WaPo) Weiler is charged with four federal offenses, including possession of an unregistered destructive device and possession of a stolen firearm. Each carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison....

the younger Weiler admitted planning to attack the clinic and said he intended to "shoot doctors who provided abortions." A loaded gun was found in the glove box of his car when he was arrested, the affidavit says.

But the anti abortion bomber, who fully and admittedly intended to kill people, wasn't charged under terror statutes.

How about the White Supremacist who was found with ammonium nitrate and had built a cell intending to blow up the Washington DC Holocaust museum who was not charged under terror statutes?

Or, how about William Krar, "investigators found a sodium-cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands, more than a hundred explosives, half a million rounds of ammunition, dozens of illegal weapons, and a mound of white-supremacist and antigovernment literature?" He has plead guilty to weapons charges.

I think you see my point. Arson, and in one case severe harrassment, have warranted prosecution under terror statutes even though in neither case was there an intent to harm individuals. However, anti- abortionists and white supremacists with bombs, guns, and plans to kill innocents with the specific intent to effect a political goal, are not charged under these statutes.

This selective enforcement has implications, and from it, I can gather that impacting business interests, be it land development, animal research, or an SUV dealership, is considered terrorism, while killing people for their race, religion, or the legal practice of abortion isn't.

(Note: Within the PATRIOT Act, there is also a vague description of "narco-terrorism," although to my knowledge it hasn't been utilized yet.)

(Also, within the same area, make note of the ACLU suits against the FBI, DoD, and Justice Department for their actions tracking and documenting war protesters.)

Picture of the Day

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Charlie don't surf

Some members of Kilo company are the individuals being investigated for the murder of civilians. Several of the officers in the group had been relieved of command for acts said to have nothing to do with the killing in Haditha. How much do you want to bet they were relieved for for all this?

Something went seriously wrong in the leadership of the Marines.
(NewsWeek)The Marines know how to get psyched up for a big fight. In November 2004, before the Battle of Fallujah, the Third Battalion, First Marines, better known as the "3/1" or "Thundering Third," held a chariot race. Horses had been confiscated from suspected insurgents, and charioteers were urged to go all-out. The men of Kilo Company—honored to be first into the city on the day of the battle—wore togas and cardboard helmets, and hoisted a shield emblazoned with a large K. As speakers blasted a heavy-metal song, "Cum On Feel the Noize," the warriors of Kilo Company carried a homemade mace, and a ball-and-chain studded with M-16 bullets. A company captain intoned a line from a scene in the movie "Gladiator," in which the Romans prepare to slaughter the barbarians: "What you do here echoes in eternity."

Now, I don't know about you, but to me this echoes Apocalypse Now more than Gladiator. Robert Duvall as Lt. Colonel Kilgore leading the 82nd Airborne attack to the Ride of the Valkyrie. "You either surf or fight."

More: This is a really weird article. It is almost apologist for the killings in Haditha, "The 24 Iraqis killed at Haditha are a fraction of the 300-plus lined up and murdered at My Lai in 1968, just as the roughly 2,500 U.S. soldiers who have perished so far in Iraq pales against the 58,000 dead in Vietnam." Yet at the same time, it includes quotes like this one.
To fight boredom and disgust, said Clif Hicks, who had left a tank squadron at Camp Slayer in Baghdad, soldiers popped Benzhexol, five pills at time. Normally used to treat Parkinson's disease, the drug is a strong hallucinogenic when abused. "People were taking steroids, Valium, hooked on painkillers, drinking. They'd go on raids and patrols totally stoned." Hicks, who volunteered at the age of 17, said, "We're killing the wrong people all the time, and mostly by accident. One guy in my squadron ran over a family with his tank."

Hicks's own revulsion peaked while he was on patrol in January 2004. He came upon a bloody scene in a Baghdad housing project, where some soldiers had mistaken celebratory shots fired at a wedding for an attack, returning heavy fire and killing a young girl. "I looked in the door and she was dead, shot through the neck, Mom there, Grandma there, all losing it. Then I started thinking, this is really f---ed up, this is horribly wrong." Hicks stopped taking his malaria pills, hoping he'd get sick and shipped out. He says that infantry soldiers sometimes stick their legs out of the Humvee under sniper fire, hoping to get a nonlethal wound.

More and more like Vietnam.

Picture of the Day - 3

Rice at the SBC

Condi Rice made a speech at the Southern Baptist Convention. (Apparently, she's going to be the spokesperson from now on.)

Let's remember that we're talking about a religious convention here. Where exactly in the bible did Jesus talk about nationalism and an interventionist foreign policy?
She got repeated standing ovations for her call for continued U.S. engagement across the globe. ....

As she left the podium, delegates in the upper arena began to sing "God Bless America." The whole arena joined in the spontaneous anthem.

Also, at the same SBU convention, a surprise candidate, Frank Page was elected to head the organization.
Dr. Page and his supporters said his election, on the first ballot on the first full day of the annual meeting of convention, did not mean that the nation's largest Protestant denomination would change its views on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion that the three candidates generally opposed. "I do not want anyone to think I am out to undo a conservative movement," Dr. Page told reporters after his election.

He added that church goals would be met through "godly, conservative men and women in our convention, men and women who have not been involved before, who need to be and can be involved.

I didn't know Jesus had a litmus test. My understanding is that he was about love, generosity, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, charity, etc, etc.

I don't really remember anywhere where he talked about corporate energy deregulation. But I'm not an expert.

(And, I'm assuming everybody's seen the horror show of Bush trying to kid the reporter with a degenerative eye condition about wearing sunglasses to the press conference. For more press conference follies, as always, check out Holden.)

TV Alert

Take a look at the blurb for PBS's Frontline next week. (Check local listings.) It's going to cover the conflict between the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis pushing for war in Iraq versus Tenet and the Intel side who "saw non-state actors such as Al Qaeda as the highest priority."

That pretty much covers the question that we all want answered. Why in the hell are we in Iraq rather than fighting Al Qaeda?

I've seen the first two of this series and they were excellent, but then again, I absolutely love their voiceover guy, and could listen to him read anything. He's the guy who did the voiceover on Chapelle's Show when they did the bit on the blind, black KKK leader.

Oh, and as a further teaser, the episode is titled, The Dark Side. Why do I think it'll be about Cheney?

Picture of the Day - 2

Dick Cheney presides over the US side of the Iraq teleconference yesterday.

Cheney: "Dammit! I thought I told them to pretune all these TV's to Fox News."

Snipers in Ramadi

Dahr Jamail was on Democracy Now this morning, and one of the things he touched on was the increased use by the US of snipers in the current military action in Ramadi. He was discussing this development as it impacted the individuals in whose homes these snipers were operating, but I found it interesting on a tactical level.

Ramadi is large, developed, and near enough to Bagdhad to make sealing it off ala Fallujah nearly impossible, so the tactic appears to be to work neighborhood by neighborhood trying to clear insurgents. But as the insurgency has strong support in Ramadi, this will have limited effect as they will be able to seek support and cover from the local population.

That's where the snipers come in. The tactic, I would guess, is to sweep through a neighborhood forcing to ground all of the insurgents who don't openly fight or aren't identified by previous intelligence. During these sweeps, two man sniper teams are placed which stay behind after the main force pulls out.

Then as the people reenter the streets, the snipers take out anybody who looks like an insurgent. (male, carrying a weapon?) Certainly, this method would result in incorrect identifications, but compared to bombing or other mass force methods.....?

I think this tactic also tells us that the US/Iraqi government forces have very little good intel in Ramadi.

I don't know why; I just found this interesting.

Letterman's Top Ten Bush moments

I don't want to figure out how to do YouTube right now, but here's a collection of short video gaffes by Bush from Letterman over at First Draft.

Another Heretical Idea

Congress just took another payraise couched in all the legislative obfuscation they can manage. The raise is actually scheduled as a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) that occurs automatically every year and must be affirmatively voted down to block it. The Senate voted against the measure, and yet, they were bravely willing to yield when the bill was in conference. Also, the raise is hidden in the Transportation and Treasury Bill. (I didn't vote for a pay raise, I voted for roads/economic policy.)

But what really strikes me is that for the seventh year in a row, the Republican led Congress has taken their raise while refusing to raise the minimum wage.

So, my heretical idea is simple, tie Congress's pay to the minimum wage. If they get a raise, the minimum wage goes up proportionately.

This seems pretty logical to me. If the shifting economic background has changed enough to require Congressmen to raise their salary to $168,000, then certainly the same conditions are making life more difficult for those making $16,000.

Bush Press Conference at 9:45 AM Eastern

Just kind of a heads up.

So, the administration didn't announce the Iraq trip for security reasons. I get that. But why are the press conferences always announced at the last minute?

Guantanamo's relative place.

Yesterday I noted that Guantanamo was being criticized by the Saudis. Well, today an Afghan delegation declared that prison conditions there were "humane."

So, the definition is narrowing. On the scale of relative horribleness and human rights, Guantanamo falls somewhere below Saudi standards, but above an Afghani prison. I'm so proud.

(Oh, and it's well below UN standards.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

"Well, Stanley, this is ANOTHER fine mess you've gotten us into." (From a comment by Bruce O.)

(White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, left, and White House Counselor Dan Barlett, ride in a military helicopter wearing helmets and flak jackets for a trip from Baghdad International Airport to U.S. Embassy in the Greenzone Tuesday, June 13, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais))

Meanwhile, Outside the Green Zone

KIRKUK, Iraq (AFP) - At least 36 people were killed across Iraq, including 18 in a bombing campaign in the oil city of Kirkuk, as US President George W. Bush made a surprise five-hour visit to Baghdad.....

Meanwhile, there a number of attacks in Baghdad, as the government unveiled a security plan for the capital that would lengthen the nightly curfew and put 40,000 troops on the streets.

A bomb targeting a police patrol in central Baghdad killed one policemen and wounded four others, as well as injuring a prisoner they were transporting.

Mortars falling on the Abu Chir neighborhood in southern Baghdad killed one person and wounded 12.

A professor at the College of Engineering was shot dead as he left his house and 14 bodies, shot and bearing signs of torture, were found in and around the city.

In Karbala, gunmen shot dead a police captain and another policeman.

A bomb targeting a police patrol in the Samarra market missed its target but killed four civilians and injured seven.

Four civilians, including a two-year-old child, and a policemen were killed in a series of attacks in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad.

Gunmen killed three policemen and wounded three others in Balad Ruz, southeast of Baquba, while a man distributing newspapers in Fallujah was shot dead by gunmen.

As violence ripped through the country, Bush landed in Baghdad for a surprise visit to meet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Dear pot, signed, Kettle

It's not like I support Guantanamo either as a legal construct or as a reality, but I do find a bitter irony that the Saudi government is criticizing the US over the recent suicides in Guantanamo, claiming that torture drove the men to it. I don't know enough detail to judge the validity of that claim, but take just a minute and let this sink in.

The Saudis are criticizing us on Human Rights.

The President's secret trip.

Okay, so Bush goes to Iraq in complete secrecy, surprising even the Iraqi Prime Minister(now, there's a level of trust,) but in a lot of ways, I understand that. If it were known he was coming, it would put alot of people at elevated risk. Whether he should be going there/Is it worth the risk is a larger question.

But what got me was this,
WASHINGTON, June 13 — President Bush left for Iraq in the dark of night Monday, the planning for his visit to Iraq kept so quiet that several of his highest-level aides learned about it only this morning though he left almost directly from a dinner table he had had shared with many of them at his presidential retreat.

So, members of the Cabinet and National Security Staff, who are at this meeting on Iraq discussing all sorts of classified information, can't be trusted to keep their mouths shut over night, while they're sleeping, about the trip?

Picture of the Day - 2

Rove off the Hook

(Updates at the bottom.)

WASHINGTON - Top White House aide Karl Rove has been told by prosecutors he won’t be charged with any crimes in the investigation into leak of a CIA officer's identity, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Attorney Robert Luskin said that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald informed him of the decision on Monday, ending months of speculation about the fate of one of President Bush’s closest advisers. Rove testified five times before a grand jury.

Drudge has a little of the Luskin statement,
“On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove.

“In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation. We believe that the Special Counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove’s conduct.”

I'm guessing that this means that Fitzgerald didn't think he could get a conviction. (At this point I don't think it's some sort of "arrangement.".) I just don't know. It's breaking right now.

So, does this mean the overall investigation is over? How does this fit in? Need more details. We will get no comment from Fitzgerald's team. The only announcements Fitzgerald would make are indictments and an announcement he's ending the investigation. Neither at this point.

(NYTimes, WaPo, AP, Reuters. All of them have Luskin's statement and a little history, but no new other details.)

Update: Firedoglake seems to not be ruling out the possibility of an "arrangement" between Fitzgerald and Team Rove.
If Luskin is coming out and saying publicly that they got a letter from Pat Fitzgerald which says that Rove will not be charged, there are two things that I want to see and know: (1) what does the letter actually say, word for word; and (2) does it say something along the lines of "Please thank Karl for his cooperation in this matter."

Again, at this point, I just don't know. In support, I find Luskin's "we will not make any further public statements" a little odd in that I would think that Team Rove would want to launch a PR offensive to present themselves as exonerated and unjustly accused, but, at the same time, there is nothing concrete indicating a deal.

Update 2:
The consensus speculation on the left of the blogosphere seems to be crystallizing around the possibility of a plea deal (or a politically better named "arrangement") based on the refusal to release the letter in question, and the odd, very careful language of the Luskin statement "Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove."

That does read like an open statement. So long as Rove continues to cooperate fully, which we anticipate, there will be no charges sought.

And, let me add the possibility that if there is such an "arrangement," it might have been made weeks ago. I kept making mental note of Luskin's sudden silence starting about three weeks ago after leaking weekly, and often daily stories to aid his client. If a deal had been struck allowing Team Rove to make an announcement at a time of their choosing, Luskin would've stopped leaking. Just a theory.

I think that's the key to all this. There is nothing concrete to indicate that there is any sort of deal. We can hypothesize, but that's all it is until we see something more significant to indicate that. The thing to watch is whether or not the investigation continues. That will tell alot.

(And, I would really like to see that letter. Why won't you release it Mr. Luskin?)

Iraq fatigue

Editor and Publisher has a look at the decreasing number of Iraq stories making the headlines. For a quick glance, Scout_Prime at First Draft broke out the numbers.

Picture of the Day - Kremlin Watching

I don't know if anyone else noticed the positioning of the principals in Bush's photo ops today, but they were very telling.

This picture is from a slight angle so Condi's prominence is a bit over emphasized, but the placement and message were clear. Condi a half step back and off the left shoulder, Rumsfeld and Cheney a full step back to the right and in the background.

And, in case you think I'm overexamining, if you can find a video clip of the group walking out, it is VERY clear that this positioning was intentional. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice all came out roughly together, and then once the president stopped, they all readjusted like actors finding their marks on a stage. Cheney and Rumsfeld stepping noticably back, and Rice stepping forward and in. It was very intentional.

This shift in relative influence was the message today. Think about the other efforts to show Condi's new prominence like the "leaked" article on the Condi/Bush lunch which brought about the offer of Iran negotiations. Whether a shift in influence is real or not, I don't know, but they want you to believe that Condi is now the chief influence.

(Maybe this straight on, but low picture shows it from a "truer" perspective. Also, notice that Rumsfeld has been pushed out one seat at the briefing table with Condi next to Bush.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Americans are no longer buying

A new CBS poll is making the blog rounds (Bush - 33% approval, 60% disapprove.) This poll is probably getting overcovered because it's the first since Zarqawi was killed, and it shows no appreciable difference in any of the numbers. (Changes within margin of error.)

But what caught my eye was this.
Half think the level of violence in Iraq will be unchanged by Zarqawi's death, while 30 percent say it will actually lead to more attacks against U.S. forces. Just 16 percent think the number of attacks will decrease as a result of his death.

Sixty-one percent also say Zarqawi's death won't have any impact on the terrorist threat against the United States, while 22 percent it will increase that threat. Thirteen percent predict a decreased risk of terrorism.

Only 16% responded that Zarqawi's death will lead to a decrease in attacks in Iraq, and only 13% responded that it would reduce the terror threat to the US. I just found that surprising.

UPDATE: USAToday/Gallup - "The new poll found that 48% believe the United States probably or definitely will win the war, up from 39% in April. It also found that 47% believe things are going well in Iraq, up from 38% in March."

That is the kind of shift in numbers I was expecting.

Cluck, cluck, cluck......Boom!

The NYTimes has two oddly juxtaposed articles on it's front page right now. In the first, the headlining article, Bush came out of his strategy meeting today talking about increasing oil production as the method of getting the country on the right track.
"The government ought to use the oil as a way to unite the country," Mr. Bush told reporters.... Iraq, he said, "ought to think about having a tangible fund for the people so the people have faith in the central government."

So, we'll win the hearts and minds and stabilize the country by restarting the economy. Actually, a pretty reasonable element of any plan for Iraq (although it's not clear how this new plan differs from the Strategy for Victory in November,) but the irony hit me when looking at the other Iraq story on the front page,
This once-quiet city of riverside promenades was among the most receptive to the American invasion. Now, three years later, it is being pulled apart by Shiite political parties that want to control the region and its biggest prize, oil. But in today's Iraq, politics and power flow from the guns of militias, and negotiating has been a bloody process.

So, the plan is to regain security and stability through oil production, but they can't increase oil production because of problems with security and stability.

It's the classic problem, "Which came first, the chicken or the exploding egg?"

Picture of the Day - 3

Court rules against faith-based prison program

A bit of a slow blogging day, but I found this interesting. (Christian Science Monitor)
CHICAGO – It's a court case that could have major implications for President Bush's faith-based initiative: Is an evangelical Christian prison rehabilitation program, paid for by taxpayer dollars, constitutional?

The answer, issued by a federal district judge in Iowa on June 2, was a resounding "no."

Picture of the Day - 2

Make us proud, boys.

(Comments are back on. Spoilers in the comments so if you don't want to know, don't go through.)

Project for the New American Century is closing

Isn't this just so typical? When things get nasty, they scurry away leaving no forwarding address. (see Richard Perle.)
The doors may be closing shortly on the nine-year-old Project for a New American Century, the neoconservative think tank headed by William Kristol , former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and now editor of the Weekly Standard, which is must reading for neocon cogitators and agitators.

They claim a sense of "goal accomplished."

Never leaving Iraq

The Bush administration is floating trial ballons about a 10 year 50,000 troop commitment in Iraq. ThinkProgress has an example from today's NYTimes,
Mr. Bush on Friday made clear that the American commitment to the country will be long-term. Officials say the administration has begun to look at the costs of maintaining a force of roughly 50,000 troops there for years to come, roughly the size of the American presence maintained in the Philippines and Korea for decades after those conflicts.

This meshes very well with the articles Friday night hinting at the same thing. In that same post, there was also an article pointing out that legislative prohibitions against permanent bases in Iraq were stripped out of the Iraq funding bill. Self importantly quoting myself:
"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."

Criticism of John Bolton

Sebastian Malaby discusses just a few of the reasons that Bush's recess appointment of John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN was a mistake. You know, there's a reason that the framers included a confirmation process, to keep the President from making mistakes in key posts.

Picture of the Day

Sunday, June 11, 2006

War is hell.

More questions on Zarqawi's death.
U.S. officials denied several news reports that Zarqawi was abused by U.S. troops before he died.

An Iraqi police lieutenant who said he was among the first people at the scene told The Times on Saturday that after Iraqi police had carried Zarqawi to the ambulance on the stretcher, U.S. troops took him off the stretcher and placed him on the ground. One of the Americans tried to question Zarqawi and repeatedly stepped on his chest, causing blood to flow from his mouth and nose, said the lieutenant, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A man identified only as Mohammed, who said he lived near the Zarqawi hide-out, told Associated Press Television News that he had witnessed Americans beating Zarqawi. "They stomped on his stomach and his chest until he died and blood came out of his nose," he said.

A U.S. military spokesman said by e-mail Saturday that there was no evidence to support allegations that coalition forces had beaten the insurgent leader.

"Although Zarqawi was mortally wounded, a coalition medic treated him while he lapsed in and out of consciousness," the spokesman said.

Can you see the picture? A dying Zarqawi pulled off the stretcher and laid on the ground. An American soldier, foot on his chest, yelling questions at at him. Then a medic is brought in to try to revive him to continue the questioning. War is hell.

The NYTimes has another interpretation, that the efforts to get Zarqawi to speak were part of the triage.

But more interesting to me is this line by the same witness, "Mr. Abbas also said the Americans handcuffed the police on the scene, took their shirts off and searched them."

Let me say here, that I didn't intend to pass a value judgement on these actions. That's why I tried to frame this as "war is hell." Any intel that could've been gathered from a dying Zarqawi would have been practically priceless. It's just an ugly image of the reality of war.

I didn't mean to get so far into Zarqawi's last moments, but the LATimes description above was so vivid, and then I felt I should add the NYTimes rebuttal version. And honestly, I was regretting putting this up last night, but I don't think it's right just making it disappear.)

Picture of the Day - 3



(LATimes) BAGHDAD — Fears of an imminent offensive by the U.S. troops massed around the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi intensified Saturday, with residents pouring out of the city to escape what they describe as a mounting humanitarian crisis.

The image pieced together from interviews with tribal leaders and fleeing families in recent weeks is one of a desperate population of 400,000 people trapped in the crossfire between insurgents and U.S. forces. Food and medical supplies are running low, prices for gas have soared because of shortages and municipal services have ground to a stop.

U.S. and Iraqi forces had cordoned off the city by Saturday, residents and Iraqi officials said. Airstrikes on several residential areas picked up, and troops took to the streets with loudspeakers to warn civilians of a fierce impending attack, Ramadi police Capt. Tahseen Dulaimi said.

Troubling reports from the Iraqi Army

Sounds like instead of "standing up," alot of the Iraqi soldiers are choosing to sit it out.
U.S. Marines working with the brigade told Stars and Stripes, the U.S. armed forces newspaper, that its strength dropped from 2,200 soldiers in December to 1,400 in May.

"Many of my soldiers have not gotten paid in six months," Uosef said. "Sometimes, they don't eat for two or three days at a time. I tell my commander, but what else am I supposed to do?"(Lt. Moktat Uosef is a company commander in the 4th Brigade of the 7th Iraqi Army Division.)

From a US policy perspective, how unforgivable is this? Not that there are Iraqi desertions, in the big picture, that is somewhat out of US control, but that they're deserting for not getting paid. They're not getting food.

In the current Iraqi economy, men would do incredible things if they had a stable and secure guaranteed salary to support their families. I know that the Iraqi Army payroll is technically handled by the Iraqi government, but is there any higher priority for the US right now than making sure that the Iraqi Army is stable and peopled by good men?

And if 1% of those desertions(I would bet it's far higher) end up fighting against US troops, what is the cost of that?

How is this not fixed by now?

Blogger Tip

For those of you using blogger as your posting interface, here's a little tip I've found unfortunately handy lately. After you finish writing your post, but before you attempt to publish, click on the Edit Html tab, highlight everything in the box and "copy" it to the clipboard.

That way, if Blogger eats the post you've just spent too much time working on, you can take that body of the post you just copied and save it in notepad, and then when normal service resumes, just reverse the process and paste it in the Edit Html tab, retitle, and publish.

I know it's not the ideal solution, but it saves alot of work if your post is format or link heavy.

Picture of the Day - 2

Notes on the Guantanamo suicides

Three prisoners at Guantanamo hanged themselves yesterday. As I was reading the coverage, I came across a few odd bits.

20% of the detainees in Guantanamo are Saudi, even though they're not on the terror lists. Is the number that high because the US is afraid to repatriate them and have them released by the Saudi government?
He said there were up to 103 Saudis detained at the naval base, which holds about 460 foreigners captured mainly in Afghanistan where the United States has fought the Taliban and al Qaeda.

And this bizarre quote from Rear Adm Harry Harris.
The camp commander said the two Saudis and a Yemeni were "committed" and had killed themselves in "an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us".

And, from Talkleft,
From now on, detainees will have sheets issued to them when they go to bed at night, and they will be removed in the morning. How does this prevent them from hanging themselves after lights-out? This is a band-aid, like putting a piece of tape over a hole in a flat tire, not a solution.

Punctuated Equilibrium

One of Stephen J Gould's major contributions to evolutionary biology was the concept of punctuated equilibrium. A short and inexact desription of this theory is that a species' genetic pool tends to remain largely unchanged with some minor slow drift over long periods of time only to significantly change relatively rapidly when the species is faced with a sudden ecosystem challenge.

The example frequently used is a long term change in rainfall leading to an altering of amphibian habitat leading to shifts in ecosystem and available resources, although new competition from another organism in the same ecological niche can produce similar results.

This theory altered the previous concept of a slow and steady arc of constant mutation, and replaced it with the idea of long periods of relative equilibrium, punctuated by more sudden evolutionary changes as new stressors are added to a system. (This "faster evolution" still takes place on a very long time frame.)

So, why am I talking about this? Polizeros had this interesting article which could indicate a very slight beginning on the process. (It is theorized that behavioral shifts usually happen far more readily than morphological shifts.)
Evidence is growing that climate change is leading to genetic changes that are passed down the generations in animals as diverse as birds, squirrels and mosquitoes, scientists report.

A wide range of animal populations has changed genetically in response to altered seasonal events and not to the expected direct effects of increased summer temperatures, according to Dr William Bradshaw and Dr Christina Holzapfel of the University of Oregon, Eugene in the journal Science.

"Over the past 40 years, animal species have been extending their ranges and populations have been migrating, developing or reproducing earlier," said Dr Bradshaw......

But that is not the whole story, said Dr Holzapfel. "Studies show that over several decades, rapid climate change has led to heritable, genetic changes in animal populations."

Now, this is one study/one researcher early in the process and I haven't looked at his data or research. Even within the concepts of punctuated equilibrium/sudden stressed evolution, this is a very short time frame, but I find it intriguing nonetheless.

Picture of the Day

Somalia - Fighters backed by the US.