Saturday, November 03, 2007
Picture of the Day - 2
Authorities began rounding up opposition politicians despite calls from Washington and other Western allies not to take authoritarian measures......
The government halted all television transmissions in major cities other than state-controlled Pakistan TV. Telephone service in the capital, Islamabad, was cut.
Our "ally" Pakistan just abandoned democracy.
While private television news stations in Pakistan were blacked out Saturday evening, state-run television station ran segments in which pro-government analysts criticized political opponents and the independent media for not backing Musharraf at a time of crisis.
He is expected to make an official statement soon.
(Ms. Bhutto was "visiting family" in Dubai, but according to a Reuters source, she has just landed in Karachi.)
So, what does US officialdom do? Utter very serious misgivings while continuing to support Musharraf thereby reinforcing the Sunni extremist argument against the US (and abandoning any pretense of "democracy promotion?"
This is a disaster.
Update: (AP) Benazir Bhutto is in her house surrounded by troops.
Musharraf's order allows courts to function but suspends some fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, including freedom of speech. It also allows authorities to detain people without informing them of the charges.
And, The US position per Condi Rice,
the U.S. told Pakistani leaders that "even if something happens, that we would expect the democratic election to take place because has got to return to a constitutional order as soon as possible, and Pakistanis have to have a prospect of free and fair elections."
Right. Free and fair elections with the Supreme court arrested, independent media shut down, freedom of speech suspended, and the opposition leader under house arrest. Gotta love that democracy.
The Sunnis extort
The Sunnis are smart. They know this. And now they want to get paid.
Sunni leaders from Iraq's Anbar province on Friday said they want billions of dollars as compensation for joining U.S. forces in the fight against al Qaeda militants..
Pakistan continues to spin badly
Inherent in the US policy on Pakistan is the belief that the Pakistanis must deal with their tribal regions because a "stable" Pakistan is more important than ending the Al Qaeda presence there.
But what happens when the Pakistanis aren't up to either stability or combating Al Qaeda?
Militants said Saturday they captured two police stations and 120 security forces in a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan that has increasingly fallen under the control of Taliban and al-Qaida-linked extremists, bringing further embarrassment to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government.
(WaPo) "U.S. Warns Musharraf Not to Use Martial Law" (includes another report of a likely US missile attack in N. Waziristan.)
(Photo: Masked militant supporters of Maulana Fazlullah, a hard line cleric, armed with AK-47 assault rifles stand guard in Charabagh near Mingora, the main town of Pakistan's Swat district bordering Afghanistan, Friday, Nov. 2, 2007. Dozens of paramilitary troops defect in northwest Pakistan saying they do not want to fight their Muslim brothers, an embarrassment to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf as he struggles to regain control of an mountainous region from Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants. (AP Photo/Mohammad Iqbal))
At some point, political loyalty becomes an act of egotism.
I'm not saying everyone should be chucked over the side at the first sign of trouble, but at the same time, an inability to accept outside advice is a serious character flaw that could have serious results.... Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Condi Rice.....
I think one of the reasons I'm so anti-Giuliani is that I see in him the exact same flaws that I see in our current president.
So, I say, let's elect new flaws in '08.
(I want a bumper sticker.)
Friday, November 02, 2007
Head of the OLC said waterboarding was torture, chased out of government.
A senior Justice Department official, charged with reworking the administration's legal position on torture in 2004 became so concerned about the controversial interrogation technique of waterboarding that he decided to experience it firsthand, sources told ABC News.
Daniel Levin, then acting assistant attorney general, went to a military base near Washington and underwent the procedure to inform his analysis of different interrogation techniques....
Levin, who refused to comment for this story, concluded waterboarding could be illegal torture unless performed in a highly limited way and with close supervision....
And what happened to Levin?
In December 2004, Levin released the new memo. He said, "Torture is abhorrent" but he went on to say in a footnote that the memo was not declaring the administration's previous opinions illegal. The White House, with Alberto Gonzales as the White House counsel, insisted that this footnote be included in the memo..
But Levin never finished a second memo imposing tighter controls on the specific interrogation techniques. Sources said he was forced out of the Justice Department when Gonzales became attorney general.
Picture of the Day - 3
The AIPAC trial continues, slowly
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and more than a dozen other current and former intelligence officials must testify about their conversations with pro-Israel lobbyists, a federal judge ruled Friday in an espionage case..
The Saudis say (Bandar) the US could have prevented 9-11
Saudi Arabia could have helped the United States prevent al Qaeda's 2001 attacks on New York and Washington if American officials had consulted Saudi authorities in a "credible" way, the kingdom's former ambassador said in a documentary aired Thursday....
Speaking to the Arabic satellite network Al-Arabiya on Thursday, Bandar -- now Abdullah's national security adviser -- said Saudi intelligence was "actively following" most of the September 11, 2001, plotters "with precision."
"If U.S. security authorities had engaged their Saudi counterparts in a serious and credible manner, in my opinion, we would have avoided what happened," he said.
My guess is the Saudis are pulling this to reduce the US pressure on them to crack down on the Al Qaeda money (and supporters) flowing through their country, but still......
"Bandar Bush" just came out and said 9-11 was preventable if only the Bush administration had been more listened. Seems like headline news to me.
(PS. There seems to be some growing evidence that the Saudi King is mightily unhappy with the Bush administration over Iraq, Iran, and the now obliterated Mid East peace conference.... We'll see, but I'm sensing a change in tone.)
Picture of the Day - 2
"Hello? White House? Yes, I'd like to speak to a Mr. Jacques Strap, please...."
"All right, son, I know you're having a bad day, but it's very important that you not push the red button....."
"I knew you weren't up for it...."
(Former U.S. President George Bush and his wife Barbara sit at the console inside mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and talk with the International Space Station and Space Shuttle Discovery crew during a crew news conference in this image from NASA TV November 1, 2007. REUTERS/NASA)
Quickhits - Fires across the Muslim world
(Reuters) On the upcoming parliamentary elections, " Western diplomats say elections won't be free and fair, just fairer than in the past..."
(Same Article) Bhutto is scheduled to return Nov. 9 which is now after the Supreme Court's decision. (She left suddenly "to visit family" after the "emergency rule" threat was issued.)
(BBC) Taleban fighters in Swat have taken journalists to see their 48 Pakistani army prisoners. It sounds like a really bad operation that led to their capture.
"The soldiers said they surrendered when their positions on a hilltop were surrounded by armed militants..... The troops captured in Swat this week were air-dropped by helicopters last Saturday."
From the AP version: "We had no ammunition. We had no other option."
And, let's remember, (BBC) "Nearly 300 soldiers are still being held prisoner further south in the Waziristan tribal region."
Turkey: (AP) Condi Rice "says the United States, Turkey and Iraq will counter any attacks on Turkey by Kurdish rebels..... She didn't specify just what that meant..."
(NYTimes) "Mr. Erdogan, for his part, has given the United States a de-facto deadline of Nov. 5, the day of his visit to Washington for talks with President Bush on the Kurdish issue."
(AlJazeera) Nationalism soars in Turkey.
Iran: (Reuters) "Six world powers meet on Friday to discuss imposing a third round of sanctions on because of its refusal to stop enriching uranium." It is fully expected that Russia and China will block any sanctions.
Iraq: (Reuters) U.S. sees decline in Iran-linked bombs found in Iraq
(BBC) Ryan Crocker tells State Dept. personnel to shut up and take their marching orders. "It's not for us to decide if we like the policy or if the policy is rightly implemented," he said. "It's for us to go and serve, not to debate the policy, not to agree with it."
And, maybe the "wonderful news" of a reduction in Iraqi civilian violence isn't quite so true,
Casualty numbers themselves are inconsistent. The U.S. military said about 800 civilians were killed in October, but an unofficial tally by the Health Ministry showed that 1,448 civilians had died violently, including those whose bodies were dumped without identification. An official provided the data, which showed an increase in deaths compared with September, on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release it publicly.
Picture of the Day
Police clashed with student protesters in Venezuela. The students were protesting Chavez's "President for Life" constitutional reforms. (REUTERS/Edwin Montilva)
(There are better pictures showing the size of the protests (not too big) and clashes (not really,) but I liked the flow of this picture.)
Thursday, November 01, 2007
It's best not to be called a "hero"......
Soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan trapped in the broken system of veterans care, 9/11 emergency workers whose health and psychological problems have been widely reported upon, but are still denied by the city and government.
Teachers, first responders, community workers, all regularly called heroes and all making no money and getting virtually no resources.
It's really better not to be called a hero. That's pretty much a sign that you're about to be shit upon.
Picture of the Day - 2
Take a minute
Picture of the Day
Quickhits (and I thought Halloween was supposed to be scary....)
(AP) "A total of 446,726 homes nationwide were targeted by some sort of foreclosure activity from July to September, up 100.1 percent from...the year-ago period....
There was one foreclosure filing for every 196 households in the nation during the most recent quarter."
(AP) Bhutto leaves Pakistan to "visit family in Dubai." (She's supposedly due back Nov. 8.)
(AP) Turkish FM Babacan says any cross border operation "would not be an invasion."
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The Army began its recruiting year Oct. 1 with fewer signed up for basic training than in any year since it became an all-volunteer service in 1973, a top general said Wednesday.....
Wallace attributed the decline in the number of pre-signed recruits to the Army's decision last summer to begin offering a "quick ship" bonus of $20,000 to recruits willing to leave for basic training by the end of September.
Also, you knew this was coming,
Several hundred U.S. diplomats vented anger and frustration Wednesday about the State Department's decision to force foreign service officers to take jobs in Iraq, with some likening it to a "potential death sentence."
I believe "loud and sustained applause" means the assembled US State Dept personnel believe this administration is full of crap.
"It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment," Croddy said. "I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?".....
Still Croddy's remarks were met with loud and sustained applause from the approximately 300 diplomats at the meeting.
Polling - For what it's worth
(And before you tell me that this is before everyone starts to hate Clinton, I'd like to point out that it's also before the Dems start running ads tying the Republican candidate to Bush.)
Later: The USAToday has its latest poll regarding the country's direction.
In all, 72% of those surveyed in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Oct. 12-14 say they are dissatisfied with how things are going in the USA while just 26% are satisfied. Not since April have even one-third of Americans been happy with the country's course, the longest national funk in 15 years.
(PS. The dissatisfaction with a Dem Congress is a non-story to me. First, that number is always far below "How is my Congressman doing?"
Second, This is a presidential coattail year. That matters far more.)
Picture of the Day - 4 - Because she's done so much....
Karen Hughes is retiring.
That means her job is complete and the Muslim world loves us, right?
(She didn't even get Latin America to like us more.)
(Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes speaks to the media at the State Department in Washington October 31, 2007. The State Department's public diplomacy chief and image guru Hughes has decided to resign, U.S. officials said on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas))
In Washington, the Pentagon said that it was giving Ankara "more and more" intelligence on PKK positions along the border with Iraq."
(NYTimes) Russia "declared its intention to cut sharply the number of monitors for parliamentary elections in December."
Picture of the Day - 3
There's something about the context of this picture.... Security personnel protecting the president, spying from atop the American flag as he travels to an RNC fundraiser.....
(Security personnel look through binoculars atop a hangar roof as U.S. President George W. Bush (not pictured) arrives at Philadelphia International Airport October 29, 2007. Bush is travelling to Republican party fund raisers for the 2008 elections in Pennsylvania and Ohio on Monday. (REUTERS/Jason Reed))
How does this look?
The whole reason this recent Blackwater incident has become such a big deal is that it echoes so many Iraqi experiences in the past.
And now come to find out, (AP) "Limited immunity has been routinely offered to private security contractors involved in shootings in Iraq, State Department officials said Tuesday."
How do you think that comes across to the Iraqis?
(To get some sense of Iraqi "tone" on this, when was the last time you heard of the Iraqi government doing anything?
Iraq's government has approved a draft law to lift immunity for foreign security companies including Blackwater USA....The draft law, expected to be passed overwhelmingly by parliament....
The US solution is to shift responsibility from the State Dept. to the military.)
Taleban set up near Kandahar
Several hundred Taliban fighters have moved into a strategic area just outside the southern city of Kandahar in recent days and clashed with Afghan and NATO forces, according to Canadian and Afghan officials.
Maybe the title says more, "Taliban Fighters Move in Near Kandahar for First Time Since 2001."
Outside my usual wheelhouse, but wow.
Picture of the Day - 2
(Reuters) At least eight people were killed and 43 were injured on Wednesday in an explosion on a bus in the Russian city of Togliatti.
(A video grab shows a bus damaged by an explosion on a street in the city of Togliatti, October 31, 2007. (Reuters TV)
Why Mukasey won't disavow waterboarding....
If he were to commit today to saying waterboarding violated US law, he would be committed to prosecuting it when he takes the AG post.
He's trying to tread a line, saying he will erase its use, but not committing to prosecute those who have recently used the technique (or perhaps more importantly those who authorized its use.)
(Yes, I know, but that's why he's doing this.)
Related: (AP) "In September ABC News reported that (CIA Director) Hayden had banned waterboarding in CIA interrogations in 2006."
Picture of the Day
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
A little polling
* Iowa: Clinton 32%, Obama 22%, Edwards 15%
* New Hampshire: Clinton 40%, Obama 22%, Edwards 10%
* South Carolina: Clinton 41%, Obama 19%, Edwards 18%
* Iowa: Romney 27%, Huckabee 19%, Giuliani 16%, McCain 14%
* New Hampshire: Romney 30%, Giuliani 23%, McCain 17%
* South Carolina: Romney 29%, Giuliani 23%, McCain 13%, Thompson 10%
(Catch that Fred Thompson wave.)
Picture of the Day - 2
I would vote for the guy in this ad.
Its simplicity and straightforwardness are a refreshing shock after all the gauzy tinted, music induced "tone" ads we've seen.
No breakdown of Sunni/Shia.
The Opacity of Hope
How quickly it's all changed.....
Two months ago, Obama was the media darling, carrying an excitement that the talk show bookers couldn't get enough of.
Today they want to get him on to grill him about what's gone wrong.
The media and the campaigns have somewhat drawn a line in the sand for tonight's Dem debate. He has to perform. He has to meet some arbitrary standard or the media's conventional wisdom will drag him down.
Even the lefty blogs have seemed to abandon him. (Or even worse, begun to ignore him.)
Most surprisingly to me, he seems to have lost the fervor. Watching the few clips of his recent appearances, he no longer seems to carry a confidence. He no longer "smells" of winning.
His popularity was built on a nearly mythic belief that he could somehow "change things." Getting caught in a battle over differentiating positions makes him just another one of them.
It's my belief that his only way out is to re-embrace a broad philosophical argument that differentiates himself and paints Clinton's "competence" as her biggest flaw. (A debate format is about the worst venue to try and make such a substantial shift.)
In the end though, this was always going to be Obama's challenge, to transition from the vagaries of "hope."
(PS. In all of this discussion, there is very little mention of the Clinton campaign, and I think that's a mistake. It's my belief that they've done an incredible job of "managing expectations" throughout the race. The early push for "inevitability" had the effect of creating a binary race, pushing Edwards to the side, and now they're wearing down Obama.
The Clinton core is very, very good, with alot of media contacts and influence. I think it's a mistake to think that just because we haven't seen the candidate doing or saying anything to think that the Clinton campaign hasn't been "managing expectations."
There's alot going on under the water. You know?)
PPS. Somewhere I read that Clinton hasn't had a significant appearance since last Saturday because she's been prepping for this debate.
Let's call this open for discussion.
The Turks target Barzani for sanctions
A gradual economic embargo is being imposed on firms connected to Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and flights to the northern Iraqi city of Arbil have been stopped, said Ercüment Aksoy, the head of the Foreign Economic Relations Council's (DEİK) Turkish-Iraqi Business Committee in an exclusive interview with business daily Referans last week......
“The embargo will be against individuals, institutions and sectors who are collaborating with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkey does not want to punish the Iraqi people,” he said.
Picture of the Day
(Guardian) "A suicide bomber today killed himself and at least six people in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, in what was thought to be an assassination attempt against President Pervez Musharraf."
(Pakistani rescue workers at the site of the suicide attack in Rawalpindi, October 30, 2007. (AFP/Farooq Naeem))
Monday, October 29, 2007
Good for Brian Lamb
FUBAR at the Romney endorsement
Gregg, New Hampshire’s senior senator, announced his endorsement after a heart-stopping goof. “If someone had said I’d endorse a Democrat….” Gregg said, stopping abruptly as a crowd of 100 to 150 Romney supporters groaned and/or laughed. “If somebody had said I was going to be endorsing a Democrat, they’d be absolutely wrong,” he continued.
“If someone had also said I’d endorse a former governor of Massachusetts for president of the United States, I’d say well, I didn’t think the Red Sox would win the World Series twice in my lifetime either,” he said.
Picture of the Day - 2
Spraying "harmless plastic granules" in Afghanistan?
In 2004, U.S.-contracted aircraft secretly sprayed harmless plastic granules over poppy fields in Afghanistan to gauge public reaction to using herbicides to kill the opium poppies that help fund the Taliban and al Qaida.
The mysterious granules ignited a major outcry from poor farmers, tribal chiefs and government officials up to President Hamid Karzai, who demanded to know if the spraying was part of a poppy eradication program. At the time, U.S officials up to the level of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad denied any knowledge of the program.
U.S. officials declined to identify the agency that oversaw the test spraying, but pointed out that the State Department oversees U.S. counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan. The department's bureau of international narcotics and law enforcement declined to comment. U.S. officials spoke to McClatchy Newspapers on condition of anonymity because the tests remain classified.
I don't know why I find this so curious....
Everybody goes nuclear, but Iran takes the hit.
Picture of the Day
Smoke rises as residents gather at the scene of a bomb attack in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, October 28, 2007. (Slahaldeen Rasheed/Reuters)
Another attack today in Baquba. A bicycle bomber killed 27 police recruits. "Akram Salman said it must have been an inside job because the suicide bomber apparently was able to penetrate heavy security surrounding the police camp without being searched."
Later: (Reuters) Twenty decapitated bodies were found dumped near a police station on Monday west of the volatile city of Baquba in Iraq, police said.
(And, somewhat unbelievably, nine of the ten sheiks seized yesterday have reportedly been released.)
Barzani raises the Kurdish stakes
Mr Barzani also said that he was increasingly convinced that the Turkish objective was not the PKK but Iraqi Kurdistan, which has achieved near-independence since 2003. He said he was convinced Turkey's claim that its target was the PKK "is only an excuse and the target is the Kurdistan region itself". When the KRG put its peshmerga (soldiers) on the border with Turkey to control the areas where the PKK has sought refuge, Turkish artillery had shelled them, he said.
Mr Barzani appears to believe there is no concession he could offer to Turkey which would defuse the crisis because he himself and the KRG are the true target of Ankara.
This is an obvious attempt to make the PKK cause the cause of all Kurds, but it's notable as it's coming from the top Kurdish official.
(Also in the conflict, the Turks claim to have "trapped" 100 Kurdish fighters inside Turkey.)
The Taleban must love Sesame Street
You would think just once, it would be 38 or 82 or 63.....
In the same battle, (AP) 50 killed "officials said."
(Reuters) 80 killed "the U.S. military said on Sunday."
(AFP) 30 killed "police and the defence ministry said Monday."
Those are pretty wide estimates for a battle won so decisively.
(Separately, (Reuters) Up to 60 militants killed in NW Pakistan.
(AP) "...after the deaths of another 35 rebel fighters and 16 troops, officials said.")
What is the Saudi King up to?
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia accused Britain on Monday of failing to act on information the Saudis provided that might have averted London's deadly July 7, 2005, suicide bombings, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.....
"I believe that most countries are not taking this issue too seriously, including, unfortunately, Great Britain," he said through a translator. "We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain, but unfortunately no action was taken and it may have been able to avert the tragedy."
Also in the Guardian, and, of course, the BBC which gives the version friendliest to the British government.
The Japanese embrace the bogeyman
Justice minister Kunio Hatoyama said a friend of a friend, who was involved in a bombing in Bali, had entered Japan using fake passports several years ago.
It was an odd claim to make without producing any evidence to back it up....."
If they really reported the news......
(FT) Crude oil prices appear increasingly likely to hit a record in real terms reached during the second oil crisis in 1979, as nominal prices on Monday continued rising well above $90 a barrel.
(AFP) The price of gold edged closer to 800 dollars an ounce on Monday, as it struck the highest level since the start of 1980 owing to the weak dollar and record high crude oil prices, traders said.
(AP) The dollar slipped lower against the euro, reaching a record low, then continuing its slide in morning European trading on Monday, as markets looked for signals from the U.S. Federal Reserve about a likely rate cut this week.
I mean, we're talking Carter levels here, and it's barely garnering a peep in the media.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Didn't they have security?
The group was made up of both Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders. Police say they were traveling home to Diyala province after a meeting with a government official in Baghdad to discuss coordinating efforts against Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Picture of the Day
Sam Brownback sells his soul to the little Mussolini.
(Rudy Giuliani walks with U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback in his Capitol Hill office in Washington October 25, 2007. Brownback recently dropped out of the GOP pack as a presidential hopeful. REUTERS/Larry Downing)
(There's a rather interesting oped in the WaPo about Giuliani's penchant towards authoritarianism.)
Your Turk/Kurd update
(Same Article) "The PKK has indicated it is considering the release of the soldiers in response to calls by a lawmaker."
(AFP) Very little is being written about the Iranian position. They don't like the Kurds, but their investment in the Iraqi Shia government is also substantial. The Iranians are currently non-committal towards the Turks' incursion. (They are continuing to bombard PJAK positions along their border.)
(AP) A brief discussion of the terrain on the Iraqi side of the border. Mountains, and very soon, significant snow. (Also, a very brief mention of the arms flow coming up from the south. "In Baghdad Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker called on Iraq to try to disrupt weapons supplies and logistical assistance to the PKK."
Meanwhile, on the Kurdish backside,
A suicide car bomb has exploded in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing at least six people and injuring more than 20, officials said.
The blast, which happened in a mainly Kurdish area of the city, set cars and shops on fire, witnesses said.
The Turks do not want the Kurds to claim sole possession of Kirkuk seeing it as a "spiritual" center for the growing Kurdish independence movement, but to what lengths would they go? If the Turk/Kurd border ignites, do the Sunnis press hard in Kirkuk? To what degree do the Turks, encourage, assist, or cheer?
As is often the case, alot of questions and not many answers.
(Also, I'm really enjoying this exchange in comments on this post with Todd regarding the politics and tactics of a potential incursion.)
Ah, so we're going to go Noriega on Venezuela.....
Colombian drug kingpins in league with corrupt Venezuelan military officers are increasingly using this country as a way station for smuggling cocaine to the United States and Europe, according to Colombian and U.S. officials. The Bush administration's dismal relations with Venezuela's government have made matters worse, anti-drug agencies say, paralyzing counternarcotics cooperation.
Did you know that within US law there is a designation of "narco-terrorism" under which (technically) US terrorism statutes can be applied?
I don't think we're going there right now, but it does open a door.