Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Cow Got Loose and Killed the Butcher

I don't normally post on Saturday, but for anyone stopping by who doesn't check out Whiskey Bar, here's a NY Times article Billmon notes that throws a big monkeywrench into the wingnut "Flypaper Strategy:"

A growing number of Islamic militants from northern and sub-Saharan Africa are fighting American and Iraqi forces in Iraq, fueling the insurgency with foot soldiers and some financing, American military officials say...

Some recruits have joined the network of the militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which has carried out many of the sophisticated attacks and suicide car-bombings that have killed hundreds of Iraqis in the past several weeks, the officials said.

A small vanguard of veterans are also returning home to countries like Morocco and Algeria, poised to use skills they learned on the battlefield in Iraq, from bomb making to battle planning, against their native governments, the officials said....

Among the local terrorist groups is the Salafist Group in Algeria, which abducted 32 European tourists in early 2003.

On Tuesday, the Algerian group claimed responsibility for a surprise attack last Saturday against an isolated Mauritanian Army outpost that left 15 Mauritanians and 9 insurgents dead. The group said in a message posted on a Web site in Arabic that the assault was a direct response to the training exercises that were "put in place by the enemy of God, America, and its agents in the region," The Associated Press reported...

Not all northern African militants turning up in Iraq belong to a group like Salafist or the Moroccan Islamist Combatant Group. But the skills they learn and the connections they make with other insurgents there is making Iraq a training ground and networking hub for terrorists, these officials say.

"They're getting to use those training skills, hone them and eventually go somewhere else and use them," one defense official said. "The bottom line is you've developed a new extremist. It doesn't paint a pretty picture down the road."


As a result, the US military is now setting up counterinsurgency training in some of these countries. But that also means you can expect terrorist actions in the same, which I don't think counts as a "success," unless by success, you mean more bombings, shootings, and general mayhem.

Some claim the US hasn't been attacked since 9/11, which isn't entirely true (the anthrax mailings were post 9/11). But terrorism has been on the increase globally since that time...which the US, purportedly the "leader" against terrorism, seems to ignore. This is not lost on the minds of those who've been affected, either directly or indirectly, by terrorist actions.

And the Flypaper Strategy seems to have, in wingnut minds, a follow up--the Bury-Your-Head-in-the-Sand Strategy.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Unbelievable

I'm amazed at what I just saw on C-Span, alerted by Atrios and AmericaBlog respectively--in a hearing about the so-called Patriot Act, James Senslessbrenner, House Judiciary Committee Chair, not only wielded his gavel like a sledgehammer (and recognized members out of order), but ended with a huff-and-puff that would've done Scrooge proud, claiming that any number of member questions/statements weren't germane to the matter at hand--oh, and he managed to insult the witnesses to boot. Senslessbrenner concluded with an abrupt close to the hearing--despite additional questions from House Democrats that were VERY relevant, and even directed that microphones be shut off...how "patriotic."

If you want to watch the streaming video, check it out here.

FRAG-mentary Article

It's just a quick, five paragraph summary--but this Reuters piece raised my eyebrows:

Captain Phillip Esposito and 1st Lieutenant Louis Allen were killed on Tuesday in an explosion at Forward Operating Base Danger near Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit.

"The initial investigation by responders and military police indicated that a mortar round struck the window on the side of the building where Esposito and Allen were located at the time," the statement said.

"Upon further examination of the scene by explosive ordnance personnel, it was determined the blast pattern was inconsistent with a mortar attack."

The military said the soldiers killed were New York National Guard troops assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 42nd Infantry Division. Esposito was company commander and Allen was an operations officer.


Well, if it WASN'T an enemy mortar, then I guess it could be a case where somehow an insurgent managed to somehow penetrate the perimeter, toss a grenade, and flee--although I'd give better odds on Jonah Goldberg actually enlisting. The other possibility is, well, a fragging...which, sadly, wouldn't surprise me, tensions being what they are.

Between this and the contractor snafu, it's looking like tempers are being pushed to the breaking point.
Damn...

This is funny as all hell, but now the theme song will be stuck in my head until...
All in How You Look at It

Perception versus reality...for instance, Team Bush, from the front lines of Warshington, has a decidedly rose colored tint to the situation in Iraq:

In recent weeks Bush has repeatedly expressed wild optimism, utterly unfounded in reality, about the political process in Iraq and about the ability of the new Iraqi government and army to win the guerrilla war. He has if anything been outdone in this rhetoric by Vice President Dick Cheney...

Bush trotted out his usual talking points on Iraq, speaking of freedom and remarking, "This is the vision chosen by Iraqis in elections in January." Bush added, "We'll support Iraqis as they take the lead in providing their own security. Our strategy is clear: We're training Iraqi forces so they can take the fight to the enemy, so they can defend their country, and then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned." He again trumpeted his alleged policy of spreading democracy in the region as a way of combating the "bitterness and hatred" that "feed the ideology of terror."...

In an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Monday, May 30, Cheney said, "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." He went on to insist that America was safer as a result. As has become the Bush administration's modus operandi on a wide variety of subjects, Cheney simply made the assertion, giving no evidence to back it up...

Asked at a May 31 press conference about the wave of bombings that have bedeviled Iraq daily since the new government was formed in April, Bush said, "I think the Iraq government will be up to the task of defeating the insurgents."


Link (Subscription or day pass required).

But, on the back lines, i.e., in actual combat (sarcasm, for the challenged), a different view prevails:

the Iraqi soldiers had no clue where they were going. They shrugged their shoulders when asked what they would do. The U.S. military had billed the mission as pivotal in the Iraqis' progress as a fighting force but had kept the destination and objectives secret out of fear the Iraqis would leak the information to insurgents.

"We can't tell these guys about a lot of this stuff, because we're not really sure who's good and who isn't," said Rick McGovern, a tough-talking 37-year-old platoon sergeant from Hershey, Pa., who heads the military training for Charlie Company.

The reconstruction of Iraq's security forces is the prerequisite for an American withdrawal from Iraq. But as the Bush administration extols the continuing progress of the new Iraqi army, the project in Baiji, a desolate oil town at a strategic crossroads in northern Iraq, demonstrates the immense challenges of building an army from scratch in the middle of a bloody insurgency...

Frustrated U.S. soldiers question the Iraqis' courage, discipline and dedication and wonder whether they will ever be able to fight on their own, much less reach the U.S. military's goal of operating independently by the fall.

"I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said 1st Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., the executive officer of McGovern's company, who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."...

Overall, the number of Iraqi military and police trained and equipped is more than 169,000, according to the U.S. military, which has also said there are 107 operational military and special police battalions. As of last month, however, U.S. and Iraqi commanders had rated only three battalions capable of operating independently...

Asked when he thought the Iraqi soldiers might be ready to operate independently, McGovern said: "Honestly, there's part of me that says never. There's some cultural issues that I don't think they'll ever get through."

McGovern added that the Iraqis had "come a long way in a very short period of time" and predicted they would ultimately succeed. But he said the effort was still in its infancy.

"We like to refer to the Iraqi army as preschoolers with guns," he said.


When I read stories like the Post article, I sometimes think about a Bush line that his speechwriters worked into his 2002 SOTU (and, though I guess I'm mistaken, I thought it was in his 2004 convention speech as well): "For too long our culture has said, 'If it feels good, do it.' Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: 'Let's roll.'"

Dubya seems awfully prone to "feels good," and damningly averse to "let's roll," at least when it relates to him personally. From the veritable fortress surrounding him, either in DC, or when he goes on any number of pathetic road shows, it's pretty easy to pronounce "the mission" a "success." Reality doesn't apparently penetrate whatever sort of polarizing shades protect his "vision."

But reality is all to real to those who've been assigned the "let's roll" element of the equation.
News That Matters

I'm passing along another item noticed by the Bivalve Blogger, and even lifted the headline because it IS news that matters:

The Louisiana House of Representatives became the first legislative body in the nation to acknowledge the toxic effects of depleted uranium (DU) when it passed a bill on Tuesday that guarantees DU testing for war veterans as a medical benefit. The bill passed by a vote of 101-0. No state expenses will be incurred since the federal government subsidizes the $170 test. The bill will become law if passed by the state Senate and signed by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

This is actually a first that Louisiana can rightly be proud of, even if the underlying cause for this bill--DU--is one of THE most shameful elements of our misadventures in Mesopotamia.

Check out the entire article, if you have the time. Some of the information is truly shocking:

"The Army calls it the silver bullet. But the team that was assigned to go in and clean up after the first Gulf War was one hundred men," said Ret. Marine Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Bob Smith, who served three tours of duty in the elite Green Berets during the Vietnam War. "A third of them are already dead," he said...

During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Army officials assembled a team to clean up the DU contaminated tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. Most team members became sick within 48 hours, with the first cancers developing within nine months and first deaths from lung cancer within two years. Today, 14 years later, some veterans are still attempting to obtain medical testing and care, but say that military and Veterans Administration (VA) officials simply refuse to provide mandated services.

The U.S. ADAM and PDM sub-munitions are called "the perfect dirty bombs" as each has a uranium casing filled with high explosives.

But these weapons are the proverbial double-edged swords. On detonation, uranium particles vaporize into a radioactive dust (uranium oxide) that coats everything within proximity. The dust can be swept high into the atmosphere, where upper level winds redistribute toxins across national boundaries.

When inhaled, these nano-particles, 100 times smaller than a cell, follow the respiratory system to attack the master code of DNA, and disable the immune system. Uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, so contamination is permanent, and containment is impossible.

According to Leuren Moret, a geoscientist who has worked around the world on radiation issues, depleted uranium is coming back into the U.S. "in veterans' uniforms and trophies and bags." It's also coming back in their bodies, transferred through semen.

Moret cited a U.S. government study, conducted by the VA on post-Gulf War babies in a group of 251 soldiers in Mississippi who all had normal babies before the Gulf War. The study found 67 percent of their post-war babies were born with severe birth defects. Some were born without eyes (anophthalmos), ears, with missing organs, missing legs and arms, fused fingers, thyroid or other organ malformations. Moret said that in some families, the only healthy members are those born before the Gulf Wars.


As you might have guessed, DU is indiscriminate in inflicting harm:

The health repercussions in Iraq are unprecedented. In babies born in 2002, the incidence of anophthalmos was 250,000 times greater (20 cases in 4,000 births) than the natural occurrence, one in 50 million births...

And it turns the WMD snipe hunt on it's head:

In fact, the effects of DU meet U.S. government standards of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Joint Publication 1-02, WMDs are "Weapons that are capable of a high order of destruction and/or of being used in such a manner as to destroy large numbers of people. Weapons of mass destruction can be high explosives or nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons."

"DU is illegal in any sense of the imagination," said Dr. Doug Rokke, a retired U.S. Army Major, nuclear health physicist, and the Pentagon's expert on the health effects of DU ammunition on the battlefield. Rokke was director of the Army's DU project, and wrote the Army regulations for handling and clean up for DU -- regulations he says the U.S. government is blatantly refusing to enforce. Today, although US Army Regulation 700-48 requires DOD officials to provide medical care to all DU casualties and clean up DU contamination, Rokke said they simply refuse to do so.


In other words, WE are the source of WMD in Iraq--and our WMD's are inflicting permanent damage without regard to soldier, civilian, terrorist (or nationality--I'd guess that, if a study was conducted, it would show that contamination has spread throughout the region, as dust storms spread DU across borders).

There are any number of words that could be used to describe this, but none are particularly pleasant: "criminal," "inhumane," "lunatic," etc., but any consideration must conclude that it's just plain wrong--and more than a little nuts.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Know Your Angry Arab

Last week The Los Angeles Times profiled As'ad AbuKhalil aka The Angry Arab of Angry Arab News Service.

You could call this the happy news segment of the day here.
Smells Like Abu Ghraib Spirit

Hmmm. This is interesting:

WASHINGTON — U.S. Marines forcibly detained a team of security guards working for an American engineering firm in Iraq after reportedly witnessing the contractors fire at U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians from an armed convoy, the military said Tuesday.

After three days of detention in jail cells at a U.S. military base in Iraq, 19 employees of North Carolina-based Zapata Engineering, including 16 Americans, were released last week.

All have resigned from the company and are returning home, U.S. and company officials said.

The employees have said that the incident in Fallouja last month was a case of mistaken identity. Several have accused the Marines of verbally and physically abusing them while they were in custody.

A Marine Corps spokesman denied that any abuse had taken place and said an investigation was continuing. No Iraqis or Americans were injured in the incident that prompted the arrests.

"The Americans were segregated from the rest of the detainee population and, like all security detainees, were treated humanely and respectfully," Lt. Col. David Lapan said Tuesday in an e-mail confirming the incident...

The incident has also raised new questions about the treatment of captives by U.S. military forces. Several of the detained Zapata employees said that they were stripped and threatened by a snarling military dog while Marines jeered and took photos.

"I never in my career have treated anybody so inhumane," one of the contractors, Rick Blanchard, a former Florida state trooper, wrote in an e-mail message. "They treated us like insurgents, roughed us up, took photos, hazed us, called us names."...

Mark Schopper, a lawyer for two of the contractors, said that his clients, both former Marines, were subjected to "physical and psychological abuse."

He said his clients told him that Marines had "slammed around" several contractors, stripped them to their underwear and placed a loaded weapon near their heads.

"How does it feel to be a big, rich contractor now?" the Marines shouted at the men, Schopper said, in an apparent reference to the large salaries security contractors can make in Iraq.

He also said that during their detention, the workers' relatives in the United States received phone calls from people with American accents threatening to kill their loved ones if they talked about the incident.

Schopper said he had contacted the FBI and his congressman, Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), about the incident.

"It was repulsive, appalling treatment," the attorney said.

Jana Crowder, the founder of a support group for the wives of American contractors in Iraq, said she had been in contact with two wives of the detained men.

She said the men were not allowed to call their families or others during their detention.


Just another day in Operation-Goddamn-if-it-isn't-Utterly-Falling-Apart...
Just Sign Here (and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye)

From Steve Gilliard, who cites Kos as the source:

Link.

For mom Marcia Cobb and her teenage son Axel, the white letters USMC on their caller ID soon spelled, "Don't answer the phone!"

Marine recruiters began a relentless barrage of calls to Axel as soon as the mellow, compliant Sedro-Woolley High School grad had cut his 17th birthday cake. And soon it was nearly impossible to get the seekers of a few good men off the line...

Axel's father, a Marine Corps vet who served in Vietnam, died when Axel was 4.

Clearly the recruiters knew all that and more.

"You don't want to be a burden to your mom," they told him. "Be a man." "Make your father proud." Never mind that, because of his own experience in the service, Marcia says enlistment for his son is the last thing Axel's dad would have wanted.

The next weekend, when Marcia went to Seattle for the Folklife Festival and Axel was home alone, two recruiters showed up at the door.

Axel repeated the family mantra, but he was feeling frazzled and worn down by then. The sergeant was friendly but, at the same time, aggressively insistent. This time, when Axel said, "Not interested," the sarge turned surly, snapping, "You're making a big (bleeping) mistake!"

Next thing Axel knew, the same sergeant and another recruiter showed up at the LaConner Brewing Co., the restaurant where Axel works. And before Axel, an older cousin and other co-workers knew or understood what was happening, Axel was whisked away in a car.

"They said we were going somewhere but I didn't know we were going all the way to Seattle," Axel said.

Just a few tests. And so many free opportunities, the recruiters told him.

He could pursue his love of chemistry. He could serve anywhere he chose and leave any time he wanted on an "apathy discharge" if he didn't like it. And he wouldn't have to go to Iraq if he didn't want to.

At about 3:30 in the morning, Alex was awakened in the motel and fed a little something. Twelve hours later, without further sleep or food, he had taken a battery of tests and signed a lot of papers he hadn't gotten a chance to read. "Just formalities," he was told. "Sign here. And here. Nothing to worry about."

By then Marcia had "freaked out."

She went to the Burlington recruiting center where the door was open but no one was home. So she grabbed all the cards and numbers she could find, including the address of the Seattle-area testing center.

Then, with her grown daughter in tow, she high-tailed it south, frantically phoning Axel whose cell phone had been confiscated "so he wouldn't be distracted during tests."

Axel's grandfather was in the hospital dying, she told the people at the desk. He needed to come home right away. She would have said just about anything.

But, even after being told her son would be brought right out, her daughter spied him being taken down a separate hall and into another room. So she dashed down the hall and grabbed him by the arm.

"They were telling me I needed to 'be a man' and stand up to my family," Axel said.

What he needed, it turned out, was a lawyer.

Five minutes and $250 after an attorney called the recruiters, Axel's signed papers and his cell phone were in the mail.

My request to speak with the sergeant who recruited Axel and with the Burlington office about recruitment procedures went unanswered.

And so should your phone, Marcia Cobb advised. Take your own sweet time. Keep your own counsel. And, if you see USMC on caller ID, remember what answering the call could mean.


Geez.

And why aren't the wingnuts jumping over each other and lining up at the recruiter's door? Could it be that they're chickenhawks? Um, yes.

I doubt anyone needs to be reminded of the dismal number of new enlistees in the military--but let's note for the record that the reason behind this decline can be traced to Operation-Fix-the-Intelligence-and-Facts-Around-the-Policy--who the would join the military right now, when the only sure thing is multiple combat tours in a desert hellhole?
Spreading the News

The latest from YRHT caught my attention, and I'll pass along what he says:

...since the folks at Kos are treating a recent Nation story as breaking news, and Avarosis is calling upon Louisianans (among others) to promote the fact... who am I to argue? (I'd personally prefer to wait and let Perkins announce his candidacy for Senate or Guv, but I won't slow the momentum if it's building. He's powerful enough as it is right now.) Since everyone's scouring old Nation articles for Perkins stories, they shouldn't neglect this choice piece. (Preview: guess who used to be a constable in Baton Rouge, one who chose to break his oath to enforce the law during that wonderous "Summer of Purpose"?)


I'll take Cross Burners for $82,000, Alex.

Check out all the posts linked to above--you won't be all that surprised, although (no pun intended) the brazeness of the GOP is, as usual, pretty astounding.
My Two Cents

This post from The Editors sums up about as well as anything my feelings re: Howard Dean's recent statements. He takes a point made by David Sirota that's about as dead on accurate as it gets and adds his own observation...

Short version: Sirota accurately criticizes Joe Klein's contention that divisive politics are a non-starter in the US. The GOP is, at present, the sina qua non of political divisiveness, and, not coincidentally, control all three branches of government. The Editors note, though, that electoral success doesn't necessarily make for successful governing (e.g., The Bugman himself, Tom DeLay--of course, you could also throw in a pResident called Dubya, but the point's made).

Check out both posts--and I'll merely note I've mentioned before (but don't really feel like searching through the archives) that the political system here is almost by design made for negative politics. Despite the regular disclaimers coming from all politicians that they "dislike" negative campaigning, the fact is that it works. It's a LOT easier to point to and exploit flaws in an opponent than to come up with easy to define positive attributes, and those who do this best, i.e., the GOPers, tend to be more successful.

The Rude Pundit, as usual, has his own take on Dean. And it's a lot closer to my own position than, say, Billmon's.

Dean, of course, might want to refine his language just a bit, in order to reduce the possibility that dingbat wingnuts GOP pundits have a chance to do a little bit of exploiting themselves. But the fact that he's firing, as opposed to ducking, is a good beginning. It's up to the Democrats themselves to follow up and hit the GOP where it hurts--which is almost everywhere.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Few Thousand Words

Unlike the grainy, small .wmv file I saw yesterday, this photo essay on Fallujah has crisp, easy-to-view photographs. "Freedom" means "getting pulverized," I guess.

Note: the photos are all of physical destruction of buildings, etc.--with no heart wrenching shots of shattered corpses. Still, it's easy to imagine what went on there.
Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein MARC

The folks at MARC, the metrorail between Baltimore and Washington, adoped a, shall we say, nostalgic look for their "report suspicious behavior" posters.

Judge for yourself:


"psst--catch you at the book burning later?"
(From DailyKos and America Blog).
Fit to Print?

Big Media must have an awful lot of other things to write about:

BAGHDAD, Iraq The military says four guards and six prisoners have minor injuries after a riot at the Abu Ghraib prison run by U-S forces in Iraq.

The military says a "disturbance" broke out Sunday after an inmate was caught trying to escape during a heavy sandstorm. Prisoners threw rocks at light generators and guards.


That's from KLFY in Lafayette. Earlier today, Juan Cole posted a link to Forbes, which doesn't add much by way of details. And Rumsfeld has yet to find a few bad apples he can lay blame on.
Just Another Example

This, I guess, will be filed under "Why Am I Not Surprised--at ALL?:"

A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved.

Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues. Before coming to the White House in 2001, he was the "climate team leader" and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training.


"Climate team leader" at the API? That sort of sounds like being the chaplain in charge of moral issues at a holy roller church in Tangipahoa Parish the local whorehouse...but without a divinity degree (or perhaps just a piece of parchment from a diploma mill).

A White House spokeswoman, Michele St. Martin, said today that Mr. Cooney would not be made available to comment. "We don't put Phil Cooney on the record," she said. "He's not a cleared spokesman."

Tbogg said it best: But he is cleared for rewrites.
Homeland Security

Last week I was scrambling around for a book of matches, seeing as how lighters are now contraband items on airline flights...

The planes are safe from butane's scourge.

But the border? That's a different matter.*

*If I'd come across this person, I would've been running as far and as fast from the border as my legs would carry me.
Dumbo the Younger

Maybe it's just me, but whenever I manage adopt a state of mind capable of listening to Dubya, I notice his minor league brain latches on to a pitiful justification for Operation-Leap-Into-Mesopotamian-Quicksand:

And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.

It's become his version of Cato the Elder's "Delenda Carthago!"

Bush, like Cato, is quite capable of bogotry and false displays of moral behavior, but that's where the similarities end.

However, over and over again he spits out this memorized phrase, usually following up with a used car salesman's grin.

One thing that amazes me about the neo-cons and their minions is their stupidity and stubborness, manifested in quotes like Dubya's noted above. They fail at basic elements of comprehension--for instance, regarding Iraq, there is indeed a case to be made for countering the viciousness of Saddam Hussein...yet, there's also a case to be made for whether or not it is--or was--in the strategic interest of the United States to launch an invasion in March 2003. Of course, when the preferred rhetorical device of the average neo-con is a mix of high pitched babble, ad homenim attacks on one's patriotism, and out and out threats, it becomes difficult to counter with anything resembling a reasoned approach. And, of course, there's the reaction to 9/11, which Karl Rove cynically used to his advantage in pushing through the 2002 war resolution.

The ouster of Saddam Hussein isn't a bad thing--but to imply that he needed to be taken out at any price is, well, stupid and stubborn. And, I think the public is beginning to understand this. To use an anology: having a car is nice, but it's pretty foolish to spend $50,000 dollars on a Yugo.

Bush might think that's a great deal--but he's never had to worry a whole lot about the consequences of deals he's made. In the past, Dubya alway could rely on bailouts. However, this time, it's the entire country that now has to deal with paying for the Yugo of occupations, and I get the feeling they're not liking it a whole lot. The thing stinks, leaks, doesn't start, and never gets you where you're going. 1700 dead soldiers, 15,000 injured soldiers, almost $200 billion dollars (AND the upwards of 100,000 Iraqi casualties, although I'll admit that most Americans probably don't care an awful lot about them OR the loss of our reputation internationally with the revelations about Abu Graib, Guantanamo, etc.)--anyway, that's a mighty high price to pay for something that so clearly doesn't work.

Bush might have been trying to "destroy Carthage." But the first shot was aimed solidly at our collective foot, and now he's loading--and AIMING--at the same place again.
Not Exactly Uplifting

To contrast with the post below, which mentions local news, here's an anti-"happy news segment," courtesy of Whiskey Bar. Check out the whole thing, but here's a nice, mood dampening paragraph near the conclusion:

...there's no guarantee history will repeat, particularly given the increasingly authoritarian leanings of the American people. One recent Gallup poll, for example, found that the three most popular institutions in the country are now the military, the police and organized religion, in that order.

And--there ARE kittens over at The Poor Man.
Confession of a Former Neo-Con

From The Poor Man:

Two years ago I was a neocon. I supported Bush’s war on Iraq and I called everyone who didn’t a liberal Kool-aid drinker. I voted for Bush in 2000 and I listened to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and just about any right-winger on the radio that I could get a four-word talking point from to use against liberals. I would say things such as "liberals won’t defend America," "shut up and sing," "freedom is on the march," and "you’re a great American." I supported the war at first because I bought into the lies and propaganda.

I no longer do. I’m a recovering neocon.

I couldn’t believe these liberals. I was outraged. The audacity of them to question our President during a time of war! I listened to similar sentiments on right wing radio while driving to work to reinforce my belief.

Little did I know at the time, but I was an important part of the neocon movement. I was but a tiny wheel in the machine of neoconservatism, but the survival of the neocon agenda depends on millions of us tiny wheels, or it cannot go anywhere. Most of all the neocon agenda depends on a much bigger wheel, the media. For the neocon machine to roll, the big wheel of the media must pull the millions of tiny wheels without the tiny wheels knowing they are being pulled.

This is a difficult trick that requires the media to be an active participant in government deception. To imply that they do so knowingly would be too conspiratorial, and it would be too grand an operation to be plausible. In truth, the mainstream media doesn’t believe they are participating in lies.

During the build-up to the war they were being pulled without knowing it, by the engine of the U. S. government. This swarm of nationalism begat a pro-American media, a complacent media, a lapdog media and a corporate media that to this day will not inform the American public...

But the tiny wheels still want to call the media liberal. The tiny wheels still want to say the media isn’t reporting the good things happening in Iraq. Most of all the tiny wheels do not know about the big wheel that’s pulling them. But now I do. That’s why I am an ex-neocon and I am in recovery. It’s more clear to me now than ever that the most American thing one can do is speak out against the actions of their country because it means you love your country.

And in the end it doesn’t matter if we are liberals or conservatives because all that matters is that we are on the side of the U.S. Constitution and of international law. Both of which have been thrown into the toilet by this administration. At least the Qur’an has company.


Last year, I kept 'wondering why' (warning: dripping sarcasm) the media refused to acknowledge, much less report, on the large numbers of GOP registrees who announced they were voting Democratic...on the other hand, the local news, i.e., the rookie league for Future Fox Broadcasters of America, made sure to focus on candidate Kerry's less than-stellar-report-card last night.

Anyway, my point is simply that Drew O'Neill isn't exactly alone in finally awakening from the Bush induced stupor, but don't expect too much reportage on this by the media...unless Team Bush drives the country off the cliff...which, come to think of it...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Cutting Friedman Down to Size

Well, if Tom Friedman really WAS cut down to size, you'd need an electron microscope to view him...but a wide angle lens to catch even a slice of his ego.

That said, Riverbend does a decent enough job in her most recent penultimate post, which came out last week:

One thing I found particularly amusing about the article- and outrageous all at once-was in the following paragraph:

"Religiously, if you want to know how the Sunni Arab world views a Shiite's being elected leader of Iraq, for the first time ever, think about how whites in Alabama would have felt about a black governor's being installed there in 1920. Some Sunnis do not think Shiites are authentic Muslims, and they are indifferent to their brutalization."

Now, it is always amusing to see a Jewish American journalist speak in the name of Sunni Arabs. When Sunni Arabs, at this point, hesitate to speak in a representative way about other Sunni Arabs, it is nice to know Thomas L. Friedman feels he can sum up the feelings of the "Sunni Arab world" in so many words. His arrogance is exceptional.

It is outrageous because for many people, this isn't about Sunnis and Shia or Arabs and Kurds. It's about an occupation and about people feeling that they do not have real representation. We have a government that needs to hide behind kilometers of barbed wire and meters and meters of concrete- and it's not because they are Shia or Kurdish or Sunni Arab- it's because they blatantly supported, and continue to support, an occupation that has led to death and chaos.

The paragraph is contemptible because the idea of a "Shia leader" is not an utterly foreign one to Iraqis or other Arabs, no matter how novel Friedman tries to make it seem. How dare he compare it to having a black governor in Alabama in the 1920s? In 1958, after the July 14 Revolution which ended the Iraqi monarchy, the head of the Iraqi Sovereignty Council (which was equivalent to the position of president) was Mohammed Najib Al-Rubayi- a Shia from Kut. From 1958 - 1963, Abdul Karim Qassim, a Shia also from Kut in the south, was the Prime Minister of Iraq (i.e. the same position Jaffari is filling now). After Abdul Karim Qassim, in 1963, came yet another Shia by the name of Naji Talib as prime minster. Even during the last regime, there were two Shia prime ministers filling the position for several years- Sadoun Humadi and Mohammed Al-Zubaidi.

In other words, Sunni Arabs are not horrified at having a Shia leader (though we are very worried about the current Puppets' pro-Iran tendencies). Friedman seems to conveniently forget that while the New Iraq's president was a polygamous Arab Sunni- Ghazi Al-Yawir- the attacks were just as violent. Were it simply a matter of Sunnis vs. Shia or Arabs vs. Kurds, then Sunni Arabs would have turned out in droves to elect "Al Baqara al dhahika" ("the cow that laughs" or La Vache Qui Rit- it's an Iraqi joke) as Al-Yawir is known amongst Iraqis.

This sentence,

"Some Sunnis do not think Shiites are authentic Muslims, and they are indifferent to their brutalization."

...Is just stupid. Friedman is referring to Sunni extremists without actually saying that. But he doesn't add that some Shia extremists also feel the same way about Sunnis. I'm sure in the "Christian World" there are certain Catholics who feel that way about Protestants, etc. Iraqis have intermarried and mixed as Sunnis and Shia for centuries. Many of the larger Iraqi tribes are a complex and intricate weave of Sunnis and Shia. We donĂ‚’t sit around pointing fingers at each other and trying to prove who is a Muslim and who isn't and who deserves compassion and who deserves brutalization.

Friedman says,

"If the Arab world, its media and its spiritual leaders, came out and forcefully and repeatedly condemned those who mount these suicide attacks, and if credible Sunnis are given their fair share in the Iraqi government, I am certain a lot of this suicide bombing would stop"

The Arab world's spiritual and media leaders have their hands tied right now. Friedman better hope Islamic spiritual leaders don't get involved in this mess because the first thing they'd have to do is remind the Islamic world that according to the Quran, the Islamic world may not be under the guardianship or command of non-Muslims- and that wouldn't reflect nicely on an American occupation of Iraq.

Friedman wonders why thousands upon thousands protested against the desecration of the Quran and why they do not demonstrate against terrorism in Iraq. The civilian bombings in Iraq are being done by certain extremists, fanatics or militias. What happened in Guantanamo with the Quran and what happens in places like Abu Ghraib is being done systematically by an army- an army that is fighting a war- a war being funded by the American people. That is what makes it outrageous to the Muslim world.

In other words, what happens in Iraq is terrorism, while what happens to Iraqis and Afghanis and people of other nationalities under American or British custody is simply "counter-insurgency" and "policy". It makes me naseous to think of how outraged the whole world was when those American POW were shown on Iraqi television at the beginning of the war- clean, safe and respectfully spoken to. Even we were upset with the incident and wondered why they had to be paraded in front of the world like that. We actually had the decency to feel sorry for them.

Friedman focuses on the Sunni Arab world in his article but he fails to mention that the biggest demonstrations were not in the Arab world- they happened in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. He also fails to mention that in Iraq, the largest demonstration against the desecration of the Quran was actually organized, and attended by, Shia.

Luckily for Iraqis, and in spite of Thomas Friedman, the majority of Sunnis and Shia just want to live in peace as Muslims- not as Sunnis and Shia.
Ah, Diplomacy

I actually saw this Sunday, but in an printed copy of the paper:

John R. Bolton flew to Europe in 2002 to confront the head of a global arms-control agency and demand he resign, then orchestrated the firing of the unwilling diplomat in a move a U.N. tribunal has since judged unlawful, according to officials involved.


GROPING for, um, an answer...

Geez--makes you wonder how he managed at Plato's Retreat...well, on the other hand, maybe I DON'T want to know any of those details...

[Jose] Bustani, who says he got a "menacing" phone call from Bolton at one point, was removed by a vote of just one-third of member nations at an unusual special session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), at which the United States cited alleged mismanagement in calling for his ouster.

Seems as if Mr. Bustani held the then untenable position that illegal weapons in Iraq was a matter best left first to inspections--but that would have meant skipping out on all the fun of an invasion.

Of course, the subsequent deaths resulting from all the fun aren't all that funny--are they?

So, let's see...down in Guantanamo there's the Freedom Prison, which, as Juan Cole correctly notes, is more indicative of Team Bush's opinion of the Bill of Rights than anything else--and John Bolton is the personification of what they think of the UN.

And here's what they think of the people they were so keen on "liberating."
Bailout For Boeing

Can't say I'm too surprised at this--IIRC, when this first became public knowledge, it was pretty evident that it was little more than a subsidy to the jet maker:

For the past three years, the Air Force has described its $30 billion proposal to convert passenger planes into military refueling tankers and lease them from Boeing Co. as an efficient way to obtain aircraft the military urgently needs.

But a very different account of the deal is shown in an August 2002 internal e-mail exchange among four senior Pentagon officials.

"We all know that this is a bailout for Boeing," Ronald G. Garant, an official of the Pentagon comptroller's office, said in a message to two others in his office and then-Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Wayne A. Schroeder. "Why don't we just bite the bullet," he asked, and handle the acquisition like the procurement of a 1970s-era aircraft -- by squeezing the manufacturer to provide a better tanker at a decent cost?

"We didn't need those aircraft either, but we didn't screw the taxpayer in the process," Garant added, referring to widespread sentiment at the Pentagon that the proposed lease of Boeing 767s would cost too much for a plane with serious shortcomings.

Garant's candid advice, which top Air Force officials did not follow, is disclosed for the first time in a new 256-page report by the Pentagon's inspector general. It provides an extraordinary glimpse of how the Air Force worked hand-in-glove with one of its chief contractors -- the financially ailing Boeing -- to help it try to obtain the most costly government lease ever.


But, hey--what's $30 billion between friends?
Goon Squad

Ouch...literally:

Whistleblower Tommy Hook is still hospitalized today after being brutally assaulted over the weekend. A group of three to four assailants threatened Hook to keep silent, in apparent reference to his upcoming Congressional testimony on fraud at the Los Alamos National Laboratory...

Mr. Hook had planned at the end of last week to meet an individual who claimed to have corroborating information about fraud at Los Alamos. That individual never attended the meeting. Late Saturday evening, someone who might have been posing as that individual called Mr. Hook and asked to meet with him at a bar in Santa Fe. He went to the bar and waited but that person never showed up. When Mr. Hook got into his car to leave, attackers pulled him out of the car and brutally assaulted him. The assailants threatened Mr. Hook to keep silent. A bouncer at the bar intervened and broke up the attack. Mr. Hook was hospitalized in an Emergency Room with severe trauma to his face and head, including a fractured jaw, and a herniated disk. He is heavily medicated today and unable to speak to the media.

Audit reports conducted by Mr. Hook and Mr. [Chuck] Montano in 2002-2004 found a disturbing pattern of financial irregularities in the Los Alamos Lab' procurement division. In compliance with Department of Energy (DOE) requirements, Mr. Hook and Mr. Montano produced a report assessing the Lab's contracting operations. Lab supervisors refused to allow the report to be submitted to DOE, instead submitting a report that glossed over the problems identified by Mr. Hook and Mr. Montano.


I doubt any law and order types in the GOP will comment on this, much less condemn and/or call for the arrest of those who beat this guy up.
Basra Blues

From The Rude Pundit, here's a bit of news you won't likely see in the US press, which tends to focus as narrow a lens as possible on Operation Closing in on $200 Billion in Costs Thus Far:

The chief of police in Basra admitted yesterday that he had effectively lost control of three-quarters of his officers and that sectarian militias had infiltrated the force and were using their posts to assassinate opponents.
Speaking to the Guardian, General Hassan al-Sade said half of his 13,750-strong force was secretly working for political parties in Iraq's second city and that some officers were involved in ambushes.

Other officers were politically neutral but had no interest in policing and did not follow his orders, he told the Guardian.

"I trust 25% of my force, no more."

The claim jarred with Basra's reputation as an oasis of stability and security and underlined the burgeoning influence of Shia militias in southern Iraq.


Basra--where things are supposed to be stable...

"Some of the police are involved in assassinations," said Gen Sade. "I am trying to sort this out, for example by putting numbers on police cars so they can be identified."

In March, police watched impassively as their friends in the Mahdi army members beat up scores of university students at a picnic deemed immoral because music was played and couples mingled. Gen Sade identified the officers, but did not punish them for fear of provoking the militia.


Admittedly, compared to the rest of Iraq (north, west, and somewhat east, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld), things are certainly better...then again, if everyone else is completely covered in shit you're definitely better off if you're only partially covered in shit...but that doesn't mean you can amble off and, say, catch a bite to eat at a nice place before hosing off...

Monday, June 06, 2005

Worse Than My Apartment

Rising Hegemon focused on one part of an article that's been linked to quite a bit lately, Rod Nordland's parting glance at Baghdad:

The four-square-mile Green Zone, the one place in Baghdad where foreigners are reasonably safe, could be a showcase of American values and abilities. Instead the American enclave is a trash-strewn wasteland of Mad Max-style fortifications. The traffic lights don't work because no one has bothered to fix them. The garbage rarely gets collected. Some of the worst ambassadors in U.S. history are the GIs at the Green Zone's checkpoints. They've repeatedly punched Iraqi ministers, accidentally shot at visiting dignitaries and behave (even on good days) with all the courtesy of nightclub bouncers—to Americans and Iraqis alike...

That one paragraph probably explains, as much as anything, Operation-Dump-The-Bucket- of-Shit-on-Us-RIGHT-NOW.

And I wonder what sort of creative lies the wingnuts will come up with to lay blame on liberals...
Multimedia Monday

For various reasons I hit Harry Shearer's home page, where you can download a free .mp3 of a song entitled Hard Work. It might be a good idea to not drink anything while you're listening, or you might fry your keyboard...
Must See TV

And I don't mean Debra Messing--I just spent the last twenty minutes or so watching this streaming media entitled Falluja-The Day After. Short version: the video, shot after the US offensive but before residents were allowed to return, can be summed up as "shattered people, shattered buildings."

This, by US military standards, is "victory." This explains why we've lost in Iraq.

Last week, while I took a break from the internets, I read a book about a region of Louisiana known as the Florida Parishes (East Baton Rouge, where I live, is the westernmost Florida Parish). The book was a comprehensive history, but of course substantial sections were devoted to the Civil War and immediate aftermath. And, one thing that the author noted over and over was heavy-handed tactics by the (outsider) Federal Army...which, while being "successful" in a military sense, alienated the local people to such an extent that they embraced even more tightly the Confederate cause, which resulted in additional violence, and so on--a downward spiral.

Too bad the military apparently hasn't taken such experiences to heart...
Supreme Court: Don't Bogart That Joint...

I'll give a small number of extra points to the person writing the headline to this article: High Court Allows Prosecution of Medical Marijuana Users. But the underlying legal reasoning calls for deductions to the point of a failing grade:

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing the 6-3 decision, said that Congress could change the law to allow medical use of marijuana.

The closely watched case was an appeal by the Bush administration in a case involving two seriously ill California women who use marijuana. The court said the prosecution of pot users under the federal Controlled Substances Act was constitutional.

"I'm going to have to be prepared to be arrested," said Diane Monson, one of the women involved in the case.

Stevens said the court was not passing judgment on the potential medical benefits of marijuana, and he noted "the troubling facts" in the case. Monson's backyard crop of six marijuana plants was seized by federal agents in 2002, although the California law was on Monson's side.

In a dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that states should be allowed to set their own rules.

Under the Constitution, Congress may pass laws regulating a state's economic activity so long as it involves "interstate commerce" that crosses state borders. The California marijuana in question was homegrown, distributed to patients without charge and without crossing state lines...

Stevens said there are other legal options for patients, "but perhaps even more important than these legal avenues is the democratic process, in which the voices of voters allied with these (California women) may one day be heard in the halls of Congress."

California's medical marijuana law, passed by voters in 1996, allows people to grow, smoke or obtain marijuana for medical needs with a doctor's recommendation. Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state have laws similar to California.

In those states, doctors generally can give written or oral recommendations on marijuana to patients with cancer, HIV and other serious illnesses.

"The states' core police powers have always included authority to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens," said O'Connor, who was joined in her dissent by two other states' rights advocates: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas.

The legal question presented a dilemma for the court's conservatives, who have pushed to broaden states' rights in recent years. They earlier invalidated federal laws dealing with gun possession near schools and violence against women on the grounds the activity was too local to justify federal intrusion.


Oh, and I'll note for the record my surprise at being on the same side of an issue as Rhenquist and Thomas, the evil twins of injustice, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Of course, on the broader topic of hemp prohibition--well, I could write a goddamned dissertation on why it's so dumb. But since most of y'all already know the arguments (and, no, I'm NOT one of those people who think hemp could save the planet--but I DO think there are many practical uses for the plant...and one very pleasant reason to boot)--anyway, I'll leave out the essay and note that I really wish the term "High Court" actually described a mental state--THAT might usher in real respect for individual rights...
That Was the Week That Was and Wasn't

Whew, what a week to take for vacation...Mark Felt outs himself, reminding everyone of the viciousness and mendacity of Dick Nixon--who now looks like a piker compared to the fools at the top of today's slag heap. Still, though, it was a bit of a hoot to read or hear some of that era's collection of--I was going to say swine, but that's an insult to good pigs everywhere...how about "collection of plasmodial slime molds" instead?

Aside: Ben Stein's demented rant is perhaps the most hilarious and vicious--he manages to contort himself into the political argument that Woodstein and the Post are responsible for Cambodia. If/when Stein alerts us to the imminent arrival of the mother ship, I'll let you know.

Dick Cheney (see idiot no. 5) achieved a histrionic triumph, pronouncing himself "offended" by AI's use of the term "gulag" in describing the, um, gulag of, to paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, the known and unknown prisons operated by this country (not to mention the "known unknown" facilities). Meanwhile, the Bush administration's indignant denial of Koran abuse at the known detention facility at Guantanamo turned out to be a case of "they doth protest too much."

Re: Iraq, this WaPo article caught my eye, because I have the same attitude and I also was rather (no pun intended) amazed last week when CBS found the flimsiest of silver linings following that day's series of car bombs--according to the Tiffany Network, the "good" news is that Iraq might be running out of people willing to blow themselves up. I dunno--maybe Scott McClellan a high level administration official now must personally approve their nightly script.

James Wolcott emerged from a vacation of his own and came back swinging. He cites William S. Lind's Wreck it and Run article, which is about as "must read" as there is...so please give it a look if you've got the time. And you've gotta love Wolcott's opening lines:

Donald Rumsfeld, whose Steely Resolve more and more resembles aluminum siding, is a man unafraid of confronting the full spectrum of America's enemies from Al Qaeda to Amnesty International. Some say he is too zealous in defending our freedom. Too candid. Too cocksure. Too unwilling to accept counsel and criticism. Too wedded to his overriding vision of military transformation.

Those some sayers are right.

His retirement as Secretary of Defence will leave a trail of ruination as its legacy that will stretch forward into the indeterminate future.


No shiite. Wolcott also cites Immanuel Wallerstein, who, in this article, nicely summarizes 50 years of US policy in the region--and the train wreck that's been the policy of the last four:

When you're a powerful country, it's hard not to play with fire. But the Bush regime has been particularly reckless. Take for example the triangle Iran, Iraq, the United States. The history is well-known. The first famous CIA intervention anywhere was in Iran, way back in 1953...

What President Bush seemed to expect in 2003 is that the U.S. would be able to install, rather rapidly, a friendly regime in Iraq, and then proceed to force a showdown with Iran. What they did not expect was a quite powerful resistance movement in Iraq, one which they now seem unable to contain seriously. What they did not expect was effective political pressure from the Shia to hold early elections that would give the Shia a majority in the government. What they did not expect was that the U.S. military would be so overstretched that there is now no way the U.S. can seriously consider undertaking any kind of military action to change the regime in Iran.

And least of all did they expect that it would be Iran that would be in a position to be the great diplomatic victor of the U.S. invasion. Take what happened on May, 15, 2005. The U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, made an unannounced visit to Baghdad, during which she spent her brief time half scolding, half pleading with the new Iraqi government, and all this is public. She said that the Iraqis should try to be more "inclusive," the code word for making more space for Sunni Arabs in the government. She cautioned against "severe" de-Baathification, meaning the inclusion in power of at least some of those who supported Saddam Hussein. Presumably, Rice thinks this might undermine the resistance to U.S. occupation and make it possible to reduce U.S. troop commitment to Iraq (the better to use them against Iran?). Curious turnaround where the U.S. Secretary of State is pleading on behalf of at least some ex-Baathists. And, as far as one can tell, to half-deaf ears. The analyses of the present Iraqi government, or rather its priorities, seem to be different.

Two days later, the Foreign Minister of Iran, Kamal Khazzeri, arrived for a far more successful four-day visit. He was greeted at the airport by Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Sunni and a Kurd, who broke into fluent Farsi. After three days, Iraq and Iran signed an agreement to end hostilities between them, in which the new Iraqi government agreed with Iran that the Iraq-Iran war was initiated by Saddam Hussein. The two countries renewed criticisms of Israel. If Bush thinks the new Iraqi government is going to join the U.S. in a crusade against Iran, that other member of the "axis of evil," he clearly has another think coming.

Relations between Iraq and Iran have now become normal, en route to becoming friendly. This is not what the neo-cons had envisaged when they launched the drive for a U.S.-led "democratization" of the Middle East. When the U.S. forces leave Iraq (probably sooner rather than later), Iran will still be around, and (thanks to the U.S.) stronger than ever.


Anyway, it was good to be gone, and now it's good to be back--spent the week not looking at the internets, so I'm still catching up...hopefully I'll have got back to within site of the lead pack by the end of the day.