Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Pretenders

Blackwater USA has been in the news (and this blog) a bit lately - and one question I've wondered is what does the military think of the mercenaries in their midst? Tom Rick's inbox in today's WaPo Outlook section has one answer to that.

Here's an excerpted list (not all of it was printable) from the Web site of retired Army Col. Patrick Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst of Middle Eastern affairs:

Blackwater Fever -- The Symptoms

A common disease among international contractors working in Iraq, Afghanistan and various other 3rd world hellholes. Frequently attacks young men with only 1 war or enlistment under their belt, State Dept agents, . . . anyone associated with an Ambassadors detail and occasional poseurs. BKWF has many symptoms; if you have the following you may be infected:

Large amount of primping, i.e. mousse in your hair despite the fact you live in a war zone.

Your forearms break out in tattoos, often tribal or USMC related.

Have used, currently using or consider using steroids.

Grow a beard to blend in with the locals, even though you are a 6ft tall blonde with a "Death before Dishonor" tattoo.

Think the UN pool is a good place to pickup chicks.

Are arrogant and condescending to people with more experience, training and who make more money than you.

Truly believe you look good in a Speedo.

Despite the fact there are laundry facilities available, you insist on wearing a dirty brown T-shirt with your blood type in black magic marker to work.

You have excellent kit.

Believe by running locals off the road you are winning their "hearts & minds."

Despite earning a six figure income you wear a ragged ball cap that has not ever been washed.

Your 9 man PSD [protective security detail] team consists of 34 men, 6 armored SUVs, 2 Army Stryker vehicles, an MP company, 2 "little birds" and 2 AH-64 gunships. With an AC-130 on call!

The most dangerous thing you have ever done is: PSD!

Often email pictures of yourself in body armor, weapons and kit to all your friends, family and anybody that you have their email address.

Believe people really give a [expletive] about seeing multiple pictures of you in your body armor, weapons and kit.

You have been seen wearing a black boonie hat, black shirt, black pants, black boots, black body armor, black ammo pouches and a MP5 [submachine gun] in a desert environment when it's 110 degrees.

You refer to yourself as a "rock n' roll mercenary."

Mr. President, we're actually alive, if not kicking too much...

I'm shocked, SHOCKED to inform you that I've discovered President Ahmadinejad lied to us last week at Columbia when he declared there are no homosexuals in Iran. Why, there are quite a few of them, and several agreed to talk with a New York Times reporter shortly after the speech in which their non-existence is declared. You can read the accounts of these formerly non-persons right here. Their life is closeted, just like all human rights campaigners, but reports of their non-existence are greatly exaggerated.

I was amused by Ahmedinejad's statements about homosexuality...they reminded me of those Soviet-American encounters during perestroika, in which Soviet citizens assured American visitors that "we have no AIDS, no child prostitution, no violent crime, no(name your social pathology here)________in the USSR." One woman on a Phil Donahue/Vlad Posner telebridge show became so wound up in rattling off this list that she memorably declared, "we have NO SEX in the Soviet Union!" That's since become a beloved moment even for ex-Soviets, something that always gets a laugh.

September 11 is over

This is the title of Tom Friedman's column today in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. I've long thought that the course of this nation following the attacks on the World Trade Center amounts to one continuous and disastrous overreaction and misdirection of energy and resources, the main example of which is the Iraq disaster. Not surprisingly, Friedman makes the case just a bit more cogently than I--this could have something to do with his exalted position in the international world of journalism vs. my little shared cubbyhole in the blogosphere--so you should go read him before you become distracted with Sunday's myriad tasks. I share his determination to vote for the candidate out there with the most "9/12" worldview, which pointedly excludes "America's Mayor."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Take Our Money and Run: Contractors in Iraq - Kellogg, Brown & Root

It almost seems unfair to draw your attention to Kellogg, Brown & Root's "work" in Iraq, after all, they are a subsidiary of Darth Cheney's favorite charity, Halliburton. But what the heck, KBR's work earns them their own place in the spotlight. KBR grabbed more than $19 billion in Iraq contracts, and a measly $1.8 billion in Afghanistan contracts (yes, once again, the nation that actually harbored the 9/11 terrorists plays second fiddle to the one that was led by a man who dissed W's father).

KBR is Halliburton's logistics group. And their $20.1 billion government contract helped drive the company to a $2.7 billion profit last year. That's not swiss cheese. But hey, I'm sure they've earned it, right? I guess that depends on whether or not you've listened to Barry Godfrey, who was a KBR employee until he complained to his supervisors that KBR was making fraudulent overcharges in its contracts.

Take Our Money and Run: Contractors in Iraq - Bechtel

Bechtel is not a new name to most of us. The construction company has been sucking up taxpayer dollars for many years now. And when one of your former directors happens to be Paul Bremer - well you know your path into Iraq war dollars is going to be smooth and plentiful. But wait, they didn't have to just rely on medal award winning Bremer - nope, old George Schultz, another Bechtel player, just happened to be the Chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (a fav amongst the neo-con crowd).

Bechtel's corporate officers have been doing very well for themselves off of our tax money. Their $1.3 billion contract for reconstruction work has been stalled due to dangers to their workers. I wonder what their excuse is for Iraq's Basra Children's Hospital. You might remember it - both Laura Bush and Condi Rice threw their voices behind the effort to help injured children. After all, who could turn down a chance to help injured children? Maybe the better question is- who could turn down a chance to profit off of them WITHOUT helping?

No surprise, Bechtel stepped up to meet the challenge! The company got a contract worth $50 million to build the hospital. One year later - the cost was over $165 million, Bechtel dropped off the project, and not a single child was being helped. But don't think that Bechtel only ripped us off a little - apparently the company met its objectives on less than 42% of the $1.8 billion in reconstruction contracts they received for Iraq.

From a MSNBC report: Auditors report on Bechtel's work noted that of their contracts, "Ten did not achieve their original objectives," the auditors found. In another three projects, "we were either unable to determine what the original objectives were or the achievements were unclear." The cost to American taxpayers for unfinished efforts was high: the U.S. government approved a total of $180 million dollars in payments for Bechtel’s ten allegedly unfinished projects. They include a $24 million water treatment plant in Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City, a $26 million children's hospital in Basra and a $4 million Baghdad landfill that was never built "The Bechtel audit is emblematic of the reconstruction problems in Iraq," said Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, whose office conducted the audit. Mark Tokala, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, characterized the audit's findings of unfinished projects as "a success rate of less than 42 percent."

Kudos to Bechtel for their rip off of the American public. I'm sure your corporate executives had a great time this summer vacationing and getting new homes on our tax dollars. You're welcome.

Take Our Money and Run: Contractors in Iraq - Parsons

Let's look at a few other winners in the Iraq war. You know these folks. They're the ones who have the multi-million dollar contracts to do help the government or military in Iraq. We're going to take a peak at some of the people who are making millions of tax-payer dollars in this boondoggle. They're doing well because we're paying companies several times more to complete tasks than it would cost if the government or military did it. They get to pocket our tax dollars, but what do we get in return?

In the case of Parsons Delaware, not a whole lot. Assigned to build and renovate barracks for the Iraqi police in Baghdad, Parsons (assisted here by the Army Corps of Engineers), created a barracks that leaked "urine and fecal matter" so badly that they were unusable. But no matter, the design drawings, which were "incomplete, inaccurate and substandard," didn't include things like a kitchen to go with the dining facility (maybe they were all going to order out?). After spending $450,000 on one building, it was almost immediately abandoned as unusable.

The report on this makes for interesting reading. Page iii notes, "Finally, as a result of the lack of oversight and poor project management by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the government paid Parsons approximately $5.3 million in base and award fees for substandard work." Yes, you read correctly - the money we gave Parsons included "award fees." Makes you want to tear your hair out, doesn't it. The report goes on to note that "the as-built drawings submitted by the contractor, in many cases, do not reflect the work that was actually done." Oops. How horrible of us to insist that not only do the drawings look good, but that the buildings actually work.

But wait, there's more! "The government estimates it will pay Parsons approximately $62 million for work both fully and partially completed. Additional contracts with OTHER contractors in excess of $8 million have been awarded to complete some of the construction work not finished by Parsons."

Yes, you read that correctly. Not only did we pay Parsons even though they screwed up the job, we paid a SECOND contractor over $8 million to do the work we had ALREADY PAID Parsons to do.

No, the Parsons idiocy is not new news. Unfortunately, as we've already noticed with the administration, government contractors also do not learn from history.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

And the winner of the Iraq war is...

NOT President Bush, for whom anything less than "victory" is unacceptable, but...IRAN, home of the biggest current bogey of the Bush administration, Ahmadinejad. Peter Galbraith explains in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. This is required reading for everybody.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Damn Liberal Media!

I mean really, here we are reading our paper and then we get to the opinions section and there's just op-ed piece after op-ed piece by some whining, knee-jerk liberal talking about ... oh wait, you mean there isn't?

Yes, despite the cries from the psycho right about that whole liberal media bias, apparently conservatives hold a nice large majority of the opinion pages. Media Matters took a look at the syndicated columnists in American papers. And guess what.

The results show that in paper after paper, state after state, and region after region, conservative syndicated columnists get more space than their progressive counterparts. As Editor & Publisher paraphrased one syndicate executive noting, "U.S. dailies run more conservative than liberal columns, but some are willing to consider liberal voices."

Read the survey for yourself at Media Matters because it's not just in loud annoying AM radio hosts where the conservatives dominate, it's on our editorial pages as well. Among their findings:

Sixty percent of the nation's daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists every week than progressive syndicated columnists. Only 20 percent run more progressives than conservatives, while the remaining 20 percent are evenly balanced.

In a given week, nationally syndicated progressive columnists are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of 125 million. Conservative columnists, on the other hand, are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of more than 152 million.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

More War, World War IV!

And speaking of discretionary the last issue of the New York Review of Books, Ian Buruma has a trenchant review of the new Norman Podhoretz book on the dangers of "Islamofascism," which Podhoretz claims are the basis for the next world conflagration. It's clear, as Buruma points out in this excerpt, that Podhoretz inhabits the same myopic parallel universe as the rest of the war supporters:

"Podhoretz is aware that not all world wars are alike. World War IV has its own special needs and strat-egies. Yet neither Podhoretz nor the "great president" he champions can resist the self-glorifying analogies of World War II. As Podhoretz observes, Bush in September 2001, in "expressing his determination to win the war... was mainly reaching back to the language of Winston Churchill." Churchill: "We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end." Bush: "We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail." When Churchill spoke, Britain was facing an imminent invasion by the biggest military power in Europe. Bush spoke after one ghastly act of terror by a handful of murderous fanatics mainly from Saudi Arabia."

Since this is the Bush world view redux, you would be tempted to dismiss it as old news, but this Podhoretz is chief foreign policy advisor to...Rudy Giuilani, the current Republican front-runner. We need to keep an eye on this campaign, because all indications are that if it succeeds, we could be headed for the World War IV Podhoretz's book seems to advocate. And that would absolutely be a discretionary war, because no credible historian of terrorism believes that Islamic extremism can be defeated exclusively by force of arms.

Rereading Siegfried Sassoon

A propos of Popessa's fine post on Iraq war deaths, I thought it might be a good idea to bring in Siegfried Sassoon for a brief comment. It is unthinkable to me that anyone would CHOOSE WAR, knowing anything about the course of events in the Great War or other discretionary conflicts, but our current leadership clearly did in Mesopotamia. Even though saying these things here is akin to preaching to the choir, I think we can't hear these words often enough:

HAVE you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same,—and War's a bloody game....
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz,—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, "Is it all going to happen again?"

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads, those ashen-grey 20
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you'll never forget.

When I was 20

When I was 20 years old, I was in college at the University of Oregon. Just out of high school a couple of years, I was still finding my footing in life, with myself, with the world and people. I was anything but a formed, confident human being. I was still learning what the world had to offer, and trying to figure out my place in it.

And it's that 20-year-old I think about when I see the Iraq/Afghanistan casualty figures - figures that list the ages of those killed. And I see numbers like 19, 20, 21, 22 float by week after week. One of the oldest adages in the world is that old men begin wars, and young men are sent to die. It's no different now than it has been before. Before the greatest generation were our parents and grandparents, they were 20 year old kids taking on Nazi Germany and Japan. So why do I feel this rush of grief here?

Is it the thousands of American lives ended before they really began? Young men and women (and I have to constantly remind myself not to call them boys and girls) dead before they were able to experience life? I think about the years between my 20-year-old self and my (much older-but not telling) self today. The things I've seen, done, learned and experienced. The wonder, beauty and excitement of life lived.

But these men and women aren't fighting to save the world for democracy - but fighting because a group of privileged old men (most of whom found ways to avoid fighting when their turn came during Vietnam) thought nothing of sending this generation out to fight for ... what? An endlessly changing list of reasons that collapse one after the other like dominoes upon examination. These young men and women have been sent to their deaths by the failed policies, lies and deception of their own government.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cue the twilight zone music...

Actually, I've been doing that a lot lately...I had a couple of opportunities to channel Rod Serling just today. The first came when I read Steve Coll's comment in the "talk of the town" column in this week's New Yorker. Apparently some people on the right, convinced that now the country is about to re-endorse Bush's "policy" in Iraq, are now referring to General David Petraeus as "Bush's Grant." In this scenario Bush, of course, becomes...(cough, cough)Abraham Lincoln(?!?!!!).

Then this afternoon, I was talking to a family friend, a sheep rancher, about a contentious point of English grammar. This fellow wondered whether you say, "It is HE," or "it is HIM," when asked "Who is it." I said I was reasonably sure he wanted "it is HE," adding that a lot of people use "him" even if they know better because it sounds affected. The guy nodded and replied, "Yes, even RUSH LIMBAUGH misuses it(!?!!!!)."

Can you believe that millions of our countrymen believe that George W. Bush is the Abraham Lincoln of the "war on terror" and that Rush LImbaugh is a towering intellect, even an oracle? There is probably more information from all parts of the globe available here than ever before, yet we still have a significant portion of the population living in what can only be described as a parallel universe, a fantasy world.

No wonder we are in so much trouble.

But Can They Track Lost Luggage?

Did you have a good summer vacation? If your trip took you outside the US, the Bush administration was on your tail. It doesn't matter how you traveled. Even if you took a cruise with Mickey Mouse on a Disney ship, our government was watching you. They know where you went, how long you stayed, what you took with you and what you brought back. And Homeland Security can hold onto that information for up to 15 years.

The WaPo is reporting about individuals who filed suit to see just which bits of our private information are being collected and stored by the Bush administration. They include John Gilmore, whose obtained file included a reference to the book he was reading, "Drugs and Your Rights." Said Gilmore, "My first reaction was I kind of expected it. My second reaction was, that's illegal."

The records requested and obtained by the Identity Project show some of YOUR information that is being collected: where you went, your profession, your associates, your race, "names, addresses and credit-card information, as well as telephone and e-mail contact details, itineraries, hotel and rental car reservations, and even the type of bed requested in a hotel." Although a DHS spokesman declared they were not interested in which Tom Clancy novel people were reading, the reports show otherwise. Then again, maybe if it was a Tom Clancy novel, they wouldn't mind. Be sure to hide your non-right-wing literature in a Clancy dust jacket!

From a link on IP's website: "The individual travel reservation (PNR) data information is pulled in its entirety by DHS rather than filtered and then pushed by the airlines. This means that a tremendous amount of highly personal information is vacuumed-up by the US government, analyzed, and stored. While DHS' Transportation Security Administration (TSA) states that flight records will be destroyed within days of the completion of travel, they say they will store the travel details of 'suspected terrorists' for decades. TSA defines all Americans as 'suspects', and will therefore never destroy any travel data collected. The sensitive information contained in an individual PNR vacuumed-up by DHS includes the telephone numbers of both the American and the number given to the airlines while abroad for contact if the flight is cancelled."

It will be interesting to see how this case develops, since DHS Trip doesn't permit travelers to challenge the agency decisions in court. Because, of course, the DHS Trip system is EXEMPTED from certain Privacy Act requirements.

Enjoy that next trip overseas.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Global Warming is Good for Business

Long after we settled down and realized that there just isn't a Northwest Passage, we up and made one for ourselves. According to scientists, this summer the Arctic sea ice has shrank to the smallest area on record. That meant that, according to the Telegraph, "The ice, which melts in summer months and regrows in the winter cold, shrank so much this year that the route became fully navigable for around five weeks."

How exciting! Of course we're still on track to lose millions of miles of coast land, habitats for uncounted species will be destroyed or disturbed, and sure, there will be issues of wild and uncontrollable weather that will kill millions of people, and sure it looks like there's going to be some interesting chest thumping by nations claiming some of that space, but we'll have the Northwest Passage!

For instance, the Edmonton Sun notes that: "From an economic standpoint, Canada's North holds potential for oil and gas extraction as well as diamond and uranium mining." And ABC News notes that: "Under that seafloor lie giant, but largely unexplored, oil and gas fields. Over it are new, warm-water fisheries, all now accessible as ice melts away."

Can't you just feel the tingles of excitement in CEOs around the world?

Good News(not Happy Talk)

There are two actual positive developments to report, just in time for your mellow Friday evening. The first is that an imam who once was a mentor to Osama bin Laden has publicly reproached him, an unprecedented event among clerics of his stature. This Saudi imam asked aloud whether Osama could approach Allah with the heavy burden of sin he was carrying. We have been waiting for someone to acknowledge what a catastrophe this man has been for Muslims worldwide, so this is a welcome development.

The second is that Buddhists have taken to the streets to picket one of the worst governments in the world, the military junta of Burma. Recall that Buddhist protests in then-south Vietnam toppled a terrible, repressive regime in l963--they didn't do it physically, of course, but pictures and video of Ngo Din Diem's "hounddogs" beating and kicking the non-violent Buddhists, to say nothing of the monk who immolated himself, brought about in Diem's demise just a few months later. The Buddhists are a mighty force, a scourge to rotten regimes everywhere. The Burma tyrants should be afraid, very afraid.

So let's celebrate a bit of genuine good news, news that shouldn't be confused with the administration's Happy Talk...

Mad for Teacher . . . Not

Way to go Stanford! The University's Hoover Institution has appointed none other than Mr. Iraqi Disaster himself, Donny Rumsfeld, as a "distinguished visiting fellow." Well, let's face it, Rummy has distinguished himself over the years as completely and utterly unable to fulfill his duties back at the Pentagon. A number of Stanford students & professors have protested the appointment. Although I don't know, I mean it might be a great idea to shove Rummy in front of a class and make him defend even one of his decisions as Secretary of Defense. Unfortunately for those students, Rummy won't be teaching. He'll just visit the campus a couple of times.

Apparently those who want to bring in Rummy consider him an "expert on the subjects that the panel will study." Hard to argue that. He was in the middle of it all, advised on some of the worst military decisions our country has made. The one-year appointment has reemphasized the gulf between the Institution and Stanford officials. I'm sure we can all hardly wait until Rummy's first appearance in the area. I'm already laying bets on how many students will be tasered for the sin of asking Rummy a question. Let alone any of us ask Rummy to answer for his crimes.

Please Tell Me This is a Joke

Life's too short to waste any of it listening to FOX news and neo-con pundits. Which is why I don't mention them much here at all. But I do enjoy looking through the Media Matters feed down to the right on this blog. And there was one I just couldn't resist clicking on. Bill O'Reilly of FOX news announced his surprise and shock that he had a nice dinner at a Black owned Harlem restaurant. These are the quotes:

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all."

I kept reading the article, waiting for the "hey, we just wrote this to see if you could be fooled by something so obviously stupid." But that didn't happen. Apparently the man actually SAID these things. Apparently he was serious.

What is even more apparent is that the man is a M-Fkng idiot.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Pickup Basketball" in Iraq

In today's Boston Globe, H.D.S. Greenaway offers an insightful analysis of US "policy" in Iraq, which he and the Washington Post's Dana Priest liken to a pickup basketball game in its fundamental haphazardness. Greenaway says,

"PERHAPS YOU know the one about the distraught man who goes to his rabbi and says life at home is unbearable. His wife is nagging, his children are screaming, his mother-in-law is constantly on his case, and the six dogs and 12 cats are always underfoot. The rabbi tells him to bring a goat into the house. The man reluctantly does as he's told, but two weeks later he's beside himself. The rabbi says: So take the goat out of the house. The man breathes a sigh of relief and soon tells the rabbi that everything is much better now.

That is about what Americans who want to see a comprehensible exit strategy from the Iraq quagmire heard from their president last week. The temporary surge that was mounted this year will be withdrawn next year, leaving troop levels about where they were in the first place. That should satisfy both the stay-the-coursers and the cut-and-runners, shouldn't it?

Early in the Iraq invasion The Washington Post's Dana Priest compared our Iraq strategy to a pickup basketball game. That haphazardness has never ceased. Re-Baathification follows de-Baathification. One day we fight Sunnis, next day the Shia. Benchmarks to which the Iraqi government will be held become mere suggestions. Neighborhoods are ethnically cleansed, and the resulting silence is taken for a drop in sectarian violence. It must be comforting for Iraqis to know that if they are shot in the back of the head it is sectarian violence, while being shot in the face is merely a crime."

I thought the decision to invade Iraq was unwise, if to some degree understandable. But the utter lack of planning for the aftermath, the fantasy-based hopes for cheering crowds greeting us with flowers, the callous refusal to take into account the inevitable fragmentation and chaos attending the breaking of a fake, multiethnic state--that is utterly indefensible and unforgivable.

Death and destruction--of history

Robert Fisk in Tuesday's Independent:

"US officers have repeatedly said a large American base built at Babylon was to protect the site but Iraqi archaeologist Zainab Bah-rani, a professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, says this "beggars belief". In an analysis of the city, she says: 'The damage done to Babylon is both extensive and irreparable, and even if US forces had wanted to protect it, placing guards round the site would have been far more sensible than bulldozing it and setting up the largest coalition military headquarters in the region.'

Air strikes in 2003 left historical monuments undamaged, but Professor Bahrani, says: 'The occupation has resulted in a tremendous destruction of history well beyond the museums and libraries looted and destroyed at the fall of Baghdad. At least seven historical sites have been used in this way by US and coalition forces since April 2003, one of them being the historical heart of Samarra, where the Askari shrine built by Nasr al Din Shah was bombed in 2006.'"

This is an underreported consequence of the Iraq conflict: the damage done by a protracted war and occupation to the historical "infrastructure," for lack of a better term, of what most historians call the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia. If you have the stomach for it, you can access the entire article here.

Read it and weep.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Highlighting on of Our Favorite Links

Next week is "Banned Books Week" - so celebrate the week by reading or re-reading one of our favorite books banned by some small minded individual or group, and checking out the Banned Books site. (It is a permanent link from this site - under "Censorship."

The site includes an update on where free thought is being attacked and by whom. So do your part next week. Read something banned!

A list of banned authors from that site: There are, sad to say, so many to choose from.

Gautier, Theophile
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang
Golding, William
Green, Graham
Guest, Judith
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Heller, Joseph
Helper, Hinton
Hemingway, Ernest
Holmes, Peter
Huxley, Aldous
Jackson, Gordon
Jones, James
Joyce, James
Kauffann, Stanley
Keyes, Daniel
Khair-Eddine, Mohammed
King, Stephen
Klein, Norma
Kundera, Milan
L'Engle, Madaleine
Lawrence, D.H.
Leary, Timothy
Lewis, Sinclair
Livingston, Myra Cohn
Louys, Pierre
Luise, Reuban L.
Lurie, Reuben
MacElroy, Wendy
Machiavelli, Niccolo
March, J.M.
Marchetti, Victor
Marks, John D.
Marks, Percy
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia
Mather, Increase
Maugham, Somerset
McGeehee, Ralph
Mencken, H.L.
Miles, Austin
Miller, Arthur
Miller, Henry
Milosz, Czeslaw
Moore, Carol
Moravia, Alberto
Morse, Ann Christensen
Murdock, Iris
Nin, Anais
O'Neill, Eugene
Orwell, George
Paine, Thomas
Parsons, Jonathan
Plath, Sylvia
Pound, Ezra
Pynchon, William
Rabelais, Francois
Reich, Wilhelm
Remarque, Erich Maria
Rice, Anne
Rouseau, Jean-Jacques
Rushdie, Salman
Salinger, J.D.
Sanger, Margaret
Sartre, Jean-Paul
Sewall, Joseph
Shakespeare, William
Shaw, George Bernard
Sinclair, Upton
Snepp, Frank W., III
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr
Stein, Gertrude
Steinbeck, John
Stern, Howard
Stopes, Marie
Swift, Jonathan
Thompson, Linda
Tolkien, J.R.R.
Tolstoy, Lev
Twain, Mark
Velikovsky, Immanuel
Vidal, Gore
Von Mises, Ludwig
Vonnegut, Kurt
Walker, Alice
Whitman, Walt

Blackmark on Blackwater?

The Iraqi government apparently can do some things. They pulled the license from Blackwater, one of the many mercenary contractors we're paying in this war. Blackwater folks are accused of killing 8 and wounding 13 Iraqi civilians when they opened fire in a Baghdad suburb.

From an ABC report:

Monday's action against Blackwater was likely to give the unpopular government a boost, given the contractors' widespread unpopularity.

Many of the contractors have been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys, but none has faced charges or prosecution.

The question of whether they could face prosecution is a gray legal area. Unlike soldiers, they are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Under a special provision secured by American-occupying forces, they are exempt from prosecution by Iraqis for crimes committed there.

[Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim] Khalaf, however, denied that the exemption applied to private security companies. Iraqi police said the contractors were in a convoy of six sport utility vehicles and left after the shooting. A witness said the gunfire broke out following an explosion.

"We saw a convoy of SUVs passing in the street nearby. One minute later, we heard the sound of a bomb explosion followed by gunfire that lasted for 20 minutes between gunmen and the convoy people who were foreigners and dressed in civilian clothes. Everybody in the street started to flee immediately," said Hussein Abdul-Abbas, who owns a mobile phone store in the area. . . .

Blackwater has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq, and at least $800 million in government contracts. It is one of the most high-profile security firms in Iraq, with its fleet of "Little Bird" helicopters and armed door gunners swarming Baghdad and beyond. The secretive company, run by a former Navy SEAL, is based at a massive, swampland complex. Until the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, it had few security contracts.Since then, Blackwater profits have soared. And it has become the focus of numerous controversies in Iraq, including the May 30 shooting death of an Iraqi deemed to be driving too close to a Blackwater security detail.

Michael Mukasey - an AG in the Bush Mode

Of course there are many reasons why Bush wants to nominate Michael Mukasey as his new AG. Let's face it, Bush isn't about to nominate someone who doesn't support the craziness of the Bush/Cheney mindset. Here's a couple of pieces on Mukasey to check out. For one, an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal supporting the Patriot Act in 2004 "The Spirit of Liberty: Before attacking the Patriot Act, try reading it." In the Journal just last month, Mukasey posted another article, "Jose Padilla Makes Bad Law: Terror trials hurt the nation even when they lead to convictions." That leaves precious little to the imagination about the use of courts and trials to deal with the men in US custody in Guantanamo Bay and other locations. If we bring such men to trial, we lose the war on terror. This man is a scary SOB, but it's not surprising.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Didn't make it down there

I ended up spending part of the day in the ER with a friend. So missed the whole thing. But heard many reports. Personal reports were that the crowd was good, but smaller than last March. That the pro-war crew was hunkered down by the Navy memorial waiting for the march to pass by, then started shouting at them. No surprise there. Not sure how many people, heard between 8-10 thousand for the anti-war crowd and a couple hundred of the pro-war group.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Today in Washington

It's going to be interesting. Along with the people marching to get us out of the war, there seem to be a number of counter-protesters down there as well. I hear the police plan on keeping the two groups far apart, but we'll see. It's not yet noon, will be heading down in an hour or so.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Saturday's March on Washington

It's that time again. I'm in one of those depressed, defeatist moods that thinks this just isn't going to make any difference. But I'm sure I'll feel differently when everyone is here and rallying and chanting against Bush & the war. More on the march coordination here. If you're in the DC area, come on down!


Remember Lurch, he of the late, great Addams family sitcom? I used to love his guttoral expressions of disbelief, in which he hunched up his shoulders and groaned, "uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." This approximates my reaction to the President's speech last night.

I found the remarks to be:

a) loony...if we withdraw from Iraq, Iran will for sure get nuclear weapons. I really thought it was the other way around...if we had the big, scary army right next door, Iran would need the nukes as an insurance policy. But the President reversed the equation. ????

b) openly mendacious...he claimed Iraqis are already "sharing oil revenues," when that has only ever been a legislative proposal that has collapsed repeatedly, the latest incidence coming yesterday. And what was that about the Hunt family negotiating separate deals with the Kurds(???)

c) duplicitous...the President mentioned Al-Quaeda seemingly in every single paragraph, giving the self-serving impression that the main problem in Iraq is...Al Quaeda. Of course, Al-Quaeda in Iraq is a direct consequence of our invasion, and at that a very small part of the overall picture there, but how else can you get people's attention? There's at least five different conflicts going on there, and it would take a couple of speeches to explain them. So the scariest option, the one that invokes 9-11, was the best one.

d) positively literary. For the longest time, this whole thing reminded me of the parallel universe of Alice in Wonderland But yesterday, I was forced to conclude that "Moby Dick" might be a lot more relevant. We're all hostages on Captain G. W. Ahab's ship, captives of his obsession with Iraq.

I'm left wondering how we will manage to rein in, or remove from the deck, this misguided officer before he takes us all down with the ship. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rumsfeld's Big Success

Donny Rumsfeld has decided to creep back into the light by talking to the press the other day. He wanted to let us know that he thinks Afghanistan is a "big success" (even Donny has to admit that Iraq, well, not so much - but he blames that on the Iraqi government, not his ham-fisted leadership).

Rummy says that in Afghanistan "28 million people are free. They have their own president, they have their own parliament." He doesn't seem to count the fact that Afghanistan is the leader in opium / heroin production for the world as one of those big successes, but hey, I'm sure he's thinking it.

The parts of his GQ interview that you're probably more familiar with are the fun lines about Bush - that he doesn't know when he last spoke to the prez, and when asked if he misses him, replied, "um, no." He did say that he's still in contact with Darth Cheney. Big surprise there. But my favorite line from Rumsfeld's ramblings? That he believes Bush is "a lot more intelligent and curious than people give him credit for."

Curious George? Apparently as intelligent as the monkey? Well, maybe in Rummy's world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Tomorrow, or today if you are reading this Tuesday, is the 6th anniversary of the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I still feel terrible sadness for the people who lost their lives and those who hated American citizens more than they valued their own lives. How cold and bleak their existence must have been. Even though I was consumed with rage at the attackers, I hoped that all of us could make something meaningful of this atrocity, take the circumstance and make the world better. Speaking to the Burns brothers in the last episode of their documentary on New York, Mario Cuomo was clearly moving in this direction when he spoke about a memorial to the victims:

"...I would like to see some depiction of all the religions list them all: atheism, ethical humanism, Catholicism, etc., etc. All of them. And you notice that each of those religions, these value systems, have two principles they share in common. And the two principles started with monotheism and the Jews: tzedakah and tikkun olam. [Tzedakah] means generally: we must treat one another as brother and sister. We should show one another respect and dignity, because we are like things. We are human beings in a world that has nothing else like us. And we ought to treat one another with love, charity-use your own words. And the second principle is: Well, what do you do with this relationship? Well, we don't know exactly how we got here, why we got here, etc., etc. That's for minds larger than ours. But we know that we are like kinds, and we should work together to make this as good an experience as possible. Tikkun Olam -- let us repair the universe. Now Islam believes that. Buddhism that has no god believes it. Every ethical humanist I ever met believes it. Those two principles: we're supposed to love one another and we're supposed to work together to make the experience better. That's all the religion you need, really, to make a success of this planet. And I'd like to see that in 9/11 somewhere. I'd like to see that captured somehow."

Those words are so inspiring, but they leave me dispirited because nothing like this happened in the aftermath. There was no Tikkun Olam. We didn't try to do something different, we didn't take the opportunity to reassess our relationships with other nations--quite the opposite. We followed the President into a war of choice--Iraq--against a people who not only had nothing to do with the attacks, but who have never done anything to us at all. We now face the reality that we are responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent citizens, for millions of refugees, for a blasted infrastructure, for an utterly broken state, for the deaths of almost 4,000 of our soldiers...and for what? How is anything good, or desirable, ever going to come of this catastrophe that was supposed to avenge somehow our catastrophe of September ll?

I wish, wish, wish I could say the innocents of September 11 had not died in vain, that their involuntary sacrifice had meant something meaningful.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Not Must Reading, Unfortunately

Robert Draper's book, "Dead Certain: The Presidency of GWB," according to today's Post review, doesn't have much to recommend it. Little insights into the person who has so horribly destroyed his own legacy. One item that Draper does recount is interesting, in as much as we often talk about Bush & Co's inability to learn from history.

According to Draper, Bush told him (in reference to his unsuccessful Congress run in 1978), "You can't learn lessons by reading. Or at least I couldn't. I learned by doing. I knew it was an uphill struggle." As reviewer Richard Wolffe notes, "Here is a president who boasts of reading around 100 books a year, promotes reading standards and No Child Left Behind, graduated from Yale and Harvard, and is married to a librarian. Yet he thinks he can't learn lessons by reading."

Well, he doesn't seem to have learned much by "doing" either, despite his boast. The book on this failed presidency has yet to be written.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Know Your Audience

Our King George isn't the only major world figure who has a seriously simplistic view of the world. It's not news that bin Laden doesn't have a good handle on how the world works. Take his latest video appearance. You know, the one where he encourages Americans to convert to Islam since we've already rejected Bush & his policies in Iraq.

Know your audience bL. Americans are pissed off at King George because he diverted resources and energy from hunting YOU down by going into Iraq. The world is a bit more complex than your enemy of my enemy is my friend mentality. It's called free will, freedom of speech and a host of other things. It means we can strongly disagree with king George AND want your head on a pike at the same time. Deal with it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Do You Feel a Draft?

In the 9/10/07 issue of Newsweek, Cpl. Mark Finelli has a one page opinion piece that it's worth paying attention to. In "Why We Need a Draft," Cpl. Finelli outlines his reasons why he thinks a draft is a good idea, looking at the lack of support the troops have received by those who sent them over there. (What? Our administration not supporting the troops? Say it isn't so? After all, don't they all have those yellow ribbons on their SUV bumpers?)

"People need a personal, vested, blood-or-money interest to maximize potential. That is why capitalism has trumped communism again and again, but it is also why private contractors in Iraq have Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAPs) vehicles when Marines don't. America isn't practicing the basic tenet of capitalism on the battlefield, and won't be until we reinstitute the draft. Until the wealthy have that vested interest, until the sons of senators and the upper classes are sitting in those trucks, the best gear won't be paid for on an infantryman's timetable. Eighteen months after the Marines first asked for MRAPs, the vehicles are finally being delivered, though still less than half the number the Pentagon has promised for this year."

He goes on to say "I don't favor a Vietnam-style draft, where men like the current vice president could get five deferments."

I surprise many who know me when I say that I, too, think we should have a draft. For slightly different reasons than Finelli. Where he sees a draft as providing the troops in Iraq with better protection and services, I see it the real threat of a draft (not just a discussion of it) as something that will finally mobilize the country against the war in a way that will force Congress and the Administration to work to end the war quickly. When mothers and fathers are faced with the real possibilities of their children heading over to Iraq, they will step out of their indifference to the war to active protest. Those who were elected in 2006 to end the war will be pressured to remember that! And those who weren't up for election will hear nonstop from their constituents to get us out now. Nothing concentrates the mind so quickly and fully as a truly frightening reality. And not even this head-in-the-sand administration will pay attention to a nation DEMANDING change.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

It's About Time - But Will it Stand?

A US District Judge in New York ruled that provisions of the Patriot Act are UNCONSTITUTIONAL. That the law violates the first amendment AND separation of powers provisions because it prohibits people who get those FBI letters from revealing their existence, nor does it provide for adequate judicial oversight of the process. This from a case brought by one of my favorite groups of all time, the ACLU (yes, I have often been a card-carrying member).

Well, that more than a few provisions of the PA are unconstitutional is no surprise to many of us. That the US Congress continues to sign off on renewing them continues to astonish me. As excited as I am about this ruling, I know that it's just a small step. Hopefully the beginning of the road back to sanity. But I dare not get too excited yet.

The judge - Victor Morrero called the letters provisions "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values." WTG Judge Morrero! My new hero.

Read the AP story here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

When the KKK is On Your Side

Maybe it's time to start examining your cause a bit, don't you think? The latest area to find the Klan making an appearance in support of anti-immigration sentiment is Manassas, Virginia. I love this quote from the local ABC news affiliate, "Several homeowners say they discovered flyers on their driveways. 'I just picked it up, not expecting it to say KKK on it,' said Suzanne Craig, who found the flyer Sunday morning. 'I don't like it because I thought that happened back in the 50s and 60s. So why is this going on?'"

Perhaps Ms. Craig has been out of town on vacation this summer and hasn't noted that her county is in the midst of a battle to limit or eliminate services to illegal immigrants. When you leave trash out in the open, you shouldn't be surprised when vermin show up to swarm all over it. The anger and bitterness of the anti-immigration debate has drawn a natural ally. Those on the anti-immigration side of things might want examine just what message they're actually getting across if the Klan is drawn in to support them.

The vitriol spent on this issue has evidently drawn the KKK's attention. Prince William Co., Va isn't alone. KKK members in Limestone County, Alabama have asked for a permit to stage an anti-immigration rally. Now the ACLU in me supports even ugly speech - so I'm all for letting the Klan march around and spew their venom, safe in the knowledge that wherever they march, there will be larger, louder groups exercising THEIR right to free speech in opposition to the Klan. Households in Owensboro, Kentucky, have found KKK literature on their doorsteps as well.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Can You Hear My Head Banging on My Desk?

Just saw one more of the Bush admin "support the war" commercials. An earnest disabled Marine saying that if he could go back to fight in Iraq he would. And that we have to keep fighting in Iraq because if we leave the country WILL BECOME a haven for terrorists. WILL BECOME? How long has this poor man been home that he hasn't noticed Iraq ALREADY IS a haven for terrorists. Oh yes, and he also gets angry every time he hears the Democrats in Congress say we've lost the war. So, you'd rather hear it from who? The lips of George "I can't admit mistakes" Bush? Or from Darth Cheney, who didn't even listen to his own advice about getting bogged down in Iraq? Or is he waiting to hear it from the generals and officers more concerned with their own careers than with disagreeing with the administration by telling the truth? Are pigs flying yet?

If you haven't had a chance yet, check out the August 26, 2007 issue of NYTimes magazine - where Fred Kaplan looks at the Grand Canyon-sized gulf between experiences of generals and upper brass, and that of junior officers in the trenches. Kaplan references Lt. Col. Paul Yingling and his now famous article, "A Failure in Generalship," and the resulting change in military outlook and procedures based on the dire needs Yingling cataloged in his article.

No, you're right, I was just kidding on that last part. Of course NOTHING has been done as a result of Yingling's revelations in that May issue of Armed Forces Journal that one of the reasons for the continuing Iraqi fiasco is that the Army's generals lacked "professional character, creative intelligence, and moral courage." In Kaplan's piece, you'll learn about a gathering of young officers who were asked what they thought about Yingling's charges. Their response?

"One asked why the top generals failed to give political leaders full and frank advice on how many troops would be needed in Iraq. One asked whether any generals 'should be held accountable' for the war’s failures. One asked if the Army should change the way it selected generals. Another said that general officers were so far removed from the fighting, they wound up 'sheltered from the truth' and 'don’t know what’s going on.'”

And you wondered why the only generals who were actively arguing against the Iraq quagmire were retired. There seem to be a high number of morally and ethically questionable gentlemen in this physically brave group of top brass. Yingling also writes a blog on the Small Wars Journal that is a most interesting read.

Douglas MacGregor, who has argued with Yingling about naming names - does so in his piece, "Fire the Generals" in which he notes: "When Gen. George Casey took over as commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq during July 2004, he asked his staff in Baghdad to set up a meeting with the headquarters’ counter-insurgency expert. His request was met with silence. Incredible as it may seem, after fighting what American military authorities had been calling an insurgency for over a year, the Army’s headquarters in Baghdad had no experts on counter-insurgency operations." A surprise perhaps to Casey & MacGregor - business as usual under Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld to the rest of us.

Of special interest to me in MacGregor's piece was the chapter, "How to Create an Insurgency in 30 Days." In which he looks at bad decision after bad decision. Any one of which would have seemed to be obvious to a blind man, but not to folks like Paul "medal boy" Bremer and the rest of the neo-con crew.

I'm signing off now, all that head banging on table top has given me a terrific headache. And I've got 503 days to go.

Why You Believe Saddam Attacked the US on 9/11

Fascinating article in today's WaPo by Sankar Vedantam that examines and explains why so many people still believe that Saddam attacked us on 9/11. That the terrorists were Iraqi. Or, why large percentages of Muslims around the world believe that the towers were destroyed by a controlled demolition and the Pentagon struck by a missile. The article references Univ./Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz's recent study in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology.

Apparently repetition helps drive an idea or concept into our brains, and even when faced with solid evidence against it, people can continue to believe that concept "especially those who want to believe the myth for their own reasons, or those who are only peripherally interested and are less likely to invest the time & effort needed to firmly grasp the facts." This subconscious filing of information can be manipulated by those clever enough (thank you Karl Rove) to do so.

"The research also highlights the disturbing reality that once an idea has been implanted in people's minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it. Indeed, repetition seems to be a key culprit. Things that are repeated often become more accessible in memory, and one of the brain's subconscious rules of thumb is that easily recalled things are true. . . . People are not good at keeping track of which information came from credible sources and which came from less trustworthy ones, or even remembering that some information came from the same untrustworthy source over and over again. Even if a person recognizes which sources are credible and which are not, repeated assertions and denials can have the effect of making the information more accessible in memory and thereby making it feel true."

In other words, each time you tell that person you know who still believes Saddam topped the twin towers that there is ample proof Iraq had nothing to do with it, that person is apparently only hearing the words "Saddam" "twin towers" and "Iraq" and putting those phrases together with what his/her mind remembers - he did it.

So the next time you're trying to get someone to face the truth - try going the long way around. Instead of saying who didn't do it - go for who DID do it, and leave the lie out of it altogether.

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Raining on the President's parade

In an new article titled "Cut and Run," the Independent's Patrick Cockburn throws cold water on the photo-op the President staged with the Marines out in Anbar. He's about to tell us things are so good in Anbar(and by extension the rest of the country), we can start DRAWING DOWN our troops(!). Cockburn sneers at the Americans, who are "cutting," and the British, who are "running" from Basra for the exits. When the "tide is turning" talk begins, here are a few inconvenient facts to keep in mind:

"The administration has been seeking to give the impression that the US military may at last be turning the corner in Iraq, though Iraqi politicians in Baghdad believe very little has changed on the ground.

One sign that Iraqis themselves believe security in the country is getting worse is that the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes in fear of their lives has risen from 50,000 a month to 60,000 a month according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. Some 4.2 million Iraqis are now refugees inside and outside the country.

Although the US has been pressing the Iraqi government to push through parliament a series of benchmark measures that would supposedly lead to reconciliation between Sunni, Shia and Kurd the different Iraqi communities are too frightened of each other to live in the same street or village.

There are other signs that violence in Iraq is not lessening. Figures compiled by AP show 1,809 Iraqi civilians were killed in August, compared with 1,760 in July. There has been a reduction in sectarian killings in Baghdad but that may be because Mr Sadr stood down the Mehdi Army, blamed for many of the killings of Sunni civilians, in February.

The number of US military killed was 81 in August, an increase of two over July but less than this year's high point of 126 in May. There is usually reduction in attacks on the US forces at this time of year when the temperature soars to 120F."

The President may now be preparing to pull a Gorbachev--claim victory and bring the troops home--but make no mistake, the disaster is deepening.

Monday, September 03, 2007

And President Bush was a history major?!

There is a telling tidbit from the forthcoming book by Robert Draper about the Bush Presidency in this morning's Washington Post. How did it happen that no one had forseen the likelihood of an insurgency prior to the US invasion of Iraq? It seems that President Bush consulted only a handful of Iraqi exiles on the best way to proceed with the postwar...

"Several of Bush's top advisers believe that the president's view of postwar Iraq was significantly affected by his meeting with three Iraqi exiles in the Oval Office several months before the 2003 invasion, Draper reports.

He writes that all three exiles agreed without qualification that "Iraq would greet American forces with enthusiasm. Ethnic and religious tensions would dissolve with the collapse of Saddam's regime. And democracy would spring forth with little effort -- particularly in light of Bush's commitment to rebuild the country."

You have to wonder what, if anything, President Bush took away from his education in history at Yale. Everyone with an elementary knowledge of how the world works knows that you take the opinions of exiles with multiple large blocks of salt for several reasons: one, they have been away from their homeland typically for many, many years and are therefore way out of the loop; two, they are usually members of a persecuted group and therefore have at best a partisan view of the political landscape; three, because they believe the moment has arrived when THEY can take power and exact revenge on their former tormentors. Sure, you can consult them, but you are far better off relying on the opinions of dispassionate people who have made the study of the area their life's work. Those people surely would have told the President about the bitter experience of the British architects of Iraq, who found themselves fighting an anti-British insurgency virtually from the first moments of the postwar in l9l9.

I hope this is a lesson for everybody out there who thinks the most affable guy, the guy you'd most like to have a beer with, should get his or her vote for the Presidency. We're going to need the smartest guy--or gal--in the room this time around, to untie the Gordian knots in which this President has tied us.

Bush Not in Baghdad

Basra, as Buckarooskidoo has pointed out, has shown itself to be a failure of British/US policy in Iraq. Baghdad, as well all know, is a mess. So when Bush decided to make a labor day surprise visit to Iraq, he picked Anbar province. Here, the administration is pushing the Sunni hates al Qaeda as much as we do storyline. After six hours in Iraq, he'll take off to visit Australia, another of the "countries of the willing" still willing to stay in Iraq. Wonder what Bush will be saying to Gen. Patreaus - something about the importance of the upcoming report being a shinning beacon to future victories?

I don't know about the rest of DC, but I'm all for letting Bush stay in Iraq - or, heck, even Australia. Please don't feel any need to rush back to the city anytime soon. We'll be ok, I promise.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sic transit Britannia

The assessments of the British experience in Basra are beginning to appear, and the news isn't good. Patrick Cockburn of the London-based Independent has one of the first in Monday's first edition. Here are some excerpts from the article:

"The withdrawal of British forces from Basra Palace," Cockburn begins, "ahead of an expected full withdrawal from the city as early as next month, marks the beginning of the end of one of the most futile campaigns ever fought by the British Army.
Ostensibly, the British will be handing over control of Basra to Iraqi security forces. In reality, British soldiers control very little in Basra, and the Iraqi security forces are largely run by the Shia militias."

Contrary to what we have been told, British forces were not creating order, they were maintaining disorder...

"The British failure is almost total after four years of effort and the death of 168 personnel. 'Basra's residents and militiamen view this not as an orderly withdrawal but rather as an ignominious defeat,' says a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. 'Today, the city is controlled by militias, seemingly more powerful and unconstrained than before.'"

How will this play in the United States, ahead of the Petraeus report?

"The pullout will be a jolt for the US because it undermines its claim that it is at last making progress in establishing order in Iraq because Sunni tribes have turned against al-Qa'ida and because of its employment of more sophisticated tactics. In practice, the US controls very little of the nine Shia provinces south of Baghdad."

What about the impact on Iraq as a whole?

"The violence in Basra is not primarily against the occupation or over sectarian differences (the small Sunni minority has largely been driven out). The fighting has been and will be over local resources. The fragile balance of power is dominated by three groups: Fadhila, which controls the Oil Protection Force; the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which dominates the intelligence service and police commando units, and The Mehdi Army, which runs much of the local police force, port authority and the Facilities Protection Force. One Iraqi truck driver said he had to bribe three different militia units stationed within a few kilometres of each other in order to proceed.

In terms of establishing an orderly government in Basra and a decent life for its people," Cockburn concludes, "The British failure has been absolute."

I wonder how President Bush will react to, and/or spin, the descent of the Shiite south into civil war, adding to the Shia-Sunni conflict in the central part of the country, the Sunni vs. Al-Quaeda/US vs. Al-Quaeda conflict in and around Baghdad and the possible escape of the Kurds from the sinking ship?

And what are the chances that General Petraeus will take questions from the Great American Public? Mine are above.

Republican Party & Small Government

Mary Matalin was on Meet the Press today with hubby & a few other pundits. Mostly chat about the candidates. But she said something that just makes me shake my head when it comes out of Republican mouths these days. She argued that it didn't matter who the Democrats nominated for the Presidency because they would lose - since they are the party of big government.

The fun is while listening to that, I was also reading Trudeau's Doonesbury, with Mark at his radio microphone listing some of the Republican greatest hits since Reagan. That since 1776 the national debt has risen to $9 trillion. Of that, ONE HALF was incurred during the Bush family administrations. And, if you add in Reagan's time in office, the percentage of this debt creation shoots from 50 to 70%.

And why? Because the party of small government seems to forget its motto once it slithers into the White House. Guess when you refuse to raise taxes but continue to increase government size and spending, debt is the way to go. So, on behalf of our children & grandchildren, thanks to the party of "small" government.

The Other War

Remember Afghanistan? Where the Taliban operated as the de facto government, and from where the 9/11 attack was planned? The country we attacked after that - with full support of the rest of the world. Where bin Laden was hiding. Where we ... quickly lost interest. Dig even deeper into your memory bank - remember when we were winning in Afghanistan? Well our little neo-con adventure in Iraq diverted money, troops and resources away from the battle against our 9/11 attackers into a battle against the guy who was mean to George W's dad. Well played White House. Not everyone can take a potential world-supported attack approaching victory and turn it into an utter mess.

A year ago NATO & US forces announced the success of their campaign to clear out insurgents from strategic southern Afghanistan regions. What a difference a year makes. As David Rohde of the NY Times notes in today's paper, "A year after Canadian and American fofces drove hundreds of Taliban fighters from the area, the Panjwai and Zhare districts southwest of Kandahar, the rebels are back and have adopted new tactics. Carrying out guerrilla attacks after NATO troops partly withdrew in July, they overran isolated police posts and are now operating in areas where they can mount attacks on Kandahar, the south's largest city."

In other cheery Afghani news, the Post notes a recent UN report notes that opium production is up 34% this year alone. The nation apparently grows 93% of the world's opium. Not bad Bushies, not every administration can lose a hot war AND a drug war in the same country.

Canadian press has noted that an increasing deadly threat to their nation's troops are roadside bombs. Of the 29 Canadian military who have died in Afghanistan in the last six months, 25 were killed by IEDs. These IEDs have become increasingly sophisticated and deadly. Gee, I wonder from what quagmire of violence & destruction insurgents could be transferring their new skills into Afghanistan? Could it be ... Iraq? Not only did Bush & Co. detour our troops and resources from the real enemy, but can anyone outside of the admin/neo-con denial tour honestly say that our mess in Iraq hasn't inspired and provided a training ground for a new, deadlier, generation of terrorists?

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