Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Hallelujah

There's good news this Halloween eve: some of the most grotesque creatures on the American political landscape got backhanded by the US judicial system today. A jury in York, Pa. has awarded the father of a slain Marine $11 million for compensatory and punitive damages and emotional distress, to be taken from the hide of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. Those horrible people picketed the Marine's funeral, screaming "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates Fags." They in effect told mourners the Marine died as a sign of God's disfavor with America for its tolerance of homosexuality. I doubt this verdict will diminish their zeal, but they might not have the funds to travel to all these funerals once they realize they have to pay this huge sum of $$$.

It couldn't have happened to a nicer group. You can read all the details here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

US Stands Firm!

We're not about to be pushed around by just anybody. Oh sure, we'll let the Chinese get away with economic, environmental and human rights violations (after all, what's shoddy merchandise, massive pollution and slave labor in exchange for ... I forget, what do we get out of this) without doing much more than chiding them from afar or meeting with the Dalai Lama. But when it comes to the dreaded presence of a Communist state that is smaller than China's pinky toe, and which has the international reach of a tic-tac, we stand firm!

So it's with relief I heard that Bush has reaffirmed our embargo against Cuba. Yup. Since 1963, the US has refused to trade with Cuba. Because once you start trading with those Commies, then the next step is red flags marching down US streets. Except, wait, isn't trade with China the administration's antidote to communism there?

We all know what this is about. It's about that loud and lively voting bloc in Miami. Candidates need Florida's votes to win an election, and you can't win those votes without bashing Castro & standing firm on the embargo. Good thing that all those Taiwanese never made a dash for the US - just think of the voting bloc power they would have held.

Podhoretz, Cheney & "Islamofascism" - Who's Bombing Who?

Der Spiegel writers Gregor Peter Schmitz and Cordula Meyer had an article a couple of days ago you can find in English here. They look at Cheney's idea of what first steps would be taken in an attack on Iran's nuclear capabilities. Norm "the moron" Podhoretz continues to push the theory that Iran somehow represents the next tip (apparently the last one was Saddam) of this "Islamofascist" world movement (whatever on earth THAT is supposed to be), and if we don't strike now we'll ... I get lost at that point, or else something bad of some sort will happen. Not quite sure what. Norm probably doesn't mean that we'll get bogged down in yet another utterly meaningless conflict that drains our blood & financial resources.

"In the scenario concocted by Cheney's strategists, Washington's first step would be to convince Israel to fire missiles at Iran's uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. Tehran would retaliate with its own strike, providing the US with an excuse to attack military targets and nuclear facilities in Iran." The authors wonder what role Israel's recent attack on a Syrian facility might have in this game plan - a practice first strike? A first step to gauge international reaction?

What will happen is that the neo-cons face a loss of power and influence. Having screwed up the Iraq invasion as badly as something can be screwed up, Iran is their last chance to prove they can get something done.

In last week's Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria was his usual voice of reason in the insanity of international affairs. He looks at the Podhoretz/Cheney mouth-foaming rush to bomb Iran and asks - why again?

"Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

When the relatively moderate Mohammed Khatami was elected president in Iran, American conservatives pointed out that he was just a figurehead. Real power, they said (correctly), especially control of the military and police, was wielded by the unelected "Supreme Leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Now that Ahmadinejad is president, they claim his finger is on the button. (Oh wait, Iran doesn't have a nuclear button yet and won't for at least three to eight years, according to the CIA, by which point Ahmadinejad may not be president anymore. But these are just facts.)"

And let's be honest - when in the history of this administration or its neo-com cheerleaders have the facts ever stood in the way of their bizarre attempts to remake the world in their own image.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Awhile ago, Times columnist Paul Krugman was talking about the tendency among Republicans to become unglued at the very mention of Al Gore's name, much less a reminder of his recent Nobel win. I didn't take much note until a colleague was telling me about a recent university funciton attended by the university Regents. The colleague was making small talk with one of the regents, who apparently was a nuclear scientist at one time, about the California fires and their likely connection to global warming. The regent became belligerent at this apparent violation of Republican theology--and it is a theological belief, since it is all faith with absolutely no reason--and snarled, "GLOBAL WARMING is a FALLACY--it is an INVENTION OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY for the RE-INVIGORATION of the CANDIDACY of AL GORE!!" Then he turned on his heel and flounced off.

I think there must be something to "Gore Derangement Syndrome," based on this bizarre incident. I also think the university in question must be in a lot of trouble, given the fact that this man sits on its Board of Regents, a scientist who doesn't believe in science.

The view from Amsterdam...

It's been a few years since President Bush "looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes, saw his soul," then prounounced him a "good man who loves his family." A few years and a few murdered truth-telling journalists, renewed campaigns of violence against Chechnia and power grabs later, that is...I don't think there has been nearly enough coverage of these less sanguine aspects of Putin's Russia. The mainstream media has ooed and ahed about Moscow's nouveaux riches, its proliferation of five-star hotels, its outlandishly expensive housing and restaurants and Putin's high ratings with Russians, which only makes sense since the regime is known for punishing people who insist on presenting a balanced picture.

As an antidote, I urge everyone to visit and bookmark Robert Amsterdam's website. Mr. Amsterdam is a lawyer from Canada who accepted the case of Mikhail Khodorkovskii, an enormously talented and generous Russian businessman and philanthropist, the Bill Gates of Russia. Khodorkovskii was a force for good in Russia after he made his money in oil, lavishing money on funds-starved state schools, giving grants to NGOs, doing the kinds of things conscientious wealthy people should do for their societies. His only mistake was to declare on TV that Putin was corrupt, that he, Khodorkovskii, was thinking of running against him in the next elections. That apparently enraged Putin, who brought in his tax police to raid Khodorkovskii's HQ and "discover" evidence of massive tax fraud, money-laundering, etc. Khodorkovskii and his second-in-command were imprisoned in Moscow's most notorious jail, then put on trial and made to sit in a cage, the kind of display usually reserved for serial killers and the like. Amsterdam and his team bravely defended Khodorkovskii, holding forth on the essential lawlesness and vindictiveness of Putin's Russia, but to no avail--Khodorkovskii was sentenced to 20 years HARD LABOR for his crimes. PERIOD. Not only that, but Amsterdam was rousted from his bed in his expensive Moscow hotel by thugs in special forces uniforms, threatened with AK-47s and told to get the ---- out of Russia(!).

I was glad to see that Mr. Amsterdam didn't go quietly...his website now utilizes his extensive network of contacts in Russia to offer a steady diet of news from the dirty underside of this incarnation of Russia. Don't miss it

Sobering stuff

A propos of Popessa's fine headsups on the exhausted veterans of hapless tours refereeing the Iraq civil war and the dragooning of diplomats for dangerous duty in the Green Zone, I offer for your edification the following excerpt from Rory Stewart's fine NYRB review of recent books about Gertrude Bell, which I referenced briefly a few days ago. Stewart begins by reviewing all the criticisms made to date of the Bush administration's invasion and occupation--

"Some suggest today that the US failure in Iraq is due simply to lack of planning; to specific policy errors— debaathification, looting, the abolition of the army, and lack of troops; and to the absence of a trained cadre of Arabists and professional nation-builders."

--then dismisses them as non-issues, based on the experience of Gertrude Bell and the original architects of Iraq:

" They should consider Bell and her colleagues, such as Colonel Leachman or Bertram Thomas, a political officer on the Euphrates. All three were fluent and highly experienced Arabists, won medals from the Royal Geographical Society for their Arabian journeys, and were greatly admired for their political work. Thomas was driven from his office in Shatra by a tribal mob. Colonel Leachman, who was famed for being able to kill a tribesman dead in his own tent without a hand lifted against him, was shot in the back in Fallujah. Bell's defeat was slower but more comprehensive. Of the kingdom she created, with its Sunni monarch and Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish subjects, there is today no king, no Sunni government, and something close to civil war. Perhaps soon there will be no country.

Bell is thus both the model of a policymaker and an example of the inescapable frailty and ineptitude on the part of Western powers in the face of all that is chaotic and uncertain in the fashion for "nation-building." Despite the prejudices of her culture and the contortions of her bureaucratic environment, she was highly intelligent, articulate, and courageous. Her colleagues were talented, creative, well informed, and determined to succeed. They had an imperial confidence. They were not unduly constrained by the press or by their own bureaucracies. They were dealing with a simpler Iraq: a smaller, more rural population at a time when Arab national-ism and political Islam were yet to develop their modern strength and appeal.

But their task was still impossible. Iraqis refused to permit foreign political officers to play at founding their new nation. T.E. Lawrence was right to demand the withdrawal of every British soldier and no stronger link between Britain and Iraq than existed between Britain and Canada. For the same reason, more language training and contact with the tribes, more troops and better counterinsurgency tactics—in short a more considered imperial approach—are equally unlikely to allow the US today to build a state in Iraq, in southern Afghanistan, or Iran. If Bell is a heroine, it is not as a visionary but as a witness to the absurdity and horror of building nations for peoples with other loyalties, models, and priorities."

I think Stewart is absolutely correct: NOTHING short of nixing the plan to invade Iraq in the first place would have saved us the tragedy that we brought to Iraq by breaking it. That last line, emphasizing the "absurdity and horror of building nations for people with other loyalties, models and priorities" should be a point of emphasis in EVERY SINGLE Presidential debate or forum with all the candidates running for President. We CANNOT AFFORD to elect anyone who does not understand this essential historical fact if we are ever to be able to turn down the temperature in this fraught world.

Uncle Sam Wants Diplomats

Forget the all volunteer army, the State Department (you know, the guys protected by Blackwater mercenaries) is about to start drafting diplomats for Iraq. Mama didn't raise no stupid diplomats. A call went out for volunteers for posts in Iraq and the response has been ... apparently less than enthusiastic.

Next Monday morning is going to be more annoying for 200-300 men and women than usual. That's the day they will discover that they have been "selected" for consideration of duty in Iraq. Lucky ducks!

Not all of those 200-300 have to go. In fact, that number will get willowed down to about 50. Those who are lucky enough to get tapped on Monday will have 10 days to come up with a good reason why they shouldn't have spend the next year in Iraq. Apparently "only those with compelling reasons, such as a medical condition" will get to bow out. But hey, not to worry, if you get picked, you'll get extra pay and vacation time! Man, if that doesn't motivate people to get their butts over there where their butts have a good chance of being blown off, I don't know what will.

Ghost Prisoners - A Halloween Story?

Just in time for Halloween, the WaPo looks at about 30 CIA "ghost prisoners" of the war on terror. What happened after Bush's 9/6/06 announcement that the CIA's overseas prisons were emptied? Well 14 al-Qaeda leaders taken to Gitmo. Leaving about 30 prisoners unaccounted for. The Post notes that "Some have been secretly transferred to their home countries, where they remain in detention and out of public view, according to interviews in Pakistan and Europe with government officials, human rights groups and lawyers for the detainees. Others have disappeared without a trace and may or may not still be under CIA control."

Have we turned some over to other countries? Are we still holding some in other overseas prisons? Who knows. Are these hard core terrorists who need to be locked up with keys thrown away? Are they innocent men caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - targeted by someone for personal reasons having nothing to do with the war on terror? I'm all for seeing anyone who had something to do with 9/11 tried and jailed. So what's so hard about doing that? Why were we unable to say, "hey, we got this guy and he's going on trial?" - One of the many things we could have done in the days when the world was still feeling our pain. Those days between the Afghanistan invasion (world support) and the neo-con right turn into madness (Iraq). Instead the world and most Americans just shake their heads in wonder at the inability of this administration to take even one right step in this battle.

Not Worth Another Soldier's Life

Today's WaPo has a piece by Joshua Partlow, reporting on soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, who are ending their Iraq tours. For most, it's their second tour. In the months they have been in Iraq, they've watched as Baghdad has careened from dysfunctional to devastated. The battalion has lost 20 soldiers during this tour. When asked if it was worth the sacrifice, Sgt. Victor Alarcon said no. "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."

The battalion's staff Sgt. Richard McClary wishes that more Americans knew what was really going on in Iraq. "They just know back there what the higher-ups here tell them. But the higher-ups don't go anywhere, and actually they only go to the safe places, places with a little bit of gunfire. They don't ever [expletive] see what we see on the ground."

While those higher-ups in the administration & pentagon tout stats of lower levels of violence lately, soldiers who live daily in the front lines of the disaster that is present day Iraq have their doubts. As Partlow notes:

"American soldiers estimate that since violence intensified this year, half of the families in Sadiyah have fled, leaving approximately 100,000 people. After they left, insurgents and militiamen used their abandoned homes to hold meetings and store weapons. The neighborhood deteriorated so quickly that many residents came to believe neither U.S. nor Iraqi security forces could stop it happening. . . . The focus of the battalion's efforts in Sadiyah was to develop the Iraqi security forces into an organized, fair and proficient force -- but the American soldiers soon realized this goal was unattainable. The sectarian warfare in Sadiyah was helped along by the Wolf Brigade, a predominantly Shiite unit of the Iraqi National Police that tolerated, and at times encouraged, Mahdi Army attacks against Sunnis, according to U.S. soldiers and residents. The soldiers endured repeated bombings of their convoys within view of police checkpoints. During their time here, they have arrested 70 members of the national police for collaboration in such attacks and other crimes."

Lt. Col. George A. Glaze is the battalion's commander. He equates his soldiers' role with that of a "bouncer caught between brawling customers." Baghdad's neighborhood battles, the resettlement of Sunnis or Shiites, depending on which militia can control the area, will not end. When this redistricting by force has settled these brawling customers in their new divisions, how long before neighborhoods begin battling each other at their seams?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Safety Tips - How to Survive a Monkey Attack

Ok, so I couldn't resist this bit from Slate. "The deputy mayor of New Delhi, India, fell off his balcony and died Sunday after being attacked by monkeys, his family members say. The city has around 10,000 monkeys, some of which have taken to roaming through government buildings as they steal food and rip apart documents."

So, according to Slate, if you find yourself under potential attack by a group of monkeys, remember these safety tips:
  • If you are holding a snack, throw it in their direction, and they'll stop bothering you.
  • If you don't have any food, hold out your open palms to show you're not carrying a tasty treat or back away from the monkeys without showing fear.
  • Don't make eye contact or smile with your teeth showing—in the nonhuman primate world, these are almost always signs of aggression.
Perhaps using this wisdom from Slate, we can find ways to survive our own government. So, the next time you find yourself surrounded by a group of neo-cons, remember these safety tips:
  • If you are holding a copy of the Bill of Rights, destroy it and they'll stop bothering you.
  • If you don't have a record of your rights, hold out your open palms to show you're willing to be spied on, tortured or "redacted" and back away from the neo-cons without showing fear. They already have your addresses & phone numbers.
  • Don't make eye contact or smile with your teeth showing—in the nonhuman neo-con world, these are certainly signs of aggression, but don't worry, they'll probably attack you no matter what. I'd suggest sending the monkeys after them, but not even monkeys can stomach neo-con.

Politicking Postcards from the Periphery

Even though I am leaning toward Mrs. Clinton for the Dem Prexy nomination(it's both abbreviation and alliteration day here in the sticks), I think Popessa might be on to something in her remarks about Mrs. C's liabilities. I viewed an odd set of "patriotic" postcards last week and today that started me thinking about this.

The first one, spied on a graduate history student's bulletin board, had Hillary Clinton depicted as Rosie the Riveter, proclaiming, "We can do it!" That was some very savvy imagery, including a feminist call-to-arms, the can-do spirit of that age and the salient qualities of the greatest generation: optimism, selflessness, willingness to sacrifice for the good of the cause. Any candidate would like to be associated with that image.

Then the second, which I glimpsed on a dilapidated, closed-down fast food joint in Pilot Rock, Oregon--quite a different story there. The first of two had Mrs. Clinton's face in the traditional Uncle Sam recruitment poster and proclaimed, "I want your AMMO," in apparent reference to some legislation she sponsored with "Teddy(everyone knows who Teddy is)" on limiting the availablity of cop-killer bullets. The second had the same Mrs. Clinton/Uncle Sam declaring, "I want YOUR GUNS." Beneath that image, readers learned that Mrs. Clinton had sponsored legislation extending the odious gun-control bill(maybe it was the Brady Bill?!)her husband signed. The only hint of the cards' origins came in the declaration that contributions to the NRA are not tax-deductible. The Uncle Sam bit was as effective in its way as Rosie, because it implied that as President, Mrs. Clinton would use all the power of the federal government to come strip you of all your lawful firearms and ammunition you require to feed and protect your family. You know how many black helicopter/anti-government gun paranoids there are out there...I am afraid a lot of them will come out just to vote against this looming threat to their gun-wielding lives.

These two images of Mrs. Clinton certainly do make clear there is an unbridgeable gap, a chasm, even an abyss between those who view her normally, or even positively, and those pre-disposed to hysteria at the very thought of a Clinton presidency. I don't know. Maybe we DO need a new face in the executive branch...Obama?

Wisdom & Amusements from Around the Web

Here I am at my keyboard with a day off - and days off are so rare in my world, so thought I'd look around the web and see what's up (no, I'm not downtown with the anti WTO demonstrations today- giving that a rest this year).

So from around the web -

Marie Therese of News Hounds (they watch Fox so I don't have to) wonders about something Bush said the other day. "During his press conference last Wednesday (October 17, 2007) President George Bush drastically altered his Bush doctrine, indicating that now the mere "knowledge" of how to build a nuclear weapon is sufficient provocation for an attack by the United States. That would mean that M.I.T., Lawrence Livermore lab, any university with a nuclear research program, every country in the world, including Iran, and yours truly, the author of this post, are now fair game for an American air attack. That's right. Prior to writing this post, I searched for "schematics for a nuclear bomb" and Google returned a list of 1,560,000 sites that would tell me more than I'd like to know about how to blow people off the face of the planet and pollute the atmosphere for millenia. Therefore, I now have the requisite "knowledge" of how to build a nuclear bomb. Should I begin watching the skies and stocking up on rocket launchers to defend my home?" Good question Marie!

Bloggers at NY Times The Caucus are wondering about Bush's plan to go fishing out on Chesapeake Bay at Cheney's house. I'm wondering if Bush will notice some of the effects of global warming that have affected the Bay.

At Best of the Blogs, a writer recommends Naomi Wolf’s new book, “The End of America, A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot” as a must read. The writer notes that the fact that "we’re sliding toward at least a corporatocracy, if not outright fascism, is not lost on most readers of this blog. To see it laid out in such a clear, well researched fashion is breathtaking and harrowing. It’s not a polemic, it’s not written as a snide shot at Bushco, it’s a blueprint. It should be required reading for every American, liberal, conservative and libertarian included."

And finally, at The Onion, which is had been keeping us entertained year after year, pundits wonder, "Is The Government Spying On Paranoid Schizophrenics Enough?" Check out the video. If you are at all a fan of black humor, this will make your day. Then again, now that I know what the color red signals ... I will never look at my blog pages the same way again!
In The Know: Is The Government Spying On Paranoid Schizophrenics Enough?

Pot Meet Kettle

Is there anything Darth Cheney can say without looking like an idiot or wide-eyed war monger? (not that I'm arguing the two are separate things).

In a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Cheney has called the Tehran government "a growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East.” I guess he would know from obstacles to peace in the Middle East.

Looking at Cheney's speech, one wonders, what else is important to him - aside from threatening Iran? What other bugaboo is so scary to today's world that he needs to mention it and seek support? Well of course, it's the same concern that many Americans share -- "some companies are now facing multi-billion dollar lawsuits merely because they are believed to have assisted in the effort to defend the United States after 9/11. We're asking Congress to grant liability protection to those companies."

Cheney ends with "you can be certain that our country will stay engaged in the Middle East, making the hard choices and providing the kind of leadership that makes this world a better place. " One can only assume he's referring to a leadership that takes over the White House after Bush.

Yes, fear of judgments against companies like Halliburton, Blackwater and the like. Surely Congress will see fit to protect those icons of purity from any public accountability!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bush's Brain Process

As presented by M. e. Cohen of New Jersey.

Speaking of Our Beloved Contractors in Iraq

Ever wonder how much of our tax money gets ... lost ... on the way to Iraq or Afghanistan? And how contractors and military suppliers manage to have such nice looking homes? And a special nod to one of our favorite sites - The Propaganda Remix Project (they're a steady link on our right side) and their fabulous posters.

Those Presidential Medals of Freedom

The Dalai Lama recently visited the White House, where he received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Now there's a difference between the CMoH and that other White House give-away, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While the Congressional Medal of Honor usually goes to military personnel, those PMoFs as we know, have gone to some interesting folk. Along with those who made positive contributions to society & culture, there are the ... others. You know the ones, those that George W. slaps on the back and says, "you're doing a great job" while everyone else is looking around asking, "who is he talking to?"

So how about a trip down memory lane with some of W's honorees?

December 14, 2004 - the Iraq Pack gets their back slaps of congratulations
L. Paul Bremer III
Tommy R. Franks
George J. Tenet

June 23, 2004
Walter Wriston (former chairman of Citicorp Bank who once said, "If we had a truth-in-Government act comparable to the truth-in-advertising law, every note issued by the Treasury would be obliged to include a sentence stating: 'This note will be redeemed with the proceeds from an identical note which will be sold to the public when this one comes due.'" GOOD POINT Walter! If we had that act, we wouldn't be in Iraq - probably not what you meant, though, is it.)

Norman Podhoretz (A founding and still-believing member of neo-con nation)

Gordon B. Hinkley (LDS Leader - "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. . . . Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. . . . Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.")

The rest are an odd smattering of folk - from Doris Day to Pope John Paul II, Julia Child to Nelson Mandela (who I'm assuming George knew was alive when he gave him the medal).

Like son, like father? -- Guess who George Sr. gave a PMoF to when he was prez? None other than Darth Cheney himself.

Words from a Teacher

There is a nice piece in today's WaPo from the Dalai Lama on oppression, violence and freedom. In his piece, this fascinating man shows that for all their bluster and threats, the Bushies know nothing about the essence of personal freedom; the neo-cons nothing about spreading democracy. I must share from his piece - the last two paragraphs of hope.

The 20th century became a century of bloodshed; despite its faltering start, the 21st century could become one of dialogue, one in which compassion, the seed of nonviolence, will be able to flourish. But good wishes are not enough. We must seriously address the urgent question of the proliferation of weapons and make worldwide efforts toward greater external disarmament.

Large human movements spring from individual human initiatives. If you feel that you cannot have much of an effect, the next person may also become discouraged, and a great opportunity will have been lost. On the other hand, each of us can inspire others simply by working to develop our own altruistic motivations -- and engaging the world with a compassion-tempered heart and mind.

Rumsfeld - The Gift that Keeps on Giving

While Darth Cheney is often the target of much anti-administration venom (including from this blogger), I have long considered him the penultimate player of evil in the administration. The most evil man in that soup was Donald Rumsfeld. And although he has left the administration, his inept machinations, fronted with his unearned John Wayne, tough guy bravado, left many dividends that haunt us to this day.

But how many of you knew that Blackwater was one of them?

Take a gander at today's WaPo article on the struggles between the administration's defense & state departments. When elephants fight, grass gets trampled, as the saying goes. Except when Rummy is involved, that elephant would do anything to win - regardless of who is hurt or killed in his wake. What a guy.

When the U.S. military invaded and occupied Iraq in early 2003, there was no question who would be in charge of security for the official civilians pouring in to remake the country. Under an executive order signed by Bush, the Coalition Provisional Authority and its head, L. Paul Bremer, reported directly to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. But as U.S. troops became preoccupied with a growing insurgency, the Pentagon hired Blackwater to provide protection for Bremer and other civilians.

The next year, as the United States prepared to return sovereignty to the Iraqis and the State Department began planning an embassy in Baghdad, Rumsfeld lost a bid to retain control over the full U.S. effort, including billions of dollars in reconstruction funds. A new executive order, signed in January 2004, gave State authority over all but military operations. Rumsfeld's revenge, at least in the view of many State officials, was to withdraw all but minimal assistance for diplomatic security.

"It was the view of Donald Rumsfeld and [then-Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz that this wasn't their problem," said a former senior State Department official. Meetings to negotiate an official memorandum of understanding between State and Defense during the spring of 2004 broke up in shouting matches over issues such as their respective levels of patriotism and whether the military would provide mortuary services for slain diplomats.

I've long believed that in Donny's world, nothing that doesn't benefit him directly is his problem. And that he will say and do anything to get his way.

Friday, October 19, 2007


When Bush & Co. came up with their excuses for invading Iraq, and certainly for staying in after those first excuses were found bankrupt, do you think they had any idea that they were laying the groundwork for Turkey's wish to invade Iraq?

In Bush world, a nation has a right to invade another country if they harbor terrorists (ok for US, ok for Israel). So of course Bush & Co., would be standing behind Turkey's potential Iraqi invasion, right?

Ha ha ha, of course not! Bush & Co., are nothing if not hypocrites. So the Bush reaction, of course, is “We don’t think it’s in their interest to send more troops in.” Then again, maybe they're just being friendly. After all, Bush & Co., know what happens when a country invades Iraq. Maybe they're just looking out for our Turkish allies.

World War III or IV?

Everyone's favorite neocon hysteric, Norman Poderetz (who is currently advising Mayor 9/11), has been touting a war against islamofascism as World War IV. Norm's corner for IV included a former CIA director (James Woolsey), who argued in 2003 that Iran, Iraq, Syria & al Qaeda were all part of the islamofascist network. Considering that these four groups don't even get along, I'm not sure how that all works, but I'm sure Jim & Norm have it all worked out in their brains.

So fine, we're heading into World War IV.

But wait! Now Bush has stepped up and warned us that we're heading into World War III ("If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.").

So which is it boys? World War III or IV? And why aren't we surprised. This bunch has yet to get even one historical analogy right, let alone process or learn from them. Is it any surprise that they can't even agree on which war we're in now?

Does Clinton Own Women?

Eugene Robinson's oped piece in the WaPo looks at women and Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency. "her lead among women over Barack Obama and her other rivals is so huge -- and so much greater than her lead among men -- that it has to have something to do with gender. Which is perfectly understandable."

It's not even close to perfectly understandable to me. But then again, I've found my way into the Obama camp. I feel no need to vote for Clinton because of her gender. If I could have voted in a female president, it would have been Barbara Jordon, one of my heroes of yore, who sadly, never ran for the office. Or Shirley Chisholm, who actually ran for the office before I was old enough to vote. Or a number of women who are in or out of politics today.

I would love to see a woman president. But I would love it to be a woman I respected and trusted with that office. And I am more than a bit tired of my vote being assumed to be for her simply because of my gender. Assumptions by gender are things I'd hoped we were moving beyond.

Monday, October 15, 2007

On "de-Bushification" and a politically healthier America

I don't know how many people out there read the Moscow Times, but it is a generally fine newspaper with some great columnists. Many of them are native Russians, and while they have all taken refuge in the United States in recent years, they continue to write for the MT and offer their unique viewpoints on American and Russian history, culture and politics. I have taken the following column in its entirety, because MT stories are only available for about 24 hours after publication--they then disappear into the for-pay archives. Alexei Bayer offers "An Important Lesson for Clinton on Russian History," in the hopes that the United States can avoid some of the post-Afghanistan, post-Communist fallout that Russia has endured.

"The war in Afghanistan was not the main reason the Soviet Union collapsed. Nevertheless, it bankrupted the Soviet state and pointed out the moral blight, skewed priorities and irrelevance of the Communist gerontocracy.

The United States is a vibrant society with a diversified and resilient economy. But it currently stands on the brink of considerable social and economic upheaval, and the Iraq war reveals the fault lines within the world's only superpower. It is a nation living beyond its means by exploiting the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency. The war is costing some $3 billion per week -- all of it borrowed from more productive nations.

The United States is the leader of the free world, which the rest of the world refuses to follow. Even the pathetic "coalition of the willing," a bunch of mostly third-tier nations Washington assembled to back it in Iraq, has crumbled.
Iraq occupies a far more important place in the political debate in the United States than Afghanistan ever did in the Soviet Union. It is divisive, and frustrations on both sides have been exacerbated by the fact that no victory, however defined, can be achieved. Nor can U.S. forces leave without plunging a strategic, oil-rich region into chaos.

U.S. overconsumption and unilateralism predated President George W. Bush. But it was Bush who turned federal fiscal surpluses into deficits -- literally, with a stroke of a pen -- by granting his disastrous tax cuts. He plunged the United States into the irrelevant global war on terror, started the unnecessary and wasteful war in Iraq and created the moral climate in which Americans stand accused of torture, war crimes and atrocities.

Bush has been called the worst president in U.S. history. But now he has devised a clever plan to rescue his legacy. His troop surge in Iraq is designed to create a sense of stability and even progress. His economic policy, aided and abetted by the U.S. Federal Reserve, has been to stretch the liquidity bubble for another year or so. He could then credibly claim that he left office with Iraq on the mend and the economy booming and that his successors dropped the ball.

The next occupant of the White House will have to fight back in self-defense. He -- or most probably she (meaning Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is currently the most credible candidate) -- should study recent Russian history. Gorbachev withdrew troops from Afghanistan, but he never put those responsible for the war on trial. Boris Yeltsin ended communism and split the Soviet empire, but he avoided pushing for de-Stalinization. Even a symbolic condemnation of communism by Russian courts would have allowed the country to turn over a new page and rejoin the community of nations in much the same way West Germany did after World War II.

As a result, in post-Soviet Russia, Brezhnev's reputation is being revived, Stalin is widely venerated and former KGB officers rule the Kremlin. Gorbachev and Yeltsin, meanwhile, are reviled for "destroying a great country."

If Clinton doesn't want to share their fate -- which in the U.S. context would mean a failed one-term presidency -- she would need to start de-Bushification. Her first act in office should be to put Bush and his entourage on trial.

When I recently suggested this to an audience of New York lawyers, the room exploded with laughter. It would be unconstitutional, they said, and also so un-American, to be stuck in the past.

On the contrary, putting blame where it belongs would be a step toward the future. It would, first of all, extract the next president's reputation from the rubble of failed policies. More important, a guilty verdict passed on the Bush administration by an impartial and independent U.S. court might put an end to unilateralism and restore the United States' rightful place in the community of nations. Both would benefit."

I have no idea whether a systematic campaign of "de-Bushification" would ever fly here. But everyone who hopes that the US will learn from the Bush era and the Iraq disaster has to consider how he/she will make the country face the reality of what it helped to enable, so as to forge a better path into the future for the United States in its relations with the rest of the world. Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster, and people should be forced to acknowledge where the nation went wrong and why, no mincing words.

I Couldn't Agree More

Tom Toles' editorial cartoon from today's Post.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Paying the Price of War

Today's WaPo has a strong story on a couple in West Virginia, Michelle and Troy Turner. Troy returned from service in Iraq with PTSD. The story notes that more than 1/4 of our returning wounded vets have PTSD and brain trauma. How many of the "non" wounded are returning with undiagnosed PTSD is anyone's guess.

Michelle and Troy's tale of trying to make do with the aftermath of the war on Troy's mental state is heart-wrenching. Here's a bit of it:

The government's sweeping list of promises to make wounded Iraq war veterans whole, at least financially, has not reached this small house in the hills of rural West Virginia, where one vehicle has already been repossessed and the answering machine screens for bill collectors. The Turners have not been making it on an $860-a-month disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

After revelations about the poor treatment of outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center earlier this year, President Bush appointed a commission to study the care of the nation's war-wounded. The panel returned with bold recommendations, including the creation of a national cadre of caseworkers and a complete overhaul of the military's disability system that compensates wounded soldiers.

But so far, little has been done to sort out the mess of bureaucracy or put more money in the hands of newly disabled soldiers who are fending off evictions and foreclosures. . . .

For 18 months Troy worked as a truck driver until his symptoms began to worsen. He imagined he saw Army vehicles on the interstate, causing him to shake and panic. His family needed the $2,600-a-month salary, so Troy kept driving and Michelle rode in the truck with him. Finally VA doctors increased Troy's medication, and he became too zonked to drive.

VA rated Troy's disability level at 50 percent, resulting in $860 a month in compensation. Like many wounded soldiers, he was clobbered by a fine-print government regulation known as "concurrent receipt," which prevents double compensation. That meant before he could receive his VA disability check, Troy had to pay back the $11,349 he received when he left the Army. For 13 months, VA withheld his check until the Army amount was reimbursed.

The fallout from this criminally inane war continues. The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld collateral damage list is endless. And that particular axis of evil continues to stare out at us, wide eyed and impressed by the great work they have accomplished, unable to see past their own demented egos.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Our sharp-eyed Secretary of State

Condi Rice visited Moscow this week for talks on the President's proposed missle-defense system, to be based in Poland and Czechoslovakia. While she was there, she apparently was moved to take stock of Russian domestic affairs and discovered that there has been an alarming concentration of power in Vladimir Putin's hands--why, they've taken power from regional officials, clamped down on news outlets that broadcast critical views and made troublesome journalists disappear. This evidently isn't the direction she hoped they would take there, and she told them so. No word on the response she got, but I've got my suspicions.

These developments have only been on the front pages for about seven years. I guess I'm tempted to say NOTHING gets by this woman. Secretary Rice, always sur le qui vive!

Not just the top brass...

Ricardo Sanchez isn't alone in his criticism of the Iraq War. As Elizabeth Bumiller discovered in a visit to Fort Leavenworth, where the best and brightest mid-career Army officers typically spend time reflecting on combat experience and putting their heads together about the next war, the only real question is who is more to blame: the Joint Chiefs or the Secretary of Defense. Absolutely no one believes this war is anything but a disaster. You can access this article here. Then you can ask yourself why, if the officers who are leading combat operations and the American people are overwhelmingly negative about the effort, the President and Congress persist in their support. Where's the upside there? It's a mystery to me.

Dick and Donnie - Satanic Twins Separated at Birth?

When Donnie Rumsfeld resigned, it was a great day for the US and every living, breathing being on the earth. Fun and famed DC blogger Wonkette has a post on a Fox newsless "documentary" called Dick Cheney: No Retreat. One piece that comes out of the documentary is the difference of opinion between George and his puppet master, Darth Cheney. Cheney did not want to see his BFF Rumsfeld leave the Pentagon. Cheney reminisces that "I wouldn't be where I am today if it hadn't been for what Don Rumsfeld was willing to do." Without seeing the documentary (which I avoided, unwilling to risk the specter that would no doubt cause my eyes to bleed -- okay, the real reason is not even knowing where FOX newsless is on my tv, I never saw the promos.) it's hard to know just WHAT Donnie was "willing to do" for his buddy. I must admit that I really don't want to know.

Another General Outs Bush Team as Idiots

Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, now retired, blasted the Bush administration Friday for its idiotic Iraq war policy. For a war plan that was "catastrophically flawed," causing the US to be "living in a nightmare with no end in sight." Sanchez argues that the "administration, Congress and the entire interagency, especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure, and the American people must hold them accountable. There has been a glaring unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders. . . . From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration's latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economic and military power."

Now Sanchez's Iraq service history is not without blotter. He was, after all, to top US general during Abu Ghraib. He retired in the fun aftermath of that scandal. He is definitely not without sin throwing the first stone. On the other hand, he was certainly right in the middle of this mess in the early years and it's good to see him speaking out on what he saw.

Today's WaPo has the article on its front page, although it's hard to find amidst the Blackwater and other news of the blunders of this administration. So I offer a link to it here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Congrats to Al

And the UN Climate folks for this year's Nobel Prize.

Meet the NeoCons

A big wave of thanks to our friendly cat over at PoliticsPlus for alerting us to a wonderful find. Blimp TV / National Lampoon has a MUST WATCH video out -- Meet the NeoCons.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Draft Gore?

It's interesting to watch the buzz over Gore (will he win the Nobel or not?) (will he let himself be drafted to run in '08?) and of course the backlash buzz ("global warming doesn't exist, Gore is wrong and already lost the election for prez once"), and I'm just waiting now for the Clinton camp to start feeding stories to the press on how Gore wasn't really all that great a veep.

Is Gore the only democrat who could win the election in '08 (i.e., Hillary may win nomination, but can never win election with such high unapproval ratings)?

Does he even WANT to run again? Let's face it, he's out there having a whole lot of fun going to awards shows, giving speeches and possibly picking up famous international medals. Would YOU want to trade that in for a job that ages you at warp speed? Where you get a bunch of people like me watching and commenting on your every move?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Present at the creation

There is an excellent review in the current NYRB of the spate of recent books on Gertrude Bell, one of the architects of the benighted state of Iraq. Bell is an intriguing study--she was the first woman to graduate from Oxford with a coveted first-class degree in history and doubtless the only female with any expertise in those early postwar years, when the post-Ottoman Middle East was taking shape. Her efforts achieved about as much success as anyone else's in the fake state that Winston Churchill once likened to an ungrateful exploding volcano--the article is entitled "Queen of the Quagmire"-- but her story is worth your attention anyway.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Administration's War on the War on Terror

Remember that bin Laden video that was released before it was supposed to be? And the fun discussion over how it was grabbed, and by whom? Well guess what. The video was grabbed by a private firm, which alerted the Bush administration to the video, even setting up a platform by which admin & pentagon folk could download the video - all before it was officially released.

With me so far?

Well the next step is the fun one. Guess where the leak of the video came from to the press? Was it the private firm? Nah. It was the administration, of course. Yes, according to today's WaPo, some trigger happy little leaker over in the administration turned the video over to the press. A move that the private firm is saying not only alerted al Qaeda to the fact that the firm had grabbed the video, but also helped them find where their intelligence network link was weak so they could strengthen it up - thus stopping a nice flow of information being grabbed from the bad guys by the good guys.

So thanks Bush Administration - for once again proving that when it comes to the war on the war on terror - nobody holds a candle to you guys.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Our Mercenaries in Iraq

What has been the fallout so far from the Blackwater revelations? Well the House has passed a bill to make all private contractors in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution in U.S. courts. Which, if the Senate passed a similar bill and if Bush didn't veto it - would actually have some relevance in the universe. So let's put that aside and look further. Oh, and Condi Rice's new ruling that video cameras would be placed in contractors vehicles & state department agents ride along with them? Those rules only apply to Blackwater.

The Post business section has a piece today on two Virginia firms who may get a chance to pick up more contracts if Blackwater's are pulled. Triple Canopy and DynCorp both already have DoD contracts in Iraq. TC is definitely poised to reap the benefits, as it already has twice as many mercenaries (oh, I'm sorry, employees) in Iraq than Blackwater (2,000 vs. 1,000). DynaCorp, by comparison, has a mere 250.

So what do we know about Triple Canopy, other than they've been pretty good so far at not showboating the way Blackwater did. Flying under the radar is a good way to make lots of Americans' tax money and not get hauled before Congress to explain how you've been spending it. But what the hey, let's take a look under the TC hood. Triple Canopy Inc. was founded in September 2003 by Thomas Katis, Matthew Mann and John Peters. In only 2 years the trio had managed to scrape together over $90 million in government contracts. On their website, they like to brag that their rapid success was due "in part to our unparalleled operational leadership." That, or possibly their ties to the Republican party.

The business watchdog website CorpWatch has had its eye on both companies. Their review of Triple Canopy can be found here, a reprint of a 2005 NYT piece by Daniel Bergner that may be even more relevant today than it was then.

There's the lawsuit by former TC employees accusing the company of dismissing them after they reported that their supervisor had fired at Iraqi civilians. While the jury ruled against the employees, they noted that "we strongly feel that [Triple Canopy's] poor conduct, lack of standard reporting procedures, bad investigation methods and unfair double standards amongst employees should not be condoned."

There are the State Department's own reports, which note that Blackwater, TC & DynCorp were involved in at least 306 shootings between 1/1/2005-4/20/2007. Of those, Blackwater was involved in 168 and Triple Canopy just 36. And DynCorp, with a mere 250 contractors in Iraq, was involved in 102 shootings. Hmmm. Perhaps DynCorp is worth looking at after all.

CorpWatch has a rundown of DynCorp's most notable achievements here. DynCorp may not approve of the listing, but I couldn't resist sharing: "The world's premier rent-a-cop business runs the security show in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the US-Mexico border. They also run the coca crop-dusting business in Colombia, and occasional sex trafficking sorties in Bosnia." Also from CorpWatch:

DynCorp began in 1946 as a project of a small group of returning World War II pilots seeking to use their military contacts to make a living in the air cargo business. Named California Eastern Airways the original company was soon airlifting supplies to Asia used in the Korean War. By 2002 Dyncorp, headquartered in Reston, Virginia, was the nation's 13th largest military contractor with $2.3 billion in revenue until it merged with Computer Sciences Corporation, an El Segundo, California-based technology services company, in an acquisition worth nearly $1 billion. . . . Kathryn Bolkovac, a U.N. International Police Force monitor filed a lawsuit in Britain in 2001 against DynCorp for firing her after she reported that Dyncorp police trainers in Bosnia were paying for prostitutes and participating in sex trafficking. Many of the Dyncorp employees were forced to resign under suspicion of illegal activity. But none were prosecuted, since they enjoy immunity from prosecution in Bosnia.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Speaking of 'toons...

...this is for all of you who don't read the Oregonian newspaper every day...Jack Ohman's take on the recent Cosmonauftic anniversary. Priceless.

Slithering Over the Brink . . .

There's a line in an otherwise decent book on WWI that I've always found rather amusingly odd. The author sums up the road to WWI as "slithering over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war." I was thinking of that while reading Bucky's post on Patraeus' views on Iran. In a NPR interview, Iraq's National Security Advisory, Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie agreed that Iran is meddling in Iraq. But his view of how to handle the situation differs greatly from those in the Bush administration. He advised dialog between the US & Iran, arguing quite logically that attacking Iran would be a fatal mistake and draw the entire region into instability.

Will we listen? Or will Bush & Co., continue to push the middle-east even further over that brink?

I thought I'd take a moment to share some of the cartoons around the net on this topic.

Prepare yourself...

The storm appears to be gathering. General David Petraeus has pointed the finger at Iran as a major cause of U.S. troubles in Iraq. As the AP reports, Petraeus yesterday told a group of journalists that the Iranians "are responsible for providing the weapons, the training, the funding and in some cases the direction for operations that have indeed killed U.S. soldiers." Doesn't this sound an awful lot like a rationale for taking action against the Iranian regime? You can just hear it: "they're killing our troops in Iraq with impunity, and they need to be stopped."

I guess it would be rude to point out who created the situation that made lethal Iranian meddling in Iraq possible, but we had better prepare ourselves to wake up one of these days to the announcement of military action against the natural neighborhood ally of the Iraqi government that we essentially empowered and in whose interest we are now "surging."

You may be forgiven for feeling that all of this is bizarre and self-defeating at best, and at worst--potentially apocalyptic.

Arty Reflections

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s sons have edited their father's journals, making his thoughts available for us to peruse at our leisure. Some of Schlesinger's musings have been shared by more than a few newspapers and blogs this week, with great quotes about some of the presidents & others Schlesinger knew. I've not always been Schlesinger's biggest fan, having found more than a couple of his books more disappointing than enlightening (Cycles of American History being IMHO a sad exercise). But there's no denying that through his journals, we can see that Schlesinger is one great big delicious societal gossip! (A skill I feared we lost with Capote.)

Some of the best bits come from Henry Kissinger, although Schlesinger wisely wonders, "I like Henry very much and respect him, though I cannot rid myself of the fear that he says one sort of thing to me and another sort of thing to, say, Bill Buckley."

Henry Kissinger on Dan Quayle : "he couldn't understand why Quayle had such a bad press; he found him well-informed and intelligent." [For those readers who blissfully missed the Quayle days, Danny boy's struggle with the English language makes George W. look like an expert.] - Schlesinger's rationalization of Henry's bizarre thought was that he must have expected Danny boy to be president one day. And why not, George W. proves that even an idiot can be elected if he plays his cards right. Henry had a bit of venum for George's dad, calling GHW Bush "a very petty man."

Reagan sent ex-Prezs Nixon, Ford & Carter to Anwar Sadat's funeral. Another fun bit came from Kissinger "As soon as we got into the plane, Nixon was his old self again, trying to manipulate everybody and everything, dropping poisonous remarks, doing his best to set people against each other. Later, when we were in a car by ourselves, Ford said to me, 'Sometimes I wish I had never pardoned that son of a bitch.' "

Another Kissinger bit on Nixon, “He really can’t remember whether he has read something in a newspaper or in an intelligence report.”

JFK on brother Bobby's appointment to Attorney General "I made a mistake in putting Bobby in the Justice Department," (instead of running the CIA).

And although I think Henry Kissinger is one of the lowest pieces of scum on the earth, I found his evaluation to Schlesinger's of another minion of the dark forces to be enjoyable. At a 1977 lunch, Henry said he believed "that Donald Rumsfeld was the rottenest person he had known in government."

And in no big surprise, Reagan is described as a president who "never ingests anything you tell him," by his secy. of State, George Scultz. Kissinger's take on Reagan? "He is the only president with whom I would rather have someone else in the room when I see him. If you talk to him alone, you can be sure that nothing will ever happen.”

In the end, I think the piece I've read that I've enjoyed the most is the revelation that Schlesinger wrote Cycles of American History "for the money."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What's it all for?

In today's London Independent, Patrick Cockburn asks a good question: why are US and British soldiers continuing to die in Afghanistan? What is the mission there? Originally, NATO and other troops were to topple the Taliban and provide Afghans with a better life. The first was achieved, temporarily, but recently the Taliban and Al-Quaeda have been granted a safe haven by the Pakistani authorities. No one, not Pakistanis nor NATO forces, are allowed anywhere near their stronghold in Waziristan. If the Pakistanis can't be pursuaded to go after them there, and won't allow NATO forces to, then what's the point of NATO troops continuing to fight them and die? The Taliban fighters slip over the border, regroup and then return to bomb and snipe the occupation forces and terrorize local villagers. Would it not be more prudent to concentrate on negotiating and end to the safe haven before proceeding with combat operations?!

Am I missing something here?

Also, how can anyone talk about a better life in view of the purposeful destruction of poppy fields, when poppies are the only major cash crop there? Are there no agricultural experts who could help with harvesting poppies for legitimate enterprises, like spice companies?

Maybe some enterprising member of the press corps will query President Bush about these matters during his next news conference. The Afghan mission is at this point pretty difficult to discern.

Bushies & Blackwater - BFF?

Ben Van Heuvelen has a nice piece in Salon about the connections between the Bush administration, a few notable Republicans and Blackwater, USA. I know, I know, you're shocked, SHOCKED to hear that the administration is in bed with one of the contractors working in Iraq. They may be anti-gay marriage, but they sure do love to cuddle:

A report issued by [Rep. Henry] Waxman on Monday alleges that State helped Blackwater cover up Iraqi fatalities. In December 2006, State arranged for the company to pay $15,000 to the family of an Iraqi guard who was shot and killed by a drunken Blackwater employee. In another shooting death, the payment was $5,000. As CNN reported Monday,the State Department also allowed a Blackwater employee to write State's initial "spot report" on the Sept. 16 shooting incident -- a report that did not mention civilian casualties and claimed contractors were responding to an insurgent attack on a convoy.

The ties between State and Blackwater are only part of a web of relationships that Blackwater has maintained with the Bush administration and with prominent Republicans. From 2001 to 2007, the firm has increased its annual federal contracts from less than $1 million to more than $500 million, all while employees passed through a turnstile between Blackwater and the administration, several leaving important posts in the Pentagon and the CIA to take jobs at the security company.

The article goes on to list several of the right-wing stateside psychos who are connected to Blackwater past & present. And how those connections have helped both groups at the expense of the American taxpayer, the Pentagon, and, oh yes, the Iraq War. Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater has more connections to the Bush administration & right-wing psychos than Cheney has to Halliburton!

[Prince's] late father, auto-parts magnate Edgar Prince, was instrumental in the creation of the Family Research Council, one of the right-wing Christian groups most influential with the George W. Bush administration. At his funeral in 1995, he was eulogized by two stalwarts of the Christian conservative movement, James Dobson and Gary Bauer. Edgar Prince's widow, Elsa, who remarried after her husband's death, has served on the boards of the FRC and another influential Christian-right organization, Dobson's Focus on the Family. She currently runs the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, where, according to IRS filings, her son Erik is a vice president. The foundation has given lavishly to some of the marquee names of the Christian right. Between July 2003 and July 2006, the foundation gave at least $670,000 to the FRC and $531,000 to Focus on the Family.

Both Edgar and Elsa have been affiliated with the Council for National Policy, the secretive Christian conservative organization whose meetings have been attended by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer, and whose membership is rumored to include Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Dobson. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation gave the CNP $80,000 between July 2003 and July 2006.

But what of the rest of the Blackwater band?

Joseph Schmitz, General Counsel
Joe's dad was a Republican congressman, while Joe worked for Ed Meese in Reagan's white house. In 2002, Bush nominated him to police Pentagon military contracts as DoD Inspector General. Under Joe's reign, the military contracting industry flourished as never before. He oversaw $42.1 billion flying out the door in contracts, hundreds of millions to ... yup, you guessed it, Blackwater. Joe's boss at the Pentagon? None other than Donny Rumsfeld.

J. Cofer Black, Vice Chairman
J.C. comes from the CIA, where he was in counterintelligence at the time of the 9/11 attacks. His is one of the faces behind the concept of hiding terror suspects in secret prisons for ... interrogations. He moved over to State, where he gave Blackwater a contract to train Olympic security teams for 2004. He left state to join Blackwater. Although he must have some spare time on his hands, because he's able to spend time as Mitt Romney's senior adviser for counterterrorism.

And what's a list of Blackwater's BBFs without one of everyone's favorite Republican from the 1990s - Ken Starr! Starr was kind enough to represent Blackwater as counsel in 2006. He helped out in a long-standing suit against the company by the families of the four Blackwater employees tortured & killed in 2004. Starr petitioned the Supreme Court that Blackwater was "constitutionally immune" to the lawsuit. Amazingly enough the petition was denied.

Cartoon from Zen Comix.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

How Jaded Am I?

Enough so that none of the following raised even an eyebrow of surprise on my face:

Larry Craig says he'll stay in office after saying he'd leave after his arrest became public.
"Shortly after a state judge denied his request to withdraw the August plea admitting to disorderly conduct, Mr. Craig said he had reversed his previously announced decision to leave the Senate if he could not get the plea thrown out and would instead serve out his third term, which expires at the end of 2008. He said he would not run for a fourth. “When my term has expired, I will retire and not seek re-election,” said Mr. Craig, who was accused of soliciting sex from an undercover police officer in the bathroom of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in early June. “I hope this provides the certainty Idaho needs and deserves.”

Bush vetoes child health care bill, sending Republicans in Congress scurrying to figure out either how to get elected with that on their shoulders or stand up to Bush.

Bush's folks deny that the secret legal opinion allowing torture techniques to be used on CIA terrorism suspects violated government decrees against torture.

Is there anything this administration or idiot Congressfolk can do anymore that surprises?

I know, how about standing up for what the majority of Americans want. What Congress heard loud and clear in the 2006 elections. Stop the war and get the heck out of Iraq. THAT would surprise.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Once upon a time in America seemed that the country was capable of taking big steps, achieving broad consensus on big issues and getting appropriate legislation passed. I'm thinking of the Marshall Plan, a huge undertaking that seemed to go against the American people's traditional postwar isolationism/leave-us-alone-to-get-on-with-our-lives sentiment. The proponents made the case, and the Congress acted on it. The Civil Rights legislation of l964, the creation of Head Start, of Medicare...these were all ambitious measures undertaken to solve specific, very serious problems in the country. Somehow, we mustered the will, the consensus and the votes to get these signature initiatives passed. Now, it is almost impossible to imagine life without them.

So it was with particular chagrin that I read about President Bush's veto of the Senate's S-chip expansion. This amounts to a small increase in expenditures for children's health care, extending coverage to what essentially are the working poor in America, those making between $40,000 and $60,000. If we can't even agree that a greater number of children at risk should have health coverage, what hope is there for solutions to looming crises involving entitlement reform, upgrading of essential infrastructure, and, um, finding a way out of the Iraq fiasco?

I can't understand why even the simplest, clearest matters seem to be beyond the county's abilities now. Are we really so different now than we were in the l940s, 50s and 60s?!

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