Thursday, September 27, 2007

ON THE LITE SIDE - FAQs on General Petraeus' Testimony

"You Can't Make Stuff Up Like This" by Will Durst, Humor Times

Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding General Petraeus' testimony to Congress.

Q. How did General Petraeus' testimony in front of Congress go?
A. Pretty good. He emphasized that progress was being made in Iraq. The same way he talked about the progress being made in Iraq when he testified in the same room back in 2004. He might be using the same script.

Q. What's the difference between then and now?
A. Back then, Baghdad still had electricity and water and the wheel.

Q. Did General Petraeus speak about what the future holds for our Iraqi involvement?
A. He acknowledged the road ahead would be difficult. He also allowed that fire engines are often red.

Q. The General said we have raised the number of trained Iraqi security forces fighting alongside American troops. Is it a significant rise?
A. 60 percent. From five to eight.

Q. Five to eight brigades? Divisions?
A. No. Troops. Used to be five guys we could trust. Now it's eight.

Q. What happened to the Democrats holding the General's feet to the fire?
A. Everyone except scampered away like 12-year-old girls running from a big hairy spider.

Q. What did do?
A. They ran a full page ad in the New York Times spotlighting General Betray Us.

Q. Why?
A. How often do you get a rhyme like that? Once in a lifetime shot; they took it.

Q. Doesn't the latest National Intelligence Estimate report Iraq's government is paralyzed by internal squabbling and petty personal differences?
A. Yes, so if you think about it, we have made strides in installing an American-style democracy.

Q. Did the General really respond to whether our intervention in Iraq was making America safer, by saying, "Unh, I don't know, actually"?
A. Yeah. So?

Q. Nothing. Just curious.
A. Well, move on. I mean, keep going.

Q. What does the General mean when he says security gains since the surge have been "uneven."
A. "Uneven" is traditional Pentagon speak for "getting our butts handed to us on a paper plate."

Q. What about those benchmarks that were oh-so-important in January?
A. Turns out they weren't really all that important. What is important is other stuff. Stuff that looks good right now.

Q. The President called the insurgents in Iraq, Al Qaeda 12 times in his speech. What's up with that?
A. A small group calls itself Al Qaeda of Iraq, but its not the same Al Qaeda responsible for 9/11. Surfing off the credibility of the name. Kind of like a terrorism franchise.

Q. Does fighting one hurt the other?
A. There used to be two teams in the Canadian Football League called the Red Ryders. But if you beat one it didn't mean you got credit for two victories in the standings.

Q. What ever happened to "we'll step down when the Iraqis step up?"
A. Someone stole the steps.

Q. Was a timetable provided for reducing troops in Iraq?
A. Nothing clear cut. Something to do with snow and hell.

Q. And the upshot of the whole thing?
A. General Petraeus asked for more time. He's hoping to come back in March with a new report.

Q. So, they're just going to keep kicking the dead cat down the road. Until when, do you think?
A. Does November 4th, 2008 have any meaning here?

Q. Is that a question?
A. Sorry, no.

IRAQ - Blackwater = Bush Brownshirts

"Blackwater Tops All Firms in Iraq in Shooting Rate" by John M. Broder & James Risen, New York Times


The American security contractor Blackwater USA has been involved in a far higher rate of shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq than other security firms providing similar services to the State Department, according to Bush administration officials and industry officials.

Blackwater is now the focus of investigations in both Baghdad and Washington over a Sept. 16 shooting in which at least 11 Iraqis were killed. Beyond that episode, the company has been involved in cases in which its personnel fired weapons while guarding State Department officials in Iraq at least twice as often per convoy mission as security guards working for other American security firms, the officials said.

The disclosure came as the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had sent a team of officials to Iraq to get answers to questions about the use of American security contractors there.

The State Department keeps reports on each case in which weapons were fired by security personnel guarding American diplomats in Iraq. Officials familiar with the internal State Department reports would not provide the actual statistics, but they indicated that the records showed that Blackwater personnel were involved in dozens of episodes in which they had resorted to force.

The officials said that Blackwater’s incident rate was at least twice that recorded by employees of DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, the two other United States-based security firms that have been contracted by the State Department to provide security for diplomats and other senior civilians in Iraq.

Hail, hail oh great and glorious Supreme Leader Bush! GOP's God's anointed!

POLITICS - The Real Spies Among Us

EFFector Newsletter, Vol. 20, No. 38, September 26, 2007

Newsweek's top story this week exposes the desperation of the telecommunications companies in light of cases like EFF's class-action lawsuit against AT&T, which accuses the telecom giant of assisting in the illegal surveillance of millions of Americans. The telecoms and the Administration are heaping pressure on Congress to get a 'get out of jail free' card for their role in helping the government spy on their customers:

"The campaign---which involves some of Washington's most prominent lobbying and law firms---has taken on new urgency in recent weeks because of fears that a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco is poised to rule that the lawsuits should be allowed to proceed.

"If that happens, the telecom companies say, they may be forced to terminate their cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community---or risk potentially crippling damage awards for allegedly turning over personal information about their customers to the government without a judicial warrant."

The telecoms' worries are telling. Our case is representing a class of U.S. residential customers and does not include any terrorists - just ordinary folks who use the phone and email. The per person penalties are quite reasonable. If the telecoms were not spying on millions of innocent Americans, there is no way for the liability to become "crippling."

Moreover, the Administration obtained prospective immunity in the so-called Protect America Act earlier this year. If the telecoms are only operating under the extremely broad parameters of the PAA, there is no liability reason to stop cooperating moving forward. And yet they are so worried about liability, they threaten to terminate their cooperation.

"Among those coordinating the industry's effort are two well-connected capital players who both worked for President George H.W. Bush: Verizon general counsel William Barr, who served as attorney general under 41, and AT&T senior executive vice president James Cicconi, who was the elder Bush's deputy chief of staff.

"Case Dismissed?" by Michael Isikoff & Mark Hosenball, Newsweek

The secret lobbying campaign your phone company doesn't want you to know about

The nation’s biggest telecommunications companies, working closely with the White House, have mounted a secretive lobbying campaign to get Congress to quickly approve a measure wiping out all private lawsuits against them for assisting the U.S. intelligence community’s warrantless surveillance programs.


“It’s not an exaggeration to say the U.S. intelligence community is in a near-panic about this,” said one communications industry lawyer familiar with the debate who asked not to be publicly identified because of the sensitivity surrounding the issue.

But critics say the language proposed by the White House—drafted in close cooperation with the industry officials—is so extraordinarily broad that it would provide retroactive immunity for all past telecom actions related to the surveillance program. Its practical effect, they argue, would be to shut down any independent judicial or state inquires into how the companies have assisted the government in eavesdropping on the telephone calls and e-mails of U.S. residents in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks.

“It’s clear the goal is to kill our case," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy group that filed the main lawsuit against the telecoms after The New York Times first disclosed, in December 2005, that President Bush had approved a secret program to monitor the phone conversations of U.S. residents without first seeking judicial warrants. The White House subsequently confirmed that it had authorized the National Security Agency to conduct what it called a “terrorist surveillance program” aimed at communications between suspected terrorists overseas and individuals inside the United States. But the administration has also intervened, unsuccessfully so far, to try to block the lawsuit from proceeding and has consistently refused to discuss any details about the extent of the program—rebuffing repeated congressional requests for key legal memos about it.

"They are trying to completely immunize this [the surveillance program] from any kind of judicial review,” added Cohn. “I find it a little shocking that Congress would participate in the covering up of what has been going on."

But congressional staffers said this week that some version of the proposal is likely to pass—in part because of a high-pressure lobbying campaign warning of dire consequences if the lawsuits proceed. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell seemed to raise the stakes recently when he contended in an interview with the El Paso Times that the private lawsuits could “bankrupt these companies.”

There's more in the full Newsweek article

Yap, typical Bush Administration and GOP think-speak. Money (aka profits) before the people and Constitutional Rights. Everything can be sacrificed at the alter of greed, greed for money or power.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

IRAQ - Again and Again, Surge Failure

"Surge not working, Powell tells chamber" by Brett Lieberman, Patriot-News, PA


One of the most important figures in America’s road to war in Iraq delivered a blunt assessment Monday night of the Bush administration’s troop surge.

The surge has not worked, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told 1,400 business and political leaders attending the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry’s annual dinner in Derry Twp.

The window of opportunity is narrowing, Powell said. If Iraq’s government isn’t standing on its own within six to eight months, American troops will have to come home, said the man whose historic argument to the United Nations in 2003 that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction was arguably the critical moment in the run-up to the American invasion.

"The surge that we are undertaking right now has had some success in reducing the violence, but that wasn’t the purpose of the surge," Powell told his audience at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.

The purpose was to give the Iraqi government time to stand up, Powell said. "So far, the surge is not a success, even if Gen. (David) Petraeus’ part of it is working," he said. Petraeus is the U.S. commander in Iraq.

Monday, September 24, 2007

POLITICS - How Big Business Really Cares About People

"More Profit and Less Nursing at Many Homes" by Charles Duhigg, New York Times


Habana Health Care Center, a 150-bed nursing home in Tampa, Fla., was struggling when a group of large private investment firms purchased it and 48 other nursing homes in 2002.

The facility’s managers quickly cut costs. Within months, the number of clinical registered nurses at the home was half what it had been a year earlier, records collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicate. Budgets for nursing supplies, resident activities and other services also fell, according to Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The investors and operators were soon earning millions of dollars a year from their 49 homes.

Yap. Profits before people, the GOP mantra.

IRAQ - Tracking Corruption

"Graft in U.S. Army Contracts Spread From Kuwait Base" by Ginger Thompson and Eric Schmitt, New York Times


..... The congregation at New Friendship Baptist Church celebrated his last promotion with a parade. At his sons’ baptism, he told fellow worshipers that he hoped to instill in his children the values he had wrested from hardship.

Less than 24 hours later Major Cockerham was behind bars, accused of orchestrating the largest single bribery scheme against the military since the start of the Iraq war. According to the authorities, the 41-year-old officer, with his wife and a sister, used an elaborate network of offshore bank accounts and safe deposit boxes to hide nearly $10 million in bribes from companies seeking military contracts.

The accusations against Major Cockerham are tied to a crisis of corruption inside the behemoth bureaucracy that sustains America’s troops. Pentagon officials are investigating some $6 billion in military contracts, most covering supplies as varied as bottled water, tents and latrines for troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The inquiries have resulted in charges against at least 29 civilians and soldiers, more than 75 other criminal investigations and the suicides of at least two officers. They have prompted the Pentagon, the largest purchasing agency in the world, to overhaul its war-zone procurement system.

This is another example of what happens when you outsource, and why outsourcing is a bad idea especially when done within the government. In the civilian world, outsourcing takes away American work's jobs and takes day-to-day functional control of business outside of the U.S., and profits ONLY the company.

POLITICS - Bush is Never Wrong! NOT

Your Hypocrisy is so Vast
Olbermann to Bush 10/26/2009

Thursday, September 20, 2007

IRAQ - A Cry of Anger

"No Past, No Future..." by Layla Anwar, An Arab Woman Blues


Is there anything in Iraq that the Americans have not destroyed ?

Anything at all ?

And you dare wonder why I detest you so much...And you have the audacity to come to my blog to question me about my origins, my location, my ideas, my roots, my sense of belonging...

What kind of a race are you ? What kind of a people are you ?

Yes, I said people not government. I am not politically correct. Your government is part of you and you are part of it. Like it or not.

And don't come and tell me in your sheepish ways that I know all too well : " Oh, but I did not vote for this one. "I don't give a fuck whom you voted for or did not vote for. It is not my problem.

My problem is you. Your culture, your behavior, your mentality, your character, your haughtiness, your arrogance, your false pride, your denial, your collective stupidity and ignorance, your way of life which I find boring, empty and distasteful, your accent which is an affront to my ears...and to my senses.

I do not like you. Full stop.

I know, I know, some of you are good people...

I know, I know, America is not a homogeneous group... I know all that shit.

It does not make one iota of difference in my life and that of other Iraqis.

I no longer give a damn about your nuances, your political leanings, how good or how bad you are...It is meaningless to me and to countless others.

Our lives have been ruined, totally ruined...We do not give a fuck about your nuances.

And all I know if that you have destroyed my country. Beyond repair.

We, as a collective people, deserve her anger. We let this outrage in Iraq happen by allowing our own hurt and anger of 9/11 to be WRONGFULLY wroth on the a nation and people who did not have anything to do with 9/11. Led by the consummate lier, G.W. Bush.

And we continue to let this go on, especially the GOP and (of course) our Emperor. Everyone who sits on the fence, supports the Iraq War, or believes that the United States has a duty to convert the world to our definition of Democracy, is at fault. What arrogance! The arrogance of the school-yard bully. It makes ME cry.

Friday, September 14, 2007

ON THE LITE SIDE - The Bush "No Child Left Behind" Program


'Students First In Line' Program To Offer Job Training At Needy Schools

POLITICS - From the Humorous Side

What follows are excerpts from You Can't Make Stuff Up Like This column, by Will Durst, Humor Times

The Center Left, Right?

Does anybody know what happened to the center? I remember hearing about it in the old days, but it seems to have disappeared like a wisp of mist in a solar wind. All anybody talks about is the left and the right. We're so polarized these days, I'm surprised our compasses still work. They should be stuck on due daft. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan speaking about the Democratic Party: I didn't leave the center, the center left me. And you can blame Uncle Ron for triggering the seismic shift that shoved the center to the right.

Now I grew up a moderate. A raging moderate perhaps, but a moderate nonetheless. These guys keep moving the center, I stay in the same place, and suddenly I'm a Marxist. Just because I believe a society should be based on how it treats its least fortunate not its most fortunate. And that makes me a commie pinko yellow rat bastard? How the hell did that happen?

Think about it. Nixon: civil rights, the Environmental Protection Agency. He'd have problems getting the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor in Massachusetts. Goldwater: who said about gays in the military, "you don't have to be straight to shoot straight," would be written off as an enemy of our troops and close personal friend of Nancy Pelosi's hairstylist, if you know what I mean.

20% of the country is, has been and always will be, far left. 20% is far right. The rest of us are in the middle. Between the fringes. You could say we are average, ordinary or even God forbid, normal. Me, I'm just a middle aged, middle class, Middle American of medium height, medium build who likes his steaks medium rare. And that's the only thing rare about me.

Like a lot of us, I'm just a guy - a regular guy tired of having to pick either Anne Coulter or Sheryl Crowe as my spokesperson. These women have as much to do with me as a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach has to do with the United Auto Workers Pension Fund. Maybe its Starbucks' fault for semantic size corruption. Selling America a medium sized coffee and calling it "grande."

We're not just losing the middle, we're losing the middle class. And trust me, that is not a good thing. Cuz when the middle class disappears, you start to hear things like, "eat the rich," and trust me, nobody wants that. The rich are way too stringy. All that free time to exercise. The fat poor is where it's at.

Mmm. The fat poor. Tastes just like chicken. So if you see the center or know what happened to it, please contact me ASAP. Reward on return.

Let me know too. It's lonely here in the middle.

Rove Bye Bye

Karl Rove, Bush's brain, quit last month. And no, he hasn't been replaced, so yes, you could say the cavity remains empty. To put it another way: Voldermort has left the building. Darth Vader took off his helmet. Proof positive that Satan had more than just a passing acquaintance with the Pillsbury Doughboy has exited stage right. This sudden shift of malodorous winds has caused liberals to shiver in separation anxiety knowing they're going to have to look elsewhere to assuage their demon Jones, as they no longer have the pale pudgy strategist as target for their limp verbal projectiles.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

POLITICS - Dangerous Ideas

I have been reading the introduction by Steven Pinker to the book "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?" by John Brockman. The following quotes caught my attention.

The idea that ideas should be discouraged a priori is inherently self-refuting. Indeed, it is the ultimate arrogance, as it assumes that one can be so certain about the goodness and truth of one's own ideas that one is entitled to discourage other people's opinions from even being examined.

Also, it's hard to imagine any aspect of public life where ignorance or delusion is better than an awareness of the truth, even an unpleasant one.

Rational adults want to know the truth, because any action based on false premises will not have the effects they desire.

Does this sound familiar today?

Like the Bush and GOP attitude to any idea that questions their beliefs or rational. The Iraq War based on false premises maybe?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

IRAQ - More Opinion on the Iraq War

"Damn, it's 'Nam" by Eric Margolis, Information Clearing House

09/10/07 "Toronto Sun" --- - We all know what "deja vu" is. But I recently read of a condition psychiatrists call "jamais vu." That's where one sees something very familiar, but cannot identify it.

Both the White House and U.S. military seemed gripped by jamais vu.

Many of the same mistakes made in the Vietnam War are being repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, but neither the White House, Pentagon, nor U.S. field commanders seem to recognize or understand them.

This week, Gen. David Petreaus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, will issue a report on the "progress" his troops are making in Iraq in the face of serious problems, and hint at future troop reductions.

The report will speak of important security successes in Baghdad and Anbar province. Gen. Petreaus is a very smart, highly respected commander, but one suspects his report will unfortunately be the latest example of jamais vu syndrome.

U.S. commanders in Iraq, like their Canadian counterparts in Afghanistan, keep proudly reporting how their men have occupied villages or towns, killed scores of "suspected terrorists" (usually thanks to air attack), and forced the enemy to flee.

They do not seem to understand they are fighting a fluid guerrilla war in which territory and body counts mean little.


Mao Zedong perfectly described the principles of such guerrilla war: "When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue."

The "successes" being reported from Iraq and Afghanistan are illusory.

We heard exactly the same story during the Vietnam War, when U.S. military spokesmen trumpeted daily glowing reports about enemy body counts, strategic hamlets created, Viet Cong tunnels blown up, hearts and minds won over, and smiling children waving little American flags.

While the U.S. was "winning" all these little daily battles, Communists were winning the war.

Institutional memory rarely exceeds 10 years.

Most of Vietnam's bitter lessons, paid for by the blood of 58,000 Americans, have been totally forgotten by the White House and Pentagon.

But don't blame the soldiers. Once again, U.S. fighting men in Iraq and Canadians in Afghanistan have been sent into no-win wars by their poorly informed, badly advised civilian masters, and ordered to keep coming up with rosy progress reports.

I have covered numerous guerrilla wars in my time and have never seen Western powers win a single one. Yet we keep forgetting this hard lesson.

We have also forgotten the great Gen. Douglas MacArthur's warning after Korea, "never fight a land war in Asia."

The much ballyhooed Petreaus report will be a key part of the game of political chicken President George Bush is playing with the Democratic-controlled Congress, which wants to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq.


Bush appears determined to keep the war going until his term expires to avoid blame for defeat in Iraq.

Congress is trying to lay all the blame on Bush, get him to admit defeat, and evade its own shameful role in authorizing the trumped-up Iraq War.

But Congress is in a jam. If U.S. troops do withdraw, Iraq may fall into even worse chaos than it now suffers -- which a Democratic president will inherit.

In an election year, Republicans will blast Democrats as "defeatists" for "cutting and running" and "losing Iraq."

That's why worried leading Democrats are now backing off calls for total withdrawal and mumbling about partial pullbacks and "training Iraqi forces."

Meanwhile, the administration refuses to admit Iraq has no real government or army, and is an anarchic stew of competing Shia militias, tribal chiefs, death squads, 22 Sunni resistance groups, and breakaway Kurds. Iran is becoming the real power in Iraq.

Polls show 80% of Iraqis want U.S. forces out. The U.S. occupation is largely responsible for unleashing Shia ethnic cleansing that has created four million Iraqi refugees.

History does not repeat itself, but men's mistakes and follies do.

The latest sombre example is Iraq, where our memory of Vietnam is ... jamais vu.

As a Vietnam Vet, this is exactly what I see in this Iraq War. It is not an exact parallel to Vietnam, but the mistakes being made are the same ones made then.

There was a PBS News Hour piece last night "Senators Assess Petraeus, Crocker Testimony" that included a statement that a also agree with.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I would say we're buying time to hand it off to the next administration, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: That's what it's about?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I know that sounds harsh. I think that's what it's about; I really do. I think they've concluded that they don't know how to fix it. They're not willing to make a stark political change, that is, to seek a fundamentally different outcome than a strong central government that controls all of Iraq in harmony as a democracy. I think they know that's not going to work.

They're unwilling to engage the international community in a robust way in order to bring in the parties to work out an agreement on the federal constitution being implemented, that is a federal system, the so-called soft partition.

So, therefore, I think what they're going to do is they're going to keep 130,000 troops here, 160,000 until next summer, 133,000 going into the next election. And I think they're hoping that's going to stitch it together without completely imploding, and it's on the next president's plate.

I honestly believe that's what it is. I know that sounds harsh; I said that a year ago. These guys are too smart not to know there is no end in sight with this policy.

This is what the present policy is all about, the Bush Administration, and the GOP, not having to admit they were wrong from the get-go. They will do anything to avoid this. They are willing to expend American lives and dollars to protect their mistakes. Then leave the next Administration to deal with the mess.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

IRAQ - NYT, From the Ground

I first heard of this from MSNBC News Video. The following is a "from the ground" look at Baghdad and surrounding areas. No hype, no political agenda.

The following text are excerpts. I suggest reading the full article (6 pages) with charts and video.

"At Street Level, Unmet Goals of Troop Buildup" by Damien Cave & Stephen Farrell, New York Times, 9/8/2007

Seven months after the American-led troop “surge” began, Baghdad has experienced modest security gains that have neither reversed the city’s underlying sectarian dynamic nor created a unified and trusted national government.

Improvements have been made. American military figures show that sectarian killings in Baghdad have decreased substantially. In many of Baghdad’s most battle-scarred areas, including Mansour in the west and Ur in the east, markets and parks that were practically abandoned last year have begun to revive.

The surge has also coincided with and benefited from a dramatic turnaround in many Sunni areas where former insurgents and tribes have defected from supporting violent extremism, delivering reliable tips and helping the Americans find and eliminate car bomb factories. An average of 23 car bombs a month struck Baghdad in June, July and August, down from an average of 42 over the same period a year earlier.

But the overall impact of those developments, so far, has been limited. And in some cases the good news is a consequence of bad news: people in neighborhoods have been “takhalasu” — an Iraqi word for purged, meaning killed or driven away. More than 35,000 Iraqis have left their homes in Baghdad since the American troop buildup began, aid groups reported.

The hulking blast walls that the Americans have set up around many neighborhoods have only intensified the city’s sense of balkanization. Merchants must now hire a different driver for individual areas, lest gunmen kill a stranger from another sect to steal a truckload of T-shirts.

To study the full effects of the troop increase at ground level, reporters for The New York Times repeatedly visited at least 20 neighborhoods in Baghdad and its surrounding belts, interviewing more than 150 residents, in addition to members of sectarian militias, Americans patrolling the city and Iraqi officials.

They found that the additional troops had slowed, but far from stopped, Iraq’s still-burning civil war. Baghdad remains a city where sectarian violence can flare at any moment, and where the central government is becoming less reliable and relevant as Shiite or Sunni vigilantes demand submission to their own brand of law. “These improvements in the face of the general devastation look small and insignificant because the devastation is so much bigger,” said Haidar Minathar, an Iraqi author, actor and director. He added that the security gains “have no great influence.”


But when he announced on Jan. 10 his plan to add 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Iraq, Mr. Bush emphasized that Baghdad was the linchpin for creating a stable Iraq. With less fear of death in the capital, “Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas,” he said.

That has not happened. More than 160,000 American troops are now in Iraq to help secure 25 million people. Across Baghdad — which undoubtedly remains a crucial barometer — American and Iraqi forces have moved closer to the population, out of giant bases and into 29 joint security stations. But even as some neighborhoods have improved, others have worsened as fighters moved to areas with fewer American troops.

Lt. Col. Steven M. Miska, deputy commander of a brigade of the First Infantry Division that is charged with controlling northwest Baghdad, said, “We’ve done everything we can militarily.”

He added, “I think we have essentially stalled the sectarian conflict without addressing the underlying grievances.”


Sunnis and Shiites still fear each other. At the top levels of the government and in the sweltering neighborhoods of Baghdad, hatreds are festering, not healing.

Dealing with intermittent electricity, few jobs, widespread corruption and fresh memories of unspeakable horrors, Iraqis of all sects are scrambling for power, for control.

Iraq’s mixed neighborhoods are sliding toward extinction. During the troop increase, Shiite militias have continued to drive Sunnis out of at least seven neighborhoods of Baghdad. The Mahdi Army, loyal to the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, is turning into what many describe as a shadow government, while desperate Sunnis have come to rely almost exclusively on American troops for their protection — a remarkable turnaround from four years ago when the Americans arrived.


What Congress must now decide, based on extensive data and testimony from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador, is to what extent an American presence can define Iraq’s future. The fifth and final brigade of the troop buildup arrived only in June. General Petraeus has focused on “tactical momentum,” citing the so-called Sunni awakening as proof of success and cause for a continued and expansive American investment of lives and money.

But a close look at three kinds of neighborhoods — Sunni, Shiite and mixed — indicates that while there is certainly momentum, it is still largely driven by the sectarian forces in Iraq, and moving according to their rules.


The Sunni mosques in Huriya sit empty, burned and broken, while new monuments to revered Shiite imams have arisen, framed in sparkling black marble.

In that working-class western Baghdad neighborhood, the signs of a Shiite takeover stand out — and offer a glimpse into a possible future of a Shiite-ruled Iraq without a capable, nonsectarian government.

The Sunnis are gone, forced out by the Mahdi Army. And in the wake of that rout — which peaked just before a company of American soldiers moved into a joint security station on Jan. 31 — violence has declined. One or two bodies a week now appear in the streets instead of the 30 or 40 that surfaced weekly in December.


Abu Sajat, 36, a former pushcart vendor who said he spent seven years in prison under Saddam Hussein, insisted that he had no interest in money. He said the militia’s earnings from Huriya often went to less fortunate Shiites. Last week, he said his command contributed 23 million Iraqi dinars, or $18,400, to Sadr City families whose homes had been damaged or whose relatives had been killed in American military raids.

His justification for attacking Sunnis was simple, and sectarian: “Their houses belong to us,” he said. “They’ve colonized us for more than 1,000 years.”

“Sunnis are just like the puppies of a filthy dog,” he said. “Even the purest among them is dirty.”

The bottom line for Americans, no matter what the Bush Administration says, with the level of sectarian hatred in Iraq, then add the creation of Iraq as a bugle-call to all terrorists around the world due to our invasion of Iraq; just how long do we remain there, how many American lives and dollars are we willing to sacrifice? Especially when the solution (aka winning the war) is not ours to find.

Already it is apparent to me, and many other Americans, that it is the Iraqis themselves who are finding their own solution, not an American one. And it's not going to be pretty.

Monday, September 10, 2007

POLITICS - The Bush Whitehouse "Bubble"

"The shrinking Bush bubble" by Rosa Brooks, LA Times

Here are the paragraphs that really say it all about the Bush Whitehouse.

Goldsmith ran the Justice Department's office of legal counsel for nine months in 2003-04 (and was briefly a colleague of mine at the University of Virginia School of Law). He and his book, "The Terror Presidency," are quoted extensively in a Sept. 9 New York Times Magazine article.

Key takeaways: Bush and Gonzales had little appetite for substance; Cheney's staff ruled the roost and insisted that the law was supposed to bend to their wishes; and top Cheney aides such as David Addington were every bit as contemptuous of their GOP colleagues in the executive branch as they were of Congress, the courts and their Democratic critics.

For instance: When Goldsmith tried to explain to Addington that terrorists and insurgents might be covered under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which applies to civilians (rather than under the Third Geneva Convention, which covers prisoners of war), Addington reacted with fury: "The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision." That's the rule of law, as understood by Cheney's office.

....bold emphases mine

This is a Bush Whitehouse belief in an Imperial Presidency. That the President, because he is "Commander and Chief" can ignore the checks-and-balances our Constitution provides. That no other branch of government has the Constitutional duty to review and provide a check against Presidential abuse of power because the President is "Commander and Chief."

This belief means any President can ignore other provisions of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.

As I have said before, NO one clause of our Constitution gives license to ignore any other clause. It is the DUTY of Congress and the Judiciary to provide a check to Presidential abuse of power.

ECONOMY - Tax Payers Being Robbed

I just bumped into a PBS Frontline program "Tax Me If You Can"

The upshot is that the ordinary tax payer is being robbed by the runaway Tax Shelter industry. We are bearing a much larger tax burden because big corporations are lowering their tax burden by, shady means.

Just two quotes from the show as an example:

On paper (tax code) the corporate tax rate = 35%, but in 1998 is was 20% and recently it's 15%.

From another interviewee; 1950 - 2000 corporations paid 17%, now it's down to 7%.

So, the common honest tax payer is burdened with the difference (7% vs 35%).

I highly suggest readers view the entire program, which is broken down to 5 videos at the link above.

Friday, September 07, 2007

ON THE LITE SIDE - The GOP on Distribution of Wealth Problem


In The Know: Are America's Rich Falling Behind The Super-Rich?

POLITICS - Bush, He Was Lying Then, He's Lying Now

Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction" by Sidney Blumenthal, Salon COM, 9/6/2007


Two former CIA officers say the president squelched top-secret intelligence, and a briefing by George Tenet, months before invading Iraq.

On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.

Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD.

On April 23, 2006, CBS's "60 Minutes" interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, who disclosed that the agency had received documentary intelligence from Naji Sabri, Saddam's foreign minister, that Saddam did not have WMD. "We continued to validate him the whole way through," said Drumheller. "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."

Now two former senior CIA officers have confirmed Drumheller's account to me and provided the background to the story of how the information that might have stopped the invasion of Iraq was twisted in order to justify it. They described what Tenet said to Bush about the lack of WMD, and how Bush responded, and noted that Tenet never shared Sabri's intelligence with then Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the former officers, the intelligence was also never shared with the senior military planning the invasion, which required U.S. soldiers to receive medical shots against the ill effects of WMD and to wear protective uniforms in the desert.

Instead, said the former officials, the information was distorted in a report written to fit the preconception that Saddam did have WMD programs. That false and restructured report was passed to Richard Dearlove, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on it as validation of the cause for war.

Secretary of State Powell, in preparation for his presentation of evidence of Saddam's WMD to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, spent days at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and had Tenet sit directly behind him as a sign of credibility. But Tenet, according to the sources, never told Powell about existing intelligence that there were no WMD, and Powell's speech was later revealed to be a series of falsehoods.

.....Sept. 18, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri. "Tenet told me he briefed the president personally," said one of the former CIA officers. According to Tenet, Bush's response was to call the information "the same old thing." Bush insisted it was simply what Saddam wanted him to think. "The president had no interest in the intelligence," said the CIA officer. The other officer said, "Bush didn't give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up."

But the CIA officers working on the Sabri case kept collecting information. "We checked on everything he told us." French intelligence eavesdropped on his telephone conversations and shared them with the CIA. These taps "validated" Sabri's claims, according to one of the CIA officers. The officers brought this material to the attention of the newly formed Iraqi Operations Group within the CIA. But those in charge of the IOG were on a mission to prove that Saddam did have WMD and would not give credit to anything that came from the French. "They kept saying the French were trying to undermine the war," said one of the CIA officers.

The officers continued to insist on the significance of Sabri's information, but one of Tenet's deputies told them, "You haven't figured this out yet. This isn't about intelligence. It's about regime change."

More evidence of the Bush mindset. Deep down in the muck of his brain, Bush doesn't like that Daddy didn't finish-off Saddam in the Gulf War. Those he surrounded himself with, were of a like mind. So 9/11 provided the perfect rational to fulfill his deepest dreams, to correct Daddy's mistake and become Mr. WAR PRESIDENT, Emperor Bush.

POLITICS - One For the Good Guys

"Federal judge blasts Congress, strikes down part of Patriot Act" by Larry Neumeister, AP, 9/6/2007

A federal judge issued a blistering attack on the USA Patriot Act on Thursday as he struck down a key part of the law, ruling that it runs roughshod over the Constitution and puts Americans in danger of "far-reaching invasions of liberty."

In a ruling remarkable for its numerous pages spent defending the need for judicial oversight of laws, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero handed the American Civil Liberties Union a major victory in its challenge of the post-Sept. 11 law.

"Congress needs to fix the mess it created when it gave the government overly-broad powers to obtain sensitive information about Americans," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., one of the few lawmakers to vote against the Patriot Act.

The judge immediately stayed the effect of his ruling, allowing the government time to appeal. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said: "We are reviewing the decision and considering our options at this time."

The ACLU had challenged the law on behalf of an Internet service provider, complaining that it allowed the FBI to demand records without the kind of court supervision required for other government searches. Under the law, investigators can issue so-called national security letters to entities like Internet service providers and phone companies and demand customers' phone and Internet records.


Noting that the courthouse where he resides is several blocks from the fallen World Trade Center, the judge said the Constitution was designed "so that the dangers of any given moment would never suffice as justification for discarding fundamental individual liberties."

He said when "the judiciary lowers its guard on the Constitution, it opens the door to far-reaching invasions of liberty."

In a lengthy opinion, he gave what amounted to an eighth-grade civics lesson, describing why the founders of the Constitution created three branches of government, separate but equal, delegating the judiciary to say what the law is and to protect the Constitution and the rights it gives citizens.

Regarding national security letters, Congress impermissibly crossed its jurisdictional boundaries so dramatically that to let the law stand might turn an innocent legislative step into "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values."

The article is correct about "eighth-grade civics lesson." That is where I was taught about our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Particularly about the reason for the 3 branches of government and separation of powers. It is very obvious to me the Bush flunked his civics classes; then again, Emperor Bush may be choosing just to ignore them.

Side issue, Gonzo supported this and should be disbarred and prevented from practicing law in the US.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

POLITICS - "Support Our Troops, Continue the Iraq War Until We Win!"

"Senate pushes higher vets’ funding" by Rick Maze, Army Times, 9/6/2007


Opposition from the Bush administration will not stop the Senate from passing a $109.2 billion funding bill for veterans’ programs and military construction.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., acting chairman of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for the bill, said a $4 billion increase over the Bush administration’s request would go mostly to boost veterans’ health care programs. He called it “an obvious response to spiraling health care needs.”

On Monday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget issued a policy statement opposing the Senate bill. Using language similar to its statement opposing the House version of the bill, White House budget officials said they would not recommend a veto of this bill, S 1645, but would make such a recommendation for appropriations bills covering other federal agencies if the increase for veterans’ programs is not offset by spending cuts in other programs.

“Funding for our troops, past and present, should not be held hostage to Congress’ attempts to provide irresponsible increases in domestic spending,” the White House statement said.

Typical Bush Administration, and GOP, logic; lets run-up huge defects to fund the Iraq War but not fund caring for the troops fighting it.

They actually believe that huge defects are OK for fighting a war but not for caring for people! This priority from the party that "claims" to have the moral high-ground.

IRAQ - Diary From the "Trenches"

"Iraq Diary: Baghdad's Glamorous Life" by Noah Shachtman, Wired Blog Network

I’m sitting on a gilded chair, writing on a gilded table. The floors beneath me are marble, and the chandeliers above are sparkly and crystal. The only reminder that I’m in a war zone is the pair of man-high concrete barriers I can see out my window. “It’s Sunday, man, you’re working too hard,” a national guardsmen just told me.

Welcome to Baghdad.

Not all that far away, Marine grunts are going weeks without showers or toilets, chomping on rations – and generally maintaining a positive outlook on life. I got my laundry done by a Philippino maid. Yesterday, I listened to a salsa band play in the chow hall, while I supped on alu gobi and navratan vegetable curry.

Technically, I probably shouldn’t be here, in this “Joint Visitors Bureau” hotel, across a man-made lake from the American military headquarters. The JVB is for generals and dignitaries and Congressional delegations. “We don’t approve media,” one guardsman spat inside the vaulted-ceilinged lobby. But a combination of dumb luck and decent connections got me a place to stay on the compound. Sure, it’s a bunk bed, in a trailer with seven other guys. But there are worse ways to spend a war.

Not that you can call time at the JVB combat. Sure, you’ll hear the occasional mortar. You’ll see the Blackhawk helicopters fire off chaff, to confuse insurgent racketeers. But you’ll also catch guys fishing in the gray-green lake, using this morning’s sausages for chum. And, all day, you run into people you know across the Camp Victory compound, of which the JVB is just a tiny part. I’ve run into DANGER ROOM contributors. Big name journalists. E-mail buddies. Sources. Friends. Friends of friends. This isn’t a war. It’s a war convention. Too bad I didn't bring my bathing suit; maybe I would have taken a dip in the big, outdoor pool a few hundred yards away.

Of course, every campaign needs a headquarters. And there are large swaths of Camp Victory that aren’t nearly as cushy as the JVB, or the generals’ Al-Faw Palace, across the lake. Still, the luxury here is downright creepy – even when the amenities are absolutely appreciated. “We should’ve given this place back to the people,” one high-level Pentagon consultant mutters, taking a drag off of a cigarette. “We should’ve torn this place down,” another answers. Me, I’m just glad I’m scheduled to get on a helicopter this afternoon, heading north.

UPDATE AND LAME HYPOCRITE ALERT: So my flight plans got screwed up, which means I've got another 24 hours in Baghdad. The public affairs folks dragged me to the ice-cold, insecure, sardine-can-esque tents on the other side of the base. I squealed. And now I'm back in luxury. For today.

Of course, this is a tong-in-cheek look at life in Baghdad, just to remind us not to fully believe the spin of the Bush Administration.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

IRAQ - The Real Joke, But Nobody's Laughing

"Did You Hear the Joke About the Warheads That Got Away?" by Jackson Williams, Huffington Post

Six nuclear warheads walk into a bar.

The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve WMDs here."

The main warhead replies, "Oh, you'll serve us, pal, or we'll blow this place to kingdom come and let Con Edison take the blame."

The bartender, shaken and stirred, promptly moves to Canada.

Take a picture of this: President Bush insists the "war on terror" involves parking the U.S. military squarely in the middle of Arabia for year after year. We're up to five now if my math is right, and just two months ago General Petraeus compared the latest surge effort to Britain's experience in Northern Ireland, saying that similar counterinsurgency operations "have gone at least nine or ten years."

I don't know a soul -- of any persuasion -- who bought into the concept of a 15 year American war in the Middle East, do you? Besides, Ireland was under British control for over eight centuries, and Dublin and Liverpool are only 130 miles apart. What possible relevance is that to our current mess six thousand miles away, on the other side of the planet?

Meanwhile, back home, non-mythical weapons of mass destruction are accidentally carted over red state America from North Dakota to Louisiana without even the pilots knowing their cargo. As Kansan Bob Dole used to say, "Where's the outrage?"

Try and imagine the hue and cry from Republicans if the past seven years of across-the-board incompetence had occurred under a Democratic president. Under, say, Hillary Clinton. It would be deafening. Instead they are silent, while their leading presidential contenders, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, proudly promise more of the same bedrock beliefs.

That's the real joke, but nobody's laughing.

WISDOM - Grace Lee Boggs, PHD Philosophy

The following are just some excerpts from a Bill Moyers Journal interview with Grace Lee Boggs, Ph.D Philosophy. The link is to a video and transcript of the full interview.

I have never before heard someone speak so eloquently on the democracy I believe in. She also provided scope and breadth to the history of what democracy should be, which opened my eyes to misconceptions I had. After all, at the time of this interview, she is 91 and still an activist fighting for true democracy.

PLEASE, readers, view the full video (25+ min).


BILL MOYERS: One of her first heroes in that community was A. Philip Randolph, the charismatic labor leader who had won a long struggle to organize black railroad porters. In the 1930s. on the eve of World War II, Randolph was furious that blacks were being turned away from good paying jobs in the booming defense plants.

When he took his argument to F.D.R.... the president was sympathetic but reluctant to act. Proclaiming that quote 'power is the active principle of only the organized masses,' Randolph called for a huge march on Washington to shame the president. It worked. F.D.R. backed down and signed an order banning discrimination in the defense industry. All over America blacks moved from the countryside into the cities to take up jobs - the first time in 400 years, says Grace Lee Boggs, that black men could bring home a regular paycheck.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: And when I saw what a movement could do, I said, "Boy, that's what I wanna do with my life."

GRACE LEE BOGGS: It was just amazing. I mean, how you have to take advantage of a crisis in the system and in the government and also press to meet the needs of the people who are struggling for dignity. I mean, that-- that's very tricky.

BILL MOYERS: It does take moral force to make political-- decisions possible.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Yeah. I-- and I think that too much of a-- our emphasis on struggle has simply been in terms of confrontation and not enough recognition of how much spiritual and moral force is involved in the people who are struggling.

BILL MOYERS: Well, that's true. But power never gives up anything voluntarily. People have to ask for it. They have to demand it. They have-to--

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well, you know as Douglas said, "Power yields nothing without a struggle." But how one struggles I think is now a very challenging question.


GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well, for folks who don't understand, say for example, how the Democratic Party was a coalition of labor and liberals from the North, and the-- and people like Eastland and all those Klu Klux Klanners down South--

BILL MOYERS: The racist in the South.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: That was American Democracy. People sort of-- they-- they create a whole lot of-- love for it, and all that. Without understanding how-- what the conditions that people were living under, and that that was called democracy.


BILL MOYERS: The conundrum for me is this; The war in Vietnam continued another seven years----after Martin Luther King's great speech at Riverside here in New York City on April 4th, 1967. His moral argument did not take hold with the powers-that-be.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I don't expect moral arguments to take hold with the powers-that-be. They are in their positions of power. They are part of the system. They are part of the problem.

BILL MOYERS: Then do moral arguments have any force if they--

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Of course they do.

BILL MOYERS: If they can be so heedlessly ignored?

GRACE LEE BOGGS: I think because we depend too much on the government to do it. I think we're not looking sufficiently at what is happening at the grassroots in the country. We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently. Things do not start with governments--

BILL MOYERS: But wars do.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Wars do. But positive changes leaps forward in the evolution of human kind, do not start with governments. I think that's what the Civil Rights Movement taught us.

....and there is so much more

There are parts of this interview I know some people will not like, but this well spoken woman is not iconoclastic, she has changed her views and is always willing to change again. But her core is there, the struggle to bring about a true democracy for everyone, not just the few and powerful.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

IRAQ - The "Surge" Showcase?, Dora Market

"Weighing the 'Surge'" by Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, 9/4/2007


Nearly every week, American generals and politicians visit Combat Outpost Gator, nestled behind a towering blast wall in the Dora market. They arrive in convoys of armored Humvees, sometimes accompanied by helicopter gunships, to see what U.S. commanders display as proof of the effectiveness of a seven-month-long security offensive, fueled by 30,000 U.S. reinforcements. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military leader in Iraq, frequently cites the market as a sign of progress.

If there is one indisputable truth regarding the current offensive, it is this: When large numbers of U.S. troops are funneled into areas, security improves. But the numbers only partly describe the reality on the ground. Visits to key U.S. bases and neighborhoods in and around Baghdad show that recent improvements are sometimes tenuous, temporary, even illusory.

Even U.S. soldiers assigned to protect Petraeus's showcase remain skeptical. "Personally, I think it's a false representation," Campbell said, referring to the portrayal of the Dora market as an emblem of the surge's success. "But what can I say? I'm just doing my job and don't ask questions."

"It took us until August 1st -- not bad," said Minty, the acting commander of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. The goal by Sept. 1 was 500, he said. (By Monday, 349 stores were open. Before the U.S.-led invasion, the market had more than 850 shops.)

Still, the Dora market is a Potemkin village of sorts. The U.S. military hands out $2,500 grants to shop owners to open or improve their businesses. The military has fixed windows and doors and even helped rebuild shops that had burned down, soldiers and others said.

"We helped them a lot. We gave them money, security, even the locks on their doors," said a 36-year-old Iraqi interpreter at the outpost whom U.S. soldiers call Jimmy for security reasons. He asked that his real name not be used. "Everything we gave them. That's why the violence has stopped. That's why they cooperate with us."

Some shopkeepers said they would not do business in the market without U.S. support. "The Americans are giving money, so they're opening up stores," said Falah Hassan Fadhil, 27, who sells cosmetics.

1st Lt. Jose Molina, who is in charge of monitoring and disbursing the grant money, said the U.S. military includes barely operating stores in its tally. "Although they sell dust, they are open for business," said Molina, 35, from Dallas. "They intend to sell goods or they may just have a handful of goods. But they are still counted."

Security measures in the market are rigorous. Vehicles are not allowed inside for fear of car bombs. Customers are body-searched at checkpoints. Humvees constantly patrol the area, which is the sole focus of the 50 or so soldiers of Combat Outpost Gator.

But the Dora market has not regained its former cachet as one of southeastern Baghdad's most vibrant commercial centers. Before the invasion, many of its stores stayed open past midnight. Today, they are open for just a few hours, and by noon the market is mostly deserted. The shopkeepers, who are mostly Sunni, said they rarely see customers from outside Dora because it is too dangerous to travel here.

"If the Americans were not here, we would close earlier, maybe one or two hours," said shopkeeper Alaa Hussein Mahmoud, 32. "I'm always scared about the militias."

Two days earlier, a squad of Iraqi police entered the market. Shoppers left and shopkeepers scurried to shutter their businesses. The police are widely said to be infiltrated by Shiite militias. "We were scared of them. Everybody ran away," said Hussein Ali, 37, another shop owner.

So, the upshot is that the showcase that the "surge" is working, Dora Market, is a Hollywood-like facade. It is propped up by money and may last only if our troops remain there, which could mean indefinitely.