Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Troubled Era Ends

Irish Times:
THE withdrawal of British troops from the streets of the North represents an historic advancement following generations of an Orwellian nightmare of oppression, leading Belfast republican Gerry Kelly said yesterday.

But unionist politicians praised the contribution made by the soldiers in bringing political peace and stability to the North after being deployed there for 38 years.

At midnight tonight all military personnel will be recalled to their barracks, bringing to an end Operation Banner, the longest continuous campaign in British army history.
The British army's longest continuous military operation comes to an end at midnight tonight when responsibility for security in Northern Ireland passes to the police.

Operation Banner lasted 38 years and involved 300,000 personnel, of which 763 were killed by paramilitaries. The last soldier to die was Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, who was shot at a vehicle checkpoint in 1997.

From tomorrow there will still be a garrison of 5,000 troops in Ulster, but they will not be on active operations and will be available for deployment anywhere in the world.

Peace to the Londonderry Loyalists.

Peace to the Derry Bogside Republicans.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Merchant Adventurers' Hall, a Fourteenth Century guild hall.

Eight Million Iraqis Need Emergency Aid

The number of Iraqi children who are born underweight or suffer from malnutrition has increased sharply since the US-led invasion, according to a report by Oxfam and a network of about 80 aid agencies.

The report describes a nationwide catastrophe, with around 8 million Iraqis - almost a third of the population - in need of emergency aid. Many families have dropped out of the food rationing system because they have been displaced by fighting and sectarian conflict. Others suffer from the collapse in basic services caused by the exodus of doctors and hospital staff.

Although the security crisis forced Oxfam and other agencies to withdraw their foreign staff from Iraq to Jordan within a year of the invasion, many Iraqi non-governmental organisations still work in the country and receive supplies from abroad.

Possibly The Greatest Filmmaker Ever

New York Times:
Ingmar Bergman, the master filmmaker who found bleakness and despair as well as comedy and hope in his indelible explorations of the human condition, died yesterday at his home on the island of Faro, off the Baltic coast of Sweden. He was 89.

His death was announced by the Ingmar Bergman Foundation.

Mr. Bergman was widely considered one of the greatest directors in motion picture history. For much of the second half of the 20th century, he stood with directors like Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa at the pinnacle of serious filmmaking.
The Seventh Seal, Persona, and Fanny and Alexander all deserve mention as candidates for the greatest film ever.

The Greatest Modern Football Coach

San Francisco Chronicle:
Bill Walsh, the imaginative and charismatic coach who took over a downtrodden 49ers team and built one of the greatest franchises in NFL history, died Monday morning at his home in Woodside at the age of 75, after a three-year struggle with leukemia.

A master of using short, precisely timed passes to control the ball in what became known as the West Coast offense, he guided the team to three Super Bowl championships and six NFC West division titles in his 10 years as head coach.

It took far more than an innovative offense for Walsh to become one of the most revered figures in Bay Area sports. He handled NFL drafts adeptly and polished his management style by studying the leadership of Civil War and World War II generals.
He was tough, he was brilliant, and he made poetry out of a brutal sport. He was a gentleman in a world of bullies. More than anything, he was an artist.

How Not To Solve Our Energy Problems

New York Times:
A one-sentence provision buried in the Senate’s recently passed energy bill, inserted without debate at the urging of the nuclear power industry, could make builders of new nuclear plants eligible for tens of billions of dollars in government loan guarantees.

Lobbyists have told lawmakers and administration officials in recent weeks that the nuclear industry needs as much as $50 billion in loan guarantees over the next two years to finance a major expansion.

The biggest champion of the loan guarantees is Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee and one of the nuclear industry’s strongest supporters in Congress.
Nuke proponents like to claim it's the answer to global warming. Click the label, below, for more on that. But here's the kicker:
Power companies have tentative plans to put the 28 new reactors at 19 sites around the country. Industry executives insist that banks and Wall Street will not provide the money needed to build new reactors unless the loans are guaranteed in their entirety by the federal government.
If the market can't support the industry, that alone should prove it's a waste.

More Fun In Alaska

New York Times:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service raided the Alaska home of Senator Ted Stevens on Monday in search of evidence about his relationship to a businessman who oversaw a remodeling project that almost doubled the size of the senator’s house, federal law enforcement officials said.

The decision to raid the home suggests that the corruption investigation focused on Mr. Stevens, a long-serving Republican and former chairman, has taken on new urgency.

As Bush Abuses Our Troops, Suicides Hit Record Levels

One family's incomprehensible loss is reported by Reuters:
The parents of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide sued the U.S. government on Thursday for negligence, charging their son hanged himself after the government ignored his depression.

The suit accuses the federal government of not helping 23-year-old Jeffrey Lucey, who committed suicide in his parents' Massachusetts basement less than a year after returning home from fighting during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson was also named in the suit.

"This government is guilty of not taking care of the troops after they come home," the veteran's father, Kevin Lucey, said in an interview. "We are hoping to show this nation how broken the Veterans Administration is. We want to make this a responsive and efficient system."
The Bush Administration's systematic abuse of our military personnel is one of the ongoing outrages of the Iraq War. Let's review.

Overused and over-extended.

Christian Science Monitor: As of the beginning of 2006, Stop-Loss policy had prevented at least 50,000 troops from leaving the military when their service was scheduled to end.

USA Today: Multiple deployments are adding to the troops' stress.

United Press International: Nearly two-thirds of polled veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars consider the military over-extended.

Spiegel Online: Troops stationed in Germany are increasingly going AWOL rather than be cannon fodder for Bush's insanity.

New York Times: The army had to revise updwards its understated desertion rate.

Boston Globe: West Point graduates are leaving the military at the highest rate in three decades, as repeated tours of Iraq drive out some of the army's best young officers.

Los Angeles Times: Both Republican and Democratic governors warned Bush that using National Guard troops for his escalation was overburdening units already stretched to their limits.

Associated Press: Two army brigades had to forgo their desert training to accomodate Bush's escalation schedule.

Associated Press: Deployed single parents are having to fight to retain custody of their children.

CNN: In April of this year, tours of duty were extended from 12 to 15 months.

New York Times: Republicans killed Senator Webb's attempt to give troops more down time between deployments

Inadequately protected

New York Times: A 2006 study showed that eighty percent of marines killed from upper body wounds would have survived, if they'd had adequate body armor.

Newsweek: Troops have been having to improvise their own vehicle armor, because the military hasn't been providing the real thing.

Washington Post: Even as the escalation began, thousands of Army Humvees still lacked FRAG Kit 5 armor protection.

Inadequately cared for, when wounded or scarred.

Salon: The Veterans Administration knew as early as 2004 that there were serious problems with the conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center- and did nothing.

Salon: The Department of Defense also knew about the problems long before public exposure and the resulting outcry forced them to actually do something about it.

National Public Radio: Veterans are receiving fewer medical disability benefits now than before the war.

MSNBC: Up to twenty percent of Iraq Vets may be suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Washington Post: A Pentagon task force concluded that the available medical care for those troops suffering psychological problems is "woefully inadequate."

Actually being sent back into battle, when medically unfit.

Salon: Wounded soldiers classified as medically unfit for battle were being reclassified as fit, so they could be sent back into battle.

Salon: These reclassifications were done to provide enough manpower for Bush's escalation.

Salon: Even soldiers with acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder were being sent back to Iraq.

Anyone who makes it through Basic Training is both physically and psychologically strong; but the abuse suffered by our troops at the hands of the Bush Administration is too much even for many of them. It is unprecedented. How unprecedented?

As Stacy Bannerman wrote, in Foreign Policy in Focus:
Pentagon statistics reveal that the suicide rate for U.S. troops who have served in Iraq is double what it was in peacetime.

Soldiers who have served -- or are serving -- in Iraq are killing themselves at higher percentages than in any other war where such figures have been tracked. According to a report recently released by the Defense Manpower Data Center, suicide accounted for over 25 percent of all noncombat Army deaths in Iraq in 2006. One of the reasons for "the higher suicide rate in Iraq [is] the higher percentage of reserve troops," said military analyst James F. Dunnigan.
Corporate media pundits sometimes ask why we liberals so despise this Administration. This story is but one reason.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Global Warming Doubled Hurricanes In Last Century

he number of Atlantic hurricanes in an average season has doubled in the last century due in part to warmer seas and changing wind patterns caused by global warming, according to a study released on Sunday.

Hurricane researchers have debated for years whether climate change caused by greenhouse gases from cars, factories and other human activity is resulting in more, and more intense, tropical storms and hurricanes.

The new study, published online in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, said the increased numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes in the last 100 years is closely related to a 1.3-degree Fahrenheit rise in sea surface temperatures.


From the roof of St. Peter's.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

American Troops Are Killing Themselves

Editor & Publisher:
One of the least covered aspects of the fallout from the Iraq war is the rising toll of suicides, both near the battlefield and back home.

Latest official figures released by the Pentagon reveal at least 116 self-inflicted fatalities in Iraq. But this does not include several dozen still under investigation, nor any of the many cases back in the U.S.
Considering the way Bush is abusing them, it's little wonder.

Iraq War: Without Purpose, Accountability, or End

We all know that our puppet "government" in Iraq recently missed all the benchmarks that were supposed to measure its progress. We all know that they'll be taking the month of August off, even as our troops continue to fight and die, unable even to take more time off between rotations because the Republicans blocked a bill that would have afforded them that little extra breather. Well, today's New York Times reports:
Iraq’s national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars.

The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq’s national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006.

The United States often promotes the number of rebuilding projects, like power plants and hospitals, that have been completed in Iraq, citing them as signs of progress in a nation otherwise fraught with violence and political stalemate. But closer examination by the inspector general’s office, headed by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., has found that a number of individual projects are crumbling, abandoned or otherwise inoperative only months after the United States declared that they had been successfully completed. The United States always intended to hand over projects to the Iraqi government when they were completed.
How nice.

Forget that it's a waste of billions of our tax dollars, because this speaks to the larger issue: this war is about nothing. It is about itself. We are not creating a democracy, we're not even creating a functioning government. We're creating death and destruction. For no reason. For the profits of the war profiteers, and for the deranged egos of the chickenhawks who are running it. There is no longer even a pretense that we're trying to accomplish anything. The excuses and explanations have absolutely nothing to do with the facts. Need more proof?

In England, the Guardian has this curious story:
The extent of the deterioration in US-Saudi relations was exposed for the first time yesterday when Washington accused Riyadh of working to undermine the Iraqi government.

The Bush administration warned Saudi Arabia, until this year one of its closest allies, to stop undermining the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Sounds serious. Our great ally is helping undermine our supposed cause in Iraq. We must do something about that. Right? Well, we are. The New York Times is also reporting:
The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq....

But administration officials remained concerned that the size of the package and the advanced weaponry it contains, as well as broader concerns about Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq, could prompt Saudi critics in Congress to oppose the package when Congress is formally notified about the deal this fall.

In talks about the package, the administration has not sought specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it would be more supportive of the American effort in Iraq as a condition of receiving the arms package, the officials said.
See? That'll teach the Saudis not to mess with our war in Iraq!

The article does say that the Administration will attempt to stave off Congressional opposition by... selling more arms to Israel. Because the fact that the Saudis are undermining our cause in Iraq is irrelevant. There is no cause. The war just is. It must continue because it is. It must not end because then it wouldn't be. That's the fundamental "logic" of it.

And just for fun, we're also going to start arming local Iraqi Sunnis. The Washington Post has this one:
The U.S. military in Iraq is expanding its efforts to recruit and fund armed Sunni residents as local protection forces in order to improve security and promote reconciliation at the neighborhood level, according to senior U.S. commanders.

Within the past month, the U.S. military command in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq ordered subordinate units to step up creation of the local forces, authorizing commanders to pay the fighters with U.S. emergency funds, reward payments and other monies.

The initiative, which extends to all Iraqis, represents at least a temporary departure from the established U.S. policy of building formally trained security forces under the control of the Iraqi government. It also provokes fears within the Shiite-led government that the new Sunni groups will use their arms against it, commanders said.
How long before these untrained local protection forces turn their weapons on our troops?

It just gets worse. It just keeps getting worse.


Seventh Century CE Iron Age burial ground, on Gotland, the original home of the original Goths. This site has over 300 cairns.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Standing Up So We Can Stand Down

Or not.

New York Times:
Iraq’s national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars.

The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq’s national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006.

Lip Service

The extent of the deterioration in US-Saudi relations was exposed for the first time yesterday when Washington accused Riyadh of working to undermine the Iraqi government.

The Bush administration warned Saudi Arabia, until this year one of its closest allies, to stop undermining the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates, are scheduled to visit Jeddah next week.

Reflecting the deteriorating relationship, the US made public claims that the Saudis have been distributing fake documents lying about Mr Maliki.

New York Times:
The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.

The proposed package of advanced weaponry for Saudi Arabia, which includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels, has made Israel and some of its supporters in Congress nervous. Senior officials who described the package on Friday said they believed that the administration had resolved those concerns, in part by promising Israel $30.4 billion in military aid over the next decade, a significant increase over what Israel has received in the past 10 years.

But administration officials remained concerned that the size of the package and the advanced weaponry it contains, as well as broader concerns about Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq, could prompt Saudi critics in Congress to oppose the package when Congress is formally notified about the deal this fall.

In talks about the package, the administration has not sought specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it would be more supportive of the American effort in Iraq as a condition of receiving the arms package, the officials said.

Was Pat Tillman Murdered?

The former football star, turned Army Ranger, opposed the invasion of Iraq, but was used, after his friendly-fire death in Afghanistan, by the Bush Administration for its own propaganda. He was reported to have been killed in action, and even his family wasn't informed that it had been by friendly fire. The exact circumstances of his death have been confirmed to have been covered up by the Pentagon. Now, there is evidence he was murdered.

Editor & Publisher:
Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors - whose names were blacked out - said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

Ultimately, the Pentagon did conduct a criminal investigation, and asked Tillman's comrades whether he was disliked by his men and whether they had any reason to believe he was deliberately killed. The Pentagon eventually ruled that Tillman's death at the hands of his comrades was a friendly-fire accident.

Michael Moore Subpoenaed

Think Progress has the video. He announced on the Leno show that he'd just been served, for having visited Cuba, while filming his current film, Sicko. He should claim executive privilege.

Pakistan Bleeding

A suspected suicide bomber today killed 11 people and injured scores more following renewed violence at Islamabad's Red Mosque.

Seven police officers were among those killed when the blast tore though a hotel about a quarter of a mile from the mosque, where religious students clashed earlier in the day with security forces.

At least 11 people died and 43 were injured, officials said. Local television showed victims, many of them bleeding or badly burned and with their clothes in tatters, being carried from the wreckage to ambulances that had rushed to the Muzaffar hotel.

Jedburgh Abbey

One of Scotland's four great Border Abbey ruins, this Twelfth Century Augustinian church was periodically raided, during English-Scottish wars.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lights Out

Los Angeles Times:
As the Bush administration struggles to convince lawmakers that its Iraq war strategy is working, it has stopped reporting to Congress a key quality-of-life indicator in Baghdad: how long the power stays on.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Baghdad residents could count on only "an hour or two a day" of electricity. That's down from an average of five to six hours a day earlier this year.

But that piece of data has not been sent to lawmakers for months because the State Department, which prepares a weekly "status report" for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day.


Washington Post:
A car bomb tore through a crowded market in central Baghdad on Thursday evening, killing at least 25 people and injuring 110, police said.

A cloud of black smoke rose over much of the city after the explosion, which set a three-story apartment building on fire. Police said many of the victims were women shopping for food or clothing.

The explosion was the latest in a string of car bombs in Karrada, a largely Shiite district long considered one of Baghdad's safest neighborhoods. More than 50 people have been killed in seven car bomb attacks in the neighborhood this month. There was no significant violence in Karrada in June, police records show.

Warrants Are Too Much Hard Work

TPM Muckraker:
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) grilled Mueller on the FBI's mishandling of National Security Letter authorities, in which FBI agents obtain data without warrants about individuals "relevant" to terrorism investigations. Mueller emphasized the need for speed in terrorism cases, but Scott had a hard time understanding one thing: Why does the FBI need NSLs if the bureau can obtain warrants after the fact for records under FISA?

Mueller's response? If not for the NSLs, the post-facto warrants mean agents will get bogged down in "paperwork" up to "a quarter-inch thick"


Five US military personnel have been killed in fighting around Iraq over the past few days, officers said today.

The announcement came as a car bomb exploded in a predominantly Shia market area of Baghdad, killing at least 21 people and injuring 62, according to local police.

One US soldier was killed by small arms fire in southern Baghdad yesterday, a military statement said. A day before, three marines and one sailor were killed during fighting in Diyala province, north of the capital.


The main palace of Schloss Schönbrunn. Just outside central Vienna, this was one of the most important Habsburg palaces.

Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased the property in the Sixteenth Century, but the current palace was built by architect Nicolò Pacassi, for Empress Maria Theresa, in the latter Eighteenth Century.

Only an aerial view could capture the entire palace, much less the vast grounds and many fascinating surrounding buildings.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Domestic Spying?

Abu Gonzales's testimony before Congress, yesterday, raised some interesting questions. Glenn Greenwald explains. Think Progress has the video.

More Republican Follies, Alaska Bureau

TPM Muckraker:
The Wall Street Journal reports that 18-term Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is under criminal investigation for his dealings with Alaska oil services company Veco Corp.

While the investigation into Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) ties to Veco, including the remodeling of his Girdwood home, has been widely reported, this is the first time Young has been implicated in the scandal.

The Bush Way: CYA, Let Others Suffer

New York Times:
The Small Business Administration, which runs the federal government’s largest program to help disaster victims rebuild their houses, improperly canceled thousands of loans it had promised homeowners along the Gulf Coast after the 2005 hurricanes, a government audit has found.

The agency canceled nearly 8,000 loans without calling the borrowers or mailing them a notice, according to the audit by the agency’s inspector general. The homeowners did eventually receive a letter contending that they had voluntarily given up their loans, the report says, even though many told auditors that they actually needed the money.

The loans were canceled last year, after the agency had come under fire for being slow to give out rebuilding money, according to the audit. Former agency employees have complained that they were pressured to withdraw the loans to cut the number of applicants whose loans had been approved but not paid out.


New York Times:
Two suicide car bombings struck soccer fans in Baghdad as they were celebrating Iraq's victory in the Asian Cup semifinal on Wednesday, killing at least 27 people and wounding more than 100, officials said.

It Begins

Washington Post:
The House Judiciary Committee voted today to issue contempt citations for two of President Bush's most trusted aides, taking its most dramatic step yet towards a constitutional showdown with the White House over the Justice Department's dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys.

The panel voted 22-17, along party lines, to issue citations to Joshua B. Bolten, White House chief of staff, and Harriet E. Miers, former White House counsel. Both refused to comply with committee subpoenas after Bush declared that documents and testimony related to the prosecutor firings were protected by executive privilege.

"If we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena doesn't even have to bother to show up . . . then we have already lost," committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said before the vote. "We won't be able to get anybody in front of this committee or any other."


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Abu Gonzales Must Be Removed From Office

Just read this Washington Post analysis of his latest disastrous testimony before Congress. This man is the nation's top law enforcement officer. It is absolutely beyond belief.

The Weather

Southern Europe sizzled in record-breaking temperatures yesterday with the heatwave being blamed for deaths in Hungary and Romania, power cuts in Macedonia and forest fires from Serbia to Greece.

Up to 500 people have died in Hungary because of the heatwave with deaths attributed to heatstroke, cardiovascular problems and other illnesses aggravated by high temperatures which reached a record high of 41.9C (107F) in the southern city of Kiskunhalas.

Countries across the Balkan peninsula also laboured under temperatures that hit a historic 43C in Belgrade and 44C in Bulgaria. In an urgent announcement, Greece's weather service predicted temperatures of 45C (113F) and the government urged people to restrict their movements and stay indoors.
Associated Press:
Emergency workers rescued hundreds of trapped people Monday as water swallowed swaths of central England in the worst flooding to hit the country for 60 years. Officials said some rivers were still rising, with the western section of the rain-swollen River Thames on the verge of bursting its banks.

Roads and parking lots were submerged, trains suspended, buses canceled. Hundreds of thousands of people were without electricity or drinking water, and farmers saw their summer crops destroyed.

Torrential rains have plagued Britain over the past month — nearly 5 inches fell in some areas on Friday alone — and more downpours were predicted this week.
Not that the climate is changing, or anything.

New WaPo/ABC Poll: Americans Want Dems To Lead Us Out Of Iraq!

The new Washington Post-ABC poll says it all:
Most Americans see President Bush as intransigent on Iraq and prefer that the Democratic-controlled Congress make decisions about a possible withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As the president and Congress spar over war policy, both receive negative marks from the public for their handling of the situation in Iraq. But by a large margin, Americans trust Democrats rather than the president to find a solution to a conflict that remains enormously unpopular. And more than six in 10 in the new poll said Congress should have the final say on when to bring the troops home.

The president has steadfastly asserted his power as commander in chief to make decisions about the war, but his posture is now viewed by majorities of Democrats, independents and even Republicans as too inflexible. Asked whether Bush is willing enough to change policies on Iraq, nearly eight in 10 Americans said no.
There need be no other talking point. Most Americans want the Democrats to get us out of Iraq. They get it. Bush has failed. He's enormously unpopular. Leadership is wanted.

Senator Harry Reid has vowed to keep up the pressure. He now has justification to turn it up higher.

Bush is again fear-mongering about Al Qaeda in Iraq. It doesn't work anymore, but he has no other strategery. His military command is planning to keep going, right through the end of Bush's term in office. As the New York Times reports:
While Washington is mired in political debate over the future of Iraq, the American command here has prepared a detailed plan that foresees a significant American role for the next two years.

The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document.

The detailed document, known as the Joint Campaign Plan, is an elaboration of the new strategy President Bush signaled in January when he decided to send five additional American combat brigades and other units to Iraq.
Elaboration. Escalation. Just don't have any expectations.

It's time to rescind the original authorization to use military force. It's time to set a firm, final, end date. It's time to declare there will be no more funds for anything other than safe, expeditious withdrawal. It's time for the Democrats to tell Bush that his failures will no longer be tolerated. The American people want leaders to end this war. They have given up on Bush. They want the Democrats to lead. It's time.

At least...

New York Times:
While Washington is mired in political debate over the future of Iraq, the American command here has prepared a detailed plan that foresees a significant American role for the next two years.

The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document.

The detailed document, known as the Joint Campaign Plan, is an elaboration of the new strategy President Bush signaled in January when he decided to send five additional American combat brigades and other units to Iraq. That signaled a shift from the previous strategy, which emphasized transferring to Iraqis the responsibility for safeguarding their security.

That new approach put a premium on protecting the Iraqi population in Baghdad, on the theory that improved security would provide Iraqi political leaders with the breathing space they needed to try political reconciliation.
Which they may get to after their month-long August vacation. Or not.

Free At Last!

Six Bulgarian medics who were serving life sentences in Libya have arrived in Bulgaria following their release.

The five nurses and a Palestinian-born doctor were convicted of deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV - charges they have always denied.

The release follows years of diplomacy by EU officials and two trips to Libya by the new French president's wife.

An EU official told the BBC the release had been made possible by a deal struck in Tripoli on improving Libya-EU ties.
For those not following this story, they were originally sentenced to death. This has taken years of diplomacy, and political blackmail by Libya, but the medics are alive and free!

Who Should Lead On The War?

Washington Post:
Most Americans see President Bush as intransigent on Iraq and prefer that the Democratic-controlled Congress make decisions about a possible withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As the president and Congress spar over war policy, both receive negative marks from the public for their handling of the situation in Iraq. But by a large margin, Americans trust Democrats rather than the president to find a solution to a conflict that remains enormously unpopular. And more than six in 10 in the new poll said Congress should have the final say on when to bring the troops home.

The president has steadfastly asserted his power as commander in chief to make decisions about the war, but his posture is now viewed by majorities of Democrats, independents and even Republicans as too inflexible. Asked whether Bush is willing enough to change policies on Iraq, nearly eight in 10 Americans said no.
Overall, Bush has a 33% approval rating, matching his all-time low, in this poll.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Still falling...

American Research Group:
A total of 71% of Americans say they disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president according to the latest survey from the American Research Group.

Among all Americans, 25% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 71% disapprove. When it comes to Bush's handling of the economy, 23% approve and 73% disapprove.


Associated Press:
Three parked cars exploded within 30 minutes in a predominantly Shiite area in Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 12 people, police said, the deadliest in a series of bombings and shooting attacks nationwide.


Santa Margherita dei Cerchi. In this church, Dante first met Beatrice.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Condi Irrelevant

San Francisco Chronicle:
A few months ago, she decided to write an opinion piece about Lebanon. She enlisted John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems as a co-author, and they wrote about public/private partnerships and how they might be of use in rebuilding Lebanon after last summer's war. No one would publish it.

Think about that. Every one of the major newspapers approached refused to publish an essay by the secretary of state. Price Floyd, who was the State Department's director of media affairs until recently, recalls that it was sent to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and perhaps other papers before the department finally tried a foreign publication, the Financial Times of London, which also turned it down.

As a last-ditch strategy, the State Department briefly considered translating the article into Arabic and trying a Lebanese paper. But finally they just gave up. "I kept hearing the same thing: 'There's no news in this.' " Floyd said. The piece, he said, was littered with glowing references to President Bush's wise leadership. "It read like a campaign document."
Sycophancy will only get you so far.


Associated Press:
The U.S. military detained two suspected weapons smugglers Sunday on suspicion of links to Iran's elite Quds Force, even as Washington plans new direct talks with Iran on the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

Bombings and shootings left at least 18 people dead nationwide, including an Iraqi interpreter working for Americans in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. A top aide to Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was stabbed to death Saturday in the holy city of Najaf, officials said. Police and al-Sistani's office declined to comment on the killing of Sheik Abdullah Falak al-Basrawi, the second al-Sistani aide slain in just over a month.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


The view from the top of St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Not Good

Washington Post:
A top aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was stabbed to death in what Sistani's supporters believe was a warning to Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, authorities said Saturday.

Abdullah Falaq was killed Friday in his office, which is adjacent to Sistani's home in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, according to an aide to the cleric. Sistani is considered one of the most influential Shiite leaders in Iraq, and Falaq was his chief adviser on matters of Islamic law.

Police said they had taken four suspects into custody. An officer said he could not comment on whether the men were part of any insurgent group. In January, an attempt to assassinate Sistani was foiled during a battle between U.S. and Iraqi military forces and insurgents near Najaf.

This Was Once A Great Newspaper

Washington Post:
There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. It belonged to Sen. Hillary Clinton.

She was talking on the Senate floor about the burdensome cost of higher education. She was wearing a rose-colored blazer over a black top. The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-shape. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable.

It was startling to see that small acknowledgment of sexuality and femininity peeking out of the conservative -- aesthetically speaking -- environment of Congress. After all, it wasn't until the early '90s that women were even allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor. It was even more surprising to note that it was coming from Clinton, someone who has been so publicly ambivalent about style, image and the burdens of both.
Digby's take. And MissLaura, of Daily Kos, also weighs in.

And just when you think they can't get any worse, their editorial places the blame for the political impasse over Iraq on the Democrats. This is, of course, an editorial page that has always supported the war, never apologized for it, and endorsed war hawk Joe Lieberman's re-election bid. Frank, at Daily Kos, has this one.

War Without End

Associated Press:
U.S. military commanders said Friday the troop buildup in Iraq must be maintained until at least next summer and they may need as long as two years to ensure parts of the country are stable.

The battlefield generals' pleas for more time come in the face of growing impatience in the United States and a push on Capitol Hill to begin withdrawing U.S. troops as soon as this fall.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said in an interview that if the buildup is reversed before next summer, the military will risk giving up the security gains it has achieved at a cost of hundreds of American lives over the past six months.
What security gains?

Hillary Stands Up, The Pentagon Backs Down

TPM Cafe:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is distancing himself from an under secretary's assertion that Senator Hillary Clinton's public questions about Pentagon troop withdrawal plans are aiding the enemy.

In response to our queries, the Pentagon declined to endorse the remarks made by Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman in a recent letter to Clinton.

"I have said on several occasions in recent months that I believe that congressional debate on Iraq has been constructive and appropriate," Gates said, in a statement that was emailed to Election Central by Pentagon spokesperson Karen Finn.

Gates added that he was "looking into the issues" raised by Edelman's comments in the letter and Hillary's concerns about them.

They're not the only ones...

The head of the army has warned that Britain is almost running out of troops to defend the country or fight in military operations abroad.

The warning by General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, to fellow defence chiefs comes at a time when the army is asking for a big increase in reservists to be deployed in Afghanistan, reflecting a crisis in Britain's armed forces.

In a secret memorandum he says: "We now have almost no capability to react to the unexpected." Reinforcements for emergencies or for operations in Iraq or Afghanistan were "now almost non-existent".

Friday, July 20, 2007

No letting up!

Associated Press:
Democrats in the House of Representatives will introduce a $460 billion (€333.2 billion) military spending bill next week that they will use to challenge the war in Iraq, try to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and increase oversight of defense contractors.

The annual legislation is considered a must-pass bill to finance the military's fleet of vehicles and aircraft, research efforts and service payrolls. It covers the 2008 budget year that begins Oct. 1.

As if they will abide by it...

New York Times:
A federal appeals court ordered the government yesterday to turn over virtually all its information on Guantánamo detainees who are challenging their detention, rejecting an effort by the Justice Department to limit disclosures and setting the stage for new legal battles over the government’s reasons for holding the men indefinitely.

The ruling, which came in one of the main court cases dealing with the fate of the detainees, effectively set the ground rules for scores of cases by detainees challenging the actions of Pentagon tribunals that decide whether terror suspects should be held as enemy combatants.

It was the latest of a series of stinging legal challenges to the administration’s detention policies that have amplified pressure on the Bush administration to find some alternative to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where about 360 men are now being held at the United States naval base.

A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Washington unanimously rejected a government effort to limit the information it must turn over to the court and lawyers for the detainees.


From the top of the Santa Justa elevator.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

We Can't Afford This

Los Angeles Times:
Al Qaeda has strongholds throughout Pakistan, not just in the areas bordering Afghanistan that were emphasized in a terrorism assessment this week, according to U.S. intelligence officials and counter-terrorism experts who say Osama bin Laden's network is more deeply entrenched than described.

The National Intelligence Estimate on the Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland, which reflects the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, described Al Qaeda as having "regenerated key elements" and freely operating from bases in northwestern Pakistan. But several officials and outside experts interviewed since the document's release this week say the situation is more problematic.

These analysts said the Bush administration was blaming Al Qaeda's resurgence too narrowly on an agreement that the Pakistani government struck in September with tribal leaders in the country's northwest territories.

In recent years, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials focused on South Asia say they have watched with growing concern as Al Qaeda has moved men, money and recruiting and training operations into Pakistani cities such as Quetta and Karachi as well as less populated areas.
Once again: if we'd actually finished the job in Afghanistan, instead of getting distracted...

illegal, immoral, unnecessary...


Need I keep saying it?


Los Angeles Times:
A joint security committee directed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Bush to accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqi army and police warned that Iraq is lagging in a number of categories, according to a copy of the committee's quarterly findings.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, said the Finance Ministry was blocking the Iraq military from spending $660 million to build a logistical network; that militias were an obstacle to handing security over to Iraqis in three mainly Shiite provinces; and that competition among rival security organizations had prevented the country from settling upon a proper national security structure.

You knew this was coming

New York Times:
The top commanders in Iraq and the American ambassador to Baghdad appealed for more time beyond their mid-September assessment to more fully judge if the new strategy was making gains.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters that while he would provide the mid-September assessment of the new military strategy that Congress has required, it would take “at least until November” to judge with confidence whether the strategy was working.

But their appeals, in three videoconferences on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon, were met by stern rebukes from lawmakers of both parties.
Just another Friedman Unit. Just one more. Really. We mean it this time. Really.

Obsessions are never healthy

An escalating crackdown by the US on foreign companies and banks doing business with Iran is provoking opposition in Britain and Europe, where diplomats say the action could lead to a trade war.

Congress wants all international companies to end their investment in Iran and is pushing through a bill that would penalise companies which fail to do so. The British, along with other European governments, see the US approach as draconian and are lobbying against it.
As if the world doesn't hate us enough.

These People Are Insane

Associated Press:
The Pentagon told Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton that her questions about how the U.S. plans to eventually withdraw from Iraq boosts enemy propaganda.

In a stinging rebuke to a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responded to questions Clinton raised in May in which she urged the Pentagon to start planning now for the withdrawal of American forces.
Here's a clue: they don't need propaganda.
"Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia," Edelman wrote.
Of course, we had no business being in any of those three countries, either.
He added that "such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks."
Those allies who are taking a month's vacation, while our troops fight and die? Those allies who can't meet the benchmarks set to demonstrate they're making progress? Those allies who have such confidence in us, anyway, because of the fine job we're doing destroying their country?
Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines called Edelman's answer "at once outrageous and dangerous," and said the senator would respond to his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

A Chill Wind Blows

Four British diplomats will be expelled from Russia in the latest round of the ongoing diplomatic dispute over the murder of the dissident Alexander Litvinenko.

The move, announced today by the Russian foreign ministry, was swiftly condemned by the British foreign secretary, David Miliband.

"We obviously believe that the decision to expel four embassy staff is completely unjustified and we will be doing everything to ensure that they and their families are properly looked after," he said in a statement.
Of course, there was this:
On Monday, Mr Miliband announced that four Russian diplomats would be expelled from Britain to send a "clear and proportionate" message to Moscow about the Kremlin's refusal to extradite the ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi to stand trial for the murder of Mr Litvinenko.
Vladimir Putin sure does seem to miss the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

Pakistan Bleeding

At least 33 people have been killed in two separate bomb attacks in Pakistan, officials say.

Twenty-six people are said to have died in the southern town of Hub, 35km (23 miles) north of Karachi, in an attack apparently targeting Chinese workers.

Initial reports said all the dead were Pakistani nationals.

Meanwhile, at least seven people were killed and more than 20 injured in a suicide car bombing at a police college in the north-western town of Hangu.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Preparing For Life After The Occupation

The Sunnis aren't the only ones refusing to work with our puppet government in Iraq

New York Times:
After months of lying low, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has re-emerged with a shrewd strategy that reaches out to Iraqis on the street while distancing himself from the increasingly unpopular government.

Mr. Sadr and his political allies have largely disengaged from government, contributing to the political paralysis noted in a White House report last week. That outsider status has enhanced Mr. Sadr’s appeal to Iraqis, who consider politics less and less relevant to their daily lives.

Mr. Sadr has been working tirelessly to build support at the grass-roots level, opening storefront offices across Baghdad and southern Iraq that dispense services that are not being provided by the government. In this he seems to be following the model established by Hezbollah, the radical Lebanese Shiite group, as well as Hamas in Gaza, with entwined social and military wings that serve as a parallel government.

He has also extended the reach of his militia, the Mahdi Army, one of the armed groups that the White House report acknowledged remain entrenched in Iraq. The militia has effectively taken over vast swaths of the capital and is fighting government troops in several southern provinces. Although the militia sometimes uses brutal tactics, including death squads, many vulnerable Shiites are grateful for the protection it affords.

Diplomacy Works

Spiegel Online:
The six-nation talks with North Korea have made even more apparent progress: After Pyongyang turned off its working reactor last week, it also shuttered four related facilities and agreed to disclose the rest of its nuclear program -- including, presumably, its bombs.

Nuclear negotiators were in a sunny mood in Beijing on Wednesday after North Korea promised to shut down all sites in its nuclear program, days after it closed its only working reactor.

"North Korea expressed its intention to declare and disable (all its nuclear facilities) within the shortest possible period, even within five or six months, or by the end of the year," said South Korea's envoy to the six-nation nuclear talks, Chun Yung-woo, according to the Associated Press.

The UN's nuclear watchdog also confirmed to negotiators on Wednesday that North Korea had closed four facilities -- a radiochemical laboratory, an atomic fuel factory and two dormant construction sites for larger reactors -- in addition to the working reactor at Yongbyon. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement that its inspectors had sealed the facilities to make sure North Korea wouldn't restart its nuclear program.

More on Solar breakthroughs

Inside Greentech:
South Korean scientists, working in conjunction with American researchers, say they have reached a new level of efficiency in an organic solar cell by using a tandem design.

Scientists at South Korea's Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology worked together with Nobel laureate Alan Heeger, professor of physics at U.C. Santa Barbara, to create the new tandem cells under a South Korean-led project started in May, 2006.

Tandem solar cells, in which two solar cells with different absorption characteristics are linked, can convert a wider range of the solar spectrum.

The result of the new architecture was a power conversion efficiency of 6 per cent.


These domed cathedrals are unique to western France. It's not known for certain, but seems plausible that the style was adopted after the Second Crusade, when Eleanor of Aquitaine's large retinue would have been influenced by Muslim architecture.


Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organisations fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in advance of an American withdrawal, their leaders have told the Guardian.

In their first interview with the western media since the US-British invasion of 2003, leaders of three of the insurgent groups - responsible for thousands of attacks against US and Iraqi armed forces and police - said they would continue their armed resistance until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iraq, and denounced al-Qaida for sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians.
There you have it: they, too, oppose al-Qaida, and they say they will continue their attacks as long as we're there. That's not to say that they'll stop the attacks when we leave, but it is implied.
All three Sunni-based resistance leaders say they are acutely aware of the threat posed by sectarian division to the future of Iraq and emphasised the importance of working with Shia groups - but rejected any link with the Shia militia and parties because of their participation in the political institutions set up by the Americans and their role in sectarian killings.
Get it? Anything associated with us is considered illegitimate. They want to establish their own government, and they want to work with the Shia, but only once the Shia stop cooperating with us. So, what would be the obstacle to peace here?

McCain losing it about losing it

A frustrated Sen. John McCain snapped Wednesday when asked by CNN about his troubled presidential campaign and vowed he would no longer answer questions on that topic.

“I’m not going to talk about my campaign anymore,” McCain said in a sharp tone. “I’m finished with talking about it. I’ve talked about it for two weeks. I will not discuss it or any aspect of it. Thank you.”


Associated Press:
U.S. troops stormed Tuesday into an insurgent-controlled area of a turbulent province where police reported that gunmen -- some wearing military clothing -- had massacred 29 Shiite villagers the night before.

Abstinence Only is Fucked

New York Times:
Eleven state health departments rejected abstinence education this year, while legislatures in Colorado, Iowa and Washington passed laws that could kill, or at least wound, its presence in public schools.

Opponents received high-caliber ammunition this spring when the most comprehensive study of abstinence education found no sign that it delayed a teenager’s sexual debut. And, after enjoying a fivefold increase in their main federal appropriations, the abstinence programs in June received their first cut in financing from the Senate appropriations committee since 2001.

But the final outcome is in question. Some $176 million in federal support has survived several early maneuvers in the House, and the full House plans to debate the issue July 18 as part of the proposed Health and Human Services budget.

Another big surprise...

Washington Post:
At 10 a.m. on April 4, 2001, representatives of 13 environmental groups were brought into the Old Executive Office Building for a long-anticipated meeting. Since late January, a task force headed by Vice President Cheney had been busy drawing up a new national energy policy, and the groups were getting their one chance to be heard.

Cheney was not there, but so many environmentalists were in the room that introductions took up "about half the meeting," recalled Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth. Anna Aurilio of the U.S. Public Interest Group said, "It was clear to us that they were just being nice to us."

A confidential list prepared by the Bush administration shows that Cheney and his aides had already held at least 40 meetings with interest groups, most of them from energy-producing industries. By the time of the meeting with environmental groups, according to a former White House official who provided the list to The Washington Post, the initial draft of the task force was substantially complete and President Bush had been briefed on its progress.

GREAT News: Tripoli Six death sentences voided, and they'll soon to be freed!

News Bulgaria is reporting that the release of the Tripoli Six is now assured:
Libyan Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) changed the death sentence of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor to a life one....

Libya and Bulgaria have an agreement for exchange of prisoners, which now will allow for a procedure for the medics to be transferred to Bulgaria to start.
Spiegel Online had previously reported that:
Libya has started distributing money to the families of hundreds of children infected with HIV, as part of a deal which could see the release of the six foreign medics sentenced to death on charges of deliberately infecting them. Internationally, the case has been criticized as a show trial.
Show trial, indeed. And the process of freeing them is, itself, a bizarre Kabuki dance. As Reuters explains:
The ruling, following a payment of $1 million each to 460 HIV victims' families, fell short of freeing the medics and removing an obstacle to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's efforts to end three decades of diplomatic isolation.

But, under a 1984 prisoner exchange agreement with Libya, the North African country can transfer the six workers to Bulgaria, where government officials have said they could be pardoned by the Balkan state's president, Georgi Parvanov.
As nyceve wrote, last September:
In a nutshell, and I mean a true nutshell, for those of you not familiar, the case involves five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been wrongfully charged for allegedly infecting children with HIV. They were tortured and forced to sign "confessions" written in Arabic they did not understand now they are awaiting execution by firing squad in Libya . In fact, the poor hygiene, dirty needles and bad practices in the hospital are to blame.
It's not often, these days, that such horrible stories have relatively happy endings. It looks like the six medics will, finally, soon be returning to their homes!

Even by his own definitions, George W. Bush enables terrorism.

So, the shiny new National Intelligence Estimate says Al-Qaida in Iraq is poised to attack us here, on U.S. soil. As Digby notes, in Salon, this is the latest Bush Administration hype to justify the continued occupation of Iraq. Of course, it also ignores the real problem, that al Qaida is growing stronger in western Pakistan, while the Taliban are stepping up attacks in Afghanistan, and are even threatening to ungulf nuclear-armed Pakistan. And, it also brings us back to square one: the Bush Administration's failure to capture Osama bin Laden, when they could have, at Tora Bora, in December 2001.

But let's forget all that. Let's take the new NIE at its word: let's pretend al-Qaeda in Iraq is actually now capable of attacking us on U.S. soil. Who's fault is that?

As terrorism expert Amy Zalman points out, Al Qaeda in Iraq was only founded in 2004. That would be after we invaded Iraq. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, that was the year Abu Musab al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to bin Laden. And, of course, Bush hyped the killing of Zarqawi as a severe blow to al Qaida in Iraq, which his own NIE would now seem to suggest was just a tad overstated. Beyond that, though, as NBC reported in 2004, the Bush Administration missed several chances to kill Zarqawi, beginning in June 2002. Which would be before we invaded Iraq. Which would be before Zarqawi founded al-Qaeda in Iraq.

So, let's put this together. Let's take that brand spanking new NIE report at face value. Let's just assume that it's correct, and not hyped, and that Al Qaeda in Iraq is now capable of attacking us on U.S. soil. Whose fault would that be? George W. Bush. Fighting them there to enable them to come fight us here. On his own terms, by his own definitions, and according to his own propaganda, George W. Bush is undermining our national security.

UPDATE: The Washington Post adds its perspective on the NIE:
The White House faced fresh political peril yesterday in the form of a new intelligence assessment that raised sharp questions about the success of its counterterrorism strategy and judgment in making Iraq the focus of that effort.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has been able to deflect criticism of his counterterrorism policy by repeatedly noting the absence of any new domestic attacks and by citing the continuing threat that terrorists in Iraq pose to U.S. interests.

But this line of defense seemed to unravel a bit yesterday with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate that concludes that al-Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. The report also notes that al-Qaeda has been able "to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks," by associating itself with an Iraqi subsidiary.
And the New York Times:
President Bush’s top counterterrorism advisers acknowledged Tuesday that the strategy for fighting Osama bin Laden’s leadership of Al Qaeda in Pakistan had failed, as the White House released a grim new intelligence assessment that has forced the administration to consider more aggressive measures inside Pakistan.

The intelligence report, the most formal assessment since the Sept. 11 attacks about the terrorist threat facing the United States, concludes that the United States is losing ground on a number of fronts in the fight against Al Qaeda, and describes the terrorist organization as having significantly strengthened over the past two years.

In identifying the main reasons for Al Qaeda’s resurgence, intelligence officials and White House aides pointed the finger squarely at a hands-off approach toward the tribal areas by Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who last year brokered a cease-fire with tribal leaders in an attempt to drain support for Islamic extremism in the region.

Why We Walk

Science Daily:
A new study provides support for the hypothesis that walking on two legs, or bipedalism, evolved because it used less energy than quadrupedal knucklewalking.

David Raichlen, an assistant professor of anthropology at The University of Arizona, conducted the study with Michael Sockol from the University of California, Davis, who was the lead author of the paper, and Herman Pontzer from Washington University in St. Louis.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Phish- Divided Sky

Photobucket seems to be down, so a video, instead.

Cold War redux.

The British government was last night bracing itself for an inevitable diplomatic backlash after expelling four Russian intelligence officers in protest at the Kremlin's refusal to hand over the prime suspect in the polonium-210 poisoning affair.

In an attempt to underline the government's anger and alarm over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the Foreign Office announced it was ceasing cooperation with Moscow on a range of issues, starting with the imposition of restrictions on visas issued to Russian officials seeking to visit the UK.

All four individuals being expelled are officers with one of the successor organisations to the KGB, a clear signal that British authorities strongly suspect that Russian intelligence agencies had a hand in the murder. David Miliband, the foreign secretary, told the Commons yesterday: "This response is proportional and it is clear at whom it is aimed."

You think?

Associated Press:
The situation for Iraqi children is getting worse and, in some respects, it was better before the war began, a senior U.N. official said Monday.

"Children today are much worse off than they were a year ago, and they certainly are worse off than they were three years ago," said Dan Toole, director of emergency programs for the United Nations Children's Fund. He said Iraqis no longer have safe access to a government-funded food basket, established under Saddam Hussein to deal with international sanctions.

Toole said conditions for women and children in Iraq had worsened significantly since the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, which triggered a wave of sectarian violence and displacement that continues today.

Oh, good.

Associated Press:
The U.S. military is weighing new directions in Iraq, including an even bigger troop buildup if President Bush thinks his "surge" strategy needs a further boost, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace revealed that he and the chiefs of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force are developing their own assessment of the situation in Iraq, to be presented to Bush in September. That will be separate from the highly anticipated report to Congress that month by Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander for Iraq.

The Joint Chiefs are considering a range of actions, including another troop buildup, Pace said without making any predictions. He called it prudent planning to enable the services to be ready for Bush's decision.
Escalate the escalation. Because this time we'll really win. Really. We will. Win. Really.


Associated Press:
A triple bombing, including a massive suicide truck blast, killed more than 80 people Monday in Kirkuk, the deadliest attack yet in the oil-rich northern city. The bloodshed reinforced concern that extremists are heading north as U.S.-led forces step up pressure around Baghdad.

The vast majority of the casualties came in the truck bombing, which blasted a 30-foot-deep crater and damaged part of the roof of the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of President Jalal Talabani. The explosion took place in a crowded commercial area and appeared aimed at causing as many civilian deaths as possible.


Monday, July 16, 2007


Washington Post:
West Rashid confounds the prevailing narrative from top U.S. military officials that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is the city's most formidable and disruptive force. While there are signs that the group has been active in the area, over the past several months, the Mahdi Army has transformed the composition of the district's neighborhoods by ruthlessly killing and driving out Sunnis and denying basic services to residents who remain. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, described the area as "one of the three or four most challenging areas in all of Baghdad."

Dominance by Shiite militias is typically associated with places in eastern Baghdad, such as Sadr City, while areas west of the Tigris River and south of the Baghdad airport road are home to large Sunni enclaves. Not long ago the western neighborhoods conformed clearly with this perception. U.S. soldiers estimate that a year ago, Sunnis made up about 80 percent of the population there and Shiites 20 percent. But those numbers have now reversed, after a concerted effort to cleanse Sunnis from the area, according to U.S. military officials. Graffiti marking the walls in these neighborhoods herald the new order: "Every land is Karbala, and every day is Ashura," read one slogan, extolling the Shiite holy city in southern Iraq and a major Shiite religious holiday.

The brazen attacks on U.S. soldiers also appear to challenge the idea that the Mahdi Army has been lying low to avoid confrontations with Americans. Street fighting between the Mahdi Army and U.S. forces has also broken out in other parts of the capital recently, including clashes in the al-Amin neighborhood Thursday in which Apache attack helicopters were called in to quell the gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades targeting U.S. troops. The next day, U.S. soldiers killed six Iraqi policemen during a raid in which they captured a police lieutenant believed to be working with Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

American soldiers who oversee West Rashid -- a district of about 700,000 people that includes the al-Amil, Bayaa and al-Jihad neighborhoods -- described an organized, well-financed Shiite enemy that rules ruthlessly and distributes the spoils of war to the area's impoverished residents.

That Other War

Los Angeles Times:
With more than 70 people killed in weekend bombings and a controversial cease-fire annulled in Pakistan's volatile frontier zone, the specter loomed Sunday of an all-out war between Islamic militants and the U.S.-backed government of President Pervez Musharraf.

In the latest suicide attack, a bomber blew himself up Sunday at a police recruitment center near Pakistan's tribal region, killing at least 26 people and injuring nearly 60 others.

The violence comes on the heels of last week's government storming of a radical mosque in the capital, Islamabad, a clash that left more than 100 people dead.
Washington Post:
A controversial peace deal between the Pakistani government and local tribal leaders in an area where al-Qaeda is known to be regrouping appeared to collapse Sunday, as tensions escalated and a fresh wave of bombings killed at least 44 people.

The 10-month-old deal in the restive region of North Waziristan was designed to curb cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. But it has been widely criticized by security analysts and, lately, U.S. officials, who said it provided terrorist groups including the Taliban and al-Qaeda with a safe haven in which to train recruits and plot attacks.

On Sunday, local Taliban fighters proclaimed the deal dead and announced the start of an all-out guerrilla war against the Pakistani army. Pakistani officials stopped short of conceding the agreement's demise, but the military has been moving tens of thousands of troops toward troubled spots along the border in recent days, after the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, last week announced a new crackdown on extremism.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry

Built of unmortared, closely fitted stones, in the Seventh or Eighth Century of the Common Era, the Gallarus Oratory is believed to have been a very early Christian church.

The Problem With Solar Power

Is that the government isn't adequately funding research and development. This New York Times article discusses the issue, including the incredible lack of government support; but it also ignores many of the recent technological breakthroughs. Read the article, then click the label below. There's plenty of reason to believe that enough government support could make solar power a major energy producer.

Edging Back From The Brink

More potentially good news, out of Iran. From RIA Novosti:
Iran is prepared to consider the UN nuclear watchdog's proposal to hold direct talks with the United States on its controversial uranium enrichment program, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

The World Needed This

Corriere Della Sera:
Pope Denies Protestants Are Church
Full identity in Christ only in Catholicism. Storm over document approved by Benedict XVI

VATICAN CITY – Christ “established here on earth” only one Church that has its full identity only in the Catholic Church, since every other Church or ecclesiastical community lacks something with respect to that identity. This is the import of a document released yesterday by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, provoking alarm and protests from Orthodox and Protestant Christians.
The document itself, signed by the prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal William Levada, and approved by Benedict XVI, comprises only six pages and is entitled Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the Church.

One Fourth Of All Americans Are Complete Idiots

New York Times:
While President George W. Bush continues to pursue his Iraq strategy, and Senate Democrats and Republicans debate the direction of the nation’s war policy, Americans persist in their negativity about how the war is going, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll conducted last Monday through Friday.

Three-quarters of those polled said the war was going badly while just one-quarter said it was going well. This level of negative public opinion has been relatively constant since January.

The party divide on the war remains clear. Republicans are conflicted – they are evenly split, with half saying their president’s war is going well and half saying it is going badly. Democrats, however, overwhelmingly hold a negative assessment of the war, with 92 percent saying the war is going badly.
Three-fourths are not.

That Other War

New York Times:
Suicide bombers struck a police recruitment center and a military convoy on Sunday in Pakistan’s volatile northwest, killing at least 49 people in a rapidly escalating conflict between militants and the government.

Since July 3, suicide attacks have claimed 103 lives in the nation’s tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province, including an explosion on Saturday that killed 24 soldiers.

The latest bombings come at a time of extreme tension in a region used as a redoubt by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Extremists have called for a holy war against Pakistan’s government to avenge the storming of the Red Mosque last week in Islamabad, a military assault that killed at least 75 people holed up inside. At the same time, a 10-month-old truce between the government and local tribal leaders seems to have fatally come undone.


Associated Press:
In Baghdad, a car bomb hit a central square in a Shiite neighborhood, killing 10 people and wounding 25. Police said 22 bullet-riddled bodies were found across the capital Sunday, apparent victims of sectarian death squads.

The U.S. military said an American soldier from the 13th Sustainment Command was killed Saturday when a bomb exploded near his supply convoy near Baghdad

No Surprise

Washington Post:
An independent oversight board created to identify intelligence abuses after the CIA scandals of the 1970s did not send any reports to the attorney general of legal violations during the first 5 1/2 years of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort, the Justice Department has told Congress.

Although the FBI told the board of a few hundred legal or rules violations by its agents after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the board did not identify which of them were indeed legal violations. This spring, it forwarded reports of violations in 2006, officials said.

The President's Intelligence Oversight Board -- the principal civilian watchdog of the intelligence community -- is obligated under a 26-year-old executive order to tell the attorney general and the president about any intelligence activities it believes "may be unlawful." The board was vacant for the first two years of the Bush administration.

Bush To Veto Children's Health Insurance

It seems that not a day goes by without more evidence emerging that the Bush Administration is without human conscience. The New York Times has the story:
The White House said on Saturday that President Bush would veto a bipartisan plan to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, drafted over the last six months by senior members of the Senate Finance Committee.

The vow puts Mr. Bush at odds with the Democratic majority in Congress, with a substantial number of Republican lawmakers and with many governors of both parties, who want to expand the popular program to cover some of the nation’s eight million uninsured children.
The program expires on September 30. Last year, some 7.4 million children were, at some point, covered by it. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill Bush will veto would reduce the number of uninsured children by 4.1 million.

So, why would Bush want to deny 4.1 million children health insurance coverage? According to a White House spokesman, part of the reason is that it would be funded through an increased cigarette tax. Another reason:
“The proposal would dramatically expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, adding nonpoor children to the program, and more than doubling the level of spending,” Mr. Fratto said. “This will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage, to go on the government-subsidized program.”
Because we all know that nonpoor children can easily afford private health insurance. This is the 2007 Health and Human Services Poverty Guideline:

Persons in
Family or Household
48 Contiguous
States and D.C.
1$ 10,210$12,770$11,750
For each
person, add

Now, consider that any families making more than that are considered by the Bush Administration as too affluent to need public health insurance for their children. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities compared the relative benefits of public and private health insurance plans. This was their conclusion:
All children covered by Medicaid and SCHIP receive relatively comprehensive health benefits, including preventive and primary medical care, inpatient and outpatient care, laboratory and x-ray services, prescription drugs, and immunizations. Almost all publicly-insured children have coverage for dental, vision and mental health care. (Medicaid standards are more rigorous and require that these services be available for children. They are not required in SCHIP, but most states do cover them.) In comparison, private health insurance benefits vary widely and are typically less comprehensive. Many private plans do not offer dental or vision care, services that are important for children, and some low-cost private plans do not even offer basic services like prescription drugs or preventive care.
The bottom line is this: to the Bush Administration, protecting the tobacco industry and the private health insurance industry is more important than protecting the health of children. Moral values, and family values, indeed.