Thursday, June 30, 2005

State Department: Iraq Too Dangerous For American Visitors

From the Associated Press:

"The State Department called Iraq too dangerous for American travellers on Wednesday, hours after President George W Bush pointed to 'significant progress' there.

'Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue,' and targets include hotels and restaurants, the State Department's travel warning said. 'There have been planned and random killings, as well as extortions and kidnappings.' The State Department issues warning against unnecessary travel to countries where internal conditions such as war, political unrest or terrorism may make American tourists, business people or other travellers targets. Wednesday's warning replaced a similarly worded warning issued in October.

Bush's speech on Tuesday night marked the first anniversary of the transfer of power from the US-led coalition to Iraq's interim government. The president cited advances in the past year, including the January elections, infrastructure improvements and training of Iraqi security forces.

'In the past year, we have made significant progress,' Bush said.

'Rebuilding a country after three decades of tyranny is hard and rebuilding while a country is at war is even harder. Our progress has been uneven but progress is being made.'

The State Department warning said terrorism threatens travel over land and by air.

'There is credible information that terrorists are targeting civil aviation. Civilian and military aircraft arriving in and departing from Baghdad International Airport have been subjected to small arms and missiles,' the warning said.

US government personnel are not allowed to fly commercially aboard Iraq's national airline, Iraqi Airways. They must come and go to the country on US military or other government-owned aircraft, or by Royal Jordanian Airlines.

'All vehicular travel in Iraq is extremely dangerous,' the warning said. 'There have been numerous attacks on civilian vehicles, as well as military convoys. Attacks occur throughout the day, but travel at night is exceptionally dangerous.' More than 1,700 US troops have died in Iraq, with thousands more injured. The toll is even higher among Iraqis.

Ah, progress. It really sounds like we're "completing the mission."

Resurgent Taliban In Afghanistan

From The New York Times:

"KABUL, Afghanistan, June 29 - The loss of a military helicopter with 17 Americans aboard in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday comes at a time of growing insecurity here. For the first time since the United States overthrew the Taliban government three and a half years ago, Afghans say they are feeling uneasy about the future.

Violence has increased sharply in recent months, with a resurgent Taliban movement mounting daily attacks in southern Afghanistan, gangs kidnapping foreigners here in the capital and radical Islamists orchestrating violent demonstrations against the government and foreign-financed organizations.

The steady stream of violence has dealt a new blow to this still traumatized nation of 25 million. In dozens of interviews conducted in recent weeks around the country, Afghans voiced concern that things were not improving, and that the Taliban and other dangerous players were gaining strength.

An American Chinook helicopter that crashed on Tuesday was brought down by hostile fire as it was landing during combat in a mountainous border area, American military officials said Wednesday.

Afghans interviewed about the continuing violence also expressed increased dissatisfaction with their own government and the way the United States military was conducting its operations, and said they were suspicious of the Americans' long-term intentions.

'Three years on, the people are still hoping that things are going to work out, but they have become suspicious about why the Americans came, and why the Americans are treating the local people badly,' said Jandad Spinghar, leader of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Nangarhar Province in the east, just across the Khyber Pass from Pakistan.

Poverty, joblessness, frustrated expectations and the culture of 25 years of war make for a volatile mix in which American military raids, shootings and imprisonments can inflame public opinion, many here say.

'Generally people are not against the Americans,' Mr. Spinghar said. 'But in areas where there are no human rights, where they do not have good relations and where there is bad treatment of villagers or prisoners, this will hand a free area to the Taliban. It's very important that the Americans understand how the Afghan people feel.'"

Yikes. I thought Afghanistan was a success story for the preznit and vice preznit? Now it sounds like a resurgent Taliban and a resentful Afghan public are making the "success story" in Afghanistan a little less successful.

The good news is, Afghanistan isn't as bad as Iraq. The bad news? There's still plenty of time for things to get worse. And given that the American military is bogged down in Iraq for the conceivable future, if the situation starts to really tank in Afghanistan, I'm not sure how the preznit deals with it other than give primetime speeches and assure Americans that we are "completing the mission."

CIA Hires Austin Powers

From Reuters:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - CIA agents charged with kidnapping a Muslim cleric in Milan appear to have bungled their way into an international incident by ignoring the most basic rules of the spy trade, experts say.

Far from the suave discretion of James Bond, experts say the operatives who snatched radical Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr on Feb. 17, 2003, sound more like the bumbling secret agent Austin Powers of movie fame.

"Instead of super-sleuths, they were like elephants stampeding through Milan. They left huge footprints," said former CIA clandestine officer Melissa Boyle Mahle.

Media reports say the agents placed phone calls to CIA headquarters on unsecured lines, ran up $145,000 in bills at luxury hotels and operated far enough in the open for Italian authorities to learn their operational identities.

'Everybody knows that telephones can be traced. It's not exactly an emerging technology,' said one former spy.

In fact, current and former intelligence officials, who had no actual knowledge of Nasr's abduction, said Italian accounts depict an amateur operation.

Several other intelligence sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the case involves a covert U.S. operation.

'The tradecraft was beyond appalling,' said an intelligence official with long experience in clandestine affairs. 'I'd have to wonder if these were CIA officers trained in the clandestine arts...'

...The abduction of Nasr, who court documents say was flown to Egypt and tortured there, threatens to rattle U.S.-Italian relations three months after U.S. troops shot dead an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq without facing disciplinary action.

Italian prosecutors are considering calling for the extradition of 13 people involved in the operation, while Italians are demanding to know if their own government was also involved."

Boy, this story makes me feel confident that the Bush administration can keep the country safe. Given the track record of the administration when dealing with officials who fuck things up, these 13 CIA agents who kidnapped Nasr and sent him to Egypt to be tortured should be getting promotions sometime soon.

Or Medals of Freedom, along with Paul Bremer, George Tenet, and General Tommy Franks. Cuz' the Iraq War has gone so well, you know?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

ABC News Analysis Of Preznit's Speech: Too Much Spin, Not Enough Reality

From ABC News (Posted in Full):

The President's Speech on Iraq: Truth vs. Spin
Bush Is More Frank on Iraq, but Still Avoids Many Unpleasant Realities

Jun. 29, 2005 - President Bush was more frank about the problems we face in Iraq than he has been in the past.

The president talked in more depth than before about the need to make Iraqi forces effective, and why deadlines for U.S. withdrawal could present serious problems. He presented a case for not increasing U.S. troops and he at least seemed to commit the U.S. to not establishing bases in Iraq or maintaining any lasting presence:

"We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed -- and not a day longer," he said. "Sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave."

Key parts of his speech, however, were driven by spin, rather than a frank effort to warn the American people of the sacrifices necessary to win and the risks involved. The end result was to mislead in ways that could come back to haunt the administration and reduce longer-term public support.


One key failure was his effort to explain the insurgency in Iraq almost solely in terms of foreign Islamic extremists. The president correctly referred to hundreds of foreign fighters, their horrifying extremism, and the very real threat they pose. He totally failed to mention the thousands of native Iraqis that make up the core of the insurgency, the fact we have only some 600 foreign detainees out of a total of 14,000 total detainees, the fact most intelligence estimates put foreign fighters at around 5 percent of the total, and the fact we face a major native popular Sunni Muslim uprising and deep Sunni distrust.

He implied the liberation, elections and democracy had somehow unified Iraq when they clearly have not, and glossed over the major political turmoil that will accompany the efforts to draft the constitution and elections to come. The president fundamentally misstated the true nature of the threat and risks in Iraq.

At the same time, he tied the reasons for the situation in Iraq to "9/11," and ignored all of his previous rationale for going to war in Iraq, and the U.S. failure in Iraq to plan for stability operations and carry out effective nation-building. He ignored the CIA analysis indicating that the invasion and initial mishandling of the insurgency had made Iraq a magnet for Islamist extremists.

He dodged over the fact that much of their extremism is designed to provoke an Iraq civil war between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, and implied that Iraq is the center of such activity and not a center. The fact is that Iraq is not draining Islamist activity in other regions. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, and other Gulf states are just a few of the areas where Islamist extremist activity remains a major threat that in no way is diminished by involvement in Iraq.

Diplomacy, Economics and Aid

The president talked about democracy as a regional panacea, and not as part of a difficult and long-term process of reform that must be coupled to the rule of law and human rights, economic reform, social reform, and demographic change. As usual, he cast his call for such reform in ways likely to provoke considerable local hostility from both friendly regimes and reformers. He talked about Libya, but not challenges like Iran, and totally avoided the difficult subject of the linkage between progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process and success in Iraq. He made no mention of the problems in dealing with Iraq's neighbors or how he intends to address them.

The president did not approach honesty in addressing the military burden on the United States, and key allies like Britain and Australia. He talked about thousands of coalition troops, not the need to maintain a massive U.S. troop presence until Iraq forces are ready. He did not mention that several coalition allies now plan to leave or are considering doing so. He talked about 17 nations contributing to the NATO training mission without noting that these are at best a few thousand individuals, of which hundreds are actually deployed in Iraq. In doing so, he did not warn the American people that there are thousands of American killed and wounded still to come, or explain and justify this sacrifice.

He gave an equally meaningless and misleading picture of Iraq's economic situation. He talked about $34 billion pledged by 80 countries, but not about the fact many countries never keep such pledges and that some $23 billion of that total had come from the United States. He did not mention that it costs some $4 billion to $8 billion a month to stay in Iraq, that it will cost the U.S. at least $100 billion to $200 billion more to stay the course, and that Iraq faces major budget problems, the need for another major aid supplemental, and has not even begun to seriously recondition its oil fields.

He did not touch upon the massive failures and limits in the U.S. aid effort to date, the need to reorganize that aid effort and put the management of the Iraqi economy into Iraqi hands, or the fact that Iraq's per-capita income and services remain well under prewar levels, and that the lack of jobs and security feeds the insurgency.

Iraqi Forces

The president cited three major "new" steps in improving the quality of Iraqi forces. In fact, none were really new. Step one, having coalition units partner with Iraqi units has been necessary virtually from the start; they have needed such support because they are just beginning to acquire the leadership, experience and support capabilities that any new forces must acquire. The coalition training and advisory teams have been developing such efforts for a year.

Embedding "coalition transition teams" in Iraqi forces began as a result of the mission to Iraq by retired Gen. Gary Luck in January 2005, and has already been fully implemented in most Iraqi army, national guard, and special police units. It is under way in regular police units, but has been delayed by a lack of resources and support from civilian agencies and departments in Washington. The president did not talk about the need for enduring commitments and more help from outside the U.S. military.

The United States began working with the Iraqi ministry of defense and ministry of interior before the transfer of power in June 2004 -- more than a year ago. The progress in organization, training and other force-building activities is very real, but it is the result of a major restructuring of the U.S. advisory effort following a mission to assess Iraq's security forces by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Karl Eikenberry in the winter of 2003/2004, and work of the multinational command that began in the spring of 2004.

More important, the entire force-building effort is just beginning to acquire critical mass, and it will require at least another year of intense U.S. military support in combat. The president was right in saying that there are more than 160,000 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces, almost all of which are capable of performing at least low-level missions. This is a major rise in such manpower from a total of around 96,000 in August 2004, and Iraqi forces will be able to take over more and more of the mission with time.

However, the president did not mention that U.S. plans also call for expanding the Iraqi manpower pool through July 2006, and from 168,000 men in June 2005, to 200,000 in September, 230,000 in December, and 270,000 in July 2006, and just how much further the force-building effort must go.

The president did not talk about the time it will take to develop actual combat capability. Moreover, it will take a substantial amount of time to bring most Iraqi manpower from little or limited operational capability to fully operational capability.

The Iraqi army and national guard, security services, and police are now being rated by a new evaluation matrix developed by the MNSTC-I. This matrix was developed by a combination of Iraqi brigade and battalion commanders, and their U.S. advisers, and looked at factors like manning levels, equipment levels, training, command and control, leadership, and logistics. It rates Iraqi units as having one of four levels of mission capability.

The details of this readiness system are classified, but reports have been issued in various "blogs" and press reports. According to such press reports, the Iraqi army and national guard had a total of 81 battalions by late May 2005, but a new evaluation matrix developed by the MNSTC-I only rated three battalions at the top level of readiness and capability, and this did not mean they were capable of independent operations. Only one of 26 brigade headquarters had such a rating. If one included all of the special police battalions, the press reported that the total force rose from 81 battalions to 101, but the number rated in the top category only rose from three to five. The United States had also concluded that it needed to make further major increases in the number of U.S. advisory or "transition teams" embedded in Iraqi units and was seeking to rapidly deploy 2,500 more men by mid-June.

The new rating system found that Iraqi units were particularly weak in logistics; because they were being rushed into combat readiness, and lack support personnel like truck drivers, supply clerks, medics and engineers. Instead of the nearly 50-50 tooth-to-tail ratio in U.S. forces, only 4,000 of the 75,800 men in rated units were performing support function.

It must be stressed that all of these issues are now being addressed and that real progress is being made as quickly as it can without sacrificing force quality for force quantity. There was only one active Iraqi battalion in July 2004, and a few more national guard and special police battalions. The coalition advisory teams have, indeed, accomplished an amazing amount in the last year, and it may well be possible to begin steady reductions in U.S. and the remaining allied troop presence in early 2006. It seems almost certain, however, that a major U.S. presence will be needed through 2007 unless the Iraqi political process can change to include most of Iraq's Sunnis and defuse the native Iraq role in the insurgency -- issues the president deliberately avoided.

U.S. Troops

The president implied the U.S. had plans to totally leave Iraq once current plans are complete. It doesn't. Plans don't yet exist to give Iraq all the armor, artillery, airpower, and support it will need until the insurgency is truly defeated.

The president also gave a dangerously over-simplified rationale for not deploying more American troops, although he was honest in stating that foreign forces are resented by Iraqis, not seen as "liberators," and only Iraqi forces can lead to the kind of popular acceptance that can defeat the insurgency. The truth is we don't have large reserves of the kind of trained forces with the combat and area skills that are needed. The United States has the same problems with force quality versus force quantity as Iraqis, and our present force structure must be changed to avoid over-deploying the skilled actives and reserves that had largely already been in Iraq. Six years of near failure in effective force transformation have compounded the problem.

It is also all too clear that calls for limited amounts of additional troops might solve some problem at a local tactical level, but one outside call for 3,500 NATO troops to secure the Syrian border is a typical military absurdity. It would take tens of thousands more U.S. troops, since serious additional allied troops aren't coming and some allied troops are going. They then could only occupy space, not govern or establish the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. The president should have said that Iraqi forces sensitive to Iraqi needs, political inclusiveness, and the Iraqi government's ability to leave effective police and government structures in now-hostile areas are the answer; not more troops. To do so, however, he would have had to address the real nature of the insurgency.

In short, this was not the honest speech that Americans needed to hear; it was dominated by efforts at spin control. It did not explain the sacrifices needed, or the risks to be faced. It provided a partial and largely misleading explanation for the U.S. role in Iraq, without mention of our moral and ethical obligation to the Iraqi people and the vital strategic interests involved. Instead of "blood, sweat, and tears," we got spin, risk avoidance, and promises without cost. Normal perhaps by today's political standards, but scarcely the kind of realism and leadership that will inspire the continuing American support that U.S. forces, Iraq, and our allies will need during the difficult and uncertain years to come.

Anthony H. Cordesman is an ABC News military analyst, and an expert on the Iraq war as a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Wow. ABC News called the preznit on his bullshit. Cordesman notes that"Instead of 'blood, sweat, and tears," we got spin, risk avoidance, and promises without cost."

Sounds like a recapitulation of the entire Bush Presidency.

Iraqi Insurgents Favored Bush Over Kerry

From the Associated Press (Via Randy MI's Diary at The Daily Kos):

"Two French journalists who were held hostage in Iraq told a British documentary program that their captors believed George W. Bush's re-election as US president would help radicalize Iraqis.

Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who were seized in August and released after four months, told the British Broadcasting Corp.'s 'Panorama' program that they were allowed to interview the leader of an Islamic militant cell within the group that seized them.

'We felt we were on planet bin Laden,' Malbrunot said on the program, which airs Wednesday night.

The cell leader trained with terror leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and told them the insurgents supported a Bush presidency because they believed it meant that 'there will be confrontation, occupation and radicalization of the Iraqi people,' Malbrunot said. "

Terrorists favor George W. Bush, oh yes they do. This preznit surely will keep us safer from terrorism. Or maybe he'll help recruit thousands new terrorists to the jihadi cause and aggravate an already intense resentment of America abroad. Hard to tell, ain't it?

If the United States wants to win the War on Terror, perhaps Americans should elect a few less demagogues and a few more statesmen who understand that the War on Terror is a battle of ideas and philosophies that cannot be won by torturing terror suspects or rendering them to Egypt to be tortured and murdered by our "allies."

I don't think the Elaine LaMangas of the country are smart enough to see that though.

Feeling Safer from Terrorism?

From The Washington Post:

"About a third of an ounce of botulism toxin poured by bioterrorists into a milk truck en route from a dairy farm to a processing plant could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in economic losses, according to a scientific analysis that was published yesterday despite efforts by federal officials to keep the details secret.

The analysis by researchers at Stanford University, posted yesterday on the Web site of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seeks to quantify security weaknesses in the nation's milk-supply chain and makes recommendations for closing those gaps.

Although some suggested changes are underway, federal officials felt the material had enough potential for misuse to warrant a last-minute effort to halt publication. That effort, which delayed the report's release by a month but ultimately did not keep it from becoming public, proved to be as contentious as the publication itself. It has assured the report's place in the scientific canon as one of the first test cases of how to balance scientific freedom and national security in the post-Sept. 11 era.

Study leader Lawrence M. Wein, whose previous research had forecast the likely effects of terrorist attacks involving anthrax and smallpox, said he was surprised by the government's push to block publication, which involved a flurry of phone calls and meetings with officers of the National Academies. The organization advises the federal government on matters of science and publishes the journal...

...The analysis by Wein and graduate student Yifan Liu considered what might happen if terrorists poured into a milk tanker truck a couple of gallons of concentrated sludge containing as much as 10 grams of botulinum toxin, a potent bacterial nerve poison now popular in low doses as a wrinkle eraser.

Because milk from many sources is combined in huge tanks holding hundreds of thousands of gallons, the toxin would get widely distributed in low, but potentially lethal, concentrations and within days be consumed by about 568,000 people, the report concludes.

The researchers acknowledge that their numbers are very rough. But depending on how thoroughly the milk was pasteurized (which partially inactivates toxins) and how promptly the outbreak was detected and supplies recalled, about 400,000 people would be likely to fall ill, they conclude.

Symptoms of botulism food poisoning arise within hours and progress from cramps, nausea and vision problems to paralysis and death by asphyxiation. Although only 6 percent of victims would generally be expected to die, the death rate could easily hit 60 percent, they conclude, because there would not be nearly enough mechanical ventilators or doses of antitoxin to treat so many victims."

Apparently the government didn't want the study published because it would harm the dairy industry and give terrorists ideas they don't already have about how to hurt us.

Let's face it, saving the dairy industry a few dollars is a paramount duty for all Americans. And everybody knows Al Qaeda can't think outside the box when it comes to planning terrorist attacks. Rumor has it they get all their ideas from CSI.

Insurgents Infiltrate Iraqi Police?

From Knight-Ridder:

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Days after Iraq's new Shiite-led government was announced on April 28, the bodies of Sunni Muslim men began turning up at the capital's central morgue after the men had been detained by people wearing Iraqi police uniforms.

Faik Baqr, the director and chief forensic investigator at the central Baghdad morgue, said the corpses first caught his attention because the men appeared to have been killed in methodical fashion. Their hands had been tied or handcuffed behind their backs, their eyes were blindfolded and they appeared to have been tortured. In most cases, the dead men looked as if they'd been whipped with a cord, subjected to electric shocks or beaten with a blunt object and shot to death, often with single bullets to their heads.

Marks on the bodies were similar to the injuries found on prisoners who were rescued from secret Interior Ministry jails by representatives of the Iraqi ministry for human rights, according to family accounts and medical records.

Iraqi and American officials said the murders aren't being investigated systematically, but in dozens of interviews with families and Iraqi officials, and a review of medical records, a Knight Ridder reporter and two special correspondents found more than 30 examples of this type of killing in less than a week. They include 12 cases with specific dates, times, names and witnesses who said they might come forward if asked by law enforcement.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the Iraqi police, denies any involvement in the killings. But eyewitnesses said that many of the dead were apprehended by large groups of men driving white Toyota Land Cruisers with police markings. The men were wearing police commando uniforms and bulletproof vests, carrying expensive 9-millimeter Glock pistols and using sophisticated radios, the witnesses said.

U.S. officials, who have advisers in the Interior Ministry, have said that they're aware of the abductions and killings, but that they think the murders are the work of insurgents posing as police.

While he admitted that Interior Ministry troops have at times abused detainees, Casteel said he knew of only one instance in which they falsely detained an Iraqi and beat him. And in that case, the troops and their commander were convicted and jailed, he said...

... The murders and the allegations about who's committing them add another explosive element to Iraq's growing sectarian strife at a time when the Bush administration has begun saying that it's up to the Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency by attracting broader popular support, especially from Sunni Arabs.

If the killers are proven to be Sunni insurgents masquerading as Shiite police, the murders raise troubling questions about how insurgents are getting expensive new police equipment. The Toyotas, which cost more than $55,000 apiece, and Glocks, at about $500 each, are hard to come by in Iraq, and they're rarely used by anyone other than Western contractors and Iraqi security forces.

Further evidence that a police force created, trained and funded by the United States has been abusing human rights, on the other hand, would complicate the Bush administration's efforts to muster greater domestic support for its Iraq policy and more international support for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari.

The U.S. government has appropriated more than $11 billion for training and equipping Iraqi security forces, including the police. At least 55,000 Iraqi police officers have undergone training, including thousands trained in neighboring Jordan.

However, a March report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that police were trained mainly for civilian law enforcement duty.

'The Multinational Force in Iraq and the Iraqi ministries find it difficult to train a national police force that abides by the rule of law while operating in a hostile environment,' the report said.

Raad Sultan, an official in Iraq's ministry of human rights who monitors the treatment of Iraqis in prisons and detention centers, said some Interior Ministry employees have tortured Iraqis whom they suspected of supporting the insurgency.

Officials in the Interior Ministry's intelligence division deny having detainees, saying they only question those in Iraqi prisons. But one investigation by the Human Rights Ministry found 32 detainees, and another found 67 in Interior Ministry intelligence facilities. The majority of the detainees had been tortured, Sultan said.

Most of those who were tortured had their hands cuffed behind their backs, were blindfolded and had been beaten by cords or subjected to electrical shock, Sultan said. Baqr, at the morgue, said the bodies that have been brought to him handcuffed and blindfolded had been similarly abused.

But when battered corpses turn up outside Interior Ministry facilities, Sultan said, 'How can I prove it is the security forces?'

Ghathanfar al Jasim, who sits on Iraq's national judicial council and functions as an attorney general, said it's difficult to discuss extrajudicial murder.

'We cannot admit that our police are doing it; it would make them look weak,' Jasim said, adding that Sunni insurgents often target Iraqi security forces, especially commando units such as the Interior Ministry's Wolf Brigade.

'When a man kills another man (from their group), what do you think will be the result?' he said. 'How do you think the Wolf Brigade would behave? If you arrested (Osama) bin Laden, what would you do with him?'

Asked who he thought was behind the upsurge in such executions, Baqr said, 'It is a very delicate subject for society when you are blaming the police officers. . . . It is not an easy issue.

'We hear that they are captured by the police and then the bodies are found killed . . . it's obviously increasing.'

Okay, so either the insurgeny has access to cop equipment and cop guns and is masquerading as police or the Iraqi police are torturing and murdering Iraqis in growing numbers.

As the preznit said in last night's speech, we're making progress in Iraq while training Iraqi police and Iraqi troops.

Governator Terminated In New Poll

From the Associated Press:

"SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A majority of California voters do not want to see Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger re-elected, according to the latest poll showing the Republican's political appeal sliding.

The nonpartisan Field Poll of registered voters found that just 39 percent said they were inclined to give Schwarzenegger a second term, while 57 percent were not. As recently as February, the numbers were almost reversed, with 56 percent saying they were inclined to re-elect Schwarzenegger and just 42 percent were not.

A series of polls released by Field researchers indicates Schwarzenegger has lost considerable ground among voters in recent months. The drop in the governor's popularity has coincided with his push for a fall special election for voters to consider several ballot measures aimed at curbing the power of Democrats and public employee unions in state government.

Earlier installments of the poll have shown that Schwarzenegger's job approval ratings have tumbled amid voters expressing skepticism about the special election and tepid support for his ballot measures.

Schwarzenegger has repeatedly said he would favor negotiating an agreement with legislators over the ballot measures that could avert a contentious showdown in the fall.

Still, the findings released Wednesday show that Schwarzenegger has fallen out of favor with almost every major demographic group.

The governor still enjoys considerable support among Republican voters, with 71 percent saying they were inclined to re-elect him.

But the poll found that 83 percent of Democrats, who form the majority of the state's registered voters, would oppose a second term, as would 61 percent of independent voters. Solid majorities of Hispanic voters and women also say they do not want to see the governor re-elected.

''This is a definite turn away from the governor,'' Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. ''It's fallen so far, so fast and in a very broad-based way.'"

Bye-bye, Ahnold.

Reaction To The President's Speech

From USA Today:

"WASHINGTON — President Bush was speaking Tuesday night to rows of straight-backed troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. But the targets of his message were people like Elaine LaMagna, 66, watching from her living room in Manchester Township, N.J.

She supported the war at first but fretted before Bush spoke, 'You just don't see any light at the end of the tunnel.' She predicted then: 'I would say troops will be there until the end of the Bush administration, then another administration will say, 'Come home.'

And after the speech?

She was impressed. 'An excellent speech,' she said. 'All you see in the media is the death and destruction. You don't see anything about what's being rebuilt and what's being done.'

Echoing Bush's core argument, she called the war in Iraq a way to avoid another Sept. 11-style attack at home. 'If you defend freedom over there, you may not have to defend it over here,' she said.

The woman in this article, Elaine LaMagna, is a perfect example of the type of people that Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Ari Fleischer and the rest of Bush's Orwellian word specialists have been manipulating since 9/11. Bush said nothing new in his speech. Bush offered no solutions, no exit strategy, nothing but the same half-truths and half-baked arguments he has offered before - namely that the Iraq War has made us safer at home and we will leave after we have finished training Iraqi troops to take over their own security. Neither argument is genuine. We are less safe from terrorism in 2005. Many in the Muslim world hate us because of the Iraq War, the images of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib, and allegations of Koran desecration that have been confirmed by the Pentagon. We cannot respond to a crisis with 138,000 American troops on their third tours of duty in Iraq/Afghanistan. The military has a recruiting problem here at home, as the Army has missed its targets for four month in a row. As for the training of the Iraqis to take over their own security, the 160,000 Iraqi troops Bush claims are in "various states of readiness" the military says amounts to about 60,000 troops. An additional problem is that these 60,000 battle-ready troops have been infiltrated by the insurgency so that the American military don't trust the Iraqis with any confidential information.

So nothing Bush said last night changes any of the problems facing the United States as it becomes bogged down indefinitely in Iraq and suffers troop shortages. Yet Elaine LaMagna listens to the preznit's words and comes away saying, "Oh, everything is going okay in Iraq. I didn't know because I was just seeing the car bombs and the suicide bombings and the helicopter crashes. But now that the preznit says we're rebuilding stuff, well, I can see this war is worth it. Plus we're definitely safer fighting the terrorists over there than here."

Elaine LaMagna is a moron. She is too stupid to be given the right to vote and should have her name scratched off the voting rolls this minute. She cannot think critically for herself, she is easily manipulated by a bullshit speech, and she is the type of American citizen who has allowed the Bush administration to get away with the sheer incompetence of the post-Iraq war planning, the deception of the pre-war intelligence claims, the horrendous treatment and torture of "terror suspects" in Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the "extraordinary rendition" of suspects to nations that torture and kill them in our name.

Elaine LaMagna typifies what is wrong with modern America. Rather than hold the preznit accountable for mistakes, she parrots the preznit's propaganda back to us as her own original thoughts. As long as there are lots of Elaine LaMagnas in this country, Bush and Rove will get away with saying "Ignore the carnage and the explosions and the dead bodies on your television and look at the reconstructed school behind the flames. See, we are rebuilding Iraq, one schoolhouse at a time." And the Elaine LaMagnas all nod hypnotically and say, "Yes, Mr Preznit, you are right. Thank you, Great Leader, you know how to keep us safe from terrorism."

At some point, harsh reality and the Elaine LaMagnas of the world are going to come face to face and the results aren't going to be pretty. When we are faced with pulling out from Iraq 2 or 3 years down the road because we don't have enough troops in our volunteer army anymore and Americans don't have the political will to reinstitute a draft, let's see what Elaine LaMagna thinks. When the Iraqi government falls after we pull out and radical Islamic fascists take power, let's see what Elaine LaMagna thinks. When all of the jihadis trained in urban terrorism in Iraq start bleeding out of the Middle East and back to their home countries to try out their deadly skills, let's see what Elaine LaMagna thinks. When we count up the total cost of the war in lives and money (1744 Americans, over 12,000 Iraqi civilians, $200 billion dollars and counting) while Americans here at home contine to lose their pensions, health care, and jobs to outsourcing, let's see what Elaine LaMagna thinks. And when some of those jihadis trained inIiraq, especially the ones from Africa who are black and will fit right in at Grand Central Station in New York or the Loop in Chicago, start blowing people up here the way they have in Iraq, let's see what Elaine LaMagna thinks then.

If she thinks at all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

United Nations: U.S. May Have Prison Ships

From the BBC:

"The United Nations says it has learned of serious allegations that the US is secretly detaining terrorism suspects, notably on American military ships.

The special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak said the accusations were rumours at this stage, but urged the US to co-operate in an investigation.

He said the UN wants lists of the places of detention and those held.

The comments come five days after the UN accused the US of stalling on their requests to visit Guantanamo Bay.

Investigators have been asking to visit the jail in Cuba to carry out checks into allegations of human rights abuse.

The UN said for over a year there had been no response to its requests, and it would begin an inquiry into alleged abuses with or without US co-operation.

Washington had yet to grant their request, Mr Nowak said.

He told the BBC there were a number of allegations from reliable sources that the US was holding terrorist suspects in secret places of detention, including vessels abroad.

He said that according to the reports, the ships were believed to be in the Indian Ocean.

Mr Nowak said the charges of secret detention camps were very serious, amounting to enforced disappearances."

These "prison ship" accusations are more allegations over the administration's handling of terror suspects that Preznit Bush and Vice Preznit Cheney will call "absurd." Yet the administration stonewalls any independent inquiry into the overseas detainee system so we have to take Bush and Cheney at their words that there are no prison ships and that terror suspects are not being abused, tortured, humiliated, or murdered.

I don't know about you, but I don't believe a word either Bush or Cheney say. Not even "is" or "the." I want an independent inquiry into the handling of terror suspects. I don't want Rummy running the inquiry or Attorney General Abu Gonzalez or Condi Rice or Senator Pat Roberts or Majority Leader Frist or any other member of the Washington establishment who has a vested interest in making sure Bush comes off looking good. Pat Roberts has already killed the pre-war intelligence commission we were promised would come after the "2004 political season." I guarantee you that Bush will do everything in his power to make sure no independent investigation is made of any of the prison abuse allegations because once somebody fair-minded and independent shines a light on the inner workings of the administration's "War on Terror," Americans are going to find that the frat boy antics of the Abu Ghraib nightshift was just the tip of a shameful, deviant episode in our nation's history that will make the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II seem like summer camp outings.

How Low Can He Go?

From CNN:

"(CNN) -- The number of Americans disapproving of President Bush's job performance has risen to the highest level of his presidency, according to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.

According to the poll, 53 percent of respondents said they disapproved of Bush's performance, compared to 45 percent who approved.

The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The 53 percent figure was the highest disapproval rating recorded in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll since Bush became president in January 2001.

The approval percentage -- 45 percent -- matches a low point set in late March. The 8-point gap between those who disapproved and approved was the largest recorded during Bush's tenure.

As Bush prepares to address the nation Tuesday to defend his Iraq policy, just 40 percent of those responding to the poll said they approved of his handling of the war; 58 percent said they disapproved.

The approval rating on Iraq was unchanged from a poll in late May, and the disapproval figure marked an increase of 2 percentage points.

But the poll also found that issues other than the Iraq war may be dragging down Bush's numbers.

Respondents expressed even stronger disapproval of his handling of the economy, energy policy, health care and Social Security."

The lone bright spot for the president in the poll was his handling of terrorism, which scored a 55 percent approval rating, compared to just 41 percent who disapproved.

What's a preznit to do when his poll numbers tank because he's bogged the nation down into a war of choice that Americans increasingly think will either go on indefinitely or end badly?

HAVE A PRESS CONFERENCE!!! From the Associated Press:

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush is using the first anniversary of Iraq's sovereignty to try to ease Americans' doubts about the mission and outline a winning strategy for a violent conflict that has cost the lives of more than 1,740 U.S. troops and has no end in sight.

In a prime-time address from Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division, Bush was to argue that there is no need to change course in Iraq despite the upsetting images produced by daily insurgent attacks.

His assessment comes on the heels of a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll that showed public doubts about the war reaching a high point -- with more than half saying that invading Iraq was a mistake.

Although attacks frequently take the lives of American troops, Bush has said they will not leave until Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped to keep the peace. He has refused to give a timetable for troop withdrawal, even though some Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress are supporting a resolution that calls for Bush to start bringing them home by Oct. 1, 2006...

...Bush's speech is part of a new public-relations campaign from the White House to try to calm anxieties about the war. It comes after several conflicting or perplexing messages about the nature and duration of the conflict.

Vice President Dick Cheney made headlines last month with his assertion that the insurgency in Iraq was 'in its last throes.' He was later contradicted by the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, and by Rumsfeld, who said the insurgency could drag on for years.

Rumsfeld also told an interviewer this month that Iraq is 'statistically' no safer today than it was before the ouster of Saddam Hussein, although he maintains progress is being made.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a conference on Iraq's reconstruction last week that defeating terrorism in Iraq would 'be a death knell for terrorism as we know it.'''

The piece goes on to say that we will get plenty of allusions to 9/11 tonight during Bush's speech. Obviously Karl Rove can read the tea leaves and see that in nearly every poll released in the past month, the only numbers Bush has logging in over 50% are his terrorism numbers. Therefore Bush is going to remind Americans about 9/11 and subtly (or not so subtly) suggest that defeating Saddam helped defeat the 9/11 terrorists and has made the nation safer from terrorism.

Will America be bamboozled tonight? Will they believe Bush's argument that the Iraq War has made us safer even though the conflict that has bogged our military down indefinitely in a war of choice and stretched our forces thin with two and three tours of duty overseas? Will they believe Bush's assertions that we are making progress in Iraq when all evidence in the newspapers and on the television contradicts that statement? In other words, will they believe their eyes or Bush's words?

For most of his presidency, George W. Bush has been able to lie, deceive, mislead, and manipulate the American public with his well-written speeches and public statements. Americans have believed the myth that Bush is a "straight-shooter" who says what he believes and tells it like it is to America. But the disconnect between his rhetoric on Iraq and the body count showing up in the news has eradicated much of Bush's "straight-shooter" mythos.

I will be interested to see whether Bush tries to level with the American people tonight and say we've got years of fighting in Iraq ahead of us if we want to succeed or if he continues to bamboozle the nation by saying we are making progress and we must stay the course despite the awful casualties. And if Bush tries the bamboozling root, I can't wait to see if Americans buy it or not.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Katherine Harris

From the St. Petersburg Times:

A defense contractor under federal investigation gave Rep. Katherine Harris, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, about $42,000 during the 2003-04 election cycle.

MZM Inc., a Washington company that does millions of dollars of work for the federal government, has been in the news for its role in a deal with Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif. Cunningham sold a house to MZM founder Mitchell Wade, who lost money on it after putting it back on the market almost immediately.

Harris, R-Sarasota, got $10,000 from the MZM political action committee, and another $32,000 from MZM employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money.

The $32,000 came in 16 checks for $2,000 each - 14 of them written on one day, March 23, 2004.

Harris' congressional staff referred a reporter's questions to Adam Goodman, Harris' political consultant in her campaign for Senate next year. He said he couldn't comment because he didn't know anything about it.

That's interesting. All of the checks from the MZM employes to Harris were written on the same day. Huh. There's a rumor going around that MZM founder Mitchell Wade told his employees right in front of a Congressional Republican that they had to donate two grand each to this person or lose their jobs. Many thought Congressman Randy Cunningham was the guy who had gotten the checks written for him on the MZM premises since he had already received $700,000 bucks from a sweetheart real estate deal with Wade and was living on the MZM CEO's 40 foot yacht in D.C. But now it's starting to sound like Katherine Harris, the former Florida Secretary of State who certified the state for Bush in 2000, was the politician who was shaking down the MZM employees for cash.

I don't know about you, but I would pay money to see Katherine Harris handcuffed and frog-marched off to prison for campaign finance fraud and an embezzlement conviction. Boy, that would be a helluva day.

More Koran Abuse Allegations

From AFP:

"LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) - Seventeen former prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who were detained on their return home to Pakistan were freed, with many alleging they had witnessed the desecration of the Koran at the US jail.

The men came back to Pakistan around nine months ago after being cleared by US authorities. They were finally released from a Pakistani jail after promising not to take part in militant activities.

'American soldiers have been committing desecration of the holy Koran at Guantanamo,' Haifz Ehsan Saeed, 27, told AFP as he emerged from the central jail in the city of Lahore.

"There were various incidents. Once I saw them throw the Koran in a bucket full of urine and faeces," he said.

Saeed said he was arrested four years ago in Afghanistan on charges of having links with the Al-Qaeda terror network. He was kept in a jail run by brutal Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam and then shifted to Guantanamo.

'The Americans declared me innocent but yet I have been in prison for about nine months in Rawalpindi and Lahore after being released from Guantanamo Bay,' he said.

'I am not ashamed because I have not done any wrong act,' Saeed added.

Another freed prisoner, 25-year-old Muhammad Hanif, said he was tortured and his beard was forcibly shaved by the US troops at the military jail in Cuba.

'The Americans removed our beards and have been spitting over the holy book,' Hanif told AFP.

The inmates at Guantanamo Bay protested at the abuse of the Islamic holy book and went on hunger strikes, he said.

A Pakistani official said the men had been released on the orders of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

'We have released 17 prisoners after their parents and guardians furnished guarantees that they would not indulge in terrorist activities,' said Tahir Ashrafi, the provincial government's advisor on religious affairs.

Musharraf earlier this month condemned the desecration of the Koran as an 'unpardonable' act and backed calls for the punishment of those found guilty.

Frequent protest rallies were held in Pakistan after a report in Newsweek magazine in early May said Guantanamo Bay interrogators threw a Koran in a toilet to rattle Muslim inmates. Newsweek later retracted the story.

The US Defense Department, announcing the result of an investigation this month, said that overall US soldiers at the camp handled the Islamic holy book with respect.

But it said military personnel at Guantanamo Bay once kicked the Koran and a copy was sprayed with urine in another incident."

There are too many of these allegations coming from former prisoners for them to all be lies. But Bush and Cheney want you to think the prisoners at Gitmo are living it up in a tropical paradise. The Associated Press covers that story:

"Washington (AP) - Defending the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. jail in Guantanamo Bay, Vice President Dick Cheney said they are well treated, well fed and 'living in the tropics.' The Bush administration has faced allegations of inmate abuse at the jail and of unjustly detaining suspects. Amnesty International recently compared it to Soviet-era gulags, and Democrats and even some Republicans in Congress have questioned whether it should remain open.

President Bush called Amnesty's report 'absurd' and last week and publicly challenged reporters to go to Guantanamo and see for themselves that detainees were being treated humanely there.

Cheney on Thursday described prison conditions in more glowing terms, saying the United States spent heavily to build a new facility there.

'They're very well treated down there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want,' Cheney said in a CNN interview. 'There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people.'

Asked if the detention center should be shut down and the prisoners transferred, Cheney said 'it's a vital facility' and must continue operating.

The approximately 520 remaining detainees are 'terrorists. They're bomb-makers. They're facilitators of terror. They're members of al-Qaida and the Taliban,' Cheney said. 'If you let them out, they'll go back to trying to kill Americans.'"

Cheney continuously asserts that all of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay prison are "terrorists...bomb-makers...facilitators of terror." And yet the 17 Pakistanis alleging Koran abuse in the AFP article were let go from Guantanamo Bay after they promised "not to take part in any militant activities." Presumably military interrogators didn't find any ties to terrorism for these prisoners or they wouldn't have let them go home.

Which brings up this point: how many prisoners at Gitmo or prison camps in Iraq and Afghanistan are innocent of any terrorist activities? Very few prisoners have been charged with any crimes so far in Bush's war on terror. There have been even fewer convictions. I can understand the need to hold on to some suspects that you think are capable of terrorist activities but the problem is the Bush administration seems to want to hold on to every person they get their hands on without any discerning criterion for who they hold and why. And they refuse to allow any Congressional oversight on the overseas prison system.

Until Congress reasserts themselves on the executive branch of government, we will not learn what is truly happening in the overseas prisons nor we will get any real change in how the administration treats prisoners. Certainly we will never learn whether American military or CIA personnel have engaged in Koran abuse because this administration never, ever tells the truth unless it is forced to.

Hagel: Iraq Worse Than Vietnam

From the Omaha World-Herald (Via Daily Kos):

Hagel sounds alarm over Iraq


GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - More than 200 Nebraska American Legion members, who have seen war and conflict themselves, fell quiet here Saturday as Sen. Chuck Hagel bluntly explained why he believes that the United States is losing the war in Iraq.

Sen. Chuck Hagel addresses more than 200 Nebraska American Legion members in Grand Island on Saturday.

It took 20 minutes, but it boiled down to this:

The Bush team sent in too few troops to fight the war leading to today's chaos and rising deaths of Americans and Iraqis. Terrorists are "pouring in" to Iraq.

Basic living standards are worse than a year ago in Iraq. Civil war is perilously close to erupting there. Allies aren't helping much. The American public is losing its trust in President Bush's handling of the conflict.

And Hagel's deep fear is that it will all plunge into another Vietnam debacle, prompting Congress to force another abrupt pullout as it did in 1975.

"What we don't want to happen is for this to end up another Vietnam," Hagel told the legionnaires, "because the consequences would be catastrophic."

It would be far worse than Vietnam, says Hagel, a twice-wounded veteran of that conflict, which killed 58,000 Americans.

Failure in Iraq could lead to many more American deaths, disrupt U.S. oil supplies, damage the Middle East peace effort, spread terrorism and harm America's stature worldwide, Hagel said.

That's what keeps him on edge these days.

That's why he is again the most outspoken Republican in Congress about Iraq. His view that America is losing in Iraq, which first aired in a newsmagazine last week, prompted rebukes from conservatives such as talk show host Rush Limbaugh, concerns from others in his party and praise from anti-war advocates on the Internet.

But Saturday, he was unrepentant.

"The point is, we're going to have to make some changes or we will lose, we will lose in Iraq," he told the legionnaires.

At the same time, he said, he wants President Bush to win, and he believes that the United States cannot pull out anytime soon.

The legionnaires gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech. Carl Marks of Omaha, a Korean War veteran, said: "It sounds like he's conflicted . . . like a lot of us."

Bennie Navratil of Hallam, Neb., whose son left last week for military duty in Afghanistan, said, "I feel he said the right thing: that we can't pull out and something's got to change."

Aboard a plane back to Omaha, Hagel was asked whether he thought Bush was aware that adjustments might be needed in his Iraq policy.

"I don't know," Hagel said.

The whole Iraqi situation makes him sick to his stomach, he said.

"It has tormented me, torn me more than any one thing," he said with a grim look on his face. "To see what these guys in Iraq are having to go through and knowing what I know here: that we didn't prepare for it, we didn't understand what we were getting into. And to put those guys in those positions, it makes me so angry."

He lays part of the blame on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who argued before the war that he needed only 150,000 American troops in Iraq. That caused more casualties than were needed, Hagel said.

"We still don't have enough troops," he said. "We should have had double or triple the number."

It has led to a bleak situation, Hagel said:

Insurgent attacks are more frequent than a year ago. Bombs used by insurgents are growing more deadly, piercing America's best protective clothing and equipment. Oil production is down. Electricity is less available than a year ago. Economic development is lagging. Ninety percent of the humanitarian and economic aid pledged by 60 nations hasn't reached Iraq because of the continuing violence. Only one Middle Eastern country has an ambassador in Iraq.

Bush has said America is fighting in Iraq with a "coalition of the willing," allies who have committed a relatively small number of troops and aid.

Hagel scoffed at that idea. "It's a joke to say there's a coalition of the willing," he said, adding that many are pulling out and the United States is fronting the bills for those who remain.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops are under severe strain. Troops are stationed in more than 100 countries, and their rapid tempo of deployments with little time off leaves them fatigued and in danger of making mistakes.

"We are destroying the finest military in the history of mankind, and the (National) Guard, too," he said. "We're stretching our Army to the breaking point."

Public pronouncements from the Bush administration also have gotten under Hagel's skin. Vice President Dick Cheney's recent comments that the insurgents in Iraq are in "the last throes" echo a refrain of the Vietnam era, he said.

Back then, officials saw "the light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam, Hagel said.

Toting up all those points, he said, leads him to conclude that the United States is losing in Iraq.

"That doesn't mean we have to lose," he said.

In his speech and in an interview, Hagel offered some ideas that he thinks could help in Iraq:

U.S. troops and others could work harder to train local militias in small Iraqi towns to help identify and take on insurgents. Allies who don't want to enter Iraq could help patrol its borders, blocking terrorists from entering the war-torn country. The training of Iraq's military and military police should be accelerated immediately.

Middle Eastern nations should become more engaged, he said, but it doesn't help when administration officials criticize Egypt and Saudi Arabia for not moving quickly enough toward democratic practices.

Hagel said he shaped his views after many talks recently with senior U.S. military officials; foreign policy experts; Brent Scowcroft, who was the first President Bush's national security adviser; and others. He plans to share his views with the current president and his team and says he feels an urgency he hopes they will share.

The United States has only about six more months to begin to turn things around in Iraq, he said.

"I believe that there can be a good outcome in Iraq," he said. "I also believe there could be a very bad outcome for Iraq. I believe we have a very limited time for that good outcome."

Hagel has been pretty upfront about the state of the Iraq War from the beginning. He, like Senator John McCain, has been willing to criticize the mistakes that have been made in the war, from the amount of troops used to the lack of armor for the humvees. But McCain and Hagel never, ever blame the preznit for these mistakes. It's always Rumsfeld or the Pentagon who has made the mistakes. Or Hagel/McCain say "We have made some mistakes," making it sound like the mistakes were made by a collective amount of Americans.

But the mistakes were made by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove (who many people think makes all of the decisions in the administration.) Sure, Rumsfeld refused to send more troops, but the preznit could have rectified that problem by ordering Rummy to increase troop levels (especially in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Saddam when Iraqi weapons dumps were stripped bare of weapons that are now killing Americans and Iraqi civilians.) But the preznit didn't rectify Rumsfeld's mistake. Instead he parroted lines like "Stay the course" and "We are making progress in Iraq" while the video feed from Baghdad and the body count at showed differently. And now it is too late to increase troop levels, even if we had more troops to send.

Nothing will change in Iraq until Senator Hagel, Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and other sane Republicans break ranks with the preznit and the vice preznit and say directly to the American people, "Bush and Cheney are responsible for the screw-ups in Iraq and rather than learn from their mistakes they are stubbornly 'staying the course' while Iraq goes up in flames."

Three months, perhaps six, and Republicans will break ranks with the White House completely and start hammering Bush, Cheney et al, especially if Bush's poll numbers continue to tank. Republicans will be scared that Bush's bad poll numbers will infect their own popularity come 2006. But if the Republicans in the congress and the senate had any guts at all, they would break ranks today, reassert congressional power over the executive branch and start demanding accountability and change from the Bush administration.

But I'm not holding my breath that Republicans will really hold Georgie Boy accountable for this "quagmire" any time soon.

Preznit Bush Marks United Nations International Day In Support Of Victims Of Torture

From Reuters:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush, whose administration has been hit by accusations of prisoner abuse, said on Sunday that the United States was committed to the elimination of torture worldwide.

In a statement to mark United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Bush said: 'Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right, and we are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law.'

Accusations of prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have brought into question the policies of the Bush administration in treating foreign prisoners.

The United States has also been accused of sending some prisoners to countries with poor human rights records where they might be tortured. An Italian judge last week ordered the arrest of 13 people linked to the CIA for kidnapping an Egyptian terrorism suspect in Milan and flying him to Egypt, where he said he was tortured.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in March said the United States would never send terrorism suspects to countries where they would be tortured. But he acknowledged that once the prisoners were in the other country's custody, the United States had little control over their treatment.

'America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies,' Bush said in the statement.

'All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you,' he said.

Unless we think you're our enemy, in which case we will kidnap you off an Italian street and send you to Egypt to be tortured or killed. Or send you to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and hold you "in perpetuity" and piss on your Koran through an airvent (oops!). Or send you to Camp Bagram, Afghanistan and hang you by your wrists and burn you with cigarettes until you scream "Allah! Allah!" over and over again because some of our military personnel think its funny. Or smear fake menstrual blood on your face while we're interrogating you so that you think you're unclean and can no longer pray to Allah. And these are just some of the incidents of abuse and torture we know about. Remember, Bush and Rummy won't allow an independent investigation of the U.S. overseas detention system.

But otherwise, as the preznit said in his statement, "We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law."

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Real Inflation Rate

From The Left Coaster:

I have finally found the answer to a question I have had for some time, i.e. if there is no inflation why is it costing me more to live. Now I knew that certain things were not included in the estimates so I just sort of figured that must be it. I didn’t find it very satisfying but I’m far from an economics expert. But today I have read an article that puts the whole issue into a different light. If the report is correct, then it seems that the government is “cooking the books” to such an extent as to make the inflation reports meaningless. The article is by Jim Puplava and I hope some will read it in its entirety and share your thoughts. It discusses what the “core” rate of inflation is and how it is calculated.

I am just going to give an outline of the major claims. The problem apparently started with the findings of the Boskin Commission in December 1996. Clinton and the Republican Congress implemented many of the recommended changes to the way the inflation was calculated. It was claimed at the time that the CPI was 1.1% too high. The real motivation to lowering the apparent inflation rate was to reduce payments for cosy of living adjustments for the social programs.

Lets look at some of the changes and I’ll illustrate by example where ever possible.
1. Substitution - if the cost of beef rose substitute the price of chicken which hadn’t. When new car prices rose the BLS used car prices were substituted. When real estate prices rose, more weight has been given to the cost of renting which has not increased.
2. Weighting - They went from an arithmetic weighting to a geometric weighting. The effect can be to change completely the interpretation of the data. See the article for a nice graphical example.
3. Hedonics - Thus is my favorite. A real example. A specialist at the BLS decided that when a new 27 TV model came out with new features and still sold for the same price of $329.99 that because of the added value the TV was now worth $194 when entered into the BLS data, However, people had to pay the $329.99.

Hedonics helps the BLS keep rising prices for goods in the CPI from ever showing up as rising prices. Even though the cost of housing, energy, food, medical bills, prescription drugs, tuition, and entertainment have soared, the government keeps reporting moderate inflation. Hedonics is partially responsible. It has become a convenient and subjective way of removing prices increases from the CPI. The combination of substitution, changing the weight of goods rising in price, hedonics and seasonal adjustments is one reason why the CPI and reported inflation has remained as subdued as it is reported each month. The problem is that these numbers are all fictional and bare no resemblance to what households face each month with their actual budgets.

There is an interesting graph that compares the current CPI with that calculated using the pre-Clinton methodology. It shows that although the current CPI is reported to be about 3%, the value calculated using the original methodology is about 6%. During 2002, when inflation was reported to be about 1% the original methodology calculated at 4%.

Does all this really matter? From a day to day perspective - no. We know it has been getting more expensive to live because we pay the bills. But it does illustrate how far the government will go to obfuscate the truth about the economy and implies we can not trust them (no surprise there) to tell us. But what is even more scary is that many in government may actually believe in these numbers and thereby affect their policy decisions. The average person saddled with stagnant wages is actually falling behind at a much faster rate than usually reported. Finally it calls into question comparisons of this business cycle to those which occurred before 1996. I also wonder whether the increasing gap between wages and inflation is a main culprit for the decreased national savings rate.

Finally he goes on to discuss why he thinks there may be a period of hyperinflation coming.

The Orwellian manipulation of government statistics didn't start with the Bush administration, of course, but it nonetheless infuriates me when George W. says the economy is great in America and I know that my health care costs are through the roof, my rent is up, my renters insurance is up, my transportation costs are up, food costs are up, and clothing costs are up while I haven't gotten a raise in three years and my savings account is giving me 0.55% interest. The Bushies have become masters at manipulating data for their own ends, whether it be to show the insurgency in Iraq is in its "last throes" or global warming doesn't exist because ExxonMobil says it doesn't. As the article makes clear, Clinton had a hand in this cynicsm, so a pox on his Chappaqua house too.

Welcome to modern America. Up is down, peace is war, love is hate, rich is poor, and inflation is in check.

Anger In Italy Over U.S. Tactics In War On Terror

From the New York Times:

"MILAN, June 25 - The extraordinary decision by an Italian judge to order the arrest of 13 people linked to the Central Intelligence Agency on charges of kidnapping a terrorism suspect here dramatizes a growing rift between American counterterrorism officials and their counterparts in Europe.

European counterterrorism officials have pursued a policy of building criminal cases against terrorism suspects through surveillance, wire-taps, detective work and the criminal justice system. The United States, however, has frequently used other means since Sept. 11, 2001, including renditions - abducting terror suspects from foreign countries and transporting them for questioning to third countries, some of which are known to use torture.

Those two approaches seem to have collided in the case of an Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, or Abu Omar, who led a militant mosque in Milan.

By early 2003, the Italian secret police were aggressively pursuing a criminal terrorism case against Mr. Nasr, with the help of American intelligence officials. Italian investigators said they had told the Americans they had strong evidence that he was trying to build a terror recruitment network, possibly aimed for Iraq if the United States went forward with plans to topple Saddam Hussein.

On Feb. 17, 2003, Mr. Nasr disappeared.

When the Italians began investigating, they said, they were startled to find evidence that some of the C.I.A. officers who had been helping them investigate Mr. Nasr were involved in his abduction.

'We do feel quite betrayed that this operation was carried out in our city,' a senior Italian investigator said. 'We supplied them information about Abu Omar, and then they used that information against us, undermining an entire operation against his terrorist network.'

He and other senior Italian officials in Milan's police and prosecutor's office were angry enough to answer detailed questions about the case, but insisted on anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

'This whole investigation has been very difficult because we've been using the same methods we used against organized crime to trace the activities of people we considered to be our friends and colleagues,' the senior Italian investigator said. 'It has been quite a troubling affair.'"

Two approaches to the War on Terror: The Italians build a criminal case using wiretaps, surveillance, and detective work to successfully prosecute terror suspects. The Americans kidnap the suspect and send him to Egypt for "interrogation" where he "disappears."

Which approach do Americans support? And which approach did the Soviets use in their "gulags?"

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Italy Issues Arrest Warrant For 13 CIA Agents

From the Los Angeles Times:

"Italian arrest orders have been issued for 13 CIA operatives, and additional warrants are possible, in what might be the first time an ally of Washington, D.C., has attempted to prosecute its spies. The suspects face kidnapping charges that carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Judicial authorities said Saturday they also might seek the arrest of a senior U.S. Air Force commander who they say allowed the U.S.-run Aviano air base in northern Italy to be used in the abduction of Hassan Osama Nasr, a radical cleric better known as Abu Omar.

Italian authorities contend Abu Omar was kidnapped by the American agents two and a half years ago and taken to Egypt, where he was tortured. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Abu Omar had been long suspected of terrorist activities by Italian authorities, who had him under surveillance themselves as part of an investigation into an Islamic cell accused of recruiting and sending suicide bombers and fighters to Iraq.

The alleged former CIA station chief in Milan, a 51-year-old Honduran-born American who is among those named in the arrest warrants, is believed to have accompanied or followed Abu Omar to Egypt and to have been present for some of the interrogations, a senior Italian judicial official said Saturday.

That raises the possibility that the American agent was aware of the alleged torture, the Italian official said. The man's movements were tracked by his use of a cellular telephone to make calls from Egypt in the two weeks after the disappearance of Abu Omar, the official said.

'He was the one who knew everything about Abu Omar,' the official said, referring to the ex-station chief, 'and so he would have been very useful in the interrogation.'

Abu Omar, during a brief period of freedom in 2004, told associates that he was tortured with electrical shocks to his genitals and beatings during the interrogations in Egypt.

The former station chief apparently planned on retiring in Italy and had bought a home near Turin. Although he has been absent from Italy for several months, officials say, his wife had remained in the home, which Italian police raided Thursday night, confiscating a computer, computer disks and papers.

That he thought he could live out his golden years in Italy is another indication of the impunity with which he and the other alleged agents felt they were operating, Italian prosecutors say.

Amazing. Just another example of the arrogance with which the Bush administration and its operatives have waged its War on Terror. They break laws, they stamp on constitutional rights, they kidnap suspects and "render" them to foreign countries to be tortured or killed, they torture, abuse, humiliate, or murder suspects in their own custody (some 300 terror suspects have died while held in U.S. prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Gitmo), and they do all of this with impunity. CIA agents and military personnel engaged in criminal acts overseas are not worried about being held accountable for their actions.

But it's not just overseas where the criminal actions are taking place. This new report from Newsweek details how the Bush administration has held suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks without charging them with any crimes or even linking them to acts of terror. Michael Isikoff reports:

"July 4 issue - Since 9/11, the Justice Department has used a little-known legal tactic to secretly lock up at least 70 terror suspects—almost all of them Muslim men—and hold them without charges as 'material witnesses' to crimes, in some cases for months. A report to be released this week by two civil-liberties groups finds nearly 90 percent of these suspects were never linked to any terrorism acts, resulting in prosecutors and FBI agents issuing at least 13 apologies for wrongful arrest.

The post-9/11 decision to aggressively use 'material witness' warrants to detain suspects has been defended by Justice officials as a legitimate tool to root out possible terror cells. (A federal law, though used sparingly in the past, permits detention of witnesses who might have 'material' info about a crime—even with no evidence they committed any crimes themselves.) The practice has been shrouded. Citing national security, Justice has refused to disclose virtually any info about these cases, not even figures on how many have been detained. By combing court records and interviewing defense lawyers, researchers for Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union say they have assembled the most comprehensive look yet at the practice—and conclude it may have produced the most civil-liberties abuses of any post-9/11 policy. Out of the 70 'material witness' arrests the groups were able to document, only seven suspects ended up charged with terror-related crimes.

Of the rest, 42 were released with no charges at all and another 20 were charged with unrelated crimes, such as credit-card fraud. (Two, Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri, were named 'enemy combatants' and thrown into military brigs.) The report cites instances in which agents used what it calls 'flimsy' evidence to make arrests. A 68-year-old Virginia doctor named Tajammul Bhatti was arrested by the FBI in June 2002 after neighbors found magazines about flying and a phone number of a Pakistani nuclear scientist in his apartment. It turned out he had served in the U.S. Air Force National Guard and the Pakistani scientist was a childhood friend. Another 'tip' led to the arrest of eight restaurant workers in Evansville, Ind., who were shackled and taken to a detention facility in Chicago. The FBI later apologized—but never disclosed the basis for their detention. 'The law was never designed to be used this way,' says Anjana Malhotra, the prime author of the report. Justice spokesman Kevin Madden called 'material witness' detentions a 'critical' tool to thwart crimes and cited recent testimony from a top official, Chuck Rosenberg, noting that every material-witness arrest warrant must be based on 'probable cause' and approved by a federal judge. 'Justice cannot unilaterally arrest someone as a material witness,' Rosenberg said.

The Bush administration argues that they need all of these tools to fight the War on Terror, including the extraordinary rendering of suspects to other countries and the detentions of suspects "in perpetuity," which seem to be clear constitutional violations of presidential power. But if you disagree with the preznit of the United States or his policies, his Republican propaganda machine hammers you as unpatriotic or treasonous. Even Republicans who criticize the preznit's policies, like Senator Chuck Hagel, find themselves being personally attacked for criticizing the preznit. Since 9/11, the message out of the White House is either agree with the preznit or you will be tarred as a traitor. And Democrats who criticize the preznit - well, remember that Karl Rove said the other night in front of a crowd of New York conservatives that liberals wanted to offer therapy and understanding to the 9/11 attacks on September 12th. In other words, liberals and Democrats want to sell out the country to terrorists while only Republicans can keep the country safe.

Rove was just following the blueprint he developed after the 9/11 attacks to consolidate Preznit Bush's power and create a permanent Republican majority. He used the same blueprint in the 2002 midterm elections when Republicans attacked Senator Max Cleland (Vietnam veteran and an amputee) as being "soft on terror." It was the same blueprint used to destroy John Kerry in the 2004 elections when Rove's "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" questioned Kerry's war record and called him a "Manchurian candidate" and Communist dupe. It was the same blueprint used when Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the administration often raised the terror alerts on flimsy evidence or outdated information during the 2004 election season to remind voters how safe the president was keeping them. And it was the same blueprint Republicans used at their 2004 convention when they used the words "9/11," "September 11th," or some other synonym to remind voters of the tragedy.

Karl Rove, George W. Bush, and the leadership of the Republican Party have waved the fallen towers of 9/11 the way Republicans waved the "bloody shirt" of the Civil War for years after the Confederacy fell. They have cynically manipulated Americans into thinking only they can keep America safe. Weak-kneed Democrats have rolled over at every turn. When Senator Dick Durbin had the guts to challenge the prisoner policy of the Bush administration at Guantanmo Bay, he was bombarded with criticism by Republicans and Conservatives. Many fellow Democrats failed to support Durbin in his time of need and some, like Mayor Daley of Chicago, attacked Durbin for being unpatriotic.

Contrast how Dems failed to back up Durbin with how Republicans backed up Rove this week after his New York remarks. The White House said Rove was just speaking the "truth" when he said Democrats wanted to offer therapy and understanding for the terrorists instead of bullets and bombs. Other Republicans, including New York Governor George Pataki, were quick to say Rove was just pointing out a difference in party philosophy. You know - Republicans are tough guys and Dems are wimps (cuz' the pear-shaped Karl Rove sure looks like a tough guy, you know?).

If only Democrats would point out their own differences between a legal, ethical, and effective War on Terror from Bush's war which includes torture, abuse, humiliation, murder, kidnapping, and detention "in perpetuity." Democrats should say over and over again that this preznit has made the War on Terror worse, not better, by aiding terrorist recruitments the world over. Our standing in the Muslim world is near an all-time low and resentment against the United States for its war in Iraq, its treatment of Muslim detainees, and its handling of the Koran in detention facilities has risen to very scary levels. Many people in the world sympathized with Americans after 9/11 (though it is true many Muslims weren't unhappy with the attacks.) Now many people in the world, especially in the Muslim world, hate us and wish us ill.

Or worse - they are doing us ill. Preznit Bush's War on Terror policies are not helping us win the war. They are dividing the nation, setting many in the world against us and helping to recruit what seems to be unlimited new terrorists to the jihadi cause (the Pentagon estimated 5,000 foreign fighters in Iraq 6 months ago, now they estimate 26,000.) It is true to say that we haven't been hit on American soil by terrorists since 9/11. But the more you learn about how the Bush administration operates, the more you realize that it may be just blind luck. Or the preznit may be right, that the terrorists are fighting us in Iraq instead of fighting us here at home.

But what happens after we leave Iraq in a year or so? Do you think all of the jihadis will be staying around Baghdad for long. Or will they be returning to their home countries, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or slipping into Europe and the Western Hemisphere?

Or setting off suicide bombs in Grand Central Station and the Minnesota Mall?

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