Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Iraq Violence Continues, Afghanistan To Follow?

The civil war in Iraq continues:

BAGHDAD, Feb. 28 -- Explosions in Baghdad killed more than 40 people Tuesday, police and witnesses said, as the spate of violence that began with the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque last week continued.

The deadliest blast came in the eastern neighborhood of New Baghdad, where a suicide car bomber drove a blue sedan packed with explosives into a crowded marketplace, detonating it among a crowd of laborers. Police Gen Muhammed Timimi said 22 people were killed and 36 others wounded.


In the northern sections of the city, authorities said about 15 people were killed in two explosions that came shortly after sundown, the Associated Press reported. Police sad a car bomb or mortar hit the Abdel Hadi Chalabi mosque in the Hurriyah neighborhood, killing 14 and wounding more than 60. The Imam Kadhim shrine in the Kazimiyah area was hit by a mortar and one person was killed and 10 others hurt.

Another car bomb in the mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Karrada killed two people and wounded four, while a third in Amin, southwest of downtown, killed two and wounded six, according to Maj. Muhammed Sultan, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry.

Reuters news agency photographer Ali Jassem counted at least 10 dead bodies after the Karrada blast.

Walter Pincus in the Washington Post reports that the Director of the Defnese Intelligence Agency told a Congressional committee yesterday that the insurgency in Afghanistan is steadily growing and will become a bigger and bigger problem in the future:

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress yesterday that the insurgency in Afghanistan is growing and will increase this spring, presenting a greater threat to the central government's expansion of authority "than at any point since late 2001."

"Despite significant progress on the political front, the Taliban-dominated insurgency remains a capable and resilient threat," Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples said in a statement presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee at its annual hearing on national security threats.

Appearing with Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, Maples said attacks within Afghanistan were up 20 percent between 2004 and 2005, suicide bombings increased "almost fourfold" and use of makeshift bombs, similar to those used in Iraq, had "more than doubled."

Gee, I'm feeling really confident about the future.

Here's hoping Jeb runs for preznit...

Judge Blocks Bush's Anti-Labor DoD Rules

This is good news for labor:

A federal judge blocked the Defense Department from implementing much of its new personnel system yesterday, handing the Bush administration a major setback in its efforts to streamline work rules and install pay-for-performance systems in federal workplaces.

In a 77-page decision, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the Pentagon's National Security Personnel System (NSPS) fails to ensure collective bargaining rights, does not provide an independent third-party review of labor relations decisions and would leave employees without a fair process for appealing disciplinary actions.

"Taken as a whole, the design of these regulations appears to rest on the mistaken premise that Congress intended flexibility to trump collective bargaining rights," wrote Sullivan, who noted that the new regulations "entirely eviscerate collective bargaining."

The ruling marked the second time in six months that a federal judge has stiff-armed the Bush administration in its ambitious plans to rewrite federal personnel rules to curtail the power of labor unions, more strongly tie pay raises to job performance, and make it easier to hire, promote and discipline federal employees.
It's nice to see that somebody respects the legal right to collective bargaining.

Now if only United Federation of Teachers Preznit Randi Weingarten would learn to respect the collective bargaining process.

Monday, February 27, 2006

CBS Poll Puts Bush's Approval At A New - 34%

Proving that Bushie's approval rating can go lower than during the immediate aftermath of the Katrina disaster, a CBS News poll puts the preznit's approval rating dangerously close to the Mendoza line:

(CBS) The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to the Bush-backed deal giving a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports. Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they're opposed to the agreement.


The troubling results for the Bush administration come amid reminders about the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina and negative assessments of how the government and the president have handled it for six months.

In a separate poll, two out of three Americans said they do not think President Bush has responded adequately to the needs of Katrina victims. Only 32 percent approve of the way President Bush is responding to those needs, a drop of 12 points from last September’s poll, taken just two weeks after the storm made landfall.

We shouldn't underestimate the impact of the ports deal on the preznit's approval rating. According to the CBS News poll, only 43% of Americans now approve of the way Bushie is handling the War on Terror while 50% disapprove, a 9 point drop in approval since January. Bush's approval ratings on his handling of the Iraq war have also hit an all-time low - 30%. Only 36% of Americans think things are going well in Iraq, a 9 point drop since January, while 62% think things are going badly, an eight point increase since January.

These are not good times for the Bush administration. If you think about it, they haven't had a good news cycyle since before the State of the Union address in late January, and with this 45 day review of the Dubai ports deal about to commence and Iraq exploding into civil war, you'd have to think they're not going to win a news cycle anytime soon.

Which means Bushie's numbers aren't going up for a long, long while.

Wash Post: 1,300 Iraqis Killed In Week Of Sectarian Violence

Good God. According to the Washington Post, morgue officials in Baghdad say they have photographed, numbered and tagged 1,300 bodies of people who had been shot, knifed, garroted, or suffocated since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Sammara last week:

BAGHDAD, Feb. 27 -- Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week's bombing of a Shiite shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad's main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.

Hundreds of unclaimed dead lay at the morgue at midday Monday -- sprawled, blood-caked men who had been shot, knifed, garroted or apparently suffocated by the plastic bags still over their heads. Many of the bodies had their hands still bound -- and many of them had wound up at the morgue after what their families said was their abduction by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.


Morgue officials said they had logged more than 1,300 dead since Wednesday -- the day the Shiites' gold-domed Askariya shrine was bombed -- photographing, numbering, and tagging the bodies as they came in over the nights and days of retaliatory raids.

The Statistics Department of the Iraqi police put the nationwide toll at 1,020 since Wednesday, but that figure was based on paperwork that is sometimes delayed before reaching police headquarters. The majority of the dead had been killed after being taken away by armed men, police said.

The disclosure of the death tolls followed accusations by the U.S. military and later Iraqi officials that the news media had exaggerated the violence between Shiites and Sunnis over the past few days.

The bulk of the previously known deaths were caused by bombings and other large-scale attacks. But the scene at the morgue and accounts related by relatives indicated that most of the bloodletting came at the hands of executioners.

"They killed him just because he was a Sunni," one young man at the morgue said of his 32-year-old neighbor, whose body he was retrieving.

Much of the violence has centered around mosques, many of which were taken over by Shiite gunmen, bombed or burned.

So while the fuckers in the administration are claiming behind the scenes that the press was exaggerating the killing and chaos, it turns out the press was actually underplaying it!!!

You know that the administration relies on the danger in Iraq to help them obscure the true carnage and death toll. Beause so many Western reporters are unable to get around Iraq without military support, much of what they report is the "official news" that the military allows them to see. I bet if more reporters could get around Iraq the way they got around New Orleans during Katrina, we'd get a lot more truth and a lot less truthiness.

In any case, just when you think the news out of Iraq cannot make you feel sicker, some piece of news gets onto the wires that does just that.

NY Times Sues Pentagon For NSA Spying Documents

Good for the New York Times.

They filed a Freedom Of Information Act to get documents related to the Bush adminstration's NSA domestic spying program from the Pentagon. The Pentagon has been slow to act on the FOIA document request, so the Times is suing them to speed up the process. According to Reuters, the Times requested a list of documents about the spying program:

including all internal memos and e-mails about the program of monitoring phone calls without court approval. It also seeks the names of the people or groups identified by it.

This legal action filed by the Times may just be payback for the Bush administration's Justice Department probe into the leaking of the NSA spying story to the Times.

Nonetheless, I hope the Times gets some of these documents and publishes the information. As long as national security is not harmed by these revelations, it would be nice to know who the Bushies are spying on and why they're spying on them.

I bet most of the people and groups on the list have nothing to do Al Qaeda or terrorism.

I might even wager some money that some of the people and groups on the list might just be enemies of the Bush administration rather than being enemies of the United States.

Coast Guard Has Security Concerns Over Dubai Ports Deal

Uh, oh. The Coast Guard isn't so hot for the government-owned Dubai company running ports in the U.S. either. The Associated Press has the story:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Citing broad gaps in U.S. intelligence, the Coast Guard cautioned the Bush administration that it was unable to determine whether a United Arab Emirates-owned company might support terrorist operations, a Senate panel said Monday.

The surprise disclosure came during a hearing on Dubai-owned DP World's plans to take over significant operations at six leading U.S. ports. The port operations are now handled by London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company.

''There are many intelligence gaps, concerning the potential for DPW or P&O assets to support terrorist operations, that precludes an overall threat assessment of the potential'' merger,'' an undated Coast Guard intelligence assessment says.

''The breadth of the intelligence gaps also infer potential unknown threats against a large number of potential vulnerabilities,'' the document says.

Sen. Susan Collins, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security committee, released an unclassified version of the document at a briefing Monday. With the deal under intense bipartisan criticism in Congress, the Bush administration agreed Sunday to DP World's request for a second review of the potential security risks related to its deal.

The document raised questions about the security of the companies' operations, the backgrounds of all personnel working for the companies, and whether other foreign countries influenced operations that affect security.

''This report suggests there were significant and troubling intelligence gaps,'' said Collins, R-Maine. ''That language is very troubling to me.''

The fact that the Coast Guard felt intelligence gaps about the Dubai company kept them from making an overall threat assessment of the ports deal suggests to me that this deal was not properly vetted by either the White House or the Department of Homeland Security.

Gee, maybe the 45 day review of the deal is a good idea, eh?

Unfortunately CNN is reporting that the deal for the ports will be concluded on Thursday, before the 45 day review is completed. As of Friday, DP World will own at least six ports in the United States (the UPI is suggesting that the deal may actually be for 21 ports all across the U.S.) No matter what the 45 day review turns up, DP World will be the proud owners of the U.S. ports and the U.S. government will be hard-pressed to do anything about it.

So on second thought, maybe the 45 day review of the ports deal should not take place.

Maybe the deal should just be killed on Thursday before the deal is completed.

Especially since both Tom Kean of the 9/11 Commission and the Coast Guard are warning against it.

We Have An Idiot For Preznit

Preznit Bush cannot ride his bike, wave, and talk at the same time. Here's the story with accompanying picture from The Scotsman (via Firedoglake):

Scotland on Sunday has obtained remarkable details of one of the most memorably bizarre episodes of the Bush presidency: the day he crashed into a Scottish police constable while cycling in the grounds of Gleneagles Hotel.


The official police incident report states: "[The unit] was requested to cover the road junction on the Auchterarder to Braco Road as the President of the USA, George Bush, was cycling through." The report goes on: "[At] about 1800 hours the President approached the junction at speed on the bicycle. The road was damp at the time. As the President passed the junction at speed he raised his left arm from the handlebars to wave to the police officers present while shouting 'thanks, you guys, for coming'.

"As he did this he lost control of the cycle, falling to the ground, causing both himself and his bicycle to strike [the officer] on the lower legs. [The officer] fell to the ground, striking his head. The President continued along the ground for approximately five metres, causing himself a number of abrasions. The officers... then assisted both injured parties."

The injured officer, who was not named, was whisked to Perth Royal Infirmary. The report adds: "While en-route President Bush phoned [the officer], enquiring after his wellbeing and apologising for the accident."

At hospital, a doctor examined the constable and diagnosed damage to his ankle ligaments and issued him with crutches. The cause was officially recorded as: "Hit by moving/falling object."

That's our preznit - nothing but "moving/falling object" that causes injury everywhere he goes.

Misleading Monday

Arlen Specter has proposed new NSA surveillance rules that ostensibly would force the federal government to get permission from the FISA court in order to spy on American citizens. The Washington Post writes up the plan thusly:

Specter's proposal would bring the four-year-old NSA program under the authority of the court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The act created a mechanism for obtaining warrants to wiretap domestic suspects. But President Bush, shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on communications without such warrants. The program was revealed in news reports two months ago.

Specter's plan could put him at odds with the administration, which has praised a rival proposal that would exempt the NSA program from the surveillance law. Specter's proposal would also require the administration to give a handful of lawmakers more information about the program than they now receive, such as the number of communications intercepted and a summary of the results.

The draft version of Specter's bill, which is circulating in intelligence and legal circles, would require the attorney general to seek the FISA court's approval for each planned NSA intercept under the program. Bush has said the agency monitors phone calls and e-mails between people in the United States and people abroad when any of them is thought to have possible terrorist ties.

Marty Lederman at Balkinization thinks the Specter proposal is a total capitulation to the Bush administration that would destroy the FISA law as it is currently drawn, though the Specter plan is being sold by the press as a win for Specter and civil libertarian critics over the Bushies:

The draft legislation isn't at all what Senator Specter has been talking about in recent weeks -- namely, a bill to facilitate judicial review of the legality of the current NSA docmestic surveillance program. This bill would appear to do absolutely nothing to address whether the current and ongoing program(s) is (are) permisisble under current law -- that is to say, it would not seek to facilitate judicial review of the AUMF and Article II arguments on which the Administration is relying.


Under FISA, in order for the federal government to engage in electronic surveillance targeted at someone here in the U.S. -- i.e., at phone calls and e-mails going out of the U.S. -- there must be probable cause that the person targeted is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. See 50 U.S.C. 1805(a)(3). The Specter bill would go much, much further. Under that bill, it would not be necessary for the NSA to show that either party to an intercepted phone call or e-mail has anything to do with Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. It would not even be necessary for the government to show probable cause -- or reason to believe, or any evidence -- that etiher party to the call or e-mail is a foreign power, an agent of a foreign power, or even associated with a foreign power.

Instead, the bill would permit domestic electronic surveillance targeted at U.S. persons merely upon a showing of "probable cause" that the surveillance program as a whole -- not even the particular targeted surveillance -- will intercept communications of anyone who has "had communication" with a foreign power or agent of a foreign power, as long as the government is seeking to monitor or detect that foreign power (or agent)! (See the new section 704: The standard for the FISA Court's review of the application is whether "there is probable cause to believe that the electronic surveillance program will intercept communications of the foreign power or agent of a foreign power specified in the application, or a person who has had communication with the foreign power or agent of a foreign power specified in the application.")

This is breathtakingly broad because the pre-existing definitions of "foreign power" and "agent of foreign power," which would not be changed, include not only terrorist organizations, but all components of a foreign government, all foreign-based political organizations, and all persons acting in the U.S. as agents of such govenrments and organizations.

Therefore, if I'm reading it correctly, if you've ever had any communication with a foreign government or organization, or its U.S. agents or employees -- that is to say, if there's "probable cause" that you live and breathe here in the U.S. -- this bill would permit the President to wiretap you indefinitely, without any showing that any of your phone calls have anything to do with a foreign entity, let alone Al Qaeda. [UPDATE: Not quite indefinitely. "Continuous" surveillance could only last 90 days, after which the NSA would have to obtain a traditional FISA order, or perhaps merely skip a day and start the surveillance anew, so that it's not "continuous" for more than 190 days.]

In other words, there would no longer be any meaningful substantive statutory restriction on the federal government's electronic domestic surveillance of U.S. persons -- the end of FISA as we know it. The only check would be an odd constitutional check: The FISA court would be required to certify that the program as a whole (again, not any particular surveillance) is "consistent with" the Fourth Amendment. This would, if I'm not mistaken, bring us right back to the pre-FISA days, when the Fourth Amendment was the only legal constraint on domestic electronic surveillance by the federal government. To be sure, under the Specter bill the Fourth Amemdent bona fides would have to be approved in advance, by the FISA court. But the proceedings would be secret, and ex parte. Moreover, the FISA Court could not possibly review the surveillance for, e.g., the "particularity" that the Fourth Amendment requires, because the FISA Court would be tasked not with determining whether any particular interception is constutitional, but somehow with making "wholesale" determinations that the program writ large is "consistent with" the Constitution. That seems untenable, at least on first glance.

On the Dubai ports deal front, the NY Times reports this morning that:

The Dubai company seeking to take over some terminal operations at six American ports formally asked the Bush administration on Sunday to conduct a deeper investigation into security concerns surrounding the deal. The request will leave President Bush in the politically delicate position of having to personally approve or disapprove the takeover.

The company, Dubai Ports World, which is controlled by the emir of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, asked the government to conduct "the full 45-day investigation authorized under U.S. law," an investigation that Mr. Bush and his advisers said last week was unnecessary. In a statement, the company said it was confident that the review of the American aspects of the $6.85 billion deal would reach the same conclusions that a lower-level study did in January, and that "the security of the U.S. will not be harmed as a result of this acquisition."

But Think Progress finds the deal to be "fundamentally dishonest" and calls it "political...not substantive. It's designed to take the heat off the White House, not protect the security of the United States." Think Progress cites these facts included in the "deal":

1. The deal is not actually being delayed - DP World is going to alter its management structure until the 45 day review is completed, but the company will be entitled to all profits during the review period.

2. If the review kills the deal, DP World may sue the U.S. DP World is only agreeing to a longer review process, not a different outcome of the deal.

3. The administration has already made up its mind about this deal and only Congress can step in and stop it - if Republicans have the guts to thumb their noses at their preznit.

So, as a result of Specter's NSA plan and the Dubai ports deal, I have officially decreed today to be "Misleading Monday." The devil is always in the details with these people and if you aren't paying close attention to what they're doing, you'll think they're compromising on issues when they really aren't.

As John Mitchell said about his own Nixon administration: "Watch what we do, not what we say."


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Time: Iraq Reconstruction Hindered More By Poor Planning Than By Insurgency

More incompetence stories regarding the Bush administration's Iraq efforts, via Time Magazine:

The reconstruction of Iraq has cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $30 billion so far, and is still plagued with problems, as evidenced by the daily power outages, degraded water supplies and skyrocketing local fuel prices. Government officials have laid much of the blame on the insurgency, saying it has drained military resources and made it too dangerous for work to proceed smoothly.
Yet a U.S. government report obtained by TIME says that's only part of the story. The report, to be issued this week by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, catalogs a litany of blunders that had more to do with poor planning in Washington than with the insurgency or sectarian violence. Relying on private contractors with questionable loyalties was one problem, the report says. So was "haphazard" hiring practices that "substantially hindered coalition efforts" to get reconstruction going.

In particular, the report criticizes the Bush Administration for failing to attract government employees from outside the State and Defense departments to work in Iraq. Result: Scores of unqualified people parachuting in simply to build their resumes and rack up overtime. "You had these 90-day workers getting their tickets punched that indicated, 'I've been to Baghdad,'" said a former senior U.S. official in Iraq who is quoted in the report.

No wonder large sections of Iraq go without electricity, water, and other essentials for long stretches of time. 90-day wonders parachuting into Iraq to pad their resumes and partisan hacks hired for ideological purity rather than technological know-how are recipes for failure.

Which is what the Iraq reconstruction efforts have been.

US Training Iraqis For Civil War and "Lebanon-ization" of Iraq

The question of whether U.S. troops are training Iraqi forces to stand up to the insurgency so that the American forces can stand down or are training the Sunni members of the Iraqi army to fight the Shiiite members of the Iraqi police forces (and vice versa) is a good one. Here's the Washington Post on this issue:

Foremost is the question of whether Iraq is moving toward civil war, which could cause the situation to spin out of U.S. control. That in turn raises the issue of whether Iraqi forces believe they are training to put down an insurgency or preparing to fight a conflict that pits Shiites against Sunnis. "I can't argue with that," said Col. James Pasquarette, who shares a base at Taji, north of Baghdad, with the Iraqi army's only tank division.

In an ominous sign of the growing rift within Iraqi security forces, the first thing an Iraqi army battalion staff officer did as he briefed a reporter this month was denounce the Iraqi police and its leaders at the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry. "The army doesn't like the Ministry of Interior," said the officer, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation. "The people don't like the police, either."

The Los Angeles Times notes that the American authorities have tried to integrate the different branchs of the Iraqi police and military with both Shia and Sunnis, but these efforts have failed just the way the American efforts to create a wholly integrated Sunni/Shia/Kurdish Iraqi government have so far failed:

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been trying to persuade Iraqis to appoint apolitical technocrats to head sensitive ministries, such as Interior and Defense. But with the recent outbursts of rage by Shiites and Sunnis, who both perceive themselves as victims, the best U.S. and Iraqi officials may be able to hope for is dividing security forces along sectarian lines.

Parts of west Baghdad are being patrolled by Sunni-dominated army units, and parts of eastern Baghdad by Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry units.

Repeatedly over the last few days, requests to police for information about damage to Sunni mosques in western Baghdad or on the city's outskirts were met with plaintive shrugs: The mostly Shiite police force does not enter certain parts of the city or countryside.

"There has been a lot of movement of people of one sect or another into certain branches of the military or the police," said Walker, the former State Department official who is now president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank. "We've tried, but it's hard to integrate them. But I don't see that there's any mood to integrate at this point."

The LA Times goes on to say that various ministries within the Iraqi government have become extensions of the various ethnic tribes:

Analysts say one of the major flaws in the attempt to build an Iraqi government has been a reliance on religious and ethnic divisions. Political parties, parliamentary blocs, army brigades and even ministries are breaking down along sectarian lines.

Keen to right discrimination suffered by Shiites and Kurds under former President Saddam Hussein, Washington encouraged the sectarianism in an effort to ensure that all groups would be fairly represented in the government. But many analysts say such governments are inherently unstable. Every political question turns into an existential threat, or a promise to one group or another.


The U.S. hoped that qualified Iraqi politicians and professionals would emerge from the rubble of Hussein's regime to lead Iraq. Instead, Washington has had to rely on once-exiled politicians tied to political parties or militias to run the country.

The result has been a patronage system in which ministries are viewed as cash cows for supporters. Ministries have become rife with corruption and payoffs. Jobs are doled out to political supporters.

"It's expected that you reward your own," Walker said. "It goes down to the tribal base of these societies. You don't have a sense of nationalism."

The LA Times article says that the best the U.S. can hope for in Iraq may be a divided nation where the various tribes look out for their own and battle rivals violently in the streets while outside countries vie for influence upon a weak national government - in other words, the Lebanonization of Iraq:

The outlines of a future Iraq are emerging: a nation where power is scattered among clerics turned warlords; control over schools, hospitals, railroads and roads is divided along sectarian lines; graft and corruption subvert good governance; and foreign powers exert influence only over a weak central government.

The bleak prospects have serious implications for the U.S. Washington wants to tone down its overt political influence in Baghdad and decrease the number of U.S. troops precisely at a time when the fledgling Iraqi government has shown itself incapable of maintaining political or military control.

"This is something that's been leaning in this direction for some time, and the mosque incident has accelerated the process," said Edward S. Walker, a former assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs. "What we're talking about is people looking out for their own. I don't think it can be turned around."

Doomsayers long have warned that Iraq was turning into a failed state like Somalia or Taliban-run Afghanistan, a regional black hole. It's far too early to write Iraq off as a quagmire, analysts say, but the threat of contagious and continuous instability — like in Lebanon — looms.

"The expectations of the United States and its allies have been lowered considerably," said Mark Sedra, a researcher specializing in rebuilding post-conflict countries at the Bonn International Center for Conversion, a German think tank. "Now the main goal is just creating a state that controls instability and contains the high levels of violence that prevail at the moment and prevents that violence from spilling over into neighboring states or destabilizing the region."

The NY Times looks at what a civil war in Iraq might do to the region and concludes that the only winner of an Iraq war outcome where Iraq becomes a failed state is Iran:

If Iraq were to sink deeper into that kind of conflict, Baghdad and other cities could become caldrons of ethnic cleansing, bringing revenge violence from one region to another. Shiite populations in Lebanon, Kuwait and especially Saudi Arabia, where Shiites happen to live in the oil-rich eastern sector, could easily revolt. Such a regional conflict could take years to exhaust itself, and could force the redrawing of boundaries that themselves are less than 100 years old.

"A civil war in Iraq would be a kind of earthquake affecting the whole Middle East," said Terje Roed-Larsen, the special United Nations envoy for Lebanon and previously for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It would deepen existing cleavages and create new cleavages in a part of the world that is already extremely fragile and extremely dangerous. I'm not predicting this will happen, but it is a plausible worst-case scenario."


The pivot of what could become a regional conflict is almost certainly Iran. Shiite leaders close to Iran won the Iraqi election in December, and although American and many Iraqi leaders defend their Iraqi nationalist bona fides, a civil war would almost certainly drive them to seek help from Iran. That stirs Sunni Arab fears of Iranian dominance in the region.

What you have in Iraq is not just a society coming apart like Yugoslavia or Congo," said Vali R. Nasr, a professor of national affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "What is at stake is not just Iraq's stability but the balance of power in the region."

Some observers worry that a failed Iraq state could accelerate a nuclear arms race - in the Middle East!!! Again, the NY Times:

Historians looking at such a prospect would see a replay of the Shiite-Sunni divide that has effectively racked the Middle East since the eighth century and extended through the rival Safavid and Ottoman Empires in modern Mesopotamia and finally into the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's. This time, however, Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions could accelerate a nuclear arms race, with Saudi Arabia likely to lead the way among Sunni nations.

While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proclaimed that the world has isolated Iran more than ever because of its nuclear ambitions, Iran has in fact tightened relationships with it local allies as events in Iraq have played out. In recent months, Iran has been deepening its alliance with Syria and the Shiite movement Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now it appears ready to strike up a friendship, backed by financing, with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

While almost all observers agree that Iran comes out a winner if Iraq devolves into chaos, most also believe Al Qaeda will benefit from it. Many believe there will be also be an intra-Shia civil war as well, since all three major Shiite groups have militias and all have clashed with each other in the past.

The prognosis for Iraq is really, really bleak. If Lebanonization is the best outcome for the Iraq war, then truly the preznit's policy has, in the words of William F. Buckley Jr., failed.

The preznit, the vice preznit and the neocon cabal who cooked up this fucking mess in Iraq (i.e., Kristol, Feith, Perle, Wolfowitz, et al.) must be made to pay a political price for the failure of the war. Not only has the war cost 2290 American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, hundreds of billions of dollars, but it has created a destablized Middle East that empowers Iran, Syria and Hezbollah and enables Al Qaeda to act with almost impunity.

We should note that in the last few months the preznit, the vice preznit and the neocon cabal have been banging the drum for war with Iran. Seemingly unchastened by the total chaos they have created in Iraq, the Bushies seem to want to expand the chaos by fomenting unrest in Iran and/or bombing its nuclear sites/strategic areas.

If we do not make the preznit, the vice preznit, and the neocon cabal pay a political price for this fucking mess, we very well may be facing more messes in Iran and Syria in the very near future.

Bushies Have Lost Both Bill Buckley and George Will on the Iraq War

Trouble in paradise for the White House.

William F. Buckley Jr. wrote this about the Iraq war on National Review Online this week:

One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed...Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.

George Will said something like this to the roundtable on This Week with George Stephanopolous:

What does a civil war in Iraq look like? It looks like this...Bill Buckley wrote in National Review that there are latent democractic tendencies in Iraq. I think Bill may be too optimistic on this point.

The Buckley article has been much discussed on the progressive blogosphere ever since it went up on NRO.

Buckley is the grandfather of the conservative movement, of course, so when he comes out and says pretty much what Howard Dean said back in December about the Iraq war, it's both remarkable and worriesome for the Bush administration.

But now that a second influential conservative, George Will, has publicly agreed with Buckley that the Iraq war is a failure and has gone even further than Buckley by saying the Bush policy of bringing democracy to Iraq is an impossible fantasy, the Bushies have to be worried about a full-scale rebellion coming at them from the right on their Iraq policy.

And some of the criticism from the right is pretty harsh.

Will even questioned the legitimacy of the Iraq government on This Week.

He noted that a government only has power in so much as it has an exclusive monopoly on the ability to use violence.

According to Will, when a government cannot keep its people safe, it is not much of a government.

Will then used the City of Los Angeles as an analogy to the current situation in Iraq: if Los Angeles could not keep its citizens safe from violence and the Bloods and the Crips took up the slack from the government in order to protect areas of the city and the people who live in them, the government of Los Angeles would have no legitimacy to exist.

Will's implication was clear: since the Iraqi government cannot protect its citizens and has abdicated its security responsibilities to Shiite and Sunni militias, the Iraqi government has no legitimacy.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Iraq's Death Squads Are Working Overtime

This report from The Independent (via Rawstory) is truly sickening:

Hundreds of Iraqis are being tortured to death or summarily executed every month in Baghdad alone by death squads working from the Ministry of the Interior, the United Nations' outgoing human rights chief in Iraq has revealed.

John Pace, who left Baghdad two weeks ago, told The Independent on Sunday that up to three-quarters of the corpses stacked in the city's mortuary show evidence of gunshot wounds to the head or injuries caused by drill-bits or burning cigarettes. Much of the killing, he said, was carried out by Shia Muslim groups under the control of the Ministry of the Interior.

Much of the statistical information provided to Mr Pace and his team comes from the Baghdad Medico-Legal Institute, which is located next to the city's mortuary. He said figures show that last July the morgue alone received 1,100 bodies, about 900 of which bore evidence of torture or summary execution. The pattern prevailed throughout the year until December, when the number dropped to 780 bodies, about 400 of which had gunshot or torture wounds.

"It's being done by anyone who wishes to wipe out anybody else for various reasons," said Mr Pace, who worked for the UN for more than 40 years in countries ranging from Liberia to Chile. "But the bulk are attributed to the agents of the Ministry of the Interior."

Coupled with the suicide bombings and attacks on Shia holy places carried out by Sunnis, some of whom are followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qa'ida's leader in Iraq, the activities of the death squads are pushing Iraq ever closer to a sectarian civil war.

Mr Pace said the Ministry of the Interior was "acting as a rogue element within the government". It is controlled by the main Shia party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri); the Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, is a former leader of Sciri's Badr Brigade militia, which is one of the main groups accused of carrying out sectarian killings. Another is the Mehdi Army of the young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is part of the Shia coalition seeking to form a government after winning the mid-December election.

I don't know even what to write about this other than holy fucking shit.

Why can't some adults in Washington explain to Bushie, Cheney, Rummy, Rice and the rest of the idiots running things that Iraq is heading for complete catastrophe and no amount of expensive administration p.r. is going to stave off the inevitable horrors?

Why can't somebody clean up this fucking mess?

Endless Civil War

From Reuters:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's defense minister warned of the risk of an endless "civil war" as sectarian violence flared again on Saturday, killing over 40, as Sunni and Shi'ite leaders made joint pleas for a halt to four days of bloodshed.

With the gravest crisis since the U.S. invasion threatening his plan to draw down 136,000 troops, U.S. President George W. Bush made a round of calls to Iraqi leaders on all sides urging them to work together to break a round of attacks sparked by the suspected al Qaeda bombing of a Shi'ite shrine on Wednesday.

Those leaders then met, joined by the U.S. ambassador. After three hours of talks, they appeared live on television to affirm their commitment to U.S.-sponsored efforts to forge a national unity government and call for an end to sectarian strife.

Earlier, as a traffic ban around the capital was extended to Monday following attacks on Sunni mosques and car bomb in a Shi'ite holy city, Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi said: "If there is a civil war in this country it will never end.

"We are ready to fill the streets with armored vehicles."

BTW, the Iraqis have no tanks and few armored vehicles. So guess who's gonna provide the armored vehicles and tanks for this "endless civil war"?

You got it.

Unless we cut and run first, that is.

Oops...I mean stand down as the Iraqis stand up.

Iraq Has No Military Units That Can Stand On Their Own

So much for the "we'll stand down as the Iraqis stand up" argument Preznit Bush has been trying to sell. The AP reports there are no Iraqi troops that can stand on their own right now:

WASHINGTON — The number of Iraqi army battalions judged capable of fighting the insurgency without U.S. help has slipped from one to zero since September, Pentagon officials said Friday.

But the number of Iraqi battalions capable of leading the battle, with U.S. troops in a support role, has grown by nearly 50%, from 36 to 53, Air Force Lt. Gen. Gene Renuart said, and the number engaged in combat has increased 11%, from 88 to 98.

Renuart said he didn't know exactly why the one battalion previously rated as independent had been downgraded, but he cited the general inadequacy of the Iraqis' ability to provide their own transport and other logistical support.

The total number of Iraqi security forces is now about 232,000, said Peter Rodman, an assistant secretary of Defense who briefed reporters with Renuart.

The U.S. military says its short-term goal is to train more Iraqi units to a level at which they can lead the fight, because that will allow American troops to focus on other tasks and could reduce U.S. casualties. In the longer run, the Iraqi military will have to reach a level of full independence in order for American troops to be withdrawn.

When Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in September that the number of Iraqi battalions capable of fighting independently of U.S. troops had dropped from three to one, the news caused an uproar among Democrats arguing for an early exit from Iraq.

In the new report to Congress, the Pentagon also said the insurgency was losing strength, becoming less effective in its attacks and failing to undermine the development of an Iraqi democracy.

The report was written last week, before the bombing of a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad and a wave of deadly reprisal attacks.

The size of an Iraqi battalion varies according to its type but most number several hundred troops.

Two things strike me in this report:

First, as soon as the U.S. draws down troops, the Iraqi forces are going to fall completely apart.

You can hear it in the Pentagon reports. Iraqi troops are becoming less independent over time, not more independent.

Who really thinks when they have to fight on their own that they're not going to make the completely rationale decision to abandon the sinking ship of state?

Second, the boys in the Pentagon who drew up this report for Congress are still drinking the administration Kool Aid if they really think the insurgency is losing strength, becoming less effective in its attacks and failing to undermine the development of Iraqi democracy.

Professor Juan Cole noted on his blog today just how inadequate this Pentagon report must be if the major theme is how the insurgency is losing steam in Iraq.

How can the U.S. create a decent endgame for Iraq when both its civilian and military leadership can't or won't face up to the facts on the ground?

At some point, these people running things have got to stop believing their own spin.

Iraq Remains A Powder Keg Despite The Daytime Curfew

The daytime curfew in Iraq hasn't stopped all the violence:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A car bomb exploded in a Shiite holy city and 13 members of one Shiite family were gunned down northeast of the capital Saturday in a surge of attacks that killed at least 30 people despite heightened security aimed at curbing sectarian violence following the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine.

At least one more Sunni mosque was attacked in Baghdad on Saturday after two rockets were fired at a Shiite mosque in Tuz Khormato, north of the capital, the previous night. Shooting also broke out near the home of a prominent Sunni cleric as the funeral procession for an Al-Arabiya TV correspondent slain in sectarian violence was passing by. Police believed the procession was the target.

The violence occurred despite an extraordinary daytime curfew in Baghdad and three surrounding provinces. Stretched security forces could not be everywhere to contain attacks that have killed more than 150 people since Wednesday’s shrine bombing and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.


In Buhriz, a Sunni-insurgent stronghold covered by the curfew, gunmen burst into a Shiite house and killed 13 people, provincial police said. The victims — three generations of one family — were all men, police said.

Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said his militiamen were ready to defend Diyala province — an ominous sign of the possible Shiite reaction to come. Many Shiites fear Iraq’s official security forces are incapable of protecting them and instead look to private militias for security.


Two rockets exploded in the British Embassy compound in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone late Friday, causing minor injuries to two British workers, the U.S. military reported.

Police have found dozens of bodies — many of them cuffed and shot — in Baghdad and other areas since Wednesday’s shrine bombing

The prime minister announced additional security measures Friday, including a ban on vehicles entering or leaving Baghdad, more patrols in tense neighborhoods, and a ban on carrying unauthorized weapons.

The government also extended the daytime curfew for a second day in Baghdad and the flashpoint provinces of Babil, Diyala and Salaheddin, where the shrine bombing took place. And the U.S. military said it would carry out additional security patrols for another 48 hours.

The daytime curfew has decreased the sectarian violence it Iraq.

The daytime curfew has not quashed it.

The daytime curfew has certainly not alleviated the sectarian hatred and animosities that lie behind the violence.

Now maybe the Iraqi government and the United States Army and Marines can keep parts of Iraq under martial law for awhile in order to head off a full-blown civil war (i.e., Sunni and Shia militias fighting pitched battles in towns and cities across the country.)

But I doubt it.

Iraq still looks like a powder keg ready to blow at any moment.

But let's say the U.S. and the Iraqi government are able to stave off full-blown civil war for now. Does that mean we have made progress in our attempts to create a unified Iraq?

Again, I doubt it.

The sectarian hatreds in Iraq will remain despite all of the increased security and mandatory curfews. You can hide it for a little while under increased security, but the bloodshed and slaughter of last three years have created permanent animosties that no government action can make go away.

And then we have an even bigger problem coming down the horizon.

Within six months, the United States will have to begin drawing down troops in Iraq. The Army and the Marines simply do not have enough numbers to rotate more troops into the country.

So what happens after the U.S. begins its troop drawdown?

Well, Preznit Bush says the Iraqis will stand up as we stand down.


But as many have pointed out, the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police forces have been infiltrated by both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. The chances of the Iraqi army and police forces being able to replace the U.S. forces and keep the cap on the powder keg are not very good.

It seems to me that the outcome of this war is now inevitable.

Within six months after the United States pulls out of Iraq, the Iraqi government will fall.

Some people think the Sunnis will be back in power, some believe it will be the Shia, and some believe the country will just disintegrate into three separate states.

Many observers, including military men, are concerned that other states within the region are going to take our place in Iraq after we leave - states like Syria and Iran.

Here's retired General Wayne Downing (talking with Chris Matthews of Hardball) on that very scary concern:

We can't flee under pressure and I think what's good for our country is really what's going to be good for Iraq. I think what we've got to do is stay there and help this transition.

Chris, I am absolutely convinced, we need to draw down forces and we need to get out of Iraq as soon as we possibly can, but not peremptorily. We need to build the infrastructures so that they can survive.

I certainly hope that the Iraqi army holds together and does not spread on sectarian lines. I know I am very concerned about how some of the police units, especially in the south now, are being accused of murder, under the guise of the police.

I'm also very, very concerned, Chris, about the militias, which have never been disarmed. You've got this very, very well-armed Peshmerga to the north, fairly friendly to us. But then you've also got Shia and Sunni militias and you've got the tribal militias. These could all become very, very big factors if a civil war would start.

Chris the other thing we haven't even talked about is if the U.S. force levels go way down, do they get to a point where you might have intervention from the neighbors? Then you have really got a conflagration on your hands, and one we're going to have to think through very, very carefully.

Downing gives a laundry list of Bush administration failures that have helped create this mess: the lack of rebuilt infrastructure (which Rumsfeld now says the Iraqi will have to rebuild themselves after we promised to rebuild it for them), an Iraqi army and police force rife with insurgents and sectarian sympathizers, and tribal and religious militias that were never disarmed.

Of course the scariest thing Downing lists is the real possibility that Iraq's neighbors begin taking a more open role in the conflict.

How horrifying is this: a divided Iraq in the midst of a full-blown civil war with Shia and Sunni militias fighting openly in the street while Iran and Syria back various factions with arms, money, and perhaps even troops.

Downing is correct that the U.S. must think through the endgame in Iraq very carefully before attempting its troop drawdowns in October.

I know that Karl Rove and the GOP establishment want to bring the troops home before the November midterms so that they can use "Welcome Home" parades as backdrops for GOP campaign comercials. I know Rove and the GOP establishment are dying to get the Iraq war behind them so that they can start effectively demagoguing the Democrats with national security wedge issues (i.e., only the GOP can keep you safe from terrorists.)

But the consequences of such an early pullout could be catastrophic for the United States and the rest of the world.

Frankly I wish Bushie and Cheney and the neocon cabal had thought through these issues BEFORE we hit Saddam and set all of this shit in motion. I also wish somebody in the administration could have admitted mistakes and sent more troops in when the insurgency was first getting off the ground back in 2003.

Unfortunately, the administration and the neocon cabal have not been able to rectify their mistakes in this war. In fact, because of arrogance and stubborness, they have compounded the situation in Iraq and made things worse.

I am truly hoping that they don't make the situation catastrophic by leaving an Iraq in the middle of a civil war with Syria and Iran nibbling at its borders and an Al Qaeda terrorist movement setting up shop openly in the desert.

But let's face it, that's probably the most likely outcome of this war.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Katherine Harris Caught Up In Randy "Duke" Cunningham Scandal

Bad day for Representative Katherine Harris (R-Florida).

According to Josh Marshall at talkingpointsmemo, Harris is known as "Representative B" in the Mitchell Wade plea deal released today.

She received $32,000 in "illegal campaign contributions" from Wade, the defense contractor who bribed disgraced former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham with money and gifts in return for defense contracts from the federal government.

It is unknown how much criminal liability Harris actually has in the Wade deal, but suffice it to say that it is never good to be given a moniker like "Representative B" in somebody's plea deal or criminal indictment.

Just ask Representative Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who is known as "Representative #1" in the Jack Abramoff plea agreement, and Karl Rove, who is known as "Official A" in the Scooter Libby indictment.

Compounding the bad news for Representative Harris today, a new Quinnipiac poll gives Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) a 22 point lead over Harris in the 2006 Florida Senate race.

Now Nelson is not out of the woods yet, as he can't seem to break through the 50% level in his approval rating.

But it doesn't seem like Harris is going to beat Nelson in November, given that her numbers are already bad and now she has possible exposure in a criminal case.

I wonder how hard Karl Rove and Jeb Bush are working the phones tonight to get somebody else into the Florida Senate race?

The party establishment has been trying to push Harris out of the race for awhile now, so far unsuccessfully, but I bet the GOP wouldn't be unhappy seeing somebody else take on the vulnerable Nelson in November.

But time is growing short for the GOP, isn't it?

And time seems to be growing even shorter for Katherine Harris.

Oh well, she got more than 15 minutes of fame out of the deal anyway.

BTW, Mitchell Wade faces up to 135 months in prison after cooperating with prosecutors and agreeing to plead guilty on bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion and election fraud charges.

Preznit Bush Likes When American Jobs Get Outsourced Because It Creates Markets For American Businesses

Talk about being tin-eared:

Bush sees bright side in outsourcing
By Ron Hutcheson
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - President Bush found a bright side to outsourcing Wednesday, saying that the loss of U.S. jobs to foreign countries helps create markets for American business.

"It's true that a number of Americans have lost jobs because companies have shifted operations to India," he said in a speech previewing his trip next week to India and Pakistan. "We must also recognize that India's growth is creating new opportunities for our businesses and farmers and workers."


Although Bush made sure to cover the big geopolitical issues in his speech, he acknowledged that many Americans are far more concerned about India's status as a magnet for jobs, especially in the high-tech sector. More than 1.2 million Indians work in high-tech jobs, many of them for U.S. companies or their affiliates.

Echoing a view widely shared by economists, Bush said the benefits from globalization more than offset the damage from lost jobs due to outsourcing. He noted that the United States accounts for only about 5 percent of the world's population.

"India's middle class is now estimated at 300 million people," he said. "That's greater than the entire population of the United States. And this middle class is buying air conditioners, kitchen appliances and washing machines - and a lot of them from American companies.

"Younger Indians are acquiring a taste for pizzas from Domino's, Pizza Hut," Bush added. "And Air India ordered 68 planes valued at more than $11 billion from Boeing."

But even with India's growing prosperity, Americans buy more goods from India than they sell to Indians. The United States had a $10.8 billion trade deficit with India last year, because even though U.S. exports to India have been steadily increasing, imports from India have risen more.

How exactly does an Indian middle class purchasing Domino's pizza in Bombay help Delphi auto workers who have had their wages cut by 67% in Michigan?

I mean, sure gloablization helps the Domino's stockholders and upper management. But it sure doesn't help American workers.

Globalization doesn't even particularly help the guy who delivers your two-fer Tuesdays Domino's pizza.

Sorry, Bushie, but I am yet to be convinced by the Moustache of Understanding's argument that a flat world is beneficial for us all.

Frankly, a flat world seems beneficial for the stockmarket class.

The rest of us are just getting squeezed by overseas competition and nickle and dimed into poverty.

This USA Today article (hat tip to NYC Educator) notes that over the last 4 years the median net worth of the bottom 40% of families has declined, average family income fell 2.3%, real wages have declined by 6%, and liabilities rose faster than assets for most as people accumulated shitloads of mortgage and credit card debt.

So where exactly are the benefits of globalization for middle and working class Americans?

Froomkin Summarizes Why The Ports Issue Remains A Problem For The Preznit

First, the good news for the Bush administration (via the Washington Post):

Facing unrelenting political and national security concerns, an Arab maritime company offered late last night to delay part of its $6.8 billion deal to take over significant operations at six U.S. ports, after White House aide Karl Rove suggested that President Bush could accept some delay of the deal.

The surprise announcement should give Bush extra time to try to convince lawmakers from both parties that the port deal does not present an avenue for terrorists to exploit the nation's vulnerable and heavily populated seaports. Earlier in the day, Republican and Democratic senators questioned whether the Bush administration followed federal law when it approved Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., also known as P&O. That purchase will give the Dubai-owned firm managerial control over operations at six ports, including those of New York and New Orleans.

Ten administration officials faced a barrage of questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee as they defended their decision to forgo a national security review of the deal. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmitt said the decision last month to ratify the deal will be reconsidered only if officials find that officers of Dubai Ports World gave the government false, inaccurate or misleading information. But facing a bipartisan revolt over the deal, Rove told Fox News's "Tony Snow Show" that the White House could accept a delay in the transfer of port management, which is set for March 2.

"There are some hurdles, regulatory hurdles, that this still needs to go through on the British side, as well, that are going to be concluded next week," Rove said. "There's no requirement that it close, you know, immediately after that. But our interest is in making certain the members of Congress have full information about it, and that, we're convinced, will give them a level of comfort with this."

In an accord coordinated with the White House, Dubai Ports World agreed not to exercise control or influence the management of the U.S. ports while the administration talks with Congress. Other parts of the deal with P&O will go forward.

Now the bad news, via Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post:

President Bush has bought himself a little time to make his case that an Arab company should be allowed to take over operations at several U.S. seaports. But the port imbroglio threatens to develop real traction -- and not just because of the widespread outrage generated by the basic facts of the case.

The reporters and pundits I reference below see all sorts of worrisome and problematic things lurking just below the surface. Here are some of the problems they think are being exposed:

* The nation's serious, long-ignored vulnerabilities when it comes to port security.

* An enormous trade deficit that guarantees greater foreign ownership of U.S. assets of all kinds.

* The Bush White House's long tradition of stonewalling, misleading or just plain ignoring Congress.

* The lack of public trust fueled by excessive executive secrecy.

* The anti-Arab racism that has been a potent offshoot of the war on terror.

* More evidence of a president who is consistently out of the loop.

* The perils of living in a period of politics by hysteria -- even for its creator.

As usual, Froomkin does a terrific job of getting to the crux of an issue with the fewest words possible.

And I agree with him that this ports deal issue is far from over for Bushie. The Washington Times reported today that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff was also unaware of the pending ports deal with the UAE company despite the fact that one of Chertoff's main duties as DHS chief is port security:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was not aware a Dubai-owned company was seeking to operate terminals in six U.S. ports and that his agency was leading the review until after the deal's approval, an administration official said yesterday.

Mr. Chertoff's spokesman, Russ Knocke, told The Washington Times the issue rose no higher than the department's assistant secretary for policy, Stewart Baker.

"[Chertoff] was not briefed up to this until after this story started appearing in the newspapers," Mr. Knocke said.

Mr. Chertoff is the third Cabinet official to acknowledge he did not know his agency had signed off on the plan as a member of the interagency Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS). Both Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary John W. Snow have publicly said they were unaware of the deal.

But Mr. Chertoff's exclusion is more noteworthy because his department headed the CFIUS review and is in charge of security at all U.S. ports.

Mr. Knocke said the reason Mr. Chertoff was not informed was because CFIUS canvassed scores of government agencies and none objected to Dubai Ports World's (DPW) bid to buy terminal operations on national security grounds.

If there had been an objection, the committee would have conducted a more extensive 45-day investigation and notified Cabinet secretaries. The 12-member committee, which includes six Cabinet secretaries, on Jan. 17 approved the company buying a British firm that runs terminals at the ports.

The exclusion of top Cabinet secretaries such as Mr. Chertoff in the DPW review and the failure to notify President Bush of its approval has helped fuel a firestorm of protest from Republicans and Democrats. Legislators say the Bush administration failed to adequately investigate the company.

So tell me how George Bush argues how safe he's keeping us in the war on terror when his own Homeland Security chief, the man who is in charge of port security (and the man who bungled the Katrina aftermath last year!), was completely unaware that six U.S. ports were about to be run by a government-owned Dubai company until the story broke in the press?

It seems to me that this Dubai deal story emphasizes all of the negative storylines surrounding the administration (like Bush is clueless, the administration is too secretive and rife with cronyism, wtc.) and still has a few news cycles to go before Karl Rove gets it off the front pages.

Especially if more shoes drop about how the administration handled (or didn't handle) this deal.

If Only We Could Keep Iraq On A Permanent 24 Hour Curfew

The meme today is that the violence in Iraq today is less than yesterday and the violence yeasterday was less than the day before when terrorists struck the Golden Mosque in Samarra and destroyed it.

The chattering folks on CNN seem to think the civil war in Iraq has been averted because the violence is subsiding. They call it "promising news" that points to an "optimistic future" for Iraq.

But no seems to mention that of course the violence in Iraq is subsiding since no one is allowed out onto the streets. And of course the curfew may accomplish its desired effect of short-circuiting sectarian violence by creating a nation-wide "time out". But the damage done by the Samarra attack, coupled with the last three years of increasing sectarian violence, have eroded whatever chances there were for Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds to come together and create a stable, cohesive government.

The civil war may be on hold for a few days but no one should believe the media meme (no doubt pushed upon the press behind the scenes by the Bush administration) that the sectarian violence is over.

Iraq remains a powder keg and it won't take much to get the Shiite militias to start slaughtering as many Sunnis as the can get there hands on or to get Sunni insurgents blowing up as many Shiite neighborhoods as they can.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Surprise, Surprise: UAE Company Offers To Delay Ports Deal

Hey, whattya know: the UAE ports deal is going to be delayed for awhile cuz' the preznit's wingnut friends (e.g., Peter King, Bill Frist, Denny Hastert, Tom Delay Rick Santorum, et al.) are totally opposed to it and ready to shove it back down the preznit's throat:

Facing unrelenting political and national security concerns, an Arab maritime company late last night offered to delay part of its $6.8 billion deal to take over significant operations at six U.S. ports, after White House aide Karl Rove suggested that President Bush could accept some delay of the deal.

The surprise announcement should give Bush extra time to convince lawmakers from both political parties that the port deal does not present an avenue for terrorists to exploit the nation's vulnerable and heavily populated shipping ports. Earlier in the day, Republican and Democratic senators questioned whether the Bush administration followed federal law when it approved Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., also known as P&O. That purchase will give the Dubai-owned firm managerial control over operations at six ports, including those of New York and New Orleans.

Ten administration officials faced a barrage of questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee as they defended their decision to forgo a national security review of the deal. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmitt said the decision last month to ratify the deal will be reconsidered only if officials find that officers of Dubai Ports World gave the government false, inaccurate or misleading information. But facing a bipartisan revolt over the deal, Rove told Fox News's "Tony Snow Show" that the White House could accept a delay in the transfer of port management, which is set for March 2.

"There are some hurdles, regulatory hurdles, that this still needs to go through on the British side, as well, that are going to be concluded next week," Rove said. "There's no requirement that it close, you know, immediately after that. But our interest is in making certain the members of Congress have full information about it, and that, we're convinced, will give them a level of comfort with this."

In an accord coordinated with the White House, Dubai Ports World agreed not to exercise control or influence the management of the U.S. ports while the administration talks with Congress. Other parts of the deal with P&O will go forward.

"It is not only unreasonable but also impractical to suggest that the closing of this entire global transaction should be delayed," Dubai Ports said in a statement.

It is not at all clear whether the offer will placate lawmakers, who have vowed to block the deal as soon as Congress reconvenes Monday. The imbroglio over the port decision has tarnished the administration's image of political strength on national security matters and called into question why Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials failed to consult with the president and members of Congress before approving the sensitive transaction.

Two things can happen now:

Either the sale delay will give the GOP some time to save face and come up w/ some kinda compromise (e.g., the UAE agrees to really, really stringent security/oversight measures) or the preznit agrees to kill the deal after a review process shows that the sale to the UAE company is suspect.

If the second thing happens, the preznit will try to okay the sale under the radar a year from now - just the way he secretly put his Social Security privatization plan into the 2006 federal budget on page 284 after the nation rejected last years privatization push and the way he undercut John McCain's anti-torture bill by issuing a signing statement that rendered the law essentially meaningless.

I'm betting Bush pulls the second option.

He's just that stubborn and sneaky.

And I bet it hurts him having to renege on a deal with his oil buddies.

At Least 138 Dead, Including 7 U.S. Troops, Since Wednesday

Veering out of control:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 23 — At least 138 Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs and including some clerics, were killed in central Iraq Wednesday and today in the maelstrom of sectarian violence that followed the insurgent bombing of one of the country's most sacred Shiite shrines, Iraqi officials said.

Seven American soldiers also died in attacks, the American military said today.

The most powerful Sunni Arab political group said today that it was withdrawing from talks with Shiite and Kurdish politicians to form a new government, accusing Shiite leaders of igniting anti-Sunni reprisals and the American military of standing idly by as the violence unfolded.

Across the country, thousands of furious Shiites, some clad in black and wailing with grief, flooded the streets in a second day of protests against the shrine attack. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful. Much of the violence that began on Wednesday had tapered off, though armed Shiites raided several Sunni mosques in Baghdad and set fire to at least two.

In the deadliest assault, 47 people returning from a protest were pulled off buses south of Baghdad on Wednesday and shot in the head, an Interior Ministry official said today. Three journalists from Al Arabiya, the Arab satellite network, were abducted and killed on Wednesday near the ravaged Askariya Shrine in Samarra, whose signature golden dome was reduced to rubble by insurgent-laid explosives on Wednesday morning.

Political and religious leaders, including Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric whose followers are believed to be largely responsible for the anti-Sunni violence, called for restraint, warning that Iraq could slip into a full-fledged civil war. The government set a curfew from 8 p.m. today to 4 p.m. Friday, to keep people from attending Friday prayers, and canceled leave for all soldiers and police officers, while American helicopters roared through the skies above Baghdad.

The poisonous atmosphere created by the bombing of the Askariya Shrine, which houses the tombs of two revered Shiite imams, and the retaliatory attacks that followed, in which Shiites assaulted dozens of Sunni mosques across the country, hung over every aspect of life today, from conversations between neighbors to frenzied meetings among Iraq's leaders. The American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, spent the day talking to politicians, trying to urge calm and keep the political process on track, despite the anger felt by both Sunnis and Shiites at each other and at the Americans.
Richard Perle, one of the chief architects of the Iraq war policy, just told Tweety Bird on Hardball that he doesn't believe these news reports coming out of Iraq and he doesn't believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war.

It must be nice to live in your own reality where you get to make up your own facts and stuff.

I guess you could call it The Land of Truthiness.

Or Bushworld.

Knight Ridder Says Dubai Deal Obscures Real Port Security Issues

I always find the Knight-Ridder news bureau to be one of the best at running insightful, intelligent stories that help the reader's understanding of complex issues. This Knight-Ridder story about port insecurity is another example:

"Ports around the country have increased their security significantly, but none of us are where we want to be," said Luther Kim, the chief of the 13-officer armed security force at the port in Corpus Christi, Texas." A lot of that is because security improvements are expensive."

"The real issues are funding, threat intelligence and dissemination, and improved security at (foreign) ports of origin," said Kim Petersen, the president of SeaSecure, the oldest port security consulting firm in the United States. "There really isn't a lot of funding when you consider the magnitude of what's needed to support our ports. ... If al-Qaida can disrupt the flow of container shipments going into and out of the United States, we're talking about tens of billions of dollars."

In the past 4 years, the Bush administration has installed more than 1,200 large or hand-held radiation detectors to scan for nuclear materials being smuggled into the nation's ports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, inspects and boards ships at 42 foreign ports before they send goods to America.

Still, only 5 percent of the 8.6 million shipping containers that flow into U.S. ports every year are opened and inspected, and a 2005 DHS inspector general's report concluded that nearly 80 percent of the port security grant money isn't being spent.

The DHS on Tuesday issued a fact sheet that brags about how it uses "a risk-based strategy to review information on 100 percent of all cargo information entering U.S. ports."

But the artful wording obscures the fact that paperwork, not containers, is being inspected, said Randolph Hall, the co-director of the CREATE Homeland Security Center at the University of Southern California.

The Homeland Security Department's Container Security Initiative tries to inspect most at-risk containers before they leave foreign ports based on a complicated formula, said homeland security spokesman Brian Doyle.

"You cannot inspect every container - you would stop business in its tracks," Doyle said. "The programs put in place for port security have been pretty massive."

"We're living on borrowed time," said Jerry Hultin, president of New York's Polytechnic University and a former Clinton administration Navy undersecretary who studies port security. "The ports have become a very appealing target."

Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served on the U.S. Commission on National Security, writes that the system for screening containers remains a "house of cards" because it's been done piecemeal.

The American Association of Port Authorities estimates that ports need $5.4 billion over 10 years to upgrade security, but the Bush administration has budgeted $708 million. And this month, the administration took grant money for port security and combined it with other transportation security grants. That means ports will have to compete against mass transit for security funds, said Bernard Groseclose, the organization's chairman and the president of the South Carolina State Port Authority.

The federal government also is more than 18 months behind on a background check and identification card program for 6 million port and other transportation workers, such as airport personnel and truck drivers, Groseclose said.

Nice - we're inspecting paperwork, not cargo, at port entries around the country.

Makes me feel safe.

Then the Bush administration took money earmarked for port security and put it into a general fund, making ports have to compete with mass transit for the funds.

Makes me feel safe.

Then the federal government is 18 months behind on the background checks of 6 million port workers.

Makes me feel safe.

But they check 100% of the footwear entering aircraft in the nation's airports.

Makes me feel safe.

Sure, Al Qaeda might be able to sneak a fucking nuclear bomb they bought off Pakistan or the Russians into New York or New Jersey and blow a major metropolitan area to smithereens, but at least there'll be no more shoe bombers threatening to take down airplanes over the skies of Los Angeles.

Still, I don't see why we can't work on both airport security and seaport security.

And then I remembered, we are spending a trillion dollars on the Iraq war and are extending the Bush tax cuts into infinity, so of course we don't have money for both airport and seaport security.

Makes me feel safe.

John McCain Continues Sell-Out To Karl Rove

Ever since the 2004 election, John McCain has done his very best to satisfy Karl Rove as much as possible on as many issues as possible in order to garner Rove's support for the 2008 election.

That behavior, known as "selling out" or "selling your soul" continues during the Dubai ports sale controversy. Here's Scottie McClellan at the gaggle yesterday using McCain to help defend the preznit's indefensible policy (via the Note):

Note the way Scott McClellan invoked Sen. McCain from the podium at yesterday's briefing:

McClellan: "Senator McCain said we shouldn't be rushing to judgment here; we should understand what the facts are. As he said, he supports the President and he knows fully that this President is going to do everything he can to make sure that the American people are protected, and that includes in a situation like this."

I would like to Note that John McCain serves as senator of a state without any ports.

I would also like to Note how John McCain does believe the border with Mexico, which stretches throughout the bottom of his state, should be made more secure.

Strangely though, he's ready to give six U.S. ports to a country that helped fund 9/11 terrorists.

Note the irony of that position.

Or the hypocrisy.

Margaret Carlson Uses The 9/11 Card Against Bushie

This Margaret Carlson piece from Bloomberg is good. Really, really good. I therefore must post it in full:

Dubai Harbored Hijackers? Big Deal, Bush Says: Margaret Carlson

By Margaret Carlson

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- I wonder what the president feels like these days as 9/11, the default card used to start wars and squelch dissent, is being played against him?

Letting a United Arab Emirates company take over six major American ports, including New York, may not be as insane as it looks. Ports are globalized, and next to, say, Iran, Dubai looks tolerable. But it will never look wise for the president to be so inattentive that he didn't know about the takeover beforehand, or stop it for further reflection once he did.

George W. Bush believes in delegating, and delegate he did, to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multiagency body created in 1975 to assess the security risks when foreigners want to invest in this country. The commission has turned down one deal out of 1,500.

Its deliberations are shrouded in secrecy, so no one knows how the commission came to be fine with the notion that our ports should be managed by a country that is a laundromat for terrorist cash, was home to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and was a base of operations for a massive nuclear proliferation operation run by the Pakistani atomic scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Alarmed Republicans

The commission is supposed to buck decisions of this magnitude up to the president for final review. That didn't happen here, but the president doesn't mind. He wouldn't have done things differently if he had been consulted.

But the decision alarmed just about everyone else, including Bush's most loyal lieutenants. Bush has always boasted that his steely judgment is what we want in a crisis, even though it failed him when confronted with an intelligence report headed, ``Osama bin Laden Promises to Strike Inside U.S.''

Democrats have long seen the flaws in Bush's self-regard, and with the Dubai decision, Republicans are in agreement. It's one thing to be sleeping at the switch when it's the levees in New Orleans or your vice president not revealing that he'd shot a fellow hunter, and quite another when seven families of emirs are going to oversee the ships and containers moving in and out of New York.

Congressional Republican leaders Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert can't overlook the New York docks being operated by sheiks who allow violent anti-American clerics to teach their children, don't recognize Israel's right to exist, and sometimes help capture but more often harbor terrorists inside their borders.

`Huge Mistake'

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham came out against the sale, and Tom DeLay, the former majority leader, warned the president that he had made a ``huge mistake'' that Congress would overturn.

Bush sees this as just another one of those details that a big-picture CEO, who prides himself on an empty in-box, isn't supposed to trouble himself with.

It's like the detail of whether he was cutting back on funding for alternative energies at the moment he was announcing in his State of the Union speech that he was doing the opposite. The wind- and solar-power lab in Colorado where the president spoke two days ago had to hastily rehire 32 researchers fired because of Bush budget cuts, so as not to embarrass the president who'd come to speak about getting over our ``addiction to oil.''

Can He Mean Chertoff?

He calls the lack of money to back up his proposal a ``mixed message.'' Others might see it as hypocrisy or worse. Alternative energy is going to get as much traction in Bush land as the mission to Mars he announced in his 2004 State of the Union address.

To Bush, this is an instance where the big picture is concern for an ally and global trade trumps other things. Besides, he says, the Department of Homeland Security will be riding herd on the Dubai crowd.

Can he mean Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the so-called smart one raked over the coals for his disgraceful handling of Katrina by Republican Senator Susan Collins last week, the one who couldn't do his job because of Brownie -- or was it the other way around?

There is no professional who knows what Chertoff is doing in charge of homeland security. The department Bush built from scratch is a disgrace, largely because to Bush all civil servants are bureaucrats and the government a pinata to be hit until all the goodies are disgorged.

Oh, Why Not?

Plunder Medicare for the drug industry? Done. Give away oil royalties to the energy industry? Done. Let the oil industry write the energy bill in secret? Done. Enrich insurance companies with Health Savings Accounts? Check. Appoint a lawyer to oversee disaster relief and homeland security when there are experts in the field who've devoted their professional lives to the subject? Oh, why not?

Bush says global trade and the feelings of an ally trump all else, and that's that. He's promising to veto any bill that would reverse the decision, which would be the first such veto by a president who has let the Treasury be overrun by sinfully profligate spending.

Bush adviser Karl Rove said a while back that Republicans have a post 9/11 view of the world and that Democrats have a pre- 911 view that is profoundly and consistently wrong. He might have to extend and revise those remarks. Dividing us that way isn't going to work anymore.

Well, as a wise philosopher once said, those who live by the 9/11 card often die by the 9/11 card.

Outsourcing National Security

Here's the Washington Times on how Democrats are trying to use the Dubai ports deal to out-9/11 Karl Rove and company:

President Bush is on the defensive on national security for the first time in his presidency over his administration's decision to approve a Middle Eastern company's bid to manage U.S. ports, leaving Democrats and Republicans all running to his right on the issue.

Republicans are openly talking about bills to halt the deal and sound eager to override a threatened presidential veto, while Democrats say the administration's decision cuts deeply into Mr. Bush's national security credentials.

Democrats even turned around White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove's barb last month that they have a "pre-9/11 view of the world."

"To paraphrase Karl Rove, Democrats and Republicans have fundamentally different views on national security," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Bill Burton. "For example, Republicans think we should outsource national security to a state used by 9/11 hijackers as an operational and financial base. Democrats think we should not."


For Democrats, Mr. Bush has played right into an issue they have talked about for years. Sen. John Kerry made the lack of port security a common theme of his failed presidential campaign against Mr. Bush in 2004, and congressional Democrats consistently try to boost spending on screening cargo.

"The president likes to say that security is his top priority. It's time for him to put his personal attention and time into turning that rhetoric into reality," said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates running in November's congressional elections, such as two of the Republicans seeking Tennessee's open Senate seat, and Max Burns, who is seeking a House seat from Georgia, also distanced themselves from the deal.

"I don't understand how it can be in the best interests of our national security to have a foreign firm, especially when there is suspicion of having ties with terrorist organizations, running our ports," Mr. Burns said.

Just as worrisome for the White House, Republicans seeking to take Mr. Bush's place in 2009 also rushed to oppose him.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, first sent out a news release with the headline that he was calling for a "review," then minutes later re-released it with the new headline that he wanted a "hold." Mr. Frist also sent a message through his political action committee to supporters announcing his stand against the president.

But Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, accused Republicans who are outraged over the Dubai deal of hypocrisy for casting votes against Democratic initiatives in recent years aimed at beefing up port security.

"Anyone looking for a definition of the pre-9/11 worldview need look no further than at how leading Republican senators have blocked Democratic efforts to improve port security since the 2001 attacks," Mr. Singer said.

"If these Republican senators are genuine about doing something to improve port security, they should stop voting against Democratic efforts to keep America safe."

He pointed to six votes where Mr. Frist voted against Democratic proposals aimed at port security and four similar votes by Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican.

Because most of the GOP are strenuously opposing this ports sale, I doubt Democrats will be able to use the Dubai deal against Republicans too effectively come November, but the "port insecurity" meme certainly does take some of the wind out of Karl Rove's "Dems have a pre-9/11 mindset" campaign sail, doesn't it?

It's gonna be hard for Rove to call Dems weak on national security when Democrats can simply respond that the Bush administration wants to outsource national security to its oil rich buddies.

Maybe the Dubai deal makes the national security a wash come November.

If that's the case, Republicans really are in trouble, because terrorism and national security are the only issues the GOP has left to use against Democrats. On all other issues, like the economy, taxes, the budget deficit, health care, education, poll after poll shows the American public trusts Democrats more than Republicans by double digit margins.

Port Insecurity and Crony Capitalism

While most security experts and trade people see no security risk in allowing a government-owned Dubai company to run six U.S. ports including ones in New York and New Jersey (see this LA Times article for that part of the ports story), I think many of us on the left have had a bit of fun out-9/11ing Karl Rove and George Bush on the issue.

The Dubai deal has allowed Democrats to point out just how insecure America's ports really are, helping to undercut Rove's 2006 campaign theme that "Republicans have a post-9/11 mindset while Democrats have a pre-9/11 mindset."

Here's the LA Times on port "insecurity":

Ports pose a security concern because only a portion of the more than 14 million containers that arrive in the U.S. every year are inspected. Many fear that the containers could easily be used to smuggle weapons, such as so-called dirty bombs, into the country. Efforts to install U.S. inspectors in foreign ports are just beginning and funding for port security, which has increased 700% since the Sept. 11 attacks, lags behind aviation security funding.

P.J. Crowley, domestic security expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said that insufficient security at America's ports was the nation's "greatest single vulnerability," and the federal government had provided insufficient resources to prevent the "nightmare scenario" of a nuclear device being smuggled into the U.S. in a shipping container.

Frankly, I really am much more worried about "insufficient security at America's ports" and the "insufficient resources" given to prevent a "nightmare scenario" than I am at the Dubai company taking over the management of cargo terminals at six U.S. ports.

Which is not to say that I am happy about the Dubai deal either.

Leaving the race, religion, and ethnicity issues aside for a moment, I must say that I am also sick of international companies based overseas buying up U.S. properties, companies, and/or utilities. Too much of this country is owned by shadowy multi-national corporations based in shadowy places around the world where they pay a shadowy amount of taxes to the U.S. government and live outside of U.S. law and regulations.

Josh Marshall at talkingpointsmemo notes that the secret agreement the Bush administration made with the Dubai company allows the company to keep its records overseas away from U.S. scrutiny and court orders. The agreement also does not require the Dubai company to "designate an American citizen to accomodate U.S. government requests" which "outside legal experts said are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries."

In other words, the Bush administration has given the Dubai company a real sweetheart deal. Marshall says:

The failure to require the company to keep business records on US soil sounds like a pretty open invitation to flout US law as near as I can tell. Forget terrorism. This is the sort of innovative business arrangement I would think a number of Bush-affiliated American companies might want to get in on. Perhaps Halliburton could be domiciled in Houston, pay its taxes in Bermuda, do its business in Iraq and keep its business records in Jordan.

Indeed. This Dubai ports deal has shone a light into the shady business practices and cronyism the people running the Bush administration seem to routinely engage in. Call it "Halliburton capitalism," call it "Enronism": whatever you call it, it's downright unethical and harmful to the nation.

So in addition to the "port insecurity" part of the issue, the shady business end of the deal is just one more reason why the Bush administration must be forced to back down. CNN reported today that Condi Rice plans on visiting the United Arab Emirates to assure our "allies" that the ports deal is going to go through despite the vast bipartisan opposition to it. Republicans and Democrats must make sure that Preznit Bush loses on this one, no matter how many the assurances that Condi and Bushies are giving to their oil cronies abroad that the deal is done.

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