Monday, July 31, 2006

How Is Israel Getting Anything Positive Out Of This?

I'm not anti-Israel. I believe strongly that Israel has the right to exist, has the right to defend itself and should and ought to be militant in its own defense since so many other countries in the world surely will not. But stories like this one from the Washington Post make me wonder how Israel is getting anything positive out of this bombing campaign:

BINT JBEIL, Lebanon, July 31 -- The ghosts climbed out of the rubble in this southern town Monday.

Hours after a promised suspension of Israeli air attacks, the civilian survivors of some of the most intense fighting in the war clambered from the wreckage. They were shrunken figures, dehydrated and hungry. Some had lived on candy bars, others on pieces of dry bread. Some were shellshocked, their faces blank, the expression that comes from living under bombing for 20 days. One never made it. He was carried out on a stretcher, flies landing on lifeless eyes that were still open.

Behind them stumbled Zeinab Diabis, so old and stooped that her back was parallel to the ground. Her hands groped along splintered concrete. To anyone who would listen, she cried for her brother, Ahmed, who was still trapped a half-mile away in the basement of a house.

"Who's going to bring him?" she shouted. "Who's going to show them where he is?"

"God answer my prayers!"

Bint Jbeil once numbered 30,000 people and was known in Lebanon as the "capital of resistance," a reputation won for its role in Hezbollah's fight against the Israeli occupation that ended in 2000. Today, after nearly three weeks of bombing and days of combat that pinned down Israeli troops and inflicted their heaviest losses of the war, its center is a forsaken panorama of destruction and devastation, nothing untouched.

Charred carcasses of cars were tossed in deep craters along entire blocks that were pulverized. Two ambulances were hurled on their sides, as was a burned firetruck, next to waist-high rubble that filled alleyways. A string of fluttering red, orange and green flags that once marked a shopping festival were now entwined with the casing of an Israeli artillery shell along a street strewn with cinder block, corrugated tin, wood, wires and shards of car lights. Splintered fluorescent tubes hung from awnings like funereal chimes. At times the only sounds were the cries of cats.

"What's it going to take to bring this back?" asked Ali Hakim, an 80-year-old resident, emerging from rubble that was once his house, where 70 people had taken shelter during the fiercest bombing. "It's a nightmare. It's been literally taken back to zero."

"Just because of a certain group of people, do the Israelis have to destroy everyone and everything?"

I know, I know - Hezbollah militants were firing rockets into Israel from this town and Israel has to take out the rocket sites and militant strongholds in order to keep its territory safe. But here we are, 20 days into the bombing campaign, and Hezbollah's rocket-firing capability seems to be as strong as it was three weeks ago (on Sunday they sent more than 156 rockets into parts of Israel) even as Israeli air strikes have leveled much of southern Lebanon. David Gregory noted on the NBC Nightly News that Israel has been cast as the aggressor in the Mideast, not the victim, because of the destruction and casualties caused by the bombing campaigns. What's worse, since the bombing campaign hasn't worked, Hezbollah leader "Sheik Hassan Nasrallah is now celebrated as the man who stood up to Israel." A Middle East expert, Haim Malka of the Center for Strategic and Internatonal Studies, tells Gregory that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert allowed himself to "be convinced by the military that this was going to be a quick and relatively painless operation to neutralize Hezbollah's threat."

Israel's rock and a hard place position in Lebanon is eerily similar to the United States' situation in Iraq. Just as the Bush administration and its neocon enablers thought the Iraq war would be over in a matter of weeks and the occupation over within a matter of months, the political and military leadership of Israel no doubt thought this conflict would be over in a matter of days. But three weeks in, Israel has not achieved its military or political objectives, Hezbollah has grown stronger as a result of the conflict, and the gloss may be off of Israel's vaunted miltary might forever.

I just don't see how Israel is getting anything positive out of this. I'd bet the military and political leadership know that now too but fear it's too late to do anything but keep going until they can achieve some face-saving opportunity that enables them to declare victory and get the hell out.

Just like the Bush administration is hoping will happen in Iraq.

Here's A Heartwarming Story That's Perfect For The Hallmark Channel

In Arizona, GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Harris has put $100,000 dollars of his own money into his campaign. There's nothing wrong with self-financing a political campaign, of course, but it is strange that Harris had the hundred grand to toss into his campaign coffers considering he just successfully convinced a judge to reduce his monthly child support payments by 50% (from $2,000 a month to a $1,000 a month) because his technology business has recently suffered a "significant reduction of income."

Not enough money to pay your child support but plenty of money to throw into your political campaign. Gee, that makes sense to me.

Just another example of excellent family values from the "Family Values" party. Some other examples include Representative Don Sherwood (R-Pa), who tried to strangle his girlfriend in his DC apartment while his wife was home in Pennsylvania, Opinion Journal columnist John Fund, who has been accused in court of physically and emotionally abusing a former girlfriend who is herself the daughter of another former girlfriend, and Republican Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had a tabloid publisher buddy pay $20,000 dollars hush money to a former girlfriend he first started schtupping when she was 16.

You can't make this stuff up.

Hat Tip To Politics1)

Quote of the Day

Tom Scocca, a senior editor and columnist at The New York Observer, on why the the purchase of that newspaper by Jared Kushner, son of disgraced real estate mogul and convicted tax evader Charles Kushner, isn't so bad:

“Every pile of money that is enough to buy a newspaper is disturbing if you look closely enough at it,” he said. “But I don’t think he has any reason or need to protect the existing press barons from scrutiny. This is an exciting move.”

I love that line: "Every pile of money that is enough to buy a newspaper is disturbing if you look closely enough at it."


The same could be said for any pile of money that is enough to buy a media company, an oil company, a baseball team, a software company...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chris Matthews Says Bush Policy Has Created A "Shia Crescent" Across The Middle East

All dominated by Iran of course. And it all it cost was the lives of 2,578 American military personnel (and counting), the lives of 50,000 Iraqi civilians (and counting) and $300 billion dollars (and counting.) Think Progress has the money quote from The Chris Matthews Show this morning:

MATTHEWS: Two years ago, King Abdullah of Jordan warned me of what was coming in the mideast. His prediction was dead. He spoke of his fears and what the United States was doing in Iraq, toppling one government, electing another, was creating what he called a shi’ia crescent, from Tehran through Baghdad to Beirut that threatened to dominate the Arab world, challenging modern Sunni governments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and others with an axis of Shia power based in Iran.

When I look at the map today, that Shia crescent the King foretold has come to light. It is hard for us westerners to understand the internal politics of another region when we can’t predict whether the Democrats will take congress from the Republicans three months from now, how could we see the Shi’ia grabbing the high ground from the Sunni in the mideast three years ago? That’s what happened. We converted Iraq from a country which has fought revolutionary Iran for eight years to a bloody stand still to a Shia dominated ally of Iran and created a boulevard of common religion and common regional politics.

Did you hear the new Iraqi leader take sides with Hezbollah in a struggle with Israel? This is the emerging threat, not just to the moderate Sunni countries including Egypt and Jordan who formed and honored treaties to Israel and us. Our brave soldiers have fought, died and been dismembered in Iraq only to connect the disparate pieces of Shi’ia radicalism into a frankenstein monster that has come to life right there on our TV screens and worse yet in the vicarious mideast where young arabs found a hero named Hezbollah.

I think what bothers me most about the neocon pundits like Kristol, Krauthammer et al. and the Bush administration members and/or apologists who are pushing for war with Iran and cheerleading Israel's conflict with Iran-backed Hezbollah is that they fail to acknowledge (or simply can't acknowledge) how the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war with Iraq has empowered Iran in the Middle East and made both the world and the United States less safe than before the war.

While Saddam was certainly a bad guy and a murderous thug responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people, can anyone argue that the United States is better off with a) an Iraq in the middle of a Shia/Sunni civil war that's being stoked by Iran b) an Iran empowered by Saddam's demise and pursuing its nuclear ambitions with abandon and c) a Shia crescent of power from Tehran to Baghdad to Beirut thatis based in Iran and threatens to dominate the Arab world and challenge the modern Sunni governments in Egypt and Saudia Arabia and elsewhere for control of the region?

I just don't get it. What reality are they looking at? Does it all come down to a failure to understand the complexities of the region as praguetwin noted in an earlier comment thread? Can the administration and its neocon backers not see the damage their simplistic, unilateral policies are creating or do they really think enabling all this Israeli/Muslim and Shia/Sunni conflict really is going to make the world sasfer and more peaceful in the long run?

Roberts Continues To Hold Up Pre-War Intelligence Report

When Democrats closed down the Senate last November to protest the "slow pace" of Senator Pat Roberts' investigation into the prewar Iraq intelligence, Roberts called the move a "a political stunt" and said the report was almost ready to be released.

The Washington Post says Roberts was lying.

Staffers on the Seclect Intelligence Committee who are working on the report, which the Republican-led committee first agreed to write back in February 2004, have told the Post work didn't actually start until after the November shutdown of the Senate by Democrats. In addition, the report is nowhere near complete, with just two of five planned sections written and ready to be voted on by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The section that deals with whether the administration manipulated the pre-war intelligence in order to sell the war to the public has not yet been written and probably won't be finished until after the November midterm elections.

If Democrats retake the House and Senate this November, one of the first investigations they ought to launch is against Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. The fucker has done everything in his power to make sure whatever machinations that went on behind the scenes before the Iraq war will never see the light of day. The American people deserve to know whether the Bush administration deliberately lied about the pre-war intelligence and they also deserve to know why Senator Pat Roberts has held this report up for nearly 2 and a half years and lied repeatedly about it.

UPDATE: THINK PROGRESS has a rundown of all the coverups Roberts has engaged in as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. They include: warranteless domestic spying, Iraq intelligence, torture, and intelligence leaks. Check it out.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Even A Trip To The Baghdad Morgue Can Kill You

I know Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki says his country isn't in the middle of a civil war, but with the United States military taking forces away from the battle against insurgents in order to contain frightening sectarian violence like this in Baghdad, I just don't see how anybody can take him seriously:

BAGHDAD, July 29 — As violence in the Iraqi capital continue to rise, the task of tracking down missing people here has become a grim ordeal. Iraq’s anemic investigative agencies have been ill-equipped to keep up with soaring crime, so for families seeking information, the morgues have often provided the only certainty.

Now, even the morgues have become a source of danger, at least for Sunni Arabs. In recent months, Shiite militias have been staking out Baghdad’s central morgue in particular, and the authorities have received dozens of reports of kidnappings and killings of Sunni Arabs there.

Many Sunnis now refuse to go there to look for missing family members and are forced to take extraordinary measures to recover a relative’s body, including sending Shiite friends in their stead.

“We have to fight just to get our bodies from the morgue,” said Omar al-Jubouri, the human rights director of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political group.

He and other Sunni community leaders say they suspect that an increasing number of Sunni bodies are going unclaimed and are receiving pauper’s burials.

Too dangerous to go to the morgue to claim the bodies of people killed in sectarian violence - yeah, that's sounds like a civil war to me.

Atrios Made Me Smile Today

If you're a fan of Brian Wilson, perhaps he'll make you SMILE too.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Chuck Hagel's Speech To The Brookings Institute

I have been decrying the lack of mature, responsible, intelligent adults in Washington who can handle the various crises the nation and the world are facing without making conditions worse. Senator Chuck Hagel gave a speech to the Brookings Institute today in which he suggested an American foreign policy in the Mideast that is mature, responsible, intelligent and just might make conditions better, not worse. Here's a taste:

America's approach to the Middle East must be consistent and sustained, and must understand the history, interests and perspectives of our regional friends and allies.

The United States will remain committed to defending Israel. Our relationship with Israel is a special and historic one. But, it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice. Achieving a lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is as much in Israel's interest as any other country in the world.


It is in Israel's interest, as much as ours, that the United States be seen by all states in the Middle East as fair. This is the currency of trust.


Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, to Lebanon and to all who strive for lasting peace in the Middle East. This threat must be dealt with, as Israel's military operations continue to weaken Hezbollah's capacity for violence.

However, military action alone will not destroy Hezbollah or Hamas. Extended military action will tear apart Lebanon, destroy its economy and infrastructure, create a humanitarian disaster, further weaken Lebanon's fragile democratic government, strengthen popular Muslim and Arab support for Hezbollah, and deepen hatred of Israel across the Middle East. The pursuit of tactical military victories at the expense of the core strategic objective of Arab-Israeli peace is a hollow victory. The war against Hezbollah and Hamas will not be won on the battlefield.

To achieve a strategic shift in the conditions for Middle East peace, the United States must use the global condemnation of terrorist acts as the basis for substantive change. For a lasting and popularly supported resolution, only a strong Lebanese government and army, backed by the international community, can rid Lebanon of these corrosive militias and terrorist organizations.


The Rome meeting of the Lebanon core group this week must be the beginning of a very intensive diplomatic process -- at the highest levels -- with the objective of ending the military conflict, securing the Israel-Lebanon border, and invigorating the political track. To lead and sustain U.S. engagement, the President should appoint a statesman of global stature, experience and ability to serve as his personal envoy to the region who would report directly to him and be empowered with the authority to speak and act for the President. Former secretaries of Secretary of State Baker and Powell fit this profile.

Hagel goes on to call for the U.S. to pressure Mideast allies like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to be a part of the solution in the region, calls for an international force to be deployed upon the Israeli-Lebanese border, and says that an ongoing dialogue between all parties can help create a "process" that keeps "events" from becoming "crises". Hagel also says the United States must engage foes as well as allies in a diplomatic dialogue and calls for the U.S. to begin a dialogue with Syria and Iran over areas of agreement and disagreement.

Finally, Hagel finishes with this:

We must be clear in our principles and interests, with friends and foes alike. But framing the world in absolutes' constrains our ability to build coalitions and alliances, alienates our friends and partners, and results in our own isolation. No country will view its interests as coinciding exactly with ours; nor will countries simply subsume their national interests to maintain relations with America. U.S. policies that are premised on such assumptions will be flawed, with little likelihood for success, and ultimately work against our national interests.

In pursuing our objectives, America must always be mindful of the risks of sudden change and the dangers of unintended consequences. Rarely will America succeed if its actions seek to impose its objectives on others, or achieve change and reform through power alone. America is always strongest when it acts in concert with friends and allies. This approach has enhanced our power and magnified our influence. The Middle East and other regions of the world have been left behind and not experienced the political and economic reform that many other regions have enjoyed in the last 60 years.

The Middle East crisis represents a moment of great danger, but it is also an opportunity. Crisis focuses the minds of leaders and the attention of nations. The Middle East need not be a region forever captive to the fire of war and historical hatred. It will can avoid this fate if the United States pursues sustained and engaged leadership worthy of our history, purpose, and power. America cannot fix every problem in the world -- nor should it try. But we must get the big issues and important relationships right and concentrate on those. We know that without engaged and active American leadership the world is more dangerous.

You can agree or disagree with some of the particulars Hagel lays out in his speech, especially as they relate to the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict or the Iraq war, but one thing you have to give Senator Hagel: he's not afraid to point out that the current Middle East strategy being pursued by the administration is a disaster and that if something doesn't change soon, we're really going to be fucked.

POSTSCRIPT: The Hagel speech came from Steve Clemons over at Washington Note. Clemons asked Hagel afterwards if he had decided on whether he was going to support John Bolton for UN ambassador in the Foreign Relations Committee vote that is rumored to be coming soon since Bolton " probably does not share the same level of concern you do that the 'world's trust and confidence in America's purpose is eroding.'" Hagel told Clemons that if Bolton does come up for a confirmation vote in the Foreign Relations Committee, he has not decided how to vote.

So now we have Lincoln Chafee wavering on his support for Bolton and Chuck Hagel undecided. As Clemons said in his post today, "the debate about John bolton is back in play."

Looking Deeper Into The Funk

Mike at Crest wrote that he thought a gloom had crept over the country lately. He said as he had been walking around that he noticed "less laughter, less activity, less life." Yesterday I wrote my own post about the gloom and doom overtaking the country, compared the funk to what we all went through during the "bad old seventies", and said that

things are a bit different 30 years later, but the feeling is the same: "No future for you!" If the terrorists don't get us, global warming will. If the Iraq war ever ends, we'll be onto the Iran war (or the Syrian war...or the North Korean war...or the Oceania war...) If the housing market doesn't completely tank, the job market will. If I get a modest wage increase, it will quickly be eaten away by higher gas prices, rent, food, and health care costs. I may want to retire by age 65, but there's no guarantee that either Social Security, my pension, or for that matter, the world, will be there for me when I do.

John Harwood of the Wall Street Journal, digging deep into the numbers from the recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that also showed the country in a deep funk, discovered that the pessimism people are feeling these days is here for the long-term:

Among the six-in-10 Americans who say country is “on the wrong track,” most see “long-term decline.” More than two-thirds of those over 50 aren’t confident life will improve for “our children’s generation”; 62% of those under 35 agree.

Americans are especially gloomy about the environment, health care, public morals and housing costs; nearly eight in 10 expect college to become less affordable. By 47%-24%, Americans fear the quality of jobs in the U.S. will get worse.

The problems facing the country today - terrorism, the Iraq war, Iran, North Korea, global warming, the deficit, high energy costs, high health care costs, high housing costs, high college costs, outsourced jobs, the slowing economy (came in weaker than expected today at just 2.5% GDP for the second quarter), and rising inflation (despite the weaker GDP, core inflation came in at a 2.9% annual rate for the second quarter - far outside the Fed's comfort zone) - all feel long-term and systemic.

How does inflation go down when oil prices are so high? How does the price of oil fall when demand is so high, supply is so short, and the Middle East oil suppliers so unsettled? How does global warming get better when the country adding the most carbon into the atmosphere, the United States, doesn't have political leadership with the courage to even admit there's a problem, let alone begin to address it and find solutions? How does the Iraq war end happily for the United States and Iraqi civilians when all signs point to a bloody civil war and a long-term American troop prescence there? How does the United States deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions when it is tied down long-term in Iraq? With gas prices, health care costs, housing costs, college costs all rising and wages stagnant or falling, how will middle and working class Americans buy homes, send their kids to college or take care of themselves and their families without adding hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt? And what about all those retiring baby boomers? Will Social Security and pensions still be around after the baby boomers eat up all the resources?

These really are serious problems. Unfortunately we do not have serious leadership in the nation to deal with these problems, especially not in the current ruling party. Instead we have political leadership that has spend the last few weeks debating a flag burning amendment, a gay marriage amendment, and other "values" initiatives in a cynical attempt to use wedge issues to help people forget about the real pressing problems facing the nation. Luckily the "values" initiatives haven't really worked. NPR reported yesterday that poll results in 50 Battleground House districts showed that these values initiatives have actually turned many voters off. Apparently voters are aware, unlike the political leadership in the Grand Old Party, that the country faces many more pressing problems than whether some crazy can set a flag on fire in Union Square while wearing a surgical mask and screaming about Karl Marx.

Now if only we can find some political leadership in either party with the courage to start dealing with the very real, the very scary, and the very long-term problems facing the country these days that make it feel like we're living through the "bad old seventies" all over again.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

It's A Mess

The country and the world, I mean. Here's a rundown:

Heavy fighting in Southern Lebanon, Israel suffers highest casualties of the war.

Israel is now adjusting their war expectations as military, political leaders have come to realize Hezbollah is putting up a fiercer-than-expected resistance: war could go for weeks or months.

Coordinated car bombs, rocket attacks kill at least 31 in upscale Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad today.

The Iraq war is eroding troop morale as many soldiers express dissatisafaction with the war and their mission: "It's like we're driving around waiting to get blown up," says one.

Al Qaeda # 2 Zawahri issued a world-wide call for Muslims to rise up in a holy war against Israel and join the fighting in Gaza and Lebanon until Islam reigns from "Spain to Iraq."

A helicopter carrying Afghans and foreigners crashed in Eastern Afghanistan, killing all 16 on board, including 2 Americans. The Taliban claims to have shot down the helicopter but investigators said there is no evidence to support those claims.

Bipartisan Congressional report finds significant overcharges, wasteful spending and widespread mismanagement in the Department of Homeland Security's contract allocation process.

Exxon profits up 40%, Shell profits up 36%, Hess profits up 89%, gas prices over $3.00 a gallon nationwide (even in places like Detroit, Michigan and Wichita, Kansas.)

No wonder according to the latest WSJ/NBC News poll 65% of the nation feel less confident that life for their children's generation will be better than it was for them and only 27% of the country think the nation is heading in the right direction.

Things are bad here at home and around the world - really, really bad. I remember growing up in the mid to late 70s when the Middle East seemed to be constantly at war, gas prices were horrendously expensive, inflation and unemployment were always rising right along with the crime rate and the future seemed like it was going to be worse than the present and a lot worse than the past.

I think the Sex Pistols summed it up pretty succinctly in God Save The Queen: "No future for you!"

Well, things are a bit different 30 years later, but the feeling is the same: "No future for you!" If the terrorists don't get us, global warming will. If the Iraq war ever ends, we'll be onto the Iran war (or the Syrian war...or the North Korean war...or the Oceania war...) If the housing market doesn't completely tank, the job market will. If I get a modest wage increase, it will quickly be eaten away by higher gas prices, rent, food, and health care costs. I may want to retire by age 65, but there's no guarantee that either Social Security, my pension, or for that matter, the world, will be there for me when I do.

Am I being too pessimistic? Should I be looking at the Bushworld glass as half-full rather than half-empty? Or are things really as fucked up as they seem to me and about 65%-70% of the nation?

Public In A Sour Mood, 65% Believe Their Children Will Be Worse Off Than They Are

Three articles out tonight with really, really, really bad news for GOP hopes in the November midterms. First, here's MSNBC with the results from the WSJ/NBC News poll:

WASHINGTON - With congressional midterm elections less than four months away, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that candidates will be facing a public that has grown increasingly pessimistic, as nearly two-thirds don't believe life for their children's generation will be better than it has been for them, and nearly 60 percent are doubtful the Iraq war will come to a successful conclusion.

And there's more pessimism: Among those who believe the nation is headed on the wrong track, more than 80 percent say it's part of a longer-term decline.

"This is just a horrendous set of numbers," says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican Bill McInturff. The mood is "as dank and depressing as I have seen."

According to the poll, 65 percent say they feel less confident that life for their children's generation will be better than it was for them. In December 2001, the last time this question was asked, respondents — by a 49-42 percent margin — said they were confident life would be better for their children.

In addition, only 27 percent think the country is headed in the right direction, while 58 percent say they are less confident the Iraq war will come to a successful conclusion.

And among those who believe that the nation is headed on the wrong track, a whopping 81 percent believe it's part of a longer-term decline and that things won't get better for some time. Just 12 percent think the problems are short-term blips.

Next, the results from the latest NY Times/CBS News poll that show Americans increasingly suspicious of Bush's foreign policy and the direction the United States is heading in both here at home and abroad:

Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the state of affairs in the Middle East, with majorities doubtful there will ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors, or that American troops will be able to leave Iraq anytime soon, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.


Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East.

The concerns expressed over the direction of foreign policy also highlight some of the pitfalls facing Republicans as they head toward the November elections with national security front and center.


Mr. Bush has experienced a slight increase in his overall job approval rating since the last New York Times/CBS News poll, in May, indicating that the steady erosion in his support over the last year has leveled off and even improved by a few percentage points. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said they approved of the way he was doing his job, up from 31 percent in May.

But with 55 percent saying they disapproved of his performance, the numbers remain far below the comfort zone for a sitting president during a tough midterm election season. In what could be another warning sign for incumbents, more than twice as many people believe the country is heading in the wrong direction than believe it is heading in the right direction. Only 35 percent of respondents said they approved of Mr. Bush’s handling of foreign policy in general, though that was up from the 27 percent in May, and a majority expressed doubt about whether the president had the respect of foreign leaders.

Finally, here's the Washington Post on how Bush's second term "comeback" has been derailed by events overseas in the Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea and what that means for his party come November:

The latest crisis in the Middle East has disrupted President Bush's plans domestically and internationally at a sensitive juncture, reopening divisions with allies abroad and jeopardizing attempts to restore public confidence at home, according to officials, analysts and diplomats.


For the president, the timing could not be much worse. In a second term marked by one setback after another, the White House was in the midst of a rebuilding effort aimed at a political comeback before November's critical midterm elections. Now the president faces the challenge of responding to events that seem to be spinning out of control again, all but sidelining his domestic agenda for the moment and complicating his effort to rally the world to stop nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

The crisis imperils one of Bush's signature ambitions. This is a president who eschewed Middle East peacemaking of the past as futile, embarking instead on a grand plan to remake the region into a more democratic, peaceful place. A year ago, a wave of reform seemed to take hold. Yet today radicalism is on the rise, Iran is believed to be closer to nuclear weapons and Bush is sending thousands more troops to Baghdad to quell spiraling violence.

"You've got Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories aflame, you've got Iraq still aflame, and you've got the Iran issue now unresolved," said Carlos Pascual, a senior State Department official until this year. "It has hurt the U.S. internationally because it has only reinforced in everyone's mind that the U.S. was not being strategic, it was not looking ahead to how to handle the whole panoply of issues in a way that's both realistic and effective."


At home, political strategists said, Bush faces the perception that he is presiding over one brushfire after another, hindered in his efforts to advance a positive agenda at a time when Republican control of Congress appears at risk. His most prominent domestic priority of the year, a comprehensive immigration plan, already seemed stalled until after the elections. The escalation of killing in Iraq may have unraveled any chance of major U.S. troop withdrawals before the elections. And the conversation is now dominated by rockets flying in and out of southern Lebanon.

"It significantly contributes to the general sense that they don't have a formula for governing and for leading," said Steve Ricchetti, who was deputy White House chief of staff under Clinton. "There's nothing more important to a president than the public sensing that he has a vision and the ability to lead. And I think that has diminished dramatically for them and it presents an enormous political problem."

Republican candidates who are already nervous about a commander in chief with approval ratings stuck in the 30s have grown wary of the impact of the latest fighting.

"It may not only intrude in the midterm elections, it could envelop them," said V. Lance Tarrance Jr., a prominent Republican consultant. On the one hand, he said, it could give Bush a chance "to demonstrate presidential leadership," and voters are often reluctant to shift leadership in a moment of crisis. On the other hand, he said, "it could force a large-scale regional conflict that increases" the vote against incumbents "to such an extent that people worry about the country."

To echo Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster from the WSJ/NBC News poll, these are horrendous numbers for the preznit and his party. The November midterms have essentially been framed well before Labor Day. The electorate is disgrunted, depressed, worried about the future, and ready to blame all the problems on incumbents. Hart says "it's a python-like grip in terms of a negative mood...this is wrapped pretty tight." His GOP counterpart, Bill McInturff, says Republicans have an uphill fight this November even with their vaunted fundraising ability and dependable Get Out the Vote operation. According to McInturff, Republican candidates have got to start engaging their Democratic opponents now, not after labor Day, because "the national mood is too set and there is not enough time."

Before Dems celebrate the numbers and start counting their House and Senate majorities before they hatch, however, we should remember that Republicans can still rely on Diebold manipulation, voting fraud and other shenanagins this November to help them hold onto power. Speaking at a GOP fundraiser in Columbus, Ohio yesterday, Karl Rove said he's confident the GOP will hold onto its Senate, House and Governor's seats in Ohio despite the bad poll numbers and scandals plaguing the Republican Party in the state. And of course he is confident. The day he didn't get his fat ass tossed into the slammer for treason in the CIA leak case was the day he knew he'd be around to help steal the '06 elections. Let's just hope Dems put up more of a fight this time around than John Kerry did in 2004.

Still, who would have thought last year at this time that Democrats would sitting pretty in late July with a 10 point lead in voter preference in a generic Congressional ballot, the preznit would be mired under 40% approval for the better part of a year, Democrats would be out-fundraising Republicans in both the House and Senate, and nearly 70% of the country would think the nation was heading in the wrong direction? Let's face it - if Dems can't win something this year, they can't win period.

UPDATE: More bad news for Bush and the GOP. David Broder finds grave dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and the GOP leadership coming from the Taft-Goldwater-Reagan wing of the Republican Party and wonders how much this dissatisfaction will hurt Republicans in the midterms. Already struggling with an unpopular war and an uncertain economy, Broder notes, the last thing the GOP needs is the disaffection they are currently experiencing within their own ranks.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Howard Fineman: Sending More Troops into Baghdad Is Like Waving The White Flag For Bush

The discussion happening on Hardball right now between Chris Matthews, Chris Cillizza and Howard Fineman is extraordinary. Fineman, the Newsweek columnist, just said if you look at Bush's body language these last two days as he has been forced to admit that he has to send more troops into Baghdad because the violence is getting worse, not better, you can see a man who looks defeated. Cillizza, the Washington Post political reporter, concurred, saying that the administration has essentially admitted the mission is failing just a month after they declared everything was going great and some troops would be coming home soon. Both Fineman and Cillizza seemed to believe that the worsening conditions in Iraq are going to have profound effects on the midterm elections just 100 days away.

The overall theme of the Hardball discussion: things are getting worse in Iraq, things are getting worse in the Middle East, things are getting worse for the administration, things are getting worse for the Republican Party's chances in November. The subtext to the discussion is the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that is coming out at 6:30 PM tonight. Obviously Matthews, Cillizza and Fineman have seen the numbers and they are not good for the preznit or his party.

As a side note, American Research Group (ARG) released a poll today showing the preznit enjoying 35% approval and 59% disapproval. The ARG poll numbers come on the heels of the Gallup poll released yesterday showing Bush wih 37% approval and 59% disapproval.

Looks like all that talk about how the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict was going to help Republicans and hurt Democrats was wrong. It also looks like the administration's "Stand and Bleed" Iraq war policy, which most members of the Grand Old Party wholeheartedly embraced last month during the Congressional Iraq war debate, is going to come back to bite them. Rove and the RNC have their work cut out for them in the midterms. Luckily for Republicans, they always have Diebold to fall back on when all is said and done (as HowieinSeattle constantly reminds us.)

Does This Story Scare You?

The emphasis on teaching for the test in middle schools and high schools across the country is bad enough, but now the NY Times reports kindergarten students are being subjected to prepping for future tests and engaging in math, grammar, and voacabulary drills over playtime:

THE word “kindergarten” means “children’s garden,” and for years has conjured up an image of children playing with blocks, splashing at water tables, dressing up in costumes or playing house. Now, with an increased emphasis on academic achievement even in the earliest grades, playtime in kindergarten is giving way to worksheets, math drills and fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests.

Nowhere are the demands greater than at Achievement First East New York Charter School in Brooklyn, which holds classes through this month. On a recent Friday morning, 20 kindergartners in uniforms of yellow shirts and blue jumpers or shorts, many yawning and rubbing their eyes, filed into the classroom of Keisha Rattray and Luis Gonzalez. Some sat in plastic chairs lined up before the teachers for phonics and grammar drills, while others sat at computer screens, listening through headphones to similar exercises.

The classroom has no blocks, dress-up corners or play kitchens. There is no time for show and tell, naps or recess. There is homework every night. For much of the day, the children are asked to sit quietly with their hands folded as their teachers drill them in phonics, punctuation and arithmetic.

“At the beginning of the year, they’re dropping like flies, falling asleep by 12 o’clock,” said Mrs. Rattray, 27. “We say, ‘Wake up, you are in big school now.’ ”

Achievement First, part of a network of charter schools, is an extreme case, but across the nation, there is less time for play even for the youngest students. And while it may seem like a good thing to teach reading, writing and arithmetic as early as possible, most early childhood experts agree that play is crucial for both social and academic development.

Constructive play helps children develop social skills while laying an important foundation for reading and math, said Dominic F. Gullo, a professor of elementary and early childhood education at Queens College.

For example, he explained, children who set up a pretend post office or a restaurant in what is called a “dramatic play area” learn how to take turns, how to speak clearly to one another, and how to make up their own stories — stories that are the foundation for writing.

Playing with blocks teaches children the basics of math as they learn that two small blocks put together have the same length as one long block.

Children who never learn to play with one another — who rely on grown-ups to resolve disputes — never learn the self-regulation and teamwork for their adulthood.

Just what we need - a society with more people who don't know how to take turns, haven't developed any social skills, haven't learned self-regulation and teamwork for their future adult lives and can't resolve disputes without independent arbitration.

These people running the Achievement First Charter Schools ought to be arrested for child abuse and subjected to year round, 12 hour a day work on a roadgang. And everytime they complain about the harsh treatment a guard will say "Sorry, you're in grown-up prison now. Get back to working that blacktop. "

This is another example of people who know nothing about children or education trying to run a school system and seriously fucking some kids up in the process. Even the Achievement First teacher in the article, Mrs. Rattray, says at the end that if her own kid were in the Achievement First Charter School, she would want more time for play.

No kidding.

How much do you want to make a bet that Achievement First Charter Schools graduates some seriously disturbed people in the very near future?

Gallup Poll: Majority Disapprove Of Stem Cell Veto

USA Today runs an article touting the results from the latest Gallup Poll that show 36% of respondents approved of Preznit Bush's veto of the embryonic stem cell research bill while 58% disapproved. The stem cell numbers tracked pretty well with Bush's overall approval/disapproval numbers. Overall 37% of respondents approve of Bush's performance as president while 59% disapprove. The poll was taken July 21-23 and released yesterday by Gallup.

In the Gallup poll, Bush has only enjoyed 40% approval or higher once since February 6 and that was earlier this month when his approval hit exactly 40%. Bush has been below 50% approval since mid-December 2004.

In four July polls taken by TIME Magazine, Fox News, AP-Ipsos, and Gallup, Preznit's Bush's approval is an average of 36%.

Apparently there is a ceiling to Bush's approval rating that he just cannot break through. Republicans have said repeatedly that for Bush to no longer be a drag on the GOP's chances for the November midterm elections, Bush must hit 45% approval or higher. Absent some extraordinary event that vaults his approval 10 points or more, that's not going happen.

As for the stem cell veto, Hotline on Call says that the jury is still out on whether the veto will hurt Republican Congressional candidates this fall, but some GOPers have already been put on the defensive. It's just one more issue, after the Iraq war, the economy, gas prices, the budget deficit, and global warming, that does not help their chances to hold the House in November.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Spinning The Deteriorating Security Conditions In Baghdad

So more than a 100 Iraqis a day are dying in the exploding Iraqi civil war and the U.S. doesn't have enough troops in Baghdad to deal with the deteriorating security conditions. The U.S. needs to bring more troops into the Iraqi capital to handle the violence, but is forced to take them from other areas of the country because of a troop shortage. Unfortunately these harsh facts don't square with the feel-good story the administration and the RNC want to sell for the November midterms. Oh, what to do, what to do? Hey, how about some spinning some bullshit:

Bush said improved military conditions outside Baghdad will make it possible to move U.S. military police and other forces to the capital, where an estimated 100 people a day are being killed. The crimes, blamed largely on sectarian death squads, usually go unsolved.

Bush said that al-Maliki and Gen. George Casey, top U.S. commander in Iraq, have agreed to deploy more American troops and Iraqi security personnel in Baghdad in the coming weeks.

“Conditions change inside a country,” Bush said at a joint White House news conference with the Iraqi leader. “The question is, ’will we be facile enough to deal with them, will we be nimble enough.’ “ Bush said the answer is yes.

The new strategy will involve “embedding more U.S. military police with Iraqi police units to make them move effective,” the president said.

OK, let's cut through the bullshit, shall we?

It's not improved security conditions outside Baghdad that allows the U.S. military to pull troops away from these areas into Baghdad, it's deteriorating security conditions in Baghdad that mandate the redeployment. Facing a severe shortage of available military forces, the U.S. doesn't have the troops to send to Baghdad unless they take them from somewhere else in Iraq. Thus the redeployment. But how much do you want to make a bet that insurgents who are currently in Baghdad move to those areas of the country the U.S. just pulled troops from?

Next point: Iraqi police forces, infiltrated by religious and ethnic militamen, have been accused of atrocities, sectarian killings and acting as death squads. U.S. military police are not being embedded with Iraqi police to make them more "effective". U.S. military police are being embedded with Iraqi police to make them less effective as sectarian death squads. After all, it's a lot harder for Iraqi police to enage in sectarian killings and atrocities if American military police are along for the ride.

The worse the conditions in Iraq get, the worse the spin gets. It really is getting more and more difficult to spin this as "progress".

Bush 'Plateau"

From Gallup:

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds 37% of Americans approving of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 59% disapproving. Despite many extraordinary events dominating the news over the past weeks -- including the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Bush's high-visibility trip to Europe -- this slight drop from the 40% approval rating measured earlier in the month is not statistically significant and falls within the margin of error between the two surveys. The current 37% rating is similar to his average approval rating of 37% for all of June.

Bush's job approval rating had been showing a slow, gradual improvement from his administration's low point of 31% in early May, but seems to have reached a plateau in the 37% to 40% range since mid-June. Bush's ratings were higher in January and early February, averaging 42%.

Here's what I want to know. How come when Bush goes up 3 percentage points, it's statistically significant (e.g., when he went from 37% approval in June to 40% approval in early July) but when he falls 3 percentage points (e.g., when he went from 40% approval in early July to 37% in late July) it's statistically insignificant?

It must be wonderful to have an entire press and polling corps ready to provide excuses for you.

Regardless of how Gallup spins this poll, however, the reality is Bush is an unpopular preznit who has enjoyed approval ratings below 50% for a very, very long time now. Hell, his disapproval ratings have been hovering in the 60% range for almost as long as his approval ratings have been under 50%. Bush is not just an unpopular preznit, he is one of the most unpopular presidents of all time.

Monday, July 24, 2006

ABA Criticizes Bush For Overstepping Legal Authority

George Bush thinks he's a monarch who gets to decide which laws he wants to follow and/or enforce and which laws he doesn't. The American Bar Association says differently:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush's penchant for writing exceptions to laws he has just signed violates the Constitution, an American Bar Association task force says in a report highly critical of the practice.

The ABA group, which includes a one-time FBI director and former federal appeals court judge, said the president has overstepped his authority in attaching challenges to hundreds of new laws.

The attachments, known as bill-signing statements, say Bush reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds.

"This report raises serious concerns crucial to the survival of our democracy," said the ABA's president, Michael Greco. "If left unchecked, the president's practice does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine, and the system of checks and balances that have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries."

I don't think it is excessive to say that this preznit, this administration and this current Republican Party leadership have done more to undermine this Republic than any other group of crooks, scoundrels or demagogues in the history of the United States, and that includes the Nixon guys. Think domestic spying, torture, rendition, holding suspects "in perpetuity" without charges being filed, signing statements, election fraud, Diebold, politicized terror alerts, gerrymandering whenever they feel like, and good old-fashioned political corruption a la Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay.

It really is essential to the surivival of the nation that one-party rule end this November. Given the state of the country, the state of the environment, the state of the world and the state of the economy for 90% of the country's population, we cannot let these cynical, corrupt motherfuckers run things by themselves any longer.

Humanitarian Crisis Here In New York City

12,000 people have been affected in this humanitarian crisis that has gone mostly uncovered by the American news media and unmentioned by the politicians whenever they wrap themselves in the tattered flag of 9/11.

I am talking about the men and women who put their own lives at risk to work down in the burning rubble of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks to search for survivors.

The New York Daily News is running a serious of articles about these men and women. Some have died, many are sick - not one has received an official admission from the government that their illness is 9/11-related. None have received any financial help:

Stephen Johnson is a forgotten victim of 9/11.

The official record carries Johnson as a retired firefighter who passed away after a heart attack and a bout with a lung ailment two years after he left the force. This is because, callously and in disregard of overwhelming evidence, the City of New York has refused to acknowledge even the likelihood that working around the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center proved fatal to anyone.

But that is precisely what killed Johnson, whose death stands as the earliest Ground Zero fatality from disease for which cause and effect has been established.

And it is precisely what killed Police Officer James Godbee.

And it is precisely what killed Detective James Zadroga.

And it is precisely what killed Emergency Medical Service Paramedic Debbie Reeve.

They were among the 40,000 people who pulled together in the drive to restore New York's footing after 9/11. Today, more than 12,000 members of that brave army are ill because they were exposed to the toxic cloud that hovered over what became known as The Pile.

Officials falsely assured them the air was safe. Most were not provided with or did not wear respiratory protection.

The vast majority of the sick suffered damage to their respiratory tracts from breathing air thick with particles, including concrete dust, pulverized glass and asbestos. The materials, in effect, burned the air passages, causing inflamed sinuses, bronchitis and reactive airways dysfunction syndrome, or RADS, an irritant-induced asthma.

A smaller number of Ground Zero responders contracted even more serious illnesses, and some died. How many developed their conditions as a consequence of working at The Pile cannot now be established, and medical experts are skeptical about proving a causal relationship in most cases.

But there can be no reasonable doubt that Ground Zero service cost Johnson, Godbee, Zadroga and Reeve their lives. Where Johnson and Reeve are concerned, the FDNY's top physicians, Drs. Kerry Kelly and David Prezant, say they believe this is so. The evidence is just as strong for Godbee and Zadroga.

It is long past time to set the record straight about fatalities among the forgotten victims of 9/11 — to honor those who have died, to keep faith with history and to provide the sick with the fullest information.

It's time for Mayor Bloomberg to recognize Johnson, Godbee, Zadroga and Reeve as heroes who died from illnesses sustained in the line of duty, and to express New York's gratitude to their loved ones.

It's time for the mayor, upon whom we have called to lead a campaign for all forgotten victims of 9/11, to declare that New York owes the Johnson, Godbee, Zadroga and Reeve families every possible benefit — and to order city lawyers to stop unconscionably fighting against giving the families their due.

It's time to confront what happened to Johnson, Godbee, Zadroga and Reeve in the knowledge that medical experts say others may well develop serious, even fatal, illnesses as the 9/11 health disaster unfolds. Let them not be forgotten, too.

Preznit Bush and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani love to appear at photo ops with cops and firemen and remind voters of their supposed "bravery" and "magnificence" in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Giuliani in particular has used 9/11 as a springboard for his future political career on the national stage. But you never hear from these two politicians how thousands of men and women who responded to the 9/11 attacks at the WTC are sick, dying, or already dead from 9/11-related illnesses.

And you won't ever hear that from them. Bush and Giuliani are men who love to talk about "supporting the troops" or "giving respect to first responders," but you'll also note that the governments these politicians ran during the crisis lied to the first responders about the environmental conditions down at Ground Zero. According to the Associated Press, the Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog said White House officials pressured the agency to assure the public that the air in New York City was safe to breathe after the World Trade Center collapse because they wanted to reopen the stock market and Wall Street business operations as well as assure the world that the United States was mostly undaunted by the attacks.

And so both the people working down at Ground Zero and the residents of the area were assured their health was not at risk even though officials at the EPA knew differently. Preznit Bush and Mayor Guiliani are both responsible for the lies passed on to the public and for the health affects this deception caused. One might even say, given that the government's these men ran at the time knew people were being put at risk, that both of these men are murderers. Some may say that is too harsh an assessment, but how else would you characterize two politicians who decide it is more important to get Wall Street up and running than protect the people working at Ground Zero and the residents in lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn?

The Daily News got Mayor Michael Bloomberg to pledge that he would do everything he could to make sure the first responders sickened, dying, or dead from 9/11-related illnesses will be taken care of by the city within the limits of what it can afford. This promise is worth nothing from a mayor who lowered the starting salary of cops and fire personnel in New York City in order to be able to afford to pay for the since abandoned construction of the New York Jets west side stadium.

What the Daily News and other media outlets need to do is get to the bottom of a) Who ordered the EPA to tell the public that the air in NYC was safe to breathe after the 9/11 attacks b) Who decided the bottom line of Wall Street was more important than the lives of thousands of Ground Zero workers and hundreds of thousands of New York City residents c) Make sure that every erson whose health has been affected by 9/11 or whose health will be affected in the future is taken care of financially.

If I were a family member of one of these sickened, dying, or dead first responders , I would start out by personally suing Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA director who went on TV and told the public the air was safe to breathe in the days after the WTC collapse when internal EPA reports showed differently. On February 3, 2006, Judge Deborah A. Batts allowed a class action lawsuit to proceed against Christine Todd Whitman for making misleading statements in the aftermath of the WTC collapse about the saftey of the air. Judge Batts called Whitman's actions "conscience-shocking". They certainly are. But so are George W. Bush's and Rudolph Giuiliani's actions. Both of these men should be made to take responsibility for the misery and deaths their callous actions have caused. That means civil lawsuits certainly and perhaps even criminal lawsuits if it can be proven that these men willfully put people's lives at risk in order to get the business community up and running again.

Our government is supposed to protect us, not willfully harm us. In the days after 9/11 when terrorists had already slaughter thousands of New Yorkers, the governments of the United States and New York City added to the death toll. Five years after 9/11, we can already see the number of people affected by 9/11 illnesses. Think about what the numbers are going to be like in ten, fifteen, and twenty years.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Is The News Media Rooting For Hezbollah?

The NY Times reports that the Israelis think it is:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel today accused much of the international news media of bias in its reporting of the war, complaining that the “murderous viciousness” of Hezbollah was not being portrayed. “A twisted image is presented, where the victim is presented as an aggressor,” he said.

I'm not so sure members of the news media are rooting for Hezbollah, but I do they think they're feeling a lot of sympathy for the many innocent Lebanese caught in the crossfire of the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict. Civilians with no ties to Hezbollah are dying from the Israeli bombing campaign, Lebanese soldiers charged with repairing the destroyed Lebanese infrastructure have been targeted by the Israelis while sleeping in their barracks, and a hundred thousand refugees have fled the warzone as the conflict escalates into a ground war.

Israel is coming across like the "neighborhood bully" here by savagely destroying Lebanon while claiming they are simply defending themselves against rocket attacks and trying to get back their kidnapped soldiers. I'm not saying that Israel doesn't have the right to pursue both of these objectives. But if they're going to spend 10 days carpetbombing Lebanon, killing hundreds of innocents, and creating a hundred thousand or more refugees, they ought to expect to be on the losing end of the public relations war.

The longer this conflict goes on, the more likely it is that Israel and by extension the United States comes out the loser in the long run. Perhaps in the short run Israel can achieve some of its objectives, like creating a safe, Hezbollah-free border in Southern Lebanon. But in the long run, they're simply creating more anti-Israel animosity and hatred that is going to result in more terrorist attacks and bloodshed in the future. Just as the Bush administration doesn't seem to understand that a counterinsurgency ought to use as little force as possible in order to win over a populace from insurgents, the Israelis don't seem to realize that their overwhelming use of force has been counterproductive to their overall aims. By bombing the fuck out of the Lebanese in order to root out Hezbollah and doing so much collateral damage in the process, they have shown themselves to be as "murderous" and as "vicious" as the terrorists they purport to be superior to.

Unfortunately for many Americans, the Bush administration and its neo-con cheerleaders like Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Goodwin and Bobo Brooks have all thrown in with the Israeli strategy and so we come off nearly as bad as the Israelis for allowing this slaughter to take place for so long without taking any action to stop it. Watching the way they handle the war on terror, you have to wonder if the administration and its neo-con apologists are in the business of stopping terrorism or creating more terrorists.

Security in Iraq Continues To Worsen

While the cables news networks give the Israel/Hezbollah conflict 24/7 coverage, Iraq continues to explode:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Car bombs killed at least 56 people in Iraq on Sunday as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki prepared for a White House visit expected to focus on easing violence that has raised doubts over his reconciliation efforts.

A blast killed 36 civilians in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad a day after an inaugural meeting to start reconciling Iraq's rival factions produced little tangible result.

Another car bomb exploded in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing at least 20 civilians outside a court house, police and witnesses said.

The Baghdad bomb, near a police station and open-air market, was in the Sadr City neighborhood, a poor area that is a stronghold of Shi'ite militias.

Shattered vehicles and stalls showed the power of the latest blast. Blood lay in pools. Some witnesses spoke of a suicide bomber driving a minivan but police said the cause was unclear.

This occupation is now officially a failure. According to the U.S. military, the ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence are now killing more people in Iraq than the insurgency. A top government official told Reuters that "Iraq as a political project is finished." Reuters reports that many Iraqi leaders "despair of being able to avert an all-out cilvil war." Prime Minister Maliki is coming to visit Washington this week, but as Mike at Crest says, "the Bush administration is going to frame this as a 'hard work' visit rather than the 'triumphal establishment of an Iraqi government' visit they had initially envisioned when they scheduled the thing five weeks ago after the new Defense and Interior Ministers were named." The Defense and Interior Ministries remain bastions of ethnic and religious militia power. And Ayatollah Sistani, a silent partner of the administration's Iraq reconstruction efforts, warned the administration this week that he worries events are spinning out of control. If the administration loses the backing of Sistani, David Ignatius said on The Chris Matthews Show this morning, the game in Iraq is over.

I wonder how the administration finagles enough "progress" out of these deteriorating security conditions in Iraq to continue with it's pre-midterm election redeployment plan. Word leaked out last month that General Casey was planning to pull two combat brigades out of Iraq in September, contingent upon improving security. Security in Iraq has gotten worse this summer, however, not better. Tom Lasseter from McClatchy Newspapers reports today that:

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Despite the addition of almost 100,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi troops in the past year, U.S. efforts to pacify central Iraq and the capital appear to be failing, challenging a central assumption behind the U.S. strategy in Iraq: that training more Iraqi security forces will allow U.S. troops to start going home.

The number of trained Iraqi soldiers and police grew from an estimated 168,670 in June 2005 to 264,600 last month.

Yet Baghdad's morgue is receiving nearly twice as many Iraqis each day as it did last year. The number of bombings causing multiple fatalities has risen steadily. Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops last month grew 44% from June 2005.

"Even as the number and capabilities of Iraqi security forces have increased, overall security conditions have deteriorated," concluded a report that the Government Accountability Office submitted to Congress earlier this month.

More Iraqi troops, worsening security situation. No matter how the administration tries to spin things (and Josh Bolten said this morning in Meet The Press that the administration is encouraged with the way the Iraqi government is trying to pull together to battle the sectarian violence), this ain't progress. This is failure.

With security conditions deteriorating despite the addition of 100,000 Iraqi troops and with the U.S. military needing to bring more troops into Baghdad this month to handle the violence, it would be supremely cynical for the administration to calim "progress" and pull two combat brigades out of Iraq before the November midterms in order to give fellow Republicans cover for their campaigns. That doesn't mean Karl Rove and the other politicos in the administration won't do it. But it will mean that the "cut-and-run" rhetoric they've been using against war critics who have asked for a troop withdrawl timetable can be used back at Rove and company. For what's worse, pulling troops out of Iraq because you think the occupation is futile and the war is a mistake or pulling troops out because you want to say there's been progress and you want to use it for your political campaigns in November?

I don't know how the United States can extricate itself from this mess and find some reasonable solution in Iraq that doesn't end in a complete bloodbath. One thing I do know though: everybody inovlved in creating this mess ought to be taken from their positions of power and/or influence and sent to some island away from D.C. Tom Ricks of the Washington Post made the point that this Iraq war plan was one of the worst in American history. It provided for the way to get to Baghdad and take out Saddam and little else. Now we're in the little else part. You would think the fuckers who created the plan and enabled the inital invasion would be chastened by their failures. They're not. The neo-cons are now pushing for an attack on Iran and Syria next. Some in the administration, particularly the VP's office, agree.

those are the guys and gals who ought to be put on the "neo-con island" away from all of us. Then the adults can figure out how to clean up the mess they created.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Wash Post Lists The Ways U.S. Military/Bush Administration Fucked Up Iraq War

As the neo-cons and administration apologists look to pass the blame for the Iraq mess, it's important to remember that a combination of ignorance, arrogance, and stupidity on the part of both the Bush administration and the military brass helped bring about the current bloodbath:
There is also strong evidence, based on a review of thousands of military documents and hundreds of interviews with military personnel, that the U.S. approach to pacifying Iraq in the months after the collapse of Hussein helped spur the insurgency and made it bigger and stronger than it might have been.

The very setup of the U.S. presence in Iraq undercut the mission. The chain of command was hazy, with no one individual in charge of the overall American effort in Iraq, a structure that led to frequent clashes between military and civilian officials.

On May 16, 2003, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run occupation agency, had issued his first order, "De-Baathification of Iraq Society." The CIA station chief in Baghdad had argued vehemently against the radical move, contending that, "By nightfall, you'll have driven 30,000 to 50,000 Baathists underground. And in six months, you'll really regret this."

He was proved correct, as Bremer's order, along with a second that dissolved the Iraqi military and national police, created a new class of disenfranchised, threatened leaders.

Exacerbating the effect of this decision were the U.S. Army's interactions with the civilian population. Based on its experience in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Army thought it could prevail through "presence" -- that is, soldiers demonstrating to Iraqis that they are in the area, mainly by patrolling.


The U.S. military jargon for this was "boots on the ground," or, more officially, the presence mission. There was no formal doctrinal basis for this in the Army manuals and training that prepare the military for its operations, but the notion crept into the vocabularies of senior officers.


The flaw in this approach, Lt. Col. Christopher Holshek, a civil affairs officer, later noted, was that after Iraqi public opinion began to turn against the Americans and see them as occupiers, "then the presence of troops . . . becomes counterproductive."

The U.S. mission in Iraq was overwhelmingly made up of regular combat units, rather than smaller, lower-profile Special Forces units. And in 2003, most conventional commanders did what they knew how to do: send out large numbers of troops and vehicles on conventional combat missions.

Few U.S. soldiers seemed to understand the centrality of Iraqi pride and the humiliation Iraqi men felt to be overseen by this Western army. Foot patrols in Baghdad were greeted during this time with solemn waves from old men and cheers from children, but with baleful stares from many young Iraqi men.

Complicating the U.S. effort was the difficulty top officials had in recognizing what was going on in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at first was dismissive of the looting that followed the U.S. arrival, and then for months refused to recognize that an insurgency was breaking out there. A reporter pressed him one day that summer: Aren't you facing a guerrilla war?

"I guess the reason I don't use the phrase 'guerrilla war' is because there isn't one," Rumsfeld responded.

Rumsfeld went on to fight the "non-guerilla war" by having the U.S. military round up tens of thousands of Iraqis and imprison them in Abu Ghraib for aggressive interrogations that resulted in the torture and killing of some detainees and p.r. nightmare for the administration. The army later estimated 85% of those detained "were of no intelligence value". But the photos of abused detainees from Abu Ghraib were seen the world over and became excellent recruiting tools for the insurgency. By the time the military fixed the abusive culture in the prison and interrogation system, the damage had been done.

The article says more than once that the administration and the U.S. military command refused to learn from the past:

That summer, retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, an expert in small wars, was sent to Baghdad by the Pentagon to advise on how to better put down the emerging insurgency. He met with Bremer in early July. "Mr. Ambassador, here are some programs that worked in Vietnam," Anderson said.

It was the wrong word to put in front of Bremer. "Vietnam?" Bremer exploded, according to Anderson. "Vietnam! I don't want to talk about Vietnam. This is not Vietnam. This is Iraq!"

This was one of the early indications that U.S. officials would obstinately refuse to learn from the past as they sought to run Iraq.

One of the essential texts on counterinsurgency was written in 1964 by David Galula, a French army lieutenant colonel who was born in Tunisia, witnessed guerrilla warfare on three continents and died in 1967.

When the United States went into Iraq, his book, "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice," was almost unknown within the military, which is one reason it is possible to open Galula's text almost at random and find principles of counterinsurgency that the American effort failed to heed.

Galula warned specifically against the kind of large-scale conventional operations the United States repeatedly launched with brigades and battalions, even if they held out the allure of short-term gains in intelligence. He insisted that firepower must be viewed very differently than in regular war.

"A soldier fired upon in conventional war who does not fire back with every available weapon would be guilty of a dereliction of his duty," he wrote; "the reverse would be the case in counterinsurgency warfare, where the rule is to apply the minimum of fire."

The U.S. military took a different approach in Iraq. It wasn't indiscriminate in its use of firepower, but it tended to look upon it as good, especially during the big counteroffensive in the fall of 2003, and in the two battles in Fallujah the following year.

One reason for that different approach was the muddled strategy of U.S. commanders in Iraq. As civil affairs officers found to their dismay, Army leaders tended to see the Iraqi people as the playing field on which a contest was played against insurgents. In Galula's view, the people are the prize.

"The population . . . becomes the objective for the counterinsurgent as it was for his enemy," he wrote.

From that observation flows an entirely different way of dealing with civilians in the midst of a guerrilla war. "Since antagonizing the population will not help, it is imperative that hardships for it and rash actions on the part of the forces be kept to a minimum," Galula wrote.

The problem with the current administration and the current preznit is that David Galula's text on counteinsurgency is just a little too subtle for them.

Where Galula says the rule of counterinsurgency is to apply the minimum of gunfire so as not to lose the populace to the insurgency, the preznit and his neo-con advisors think a massive show of force works wonders in all foreign policy situations. This is true not only of the administration's policy in Iraq but for the entire war on terror.

Right now in Lebanon, the administration is quite happy to see Israel try to bomb Hezbollah to kingdom come. They think Israel's massive use of force will "send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah." But what they fail to realize (or are too stupid, too arrogant, or too ideological to realize) is that Israel's massive use of force and the thousands of innocent casualties that is coming with it may simply earn Hezbollah the sympathy of the Lebanese people and create more terrorists and hundreds of thousands more followers the world over.

I don't understand why it is the administration and so many on the right can't get this strategy straight. Sometimes a massive use of force is both warranted and productive; sometimes it's unwarranted and counterproductive.

It takes brains to figure out when to use massive force and when not to use it, of course. Unfortunately the idiots currently running things not only lack the brainpower to figure this out, they're proud that they lack that brainpower. Thus the preznit's bragging that he's "decisive" and makes big decisions from the "gut". Those words are code for "too stupid to think these policy decisions through."

And as the Middle East burns and Iraq explodes into civil war, we can see the result.

I suppose we can always hold out hope that maybe somebody in the administration will take Galula's text to heart yet.

Nah, that'll never happen.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Creating More Osamas and Zarqawis

According to the Washington Post:

In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel's crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah.

"The president believes that unless you address the root causes of the violence that has afflicted the Middle East, you cannot forge a lasting peace," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "He mourns the loss of every life. Yet out of this tragic development, he believes a moment of clarity has arrived."

The New York Times, on the other, wonders if the "opportunity" the administration sees in the carpet bombing of Lebanon isn't just helping to create more Bin Ladens and al-Zarqawis:

DAMASCUS, Syria, July 21 — In mosques from Mecca to Marrakesh, sermons at Friday Prayer services underscored both the David-versus-Goliath glamour many Arabs associate with Hezbollah’s fight against Israel and their antipathy toward the United States and its allies in the region for doing so little to stop yet another Arab country from collapsing into bloodshed.


The tone of the sermons suggests that the fighting in Lebanon is further tarnishing the image of the United States in the Arab world as being solely concerned with Israel’s welfare and making its allied governments look increasingly like puppets.

“What is creating radicalism in the region is not authoritarian regimes,” said Mustafa Hamarneh, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. “Mainly it is American policy in the region — survey after survey shows that.”


“What gives us pain is the Arab position,” said Mohamed al-Habash, a cleric who serves in Syria’s Parliament, speaking from the pulpit of Al Zahra Mosque. “They are entering a conspiracy against the Arabs, their brothers.”

In an interview, the cleric said the United States was helping religious extremists by encouraging the Israelis to continue their onslaught. By not working harder to stop the deaths of scores of Lebanese women and children, he said, the United States is abetting the recruiting efforts of the likes of Osama bin Laden and the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

“The United States is creating more Zarqawis, more bin Ladens in the Mideast every day,” Mr. Habash said.

A senior Saudi imam asked during a sermon today "Where are those who filled the world with slogans of freedom and democracy? Don’t they fear that history will condemn them for their double standards?”

It's an excellent question.

I would bet that question never occurred to the smug dry drunk sitting in the White House running things.

All Bush knows is force. The hammer. Toughness. Grit. (At least that's how he plays it on the outside...we know he's actually a terrified little boy still scared to get a tongue-lashing from Mommy Bush, but that's a story for another post.)

I would bet it has never occurred to the preznit that, you know, there might be other ways to achieve national objectives and win a victory against Hezbollah in the war on terror than allowing Israel to level Lebanon back to 1982. At least that's what I take from this quote in the Washington Post analysis of the administration's strategy:

Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, said Bush's statements reflect an unambiguous view of the situation. "He doesn't seem to allow his vision to be clouded in any way," said Rosen, a Democrat who has come to admire Bush's Middle East policy. "It follows suit. Israel is in the right. Hezbollah is in the wrong. Terrorists have to be eliminated, and he sees Israel fighting the war he would fight against terrorism."

Except that fighting the war on terrorism this way has bogged us down in a worsening sausage factory in Iraq, created world-wide animosity against the United States, and made us less secure in this post-9/11 world, not more secure. And if you don't think that is so, then please count up the number of terrorist attacks that have taken place around the world in the last two years in which the terrorists claimed to have been radicalized by the war in Iraq and ask yourself, "What would the war on terror have been like if we had finished the mission in Afghanistan, rebuilt that nation as we had promised we were going to, and continued hunting down Bin Laden and the other Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks rather than invaded Iraq?"

It's All About The Penis

Digby explains.

My favorite part of the post - when Digby says the media agrees w/ the GOP that when things heat up, it's important the guys with the big swinging members are in charge.

I think Digby's on to something here.

I was watching Lou Dobbs discuss the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict tonight with Michael Goodwin of the NY Daily News, James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal and Hank Scheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. All four guys were trying to out-tough each other on why they thought Israel should bomb Hezbollah back to the Stone Age and you could see the guys getting turned on while they talked. There's no doubt that under that round table on the CNN set, all four of these old guys who usually have to gobble Viagra by the handful to get any wood had big, engorged purple knobs the size of Israeli artillery shells.

But you know all of these guys had the shit kicked out of them every day of their lives from the time they came out of the womb until they got out of high school. I think it would be an interesting study to see how many of the blood-thirsty neo-cons who want to take on Iran and Syria on the heels of that marvelous Iraq occupation had their heads shoved into toilet bowls for most of their young lives.

I'd bet it's quite a few.

Who Says The Mainstream Media Doesn't Report The Good News From Iraq?

From the commie pinko terrorist loving America-hating secularists at the NY Times:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 21 — In a measure of how mired in violence Iraq has become in recent months, the 28 people who were reported killed across the country today signaled a sharp, if momentary, decline in the daily death rate here, ranking the day as the most peaceful in a week in which now more than 250 people have been killed by gunfire, explosions, suicide attacks and sectarian-led executions.

Only 28 people reported killed across the country! It's a day of relative peace! See - the mainstream media does report the good news out of Iraq. Somebody alert Laura Ingraham.

Now here's the bad news. The violence was kept down today with the help of an extended ban on vehicle use. When the vehicle ban ends, the likelihood of car bomb attacks returns.

Here's some more bad news. According to the U.S. military, there were 34 major bombings and shootings for the week ending July 13 in Baghdad. That was a 40 percent increase in attacks from the previous month. The Associated Press reports that the most recent period of violence and sectarian carnage has deepened the distrust between Sunni and Shia. While violence may cool down from the terrifying numbers seen in the past week, the distrust and sectarian hatred isn't going anywhere.

When the violence ebbs, we'll hear from administration apologists how progress is being made again in Iraq. It happens every time the violence ebbs. But the reality is, the violence will come back. That has been the trend. Ebb, flow, ebb, flow, ebb, flow.

But it always returns. And it's always worse than it was before.

UPDATE: Escalating sectarian violence now worries the U.S. military more than theIraqi insurgency says the NY Times. As such, the U.S. military will be sending more troops into Baghdad, currently sectarian violence central. What will this do to General Casey's redeployment plan? Casey had planned to send two combat brigades home from Iraq in September and two more by December. Now it sounds like he needs more American forces to control the violence, not less. It will be interesting to see how the administration handles the pre-midterm election drawdown.

National Review Wonders if Rudy's Going To Play To The Vast Wingnuttia Around The Country

According to Hotline On Call, the National Review article says Rudy Giuiliani might be too liberal and too many times married to get through the GOP primary. But if I were say, Karl Rove, and I were working for, say, George Allen or Mitt Romney come 2008, I would make sure I killed Rudy's presidential dreams by reminding GOP primary voters that Rudy

a) got a special dispensation from the Vatican to marry his second cousin (his first wife)
b) cheated on that first wife with his soon-to-be second wife, Donna Hanover
c) got another special dispensation from the Vatican in order to annul the marriage to the first wife (because she was his second cousin, oh my!) in order to marry the second wife (Donna).
d) cheated on his second wife with his soon-to-be third wife, Judith Nathan (there were also rumors that he was schtupping his communication director, Christine Lategano)
e) got a court order to verify his right to bring his soon-to-be third wife, Judith Nathan, home to schtup in Gracie Mansion down the hall from his kids while he was still married to his second wife, Donna.
f) announced publicly at a press conference that he was divorcing his second wife, Donna, before he told her he was divorcing her
g) moved in with two gay men for a short time after he left Gracie Mansion to Donna and the kids

How do you think all this sexual sleaziness is going to play to the evangelical base that was so adamant Clinton needed to be impeached for the Oval office blowjob? And don't say Rudy's sexual history and legendary infidelities aren't in bounds for the election. Let's all remember that The New York Times published a front page 3,000 word story a few months back about how many nights the Clintons spend sleeping together. If Hillary's sex life is in bounds, surely Rudy's is.

Not that Rove or his minions care whether Rudy's sexual history is in bounds or not. After they destroyed John McCain in South Carolina back in 2000 with rumors he was a Manchurian candidate brainwashed by the Red Chinese during the Vietnam War, they've shown they don't have compunction about going "nukuler" against anybody in a campaign fight.

Steve Clemons Says a Bolton Stealth "Renomination" Is In The Pipeline For Next Week

George Voinovich, the Republican who threw a monkey wrench into Mr. Moustache's appointment to the United Nations last time around, is on board this time. He said so on the op-ed page of the Washington Post yesterday. Steve Clemons at Washington Note posted that "little birds" have told him that a hearing is planned for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Thursday at 9:30 AM and John Bolton will be the witness. Clemons says the renomination is not a done deal, however. While Voinovich has flipped the other way and is supporting Bolton, Lincoln Chafee's "qualified support" for Boltion last time around may have changed given the electoral pressures he is under in his upcoming re-election campaign.

Here's Chafee's contact page. Let him know how you feel about the Bolton stealth renomination. With Iraq imploding, the Mideast exploding, and Iran and North Korea saying "Fuck You!" to the world, wouldn't it be nice to have somebody in the United Nations who has a set of diplomatic tools in his toolbelt other than a hammer?

Democrats' Financial Advantage Over GOP Continues

If you think about political donations as a kind of futures market, you can see that many campaign donors have decided the era of GOP political dominance is over for at least the short term:

Senate Democrats' financial advantage over Republicans is continuing 3 1/2 months before voters determine which party will control the Senate for the rest of President Bush's term.

At the end of June, Senate Democrats had nearly twice as much cash on hand as their Republican counterparts, according to data submitted to the Federal Election Commission yesterday.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $8.8 million in June and had $38 million in the bank. The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $4.8 million and had $19.8 million in the bank.

The trend is mirrored on the House side -- though the Democratic edge is less pronounced. At the end of June, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $31.9 million, compared with the National Republican Congressional Committee's $26.5 million.

House Democrats are planning to spend their enlarged war chest on an aggressive television campaign this fall in about two dozen congressional districts, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, the Associated Press reported yesterday. They have already reserved more than $30 million worth of TV time.

Just a week ago, The Hill ran an article entitled "House GOP Senses Shift In Political Winds"in which members of the House GOP leadership claimed they had become much more optimistic about their chances in the November midterms because a) things were turning around politically for them, especially after the Zarqawi killing and the preznit's visit to Iraq and b) their proven fundraising prowess would help them bury Democrats financially.

How things do change.

Iraq is such a bloodbath that the Washington Post reported yesterday that Republicans no longer feel good about issuing positive reports about the ongoing "progress" in the country. In fact, GOP Representative Gil Gutknecht, a staunch war supporter who urged his colleagues in the House just last month during the Iraq war debate not to go "wobbly" in their support for the war, came back from a visit to Iraq convinced the war is going badly and the U.S. needs to engage in a partial withdrawl to let the Iraqis know we mean business about getting out. And now we find out that even the Grand Old Party's vaunted fundraising prowess is letting them down and they won't have the usual overwhelming money advantage over Dems in the Fall.

Gee, I'm almost tempted to say that these midterm elections might be a fair fight between the parties, but I realize that Karl Rove and Kenny Boy Mehlman still have Diebold and election irregularities to fall back on.

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