Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tim Robbins Speaks at March in Washington Against the War

TIM ROBBINS: I don’t know if you heard the most recent news, just came over the wire: Karl Rove has been subpoenaed. Some have said recently that impeachment is off the table.


TIM ROBBINS: What was that?


TIM ROBBINS: On the train coming down here today, I talked to a young woman whose brother has just been deployed. Due to the recent Bush escalation, her brother is being rushed into action. Instead of the proper twelve-week training period, this young 20-year-old serviceman will hit the ground in a hostile land with two weeks’ training. Is impeachment still off the table?


TIM ROBBINS: This past November, the American people sent a resounding message to Washington, D.C. and the world: we want change. We want this war to end. And how did Bush respond? 21,500 more will risk their lives for his misguided war. Is impeachment still off the table?


TIM ROBBINS: Let's get him out of office! Let's get him out of office before --

AUDIENCE: Impeach Bush! Impeach Bush! Impeach Bush! Impeach Bush! Impeach Bush! Impeach Bush!

TIM ROBBINS: Let's get hem out of office before he starts ruling from a bunker. Let's get him out of office before the only one on his side is his dog Barney. Nixon, Richard Nixon, talked to the walls. Bush is talking to God. But it's not a god I recognize. This god seems to be giving George a pass on some of his major commandments. This god seems to be OK with lying or bearing witness, as he puts it, against the US Congress, against the United States people, against the world, bearing false witness on weapons of mass destruction, bearing false witness on nuclear capability, bearing false witness on the imminent threat of Saddam, bearing false witness on the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

This god seems to be giving George a pass on stealing, stealing the resources of the Iraqi people, on squandering the hard-earned tax dollars of United States citizens for an unnecessary war! Money that could be used to intelligently fight against terrorism is squandered in a way and in a war that creates more terrorists. Money that could be helping the elderly, the poor, the infirm here at home is instead lining the pockets of war profiteers from Halliburton and private mercenary militias like Blackwater. But George's god says, "That's cool, George." His god tells him to honor his father and mother, but when his father tells him not to occupy Iraq, George's god counsels him to ignore his father.

Well, I think we have a different understanding of those commandments here. And let's not forget that most important one: thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not kill or recklessly risk the lives of our brave men and women overseas. Over 3,000 dead. Over 50,000 wounded. Thou shalt not kill or needlessly risk the lives of Iraqi civilians. How many? 50,000? 200,000? 400,000? 650,000? Only God knows, George. Only God knows.

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Susan Sarandon Speaks at March in Washington Against the War

SUSAN SARANDON: ”Imagine you are in constant danger from hidden roadside bombs and exposed to ambushes and sniper fire. Imagine that your home is constantly harassed with mortar explosions and rocket attacks while you try to sleep. Imagine you witness your closest friend being torn apart by enemy fire. Imagine you discover that the person you thought was an insurgent that you killed turns out to be an innocent child or someone who looks similar to your mother. Now imagine you lost a limb, you lost your eyesight, you lost a friend, you lost your sanity and you lost your innocence for an unappreciative society and an unconcerned elected government.” This is the testimony of Garrett Reppenhagen, who spoke earlier, cavalry scout and sniper in the US Army First Division from 2004 to 2005.

He continues. “I didn't expect to come home to find there's no plan for addressing the needs of veterans like myself. I don't understand how, despite being in the middle of not one but two wars, our government is actually scaling back on services that are critical for men and women trying to re-enter civilian society.”

Here are some staggering facts. One in three homeless Americans are military vets, and that is rising. One in four vets with PTSD sought medical care from the VA, where they experienced a two to three month wait to see a doctor. Over 53,000 are wounded. The ratio of doctors to patients is one doctor for every 500 patients. Veteran males aged 20 to 24 have twice the unemployment rate. 40% of troops currently being rotated are National Guard or reservists. 95% of them are experiencing problems getting their pay. Many are being sent back are on potent anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs with little or no counseling or supervision or screening. Over 200 have committed suicide. There's a 70% divorce rate for returning soldiers. The GOP plan for 2007 drops $65 billion in benefits over the next five years.

There was not a mention of this crisis in the State of the Union address, as if the war only exists over there and not here. And there was not an ounce of criticism from any of our presidential hopefuls. I say to those who tell me that we are fighting this war over there so that it doesn't come here: listen to the sons and daughters who are returning and their families, and you will know that the war is being fought here in the hearts and minds and bodies of those that are returning and have already sacrificed so much. Shame on you! We are here today to say it is time to remove the burden of the political crisis of the Iraq war from our soldiers and commit to caring for a new generation of Americans who are grieving, severely wounded and mentally troubled. Thank you.

Jane Fonda Speaks at March in Washington Against the War

JANE FONDA: I’m really here because I want to thank you all. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here today. So many of you, so many of today's speakers, including my fellow actors up here, were here at the beginning, before we went into Iraq, because you knew and they knew what was in store. Thank you so much for the courage to stand up against this mean-spirited, vengeful administration. Your actions are proof that the most precious part of this country, its soul, is alive and well. So thank you. Your ongoing commitment to ending this war allows people in other parts of the world to remain hopeful that America has the stuff to become again a country that they can love and respect. Thank you. I especially want to thank and acknowledge the servicemen and women and the military families and Gold Star mothers that are here.

A lot of press people have been asking me today, “What's the difference between now and during the Vietnam war?” And I’ll tell you one huge crucial difference: it took six years for Vietnam veterans, active-duty servicemen, Gold Star mothers and military families to come out against the war. It has happened now within three years of the war. Their presence here is critical, and we should acknowledge their courage.

I haven't spoken at an antiwar rally in 34 years, because I’ve been afraid that because of the lies that have been and continue to be spread about me and that war, that they would be used to hurt this new antiwar movement, but silence is no longer an option. My daughter, who is here with me today -- come here -- she was a little girl when she would come with me to the anti-Vietnam War protests. She's here today with her two little children, my grandchildren. I’m very proud that they're here, but I’m so sad that we still have to do this; that we did not learn the lessons from the Vietnam War; that we've made the same mistakes, blindness to the realities on the ground, hubris and arrogance in dealing with a people and culture far older than we are; and that we understand so little, carelessness and thoughtlessness in our approach to rebuilding a country we've destroyed, allowing billions of dollars to be stolen, squandered at the hands of private contractors, just as this administration has done in our own gulf in the post-Katrina era.

So, thank you. Thank you for being here, and we'll continue to be here for as long as necessary. God bless.

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Sean Penn Speaks at March in Washington Against the War

SEAN PENN: What’s Hollywood doing here today? We're here, because it’s our job, just like it’s yours. We’re Americans, and our fellow Americans are dying as we're standing here today. We are dependent on our congress, but our congress is dependent on us, and we're going to come out here in these numbers and in doubled numbers, and we're going to send our congress this message. We've heard the excuse, “if I had known then what I know now.” Well, we're here to tell them now what they have to know in 2008. And if they don't stand up and make a resolution as binding as the death toll, we're not going to be behind those politicians. We're here, and we’re going to be in local districts, and we’re going to push this until this resolution is binding, the money stops and the troops come home.

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It's the End of The World - Episode 4

It's television as it should be:

If television was like this, I'd probably have longer legs.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Joe Lieberman Continues Down Path to Breaking With The Democratic Caucus

Transcript of Chris Wallace' complete interview with Joe Lieberman on Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".

LIEBERMAN: Good to be with you, Chris. Thank you.

WALLACE: Let's start with the State of the Union. During the speech, I couldn't help but notice that there were a number of times when you were the only one on the Democratic side of the aisle - and here's one example of that - to applaud the president's ideas while the rest of them sat on their hands.

Your hometown newspaper, the Hartford Courant, actually counted and saw that there were 13 separate occasions when you applauded the president's ideas and your fellow Connecticut senator, Chris Dodd, did not.

Question, do you ever question whether you should continue to maintain your support for the Democratic majority in the Senate?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I made a decision last year after the Democratic primary that I wasn't going to let it end there, and I went on to run as an Independent, and thanks to the people of Connecticut of all parties, I was elected.

So I consider myself today an Independent-Democrat, and I'm staying in the Democratic Party because I believe in the historic principles and commitments of the party to be both progressive here at home and muscular, strong and principled in the world.

I'm a Harry Truman, JFK, Scoop Jackson and Bill Clinton Democrat.

WALLACE: But as you saw, what a lonely figure you were, does that shake your feelings about that?

LIEBERMAN: Here's what it says to me. First off, I think that standing and sitting stuff at the State of the Union speech is a silliness and it demeans the process.

But the second point is this. There was a large message from the election last year, and it wasn't just about Iraq. It was about too much partisanship in Washington. The president said afterward he got it. Leaders of both parties said afterward they got it.

And yet we seem to be sliding back into the partisanship. The people understandably want us to work together to get something done for them. And you know, I stood a few times when very few or no one else on my side did because I happened to agree with what the president was saying. Why shouldn't I do that? That's my responsibility.

WALLACE: But let me give you an example of that. The president endorsed your idea, speaking of bipartisanship, for a bipartisan panel that would advise the president on the war on terror. He raised that in the state of the union.


WALLACE: As soon as he did, Senate Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi said nope, there's a bipartisan structure, it's called the committee system.

LIEBERMAN: Yes. Well, I was really disappointed with the reaction of Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to the president's offer or invitation to have essentially a bipartisan war council, and it's a war on terror council.

You know, I talked with the president about this, and he said to me at one point in December when I met with him before - John McCain and I were going over to Iraq. He said to me you know, it's obvious that we're not going to be able to have the broad bipartisan consensus I hoped we would have on Iraq, but we need to build that consensus on the larger war against the Islamist terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, because this is going to go on for a generation.

The president said do you have any ideas how to do it, and I said why don't we convene a group of senators and congressmen, chairmen and ranking members, with the administration regularly to talk about the war on terrorism.

The president said he wants to get this group together first to talk about an increase in the size of the Army and the Marines. So I hope he does it. I believe if he does, Democrats will come.

Here's the problem, Chris. When the president makes an offer like this, Democrats think back to what they believe, and with some justification, are the times when the White House has been partisan with Democrats. We've got to start thinking less about yesterday, more about today and tomorrow.

And again, remember two things. The public told us last year they want results here, not partisanship. Second, the Islamist terrorists who we are fighting don't distinguish between Americans based on party affiliation. They hate us all. They want to kill us all. And therefore we ought to pull together to defeat them.

WALLACE: Well, you say pull together. In the State of the Union, the president said - in effect, pleaded with Congress - give my plan, the new troop surge, a chance to work, as he put it.

The next day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted a resolution of disapproval. If that passes, and it seems almost certain that either this week or next week it will pass, do you think it will have any practical effect on the war effort?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it certainly - and here's my gripe with that resolution. I mean, obviously, I disagree with it. First off, I think the plan that the president has offered with the advice of a lot of people is the best hope we have of stabilizing the situation in Iraq and succeeding so the Iraqis can take over their own country.

And we've got a new commander, General David Petraeus, confirmed unanimously on Friday by the U.S. Senate, which is about to now go ahead, it appears, and adopt a resolution that will condemn the mission that we have just confirmed General Petraeus unanimously to carry out which he said he needs in order to succeed in Iraq.

WALLACE: But my question - do you think passing this resolution will have a practical effect on the war effort?

LIEBERMAN: In the most literal sense, this resolution will not have a practical effect because it's non-binding, and the president has said he will go forward with what he believes as commander in chief will help us succeed in Iraq.

But I fear, as was discussed by General Petraeus this week, by Senator Lugar, by the retired chief of the Army, General Jack Keane in testimony before the Armed Services Committee - I fear that while this resolution is nonbinding and, therefore, will not affect the implementation of the plan, it will do two things that can be harmful, which is that it will discourage our troops, who we're asking to carry out this new plan, and it will encourage the enemy, because as General Petraeus said to our committee, war is a test of wills, and you don't want your enemy to be given any hope.

WALLACE: You have signed on to a resolution being written by Senator McCain which would set benchmarks for the Iraqis to keep their promises on both the political and military front. If they fail, if you pass this resolution and if the Iraqis fail to meet their targets, what would you do about it?

LIEBERMAN: Well, we'll face that reality when it comes. I mean, this is why I've said, and I believe the president is right to have said to our colleagues, the legislative trains seem to be heading down the track on these resolutions, and I believe they're going to have a collision that's going to hurt our country.

Why don't we step back? The resolution doesn't do anything but express an opinion. Let's give this plan a chance. Let's give it a chance to work. And if, God forbid, it doesn't work to succeed in Iraq, then there will be plenty of time for the resolutions, for the troop caps, for the cuts in funding for support of our troops.

I want to say a word about what John McCain and I and others are doing. We're saying the Biden resolution, the Biden-Hagel, the Warner-Nelson resolution - these are resolutions that don't have any effect, but we worry that there's a risk that they will encourage the enemy and discourage our troops.

John McCain and I are trying to put together a common ground resolution that can bring people in both parties together to say what we all apparently believe - maximizing the chances of success in Iraq are critical to everybody, because America has a lot on the line there. All my colleagues agree with that.

Secondly, we need to give General Petraeus and our troops everything they need to succeed. And third, the Iraqis have to step up. And we're going to list in this resolution what we expect them to do. And you know, if it doesn't happen, we'll face that reality then. But it's going to be an awful one.

WALLACE: Let's look ahead to 2008. Are there any Democrats who appear to be running at this point that you could support for president?

LIEBERMAN: Are there any Democrats who don't appear to be running at this point? Look, I've had a very political couple of years in Connecticut, and I'm stepping back for a while to concentrate on being the best senator I can be for my state and my country.

I'm also an Independent-Democrat now, and I'm going to do what most Independents and a lot of Democrats and Republicans in America do, which is to take a look at all the candidates and then in the end, regardless of party, decide who I think will be best for the future of our country.

So I'm open to supporting a Democrat, Republican or even an Independent, if there's a strong one. Stay tuned.

WALLACE: But looking at the three frontrunners - Clinton, Obama, Edwards - all of them in varying degrees expressing their opposition to the war and wanting to end our involvement there - could you support any presidential candidate who you didn't feel was committed to victory in Iraq?

LIEBERMAN: Well, you make a decision based on a whole range of issues. But obviously, the positions that some candidates have taken in Iraq troubles me. Obviously, I will be looking at what positions they take in the larger war against Islamist terrorism.

Here's where I am and maybe why it's - I am genuinely an Independent. I agree more often than not with Democrats on domestic policy. I agree more often than not with Republicans on foreign and defense policy. I'm an Independent.

WALLACE: And we've got less than a minute left.


WALLACE: Joe Lieberman grew up in John Bailey's Connecticut, Democratic vice presidential nominee. You're saying you might vote Republican in 2008.

LIEBERMAN: I am, because we have so much on the line both in terms of the Islamist terrorists, who are an enemy as brutal as the fascists and communists we faced in the last century, and we have great challenges here at home to make our economy continue to produce good jobs, to deal with our crises in health care, education, immigration, energy.

I want to choose the person that I believe is best for the future of our country. What I'm saying is what I said last year and what I think the voters said in November. Party is important, but more important is the national interest. And that's the basis that I will decide who to support for president.

WALLACE: Senator Lieberman, thank you. Thanks for coming in.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Chris.

WALLACE: Please come back. Always a pleasure.


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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Molly Ivins, Hospitalized

Molly Ivins' cancer 'back with a vengeance':
Nationally syndicated columnist Molly Ivins has been hospitalized in her recurring battle with breast cancer.

"I think she's tough as a metal boot," her brother, Andy Ivins, said Friday after a visit with her at Seton Medical Center in Austin.

Andy Ivins said his sister was admitted to Seton on Thursday. She spent Friday morning with longtime colleagues and friends, and was "sleeping peacefully" when he arrived later in the day.

A self-described leftist agitator, Ivins, 62, completed a round of radiation treatment in August, but the cancer "came back with a vengeance," and has spread through her body, Andy Ivins said.

Ivins' columns, which she infuses with passion and wit, appear in more than 300 newspapers around the country. She's written six books, four of which were best sellers.

They included Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America, which she wrote with longtime friend Lou Dubose; and Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible Political Animals I Have Known.

Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower
Ivins was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. A year later, she described her treatment with characteristic wit: "First they poison you; then they mutilate you; then they burn you. I've had more fun."

She received her third diagnosis a year ago; despite her illness, she's managed to crank out her columns.

In a piece earlier this month, she wrote that she was starting a newspaper crusade to end the war in Iraq.

"Raise hell," she urged readers. "Think of something ridiculous to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. ... We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!'"

Links to Molly Ivins' most recent columns:
January 11, 2007 - "Stand Up Against the Surge"

January 8, 2007 - "Iraq Exit is Up to Us"

November 23, 2006 - "Thanks - No, Seriously"

November 16, 2006 - "Farewell, Rummy"

November 14, 2006 - "Now They're All for Bipartisanship"

Mystery of 11 Missing Dogs Solved!

A snake ate 'em:
Ali Yusof, 35, who had lost 11 dogs in the past three months, found the python coiled at the edge of a swampy area near his orchard at Kampung Pogoh here.

He ran to inform other villagers. "I was shocked to see such a huge python," he said.

It took six men and three hours to capture the 70kg snake (154 lbs.) which measured 7.1 metres in length (about 22 feet) and 60cm in diameter (about 24 inches). They tied it to a tree.

Ali said he had four dogs to guard his orchard, but for the past three months the canines had disappeared one after another, and he had to replace them. He suspected his guard dogs were being eaten by a beast after he found footprints of the dogs disappearing into a swampy area.

"But I did not expect it to be a python," he said.

Ali and the villagers contacted the Wildlife and National Parks Department in Segamat and the officers collected the python yesterday.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Our Mercenaries in Iraq: Blackwater Inc and Bush's Undeclared Surge

Is Bush out to further outsource war?

The private security firm Blackwater USA is back in the news again. On Tuesday, hours before President Bush’s State of the Union address, one of the Blackwater’s helicopters was brought down in a violent Baghdad neighborhood. Five Blackwater troops - all Americans - were killed. Reports say the men’s bodies show signs of execution-style deaths with bullet wounds to the back off the head.

Blackwater provided no identities or details of those killed. They did release a statement saying the deaths “are a reminder of the extraordinary circumstances under which our professionals voluntarily serve to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people.”

President Bush made no mention of the incident during his State of the Union. But he did address the very issue that has brought dozens of private security companies like Blackwater to Iraq in the first place: the need for more troops.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! talks with Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and author of, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”:
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush made no mention of the incident during his State of the Union, but he did address the very issue that’s brought dozens of private security companies like Blackwater to Iraq in the first place: the need for more troops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Tonight, I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer civilian reserve corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the President looking to further outsource war? My next guest writes, “Blackwater is a reminder of just how privatized the Iraq war has become.” Jeremy Scahill is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s author of the forthcoming book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He has an op-ed piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, entitled "Are Mercenaries in Iraq?" Joining us now in the firehouse studio, welcome to Democracy Now!, Jeremy.

JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s good to be home.

AMY GOODMAN: We invited Blackwater on; they refused. But, Jeremy, let's talk fist about Blackwater. What is it?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Blackwater is a company that began in 1996 as a private military training facility in -- it was built near the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. And visionary executives, all of them former Navy Seals or other Elite Special Forces people, envisioned it as a project that would take advantage of the anticipated government outsourcing.

Well, here we are a decade later, and it’s the most powerful mercenary firm in the world. It has 20,000 soldiers on the ready, the world’s largest private military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships. It’s become nothing short of the Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration's so-called global war on terror. And it’s headed by a very rightwing Christian activist, ex-Navy Seal named Erik Prince, whose family was one of the major bankrollers of the Republican Revolution of the 1990s. He, himself, is a significant funder of President Bush and his allies.

And what they’ve done is they have built a very frightening empire near the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina. They’ve got about 2,300 men actively deployed around the world. They provide the security for the US diplomats in Iraq. They’ve guarded everyone, from Paul Bremer and John Negroponte to the current US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. They’re training troops in Afghanistan. They have been active in the Caspian Sea, where they set up a Special Forces base miles from the Iranian border. They really are the frontline in what the Bush administration viewed as a necessary revolution in military affairs. In fact, they represent the life's work of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, the “life's work”?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, Dick Cheney, when he was Defense Secretary under George H.W. Bush during the Gulf War, one of the last things he did before leaving office was to create an unprecedented lucrative market for the firm that he would go on to head, Halliburton. He commissioned [a] Halliburton [division] to do a study on how to privatize the military bureaucracy. That effectively created the groundwork for the absolute war profiteer bonanza that we’ve seen unfold in the aftermath of 9/11. I mean, Clinton was totally on board with all of this, but it has exploded since 9/11. And so, Cheney, after he left office, when the first Bush was the president, went on to work at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, which really led the push for privatization of the government, not just the military.

And then, when these guys took office, Rumsfeld's first real major address, delivered on September 10, 2001, he literally declared war on the Pentagon bureaucracy and said he had come to liberate the Pentagon. And what he meant by that -- and he wrote this in an article in Foreign Affairs -- was that governments, unlike companies, can't die. He literally said that. So you have to figure out new incentives for competition, and Rumsfeld said that it should be run more like a corporation than a bureaucracy. And so, the company that most embodies that vision -- and they call it a revolutionary in military affairs. It’s a total part of the Project for a New American Century and the neoconservative movement. The company that most embodies that is not Halliburton; it’s Blackwater.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you understand happened on Tuesday: President Bush giving his address, the Blackwater helicopter crashing.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I think a lot of people -- even though I think there’s been a lot of reporting on it and it’s been out in the public sphere, I think a lot of people still would be surprised to know that the US ambassador in Iraq and US diplomats throughout Iraq and US diplomatic facilities and regional occupational offices are actually guarded by mercenaries. And Blackwater has a $300 million contract to provide diplomatic security. And so, they guard Zalmay Khalilzad and other US diplomats in Iraq.

While what we understand -- and, of course, as you know, reports are always very shaky in the early stages -- is that a US diplomatic convoy came under fire in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad, and a Blackwater helicopter apparently landed to try to respond to that attack, because Blackwater and its “Little Bird” helicopters provide the security for diplomatic convoys, and they got engaged in some kind of a firefight on the ground, and four men from one helicopter were killed. Then another helicopter responded and was brought down, either by fire or it got tangled in some wires.

Four of the five men who worked for Blackwater that were killed were shot in the back of the head, according to reports. And what’s interesting about this is that Zalmay Khalilzad said that he had traveled with the men and then said that he had gone to the morgue to view their bodies. And he said that the circumstances of their death were unclear, because of what he called the “fog of war.” But I think it’s very possible that they were guarding a very senior diplomat, if not Zalmay Khalilzad himself. I mean, we don't have evidence to suggest that, but the fact that Khalilzad really came out forward and said, These were fine men. I was with them and visited them in the morgue, indicates that it could have been a very serious attack on a senior official.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the actual body count in Iraq of US soldiers? I mean, we count them very carefully, you know, when it surpassed 3,000. This was extremely significant. What really is the number of US military dead?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Military dead is -- I mean, I think it’s interesting, because the lines have totally been erased. I would say that we should be counting the deaths of Blackwater soldiers in the total troop count. I mean, I filed over the last year a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests, and one of the ways that we have found to discover the deaths of the number of contractors that have been killed is actually through the Department of Labor, because the government has a federal insurance scheme that’s been set up, which is actually very controversial -- grew out of something called the Defense Base Act -- and it’s insurance provided to contractors who service the US military abroad. And so, as of late last year, more than 600 families of contractors in Iraq had filed for those benefits.

So I think we’re talking somewhere in the realm of -- and these are just US contractors that have rights to federal benefits inside of the United States. Remember, it’s not necessarily Americans that make up the majority of these 100,000 -- 100,000 -- contractors that are operating in Iraq right now, 48,000 of whom are mercenaries, according to the GAO. So I don't think it’s possible to put a fine point on the number of troops killed, because the Bush administration has found a backdoor way to engage in an undeclared expansion of the occupation by deploying these private armies.

And at the State of the Union address the other night, Bush announces this civilian reserve corps, which is gaining momentum among Democrats and others. Wesley Clark has talked about it, the former presidential candidate and Supreme Allied NATO Commander. But what that is is another Frankenstein scheme that Cheney and these guys cooked up in their outsourcing laboratory to engage in an undeclared expansion. I mean, on the one hand, we have Bush talking about an official US troop surge. The Army said -- a few months ago, when Colin Powell said that the active-duty Army is basically broken, the Army was calling for 30,000 troops over ten years. Bush then announces in his State of the Union 92,000 active-duty troops over five years, and at the same time, they're increasing the presence of the mercenaries, increasing the presence of the other contractors, talking about some privatized or civilian reserve corps. This is all an undeclared expansion of the US occupation, totally against the will of the American people and the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Civilian reserve corps?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. That's what they're calling it. And, you know, I mean, a lot of what has been tossed around about this since 2002 has been envisioning a sort of disaster response, international aid. You know, it’s all very benign-sounding, but the context of it, when Bush announced it the other night, he said we need 92,000 troops and we should develop a civilian reserve corps to supplement the work of the military.

Now, what’s interesting, Amy, is that two years ago Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater USA, was speaking at a military conference. He only comes out of his headquarters to speak in front of military audiences. He does not speak in front of civilians. He's on panels with top brass and others. He’s very secretive. He gave a major address in which he called for the creation of what he called a “contractor brigade.” And I actually -- I can read you what he said. He said -- this is two years ago, before Bush called for his civilian reserve corps. Erik Prince, head of Blackwater USA: “There’s consternation in the [Pentagon] about increasing the permanent size of the Army. We want to add 30,000 people.” And they talked about costs of anywhere from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to do that. Well, by my math, that comes out to about $135,000 per soldier. And then, Prince added, “We could do it certainly cheaper.”

And so, now you have Blackwater, the Praetorian Guard for the war on terror, itching to get into Sudan. You know, something happened last year that got no attention whatsoever. In October, President Bush lifted sanctions on Christian Southern Sudan, and there have been reports now that Blackwater has been negotiating directly with the Southern Sudanese regional government to come in and start training the Christian forces of the south of Sudan. Blackwater has been itching to get into Sudan, and Erik Prince is on the board of Christian Freedom International, which is an evangelical missionary organization that has been targeting Sudan for many years. And there is a political agenda that Blackwater fits perfectly into, whether it’s Iraq and Afghanistan or Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: And the other connections, Jeremy Scahill, between Blackwater and the Bush administration and the Republican Party?

JEREMY SCAHILL: The most recent one is that President Bush hired Blackwater's lawyer -- Blackwater’s former lawyer to be his lawyer. He replaced Harriet Miers. His name is Fred Fielding, of course, a man who goes back many decades to the Reagan administration, the Nixon administration. He is now going to be Bush's top lawyer, and he was Blackwater's lawyer.

Joseph Schmitz, who was the former Pentagon Inspector General, whose job it was to police the war contractor bonanza, then goes on to work for one of the most profitable of them, is the vice chairman of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company, and the general counsel for Blackwater.

Ken Starr, who’s the former Whitewater prosecutor, the man who led the impeachment charge against President Clinton, Kenneth Starr is now Blackwater's counsel of record and has filed briefs for them at the Supreme Court, in fighting against wrongful death lawsuits filed against Blackwater for the deaths of its people and US soldiers in the war zones.

And then, perhaps the most frightening employee of Blackwater is Cofer Black. This is the man who was head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center at the time of 9/11, the man who promised President Bush that he was going to bring bin Laden's head back in a box on dry ice and talked about having his men chop bin Laden’s head off with a machete, told the Russians that he was going to bring the heads of the Mujahideen back on sticks, said there were going to be flies crawling across their eyeballs. Cofer Black is a 30-year veteran of the CIA, the man who many credit with really spearheading the extraordinary rendition program after 9/11, the man who told Congress that there was a “before 9/11” and an “after 9/11,” and that after 9/11, the gloves come off. He is now a senior executive at Blackwater and perhaps their most powerful behind-the-scenes operative.

AMY GOODMAN: And electoral politics?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater, and other Blackwater executives are major bankrollers of the President, of Tom DeLay, of Santorum. They really were -- when those guys were running Congress, Amy, Blackwater had just a revolving door there. They were really welcomed in as heroes. Senator John Warner, the former head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called them “our silent partner in the global war on terror.” Erik Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is married to Dick Devos, who recently lost the gubernatorial race in Michigan.

But also, Amy, this is a family, the Prince family, that really was one of the primary funders. It was Amway and Dick DeVos in the 1990s, and it was Edgar Prince and his network -- Erik Prince's father -- that really created James Dobson, Focus on the Family -- they gave them the seed money to start it -- Gary Bauer, who was one of the original signers to the Project for a New American Century, a major anti-choice leader in this country, former presidential candidate, founder of the Family Research Council. He credits Edgar Prince, Erik’s father, with giving him the money to start the Family Research Council. We’re talking about people who were at the forefront of the rightwing Christian revolution in this country that really is gaining steam, despite recent electoral defeats.

And what’s really frightening is that you have a man in Erik Prince, who is a neo-crusader, a Christian supremacist, who has been given over a half a billion dollars in federal contracts, and that's not to mention his black contracts, his secret contracts, his contracts with foreign friendly governments like Jordan. This is a man who espouses Christian supremacy, and he has been given, essentially, allowed to create a private army to defend Christendom around the world against secularists and Muslims and others, and has really been brought into the fold. He refers to Blackwater as the sort of FedEx of the Pentagon. He says if you really want a package to get somewhere, do you go with the postal service or do you go with FedEx? This is how these people view themselves. And it embodies everything that President Eisenhower prophesied would happen with the rise of an unchecked military-industrial complex. You have it all in Blackwater.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, thanks very much for joining us, and I look forward to seeing your book when it comes out. Jeremy Scahill's forthcoming book is Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Thanks for joining us.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cheney, Out to Lunch, On More Than Iraq

Wolf Blitzer interviews Dick Cheney

McClatchy reports:

Vice President Dick Cheney is "delusional" about what's happening in Iraq, the Democrats' top Senate vote-counter said Thursday.
That harsh assessment by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., two days after President Bush sought bipartisan comity in his State of the Union address, underscores how difficult achieving that may be.

Moreover, it illuminates how many in Congress especially blame Cheney for the president's insistence on building up troop levels in Iraq rather than pulling out of the sectarian violence there after nearly four years and redeploying troops to Afghanistan and other terrorist trouble spots.

During the Senate Democratic leadership team's weekly briefing with reporters, Durbin cited a television interview from a day earlier in which Cheney told CNN "there's been a lot of success" in Iraq and rejected the idea that the situation was beyond control.

"To have Vice President Cheney suggest that we have had a series of enormous successes in Iraq is delusional," Durbin said. "I don't understand how he can continue to say those things while the president calls them 'slow failure'."

That's the term President Bush used in a separate television interview earlier this month, saying that's where the situation would be headed unless another 21,500 troops were injected.

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"Cheney Applied 'Constant' Pressure to Stall Investigation on Flawed Iraq Intelligence"

Senator Jay Rockefeller confirmed what we all thought was going on these last five years behind the scenes.

Vice President Dick Cheney exerted "constant" pressure on the Republican former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to stall an investigation into the Bush administration's use of flawed intelligence on Iraq, the panel's Democratic chairman charged Thursday.

In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia also accused President Bush of running an illegal program by ordering eavesdropping on Americans' international e-mails and telephone communications without court-issued warrants.

In the 45-minute interview, Rockefeller said that it was "not hearsay" that Cheney, a leading proponent of invading Iraq, pushed Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to drag out the probe of the administration's use of prewar intelligence.

"It was just constant," Rockefeller said of Cheney's alleged interference. He added that he knew that the vice president attended regular policy meetings in which he conveyed White House directions to Republican staffers.

Republicans "just had to go along with the administration," he said.

In an e-mail response to Rockefeller's comments, Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea McBride, said: "The vice president believes Senator Roberts was a good chairman of the Intelligence Committee."

Roberts' chief of staff, Jackie Cottrell, blamed the Democrats for the investigation remaining incomplete more than two years after it began.

"Senator Rockefeller's allegations are patently untrue," she said in an e-mail statement. "The delays came from the Democrats' insistence that they expand the scope of the inquiry to make it a more political document going into the 2006 elections. Chairman Roberts did everything he could to accommodate their requests for further information without allowing them to distort the facts."

"I'm not aware of any effort by the vice president, his staff or anyone in the administration to influence the speed at which the committee did its work," said Bill Duhnke, who was Roberts' staff director.

Rockefeller's comments were among the most forceful he's made about why the committee failed to complete the inquiry under Roberts. Roberts chaired the intelligence committee from January 2003 until the Democrats took over Congress this month.

The panel released a report in July 2004 that lambasted the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies for erroneously concluding that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was concealing biological, chemical and nuclear warfare programs. It then began examining how senior Bush administration officials used faulty intelligence to justify the March 2003 invasion.

Robert promised to quickly complete what became known as the Phase II investigation. After more than two years, however, the panel published only two of five Phase II reports amid serious rifts between Republican and Democratic members and their staffs.

Rockefeller recalled that in November 2005, the then-minority Democrats employed a rarely used parliamentary procedure to force the Senate into a closed session to pressure Roberts to complete Phase II.

"That was the reason we closed the session. To force him" to complete the investigation, he said.

The most potentially controversial of the three Phase II reports being worked on will compare what Bush and his top lieutenants said publicly about Iraq's weapons programs and ties to terrorists with what was contained in top-secret intelligence reports.

In the two reports released in September, the panel said that the administration's claims of ties between Saddam and al-Qaida were false and found that administration officials distributed exaggerated and bogus claims provided by an Iraqi exile group with close ties to some senior administration officials.

Rockefeller said it was important to complete the Phase II inquiry.

"The looking backward creates tension, but it's necessary tension because the administration needs to be held accountable and the country . . . needs to know," he said.

Rockefeller said that he and the senior Republican member of the committee, Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., have put the frictions behind them and agree that the committee should press the administration for documents it's withholding on its domestic eavesdropping program and detainee programs.

Under the eavesdropping program, the National Security Agency monitored Americans' international telephone calls and e-mails without court warrants if one party was a suspected member or supporter of al-Qaida or another terrorist group.

Rockefeller charged that Bush had violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to obtain permission to eavesdrop on Americans from a secret national security court.

"For five years he's (Bush) has been operating an illegal program," he said, adding that the committee wants the administration to provide the classified documents that set out its legal argument that Bush has the power to wiretap Americans without warrants.

Rockefeller is among a handful of lawmakers who were kept briefed on the program after it started following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But he told Cheney in a handwritten note in July 2003 that he was deeply concerned about its legality.

In the interview, Rockefeller said the committee needs more details about how the program worked before it considers amending the eavesdropping act to give the administration the flexibility it says it requires to be able to track terrorists.

"How do we draw something up if we have no idea about what the president sent out in the way of orders to the NSA? What about the interpretation of the Department of Justice?" he asked. "Americans . . . should want us to discern what the facts are, what the truth is."

In related stories, Senator Dick Durbin calls Cheney, "Delusional," and

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Cheney Increasingly on the Defensive

McClatchy reports:
Vice President Dick Cheney, often considered the hidden power behind the White House throne, is increasingly out in the open and on the defensive.

He's scheduled to testify at the perjury trial of his former top aide; congressional Democrats want to probe his role in the White House; and his unprecedented clout may be waning. Once widely considered a source of wisdom and experience in the White House, the vice president has become a frequent target of criticism.

On Wednesday, a testy Cheney sparred with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer over Iraq and al-Qaida and insisted that Bush administration policies have succeeded in both cases. While he's acknowledged mistakes in Iraq, he bristled when Blitzer suggested that Cheney had lost credibility because of blunders there.

"I just simply don't accept the premise of your question," he said, cutting the interviewer off in mid-sentence. "I just think it's hogwash."

Even some Republican lawmakers have become increasingly vocal about their concerns over Cheney's role in the administration, especially as an aggressive and influential advocate for invading Iraq. He's also been instrumental in White House efforts to expand presidential power and restrict civil liberties in the pursuit of suspected terrorists.

"The president listened too much to the vice president," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told The Politico, a new Capitol Hill publication. McCain, a leading GOP presidential hopeful for 2008, said Bush was "very badly served" by Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was one of Cheney's closest allies.

Cheney told CNN that McCain is "a good man" with whom he sometimes disagrees.

Democrats have been more scathing.

"The vice president doesn't know what he's talking about," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News last Sunday. "He has yet to be right one single time on Iraq. Name me one single time he's been right. It's about time we stop listening to that ideological rhetoric."
Cheney insisted on CNN Wednesday that "there's been a lot of success" in Iraq, and said that if the Senate passes a non-binding resolution opposing the administration's troop buildup there, "it won't stop us." The biggest threat to victory, he said, is if "we don't have the stomach for the fight."

The vice president also claimed success in weakening al-Qaida, removing the terrorist group's leadership below Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, "several times". "We've had great success against al-Qaida," Cheney said.

Democrats, emboldened by their recent takeover of Congress, say they may hold hearings to probe Cheney's roles in the Iraq war, Bush's expansion of presidential power and the administration's energy policies. Critics, including some former administration officials, have accused Cheney of pressuring intelligence analysts to support the case for war and promoting intelligence from Iraqi exile groups that proved to be bogus.

White House officials say Bush values Cheney's advice as much as ever, but there's little doubt that the vice president has lost some clout. His ally Rumsfeld was recently replaced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose views aren't always in sync with the vice president's.

In another step back from Cheney's hard-line approach, the administration announced last week that it had agreed to stop warrantless wiretapping and instead seek court approval for any surveillance. Cheney had insisted that court oversight wasn't necessary.

The vice president could face more difficulty when he's called to testify at the perjury trial of his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Cheney told CNN that he'd testify "within a matter of weeks."

The case stems from allegations that White House officials disclosed the identity of former CIA spy Valerie Plame because her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had challenged the administration's claim that Saddam Hussein had shopped for uranium in the African country of Niger. That claim also proved to be false.

Prosecutors say that Cheney was determined to counter Wilson's criticism and directed Libby to undermine Wilson's credibility with reporters. Libby is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury investigating the Plame affair.

Libby's lawyers say that Cheney felt that his aide was made a White House scapegoat to protect presidential adviser Karl Rove, whom Bush was counting on to direct Republican election strategy. Rove has since acknowledged that he tipped off at least one reporter to Plame's identity.

The vice president told CNN he remains "a strong friend and supporter" of Libby's, but he declined to discuss the case.

"This'll all unfold here in the very near future," he told Fox News recently. "I have strong views on this subject, but I'm not going to talk about it."

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"...Where Everybody Knows Your Name"

An era is coming to an end in June. Unless....
The John Barleycorn, one of San Francisco's hidden gems for nearly 40 years, is being forced to leave. Luisa Hanson, the new owner of the property at 1500 California Street, the building which houses the Barleycorn, refuses to discuss any renewal of the lease, which expires in June.

At issue is not only the continuance of the Barleycorn, a center of the community and an asset to the city as well, but the economic future of the neighborhood of Lower Nob Hill. The Barleycorn, with its cable car benches, church pews from Old St. Mary's and other historic furnishings, is the right size and scale for this neighborhood. Its replacement will be resented, and perhaps shunned, leading to the economic demise of any subsequent business, particularly for a proprietor who turns a blind eye to neighborhood tradition.

We firmly believe that two viable, individually owned businesses—the Barleycorn and The Front Room—that have been excellent neighbors will be lost for no good reason, resulting eventually in two vacant storefronts at the corner of California and Larkin.

A show of strength, interest and loyalty from the neighbors and friends of the Barleycorn can help prevent this. Please read and sign the open letter below, and if you can do more, read on.

Like everywhere else in the U.S., San Francisco is showing the effects of over-development, and a casual regard for the contributions that non-corporate businesses make to a community. It's establishments like John Barleycorn's that make a sprawl of city blocks into a neighborhood, and strangers into family:
Told by Niall O'Byrne on January 12, 2007 -

It was an autumn evening in mid October 1989, but not like any other evening. I was set to meet a Spanish friend Tony Rodriquez at The Barley to discuss the fate of the SF Giants opponent in the World Series. But the earth shook that day, and not a little 3.5 shaker either. Some say it was an earthquake, but I think it was John Barleycorn himself raising a glass of stout in a toast to good friends coming to his house. While most other establisments were frightened and shut their doors that night. John Barleycorn was open under candlelight, with foam flowing over pints glasses and sounds of a transistor radio in the background. Toasts were made and many stories were told.

Other miracles happen at John's place. He can make a portugese pizza and he doesn't even have an oven. But if you order it 15 minutes later it will appear through the backdoor.

We can't lose this little oasis of Nob hill.

~More told-tales of the JB...

"Heart of Saturday Night"

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CNN, A Tool of the Left?

Here is an example of CNN's bias towards the right in their use of subtle propaganda techniques. It's an ad announcing CNN's coverage of the start of the 110th Congress, "The First 100 Hours." It ran on all of CNN's programming, although this clip was made from the broadcast of Wolf Blitzer's Late Edition, January 7, 2007:

"You voted; they won" (with the graphic of the Democratic party's iconic donkey).

The use of red throughout the ad (better appreciated in slow-motion) reinforces that this is a pitch to conservatives, and that CNN is "on Your side."

This ad best demonstrates the need for reinstating the 'fairness doctrine,' and re-regulating the broadcast industry.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Do You Think You're Free?

"She stood up on a table. She's a free woman. Maybe you can live with it -- maybe you can't."
~ Reubin Warshowski, labor union organizer, 'Norma Rae'

Until you stand up, you're not free.

On January 27, 2007, take a stand. Send a message to Washington to End the War Now:

It's not to convince Bush and Cheney.

It's to convince these people:

And they will convince Bush and Cheney.

Until members of the House and Senate see us willing to do again in November '08 what we did in November '06, it will be one non-binding resolution after another, with thousands more Americans and Iraqis dead and limbless.

We will also be no safer from terrorist attacks, farther away from energy alternatives and energy independence, closer to economic and environmental ruin due to the $8 billion a month this war is costing us (plus the costs of the impact of global warming made worse by our continued reliance on oil to fuel our way of life).

Can't make it to Washington this weekend? Find a protest site near you.

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Republican Senator John Warner to Introduce a Resolution Criticizing Bush for Increasing Troops in Iraq

CNN reports:
Sen. John Warner, the former Republican chairman and influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is set to introduce a second resolution Monday that expresses criticism of President Bush's call for a troop increase in Iraq, a move Bush Administration officials have scrambled to avoid.

The resolution -- also sponsored by Armed Services Committee members Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska -- tones down some of the language used in a resolution introduced earlier by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, Joe Biden, D-Delaware, and Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, sources involved with crafting the resolution tell CNN.

Neither of the resolutions, by Warner or the Levin-Biden-Hagel resolution, are binding.

How about expressing condemnation of President Bush's call for a troop increase, Senator Warner?

Between now and January 20, 2009, every two weeks another Republican senator will introduce legislation stating, “What he said” and “Me, too” and “We really mean it”, to be followed by “really.”

Which brings us to this little item in today's Virginian-Pilot:
"Democrats set sights on Warner's Seat" - Virginia Sen. John Warner is an institution in Washington and across the Old Dominion. Generals, admirals and even the president seek his backing for military strategies and big-ticket weapons systems; Virginians have made him the state's all-time leading vote-getter.

But with the election of two successive Democratic governors and Sen. Jim Webb last year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee "is laying the groundwork to unseat" Warner in 2008, its membership director, Robin Benatti, wrote in an e-mail to hundreds of party activists.

The mailing did not solicit contributions - yet - but calls Warner's seat "one of the best opportunities to expand" the 51-49 Democratic majority in the Senate.

Warner, who turns 80 next month, was first elected in 1978. He has not announced whether he'll run again but has told reporters and fellow Republicans that he expects to seek a sixth Senate term.

A 50-state strategy is a populist revolution. That's something that the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a proud subsidiary of the DLC) is looking to avoid. They want to find a candidate just slightly to the left of John ("I knew Dolly Madison - Dolly Madison was a girlfriend of mine") Warner before the base of the Democratic party can create a groundswell for a real Democrat as the candidate to represent the people of Virginia.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Barney Franks on "Inequality in America and Why it Matters"

On January 3, 2007, Congressman and Chairman of the Financial Services Committee Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) spoke at the National Press Club about increasing wages and combating excessive inequality in workers compensation, trade issues, universal single-payer healthcare, unions, affordable housing, education and more.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Pretty impressive, isn't he?

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The "Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act of 2007" is Born!

Congresswomen Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, were among 12 House members who introduced a bill Wednesday to withdraw all U.S. troops and contractors from Iraq within six months. They said the bill is a "comprehensive alternative" to the Bush administration's proposed escalation of the war, one of several proposed by Democrats and each better than Bush's "stay the course" catastrophic strategy.

"The proposal is a direct answer to President Bush's challenge over the weekend for those who oppose his planned escalation to put forth a plan of their own," Woolsey said in a statement.

The "Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act of 2007" would establish a six-month time frame for withdrawal of all U.S. military forces and contractors from Iraq, provide a framework for restoring stability to Iraq and fully fund the Veterans Administration's medical system

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More Victims of 'Conservative Fear-Porn'?

Entire Village (and Maybe Terrorists, Too) Suspected of Mayor's Murder

From"Britain's No. 1 quality newspaper website":
Miguel Grima was not a well-liked man. As mayor of a tiny hamlet in the foothills of the Pyrenees in northern Spain he had ruffled a few feathers.

The farmers turned against him when he put a stop to the centuries-old custom of herding livestock through village.

The hunters got annoyed when he refused to issue them with shooting licences and the local drinkers revolted after he prevented the settlement's only bar from setting out tables on the terrace in summer.

He had repeatedly received anonymous threatening letters and reportedly told friends recently that he feared for his life and he was considering standing down as mayor of Fago at the next election.

So last Friday evening when he failed to return home from a late council meeting in a nearby town, his wife took his absence seriously and contacted police.

The next day the battered body of Mr Grima was discovered in a roadside ditch. He had been shot at least four times in the head and chest at point-blank range.

Other news services report that he was shot with a shotgun and that his car was found the following day, 12 kilometres from the spot where the body was discovered.
Police believe Mr Grima was the victim of a meticulously planned ambush involving at least three perpetrators and, in a move worthy of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, the police are considering the entire population of the village as suspects.
Mr. Grima, in better times.
Fago, the second smallest village in the province of Aragon, comprises fewer than 90 stone-built residences tightly packed on cobbled streets around a 16th century Romanesque church, a stone's throw from the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.

Always quiet in the winter months, the place resembles a ghost town as this week the majority of the 37 permanent residents have been taken in for questioning by the police and have had to give DNA samples.

Those who own property for use as a weekend getaway or holiday home are also being sought. Although no official statement has yet been given, the Guardia Civil have indicated that they strongly believe those responsible for the murder of the 50-year-old mayor bore a grudge over his policies in the village.

There is no shortage of contenders. During his 12 years in office, the mayor, a member of the conservative Popular Party and the owner of the village's only guest house, had been involved in almost four dozen individual court cases with homeowners in Fago.

He had taken out injunctions to prevent people making home improvements and closed down a bed and breakfast because it competed for business with his own establishment.

Mr Grima had even incurred the wrath of the parents of the only two children living in the village by banning basketballs and shooting hoops in the village's only flat area - the central plaza.

The most public battle in recent times came about after the mayor imposed taxes of almost 400 euros a month on outdoor tables at Fago's only drinking establishment – the Casa Moriega bar – an amount locals consider high for an isolated village which attracts only a modest number of visitors in summer.

To protest against the prohibitively high tax, the owners of the bar hung a huge banner on the facade of the building stating: "Fago is not Madrid, not Paris, not London... Fago is not New York."

Santiago Miramar, the only villager who would comment on this week's events, said there were few in Fago who didn't consider themselves an enemy of the mayor.

"He was an unpleasant man who ran this place like his personal kingdom. He made life difficult for most of us but for a select few he made life impossible," he said.

Another villager, who refused to be named because he had been told by a judge that no one was to speak publicly while they were under suspicion, said: "Revenge is a dish best served cold. I'm not saying anything more than that."

The only real mystery is how this man managed to win elections.

UPDATE: Typicallyspanish.com reports that police are keeping all options open, "including terrorism given that the area is close to Navarra, but it is also known that the Mayor had arguments with local hunters in the district."

A terrorist, in a ditch, with a shotgun.

Is '24' beamed to these villages?:

The actual effect of this double-whanmmy by Hollywood and the Bush administration (*all terror, all the time*) is a breakdown of our "way of life," our freedom and ingenuity, as well as the breakdown of our bodies. It causes us to implement strategies which don't keep us any safer, and better serve the interests of those who would like to see us destroyed. It leads to stories like this one:

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! talk with John Cerquiera, who brought a racial profiling lawsuit against American Airlines and was awarded $400,00, and his attorney, Michael Kirkpatrick:

Part 1

Part 2

The sympathetic nervous system can't take constant stimulation by fear and anger (and sex) without causing some real damage. And when it begins to cloud our judgment as to real threats versus imagined ones, we need to ask ourselves and our leaders, "Is this the best we can come up with to prevent another 9/11, and remain an open, free society?"

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