Saturday, May 26, 2007

What Congress Really Approved: Benchmark No. 1: Privatizing Iraq's Oil for US Companies

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army and US Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She served 16 years in the US diplomatic corps in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Micronesia and Mongolia. She resigned from the US Department of State in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.

For Truthout, Ann Wright writes:
On Thursday, May 24, the US Congress voted to continue the war in Iraq. The members called it "supporting the troops." I call it stealing Iraq's oil - the second largest reserves in the world. The "benchmark," or goal, the Bush administration has been working on furiously since the US invaded Iraq is privatization of Iraq's oil. Now they have Congress blackmailing the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi people: no privatization of Iraqi oil, no reconstruction funds.
This threat could not be clearer. If the Iraqi Parliament refuses to pass the privatization legislation, Congress will withhold US reconstruction funds that were promised to the Iraqis to rebuild what the United States has destroyed there. The privatization law, written by American oil company consultants hired by the Bush administration, would leave control with the Iraq National Oil Company for only 17 of the 80 known oil fields. The remainder (two-thirds) of known oil fields, and all yet undiscovered ones, would be up for grabs by the private oil companies of the world (but guess how many would go to United States firms - given to them by the compliant Iraqi government.)

No other nation in the Middle East has privatized its oil. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Iran give only limited usage contracts to international oil companies for one or two years. The $12 billion dollar "Support the Troops" legislation passed by Congress requires Iraq, in order to get reconstruction funds from the United States, to privatize its oil resources and put them up for long term (20- to 30-year) contracts.

What does this "Support the Troops" legislation mean for the United States military? Supporting our troops has nothing to do with this bill, other than keeping them there for another 30 years to protect US oil interests. It means that every military service member will need Arabic language training. It means that every soldier and Marine would spend most of his or her career in Iraq. It means that the fourteen permanent bases will get new Taco Bells and Burger Kings! Why? Because the US military will be protecting the US corporate oilfields leased to US companies by the compliant Iraqi government. Our troops will be the guardians of US corporate interests in Iraq for the life of the contracts - for the next thirty years.

With the Bush administration's "Support the Troops" bill and its benchmarks, primarily Benchmark No. 1, we finally have the reason for the US invasion of Iraq: to get easily accessible, cheap, high-grade Iraq oil for US corporations.

Now the choice is for US military personnel and their families to decide whether they want their loved ones to be physically and emotionally injured to protect not our national security, but the financial security of the biggest corporate barons left in our country - the oil companies.

It's a choice for only our military families, because most non-military Americans do not really care whether our volunteer military spends its time protecting corporate oil to fuel our one-person cars. Of course, when a tornado, hurricane, flood or other natural disaster hits in our hometown, we want our National Guard unit back. But on a normal day, who remembers the 180,000 US military or the 150,000 US private contractors in Iraq?

Since the "Surge" began in January, over 500 Americans and 15,000 Iraqis have been killed. By the time September 2007 rolls around for the administration's review of the "surge" plan, another 400 Americans will be dead, as well as another 12,000 Iraqis.

How much more can our military and their families take?

Friday, May 25, 2007

From The State That Gave Us Fred Thompson*, Jeff Sessions, and Truman Capote . . . .

[* born in Sheffield, Alabama]

. . . . Boy Bags Hog Said Bigger Than 'Hogzilla'

In this photo released by Melynne Stone, Jamison Stone, 11, poses with a wild pig he killed near Delta, Ala., May 3, 2007. Stone's father says the hog weighed a staggering 1,051 pounds and measured 9-feet-4 from the tip of its snout to the base of its tail. If claims of the animal's size are true, it would be larger than "Hogzilla," the huge hog killed in Georgia in 2004. (Photo by Melynne Stone via Associated Press) reports:
Hogzilla is being made into a horror movie. But the sequel may be even bigger: Meet Monster Pig. An 11-year-old boy used a pistol to kill a wild hog his father says weighed a staggering 1,051 pounds and measured 9 feet 4, from the tip of its snout to the base of its tail. Think hams as big as car tires.

If the claims are accurate, Jamison Stone's trophy boar would be bigger than Hogzilla, the famed wild hog that grew to seemingly mythical proportions after being killed in south Georgia in 2004.

Hogzilla originally was thought to weigh 1,000 pounds and measure 12 feet long. National Geographic experts who unearthed its remains believe the animal actually weighed about 800 pounds and was 8 feet long.

Regardless of the comparison, Jamison is reveling in the attention over his pig.
"It feels really good," Jamison said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It's a good accomplishment. I probably won't ever kill anything else that big."

Jamison, who killed his first deer at age 5, was hunting with father Mike Stone and two guides in east Alabama on May 3 when he bagged Monster Pig. He said he shot the huge animal eight times with a .50-caliber revolver and chased it for three hours through hilly woods before finishing it off with a point-blank shot.

Through it all, there was the fear that the animal would turn and charge them, as wild boars have a reputation for doing.

"I was a little bit scared, a little bit excited," said Jamison, who lives in Pickensville on the Mississippi border. He just finished the sixth grade on the honor roll at Christian Heritage Academy, a small, private school.

His father said that, just to be extra safe, he and the guides had high-powered rifles aimed and ready to fire in case the beast, with 5-inch tusks, decided to charge.

With the animal finally dead in a creek bed on the 2,500-acre Lost Creek Plantation, a commercial hunting preserve in Delta, trees had to be cut down and a backhoe brought in to bring Jamison's prize out of the woods.

It was hauled on a truck to the Clay County Farmers Exchange in Lineville, where Jeff Kinder said they used his scale, recently calibrated, to weigh the hog.

Kinder's scale measures only to the nearest 10, but Mike Stone said it balanced one notch past the 1,050-pound mark.

"It probably weighed 1,060 pounds. We were just afraid to change it once the story was out," he said.

The hog's head is being mounted by Jerry Cunningham of Jerry's Taxidermy. Cunningham said the animal measured 54 inches around the head, 74 inches around the shoulders and 11 inches from the eyes to the end of its snout.

"It's huge," he said. "It's just the biggest thing I've ever seen."

Mike Stone is having sausage made from the rest of the animal. "We'll probably get 500 to 700 pounds," he said.

Jamison, meanwhile, has been offered a small part in "The Legend of Hogzilla," a small-time horror flick based on the tale of the Georgia boar. The movie is holding casting calls with plans to begin filming in Georgia.

Jamison is enjoying the newfound celebrity generated by the hog hunt, but he said he prefers hunting pheasants to monster pigs: "They are a little less dangerous."

I'd hold off on eating that pig.

Delta, Alabama is right down from Fort McClellan, home to the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command Chemical Biological-Radiological Agency and the U.S. Army Chemical School and Chemical Decontamination Training Facility (CDTF), where chemical soldiers worked with live nerve agents.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dennis Kucinich: "Military Spending Bill Requires Iraq To Give Up Their Oil Or Give Up Reconstruction Funds"

At at noon press conference, on May 24, 2007, at the Cannon Terrace, on Capitol Hill, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), ripped into the Bush-Cheney Gang's legislative scheme to privatize the oil of Occupied Iraq. He charged: "Privatizing Iraq's oil is theft." He also called the Iraq Supplemental Bill: "a moment of truth for the Democratic Party." Rep. Kucinich explained how the proposed Bill, now pending before the U.S. Congress, via its benchmarks, will provide for the privatization of Iraqi oil. It requires the regime in Iraq to pass a law called, "The Hydrocarbon Act." If they refuse to do so over a billion dollars in reconstruction funds will be blocked by the Bush-Cheney administration, he claimed. This measure, which Rep. Kucinich characterized as "blackmail," would permit multinational oil corporations---many based in the U.S.--to exercise control over the Iraqi oil. The Democratic leadership in the Congress is giving its explicit support to this legislative device. Unless the scheme is stopped, Rep. Kucinich predicted, we will be looking at an Iraqi War "going on forever!"

Go here for more information.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007



Mary Cheney gave birth today to her first child, Samuel David Cheney, whom she will raise with her longtime partner Heather Poe.

Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, pose with their sixth grandchild, Samuel David Cheney, born Wednesday. (Courtesy White House)

What, no picture with the two mommies?

Mary Cheney's partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, will have no legal relationship with the child under Virginia law, according to Jennifer Chisler of Family Pride: "In the state of Virginia, it’s very difficult for lesbian couples to have children together. Heather Poe will have no legal relationship with her child. She can’t adopt as a second parent. She won’t have her name on the birth certificate."

I understand that the baby will go by the nickname Stan, a shortened version of his Indian name, Stands to Inherit.

When I first heard that Poe and Cheney were expecting a child, and not knowing which one was actually pregnant, I guessed that it had to be Mary Cheney.

With all those millions in deferred Halliburton money just waiting to be inherited and a sister who apparently doesn't use birth control (5 children in the last ten years), what are the chances that Dick and Lynn would leave anything to a child who is, 1) not genetically related to them, and, 2) not guaranteed to be a part of their daughter's life, should she break up with Poe and Poe decided not to allow Cheney to see the child?

What does any of this say for Heather Poe, presumably a republican who is supportive of the Bush-Cheney administration, and Mary Cheney, a rabid supporter of Bush-Cheney who, along with her sister, have been operatives in the administration and the Bush-Cheney campaigns?

What kind of people are these, who think so little of themselves, that they would allow themselves to be treated by the laws of their government so insignificantly?

How patriotic can they be, how sincerely can they believe in the idea that is American democracy, "all people created equal" and rule of law?

And how real is their love and commitment to each other when they work for the very special interest group (Republicans) that stays up nights working overtime trying to think up ways to deny basic rights and protections, not only for themselves, but for their 'other,' the person that they've chosen as their partner through life?

On a lighter and more speculative note, before this baby came into the picture, I thought that a great deal of money had to have been deposited into an offshore account in Heather Poe's name in order for her to forget about the basic protections and recognition that any married person wants and expects.

Now (since the baby), I think there has to be some understanding between her and the Cheneys: If she and Mary break-up, should she be cut out of the child's life, she will publish a tell-all book about the whole damned lot of them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More Indications That Bush's Surge Is Actually An Escalation & Another Step On The Way To War In Iraq

On the day when Democrats should have been putting the screws to Bush by returning a supplemental appropriations bill with exact language by which progress in Iraq can be measured as well as dates certain for withdrawing U.S. troops, Democrats caved and agreed to all of Bush's terms for an unending war in Iraq and a blank check by which to wage it

Bush is making sure that not only won't he bring this war in Iraq to an end by the end of his term in office, his successor won't be able to either - Bush will have us in war with Iran before he's out of the White House. reports:
The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday.

The little-noticed second surge, designed to reinforce U.S. troops in Iraq, is being executed by sending more combat brigades and extending tours of duty for troops already there.

The actions could boost the number of combat soldiers from 52,500 in early January to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year if the Pentagon overlaps arriving and departing combat brigades.

Separately, when additional support troops are included in this second troop increase, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 -- a record-high number -- by the end of the year.

The numbers were arrived at by an analysis of deployment orders by Hearst Newspapers.
"It doesn't surprise me that they're not talking about it," said retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, a former U.S. commander of NATO troops in Bosnia, referring to the Bush administration. "I think they would be very happy not to have any more attention paid to this."

The first surge was prominently announced by President Bush in a nationally televised address on Jan. 10, when he ordered five more combat brigades to join 15 brigades already in Iraq.

The buildup was designed to give commanders the 20 combat brigades Pentagon planners said were needed to provide security in Baghdad and western Anbar province.

Since then, the Pentagon has extended combat tours for units in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months and announced the deployment of additional brigades.

Taken together, the steps could put elements of as many as 28 combat brigades in Iraq by Christmas, according the deployment orders examined by Hearst Newspapers.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Carl S. Ey said there was no effort by the Army to carry out "a secret surge" beyond the 20 combat brigades ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"There isn't a second surge going on; we've got what we've got," Ey said. "The idea that there are ever going to be more combat brigades in theater in the future than the secretary of defense has authorized is pure speculation."

Ey attributed the increase in troops to "temporary increases that typically occur during the crossover period" as arriving combat brigades move into position to replace departing combat brigades.

He said that only elements of the eight additional combat brigades beyond the 20 already authorized would actually be in Iraq in December.

The U.S. Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va., that tracks combat forces heading to and returning from Iraq, declined to discuss unit-by-unit deployments.
"Due to operational security, we cannot confirm or discuss military unit movements or schedules," Navy Lt. Jereal Dorsey said in an e-mail.

The Pentagon has repeatedly extended unit tours in Iraq during the past four years to achieve temporary increases in combat power. For example, three combat brigades were extended up to three months in November 2004 to boost the number of U.S. troops from 138,000 to 150,000 before, during and after the Jan. 30, 2005, Iraqi national elections.

Lawrence Korb, an assistant defense secretary for manpower during the Reagan administration, said the Pentagon deployment schedule enables the Bush administration to achieve quick increases in combat forces in the future by delaying units' scheduled departures from Iraq and overlapping them with arriving replacement forces.

"The administration is giving itself the capability to increase the number of troops in Iraq," Korb said. "It remains to be seen whether they actually choose to do that."
Nash said the capability could reflect an effort by the Bush administration to "get the number of troops into Iraq that we've needed there all along."

Meanwhile, reports:
The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.

"I can't confirm or deny whether such a program exists or whether the president signed it, but it would be consistent with an overall American approach trying to find ways to put pressure on the regime," said Bruce Riedel, a recently retired CIA senior official who dealt with Iran and other countries in the region.

A National Security Council spokesperson, Gordon Johndroe, said, "The White House does not comment on intelligence matters." A CIA spokesperson said, "As a matter of course, we do not comment on allegations of covert activity."

The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and received approval from White House officials and other officials in the intelligence community.

Officials say the covert plan is designed to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment program and end aid to insurgents in Iraq.

"There are some channels where the United States government may want to do things without its hand showing, and legally, therefore, the administration would, if it's doing that, need an intelligence finding and would need to tell the Congress," said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official.

Current and former intelligence officials say the approval of the covert action means the Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military option against Iran.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush: "Senate's No-Confidence-Vote on Gonzales is 'Pure Political Theater'"

The Constitution never anticipated a bunch like the neocons and Bush.

Subtlety, protocol, respect for tradition and past practice mean nothing to them. It's hard enough to get them to abide by the law and not circumnavigate around it with signing statements and inventing new powers for the Executive. Democrats and moderate Republicans are bending over backwards to avoid their responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution and impeach this criminal president and vice-president, and expect Bush to 'take a hint' from the no-confidence vote, and fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. What Democrats (and moderate Republicans) don't seem to understand is that Bush and Cheney know very well that their policies are unpopular - They just don't care.

Sending Bush a no-confidence resolution on Gonzales (and anything else short of impeaching Gonzales), and expecting him to do what he should do (as all previous executive branch officeholders have done) is a waste of valuable time.

[To see hidden image, click here] reports:
President George W. Bush said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales continues to have his full support and called an attempt by Senate Democrats to hold a no-confidence vote on the embattled Justice Department chief "pure political theater."
"He has got my confidence, he has done nothing wrong," Bush said today in response to a question during a news conference at his Texas ranch. "I stand by Al Gonzales."
The Senate and House Judiciary committees are investigating whether the firings of eight federal prosecutors last year were the result of improper political influence. At least six Republicans have joined with Democrats in calling for Gonzales to step down because of the way the situation was handled.

Democratic Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California are proposing the Senate vote on a no- confidence resolution as soon as this week.

"It is this kind of political theater that has caused the American people to lose confidence in how Washington operates," Bush said today. He didn't directly address a question about whether he wants Gonzales to stay through the end of his term.

Schumer, responding to Bush's comments, said Gonzales should be replaced to restore the public's faith in the Justice Department.

"The president should understand that while he has confidence in Attorney General Gonzales, very few others do," Schumer said in a statement.

While a largely symbolic gesture, a vote of no confidence would add to the political pressure on Gonzales, 51, a longtime adviser to Bush who the president appointed as attorney general in 2005.

Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that Gonzales may resign rather than face a "very substantial" no-confidence vote. Specter is among the Republicans who have questioned whether Gonzales can continue to be effective in his job as the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Is This Man Wearing Army-Issue 'Interceptor' Body Armor?

Dick Cheney on his recent tour of Iraq

Or is he wearing 'Dragon skin, banned by the Army?

NBC's news investigative unit, Lisa Myers and Adam Ciralsky, reports:

For troops in the line of fire, body armor can spell the difference between life and death.

Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, who oversees body armor for the Army, told NBC, “The body armor that we issue to our soldiers today is the best in the world. Bar none. It’s proven by live-fire testing, and it’s proven in combat.”

But is it really the best?

An NBC News investigation — including independent ballistics tests — suggests there may be something better called Dragon Skin. Military families and soldiers have tried to buy Dragon Skin believing it offers better protection. But the Army banned the armor last year even before formally testing it.

The Army’s current body armor is called Interceptor. NBC News tracked down the man who helped design Interceptor a decade ago, Jim Magee, a retired Marine colonel:
LISA MYERS: What is the best body armor available today in your view?

JIM MAGEE: Dragon Skin is the best out there, hands down. It's better than the Interceptor. It is state of the art. In some cases, it’s two steps ahead of anything I’ve ever seen.

MYERS: You developed the body armor that the Army is using today.

MAGEE: That's correct.

MYERS: And you say Dragon Skin is better?

MAGEE: Yes. And I think anybody in my industry would say the same thing were they to be perfectly honest about it.
Why? He says more stopping power and more coverage.

According to Magee, the Army’s Interceptor uses four rigid plates to stop the most lethal bullets, leaving some vital organs unprotected. Dragon Skin — with discs that interconnect like Medieval chainmail — can wrap most of a soldier’s torso, providing a greater area of maximum protection.

Magee, who has no financial stake whatsoever in Dragon Skin, told us, “If you would ask me today, ‘Jim we’re sending you to Iraq tomorrow. What would you wear?’ I would buy Dragon Skin and I would wear it.”

But Brown says the Army conducted its own tests of Dragon Skin last year.
BRIG. GEN. BROWN: Thirteen of 48 shots that were taken at Dragon Skin were penetrating, full penetrating shots.

MYERS: So that’s a catastrophic failure.

BROWN: Correct.

MYERS: So Dragon Skin failed?

BROWN: Dragon Skin failed miserably.
Brown suggested those tests led the Army to issue a “Safety of Use Message,” warning soldiers of “death or serious injury.”

There’s just one problem: the Army banned Dragon Skin in March, almost two months before that testing began in May.
MYERS: General, the Army banned Dragon Skin before the Army even tested it.

BROWN: Lisa, I’m — I’m not aware of that… I don’t know that it had not been tested at that time. I wasn’t here.
Nevin Rupert, a mechanical engineer and ballistics expert, was for seven years the Army’s leading authority on Dragon Skin. Now a whistleblower, he says the Army’s timing wasn’t coincidental.
RUPERT: I believe there are some Army officials at the lower levels that deliberately tried to sabotage it.

MYERS: What possible motive would Army officials have for blocking a technology that could save lives?

RUPERT: Their loyalty is to their organization and maintaining funds.
He says that because Dragon Skin was not developed by the Army, some officials considered it a threat to funding of Interceptor and other Army programs.
RUPERT: It wasn’t their program. It threatened their program and mission funding.
Rupert also says he was ordered not to attend the tests of Dragon Skin.
MYERS: You spent seven years evaluating Dragon Skin. And the Army goes to test it. And you're told not to attend?


MYERS: They didn't want you there?

RUPERT: They didn't want a lot of people there.
Rupert was recently fired by the Army, he says, for supporting Dragon Skin. When questioned about Rupert by NBC News, the Army said in a statement:
“Mr. Nevin Rupert was employed by the Army Research Laboratory for more than 33 years as a mechanical engineer in the Weapons & Materials Research Directorate, located at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. Mr. Nevin left federal service on February 24, 2007. He has a June 2007 appeal before the Merit System Protection Board.”
NBC News also has learned that, well after the Army ban, select soldiers assigned to protect generals and VIPs in Iraq and Afghanistan wore Dragon Skin.

An active duty soldier, who asked us to conceal his identity, told NBC he wore Dragon Skin on certain missions, with the full knowledge of his commanders.
“I wore it and I saw other people wearing it… It conforms to your body, it gives you more mobility,” he said.

LISA MYERS: Does the ban on Dragon Skin apply equally to everyone in the Army?

BRIG. GEN. MARK BROWN: Lisa, yes it does.
However, sources and documents obtained by NBC News reveal that a top general’s security detail in Iraq bought and wore Dragon Skin.
MYERS: If Dragon Skin is good enough for a 3-star general, shouldn’t it be good enough for other soldiers?

BROWN: Lisa, even 3-star generals make mistakes.
A Pentagon spokesman says that Gen. Peter Chiarelli, once the top ground commander in Iraq, “had no knowledge that Dragon Skin was prohibited” and “never wore Dragon Skin,” though it’s possible his staff ordered it for him. The spokesman went on to say that Chiarelli acknowledges that his bodyguards ordered and received concealed body armor, but that Chiarelli “didn't know the armor was Dragon Skin.”

Given the controversy over body armor, NBC News commissioned an independent, side-by-side test of Dragon Skin and the Army’s Interceptor vest. In that testing, Dragon Skin outperformed the Army’s body armor in stopping the most lethal threats. Retired four-star Army Gen. Wayne Downing, now an NBC news analyst, observed the tests.
“What we saw today, Lisa, and again it’s a limited number of trials, Dragon Skin was significantly better,” he said.
These independent, limited tests raise serious questions about the Army’s claim that Dragon Skin doesn’t work. NBC News will report on the specific results of that testing on Dateline NBC Sunday. Critics tell NBC they’d like to see the Army re-test and re-evaluate Dragon Skin.

Editor's note: NBC's Brian Williams reported the following update on "NBC Nighty News" Fri., May 18:
We have a follow up on our report last night, the results of an NBC News investigation that questioned whether the body armor issued to every soldier in the US Army is really the best available. It focused on a a kind of armor called Dragon Skin, which had been banned by the Army, but, as we reported, was still being used by some of the elite forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, three prominent US senators, all Democrats, called for an investigation. The government accountability office is expected to examine this issue.

We also heard today from the Pentagon, including a call from General Peter Chiarelli, who reiterated what we reported last night, that he never wore Dragon Skin but that some members of his staff did wear a lighter version of the banned armor on certain limited occasions, despite the Army ban. General Chiarelli said his biggest concern was that our story may have left the impression that he and his staff were issued better equipment somehow and therefore were more secure than other soldiers throughout the US Army. That, he said, is not the case.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rumsfeld's Resignation Letter Remains Elusive

On May 8, 2007, Wayne Madsen reported:
A half year after he left as Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld continues to serve as a Defense Department adviser, according to WMR's Pentagon sources. Rumsfeld has been provided with an office in the Rosslyn, Virginia metroplex near the Pentagon from which he continues to influence U.S. military policies in Iraq and elsewhere.

Today, Reuter's reports:

The Bush administration is keeping a tight hold on Donald Rumsfeld's resignation letter nearly five months after the former defense secretary and Iraq war manager stepped down.

The Pentagon says it does not have a copy, and the White House office likely to hold the letter is not subject to the law that allows the public to seek release of government documents, the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA .

A defense official, who declined to be identified publicly, on Tuesday chalked up the close hold on Rumsfeld's letter to the existence of few copies.

"I suspect there's only one copy of that and it went to the president," the official said.

Reuters filed FOIA requests for the letter with the Pentagon and White House.

In response to a November request, the Defense Department's FOIA office said last month a "thorough search of the records systems ... revealed no records responsive to your request."

President George W. Bush's office of administration, in response to another FOIA request, said this month it too had no copy of Rumsfeld's resignation letter.

But Carol Ehrlich, FOIA officer there, said the office of administration within the executive office of the president was a separate entity from the White House office, which controls its own records and is not subject to FOIA.

Pentagon spokesmen refused to release the letter in November 2006, when Rumsfeld resigned after Republicans' stinging election defeat. They told reporters to file FOIA requests for the letter.

And yet reports:
Since resigning from his perch atop the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld has all but disappeared. Some say they think he’s going to work for a defense contractor. Others have heard about a book.

Now speculation is centering on 1620 L St. NW. That’s where, on April 30, at least one resident saw him walking into the elevator area, carrying stuff in a postal crate.

ITK spies in the building, which serves as the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management and several law and consulting firms, say others in the building have reported their own Rummy sightings.

Building management isn’t returning phone calls, and Rumsfeld’s not on the building’s roster. The security guard in the lobby not only doesn’t have him on the tenants list. She doesn’t know who Rumsfeld is. So much for staying power.

There's only one thing more disturbing than having Rumsfeld inside the government, on the payroll, and that's Rumsfeld outside of government where you can't keep an eye on him.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell is Dead, Let the Pandering Begin . . . .

. . . . But not here.

At On Faith (the fledgling enterprise by Jon Meacham and Washington Post VP Ben Bradlee's wife, Sally Quinn), R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, prostrates himself before the memory of one of the most hateful, ignorant, divisive, un-Christlike unAmericans who ever lived. Mohler writes, "The death of Dr. Jerry Falwell..."

Wait a minute, Dr Jerry Falwell?? Already the lies begin.

Falwell held no earned doctorate. He held three honorary degrees: an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Tennessee Temple Theological Seminary (now known as Tennessee Baptist Seminary), an honorary Doctor of Letters from California Graduate School of Theology (an unaccredited institution), and an honorary Doctor of Laws from Central University in Seoul, South Korea (an unaccredited institution).1
Undoubtedly the media will fall into ecstasy for the next couple of days, waxing eloquent about Falwell's life, but here readers get the spit-varnished Falwell.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Guantanamo Valentine Revisited

Naval officer sentenced to six months in prison, discharge

The Virginian-Pilot reports:
A Navy lawyer so disillusioned with the government's handling of foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that he sent classified information about 550 men in custody there to a civilian attorney was sentenced Friday to six months in prison and dismissal from the service.
Lt. Cmdr. Matthew M. Diaz was convicted Thursday on four of five charges stemming from his actions in early January 2005, while stationed at Guantanamo Bay.

The most serious conviction - violating the Espionage Act by sending classified information to someone not entitled to receive it - carried the possibility of a 10-year sentence.

The four charges carried a maximum 14-year sentence.

"I am very, very happy with the results," Diaz said before leaving the courtroom at Norfolk Naval Station. He began his sentence in the brig Friday night.

The seven-member jury of officers took more than three hours to determine Diaz's sentence - longer than they spent convicting him.

The military justice system doesn't have sentencing guidelines, only maximum punishments, and military juries have wide latitude in imposing punishments.

The sentencing hearing began with emotional testimony from the officer's ex-wife, Melissa Diaz-Reed; their daughter, Anna Marie Diaz; and his current wife, also named Anna Marie Diaz. All three women live in Jacksonville, Fla., where Diaz is currently stationed.

His 15-year-old daughter described her father as her best friend.

"He does everything for me," Anna Marie Diaz said, her voice breaking. "When I have a dance performance, he's always there. When I need help with school, he helps me."

Diaz-Reed and Diaz's wife, who is in nursing school, also offered teary-eyed accounts of how they would suffer if Diaz was sent to prison or kicked out of the Navy.

But the most riveting moments came later, when Diaz offered an unsworn statement and explained his intent when he mailed a list of the so-called "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo to Barbara Olshansky in January 2005.

Olshansky, then a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, had been part of a landmark lawsuit leading to the Supreme Court's decision in Rasul v. Bush the previous year. The court ruled on June 28, 2004, that Guantanamo detainees had a right to challenge their detention in federal court.

Diaz arrived at Guantanamo a week later for a six-month tour as deputy staff judge advocate.

He said the government's refusal to release detainee names didn't comply with the spirit of the Rasul case.

"I felt there was some stonewalling on what they were entitled to by the government," Diaz said, facing the jury. "The Supreme Court had decided, and I felt we were unnecessarily placing obstacles in the way. "

The government released the names of those in custody in 2006 in response to a lawsuit brought by The Associated Press.

Prosecutors argued the names weren't the heart of the case. It was other identifying information from the intelligence database that could have jeopardized national security, they said, such as the country where detainees were captured and the interrogation teams handling them.

"One thing I want to make clear is that this was not about the release of names," lead prosecutor Cmdr. Rex Guinn said after sentencing.

"We think this will send a clear message you can't just release classified information, no matter how good an intention you think you have."

In his 37-minute appearance before the jury, Diaz answered questions from his lawyer. He was self-critical, saying his misconduct "has caused a lot of harm to a lot of people."

He said he could have chosen other options to express his disagreement with the government's handling of the legal issues surrounding Guantanamo Bay.

"I could have gone to the chief of staff, I could have gone to the IG (inspector general)," or to his commanding officers in Guantanamo, Diaz said. "There were a lot of better ways to do this, and I didn't take those better ways."

He also criticized his decision to send the information to Olshansky anonymously, saying he mailed the information off in a goofy-looking Valentine "for selfish reasons."

"I wasn't really willing to put my neck on the line, to jeopardize my career," he said. " So I did it anonymously. I'm disgraced, I'm ashamed. I was an inspiration to my family. I let them down. I let the JAG Corps down. I let the Navy down."

Though Diaz's prison term was far less than maximum, he may be more affected in the long run by losing his job, benefits and retirement.

Military members convicted of certain crimes forfeit their pay and benefits almost immediately. The jury recommended, however, that Diaz receive his pay and benefits for six more months because of his dependents.

Rear Adm. Rick Ruehe, who oversees the Navy's Mid-Atlantic region, must approve the waiver and sign off on the jury's sentence. He cannot impose a longer or harsher punishment but could decide to lessen it.

Even if Ruehe decides not to endorse Diaz's dismissal, his conviction on an espionage charge could trigger a federal provision that would prevent him from collecting a government pension.

Diaz spent more than 20 years in uniform, entering the Army as an enlisted soldier in 1983 as a high school dropout. He earned his GED and most of the credits toward a bachelor's degree while in the Army, Diaz said Friday.

In 1991, he enrolled in Washburn University School of Law in Kansas, and re-entered the military as a member of the Navy JAG Corps in 1995.

When Candy & Flowers Just Aren't Enough

Guantanamo Bay Secrets Sent in Valentine, Lawyers Say

USA Today reports:
A Navy lawyer accused of passing secret information about Guantanamo Bay detainees sent a human rights lawyer their names and other classified personal information tucked into a Valentine's Day card, prosecutors said Monday.

Lt. Cmdr. Matthew M. Diaz's actions endangered the lives of the detainees and of American troops on the front line in the war on terror, prosecutor Lt. James Hoffman said during opening statements as Diaz's court-martial at Norfolk Naval Station.
"This case deals with the deliberate, intentional, conscious release of classified information," Hoffman told the jury of seven Navy officers.

But defense attorney Lt. Justin Henderson said the information was not marked classified and that Diaz had no reason to think that the document "could be used to injure the United States."

"We don't expect the evidence will show that Diaz made the right decision. We don't expect the evidence will show he made a wise decision," Henderson said. "He made a decision that was less than forthright, but he did not make an unlawful decision."

Diaz was near the end of a six-month stint at the U.S. military base in Cuba when he went to his office on a Sunday night in January 2005 and used his classified computer to log onto a Web-based database with information about the detainees, Hoffman said.

Diaz printed information including the names of 550 detainees, their nationalities and other information about them, Hoffman said.

Diaz then "cut that document into 39 sheets so that the nation's secrets fit inside this card," Hoffman said as he held up to the jury a copy of the card, with a big heart and a Chihuahua on the front.

Human rights attorney Barbara Olshansky testified that the document in "this weird valentine" she received in early 2005 was not marked classified.

At the time, Olshansky worked for the Center for Constitution Rights. She said the non-profit legal group was suing the federal government to obtain the names of detainees because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the detainees had the right to challenge their detention.

Olshansky tried to give the document to the judge in that case but the judge sent a security officer to pick it up, and eventually the Justice Department and FBI investigated.

Olshansky also testified that she never had met or spoken with Diaz.

Diaz, 41, of Topeka, Kan., worked as a staff judge advocate at Guantanamo Bay, where he provided counsel to the military command in charge of the detention center but was not involved in detainees' cases, the Navy said. The U.S. military has held foreign citizens it suspects have terrorist ties at the base since 2002.

Diaz is charged with failing to obey a lawful general regulation, engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer by wrongfully transmitting classified documents to an unauthorized person, and turning over to an unauthorized person secret information related to national defense.

He originally faced 36 years in prison if convicted but some charges have been consolidated and the maximum punishment now is 24 years, Navy spokesman Kevin Copeland said.

Diaz remains free and is stationed in Jacksonville, Fla.

Iraq To Bar Press From Blast Scenes

On the heels of Dick Cheney's meetings in Iraq, Iraq's interior ministry has decided to bar news photographers and camera operators from the scenes of bomb attacks, operations director Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf said on Sunday.

Iraqis jubilate next to a burning Danish military vehicle near Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, May 14, 2007. A Danish soldier was killed and five others were injured by a roadside bomb Monday in southern Iraq, the army said. An Iraqi interpreter was also injured in the explosion, which occurred as the Danish unit was on a routine patrol in several vehicles near Basra, said Maj. Kim Gruenberger of the Danish Army Operational Command. The injured soldiers were in stable condition, he said. (AP Photo / Nabil al-Jurani)

ABC News reports:
His announcement was the latest in a series of attempts to curtail press coverage of the ongoing conflict, which has already attracted criticism from international human rights bodies.

"There are many reasons for this prohibition," he said.

"We do not want evidence to be disturbed before the arrival of detectives, the ministry must respect human rights and does not want to expose victims and does not want to give terrorists information that they achieved their goals.

"This decision does not imply a curtailment of press freedom, it is a measure followed all over the world."

International and local media coverage of Iraq's deadly sectarian conflict generates dozens of images and reports of carnage every day, as insurgent bomb attacks continue.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Leaves A Lump In Your Throat

Tom Geiger of Kronenwetter, Wisconsin, tucks into a bull's testicle.
Photo: AP

The AP reports:
Around here, it may be tough to pass up anything deep-fried.

Wisconsinites have deep-fried cheese curds, candy bars and Twinkies. They now have deep-fried livestock testicles, too.

More than 300 people paid $5 for all-you-can-eat goat, lamb and bull testicles Saturday at the ninth annual Testicle Festival at Mama's Place Bar and Grill in Elderon in central Wisconsin.

"Once you get over the mental (aspect) of what you're eating, it's just like eating any other food, and it tastes good," Buster Hoffman said.

Festival founder Nancy Fenske said the festival grew out of her late husband Roger's birthday party 12 years ago. They decided to have "a nut fry" at Mama's Place after bringing back lamb fries from a trip to Montana.

The event grew every year and now they fry up to 100 pounds of testicles, she said.

"What else can you do in a small town?" Fenske said.

Butch Joubert, 58, likes the parts sandwiched between bread with tartar sauce. They're not so different from regular meatballs also served at the festival, he said.

"After a few beers, you can't really tell the difference," Joubert said.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Addressing Bushies' Rhetoric Head On

CBS Has Allowed McCain Campaign Aide To Advocate For McCain On Air

Over at, they're talking about the firing at CBS of retired General John Batiste:CBS News has claimed that it fired Gen. John Batiste because he was engaging in “advocacy” that might hurt the credibility of his “analytical approach.” CBS has not expressed a similar level of concern with its other consultants, particularly former Bush aide Nicolle Wallace.
ThinkProgress has confirmed that Wallace serves as an informal advisor to the McCain campaign. As early as August 2006, the National Journal reported that Wallace was affiliated with the McCain campaign:

Nicolle Wallace, who oversaw communications for Bush in the campaign and at the White House, will help McCain.

The Washington Post’s Peter Baker also noted that she was aiding the McCain campaign.

CBS does not appear to have been concerned that Wallace’s advocacy for McCain would impact her on-air analysis. But on at least two occasions — after the media reported she was affiliated with the campaign — Wallace appeared on CBS programming to boost John McCain:

I think, one, there is John McCain and there is everybody else. Nobody else running for president or thinking about running for president is even in a category of suggesting or proposing policy that any commander in chief is considering adapting. And I think John McCain himself addressed the political perils this week when he came out in all his interviews and said, `You know, everyone knows I have presidential aspirations, but let’s put all that aside and do right by the men and women of our military.’ And I think that is the essence of who he his and what his campaign will be about. [CBS Saturday, 1/6/07]

I think one thing that has always dogged the White House when it comes to Iraq is, in addition to people feeling uncomfortable and weary of what is clearly a very difficult war, they have always been under the impression that there was no plan for Iraq. Now, I don’t think McCain will suffer from that label from the public. He obviously has a plan. I think people associate him with this strategy of having more troops, and we’re now going to see that. But I think McCain is doing exactly what his core supporters–and that’s a pretty large number of Americans–expect him to do, and that’s to put it all on the line, to say… “Let the chips fall where they may.” [CBS Saturday, 1/13/07]

CBS’s concerns over the “advocacy” of Gen. John Batiste is clearly hypocritical. The network will have to offer a better reason for why he was let go.

UPDATE: CBS VP Linda Mason amends her complaint against Batiste. “It isn’t just that he took an advocacy position,” she said. “General Batiste took part in a commercial that’s being shown on television to raise money for veterans against the war.” Actually, the VoteVets ad that Batiste appears is not a fundraising ad.

A reader, Patrick1, comments:
The McCain lady wants us to win, the old Clinton general wants us to lose. Easy decision about who should be on the air. We have more than enough defeatists around. We need a woman with courage. Keep her on!!

Patrick1's comment presumes that the Bush-Republican policies for protecting Americans (on any front, including but not limited to terrorism) have been successful. More successful, too, than the Clinton policies, which Patrick1 implies would be the policies of a Democratic president were one in office now or in the future.

When you examine the record and not the rhetoric, Americans should only hope for a Democratic president with Clinton's policies if both preserving the Constitution while protecting your life is important to you.

Nothing that Bush has done in the last seven years has improved Americans' safety or chances of not becoming victims of a terrorist attack. Ironically, everything that Bush has done has increased the likelihood of Americans losing their lives while also losing their Constitutional protections from an intrusive and abusive government.

From the reorganization (of existing) and creation (of new) U.S. intelligence agencies, to failing to secure ports, borders, nuclear reactor sites, chemical manufacturing sites, dams, bridges, highways, railroads, etc., Bush has drained the U.S. Treasury (for generations) on an adventure to Baghdad on behalf of multinational oil companies that is guaranteed to move more people to commit acts of terror against Americans.

And who the terrorists don't kill, deregulated and un(der)funded government will. The mind boggles to think that in the 21st century we would be returning to the time of Upton Sinclair in America.

Eight years passed between the first WTC bombing and the second on 9/11/01. Bush hasn't beat that record. Had Bill Clinton still been in office on 9/11/01, with all of the warning signs and alarm bells that had U.S. guard dogs (like Richard Clarke, George Tenet, Cofer Black) alerting the chief executive to an imminent attack in the U.S. by Al Qaeda, in all likelihood those Towers would still be standing.

Friday, May 11, 2007

California State National Guard Warns It's Stretched to the Limit

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
As state forestry officials predict an unusually harsh fire season this summer, the California National Guard says equipment shortages could hinder the guard's response to a large-scale disaster.

A dearth of equipment such as trucks and radios -- caused in part by the war in Iraq -- has state military officials worried they would be slow in providing help in the event of a major fire, earthquake or terrorist attack.

The readiness of the Guard has been described as a national problem and has become a political liability for the Bush administration, which came under fire this week when the governor of Kansas complained that the National Guard response to a devastating tornado in her state was inadequate. National Guard readiness has become a growing concern as the Guard has taken on extra responsibilities caused by the Iraq war and the increased threat of terrorism.
In California, half of the equipment the National Guard needs is not in the state, either because it is deployed in Iraq or other parts of the world or because it hasn't been funded, according to Lt. Col. John Siepmann. While the Guard is in good shape to handle small-scale incidents, "our concern is a catastrophic event,'' he said.

"You would see a less effective response (to a major incident),'' he said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also acknowledged the National Guard's equipment woes and attributed them to the war. National Guard policy has required that much of the equipment that goes with units to Iraq stays there.

"A lot of equipment has gone to Iraq, and it doesn't come back when the troops come back,'' Schwarzenegger said Thursday at a news conference in Sacramento, where he was asked about the National Guard. "So this is one thing we have been talking about, how do we get this equipment back as quickly as possible in case we need it, and we also need it for training.''

Schwarzenegger and other state officials say they are confident the Guard could handle most emergencies, however, noting that about 2,500 guard personnel are deployed overseas out of a force of more than 20,000.

"We are ready to respond, and we will respond to anything,'' Siepmann said, noting that problems would arise only in the case of a major problem on par with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

And the National Guard is not the only agency charged with dealing with major emergencies: Bill Maile, a spokesman for the governor, noted the state had a well-choreographed emergency management system tying together local jurisdictions and state agencies like the Office of Emergency Services.

The National Guard performs a wide range of activities during emergencies, such as helping to fight fires, evacuating residents and providing security and supplies.

Siepmann said the Guard's aerial equipment that is used to fight fires, such as C-130 airplanes and CH-47 helicopters, was in good shape. But officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have noted that a dry winter could lead to a particularly bad fire season.

Two fires in Southern California this week have prompted concerns that the season is starting unusually early.

The California National Guard is missing about $1 billion worth of equipment of all types, according to a Guard listing provided to The Chronicle. Much of the equipment would be useful in handling events like electricity blackouts, earthquakes or other emergencies.

For example, guidelines suggest the Guard should have 39 diesel generators on hand, but it has none. Guidelines suggest having 1,410 of a certain type of Global Positioning Satellite device; the Guard has none of those.

Some of the equipment is in Iraq, Afghanistan or other parts of the world -- 209 vehicles, including 110 humvees and 63 military trucks that could be used to transport troops or supplies, are out of the state. The Guard has only 62 percent of the vehicles it believes it needs in California.

Other equipment has not been funded by the federal government, which provides virtually all of the National Guard's budget.

Some equipment and about 1,400 California National Guard personnel are deployed along the Mexican border as part of a directive by President Bush to help bolster border security, but Siepmann said those troops could be quickly redeployed around the state if needed.

Bush was assailed this week by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who said the National Guard in her state was limited in its response to a tornado last Friday that flattened the town of Greensburg and killed at least 11 people. Sebelius said the state's military was missing trucks, bulldozers and helicopters that could have helped secure the town and search for survivors.

The White House insisted it had provided Kansas with all of the supplies it requested.

But around the country, concern is growing about the National Guard's ability to handle emergencies.

The head of the National Guard told a congressional committee in March that Army National Guard units have on average just 40 percent of their required equipment on hand and that bolstering supplies to a proper level would require an extra $40 billion. And an independent commission created by Congress to study the National Guard called the equipment shortage unacceptable in a report this year.

The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves noted the new responsibilities imposed on the Guard since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Iraq war have led to a utilization of National Guard personnel and equipment that "is not sustainable over time.''

The overuse of the National Guard overseas and limited federal funding for equipment to be used in the country could lead to a situation in California similar to the one in Kansas, said state Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, who is chairman of a legislative committee on emergency services and homeland security.

"These are policies that are putting California residents in jeopardy,'' said Nava, who is planning hearings on Guard readiness this summer.

California National Guard
-- Current strength: 20,059
-- On federal active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere: 2,500 (approximate)
-- Killed in action: 23 (all in Iraq)
-- Serving on the Mexican border: 1,400
-- Available for state missions: 16,000

The problem with having a Republican governor with a Republican in the White House is that Schwarzenegger is unlikely to push Bush or embarrass him into doing the right thing for Californians. And so we wait for some state of emergency, when the National Guard and equipment that we've paid for for isn't here to help. And shame both Schwarzenegger and Bush.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Iraq Kurd Leader On Oil Law

UPI reports:
To Iraq's Kurdish leadership, the issue of how to apportion the third-largest pools of oil in the world is "a make-or-break deal" for the country as a whole, a top official told United Press International.

"The oil issue for us is a red line. It will signify our participation in Iraq or not," Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Kurdistan Regional Government's representative to the United States, said in an interview from his Washington office.
The KRG and the central Iraqi government reached a deal in February on the hydrocarbons framework -- though not on other key companion bills -- and a self-imposed deadline of late May seemed possible to meet.

But the Iraqi Oil Ministry, at a meeting it set up last month in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, with other Iraqi oil experts and politicians, unveiled the annexes to the hydrocarbons law -- its list distributing control of oil fields between central and KRG control -- and a law re-establishing the Iraq National Oil Co., which Kurdish leadership automatically rejected.

"This sets us back to square one, a point that's unacceptable to us. We're trying to modernize Iraq, build a new Iraq, built on new foundations, new policies. The symbol of this new Iraq will be how it manages its oil infrastructure," Talabani said. "And if people want to revert back to Saddam-era policies of a state-controlled oil sector with no accountability, with no accountability to the Parliament or the people of the country, with no oversight except from by one or two, then I'm sorry, that is not the Iraq that the Kurds bought into. That is not the Iraq that the Kurds would want to be part of."

"If a centralized oil regime is imposed on us, we will not participate in the state of Iraq," Talabani said. "And we have to make it absolutely clear to our friends in Washington, to our brothers in Baghdad, this is a make-or-break deal for Iraq."

He said Iraq needs to embrace the free market and break free from the nationalized mindset. Numerous oil and Iraqi experts as well as key Iraq oil union leaders have told UPI that Iraqis see nationalized oil with pride. And opponents of the oil law also say it gives too much to foreign companies.

The Kurds, however, have little to show from the Saddam Hussein era, aside from persecution, death and little investment in its economy or oil sector. They gained autonomy in 1991 and, governing an autonomous three-province region now, are prospering. Airplanes fly internationally from the airport in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan's capital. Violence in the region is relatively nil compared with the rest of the country, though the first major attack in more than four years killed 14 people in Irbil Wednesday. Despite lacking the law, the KRG has signed multiple deals with foreign companies to develop its oil and natural-gas sector.

Iraq only produces about 2 million barrels per day. With investment -- domestic or foreign -- Iraq's 115 billion barrels in reserves could handle much higher output.

Many of the arguments over the law are related to the 2005 constitution. It was written vaguely to garner support. Now there is a dispute as to which oil fields are to be governed by the central government and which by the regions.

Tariq Shafiq, an Iraq oil expert now living in Amman, Jordan, and drafter of the original law last summer, said the Iraq National Oil Co. should be independent of the Oil Ministry, and regions could choose the company's board of directors. (Shafiq has since come out against the law, saying it has been altered too much in negotiations.) He said Iraq needs a central strategy for the best management of the country's oil.

Talabani said the KRG favors an INOC limited in scope and open to foreign investment, and says the current law gives INOC control over 93 percent of Iraq's oil. "This will hamper needed investment," he said.

"It's only by bringing in the biggest and the best from the international community, to partner with, not to steal, but to partner with the Iraqi government, can we develop Iraq's oil accordingly," Talabani said. "And there's a worrying unwillingness to act under a free-market-style concept here. It won't go through. It won't go through the Parliament this way. There will be too many people opposed to it."

Other bills needing to be passed include a reorganization of the Oil Ministry and the revenue-sharing law. Talabani said there were lingering fears Kurds will again be deprived of funds and investment.

"We want to create an automatic payment mechanism where it doesn't rely on the goodwill of the finance minister or the oil minister for the regions to get their fair share," he said.

"Trust is lacking in Iraq, and unfortunately it's been Iraq's miserable history that has created this system, this society that mistrusts each other, which is why something as critical as oil can be a trust-building measure," Talabani said. "By putting in place mechanisms and institutions that can ensure that I will not get robbed again, that my resources will not be used against me again, will eventually over time build my trust."

Iraqi Parliament Wants U.S. Troops Out

Alternet reports, "Majority of Iraqi Lawmakers Now Reject Occupation":
More than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected for the first time on Tuesday the continuing occupation of their country. The U.S. media ignored the story.
On Tuesday, without note in the U.S. media, more than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected the continuing occupation of their country. 144 lawmakers signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, according to Nassar Al-Rubaie, a spokesman for the Al Sadr movement, the nationalist Shia group that sponsored the petition.

It's a hugely significant development. Lawmakers demanding an end to the occupation now have the upper hand in the Iraqi legislature for the first time; previous attempts at a similar resolution fell just short of the 138 votes needed to pass (there are 275 members of the Iraqi parliament, but many have fled the country's civil conflict, and at times it's been difficult to arrive at a quorum).

Reached by phone in Baghdad on Tuesday, Al-Rubaie said that he would present the petition, which is nonbinding, to the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and demand that a binding measure be put to a vote. Under Iraqi law, the speaker must present a resolution that's called for by a majority of lawmakers, but there are significant loopholes and what will happen next is unclear.

What is clear is that while the U.S. Congress dickers over timelines and benchmarks, Baghdad faces a major political showdown of its own. The major schism in Iraqi politics is not between Sunni and Shia or supporters of the Iraqi government and "anti-government forces," nor is it a clash of "moderates" against "radicals"; the defining battle for Iraq at the political level today is between nationalists trying to hold the Iraqi state together and separatists backed, so far, by the United States and Britain.

The continuing occupation of Iraq and the allocation of Iraq's resources -- especially its massive oil and natural gas deposits -- are the defining issues that now separate an increasingly restless bloc of nationalists in the Iraqi parliament from the administration of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government is dominated by Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish separatists.

By "separatists," we mean groups who oppose a unified Iraq with a strong central government; key figures like Maliki of the Dawa party, Shia leader Abdul Aziz Al-Hakeem of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq ("SCIRI"), Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi of the Sunni Islamic Party, President Jalal Talabani -- a Kurd -- and Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, favor partitioning Iraq into three autonomous regions with strong local governments and a weak central administration in Baghdad. (The partition plan is also favored by several congressional Democrats, notably Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.)

Iraq's separatists also oppose setting a timetable for ending the U.S. occupation, preferring the addition of more American troops to secure their regime. They favor privatizing Iraq's oil and gas and decentralizing petroleum operations and revenue distribution.

But public opinion is squarely with Iraq's nationalists. According to a poll by the University of Maryland's Project on International Public Policy Attitudes, majorities of all three of Iraq's major ethno-sectarian groups support a unified Iraq with a strong central government. For at least two years, poll after poll has shown that large majorities of Iraqis of all ethnicities and sects want the United States to set a timeline for withdrawal, even though (in the case of Baghdad residents), they expect the security situation to deteriorate in the short term as a result.

That's nationalism, and it remains the central if unreported motivation for many Iraqis, both within the nascent government and on the streets.

While sectarian fighting at the neighborhood and community level has made life unlivable for millions of Iraqis, Iraqi nationalism -- portrayed as a fiction by supporters of the invasion -- supercedes sectarian loyalties at the political level. A group of secular, Sunni and Shia nationalists have long voted together on key issues, but so far have failed to join forces under a single banner.

That may be changing. Reached by phone last week, nationalist leader Saleh Al-Mutlaq, of the National Dialogue Front, said, "We're doing our best to form this united front and announce it within the next few weeks." The faction would have sufficient votes to block any measure proposed by the Maliki government. Asked about the Americans' reaction to the growing power of the nationalists, Mutlaq said, "We're trying our best to reach out to the U.S. side, but to no avail."

That appears to be a trend. Iraqi nationalists have attempted again and again to forge relationships with members of Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House but have found little interest in dialogue and no support. Instead, key nationalists like al-Sadr have been branded as "extremists," "thugs" and "criminals."

That's a tragic missed opportunity; the nationalists are likely Iraq's best hope for real and lasting reconciliation among the country's warring factions. They are the only significant political force focused on rebuilding a sovereign, united and independent Iraq without sectarian and ethnic tensions or foreign meddling -- from either the West or Iran. Hassan Al-Shammari, the head of Al-Fadhila bloc in the Iraqi parliament, said this week, "We have a peace plan, and we're trying to work with other nationalist Iraqis to end the U.S. and Iranian interventions, but we're under daily attacks and there's huge pressure to destroy our peace mission."

A sovereign and unified Iraq, free of sectarian violence, is what George Bush and Tony Blair claim they want most. The most likely reason that the United States and Britain have rebuffed those Iraqi nationalists who share those goals is that the nationalists oppose permanent basing rights and the privatization of Iraq's oil sector. The administration, along with their allies in Big Oil, has pressed the Iraqi government to adopt an oil law that would give foreign multinationals a much higher rate of return than they enjoy in other major oil producing countries and would lock in their control over what George Bush called Iraq's "patrimony" for decades.

Al-Shammari said this week: "We're afraid the U.S. will make us pass this new oil law through intimidation and threatening. We don't want it to pass, and we know it'll make things worse, but we're afraid to rise up and block it, because we don't want to be bombed and arrested the next day." In the Basrah province, where his Al-Fadhila party dominates the local government, Al-Shammari's fellow nationalists have been attacked repeatedly by separatists for weeks, while British troops in the area remained in their barracks.

The nationalists in parliament will now press their demands for withdrawal. At the same time, the emerging nationalist bloc is holding hearings in which officials from the defense and interior ministries have been grilled about just what impediments to building a functional security force remain and when the Iraqi police and military will be able to take over from foreign troops. Both ministries are believed to be heavily infiltrated by both nationalist (al-Sadr's Mahdi Army) and separatist militias (the pro-Iranian Badr Brigade).

The coming weeks and months will be crucial to Iraq's future. The United States, in pushing for more aggressive moves against Iraqi nationalists and the passage of a final oil law, is playing a dangerous game. Iraqi nationalists reached in Baghdad this week say they are beginning to lose hope of achieving anything through the political process because both the Iraqi government and the occupation authorities are systematically bypassing the Iraqi parliament where they're in the majority. If they end up quitting the political process entirely, that will leave little choice but to oppose the occupation by violent means.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Republicans Conflicted, Moving Toward Benchmarks

The LATimes reports that Republicans say a new spending bill should include benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet:
Distressed by the violence in Iraq and worried about tying their political fate to an unpopular president, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are beginning to move away from the White House to stake out a more critical position on the U.S. role in the war.

These lawmakers are advocating proposals that would tie the U.S. commitment in the war to the Iraqi government's ability to demonstrate that it is working to quell the sectarian conflict.

One of my favorite comments comes from Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine):
"Obviously, the president would prefer a straight funding bill with no benchmarks, no conditions, no reports. Many of us, on both sides of the aisle, don't see that as viable."

The fact is that even when conditions have been put into legislation, Republicans have ignored them, and enabled Bush make Iraq into a hell on earth.

From AUMF or HJ resolution 114 (the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq that Congress gave Bush on October 16, 2002):
(a) REPORTS.—The President shall, at least once every 60 days,
submit to the Congress a report on matters relevant to this joint
resolution, including actions taken pursuant to the exercise of
authority granted in section 3 and the status of planning for efforts
that are expected to be required after such actions are completed,
including those actions described in section 7 of the Iraq Liberation
Act of 1998 (Public Law 105–338).

You can read the rest (AUMF) here to learn what else was required of Bush that he has never complied with.

The Republican-controlled Congress let it slide. There have been none of these required reports to Congress in the more than 4 years of this war in Iraq.

If you've read any of the books that have detailed what's been going on in the Bush administration and how it's conducted the war, I think you'd notice exactly what the problem is. Aside, of course, from the fact that the war never should have happened in the first place, or that neocons like Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Hadley had an impossible ideological dream of Iraq as their incubator for conservatives' economic theories (privatization). What is the problem?

It's that everyone in the Bush administration is a dilettante. They're all big on theory, but they haven't any practical experience actually working.

It's a pattern that's evident from all of the accounts of this administration. You can even pick it up in the 9/11 Commission's Report. The ordinary people doing the work in government, career workers, civil servants (and in Iraq, the troops), all did (and are doing) their jobs superbly. It's that middle level, the appointees, the political players right up through Bush, that have failed miserably.

Some of the books published so far make for extremely frustrating reading for people trained and experienced in breaking down tasks and communications to their most basic, direct and efficient steps. I don't think that the authors themselves realize that what they have revealed in their books, of the failures of the Bush administration, all have this common thread.

Bob Woodward goes into some detail in "State of Denial" about some of the efforts undertaken to identify why the invasion of Iraq wasn't going as had been sold to Congress and the American people. Woodward describes Condoleeza Rice at loggerheads with Rumsfeld. In March, 2004, Rice sends her senior director for defense at the NSC, Frank Miller, to Iraq to find out what's really going on. Miller headed the Executive Steering Group which was to coordinate Iraq issues among the different federal agencies.

On one trip, Miller spent a week traveling all over Iraq and seemed to get a sense of the problem: "Bremer didn't delegate and he doesn't have time to do everything."
Though Bremer tried to control things, on so many issues, Miller said, the staff at CPA was playing to run out of the clock. They kept deferring to the iraqi Governing Council, which was slow or stagnant in making decisions-communications, regulatory policy, police code of conduct, hiring former officers, firing the Kirkuk teachers. It was always the same story. People in the CPA are tired, bitter and defeatist. There are few problem-solvers there, and the Iraqi ministries aren't much help.

"We need to pick our top 10 issues," he advised, things that needed to be accomplished before the handover of sovereignty was schedule to take place.

Miller listed the top 10 issues, and included five more - all general complaints, with no concrete recommendations:
First they shouldn't underestimate how many Iraqis were watching Al Jazeera on satellite TV. Electricity is a problem, he added, not just because they didn't have enough of it, but because to Iraqis it was seen as something that should be free.

Second, Sanchez and Bremer aren't talking. And Sanchez and his division commanders aren't communicating effectively enough.

Third, CPA never leaves the Green Zone. Their regional offices in all 18 provinces outside Baghdad are worth their weight in gold, but the folks in the green Zone were not doing anything

Fourth, de-Baathification is a mess. There are some good people with only tenuous Baathist connections who are not being allowed in, Miller said. He wasn't sure whether it was the CPA or the de-Baathification group run by the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi who was responsible, but Chalabi was hoarding files from the old iraqi intelligence service-a prime source of information on who had been a true-believer Baathist under Saddam-making it almost impossible to determine levels of involvement.

Fifth, they needed to put contracts on a wartime footing. CPA was sending out requests for proposals with 90-day timelines. That was pointless, bureaucratic busywork. In 90 days, CPA would be nearly extinct.

On page 294, Woodward writes:
Miller repeated his briefing to most of the deputies on the NSC, including Armitage and Pace. He talked with Scooter Libby, hoping his most salient points would make their way to the vice president.

At the Pentagon briefing for Wolfowitz, it was standing room only, with lots of straphangers from Feith's policy shop and the CPA-Washington liaison. There's not a single person in this room who will do a thing about what I have to say, Miller thought, even if they believe it. The problem as always was implementation.

He started putting these items on the deputies committee agendas. How do we cut contracting time? How do we get more CERP funds for military commanders? Can't we standardize the training for the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps? How do we weed out the bad apples so we have a better, saner, quicker de-Baathification process?

"I will fix it," Rice told Miller. She called Bremer. "You will give the division commanders more money." The division commanders got another billion dollars in CERP funds.

This story continues with success in Iraq being no closer, actually getting worse, and repeats itself just about every six months to a year. Rice sends Miller to find out "What's really going on in Iraq?", Miller returns, reports, more money is sent, lather, rinse, repeat. Reading this, I became increasingly annoyed that at no point did anybody with authority actually hand-carry the money through, find out just what and where the bottlenecks are, and make on-the-spot decisions to break through them. There are no Lt. General Russel Honores involved anywhere in this quagmire of Iraq.

And after four years of it, I believe that it's by design.