Friday, November 23, 2007

Al Qaeda 'Rolodex' Found in Iraq Raid

And it's mostly Saudi and Libyan names.

UPI reports:
A September raid near the Syrian border uncovered what U.S. military officials term "an al-Qaida Rolodex" of hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq.

A senior U.S. military official in Baghdad has confirmed to CNN that the raid netted documents listing the identities of more than 700 foreign fighters believed to have entered the country in the past year.

The official said the documents, along with other intelligence, indicated that as many as 60 percent of the foreign fighters were from Saudi Arabia and Libya, CNN reported.
White House spokeswoman Nikki McArthur said the United States continued to work with countries in the region to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.

"These statistics remind us that extremists continue to go to Iraq because they do not want the United States nor the Iraqis to succeed in establishing a democracy there that is an ally in the way on terror," McArthur told CNN.

These statistics remind us that Bush-Cheney and conservatives' foreign policy and strategy is an utter total failure.


Democrats' Iraq pullout plan allows for long-term presence.

According to Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, discussing an Iraq troop-cut plan last month, US policymakers must consider a multitude of variables when planning reductions. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Will we now believe Ralph Nader when he says that there's not a dime's worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans?

The Boston Globe reports:
The Democrats' flagship proposal on Iraq is aimed at bringing most troops home. Yet if enacted, the law would still allow for tens of thousands of US troops to stay deployed for years to come.

This reality - readily acknowledged by Democrats, who say it's still their best shot at curbing the nearly five-year war - has drawn the ire of antiwar groups and bolstered President Bush's prediction that the United States will probably wind up maintaining a hefty long-term presence in Iraq, much as it does in South Korea.

For those who want troops out, "you've got more holes in here than Swiss cheese," said Tom Andrews, national director of the war protest group Win Without War and a former congressman from Maine.
The Democratic proposal would order troops to begin leaving Iraq within 30 days, a requirement Bush is already on track to meet as he begins reversing this year's 30,000 troop buildup. The proposal also sets a goal of ending combat by Dec. 15, 2008.

After that, troops remaining in Iraq would be restricted to three missions: counterterrorism, training Iraqi security forces, and protecting US assets, including diplomats.

This month, Senate Republicans blocked the measure, even though it was tied to $50 billion needed by the military, because they said it would impose an artificial timetable on a war that has been showing signs of progress.

Despite the GOP's fierce opposition and a White House veto threat, military officials and analysts say the proposal leaves open the door for a substantial force to remain behind. Estimates range from as few as 2,000 troops to as many as 70,000 or more to accomplish those three missions.

There are about 164,000 troops in Iraq now.

Major General Michael Barbero, deputy chief of staff for operations in Iraq, declined to estimate how many troops might be needed under the Democrats' plan but said it would be hard to accomplish any of the stated missions without a significant force.

"It's a combination of all of our resources and capabilities to be able to execute these missions the way that we are," Barbero said in a recent phone interview from Baghdad.

For example, Barbero said that "several thousand" troops are assigned to specialized antiterrorism units focused on capturing high-profile terrorist targets. But they often rely on the logistics, security, and intelligence provided by conventional troops, he said.

"When a brigade is operating in a village, meeting with locals, asking questions, collecting human intelligence on these very same [terrorist] organizations, that intelligence comes back and is merged and fed into this counterterrorism unit," Barbero said. "So are they doing counterterrorism operations?

"It's all linked and simultaneous. You can't separate it cleanly like that."

It's also difficult to say precisely how many US troops are tasked with training the Iraqi security forces.

Christine Wormuth, who served as staff director of General James Jones's commission on training Iraqi security forces, said she estimates some 8,000 to 10,000 troops are dedicated to training. These "transition teams" are tasked solely with training and equipping Iraqi police, army, air force, maritime, and intelligence forces.

But an undetermined number of additional troops provide "on the job" training for Iraqi security forces by conducting daily patrols and other combat missions alongside them, she said.

Last year, the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission whose findings were the basis for the Democratic proposal, recommended that 10,000 to 20,000 troops should be embedded with Iraqi combat units.

Senate Democrats who championed the party's proposal say it was written deliberately to give the military flexibility and not cap force levels. Unlike their counterparts in the House, many Senate Democrats have opposed stronger measures that would set firm deadlines on troop withdrawals or effectively force an end to the war by cutting off money for combat.

"There's no way to say down the line how many insurgency threats there will be, how many militia threats there will be, how many Al Qaeda and other terrorist threats there will be," said Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Still, Levin and other Democrats say the United States could still launch effective antiterrorism strikes in Iraq using elite special operations forces without the massive footprint of conventional forces.

"We've been told now that 90 percent of the Iraqi units are capable of taking the lead, so six or nine months from now we would expect those units would not only be taking the lead, they would be handling those missions," he said.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"But Once The Bombing Starts & We Invade Iran, The Nuts Will Have Been Destroyed!"

U.S. officials demanding halt to indirect Israel imports of Iranian pistachio nuts

The International Herald Tribune reports:

It's not just Iran's nuclear program that's causing problems for Israel and the U.S. — it's also Iran's pistachio nuts.

The reddish nuts are landing in Israeli shops after funneling through Turkey, violating Israeli law that bans all Iranian imports and angering American officials who are urging Israel to crack down as part of their attempt to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Keenum said in a meeting with Israeli officials in Rome on Monday that the pistachio imports must stop, a U.S. official confirmed Wednesday. Both the U.S. and Israel have been pushing for new U.N. sanctions to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program. Iran insists its ambitions are peaceful.

"This causes great anger, especially since pistachios succeed in coming in through a third country," Israeli Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon told Israeli Radio. "This has to do with the sanctions but also with the competition between American farmers and Iranian farmers, and we are trying to deal with this."

Simchon said a recent meeting with a senior U.S. agriculture official focused on using technology to detect the origin of pistachios. He said that would involve chemical testing to determine the climate and soil of where the nuts were grown.

In the mid 1990s U.S. officials pressured Israel to block the import of Iranian nuts coming through E.U. member states and winding up in Israel.

The United States has had few diplomatic and economic ties with Iran since a group of Iranian students besieged the American embassy in Tehran in 1979, holding diplomats hostage for 444 days.

Tensions since Iran started pursuing nuclear technology have only heightened, with the U.S. pushing the U.N. to enact new economic sanctions against the country until it gives up the program.

California is the second largest producer of pistachios in the world, according to the former California Pistachio Coalition. Iran is first.

"As a proud native of the golden state (California), I think Israelis should eat American pistachios, not Iranian ones," said Stewart Tuttle, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The Manchurian Senator

Bob Corker

Local news in Chattanooga reports:
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker raised some eyebrows at a luncheon at the Chattanoogan hotel Tuesday with remarks about President Bush.

Speaking to a crowd of about 500 supporters, led by Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, Corker spoke about a range of issues, including energy, healthcare, and his experiences during his first year as a Senator.

But his remarks about his experiences with the White House during meetings on the war in Iraq left some in the crowd befuddled.

"I was in the White House a number of times to talk about the issue, and I may rankle some in the room saying this, but I was very underwhelmed with what discussions took place at the White House," Corker said.
A few minutes later during a question and answer session a man in the audience asked him to clarify his statement.

"I was concerned about your statement that you were underwhelmed with what was going on in the White House. Did you mean with him or with his staff?"

In response, Corker said, "Let me say this. George Bush is a very compassionate person. He's a very good person. And a lot of people don't see that in him, and there's many people in this room who might disagree with that.... I just felt a little bit underwhelmed by our discussions, the complexity of them, the depth of them. And yet in spite of that, I do believe that the most recent course of action we've pursued is a good one. I feel like what we've lack in our country is a coherent effort that really links together the Treasury Department, all the various departments of our government in a way that really focuses not just on the hard military side of things, but also the soft effort that it takes to build good will among people. I really think much of that has righted itself, I'm just telling you that at that moment in time I felt very underwhelmed, and I'm just being honest. I've said that to them, and to him, and to others. I kind of in a way wish I hadn't said it today." The last comment was greeted with laughter in the crowd.

Corker is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He told the audience that before the end of the year he plans to travel to Pakistan, Afghanistan and India to meet with leaders of those countries.

"George Bush is a very compassionate person. He's a very good person."

"Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."

For more than six years, people who have met Bush a total of one or two times (and in controlled settings orchestrated by the White House), exit their meetings with him and repeat these same words. One after another. I think it's quite remarkable.

I don't think Corker has been in the same room with Bush (and never alone with him) any more times than I can count on one hand.

What is it that Bush said or did in his meeting with Corker that convinced Corker that Bush is a "very compassionate" and "good person"? For that matter, what has Bush ever done to be singled out as a "very compassionate" and "good person"?
Bush and Bob Corker at Porker's BBQ, Chattanooga, TN, February 22, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Oil Leaders' Private Debate Televised By Mistake

'Kill the cable, kill the cable,' shouted the security guard as he burst through the double doors into the media room at the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh, followed by Saudi police. It was too late. The Observer reports:
A private meeting of Opec leaders, gathered this weekend in Riyadh for the cartel's third meeting in its 47-year history, had just been broadcast to the world's media for more than half an hour after a technician had mistakenly plugged the TV feed into the wrong socket. The facade of unity that the cartel so carefully cultivates to a world spooked by soaring oil prices was shattered.

Sometimes, such innocent mistakes can have far-reaching economic and political consequences. Commodity and currency traders said this weekend that oil prices would surge again tomorrow - possibly breaking the $101 per barrel record set in the late 1970s - while the already battered dollar would fall further on the back of the unintentional broadcast.
On Friday night, during what the participants thought were private talks, Venezuela's oil minister Venezuela Rafael Ramirez and his Iranian counterpart Gholamhossein Nozari, argued that pricing - and selling - oil using the crippled dollar was damaging the cartel.

They said Opec should formally express its concern about the weakness of the dollar when the cartel makes its official declaration at the close of the summit today. But the Saudis, the world's largest oil producers and de facto head of Opec, vetoed the proposal. Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, warned that even the mere mention to journalists of the fact that leaders were discussing the weak dollar would cause the US currency to plummet.

Unfortunately his words and those of everyone at the meeting were being broadcast via a live television feed to a group of astonished reporters. 'I couldn't believe it,' said one who was there. 'When I realised they didn't know they were being broadcast live, I frantically started taking notes.'

Opec only realised that the leaders' row was being broadcast to the world when the Reuters news agency put out a report of the argument.

The weakness of the dollar is one reason why oil prices are so high, as cartel members seek to compensate for their lower earnings. This means a further drop in the dollar is likely to be accompanied by a rise in oil prices.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


'Kill the cable, kill the cable,' shouted the security guard as he burst through the double doors into the media room at the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh, followed by Saudi police. It was too late.

The Observer reports:
A private meeting of Opec leaders, gathered this weekend in Riyadh for the cartel's third meeting in its 47-year history, had just been broadcast to the world's media for more than half an hour after a technician had mistakenly plugged the TV feed into the wrong socket. The facade of unity that the cartel so carefully cultivates to a world spooked by soaring oil prices was shattered.

Sometimes, such innocent mistakes can have far-reaching economic and political consequences. Commodity and currency traders said this weekend that oil prices would surge again tomorrow - possibly breaking the $101 per barrel record set in the late 1970s - while the already battered dollar would fall further on the back of the unintentional broadcast.
On Friday night, during what the participants thought were private talks, Venezuela's oil minister Venezuela Rafael Ramirez and his Iranian counterpart Gholamhossein Nozari, argued that pricing - and selling - oil using the crippled dollar was damaging the cartel.

They said Opec should formally express its concern about the weakness of the dollar when the cartel makes its official declaration at the close of the summit today. But the Saudis, the world's largest oil producers and de facto head of Opec, vetoed the proposal. Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, warned that even the mere mention to journalists of the fact that leaders were discussing the weak dollar would cause the US currency to plummet.

Unfortunately his words and those of everyone at the meeting were being broadcast via a live television feed to a group of astonished reporters. 'I couldn't believe it,' said one who was there. 'When I realised they didn't know they were being broadcast live, I frantically started taking notes.'

Opec only realised that the leaders' row was being broadcast to the world when the Reuters news agency put out a report of the argument.

The weakness of the dollar is one reason why oil prices are so high, as cartel members seek to compensate for their lower earnings. This means a further drop in the dollar is likely to be accompanied by a rise in oil prices.

Court Rejects Challenge To Wiretap Program

The Bush administration's warrantless spy effort is protected by the 'state secrets' privilege, federal judges rule. The LA Times reports:
In rejecting a key element of a legal challenge to the government's warrantless wiretapping program, federal appellate judges on Friday demonstrated once again the willingness of U.S. courts to give the Bush administration considerable latitude in handling the war on terror.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, by a 3-0 vote, barred an Islamic charity from using a confidential government document to prove that it had been illegally spied upon, agreeing with the administration that disclosure would reveal "state secrets."
The lawsuit, filed by Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its attorneys, challenged the National Security Agency's spying endeavor, the Terrorist Surveillance Program, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The U.N. Security Council has declared that Al-Haramain, which operates in more than 50 countries, belongs to or is associated with Al Qaeda.

The suit was one of 50 legal challenges brought across the country after the program's existence was revealed in the New York Times.

Other courts have shown similar deference to the Bush administration on the state secrets privilege, which permits the government to bar disclosure in court of information if "there is a reasonable danger" it would affect national security.

But the ruling in this case was particularly striking because it came from a panel of three liberal jurists, all appointed by Democratic presidents.

Moreover, the charity, unlike other plaintiffs, says it has evidence of surveillance -- a call log from the National Security Agency that the government inadvertently turned over in another proceeding.

In the ruling, Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote that the judges accepted "the need to defer to the executive on matters of foreign and national security and surely cannot legitimately find ourselves second-guessing the executive in this arena."

Erwin Chemerinsky, a liberal constitutional law professor at Duke University law school, said the court showed "how much deference even a liberal panel of judges is willing to give the executive branch in situations like this, and I find that very troubling."

Doug Kmiec, a conservative constitutional law professor at Pepperdine law school, said "the opinion is consistent with" a ruling by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati earlier this year striking down a challenge to the surveillance filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

He said the dual rulings indicated that "federal courts recognize that the essential aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program both remain secret and are important to preserve as such."

The court's ruling was not an absolute victory for the government. McKeown rejected the Justice Department's argument that "the very subject matter of the litigation is a state secret."

That finding could prove important in numerous other cases in which the government contends that even considering legal challenges to warrantless wiretapping would endanger national security.

In addition, the 9th Circuit panel sent the case back to a lower court to consider another issue: whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires approval by a special court for domestic surveillance, preempts the state secrets privilege. McKeown said that issue "remains central to Al-Haramain's ability to proceed with this lawsuit."

Georgetown University constitutional law professor David Cole said he thought Friday's ruling showed partial victories for both sides.

Indeed, lawyers for the government and for the charity said they were happy with the outcome.

"The 9th Circuit upheld the government's position that release of this information would undermine the government's intelligence capabilities and compromise national security," the Justice Department said.

Oakland attorney Jon Eisenberg, who argued for Al-Haramain before the 9th Circuit, said: "The government wants this case dead and gone. It is not. We are alive and kicking."

Eisenberg expressed optimism that his client would prevail under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a statute enacted in the aftermath of revelations of illegal spying on civil rights and antiwar activists in the 1960s and '70s.

"That provision would be meaningless if the government could evade any such lawsuit merely by evoking the state secrets privilege," Eisenberg said.

The foundation for this court's ruling (naively) presumes is that the executive branch can be trusted. The one and only thing this administration has demonstrated that it is competent at is being deceptive and untrustworthy.

We have a broken legal system when (rightly) innocence must be presumed (but only for the executive branch), and any evidence of criminal activity is inadmissable (only for the executive branch) due to claims by the executive branch which can only be disproven with evidence that is unattainable because it's been ruled inadmissable.

Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity
of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," Yossarian observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.
~'Catch 22' by Joseph Heller

Friday, November 16, 2007

This Is How It Starts

How The Democrats' Resolve Always Begins To Breakdown

I think it's inaccurate to describe Democrats as feckless and spineless. They have plenty of backbone, and aren't afraid or reluctant to use it. The problem is on whom they're choosing to use it, and stand up to: We, the People. Democrats' constituents. And,, of course.

If Democrats were serious about standing up to Bush and holding their Republican counterparts' feet to the fire to bring the troops home and end the war in Iraq, they would be challenging Bush's claim ("Violence is down in Iraq, so that means the surge is working, the war must continue, keep the money coming") at every turn with the facts of this fraud on the American people. But they're not, which, in just a few weeks, will result in the Democrats declaring that they must cave to Bush's demands for a "clean bill" because the "Americans believe that the surge is working" and Democrats don't want to be blamed for "losing the war."

And so every few days, we will read a new report echoing Democrats' previous battles with Bush and Republicans, of "the frustration felt by lawmakers who are trying to end the war, but...", with their resolve weakening with each story, until, at last (and on their way out of town to vacations), they fund Bush's war (with all the trimmings, and no exit date).

But the detour from the Democrats' staunch resolve begins as an article in one of the 'inside-the-beltway' publications. This cycle, it's in CQ, with Josh Rogin launching the meme:
Senate Democrats appear ready to omit Iraq withdrawal timelines from a supplemental spending bill in hopes of clearing in December funds for the troops — but House leaders have no intentions of following suit.

The next partial-year war funding bill, although by no means finalized, would still include the Democrats’ call for a change of mission in Iraq, but without controversial withdrawal dates — a move that is intended to draw enough Republican votes to advance legislation in the Senate.

That plan places Senate Democratic leaders in conflict with their House counterparts, who have gone to great lengths to assure rank-and-file members that no more war spending bills would be enacted before January.
Meanwhile, Republicans seem content to let the Democrats negotiate among themselves, waiting for them to move incrementally toward what they regard as the forgone conclusion that Congress eventually will send President Bush a “clean” supplemental bill without policy restrictions.

The Senate on Nov. 16 rejected two war funding bills — a Democratic proposal and a Republican alternative — sending leaders back to the drawing board for a plan to get money to the troops.

Two of the most powerful voices on Defense in the Senate — Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and Daniel K. Inouye, a Democrat representing Hawaii who is chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee — both said Democrats would offer a less restrictive version of the their party’s bill in December.

“There’s going to be a modification of the bridge fund,” Levin said.

The war spending bill is often referred to as a “bridge fund” because it is only a down payment on the $196.4 billion Bush requested in war spending for fiscal 2008. The bridge fund is intended to keep money flowing to the troops until Congress considers the balance of Bush’s request.

Levin said one option being discussed was a bill that still would require a change of mission in Iraq but doesn’t include specific dates, something the Republicans have repeatedly focused on in their criticisms.

“These are possibilities, I’m not predicting outcomes,” Levin added.

Inouye said, “We’ve got to build another bridge.”

But the senior senator from Hawaii said he was uncertain that Republicans would buy it.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Proposals Rejected
On Nov. 16, two war funding bills fell well short of the 60 votes need to advance in the Senate.

First, a Republican bill (S 2340), which would provide $70 billion without restrictions, was rejected, 45-53.

Later, the supplemental spending bill (HR 4156) that had passed the House two days earlier fell on a 53-45 vote.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has said she would not bring another war funding bill to the floor this year, a concession she made to liberal caucus members in order to pass the House bill.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pointedly refused to rule out a December war funding bill in the Senate when speaking to reporters Nov. 16.

“The House has made its position clear. Speaking for the Senate, we’re going to continue doing the right thing,” Reid said.

Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was aware there is a plan for the next war spending bill to lack a withdrawal timeline.

But he said his own proposal, which would provide the full $196.4 billion requested — but require a change of mission and calls for a series of reports in March — could come after that.

Nelson has been working with Susan Collins, R-Maine, on that language. He said he is waiting in line for Democratic leadership to support his idea, if and when the next plan goes down.

“Sometimes, everything else has to fail before something gets resolved,” Nelson said.

Nelson pitched his plan as a “starting point,” acknowledging that even more concessions might be necessary if Republicans reject his proposal, whenever it gets a hearing.

Democrats have been unable to strike the right tone in their legislative attempts to attract enough Republicans to achieve meaningful change to the president’s war policy.

“I don’t know what it really takes in this political, partisan environment right now to get ‘yes’ for an answer from enough people,” Nelson said.

The GOP Digs In
Senate Republicans, sensing vulnerability in the Democrats’ resolve, seemed ready to dig in their heels.

Ted Stevens of Alaska, the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee ranking Republican, reacted harshly to the idea of a modified bill that would preserve some restrictions on the president.

“That’s a non-starter!” he exclaimed.

Stevens reiterated that Republicans would support no constraints on the power of the executive to execute military policy.

“We don’t negotiate missions. That’s for the commander in chief, and that’s all there is to it,” Stevens said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared that he would not let up on his pressure to debate and pass another war funding bill next month.

“That clearly must be done some time before we adjourn . . . for this session,” he said.

Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a Senate Armed Services Committee member, indicated that Republicans would continue to point to recent successes on the ground in Iraq, attack the Democrats for seeking political gain at the expense of troops, and defer to the advice of the generals.

“We should not, as a group of politicians, take for ourselves the responsibility of mandating how we should be prosecuting this war,” Sessions said.

Meanwhile, moderates from both parties are left without support from their leadership as they try to find a middle ground that would lead to congressional unity regarding Iraq policy.

“We should be sitting down and working on a compromise,” said Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, one of only a few Republicans to vote for withdrawal timelines.

The environment on Capitol Hill is “so partisan, so polarizing, and so poisonous, that it’s impeding our ability to solve the problems of our nation, with monumental consequences,” she said.

And whose fault is that, Senator? Have your colleagues compromised, worked "in a bipartisan fashion" even once in the last six-and-a-half years to vote with Democrats against Bush's disastrous policies?

"Such a Deal!"

A clip from Fox Business News as their intrepid financial wizards report on *BREAKING NEWS*, a scoop, that Apple has purchased 8.1 percent of chipmaker AMD:

And Roger Ailes expects to a Fox business channel to be taken seriously with buffoons like this advising people on their money and business?

Getting a Jump on the Holidays

It's 19 Days to the beginning of Chanukah (Wednesday, December 5-12, 2007), 22 days to Bodhi Day (Saturday, December 8, 2007), 32 days to the beginning of the Hajj and Id al Adha (Tuesday, December 18-20, 2007), 39 Days to Christmas (Tuesday, December 25, 2007), and 40 days to the beginning of Kwanzaa (Wednesday, December 26-January 1, 2008) [For more information on holiday dates throughout the year and their meanings, go to the Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education.]

For most Americans, the holiday season is a time for demonstrating our humanity with periods of celebration and feasting, reflection and fasting, being mindful of the great indulgences and deprivations that exist side by side on our planet and performing practical acts to try to even it all out.

It's also the time (from Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, through to the busiest shopping day of the year, the day after Christmas) that retailers make most of their annual sales. The Constant American strongly supports capitalism (with regulations) within a mixed economy as the most successful method for creating a fair, equitable, peaceful society where all people have the opportunity to grow and prosper.

Toward that end, in the coming days and weeks I will be sharing some of my favorite products and causes, for giving and receiving, that have made my world a better place and might make yours, too, beginning today with a focus on the human spirit: Nourishing the inner diva:

Owen Smith's "Sweetie", polychromed ceramic

Whether you're in New York, or just in a New York state of mind (watch & listen online), don't miss a visit to the Met.

"Sweetie" (displayed above) is a selection of art work from an exhibition at the Metropolitan Opera House’s Gallery Met. The exhibition marks the première of a new production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” It runs from November 16th through February 2008, and includes interpretations of the fairy tale by Edward Koren, Lorenzo Mattotti, William Steig, Gahan Wilson, and Roz Chast.

The Met's gift shop CDs (particularly poignant this year with the recent death of Luciano Pavarotti is a 12-CD boxed set of his recordings), books, calendars, umbrellas, etc., for the opera and ballet afficionado.

From Confiserie Altmann & Kuehne, these most charming liliputian chocolates will impress the 'little girl' in each of us.

#3. Nourish other divas through a remarkable organization that does the job by getting down to basics.'s mission is to end world hunger and poverty while caring for the earth:

Finding Global Solutions
Heifer has learned over the years that a holistic approach is necessary in order to build sustainable communities. So we’ve developed a set of global initiatives – areas of emphasis that must be addressed if we’re to meet our mission of ending world hunger and poverty and caring for the earth.

In a world where land is overused, community members need to learn how to protect and rejuvenate their land, water and other natural resources. Heifer helps by teaching environmentally sound agricultural techniques.

Animal Well-Being
Before any Heifer animal is passed along to a project partner, Heifer trains the new recipient in animal management, using our strictly enforced. Animal Welfare Guidelines

Gender Equity
In Heifer's view, gender equity is a social justice and human rights issue that directly leads to ending hunger and poverty. That's why our participants are equal partners in sustainable development projects.

Today, we as a world community, confront AIDS, a virus that in the past 25 years has either infected or killed over 64 million people. It is not only a health issue, as it fractures every sector of society, for Heifer, it is a prominent concern in the arena of sustainable development. This is why Heifer is incorporating HIV/AIDS education in our community training groups.

Heifer provides both "no-interest living loans" in the form of livestock, as well as small monetary loans to help people start and expand businesses that yield big benefits for families.

Urban Agriculture
Heifer is reconnecting city-dwellers with their food sources, building strong alliances and instilling an entrepreneurial spirit among adults and youth through our Urban Agriculture projects.

Young People's Initiative
Heifer weaves youth-focused programs through all our project work and emphasizes young people's needs.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Basra Militants Targeting Women

"We warn against immodest dress. Violators will be punished. God is witness that we have conveyed the message"
-Message written on a Basra wall

The BBC reports:
The chief of police in the southern Iraqi city of Basra has warned of a campaign of violence against women carried out by religious extremists.

It has, Maj-Gen Abdul Jalil Khalaf said, included threats, intimidation and even murder.

Some victims were dressed in indecent clothes by their killers or had notices attached to them, he said.

Women interviewed by the BBC said they no longer dared venture on to Basra's streets without strict Islamic attire.

"There is a terrible repression against women in Basra," Maj-Gen Khalaf told the BBC.

"They kill women, leave a piece of paper on her or dress her in indecent clothes so as to justify their horrible crimes."

Forty-two women were killed between July and September this year, although the number dropped slightly in October, he said.

In one case, he added, a woman was killed in her home along with her six-year-old son, who was rumoured to have been conceived in an adulterous relationship.
Maj-Gen Khalaf, sent to Basra this year by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to impose order in the city, said the police were often too scared to conduct proper investigations into the killings.

"The relatives are reluctant to report the crimes for fear of a scandal or because they despair of the police's ability to solve them," he added.

Women are being targeted amid a local power struggle

'Shot in the legs'

A female lawyer in Basra contacted by the BBC by phone from London, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said attacks on women in the city were occurring "every two or three days".

She told the BBC about a university student who had been shot in the legs for not wearing an Islamic headscarf, or hijab.

The lawyer also said that graffiti was painted on walls warning women to cover their heads or "be punished".

She said she had been told by a group of men that she should be at home and get married instead of working.

"They said to me: 'If anyone's willing to offer a good price for you, we wouldn't think twice about selling you'," she said.

"When they see a woman going out to work and being successful, I'm sorry, but they feel inferior to her."

'Killed before their kids'

A mother-of-six and government employee in Basra, who wished to be identified only as Um Zeinab, told the BBC she had almost been run down by a motorcyclist one day while waiting for her bus to work.

"I was wearing a shirt with a skirt and some make-up, as I usually do," she said.

"I was waiting at the bus stop when the motorbike headed straight at me, full speed."

Luckily, the motorcyclist skidded and fell before reaching her.

She said she had heard of other women attacked but who had not been as lucky.

"Two women were killed in al-Makal district two days ago. People said they had received warnings before and then gunmen came to their homes and killed them, one in front of their kids."

Warring factions

Given the continuing power struggle in Basra between rival Shia militias, it was perhaps understandable that Gen Khalaf would not be drawn into naming names.

He blamed "dangerous criminals" trying to undermine stability in the city.

He also said that repression against women had been going on while British forces were still in the city, prior to their withdrawal to Basra airport in September.

Others were more direct in pointing the finger of blame at the rival Shia militias, known to have infiltrated the police and vying for control of Basra.

Um Zeinab called them "dark, fundamentalist extremists".

A spokesman for one of the largest Shia groups, the Sadrists of the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, told the BBC that its members did not attack women or try to enforce Islamic law on women by violence.

But he did not rule out that others were doing so.

The next time some bullying neocon, like Sean Hannity or Clifford May, defends Bush and this war in Iraq by saying something as stupid as what Bush's father said just last week:
""Do they want to bring back Saddam Hussein, these critics (of Bush and the war)? Do they want to go back to the status quo ante? I don't know what they are talking about here. Do they think life would be better in the Middle East if Saddam were still there?"

...tell them, "You bet!"

Life was better in the Middle East, in the U.S., and everywhere else. More than a million Iraqis would still be alive, several million more would be at home in their country instead of living out of suitcases as refugees, looking for a nation that will take them so they can get on with their lives. Still millions more that have been left in Iraq would have food, water, electricity, streets without raw sewage, medicine and medical care, jobs, classes, gas, and hope for a future free from western occupation, curfews, blockades that have turned their neighborhoods into ghettos and the threat of being tortured and/or murdered at any time.

Americans would certainly sure be better off. Gas would be a whole lot cheaper, we'd have a trillion-and-half dollars less debt, several thousand U.S. soldiers would still be alive, and many thousand U.S. soldiers' would still have arms and legs and minds and homes and families. And there would be a whole lot less animosity towards us in the world.

Random Bag Searches For Rail Passengers in Brown's Fortress Britain

The Daily Mail reports:
• Security will be upgraded at 250 train stations

• Anti-terror measures to be implemented at cinemas and shopping centres

• Bollards and concrete blocks to stop car bombers at 'vulnerable' buildings

• New buildings not allowed to have underground car parks
Britons face bag searches and airport-style scanners in railway stations, and the end of the underground car park in Gordon Brown's vision for Fortress Britain.

The Prime Minister yesterday told MPs that "terrorism can hit us anywhere" and the only solution is to strengthen security.

He called for anti-terror measures to be implemented in railway terminals, power stations and ports - and even cinemas and shopping centres.

Security will be upgraded at 250 train stations, with scanners and searches introduced at several of the biggest.

Exclusion zones could also be set up, preventing cars driving up to the entrances.

Mr Brown's comments came as he unveiled the results of two security reviews commissioned in the wake of the failed London and Glasgow car bomb attacks days after he came to power.

He said: "Just as the terrorists use every method and the very freedoms we enjoy to kill or maim people, so we must also adopt new tools to beat the terrorists, secure our borders and create a safe global society."

Protecting the public: Police on patrol at Heathrow

The plans raise the prospect of long and frustrating queues for rail travellers passing through major cities.

But the policy already seems in disarray after the Department of Transport said it did not believe airport scanners would be used.

Instead, officials said they expected to introduce hand-held devices, which are already used in some parts of the country.

There was also speculation that the speech was timed to bolster support for draconian new anti-terror powers.

The terror crackdown comes as the government is set to unveil new plans today to increase the length of time terror suspects can be detained, according to the BBC.
The new proposals would permit detainees to be held for up to maximum 58 days, 30 more days than the current limit of 28.

The new system would allow police to detain suspects for the extra 30 days, which they can already do under existing emergency powers, but without having to declare a state of emergency.

Mr Brown used the Queen's Speech last week to signal the Government would try to extend the existing 28-day limit for the detention of terror suspects.

He faces stiff opposition from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Questions were also asked about the other major plank of his terror strategy - tightening up security at public venues such as shopping centres.

After a review by Security Minister Lord West, Mr Brown said that anti-terror measures would be increased at vulnerable buildings where large numbers of people gather.

The increased security is likely to include bollards and concrete blocks to stop car bombers, as well as new window designs to protect the public from splinters of glass.

New buildings will not be allowed to have underground car parks, which are vulnerable to explosive attacks.

But Mr Brown's official spokesman later admitted the Government would not fund the changes unless the buildings were publicly owned.

This cast huge doubts over whether the work would actually take place - and if it did, whether customers would foot the bill.

The shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said: "The measures which Gordon Brown announced were long overdue but commonsense.

"However, we should know how these are to be paid for.

"The Government has a long track record of failing to deliver on pledges. Action against terror should not be an issue where the Prime Minister hides things in the fine print."

The new measures also include sending updated security advice to thousands of cinemas, theatres, restaurants hotels and sports stadiums.

Some 160 counter-terrorism advisers will train civilian staff to identify suspicious activity and ensure premises have adequate emergency facilities.

Architects will be encouraged to "design in" protective measures on new buildings, and greater protection will be given to power stations, which are attractive targets for Al Qaeda.

The forthcoming Counter Terrorism Bill will include tougher sentences for terrorists, new powers of post-sentence monitoring and additional measures to tackle those who fund them.

A senior judge would be appointed to manage all terrorism cases, while a single lead prosecutor would be appointed.

Mr Brown said: "Terrorism can hit us anywhere, from any place.

"It is a battle we will have to fight street by street, community by community and year by year."

The Prime Minister's urgent tone is likely to be seen as a "softening-up exercise" for the forthcoming battle over extending the 28-day detention limit for terror suspects to 56 days.

He will also be hoping to sway Parliament and the public over the introduction of unpopular policies such as ID cards.

Mr Brown again appeared to link immigration with terrorism, promising more agreementsto deport religious fanaticsas well as repeating a pledge to deport 4,000 overseas criminals each year.

The security budget, which is £2.5billion this year, will rise to £3.5billion in 2011, he said.

The size of the security service will also be increased - from 2,000 staff in 2001 to more than 4,000 within five years.

Mr Brown also said that a review of the use of intercept evidence in court cases - which is currently banned - would report back in January.

David Cameron said that despite being in agreement with parts of Mr Brown's proposals, he would like the Government to have gone further.

The Tory leader called for extremist groups to be banned and demanded that all Muslim preachers coming to Britain should be able to speak English.

He said: "Will the Government recognise that it has got to ban the extremist groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, like Hezbollah, that do so much to foment violence?"

The Prime Minister said there were no plans to do so, but the matter was "under review".

How is it that we're so frightened and so eager to give up our privacy and Constitutional protections, for absolutely no reason. Nothing that's being done would have prevented 9/11/01 from happening.

Terror crackdown: Passengers forced to answer 53 questions BEFORE they travel

Don't we define freedom by our ability to come and go as we please?

The Daily Mail reports:
Travellers face price hikes and confusion after the Government unveiled plans to take up to 53 pieces of information from anyone entering or leaving Britain.

For every journey, security officials will want credit card details, holiday contact numbers, travel plans, email addresses, car numbers and even any previous missed flights.
The information, taken when a ticket is bought, will be shared among police, customs, immigration and the security services for at least 24 hours before a journey is due to take place.

Anybody about whom the authorities are dubious can be turned away when they arrive at the airport or station with their baggage.

Those with outstanding court fines, such as a speeding penalty, could also be barred from leaving the country, even if they pose no security risk.

The information required under the "e-borders" system was revealed as Gordon Brown announced plans to tighten security at shopping centres, airports and ports.

This could mean additional screening of baggage and passenger searches, with resulting delays for travellers.

The e-borders scheme is expected to cost at least £1.2billion over the next decade.

Travel companies, which will run up a bill of £20million a year compiling the information, will pass on the cost to customers via ticket prices, and the Government is considering introducing its own charge on travellers to recoup costs.

Critics warned of mayhem at ports and airports when the system is introduced, beginning in earnest from mid-2009.

By 2014 every one of the predicted 305million passenger journeys in and out of the UK will be logged, with details stored about the passenger on every trip.

The scheme will apply to every way of leaving the country, whether by ferry, plane, or small aircraft. It would apply to a family having a day out in France by Eurotunnel, and even to a yachtsman leaving British waters during the day and returning to shore.

The measure applies equally to UK residents going abroad and foreigners travelling here.

The information will be stored for as long as the authorities believe it is useful, allowing them to build a complete picture of where a person has been over their lifetime, how they paid and the contact numbers of who they stayed with.

The Home Office, which yesterday signed a contract with U.S. company Raytheon Systems to run the computer system, said e-borders would help to keep terrorists and illegal immigrants out of the country.

For the first time since embarkation controls were scrapped in 1998, they will also have a more accurate picture of who is in the UK at any one time.

The personal information stored about every journey could prove vital in detecting a planned atrocity, officials insist.

But the majority - around 60 per cent - of the journeys logged will be made by Britons, mostly going on family holidays or business trips.

Ministers are also considering the creation of a list of "disruptive" passengers, so that authorities know in advance of any potential troublemaker, such as an abusive drunk.

David Marshall of the Association of British Travel Agents said: "We are staggered at the projected costs.

"It could also act as a disincentive to people wanting to travel, and we are sure that is not what the Government intends."

Phil Booth, of the NO2ID group, warned travellers would pay a "stealth tax" on travel to pay for the scheme.

He added: "This is a huge and utterly ridiculous quantity of personal information. This type of profiling will throw up many distressing errors and problems for innocent people.

"We have already seen planes turned around mid-flight because a passenger's surname matches that of somebody on a watch list.

"When the Government talks about e-borders, it gives the impression it is about keeping bad people out. In fact, it is a huge grab of personal information, and another move towards the database state."

A pilot of the "e-borders" technology, known as Project Semaphore, has already screened 29million passengers.

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: "Successful trials of the new system have already led to more than 1,000 criminals being caught and more than 15,000 people of concern being checked out by immigration, customs or the police."

But Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, said: "The Government must not use legitimate fears or dangers to crop vast amounts of private information without proper safeguards."

John Tincey, of the Immigration Service Union, said: "The question is are there going to be the staff to respond to the information that is produced?

"In reality people could be missed. Potential terrorists could be coming through if there are not enough staff to check them."

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "While e-borders could be a useful tool to secure our borders it will not be up and running for at least another seven years.

"And given the Government's woeful record on delivering IT based projects, it may well be over budget and over time.

"In the meantime our borders remain porous. The Government should take practical measures to secure our borders, such as answering our call to establish a dedicated UK border police force."

• Restrictions on hand luggage carried on to passenger planes will be lifted from January.

"Starting with several airports in the New Year, we will work with airport operators to ensure all UK airports are in a position to allow passengers to fly with more than one item of hand luggage," Gordon Brown said.

The single bag rule was introduced in August last year after police said they foiled a plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners.

It caused chaos at Heathrow Airport and drew complaints from airlines. Restrictions on carrying liquids are expected to continue.

How did we ever get to this point again?

How long before these restrictions are implemented in the U.S.?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Saudi Court Punishes Rape Victim

AFP reports:
A Saudi lawyer and human rights activist said on Wednesday that a court in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom withdrew his licence after he objected to a ruling which penalised a female rape victim.

Abdurrahman al-Lahem told AFP that the court in the eastern town of Al-Qatif banned him from handling the rape case and confiscated his lawyer's licence because he challenged the verdict.
"The ministry of justice also summoned me to appear before a disciplinary committee" during the first week of December, Lahem said.

Last year, the court in Al-Qatif sentenced six Saudi men accused of raping the woman to between one and five years in jail while sentencing the woman to 90 lashes, Lahem said.

He said he appealed the ruling at the Higher Judicial Council, which ordered a retrial.

In a new ruling on Wednesday, the court toughened the sentences against the six men to between two and nine years in prison. But it also sentenced the woman to six months in jail and 200 lashes.

Lahem and other activists saw the sentences handed to the accused, who were armed when they assaulted the woman, as too lenient in a country where rape can carry the death penalty.

The case has angered members of Saudi Arabia's minority Shiite community, to which the woman belongs. The accused are Sunnis, the dominant community in the Gulf country which applies a rigorous Islamic doctrine known as Wahhabism.

Lahem said there was no apparent reason for the justice ministry's decision to refer him to a disciplinary committee.

He said the move might be due to his criticism of some judicial institutions, and "contradicts King Abdullah's quest to introduce reform, especially in the justice system."

Abdullah last month approved a new body of laws regulating the judicial system in Saudi Arabia, which rules on the basis of sharia, or Islamic law.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

Baghdad's Oasis of Tolerance

Abu Zeinab's barber shop is in the Bab al-Sheikh district of Baghdad, where Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians live together with unusual ease. (Johan Spanner for The New York Times)

The International Herald Tribune reports:
BAGHDAD: At its oldest spot, a small dusty strip of dirt road near a mosque, the neighborhood of Bab al-Sheik - a maze of snaking streets too narrow for cars - dates from a time, more than a thousand years ago, when Baghdad ruled the Islamic world.

At that time, orchards and palaces of Abbasid princes unfolded in stately splendor not far away.

Ten centuries later, Bab al-Sheik is less grand, but still extraordinary: It has been spared the sectarian killing that has gutted other neighborhoods, and Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians live together here with unusual ease. It has been battered by bombings around its edges, but the war has been kept from its heart, largely because of its ancient, shared past, bound by trust and generations of intermarriage.
"All of these people grew up here together," said Monther, a suitcase seller. "From the time of our grandfathers, same place, same food, same everything."

Much of today's Baghdad sprang into existence in the 1970s, when oil nationalization drew Iraqis from all over the country to work. The city's population more than tripled over the course of 20 years and new neighborhoods sprawled east and west.

The war and civil conflict have seemed to take a heavier toll in those areas than in some of the older neighborhoods.

No one knows this better that Waleed, a rail-thin Bab al-Sheik native who 10 years ago moved his family to Dora, a newly built middle-class neighborhood in southern Baghdad.

In Dora, residents were from all over. That never seemed to matter until the basic rules of society fell away after the U.S. occupation began. The only bulwark left against complete chaos was trust between families, and in Dora there was not enough.

"We didn't know each other's backgrounds," said Waleed, sitting with Monther in a barbershop in Bab al-Sheik, rain spitting on the street outside. Neither man wanted to be identified by their last names out of concern for their safety.

"Here, he can't lie to me," he said, jabbing a finger in Monther's direction. "He can't say, 'I'm this, I'm that,' because I know it's not true."

In Dora, he said, he did not have those powers of discernment. And he paid the price: His son was shot and killed on Oct. 9, 2006, while trying to get a copy of his high school diploma. Waleed moved his family out of the area immediately. "My first thought was this neighborhood," he said. "My grandfather is from here. I always felt safe here."

So did two reporters, who made six visits to the area over two months. It was safe enough, in fact, to walk through the warren of narrow streets, nod at elderly women sitting at street-level windows, linger in a barbershop and make long visits to Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish homes.

On a recent Friday, an extended Kurdish family relaxed at home. The living room was dark and cool, tucked in an alley away from the afternoon sun. Abu Nawal, the father, recounted how a group of men from the office of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr came to a local café, proposing to set up shop in the area.

The café owner pointed to a sign, which stated in dark script that all discussions of politics and religion were prohibited. The men were then asked to leave.

"The guys in the neighborhood said, 'If you try to make an office here, we will explode it,' " said Abu Nawal, a shoemaker whose family has lived in the neighborhood for four generations.

Some time later, Sunni Arab political party members came and were similarly rebuffed. "They wanted to put their foot in this neighborhood, but they couldn't," said Abu Nawal, who asked to be identified by his nickname for the safety of his family.

He said he despised the poisonous mix of religion and politics that has strangled Iraqi society, and he enjoyed cracking wry jokes at politicians' expense. Playing off the names for extremist militias, which call themselves names like the Islamic Army, he refers to his group of friends as the Arak Army, righteous defenders of an anise-flavored alcoholic drink.

The neighborhood has another rare asset: moderate religious men. Sheik Muhammad Wehiab, a 30-year-old Shiite imam whose family has lived in Bab al-Sheik for seven generations, was jailed for 14 months under Saddam Hussein, a biographical fact that should have opened doors for him in the new Shiite-dominated power hierarchy. But his moderate views were unpopular in elite circles and he has remained in the neighborhood.

He feels connected. So much so that while talking on the phone one night this autumn, he walked out into the tiny alley outside his door, lay down and watched the stars in the night sky.

"I think Maliki right now is envying me," Wehiab said to himself. "No bodyguards. Just free. This is the blessing."

He has some radical views. One of them is that Muslims have behaved terribly toward one another in the war here and have given Islam a bad name in using it to gain power. "I don't blame those guys who drew the cartoons," Wehiab said, referring to the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked riots and protests across the Islamic world last year.

"Muslims are the ones to be blamed," he said, sitting in an armchair in his quiet living room. "They have given them this picture." An ice-cream seller walked past his window, hawking in a loud voice.

Wehiab's friend, a Sunni cleric, holds a similar view. "The greatest jihad is the jihad of yourself," said the cleric, whose smooth voice echoes through the neighborhood as he calls worshipers to prayer every day at Qailani Mosque, the neighborhood's anchor.

The cleric, who asked that his name not be published out of concern for his safety, because of the high profile of the mosque, lovingly ticks off qualities of the 12th-century Sufi sheik Abdel Qadr Qailani, who gave the mosque its name: Intellectual. Scholar. Moral teacher.

But moderate religion is not drawing an audience on a national scale, and the mosque, one of Baghdad's most important Sunni institutions, has fallen on hard times.

Donations are down. Its long-running soup kitchen serves one meal a day instead of three. Sufi clerics cannot perform their rituals. A bomb sheared off part of a minaret in February.

"Please, please, write as much as you can that we don't want war," the cleric said.

We like to think that ethnic cleansing and the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians that has taken place in lands exotic and far away to Americans, such as Iraq, the Balkans, and Rwanda, could never happen here. But it can, and more easily than we'd like to think.

IRAQ: Fewer Deaths Bring No Reassurance

Despite claims by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Bush administration officials that violence in Iraq is decreasing, residents in the capital tell a different story.

At IPS News, Ali al-Fadhily writes:
Attacks by Iraqi resistance groups against the U.S. military continue in Baghdad and Iraq's al-Anbar province, despite U.S. military support for certain Sunni militias in the areas.

According to the U.S. Department of Defence, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad and al-Anbar in October. In all 39 U.S. soldiers were reported killed in Iraq for the month, making it the lowest monthly total since March 2006.

Despite the relatively low October numbers, 2007 is on pace to be the deadliest year on record for U.S. troops since the invasion of March 2003. At least 847 U.S. military personnel have been reported killed this year in Iraq, making it the second highest toll yet.

The deadliest year was 2004, when 849 U.S. military members were killed.
But many Iraqis say that violence elsewhere continues unreported - and that where there is calm, it is hardly for reassuring reasons.

"Sectarian killings are less because all the Sunnis have been evicted from mixed areas in Baghdad," Salman Hameed, a teacher who was evicted from the al-Hurriya area west of Baghdad eight months ago told IPS. "All my relatives and Sunni neighbours who survived the killing campaign led by the militias under the eyes of American and Iraqi forces have fled either to Syria or to other Sunni cities."

On Nov. 5 Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared victory during a rare walkabout in Baghdad as night fell. "We have achieved victory against terrorist groups and militias," Maliki told reporters. "Things will not return to the way they were."

Many Iraqis feel that the reason for the relative calm is that many people have either fled, or been killed.

"There is no one left for them to kill," 55-year-old retired teacher Nathum Taha told IPS in Baghdad. "The Americans continue to use Arab Shia Iraqi militias to kill Sunnis, but most people have left by now."

Others blamed the media for lack of adequate reportage.

"Attacks against U.S. forces are not much less than they were last month, but media coverage has almost disappeared," Muhammad Younis from Mosul, in Baghdad on a business trip, told IPS. "The resistance is moving fast and changing locations in order to avoid intelligence provided by collaborators. Most Iraqis hate the Americans more than ever after the death and destruction caused by their occupation."

There was a reported five-fold increase in the number of bombs dropped on Iraq during the first six months of 2007 compared to the same period in 2006. Over 30 tonnes of these were cluster weapons, which take a particularly heavy toll on civilians.

"American air raids are increasing in a way that shows a total failure on the ground," a retired general of the dissolved Iraqi army told IPS. "A whole family was killed near Madayin, southeast Baghdad on Saturday (Nov. 3) just after the tragic bombing of houses south of Tikrit (about 100 km north of Baghdad) where more than 10 civilians were killed."

On Nov. 4, Iraqi army personnel backed by U.S. soldiers detained 12 people during a raid on the Sunni Abu Hanifa mosque in the Adhamiyah district of northern Baghad.

"Those American and government forces could not face the resistance fighters, so they arrest innocent people," Aziz Thafir, a lawyer who witnessed the arrests, told IPS. "They started their raid with nasty sectarian words against Sunnis, and then arrested every one who was around in the mosque."

Sectarian violence, which many Iraqis believe to be backed by the U.S., continues at many places where there are still mixed communities left.

In Duluiya, 150 km north of Baghdad, a U.S. army unit raided a house last week and killed a young man inside. Witnesses who arrived in Baghdad from the Sunni town complained that the media is not covering either the resistance activity there or the regular "crimes" committed by U.S. and Iraqi government forces against innocent civilians.

"They are more vicious than they were before," 44-year-old Abu Ahmed told IPS in the capital. "This is a religious war against Sunnis, who would not accept the occupation and division of the country."

IRAQ: A Tale of One City, Now Two

The separation of religious groups in the face of sectarian violence has brought some semblance of relative calm to Baghdad. But many Iraqis see this as the uncertain consequence of a divide and rule policy.

At IPS News, Ali al-Fadhily writes:
Claims are going the rounds that sectarian violence in Iraq has fallen, and that the U.S. military "surge" has succeeded in reducing attacks against civilians. Baghdad residents speak of the other side of the coin – that they live now in a largely divided city that has brought this uneasy calm.

"I would like to agree with the idea that violence in Iraq has decreased and that everything is fine," retired general Waleed al-Ubaidy told IPS in Baghdad. "But the truth is far more bitter. All that has happened is a dramatic change in the demographic map of Iraq."
And as with Baquba and other violence-hit areas of Iraq, he says a part of the story in Baghdad is that there is nobody left to tell it. "Most of the honest journalists have left."

"Baghdad has been torn into two cities and many towns and neighbourhoods," Ahmad Ali, chief engineer from one of Baghdad's municipalities told IPS. "There is now the Shia Baghdad and the Sunni Baghdad to start with. Then, each is divided into little town-like pieces of the hundreds of thousands who had to leave their homes."

Many Baghdad residents say that the claims of reduced violence can be tested only when refugees go back home.

Many areas of Baghdad that were previously mixed are now totally Shia or totally Sunni. This follows the sectarian cleansing in mixed neighbourhoods by militias and death squads.

On the Russafa side of Tigris River, al-Adhamiya is now fully Sunni; the other areas are all Shia. The al-Karkh side of the river is purely Sunni except for Shula, Hurriya and small strips of Aamil which are dominated by Shia militias.

"If the situation is good, why are five million Iraqis living in exile," says 55- year-old Abu Mohammad who was evicted from Shula in West Baghdad to become a refugee in Amiriya, a few miles from his lost home.

"Americans and Iranians have succeeded in realising their old dream of dividing the Iraqi people into sects. That is the only success they can talk about."

Violence is no more hitting the headlines, but it clearly continues. Bodies of Iraqis killed after being tortured are still found in garbage dumps, although fewer than a few months ago.

"Iraqi and American officials should be ashamed of talking of 'unidentified bodies'," Haja Fadhila from the Ghazaliya area of western Baghdad told IPS. "These are the bodies of Iraqis who had families to support, and names to be proud of. But nobody talks about them, there is no media. It is as if it is all taking place on Mars."

The Iraqi ministries for health and interior have said that they are finding on average five to ten "unidentified bodies" on the streets of Baghdad every day.

"Those Americans and their Iraqi collaborators in the Green Zone talk of five or ten bodies being found everyday as if they were talking of insects," Thamir Aziz, a teacher in Adhamiya told IPS. "We know they are lying about the real number of martyrs, but even if it's true, is it not a disaster that so many innocent Iraqis are found dead every day?"

Most people blame the Iraqi police for the sectarian assassinations, and the U.S. military for doing little to stop them.

"The Americans ask (Prime Minister Nouri al) Maliki to stop the sectarian assassinations when they know very well that his ministers are ordering the sectarian cleansing," Mahmood Farhan from the Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni group, told IPS.

A UN report released September 2005 held interior ministry forces responsible for an organised campaign of detentions, torture and killings. It said special police commando units accused of carrying out the killings were recruited from the Shia Badr and Mehdi militias.

Retired Col. James Steele, who served as advisor to Iraqi security forces under former U.S. ambassador John Negroponte, supervised the training of these forces.

Steele had been commander of the U.S. military advisors group in El Salvador in 1984-86; Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to neighbouring Honduras 1981-85. Negroponte was accused of widespread human rights violations by the Honduras Commission on Human Rights in 1994. The Commission reported the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political workers.

The violations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by operatives trained by the CIA, according to a CIA working group set up in 1996 to look into the U.S. role in Honduras.

The CIA records document that "special intelligence units", better known as "death squads", comprised CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of people suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas.

Negroponte was ambassador to Iraq for close to a year from June 2004.

John Edwards To Congress on Universal Health Care

"If you don't pass universal health care by July, 2009, I'm going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you. There's no excuse for politicians in Washington having health care when American citizens don't have health care."

Sounds about right to me.

There is something inherently undemocratic about elected representatives not having to live under the same conditions that they impose on everyone else. As corporations nationwide are slithering away from the most efficient, convenient, and cost effective method of providing health care and retirement funds for its workers, the American people seem unable to do the same thing to their employees, the U.S. Congress.

Of all the health care plans proposed by the Democratic presidential candidates, I prefer Dennis Kucinich's (single payer) over all others (and Hillary Clinton's least). But John Edwards's plan will do, if for no other reason than he's electable.

Friday, November 09, 2007

No Patriot, He

Ex-President George H.W. Bush, tries to have it all ways.

Ever since Brent Scowcroft wrote an op-ed in the WSJ recommending that Bush the Lesser not attack Iraq, political pundits and journalists have been putting forth that it was the elder Bush's way to broadcast that he was opposed to it and to try to talk his son out of taking the nation to war in Iraq.

Not so.

Pundits seemed to base their belief about the elder Bush's opposition to his son's plans on the fact that Scowcroft was, after all, the elder Bush's national security adviser and one of his closest friends for decades, as well as on the elder Bush's own defense of his controversial decision not to attack Baghdad and topple Saddam in 1991:
"Trying to eliminate Saddam ... would have incurred incalculable human and political costs ... Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land"

To be fair to the pundits and journalists, Bush 41 went to great lengths to create the impression that he was conflicted, at the least, about his son's plans. In a book that was published in the spring of 2004 (The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty), the authors cite an interview they had in the summer of 2002 with the elder Bush's sister. She said her brother had expressed his "anguish" about the administration's preparations for war:
"But do they have an exit strategy?" the former President is quoted as worrying.

"Although he never went public with them," the authors assert, "the President's own father shared many of [the] concerns" of Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser and a leading war opponent.

Yet close friends and associates said the older Bush, while fiercely proud and protective of his son, nevertheless harbors concerns about the war and its aftermath.

The New York Daily News reported:
"'Although he never went public with them,' the authors assert, 'the President's own father shared many of [the] concerns' of Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser and a leading war opponent. Close friends and associates said the older Bush, while fiercely proud and protective of his son, nevertheless harbors concerns about the war and its aftermath. These sources told The News that aside from his 'exit-strategy' fears of a prolonged, bloody conflict, the ex-President is troubled that the war fractured the international coalition he painstakingly assembled to expel deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. One close associate said the older Bush feels Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may have pushed President Bush too hard for a preemptive strike. One well-placed Bush colleague said the older Bush recently acknowledged, 'I'm having trouble with my boy,' referring to Iraq."

At the time, a top Bush aide denied the allegations in the Schweizer book to the NY Daily News, saying that Bush the elder supported his son on the war in Iraq without reservations "from the very first day." The book is hardly a hit piece. The authors, Peter and Rochelle Schweitzer, were given unprecedented access to and enjoyed the cooperation of the Bush family and their friends; the history of the family is presented in a positive light.

Pundits and journalists embraced the denied version, ignoring what the elder Bush and his closest aides were saying publicly (that he supported his son's decision), even during the campaign for the 2004 election when, (Emotional Elder Bush Attacks Son's Critics):
An emotional former President George H.W. Bush Tuesday defended his son's Iraq war and lashed out at White House critics.

It is "deeply offensive and contemptible" to hear "elites and intellectuals on the campaign trail" dismiss progress in Iraq since last year's overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the elder Bush said in a speech to the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association annual convention.

"There is something ignorant in the way they dismiss the overthrow of a brutal dictator and the sowing of the seeds of basic human freedom in that troubled part of the world," he said.

The former president appeared to fight back tears as he complained about media coverage of the younger Bush that he called "something short of fair and balanced."

"It hurts an awful lot more when it's your son that is being criticized than when they used to get all over my case," said Bush, who has often complained about media coverage of both Bush presidencies.

Iraq has been torn by violence and instability since a U.S.-led invasion last year toppled Saddam in the hunt for his alleged weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found but the Bush administration says progress toward a stable democracy is being made.

The former president, who waged the first Gulf War against Saddam in 1991, described progress in Iraq as "a miracle."

"Iraq is moving forward in hope and not sliding back into despair and terrorism," he said.

I never bought the 'kinder, gentler' George H.W. Bush (not when he was in office or after he was ousted in the 1992 election), nor that he was ever not completely on board with his son's aggression on Iraq. Just as I've never bought that Hillary Clinton was deceived by Bush and Cheney before voting to authorize the war in Iraq. She is a careful and deliberate taskmaster, married to a former president who was getting daily briefings by the CIA. I do not believe that she didn't discuss the situation thoroughly with her husband (who is also her chief advisor) before casting the most important vote of her political career.

In the years since this war has gone south and has proven to be the worst mistake probably ever undertaken by an American president, the elder Bush has encouraged the pundits to believe he wasn't for the war by insinuating that he's "a father first, who loves and supports his son," hence, "don't expect (as you would from former presidents) any sense of patriotism, duty and loyalty first to the country and Constitution" from him. The media laid off former President Bush, as well as his BBF ('Best Friend Forever'), former President Clinton.

So again, back declaring his unabashed love for his son and "his president," ABC News reports:
Former president George H.W. Bush forcefully defended his son's handling of the Iraq war Thursday, saying critics of the current president have forgotten the "extraordinary brutality" of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"Do they want to bring back Saddam Hussein, these critics?" the elder Bush told USA TODAY in a rare interview. "Do they want to go back to the status quo ante? I don't know what they are talking about here. Do they think life would be better in the Middle East if Saddam were still there?"
Bush, 83, was interviewed in a replica of the White House Situation Room at his remodeled presidential library. The Bush Presidential Library and Museum, on the grounds of Texas A&M, is reopening Saturday after an $8.3 million renovation. The added features include the Situation Room and an interactive computer program that allows visitors to consider options Bush weighed during the Gulf War.

In one key decision, Bush rejected calls to topple Saddam, instead declaring the war over after Iraqi forces withdrew from Kuwait. The program calls the idea of going to Baghdad "very tempting" but says it "would have been a disastrous decision," splintering the international coalition and leaving U.S. and possibly British troops on their own in Iraq.

"It's not second-guessed quite so much today, but it was second-guessed" at the time, Bush said of his judgment that combat should end. "But the coalition was formed with my word to the various international leaders, 'The objective is to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait,' " not some further-reaching goal.

Bush dismissed a question about whether his son should have used similar reasoning before invading Iraq in 2003. Saddam fled into hiding, was captured and executed after a trial. About 165,000 U.S. troops remain deployed there during the war's fifth year.

Other analysts have made the comparison, however. "Historians, I believe, will say he made a wise judgment on what could be expected if we went into Iraq," presidential historian Robert Dallek says. "By contrast, Bush 43 has found his presidency ruined, one might say, by this Iraq war."

The elder Bush reacted testily when asked about criticism of his son. "I don't reminisce with … my friends like you about what my son does or doesn't do," Bush said. But "I think we forget even today the extraordinary brutality of Saddam Hussein."

Including his plans to assassinate the elder Bush?

"Well, that didn't endear him to me at all," he said.

Reporters are still fixated on this story, debunked years ago and written about by Seymour Hersh in the November 1, 1993 edition of the New Yorker, "A Case Not Closed":

“A senior White House official recently told me that one of the seemingly most persuasive elements of the report had been overstated and was essentially incorrect. And none of the Clinton Administration officials I interviewed over a ten-week period this summer claimed that there was any empirical evidence -- a “smoking gun” -- directly linking Saddam or any of his senior advisers to the alleged assassination attempt. . . ."

This did not stop President Bill Clinton from using the story of an attempt on ex-President Bush's life as an opportunity to whittle down Saddam Hussein's operations:
On Saturday, June 26, 1993, twenty-three Tomahawk guided missiles, each loaded with a thousand pounds of high explosives, were fired from American Navy warships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea at the headquarters complex of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service, in downtown Baghdad....

Three of the million-dollar missiles missed their target and landed on nearby homes, killing eight civilians, including Layla al-Attar, one of Iraq’s most gifted artists. The death toll was considered acceptable by the White House; after all, scores of civilians had been killed in the Reagan Administration’s F-111 bombing attack on Muammar Qaddafi’s house-and-office complex in Tripoli Libya, in 1986....

We responded with an over-the-top reaction to a, basically, unfounded claim.
The former president rarely agrees to interviews, although he appeared on Fox News Sunday this week and taped an interview with C-SPAN Thursday to talk about his revamped library. Questions like those raised by USA TODAY are one reason he generally eschews the press, he said.

"You're here to talk about the library," he said, not about the current president. "He has my full, unequivocal support. I feel about him great respect for what he's doing and tries to do, and I think much of the criticism is grossly unfair. … That's a father caring about his son and his president."

Say what you will about Jimmy Carter, he's got the courage of his convictions (Jimmy Carter Slams Iraq War, Sees Gitmo Trials As An 'Impetus' For Terrorism).