Saturday, March 22, 2008

Informed Comment
The Belmont Club: We've got him now
In D

The Belmont Club: We've got him now

The Belmont Club: We've got him now: "Osama"Bin Laden has threatened to attack Europe over the publication of the Muhammed Cartoons in a recent audio recording. The Washington Post reports:

The five-minute speech was the second time in four months that bin Laden has delivered threats to European countries. He made only one oblique reference to President Bush -- calling him "your aggressive ally . . . who is about to depart the White House" -- and instead addressed his remarks to "the intelligent ones in the European Union."

The al-Qaeda leader criticized European countries for joining in military campaigns in Muslim lands. Although he lamented those actions, he suggested that the Muhammad cartoons were even more immoral and that retaliation was coming.

The rule of thumb in a fistfight is when you land a blow which makes your opponent yell, hit him there again. And the louder he yells the more you hit him in that particular area. Osama Bin Laden has just said "ouch".

Doubtless there will be those who will argue that Bin Laden's warnings are a reason to suppress publication of the Cartoons, either to demonstrate our moral superiority or to manifest our sensitivity; every precept of political correctness argues to cease and desist. That would be a big mistake.

What makes the Mohammed Cartoon attack on radical Islam so potent that Bin Laden himself must oppose it, is two things. First, anyone can make fun of radical Islam. Second, the Cartoons are aimed at the weakest point of the Jihad: it's sources of authority. It is paradoxically true of all organized nihilisms that they rely upon their unquestioned authority to negate. For example, whereas Bolshevism could regard humans as expendable, dogma was sacrosanct. The real message of organized nihilism is that "everything is permitted" except to make fun of nihilism itself. Every act is lawful in radical Islam: to bomb markets, kill children, lie, cheat and steal. Everything: except to publish the Mohammed Cartoons.

I argued that the Islamic reaction to Geert Wilders converted every paintbrush, chisel and computer into a bomb. Islam has to suppress every affront to Mohammed lest Mohammed be shown to be impotent against affront. As in the pulp tales of travelers transgressing upon lost cities, death must follow the blasphemy of the local idol or the local idol, not the traveler, loses face. What Geert Wilders has done is draw a line in the intellectual sand which he invites everyone to cross. And Osama Bin Laden must on no account allow anyone else to cross for fear of what will follow: inflatable Mohammeds, Numa-numa Mohammeds, or Allah forbid, Gay Mohammeds.

Many pixels have been burned out arguing that the distributed Islamic insurgency is invincible. But what about distributed resistance? What about distributed blasphemy? How long will Osama Bin Laden's dogma survive that?

It's Radical Islam's worst nightmare: a Swarm directed against authority. Without the authority of Mohammed, not only Wahabism but the world itself falls to pieces. Spengler, arguing that radical Islam is a form of atheism or at best pantheism, quoted Benedict XVI's Regensburg assertion that in Wahabism's view, Allah is entirely arbitrary. Reality subsists on Allah's unknowable will; upon Allah's inscrutable authority.

For Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here [Professor Theodore] Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that "nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice" idolatry.

It is this separation between reason and beauty on the one hand, and Allah's will on the other that permits Wahabists to describe mass-murder and outrage as "holy". It's holy because Allah commands it; and for the Faithful, Allah commands it because Muhammed says he did. Caricature Muhammed and the whole system falls to the ground. Spengler's commentary on Benedict XVI's observation is worth repeating:

Allah is no more subject to laws of nature than the nature-spirits of the pagan world who infest every tree, rock and stream, and make magic according to their own whimsy. The "carried-forward idea of the unity of God" to which Rosenzweig refers, of course, is the monotheism carried forward in outward form from Judaism, but dashed to pieces against the competing notion of absolute transcendence.

As Rosenzweig observes, "An atheist can say, 'There is no God but God'." If God is everywhere and in all things, he is nowhere and in nothing. If there are no natural laws, there need be no law-giver, and the world is an arbitrary and desolate place, a Hobbesian war of each aspect of nature against all. Contemplation of nature in Islam is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. It is not surprising that Islamic science died out a generation or two after al-Ghazali.

That's why Bin Laden focuses his ire upon the Muhammed Cartoons, leaving his criticism of Iraq almost as an afterthought. Bin Laden has laid down the line against the Cartoons because he has to. It's a threat to his power-core; and even within his fully operational Ummah Battlestation he feels a great distrubance in the Force. And by so doing, he's revealed the Jihad's greatest weakness. He fears freedom; fears individuals unrestrained by the bonds of political correctness. And he fears, as anyone who has noticed his dour mien should have guessed, scorn and laughter above all.

We've got you now.

Bracing for a New Hizballah-Israel War - TIME

Bracing for a New Hizballah-Israel War - TIME: "On"a recent afternoon I was walking down Hamra, Beirut's old main shopping area, when a car pulled up alongside of me and the driver asked how I liked Lebanon. The place is still thriving, the snow-capped peaks, not a cloud in the sky, the shops full of the latest stylish clothes. It was fantastic, of course.

"Enjoy it while you can," he answered. "It won't be here next month."

What will replace it, nearly everyone in Beirut speculated to me, is the resumption of the Hizballah-Israel war that ravaged Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Some Lebanese even have a precise date for it: April 6 — the day Israel's biggest emergency drill ever starts, when they believe the Israeli Defense Forces juggernaut will roll across the border to finish the job they should have during the 34-day conflict. Although, mind you, there's not a thread of evidence that the Israelis are really going to invade.

Everyone I met in Beirut confirmed that Hizballah is locked and loaded for the next war. They didn't need any additional proof, but when the USS Cole showed up off the coast of Lebanon it was all the more proof that the United States and Israel were coming to get them.

I experienced the siege mentality firsthand when I passed by Hizballah's "media office" in Beirut's southern suburbs to see if I could photograph the grave of its most recent "martyr," Imad Mughniyah — the Hizballah military commander assassinated in Damascus on February 12. It shouldn't have been a big deal: Mughniyah's pictures line the road from the airport into town. But the lady who ran the office looked at us as if we personally had detonated the car bomb that killed him.

Just as we were about to be shown to the door, I made one last plea, something about Mughniyah being Hizballah's field general, and surely there shouldn't be a problem. "There are thousands more like him," she said, turning her laser eyes on me as if to say, don't even think that one death made a difference to Hizballah's Islamic Resistance.

Ironically, for anyone who doesn't spend his day following Lebanese politics, an Israeli invasion is exactly what Hizballah wants. A war with Israel would keep Hizballah from losing its resistance mantle, and prevent it from getting caught up in what one of Hizballah's leader Hassan Nasrallah's political interlocutors told me would be Hizballah's worst nightmare — a civil war. A civil war would draw Hizballah into a fight with the Christians and the Sunnis; it would be just another faction with its own parochial interests, the end of Hizballah's special place in Lebanese society.

Hizballah has said publicly that it holds Israel responsible for Mughniyah's assassination. But the same Nasrallah lieutenant stressed, "Do not count on Hizballah taking revenge against Israel anytime soon." "They will take their time, years if necessary. They will, yes. But Hizballah is not an impetuous organization. It will not give its enemies a chance to divert it from the war against Israel."

Whether Hizballah takes its revenge for Mughniyah or not, the average Lebanese is preparing for the worst. The price of a Kalashnikov in the thriving black market has nearly tripled in recent weeks to $1,200.

Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is's intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down

Five Suspected Militants Arrested After Failed U.S. Embassy Attack in Yemen - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - Five Suspected Militants Arrested After Failed U.S. Embassy Attack in Yemen - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "Yemeni"police have arrested five suspects over an attempted mortar attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen that mistakenly hit a nearby girl's high school, killing a security guard, an Interior Ministry official said Thursday....

Saudi Politicians Refuse to Act Against Defamation of Religions -- 03/21/2008

Saudi Politicians Refuse to Act Against Defamation of Religions -- 03/21/2008: "An"Islamic initiative to establish an international convention against the "defamation" of religions ran into an unexpected hurdle this week in Saudi Arabia, where members of a government advisory body argued that the move could force Muslims to recognize pagan beliefs.

The drive to outlaw offenses against religions and religious figures is being spearheaded by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as a response to Western depictions of Islam and Mohammed in ways that Muslims consider insulting.

Although protecting Islam is the goal, in order to win support at the United Nations, the OIC is pushing for a convention against insulting all faiths. Last December, an OIC-led resolution on the "defamation of religions" passed in the U.N. General Assembly by a 108-51 vote, with almost half of the support coming from non-Muslim states.

As a key player in the OIC, Saudi Arabia has a leading role in the campaign.

Saudi Arabia's Shoura Council -- an appointed body that advises the kingdom's unelected government -- this week considered a recommendation that the foreign ministry should coordinate with various groups at the U.N. "to adopt an international convention that prohibits offending religions and religious figures in any way."

The proposal sparked some dissent. Members of the council argued that a convention protecting all religions from defamation would oblige Muslims to tolerate other religious beliefs.

Council member Khaleel al-Khaleel was quoted by the Saudi Gazette as warning against a "trap," and saying that religious concepts differ from country to country and from civilization to civilization.

"Should Muslims be committed to respect and not criticize any deviant creed that some people consider a religion?" he asked.

Another member, Talal Bakri, said a convention against "offending religions" could lead to calls for Muslim countries to allow temples of pagan religions.

Saudi Arabia, which is listed by the State Department as one the world's most egregious violators of religious freedom, does not permit non-Muslim places of worship, including churches and synagogues.

The member of the council who introduced the resolution, Mohammed al-Qowaihis, agreed to replace the words "religious figures" with "prophets and God's Messengers." (In Islam, the term refer to a series of biblical figures from Adam to Jesus -- all of whom are considered prophets of Islam -- as well as Mohammed, the "final prophet.")

But the council still rejected the recommendation by a 77-33 vote.

The Shoura Council, whose members are appointed by the king, is the closest thing Saudi Arabia has to a parliament. Its stance could prove awkward, given the priority the OIC is giving to the issues of "Islamophobia" and slights to Islam, such as cartoons lampooning Mohammed.

The kingdom, the cradle of Islam and home to its most revered sites, hosts the OIC's secretariat and is a major funder. It recently agreed to finance the building of a grand new headquarters for the organization in Jeddah, for which it has donated prime coastal land.

At an OIC summit in Senegal last week where "Islamophobia" was high on the agenda, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said freedom of expression should not be used as an excuse to infringe "the rights and freedoms of religious beliefs of individuals."

"We call upon the international community and all its civil and official institutions, and its media to respect Islam in its capacity as a divine religion and the most widespread," he said.

The summit voiced its support for a proposal by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, calling for an international convention to define "appropriate controls and rules" for the practice of free speech alongside obligations to respect religious beliefs and symbols.

Friday, March 21, 2008

YouTube - Banned Commercials - Mastercard Priceless

War Is Boring - Secret Pakistan Campaign Heats Up

War Is Boring:Army trainers, a secret CIA airbase and Predator drones firing missiles at suspected extremists in Pakistan. Having learned our lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s latest military campaigns are all waged in secret and with proxy armies. Is this better than the alternative, an Iraq-style boots-on-the-ground occupation? Beats me. I just wish more Americans knew that we are now at war in Pakistan and Somalia, too"

Naval Open Source INTelligence

Naval Open Source INTelligence
Chinese stealth bomber or fake?

Red State Update - Do-Over Votes In Florida & Michigan

Red State Update

Saudi Arabia: No churches unless prophet Mohammed recognised, says expert

AKI - Adnkronos international Saudi Arabia: No churches unless prophet Mohammed recognised, says expert: "No"churches should be permitted in Saudi Arabia, unless Pope Benedict XVI recognised the prophet Mohammed, according to a Middle East expert.

While Saudi mediators are working with the Vatican on negotiations to allow places of religious worship, some experts believe it will not occur without this recognition.

Anwar Ashiqi, president of the Saudi centre for Middle East strategic studies, endorsed this view in an interview on the site of Arab satellite TV network, al-Arabiya on Thursday.

"I haven taken part in several meetings related to Islamic-Christian dialogue and there have been negotiations on this issue," he said.

"It would be possible to launch official negotiations to construct a church in Saudi Arabia only after the Pope and all the Christian churches recognise the prophet Mohammed."

"If they don't recognise him as a prophet, how can we have a church in the Saudi kingdom?"...

Spy technology caught in military turf battle

Spy technology caught in military turf battle - ..."Documents"and e-mails obtained by USA TODAY show friction among the services over how to rush the latest reconnaissance technology to troops under fire. Marine and Air Force backers of Angel Fire worried it would lose out to Constant Hawk. The Pentagon agency in charge of defeating IEDs finally intervened to fund both systems.

Air Force, Marine and Army officials now say concerns about the programs were reconciled and didn't delay the fielding of what they call lifesaving technology. "There is not currently, nor has there been in the past, a conflict with the Constant Hawk effort," Lt. Col. Mark Bowen, who helps lead the Air Force's Angel Fire program, said in a statement last week. "Both programs have shared information and are complementary, not competitive."

The e-mails, however, paint a far different picture. They show Marine and Air Force supporters of Angel Fire were so concerned about the Army's backing of Constant Hawk that they lobbied Congress to keep Angel Fire alive.

The Marines' Joint Urgent Operational Need Statement, requesting Angel Fire, was filed Sept. 15, 2006, with the U.S. top command in Iraq. It encountered resistance from Mark Fultz, an Army official at the military's command center in Baghdad who favored Constant Hawk, according to the e-mails. He urged the Marines to use Constant Hawk instead.

The Marines then began a campaign to save Angel Fire. Col. Phillip Chudoba, a Marine procurement official in Quantico, Va., said in an Oct. 30, 2006, e-mail to Marine and Army officials that "the continual competition between (Constant Hawk) and (Angel Fire) stakeholders does not benefit the war fighter. We have been trying to break through this logjam for months now."

Air Force Gen. Lance Smith, in a statement to Congress in March, said Marines were testing Angel Fire on the battlefield. Smith, head of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, is cited in one e-mail as an advocate of Angel Fire. No more information will be released until November, after the testing is done, says Larine Barr, spokeswoman for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Constant Hawk has been in operation about one year as a "pilot program," the Army said in its statement last week. No other details were released.

Members of Congress have criticized the infighting and how it hindered Angel Fire's development. "This program has encountered bureaucratic obstacles that have delayed the employment of the system to our war fighters similar to the hurdles we have observed elsewhere in the acquisition process," Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said in a statement. The other examples he referred to were delays, reported by USA TODAY in July, in deploying mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles to protect troops from IEDs.

Bond added: "The current acquisition system shows signs of gross mismanagement that impacts the lives and health of our troops. These conditions have most likely existed for years, but they seem to be acute now."...

[bth: this article is worth a full read to understand how interservice rivalries delay procurement of viable systems. The very same thing delayed army fielding of bloodclotting agents the marines developed a few years ago.]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Seal Michael Monsoor to Receive Medal of Honor

Cop The Truth

Fantasies on Iraq

Fantasies on Iraq - "THE FIFTH anniversary of the invasion of Iraq prompted a flurry of speeches from President Bush and the Democratic candidates who hope to inherit the White House next year. Sadly, what they had in common was their failure to grapple with hard realities -- beginning with the elusiveness of any clear or quick path toward Mr. Bush's promise of "victory," or that of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to "end this war."

Mr. Bush's address dwelt on the success of the initial military campaign of March 2003, then skipped ahead to the "surge" of the last year. The president deservedly claimed credit for launching the latter campaign, which has drastically reduced the level of violence in Iraq. But he went on to claim that, more than turning "the situation in Iraq around," the surge "has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror." That sounded at best premature, given the tenuousness of the security gains and the slowness of Iraqi leaders to strike political deals that could truly stabilize the country.

The president at least recognizes, from "hard experience," how quickly progress in Iraq can unravel. Yesterday he pledged not to order troop withdrawals beyond the five brigades due to return home by this summer unless "conditions on the ground and the recommendations of our commanders" warrant it. That means that if Mr. Obama or Ms. Clinton become president, he or she will be the commander in chief of at least 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Yet their speeches suggest an understanding of the conflict and the stakes for the United States that is as detached from reality as they accuse Mr. Bush of being when he decided on the invasion.

Barely acknowledging the reduction in violence, the Democratic candidates insist that U.S. troops are, as Ms. Clinton put it, "babysitting a civil war." In fact, the surge forestalled an incipient civil war, and U.S. commanders and diplomats in Iraq don't hesitate to say that if American forces withdrew now, sectarian conflict would probably explode in its full fury, causing bloodshed on a far greater scale than ever before and posing grave threats to U.S. security.

BOTH Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton propose withdrawing U.S. troops at the most rapid pace the Pentagon says is possible -- one brigade a month. In the 16 months or so it would take to remove those forces, they envision the near-miraculous accomplishment of every political goal the Bush administration has aimed at for five years, from the establishment of a stable government to agreement by Iraq's neighbors to support it. They suppose that the knowledge that American forces were leaving would inspire these accords. In fact, it more likely would cause all sides to discount U.S. influence and prepare to violently seize the space left by the departing Americans.

With equal implausibility, the Democratic candidates say they would leave limited U.S. forces behind to prevent al-Qaeda from establishing bases. They assume that an Iraqi government that had just been abandoned by the United States would consent to the continued presence of American forces on its territory. In all, Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama speak as if they have no understanding of Iraqi leaders, whom they propose to treat as willing puppets.

If there was a glimmer of sense in Mr. Obama's speech, it lay in his acknowledgment that "we will have to make tactical adjustments, listening to our commanders on the ground, to ensure that our interests in a stable Iraq are met and to make sure our troops are secure." Ms. Clinton conceded that "the critical question is how we can end this war responsibly" and added "it won't be easy." In fact it will be terribly hard -- and it can't be done responsibly in the way or on the timeline the two Democrats are proposing. We can only hope that, behind their wildly unrealistic campaign rhetoric, the candidates understand that reality.

taliban now target mobile phones

Gulf Times – Qatar’s top-selling English daily newspaper - Opinion: "KABULKABUL" For once, the Taliban may have taken on the wrong target: the country’s mobile phone network. In recent weeks, four mobile phone towers have been destroyed in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, areas where the Taliban hold sway.

But in the process, the insurgents appear to have alienated much of the local population, which is willing to turn a blind eye to a public execution but is infuriated when they lose their phone service, for many their only link to the outside world.

“This has affected people very badly,” said Nazar Gul, a resident of Helmand’s Nad Ali district, where phone services were interrupted. “Our phones didn’t work and we couldn’t contact our relatives. This must not be repeated. The Taliban should pursue their aims in some other way. If they continue doing this, people are going to get upset and they will withdraw their support.”

Before 2001, telephone service of any kind was a rarity in Afghanistan. But after the fall of the Taliban, several companies entered the market and invested millions of dollars in blanketing the country with cell-phone coverage.
It was an immediate success. Today, the country has four major mobile phone providers with a total of nearly 5mn subscribers. From illiterate farmers to government ministers, everyone seems to rely on mobile phones for almost all communications.

Even the Taliban themselves, who had previous relied on more expensive satellite phones, have become major customers.
But late last month, the insurgents issued a warning to mobile phone companies, demanding that they switch off their services between five in the evening and three in the morning. The insurgents were apparently concerned that foreign military forces supporting the Kabul government were tracing their mobile phone signals to track their movements.
When the phone companies refused to comply, the mobile towers began to come down.

“The companies did not comply with our demands,” said Qari Yusuf, a Taliban spokesman in the south. “We ordered them to stop the service at night. If these companies do not observe our rules and principles, we will attack them in all the regions under our control.”

Abdul Hadi Hadi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s telecommunications ministry, denied that the mobile phone network was being used for surveillance.

“The Americans and the Afghan government have other ways of collecting information about the Taliban,” he said. “Telecommunications services are part of the public sector, and those who sabotage these facilities are enemies of the people.”

Meanwhile, the government appears powerless to stop such attacks.

“We can’t place police checkpoints beside each mast,” said one official with the interior ministry who asked that his name not be used because he is not authorised to talk to the press.

“We don’t have the capacity. The antennas are dispersed widely; if we try to cover the whole area we will be stretched too thin and we can easily be attacked,” he said.

Others speculate that the Taliban have motives other than their own security for attacking the country’s communications infrastructure.

“The Taliban are trying to increase the distance between the people and the government,” said one security official who declined to allow his name to be used. “I don’t know about this espionage. I think it’s just an excuse. They want to show the people of Afghanistan that they are strong and the government is weak. They want people not to trust the government.”

And Hadi, the telecommunications ministry spokesman, said the insurgents merely have been angered by the rapid success of the telecommunications industry.

“Six years ago, people could not even call from one province to another, and had to travel to Pakistan to make international calls,” he said.

“But now people can solve all of their problems with these mobile phones. And investments worth $1bn are a remarkable achievement. Perhaps this has raised certain sensitivities among the Taliban.” — The Institute for War & Peace Reporting/MCT

* Matiullah Minapal and Zainullah Stanekzai are reporters in Afghanistan who write for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organisation that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

[bth: this points out yet again how vulnerable infrastructure is to terrorist attack - little risk, big disruption.]
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Marine Corps reservist won't be charged in flag rescue

Marine Corps reservist won't be charged in flag rescue - "MIDWEST"CITY, Okla. (AP) - A U.S. Marine Corps reservist won't be charged for ignoring police requests and wading into a protest to rescue an American Flag.

Ray Adam Modisette, 20, said he was reacting to a war protester who was stuffing an American flag down her pants.

Midwest City Assistant City Attorney Randal Homburg said he thinks there are grounds to prosecute Modisette for an act of civil disobedience, but he said that at the request of police, he's declining to file charges.

Modisette of Shawnee was arrested Friday afternoon on a complaint of interfering with official police process.

"We believe the act was emotional and not really deliberate," Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said. "It caused us to take action, but we hated to have to do it."

Modisette was leaving Tinker Air Force Base in his car Friday when he saw the protester with the flag. He said he turned around and headed for the crowd to get the flag. He was handcuffed after ignoring several requests by officers to move away from the small group of demonstrators from Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan.

[bth: those rat bastards from Westboro Baptist Church are at it again. Now their stuffing flags down their pants.]
Concentration of power precedes
the destruction of human liberties.
--President Woodrow T. Wilson

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bin Laden warns EU over Prophet cartoons

Bin Laden warns EU over Prophet cartoons | International | Reuters: "Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatened the European Union with grave punishment on Wednesday over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

In an audio recording posted on the Internet, Bin Laden said the cartoons were part of a "crusade" in which he said the Catholic Pope Benedict was involved.

The message was released on the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The cartoons were first published by the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 but a furor erupted only after other papers reprinted them in 2006.

At least 50 people were killed in the protests against the publication of the cartoons, which Muslims say are an affront to Islam. Newspapers which have reprinted the cartoons argue they are defending the right to media freedom.

Bin Laden's message was entitled "The Response Will Be What You See, Not What You Hear", according to the password-protected Ekhlaas Web, which carries messages and statements from al Qaeda-affiliated groups around the world.

The banner message appeared in bright red, labeled "urgent" with plain Arabic text. It carried no picture of the Saudi-born militant leader nor the insignia of al Qaeda's media arm As-Sahab, which usually releases his videos and audio tapes.

The message apparently is the first by bin Laden since November 29 when he urged European countries to end military participation with U.S. forces in the Afghan conflict....

[bth: sorry bastard. Could somebody find and kill him please! Maybe Petraeus could spare a spyplane or drone for the occasion. After all I don't think OBL is in Iraq. But then again maybe the powers that be know something about strategery I don't]

Black Guy Asks Nation For Change | The Onion

Black Guy Asks Nation For Change | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "CHICAGO"—According to witnesses, a loud black man approached a crowd of some 4,000 strangers in downtown Chicago Tuesday and made repeated demands for change.

"The time for change is now," said the black guy, yelling at everyone within earshot for 20 straight minutes, practically begging America for change. "The need for change is stronger and more urgent than ever before. And only you—the people standing here today, and indeed all the people of this great nation—only you can deliver this change."

It is estimated that, to date, the black man has asked every single person in the United States for change.

"I've already seen this guy four times today," Chicago-area ad salesman Blake Gordon said. "Every time, it's the same exact spiel. 'I need change.' 'I want change.' Why's he so eager for all this change? What's he going to do with it, anyway?"

After his initial requests for change, the black man rambled nonstop on a variety of unrelated topics, calling for affordable health care, demanding that the government immediately begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, and proposing a $75 billion economic stimulus plan to create new jobs.

"What a wacko," Schaumburg, IL resident Patrick Morledge said. "And, of course, after telling us all about how he had the ability to magically fix everything, he went right back to asking for change. Typical."

"If he's really looking for change, he's got the wrong guy," Morledge added.

Reports indicate that the black man has been riding from city to city across the country, asking for change wherever he goes. Citizens in Austin, TX said they spotted the same guy standing on the street Friday, shouting far-fetched ideas about global warming. Cleveland residents also reported seeing him in a local park, wildly gesticulating and quoting from the Bible. And last week, patrons at the Starlight Diner in Cheyenne, WY claimed that the black man accosted them while they were eating, repeatedly requesting change.

"I saw him walk in and I knew he was headed straight for our table," said mother of three Gladys Davies. "He just stood there smiling at us for a while, and asked how our food tasted. Then he went and did the same thing at the next table over. The nerve of some people."

Those who encountered the black man Tuesday said he engaged in erratic behavior, including pointing at random people in the crowd and desperately saying he needs their help, going up to complete strangers and hugging them, and angrily claiming that he is not looking for just a little bit of change, but rather a great deal of change, and that he wants it "right now."

"I'll be honest, when that black guy said he would 'stop at nothing' to get change, it kind of scared me," local mechanic Phil Nighbert said. "Just leave me alone."

Though many were taken aback by the black man's brazen demands, some, such as Jackson, MS's Holly Moser, sympathized with him. She gave the black man credit for boldly standing up and asking every last person around him for change.

"I told him I'd give him some if I saw him later, even though I probably won't," Moser said. "Very nice man, though."

Most, however, ignored his requests.

"I'm a hardworking American who pays his taxes, and the last thing I need is some guy on the street demanding change from me," said William Overkamp, a Springfield, IL gun-shop owner.

He added, "What he really needs is a job."

It's still a question of Wright and wrong - The Boston Globe

It's still a question of Wright and wrong - The Boston Globe: "I HAVE known my rabbi for more than 20 years. The synagogue he serves as spiritual leader is one I have attended for a quarter-century. He officiated at my wedding and was present for the circumcision of each of my sons. Over the years, I have sought his advice on matters private and public, religious and secular. I have heard him speak from the pulpit more times than I can remember.

My relationship with my rabbi, in other words, is similar in many respects to Barack Obama's relationship with his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright. But if my rabbi began delivering sermons as toxic, hate-filled, and anti-American as the diatribes Wright has preached at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, I wouldn't hesitate to demand that he be dismissed.

Were my rabbi to gloat that America got its just desserts on 9/11, or to claim that the US government invented AIDS as an instrument of genocide, or to urge his congregants to sing "God Damn America" instead of "God Bless America," I would know about it straightaway, even if I hadn't actually been in the sanctuary when he spoke. The news would spread rapidly through the congregation, and in short order one of two things would happen: Either the rabbi would be gone, or I and scores of others would walk out, unwilling to remain in a house of worship that tolerated such poisonous teachings. I have no doubt that the same would be true for millions of worshipers in countless houses of worship nationwide.

But it wasn't true for Obama, whose long and admiring relationship with Wright, a man he describes as his "mentor", remained intact for more than 20 years, notwithstanding the incendiary and bigoted messages the minister used his pulpit to promote.

In Philadelphia yesterday, Obama gave a graceful speech on the theme of race and unity in American life. Much of what he said was eloquent and stirring, not least his opening paean to the Founders and the Constitution - a document "stained by the nation's original sin of slavery," as he said, yet also one "that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time." There was an echo there of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who in his great "I Have a Dream" speech extolled "the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence" as "a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir."

The problem for Obama is that Wright, the spiritual leader he has so long embraced, is a devotee not of King, - who in that same speech warned against "drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred" - but of the poisonous hatemonger Louis Farrakhan, whom the church's magazine honored with a lifetime achievement award. The problem for Obama, who campaigns on a message of racial reconciliation, is that the "mentor" whose church he joined and has generously supported is a disciple not of King but of James Cone, founder of a "black liberation" theology that teaches its adherents to "accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy."

Above all, the problem for Obama is that for two decades his spiritual home has been a church in which the minister damns America to the enthusiastic approval of the congregation, and not until it threatened to scuttle his political ambitions did Obama finally find the mettle to condemn the minister's odium.

When Don Imus uttered his infamous slur on the radio last year, Obama cut him no slack. Imus should be fired, he said. "There's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group."

When it came to Wright, however, he wasn't nearly so categorical. Oh, he's "like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," Obama indulgently explained to one interviewer. He's just "trying to be provocative," he told another." Far from severing his ties to Wright, Obama made him a member of his Religious Leadership Committee -- a tie he finally cut only four days ago."

Such a clanging double standard raises doubts about Obama's character and judgment, and about his fitness for the role of race-transcending healer. Yesterday's speech was finely crafted, but it leaves some troubling questions unanswered.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is

[bth: Most Americans have moved beyond the racist demagogic comments of a man like Rev. Wright. Black racists. White racists. Americans are tired of them. That Obama tolerated this for decades without criticism speaks volumes. Jacoby's well thought out editorial makes plain what I've been detecting for the last few days. Obama lost the Democratic Jewish support. Now McCain is getting photographed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. See the poll data in the blog post shown below. McCain just took the lead. Watch to see if Hillary doesn't beat Obama in Pennsylvania. So it ends.]

Obama's lead over Clinton narrows: Reuters poll

Obama's lead over Clinton narrows: Reuters poll | Politics | Reuters: "WASHINGTON"(Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama's big national lead over Hillary Clinton has all but evaporated in the U.S. presidential race, and both Democrats trail Republican John McCain, according a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

The poll showed Obama had only a statistically insignificant lead of 47 percent to 44 percent over Clinton, down sharply from a 14 point edge he held over her in February when he was riding the tide of 10 straight victories.

Illinois Sen. Obama, who would be America's first black president, has been buffeted by attacks in recent weeks from New York Sen. Clinton over his fitness to serve as commander-in-chief and by a tempest over racially charged sermons given by his Chicago preacher.

The poll showed Arizona Sen. McCain, who has clinched the Republican presidential nomination, is benefiting from the lengthy campaign battle between Obama and Clinton, who are now battling to win Pennsylvania on April 22.

McCain leads 46 percent to 40 percent in a hypothetical matchup against Obama in the November presidential election, according to the poll.

That is a sharp turnaround from the Reuters/Zogby poll from last month, which showed in a head-to-head matchup that Obama would beat McCain 47 percent to 40 percent.

"The last couple of weeks have taken a toll on Obama and in a general election match-up, on both Democrats," said pollster John Zogby.

Matched up against Clinton, McCain leads 48 percent to 40 percent, narrower than his 50 to 38 percent advantage over her in February.

"It's not surprising to me that McCain's on top because there is disarray and confusion on the Democratic side," Zogby said

Obama gave a speech on Tuesday rebuking his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for sermons sometimes laced with inflammatory tirades but said he could not disown him and it was time for Americans to bind the country's racial wounds.

The poll showed Obama continues to have strong support from the African-American community but that he is experiencing some slippage among moderates and independents.

Among independents, McCain led for the first time in the poll, 46 percent to 36 percent over Obama.

He was behind McCain by 21 percent among white voters.

Zogby attributed this to a combination of the fallout from Clinton's victory in Ohio earlier this month and the controversy over Wright's sermons.

"And, just the closer he gets to the nomination, the tougher questions whites ask about an African-American candidate," Zogby said.

The March 13-14 poll surveyed 525 likely Democratic primary voters for the matchup between Clinton and Obama. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

For the matchup between McCain and his Democratic rivals, 1004 likely voters were surveyed. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online here

Rocketboom : Wednesday March 19, 2008 : Forward Through Backwards Time

Rocketboom : Wednesday March 19, 2008 : Forward Through Backwards Time

Five Years On. Reflections on Iraq from a Gold Star Dad.

March 19, 2008

Do we take the long road toward a 100 year war or the cut and run exit? Are those the choices? We don’t know where we are going so is any road acceptable?

We view the war and ourselves so differently after five years. WMD, torture, liberation, occupation, corruption, competence, security, civil liberties, ethnic cleansing, religious wars, life, death, who we are and what we have become.

Truth is the first casualty of war, but trust is a close second.

We came as liberators. Then we stayed. Liberators leave or become occupiers – a foreign army in a foreign land.

When we decided to leave Vietnam, we had half again as many casualties before we left. We approach 4000 today and have no plan to leave. Troop levels will decline somewhat because we have no more troops to send. Besides we have November elections. We send troops for 15 months at a time down the same roads toward the same bombs. We have no map, no eyes and no road home.

What does America get out of this war in Iraq? What alternate futures are closed off for us – getting Osama Bin Laden, stabilizing Afghanistan, money for our children, our healthcare and our homes? Lacking insight, we go to the mall instead.

We need a diplomatic and economic plan to responsibly conclude this war. We must leave Iraq and while there we should declare jihad on corruption and provide jobs, lights, water – basic things we expect from good government. A master plan can start from the ground up without omnipotent wisdom. Let us focus at ground level on helping the Iraqi people help themselves. We know good government when we see it. In doing so, perhaps we can find our own way home – find the values we ourselves lost as a country and a people.

Brian T. Hart
Gold Star Father

In Iraq -- Cheney gets Iraqis on board with new U.S.-Iraq agreement that extends beyond Bush > In Iraq -- Cheney gets Iraqis on board with new U.S.-Iraq agreement that extends beyond Bush: "Vice"President Dick Cheney played the part of backroom power broker for two days and came away on Tuesday with pledges from Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to firm up a new blueprint for U.S.-Iraq relations that will stretch beyond the Bush presidency.

Cheney flew in a cargo plane to Iraqi Kurdistan in the north to finish two days of private meetings with powerful politicians in Iraq. On Monday, he had talks with officials in Baghdad – even venturing outside the secured Green Zone to dine and have private discussions.

Topics ranged from security in Iraq to Iran's rising influence in Mideast, but a key item was about crafting a long-term agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, plus a narrower deal to define the legal basis for continued U.S. troop presence.
The deal would take the place of a U.N. Security Council resolution that expires in December, the same time Bush will be packing up to leave office. The administration says the deal will not seek permanent U.S. bases in Iraq or codify troop levels, nor tie the hands of a future commander in chief as some Democrats fear

Administration officials say they probably will not seek Senate approval of the plan because the agreement will not be a treaty that provides Iraq with specific security guarantees. This position has prompted a backlash in Congress, where Democrats have proposed legislation that would render the agreement null and void without the Senate's blessing.

Democrats and some Republicans have questioned whether the 2002 authorization of force in Iraq still applies legally because it referred to the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein and eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Since the 2003 invasion, Hussein has been captured and executed, and no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

Cheney advisers said that President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, made clear on Monday that even though the Kurds have a seniautonomous region in northern Iraq, they were completely committed to making the area work within an Iraqi state.

Cheney was warmly greeted in Irbil by Massoud Barzani, head of the regional administration in the semiautonomous Kurdish area. “We are certainly counting on President Barzani's leadership to help us conclude a new strategic relationship between the United States and Iraq, as well as to pass crucial pieces of national legislation in the months ahead,” Cheney said.

Barzani said the Kurds are committed to being “part of the solution, and not part of the problem.”

“I would like to reiterate our commitment that we will continue to play a positive role in order to build a new Iraq – an Iraq with a foundation of a great federal, democratic, pluralistic, free Iraq,” Barzani said.

Cheney spent Monday night at Balad Air Base, northwest of Baghdad. On Tuesday morning, before he headed to northern Iraq, he spoke at an outdoor troop rally, saying that as long as freedom is suppressed in the Mideast, the region will remain a place of “stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.”

Later in the day, Cheney flew to Oman, continuing his 10-day trip to the Mideast, which will include visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinian territory and Turkey.

Iraqi foreign minister warns abrupt US withdrawal would be 'disastrous'

Santa Barbara News-Press: "Iraq's"foreign minister said Tuesday the risks of civil war have been averted after five years of ''tears and blood.'' But he warned an abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops would wipe away the security gains and other achievements and have disastrous consequences.

With the war entering its sixth year, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari acknowledged mistakes by all sides. But he insisted that Iraqis have made remarkable progress despite the violence that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 4,000 U.S. troops.

Zebari, a Kurd who spent years opposing Saddam Hussein in exile, said the Iraqis had cautioned that overthrowing the dictator would be ''the easiest part'' but ''the day after would be far more difficult unless there was some planning, some preparation ... and some real participation by the Iraqi leaders.''

''Mistakes were made by all, by the American military, by the British, by the coalition, by us, but this is water under the bridge now,'' he told The Associated Press in an interview in an ornate reception room at the Foreign Ministry building in central Baghdad....

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Army Holds Annual 'Bring Your Daughter To War' Day | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Army Holds Annual 'Bring Your Daughter To War' Day | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
Army Holds Annual 'Bring Your Daughter To War' Day

Foreign fighters in Iraq seek recognition, U.S. says - Los Angeles Times

Foreign fighters in Iraq seek recognition, U.S. says - Los Angeles Times: "BAGHDAD"-- Young, lonely and struggling to make a mark.

The U.S. military Sunday presented a profile of foreign fighters, who are blamed for about 90% of the suicide bombings that have claimed thousands of lives in Iraq. It was based on interrogations of 48 men captured by U.S.-led forces here in the last four months, Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith told reporters at a briefing inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

Smith said most militants were single men in their late teens and early 20s recruited by Al Qaeda in Iraq, a largely homegrown Sunni Arab militant group that the U.S. military says is led by foreigners. They typically come from large, lower-income families in which they struggled to be noticed.

"Most of these young men wanted to make an impression, but paradoxically they did not tell their families they were going off to Iraq to fight for Al Qaeda out of fear of disapproval," said Smith, a U.S. military spokesman.

Smith's presentation comes at a time when the number of high-profile suicide attacks in Iraq has inched up, many of them carried out by bombers with explosives strapped to their waists.

U.S. officers stress that the number of attacks overall remains down since the military finished sending an additional 28,500 troops to Iraq in June. But Smith acknowledged that a modest rise in attacks using explosives vests, including 18 in February, was troubling.

"It is a difficult target to stop, and the only effective way is to take down the networks that feed this type of terrorism," he said.

In the latest such attack, a man blew himself up Sunday in front of a Kurdish political party office in the northern city of Mosul, injuring a guard and six civilians, police said. Two policemen were injured by a roadside bomb on their way to the scene, police said.

Fighters also have started to wear explosives vests and blow themselves up when captured, Smith said, a tactic previously used only by senior leadership.

The interviews conducted with detainees are helping U.S. forces to understand the backgrounds, motivations and recruitment of foreign fighters. Smith said most were from the Middle East and North Africa, including about 40% from Saudi Arabia.

More than half of the approximately 240 foreign fighters in U.S. custody come from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, according to figures provided separately by the military

Smaller numbers were recruited in Jordan, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Kuwait, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. In addition, several hundred foreign fighters are in Iraqi custody.

Most described their upbringing as religious but not extremist, Smith said. Many said their fathers were harsh and often abusive. Most reported little or no previous military experience. Before they were recruited, many worked as taxi drivers, construction workers and in other low-paying jobs. Others were students.

Their recruiters preyed on their desire for recognition, acceptance and friendship, Smith said.

Many detainees told their interrogators that they were first approached at their mosques. Others were approached at work and invited to attend discussions at the mosque.

These conversations would begin as a harmless discussion about Islam that over several weeks would shift to the war against U.S.-led forces in Iraq, he said.

The recruits were often shown videos of Americans purportedly abusing Iraqis and were urged to help avenge the mistreatment by killing Americans, Smith said. Insurgent strikes against U.S. forces also were shown.

Once they agreed to join the fight, most of the young men were flown to Syria and then smuggled into Iraq by road, he said. The facilitators who met them in Syria often entertained them at nightclubs and bars during the months it sometimes took to get them to Iraq, Smith said.

But when they reached Iraq, those destined for suicide missions were sequestered in safe houses with copies of the Koran and few other amenities. They complained that their Iraqi handlers looked down on foreigners, did not give them enough food and treated them harshly, Smith said

Some spoke of their disillusionment on discovering that most of the attacks carried out by insurgents were directed against the Iraqi people rather than U.S. forces.

"Again and again, we heard this reality bothered the recruits," Smith said. "They had not come here to kill Iraqi civilians. . . . They felt misled."

Eventually, most just wanted to go home, he said. But their handlers had their passports and their money, so they felt trapped.

All 48 fighters interviewed by U.S.-led forces were men, but a growing number of suicide attacks have been conducted by Iraqi women.

U.S. officers have suggested that the insurgents are using women because they attract less attention. The insurgents may also be having difficulties recruiting foreign volunteers.

About 120 foreign fighters were entering Iraq each month at the peak of the influx in mid-2007, but that figure has dropped to about 40 to 50, Smith said.

A special correspondent in Mosul contributed to this report.

Trying to Fix Baghdad - US News and World Report

Trying to Fix Baghdad - US News and World Report: "BAGHDAD"The Abu Ghraib hospital was lucky, through government reconstruction funds, to receive a stereoscopic lens to allow the doctors there to perform surgeries on patients with injured eyes. And there are many such patients, given the amount of shrapnel that's flown around the neighborhood in the past five years. But the device sits unused on a small surgical cart in a dusty operating room because it lacks a mount needed to operate the machine. Brig. Gen. James Milano scowls at the all-too-familiar conundrum. "The sad thing about this is that we're five years into war and the reconstruction and this hospital is still back at ground zero. If only it was just in Abu Ghraib," he tells the doctor.

These types of problems are the general's daily grind, with an assignment that has placed him in charge of overseeing the restoration of essential services to the Iraqi capital; that includes electricity, hospitals, sewers, and drinking water. Yes, it's more peaceful than it was Dec. 1, 2007, when he took command, but Baghdad is a city devastated by years of sanctions and battles that continue to rage, if sporadically, in its ruined streets. "We don't need more of this 'we've turned the corner' stuff," says Milano, speaking in a calm and measured tone that his degree in chemical engineering would suggest but which belies the frustrating realities of his 16-hour days.

Before Iraq, he was primarily a staff officer, writing about the importance of convoy and base security in 2000 and inking a deal with the language software company Rosetta Stone in 2005 to provide Arabic learning tools to soldiers. Married with two children, he's now deputy commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which is responsible for Baghdad, and is practical to the point of bluntness: "To say we've got a lot of hard work to do here barely covers it."

Milano leaves the security of the series of American bases and combat outposts most days to survey firsthand the process of restoring Baghdad to a functioning metropolis. When he visited a sewage lifting station under construction in the Ghazaliyah neighborhood recently, a convoy of a dozen armored humvees escorted him, along with more soldiers securing the area around the large hole in the ground and the half-dozen Iraqi workers pouring concrete. If the project isn't completed on schedule in August, the local residents can look forward to another sweltering summer with tides of raw sewage flowing through their streets. "If we don't get the essential services done this year, I don't know when we will ever be able to do it," says Milano. "The infrastructure is degrading, the people have little faith that the central government can deliver, and the security window could easily close."

Not only can't the people of Iraq withstand another year like the last, it's doubtful that the Americans can either. Between last May and November, the American government supplied Baghdad residents with millions of dollars worth of bottled water. "We can't do that again," Milano says.

The problem of water is particularly acute. Eighty percent of the city's 5 million residents get their drinking water from a single reservoir. Only one of the facility's generators works—at about half its capacity, and only two of the 12 water pumps can push the water out of the reservoir. When it's too hot, the generator doesn't run at all. In the parking lot sit three tractor-trailer-size filtration units. But during their shipment from Jordan, thieves cut holes in the crates and stole the filters, rendering the units useless

The Americans want to see the government of Iraq employ members of the largely Sunni "awakening" groups, many now being paid by the United States to help secure their neighborhoods. Getting those men to put down their guns and accept, say, a civil service job could cement security gains and increase employment. But the Shiite-led central government is making slow work of the task. Only a few hundred have been transitioned into the police forces or the army. Fewer still have made the change to civil service jobs like picking up trash.

Baghdad is a city drowning in trash. It is strewn across the landscape like polyethylene snow, clogging the sewers, blocking streets, and polluting water. Insurgents favor concealing roadside bombs in plastic bags because they are ubiquitous. Humvee drivers are constantly squinting to see if a plastic bag is blowing across a road or anchored by shards of iron and homemade explosives. In Ghazaliyah, one of first things that American soldiers did when violence declined was to install large yellow trash dumpsters around the neighborhood. In about a week, the resident goat headers had overturned all of them, allowing their flocks to graze on the contents.

Asked what most surprised Milano on this, his first tour in the country, he talks about the trash. "It's everywhere and only causes more problems," he says. Then he adds what many soldiers here think but rarely say aloud. "If we could get everyone to stop standing around staring at all the trash and start picking it up, we'd be further along."

Realizing the critical nature of the problems, the Iraqi government declared 2008 to be the "'year of essential services" and has worked to reconcile sectarian divides that often interfere with the equitable distribution of resources. Services are often weapons of low-grade conflict. Some residents in Sunni areas, for instance, complain that the water pumps located in the Shiite section of town have been deliberately turned up too high, bursting pipes in the Sunni areas and overloading the sewers.

To resolve the endless issues, the government of Nouri al-Maliki has appointed a special council to oversee the process and meet regularly with Milano. The council's newest representative is Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial and often reviled secular Shiite who was well known in Washington for advocating regime change in Iraq. "I know the reputation he has here and back in the United States," Milano says, "but thus far he seems committed to working out these issues." Right now, Milano will take any help he can get.

[bth: a few observations. 1. note how easy it is to destroy a modern society by disrupting its public services - water, electricity, fuel. This requires almost no effort to accomplish and means a small insurgency can have devastating results, 2. where is the State Dept? I mean he's Deputy Commander of 4th ID for God's sake. Isn't there a civilian corp or at least some engineering support? 3. Where is the Iraqi government? Oil is over $100 and all that money is flowing somewhere but evidently not into infrastructure or civilian jobs. Is this what we've died for? Is this what forking over $200 billion a year of US taxpayer money is buying?]

No restraint on renegade spies - The Boston Globe

No restraint on renegade spies - The Boston Globe: "IN"THE world of cloak and dagger, it is hard to know just how often the Intelligence Oversight Board stepped in to blow the whistle on some renegade activity by a spy agency. Made up of national security veterans, the board is intended to provide independent scrutiny. It may not have been fulfilling its role recently, since the Bush administration has admitted the use of waterboarding and warrantless tapping of Americans' phones and e-mails. But late last month, President Bush largely defanged even this panel.

more stories like this
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Republicans uphold Bush veto of anti-torture bill
The oversight board was created in the mid-1970s, when Congress was up in arms over domestic spying, assassination attempts, and other abuses by US intelligence agencies. To head off stricter regulation, the Ford administration set up the board as its own executive branch watchdog. And it has had some influence; in 1996 the board did fault the Central Intelligence Agency for not adequately informing Congress that it was hiring torturers and killers in Guatemala.

But any semblance of effective oversight ended Feb. 29, with a Bush executive order stripping the board of authority to notify the Justice Department when it came upon an activity that might be illegal. According to White House spokesman Tony Fratto, the changes were necessary because the creation of the position of director of national intelligence in 2004 created overlapping responsibilities.

But there is no getting around the fact that the changes weaken the board. Since under its old rules it has clearly not impeded the activities of this administration, the effect of Bush's order can only be to institutionalize the dismantling of post-Watergate restraints on presidential power - restraints that officials like Vice President Cheney have long resented. A new president, from either party, should restore the authority the board had before the Bush-Cheney wrecking ball hit it.

[bth: we willingly surrender our rights. Why? Is it fear and apathy?]

Audit finds more than 200K public-records requests unanswered

The Raw Story | Audit finds more than 200K public-records requests unanswered: "The"Freedom of Information Act is predicated on the notion that the government's documents are the property of its citizens and that people should have easy access to them.

Two years after President Bush signed an executive order designed to strengthen FOIA compliance and reduce backlogs of pending requests, an audit of public information procedures finds some progress but persistent problems. Hundreds of thousands of requests remain unanswered, and compliance with electronic requests has not kept pace with technological innovation.

"Many of the same old scofflaw agencies are still shirking their responsibilities to the public," said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, which released the Knight Open Government Survey audit Monday.

One of the key goals of Bush's executive order, signed in December 2005, was for federal agencies to reduce their backlog of pending FOIA requests. The Knight audit found about 200,000 requests were still pending, and that some agencies' backlogs actually had increased in the two years since Bush signed the order.

The Department of Homeland Security was one agency where pending FOIA requests increased, from 82,544 in fiscal year 2005 to 83,661 in 2007, according to the audit. DHS "set an overarching goal of eliminating FOIA backlog" by the end of last year, but it did not augment this plan with "manageable interim targets," according to the report. DHS backlog reduced by only 25 percent during the audited time period.

The FBI was another agency singled out for failing to meet backlog-reduction targets. It "set several goals to process older requests ... but failed to meet all of them and pushed the completion dates back a year on two occasions," according to the audit.

The audit credited the Department of Defense and the CIA for making "concerted efforts to process their older cases," and it found that the CIA "far exceeded its goal" of 25 percent reduction in backlogs, reporting a 74 percent decrease in its oldest cases last year.

"[T]he CIA achieved its reduction by reviewing documents responsive to these requests and releasing information, such as the CIA 'Family Jewels' document, which had been one of the oldest pending FOIA requests at the CIA," the audit found.

Overall, FOIA backlogs only decreased by 2 percent across all government agencies, according to the audit, and nearly a third of agencies reported an increase in pending requests between 2005 and 2007. Bush's executive order was seen as doing little to spark FOIA compliance in agencies that had traditionally been lax in complying with such requests because it lacked a system of oversight to force compliance.

"The order was only a small step for open government," Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive, said in a news release. "There are certainly mixed messages when the President asks for results under the Freedom of Information Act, and at the same time refuses to support funding of technology or personnel, opposes improvements to the law, and exempts parts of the Executive Office of the President from the law."

The Archive is a plaintiff in a FOIA lawsuit against the White House Office of Administration concerning records relating to a faulty e-mail system that is behind the disappearance of 10 million e-mails to and from administration officials.

The full Knight Open Government Survey is available here (.pdf).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Profits from stolen oil help sustain insurgency in Iraq - International Herald Tribune

Profits from stolen oil help sustain insurgency in Iraq - International Herald Tribune: "The"Bayji refinery may be the most important industrial site in the Sunni Arab-dominated regions of Iraq. On a good day, 500 tanker trucks will leave the refinery filled with fuel with a street value of $10 million.

The sea of oil under Iraq is supposed to rebuild the nation and then make it prosper. But at least one-third, and possibly much more, of the fuel from Iraq's largest refinery here is diverted to the black market, according to U.S. military officials. Tankers are hijacked, drivers are bribed, papers are forged and meters are manipulated - and some of the earnings go to insurgents who are still killing more than 100 Iraqis a week.

"It's the money pit of the insurgency," said Captain Joe Da Silva, who commands several platoons stationed at the refinery....

In fact, money, far more than jihadist ideology, is a crucial motivation for a majority of Sunni insurgents, according to U.S. officers in some Sunni provinces and other military officials in Iraq who have reviewed detainee surveys and other intelligence on the insurgency.

Although many U.S. military officials and politicians - and even the Iraqi public - use the term Al Qaeda as a synonym for the insurgency, some American and Iraqi experts say they believe that the number of committed religious ideologues remains small. They say that insurgent groups raise and spend money autonomously for the most part, with little centralized coordination or direction.

Money from swindles in Iraq and from foreign patrons in places like Saudi Arabia allows a disparate, decentralized collection of insurgent cells to hire recruits and pay for large-scale attacks.

But the focus on money is the insurgency's weakness as well as its strength, and one reason why loyalties can be traded. For now, at least 91,000 Iraqis, many of them former enemies of the U.S. forces, receive a regular American-paid salary for serving in neighborhood militias.

"It has a great deal more to do with the economy than with ideology," said one senior U.S. military official, who said that studies of detainees in American custody found that about three-quarters were not committed to the jihadist ideology. "The vast majority have nothing to do with the caliphate and the central ideology of Al Qaeda

A military official familiar with studies on the insurgency estimated that half of the insurgency's money came from outside Iraq, mainly from people in Saudi Arabia, a flow that does not appear to have decreased in recent years.

Before the invasion of Iraq, eight gasoline stations dotted the region around Sharqat, north of the refinery at the northern edge of Saddam Hussein's home province, Salahuddin. Now there are more than 50.

Economic growth? Not exactly. It is one of the more audacious schemes that feed money to the black marketeers. Most tanker trucks intended for Sharqat never make it there. "It's all a bluff," Taha Mahmoud Ahmed, the official who oversees fuel distribution in Salahuddin, said in an interview. "The fuel is not going to the stations. It's going to the black market."

Gas stations are often built just to gain the rights to fuel shipments, at subsidized government rates, that can be resold onto the black market at higher prices. New stations cost more than $100,000 to build, but black market profits from six or seven trucks can often cover that cost, and everything after that is profit, said soldiers who have studied the scheme.

In Bayji, dozens of active insurgent groups feed off corruption from the refinery, said Lieutenant Ali Shakir, the commander of the paramilitary Iraqi police unit here. Shakir said the more hard-core insurgent groups had a lot of money to pay other fighters. He said they thrived partly because obvious thievery was never prosecuted.

U.S. and Iraqi officials struggle to say exactly how much the insurgency reaps from its domestic financing activities. In the past, Iraqi officials have estimated that insurgents receive as much as half of all profits attributable to oil smuggling. And before the troop buildup began a year ago, a U.S. report estimated that insurgents generated as much as $200 million a year.

Nor is the skimming limited to the insurgency; illicit earnings from the Bayji refinery also flow to criminal gangs, tribes, the Iraqi police, local council members and provincial officials who also smuggle fuel.

Barham Salih, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, said he believed that the pool of money available to insurgents across Iraq had fallen in the past year, but he declined to provide an estimate himself. He said Iraqi security analysts estimated that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia received $50,000 to $100,000 per day from swindles related to the Bayji refinery.

Those amounts are significant, given the hard realities of Iraq, especially in Sunni areas where unemployment and discontent with the Shiite-run government run high.

The insurgents appear to understand how valuable the Bayji refinery is to their operations. "They have not attacked the oil refinery, because they don't want to damage their cash cow
," said First Lieutenant Trent Teague, who commands the 3rd Platoon in Da Silva's unit, the headquarters company of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry.

Instead, when the insurgents want to send an angry message to someone at the refinery, they attack neighborhoods where oil workers live. Two suicide bombings in these Bayji neighborhoods in December killed at least 30 people and wounded more than 100.

Some U.S. officials and politicians maintain that Sunni insurgents have deep ties with Qaeda networks loyal to Osama bin Laden in other countries. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, whose members are mainly Iraqi but whose leadership has been described by U.S. commanders as largely foreign, remains a well-financed and virulent force that carries out large-scale attacks.

But there are officers in the U.S. military who openly question how much a role jihadism plays in the minds of most people who carry out attacks. As the U.S. occupation has worn on and unemployment has remained high, these officers say the overwhelming motivation of insurgents is the need to earn a paycheck.

Nor do U.S. officers say they believe that insurgent attacks are centrally coordinated. "As far as networked coordination of attacks, we are not seeing that," said a military official familiar with studies on the insurgency.

Opposition to the occupation and fear of the Shiite- and Kurdish-dominated government and security forces "clearly are important factors in the insurgency," the official said. "But they are being rivaled by the economic factor, the deprivation that exists."

Major Kelly Kendrick, operations officer for the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division in Salahuddin, estimates that there are no more than 50 hard-core Qaeda fighters in Salahuddin, a province of 1.3 million people that includes Bayji and the Sunni cities of Samarra and Tikrit.

He said most fighters were seduced not by dreams of a life following bin Laden, but by a simpler pitch: "Here's $100; go plant this IED

"Ninety percent of the guys out here who do attacks are just people who want to feed their families," Kendrick said....

Iraq war fades out as TV story - 03/16/2008 -

Iraq war fades out as TV story - 03/16/2008 - ..."It's"no big secret that this is a war that everyone has grown tired of," said CNN correspondent Arwa Damon, whose documentary "On Deadly Ground: The Women of Iraq" is airing several times this month. "Iraqis are aware of it. They think it's a story that people are tired of hearing about. That's what makes our job more crucial."

ABC News will draw attention to the war this week with the fifth edition of its "Where Things Stand" series, polling and interviewing Iraqis about what is happening in their country.

Statistics clearly illustrate the diminished attention. For the first 10 weeks of the year, the war accounted for 3 percent of television, newspaper and Internet stories in the Project for Excellence in Journalism's survey of news coverage. During the same period in 2007, Iraq filled 23 percent of the news hole.

The difference is even more stark on cable news networks: 24 percent of the time spent on Iraq last year, just 1 percent this year.

"The fact that it went down didn't surprise me," said Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director. "But the fact that it almost disappeared is something I didn't expect."

The fatigue factor is hard to fight

From a journalist's standpoint, the story hasn't changed for several months. The American "surge" appears to have made progress, and while Iraq is hardly safe, pockets of the country are much safer than before.

It's possible to pinpoint the exact week that the switch turned off. The war averaged 30 minutes per week of coverage last year on the three network evening newscasts up until Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. forces, testified in September about the surge's progress, according to news consultant Andrew Tyndall. In the last 15 weeks of the year, the broadcasts collectively spent four minutes per week on the war.

A week before Petraeus' testimony, Katie Couric did some of her best journalism since joining CBS, during a trip to Iraq and Syria.

Her reward? The least-watched week for the "CBS Evening News" since at least 1987, and probably long before.

"The story there is so difficult to cover and there's so little to get to that represents something you haven't said already and haven't shown already," said Paul Friedman, senior vice president of CBS News.

It's also dangerous and expensive, he said.

Unless the story changes dramatically, Friedman said, the point may come when a network pulls full-time staff from the country.....

[bth: out of sight out of mind]