Saturday, July 12, 2008

Aid workers being shot, killed in Somalia - CNN.com

Aid workers being shot, killed in Somalia - CNN.com: "Three"aid workers have been shot over the last day in Somalia, two of them fatally, Somali media reports said.

The first fatality was a Somali, Mohamed Mohamud Qeyre. He was the deputy director of the group Daryeel Bulasho Guud (DBG), funded by a German company and affiliated with the group Bread for the World.

Qeyre was shot in the Somali capital of Mogadishu Friday night in what appeared to be a targeted attack, the reports said. He was shot by three gunmen outside the facility where aid distribution is coordinated. The gunmen may have been staking out the facility waiting for Qeyre to exit.

The head of DBG, in Nairobi, Kenya, said he will suspend all aid operations in Somalia for the time being.

The second fatality was a member of the Sodra nongovernmental organization, which is helping with humanitarian efforts in Somalia. Officials said it appears that Ali Baashi was also specifically targeted by gunmen.

Earlier this week, the World Food Program said a truck driver carrying its relief supplies was killed -- the fourth WFP driver killed in Somalia this year. Ahmed Saalim was shot when fighting broke out between convoy escorts and militiamen at a checkpoint, the U.N. aid agency said.

A growing percentage of the Somali population has become dependent on humanitarian aid. A severe famine swept the nation in 1991-1993, devastating crops, killing up to 280,000 people and displacing up to 2 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The situation has been exacerbated by drought, continual armed conflicts in central and southern Somalia and high inflation on food and fuel

]bth; I wonder what the motivation is for these assassinations?]

Ex-Pentagon worker sentenced in China spy case - CNN.com

Ex-Pentagon worker sentenced in China spy case - CNN.com: "A"former Pentagon analyst was sentenced Friday to almost five years in prison for giving secret information about U.S.-Taiwan military relations to a New Orleans furniture salesman who turned out to be a Chinese spy.

At a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court, Gregg W. Bergersen, 51, of Alexandria, apologized and said he never meant to hurt his country.

Bergersen thought that Louisiana businessman Tai Kuo, the recipient of the information, was aligned with the Taiwanese government and that the information was furthering the establishment of a sophisticated new air defense system in Taiwan, called Po Sheng.

But Kuo was actually a spy for the People's Republic of China and was relaying the information provided by Bergersen to the Communist regime in Beijing.

"I did not do it for financial gain," Bergersen said, holding back tears. "I, somehow in my mind, as convoluted as it sounds, acted out of a perverted sense that the end justifies the means."

Prosecutors, though, said Bergersen was indeed motivated by financial gain, citing the thousands of dollars that Kuo gave him on gambling trips to Las Vegas, as well as Kuo's promise of future employment after Bergersen retired from the federal government.

"He knew he needed to give Kuo information that the public didn't get so Mr. Kuo would keep lavishing gifts on him," prosecutor W. Neil Hammerstrom said....

[bth: Bergersen clearly did it for the money among other reasons. The gambling debts and Vegas trips pretty clearly established that. I suspect false flat operations are very common. Kuo his accomplice and a traitor to not only Taiwan where his father was a general but also to the US who accpeted him as a naturalized citizen.]

Nouri al-Maliki ready to oust US from Iraq green zone - Times Online

Nouri al-Maliki ready to oust US from Iraq green zone - Times Online: "The"green zone of Baghdad, a highly fortified slice of American suburbia on the banks of the Tigris river, may soon be handed over to Iraqi control if the increasingly assertive government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, gets its way.

A senior Iraqi government official said this weekend the enclave should revert to Iraqi control by the end of the year. “We think that by the end of 2008 all the zones in Baghdad should be integrated into the city,” said Ali Dabbagh, the government’s spokesman.

“The American soldiers should be based in agreed camps outside the cities and population areas.

“By the end of the year, there will be no green zone,” he added. “The separation by huge walls makes people feel angry.” Dabbagh acknowledged that getting rid of the green zone would be a huge undertaking, given the thousands of American soldiers, private contractors and foreign workers who live inside. He said the concrete walls that divide it from the rest of the city would be taken down slowly, “depending on the threat and circumstances”.
The prospect may prove disconcerting for the Americans, who have just begun to transfer their diplomatic operations in the zone from Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace to a new embassy, the largest and most expensive in the world.

The £300m building, at the heart of the green zone, protected by blast walls and layers of barbed wire, is the size of the Vatican City. It is virtually a self-contained town, with a heli-pad, sewerage and water treatment plants, a telephone exchange with a Virginia dialling code, a swimming pool and a bombproof gym. It will contain 619 blast-resistant flats.

Under the Baghdad government’s plan the embassy will remain but the Iraqis will take back the five-square-mile secure “bubble” surrounding it. ...

[bth: well this is going to be very interesting.]

Vets break ground for 173rd Airborne Brigade memorial

Ledger-Enquirer.com | 07/12/2008 | Vets break ground for 173rd Airborne Brigade memorial: "This"is a 43-year-old dream." Ken Smith nodded toward a knoll of dirt and grass overlooking the new National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.

Smith and other members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Memorial Foundation came one step closer Friday to fulfilling their dream of building a monument for their fallen brothers when they broke ground at the Patriot Park site.

The ceremony included a special performance by popular country act Big & Rich. The duo sang their hit "8th of November," a song they wrote specifically in honor of the 48 sky soldiers who lost their lives on Nov. 8, 1965, in an ambush in Vietnam.

"You see fans and people coming back from overseas even right now that whether they were in the 173rd or not they identify with that song and they identify with what it's talking about," said John Rich. "I don't know that he and I, Kenny and I, will ever write anything more meaningful to more people than the '8th of November.' "

The monument, expected to be finished some time next year, will honor the 1,643 men of the brigade killed in action in Vietnam and the additional 59 members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I wanted it to be simple and meaningful and maintainable," said the memorial's architect and 173rd veteran Don Dali.

Commissioned artists helped Dali develop three concepts for the memorial. The chosen prototype contains a 16-foot-high column that supports a skyward reaching steel statue of the brigade's wing and sword insignia. The column sits in the center a circular stone base and is surrounded by five double-sided display panels on which the names of 173rd soldiers killed in action will be etched.

Eddie Hall fought alongside Sgt. Jerry Hughes in Vietnam. It's for Hughes that Hall drove the 90 miles to Columbus to the 173rd groundbreaking.

"You know I never did know his first name until we'd been together four or five months," Hall said of his fallen friend. "Everyone just called him Hughes. I think everybody's going to be glad that it's happening. There's a lot of closure to be done with this, and there's probably a lot of war stories floating around out here. A lot of war stories. I think this is long overdue."

The last time Chloe Wilson visited Columbus she pinned her brother's Airborne wings to his uniform during his graduation from jump school at Fort Benning. The 24-year-old Virginia woman never imagined she'd return as a Gold Star family member. Her brother, Pfc. Thomas Wilson, 21, was killed during an ambush in Afghanistan on Aug. 27, 2007. He was a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

"It's definitely hard, but it makes us feel closer, being around all the other military families," Wilson said.

Wilson's mother, Julie Hepner, also attended Friday's ceremony.

"As a mother who lost her son, it's just the most wonderful feeling to know that he's never going to be forgotten," Hepner said through tears. "He was so young, and he loved what he was doing."

Construction is expected to begin on the 173rd Airborne Brigade Memorial this summer.

[bth: this will mean a lot to us when its finished. I want to thank Big & Rich for putting together the concert in Atlanta that helped pay for this wonderful tribute.]

YouTube - Ben Hur - The Chariot race

YouTube - Ben Hur - The Chariot race: ""

Bush outfoxed in the Iraqi Sands

Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs: "WASHINGTON"- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's demand for a timetable for complete United States military withdrawal from Iraq, confirmed on Tuesday by his National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, has signaled the almost certain defeat of the George W Bush administration's aim of establishing a long-term military presence in the country.

The official Iraqi demand for US withdrawal confirms what was becoming increasingly clear in recent months - that the Iraqi administration has decided to shed its military dependence on the United States.

The two strongly pro-Iranian Shi'ite factions supporting thegovernment in Baghdad, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and Maliki's own Da'wa party, were under strong pressure from both Iran and their own Shi'ite population and from Shi'ite clerics, including the pre-eminent Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to demand US withdrawal.

The statement by Rubaie came immediately after he had met with Sistani, thus confirming earlier reports that Sistani was opposed to any continuing US military presence.

The Bush administration has had doubts in the past about the loyalties of those two Shi'ite groups and of the SIIC's Badr Corps paramilitary organization, and it maneuvered in 2005 and early 2006 to try to weaken their grip on the Interior Ministry and the police.

By 2007, however, the Bush administration hoped that it had forged a new level of cooperation with Maliki aimed at weakening their common enemy, Muqtada al-Sadr's anti-occupation Mahdi Army. SIIC leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was invited to the White House in December 2006 and met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2007.

The degree of cooperation with the Maliki regime against the Sadrists was so close that the Bush administration even accepted for a brief period in late 2007 Maliki's argument that Iran was restraining the Mahdi Army by pressing Muqtada to issue his August 2007 ceasefire order.

In November, Bush and Maliki agreed on a set of principles as the basis for negotiating agreements on the stationing of US forces and bilateral cooperation, including a US guarantee of Iraq's security and territorial integrity. In February 2008, US and Iraqi military planners were already preparing for a US-British-Iraqi military operation later in the summer to squeeze the Sadrists out of the southern city of Basra.

But after the US draft agreement of March 7 was given to the Iraqi government, the attitude of the Maliki government toward the US military presence began to shift dramatically, just as Iran was playing a more overt role in brokering ceasefire agreements between the two warring Shi'ite factions.

The first indication was Maliki's refusal to go along with the Basra plan and his sudden decision to take over Basra immediately without US troops. General David Petraeus, who this week was confirmed by the US Senate as as Washington's most senior commander in the Middle East, later said a company of US Army troops was attached to some units as advisers "just really because we were having a problem figuring where was the front line".

That Maliki decision was followed by an Iranian political mediation of the intra-Shi'ite fighting in Basra, at the request of a delegation from the two pro-government parties. The result was that Muqtada's forces gave up control of the city, even though they were far from having been defeated.

US military officials were privately disgruntled at that development, which effectively canceled the plan for a much bigger operation against the Sadrists during the summer. Weeks later, a US "defense official" would tell the New York Times, "We may have wasted an opportunity in Basra to kill those that needed to be killed."

In another sign of the shifting Iraqi position away from Washington, in early May, Maliki refused to cooperate with a scheme of Vice President Dick Cheney and Petraeus to embarrass Iran by having the Iraqi government publicly accuse it of arming anti-government Shi'ites in the South. The prime minister angered US officials by naming a committee to investigate the US charges.

Even worse for the Bush administration, a delegation of Shi'ite officials to Tehran that was supposed to confront Iran over the arms issue instead returned with a new Iranian strategy for dealing with Muqtada, according to Alissa J Rubin of the New York Times: reach a negotiated settlement with him.

The Maliki government began to apply the new Iranian strategy immediately. On May 10, Maliki and Muqtada reached an accord on Sadr City, the Shi'ite slum in Baghdad, where pitched battles were being fought between US troops and the Sadrists.

The new accord prevented a major US escalation of violence against the Mahdi Army stronghold and ended heavy US bombing there. Seven US battalions had been poised to assault Sadr City with tanks and armored cars in a battle expected to last several weeks.

Under the new pact, Muqtada allowed Iraqi troops to patrol in his stronghold, in return for the government's agreement not to arrest any Sadrist troops unless they were found with "medium and heavy weaponry".

The new determination to keep US forces out of the intra-Shi'ite conflict was accompanied by a new tough line in the negotiations with the Bush administration on Status of Forces Agreements. In a May 21 briefing for US Senate staff, Bush administration officials said Iraq was now demanding "significant changes to the form of the agreements". These agreements are due to replace the United Nations resolutions authorizing the US presence in Iraq which expires at the end of this year.

The Maliki government was rejecting the US demand for access to bases with no time limit as well as for complete freedom to use them without consultation with the Iraqi government, as well as its demand for immunity for its troops and contractors. The Iraqis were asserting that these demands violated Iraqi sovereignty. By early June, Iraqi officials were openly questioning for the first time whether Iraq needed a US military presence at all.

The unexpected Iraqi resistance to the US demands reflected the underlying influence of Iran on the Maliki government as well as Muqtada's recognition that he could achieve his goal of liberating Iraq from US occupation through political-diplomatic means rather than through military pressures.

Iran put very strong pressure on Iraq to reject the agreement, as soon as it saw the initial US draft. It could cite the fact that the draft would allow the US to use Iraqi bases to attack Iran, which was known to be a red line in Iran-Iraq relations.

The Iranians could argue that an Iraqi Shi'ite administration could not depend on the United States, which was committed to a strategy of alliance with Sunni regimes in the region against the Shi'ite ones.

Iran was able to exploit a deep vein of Iraqi Shi'ite suspicion that the US might still try to overthrow the Shi'ite government, using former prime minister Iyad Allawi and some figures in the Iraqi army. When the US draft dropped an earlier US commitment to defend Iraq against external aggression and pledged only to "consult" in the event of an external threat, Iran certainly exploited the opening to push Maliki to reject the agreement.

The use of military bases in Iraq to project US power into the region to carry out regime change in Iran and elsewhere had been an essential part of the neo-conservative plan for invading Iraq from the beginning.

The Bush administration raised the objective of a long-term military presence in Iraq based on the "Korea model" last year at the height of the US celebration of the pacification of the Sunni stronghold of Anbar province, which it viewed as sealing its victory in the war.

But the Iraqi demand for withdrawal makes it clear that the Bush administration was not really in control of events in Iraq, and that Shi'ite political opposition and Iranian diplomacy could trump US military power.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

[bth: the sooner we get this incompetent administration out of Washington the better. Maliki doesn't have to control Anbar or the Kurdish regions, just Baghdad and Basra. Basra is where the oil is, or rather gets to international markets.]

ABC News: Obama's Iraq Plan: Mission Impossible?

ABC News: Obama's Iraq Plan: Mission Impossible?: "Whatever"nuance Barack Obama is now adding to his Iraq withdrawal strategy, the core plan on his Web site is as plain as day: Obama would "immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months."

It is a plan that, no doubt, helped Obama get his party's nomination, but one that may prove difficult if he is elected president.


Sustainable Security

Military personnel in Iraq are following the presidential race closely, especially when it comes to Iraq.

The soldiers and commanders we spoke to will not engage in political conversation or talk about any particular candidate, but they had some strong opinions about the military mission which they are trying to accomplish, and the dramatic security gains they have made in the past few months.

We spent a day with Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond in Sadr City. He is the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which is responsible for Baghdad. Hammond will likely be one of the commanders who briefs Barack Obama when he visits Iraq.

"We still have a ways to go. Number one, we're working on security and it's very encouraging, that's true, but what we're really trying to achieve here is sustainable security on Iraqi terms. So, I think my first response to that would be let's look at the conditions.

"Instead of any time-based approach to any decision for withdrawal, it's got to be conditions-based, with the starting point being an intelligence analysis of what might be here today, and what might lie ahead in the future. I still think we still have work that remains to be done before I can really answer that question," Hammond said when asked how he would feel about an order to start drawing down two combat brigades a month.

Asked if he considered it dangerous to pull out if the withdrawal is not based on "conditions," Hammond said, "It's very dangerous. I'll speak for the coalition forces, men and women of character and moral courage; we have a mission, and it's not until the mission is done that I can look my leader in the eye and say, 'Sir, Ma'am, mission accomplished,' and I think it is dangerous to leave anything a little early."

That phrase, "sustainable security," is something you hear a lot in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who is the operational commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, says he has seen things improve significantly here.

As for Obama's stated plan to bring home the troops within 16 months, Austin said, "I'd have to see the entire plan. I'd have to understand the strategic objectives of the leadership, and based on those strategic objectives, come up with operational objectives. It's very difficult to comment on one way or the other, whether one plan would work or one plan wouldn't work. Right now, we are helping the Iraqis achieve sustainable security, and helping them to increase the capability of the Iraqi security forces, and we are making great progress along those lines."

On the streets of Baghdad, where a suicide bomber had struck just days before, Capt. Josh West told us he wants to finish the mission, and that any further drawdown has to be based on conditions on the ground.

"If we pull out of here too early, it's going to establish a vacuum of power that violent criminal groups will be able to fill once we leave," West said.

Capt. Jeremy Ussery, a West Point graduate on his third deployment, pointed to his heavy body armor as we walked in the 120-degree heat, saying, "The same people keep coming back because we want to see Iraq succeed, that's what we want. I don't want my kids, that hopefully will join the military, my notional children, to have to come back to Iraq 30 years from now and wear this."

But Ussery added, "You can't put a timetable on it -- it's events-based."


Logistics
Success on the battlefield is not the only complication with Obama's plan.

Physically removing the combat brigades within that kind of time frame would be difficult, as well.

The military has been redeploying troops for years, and Maj. Gen. Charles Anderson, who would help with the withdrawal, told us as we toured Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, "We have the capacity to do a minimum of two-and-a-half brigade combat teams a month -- can we expand that capacity? Sure. Can we accelerate? It depends. It depends on the amount of equipment that we bring back. And it's going to depend on how fast we bring them out."

It is the equipment that is the real problem.

In the kind of redeployment that Anderson is talking about, the troops head home, but much of their equipment stays behind. Two combat brigades means up to 1,200 humvees in addition to thousands of other pieces of equipment, like trucks, fuelers, tankers and helicopters
.

And 90 percent of the equipment would have to be moved by ground through the Iraqi war zone, to the port in Kuwait, where it must all be cleaned and inspected and prepared for shipment. This is a place with frequent dust storms, limited port facilities and limited numbers of wash racks.

While Anderson and his troops have a positive attitude, several commanders who looked at the Obama plan told ABC News, on background, that there was "no way" it could work logistically.

[bth: sustainable security is a reasonable objective - or at least creating the conditions for sustainable security to be assumed. The timing and the logistics of equipment are certainly a factor, but so is our national will and intention. That it was ignored or spit upon by this administration and that once again the American people will reassert their will into this equation in November has got to come to a surprise to some folks. Are we occupiers or liberators and if we are liberators then we need to be leaving or planning to leave. It will take the military a bit to get there head around the idea that a new objective has been set by a new president. A contingency plan should be underway somewhere in the Pentagon. ... But then a plan for the occupation of Iraq should have been there too. We'll see.]

"More than 100 terror camps" in operation in northwestern Pakistan - The Long War Journal

"More than 100 terror camps" in operation in northwestern Pakistan - The Long War Journal: "Al"Qaeda continues to grow its network and expand its capabilities in northwestern Pakistan, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. The peace agreements have given the Taliban and al Qaeda time and space to re-establish their networks, which pose a threat not only to Pakistan, but the West as well.

Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied terrorists groups, collectively called al Qaeda and allied movements, or AQAM, by some in US military and intelligence circles, has set up a series of camps throughout the tribal areas and in the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. "More than 100" terror camps of varying sizes and types are currently in operation in the region, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. As of the summer of 2007, 29 terror camps were known to be operating in North and South Waziristan alone.

Some camps are devoted to training the Taliban's military arm, some train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some focus on training the various Kashmiri terror groups, some train al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West, and one serves as a training ground the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. A US Special Forces raid against the Black Guard camp in Danda Saidgai in North Waziristan, Pakistan in March 2006 resulted in the death of Imam Asad and several dozen members of the Black Guard. Asad was the camp commander, a senior Chechen al Qaeda commander, and associate of Shamil Basayev, the Chechen al Qaeda leader killed by Russian security forces in July 2006.

The growth in the number of camps US intelligence officials said Pakistan is outpacing Iraq as the destination for recruits, The New York Times reported earlier this week. Iraq is now seen as a lost cause by jihadists while Pakistan is now seen as al Qaeda's main effort. Recruits from Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East are heading to Pakistan...

[bth: I cannot see how we can responsibily allow this to continue. What are the best methods of dealing with it and who can we count on to help?]

Collateral Damage - washingtonpost.com

Collateral Damage - washingtonpost.com: "THE"DARK SIDE

The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals
By Jane Mayer

Doubleday. 392 pp. $27.50

With the appearance of this very fine book, Hillary Clinton can claim a belated vindication of sorts: A right-wing conspiracy does indeed exist, although she misapprehended its scope and nature. The conspiracy is not vast and does not consist of Clinton-haters. It is small, secretive and made up chiefly of lawyers contemptuous of the Constitution and the rule of law.

In The Dark Side, Jane Mayer, a staff writer for the New Yorker, documents some of the ugliest allegations of wrongdoing charged against the Bush administration. Her achievement lies less in bringing new revelations to light than in weaving into a comprehensive narrative a story revealed elsewhere in bits and pieces. Recast as a series of indictments, the story Mayer tells goes like this: Since embarking upon its global war on terror, the United States has blatantly disregarded the Geneva Conventions. It has imprisoned suspects, including U.S. citizens, without charge, holding them indefinitely and denying them due process. It has created an American gulag in which thousands of detainees, including many innocent of any wrongdoing, have been subjected to ritual abuse and humiliation. It has delivered suspected terrorists into the hands of foreign torturers.

Under the guise of "enhanced interrogation techniques," it has succeeded, in Mayer's words, in "making torture the official law of the land in all but name." Further, it has done all these things as a direct result of policy decisions made at the highest levels of government.

To dismiss these as wild, anti-American ravings will not do. They are facts, which Mayer substantiates in persuasive detail, citing the testimony not of noted liberals like Noam Chomsky or Keith Olbermann but of military officers, intelligence professionals, "hard-line law-and-order stalwarts in the criminal justice system" and impeccably conservative Bush appointees who resisted the conspiracy from within the administration.

Above all, the story Mayer tells is one of fear and its exploitation.

That fear should trump concern for due process and indeed justice qualifies as a recurring phenomenon in American history. In 1919, government-stoked paranoia about radicalism produced the Red Scare. After Pearl Harbor, hysteria mixed with racism led to the confinement of some 110,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps. The onset of the Cold War triggered another panic, anxieties about a new communist threat giving rise to McCarthyism. In this sense, the response evoked by 9/11 looks a bit like déjà vu all over again: Frightened Americans, more worried about their own safety than someone else's civil liberties, allowed senior government officials to exploit a climate of fear.

Although Mayer does not dwell on this historical context, her account suggests implicitly that the present period differs in at least one crucial respect. Whereas the earlier departures from the rule of law represented momentary if egregious lapses in democratic practice, the abuses orchestrated from within the Bush administration suggest that democracy itself is fast becoming something of a sham. From Mayer, we learn that in George W. Bush's Washington, the decisions that matter are made in secret by a handful of presidential appointees committed to the proposition that nothing should inhibit the exercise of executive power. The Congress, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the "interagency process" -- all of these constitute impediments that threaten to constrain the president. In a national security crisis, constraint is intolerable. Much the same applies to the media and, by extension, to the American people: The public's right to know extends no further than whatever the White House wishes to make known.

In the Bush administration, the task of sweeping aside impediments to the exercise of power fell to a small group of lawyers styling themselves the "War Council." Led by David Addington, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, and including Alberto Gonzalez, then serving as White House counsel, and John Yoo, at the time deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the War Council seized upon 9/11 as a pretext for establishing what Addington himself referred to as a "new paradigm" of vastly expanded presidential authority. As the administration embarked upon its war on terror, Mayer says, the American legal system "was instantly regarded as a burden." To shed that burden, members of the War Council issued (in secret, of course) what she describes as "error-prone legal decisions whose preordained conclusions were dictated by Addington." In the view of the War Council, Mayer writes, when it came to matters of national security, presidential authority was "not limited by any laws"; indeed, the president "had the power to override existing laws that Congress had specifically designed to curb him." The net effect was to declare the concept of checks and balances inoperable.

Mayer recognizes but does not dwell on the intimate relationship between the global war on terror and Addington's new paradigm. The entire rationale of the latter derived from the former: no war, no new paradigm. Hence, the rush to declare that after Sept. 11, 2001, everything had changed. The insistence that the gloves had to come off, that the so-called law enforcement approach to dealing with terrorism had failed definitively, that only conflict on a global scale could keep America safe: These provided the weapons that Addington's War Council wielded to mount its assault on the Constitution -- all of course justified as necessary to keep Americans safe.

Matthew Waxman, who in 2001 was serving as special assistant to then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, told Mayer that the decision to frame the U.S. response to 9/11 as a war was taken with "little or no detailed deliberation about long-term consequences." Yet the decision was a momentous one, he continues, setting the United States on "a course not only for our international response, but also in our domestic constitutional relations."

Little deliberation occurred because none was deemed necessary. As Mayer makes clear, the White House seized upon the prospect of open-ended war with alacrity. And why not? In the near term at least, going to war almost invariably works to the benefit of the executive branch. War elicits deference from Congress and the courts. As a wartime commander-in-chief, the president wields greater clout. In this particular case, war also helped deflect demands for accountability: Despite what Mayer describes as "the worst intelligence failure in the nation's history," the aftermath of 9/11 saw not a single senior official fired. (Earlier this week a bipartisan commission headed by former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher proposed new legislation to govern the war-making powers of the president and Congress.)

Whether the prospect of war stretching for decades actually would serve the country's true interests received comparatively less attention. The issue was not one that troubled the War Council, obsessed as it was about ensuring that when it came to national security, nothing should encroach upon the prerogatives of the chief executive. "What was missing," Mayer says, "was a discussion of policy -- not just what was legal, but what was moral, ethical, right, and smart to do." Such matters remained on the periphery because "fundamentally, the drive for expanded presidential authority was about power."

The extremists of the last century, both on the far left and far right, would have seen much to admire in Addington and his War Council. They too had an appreciation for how war concentrates power and removes constraints on its use. For this very reason defenders of democracy once viewed war warily.

The Bush administration has rendered such thinking obsolete: In Washington, the concept of the global war on terror continuing for generations has become widely accepted. This ranks as a considerable -- if almost entirely noxious -- achievement. The Dark Side allows us a glimpse of what that achievement signifies. ·

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. He is the author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism."

The Borowitz Report .com Liberal Bloggers Accuse Obama of Trying to Win Election

The Borowitz Report .com: "The"liberal blogosphere was aflame today with new accusations that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) is trying to win the 2008 presidential election.

Suspicions about Sen. Obama's true motives have been building over the past few weeks, but not until today have the bloggers called him out for betraying the Democratic Party's losing tradition.

"Barack Obama seems to be making a very calculated attempt to win over 270 electoral votes," wrote liberal blogger Carol Foyler at LibDemWatch.com, a blog read by a half-dozen other liberal bloggers. "He must be stopped."

But those comments were not nearly as strident as those of Tracy Klugian, whose blog LoseOn.org has backed unsuccessful Democratic candidates since 2000.

"Increasingly, Barack Obama's message is becoming more accessible, appealing, and yes, potentially successful," he wrote. "Any Democrat who voted for Dukakis, Mondale or Kerry should regard this as a betrayal."

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said that he was "sympathetic" to the concerns of bloggers who worry that their nominee seems stubbornly bent on winning the election, but he warned them that the DNC's "hands are tied."

"If Sen. Obama is really determined to win, I don't think any of us can talk him out of it," Mr. Dean said.

Liberal bloggers said that they would be watching Sen. Obama's vice-presidential selection process "very closely" for signs that he is plotting to win the election.

"Barack Obama still has a chance to pick someone disastrous as a sign that he wants to lose this thing," Ms. Foyler wrote. "If not, he should brace himself for some really mean blog posts."

Friday, July 11, 2008

China Celebrates Its Status As World’s Number One Air Polluter | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

China Celebrates Its Status As World’s Number One Air Polluter | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
China Celebrates Its Status As World�s Number One Air Polluter"
China Celebrates Its Status As World�s Number One Air Polluter

BAE Bribery Case Shows Saudi Oil Won't Hurt Investors

Bloomberg.com: U.K. & Ireland: "July"Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabian oil and sales of armored vehicles to the U.S. military may protect BAE Systems Plc, Europe's biggest defense contractor, from a bribery probe linked to a 43 billion-pound ($85 billion) weapons deal.

The London-based maker of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle used in Iraq and Afghanistan has slumped 16 percent this year because of concern it may face sanctions from a U.S. Justice Department investigation of a 1985 deal with the Saudis to supply Tornado attack jets and Hawk trainers to the kingdom. If indicted, BAE may face penalties ranging from a fine to suspension from U.S. government programs.

Saudi Arabia, owner of the world's largest oil reserves, has used its wealth to cultivate influence with Western countries and become the biggest importer of weapons. With crude trading close to record highs, the U.S. may follow Britain in retreating from a confrontation that would embarrass the kingdom. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair quashed a U.K. probe of the plane sale in December 2006, saying it would have ``significantly damaged'' ties. ...


[bth: The Bloomberg article basically shows that corruption in the defense procurement industry is going unchecked. At least if the company is large enough.]

Jon Stewart on the GI Bill

IAVA - GIBill2008: " "

IAVA - Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America - Thank You from Senators Webb and Hagel

IAVA - Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America - Thank You from Senators Webb and Hagel

[bth: Paul Rieckhoff and the folks at IAVA just do a tremendously good job. This victory on the GI bill is for them and because of them. Also Sen. Webb and Rep. Chuck Hagel have been superb. It is a shame that Hagel is leaving the House. He needs to stay in public service. I would hope that he might be the next Sec. of Defense under Obama.]

The Associated Press: Former KBR electricians criticize contractors work

The Associated Press: Former KBR electricians criticize contractors work: "WASHINGTON"(AP) — KBR Inc. used employees with little electrical expertise to supervise subcontractors in Iraq and hired foreigners who couldn't speak English to do the work, former KBR electricians told a Senate panel investigating the electrocutions of 13 Americans.

Experienced electricians who raised concerns about shoddy work and its possible hazards were often dismissed and told, "This is a war zone," the electricians said.

"Time and again we heard, `This is not the states, OSHA doesn't apply here. If you don't like it you can go home,'" said Debbie Crawford, a journeyman electrician with 30 years experience.

Crawford and Jefferey Bliss, also a former KBR electrician, testified in the 17th hearing held by the Democratic Policy Committee, which has been examining waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq and the performance of the country's war contractors. Both Democrats and Republicans attended the hearing.

The Pentagon has said 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq since September 2003. It has ordered Houston-based KBR to inspect all the facilities it maintains in Iraq for electrical hazards. But Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who chaired the panel, questioned whether KBR could police its own work.

In an e-mailed statement, KBR said its investigation so far has not turned up evidence of a link between its work and the electrocutions. "We continue to conduct technical inspections on all facilities serviced by KBR throughout Iraq to ensure safe and proper operations for those we serve," spokeswoman Heather Browne said in the statement.

The mothers of two soldiers who were electrocuted also testified about the deaths of their sons, Staff Sgt. Christopher Lee Everett and Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth of Pittsburgh.

Everett, a member of the Texas Army National Guard, was electrocuted in September 2005, while using a power washer to clean sand from beneath a Humvee. Maseth, an Army Ranger and Green Beret, was electrocuted in January 2008 while taking a shower in his Army barracks in Baghdad.

"I plead with you to do something to bring an end to this unnecessary cause of death to our soldiers," said Larraine McGee of Huntsville, Texas. "They should not have to worry about stepping into a shower or using a power washer in the safety of an established base."

Bliss told the panel "carelessness and disregard for quality of work at KBR was pervasive."

Electricians were not provided with tools needed to do their jobs. Additionally, KBR hired foreigners who were not familiar with U.S. electrical standards and who didn't speak English.

"I was surprised to discover how many KBR electricians did not have the right experience and training," Bliss said.

The soldiers' mothers said KBR and the Army knew of the electrical problems before their sons' deaths. KBR had inspected Maseth's housing 11 months before he died. The inspector noted that the main circuit panel, the secondary feeder panel and the water tank were not grounded, said Cheryl Harris, his mother.

Grounding reduces the risk of electrocution. Maseth's family has sued KBR.

McGee said she had been told by the Army that her son's death was unique. An Army report blamed his death on an improperly grounded generator that powered the power washer. McGee said she was told Everett's death led to all generators in Iraq being properly grounded.

But in April, she learned from a reporter the Army had issued a report on soldiers' electrocutions calling them the "unexpected killer." The report urged the Army to ensure contractors properly ground electrical systems.

"All this time, I thought Chris' accident was an isolated incident," she said. "My son should not have died. Ryan Maseth should have never died. Proper grounding is a basic safety requirement. The problem was known about long before Chris' death."

[bth: knowing one of these families, I cannot tell you how upsetting it is that this needless death and injury is occurring. Of course KBR can't police itself! And while it may or may not be a war zone, it certainly has been a long long time and five years is enough time to fix any damned problem on a fixed facility. Until KBR is held to account, some person there tried criminally or the company punished financially, this BS will continue.]

Thursday, July 10, 2008

YouTube - John McCain Web Ad: Man In The Arena

YouTube - John McCain Web Ad: Man In The Arena: ""
bth: a powerful ad to be sure

Body of missing Lawrence soldier discovered in Iraq - The Boston Globe

Body of missing Lawrence soldier discovered in Iraq - The Boston Globe: "The"body of Alex R. Jimenez, a Lawrence-based soldier who was kidnapped more than a year ago, has been found in Iraq in a tragic ending to a family's wrenching hope for his return.

Jimenez's father, Ramon "Andy'' Jimenez, was notified by Army servicemen who came to his home yesterday that his son's body was found two days ago by Iraqi authorities, who contacted their American counterparts.

The elder Ramirez, who had held out hope that he would one day see his son's return, seemed to come to terms with the news.

"It comforts you when you accept something, and Alex did what he wanted to do,'' said Andy Jimenez, who was joined yesterday by friends and family, and a community of supporters who had rallied around him since Alex first went missing on May 12, 2007.

Sergeant Alex Jimenez, an Army specialist, was 25 when he and other members of the Second Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division were ambushed while on patrol on a deserted highway south of Baghdad. Several members of his unit were killed.

Jimenez and two other soldiers were kidnapped. The body of Private First Class Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif. was discovered in a river just 11 days later. Private Byron W. Fouty, 19.of Waterford, Mich., is still missing. There was no information on Fouty yesterday.

Two Pentagon officials with knowledge of the case said that the military plans to announce the discovery of Jimenez's body today, in accordance with Pentagon policy that no announcement will be made until 24 hours after a family is notified.

No details were available last night on where, and how, Jimenez's body was found.

Andy Jimenez was leaving for work yesterday when he returned home quickly to retrieve a cell phone, only to see the servicemen there. They had brought a Spanish-speaking soldier to communicate with the grieving father.

Yesterday, a community that had embraced the Jimenez family continued to support the father.

"Hopefully we can just be here for them in anything that they need,'' said City Councilor Grisel Silva, who represents the district where the family lives. She was visiting with the family last night.

"It's very said, it's hitting us very closely,'' she said. "The community has strongly been very involved with the Jimenez family in this situation. The good thing is now they'll be able to have some closure.''

Jim Waring, of the New England Care for Our Military, a family support group, said the agency set up a meeting between the Fouty family and the Jimenez family with President Bush on Memorial Day, to show support. Several of the soldiers who served with their sons also spoke with the families in an arranged telephone call.

"The community spirit here has been unbelievable for the Jimenez family,'' he said. "It's just so hard for someone on the outside to know what the last year and two months have been like.''

Alex Jimenez was born in Lawrence, but his family immigrated from the Dominican Republic, giving him support from the Dominican community, too. His family has a history of serving in the army of that country.

When he was just a child, he wanted to be in the service, family and friends said. His father had always respected his decision, said family friend Wendy Luzon.

Two years ago, Jimenez came home from Iraq to attend his grandmother's funeral. But his father realized his son's love for the Army when he said he wanted to return to Iraq soon after.

"He wanted to make a difference in the galaxy, not only in the world, to bring peace to those who needed it,'' said Sandy Almonte, another family friend from Methuen.

Luzon said the long search for Alex has taken a heavy toll on his father. He has attended peace rallies and has spoken out against the war. Still, he has called members of his son's unit, who returned in September, members of his own family.

Andy Jimenez's also had to contend with many different calls from the Army— that they had found his Army ID, or his gun, or some clothing.

Yesterday was the final notice, and it brought closure.

"There's no more hope,'' Luzon said. "He kept hoping that he was coming back.''

Jimenez is the second soldier from Lawrence to die in Iraq. In September, 2005, Sergeant Pierre A. Raymond, a 28-year-old with the 28th Infantry Division, was struck by shrapnel from an improvised explosive devise. He died five days later.

As of yesterday, no plans for a burial had been finalized, but it will have full military honors.

"Every person from the mayor on down expressed their condolences,'' said Francisco Urena, Lawrence's director of veterans services. "It's been a tough time and these are things we as community leaders have prepared for.''

Bryan Bender of the Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent John Guilfoil contributed to this report.

[bth: Alma and I express our most sincerely condolences to Andy who we had the pleasure and privilege of meeting via Rep. Tsongas a few months ago. His family never gave up, Andy kept the faith against long odds and we have the deepest admiration for the way the Lawrence community and its Vietnam era vets rallied to assist. The mother had been at risk of deportation until Sen. Kerry stepped in and assisted. These stories, of families, are being covered by local news. I hope the Jimenez family receives the recognition they deserve after this long and arduous struggle.]

MIT team increases efficiency of solar panels -The Green Blog - A Boston Globe blog on living Green in Boston

MIT team increases efficiency of solar panels -The Green Blog - A Boston Globe blog on living Green in Boston: "Solar"energy, vaunted for decades as the next big energy revolution, may finally get its day in the sun.

A new way to concentrate solar beams that could be used to increase the efficiency of solar panels is being reported by an MIT team today in the journal Science, and this and other technological advances, combined with high energy prices and political initiatives to help promote solar power, are giving the sun a new sheen.

"The question is, can you make a better solar panel that you can put on somebody’s roof?" said Jonathan Mapel, an author of the study and MIT graduate student who has co-founded a startup called Covalent Solar to turn the idea into a product. "The two things that matter are: you want more power output and you want to pay less for it."


The work at MIT could potentially do both, using a simple trick that makes more efficient use of the full spectrum of sunlight.

Typically, solar cells efficiently convert only a portion of sunlight into electricity. But the MIT researchers created a plate of glass that sits on top of a normal solar panel to make better use of a broad range of wavelengths. They deposited a film of dye onto the glass that acts like a sieve -- absorbing light in the visible spectrum and directing it to special solar cells on the edge of the pane that are tuned to convert visible light into electricity. Meanwhile, the rest of the light passes through to the normal solar panel, where it can also be converted into electricity.

In the paper, the scientists demonstrated increasing the efficiency of certain types of solar cells by about 20 percent, but they believe that the system can be tuned to increase efficiency by 50 percent....

[bth: basically this work was being done in the late 70s and early 1980s when I was doing alternate energy research at the University of Texas before the Saudi's lowered the price of a barrel of oil to $8 bankrupting the alternate energy companies and researchers. The government which should have and could have continued researching solar also cut back funding. Now thirty years later its making headlines again with simply modifications to older concepts and techniques. If we focused our financial resources, via an oil import tax and a windfall profits tax which was redirected to domestic energy supplies including renewable energy systems, most of these problems would have been resolved, we wouldn't be being blackmailed by Iran or the Saudis and we might not be at war in Iraq. There is a terrible social cost to our short sighted policies and leadership failures.]

YouTube - She Wants My ... Stimulus PACKAGE

YouTube - She Wants My ... Stimulus PACKAGE: ""

First picture of Bin Laden's 'ambassador in Europe' as he enjoys a stroll to the shops in London | Mail Online

First picture of Bin Laden's 'ambassador in Europe' as he enjoys a stroll to the shops in London | Mail Online: "The"picture is an affront to all victims of terrorism and their families.


Abu Qatada, Al Qaeda's ambassador in Europe, strolls along a busy London street fondling his prayer beads.


This is the first photograph of the greying 47-year-old - said to be one of the world's most dangerous terrorist suspects - since he was released on bail from a high-security prison after the courts ordered that he could not be sent home to Jordan because his human rights would have been breached.

It was taken on July 7, hours after the families and friends of the 52 innocent people killed in the London transport suicide bombings three years ago remembered their loved ones at a memorial service.


The radical cleric was freed three weeks ago when a judge ruled that there were no grounds to detain him after previous attempts to deport him to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror attacks and bomb plots, were defeated in the courts.


Described by another judge as 'a truly dangerous individual', he remains an iconic figure for many supporters of jihad.


Lawyers successfully argued in the Court of Appeal that Qatada could stay because evidence used against him in any prosecution in Jordan might have been obtained by torture - a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.


The fanatical preacher, who was 20 stone but slimmed down on prison food, was pictured on a shopping trip near the £800,000 home he shares with his wife and children.


Exact details of the location where the Qatada family are living on benefits of an estimated £50,000 a year are protected by court orders....

[bth: what a world]

U.S. taking in 27,500 Iraqis who helped Americans | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

U.S. taking in 27,500 Iraqis who helped Americans | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle: "WASHINGTON"— The Bush administration on Wednesday symbolically opened the nation's arms to as many as 27,500 endangered Iraqis who have rendered ''faithful and valuable service" to Uncle Sam since the invasion of Iraq.

The branch of the Department of Homeland Security that handles immigration applications unveiled guidelines for admitting up to an estimated 5,000 additional Iraqis in each of the next five years who face ''an ongoing serious threat" stemming from their ties to the United States.

The refugees worked as translators for American military units or in other high-profile jobs. They are among the estimated 4.2 million who have fled their homes to another country or to other parts of Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The coveted visas previously have been limited to 500 Iraqis in each of the past two years.

The program to provide special immigrant visas to Iraqis who have worked for the government or its contractors promises unlimited visas to spouses and children — even if the former employee dies.

Since it was started in October 2006, the program has admitted 1,480 people — 777 translators and 703 family members....

[bth: ridiculous. So what is an Iraqi translator that works for the Americans expected to do? Wait five years while some whack job is trying to cut off his head? We need to be taking better care of our friends.]

YouTube - banksy. guerrilla art

YouTube - banksy. guerrilla art: ""

Europe's armies waste tax funds, says report | World news | The Guardian

Europe's armies waste tax funds, says report | World news | The Guardian: "Armed"forces in Europe are inadequate, underperforming and waste taxpayers' money, according to a report published yesterday, which warns that military cooperation between Britain and France is essential if Europe is to play any effective role in future international crises.

Over the past nine years, European countries have deployed between 55,000 and 79,000 troops on operations every year, says the three-year study by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies titled European Military Capabilities. But this represents only about 2.7% of the EU countries' total of nearly 2 million active personnel, it says. The rest are not equipped or trained at a sufficiently high level for foreign deployment.

European troops are engaged in operations ranging from humanitarian assistance to combat operations, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The requirement for more deployable forces is unlikely to be temporary: both Nato and the European Union are planning on the basis that in future there will be an even greater number of limited but demanding operations," Alexander Nicoll of the IISS said yesterday.

Above all, he said, the policies of Britain and France will "determine Europe's ability to have strong and coherent capabilities in the future". With "Franco-British impetus", the report adds, "European countries could develop capabilities that would enable Europe to pay an effective role in addressing international crises, at good value to the taxpayer."

It points to shortcomings and disagreements that have caused problems for military commanders, notably among the Nato-led forces in Afghanistan. They include different national caveats over rules of engagement which have limited the role of German troops, for example.

The 27 members of the EU spent €204bn (£162bn) on defence in 2006, according to the latest available figures. But the report says that while infantry soldiers are plentiful, "those with more specialist skills are not".

It points to the shortage of helicopters, the waste of money involved in too many companies producing equipment for their own markets and inadequate resources devoted to research and development. "European armed forces (with some exceptions) are clearly unable to live up the goals expressed by their governments," it adds....

[bth: the British army is about the size of the US marine corp. Europe as a fighting force is all but gone, a joke.]

Pakistan Is Said to Be Attracting Insurgents - NYTimes.com

Pakistan Is Said to Be Attracting Insurgents - NYTimes.com: "WASHINGTON"— American military and intelligence officials say there has been an increase in recent months in the number of foreign fighters who have traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to join with militants there.

The flow may reflect a change that is making Pakistan, not Iraq, the preferred destination for some Sunni extremists from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia who are seeking to take up arms against the West, these officials say.

The American officials say the influx, which could be in the dozens but could also be higher, shows a further strengthening of the position of the forces of Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, increasingly seen as an important base of support for the Taliban, whose forces in Afghanistan have become more aggressive in their campaign against American-led troops.

According to the American officials, many of the fighters making their way to the tribal areas are Uzbeks, North Africans and Arabs from Persian Gulf states. American intelligence officials say that some jihadist Web sites have been encouraging foreign militants to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is considered a “winning fight,” compared with the insurgency in Iraq, which has suffered sharp setbacks recently.

The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has dropped to fewer than 40 a month from as many as 110 a month a year ago, a military spokesman in Baghdad said Wednesday. “The sanctuary situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province is more, rather than less, troublesome than before,” Gen. David D. McKiernan, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview. “The porous border has allowed insurgent militant groups a greater freedom of movement across that border, as well as a greater freedom to resupply, to allow leadership to sustain stronger sanctuaries, and to provide fighters across that border.”

The suicide bombing at the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul on Monday underscored the increasing fears of American and Afghan officials that Taliban insurgents working with Pakistani intelligence operatives might have used the bombing to pursue Pakistan’s long power struggle with India.

Al Qaeda and other militant groups have used redoubts in Pakistan’s rugged mountains as havens for the past several years. But especially since the new Pakistani government sharply curtailed security operations in the tribal areas in March and began negotiating with tribal leaders to rein in the militants, the number of foreign fighters entering the tribal areas has increased “from a trickle to a steady stream,” said a Defense Department official who follows Pakistan closely, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. ...

A More Confident Iraq Becomes a Tougher Negotiating Partner for the U.S. - News Analysis - NYTimes.com

News Analysis - A More Confident Iraq Becomes a Tougher Negotiating Partner for the U.S. - News Analysis - NYTimes.com: ..."Prime"Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and his senior aides are now openly demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, at least on paper. That is partly a nod to Iraqi political realities, since Iraqi politicians must call for the end of American occupation. No one in Iraq realistically expects to throw out the Americans anytime soon — and few in Iraq believe that it would be safe to do so immediately.

But Mr. Maliki’s once enfeebled government, emboldened by several recent military successes, is eager to assert its sovereignty.

The Iraqi demands have put Mr. Bush in a politically awkward spot.

The president has explicitly opposed any binding timetables — either from the Iraqis or from the war’s critics here at home — but he also pledged less than a month ago to abide by the will of Iraq’s leaders.

“You know, of course, we’re there at their invitation,” Mr. Bush said in Paris during his recent European tour. “This is a sovereign nation.”

This new Iraqi confidence is easy to overstate, and many of the statements simply prove that Iraq’s democracy has matured to the point that elected leaders there must pander to important constituencies, even if they quietly acknowledge the need for American military support for the foreseeable future.

Still, even senior American commanders now say that Iraq is taking on more responsibility for security after years of halting and uncertain progress. Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, who until recently oversaw the training of Iraqi forces, told Congress on Wednesday that Iraq’s ground forces could be fully functional as soon as the middle of next year....

[bth: Iraq has its October election as do we. I don't see this debate, real or stage managed, as a bad thing.]

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Women 'vow to raise kids for holy war' | NEWS.com.au

Women 'vow to raise kids for holy war' | NEWS.com.au: "HUNDREDS"of Islamist women gathered at the radical Red Mosque in Pakistani capital today and vowed to raise their children for holy war, days after a suicide bomber killed 18 people after a similar rally.

Chanting slogans of "jihad is our way", burqa-clad women, some with babies, listened to fiery speeches from the daughter of the mosque's jailed cleric on the eve of the anniversary of a commando raid on the complex in which more than 100 people died.

"Our mujahideen (fighters) laid down their lives for the enforcement of the Islamic system in Pakistan. We are left behind to carry forward their mission," the daughter of cleric Abdul Aziz told the tightly guarded rally in the mosque compound.

Several thousand men attended a similar rally on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the July 10 commando raid that ended a week-long siege that began when gunmen from the mosque clashed with police.

Shortly after the Sunday rally ended, a suicide bomber attacked police who had been guarding the gathering killing 18 people, all but three of them policemen.

The attack highlighted the danger posed by militants in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where a new coalition government has been preoccupied with what to do with the unpopular President Pervez Musharraf, a staunch U.S. ally who has been isolated since his allies were defeated in a February election.

The blast in the centre of the capital also compounded gloom on Pakistan's financial markets where stocks have been sliding because of economic worries and the rupee has set new lows.

The Red Mosque had for years been a bastion of militant support in Islamabad, but the clerics and their followers had waged an increasingly defiant campaign to enforce Taliban rule.

They occupied a state library, kidnapped women they accused of prostitution and some
policemen, and stormed music and video shops and beauty parlours, much to the dismay of the moderate majority in the capital.

They also accumulated weapons and battled security forces for days after the siege began, rejecting calls to surrender.

President Pervez Musharraf ordered commandos to storm the mosque and an adjoining women's madrasa to end the stand-off.

The assault unleashed a wave of suicide bomb attacks across the country in which hundreds of people were killed, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

[bth: The Red Mosque is one of the few congregations that could make the Westboro Baptist Church look good in contrast. See article below on Westboro's protest of the soldier's funeral. At least Westboro doesn't kill people, they just hate them. Where does a loving God fit into these two cults? At what point does God throw up his hands and decide to start over?]

Car bombing manual surfaces on al-Qaeda websites

AKI - Adnkronos international Terrorism: Car bombing manual surfaces on al-Qaeda websites: "Dubai"9 July (AKI) - A manual teaching would-be 'holy warriors' how to carry out a remote-controlled car bomb attack has appeared on al-Qaeda linked websites.

The 13-page manual's apparent author, Abu Abdullah al-Qureishi, says: "This work of mine is a gift that I am offering to the Islamic nation, especially to Sheikh Bin Laden."

For the sake of clarity, al-Qureishi says he has divided the 'manual' into two parts - electronic and technical aspects.

The manual contains several diagrams and teaches users how to used a remote-controlled device to send a signal to a receiver planted inside the car to be blown up.

"You should use electrical circuits such as those used in aircraft if you find yourself in an enemy country and want to carry out a car bombing.

"But if you find yourself in a Muslim country then you must build the circuits yourself, as well as the device that will receive the signal.

Al-Qureishi invites would-be terrorists or jihadists (holy warriors) to use remote-controlled systems that are usually used to pilot drone aircraft.

The manual's mechanical section shows a series of pistons. When linked to electrical circuits these press on the accelerator or the brake, depending on the remote-controlled signals they receive, the manual explains.

Diagrams also show how to tamper with a car's steering column and the ignition.

The manual does not state why car bombings should be carried out remotely. The reason may lie in the scarcity of volunteer suicide bombers underlined in al-Qaeda recruitment videos and the unpopularity of these attacks.

Military Wives to Oppose Celebration of Pregnant Soldier's Death - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News

FOXNews.com - Military Wives to Oppose Celebration of Pregnant Soldier's Death - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News: "FAYETTVILLE"N.C. — Some Ft. Bragg military wives say they'll oppose a fundamentalist church's plan to celebrate the death of a pregnant dead soldier.

The Fayetteville Observer reported Wednesday a Kansas church plans a "gospel picket" on the death of 23-year-old Army Spc. Megan L. Touma, of Cold Spring, Ky. Police Sgt. John Somerindyke says Westboro Baptist Church is seeking a city permit for July 16.

The church has organized harassment of mourners at funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying war casualties are divine revenge for America tolerating gays and lesbians.

The newspaper said no messages could be left at the church's telephone number.

Touma was found dead at a Fayetteville motel June 21. No arrests have been made.

Danell Shafer of Fort Bragg Mommies says they will oppose the church's picket

[bth: Westboro Baptist is the sorriest no good bunch of rat bastards you will ever meet. These idiots defile the name of God and Jesus with their hate. A couple of years ago they drove all the way from Kansas to Bedford, MA to protest out front of our town middle school which had a policy of tolerance for gay students the oldest student being probably 13.... They show up at funerals for dead GIs, spill their vile and hate all around the country. They want a cheap headline at the expense of others.... They lost a $3+ million suit in Maryland to a Gold Star Family about a year ago so I thought they'd stopped their "war casualties are divine revenge for America tolerating gays and lesbians" crap but I guess not... . My heart felt condolences for this soldier's family, for their lose, and for the fact that they have to put up with Westboro defiling their daughter's funeral. I've always wondered who pays for them to travel all around the country in a caravan of fools. Someone pays the rent, the gas, the salaries. Who?]

Man Who Lost Son In Iraq On Quest To Protect Military - Boston News Story - WCVB Boston

Man Who Lost Son In Iraq On Quest To Protect Military - Boston News Story - WCVB Boston: "BOSTON"-- After losing a son in Iraq to a roadside bomb, a local father has made it his quest to protect other soldiers in the field.

NewsCenter 5's Jack Harper reported that Brian Hart has developed a robot that can disable bombs.

"In April 2005, we watched a lance corporal push a car bomb off a road with his armored vehicle. Both were blown up," Hart said

For Hart, it's personal. His son, John, was killed in Iraq in 2003. Before he died, John Hart told his father about the need for more armor and better equipment.

Three years after starting Black-I Robotics in Tyngsborough, Hart and his team have a government contract to continue developing the LandShark -- a 400-pound dynamo that costs about a third as much as robots currently in the field.

"I want it to be cost effective so that a lance corporal or a private can get his hands on this equipment and do it in the near term, not in 20 years," Hart said. "The Marines have made it clear to us that they need a product to be simple and repairable in the field. So these tools right here are all that is required to maintain it in the field."

The robots use an Xbox video game control system, so anyone who plays video games can learn to handle the powerful unit, Hart said.

The Logan International Airport bomb squad will test the robot.

Hart hopes the robot will help evacuate injured soldiers, dismantle car bombs and go anywhere soldiers shouldn't.
Copyright 2008 by TheBostonChannel.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Here is the video link.

Pentagon Adviser: Dump Big War Training, Learn New Languages Instead | Danger Room from Wired.com

Pentagon Adviser: Dump Big War Training, Learn New Languages Instead | Danger Room from Wired.com: "Army"generals have been complaining, loudly, that their soldiers are getting worse and worse at fighting old-school wars. According to one influential military analyst and Pentagon adviser, that's not such a bad thing. Troops should be learning new languages and cultures, instead of training for conventional conflicts, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments president Andrew Krepinevich is set to tell Congress this afternoon.

In prepared testimony before the United States House Armed Services Commitee's oversight and investigations panel, obtained by DANGER ROOM, Krepinevich says the wars we're likely to see in the decades ahead are small, dirty, irregular conflicts. The big wars between two nation-states that we've seen in the past are, for the time being, over. Everyone from Defense Secretary Gates to ousted Air Force chief Gen. "Buzz" Moseley agrees.

Yet the Army and Marines are expected to increase their number by 92,000 troops in the coming years. And it looks like those troops "will be trained and equipped primarily for conventional, high-intensity ground combat operations," Krepinevich notes. "Is this the best use of these additional forces?" Given recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Somalia, and Haiti, to Krepinevich, this seems like a case of the military brass wanting to "prepare for the kinds of challenges we would prefer to confront, rather than those we will most likely encounter."

"If the experience of the last seventeen years tells us anything, it is that we are likely to continue to find our armed forces deployed... in operations among the indigenous populations, rather than around them," he argues. "This in turn suggests that the military must be prepared to operate 'among the people' much more than in the past. Language training and cultural awareness will therefore be critical enabling capabilities." In a stand-off war, you might be able to afford to understanding the enemy you're bombing from on high. But when that enemy is mixed in with the people you're trying to secure, you can't afford to be monolingual and culturally deaf.

Therefore, Krepinvech suggests, we should reduce "the military’s continuing relatively high emphasis on conventional operations... in order to support language and cultural training, as well as other 'soft' skills that are particularly useful in irregular warfare."

To be sure, our ground forces must remain dominant in conventional... operations. However, it does not follow that the Army and Marine Corps must be principally, or even primarily, devoted to this task. Consider that, thanks to the gains in effectiveness realized by our armed forces, improvements in their ability to fight as a joint force, and the U.S. military’s enormous advantages in advanced capabilities (e.g., precision munitions; C4ISR), only one heavy Army division was needed to defeat the Iraqi army in the Second Gulf War.

Simply stated, while the Army and Marine Corps have clearly placed an increased emphasis on irregular warfare capabilities, to include language and cultural training, they nevertheless remain predominantly focused on conventional combat operations. Should it be necessary to make tradeoffs in order to support enhanced cultural awareness, language training, or other skills that are particularly crucial to winning an irregular warfare campaign, drawing resources away from conventional capabilities is an option that should be seriously considered.

[bth: balls on. I hope congress takes interest and action.]

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Osama Bin Laden's son in web terror rant

Osama Bin Laden's son in web terror rant | The Sun |HomePage|News: "THIS"is Osama Bin Laden’s school-age son, who yesterday continued his father’s mission of hate — with a POEM begging for Britain to be destroyed.


Baby-faced Hamza Bin Laden — just 16 but already dubbed the Crown Prince of Terror — also ranted in his evil ode that the US and our other allies must be wiped out. ....

[bth: the little shitbag. He's 16 and the 18th son and youngest and from the Saudi wife which likely means that that is where the money is coming from to make him the heir apparent for the old bastard.]

Rasmussen Reports™: The most comprehensive public opinion coverage ever provided for a presidential election.

Rasmussen Reports™: The most comprehensive public opinion coverage ever provided for a presidential election.: "The"percentage of voters who give Congress good or excellent ratings has fallen to single digits for the first time in Rasmussen Reports tracking history. This month, just 9% say Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Most voters (52%) say Congress is doing a poor job, which ties the record high in that dubious category.

Last month, 11% of voters gave the legislature good or excellent ratings. Congress has not received higher than a 15% approval rating since the beginning of 2008. ....

[bth: People like their congress person a lot more than congress as a whole. These polls can be deceptive. That said, we may be at one of those points where we 'throw the bums out' like in 1976.]

Obama: I need to earn troops’ trust - Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times

Obama: I need to earn troops’ trust - Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times: "COLORADOSPRINGS, Colo. — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama knows that to win the vote of current and former military members and their families, he has to prove himself.

“Precisely because I have not served in uniform, I am somebody who strongly believes I have to earn the trust of men and women in uniform,” Obama said in a July 2 interview with Military Times as he contrasted his lack of service with that of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a Navy retiree and Vietnam veteran who has years of experience in Congress working on national security issues.

“I do not presume that from the day I am sworn in, every single service man or woman suddenly says, ‘This guy knows what he is doing,‘“ said Obama, a freshman U.S. senator from Illinois, in his most extensive interview to date on a wide range of military issues.

Earning trust, he said, means listening to advice from military people, including top uniformed leaders, combatant commanders and senior noncommissioned officers and petty officers. It also means standing up for the military on critical issues and keeping promises, Obama said.....

YouTube - Creedence Clearwater Revival - Have you ever seen the rain?

YouTube - Creedence Clearwater Revival - Have you ever seen the rain?: ""

22-year-old arms dealer pleads not guilty on fraud charges

The Raw Story | 22-year-old arms dealer pleads not guilty on fraud charges: "A"22-year-old Miami Beach arms dealer says he is not guilty of defrauding the Pentagon under a nearly $300 million contract he had to supply ammunition to forces in Afghanistan.

Efraim Diveroli entered the plea Monday in Miami federal court. Diveroli remains free on bail.

Federal prosecutors say Diveroli's company, AEY Inc., provided prohibited Chinese-made ammunition to forces in Afghanistan and claimed it came from Albania.

The House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, has been investigating Diveroli and AEY, whose vice president is a 25-year-old masseuse, since their shady conduct first came to light in March.

Waxman has suggested the US Embassy in Albania helped AEY cover up the Chinese origins of the ammo it was selling.

At an Oversight Committee hearing last month, Army officials acknowledged ignoring past performance problems with AEY before handing the company another lucrative contract.

AEY was paid more than $10 million for 35 shipments of ammunition. Prosecutors contend Diveroli's company removed markings from containers to hide the fact they were manufactured in China.

No trial date has been set. Diveroli potentially faces decades in prison if convicted of all 71 counts.

[bth: who in there right mind would authorize this contract? Some fool at the Pentagon because this two bit thug had neocon connections and likely bribed key officials in Albania and possibly the US. That the ammo was from China via Albania and that it was old and crap and probably cost our allies their lives and safety in fire fights isn't even discussed. ...What total bullshit. And the only reason its being investigated is because Waxman chased it down.]

The Iraq war movie: Military hopes to shape genre - Los Angeles Times

The Iraq war movie: Military hopes to shape genre - Los Angeles Times: "There's"a war going on, and Army Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale has a mission.

But it's far removed from the captured Iraqi palace where he was once stationed. He fights his war now from an office on Wilshire Boulevard lined with movie posters chronicling conflicts real and imagined, from "Patton" to "War of the Worlds."

Breasseale's desk is piled high with scripts, each marked with his name and stamped "confidential." It's his job to help decide which movies should get Army help.

The mission is both harder and more important than it might appear.

After the Vietnam War, movies like "Apocalypse Now" and "Born on the Fourth of July" helped cement an image of psychologically damaged Vietnam veterans.

"In the '80s and early '90s, the Vietnam War vet was the 'other,' " Breasseale said. "Hollywood had created the crazy Nam vet."

For the Army, it was a bitter lesson.

With the country now enmeshed in another long, unpopular war, Breasseale is hoping to influence a new generation of filmmakers in order to avoid repeating the experience.

So far, Breasseale feels, most of the movies made about Iraq have really been about Vietnam.

"It is the self-licking ice cream cone of Hollywood: They make a war movie based on another war movie," Breasseale said. "It's important to tell the full story, not a story based on a weird Vietnam-era idea of what the military is like."...

[bth: so in WWII the navy engaged John Ford. In this conflict we edit scripts and play favorites? Lame.]

Dr. Strangelove

Babalu Blog

Pentagon rebuffs Iraqis on withdrawal timetable

The Raw Story | Pentagon rebuffs Iraqis on withdrawal timetable: "In"a rebuff to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the Pentagon said Monday that any timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq would depend on conditions on the ground there.

Maliki told Arab ambassadors on Monday he was pressing for such a timetable in negotiations with Washington on an agreement on the status of US forces in Iraq beyond 2008.

Asked about the prime minister's comments, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters: "With respect to timetables I would say the same thing I would say as respects to the security situation -- it is dependent on conditions on the ground."

Whitman said the United States had made clear "that we have no long term desires to have forces permanently stationed in Iraq."

"But timelines tend to be artificial in nature," he said. "In a situation where things are as dynamic as they are in Iraq, I would just tell you, it's usually best to look at these things based on conditions on the ground."

Maliki's comments to Arab ambassadors to the United Arab Emirates marked the first time he has specifically demanded a timetable for a US withdrawal.
...

[bth: last I checked the Pentagon wasn't a sovereign country. Maybe the Pentagon spokesman ought to be taking a little different tone.]

Will Israel Attack Iran? - The Current

Will Israel Attack Iran? - The Current: ..."There"is a problem, though. Violating, say, Jordanian or Turkish airspace is not really the issue. The issue is that largely because of the on-going Iraq war, the U. S. controls the airspace over the entry points to Iran: in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf. Thus, an Israeli attack on Iran could probably only happen with U. S. connivance. And even if Israel could evade American sensors, few would believe that it honestly did so. As a sort of a last hurrah, one might speculate that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would let Israel bomb Iran with a wink and a nod. But I do not believe that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would do so. And because Gates has emerged as such a critical cabinet member, beloved by both the Pentagon staff and by the media, his word would be crucial.

Gates has shepherded Iraq from nearly a lost cause to a cause that might yet be salvaged. And an Israeli attack on Iran, precisely because it could not occur without both the fact and the appearance of U. S. support, could unleash a fury of Iran-supported bombings inside Iraq. No, Gates would not be on board for an Israeli strike.

Bottom line: precisely because the U. S. dominates the airspace around Iran, it has checkmated itself. Israel will find it very hard to pull America’s chestnuts out of the fire in Iran. An Israeli attack is, in the last analysis, still unlikely. The problem of a nuclear Iran is far from being solved.

GOP Looks To Redistrict Itself Back Into Power

GOP Looks To Redistrict Itself Back Into Power - Politics on The Huffington Post: "For"months, a sense of dread has been percolating within Republican circles over potentially massive congressional losses in 2008. Facing the possibility of a more pronounced minority status in the House and more than a couple seats lost in the Senate, the GOP has begun setting its sights on a contingency plan: redistricting.

Republican officials now believe that the party's best hope for retaking seats in Congress may come during gubernatorial elections in 2010. Should the GOP win back the majority of these seats (Democrats currently occupy 28 state capitols), they would be extremely well positioned to influence the redistricting of the political map that will come after the 2010 census.

"The 2010 elections are almost as important or equally important as the elections this year. After redistricting in 2011, the governors are going to have a huge influence in determining the political makeup of this country," said Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association. "We could feasibly see 25 to 30 congressional seats swing as the result of redistricting. And the state legislatures and governor could determine that swing. Can the National Republican Congressional Committee make a statement like that with a straight face? It would be harder for them."

The suggestion that the elections of 2010 could be as important as those in 2008 may seem like hyperbole or distraction from a Republican Party bracing for big losses. But Democratic officials are also smarting to the premise. One insider, who described the idea as a "pretty sad reflection of the Republican Party's state of affairs," nevertheless conceded that it was on everyone's radar.

Brian Namey, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association described Democratic governors as "a formidable line of defense against Republicans who would like to Tom DeLay us out of congressional seats."

An abundance of seats are in play. There will be 36 gubernatorial races in 2010, compared to 11 such elections this cycle. Of those 36, 19 are for state houses currently held by Democrats. And of those 19, ten will involve Democratic governors who won't be running for reelection (either because of term limits or retirement).

Because redistricting follows the 2010 census, each state will be reevaluating its congressional map in 2011. And in almost every one of these states, a tremendous amount of authority for this endeavor is placed in the governor's hands.

In 28 states, the governor has the authority to veto any redistricting plan. In eight separate states, the governor can veto only a congressional plan. In another five states, the governor is responsible for appointing members to the redistricting board. And in three states -- not separate -- the governor is directly involved in redrawing the district him or herself. In only eight states does the executive body actually not play a role. As both Democratic and Republican officials readily acknowledge, the partisan makeup of a newly shaped congressional district will almost certainly reflect the politics of the sitting governor.

"The odds are, if it is a Republican in the governor's chair, the seat will end up in GOP hands," said Schrimpf.

So what, exactly, are the stakes at play? Namey calculates that of the 36 gubernatorial races in 2010, 32 will involve governors who will impact their state's redistricting in some way or another.

Meanwhile, because of shifting populations, there is likely to be one more congressional seat added in Georgia, California, Nevada and Utah; possibly two more added in Florida and Arizona; and the chance of four more seats added in Texas. Every state on this list, except for Arizona, currently has a Republican governor. All but Utah will hold a gubernatorial election in 2010. If Republicans hold their power they will be well positioned.

Conversely, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and Pennsylvania all seem likely to lose a congressional seat as a result of diminishing populations. New York and Ohio could lose two. Every state on this list, except Missouri and Louisiana, is both run by a Democrat and will have a gubernatorial election in 2010.

Of course, in almost every state, the legislative chambers will have a say into how the congressional districts are re-drawn. And in this regard the governor's power is limited. Oftentimes, in fact, redistricting plans get sent to state courts to adjudicate disagreements....

YouTube - Dude. (Bud Light Parody)

YouTube - Dude. (Bud Light Parody): ""

Study: Military Gays Don't Undermine Unit Cohesion - Politics on The Huffington Post

Study: Military Gays Don't Undermine Unit Cohesion - Politics on The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON"— Congress should repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law because the presence of gays in the military is unlikely to undermine the ability to fight and win, according to a new study released by a California-based research center.

The study was conducted by four retired military officers, including the three-star Air Force lieutenant general who in early 1993 was tasked with implementing President Clinton's policy that the military stop questioning recruits on their sexual orientation.

"Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline or cohesion," the officers states.

To support its contention, the panel points to the British and Israeli militaries, where it says gay people serve openly without hurting the effectiveness of combat operations.

Undermining unit cohesion was a determining factor when Congress passed the 1993 law, intended to keep the military from asking recruits their sexual orientation. In turn, service members can't say they are gay or bisexual, engage in homosexual activity or marry a member of the same sex.

Supporters of the ban contend there is still no empirical evidence that allowing gays to serve openly won't hurt combat effectiveness.

"The issue is trust and confidence" among members of a unit, said Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, who retired in 1993 after working on the issue for the Army. When some people with a different sexual orientation are "in a close combat environment, it results in a lack of trust," he said....

[bth: we need to get on with this change. Most of these same arguments were used to keep military units segregated until Truman put a stop to it.]

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sky Soldiers Memorial Will Break Ground Soon | WRBL - News 3, Columbus GA and Opelika-Auburn AL

Sky Soldiers Memorial Will Break Ground Soon | WRBL - News 3, Columbus GA and Opelika-Auburn AL: "The"memorial will honor the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The ceremony will take place next to the Infantry Museum off Fort Benning Blvd.

The National Infantry Museum Foundation says the 173rd considered several posts for the site of the memorial, but chose Fort Benning because so many soldiers pass through.

The memorial will honor airborne soldiers, past and present.

Dick Hagan is the Associate Director for Resource Development at the National Infantry Museum Foundation. He says the Foundation is thrilled to have this unit represented and remembered on post.

Hagan says, “They always had the spirit of the airborne embedded in them, I would not want to be on the other side facing the 173rd Airborne.”

Friday's ground breaking will be at 11 am. Country artists Big and Rich will be on hand to perform in honor of the 173rd.

[bth: we were at the Atlanta funraising concert hosted by Big & Rich a year ago November and it was great. I really have to thank Big & Rich for there help in fundraising for this monument.]