Friday, June 30, 2006

Army investigates 5 G.I.'s involvement in killing of Iraqi family

U.S. soldiers at a vehicle checkpoint in the city of Ramadi, June 20, 2006. (Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout/Reuters)

This is off The New York Times:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 30--The United States military said Friday that it was investigating whether American soldiers had killed a family of four Iraqi civilians in March in their home south of Baghdad, adding another inquiry to a growing list of cases where Americans are accused of fatally shooting unarmed Iraqis.

The investigation is being overseen by the highest levels of the American command, and was ordered by the general commanding the Fourth Infantry Division, which is assigned to control the capital and areas immediately to the south, a military spokesman said.

The shooting incident took place March 12 in the volatile market town of Mahmudiya, an insurgent stronghold about 20 miles from Baghdad.

The Associated Press reported today that the investigation involved five soldiers from a unit of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the Fourth Division command while operating in the area, though it is formally part of a different division, the 101st Airborne.

Early reports indicate that soldiers may have raped a woman, burned her body and killed the woman's family, the news agency reported, citing an unnamed American official. The A.P. recently had a reporter embedded with the 502nd Infantry Regiment.

Earlier this month, two soldiers from the same unit were abducted while guarding a traffic control point in the town of Yusufiya, and were killed by insurgents. Their mutilated bodies were found along a booby-trapped road, after the American military deployed 8,000 American and Iraqi troops into the area in a search-and-rescue operation that was perhaps the largest of the war so far. A third soldier was killed in Yusufiya at the time of the ambush.

Though it appears the killing of the Iraqi family was unrelated to the Yusifya ambush, the March incident came to light when a soldier felt compelled to report it after the discovery of the bodies of his kidnapped comrades, the Associated Press reported. One soldier has been arrested, and four have had their weapons taken away and are confined to their base in Mahmudiya.

I really don't know what to say about this incident. We have five U.S. soldiers who raped an Iraqi woman, burned her body, and then killed her family. As revenge for this crime, the Iraqi insurgency kidnapped and brutally killed two soldiers from the same unit that was involved in this rape and murder incident. Tit for tat. The real problem here is that the American occupation forces in Iraq are facing a low-tech insurgency being waged by the Iraqi population. These American soldiers cannot identify who is a friend or foe in this war. As a result, everyone becomes a potential enemy target--whether they are or not. It is only a matter of time before we start seeing more of these incidents of American soldiers killing Iraqi civilians, causing even greater anger and resistance among the Iraqi population. Violence begets violence. Consider this from the Times:

This latest investigation comes at a time of increasing scrutiny over the killings of civilians by American troops in Iraq. Nearly a half-dozen charges or investigations have been announced by the military in June alone.

The sudden flurry raises questions about whether American troops are facing increasing psychological duress as the war here grinds on, or perhaps whether the American military has been more keen, following the revelations surrounding Haditha, to make public its investigations into human rights abuses.

Many American troops here in Iraq are on their second or third tour. The Fourth Infantry Division, for instance, had already rotated once through Iraq, in the hostile northern Sunni triangle, before taking control of the Baghdad area.

This is another huge problem with the American military. These soldiers are on their second, third, and perhaps even their fourth tour of duty in Iraq. They are being placed under an enormous level of stress. And it is not just the stress of combat. They are occupying a foreign country, with a foreign culture, facing a population that does not want them there. They are facing long periods of boredom, spiked with intense moments of hit-and-run combat situations, or hidden IEDs exploding upon supply convoys or armed patrols. They have no mission, no formal plan to win the war in Iraq, nor any metrics by which they could measure their progress in fighting this war in Iraq. And finally, the American forces currently serving in Iraq are understaffed for the current occupation of Iraq, are under-equipped with the continued lacking body armor and armed humvees, and what equipment these soldiers are currently using is quickly being worn out by combat operations. In short, the U.S. forces are being ground down by this war in Iraq--a war they cannot win.

Finally, there is this in the Times story:

The deaths were originally attributed by the military to "insurgent activity," American officials said in a written statement. That implies that soldiers involved in the incident may have misreported it to their commanders, or that there may have been a cover-up in the chain of command, as is suspected in the case of the Haditha killings last November.

The latest investigation began on June 24, one day after two soldiers "reported alleged coalition force involvement" in the deaths of the Iraqi family, the military said. A preliminary inquiry conducted after that report determined that there was enough evidence to start a criminal investigation, the military said.

First the deaths in this family were attributed to "insurgent activity" by the American military. After two soldiers reported that these deaths may have been caused by the U.S. military, the U.S. military initiates a full investigation into this matter. Even worst, there is another suspicion of a cover-up with this family killing, to be added to the suspicious cover-up of the Haditha killings.How many other killings have been covered up by the U.S. military?

It is Vietnam all over again.

Friday Fun Stuff--Some Pics to enjoy

A Huangmei opera performer waits backstage at the Kreta Ayer theatre in Singapore June 29, 2006. Huangmei Opera was formed in the 18th century, when Chinese local operas were flourishing and is a combination of local folk songs, dances and some widely spread ancient operas. REUTERS/Nicky Loh (SINGAPORE)

I saw this pic over on Yahoo News, and I will admit that I was entranced by her beauty. So I thought I'd include her, as well as some other interesting pics for this Friday Fun Stuff posting.

Superman's got some serious competition here:
Dusty, 6, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, races over a jump during a fly ball competition at the Humane Society of Baltimore's Bark in the Park canine games Saturday, June 17, 2006 in Reisterstown, Md. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)

This is how you watch the World Cup Soccer match:
Watching the match : A German supporter, her face painted in the national colours, wears sunglasses which reflect a full crowd prior to the FIFA World Cup Group A football match between Germany and Ecuador at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Germany won 3-0. (AFP/DDP/Johannes Eisele)

A Father's Day Tribute:
Shelby Zacharias, 23, of Hermiston, OR., reflected on The Wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial places fresh roses, during a Father's Day ceremony to remember the fathers who were killed during the Vietnam War and still missing in action, Sunday, June 18, 2006, in Washington. Zacharias' grandfather Staff Sargeant David Spears, was killed in Vietnam. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Some hot summer fun:
Riders descend on Zingo, Oklahoma's largest wooden roller coaster, at Bell's Amusement Park in Tulsa, Okla., Monday, June 26, 2006. Bell's reopened Monday night for the first time since closing earlier this month after a micro-burst caused significant damage. (AP Photo/Brandi Simons)

Nature's fury:
Billowing smoke : Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano belches heat clouds and sends trails of lava running down its slopes, as seen from Yogyakarta. (AFP/Tarko Sudiarno)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rep. Ney's aide subpoenaed in Abramoff probe

In this photo released by Carlos Hisa, Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, center, poses with Tigua Tribe Lt. Gov. Carlos Hisa, right, and Raul Gutierrez, left, then a member of the tribe's governing council, in a hearing room after a meeting with Ney in Washington D.C, on Capitol Hill in August 2002. On Nov. 12, 2004, while being interviewed by Senate investigators, Ney said he could not recall meeting with the Tigua. (AP Photo/ The Plain Dealer, Carlos Hisa)

It appears we've got another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - An aide to embattled Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record) has been subpoenaed in the Justice Department's investigation of influence peddling in Congress, and three other aides are leaving the Ohio Republican's staff, Ney's spokesman said Thursday.

The subpoena for Matthew Parker, director of Ney's congressional district office, was issued by a federal magistrate in Washington.

Ney has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but federal prosecutors have described him in court documents as having received gifts, trips and other things of value from disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates.

Ney spokesman Brian Walsh declined to comment on Parker's subpoena.

Parker is the first member of Ney's staff to be subpoenaed by the Justice Department since Ney himself was subpoenaed in November.

Ney's chief of staff, William Heaton, and Paul Vinovich, the staff lawyer for the House committee Ney used to lead, were subpoenaed by the defense in the related trial of former Bush administration official David Safavian, who was found guilty of lying and obstructing the federal corruption investigation.

Walsh said he will leave next month to take a job with Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas. He also confirmed that Heaton is leaving in July and that Chris Otillio, Ney's former legislative director, left earlier this month.

There is really not much more to say here, except that the Abramoff scandal is continuing to ensnare Bob Ney. With Parker now being subpoenaed, you have to wonder what the feds are interested in learning what Parker knows about Ney and his relationship with Abramoff. I'm sure there will be plenty of questions about Ney's voting record regarding the Indian casinos, and all the expensive trips and gifts Ney received from Abramoff.

Finally, there is the cutline off the photo here. Bob Ney does not remember meeting with the Tigua Tribe? Excuse me Congressman Ney--what is that lovely pic there of you standing next to the Tigua Tribe Lt. Gov. Carlos Hisa, and Raul Gutierrez? Or was that a card board cut-out character of you for your constituents to stand next to? And when you're meeting with these individuals, do you not have someone transcribe the minutes of your meetings--so that you would know and understand what their interests are and how you should stand on these issues?

Or did you conveniently forget this meeting?

Supreme Court blocks Gitmo war tribunals

Graphic showing the breakdown of today's decision by the Supreme Court against the Bush administration's desire to try Gitmo suspects by military tribunals. From New York Times

This is a big setback for the Bush administration. From the New York Times:

The Supreme Court today delivered a sweeping rebuke to the Bush administration, ruling that the military tribunals it created to try terror suspects violate both American military law and the Geneva Convention.

In a 5-to-3 ruling, the justices also rejected an effort by Congress to strip the court of jurisdiction over habeas corpus appeals by detainees at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And the court found that the plaintiff in the case, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, could not be tried on the conspiracy charge lodged against him because international military law requires that prosecutions focus on specific acts, not broad conspiracy charges.

President Bush today said that he would comply with the ruling and would work with Congress "to have a military tribunal to hold people to account'' that would meet the Court's objections.

The majority ruling was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who was joined in parts of it by Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel J. Alito Jr. dissented. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. did not take part in the case, since he had ruled in favor of the government as an appeals court justice last year.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan is seen in this undated file photo. (AP Photo/photo courtesy of Prof. Neal Katyal)

This is a huge setback for the Bush administration. The administration had originally wanted to strip all civil and legal rights away from these prisoners--first by declaring them "enemy combatants" of which they claimed were not prisoners of war, and thus not protected under the Geneva Conventions. In other words, the administration wanted to lock up these "terror" suspects and throw away the key. If the administration was legally forced, by the Supreme Court, to provide some type of trial or hearing for these terror suspects, they wanted to concentrate that hearing within the executive branch with these military tribunals, of which they can control these hearings, and control the "evidence" presented at these hearings. The Bush administration wanted to circumvent the judicial branch by keeping these terror suspects out of the court system, where these suspects would have greater legal rights of counsel, and the legal ability to confront and question the evidence presented against them--no executive excuses of denying to present evidence against the suspects on the grounds of "national security," or that such presentation would divulge "intelligence-gathering" assets.

So what is next here? Consider this from The Washington Post:

About 450 detainees captured in the war on terrorism are currently held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. Trying them before military commissions would place them under greater restrictions and afford them fewer rights than they would get in federal courts or regular military courts.

According to Hamdan's military lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, he now must be tried either in a federal court or before a properly constituted court martial.

Swift told reporters that the ruling demonstrates the ruling demonstrates the strength of the U.S. justice system. "It makes us unique, it makes us stronger, and it means that we will ultimately win every struggle," he said.

"I am ready to defend [Hamdan] in a fair trial," Swift said, adding that he has no preference on whether it takes place in federal court or a court martial. If the government wants to pursue a conspiracy charge, a federal court would be the proper venue, he said. "If they want to charge him with a war crime, I'm ready to defend him in a court martial."

In this January 2003 US Navy file photo, Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (AFP/HO/File/Shane T. McCoy)

President Bush has basically four choices here for Hamden, and for the rest of the Gitmo detainees. He can try Hamdan in a federal court. He can also try Hamden in a military court martial. Either of these trials will provide Hamdan with greater legal rights than under the military tribunals. President Bush may attempt to introduce legislation into Congress, giving him the authority to create these military tribunals for Hamdan and the Gitmo detainees. However, Congress will never be able to pass such legislation during this midterm election year, and if any such legislation is introduced, it could be met with strong Democratic opposition--perhaps to the point where the Democrats would filibuster this legislation. The fourth option is that the Bush administration would be forced to release Hamden and the rest of the 450 Gitmo detainees.

The ball is back in the Bush administration's court.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Obama says Democrats must court evangelicals

Democratic senator and rising star Barack Obama, seen here in April 2006, is being urged by some party elders to run for US president in 2008, in a bid to help end years of Republican control of the White House.(AFP/File/Paul J. Richards)

I found this off Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters," the Illinois Democrat said in remarks to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

"It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase `under God,'" he said. "Having voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats."

Obama, the only black in the Senate, drew national notice even before arriving in Congress last year, and has occasionally used his visibility to scold members of his own party. Widely sought as a fundraiser for other Democrats, Obama responded with a noncommittal laugh this spring when asked whether he wants a spot on the national ticket in 2008.

In one sense, Obama is right that the Democratic Party needs to bring back religion back into the party. The question here is how do you balance religious faith with the desire to maintain a secular government? This has always been a problem for the Democratic Party, and the party has been eliminating anything that even hints of religion cracking their wall of separation of church and state. The result of this has been a tainting of the Democratic Party as a party of atheists, godless liberals, or even Satanic devil-worshippers, while providing an opening for the Republicans to court the evangelicals with their own extremist social wedge ideologies of school prayer, intelligent design, and gay discrimination.

The Democrats need to change their views on religion. They need to acknowledge that America is a religious nation--that religion does play an important part of an American's life. The Democrats need to acknowledge that religion will also play a role in government--it's okay to recite the Pledge of allegiance with the words "under God," or that religious groups can use public school property--as long as they follow the same rules as other groups and clubs. I'm not saying that the Democrats should cave in to everything regarding religion in order to court the evangelical base, but rather to allow some balance of religion within American's daily lives, so as long as one set of religious beliefs do not supersede all other religious beliefs. In other words, ignore the frivolous stuff for that will play into the Republican charges that the Democrats are a "Godless" party.

But there is more here regarding religion. Currently, the Republican Party has gained a lock on the religious vote by pushing instilling fear among religious Americans that the "Godless" Democrats will outlaw religious worship in the U.S. You can see this with their social wedge issues--gay marriage, intelligent design, and school prayer. And so far, the Democrats are responding to religion on the Republican terms, using the issues of gay marriage, intelligent design, and school prayer that the Republicans have defined. The Democrats cannot win this debate as defined by the Republicans, using the Republican rules. Instead, the Democrats have got to define their own set of religious issues, and attack the Republicans using their own rules. One powerful religious issue that the Democrats can use is the issue of poverty, and the Christian desire to help the poor. This issue can certainly play into the greatest weakness of the Republican Party--that of class warfare, and the Republicans self-serving interest of benefiting their rich elites and corporate benefactors, over that of ordinary Americans. There are other issues that the Democrats can tie religion into--health care, the environment, education--not the intelligent design or creationism stuff that the Republicans love to tout, but rather providing solutions to improve the public education system. Anything that helps improve ordinary American's daily lives, and allows them to fulfill their greater potential can be adapted to sell to Americans as religious values. The Democrats may not be able to court the extreme religious wackos, but they should be able to bring moderate Christians back into the party, while stripping the Republican lock on this voting group.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

U.S. Military decimated by war in Iraq

A picture released by the US Marines shows a seaman looking back at an Iraqi village after sweeping through it during a mounted combat patrol near Al Asad base, west of Baghdad, June 15. The US Senate has unanimously approved a 517.7 billion dollar defense bill for fiscal year 2007 that includes 50 billion dollars in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.(AFP/USMC/File)

I found a couple of stories here that really shows how badly the U.S. military is being decimated by the Bush administration's war in Iraq. I'm going to start with this first Yahoo News story, titled Wars force Army equipment costs to triple:

WASHINGTON - The annual cost of replacing, repairing and upgrading Army equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to more than triple next year to more than $17 billion, according to Army documents obtained by the Associated Press.

From 2002 to 2006, the Army spent an average of $4 billion a year in annual equipment costs. But as the war takes a harder toll on the military, that number is projected to balloon to more than $12 billion for the federal budget year that starts next Oct. 1, the documents show.

The $17 billion also includes an additional $5 billion in equipment expenses that the Army requested in previous years but has not yet been provided.

The latest costs include the transfer of more than 1,200 2 1/2-ton trucks, nearly 1,100 Humvees and $8.8 million in other equipment from the U.S. Army to the Iraqi security forces.

Army and Marine Corps leaders are expected to testify before Congress Tuesday and outline the growing costs of the war--with estimates that it will cost between $12 billion and $13 billion a year for equipment repairs, upgrades and replacements from now on.

The Marine Corps has said in recent testimony before Congress that it would need nearly $12 billion to replace and repair all the equipment worn out or lost to combat in the past four years. So far, the Marines have received $1.6 billion toward those costs to replace and repair the equipment.

The push for additional equipment funding comes after the House last week passed a $427 billion defense spending bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, which includes $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. A separate $66 billion emergency funding bill for the two wars was approved earlier in the month.

War-related costs since 2001 are approaching half a trillion dollars.

In one sense, this doesn't surprise me, considering that both the Army and Marines are bogged down in a low-tech insurgency in Iraq. The insurgents in Iraq are striking American convoys and patrols with IEDs--thus taking out a truck or humvee, before melting back into Iraqi society where American forces cannot respond with their overwhelming firepower. In other words, the hit-and-run tactics of the insurgents are slowly grinding down American military strength, and wearing out American military equipment.

U.S. military personnel attend the scene after a suicide car bomber struck a gas station, killing at least three people and wounding 17, in the northern city of Kirkuk in Iraq Tuesday, June 27, 2006. The provincial council of Kirkuk ordered all fuel stations to be closed for the rest of the day to prevent more attacks. (AP Photo/Yahya Ahmed)

Then I find this little story off of Moxigrrrl's website. Moxigrrrl found an interesting story off of, titled Army Raises Maximum Enlistment Age:

ARLINGTON, Va.--For the second time in six months, the Army is raising the maximum enlistment age for new recruits, this time from 40 to 42, recruiting officials announced Wednesday.

The increase to age 42 applies to both men and women, and older applicants are eligible for the same enlistment bonuses and other incentives available to any other applicant, according to Julia Bobick, a spokesman for the Army's Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

Adding an additional two years to the entry limit "expands the recruiting pool, provides motivated individuals an opportunity to serve, and strengthens the readiness of Army units," Bobick said.

Nevertheless, the Army is not expecting an influx of Americans older than 40 who will be eager to don a uniform full-time, she said.

Only the Army, which has been struggling with recruiting in the face of ongoing deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, decided to take advantage of the extension, with the age increase applying to the active Army, the Army Reserve and National Guard.

Although Army officials always intended to raise the bar to the 42-year limit set by Congress, they began by taking an "interim step" and increasing the limit just to age 40, Bobick said.

Even with the 40-year age limit in place, the Army has gained more than 1,000 new soldiers that would not have been allowed to join before January, she said.

The active Army has gained a total of 389 individuals older than age 35 since the age limit was lifted, while the Army Reserve has gained 696 soldiers over the age of 35, Bobick said.

So the Army has raised the enlistment age from 40 to 42 as a means to increase their enlistments, and yet the Army also says they don't expect that many people over 40 to enlist? Talk about a double-statement here!

But this story does show an even deeper problem with the Army's recruiting drive. Young people do not want to enlist in the Army--not when they know they are going on a one-way ticket to Iraq. For the last two years, the Army has been consistently missing its recruiting goals. Consider this Yahoo story, titled Army takes older recruits:

The Army Reserve, along with the regular Army and Army National Guard, missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal, and it currently lags its fiscal 2006 year-to-date goal by 4 percent.

Army Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, the new Army Reserve chief, said he does not expect the Reserve to reach its goal of 36,000 recruits for fiscal 2006, which ends September 30.

"We think we'll come in right around that 96 (percent), 97 percent range," Stultz told reporters.

As this Iraq war continues to grind on, young people are realizing just how bad the situation is for the soldiers over there in Iraq. Consider this photo:

An honor guard prepares to receive the remains of Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca as they are unloaded off an airplane at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport in Brownsville, Texas, Monday, June 26, 2006. Menchaca was killed recently in Iraq; his funeral is planned for Wednesday in Brownsville.(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

They are not enlisting, because they don't want to be sent to Iraq. I've written about military recruitment problems in a previous post here. What is more, with a growing American public's opposition to this war, and the increasing support to provide some type of timetable for a withdrawal, the Army is going to continue having problems maintaining its recruitment goals. The Army could simply lower their recruitment quotas, or raise the enlistment age from 42 to 45--or even age 50. But these are short-term solutions to a long-term problem of the Army fighting an unpopular war in Iraq.

And yet, there is a common thread between these two stories of the military equipment costs skyrocketing, and the Army's raising of the enlistment age. The Bush administration has decided to go to war in Iraq "on the cheap." Instead of raising taxes to pay for the military equipment necessary to fight the war in Iraq, the Bush White House submits emergency spending bills for congressional rubber-stamping, while at the same time promoting tax cuts to the rich as a means of continuing the U.S. economic expansion. The problem here is that it has left the U.S. awash in debt that it can ill afford to pay. The manpower situation is just as bad. Instead of instituting some form of draft, the Bush administration has forced extended tours of duty in Irag for thousands of soldiers--sometimes multiple tours of duty for these soldiers. They have forced soldiers to serve beyond their enlistment contracts. In the end, recruitments and enlistments have fallen sharply, forcing the Army to demand even more from fewer soldiers. In the end, the Bush administration has decided to engage a war in Iraq, while demanding no sacrifices from the American people--either through raising money by taxes, or increasing military manpower through a draft. As a result of this mis-management, the U.S. military sitting in Iraq today is looking more like the U.S. military that was sitting in Vietnam, over 30 years ago.

And I'm not sure that the U.S. military can recover from this Bush fiasco.

Bush ignores laws, forcing Specter to open hearings on signing statements

This is off Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The White House on Tuesday defended
President Bush's frequent use of special statements that claim authority to limit the effects of bills he signs, saying the statements help him uphold the Constitution and defend national security.

Senators weren't so sure.

"It's a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution," said Arlen Specter, a Republican whose Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings on the issue. "There is a sense that the president has taken signing statements far beyond the customary purview."

The bill-signing statements say Bush reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds. Some 110 statements have challenged about 750 statutes passed by Congress, according to numbers combined from White House and the Senate committee. They include documents revising or disregarding parts of legislation to ban torture of detainees and to renew the Patriot Act.

The exchange came during a midterm election year in which Specter, some fellow Republicans and many Democrats are highlighting concerns about the administration's use of executive power. Specter's personal list includes Bush's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, the administration's checking of phone records and the sending of officials to hearings but saying they cannot answer lawmakers' questions on national security grounds.

Specter and his allies maintain that Bush is trying an end-run around the veto process. In his presidency's sixth year, Bush has yet to issue a single veto, which could be overridden with a two-thirds majority in each house.

What surprises me about this story is that Arlen Specter is only now getting to this issue of President Bush making an end-run around laws that he does not wish to execute? There are 750 signing statements that the Bush has added to laws over the past six years--has Arlen Specter even read any of these presidential signing statements?

This is just another example of Congressional Republican PR-spin. The American public has pretty much soured on the direction the Republican Party is taking this country. President Bush's public opinion poll ratings are around 38 percent--getting perhaps a one percent increase after Zarqawi was killed. And the congressional poll ratings are not looking too good for the Republicans. Not only does the American public give Congress a 25 percent approval rating, but 51 percent of Americans say that the Democrats could do a better job in control of Congress, over that of the Republicans. Only 34 percent of Americans favor the Republicans in control of Congress. Clearly, the American public wants to change the direction this country is heading.

Specter knows that these polls can spell trouble for the Republican Party this November. He also has refused to provide any strong congressional oversight against the Bush administration scandals of intelligence-gathering on Iraqi WMDs, the NSA warrantless spying on domestic Americans, and now these presidential signing statements. These hearings by Specter are nothing more than a PR-marketing spin to show the American public that the Republicans in Congress can provide oversight against the Bush White House. Nothing will come of these Republican oversight hearings. In fact, there is a good chance that after the November elections, Specter will quietly close these hearings on the signing statements.

Politics before policy oversight.

Monday, June 26, 2006

More Bush PR-spin: Generals, Iraqis will decide on future troop strength

How about some more Bush White House PR-spin? This is from CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Responding to reports of possible troop reductions in Iraq, President Bush said Monday that the U.S. presence there will be determined by military commanders, the Iraqi government and "conditions on the ground."

Bush's remarks followed a New York Times report Sunday that Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, plans to send home about 7,000 of the 127,000 American troops there by September without replacing them.

More than 20,000 additional troops would leave by the end of 2007, the Times reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

"In terms of our presence there, that decision will be made by Gen. Casey as well as the sovereign government of Iraq based upon conditions on the ground," Bush said in response to a reporter's question about the report.

Bush said Casey's recommendation would strive for victory, which the president defined as "a free government that is able to sustain itself, defend itself" and that "will be an ally in the war on terror. It's a government that will be able to fight off al Qaeda and its desires to have a safe haven."

In other words, as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. You have got to love how the Bush White House continues to spin the same tired, failed policy, with even more fancy political double-speak. Now instead of the Bush White House deciding when to pull the troops out, it is going to be up to the generals on the ground in Iraq who decide when to pull the troops out. Of course, did you notice the corollary to where the troops will be pulled out after Iraq is able to sustain itself, become an American ally, and fight off al Qaeda? That will never happen as long as Iraq continues to be embroiled in its own civil war between the three ethnic and religious groups that have divided this country.

But this makes great PR-spin. And it absolves the Bush White House from political consequences if pressure forces them to pull some troops out of Iraq. It is politics above policy, again.

Americans divided over war in Iraq.

Now this is an interesting story from the Washington Post:

The American public is sharply divided over whether to set a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, as military casualties mount and the insurgency shows little sign of ending its bloody terror campaign, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

There are still more Americans who oppose withdrawal than support it, but the margin is dwindling. And the latest Post-ABC poll continues to show little backing for an immediate exit from Iraq: Nearly eight in 10 say the United States should keep troops in Iraq for at least six months.

The survey found that 47 percent of the country now favors setting a deadline for troops to exit from Iraq, up eight percentage points since December. Opposition to a firm timetable for withdrawal stands at 51 points, down from 60 percent seven months ago.

Among the 47 percent who favor a deadline, nearly half say U.S. troops should be out of Iraq within six months, while a third favor giving the military a year to leave. Those results are virtually identical to findings from the December poll.

The deadline issue continues to split the country along partisan lines. Two thirds of all Democrats currently favor setting a deadline, double the proportion of Republicans who favor a strict timetable for exiting. Among independents, fewer than half -- 44 percent -- support a deadline for withdrawing troops.

The American public is souring over this war in Iraq. There are no clearly defined goals as to what the U.S. is doing in Iraq, nor are there any measurable criteria to show that we are achieving those goals. The Bush administration continues spouting their PR-spin that we're winning the war in Iraq, but they've failed to show any U.S. achievements or victories in Iraq--and killing Zarqawi is not a U.S. victory in Iraq. Right after Zarqawi was killed, two U.S. soldiers were abducted and killed by al Qaida. And now today, we've got more bombings killing Iraqis, and an American marine was also killed. The insurgency is continuing on--business as usual.

This war cannot go on. It has cost us too many American lives, and too much American treasure--and we have nothing to show for it. Stay-the-course is not a viable policy option. The insurgency is not within its last throes. We've got to start some type of political resolution to where we can pull the American troops out, and give Iraq back to the Iraqis. Let Iraqis deal with Iraq.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Transportation Secretary Mineta resigns

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is resigning, effective July 7, the White House said Friday.

Well, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta resigned--the only Democrat in President Bush's cabinet. Okay, so Mineta was a token Democrat in an extreme neoconservative White House. And Mineta was running an obscure department that the president could probably care less about--it certainly wasn't the top departments of Defense, State, or even midlevel department such as Education of which the Republicans love to politically demonize. I will say that Mineta did his job, and served his country to the best of his ability. My question to ask is, will Mineta be remembered for his work as both a congressman, and as Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation? Or will he be remembered as the token Democrat in a corrupt and extremist Bush administration?

Here's the story on CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, the only Democrat in the Bush Cabinet, is resigning next month.

White House spokesman Tony Snow made the announcement at the White House briefing on Friday. He said Mineta wasn't forced out of the job and that the president was "happy" with him.

"He has informed the president that after five and a half years he will be stepping down," Snow said, adding "that's a long time."

Mineta's resignation will be effective July 7.

His biography on the Transportation Department's Web site said he is "the longest serving secretary in the history of the U.S. Department of Transportation, becoming the 14th Secretary of Transportation on January 25, 2001."

Before he joined President Bush's administration, Mineta, 74, served as secretary of commerce under President Clinton.

"He was also the first Asian-American Cabinet member during the Clinton administration, and the first Cabinet member to switch directly from a Democratic to a Republican Cabinet," the bio said.

He was a member of the House from 1975 to 1995, representing a district in California's Silicon Valley.

"Secretary Mineta and his family were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry forced from their homes and into internment camps during World War II," the biography said.

Let's connect the dots....Abramoff....Norquist....Reed

A photograph of a 2002 golf trip to St. Andrews in Scotland shows, from left in the front row, the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, David H. Safavian and Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio. U.S. District Court, via Associated Press

I'd say it is time for an astoundingly exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! This one might just knock your socks off! From CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In Jack Abramoff's world, prominent Washington tax-cut advocate Grover Norquist was a godsend.

Moving money from a casino-operating Indian tribe to Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition founder and professed gambling opponent, was a problem. Lobbyist Abramoff turned to his longtime friend Norquist, apparently to provide a buffer for Reed.

The result, according to evidence gathered by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, was that Norquist's Americans for Tax Relief became a conduit for more than a million dollars from the Mississippi Choctaw to Reed's operation, while Norquist, a close White House ally, took a cut.

Without citing any specific group, the Senate panel found numerous instances of nonprofit organizations that appeared to be involved in activities unrelated to their mission as described to the Internal Revenue Service.

Thursday's 373-page Senate report on Abramoff's influence-peddling said some nonprofits channeled money from one entity to another in an effort to obscure the source of funds, the eventual use of funds and to evade tax liability.

The report said some tax-exempt organizations apparently were used as extensions of for-profit lobbying operations. The committee forwarded 108 documents to the Senate Finance Committee in February about nonprofits, 28 of them dealing with Norquist's group.

Talk about a Republican money-making machine here! Abramoff takes the lobbying money from the Indian casinos, and then transfers it to Norquist's non-profit organization Americans for Tax Relief--Norquist gets his cut, of course. Then the money is transferred out of Norquist's organization and into Ralph Reed's non-profit Christian Coalition. This is the equivalent of political money-laundering here!

But it gets better. Continuing with the story:

Nell Rogers, a planner for the Choctaws, told the Senate that the arrangement was never intended as a contribution to support ATR's general anti-tax work.

Rogers said she understood from Abramoff that ATR was willing to serve as a conduit, provided it received a fee.

In an e-mail obtained by the committee, Abramoff told Reed that "I need to give Grover something for helping, so the first transfer will be a bit lighter."

Relying on an e-mail by Abramoff, the Senate report said "Norquist kept" $25,000 from each of two transfers from the Choctaw to Reed. The report provided evidence about four transfers for about $1.2 million in all.

First the email letter clearly shows the involvement of Abramoff, Reed, and Norquist on the scam. What is more, Norquist's non-profit ATR was willing to serve in this money laundering for a profit! Norquist kept $25,000 from each of the two money transfers between the Choctaw tribe and Reed's Christian Coalition. Norquist profited handsomely from these money transfers. So if $1.2 million was transferred from the Choctaw Indians to the Christian Coalition through Norquist's ATR, then how much did Norquist make total on this $1.2 million transfer? And how many other Indian casinos were involved in this money laundering scam?

This story really shows the corruption of money within the Republican Party establishment, and the hypocrisy of the Republican political elites. First, there is the desire to use non-profit organizations as Norquist's ATR for-profit operations, such as wiring money into Reed's non-profit Christian Coalition for $25,000--tax free, of course. These Republican political elites, and their organizations, will do whatever they can to gain money through legal and illegal means--ethics be damned! Money has become their new God, and they will worship their new God through the accumulation of its religious coin. Then there is the hypocrisy of Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition. Here's an Evangelical Christian lobbying group that is suppose to be against the sins of gambling, but is taking money in from the Indian casinos through this circumventing route.

There is a madness involved within this story. There is the madness of arrogance that these characters--Abramoff, Reed, and Norquist--may feel that they can do anything they wish, and are not accountable to anyone. There is the madness of our political system, and how money corrupts this system. But there is also the madness of the American voter--the disconnect between the voter and the political process, the feeling that voting will not change the political process, or even provide the change necessary to improve this country's well being. So the madness continues on, it cancerous tentacles reaching into all facets of American society--feeding upon American society and upon itself.

How deep will it go?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

FBI arrests 7 in plot to attack Sears Tower

FBI agents stand by their vehicle in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, Florida. FBI agents arrested at least seven people in Miami who reportedly plotted to attack the Chicago Sears Tower skyscraper. The arrests by the Federal Bureau of Investigation together with federal, state and local authorities were "part of an ongoing investigation into a terrorist-related matter," the US attorney's office in Miami said in a statement.(AFP/Getty Images/Joe Raedle)

I don't know what to make of this story, regarding the FBI raid on a Miami warehouse which arrested seven men in a plot to attack the Sears Tower in Chicago. I'm going to start with the New York Times article:

MIAMI (AP) -- Seven people were arrested Thursday in connection with the early stages of a plot to attack Chicago's Sears Tower and other buildings in the U.S., including the FBI office here, a federal law enforcement official said.

As part of the raids related to the arrests, FBI agents swarmed a warehouse in Miami's Liberty City area, using a blowtorch to take off a metal door. One neighbor said the suspects had been sleeping in the warehouse while running what seemed to be a ''military boot camp.''

The official told The Associated Press the alleged plotters were mainly Americans with no apparent ties to al-Qaida or other foreign terrorist organizations. He spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt news conferences planned for Friday in Washington and Miami.

Photographer John Riley, center, and newsman Steve Harrigan, take a closer look at the door where agents swarmed a warehouse using a blowtorch Thursday, June 22, 2006, in the Liberty City area of Miami. (AP Photos/Mitchell Zachs)

So these seven men who were arrested are Americans who have no ties to al-Qaida or any foreign terrorist organization. They are not al-Qaida terrorists. Now let's continue further into this Times story:

Residents living near the warehouse said the men taken into custody described themselves as Muslims and had tried to recruit young people to join their apparently militaristic group.

The residents said FBI agents spent several hours in the neighborhood showing photos of the suspects and seeking information. They said the men, who appeared to be in their teens or 20s, had lived in the area about a year.

The men slept in the warehouse, said Tashawn Rose, 29. ''They would come out late at night and exercise. It seemed like a military boot camp that they were working on there. They would come out and stand guard.''

She talked to one of the men about a month ago: ''They seemed brainwashed. They said they had given their lives to Allah.''

Rose said the men tried to recruit her younger brother and nephew for a karate class. ''It was weird,'' she said.

Benjamin Williams, 17, said the group had young children with them sometimes. Sometimes, he added, the men ''would cover their faces. Sometimes they would wear things on their heads, like turbans.''

Xavier Smith, who attends the nearby United Christian Outreach, said the men would often come by the church and ask for water.

''They were very private,'' said Smith, 33. ''The spoke with like an accent, sort of a Jamaican accent.''

Now we get into these details that these are Muslim Americans? They spoke with a Jamaican accent? They wore turbans? They tried to recruit children for a karate class? There is even some hearsay details that is being passed off as story details--Tashawn Rose claims that these men tried to recruit her younger brother and nephew to the class. Was she there to actually witness when these men tried to recruit her younger brother and nephew?

Then there is the FBI. The Times story claims that the "FBI agents spent several hours in the neighborhood showing photos of the suspects and seeking information." There is nothing wrong with using old-fashioned detective work in seeking information regarding these suspects. But that is all there is regarding the FBI side of this story--the FBI agents went out and talked with the neighbors. The Times does not say if any weapons or explosives have been seized in the raid. In fact, the Washington Post's story on this raid claims that no weapons or explosives were seized in the raid. What bugs me here is that there is no evidence being presented that these individuals were involved in a terror plot. Neither the Times, the WaPost, or even CNN.Com report that FBI agents even seized documentation regarding this suspected plot--no FBI agents taking out boxes of papers or computers from the warehouse. does have this interesting little detail:

Sources told CNN that the arrests culminated a monthslong undercover operation. The suspects believed they were dealing with an al Qaeda operative but the person was actually a government informant, the sources said.

Documents related to the investigation have been sealed.

This arrest scares me. It scares me because the only evidence that the FBI has on these suspects are conversations with a government informant. And now documents relating to this investigation have been sealed. Will the government start labeling these Americans as "enemy combatants" and deny them their own legal rights? I'm not saying that these Americans are innocent--they actually may have been plotting this attack. But I want these suspects to go through the criminal justice system with their full legal rights--right to a counsel, right to cross-examine witnesses, right to a jury. I do not want the FBI or the Justice Department to refuse to hand over evidence to the defendants on the grounds of "national security interests," or "compromising intelligence-gathering assets." Something tells me that the only "evidence" they have is through the conversations with this government informant, and the FBI is going to try to keep this informant's identity a secret.

And these seven American suspects are going to disappear within the prison system--courtesy of their "enemy combatant" stasis.

MSNBC News Analysis: Why Senate Iraq votes matter for '06 and '08

Some more news on Iraq. This is an analytical story from MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - This week'’s Senate debate on Iraq was symbolic--neither of the two competing proposals offered by Democrats had any chance of passing.

Although symbolic, the votes on the two amendments give important indicators that Iraq will be a decisive issue both in Senate races this November and in the presidential race in 2008.

President Bush'’s opponents say he has sunk his presidency in a war that promises no clear victory. But whether it was his intent or not, Bush'’s policy also seems to have succeeded in trapping Democrats in a tormented and apparently endless debate on Iraq.

Perhaps that was why Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky sounded so satisfied when he talked to reporters Tuesday.

GOP happy to see Democrats divided "“We'’re very comfortable with this debate and happy to have it," McConnell said. "“The Democrats are having an interesting debate among themselves....We'’ve enjoyed watching them have this debate."

I love how the mainstream media is regurgitating the GOP talking points on how the Iraq war is bad for the Democrats. The Democrats are having a debate amongst themselves on timetables and troop withdrawals, while the Republicans continue their "stay-the-course" insane policy--rejecting even the possible policy alternatives that could be discovered in an honest and open debate. In the MSNBC story, Senator Joe Biden sums up the debate perfectly. Biden says:

We may have our divisions...there is some disagreement in the Democratic party," but, he said, "“the Republicans are totally united in a failed policy."”

That is the real crux of this story. Iraq is certainly going to be an issue in the 2006 and 2008 elections. The question is, who is engaged in discussing and debating the situation in Iraq? The Republicans in Congress are still willing to follow the "stay-the-course" message of the Bush White House and continue this war through the 2008 elections--whether the situation in Iraq actually improves or not. There is no debate within the Republican Party--you're either with the Republicans and the Bush White House, or you're with the terrorists (and are considered a traitor). Whereas on the Democratic side, you've got the Democratic warhawks of Hillary Clinton, and perhaps Joe Lieberman, fighting against Democrats, such as Joe Murtha, who feel the war in Iraq is already lost and that the U.S. should pull out. While these factions may be fighting against each other within the Democratic Party, they are providing an opportunity for the American public to review and consider options and arguments to resolve this war in Iraq. This opens the country towards a debate that is sorely needed on how to resolve this war in Iraq. Remember, the poll numbers still show a nervously shifting American political electorate:

Bush's approval rating increased by only one point to 37 percent from an April poll taken by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, when it registered its lowest level since he took power in January 2001. Fifty-eight disapprove of Bush's work as president, up one point from April.

On Zarqawi's death, 53 percent of the 1,002 adults polled between June 9 and 12 said it would improve the situation in Iraq either a lot (16 percent) or a little (37 percent), while 43 percent said it would have no effect at all.

Fifty-three percent said they were less confident of a successful conclusion to the war in Iraq, down four points from April, while 38 percent were more confident, up five points from two months ago.

And another 53 percent believed it was the wrong decision to attack Iraq in the first place in March 2003, against 43 percent who thought the contrary.

On other issues, the poll found that by a 64-23 percent margin, Americans dispprove of the job the US Congress is doing, and that by a 49-38 percent margin most registered voters want the US Congress to change hands -- both houses are currently under Republican control -- in the November elections.

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed thought the United States was headed in the wrong direction, down six points from April, and 27 percent believe it was heading in the right direction, up thee points from April.

There is a lot of uncertainty in this country.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Superman Returns trailer--in LEGOS!

I will admit, I cracked a smile at this little YouTube video. It appears that someone has been spending a little too much time playing with Legos. So before you start asking what's up in the sky, check out this Superman Returns theatrical trailer that has been recreated entirely by Legos:

Update: Missing American soldiers bodies were booby-trapped

A U.S. Army Spc. Anthony Black, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who serves in the 101st Airborne Division, searches for a sniper who fired on an Iraqi home used as an outpost in Ramadi, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 20, 2006. Elsewhere, the U.S. military recovered the bodies of two 101st Airborne Division soldiers missing and reportedly kidnapped, and Iraqi officials said the Americans were first tortured and then killed in a 'barbaric' way. (AP Photo/Jacob Silberberg)

This is off Yahoo News:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military recovered the booby-trapped bodies of two missing soldiers Tuesday, and Iraqi officials said the Americans were tortured and killed in a "barbaric" way. An insurgent group claimed the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq executed the men personally.

The discovery of the bodies dealt a new setback to U.S. efforts to seize the momentum against al-Qaida in Iraq after killing its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a June 7 airstrike. Violence was unabated Tuesday, with at least 18 people killed in attacks nationwide, including a suicide bombing of a home for the elderly in the southern city of Basra.

Coalition forces spotted the American soldiers' bodies late Monday, three days after the men disappeared following an attack on their checkpoint south of the capital, the military said. But troops delayed retrieving the remains until an explosives team cleared the area after an Iraqi civilian warned them to be alert for explosive devices.

"Coalition forces had to carefully maneuver their way through numerous improvised explosive devices leading up to and around the site," the military said in a statement. "Insurgents attempting to inflict additional casualties had placed IEDs around the bodies."

This is a war we cannot win. We are fighting in a country ripped apart with religious and ethnic strife. We do not have enough troops to put down this insurgency, and the 130,000 troops that are currently serving in Iraq are simply cannon-fodder. The insurgents can pick the time and place as to where to strike against the U.S. military, and they are striking through either hit-and-run attacks or roadside bombs against U.S. patrols. Once the attack takes place, the insurgents then meld back into Iraqi society before the U.S. can bring in their overwhelmingly superior firepower. It is literally death by a million paper cuts.

We can not win this war.

A tale of two headlines....Regarding Iraq

I find these two Yahoo news stories to be rather interesting--even contradictory. The first story is titled Frist: Surrender in Iraq 'not a solution;'

WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist declared Tuesday that "surrendering is not a solution" in Iraq as Democrats embraced a proposal to start troop withdrawals this year, setting up an election-year showdown in the GOP-controlled Senate.

"We cannot retreat. We cannot surrender. We cannot go wobbly. The price is far too high," said Frist, R-Tenn., suggesting that Democrats want to do just that.

So Bill Frist says that we cannot retreat because the price we're paying for this war in Iraq is too high. And because the price for this war in Iraq is too high, we must stay in Iraq and complete the mission (whatever that mission is). We can't retreat from this war. In other words, we can't cut our losses and run.

So tell me Senator Frist--how high should the price go before we can cut our losses and run? How much is too much in terms of paying for this wasted war in Iraq? Because we've just added to the price. Here is a story titled Iraqi: Soldiers killed in 'barbaric way:'

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. forces on Tuesday recovered the bodies of two American soldiers reported captured by insurgents last week. An Iraqi defense ministry official said the men were tortured and "killed in a barbaric way." Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had "slaughtered" them.

The claim was made in a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men were beheaded.

U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the remains were believed to be those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

The director of the Iraqi defense ministry's operation room, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured. "With great regret, they were killed in a barbaric way," he said.

The claim of responsibility was made in the name of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of five insurgent groups led by al-Qaida in Iraq. The group posted an Internet statement Monday claiming it was holding the American soldiers captive.

The statement said the soldiers were "slaughtered," suggesting that al-Muhajer beheaded them. The Arabic word used in the statement, "nahr," is used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat and has been used in past statements to refer to beheadings.

Two more American soldiers' lives wasted in a useless, lost war. And here are the faces to go for this wasted, useless war:

In this undated photo released by the U.S. Army, Pfc. Thomas Tucker is shown. A group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq claimed Monday, June 19, 2006, it had kidnapped Tucker and Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, who were reported missing Friday while manning a checkpoint. Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, announced that the bodies of Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., had been discovered on a street in Youssifiyah, just south of Baghdad. (AP Photo/U.S. Army)

U.S. Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca is shown in this undated family photograph. Menchaca is one of the two U.S. soldiers found dead after they became missing on Friday at a checkpoint in Yusufiya, a town in an area south of Baghdad. (Menchaca family/Handout/Reuters)

So tell me Senator Frist--how many more young American lives should we waste in this war? How much more blood and treasure are you willing to waste for your own short-sighted presidential ambitions? Because the cost to this country has gone too high.

It is time to bring these Americans home.

Safavian convicted of lying in Abramoff scandal

Looks like we've got another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former Bush administration official was convicted on Tuesday of lying about his links to Jack Abramoff, a disgraced lobbyist whose ties to powerful Republicans have embarrassed the party.

A federal jury found David Safavian -- a former chief of staff at the General Services Administration -- guilty of four of five counts of lying and obstructing justice in the first trial to be held in connection with the Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.

Safavian, who showed little emotion as the verdict was read, was cleared of one count of lying to Senate investigators looking into the Abramoff scandal, which could hurt Republicans leading into November's midterm vote.

Federal prosecutors had painted Safavian as someone who took advantage of his position to help Abramoff, a former top Washington lobbyist with strong ties to congressional leaders, particularly Republicans.

Safavian, a GSA political appointee from 2002 to 2004 who later worked in the White House budget office, was the first government official to be indicted in a case related to the Abramoff scandal.

On the fifth day of deliberations, the jury found him guilty of lying about his relationship with Abramoff and his knowledge of the lobbyist's interest in acquiring property from GSA, the property managing agency for the U.S. government.

The jury also found that Safavian lied to a GSA ethics officer when he sought approval to go on an Abramoff-sponsored luxury golf trip to Scotland in 2002. The jury said Safavian had concealed his assistance to Abramoff in GSA-related activities and had also obstructed justice in an agency investigation.

Safavian faces up to 20 years in prison for the four counts. Sentencing was set for October 12.

But here is the real kicker in this story. Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, was perplexed at how the federal government went after her client. Consider this:

"I've always been perplexed as to why the Justice Department decided to take out the howitzers against Mr. Safavian," she said after the verdict was read. "They made a mountain out of a molehill and now they're going to climb atop the molehill and plant a flag."

It is rather simple here as to why the government went after Safavian. Once they have a conviction from Safavian, the government could offer Safavian a deal, where Safavian could get some time off in exchange for his cooperation. I'm sure that the feds would love to know what Safavian has done to help both Abramoff and possibly Republican congressmen, in his position as a government official. This corruption scandal between Abramoff, the K Street lobbyists, and the Republican congressional leadership of Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and other Republicans, runs deep. The links even run into the Bush White House. So the feds are certainly interested in what Safavian knows. And now that Safavian is convicted and is facing some serious jail time, there is a deal that can be made here.

So is Safavian willing to spend 20 years in jail, or is he willing to talk to the feds? That's the next question. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Senate to debate flag-burning amendment

A protester burns a United States flag in Washington, January 20, 2005. A measure that would change the U.S. Constitution to let Congress ban burning the American flag was sent to the Senate floor on Thursday, setting up an election-year debate. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Guess it is time for the next election-year-social-wedge-issue to come up. This is off Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A measure that would change the U.S. Constitution to let Congress ban burning the American flag was sent to the Senate floor on Thursday, setting up an election-year debate.

The amendment has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives by the needed two-thirds margin. The bill's sponsor, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (news, bio, voting record), said he believes it will pass the Senate.

The flag debate comes shortly after the Senate defeated a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages. Democrats say Republicans are scheduling votes on a string of similar issues to win support from conservatives who might otherwise not vote in the November congressional elections.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning was protected under constitutional free-speech guarantees, invalidating laws in 48 states and outraging veterans' groups and others who say that an important national symbol should be protected from defacement.

It is really nice to hear that our Congress is taking up this important issue of burning flags for debate. Meanwhile, nothing is being done about health care, immigration, job training, the environment, corruption, the growing inequality between the rich and poor, the jobless recovery, and so many other issues this country is currently facing. Well, Congress did debate on the war in Iraq, but even that debate was confined to your basic election-year politicking and name-calling between the two parties.

So let the election-year politicking and name calling begin for the flag burning social wedge issue....

Shoe bomber kills 13 in Shiite mosque

An Iraqi Interior Ministry commando inspects the inside of the mosque after a shoe bomber blew himself up during Friday prayers inside the Buratha mosque, one of Baghdad's most important Shiite Mosques, killing at least 10 people and wounding 20 in northern Baghdad, Iraq Friday, June 16, 2006. The Imam of the Buratha mosque, a leading politician and deputy with the governing Shiite coalition who often spoke out against the late terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, blamed al-Qaida in Iraq for the attack, which came despite a massive security operation in the capital, including a vehicle ban, aimed at restoring order. (AP Photo / Khalid Mohammed)

This is from Yahoo News:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A shoe bomber blew himself up inside an important Shiite mosque during Friday prayers, killing at least 13 people and wounding 28, as violence persisted in the capital despite a massive security operation aimed at restoring order.

The imam of the Buratha mosque in northern Baghdad, a leading politician and deputy with the governing Shiite coalition who often spoke out against the late terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, blamed al-Qaida in
Iraq for the attack.

The security operation in Baghdad has imposed a driving ban during Friday prayers to prevent suicide car bomb attacks, as well as a curfew. About 75,000 troops are in the streets of the capital.

It was the second time the Buratha mosque has been hit in just over two months. It also was attacked during Friday prayers on April 7, when four suicide bombers, including a woman, killed 85 worshippers as they left the mosque after the main weekly service.

The U.S. military blamed that attack on al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida in Iraq leader who was killed June 7 in a U.S. airstrike. The group issued a statement Tuesday vowing to avenge al-Zarqawi's death and threatening horrific attacks "in the coming days."

What you are looking at here is the continued sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis--with a little al Qaida terrorism thrown in to ratchet up the violence for their hopes of creating a civil war in Iraq. It is anarchy and chaos in Iraq, where a weak Iraqi central government has no hopes of controlling the country without the presence of U.S. occupation troops. It is a country divided by religious and ethnic sects--with each sect wanting to control as much territory and resources as they can gain. For decades, Saddam Hussein has been able to control the country by keeping this bubbling cauldron of ethnic and religious strife submerged below the surface of Iraqi society. But once Saddam was removed by the U.S. invasion, that strife has been released within society--old scores and hatreds are being settled between the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. That is the Iraq of today.

House rejects timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq

U.S. Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) speaks to reporters in Washington, December 14, 2005. In a vote charged with election-year politics, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a symbolic resolution that wrapped the Iraq conflict into the war on terrorism and rejected a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal. (Jim Young/Reuters)

This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The House on Friday handily rejected a timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, culminating a fiercely partisan debate between Republicans and Democrats feeling the public's apprehension about war and the onrushing midterm campaign season.

In a 256-153 vote that mirrored the position taken by the Senate earlier, the GOP-led House approved a nonbinding resolution that praises U.S. troops, labels the Iraq war part of the larger global fight against terrorism and says an "arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment" of troops is not in the national interest.

Four months before midterm elections that will decide control of Congress, House Republicans sought to force Republicans and Democrats alike to take a position on the conflict that began with the U.S. invasion that toppled
Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003.

Democrats denounced the debate and vote as a politically motivated charade, and most, including Pelosi, voted against the measure. They said that supporting it would have the effect of affirming Bush's "failed policy" in Iraq.

Balking carried a risk for Democrats, particularly when they see an opportunity to win back control of Congress from the GOP. Republicans likely will use Democratic "no" votes to claim that their opponents don't support U.S. troops.

A U.S. soldier walks past the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, February 3, 2005. (Stringer/Reuters)

Four months before the midterm elections, and we get this Republican-created farce. That is all this was--election year politicking on the Republican's part to frame the debate between supporting the war means fighting terrorism, and opposing the war means surrendering to the terrorists. This whole fiasco was designed to capture sound-bites, on both sides, to be used in the next wave of negative campaign ads. This debate was created by the Republicans--and perhaps Karl Rove--to incite terrorism fears with the American public. Continuing with the story:

The House vote comes one day after the Senate soundly rejected a call to withdraw combat troops by year's end by shelving a proposal that would allow "only forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces" to remain in Iraq in 2007.

That vote was 93-6, but Democrats assailed the GOP maneuver that led to the vote as political gamesmanship and promised further debate next week on a proposal to start redeploying troops this year.

Congress erupted in debate on the Iraq war four months before midterm elections that will decide the control of both the House and Senate, and as
President Bush was trying to rebuild waning public support for the conflict.

The administration was so determined to get out its message that the
Pentagon distributed a highly unusual 74-page "debate prep book" filled with ready-made answers for criticism of the war, which began in March 2003.

But as the death toll and price tag of the conflict continue to rise, opinion polls show voters increasingly frustrated with the war and favoring Democrats to control Congress instead of the Republicans who now run the show.

I'm not sure how much longer the Republicans can milk this terrorism fears from the American public. The Republicans have over used this issue of terrorism fears--we're fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here in the U.S. It is getting rather stale. The American death toll in Iraq has just reached 2,500, and it is still climbing, while the number of Americans wounded in Iraq have climbed to 18,490. How much higher will these numbers go before we get away from all this politicking and start having a serious debate on what to do with Iraq? The longer this mess in Iraq continues on, the more political trouble the Republicans, and the Bush administration, will be getting into, since this war of choice was initiated by the PNAC neocons in the Republican Party and the Bush White House. So far, the Republicans, and the Bush administration have refused to define the U.S. mission and goals in Iraq. They have refused to provide any measurable goals to show U.S. progress in winning the war in Iraq, aside from some generic open-ended statements. And the Bush White House has refused to provide the American public with the complete accounting costs of the war--preferring instead to hide the costs in a continued series of emergency spending bills. This can not go on forever.

Friday Fun Stuff--Got your Degree?

I live here in the San Jose Bay Area, where it can get hot on a summer day--but not as bad as these two cities. From Yahoo News:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Phoenix on Wednesday was named the sweatiest city in the United States, but Miami topped the list as the most uncomfortable American city due to its mix of humidity and heat.

The fifth annual sweat survey sponsored by Procter & Gamble Co. handed the dubious distinction to the Arizona capital for the third time. El Paso, Texas, earned the title in 2004 and San Antonio, Texas, in 2002.

The study of 100 cities estimates the amount of sweat a person of average weight and height would produce walking around for an hour in the average high temperatures of a particular city during June, July and August.

The latest survey found that the average Phoenix resident produced 26 ounces (0.77 liter) of sweat per hour during a typical summer day last year when the desert city's high temperature averaged 93.3 F (34 C).

It means that in under three hours, Phoenix residents collectively produced enough sweat to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, said Jay Gooch, sweat expert at Old Spice, a Procter & Gamble Co. antiperspirant brand.

But Gooch said Phoenix's humidity was only 22 percent, making it much more comfortable than Miami, with average temperatures last year of 83.9 F (29 C) and humidity of 76 percent, according to government figures.

"In Phoenix you sweat much more than in Miami, but it evaporates quickly as it is such dry air so you don't notice as much. In Miami the sweat stays on your skin," said Gooch.

While I have not been to Miami, I have been to Iowa, where the combination of high heat and high humidity can cause water droplets to form on the toilet tank! It is true--if you sweat in Iowa, the sweat stays on your skin, rather than drying off in the low humidity of Phoenix, and in San Jose. Of course, I'm not sure I like the idea of Phoenix residents producing enough sweat to fill an olympic-sized swimming pool....

Talk about swimming in your own sweat here!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

U.S. Military expells reporters from Gitmo

This is from the Los Angeles Times:

Editors at the Los Angeles Times and two other newspapers protested the Pentagon decision to expel their reporters Wednesday from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the journalists were reporting on the weekend suicides of three prisoners.

Journalists from The Times, Miami Herald and Charlotte Observer all received permission from a local commander to be at the U.S. facility where terrorism suspects are held and interrogated. The three reporters and a photographer from the Charlotte paper left the island Wednesday on orders from the Pentagon.

A civilian spokeswoman at the Pentagon said the reporters had to leave the island in fairness to at least five other media outlets that wanted to cover the suicides but did not get permission from commanders at Guantanamo to do so.

"The Defense Department wants to be fair and impartial," said Cynthia Smith, a civilian spokeswoman for the department. "We got them on the next flight out of Guantanamo Bay to be fair to the rest of the media outlets that did not get a chance to go down there."

Smith said the situation could not have been resolved by granting all the reporters access to the prison. She said military personnel at Guantanamo were preoccupied with investigating the suicides and enhancing security and would not have had time to supervise the other journalists, who she said worked for Reuters, Associated Press, CNN and two British newspapers.

But the three newspapers that managed to have reporters at Guantanamo to cover the suicides said the military should be doing everything possible to increase public knowledge about the controversial island prison.

"Expelling Carol Williams and her colleagues represents a Stone Age attitude that only feeds suspicions about what is going on at Guantanamo," said Los Angeles Times Managing Editor Doug Frantz. "If the military hierarchy has nothing to hide, it should have respected the invitation extended by the [prison] commander and the professionalism of the journalists."

The military reported Saturday that three Mideastern prisoners had hanged themselves in their cells. The deaths led the military to cancel a hearing scheduled to begin Monday for an Ethiopian detainee.

Times reporter Carol Williams, Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg and at least five other journalists had been scheduled to travel to the island prison to cover that hearing.

The Washington-based press operatives for the Pentagon who grant access to such hearings revoked permission for all of the journalists to visit Guantanamo.

What can I say? This is how you control news and information to the press--you kick the reporters off Gitmo, and then if any more suicides take place at the American prison, you feed the press your own carefully censored, White House-approved talking points regarding this story. Any bad news that could seriously damage the Pentagon, or the Bush White House will be covered up. And even better yet, by eliminating all the bad news coming out of Gitmo, the Bush White House marketing team could concentrate on presenting happy news to the American public, and hope that the American public will respond positively to this happy news by improving Bush's poll numbers, and continue voting the Republicans into office in November's midterm elections.

And as for this First Amendment in the Bill of Rights? Toilet paper!

Bush speechwriter leaving post after 7 years

Well, this is interesting. From Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The man who has been putting words in President Bush's mouth for the past seven years said Wednesday that he is leaving the White House.

Michael Gerson, who went from chief speechwriter in the first term to senior adviser in the second, wants to pursue other writing and policy work, said Bush spokesman Ken Lisaius.

Gerson started working for Bush in 1999 in the early days of his presidential campaign, and he became one of his most trusted aides. He had a West Wing office, unusual for speechwriters in recent history.

Some of Bush's most-repeated signature phrases, such as "the soft bigotry of low expectations" or "the armies of compassion," were Gerson's handiwork.

An evangelical Christian and former theology student, Gerson also was known for infusing his work for Bush with spirituality.

What you have to remember about this Bush White House is that it is not a policy-making office, but rather a marketing-PR office. The Bush White House does not draft, nor determine public policy--they market pre-conceived policies created by PNAC neocons, Big Business, and the Religious Right. When you listen to any of Bush's speeches, you hear a lot of fluffy style--a perfect example is the war in Iraq. We hear a lot on how the U.S. can't abandon its mission, or a U.S. pullout will make the world a more dangerous place, or when the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down, or even you're either with us or with the terrorists. But we never hear what the U.S. mission in Iraq really is, or what the measurable goals are to track the success of this mission. That is how the Bush White House operates.

And now it is interesting that one of its top operatives in this marketing department is finally leaving. This is certainly going to be a problem for the White House marketing department. But there is more here. Gerson is an evangelical and former theology student. This type of training allowed Gerson to infuse religious symbolism within Bush's speeches. This religious symbolism is an important political component for selling the Religious Right's extremist ideology to the American people through the Bush White House. Look at two Gerson's signature phrases in the Yahoo story: "The soft bigotry of low expectations" or "the armies of compassion." These phrases are both ambiguous and contradictory. Take "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Bigotry is defined as "intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices," while expectations is defined as "to look forward to." In one sense, the phrase means a pleasing, comforting, low-key, mild intolerance of opinions and prejudices falling short of looking forward (I've included the definitions of soft and low in this phrase to complete it). It doesn't make sense. And "the armies of compassion?" Now armies is defined as " a large organized body of armed personnel trained for war," while compassion is defined as "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." Talk about a contradiction there! An army is comprised of men who fight in war--they engage in violent killing against men from the opposing army--in the heat of battle, there is no sympathetic consciousness of others' (perhaps the enemy's) distress.

The beauty of these phrases is not that they are contradictory, but they are interchangeable--you can use them in to promote any political policy. The "soft bigotry of low expectations" could be used to define the eroding standards of our nation's public schools, which in return would call for school vouchers and the No Child Left Behind Act to be instituted to improve the public school system. You could also use the soft bigotry quote to show the erosion of marriage and family values, prompting the call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And as for the "armies of compassion," well, the U.S. military in Iraq could be called an "army of compassion" for bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq. We could have "armies of compassion" spread out to the U.S. to stem the erosion of God, family, justice, and freedom by instituting laws banning gay marriage, institute domestic spying, force the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, impose public school school prayer, protect gun ownership, and any other Republican social wedge issue you can think of. These ambiguous, contradictory phrases can create a strong emotional responses among the American people, making them agree to whatever political policy the Bush marketing team is trying to sell that day.

The more I think about this, the more I'm starting to wonder if Gerson realizes that it is time to pull out now. With the polls showing President Bush's approval ratings hovering at around 30-38 percent (depending on the poll), the majority of the American people believing the country is on the wrong track, and that the U.S. should start pulling out of Iraq, this style of PR-marketing is getting stale for the American public. The problems of Iraq, the slowing economy, health care, jobless recovery, rising energy prices, high consumer and federal debt, have been exacerbated as Gerson, and the entire Bush administration, have tried to cover the seriousness of these problems with empty phrases and slogans. It is getting harder to convince the American public of the Bush administration's leadership ability with the proclamation of these empty phrases. And now is the best time to get out, before these complex problems of the war, the economy, the health care, inflation, consume and destroy this White House marketing strategy.