Saturday, May 08, 2004

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Getting to the Root of the Problem

Both Electolite and Kathryn Cramer, with a little overlap, are noting reports that Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, & Root, which has the contract to provide email access to units in Iraq, has been ordered to curtail "non-essential" communications for the next 90 days.
Email from a friend with contacts among American troops in Iraq prompts me to wish some journalist would investigate reports that the military has ordered KBR, which provides net connectivity for US camps and bases in Iraq, to cut off all soldiers’ "inessential" access to email and the net for the next 90 days.(emphasis added)
Interesting. I haven't heard recently from an old army friend who is in Afghanistan. Wonder if there's any connection?

By the way, there is some old army wisdom that someone should share with those chickenhawk civilians in the Pentagon:
Never fuck with a soldier's pay, his chow, or his mail.
These day, mail means email. While I'd like to hope this isn't just a naked attempt by the administation (through the Pentagon) to keep more bad news about Iraq from making its way into American homes (via the internet and the evening news), it's really hard to imagine that this is anything else.

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On the Record:
Just don't use my name
Just one thing I'll ask of you
Just one thing for me
Please forget you knew my name
My darlin' Sugaree

From Sugaree by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia
Mark Schmitt at The Decembrist has been looking at the reasons that Washington insiders give for remaining anonymous when they tell their little stories. He thinks we need some new ones:
But imagine if there was a kind of truth serum involved, and reporters were absolutely required to identify the real, real reason a quote is anonymous:

"...said an official, who asked not to be named because he wanted to create the impression that perhaps the speaker was someone important or someone who was actually in the room when the decision was made, rather than a deputy press secretary reading from a sheet of talking points."


"...said an official, who asked not to be named, because he still expects that the cabinet member he just betrayed will take him in as a partner in the lucrative consulting business they intend to start when they leave the administration."

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Scary Numbers

Kevin Hayden at The American Street looks at some worrisome polling numbers from California, and wonders if recreational chemicals might be to blame.

The poll, conducted May 4 - 6 on behalf of four local TV stations, shows Kerry leading Bush by just a single point, with 9% of likely voters choosing other or undecided. Hard to say how much of that 9% might vote for Ralph the Wrecker, but California has never had any shortage of the lunatic fringe.

Not a lot of surprises in the demographic voting patterns captured by the poll:
Among Bush voters, 80% say they are voting 'for' Bush. Of Kerry voters, just 35% say they are voting 'for' Kerry. 61% of Kerry voters say they are voting 'against' Bush.

Kerry support is young, female, non-white, non-military and from the Bay area. Bush support is male, white, religious, military, and from the Inland Empire and Central Valley.

Bush is ahead in the suburbs by 5%. Kerry leads in the urban areas by 12%
The real startling fact is that Gore carried California by 10 points in 2000. There's something happening here...

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Dramas and Sitcoms

I was going to call this Farewell to Friends & Frasier. I understand they are going off the air. Then I thought maybe Free From Friends & Frasier might be more appropriate.

Lest I offend any sitcom fans, let me say first that I don't watch much television. I didn't watch much even when I had time (before our kids were born). I've never seen Frasier, and I might have caught a part of Friends once or twice, though I don't think I ever saw an entire episode. I'm just not a big sitcom fan.

I have been a regular fan of a few TV shows over the past couple of decades -- nearly always dramas. It started with Hill Street Blues in the early 80s. Then I moved on to Miami Vice. By the early 90s I was watching NYPD Blue (remember when ER's Sherry Stringfield and David Schwimmer of Friends had bit parts, living across the hall from one another?). Then I started watching ER and Homicide. Okay, I acknowledge that with the exception of ER, these are all cop shows.

It was about this time that I asked an old friend of mine, a guy who first got me watching Hill Street, if he was watching ER and Homicide. He confessed that he and his wife were only watching sitcoms. "I've got two teenage daughters," he said. "I don't need to watch any dramas."

"I understand," I replied. "I work for the federal government. I don't need to watch any sitcoms."


Friday, May 07, 2004

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Republican Ship-Jumping:
not a new olympic event

Rodger Payne captures the latest round of notable Republicans fleeing the administration's sinking ship here and here.

She's going down! Quick -- somebody re-arrange the deck chairs!

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Over at Legal Fiction, Publius is moved to do a little house cleaning:
Can someone please take some fucking responsibility for this? It's going to cost us the war. Fire Rumsfeld. And fire Wolfowitz too. And fire Powell


Fire them all. This is America for God's sake. We don't murder prisoners. We don't sodomize prisoners. Or at least I didn't think we did.
While I agree with Publius 100 percent on this, I think he's missing something. Like wealth in Reaganomics, incompetence starts at the top and trickles down.

Let us clean our house thoroughly. In November we will have that opportunity.

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Read Krugman
See the Future
Lately we've been hearing a lot about competition from Chinese manufacturing and Indian call centers. But a different kind of competition — the scramble for oil and other resources — poses a much bigger threat to our prosperity.
What? Threat to our prosperity? That calls for a pre-emptive stike! Call Rummy. Assemble a package. Have Powell get ready to make the case...


Thursday, May 06, 2004

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It's National Prayer Day

I choose to pray for the children.
We pray for children
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never "counted potatoes,"
who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

And we pray for those who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can't find any bread to steal,
who don't have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed, and never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and
whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren't spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must,
for those we never give up on and for those who don't get a second chance.

For those we smother...
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

-Ina J. Hughs


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

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What did the president not know
and when did he not know it
and why

Kevin Drum raises some interesting questions about why Bush didn't know about the Abu Ghraib pictures until he saw them on the news.
But here's where that changes: CBS said in its original story that Myers had asked them "two weeks ago" to delay airing the story because the situation in Iraq at the time was so explosive. That means that by mid-April, when CBS was originally planning to run the story, Myers knew the photos had been leaked.

Now, Myers reports directly to both the president and the Secretary of Defense. And once CBS had gotten hold of the photos he had to know that (a) they were sure to become public fairly soon and (b) they were incredibly explosive. Unless Myers is a monumental political dullard — unlikely in his position — he had to to have known that.

So: did Myers keep this looming PR disaster to himself? Did he tell Rumsfeld that the pictures were about to become public? Did either of them tell Bush? Did he/they keep it to themselves because they thought it wasn't that important? Or because they were afraid to tell the president
I'll bet that Myers briefed Rumsfeld. I'm guessing that Rumsfeld doesn't give Myers direct access to the president. And Rumsfeld, despite his faults, is smart enough to know that the president is an idiot. So Rumsfeld was hoping that maybe there was some way that he could keep a lid on it, knowing that if it did get out, there would be all these investigations and handwringing in Congress, not to mention a shit-load of bad press. And all that would really get in the way of his war which wasn't really going all that well anyway.

So he figured he'd just try to handle it himself, and not give flightsuit boy the chance to really muck things up. And despite his best efforts, like everything else this administration touches, it turned ugly in a hurry.

Anybody else what to make a guess?

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The Scales of Justice
are way out of whack

David Neiwert at Orcinus has a report on the sentencing of William Krar, who had a stockpile of cyanide and the acid to turn it into poison gas, as well as numerous illegal weapons. In a plea agreement, Krar received 11 years for one count of possessing a dangerous chemical weapon.

Neiwert also notes that Tre Arrow, a militant environmentalist who the FBI alleges is a terrorist with ties to the Earth Liberation Front or ELF, could face up to 80 years in prison on various charges including the fire bombing of logging trucks in Oregon. Arrow is fighting extradition while being held in Vancouver, BC, on a shoplifting charge. None of the allegations against Arrow involve weapons of mass destruction.

Okay, so that's cyanide bombs vs. burning some logging trucks. Eleven years vs. 80 years. You make the call.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

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Can the GOP ensnare
the Black Churches?

Professor Kim Pearson notes a potential rift brewing between Black churches and Black politicians:
Some black politicians are worried that controversies over gay marriage and government funding for faith-based social initiatives are leading some black clergy to be co-opted by the Republican Party, according to a report on a highly-charged conference on black leadership in Massachussetts over the weekend.
Given the recent charges that the Kerry campaign is a little thin on minorites within the policy-making inner circle, I sincerely hope that somebody is paying very close attention to this. It's the sort of thing that could make or break the election is a few battleground industrial states.

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Turning Point?

We were waist-deep
in the Big Muddy
and the Big Fool said "Push on."
from The Big Muddy by Pete Seeger
Or maybe the Big Fool said, "Stay the course." Big Fools say a lot of horse shit.

What we know for sure is that things went from bad to worse in Iraq this week, as revelations, especially pictures, of the atrocities at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq are fueling the worst paranoid fantasies of anti-American sentiments in the Arab world, making them all seem absolutely grounded in reality.

Beth Gorham, writing for Canadian Press, thinks this may put the U.S. at some kind of turning point in Iraq.
It has become the explosive turning point of the Iraq war, leading in all the wrong directions.

A scandal involving sadistic abuse and humiliation of prisoners by U.S. soldiers blew wide open Tuesday when the military acknowledged more than 20 cases of deaths and assaults are under investigation, not only in Iraq but Afghanistan, too.

Outraged U.S. politicians, who demanded to know how such rampant abuse could possibly have happened, worried even more cases will come to light.

And there's fear degrading, graphic pictures of Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison that have infuriated the Arab world will embolden terrorists and lead to more bloodshed in the Middle East.

Despite the best efforts of U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to portray the assaults Tuesday as an "exception" among the actions of "wonderful" soldiers, the widening cases lend credence to long-stated Arab complaints about the behaviour of Americans.

"A picture's worth 1,000 words," said U.S. Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence committee.

"[They have] undone thousands of acts of kindness and courage," Ms. Harman told CNN.
Professor Juan Cole notes that the U.S., despite the administration's teflon spin machine, is losing the war of images:
The war of guns is only part of any great military enterprise. It is always supplemented by a war of words and, in the modern world, a war of images. The Bush administration, despite the savvy of its spinmeisters and Hollywood-trained publicists, has lost the war of images abroad. Although it has had more success in managing war images at home, cracks have increasingly opened up on the domestic front as well.
Now that things are likely to turn really ugly, the Pentagon has decided that it's going to need more troops in Iraq than it had planned. According to the Associated Press:
U.S. commanders plan to keep U.S. troops at their current levels in Iraq - about 135,000 - until the end of 2005, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The decision acknowledges Iraq is much more unstable and dangerous than U.S. generals had hoped earlier this year, when they planned to cut the number of troops occupying Iraq to about 115,000.
That's bad news for some troops that were hoping to rotate home soon. It will also mean that more Reserve and National Guard units will be on their way to Iraq soon.

Mean while, Donald Rumsfeld feels that he needs to tap dance around the "T" word, as though perhaps that will just make it go away (thanks to Josh Marshall for capturing it so well).
"I think that -- I'm not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word."
What passes for leadership in this administration wouldn't cut the mustard in a good Girl Scout troop.

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How to Govern in America
Mark Schmitt's guidance for Kerry

If I were Kerry, I would devote every breakfast, lunch and dinner to meeting with every Republican who's willing to break bread with him, from the true moderates like Lincoln Chafee and Olympia Snowe through the old-timers like John Warner and Pete Domenici and the mavericks McCain and Hagel, and asking every one of them, "We don't have to agree, but are we here to govern this country, or wage ideological warfare?"
While I agree with Mark, I wish it were that simple. Kerry will also come into office facing demands from the left, who after 4 years of very bad government, will have lots of their own issues they want addressed from the environment to education, from labor to civil liberties.

Kerry will not have an easy task of holding together a fractious constituency, while trying to woo those Republicans who still have a brain.

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This is not your father's GOP

Having grown up in a family of politically active Goldwater Republicans, Joe Wilson's picture of then and now certainly resonates with me. Digby's got it.
Conason: What's the difference in the GOP from when you were growing up?

Wilson: If you're fiscally responsible, this is not your party. If you believe in a moderate foreign policy characterized by alliances, free trade and the ability to operate in an international environment, this is not your party. If you believe in limited federal government, this is not your party. If you believe that the government should stay out of your bedroom, this is very definitely not your party. In fact, I would argue that unless you believe in the American imperium, imposed on the world by force, or unless you believe in the literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations, this is not your party.
Actually, I'm still having trouble believing the Supreme Court's interpretation of the 2000 Florida vote.

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There are some things that
money just can't buy

Financial cost of the war in Iraq: a few hundred billion dollars.

Human cost of the war in Iraq: Hundreds of American lives and thousands of Iraqis.

Josh Marshall's description of the neocons who got us into the war: Priceless.
In the popular political imagination we're familiar with the neocons as conniving militarists, masters of intrigue and cabals, graspers for the oil supplies of the world, and all the rest. But here we have them in what I suspect is the truest light: as college kid rubes who head out for a weekend in Vegas, get scammed out of their money by a two-bit hustler on the first night and then get played for fools by a couple hookers who leave them naked and handcuffed to their hotel beds.

And just think, it's on your dime and with your nation's honor -- what an added benefit.


Monday, May 03, 2004

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Even in the Midst of Atrocities
the General can make me laugh

Go read Hazing Sean Hannity

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An Army of 1
started the Abu Ghraib Investigations

More information on the investigations into the atrocities committed by U.S. personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has emerged since I wrote the post below.

Sy Hersh writing in The New Yorker is way out in front of this story. Numerous reporters have used his piece as a jumping off point for further coverage.

Hersh identifies the one hero in this whole disgusting affair: a young enlisted soldier who reported what he suspected were abuses at Abu Ghraib.
The abuses became public because of the outrage of Specialist Joseph M. Darby, an M.P. whose role emerged during the Article 32 hearing against Chip Frederick. A government witness, Special Agent Scott Bobeck, who is a member of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, or C.I.D., told the court, according to an abridged transcript made available to me, "The investigation started after SPC Darby . . . got a CD from CPL Graner. . . . He came across pictures of naked detainees." Bobeck said that Darby had "initially put an anonymous letter under our door, then he later came forward and gave a sworn statement. He felt very bad about it and thought it was very wrong."
The Hersh piece also sheds some light on the training issue I mentioned earlier. While some Military Police units are trained specifically for the role of holding enemy prisoners of war (EPWs), others have the more general missions of traffic control, law enforcement, and breaking up fights at the club. It looks like one of the MP companies at the center of the investigation had spent several months doing regular MP missions, then were reassigned to Abu Ghraib to be prison guards. With no specific training for this mission, two NCOs who worked in correctional facilities in their civilian careers were given the lead on how things should be done.
Questioned further, the Army investigator said that Frederick and his colleagues had not been given any "training guidelines" that he was aware of. The M.P.s in the 372nd had been assigned to routine traffic and police duties upon their arrival in Iraq, in the spring of 2003. In October of 2003, the 372nd was ordered to prison-guard duty at Abu Ghraib. Frederick, at thirty-seven, was far older than his colleagues, and was a natural leader; he had also worked for six years as a guard for the Virginia Department of Corrections. Bobeck explained:

What I got is that SSG Frederick and CPL Graner were road M.P.s and were put in charge because they were civilian prison guards and had knowledge of how things were supposed to be run.
Brigadier General Janet Karpinski, who commanded the 800th MP Brigade and who had oversight of Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities, points the blame for the atrocities at the Army and CIA interrogation officials who reportedly encouraged the atrocities in order to soften up the prisoners prior to their interrogations.
In a phone interview from her home in South Carolina in which she offered her first public comments about the growing international furor over the abuse of the Iraq detainees, General Karpinski said the special high-security cellblock at Abu Ghraib had been under the direct control of Army intelligence officers, not the reservists under her command.

She said that while the reservists involved in the abuses were "bad people" who deserved punishment, she suspected that they were acting with the encouragement, if not at the direction, of military intelligence units that ran the special cellblock used for interrogation. She said that C.I.A. employees often joined in the interrogations at the prison, although she said she did not know if they had unrestricted access to the cellblock.
She also seemed to have some doubts as to whether the regular army was willing to look at their own, as opposed to the reservists.
"We're disposable," she said of the military's attitude toward reservists. "Why would they want the active-duty people to take the blame? They want to put this on the M.P.'s and hope that this thing goes away. Well, it's not going to go away."
Apparently the regular army is looking at some of its own, especially the intelligence officials who are involved. According to an AP story in the NY Times:
Seven U.S. soldiers have been reprimanded in connection with the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners carried out by guards at Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, a senior military official said on Monday.

On the orders of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, six of the soldiers -- all officers and noncommissioned officers -- have received the most severe level of administrative reprimand in the U.S. military, the official said on condition of anonymity.

A seventh officer was given a more lenient admonishment.

The military official said he believed investigations of the officers were complete and they would not face further action or court martial. However, the reprimands could spell the end of their careers.
I suspect that these officers and NCOs are from the intelligence side of the house, since the story goes on to mention the MPs who have also been charged.
Another six U.S. military police are facing criminal charges.
Singling out those who were directly reponsible for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib is important and necessary. It will serve as a deterent for those who might be inclined to mistreat prisoners in the future. But it does not address the systemic breakdown of the command stucture that permitted these things to take place. These were identified in the report of Major General Taguba's investigation into problems at the prison. According to the New York Times:
An internal Army investigation has found a virtual collapse of the command structure in a prison outside Baghdad where American enlisted personnel are accused of committing acts of abuse and humiliation against Iraqi detainees.

A report on the investigation said midlevel military intelligence officers were allowed to skirt the normal chain of command to issue questionable orders to enlisted personnel from the reserve military police unit handling guard duty there.
The Times article goes on to say,
The Taguba report, as well as other documents seen Sunday by The New York Times, also reveal a much broader pattern of command failures than initially acknowledged by the Pentagon and the Bush administration in responding to outrage over the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.

The report on General Taguba's investigation identified two military intelligence officers and two civilian contractors for the Army as key figures in the abuse cases at Abu Ghraib. In his internal report on his findings in the investigation, General Taguba said he suspected that the four were "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib and strongly recommended disciplinary action."

The Taguba report found that they were never properly trained or supervised. It found that in effect, the military police were told to soften up the prisoners so they would talk more freely in interrogations conducted by intelligence officials.

The Taguba report states that "military intelligence interrogators and other U.S. Government Agency interrogators actively requested that M.P. guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses." It noted that one civilian interrogator, a contractor from a company called CACI International Inc., based in Arlington, Va., and attached to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, "clearly knew his instructions" to the military police equated to physical abuse.
Clearly these structural command and control issues need to be addressed. They are muddied by the presence of civilian agencies like the CIA as well as civilian contractors like CACI.

An even more troubling aspect to this whole story is the possiblity that foriegn interrogators have been involved in torture at facilities under U.S. control in Iraq. There is this report in today's WaPo:
In hood and handcuffs, Abdulrazzaq was taken to Adhamiya Palace, a compound once used by the former president's eldest son, Uday Hussein. It is now a U.S. Army base, and one of the sitting rooms became the venue for long, intense interrogation sessions.

His interrogators -- first U.S. soldiers, then a man who he said wore the uniform of a Kuwaiti army captain -- sought information on the location of weapons of mass destruction, Hussein and the insurgents in his neighborhood. For the next three days, he said, the Kuwaiti man tortured him using electricity.
The U.S. Army owes a debt of gratitude to SPC Joe Darby for revealing the practices at Abu Ghraib. The Army now has the opportunity to correct several severe problems in training, operations, and leadership. I really hope the Army chooses to capitalize on this opportunity and not just hold a few court martials to appease the press.


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