Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Another myth bites the dust.
Thanks to KCR who forwarded this item.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Endangered Species - U.S. Attorneys
And The Commander in Chief, Aka The Decider, in a Steve Bell Cartoon
Justice Department Fires 8th U.S. Attorney
An eighth U.S. attorney announced her resignation yesterday, the latest in a wave of forced departures of federal prosecutors who have clashed with the Justice Department over the death penalty and other issues.
Margaret Chiara, the 63-year-old U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich., told her staff that she was leaving her post after more than five years, officials said. Sources familiar with the case confirmed that she was among a larger group of prosecutors who were first asked to resign Dec. 7.
Chiara is the second female U.S. attorney to be dismissed. The other is Carol Lam of San Diego. Before the firings, 15 of 93 U.S. attorneys were women, department records show.
The firings have been criticized by lawmakers in both parties and have prompted proposals in Congress to restrict the ability of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint interim prosecutors indefinitely.
Why Have So Many U.S. Attorneys Been Fired? It Looks a Lot Like Politics
Carol Lam, the former United States attorney for San Diego, is smart and tireless and was very good at her job. Her investigation of Representative Randy Cunningham resulted in a guilty plea for taking more than $2 million in bribes from defense contractors and a sentence of more than eight years. Two weeks ago, she indicted Kyle Dustin Foggo, the former No. 3 official in the C.I.A. The defense-contracting scandal she pursued so vigorously could yet drag in other politicians.
In many Justice Departments, her record would have won her awards, and perhaps a promotion to a top post in Washington. In the Bush Justice Department, it got her fired.
Ms. Lam is one of at least seven United States attorneys fired recently under questionable circumstances. The Justice Department is claiming that Ms. Lam and other well-regarded prosecutors like John McKay of Seattle, David Iglesias of New Mexico, Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of Arizona — who all received strong job evaluations — performed inadequately.
It is hard to call what’s happening anything other than a political purge. And it’s another shameful example of how in the Bush administration, everything — from rebuilding a hurricane-ravaged city to allocating homeland security dollars to invading Iraq — is sacrificed to partisan politics and winning elections.
U.S. attorneys have enormous power. Their decision to investigate or indict can bankrupt a business or destroy a life. They must be, and long have been, insulated from political pressures. Although appointed by the president, once in office they are almost never asked to leave until a new president is elected. The Congressional Research Service has confirmed how unprecedented these firings are. It found that of 486 U.S. attorneys confirmed since 1981, perhaps no more than three were forced out in similar ways — three in 25 years, compared with seven in recent months.
It is not just the large numbers. The firing of H. E. Cummins III is raising as many questions as Ms. Lam’s. Mr. Cummins, one of the most distinguished lawyers in Arkansas, is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. But he was forced out to make room for J. Timothy Griffin, a former Karl Rove deputy with thin legal experience who did opposition research for the Republican National Committee. (Mr. Griffin recently bowed to the inevitable and said he will not try for a permanent appointment. But he remains in office indefinitely.)
The Bush administration cleared the way for these personnel changes by slipping a little-noticed provision into the Patriot Act last year that allows the president to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period without Senate confirmation.
Three theories are emerging for why these well-qualified U.S. attorney were fired — all political, and all disturbing.
1. Helping friends. Ms. Lam had already put one powerful Republican congressman in jail and was investigating other powerful politicians. The Justice Department, unpersuasively, claims that it was unhappy about Ms. Lam’s failure to bring more immigration cases. Meanwhile, Ms. Lam has been replaced with an interim prosecutor whose résumé shows almost no criminal law experience, but includes her membership in the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.
2. Candidate recruitment. U.S. attorney is a position that can make headlines and launch political careers. Congressional Democrats suspect that the Bush administration has been pushing out long-serving U.S. attorneys to replace them with promising Republican lawyers who can then be run for Congress and top state offices.
3. Presidential politics. The Justice Department concedes that Mr. Cummins was doing a good job in Little Rock. An obvious question is whether the administration was more interested in his successor’s skills in opposition political research — let’s not forget that Arkansas has been lucrative fodder for Republicans in the past — in time for the 2008 elections.
The charge of politics certainly feels right. This administration has made partisanship its lodestar. The Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran revealed in his book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” that even applicants to help administer post-invasion Iraq were asked whom they voted for in 2000 and what they thought of Roe v. Wade.
Congress has been admirably aggressive about investigating. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, held a tough hearing. And he is now talking about calling on the fired U.S. attorneys to testify and subpoenaing their performance evaluations — both good ideas.
The politicization of government over the last six years has had tragic consequences — in New Orleans, Iraq and elsewhere. But allowing politics to infect U.S. attorney offices takes it to a whole new level. Congress should continue to pursue the case of the fired U.S. attorneys vigorously, both to find out what really happened and to make sure that it does not happen again.
Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Sunday, February 25, 2007
'Secondary Virginity' and Slightly Pregnant
Mr. Norquist said he remained open to any of the three candidates who spoke to the council or to Mr. Romney. He argued that with the right promises, any of the four could redeem themselves in the eyes of the conservative movement despite their past records, just as some high school students take abstinence pledges even after having had sex.
“It’s called secondary virginity,” Mr. Norquist said. “It is a big movement in high school and also available for politicians.”
Politicians and 'secondary virginity'. Mr. Norquist got that right. The line-up did not include a woman aspirant but if one should emerge then she could be slightly pregnant.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Looking For A Song, A New Anti-War Song
Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly
Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain
You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud
You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins
How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead
Copyright © 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music
The same old songs
There is a gaping hole for a new anti-war anthem that will capture the moment and the mood
Saturday February 24, 2007
'And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for?..." Forty or so years ago, no anti-Vietnam war rally was complete without someone trying to sing the I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag by Country Joe and the Fish. Country Joe McDonald himself is still very much with us, living in Berkeley, still protesting and promoting versions of his 1965 song that now incorporate the war in Iraq.
Today tens of thousands of anti-war protesters are due to assemble in George Square in Glasgow and Hyde Park in London, when they will hear a new version of the other great anti-war anthem of that era - War (What Is It Good For?), originally sung by Edwin Starr in 1970. The latest interpretation is by Ugly Rumours, an anti-tribute band named after the group in which the prime minister performed in his long-haired youth.
London demonstrators will also be entertained by Ed Harcourt singing Masters of War, written in 1963 by Bob Dylan about the military-industrial complex that profits from the fighting (and Joan Baez may even be appearing). These are all great songs, but where is the defining anti-war anthem of today?
The first world war, as anyone who has seen the musical Oh! What a Lovely War will know, produced dozens of haunting songs from When This Lousy War Is Over to The Bells of Hell. In the second world war, everyone did know what they were fighting for, which may account for the fact that there were fewer in the way of protest songs, but the Vietnam war brought a bundle to the fore in addition to the contributions of Country Joe and Edwin Starr.
The cold war gave us Randy Newman's still highly topical Political Science ("No one likes us / I don't know why / We may not be perfect / But heaven knows we try ... Let's drop the big one now"), and the conflict in Northern Ireland prompted Billy Connolly to write a beautiful little song called Sergeant, Where's Mine? ("All your talk of computers and sunshine and skis / All I'm askin' is - sergeant, where's mine?"). And from the Falklands war we had Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding, as sung by Robert Wyatt.
Nor is there a shortage now of songs about what is happening in Iraq. Bloc Party's Helicopter, Hard-Fi's Middle Eastern Holiday and Elbow's Leaders of the Free World are just three suggested by a colleague, and there are many from the other side of the Atlantic; but there is still the lack of a defining anthem.
Andrew Murray, of the Stop the War Coalition, says that every week he is sent new anti-war songs, but they are mainly in a traditional folk style, and he has not yet come across a new song that has quite the anthemic, rallying resonance of Fixin'-to-Die or War. He said that the anti-war movement has had plenty of support from writers, actors and artists, but not quite as much as he would have hoped from the musical fraternity. Ms Dynamite was at the big 2003 rally, Damon Albarn has also attended protests, and Nigel Kennedy and Brian Eno have been active - but Murray says there is a gaping hole for a new song.
There is no shortage of bands and musicians of all generations committed to political action, whether in terms of climate change or poverty, and there is no lack of willingness to help. This summer an army of young and middle-aged musicians will take part in Live Earth to draw attention to the dangers of global warming. But it is one thing to offer one's services and another to compose that elusive song that somehow captures the moment and the mood.
Murray says that if anyone can come up with such a song they will be guaranteed a big audience. Out there somewhere there must be a musician lurking with lyrics scrawled on the back of a flyer just waiting for their moment.
In the meantime, it's one, two, three ...
Friday, February 23, 2007
Repealing War Authorization
Thunder Without Lightning * For Romano Prodi, A Return to Life
Senate Democratic leaders intend to unveil a plan next week to repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing the war in Iraq in favor of narrower authority that restricts the military's role and begins withdrawals of combat troops.
House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party's own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
For Romano Prodi, A Return to Life
The issue of troop deployments split Mr Prodi's coalition (BBC)
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is holding talks with key politicians on forming a new government, in an effort to resolve a deep political crisis.
PM Romano Prodi is hoping to stay in office after centre-left coalition partners agreed to back him.
The crisis began on Wednesday, when Mr Prodi resigned after losing a Senate vote on foreign policy.
Some coalition partners had opposed troop deployments in Afghanistan and plans to expand a US airbase in Italy.
The deal between Mr Prodi and other party leaders came late on Thursday.
"We have all agreed to the programme so that he can continue to govern," his spokesman, Silvio Sircana, said.
The 12-point programme gives the prime minister the final say in any future disputes. It is also reportedly includes support for Italy's military presence in Afghanistan.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Mahmudiya, South of Baghdad
The Rape and Murder of Abeer Hamza
Source: BBC News
The Evil That Man Does
The Neocons' War and A Girl Named Abeer Hamza
The 502nd Infantry Regiment and Abeer Hamza
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Small Towns Across America Bear the Brunt of War
Edward "Willie" Carman * Ryan Kovacicek * Brent Adams * Allan Bevington
The Span of War
Small Towns Absorb the Toll of War
Morning Edition, February 20, 2007 · Small towns across the country are struggling through losses because of the Iraq war.
A new report from the Associated Press shows that nearly half of all servicemen and women killed in Iraq came from communities with fewer than 25,000 people.
One out of every five troops killed came from hometowns of less than 5,000.
Many of these small communities are also poor. The report shows that nearly three quarters of those killed in Iraq came from towns where per capita income is below the national average.
From Beaver Falls to Caledonia, War Hits Home
MCKEESPORT, Pa. (AP) — Raised in the projects in an old steel town, Edward "Willie" Carman saw the Army as a chance to build a new life.
"I'm not doing it to you, I'm doing it for me," the then-18-year-old told his mother, Joanna Hawthorne, after coming
home from high school one day and surprising her with the news.
When Carman died in Iraq three years ago at age 27, he had money saved for college, a fiancee and two kids — including a baby son he'd never met. Neighbors in Hawthorne's mobile home park collected $400 and left it in an envelope in her door.
McKeesport is not alone in its mourning. Nearly half of the more than 3,100 U.S. military fatalities in Iraq have come from towns like McKeesport, where fewer than 25,000 people live, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. One in five hailed from hometowns of less than 5,000.
The Census Bureau said 56 percent of the population in 2005 lived in towns under 25,000 and in unincorporated areas, but it could not provide the number of people in living only in communities of less than 25,000. The 2000 census showed 16 percent of the population lived in unicorporated rural areas.
Many of the hometowns of the war dead aren't just small, they're poor. The AP analysis found that nearly three quarters of those killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average. More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average.
Some are old factory towns like McKeesport, once home to U.S. Steel's National Tube Works, which employed 8,000 people in its heyday. Now, residents' average income is just 60 percent of the national average, and one in eight lives below the federal poverty line.
On a per capita basis, states with mostly rural populations have suffered the highest fatalities in Iraq. Vermont, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Delaware, Montana, Louisiana and Oregon top the list, the AP found.
There's a "basic unfairness" about the number of troops dying in Iraq who are from rural areas, said William O'Hare, senior visiting fellow at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, which examines rural issues.
Diminished opportunities are one factor in higher military enlistment rates in rural areas. From 1997 to 2003, 1.5 million rural workers lost their jobs due to changes in industries like manufacturing that have traditionally employed rural workers, according to the Carsey Institute.
Rural communities are "being asked to pay a bigger price for this military adventure, if I can use that word, than their urban counterparts," O'Hare said.
As a result, in more than a thousand small towns across the country — from Glendive, Mont., to Barnwell, S.C., to Caledonia, Miss., and from Hardwick, Vt., to Clinton, Ohio — friends and families have been left struggling to make sense of a loved one's death in Iraq. It's a struggle that hits with a special intensity in tight-knit, small towns.
"In a small community, even if you don't know somebody's name you at least know their face, you've seen them before, talked to them maybe," said Chuck Bevington, whose 22-year-old brother Allan, from Beaver Falls, Pa., died in Iraq, after volunteering for a second tour. "A small community feels it a lot tighter because they've had more contact with each other."
Even strangers come up and hug his mother, he said.
'This Is Why I Joined'
Military tradition and patriotism run deep in rural America, and for some the drive to serve goes well beyond economics. Sometimes, the call is something even their parents don't completely understand.
When a Marine recruiter came to Ryan Kovacicek's two-story house outside Washington, Pa., off a mountain rural road surrounded by cattle pastures, his father, a Marine veteran of Vietnam, turned to his college student son and said, "You don't really understand what you're getting into."
"Yes, I do," he stubbornly told his father before signing the papers.
Their son was a jokester, easy going and popular. He loved golf and vacationing in Myrtle Beach, S.C. But there was a serious side too, and his parents said he believed in serving his country. As a bonus, he thought military service would help him one day get a job with the FBI or CIA.
Before leaving for Iraq, he took his girlfriend to a car dealership along I-79, pointed to a giant American flag flying overhead, and declared, "This is why I joined the Marines."
When his body was brought home, the hearse passed the same flag.
The day of Kovacicek's funeral, people lined Route 19, holding signs with his name. Little kids waved flags and men held their hands over their hearts to pay respect to the procession of more than 300 cars. His parents say they've been overwhelmed by the support of the community with tributes and phone calls from his friends and fellow Marines.
In Iraq, they later learned, he used to serenade his buddies with a song his father learned in boot camp and taught him as a boy. His voice choking, Joe Kovacicek recalled the words: "You can have your Army khaki, you can have your Navy blue, but here's another fighting man I'll introduce to you."
Among his belongings returned to the family was a tiny worn-out Bible he carried in his pocket.
His mother, Judi, said she didn't watch President Bush's recent address on the war because they try to stay out of the politics of Iraq.
"If God was going to take him at 22, if he didn't take him like he did, how was he going to do it? I feel a lot better losing him this way because there was a lot of meaning behind what he did," his father said.
'An Issue of Fairness'
Death isn't the only burden the war has visited on the nation's small towns.
Entrepreneurs in many small communities have lost their businesses after deploying in the Guard and Reserves, said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. More federal dollars also are needed to ensure that returning troops have easy access to veterans health centers, he said.
"It's an issue of fairness that these folks are willing to go over and fight wars and put their lives on the line and really back this country up the way they have ... we owe it to them to live up to our obligation of benefits," Tester said.
Another fairness issue, raised by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., is the Pentagon's practice of transporting the remains of military personnel killed in Iraq only to the nearest major airport. Stupak said it "imposes a burden on the family and friends when they should instead receive our support." He has introduced legislation to require the DOD to deliver the remains to the military or civilian airport chosen by the family.
While support for the war in rural areas initially was high, there has been a sharp decline in the past three years. AP-Ipsos polls show that those in rural areas who said it was the right decision to go to war dropped from 73 percent in April 2004 to 39 percent now. In urban areas, support declined from 43 percent in 2004 to 30 percent now.
Marty Newell, chief operating officer of the Whitesburg, Ky.-based Center for Rural Strategies, said rural areas supported the war early on because so many of their young men and women were fighting it.
"The reason that support is dwindling now is the same reason that support would've been strong before, and that is that we know a lot more about it," he said. "We know what the real costs are and we know what the real story is. ... Every day there's another small town that has one of their own come home less than whole, and there are a lot of small towns like that."
As the war drags on into its fourth year, Vietnam war historian Christian Appy said the burden it has placed on smaller communities — just as it did in Vietnam — can be a very "embittering experience."
"I think people in many of those towns are deeply patriotic and want to support the country, but as time goes on, it's becoming increasingly clear to those people that their country and its security is not at stake in this war and in Vietnam," Appy said.
One who's conflicted about the U.S. role in Iraq is Marilyn Adams, 37, of Wexford, Pa. Her 3-year-old son opened the door in 2005 when an officer came to tell her of the death of her husband, Pennsylvania National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Brent Adams, 40, in Iraq.
"I'm torn," she said. "Should we finish the job? And then I go to the funerals of the local guys and I'm like, this is just
stupid ... I don't think we're going to finish it there. I don't think there's a finishing point. They're getting more efficient at killing us, that's a direct quote from the president."
'For the History Books to Decide'
Long before football great Joe Namath put Beaver Falls on the map, the Pennsylvania mountain town was known for its cold-drawn steel. But like much of the Steel Belt, it's had a decline in population and jobs.
Allan Bevington, who enjoyed heavy metal music and loved to fish, talked to his older brother, Chuck, about his time in the Army, and eventually decided it was a way for him to get an education and support his country.
In his first tour in Iraq, he worked as a combat engineer dismantling roadside bombs. He believed he was saving American lives and helping the Iraq people. After returning home, he volunteered for a second deployment, only to be killed by a roadside bomb.
"He really felt what he was doing was helping the Iraqi people. He had a lot of bad experiences the first time, but he had just as many good experiences," Bevington said. "He was very proud of what he was doing. He would never tell you that to your face, but you could see it in his eyes."
Before his second deployment, Bevington purchased a 2002 cobalt blue Ford Mustang. Now, it sits in his brother's driveway because neither he nor his mother have the heart to move it.
Chuck Bevington doesn't like what he calls the politicizing of the troops.
"The last thing these men need are people second guessing what's going on," he said. "That's something for the history books to decide whether it's right or wrong."
"If they end it right now, they're going to make it worse then it ever was."
'It's Not Right'
Hawthorne isn't waiting on history's verdict. She's bitter about a military she said enticed her son with promises of money, then sent him to a war based on a lie.
"When they came and told me he was gone, oh my God, it just crushed me," Hawthorne said. "There was actual pain in my heart.
It felt like someone was in there just ripping it apart."
When her son's first enlistment was nearing an end, before the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, Hawthorne said he decided to re-enlist, partly because the signing bonus of more than $10,000 would help pay his bills. At the time, he was facing $600 in monthly child support payments from his failed first marriage.
When he deployed to Iraq, his sister said, he had money saved and planned to go to college when he got out of the military in 2005.
Instead, he died in Iraq in 2004 when his tank overturned.
Hawthorne said the military gave her $4,000 for his funeral, but it wasn't enough to cover the $14,000 expense. The funeral home forgave the rest, and neighbors collected $400 to help her get by.
"You don't see anyone who has money putting their children into the military," she said. "I'm all for our soldiers. Without them our country wouldn't be where we are today, but this war just doesn't seem right. Like the Vietnam one. It's not right."
For a year after her son's death, Hawthorne took a chair to the cemetery nearly every day, sat next to his grave and talked quietly. Her vigil continues even now; the visits have slowed to once a week, but the pain sticks.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Casualties of War
Residents of Mologne House
The Hotel Aftermath
Inside Mologne House, the Survivors of War Wrestle With Military Bureaucracy and Personal Demons
By Anne Hull and Dana Priest
Monday, February 19, 2007
The guests of Mologne House have been blown up, shot, crushed and shaken, and now their convalescence takes place among the chandeliers and wingback chairs of the 200-room hotel on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Oil paintings hang in the lobby of this strange outpost in the war on terrorism, where combat's urgency has been replaced by a trickling fountain in the garden courtyard. The maimed and the newly legless sit in wheelchairs next to a pond, watching goldfish turn lazily through the water.
But the wounded of Mologne House are still soldiers -- Hooah! -- so their lives are ruled by platoon sergeants. Each morning they must rise at dawn for formation, though many are half-snowed on pain meds and sleeping pills.
Mostly what the soldiers do together is wait: for appointments, evaluations, signatures and lost paperwork to be found. It's like another wife told Annette McLeod: "If Iraq don't kill you, Walter Reed will."
When a smooth-cheeked soldier with no legs orders a fried chicken dinner and two bottles of grape soda to go, a kitchen worker comes out to his wheelchair and gently places the Styrofoam container on his lap.
A scrawny young soldier sits alone in his wheelchair at a nearby table, his eyes closed and his chin dropped to his chest, an empty Corona bottle in front of him.
Those who aren't old enough to buy a drink at the bar huddle outside near a magnolia tree and smoke cigarettes. Wearing hoodies and furry bedroom slippers, they look like kids at summer camp who've crept out of their rooms, except some have empty pants legs or limbs pinned by medieval-looking hardware. Medication is a favorite topic.
"Dude, [expletive] Paxil saved my life."
"I been on methadone for a year, I'm tryin' to get off it."
"I didn't take my Seroquel last night and I had nightmares of charred bodies, burned crispy like campfire marshmallows."
Mologne House is afloat on a river of painkillers and antipsychotic drugs. One night, a strapping young infantryman loses it with a woman who is high on her son's painkillers. "Quit taking all the soldier medicine!" he screams.
Pill bottles clutter the nightstands: pills for depression or insomnia, to stop nightmares and pain, to calm the nerves.
Months roll by and life becomes a blue-and-gold hotel room where the bathroom mirror shows the naked disfigurement of war's ravages. There are toys in the lobby of Mologne House because children live here. Domestic disputes occur because wives or girlfriends have moved here. Financial tensions are palpable. After her husband's traumatic injury insurance policy came in, one wife cleared out with the money. Older National Guard members worry about the jobs they can no longer perform back home.
While Mologne House has a full bar, there is not one counselor or psychologist assigned there to assist soldiers and families in crisis -- an idea proposed by Walter Reed social workers but rejected by the military command that runs the post.
After a while, the bizarre becomes routine. On Friday nights, antiwar protesters stand outside the gates of Walter Reed holding signs that say "Love Troops, Hate War, Bring them Home Now." Inside the gates, doctors in white coats wait at the hospital entrance for the incoming bus full of newly wounded soldiers who've just landed at Andrews Air Force Base.
And set back from the gate, up on a hill, Mologne House, with a bowl of red apples on the front desk.
At Mologne House, the rooms empty and fill, empty and fill. The lobby chandelier glows and the bowl of red apples waits on the front desk. An announcement goes up for Texas Hold 'Em poker in the bar.
One cold night an exhausted mother with two suitcases tied together with rope shows up at the front desk and says, "I am here for my son." And so it begins.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Seven GOP Senators Who Voted Against Troop Surge
Bush's War, Soldiers' Familes, and Wounded Soldiers
Grandparents Raising Slain Soldiers' Children Are Denied A Government Benefit Intended to Sustain the Bereaved
By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2007; A01
Her daughter was killed by a bomb in Iraq. Eight months later, Susan Jaenke is both grief-stricken and strapped -- behind on her mortgage, backed up on her bills and shut out of the $100,000 government death benefit that her daughter thought she had left her.
The problem is that Jaenke is not a wife, not a husband, but instead grandmother to the 9-year-old her daughter left behind. "Grandparents," she said, "are forgotten in this."
For the Jaenkes and others like them, the toll of war can be especially complex: They face not only the anguish of losing a son or daughter but also the emotional, legal and financial difficulties of putting the pieces back together for a grandchild.
Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility
By Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Sunday, February 18, 2007; A01
Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.
This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.
Friday, February 16, 2007
GOP Defections - Deserting A Sinking Ship
Iraq * Creationists in Kansas * Wine, Women, Spooks, Legislators and Lobbyists
Paul Kane in The Washington Post
From the moderate suburbs of Delaware to the rural, conservative valleys of eastern Tennessee, House Republican opponents of President Bush's latest Iraq war plan cut across the GOP's ideological and regional spectrum.
Numbering a dozen or more, these House Republicans have emerged as some of the most prominent opponents of the plan to increase troop presence in Iraq. They admit to being a ragtag band, with no scheduled meetings and little political cohesion.
"We aren't organized at all," said Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), whose district includes suburbs of the Twin Cities. "It's about as diverse a group as is possible."
Borrowing time from House Democrats, these Republicans have gone to the floor to condemn the latest attempt at stabilizing Iraq, which they see as mired in civil war, and have vowed to support a Democratic-driven resolution condemning the buildup.
The Land of Oz
Creationists defeated in Kansas school vote on science teaching
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Thursday February 15, 2007
School authorities in the American heartland state of Kansas have delivered a rebuff to subscribers to the notion of intelligent design by voting to banish language challenging evolution from new science guidelines.
In a 6-4 vote on Tuesday night, the Kansas state board of education deleted language from teaching guidelines that challenged the validity of evolutionary theory, and approved new phrasing in line with mainstream science.
It was seen as a victory for a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, science educators and parents who had fought for two years to overturn the earlier guidelines.
The decision is the latest in a string of defeats for proponents of creationism, and its modern variant, intelligent design. It reverses the decision taken by the same authorities two years ago to include language undermining Darwinism - on the insistence of conservative parents and activists in the intelligent design movement.
Former Top CIA Official Indicted
Foggo Accused of Steering Contracts to GOP Fundraiser
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 14, 2007; A01
The CIA's former executive director and a defense contractor were indicted yesterday by a San Diego grand jury for allegedly corrupting the intelligence agency's contracts, marking one of the first criminal cases to reach into the CIA's clandestine operations in Europe and the Middle East.
Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, a longtime logistics officer who was the CIA's top administrator from November 2004 until last May, was accused of using his seniority and influence at a prior CIA job in Europe to steer business deals to his longtime friend Brent R. Wilkes, a California businessman and top Republican fundraiser.
The 11-count indictment states that Wilkes subsidized meals and lavish vacations for Foggo and his family in Washington, Hawaii and Scotland and promised to employ Foggo after his retirement from the CIA. It also accuses Foggo -- a former ethics official in two divisions at the CIA -- of improperly providing classified information to Wilkes about the CIA, his contracting competitors and "other matters."
The indictment is the latest development in a lengthy federal criminal probe into the dark side of a budget process known as "earmarking," in which lawmakers have directed federal contracts to favored designees who were either friends or campaign contributors. Last year the probe led to a prison sentence for one lawmaker, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham -- who, the government said yesterday, used two prostitutes financed by Wilkes.
While the probe has threatened to sweep in other members of Congress, some uncertainty surrounds it. A key U.S. attorney involved in it -- Carol C. Lam in San Diego -- has been fired by the administration for unspecified "performance-related" deficiencies along with a handful of other federal prosecutors. Lam oversaw the Foggo investigation and is to leave Thursday. The head of the local FBI field office praised Lam's performance and said her firing appeared to be "political," an accusation that the Justice Department has denied.
The case involving Foggo is unusual because all of the contracts at issue are classified. But the indictment makes it clear that the agency was allegedly bilked when it wound up paying 60 percent more than it should have for water supplied by a company affiliated with Wilkes to CIA outposts in Afghanistan and northern Iraq.
The evidence against Foggo included e-mails in which he promised to introduce a Wilkes subordinate to his CIA colleagues and helped arrange advance payments on a $1.69 million contract. Even after arriving at CIA headquarters as a top appointee of then-Director Porter J. Goss, he continued to press for more rapid payments to a Wilkes-affiliated firm identified in the indictment as "Shell Company No. 1," earning Wilkes's thanks, the document states.
It formally charges the two men -- who witnesses have said periodically played poker with lawmakers and others in a rented suite at the Watergate Hotel -- with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and money laundering.
Foggo's attorney, Mark MacDougall, said through an aide yesterday that he had no comment on the indictment. A lawyer previously retained by Foggo, William G. Hundley, had argued that Foggo had no idea the contracts were benefiting Wilkes, but the indictment says that Foggo deliberately "concealed material facts" from his colleagues at the CIA and used "shell companies and straw men" to hide their role in the contracts.
Wilkes's attorney, Mark J. Geragos, called the indictment "unfortunate" and said "we welcome the chance to refute these accusations." He declined to elaborate.
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, who replaced Goss last May, told employees in a memo yesterday that they should not talk about the matter "out of respect for the legal proceedings that are underway, and to ensure the protection of classified information and agency equities." Hayden noted that the allegations against Foggo first surfaced inside the CIA, which he said cooperated closely with the Justice Department on the probe.
Additional legal troubles yesterday enveloped Wilkes, a Republican Party "Pioneer" who raised more than $100,000 for President Bush's reelection in 2004 and donated -- in concert with his business colleagues -- $656,396 to 64 other Republican lawmakers and the national Republican Party committees in Washington from 1995 through the third quarter of 2005.
A second 25-count indictment disclosed yesterday in San Diego alleges that Wilkes separately obtained a stream of Defense Department contracts from 1996 to 2004 by providing then-Rep. Cunningham with cash and other bribes valued at more than $700,000.
Cunningham pleaded guilty in 2005 to taking bribes worth more than $1 million from Mitchell Wade, a business associate of Wilkes, and drew an eight-year prison sentence. But the second Wilkes indictment contains new details of how Wade and Wilkes allegedly worked together to profit from contracts and how Cunningham -- sitting on the Appropriations defense subcommittee -- browbeat defense officials on their behalf.
It said that Wilkes paid a company called Shirlington Limousine to chauffeur Cunningham around Washington. He also allegedly financed lavish meals and vacations for Cunningham, flew him around on the company jet, bought him tickets to the Super Bowl, and paid for two prostitutes for the lawmaker on Aug. 15 and 16, 2003, at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in Hawaii.
"Pursuant to Cunningham's request," the indictment states, "Wilkes arranged for the Congressman to get a different prostitute for the second evening."
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
America - From "Most Beloved to Most Hated" Country
Is the Pendulum Ready to Swing ? * CIA's Torture Flights
Once the most beloved country in the world, the US is now the most hated
The American swagger has become bombast, the cocky GI a bully. But with luck the pendulum may be ready to swing back
February 14, 2007
'Whisper of how I'm yearning", sang George M Cohan in one of the great American songs of nostalgia, "to mingle with the old time throng". Well, I'm yearning too, not for the gang at 42nd Street exactly, but for the America that Cohan was indirectly hymning - for the Idea of America, with a capital I, which once made the United States not just the most potent of all the nations but genuinely the most liked.
Perhaps, with a future new president already champing at the bit, we are about to witness its rebirth. As a foreigner I am immune to the rivalries or seductions of American party politics, but I have loved the old place for 60 years, and I simply pray for an American leader to give us back its baraka, as the Arabs say - nothing to do with religion or economics or power or even ideology, but the gift of being at once blessed and blessing.
Of course nobody can claim that the old dreams of America were ever perfectly fulfilled. They often let us down. They were betrayed by the national reputations for crime, corruption, racism and rampant materialism. Not all the presidents, God knows, were icons of virtue or even of glamour, and the benevolent Uncle Sam of the old cartoonists was more often interpreted, around the world, as a fat moron in horn-rimmed spectacles, chewing a cigar. Nobody's perfect, still less any republic.
But I think it is true that only in our time has the American Idea lost its baraka. A generation or two ago, most of us, wherever we lived, loved the generous self-satisfaction of it, if not in the general, at least in the particular. The GI was not then a sort of goggled monster in padded armour, but a cheerful fellow chatting up the girls and distributing candy not as a matter of policy, but out of plain goodwill - everyone's friendly guy next door. To millions of radio listeners around the world, the Voice of America was a voice of decency, and one could watch the lachrymose patriotic rituals of America - the hand on heart, the misty-eyed salute to the flag - with more affection than irony.
For myself, I responded to them all too sentimentally. Like Walt Whitman before me, I heard America sing! I relished the hackneyed old lyrics - Mine eyes have seen the glory, Thy word our law, Thy paths our chosen way, Oe'r the land of the free and the home of the brave, God bless America, land that I love ... Most of the words were flaccid, many of the tunes were vulgar, but as I heard them I saw always in my mind's eye, as Whitman did, all the glorious space, grandeur and opportunity that was America, Manhattan to LA. Sea, in fact, to shining sea.
In those days we did not think of American evangelists as prophets of political extremism - they seemed more akin to the homely convictions of plantation or village chapel than to the machinations of neocons. We bridled rather at the American assumption that the US of A had been the only true victor of the second world war, but most of us did not very deeply resent the happy swagger of the legend and danced gratefully enough to the American rhythms of the time. We thought it all seemed essentially innocent.
Innocent! Dear God! Half a century, and nobody thinks that now. Far from being the most beloved country on earth, today the US is the most thoroughly detested. The rot really started to set in, in my view, with Abraham Lincoln, one of the most admirable men who ever lived. He it was who saw in American glory the duty of a mission. America, he declared, was the last best hope of earth. The pursuit of happiness was not its national vocation, but the example of democracy. The more like the United States the world became, the better the world would be. No statesman was ever more sincere or kindly in his beliefs, but poor old Abe would be horrified to see how his interpretation of destiny has gone sour.
For the missionary instinct, which impelled Americans into so many noble policies, was to be perverted by power. Pace Lincoln, America was not necessarily the last best hope of mankind, and the knowledge that it has possessed unchallengable powers of interference has distorted its attitude to the world and cruelly damaged its image in return.
Isolationism was not a very estimable stance, but interfereism is not much more attractive. In humanity's eye, the swagger has become bombast and the cocky GI has become a bully.
But there is a difference between image and idea. One is a projection, the other an absolute. Public relations people, tabloid newspapers, spin doctors and entertainers can all fiddle with the image of America, but the idea of it remains constant - overlaid, perhaps, dormant, even forgotten, but always there. Everyone who visits America feels it - every package tourist returns to tell their neighbours how nice the Americans are, how different from their reputation. And what they are all sensing, half-hidden behind the image of America, is the presence of the Idea, with a capital I.
When I first went to the United States in the 1950s, I impertinently remarked to an archetypal guru, Chief Justice Felix Frankfurter, that what with Senator McCarthy and southern segregation, and civic corruption everywhere, I was not much impressed by the condition of America. Be patient, said the sage. America is like a pendulum, swinging from good to bad, from bad to good, and before long it will swing again.
He was right, and with luck, perhaps the pendulum is almost ready to swing back once more. Whatever we may think in our moments of despair, America is still a marvellous and lovable country whose patriotism can still be touching: try restraining a tear when you listen to Irving Berlin's setting of the words on the Statue of Liberty - the ultimate American text, with music by the emblematic American immigrant. The Great Republic is great still, full still of decent clever people trying to be good. Even now, it is as free as can be expected, and its democracy is fundamentally honest and robust. It laughs at itself, criticises itself and dislikes itself just as much as we do.
All it needs is someone with a key to unlock that Idea again, and I hope it will be that next president, whoever it is, even now gearing up for the election. Please God, may it be a poetic president. Inspiration has been the true engine of American success, and all its greatest presidents have been people with a divine spark. The dullards may have been efficient, respected or influential, but the Jeffersons and the Roosevelts, the Lincolns and the Kennedys have all been, in their different ways, artists.
So may it be a president with the key of original inspiration who can release the Idea from its occlusion. All the ingredients are still there, after all - the kindness, the imagination, the merriment, the will, the talent, the energy, the goddam orneriness, the plain goodness - all there waiting to burst out once more and bring us back our America, blessed and blessing too.
"Give our regards to old Broadway", sang Cohan, "And say that I'll be there ere long." So will we, so will we, just as soon as America comes home.
EU Condemns CIA's Torture Flights
EU endorses damning report on CIA
The European parliament has approved a damning report on secret CIA flights, condemning member states which had colluded in the operations.
The UK, Germany and Italy were among 14 states which allowed the US to forcibly remove terror suspects, MEPs said.
The EU parliament voted to accept a resolution condemning member states which accepted or ignored the practice.
The EU report said the US had operated 1,200 flights, flying suspects on to states where they could face torture.
The report was adopted by a large majority, with 382 MEPs voting in favour, 256 against and 74 abstaining.
Monday, February 12, 2007
"This Debate Will be Different" - You Can Say that Again
GOP Scrambling * In Portugal, Prime Minister Socrates Does the Right Thing
A sign of the times. The self-described Decider is no longer in control. In the Senate, the passage of a strong, non-binding resolution about Iraq and the troop surge is far from a done deal. However, things are moving quite differently in the House. "Three days of intense debate over the Iraq war begins in the House today, with Democrats planning to propose a narrowly worded rebuke of President Bush's troop buildup and Republicans girding for broad defections on their side."
One House Republican close to the GOP leadership spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be blunt. "This next week is going to be a very tough one for us to get through," he said. "The Democrats know that. We can sit back and hope they overplay their hand, but I don't think they will."
Although the order of speakers has not yet been set, Democrats and Republicans are vying for the most desired slots at a time when attention in Washington will focus on the House. Lawmakers from the West Coast do not want to speak early in the morning, when their constituents are asleep; those from the East do not want to appear at 11:25 p.m. And nearly everyone wants to talk in time to make the evening news and beat the daily newspapers' deadlines.
The last time an Iraq resolution came before the House was in June, when the Republicans controlled Congress. After two days of largely partisan debate, the House easily approved a measure declaring that the United States must complete "the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq," without setting "an arbitrary date for the withdrawal" of troops. Forty-two Democrats bucked their leadership to join a virtually united GOP.
But this debate will be different, lawmakers from both parties agree.
For Women of Portugal, the Right to Choose
LISBON (Reuters) - Catholic Portugal's decision to join most European countries and allow abortions has shaken the country's conservative establishment but was hailed by liberals as a victory for modernity.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates said on Sunday he would use his majority in parliament to legalize abortion after a referendum on the issue failed because too few people turned out to vote. But of those who did vote, the majority approved.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
By Hook Or By Crook, They Wanted War
The War Lovers * Iran Next?
February 10, 2007
The Build-a-War Workshop
It took far too long, but a report by the Pentagon inspector general has finally confirmed that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s do-it-yourself intelligence office cooked up a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda to help justify an unjustifiable war.
The report said the team headed by Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, developed “alternative” assessments of intelligence on Iraq that contradicted the intelligence community and drew conclusions “that were not supported by the available intelligence.” Mr. Feith certainly knew the Central Intelligence Agency would cry foul, so he hid his findings from the C.I.A. Then Vice President Dick Cheney used them as proof of cloak-and-dagger meetings that never happened, long-term conspiracies between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden that didn’t exist, and — most unforgivable — “possible Iraqi coordination” on the 9/11 attacks, which no serious intelligence analyst believed.
The inspector general did not recommend criminal charges against Mr. Feith because Mr. Rumsfeld or his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, approved their subordinate’s “inappropriate” operations. The renegade intelligence buff said he was relieved.
We’re sure he was. But there is no comfort in knowing that his dirty work was approved by his bosses. All that does is add to evidence that the Bush administration knowingly and repeatedly misled Americans about the intelligence on Iraq.
To understand this twisted tale, it is important to recall how Mr. Feith got into the creative writing business. Top administration officials, especially Mr. Cheney, had long been furious at the C.I.A. for refusing to confirm the delusion about a grand Iraqi terrorist conspiracy, something the Republican right had nursed for years. Their frustration only grew after 9/11 and the C.I.A. still refused to buy these theories.
Mr. Wolfowitz would feverishly sketch out charts showing how this Iraqi knew that Iraqi, who was connected through six more degrees of separation to terrorist attacks, all the way back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
But the C.I.A. kept saying there was no reliable intelligence about an Iraq-Qaeda link. So Mr. Feith was sent to review the reports and come back with the answers Mr. Cheney wanted. The inspector general’s report said Mr. Feith’ s team gave a September 2002 briefing at the White House on the alleged Iraq-Qaeda connection that had not been vetted by the intelligence community (the director of central intelligence was pointedly not told it was happening) and “was not fully supported by the available intelligence.”
The false information included a meeting in Prague in April 2001 between an Iraqi official and Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 pilots. It never happened. But Mr. Feith’s report said it did, and Mr. Cheney will still not admit that the story is false.
In a statement released yesterday, Senator Carl Levin, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has been dogged in pursuit of the truth about the Iraqi intelligence, noted that the cooked-up Feith briefing had been leaked to the conservative Weekly Standard magazine so Mr. Cheney could quote it as the “best source” of information about the supposed Iraq-Qaeda link.
The Pentagon report is one step in a long-delayed effort to figure out how the intelligence on Iraq was so badly twisted — and by whom. That work should have been finished before the 2004 elections, and it would have been if Pat Roberts, the obedient Republican who ran the Senate Intelligence Committee, had not helped the White House drag it out and load it in ways that would obscure the truth.
It is now up to Mr. Levin and Senator Jay Rockefeller, the current head of the intelligence panel, to give Americans the answers. Mr. Levin’s desire to have the entire inspector general’s report on the Feith scheme declassified is a good place to start. But it will be up to Mr. Rockefeller to finally determine how old, inconclusive, unsubstantiated and false intelligence was transformed into fresh, reliable and definitive reports — and then used by Mr. Bush and other top officials to drag the country into a disastrous and unnecessary war.
Retired Lt. General William F. Odom, who had served as director of the National Security Agency under President Ronald Reagan, commented in the Washington Post:
Victory is not an Option
- The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.
- Its gloomy implications -- hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in rubbery language that cannot soften its impact -- put the intelligence community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.
Death from the Sky for Iranians
Now the neocons are planning a bloodless, surgical, air war against Iran. Civilian deaths will be chalked off as collateral damage.
The Guardian reports: "Despite denials, Pentagon plans for possible attack on nuclear sites are well advanced"
US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.
The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.
Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. The state department and the Pentagon are opposed, as are Democratic congressmen and the overwhelming majority of Republicans. The sources said Mr Bush had not yet made a decision. The Bush administration insists the military build-up is not offensive but aimed at containing Iran and forcing it to make diplomatic concessions. The aim is to persuade Tehran to curb its suspect nuclear weapons programme and abandon ambitions for regional expansion.
Last month Mr Bush ordered a second battle group led by the aircraft carrier USS John Stennis to the Gulf in support of the USS Eisenhower. The USS Stennis is due to arrive within the next 10 days. Extra US Patriot missiles have been sent to the region, as well as more minesweepers, in anticipation of Iranian retaliatory action.
In another sign that preparations are under way, Mr Bush has ordered oil reserves to be stockpiled.
The danger is that the build-up could spark an accidental war. Iranian officials said on Thursday that they had tested missiles capable of hitting warships in the Gulf.
One of the main driving forces behind war, apart from the vice-president's office, is the AEI, headquarters of the neo-conservatives. A member of the AEI coined the slogan "axis of evil" that originally lumped Iran in with Iraq and North Korea. Its influence on the White House appeared to be in decline last year amid endless bad news from Iraq, for which it had been a cheerleader. But in the face of opposition from Congress, the Pentagon and state department, Mr Bush opted last month for an AEI plan to send more troops to Iraq. Will he support calls from within the AEI for a strike on Iran?
Josh Muravchik, a Middle East specialist at the AEI, is among its most vocal supporters of such a strike.
"I do not think anyone in the US is talking about invasion. We have been chastened by the experience of Iraq, even a hawk like myself." But an air strike was another matter. The danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon "is not just that it might use it out of the blue but as a shield to do all sorts of mischief. I do not believe there will be any way to stop this happening other than physical force."
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Coal Mine Creek, Winter 2007
For years I drove to Portola Valley, parked right across the trailhead for Coal Mine Creek but paid no attention to it. Took the trail to Windy Hill instead.