30 June 2005

Paying the military to spy on us


It appears that the California National Guard, which is supported by state tax dollars, has been secretly spying on Californians engaged in peaceful protest led by mothers of those killed in the war! I personally feel complete outrage when I read this story. The Guard Unit, in an attempt to play this down, has talked about how this spying was limited. But who gives a damn about such assurances. We don't pay our government to spy on us.

I'm fascinated by the endless efforts of those in the current administration to collect information on anyone voicing political dissent--particularly, info about those on the left. All the terrorist incidents in the U.S. that I can remember have involved either rightwing nut-cases or foreign militants who were, at some point, at least partially trained by the CIA or a U.S. ally. And yet someone somewhere has determined that the greatest threat to the nation is a dozen or so aged protesters holding antiwar signs in front of the Californian capitol. The fact of the matter is that these protesters aren't a threat to us (the American people) but are a threat to the regime in Washington. I ask all of you once more: WHY ARE OUR TAX DOLLARS BEING SPENT TO PAY THE MILITARY TO SPY ON US?

Daily Kos's reaction is right on target:

WTF? really, what else is there to say? How can these people justify spying on the mothers of the soldiers who died fighting your war of choice? . . . If they really want someone to spy on spy on me, seriously, follow me around, and see all the stuff I say bad about these fuckers, I say plenty. But please leave the people alone whose families have been torn apart by a war of choice. I will take on the burden, I know I can't stop you from spying, so just redirect your spying, I'm sure a few more people will step up to volunteer, why? Because we are liberals and we like to suffer for a good cause, it's something in the water in the blue states. Seriously folks, I joke because if I didn't I'd be climbing the tower with a rifle. This is truly just fucked up, and it needs to be exposed and stopped immediately.

The San Jose Mercury News story (as printed in the Montery Herald, emphasis added):

SACRAMENTO - Three decades after aggressive military spying on Americans created a national furor, California's National Guard has quietly set up a special intelligence unit that has been given ''broad authority'' to monitor, analyze and distribute information on potential terrorist threats, the Mercury News has learned.
Known as the Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence Fusion program, the project is part of an expanding nationwide effort to better integrate military intelligence into global anti-terrorism initiatives.

Although Guard officials said the new unit would not collect information on American citizens, top National Guard officials have already been involved in tracking at least one recent Mother's Day anti-war rally organized by families of slain American soldiers, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News.

Creation of California's intelligence unit is already raising concerns for civil libertarians who point to a string of abuses in the 1960s and 1970s when the military collected information on more than 100,000 Americans, infiltrated church youth groups, posed as reporters to interview activists, monitored peaceful protests and even attended an elementary school Halloween party in search of a ''dissident.''

''The National Guard doesn't need to do this,'' said Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer who first exposed the military's domestic spying operations in 1970. ''Its job is not to investigate individuals, but to clear streets, protect facilities and help first responders.''

Top Guard officers said that they have no intentions of breaking long-established rules barring the military from gathering information on Americans and that the evolving program is meant to help California and the nation thwart terrorist attacks.

''We do not do any type of surveillance or human intelligence or mixing with crowds,'' said Lt. Col. Stan Zezotarski. ''The National Guard does not operate in that way. We have always had a policy where we respect the rights of citizens.''

Forming the unit

Generally, the National Guard is called upon to help the state deal with natural disasters and riots. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put major strains on the military, which has started drawing more on Guard soldiers to fight overseas. And now Guard units are being integrated into anti-terrorism efforts in the United States.

The intelligence unit was quietly established last year by Major Gen. Thomas Eres, the National Guard leader who was forced by the Schwarzenegger administration to retire earlier this month. Eres left amid allegations that he failed to prove his shooting skills for a trip to Iraq, set up a questionable military flight for a Republican friend's political group, and improperly used money meant to stem the flow of drugs for anti-terrorism programs.

Just before Eres retired, the Guard hired its first director for the intelligence unit who has ''broad authority'' and is expected to ''exercise a high degree of independent judgment and discretion,'' according to the job description obtained by the Mercury News.

''However, highly controversial or precedent-setting decisions, directives and policies are discussed with the appropriate senior leadership prior to implementation,'' the description states.

Col. Robert J. O'Neill, a veteran intelligence officer who started last week as director of the new program, said he envisions his team as being a one-stop shop for local, state and national law enforcement to share information. Intelligence officers will have access to sensitive national security information that they can analyze and potentially share with state and local law enforcement, he said.

''We are trying to integrate into their systems and bring them information that they don't have,'' O'Neill said.
He said his unit would not cross any legal lines into spying on Americans. But the Guard's role in monitoring at least one demonstration has already alarmed civil libertarians.

Tracking the rally

Last month, a group of anti-war activists, including the parents of American soldiers killed in Iraq, held a small Mother's Day rally at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial near the California Capitol to call for the return of all National Guard troops by Labor Day.

Three days before the rally, as a courtesy to the military, an aide in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's press office alerted the Guard to the event, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News. The information was passed up the chain of command directly to Eres and other top Guard officials including Col. Jeff Davis, who oversees O'Neill's operation. ''Sir,'' Guard Chief-of-Staff Col. John Moorman wrote in the e-mail to Eres that was copied to Davis and other top commanders. ''Information you wanted on Sunday's demonstration at the Capitol.'' In response, Davis indicated that Guard intelligence officers were tracking the rally.

''Thanks,'' Davis wrote. ''Forwarding same to our Intell. folks who continue to monitor.''

That rainy Sunday, the protest organized by Gold Star Families for Peace, Raging Grannies and CodePink, drew about three-dozen supporters. Guard spokesman Zezotarksi said that the monitoring did not involve anything more than keeping tabs on the protest through the media and that no one went to observe the demonstration.
But he said the military would be ''negligent'' in not tracking such anti-war rallies in the event that they disintegrate into a riot that could prompt the governor to call out troops.

''It's nothing subversive,'' said Zezotarksi. ''Because who knows who could infiltrate that type of group and try to stir something up? After all, we live in the age of terrorism, so who knows?''

Civil libertarians scoffed at such defenses.

''That's ludicrous,'' said Joseph Onek, a former Carter and Clinton administration official who now heads the Liberty and Security Initiative for The Constitution Project at Georgetown University. ''That's not what the American people expect its military to be doing.''

"Mission creep"

Pyle, the Army officer who exposed the abuses in the 1970s and is now a professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, said the evolving intelligence programs are susceptible to dangerous ''mission creep'' that led to overaggressive tactics during the Vietnam War.

Since the Civil War, the United States has tried to create firm barriers preventing the military from getting involved in domestic issues. The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prevents the U.S. military from taking part in domestic law enforcement.

The Army got involved with collecting intelligence on Americans in the 1960s when it was called in to deal with civil rights protests and riots. Its role expanded as the decade wore on and the anti-Vietnam War movement grew more confrontational.

At the time, according to congressional records, the military collected files on more than 100,000 Americans and embraced aggressive tactics to try to undermine anti-war groups, including attending a Halloween party for kids and infiltrating church youth groups.

In response, Congress and the military set up new rules to strictly regulate military spying in the United States.
But Sept. 11 raised concerns that the controls had gone too far. Since then, the FBI and military have been expanding their intelligence operations.

Intelligence centers

The notion of creating intelligence ''fusion centers'' is slowly gaining momentum. Massachusetts is setting up one, but it is housed in the State Police headquarters, not its National Guard.

Currently, federal law allows the U.S. military to gather information on Americans under exceptionally tight restrictions. The intelligence must be essential to its mission, publicly available or related to national security issues.

The Pentagon has created a new operation in Colorado known as the Northern Command to help protect the nation from terrorist attacks. Its leader, Gen. Ralph Eberhart, raised some concerns among civil libertarians last year after telling a National Guard group that ''we can't let culture and the way we've always done it stand in the way'' of gathering intelligence.

Last year, the U.S. military came under fire after it was reported that two Army lawyers in civilian clothes attended a forum on sexism in Islam and later demanded a roster of attendees, along with a videotape of the conference, after being questioned by three Middle Eastern men during the event.

Army officials said the attorneys had ''exceeded their authority'' and ordered a refresher course for agents.

The smell of napalm

It has come to light that the U.S. has used not only used firebombs in Iraq but has then lied about the use to British officials. Common Dreams provides the details to the story (emphasis added):

Despite persistent rumors of injuries among Iraqis consistent with the use of incendiary weapons such as napalm, Adam Ingram, the Defense minister, assured Labour MPs in January that US forces had not used a new generation of incendiary weapons, codenamed MK77, in Iraq. But Mr Ingram admitted to the Labour MP Harry Cohen in a private letter obtained by The Independent that he had inadvertently misled Parliament because he had been misinformed by the US. "The US confirmed to my officials that they had not used MK77s in Iraq at any time and this was the basis of my response to you," he told Mr Cohen. "I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position." Mr Ingram said 30 MK77 firebombs were used by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the invasion of Iraq between 31 March and 2 April 2003. They were used against military targets "away from civilian targets", he said. This avoids breaching the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which permits their use only against military targets. Britain, which has no stockpiles of the weapons, ratified the convention, but the US did not. The confirmation that US officials misled British ministers led to new questions last night about the value of the latest assurances by the US. Mr Cohen said there were rumors that the firebombs were used in the US assault on the insurgent stronghold in Fallujah last year, claims denied by the US. He is tabling more questions seeking assurances that the weapons were not used against civilians.

Mike Whitney, on Z-Net, discusses the U.S. media's strange silence on this story:

Two weeks ago the UK Independent ran an article which confirmed that the US had “lied to Britain over the use of napalm in Iraq”. (6-17-05) Since then, not one American newspaper or TV station has picked up the story even though the Pentagon has verified the claims. This is the extent to which the American “free press” is yoked to the center of power in Washington. As we’ve seen with the Downing Street memo, (which was reluctantly reported 5 weeks after it appeared in the British press) the air-tight American media ignores any story that doesn’t embrace their collective support for the war. The prospect that the US military is using “universally reviled” weapons runs counter to the media-generated narrative that the war was motivated by humanitarian concerns (to topple a brutal dictator) as well as to eliminate the elusive WMDs. We can now say with certainty that the only WMDs in Iraq were those that were introduced by foreign invaders from the US who have used them to subjugate the indigenous people.

Afghanistan: Downing of chopper

In the most recent blow to U.S. operations, the U.S. lost 17 troops (Navy SEALs?) who were aboard a special operations helicopter that was downed by hostile fire to the west of Asadabad. The article claims that the Afghan insurgency is now widening rather than winding down and may soon reach Iraqi levels of intensity. A number of bloggers are discussing the significance and implications of the incident.

The Betamax Guillotine suggests the shooting may be from the Chechen playbook:

While it's impossible to tell what happened at this early stage (and it may be impossible to tell what happened from CENTCOM's after-action report), this sounds like it could very well be a strategy straight out of the playbook of the Chechen rebels: Ambush and pin down ground force away from artillery support and in bad weather conditions (to lessen effectiveness of air support), hug ground force to lower probability of aerial assault both with the end goal being to draw in helicopters and shoot them down. The Chechens (and the Afghans mujaheddin before them) have used similar tactics against the Russians.

The Left Coaster wonders why the military, with its modern equipment, has been unable to tract the aircraft and provide a report on who was aboard:

Every family of every person serving in Afhganistan instantly worried and is still worried sick this very second about their loved ones. It’s been an extremely difficult 19 hours for them. Please tell us the fate of our service people on that helicopter now. After the treatment Pat Tillman got I simply assume the military lies when it feels it needs to, and with the timing of the Chimperor’s speech yesterday I’m positive we’re being lied to—again.

Rubicon places the crash in a wider perspective:

The problem is not Iraq. The problem is not Afghanistan. The problem is empire. The care and nourishment of the US empire requires soldiers stationed around the globe—as of 2001, about 475,000 people at 725 bases from Iceland to Australia . . . It's time to bring the troops home, all of them. Bring them home from Germany and Japan, from Iceland and Australia, from Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not need an empire—and if we insist on maintaining one, the blowback will eventually be truly catastrophic.

29 June 2005

Support dwindling

Cut to the Chase has an excellent post on the recent poll showing dwindling support for the war.

Bloggers must drink, too



Having failed to make much money selling canned rants and derisive diatribes, Swerve Left has now launched its own brand of canned cow juice. The product line will begin with the politically nuetral Swerve but will later include, in its autumn line, Swerve Right (a sour cream that goes well with burnt meat) along with Swerve Left (an organic cream).

Fire from a burning bush



Yesterday I was interested in hearing the latest spin on Bush's speech so I turned to a U.S. propaganda . . . I mean, uh . . . news station. On Scarborough Country, the two people they chose two interview about Bush's speech were an active-duty soldier and a retired general. When asked a series of leading questions, the active-duty soldier nervously provided the "right" answers, as if being grilled before a promotion board. The retired general, after a couple of verbal jabs at Rumsfeld, also pretty much repeated the standard administration line. And then it was off to Aruba for the latest distraction--a story with no connection with the speech. Although the subtext was similar (Innocent white people are being killed by evil brown people) with the unspoken conclusion that something decisive (and hopefully violent) must be done! I really think news is dead in this country. So-called "news" has become a disjointed editorial that periodically interrupts advertisements. This is bad news. At least you'd expect the editorial writers to be entertaining. They aren't.

Since we can't rely on help from the clerks in the Ministry of Propaganda and Disinformation, we'll have to sort out the Bush speech on our own. The speech begins with the oft-repeated lines about how Shrub's War in Iraq is an essential part of the "War on Terror." We Americans are at this point so confused by the litany of excuses for attacking Iraq that we can't keep them straight. Was it WMDs or UN resolutions or attacks on sovereign nations or 9/11? Fortunately, we won't have to take a quiz at the end. The President's speech doesn't go into why Iraq has become so dangerous and such an ideal haven for terrorists. A thinking person might conclude that the current situation has something to do with the U.S. invasion of the country, but we aren't being forced to think, so as Ram Dass said, we should live in the moment.

In his speech, Bush kept referring to the tremendous support that the U.S. is receiving from Iraqis and the "international community." If there's so much support, one has to wonder why the occupation relies so heavily on U.S. troops and money. Isn't Bush being a bit loose with the logic? Are ten or twenty troops from some island somewhere a major contribution by the "international community"? If academic researchers were allowed to make the same sort of weak claims, economists would be blaming fluctuations in the U.S. housing market on the rising cost of vanilla in Madagascar.

Bush and others (e.g., Biden) have talked a lot about training Iraqis to defend their own country. I'm a bit skeptical about the idea that this is really the problem. If there were significant numbers of Iraqis wanting to put down the insurgency and defend the U.S. occupation, it would be happening. The Chinese Communists, after all, put together an invincible army out of ignorant peasants with pitch-forks. I'm sure these peasants all lacked training (not to mention, a steady supply of the latest high-tech weapons).

Bush at least had the sense to not push for higher troop levels. Even had he wanted to do so, there's the question of where the troops would come from. But more than that, the increased presence would strike many as an admission that things were going wrong. And there's one thing about being a scion from a wealthy and powerful family: being rich means never having so say you're sorry.

P.S. Rob's Blog has a good post on the speech, criticizing Bush's continued conflation of the 9/11 hijackers and Iraqi insurgents.

Think Progress had the following interesing observation: "On the same day President Bush will use the soldiers at Fort Bragg as a backdrop for his address on Iraq, conservatives in the House have voted to underfund veterans’ health care by at least $1 billion."

28 June 2005

Transcript of President Bush's speech

Speech given today (June 28, 2005)

Thank you and good evening. I am pleased to visit Fort Bragg, home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces. It is an honor to speak before you tonight. My greatest responsibility as President is to protect the American people, and that is your calling as well. I thank you for your service, your courage, and your sacrifice. I thank your families, who support you in your vital work. The soldiers and families of Fort Bragg have contributed mightily to our efforts to secure our country and promote peace. America is grateful and so is your Commander in Chief.The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. This war reached our shores on September 11, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us and the terrorists we face murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression by toppling governments, driving us out of the region and exporting terror. To achieve these aims, they have continued to kill in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali and elsewhere. The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent, and with a few hard blows they can force us to retreat. They are mistaken. After September 11, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will take the fight to the enemy. We will defend our freedom. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq, who is also senior commander at this base, General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said, "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us." Our mission in Iraq is clear. We are hunting down the terrorists. We are helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We are advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren. The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country. And tonight I will explain the reasons why. Some of the violence you see in Iraq is being carried out by ruthless killers who are converging on Iraq to fight the advance of peace and freedom. Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and other nations. They are making common cause with criminal elements, Iraqi insurgents and remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime who want to restore the old order. They fight because they know that the survival of their hateful ideology is at stake. They know that as freedom takes root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty as well. And when the Middle East grows in democracy, prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world. Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Hear the words of Osama Bin Laden: "This Third World War is raging" in Iraq. "The whole world is watching this war." He says it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation." The terrorists know that the outcome will leave them emboldened or defeated. So they are waging a campaign of murder and destruction. And there is no limit to the innocent lives they are willing to take. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who exploded car bombs along a busy shopping street in Baghdad, including one outside a mosque. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who sent a suicide bomber to a teaching hospital in Mosul. And we see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who behead civilian hostages and broadcast their atrocities for the world to see.

These are savage acts of violence but they have not brought the terrorists any closer to achieving their strategic objectives. The terrorists, both foreign and Iraqi, failed to stop the transfer of sovereignty. They failed to break our coalition and force a mass withdrawal by our allies. They failed to incite an Iraqi civil war. They failed to prevent free elections. They failed to stop the formation of a democratic Iraqi government that represents all of Iraq's diverse population. And they failed to stop Iraqis from signing up in large numbers with the police forces and the army to defend their new democracy.The lesson of this experience is clear: The terrorists can kill the innocent but they cannot stop the advance of freedom. The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden. For the sake of our nation's security, this will not happen on my watch. A little over a year ago, I spoke to the nation and described our coalition's goal in Iraq. I said that America's mission in Iraq is to defeat an enemy and give strength to a friend, a free, representative government that is an ally in the war on terror and a beacon of hope in a part of the world that is desperate for reform. I outlined the steps we would take to achieve this goal: We would hand authority over to a sovereign Iraqi government; we would help Iraqis hold free elections by January 2005; we would continue helping Iraqis rebuild their nation's infrastructure and economy; we would encourage more international support for Iraq's democratic transition; and we would enable Iraqis to take increasing responsibility for their own security and stability.In the past year, we have made significant progress: One year ago today, we restored sovereignty to the Iraqi people. In January 2005, more than 8 million Iraqi men and women voted in elections that were free and fair and took place on time. We continued our efforts to help them rebuild their country.

Rebuilding a country after three decades of tyranny is hard and rebuilding while at war is even harder. Our progress has been uneven but progress is being made. We are improving roads and schools and health clinics and working to improve basic services like sanitation, electricity and water. And together with our allies, we will help the new Iraqi government deliver a better life for its citizens. In the past year, the international community has stepped forward with vital assistance. Some 30 nations have troops in Iraq, and many others are contributing nonmilitary assistance. The United Nations is in Iraq to help Iraqis write a constitution and conduct their next elections. Thus far, some 40 countries and three international organizations have pledged about 34 billion dollars in assistance for Iraqi reconstruction. More than 80 countries and international organizations recently came together in Brussels to coordinate their efforts to help Iraqis provide for their security and rebuild their country. And next month, donor countries will meet in Jordan to support Iraqi reconstruction.Whatever our differences in the past, the world understands that success in Iraq is critical to the security of all our nations. As German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said at the White House yesterday, "There can be no question a stable and democratic Iraq is in the vested interest of not just Germany, but also Europe." Finally, we have continued our efforts to equip and train Iraqi security forces. We have made gains in both the number and quality of those forces. Today Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions. Iraqi forces have fought bravely helping to capture terrorists and insurgents in Najaf, Samarra, Fallujah and Mosul. And in the past month, Iraqi forces have led a major anti-terrorist campaign in Baghdad called Operation Lightning, which has led to the capture of hundreds of suspected insurgents. Like free people everywhere, Iraqis want to be defended by their own countrymen, and we are helping Iraqis assume those duties. The progress in the past year has been significant and we have a clear path forward. To complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents. To complete the mission, we will prevent al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban _ a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends. And the best way to complete the mission is to help Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. So our strategy going forward has both a military track and a political track. The principal task of our military is to find and defeat the terrorists and that is why we are on the offense. And as we pursue the terrorists, our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own. Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

We have made progress but we have a lot more work to do. Today Iraqi security forces are at different levels of readiness. Some are capable of taking on the terrorists and insurgents by themselves. A larger number can plan and execute anti-terrorist operations with coalition support. The rest are forming and not yet ready to participate fully in security operations. Our task is to make the Iraqi units fully capable and independent. We are building up Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible, so they can assume the lead in defeating the terrorists and insurgents.Our coalition is devoting considerable resources and manpower to this critical task. Thousands of coalition troops are involved in the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces. NATO is establishing a military academy near Baghdad to train the next generation of Iraqi military leaders, and 17 nations are contributing troops to the NATO training mission. Iraqi army and police are being trained by personnel from Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland, Romania, Australia and the United Kingdom. Today dozens of nations are working toward a common objective: an Iraq that can defend itself, defeat its enemies and secure its freedom.To further prepare Iraqi forces to fight the enemy on their own, we are taking three new steps:First, we are partnering coalition units with Iraqi units. These coalition-Iraqi teams are conducting operations together in the field. These combined operations are giving Iraqis a chance to experience how the most professional armed forces in the world operate in combat.Second, we are embedding coalition "transition teams" inside Iraqi units. These teams are made up of coalition officers and noncommissioned officers who live, work and fight together with their Iraqi comrades. Under U.S. command, they are providing battlefield advice and assistance to Iraqi forces during combat operations. Between battles, they are assisting the Iraqis with important skills such as urban combat and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance techniques.Third, we are working with the Iraqi Ministries of Interior and Defense to improve their capabilities to coordinate anti-terrorist operations. We are helping them develop command and control structures. We are also providing them with civilian and military leadership training, so Iraq's new leaders can more effectively manage their forces in the fight against terror.The new Iraqi security forces are proving their courage every day. More than 2,000 members of the Iraqi security forces have given their lives in the line of duty. Thousands more have stepped forward and are now in training to serve their nation. With each engagement, Iraqi soldiers grow more battle-hardened and their officers grow more experienced. We have learned that Iraqis are courageous and that they need additional skills. That is why a major part of our mission is to train them so they can do the fighting and our troops can come home.I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces. Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed and not a day longer.

Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.The other critical element of our strategy is to help ensure that the hopes Iraqis expressed at the polls in January are translated into a secure democracy. The Iraqi people are emerging from decades of tyranny and oppression. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Shia and Kurds were brutally oppressed and the vast majority of Sunni Arabs were also denied their basic rights, while senior regime officials enjoyed the privileges of unchecked power. The challenge facing Iraqis today is to put this past behind them and come together to build a new Iraq that includes all its people.They are doing that by building the institutions of a free society, a society based on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and equal justice under law. The Iraqis have held free elections and established a transitional national assembly. The next step is to write a good constitution that enshrines these freedoms in permanent law. The assembly plans to expand its constitutional drafting committee to include more Sunni Arabs. Many Sunnis who opposed the January elections are now taking part in the democratic process, and that is essential to Iraq's future.After a constitution is written, the Iraqi people will have a chance to vote on it. If approved, Iraqis will go to the polls again to elect a new government under their new, permanent constitution. By taking these critical steps and meeting their deadlines, Iraqis will bind their multiethnic society together in a democracy that respects the will of the majority and protects minority rights.

As Iraqis grow confident that the democratic progress they are making is real and permanent, more will join the political process. And as Iraqis see that their military can protect them, more will step forward with vital intelligence to help defeat the enemies of a free Iraq. The combination of political and military reform will lay a solid foundation for a free and stable Iraq.As Iraqis make progress toward a free society, the effects are being felt beyond Iraq's borders. Before our coalition liberated Iraq, Libya was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons. Today the leader of Libya has given up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs. Across the broader Middle East, people are claiming their freedom. In the last few months, we have witnessed elections in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. These elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our strategy to defend ourselves and spread freedom is working. The rise of freedom in this vital region will eliminate the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder and make our nation safer.We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve. We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001. They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins. America and our friends are in a conflict that demands much of us. It demands the courage of our fighting men and women, it demands the steadfastness of our allies and it demands the perseverance of our citizens. We accept these burdens because we know what is at stake. We fight today because Iraq now carries the hope of freedom in a vital region of the world, and the rise of democracy will be the ultimate triumph over radicalism and terror. And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we will fight them there, we will fight them across the world and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won.America has done difficult work before. From our desperate fight for independence, to the darkest days of a Civil War, to the hard-fought battles against tyranny in the 20th century, there were many chances to lose our heart, our nerve or our way. But Americans have always held firm, because we have always believed in certain truths. We know that if evil is not confronted, it gains in strength and audacity and returns to strike us again. We know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat, it is courage. And we know that this great ideal of human freedom is entrusted to us in a special way and that the ideal of liberty is worth defending. In this time of testing, our troops can know: The American people are behind you. Next week, our nation has an opportunity to make sure that support is felt by every soldier, sailor, airman, Coast Guardsman and Marine at every outpost across the world. This Fourth of July, I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom by flying the flag, sending letters to our troops in the field or helping the military family down the street. The Department of Defense has set up a Web site, AmericaSupportsYou.mil. You can go there to learn about private efforts in your own community. At this time when we celebrate our freedom, let us stand with the men and women who defend us all.To the soldiers in this hall, and our servicemen and women across the globe: I thank you for your courage under fire and your service to our nation. I thank our military families; the burden of war falls especially hard on you. In this war, we have lost good men and women who left our shores to defend freedom and did not live to make the journey home. I have met with families grieving the loss of loved ones who were taken from us too soon. I have been inspired by their strength in the face of such great loss. We pray for the families. And the best way to honor the lives that have been given in this struggle is to complete the mission.I thank those of you who have re-enlisted in an hour when your country needs you. And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our Armed Forces. We live in freedom because every generation has produced patriots willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. Those who serve today are taking their rightful place among the greatest generations that have worn our nation's uniform. When the history of this period is written, the liberation of Afghanistan and the liberation of Iraq will be remembered as great turning points in the story of freedom. After September 11, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult and that we would prevail. Well, it has been difficult. And we are prevailing. Our enemies are brutal, but they are no match for the United States of America and they are no match for the men and women of the United States military. Thank you. And may God bless America.

Sacred back-problems

In a recent L.A. Times article Does God Have Backproblems too?, David Barash points out the inconsistencies of the Intelligent Design "theory" as it's currently put forward:

Current believers in . . . "intelligent design," argue . . . that only a designer could generate such complex, perfect wonders.

But, in fact, the living world is shot through with imperfection. Unless one wants to attribute either incompetence or sheer malevolence to such a designer, this imperfection — the manifold design flaws of life — points incontrovertibly to a natural, rather than a divine, process, one in which living things were not created de novo, but evolved. Consider the human body. Ask yourself, if you were designing the optimum exit for a fetus, would you engineer a route that passes through the narrow confines of the pelvic bones? Add to this the tragic reality that childbirth is not only painful in our species but downright dangerous and sometimes lethal, owing to a baby's head being too large for the mother's birth canal.

This design flaw is all the more dramatic because anyone glancing at a skeleton can see immediately that there is plenty of room for even the most stubbornly large-brained, misoriented fetus to be easily delivered anywhere in that vast, non-bony region below the ribs. (In fact, this is precisely the route obstetricians follow when performing a caesarean section.)

Why would evolution neglect the simple, straightforward solution? Because human beings are four-legged mammals by history. Our ancestors carried their spines parallel to the ground; it was only with our evolved upright posture that the pelvic girdle had to be rotated (and thereby narrowed), making a tight fit out of what for other mammals is nearly always an easy passage.

My feelings on this is the creationists want it both ways. They want to selectively ignore certain scientific facts while clothing their own conclusions in the authority of science. The enterprise is doomed from the outset: either you believe in science or you don't. If you do, you need to argue from observed facts instead of from pre-formed conclusions.

27 June 2005

The uncatholic church



My sister-in-law, who studies in France, is visiting our house right now, and since she's Catholic, she's been attending the mass each Sunday. After visiting a number of U.S. Catholic churches, she was struck by the presence of the U.S. flag next to the altar of all these churches, which claim to be "catholic." She says a flag in a Catholic Church is unimaginable in France.

Jesus did say, "Render into Caesar that which is Caesar's . . ." and this statement has engendered a lot of controversy, yet no matter how much we twist the wording, it doesn't seem to be advocating a marriage of church and state. Which makes me wonder why Christians are so eager to place the flag so close to the church altar. Has modern Christianity irrevocably conflated the state, the capitalist economic system, and religion? Is being Christian now just another marker of one's identity as a full-fledged member of a broadbased club? Of course, it isn't just Christians who are pandering to nationalist sentiments. In Thailand, we have Buddhist monks blessing tanks, and in the Middle East, Muslims fighting for a veiled world that never existed (and never will). But the American fundamentalist movement is perhaps even more ominous since it tries to capitalize on the convergence of religious zeal, military force, and economic power. Among the advantages that religion brings is its capacity to serve as a counter-balance to unwholesome human tendencies (e.g., instincts that drive us towards greed, violence, and ignorance). Can it still perform this function when married to the apparatus of the state? And is the American Catholic church, with flags waving next to the pulpit, a great vehicle guiding the faithful through darkness, or has the church completely ceased to be catholic?

King Bush knows what's best

In the Sunday Times, the American general who commanded allied air forces (Lieutenant-General Michael Moseley) during the Iraq war appears to have admitted in a briefing to American and British officers that coalition aircraft waged a secret air war against Iraq from the middle of 2002 (nine months before the invasion began). Why does this matter? I suppose it doesn't if Bush is King and we are his loyal subjects. The Honorable King has the right to unilaterally make war on whomever he so chooses--in a monarchy. Or in a fascist system.

Fortunately, more Americans are waking up from their patriotic slumber. Robert Steinback wrote an excellent piece recently about this that everyone should read. The article begins:

Do you want to know?

That's the only popular division that matters in the United States today: Those who want to determine once and for all if President Bush knowingly "fixed the facts'' regarding Iraq, thereby misleading Congress and the American people into supporting an unnecessary war, and those who will cover their ears and hum loudly in order to maintain their belief that Bush and his advisors remain above reproach.

You're in one camp or the other. Either you want to know if you've been lied to, or you don't.

In other words, there are still a few people around who are hopelessly mired in the past, still attached to the outmoded notion that the U.S. is a democracy in which the little people have access to key information about what the government is doing and why. Then there are those who look forward to a brighter, simpler future in which situations are presented in rustic sepia hues and King Bush and his corporate minions make decisions for the people, not disturbing them with awkward facts.

Scientology and Cruise

has put Scientology in the news once more. My only brush with this "religion" was when I back-translated part of a scientology book. The scientologist who hired me somehow forgot to pay me until I threatened to show up at his door with my trusty translator's baseball bat (a very necessary tool of the trade). As for the text, it struck me as a well-written condensed version of late-20th century pop psychology and self-help books.



As an example of this, we find the following description of the mind on the Scientology website (my summary):

The mind has two very distinct parts.

The analytical mind, which thinks, observes data, remembers it and resolves problems has a standard memory capacity with mental image pictures, and uses this capacity to make decisions that promote survival. When a person is fully conscious, his analytical mind is fully in command.

The reactive mind contains physical pain and painful emotions When the individual is “unconscious” in full or in part, the reactive mind cuts in. The reactive mind exactly records all the perceptions of negative traumatic incidents, including what happens or is said around the person. It also records all pain and stores this mental image pictures called engrams. These engrams are a complete recording.

Granted, the claims are a bit exagerrated, but essentially we're in the world of pop psychology. Paradoxically, while I think Scientology is simply an uninteresting watered-down version of Freud, I must applaud Tom Cruise's anti-drug comments during his recent argument with Matt Lauer. We all probably need to be a little bit more skeptical about the psychaitric community's current love affair with drugs. Even so, I'm not quite ready to replace my science journals with a copy of Dianetics.

Other blogments on Scientology can be found at Chortler (spoof), Roemerman on the Record, and Destined to be the Crazy Cat Woman.

The world's police force at work

I thought the following news was interesting:

An Italian judge on Friday ordered the arrests of 13 CIA officers for secretly transporting a Muslim preacher from Italy to Egypt as part of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts — a rare public objection to the practice by a close American ally. The Egyptian was spirited away in 2003, purportedly as part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval, subjecting them to possible torture . . . Judge Guido Salvini said Nasr's seizure violated Italian sovereignty.

Evidently, some of these countries in the old Europe don't realize that there's currently only one world hegemon and that the notion of "sovereignty," while quaint, is an anachronism.

26 June 2005

Production problems

Mark in Mexico insist that the Downing Street Memos "bruhaha" can be settled very quickly and very simply if the reporters would simply "produce the memos." If original copies of everything is the new standard of proof, why don't we hold the current administration to the same golden standard: produce the WMD; produce the proof of links between Saddam and Al Qaida; produce the mobile weapon labs; produce the intel reports (the "original memos") saying that Saddam was the greatest threat to the U.S.; produce the proof that Iraqi subcontracting was done fairly; and produce peace and stability in the Middle East.

Stop the Internet had the following to say about Mark in Mexico's demands:

Not one government official has challenged the authenticity of what the memo is saying. Here's what would have happened if these memos weren't available to anyone in a theoretical investigation of war crimes:
Step 1: Reporter patriotically releases documents purporting to be minutes from a War Council meeting in the UK. They say that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."Step 2: Tony Blair reads about this in the London Sunday Times. She changes her panties and calls her boyfriend, George.Step 3: George, after berating his girlfriend about her inability to keep her pets quiet, tells her to go back to her house and figure out how to discredit the released information.Step 4: Tony comes back and tells George that she has no way of doing so. She is physically abused before she goes to her mom's house and cries to her mom about how nice of a guy George is.


Mark, look at the Administration we have right now. The Vice President is a former CEO of a company receiving a no-bid contract in Iraq because they're the only ones that can get it done. The Secretary of State, formerly the National Security Advisor, has a goddamn oil tanker named after her by Chevron. Bush Jr. has been running oil companies (into the ground, I might add) before becoming governor of Texas and President of our threatened country.

Are you telling me these people are worthy of unfaltering trust? Are you equating the level of faith you place in those in power with the same expected when worshipping a God? Because right now, it sounds like we should completely ignore the facts until we get information that's impossible to reach until we stop ignoring the facts. This is not a partisan issue. This is the defense of our country from the inside, because it's under attack motherfucker. It's time for people to wake up and at least admit to themselves "Yes, it is a possibility that my government lied to me. It's possible that I let them." It's a tough revelation, but a relieving one when taken to heart...

Other blogments: Pajamahadeen, After Party, PSOTD, Winds of Change, Michelle Malkin, The Pete, Liberal Forum, Think Progress, Stoptheinternet, Suburban Guerrilla, SoCal Pundit, The Captain, Flopping Aces, Martini Republic, Red Harvest, Say Anything, RatherGate, Wizbang, All Things Conservative, Daly Thoughts, Phidoux, Open Source, MBLOG, Les Enfants Terrible, Information Upload, Progressive Justice, Ace of Spades, Joust the Facts, Another Day in the Empire, Loonatic Left, Pandagon, UNCoRRELATED, Strata-Sphere, The Anchoress, Point Five, Mudville Gazette, Basil's Blog.

25 June 2005

From the mouth of a drug addict...

Silent Lucidity has an excellent post on the latest forgery meme put out by R.L. to dismiss the Downing Street memo.

[Excerpt] If the DSM "doesn't say anything" or if it's "old news" then why would anyone go to all the trouble to forge them, knowing the kind of trouble that could bring to the Times, and knowing the serious personal consequences that would be the result of English Libel Law? Hmmm?

Multiple news organizations have authenticated the documents. Smith has stated publicly that he destroyed copies of the documents and returned the originals to protect the source. The originals were not destroyed as erroneously reported in a single AP report. There is good reason to destroy the copies, however, because copy machines can be traced by the pattern of ink dots sprayed on the paper during the copy process.

The Associated Press released excerpts from the memos, including the July 23 memo, on June 18. "The following are excerpts from material in secret Downing Street memos written in 2002. The information, authenticated by a senior British government official, was transcribed from the original documents," the AP wrote.


Officials in both the American and, perhaps more importantly, the British governments have said the "memos" are authentic. If that were not the case, then you can be pretty damned sure that Blair would bring Mr. Smith and the Times to court under British libel laws, which differ quite a bit from U.S. laws.

Blair sits quietly, and so do the British Ministers who are also implicated. They would be, at the very least, publicly threatening lawsuits if they thought these documents were fake.

"In fact, no one involved has disputed the authenticity of the Downing Street memo -- not Blair; not Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence who wrote it; not the CIA; not the FBI; not the Defense Department; not the White House. And they've all had seven weeks in which to do so." - CJR

Got it, Rush?

Good.

Now, why are they still paying you to be on television and radio?


In addition to these good reasons for believing that the memos are authentic, we have Blair's statement that the memos don't contain anything new. This would be an odd statement to make about forgeries. If someone created a fake memo of a meeting attended by numerous cabinet members, the thing to do would be to simply say that the memo was fake. End of story. What's interesting is that Blair's statement is surprisingly candid. For most of us, the memos indeed don't contain anything "new." We have known for a long time now that the Bush administration cooked intelligence.

P.S. Check out the cheat sheet on the DSM at Rolling Stone (courtesy of Cut to the Chase).

Christians who follow Christ!

Evidently, we have all been wrong and there are Christians with a conscience. Jim Hightower has an excellent article on Christians who aren't impressed with Bush's brand of "compassionate conservatism." An American Prospect article (via Cut to the Chase) also discusses the same phenomenon. The article describes the emergence of the Christian Alliance for Progress (CAP). In the article's header, we find:

"A new, well-organized religious group has emerged. And guess what: It actually supports Christian values."

Perhaps we'll finally find out the answer to that American koan: Who would Jesus bomb?

Other -related blogments discussing the CAP can be found at: Blah (pro) and Jesus Politics (con).

Fixing the situation

According to Raw Story, Senator Kerry along with other Senators (Johnson, Corzine, Reed, Lautenberg, Boxer, Kennedy, Harkin, Bingaman, and Durbin) have sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee pressing for answers on the Downing Street Memo and other Downing documents.

24 June 2005

The "Let's Pander to Jingoism" Amendment

A constitutional amendment (proposed by Rep. Randall Cunningham [R-CA] ) to outlaw (H.J. Res 10) passed in the House Wednesday with 94% of Republicans supporting it and 60% of Democrats opposing. The amendment's designed to overturn a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that flag burning is a protected free-speech right. (The 1989 ruling threw out a 1968 federal statute as well as flag-protection laws in 48 states.) The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it is called S.J. Res 12. The proposed new article to the constitution would read:

"The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."



This pandering to jingoism has a long history among Republicans. When we take away silly proposals such as flag-burning amendments and Commandments posted on walls, the only truly original idea that the current administration has provided is the idea that a small group of wealthy elites should be allowed to monopolize government largesse along with the world's resources. Looking at the previous flag-debate back in 1997, I ran across the following nugget from representatives who opposed the amendment:

H.J. Res. 54 responds to a perceived problem-flag burning-that is all but nonexistent in American life today. Studies indicate that in all of American history from the adoption of the United States flag in 1777 through the Texas v. Johnson decision in 1989 there were only 45 reported incidents of flag burning.

What does that work out to? One burnt flag every 5 years of so. And for this, we need a Constitutional amendment? Perhaps our representatives have too much time on their hands. Maybe we need to set up a textile mill next to the capitol so that we can at least get a little worthwhile work out of them.

Bloggers from both sides of the political spectrum have voiced their opposition to the flag-burning amendment (check out Dummocrats, Seeing the Forest, Nashville Truth, That's Life in the 125 , The Old Dominion, Scrutiny Hooligans, and Daily Curmudgeon.) I also ran across a useful page titled A brief history of flag burning. I wonder what's next. Will our diligent representatives next propose a follow-up amendment forbidding the desecration of our flag with poetry?

Iraq: From the people on the ground

I must confess that I sometimes lapse into blogger bravado, claiming that we will someday completely replace reporters. But in saner moments, I realize that most of us simply don't have the time to gather the hard facts. Blogging is thus limited to opining on the latest news as it trickles forth from the standard news outlets. One happy exception to this is the growing number of blogs that report news from where the news is happening. While these bloggers may have only a limited perspective, they frequently have greater familiarity with the actual facts on the ground. In most cases, I would take the word of someone living or working in a place over that of a reporter who temporarily flew into an area or simply wrote up an article based on a press conference. Today, I perused the blogosphere searching for the latest news out of . These are some of the reports that I found:

A number of bloggers (even those who support the war) lament the tremendous government waste and corruption. For example, there's this from Jackie in Iraq:

State Department’s bureaucratic regulations and confusion really make me wonder about this whole mission. I think people really have no idea what’s going on. Money is tremendously wasted, from Steve’s totally unnecessary PSD team that cost the government about $2 mil per year to keep up, to stupid regulations for timesheets and the waste of time and paper to process them. Invest in International Paper, they’re a gold mine, just in government contracts alone!!

The more inefficiency I see, the less I support the mission out here. There are much more efficient ways to run this place, but that’s not the government’s strong point. It’s amazing how much money the US could save if the government didn’t waste billions and billions of dollars on crap: tons of unnecessary office supplies, contracts for life support which include paying KBR $40/person for shitty dfac meals, programs, regulations, and policies for travel around the country, but no resources to support DOS policies.


Other bloggers discuss the sorry state of Iraq's infrastructure, noting in particular, problems with water, electricity, sewage, and roads. The following excerpts come from Baghdad Burning:

Water has been a big problem in many areas all over Baghdad. Houses without electric water pumps don’t always have access to water. Today it was the same situation in most of the areas. They say the water came for a couple of hours and then disappeared again. We’re filling up plastic containers and pots just to be on the safe side. It is not a good idea to be caught without water in the June heat in Iraq.

The electrical situation differs from area to area. On some days, the electricity schedule is two hours of electricity, and then four hours of no electricity. On other days, it’s four hours of electricity to four or six hours of no electricity. The problem is that the last couple of weeks, we don’t have electricity in the mornings for some reason. Our local generator is off until almost 11 am, and the house generator allows for ceiling fans (or “pankas”), the refrigerator, television and a few other appliances. Air conditioners cannot be turned on and the heat is oppressive by 8 am these days.

There were also several explosions and road blocks today. It took the cousin an hour to get to work, which was only twenty minutes away before the war. Now, he has to navigate between closed streets, check points, and those delightful concrete barriers rising up everywhere.

What people find particularly frustrating is the fact that while Baghdad seems to be falling apart in so many ways with roads broken and pitted, buildings blasted and burnt out and residential areas often swimming in sewage, the Green Zone is flourishing.

Unlike Cheney, who assures us that everyone arrested is a bad egg, those closer to the action tell a different story of arbitrary arrests and torture:

From Baghdad's Burning:

Detentions and assassinations, along with intermittent electricity, have also been contributing to sleepless nights. We’re hearing about raids in many areas in the Karkh half of Baghdad in particular. On the television the talk about ‘terrorists’ being arrested, but there are dozens of people being rounded up for no particular reason. Almost every Iraqi family can give the name of a friend or relative who is in one of the many American prisons for no particular reason. They aren’t allowed to see lawyers or have visitors and stories of torture have become commonplace. Both Sunni and Shia clerics who are in opposition to the occupation are particularly prone to attacks by “Liwa il Theeb” or the special Iraqi forces Wolf Brigade. They are often tortured during interrogation and some of them are found dead.

Michael Yon (a reporter with a blog!), on the other hand, points out the military importance (as well as dangers) involved with capturing insurgents:

Capturing the enemy creates a cascading effect through the insurgency. A dead enemy is just dead. Game over. But every singing captive leads to another and another and another, and Deuce-Four can hardly keep pace with the flow of information. As sobering as the casualty numbers are for May, the number of insurgents captured and in custody in that same month—133—are a strong indicator of the success that is mounting. The success comes with a high price: it's always more dangerous to capture an enemy than to kill him.

Michael Yon applauds the freedom and access that the U.S. military has provided reporters. Asserting that casualty counts are accurate, Yon puts the numbers in perspective and states a dire conclusion--that a civil war has already begun:

Iraq has a population approaching that of California; but in the region most under siege by insurgents, it's closer to that of Florida. Imagine if Florida had 800 deaths in one month caused mostly by bombings, shootings, and beheadings. We would call that civil war. Calling it that is the easy part. Stopping a civil war takes a lot more—more determination, more skill, more ammunition and armor, and more faith in the value of a future that is drastically different from the present. Mostly, stopping the civil war in the Sunni Triangle will take time.

(Nur al-Cubicle provides some lists of casualty reports for June that provide a sense of the current lawlessness of the country.)

An ideal source of information about the war should be coming from soldiers in the field. Unfortunately, soldiers' blogs may be subject to censorship (or self-censorship) due to policies requiring soldiers to register their blogs. My advice to all soldiers--don't register anything! You have a right to free speech. If you don't have this right, there sure in the hell isn't much point in fighting abroad for "democracy." Fortunately, many soldiers are speaking out regardless of the threats of would-be censors.

Some soldiers have complained of a negative bias of some reporters. Zachary (A Soldier's Thoughts) while remaining fairly upbeat about the U.S. military, expresses doubts about the hows and whys of the current war:

I believe more and more each day that things like freedom can't be given. They must be fought for and earned to have value. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that the Iraqi people don't rise up against the insurgency themselves.That isn't the only way that things could have been better. We could have come here initially with ENOUGH troops. Troops to close the borders (which are still mostly left open) from foreign fighters, and enough troops to have brought security and stability to the cities.

Other soldiers have a more upbeat sense that the war is winnable. For example, we find on Citizen Frank (albeit, from a March post):

It is still dangerous here in Baghdad. There are still occasional mortars and rockets and suicide bombers, etc...
However, the frequency and intensity of such attacks have tapered off dramatically.


Other upbeat comments can be found among Iraqi blogs such as Ibn Alrafidain's blog or this from the Mesopotamian:

Just a quick note, to the American public: this is no time to lose heart, the fight is just now changing gear. We the Iraqis are confident of winning this battle. This so-called “insurrection” may be characterized as the “Unpopular Revolt” rather than the opposite. It is doomed to failure.

Zachary also has an upbeat prediction about Americans' ability to see through the current smoke-screen of deception.

At the same time right now we have a Grizzly bear we call America. Unfortunately it is a Grizzly which is asleep and is kept that way by being fed its daily dose of FOX "Fair and Balanced" medicine. This medicine is fortified with essentials which keep most Americans happily oblivious to what is happening in Iraq and to news stories like the Downing Street Memo... It won't be long however, until this Grizzly wakes up and when it does it is going to be pissed that it has been lied to and so many have been killed because of those lies.

23 June 2005

Summer jobs

Announcement

On September 24, a massive protest will be held in Washington DC at noon in front of the White House at the same time as similar protest in San Francisco and Los Angeles, to demand that George W. Bush and his administration be held accountable for ongoing lies to the American people. The protest will be pushing for impeachment of Bush on the following grounds:

Articles of Impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

ARTICLE II, SECTION 4 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H.Rumsfeld, and Attorney General John David Ashcroft have committed violations and subversions of the Constitution of the United States of America in an attempt to carry out with impunity crimes against peace and humanity and war crimes and deprivations of the civil rights of the people of the United States and other nations, by assuming powers of an imperiled executive unaccountable to law and usurping powers of the Congress, the Judiciary and those reserved to the people of the United States, by the following acts:

1) Seizing power to wage wars of aggression in defiance of the U.S. Constitution, the U.N. Charter and the rule of law; carrying out a massive assault on and occupation of Iraq, a country that was not threatening the United States (see the Downing Street Memo), resulting in the death and maiming of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and hundreds of U.S. G.I.s.

2) Lying to the people of the U.S., to Congress, and to the U.N., providing false and deceptive rationales for war.

3) Authorizing, ordering and condoning direct attacks on civilians, civilian facilities and locations where civilian casualties were unavoidable.

4) Authorizing, ordering and condoning assassinations, summary executions, kidnappings, secret and other illegal detentions of individuals, torture and physical and psychological coercion of prisoners to obtain false statements concerning acts and intentions of governments and individuals and violating within the United States, and by authorizing U.S. forces and agents elsewhere, the rights of individuals under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendmentsto the Constitution of the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

5) Making, ordering and condoning false statements and propaganda about the conduct of foreign governments and individuals and acts by U.S. government personnel; manipulating the media and foreign governments with false information; concealing information vital to public discussion and informed judgment concerning acts, intentions and possession, or efforts to obtainweapons of mass destruction in order to falsely create a climate of fear and destroy opposition to U.S. wars of aggression and first strike attacks.

6) Violations and subversions of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, both apart of the "Supreme Law of the land" under Article VI, paragraph 2, of the Constitution, in anattempt to commit with impunity crimes against peace and humanity and war crimes in wars and threats of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq and others and usurping powers of the United Nations and the peoples of its nations by bribery, coercion and other corrupt acts and by rejecting treaties, committing treaty violations, and frustrating compliance with treaties in order to destroy any means by which international law and institutions can prevent, affect, or adjudicate theexercise of U.S. military and economic power against the international community.

7) Acting to strip United States citizens of their constitutional and human rights, ordering indefinite detention of citizens, without access to counsel, without charge, and without opportunity to appear before a civil judicial officer to challenge the detention, based solely on the discretionary designation by the Executive of a citizen as an "enemy combatant."

8) Ordering indefinite detention of non-citizens in the United States and elsewhere, and without charge, at the discretionary designation of the Attorney General or the Secretary of Defense.

9) Ordering and authorizing the Attorney General to override judicial orders of release of detainees under INS jurisdiction, even where the judicial officer after full hearing determines a detainee is wrongfully held by the government.

10) Authorizing secret military tribunals and summary execution of persons who are not citizens who are designated solely at the discretion of the Executive who acts as indicting official, prosecutor and as the only avenue of appellate relief.

11) Refusing to provide public disclosure of the identities and locations of persons who have been arrested, detained and imprisoned by the U.S. government in the United States, including in response to Congressional inquiry.

12) Use of secret arrests of persons within the United States and elsewhere and denial of the right to public trials.

13) Authorizing the monitoring of confidential attorney-client privileged communications by the government, even in the absence of a court order and even where an incarcerated person has not been charged with a crime.

14) Ordering and authorizing the seizure of assets of persons in the United States, prior to hearing or trial, for lawful or innocent association with any entity that at the discretionary designation of the Executive has been deemed "terrorist."

15) Institutionalization of racial and religious profiling and authorization of domestic spying by federal law enforcement on persons based on their engagement in noncriminal religious and political activity.

16) Refusal to provide information and records necessary and appropriate for the constitutional right of legislative oversight of executive functions.

17) Rejecting treaties protective of peace and human rights and abrogation of the obligations of the United States under, and withdrawal from, international treaties and obligations without consent of the legislative branch, and including termination of the ABM treaty between theUnited States and Russia, and rescission of the authorizing signature from the Treaty of Rome which served as the basis for the International Criminal Court.

22 June 2005

Making the world safe for terrorists

According to a CIA report, the Iraq insurgency now poses an international threat greater than the formation of the Taliban in the 1980s. Iraq is now said to be an ideal training ground for fighters developing a broad range of deadly skills to include urban car bombings, assassinations, and tightly coordinated conventional attacks on police and military targets. The report, issued by U.S. intelligence itself, underscores the fact that Shrub's War, instead of creating the foundation of Middle East peace, has in fact only increased the threat of terrorism by providing vast lawless areas in the Middle East along with an ideological justification for terrorist recruitment.

Some firsthand accounts of Shrub's War

Yesterday I ran into an old friend who was in the Army in Iraq at the beginning of Shrub's War. She's the second person I've known who worked in prison camps. The impression I get from her account (corroborated by the account of another friend) is that the U.S. initially had tremendous popular support in the immediate wake of the invasion but that the sense of goodwill has been completely squandered. Both of these people, working at different prisons at different times, indicate that the incidents we hear so much about--the beating of prisoners, the arrest of children, sexual intimidation--is standard procedure everywhere (although not necessarily on the scale of Abu Ghraib.) So much for the bushshit we've been fed about a few bad apples. Of course, war is war and the reality is, I'm sure, never pretty. We'd probably be much better off if our so-called leaders admitted as much and cut out all this hypocritical hype about the U.S. having some "higher standard." There clearly isn't one.

Both of these friends describe tremendous failings in planning, to include a lack of body armor and armor for vehicles. My female friend also described incompetent leadership on the ground in Iraq. These firsthand accounts mesh very well with the text of the Downing Street memo and other leaked British memos that describe a complete lack of a U.S. game plan following the invasion.

In spite of the pollyanic optimism expressed in some corners of the blogosphere (check out Chrenkoff), I fail to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Documentaries on Iraq all show a country with a complete lack of security where contractors and reporters have to risk their lives just to get from the Green Zone to the airport. The insurgents clearly have solid support from much of the population. (If this weren't the case, they wouldn't be able to operate while avoiding detection.) The U.S. has definitely lost the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

While I was happy to see my good friend after so many years (and see her alive and well), it was sad to hear her say that she felt some guilt over the part she played in Iraq and the things she was forced to do. If any of you out there are thinking of enlisting, you should sit down with a few people like my friend and listen to some firsthand accounts. She, like you, was once filled with patriotic zeal about being part of this great crusade for freedom and democracy, but she returned feeling that she was a dupe. She now has some minor disabilities she'll have for the rest of her life (which the military has refused to compensate her for). And to make matters worse, she's now concerned that the military will pull her out of the inactive reserve and send her back to Iraq for a second tour. So if you're considering it, don't enlist! Don't support the war! And hold Shrub accountable for deceiving the U.S. people before going into the war and mishandling the war after it started!

20 June 2005

Censorship can be fun!

Blogophiles the world over are rightfully upset over the recent case of Microsoft collusion with in China. One does come across an occasional post justifying Microsoft's decision on the grounds that Microsoft is "a corporation after all" and thus can't be expected to join us in the moral universe of karmic cause and effect, but such spineless rants can usually be attributed to a sudden case of idiotitus brought on by consuming excessive quantities of uncooked Peking Duck.

In response to Microsoft's anti-democratic practices, a number or bloggers have suggested a boycott of the Chinese site or, better yet, of Microsoft itself. My guess is that the Chinese site's traffic has probably jumped up (at least temporarily) due to all of the attention. So I have another suggestion. Whenever we write anything, especially some internet document that provides useful information necessary for Chinese industrialization and technological advancement, we should place a list of banned words (freedom, democracy movement, Falun Gong, etc.) at the bottom of the text so that the document becomes invisible to Chinese search engines. If the words clutter up the document too much, they can be put at the end with a font color (e.g., white) that blends in with the page background.

Other blogments:

Greg Yardly speculates on the reasons for the sudden interest in Microsoft’s censoring of Chinese MSN Spaces blogs is spite of the fact that the censoring, as well as reports on it, aren't new.

Danny Sullivan discusses other instances of internet censorship.

On CNBlog (Chinese), Isaac is calling for a boycott of MSN Spaces.

Tiananmen Square, peace protests, democratic processes, Chinese dissidents, anti-government protests

16 June 2005

Abortion: Is there a third position?

I'm always a bit dumbfounded when I come across an issue for which there doesn't seem to be a middle ground--any room for discussion or compromise. We're all born with the same senses, similar experiences, and the capacity to reason. So how can people disagree so completely on certain issues. Is it because one or the other side (or possibly both) are affected by deeply held illusions or biases that prevent them from seeing the truth?

Abortion is perhaps the paradigmatic example of such an issue. Americans are sharply divided between those who see abortion as the murder of an innocent life and those who see it as an unfortunate, yet necessary, form of birth-control.

My feeling is that both sides on this issue actually present poor arguments and that those on both sides are acting in bad faith. That is to say that they themselves, if they thought about it long and hard, would find themselves unable to fully accept the implications of their position.

The Pro-choice Position

Let's start with those who say that abortion should be legal. Pro-choice advocates make the seemingly reasonable claim that women have an inalienable right to determine the circumstances of their lives. Abortion is a personal choice that shouldn't be made by the government. A further argument is often made that legislative efforts to ban or partially ban abortion jeopardize women's health and prevent physicians from making decisions that reflect their best medical judgment. Virtually all pro-choice advocates admit that abortion is not the ideal form of birth control but claim that it is sometimes necessary when other birth control methods fail. One of the more emotional arguments made by pro-choicers is that it is inhuman to ban abortion when pregnancy results from rape or incest, or when continuing the pregnancy threatens the woman's health.

Problems

The pro-choice advocates intentionally sidestep the issue of whether the fetus is a human life. This awkward question is somehow deemed not worth answering or as trivial. But nothing could be further from the truth. Pro-life advocates are absolutely right--any decision on abortion, for or against, must be based on the more fundamental question regarding the nature of a fetus. The pro-choice position only makes sense if the choice is truly about the mother herself and not about a third party. As is often pointed out, the pro-choice position, when taken to extremes, leads to some ludicrous conclusions. Is a fetus not a human life immediately prior to birth? What happens if labor is induced? Is the child, born earlier than expected, not human? Does it instantly transform into a human being the second it exits the womb?

Economic arguments, being secondary in this case, have considerably less force. To the common argument that abortion keeps unwanted children from being born into the world, abortion advocates point to waiting lists for orphans (an argument that can't be applied worldwide).

The Pro-life Position

Those who oppose abortion generally believe that human life begins at conception. Abortion is therefore tantamount to murder, which we all condemn. Murder, as aggression directed towards an innocent human being (the fetus), is not within the sphere of individual prerogative. Abortion is therefore related to other practices that seem to devalue life, such as euthanasia. A secondary argument is that the acceptance of abortion encourages mistaken attitudes about sex, parenthood, and responsibility.

The pro-life position is almost always based on a religious convictions such as Christianity. In Christianity, human beings are endowed with souls and are thereby qualitatively distinct from the soul-less remainder of creation. Pro-life advocates generally claim that a human life begins the instant an egg is fertilized by a sperm.

Problems

Although the pro-life position is generally based on religious faith, we should assume that there are some wise and spiritual people of the faith who are able to fully appreciate the inherent sanctity of life in an experiential (versus purely intellectual) sense. If this is the case, and if abortion is truly murder, we'd expect them to react to abortion as they would to any other death. Yet this is clearly never the case. When a culture of fertilize cells is tossed out in a fertility lab, no Christians run over screaming at the deaths of the tiny humans. The parents, having successfully (or unsuccessfully) used the eggs they want, feel no remorse at seeing the additional fertilized eggs die. One can go from cemetery to cemetery and never see a funeral or wake for the dead cells. This discussion may sound humorous and sarcastic but it really isn't meant to be so at all. If people really believe something, we expect their actions to conform to their believe. But this never happens.

Single fertilized cells are clearly very different from us. I'm sure they don't think or feel or have emotions like we do (they don't have brains or central nervous systems after all). But there may be an extremely subtle sense in which they are sentient since they are alive. But here once more we find a huge discrepancy between pro-life belief and action. If pro-life advocates are so attuned to every living thing, no matter how small, we'd expect them to all be vegetarians. With their deep compassion for the smallest living matter, they probably woudn't merely skip going to barbecues--they'd be living like the Jains in India, sweeping before themselves as they walk lest they step on a bug. But we don't find this extremely well-developed compassion. To the contrary, it is often these same pro-lifers who are downing six-packs and laughing as they watch bombs rain down on foreign cities. In other words, they seem to have a lack of empathy for other fully formed human beings, making us wonder how they have developed such compassion for miniature life forms.

The Real Problem with Both Positions

The problem with both pro-life and pro-choice is that both positions are derived from beliefs that aren't very heart-felt. In other words, no one really believes what they say they believe. No pro-choice person (unless they're a callous murderer) would slice up a newborn baby without any remorse simply because it had been born a day early. So it doesn't make sense to do this when the baby's still in the womb. By the same token, nobody really believes that a single tiny cell is a human being.

If this is the case, how can we explain the tenacity with which both sides adhere to their position? Perhaps the biggest reason is simply group-think. Christians who go to church are told how to think on the issue. Liberals, on the other hand, adopt their position, urged on by feminists who claim that the pro-life lobby is trying to control women's bodies.

One aspect of the debate that is often overlooked, however, is the extent to which the two positions are the same. Both groups claim that human life begins in a single instant; that there's a sharp divide between matter and human life.

Does this makes sense? If we reflect at all on other life, we certainly find this isn't true. The pollinated flowers of a tree don't instantly gain tree-hood the second the tree is pollinated. Rather, there's a long process of development that occurs over time. Rather than bursting forth from nothingness, the tree springs forth from the natural material world as a result of properties that were already inherent within matter itself. In other words, there's an inherent continuity between life and matter.

This is an extremely commonsense observation yet it's vehemently denied by everyone. How can we explain this? I think part of the reason is that modern humans have a fear of nature, a fear of realizing that we don't stand apart from the universe but are merely a part of it. And this is ultimately related to our fear of death. We would like to think that we're made of some different soul-stuff that exists eternally, apart from the dead matter around us. The truth is that matter isn't really so dead, and our lives are bound up with it.

My Position

For this reason, I think a more sensible approach to abortion would be to acknowledge that a pro-life position is preferable, while remaining aware of the tremendous demands of such a position. But if we really aren't able to become non-violent, pacifist vegetarians, for consistency's sake, we should probably adopt a more mixed position. As the fetus develops, it becomes more human-like, and we find it naturally repugnant to kill this life form that's in the process of becoming one of us. In terms of the legal system, we could place more stringent requirements on abortion at successive stages, being as lenient regarding the killing of stem cells as we are regarding the killing of mosquitos, but as strict on late-term abortions as we are on the murder of infants.

Other blogs that discuss abortion include:

12th Harmonic
Brainshavings
Democracy for Virginia
Edgwise
Hammer and Nail
Kos
Land of the Free, Home of the Brave
La Shawn Barber's Corner
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Mouse Words
Pinko Feminist Hellcat
Redwood Dragon
Salon
Terrette