Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dems prepare slew of oversight hearings

By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press Writer

In this new era of divided government, the congressional hearing room is where the executive and legislative branches will clash.

Over the next few weeks, Senate Democrats plan to hold at least 11 hearings just on Iraq. In the House, one of the Democrats' most dogged investigators is waiting to spring his committee on a different mission — suspected government fraud.

From the war to environmental policy and secret surveillance, the Democrats who now control both the House and Senate are armed with subpoena power and ready to summon panels of witnesses.

These newly empowered Democrats plan to put the Bush administration under scrutiny like never before.

"One of the clearest messages of the last election was that the Republican leadership was just AWOL when it came to holding the Bush administration accountable," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. [ MORE ]

Bush's dusty veto pen may soon get busy

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

President Bush has vetoed just one bill in nearly six years in office. That soon may change. As newly empowered Democrats forge ahead with their own agenda, some items may make it to his desk as prime candidates for veto.

One might be a recycled version of the stem-cell funding bill that drew Bush's lone veto last July. Other possibilities include measures that would raise the minimum wage without offsetting tax breaks for businesses, fully put in place the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations and curb oil-industry subsidies.

The Democratic takeover of Congress and the planned 100-hour burst of legislation sent parliamentary experts in both the administration and Congress scurrying to dust off the manual on vetoes and to brace for a possible onslaught.

In the new Congress, just days old, promises of bipartisanship still fill the air. Such pledges, however, may be put to the test in no time. [ MORE ]


What it was always about…Only the usual credulous Bushbuttsucking bumpkins yokels & oafs ever thought otherwise…

Crapitalist imperialist piggism is alive & well & living in Baghdad.


Future of Iraq: The spoils of war: How the West will make a killing on Iraqi oil riches

By Danny Fortson, Andrew Murray-Watson and Tim Webb
The Independent (UK)
07 January 2007

Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.

The huge potential prizes for Western firms will give ammunition to critics who say the Iraq war was fought for oil. They point to statements such as one from Vice-President Dick Cheney, who said in 1999, while he was still chief executive of the oil services company Halliburton, that the world would need an additional 50 million barrels of oil a day by 2010. "So where is the oil going to come from?... The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies," he said.

Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise. But it will operate through "production-sharing agreements" (or PSAs) which are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's two largest producers, is state controlled.

Opponents say Iraq, where oil accounts for 95 per cent of the economy, is being forced to surrender an unacceptable degree of sovereignty.
[ MORE ]

COMMENT: This was always George W. Bush’s “Mission”, don’t you know… Oil company profits should be expropriated for the reconstruction of Iraq as well as the social welfare of the American People especially veterans, children, pensioners. This disastrous war was fought for the Big Oil special interests at their stinking lying rotten instigation! They should be made to pay through the nose before their heads roll.

The Timely Death of Gerald Ford

The New York Times
January 7, 2007

THE very strange and very long Gerald Ford funeral marathon was about many things, but Gerald Ford wasn’t always paramount among them. Forty percent of today’s American population was not alive during the Ford presidency. The remaining 60 percent probably spent less time recollecting his unelected 29-month term than they did James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Despite the lachrymose logorrhea of television anchors and the somber musical fanfares, the country was less likely to be found in deep mourning than in deep football.

It’s a safe bet that the Ford funeral attracted far fewer viewers than the most consequential death video of the New Year’s weekend, the lynching of Saddam Hussein.

But those two deaths were inextricably related: it was in tandem that they created a funereal mood that left us mourning for our own historical moment more than for Mr. Ford.What the Ford obsequies were most about was the Beltway establishment’s grim verdict on George W. Bush and his war in Iraq. Every Ford attribute, big and small, was trotted out by Washington eulogists with a wink, as an implicit rebuke of the White House’s current occupant. Mr. Ford was a healer, not a partisan divider. He was an all-American football star, not a cheerleader.

He didn’t fritter away time on pranks at his college fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, because he had to work his way through school as a dishwasher. He was in the top third of his class at Yale Law. He fought his way into dangerous combat service during World War II rather than accept his cushy original posting. He was pals with reporters and Democrats. He encouraged dissent in his inner circle. He had no enemies, no ego, no agenda, no ideology, no concern for his image. He described himself as “a Ford, not a Lincoln,” rather than likening himself to, say, Truman.

Under the guise of not speaking ill of a dead president, the bevy of bloviators so relentlessly trashed the living incumbent that it bordered on farce. No wonder President Bush, who once hustled from Crawford to Washington to sign a bill interfering in Terri Schiavo’s medical treatment, remained at his ranch last weekend rather than join Betty Ford and Dick Cheney for the state ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.Yet for all the media acreage bestowed on the funeral, the day in Mr. Ford’s presidency that most stalks Mr. Bush was given surprisingly short shrift — perhaps because it was the most painful. That day was not Sept. 8, 1974, when Mr. Ford pardoned his predecessor, but April 30, 1975, when the last American helicopters hightailed it out of Saigon, ending our involvement in a catastrophic war.

Mr. Ford had been a consistent Vietnam hawk, but upon inheriting the final throes of the fiasco, he recognized reality when he saw it.Just how much so can be found in a prescient speech that Mr. Ford gave a week before our clamorous Saigon exit. (And a speech prescient on other fronts, too: he called making “America independent of foreign energy sources by 1985” an urgent priority.) Speaking at Tulane University, Mr. Ford said, “America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam” but not “by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.”

He added: “We, of course, are saddened indeed by the events in Indochina. But these events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America’s leadership in the world.” All of this proved correct, and though Mr. Ford made a doomed last-ditch effort to secure more financial aid for Saigon, he could and did do nothing to stop the inevitable. He knew it was way too late to make the symbolic gesture of trying to toss fresh American troops on the pyre. “We can and we should help others to help themselves,” he said in New Orleans. “But the fate of responsible men and women everywhere, in the final decision, rests in their own hands, not in ours.”

Though Mr. Ford was hardly the unalloyed saint of last week’s pageantry, his words and actions in 1975 should weigh heavily upon us even as our current president remains oblivious. As Mr. Ford’s presidential history is hard to separate from the Bush inversion of it, so it is difficult to separate that indelible melee in Saigon from the Hussein video. Both are terrifying, and for the same reason. The awful power of the Hussein snuff film derives not just from its illustration of the barbarity of capital punishment, even in a case where the condemned is a mass murderer undeserving of pity. What really makes the video terrifying is its glimpse into the abyss of an irreversible and lethal breakdown in civic order.

It sends the same message as those images of helicopters fleeing our embassy in April 1975: Iraq, like Vietnam before it, is in chaos, beyond the control of our government or the regime we’re desperately trying to prop up. The security apparatus of Iraq’s “unity government” was powerless to prevent the video, let alone the chaos, and can’t even get its story straight about what happened and why. Actually, it’s even worse than that. Perhaps the video’s most chilling notes are the chants of “Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!”

They are further confirmation, as if any were needed, that our principal achievement in Iraq over four years has been to empower a jihadist mini-Saddam in place of the secular original. The radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, an ally of Hezbollah and Hamas, is a thug responsible for the deaths of untold Iraqis and Americans alike. It was his forces, to take just one representative example, that killed Cindy Sheehan’s son, among many others, in one of two Shiite uprisings in 2004.

The day after Casey Sheehan’s slaughter, Dan Senor, the spokesman for the American occupation, presided over a Green Zone news conference promising Mr. Sadr’s woefully belated arrest on a months-old warrant for his likely role in the earlier assassination of Abdel Majid al-Khoei, a rival Shiite who had fiercely opposed Saddam. Today Mr. Sadr and his forces control 30 seats in the Iraqi Parliament, four government ministries, and death squads (a k a militias) more powerful than the nominal Iraqi army.

He is the puppetmaster who really controls Nuri al-Maliki — the Iraqi prime minister embraced by Mr. Bush — even to the point of inducing Mr. Maliki to shut down a search for an American soldier kidnapped at gunpoint in Sadr City in the fall. (And, you might ask, whatever happened to Mr. Senor? He’s a Fox News talking head calling for a “surge” of American troops to clean up the botch he and his cohort left behind.) Only Joseph Heller could find the gallows humor in a moral disaster of these proportions.

It’s against the backdrop of both the Hussein video and the Ford presidency that we must examine the prospect of that much-previewed “surge” in Iraq — a surge, by the way, that the press should start calling by its rightful name, escalation. As Mr. Ford had it, America cannot regain its pride by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned and, for that matter, as far as Iraq is concerned. By large margins, the citizens of both countries want us not to escalate but to start disengaging. So do America’s top military commanders, who are now being cast aside just as Gen. Eric Shinseki was when he dared assert before the invasion that securing Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops.

It would still take that many troops, not the 20,000 we might scrape together now. Last month the Army and Marines issued an updated field manual on counterinsurgency (PDF) supervised by none other than Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the next top American military commander in Iraq. It endorsed the formula that “20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents” is “the minimum troop density required.” By that yardstick, it would take the addition of 100,000-plus troops to secure Baghdad alone.

The “surge,” then, is a sham. It is not meant to achieve that undefined “victory” Mr. Bush keeps talking about but to serve his own political spin. His real mission is to float the “we’re not winning, we’re not losing” status quo until Jan. 20, 2009. After that, as Joseph Biden put it last week, a new president will “be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof.”

This is nothing but a replay of the cynical Nixon-Kissinger “decent interval” exit strategy concocted to pass the political buck (to Mr. Ford, as it happened) on Vietnam. As the White House tries to sell this flimflam, picture fresh American troops being tossed into Baghdad’s caldron to work alongside the Maliki-Sadr Shiite lynch mob that presided over the Saddam hanging.

Contemplate as well Gerald Ford’s most famous words, spoken as he assumed the presidency after the Nixon resignation: “Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”This time the people do not rule. Two months after Americans spoke decisively on Election Day, the president is determined to overrule them. Our long national nightmare in Iraq, far from being over, is about to get a second wind.


NYT Editorial: The Imperial Presidency 2.0

Observing President Bush in action lately, we have to wonder if he actually watched the election returns in November, or if he was just rerunning the 2002 vote on his TiVo.

That year, the White House used the fear of terrorism to scare American voters into cementing the Republican domination of Congress. Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney then embarked on an expansion of presidential power chilling both in its sweep and in the damage it did to the constitutional system of checks and balances.

In 2006, the voters sent Mr. Bush a powerful message that it was time to rein in his imperial ambitions. But we have yet to see any sign that Mr. Bush understands that — or even realizes that the Democrats are now in control of the Congress. Indeed, he seems to have interpreted his party’s drubbing as a mandate to keep pursuing his fantasy of victory in Iraq and to press ahead undaunted with his assault on civil liberties and the judicial system. Just before the Christmas break, the Justice Department served notice to Senator Patrick Leahy — the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee — that it intended to keep stonewalling Congressional inquiries into Mr. Bush’s inhumane and unconstitutional treatment of prisoners taken in anti-terrorist campaigns. It refused to hand over two documents, including one in which Mr. Bush authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to establish secret prisons beyond the reach of American law or international treaties. The other set forth the interrogation methods authorized in these prisons — which we now know ranged from abuse to outright torture.

Also last month, Mr. Bush issued another of his infamous “presidential signing statements,” which he has used scores of times to make clear he does not intend to respect the requirements of a particular law — in this case a little-noticed Postal Service bill. The statement suggested that Mr. Bush does not believe the government must obtain a court order before opening Americans’ first-class mail. It said the administration had the right to “conduct searches in exigent circumstances,” which include not only protecting lives, but also unspecified “foreign intelligence collection.”

The law is clear on this. A warrant is required to open Americans’ mail under a statute that was passed to stop just this sort of abuse using just this sort of pretext. But then again, the law is also clear on the need to obtain a warrant before intercepting Americans’ telephone calls and e-mail. Mr. Bush began openly defying that law after Sept. 11, 2001, authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a court order on calls and e-mail between the United States and other countries.

News accounts have also reminded us of the shameful state of American military prisons, where supposed terrorist suspects are kept without respect for civil or human rights, and on the basis of evidence so deeply tainted by abuse, hearsay or secrecy that it is essentially worthless.

Deborah Sontag wrote in The Times last week about the sorry excuse for a criminal case that the administration whipped up against Jose Padilla, who was once — but no longer is — accused of plotting to explode a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the United States. Mr. Padilla was held for two years without charges or access to a lawyer. Then, to avoid having the Supreme Court review Mr. Bush’s power grab, the administration dropped those accusations and charged Mr. Padilla in a criminal court on hazy counts of lending financial support to terrorists.

But just as the government abandoned the “dirty bomb” case against Mr. Padilla, it quietly charged an Ethiopian-born man, Binyam Mohamed, with conspiring with Mr. Padilla to commit that very crime. Unlike Mr. Padilla, Mr. Mohamed is not a United States citizen, so the administration threw him into Guantánamo. Now 28, he is still being held there as an “illegal enemy combatant” under the anti-constitutional military tribunals act that was rushed through the Republican-controlled Congress just before last November’s elections.

Mr. Mohamed was a target of another favorite Bush administration practice: “extraordinary rendition,” in which foreign citizens are snatched off the streets of their hometowns and secretly shipped to countries where they can be abused and tortured on behalf of the American government. Mr. Mohamed — whose name appears nowhere in either of the cases against Mr. Padilla — has said he was tortured in Morocco until he signed a confession that he conspired with Mr. Padilla. The Bush administration clearly has no intention of answering that claim, and plans to keep Mr. Mohamed in extralegal detention indefinitely.

The Democratic majority in Congress has a moral responsibility to address all these issues: fixing the profound flaws in the military tribunals act, restoring the rule of law over Mr. Bush’s rogue intelligence operations and restoring the balance of powers between Congress and the executive branch. So far, key Democrats, including Mr. Leahy and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, chairman of a new subcommittee on human rights, have said these issues are high priorities for them.

We would lend such efforts our enthusiastic backing and hope Mr. Leahy, Mr. Durbin and other Democratic leaders are not swayed by the absurd notion circulating in Washington that the Democrats should now “look ahead” rather than use their new majority to right the dangerous wrongs of the last six years of Mr. Bush’s one-party rule.

This is a false choice. Dealing with these issues is not about the past. The administration’s assault on some of the nation’s founding principles continues unabated. If the Democrats were to shirk their responsibility to stop it, that would make them no better than the Republicans who formed and enabled these policies in the first place.

Better this…

…than this…

Monkey on a Tiger

The New York Times
January 6, 2007


There was a touch of parody to the giddy Democrat takeover this week: Nancy Pelosi indulging her inner Haight-Ashbury and dipping the Capitol in tie-dye, sashaying around with the Grateful Dead, Wyclef Jean, Carole King, Richard Gere, feminists and a swarm of well-connected urchins.

The first act of House Democrats who promised to govern with bipartisan comity was imperiously banishing Republicans from participating in the initial round of lawmaking. Even if Republicans were brutes during their reign, Democrats should have shown more class, letting the whiny minority party offer some stupid amendments that would lose.

Perhaps the Democrats’ power-shift into overdrive is a neurological disorder, or neuropolitical disorder.

If free will is an illusion — if we are, as one philosopher put it, “nothing more than sophisticated meat machines,” doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over — that would explain a lot about the latest trend in which everyone is reverting to type.

William James wrote in 1890 that the whole “sting and excitement” of life comes from “our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago.”

But in Science Times this week, Dennis Overbye advised Dr. James to “get over it,” observing that “a bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.”

As Mark Hallett of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke told Mr. Overbye, “Free will does exist, but it’s a perception, not a power or a driving force. … The more you scrutinize it, the more you realize you don’t have it.”

That would explain why, after voters insisted that the president wrap it up in Iraq, he made a big show of pretending to listen, then decided to do a war do-over.

Is this just the baked-in stubbornness of one man, or is W.’s behavior evidence that he has no free will? Is the Decider freely choosing another huge blunder or is he taking instructions from his genetic and political coding, fearing that if he admits what a foul hash he’s made of Iraq, he’ll be labeled a wimp, as his dad was?

If W. is trapped on a tiger, he’s not the only one.

John McCain can’t get beyond seeing himself as a maverick now that he’s become a nonmaverick, a right-wing Republican urging an escalation of a hopeless war, even though he’s already lived through an escalation of a hopeless war.

“There are two keys to any surge in U.S. troops,” Senator McCain told an appreciative audience at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday. “It must be substantial, and it must be sustained.”

With the letter she and Harry Reid wrote to the president yesterday, warning him that “we are well past the point of more troops for Iraq,” Speaker Pelosi tried to exert her free will to stop the Surge. But the Democrats aren’t willing to take real action and cut off money for the Surge. They’re predetermined to want to have it both ways: not to be blamed for the war and not to be blamed for pulling the plug on the war.

Iraq has become a snake pit of factions failing to escape fate. Shiites and Sunnis have been fighting and killing each other for about 1,400 years over who was the rightful heir to Muhammad, and yet the entire American high command was somehow taken aback that Shiites and Sunnis can’t muster the free will to keep their country from disintegrating.

Could it have been kismet that there were Shiites taunting Saddam at his hanging? Maybe it was preordained back in the days when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and the British diplomat Gertrude Bell drew the boundaries of the modern Iraq that a security guy with a cellphone would capture the spectacle.

Despite all the talk back in the 2000 campaign about a robustly experienced foreign-policy dream team, it may have been destined that the Bush administration would be asleep in the run-up to the insurgency, just as it was asleep in the run-up to 9/11, to Katrina, to the occupation and to the refugee crisis in Iraq. Either all that was predetermined, or the administration was preternaturally negligent.

Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher who said a man can do what he wants but cannot will what he wants, would have understood W.’s nonsensical urge to Surge.

We don’t know if human beings have free will. We just know that human beings in Washington appear not to.

Better Red Than Union—Communists Infiltrate Wal-Mart!

by Mike Hall, Dec 20, 2006

It’s just such a delicious thought. If only ol’ Sam Walton—the patriarch of the Wal-Mart empire—was still alive.

Picture this as some flunky Wal-Mart VP enters Walton’s office:

“Sir, do you want the good news or bad news first?”

“Hit me with the bad news!”

“We’ve been forced to recognize unions in some of our stores.”

“Ohmygawd! That’s awful. Tell me the good news.”

“We’ve given the Communist Party permission to set up chapters in some of those stores.”

To quote humor columnist Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up.”

The Associated Press reports there are six Communist Party chapters at Wal-Mart operations in China, including the latest established at the company’s Chinese headquarters in Shenzhen. In addition, the company with 68 stores in China (and many more on the drawing board) in August agreed to allow its 36,000 employees in that nation to join a union.

Sure, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions is blessed by the state and Communist Party and is considered a paper tiger when it comes to protecting workplace rights and workers, but it’s a union nonetheless.

The matter-of-fact explanation of Wal-Mart’s acceptance of the Communist Party chapters is priceless when—compared to the vicious tactics and end-of-the-world rhetoric used against its U.S. workers seeking to win a voice at work with a union.

Wal-Mart spokesman Jonathan Dong tells the AP:

Quite a few of our associates [workers] are party members already, so they have
a right to establish branch organizations.

Translation: Communist Party membership OK. Membership in unions with real rights and freedom—forbidden!



"Kerry wanted to lose with all his heart." [ Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe justifiably blasting John Kerry's monstrously bungled 2004 campaign. ]

COMMENT: Let’s face it…He didn’t want to have to move into a smaller house…


[Click on images below to enlarge.]

Friday, January 05, 2007

White House Visitor Records Closed

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House and the Secret Service quietly signed an agreement last spring in the midst of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal declaring that records identifying visitors to the White House are not open to the public.

The Bush administration didn't reveal the existence of the memorandum of understanding until last fall. The White House is using it to deal with a legal problem on a separate front, a ruling by a federal judge ordering the production of Secret Service logs identifying visitors to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

In a federal appeals court filing three weeks ago, the administration's lawyers used the memo in a legal argument aimed at overturning the judge's ruling. The Washington Post is suing for access to the Secret Service logs.

The five-page document dated May 17 declares that all entry and exit data on White House visitors belongs to the White House as presidential records rather than to the Secret Service as agency records. Therefore, the agreement states, the material is not subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the past, Secret Service logs have revealed the comings and goings of various White House visitors, including Monica Lewinsky and Clinton campaign donor Denise Rich, the wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who received a pardon in the closing hours of the Clinton administration.

The memo last spring was signed by the White House and Secret Service the day after a Washington-based group asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on the Secret Service in a dispute over White House visitor logs for Abramoff.

The chief counsel to another Washington-based group suing to get Secret Service logs calls the creation of the memo ''a political maneuver couched as a legal one.''

''It appears the White House is actually manufacturing evidence to further its own agenda,'' Anne Weismann, a Justice Department lawyer for 19 years and now chief counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Friday.

The White House and the Secret Service declined to comment.

Last year in the Abramoff scandal, the Bush administration, in response to three lawsuits, provided an incomplete picture of how many visits Abramoff and his lobbying team made to the White House.

The task of digging out Abramoff-White House links fell to a House committee that collected the lobbyist's billing records and e-mails. The House report found 485 lobbying contacts with presidential aides over three years, including 10 with top Bush administration aide Karl Rove.

As part of its security function of protecting the White House complex, the Secret Service uses the log information to conduct background checks on people prior to daily appointments and visits.

The memorandum of understanding is an unusual step because it deals with an unsettled area of law.

Federal courts will ultimately decide whether records identifying White House visitors and who they are going to see are under the legal control of the Secret Service or are presidential records publicly releasable solely at the discretion of the White House.

The Bush administration's agreement with the Secret Service ''at a minimum will serve to postpone a final resolution of who these records belong to,'' said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. ''This memo reflects the Bush administration's view of American government, which is that the people's business should be conducted behind closed doors.''

In the mid-1990s, a conservative group, Judicial Watch, obtained Secret Service entry logs through a lawsuit.

Secret Service records played a significant role in the Whitewater scandal in the 1990s, supplying congressional Republicans with leads to follow in their investigations of the Clintons.

A decade ago, Senate investigators used Secret Service logs to document who visited the White House during the fundraising scandal surrounding President Clinton's re-election campaign.


Since the start of the Iraq war, tens of thousands of heavily-armed military contractors have been roaming the country -- without any law, or any court to control them. That may be about to change, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow P.W. Singer notes in a Defense Tech exclusive. Five words, slipped into a Pentagon budget bill, could make all the difference. With them, "contractors 'get out of jail free' cards may have been torn to shreds," he writes. They're now subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the same set of laws that governs soldiers. But here's the catch: embedded reporters are now under those regulations, too.


Over the last few years, tales of private military contractors run amuck in Iraq -- from the CACI interrogators at Abu Ghraib to the Aegis company's Elvis-themed internet "trophy video" —- have continually popped up in the headlines. Unfortunately, when it came to actually doing something about these episodes of Outsourcing Gone Wild, Hollywood took more action than Washington. The TV series Law and Order punished fictional contractor crimes, while our courts ignored the actual ones. Leonardo Dicaprio acted in a movie featuring the private military industry, while our government enacted no actual policy on it. But those carefree days of military contractors romping across the hills and dales of the Iraqi countryside, without legal status or accountability, may be over. The Congress has struck back.

Amidst all the add-ins, pork spending, and excitement of the budget process, it has now come out that a tiny clause was slipped into the Pentagon's fiscal year 2007 budget legislation. The one sentence section (number 552 of a total 3510 sections) states that "Paragraph (10) of section 802(a) of title 10, United States Code (article 2(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), is amended by striking `war' and inserting `declared war or a contingency operation'." The measure passed without much notice or any debate. And then, as they might sing on School House Rock, that bill became a law (P.L.109-364).

The addition of five little words to a massive US legal code that fills entire shelves at law libraries wouldn't normally matter for much. But with this change, contractors' 'get out of jail free' card may have been torn to shreds. Previously, contractors would only fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, better known as the court martial system, if Congress declared war. This is something that has not happened in over 65 years and out of sorts with the most likely operations in the 21st century. The result is that whenever our military officers came across episodes of suspected contractor crimes in missions like Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, or Afghanistan, they had no tools to resolve them. As long as Congress had not formally declared war, civilians -- even those working for the US armed forces, carrying out military missions in a conflict zone -- fell outside their jurisdiction. The military's relationship with the contractor was, well, merely contractual. At most, the local officer in charge could request to the employing firm that the individual be demoted or fired. If he thought a felony occurred, the officer might be able to report them on to civilian authorities.

Getting tattled on to the boss is certainly fine for some incidents. But, clearly, it's not how one deals with suspected crimes. And it's nowhere near the proper response to the amazing, awful stories that have made the headlines (the most recent being the contractors who sprung a former Iraqi government minister, imprisoned on corruption charges, from a Green Zone jail).

And for every story that has been deemed newsworthy, there are dozens that never see the spotlight. One US army officer recently told me of an incident he witnessed, where a contractor shot a young Iraqi who got too close to his vehicle while in line at the Green Zone entrance. The boy was waiting there to apply for a job. Not merely a tragedy, but one more nail in the coffin for any US effort at winning hearts and minds.

But when such incidents happen, officers like him have had no recourse other than to file reports that are supposed to be sent on either to the local government or the US Department of Justice, neither of which had traditionally done much. The local government is often failed or too weak to act - the very reason we are still in Iraq. And our Department of Justice has treated contractor crimes in a more Shakespearean than Hollywood way, as in Much Ado About Nothing. Last month, DOJ reported to Congress that it has sat on over 20 investigations of suspected contractor crimes without action in the last year.

The problem is not merely one of a lack of political will on the part of the Administration to deal with such crimes. Contractors have also fallen through a gap in the law. The roles and numbers of military contractors are far greater than in the past, but the legal system hasn't caught up. Even in situations when US civilian law could potentially have been applied to contractor crimes (through the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act), it wasn't. Underlying the previous laws like MEJA was the assumption that civilian prosecutors back in the US would be able to make determinations of what is proper and improper behavior in conflicts, go gather evidence, carry out depositions in the middle of warzones, and then be willing and able to prosecute them to juries back home. The reality is that no US Attorney likes to waste limited budgets on such messy, complex cases 9,000 miles outside their district, even if they were fortunate enough to have the evidence at hand. The only time MEJA has been successfully applied was against the wife of a soldier, who stabbed him during a domestic dispute at a US base in Turkey. Not one contractor of the entire military industry in Iraq has been charged with any crime over the last 3 and a half years, let alone prosecuted or punished. Given the raw numbers of contractors, let alone the incidents we know about, it boggles the mind.

The situation perhaps hit its low-point this fall, when the Under Secretary of the Army testified to Congress that the Army had never authorized Halliburton or any of its subcontractors (essentially the entire industry) to carry weapons or guard convoys. He even denied the US had firms handling these jobs. Never mind the thousands of newspaper, magazine, and TV news stories about the industry. Never mind Google's 1,350,000 web mentions. Never mind the official report from U.S. Central Command that there were over 100,000 contractors in Iraq carrying out these and other military roles. In a sense, the Bush Administration was using a cop-out that all but the worst Hollywood script writers avoid. Just like the end of the TV series Dallas, Congress was somehow supposed to accept that the private military industry in Iraq and all that had happened with it was somehow 'just a dream.'

But Congress didn't bite, it now seems. With the addition of just five words in the law, contractors now can fall under the purview of the military justice system. This means that if contractors violate the rules of engagement in a warzone or commit crimes during a contingency operation like Iraq, they can now be court-martialed (as in, Corporate Warriors, meet A Few Good Men). On face value, this appears to be a step forward for realistic accountability. Military contractor conduct can now be checked by the military investigation and court system, which unlike civilian courts, is actually ready and able both to understand the peculiarities of life and work in a warzone and kick into action when things go wrong.

The amazing thing is that the change in the legal code is so succinct and easy to miss (one sentence in a 439-page bill, sandwiched between a discussion on timely notice of deployments and a section ordering that the next of kin of medal of honor winners get flags) that it has so far gone completely unnoticed in the few weeks since it became the law of the land. Not only has the media not yet reported on it. Neither have military officers or even the lobbyists paid by the military industry to stay on top of these things.

So what happens next? In all likelihood, many firms, who have so far thrived in the unregulated marketplace, will now lobby hard to try to strike down the change. We will perhaps even soon enjoy the sight of CEOs of military firms, preening about their loss of rights and how the new definition of warzone will keep them from rescuing kittens caught in trees.

But, ironically, the contractual nature of the military industry serves as an effective mechanism to prevent loss of rights. The legal change only applies to the section in the existing law dealing with those civilians "serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field," i.e. only those contractors on operations in conflict zones like Iraq or Afghanistan. It would apply not to the broader public in the US, not to local civilians, and not even to military contractors working in places where civilian law is stood up. Indeed, it even wouldn't apply to our foes, upholding recent rulings on the scope of military law and the detainees at Gitmo.

In many ways, the new law is the 21st century business version of the rights contract: If a private individual wants to travel to a warzone and do military jobs for profit, on behalf of the US government, then that individual agrees to fall under the same codes of law and consequence that American soldiers, in the same zones, doing the same sorts of jobs, have to live and work by. If a contractor doesn't agree to these regulations, that's fine, don't contract. Unlike soldiers, they are still civilians with no obligation to serve. The new regulation also seems to pass the fairness test. That is, a lance corporal or a specialist earns less than $20,000 a year for service in Iraq, while a contractor can earn upwards of $100,000-200,000 a year (tax free) for doing the same job and can quit whenever they want. It doesn't seem that unreasonable then to expect the contractor to abide by the same laws as their military counterpart while in the combat theatre. Given that the vast majority of private military employees are upstanding men and women -- and mostly former soldiers, to boot -- living under the new system will not mean much change at all. All it does is now give military investigators a way finally to stop the bad apples from filling the headlines and getting away free.

The change in the law is long overdue. But in being so brief, it needs clarity on exactly how it will be realized. For example, how will it be applied to ongoing contracts and operations? Given that the firm executives and their lobbyists back in DC have completely dropped the ball, someone ought to tell the contractors in Iraq that they can now be court martialed.

Likewise, the scope of the new law could made more clear; it could be either too limited or too wide, depending on the interpretation. While it is apparent that any military contractor working directly or indirectly for the US military falls under the change, it is unclear whether those doing similar jobs for other US government agencies in the same warzone would fall under it as well (recalling that the contractors at Abu Ghraib were technically employed by the US Department of Interior, sublet out to DOD).

On the opposite side, what about civilians who have agreed to be embedded, but not contracted? The Iraq war is the first that journalists could formally embed in units, so there is not much experience with its legal side in contingency operations. The lack of any legal precedent, combined with the new law, could mean that an overly aggressiveinterpretation might now also include journalists who have embedded.

Given that journalists are not armed, not contracted (so not paid directly or indirectly from public monies) and most important, not there to serve the mission objectives, this would probably be too extensive an interpretation. It would also likely mean less embeds. But given the current lack of satisfaction with the embed program in the media, any effect here may be a tempest in a tea pot. As of Fall 2006, there were only nine embedded reporters in all of Iraq. Of the nine, four were from military media (three from Stars and Stripes, one from Armed Forces Network), two not even with US units (one Polish radio reporter with Polish troops, one Italian reporter with Italian troops), and one was an American writing a book. Moreover, we should remember that embeds already make a rights tradeoff when they agree to the military's reporting rules. That is, they have already given up some of their 1st Amendment protections (something at the heart of their professional ethic) in exchange for access, so agreeing to potentially fall under UCMJ when deployed may not be a deal breaker.

The ultimate point is that the change gives the military and the civilians courts a new tool to use in better managing and overseeing contractors, but leaves it to the Pentagon and DOJ to decide when and where to use it. Given their recent track record on legal issues in the context of Iraq and the war on terror, many won't be that reassured.

Congress is to be applauded for finally taking action to reign in the industry and aid military officers in their duties, but the job is not done. While there may be an inclination to let such questions of scope and implementation be figured out through test cases in the courts, our elected public representatives should request DoD to answer the questions above in a report to Congress. Moreover, while the change may help close one accountability loophole, in no way should it be read as a panacea for the rest of the private military industry's ills. The new Congress still has much to deal with when it comes to the still unregulated industry, including getting enough eyes and ears to actually oversee and manage our contracts effectively, create reporting structures, and forcing the Pentagon to develop better fiscal controls and market sanctions, to actually save money than spend it out.

A change of a few words in a legislative bill certainly isn't the stuff of a blockbuster movie. So don't expect to see Angelina Jolie starring in "Paragraph (10) of Section 802(a)" in a theatre near you anytime soon. But the legal changes in it are a sign that Congress is finally catching up to Hollywood on the private military industry. And that is the stuff of good governance.


P.W. Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at The Brookings Institution. He is the author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Cornell University Press) and the upcoming book Wired for War (Houghton Mifflin).


McCain Claims He Knew Iraq War Would Be ‘Long And Hard And Tough,’ Contradicting Pre-War Statements

[Yesterday] on MSNBC, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) claimed that he knew the Iraq war was “probably going to be long and hard and tough,” and that he was “sorry” for those who voted for the war believing it would be “some kind of an easy task.” “Maybe they didn’t know what they were voting for,” McCain said.

In fact, during the run-up to war in 2002 and 2003, McCain repeatedly described the prospects of war in the rosiest terms, declaring the U.S. would “win easily”:

“Because I know that as successful as I believe we will be, and I believe that the success will be fairly easy, we will still lose some American young men or women.” [CNN, 9/24/02]

“We’re not going to get into house-to-house fighting in Baghdad. We may have to take out buildings, but we’re not going to have a bloodletting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies.” [CNN, 9/29/02]

“But the point is that, one, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily.” [MSNBC, 1/22/03]

Full transcript:

We’ve made mistakes in Iraq, we all know that we have. The result of our withdrawal will be chaos. Do we have to do a lot better? Yes. Does the Iraqi government have to be better and the economy better? Yes. But unless you establish security, you cannot have political and economic development. That’s a lesson of history that’s — there are abundant examples. And so, I believe we need to win this. When I voted to support this war, I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough, and those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I’m sorry they were mistaken. Maybe they didn’t know what they were voting for.

[Acknowledgements to Nico at Think Progress.]

Thursday, January 04, 2007

First, Do Less Harm

The New York Times
January 5, 2007

Universal health care, much as we need it, won’t happen until there’s a change of management in the White House. In the meantime, however, Congress can take an important step toward making our health care system less wasteful, by fixing the Medicare Middleman Multiplication Act of 2003.

Officially, of course, it was the Medicare Modernization Act. But as we learned during the debate over Social Security, in Bushspeak “modernize” is a synonym for “privatize.” And one of the main features of the legislation was an effort to bring private-sector fragmentation and inefficiency to one of America’s most important public programs.

The process actually started in the 1990s, when Medicare began allowing recipients to replace traditional Medicare — in which the government pays doctors and hospitals — with private managed-care plans, in which the government pays a fee to an H.M.O. The magic of the marketplace was supposed to cut Medicare’s costs.

The plan backfired. H.M.O.’s received fees reflecting the medical costs of the average Medicare recipient, but to maximize profits they selectively enrolled only healthier seniors, leaving sicker, more expensive people in traditional Medicare. Once Medicare became aware of this cream-skimming and started adjusting payments to reflect beneficiaries’ health, the H.M.O.’s began dropping out: their extra layer of bureaucracy meant that they had higher costs than traditional Medicare and couldn’t compete on a financially fair basis.

That should have been the end of the story. But for the Bush administration and its Congressional allies, privatization isn’t a way to deliver better government services — it’s an end in itself. So the 2003 legislation increased payments to Medicare-supported H.M.O.’s, which were renamed Medicare Advantage plans. These plans are now heavily subsidized.

According to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent federal body that advises Congress on Medicare issues, Medicare Advantage now costs 11 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare. According to the Commonwealth Fund, which has a similar estimate of the excess cost, the subsidy to private H.M.O.’s cost Medicare $5.4 billion in 2005.

The inability of private middlemen to win a fair competition against traditional Medicare was embarrassing to those who sing the praises of privatization. Maybe that’s why the Bush administration made sure that there is no competition at all in Part D, the drug program. There’s no traditional Medicare version of Part D, in which the government pays drug costs directly. Instead, the elderly must get coverage from a private insurance company, which then receives a government subsidy.

As a result, Part D is highly confusing. It’s also needlessly expensive, for two reasons: the insurance companies add an extra layer of bureaucracy, and they have limited ability to bargain with drug companies for lower prices (and Medicare is prohibited from bargaining on their behalf). One indicator of how much Medicare is overspending is the sharp rise in prices paid by millions of low-income seniors whose drug coverage has been switched from Medicaid, which doesn’t rely on middlemen and does bargain over prices, to the new Medicare program.

The costs imposed on Medicare by gratuitous privatization are almost certainly higher than the cost of providing health insurance to the eight million children in the United States who lack coverage. But recent news analyses have suggested that Democrats may not be able to guarantee coverage to all children because this would conflict with their pledge to be fiscally responsible. Isn’t it strange how fiscal responsibility is a big concern when Congress is trying to help children, but a nonissue when Congress is subsidizing drug and insurance companies?

What should Congress do? The new Democratic majority is poised to reduce drug prices by allowing — and, probably, requiring — Medicare to negotiate prices on behalf of the private drug plans. But it should go further, and force Medicare to offer direct drug coverage that competes on a financially fair basis with the private plans. And it should end the subsidy to Medicare Advantage, forcing H.M.O.’s to engage in fair competition with traditional Medicare.

Conservatives will fight fiercely against these moves. They say they believe in competition — but they’re against competition that might show the public sector doing a better job than the private sector. Progressives should support these moves for the same reason. Ending the subsidies to middlemen, in addition to saving a lot of money, would point the way to broader health care reform.


From the HOW “WE” CAN WIN THE WAR…files

[Click on image below to enlarge.]

As US prepares to escalate war in Iraq

Bush seeks bipartisan backing from Democratic Congress

By Bill Van Auken
4 January 2007

President George W. Bush appeared with his Cabinet Wednesday in the White House Rose Garden to make an appeal for bipartisan collaboration between the administration and the incoming Democratic-led Congress. He called upon Democrats to join him in pursuing an agenda that includes an escalation of the US war in Iraq, intensified political repression and a continuation of social and fiscal policies aimed at transferring wealth from the broad mass of working people to America’s financial oligarchy.

The brief remarks came on the eve of the 110th Congress’s opening session Thursday and expressed the White House’s determination to continue its reactionary policies, both foreign and domestic, despite their overwhelming defeat at the polls in November’s midterm elections—and its confidence that it will be able to do so.

“The Congress has changed; our obligations to the country haven’t changed,” said Bush.

His speech begged the question that dominated the November elections and continues to overshadow all aspects of American political life—the debacle confronting the US in Iraq.

Bush spoke for little more than five minutes before turning on his heels and marching back to the White House without taking any questions from the assembled media. He commented on the Iraq war only indirectly when he discussed his plan to submit a five-year budget proposal next month. He said that this document would include provisions to address “the need to protect ourselves from radicals and terrorists, the need to win the war on terror, the need to maintain a strong national defense, and the need to keep this economy growing by making tax relief permanent.”

In addition to demanding that his tax cuts for the rich be made permanent, Bush called for “spending restraint” and the “reform” of entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, which he suggested were on the verge of “bankrupting our country.”

His brief remarks closely tracked an opinion piece published under his byline in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, headlined “What Congress Can Do for America.”

As examples of the ability of Democrats and Republicans to work together, this column cited passage of the repressive USA Patriot Act and the misnamed No Child Left Behind legislation. It dealt more explicitly with the Iraq war—which Bush could have also invoked as an example of bipartisan collaboration.

Bush wrote, “If democracy fails and the extremists prevail in Iraq, America’s enemies will be stronger, more lethal, and emboldened by our defeat. Leaders in both parties understand the stakes in this struggle. We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war.”

What Bush has in mind is to be revealed to the American people in a speech reportedly scheduled next week. Numerous press reports based on interviews with administration officials, however, leave no room for doubt that in the face of mass popular opposition to the war, the Bush White House intends to escalate the violence.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Bush “seems all but certain not only to reverse the strategy” of reducing the US military presence in Iraq, but also to speed up the replacement of the top military commander in the country, Gen. George Casey, who had championed this strategy.

According to administration officials interviewed by the Times, Bush had grown “concerned that General Casey, among others, had become more fixated on withdrawal than victory.”

“Whatever form the new strategy takes, it seems almost certain to include a ‘surge’ in forces, something that General Casey insisted earlier this year he did not need and which might even be counterproductive,” the Times reported.

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, “For the Bush administration, deploying tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq may not be as tough a call as deciding when to bring them home.

“White House officials say a troop ‘surge’ almost certainly will be the centerpiece of Mr. Bush’s new strategy for Iraq to be unveiled mid-month. But while administration officials have gone to great lengths to emphasize that the extra troops will be in Iraq only temporarily, there is no clear definition of how long that might be.”

The Journal article indicates that the plans for an escalation involve leaving the newly deployed troops in Iraq for a year to 18 months, or even indefinitely. “Mr. Bush has staked his presidency on Iraq, and several White House aides say they believe he would be inclined to leave the extra troops there until improvement is evident,” the paper reports. “Senior commanders, by contrast, have expressed concern that leaving extra troops too long risks lasting damage to the US armed forces.”

BBC News reported that the “central theme” in Bush’s impending war speech will be “sacrifice.” The British news network added, “The speech, the BBC has been told, involves increasing troop numbers.”

Less than two months after an election in which the American people went to the polls to express their opposition to the war in Iraq and their demand for US troops to be withdrawn, plans are well advanced for a major escalation of the killing that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 3,000 American troops.

In the face of this catastrophe, the political calculations guiding the preparations of the Democratic leadership to assume control of both houses of Congress are so transparently cowardly and cynical as to assume the character of farce.

The Democratic farce will take the form of a “100-hour” legislative charade aimed at scoring a propaganda victory in advance of Bush’s State of the Union address. The package of bills includes some token reform measures, few of which will clear the Senate any time soon without significant alteration, or for that matter survive a presidential veto.

Among them is a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 over two years—a measure that does not even compensate for inflation’s erosion of real income over the ten year period since the last increase, and which is expected to be joined with yet another tax break for business. Also contemplated are measures lowering interest rates on student loans and funding stem cell research, as well as a slight rollback of subsidies for big oil and as another round of cosmetic congressional ethics reforms.

The Democratic agenda also includes the implementation of all of the “homeland security” proposals of the 9/11 Commission, including a raft of measures that further threaten civil liberties and increase the police powers of the state. Its centerpiece on economic policy is a return to the “pay-as-you-go” budget rules that prevailed during the Clinton administration—a formula for fiscal austerity and further cuts in social spending. At the same time, the Democrats have foresworn any effort to roll back the tax windfalls for the rich passed under Bush.

The “100 hours” of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is presumably meant to invoke the famous “100 days” that inaugurated Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term. But any comparison between the two only underscores the steady drive to the right by the Democratic Party over the intervening seven decades and the bankruptcy of its current reformist pretensions.

Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership is preparing to vote next month for another $100 billion “emergency” appropriation to continue the war in Iraq, even as Bush sets in motion plans to escalate the bloodbath. No legislative initiatives are proposed in the first 100 hours, or the first 100 weeks for that matter, to bring the troops home, or to repeal the reactionary legislation that Democrats helped pass under Republican congressional leadership, such as the USA Patriot Act or the Military Tribunals Act.

Bush has made it clear that he feels in no way compelled to alter his policies in Iraq or at home in the face of their mass repudiation at the polls. And the Democrats have no intention of fighting on the basis of the popular anti-war mandate that brought them control of Capitol Hill.

What is certain is that the slaughter in Iraq will intensify in the coming weeks and months. An inevitable corollary of an escalation of this war will be an intensification of political repression at home against the mass opposition that it will provoke.

The opening of the 110th Congress and the ascension of the Democrats in the House and Senate only underscores the basic reality that it is impossible to wage a successful struggle against war and in defense of democratic rights within the existing political institutions and the two-party monopoly exercised by the corporate and financial interests that control America.

Another Thousand Lives

The New York Times
January 4, 2007

How long can this go on?

Saddam is dead. The weapons of mass destruction were a mirage. More than 3,000 American G.I.s and scores of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. Voters in the United States have made it clear that they no longer support American involvement in this exercise in sustained barbarism. Incredibly, the U.S. military itself is turning against the war.

And yet the president, against the counsel of his commanders on the ground, apparently is ready to escalate — to send more American lives into the fire he set in Iraq.

In a devastating critique of the war, the newsweekly Army Times led its current edition with the headline: “About-Face on the War — After 3 years of support, troops sour on Iraq.” The article detailed a Military Times Poll that found, for the first time, that “more troops disapprove of the president’s handling of the war than approve of it.”

Only a third of the service members surveyed approved of the president’s conduct of the war, while 42 percent disapproved. Perhaps worse was the finding that only half of the troops believed that success in Iraq was likely.

The service members made it clear that they were not attacking their commander in chief personally. His overall approval rating remained high. What has turned them off has been the wretched reality of the war. In the article, David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, said, “They’re seeing more casualties and fatalities and less progress.”

In other words, they’re seeing the same thing everybody else is seeing — except, perhaps, Mr. Bush.

On New Year’s Day, readers of The New York Times could see the excruciating photo layout of the latest 1,000 American service members to die in Iraq. As in all wars, most of them were young. Many of them were smiling in the photos. All of them died unnecessarily.

The war has been an exercise in futility and mind-boggling incompetence, and yet our involvement continues — with no end in sight, no plans for withdrawal, no idea of where we might be headed — as if the U.S. had fallen into some kind of bizarrely destructive trance from which it is unable to awaken.

And who is paying the price for this insanity — apart from ordinary Iraqis, who are paying the most grievous price of all? The burden of the war in the U.S. is being shouldered overwhelmingly by a contingent of Americans whom no one would categorize as economically privileged.

As Lizette Alvarez and Andrew Lehren wrote in Monday’s Times:

“The service members who died during this latest period fit an unchanging profile. They were mostly white men from rural areas, soldiers so young they still held fresh memories of high school football heroics and teenage escapades. Many men and women were in Iraq for the second or third time. Some were going on their fourth, fifth or sixth deployment.”

There is no way that this can be justified. It is just wrong.

I’ve said many times that if a war is worth fighting the way to do it is to mobilize the entire country, drawing the warriors from as wide a swath of the population as possible and raising taxes on everyone as part of an all-out effort to defeat a common enemy.

This war is not worth fighting. And if there were ever serious talk about enacting a draft or raising taxes to fight it, you’d see quickly enough that the vast majority of Americans would not find it worth fighting.

There must be a leader somewhere who can shake the U.S. out of this tragic hypnotic state, who can see that it is beyond crazy to continue our involvement in this war indefinitely, to sacrifice another 1,000 young lives, and then another thousand after that.

All of the tortured, twisted rationales for this war — all of the fatuous intellectual pyrotechnics dreamed up to justify it — have vaporized, and we’re left with just the mad, mindless, meaningless and apparently endless slaughter.

Shakespeare, in “Henry VI,” said: “Now thou art come unto a feast of death.”

We should end our participation in the feast of death in Iraq. It is criminal to continue feeding our troops into the slaughter.

If there were politicians here at home with some of the courage of the troops in the field, we could begin saving lives rather than watching helplessly as the Bush White House continues to sacrifice them. Three thousand and counting is enough.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Olbermann: Special comment about 'sacrifice'

BBC reports Bush will reveal troop surge plan in sacrifice-themed speech


By Keith Olbermann
Anchor, MSNBC's 'Countdown'
Jan 3, 2007

If in your presence an individual tried to sacrifice an American serviceman or woman, would you intervene?

Would you at least protest?

What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them?

What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them — and was then to announce his intention to sacrifice hundreds, maybe thousands, more?

This is where we stand tonight with the BBC report of President Bush’s “new Iraq strategy,” and his impending speech to the nation, which, according to a quoted senior American official, will be about troop increases and “sacrifice.”

The president has delayed, dawdled and deferred for the month since the release of the Iraq Study Group.

He has seemingly heard out everybody, and listened to none of them.

If the BBC is right — and we can only pray it is not — he has settled on the only solution all the true experts agree cannot possibly work: more American personnel in Iraq, not as trainers for Iraqi troops, but as part of some flabby plan for “sacrifice.”


More American servicemen and women will have their lives risked.

More American servicemen and women will have their lives ended.

More American families will have to bear the unbearable and rationalize the unforgivable —“sacrifice” — sacrifice now, sacrifice tomorrow, sacrifice forever.

And more Americans — more even than the two-thirds who already believe we need fewer troops in Iraq, not more — will have to conclude the president does not have any idea what he’s doing — and that other Americans will have to die for that reason.

It must now be branded as propaganda — for even the president cannot truly feel that very many people still believe him to be competent in this area, let alone “the decider.”

But from our impeccable reporter at the Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski, tonight comes confirmation of something called “surge and accelerate” — as many as 20,000 additional troops —f or “political purposes” ...

This, in line with what we had previously heard, that this will be proclaimed a short-term measure, for the stated purpose of increasing security in and around Baghdad, and giving an Iraqi government a chance to establish some kind of order.

This is palpable nonsense, Mr. Bush.

If this is your intention — if the centerpiece of your announcement next week will be “sacrifice” — sacrifice your intention, not more American lives!

As Sen. Joseph Biden has pointed out, the new troops might improve the ratio our forces face relative to those living in Baghdad (friend and foe), from 200 to 1, to just 100 to 1.



A drop in the bucket.

The additional men and women you have sentenced to go there, sir, will serve only as targets.

They will not be there “short-term,” Mr. Bush; for many it will mean a year or more in death’s shadow.

This is not temporary, Mr. Bush.

For the Americans who will die because of you, it will be as permanent as it gets.

The various rationales for what Mr. Bush will reportedly re-christen “sacrifice” constitute a very thin gruel, indeed.

The former labor secretary, Robert Reich, says Sen. John McCain told him that the “surge” would help the “morale” of the troops already in Iraq.

If Mr. McCain truly said that, and truly believes it, he has either forgotten completely his own experience in Vietnam ... or he is unaware of the recent Military Times poll indicating only 38 percent of our active military want to see more troops sent ... or Mr. McCain has departed from reality.

Then there is the argument that to take any steps toward reducing troop numbers would show weakness to the enemy in Iraq, or to the terrorists around the world.

This simplistic logic ignores the inescapable fact that we have indeed already showed weakness to the enemy, and to the terrorists.

We have shown them that we will let our own people be killed for no good reason.

We have now shown them that we will continue to do so.

We have shown them our stupidity.

Mr. Bush, your judgment about Iraq — and now about “sacrifice” — is at variance with your people’s, to the point of delusion.

Your most respected generals see no value in a “surge” — they could not possibly see it in this madness of “sacrifice.”

The Iraq Study Group told you it would be a mistake.

Perhaps dozens more have told you it would be a mistake.

And you threw their wisdom back, until you finally heard what you wanted to hear, like some child drawing straws and then saying “best two out of three … best three out of five … hundredth one counts.”

Your citizens, the people for whom you work, have told you they do not want this, and moreover, they do not want you to do this.

Yet once again, sir, you have ignored all of us.

Mr. Bush, you do not own this country!

To those Republicans who have not broken free from the slavery of partisanship — those bonded still, to this president and this administration, and now bonded to this “sacrifice” —proceed at your own peril.

John McCain may still hear the applause of small crowds — he has somehow inured himself to the hypocrisy, and the tragedy, of a man who considers himself the ultimate realist, courting the votes of those who support the government telling visitors to the Grand Canyon that it was caused by the Great Flood.

That Mr. McCain is selling himself off to the irrational right, parcel by parcel, like some great landowner facing bankruptcy, seems to be obvious to everybody but himself.

Or, maybe it is obvious to him and he simply no longer cares.

But to the rest of you in the Republican Party:

We need you to speak up, right now, in defense of your country’s most precious assets — the lives of its citizens who are in harm’s way.

If you do not, you are not serving this nation’s interests — nor your own.

November should have told you this.

The opening of the new Congress on Wednesday and Thursday should tell you this.

Next time, those missing Republicans will be you.

And to the Democrats now yoked to the helm of this sinking ship, you proceed at your own peril, as well.

President Bush may not be very good at reality, but he and Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rove are still gifted at letting American troops be killed, and then turning their deaths to their own political advantage.

The equation is simple. This country does not want more troops in Iraq.

It wants fewer.

Go and make it happen, or go and look for other work.

Yet you Democrats must assume that even if you take the most obvious of courses, and cut off funding for the war, Mr. Bush will ignore you as long as possible, or will find the money elsewhere, or will spend the money meant to protect the troops, and re-purpose it to keep as many troops there as long as he can keep them there.

Because that’s what this is all about, is it not, Mr. Bush?

That is what this “sacrifice” has been for.

To continue this senseless, endless war.

You have dressed it up in the clothing, first of a hunt for weapons of mass destruction, then of liberation ... then of regional imperative ... then of oil prices ... and now in these new terms of “sacrifice” — it’s like a damned game of Colorforms, isn’t it, sir?

This senseless, endless war.

But — it has not been senseless in two ways.

It has succeeded, Mr. Bush, in enabling you to deaden the collective mind of this country to the pointlessness of endless war, against the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

It has gotten many of us used to the idea — the virtual “white noise” — of conflict far away, of the deaths of young Americans, of vague “sacrifice” for some fluid cause, too complicated to be interpreted except in terms of the very important-sounding but ultimately meaningless phrase “the war on terror.”

And the war’s second accomplishment — your second accomplishment, sir — is to have taken money out of the pockets of every American, even out of the pockets of the dead soldiers on the battlefield, and their families, and to have given that money to the war profiteers.

Because if you sell the Army a thousand Humvees, you can’t sell them any more until the first thousand have been destroyed.

The service men and women are ancillary to the equation.

This is about the planned obsolescence of ordnance, isn’t, Mr. Bush? And the building of detention centers? And the design of a $125 million courtroom complex at Gitmo, complete with restaurants.

At least the war profiteers have made their money, sir.

And we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

You have insisted, Mr. Bush, that we must not lose in Iraq, that if we don’t fight them there we will fight them here — as if the corollary were somehow true, that if by fighting them there we will not have to fight them here.

And yet you have re-made our country, and not re-made it for the better, on the premise that we need to be ready to “fight them here,” anyway, and always.

In point of fact even if the civil war in Iraq somehow ended tomorrow, and the risk to Americans there ended with it, we would have already suffered a defeat — not fatal, not world-changing, not, but for the lives lost, of enduring consequence.

But this country has already lost in Iraq, sir.

Your policy in Iraq has already had its crushing impact on our safety here.

You have already fomented new terrorism and new terrorists.

You have already stoked paranoia.

You have already pitted Americans, one against the other.

We ... will have to live with it.

We ... will have to live with what — of the fabric of our nation — you have already “sacrificed.”

The only object still admissible in this debate is the quickest and safest exit for our people there.

But you — and soon, Mr. Bush, it will be you and you alone — still insist otherwise.

And our sons and daughters and fathers and mothers will be sacrificed there tonight, sir, so that you can say you did not “lose in Iraq.”

Our policy in Iraq has been criticized for being indescribable, for being inscrutable, for being ineffable.

But it is all too easily understood now.

First we sent Americans to their deaths for your lie, Mr. Bush.

Now we are sending them to their deaths for your ego.

If what is reported is true — if your decision is made and the “sacrifice” is ordered — take a page instead from the man at whose funeral you so eloquently spoke this morning — Gerald Ford:

Put pragmatism and the healing of a nation ahead of some kind of misguided vision.


Sacrifice, Mr. Bush?

No, sir, this is not “sacrifice.” This has now become “human sacrifice.”

And it must stop.

And you can stop it.

Next week, make us all look wrong.

Our meaningless sacrifice in Iraq must stop.

And you must stop it.


But It's Thomas Jefferson's Koran!

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; C03

Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, found himself under attack last month when he announced he'd take his oath of office on the Koran -- especially from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who called it a threat to American values.

Yet the holy book at tomorrow's ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. We've learned that the new congressman -- in a savvy bit of political symbolism -- will hold the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

"He wanted to use a Koran that was special," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellison's 5th District, was happy to help.

Jefferson's copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson's collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn't the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies -- the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.

Ellison will take the official oath of office along with the other incoming members in the House chamber, then use the Koran in his individual, ceremonial oath with new Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Keith is paying respect not only to the founding fathers' belief in religious freedom but the Constitution itself," said Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert.

One person unlikely to be swayed by the book's illustrious history is Goode, who released a letter two weeks ago objecting to Ellison's use of the Koran. "I believe that the overwhelming majority of voters in my district would prefer the use of the Bible," the Virginia Republican told Fox News, and then went on to warn about what he regards as the dangers of Muslims immigrating to the United States and Muslims gaining elective office.

Yeah, but what about a Koran that belonged to one of the greatest Virginians in history? Goode, who represents Jefferson's birthplace of Albemarle County, had no comment yesterday.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ford’s funeral: the hollow pomp of a corrupt and crisis-ridden establishment

By Bill Van Auken
3 January 2007

Sandwiched as it was between the obscene televised assassination-by-hanging of Saddam Hussein and the dismal although expected news of the 3,000th US soldier dying in Iraq, the attempts by Washington’s political establishment and its servants in the corporate media to generate a wave of patriotic feeling with the funeral of former President Gerald Ford fell flat.

The death of a 93-year-old man who served as the country’s unelected chief executive 30 years ago—lasting less than 29 months in office—and who is a virtual unknown to the majority of the country’s population today offers little to work with for those trying to revive flagging national spirits and obscure the grim and unrelenting news from the Iraqi fiasco.

The brutal truth is that Ford—who allowed his personal opposition to the launching of the Iraq war and the policies of the Republican Party’s “hard right” to be made public only after his death—has more than a passing connection to the current criminal catastrophe presided over by the Bush administration.

If he will be remembered for anything, it is for his decision, one month after taking office, to issue an unprecedented pardon to his predecessor Richard Nixon “for all offenses against the United States which he . . . has committed or may have committed or taken part in” during his more than five-and-a-half years in the White House.

(Less well-remembered, but highly significant in understanding the role played by Ford in the affairs of the American state, was his service on the Warren Commission, where he became one of the most steadfast defenders of the “lone gunman” theory, a thesis designed to cover up the political divisions and conspiracies that lay behind the Kennedy assassination.)

Ford’s pardon, issued on September 8, 1974, prevented the country from holding Nixon to account for crimes enumerated in the articles of impeachment brought against him in July 1974. Among them were obstruction of justice, illegal spying on American citizens and the arrogation of extra-constitutional powers that were creating the scaffolding for a presidential dictatorship.

Another charge brought but not approved by the House Judiciary Committee concerned Nixon’s launching of a covert and illegal bombing campaign against Cambodia in 1969, an act that overrode Congress’s exclusive constitutional power to declare war.

Today, these same offenses that went unpunished in the persons of Nixon and Co., have reemerged in far more ominous forms—an illegal war in Iraq, wholesale NSA wiretapping, the unlawful detention, torture and “extraordinary rendition” of so-called enemy combatants, etc. Moreover, these new crimes have been perpetrated in large part by individuals who were closely associated with Ford—in particular his two former chiefs of staff, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Using such a politician with this political legacy to promote national pride and political goodwill among the population at large is no easy job.

But there was no lack of trying. The media has proclaimed the lifetime Republican politician the embodiment of “decency” and “openness,” the “Great Healer,” who brought an end to the “long nightmare” that constituted the waning days of the Nixon administration.

Certainly one of the most nauseating pieces produced in the media’s campaign to bestow belated sainthood on America’s 38th president—and effectively falsify history—came on the day of the funeral itself in the form of an op-ed article published by the Washington Post under the headline, “The Quality of his Mercy.”

Written by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, the purpose of this piece was to attribute Ford’s pardoning of Nixon—a corrupt abrogation of justice performed by an establishment crony on behalf of a state criminal—to divine guidance and Christian charity.

Meacham makes much of the fact that in announcing his blanket pardon for a man undoubtedly guilty of high crimes, Ford invoked “laws of God” which he proclaimed to be higher than the US Constitution.

Incredibly, he goes on to draw an indecent parallel between Ford’s hackneyed invocation of a deity—hardly an innovation among today’s big business politicians—to justify his extra-legal protection of a political ally who carried out a wholesale attack on democratic rights and constitutional government with Lincoln’s references to God in his second inaugural address.

In particular, Meacham cites the passage in which Ford paraphrased Lincoln’s vow to continue “with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” a phrase the latter used after declaring his willingness to continue a civil war to abolish slavery “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” One can hardly imagine a more inappropriate and sycophantic comparison.

In what amounted to a solid week of official mourning, the body of the ex-president was transported from California to be driven around Washington and then to lie in state in the Capitol’s Rotunda for three days before being brought to the state funeral on Tuesday. From there it was transported back again to Michigan for burial. All the while, the various hearses carrying the ex-presidential remains have been accorded seemingly endless televised coverage.

There is something both backward and barbaric about these official funerals. And there is little beyond the official in the attempt to feign national mourning over Ford’s demise.

Funerals fit for a king

The pomp that surrounds these ceremonies seems borrowed from monarchic dynasties, entirely alien to a genuine democracy. Indeed, the founders of the American republic would look with horror on such regal exercises.

George Washington, who died on December 14, 1799, was buried the next day in the family tomb at Mount Vernon, Virginia. While he had requested a simple funeral, Congress insisted on sending some troops and a band to participate.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died on July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence—were buried with simple graveside services, one in Quincy, Massachusetts and the other at his family’s cemetery at Monticello, Virginia.

Similarly, James Madison died in 1836 and was buried the next day in graveside services in Montpelier, Virginia.

State funerals were exceptions carried out for those who died—or were assassinated—in office, including the funerals of William Henry Harrison in 1841, Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901 and Kennedy in 1963. William Howard Taft, who died just weeks after stepping down as chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1930—the only ex-president to ever hold that position—was accorded similar honors.

The staging of elaborate ceremonies for ex-presidents, replete with military trappings and lying in state, is a relatively modern phenomenon that arose only in the 1960s, beginning with Herbert Hoover and including the funerals of Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. It is a practice that is unquestionably bound up with the assumption of ever greater powers within the office of the presidency itself and the increasingly open exercise of US imperial power.

The official eulogies for Gerald Ford reached their crescendo Tuesday with the state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral before an invitation-only audience of 3,000. The series of speeches from the pulpit revealed more about those who currently rule in Washington than the man who occupied the White House 30 years ago.

Former President George H.W. Bush praised Ford as the man who “restored the honor of the Oval Office and helped America begin to turn the page on one of our saddest chapter.”

He continued, “History has a way of matching man and moment. And just as President Lincoln’s stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the union together during the Civil War, and just as FDR’s optimism was the perfect antidote to the despair of a great depression, so, too, can we say that Jerry Ford’s decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate.”

If indeed the man matched the moment, one can only say that the progression traced out by Bush senior is one of the steady and accelerating political degeneration of the American ruling elite. Once again one encounters the absurd comparison of Lincoln, the leader of one of the greatest revolutionary transformations in history, to Ford, the bagman for a political establishment rocked by crisis and scandal and eager to escape retribution at the hands of a radicalized and angry people.

Next came Henry Kissinger, one of the direct beneficiaries of Ford’s quashing of any prosecution of the crimes carried out under the Nixon administration. As secretary of state in both administrations, he represented a key figure in the continuation of those crimes. Kissinger remains to this day a key advisor to the Bush administration, and has helped craft its policy of colonial-style aggression in Iraq.

His eulogy represented a series of self-serving lies. He praised Ford’s “prudence and common sense” for keeping “ethnic conflicts in Cyprus and Lebanon from spiraling into regional war.”

In the first country, Kissinger played a pivotal role in facilitating the Turkish invasion that cost thousands of lives. In the second, the US administration served as a patron of the Lebanese fascist Phalange, maintaining direct CIA aid to its butchery of the Palestinians and the Lebanese left.

He continued, claiming that Ford “sparked the initiative to bring majority rule to Southern Africa, a policy that was a major factor in ending colonialism there.”

Again, Kissinger must rely on general ignorance of history to dare such lies. Under Ford, Washington allied itself with South Africa, providing CIA aid to its bloody war in Angola that was to claim tens of thousands of lives, and it continued to back the Apartheid regime as it inaugurated its infamous Bantustan policy.

Kissinger concluded, “Historians will debate for a long time over which president contributed most to victory in the Cold War. Few will dispute that the Cold War could not have been won had not Gerald Ford emerged at a tragic period to restore equilibrium to America and confidence in its international role.”

He did not go on to add that part of this “victory in the Cold War” was won through ruthless repression that continued under the Ford administration throughout Latin America, facilitated by continuing US support for CIA-installed dictatorships that ruled much of the continent, murdering, torturing and imprisoning hundreds of thousands. It likewise included the Ford administration’s green light for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, a military operation that claimed the lives of a third of the Timorese population.

The main point being made by the former secretary of state, however, is that the continuation of imperialist aggression abroad was impossible without the quelling of political crisis and mass popular opposition at home.

Kissinger was followed to the podium by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who gave a fawning eulogy that served to underscore the venality and subservience of the media. Recalling his days covering the Ford administration, he said, “There were other advantages of being a member of his press corps that we didn’t advertise quite as widely. We went to Vail at Christmas and Palm Springs at Easter time with our families. Now, cynics might argue that contributed to our affection for him. That is not a premise that I wish to challenge.”

The remark drew knowing laughter from the assembled mourners, who all know that media “personalities” like Brokaw, drawing multimillion-dollar annual salaries, now have their own homes in Vail, Palm Springs or similar elite watering holes, and can be counted upon to toe the propaganda line.

Finally came President George W. Bush, who described Ford as a “rock of stability” amid “a terrible time in our nation’s history.”

The incumbent president got quickly to the point, declaring, “And when he thought that the nation needed to put Watergate behind us, he made the tough and decent decision to pardon President Nixon, even though that decision probably cost him the presidential election.”

In other words, Ford carried out the job that he was sent in to do, even though it was an assault on constitutional forms of rule and was opposed by a clear majority of the American people.

Bush concluded, “President Ford’s time in office was brief, but history will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of our democracy.”

No doubt, the 43rd president, facing record lows in the opinion polls and implicated in gross violations of national and international law—from domestic spying to Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and the Iraq war itself—views the role played by Ford with more than a just a thought in the back of his head that he could find himself in the need of a similar Mr. Fix-it in the not too distant future.

In the end, however, history will view Ford for what he was—a politically corrupt but trusted servant of America’s capitalist establishment who helped stave off a profound and potentially fatal political crisis, thereby postponing a revolutionary settling of accounts.

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