Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Says 'Stop The Air Strikes!'

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has seen more than enough airstrikes against civilians, and he's asked the Americans to stop doing it, because it's jeopardizing the war effort. But he knows they're not listening, so he's taken his case to the American media as well.
Asked if he is asking the American government to roll back the air strikes, Karzai says, "Absolutely. Oh, yes, in clear words."

Karzai told 60 Minutes he delivered those words, privately, to President George W. Bush. But he decided to take the message public in this interview. "And I want to repeat that, alternatives to the use of air force. And I will speak for it again through your media," he says.

"You're demanding that?" [Scott] Pelley asks.

"Absolutely," Karzai says.
It must have come as something of a shock to the mainstream American news-types, who have been reporting Afghanistan as a success for so long that they likely had no idea the war was still up for grabs there, much less that the US might be in danger of losing -- and in danger of losing due to airstrikes on civilians!!

To their credit, rather than running from the story, some of the folks at CBS News started asking questions. And now they know a bit more than they did before:
60 Minutes was surprised to hear this: while the enemy has killed hundreds of civilians this year, a similar number of civilians have been killed by American forces. With relatively few troops there, the U.S. and NATO rely on air power. The number of civilians killed in air strikes has doubled.

60 Minutes wondered whether civilian deaths are undermining the effort to win the Afghan people. So correspondent Scott Pelley looked into one air strike from last spring. At the time, the Army said in a press release that there were unconfirmed reports that nine people died in an engagement with the enemy. But when we asked, the Army wouldn't tell us anything else, so we went to see for ourselves.

Our journey took us through Afghanistan, up the Shomali Plain north of the capital, Kabul. The Taliban are active in the area, so 60 Minutes hired Panjshiri mercenaries to cover our trip. The scene of the air strike is a village in the hills above Kapisa Province.

The 60 Minutes team found the dead buried in a cornfield. It appears there were no enemy combatants. It was four generations of one family, all killed in the air strike: an 85-year-old man, four women, and four children, ranging in age from five years to seven months. One boy survived.
No enemy combatants ...
The night of the bombing, seven-year-old Mujib happened to be staying with his uncle, Gulam Nabi.

"Some of the bodies were missing a hand or a leg or half a head. We recognized one of them only by the clothes she was wearing," Nabi remembers.

Nabi recognized Mujib's mother among the dead.

"I saw my mom, my sisters, and my brother and my grandfather were dead. And our house was destroyed," the little boy remembers.

Mujib's father was not there. He's accused of being a local Taliban leader and the U.S. has been searching for him with no luck. The air strike came March 4th. An Army press release says it started after enemy forces fired a rocket at a U.S. base above the village. The rocket fell "causing no coalition casualties," in fact, "missing the fire base" altogether. Then U.S. pilots saw two men with AK-47 rifles leaving the scene of the rocket attack and entering a compound in the village.

The fort, which is on a hill, began raining down mortar fire on part of the village -- mortar fire that came down for about an hour. It was nighttime, and even though there were no U.S. forces in contact with the enemy on the ground, a decision was made after the mortars to call in an air strike. U.S. Air Force aircraft dropped two bombs on the neighborhood, each one weighing 2,000 pounds.

The bombs hit their intended targets. But when the smoke cleared there were no men with rifles -- just Mujib's family.

"During the Russian invasion we haven’t heard of 10 members of one family being killed by Russians in one incident. But the Americans did that," a villager remarked.
Mujib's father was not there...
60 Minutes wanted to understand how these air strikes are planned. It turns out the mission that made Mujib’s neighborhood look like an ancient ruin was run through a futuristic-looking, classified control center. We were surprised to get into the facility because it has never been seen on television before. We promised the Air Force we wouldn’t reveal classified information, or the Persian Gulf country where the center is located.

Air Force Col. Gary Crowder is deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center, which runs the air war over both Afghanistan and Iraq.

"You know, I'm curious. How often is an air strike prepared that's called off at the last minute?" Pelley asks.

"Thousands and thousands of times a month,” says Crowder. “We look very, very often, we tracked some of the insurgent leaders we will track for days and days on end. And we are prepared to strike them at any moment. But we can never get all of the criteria necessary to meet our rules of engagement.”
They get worse ideas than this? "Thousands and thousands of times a month"?? Unbelievable!
"I don't think people really appreciate the gymnastics that the U.S. military goes through in order to make sure that they're not killing civilians," Garlasco points out.

"If so much care is being taken why are so many civilians getting killed?" Pelley asks.

"Because the Taliban are violating international law,” says Garlasco, “and because the U.S. just doesn't have enough troops on the ground. You have the Taliban shielding in people's homes. And you have this small number of troops on the ground. And sometimes the only thing they can do is drop bombs.”

But why were bombs dropped on Mujib's house? As we said, the Army wouldn’t speak to us about it.
They knew what they were doing.
An Air Force source says that Mujib’s house was a Taliban hideout. But through an interpreter, the villagers disputed that, and they said the U.S. should have known better.

"The Americans came here the day before they bombed, they searched the whole house and saw women and children in the house," says Mujib's uncle, Gulam Nabi.

"This is such an important point. Let me be sure I've got this. Who came the day before?" Pelley asks,

"The Americans came the day before," a translator explains.

We took their accusation to the military. And an Air Force source confirmed that U.S. troops searched the house the day before. We don’t know what those troops may have seen or reported.
Hamid Karzai either doesn't believe or doesn't understand what's happening, or else he's in on the spin. Take your choice:
"Why are so many Afghan civilians being killed by U.S. forces?" Pelley asks President Karzai.

"The United States and the Coalition Forces are not doing that deliberately. The United States is here to help the Afghan people. The Afghan people understand that mistakes are made. But five years on, six years on, definitely, very clearly, they cannot comprehend as to why there is still a need for air power," Karzai explains.
Yeah, sure. The United States is here to help the Afghan people.

And then there's this:
From 500ft up, Lt Denton said: "You can see the person but you can't see the features of his face. The 30mm explode when they hit and kick up smoke and dust. You just see a big dust cloud where the person used to be."

"When you are on top of the enemy you look, shoot and it's, 'You die, you die, you die'," Lt Denton said. "The odds are on our side. I really enjoy it. I told my wife, if I could come home every night then this would be the perfect job."

Tom Toles: Someone Got Nostalgic

US Government Spent $43.5 Billion Spying Last Year

The US government spent $43.5 billion last year on shoe-phones and the like, up about 50% since 9/11, according to a report by Greg Miller in the Los Angeles Times.

U.S. reluctantly reveals spy budget
The disclosure marked the first time in nearly a decade that the federal government has offered even a partial glimpse of how much it spends on the CIA and the other 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community. Only the overall figure was provided.

The Bush administration had vehemently opposed releasing even that number, arguing that doing so would give the nation's enemies valuable insight into how much money the United States was spending on clandestine activities.
As we've been seeing for years now, the Bush administration vehemently opposes releasing any information, and it's not surprising that they didn't want to release this number either. But now that we have it, what -- if anything -- does the number mean?

The "clandestine activities" referred to here include gathering and analyzing information, as well as covert paramilitary and other operations designed to destabilize foreign governments and other perceived political enemies. But most of the covert operations are now being run out of the Pentagon.
The release fulfills one of the recommendations of the commission that investigated the intelligence failures surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. The commission urged the government to disclose the figure in order to foster greater public scrutiny of the nation's spending priorities. The recommendation was in legislation passed by Congress earlier this year.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said releasing the figure is likely to demonstrate that basic information about the nation's spending on its spy programs can be shared without harming national security.

The information is probably of little use to adversaries trying to scrutinize U.S. intelligence activities, Aftergood said. His organization had unsuccessfully sued the government to force release of the figure.

"What it does tell you is how much we're spending on intelligence compared to other government functions such as defense and healthcare," Aftergood said. "Also, it makes it possible to openly debate the level of intelligence spending, something that has not been possible before in Congress."
With all due respect to Mr. Aftergood, the focus on "government spending" doesn't tell the whole story.

What that number doesn't say may be even more important than what it says.

The $43.5 billion total does not include "black budgets" -- and the "intelligence community" does quite a bit of "fundraising" on its own behalf.

But the LA Times doesn't want to talk about that.
Director of National Intelligence, J. Michael McConnell, declined to provide any further details on spy spending. He said that there "will be no other disclosures of currently classified budget information because such disclosures could harm national security."

The government must disclose the comparable budget amount in 2008. But the intelligence director can block disclosure in subsequent years if he makes the case to Congress that it is necessary to protect national security.

Some officials said that the director's office may take that step because many intelligence officials believe that releasing numbers over a period of years would allow adversaries to examine trends in U.S. intelligence spending.

"If they see a blip, they can direct collection [by their own intelligence agencies] on what that blip might be," said a congressional official involved in classified intelligence budgets, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing issues surrounding classified information.
In other words, if they see a change in the percentage annual increase (for these budgets never get smaller), our adversaries might try to find out what we're doing.

But otherwise they would never try to find out anything of the sort, because they're not curious about stuff like that -- in the absence of blips.

Or something like that.

And if you want to know where the money goes, you are welcome to speculate:
The figure represents spending on an array of intelligence activities, but the CIA and two other agencies account for the bulk of the budget. Those are the National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on phone calls and intercepts e-mails around the world, and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds spy satellites.

Those agencies may each account for as much as $10 billion of the total, according to intelligence experts. The CIA's budget is believed to be between $5 billion and $8 billion.

The $43.5 billion does not include spending by the armed services on intelligence equipment and activities for military operations in the field, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Suicide Bomb Near Musharraf's HQ Kills Eight

According to an early report from AFP:
A suicide bomber blew himself up near President Pervez Musharraf's army headquarters in the Pakistani garrison city of Rawalpindi on Tuesday, killing five people, officials said.
After this was written, CNN reported that the bomb had killed six.

Even later, Pak Tribune put the death toll at eight.

But AFP had some good early spot-reporting:
"It was a suicide attack. The area is sensitive -- we don't know what the exact target was. Five people were killed," Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, a close aide to Musharraf, told AFP.

The blast happened within a kilometre (half a mile) of Musharraf's military camp office in the city, and was also near the office of the chairman of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff, witnesses said.

Private television channels said the attack occurred as Musharraf was meeting with top government and provincial officials to discuss the security situation following a spate of recent attacks.

The site was completely cordoned off by security personnel after the blast and journalists were stopped from reaching the area.

Police official Mohammad Tahir said that the bomber was on foot and was stopped by police at a checkpoint in the city. "He then detonated explosives strapped to his body," he said.
CNN had a few more details:
Musharraf, who also serves as Pakistan's military chief, was inside his office at the time of the blast -- which occurred about a mile away, according to police ... He was not injured.

Police said the explosion ripped through an army residential complex in the sprawling military compound in Rawalpindi which is adjacent to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

The blast happened near the house of Pakistan's newly appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, Gen. Tariq Majid. It is unclear if he was home at the time.
Pak Tribune had more from behind the scenes:
Islamabad police had received intelligence reports a couple of days back that two-suicide bombers had entered Islamabad and Rawalpindi and were planning to target key military installations as revenge for the army operation in Swat.

Meanwhile President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz have strongly condemned the Suicide bomb attack at Katachari Chowk Rawalpindi and expressed their grave sorrow and grief over the loss of precious lives.

In their statements, the President and the Prime Minister have said that the anti-state elements are involved in the suicide blast which are not only enemy of the people but the country.

The President and the Prime Minister have vowed to trace the mastermind of that incident and said that no one would be allowed to create instability in the country, adding that the minority of terrorists and extremism would not be allowed to dominate the majority of moderate forces.
And AFP provided a bit more of the context:
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in Rawalpindi, the heart of the country's military establishment, on September 4, killing 25 people. Most of those killed were in a bus taking intelligence officials to work.

The attack also comes less than two weeks after twin suicide attacks in the southern city of Karachi killed 139 people during a procession to welcome former premier Benazir Bhutto home from eight years in exile.

Pakistani officials have implicated Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network in the Karachi blasts, but Bhutto says she believes rogue security and government agents may also have been involved.

Pakistan has suffered a string of attacks since the raid of the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad in July, piling pressure on key US ally Musharraf as he struggles with a political crisis ahead of general elections set for January.

Pakistani forces are maintaining a tense ceasefire with a Taliban-style cleric in the northwestern Swat Valley, once a thriving tourist area, after clashes at the weekend that left around 60 militants dead.

The troubles in Swat have reinforced fears of a spillover from Pakistan's lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where thousands of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants fled after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
None of these reports says so explicitly, but as we've seen many times in the past, the attacks against Pakistani military and police forces are especially motivated by President General Pervez Musharraf's alliance with America in the bogus war on bogus terror -- and exacerbated by "opposition leader" Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan to form an alliance with the military dictator, and all in the name of democracy.

This alliance -- a political "marriage" of convenience and power -- is supported by the Americans, and therefore I expect the suicide bombings to continue, even to worsen...

[see also]

Death Threats And Court Challenges: Pakistan Awaits The Return Of Benazir Bhutto

Karachi Bomb Attack Misses Benazir Bhutto But Kills Scores Of Others

Benazir Bhutto Plays A Cynical Hand After Karachi Bombing

Captured Pakistanis Beheaded As A Warning: 'All Sons Of Bush Will Meet Similar Fate'

Suicide Bomber On Bicycle Kills Iraqi Policemen: Must Be al Qaeda!

Is the suicide bicycle the next weapon of choice for al Qaeda? Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times takes one out for a spin:
Police training in the provincial capital of Baquba turned into a blood bath on Monday when a suicide bomber on a bicycle set off his explosive vest in the midst of policemen, killing 29, the local police said.

The blast in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, also wounded 19 people, including 7 policemen who were in critical condition and a woman and her baby, provincial authorities said. Most of the police officers killed and wounded were members of the recently formed emergency police brigade in Diyala.

Wisam Wahid al-Majmaie, a policeman who lives in the Ghatoon neighborhood of Baquba, said that a few minutes before the blast he had been relaxing with his colleagues. “I lost 12 friends who were with me having tea 30 minutes ago,” he said.

The attack was one of the deadliest on Iraqi security forces in several weeks. No group took immediate responsibility, but the episode suggested that Sunni Arab guerrillas, who as recently as last spring controlled Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, continue to be able to carry out devastating attacks.

American military officials said they had largely cleared Baquba of militants during operations this summer, when a large force of soldiers swept through the city. But it appears that despite those efforts the city remains unstable, as does much of the rest of the province, where sectarian killings, bombs and kidnappings occur daily.

During the American and Iraqi offensive over the summer, many of the insurgents were able to flee north before the soldiers arrived, American officers said. Some Iraqis have expressed fears that when United States forces reduce their presence in Baquba, the militants will simply return.

Monday’s bombing in Baquba appeared to be part of a coordinated attack on the police force in the provincial capital. At about the same time as that attack, another suicide bomber attempted to strike the police station in Hibhib, on the northern side of the city, according to an American military official in the city. The attack failed because a policeman shot the suicide bomber. However, the coordinated assault suggests that the extremists are active again in the capital.
You see that? A coordinated attack means extremists, but what would a single attacker with a suicide vest and a bicycle prove? Would that not be a sign that "extremists" were active? It's starting to get dizzy in here.

And it's amazing how American "officials said they had largely cleared Baquba of militants" and yet the city is still "unstable", with "killings, bombs and kidnappings" occurring "daily". It's incredible how "many of the insurgents were able to flee north before the soldiers arrived" and some "Iraqis have expressed fears that when United States forces reduce their presence in Baquba, the militants will simply return".

But -- as we can see from the coordinated attacks of the day -- the militants are already (or still) there! So how can they return when (or if) the American troops leave, if they're already there? It's a vexing problem, isn't it?

Fortunately the solution is at hand: Blame it on al Qaeda!

It's an amazing solution: as it turns out, it can be applied to virtually any problem, and it goes on nice and easy. Reuters shows how it's done, via the same New York Times:
A suicide bomber on a bicycle killed 28 Iraqi policemen doing their morning exercises at their base north of Baghdad on Monday, police said, in one of the deadliest strikes on security forces in months.

The bomber entered the base in the volatile Diyala province and blew himself up amidst members of a rapid reaction force, said Major-General Ghanim al-Quraishi, the Diyala police chief.

A shopkeeper whose store is close to the base told Reuters he had seen a man riding a bicycle slip through a gap in the concrete wall surrounding the compound and heard a huge blast seconds later that threw a cloud of dust into the air.

"I saw many bodies covered in blood. Some were dying, some had arms and legs blown off," said store-owner Ali Shahine.

At least 20 people were wounded in the attack, including a woman and a child, police said.

No group claimed immediate responsibility for the Baquba bombing, but it bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda, which has often used suicide bombers in attacks on Iraqi security forces to devastating effect.
You see, once you get the "hallmarks", the rest is easy. You don't even have to enumerate the hallmarks.

Was it a solo suicide bomber on a bike? Must be al Qaeda! Was it a suicide squad with a hijacked airliner? Must be al Qaeda!

See how it works? The methods are all alike.

Did they have a bomb? Must be al Qaeda! Did they intend to make a bomb? Must be al Qaeda! Was it one attacker or several? Must be al Qaeda! You see it now, don't you?

Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post explained why the terrorists attack Iraqi security forces:
Militants in Iraq frequently target police and others who cooperate with the Iraqi government or the U.S. military.
In other words, members of the Iraqi police and army are being killed for collaborating with the occupying enemy.

Or as CNN reported:
Col. David W. Sutherland, commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Diyala province, said, "This attack is typical of al Qaeda's barbaric and hateful ways, targeting Iraqi security forces who have been working to secure Baquba and enable progress."
We're not supposed to ask what they mean by "progress", but it does appear to have something to do with transferring the nation's oil wealth into the hands of foreigners.

Imagine that!

Investigators Offered Immunity To Blackwater Guards

State Department investigators offered Blackwater security guards immunity during an inquiry into last month’s deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, government officials said [Monday]
according to David Johnston of the New York Times who reports that those officials called it
a potentially serious investigative misstep that could complicate efforts to prosecute the company’s employees involved in the episode.
Wait! It gets better.
The State Department investigators from the agency’s investigative arm, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, offered the immunity grants even though they did not have the authority to do so
says Johnston, while
Prosecutors at the Justice Department, who do have such authority, had no advance knowledge of the arrangement ...
Slick, no?
State and Justice Department spokesmen would not comment on the matter. “If there’s any truth to this story, then the decision was made without consultation with senior officials in Washington,” one State Department official said.

The immunity deals came as an unwelcome surprise at the Justice Department, which was already grappling with the fundamental legal question of whether any prosecutions could take place involving American civilians in Iraq.
and so on ... more legal analysis at the link and some background here: .

Speed Bump: Will Mass Murder In Nisoor Square Slow The Growth Of Blackwater?

A Humiliating Figure: State Department Offers Cash To Families Of Nisoor Square Victims

Writer Who Offends NRA Gets Death Threats

The National Rifle Association calls itself
an organization of nearly 4,000,000 members, which dedicates itself to preserving the rights of law-abiding citizens to choose to legally own guns, while also calling for the strict enforcement and punishment of those who break the law ... an organization that counts among its staff, national officers, and members current and retired law enforcement professionals ... NRA reserves its support for the Second Amendment to lawful and responsible citizens
and they must be lawful and responsible citizens indeed, because when they read something they find offensive, they respond with a barrage of death threats against both the author of the offensive piece and the publisher.

To put this in perspective, imagine if the death threats were being sent by brown, bearded men with names like Abdullah and Ahmed and Mohammed. How long would it take before they were in prison?

Or to look at it another way, how many offensive pieces do I read every day? If I sent death threats every time somebody ticked me off, how long would it take before I was in prison, too?

In other words ... don't we have laws against terrorism?

Krugman Reconsidered: Is Half A Loaf Really Better Than None At All?

The last time I mentioned Paul Krugman, I pointed out places where I agreed with him, but I didn't point out any places where I disagreed. That was a telltale sign of fatigue (or maybe laziness) on my part, but it did lead to an interesting discussion, so it wasn't an entirely lost cause.

I don't go looking for Krugman's columns, but every now and then I do stumble across one, and when that happens, I usually stop and read it. I often find a lot of truth in his columns, but it's always mixed in with a lot of other stuff too. So that brings up a good question: What about the other stuff? What do we do with that?

This is where we get into the realm of personal taste and I don't mean to imply that my way is better than anyone else's, but what I do with the other stuff depends on what it is. If it's mildly annoying or simply irrelevant filler then I tend to disregard it. On the other hand if it's dripping blood then it can hardly be ignored.

Krugman's column for today is called "Fearing Fear Itself" and it contains a great deal of truth. But there's some other stuff too, and it's dripping! As bad if not worse, there's important stuff missing, and that's dripping, as well.

Here's the piece in full, with [restrained] comments interspersed:

"Fearing Fear Itself" or (here)
In America’s darkest hour, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged the nation not to succumb to “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.” But that was then.

Today, many of the men who hope to be the next president — including all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving the Republican nomination — have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns.
The same can be true of "all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving" the Democratic nomination as well. In both parties, the few candidates who do not make "unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns" are being systematically marginalized -- or simply ignored.
Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible.”
Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taken seriously as a candidate. Consider the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is not in prison!
Mr. Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the “main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.” The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world “shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes.” Indeed, “Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia.”

Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t.
We were told that Osama bin Laden attacked America on 9/11, but the FBI was never convinced, and neither am I. In which case, both wars -- in Afghanistan as well as Iraq -- are illegitimate!
And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.
Exactly. Most modern states are "quite helpful" to anyone who is pounding on any of their neighbors -- with or without 9/11. Which by the way was an inside job, as can be clearly seen. As could be clearly seen on the day. I digress, perhaps, but this is the heart of the bloody lie. The "awkward transition" Krugman describes was the transition between between pretending to hunt for Osama bin Laden, who had been blamed for 9/11, and then invading Iraq in order to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who had not.
Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in many ways, and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.

Meanwhile, the idea that bombing will bring the Iranian regime to its knees — and bombing is the only option, since we’ve run out of troops — is pure wishful thinking. Last year Israel tried to cripple Hezbollah with an air campaign, and ended up strengthening it instead. There’s every reason to believe that an attack on Iran would produce the same result, with the added effects of endangering U.S. forces in Iraq and driving oil prices well into triple digits.
Triple-digit oil prices, of course, would suit some people just fine!
Mr. Podhoretz, in short, is engaging in what my relatives call crazy talk. Yet he is being treated with respect by the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination.
Right. And that's because he speaks code, and unless you understand the code, you don't get the message.

The point of Podhoretz’s message is not rational analysis of verifiable intelligence. He's trying to provide a plausible justification for something he and his audience have wanted to do for years.
And Mr. Podhoretz’s rants are, if anything, saner than some of what we’ve been hearing from some of Mr. Giuliani’s rivals.
Well ... that's debatable. But in the meantime, what have we been hearing from Hillary Clinton and some of her rivals? Mr. Krugman doesn't want to talk about that, does he?

Actually, he does touch on it, tangentially, as we will see. But first he has more to say about the Elephant hopefuls:
Thus, in a recent campaign ad Mitt Romney asserted that America is in a struggle with people who aim “to unite the world under a single jihadist Caliphate. To do that they must collapse freedom-loving nations. Like us.” He doesn’t say exactly who these jihadists are, but presumably he’s referring to Al Qaeda — an organization that has certainly demonstrated its willingness and ability to kill innocent people, but has no chance of collapsing the United States, let alone taking over the world.
Not to mention another force which has "certainly demonstrated its willingness and ability to kill innocent people", which seems bent on "taking over the world" and which is not only capable of "collapsing the United States" but doing so as we speak.
And Mike Huckabee, whom reporters like to portray as a nice, reasonable guy, says that if Hillary Clinton is elected, “I’m not sure we’ll have the courage and the will and the resolve to fight the greatest threat this country’s ever faced in Islamofascism.” Yep, a bunch of lightly armed terrorists and a fourth-rate military power — which aren’t even allies — pose a greater danger than Hitler’s panzers or the Soviet nuclear arsenal ever did.

All of this would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
That's quite true, but the degree of seriousness does not appear to have dawned on Mr. Krugman.
In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration adopted fear-mongering as a political strategy. Instead of treating the attack as what it was — an atrocity committed by a fundamentally weak, though ruthless adversary — the administration portrayed America as a nation under threat from every direction.
If the Bush administration were willing to treat "the attack as what it was" then it would have begun an immediate investigation to find out what it was. The fact that they didn't do so shows us quite clearly what the attack was. It also shows us that our adversary is ruthless, and fundamentally very powerful.
Most Americans have now regained their balance. But the Republican base, which lapped up the administration’s rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected by the fear the Bushies stirred up — perhaps because fear of terrorists maps so easily into the base’s older fears, including fear of dark-skinned people in general.

And the base is looking for a candidate who shares this fear.
But this is another fallacy, because it's not a matter of what the base is looking for. It's a matter of what options are going to be allowed; the base will choose one of a virtually identical set.
Just to be clear, Al Qaeda is a real threat, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. But neither of these threats frightens me as much as fear itself — the unreasoning fear that has taken over one of America’s two great political parties.
Well... Just to be clear and reality-based, al Qaeda is a vastly overblown threat, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. But neither of these threats frightens me as much as America's two great political parties.

And to be clear and reality-based again, the unreasoning fear has not taken over either of America’s two great political parties. It's being used, by both parties -- and by Krugman himself -- as a political weapon.

In order for fear to work as a political tool, there must be vast and general ignorance, and with this piece Krugman contributes to that ignorance in a number of ways. If he were inclined to apply his critical thinking skills to the foreign policy positions of the leading donkey hopefuls, then we might be able to say he was making a contribution. But even more importantly, what if he were willing review the official story of 9/11 and say
Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?
In other words, what if Paul Krugman were willing call the bogus GWOT "what it is", i.e. bogus?

Then what?

It would make a big splash, for a day or two ... and when the dust cleared, Paul Krugman would be a former columnist!

This is the "liberal media" we're talking about, remember?

Do you think he knows that, or not?

John Lennon said it better than I could, in "Working Class Hero":
There's room at the top, they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
And to answer my headline question:

Half a loaf is much worse than none at all, if it's poisoned!

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Humiliating Figure: State Department Offers Cash To Families Of Nisoor Square Victims

From Sudarsan Raghavan, Baghdad Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, a sequel to the stunning "Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire". I've added emphasis and the section headers.

U.S. Offers Cash to Victims in Blackwater Incident
Family Members Of Some View Amount as Paltry

BAGHDAD, Oct. 24 -- The U.S. Embassy on Wednesday began offering tens of thousands of dollars in payments to victims and families of victims of the Sept. 16 shootings in Baghdad involving security guards from the firm Blackwater Worldwide, according to relatives and U.S. officials.

Family members of several victims turned down the compensation, out of concern that accepting the funds would limit their future claims against the North Carolina-based security contractor and its chief executive, Erik Prince. Others said that the money being offered -- in some cases $12,500 for a death -- was paltry and that they wanted to sue Blackwater in an American court.

Firoz Fadhil Abbas

"This is an insult," said Firoz Fadhil Abbas, whose brother Osama was killed in a barrage of bullets. "The funeral and the wake cost more than what they offered. My brother who got killed was responsible for four families."

The offers of compensation, while a standard practice in the U.S. military, are unusual for the U.S. Embassy, reflecting the diplomatic and political sensitivities raised by the shootings, which sparked outrage in Iraq and the United States.

Mirembe Nantongo

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo described the offers as "condolence payments" to support the relatives of the victims and said the money was not intended to be a final settlement of their claims. Relatives could still bring suits against Blackwater, she said.

"It's not an admission of culpability," Nantongo said. "And this is in no way a waiver of future claims."


The offers came two days before the 40-day anniversary of the shootings, a traditional day of mourning in many Islamic societies. They also came a day after a panel, appointed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, found shortcomings in the embassy's compensation system for incidents involving private security contractors.

"The Embassy process for provision of payments, as is expected by Iraqi legal practice and custom, to the families of innocent civilians killed or seriously injured ... or for damage to property, is not as responsive or timely as that of the U.S. military," the report found.

Disputed claims

Blackwater guards contend that they were ambushed by Iraqi civilians and policemen. But eyewitnesses, police investigators and U.S. soldiers who later arrived at the scene say the guards opened fire on Iraqi civilians without provocation.

The Iraqi government has concluded that Blackwater is solely to blame for the shootings, which left 17 people dead in Nisoor Square near the affluent western Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour.

Legal Status

Blackwater's legal status is unclear. Foreign security firms are immune from Iraqi questioning and legislation under Order 17, a law created by Iraq's post-invasion U.S. authority. But the Iraqi government is mounting a determined effort to overturn the decree and clear the way for private security companies to be tried in Iraqi courts and for Iraqi citizens to file suit against them.

On Wednesday, Iraq's cabinet decided to create a committee to explore ways to repeal Order 17, according to Iraqi television reports citing anonymous Iraqi officials. An official in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he could neither confirm nor deny the action.

Iraq's Interior Ministry has been trying to repeal Order 17 since January and has referred its findings from an internal probe of the Sept. 16 incident for possible criminal prosecution. Iraqi investigators from the Defense Ministry have concluded that Blackwater should be expelled from Iraq and that $8 million should be paid as compensation for each victim. U.S. officials have said that any action against Blackwater must wait until the findings of an ongoing FBI probe are released.

Some victims have sued Blackwater and Prince in a U.S. federal court, seeking unspecified damages to compensate for alleged war crimes, illegal killings, wrongful death and emotional distress.

Haitham Ahmed

Haitham Ahmed, whose wife, Mehasin Muhsin Kadhum, and son, Ahmed Haitham, were killed in Nisoor Square, said justice has been elusive. He has written to Maliki seeking help, but as of Wednesday he had not been contacted by Iraqi officials, he said.

On Saturday, Ahmed met with a State Department official who asked him what he thought was fair compensation for his wife and son.

"They are priceless," Ahmed replied.

The official pressed him on an amount.

"Like Lockerbie," Ahmed replied, referring to the Pan American airline bombing over Scotland in which victims' families each reportedly received $8 million in compensation from the Libyan government.

"And you would have to deliver the criminals to an Iraqi court just like Libya delivered the criminals to the British," Ahmed told the U.S. official.

On Wednesday, Ahmed refused to go to the Green Zone to receive the payment from a team led by Patricia Butenis, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy. Later, Ahmed learned from Mohammad Hafud Abdul Razaq that $12,500 had been offered for the death of Abdul Razaq's 10-year-old son, Ali, who was seated in the back seat of a car near Nisoor Square when a bullet struck his head.

"A humiliating figure," said Ahmed, who added that he was considering joining the U.S. lawsuit.

Abdul Razaq

Abdul Razaq, a 37-year-old car dealer, refused to accept the money. Butenis, he said, expressed her condolences, but he wanted Blackwater to acknowledge what it did.

"The manager of Blackwater didn't apologize, and he didn't admit the crime. He didn't apologize for his crime," Abdul Razaq said. Then he said that he told Butenis that the amount was far too little to compensate for his son's death.

"I told the ambassador, 'You are fighting terrorist groups who are offering $100,000 for people who blow themselves up.' "

Baraa Sadoun

Others were desperate. Baraa Sadoun, 29, a taxi driver, was shot in the abdomen. He took $7,500 in crisp $100 bills. He had already had two surgeries in a private hospital.

"I paid double this amount for the treatment and surgery," Sadoun said. "For more than a month now, I'm jobless and disabled. And my car is completely damaged. This incident totally ruined my life."
For more background, see "Speed Bump: Will Mass Murder In Nisoor Square Slow The Growth Of Blackwater?"

But not me; I've already read it. And I'm thinking about something different. I want to do the math.

Listen: Iraq is (or was) a nation of about 28 million people. At roughly $10,000 each, their lives would be worth a total of about $280 billion.

That's much less than the cost of the war so far, probably less than ten percent of what the war will wind up costing, and less than one percent of the $30 trillion worth of our oil that's hidden under their sand. So why don't we just kill them all, give them $10,000 apiece and get it over with already?

Tom Toles: What Have You Learned?

Red Stockings Broom!

It's just a game and the result makes no difference to me, but some of my friends are going to be ecstatic. And I'm happy for them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fab Five: Chris Floyd For Glenn Greenwald At Salon Dot Com

Chris Floyd has just finished a remarkable week's work as a guest at Salon dot com, where he, Anonymous Liberal, and Pam Spaulding filled in for the very popular blogger Glenn Greenwald, giving Glenn a chance to put the finishing touches on his new book. I can't tell you how pleased I was to see Chris' work at such a popular site.

In my opinion, Chris Floyd is not only very bright and well-informed; he's also a brilliant analyst and a master of the language, with a solid historical background, a thorough understanding of both Shakespeare and Dylan, and a memory that just doesn't quit. His heart is in the right place, too.

I've been reading Chris regularly ever since I stumbled across Global Eye, his (former) weekly world affairs column for the Moscow Times, and I've always been impressed with the truth and power of his words.

If we could just clone this man, and install one of him in the editorial office of every newspaper in America .... and one in every barbershop and beauty salon too ... but now I'm really dreaming!

Seriously: If you haven't already read the five pieces Floyd contributed to Salon in Greenwald's absence, please do so. Here's a quick compendium, with links to all and quotes from each. Click the links for the full versions, and follow Floyd's links for more depth and detail.

I: Unhappy Birthday: The Democrats' Year Of Living Disastrously
Outrage follows outrage, surrender follows surrender: Every day the unreality of our political discourse worsens, even as the reality on the ground grows more bitter and uncontainable. As we approach the anniversary of the Democrats' recapture of Congress -- an event that was supposed to mark the repudiation of the Bush administration's lawless, blood-soaked enterprise -- it is undeniable that the situation is actually worse now than before.

The prospect of a Democratic victory in 2006 was for many people the last, flickering hope that the degradation of the republic could be arrested and reversed within the ordinary bounds of the political system. This was always a fantasy, given the strong bipartisan nature and decades-long cultivation of greed, arrogance and militarism that has now come to its fullest bloom in the Bush administration. But desperation can crack the shell of the most hardened cynic, and no doubt there were few who did not harbor somewhere deep inside at least a small grain of hope against hope that a slap-down at the polls would give the Bush gang pause and confound its worst depredations.

One year on, we can all see how the Democrats have made a mockery of those dreams. Their epic levels of unpopularity are richly deserved. At every step they evoke the remarks of the emperor Tiberius, who, after yet another round of groveling acquiescence from the once-powerful Roman Senate, dismissed them with muttered contempt: "Men fit to be slaves." The record of the present Congress provides copious and irrefutable evidence for this judgment.
II: Rain of Terror: The Iraqi Air War in Context
Monday, the Pentagon acknowledged a long-unspoken truth: that the bombardment of civilian neighborhoods in Iraq is an integral part of the vaunted "counterinsurgency" doctrine of Gen. David Petraeus. The number of airstrikes in the conquered land has risen fivefold since George W. Bush escalated the war in January, as USA Today reports:

"Coalition forces launched 1,140 airstrikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year, according to military statistics ... In Iraq, the temporary increase of 30,000 U.S. troops ordered by President Bush in January has led to the increase in bombing missions. The U.S. command has moved forces off large bases and into neighborhoods and has launched several large offensives aimed at al-Qaeda ... 'You end up having that many more opportunities for close air support,' said Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Mueller, director of the Combined Air Operations Center in Doha, Qatar."

Leaving aside the undigested lump of pure propaganda spewed up by the reporter -- "al-Qaeda" has not been the sole or even the main target of the "offensives" launched into civilian areas -- the military stats reveal the growing centrality of airstrikes in Iraq. What's more, these figures do not include attacks by helicopter gunships, whose fearsome destructive power rivals that of any bomb or missile.

The results of this deliberate strategy have been entirely predictable and deeply horrific: Innocent civilians chewed to pieces by blast force and metal. Innocent civilians dispossessed of homes, cars, goods, all means of survival. Innocent civilians turned into bitter enemies of the United States, as they bury their young, their old, their most beloved ones.
III: Friends Reunited: Blair and Bush Team Up to Sell New War
Speaking at the annual Al Smith charity dinner -- safely distant from the mother country, where he has become a national embarrassment, never mentioned in polite society -- Blair eagerly trafficked in the ludicrous trope that views "Islamic extremism" as one huge, all-powerful, amorphous yet somehow monolithic mass, comprising -- as Mitt Romney once put it with blazing ignorance -- "Shi'a and Sunni ... Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood." In the minds of would-be he-men like Blair and Romney, this amalgamation of conflicting sects and completely disparate groups is a single, mighty Saracen sword aimed at the heart of Western civilization: a threat that must be stopped at all costs -- or, rather, at the cost of other people's blood and treasure.

Blair even went Romney one better in the dumb-and-dumber sweepstakes by stuffing this writhing mass of Islamic serpents into one big Persian basket. After wondering "if we're not in the 1920s or 1930s again" -- and of course invoking 9/11 over and over (an ancient rhetorical device known as guilianius affectus) -- Blair put Iran in the cross hairs as, well, the focus of evil in the modern world. Squeaking at the top of his pip, Blair declared: "This ideology now has a state, Iran, that is prepared to back and finance terror in the pursuit of destabilizing countries whose people wish to live in peace."

Think of that: We now have a state -- a concrete target -- where we can strike all of the strands of Islamic extremism at once, thereby quelling a dire and imminent threat to our very existence. How can we not attack it under such circumstances?
IV: People get ready -- one shoe away from war with Iran
This is the sound of one shoe dropping:

"Ratcheting up the pressure on Tehran, the United States on Thursday designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a proliferater of weapons of mass destruction and its elite Qods force a supporter of terrorism. In total, Washington slapped sanctions on more than 20 Iranian companies, major banks and individuals, as well as the Defense Ministry, in a bid to pressure Tehran to halt its nuclear program and curb its 'terrorist' activities."
V: Dissent or Disgrace: The Only Choice Left for Americans
How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.

-- Henry David Thoreau
Every day it becomes clearer that Thoreau's answer is the only basis for a genuinely effective resistance to the accelerating depredations of the Bush-Cheney regime. Disassociation, boycott, filibuster, strike -- call it what you will, but the Gandhian tag might be the best: "non-cooperation with evil." The corruption and authoritarian tyranny that the regime has imposed on the nation are evil. The war of aggression it has launched against Iraq is evil. The war of aggression it is fomenting against Iran is evil. If you would not be complicit in evil, then you must not cooperate with it, and you must not acknowledge its power as rightful or legitimate (however powerless you may be to resist its application by brute force)...
Here's a good idea: Read the whole thing.

Here's a better idea: Read all five.

I: Unhappy Birthday: The Democrats' Year Of Living Disastrously
II: Rain of Terror: The Iraqi Air War in Context
III: Friends Reunited: Blair and Bush Team Up to Sell New War
IV: People get ready -- one shoe away from war with Iran
V: Dissent or Disgrace: The Only Choice Left for Americans

And here's another good idea: Bookmark Chris Floyd's site, Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium, and visit every day. Tell your friends, too. The more the better.

Weblog Nominations Are Closed: Thanks For Your Support

Nominations have closed and the selectors are working on their short lists for the 2007 Weblog Awards, where it has been an honor to be nominated in no less than four categories, along with such talented and dedicated patriots as Chris Floyd, Larisa Alexandrovna, Arthur Silber and Michelle Malkin. It's also been my privilege to nominate a few excellent but largely unrecognized bloggers, and of course I hope they are all selected for the next phase.

The short lists -- 10 finalists in each of 45 categories -- will be posted in just a few days, and then the voting will commence. Unlike the nomination process, in which you were asked to register or sign in or else comment anonymously and await moderation, voting will require no registration or login and the results will be visible in real time ... or so they say. I'll let you know when the lists are posted so you can join me in supporting our favorite bloggers. I'm looking forward to voting early and often.

Early and often? Hey! That's a joke! It's an election-integrity joke, too! There aren't too many of those around, and that's a shame, isn't it?

But seriously: you can only vote once in each category ... unless you have access to the secret proprietary source code ... or you can change the memory card on the machine ... or you know the secret sequence of invisible controls that flip the result -- Hey! What do you know? 51% for me!! It's a miracle!!

Hey! That's another joke! Come ON! Would I kid you about something as serious as election integrity?

Captured Pakistanis Beheaded As A Warning: 'All Sons Of Bush Will Meet Similar Fate'

The reports differ but the point is always the same:

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn : Militants behead law-enforcement men in public
Militants on Friday publicly executed four law-enforcement personnel in a village, 16km west of Mingora, the district headquarters, and exchanged heavy gunfire with security forces in a nearby sub-district.

“It was gruesome,” was how a resident of Shakkardarra described the scene of beheading of the law-enforcement personnel.

Requesting anonymity, he told Dawn on phone that masked militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles brought the four men to the village at around 5pm, fires a few shots in the air and then beheaded them.

The men, said to be in their mid-20s, had their hands tied together. They were pushed to the ground on the main Matta-Mingora road and had their heads chopped off.

Let this serves as a warning to all those who spy for the government or help the government. All sons of Bush will meet similar fate,” the resident quoted one of the militants announcing shortly before the execution.

“We watched the gory scene in shock and horror. We felt so helpless. There was fear and gloom in the village,” he said.

There was no information about the identity of the beheaded men.

Locals said that two of them were from police and from the haircut and the sandals of the other two it appeared that they belonged to a paramilitary force.
The Associated Press via the International Herald Tribune : Militants decapitate 13 men seized in northwestern Pakistan, official says
Militants have executed 13 captives accused of being spies in apparent retaliation for an assault by security forces on the stronghold of a militant cleric in northwestern Pakistan, officials said Saturday.

The men, including six security personnel and seven civilians, were captured by militants at a roadblock they had set up on the outskirts of Swat district, said Home Secretary Badshah Gul Wazir, the top civilian security official of the North West Frontier Province where Swat is located.

Officials said earlier that 11 people had been kidnapped Friday.

A witness said he had seen six of the bodies with notes attached accusing them of being American agents.

A spokesman for the pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, claimed the killings were carried out by local residents who back the militants' aims — although there was no other indication that villagers were responsible for the deaths.

"It was done by common people, who support us because we only want enforcement of Islamic laws," Sirajuddin, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press.

Wazir said the civilians were accused of being spies.

"The civilians were killed to terrorize the people. (The militants) say they were either informers or were supporting the government side," Wazir told the AP by telephone from Peshawar, the province's capital.

Police recovered the remains of four of the kidnapped men — three Frontier Constabulary soldiers and one policeman — before dawn on Saturday, said Javed Shah, a local police official. He said villagers told police the executions were conducted Friday in public in Ningulai village, about three kilometers (two miles) from Imam Dheri.

"The masked militants, who were Maulana Fazlullah's men, displayed their heads and threw the severed heads and the remains of the three FC people and one policeman in a farm field," Shah said.
Riaz Khan of the AP via Google: Pakistani Militants Behead 4 Officers
A few hours earlier, militiamen of the regional Frontier Constabulary, supported by army helicopters, attacked the redoubt of cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who runs a sprawling seminary in Imam Dheri and leads a band of armed militants.

Hundreds of villagers fled as the two sides battled across the rushing Swat River, firing rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and other weapons. Police said one militant was known dead and two civilians were killed by stray bullets near the river.

"I never saw this type of violence in my life," said Abdul Hamid, a 70-year-old shop owner in Swat, who sobbed as he watched thick smoke rising from trees set afire on a nearby mountain where fighting also broke out.

"Swat was one of the safest places on Pakistan, and now it has become Iraq and Afghanistan, and I don't know what will happen in future," Hamid said.
Abdul Hamid is right. Nobody knows what will happen in the future. But life in the GWOT doesn't look inviting to anybody.

The Height Of Hypocrisy? Or Maybe Not Yet??

I: Real Fires, Fake News

Al Kamen wrote about Tuesday's phony FEMA press conference in the Washington Post:
FEMA Meets the Press, Which Happens to Be . . . FEMA
FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina. Even its handling of the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing.

Reporters were given only 15 minutes' notice of the briefing, making it unlikely many could show up at FEMA's Southwest D.C. offices. They were given an 800 number to call in, though it was a "listen only" line, the notice said -- no questions. Parts of the briefing were carried live on Fox News, MSNBC and other outlets.

Johnson stood behind a lectern and began with an overview before saying he would take a few questions. The first questions were about the "commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how officials are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He responded eloquently.

He was apparently quite familiar with the reporters -- in one case, he appears to say "Mike" and points to a reporter -- and was asked an oddly in-house question about "what it means to have an emergency declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration" signed by the president. He once again explained smoothly.

FEMA press secretary Aaron Walker interrupted at one point to caution he'd allow just "two more questions." Later, he called for a "last question."

"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" a reporter asked. Another asked about "lessons learned from Katrina."

"I'm very happy with FEMA's response so far," Johnson said, hailing "a very smoothly, very efficiently performing team."

"And so I think what you're really seeing here is the benefit of experience, the benefit of good leadership and the benefit of good partnership," Johnson said, "none of which were present in Katrina." (Wasn't Michael Chertoff DHS chief then?) Very smooth, very professional. But something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters.
There's more at the link.

Jordy Yager of the Los Angeles Times continued the story:
FEMA blasted for 'news' conference
No one had any hard questions for the deputy administrator of FEMA, an agency deeply tarnished by its delayed action after Hurricane Katrina, when he held a news conference Tuesday to talk about the California wildfires.

"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" someone asked.

Indeed, the deputy administrator was. "I am very happy with FEMA's response so far," responded Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr.

The news conference looked like a success in the Bush administration's effort this week to demonstrate it could respond competently to a disaster.

On Friday, however, the agency admitted that the softball questions were posed by FEMA employees, not reporters.

The White House was not happy with FEMA's response.

"It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House," said Press Secretary Dana Perino, mentioning three times that it was an "error in judgment." "It's not something I would have condoned, and they, I'm sure, will not do it again."
This is funny because stories such as that of Armstrong Williams
Tribune Media Services (TMS) ... terminated its contract with columnist Armstrong Williams, effective immediately. But Williams told E&P that he plans to continue his feature via self-syndication.

TMS' action came after USA Today reported this morning that Williams had accepted $240,000 from the Bush administration to promote the No Child Left Behind education-reform law on his TV and radio shows. E & P subsequently reported that Williams had also written about NCLB in his newspaper column at least four times last year.
turned out unexceptional, and worse practices were quite common.

Sourcewatch: Video news releases
Video news releases or VNRs (also referred to as fake TV news) are segments designed to be indistinguishable from independently-produced news reports that are distributed and promoted to television newsrooms. TV stations incorporate VNRs into their newscasts, rarely alerting viewers to the source of the footage. ... government-funded VNRs have been most controversial ...
and the Bush administration doesn't even repudiate them.

Bush White House defends VNRs
Following a March 2005 New York Times report on the use by government of VNRs, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked at a media briefing whether their use was "legal and legitimate ... without disclaimers that they're government productions, as long as they meet some standard of factual basis?"

"First of all, we're talking about informational news releases. And the Department of Justice has issued an opinion saying that as long as this is factual information about department or agency programs, it is perfectly appropriate. There is a memorandum that we -- or the Department of Justice sent to agencies and departments last week expressing the view of the Justice Department. And the informational news releases that you're referring to are something that had been in use for many years. It goes back to the early '90s, both in the private and public sectors; many federal agencies have used this for quite some time as an informational tool to provide factual information to the American people," he said.

"And my understanding is that when these informational releases are sent out, that it's very clear to the TV stations where they are coming from. So that information, as I understand it, is disclosed. And the Justice Department opinion talks about the importance of making sure that it is factual information and not crossing the line into advocacy," he said.

President George W. Bush was asked at the American Society of Newspaper Editors Convention in April 2005 whether the use of VNRs and the funding of Armstrong Williams was deceptive. "Yes, it's deceptive to the American people if it's not disclosed," he said.

After defending the use of VNRs as being legal for government agencies, Bush echoed the PR industry view that the onus for disclosure was on the broadcasters not the producers. "But it's incumbent upon people who use them to say, this news clip was produced by the federal government," he said.

A few days later Bush made it clear that the government had no intention of ensuring each VNR was captioned so that stations had no option but to disclose the origin of video material to viewers. "...Local stations ought to - if there's a deep concern about that, ought to tell their viewers what they're watching," Bush said when asked if the government would ensure all VNR footage was identified.

II: Benazir Bhutto Plays The Blame Game

Bombs went off in Karachi last week, just hours after Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan, during the long slow procession which the government had asked her not to conduct. They offered to fly her across the city from the airport in a helicopter, she declined. They asked her to postpone her return, she insisted. They asked her to observe normal security precautions, such as not disclosing the planned itinerary and moving as fast as possible from one secure location to another. Bhutto ignored all these suggestions.

She settled for an armored truck with a police escort, and stood on the top where there had been a bulletproof shield, which she had removed. After traveling like this for nine hours, she got tired and went inside the armored truck; within minutes two explosions occurred which killed 140 of her supporters and injured another 500.

So Benazir Bhutto claimed to have been the victim of the attack, even though she herself was unharmed.

This is a woman who has just sold out the burgeoning pro-democracy movement in Pakistan in order to prop up a faltering military dictator, in a secret deal brokered by the Americans who have turned Pakistan inside-out by coercing President General Pervez Musharraf to ally himself with the USA in the so-called Global War on Terror -- in other words, against the ISI and the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who were all allies of the US at one point, when the Russians were the problem of the day.

Benazir Bhutto, having aligned herself with President General Musharraf and the Americans in a secret amnesty deal, has done grave damage to the rule of law in her own country and she calls herself and her platform pro-democratic.

In any case, Benazir Bhutto returned to her father's mausoleum for the first time in eight years amid extremely tight security, and declared that the Pakistani government should compensate the victims and accept the blame for the bombing in Karachi last week because it didn't provide enough security. No kidding.

Griffe Witte of the Washington Post:
Bhutto Visits Ancestral Homeland Under Tight Security
Under extraordinarily tight security, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto returned to her ancestral homeland Saturday in her first major move since an assassination attempt against her last week claimed 140 lives.

In a quick and tightly scripted visit, Bhutto paid respects at the tomb of her father, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and waved to a crowd of thousands that had gathered to mark her homecoming after eight years of exile. But Bhutto did not speak to the assembled mass of flag-waving supporters, and concerns about a possible follow-up attack seemed to dictate every aspect of the trip.

Her convoy, which included vehicles mounted with machine guns, sped along the route from the airport to the tomb in the village of Garhi Khuda Baksh. Only bodyguards and members of the media were allowed near.

Bhutto's vehicle, a white, bullet-proof SUV, was equipped with a hatch in the roof, flanked by two metal slabs. At several points, she emerged to show her face to local backers who worship the Bhutto name with an almost religious fervor.

Once inside the tomb -- a five-domed, white marble giant that is still being built more than a decade after work began -- a solemn-looking Bhutto laid rose petals over the grave of her father, who was hanged in 1979 by Pakistan's then-dictator, Gen. Zia ul-Haq.
AFP via Pakistan's Dawn:
Benazir Bhutto prays at father's grave
Thousands of supporters cheered Benazir Bhutto as she visited her ancestral village amid tight security Saturday.

Benazir travelled to the remote corner of southern Pakistan to offer prayers at her family's mausoleum, which was surrounded by heavily armed guards.

Crowds in the village danced and chanted “Long Live Bhutto” as she arrived in a bullet-proof jeep from the nearby city of Sukkur, where thousands of supporters had showered her with rose petals.

“Good Muslims will never attack a woman. I will reach out to my people everywhere in Pakistan,” she said inside the mausoleum.

Benazir late Saturday urged Musharraf's government to compensate the families of those killed in the blasts.

“The government should give compensation to the victims of the bomb blast. It was the failure of the government,” she told a press conference at her nearby family home.

III: One Good Lie Deserves Another

You may remember the so-called "Colonel Jenny Sparks", who "ran" a pre-emptive and half-baked "investigation" into the so-called Kennebunk Warning "hoax".

The "investigation" protected the people who appeared to be lying, and came to a pointed conclusion when "Jenny" wrote a letter of apology to those "she" had allegedly "investigated", and sent it on behalf of the 9/11 truth movement.

If you were thinking along with me during the post I called "Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart", you'll recall the thought "How presumptuous can you get?".

Guess what? "Jenny's" most recent move is an open letter to Webster Tarpley, dismissing him from any leadership role in the movement, on behalf of the movement itself. Utterly unbelievable.

And by the way I keep putting "Jenny's" name in quotes because I have reason to believe the character who uses the name "Jenny Sparks" is a man whose name is Joe. Joe's a spark-generator, a disruptor, and a very good one; he's offended because Webster Tarpley has been suggesting that Joe is probably working for the intelligence community in one capacity or another. And Joe doesn't like that very much at all, really, not least of all because if he gets outed it might cost him his job.

This utterly absurd state of affairs was compounded when his (or "her") ally in disinformation, Arabesque, presented a heavily very spun version of this internal political squabble at a much larger and extremely inappropriate venue! That's right, the Kennebunkport warning has finally hit the big orange blog, and the big orange bloggers are not impressed.

The first three comments in the thread tell the tale:
Thank you for this, whatever it is.

I can't say I feel informed in any way -- just confused.
I don't speak gibberish.

What exactly is this blog about again?
The "best" diaries are the ones that don't really say anything, but are actually just a series of links. Do the diarists really think anyone is going to click on each link, and back and forth to the original diary, just to make some sense of what they've written? Or, are they so around the bend that they don't even realize that the diary doesn't make sense to anyone who isn't privy to their inner monologue?
Ha ha ha. Here's a "neutral party" trying to stir up controversy amid a crowd that neither knows nor cares on the grounds that Webster Tarpley is "divisive". But who's trying to spread the controversy? And why is some guy named Joe impersonating a guy named Jenny trying to discredit Webster Tarpley? And isn't he or she trying harder to be divisive than anyone else?

Webster Tarpley seems to countenance the idea of directed energy weapons having been used on 9/11, which is one of the things that can get you banned at Truth Action dot org, which is where "Jenny" seems to hang out. So I wonder what's so toxic about that particular subject?

Or did Tarpley do something else to offend Joe -- I mean "Jenny" -- er, I mean the people who pay "Jenny's" er, Joe's rent?