Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bush Repeats His Failure Paradigm, Ignores His Only Success

Huffington Post
Paul Abrams
Bush Repeats His Failure Paradigm, Ignores His Only Success

George Bush's Presidency is not only a failure, but the seed of multi-generational disasters. Whether it is the disappearance of the middle class, the lost 8 years in stopping and reversing global warming, the disinvestment in the education and physical fitness of the next generation, the spiraling national debt, or wars and the reduction of trust in the United States, George Bush's legacy is already written, "years the locusts have eaten".

The policies that produced these disasters were animated by radical rightwing philosophy, sold to the American people through lies, dissembling and intimidation, and imposed through rigid discipline and attacking opponents. It is not an overstatement to suggest that, if these policies were really sound and popular, such tactics would be not only unwelcome but unnecessary.

Iraq is the largest of these catastrophes. Out of power, the radical rightwing bemoaned the concensus approach to foreign policy of using the military as a last resort, and when our national interest was at stake. Seizing power, they filled Bush's blank bonnet with visions of grandeur, (ab)using the US military as the primary instrument of policy to transform the world. Bush, a fellow war-avoider, swallowed their vision and their dismissive attitude toward diplomacy because the other side was unworthy, and because the real goal was overthrow anyhow.

This is all the more regrettable because Bush actually has a single success in his Presidency, Libya's abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for removal of sanctions and normalization of relations. The radical rightwing has not been vocal about this success, however, for a simple reason: it was achieved through diplomacy and compromise, not regime change.

Libya's Muammar Qaddafi is not exactly a lamb. If you were to read his rhetoric, e.g., "the streets of America will run red with blood" and "we consider ourselves at a state of war", you would be forgiven if you thought you were really listening to Iran's Ahmadinejad. Intelligence analysts identified a plant in a residential neighborhood that was a chemical munitions factory, believed to produce nerve gases.

And yet, the Administration talked to him, and compromised. They stopped insisting that Qaddafi turn over high level government officials involved in the PanAM 103 bombing as a condition to remove sanctions and in exchange for Qaddafi abandoning his nuclear program. Did we achieve the full measure of justice? No, we did not. But, the world was made a bit safer. It was a good compromise.

In Iran: Missed lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), it was suggested that following the lesson of how that crisis was resolved, responding to a conciliatory suggestion while ignoring the more belligerent, would be a useful paradigm for exploring what might be achieved through talking, through engagement. It worked with Cuba in 1962, and George Bush made it work with Libya.

Bush could have touted his one success, and tried to repeat it. Instead, he preferred the neocon prescription of unending warfare for failure.


Scientists prepare to move Doomsday Clock forward

Scientists prepare to move Doomsday Clock forward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The keepers of the "Doomsday Clock" plan to move its hands forward next Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.

The symbolic clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, currently is set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight marking global catastrophe.

The group did not say in which direction the hands would move. But in a news release previewing an event next Wednesday, they said the change was based on "worsening nuclear, climate threats" to the world.

"The major new step reflects growing concerns about a 'Second Nuclear Age' marked by grave threats, including: nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea, unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and elsewhere, the continuing 'launch-ready' status of 2,000 of the 25,000 nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia, escalating terrorism, and new pressure from climate change for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks," the release reads.

The clock was last pushed forward by two minutes to seven minutes to midnight in 2002 amid concerns about the proliferation of nuclear, biological and other weapons and the threat of terrorism.

When it was created by the magazine's staff in 1947, it was initially set at seven minutes to midnight and has moved 17 times since then.

It was as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 following U.S. and Soviet hydrogen bomb tests, and as far away as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 after the superpowers reached agreement on a nuclear arms reductions.


House Democrats aim at oil industry subsidies

House Democrats aim at oil industry subsidies
By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday introduced a bill that would rescind billions of dollars worth of tax incentives extended to U.S. energy companies and put the money into a fund earmarked for renewable energy.

Sponsors of the Creating Long-term Energy Alternatives for the Nation Act, or CLEAN, said it will save U.S. taxpayers about $13 billion over an unspecified number of years, but industry groups said it could hinder U.S. oil companies' ability to find and develop new energy sources.

Going after "Big Oil" is a top priority of the House of Representatives' Democratic leadership, which says oil companies have earned record profits at the expense of U.S. motorists paying high gasoline prices.

As part of legislation they pledged to unveil in the first 100 hours of the new legislative session, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and nearly 200 co-sponsors introduced a bill that repeals a 2004 tax deduction for energy companies.

The bill also rolls back tax breaks for geophysical studies conducted by the five biggest U.S. integrated oil companies, and repeals some incentives to produce oil and natural gas in deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

However, the bill did not change oil and gas inventory accounting rules that some analysts said were in play in the legislation, and left intact incentives to build new U.S. refineries.

Instead, the lion's share of the savings comes from striking a phased-in 3-percent tax reduction that Congress gave to all U.S. manufacturers in 2004, which would have been in force through 2013. Ending that benefit will save about $6.5 billion in the 2007-2016 period, according to data from Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation.

In comparison, ending the geophysical tax breaks will save $103 million, according to committee data.

The bill would take the savings and put it into a renewable energy fund, which Congress will dole out at a later date to provide incentives for yet-unspecified renewable energy sources.

"This is just an act to take money from the oil industry and use it on alternatives -- that's just a repeat of the mistakes of the past," said John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, U.S. oil and gas companies' biggest lobbying group.

Similar measures pursued by Congress in the 1980s that taxed oil industry profits and diverted money toward renewables were a "colossal failure" that ended up lowering U.S. oil production and boosting import dependence, Felmy said.

Environmental groups applauded the bill.

Friends of the Earth called the bill "a significant and welcome departure from the energy policy offered by the previous Congress and the Bush administration."


Is Privacy Overrated?

Reason Magazine
Is Privacy Overrated?
The merits, drawbacks, and inevitability of the surveillance nation
Katherine Mangu-Ward

"Have you ever attended a political event? Sought treatment from a psychiatrist? Had a drink at a gay bar? Visited a fertility clinic?" A report on the proliferation of surveillance cameras-more than 4,200 below 14th street-from the New York Civil Liberties Union asks: Would you have done those things if you had known you were being watched?

The answer, for most people, is yes. Though we may shy away from the idea of someone spying on our private lives, most people believe that we live in a country where rights are generally respected, and so we go about our business without fear. However, the report notes:

There is only limited recognition in the law that there are some places into which a surveillance camera is not allowed to intrude. And there are virtually no rules that prohibit police or private entities from archiving, selling or freely transmitting images captured by a video surveillance camera. The courts have yet to address the fundamental privacy and associational rights implicated by the phenomenon of widespread video surveillance.

In short, they're worried about what will happen when New Yorkers no longer have an expectation of some degree of privacy in the public sphere. And they're right: There is almost no privacy left in America, especially in cities. Sooner or later, you won't be able to go anywhere without being tracked.

Debate about the use and abuse of surveillance cameras is worthwhile, but it is also worth keeping in mind the ways in which we benefit from the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that privacy suffers every day. While raising legitimate concerns about the camera boom in New York, the report ignores the significant gains to consumers living in a transparent society--both convenience and security--and the ways in which proliferation of video surveillance public and private can protect citizens from police misbehavior or other miscarriages of justice (for a more thorough look at the upside of zero privacy, see Declan McCullagh's cover article in the June 2004 isssue of reason.)

Let's revisit the frightening picture painted by the New York Civil Liberties Union. For a session at the psychiatrist's office or the fertility clinic, you would have paid with a credit card, right? If you bought a round of drinks at the gay bar, would you have hesitated to hand your card to the bartender, even to leave it with him to run a tab? To get there, you might have taken the subway using your registered, traceable Metro card. Or perhaps you drove, zipping past tollbooths in an EZ Pass lane, pitying the poor suckers waiting to pay with old-fashioned, anonymous cash. If you were concerned about getting lost, you could have used your phone's GPS, leaving a wake of signals and records about your location and habits.

Perhaps you would have stopped to pick up some cash at an ATM before your outing. There, you would have created another digital record, stamped with the time and place of your withdrawal in the bank's records. And that mirror above the ATM where you checked out your hair? It's concealing a camera, there to protect you from anyone inspired to lift your newly-acquired cash or force you to take out more at gunpoint, or at least help identify and catch the mugger later. ATM cameras have been in general use for many years.

Your credit card, EZ Pass, and bank records can all be subpoenaed when necessary. So do a few thousand city cameras really represent a new invasion of our privacy? Hardly. My credit card company has long known where I buy underwear, but I don't lay awake nights worried that prosecutors might demand knowledge of my preferences in skivvies. The ways in which that information can be accessed by the state are circumscribed by decades of legal precedent. We should remain vigilant that those precedents aren't eroded, and we should work to strengthen protections where necessary, but the collection of the information in itself is an unstoppable force, mostly for good--I like that I can sift thorough records ofeverything I have purchased in the last three years.

New York already boasts three or four thousand cameras, mostly private, and the number will only continue to grow. The biggest boom will be in government cameras, though. The New York City police recently announced plans to create “a citywide system of closed-circuit televisions” operated from a central control center, funded primarily by federal anti-terrorism money.

Admittedly, this is where the surveillance nation gets dicey. Concerns about misuse of public cameras by authorities are reasonable and violations should be punished--there are several cases wending their way through the courts now which are expected to set standards for how severely abuse of video can be punished, and what the proper parameters are for its use. But much of the abuse of the cameras often takes innocuous forms: a deputy police commissioner rewinding tape to locate his lost keys or keeping an eye on his kids as they walk home from school. This type of behavior should not be confused with serious infractions.

And of course, cameras can and should also protect citizens from police misbehavior. Several protesters at the 2004 Republican convention in New York, for example, have beaten charges of resisting arrest with video evidence from private and public cameras. A few more cameras on the street when police fired 50 rounds at Sean Bell in Queens might have helped determine what really happened on the night of November 25th.

There have been several smaller occasions where do-it-yourself video privacy violations have paid off, as in the case of recent LAPD brutality caught on a mobile phone or handheld camera. Think Rodney King meets YouTube. In these cases, private cameras provided a check on police. Added surveillance of police also carries another benefit: police are smart enough to know to be careful when they are being taped, even when they're being taped by their own colleagues. The report relates an interview with off-duty police officers at a labor demonstration. "A special NYPD unit was assigned to film the police officers as they demonstrated. 'That’s Big Brother watching you,' said one police demonstrator outside Gracie Mansion. Said another: ' sends a chill down a police officer’s back to think that Internal Affairs would be taping something.'"

Police concerned about who's watching them will generally be police more prone to good behavior.

More worrying than the boom in public cameras, though, is a recent proposal to require New York's hundreds of night clubs to install cameras on the premises. When businesses chose to install cameras for their own purposes, the cameras usually benefit consumers in the long run--with increased security or convenience. But when the city mandates the installation of private cameras, patrons are less likely to benefit. Such mandates can and should be fought as infringements on privacy and property.

Whether or not cameras deter illegal behavior is a legitimate debate, and it's true that cameras in the London subways system didn't deter bombers in July 2005. But perhaps it should have-the video footage led to the speedy identification and capture of the four bombers . The next terrorists (those not hoping for 72 virgins, anyway) might be inclinded to rethink their plans.

If you're inclined to avoid the cameras, go ahead. Here's a map of the known cameras in the city to help you plan your route or figure out which way to angle your fedora to shade your face. The NYCLU report is concerned that the cameras are often disguised, that they "remain hidden to the untrained eye." But in the same sentence, the report notes that "the corner deli" or other shopkeepers often operate cameras. Small shopkeepers have been using security cameras for many years, but even the most paranoid among us still go in to pick up some beef jerky when we pay for our gas. Our behavior suggests that we are already at peace with having our images captured on video.

Of course, issues like required surveillance on private property and protections for citizens who want to film police should be aired in the public square. Police occasionally arrest bystanders for taping a police encounter, an activity that should clearly be protected. But the debate shouldn't ignore the fact that the kind of personal privacy many worry about losing to street corner cameras has already mostly been lost to credit cards, EZ Passes, and cameras in your ATM or deli. And more cameras and records, not fewer, may be the best guarantee against abuse of police power in the age of zero privacy.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor of reason.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Is Israel Doomed?

Manila Standard Today
Is Israel Doomed?
By Antonio C. Abaya

IN my article of Nov. 26, 2006 titled The Muddled East—archived in—I wondered out loud why—while US President George W. Bush was meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in Amman, Jordan—Vice President Dick Cheney flew six hours from Washington DC to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, met with the leaders of that medieval kingdom for eight hours, then flew another six hours back to Washington.

That must have been, by any standard, an extraordinarily important meeting, considering that Cheney is the leader of the neo-conservative cabal which planned the 2003 invasion of Iraq even before Sept. 11, 2001, even before George W was elected president in November 2000, and which now is preparing an escalation (“surge”) of the Iraq war toward the neo-cons’ unwavering primary strategic goal: total control of the Middle East.

My interpretation of that meeting, as outlined in that November article, is that Cheney was preparing, with the help of the Saudi royals, for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In particular, Cheney wanted Saudi approval for Israeli bombers flying through Saudi air space on their way to Iran, and possibly for mid-air refueling for these aircraft on their way back to Israel after their bombing runs.

After the debacle in Iraq, American public opinion will not support another ground war in Iran. But, given the fabled influence of the Jewish Lobby in US domestic politics, it could conceivably support an air war against Iran ’s nuclear facilities, or even only a supporting role to backstop an Israeli pre-emptive strike, by foiling any Iranian counter strike against Israel right in the Persian Gulf.

The selling point of such US involvement, I wrote in November, would be the expectation that the Iranian middle-class, who are considered pro-Western, would rise up and overthrow the ayatollahs and effect a regime change in Tehran. That expectation was reinforced by the results of local elections in mid-December, in which the political allies of President Ahmadinejad were defeated.

I also wrote in that November article that the Americans may be playing on the Saudi’s and other Arabs’ historical distrust of the Iranians. The Iranians are Persians, not Arabs, and they subjugated the Arabs in pre-Islamic centuries, all the way back to the time of Alexander the Great, 2,500 years ago, when the Persian Empire held sway over an area that stretched from Afghanistan to Turkey and the Libyan desert.

It is significant that about one week after the meeting with Cheney, the Saudi government announced that in the event of an American withdrawal from Iraq, Saudi Arabia would support the Sunnis in their ongoing civil war with the Iranian-backed Shias, a not-so-subtle message to the ayatollahs in Tehran.

Two or three weeks before he was executed on Dec. 31, Saddam Hussein wrote a farewell letter to his (Sunni) people, warning them of “those hateful, devil-worshipping Persians!” This was a reference to the fire-centered practices of Zoroastrianism, the dominant religion in Persia before the advent of Islam in the 7th century AD.

So, if my interpretation is correct, the Sunni-Shia divide in Islam will be cultivated by the Americans and the Israelis, especially in the Arab and Muslim Streets, to create the properly receptive climate for the bombing of Iran ’s nuclear facilities.

Exactly when this will happen, depends on when the Americans and the Israelis feel events are moving toward a point of no return. And this would have to do with their perceptions on when Iran will acquire the capability to make nuclear weapons. President Ahmadinejad’s repeated threats to “wipe Israel off the map” cannot be taken lightly when he is actively working to acquire nuclear weapons.

The American CIA estimates that it would take Iran 10 years to reach that point; the Israeli Mossad thinks it would take only two. The Israeli view seems to have prevailed with the neo-cons in Washington. The Israelis will have to strike soon. Otherwise, they are doomed. So, when?

In an article dated Dec. 21 in the Consortium News, the American writer Robert Parry warns that “the first two or three months of 2007 represent a dangerous opening for an escalation of the war in the Middle East, as George W. Bush will be tempted to ‘double-down’ his gamble in Iraq by joining with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to strike at Syria and Iran, intelligence sources say.” (Emphasis mine.)

Parry quotes recent Bush statements that indicate that, rather than being chastised by his party’s defeat in the November elections, Bush is in fact preparing to escalate the Iraq war into a wider Middle East war: Bush wants to demonstrate to the enemy that “they can’t run us out of the Middle East, that they can’t intimidate America.” “I’m not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it’s going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices, because the enemy is merciless and violent.”

In another article dated Jan. 8, Parry analyzed the recent changes that Bush has made in the US order of battle. Bush removed (by retirement) Gen. John Abizaid as commander of US Central Command that oversees US military activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and the entire Middle East. He removed Gen. George Casey as overall US commander in Iraq , by kicking him upstairs as US army chief. Both Abizaid and Casey had publicly expressed reservations about Bush’s plan to “surge” the US forces in Iraq by 20,000 more troops by end of January.

To replace Casey, he appointed Gen. Petraeus, who has had experience training Iraqis for their national army and who no doubt shares Bush’s policy of escalation.

More importantly, to replace Gen. Abizaid, he appointed Admr. William Fallon, who until last week was commander of the Pacific Command based in Hawaii. Now, why would an admiral be chosen to oversee two on-going wars, one in the deserts of Iraq, the other in the mountains of Afghanistan?

Elementary, my dear Watson. Admr. Fallon will have under his command two carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf, one already in place, the other soon to be there. Their mission? Almost certainly to back-stop an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran and to foil the inevitable Iranian counter-strike against Israel. Or to actively take part in the destruction of Iran ’s nuclear facilities at Natanz, Isfahan, Arak and elsewhere.

Another Bush dis-appointment that Parry finds significant is the demotion of John Negroponte from director of National Intelligence (with oversight powers over 16 intelligence agencies) to a mere undersecretary of state under Condoleeza Rice.

Parry reports that Negroponte had come under fire from the neo-cons’ Frank Gaffney, for his soft reading of Iran ’s nuclear potentials: “Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian [nuclear] weapon are still a number of years off, and probably into the next decade” were Negroponte’s famous last words. He was also criticized for appointing senior intelligence analysts who were skeptical of Bush’s claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

That is the American side of the emerging Middle East scenario for 2007. The Israeli side is no less hawkish or portentous.

According to a Jan. 7 article in The Sunday Times (of London ) by Uzi Mahnaimi in New York and Sarah Baxter in Washington, “Israel has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

“Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility, using low-yield ‘bunker-busters’ [known B61-11s], according to several Israeli military sources… Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open ‘tunnels’ into the targets. ‘Mini-nukes’ would then immediately be fired a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.”

According to the Times article, Israeli pilots have been flying off Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to the Iranian targets. Three possible routes have been mapped out, including one over Turkey. One of the two other routes, presumably, involves flying over Saudi Arabia, as I had earlier theorized.

In his Jan. 8 article, Parry quoted investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (in his article in the April 17, 2006 issue of The New Yorker) that a number of senior US military officers were troubled by administration war planners who believed that the B61-11s tactical nuclear weapons were the only way to destroy Iran’s underground nuclear facilities. Hersh wrote that the White House refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they’re shouted down.”

So it looks like the world may see the first nuclear weapons detonated in anger since Hiroshima and Nagasaki sometime during the first two or three months of 2007.

Is Israel doomed? If, with the help of the American neo-cons, Israel beats the Iranians to the draw, probably not, in the short term. In the medium term, however, the more appropriate question may be: “Is the world doomed?


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Troops who led 2003 invasion deploy for third tour

Troops who led 2003 invasion deploy for third tour

FORT STEWART, Georgia (AP) -- Twice before, Sgt. Michael Konvicka has picked up a rifle to go to war. Doing it a third time won't be any easier.

"Every time I come back from Iraq, I tell my wife, 'I'm done honey, stick a fork in me,"' said Konvicka, 36, of Flint, Michigan. "I'm not really looking forward to it. But I've got 10 years in the Army, and I'm not about to throw that away."

Hours before President Bush was to announce his plan Wednesday to increase U.S. forces in Iraq, soldiers of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division said goodbye to their families as they deployed on their third tour.

The 19,000-troop 3rd Infantry, which helped lead the 2003 charge to Baghdad, is the first Army division to be tapped for a third deployment to the war. Barely a year has passed since its soldiers returned from their last yearlong rotation.

"It's another year I have to endure, and it's not easy," said Konvicka's wife, Sharon, resting her head on her husband's shoulder while soldiers piled duffel bags and rucksacks into trucks for shipping to Iraq.

Wives wept and wrapped their arms around husbands with rifles slung over their shoulders. Some 400 troops of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment departing Wednesday are among 4,000 soldiers of the division's 1st Brigade Combat Team deploying this month.

"I hope it's the last one," said Staff Sgt. Harold Hensel, 30, of Little Valley, New York, hugging his pregnant wife, who is due in May, before leaving for his second combat tour. "I was hoping the first one was the last one. But duty calls."

The 3rd Infantry's three remaining combat brigades are scheduled to deploy later this year, including the 3rd Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia, where Bush planned a visit Thursday.

Sgt. Brad Weston, 23, said he could see positives and negatives to the president's plan to increase troop levels in Iraq while he's deployed there.

"The benefit is you do get more time where you're not having to be out patrolling," said Weston of South Bend, Indiana, who is deploying on his third tour. "The negative thing is there's more violence when there are new people there who don't know the area well."

When the 3rd Infantry first deployed to Iraq in 2003, it quickly helped topple Saddam Hussein's regime. During its second tour in 2005, troops saw Iraqis elect their first democratic government.

But Cpl. Matt Venn, 21, of Wichita, Kansas, said he sees few signs of hope in 2007 with the increasing violence from insurgents and sectarian militias.

"There's not many people over there who are on the straight and narrow," said Venn, who had deployed to Iraq once before, in 2005. "Out of the year, you'll find two families who are really innocent. And that's the people, I guess, we're trying to help out."

Venn's wife, Theresa, said she fears Iraq has become "a hopeless cause."

Unlike most military spouses, she served in Iraq in 2004 as a surgical technician, treating everything from bullet wounds to burns and cuts from roadside bombs.

"It makes it harder, because I've dealt with every injury known to man," said 25-year-old said.

She is no longer in the military. "It's unnerving, but I like to be positive and just put it out of my mind."


Dear Mr. President: Send Even MORE Troops (and you go, too!)
Dear Mr. President: Send Even MORE Troops (and you go, too!)

Dear Mr. President,

Thanks for your address to the nation. It's good to know you still want to talk to us after how we behaved in November.

Listen, can I be frank? Sending in 20,000 more troops just ain't gonna do the job. That will only bring the troop level back up to what it was last year. And we were losing the war last year! We've already had over a million troops serve some time in Iraq since 2003. Another few thousand is simply not enough to find those weapons of mass destruction! Er, I mean... bringing those responsible for 9/11 to justice! Um, scratch that. Try this -- BRING DEMOCRACY TO THE MIDDLE EAST! YES!!!

You've got to show some courage, dude! You've got to win this one! C'mon, you got Saddam! You hung 'im high! I loved watching the video of that -- just like the old wild west! The bad guy wore black! The hangmen were as crazy as the hangee! Lynch mobs rule!!!

Look, I have to admit I feel very sorry for the predicament you're in. As Ricky Bobby said, "If you're not first, you're last." And you being humiliated in front of the whole world does NONE of us Americans any good.

Sir, listen to me. You have to send in MILLIONS of troops to Iraq, not thousands! The only way to lick this thing now is to flood Iraq with millions of us! I know that you're out of combat-ready soldiers -- so you have to look elsewhere! The only way you are going to beat a nation of 27 million -- Iraq -- is to send in at least 28 million! Here's how it would work:

The first 27 million Americans go in and kill one Iraqi each. That will quickly take care of any insurgency. The other one million of us will stay and rebuild the country. Simple.

Now, I know you're saying, where will I find 28 million Americans to go to Iraq? Here are some suggestions:

1. More than 62,000,000 Americans voted for you in the last election (the one that took place a year and half into a war we already knew we were losing). I am confident that at least a third of them would want to put their body where there vote was and sign up to volunteer. I know many of these people and, while we may disagree politically, I know that they don't believe someone else should have to go and fight their fight for them -- while they hide here in America.

2. Start a "Kill an Iraqi" Meet-Up group in cities across the country. I know this idea is so early-21st century, but I once went to a Lou Dobbs Meet-Up and, I swear, some of the best ideas happen after the third mojito. I'm sure you'll get another five million or so enlistees from this effort.

3. Send over all members of the mainstream media. After all, they were your collaborators in bringing us this war -- and many of them are already trained from having been "embedded!" If that doesn't bring the total to 28 million, then draft all viewers of the FOX News channel.

Mr. Bush, do not give up! Now is not the time to pull your punch! Don't be a weenie by sending in a few over-tired troops. Get your people behind you and YOU lead them in like a true commander in chief! Leave no conservative behind! Full speed ahead!

We promise to write. Go get 'em W!


Can the coins jingling in your pocket trace your movements?

Yahoo! News
Defense workers warned about spy coins
By TED BRIDIS, Associated Press Writer

Can the coins jingling in your pocket trace your movements? The Defense Department is warning its American contractor employees about a new espionage threat seemingly straight from Hollywood: It discovered Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.

In a U.S. government report, it said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

The U.S. report doesn't suggest who might be tracking American defense contractors or why. It also doesn't describe how the Pentagon discovered the ruse, how the transmitters might function or even which Canadian currency contained them.

Further details were secret, according to the U.S. Defense Security Service, which issued the warning to the Pentagon's classified contractors. The government insists the incidents happened, and the risk was genuine.

"What's in the report is true," said Martha Deutscher, a spokeswoman for the security service. "This is indeed a sanitized version, which leaves a lot of questions."

Top suspects, according to intelligence and technology experts: China, Russia or even France — all said to actively run espionage operations inside Canada with enough sophistication to produce such technology.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service said it knew nothing about the coins.

"This issue has just come to our attention," CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion said. "At this point, we don't know of any basis for these claims." She said Canada's intelligence service works closely with its U.S. counterparts and will seek more information if necessary.

Experts were astonished about the disclosure and the novel tracking technique, but they quickly rejected suggestions Canada's government might be spying on American contractors. The intelligence services of the two countries are extraordinarily close and routinely share sensitive secrets.

"It would seem unthinkable," said David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. "I wouldn't expect to see any offensive operation against the Americans."

Harris said likely candidates include foreign spies who targeted Americans abroad or businesses engaged in corporate espionage. "There are certainly a lot of mysterious aspects to this," Harris said.

Experts said such tiny transmitters would almost certainly have limited range to communicate with sensors no more than a few feet away, such as ones hidden inside a doorway.

"I'm not aware of any (transmitter) that would fit inside a coin and broadcast for kilometers," said Katherine Albrecht, an activist who believes such technology carries serious privacy risks. "Whoever did this obviously has access to some pretty advanced technology."

Experts said hiding tracking technology inside coins is fraught with risks because the spy's target might inadvertently give away the coin or spend it buying coffee or a newspaper.

They agreed, however, that a coin with a hidden tracking device might not arose suspicion if it were discovered loose in a pocket or briefcase.

"It wouldn't seem to be the best place to put something like that; you'd want to put it in something that wouldn't be left behind or spent," said Jeff Richelson, a researcher and author of books about the CIA and its gadgets. "It doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense."

Canada's physically largest coins include its $2 "Toonie," which is more than 1-inch across and thick enough to hide a tiny transmitter. The CIA has acknowledged its own spies have used hollow, U.S. silver-dollar coins to hide messages and film.

The government's 29-page report was filled with other espionage warnings. It described unrelated hacker attacks, eavesdropping with miniature pen recorders and the case of a female foreign spy who seduced her American boyfriend to steal his computer passwords.

In another case, a film processing company called the FBI after it developed pictures for a contractor that contained classified images of U.S. satellites and their blueprints. The photo was taken from an adjoining office window.


On the Web:

CIA hollow coin: https://


Citizens said to lack legal protection from government data mining

Citizens said to lack legal protection from government data mining

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government's ability to use computers to gather personal information about citizens and act on it has far outstripped the federal laws designed to protect them from secret federal dossiers, a privacy advocate told Congress on Wednesday.

Leslie Harris, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to update the Privacy Act and other laws to keep pace with the Digital Age.

She was among a handful of think-tank scholars and privacy advocates who testified Wednesday about government data-mining — the computerized searching of large banks of information for clues to the identity of terrorists or criminals. Their broadest area of agreement was that Congress needs to know much more about what the government is doing in data-mining.

Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said this hearing, the first since Democrats retook control of the Senate, was the beginning of a series on privacy-related issues.

Noting that congressional auditors in 2004 found 199 data-mining programs operating or planned in federal agencies, Leahy said, "Congress is overdue in taking stock of the proliferation of these databases."

To that end, panel member Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced a bill Wednesday co-sponsored by Leahy and endorsed by several witnesses.

Feingold told the hearing that his proposed Federal Data Mining Reporting Act would require federal agencies to regularly inform Congress about their use of data mining "to discover predictive or anomalous patterns indicating criminal or terrorist activity — the types of data analysis that raise the most serious privacy concerns."

While acknowledging terrorism is a threat, Harris told the committee: "Especially in the counterterrorism context, a major shift in the data collection and use landscape is taking place without a suitable privacy and due process framework."

"The government is accessing entire buckets of data without a warrant" and without specific suspicion of particular individuals, Harris said.

An individual mistakenly designated as a possible terrorist or associate of terrorists can face "arrest, deportation, loss of a job, more intrusive investigation, discrimination, damage to reputation and a lifetime of suspicion, with little or no opportunity for redress or correction of errors," Harris said.

She said the impact of technological innovations combined with new government powers enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and outdated legal protections was illustrated by the Customs and Border Protection agency's "Automated Targeting System."

The Associated Press disclosed last month that the system had been developing risk assessments of millions of Americans over the last four years without their knowledge. The AP also reported those assessments of people who traveled aboard were to be kept for 40 years and could be shared with state, local and foreign governments and even some private contractors.

Under existing law, "a risk score developed for border screening purposes could easily migrate to other uses (years after the citizen was determined not to be a threat)," Harris said.

Customs officials say the program is legal and essential to keeping terrorists out of the country. Leahy said last month on C-Span's "Newsmakers" program he thought it violated a congressional ban using on data-mining tools to assign risk to passengers not on watch lists.


Justices express support for limiting use of union fees

Justices express support for limiting use of union fees
By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared ready Wednesday to uphold a Washington state law that restricts when unions can use fees collected from non-members for political purposes.

The dispute is being watched closely by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and other anti-union groups, as well as the AFL-CIO.

The case revolves around the Washington Education Association, which bargains for the state's 70,000 teachers. About 3,500 of the teachers have refused to join the union. They are required by state law to pay "agency shop" fees to cover their share of the union's bargaining on behalf of all workers.

Under state law, the fees unions get from a non-member cannot be used for political advocacy — such as the union's lobbying the state Legislature for more school funds — unless that person consents to having his fees used for such purposes.

The teachers union opposes the policy on non-members' fees, saying it is an administrative burden that restricts the union's right to engage in political advocacy. The state's highest court agreed last year. It struck down the law as a violation of the union's speech rights.

Wednesday, many of the justices' queries focused on the rights of teachers who are not in the union.

Most of the high court, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and Samuel Alito, expressed some support for the law limiting how non-member fees are used. "It seems to me that Washington acted quite properly in saying we will use this to protect our workers' First Amendment … rights," Kennedy said.

Washington state Attorney General Robert McKenna said the law "serves the state's interest in election integrity" by ensuring that union political activity is funded voluntarily.

John West, representing the teachers union, countered that the law wrongly assumed that non-members would not back the union's lobbying.

Alito responded, "These are teachers who have chosen not to join the (union). Isn't it overwhelmingly likely that they, if you spoke to them and said, 'Would you like to give money to the union to spend on elections,' would say no?"

West said the union believes teachers support its political efforts, including those aimed at increasing teachers' cost-of-living raises and reducing class sizes.


Don't Be Fooled: Bush Outfoxed America - And Maybe McCain, Too

Huffington Post
RJ Eskow
Don't Be Fooled: Bush Outfoxed America - And Maybe McCain, Too

The air will be buzzing tonight with comments about Bush's shortsightedness, his lack of a coherent war plan, and his word-parsing about "mistakes." All of that's a distraction, and a very successful one. Bush's goal since November has been to prevent a withdrawal from Iraq - one that voters demanded and the Iraq Study Group recommended.

He's succeeded beyond all expectations. A short six weeks ago it would have been impossible to believe that the Administration could avoid debating the merits of withdrawal, at least under the Study Group's relatively unambitious terms. Bush needed a way to re-frame the debate and buy himself more time. He found one.

Withdrawal is now off the table. The Administration's escalation plan isn't just a desperate military ploy. It's also a clever negotiating gambit, a way to raise their own demands so that Democrats are forced to fight for the status quo instead of pursuing positive change.

The lesson? Never underestimate the President or his advisors. Today's debate is "to surge or not to surge," rather than "to withdraw or not to withdraw."

They can finally say "mission accomplished" about something war-related.

Bush isn't concerned about his poll numbers or the 2008 election right now. He's in a desperate spot. The only possible way to salvage his reputation - and possibly his party - is to stay in Iraq in the hopes that the situation will miraculously reverse itself. That, and not the "surge" itself, is the goal of every move he's made since November. Sure, he wants troop escalation, but even if that effort fails he's delayed the real fight over the war for another day.

Bush's escalation plan wasn't just a desperate military ploy. It was a clever negotiating gambit, a way to raise his own demands so that Democrats are forced to fight for the status quo instead of pursuing positive change. Threats against Iran represent yet another new demand that puts war opponents on the defensive.

John Conyers and Russ Feingold are continuing to press for withdrawal, and Durbin was right to call this a move in the wrong direction - but I've been channel-surfing for an hour now (since the speech) and haven't heard any discussion of ending the war. I'm hearing political shop-talk, comments about Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, speculation about Iran, and talk about of the "surge." That's a good outcome for the President, given what the poll numbers say about the American people's desire for some form of withdrawal.

It's also beginning to look like there may be some high-stakes poker between Bush and McCain - tragically, with American soldiers as poker chips. McCain's been positioning himself for months as the guy who could have managed this war correctly. Since October he's been calling for 20,000 more troops, so that he could argue in 2008 that we would have "won" if Bush had only followed his advice.

My suspicion is that Bush is unwilling to see his successor elected at the expense of his own reputation, so he's called McCain's bluff by "seeing him" the 20,000 troops. Now McCain's raising him 10,000, by reversing himself this week and suggesting an additional 30,000 troops. He also said that "a short duration and a small size would be the worst of all options."

Your call, Mr. President.

A old boss of mine used to say that the smartest person in the room was sometimes the one who seems the most foolish. He said sometimes those guys can get the better of you and you never even know it. (Think Kaiser Sosay from "The Usual Suspects.")

My boss was a pretty smart guy. Sure, this war was a bad idea and its been grievously mismanaged. But we've been distracted from the most urgent topic of all: ending it.

Withdrawal? Tonight, it's not even being discussed. Color me impressed.


President Bush Is Really, Really High

Huffington Post
Bob Cesca
President Bush Is Really, Really High

President Bush must be knocking back some 420 from Humboldt if he expects us to buy this plan. In fact, I have photographic proof he's toasted. Note the ornate water bong on the mantel behind him.

This address was, from beginning to end, a flim-flam. The president's "new way forward" contained so many loopholes we'd all have to be as high as him to actually believe it.

He said the attacks on our soldiers and the Iraqi people will continue despite the escalation. He said there won't be a traditional victory -- or "surrender" on a battleship, which called to mind the USS Abraham Lincoln more than it did the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. He only outlined a plan for securing Baghdad, while his surge into Anbar, the deadliest province in the country, will constitute just one-fourth of the surge and thus leaving the al-Qaeda stronghold almost untouched. He reached across (around) the aisle to rim job his ally in the Lieberman for Connecticut Party which means absolutely nothing other than the president is now open to exclusive shout-outs to members of Congress who give it up. And when we officially engage in hostilities against Syria and Iran, he can say that he told us he would.

So in other words, the escalation of military action in Iraq leaves the president with a pile of additional excuses to wheel out when the casualties continue to stack up and the conditions on the ground continue to deteriorate. "But I said the violence would continue," he'll say months from now. "But, eh eh, you didn't listen to me, Stretch, when I said there won't be a traditional victory," he'll whine in a press conference. "But I never said that we'd fully secure Anbar," he'll mention when our military is chased out of Fallujah and Ramadi.

After four long years, and countless bloody mistakes, we should never forgive him. We should never accept his "the responsibility rests with me" lip service. No-one should be allowed another shot after bungling four years of war in which tens, if not hundreds, of thousands have been killed for politics and oil. No-one should be allowed an inch of latitude after appearing on television (with or without a bong) asking for more chances -- especially after six years of flaunting a brazen, petulant, arrogant and condescending attitude about this and other issues; the teasing and eh-eh-eh giggling and brush clearing while the nation's democracy and credibility burns all around us.

The president's surge, by his own admission, won't amount to victory. It won't amount to less violence. And he won't compromise. This is an escalation of American warfare throughout the broader Middle East -- unless he can be stopped. The good news is that it's easy to stop someone who's so flippin' high. Note to Democrats who intend to meet with the president: bring nachos.


Straightforward, Satire-free, Sarcasm-free Reactions to the Speech

Huffington Post
John Seery
Straightforward, Satire-free, Sarcasm-free Reactions to the Speech

First, an obvious contradiction in the fundamental "strategy" outlined: Failure in Iraq "would be a disaster" and is thus unacceptable (1st part of the speech), yet "if the Iraqis don't follow through, they will lose our support" (2nd part of the speech). How, exactly, do those two propositions square with one another?
If the Iraqis don't follow through, then are we willing to admit failure and walk away? Or is the threat of our withdrawing support to the Iraqis a hollow one, given the dire assessment about what it would mean to fail in Iraq?

Second, Bush threw down a challenge to his critics: Go ahead and denounce the policy, but then come up with your own plans that will lead to success. Yet here's the problem that that formulation seems to overlook: What if Bush himself is now a big part of the overall problem and is even an obstacle, maybe the obstacle, to our finding success in Iraq? He has inflamed much of the Muslim world. He has profoundly alienated many of our allies, such that they don't want to work with us on this matter or go anywhere near Iraq. He has divided the American people on the Iraq war--bitterly so. He has given the Iraqi people many reasons to mistrust him and us. His administration has squandered all credibility on its war efforts and rebuilding efforts, due to past mendacity and sheer incompetence. In short, Bush cannot rally the nation or the world to this cause. If the Iraq situation admits of a solution, Bush cannot be the leader who will deliver us to that place of success. He cannot heal the wounds. He cannot oversee the recovery. He cannot restore trust. For America to find "success" in Iraq, we need new leadership at the top. In much the same way that Donald Rumsfeld had to resign in order to wipe the slate clean, so will George Bush need to exit the presidential stage before solutions in Iraq can truly commence. He is not the leader for this moment in history. If, as he said in his speech, he now takes responsibility for the past mistakes in the Iraq War, he needs to realize that those past mistakes define him and critically impair his leadership abilities.


Bush's 10 Fallacies on Iraq

Huffington Post
Suzanne Nossel
Bush's 10 Fallacies on Iraq

Here are 10 fallacies I heard from the White House library tonight:

1. That the strategy is "new" - Bush referred directly to the "clear, hold and build" strategy promulgated in October 1995. At best, this is a course-correction which has unaccountably taken more than 15 months to be put into effect.

2. That the strategy is any more likely to work now than in the past - Bush made two arguments as to why what failed previously will succeed now: 1) that troop levels will now be sufficient and 2) that crippling restrictions on troop movements and maneuvers will be lifted.
But rather than citing evidence for either of these, Bush made only a stilted reference to military commanders having certified to their truth. This less than a week after replacing the leaders who refused to attest to same.

3. That the strategy is "Iraqi" in impetus or direction - While Bush clearly wants to claim that the escalation of US troops will happen in support of a renewed Iraqi effort to secure itself, this is bunk. Bush is under desperate pressure to do something - anything - about Iraq. This plan is as made-in-Washington as they come, right down to the predicate laid to avoid blame for the White House. Bush is setting himself up to be able to claim that the al-Maliki government failed to come through in the crunch, even though such failure is painfully, unavoidably foreseeable from the outset.

4. That 20,000 troops will somehow change the game - The worst part of Bush's plan is that an additional 20,000 US soldiers will risk life and limb in furtherance of a "strategy" that is doomed to fail. Baghdad is a city of roughly 5 million people. The 20,000 figure is driven not by any assessment of what it would take to do the job, but by tight recruitment constraints and a straightforward political calculus of what the American public might ht possibly bear.

5. That the Iraqi government enjoys sufficient legitimacy and impartiality to curb sectarian violence - Central to Bush's plan is the ability of the Iraqi government to credibly assert itself against the militias. But the Iraqi armed services are themselves riddled with partisan militants. It is a Shia army with close links to the radical Sadr militia - the idea of their going "door to door" in Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad can only strike fear among residents.

6. That the al-Maliki government is a reliable US ally - While Bush has repeatedly affirmed his faith in AL-Milk, his advisers have grave doubts about the trustworthiness of the Prime Minister. Milk's links to Sadr, his mishandling of Saddam's execution, his failure to take control of errant ministries, his impetuous decisions affecting US military operations emblems the difficulties of forging the sort of partnership that Bush seems to be banking on.

7. That the Iraqi military has the competence to take the lead in securing Baghdad - For anyone who somehow harbors notions about the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, a quick read of the Iraq Study Group Report will dispel such notions in devastating terms. Army units are described as lacking personnel, equipment and leadership and as resistant to carrying out orders. The Iraqi police are described as "substantially worse."

8. That the terrorists and insurgents are wholly separable from the Iraqi population at large - The strategy refers repeatedly to clearing neighborhoods of insurgents. But what allows radical militias to survive is the support and protection they receive from ordinary citizens who are sympathetic to their aims. Until such backers buy into a political resolution of Iraq's strife, they will continue to support and breed the insurgency, making it impossible for US or Iraqi troops to root out.

9. That the US is in a position to "provide" a political alternative to the Middle East - It's astounding and distressing to hear Bush continue to talk in terms of the US "advancing liberty" in the Middle East through means like the Iraq war. While Bush references standing with regional actors pressing for their own freedoms, he stops well short of acknowledging the kind of broad shift of ambitions and tactics needed to guide a new US Middle East policy.

10. That disaster is still avoidable - Bush cited a series of reasons why failure in Iraq would be a disaster: because Islamic extremists would grow in strength; because Iran would be emboldened to pursue nukes; because Iraq could become a terrorist haven. But all those developments are underway right now.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

There Is No "Itself" There

Huffington Post
Marty Kaplan
There Is No "Itself" There

Whenever President Bush explains what "accomplishing our mission in Iraq" actually means -- "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself" -- he gets that cat-that-swallowed-the-canary look on his face. Tony Snow, too. They're so proud of themselves for having come up with that clever answer.

For a while, the Administration dreaded the query like an unfair, trick question: What is victory in Iraq, Mr. President? What does winning really mean? For months, years, they couldn't adequately answer. But after stammering and rambling through one evasive, ineffective response after another, they finally emerged with this formulation, which they now parrot formulaically, as though it were so incontrovertibly sensible that no follow-up question could survive the gem-like flame of its wisdom.

There's only one teensy problem with their answer. There is no "itself" there.

Iraq is not a country. It is a collection of warring factions and ethnicities which happen to share a piece of land. It is no more of a country than Yugoslavia was after Tito. It is less of a country than Lebanon, than Afghanistan, than Gaza; it is hardly more of an "itself" than Somalia.

Prime Minister al-Maliki, on whom the Bush plan wants us to pin our hopes, is no Garibaldi. In the years since our invasion, no Iraqi has demonstrated the strength and the vision necessary to stop ethnic cleansing, disarm the militias, end twelve hundred years of religious strife and turn a country arbitrarily carved out of the Ottoman empire by the British and the French into an actual, functioning "itself."

Saddam Hussein, of course, did that, by wielding ruthless power. The Bush theory is that the same result can be accomplished not by a dictator's viciousness, but by a democratic ruler benevolently leading a free nation -- and that the only thing standing between us and that Rapturous outcome is extending the tours of duty of 20,000 battle-weary American troops for another couple of years.

It is as likely that this escalation will lead to an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself as it is that it will lead to an Iraq that can levitate itself, fellate itself and book itself on a cruise to Bermuda. This is terribly sad, tragic, just as it is tragic that the neocon crackpots who hatched this misbegotten adventure are not now being held accountable for the fantasy that with a wave of democracy's wand, a millennium and more of seething antagonism would blossom overnight into a civil society, a federal government and a Freedom Domino for the whole Middle East.

Bush and Cheney have not given up on this delusion. No facts on the ground will ever convince them that their mission is pathologically misconceived. Unless they are stopped, they will continue to spend American blood and treasure on it until January 20, 2009; they would rather go to their graves saying they did everything in their power to be the Founding Fathers of a democratic Iraq, then to admit that they made the most colossal what-was-I-thinking? mistake in the history of the United States.

There is no "itself" there in Iraq. There is only broken crockery. And there is no excuse for Congress to remain spellbound by the delusion that thousands of more American lives, and billions of more American dollars, will accomplish a make-or-break difference. That's how a junkie thinks, a doubling-down gambling addict, a fool. The President and the Vice President may inhabit a psychotic folie à deux, but there remains no reason for the rest of us to follow them on the road to this unspeakable hell.


Analysis: Bush's new plan not all new
Analysis: Bush's new plan not all new
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush's new plan for Iraq sounds a lot like his old one. Send in more troops, set goals for the Iraqi government and assure Americans it's better to wage war there than here.

And now the U.S. military is back in Somalia, too, once again attacking suspected terrorist targets.

Bush's challenge in Iraq: show what's different now.

The plan the president will outline to the nation Wednesday night is the latest repackaging of a program that's been wrapped and rewrapped many times.

The White House recognizes that a majority of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq and that Democrats are eager to assert their new leadership on Capitol Hill by challenging his proposal to send in more troops.

But Bush advisers also believe that Americans do not necessarily support an immediate withdrawal and might be willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt if he presents a feasible, detailed plan that points the way to an eventual U.S. drawdown.

It's different this time, Bush supporters say of his new strategy - always words to beware.

For one thing, administration officials contend that the Iraqi government, while still fragile, has matured and will do much more of its part this time.

They note that Bush has reshuffled his military and diplomatic team in Iraq and has a new defense secretary, Robert Gates, to carry out the revised plan.

Bush has told lawmakers he plans to send about 20,000 more troops to Iraq. There are roughly 132,00 there now. The White House also is working on its largest-ever appeal for more war funds - a record $100 billion, at least - to be submitted along with Bush's Feb. 5 budget.

"He does understand that it's important to bring the public back to this war and restore public confidence in support for the mission," spokesman Tony Snow said Tuesday.

Still, there's clearly a been-there, done-that feel to Bush's new plan.

It's an old story: The U.S. before has temporarily raised troop levels, taken steps to encourage democracy, spent money on education and public works and set benchmarks for the Iraqi government.

In the fall of 2005, the president gave a series of speeches around the country on the way forward in Iraq. To mark the campaign, the White House issued a glossy 35-page document titled "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," spelling out a series of military, political and economic initiatives.

"This last summer there was a troop increase that really did no good in my opinion whatsoever," says Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

That was after Bush went to Baghdad and announced a joint effort with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to beef up security in Baghdad - and after an earlier joint effort failed to stem the tide of sectarian violence. The newer one failed too.

Skelton suggests too much attention is being paid to the latest plan's rollout.

"Whatever the president does, it is still up to the Iraqis to make or break it themselves. So let's not put any more spotlight on this decision any more than those in the past, which sadly have not been good ones," he says.

As Bush outlines his new Iraq strategy, he may well mention the new U.S. airstrikes in Somalia that targeted Islamic extremists.

He can cite the war on terrorism's multiple fronts. It fits in with his fight-them-abroad-not-at-home thesis. Administration allies suggest the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia in 1993 helped strengthen the al-Qaida terror network.

"Just as the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan emboldened and enlarged al-Qaida, just as our withdrawal from Somalia encouraged them to go find more targets, our defeat in Iraq would expand the numbers of terrorists and embolden them to seek new strategic targets," said Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Analysts and lawmakers have mixed views on whether Bush can do anything to turn the tide in Iraq. Some say it's possible, but that the odds are low after nearly four years of war.

"Anything that would work now would have worked even better two years ago," said Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at Brookings Institution who served as an adviser to the Iraq Study Group. "Increasing troops has always been an option. But this is probably the least promising time to try it of the past almost four years."

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, called for beginning to withdraw combat troops - a central recommendation Bush apparently has chosen to ignore.

Many Democrats and some Republicans await Bush's speech with skepticism.

"There is the troubling issue of the capacity of the struggling government in Iraq, consumed as it is by fractional fighting, to establish any kind of sustained governing coalition," said Ray DuBois, a Pentagon official until last March who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, complained that Bush initially promised that Americans would stand down as Iraqis stood up. "Now it sounds like we're being told that Americans will stand up as the Iraqis are standing up. That's a confusing difference to me."


Bush lifts Alaska oil, gas drilling ban
Bush lifts Alaska oil, gas drilling ban

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush lifted a ban Tuesday on oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay, an area known for its endangered whales and the world's largest run of sockeye salmon.

The action clears the way for the Interior Department to open 5.6 million acres of the fish-rich waters northwest of the Alaska Peninsula as part of its next five-year leasing plan.

"There will be significant opportunities for study and public comment before any oil and gas development could take place," said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. But he said the bay, as well as expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, "will enhance America's energy security."

Interior's tentative plans call for Bristol Bay leases being made available in 2010 and 2012, pending the environmental reviews.

Kempthorne said Alaska state officials as well as some local and native groups had asked that the ban be ended to spur the local fishing-dominated economy.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who in 2003 got Congress to lift its moratorium on drilling in the bay, called the president's decision "welcome news for people who live and work" there.

Alaska's newly elected Republican governor, Sarah Palin, welcomed the possibility of additional oil and gas production and promised "a very aggressive role in making sure our fisheries are protected."

There are believed to be 200 million barrels of oil and 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas beneath the bay's federal waters three miles to 200 miles from shore. The Interior Department last year estimated energy development could produce up to 11,500 jobs and new tax revenue for the state.

But the area also is known for its fisheries with huge annual catches of salmon, cod, red king crab, halibut and huge schools of herring.

Concern over those fisheries prompted Congress to put the bay off limits to drilling in 1990 after the massive Exxon Valdez tanker oil spill on the other side of the peninsula in Cook Inlet. Later, then-President Clinton added his own drilling ban, one that had been continued by Bush.

Talk of opening the fish-rich waters to oil and gas drilling has outraged environmentalists and many of the area's fishermen.

"It's outrageous. It's a sad day for Bristol Bay," Eric Siy, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, said in a telephone interview, responding to Bush's action.

"It's one of the largest and most valuable commercial fisheries in the world," said Siy. "And precisely where they intend to drill and site rigs is the critical habitat, feeding grounds of the North Pacific Right Whale, one of the most endangered on Earth."

The areas proposed for leasing also overlaps the migratory route for all of the wild salmon returning to Bristol Bay and the western Alaska river system, environmentalists say.

But others welcome the economic potential - although with caution.

"The president has opened the door for us," said Stanley Mack, a fisherman and mayor of the Aleutians East Borough, but he added, "We're going to walk through it very cautiously."

The Aleutians East Borough's administrator, Bob Juettner, said developing the offshore oil and gas presents "a wonderful opportunity" to bring jobs to area and help the economy which has declined because of competition from foreign fisheries and the growth of farm-raised salmon.

"But keep in mind our families have centered their lives around commercial and subsistence fisheries for thousands of years," he continued. "And we can't let anything threaten our traditional way of life."

Without strict safeguards, warned Juettner "we will withdraw our support."

Environmentalists maintained that local support has in any case been overstated and that many of the native groups, village leaders and fishing groups are on record opposing oil and gas development in the bay.

Last month, more than 30 people representing a wide range of interests from the national Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund to local fishermen and native Alaskans, wrote Bush, urging him to keep oil and gas rigs out of the bay.

Kempthorne promised "thorough environmental review" before any leases are issued. Along with the newly opened areas in the Gulf, he said, "these actions will enhance America's energy security by improving opportunities for domestic energy production."

Kempthorne also announced the department would raise the royalty rate for new deep-water oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico to 16.7 percent. Most leases now charge 12.5 percent. The move was seen as a response the growing pressure in Congress to get oil companies to renegotiate flawed 1998-99 deep-water leases that has allowed them to avoid royalty payments.


Associated Press writer Steve Quinn in Juneau contributed to this story.


On the Net:

Interior Department

Minerals Management Service

Bristol Bay Borough:


House passes Democratic security bill

House passes Democratic security bill
By Thomas Ferraro and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bill to bolster America's security cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday as Democrats began to push their "first 100-hours" agenda that helped them win control of Congress in last year's elections.

On a largely party-line vote of 299-128, the House agreed to implement long-stalled recommendations by the 9/11 commission, which investigated the 2001 attacks on the United States. The bill, the first passed by the House since the 110th Congress convened last Thursday, was sent to the Senate for consideration.

While much of the effort has broad support, House Democrats drew objections from the Bush administration and others to some of their own proposals in the bill, particularly one that would require within a few years 100 percent screening of cargo for explosives on passenger jets and incoming ships.

Critics said there is no proven technology for such screening, at least not in a timely fashion, and could create bottlenecks in global trade.

Former Rep. Timothy Roemer, an Indiana Democrat who served on the commission, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the effort could be counterproductive.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg scoffed to reporters after testifying before the panel, "I think the question is which decade do they want to start that."

But former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who served as vice chair of the bipartisan commission, praised the sweeping legislation.

"If this bill ... is enacted, funded and implemented, then the American people will be safer," Hamilton said on Monday.

The White House raised objections in a statement but did not threaten a veto. It said: "The administration looks forward to working with Congress to try to address these concerns."

The measure would provide better communications equipment for emergency workers, more money for high-risk areas, strengthen the sharing of U.S. intelligence information with local authorities and seek to reduce radicalism with efforts overseas to promote development and education.

The House also approved a resolution to create an intelligence oversight panel, in line with the commission's call for greater congressional oversight.

The previous Congress, controlled by U.S. President George W. Bush's Republicans, had enacted about half the commission's recommendations, including creation of a director to oversee all U.S. intelligence agencies.

But it allowed others to languish more than two years, drawing fire from the commission as well as Democrats who made it a campaign issue.

"We are here today considering this bill for one reason -- to protect America from terrorism and from those who advocate hate and violence," said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat.

Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, charged, "This is primarily a political gesture without a great deal of results."

During the next two weeks, Democrats intend to vote on the five other bills in their "first 100 legislative hours" agenda.

It includes measures to increase the minimum wage, overturn Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, lower prescription drug prices, cut the interest rate on student loans and end some subsidies for big oil companies.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan)


Bush's public broadcasting chief to step down

Bush's public broadcasting chief to step down

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Kenneth Tomlinson, who drew Democratic ire for trying to add conservative views into public television and radio, said on Tuesday he plans to step down once his successor is named.

Tomlinson has served as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the U.S. government's international programming to Cuba, the Middle East and other areas, since 2002.

Tomlinson said in a statement that he has asked President Bush not to nominate him for another term, but said he would stay on the job until his successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Bush nominated Tomlinson to a second term as chairman in 2005. However, before Democrats regained controlled of Congress in the November 2006 midterm elections, the Republican-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee said it would not schedule at vote on the nomination for the remainder of the year.

Congressional Democrats have demanded that Bush fire Tomlinson, who government auditors said used his office for personal gain.

In a letter to Bush on Tuesday, Tomlinson said he "appreciated deeply" the president repeatedly submitting his name to the Senate panel for reconfirmation.

"However, I have concluded that it would be far more constructive to write a book about my experiences rather than to seek to continue government service," Tomlinson wrote.

Tomlinson previously served as chairman of the presidentially appointed board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He resigned that post in November 2005 after he was criticized for injecting politics into the organization.

The federally funded nonprofit CPB is the largest single source of money for U.S. public television and radio programming, including PBS and National Public Radio.

Tomlinson had sought to add more conservative-minded shows to the line-up to counter what many conservatives considered a liberal bias in public broadcasting.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sharpton may campaign for presidency

Sharpton may campaign for presidency
The Associated Press

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said Monday he is seriously considering a run for president.

"I don't hear any reason not to," Sharpton, 52, said in an interview during an urban affairs conference sponsored by another civil rights leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"If we're talking about the urban agenda, can you tell me anybody else in the field who's representing that right now?" Sharpton asked. "We clearly have a reason to run, and whether we do it or not we'll see over the next couple of months."

Sharpton mounted a long-shot bid for the White House in 2004, in which his wit and fiery denunciation of President Bush often enlivened Democratic primary debates. He dropped out of the race after losing several state primaries and endorsed the eventual nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

Despite widespread interest in the likely candidacy of another influential black Democrat, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, Sharpton said he's heard little substantive discussion of issues that might influence his decision about running.

"Right now we're hearing a lot of media razzle dazzle," Sharpton said. "I'm not hearing a lot of meat, or a lot of content. I think when the meat hits the fire, we'll find out if it's just fat or if there's some real meat there."

Sharpton said the candidate who impressed him most so far was former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who has made poverty the central issue of his campaign.

Sharpton ran for the Senate from New York in 1988, 1992 and 1994, and ran for New York City mayor in 1997.


Outside Court, Roberts Hears Dissent; Critics Deride Fear of 'Constitutional Crisis' Over Judicial Pay
Outside Court, Roberts Hears Dissent
Critics Deride Fear of 'Constitutional Crisis' Over Judicial Pay
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. usually knows just the right thing to say, his star turn during his 2005 Senate confirmation hearings being Exhibit A.

But maybe not so with the blandly titled "2006 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary," issued, as he noted, on the typically slow news day of Jan. 1. He should rest assured that it has been noticed -- and roundly razzed by some in the legal punditry and that segment of the citizenry that likes to write angry letters to the editor and leave sputtering rants on the answering machines of reporters who write about the court.

Roberts devoted his entire address to the call for a pay raise for federal judges, a subject that he noted was not new, and one -- he didn't note this -- that might never be terribly popular with those who make less than $165,200 a year, which is what federal district judges and members of Congress make (Roberts's salary is $212,000).

There are plenty of people who agree with Roberts that judicial salaries should rise to attract and retain the brightest in the legal field. But his description of the issue as a "constitutional crisis" was too much for some.

"What should we say about a Chief Justice who suggests that it is a 'constitutional crisis' if Congress takes advantage of its constitutional prerogatives to refuse to raise the salaries of federal judges?" University of Texas law professor Sanford V. Levinson asked on the legal blog Balkinization. "As it happens, I agree with him that pay raises are long overdue, but not necessarily for members of the US Supreme Court, frankly, who have cushy jobs and are treated like kings and queens."

Matthew J. Franck chimed in on National Review Online: "According to the chief, things are bad enough that we have a 'constitutional crisis that threatens to undermine the strength and independence of the federal judiciary.' In a word: balderdash."

Nor did Roberts endear himself to public-interest lawyers, public defenders, prosecutors and other lower-paid government lawyers with his worry that the judiciary not become restricted to the independently wealthy or "people for whom the judicial salary represents a pay increase." They stopped reading before they got to "Do not get me wrong -- there are very good judges in both of those categories.''

Still, not everyone reacted critically. The New York Times endorsed his plea, although its editorial said it was "tempting to dismiss as hyperbole the chief justice's characterization of this issue as a 'constitutional crisis.' "

More important, incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) signaled his quick assent, saying, "I intend again to do what I can to convince Congress to fairly evaluate this issue and the chief's arguments, so that we can see what solutions may be possible."


raq Troop Surge Will Come at High Cost

ABC News
Iraq Troop Surge Will Come at High Cost
To Meet President Bush's Expected Request for More Troops for Iraq, Some Units Already There May Find Their Tours Extended

Jan. 8, 2007 — - With all the attention focused on President Bush's likely announcement this week that additional American troops would be sent to Iraq, what has not generated as much attention is the possibility that some units already in Iraq could see their tours of duty lengthened, while their expected replacements would be used to provide the additional troops in Baghdad.

While those extensions are possible, ABC News has learned that the Pentagon is considering a separate request from Marine commanders in Iraq to extend the tour of duty of 2,200 Marines currently serving in the dangerous al Anbar province.

The Marines and sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit were ordered to Iraq in mid-November while in the middle of a routine six-month overseas deployment.

With the unit's deployment scheduled to end in February, the senior Marine commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, has asked that the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit have its tour of duty extended.

Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Salas says Zilmer requested the extension to build "on the momentum the unit has generated and the good work they've done."

It is not clear how long the extension would last. Any extension would have to be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The request was first reported by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

In the three years since the invasion of Iraq, only a small number of military units that have served in Iraq have seen their tours of duty extended. Army units serve one-year deployments to Iraq; Marine units deploy generally for seven months.

The issue is politically sensitive as military planners weigh the needs of the battle front and the expectations of service members and their families to stick to the deployment schedules.

Last year, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld witnessed firsthand the results of those expectations following the four-month extension of Alaska's 172nd Stryker Brigade.

Rumsfeld flew to Alaska for an angry meeting with family members. That last-minute extension was particularly painful to the families as some members of the unit had already returned home.

Marine officials say the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit serving in western al Anbar province near the Syrian border has improved the security situation in the province's roadways where insurgents hijack vehicles or kidnap residents for ransom.

Officials add there has been "significant progress" in al Anbar over the last 60 days in getting Sunni sheikhs to agree to cooperate with the coalition.

One indicator of that progress has been the sizeable increase in the number of police recruits in the area.

Just last month, 1,000 new police recruits signed up in the province, as to the 30 or so new recruits in prior months. Six hundred of the recruits came from violence-ravaged Ramadi, and the recruiting numbers are expected to remain high again this month.

The surge will be a combination of adding more brigades on top of existing units already in Iraq.

Pentagon planners have reportedly presented President Bush with a proposal to initially send two combat brigades directly to Baghdad to improve the security situation there.

An additional two or three combat brigades would be sent later through April and May as needed. An army brigade usually consists of 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers.

Adding these brigades would mean 20 combat brigades in Iraq, providing the 20,000 additional troops.

There are currently an estimated 132,000 American service members in Iraq.

If a surge was ordered, the first two brigades likely to be sent to Baghdad would be units that already had deployment orders to the Middle East.

These include a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and a brigade from the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Ga.


Blair refuses to match US troop 'surge' in Iraq; ll not send more troops to Iraq

The Evening Standard
Blair refuses to match US troop 'surge' in Iraq
Blair will not send more troops to Iraq

Tony Blair will make clear this week that Britain is not going to send more troops to Iraq even if the US pushes ahead with a "surge" of 20,000 extra soldiers.

The Prime Minister will insist that the UK will stick to its own strategy of gradually handing over to the Iraqi army, as it has been doing with success in Basra and the south.

President Bush will announce a new US policy for Iraq either tomorrow or Wednesday. There are currently 140,000 US troops in Iraq, compared to 7,000 British servicemen and women. Mr Blair, in a rare distancing from White House policy, has been keen for Britain to be seen to be acting under its own initiative.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said yesterday that as Prime Minister he would conduct a foreign policy based firmly on British interests


Sprint Nextel Says It Will Eliminate 5,000 Jobs

The New York Times
Sprint Nextel Says It Will Eliminate 5,000 Jobs

RESTON, Va., Jan. 8 (AP) — Sprint Nextel reported Monday that its cellphone business suffered a net loss of 300,000 monthly subscribers in the fourth quarter and that it would cut 5,000 jobs.

Shares of the company plunged more than 8 percent after the financial update, which included a 2007 outlook that fell short of many Wall Street forecasts.

Sprint said that it expected its 2006 results to be in line with its previous guidance, with full-year revenue of $41 billion to $41.5 billion and adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization of $12.6 billion to $12.9 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial are looking for 2006 earnings of $1.26 a share on sales of $41.53 billion.

For 2007, the company expects operating revenue of $41 billion to $42 billion. Analysts are looking for earnings of $1.32 a share on sales of $42.04 billion.

During the fourth quarter, Sprint added 742,000 total net subscribers and ended the period with a subscriber base of 53.1 million. Those numbers include wholesale subscribers to other brands of cellphone service carried over the Sprint network, like Virgin Mobile.

The fourth-quarter net additions included 876,000 from wholesalers and affiliate companies that sell Sprint Nextel services, as well as 171,000 new customers for Boost, a wholly owned subsidiary for younger consumers.

Offsetting the gains, however, was a net decline of 306,000 direct Nextel subscribers because of complaints about worsening service quality. The Sprint brand subscriber base grew during the quarter, but not enough to offset the Nextel drop.

The company said the net decline in direct subscribers would continue in early 2007, but that the full-year figures would show a gain.

The planned job cuts, most of them expected in the first quarter, will reduce the size of Sprint’s work force to just below 60,000 positions. The cuts are expected to be applied across the company’s operations.

The update came after the close of Monday’s regular trading session. Shares of Sprint fell $1.64, to $18, in extended trading after rising 43 cents, or 2.2 percent, in regular trading.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Punishment


A Sudden Curious Interest In Sound Budgets And Fair Play


. . . To Slow The Enemy's Efforts To Disrupt The Government


The Melting Habitat


New Way Forward


Pushing The Envelope . . .


Do Unto Others . . .


Using the same business model . . .


Click On And You Go To

Huffington Post
Click On And You Go To

John Edwards' '08 website is But the campaign didn't buy Hillary Clinton did.

Click on and you end with Hillary Clinton.


Wesley Clark: Bush's 'surge' will backfire
Wesley Clark: Bush's 'surge' will backfire
The rise in troop numbers could reduce the urgency for political effort

The odds are that President George Bush will announce a "surge" of up to 20,000 additional US troops in Iraq. But why? Will this deliver a "win"? The answers: a combination of misunderstanding and desperation; and, probably not.

The recent congressional elections - which turned over control of both houses to the Democrats - were largely a referendum on President Bush, and much of the vote reflected public dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. Most Americans see the US effort as failing, and believe that some different course of action must be taken. Most favour withdrawing forces soon, if not immediately. The report of the Iraq Study Group is widely seen as a formal confirmation of US failure in Iraq.

The country's action there has been the very centrepiece of the Bush presidency. With two years left in office, he would, of course, try to salvage the situation. Many Americans remember the 1975 evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon, with desperate, loyal Vietnamese friends clinging to the skids of the American helicopters. No one wants that kind of an ending in Iraq. And our friends and allies in the region are also hoping for the US to pull some kind "rabbit from the hat", even if it seems improbable, for a US failure would have grave consequences in the region. Iran, especially, is the beneficiary of a failure, and al-Qa'ida will also try to claim credit.

From the administration's perspective, a troop surge of modest size is virtually the only remaining action inside Iraq that will be a visible signal of determination. More economic assistance is likely to be touted, but in the absence of a change in the pattern of violence, infrastructure enhancement simply isn't practical. And if the President announces new Iraqi political efforts - well, that's been tried before, and is there any hope that this time will be different?

As for the US troops, yes, several additional brigades in Baghdad would enable more roadblocks, patrols, neighbourhood clearing operations and overnight presence. But how significant will this be? We've never had enough troops in Iraq - in Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of two million. For Iraq that ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops, so adding 20,000 seems too little, too late, even, for Baghdad. Further, in a "clear and hold" strategy, US troops have been shown to lack the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to ensure that areas can be "held", or even that they are fully "cleared". The key would be more Iraqi troops, but they aren't available in the numbers required for a city of more than five million with no reliable police - nor have the Iraqi troops been reliable enough for the gritty work of dealing with militias and sectarian loyalties. Achieving enhanced protection for the population is going to be problematic at best. Even then, militia fighters in Baghdad could redeploy to other areas and continue the fight there.

What the surge would do, however, is put more American troops in harm's way, further undercut US forces' morale, and risk further alienation of elements of the Iraqi populace. American casualties would probably rise, at least temporarily, as more troops are on the streets; we saw this when the brigade from Alaska was extended and sent into Baghdad last summer. And even if the increased troop presence initially intimidates or frustrates the contending militias, it won't be long before they find ways to work around the obstacles to movement and neighbourhood searches, if they are still intent on pursuing the conflict. All of this is not much of an endorsement for a troop surge that will impose real pain on the already overstretched US forces.

There could be other uses for troops, for example, accelerating training for the Iraqi military and police. But even here, vetting these forces for their loyalty has proven problematic. Therefore, neither accelerated training nor more troops in the security mission can be viewed mechanistically, as though a 50 per cent increase in effort will yield a 50 per cent increased return, for other factors are at work.

The truth is that, however brutal the fighting in Iraq for our troops, the underlying problems are political. Vicious ethnic cleansing is under way right under the noses of our troops, as various factions fight for power and survival. In this environment security is unlikely to come from smothering the struggle with a blanket of forces - it cannot be smothered easily, for additional US efforts can stir additional resistance - but rather from more effective action to resolve the struggle at the political level. And the real danger of the troop surge is that it undercuts the urgency for the political effort. A new US ambassador might help, but, more fundamentally, the US and its allies need to proceed from a different approach within the region. The neocons' vision has failed.

Well before the 2003 invasion, the administration was sending signals that its intentions weren't limited to Iraq; Syria and Iran were mentioned as the next targets. Small wonder then that Syria and Iran have worked continuously to meddle in Iraq. They had reason to believe that if US action succeeded against Iraq, they would soon be targets themselves. Dealing with meddling neighbours is an essential element of resolving the conflict in Iraq. But this requires more than border posts, patrols and threatening statements. Iran has thus far come out the big winner in all of this, dispensing with long-time enemy Saddam, gaining increased influence in Iraq, pursuing nuclear capabilities and striving to enlarge further its reach. The administration needs a new strategy for the region now, urgently, before Iran can gain nuclear capabilities.

America should take the lead with direct diplomacy to resolve the interrelated problems of Iran's push for regional hegemony, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Isolating adversaries hasn't worked. The region must gain a new vision, and that must be led diplomatically by the most powerful force in the region, the United States.

Without such fundamental change in Washington's approach, there is little hope that the troops surge, Iraqi promises and accompanying rhetoric will amount to anything other than "stay the course more". That wastes lives and time, perpetuates the appeal of the terrorists, and simply brings us closer to the showdown with Iran. And that will be a tragedy for not just Iraq but our friends in the region as well.

Retired General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of Nato, is a senior fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations


Dems prepare slew of oversight hearings

Dems prepare slew of oversight hearings
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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.

The congressional hearing room is a Washington set piece: A lonely witness at a table covered in red velvet, klieg lights glaring, a determined inquisitor across the floor. Congressional power in its rawest form.

Iraq is the focal point of Democratic efforts.

Beginning this week, when Bush is expected to disclose his new war strategy, three Senate and at least two House committees plan to call Cabinet members to testify about the president's policy.

"We will use these hearings to ask tough questions, demand real solutions and keep working to bring this war to a close," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Saturday in his party's weekly radio address.

The hearings are one way for Democrats to respond to the party's anti-war wing. Last week, as Democrats prepared to assume power in the new Congress, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and a group of protesters interrupted a Democratic press conference, chanting "De-escalate. Investigate. Troops home now!"

The outburst highlighted the limited options Democrats have on redirecting policy in Iraq. Short of cutting off money for the war - a step Democratic leaders say they will not take - Congress has little recourse but to agitate publicly against Bush's strategy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Reid wrote Bush last week to express their opposition to a potential temporary increase in the number of troops in Iraq - an idea Bush is said to be considering.

Some Democrats, so far a minority, want Congress to take a stand against an emergency spending bill that Bush is expected to send to Congress to pay for military and reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That bill "is a vehicle for continuing the war through the end of Bush's term" in early 2009, said Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who is running for president in 2008. "You cannot say you oppose the war and continue to fund it."

Reid on Friday reiterated that Democrats would not use spending legislation to try to change the course of the war. In fact, Democratic strategists say it is far better for the party to keep the war focus on Bush than it is to devise a detailed exit plan for Iraq.

"We are not at a point at this moment where I can say we have a specific strategy, but we have several options," said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader.

One idea under consideration would cap the number of troops Bush could send to Iraq.

"It could be legislation that requires the president to come for congressional approval for troops over a certain level," Durbin said, quickly adding there was no Democratic agreement on such an option. "I'm giving you speculation. This is not strategy."

Besides the focus on Iraq, Democratic committee chairmen are planning their own policy oversight sessions with Bush officials.

"We need to be the watchdog," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

From his perch as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Waxman said he intends to tackle instances of "waste, fraud and abuse." He did not specify his first target, but previously has expressed interest in investigating federal contracts in Iraq and in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina struck.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he will examine the administration's policies on torture and other human rights issues. His request for data exposed one of the first rifts between the new Congress and the administration when the Justice Department refused to provide the committee with two secret documents that describe CIA detention and interrogation policies for suspected terrorists.

Leahy, D-Vt., stopped short of threatening the use of a subpoena to get the documents. But he told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that he "would pursue this matter further" when the committee holds its first oversight hearing.

Now that Bush had accepted the resignation of Harriet Miers as his top in-house lawyer, the White House is preparing to revamp its counsel's office in anticipation of a more aggressive and demanding Congress.

Miers was one of Reid's favorite White House officials and the senator applauded Bush for nominating her to the Supreme Court in 2005 - though she eventually withdrew from consideration. Her replacement probably will not elicit the same warm response.