Sunday, March 23, 2008


Just to wrap up my string of March 19-related posts, this is a list of places were there were actions about which I found a news report, with estimated attendance where given.

Arizona: Glendale, 10; Phoenix
California: San Francisco, 200 at a main march plus numerous small actions at various sites, 150 were arrested for civil disobedience; Sonoma, 160, 1 cd arrest; Benicia, 40; San Rafael, "several hundred"; Sacramento, nearly 100; San Luis Obsipo, 200; Pasadena, two separate vigils, attend by 20 and 80, respectively
Colorado: Greeley, 15-20
Connecticut: Hartford, 100, 5 cd arrests; Norwich, 45
Florida: Doral, 8 dressed in black; Miami, 6 dressed in black; Sarasota County, several groups along US 41, there were 20 at one site
Georgia: Augusta, two dozen
Idaho: Idaho falls, 145
Illinois: Chicago, 2200; Chicago (Loyola U. campus), 6 with guerrilla theater
Indiana: Bloomington, 70; South Bend (Notre Dame campus); Fort Wayne
Iowa: Des Moines, 11, 2 cd arrests
Kansas: Lawrence, 40
Kentucky: Louisville, about 12 people who laid out boots and shoes representing both US and Iraqi dead
Massachusetts: Cambridge (Harvard campus), 50; Boston, five separate vigils plus 100 at a rally plus 5 arrests for cd; Chickopee, 8 arrests for civil disobedience; Northampton
Michigan: East Lansing (Michigan State campus)
Mississippi: Biloxi
Nebraska: Lincoln, 250; Omaha
Nevada: Reno, over 200
New Jersey: Trenton, 70
New York: NYC, 10,000; Binghamton, 70, 10 arrested; Syracuse, 150 with 22 arrests; Syracuse (Syracuse U. campus), 20; Rochester, 150; Brooklyn, 200; Albany, 1000
North Carolina: Greensboro, 35; Asheville, 75-100
North Dakota: Grand Forks (U. of North Dakota campus), 40
Ohio: More than 20 actions across the state including Cincinnati, 4000 t-shirts laid out to represent US dead
Oregon: Corvallis; Portland, "at least" 400, 4 arrests
Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh; Philadelphia, guerrila theater and cd with members of the Granny Peace Brigage trying to enlist; Harrisburg, 200
South Carolina: Charleston, 12-24; Greenville; Columbia, 70 (a group "larger than expected")
Texas: San Antonio, 30; Seguin, 6; Austin, over 100; San Marcos; Bryan-College Station; Amarillo; San Angelo, 50; Waco
Tennessee: Memphis; Chattanooga, nearly 100; Nashville; Mufreesboro, 25 plus an evening vigil
Vermont: Rutland, 100; Burlington, 30
Washington: Ferndale, nearly 100
Washington, DC: more than 100 at the IRS, with 32 arrested for cd; American Petroleum Institute, dozens; various others totaling 1000
West Virginia: Lewisburg, 50; Shepherdstown, 60
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Rapids; Madison, 100; Appleton; Elm Grove; Evansville; Kenosha; Manitowoc; Mazomanie; Minocqua; Milwaukee

And internationally,
Belgium: Brussels, 700 at NATO headquarters, 150 cd arrests, 450 more "held briefly"
Greece: Athens, 1000

I know for certain these aren't all the actions, these are just the ones I found in a scan of Yahoo! News. United for Peace and Justice says there were 700 events around the country. The group's website has 131 reports from actions, including a fair number not in the above list - which is how I can be certain my list isn't complete.

The things struck me about that list and those reports - well, yes, I did notice the generally-smaller turnouts at the "main," i.e., big city, events, but everyone noticed that - were first the geographical diversity of the actions and how many of them occurred in smaller cities and towns; and second that by the reports, despite being in places like Amarillo, Texas, Biloxi, Mississippi, and Lincoln, Nebraska, there was surprisingly little hostility. Of course, it was not one big love fest and there were those who shouted the odd obscenity (and, in one eerie what-decade-are-you-stuck-in moment, "Get a job!") but it seemed at least to me to show that if it's getting harder to turn people out to vocally oppose the war, it's gotten even harder than that to find anyone who actually supports the war and even those who do, do it more in a "we're stuck there" way ("It'd be worse if we left") than actual approval.

(Sidebar for a passing thought: Have you come across anyone opposed to withdrawal whose arguments are not slight parapharases of George Bushisms? And sometimes they're not even paraphrased?)

And one other thing struck me: How many of the actions tried for drama rather than numbers (like the folks dressed in black in Florida), involved guerrila theater (and I mean more than just funny costumes or giant paper-maché heads, I mean like the group that staged a mock waterboarding in DC), and/or included nonviolent civil disobedience, the latter of which lead to something like 250 (or more) arrests across the US. The Iraq war may not be the burning issue in people's minds that it once was, especially in light of the souring economy, and for that reason if no other the antiwar movement may have trouble producing the hundreds of thousands on the streets that it once did, but for that same reason the movement may be both penetrating to areas it hadn't reached before and gaining a harder, sharper, more aggressive edge in the areas it had reached.

Neither of those is a bad thing because, as Tom Engelhardt pointed out recently, barring some astounding, body-meets-floor-wth-a-thud-generating change among Congressional Dimcrats, there is going to be a sixth anniversary of the war no matter who wins the presidency.
Take Hillary Clinton, she's said that she'll task the Joint Chiefs, the new Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council with having a plan for (partial) withdrawal in place within 60 days of coming into office. Since inauguration day is January 20th, that means… March 21st or two days after the sixth anniversary; by which time, of course, nothing would have changed substantially.

Barack Obama has promised to remove U.S. "combat" troops at a one-to-two-brigades-a-month pace over a 16 month period. So it's possible that troop levels could drop marginally before March 19, 2009 in an Obama presidency, but again there is no reason to believe that anything essential would have happened to change that "anniversary."
So yeah, there will be a sixth anniversary. And unless we make it politically unpalatable, there may well be a seventh. And an eighth.
[T]he stated plans of both Democratic candidates, vague and limited as they may be, might not turn out to be their actual plans. Note the recent comments of Obama foreign policy advisor Samantha Powers ... [who before she resigned did] an interview with the BBC on her candidate's Iraq withdrawal policy. "He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator," Powers said and then she referred to Obama's plan as nothing more than a - you guessed it - "best-case scenario."

Similarly, a Clinton sometime-advisor on military matters, retired General Jack Keane, also one of the authors of President Bush's surge strategy, told the New York Sun that, in the Oval Office, "he is convinced [Hillary Clinton] would hold off on authorizing a large-scale immediate withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq." And Clinton herself, though less directly, has certainly hinted at a similar willingness to reconsider her policy promises in the light of an Oval Office morning.
So I think it would be wise to start thinking about next year already. If it were up to me, I'd call for a two-part program: First, nationwide vigils during the holiday season. Low-key but widespread, looking not so much for large numbers of people as a large number of places. This March, there were about 700 locations. I'd push for a thousand. The message: If Clinton or Obama wins, "We will remember your promises to stop the war." If McCain wins, "We will not be silent or silenced. On this, we are the majority and we will plague your every step." Second, mass regional actions on the weekend closest to the anniversary (March 21-22, 2009) including nonviolent civil disobedience. By regional I mean maybe five or six sites spread across the country with people encouraged to go to the one closest. Maybe, for example, New York, DC, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Instead of one place getting 100,000, maybe five places getting an average of 20-25,000 each.

I suppose that's something of a pipe dream, especially if Clinbama wins because I strongly suspect that in that event, in much of what passes for the left these days, the primary reaction will be relief and the primary urge will be to "give them a chance." Much as we were urged to "give Congress a chance" in 2007. Let's not forget that during the last presidential campaign, one prominent "progressive" blogger
asked, in all seriousness, "why are there going to be protests at the Democratic Convention?" That was followed up by suggesting only "the usual loonies" and "the crazies" would do such a thing.
After Bush won, another such blogger attacked the proposal for a counter-inaugural on the grounds that it would make "us" look like "sore losers, and worse, hopeless partisans."

So I have no faith that an argument of "keeping their feet to the fire" will impress such voices, which I fully expect in the wake of a Democrat taking the White House to immediately transmogrify from attack dogs into lap dogs. So maybe that shift toward smaller but more dramatic and more aggressive (in the sense of defiant and challenging) demonstrations is just what we need. What we surely don't need are more Democrat sycophants.

Footnote: Just in case you missed this:
A conference to reconcile Iraq's rival political parties fell apart almost as soon as it began on Tuesday, with influential Sunni and Shi'ite blocs pulling out in protest.
Only half of the 700 invitees even showed up.
On Tuesday, Accordance Front spokesman Salim al-Jubouri complained that the bloc had not been properly invited to conference. He also said the Front decided not to attend because resolutions from other past conferences had not been acted upon. ...

The Accordance Front pulled out of Maliki's Shi'ite-led government in August. Other blocs, including Sadr's political movement, followed suit, leaving Maliki with a government of national unity in name only.
So - what are your plans for March 21, 2009?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Another footnote

Dusty at The Sirens Chronicles created a nicely-done video for the blogswarm. You can see it at this link. I'm not going to embed it here because I want to make you go there to give them the traffic. :-)

It's worth the trip.

Footnote to the preceding

Something else that one day of the Iraq war could finance: maintaining US food donations to hungry nations around the world.
Aid groups are asking Congress for a 70 percent increase in supplemental funding this year to ensure that historically high commodity prices don't truncate U.S. food aid donations.

The groups say at least $600 million is needed this year to avoid gaps in food donations and help those hardest hit by skyrocketing prices for staples like bread and milk.
Food aid is too often an afterthought, done as emergency aid in a crisis with attendant risks of higher costs (and thus lower volume of food) and delayed shipments (and thus more deaths), rather than up-front donations which can be used both to relieve hunger and to help fund long-term development that can reduce the need for future aid.

This year appears no different from that "afterthought" norm: Bush has only asked for $350 million in supplemental funding, less than 60% of what aid groups say is immediately needed - and Congress has failed to act on the request, even though it was submitted months ago.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

March 19 Blogswarm, Part Four

[This and the previous post were supposed to go up yesterday as part of my contribution to the March 19 Blogswarm. I got interrupted and they didn't make it. So consider today March 19 B-Day + 1.]

To wrap up this quadrilogy, beyond the political cost and the human cost, there is still the cost cost.

In the fall of 2002, White House economic advisor Lawrence Lindsay said the Iraq war could cost as much as $200 billion.

He was fired.

That figure was outlandish, we were assured. In fact, the invasion would almost pay for itself. Defense Secretary Donald Rumplestiltskin insisted the cost would be more like $50 billion to $60 billion. Andrew Natsios, head of USAID, said reconstruction costs would run to just, oh, $1.7 billion.

Oh my.
The most conservative estimate of the war’s cost comes from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, whose remit limits its analysis to US government spending. Up to September 30, the end of the 2007 fiscal year, it says $413bn was spent on Iraq. From then until the end of 2017, it calculates overall spending on Iraq and Afghanistan at $570bn-$1,055bn, depending on how quickly troop numbers are reduced. If three-quarters of the budget is spent on Iraq, the ratio of recent years, future direct budgetary costs would be a further $428bn to $788bn.
Include interest on the debt accumulated because of war spending, and the total cost by 2017 could reach $2 trillion.
The JEC [Joint Economic Committee], chaired by Democratic senator Charles Schumer of New York, attempts to add economic costs to the US, including the displacement of productive investment, interest paid to foreigners, and oil price increases, which add a further $700bn so far. Until 2017, assuming US troop numbers in Iraq fall to 55,000 by 2013 and stay at that level, the cost grows to $2,800bn in 2007 dollars.
That's three trillion dollars - and even that estimate may not be high enough.
Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize winning economist, and Linda Bilmes, authors of "The Three Trillion Dollar War", argue that the Iraq war will cost the US at least $3 trillion, possibly as much as $5 trillion.

Bilmes, a budget and public finance expert at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, told Al Jazeera that "both in a long term sense and a short term sense the United States is worse off economically speaking because of the war.

"In a long term sense, we have added already about $800 billion to our national debt as a result of the borrowing and the war," she says.

"In the short term sense we are spending $12 billion a month in Iraq alone and that clearly limits the amount of money that we have to provide things like economic stimuli to improve the economy." ...

Bilmes says her study looked at the total cost of the war - including the total cost of the money that has been spent to date, the cost of taking care of veterans when they return, providing disability compensation to veterans, replenishing military equipment and the cost of borrowing
as well as the economic impact of quality of life impairments, the loss of the productive capacity of those killed or wounded, and higher oil prices.

Even so, despite the enormous costs,
it is virtually certain that the Democrats will provide tens of billions more when they vote next month on a military spending bill whose approval is a foregone conclusion. Many Democratic lawmakers now even say that the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, should not try to attach conditions, like a deadline for withdrawal, because the tactic is certain to fail as it has in the past.
I'd like to know which "Democratic lawmakers" are saying that because the deserve a good smack upside the head. Not try because you failed before? What kind of idiocy is that? "If at first you don't succeed, try, try - oh the hell with it?" I said a long time ago that one thing the left could learn from the right is sheer stubbornness. The right wing has an idea shot down, what do they do? Propose it again! If it gets rejected again with the complaint "we already dealt with that," they bring it up a third time! And a fourth and a fifth and however many damn times it takes.

So if I could tell Nancy Pelosi what to do, I'd tell her to make sure there are votes on conditions, votes on timetables, votes on withdrawals, votes to cut off funds. Even if you know they're going to fail, schedule them anyway. And if someone asks you why since you know they're going to lose, you say "I know they are. But we're going to make you go on record. We're going to make you state on the record that you're against ending the war, that you want US troops to stay in Iraq indefinitely, that you want to keep throwing money and lives down that pit. Poll after poll after poll reveal that anywhere from three-fifths to two-thirds of Americans are against the war, think it was a mistake to get in, that it's not worth the cost, and that troops should be withdrawn within a few months of a new administration and in any event in no more than two years from now. If you want to stand against that at the beginning of your re-election campaign, you can - but you're going to do it on the record."

All that, of course, is assuming Pelosi really does want to end the war like she says she does.

Footnote Once: Shrub, of course, drops another happy pill and gins up his smirk.
President Bush argues that war critics are rounding on the cost of the war because of the very success of the "surge."

"War critics can no longer credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq - so now they argue the war costs too much. In recent months we have heard exaggerated estimates of the costs of this war."
Actually, it's very easy to argue we're losing in Iraq. And I hardly think anyone in the Bush gang is in a position to criticize anyone else's cost estimates.

Footnote Twice: Just to illustrate how seriously everyone involved is taking the drmatic costs of the war in their actions rather than in just their words, consider that both houses of Congress are working on their budget outlines for Fiscal 2009.
While both bills, as well as Bush's February budget request, claim to balance the budget by 2012, none provide the long-term funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that likely will be needed.
So it will continue to be funded with budget-busting "emergency supplementals" and we'll continue to pretend there is no economic impact. As the war drags on.

March 19 Blogswarm, Part Three

Updated [This and the next post were supposed to go up yesterday as part of my contribution to the March 19 Blogswarm. I got interrupted and they didn't make it. So consider today March 19 B-Day + 1.]

The costs of a war can be measured in any number of ways beyond the obvious deaths and dollars. The deaths can be expanded beyond those killed in the fighting to deaths from illnesses and accidents and then to those who died indirectly from the fighting, died because of the loss of health care or food supplies or safe drinking water. The costs can include reconstruction (or perhaps reparations), costs of care for the wounded, the maimed, the disabled, and beyond that to intangibles like lost economic productivity.

Yet there is still another kind of cost, one not measured in dollars, another kind of wound, one that draws no blood and leaves no visible scar. A cost, a wound, that those who have experienced war, even those who appear healthy, can carry inside themselves.
Garry Naipo, a grandfather of three, went to Iraq - boomeranging from cul-de-sac to combat and back in 15 months, a journey that would change his life - and that of his family - in subtle, corrosive ways.

Naipo, 51, is one of thousands of National Guard citizen soldiers who have left established jobs and families to answer a call and come back altered men and women. On the outside, they look fine, the same even. They blend in at work, in the grocery line, at their children's soccer games. People tell them they're lucky. They're not dead.

They don't bear the grim signatures of combat.... Their wounds, though, are as insidious as they are invisible. Many return with brains and psyches damaged by chronic exposure to the hammering of blast waves and the afterimages left by bodies blown apart.

They come home, but not back to themselves.
Garry Naipo suffers ringing in his ears. He is going deaf, has memory lapses, difficulty retrieving words, and problems concentrating. He suffers anxiety attacks from things as small as a soda can rolling out of his garage or by going under a bridge. He has become prone to angry, profanity-laden outbursts at small annoyances like a car slowing traffic. Walking in a mall, he keeps one shoulder to the wall and even at home sits with his back to the wall.
Veterans Affairs doctors estimate 60 percent to 65 percent of soldiers have experienced a significant explosion, or multiple detonations, by the time they leave the service. ...

That, in turn, has likely left many with undiagnosed mild to moderate brain injuries, a prognosis that some fear is setting a long fuse that could eventually swamp the system with disabilities as they emerge in the months and years to come.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not new, but the extent of traumatic brain injury from chronic exposure to explosions in this war is, said psychiatrist Evan Kanter, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who is also a PTSD expert with the VA Puget Sound.
Naipo is getting some treatment for PTSD but has yet to be medically evaluated for concussive brain injury. Whatever the cause, the one thing his family knows for sure is that the man who left for Iraq is not the same man who returned.

The evidence for hidden damage, suppressed where not ignored, denied where not dodged, has even so built beyond the point where it can be dismissed: Among the wounds of war are the kind that can't be left on the battlefield, repaired in a hospital, or cured by physical therapy and which will not heal themselves. The psychic wounds. And the rate of psychic wounds among US veterans of our latest wars of choice are shocking. A summary of a report from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says that
[a]s early as the Civil War, terms like “soldier’s heart” and “nostalgia” were used to describe the psychological injuries incurred by combat veterans. In later wars, “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” described a similar array of symptoms. It was only in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, however, that veterans’ mental health injuries were examined scientifically. ...

Rates of mental health problems among new veterans are high and rising. The best evidence to date suggests that about one in three Iraq veterans will face a serious psychological injury, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. About 1.5 million people have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, so approximately half a million troops are returning with combat-related psychological wounds. And problems are likely to worsen. Multiple tours and inadequate time between deployments increase rates of combat stress by 50 percent.
The cost can be high: divorce, drug and alcohol abuse - and suicide.
[A] five-month CBS News investigation discovered data that shows a startling rate of suicide [among those who have served in the military], what some call a hidden epidemic....

[L]ittle information exists about how widespread suicides are among these who have served in the military. There have been some studies, but no one has ever counted the numbers nationwide. ...

CBS News’ investigative unit wanted the numbers, so it submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense asking for the numbers of suicides among all service members for the past 12 years.

Four months later, they sent CBS News a document, showing that between 1995 and 2007, there were almost 2,200 suicides. That’s 188 last year alone. But these numbers included only “active duty” soldiers. ...

So CBS News did an investigation - asking all 50 states for their suicide data, based on death records, for veterans and non-veterans, dating back to 1995. Forty-five states sent what turned out to be a mountain of information.

And what it revealed was stunning. ...

Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. ...

One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age.
Paul Sullivan, a former VA analyst now with Veterans For Common Sense, called the figures "devastating."

And where that violence is not turned inward, it can be turned outward.
The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment - along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems - appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction. ...

This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail. Also, it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges.

The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower. ...

What is clear is that experiences on the streets of Baghdad and Falluja shadowed these men back to places like Longview, Tex., and Edwardsville, Ill.

“He came back different” is the shared refrain of the defendants’ family members, who mention irritability, detachment, volatility, sleeplessness, excessive drinking or drug use, and keeping a gun at hand. ...

[M]ilitary health care officials are seeing a spectrum of psychological issues, with an estimated half of the returning National Guard members, 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines reporting mental health problems, according to a Pentagon task force.

Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse - and criminality. ...

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. ... In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation’s inmate population.
We, we as a society, as a culture, have done this to them. In our militarism, our "hero" worship, our wars, our glorification of masculinity defined by machismo and strength defined by stoicism; we send young (and not so young) men and women into a soul-shredding world that tears psychically as well as physically and hold them up as icons rather then individuals, as symbols rather than someones, when they return; we deliberately, consciously, purposefully, seek to train their consciences out of existence and undermine their moral authority - and then pretend that none of this carries over when the shooting stops and the roads they travel are no longer lined with IEDs and even within the left we excoriate those who "smear the troops" by daring to suggest we may be creating our own ticking time bombs.

I have said before that I do not "support the troops." And I don't. "The troops" are the invaders, the occupiers; the ones who smash down doors of innocent homes in the night;

the ones who shoot the wounded; the ones who get off on tormenting prisoners; the ones who enjoy tomenting animals. But I do support, embrace, celebrate, the human being inside the uniform, the one existing apart from the role of "troop." That human being deserves all the concern, compassion, and care they need to be whole.

Foonote: I tried to follow old links I had to videos on YouTube showing some of the wrongs mentioned in the preceding paragraph only to find they have been removed for "terms of service violations." I find the removal of videos that make troops look bad while soaring scenes of sun-glinted fighter-bombers remain unintentionally revealing.

Updated with more information about the situation of Garry Naipo.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

March 19 Blogswarm, Part Two

It seems at times that no matter how many lies the WHS* tell about the war and how many times those lies have been proven to be just that, every time they come up with a new one, the media swallow and regurgitate it as readily as they did all the ones before.

Undoubtedly the most successful of the lies was the one that got us into the war in the first place, that of the fabled "weapons of mass destruction." But there is one now that rivals it: "The surge is working."

No, it's not. It never did.

Why? Well, say there’s this car dealership with stagnant sales. Company execs come up with a plan to offer entertainment as a way to draw more people to the site with the idea that the more people, the more sales.

So they do this and when they check the figures six months later, they see that yes, in fact, more people have come to the showroom than during the preceding six months. However, sales remain flat.

“Hooray!” they cry. “More people! Our plan is working!”

No, it’s not. The idea was to generate sales, not visits.

The Iraq plan is not working. The idea of the escalation of the war, excuse me, “surge” (Or is it “enhanced intervention techniques?") was avowedly to provide an “opening” for political progress in Iraq. Last June, Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker
said the ultimate purpose of the surge is to buy time to build up Iraq's security forces and political process.

"[T]he process of reconciliation is key," he said. [Brackets in original.]
Such political progress is something that even the escalation's biggest cheerleader, David Petraeus, is unable to bring itself to claim is happening.

Yes, there have been some military gains - which I suppose was to be expected when you pour a bunch more soldiers into a relatively small area, i.e., Baghdad. But the purpose was to promote a political settlement. And there is zippo progress on that front.

No, the “surge” is not working. But the claims about it, the claims of "success" and "progress," are.

Those claims are based on a handful of cherry-picked statistics, the power of which is drawn from the inability or unwillingness of the US media to remember that Iraq consists of more than Baghdad and Anbar province and that there are more sources of information that the Iraqi government and the US military. Thus we hear, over and over again as if it was the only relevant metric, that sectarian violence against civilians has gone down. Which is has - but according to Iraq Body Count, the number of civilians killed by the war in 2007 was only slightly below that of 2006, the bloodiest year so far. We have, by dint of much labor and effort and an additional 30,000 or more troops, managed to get the monthly death toll of civilians "down" to where it was in 2005. If military brass want to claim that as a "success," I'd say both that they set a very low standard of success and that they first must declare the previous two years utter failures. And I don't mean any mealy-mouthed platitudes about how "well, of course no one was satisfied with the degree of progress shown" but a direct "we were fucking losers."

But more importantly, are there reasons beyond the escalation for the apparent drop in sectarian violence, which is what we call it because we don't want to admit it's a civil war? Yes, of course there are and you knew that was coming, else why would I ask the question? Here are three:

- The ceasefire declared by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army.
- The fact that ethnic cleansing has been quite "efficient" to the point where there are few mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad and few mixed areas anywhere in the country. There is less sectarian violence because the two sides have a good deal less contact.
- The US has in effect temporarily bought the loyalty of a fair number of former Sunni insurgents, providing them arms and paying them $300 a month, twice the national average income, to be, supposedly, some kind of lethal community watch program.

That last point may be the one with the greatest potential to blow up in our faces. Already the strains are showing. A couple of weeks ago, Brian Katulis at the Center for American Progress wrote that
[t]he disaffected Sunni groups that turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq are now demanding their due - political power for these “Awakening” groups commensurate with their newfound military clout and their belief that Sunnis should once again be the dominant power in Iraq as they were under Saddam Hussein.
But of course the Shi'a-dominated central government is loath to accept that idea and the Sunnis are "losing patience" with both the US and the Baghdad government. That, Katulis says, could lead to civil war returning "in full force" because
it is increasingly clear that the surge did little more than temporarily mask these divisions by offering support to different factions - support that today further undermines the Iraqi state
and could lead to US forces being caught amid warring factions and possibly a target of each. It's hard to imagine that the US military is unaware of that possibility, which I strongly suspect is a good part of the reason for the increasing reluctance to commit to even modest troop withdrawals despite all the public "victory is just around the corner" optimism.

Thus, in January, the White House was already sending "strong signals" that withdrawals would slow if not stop completely by the summer. By the end of February it was clear that come July there would still be about 140,000 US troops in Iraq - about 8,000 more than there were when the escalation began. That is to be followed by what Petraeus called a "period of assessment" extending into the fall with no promise of further reductions before then - or even after.

Or even ever.
Since last year, the administration has been working towards a long-term security agreement with Iraq, an "enduring relationship," as they had it. The basic outlines were clear: a long-term American troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for a guarantee of security for the Iraqis.

To give you an idea of the outline, the Iraqis said that it would be silly to expect that Iraq would be able to defend itself alone until at least 2018. Forever seems a fair conservative estimate.

But there was a problem. There was a strong case to be made that for the administration to strike such a deal without the consent of the Senate was unconstitutional. ...

So, abruptly, the administration's position changed. The administration would be striking a long-term pact along the same lines, but there would be no security guarantee. None at all. According to the letter of the agreement, if Iraq were attacked, we'd just let it burn.

For some reason, some cynics think this is just a workaround. Without the actual security guarantee, the administration can hammer out the treaty without any hassle from Congress.
When Rep. Gary Ackerman asked David Satterfield, the State Department's Iraq coordinator, if he was "stating uncategorically" that in the event Iraq is attacked "that the administration will take no action ... until an appropriate course of action is decided, in consultation with the Congress," Satterfield replied
Mr. Chairman, the administration will act as any administration would act in defense of U.S. interests.
Oh my yes, absolutely. And with that handy-dandy War Powers Act just waiting to be invoked - there are, after all, all those US troops not to mention private contractors in harm's way - what's a president to do? No security guarantee? No problem!

(Actually, it'd be a refreshing change for this administration to act "as any administration would," but I think was can assume that's not what Satterfield meant.)

Meanwhile, in another of the increasing number of echoes of Vietnam, the US is creating a hidden war. When John McCain talks about being in Iraq 100 years, he attaches the caveat that "as long as Americans aren't dying," people here won't care. Even though we condemn him for such callousness, the fact is he's very likely right and we know it: That's why in our protests we keep focusing on the number of Americans killed, even though by some accounts nearly 300 Iraqis have died as a result of the war for every American killed and even by the most conservative tabulations limited to Iraqi non-combatant deaths by violence, they still outnumber US deaths more than 20 to 1. We know that despite the horrendous cost to Iraqis, the American public that we are hoping to rouse will be moved much more by the (by comparison only) small cost to Americans. In the same way, the Pentagon knows that at long as US casualties can be kept down, so can public outrage. And while the current wack jobs occupying the White House may not give a damn what the public thinks, the brass can't be sure about the next crew.

So how do you pursue a war while minimizing the risks to the soldiers on the ground, a war that then can be rendered largely invisible to the public? Simple. You fight the war from where the enemy can't effectively reach: the sky.
The U.S. military conducted more than five times as many airstrikes in Iraq last year as it did in 2006....

The U.S.-led coalition dropped 1,447 bombs on Iraq last year, an average of nearly four a day, compared with 229 bombs, or about four each week, in 2006. ...

The greater reliance on air power has raised concerns from human rights groups, which say that 500-pound and 2,000-pound munitions threaten civilians, especially when dropped in residential neighborhoods where insurgents mix with the population. The military assures that the precision attacks are designed to minimize civilian casualties ... but rights groups say bombings carry an especially high risk. ...

The strategy was evident last week, as U.S. forces launched airstrikes across Iraq as part of Operation Phantom Phoenix. On Thursday morning in Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military dropped 38 bombs with 40,000 pounds of explosives in 10 minutes, one of the largest strikes since the 2003 invasion. U.S. forces north of Baghdad employed bombs totaling more than 16,500 pounds over just a few days last week, according to officers there.
The number of bombings for 2007 is understated because the Marines keeps their own statistics for bombings in western Iraq "but could not provide 2007 data."

Colin Kahl, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University, said that as US ground forces decline "you may see even more airstrikes." Personally, I'd bet on it.

And we'll be told it's a sign of progress. And the media will believe it.

First Footnote: The air war is also picking up in Afghanistan. (Afghanistan. You remember.) US and NATO bombings totaled nearly 3,600 in 2007 - more than twice as many as 2006 and more than 20 times the number in 2005.

Second Footnote: I need to correct myself. It's not "bombing." According to Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary North, who bears the lengthy title of US Central Air Forces and Combined Forces Air Component commander in Iraq, it's "kinetic strikes." Please make the correction on your copies of your papers.

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

March 19 Blogswarm, Part One

Scenes of a broken nation:

- A doctoral candidate can't get her thesis examined because there is no one to do it.
Widespread threats against Iraqi university staff have all but stripped the country of its intellectual core, particularly in Baghdad.

According to the country's higher education ministry, 240 lecturers were killed from 2003 to October 2007.

Approximately 2,000 academics have fled the country, according to Tariq al-Bakaa, a former minister of higher education who served under the 2004 government of the then prime minister Ayad Allawi.
- A family waits in line all day and even longer for gasoline.
Iraqis are once again facing days of power outages and queues hundreds of meters in length at petrol stations in parts of the capital, Baghdad, as well as in some of the country's provinces. . ...

The Iraqi electricity ministry has blamed the oil ministry for not providing sufficient fuel to run its generators. The oil ministry has blamed the electricity ministry for failing to provide its refineries with an uninterrupted power supply.
- Another family learns that eating by candlelight is not romantic.
In many areas of Baghdad, electricity is only available for a couple of hours a day.

Iraqi officials usually blame the electricity shortages on disruptions in fuel oil supplies or sabotage at power plants. Now, officials are confirming that corruption and intimidation are sometimes factors in who gets electricity in Iraq's capital.
- A sick man can't get care because it's too dangerous to get to the hospital.
Because of poor security conditions in much of the country, the sick and injured are often cut off from access to medical care. In some areas, it has become extremely difficult to provide emergency medical services, supplies or equipment....
- A sick child can't get care because the family can't afford it.
Some people go to private clinics, which are safer but also more expensive – so much so that a large part of the population could never afford them. A private-sector consultation typically costs between two and seven US dollars, depending on the quality of the service. It is not at all clear how people earning less than five dollars a day could ever pay so much.
- A sick woman can't get care because there is no one to provide it.
Hospitals and health-care centres often lack drugs and other essential items. There are not enough functioning emergency rooms and operating theatres to cope with mass casualties. There are currently 172 public hospitals with 30,000 beds – well short of the 80,000 beds needed – plus 65 private hospitals [for a population of 27 million]. ...

Like many other Iraqis, medical doctors, nurses and their families are in danger of being kidnapped or killed. Some have received threats against them. According to official Iraqi sources, more than 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and more than 250 kidnapped since 2003. Of the 34,000 doctors registered in 1990, at least 20,000 have left the country. The Iraqi health-care system is now in worse shape than ever.
- Poor families face the choice of doing without enough water...
Many Iraqis can no longer rely on public services for clean water. Left to their own devices, many people, especially the poorest, struggle to find what they need. The estimated average monthly salary in Iraq is now around 150 US dollars. As the cost of drinking water is roughly one dollar for 10 litres, each family has to spend at least US$ 50 per month on water alone.
...or drinking what may be disease-carrying filth.
Sewage systems have often deteriorated to the point that there is a real danger of drinking water being contaminated by untreated sewage.
- A man makes his living as "body contractor."
A 38-year-old Shiite who sports a thin beard and a checkered black-and-white kaffiyeh, [Jabber] Sowadi charges clients $300 to $500 to track down missing relatives, or more often their corpses.
- Then there are the walls...
Five years of occupation have destroyed Iraq as a country. Baghdad is today a collection of hostile Sunni and Shia ghettoes divided by high concrete walls. Different districts even have different national flags. Sunni areas use the old Iraqi flag with the three stars of the Baath party, and the Shia wave a newer version, adopted by the Shia-Kurdish government. The Kurds have their own flag.
...and the silences...
It's a cold, gray day in December, and I'm walking down Sixtieth Street in the Dora district of Baghdad, one of the most violent and fearsome of the city's no-go zones. Devastated by five years of clashes between American forces, Shiite militias, Sunni resistance groups and Al Qaeda, much of Dora is now a ghost town. This is what "victory" looks like in a once upscale neighborhood of Iraq: Lakes of mud and sewage fill the streets. Mountains of trash stagnate in the pungent liquid. Most of the windows in the sand-colored homes are broken, and the wind blows through them, whistling eerily. House after house is deserted, bullet holes pockmarking their walls, their doors open and unguarded, many emptied of furniture. What few furnishings remain are covered by a thick layer of the fine dust that invades every space in Iraq. ... Emptied and destroyed by civil war, walled off by President Bush's much-heralded "surge," Dora feels more like a desolate, post-apocalyptic maze of concrete tunnels than a living, inhabited neighborhood. Apart from our footsteps, there is complete silence.
...interrupted by the sounds of death and the wails of the survivors.
The death toll from a bomb attack near a revered Shiite shrine in the central Iraqi city of Karbala has risen to 52, a health official told AFP Tuesday.

A bomb exploded near the shrine of Imam Hussein, a pilgrimage destination for Shiite Muslims in the centre of the city, on Monday.

Karbala police chief Brigadier General Raed Shakir said the bomb had been planted in the area by insurgents, although other police and health officials said the attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber.

On Tuesday, Salim Kadhim, spokesman of the Karbala health directorate said the death toll from the attack was now at 52, while 75 others were wounded.
Let's make no mistake.

We did this.

It's our fault.

Our fault.

Our fault.

The blood is on our hands. And it will not wash off.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Point of personal privilege

This is an expanded version of a comment I left at Crooks & Liars.

I've written very little about the presidential primaries; in fact I think the only times I've even mentioned them were to consider the New Hampshire results in light of my concerns about electronic voting machines and to comment on the exclusion of Dennis Kucinich from the debate before the Nevada primary. This is another one of that sort of post, one that relates to the primaries but isn't about them.

It's about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's "controversial" pastor.

There are all kinds of videos of Wright's "inflammatory" statements floating around, almost all of which recycle the same few quotes. Because of my disinterest in the campaign, I'd paid little - okay, no - attention to them. But I saw a compilation of three quotes on "Countdown" this past Friday and I have to say that my reaction was rather different than that of Jonathan Alter, who called Wright, if I remember correctly, "hysterical." So I spent some time this evening on YouTube looking at videos of Wright, including those avowedly used to charge him with "hate speech" and "hating America." At the end of it all, I came away with the same feeling I had Friday: I just don't see what the big deal is supposed to be.

Consider that in one clip shown on "Countdown," Wright, during a sermon preached the Sunday after 9/11, said in essence that the attack was blowback from US policies in the world, including the Middle East and Africa. Bluntly, that doesn't strike me as a statement that should be the least controversial with any but the "they did it because they hate our freedoms" ignoramuses. (He reaches back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as examples, which I doubt are on the minds of more than a few of those regarding the US angrily today, but it doesn't detract from the point.) Rather, it is, I say, the truth and I have thought so since the beginning. Just two days after 9/11, I was emailing friends, decrying "the cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation" in which everyone claims to be the innocent victim and saying we were in for "hard times" during which suggesting a motive for the attack other than "irrational hatred" or being "uncivilized" would brand you a terrorist-lover.

Three weeks after the event, in an unpublished op-ed, I said that our problem in answering the plaintive question "Why did they attack us?" lay in the fact that we insisted on seeing Muslim, particularly Arab Muslim, concerns through American eyes. So, I said, "just for a moment, try to see the world through the eyes of an average person on the ground in the Middle East." After laying out how that world might look, I asked:
If that was your world, what would the West, what would the US, look like to you? Like a noble friend? Or like a selfish, conceited, arrogant bully which figures it can do as it damn well pleases without cost to itself? And amid all this, what is the only force that has offered you hope, offered you help, offered you a model that has defied the West, offered you self-respect? Islamic fundamentalism. Seen through such eyes, the question "Why do they hate us?" answers itself.
And three months after the attack, with the war on Afghanistan well under way, I wrote to "Mother Jones" in response to a militarist article by Todd Gitlin to say that
[a]s deeply as I mourn the victims of the World Trade Center attacks ... I still insist that the question for us as Americans is not, cannot be, what Osama bin Laden could have or should now think or do differently, but what we could have or should now think or do differently. The clock of history did not start on September 11 and refusing to face our own complicity in creating and maintaining the conditions of desperation-driven fanaticism in which such as al-Qaeda can take root and grow (and continue to recruit) is the surest way we as a nation can guarantee a continuation of terrorism directed against us.
The precise language Wright used may have been a little over the top - but the content of what he said was true.

In another clip, Wright said Hillary Clinton can't truly understand the problems and concerns of black people because she isn't black, doesn't have that experience. That conviction - that is, that true cultural understanding is only available to those with direct personal experience - is not one universally shared, but it's hardly uncommon, hardly outlandish, and by no means limited to blacks: Some women, for one example, have maintained the equivalent about men, arguing than men can't understand what it's like to be a woman in society. In that same segment, he said that the US is dominated by "rich white people." And this is supposed to be controversial on exactly what basis?

In the third clip, he said, as near as I can quote from memory, "God bless America? No, God damn America! It's there in the Bible: the destruction of innocents." That is, damn America for the murder of and mayhem against innocent people for which it is responsible. The language ("God damn America") may be, again, rather over the top, but is the sentiment that drives it really questionable? Yes, I can see why this one could be "controversial" in that it expresses a truth that most Americans do not see and do not want to see; I have mentioned before my old concern about
the most dangerous of all our cultural notions: the myth of American innocence. We as a people still tend to believe that we always act out of the highest ideals, that our motives are always pure, our intentions always honest, our honor always intact.
So words like Rev. Wright's always clang on our ears like jackhammers on metal. But seriously, seriously, is the assertion that the US has been responsible, whether directly or through surrogates, whether through action or deliberate inaction, for an appalling amount of death and destruction over, well, let's use Wright's timeframe and say over the last 60 years - but over any timeframe measured in years as opposed to months, is that a charge that can be legitimately questioned? How?

Jeremiah Wright surely has said and done some things that are wrong or foolish - embracing Louis Farrakahn ranking high on that list - but the attack dogs are not concerned with polemics but with politics and not with religion but with race, as the stunningly racist comments about both Wright and Barack Obama on some of the YouTube videos serve to emphasize. And there is one other thing with which they are not concerned: truth.

Footnote: All that said, I need to make clear that I did not agree with or approve everything Wright said on the clips I found. On one minor point, the clip where he is attacking Clinton's supposed lack of understanding of what blacks go through on a daily basis pretty much amounted to campaigning for Obama from the pulpit, which is a tax-exempt no-no. I'd be surprised that the fanatics aren't going after him for that if it weren't for the fact that it would distract attention from their real goal, which is to attack Obama by proxy.

On a more serious issue, in one clip he referred to AIDS as something created by the US government. He is hardly the only one to believe this, but it's still crap.

And in going after Hillary Clinton as someone who "fits the mold," he said three things that raised questions about his own ability to understand without experiencing. One was the statement that she doesn't know what it's like to have to try twice as hard to be accepted. Sheesh. She's a woman. Of course she knows. The simple fact that she's the first woman in our nation's history to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate should be proof enough of that. (And no, Obama is not the first black to be taken seriously in that role. Jesse Jackson was. On the other hand, he is the first to have a good chance of winning.)

He also said that, unlike Obama, she has never had to be concerned about being stopped by police because she was driving in the wrong neighborhood. Which is likely true. But I strongly suspect that, like every other woman, she has had to wonder if it was safe to go across that dark parking lot to her car and can probably name several places off the top of her head where she would not go alone if she could possibly avoid it.

Finally, Wright said of Clinton that, again unlike Obama, "She's never been called 'nigger.'" Which is obviously true - just as obvious as the fact that Obama has never been called "bitch" or "cunt." I'm not going to argue one is worse, the same, or not as bad as the other. I am going to insist that there is some degree of balance there.

Speaking of protests

This is a planned one that I stumbled across while scanning news reports for the protest news quoted in the previous post. Perhaps I should have known about it sooner, but I didn't. I do think it can be considered a sign of the times. The initial source is the Press-Telegram of Long Beach, California.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) represents about 25,000 dockworkers along the US West Coast and thousands more in Canada and Hawai'i. The contract it has with marine terminal operators allows the union to hold a monthly "stop-work" membership meeting. But there are meetings and then again, there are "meetings." And so
[u]nion delegates voted in February to hold the "stop-work" meeting on May 1 "in honor of labor history and to express our support for the troops by bringing them home safely," delegates said.
The plan, that is, was to shut down ports all along the west coast of the US for a period of eight hours to protest the Iraq war. Now, the truth is that it's hardly unusual for ILWU Local 10, which sponsored the resolution, to be involved in antiwar activities. Despite that, I have to admit that the vision of dockworkers staging what amounts to a strike against the war, even for just one shift, gives me the same sort of feeling that seeing hardhats marching in Central Park for a nuclear freeze in 1982 did.

Initially, the bosses didn't express any concern over the planned protest. Just over a week ago,
Steve Getzug, spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, a shippers’ group, said shipping company officials were too busy preparing for contract negotiations[, which are beginning now,] to pay much attention to the protest.
But by this past Friday they apparently had changed their minds, and are now trying to kill the plan by saying it violates the contract because it's to occur during the day shift and the contract, they say, allows such "stop-work" meetings only during the second shift.
"[W]e are not going to agree to it," [PMA President Jim] McKenna is quoted as telling the [Journal of Commerce]. ...

Representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said Friday they were reviewing their options.
Without prejudging or predicting the union's plans or intentions, the possibility has to exist that they will go ahead with it anyway. Contract negotiation time is touchy for all concerned, and while there is always a risk to a union of civil action for conducting an "illegal strike," even a specifically-limited one, it is equally true that the bosses may be reluctant to piss off the union with threats over what, if they plan for it, could be reduced to the level of an inconvenience - especially in the middle of negotiations to renew a contract that expires on July 1.

Although there is no way to know, I have a suspicion that the change in attitude comes as a result of getting the word from friends in high places back east that they don't wanna see no protestin', nohow. One thing that drives that suspicion beyond my normal levels of paranoia is that the plan was not for just dockworkers to protest. The actual text of the resolution says

That it is time to take labor’s protest to a more powerful level of struggle by calling on unions and working people in the U. S. and internationally to mobilize for a “No Peace No Work Holiday” May 1, 2008 for 8 hours to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U. S. troops from the Middle East; and


That a clarion call from the ILWU be sent with an urgent appeal for unity of action to the AFL-CIO, the Change to Win Coalition and all of the international labor organizations to which we are affiliated to bring an end to this bloody war once and for all.
(The letter to the AFL-CIO was sent February 22; the text can be found at this link.)
“If we can do something so dramatic as to shut down the ports on the west coast, I think people will realize how important” opposition to the war is, said Jack Heyman, an executive board member of San Francisco’s ILWU Local 10, and prominent anti-war activist.
Especially if they are joined by other unions taking their own “No Peace No Work Holiday.” In that light, an attempt by the Shrub gang to "nip this thing in the bud" with a whispered word in the ear of some corporate cronies hardly seems far-fetched.

Don't forget

Updated My final weekly reminder of the protests against five years of war on Iraq, and more exactly of the blogswarm called for March 19. The total number of blogs committed to the March 19 blogswarm on Iraq is up to 250.

Although the big protests are sent for this week with the main rallies on Wednesday, some demonstrations have already happened over this weekend. This is a list of those I found after a brief news search, so I'm sure there are more.

- "Thousands" rallied in Portland, Oregon.
- Upwards of 2,000 marched in Hollywood.
- 600 turned out in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
- Some 300 attended a march and rally in Richmond, California, which combined a war protest with one against Chevron as a war profiteer and ended with civil disobedience, with 24 arrested.
- "Hundreds" took to the streets in Denver.
- Eureka, California also saw a weekend protest, a few dozen rallied on the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois, and even Myrtle Beach, South Carolina had a group turn out.

The US, of course, was not the only place where voices were raised.

-The UK saw 30,000 or so protesting in London, England, and another 1,500 in Glasgow, Scotland.
- Over 1,000 marched in Brussels, Belgium.
- Protests of sizes ranging from a few dozen to 1,000 were seen in Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden; Oslo, Norway; Aalborg, Denmark; and Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, Canada.
- A Saturday rally kicked off a week of events in Aukland, New Zealand.

This comes as the claims of success for the escalation aka "surge" continue to evaporate, as even David Patraeus is forced to admit that
"no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation," or in the provision of basic public services,
even though providing an "opening" for such reconciliation was the supposed point of the escalation all along.

The fact remains: Five years is five years too many.

As always, this is not to be instead of anything else you do that day, but in addition to it.

Footnote: I will also include with each reminder links to my posts on the first, the second, and the fourth anniversary of the invasion in case you want to check them out. Lotus was on hiatus for all of 2006 and I was blogging very infrequently at another site during that time, so there is no third anniversary post.

Updated because I had to include this: Daisy's Dead Air noted a ceremony Sunday night in Greenville, SC attended by 65 people which featured 3,988 candles and roughly 750,000 strung beads to indicate US and Iraqi deaths in the war. She also has a link to a video about the event.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What is the sound one jaw dropping?

Whatever it is, mine made it when I read Glenn Greenwald reporting that
nobody expected, especially after the meek and incoherent appearance of Silvestre Reyes on CNN last weekend, that [the House Democratic leadership] would ignore the barrage of Terrorist-Lover accusations from the President and unveil yet another [FISA] bill that is actually decent and refuses to bestow lawbreaking telecoms with amnesty, but they now have.
The bill - which is now expected to be voted on tomorrow, i.e., Thursday - includes the to-be-favored provisions previously noted by Greenwald and TPMMuckraker's Paul Kiel, but improves on them in a couple of ways, including one fairly clever twist. Greenwald has a summary of the bill; this is my summary of his summary. The bill

- requires the FISC to approve procedures to ensure that Americans are not targeted and to minimize the inadvertent collection of data before surveillance can start, except in an emergency allowing for an immediate start to the spying, in which case the government has 30 days to get approval of the procedures.

- sets a standard of probable cause to get a warrant to conduct surveillance on Americans anywhere in the world and bans “reverse targeting.”

- establishes a National Commission, with subpoena power, to investigate and report on the Shrub gang's warrantless wiretapping.

These are in addition to requiring a DOJ Inspector General report on the warrantless spying program, declaring FISA "exclusivity," setting a sunset date of December 31, 2009 (the same date, Greenwald notes, as the TRAITOR Act sunset provisions), and provides prospective liability protection for telecommunications companies that provide lawful assistance - although why it's necessary to provide liability protection for legal actions escapes me.

The twist, one that Greenwald calls "shrewd," comes in the issue of retroactive immunity. The bill, Kiel reports,
would give the courts authorization to hear the classified material at issue in the case - in essence disposing with the administration's claim of the state secrets privilege.
The "state secrets privilege" - which I have noted before was codfied into practice as a result of deliberate lies to the courts by the Pentagon - enables the White House to keep information away from the courts by arguing that revealing it, even to the judge in chambers, would damage national security. The telcoms have been saying that the reason they need immunity against lawsuits is that the government has asserted that supposed "privilege" in these cases, making it impossible for the poor, beleaguered corporations to present a defense based on government assurances of the spying's legality. The bill would short-circuit Bushco's assertion of the state secrets privilege, removing the roadblock to the suits' continuing.

That is a prospect the Shrub gang will find very distasteful. All along, the bullshit claim has been that telcoms must be shielded from suits to ensure their future cooperation in the face of possible "crippling" lawsuits. However, this bill would enable the telcoms to get the existing suits dismissed by showing they had good reason to believe (or, more exactly, reason to allow them to claim) their assistance with the spying was legal. But it would not necessarily head off what I think the WHS* really fear: not "bankrupting" the telcoms, not damage to "national security," but the discovery process. Discovery that might reveal what the Bushleaguers really told the telcoms, discovery that might reveal what the White House was up to and just how big that "what" was.

So bottom line is that it's better than expected - better, in fact, than we had any reason to expect a week or ten days ago. Personally, I doubt that Pelosi and company suddenly grew backbones; I suspect it was some spirited (read "fierce and stubborn") resistance among the majority of the party caucus - including the statement by 20 members of the House Judiciary Committee rejecting retroactive immunity (full text here) - that produced the signs of stiffening resistance. No matter, be glad there is what opposition there is.

Still, as I said on Friday, this is no guarantee and there is still the business of "ping-ponging" bills back and forth and the opposition of Jay "I can bend over even more if you want me to" Rockefeller to a number of the provisions of the House bill. Meaning the good provisions, of course. That opposition will almost undoubtedly mean the House bill will not survive the Senate and the House will get back a bill with immunity and only pro forma oversight with the expectation the House would pass that on an up-or-down vote.

But maybe it won't work out that way. Greenwald gives voice to something I've been thinking for a while:
At the very least, the more resolution is delayed, the longer this drags on, the higher the probability that amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping can be blocked. ...

All other considerations to the side, the more time that elapses without smooth capitulation to the White House, the better. ... As Bush weakens further, as other issues arise which consume media attention, as House Democrats see that these fear-mongering campaigns no longer work, inertia alone can prevent this from happening.
Or, as I put it the other day,
I do still hold out hope for the scenario suggested by that anonymous Representative on Wednesday:

[I]t could be a long time, if ever, before the bill was brought for a vote [because]

“A lot of people think the politics of doing nothing on this issue are very good for both sides of the political spectrum.”

The GOPpers get to screech about national security, the Dims get to pretend to have backbones, the spooks continue with the tools they already had before last August, which they admit to being adequate, and everybody winks and smiles. The charges drone on, but people are less and less moved by them and each side uses the lack of action to appeal to their base. In short, I think the best-case scenario, and one there actually is a chance of coming about, is stalemate.
With the House misleadership showing at least some signs of being willing to go the mat on this one, that possibility, while still only that, has become somewhat more likely.

But still, again as I said, hope for the best but plan for the worst. Call! Now!

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

Monday, March 10, 2008

Besides, soon enough abuses will be unnecessary

Sometimes it seems the only thing George Orwell had wrong was the date. In a breathless, wide-eyed piece that just reeks with "Gee whiz!" the Washington Post recently reported that
[s]everal thousand law enforcement agencies are creating the foundation of a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information....
The purpose, of course, is "to fight crime and root out terror plots." And my oh my, who could be against that?

It does on in more or less the same vein, about how local and state agencies are connecting to a new federal system called the National Data Exchange, or N-DEx, about how "It's going from the horse-and-buggy days to the space age, that's what it's like," about how easy it was for a cop in Tuscon to create a "visual chart" showing supposed connections between a fraud suspect in Arizona and people in southern California (including names and addresses), about how "searches that might have taken weeks or months" now take "seconds" - goes on, in fact for 25 more paragraphs before it even mentions privacy or civil liberties. And then it's to explain that authorities really are aware of such concerns and know that "all of this is unsettling."

Damn effing straight it is, especially when the article blithely mentions that much of these new abilities to poke and prod into our lives is being done via a commercial data-mining system called Coplink, now used by over 1500 jurisdictions, which puts connections among the mass of data inputted by police and gathered from other records by Knowledge Computing, Coplink's makers and marketers, into the hands of cops everywhere - and, of necessity, into the hands of Knowledge Computing.

And after the passing mention of deep official concern, the article goes on for a half-dozen more paragraphs before going into how police and the feds are striving to "allay the public's fears" with "guidelines" and "restrictions" to "prevent abuse." Finally, in the 37th paragraph of a 42-paragraph story, it gets around to actually, if briefly, addressing civil liberties concerns:
But even some advocates of information-sharing technology worry that without proper oversight and enforceable restrictions the new networks pose a threat to basic American values by giving police too much power over information. Timothy Sample, a former intelligence official who runs the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, is among those who think computerized information-sharing is critical to national security but fraught with risks.

"As a nation, our laws have not kept up," said Sample, whose group serves as a professional association of intelligence officials in the government and intelligence contracting executives in the private sector.
That's pretty much all of it. This despite the fact that, as the article itself had already noted,
[t]hree decades ago, Congress imposed limits on domestic intelligence activity after revelations that the FBI, Army, local police and others had misused their authority for years to build troves of personal dossiers and monitor political activists and other law-abiding Americans.

Since those reforms, police and federal authorities have observed a wall between law enforcement information-gathering, relating to crimes and prosecutions, and more open-ended intelligence that relates to national security and counterterrorism. That wall is fast eroding following the passage of laws expanding surveillance authorities, the push for information-sharing networks, and the expectation that local and state police will play larger roles as national security sentinels.
That is, we are forgetting all the lessons painfully learned about what happens when you turn cops, prone to think every non-cop person is a suspect and every non-cop thing is a threat, loose with virtually unsupervised abilities to collect and collate personal data. And we are apparently not only supposed to embrace this amnesia, we are supposed to do it with a "Wow! Way cool stuff!" grin.

Yes, I find that very "unsettling."

Footnote the One: The police chief of Tucson praised Coplink to the skies
[b]ut he too acknowledges that such power raises new questions about how to keep it in check and ensure that the trust people place in law enforcement is not misplaced. ...

"If there's any kind of inkling that we're misusing our power and our technology, that trust will be destroyed."
Funny, Robert Mueller said much the same thing: "We are committed to ensuring that we not only get this right, but maintain the vital trust of the American people."

The more these people talk about "trust" the creepier I feel.

Footnote the Two: Regular readers know that privacy is a big issue with me. This particular one of police using linked databases to obtain a wide range of information about individuals who may have done nothing wrong is one I was talking about here more than three and a-half years ago.

But so what?

So what if the spooks have all this authority? I mean, they'd never go so far as to abuse their authority, would they? Just consider that the Washington Post reported a few days ago:
[FBI Director Robert] Mueller said a forthcoming report from the Justice Department's inspector general will find that abuses recurred in the agency's use of national security letters in 2006, echoing similar problems to those identified in earlier audits.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine reported a year ago that the FBI used such letters - which are not subject to a court's review - to improperly obtain telephone logs, banking records and other personal records of thousands of Americans from 2003 to 2005. An internal FBI audit also found that the bureau potentially violated laws or agency rules more than 1,000 times in such cases.
But so what? After all, that, Mueller insisted, was old stuff, history, not to be counted, because it was from before the FBI put in its own "reforms" to avoid such "lapses" in the future, reforms which clearly and of course obviate any need for any actual oversight by Congress or any court. The FBI is handling it. Really.

And Mueller is an honorable man; so are they all, all honorable men.

Footnote: I quickly ran down that earlier report here; the full report can be found here.

Well, this is another FISA mess

Something to add to my post the other day about last week's FISA developments is that it turns out that tapping telephones may not even be the real issue to the spooks. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that at a Monday breakfast meeting, Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, said that
FISA's current strictures did not cover strictly foreign wire and radio communications, even if acquired in the United States. The real concern, he said, is primarily e-mail, because "essentially you don't know where the recipient is going to be" and so you would not know in advance whether the communication is entirely outside the United States.
Ryan Singel at's Threat Level blog, Kurt Opsahl at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Christopher Soghoian at the Surveillance State blog at all spotted the revelation and its significance. It has also served to point up a misunderstanding on my part which doesn't affect the overall issue but does affect my understanding of some of the arguments.

This whole business supposedly started with a FISC decision that warrants were required to wiretap foreign-to-foreign calls which passed through the US. I had assumed all along that the decision referred to wiretapping done inside the US because the reason the issue ever arose was the changes in telecommunications technology which resulted in calls which previously would not have passed through the US, now doing so. Which means in turn that earlier on, listening in on foreign-to-foreign calls would require the listening post to be outside the US. My understanding was that the spies started tapping those calls as they passed through the US and it was that which the court said could not be done without a warrant.

Apparently, however, the actual claim of Pah! supporters has been that the court required warrants for all such calls no matter where the tapping was done - and unless directly pressed on the matter, the administration was happy to let that false impression persist. Thus, for example, Singel could report this exchange on February 28:
Today, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence spokesman Ross Feinstein told THREAT LEVEL bluntly that the court made the big ruling:

"If a communication touches a U.S. wire. you need a court order," Feinstein said. "If it comes through the U.S., you need a court order."

When THREAT LEVEL expressed dismay, Feinstein put the phone on hold and returned shortly, with a different explanation.

"Due to rulings from the FISA court, in a significant number of cases, the government had to get court orders for purely foreign-to-foreign communications that touched American wires," Feinstein said.
Which, as Singel notes, is quite a different statement and in line with the narrower ruling that the FISC only placed warrant requirements on spying done within the borders of the US.

Getting to Wainstein's statement, in a later entry Sengel noted that it reaffirmed the contention that the ruling was actually a narrow one, which
means all the hysterical screaming and the dire scenarios constructed by right-wing spying proponents based on very thin evidence of what the secret court actually ruled - all of it is just wrong.

And more to the point, the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence allowed them to be wrong for months. They allowed and facilitated their supporters to scare freedom loving people with phantoms of lost wiretaps.

DNI Michael McConnell, the serial exaggerator who claims to be a non-political straight shooter, himself kept saying the NSA lost 70 percent of its capabilities after the ruling.

If that's the case, that means that 70 percent of what the NSA does is collect emails inside United States telecom infrastructure and service providers.
Either that or McConnell was just lying through his damn teeth. Which I have to admit I think is the more likely alternative.

Opsahl noted that by Wainstein's assertion, neither FISA nor the FISA court in any way
impede the interception of foreign-to-foreign emails, VOIP calls or other communications, so long as you know both ends are foreign.

This is a critical admission because it puts the lie to talking points made all over by supporters of the wiretapping legislation.
But it was Soghoian who directly took up the issue of the emails.
According to the relevant Wikipedia page, the Internet backbone (commonly understood to mean the collection of Tier 1 internet Service Providers) is made up of: AOL Transit Data Network, AT&T, Global Crossing, Verizon Business (formerly UUNET), NTT Communications, Qwest, SAVVIS, and Sprint.

From numerous press reports, we already know that AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are involved in the shady NSA wiretapping program. Furthermore, we also know that Qwest refused to participate as the government would not provide a FISA warrant.

That leaves AOL, Global Crossing, NTT Communications, and SAVVIS as other potential participants in any NSA effort to sniff email communications. ...

The Protect America Act of 2007 permitted intelligence agencies to force Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to hand over a copy of every email passing through their systems which lists one non-US recipient. While the law expired in February, any orders initiated under the act can continue until August of this year.

It is unclear what the major email providers could have been forced to do before the Protect America Act. However, if email communications are the most important issue in the telecom immunity debate, we should certainly be looking carefully at these and other email providers. As other bloggers have previously discussed, the proposed legislation would provide immunity for all companies that assisted the administration in its illegal spying, not just AT&T and the other 2 telcos.
A copy of every email passing through their systems which lists one non-US recipient. That's the real issue here, the real power that the spooks are afraid of losing, one that involves a lot more of corporate America than three telcom firms - and one rarely addressed but which must be, and right now.

Make that call. This is a deal-breaker.
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