Brief(er) Observations: 

03/21/2008 - This page will no longer be updated, all further updates will be at the Occasional Brief Observations blog

January 2nd, 2008: Pakistan & Benazir Bhutto...   Apparently shot, or perhaps killed by shrapnel from a suicide bomber.... Much is unknown e.g. re who is responsible. Of some things we can be sure: How Bhutto Won Washington   -   Face-to-face with Benazir Bhutto   -   Final thoughts on Benazhir Bhutto
Murtaza Bhutto's Murder   -   The Jihadi preemptive strike against Bhutto's war of ideas
November 17th, 2007: Beowulf...   My advice to anyone re spending $6.50 to see Beowulf at the movie theater - don't go, send $2 to the "Earplugs for Grendel" fund and save yourself $4.50...
November 13th, 2007: Through the looking glass...  .
Freedom Journal Iraq - Sep. 29   -   Release Ceremony for Almost 500 Detainees Overseen by Iraqi PM   -   Government of Iraq, MNF-I launch joint venture

November 13th, 2007: You could tell who Pervez "I found myself between a rock and a hard surface" Musharraf, President of Pakistan, felt his primary audience was by the fact that he made his announcement of the state of emergency in English, with subtitles so that the 'man in the street' could tell what was happening.... Ditto for when Benazir Bhutto is making statements for the camera...

From CIA World Factbook: Languages: Punjabi 48%, Sindhi 12%, Siraiki (a Punjabi variant) 10%, Pashtu 8%, Urdu (official) 8%, Balochi 3%, Hindko 2%, Brahui 1%, English (official; lingua franca of Pakistani elite and most government ministries), Burushaski and other 8%

February 4th, 2007: Expecting more from our "friends and allies"   How come the administration expects more from those members of the "axis of evil", Iran and Syria, than from the U.S.'s "friends and allies"? Syria needs to act to prevent insurgents from crossing their border into Iraq, but Jordan gets a free pass for the same? Iran is "... not being helpful...", but leading Saudi clerics can stir up Sunni hatred of the Shia with no reaction? The Saudis fund fundamentalist Sunni that are killing U.S. troops and no reaction? And so on...
January 28th, 2007: Talk about "without challenge"...   Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Negroponte said (speaking of Iran) "We don't believe that their behavior, such as supporting Shia extremists in Iraq, should go unchallenged...." Senators should have specifically challenged him if this meant Iranian support of a) Abdel Aziz al-Hakim/SCIRI/Badr, b) Muqtada al-Sadr/JAM, c) Al Dawa, or d) Other. If the answer was "yes" for a, b, or c, then a follow-up question would be something along the lines of "And aren't we supporting that group as well, since they are an integral part of the government?"    The following is a very succinct overview of the "Alice in Wonderland" nature of the U.S. actions in Iraq - Confused.
January 23rd, 2007: SOTU Horror...   The top leadership of the United States gathered at the Capitol for the SOTU. Held back at an undisclosed location in case of a calamity was.... Alberto Gonzalez, Attorney General.
January 14th, 2007: Decision Made:   The build up to military action against Iran continues apace.... multiple warnings of Iranian "meddling" and "networks", the military action against the Iranian embassy in Baghdad and 'consulate' in Irbil (during which "computers and documents were seized"), the Pentagon claiming that "... 198 American and British soldiers have been killed, and more than 600 wounded by advanced IED manufactured and provided by Iran..." However, the indicator that most illustrates that a decision probably has already been made, came from Condoleeza Rice who said last week "I repeat an offer that I have made several times, today. If Iran suspends its uranium enrichment, which is an international demand and not just an American one, then the United States is prepared to reverse 27 years of policy and I will met with my Iranian counterpart any time, anywhere." The administration has for years so strenuously avoided any possibility of 'talks' with Iran that the credibility of this statement is zero. The only reason we heard this (and may hear this a few more times) is so that after the start of military action the administration will be able to point to the examples of Iran having been provided a chance to come clean....

Incidentally, with many in the administration unable to explain the difference between Sunni and Shia, the administration apparently considering Abdul Aziz al-Hakim a moderate that we need to support to make sure that Iran doesn't get too much influence, the military unable to say who the insurgents are and who are their leaders, etc., it is amazing that the administration is able to provide such exactitude re the numbers of dead and wounded caused by "Iranian-supplied" IEDs...

January 4th, 2007: Lessons Learned?:   Yesterday on NPR's "All Things Considered" Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie was interviewed about the circumstances of Saddam's execution... His concern seemed to be protecting the "14 officials" attending e.g. "Certainly there was other, unofficial, taping of..." followed by his blaming "...the executioners and others..." who "were already at the scene.." and "... came later..." When asked why (as National Security Advisor) he couldn't have confiscated the cellphones if they were unauthorized, after some blathering he said "...I was not in charge of the operation.." Apparently, arrests have been made. He later went on to blame "... an Arab television station that hired this person..."   Now apparently the government has learned its lesson - no taping will be allowed at the executions of Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and former Chief Judge Awad al-Bandar. This as if the problem was the taping and not the behavior... In fact they should tape and then publicize the tape of these executions, in order to show that that they are carried out with some more decorum.

Strange, but the Toyota logo showed up twice on the cell phone footage of Saddam's body after the hanging... I'm sure they are none too pleased

January 1st, 2007: Incompetence or Manipulation?? - As already lamented several times before (both on this and the Oped pages), it is amazing how often the major news outlets have stories that don't make any sense and/or contain quotes from "experts", unnamed "sources", politicians, etc. that do not make sense. This is especially true in regards to stories about Iraq and the Middle East. The writers usually conflate wildly differing groups (e.g. Sunni Baathists, al-Qaeda Salafists, Shia - Dawa, SCIRI, and Sadrists...); ascribe the motivations of some groups to the whole and vice versa; throw in non-sequiturs; indulge in leaps of logic; etc. A couple of recent examples are linked below.

In Joe Lieberman's recent Washington Times oped, among other things he conflates al-Qaeda and Iran where necessary to support his argument that more troops are needed. For example, he says "On this point, let there be no doubt: If Iraq descends into full-scale civil war, it will be a tremendous battlefield victory for al-Qaeda and Iran." Hmm, if Iraq does descend into "full-scale" civil war these two and their surrogates will be on opposite sides and the end result could hardly be a victory for both... The rest of the article is similarly riddled with illogic. In this and in all these cases one really has to wonder if these people are really incompetent or whether they know the facts but prefer to lie to manipulate their audience...

December 29th, 2006: A bad end:   OK, so apparently Saddam Hussein is to be executed by hanging in the next couple of hours, saturday morning in Baghdad, before the start of Eid ul Adha. " An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saddam would be executed before 6 a.m. Saturday, or 10 p.m. Friday EST. Also to be hanged at that time were Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, the adviser said...." (from Official: Saddam to Be Executed Tonight. Not many tears will be shed for the man. However this is a missed opportunity (see the November 20th entry below), and one wonders re if the timing of the execution couldn't have been better chosen - why do this in conjunction with the annual Hajj?? Perhaps the powers-that-be were inspired by the "stoning of the devil."
December 20th, 2006: Restraint:   President Ahmadinejad in Iran has had a bad week or two - first the Iranian parliament approved (by 80%) a bill that would effectively shorten his term in office by eighteen months, see Iran: Parliament shortens Ahmadinejad's term   and   Iran's parliament wants Ahmadinejad out. Then his faction did poorly in elections for the Assembly Of Experts and local councils, see Iran: Election Results Show Anti-Ahmadinejad Vote   and   Ahmadinejad suffers in Iran poll   However, expect the Bush administration to soon say/do things that will throw him a lifeline.... Why? First because of their simplistic view that "Iran = Ahmadeinejad = BAD"... Second because they will be unable to resist responding to his multiplying provocations - the recent Holocaust-denying summit, his declarations that "... the Islamic Republic of Iran is now a nuclear power..." (Ahmadinejad: Iran now nuclear power) and that "... the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime which are doomed to disappear...." (Ahmadinejad: Britain, Israel, US to 'vanish like the pharaohs'), etc. Third, due to advice/pressure/actions from those (e.g. Olmert, MEK, etc.) who have an interest in "building up" Ahmadinejad to use as a lever to get the U.S. to intervene...
December 13th, 2006: Required Reading:   We Broke It
December 11th, 2006: Dumber:   Blair: Trident replacement is 'crucial' to Britain's security   (see Tony Blair's Trident statement in full)   The U.K. is moving to upgrade its nuclear weapons. It is hard to imagine any real-world use of these missiles, which will cost GBP 15-20 billion... In fact of matter there is NO real reason for either Britain or France to continue to maintain nuclear weapons. The only conceivable reason for these two countries to maintain nuclear forces is for reasons of national prestige, and that is the worst reason - a clear signal to all other countries that want to acquire nukes for similar reasons!
December 10th, 2006: Dumb:  It's one thing for a retired intelligence agent to suggest the murder/assassination of Iraqi leaders, see Kill Muqtada Now, it is another thing for a would-be presidential candidate to do the same.... Cleric al-Sadr may hold Iraq's future in his hands McCain, in November 2006 - "I believe al-Sadr has to be taken out."
December 10th, 2006: Dumb:   Further evidence of ignorance, bordering on criminal, of our leaders, see Democrats’ New Intelligence Chairman Needs a Crash Course on al Qaeda
December 5th, 2006: Dumb:   On November 1st (scroll down) commented on the abysmal ignorance (re basic facts on Iraq) of some officials with roles in the "war on terror." Add more to the list, see The FBI and Terror for further examples...
November 27th, 2006: How Gemayel Died:    Reading the press the first two days after Pierre Geyamel's assassination the basic scenarios were the same, but the details varied greatly, e.g.:
  • "... a sport-utility vehicle either rammed or pulled alongside a silver KIA sedan driven by Gemayel. An unknown number of assailants then fired through the driver's side window of the vehicle, hitting the minister and at least two others..."
  • "... Gemayel was gunned down point blank while driving his grey KIA in the Christian neighborhood of Jdeideh in northern Beirut. After a Honda CRV rammed into Gemayel's car, at least three gunmen leaped out and sprayed it with bullets from silenced automatic weapons...'
  • "... Gemayel escorts said a lone assailant shot the minister in the head at point-blank range from a silencer-equipped gun..."
  • "... Mr. Gemayel was in the passenger seat of his own silver KIA... About 4 p.m. , a car rammed into Mr. Gemayel's and three gunmen rushed his car, spraying it with bullets from silencer-equipped automatic weapons. The driver who was not injured , drove to St. Joseph's Hospital, where Mr. Geyamel was declared dead..."
  • "... My dad was at the crime scene seconds after the assassination had taken place. He describes the following. A fuel truck stopped in the middle of the road, and in front of it a car, and then another damaged car (a KIA) that had swerved to the left. The passenger door of the KIA was open, and in it Gemayel in the driver's seat, his chest riddled with bullets, and all red..."
  • "... Witness accounts showed that the perpetrators were three men in their 20's and 30's. Gemayel received eight bullets in the head... The assailants used two kinds of weapons - automatic rifles and silencer-equipped guns... The attackers rammed Gemayel's car from a Honda jeep, while a BMW covered up for them as they fled..."
  • "... photographing bullet holes in the pale blue KIA car which Gemayel had been driving.."
Multiple versions re who was driving (a driver, Gemayel himself, etc.), how his car was stopped, the number of assassins, etc. The bulk of the reports followed the "his car was rammed from behind" scenario... Obviously, given that all the damage is on the front of the car while there is no apparent damage to the rear, this is very unlikely and the scenario where a vehicle stopped suddenly in front of his vehicle (while others may have cut off other avenues) is the most likely.

See pictures and video here

Questions that come to mind: 1. Why was he driving an unarmored KIA (and how come it had a CH - Switzerland - tag on it)? 2. Where were his 'lead' and 'chase' vehicles? 3. Did he really ask that his security detail stand down (per acting Interior Minister Fatfat he had asked the police patrol that usually escorts him to 'stay behind' the day he was assassinated.) 4. Finally, was this an inside job?

November 26th, 2006: Litvinenko's Demise:    Former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko died in London the 24th of November. After numerous theories re what was killing him (originally thallium; then the Russian security service had "sent a man with a poisonous pill to Britain" to kill him, per former KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky; then "...three mysterious dark objects in his intestines..." first 'discovered' in x-rays but subsequently dismissed as "...shadowing in the X-rays that was caused by Prussian Blue..."; etc., etc.) the British now say it was due to Polonium 210 poisoning. Given their recent track record (ricin yes, ricin yes, ... oops, ricin no) a little skepticism might be in order. Much has been made of the extreme rarity of Polonium 210 e.g. Wikipedia says only 100 gms made a year.   However, one wonders if Litvinenko was a smoker, given that tobacco smoke can be a "natural" source of Polonium 210 in humans, see Radioactive Polonium in Tobacco and Polonium-210: A Volatile Radioelement in Cigarettes   This could either be a reason why the Brits have gone down another wrong path, or, if he really was poisoned with Polonium 210, another way that Litvinenko might have been poisoned.... (i.e. a poisoned cigarette, since apparently he did not eat anything at the sushi bar or his other stop...)


November 22nd, 2006: Who Killed Pierre Gemayel??    We shall see where the trail leads, but folks are not waiting for hard evidence. Most make the assumption that supports their cause e.g. Saad Hariri immediately blamed Syria. They could well be responsible, but so might many others. Gemayel was part of the Phalange. Given their history there are many players that might want to extract revenge for Phalangist actions during the Lebanese civil war, including other Christian factions, the Druze, the Palestinians (remember Sabra and Shatila?), etc. Then again, Hezbollah is currently pressuring the government, so it could be them... It has also been noted that the ISG is expected to suggest that the U.S. start talks with Iran and Syria, so this could have been a move to torpedo the possibility of talks (since suspicion would inevitably fall on the Syrians it would dissuade the U.S. from making such move...) So, dare we say Israel. Then again, perhaps Iran worries about such talks - Syria is not a 'natural' ally of Iran, the two countries have been pushed together in response to U.S. pressure. Perhaps the Iranians might be worried that the Syrians could be "peeled off" (e.g. potentially by movement on the Golan...), and would torpedo this and support Hezbollah with the same move... There is no shortage of potential culprits.... Whichever way it turns out, it is to be hoped that this does not move Lebanon down the path to further sectarian strife. Despite the administration's apparent belief, there are very few "good guys" in Lebanon and many bad actors... Pierre Gemayel himself was no great democrat - in 2005 during an interview with a Christian television station he reportedly dismissed the fact that the Shia are now a majority of the population in Lebanon, saying "They threaten with quantity of people. We have the quality."
November 20th, 2006: A Missed Opportunity    The verdict in the first of Saddam Hussein's trials came in recently... guilty, and sentenced to death... It was received differently by different folks - by jubilation in the Shia community, negatively by some Sunnis. Rather than being a unifying event it exacerbated tensions in the country. OK, while Saddam reserved most of his venom for the Shia and the Kurds, he also killed many Sunnis (including blood and legal relatives...). Surely, given all the people he had killed over the past two decades, it should have been possible to have a trial where he would be held accountable for the deaths of Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds? So that a guilty verdict could not be cast as Shia triumphalism over the Sunni, but might even be a unifying event... Note: The following are some links related to Saddam and his trials:
November 1st, 2006: Ignorance Or ???    This report, Officials Quizzed on Sunni-Shia Differences quotes from an October 17th, 2006 NYT editorial   (note: login required), in which Washington counterterrorism officials and members of Congress were asked if they knew the difference between Sunni and Shia with amazing/outrageous results... Listening to the news and hearing generals, senators, etc. opining on events as they unfold, you have to wonder if they simply are ignorant, are 'spinning' the facts to official policy, or exactly what... For example, during the recent events in October, when the 'Mahdi Army' temporarily took over the town of Amarah, on the radio I heard a U.S. general was denouncing the "militia" for taking on "the government"... Fine, except that the MA belongs to Muqtada al-Sadr, and he and his supporters are a very significant faction in the government of Nouri al-Maliki!! Similarly, Senator Santorum opined on NPR that Sadr is an agent of Iran and is stirring up trouble in Iraq on orders from Iran! Huh? The 'Mahdi Army' in Amarah attacked members of the Badr Brigade, the militia allied with SCIRI. Note, the Badr Brigade was trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and SCIRI is much closer to Iran!! While Shia will have natural ties to Iran, al-Sadr is more of a nationalist, who has denounced Iranian interference in Iraq on several occasions.... Going by what these folks say publicly (and admittedly this may just be blather for home consumption while they really understand what is going on...), I don't see how anyone can "win" the "war" if they have no idea re the facts on the ground.
August 21st, 2006: Eschatology & Divining Tea Leaves... OK, so perhaps Iran's Ahmadinejad is planning to kick off the end of the world tomorrow on August 22nd, or else it's much ado about nothing (note: I'm on the "nothing" side of this "controversy")... see
Bernard Lewis Predicts Doomsday for background. I've read multiple places that Ahmadinejad believes that the return of the "Hidden Imam" is imminent and that he should do whatever he can to hasten this.... Apparently this is "proof" that Ahmadinejad is a "nut job" and why it is not worthwhile trying to reason with, or even to talk to, the Iranian regime.... One wonders if it is only Ahmedinejad who believes we are in the end times e.g. what is one to make of Condoleeza Rice's reference to "... birth pangs.." given Matthew 24 Signs of Christ's Return, see verse 8 and Mark 13:8??
July 16th, 2006: One step forward... three steps back... Sometime over the next few days the U.S., Britain, Australia, etc. will arrange for their nationals in Lebanon to be evacuated, with Israel's tacit, if not overt, cooperation. The contrast of this to these countries' anemic calls for Israel to show "restraint" in its bombing of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians will provide further "proof" (in their minds) to the Islamists of the "perfidy of the West" and the relative importance these countries place on peoples' lives... Why do we continually undermine the slow progress we may make in the battle for hearts and minds??
July 5th, 2006: Why?? Given the latest brouhaha about North Korea's Taepodong II missile that has taken place over the past few weeks (news that NK had one being fueled, calls for it to be destroyed on the launch pad, threats of sanctions, suggestions that U.S. MDA might shoot it down, etc., etc.) why does the MSM do such a lousy job of reporting the facts? Reading the news it seemed that the North Koreans could target the U.S. with this missile.... On further reading this turned out to be that it "in theory" or "conceivably" could reach the West coast, which then turned into possibly reaching Alaska... Thank goodness for sources such as ArmsControlWonk, the FAS Blog, and other sources. Turns out the Teapodong II was last tested in 1998 before NK implemented a moratorium on missile testing in 1999, and that the launch was a failure then as well... So, the T-II turns out to be largely a theoretical exercise..
Similarly, Rumsfeldian and other blather re a Chinese arms buildup turns out to be grossly exaggerated. From Chinese Military Power: Can We Avoid Cold War? some info on the realities of what is happening (attention: sarcasm alert):

"The signs of a Chinese threat are all there: An increasing defense budget that may equal half of ours in 20 years, new long-range mobile nuclear missiles that will be harder for us to destroy, an increase in the number of nuclear warheads that can hit the United States to perhaps as much as two percent of the warheads we can hit them with, new cruise missiles similar to the hundreds of cruise missile we have deployed in the region for decades, warships that may be able to disturb the unhindered operations of our carrier battle groups and surface action groups, a handful of nuclear-powered attack submarines that our 30 nuclear-powered attack submarines in the Pacific will have to sink too, more fighters and bombers that will be harder for the hundreds of advanced fighters we have deployed in the region for decades to shoot down..... Just imagine if China had a nuclear policy like the United States: a first-use nuclear doctrine with highly-accurate flexible nuclear forces on high alert, many of them forward deployed, capable of conducting a decapitating preemptive first strike. That would be highly destabilizing."

July 3rd, 2006: Iran's search for nuclear power... Can Do...   Iran is proceeding with nuclear enrichment, ostensibly for the domestic production of nuclear power. So far it has produced some low enriched uranium, or LEU (generally a 2-5% concentration of U235). Unfortunately the technology for LEU can be scaled to produce highly enriched uranium, or HEU (defined as over 20% of U235), and HEU can be used for nuclear weapons (although generally at 90%+ HEU). Go here for historical background. The United States and her allies want Iran to stop her nuclear enrichment, Iran insists that it is entitled to the peaceful use of nuclear energy (true, though it has violated NPT/IAEA by conducting the work in secret) for domestic consumption. The U.S./allies propose that Iran purchase (under safeguards) the LEU needed, Iran claims to want to be self-sufficient and not 'hostage' to the countries providing the fuel, etc. So how come the U.S./allies don't call Iran's bluff by offering to sell it a CANDU reactor?? CANada Deuterium Uranium reactors are a Canadian-designed power reactor that uses heavy water (deuterium oxide) for moderator and coolant, and natural uranium for fuel. Iran gets its nuclear power, is safe from 'blackmail' as it uses its own sources of natural uranium, and the U.S./allies are relieved that Iran is no longer engaged in nuclear enrichment (any such work is now automatically for weapons/prohibited, given that the "real" need for LEU is no longer applicable....    Information on CANDU reactors available here.    I'm no nuclear expert, but Pakistan and India both have CANDU reactors and I've never heard that they have posed any proliferation problems....
May 11th, 2006: Three small words... (redux) In November 2002 this web site commented on a WSJ article that showed the White House Counsel saying that the administration's job ".. at the end of the day is to protect the country", a fundamental misunderstanding of the duty of the POTUS (see the Quotes page). Then in January 2005 this web site noted that the President seemed willing to do violence to the constitution to "preserve, protect, and defend" the country (see below). Now, sixteen months later, CATO Institute comes to a similar conclusion... May 1st, 2006 they came out with Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush (though they do go beyond the "war"-related issues) Quote from the Executive Summary - "President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers."
February 24th, 2006:  "Extending the Borders" Over the last few days the hubbub over "Port-gate" has seen a lot of bipartisan (and, frankly, often ridiculous) statements about "selling our security..', etc. In the Framework against Terrorism - Homeland Security this web site included "Defense Perimeter Definition" and "Extending US Security Borders." Leaving aside any arguments pro/con the actual DP Ports company, this article Bipartisan Hysteria Is Not Security emphasizes the same point... Money quote: "But none of this should matter. Our nation's port security shouldn't rely on who owns what in our ports. Effective port security should keep terrorists and their bombs as far as possible from U.S. shores. In other words, securing U.S. ports at home should be our last line of defense. Not our first." Incidentally, the UAE and the U.S. have engaged together in several of the initiatives listed in Framework against Terrorism - Diplomacy e.g. the Emirates have adhered to several of the international conventions (e.g. the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism...); Dubai was the first government in the region to sign on to the U.S. Container Security Initiative to screen all containers heading for the United States for security risks, etc., etc.
January 30th, 2006:  Fire Alert! In some parts of the western United States there are areas that have been suffering droughts for some time... as a result they are at increased risk of wild fires and have been put on fire alert. Perhaps it is time to call an alert in Washington, D.C. - with all the straw men being set up and then demolished by apologists for the President's "NSA spying" it is surely a tinderbox up there... These have ranged from the simple ("If al Qaeda is calling someone in the United States we want to know why?") to the sublime (on TV saw someone, perhaps Mary Matlin, posing the scenario "what if General Patton had to call a court before...")
January 28th, 2006:  Iraqi Elections: Once again I am completely unable to figure out what is going on in yet another foreign election (this time in Iraq) based on the simplistic reporting in the U.S. media and declarations by U.S. politicians. What would apparently appear to be a monolithic Shiite block won the most seats... Well, not so monolithic I guess - Beyond SCIRI and Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim: The Silent Forces of the United Iraqi Alliance Analysis of the Shiite "bloc" that came out on top in the recent elections in Iraq. Another analysis from Iraq The Model
December 31st, 2005:  The President & the Constitution: The Security Threat of Unchecked Presidential Power is a good recap of the issues from Bruce Schneier's weblog. Across the country there's discussion re President Bush's reading and treatment of the constitution. It's about time - if you look further down this page to the "Three small words" entry from January 20th,2005, and back to the third quote from the bottom on the Quotes page from November of 2002, this is something that this web site has long wondered about...
November 11th, 2005:  Bush vs. Murtha A lot of vituperation has been hurled at Jack Murtha (D,PA) since he came out for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. However if you read the text of the House resolution he submitted (see below), you will see that he said that troops should be "redeployed at the earliest practicable date." Seems to be substantially in agreement with President Bush, who said (paraphrasing) that ".. U.S. troops will stand down as Iraqi troops stand up..."


Whereas Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote the emergence of a democratic government";
Whereas additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;
Whereas more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;
Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;
Whereas U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,
Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80% of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;
Whereas polls also indicate that 45% of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;
Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.
Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.
Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

November 11th, 2005:  Fighting the wrong battle... Re the Alito nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, in spending all their time worrying about Roe vs. Wade the Senators are fighting old battles and not doing the country any favors. They should worry more about issues like this brought on by the "GWOT".
November, 2005:  Further Grotesqueries... Writers jailed in 2002 for political satire - U.S. Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq - Detainees Deserve Court Trials    A few stories that should (but won't) make those who insist on predicating our behavior on the hypothetical "ticking time bomb" scenario, when in fact the vast majority of the time it is visited on ordinary folks, think twice...
October, 2005:  Proof (if needed) that nutjobs can be found everywhere.. Did God send Katrina as judgment for Gaza? - Hurricane Katrina Destroys New Orleans Days Before "Southern Decadence" - PA sermon: Katrina was Allah's punishment    These statements, from a rabbi, a "Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ" and an Imam, demonstrate an eerie parallel fundamentalism...
June 4th, 2005:  Lebanese Elections...Am I the only person completely unable to figure out what is going on in the Lebanese elections based on the simplistic reporting in the U.S. media (television and newspapers) and declarations by U.S. politicians? More here
June 1st, 2005:  Grotesque... The Bagram File   &   Dilawar's Story (requires subscription)
April 27th, 2005:  Some Nerve - U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recently criticized the U.S. and U.K. for knowing and looking the other way when Saddam broke the embargo with shipments of oil to Turkey, Jordan, etc. He's absolutely right.. However you have to be pretty nervy to criticize others when you up to your neck in the "Oil for Food" scandal. You would think he would keep his head down, but no - he declares himself "cleared" by the latest Volker update (re improper contacts with Cotecna, the company that put his son Kojo on the payroll) and goes on the offensive. And that's what it is - offensive!
April 24th, 2005:  Security? - April 20th, the former Transportation Security Administration Deputy Administrator Stephen McHale said that the U.S. is not doing enough to protect rail shipments of chemicals and other dangerous materials. The TSA has 45,000 air screeners and will spend $4.6billion this year on aviation security, while there are 100 TSA rail security inspectors and $32 million for safeguards on surface transportation.
April 21st, 2005: Funeral fit for a king..... After millions had gone to Rome Pope John Paul II's funeral was a big send off, with 53 Presidents, 28 Prime Ministers, 2500 VIPs, and a cast of hundreds of thousands. Cardinals in robes a plenty, pomp and circumstance, and the only women in the entire ceremony - the 5 Polish nuns who looked after him at the end...
January 30th, 2005: What's good for the goose.....   - The Iraqi elections are today, turnout reported high even in the face of violence... The administration is pushing the elections, hoping that its policies will result in democracy taking root in Iraq, which will be a 'beacon of hope' that will help spread democracy in the Middle East. These historic elections are being held under rules set up by the CPA, which include setting aside 30% of all places for women. Hmm, if this is a valid rule for democracy and is good for the Iraqis perhaps it would be good for the U.S. (and the administration will support such a rule at home) - where currently there are only 14 women serving in the Senate (14%) and 79 women in the House of Representatives (14.9%). Women also make up only 22.5% of state legislatures. See the Equal Representation in Government & Democracy web site for additional numbers.
January 26th, 2005: The 'promised land'... just over the horizon..   - The Iraqi elections are this coming weekend. As significant as this milestone is, we need to remember that it is just the first step of what is sure to be a long and arduous process - once elected the assembly still has to come to agreement on a constitution, which has to be approved in a referendum and followed by further elections... These elections are the easy part! If they turn out 'relatively' peaceful look for the administration to claim victory. Unfortunately the situation continues to degrade. As various milestones have passed - the deaths of Uday and Qusay, Saddam's capture, the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government, the 'taming' of al-Sadr, the taking of Fallujah - instead of the situation improving violence has increased in a stepwise manner, hitting newer and higher plateaus... The "tipping point" we headed for is probably not the one we want to reach!
January 20th, 2005: Three small words....   -   "My most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats." - President George Bush at his Inaugural Address   given Jan 20th, 2005. As previously observed on the Quotes page (third bullet from the bottom) and on the Oped Updates page   (see Quotes page update) the President does not seem to make a distinction between an oath to 'defend the United States' and an oath to "defend the Constitution of the United States" (see the Presidential Oath of Office) This is not a small matter of words, it is a significant difference - and President Bush seems willing to do violence to the second in his efforts to achieve the first... A lot of ink has been spilled about the "sixteen words" in the 2003 State of the Union (i.e. the yellowcake from Niger error..), but no one seems to worry about these "three words"..
January 19th, 2005: Everyone knows that the stock market always goes up....   -   A number perhaps of interest, given President Bush's proposal that workers move a part of their contribution from Social Security to individual accounts - January 14th, 2005 the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 10,505.83 over 1,000 points below it's peak at 11,722.98 five years ago on 01/14/2000
January 17th, 2005: "Soft" on Defense...   -   The Washington Post reports that given constraints caused by looming budget deficits the administration is looking to save money by considering cuts in a number of defense systems. A draft Pentagon budget document for FY2006 lists areas of possible cuts - the F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet, DD(X) destroyer, V-22 Osprey, Virginia-class submarine, C-130J transport plane, etc. More than a little irony here, given that in the run up to the recent presidential elections John Kerry was criticized as "weak on defense" and unfit to be president for supporting similar cuts in the past....
January 10th, 2005: Promises of Aid   -   When considering the sums pledged to help the Indian ocean basin countries recover from the recent tsunami it might be useful to keep the following in mind - Date, Country & Tragedy, Aid Promised vs. Aid Delivered:
  • 1998 - Honduras/Nicaragua & Hurricane Mitch - $8.7 billion pledged, 35% actually received
  • 2000 - Mozambique & floods - $400 million pledged, 50% actually delivered
  • 2003 - bam, Iran & earthquake - $1.1 billion pledged, $17.5 million delivered

December 30th, 2004: Spat Over Aid   -   A huge spat resulted when some folks took offence at the U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland saying that the world's rich countries are "stingy." Colin Powell, various administration spokespersons, and then President Bush came out to "refute" the charge. Various other folks also got their noses twisted e.g. Robert Novak, the Oped page of the New York Post, etc. What Egeland said was ""We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really.... Even Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become." He did not mention or target his comments to the U.S. and so we should wonder why these folks immediately took umbrage and assumed he was talking about them?? Guilty conscience anyone?? See this spreadsheet of OECD Official Development Assistance 2000-2003 for the numbers. The U.S. government provides more assistance than most countries when measured in absolute terms, but when measured taking into account the population or the size of our economy there is no question but that we are pikers. See The US and Foreign Aid Assistance for background. It's also true that Americans are very generous and ready to open their hearts to folks in need - charitable contributions by individuals outpaces government giving by a huge factor - but this doesn't change the fact that when budget time comes around ODA is at the bottom of the list.    See Us, Stingy? It's All Relative which compares the $35 million in declared aid (as of 12/30) to some other numbers e.g. $40 million for the upcoming Presidential Inauguration and Ball.
December 28th, 2004: A Tidal Wave Of Coverage   -   Over the last few days the news has been "wall to wall tsunami", with intense, non-stop coverage of the recent tragedy in the countries around the Indian ocean basin. A couple of thoughts - would the coverage have been as great were it not for the fact that a significant number of 'Westerners' were also victims of this tragedy as many tourist locales were hit? After all, natural tragedies of similar scale have occurred in this part of the world many times in the past (e.g. during the monsoon, Cyclone Marian in 1991 that killed 140,000 in Bangladesh, etc.) in which tens of thousands have died and millions have been adversely effected, with only a brief mention in the evening news. Also, why do the news outlets always do coverage this way i.e. non-stop, wall-to-wall, saturation coverage for a week or perhaps two, at which point 'fatigue' seems to set in and the event slips completely off the radar screen? Another example of this - Fallujah seems to have vanished from the news....
November 28th, 2004: Rice as Secretary of State   -   Condoleeza Rice will be replacing Colin Powell as Secretary of State in the second Bush term and folks are commenting on whether this is a good move or not. Rice's track record as National Security Adviser in the first term plays into this analysis. Criticisms include her insistence on sticking with the "Iraq & WMDs" story long after the facts on the ground showed this to be greatly overstated, and her apparent lack of interest in determining the facts (such as when she knew "in general" that there was a controversy within the CIA about the 'yellowcake story' but didn't feel the need to inquire further...). Supporters point to her 'connection' to the President, and say that it will be a positive that as Secretary of State her pronouncements will be understood to be those of the President. Analysis of her track record is difficult because there is little concrete that she has done that is well known. However, memories are short and no one seems to remember the "Iraq Stabilization Group." When things seemed to be going badly in Iraq back in October 2003, this group was put into place, with Dr. Rice heading its efforts to quell the violence and hasten the reconstruction. At the time an administration official said "This puts accountability right into the White House" and the group was "in charge" of coordinating policy, efforts, etc. from 10/03 until 'sovereignty' was turned over to an interim Iraqi government. By any measure this group made very little difference, if any, to the way things turned out in Iraq. Not exactly a shining success for Dr. Rice, who was "personally" in charge of the efforts.
November 27th, 2004: January in Iraq   -   Iraqi elections have been scheduled for January 30th, 2005 and the violence in the country is expected to increase in the run up to the elections. January has a complicating factor - the annual Hajj falls in the second half of the month. With the US already unable to control the country's borders the mass movement of millions in that part of the world, and tens of thousands out of and into Iraq, will present numerous infiltration opportunities for insurgents that it will be difficult for the Iraqi government and US troops to counter...
November 17th, 2004: Funeral in Cairo   -   On November 12th a quick funeral was held for Yasser Arafat in Cairo before his body was taken to Ramallah to be interred. Undersecretary of State William Burns represented the U.S. This was a lost opportunity, the U.S. should have sent Colin Powell - not to honor 'Arafat the man' or "Arafat the terrorist", but to acknowledge "Arafat the symbol", the "Old Man", embodiment of the hopes of the Palestinian people. This could possibly have gained the U.S. a small measure of good will with zero downside . True, it would have put some conservative noses out of joint at home, but it would have blown over quickly since Powell was already stepping down.
November 12th, 2004: More on Fallujah   -   Article from 10/21 on the bombing of Fallujah. Air strike picture.   Targets in Mosul also being bombed - "We have targeted known concentrations of terrorists in specific areas of the city," said Captain Angela Bowman, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces stationed in the city. "We have used all assets available to commanders to precisely and proportionately respond to the insurgent attacks, these assets do include air strikes." Aerial and artillery bombardments continue, no doubt, to kill civilians.
October 31st, 2004: Blast Radius, PI, and Iraq   -   On the TV news and in the newspapers we see/read, almost on a daily basis, how various targets in Fallujah and other Iraqi cities are bombed with surgical precision to kill supporters of Abu Musab Zarqawi. Each story comes with an estimated tally of "insurgents". Neat and precise? When you drop a 2000-lb or 500-lb bomb onto a building in a city you are guaranteed to kill bystanders - the blast radius of these bombs is rather large. With a 2,000-pound bomb, for example, controllers know that friendly forces must be least 500 meters away to ensure their safety. A 2,000-pound bomb is so powerful that, even at 225 meters -- a distance greater than two football fields -- the PI (personnel incapacitation) factor would be 10 percent, meaning that 10 percent of friendly forces would be incapacitated for at least five minutes. The bottom line: dropping 2,000 and 500-lb bombs on a city guarantee many civilian deaths.
October 9th, 2004: Huh?   -   Recent new articles on the investigation as to who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to Robert Novak deal with the fact that several journalists face potential jail time for refusing to reveal their sources. For example, Judith Miller of the New York Times faces the prospect of 18 months in jail. Other journalists also are being targeted e.g. Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, Tim Russert of NBC, etc. What we haven't seen is if Robert Novak is being subjected to the same pressure... Amazing!
January 30th 2004:   Kerry Wins "Big"   -   After the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries you would believe that the race is over. Newspaper headlines tout Kerry's big win, commentators wonder if anyone can stop Kerry now.... The race seems to be over... Wow, what are these folks thinking? Needing 2,161 combined pledge delegates (those won in primaries and caucuses) and superdelegates (members of the DNC, Democrat members of Congress, Democrat governors, and Democrat party leaders) to win, John Kerry currently has 13 pledged delegates while Howard Dean has 9. A NY Times/CBS News poll of superdelegates showed 118 currently for Dean, 68 for Kerry, 35 for Wesley Clark, and the rest undecided. So, in theory, Dean leads Kerry by 127 to 81 in total delegate count! Should one have to dig to get this information if the press were doing a decent job?
January 24th 2004: Dean's "Munch" moment   -   Much has been made about Howard Dean's speech to his supporters after coming in third in the Iowa caucuses. Or, more accurately, "the scream." Apparently this was "unpresidential" (unlike President Bush's "Fuck Saddam. we're taking him out") and Dean is now "unelectable." Two points: First, I thought it was great that a candidate actually felt comfortable enough to let go a primal screen, as opposed to sticking to speeches and sound bites carefully calibrated by political consultants.. Second, if there is anything that will hurt Dean's electability it is the fact that he is rather short! And if unelectable, he will be in good company in the U.S. - including all women, all minorities, anyone fat and/or short, and all single males.....
November 15th 2003: In the headlines - "Bodies Inside Van Were Shot", "Man Charged With Revenge Killing", "Power Knocked Out..", "E-mailed Death Threats..", "Protest Over Mayor's Arrest", "Highway Still Shut After Fatal Crash", "Both Parties Up In Arms...", "Who Will Lead Council?", "Two Sides Battle...", "Three Jailed in Beatings...", etc., etc.    Wow, a case of the liberal media focusing on the negative and trying to make the Bush administration look bad in Iraq??   Nope, just a smattering of headlines culled from a Midwest newspaper reporting the news in Indianapolis over a couple of days! 'Nuff said.
November 1st 2003: The Project on Defense Alternatives has come out with an estimate on the number of Iraqis killed from the beginning of the war to the fall of Baghdad, using hospital surveys, burial-society and funeral records, news reports, and soldiers testimonies - 10,800 - 15,100
October 9th 2003: Another WSJ article looks at criticisms of the Transportation Security Administration's hiring practices for airport security screeners. Apparently they are coached before they take the exam - hardly necessary with a question like this on the exam:
Why is it important to screen bags for improvised explosive devices (IEDs)?
  • A The IED batteries could leak and damage other passenger bags.
  • B The wires in the IED could cause a short to the aircraft wires.
  • C IEDs can cause loss of lives, property, and aircraft.
  • D The ticking timer could worry other passengers.

October 8th 2003: An article in the Wall Street Journal "States Siphon Off Bigger Share Of Tobacco-Settlement Money" exposes the fiction of the states' pledges to use their annual tobacco-settlement revenues for health services and tobacco-use prevention programs. In the current fiscal year it is estimated that health services will get approximately 28% and antismoking programs 3% of these funds, with almost half of the revenue being siphoned off into their general purpose budgets. When you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas...
October 4th 2003: Add the USA PATRIOT Act to the "Acts Hall of Shame", joining other acts such as India's Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (expired 1995 - record 80,000 detainees, only 1% convicted), and India's Prevention of Terrorism Act, POTA, currently being selectively applied...
October 2nd 2003: The October 2003 edition of CFO has an article "When the Saints Come Marching In" which discusses "companies lining up squeaky-clean new board members in hopes of regaining investors' trust." The article gives examples of former FASB and former-SEC employees hired by companies to assist with cleaning up their reputations...   A prediction... fast forward several years... we'll have companies with such folks that will be found with scandals, which will lead to calls to pass rules preventing FASB, SEC, etc. employees taking board seats.
September 28th 2003: It has suddenly become "fashionable" to blame the woes of manufacturing in the U.S. on China's currency being overvalued since it is pegged to the greenback. Increasingly there are calls for the Chinese government to revalue the yuan or face tariffs on Chinese imports to the U.S. This is a rather simplistic analysis, if countries could boost their economies and gain an advantage by overvaluing and pegging their currencies then Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, and other countries wouldn't be basket cases.
September 25th 2003:  An article in the Wall Street Journal Congress Grills Bremer on Iraq Spending Plan  quotes him as 'assuring lawmakers that all prime contractors would be US companies.' While this may be a tactic calculated to help get this through a reluctant Congress, it would be vastly preferable that Iraqi companies get preference wherever possible. After all, the goal of the exercise is to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and economy, not to simply pad the profits of American companies. Iraq has many well-educated and capable engineers, businessmen, etc. and they should get every opportunity to help rebuild their country.....

© SNi 01/02/08