Sunday, September 30, 2007

Losing our religion

There was a time not long ago when the United States would have had something to say about the dreadful goings on in Myanmar, formerly Burma. Unfortunately, there is only silence from the White House about the military junta's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in the main city of Yangon and across the country. After tolerating a couple of days of protests, authorities sent troops to fire on demonstrators to stop the protests, killing perhaps scores or hundreds of unarmed civilians, including highly respected Buddhist monks. Sounds like Tianenman Square all over again. Tianenman Square was where Chinese troops opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing in 1989, killing hundreds if not thousands. China is one of the United States' largest trading partners and just happens to be the biggest backer of the military junta in Myanmar. There is a cost to the United States' loss of moral authority in the world under the Bush administration.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Orwellian turns

Well, I guess we learned our lesson. Just days after permitting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak to students at Columbia University during a trip to speak to the United Nations — Iran's parliament voted to declare the CIA and the U.S. Army as terrorist organizations. Ouch. That hurts. A totalitarian regime with a leader whose verbosity is matched only by his lack of knowledge is criticizing us? Of course, Iran was responding to a U.S. Senate resolution urging the State Department to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group and subjecting it to asset seizure and other economic sanctions. But while a lot of Iran's long list of complaints against the U.S. were ludicrous, some were not. The Bush administration's approval of torture for imprisoned terror suspects (the so-called unlawful enemy combatants) violates the Geneva Conventions to which we were a proud supporter is a stain on the United States' long history of respect for the rule of law. But that doesn't make our governmental agencies terrorist organizations any more than it makes Ahmadinejad a reasonable person.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Face to face with totalitarian

Wasn't that just a bit scary? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sounded so reasonable, it was easy to see how that country's leadership could have gone for him. This is the face of dictatorship, and it doesn't look a bit like George W. Bush. Of course, I'm talking about Ahmadinejad's speech to Columbia University students, in which the Iranian president defended his seemingly unbelievable positions on Iraq, Israel, nuclear weapons and homosexuality. Ahmadinejad was in New York to speak to the United Nations, and it shows how enlightened we still are that both forums were available to him. The Iranian leader got a very rude welcome from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, which Ahmadinejad quite correctly said was rude, but proceeded to defend his country's policies, which have caused no small amount of distress in Washington.

Monday, September 24, 2007

War is heck

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the Washington Post reported today about a Defense Department program of using Army snipers to kill Iraqis who pick up fake bomb-making material and weapons planted by our forces. The program came to light during court-martial proceedings involving three Army Rangers soldiers who killed Iraqi civilians in such operations and planted incriminating evidence on the bodies to help justify the slayings. The tactic raises ethical questions about U.S. conduct in Iraq, since our country has long recognized that it's improper to kill innocent civilians in war. That's why the soldiers are being court-martialed. Of course, if the material is picked up by insurgents, the military has the legal right to kill them. The problem is being sure of who's who. But it occurs to me -- when was the last time we heard about armed government employees shooting people and planting weapons on them to justify the killings? Yes, it sounds an awful lot like the police, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Trouble in paradise

So, it turns out that Blackwater USA, the U.S. government-contracted security company involved in the shooting deaths of unarmed civilians in Baghdad last week, has been involved in several violent episodes this year in which civilians were killed. Plus, the Washington Post reported today, Iraqi government officials have complained about incidents involving Blackwater several times, but were ignored by U.S. officials. Well, isn't this getting juicy. We have hired mercenaries to protect diplomats in Iraq and they have been committing atrocities against Iraqi civilians. We have to stop it. The Iraqi government is powerless to do anything because of laws passed by the old U.S.-dominated provisional government giving security contractors immunity from liability. I suppose that might have been understandable when Iraq had no governmental authorities in place, but that is not the situation now, and the Iraqis are justifiably unhappy about the situation. I wonder if President Bush is willing to take time from his Web site review duties to get to the bottom of this.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stuff to do

Is that the problem? Is that why President Bush misled the public and got us into a ruinous war -- he didn't have enough to do and was bored? How else to explain why the president has the time to criticize a newspaper advertisement from an anti-war Web site? If you don't already know, our commander-in-chief used time at his recent press conference to attack the "Betray Us" ad from as "disgusting." Disgusting? Irreverant, perhaps; controversial, perhaps; but disgusting? He refuses to explain why the Israelis bombed some target in Syria, apparently at our suggestion or urging, but he can discuss a newspaper ad? That's disgusting. What's next -- does the White House plan to brief reporters on its position on department store advertising or the Victoria's Secret catalogue?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On the outsource

So, let's review. Armed private security guards operating in Iraq under contract to the U.S. government kill as many as 20 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Iraqi government is outraged, claims contractor's personnel were not reacting to a car bomb but instead shot indiscriminately at civilians. Iraqi government revokes contractor's authorization to operate in the country. U.S. diplomats in Iraq are barred from traveling outside the green zone, because BlackwaterUSA is the contractor who protects them. Today, the New York Times reports, Iraq begins to back away from its revoc ation claim and agrees to develop new rules to hold such contractors accountable. So, what happened? It looks to me that what happened is precisely the kind of thing that is sure to happen in the kind of armed chaos that is post-invasion Iraq. Hopefully, a promised investigation will be able to determine exactly what happened. But that's kind of doubtful. What will hopefully happen now is the U.S. will start to reconsider the whole private contractor thing in a war zone. How could it have come to this anyway? Private security companies guarding our diplomats? Don't we have 160,000 soldiers in Iraq? How many more do we need? When the president withdraws the 30,000 surge troops this year, will he authorize 30,000 more private soldiers to take their places? What's going on?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What's duh problem?

All this fuss about former federal reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's comment about the Iraq war . . . what is everybody thinking? All Greenspan said in his new book was that he advised Bush and Cheney that removing Saddam Hussein would help stabilize the world oil situation. So what? Does anyone actually think that Iraq's oil reserves weren't part of the equation when the United States decided to pour thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars into a very risky military endeavor in Iraq? Please. Just because the Bush administration says Iraq's oil had nothing to do with its decision doesn't make it so. The administration has lied consistently on Iraq.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pakistan conundrum

The New York Times reported today that Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, will return to Pakistan next month after Ramadan, ostensibly to challenge Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the country's president. She apparently will return whether she reaches a power-sharing deal with Musharraf or not. If she doesn't, or even if she does, Bhutto is subject to arrest on past corruption charges. Are these true? Does anyone know? What's important about Pakistan is not only that it is a nuclear-armed country, but that Musharraf is, ostensibly, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror. This, as we've discussed, despite the fact that areas of his country are overrun by the precisely the same insurgents that the war on terror is supposed to be rooting out. Musharraf is our guy, he wasn't shunned because he joined our team, and now we have to try to influence to embrace democratic reform in the country he has dominated since 1999. Is the U.S. up to this challenge?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Adios Alberto

Seemingly just hours after President Bush announced his plans to remove 21,000 troops from Iraq by next summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that perhaps 70,000 soldiers could be removed by the end of next year. Is it any wonder that a majority of Americans don't believe what the president or his heavily decorated generals are saying? The American people are the ones who should be making this decision, but there too much information and not enough truth to allow them to decide. At least Alberto Gonzales has left the building. Today was his last day as head of the Justice Department, which seems to have lost as much credibility domestically as the Bush administration has abroad.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

CL Syndrome

So, the Republicans and Democrats are weighing in on the testimony of Gen. David Patreus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before Congress this week and, what do you know, many simply do not believe the Bush administration's rosy assessment of progress. The "surge" may well be working but, how can anyone tell? Has the government started showing the map illustrating how much of Iraq is under U.S. or Iraqi government control? That answer is no. So, what does the government think is going to happen? They have repeatedly lied about Iraq; how many times can they do that and still expect everyone to believe them? That's why more than 50 percent of the country doesn't support the war. It may well have been a good idea at some point, but the bungling Bush administration has completely blown it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Fun while it lasted

Looks like it's the last call for the return of democracy to Pakistan. CNN reports today that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose administration was cut short by a bloodless coup led by current Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in 1999, was taken into custody after he arrived in Islamabad today and was deported to Saudi Arabia, where he has lived in exile. Sharif returned to Pakistan after the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled last month that he could. He was expected to challenge Musharraf in upcoming elections. His departure, however, could clear the way for a power-sharing deal between Musharraf, called an important ally in the Bush administration's war on terror despite the likely presence of al-Qaida forces on its reportedly lawless border with Afghanistan, and two-time former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But Musharraf, who also heads the country's armed forces, does not appear to be ready to give up power despite a loss of popularity following his attempt to have the head of Pakistan's Supreme Court sacked in March. The U.S. State Department issued a statement calling the deportation "contrary to the supreme court's decision" and urging non-violence.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ahead of the curve

So, the reassessments of the reassessments are already underway, and we don't even have the report from top Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus yet! Today, senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) went on ABC television's This Week with George Stephanopolous to disagree about the meaning of the report that hasn't been officially released. They already know what is says while we, the people who paying for it, don't have a clue. If what's already in the press is accurate, Petraeus will recommend continuing current policy in Iraq when he appears before Congress tomorrow. Kerry, who lost the presidency to Bush in 2004, said the most important thing in Iraq was political reconciliation between the often violent factions competing for power while McCain, whose campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is foundering, said he believes Petraeus is on the right track with the troop surge in Iraq. Why won't anyone say the truth? Sad as it is to say, the biggest problem for the American people is figuring out who to believe. Of course, that doesn't have to be a problem. We already know the Bush administration is untrustworthy. On a related note, I see that Laura Bush, the president's wife, had elective surgery yesterday to fix a neck problem. Yes, elective surgery. That's the term I've always used for the Supreme Court's decision upholding George W. Bush's victory in the 2000 election.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Stupid does

News from Washington today raises the possibility that the Democrats in Congress are finally waking up from their Iraq war slumber. According to the Los Angeles Times, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democrats' No. 2 guy in the Senate, said in a speech yesterday that the White House was manipulating statistics from Iraq and the well-anticipated Petraeus report was not going to be an independent analysis after all. Gee, you think? After weeks of the Bush administration explaining what the supposedly imminent reports would say? After a week of the White House rejecting independent findings critical of the Iraq venture? No, kids, this fix is already in. We might as well just assume that the report from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will be a little analysis and a lot of cheerleading, and go from there. If the president thinks that he can continue to cook the facts to convince Americans to support his war, he must think we're all stupid.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Long way down

Does anyone else find it strange to hear that President Bush is warning China's leaders to ease the pressure on religious groups and political dissidents in advance of next summer's Olympics in Beijing? Sure, the Chinese government has an awful human rights record. Some of the crap it has pulled is unbelievable. But the Bush administration has nothing to be proud of. Doesn't Bush even realize that the American people are worried about the Executive Branch power grab under the USA Patriot Act, which has imperiled civil liberties under the Bill of Rights that are the moral underpinnings of our nation? Didn't the voters' repudiation of the Republican Party in the last election mean anything? Haven't enough officials bailed from the Bush government to give the president a clue? Does his elevator still stop at the upper floors?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

That darn constitution

Well, blow me down! A federal judge in New York has ruled that part of the recently revised USA Patriot Act violates the First Amendment and the constitutional separation of powers. Can you believe it? After months and months and months of copouts instead of decisions by the courts on the Bush administration's assault on civil liberties, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero has said "stop." The revised law permitted the FBI to use secret national security letters to force communications companies to reveal customer records, and to bar the companies from telling anyone that they had done so. Saying the government's position raised the "ominous" specter of the "hijacking of constitutional values," Judge Marrero declared portions of the act unconstitutional. The case, filed by an internet service provider whose name has not been revealed, actually is the third time federal judges blocked portions of the Patriot Act, the second time for Marrero. The American Civil Liberties Union represented the Internet company. The government, of course, is expected to appeal.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Oval-office politics

What's with the White House refusing to release the name of its e-mail contractor to Congress? It seems Rep. Henry Waxman has demanded the name of the company running the e-mail server after the White House reported losing some 5 million messages requested by Congress for its investigation into the U.S. Attorney firings. But the White House has refused to turn over the name of the company, even though Congress is paying the bills and, presumably, the Treasury Department has written the checks. Why would the lawmakers stand for this? Talk about contempt of Congress! Actually, it's Congress that's been contemptible. This is the result of years of letting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney get their way over and over again on issues that used to be of concern to other branches of the government. They don't even pretend to have legal justification for many of the things they do; Congressional leaders just let them get away with it. After all, why would members of Congress agree to expand the administration's power under the Patriot Act after its sorry record running the war in Iraq and policing the conduct of U.S. soldiers in that country?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sneaking around

Good to hear that President Bush was able to sneak into Iraq and meet with his advisers and speak to the troops on his way to Australia. After five years and billions upon billions of dollars, at least it is safe enough for the president and his staff to slip into Anbar Province under cover of darkness. Is it me, or is it strange to consider that progress? The president's men and woman also appear to have agreed on what the result of the long Iraq reassessment is going to be, even before the reports have been written. We're staying in full force with the surge continuing into next year, and the independent reports be damned. Why, the White House even intervened to soften the Government Accountability Office's report on how badly the Iraqi government is doing. Sheesh. On another different but perversely similar topic, I was glad to hear that Sen. Larry Craig has decided not to resign from the U.S. Senate and instead to fight his conviction on a disorderly conduct for allegedly soliciting a police officer for sex in a men's room in Minneapolis. He could actually be innocent. Then again, we also might get to hear some juicy details about his past sexual conduct.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Continuing consternation

No wonder Iraq war critics in the Congress and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are frustrated with each other. Today, the Associated Press says, al-Maliki told reporters that his job of reconciling factions in the Iraqi government was very difficult and the Americans calling for his replacement have it wrong. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in the 2008 election, and Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, among others, have called for al-Maliki to step down. On top of that, just days after an independent U.S. panel called for an overhaul of the Iraqi security forces, the British announced that they were turning over more control over southern Iraq to those same Iraqi security forces. How can all of these things be correct? It looks like nobody knows what's really going on, even though they profess to. Is it any wonder that the Iraq occupation is a mess? I guess we're all frustrated.