Thursday, August 31, 2006

Assessing George Bush on the Anniversary of 9/11 (Or: Why No Stem Cells Have Been Killed in Iraq)

September 11, 2006 should be observed in memory of the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and United Flight 93 and we will do so here at Kiko's House. But we need to be reminded as we approach the fifth anniversary of those cataclysmic events that they cloud an even a greater tragedy -- George Bush's betrayal of the American people.

As someone who bleeds red, white and blue for the United States, values its institutions and served in its armed forces, as a student of American history, observer of eight presidential administrations and sometime White House visitor over a long career in journalism and then a second life as a blogger, I make the following statement with authority, but not one iota of satisfaction:
George Bush is the worst president in U.S. history.
Comparing Bush to James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Warren G. Harding, who are routinely cited by historians as being the worst presidents, would seem to be unfair. After all, these mediocrities held office in less complex and troubled times and only Harding served when the U.S. was a global power with the attendant challenges and responsibilities.
But this is precisely why George Bush will be judged the worst president.

He came to office declaring himself to be the right man for what are indeed complex and troubled times. But he failed make good on any of his promises -- not a single one of consequence -- despite a compliant Congress and a post-9/11 mandate comparable to that given FDR after Pearl Harbor.

In the eight months that Bush held office prior to the attacks, the intelligence community that he pledged to reinvigorate slept the sleep of the smug and complacent, rousing itself only when there were turf battles to be fought.

This despite the fact that the CIA, FBI and NSA -- as well as some of Bush's own White House advisors -- had detailed intelligence that Al Qaeda was plotting an attack on the homeland and even knew the identities of some of his confederates and were aware that they were in country and learning to fly large passenger jets. Bush's national security advisor was, by her own subsequent admission, still fighting a Cold War that had been over for a decade. Today she is the secretary of state.
While Bush cannot be given the benefit of the doubt regarding his administration's culpability in not trying to prevent the 9/11 attacks, it is his betrayals in the years since then that assure his ranking as the worst president.

His response to the attacks was to:
* Declare an unprovoked war on Saddam Hussein, a favorite pre-existing target of his neoconservative brain trust.

This diverted attention, troops and other resources from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the post 9/11 battle should have been concentrated, and plunged the U.S. into a quagmire that has cost a quarter of a trillion dollars, taken over 2,600 American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives while providing a new safe haven for Al Qaeda and further destabilizing the Middle East.

The invasion might have been all about Iraq's vast reserves of oil, as some people claimed. But the occupation has been such a disaster that even Iraq's oil drilling and refining infrastructure remains only marginally functional three-plus years since U.S. contractors set about rebuilding it and, incredibly, there are fuel shortages throughout the country. This despite administration claims that oil would "self finance" the occupation, as well as provide desperately needed revenue for a new Iraqi government and more fuel for gas-guzzling Americans.

* Not only fail to reform intelligence agencies after 9/11, but to pad them with hacks whose sole qualifications were their ties to the Republican Party elite.

And for good measure to disembowel the first responder in a terrorist attack, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which contributed substantially to the nightmarish aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

* Make a mockery of the separation of powers between the executive, legislative judicial branches and expand his own powers well beyond the limits delineated in the Constitution through a government of imperial absolutism with limitless powers.

* Fixate on secrecy to the point of obsession. This includes reclassifying previously public documents although they do not contain sensitive information, cracking down on whistler-blowers and journalists and denying historians the right to examine a vast array of presidential papers after he leaves office.

* Try to rob Americans their most fundamental civil liberties in the commission of a War on Terrorism ostensibly being fought to protect those liberties.

While the president has talked of "sacrifice," it always has been in the abstract, and other than the soldiers themselves and Americans with family or friends who have done tours, Iraq has been a war virtually without sacrifice.

Wars usually demand belt tightening, tax increases and other forms of deprivation. But this has not been a time of testing, but rather spending. In fact, about the only manifestation that the U.S. is in the fourth year of a war are the ubiquitous “Support the Troops” ribbons and bumper stickers.
My judgment might not be so harsh had there been counterbalances during Bush's tenure, say a successful domestic agenda.

In fact, no domestic agenda since Herbert Hoover's has failed so ingloriously and is so shot with betrayal. This includes:
* A yawning disinterest in protecting the environment and an energy plan that is smoke and mirrors.

* Giveaways to corporations and the wealthy and attacks on the middle class. It is no coincidence that wages and salaries now make up the lowest proportion of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest level in 40 years.

* Pandering to a fundamentalist religious right wing on issues ranging from stem cell research to single-sex marriage.
* An appalling indifference to human suffering except when it can be used for political gain such as the "spontaneous" photo op with a Hurricane Katrina "victim" who turned out to be an affluent GOP businessman. Compassionate conservatism, my ass.
On the political front, Bush has managed to do what Democrats could only dream of – bring conservatism nearly to its knees. This is because of a naked opportunism in which principle is turned on its ear and politics always trumps policy. Liberals may be gleeful, but American will be much the worse without strong conservative voices.

Richard Nixon also abused the powers of the office, but his accomplishments assured him a place above the pantheon of bad presidents.
Nixon was a tortured soul, while Bush shows scant evidence of having one.

He is a man with a congenital frat boy smirk who was born with a gold spoon in his mouth, sat out the Vietnam War because of his daddy's pull, never had to deal with failure because family and friends were always there to bail him out, brooks no dissent, lies habitually, is devoid of humility and believes he channels the wisdom of Jesus.

But it is two of his strongest traits -- a disinterest in detail and intellectual laziness -- that perhaps have made him so unsuited to lead in such complex and troubled times.
Reflect on these words from Bush's nomination acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention and contrast them with the reality of the last five and a half years:
America's armed forces need better equipment, better training and better pay . . . A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam: When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming . . . I don't have enemies to fight. I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect . . . We're learning to protect the natural world around us. We will continue this progress, and we will not turn back ... to lead this nation to a responsibility era, that president himself must be responsible. So when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to uphold the laws of our land . . . I will not attack a part of this country because I want to lead the whole of it.
Until recently, Bush's stoutest defenders, including the neocon architects of his policies, asserted that he would be vindicated by the long arc of history. The setbacks and failures of 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 would recede and the leadership of this swaggering but visionary Texan ultimately would make America and the world better places.

But that crowd has been struck deaf and dumbfounded. They know that George Bush has robbed Americans of what is perhaps their most precious asset -- optimism.

George Bush has squandered his legacy for all time, and
his betrayals will leave America and the world much worse places.

The dates on each police mug shot slate correspond to a date when President Bush or member of his administration betrayed the public trust. From "Line Up," a limited edition boxed set designed Ligorano/Reese, © Madness of Art Editions.

We're On the Road Again

We've given the plants an extra watering, drawn the blinds and lowered the lights. Kiko's House will be dark for the Labor Day weekend while we put in some blog-free quality time at the Rhythm and Roots Festival at the Rhode Island shore, a nonpareil event celebrating the music of Louisiana. How appropriate with the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina at hand.
Until then, may the wind be at your back and the sun shine warm upon your land. Unless you need the rain.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

9/11 Anniversary: Denial Is Not a River in Egypt

As New York City approaches the five-year anniversary of 9/11, thousands of rescue and recovery workers are suffering from serious health problems that government agencies refuse to recognize as related to the terror attacks.

A draft report from Mount Sinai Hospital's World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program suggests that rescue and recovery workers are sicker than the general population, which tracked the medical condition of 9,283 people who worked at the Twin Towers site or in the cleanup effort. Most of them are men who were working in law enforcement or construction.

(Take a moment to scroll down to the "Modern day Pietá" photograph posted here yesterday. Notice the dust covering the rescue workers? Okay, now read on . . .)

According to the report:
The health effects of rescue recovery and volunteer work at the WTC site were highly prevalent, severe and persistent in the nearly 10,000 workers we saw clinically between 2002 and 2004.

The evidence showed sharp increases in respiratory symptoms, including abnormal lung capacity in one-third of the workers one to two years after exposure, and lung problems affecting five times more people than you'd expect in the general population.
The draft finds that those with the highest rates of lung problems were the people engulfed in the dust cloud that could be seen for miles after the towers collapsed, with 54 percent reporting lower respiratory problems and 66 percent reporting upper respiratory problems.
The doctors who run the program cautioned that the report was only a draft and that some of the numbers may change after a peer-review process.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat, has fought to get government agencies to recognize the relation between the rescue and clean-up efforts and the health problems:
This (study) is very important not because it doesn't tell us anything that we didn't know, but because it makes it much harder to deny. All kinds of government officials, are still denying that all these injuries, (this) inability to work, are work-related.
The Mount Sinai doctors warned the consequences are likely to get worse, possibly including cancers that were not expected to show up for at least 10 years, but hundreds of people claim they've already developed World Trade Center-related cancer.

More here.

Yes and no. No pre-schooler should be allowed to see gruesome images of jetliners crashing into skyscrapers or people falling from them, but the impulse to shelter children from the realities of the word and not help them learn to cope is misplaced.
That is the view of many child-care experts. Me, too.
More here and here.

The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund for the families of people killed in the terror attacks was one of the very few positive things to come out of the tragedy.

Laura Balemian, whose husband Edward J. Mardovich died in the World Trade Center, received one of the largest awards paid out by the fund: $6.7 million. But she in turn has paid out what is almost certainly the highest legal fee.

While the vast majority of victims were represented before the fund pro bono or for a nominal fee, Balemian paid her lawyer, Thomas J. Troiano, a one-third contingent fee, or over $2 million.

The propriety of Troiano's fee is now before the courts and damned well deserves to be.

A guardian appointed by the Suffolk County Surrogate's Court in
New York, where Mardovich's estate is in probate, last year challenged the fee as excessive and not in the best interests of Balemian's four children. Troiano responded earlier this year by suing Balemian in Manhattan federal court for declaratory judgment approving his fees.

Writes Anthony Lin in The New York Law Journal:

The situation is an uncomfortable one for trial lawyers' groups, who normally support contingent fee arrangements but went to extraordinary lengths to avoid being seen as profiting from the terrorist attacks.

Kenneth R. Feinberg, the special master who oversaw the fund's distribution of some $7 billion, submitted an affidavit in the case in which he called Troiano's fee "shocking and unconscionable" in light of the fund's purpose and its guidelines recommending attorney fees be kept under 5 percent.

Wrote Fineberg:

In my experience of presiding over the processing and award determinations of some 7,400 claims, of conducting hundreds of individual hearings within the Program, and of meeting with thousands of families and victims in large and small groups, I have never learned of a legal fee even approaching the fee sought in this case.
But Troiano said in court documents responding to Feinberg's affidavit that Balemian's large award, which was increased from an initial presumptive award of $1.1 million, justified the contingent fee.

Said Troiano:

If anything is 'shocking and unconscionable' it is that, due to unabashed greed, Defendant now (more than two years after having ratified the Retainer Agreement) seeks disgorgement of fees earned by Plaintiff from the hard work, at significant personal sacrifice, he rendered for the benefit of Defendant and her children.

More here.

(Photo by Joel Meyerowitz)

Iraq I: Lie by Lie by Lie

Feel like being lied to? Got some time on your hands? (Perhaps too much?) Mother Jones magazine has a nifty timeline that chronicles in mind-numbing detail the myriad lies of the Bush administration concerning the Iraq war.

Check it out here if your computer is pretty fast and you don't mind a longish download.

A must-read semi-magnum opus by Yours Truly: The title -- Assessing the Bush Presidency on the 9/11 Anniversary (Or Why No Stem Cells Were Killed in Iraq) -- sez it all.

Be there or be square.

Iraq II: If This Isn't Civil War, Then What Is?

24 dead in Baghdad market district blast
I'm not very good at math, but at least I have my fingers and toes. So by my calculations, about 300 Iraqis have been killed in the first four days of this week in connection with sectarian violence. Several American troops also have died.
It is important to note that most of the deaths did not occur in standoffs with U.S. and Iraqi troops, but rather in random attacks and bombings such as one in the Baghdad market district on Wednesday that killed 48 people, or as a result of fighting in an outlying city like Diwaniya, where at least 67 people, including dozens of looters, were killed siphoning gasoline from a government pipeline following bloody clashes between an Iraqi Army unit and sectarian militia. There were another 23 violent deaths on Wednesday in Baghdad and elsewhere.

It would appear -- and this is subjective until more detailed information is available -- that the transfer of thousands of troops from outlying hotspots into Baghdad for the ongoing security sweep has had a predictably horrible consequence: an upsurge in violence in the areas that the troops had previously patrolled.

I pointed out this perverse dynamic way back when in this post but take no comfort at having been correct. In fact, I would much rather have been wrong.
The Belmont Club has a comprehensive wrapup from commentators who range across the spectrum from believing that Iraq is a fiasco to a work in progress.
The consensus is that there is no consensus.
(Photograph by Namir Noor-Eldeen/The Associated Press)

Nice Photograph du Jour

Take my word for it, the Golden Pavilion Temple is even more beautiful in the flesh.

The temple is one of several buildings in the Deer Garden in Kyoto, Japan. It was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa for a shogun and has burned down and been rebuilt several times. The entire pavilion is covered in pure gold leaf except for the basement floor.
Do you have a nice photo that you'd like to submit? Please send it to as a pdf attachment. Please, no blood and guts.

Earth to John Kerry: Shut Up! Go Away! Now!

John Kerry, a whimp then and a whimp now, never contested the controversial results of presidential balloting in Ohio in 2004 which gave George Bush 20 key electoral votes and the keys to the White House. But now that he's considering another run, he's finally alleging election improprieties in the Buckeye State.
Let's get this straight: Kerry ran the worst presidential campaign since Michael Dukakis in 1988 and gave the election to Bush, who by most rights should have lost, because of his inability to find a message, let alone stay on it. There is nothing to suggest that anything will be different in 2008 if the Democrats decide to commit hari kerri and nominate him.
More here.

A Lesson From Down Under

Yet another American pundit has made the long trip Down Under to try to figure out how John Howard, Australia's conservative prime miniter, shows no sign of loosing his grip on power after a decade.

This time it was way liberal Washington Post op-ed columnist E.J. Dionne Jr., who like his fellow travelers marvels at Howard's street smarts and tenacity.

Some excerpts from Dionne's column from Melbourne on the subject:
Pay attention to Howard. His approach could be a model for how parties of the right -- including Republicans in the United States -- manage to build majorities in turbulent times.

Last week, Howard organized a "history summit" to call attention to the decline of Australian history as a subject in high schools. In most states here, history has been subsumed within (and thus displaced by) a broader social studies curriculum focused on "studies of society and the environment."

"I think we have taught history as some kind of fragmented stew of moods and events," Howard declared, "rather than some kind of proper narrative."

This is the sort of cultural and educational fight familiar to Americans. My gut is with those who see history as a distinct subject. Wherever we live, we should know our country's national story.

Notice what has just happened: This writer, on the other side of politics from the Australian prime minister, has embraced his argument that old-fashioned history is worth teaching.

Howard has a genius for picking the right wedge issues. In this case, his argument appeals to conservatives who don't like what Howard has called "black armband history" -- i.e., a history that is primarily critical of Australia's white settlers. But it also draws in many from outside the ranks of the right who have moderately traditional views about school curriculums.

* * * * *
This has been Howard's way since he defeated Paul Keating, a Labor Party prime minister, in 1996. Oddly, the two political enemies have a lot in common.

As George Megalogenis argues in his new book, "The Longest Decade," both Howard and Keating believed in opening up the once highly protected Australian economy to global market forces. The two, Megalogenis writes, "bombarded us with change."

But there was a big difference. Keating was also in favor of cultural change -- bravely so, in the eyes of his friends. He proposed that Australia get rid of its old flag. He wanted the country to stop being a constitutional monarchy theoretically under the queen of England and instead become a republic.

Howard, on the other hand, thought that in a time of rapid economic change, Australians needed to cling to some of the old sources of stability, including the symbols. He was for the old flag and against the new republic. David Kemp, a former member of Howard's cabinet, said his old boss understood the reaction against globalization and economic change among conservative voters.

* * * * *
What's exportable about Howard's politics is his shrewd understanding that conservative parties embracing hard-line market economics need to provide those threatened by economic change with something to hang on to -- tradition, nation, family, flag -- so that their world doesn't fly apart. Except on the immigration issue, where he used a sledgehammer, Howard has pulled off in a subtle way what Republicans in the United States have pursued with less finesse and a greater emphasis on religion than would work in this more secular country. Interestingly, though, the political role of religion is on the rise here.

Quote du Jour: But Are Conservatives Listening?

A breath of fresh air from the usually fusty Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters regarding legislative efforts in California to legalize (non-intoxicating) hemp for industrial purposes:
This bill isn't really about hemp as such, but about the continuing criminalization of marijuana. California has long signaled that it wants to dump anti-marijuana laws but have been stymied by the federal government. The hemp bill is another demonstration of the difficult task in declaring a crop illegal, especially one that has such positive potential as hemp, simply to support a failing front on the war on drugs. Even conservatives in the Golden State have begun to question the resources spent on fighting marijuana.

Libertarians and conservatives share an impulse against government intrusion, but often split on anti-drug efforts. Conservatives have supported government impositions in the drug war that they would never tolerate anywhere else, such as confiscation laws, asset freezes, and the like. While conservatives will still likely support an effort to interdict narcotics and other strong drugs, at some point we have to ask ourselves if the power we grant to the federal government is worth the effort specific to marijuana.

The Katie Couric Diet

Let's call it the Katie Couric Diet.

The photo at the left was posted by CBS News when the news hen first jumped the NBC coop. But now the network is using the photo at the right.

After it was caught out, CBS News president Sean McManus said he was "obviously surprised and disappointed."

Couric herself commented:
I liked the first picture better because there's more of me to love.
(Hat tip to TVNewser via Instapundit)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

9/11 Anniversary: Remembering Father Mike

A modern day Pietá
The collision between religious orthodoxy and social reality can be pretty darned ugly, but the mess the Roman Catholic Church has made of its two biggest 21st century controversies – pedophile priests and homosexual priests – is enough to make Job spin in his grave.

What the hell does this have to do with the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks? Read on . . .

My primary concern here is gay priests, but you can’t discuss them without a stopover at the sordid sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church to its very foundations in the U.S., Canada, Ireland and elsewhere.

The sexual abuse of children is a mortal sin for Catholics, of course, but it is difficult to judge which has been worse – the priests who have fondled, sucked and sodomized countless young innocents or the cover-up of and indifference to their behavior from local diocesesan administrators up through an imperious church hierarchy to the Vatican.

Homosexuality also is a mortal sin for Catholics, but that sexual orientation is increasingly and rightfully accepted by the social mainstream, including many in the Catholic laity. This has not prevented the same Vatican that turned a blind eye to pedophile priests to promulgate a policy that bars gay priests and gays who want to become priests.

An ostensible purpose of the policy is to take a strong stand against the church's gay subculture. But the policy is having a doubly negative effect -- driving out celibate gay priests who are a threat to no one while discouraging celibate gays from joining an already depleted priesthood.

I have no personal stake in this. I'm not gay. My father was a lapsed Catholic and my own view of the church is that it is an enormously powerful and obstructionist guilt machine that has done more harm than good.

I do acknowledge that there is a connection between pedophilia and homosexuality in some instances, but there have to be a whole lot of gay priests – and gays who would like to become priests – who are on Pope Benedict XVI’s hellbound train for the wrong reasons. Chief among those reasons is the Vatican's need to find scapegoats for the church's own despicable conduct in the sex abuse scandal.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, we can turn to the story of Mychal Judge, a 68-year-old priest and New York Fire Department chaplain, or Father Mike as everyone called the beloved Benedictine.
Father Mike was uptown at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, where he ministered to the wealthy and homeless alike, when the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He donned his FDNY chaplain’s uniform and rushed to the towers, where he briefly paused to pray with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before running over to a dead firefighter and a woman who had fallen on him after jumping from the North Tower.

Father Mike had removed his fireman's helmet to administer the last rites and was anointing Firefighter Danny Suhr and the woman with holy water when he was struck in the back of the head and mortally wounded by a chunk of falling debris.

You may not realize that you knew who Father Mike was until you reflect on the image above. Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton's photograph, one of the most gripping images to come out of that horrific day, is a modern day Pietá. Yes, that’s Father Mike on the makeshift gurney.

You probably also didn’t know that Father Mike was an acknowledged homosexual. And so beloved that his death certificate bears the number 00001 – the first official World Trade Center casualty.

But as inspiring as Father Mike’s life may have been, not to mention his bravery on 9/11, he would not have been welcome in today’s Roman Catholic Church, which according to its anti-homosexual policy believes that gays "have no social value" and, moreover, "no moral virtue."

That truly is a sin.
A feature documentary film has been made on Father Mike. "The Saint of 9/11" is directed by Glenn Holsten and narrated in the priest's own words by legendary actor Sir Ian McKellan.

Click here for more info.

This just in: Osama bin Laden is not wanted by the FBI in connection with the 9/11 attacks.

The Al Qaeda leader is on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list for his role as the mastermind of the deadly U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in August 1998.

But The Washington Post notes in a story that the omission is because of a Justice Department's decision, so far, to not seek formal criminal charges against OBL for the terror group's most notorious terrorist attack, but does not explain why. I believe this is called bureaucratic timidity.

Says FBI spokesman Rex Tomb:

There's no mystery here. They could add 9/11 on there, but they have not because they don't need to at this point. . . . There is a logic to it.
Okay. What logic?

The absence rightfully gives ammunition to 9/11 conspiracy theorists who think the U.S. government was behind the attacks.

Will Bunch weighs in on this rank silliness at Attytood:

[T]he failure to charge bin Laden in the first place does speak to the kind of questions we've been raising all along about the current Bush strategy of fighting terrorism.

During the 1990s, the perpertrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and some involved in the 1998 embassy bombings were brought to justice in a court of law, where jurors found the evidence against these terrorists overwhelming. The much maligned "law enforcement" approach also led to arguably the biggest anti-terrorism success ever, the foiling of the 2000 Millennium bomb plot.

That said, few would argue that Clinton's efforts to go after bin Laden himself were weak, with a misdirected counterstrike in 1998 and bungled opportunities to nail the terrorist leader. But with Bush, we've seen an approach that's 100 percent "war," and 0 percent "justice."

Should you have missed my mention of it last week, Slate is excerpting a terrific new book -- "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation" -- each day through to September 7. The author-artists are Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón.

Death Penalty For the JonBenet Prosecution?

From here on out, let's banish the term prosecution from anything having to do with the JonBenet Ramsey case. Okay?

The ineptness of these people from the outset of the murder investigation (failing to secure the crime scene, assuming that no family member was a perpetrator) is so profound that the whole bunch of them ought to be strung up from the big tree in front of the Ramsey's old house in Boulder, Colorado.
Did it not occur to anyone that a DNA sample should have been obtained from John Clark Karr before the dog and pony show in Bangkok?

That Karr showed all the signs of being an aggrandizing publicity freak who just happened to be a pedophile who knew some details of the case that had not been made public?

That Karr couldn't even make a case for having been in Boulder at the time of the murder?

Geez Louise!
You can read the prosecu . . . er, idiot's motion to drop the charges against Kerr here. (Reader discretion is advised.)

Iraq: An Update on the Baghdad Security Sweep

(I'm reposting this from Monday because of some new info- SDM)
Three weeks after U.S. and Iraqi forces began a second major security sweep, Baghdad neighborhoods seems quieter, if not safer. But can it last? And has the sacrifice of "quality of life" literally and figuratively been too great?

The U.S. command asserts that murders are down 36 percent, but there are contradictory accounts in the mainstream media of the extent to which the sweep may be succeeding, so Kiko's House went to the source and contacted several Baghdad bloggers for their up close and personal assessment.

Said BT at Baghdad Treasure:
The situation is better but not mainly because of the major sweep. Simply because people are no longer going out in the streets as they used to. My parents, for example, are locked in the house. They are afraid to go even to the market, and if they do, they go and come back quickly before someone blows up himself among them in the market.

Add to this the unlimited number of Iraqis who left and are still leaving Iraq. But still, the sweep is one of the factors that helped in this "quiet before the storm" thing. The question is: will Baghdad stay calm after the end of the campaign?
According to Nabil, who blogs at Nabil's Blog:
In my neighbor neighborhood, its like there is no life. All shops are closed. You go out in the street, you don't find cars nor even people, so I just don't know what to say about it.

I am so sad about what is happening in my country.
Zeyad at Healing Iraq says that:
You are partly right about waning violence . . . But really, it's only a decrease in attacks against American troops. The violence is taking a new shape these last few weeks: Iraqi-on-raqi violence.
Omar at Iraq the Model notes that the security sweep is in western and northern Baghdad at this time and he lives in the eastern party of the city, but adds:
Violence levels seem to be a little bit lower these days, but I suggest we wait until the operation covers the rest of the city.
IraqPundit is an unidentified Iraqi exile with an obvioius anti-mainstream media ax to grind.
Here's his take on the situation:
The lives of many Baghdadis are improving, at least for now. Indeed, to borrow a phrase from the apocalyptic NYT, if their lives haven't improved "by almost all measures," they've improved by the most important one. Perhaps, to echo WaPo, the debate's not quite over after all.
Since Aug. 7, about 12,000 additional U.S. and Iraqi troops have been sent into the capital as part of the security effort, dubbed "Operation Together Forward," and have covered four of the most problematic capital neighborhoods.

A Marine provides this assessment via email to
The Daily Dish:
Wonder why the press is ignoring what has been going with operations in Baghdad? There were literally thousands dying there in June and July, but almost none now. If you read The New York Times or Washington Post and even the WSJ, you would think your experience here in Iraq is all an illusion.

I don't want to paint any overly rosy picture of things here as I never have indulged in that practice before, but we have control everywhere now (up to a point). They are still capable of launching small attacks against our forces, still able to blow up Iraqi Police in large numbers sometimes, and yes, they can still murder each other in Baghdad in sectarian violence. But, we are waging our war right now almost completely on our terms.

Where are Thomas Ricks and Max Boot on these events? Even if short-lived and part of an ever changing chain of events in Iraq, news-worthy events are happening that are not all blood and guts.
Meanwhile, the carnage continues, albeit not right under the eyes of the security forces:

* On Tuesday, Iraqi police found 26 bodies in different neighborhoods. Some were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their backs. Some showed signs of torture.

* Also on Tuesday, an attack on the Baquba office of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr killed two and injured another. Gunmen also killed seven people and wounded four in four other shootings in the city about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

* On Monday, at least 15 people were killed and 63 others wounded when a suicide car bomber detonated at an Iraqi police checkpoint near the Interior Ministry.

* Also on Monday, 28 people died in fighting between Iraqi Army soldiers and members of a militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, near Diwaniya. Then on Tuesday, at least 27 people were killed trying to take advantage of the turmoil when a leaking pipeline where they were siphoning oil exploded outside the city.

* On Sunday, at least 50 people were killed in various acts of violence across the country, including two people after a suicide car bomber attacked Iraq’s largest newspaper inside its fortified compound in downtown Baghdad.

Despite Sunday's high death toll, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he did not foresee a civil war and that violence was abating. He insisted that his government was making progress in combatting attacks by insurgents and sectarian clashes between Shiites and Sunnis:

We're not in a civil war. Iraq will never be in a civil war. The violence is in decrease and our security ability is increasing.
(Photography by Alaa Al-Marjani/The Associated Press)