Sunday, September 30, 2007

Judge the Daughter Not For the Father

The children of presidents should not be blamed for their fathers’ failures, or for that matter praised for their achievements.

Which brings us to Jenna Bush, twin daughter of President George and First Lady Barbara Bush, who at age 25 is shedding her (probably unfair) tabloid image as a party girl and dingbat and is promoting her new book for young adults, Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope.

The book is a true account of the struggles and triumphs of a Latin American teenager born HIV-positive and puts Jenna, a third-grade teacher at a Washington, D.C., charter school, squarely in the spotlight she has sought to avoid.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post, Jenna addresses living in a media bubble. Not surprisingly, she is circumspect about her father and the issues of the day, although it is obvious she does not necessarily agree with her father on some things -- or at least interviewer Bob Thompson wants you to think so.

She says of Iraq:

"Nobody wants war. I definitely, and my father definitely doesn't want war. But it's a horribly complicated situation. But I can say it's devastating. . . . I think everybody can agree on that."
When asked about the criticism her father has faced over the war, she adds:
“Obviously this breaks my heart.”
Having noted that neither Jenna nor sister Barbara should be judged for the actions of their father, Jenna has now stepped onto the media stage of her own volition – in this instance to sell a book on a global issue about which she may be more committed than that father – and in doing so has become fair game for scrutiny.
And you'd better believe she'll get a load of it.

Month 54 Of the War By the Numbers

When we look back on September 2007, it will be remembered as a month during which a modest downtrend in casualties to a 14-month low continued and George Bush lowered his thick head and plowed once again into the brick wall that is the Iraq war.

But that's not where we're going to focus this roundup. Instead, we will note that the U.S. is closing in on another bloody milestone: The deaths of 100 woman soldiers in Iraq.

The total currently stands at 84, including the deaths of these Army personnel in recent weeks:
Captain and medical doctor Roselle M. Hoffmaster, 32, of Cleveland. (Accident.)

Specialist Marisol Heredia, 19, of El Monte, California. (Non combat-related.)

Specialist Kamisha Block, 20, of Vidor, Texas. (Friendly fire.)

Staff Sergeant Alicia A. Burnett, 28, of Mashpee, Masachusetts. (Vehicle accident.)

Sergeant Princess "Noodle" Samuels, 22, of suburban Baltimore. (Killed with Walker in mortar attack.)

Specialist Zandra Walker, 28, of Greenville, South Carolina. (Killed with Samuels in mortar attack.)

Private First Class Lavena Johnson, 19 of Flourissant, Missouri. (Army claims self-inflicted wound; cause of death is disputed by family.)

Captain and nurse Maria Ortiz, 40, of Pennsauken, New Jersey (Mortar attack in Green Zone.)
At first glance, most of these deaths were non combat-related, but that is misleading.

War kills in myriad ways, and you can have a scalpel in your hand and not a grenade when your number comes up. As it is, two thirds of the U.S. women killed in Iraq this year died because of hostile causes.

* * * * *
Herewith our monthly numbers roundup, or what's left of it because U.S. and Iraq officials have been withholding a number of statistics. (Current 2007 totals are in orange; previous totals are in black.):

803 (1,548) Iraqis killed (*)
66 (81) -- U.S. troops killed

TWO-MONTH (August-September) ROUNDUP
2,477 (July-August: 3,238) Iraqis killed (*)
147 (July-August: 169) -- U.S. troops killed

3,807 (3,735) -- Total killed

$455,893,000,000 ($447,471,000,000)

(*) Includes Iraqi Army personnel, security forces, national police and civilians. Sources: National Priorities Project, Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, Defense Manpower Data Center.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Burma: This Revolution Will Be Televised

I've never been to Burma and the nearest I got was Thailand. So I can't tell stories about how my driver snuck me into clandestine late night anti-government meetings in Yangoon because I'd be lying.

This, I suppose, is a rather half-arsed way of saying that I've felt a combination of pessimism and impotence over the violent crackdown against peaceful pro-democracy protests by monks and civilians in the South Asian backwater now officially known as Myanmar.

Pessimism because I don't believe any amount of outside pressure for increasing sanctions, let alone imprecations by that humanitarian lightweight, George Bush, will sway Burma's thuggish military junta in the near future, and impotence because I feel like there is damned little that I can do.
China, chief trading partner and supplier of arms to Burma's generals, and Russia, the second of its three main trading partners, have no interest in joining calls to turn the screws. This is because both countries mirror Burma in troubling respects.

India, the third big trading partner, could fill the void left by America's diminished world standing, but will not. India comes in for special scorn because it presumes to be an emerging world power but behaves like the self-absorbed backwater that it was not too many years ago when push comes to shove.
That so noted, there is an aspect of the story that bloggers do have a role in: Foreign news media is barred from Burma, so supporting its citizen journalists in defying the junta by using the Internet and cellphone cameras to tell the world what's really going on is important, as is being mindful that their involvement can carry the heavy price of arrest and years in imprisonment if they're caught.

The thirst for democracy in Burma is unquenchable, and sooner or later -- probably much later -- the junta will fall and there will be free elections.
It is a small consolation, but nevertheless important, that this revolution will be televised.
Meanwhile, check out Burma NewsLadder, an aggregator of current stories.

The Phillies: In First At Last

More here.

The Mets: In Second At Last

You can probably put all of the people who actually make a living being poets these days in a broom closet with room left over for the brooms, and improbably one of those poets is Frank Messina.
I've known Frank for years and have watched the upward arc of his career with a combination of awe and bemusement and, I suppose, a little envy.
Frank is the progenitor of "Spoken Motion," a band and concept that melds lyrical content with jazz and experimental rock music. He has received the prestigious Woolrich Prize and Playboy magazine called him "one of the most widely recognized young poets living in America today."
But now Frank has outdone himself in going where not even Walt Whitman or Ezra Pound trod:
He has been designated the official poet of the New York Mets, which probably inevitably kismetically landed him on the front page of today's New York Times.
While Frank is one talented dude, the reason for his star turn in the Times is pretty simple: After occupying first place since early may, his beloved Mets are tanking and have fallen a game behind my beloved Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East with only two games to play.

The article includes Frank's latest poem, "Victory's Door:"
Do you know what it's like
To be chased by the Ghost of Failure
While staring through Victory's door?
Of course you do, you're a Mets fan.
Sigh. More here on Frank.
Photograph by Jacob Silberberg for The New York Times

The Boss: 'This Is a Song About Things That Shouldn't Happen Here Happening Here'

Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band have been making the rounds as they prepared to embark on a world tour last night in support of “Magic,” their new album.

Springsteen opened several rehearsals (see photo) to the public earlier in the week, gave a wide-ranging interview to The New York Times and appeared yesterday morning on the Today show.

Now I am fortunate enough to have seen The Boss starting way back in 1973 in small club appearances and a goodly number of times over the years until I soured on big venues. My affection for him is unbounded because of his songwriting, nonpareil heartland rock, affection for New Jersey and fearless defense of progressive politics.

Here is his intro to one of the two songs he played on the Today show:
"This is a song called “Livin' In the Future.” But it's really about what's happening now. Right now. It's kind of about how the things we love about America, cheeseburgers, French fries, the Yankees battlin' Boston . . . the Bill of Rights [holds up microphone, urging crowd to cheer] . . . V-twin motorcycles . . . Tim Russert's haircut, trans-fats and the Jersey Shore . . . We love those things the way womenfolk love Matt Lauer.

"But over the past six years we've had to add to the American picture: rendition, illegal wiretapping, voter suppression, no habeas corpus, the neglect of that great city New Orleans and its people, an attack on the Constitution. And the loss of our best men and women in a tragic war.

"This is a song about things that shouldn't happen here happening here."

Hey, I even know the fotog: Mel Evans of The Associated Press

Cartoon du Jour

Jeff Danziger/The New York Times Syndicate

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

He may have massive crushes on the disreputable Judy Miller and the reprehensible Ann Coulter, but, for the most part, Chris Matthews and his balls of steel are scared shitless of powerful women, what with their feminism and sisterhood lunches, their unwillingness to play along with his chauvinism.

After the Democratic debate at Dartmouth on Wednesday, Matthews asked Chris Dodd whether he finds it "difficult to debate a woman". A stupid and blatantly sexist question, to be sure. One wonders why he didn't also ask the senator whether he finds it difficult to bring a woman to orgasm, whether he finds it difficult to deal with a woman's menstrual cycle, whether he finds it difficult not to smack a woman's ass when he finds one to his liking.

For Matthews, what this question really amounted to was this: Do you find it difficult to treat a woman with respect, to take a woman seriously, to consider her an equal. You know, because feminism has really fucked things up. The women of Matthews' perfect world ought presumably to be on their hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor, or whatever else Matthew would have them doing in that position, Miller and Coulter included.


The Senate's adoption of the Lieberman/Kyl amendment designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist group" isn't merely embarrassing, it's counterproductive. Designating the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group -- which in contemporary American terms means they're a target -- makes it all the more important for Iran to keep us tied up and weakened in Iraq. The more we telegraph that we'd like to devote forces to regime change or strikes in Tehran, the stronger Iran's incentive to keep Iraq an unstable morass trapping ever-greater numbers of American troops who can't be easily diverted from a chaotic mission and are geographically vulnerable to Iranian counter-attack.


The bed-wetters aren't people who criticize the Iranian government. The bed-wetters are the hysterics who seem to think that the basic acts of diplomacy are a clear and present danger to the United States. Meanwhile, despite Just's best efforts to portray the recent outburst of Ahmedenijad-related hysteria as driven by human rights concerns, the freak-out movement wasn't driven by human rights groups, it was driven by the warmongering elements of the press -- The New York Sun and The New York Post plus the magazines and radio and television shows. The Human Rights Watch Iran Page dominated by actual human rights issues in Iran, not by random screechings about Ahmadenijad's sightseeing schedule.


The profoundly depressing fact is how little has changed in the Village over the past several years. I'm not simply referring to rather disappointing results of Democratic control of Congress, though that too is of course an issue, but rather the sentiments and conventional wisdom of the political media industrial complex. It shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose, that this static mob would be slow to change and slower still to acknowledge any failures of their own.


The only explanation is that S-CHIP serves as a Trojan horse for nationalized health insurance. It's a particularly cynical method of forcing out private insurers by pushing government-controlled coverage onto children. It deserves a presidential veto, despite the inevitable demonization it will produce.

The Republicans have an alternative that uses tax incentives to level the playing field between those who get tax-sheltered employer-based insurance and those who have to pay for it directly. That approach may not be perfect, but it keeps entitlements from expanding when they should be contracting, and it provides assistance to the middle class without making the poor pay for it. That has to make more sense than this S-CHIP expansion.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Nuclear Power: Ready For Its Second Act

-- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Something happened this week in the American power industry that has not occurred in at least 30 years: Applications were filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build new nuclear reactors.

The last application was made in 1977, two years before the infamous partial meltdown at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (One report says it was 1973.)

Nuclear power went into eclipse in the U.S. not because it was an unsafe technology, although it did have its issues, but because the knuckleheads who ran TMI and other nuclear plants made a compelling case that the did not take public safety seriously enough and were not to be trusted.

The myriad safety problems hidden by the nuclear power industry came crashing home in admittedly exaggerated form in 1979 in The China Syndrome. The hit movie, revelations that TMI's owners had done a fair share of covering up and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 further cemented public mistrust, and that more than any other reason is why no nuke plants have been built in the U.S. since forever.
But now a new generation of nuclear plants will be coming on line. This primarily is because new designs make them inherently safer and the 2005 Energy Policy Act considerably streamlines the licensing and regulatory processes and provides substantial tax credits to utility companies.

Ironically, there is a second reason as well:

Global warming.
This bring us to the Supreme Court's smackdown of the Environmental Protection Agency back in April.

A divided court, ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, found that the EPA could not claim that it lacked the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

In a further irony, nuclear power -- which in theory creates no pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions -- is the biggest beneficiary of the ruling because wind power, solar power and other renewable technologies favored by Greens remain too limited technologically and economically to make much of an impact in an American energy economy addicted to fossil fuels.

The applications filed this week with the NRC are for two huge 1,350-megawatt advanced boiling water reactors that would join two existing NRG Energy reactors at the South Texas nuclear power plant in Bay City, Texas, near Houston. The price tag: $6 - $7 billion.

France and Japan have leaped ahead of the once dominant U.S. in nuclear technology in the last quarter century and the reactor vessel heads for the Texas reactors will be manufactured by Japan Steel Works, the only forge in the world now capable of casting the huge structures.
One lingering question is whether anti-nuclear organizations like Greenpeace, Public Citizen and the Natural Resources Defense Council will be able to mount a last-ditch campaign against the revival.

William Tucker writes in The American Spectator that:

"While continuing to play brazenly on public fears (NRDC's latest position paper has the word "Radioactive" emblazoned across the top), environmental groups have also become more circumspect in their arguments. Rather than conjuring up 'silent bombs' and nuclear holocausts, they now make the following arguments:

"Nuclear is too expensive. Investors will never go for it.

"The money would be much better invested in conservation and solar energy.

"Nuclear power is not carbon-free. The mining, processing and transportation of uranium consume vast amounts of energy supplied by fossil fuels."

The NRC says it expects U.S. companies to file applications for about 30 new combined construction and operating licenses in coming months.

I was downwind from Three Mile Island and was not a happy camper. But times have changed and I'm looking forward to nuclear power's belated second act.

More here.

White House & Pentagon: Light Years Apart

As I noted earlier this month, George Bush has broken the United States Army because of his reckless and never ending adventure in Iraq, and it's not going to be fixed anytime soon.

General George C. Casey confirmed that this week in an extraordinary appearance before Congress. It was extraordinary because the new Army chief of staff wasn't called up to Capitol Hill because of political grandstanding but because he requested a public hearing.

Casey, in his first appearance as CoC, told the House Armed Services Committee that the Army is:
"Out of balance . . . The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies."
It was Casey, of course, who was relieved of his position as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq because of his tepid support for the then-proposed surge strategy now being carried out by his successor, General David Petraeus, and proving so successful that only 56 people were killed and 103 wounded in car bomb attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday.

In their appearance before lawmakers, Casey and Army Secretary Peter Geren essentially drove a stake through the heart of the president's contention in his prime-time speech on September 13 that a possible drawdown of some 30,000 soldiers -- or roughly five combat brigades -- by next summer would be a result of all of the progress being made in Iraq.

What Bush didn’t say was that a drawdown of that magnitude would merely return in-country troop levels to what they were before the surge and that there is no alternative to such a drawdown.

This is because the 15-month tours of duty for these brigades will begin to expire next April, there are no units to replace them, and Geren and Casey and other service chiefs refuse to extend duty tours any further.

While the Casey-Geren appearance was not exactly subordination, it was a revealing indication that the White House and Pentagon may still be only a few miles apart physically, but they're light years apart in realistically assessing the state of the military and what the Forever War has done to it.

More here.

Photograph by Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Cartoon du Jour on the War

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Update: Remembering Omar & Yance

Having blown right past their initial $2,000 goal, organizers of a memorial fund in memory of Sergeants Omar Mora and Yance T. Gray have now set their sights on raising $10,000.

Kiko's House is one of at least 15 blogs supporting the endeavor, which was started by five blogs from across the political spectrum.
Mora and Gray were among the seven GIs stationed in Iraq who wrote a controversial New York Times op-ed piece questioning the war. They died on September 10 when a cargo truck overturned in western Baghdad just as General David Petraeus was about to report to Congress on progress of the surge.

A third author, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, was shot in the head while the article was being written and is being treated for severe brain trauma at a military hospital in the U.S.
The op-ed was titled The War As We Saw It and expressed skepticism about U.S. gains in Iraq because, the men wrote, Americans long ago wore out their welcome and any possibility that they can win through counterinsurgency warfare is far-fetched.

Party of Lincoln, Lincoln, Bo, Bincoln . . .

. . . Banana, Fanna, Foe, Fincoln. Feem Fie, Moe, Minlcon.
More here, Dear.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

DISTANCE II (Concord, Massachusetts)
By Koichiro Kurita

Baseball Playoffs & Spitting Out the Bit

I'm going to be fricking unsufferable over the next three days because my Philadelphia Phillies -- tied for first place in the National League East -- are thisclose to winning the division crown or NL Wild Card.
I would prefer the former but would take the latter.
That's what happens when you're a long suffering fan of the team that has lost the most games in Major League Baseball history and secretly fear that the Phillies will find another way to blow it between tonight and Sunday.
I reprised the Phil's legendary 1964 pennant drive collapse the other day, but according to baseball wonk Nate Silver, the all-time greatest collapse belongs to the 1995 California Angels.

He puts the '64 Phils are well down the list at number 10.
More here.

Meanwhile, there are more bizarre end-of-season permutations looming on the horizon than ever, including what would happen if the Phils, New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres all end with identical records.

More here on that.

Disorders From Around Yon Blogosphere

A controversial ad campaign featuring a 68-pound anorexic woman has been launched in Italy to coincide with Milan Fashion Week.

The ads, which are aimed at raising awareness about eating disorders, feature Isabelle Caro, a 27-year-old French woman.

Caro, who has battled the disease for 15 years, shows her exposed breasts and frail, naked body. Another image shows Caro's buttocks and the outline of her protruding rib cage.

The images, which have been placed in newspapers and on billboards, are being used to advertise Flash & Partners' clothing brand Nolita.

The issue was brought to the forefront after the starvation-related deaths of South American models Ana Carolina Reston, 21, and sisters Louisel and Eliana Ramos.

Last year, super-skinny models were banned from Madrid Fashion Week. The ban covers girls with a body mass index of below 18 -- 18.5 to 25 is considered to be "normal."

In Milan, models must now carry medical certificates to prove they are healthy.

-- CTV

The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique has told the BBC he believes some European-made condoms are infected with the HIV virus deliberately.

Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retroviral drugs were also infected "in order to finish quickly the African people".

. . . "Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose," he alleged, refusing to name the countries.

"They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century's time."

-- BBC

A fascinating thing happens when you're male and you hit your 30s and you're still single.

It's almost like God says "I know you have to deal with man boobs, hairs growing out of your nose and young punks wearing their sister's cardigan pushing in at bar - I'll throw you a bone."

So, instead of being the hunter in the dating game, you become the hunted; females your age transform from creatures to be pursued, wooed and cajoled into the bedroom to stalking, winking, white-wine drinking wild-women who are up for anything with an eligible bloke.

Mother nature is particularly unfair to her daughters and it's about age 32 that many women realise life's grand game of musical chairs is cruelly weighted towards guys and there's not many seats left to sit on.

It is at this moment that 'The Flip' occurs and the balance of power in the dating world shifts irrevocably in the man's favour.

There appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women.

Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. . . . In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.

. . . Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.


[Sophie] Currier already has received special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, including permission to take the test over two days instead of one. The [National Board of Medical Examiners] also offered her a separate testing room where she can express milk during the test or during break time, and the option to leave the test center to breast-feed during break times.


Men could reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer through regular masturbation, researchers suggest.

They say cancer-causing chemicals could build up in the prostate if men do not ejaculate regularly.

And they say sexual intercourse may not have the same protective effect because of the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, which could increase men's cancer risk.

-- BBC

Thursday, September 27, 2007

$934,892,570 and Counting

That's the amount that you and I have spent since 2004 to create a public-relations disaster in Iraq that threatens to eclipse the Abu Ghraib scandal.
That disaster is run-amok Blackwater USA contractors, some of whom happen to be outright mercenaries, who have transformed duties guarding diplomats and senior U.S. civilians, escorting convoys, protecting military bases and conducting security overflights into a series of bloody embarrassments that have further exacerbated tensions between occupiers and occupied at a time when the White House claims that real progress is being made in the Forever War.
The State Department, which spent the lion's share of that nearly $1 billion, and the Pentagon had turned a blind eye and deaf earto incidents involving Blackwater until bodyguards accompanying a speeding State Department convoy in Baghdad on September 16 iced at least 11 Iraqis (see photo of aftermath) in an apparently unprovoked attack.

Now that State has been forced to acknowledge the . . . er, problems, it is going through the motions of investigating Blackwater on the one hand while trying to keep Congress from investigating Blackwater on the other, a familiar tactic of the secrecy obsessed Bush administration.

With Blackwater founder Erik Prince, a right-wing Born Again Christian with close ties to the White House and Pentagon scheduled to testify before Representative Henry Waxman's House Government Affairs Subcommittee next week, State has informed the California Democrat that no one from Blackwater will be permitted to talk without White House approval. That, of course, is shorthand for "drop dead."
Waxman calls the move "extraordinary" and "unusual." I call it business as usual.
As for State officials themselves, Condi Rice is not even allowing them to testifying unless it's behind closed doors. Ditto on business as usual.

Blackwater's lucrative contracts and convenient immunity from Iraqi and U.S. laws are a consequence of the administration's radical vision of outsourcing all kinds government work, up to and including waging war. Much of what Blackwater does was once the domain of Military Police units. (Think about all those M*A*S*H episodes when Hawkeye and Trapper were pounced on by MPs.)

After considerable chest thumping, the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has backed away from calls for Blackwater to exit Iraq post haste. The reason is (choose one): U.S. forces would have to be drawn from important surge-related duties or Iraqi security forces would have to cover and they're not prepared to do so.

The Washington Post quotes one of those ubiquitous unnamed officials who populate so many stories about the war these days as saying there is considerable acrimony between State and the Pentagon over the unfolding scandal. He adds:
"This is a nightmare. We had guys who saw the aftermath (of the September 16 incident) and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we're trying to have an impact for the long term. . . .
"This is a big mess that I don't think anyone has their hands around yet. It's not necessarily a bad thing these guys are being held accountable. Iraqis hate them, the troops don't particularly care for them, and they tend to have a know-it-all attitude, which means they rarely listen to anyone -- even the folks that patrol the ground on a daily basis."
The mess got a little bigger today when The New York Times reported that Blackwater has a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later, which is not all that surprising when your job is to protect diplomats and not being school crossing guards.

But, the Times said, Blackwater's associates (most are independent contractors, not employees) have been involved in twice as many violent incidents
than DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, the two other U.S.-based security firms that have been contracted by State.

The Times quoted another unnamed official as saying:
"You can find any number of people, particularly in uniform, who will tell you that they do see Blackwater as a company that promotes a much more aggressive response to things than other main contractors do."
By the way, the Pentagon and Iraqi governments also are investigating Blackwater, but like the Abu Ghraib probes, don't expect them to amount to a hill of beans. Like the U.S. itself, Blackwater is above the law and in its messianic zeal answerable to no one, apparently not even The Big Guy.

Photo: Ali Yussef/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Cartoon du Jour on the War

Ben Sargent/Universal Press Syndicate

Anthony K. Bento: An Untamed Spirit

Did you know Tony Bento? Probably not unless you went to Clairemont High School in San Diego or knew him from the old neighborhood.

At age 23, Army Corporal Anthony K. Bento was a seasoned and respected combat veteran who had accepted more responsibility early in life than most people accept much later -- if ever.

Bento was supposed to be reunited two months ago with his wife, Colleen, infant son Anthony and parents, Anthony and Penny Bento.

But his combat tour was extended by 90 days – a sadly regular occurrence as the Iraq war slouches into its fifth year -- and his stateside rotation date had been pushed back to late October.
Then on Monday the man whom Colleen Bento described as having "an untamed spirit that not even the Army or war could break" and his commanding officer called a selfless warrior who always made sure that his gunner's backside was covered, was killed by small-arms fire from insurgents in the north-central Iraqi city of Beiji.

Some 3,801 Americans have now died in Iraq.

Four days before his death, Colleen Bento wrote her beloved husband:

"I got your text messages this morning and you are soooo sweet! I love you so, so, so, so much! Only a few weeks left until I get to see you and give you kisses and move into our house and buy furniture. I'm so excited I can't stand it! Stay Safe."
More here.

Nancy Pelosi Is an Idiot

Politicians are guilty until proven innocent.
-- ME
Given this adage, which has held me in good stead since forever, I can't recall a politician with whom I've felt completely comfortable. Joe Biden, the Democratic senator from Delaware, comes closest, but that's because we went to the same school together. Then there is Nancy Pelosi, with whom I would seem to share many left-of-center values if not her retro Nancy Reagan fashion sense.

But Pelosi (insert Sexist Reference Alert here) always seemed to me to be a condescending bobble-brained harpie, something that she has more than confirmed since becoming House majority leader in January.
So idiotic is Pelosi that I tend to ignore what she has to say. But when she alit in The Situation Room the other day to tell CNN's Wolf Blitzer that she deserves credit for "changing the debate" on the Iraq war and she and her Democratic colleagues were holding President Bush accountable, I was so dumbfounded that I had to confirm the references.

Why dumbfounded? Because of the reality that on Pelosi's watch 30,000 additional troops have been sent to Iraq and she and her fellow Democrats have pretty much given the president a blank check to dump the whole mess on his successor.
To make matters worse, Pelosi whined about how misunderstood and unappreciated she is.
Make that idiotic and delusional.
Click here for more and here for a video.

'Stunning' Is Not the World For It

More here.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Elementary chaos theory predicts that robots will inevitably rise against their masters. So why this?

Here's the UXV Combatant, a new class of warship being developed by BAE Systems to fight in the drone wars. BAE believes that the future battlefield will be full of intelligent robots fighting against each other, probably until they realize they can join together to eliminate all humans from Earth. The ship looks and specs, expected to enter service past 2020, look terrifying.


[Laura Bush] said she was moved by a tiny picture she saw of Aung San Suu Kyi - the Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace prize laureate - who came to the gate of her home, where she is under house arrest to greet monks who were allowed to pass by there earlier this week. Mrs. Bush spoke of Aung San Suu Kyi's long years under house arrest, noting her husband died in Britain, while she was confined to her home in Rangoon. . . .

"There is hope - absolutely, there is hope for Burma," Mrs. Bush said. "And, I think that is one of the feelings we all get as we look at these images - this very cautious hope that, this time, the people have turned a page." Mrs. Bush said the Burmese have told the world they can no longer tolerate oppression, and the nation must move on.


Can a Republican win the '08 presidential nomination by assailing his own party?

Mitt Romney apparently seems willing to take that gamble. And it would appear to be a risky tactic.

Despite the fact that the Republican "brand" is at low ebb nationally, and despite the fact that the lame-duck Republican president has been written off as an irredeemable failure by roughly 70 percent of the American public, GOP loyalists would prefer not to dwell on their past errors, or question their leader's wisdom; rather, they'd prefer that their '08 candidates simply serve up heapings of red meat about defeat-o-crat Democrats and the perceived evils of Hillary.

But Romney, perhaps with an eye on the Bush-weary independent voters who will ultimately swing the general elections, is now taking a different route. In a new national TV ad, in a weekend speech, and in a widely-circulated "open letter" to fellow Republicans, he has decided (at least for now) to position himself as the "outsider" and "reformer" who will clean up the failed Washington Republican establishment. And the riskiest aspect of this move is his subliminal skewering of the Decider himself.


It would be hard to find a more worthless administration tool than Diane Feinstein. From gutting FISA to funding the war without restrictions, this so-called Democrat cries "how high?" anytime Bu$hCo says jump. She voted to extend the Patriot Act without the critical safeguards that real Democrats wanted. She voted for what amounts to a declaration of war on Iran. She was instrumental in sending a corporate shill to the Senate floor for a US 5th Circuit confirmation vote. She condemns the free speech rights of and our troops to endless combat without relief.

Even a Republican apparatchik, appointed by the governator, would be better than a woman who at every turn demonstrates contempt for her constituents. At least then there would be no expectation of true representation.

So . . . Senator Feinstein . . . could you please just retire. You're an embarrassment -- a liability for your state and your party.


It was beef and almonds. The whole time we were fussing about the Chinese government’s failure to impose strict standards on production of toys and Mattel was recalling toys because of lead paint and other manufacturing deficiencies, (some of which Mattel now acknowledges were design flaws) the Commission of the European Communities was quietly taking action against the United States because of almonds, and the South Koreans were banning some U.S. cows.

Although the almonds were, like some of the parts of the recalled toys, small enough to be swallowed by infants with the result that they might choke, they were not recalled because of their size. Nor were they coated with lead paint like the toys produced in China. Indeed, the almonds have not been recalled. They are still being sold in grocery stores all over the United States and will continue to be sold in those places for the foreseeable future.

The trouble with almonds, as far as the Commission is concerned is the aflatoxin levels in their production and processing and the fact that there are inadequate controls in the United States to insure that the almonds that reach Europe meet Community standards. It was a bit of an embarrassment but then, much of what we do is. Not properly processing almonds is a much smaller problem than many of the others confronting the administration.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It Takes Lotsa Chefs to Cook These Books

Shocking at it may seem, the civilian casualty figures that General David Petraeus used in his Iraq war progress report dog-and-pony show earlier this month differ from the generally higher numbers less partisan body counters use. But what's really interesting in a grotesque sort of way is that the general's numbers also differ significantly from the Pentagon's official numbers, which are higher in some cases and lower in others.

Now before we impugn this whole crowd for having nefarious motives, of which there no doubt are some, let's note that compiling wartime statistics always is tough and is all the more so in Iraq because of the prevalence of sectarian killings. Which begs the question: Just what is a sectarian killing?

The answer, it would seem, is elastic.

Writing in the WaPo, Karen DeYoung offers this sobering example:
"On Sept. 1, the bullet-riddled bodies of four Iraqi men were found on a Baghdad street. Two days later, a single dead man, with one bullet in his head, was found on a different street. According to the U.S. military in Iraq, the solitary man was a victim of sectarian violence. The first four were not.

"Such determinations are the building blocks for what the Bush administration has declared a downward trend in sectarian deaths and a sign that its war strategy is working. They are made by a specialized team of soldiers who spend their nights at computer terminals, sifting through data on the day’s civilian victims for clues to the motivations of killers."

Then there is the range of available statistics.

To cite but one example, Petraeus cherrypicked civilian deaths only for his presentations, while Dan Macomber, a chief warrant officer who is in charge of the Multi-National Force's sectarianism database, counts both civilians killed and wounded, which surely provides a more comprehensive picture.

But this, according to DeYoung, is where it gets interesting:
"In recent months, most of the military's indicators have pointed in a favorable direction. As with all statistics, however, their meaning depends on how they are gathered and analyzed. 'Everybody has their own way of doing it,' Macomber said of his sectarian analyses. 'If you and I . . . pulled from the same database, and I pulled one day and you pulled the next, we would have totally different numbers.'

"Apparent contradictions are relatively easy to find in the flood of bar charts and trend lines the military produces. Civilian casualty numbers in the Pentagon's latest quarterly report on Iraq last week, for example, differ significantly from those presented by . . . Petraeus, [whose] numbers were higher than the Pentagon's for the months preceding this year's increase of U.S. troops to Iraq, and lower since U.S. operations escalated this summer."

Ilan Goldenberg is less circumspect, asserting at Democracy Arsenal that a major difference between Petraeus' numbers and the Pentagon numbers is that the general has taken what he asserts is the best available U.S. casualty data and blended it with Iraqi data that is notoriously unreliable.

DeYoung does not say that the numbers are being cooked, but does note that:

"The U.S. intelligence community considers more than numbers in making its war assessments. 'What the Iraqis perceive' about their country and their daily lives 'may be more important than what the numbers are,' said a senior intelligence official . . . Even so, he said, intelligence officials found contradictions in the available statistics as they wrote last month's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, whose conclusions were somewhat less optimistic than the military's. . . .

"While both Petraeus and the recent Pentagon report emphasized improved statistics over the past three months, the intelligence community generally declines to declare trends based on data measured in periods shorter than six months to a year. Several senior intelligence officials said last week that most numerical indicators appear to be moving in a uniformly positive direction in the nearly two months since the intelligence estimate's data cutoff -- although they said it is too early to determine definitive trends."

Alas, it will be something of a miracle if the men and women under Petraeus's command can keep that "uniformly positive direction."

An inept and corrupt Baghdad government that has failed to meet every benchmark of consequence set by the White House got a go-free card from President Bush in his prime-time speech following the appearances by Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on Capitol Hill.

The president's open-ended extension of the surge sends a clear message to the Al-Maliki regime that the pressure to work toward national reconciliation -- which is necessary if modest military gains are to be sustained -- is off because its American helpmates, who are busily arming both sides in the civil war, won't not be leaving anytime soon.

Then there is the feckless Al-Maliki himself, who actually had the temerity to claim earlier this week that his government had prevented a civil war that in point of fact has been raging for a year and a half.

I guess Shiites and Sunnis will just have to reconcile on their own. If they aren't killed trying as were representives of both sects in a bombing in Baquba yesterday.

Photograph by Reuters

Remembering Omar Mora & Yance Gray

In a terrific instance of comity across the political spectrum, five blogs have joined together to set up up a memorial fund in the names of Sergeants Omar Mora and Yance T. Gray.
The men were among the seven GIs in Iraq who wrote a controversial New York Times op-ed piece questioning the war. They died on September 10 when a cargo truck overturned in western Baghdad just as General David Petraeus was about to report to Congress on progress of the surge.

A third author, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, was shot in the head while the article was being written and is being treated for severe brain trauma at a military hospital in the U.S.
The op-ed was titled The War As We Saw It and expressed skepticism about U.S. gains in Iraq because, the men wrote, Americans long ago wore out their welcome and any possibility that they can win through counterinsurgency warfare is far-fetched.

Mora, a resident of Texas City, Texas, was a native of Ecuador and had just become a U.S. citizen. Gray lived in Ismay, Montana.

Kyle Moore explains the memorial fund and motivation for it in a post at Comments From Left Field. The other participating blogs are The Newshoggers, a Kiko's House fave, and The Agonist, Bastard Logic and Conservative Thinking.

Cartoon du Jour on the War

Ben Sargent/Universal Press Syndicate

RIP Razz

Razz, a goregous black labrador, had a resume that many people would envy.

He was a veteran of the 2002 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the 2006 Commonwealth Games, both in Australia, among other major events.
The former customs dog then went on to greater things as an explosive-detection dog with Australian troops in Afghanistan.
When a vehicle with three diggers in it was hit by a roadside bomb in Oruzgan Province last week, Razz was sent in.
Razz and his handler encountered a second bomb. He was killed and his handler suffered minor injuries.

He was the second Aussie explosive-detection dog killed in Afghanistan this month.
More here.

Who's Sicker? Dubya or America's Kids?

I have a hard time believing much of what President Bush says because so much of it is misleading or downright false, but his claim that the House of Representatives is playing politics by passing a $35 billion expansion of a popular children’s health-insurance program may be a new low in the annals of compassionate conservatism.

The vote last night was 265 to 159 with 45 politics-playing Republicans joining Democrats by a broad but not veto-proof margin. (That would take 290 votes.) Meanwhile, the Senate takes up the bill later this week and is expected to send it on to the president with a veto-proof majority.

The compromise package would expand the $5 billion-a-year S-CHIP children's health insurance program by an average of $7 billion a year over the next five years for total funding of $60 billion for the period. That would be enough to boost the program's enrollment to 10 million, up from 6.6 million, which would reduce the ranks of America's 9 million uninsured children.

There are a number of ways to put these billions into perspective, but try this one on for size: The money that would be earmarked for kids is a tiny fraction of what is spent in a few weeks in Iraq.

So the president's assertion that expanding the health-insurance program would be too expensive is silly, as is his claim that it would be a form of (gasp!) national health insurance.

At this late date, the president's legacy is in tatters and the only question of substance is whether he will be ajudged the worst president or merely one of the worst. So one more veto of legislation that a majority of Americans favor really won't matter. Unless you happen to be a child without health insurance.

More here on the bill.