Archive for March, 2009

Bye Bye Jack

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

My enmity toward Jack Murtha (D-Bag, Pennsylvania) is no secret to anyone reading Thought Docket. So I especially enjoyed Research Center’s Role Faces Scrutiny in today’s Washington Post.

A Pennsylvania defense research center regularly consulted with two “handlers” close to Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) as it collected nearly $250 million in federal funding through the lawmaker, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and sources familiar with the funding requests. The center then channeled a significant portion of the funding to companies that were among Murtha’s campaign supporters.

The two advisers included a lobbyist for PMA Group, a firm with close ties to Murtha that is the subject of a federal investigation into whether it made illegal contributions by reimbursing donors to the Pennsylvania lawmaker and other members of Congress. The Electro-Optics Center also relied on advice from a longtime Murtha friend who now works on the congressman’s appropriations staff.

Federal agents are also exploring how the center obtained its funds after they received dozens of internal documents last year. It is unclear whether the records have become a central focus of the Justice Department’s probe, but they open a window into a largely hidden process in which powerful lawmakers can direct funds to pet projects.

The PMA Group appears throughout the news these days. In the Hawai’i Free Press of February 26, Business as Usual: Neil Abercrombie Votes to Kill Motion to Investigate Pay-to-Play Earmark Schemes tells of the effort of democrats to kill investigations into pay-to-play schemes involving PMA.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) today continued to back-track on his empty promises to clean up corruption in Congress when he voted to kill a resolution introduced by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that would “investigate the relationship between earmark requests already made by Members and the source and timing of past contributions.”

The resolution came after a series of reports in the media indicated there was a vast network of corrupt Democratic lawmakers engaging in pay-to-play schemes on behalf of the PMA Group. As indicated in the resolution, the Washington Post reported on February 14, 2009 that they “examined contributions that were reported as being made by [the firm’s] employees and consultants, and found several people who were not registered lobbyists and did not work at the lobbying firm.” (Washington Post, 02/14/2009)

Yet Neil Abercrombie voted to block the ethics investigation despite Speaker Pelosi’s pledge that Democrats would “drain the swamp” from Washington’s culture of corruption:

“That’s why we need a new direction here. That’s why we must sever the link between lobbyists and legislation so that we’re here for the people’s interest, not the special interests.” (Press Conference, September 29, 2006)

I never really understood the doom and gloom that hung over the Republican party after their defeat in November. The Democrats are so high on power right now, there’s now way they could pass a drug test. But there’s no reason to believe that Reagan democrats and independents – and maybe even more – won’t tire of Reid, Pelosi, Murtha, Abercrombie, Frank, and Dodd, and fast. In fact, it is already starting to happen. Today on Rassmussen Reports, Generic Congressional Ballot says

Support for the Democratic Congressional candidates fell to a new low over the past week, allowing the GOP to move slightly head for the first time in recent years in the Generic Congressional Ballot.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 41% said they would vote for their district’s Republican candidate while 39% would choose the Democrat.

Investors now favor Republicans by a 46% to 36% margin, while non-investors would vote Democratic by a 45% to 33% margin.

Democrats began the year holding a six or seven point lead over the GOP for the first several weeks of 2009. Over the past month, the gap has been smaller, with Democrats holding a two-to-four point lead. It remains to be seen whether the current results reflect lasting change or statistical noise.

Stay tuned.

By the way. If you would like to help redeploy Jack Murtha, please pay a visit here.

Terrorists To The Bone

Monday, March 16th, 2009

In last Wednesday’s Washington PostMilitary Judge’s Release of Pleading by 9/11 Defendants Draws Criticism tells of reaction to a military judge’s decision to release statements by Guantanamo detainees.

The decision by a military judge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to order the release yesterday of a pleading by defendants accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was criticized by defense counsel and civil liberties groups, who said the judge was defying President Obama’s executive order to halt all military commissions.

Defense Department officials defended the judge’s order to release the six-page filing from Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants, saying that it was in compliance with Obama’s order.

Shortly after taking office, Obama wrote that “all proceedings of military commissions to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered . . . are halted” pending a government review of the cases of all detainees.

Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “The military judge’s order authorizing release of the 9/11 co-conspirator filing does not constitute a ‘proceeding.’  …

But Michael Berrigan, deputy chief defense counsel in the Office of Military Commissions, said the Pentagon’s understanding of “proceeding” is flawed.”Look up the definition of ‘proceeding’ in Black’s Law,” he said, referring to the standard legal dictionary. “Hopefully, Obama’s people will see what’s going on.”

Sounds like a cat fight, to me. Since I am no lawyer, I have no way of telling what is a proceeding and what is not.

But the really important take away from this episode is not whether the judge was out of line, or whether it was a proceeding, or what Obama ordered. What I care about is what was stated by the detainees.

  1. [The detainees] called the charges against them “badges of honor, which we carry with pride.”
  2. “Your intelligence apparatus, with all its abilities, human and logistical, had failed to discover our military attack plans before the blessed 11 September operation”.
  3. “We are terrorists to the bone.”

Thank you very much. There was some serious doubt creeping into my mind. No wonder Obama is having a little difficulty in deciding what to do with these dregs, and no wonder foreign countries aren’t lining up to receive them.

Crackpot Or A Loss To The Country?

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Last Thursday’s Washington Post carried Intelligence Pick Blames ‘Israel Lobby’ For Withdrawal. The article tells of Charles W. Freeman, Jr.’s withdrawal for the post of chair of the National Intelligence Council. The chair is responsible for preparing reports that consolidate the views of the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies. According to the article

[Freeman] decried in an e-mail “the barrage of libelous distortions of my record [that] would not cease upon my entry into office,” and he was blunt about whom he considers responsible.

“The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East,” Freeman wrote.

Referring to what he called “the Israel Lobby,” he added: “The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views.” One result of this, he said, is “the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics.”

Ahh, the conspiracies are running deep. If in doubt, blame the Israel lobby. There has been a lot of on-line chatter over the choice of Freeman by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair. Most cannot see how Blair could have possibly chosen Freeman. The main reason for this incredulity is that Freeman is on the Saudi payroll and has commercial connections to China.

But most of the online attention focused on Freeman’s work for the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that is funded in part by Saudi money, and his past critical statements about Israel. The latter included a 2005 speech he gave to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, where he referred to Israel’s “high-handed and self-defeating policies” stemming from the “occupation and settlement of Arab lands,” which he called “inherently violent.”

Is it too much to ask that the person we entrust to consolidate national intelligence is not a shill for the Middle East, which is a source for many of our threats and, presumably, the source of much of the intelligence developed by those 16 agencies?

On the same day, in the same Washington Post, there was the editorial Blame the ‘Lobby’. The Washington Post, not exactly a bastion of conservative thought, felt compelled to weigh in.

FORMER ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. looked like a poor choice to chair the Obama administration’s National Intelligence Council. A former envoy to Saudi Arabia and China, he suffered from an extreme case of clientitis on both accounts. In addition to chiding Beijing for not crushing the Tiananmen Square democracy protests sooner and offering sycophantic paeans to Saudi King “Abdullah the Great,” Mr. Freeman headed a Saudi-funded Middle East advocacy group in Washington and served on the advisory board of a state-owned Chinese oil company. It was only reasonable to ask — as numerous members of Congress had begun to do — whether such an actor was the right person to oversee the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates.

It wasn’t until Mr. Freeman withdrew from consideration for the job, however, that it became clear just how bad a selection Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair had made. Mr. Freeman issued a two-page screed on Tuesday in which he described himself as the victim of a shadowy and sinister “Lobby” whose “tactics plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and which is “intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.” Yes, Mr. Freeman was referring to Americans who support Israel — and his statement was a grotesque libel.

For the record, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee says that it took no formal position on Mr. Freeman’s appointment and undertook no lobbying against him. If there was a campaign, its leaders didn’t bother to contact the Post editorial board. According to a report by Newsweek, Mr. Freeman’s most formidable critic — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — was incensed by his position on dissent in China.

But let’s consider the ambassador’s broader charge: He describes “an inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for U.S. policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics.” That will certainly be news to Israel’s “ruling faction,” which in the past few years alone has seen the U.S. government promote a Palestinian election that it opposed; refuse it weapons it might have used for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities; and adopt a policy of direct negotiations with a regime that denies the Holocaust and that promises to wipe Israel off the map. Two Israeli governments have been forced from office since the early 1990s after open clashes with Washington over matters such as settlement construction in the occupied territories.

What’s striking about the charges by Mr. Freeman and like-minded conspiracy theorists is their blatant disregard for such established facts. Mr. Freeman darkly claims that “it is not permitted for anyone in the United States” to describe Israel’s nefarious influence. But several of his allies have made themselves famous (and advanced their careers) by making such charges — and no doubt Mr. Freeman himself will now win plenty of admiring attention. Crackpot tirades such as his have always had an eager audience here and around the world. The real question is why an administration that says it aims to depoliticize U.S. intelligence estimates would have chosen such a man to oversee them. [emphasis added]

Again, this the Post editorial board speaking here. Not some right-wing or pro-Israel blog. But there are some milling around the Washington Post that see it a little differently from the editorial board.  In The Country’s Loss, op-ed columnist David S. Broder is downright depressed at the thought of a great American such as Freeman being denied the post.

The Obama administration has just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lobbyists the president vowed to keep in their place, and their friends on Capitol Hill. The country has lost an able public servant in an area where President Obama has few personal credentials of his own — the handling of national intelligence.

And later

I know it was a sudden decision because I had breakfast with him that morning. He said then that he thought he could ride out the storm caused by his outspoken comments on policy toward China and the Middle East — and the enmity that he had incurred from lobbies supporting Israel and human rights in Tibet.

And later still

As retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence who appointed Freeman, told me the night before Freeman’s withdrawal, “We are so fortunate, with the challenges we face in Asia and the Middle East, that he could be persuaded to come back to government.”

None of that mattered much to the lawmakers — mostly Republicans but also some key Democrats — who joined the lobbyists in running him off. They flooded blogs and fed reporters Freeman quotes — many of them pretty startling. He once referred to a clash between Tibetan demonstrators and Chinese guards as a “race riot” and talked about Israeli efforts “to smother Palestinian democracy in its cradle.”

Startling? Why, yes. And words should matter, even if we are only talking about national security. But why no mention of being on the Saudi payroll? I think that David Broder might just have a little case of man love for Freeman.

Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman

Folks, It Was Only 8 Years!

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

I was amused by Bush May Have Set Back ‘Clean Coal’ Efforts by 10 Years, Report Says in today’s Washington Post.

The Bush administration’s decision to halt production of an experimental power plant that would capture and store carbon dioxide emissions underground may have set back “clean coal” technology in the United States by as much as a decade, according to a congressional report released at a hearing yesterday.

Also, cost estimates used as justification for killing the commercial-scale project known as FutureGen were grossly exaggerated because Energy Department officials did not account for inflation, according to a Government Accountability Office report, also released yesterday.

The two reports, commissioned by the House Committee on Science and Technology, represent the latest efforts by the Illinois congressional delegation to revive the plant, which would be built in the small Illinois town of Mattoon. President Obama took part in the delegation’s efforts when he was in the Senate.

Now I know that may liberals feel as though the country has emerged from interminable darkness, but, folks, it was 8 years. So I am having difficulty in understanding how Bush’s decisions could possibly set back “clean coal” by 10. The article explains that Bush killed the project just a year and a half ago

The Bush administration killed plans to build the plant in December 2007, just hours after Mattoon was chosen over two sites in Texas, triggering allegations that the move was political.

So, if the plans were on track in December 2007, how can we be 10 years behind today, when the project was killed less than a year and a half ago? Oh, this was a Congressional report. That explains it.

And how gauche was it of Bush to be, gulp, political? I mean, politics couldn’t possibly have come into play with, say, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decades long effort to scuttle funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository (in Nevada)?

The article accuses the Bush administration of failing to properly factor inflation when comparing initial cost estimates with more recent cost estimates

The GAO report disputed the Bush administration’s contention that the costs had nearly doubled, from $1 billion to $1.8 billion, saying the figure would be $1.3 billion if adjusted for inflation.

Presumably, this was the excuse given in 2007 when the plans were killed. However, now the financial landscape has changed a little

The ultimate cost of the plant continues to be a matter of debate. Energy Secretary Steven Chu reasserted his desire yesterday to build the plant but cautioned that price estimates now range as high as $2.3 billion and that he would like to bring down the cost. He plans to meet soon with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, private companies involved with the project, to determine how best to move forward. The alliance hopes to compete for $1 billion set aside in the economic stimulus package for “fossil energy research and development” projects.

The article ends with

Victor K. Der, acting assistant secretary for the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy, said the technology needs to be tested at a commercial scale. He also said FutureGen is the only project of its kind close to the construction phase, calling it “near shovel-ready.”

So the project has been “killed” since December 2007 and is “near shovel-ready” today? I still don’t see where this technology could have been set back a “decade”. I’m going to chalk this one up to Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Clean Dream

Clean Dream

Keep Swinging Folks!

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

If we really wanted to cut back on some unnecessary expenses, perhaps the best place to start would be the funding that the US gives to the United Nations. Rarely has there been a more effete group of do-nothings. So I was actually pleased when I read U.S. Rebukes U.N. Official for Sharp Words in today’s Washington Post.

The Obama administration scolded the president of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, saying that his frequent public attacks against the United States and Israel are undercutting the standing of the world’s most representative body.

The rebuke comes one day after Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann lashed out at the United States during a visit to Tehran, where he met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials. The leftist Nicaraguan priest and diplomat defended Iran’s nuclear program as peaceful and said the United States has not cooperated with other countries at the United Nations, according to Iranian news reports.

And

Last week, d’Escoto also criticized the U.S. imprisonment of five Cuban agents convicted on espionage charges in 2001, and he urged the United Nations’ Geneva-based Human Rights Council to look into alleged human rights abuses by U.S.-led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, charging that “there are over 1 million civilian deaths in Iraq as a direct result of the U.S.-led aggression and occupation.”

Ah, yes, the old 1 million civilian deaths figure. It never gets old. And it never verges on reality, either. The one million plus deaths fallacy refers to the Opinion Research Business survey, in which about 1720 Iraqi adults were surveyed. On the flip side, there is the Iraq Body Count Project, which used the following sources to develop counts.

  • 8,913 Mortuaries
  • 4,846 Medics
  • 4,376 Iraqi officials
  • 3,794 Eyewitnesses
  • 3,588 Police
  • 2,780 Relatives
  • 2,423 US-Coalition
  • 1,976 Journalists
  • 732 NGOs
  • 596 Friends/Associates
  • 196 Other

The IBC has a more diverse and more authoritative base of data with which to work. The IBC suggests a number of between 83,000 and 91,000 total deaths so far. I’m not celebrating innocent casualties, but 91,000 is much better than 1 million.

So d’Escoto is nothing more than a mouthpiece for human detritus.

Mark Kornblau, a U.S. spokesman, challenged d’Escoto’s claims on the number of dead civilians in Iraq, saying the former Sandinista foreign minister “has his facts wrong and seems like he is lost in some kind of time warp.”

Alejandro Wolff, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat at the United Nations, said D’Escoto “has repeatedly abused his position to pursue his personal agenda, and in doing so he diminishes the office and harms the General Assembly. He is doing the United Nations a disservice by dividing the membership at a time when he should be a unifying force.”

It’s like folks are lining up to take a swing at this Sandanista douche nozzle. Keep swinging folks. When a US diplomat straps on the president of the UN General Assembly, you know that the target is reprehensible.

[d’Escoto] said the United States and its Western allies know that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons.

Sure Miguel.

d'Douche Nozzle

Embryonic Stem Cell Funding

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

The Washington Post article Obama opens up stem cell work, science inquiries tells of President Obama’s reversal of Bush polices regarding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. This was one of Obama’s campaign pledges, so there is no surprise here. But what is disappointing is the lengths to which Obama went, when announcing the order, to jettison ethical judgement.

“Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values,” Obama declared as he signed documents changing U.S. science policy and removing what some researchers have said were shackles on their work.

This reminds me of the false choice between national security and our constitutional rights. I hope Obama doesn’t keep using “false choice”; it’s already getting trite. What Bush did in 2001 was attempt to find a middle ground. He permitted federal funding of embryonic research, but limited this funding to the use of existing cell lines. Of course, this did not prevent private funds from paying for this promising research. In fact, if it was so promising, one would think that private funds would have been flowing in. It seems to me that Bush did what Obama claimed he would do; listen to the two sides and then reach some compromise. When Bush permitted funding of embryonic stem cell research, it was the first time that the federal government had funded any embryonic stem cell research at all.

If science is science and moral values are moral values, and if there is no need to consider the latter when funding the former, then, for example, why would the National Institute of Health have a Department of Clinical Bioethics? Why would the NIH provide a guide to Research Ethics and Stem Cells?

The article continues

“It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” Obama said.

But

Science, politics and religion have long intertwined and conflicted with each other. In his actions Monday, especially with the stem cell decision, Obama is emphasizing more the science than the religion, when compared with his predecessor, science policy experts say. But they acknowledged politics is still involved.  [emphasis added]

Of course politics is still involved. Politics is mostly involved. Let’s stop pretending that Obama is not another politician!

The Mortgage Lenders From Halal

Monday, March 9th, 2009

According to a Case Study: Islamic mortgages interest-based mortgages do not comply with Sharia law.

In the eyes of Islamic scholars, interest is an excess payment from one party to another which is unrelated to the value of the goods traded.

Mortgage interest is therefore unacceptable because one party gains at the other’s expense without any regard to the price paid for the home.

Just what does an Islamic mortgage look like? How is it different from mortgages assumed by the rest of Britons? In simple terms

  • In an interest-based mortgage, the lender provides a sum of money to the home purchaser with which to purchase the home. The home purchaser repays the lender with interest over a period of time, say 30 years.
  • In an Islamic mortgage, the “lender” and “customer” partner together to buy a home with the “lender” paying most of the cost. The “customer” occupies the home and, over a period of time, makes payments to their partner. These payments server two purposes. First, a portion of the payments over time are a buy-out of the “lender’s” share. Second, the payments include rent to the “lender” for use of the property by the “customer”.

According to the BBC article,

Just as with an interest mortgage, the couple move in and begin paying instalments to the lender to slowly buy the home over many years.

But the difference is they also pay a rent to the lender who has effectively become their landlord.

In Islamic terms, the rent is not another name for interest: It is seen as a fair payment for use of the property rather than a charge for borrowing money.

Rent, interest. Fair payment for property, fair payment for money. It all seems like semantics to me. The BBC article indicates that in Britain, at least, the Islamic mortgage is actually more costly for the “customer” than a traditional mortgage would be for the “borrower”. You can’t put a price on halal.

Yes, you can’t put a price on halal, and neither can Minnesota. According to Minn. State Agency Offers Islamic Mortgages Minnesota is offering the New Markets Mortgage Program for Islamic buyers. These mortgages work a little differently from those described above.

The state buys a home and resells it to the buyer at a higher price. The down payment and monthly installments are agreed to up front at current mortgage rates.

The deal is identical to a thirty-year fixed-rate loan, except there’s no additional interest, because the higher up front price factors in payments that would have been made over the life of a traditional mortgage.

I think this passage could have been clearer. If I understand it correctly, the home is purchased by the state and re-sold at a much higher price with something like a 30-year 0% interest mortgage.

This all seems like semantics to me, regardless of the opinions offered by Sharia scholars.

A Search For Redemption

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

In last Friday’s Washington Post, I found Abu Ghraib MP Slain In Bid for Redemption to be a touching and sobering article.

Santos A. Cardona, an Army dog handler involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, was determined to continue fighting in America’s overseas battles to erase the stain of his assault conviction, his family members said.

Those closest to him said his passion for doing what he loved in the service of his country led him to try to return to Iraq in 2006, but the military brought him home after his planned deployment was publicized. Late last year, Cardona, 34, got his chance to rejoin the fight.

He traveled to Afghanistan as a government contractor, using a German shepherd to search for improvised explosive devices and weapons stockpiles. On Saturday, Cardona and his dog, Zomie, were killed when his military convoy hit a roadside bomb, according to Cardona’s employer and his family.

Cardona’s death was a violent end to a quest for redemption. His loved ones said he undertook one last year at war to earn money for his young daughter, show the military that he was good at his job, and dispel the cloud caused by photographs from Abu Ghraib that circled the globe.

Later, the article discusses Cardona’s role in Abu Graib and the subsequent trial

Cardona and his tan Belgian Malinois, Duco, were shown in photographs of detainee abuse that surfaced publicly in 2004. The most notable image showed Duco growling at a cowering, naked detainee.

Cardona argued he was ordered to have Duco intimidate high-value detainees at the behest of senior officers — claims supported by court testimony and military records — and jurors acquitted him of all but one assault charge. Cardona was ecstatic after receiving a verdict that spared him jail time and allowed him to stay in the Army.[emphasis added]

But staying in the Army did not mean the legacy of Abu Ghraib would disappear. After his blocked attempt to return to Iraq in 2006, he worked at the Army’s dog kennels at Fort Bragg, N.C. Demoted as part of his sentence and finding he was unable to sign up for the five more years it would have taken to earn a full military retirement pension, Cardona was honorably discharged on Sept. 29, 2007, according to Army records.

Though Cardona always believed he had done nothing wrong at Abu Ghraib, he carried a silent anger at those who ordered his actions but never were held to account, family members said.

Cardona’s daughter, Keelyn, is nine years old. Keelyn’s mother is Heather Ashby. The article describes Cardona’s early Army life

Easygoing, sometimes goofy, Cardona was dedicated to the life of a soldier. He joined the Army at age 17 in 1993 — needing his father’s signature to do so — and envisioned a military career. He met Ashby, also a military police soldier, while the two were stationed in Germany in the late 1990s, and Keelyn was born in 1999. It was then that Cardona fell in love with dog handling and was sent to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, where he used his dogs on patrols to sniff out bombs and provide security.

He so loved his working dogs that he adopted them after they were retired from service. Duco, now 12 years old, lives with Keelyn and Ashby in Florida.

I’m sure there are those that could never forgive Cardona his role in Abu Ghraib. But taking the article at face value, Cardona was totally committed to the Army and to his dogs. After being blocked by Army brass from continuing to ply his training, Cardona found a way, perhaps the only way, to use his training to serve his country and provide for his family, by searching for roadside bombs that have claimed so many lives.

Santos Cardona

Santos Cardona

The article Shock and Anger in Baghdad Greet the Abu Ghraib News tells of the anger expressed by Iraqis when the US attempted to reassign Cardona to Iraq after his conviction, apparently to train Iraq’s police

For many Iraqis, the punishment meted out to those found guilty of atrocities in the prison was too lenient; and Sgt. Cardona’s return only confirmed suspicions that the U.S. military never took the case seriously. A top Iraqi military commander, trained and appointed to his high position by the U.S., once told me that the Americans should have made an example of all those found guilty by “cutting of their heads and displaying them at the entrance of the Green Zone.” This, from a man who proudly labeled himself as a “friend of America.”

And this

Even America’s allies here bring up Abu Ghraib all the time, as proof of how little the U.S. understands Iraq. Last year, a European diplomat told [the author] the infamous Abu Ghraib photos—some of them featuring Sgt Cardona—”did more damage to U.S. credibility in Iraq than a Cruise missile smashing into a kindergarden.”

Let’s see.

  • cutting off heads and displaying them
  • photos that do more damage to U.S. credibility than cruise missiles hitting a kindergarden

And the U.S. has little understanding of Iraq? Do these quotes not tell us quite a bit of what we need to know?  And recently, there was a story from Saudi Arabia about a female that was detained because she was …. driving. And then a day or two later, there was a story about two men in Saudi Arabia that were detained because they sought the autograph of … a female author. I think that Iraq, and the Middle East in general, overestimates the difficulty that Westerners have in understanding their cultures. It doesn’t seem too complicated to me. But then acid helps make everything clearer.

Roughed McGruff

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

In the Washington Post today, there is Bus Driver Collared After Crime Dog Socked on Corner. Sadly, it tells the story of a Metrobus driver who, while adjusting the mirrors on his bus, socked the Crime Dog, McGruff.

A Metrobus supervisor who went to the scene was told by [the driver] that he punched the big, droopy-eared crime dog “to be funny”.

Apparently the 5-0 thought it was funny too, because

[The driver] then got back on the bus and drove for a few blocks until police stopped him

Interestingly, on McGruff’s own site, there is a poll about how to stop bullies. The available responses are

  • Speak up
  • Be a friend
  • Get an adult

Apparently, McGruff is holding out on a fourth option, which is

  • Call the po-po.

The incident reportedly occurred in front of a group of kids. You have to hand it to McGruff. Even while being assaulted, he is still on the job, building crime awareness among children.

We Know The Answer Now

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

An interesting exchange today between Jake Tapper of ABC News and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs during the daily briefing includes this

TAPPER:  . . . The president is going to sign a bill — the spending bill — which contains $8 billion in earmarks.  Democrats in the Senate are now calling for the president, if not make an effort to have it stripped in the Senate, to veto the bill. Evan Bayh has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. I don’t fully understand this argument that this is — we’re moving forward.  This bill hasn’t even come to the president’s desk yet. If you guys are really serious, why not take the bull by the horns and get this stuff out of the omnibus spending bill?

GIBBS:  Let me try again.  What we’ve talked about before, this is the culmination of the legislative business from the previous fiscal year and the previous Congress. The president is greatly concerned, and I think that shows in the efforts that he’s taken to illuminate through transparency and accountability wasteful spending and earmarks in legislation.  That’s why he put this on the Internet.  That’s why he hasn’t asked for any in the past few years.  And the president believes that we can work with Congress to reduce wasteful spending in the future.

TAPPER: But why not now?

GIBBS:  Well, we are…

TAPPER:  I guess — you make it sound as if the legislation is written and it’s just waiting for him to sign, and it’s not.  It’s being worked on right now on Capitol Hill.  It’s in the progress of being assembled.  So it’s not that he comes to office and this is outstanding business.

GIBBS:  Well — well, it is outstanding business in the sense that typically appropriations bills are done before half the fiscal year is over.

TAPPER:  Right.  But it’s not too late to, like, tell Harry Reid:  If you send this to me…… with this $18 billion — this $8 billion…

GIBBS:  I think, as I said before, that the president will lay out some very clear objectives on how we move forward.  There will be, over the course of the next several years, dozens and dozens of appropriations bills that cross his desk.  And we’ll change the rules going forward, understanding that we have to deal with last year’s business.

Just to highlight a couple of choice quotes

  • “the president believes that we can work with Congress to reduce wasteful spending in the future”
  • “the president will lay out some very clear objectives on how we move forward”
  • “over the course of the next several years, dozens and dozens of appropriations bills that cross his desk”
  • “we’ll change the rules going forward”

So, everything about earmarks and wasteful spending is about the future, and going forward, and several years and dozens of bills, and laying out clear objectives. You see, Obama can’t strap on Congress because this is really about the business of Congress last year. Thank goodness that Obama was not constrained by the business of Congress last year when he “made a down payment” on his priorities in the colossal stimulus bill.

To make matters worse, this article on CBS news states

And when it comes to changing congressional rules on earmarks, Mr. Obama is being told to butt out – by none other than a top Democrat.

“I don’t think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, telling reporters, “I hope you all got that down.”

“I saw those remarks,” said Gibbs, who then reiterated the president’s commitment to work with Congress to reduce wasteful spending.

Just none contained in the earmarks of the spending bill headed his way.

Oooh. Gibbs reiterates the president’s commitment to work with Congress to reduce wasteful spending. Funny, but I don’t recall that rhetoric, exactly, in any of Obama’s campaign speeches or in the debates. I remember something more forceful, more definitive.

Leading up to the inauguration, one question was whether Obama would be able to stand up the the House and Senate. When Steny Hoyer opens up a can on the White House, we now know the answer.