2006 - %3, September

By the Numbers: Why We Need a Timetable For Leaving Iraq

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 8:55 PM EDT

President George Bush has often stressed that if America wins the hearts and minds of Iraqis, they will stop killing our troops and each other and the country will stabilize. For Bush, that means rooting out Al Qaeda, a strategy that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate dramatically showed isn't working; the presence of the U.S. in Iraq is recruiting terrorists faster than we can kill them. Perhaps a better way to win over Iraqis would be to (gasp!) listen to what they think we should do and leave. According government and independent polls released this week, more than 70 percent of Iraqis want U.S. troops to quit Iraq within a year, arguing that a pullout would make the country more secure and decrease sectarian violence.

Bush has argued that setting a timetable for withdraw from Iraq would only embolden insurgents. The polls suggest he's wrong. Iraqi support for attacks on U.S.-led forces has grown over the past year to a majority position—now six in ten. The independent poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that Iraqis who support the attacks also believe the U.S. plans to establish permanent military bases in their country. A majority of Iraqis said they'd be less supportive of attacks on U.S. troops, "if the U.S. made a commitment to withdraw from Iraq according to a timetable."

Our congress is not entirely deaf to Iraqi concerns. A rider in a defense spending bill that passed the House Wednesday would ban construction in Iraq of permanent U.S. bases. But Bush needs to go much further and set a timetable for withdraw. The independent poll found that a whopping 91 percent of Iraqis, including majorities of all ethnic groups, supported a pullout of U.S. troops within two years. Making even that kind of modest commitment would go a long way towards getting Iraqis on our side.

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Foley Resigns Over Sexually Explicit Emails (Or, "...sick sick sick sick sick.")

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 4:29 PM EDT

mark_foley_nr.jpg

Buh-bye

Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) planned to resign today, hours after ABC questioned him about sexually explicit internet messages with current and former Congressional pages under the age of 18.

Hours earlier, ABC News had read excerpts of instant messages provided by former pages who said the congressman, under the AOL Instant Messenger screen name Maf54, made repeated references to sexual organs and acts.

From yesterday's ABC story:

In the series of e-mails, obtained by ABC News, from Rep. Foley (R-FL) to the former page, Foley asks the young man how old he is, what he wants for his birthday and requests a photo of him.

The concerned young man alerted congressional staffers to the e-mails. In one e-mail, the former page writes to a staffer, "Maybe it is just me being paranoid, but seriously. This freaked me out."

Understandable.

The e-mails were sent from Foley's personal AOL account, and the exchange began within weeks after the page finished his program on Capitol Hill. In one, Foley writes, "did you have fun at your conference…what do you want for your birthday coming up…what stuff do you like to do."

In another Foley writes, "how are you weathering the hurricane…are you safe…send me an email pic of you as well…"

The young man forwarded that e-mail to a congressional staffer saying it was "sick sick sick sick sick."

Training Extremists While They Are Young

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 4:16 PM EDT

It is probably no more than an ironic coincidence that the Kids on Fire camp is in Devil's Lake, North Dakota. Or perhaps not. Kids on Fire is not your mother's summer camp; rather, it is a place where children--some as young as six--receive instruction in glossolalia, go on field trips to political protests, and learn to chant for "righteous judges" for America.

At Kids on Fire, the children pray over a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, and they wash their hands in bottled water to cleanse themselves of their wicked ways and drive out the devil. Some children are filled with the Holy Spirit and go down in a trance-like state. One little girl is said to have been "pinned to the floor" for over an hour by the Holy Spirit. Children describe seeing "gold dust" on their hands, feeling compelled to dance, and being "slain by the Holy Spirit."

Becky Fischer
, leader of Kids of Fire, who wants to "take back America for Christ," says "I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them radically laying down their lives for the gospel, as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine."

The documentary film, Jesus Camp, made by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, follows three children as they participate in camp activities. Opening today in Los Angeles, the film has already stirred quite a bit of attention. It won in the "scariest movie" category at the Traverse City Film Festival.

One of the children in the documentary, Tory, who is ten years old, says something that is scary enough for me. Tory explains that she prefers "Christian, heavy metal rock and roll" to Britney Spears:

"When I dance, I have to make sure that that's God. People will notice when I'm just dancing for the flesh."

U.N. Security Council to Discuss Human Rights Violations in Burma

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 4:07 PM EDT

Today, for the first time ever, the United Nations Security Council will formally discuss the widespread human rights violations that for decades have been occurring in Burma, or Myanmar, under the rule of a repressive military junta calling itself the State Peace and Development Council.

The Security Council has long failed to address the situation in Burma for fear of drawing China's veto. For the same reason, today's discussion is not expected to bring about any concrete action, but human rights advocates consider it a promising first step. Burmese exiles, however, have doubts about the West's ability to deal with the hardnosed regime, as Burmese historian Thant Myint-U writes in a New York Times op-ed piece today.

Mother Jones recently reported on the build-up to the Security Council's discussion, and on underground resistance in Burma.

Bludgeoning Iraq's "Burgeoning Free Press"

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 1:47 PM EDT

It's a rotten time to be an Iraqi journalist. If being kidnapped and murdered by insurgents or detained indefinitely by the U.S. military aren't bad enough, now the government is cracking down. From today's New York Times:

Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein's penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year.

Currently, three journalists for a small newspaper in southeastern Iraq are being tried here for articles last year that accused a provincial governor, local judges and police officials of corruption. The journalists are accused of violating Paragraph 226 of the penal code, which makes anyone who "publicly insults" the government or public officials subject to up to seven years in prison. [snip]

The office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has lately refused to speak with news organizations that report on sectarian violence in ways that the government considers inflammatory; some outlets have been shut down.

Meanwhile, back inside our own executive media bubble... President Bush, earlier this year: "I like the fact in Iraq that there's a burgeoning free press, there's a lot of press, which is a positive sign. It's a healthy indication."

"Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 11:44 AM EDT

Yesterday, as the Senate cleared the controversial detainee bill and the House passed legislation authorizing the president's warrantless wiretapping program (with some restrictions), a little-noticed bill moved the nation a step closer toward a reckoning with Iran. Passed by the House, and now making its way quickly through the Senate, the Iran Freedom and Support Act, which would reauthorize existing sanctions against Iran, stops short of calling for outright regime-change but states that it should be U.S. policy to back "peaceful pro-democracy forces in Iran" and "to support efforts by the people of Iran to exercise self-determination over the form of government of their country."

The New York Sun reports:

The measure specifically does not authorize military action, but in the same way the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 foreshadowed events in the Gulf, the latest bill may come to be seen as an upping of the ante with the Islamic regime — or a step or two short of war.

As Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who sponsored the bill, told the AP, "Enough with the carrots. It's time for the stick."

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Free Trade Love

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 5:17 AM EDT

Via PR Watch (whose other current endeavor is "The Best War Ever," a book exposing disinformation and deception around the Iraq War), this lovely bit on Seoul's efforts to promote the Bush administration's latest free-trade idea, a pact with Korea:

The "Korea-U.S. FTA Love Corner" established in the lobby of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in downtown Seoul symbolizes the government's belief that aggressive publicity would result in a successful FTA pact.

Response so far, reports the Korea Herald, has been "lukewarm."

Rwanda Abolishes Death Penalty to Get Justice

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 2:39 AM EDT

If there's any nation that should be thirsting for extreme measures against murderers, it's Rwanda, site of a genocidal rampage in 1994 that left nearly one million people dead. But the tiny African country's Justice Minister recently announced that the government plans to scrap capital punishment at the end of this year. It's less a matter of principle than practicality: many Rwandans suspected of involvement in atrocities are currently being held in countries like Belgium and Sweden that refuse to extradite prisoners if they face the death penalty. By abolishing it, Rwanda could gain custody of those prisoners and put them on trial, bringing "closure", as the Justice Minister put it. So far, the only Western country to have extradited suspects to Rwanda is - surprise! - the United States.

Why Did Bush Want the NIE Released When It So Obviously Contradicts His Happy Talk?

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 9:05 PM EDT

This kinda makes you wonder why Bush was so hot to get the full intel report out in the open.

Portions of the report appear to bolster President Bush's argument that the only way to defeat the terrorists is to keep unrelenting military pressure on them. But nowhere in the assessment is any evidence to support Mr. Bush's confident-sounding assertion this month in Atlanta that "America is winning the war on terror.''

While the spread of self-described jihadists is hard to measure, the report says, the terrorists "are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion."

It says that a continuation of that trend would lead "to increasing attacks worldwide'' and that "the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities.''

Cue lapidary quote from terrorism expert. "I guess the overall conclusion that you get from it is that we don't have enough bullets given all the enemies we are creating,'' said Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University.

What to make of this? Either Bush truly believes that stuff about how we're an empire now and we make our own reality through action and wishful thinking; or he hadn't read the report, relying on "the filter" of Cheney et al., or he has entered a state of self-protective delusion. Whatever the explanation, the more important point is that the answer to the question Are We Safer? is pretty obviously "NO." So what to do about that?

Going Postal on George Allen

| Thu Sep. 28, 2006 4:12 PM EDT

Here's an, um, unique response to the allegation that the young Sen. George Allen stuck a severed deer's head in the mailbox of a black family. "George Allen hates the U.S. Mail," according to Letter Carriers for Truth, which is proposing that the postal service go after Allen for vandalizing federal property, i.e., a mailbox. Or as LCT puts it, "This mailbox belonged to you and me ... the federal taxpayer ... and frankly I don't like it when people go around sticking severed heads in my slot."