Blogs

Rummy Reads. Finds Out Civil War Caused American Deaths.

| Fri Dec. 8, 2006 6:27 PM EST

Via Think Progress comes a hysterical soundbite from outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a Pentagon Townhall meeting today.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering what books you read while you were secretary that you found most useful and edifying.

RUMSFELD: I started reading a number of books about the Civil War...But I stopped. I found the struggle going on — gosh, those years, there were so many people killed and wounded, and they were all Americans.

Goodness, for old Rummy's sake, let's not wait 12 days to swear in Robert Gates.

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Things Get Nastier in Lebanon

| Fri Dec. 8, 2006 4:30 PM EST

Beirut was once called the Paris of the Middle East. Not anymore. The war-torn Lebanese capital is again perched on the precipice of civil war.

As I blogged last week, the Shiite militia Hezbollah, invigorated by its pyrrhic victory over Israel in August, is trying to oust Lebanon's Western-backed Sunni prime minister, Fouad Siniora. Earlier today, the Washington Post reports, the situation in Beirut took yet another turn for the worse. Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, accused Siniora of asking the U.S. to cut off Hezbollah's weapon supply lines.

Israel has been accused by the U.N., Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of indiscriminately targeting civilians in Southern Lebanon, where most of the country's Shiites live (Israel claims Hezbollah was using civilians as human shields). Essentially, Nasrallah accused the prime minister of offering the country's Shiites to Israel as sacrificial lambs.

Those are fighting words. If there's any truth in them, no self-respecting Shiite would allow Siniora to remain in office. Then again, many of Hezbollah's followers may believe the charges simply because Siniora criticized Hezbollah for picking a fight with Israel.

Siniora, for his part, made some personal jabs at Nasrallah but didn't directly deny the charges.

-- Cameron Scott

Follow Up: Iraqi Refugee Problem Escalates Sunni-Sh'ia Conflict in Jordan

| Fri Dec. 8, 2006 3:44 PM EST

Today, the New York Times reports from Jordan on the Iraqi refugee problem there. (Leigh blogged yesterday about the new reports from Refugees International and Human Rights Watch the Times mentions.)

Refugees International has called the exodus of Iraqis at a rate of some 3,000 a day "the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world." What's more, mushrooming Iraqi refugee populations are causing tension in the countries that begrudgingly host them. Whereas Jordan initially turned a blind eye to illegal Iraqis, security forces are increasingly seeking them out and deporting them, and more and more are being turned away at the border.

A few highlights from the Times piece:

-- [R]efugees …say the authorities of this officially Sunni country have paid more attention to deporting Iraqi Shiites, fearing that their militias are trying to organize here.

-- Many refugees say the crackdown has focused attention on Shiites....Even before this, Shiite prayer halls, known as Husseiniyas, were strictly banned here....A prominent sheik representing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iraq was deported late this summer.

-- "We don't have a problem with someone trying to advance his Shiite faith," [a] security official said. "But we do have a problem with someone proselytizing and being political."

If Sunni-majority countries continue to antagonize the Shiite refugees in their midst, will the Shiites have anywhere to turn but Iran?

-- Cameron Scott

NYC Sues (More) Out-Of-State Gun Dealers. Does This Mean Bloomberg's Running for Prez?

| Thu Dec. 7, 2006 9:48 PM EST

Today, NYC sued a dozen out-of-state gun dealers that it says are recklessly selling guns that are then used in Big Apple crimes. The latest suit brings the total number of suspected straw dealers sued by NYC to 47. As the Washington Post reports: "A straw sale is where one person fills out the paperwork to purchase a gun meant for someone else. The scam is often used by those who cannot own firearms, like convicted felons."

This tactic is just the latest innovation that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been willing to employ to staunch the flow of weapons into NYC. In a Mother Jones piece that appeared last year, Greg Sargent wrote about how a law firm with its own tragic history of gun violence teamed up with Bloomberg

"to wage a landmark lawsuit against more than three dozen gun manufacturers and distributors. The companies—including Beretta, Smith & Wesson, Glock, and Browning—constitute virtually the entire firearms industry. New York City's case is built on the theory that gun companies know their products end up being trafficked to criminals and could take easy steps to stop it, but fail to do so."

New York vs. Beretta so terrified the gun lobby that it got Congress to pass (and not for the first time) sweeping liability protection for the industry, though whether it would retroactively apply to the NYC case is still up for grabs. The gun lobby has managed to defeat most other municipal cases, and has filed a motion to dismiss New York vs. Beretta "based on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act." Nevertheless, gun-control advocates see in New York vs. Beretta model way to force manufacturers to change the way they market and distribute their products.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg—a man not to be screwed with, and also a mayor (and presidential candidate?) who relies on dems and moderates for his political power—sent out PIs wearing hidden cameras to try and make straw purchases at some 45 out-of-state dealers. The Post reports:

"They focused on shops where hundreds of guns have been traced back there from New York City killings, muggings and other crimes in recent years. Bloomberg said the majority of gun dealers refused the sale, but those who allegedly allowed it have been targeted in the [latest] lawsuits."

So there you have it. The politician taking a real stand on gun control is a Republican. Any guesses as to whether a Dem-controlled Congress will follow his lead?

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Hire 'Em

| Thu Dec. 7, 2006 9:25 PM EST

Sen. John McCain, who was smeared mercilessly by the Rove machine when he ran for president in 2000, has hired Terry Nelson to manage his 2008 presidential campaign, if such a campaign materializes. Nelson was national political director of George W. Bush's 2004 campagin, but his most recent fame comes from having masterminded the "Call me" spot that is considered to have stirred up every racist thought in Tennessee.

For the record, Nelson is also a protege of Karl Rove, who managed a stunning smear campaign against McCain in South Carolina in 2000, publicizing his wife's problems with prescription drugs, and suggesting that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock (he had not). Instead of condemning Bush's 2000 South Carolina campaign tactics, McCain (literally) embraced Bush. In his interview with Amy Goodman:

AMY GOODMAN: They were very personal, very harsh, and they questioned your war record.

JOHN MCCAIN: And I had to get over it. And I got over it, and I don't look back in anger. I look back as running for president as the greatest experience of my life.

AMY GOODMAN: It's one thing to get over it. It's another to stand with and campaign with the man who did it to you, George Bush.

JOHN MCCAIN: I put it behind me. I put it behind me. Absolutely, we have a very good, friendly relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: Has he ever explained himself to you, why he attacked your wife, Cindy, and your kid?

JOHN MCCAIN: I can only––my discussions with the president are private. Okay? Thanks, good.

But wait...there's more. Nelso was also James Tobin's supervisor. Tobin, you will recall, is the New Hampshire Republican who was recently convicted of scheming to jam Democratic Party phone lines in New Hampshire during the 2002 elections. He is also an ally of Swift Boat veteran Chris LaCivita, and also part of Tom DeLay's PAC problems in Texas.

In other words, if there is sleaze in the vicinity, Terry Nelson will be found wallowing in it. Exactly the kind of person "independent," "maverick," "straight shooter" McCain likes best.

Gov. Richardson In and Then Out of Presidential Race

| Thu Dec. 7, 2006 7:29 PM EST

If you don't refresh Google News every fifteen minutes, you probably missed Governor Bill Richardson's (D-NM) brief dip into the 2008 presidential waters.

Today at 3:02 pm PST, according to Google News, FOX News posted this story, indicating that Richardson told them that he is running for president. The key quote seems to be, "I'm not running as an Hispanic, I am running as an American who is proud to be Hispanic."

Then at 3:17 pm PST, again according to Google News, the Albuquerque Tribune shot back, posting this story, saying that no, Richardson had not in fact announced. They quote a rep as saying, "The governor didn't say that. He said, like he's been saying, that he'll make a decision in January."

Hope you like horse races! Wheeee....

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Toxic Toys

| Thu Dec. 7, 2006 6:02 PM EST

To hear that lead paint is still the leading cause of poisoning among children is somewhat surprising. But to hear that some companies are still using lead in manufacturing children's jewelry, despite increased awareness about its dangers, is downright baffling. The perils of this were brought home in March when four-year old Jarnell Brown died after swallowing a charm from a promotional bracelet from Reebok. It was 99 percent lead.

Due to pressure from the Sierra Club, the staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission is finally taking action, calling for a ban on toy jewelry containing 0.06 pecent lead by weight, the Washington Post reports today.

According to the Post, the risk of lead poisoning has resulted in the recall of more than 160 million items since 2004.

But while one agency is taking steps to impose stricter regulations to reduce lead exposure, another agency is contemplating relaxing its existing standards. According to the Post, this week the EPA suggested "it might consider revoking national lead air quality standards."

Update: More on the EPA's baffling contention that we've taken enough lead out of the air already, and that it's time to start moving backwards, here.

Bush Prepares to Talk to MORE Axis of Evil States; I Feel Like I'm Taking Crazy Pills

| Thu Dec. 7, 2006 4:48 PM EST

Did I miss a memo? Are the terrorists winning? Continuing a trend mentioned earlier today, President Bush is giving indications that he may open up discussions with Iran and Syria as part of regional talks on how to stabalize Iraq. There are rules, however. For Iran to come to the table, it has to "verifiably suspend" its nuclear program. For Syria, it has to "stop destabilizing" Lebanon's government.

Now, this gives Bush a ton of wiggle room. Iran and Syria can say in upcoming weeks and months that they are hemming to Bush's rules, and Bush can always respond by saying, "Our evidence indicates the opposite." So, in essence, Bush can decide to allow Iran and Syria to join regional talks whenever he's good and ready.

So, in the end, the Bush Administration continues to present the image of progress, while hedging on any genuine change. I wonder if this is part of Bush's grand plan to make bloggers question why they bother going through the trouble...

Iraq's Refugee Crisis More Dire than Darfur?

| Thu Dec. 7, 2006 4:04 PM EST

The Guardian reports today that Iraq could be become the biggest refugee crisis the world has witnessed, overtaking even that of Darfur. The warnings about this impending situation come from a report released on Tuesday by Refugees International documenting that as of November 2006, 1.8 million Iraqis have fled the country and an additional 500,000 have been displaced throughout Iraq. A spokesperson for the group said, "We're not saying it's the largest [refugee crisis], but it's quickly becoming the largest."

The report highlights the fact that Jordan, one of two countries in the Middle East that opened its doors after the U.S. invasion in 2003, have since closed them (Jordan closed its border after the hotel bombings in Amman in November of last year), leaving Syria the sole destination for Iraqi refugees. The UN estimates that 2,000 enter Syria each day. A report released last month by the Human Rights Watch provides a detailed look at the situation in Jordan: "The Silent Treatment: Fleeing Iraq, Surviving in Jordan" looks indepth at the issues facing Iraqi refugees in the country as well as the difficult decisions that lie ahead for the government.

Jordan, historically sympathetic to refugees (Palestinians mostly), has had their patience tested with the current situation in Iraq. Now, Iraqis and Palestinians (entering through Iraq) are being turned away at its border and Iraqis who do sneak in lose their legal status immediately and begin accruing fines of up to $2 USD per day. If the Jordanian police apprehend them, they are sent back to Iraq. Human Rights Watch is claiming that the Jordanian government is violating a principle of international customary law, called refoulement, "the forced return of refugees."

Human Rights Watch has been careful to express that the purpose of their report is not to chastise Jordan but on the contrary to bring to light a humanitarian crisis that can't be ignored and requires international coordination. The group calls on Jordan to admit the refugee crisis exists and to call for assistance from the international community. Refugees International is also calling for international support, but they call on the west to lead the initiative. "The United States and its allies sparked the current chaos in Iraq, but they are doing little to ease the humanitarian crisis caused by the current exodus," said the organization's president.

I think it's safe to say something needs to be done (and fast) if experts are calling this the next Darfur.

Newsflash: U.S. Negotiates With the Axis of Evil

| Thu Dec. 7, 2006 3:27 PM EST

North Korea, specifically. I'll let Josh do the honors, since he puts it well.

Remember how the whole premise of Bush administration North Korea policy was that we shouldn't be offering 'pay-offs' to the North Koreans in exchange for them giving up their nuclear program?
From today's Times ...
"The United States has offered a detailed package of economic and energy assistance in exchange for North Korea's giving up nuclear weapons and technology, American officials said Tuesday."
So after six long years of incompetence, arrogance, dithering and disaster, in which the president allowed the NKs to waltz into the nuclear club unimpeded, they're now back to the same policy they insisted on ditching in the first place. Only now with a hand infinitely weaker than it was in 2000 since back then the NKs didn't have the bomb.

For Mother Jones' coverage of life North Korea, see the bizarre, the serious, and the pretty dang funny.