The War as They Saw It

Two of the seven non-commissioned officers who penned a New York Times op-ed that called the war in Iraq the "pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends" were killed yesterday when their vehicle turned over on a road near Baghdad. After hearing the news, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent a letter to the President. It reads, in part:

The tragic irony is that before their deaths, these two soldiers were not only trying to give us direction on how to end this war honorably, but they were also calling on us for help.... Mr. President, you didn't listen to Staff Sergeant Yance Gray and Sergeant Omar Mora while they were alive. I hope that you will listen to them now, as they have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

A Preview of Hillary Clinton's Health Care Plan

From yesterday's "presidential mashup": "I intend to dramatically rein in the influence of the insurance companies," she said, "because frankly I think that they have worked to the detriment of our economy and our health-care system."

—Nick Baumann

188 More Species Deemed Near Extinction

Today the World Conservation Union (also known, for reasons too arcane to go into, as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or IUCN) came out with its "Red List" of species threatened with extinction. There are 188 additions to the list, bringing the total up to 16,306. There's particularly bad news about great apes and coral reefs, but across the taxonomic board, the news is "quite bleak," said Jane Smart, who heads the group's species program.

As Mother Jones' Julia Whitty wrote in Gone: Mass Extinction and the Hazards of Earth's Vanishing Biodiversity:

1 in 4 mammals, 1 in 8 birds, 1 in 3 amphibians, 1 in 3 conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction. The peril faced by other classes of organisms is less thoroughly analyzed, but fully 40 percent of the examined species of planet Earth are in danger, including up to 51 percent of reptiles, 52 percent of insects, and 73 percent of flowering plants.
By the most conservative measure—based on the last century's recorded extinctions—the current rate of extinction is 100 times the background rate. But eminent Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson and other scientists estimate that the true rate is more like 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate. The actual annual sum is only an educated guess, because no scientist believes the tally of life ends at the 1.5 million species already discovered; estimates range as high as 100 million species on Earth, with 10 million as the median guess. Bracketed between best- and worst-case scenarios, then, somewhere between 2.7 and 270 species are erased from existence every day. Including today.
We now understand that the majority of life on Earth has never been—and will never be—known to us. In a staggering forecast, Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by the year 2100.
You probably had no idea. Few do. A poll by the American Museum of Natural History finds that 7 in 10 biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, a more serious environmental problem than even its contributor, global warming, and that the dangers of mass extinction are woefully underestimated by most everyone outside of science. In the 200 years since French naturalist Georges Cuvier first floated the concept of extinction, after examining fossil bones and concluding "the existence of a world previous to ours, destroyed by some sort of catastrophe," we have only slowly recognized and attempted to correct our own catastrophic behavior.

The rate of extinction is due to a variety of factors, but nearly all are human induced, including climate change, habitat loss, invasive species (transported by us), the plight of the oceans, and so on. As Julia notes:

All these disappearing species are part of a fragile membrane of organisms wrapped around Earth so thin, writes E.O. Wilson, that it "cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered." We owe everything to this membrane of life. Literally everything. The air we breathe. The food we eat. The materials of our homes, clothes, books, computers, medicines. Goods and services that we can't even imagine we'll someday need will come from species we have yet to identify. The proverbial cure for cancer. The genetic fountain of youth. Immortality. Mortality.
The living membrane we so recklessly destroy is existence itself.

Read Julia's article. It will haunt you. As will the accompanying photo essay by Richard Ross.

Remember how the GOP's law firm in California is supporting a ballot measure to change the way the state awards electoral votes? (A move that could hand the Republicans the Presidential election.) Well, it turns out that it's "patently unconstitutional". Doug Kendall explains in Slate:

The U.S. Constitution prohibits a ballot measure that would trump a state legislature's chosen method of appointing electors. In Article II, Section 1, the Constitution declares that electors shall be appointed by states "in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." That's legislature.

Tough luck, guys. Guess this race goes back to "Leans Democratic."

—Nick Baumann

If We Had Only Known

"The good intentions of the statesmen of Iraq, whose political experience is necessarily small, it is to be feared that serious difficulties may arise out of the differences which in some cases exist in regard to political ideas between the Shiites of the South and the Sunnites of the North, the racial differences between Arabs and Kurds, and the necessity of keeping the turbulent tribes under control.... These difficulties might be fatal to the very existence of the State if it were left without support and guidance."

Where did such prescient advice come from? A 1925 League of Nations report on Iraq that Roger Cohen, noted in his column this morning. The GOP loves to accuse the anti-war left of having 20/20 hindsight. Looks like foresight is 20/20, too.

—Nick Baumann

More on L'Affaire Debat

In his piece on the Alexis Debat controversy -- the ABC consultant and French counterterrorism expert who apparently faked several interviews with political figures and luminaries such as Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, Michael Bloomberg oh and Kofi Annan -- the WP's Howard Kurtz failed to contact Pascal Riche, who broke this story of the faked interviews. Kurtz's piece seemed a bit thinly reported, featuring mostly Debat saying he was scammed, and Brian Ross saying he was scammed. What about the substance? Perhaps he was in a hurry.

But there's much substantive to consider. For instance, among other details, this is a guy telling the world media from several respected perches that there's a three day blitz planned to bomb Iran. It's not an uninteresting question, whether the information is solid, or is embellished, or is fabricated. It certainly creates a big echo, and is an interesting example of how misinformation or even disinformation can work. Kurtz didn't for instance, raise the question I raised here, which is blindingly obvious: did ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose "consultant"? How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? IF, and I emphasize if, Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I fiind it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it's kosher.

I also had an amusing, if slightly surreal, experience interviewing the real Rob Sherman - a Chicago radio talk show host - who has the same name and rough geographic location as the person who Debat claims conducted an interview with Barack Obama for him. You will not be surprised to learn, perhaps, that the real Rob Sherman says he has never heard of Debat, although he has interviewed Obama. One thing I am learning -- there's a bit of truth in many of the apparent fabrications.

The September 11th Tourist Attacks

This video will make you hate everyone. And it will make you vomit. It will make you hate everyone while you vomit.

But it has to be seen. When else are you going to hear the line, "The tourist attacks. September 11th. Is Iraq."

So grab a barf bag, click the link, and remember: we are all Ms. South Carolinas today.

Let's see Ambassador Crocker try to put a positive spin on this:

A carefully constructed compromise on a draft law governing Iraq's rich oil fields, agreed to in February after months of arduous talks among Iraqi political groups, appears to have collapsed. The apparent breakdown comes just as Congress and the White House are struggling to find evidence that there is progress toward reconciliation and a functioning government here....
Mr. Shahristani, a senior member of the Arab Shiite coalition that controls the federal government, negotiated the compromise with leaders of the Kurdish and Arab Sunni parties. But since then, the Kurds have pressed forward with a regional version of the law that Mr. Shahristani says is illegal. Many of the Sunnis who supported the original deal have also pulled out in recent months.
The oil law — which would govern how oil fields are developed and managed — is one of several benchmarks that the Bush administration has been pressing the Iraqis to meet as a sign that they are making headway toward creating an effective government.
Again and again in the past year, agreement on the law has been fleetingly close before political and sectarian disagreements have arisen to stall the deal.

The Iraqis' attempts at oil sharing laws have never been impressive — and have often been suspiciously advantageous for multinational oil companies. But at least there was something, before recently, that the Iraqi government had come together to achieve. Now, even that moderate success is gone.

Breaking: Sunni Tribal Leader Assassinated in Iraq

A key U.S. ally in Iraq was assassinated near his home in Ramadi earlier today. Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a senior member of the Anbar Salvation Council, was killed along with two bodyguards when a powerful roadside bomb destroyed his car. He had been a leading organizer of the so-called 'Anbar Miracle.' According to the Washington Post:

The council has been credited with helping tamp down violence in the area and retaking control from the insurgents, progress touted by U.S. officials as a sign their current strategy in Iraq is showing results. Abu Risha met just last week with President Bush during Bush's surprise trip to the country.
"This is a tragic loss," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said of Abu Risha's death. "It's a terrible loss for Anbar province and all of Iraq. It shows how significant his importance was and it shows al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a very dangerous and barbaric enemy."
Along with reaffirming the ability of insurgents to operate in Anbar, Abu Risha's assassination could raise questions about the future of the tribal coalition that had pulled together to quell al-Qaeda influence.
Petraeus, in Washington where he delivered a report to Congress this week, said he was confident the coalition will hold.
"I think that the tribes will pull together and go after whoever did this," Petraeus said in an interview with The Washington Post.
He said it was not clear who might emerge as a successor. He called Abu Risha "an important unity figure" in what had been until recently a fractious and violence-riven community.
Abu Risha, in his mid-30s, was "an organizing force that did help organize alliances and did help keep the various tribes together," the general said.
The emergence of the Anbar council, Petraeus said, caused a "political shift of seismic proportions" -- a dynamic that the U.S. is trying to replicate in other parts of the country.

Tearing the New Guy to Shreds

George Will is no fan of Fred Thompson, apparently.