In August of this past year, Congress ordered the creation of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a document that synthesizes the very best information held by all 16 of America's spy agencies. With opinion against the war at an all-time high, definitive information from the intelligence community about the Bush Administration's failures in Iraq would strengthen the case for withdrawal.

The NIE, not surprisingly, never happened. Six and a half months later, intelligence czar John Negroponte's office is saying that the NIE is "well under development" and will be released at the end of this month. Some are arguing that the timing is suspicious, and that the NIE was effectively held hostage while the Bush Administration decided what to do with the mess in Iraq. And now that Bush has decided on sending 20,000 more troops and will make his case to the nation tomorrow night (in what some are calling the biggest speech of his presidency), it's safe to finally release the info. It's easier, after all, to convince the country when it doesn't know the facts.

And that's why this situation reminds so many of the pre-war experience with the NIE.

Ollie North said on Fox News yesterday that in a recent trip to Iraq, "not one" service member he interviewed said that the solution in Iraq is more American boots on the ground, and that "nearly all" suggested "just the opposite." See video at Think Progress. An American public already doubting President Bush's plan to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq -- 3/4ths disapprove of the President's decision making, and half say we've lost regardless of how many troops we send -- has reason to doubt it further.

I brought up the question of whether or not the troops support the war in a blog post last month because a day after the press reported new SecDef Robert Gates was hearing from senior commanders in Iraq that additional troops would exacerbate problems and lead to more deaths, the Pentagon staged a photo op in which Gates had breakfast with a group of rank-and-file soldiers that seemed, to a man and woman, to support more troops. Odd, I wrote, that polling says 72 percent of troops in Iraq want to withdraw in a year and 29 percent want to withdraw immediately, and yet Bob Gates manages to break bread (or eggs, as the case may be) with a group that is uniformly in favor of more fighting. It would be nice to hear from the troops directly, but they can't post on liberal blogs like ours because the military prohibits the troops from reading them. Not explicitly of course, but by engineering filters to block liberal sites and allow conservative ones.

Mother Jones has covered dissention within the military extensively. In October 2004, we published "Breaking Ranks," about troops who were speaking out against the war and even a few who were refusing to fight. At that time we also published "Warriors Against War," a list of veterans groups, officers, diplomats and others involved in the armed forces that opposed the Iraq War. And in fall of 2005, we published "Memory's Revenge," an essay that told of Vietnam veterans who have reflected on their wartime experiences and are now discouraging young men and women from enlisting to fight in Iraq.

It's probably no surprise that San Franciscans hate Bush. But Madam Speaker's constituents are going a step further, using their bodies to broadcast their views as the new Congress convenes. Last Saturday, more than one thousand San Franciscans took to the chilly California beach, laying themselves out in 100-foot letters spelling the word "impeach."


Sorry, make that "IMPEACH!"

Many protesters held signs, asking for "troops home by Christmas 2007," while others simply flashed the classic two-finger peace sign. "I hope Nancy Pelosi is listening today," said one participant.

Unfortunately, listening doesn't necessarily mean action. Pelosi has said several times publicly that impeachment is "off the table."

Looks like she will have her hands full dealing with her constituents as she navigates more moderate waters as a leader in the Beltway.

—Jen Phillips

Congress on 9/11

Pelosi's proposals for increased secruity by implimenting the remaining 911 Commission proposals are beside the point. The Commission itself avoided asking any really hard questions, like, for instance, putting Bush under oath and getting him to tell what happened that day. It even contributed to the administration's overall obfuscation by hiding its own staff study of the inadequate FAA response to numerous pre-attack warnings, then finally releasing them -- after the presidential election. The Congress never has exercised any oversight to speak of over the FAA, and that includes under both Democratic and Republican leadership. For more than a decade the FAA ignored warnings by its own staff and the Congress could have cared less -- quite possibly because of close ties to the industry by former members such as George Mitchell. Tom Daschle's wife was an airline lobbyist when he was Majority leader of the Senate.

The Members of the Family Steering Committee for the 911 Independent Commission issued a set of ratings and questions after the commission shut down. They remain unanswered. Compiled by Jersey Girls Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie Van Auken, they include such things as how come after Bush was told by the White House situation room a commercial airliner had hit the World Trade Towers, he continued with his classroom visit to the Florida elementary school? And after Bush got warnings of an attack from 11 different nations, what did he do to defend this country? There are more than 20 pages of questions from the families. You can read them here [pdf].

The clear action here is for Congress to reopen the investigation into 911 that had been begun by former Florida Senator Bob Graham's joint intelligence inquiry. The report of that investigation raised questions about -- among other things -- the disastrous role played by the FBI in all this.The Congress formed the commission to carry on the inquiries launched by Graham. Instead of doing so, the commission conducted sets of hearings in which each member got to compliment people like Donald Rumsfeld, who appears to have been absent or out of the loop on 911, Robert Mueler of the FBI, whose San Diego office oversaw an informant who rented rooms to two hijackers and never told anybody about it, and Condi Rice, who had been presented with various warnings but claimed she knew nothing. And then there was Dick Cheney, who in flagrant vioilation of the Constitution was running the country on 911 because Bush was out of contact. What did he do and why did he do it? The Congress doesn't know and to date has been unwilling to find out.

Hopefully no one. As we move toward $3/gallon, at the Detroit Auto Show yesterday General Motors unveiled the Chevrolet Volt, a commuter concept car with the curves of Corvette and the credo of a Prius. GM boasts that the Volt's hybrid-electric battery will be able to plug into the electrical grid. When charged, the car can run independent of its fuel engine, only needing to draw on petrol if traveling 40 miles or more.

Not bad, but efficiency enthusiasts may be skeptical. Many are still smarting over GM's forced-recall and demolition of its first fleet of electric cars. The ill-fated life of that model, the EV-1—including the manner in which the State of California's Air Resource Board caved to automakers instead of standing by its zero-emissions mandate—is well documented in Who Killed the Electric Car?.

The Volt "is not a public relations ploy," GM's vice-president told the New York Times. "We are dead serious about taking this technology into high-volume production."

But GM is vague about the car's future, including a not-so speedy release date. GM says the lithium battery it envisions still needs to be invented. Godspeed if GM is to get out the Volt in time to compete with Toyota, which has already announced that it's readying a hybrid of its own. In any event, you need not wait for a concept car to improve your gas mileage. Check out our latest issue for some fuel-saving tips from Wayne Gerdes, the World's Most Efficient Driver.

—Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

Mea Culpa: In a roundup of various books, movies, and magazines that the staff reccomended to readers as holiday gifts, my entry on Paste Magazine reported, in error, that it was a Canadian operation.

Reader Tom Monk, a lawyer out of Atlanta, was quick to point out that: "Au contrare,­ it is based in Decatur, GA. With our country in the middle of a cycle where many of our jobs and services are being transferred overseas, we should make a point to note something good within our borders, don't you think?"

Fair enough, Tom. I'm not quite sure why I thought Paste was a product of the Great White North. Canada, while a great exporter of comedians, TV anchors, and magazine writers and editors, has (at least since the heydey of Jonnie Mitchell, Neil Young, and The Band) never really been known for producing a lot of great pop/indie music. [Care to argue? For a geographical breakdown of Candian bands, most of whom you've never heard of, go here. I still have a soft spot for Chilliwack.]

Georgia on the other hand, well now. You got R.E.M., of course, and all the Athens spin-offs (Remember Guadalcanal Diary?) And Ray Charles, who's genius should be enough for several states, territories, or provinces.

But maybe, to make up for my error, I should tell you why I not only reccomended Paste to readers, but I bought gift subcriptions for more than a dozen of my friends. Why? For starters, there's the CD that comes with each issue, a 20+ song sampler of bands the editors like. Mostly (but not soley) alt/indie rock tracks with a singer/songwriter slant (but not in a we're-all-vegans-here way). And how much do you love that their FAQ notes "Paste is about the artists, not about the artists' bodies." (Translation: No Britney!) It's a thinking person's (mostly) music and (some other) culture magazine.

Supporting good independent magazines is important. Back of the napkin calculations indicate that if I guaranteed the editors of Paste a dozen subscriptions at $34.95, they need to sign up 42 of their friends for a Mother Jones subscription, which you can get for only $10, in order for us to be even. En garde!

Meanwhile, if you're in the Atlanta area, best get some legal advice from Tom, instead of exporting litigation to say...Florida.

The long discussed plan to hand over most of Iraq's oil assets to big foreign oil companies is about to happen. When people can't figure out what Bush means when he claims victory in Iraq, this is what he is talking about.

According to the Independent, the companies are looking at terrific profit potentials. "The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalized in 1972."

The plan envisions production sharing agreements among the oil companies and the Iraqi government. Such agreements are unusual in the Mideast. The production sharing agreements would run for 30 years with companies taking an initial 75 percent of all profits to cover costs and then 20 percent of all profits. According to the Independent that's twice the industry average.

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group recommended American involvement in devising a scheme for future oil exploration. That plan differed in certain respects from earlier schemes in that Baker-Hamilton wants the oil business to be dealt with as a centralized entity, not divided up into three sections to be handed out to the three prominent players in the country -- Kurds, Sunni and Shia. If that happened, the country would doubtless break up since oil is the only real economic base. Divided three ways, the Kurds and Shia would stand to get the larger share.

The large Iraqi unions of oil workers are protesting the deal: "This law has a lot of problems. It was prepared without consulting Iraqi experts, Iraqi civil society or trade unions. We reject this draft and demand more time to debate the law," according to Hasan Jum'a, President of the Federation of Oil Unions.

Adnan Saffar, member of the Executive Committee of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, said "The Iraqi national interest is surrendered in this law which allows foreign companies investment terms that exploit Iraq's oil wealth. They benefit the foreign investors more than they benefit Iraqi workers, through long term oil contracts that negatively impact Iraq's sovereignty and national independence."

When the war started, virtually all American officials and politicians denied oil was a primary interest. As the Independent points out, in arguing for the war in 2003, Tony Blair denied the "false claim" that "we want to seize" Iraq's oil revenues. About the same time, Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, said: "It cost a great deal of money to prosecute this war. But the oil of the Iraqi people belongs to the Iraqi people; it is their wealth, it will be used for their benefit. So we did not do it for oil."

Of course, the modern oil industry was launched by the British Navy with a takeover of Mesopotamia's oil resources at the turn of the last century. The British then were eager to establish secure resources to the new fuel for its battle ships in the upcoming world war.

In the past, Afganistan exerienced a serious drought every couple of decades, but now there have two in a row, and 25 million villagers have been affected. Arranged marriages are against both civil and Islamic law in Afghanistan, but that has not stopped a number of families from selling their daughters in marriage in order to survive. The girls range in age from 8 to about 15, and some of the husbands are also very young.

The last drought caused losses of between 80% and 100% of crops, and now the cycle has begun again. Children are suffering from malnutrition, and are often going on long treks to gather water and firewood. They are eating potatoes, and boiled water with sugar, and they are dying. There have been attempts to get food to the villagers, but the heavy snows have prevented delivery. Also, members of the Taliban have attacked food convoys coming in from Pakistan. The only way for many of the Afghan people to survive is to sell their daughers.

The Afghan Minister of Agriculture recently declared that the drought was the cause of the sharp drop in production wheat, Afghanistan's main crop. That sounds like a reasonable explanation, but there are also those who say the drought is only partially to blame. These people say that wheat shortages have also come about because farmers would rather grow poppies. Afghan farmers also say that they do not have access to improved seeds, fertilizers, equipment, and technology, and therefore cannot compete with neighboring countries.

With thirteen provinces in crisis, the food shortage in Afganistan is a dramatic example of the effects of climate change, political instability, and a growing drug market. All of the affected villagers suffer, and the fate of female children does not look good.

Kate Kretz, a heretofore little-known North Carolina artist has a rendition of Angelina Jolie that's causing quite a stir. The acrylic on canvas work entitled Blessed Art Thou, is on display in Miami this week and seems to be the biggest deal in celebrity art since Daniel Edwards' rendition of Pro-Life Britney.


Jolie, who has now adopted two children, one from Cambodia, the other Ethiopia, has been a high profile champion of adoption from third world nations. Apparently she sees herself as celebrity watchdog when it comes to the issue, calling out none other than Madonna, for her legally murky adoption of a baby in Malawi: "Madonna knew the situation in Malawi, where he was born. It's a country where there is no real legal framework for adoption. Personally, I prefer to stay on the right side of the law. I would never take a child away from a place where adoption is illegal." Didn't Spears mess with Madonna too? Not advised.

No word from Anderson Cooper on whether Jolie will shell out the $50,000 (and then donate it) for Kretz' painting.

As Nancy Pelosi made clear yesterday on Face the Nation, the Democrats in Congress will employ their oversight perogatives as their main tactic against Bush from now until the presidential election in 2008. As the majority party, they can call oversight hearings, place Bush officials under oath, and haul administration programs before the TV cameras.

That's what is likely to happen this week. Just as Bush announces mid-week his new surge strategy of boosting troop strength in Iraq, the Dems will be questioning Condi Rice, the Secretary of State before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday. A House Armed Services Committee hearing will hear Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine General Peter Pace on that same day.

Democratic Cleveland congressman Dennis Kucinich, the most outspoken member of the House against the war, tells the Washington Post this morning, "Congress has to intervene right now." And even Rahm Emmanuel, the man who is credited with masterminding the Democratic victory in the House elections last fall and who often tends to echo the Clinton line, is now speaking out strongly on the war: "This is not a surge. This is an escalation," he said. "When the American people voted for change in November,this is not what they had in mind."

Pelosi indicated yesterday that the main Democratic tool for slowing or blocking Bush on the war will be his probable request for supplemental funds to finance the surge. Whether they have the votes to deny him the funds is problematic.

-- James Ridgeway