Monday, March 31, 2008

Calm In Basra

McClatchy News asks a question:

With calm restored in Basra, Iraqis ask 'Who won?'

BAGHDAD — Relative calm settled over Basra, neighboring provinces and Baghdad on Monday as a ceasefire took hold after nearly a week of pitched fighting between the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and Iraqi government forces.

This has been another episode of simple answers to simple questions.
There's more...

Fatherland Security Lashes Out At IBM

IBM is restricted from bidding on any new contracts with the Federal Government. This was done at the behest of DHS.

IBM and several of its employees have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury on interactions between Environmental Protection Agency and IBM employees, a company spokesman said today.

The subpoenas, which were issued March 28 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, stem from an EPA investigation into allegations IBM improperly obtained information about a contract it was bidding on from EPA employees, said Fred McNeese, an IBM spokesman.

Earlier in the day Federal Times learned the EPA indefinitely suspended IBM from doing business with federal agencies. The suspension was posted on March 27 on a GSA Web site that lists companies barred from receiving federal contracts — Excluded Parties List System.

Wow, it seems not a new day dawns that doesn't bring some new complete load of crap out of the Bush administration. So, if you are Halliburton, or KBR, or Blackwater, you can drive away with billions of the public coffers but cross some lickspittle sycophant at Homeland Security and watch your blue-chip stock plummet. Just goes to show you, make sure you bow to the Steroid-SS at the airport, if you refuse to OBEY, you do so at your own peril.
There's more...

Children and Others Dying in Iraq Recently

Babies and children reported as killed by U.S. Troops. Hilla, Iraq.
photo found at Gorilla's Guides, March 27, 2008.

How Many Dead Babies Does It Take
To Make Us Quit Killing Them?

Want to know what's REALLY happening in Iraq?

Read Gorilla's Guide. Read Iraq Today.

Hold on to your stomach...and your heart.

Oh... one more note.

I am copying over almost five full days directly over from Gorilla's Guide. This isn't how one normally does these things. In case anyone isn't clear, I have enormous respect for Gorilla's Guide, and for copyright law. (Go read the Gorilla’s Guides For The Perplexed. Their reference articles on Islam, and their briefings on what the frack is going on will blow you away. That's in addition to their daily journalism, to which I am introducing you here.)

Copyright law depends on a balancing test. Among other factors, it requires a transformative effect or usage. If after having been stuck inside of the U.S. media machine (including progressive blogs) you are not transformed out the ass by reading THIS, almost five days of THIS, I urge you to keep reading it till you are. Seriously. (And yes, I know that's almost certainly not what was meant when the law was written. Besides, black-letter law doesn't say “transformative”; it's case-law which does. It was just too good a line to pass up. *smiles*) None the less I am serious in my intent, which is causing a transformation for each of us. And there, GNB Media is allowed to copy the material to facilitate teaching, especially considering the other parts of the traditional four-pronged balancing test.

Consider this a transformative introduction, a genuine education in the amazing breadth and range of non-U.S. sources of journalism. But today isn't only about getting outside of U.S. journalism. I intend to cause a shift in you, you, and you, the lurker over in the corner, such that all of you are left having deeply confronted what I've been confronting, what I keep demanding of myself that I confront over and over again, every couple of weeks...

We are killing children.

Look at that photo. LOOK.

Some nice young man -- the “troops” -- followed orders, and dropped a bomb right into the middle of a crowded housing project or neighborhood.

  • Brooklyn.
  • Manhattan.
  • Houston.
  • Detroit.
  • San Francisco.
  • Little Rock.
  • Tucson.
  • Los Angeles.
  • Chicago.
  • Kansas City.
  • St. Louis.
  • Seattle.
  • Miami.
  • Portland.
  • Atlanta.
  • San Diego.
  • Tulsa.
  • Boston.
  • Dallas.
  • Salt Lake City.
  • Denver.
  • Sacramento.
  • Reno.
  • New Orleans.
  • Nashville.
  • Palm Beach.
  • Or even Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Wait... I said too many places and the horror went away... poof, that fast.

Look at the photo again please.

This happens daily. Nice young men in uniform kill children, kill babies.

Here are the last five days in Iraq, partially represented from one website. All I'm posting up is one photograph. You're not watching the video, not having to listen to the families morn, listen or watch the little ones scream in pain, not seeing the few doctors remaining work frantically to try and keep the kids alive, failing.

As you read through this, please imagine this happening to your family, your children, your brothers and sisters, your mother and father, your aunts and uncles, your best friends, the people you work with if only they weren't all out of work because your office or factory is destroyed, plus it's too dangerous to get to work. Imagine please, it is your family dying, fighting to eat, struggling to stay alive as bombs, missiles and guns go off.

Here are five days in Iraq (one-website, one photo, no sound.)

Gorilla's Guide

March 27


By midday March 26th 2008 - hospitals in Baghdad reported civilians casualties from the American attacks on Sadr city as 20 dead 239 wounded. Mostly women and children. Such as the boy you see to the left. Many of the wounded are not expected to survive.

The Americans continue to prevent both doctors and ambulances from entering Sadr city.

They are also preventing ambulances from leaving the city.

Normally very reliable sources say the Americans have fired on ambulances and other vehicles trying to take wounded out of the city.

Two Soldiers from the American army still trying to subjugate Irak were killed in Baghdad.

Missile attacks on the green zone wounded 3 or 5 Americans depending on who you believe.

Mortar attacks in Nle and al-Resala killed 7 and wounded 23.

The green zone also is being shelled.

In Karrada 4 were killed and 5 wounded by mortar attacks. Another person was killed by shooting, 5 were wounded in that shooting attack.

UPDATE: Karrada is under curfew and there are very heavy forces to try to stop people attacking it and the homes of the SIIC leadership there.

UPdate: At least 2 further people were killed in ongoing American attacks on Sadr city this afternoon evening reports of wounded vary the minimum number is 8.

There are massive demonstations throughout Baghdad against the Americans and the puppet government in the green zone.

There has been major incidents of violence in the following districts - al-Amil, Fudhailiya, al-Hurriyah, Iskhan, Kamiliya, Mashtal, al-Rustumiyah Sadr, City, al Shula, al-Shurta, Ur, Washash. Many incidents in rest of Baghdad and outlyingh areas also.

UPDATE The Americans and the Badr brigade are trying to stop people getting into or out of Khazimiyah.

Sources: Radio reports & Team members.

Gunmen attacked the home of the commander of logistics for GZG forces and burnt it to the ground, the report says the family were rescued by GZG special forces.

The Guardian is reporting that a British SAS soldier was killed in Baghdad.

In a show of force Mahdi army fighters in the “New Baghdad” area completely cut off the main highway and main roads. Our member who live in area says that this was done as a warning of what they would do if attacked.

UPDATE There is fighting in al-Shula Mahdi army fighters stormed the GZG checkpoint controlling access to the district forcing the GZG “elite” troops and police to flee. The American outpost there is under attack.

UPDATE: GZG spokesmen in Baghdad say that 66 GZG troops and five gzg officers have been killed so far.

UPDATE: The American base in . al-Rustumiyah (SothEast Baghdad) is coming under repeated attack.

UPDATE Local sources confirm Aswat al Irak fighting throughout ALL northest Baghdad. UPDATE 2 Locals confirmed several GZG vehicles seized and set alight. Figfting described by them as “intensifying” contradicting Aswat al Iraks report that heavy American air presence calmed the situation down..

UPDATE Sources in al-Shula say that many police stations and checkpoints have been stormed an overrun we do not have reports of police survivors.

UPDATE GZG is trying to impose curfews they appear to have little success in this.

UPDATE GZG Baghdad spokesman saying 19 dead and 307 wounded.

Babil Governorate:

More than 60 people allegedly all armed were killed in the American aerial bombardment of Al-Askari and Nader in central Hilla but there is a problem:

The problem is that it is a lie. It a STUPID lie. It’s the sort of STUPID LIE that only an American military spokesman would tell.

Were you stupid enough to believe anything the Americans are saying about them knowingly killing women and children?

The attack was by Apache aircraft on al-Askari, Ahmed Nader and Muhaizem neighbourhoods.

Gunmen like the children in the screen grab with caption from the Sadrist site nahrainet [that you see at the top of this post -- Jesse.]

Al Askari, Ahmed Nader, and Muhaizem are all heavily populated areas.

It is physically impossible to heavily bombard a densely populated civilian area without killing a lot civilians.

The Americans killed a lot of civilians.

Civilians like the women and children you see to the left. The caption incidentally cites “dozens” of dead women and children.

Eyewitness accounts speak of seeing 25 bodies, including many women and children. They also talk of 35 people being evacauted as seriously wounded and that again many if not most of these were women and children. Two doctors in the local hospital who refused to be identified said to one of our local correspondents that many of these were expected to die.

According to local people the scale of destruction is enormous, they speak of families being wiped out, there are reports of 6 houses turned to rubble, many other houses rendered uninhabitable and of multiple secondary explosions from the fuel tanks in cars.

It is worth noting that an American base is nearby. It is also worth noting that the local police are members of the Badr brigade and that they have repeatedly been reported as committing serious atrocities in the three neighbourhoods which are very deprived even by present day Iraki standards and are overwhelmingly Sadrist.

UPDATE: The GZG governor is trying negotiate with Sadrist leadership in Hilla. Local sources the fighting is as heavy as ever.

And according to the the American spokesman the people killed were 60 gunmen.

March 27 -- evening

Ali Ibn Laith. Born December 14 1999 - Killed March 27 2008

Son of our much missed colleague Laith and his wife, last remaining brother to our greatly loved colleague Mohammed Ibn Laith and his sister.

O God! Pardon our living and our dead, the present and the absent, the young and the old, the males and the females.

There will be no further postings tonight.

[Note:A Child's Death in Iraq -- Jesse]

March 29

Witnesses to the battle for Basra describe scenes in the city

‘I told her she was mother to a martyr’

As fighting between the Shia Mahdi army and the Iraqi national army continued yesterday, witnesses described scenes in the city to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad.

“Yesterday we were in the street and saw a black car coming. They stopped and two men opened the boot. They dragged out an Iraqi soldier and threw him in the street and they drove away.”

“He was a young soldier dressed in a military uniform, he had a bullet hole in his head and there was blood on his face - even his boots were covered with blood.

“We found his ID card, his name was Ahmad Raad al-Helfy. We went through his mobile phone and found a number marked “mum”, we dialled and an old women answered. I told her that her son had died and that she was the mother of a martyr; she started screaming and wailing.”

Said Abu Saleh, 30

“The situation is very difficult in Basra, all the side streets are controlled by the Mahdi army. Even if the army has lots of tanks, the Mahdi fighters are controlling the streets. The fighters are driving in captured Iraqi Humvees and waving new guns.”

Resident of Hayyaniya, a stronghold of the Mahdi army

“Our fighters are being targeted not by the Iraqi government but by government militias working for Moqtada al-Sadr’s rivals in the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. They are a executing a very well-drawn plan. They are trying to exterminate the Sadrists and cut and isolate the movement before the September local elections. The Sadrists are the only Shia resistance movement against the occupiers [Americans] and we have wide popularity.

“We are going through a battle of existence. We will fight to the end; we either survive this or we are finished.

“We have captured lots of their vehicles, machine guns and mortars. We have new rocket-propelled grenades we got from their supply trucks. Our fighters know how to use the side streets as their battle space.”

Sheikh Ali al-Sauidi, a senior commander in the Mahdi army speaking in a telephone interview

Source: Witnesses to the battle for Basra describe scenes in the city | World news | The Guardian

See also: We’re fighting for survival, says Mahdi army commander for a fuller account.

March 30

British and US forces drawn into battle for Basra - Middle East, World - The Independent

So far Mr Sadr has not formally ended his ceasefire, declared in August last year and renewed in February. Ever since he fought the US marines in two battles in Najaf in 2004, he has been averse to direct military confrontation with the Americans or his Shia rivals when backed by the US. But as Mr Maliki’s military offensive falters, his commanders are increasingly looking to the US and Britain for support. If US and British forces engage in direct military action on a wide scale with the Sadrist militia, then Mr Sadr could call for a general uprising, which would engulf all of Shia Iraq in war. The Mehdi Army already controls half of Baghdad.
Read in full: British and US forces drawn into battle for Basra - Middle East, World - The Independent

More March 30

Police refuse to support Iraqi PM’s attacks on Mehdi Army - The Independent

US and British forces are increasingly playing a supporting role in the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s stalled offensive against the Mehdi Army militia. American aircraft launched air strikes in Basra yesterday and fought militiamen on the streets in Baghdad while British advisers have also been assisting Iraqi troops in Basra.

Mr Maliki retreated from his demand that militiamen hand over their weapons by yesterday and extended the deadline to 8 April. This is a tacit admission that the Iraqi army and police have failed to oust the Mehdi Army from any of its strongholds in the capital and in southern Iraq. The Iraqi army has either met stubborn resistance from Mehdi Army fighters or soldiers and police have refused to fight or changed sides. “We did not expect the fight to be this intense,” said the officer from a 300-strong commando unit that has been pinned down in the Tamimiyah district in Basra, where the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi Army, have strong support.

The officer said four of his men were killed and 15 wounded in the fighting. “Some of the men told me that they did not want to go back to the fight until they have better support and more protection,” he added. The Interior Ministry threatened that the men would be court-martialled for refusing to fight. Government troops arriving in Basra complain that they are being fired on by local police loyal to Mr Sadr. Members of one police unit had fist fights with their officers after they refused to join the battle.

Continue reading ‘Police refuse to support Iraqi PM’s attacks on Mehdi Army - The Independent’

Basrah "surge" update March 29 2008 - March 30 2008

Overview Basrah:

There is extremely intense fighting still going on in Basrah. After a relatively calm morning - 8 people killed and 7 were wounded in an airstrike by the Americans on al-Tak in al-Hussein, an area the GZG said on Friday they had control of - GZG troops assisted by Badr militia and British artillery made efforts to dislodge Mahdi army fighters from their positions. These appear to have failed according to local reports the Mahdi army seem to have withdrawn to prepared defensive positions. The GZG “defence” minister says they cleared Mahdi army fighters from Al-Ashar, Tanouma, Shatt Al-Arab, al-Zubair. The efforts by GZG forces to recapture the bridge at Qurnah also are reported to have failed. This means that the GZG attemts to reinforce are not working which perhaps explains his comment that they were surprised by the weaponry being used by Mahdi army fighters and therefore are bringing up heavier weaponry to try to dislodge the Mahdi army. He and other spokesmen are saying that GZG forces will fight on until they have “cleared Basrah of criminal elements”. Maliki has gone as far as to say that the JAM are “worse than al Qaeda”.

Residents in al Taminmiyah say that GZG forces are making announcements demanding they leave their homes and that afraid of being caught up in an assault many have complied. Other residents report that GZG troops attempted an incursion and are now trapped there are similar reports from Zubair and al-Ashar. There are widespread reports of defections by GZG police and army to the Mahdi army. Mahdi army has also allowed journalists to speak to captured GZG police and army soldiers.

A bombing raid on Sunday night by the Americans seriously wounded 7 people and cause the collapse of two houses. UPDATE: 10 killed 7 wouned

Overview Baghdad:


In his interview with al-Jazeera al-Sadr made the following key points:

  • He would never accept the American occupation of Irak.
  • Politics and religion are inseparable this does not mean that the Sadrists are a political party - they will never be that.
  • The role of the clergy is to observe and advise the government.
  • That all Irakis Sunni and Shia alike should resist the American attempts to occupy Irak.
  • That he had rejected and denounced sectarian killings repeatedly.
  • That sectarian (and ethnic) killing would always take place for as long as the Americans were in Irak.
  • That he personally had told Iranian supreme leader Khamenei that Iranian interference in Irak would not be tolerated.
  • That the struggle in Irak was both political and sectarian that it was political at government level and sectarian and street level.
  • That at the political level Sadrist representatives in the GZG “parliament” routinely voted with the “Sunni” parties.

UPDATE AL-Sadr has explicitly told his supporters not to give their weapons to GZG forces that they may only give their weapons to a government that expels the Americans.

UPDATE The GZG have sent a delegation to Najaf to negotiate with the Sadrists.

Hospitals in Sadr city said that by noon Friday, 39 people were killed and 389 others injured since the outbreak of fighting and airstrikes on Sadr City. By noon Saturday the casualty levels had gone up to 75 dead and 500 wounded. GZG Health ministry officials update that figure on Sunday morning to 125 dead and 892 wounded.

The spokesman for GZG Baghdad Operations Command finally got around to admitting that the “surge” spokesman has been kidnapped - he was responding to questions about the tape released of him pleading with Maliki to end the current operation.

Fighting broke out after midnight in Abu D’sheer.

The curfew has been tightened and extended indefinitely.

Other Governorates

Fighting continues in Karbala. (Local GZG security forces deny this saying that what is happening is a series of raids.) There is sporadic fighting. The Dawa party HQ in al Salam was attacked by fighters using RPGs. Fighting also continues in Diwaniyah.

Site News: Many of us are running low on fuel for our generators. This means very light or no posting from Monday. The subscribers edition will continue to be produced as normal.

March 31

The big news is the al-Sadr’s “Stand Down” —more accurately termed Maliki’s “climb down” follow this link or click the image below to see the original text of al-Sadr’s declaration. There will be plenty of statements and counter statements and a lot of misinformation especially in the Western media and the pro-government Iraki media. This is my “take” on the matter.

Text of the declaration:

Based upon our responsibilities under the law [shariah] and for the sparing of Iraki blood and for the protection of the reputability of the Iraqi people, and for their unity both in terms of people and in terms of territory, and in preparation for its independence and liberation from the armies of oppression; and in order to put out the fires of fitna which the occupier and his followers wish to keep burning between Iraki brothers, we call upon the beloved Iraki people to measure up to their responsibility and their cognisance of law in sparing bloodshed and preserving peace in Irak, and its stability and independence.

The following is resolved:

  1. Ending armed manifestations in Basra governorate and all the other governorates.
  2. Ending of attacks and illegal arbitrary detentions.
  3. Demand that the government apply the law on general amnesty, and release all prisoners who have not had charges confirmed against them, in particular prisoners belonging to the Sadrist current.
  4. We announce that we will repudiate those who carry weapons and target the government and service agencies and institutions, or the offices of political parties.
  5. Cooperation with government agencies to bring about security and to charge criminals, according to due process of law.
  6. We reassert that the Sadrist movement does not possess heavy weapons.
  7. Efforts [meaningful efforts are to be made] for the return to their residential areas of those who were forced out as a result of security incidents.
  8. We demand respect for human rights by the government in all of its security activities.
  9. Working [meaningful efforts are to be made] towards the realisation of development and service projects in all governorates.

The first thing that must be said is that these are exactly the same demands that al-Sadr has been making for months. He reiterated them again when the fighting started. Maliki has been forced to accept every single one of them. I wonder how he managed to delude himself that the spectacularly misnamed “Saulat al-Forsan” (Charge of the Knights) would succeed.

Basrah is the country’s economic lung and the Mahdi army, the Badr Brigade, and Virtue (Fadhila) party all have a heavily armed presence there. Politically it is arguable whether it is the Virtue party or the Sadrists who are likely to do best in the forthcoming elections both are likely to do very well indeed, the SIIC is unlikely to do well, they will be lucky if the retain and significant presence.

The Mahdi Army was well-prepared:

The Mahdi army took the lessons of recent events to heart. Since the fighting in Karbala followed by further recent operations to reduce if not eliminate, their presence the Mahdi army have been digging in and preparing a defense in depth in Basrah. They plainly also planned to interdict the arrival of reinforcements for GZG troops once the fighting which everyone could see was coming got underway. They succeeded in their goals:

  • They successfully prevented attempt after attempt after attempt to retake the Qurnah bridge.
  • Far from being dislodged from their strongholds they successfully carried out a very difficult military operation — a tactical retreat under heavy fire to ready prepared defensive positions.
  • They successfully counter-attacked repeatedly.

During several of those counter-attacks they captured and/or destroyed heavy weaponry from GZG forces they also on several occasions cut off and then destroyed attacking forces.

We can now confirm that in regard to al Taminmiyah the reports from residents in this earlier posting “Other residents report that GZG troops attempted an incursion and are now trapped there are similar reports from Zubair and al-Ashar“turns out to have been no more than the truth and that the same is true of Zubair and al-Ashar.

The GZG defense minister admitted that his forces were unprepared either for the ferocity with which the Mahdi army fought or for the sophistication of much of their weaponry. Nor were they prepared for the combination of a simple refusal to fight by many of the soldiers coupled with wholesale defections.

That was not all they were unprepared for. The South erupted. That is a dramatic way of saying that the Mahdi Army successfully opened a number of new fronts in the fighting, Nasiriya, Karbala, Hilla, Diwaniyah, and Kut all saw very fierce fighting. Apart from the benefit to its fighters in Basrah there was the added benefit of reducing the pressure on its fighters in Karbala. They successfully seized Kut - they remain in control of that city for the moment, and in Nasiriyah, Dawa’s heartland, they not only seized ground they laid siege to the governor in his palace and the large number of GZG troops who were protecting him. Every time those troops tried to effect a breakout they were easily beaten back. Desperate negotiations ensued before the final Mahdi army assault, and the governor remains alive, and under siege, - for now.

As to what happens next on these secondary fronts it is hard to tell. My guess, and it is no more than an educated guess, is that the Mahdi army will gradually cede partial control of Kut and the other cities once the local GZG authorities demonstrate good faith. The problem of course lies in those two words “good faith” - at no point have Dawa and SIIC ever done so and I find it difficult to believe GZG officials loyal to those parties will do so now. I hope to be proved wrong in this but I am not optimistic. The fact that operations by GZG forces are continuing in several places including in Basrah makes me even less optimistic.

Let us get back to what we know instead of guesswork. It is clear that the GZG was also unprepared for the ferocity of the fight back in Baghdad. The Mahdi army not only were not dislodged they succeeded in gaining territory and will not lightly give it up. A measure of how desperate the situation was the GZG in Baghdad can be found in the fact that they had to massively reinforce Karrada and prevent all access to Kazhimiya. They had to get the Americans to help them besiege Sadr city. They lost badly in al-Shula. Baghdad did not see the wholesale defections of Basrah but there were enough of them including among elite units - army and police, to make the GZG military leadership very doubtful of their men.

Another measure of GZG desperation is that they used peshmerga forces in Basrah (and in Baghdad). I find it hard to find the words to describe how thoroughly hated the Peshmerga regiments have made themselves in the central and southern governorates. They see themselves as entitled to exact every piece of revenge they possibly can at every possible opportunity and do so. This may be understandable but it is very bad tactics.

What happens next? I do not know. But on past performance we can expect a lot of chest thumping from the GZG and from the Americans. We can also expect a lot of “incidents” of varying severity from the GZG side - probing attacks in other words.

What of Maliki - the man whose arrogance and disastrous lack of judgement has drastically weakened the GZG. What will happen to him?

Who cares …

Saba Ali Ihsaan,

Fuck war.

Killing is wrong.
There's more...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bush Booed By Baseball

h/t Think Progress.

There's more...

Obama: Clinton Welcome To Keep Campaigning

Barack Obama said Saturday, Hillary Clinton is welcome to keep campaigning as long as she wants.

Reuters via Rawstory

"My attitude is that Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants. Her name is on the ballot and she is a fierce and formidable competitor," said Obama, adding that the notion that Democrats have been split by the prolonged nominating contest "is somewhat overstated."

Clinton, a New York senator, on Friday vowed to stay in the White House race, rejecting mounting pressure from some Democratic leaders to bow out and let the party focus on defeating the presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, in the November general election.

Clinton trails Obama in the race for 2,024 Democratic nominating delegates. But she says she can still beat the Illinois senator and that all Democrats should get a chance to vote.

"There are some folks saying, 'well, we ought to stop these elections,"' she told a rally in Indianapolis.

"I didn't think we believed that in America. I thought we of all people knew how important it was to give everyone a chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted," Clinton said.

Holding out an olive branch to her supporters, Obama said Clinton "obviously believes that she would make the best nominee and the best president and I think that she should be able to compete and her supporters should be able to support her for as long as they are willing or able."

"I think it is important to pivot as quickly as possible for the superdelegates or others to make a decision as quickly as possible," Obama said, to give the nominee time to choose a running mate and plan for the party's convention in August.

Obama also downplayed fears that the contest will continue to divide Democrats in the election against McCain.

"You can't tell me that some of my supporters are going to say 'well, we'd rather have the guy who may want to stay in Iraq for 100 years because we are mad that Senator Clinton ran a negative ad about Senator Obama. And I think the converse is true as well," he said.
I agree.

Or as Al Gore said...
Associated Press via CNN

Meanwhile, former Vice President Al Gore said Thursday he expects the heated Democratic race will be resolved, according to The Associated Press.

"What have we got, five months left?" Gore told the AP. "I think it's going to resolve itself, but we'll see."

Gore didn't say whether he expected the race to be settled before the Democratic National Convention in August.

Gore's name has been invoked among some Democrats as a neutral party elder who could forge a compromise between the two candidates, or even appear on the top of the presidential ticket himself.

Earlier this week, Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Florida, suggested Gore, the party's 2000 presidential nominee, could assume the role of a compromise candidate if neither Clinton nor Obama could broker a deal.

"If it [the nomination process] goes into the convention, don't be surprised if someone different is at the top of the ticket," Mahoney told a Florida newspaper, adding Gore could be that choice.

We're all tired of primary season.

Yet even as tired as everyone is, Senator Obama is giving Senator Clinton room to campaign. This is a gracious act by a gracious man. Senator Obama is taking the high road, all the way to Denver.

Please keep the pie fights to the threads -- such as this one -- which are about Obama/Clinton, and leave the rest of the threads to other concerns.

Eventually, all this will be over. Till then, keep breathing. *smiles*
There's more...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Meaning of School Shootings: Part Four (and Last)

My apologies for the wait between parts Three and Four -- my personal life (GDC, finals, projects, etc.) got in the way, as did my desire to make sure that I adequately presented the arguments against my thesis (which meant I had to actually read a couple of books :-)). But we're here at last, and we'll finish off the argument and provide a suggestion for improving our situation.

Re-cap of Parts One, Two, and Three
School shootings are statistically insignificant as a cause of death and injury in America, but they garner an unjustifiably large share of our media when they happen. I contend that we are interested in them not only because "if it bleeds, it leads" on TV, but because we recognize them as aberrant phenomena and, as sense-making creatures, we want to know why they happen and what they mean.

We are addressing part of why they happen -- not the short and long-term triggering events (bullying, childhood abuse, mental illness, all mentioned multiply in comments) but the long-term enabling events which result in murders rather than brawls or other, less socially unacceptable, behaviour? Why shootings? How did we go from fistfights to "rumbles" with knives to guns?

Violent media imagery plays a significant part. Violent media imagery includes movies, TV shows, TV news, music, and video games (computer games, arcade games, and console games). Studies show clearly that consumption of violent media imagery correlates with later violent behavior and that there are at least two mechanisms at work: arousal (which reinforces violent behaviours observed and performed) and desensitization (which reduces barriers to violent behaviour). Statistical examination suggests that between 15% and 37% of the increased aggressive or violent behaviour can be explained by exposure to violent media imagery.

Arguments against violent media imagery promoting violent behaviour often actually support the idea: James Paul Gee promotes video games as very effective teaching tools and arousal is at the heart of his argument. Harold Schechter suggests that all popular media is demonized and that the US has always had extremely violent media in the form of broadsides, dime novels, public executions, and other "savage pastimes". But he acknowledges that children behave differently today consuming both passive and active violent media imagery and that the physical "roughhousing" that resulted from earlier media violence is now missing.

In my opinion, the link between violent media imagery and violent behaviour (both by correlation and by method) is well established. Violent media imagery effects (we'll see shortly why "causes" is not the right term) violent behaviour in two ways: it reinforces (via arousal and lack of contextual negative feedback both in story and real life) and it desensitizes (via repetition and contextual positive feedback both in story and real life). Note the common element of contextual feedback, which is covered extensively in Grossman: soldiers kill within a sharply defined context which requires (among other things) approval by an authority figure. Violent media imagery generally fails at "properly" (by which I mean in accordance with either military training or a desire to limit societal violence) contextualizing violence. This is a substantial difference between Schechter's "savage pastimes" and modern media violence: public executions, for instance, were clearly contextualizing non-state violent behaviour as inappropriate and subject to state sanction; even 1950's media like Daniel Boone (cited by Schechter as extremely violent by today's media standards) show a black-and-white view of violence (good violence by state actors and heroes in retribution for bad violence by non-state actors and villains like "Indians") that has context which is missing in much of today's violent imagery.

Viewed in this light, violent media imagery doesn't cause violent behaviour; it enables violent behaviour. As many commenters have noted, other causes (mental illness, abuse, bullying, ...) lead to violent behaviour: what violent media imagery does is make the response to those causes more violent than it would be otherwise.

One particularly frightening enabling factor is the use of video games (yes, here I am explicitly indicting video games as opposed to generalized violent media imagery) for training. The US military and law enforcement have used video games back to Duck Hunt to teach trainees in "shoot / don't shoot" choices (largely "shoot" for the military and "don't shoot" for law enforcement, but the techniques are very similar). As the military uses them, games of this sort can be considered conditioning tools. As the law enforcement community uses them, games like Hogan's Alley are some of the best shoot / don't-shoot training aids available, and are far cheaper than creating a real "Hogan's Alley" like the FBI's training facility.

There is another way these games work, however:

Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal steals a gun from a neighbor's house, brings it to school, and fires eight shots into a student prayer meeting that is breaking up. Prior to stealing the gun, he had never shot a real handgun in his life. The FBI says that the average experienced law enforcement officer, in the average shoot-out, at an average range of seven yards, hits with approximately one bullet in five. So how many hits did Michael Carneal make? He fired eight shots; he got eight hits, on eight different kids. Five of them were head shots, and the other three were upper torso. The result was three dead and one paralyzed for life. I tell law enforcement officers about this when I train them, and they are stunned. Nowhere in the annals of law enforcement or military or criminal history can we find an equivalent achievement. And this from a boy on his first try. (Grossman & DeGaetano, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, pg 4)

Video games are effective training devices. The US military wouldn't use them if they didn't work. Michael Carneal not only hit eight out of eight times on eight different targets, apparently all eight shots were into the "sniper's triangle" of upper chest and head. Impressive. Possibly unequaled. But still odd. Most inexperienced (and many experienced) shooters fix on a single target and fire until that target goes down, sometimes pulling the trigger continuously on an empty weapon.

The normal, almost universal response is to fire at a target until it drops and then move on to the next target. (ibid, pg 76)

There's only one school of shooting that teaches you to stand in one place and put one round into each target's head: video games.

Michael Carneal...never moved his feet during his rampage. He never fired far to the right or left, never far up or down....most video games each you to fire at each target only once, hitting as many targets as you can...And many video games give bonus effects ... for head shots. (ibid, pg 75-76)

Carneal is perhaps the most extreme example, but there are others. Wesley Schaefer in South Carolina, the Jonesboro, Arkansas shootings, and even Columbine have various links to video games ("obsessive" playing of video games, use as an explicit training tool, gaining tactical expertise, etc.). In none of these cases is the training link as explicit or as dramatic, and in none of them do video games cause the violence. But in all of them the training provided by video games enables the activity.

What's To Be Done?

Banning video games or violent media imagery is not on the table. Not only is it un-American, it probably wouldn't work. When you find a course of action which is both immoral and ineffective, it's best to look for other options.

Aside from attacking the actual causes of violent behaviour (mental illness, bullying, abuse, etc.), the best long-term solution is to properly contextualize violence, especially for young people. Soldiers returning from war do not have a significantly higher level of murderous behaviour than the population at large. Their training has enabled them to function in war without loosing warlike behaviour upon the rest of us, largely through dehumanization of the enemy and because of the strong requirement for authoritative orders before firing. These controlling elements are largely missing in most violent media imagery. In fact, much modern media glorifies the hero who breaks the rules in order to violently solve problems.

Consider the difference between Blade (the comic book, movies, TV series, and video games) and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In Blade, the enemy is well defined and, in fact, inhuman (or serving the inhuman vampires). Killing a human in Blade: Trinity is clearly contextualized as a Bad Thing for a variety of reasons. Although GTA:SA is somewhat cartoonish in appearance, there's no dehumanization of enemies at all: they are fellow people, whether innocent civilians, enemy gang members, or even police officers. There is no clear distinction (in the game -- some players may provide one themselves) between civilians and combatants.

Let's be clear: the difference is not multiple forms of media versus video game. The difference is the contextualization of violence as acceptable against a limited class of enemy (one you're unlikely to encounter in real life, I might add) versus the contextualization of violence as acceptable against anyone. In 1950s and 1960s TV, violence was often properly contextualized (for the time: we need not discuss the inappropriateness of accepting violence against Indians or other class or racial grouping that was generally acceptable then) as acceptable when used against certain groups and unacceptable against other groups. We may lament the groups chosen then (or now) and we may consider this distinction irrelevant, but it is actually critical when you look back (see Part Two) at the five factors of Grossman's model for making killing acceptable to soldiers: Demands of Authority, Group Absolution, Predisposition of Killer, Total Distance from Victim, Target Attractiveness of Victim. Context figures prominently in Demands of Authority, Group Absolution, Total Distance from Victim, and Target Attractiveness of Victim.

Several parts of the 1954 Comics Code addressed this contextualization:

  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal [be] punished for his misdeeds.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.

The 1954 Comics Code isn't a model I'd like to emulate, but you find ideas where you find them. An informal code for media intended for children (under R, certainly) might be useful.

Unfortunately, "proper" contextualization is culture and nation dependent. Consider Counter-Strike:Condition Zero, in which players play either anti-terrorist units or terrorist cells. From an American cultural perspective, proper contextualization would limit players to playing anti-terrorist units. Other cultural contexts might find more propriety in playing the terrorist forces (although they would undoubtedly be relabeled "freedom fighters" or "Warriors for God" or something similar). Contextualization requires moral choices that many liberals in America are likely to be uncomfortable making. Of course, some conservatives may find contextualization just as difficult: is it OK to use violence against people violating the rule of law in America? Regardless of your position on the political spectrum, there are moral elements present in determining a "proper" context for violence, and there are some positions (ultimate pacifism, for instance) from whom there is no context where violence is acceptable.

Ultimately, school shootings are meaningful because they are aberrant. They focus our attention on changes in our society that normally remain hidden: the pervasiveness of bullying and abuse, the increase in violent media images, the effectiveness of video games as training devices. What we choose to do with that attention and the knowledge that comes from it is the hard question. The harder we look at the system the more complex it becomes, and the more complex it is the less likely simplistic solutions (ban video games, demonize Hollywood) are to work. Complex solutions (reduce abuse by reducing poverty and rebuilding the family, reduce bullying by diversity and education, recontextualize violence as inappropriate in more circumstances) are harder to conceive and immeasurably harder to implement, especially when public policy ideas must be sold in six-second sound bites.

Finding a solution begins with understanding the nature of the problem.

James Paul Gee, Why Video Games are Good for your Soul, Common Ground, ISBN 186335574-X, 2005.
Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, Crown, ISBN 0-609-60613-1, 1999.
Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Back Bay Books, ISBN 0-316-33011-6, 1995, 1996.
Harold Schechter, Savage Pastimes, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-28276-1, 2005.

A Personal Note: when I set out researching this topic, I was of the opinion that violent media imagery was generally irrelevant to violent behaviour. I had worked extensively in video games and been constantly assured that we provided catharsis not conditioning. I ignored facts like the military using video games as training tools (both tactical training and conditioning). I've read some of Grossman's fiction and did not like it. I've followed the stories about Jack Thompson and find him odious, opportunistic, and overly sensational. I started writing this series (originally going to be a single post) with the idea that I would show that school shootings and violence are statistically irrelevant and have no underlying "cause".

But upon reading the source material, my opinion changed as my understanding of the mechanisms deepened. Imagine my surprise when I wrote this series instead. I have read more than a thousand pages on this subject (and have one major work left to read -- it turned out to be unnecessary for this series), and it turned me around 180 degrees. I feel like someone smacked me upside the head with a big pile of bumper stickers saying "if you can't change your mind, how do you know you have one?".

Thanks for reading.

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Live Blogging Eschaton

I am in Philly, I just had breakfast at the Dutch Country Kitchen and am here as Eschacon08 starts up.

I got Jane some coffee. It's a good day.

First panel, is Jane Hamsher, Digby, and Atrios, and NTodd on having an impact.

I love this town.

It's getting a late start, because NTodd is playing sound engineer.

Duncan Black talking about impact of blogs. His start 6 years ago, and the defunct MediaWhoresOnline.

The media is a failure, or has failed. "How to effect the mainstream media". He is saying communicating with the media doesnt work, you have to cause "a shitstorm." He thinks we are making some progress, and Halperin is a jagoff.

NTodd is going off now. Explaining we have to find many ways to reach people. He is involved with CodePink and talks about afflicting the comfortable.

Digby is talking about the frustration that led her to start blogging. She started in Atrios's comment threads. She is talking about how bloggers create and more importantly maintain a narrative.

Good panel, conclusion seems to be we can, to some degree coordinate our message, but still have to fight tooth and nail to get it picked up by the corporate media. for example Jane Hamsher filing a complaint with the FEC about McCain breaking campaign finance law. NO ONE picked it up. No one.

12:00-1:30 Lunchtime Panel: Creating Constitutional Accountability
These guys are saying that Rove will be subpoenaed, and we will see hearings on the scandal concerning the Alabama Governor that Rove threw in jail for having the temerity of being a Democrat.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Running for office

Dear GNB family, I am taking another plunge deep into the heart of Democratic Party Politics. I am running for a post as a member of the Democratic National Committee.

I currently serve as chair of Democrats Abroad Japan (kind of like being a democratic party county club leader) But I am putting my hat in the ring for our upcoming election for a DNC position representing the Asia Pacific Region of Democrats Abroad. The election is in two weeks at our region and global caucus which will be held in Vancouver. This is a big step for me, but one that I feel strongly about and I am committed to giving it my all.

This has come about because since 2004 I have taken to heart Howard Dean's comments that voting only gets you a C grade in this day and age, to get a B you must get out there, volunteer, work for a campaign, roll up your sleeves, and for an A you should run for office or take on a leadership role in some way in the party. So I am giving it a try...

The process will be simple, I believe. At the beginning of our Regional Caucus on 4/11 the vote for DNC will be one of the first orders of business. Nominations can and will be taken from the floor, then candidates will briefly speak to the electors and then a vote by show of hands will be taken. The electors are the country chairs, vice chairs or other representatives from the main country committees in our region which include Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and Australia. The votes are weighted by our voting strength in the Global Primary- so if your country committee had good turn out then you have more votes.

Below is my candidate statement. Reading between the lines you can see some of the issues we have been dealing with as a state party. I would appreciate the feedback and advice of the GNB community. Thanks for your time... and I will update you as the process continues.

Candidate Statement
Position: DNC Member, Asia Pacific

My name is Lauren Shannon, I am a proud grassroots Democrat and a true believer in pragmatic, progressive politics. This year we are choosing a new person to represent our region as a member of the Democratic National Committee. I want to be that person and believe that I can do a good job in the role. I want to take a few minutes of your time to tell you why.

The DNC seats have often been almost ceremonial in the past but as our region grows and gets organized, we really need to use the opportunity to bring information, share feedback with and get feedback from our region to the DNC meetings and to Washington.

I want to focus on representing the region... and reporting back.

I am a good communicator. I believe in the electorate and in real representational government. So if you choose me to for this post—my main focus will be communication with the chairs and country committee officers- finding out what we can do to give and to get more, with other folks in the DNC. I will work to foster energy, excitement and action - together.

I want to use the opportunity to go to DNC meetings specifically to talk to party folks about our efforts out here. I want to share with them how motivated we are, how the region is growing - and that we should be more on their radar.

I want to encourage VIP/DNC people to visit when they are traveling in the region.

In my role as Chair and previous officer positions in DAJ I have successfully arranged and managed events for visitors like Ambassador Foley, Ambassador Peterson, Congresswoman Hirono, Howard Dean and others. I would use this experience to convince and assure members of the Dem Leadership that trips to Asia are a great means of reaching out to donors, voters and volunteers.

I also want to push for better connections in getting our voting site information and absentee ballot issues on state party and campaign websites.

Some Specifics-

I would commit to doing a podcast and a written report each day of the DNC meetings that folks could listen too or read everywhere. I would also (as much as possible) circulate agendas, reports on DNC conference calls, and share what I learn with all of you. I have the Internet experience and the public service experience to commit to this and follow through on getting out the word.

I believe that real empowerment begins with sharing information and talking, thinking and acting on that information - together.

I also want access to the training and discussions that come out of the DNC meetings and I want the chance to share what I learn with everyone in our region.

I believe in complete transparency- And I believe in encouraging new people in leadership roles all through our group. I am a direct and honest communicator and I will always tell you what I am thinking and will always be interested in what the leaders in the region are thinking. I want to hear how we can best represent our members throughout the Asia Pacific group.

I have both online activist and face to face/door to door experience. I worked in the 2004 Iowa Caucus for Gov. Dean- organizing a group of 3 volunteers and garnering international press coverage which allowed us to grow our membership in Japan. And I organized a group of 11 people from Dems abroad in Japan and the UK to work in Florida (Tampa Bay and Sarasota regions) for the Kerry Campaign and for a down ticket race for Tampa County Board Supervisor of Elections. Our group was called Sunshine and Alligators...and we helped Senator Kerry win in all three precincts. I have also dedicated thousands of hours at home in Japan to register voters, meet and recruit new members, and have tried my best to serve DAJ and the membership first as a fundraiser, then secretary, vice chair and currently chair. I have wanted in the last two years to be more active in our region, and was excited to participate in and support our regional meeting in Thailand, and our Global Primary this year.

These experiences plus decades of support work with various volunteer organizations have given me off line experience that brings a well rounded approach to my political action and activities. I think my energy, outreach skills, and dedication to the region make me an excellent candidate for membership to the DNC.

Online; as a member and officer/ chair of DAJapan I have led the way experimenting and using technology for outreach, via web newsletters,interactive websites, podcasts, and other tech tools. I was also a beta tester of the new international website and still try to help with whatever that development team asks of me. You can see some of the results or my efforts, here:

DAJ Podcast:

DAJ Webnews:

Especially in doing the podcasts we have been able to interview and reach out to members of congress and other Dem VIPS -- and I would want to continue in this effort at the DNC meetings.

In closing, I feel that though we have at least two candidates for this position and both of us are dedicated, talented women, (others may be still be nominated form the floor of our meeting) but we as a region should try to increase the number of people who represent us at the international level. No one candidate should hold multiple seats in the DPCA/ DNC leadership, as we can use the chance of these positions to actively include multiple people's perspectives. This limiting of seats/ voices in Democrats Abroad is not against any rules, but I think that it is in our members' best interest to have as many different people as possible participating at the international and the DNC leadership level. I was disappointed that both the European DNC seat, and the Americas seat will be served by people who already have a significant role in the international leadership as regional chairs, ensuring that fewer members will participate at those levels. I hope we can avoid this same narrowing of the participation in our own region.

I can't wait to meet folks at the regional/ global meetings coming up.I was so sad to miss the Singapore meeting. I am happy to report that my travel schedule and ability to commit to the DNC meetings is looking great for the future. And I am ready to commit to doing the best job that I can if I am given this opportunity to serve by our electors.

I would love your feedback, comments and questions.
So, my beloved blog family-- what do you think? Is there more I should say or do? Does anyone have advice on running for DNC positions? Or other state party elections? I will be happy to put this behind me, and serve if I get the chance, as I am not one for horsetrading and the backroom deals that are often associated with these kinds of positions... But I will try my best.
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A Child's Death in Iraq

It's so, so time to leave.

I don't know how anyone can read this and argue for anything, except that it is time to leave. I truly don't.

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation

"My brother is dead ... and I helped kill him" -- by the Rev. Mike Kinman

Midday yesterday, this email popped into my inbox.

Mohammed's brother Ali died of his wounds today courtesy of shrapnel and flames caused by US missile strike.

He was 9.

Don't expect to hear anything from Mohammed until 40 day of the mourning period is over. XXX* says US soldiers shot at Mohammed as he approached a roadblock they had set up and that he was carrying Ali in his arms trying to get to hospital. He also says that Ali was very badly burned and died screaming.

*Co-worker of Mohammed's, name removed for securityreasons
The words cut through my heart to read. Not because they should have been surprising ... although maybe because I had been living in denial of how predictable they were. But mostly because the friend who sent me this email was telling me my brother was dead, and he died in my other brother's arms -- my brother, Mohammed, who was experiencing pain I could not even imagine ... and not for the first time.

The words cut through my heart to read because I knew.

My brother is dead ... and I helped kill him.

A little background for the perplexed...

I first "met" Mohammed a little more than a year ago. Looking for information about what was really happening on the ground in Irak, I found this website set up by an Irish former UN Peacekeeper who spends a great deal of time there. They set up people on the ground in Irak with laptops and digital cameras to document what is really happening there.

I read this post by Mohammed and was immediately struck by his eloquence and the power of his writing. I quoted it in a sermon I preached the next Sunday and then posted on my blog. Through the wonders of Google alerts, Mohammed found my sermon and commented on it, which started a conversations of posts and comments between us.

I learned that Mohammed was 16 years old, that he worked not just for Gorilla's Guides but also doing things like delivering food to people in refugee camps. I also learned that I couldn't know his real name or any other details that might identify him because their lives were in danger if they were identified as being Gorilla's Guides bloggers.

I learned that Mohammed hated America because America had invaded and occupied his country and killed his people. At the same time, he was willing and even eager to be in conversation with me because of his respect for whom he refers to as the Prophet Jesus (Praise Be Unto Him) and his teachings. That my Christian faith and priesthood and his submission to Islam were a common ground for conversation. So we made plans to begin an online conversation on a private, secure channel.

But before we could begin, I got this email:
Most of Mohammed's remaining family killed in Arbaeen massacres.
Father killed on Tuesday. Mother died of wounds incurred same attack yesterday. Little brother wounded same attack but now released from hospital. One other sibling in refugee camp uniinjured.

Mohammed now head of family in "nuclear family" sense of expression.

Mohammed and brother on pilgimage
The "little brother" was Ali.

When our conversation began again it was hard going. We started from the relatively safe ground of what we each believed as Muslim and Christian, but the conversation quickly turned to Irak and the U.S. I said I hoped we could become friends. He had serious doubts about that but always assured me that we were brothers. "My brother in humanity," he calls me ... and I call him the same.

The conversation was challenging and convicting. Mohammed continually said things that were and are difficult for me to hear as someone who loves my country and believes deeply in the ideals upon which it was founded and to which I believe our better angels still strongly aspire. At the same time, I was carrying on an email conversation with a former student of mine, Paul, who was an Army Ranger stationed in Irak. Paul is one of those people who represents to me the desire to follow our better angels, someone willing to live sacrificially for what he believes in.

The stories and perspectives I was getting from each of them sometimes converged but more often than not were poles apart.

I cannot even begin to go into what Mohammed has taught me not just about what is going on in Irak, but about Islam ... and about my own Christian faith. Holding his story in tension with Paul's was almost always difficult, but I became convinced that no matter how well intentioned and good-hearted soldiers like Paul were (and Mohammed and I went back and forth on that one!), our presence there must end and it must end totally.

There's more...
Go to the jump. Read the rest of the story.


It's time for A Responsible Plan to end the war. Currently endorsed by 43 candidates -- 39 House and 4 Senate.

Not that I ran this story to plug a political plan. I ran the story because it breaks my heart, and because we're so cut off here, from the other side of the story. Even here, in the heart of the progressive blogosphere, unless we're actively seeking out sites such as Iraq Today (on our blogroll) we're simply not getting what's happening in Iraq, as everything we read is being filtered through the American press.

In the first week we were open, I ran an article with the subhead, Corpse & garbage in the streets of Adhamiya. Nothing has changed, except more dead children and soldiers.

We need to leave.
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It's snowing.

Late March, and big fat sloppy flakes of snow are falling from the sky outside my bedroom window.


It's really coming down hard. We're having a snow storm. *smiles*

How's the weather in your neighborhood?

Open weather thread. Also, open thread on your weekend plans.

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Take a moment to take care of yourselves...and others.

You may have noticed my (LowerManhattanite's) scarceness over the last week-and-a-half or so. You may not have. I know that I've missed many of you and very much missed contributing as much as I would have liked.

Since Steve's illness and leaving us a year ago, the one truism we've all come to know is that “Life intrudes”—in good ways and bad. For me, life has intruded in a veritable multitude of ways in the last fortnight. Good...bad...but mostly it seems, the supremely distracting “What the fuck” variety.

It has seemed overwhelming at times, and got me down, but in the end, I have my wits about me and can take care of myself. That last statement rings loudly in my head because what put that in hard perspective for me was some unfortunate news I received about a peer. Someone i worked with for a couple of years a few years back, a tremendously talented, dazzlingly attractive person with the world pretty much an open oyster for them—stardom, money and the works—and that person is now literally incapacitated by mental illness.

As down as I was about whatever I may have been going through, this person who I had the chance to befriend and work with and experienced nothing but the height of professionalism from is now actually unable to take care of themselves. In the care of family now. Career derailed. The grand plan? Aborted. The mind now a day-to-day muddle through unsureness and darting, furtive thoughts that render a person incapable of doing the things everybody else takes for granted. Go to the store. Drive to the beach. Meet a new person and dance with 'em. All of that simple, mundane fun—gone like the dew after a morning sun's first burn.

I spent more than a few days talking to another friend of mind who knows this person too. It left me drained and melancholy. And it made me thankful for having what I do. Bad as shit is, there's always something else to put the situation in perspective for you.

I wrote about this phenomenon before here in the post “We Must Take Care Of Ourselves”. But my own issues about wellness pale in comparison to what my old co-hort is going through. Not only must we take care of ourselves, but I think karmically things work better if we also do what we can to take care of each other as well. Look out for friends when you can. One of the things that got me so damned down was realizing that I'd fallen out of touch with this friend/contemporary just as things seemed to spin out of control for 'em. It set me thinking about how thankful I am for the support system I do have—how these people buck me up, give me strength and look out for me.

Not trying to sound all New-agey / Haley Joel Osment “Pay It Forward”-y here. Just noting that with the fragility of the world about us, a little bit of reciprocal care—given out to friends and loved ones in the hope that it will come back in kind someday is NEVER a bad thing. You never know when a “support brace” in your life will give way, and having people looking in on you—caring, considering, loving you even a little can be enough to if not prevent the roof from caving in and burying you, shielding you a little so you're not crushed beneath its weight.

Look out for each other a little. Call a friend you haven't spoken to in a while. Check in. It could be just the thing they need at that moment, and I think it opens one up to just a touch of extra good coming one's own way when road gets rough. Rocky as my path may be, I can't help but think of my comrade and what they're going through, and that maybe with a little reaching out—not just from me—that their difficulty could have been caught sooner, diagnosed or just...cared about and perhaps lessened.

I'm going to be fine. My friend? Not so much unfortunately. And that leadens my heart. I hate that feeling. Thus, to mitigate it–I'm making a few calls. sending a few e-mails. It's gotten me feeling a bit better, so I'm recommending it to all. In this intense-for-all-the-wrong-reasons time, what really matters is people...and contact...and connection.

It's re-focused me and revived me.

I hope it does for you, too. It certainly will for whoever you decide to reach out to. And that alone is good enough.

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Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman (D) Released On Appeal

Lookin' A Little Moist There As We Play Out The Clock, Karl?

It hit like a thing falling out of the sky late yesterday. Potentially devastating in a “Donnie Darko”-sh way and just as freaky and unexpected.

For those with a stake in it—those whose law-flouting acts precipitated it, it's a late-in-the-game “Hail Mary” from the opponent unexpectedly connecting near the goal line.

Those little “plip” and “flutter” sounds you hear are sweat beads a' running and sphincters a' puckering.

Sweet music indeed to the ears of those on the side of right.

Ex-Governor of Alabama Is Ordered Released

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Donald Siegelman, former governor of Alabama, was ordered released from prison on Thursday by a federal appeals court, pending his appeal of a bribery conviction that Democrats say resulted from a politically driven prosecution.

In its order, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, said Mr. Siegelman had raised “substantial questions” in his appeal of the case and could be released on bond from the federal prison in Oakdale, La., where he has served nine months of a seven-year sentence. The order did not say what those questions were, but his lawyers have argued for months that the bribery charge on which he was mainly convicted revolved around a transaction that differed little, if at all, from a standard political contribution.

Mr. Siegelman’s lawyers maintained that — as is standard in many white-collar crime cases — the veteran Democratic politician never should have been imprisoned in the first place while he appealed his conviction.

“He should not have been manacled and taken off in the night,” said his lawyer, G. Robert Blakey, also a professor at the University of Notre Dame, citing the ex-governor’s immediate imprisonment after his conviction, a point of contention for his supporters.

The chief prosecutor in the case, Louis Franklin, told The Associated Press that he was “very disappointed” by the order but hoped to eventually prevail.

Mr. Siegelman’s case has been cited by Democrats here and in Washington as Exhibit A in their contention that politics has influenced decisions by the Justice Department, which prosecuted the former governor. In addition, Mr. Siegelman’s conviction in June 2006 here sharply polarized the political climate in this state, and suggestions by his supporters and others that the former Bush White House political director, Karl Rove, may have been involved have only increased the tensions.

Republicans have angrily denied the accusations of politics, but Mr. Siegelman has picked up some outside support for his claims of political prosecution. The House Judiciary Committee has held hearings on his case, and 44 former state attorneys general, Democrats and some Republicans, signed a petition last summer urging Congress to look into the conviction.

The court’s order came on the same day that the Judiciary Committee made a request to the Justice Department that the former governor be freed temporarily to travel to Washington next month to testify about his assertions that he was prosecuted for political reasons. A committee spokeswoman cited difficulties in getting information from the department as a reason for wanting Mr. Siegelman’s testimony.

Why does all of this matter? Let's go back, as the Incredible Jimmy Castor used to say—“Way the days of the trogolodytes.” courtesy of the muckrakers over at Josh Marshall's posh, investigative digs.

A lifelong Republican attorney from Alabama, Dana Jill Simpson, has come forward and sworn out an affadavit claiming that in 2002 a close associate of Karl Rove claimed that Rove had told him that he'd gotten the Department of Justice to investigate then-Alabama Governor Don Siegelman (D) and that he was sure the investigation would eventually take Siegelman out of politics. Is the claim true? Was Rove successfully using the DOJ to pursue politics by other means as far back as 2002?

The 'denials' from the other parties on the conference call have either been feeble, non-responsive or non-existent. And the charge is serious enough that you would certainly expect that if the claim could be roundly denied it would be roundly denied.

Then there's the White House and the Department of Justice.

Had the last five months not happened, perhaps there'd be no reason for either to deny the charges. But we already have a rather detailed predicate -- abundant evidence of inappropriate contacts between the White House political office and Main Justice.

A few journalists -- included a TPM reporter -- have put this question to the DOJ and the White House. Did Rove have any contacts with the DOJ about investigating Siegelman and did he tell William Canary that Siegelman would be "take[n] care of"?

But the White House refuses to answer the question. As does the Department of Justice.

For those who aren't familiar with the case, in a nutshell, during the 2000 campaign season when Siegelman, a popular statewide Dem refused to play the Southern Dixiecrat role and back the word-mugging Texas Governor and would-be President-elect during the endorsement and post-November hanging-chad phase—and vociferously came out against Bush, he made an enemy of the administration and its heavily-wattled kneecapper Karl Rove. So, using the Justice Department as a political blackjack early on, they went after Siegelman in a shady bribery prosecution that many of the main witnesses have since recanted testimony for, (as well as the exposé that a slew of Republicans were also implicated in the “crime” but miraculously were never prosecuted for it). Siegelman was quickly tried and jailed pending appeal as the “My Cousin Vinnie-fication” of the Southern courts held sway.

But Siegelman wouldn't just make do with his bread and water, and his supporters wouldn't just shut up.

They fought back—in the actual courtroom and the virtual “court of public opinion” of the media. They (his diligent daughter and his lawyers) would keep shining a light on the ugliness of what went down, and in so doing would continually “scatter the roaches” involved—to the point where when CBS' “60 Minutes” devoted a segment to the injustices of the trial last month, said segment was “accidentally” blacked out of much of northern Alabama due to what was first reported as a network “glitch”, then changed to an affiliate “glitch”, but is widely believed to have actually been a heavy-handed bit of ass-covering to blunt the story's impact on concerned Alabamians.

Needless to say, it didn't work, and the pressure continued to mount to where this stunning reversal occurred yesterday evening. It opens the door for Siegelman and his “team” to go to Washington and participate in the one thing the Bush administration hates with a passion—no, not respecting Brown people, but rather, embarrassing congressional hearings that implicate them in wrong-doing. Henry Waxman's already got a seat warm for Siegelman, so we can expect some fun and fireworks on Capitol Hill.

But the telling thing here is the over-the-top attempts to drown this blowbacking furor in the bathtub. You don't black out half a state's TV signal during a damning investigative report unless you're worried about how it's going to play and who's going to be implicated. This isn't about the local “Boss Hoggs” on the hook for their usual shenanigans. That kind of flexing comes from the bespectacled “King Wild Boar” himself, Karl Rove. The e-mail deletin', testimony-changin', shiesty son-of-a-bitch has his M.O all over that move, but in spite of it—Siegelman is out, and free to speak and more importantly, (and worst of all for the Bush admin) fight back directly.

Strange things happen in the final months of a lame duck administration. Some people don't push back as hard, as they're gearing up to bounce and do their own thang, whole others flip the script and use the “you can't hurt me” timing to allow scores to be settled. Ol' Karl isn't in the government any more per sé, but he's still quite vulnerable here for what appear to be obvious prior misdeeds against Siegelman, and as much as he may want them to , Mike Mukasey and his people may not be able to maintain their “prevent” defense for him until time runs out.

What's the “prevent”?

“This coverage is generally used as a “prevent defense” to be used near the end of a game or half, meaning that the defense sacrifices the run and short pass to avoid giving up the big play with the confidence that the clock will soon expire.

That has been the Rovian gambit all along—“Do the dirt, get the lead, and then stall until the clock / administration is over. Don't give up the big play”.

Siegelman's abrupt and according to the appellate court—much justified release is a “Hail Mary” into the “Red Zone” that hits, close to the goal line—and if you think it isn't, remember the “unsportsmanlike conduct penalty” Rove's team took with the northern Alabama blackout of “60 Minutes” (An FCC investigation?). That's a desperation move.

So take a deep breath. Take in the aromas. The bite of spring grass. The tang of freshly-popped fear-sweat, and the heavy, earthen funk of worry-shit.

It's not quite the smell of victory just yet, but we're sixty yards closer to it than we were 48 hours ago. And as shocking as it is to us, imagine how unsettling it must be to the bastard(s) counting every heart-stopping second off their “get over” clock. Probably seems like eternity after yesterday.

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Damn you, Barack Obama

Posted here without further comment (not work safe on language)

crossposted from ThatPoshGirl over at kos h/t to TT as well

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“The Mouth That Roared”

“Mouth-mouth-mouth almighty, tongue everlastin'...You're never satisfied unless there's something happenin''.”

In this silly-as-a-concussed-Tiny-Tim-on-laughing-gas season where on the Democratic side the story is tales tall and Reverends galled, the surface conventional wisdom is that the dangerously flawed GOP candidate John McCain is in good shape—what with his having had his two-decade “get-over” pass extended another election cycle by a callous-kneed press.

You would think based on that meme and the Democratic party's Presidential contenders' knife-fight / lye-splashing / dog-siccing that McCain would be able to just coast this bad boy on out—right up the war dead's blood-greased road into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As the mighty “Karnak The Magnificent” would say, “You'd be wrong, Postum™ and Poli-Grip™ breath!”

For you see, in spite of a for-the-most-part “salad-tossing” press corps, John McCain simply cannot help but be John McCain.

And what is John McCain, exactly?

He unrepentant, compulsive, proud and utterly uninformed, world-class BLABBERMOUTH.

Oh yes, I left out self-destructive in that litany of descriptives, and that really is the most damning part of it all.

I mean...the smart political thing to do would be for his handlers to shutter him away from most public contact and manage his appearances in a major way—perhaps allowing him to only speak bland, koan-like platitudes like Peter Sellers' Chance, the Gardener in the 1979 film “Being There”. But he has too much pride for that, and way too big of an ego. It is his deep love of his own perception of likability that enables his blathering. He thinks he can do wrong and that no one will ever call him on his bullshit and misdeeds.

He's partially right about that. For the most part, they won't.

But the bigger problem is that he simply won't shut up long enough to not eventually say something so egregious, off-putting or absurd that it cannot be ignored.

As Ralph Kramden so eloquently bellowed in frustration, he...“is a BLABBERMOUTH!”

It's a narrative that is starting to take hold about him—amazingly even with a lapdog media verbally fellating him. The “WTF”-is-he-talking-about?” candidate. It's one thing to be deemed “the pretty boy”, or “the affable, loopy reverend”, “the charmer” or “the tough lady”, but for an undesired image of the “WTF”-is-he-talking-about?” candidate to settle in as a large part of one's persona? Well...

...that's just political suicide. Plain and simple. To be known as an unmanageable, uninformed nut who spouts off about anything at the drop of a hat.

And the things he says!

1.) “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today”.

“General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed humvee. I think you oughta catch up. You are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media.”

You know, for a hot minute, things appeared better in Iraq—primarily due to Moqtada Al-Sadr's Mahdi army's cooling its heels for many months. Of course as we're seeing in recent days and as originally predicted, the so-called “surge” would not give the desired result—namely Peace in Iraq. In fact, that marketplace where McCain and his mush-mouthed Senate shouder-parrot Lindsey Graham visited and rooked the vendors is now absolutely off-limits for U.S. personnel—flak-jacketed, bodyguarded and Blackhawk-hovered or not. Oh's safe, folks. Safe in that brutal, sadistic Laurence Olivier in “Marathon Man” kind of way.

Then there's this pearl...

2.) “The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should. But, I’ve got Greenspan’s book,”

How, in the name of all that is holy do you say something so stupidity-revealing as that in the midst of a campaign season (January of this year) where the economy is reeling like a George Foreman-struck Gerry Cooney on greased roller skates? People are losing their jobs like mad. Gas is nearly $4.00 a gallon and the housing market's bleeding out like a Manson victim “and you don't understand economics as well as you should?” You might think that's some sort of endearing, folksy bit of “Cracker Barrel” honesty (wrapped around a pleading core of “this is my way of telling you to NOT ask me tough economic questions”), but if a 527 runs that line in an ad in Ohio, Michigan or Pennsylvania come general election time when people are eating dry-ass pancakes for dinner while doubled up in Uncle Ernie's house on the shitty side of town because somebody lost their Goddamned job in this economy “you don't understand”, you just see how far that takes you. Oh yeah, the dude whose book you haven't gotten around to reading? Greenspan? His policies happily, greedily set up the housing market economic disaster “you don't understand”. Re-read your “Collected Sgt. Rock—1968-1975” bound volume. It'll do you as much good.

Want more? Howsabout what happens when the fabled “Saint McCain” is questioned with any toughness? Yep, you get his legendary gas-soaked short fuse of a temper on ready display, as noted here:

3.) McCain Loses Cool With NY Times Reporter

ABC News' Bret Hovell Reports: Senator John McCain grew agitated Friday with a New York Times reporter who asked about his 2004 conversation with then-Democratic nominee John Kerry about McCain possibly running as Kerry’s vice presidential nominee.

New York Times correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller: Senator can I ask you about Senator Kerry. I just went back and looked at our story, the Times story, and you told Sheryl Stolberg that you had never had a conversation with Kerry about being, about Vice President –

John McCain: Everybody knows that I had a private conversation. Everybody knows that. That I had a conversation. There’s no living American in Washington -

EB: Okay.

McCain: - that knows that, there’s no one.

EB: Okay

McCain: And you know it too. You know it. You know it. So I don’t even know why you ask.

EB: Well I ask because I just read –-

McCain: You do know it. You do know it.

EB: Because I just read in the Times in May of ’04 you said.

McCain: I don’t know what you may have read or heard of, I don’t know the circumstances. Maybe in May of 04 I hadn’t had the conversation --

EB: But do you recall the conversation?

McCain: I don’t know, but it’s well known that I had the conversation. It is absolutely well known by everyone. So do you have a question on another issue?

EB: Well can I ask you when the conversation was?

McCain: No. Nope, because the issue is closed as far as I’m concerned. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows it in America.

EB: Can you describe the conversation?

McCain: Pardon me.

EB: Can you describe the conversation?

McCain No, of course not. I don’t describe private conversations.

EB: Okay. Can I ask you –

McCain: Why should I? Then there’s no such thing as a private conversation. Is there (inaudible) if you have a private conversation with someone, and then they come and tell you. I don’t know that that’s a private conversation. I think that’s a public conversation.

EB: Okay. Can I ask you about your (pause) Why you’re so angry?

McCain: Pardon me?

EB: Nevermind, nevermind.

Note that there may be no bigger reporter/shill for the GOP status quo than Bumiller, infamous for her dewy-eyed reportage on the reigning Chowderhead-In-Chief for the last eight years, and McCain absolutely lost his Peanut Butter Do-si-dos over this sycophant's mild pointing out of this blatant flip-flop of his. Which highlights another fatal flaw—his inability to keep to the story on even simple lies he's told. He reminds me of an old relative of mine who when someone mentions an incident where she's acted or spoken inappropriately in the past will simply pretend it didn't happen and then, when others dare continue talking about the truth of what did happen, will then absolutely lose her mind in a blind rage at the incident's being “re-hashed”. McCain can't help himself with this unfortunate tic either—try as he might. The so-called “Straight Talk Express” easily morphs into a nasty, “Berate Talk Express”.

But worst of all and most recently was his embarrassing, meandering blabber-mouthery at a Mid-East photo-op on things Iraqi, Al-Qaeda, and Iranian where he stood like the doddering, unnerving, bathrobed old coot “Herbert” from “Family Guy” and confidently pronounced an utter fantasism of how he saw the war in Iraq going and who was who, and doing what in it.

4.) Today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that Iranian operatives are “taking Al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back” — despite the fact that Iran is a Shiite nation and al Qaeda are Sunni fighters. Responding to reports of McCain’s factually inaccurate claim, the McCain campaign released a statement attempting to paint the senator’s fundamental error as an isolated slip of the tongue.


The fact that McCain made identical remarks on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show as well makes it clear McCain did not simply “misspeak.” What’s more, McCain corrected himself only after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) “stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate’s ear.”

Here's a picture of Lieberman helping his fellow war-crazed codger out after his fuck-up.

And yes, that's McCain with a “What the hell do you mean I've shit my Habands?” look on his face.

It was an utterly embarrassing moment with him having to be prompted on camera to fix a slap-dash, “I'm just wingin' it” gaffe. More campaign ad fodder. Mix it in with his “Make it 100 years in Iraq” idiotic pronouncement (where Lieberman was too many feet away to tug his Members Only™ jacket to tell him to “ix-nay on the undreds-hay earsyay alk-tay”) and his “Get the hook”-worthy “Bomb Iran” shitty karaoke singing and you have right there a compelling troika of images for an ad that with the proper supportive verbiage would be absolutely damning. You think that hastily cobbled together Wright ad was tough? This ad would feature the candidate swift-boating himself with his own words. Good God.

And the super shit-kicker is that there are many months to go and plenty more time for McCain stick his foot so far into his mouth he'd shit shoelaces. You think he won't? That this unrepentant verbal “wild man” would shut up? Be handled? Not play his favorite game of cool, “Off-the-cuff-Johnny”?

Please, that's how this egomaniac rolls. He can't help it. Feature...not a bug, ya'll.

A friend I ran into uptown recently half-joked “I wouldn't be surprised if he (McCain) fucked up and let slip the 'N'-word on the trail. He's that verbally volatile.”

I don't know if he's quite that reckless...or stupid, but his adoration of all things self and his delusional infallibility is going to be the death of his lucky stumble towards 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That is the one unmitigated joy we have to count on and that will keep on giving. Mockery is the kryptonite to a candidate aspiring to high office. Especially mockery brought on one's own endless chain of silly, laughable pronouncements. Unprompted. Unfiltered. Unbelievable.

So keep it up, Johnny. Especially on the heels of eight years of a President you so cravenly embraced. A man with a knee-high to a sewer-residing amoeba's approval rating who is now a hated joke amongst the American people due in large part to his own string of idiot pronouncements.

“Mission Accomplished.” “Heckuva job, Brownie.” “The economy's doing great.”

You go there, Johnny. Keep opening that mouth of yours and helpimg yourself out. You can't help it.

You know why?

You tell him, Ralph. (fast forward to the last 30 seconds)

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