Iraqi Insecurity

 bombing in iraq

photo: u.s. dod

A couple of statements by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki,  point to the futility of prolonging the United States engagement in his country, and why George W. should have taken a deep breath and stepped back from the precipice (like his father did) before sending troops into that tribal mess.

Maliki, says political infighting is preventing the country from appointing a new security minister.   A particularly  sore spot right now, what with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arriving shortly after the deaths of 127 people in a series of bomb attacks on Baghdad.  An al Qaeda affiliated group is claiming responsibility for the bombings.  Maliki is quoted by the AFP as saying, “The intelligence services cannot appoint any chief because there is no political consensus on it.  Every party wants to be in charge of this service.”

Another comment from Maliki, about Osama bin Laden, speaks volumes  with regard to the mindset of some Iraqis.  “Now if I detain Osama bin Laden, some people will ask, ‘Why did you arrest him? He is a mujaheed (religious fighter)’,” Maliki reportedly said of disputes between political groups that he said were causing violence.”

Saddam may be gone but tribal differences remain.  These guys can’t even agree on a security minister.   Seems like that would be kind of ….ah…..basic?

Iraq has been without an national intelligence chief for several months.   Maliki, fired his security chief in Baghdad on Wednesday, following the bombings.

4,685 coalition forces  and more than 100,000 Iraqis have died in the war.   More than 31,000 coalition forces have been wounded in action.   The Iraqi Government has reported that 5 million kids, nearly half the country’s children, are now orphans.

Wolinsky Named Editor At Daily Variety

Congrats to old friend and colleague from the Los Angeles Times, Leo Wolinsky.   After 31 years at the Times, Leo has landed at Daily Variety where he will be responsible for all editorial content.

“After many years on the forefront of news gathering, I feel so fortunate to be joining a great organization like Variety,” said Wolinsky. “The entertainment industry is undergoing dynamic changes and it’s exciting to be there to help chronicle the next chapter in its rapid evolution. Whether it be movies, television, theater or music, tremendous economic, technological and sociological forces are impacting culture around the globe as never before. No one is positioned to tell that story better than Variety.”  -Daily Variety

Leo is one of the really good guys, a top pro from the Times, who helped build the paper into what it was when it was pulling down two to five Pulitzers a year.

Brits Bite Banker’s Bonuses

A big huzzah! to the Brits for placing a 50% tax on 2009 bonuses  of more than $40,800 paid to bankers.   Finally, somebody is landing on these guys that screwed up the world’s economy but continue to award themselves with huge paydays.

” The levy represents the most direct attack on bank bonuses anywhere in the world. All banks in Britain – including the London-based subsidiaries of foreign banks — will be affected, whether they took government funds or not.” -NY Times

In the U.S. meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced an extension of the 700-billion dollar “TARP” bailout to October of 2010.  “History suggests that exiting prematurely from policies designed to contain a financial crisis can significantly prolong an economic downturn.  The government expects up to $175 billion in repayments from rescued companies by the end of next year,” Geithner says.

Gee, that’s great Tim, they’re paying back $175 billion on the $700 billion in TARP money that was handed to them because they’re too big to fail.   To be fair, the guys at the Treasury Department think they’ll eventually be able to recover all but $42 billion of the $370 billion they gave to Wall Street.   So we’ll only be out a measly $42 billion.  What the hell is that?  Next to nothing, right?  And is that projection based upon reality or is it just something they’re hoping for, while the boys at the top continue washing down their Beluga with the finest champagne?

According to a piece in the NY Times, big government can do just so much when it comes to pulling in the reigns on all the money the financial wizards are awarding themselves in spite of their monumental failures.

“And the American International Group is contractually obliged to make bonus payments of nearly $200 million in March 2010. The company has promised to try to reduce that amount by 30 percent. But once again, there is nothing Mr. Feinberg can do because those bonuses were already written into contracts — and there is a high likelihood that the bonuses will create another furor in Congress, just as they did earlier this year.” -NY Times

Oh really?  Why not follow suit with the British, and impose that same 50% tax here in the United States?   Now that would have some real meaning.  It would definitely prove to all those regular work-a-day American taxpayers that the Obama Administration is taking their side in this as opposed to simply funneling more money to the greed-driven fatcats on Wall Street with their history of treating hard earned tax dollars like monopoly money and then paying themselves off when they fail.

Of course it probably wouldn’t work here in the U.S., because all of this falls under the category of economic theory which is something most of us regular non-economist folk will never be able to understand.   Or at least that’s what the high rollers want you to believe.   It makes it so much easier for them to continue getting away with economic murder.  Looked at the interest rates on your credit cards lately?

Springsteen Backs Gay Marriage

 bruce springsteen

                     photo: wiki commons

The New Jersey Senate will be voting on a gay marriage bill on Thursday.    The bill squeaked its way though a state senate committee by just one vote on Monday.  The following is from Bruce Springsteen’s website-

A BRIEF STATEMENT FROM BRUCE
“Like many of you who live in New Jersey, I’ve been following the progress of the marriage-equality legislation currently being considered in Trenton. I’ve long believed in and have always spoken out for the rights of same sex couples and fully agree with Governor Corzine when he writes that, “The marriage-equality issue should be recognized for what it truly is — a civil rights issue that must be approved to assure that every citizen is treated equally under the law.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement and urge those who support equal treatment for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to let their voices be heard now.”

Mildest Pandemic Ever?

Some are now predicting that the horrible swine flu, er, excuse me…..the H1N1 Flu pandemic (can’t call it swine flu anymore because the pork industry is getting its underwear in a bunch)  will prove to be “the mildest since modern medicine began documenting influenza outbreaks.”

 “A typical flu season is associated with an average of 36,000 deaths in the United States, and an estimate released in August by a presidential advisory panel that Lipsitch was involved in predicted that the 2009 H1N1 virus could kill 30,000 to 90,000 in this country.  ‘Those were the best estimates we could make at the time based on the data available at the time,” he said. “We now have much better data to make estimates from.’ ” -MSNBC

It’s being reported that around 4000 Americans have died from the H1N1 flu in 2009.   However, it’s difficult to put a real number on the fatalities as there appears to be no accurate count, just estimates.

A question remains as to why this was presented to the American public as though we were about to be subjected to a smallpox epidemic as opposed to a potentially serious outbreak of the flu.   Should the CDC give more consideration to context with regard to future “pandemics?”

I know it’s not possible to determine how any given virus is likely to mutate but this was a flu bug, not the plague,  and we are living in 2009 with modern hospitals,  I-V drips and antibiotics.   It’s not the same situation that existed in 1918.  Context is important.

 

Expanding Medicare (sort of)

 u.s. senate

Members of the millionaire’s club (the U.S. Senate) are talking about expanding medicare coverage by letting people aged 55 to 64 buy into the plan with their own money until 2014, when the new health care bill kicks in.   It’s a way to reach a compromise with those senators who have been bought off by the insurance and pharma industries and who, consequently, refuse to follow through on the public option most Americans want. 

Here’s a great idea from comedian Robin Williams.  The senators should be required wear corporate endorsement patches on their suits.  You know, like the Nascar drivers.  That way we could all tell who they’re really working for.

It appears most in Congress are working for a few corporate bosses and not the millions of Americans who thought they were voting for a major change when they went to the polls.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics,  from 1998 -2009, the pharma and health products industry was at the top of the list for dumping cash on the Congress, with their lobbyists turning over $1,760,225,789.   The insurance industry is in second place with $1,309,425,963.

If these guys can afford to pay out that much in bribe money, imagine what we could save with adequate federal regulation?   However, this kind of compromise may be unavoidable as a necessary first step in knocking down the current greed-driven system of health care delivery.  Three billion dollars buys a lot of loyalty.

Web Shut Down, Press Cards Pulled, Thousands Protest

The anticipated protests are underway in Iran.    Thousands are in the streets protesting the recent and highly contested election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.   Government sanctioned goon squads of Basij Militia are reported to be moving against students at various locations including Tehran University.   The Iranian theocracy appears to be doing all it can to cut off communication but some news, including some video, is getting out.   For those of you who are just coming on board with this story, progressive thinkers in Iran are demanding the rights citizens of the U.S. take for granted under guarantees contained in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Time To Go

 Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is expressing concerns about the announcement that the U.S. will begin withdrawing its troops in July of 2011.   Mr. Obama didn’t say he was going to pull everybody out in July of 2011, he said he was going to start turning over the responsibility for the security of Afghanistan to the Afghans.   In fact, the administration seems to be going to great pains to make the point that they are not going to leave Karazi hanging.  Which could happen literally if we cut and run, which may be why he is so worried.

Appearing on the Amanpour program on CNN Karzai said,  “We will try our best, but the international community must have also the patience with us and the realization of the realities in Afghanistan.  If it takes longer, then they must be with us.”

Where has this guy been?  We’ve had our troops in his country (which harbored the al Qaeda, remember them?) since October of 2001.  It’s now December of 2009.   Somebody run over to Barnes and Noble and get Hamid a calendar.   Over much of the time we’ve been there the stated goal has been to help the Afghans manage their own security.   Their progress in moving toward that goal has been abysmal while our people have continued to die.   The coalition has lost 1535 troops.  More than 900 of those fatalities were U.S. military.  Then there’s the Afghan election, which much of the world is pretty sure Karzai stole.   It appears that nearly a third of the votes were bogus.

There were plans for a second round of voting, but the Taliban was threatening terrorist attacks at the polls.  Karzai’s opponent withdrew from the race and the second vote was scrapped.  Karzai was simply declared the winner.  The U.S. issued a statement saying: “We congratulate President Karzai on his victory in this historic election and look forward to working with him.”

From there it only gets better.

Karzai’s brother,  Ahmed Wali, is allegedly connected to the country’s opium trade and according to the New York Times,  is being paid off by the CIA for various services including arranging contacts with the Taliban and helping to run an Afghan paramilitary operation in Kandahar.  So the CIA’s money, er, excuse me,  U.S. tax dollars, are possibly going from Karzai’s brother to the Taliban and an Afghan paramilitary operation?

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.” -NY Times

So what are we left with?   Our man in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai,  hasn’t been able to get his country’s security together in the 5 years he’s served as president.  A UN backed investigation indicates that his supporters rigged the last election.  His brother is believed to be a possible player in the opium trade and is branded by a senior military intelligence official as being someone who deals with thugs on our behalf.

The BBC reports;  “Some observers are saying Mr Karzai’s legitimacy is also in question, and ask whether his government can be effective.”    Gee, think so?

And now Hamid Karzai, perceived by his own people as being corrupt,  is on the tube expressing his concerns about our plan to start pulling out our troops in July of 2011.

Mr. Obama,  it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge.

Iran Kills Communications

 Basig

Monday is “National Student Day” in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  A day commemorating the deaths of 3 students during an anti-American protest in 1953.  It’s a day that would normally pass without anyone, other than the Iranians, paying much attention.   This year that isn’t the case.   The county’s leadership, such as it is, is obviously worried it won’t be able to maintain power if exposed to the truth of an honest intellectual exchange.  Consequently, they are doing what they can to kill the truth.

The people running the Iranian Theocracy, headed by their Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamanei (duly elected by the “Assembly of Experts”), are anticipating this day of celebration could turn into another day of protest against the recent and highly disputed election of  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.   Consequently,  these fearful clerics and their puppet political leaders are cutting off communications with the outside world and harassing the press.   The BBC reports “Tehran residents said that they had been unable to use e-mail and that opposition websites were being more tightly restricted than before.”

According to “Reporters Without Borders” – “Journalists who have chosen not to the leave the country are being constantly threatened or summoned by the intelligence services, including the intelligence service of the Revolutionary Guards…Some have been given long prison sentences at the end of completely illegal judicial proceedings.”

Another report indicates that internet and mobile phone service could be disabled on Monday.   As before, you can be sure government sanctioned goon squads on motorcycles will be in the streets attacking people at will with their batons.

And so, in what is surely one of the greatest exhibitions of oxymoronic thinking of all time, the government of Iran is turning its “National Student Day” into a nationwide commemoration of ignorance and fear.   The Supreme Leader and his “Assembly of Experts’ should be very proud.

Meet The New Boss…

President Obama said he would start pulling our troops out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.  The next day,  Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the withdrawal would be “conditions based,” a statement that was later supported by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

Today, Sunday, Mr. Gates is saying that we should expect our troops to have a significant presence in Afghanistan for two to four more years.

I am reminded of the buildup to the war in Iraq, when then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said repeatedly that the Iraq War would be over and done with in about 6 months time.

 “We don’t talk about deployments in the specific, but we have brought a good many Guard and Reserve on active duty. Fortunately, a great many of them were volunteers. We have been able to have relatively few stop losses. There are some currently, particularly in the Army, but relatively few in the Navy and the Air Force. And it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months”  -Donald Rumsfeld  February 7, 2003

As we approach the end of 2009 our troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan.   In Iraq 4,685 coalition forces and untold numbers of Iraqis have been killed.  In Afghanistan, 1,535 coalition forces and untold numbers of Afghans have been killed.  It appears plans laid by the neocon influenced Bush Administration for the United States to have an ongoing presence remain in place.  Somewhere, Karl Rove and the boys are undoubtedly  toasting themselves with very old scotch and expensive cigars as they lay plans for the next national election while their strategy for democratization of the Middle East, or something like it, dies the death of a thousand cuts.

Swine Flu Pandemic A “Dud?”

 vaccination

                   photo: cdc  

I keep waiting for the American public to be devastated by the horrendous swine flu pandemic we were promised.   Sure, people have come down with the flu or diseases exhibiting “flu like symptoms” but nothing that comes even close to measuring up to the degree of fear generated by the CDC, the WHO and others.   It’s starting to feel more like the old bird flu threat.  Another disaster that never happened.

There is of course a fear on the part of any number of reporters and editors  that the swine flu might eventually turn out to be just as bad as they told us it might be back when government officials were spending billions on vaccine.  I guess that’s still possible?  That’s probably the only reason most of the major media outlets aren’t screaming about the whole thing being overstated and overspent.

The CDC says 36,000 Americans die of the regular seasonal flu each year.   Well, we’re approaching the end of 2009 and I’d like to know how many Americans have died of seasonal flu vs. the swine flu, but I can’t find the numbers.  There may in fact, be no valid numbers because the CDC told health officials to stop counting the number of cases.

Not everyone is holding their silence.

A Canadian health official, Dr. Richard Schabas, the former Chief Medial Officer for Ontario, is calling the pandemic a “dud.”   Dr. Schabas tells the CBC News,  “It’s really not causing — and is not going to cause and nowhere has caused — significant levels of illness or death,” said Dr. Richard Schabas, Ontario’s former chief medical officer of health.  But governments moved ahead regardless. They ramped up their response, spent a huge amount of money on vaccines and other things. I’m not sure the $1.5 billion includes the cost of new ventilators, the cost of Tamiflu stockpiles … the huge investment that’s been put into planning for what has ultimately turned out to be, from a pandemic perspective, a dud.”

Dr. Schabas is currently the chief medical officer of health for Hastings and Prince Edward counties in eastern Ontario.

Amanda Knox – Victim Of Italian Injustice?

22 year old American college student Amanda Knox and her boyfriend have been found guilty of murdering Knox’s British roommate, 21 year old Meredith Kercher.   The murder, according to the prosecution, took place during a sex and drug binge involving Kercher, Knox, Knox’s boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede of the Ivory Coast.

According to the prosecution, the two men, Sollecito and Guede, came under the siren spell of Knox, who somehow convinced them to torture and sexually assault Meredith Kercher.

The guilty verdict against Knox and Sollecito was reached in the small town of Perugia, Italy, in spite of the fact that  Rudy Guede had already been convicted of killing Kercher and had admitted that Knox and her boyfriend weren’t there and played no part in the murder.  Later, Guede said he was at the murder scene but did not kill Kercher.  He is appealing his conviction.

The unsequestered jury reached a guilty verdict even though there appears to have been no firm evidence connecting Knox to the crime while Guede’s DNA was found at the murder scene.   The prosecution though went after Amanda and her boyfriend first..    Later, they located and charged Guede who was then convicted.  But the public feeding frenzy fueled by a media onslaught was underway.   Sex, drugs and murder.  It was a tabloid’s dream.   And so, while the young woman reporters had dubbed “Foxy Knoxy” sat in jail for two years, the popular media ran wild with all the sleaze they could lay their hands on as the prosecution moved forward to seek convictions against Knox and Sollecito, even with only scant evidence.

One piece of that “evidence” was security camera video of Knox and her boyfriend shopping for women’s underwear shortly after the murder.  In court the prosecution used the tape to impugn Knox’s character.    Before that, they began building their case by releasing the video to the media.   Video of a good looking young woman and her boyfriend out buying thong underwear.   Bizarre behavior so shortly after the crime had been committed?  Maybe, but according to Knox’s aunt, Amanda had no access to her clothing  because the police had sealed off her apartment as a crime scene, leaving her with no choice but to go shopping.

Another report indicates the court refused to let the defense present DNA evidence that might have strengthened the American student’s case.   This, even though in Italy there is an automatic presumption of guilt which places the burden of proof on the defense and not on the prosecution.   In other words, you must prove you are innocent while the prosecution has no need to prove that you are guilty.   Guilt is assumed.

My former colleague from the O.J Simpson Trials,  the late Dominick Dunne, nearly always sided with the prosecution.  It wasn’t something he tried to hide.  He openly admitted to believing that people who were charged with murder were usually guilty.  The murder of his daughter Dominique undoubtedly played a significant role in his bias against the defense.   It would be fascinating to hear his take on the Amanda Knox case.  I have a feeling that this might be one of those rare instances when even Dominick Dunne would come down on the side of the defense.

Sadly, we no longer have the advantage of Dunne’s insights from the pages of Vanity Fair.   We do though have six pages from Judy Bachrach, who speaks Italian and spent more than four years living in Italy.   Among other things,  she points out that Knox made contradictory statements.  It also appears she may have been beaten by the police which could have prompted her to tell them whatever they wanted to hear.  As for the murder, she writes-

“Exactly what happened when she returned to the house on Via Pergola later that night is not clear. Rudy Guede’s DNA would be found all over her dead body the next day. His presence at the murder scene is one of the few firmly established facts of the case. There are others, but the Italian authorities have been led down an entirely different trail by the odd behavior of Amanda and Raffaele, whose actions have been too bizarre and callous to ignore, even if both are innocent.” 

The following, again from Bachrach’s piece, provides some insight into Italian jurisprudence.  ‘The Italian legal system, ecclesiastical judge Count Neri Capponi informs me, will not work in Amanda’s favor. “Our system stems from the Inquisition and also from medieval law,” he explains. What this means, in effect, he says, is that justice in Italy “is based on the supremacy of the prosecution. This nullifies the fact—written in our constitution by the way—that you’re innocent until proven guilty.”’ -Vanity Fair

Italy has no death penalty.  Amanda Knox has been sentenced to 26 years in an Italian prison.  Raffaele Sollecito has been sentenced to 25 years.  Knox is filing an appeal.  It can reportedly  take up to two years before an appeal is heard by an Italian court.

Could Gates Block Withdrawal From Afghanistan?

 Robert Gates

Photo: Robert Gates accepts nomination as Defense Secretary-11/08/06 

So the troops are coming home from Afghanistan?   That’s what Mr. Obama said.  I heard it.  Starting 18 months from now he will begin bringing our people home.  He gave no date for the withdrawal to be completed, but at least it’s a  beginning to the end of a military operation George W. started but failed to stop.   Or is it?  What’s really going on here?  Is there an exit strategy or is it nothing more than wishful thinking?

Mr. Obama, made it sound like his plans were laid but less than 24 hours later his Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, told a Senate committee that the situation would be re-assessed in December of 2010.  The implication being that the whole thing could be changed from that point on.

Then there was Secretary of State Clinton telling Brian Williams on NBC, that the decision will be “conditions based.”

Beyond that, consider the words of National Security Advisor Jim Jones, during an interview with Major Garrett on Fox News:  “This isn’t a cliff where everybody all of a sudden says ‘That’s it, it’s over.’ What is at stake here, in terms of the conditions, is how quickly we can do it. If things are going very well, we can do it more rapidly, if things need a little bit more attention, we can do it more slowly. But it is the point at which there will be a beginning to a different phase in our involvement in Afghanistan. And it’s not to say to your viewers, but more importantly to the people of the region, the United States is leaving. We are not leaving the region. We have enormous strategic interest in Afghanistan, east of Afghanistan in Pakistan and we intend to be supportive and helpful partners with them for many years to come.”

“We are not leaving the region?”  “Many years to come?”  And that means what, exactly?  It means we will begin drawing down our troop levels in 2011, unless we don’t.     Has a hint of the old Karl Rovian magic to it, doesn’t it?  Mr.Obama might as well have announced that the withdrawal date is a goal,  but that we might have to stay right where we are “for many years to come” based upon an updated assessment of the conditions.   That, of course, wouldn’t have had the same impact as his announcement that he will start bringing the troops home in 18 months.

It’s being reported that the President had to agree to making the withdrawal “conditions based” to get Bush Administration holdover and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on board.   According to his defense department bio:  “Dr. Gates is the only Secretary of Defense in U.S. history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly elected President.”   Wonder if there’s a reason for that?  Maybe it’s time to ask Mr. Gates to leave the ship?