Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Iraq Asks for Iran’s Help in Calming Kurdish Crisis


BAGHDAD, Oct. 31 — Iraqi officials asked for Iran’s help on Wednesday in negotiating a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Turkey over Kurdish guerrillas who have been using northern Iraq as a base to stage raids on Turkish troops across the border.

Tensions between Iraq and Turkey over the issue threaten to overshadow other topics at a regional meeting that starts Thursday in Istanbul, which Iraq hoped would focus on its internal security.

The United States, which will participate in the meeting, said Wednesday that it has stepped up the amount of intelligence it shares with Turkey on the Kurdish rebels, known as the P.K.K.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq met with the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, on Wednesday and asked him to intervene on Iraq’s behalf at the meeting.

“The prime minister asked the Islamic Republic to present their full support to Iraq during the Istanbul meeting and also to participate in solving the border crisis between Turkey and the P.K.K.,” a statement from Mr. Maliki’s office said.

The P.K.K., or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, has killed at least 42 people in Turkey in the past month, mostly soldiers. The group, which has supporters among Turkey’s Kurdish minority as well as in Iraq, has fought in the past for a separate Kurdish state in Turkey but now appears to be focused on winning rights for Kurds living there.

Turkey has threatened to invade Iraq in pursuit of the rebels but has so far refrained.

Iran has been sympathetic to Turkey’s position, because Kurdish guerrillas have also been attacking Iran, but it has loyalties to Iraq which, like Iran, has a Shiite-majority government. Iran has also worked closely with the Kurdish leadership in Iraq..........

Burmese Monks March Again Ahead of Visit by UN Envoy

BANGKOK, Thursday, Nov. 1 — A small group of Buddhist monks held a protest march in Myanmar on Wednesday in the first significant public show of defiance since troops crushed a pro-democracy uprising a month ago.

Reports from inside the country said 100 to 200 monks had defied a ban on assembly and marched through the streets of Pakokku, a medium-sized city in central Myanmar that was the site of a clash between monks and soldiers in September that set off the mass protests in larger cities.

Aung Din, a Burmese dissident living in Washington, predicted more challenges to the government with the approaching return of the United Nations special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari. Mr. Gambari, who had visited shortly after the crackdown, will meet with a “a broad range of representatives of Myanmar society” from Saturday through next Thursday, the United Nations said.
The monks in Pakokku on Wednesday reportedly demanded lower fuel prices and the release of political prisoners.

Torture and the Attorneys General

NYT Editorial

Consider how President Bush has degraded the office of attorney general.

His first choice, John Ashcroft, helped railroad undue restrictions of civil liberties through Congress after the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Ashcroft apparently had some red lines and later rebuffed the White House when it pushed him to endorse illegal wiretapping. Then came Alberto Gonzales who, while he was White House counsel, helped to redefine torture, repudiate the Geneva Conventions and create illegal detention camps. As attorney general, Mr. Gonzales helped cover up the administration’s lawless behavior in anti-terrorist operations, helped revoke fundamental human rights for foreigners and turned the Justice Department into a branch of the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Gonzales resigned after his extraordinary incompetence became too much for even loyal Republicans. Now Mr. Bush wants the Senate to confirm Michael Mukasey, a well-respected trial judge in New York who has stunned us during the confirmation process by saying he believes the president has the power to negate laws and by not committing himself to enforcing Congressional subpoenas. He also has suggested that he will not uphold standards of decency during wartime recognized by the civilized world for generations.

After a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which Mr. Mukasey refused to detail his views on torture, he submitted written answers to senators’ questions that were worse than his testimony. They suggest that he, like Mr. Gonzales, would enable Mr. Bush’s lawless behavior and his imperial attitude toward Congress and the courts.

In a letter to the 10 Democrats on the committee, Mr. Mukasey refused to say whether he considered waterboarding (a method of extracting information by making a prisoner believe he is about to be drowned) to be torture. He said he found it “repugnant,” but could not say whether it is illegal until he has been briefed on the interrogation programs that Mr. Bush authorized at Central Intelligence Agency prisons.

This is a crass dodge. Waterboarding is torture and was prosecuted as such as far back as 1902 by the United States military when used in a slightly different form on insurgents in the Philippines. It meets the definition of torture that existed in American law and international treaties until Mr. Bush changed those rules. Even the awful laws on the treatment of detainees that were passed in 2006 prohibited the use of waterboarding by the American military.

And yet the nominee for attorney general has no view on whether it would be legal for an employee of the United States government to subject a prisoner to that treatment? The only information Mr. Mukasey can possibly be lacking is whether Mr. Bush broke the law by authorizing the C.I.A. to use waterboarding — a judgment that the White House clearly does not want him to render in public because it could expose a host of officials to criminal accountability.

Mr. Mukasey’s letter to the Senate committee accepts the administration’s use of the so-called shocks-the-conscience test to determine the legality of interrogation methods, rather than the clear and specific prohibitions against torture, humiliation and cruel treatment embedded in American and international law. The administration’s standard is dangerously vague, invites abuse and amounts to a unilateral reinterpretation of the Geneva Conventions. Would Mr. Mukasey approve of a foreign jailer using waterboarding on an American soldier? Mr. Bush’s policies increase the danger of that happening.

There seems to be little chance that Mr. Bush will appoint the sort of attorney general that the nation needs, a job that includes enforcing voting rights laws and civil rights laws and ensuring that criminal prosecutions are done fairly. Still, senators with a conscience that can be shocked should insist that Mr. Bush meet a higher standard than this nomination.

GAIL COLLINS: Everybody vs. Hillary


Hillary Clinton stood on a stage for two hours Tuesday night, being yelled at by six men. Now this is what they mean by pressure. The most important job in the world is at stake and every single one of the other candidates walked into the presidential debate gunning for her. They began piling on from the first question. She took it all and came out the other end in one piece. She’s one tough woman. Kudos.

Her fighting spirit was all the more impressive because so many of the positions she was defending were virtually indefensible. It’s not easy to try to make a matter of principle out of a refusal to say anything specific about Social Security. And you really need a spine of steel to stand up on national television and explain why it was a good idea to vote for a bellicose Senate resolution on Iran that has given George W. Bush a chance to start making ominous remarks about weapons of mass destruction again.

“Well, first of all, I am against a rush to war,” she said. That would have been disturbing even if she had not attacked the idea of “rushing to war” twice more in the next 60 seconds. Being against a rush to another war in the Middle East seems to be setting the bar a tad low. How does she feel about a measured march to war? A leisurely stroll?

And how could she have voted for an Iran resolution that was sponsored by Joseph Lieberman, who was basically drummed out of his party in Connecticut because of his hyperhawk stance on Iraq? Lieberman, who was once a somewhat boring but apparently good-hearted centrist, has turned into a disaster area for Democrats, a one-man quagmire.

If it hadn’t been for his unhelpful performance in Florida after the 2000 election, perhaps Al Gore would be president now and there would be peace and global cooling throughout the planet. Honestly, there’s a book in this somewhere: Joe Lieberman Ruined Everything.

We digress.

Hillary Clinton is relying on her Democratic audience to understand that all her peculiar positions and triple-waffles have to do with a fear of being demagogued by the Republicans in the general election. But you would have to be a very, very committed Hillaryite to be comfortable listening to two solid hours of dodging and weaving on everything from her vote on the Iran resolution to her husband’s attempt to keep records of their White House communications secret until after 2012. (“{hellip} Certainly we’ll move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.”)

On Social Security, the underlying message seems to be that Clinton will not support any effort to keep the program solvent by eliminating the cap on Social Security taxes until she gets elected president and sets up a bipartisan commission to provide political cover. The problem with that, as Barack Obama pointed out, is that you don’t arrive in the White House with a mandate for anything more daring than appointing a bunch of people to do a study. And when you’re talking about taxing income above $97,500 the same way we do income of, say, $30,000, it’s not really helpful to describe it as “a trillion-dollar tax increase on middle-class families.”

Clinton needs to ration her obfuscations. Otherwise, she risks looking as silly as she did at the end of the debate, when she gave a perfectly rational explanation of why she once said that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses “makes a lot of sense,” then raised her hand a minute later to add that the fact that she understood why Governor Spitzer was trying to do it did not mean that she thought it should actually be done.

The good news for her side was that nobody else seems really poised to take her place in the front of the field. Barack Obama continues to be a calm, measured, let’s-all-work-together presence, occasionally reminiscent of — Oh, Lord! — Joe Lieberman before the fall. Obama’s vision of a presidential leadership that rises above the squabbles and partisanship that stalk the Clintons is extremely appealing. However, it’s tough to play the wise elder statesman when you’re just three years out of the Illinois State Senate.

What the debate did demonstrate was that the others deserve more time to make their case. Hillary might have looked immovable on that stage, but she sure didn’t look inevitable.

There are still two months before the first primaries, contests that as we all know only involve a tiny, tiny number of very, very special voters. (On behalf of the rest of the country, let me suggest that presidential candidates refrain from ending their rallies by saying: “We need your support! If you know anyone in Iowa or New Hampshire {hellip}”) Most of the nation has at least until next February to think about this, and Hillary really hasn’t sealed the deal.

But you do have to give her a few points for not letting the guys push her around.

ROGER COHEN: Afghanistan at the Brink


KABUL, Afghanistan

Afghanistan is not Iraq. That’s the good news. Decades of war are devastating, but not as crippling as decades of Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian hell. The glint of initiative outweighs fear’s residue in Afghan eyes.

Across this dirt-poor country — think sub-Saharan Africa — small signs of initiative and awakening abound: new carpet-weaving businesses, surging wheat production, just-opened schools, solar panels on mud-brick homes. Growth is more than 8 percent.

Since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, four million Afghan refugees have come home in one of the biggest post-1945 returns of people. About 38 percent of school students are girls, up from zero. Roads, clinics, mine-clearing and several million cellphones are changing Afghan lives.

All this may seem a decent return on about $22 billion of American investment since 2002. A further $5.6 billion is under review for 2008. The strategic aim is a stable Afghanistan that is no longer for rent by terrorists from one-eyed mullahs.

But if Afghanistan is not Iraq, it’s not delivered from war either. Lebanon looks stable by comparison. Like Poland, Afghanistan has suffered the fate of a weak state between powerful neighbors. Unlike Poland, it grows poppy and inhabits a region of explosive volatility.

That’s the bad news.

I heard many assessments of how long Afghanistan will depend on Western military assistance, but Abdul Jabbar Sabit, the attorney general, was bluntest: “The Afghan Army will not be able to defend the country for 10 years, so the international force has to be here for at least a decade.”

He’s realistic. An intense U.S. effort is going into producing a credible 72,000-man Afghan Army by 2009. The number may be met, but the force’s ability to sustain itself and mount large operations will lag. Capt. Sylvain Caron, a Canadian “mentoring” a nascent battalion, said “the cultural change will take 20 years.”

The police are way behind the army. Training has been a disaster. Low salaries, belatedly rising to $100 from $50 a month, have made corruption endemic, particularly in narco-territory. Work on a credible police force has scarcely begun.

“We’re looking at a long-term commitment,” William Wood, the U.S. ambassador, told me. How long? “A number of years.” Like in post-war Germany? “It would just be dishonest to pretend to be able to give you a number.” But, he insisted: “The role of the U.S. military will change.”

Yes, it will recede, but slowly. With Afghanistan at a tipping point, the next U.S. president will face an enduring challenge here of immense proportions. He or she must level with the American people, in a way President Bush never has, about the real burden of an attempt to build two countries from scratch at once. That burden can no longer be borne by military families alone, however much Iraqi extrication is achieved.

For now, unlike in Iraq, the U.S. has real allies here. Peter Struck, the former German defense minister, once said Germany “will also be defended in the Hindu Kush.” But that European conviction is fraying as casualties and violence rise.

The next president will have to fight to maintain NATO solidarity. Huge problems loom. Among them is breaking the growing symbiosis between drug traffickers and the Taliban. Wood described an “exploding drug industry” that “finances the Taliban” and wages “its own assault on institutional government.” The more than $2 billion spent fighting drugs “hasn’t worked,” he conceded.

Other challenges are containing the rampant corruption of governors chosen by President Hamid Karzai, better integrating sometimes contradictory international efforts and limiting the degree to which Pakistan and Iran meddle.

“The insurgents go some places I cannot go,” acknowledged Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the NATO commander in Afghanistan. Wood told me the country “is facing an insurgency that is able to reconstitute itself outside the country.” That’s grave.

As these comments suggest, the Taliban is still substantially made in Pakistan. U.S. efforts to get needed cooperation from its ally have floundered.

All these problems are redoubled by the unpopularity of Bush’s America. Iran sees in Afghanistan another chance to hurt U.S. interests. But it’s not alone. Russia likes that game these days. China is not averse. Within the alliance, the current European view of America as belligerent, simplistic and insensitive to Islam does not foster unity.

Bush is too much part of the problem to solve it. But the cost of failure is unacceptable. Defeat would destroy NATO. It would further destabilize nuclear-armed Pakistan. It would propel nuke-seeking Al Qaeda from its Waziristan caves.

Not least, it would take those Afghan girls out of school. A Kabul crash course — and I don’t mean in kite-flying — is in order for all serious White House candidates.

Code Pink Punks 'Politico' in Blackwater Hoax

NEW YORK With all of the news about Blackwater USA's problems, it wasn't a surprise that a fake story about the company creating a "Department of Corporate Integrity" would make it on to several valid news sites.

CBS News and were among the victims of the fraud, reportedly perpetuated by Code Pink, according to Politico, which posted a correction today. CBS reprinted a Politico story on its site.

"In this business, you sometimes come across news items and think, 'You couldn't make that stuff up.' Well, sometimes you can," Politico reported in its note. "Code Pink today pulled off a hoax that pulled in Politico and a number of other news outlets when it ginned up a fake release, saying that Blackwater USA was creating a new 'Department of Corporate Integrity' that would put the 'mercy back in mercenary.' That should have been a tip off."

"We do some silly things, but we didn't do that," Anne Tyrrell, a spokesperson for Blackwater USA, told Politico..........

(GOP) State Rep. Curtis resigns amid sex scandal

OLYMPIA, Wash. — State Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center, has resigned his seat amid revelations of a sex scandal in Spokane.

House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt released a statement saying: “I am very disappointed by the news reports of the conduct by Rep. Curtis last week in Spokane. After discussing this matter with House Republican leaders, he has submitted his resignation, which we feel is best for everyone involved. The troubling details continue to emerge, however, it has become clear that he can no longer effectively represent the constituents who elected him. We pray that Richard and his family have the strength and support they need to meet the personal challenges they face.”

Curtis issued his own statement: “Today I submitted my letter of resignation to Gov. Gregoire effective immediately. While I believe we've done some good and helped a lot of people during the time I served in the Legislature, events that have recently come to light have hurt a lot of people. I sincerely apologize for any pain my actions may have caused.

“This has been damaging to my family, and I don't want to subject them to any additional pain that might result from carrying out this matter under the scrutiny that comes with holding public office.”

US diplomats refuse Iraq postings


Hundreds of US diplomats have protested against a government move to force them to accept postings in war-torn Iraq.

About 300 angry diplomats attended a meeting at the state department, at which one labelled the decision a "potential death sentence".

If too few volunteer, some will be forced to go to Iraq - or risk dismissal, except those exempted for medical or personal hardship reasons.

Iraq postings have previously been filled on a voluntary basis......

Source: Colbert to file for S.C. Democratic primary

COLUMBIA, South Carolina Funnyman Stephen Colbert's presidential campaign is apparently no joke.

The host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" will file papers late Wednesday or early Thursday to put his name on South Carolina's Democratic primary ballot, a source familiar with the comedian's strategy said.

Stephen Colbert, a South Carolina native, made two "campaign" stops in the Palmetto State last weekend.

The South Carolina native will not file papers as a Republican because the $35,000 required to get on the GOP ballot is apparently too high a threshold.

"They priced us out of range," the source told CNN.

The South Carolina Democratic Party demands a candidate pay $2,500 or garner 3,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Surrogates of "The Colbert Report" star will file the hand-signed papers at state party headquarters before the November 1 filing deadline........

Jury awards grieving father $2.9 million in verdict against military funeral protesters

BALTIMORE (AP) — A grieving father won a $2.9 million verdict Wednesday against a fundamentalist Kansas church that pickets military funerals out of a belief that the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., sued the Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified damages after members staged a demonstration at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.

Church members routinely picket funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying signs such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates fags.”

A number of states have passed laws regarding funeral protests, and Congress has passed a law prohibiting such protests at federal cemeteries. But the Maryland lawsuit is believed to be the first filed by the family of a fallen serviceman......

Man pleads guilty in Fort Dix plot case

CAMDEN, N.J.—A man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to providing weapons to a group of men accused of plotting an attack on Fort Dix.

Agron Abdullahu, 25, faces up to five years in federal prison when he is sentenced Feb. 6.

Federal prosecutors have portrayed the New Jersey resident as having the smallest role among the six men arrested earlier this year in the case. The 27-year-old was born in what is now Kosovo and worked in a bakery......

Cross-dressing state lawmaker blackmailed following late night tryst

SPOKANE -- State Representative Richard Curtis says he's not gay, but police reports and court records indicate the Republican lawmaker from southwestern Washington dressed up in women's lingerie and met a Medical Lake man in a local erotic video store which led to consensual sex at a downtown hotel and a threat to expose Curtis' activities publicly.

A search warrant unsealed Tuesday morning disclosed that State Representative Richard Curtis (R - La Center) had sex in his room at the Davenport Tower with a man identified as Cody Castagna, 26, of Medical Lake, who he met at the Hollywood Erotic Boutique on October 26th.

Curtis, according to a search warrant unsealed Tuesday, went to the Hollywood Erotic Boutique on East Sprague on October 26th at approximately 12:45 a.m. The store clerk, who had talked with Curtis, referred to him as "The Cross-Dresser" and said that during their conversations he confirmed he was gay and was married with children at home.

During his visit to the video store Curtis was observed wearing women's lingerie while receiving oral sex from an unidentified man in one of the movie viewing booths inside the store.

Afterward he met Cody Castagna, and they talked about getting together at Curtis' hotel room to have sex. Curtis left Castagna his cellphone number and went to Northern Quest Casino and receiving a call from him around 3 a.m., and planned to get together at the hotel a short while later.

The two met at the Davenport Tower around 3:34 a.m. and police reports confirm Curtis and Castagna had anal intercourse after which Curtis fell asleep. Castagna, according to court records, then allegedly took Curtis' wallet out of his jacket pocket and left the room.

Around 7 a.m. he called Curtis and told him he knew he was a member of the Washington State House of Representatives and was married, that he had taken pictures of Curtis with a camera on his cellphone and he offered to return the wallet in exchange for $1,000. In police reports it is claimed that Curtis offered Castagna that sum of money in exchange for having unprotected anal intercourse.

Curtis, during an interview with a Spokane detective, claimed that he gave Castagna $100 for "gas money" and insisted that the money was not payment for sex. During that phone conversation he claimed he only had $200 and left the money in an envelope at the front desk at the Davenport Tower for Castagna in exchange for the return of his wallet.

The attempt to get his wallet back proved unsuccessful as Castagna called Curtis back later on the 26th and demanded the remaining $800 from him. Unbeknownst to Castagna at the time Curtis had already contacted Spokane police and a detective was present with Curtis when Castagna called again.

When he contacted police, Curtis told detectives he wanted to keep the incident quiet and didn't want to press charges against Castagna and that all he wanted was his wallet back........

GAO: U.S. hasn't taken advantage of Iraq's drop in violence

WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Iraqi governments have failed to take advantage of a dramatic drop in violence in Iraq , according to a report issued Tuesday by a U.S. watchdog agency, which warned that prospects were waning "for achieving current U.S. security, political and economic goals in Iraq ."

Iraqi leaders have not passed legislation to foster reconciliation among Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds, and sectarian groups still retain control of ministries and divide Iraqi security forces, according to the Government Accountability Office report.

Moreover, the Bush administration's efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq are plagued by weak planning, a lack of coordination with the Iraqi government and among U.S. agencies, and an absence of detailed information on "the current and future costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq ," it said.

"U.S. efforts lack strategies with clear purpose, scope, roles and performance measures," the report said.

The findings raise questions about whether the increase of U.S. troops that began last February will ultimately achieve the goal of giving Iraqi political leaders enough of a respite from violence that that they can work to resolve Iraq's many problems. The report comes as the Democrat-controlled Congress begins weighing Prsident Bush's request for another $196 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ............

Guilty verdicts over Madrid bombs


A Spanish court has sentenced three men to thousands of years in jail for their part in the Madrid train bombings of March 2004.

Moroccans Jamal Zougam and Otman el Ghanoui and Spaniard Emilio Trashorras were convicted of murder, but suspected mastermind Rabei Ahmed was acquitted.

Twenty-eight people faced trial over the blasts on four trains that killed 191 and injured more than 1,800.

Spain's PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said that "justice was done".

All the accused pleaded "not guilty" during the four-month trial.

Twenty-one were found guilty of a least one charge and seven were acquitted. One person was acquitted earlier.

The defendants, 27 men and one woman, 19 mostly Moroccan Arabs and nine Spaniards, had faced charges including murder, forgery and conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack.

Trashorras - who supplied the explosives - Zougam and Ghanoui were found guilty of murder and given thousands of years in jail.

The BBC's Pascale Harter in Madrid says the terms were largely symbolic as under Spanish law the maximum term that can be served is 40 years.

Of the nine Spaniards on trial, three were acquitted through lack of evidence.

Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, known as "Mohamed the Egyptian", was acquitted but is in prison in Italy after being convicted of belonging to an international terrorist group.

After the verdicts Mr Zapatero said: "Today justice was done and we must now look to the future.

"The behaviour of security forces, judges and attorneys and of the staff of our judicial system has been exemplary. All Spaniards can feel proud of them.".....

Accused Madrid bomb mastermind acquitted

MADRID, Spain - An Egyptian who allegedly bragged that he masterminded the 2004 Madrid terror bombings that killed 191 people was acquitted of all charges Wednesday by a Spanish court. Three other lead defendants were convicted of murder, culminating a divisive trial over Europe's worst Islamic militant attack.

Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez read out the verdicts into the March 11 attacks in a hushed courtroom, with heavy security, including bomb-sniffing dogs and police helicopters, outside. The backpack bomb attacks killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800.

The three convicted lead suspects were handed sentences that stretched into the tens of thousands of years. They include Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan convicted of placing at least one bomb on one of the trains; Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a Spaniard who is a former miner found guilty of supplying the explosives used in the attacks; and Osman Gnaoui, a Moroccan accused of being a right-hand man of the plot's operational chief.

But Rabei Osman, an Egyptian accused of helping orchestrate the attacks, was acquitted. Osman, who is in jail in Italy, had allegedly bragged in a wiretapped phone conversation that the massacre was his idea. But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated.

Four other accused masterminds — Youssef Belhadj, Hassan el Haski, Abdulmajid Bouchar and Rafa Zouhier — were acquitted of murder but convicted of lesser charges including belonging to a terrorist organization. They received sentences of between 12 and 18 years........

MAUREEN DOWD: Hillary la Française, Cherchez la Femme?



It’s an odd cultural inversion.

The French first lady, the one in a role where wives traditionally ignored and overlooked their husbands’ peccadilloes for the greater gain of keeping their marriages intact and running the Élysée Palace, has fled her gilded perch, acting all-American and brimming over with feelings and feminist impulses.

The former American first lady, the one who’s supposed to be brimming over with feminist impulses, has ignored and overlooked her husband’s peccadilloes for the greater gain of keeping her marriage intact, as she tries to return to the gilded perch and run the White House.

Cécilia Sarkozy acts so American, while Hillary Clinton acts so French.

Cécilia at one point left her marriage to go to New York and seek love American-style, while Hillary lost the public love in the ’90s when she tried French-style health care reform.

In Essence magazine, Hillary sounded très French, très laissez-faire, talking about her marriage. “Now obviously we’ve had challenges as everybody in the world knows,” she said. “But I never doubted that it was a marriage worth investing in even in the midst of those challenges. And I’m really happy that I made that decision. Again, not a decision for everybody. And I think it’s so important for women to stand up for the right of women to make a decision that is best for them.”

In addition to the warrior strategy, the one that led Hillary to back President Bush on the Iraq war and the Iran drumbeat, the senator has a girlfriend strategy.

Hillary recently told an interviewer that they should talk like “two girlfriends,” and last week her campaign theme was: “Women Changing America.” She returns to Wellesley tomorrow to launch Hillblazers, a bid to attract young Hillarys to the campaign. She will be back in the setting of her 1969 feminist triumph as the commencement speaker who described her class’s desire for a “more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living” and who spoke truth to power, chastising Edward Brooke for being out of touch.

Hillary doesn’t speak truth to power any more. Now that Mark Penn believes women can carry her to victory, Hillary speaks girlfriend to girlfriend.

That tack, Caitlin Flanagan writes in The Atlantic, would only work if she were “willing to let us women in on the big, underlying struggle of her life that is front and center in our understanding of who she is as a woman. Her husband’s sexual behavior, quite apart from the private pain that it has caused her, has also sullied her deepest — and most womanly — ideals and convictions, for the Clintons’ political partnership has demanded that she defend actions she knows to be indefensible. To call her husband a philanderer is almost to whitewash him, for he’s used women far less sophisticated, educated and powerful than he — women particularly susceptible to the rake’s characteristic blend of cajolery and deceit — for his sexual gratification.

“In glossing over her husband’s actions and abetting his efforts to squirm away from the scrutiny and judgment they provoke, Hillary has too often lapsed into her customary hauteur and self-righteousness and added to the pain delivered upon these women.”

That’s French hauteur, of course, the kind Nicolas Sarkozy showed when he called his press secretary an “imbecile” and refused to answer Lesley Stahl’s question on “60 Minutes” about his marriage and ripped off his microphone. He may have failed to realize that, unlike in France, he can’t call his powerful buddies and simply get the story killed.

Hillary surely hopes there is a harbinger in Argentina, where voters just rewarded their former president for his economic prosperity by electing his wife to succeed him.

“And why not?,” former first lady Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said about Hillary yesterday. “Another woman wouldn’t be bad.”

Ms. Flanagan is not so sure. She was particularly bothered by Hillary’s callousness in dumping Socks, the beloved White House cat and best-selling author, on Bill’s former secretary Betty Currie.

But maybe the qualities that many find off-putting in Hillary — her opportunism, her triangulation, her ethical corner-cutting, her shifting convictions from pro-war to anti-war, her secrecy, her ruthlessness — are the same ones that make people willing to vote for a woman.

Few are concerned that Hillary is strong enough for the job. She is cold-eyed about wanting power and raising money and turning everything about her life into a commodity. Yet, the characteristics that are somewhat troubling are the same ones that convincingly show she will do what it takes to beat Obama and Rudy. She will not be soft or vulnerable. She will not melt in a crisis.

And, unlike Obama, she doesn’t need to talk herself into manning up. Obama whiffed in the debate last night when Brian Williams and Tim Russert teed up the first question for him to take on Hillary — something the debate dominatrix never would have done.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Suspicious crew raises alarm and a flight is canceled

SAN DIEGO – The takeoff of an American Airlines flight out of Lindbergh Field was canceled in August because the crew was suspicious of several Middle Eastern passengers, an investigative report said. The crew notified the captain, who canceled the flight.

At the time, the airline said it was a woman traveling with her two small children who raised the alarm.

According to the airline's account of the incident, the woman said the men made her so nervous she asked to be let off the plane, and the ensuing delay pushed the Aug. 28 flight to Chicago past the 11:30 p.m. curfew on takeoffs.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner referred to it as a “customer dispute.”

But a report from the San Diego Harbor Police, which was released this week under the California Public Records Act, said members of the flight crew said they were nervous about a group of the Middle Eastern passengers and did not feel safe.

One flight attendant told investigators the behavior of the group made him nervous and was “making his hair stand on end.”

He said that one of the men went into the bathroom and when he came out he stood next to a woman and stared at her for three to four minutes. That passenger got off the plane.

The flight attendant also said that another man in the group began to stare at him in an “abnormal, unusual and intense” way. When he mentioned that to the other attendants, they each said they felt they were being stared at in the same fashion.

“It was like each of these (Arabic) passengers had their assigned attendant,” Kotsonis said.

Another flight attendant told investigators he had “a gut feeling and discomfort” and “needed to do something” after one of the men put a blanket on his head during the safety demonstration only to take it off and stare angrily at everyone around him.

After the passenger got off the plane, the crew talked among themselves and decided to notify the pilot about their concerns.

The pilot said in the report that this was the first time in 20 years of flying that a crew had indicated such feelings to him.

According to the report, the pilot said he had “complete trust in his crew and did not feel like they overreacted.”

It turned out that the group of seven Iraqi and Iraqi-American men worked for an Alaska-based defense contractor and had been training U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton. They have hired a lawyer.

CNN reports that Blackwater will not get immunity

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- No blanket immunity deal was offered to Blackwater guards for their statements regarding a shootout in Iraq last month that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, two senior State Department officials told CNN Tuesday.

However, some kind of limited immunity was apparently offered by State Department investigators when they questioned the Blackwater personnel apparently involved in the shootings, the officials said.

CNN previously reported the guards were promised their statements would not be used against them in a criminal prosecution as long as the statements were true.

ABC News reported that it had obtained the text of the deal, which showed the guards were given "use immunity" in exchange for detailing what happened during the incident on September 16.....

Reports of Blackwater immunity deal embarrass Rice

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Reports that State Department investigators offered immunity deals to security guards accused of shooting dead 17 Iraqis dealt an embarrassing blow to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

According to the Washington Post, FBI agents now investigating the Baghdad shootings involving the Blackwater security firm are barred from using any of the information obtained during an earlier State Department probe.

One law enforcement official told the Post that some of the Blackwater guards had refused interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation which took over the investigation this month, citing the earlier immunity promises.

The deals "make things a lot more complicated and difficult," the official told the Post.

The move is set to reignite the controversy over the shootings in the Iraqi capital on September 16 and the role of private security firms such as Blackwater USA in the war-torn country.

If confirmed, the deals could complicate efforts to prosecute the guards, especially as the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security did not have the authority to grant immunity, unnamed officials told The New York Times.

Most of the guards involved in the shooting were promised they would not be prosecuted for anything they said in their interviews as long as their statements were truthful, the Times reported.

US Justice Department prosecutors who do have the authority to grant immunity had no advance knowledge of the arrangement, the officials told the Times.

State Department official Sean McCormack refused to confirm the reports on Tuesday, but sought to distance Rice from the scandal.

"Secretary Rice's attitude is that if there are individuals who broke rules, laws or regulations, they must be held to account," he said.

"The reaction that she has taken during the course of the aftermath of this incident has been consistent with that approach.".........

Sheriff Carona indicted on public corruption charges (Orange County, CA)

The Orange County Register

Sheriff Mike Carona, his wife and a woman identified as his "longtime mistress" have been indicted on charges of public corruption by a federal grand jury, The Orange County Register has learned.

Orange County's top lawman has been charged with seven felony counts that he illegally accepted money, high-priced gifts and tickets to exclusive sporting events, and made loans to his girlfriend in exchange for favors, according to an indictment expected to be unsealed today.

Carona's former top aide, George Jaramillo, in a separate agreement, pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and corruption charges in March and assisted the FBI and IRS in building the case against Carona. Jaramillo, a former assistant sheriff fired by Carona in 2005, is in jail on county charges.

Carona, 52, is also charged with witness tampering for attempting to persuade Don Haidl, a former assistant sheriff, to withhold testimony from federal investigators during tape-recorded conversations on March 17, 2004, and Aug. 13, 2007, the indictment says. Haidl, 56, bankrolled Carona's first campaign.


The indictment also includes eight counts against Debra Hoffman, 41, a Newport Beach attorney and investor who the document identifies as the sheriff's "longtime mistress." The charges include aiding Carona and bankruptcy fraud, the indictment reads. Deborah Carona, 56, the sheriff's wife of 27 years, faces one count of conspiracy, the document says.


The charges mark the shocking turn of a career Orange County Republicans hoped would rise from local lawman to statewide office and, in some of the most optimistic dreams, the U.S. Senate. Carona, a charming bodybuilder who liked to talk about his Christian family values, was anointed "America's Sheriff" by the national media during a highly publicized crime early in his first term and is a friend of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.......

Another not-gay GOP politician tries to sort things out in Spokane

Glance at our homepage headlines because the rumors swirling around yet another GOP politician caught up (for the moment, at least) in a gay-sex scandal, are, well... kind of fascinating. Quick summary: Spokane police got a weekend report that Curtis who had been
in town for a GOP "strategy session" had sex Saturday night with a man who later tried to extort money from him in exchange for keeping the encounter secret.

But keep in mind, whatever you hear, that the Vancouver-area state representative, Richard Curtis, R-La Center, is not gay. Nope.

He did not have sex with that man. Curtis explained it all this afternoon to his hometown newspaper, The Columbian, "I committed no crime," Curtis said Monday afternoon. "I did not solicit sex. I was trying to help somebody out."

Have you noticed how they're all so helpful. Larry Craig was just trying to help clean up the bathroom stall when he leaned down to pick up a piece of toilet paper. Mark Foley? He just
cared so deeply about the children.

But at least, Rep. Curtis has learned from the Craig affair that it's good in these situations to chat with an attorney.

"Look, the rest of this will all come out," he said. "I can't say anything more until I have talked to my attorney. I have never been in thissituation before."

But, of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Craig affair because, after all,

Curtis talked briefly with Columbian Editor Lou Brancaccio at about 4 p.m. Monday and denied reports of a sexual relationship.

"I am not gay," he told Brancaccio. "I have not had sex with a guy."

On that point, according to The Columbian, Curtis's fellow Vancouver-area state rep, Jim Moeller, who is gay, backs him up.

State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, one of five openly gay members of the
Washington Legislature, said he has never heard any questions about Curtis' sexual orientation.

"Richard appears to be a happily married man to me," he said.

Iraq to end contractor immunity


The Iraqi government has approved a draft law revoking the immunity from prosecution private security contractors enjoy under Iraqi law.

The law, which has been referred to parliament, would revoke an order set up after the US-led invasion in 2003.

Foreign guards would also be subject to searches at Iraqi checkpoints and be required to carry licences for weapons.

Earlier, reports said guards accused of shooting dead 17 Iraqis might have been offered partial immunity by the US.

Unnamed US officials said the offer, by a branch of the US state department, was unauthorised.

It could make it much more difficult to prosecute the guards employed by US-based firm Blackwater, the officials said.

An Iraqi government investigation has concluded that Blackwater guards fired without provocation during the incident in Baghdad on 16 September.

Blackwater has insisted its staff acted only in self defence after insurgents fired upon the US diplomatic convoy they were protecting.

It has also welcomed the launch of an FBI investigation into the fatal shootings.

Iraqi dam 'at risk of collapse'


The largest dam in Iraq is at risk of an imminent collapse that could unleash a 20m (65ft) wave of water on Mosul, a city of 1.7m people, the US has warned.

In May, the US told Iraqi authorities to make Mosul Dam a national priority, as a catastrophic failure would result in a "significant loss of life".

However, a $27m (£13m) reconstruction project to help shore up the dam has made little or no progress.

Iraq says it is reducing the risk and insists there is no cause for alarm.

However, a US watchdog said reconstruction of the dam had been plagued by mismanagement and potential fraud.

In a report published on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said US-funded "short-term solutions" had yet to significantly solve the dam's problems.

SIGIR found multiple failures in several of the 21 contracts awarded to repair the dam.

Among the faults were faulty construction and delivery of improper parts, as well as projects which were not completed despite full payments having been made.....

On Torture, 2 Messages and a High Political Cost


WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 — Six years after the Bush administration embraced harsh physical tactics for interrogating terrorism suspects, and two years after it reportedly dropped the most extreme of those techniques, the taint of torture clings to American counterterrorism efforts.

The administration has a standard answer to queries about its interrogation practices: 1) We do not torture, and 2) we will not say what we do, for fear of tipping off future prisoners. In effect, officials want Al Qaeda to believe that the United States does torture, while convincing the rest of the world that it does not.

But that contradictory catechism is not holding up well under the battering that American interrogation policies have received from human rights organizations, European allies and increasingly skeptical members of Congress.

The administration does not acknowledge scaling back the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret detention program, perhaps to avoid implying that earlier methods were immoral or illegal. President Bush has repeatedly defended what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation methods, saying they have produced invaluable information on Al Qaeda. But the administration’s strategy has exacted an extraordinary political cost.

The nomination of Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general, once expected to sail through the Senate, has run into trouble as a result of his equivocation about waterboarding, or simulated drowning. Mr. Mukasey has refused to characterize the technique as torture, which would put him at odds with secret Justice Department legal opinions and could put intelligence officers in legal jeopardy.

At a House hearing last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted that the United States had mishandled the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was seized in New York in 2002 on suspicion of terrorism and shipped to Syria, where he was imprisoned and severely beaten.

But Ms. Rice refused to acknowledge the torture or to apologize to Mr. Arar, perhaps to avoid exposing to attack the policy of extraordinary rendition, in which the United States delivers suspects to other countries, including some that routinely use torture.

C.I.A. officers have been criminally charged in Italy and Germany in connection with rendition cases. The torture issue has complicated Americans’ standing in criticizing other countries.

At a House hearing on the crackdown on dissent in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where protest leaders have reportedly endured waterboarding, Jeremy Woodrum, a director of the United States Campaign for Burma, said American conduct was thrown back at him, testifying: “People say, ‘Why are you guys talking to us about this when you have the mess in your own backyard?’ ”

Even inside the government, there are tensions. At the C.I.A., the director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, has come under fire from Congress for ordering a review of the agency’s own inspector general, whose aggressive investigations of secret detention programs have raised hackles.

The moral debate over torture has seeped deeply into popular culture, from the black comedy of “The Daily Show” and its “senior interrogation correspondent” to the new movie “Rendition,” based loosely on Mr. Arar’s case. Candidates for president have repeatedly faced questions and exchanged barbs on the proper limits of interrogation.

Meanwhile, key members of Congress are raising questions about the future of the C.I.A.’s detention operation. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in response to a question from The New York Times that it “has produced valuable intelligence, but the question is at what cost?”

Mr. Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, whose committee has recently heard classified testimony about the noncoercive interrogation methods of the F.B.I. and the military, said he was not sure the C.I.A’s harsher approach was justified.

“Unfortunately, the intelligence community has not yet made a convincing argument that a separate, secret program is indeed necessary,” he said. “The committee is engaged in answering these fundamental questions and fully intends to take action on the future of this program.”

Even as the administration has maintained in secret Justice Department legal opinions that its harshest methods are legal, it has quietly but steadily backed away from them in practice.

Since last year, military interrogators have been bound by the new Army Field Manual, which prohibits all physical coercion.

The C.I.A. stopped using waterboarding by the end of 2005, former agency officials have said. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, said in July that prisoners were also now “not exposed to heat and cold,” another technique previously used at the C.I.A.’s secret jails.

But administration officials seem loath to let potential prisoners know they have softened their interrogations. In his July remarks, Mr. McConnell suggested that Qaeda operatives had talked in part “because they believe these techniques might involve torture.” At the same time, “the United States does not engage in torture,” he said. “The president has been very clear about that.”

In a PBS interview with Charlie Rose last week, General Hayden, the C.I.A. director, complained about negative press coverage of the agency’s interrogation practices. “What puzzles me is to why there seems to be this temptation, almost irresistible temptation, to take any story about us and move it into the darkest corner of the room,” General Hayden said.

Yet, illustrating the administration’s predicament, General Hayden did nothing to dispel the mystery about the agency’s “enhanced” interrogation tactics.

“What is ‘enhanced technique’?” Mr. Rose asked. “Is it something close to torture?”

The C.I.A. director said, “No,” adding, “I’m not going to talk about any specific techniques.”

Whether Congress will act remains uncertain. Congressional Democrats have cited interrogation policies in blocking the confirmations of John A. Rizzo as general counsel of the C.I.A. and Steven G. Bradbury, author of secret legal opinions on interrogation, as head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. Now Mr. Mukasey’s confirmation hangs in the balance.

Both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees have held closed hearings on the program. The only public glimpse — unclassified testimony recently released from a Sept. 25 Senate hearing — was a series of fierce attacks by human rights advocates, legal experts and a veteran interrogator on the effectiveness and morality of harsh interrogation.

Most Republicans, for now, are offering the administration conditional support. Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said that he was concerned about the international reputation of the United States and that Congress “should continue to look at what other methods are effective.”

But Mr. Bond said conversations with C.I.A. interrogators had convinced him that some legal but tough tactics could work on recalcitrant suspects. “Coercion has opened the dialogue,” he said.

BOB HERBERT: No Emergency Room


Homeless advocates in New York are facing off against the Bloomberg administration in a fight that threatens to bring back the protracted court battles of a couple of decades ago.

There is no gray area in this fight. The advocates will tell you that a mayor with multiple billions of dollars and lavish homes here, there and everywhere has taken on the noxious task of throwing homeless families with small children out into the cold.

They will tell you that Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with a bizarre new policy aimed at denying emergency shelter to as many applicants as possible, is forcing these families to spend long, harrowing nights riding subways, or sleeping in parks, or huddled in doorways, or camped out in hospital waiting rooms.

The city will tell you that’s nonsense, that a family might fall through the proverbial crack here and there, but that the mayor is not a Grinch, and that mothers with small children are not being left on their own in circumstances reminiscent of the Great Depression.

Well, some of them are. The question is, how many?

Diane Wilson, who was denied shelter and spent a weekend roaming the streets with her 7-year-old daughter, Jasmine, said she saw other mothers and children “scattered out there in the streets and on the subways in the middle of the night.”

And a number of homeless families have been sleeping on the floor at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx.

When I started researching this column, it seemed very much like the mayor had in fact ordered a crackdown that was condemning large numbers of destitute families to the street.

Ms. Wilson and Jasmine were given the alarming news that they could no longer stay in the emergency shelters that had housed them since September. The city’s policy, they were told, had changed.

Until a few weeks ago, the city had offered emergency shelter on a night-by-night basis to families that had been found to be ineligible for longer-term help. This safety net was important because bureaucrats make mistakes.

If you have no place to go and you’re standing in the doorway of a shelter, holding two kids by the hand, and an intake official doesn’t believe that you’re homeless, you’re in big trouble. Which is why emergency placement, until the truth can be sorted out, is essential.

The Bloomberg administration, upset by what it said were people abusing this emergency system for families who might have incorrectly been denied shelter, ended it.

Ms. Wilson and Jasmine were indeed thrown onto the street. Frightened and bleary-eyed, they tried to stay as long and as unobtrusively as possible at a McDonald’s restaurant. They rode the subways. They walked and walked and sometimes wept in frustration.

They thought at one point that they had found shelter — for at least awhile — in the waiting area of a hospital emergency room. But hospital officials, fed up with their presence, told Ms. Wilson that they would report her to the Administration for Children’s Services, which takes away the children of unfit parents.

Ms. Wilson and Jasmine hurried back outside.

So we are talking about an ugly situation here. But it’s not clear that it’s ugly in the same way that some homeless advocates are alleging. If you go on the hunt for homeless families in the street, you’ll have trouble finding any. There just aren’t that many out there.

And Diane Wilson’s initial application for shelter left a great deal to be desired. The kindest way to put it is that she made a few factual errors.

Despite that, the city took another look at her case. After two days, it again gave Ms. Wilson and Jasmine emergency shelter, and will most likely offer them more extended help.

So what’s the problem?

Steven Banks, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society and a longtime advocate for the homeless, is correct in his contention that the new Bloomberg policy is a step backward. There is no doubt that some families, probably a lot of them, have been improperly denied shelter.

There is no evidence, however, that most of them ended up on the street. The worst and most unscrupulous aspects of the homeless crisis are taking place out of public view — families being returned to homes that are inappropriate, and even dangerous; families being sent way out of state — to Florida, or the West Coast, or Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic — by city officials who just don’t want to deal with them.

It may be that the most dramatic examples offered by the advocates — mothers huddled with small children on street corners in the cold — are just the tiniest aspect of a much larger, much more tragic problem.

US death toll in Iraq lower in October

BAGHDAD - The monthly toll of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq is on track to being the lowest in nearly two years, with at least 34 troop deaths recorded as of Tuesday, but the military cautioned it's too early to declare a long-term trend.

Iraqi civilians, meanwhile, faced more attacks on Tuesday.

At least four mortar rounds slammed into a village near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, killing a woman and wounding five other civilians, police said.

In Baghdad, gunmen in a speeding car tossed a hand grenade into a crowd of shoppers in eastern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding five, according to an officer in the capital. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

At least 34 American service members have died so far in October, nearly a third from non-combat causes.

It is the lowest number since 32 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 20 troop deaths in February 2004, according to an Associated Press count based on military figures.

That would be the second consecutive drop in monthly figures, after 65 Americans died in September and 84 in August.

In all, at least 3,840 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to the AP count.....

Monday, October 29, 2007

O.C. Sheriff Carona indicted (Orange County, CA)

LA Times

Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona has been indicted on federal corruption charges stemming from a lengthy investigation into allegations that he misused his office for financial gain, law enforcement officials said Monday.

The indictment, filed under seal, is expected to be made public soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday, officials said.

Carona's longtime political advisor and attorney, Michael Schroeder, said federal authorities had not questioned the sheriff, nor officially informed him that he was the target of a federal investigation. Schroeder, who was in Amsterdam on business, also said that rumors of the investigation had not distracted Carona from his job

"He's focused on the fires," said Schroeder, who does not represent Carona on criminal matters.

Carona's defense attorney, H. Dean Steward, did not return a call to his cellphone. The sheriff did not respond to a request for an interview.

An indictment would mark a spectacular fall for the 52-year-old sheriff, who only five years ago was widely seen as a rising star in California Republican Party politics. Carona received widespread attention in 2002 after he led the search for the killer of a 5-year-old girl, Samantha Runnion, whose kidnapping and murder captivated the nation. In the months after that case, Carona was often mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor on a slate with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But even as he gained attention in the political realm, Carona was coming under attack from critics who accused him of improper management and ethical lapses. His conduct had hurt the department's integrity and morale, according to the critics, who pointed in particular to allegations that he had issued badges and concealed-weapons permits to campaign contributors without proper training or background checks. Carona denied the badges were political favors and said his conduct was proper...

Immunity Jeopardizes Iraq Probe - Guards' Statements Cannot Be Used in Blackwater Case


Potential prosecution of Blackwater guards allegedly involved in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians last month may have been compromised because the guards received immunity for statements they made to State Department officials investigating the incident, federal law enforcement officials said yesterday.

FBI agents called in to take over the State Department's investigation two weeks after the Sept. 16 shootings cannot use any information gleaned during questioning of the guards by the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which is charged with supervising security contractors.

Some of the Blackwater guards have subsequently refused to be interviewed by the FBI, citing promises of immunity from State, one law enforcement official said. The restrictions on the FBI's use of their initial statements do not preclude prosecution by the Justice Department using other evidence, the official said, but "they make things a lot more complicated and difficult.".......

Official in fake reporters flap out of job -- He can always get a job at FOX NEWS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Bush administration official whose department had government workers pose as journalists in a news conference has been dropped from a planned new job as media chief for the top U.S. spy agency.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said on Monday that John Philbin, who until last week was external affairs director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would not be taking up a similar job with the intelligence office.

"Mr. Philbin is not, nor is he scheduled to be, the director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence," the office said in a written statement.

Philbin accepted the intelligence job several weeks ago and had been due to start on Monday, office spokesman Ross Feinstein said. He declined to give additional details....

IAEA findings on Iran dismissed -- Iraq Redux

The IAEA was right about Iraq and the US and the others where Wrong


France and the US have dismissed a finding by the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog Mohammed ElBaradei that there is no evidence of Iran building a bomb.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin challenged Iran to allow UN inspectors unlimited access to sites.

A White House spokeswoman said Iran was "enriching and reprocessing uranium, and the reason that one does that is to lead towards a nuclear weapon".

Mr ElBaradei said on Sunday that Tehran was years away from developing a bomb.

Iran denies it is seeking to build nuclear weapons and says it wants only civilian nuclear energy.

Its refusal to stop enriching uranium - a process which can lead to a nuclear bomb - has led the UN Security Council to impose two sets of sanctions, which the US has followed up with unilateral penalties of its own......

Top US Conservatives And Liberals

The Telegraph (UK)

With a year and a few days to go before voters across the United States go to the polls to elect their 44th president, The Daily Telegraph today unveils the first instalments of its list of the 100 most influential Conservatives and 100 most influential Liberals in America.

The 2008 election is arguably the most open contest since 1928, the last time there was no incumbent president or incumbent vice president running for their party's nomination. The victor will become the most powerful person in the world at a time of almost unprecedented challenge and turmoil.

Selecting just 200 principal political figures in such a diverse, ideologically intense and divided country in a time of war was no straightforward task. We consulted widely among our contacts across the political spectrum and outside it, as well as engaging in vigorous internal debate before deciding on our choices.

To qualify for the lists, people have to live and work in the United States. Conservatives are people identifiably – though not always self-described – as right of centre. Liberals – though the term is an unpopular one in the US, with even Hillary Clinton preferring “progressive” – are those identifiably left of centre.

Although there are many Republicans on the conservative list and many liberals on the Democratic list, not all 200 are aligned with a party. The key to inclusion was the term “influence” – which people do, and will, most affect American politics both in terms of ideas and the enactment of policy.

We have chosen political candidates, pollsters, campaign operatives, members of think tanks, journalists, bloggers, fundraisers, big-money donors and the occasional celebrity.

Inclusion does not imply the approval of this newspaper or its correspondents – and the views of many on the lists will be anathema to large numbers of our readers.

When in doubt, we have leant towards those likely to be most influential in the future rather than those whose careers and impact lies in the past. But some historical figures cast such a long shadow that it would have been perverse to have excluded them.

The mere holding of a high office did not guarantee inclusion, though it was often an important factor. The future influence of some figures will depend largely on whether the candidate they are associated with wins their party’s nomination or the presidency. Certainly, a year and a week from today, these lists will probably be very – though by no means entirely – different.

It was far from easy to agree among ourselves as to who to include and in what order. Many readers will dispute a number of those who appear on our lists and no doubt be eager to put forward substitutes.

Today, we publish those ranked 81 to 100 on each list. On Tuesday, we will publish 61 to 80, on Wednesday 41 to 60 and on Thursday 21 to 40 before concluding on Friday with the Top 20 Most Influential Conservatives and the Top 20 Most Influential Liberals in America today.........

Iraqi soldiers free 8 kidnapped tribal leaders

BAGHDAD, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Iraqi soldiers freed eight kidnapped tribal leaders on Monday in a raid on a house near Baghdad where they were being held, and are searching for three others seized at the same time, the government said.

Eleven tribal sheikhs, some Sunni and some Shi'ite, were seized on Sunday while returning to Diyala province northeast of Baghdad after talks with a representative of Iraq's prime minister. They were members of a group set up to fight al Qaeda in Diyala.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said troops raided the house after tip-offs from local residents. They said another location was also being raided as part of efforts to find the three tribal leaders who were still missing.......

FEMA spokesman's new job on hold

Intelligence Chief Delays Former FEMA Spokesman's Start, Reviewing Fake News Conference

Oct 29, 2007 - The director of national intelligence is weighing whether to hire the federal official who organized a fake Federal Emergency Management Agency news conference.

John P. "Pat" Philbin, FEMA's external affairs director, on Monday was supposed to take over the public information shop at the Office of National Intelligence Director headed by Mike McConnell. But that was put on hold so McConnell could review Philbin's record, according to DNI spokesman Ross Feinstein.

Philbin's work has come under question after he arranged a hastily-called televised FEMA news conference last Tuesday on the California wildfires. The session was announced on short notice and featured questions for FEMA's deputy administrator, Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson.

No genuine journalists attended, although they were given a conference call number they could use to listen in — but not ask questions. A half-dozen questions were asked at the event — by FEMA staff members posing as reporters.

Philbin was among the six questioners, according to The Washington Post. The questions included: "Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?"

FEMA later apologized for the phony news briefing and said it was reviewing its procedures for dealing with news organizations.

McConnell had offered Philbin the director of communications at the intelligence office prior to the FEMA event, according to Feinstein.

National Security Archive Sues White House Over Missing Emails

Washington DC, October 29, 2007 - The National Security Archive filed a motion on Friday, October 26, seeking expedited discovery against the Executive Office of the President to find out what e-mails are missing from the White House e-mail system or backup tapes.

Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs explained, “The pressing need for the information arises out of troubling representations by the EOP and its components about its document preservation obligations and the location of its backup tapes. We need information so we can take steps to preserve all possible sources of e-mails deleted from the White House servers.”

Also on Friday, a similar motion was filed in a virtually identical lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) on September 25, 2007.

The Archive filed this case on September 5, 2007, against the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and its components seeking to recover at least 5 million federal e-mail records improperly deleted by the EOP. After the government failed to provide adequate assurances that backups and copies of the missing e-mail would be preserved throughout this litigation, on October 11, 2007, CREW filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against the White House defendants in its case. A hearing in CREW’s case was held before Magistrate Judge Facciola on October 17, 2007. Magistrate Judge Facciola issued a Report and Recommendation on October 19, 2007, advising the Court to grant a temporary restraining order. The government has filed objections to Magistrate Judge Facciola’s Report and Recommendation, and CREW has responded to the government’s objections.....

US hands over Karbala to Iraqis


US forces have handed control of the mainly Shia province of Karbala in central Iraq to local authorities in a tightly-guarded ceremony.

Karbala is the eighth of 18 provinces to be transferred to local control since the US-led invasion in 2003.

The handover took place as at least 27 people died in a suicide bomb attack on a police headquarters in Baquba, north of Baghdad, according to police.

At least 20 people were hurt. Most victims were police recruits.

Correspondents say the attack bears the hallmarks of the al-Qaeda in Iraq militants, who often target recruits.......

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Top 10 Conservative Idiots, No. 312

October 29, 2007 - Fox On Fire Edition

This week sees the California wildfires dominating media coverage - Fox News (1) knows who's really to blame, Glenn Beck (2) finds the whole thing amusing, and FEMA (3) gives itself a big pat on the back. Elsewhere, George W. Bush (6) is throwing your money down the toilet, Fred Thompson (7) speaks his mind (what little there is of it) and Chuck Norris (9) reveals his choice for president.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Fearing Fear Itself


In America’s darkest hour, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged the nation not to succumb to “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.” But that was then.

Today, many of the men who hope to be the next president — including all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving the Republican nomination — have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns.

Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible.”

Mr. Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the “main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.” The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world “shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes.” Indeed, “Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia.”

Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t. And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in many ways, and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.

Meanwhile, the idea that bombing will bring the Iranian regime to its knees — and bombing is the only option, since we’ve run out of troops — is pure wishful thinking. Last year Israel tried to cripple Hezbollah with an air campaign, and ended up strengthening it instead. There’s every reason to believe that an attack on Iran would produce the same result, with the added effects of endangering U.S. forces in Iraq and driving oil prices well into triple digits.

Mr. Podhoretz, in short, is engaging in what my relatives call crazy talk. Yet he is being treated with respect by the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination. And Mr. Podhoretz’s rants are, if anything, saner than some of what we’ve been hearing from some of Mr. Giuliani’s rivals.

Thus, in a recent campaign ad Mitt Romney asserted that America is in a struggle with people who aim “to unite the world under a single jihadist Caliphate. To do that they must collapse freedom-loving nations. Like us.” He doesn’t say exactly who these jihadists are, but presumably he’s referring to Al Qaeda — an organization that has certainly demonstrated its willingness and ability to kill innocent people, but has no chance of collapsing the United States, let alone taking over the world.

And Mike Huckabee, whom reporters like to portray as a nice, reasonable guy, says that if Hillary Clinton is elected, “I’m not sure we’ll have the courage and the will and the resolve to fight the greatest threat this country’s ever faced in Islamofascism.” Yep, a bunch of lightly armed terrorists and a fourth-rate military power — which aren’t even allies — pose a greater danger than Hitler’s panzers or the Soviet nuclear arsenal ever did.

All of this would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration adopted fear-mongering as a political strategy. Instead of treating the attack as what it was — an atrocity committed by a fundamentally weak, though ruthless adversary — the administration portrayed America as a nation under threat from every direction.

Most Americans have now regained their balance. But the Republican base, which lapped up the administration’s rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected by the fear the Bushies stirred up — perhaps because fear of terrorists maps so easily into the base’s older fears, including fear of dark-skinned people in general.

And the base is looking for a candidate who shares this fear.

Just to be clear, Al Qaeda is a real threat, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. But neither of these threats frightens me as much as fear itself — the unreasoning fear that has taken over one of America’s two great political parties.

First time Bush and Torture are mentioned in the NYT (1967)